Saturday, September 29, 2012

INKSPOT NEWS - September 29, 2012

Next weekend (Thursday, October 4th - Sunday, October 7th), many Midnight Ink authors will be at the Bouchercon 2012 conference in Cleveland, Ohio. Below are a list of our panel appearances. If you're attending, please attend our panels and stop by and say hi at the signings afterward!

Thursday, October 4:
12:15 - 1:05 PM, "It's Just a Job" Panel, Alice Loweecey
2:45 - 3:35 PM,  "50 Shades of Cozy" Panel, Catriona McPherson
2:45 - 3:35 PM, "Have Gun Will Murder" Panel, Darrell James

Friday, October 5:
7:30-8:45 AM, "New Author Coffee Hour," Sheila Boneham
9:00 - 9:50 AM, "Those Crafty Sleuths" Panel, Joanna Campbell Slan, Lois Winston
11:30 AM - 12:20 PM, "Murder in Small Town USA" Panel, Jess Lourey
3:00 PM - 4:00 PM, making fabric yo-yo greeting cards in the crafts room, Lois Winston

Saturday, October 6:
1:00 - 2:00 PM, making fabric yo-yo greeting cards in the crafts room, Lois Winston
1:30 - 2:20 PM, "He Said. He Replied. He Gasped." Panel, Alan Orloff, Jessie Chandler
1:30 - 2:20 PM, "Avoid the Unbelievable" Panel, Maggie Sefton
1:30 - 2:20 PM, "Historical WhoDunnits" Panel, Joanna Campbell Slan

Sunday, October 7:
9:00 - 9:50 AM, "True Grit" Panel, Colin Campbell
9:00 - 9:50 AM, "Red Herrings" Panel, Beth Groundwater, Keith Raffel

Also, there will be a Midnight Ink Autographing Hour in the Book Room from 11:15 AM - 12:15 PM on Saturday, featuring Sheila Boneham, Colin Campbell, Darrell James, and Maggie Sefton.

Sheila Webster Boneham is launching her new Animals in Focus mystery, Drop Dead on Recall, with a "virtual book launch" online to benefit canine health research. A portion of sales made through the event, running now through October 11, go to support research into canine health issues, and the results of that research often benefit human medicine, too. For information, click here to Drop Dead for Healthy Dogs!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Don't Forget About the Cat!

My new mystery, Drop Dead on Recall, has been characterized by many people as a dog-centered book, not without reason. It opens at a dog show, where a top-ranked obedience competitor keels over during the drop on recall exercise. (Aha! That's what the title means!) Besides, much of the plot revolves around a group of dog fancers and their dogs. In fact, let me introduce the main dogs of book one - or at least dogs that could be them.

My Australian Shepherd, Jay, is now playing at the Rainbow Bridge, but he kept my feet warm while I wrote Drop Dead on Recall, and he inspired the series protagdog, also named Jay. Here Jay is performing  the "retrieve over the high jump" in the Open obedience class at a trial.

These handsome Border Collies could be Pip and Fly, who
figure prominantly in the plot.

This handsome Labrador Retriever cold easily be Drake,
Jay's new friend and main dog of Janet's new, well, friend,
because really, she doesn't want to complicate her life.Right?
(Drake also is a major player in the sequel to
Drop Dead on Recall.)

But hold on! The whole book hasn't gone to the dogs, has it? Indeed, no! Janet and Jay share their home with a very important orange tabby. Leo is a major player throughout the book, and something of a hero cat, even if he is a sucker for catnip and sardines.

Kitty, one of the inspirations for Leo's character, knew that dogs can be fun (as long as they know who's really in charge).

So if you're a fan of felines in mysteries, don't judge Drop Dead on Recall by its cover. Just have a seat, open the book, and Leo will be there for a nose bump in no time. For more about the book, including reviews, click here.

Leo would also like you to Drop Dead for Healthy Dogs! Check out my virtual book launch to benefit canine health research from now through October 11. For more information, click here. Meow!

