Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What to do with New Year's Day

by Ray Daniel


The new year is upon us, and along with it comes the opportunity to make life changing decisions, uplifting resolutions, and big hairy audacious goals–BHAGS in the nomenclature of 1994 (Twenty years ago? Are you kidding me?) book called Build to Last.

Sadly, I have to admit, that I’ve never been one to create life-changing goals on New Year’s Eve. Lose weight? Sure. Right after we kill off these holiday cookies. Write more? Sure, day after tomorrow’s hangover. Spend less time on Facebook? Sure, but I have to tell all my friends Happy New Year first.

It’s just not the best day for this sort of thing.

In fact, I can’t think of one major life goal that came from New Year’s Eve. What’s more, I can’t remember the date of any of my decisions. The other day I was on a writing panel and was asked,
“When did you decide to become a writer?”

I had no idea.

I mean, I know there was a time before I had decided to become a writer. That was the time when I was trying and failing to get good at chess. I remember deciding that it was time do something that I was good at so I quit the chess club and joined a writing group, but

I can’t tell you when that happened.

I remember how I decided to become a computer engineer. I was in the seventh grade and I took an aptitude test that said, “You’d make a good computer engineer.” I said to myself, “Well thank God that’s decided” and the choice was made.

Circumstances always trump dates for me when it comes to remembering big decisions. When did I decide to transfer from Northeastern to UMass Amherst? When I was drunk in a bar in Syracuse called Sutter’s Mill. When did I decide that I’d never drink another Scorpion Bowl? The morning after my first Scorpion Bowl. When did I decide to ask my wife to marry me? The moment I realized that everyone, including me, was just waiting for me to do it.

The big decisions in life cannot be delivered on a schedule or on a date. Instead they flower and grow and ripen until they are ready for us to pluck them off the vine and make them our own.
Which leads us back to the question of what do do with the New Year.

Marking Progress?

A year is a righteous amount of time. Within it you tasted all the seasons, all the holidays, and every birthday possible. You’ve lived through whatever man-made seasons are important to you (baseball season, hunting season, theaters season) and you’ve plugged away at whatever goal you plucked off the vine in the a past.

So an annual accounting seems like a good idea. Question is, date should I use?

Again, for me, New Years Day never seemed like the kind of date that I’d use for marking progress. It’s just so arbitrary. Oh sure, I’ll say something like “goodbye and good riddance” after a particular trying year or, “this was a good one” after a good one, but there is simply not enough significance for me to use the new year as a touch stone. Instead I find myself choosing other dates.

For example, my annual weight goal gets measured at the beginning of softball season with an “Ooof” if the goal wasn’t met or a “Oh, yeah!” if it was. It just fits in my mind to test out the new weight in a well-known activity.

As for writing, my annual touchstone has been New England Crime Bake conference in November. Each year I’d go to the conference and see how I was doing. My first time I had a manuscript, second had no manuscript but was working on it, third had a second manuscript…up until this year, the seventh, when I had a manuscript, an agent, and a book deal. The conference gave me a standard touchstone to use for comparison.

What About the New Year?

So then, what about the New Year? If we’re not going to set goals and we’re not going to measure results what do we do as the ball drops on December 31?

Kissing someone always works for me.

When do you make goals and when do you measure them?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

To Tech or Not To Tech

by Shannon Baker

I tried to find some way to tie this story to a writing lesson but I finally gave up. So, this happened to me:
We recently moved to a micro, very “rustic” (see how I used real quotation marks to indicate air quotes?) hundred year-old house in Nebraska. It’s a temporary thing, as of this writing, we’re only sentenced to stay there 565 days, more or less.

Anyway, now it’s winter and, as you might expect, the house is not a cozy little nest. It’s small enough that it doesn’t take long to heat up but has an equally quick cool down. The basement heater sounds like a jumbo jet firing up for take off. So all day long there is a roar, the house turns into a steam room, then silence and frost.

