Monday, March 20, 2017

Coming in Hot

Eileen here! I'm in the last stages of finishing a book, which is good since it's due in about two weeks. I'm a little farther behind than I'd like to be, but it's all still doable while still taking the occasional shower and eating something besides potato chips and M&Ms.

There's a wonderful kind of madness for me at this point in a book. It's all coming together. In fact, most of the scenes are written. Unfortunately, they're not in order and there are damn few transitions from one scene to the next and there are also those scenes that are all dialogue between characters without tags or descriptions. It always reads like it's two people talking in a white room with no furniture. Still I get a little elated when I realize what scene needs to come next and that I've already written it. It's just a matter of finding it in my crazy long document and plunking it into place. And getting my heroine there and making sure she looks like something and is wearing clothes and stuff. And that she moves something besides her eyebrows and shoulders (seriously, what is my obsession with people furrowing brows, raising eyebrows, and shrugging?).

Sometimes I'll look up at the end of a day writing and feel like I've been driving at breakneck speeds over winding roads with my hair on fire. It's that kind of experience as I negotiate red herrings and plot twists and placing clues and emotional development in my character and establishing the little town she lives in and and and . . .

So wish me luck! I'm going in and I'm going in hot.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Gazing Out Windows in Ireland and on the Novel Page

By Lisa Alber

My morning writing spot at the B&B.
St. Patrick's Day is coming up, and it's reminding me that a year ago I was in County Clare, Ireland. I spent three glorious weeks performing novel research, hanging out in pubs, and writing all morning long in the sunny breakfast room at my B&B. 

PATH INTO DARKNESS, the third County Clare mystery, comes out in August, and it takes place at this time of year, in the weeks leading up to and just after Easter. This was why I chose to go to Ireland in the spring. Spring is amazing there, rainy to be sure, but so changeable. The cloud formations, rain, even snow!, warmth, sun, rainbows, wind. Three weeks is enough to see the change in a season, and every morning I looked out the big picture windows and noticed daffodils, the arrival of magpies, not to mention the neighborhood farmer who always waved as he drove past on his tractor. 

One of the themes of PATH INTO DARKNESS is resurrection, so Easter time is a fitting time of year in which to set the book, eh? By resurrection, I mean by means of healing -- emotional healing, psychological healing, spiritual healing, physical healing. I didn't set out to do this, but once I noticed that the novel was leading me in this direction, I paid attention to it.

Here's a small snippet that I wrote while I was Ireland last year:

Once again, Merrit surveyed the world from her bedroom window. Watching the weather had become part of her morning routine, similar to reading her horoscope when she was a kid. Today a hulking grey mass of cloud floated north, taking its rain with it. In its wake, sunshine streaked through lighter fluffy clouds and a rainbow grew out of the ground in an iridescent arc. A flock of starlings swirled like an airborne school of fish and settled on a telephone line while lambs bleated for their ewe mamas in the neighbor’s field. Spring had truly arrived. She decided to consider this a sign of a good day to come.

And here's one of many hilarious things about writing: Sometimes we insert ourselves into the stories without realizing it. In the first draft, Merrit, for example, looked out windows a lot. This was me transcribing my experience in the breakfast room watching the weather and spring's arrival. During revisions, I realized that, story-wise, Merrit's behavior made sense because of the growing pangs she's going through as a relative newcomer to Ireland. Here's another passage that elucidates her state of mind.

Hello, morning. Merrit plowed fingers through her hair and shuffled to her bedroom window. A haze of rain obscured the view of Mullaghamore and the countryside. She always seemed to be looking out windows. Her new pastime, watching the world from afar.
“Fantastic,” she mumbled.
A depressing realization first thing in the morning. She needed coffee.

The needing-coffee thing? Yeah, that's me too. Can't live without my coffee. I hadn't realized that Merrit is the same way.

I leave you with three of my favorite pictures taken from my writing spot at the B&B.


Toward the end of the trip I discovered that I'd met this man on a previous trip to Ireland. He's the ex-husband of my former B&B hostess. 

The rain storms (and rainbows) came and went with the clouds.

