Wednesday, February 19, 2014

In Which Nora and Shannon Return Home

by Shannon Baker

One question writers often get is: How much of you is in your main character?

With me and Nora, I can answer, not much. Nora is an avid environmentalist. While I’m concerned about the environment and I recycle, watch my water usage, take care to save energy and drive a fuel efficient car, I’m hardly an activist. Inspiration for Nora came while I lived in Flagstaff and worked at an environmental non-profit, The Grand Canyon Trust.

One way Nora and I are very much alike is in our love for Boulder, Colorado. My first experience with Boulder was in 1971, when my family moved there. I was in sixth grade and fell in love with the Flatirons. Downtown Boulder was the hippy epicenter and though I was too young to participate in that scene, something about Boulder resonated with my soul. We only lived there a year and we moved on.

When I got to restart my life, I chose Boulder in 2003. This time around, I spent as much time as possible hiking and biking in the mountains and the foothills before life took me away. I landed in Flagstaff, AZ. Not a bad place and the inspiration for the Nora Abbott Mystery Series. At the end of Tainted Mountain, the first in the series, Nora feels like she needs a place to start over. And where else would she choose but my favorite place, Boulder.

I was thrilled to steep myself in setting, picture the quirky inhabitants, bask in the shadow of the Flatirons, revel in the majesty of the Rockies. And then, wonder of wonders, I got a call from a former colleague recruiting me to join a startup. Me, Nora, Flagstaff, Boulder. Art imitating life imitating art.

For a few months I didn’t have to imagine Nora’s surroundings. I biked the same roads, hiked the same trails, drank beer in the same outdoor cafes. Wait, I don’t have a scene where Nora drinks beer on the Pearl Street Mall. I probably should have.

Alas, my stay in Boulder ended too soon. As one friend put it, I’m an itinerate writer. But Nora’s Boulder story is just beginning. She’s due to hit the shelves March 8th. If you’ve ever wanted to hang out in the People’s Republic of Boulder for a bit, get your heart rate amped by murder and weapons of mass destruction, and find out how a non-profit really works, consider picking up Broken Trust.

As for me, I’m currently writing from the windswept prairie of southwestern Nebraska. I don’t envision Nora winding up here anytime soon. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Guest Post: Writer, Doctor, Inc.

Today, we are most pleased to welcome a guest post from the author of Wife of the GodsChildren of the Street, and the upcoming Murder at Cape Three Points.

By Kwei J. Quartey, M.D.

The other day, I was talking to someone about how I combine my writing and medical careers. “Being a doctor and a writer seems such a strange combination,” she commented. I’m not sure what she meant by “strange,” but the existence of physician-writers is hardly unprecedented. In fact, there is a long list of them, dating from antiquity through every century up to the present.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, prolific author and creator of Sherlock Holmes, arguably the most famous character in fiction, was only a couple years into his studies at medical school when he wrote the short story, The Mystery of Sasassa Valley. Evocative of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, it was accepted and published by an Edinburgh magazine. It was while he was struggling to get his medical practice off the ground in 1886 that Sir Arthur began the Sherlock Holmes novel that would catapult him to fame, A Study in Scarlet. In this story, Holmes utters a memorable declaration: "There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colorless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it."

During the same period as Sir Arthur’s work, the great Russian writer Anton Chekov, was writing the short stories for which he is so recognized, but many do not know that he was also a full-time physician who continued to practice medicine throughout most of his literary career. He is quoted as having once said, “Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress.”

Moving forward a couple centuries, we have many present-day examples of physician-writers: phenomenally successful Robin Cook, author of Coma, Shock and many other works; the late Michael Crichton (The Andromeda Strain, State of Fear, and of course, Jurassic Park); Khaled Hosseini, a contemporary of mine who once worked in the same medical group (The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.)

Some doctor-authors write primarily about medical matters and do so in a way that engages the layperson. A good example is Oliver Sacks (Awakenings), whose explorations of patients’ experiences tell stories in the framework of what might be called “romantic science.” But it is the physician who writes fiction who interests us the most. What makes a doctor want to turn away from the often very tough realities of practicing medicine to creating stories for publication?

In fact, the two vocations are not as different as one might think. Much of medical practice is about stories. In medical school, I was taught that as much as 70 percent of the diagnosis comes from the patient’s history of present illness (HPI), the narrative that forms the reason for which the patient is seeking medical treatment. A substantial chunk of my medical training was spent in schooling us students in how to “take” a medical history, and how to “present” it. In the electronic age, some of this curricular emphasis may have been lost, but the importance of the HPI hasn’t gone away, even if people think it has.