Follow Sheila on Facebook or Twitter, or through her website at

Monday, September 24, 2012

On High School Reunions

I'm fresh off the plane from my 10th (cough, cough, cough) high school reunion. I'm completely beat from hanging out with all the old people, who I'm here to tell you, can still really party despite the extra pounds, gray hair, baldness and, lord help me, grandchildren. I'm going to make this brief due to the headache from staying up past my bedtime for too many nights and a yoga class with my 75 year old father in which I found myself doing a headstand.

In any case, high school reunions are kinda awesome for a variety of reasons, but here are my top ten from a writerly perspective:

1. You get to see the overall story arc of a group of people you've known in many cases since childhood.
2. Is there anything more fascinating than the evolution or non-evolution of people you've grown up with?
3. In so many cases, the careers, spouses and personalities were eerily close to what I'd imagined, but what of those few people who threw me for a loop?
4. Why was it those voted Most Likely To generally didn't and, more interesting, what did they do instead?
5. The physical changes, both positive and negative.
6. The cliques and how they still impact classmates who stayed in our hometown.
7. How much and how little people really change.
8. How and why time truly is the great equalizer.
9. Where else could you possibly find so many fleshed out potential characters in one place?
10. The stories!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

No Need to Run, No Need to Hide

by Shannon Baker
Anyone else out there remember Chambawamba’s song Tubthumping?

Every now and then I need to pull that one out and listen to it, you know, when I get clubbed upside the head with life.

I’ve always been blessed with a certain shallowness that allows me to keep floating through life, even when unexpected setbacks arise. Or maybe it’s because, as the third and youngest child of an exhausted mother, I learned early to self-soothe. I have an overdeveloped denial muscle and experience has shown me that if I delay panic, often the crisis passes and I won’t have to deal with any bad feelings.

I think I took this coping mechanism to extremes standing in the hospital hallway eighteen years ago, when the doctor told us my father had a brain tumor and only days to live. I turned to my sobbing sister and said, “Don’t over-react; he’s not dead, yet.”

Sometimes people don’t understand me.  

And sometimes I’m just plain wrong.

In this political season, I prefer to avoid all the issues. It’s not a responsible reaction, of course. I call it Head-in-the-Sand syndrome and I’m pretty happy with it. I vote and this year, I’m swinging in the great state of Colorado so it’s super important. I’m not ignorant, thereby avoiding true bliss, but I refuse to join in the political fray.

Never-the-less, denial and avoidance can only go so far and occasionally I have to face the Truth. When that happens, I resort to a collection of music (old, because, well, I’m old). It’s my Disaster Playlist. It got really long during and after my divorce. These days, after several broken and lost computers and destroyed CD’s (yes, I collected them before iPods) and a relatively peaceful life, my play list is pretty small.

Today, though, I’ll be cranking by Jem and remembering that It’s Just a Ride.

For anyone having a bad week, remember if you get knocked down, you’ll get up again, they’re never gonna keep you down.

What’s on your Disaster Playlist?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Naming Characters After Real People

By Beth Groundwater

Many people ask me if any of my characters are based on real people in my life. The answer is always no, with one exception. Sometimes when I attend a mystery fan conference, I will put a character name in an upcoming novel up for bid in the silent or live auction they often have for a literacy-related charity.

Usually, the novel has already been written, though, so what people are bidding on is the privilege of their name being used for an existing character. Also usually, that existing character is not one of the main characters, and not a character that will continue on in future books in the series. So, I already know something about the character, but I don't know them to the depth that I know my main characters, such as my sleuths, Mandy Tanner and Claire Hanover.

That gives me the leeway to add or modify a secondary character's personality and background to match key aspects of the winner of the name of that character. And that's the fun and the challenge for me, to incorporate as much of the winner as I can in the fictional character--even if the character is evil, the villain, or the victim. Of course, mystery fans just LOOOOVE being the victim or villain!