Woke up one morning to snow!
Lisa Alber is the author of the County Clare mysteries. Her debut novel, Kilmoon, has been called "utterly poetic" and "a stirring debut." Her second in the County Clare mysteries, WHISPERS IN THE MIST came out in August from Midnight Ink Books. Look for PATH INTO DARKNESS in August 2017. Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Facebook | Twitter




Thursday, March 9, 2017

Gearing Up to Launch

Edith Maxwell, here, still over the moon that  Delivering the Truth is nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Historical Mystery AND "The Mayor and the Midwife," my short story featuring midwife Rose Carroll, is nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Short Story.



It's exactly a month before Midnight Ink releases Called to Justice into eager readers' hands, and I couldn't be more excited! Plus I have a contemporary mystery releasing under a different name (Maddie Day) and a different publisher (Kensington Publishing) ten days before. April 8 is the big day for Called to Justice, but I have events planned all month, both in person and online. 

Here's the rundown:
  • 19 March 4 pm. “Walking Through Amesbury’s Past” hosted by Acton Historical Society. South Acton Congregational Church, 35 School Street, Acton, MA. Open to the public.
  • 27 March 7 pm. "It's Never Too Late." Nichols Village Retirement Community, Groveland, MA.
  • 5 April 6:30 pm. "It's Never Too Late." Plaistow Public Library, Plaistow, NH.
  • 7 April 7 pm. Two-book release party, with Maddie Day interviewing Edith Maxwell. Jabberwocky Bookstore, Newburyport, MA. With refreshments and prizes!
  • 13 April 6:30 pm. With Susan Oleksiw, Marian Stanley, and Connie Hambley at Sisters in Crime 30th Anniversary Party, Amesbury Public Library, Amesbury, MA.
  • 17 April 7 pm. Cozy at the Cafe, with other mystery authors. Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA.
  • 19 April 6:30 pm. With the Wicked Cozy Authors, panel and signing. Barnes & Noble, Nashua NH.
  • 22 April 2 pm. Sisters in Crime 30th celebration and panel. Plymouth Public Library, Plymouth, MA.
  • 23 April 2:30 pm. Prose and Poetry, with Lainie Senechal. The Noshery, Amesbury, MA.
  • 24 April 2 pm. Sisters in Crime 30th celebration and panel. Rodgers Memorial Library, Hudson, NH
  • 27 April 7 pm. With the Wicked Cozy Authors, panel and signing. Barnes & Noble, Bethesda, MD.
  • 28-30 April. Best Historical Mystery panel and Best Short Story panel. Malice Domestic, Bethesda, MD.
I have two Escape with Dollycas blog tours planned for the first two weeks in April, as well, many of which include book giveaways. I'll make an appearance on Jungle Red Writers on March 30, too. Here are the tour links:

I hope you can join me either in person or online for some of these fun events!
National best-selling author Edith Maxwell is a 2017 double Agatha Award nominee for her historical mystery Delivering the Truth and her short story, “The Mayor and the Midwife.” She writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries; as Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Her award-winning short crime fiction has appeared in many juried anthologies, and she is honored to serve as President of Sisters in Crime New England. A fourth-generation Californian and former tech writer, farmer, and doula, Maxwell now writes, cooks, gardens, and wastes time as a Facebook addict north of Boston with her beau and three cats. She blogs at WickedCozyAuthors.com, Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors. Find her at www.edithmaxwell.com and elsewhere.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Our Lives, Our Writing

by Linda O. Johnston

Last time I was here, I wrote about using reality.  I described losing a beloved dog, Lexie, then acquiring a puppy, Cari, to be a new friend for our remaining dog Mystie.


And I discussed how I would try to use these experiences in my upcoming writing.  It's what I do.  I'm a writer.

I also find it fascinating to see how other fiction writers do the same thing: take experiences in their lives and find ways to use them in their novels.  And why not?  It's a lot easier to manipulate an idea based on reality and turn it into something we can live with than it is, at least sometimes, to have to deal with that reality.  Plus, it does help us get past difficult circumstances--or use good things that happen in a way to keep them real.


That seems to be so with at least some of my fellow InkSpot bloggers.  For one thing, I'm sure those of you reading this can understand how much I empathized with what Tj O'Connor recently wrote in his blog: the pain of his loss after his beloved dog died.  As I mentioned, that's been a major issue in my life, too.  Will Tj use the experience, the emotions, in an upcoming book?  I won't be surprised if he does.