At teaching hospitals all over the world, bedside rounds are the venue in which the HPI takes center stage. Nowadays, much of teaching rounds has been replaced by time spent consulting laptops and smartphones. This electronic shift notwithstanding, the responsibility of narrating the HPI still falls traditionally upon the intern, who “presents the case” to the senior physician along with a substantial and sometimes intimidating audience of other doctors. Invariably the history begins with, “This is an x-year-old man/woman/girl/boy who was well until yesterday when he/she began to experience abdominal/chest/pelvic pain…” and so on. That introductory form is so standard as to be almost sacred. After the body of the HPI, other elements are added: the past medical history and the family and the social histories. The most admired presenters are those who describe the case so well that the audience immediately gains a clear picture of what is going on. It is gratifying when a senior physician praises a junior one for “giving a good history.”

But think about it: all the presenting physician has done, really, is tell a story. Sometimes the tale is so interesting, it holds the audience in rapt attention. The best medical histories are like good thrillers or mysteries, and the best case-presenters tell them that way. So, although you have probably never thought of your doctor in this way, he or she is actually a trained storyteller. Perhaps out of some deep-seated need, the physician-writer adapts this training to the pages of a novel.

Another aspect of the physician’s experience that equips him or her to write is called the clinical gaze. It is the opportunity and privilege afforded a doctor to observe a wide variety of people on an intimate physical, psychological and emotional level, particularly in the setting of the most universal component of human suffering: pain. This interaction provides the physician-writer with a wellspring of characters from which he or she can draw in the writing of a novel. The incorporation of some of these characters in the physician’s novel is not always conscious. It may be a subconscious synthesis of several patients he or she has encountered in the practice.

Of course, direct medical knowledge and expertise come in handy as well: in my own works, there is always a prominent medical component, whether it’s a detailed autopsy report, or an account of the heart disease of one of my most favorite characters, seven-year-old Hosiah. It comes as second nature.

The genre that parallels medicine most is the murder mystery. Indeed, it was Joseph Bell, a mentor of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s and a physician with particularly brilliant powers of observation, who was the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes’s extraordinary deductive powers. By extension, it is quite evident how a medical case and a murder mystery are analogous to each other. The doctor is the detective who “solves” the illness; the patient is both the victim and the scene of the crime; and the culprit is the causative organism or pathological process. Doctors look for clues in the patient’s appearance, the history, the physical exam and the lab tests. There is no fundamental difference between a physician eliciting a history from a patient and a detective interviewing a witness or suspect.

There may be one more reason why some doctors are drawn to writing, and here, I mean fiction in particular. We physicians have a driving desire to combat and overcome the chaos of illness, and in many ways, redirect the course of life and death. Some of us never give up, and in the crushing defeat that must invariably befall us at some juncture, we may be thrown into the abyss of depression. It is true: we don’t like to make a mistake or miss a diagnosis. After all, a patient’s life may be at stake. Yet despite all our training and the wonders of modern medicine, we remain woefully mortal and vulnerable to defeat.

But in fiction, physician-writers can turn the tables on life and be in complete, godlike control. In the murder mystery especially, we create the setup—the heinous crime for which justice must be done—and set our intrepid detective on the perpetrator’s trail. Our detective does not rest until the murderer is identified in the delicious denouement, by which time we have also managed to tie up the loose ends in our character’s lives. What could be more gratifying?

But despite medicine informing the process of writing, there can still be an unsustainable tension between the two careers. Both take time, and sometimes there aren’t enough hours in a day to accommodate them both. Dr. Hosseini, for example, simply has no time to practice medicine anymore, what with forty-city book tours.
Is that tension affecting me as well, and if so, how much? Let me put it this way: in 2014, being a doctor will by necessity gradually cede to the burgeoning sovereignty of my writing, and in the very near future be forced to genuflect in submission.


Wife of the Gods

Children of the Street
Murder At Cape Three Points
Out March 2014

About Dr. Quartey


Kwei Quartey is a crime fiction writer and physician living in Pasadena, California. Having practiced medicine for more than 20 years while simultaneously working as a writer, he has attained noteworthy achievements in both fields. Dr. Quartey balances the two professions by dedicating the early morning hours to writing before beginning a day in his clinic.