I recently turned in the revised manuscript for the third book in my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series, titled Fatal Descent. In the book, Mandy Tanner and her boyfriend Rob, who own an outfitting company together, take a group of clients on a whitewater rafting trip down Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River in Utah. At least one of those clients will not make it out alive, and Mandy, Rob and their two trusted guides, Gonzo and Kendra, must keep their clients safe while at the same time figure out whodunnit.

At this spring's Malice Domestic conference, two people "won" (bid the highest amount for) character names in the book. Their names will become public fodder when the book is published in May, 2013, so I might as well get them used to the notoriety now! One winner was a man, Tom O'Day, and the other was a woman, Maureen (Mo) Heedles. I collected email addresses from both and communicated after the conference with both about what character they'd like to "be."

In Mo's case, I have three married female friends who go on this fatal trip with Mandy and Rob to get away from their husbands and kids. One is an animal track spotter, one is a wildflower enthusiast, and one is a birder. Some of these areas of expertise turn out to be useful in the solving of the crime. I asked Mo if she'd like her name to be used for one of these three characters. She replied that she is an avid flower gardener, loves wildflowers, and takes photographs of flowers that she hangs in her kitchen gallery. So, I gave my wildflower enthusiast Mo's name, added a line of dialogue where she mentions her kitchen gallery of wildflower photos, and made sure she snaps some photos of flowers on the trip. I was able to use a few other characteristics that Mo gave me in an email about herself, but I'll leave those as a surprise for her to find when she reads the book. ;-)

In Tom's case, he is an avid bidder on character names in mystery novels and told me that he has enjoyed being characterized as a villain or evil-doer in past novels. He also told me that as a teenager, he wanted to be involved in the outdoor life as a park ranger. I couldn't name any of my four river guides (Mandy, Rob, Gonzo, Kendra) on the Fatal Descent trip into Cataract Canyon after him, because they are all recurring characters that have already appeared in other books of the series. However, one other guide comes along on the trip--a climbing guide, since the trip includes some rock climbing adventures. This guide, who goes by the nickname of Cool, is a womanizer who manages to piss off both Mandy and many of the female clients with his overtures. What a delicious ever-doer for Tom to become! ;-) Again, I was able to use some other characteristics that he gave me in an email about himself, but I won't ruin the fun he'll have in discovering them when he reads the book.

Making these changes to two of the characters in Fatal Descent meant more work for me, in addition to addressing the revision requests that my editor gave me, but they also made the revision process more fun. I hope Tom (Cool) and Mo are pleased with the result!

Have you ever had a character named after you in a mystery novel? If so, please tell all! What did you think of the experience?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


by Lois Winston

I'm a firm believer in books needing killer first lines. No, I don't mean the killer should appear in the first line of a mystery, nor that the murder should occur at the very beginning of the book. I'm talking about first lines that grab hold of a reader and don't let go, the kind of first lines that pique a reader's curiosity and make him or her want to keep reading.

I learned the importance of killer first lines years ago when I attended a workshop given by a literary agent. He spoke about the importance of the first few pages of a book, how it's your one and only chance to impress editors and agents. Because if they're not impressed after a page or two, they're not going to keep reading.

From that day on, I decided that not only would my opening pages be free of back-story, unimportant details, filler, and boring descriptions, I'd make sure that I hooked the reader with my opening sentence. And I developed a philosophy about first chapters:

The first sentence of a novel should make the reader want to read the second sentence. And that second sentence should make the reader want to read the third. And so on, until you have a paragraph that becomes a hook that grabs the reader and won’t let go.  That first paragraph should do for the first page what the first sentence did for the first paragraph, and the first page should do for the subsequent pages in the chapter what the first paragraph did for the first page.

Of course, not all readers are going to be hooked by what I write. Taste is subjective, after all. However, once I went back and revised my first chapters, based on this agent's talk, I began receiving more requests for full manuscripts from editors and agents and less rejections. Eventually, those requests led to offers of publication.

I recently proofed the galleys for Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, the third book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. The first line is:

"If that damn woman doesn't shut up, I'm going to strangle her!"