Then, also recently, Tracy Weber described on her InkSpot post about learning to be a doula--a yoga program to help in delivery of a baby.  She used that in her most recent Downward Dog Mystery, A Fatal Twist--an excellent book, BTW.


Others here and elsewhere have done the same thing--using their life experiences as research in books they write.  As I mentioned in my last post, cozy mystery writers often use themes in their series that are important parts of their own lives.


It's not only a thing fiction writers do, either.  If you learn something important in your life, find another way to use it.  Tell others.  Teach it to your kids.  Incorporate it as a hobby.  Change your career.


Has that ever worked for you?



BTW, right now I consider myself on the countdown till the publication of my next Barkery & Biscuits Mystery from Midnight Ink: Bad to the Bone.  It's fiction, of course, but originated as much of my work does from the reality of how much I love dogs. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

New Sins and Old Dogs

by Tj O'Connor
 
Cancer should be spelled with an F. That’s the way I spell it—F---ing Cancer.

Cancer took my girl. Fast. Painfully. Heartlessly.

First it took her by surprise. Then it took her leg. Then it took her dignity. Then, it forced me to … f---ing cancer.
 
I have faced death all my life. We all have in one form or another. But these past couple years has been one heartache after another. Still, nothing prepared me for the loss of my girl, Maggie Mae. Nothing. In 2015, I lost both my mentor, Wally, and my companion, Mosby. One as much as the other—a Lab and a brilliant but crusty old spy—devastated me nearly the same. I’m not embarrassed to admit it. Wally was 92 and had lived his amazing life. Up until the very end—the hour—we shared laughs and talked and made sure there was peace and understanding between us. But with Mosby, it was hard to share anything but the loss. I wanted him to understand there was no choice. To understand that there was no greater love than to let go and save him from pain and despair. No greater sacrifice than accepting responsibility for the strange, heart-breaking kindness that is sometimes death. I hoped—prayed—he understand that I was not betraying him. Not merely moving on. I was saving him from the worst fate.

I try to tell myself that every day. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it kills me all over again. Pain doesn’t go away, it just simmers in the background waiting for an opportunity to burn you a little more.

Maggie is different. Painfully different. I can’t explain why—perhaps because she was my girl or perhaps it was because it was such a shock. Perhaps it was something else—she was forever in bandages for something. Always on meds for this or that. A twelve year struggle to cure the next thing. But she lived without complaint. Without demand. Always happy and loving. Until December when she came up lame in one leg. The vet told me she had arthritis, maybe a damaged ligament. No worries. Pain meds, therapy… maybe a little surgery if it didn’t heal quickly. All would be fine.

Wrong. Dead wrong.

Three weeks later, I knew something was very, very wrong and sought out a specialist. My girl wasn’t going to limp anymore or down pain pills any longer. Whatever the reason. Whatever the cost. She was going to be healed—and fast.

Oh dear God … twenty minutes after arriving, the end lay in my lap, panting and begging me for a chance—a few more weeks. A few more months ...  Osteosarcoma. F---ing cancer. Deep in her bone. So deep it was killing me, too.

The doc, an amazingly lady with class, skill, and compassion, operated that day and took her leg to save her life. Chemo was scheduled. More pain meds. But hope was in my grasp. Within three days she was hobbling around, playing a little, loving a lot—the smile back in her eyes after two months in hiding. Even after her first chemo treatment, she was on her feet and fighting back. Fighting for us. Fighting for life. She loved on Toby, or black Lab and the love of her life. She played with my granddaughter, walked and slept with me, and ate everything she could find. After all, dying be damned—she was a Lab.

Until the second week. Paralysis consumed her. It was back. She couldn’t walk, couldn’t sit, couldn’t have the dignity of controlling herself … her face exuded embarrassment when I carried her for days into the yard just to keep her from soiling herself. I didn’t know what was killing her faster—f---ing cancer or shame.

Humans should have such dignity.

I can barely write these words. The next ones especially. Pain rains and fingers tremble—the thoughts of those last moments. For those who don’t share my emotions over pets, you shouldn’t have them. For those that do, I can only image you’re sharing a little of my grief right now. You know the rest of the story. I couldn’t allow her any more pain, anymore shame, anymore cancer. And in my arms, both of us shaking … I let her go.