I spend entirely too much time of Facebook but, as I explain to my husband, there is so much useful information. To wit, this guy demonstrated how he built a space heater that operates for pennies a day. http://tinyurl.com/ldsmw4c  It starts with a bread pan. To this, you add four tea lights. (This really intrigued me because I happen to have hundreds of tea lights I keep moving from place to place—which is a story for another time.) Next, you add an inverted terra cotta flower pot with the little hole covered. A larger flower pot goes on top of this and when you light the candles, it creates a convection effect and heats small spaces.

Perfect. I told my husband about my plan and he asked why I didn’t simply use an electric space heater. Oh, but this, I said, is so much cheaper and won’t waste energy and I already have all those tea lights. My husband is a railroader and he’d been working all night and now, going on being up for 30 hours, my schemes didn’t take top priority. He fell into bed and I decided the chilly, gray day was ideal for my new, low-tech heater.   

I set it up on a tea towel, on top of two thick magazines, on the coffee table. I was thrilled when my little heater started putting out a steady, glowing warmth. I chortled about how much money I was going to save us. I felt so clever and Earth-friendly.

Then the candles started to pop. I thought maybe the candles had some gold paint and the chemical was burning off. That didn’t seem like a good idea, so I tried to blow them out. Big mistake. The air fed the fire and it burned hotter. My little heater was certainly an efficient energy producer.

While I tried to decide how to dampen the candles, I smelled the tea towel scorching. This sucker was getting hot. If I didn’t do something soon, it might burn the table. I grabbed some hot pads and picked up the biggest flower pot. The infusion of oxygen fed the fire and it licked around the smaller pot. Yellow flames brightened my living room!

That’s probably when I started making little worried noises. Okay, I reasoned, I didn’t want to put water on the candles in case there was a chemical that would explode if drenched. I decided I’d pick up the bread pan and slowly walk it to the kitchen sink and let it burn itself out. Hands swaddled in hot pads, I gently lifted my low-tech furnace.

I didn’t take a step before it erupted. I’d created an incendiary device made of simple household items. I jerked my hands back and the pan fell to the floor. That’s when I actually screamed and started yelling that word. I’m sure you know the one.

The carpet ignited. (It’s kind of an ugly brown shag so not a big loss, but still, it is the youngest thing in the house.) I had visions of the entire house going up in flames and us wrapped in a blanket a neighbor brought, standing in the street, staring as the firemen hopelessly sprayed the house. I must have started making up a story then. My husband shot from the bedroom in his all-togethers. Did I mention all the shades were up and we live in a close neighborhood?

While I grabbed for placemats from the coffee table and smothered the flames, my husband stood blinking at the chaos, not quite understanding what was happening. I assured him I had it all under control, despite the stench of melting…. I don’t even know what the carpet is made of, nothing natural by the smell of it. 

I succeeded in putting out the flames and only melting a two-foot square. I ushered my husband back to bed and piled a few quilts on top of him, since I had to open the doors and air out the acrid chemical stench. The subfreezing air did the trick in short order.

We survived the incident and my husband cleverly cut and pasted to make spot look nearly as good as new. I dug out the space heater since I’m no longer allowed to play with matches in the house. I guess low-tech isn’t really my thing. No one can claim I’m high-tech either. I’m huddling in the drying blast and subtle roar of the space heater, decidedly a moderate-tech woman.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Page 69 Test

By Beth Groundwater

Musicians have long held the belief that the true value of an album is found at track seven. Marshall McLuhan (photo below), the author of The Gutenberg Galaxy (a 1962 book that analyzes the effects of mass media on culture and human consciousness), recommends trying the same trick at page 69 for novels. Read that page and if you like that page, buy the book.

So, I'm going to apply the Page 69 Test to my two 2013 releases. I'll post the content for each of them below. Read the page, then tell me honestly what you think. Will you buy the book after reading that page?

First up is Fatal Descent (cover below), the third book of my RM Outdoor Adventures series that was released in June. It takes my whitewater river ranger/rafting guide Mandy Tanner and her love interest and co-business owner Rob to the Colorado River in the remote Canyonlands of Utah.

