Monday, September 8, 2014

Poke Me With a Fork...

I'm done.

by Shannon Baker

When introverts spend a long weekend at a writers conference, talking, listening, learning and loving being with other writers, it can mean a retreat to the cave big time. It can also mean no energy left to write a blog.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Colorado Gold Confernce took place Sept 5-7 in Denver, which means, I'm totally played out. So instead of words, you get picutres:

Midnight Ink Aquiring Editor Terri Bischoff flanked by authors Shannon Baker and Linda Hull
This was the first day of the conference, well before late nights.

What happens when a well meaning and talented author (Mark Stevens) asks very nicely for an extension on his deadline from the Evil Editor.

Speaking of evil, the welcome speech on Friday night wasn't really meant to scare anyone. 

The same Editor being not so evil, hanging out in the Colorado sunshine and deciding on a sage margarita after a harrowing day of taking author pitches.

Send off speaker, extrodinary writer, all around great guy, William Kent Krueger. He taught several workshops, gave one on one critiques and inspired us all with his speech at the farewell luncheon.

Even though my brain is mush, it was all in a good cause. I would give you more details about the conference and urge you all to put it on your calendars for next year, but I'm toast tonight. (No, I did not mean toasted.) For more details, pop on over to 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Dying for History - A Key Element In My Novels

By Tj O’Connor, author of Dying to Know & Dying for the Past

Every good book I’ve ever read intrigued me not just because of the main story, but because it had subplots and vignettes that kept the main story buoyed with a touch of complexity and diversion. One of my favorite subplot techniques is the interweaving of real history into the storyline. There are many facets of using historical events as a subplot in my stories that I enjoy. Among them, performing research and finding twists and turns from real-life events are my favorites. The old adage, “History Repeats Itself” has become a mainstay subplot of my novels.

Let me give you a few examples.

Dying to Know—In my debut novel, dead-detective Oliver “Tuck” Tucker is faced with solving his own murder and dealing with a series of grisly others. Some of the murders go back over forty years. The historical subplot revolves around the American Civil War—a significant era in the history of real-life city Winchester, Virginia. The story, and resulting murders, begin when the discovery of unmarked Civil War remains threatens to halt a multi-million dollar development project. The battle between history and development is a fact in Winchester. For years, the county has considered building a highway bypass around parts of the city. But in its path is at least one Civil War battlefield. More angst and skirmishes have resulted over this conflict than perhaps in some of the many battles Winchester actually fought in the war. If you know anything about historical sites, you might know that the protection of historical lands often trump new construction, development, and even some modern zoning laws across our country. And trust me, getting in the way of development is a sure fire way of creating a crisis in your community. Land barons are often in battle over future development with societies sworn to protect historical sites. In Dying to Know, the land dispute and Civil War connections to Tuck’s murder are rooted in real Winchester History and drive the story from several viewpoints.

Dying for the Past—Tuck and his pals are back in Book II and encounter the death of a mysterious philanthropist who seems to have a wad of Grover Clevelands in his pocket—1930’s Gold Certificate one-thousand dollar bills. Notwithstanding a plethora of sketchy characters, Dying for the Past’s historical subplot focuses on 1930’s mobsters and their pre-World War II collaboration with our own FBI. This theme follows Tuck and others chasing “The Book”—an old mobster’s journal detailing Nazi and Russian spy rings around Washington D.C. and New York City. This subplot is based on true events in our history. In the late 1930s and 1940s, the U.S. Government sought the help of folks who knew our ports, rail yards, transportation hubs, and the gritty underbelly of American cities where spies and saboteurs might hang out. Who did they turn to? The second largest intelligence network in the country—organized crime. During those days, the U.S. was concerned about Nazi, Japanese, Russian, and even Italian efforts to conduct wartime sabotage and subversion operations against us here at home. Organized crime families had deep inroads into some of the biggest targets in the country—New York City, Washington DC, Chicago, Detroit, and many other port cities. Well-known gangsters such as Lucky Luciano were reputed to have assisted American authorities in the war effort. In Luciano’s case, his organization reportedly helped gather intelligence for the invasion of Sicily and in the protection of New York’s ports against saboteurs and spies. Borrowing from these historical vignettes, I transposed some of the mob connections to Winchester and molded the plot around just such a storyline—1930’s mobsters helping track World War II spy rings. The result, with some colorful characters involved in the present day murders, set the foundation for a murder plot that lasted for more than seventy-five years.