Have I hooked you?  

Award-winning author Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series featuring magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, a January 2011 release, is the first book in the series and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Kirkus Reviews dubbed it, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum” Death By Killer Mop Doll was released this past January. Revenge of the Crafty Corpse will be a January 2013 release.

Lois has also recently embarked on an indie publishing career, releasing some of her earlier romance, romantic suspense, and chick lit books under the pen name Emma Carlyle. Now through the end of October, Lois is donating $500 to breast cancer research for every 1,000 Emma Carlyle books sold. Visit Lois at , visit Emma at , and visit Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers character blog,

Monday, September 10, 2012

Women Who Kick A** Book Club

by Jennifer Harlow

When I moved to California and I had few friends I got the bright idea to start a book club to meet people (and drink wine). Then I got busy and remembered I'm basically an anti-social person so I scrubbed the idea in favor of dealing with crazy people living under my roof. Through the years I've gotten busier, and crankier, but sometimes I revisit the idea (I do love wine). Then the laziness kicks in, as does a new season of The Real Housewives and I don't read a thing let alone want to talk to anyone. But if you are none of these things and like talking books here is the list I came up with about fiction books featuring women who kick ass. Now, I'm not talking just physically, though most do. No, the women in these books all have one thing in common: grit. No matter what life throws at them, be it zombies or snarky Mr. Darcy, they stay true to themselves and keep on trucking. In ABC order (with the Amazon descriptions):

1. 13 Bullets by David Wellington
All the official reports say they are dead-extinct since the late ’80s, when a fed named Arkeley nailed the last vampire in a fight that nearly killed him. But the evidence proves otherwise.
When a state trooper named Caxton calls the FBI looking for help in the middle of the night, it is Arkeley who gets the assignment-who else? He’s been expecting such a call to come eventually. Sure, it has been years since any signs of an attack, but Arkeley knows what most people don’t: there is one left. In an abandoned asylum she is rotting, plotting, and biding her time in a way that only the undead can. 

Caxton is out of her league on this case and more than a little afraid, but the fed made it plain that there is only one way out. But the worst thing is the feeling that the vampires want more than just her blood. They want her for a reason, one she can’t guess; a reason her sphinxlike partner knows but won’t say; a reason she has to find out-or die trying.
Now there are only 13 bullets between Caxton and Arkeley and the vampires. There are only 13 bullets between us, the living, and them, the damned.

JH pick because: Not only is Laura Caxton thrown into this world of rabid vampires but she remains human and believable while doing it.

2. The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
In 1915, Sherlock Holmes is retired and quietly engaged in the study of honeybees when a young woman literally stumbles into him on the Sussex Downs. Fifteen years old, gawky, egotistical, and recently orphaned, the young Mary Russell displays an intellect to impress even Sherlock Holmes--and match him wit for wit. Under his reluctant tutelage, this very modern twentieth-century woman proves a deft protégée and a fitting partner for the Victorian detective. In their first case together, they must track down a kidnapped American senator's daughter and confront a truly cunning adversary--a bomber who has set trip wires for the sleuths and who will stop at nothing to end their partnership. Full of brilliant deductions, disguises, and dangers, this first book of the Mary Russell--Sherlock Holmes mysteries is "wonderfully original and entertaining . . . absorbing from beginning to end" (Booklist).

JH pick because: Any woman who can believably hold her own against Sherlock Holmes deserves a place on this list.

3. Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton
Anita Blake may be small and young, but vampires call her the Executioner. Anita is a necromancer and vampire hunter in a time when vampires are protected by law--as long as they don't get too nasty. Now someone's killing innocent vampires and Anita agrees--with a bit of vampiric arm-twisting--to help figure out who and why.
Trust is a luxury Anita can't afford when her allies aren't human. The city's most powerful vampire, Nikolaos, is 1,000 years old and looks like a 10-year-old girl. The second most powerful vampire, Jean-Claude, is interested in more than just Anita's professional talents, but the feisty necromancer isn't playing along--yet. This popular series has a wild energy and humor, and some very appealing characters--both dead and alive.