Here's Page 69:

     She pulled on some warm clothes, stumbled into the willow and tamarisk thicket upstream to relieve herself, then washed her hands and face at the handwashing station after refilling the water can with cold river water. Fully awake after that, she scooped coffee grounds into a metal campfire coffeepot and poured in water from the purified water jug. She turned on the gas stove and put the pot on a burner. While Rob woke Gonzo and Cool in their tent, she went to the rafts to unload breakfast fixings from the coolers.

     When she reached the rafts, she pulled up short. Muddy streaks covered the tops of the coolers, and they were twisted in their lashings as if someone—or something—had been tugging on them. The dry food metal boxes had also been disturbed and moved, but their locks had held. Muddy streaks smeared the sides of the rafts, too. The streaks looked like they had come from the paws of a hungry animal, a large one.

     What happened here? A bear?

     Mandy had never heard of bears getting into anchored rafts, which were the recommended place to store food away from animals and were frankly the safest place to store anything vital to a float trip. She checked the nearby river bank, but saw no prints or damaged vegetation—or a bear hulking in the underbrush.

     Next, she did a quick mental check to see if anything was missing. They had brought ashore all of the clothing dry bags, tents and sleeping bags the night before, and the PFDs were still tied together to the front of each raft. The water jugs were all accounted for, as were the oars, first aid kit and other gear—except for a waterproof metal ammo box containing their permits and the radio. It was gone.


So, what do you think? Would you keep reading? Will you buy the book?

Now, on to my second release of the year, A Basket of Trouble (cover below), the third book in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, that was released in November. The mystery starts off with the discovery of a dead wrangler at her brother Charley's trail riding stables.

Here's Page 69:

     “The real culprit is whoever killed Kyle,” Claire said. “I wonder who did it.”

     Everyone in the room looked at each other and shrugged or shook their heads.

     Claire watched their faces carefully. “Any of you know if Kyle had any enemies? If he had any recent arguments with anyone?”

     More shrugging and shaking of heads, except Pedro hesitated and wouldn’t meet Claire’s gaze.

     She stepped toward him. “Pedro?”

     “Nada,” he said quickly, and brought a Coke can to his lips, spilling a few drops on his shirt in his haste. He glanced at Jorge.

     Claire turned to the older man. “Jorge?”

     Jorge’s face was passive, inscrutable. “Kyle was a kind man with many amigos.”

     That really didn’t answer her question. She stared at both men for awhile longer but saw that she wasn’t going to get anything out of them, so she turned to Brittany. “You dated him a few times. Did he mention anyone he was having a problem with?”

     She shook her head. “He was always smiling, didn’t seem to have a care in the world.”

     Jessica sat at the desk with fingers drumming on the large calendar pad in front of her. “Maybe it was a family problem, something totally unrelated to the stable.”

     Charley wheeled and looked at her. “I sure hope so, and I hope the police find out who did it soon. Kyle’s murder, on top of the issues we’re having with Peak View Stables and the neighbors, could deep-six Gardner’s Stables for good.”

What do you think of this excerpt? Would you keep reading? Will you buy the book? And what do you think of the strategy? Is the Page 69 Test a valid way to make your reading choices?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

INKSPOT NEWS - December 14, 2013

Today, December 14th, Midnight Ink author Beth Groundwater will be signing copies of her November release, A Basket Of Trouble, the third book in her Agatha-award nominated Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series, at the Next Page Bookstore, 409 Main Street, #101, Frisco, CO 80443. This event will take place during Frisco's Wassail Days event, so come on in and taste the bookstore's wassail recipe and pick up a copy of Claire Hanover's "Tips for Making Perfect Gift Baskets" so you can put together a great-looking gift basket for that mystery lover in your life that features an autographed copy of A Basket Of Trouble.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

In The Blink Of An Eye

by Sue Ann Jaffarian

I want to thank the Inkers for inviting me to guest on Inkspot. In getting ready for this post, I remembered back when Inkspot started. It was March 2007, almost seven years ago, and I was among the first group of authors blogging on the site. 