New Sins for Old Scores—In an unrelated mystery series that my brilliant agent, Kimberley Cameron, is offering to the market as we speak, I use a real World War II OSS operation—Office of Strategic Services—and superimpose it into present-day Northern Virginia. The story surrounds Richard Jax, a Virginia State Police investigator under suspicion for the murder of his partner. Jax is thrust into the story when he is almost killed after stumbling onto a strange human-trafficking operation out of an old World War II Inn. Unbeknownst to him, he connects with Captain Trick McCall—a murdered OSS Operative from World War II—who was believed a double agent who betrayed his country. Together, they pursue their two cases—separated by seventy years—and learn that history is repeating itself. The story surrounds real-life Operation Paperclip, the American OSS operation to spirit scientists and industrialists out of war-torn Europe before the Nazi or Russians could further exploit them. Operation Paperclip was responsible for the U.S. making significant scientific gains, especially nuclear and jet propulsion technology, being explored by the Germans. In New Sins for Old Scores, I superimposed this human-capitol operation into modern-day Middle Eastern theaters of combat, and added in a rogue element of prior World War II operatives and modern-day mercenaries who move Middle Easterners out of Afghanistan and Iraq to the U.S.—for profit and exploitation. This spin on Operation Paperclip helped me create a viable plot that was worth murder to keep secret, and linked the modern human traffickers to real-world World War II spy exploits. It also raises the question—could it really be happening? So once again, I took a historical episode and superimposed it into a modern-day murder mystery to create the environment and plot necessary for my characters to be plunged into crisis and murder—and link their cases to crimes of the past.

History appeals to me in many ways as a reader, but it motivates me as an author. In a time that every plot and every character-type seems to have been written over and over as often as redos of Superman, historical events give me a foundation of facts for which I can create new plots and characters, and hopefully offer a new spin on intrigue.

I have two other novels—Dying to Tell and The Killing of Tyler Quinn—that have a historical subplot woven into modern-day mysteries. But I’ll save those discussions for another time.

Tj O’Connor lives in Virginia with his wife and three Labs. Dying to Know is the fourth of his eight novels and is currently available in bookstores and online. Dying for the Past is the first of two sequels to Dying to Know and will be released January 8, 2015—available now for pre-orders! Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism and investigations.

Learn about his world at and Facebook at


Monday, September 1, 2014

Number One

--by Linda O. Johnston

Today is the first day of September, as well as Labor Day.  It's also the first Monday of the month, which is when I'm scheduled to post on InkSpot, so here I am.

Plus, it's the first day of the month before my first Midnight Ink book will be published, which will happen in October.  LOST UNDER A LADDER is additionally my first Superstition Mystery.


I'd say that today is Number One.

Because of my new mystery series, I've been doing a lot of research into superstitions.  There are quite a few of them involving numbers and how they relate to luck.   Some of the most well known involve the numbers three, seven and thirteen.  But that's not all of them.  There are superstitions regarding the number one as well.

What are they?  The number one is generally considered to be lucky except in China, since apparently the Chinese word for "one" sounds somewhat like the word for "loneliness." 

The number one is indivisible and the basis for all other numbers.  Number one is associated with new beginnings, new projects, new ideas, inspiration and confidence.

It's good luck to live in a house with the street number of one. Children born on the first day of the month are considered to be lucky. 

Hooray for number one! 