JH because Anita isn't a Mary Sue. She's hard-boiled and not nice, which is refreshing.

4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games," a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

JH pick because: A teenager not focused on boys but archery and saving her family is the definition of true grit.

5. The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
The setting is Alexandria, Mississippi, where one Mother’s Day a little boy named Robin Cleve Dufresnes was found hanging from a tree in his parents’ yard. Twelve years later Robin’s murder is still unsolved and his family remains devastated. So it is that Robin’s sister Harriet—unnervingly bright, insufferably determined, and unduly influenced by the fiction of Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson--sets out to unmask his killer. Aided only by her worshipful friend Hely, Harriet crosses her town’s rigid lines of race and caste and burrows deep into her family’s history of loss. Filled with hairpin turns of plot and “a bustling, ridiculous humanity worthy of Dickens” (The New York Times Book Review), The Little Friend is a work of myriad enchantments by a writer of prodigious talent.

JH pick because: Harriet is like a tougher Scout trying to solve her brother's murder. I love tough little girls because they become tough women.

6. One For the Money by Janet Evanovitch
Stephanie Plum is so smart, so honest, and so funny that her narrative charm could drive a documentary on termites. But this tough gal from New Jersey, an unemployed discount lingerie buyer, has a much more interesting story to tell: She has to say that her Miata has been repossessed and that she's so poor at the moment that she just drank her last bottle of beer for breakfast. She has to say that her only chance out of her present rut is her repugnant cousin Vinnie and his bail-bond business. She has to say that she blackmailed Vinnie into giving her a bail-bond recovery job worth $10,000 (for a murder suspect), even though she doesn't own a gun and has never apprehended a person in her life. And she has to say that the guy she has to get, Joe Morelli, is the same creep who charmed away her teenage virginity behind the pastry case in the Trenton bakery where she worked after school.
If that hard-luck story doesn't sound compelling enough, Stephanie's several unsuccessful attempts at pulling in Joe make a downright hilarious and suspenseful tale of murder and deceit. Along the way, several more outlandish (but unrelentingly real) characters join the story, including Benito Ramirez, a champion boxer who seems to be following Stephanie Plum wherever she goes. 

JH pick because: Though she's in over her head, Stephanie keeps on going while keeping her humor.

7. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The year is 1945. Claire Randall is traveling with her husband when she touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is hurled back in time to a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord 1743. Catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, she soon realizes that an alliance with James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, might be the only way to survive. Thus begins a work of unrivaled storytelling that has become a modern classic.

JH pick because: Even when thrown through time into the primitive Highlands Claire holds her own with the clans and her hot husband.

8. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
One of the most beloved books of all time, Pride and Prejudice is Jane Austen’ s classic story of the love that blooms, is denied, and finally flourishes between the prideful Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet. A country squire of limited means, Mr. Bennet is faced with the monumental task of marrying off his five daughters, including his much-loved Elizabeth, while surviving the puerile antics of his wife, Mrs. Bennet, the plotting of the untrustworthy Wickham, and the arrogant Mr. Collins, who is entitled to inherit Mr. Bennet’ s property. Containing some of the most memorable characters to grace English literature, Pride and Prejudice is an enduring classic whose lessons of morality and responsibility continue to resonate with readers two centuries after it was first published.

JH pick because: Elizabeth is her own person in a time when that was beyong frowned upon. She sticks up for herself and those she loves even when it costs her.

9. The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James
Though poor, plain, and unconnected, Charlotte Bronte possesses a deeply passionate side which she reveals only in her writings—creating Jane Eyre and other novels that stand among literature's most beloved works. Living a secluded life in the wilds of Yorkshire with her sisters Emily and Anne, their drug-addicted brother, and an eccentric father who is going blind, Charlotte Bronte dreams of a real love story as fiery as the ones she creates.