My first post was on April 11, 2007 and was called Research - Getting It Straight From The Horse's Mouth.  I posted about starting the research for the 5th Odelia Grey mystery novel, which would eventually become Corpse On The Cob.

Odelia #5
Fast forward to late 2013. The 8th Odelia Grey novel, Secondhand Stiff, has just been released. Number 9 has been turned in to Midnight Ink. It will come out in the winter of 2014 as Hell On Wheels. And I've started writing number 10 in the series.

Where in the hell did the time go?

I'll tell you where ... onto the page!
In the seven years since I first posted on this site, I've launched my Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series, in which I have to date penned four novels and two novellas, and have written two novels in the Madison Rose Vampire Mysteries, as well as seven short stories.

Yet it seems like only yesterday when I first started planning the research for Corpse on the Cob.

Yesterday, people. I'm telling ya.

#8 - Just Released
Seven years. I'm a little heavier. A lot grayer. On my third computer. I'm also more intuitive about my craft and more organized in my research and my time management. But am I at the end of my writing journey? Far from it.

Besides the contracts still waiting to be fulfilled in both the Odelia Grey and Granny Apples series, which will take me into 2017, I also have two other non-related novels and a Madison Rose novella in the works, and ideas for other series waiting their turn to be developed.

While I certainly don't want to wish my life away, the next seven years should also go by at light speed.

Have you noticed that time always flies when you're busy and productive? And that it drags when you're not?

I'm trying real hard not to blink too quickly!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Onwards & Upwards

by Jennifer Harlow

First, let me say how much I appreciate each and every one of you who take time to visit this site and read our posts. I think I can speak for everyone who contributes to this blog that we're honored you care about what we have to say about the world of writing and publishing. That being said, it is with a heavy heart I must tell y'all this is my last regular post with Inkspot. It is also with a heavy heart, and a lot of Vodka in my system, that I must tell you that Midnight Ink has decided not to continue with the adventures of the FREAKS. I'm cool with it, I really am. I am so proud they published the first three, took a chance on them in the first place. I don't bare even a shred of ill will. Truly. I still have a contract for the second and third Midnight Magic books so they're not done with me yet. The second WEREWOLF SINGS THE BLUES comes out 2/14 and is available for pre-order now if you're so inclined.

So, what's next for this gal? Well, there are the Midnight Magic Mystery books, which I have been furiously editing for the past month.

But I love the FREAKS so much.  You ended with that damn cliffhanger! Will there be more? Yep. I'm 2/3 done writing the 4th and fully intend to indie publish it sometime next year. And there may be a fifth depending on how well the 4th does. I have no concrete date for it yet, but check my website www.jenniferharlowbooks.com on occasion (like once a month) under Harlow Gazette for news as it comes. And yes, it will be in physical book form as well as ebook form.

What else have you got for me? What else is in the pipeline? Well, since you asked...the second in the Galilee Falls Trilogy GALILEE RISING came out this weekend! It's more of a romance than the last one.

Love in the time of superheroes...

The year since Galilee Falls lost its reigning superhero Justice has not been kind to Joanna Fallon. She's lost her best friend, her boyfriend, her badge, even her mind. The city of Galilee Falls hasn't fared much better with supervillain related crime skyrocketing to cataclysmic proportions. Deliverance for the city arrives in the guise of The Royal Triumvirate--King Tempest, Lady Liberty, and Lord Nightingale--who vow to be the heroes the city needs. Salvation for Joanna appears in the brilliant form of Dr. Jem Ambrose, another lost soul in need of saving. But salvation comes with a high price. When Emperor Cain, an old nemesis of The Triumvirate, decides he will stop at nothing to make sure there is no city left to defend, it is up to Joanna to rise not only for her city, for her new love, but for herself as well…

Buy it HERE

Anything else before you say good-bye? Just that I really do appreciate everyone reading this. We wouldn't be here without you. And if you miss me horribly I still have my own blog Tales From the Darkside where I post about once a week. And I will be back. I promise.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

INKSPOT NEWS - December 7, 2013

We have one December release from Midnight Ink to announce, and it's a great read!