Damn me for what I had to do. Damn me. I only pray that if there is a heaven—and for souls like hers and my boy, Mosby, there has to be—that she and he are together and happy. They deserve it like no human I’ve ever known. Loyal. Loving. Compassionate.

This is not the fun, lighthearted post I wanted to write. But it is the post I had to write. It hasn’t healed me yet—I am struggling still. But it helps. Because sadly, I’m not always the adventurous, tough Harley guy people think of me too often—I’m an UFO (ugly fat old guy) who cries over lost dogs and isn’t ashamed to post that pain for the world to read.

But, the loss of one has one good fortune with the pain—room for another. Toby needs a companion—he morns for Mags every day. This house needs a girl—I do to. Not to replace you, Mags, but because you left such an emptiness behind.

So, to end this with a little hope … welcome Annie Rose. You’ve got big paws and a huge heart to fill. Be gentle with Toby and me—we’re still grieving. But he, like me, is coming around.

We’ll talk again next month.
 

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS (IPPY) FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of New Sins for Old Scores, coming in Spring 2017 from Black Opal Books, and Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell. He recently finished his new thriller and is beginning three sequels to previous works. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

Learn about Tj’s world at:

Web Site:  www.tjoconnor.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/tjoconnor.author
Blog: http://tjoconnorbooks.blogspot.com/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7148441.T_J_O_Connor

 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Of Life and Birth and Mysterious Journeys

 


By Tracy Weber

I never wanted to have children of my own. Scratch that.  I had a passing urge in my twenties. I got a cat and it went away. I do, however, enjoy helping other mothers and mothers-to-be. Still, it’s hard to authentically advocate how much prenatal yoga can help with childbirth and recovery when you’ve never been pregnant, much less given birth.
So I did the only think I could think of to learn about the childbirth experience: I became a doula.
At least on paper.
I’ve taken doula training twice.  I never thought I’d actually end up in a delivery suite, but I figured the more I knew about childbirth, the more I could be in help my students plan for it. I was immediately struck in the training by how strong people’s opinions were about the “right” way to give birth.  The topic seemed to be as contentious as recent presidential elections. But I digress….
I graduated and integrated my learnings into my prenatal yoga classes.  A student even asked me to attend her birth, but she needed an emergency c-section, and I wasn’t allowed in the surgical suite.  Years went by. I forgot everything I ever learned about being a doula, except as it related to my yoga classes.
Then my best friend got pregnant and told me that she thought she should have a doula at her first birth. I agreed. Hiring an experienced doula was a fabulous idea. 
“You don’t get it,” she said. “It has to be you.”
Gulp.
I tried to convince her that I was utterly incompetent. I assured her that that she could hire thousands of doulas who would be better than me. She refused to consider anyone else.  So back to doula school I went.
Attending that birth will always be one of the greatest highlights of my life.  My friend’s labor was a difficult one, over twenty hours long. I was, as I’d feared, pretty much incompetent.  But my friend didn’t seem to mind.  And I’ll never forget her son’s hand reaching toward me as he entered the world.
So how did I connect that experience with murder?  I didn’t. At least not directly. But I was moved by the stories I’d heard in training, perplexed by the controversies, and transformed by my own experience bumbling through such an important life event.  And of course my protagonist, Kate, would do anything for her best friend, Rene.  So when Rene became pregnant with twins in A Killer Retreat, I knew I’d eventually write about her birth.
The result is A Fatal Twist.
I hope you read and enjoy it. 


Tracy Weber

All four books in the Downward Dog Mystery Series are available at booksellers everywhere!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Pet Food Safety

I'm not just an author of pet cozies, I'm a pet owner, too! My family includes Eddie the Morkie, Mona Lisa the Mackerel Tabby cat, Cupcake the Maine Coon cat, and Zach the bearded dragon. So when I catch wind of a pet food recall, I take notice.

I've found a great website where every recall is listed. There are also reviews and a forum and all kinds of helpful information. DogFoodAdvisor 

Since I live in the US, I try to always buy food and treats made in the USA by FDA guidelines.