But it is in the pages of her diary where Charlotte exposes her deepest feelings and desires—and the truth about her life, its triumphs and shattering disappointments, her family, the inspiration behind her work, her scandalous secret passion for the man she can never have . . . and her intense, dramatic relationship with the man she comes to love, the enigmatic Arthur Bell Nicholls.

JH pick because: This book started by love of all things Bronte. I love her tenacity, spirit, and strength even when she loses everyone she loves.

10. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Clarice Starling, a precociously self-disciplined FBI trainee, is dispatched by her boss, Section Chief Jack Crawford, the FBI's most successful tracker of serial killers, to see whether she can learn anything useful from Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Lecter's a gifted psychopath whose nickname is "The Cannibal" because he likes to eat parts of his victims. Isolated by his crimes from all physical contact with the human race, he plays an enigmatic game of "Clue" with Starling, providing her with snippets of data that, if she is smart enough, will lead her to the criminal. Undaunted, she goes where the data takes her. As the tension mounts and the bureaucracy thwarts Starling at every turn, Crawford tells her, "Keep the information and freeze the feelings." Insulted, betrayed, and humiliated, Starling struggles to focus. If she can understand Lecter's final, ambiguous scrawl, she can find the killer. But can she figure it out in time?

JH pick because: Clarice was one of the first to face off against a serial killer and the boys club of the FBI.

So those are my top picks. Which ones would you add to the list? Who’d I forget? What to you is a kick-ass chick?

And check out my own kick ass chick Bea in her latest adventure To Catch a Vampire out NOW!!!!!!!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Guest Post from Marsali Taylor, Author of Death on a Longship

Let's give a warm, Inkspot welcome to author Marsali Taylor, author of Death on a Longship!

Creating Cass

It's the classic question:  'Is your main character like you?'  With Cass, the narrator of Death on a Longship, I set out to create someone who wasn't me.

I started by making sure she didn't look like me: small where I'm tall, dark-haired, with Siamese-cat blue eyes and freckles.   I made her Shetland-bred, but of non-Shetland parents: an Irish oil-man father, and, for an exotic touch, a French opera-singer mother.   She's the same age as my daughter, so that I'd get her younger memories right - where the discos were, and what music was popular.

My own hobby, sailing, was my way into her character.  I'm a teacher, with a home and family, so I gave Cass my dreams of wandering.  She's sailed three-masted ships under tropical stars, crossed the Atlantic and rounded the Horn.  She sails solo between Shetland and Norway.  She can even fix her own engine.
Creating a character is a stream of 'why' questions.  This Cass had no fixed home, no family - why not?  What was in her past, that stopped her risking a relationship?  I wanted a darker character, so I decided on a lover who'd died - and that was enough to let me start writing.  Then, as the book grew, the story of the 'selkie wife' swam out of my subconscious.

It's an old Shetland tale: the seal woman who's shed her skin to dance as a human on a moonlit beach - except that a young fisherman's watching, and hides her skin, trapping her in the land world.  When Cass was a teenager, I decided, she was wrenched from everything familiar.  Her father was given a job in the Gulf, and sent her to her mother, now pursuing her own career from an elegant flat in Poitiers, France.  Cass felt ' heartsick for the tide flowing past in jagged waves, the sucking noise of the breakers on the shore, the tell-tales fluttering white on Osprey’s red jib ... These French girls were land people, and I was plunged in among them like the selkie wife who’d lived as a seal among currents, suddenly married to an earthling and having to talk of supermarket prices and new sofas with the other wives.'

Then I remembered how, through the ages, seamen have been seen as 'different'.  Their clothes, their walk, vocabulary, all set them apart.  Writing through Cass's eyes, I consciously took on her world, deleting all land comparisons.  When she finds a dead woman on her foredeck, it looks 'like a marionette washed up by the tide, the manicured nails still gleaming like shells in the bloody mess the gulls had made of the exposed hands.'