Secondhand Stiff by Sue Ann Jaffarian

"[A] real treat for chick-lit and mystery fans who like feisty women."
Library Journal (starred review)

"I’d like to spend more time with Sue Ann Jaffarian’s Odelia [Grey]."
Publishers Weekly

Jennifer Harlow also has a new e-book out now, the second in her Galilee Falls Trilogy

Galilee Rising by Jennifer Harlow

It's available at all e-book retailers as well as in physical book form HERE.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Curator, Cop

I often describe the protagonist of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries as a reluctant sleuth. Museum curator Chloe is much more interested in folklore and artifacts than in solving crimes. She gets pulled into investigations when her specialized knowledge is needed.

Otherwise she leaves police work to local cop Roelke McKenna. In the newest installment, Heritage of Darkness, Chloe and Roelke collaborate to solve a murder that takes place at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

Chloe and Roelke are becoming more than friends. A romantic relationship has presented challenges, however. The two have very little in common.

So I was intrigued when Milwaukee radio host (and discerning reader) Mitch Teich asked me about the professional attributes Chloe and Roelke share.

Mitch is quite right. Every museum curator is a bit of a sleuth.

This wooden goat head reveals a lot about traditions that play a role in Heritage of Darkness.  (Image courtesy Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum)
Obviously the historical research needed to create programs at historic sites and museums involves investigation. Curators must be able to find and interpret clues in written records, oral tradition, artifacts, visual images, folklore, etc. in order to plan events and activities.

Old World Wisconsin's "The Spirit of Christmas Past" 
Chloe is a curator of collections. In a museum setting, artifacts are valued for what they can reveal about the people who made, owned, or used them.

Artifacts like this ale bowl always leave me wondering about the original owners. (Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum)
When an antique ale bowl disappears in the first book of the series, Old World Murder, Chloe's primary concern isn't the antique's monetary value.

In order to understand who might desperately want the bowl, she considers all the other reasons it might be important.  She must explore what's known about the piece in order to discover what has not yet been revealed.

So I guess Chloe and Roelke have more in common than it may initially appear.  That's good, because I have a lot more crimes in mind for these two investigators to solve.

For more information about the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, visit www.kathleenernst.com

Monday, December 2, 2013

By Deborah Sharp

Hear that big rush of wind? That's me, breathing a sigh of relief after a job pretty well done. Ditch-diggers and asphalt workers may scoff, but book signings can actually be hard work. Especially for those of us who are introverts at heart. Plaster on a big smile, look approachable but not pushy, and sell sell sell your series (and yourself). Hard work.

I just finished a round of meet-and-greet signings in the Fort Myers, Fla., area over the Thanksgiving weekend. I talked to more people in three days than I used to talk to in three months, BB (that's ''Before Booksignings''). After five books, I still get a flutter in my stomach each time I set up my things on that little table the bookstores provide: bookmarks and business cards, a red bowl of candy, my special signing pen. My talismans. Meet-and-greets, where it's just the author and a table near the door versus an author and a seated audience, can be a challenge. You have the opportunity to be rejected over and over by individual members of the shopping crowd, instead of in one fell swoop by an audience. I use the word audience loosely.

The point is, selling and smiling can be exhausting. I always need an energy injection afterwards. For me, that usually comes in the form of getting outside into nature. Luckily, my husband and I were in one of my favorite spots. We met in Fort Myers, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Both of us worked in the news business -- I was a print reporter with my first job at the News-Press, and he was on camera at WINK-TV.  We spent many happy hours walking the white sands of Fort Myers Beach back then. What better place to celebrate a job pretty well done?