Kwei Quartey attended medical school at Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1990, he began practicing medicine in California with HealthCare Partners. Dr. Quartey later founded the facility’s wound care center while working as an urgent care physician.

As a crime fiction writer, Kwei Quartey made the Los Angeles Times Bestseller List in 2009. The following year, the G.O.G. National Book Club awarded him the title of Best Male Author. Having published Wife of the Gods and Children of the Street, he is anticipating the release of a third novel in the series, Murder at Cape Three Points, in March 2014. Death at the Voyager Hotel, a mystery e-novella not belonging to the series, was published July 2013. Dr. Quartey is also a member of the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime, a fiction writers’ organization.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Isabel Allende Thinks We Suck

By Steve Hockensmith

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in the Friendsozoic Era -- which is to say the 1990s -- my pal Mo Ryan edited a music 'zine (remember those?) called Steve Albini Thinks We Suck. I always loved that name. Steve Albini was, at the time, the go-to producer if you wanted to grunge up your rock'n'roll for the flannel-flaunting masses. He had what I recall as a surly, mouthy, bad-boy streak -- sort of like Liam Gallagher if he'd been born in the States and knew how to spell. So it was easy to imagine him thinking many, many, many things sucked, even the wonderful and talented Mo Ryan. (Mo told me the real reason her 'zine got its name around 1998 or 1999, which is why I can't remember it now.)

Being someone with all the street cred of your average Mel Torme fan -- which is to say none -- I found the prospect of earning Mr. Albini's disdain pretty amusing. Some people shouldn't wear black leather jackets. Some people shouldn't write bile-fueled manifestos. Some people shouldn't get tattoos or pierce whatever random flaps of flesh they might choose on a drunken whim. I am one of such people and I've always known it. I am not a Fonz. I am a Potsie. So a hipster like Albini is such an alien creature to me -- like a hard-rockin' Klingon, say, or a supermodel -- his contempt would almost feel like a compliment. It would only sting if I pined to be like him. 

I haven't thought about Steve Albini or the 'zine named in his honor in a long, long time. But they came to mind this week when I saw some of my colleagues in the mystery world reacting to a dis from Isabel Allende. Allende, as you might know, is a highly successful purveyor of the sort of middlebrow storytelling Barnes & Noble stocks under "Fiction" and some people call "literature." Perhaps having grown tired of being all literary or examining the endlessly fascinating subject which is herself (Allende's written at least four memoirs, which seems excessive for anyone who's not Winston Churchill), she recently made the puzzling decision to write a mystery. 

I call it puzzling because Allende's been promoting her mystery by talking about how much she doesn't like mysteries. To prepare to write the book, apparently, she read a few current bestsellers, which she didn't care for at all. Having thus learned everything there is to know about a genre that's more than a century old, she proceeded to turn it on its head (in her mind) by writing Ripper -- a book that sounds like a James Patterson plot as filtered through Nancy Drew.

Offense was taken. Umbrage, too. And I sympathize! But one element of the response makes me a little uncomfortable -- perhaps, admittedly, because it threatens that smug sense of detachment that allowed me to laugh at Steve Albini Thinks We Suck.

I've seen people writing about how much Allende underestimates mysteries. How the best the genre has to offer is just as insightful and uncompromising and artistic as "literary fiction." And I think: True...but screw that! Why are we trying to prove ourselves to people who hold us in contempt? We don't have to justify our love of mysteries to the likes of Isabel Allende. Just as I've never had to justify my love of "Night Fever" to Steve Albini. (And good thing, too.)

Are the works of Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie or Ed McBain or Elmore Leonard or Michael Connelly insightful or uncompromising or artistic in a way Allende would recognize or acknowledge? Probably not. And who cares?

Yes, Isabel Allende thinks we suck. But of course we're free to think the same of her.

Or, better yet, not to think of her at all.

Steve Hockensmith is the author, most recently, of Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage, which this post was supposed to promote. Oops.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Inkspot News - February, 8, 2014

Here are the new releases from Midnight Ink for February, 2014. They're all great reads!

Broken Trust - Shannon Baker

"Baker deftly escalates the stakes of her initially straightforward story, which takes a much more serious turn before arriving at its unexpected conclusion." —Publishers Weekly 

Glass Houses – Terri Nolan

"Terri Nolan arrives on the scene fully-formed, her novels bursting with energy and intrigue."—Stephen Jay Schwartz, L.A. Times bestselling author of Boulevard and Beat 

Trusting Viktor - Lee Mims

"...a breezily entertaining whodunit." —Publishers Weekly

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Community of Writers and Readers

Hi again.  I'm Linda O. Johnston.