What will I be doing on this special day of One?  Writing, of course.  Right now, I'm working on the second Superstition Mystery.  Looks like I'd better learn whether there are any superstitions involved with the number Two!

Do you have any lucky numbers?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Yoga Studios Fact and Fiction

First of all, I’d like to say that I’m absolutely delighted to be part of the regular blog rotation on Inkspot. Anyone who’s read my first book knows that my series features a yoga studio owner with a crazy German shepherd sidekick. (Kate’s other claim to fame is that she occasionally stumbles over dead bodies.) Anyone who’s read my bio knows that I’m also yoga studio owner with a crazy German shepherd sidekick. 


So, a question naturally arises. Is Kate really me and is Bella really my German shepherd, Tasha?  The answers to both of those questions are a little “yes” and a lot “no.”  But those are blog articles for another day. The question that I haven’t been asked (at least not that I remember) is whether Kate’s studio, Serenity Yoga, is actually my studio, Whole Life Yoga.

The answer?  A little yes and a lot no.  ;-)  

Similarities between the two businesses:

·        Location location, location. Both studios are located in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle, in newer construction mixed use buildings (meaning that there are businesses on the ground floor, apartments above). The surrounding businesses, however, are different. Kate is blessed with a grocery store, a Greek deli, and Pete’s Pets (a pet food store) as neighbors.  I am blessed with a hair salon, an Irish dance studio, and a sports bar.  Both studios are located on the same block as several infamous dive bars.

·        Gremlins.  In my first book, Kate’s studio is plagued by a variety of mysterious issues, including plumbing problems, an “unlockable” front door, and mysteriously flickering lights.  My studio has struggled with the same issues.  The door lock and toilet have been replaced, but we still can’t figure out those darned lights, after 10 years of trying. And now there’s the phantom wall squeak….

·        Murder. About a year after my first book was finished, a man was murdered in a pet store parking lot a block away from my studio.  Kate finds her first body in the parking lot shared by her studio and the pet store.  Hopefully that trend won’t continue.


·        Size matters.  Kate’s studio is bigger than mine and offers significantly more classes.  She spends a lot more time on site at her studio than I do as well.  (I manage my business from a home office.)


·        Yoga lineage.  There are a gazillion types of yoga out there, and Kate’s studio offers many of them. (Except for hot yoga—she could never afford the heat bills!)  My studio is dedicated to the Viniyoga lineage, and all of the teachers who work at Whole Life Yoga have been personally certified by me.

·        Longevity.  My studio opened in 2001.  Kate’s has only been open for about two years when the first book opens.  She’s facing many of the financial struggles I did when I first opened, but thankfully most of those days are behind me.

In the end, the biggest similarity between the two studios is their intent.  Both Kate and I believe that yoga can serve all people regardless of shape, size, age, or fitness level.  That includes you!

Go out and find your own version of Serenity Yoga!


Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

About Tracy:

My writing is an expression of the things I love best: yoga, dogs, and murder mysteries. I'm a certified yoga teacher and the founder of Whole Life Yoga, an award-winning yoga studio in Seattle, WA. I enjoy sharing my passion for yoga and animals in any form possible.  My husband and I live with our challenging yet amazing German shepherd Tasha and our bonito flake-loving cat Maggie. When I’m not writing, I spend my time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sipping Blackthorn cider at my favorite local ale house.

For more information, visit me online at and

Monday, August 11, 2014

Teaching An Old Dog

by Shannon Baker

I’ve reached that curmudgeon stage when I find myself grumbling, “I don’t like change.” Some of you who know me will laugh at that because I’ve moved eight times in the last eleven years. But I’m talking about technology.

I haven’t always been so sluggish. Back in the day, I actually could program my VCR. I was an early adopter with computers, using one of the first Peachtree accounting programs. I wrote features for an online newspaper when it was a brand new phenomenon, and had a bag phone before the Big Lebowski made it look cool.