That's me below, in my Rocky pose (Youngsters, that's a reference to a movie starring Sylvester Stallone, before the plastic surgery):

Then, sunset-watching at Fort Myers Beach Pier is always a nice way to close the day:

Finally, a little liquid relaxation.... Ahhhhh:

How do you like to unwind after a job pretty well done?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

INKSPOT NEWS - November 30, 2013

Today join Midnight Ink authors Beth Groundwater, Shannon Baker, Maegan Beaumont, Linda Joffe Hull, K.C. McRae, and Mark Stevens at the Barnes and Noble Booksellers store in Glendale, CO, as they sign and discuss their books.

Panel Signing of Midnight Ink authors
Barnes and Noble Booksellers
900 S Colorado Blvd, Glendale, CO 80246

Author appearance schedule:
Maegan Beaumont – 1 to 4 pm.
Shannon Baker – 1 to 4 pm.
Mark Stevens – 1 to 4 pm.
Beth Groundwater – 2:30 to 4:30 pm.
K.C. McRae – 3 to 5:30 pm.
Linda Joffe Hull – 3 to 5:30 pm.

Anything you buy that day--our books and other items--will raise money for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers as long as you mention the fundraiser at the register. Also, anyone who mentions Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers at the register from November 30 to December 6 (all week long) will help the fundraiser. Finally, you can shop online at www.bn.com/bookfair during the week and enter the valid Bookfair Event ID Number in the designated field and this will help RMFW, too. The code is 11231727.

Beth Groundwater has another event today in the morning. She will appear at Covered Treasures Bookstore in Monument, CO, with fellow mystery author Michael Madigan as part of IndieBound's nationwide "Indies First Small Business Saturday" event in which over 500 independent bookstores are hosting more than 1000 authors to encourage book readers to support their local bookstores. She will sign copies of her latest release, A Basket of Trouble, the third book in her Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series, as well as her other titles.

Saturday, November 30, 2013, 10:30 AM – 12:30 PM
Signing during Small Business Saturday with Beth Groundwater and Michael Madigan
Covered Treasures Bookstore
105 Second Street, Monument, CO 80132-1066

Beth Groundwater has yet another event tomorrow:

Sunday, December 1, 2013, Noon – 2 PM
Signing by Beth Groundwater
The French Kiss
226 South Main Street, Breckenridge, CO 80424     

Monday, November 25, 2013

Boston's Rolling Rally

by Ray Daniel

I can’t tell you why I chose to watch the Red Sox duck-boat rally from in front of the Forum Restaurant. I think it was the tree, a commemorative sapling that marks the spot where the second Marathon bomb had exploded–a positive memorial of a terrible day. I took the tree's picture and posted it to my Facebook page. Turns out that was a good move.

I had been in Boston during the bombing. My 21-year old son and I had been walking from Fenway Park where we had attended the Patriots Day baseball game (Sox won 3–2). We were meeting his girlfriend at the corner of Newbury street and Fairfield, but realized that we were cut off by the Boston Marathon, which zig-zagged its way up Hereford then down Boylston to the finish line.

“Hey,” I said, “Let’s go around the finish line. I’ve never been to the finish line.”

“No,” he said, “It’s too crowded.”

“Let’s just check it out.”

We did check it out, walking up Hereford to find that the street was too crowded. We changed our plan, deciding to take the T under the Marathon by getting on at Hynes station and off at Arlington. That placed us underground in Arlington Station when the bombs exploded. We never heard a thing.

The rest of the day was an exercise in logistics: figuring out why everyone was crying into their cell phones, logging our safety on Facebook, finding my son’s girlfriend, and skirting the disaster by walking down Back street, past Fenway and out to our car in Brookline.

I had taken two things from that day. A mild aversion to the flashing lights on police cars, and a tendency to choke up whenever somebody mentioned the bombing. The aversion to flashing lights had gone away. I was hoping the duck-boat rally would help with the rest.

The morning passed; the crowd grew. We took pictures of everything. A phalanx of police rode up the parade route on bikes, we cheered and took pictures. Early morning runners jogged down the parade route, we cheered and took pictures. Nothing happened at all, we cheered and took pictures. I turned to take a picture of the Forum restaurant, whose bar had filled with sidewalk revelers, and saw my son and his girlfriend. They had seen my post on Facebook and come to find me. We would get to celebrate together.