Do dog treats have to be FDA approved?
There is no requirement that pet food products have premarket approval by the FDA. However, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) requires that pet foods, like human foods, be pure and wholesome, safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled.Sep 20, 2016

Resources for You > Information on Marketing a Pet Food Product - FDA

www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/ResourcesforYou/ucm047107.htm


The dog treat recipes in my cozies are tested in my kitchen, made with love, and Eddie Approved.


Until next time!
xx,
Jamie Blair

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

10 Ways I'm Organizing in the "New" Year: Late Adopter's Edition

By Lisa Alber

I don't know about you, but about this time of year, mid-February, I'm itchy for spring. In Portland, OR, crocus and other spring bulbs are sprouting and the black-capped chickadees have returned. It feels like almost-spring, so I count is as the true start to my New Year. Forget January. January is for people who aren't bothered by season affective disorder.

I've always been a late adopter, so it's no surprise that each year I adopt a late-nik attitude to organization for the new year. Here are some of the things I'm doing right now to get back into a groove after a worse winter season than usual, weather-wise -- and morale-wise, if I'm going to be honest about it.

1. Invited gal pals over for brunch, which forced me to do my spring cleaning early. No one needs to know that all winter long I watched a generation of spiders live through their life cycles in the various corners of my home. Amazing how a clean home picks up my spirits.

2. While under brunch deadline, I spent hours organizing every paper that had accumulated on every horizontal surface for the last, oh, three-four-five months. Much of this had to do with finishing up PATH INTO DARKNESS, for sure. But still, I'm a crazy paper lady. If you're like me, you'd find inspirations and ideas for stories, phone numbers you thought you lost, stray checks, and so much more.

3. Bought a ridiculous day planner that I suspect I'll rarely use, but that has inspired me to start writing down task lists again, not to mention goals for the year.

4. Invested in Post-It notes and deposited them in various places around the house with pens nearby. Then, I'll write random thoughts down randomly as they occur to me, rather than try to hold everything in my mind and inevitably forget stuff.

5. Assigned a section of wall as my Post-It place. Every few days I plan to gather up my Post-Its and stick them up on the wall. I might even decide to group them according to priority. And, I'll throw them away as I go along rather than let them accumulate so that my counters and table tops end up looking like hamster nests.

6. Speaking of throwing away--I threw away my mail pile. Except for bills and tax documents, that's right, I zapped it! Anything important will come back to haunt me later -- I'll deal with it then. :-)

7. For longer-term projects that require planning, before month's end I'll pull on my big-girl undies and sit down, just me and my thoughts. Have you noticed how hard it is to just sit and think? It's crazy out there, and it's crazy in my head. I'll use my handy-dandy day planner to work backwards from writing deadlines (for me, this is publication of PATH INTO DARKNESS in August).

8. Money stuff? Yeah, who doesn't have money stuff. Every year there are at least a few larger expenses I need to wrangle. I planned a tight budget to hopefully, if all goes well, save up as much money as possible before the expenditures. This year, I'll be going to Toronto for Bouchercon, and I'd like to hire painters to paint my house (interiors--I hate beige and all my walls are beige) -- I can't do it myself because I don't feel like dealing with it -- plus I've got vaulted ceilings. I've got a house savings bucket and a travel savings bucket, and I'm gonna fill them slowly but surely.

9. Ack, the yard... Screw it, I hired someone to do the major stuff. Problem solved. Sometimes throwing money at things is the best solution. Frees up my brain for other things.

10. As soon as I run out of something, *especially* things I don't have to buy often like Scotch tape and light bulbs, my new plan is to re-stock immediately. Light bulbs drive me nuts. I never seem to have any around, and I've let it go on too long. I'd say about a quarter of mine are burned out now. So before the end of the month I'm hitting Home Depot for a light bulb binge. (And I'll buy extras!)

So that's what my February "New" Year looks like.

How are you doing right now as we wish for winter's end? 

Lisa Alber is the author of the County Clare mysteries. Her debut novel, Kilmoon, has been called "utterly poetic" and "a stirring debut." Her second in the County Clare mysteries, WHISPERS IN THE MIST came out in August from Midnight Ink Books. Looks for PATH INTO DARKNESS in August 2017. Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Facebook | Twitter