That was the key I'd needed.  Cass is used to a grey, blue, silver wilderness of sea and sky.  She's fearless, self-reliant, quick-thinking, practical.  This crowded green land world, with birds gossiping in the trees and people scurrying like ants, is alien territory, a temporary halt between voyages, so she's never tried to make it home, any more than you'd buy ornaments for a motel bedside table.

I realised how that feels on the London underground, during a visit to my daughter.  I looked around me at all these serious-faced people, dressed in funereal black, not looking at each other, in this rattling box in a black tunnel, and didn't believe it.  My reality is a wide sky over blue sea framed by green hills, with white houses set along the sea-weed fringed shore, and people who greet you as they pass ...  That was Cass, that sense of detached incredulity.

So what about this lover?  If he'd tried to moor her to the shore world, and she'd had to do something so desperate to break away that it haunted her even years later...  I gave her a visible reminder - the scar across her cheek.  Glancing in a mirror, or the way other people don't stare, makes sure she can never forget.  Making her lover a Shetlander explained why she felt she couldn't come home.

I'd got fond of Cass by now, so it felt mean - but we authors are here to make life tough for our characters.  What's interesting about an easy life where everything's going right?

The selkie wife story never ends happily.  She's no choice about marrying the fisherman and having his children, but she slips out at night to stare at the waves.  Then, at last, her skin is found.  She catches it up, runs to the sea ... and is never seen again.

In Death on a Longship, the murder forces Cass to look at who she's become ... to ask herself if she wants to stay a selkie wife all her life.  There could be a happy ending for her - if she can find the courage to grasp it.

Death on a Longship Blurb
When she talks her way into a job skippering a Viking longship for a Hollywood film, Cass Lynch thinks her big break has finally arrived - even though it means returning home to the Shetland Islands, a place she hasn't set foot on since she ran away as a teenager to pursue her dreams of sailing. When a dead woman turns up on the boat’s deck, Cass, her past and her family come under suspicion from the disturbingly shrewd Detective Inspector Macrae.

Cass must call on all her local knowledge of Shetland, the wisdom gained from years of sailing, and her glamorous, French opera singer mother to clear herself and her family of suspicion - and to catch the killer before Cass becomes the next victim.

Giveaway Info
Marsali is giving away THREE prizes; a copy of Death on a Longship at each blog stop on her tour, a 1st place grand prize giveaway at the end of the tour of some silver Viking-inspired jewelry from the Shetland Islands, and a 2nd place $15 Amazon gift card.
1) To win a book: leave a comment leave a comment here > > (open internationally for ebook or the US, UK, and Canada for a print book). Be sure to leave your email address in the comments so we can contact you if you’re the lucky winner. This giveaway ends five days after the post goes live.
2) To win Viking-inspired Jewelry OR a $15 Amazon gift card: Click the link to go to the contest’s website and enter the Rafflecopter at the bottom of the post. A first and second place lucky winner will be selected on October 1st. First place person gets to choose which grand prize he/she wants. The second place person gets the remaining grand prize. Open to every country.
Here’s the contest’s website >

Marsali’s Bio
Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland’s scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland’s distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Strong Women

by Kathleen Ernst

I’m celebrating a launch today—but it’s not the latest Chloe Ellefson book.

As I’ve mentioned on Inkspot before, I write for both children and adults.  In early 2009, American Girl invited me to create a character set during the War of 1812.  I said yes, and began the long process of researching and writing a series aimed at girls age eight and up.

Now, at long last, my six books about Caroline Abbott are hitting the shelves.
I’ve written two Caroline books and a Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery every year for the past three years.  The deadlines have been challenging, to put it mildly.  But I wouldn’t have given up either project.  As I send Caroline into the world, and anticipate sending the third Chloe mystery into the world very soon, I’ve been thinking about that.

What do all these books have in common?  Strong females.

Caroline is nine years old as the series begins.  When the United States declares war on Great Britain, she and her family are plunged immediately into the thick of it.  Her father is captured by the British, leaving Caroline, her mother, and her grandmother to keep the family’s home and shipbuilding business going.

Creating these three characters was very satisfying.  Grandmother, who was widowed during the Revolutionary War, is frail of body but strong of spirit. 