The first sign of the rally was a Red Sox front office guy who wore a suit and two World Series rings. We shouted for him to pose and took pictures.

The first duck boat arrived, sporting a beard across its bow and carrying officer Steve Horgan who had famously thrust his arms into the air as Torii Hunter tumbled over the bullpen wall trying to catch David Ortiz’s game-saving grand slam. We took his picture.

More duck-boats rolled past carrying players and their families. They cheered and waved. We took their pictures; they took our pictures, all of us trying to capture the joy of a city that had been shocked by what Peter Gammons called “an attack on a backyard family Easter egg hunt.”

The rolling rally came to a stop. David Ortiz (Big Papi) walk past us towards the front of parade. The huge speaker on the duck boat sprang to life as Ronan Tynan of the Irish Tenors led us in a rendition of God Bless America. I looked across the crowd as I sang, the familiar catch in my throat arriving then subsiding. Down the street, Red Sox players were placing the World Series Trophy on the finish line, draping it with the Red Sox jersey for player named "Boston", number 617 (the Boston area code.)

The ceremony over, Big Papi came striding back down the parade route, the duck boats started moving again. We cheered our team, took more pictures, and celebrated being Bostonians. The last duck boat rolled by, empty except for an unnamed Red Sox employee. We cheered “That Guy” and took his picture.

Afterwards my son and his girlfriend took off for Faneuil Hall to meet friends. I got some coffee, considered climbing back on the T and heading out of town, but tossed the idea aside. The sun was shining, the duck-boats were rolling, and Boston was healing. Who would want to leave that?

I'd killed my cellphone battery with picture-taking, so I pocketed it and walked down Boylston towards the Boston Common, weaving through a city populace decked out in its colors. I stopped at the entrance to the Public Garden where George Washington sat astride his horse, wearing a Red Sox jersey and a big red beard. A lighthearted crowd gathered around the Father of our Nation and took his picture.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

INKSPOT News - November 23, 2013

At 2 PM EST, 1 PM CST, noon MST, and 11 AM PST today, Midnight Ink author Beth Groundwater will be interviewed on Suspense Radio, a blogtalkradio show available for free on the Internet. Please listen in and call in with a question!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Getting Down to the Nitty Gritty

by Shannon Baker

I researched flights for Left Coast Crime. I checked my email and had an on-line conversation with my daughter. I wandered over to Facebook and blew an hour. After that, I messed around with some hot tub maintenance. 

Then it seemed like time for coffee so I brewed a pot and read a few articles in The Week.
I dug into the file cabinet looking for an obscure bill from last year to compare with this year. Checked my emails again and answered some questions. Then back to Facebook. And out to check on the hot tub….

All of this while carrying around a fifty-pound sandbag of guilt, knowing I have a big word count I set for today. I can’t seem to force myself to BICHOK this morning. (Butt In Chair, Hands on Keys) Now it’s nearly noon and I’m still in high-speed avoidance behavior. To break the seal (in a little bathroom reference) and get the words “flowing,” I’ve finally settled into writing this blog.

I’m galloping through the first draft of a novel in a genre I’ve never tried before. And I’m using a different writing method than I’m used to. This experiment coincided with NaNoWriMo, so I’m unofficially participating in that. Instead of a goal of 50,000 words in November, I’m shooting for a first draft of this book, more like 75-80K. I hit 40 thousand of those puppies yesterday. That’s not bad progress for 18 days.

And that’s my problem. I’m battling that “Hey, you rock” high with the “Don’t quit ‘til you’re done” attitude. I spent a lot of years as a Lutheran and I am from Nebraska, so you can see where the work ethic/guilt part might be pretty ingrained. Seriously, though, what would be so wrong with taking one day off? Sure, I know Stephen King never takes a day off, but I’m no Stephen King.