Still, as technology accelerates and especially since my last daughter left home, I seem to be falling further behind. I was just getting the hang of using the remote to DVR and create my own programing when we moved to rural Nebraska last fall, where we don’t get those handy options.

Last spring, a friend of mine published an audio book and wanted me to review it. Strictly because of this need-to-know, I entered in the world of audio books. That’s so freaking awesome! I can walk and listen to books on my phone. I’m getting so much more “reading” done now. I’m even really close to figuring out Overdrive and being able to borrow audio books from the library. As soon as the books I bought are finished, I’ll need-to-know how and I’ll do it.

Now, thanks to my good friend, Mark Stevens, (Allison Coil Mystery Series), I have to learn yet another new thing. He keeps telling me about these great podcasts for writers and readers. In fact, one of his suggestions—which he wrote about in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers August newsletter—is called just that, Reading and Writing Podcast.

How hard can this be?

Ha. All I wanted to do was download these podcasts onto my phone so I can happily tromp around town, ear buds inserted and listen. But my phone is an Android and these are iTunes. Or something. At any rate, my silly phone refuses to download the app to make listening possible. I know there’s a way to do this and it frustrates me to no  end!

After way too much time, I finally resorted to kyping my husband’s iPod Shuffle. Then I had to figure out how to use that. Not impossible but a small learning curve was involved. All set and very happy, phone stuffed into my pocket--because who would leave the house without the ability to check email or take a call?—Shuffle clipped onto my T-shirt, earbuds firmly planted, I can wander around my small town for hours. I’m reading and being inspired and sinking deeply into the writer’s brain.

But now I have a very low-tech problem. Walking and running have always been my free-brain time. That’s when my mind wanders and weaves into my stories and characters. Whenever I have a particularly hairy story issue, I strap on my tennis shoes and off I go.

I love my new resources but I need my old untethered time, too. Guess I’ll just have to put in more miles.

How about you? How do you balance reading and learning with dreaming time?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Dying for a Sequel

By Tj O'Connor, author of Dying to Know and Dying for the Past

There is nothing more gratifying, and terrifying at the same time, than publishing your first novel. Before getting that heart-stopping telephone call from your agent that, yes, some brilliant and forward-thinking publisher would be putting your work to print, you had but one litmus test for your story—publishing. After the call, the terror sets in—what if no one buys it? What if the critics hate it? Worse… what the hell will I do for an encore?

The answers to the first two questions—sales and critics—is fodder for a future blog. For now, the answer to “what the hell will I do for an encore” is easy…Write a sequel.

And therein lies the terror. Oh, so many terrors. What if I can’t capture the story and characters again? What if the first one fails and the second one is worse? Worse… what if the first one is great and the second one stinks? What if… And so goes the sleepless nights and reams of paper in search of the solution.

When Midnight Ink demonstrated their class and stature in the publishing world by signing me to write three novels in the Gumshoe Ghost series (note—this series title is not my doing…honest!), I had already penned two more murder, different mysteries—New Sins for Old Scores, which my agent is currently trying to place in the market (any of you publishing pros out there, here’s your chance… call my Kimberley Cameron!) and The Killing of Tyler Quinn, which is presently in rewrite. But Midnight Ink wanted two more Oliver Tucker stories—the Gumshoe Ghost himself—so I teed up Dying for the Past, which will be out January 8, 2015, and Dying to Tell, coming in 2016.

The first dilemma I had was how to transition from book one to book two, Dying for the Past. Let me set the stage for the difficulties I had. Book one—Dying to Know—is the story of Oliver “Tuck” Tucker, a detective murdered in the opening chapter who returns to help his wife, Angel, and former partner, Bear Braddock, solve his crime. Of course, there are a half-dozen other important characters, including Hercule, Tuck’s black Lab companion; Poor Nic, a loveable/hateable retired mobster; and several secondary characters of note, too. The story, as with all the sequels, intertwines a current murder with a historical subplot involving murder and intrigue. The two story lines weave and cross back and forth and conclude together. Always. Thus, there are two timelines surrounding the characters—the present concerning the murder, and the distant past surrounding the historical plot. Tuck can move between these timelines and does to solve the cases. It’s like playing three dimensional chess with dead bodies!