Caroline 019
Mama immediately takes charge of the family shipyard and begins negotiating contracts with the US Navy.  Each in their own way, both of these women provide wonderful role models for Caroline.

In rural middle-class families, it was not uncommon for young children of the period to be given what might seem to modern readers extraordinary responsibilities.  This gave me room to give Caroline a lot to handle as the series unfolds.  She sometimes makes mistakes but does the best she can, with her mother and grandmother as examples of what women are capable of.  And Caroline figures out that even a young girl can make a positive difference in difficult times.

How does she compare to Chloe Ellefson?  At the beginning of her series, Chloe is recovering from clinical depression.  The challenges she faces in solving the mystery in Old World Murder help her recover her inner strength.  While a few readers have characterized Chloe as weak because she struggled with depression, I think that her past makes her a much more complex and fully realized woman; and I hope that her ability to leave that past behind as the series unfolds makes her inner strength that much more satisfying.
Lightkeepers cover reduced
The mysteries Chloe explores often reveal some aspect of strong women from history.  She discovers women who may have had few options, but nonetheless did their best to stand up to difficult times, to find or make beauty of their world, to help their families and community.  The Light Keeper’s Legacy, which is coming soon, includes an historical timeline braided with Chloe’s investigation.  Several strong women emerge from the past—but more about that another time.

I love writing about strong women--nine years old or ninety; real or imagined.  I hope that readers of all ages enjoy spending time with them, too.

To learn more, visit

The gorgeous illustrations from the Caroline Abbott books were created by Robert Papp.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Newsletters: Wondrous or Waste of Time?

By Deborah Sharp

I'm wrestling with one of my extremely infrequent urges to send out an author newsletter. I think I have something to say: After coming out with a Mace Bauer Mystery for the last four years in a row, right around this time of year, 2012 will come and go without a new ''Mama'' title.

Two questions are nagging at me:  Does the lack of something new fall under the category of news? And, are author newsletters over anyway?

Friends and readers accustomed to these regular fall releases have been asking, What's up with the Mama? One pal even took to Facebook to speculate whether Mama's author (me) had been eaten by one of the infamous iguanas slinking around southern Florida.  When I was a reporter, I occasionally wrote a  ''Where Are They Now?'' feature -- basically revisiting someone who used to be in the news to see what happened after they fell off the media map. I figured I'd do the same for my fictional family from Himmarshee, Fla. Whatever happened to Mace, her sisters, and their wacky mama . . . ?

But newsletters are a lot of work, and I'm basically lazy (see paragraph above, about how I didn't get around to having a book to release this year). So I've been wondering whether sending out my e-news is worth the trouble. On one hand, I do want folks to know what's cooking with my crew. (Book 5, MAMA GETS TRASHED, will be out in September 2013.) On the other hand, see references to laziness, above.

I'm hardly the first writer to ponder author newsletters. My fellow Midnight Ink'er, Jess Lourey, addressed the issue briefly here at Inkspot way back in 2010. (Her post was a funny one, about worst promotional ideas ever. )

''Unless I only get them once a year and they are for an author whom I love, I don't read them,'' she wrote then.

So, Jess, you have read all my previous Mama missives from Himmarshee, right?

Karin Bilich at Smart Author Sites offers some do's and don'ts in this article about author newsletters . Turns out I already violated the top rule, since I never thought about building a mailing list during the first year or two of book signings and appearances. Dang! I could have had tens of possible recipients, too. I've also never included an excerpt or run a contest, which are another couple of newsletter ''do's.''

Maybe I'll get around to that in this year's newsletter (BTW, sending only one letter a year is a don't.)

If you want to see whether I do or don't, go to my website  to sign up for my newsletter. Scroll down to find the sign-up box on left of page, under my amazingly youthful author picture. Hey, you can always unsubscribe, right? (Including an unsubscribe option is another newsletter do.)

How about you? For or against author newsletters? What do you like about them? What do you hate?