Some things I like: 

--Multiple blogs, especially during my blog tour to promote my latest Pet Rescue mystery for Berkley--both writing them and reading them and commenting. 

--Facebook posts, sometimes moment by moment. 

--Email from strangers--some, at least.

Sound odd?  I don't think so! 

Why?  Because I love, and appreciate, other authors, and readers, who all join together in a loosely-knit, huge community to enjoy, promote, review and discuss books! 

Now that I'm one of the Midnight Ink authors, I'm particularly appreciative of how great and supportive this group is. 

We writers do need to get the word out about our stories to existing and potentially new readers.  Social media can really help with that, and despite how long I've been at this I feel as if I'm still a novice.  That's one reason I particularly appreciate being here with other authors with whom I identify and who also seem to empathize with me.  And share ideas.  And write such fun books that I enjoy reading! 

And readers?  Thanks for checking up on us.  And also passing the word along to your friends who like the same kinds of stories as you do.   And being among those people I don't know who send me emails about my stories.

I'm still a newbie with Midnight Ink, of course.  The first in my new Superstition Mystery Series, LOST UNDER A LADDER, will be an October 2014 release.  But it's a lot of fun to let people know in advance.  Of course I'll do even more as October approaches, but starting now works well, too.

Before that, I'll have a couple of stories in my Harlequin Nocturne Alpha Force miniseries published about a covert military unit of shapeshifters.  I'll have some fun with them, too, in social media.

But, finger crossed, I'm really looking forward to the release of LOST UNDER A LADDER and letting people know it's on the way!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Regrets, I've Had A Few

By Deborah Sharp

Do you remember pacing the hallway in school, waiting for that posted notice telling you whether you'd passed the test, been picked for the play, or made the cut for whatever group you wanted to join?

I always get that same bout of nerves right before writers' conferences hand out their panel assignments. Will I get to hang in the high school lunchroom with the cool kids? Or will I be an outcast at that last table in the back, in smelling range of the garbage cans?  I've been seated with both. It's come as a surprise to discover a few of the mystery world's cool kids can be long-winded, self-promoting, time-suckers on a panel. Conversely, the unknowns can turn out to be a lot of fun.

 I'm happy to report none of my panel mates for this year's SleuthFest (Feb. 27-March 2, in Orlando, Fla.) conference come from the pain-in-the-butt category. I lucked out with two good panels, made up of fabulous authors. I'm looking forward to the first one: Laugh if You Must: Dying is Easy. Comedy is Hard. Our moderator will be the hilarious Chris Grabenstein -- who was once in an improvisational comedy troupe with Bruce Willis, which I guess would make anyone seem funny.  Other panelists are Miriam Auerbach, Phyllis Smallman, and my friend and funny mystery goddess, Elaine Viets.

I plan to talk about how even though my books are funny, I'm really just a sad clown, crying on the inside. Or, I may tell the story about how I once tackled noted literary genius Salman Rushdie for the last lemon poppy-seed muffin on the breakfast buffet at the Miami Book Fair. For a guy who survived the death threats of a fatwa, he's surprisingly slow.

I'm moderating a second panel. Despite the fact moderating is a lot more work, and I am a lazy slacker, I'm looking forward to it. Panelists are Heather Graham, Don Bruns and Jeremiah Healy. Our title: Regrets? I've Had a Few. There is nothing I like more than looking back at my career fails and getting into some serious self-flagellation over how I could have done things differently. Luckily, my regrets aren't the focus here. It's my job as the moderator to ask the panel members how they screwed up.

Now, that sounds like fun!

If things lag, I'll lead the room in a sing-along to Frank Sinatra: ''Regrets, I've had a few. But then again, too few to mention . . . The record shows, I took the blows and did it my way.''

Either that, or I'll tell how I regret being assigned once to a panel with a a big-name author, definitely one of the mystery world's cool kids. Beforehand, stars in my eyes, I introduced myself:
Me: Hi, I'm Deborah Sharp. I write the Mace Bauer Mysteries.
Big-name Author: Oh, those are the funny mysteries.
Long pause, as I nodded, flattered.
Big-name Author: I hate funny.