So, the dilemma was—do I treat Dying for the Past (book two) like a standalone story or write it as though it’s simply the next chapter of a longer story. In my case, I took an eclectic approach and wrote Dying for the Past as a standalone story, but let the storyline flirt with Dying to Know (book one) as though a continuing chapter in Tuck’s larger story. Thus, in Dying for the Past, I have an entirely new murder(s) and the historical subplot that includes 1939 gangsters, Russian spies, and the search for the book that has the key to modern day spies and traitors. I reintroduced my characters, periodically mentioned the plot and outcome of the Dying to Know—but sparingly—and created a new cast of fresh good guys and bad guys to support those returning characters from Dying to Know. And, much to my pleasure, it worked—having a dead guy solve crimes creates a lot of challenges!

Part of the allure of a good mystery is the characters. They have fears, strengths, weaknesses, and history to unravel. After exhausting myself trying to make Dying to Know a good mystery novel, I was again terrified about how I would keep my main characters fresh, interesting, and still a little mysterious to any reader who already read the first novel. The danger would be having nothing new for the reader to learn about them.
I found the solution by developing the second set of support characters for Dying for the Past. Each of the Gumshoe Ghost sequels will have new characters supporting the story—after all, it’s a murder mystery so not all of them will make it to “The End.” And these new characters allowed me to create new fears, strengths, weaknesses, and storylines for my main characters to evolve. Human nature is that way, right? How you act with one person is not always the same as with another. How you respond to one situation or crisis is not always the same as in another, particularly if new people are involved. I used these new characters to drive my main character’s new storylines and, in doing that, create new things for the reader to discover about them. In book one—Dying to Know— Tuck is learning how to be a dead detective. In book two—Dying for the Past—Tuck finds his family roots; and some are roses and some are deadly nightshade, let me tell you. Now, Angel and Bear are coming to grips with Tuck’s demise—after all, figuring out how to live and work with a dead guy isn’t easy. There are other key characters, too—like Poor Nic, the loveable/hateable retired mob boss—who has so many skeletons in his closet that Tuck can’t count them.

As Tuck’s sequels continue, Tuck will learn more and more about his family and with each one, have to investigate yet another historical crime along with a new one. Angel and Bear will find out that life with and without Tuck has a lot of twists and turns. The new characters in each sequel will bring along their own baggage, influences on the main characters, and body bags.
The biggest conflict I found in writing sequels was deciding which characters to keep around and which to send on vacation. In book one—Dying to Know—I received a lot of great comments about several characters—Poor Nic, the aforementioned love/hate mobster; AndrĂ© Cartier, Angel’s uncle; Detectives Cal Clemens and Mike Spence, the brilliant yet bumbling partners; and even Doc Gilley, Tuck’s spirit mentor. My problem was, in book two—Dying for the Past—I had a new crew of story characters to add and didn’t have room for everyone to return. The questions were: who would sit out the sequels? How do I explain where they went—not everyone can be sick or on vacation, right? Who would be most popular or have the biggest impact on the series? The answer lay in what I like to think was a brilliant strategy—I listened to my readers,  asked my agent and publicist, and read who the critics keyed on. Then, I ignored all that and kept those characters who moved me. You see, certain characters came alive to me—other than Tuck, Angel, and Bear, that is. They presented so many possibilities for future stories and subplots that I had to keep them around and use them to stir things up. In the end, if they stirred things up in book one, they returned to book two. If not, they got the flu, moved away, were out to lunch, on vacation… you get the idea.

After all is said, there were so many challenges to writing my sequels, I cannot recall them all. But it suffices to say, they kept me up many, many nights.
Dying for the Past is a better novel than Dying to Know, and I hope Dying to Tell is better than both. You see, I think I’m learning as I go and my characters are teaching me. Dying for the Past was challenging, too, as it made me search for what I wanted from Tuck, Angel, Bear, and even Poor Nic. With each sequel, I will try to challenge each of my characters to keep my readers—and me—guessing. After all, I write what my characters tell me—resistance to them is futile.

I’ve just wrapped Dying to Tell—book three—and after explaining my process for dealing with sequels, I have some rewriting to do!  I hope you enjoy Tuck’s cases in Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell… visit my site and drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you!
Tj O’Connor lives in Virginia with his wife and three Labs. Dying to Know is the fourth of his eight novels and is currently available in bookstores and online. Dying for the Past is his first of two sequels to Dying to Know and will be released January 8, 2015—available now for pre-orders! Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism and investigations.

Learn about his world at and Facebook at

Monday, August 4, 2014

Where Are You?

... and I don't mean physically.  Well, okay, maybe I do.  Where you live certainly can affect the rest of your life.

But what I'm talking about is where are you in your life?  Have you figured out your goals?  How close are you to achieving them? 

Since I can't have an actual conversation with you on this blog (although I can somewhat if you comment, and I comment back), I'll talk about myself and let you chime in--mentally, if not physically.

I always wanted to write, even from the time I was a young kid.  Oh, I did fine in other classes in those days, but writing, in my English classes and otherwise, was my favorite thing.

And now, I can do it full time!

My earlier careers included running a small newspaper, working in an ad agency, and being a lawyer.  Guess what.  All of them involved writing.  And some of them even involved fiction writing... of sorts.  Hey, I've always said that writing contracts was another form of fiction!

So I've always been chasing my dream and now I'm accomplishing it.  I've been writing now for quite a few years, in fact.  My first Superstition Mystery, LOST UNDER A LADDER, will be an October release from Midnight Ink, and I'm also working on another mystery series for MI.  I additionally write romance for two Harlequin series.  And I've written a couple of other mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime.

Where am I?  Pretty much where I want to be.

And so I ask you again: where are you?

-- Posted by Linda O. Johnston  

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Cave of Wonders

                          By: Maegan Beaumont

Lately, I've had a lot of people question me on my writing process. 
How I write (with my hands). How I choose to write what I write (I don't... it kinda chooses me). How much I write on a given day (It depends. I set a personal goal of 700 words a day. Sometimes I barely make it. Sometimes I quadruple it.) 

But without fail, someone always asks this question:

Where do you write?

In the spirit of full disclosure... I can write anywhere. But that doesn't mean all writing spaces are created equal. I've been known to stay in bed all day with my laptop and my dog and I can do that just as easily as I can set up at the dining room table.

But when I'm really looking to bank some major words, I head to my writing cave. It's kinda like the Bat Cave only there's no bats and no butler who brings me tea and cleans my grappling hook.

My desk is way too small and my chair has seen better days but this is where the magic happens.
Any writer worth their salt is a voracious reader. This is how I justify hiding in my cave and reading when I should be doing laundry.

No cave is complete without a dog and access to coffee. 

So there it is--the answer to where... just don't ask me why because that's something I haven't quite figured out.

Maegan Beaumont is the author of SACRIFICIAL MUSE, the second book in the award-winning Sabrina Vaughn thriller series. A native Phoenician, Maegan's stories are meant to make you wonder what the guy standing in front of you in the Starbucks line has locked in his basement, and feel a strong desire to sleep with the light on. When she isn't busy fulfilling her duties as Domestic Goddess for her high school sweetheart turned husband, Joe, and their four children, she is locked in her office with her computer, her coffee pot and her Rhodesian Ridgeback, and one true love, Jade.

"... Sacrificial Muse is heart pounding intrigue at its very best. A fast paced, exciting read that I couldn’t put down." - Book Chatter