Then I happened along a TED Talk on something called grit. (Yes, I stumbled upon it while browsing in Facebook, why do you ask?) http://tinyurl.com/c2sxaay. According to Angela Lee Duckworth, grit is what causes success. It’s not how smart we are or how talented we are, but it’s the ability to dig in and keep working toward the goal.

I even took the quiz linked to the video. (Well, I had time I was murdering so why not?) If I answered the questions honestly—and I’m not above lying to myself—it turns out I have quite a bit of grit. I might go ahead and agree with that assessment, though. I’m not the most brilliant bulb in the chandelier, nor am I gifted with great heaps of writing talent. But I’ve been toiling away on writing books for a very long time.

I haven’t achieved success in terms of John Grisham or Nora Roberts but I’m continuing to make progress in my writing career. I’m becoming a better writer with each book I turn out and I’m learning more and more all the time. To stick with this crazy business and challenging career, it takes grit, not to mention a loose grasp on sanity.

So now, duly inspired and my fingers well oiled, I am shutting off Facebook, turning away from email and setting up in the blocks for today’s word count race.

When you hit a writing funk, what fires up your gritty nature and sends you back to the keyboard?

Monday, November 18, 2013

A BASKET OF TROUBLE Releases to On-line Excitement and Critical Acclaim!

My sixth mystery novel, the third in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, was released by Midnight Ink on November 8th. Already, A Basket of Trouble has gathered a brimming basket of good reviews, including all four of the big four review publications! Here are some pull quotes:

"Groundwater combines a satisfying mystery with aspects of riding life and a look at the illegal immigration issue. A good choice for fans of small-town amateur sleuths."
   -- Booklist, Oct 1, 2013

"Groundwater’s well-crafted cozy comes complete with numerous red herrings and a picturesque setting."
   -- Publisher's Weekly, Sep 30, 2013

"Groundwater’s third series entry (after To Hell in a Handbasket) is an action-packed cozy that successfully weaves in her small business and disability awareness."
   -- Library Journal, November 1, 2013

"This book had everything I want in a cozy mystery. It featured multidimensional characters, a twisting plot, and a location I want to visit."
   -- Mystery Books Examiner, July 15, 2013

"The latest starring Claire (To Hell in a Handbasket, 2012, etc.) packs in more action than a typical cozy."
   -- Kirkus Reviews, August 11, 2013

"Horse lovers and mystery fans will enjoy A Basket of Trouble."
   -- Clare O'Beara, Fresh Fiction, October 9, 2013

"Well, I thought with all the clues that I would have guessed this one. Nope, not quite. I loved the twists and the thoughts that were shared."
   -- A Date With a Book, 4 star rating, November 8, 2013

I've also been hitting the blogosphere to promote the book. You can read interviews with me at:

Hey, There's a Dead Guy in the Living Room

Lisa K's Book Reviews

The Big Thrill webzine published by International Thriller Writers

And my amateur sleuth protagonist, Claire Hanover, talks about a stressful day in her life at Dru's Book Musings blog. Lastly, on Saturday, November 23rd, at noon Mountain Standard Time, I will appear live on Suspense Radio. Please listen in, and feel free to call in with a question!

I have scheduled a half dozen personal appearances, so far, in Colorado, so if you live in the state, check out the Appearances page on my website to see when/where I will be appearing near you.

Phew! Is a lot of work involved in a book release? You betcha!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Facts Build Good Fiction—The Truths Behind Dying to Know

By Tj O’Connor, author of Dying to Know
 THROUGHOUT THE PAST thirty-plus years, I’ve been an anti-terrorism operative, criminal investigator, security consultant, and now author. One thing I’ve learned—at least for myself—is that the best stories I can write come with a hefty dose of my past. That is to say, many of the characters, places, and storylines are based, at least in part, on my life’s adventures. Some not as subtly as perhaps they should be.

Except the being dead part—so far.

Dying to Know, and its sequels Dying for the Past and the pending Dying to Tell, are the cases of Oliver “Tuck” Tucker, a dead-detective hunting murderers in the rural Virginia city of Winchester. All the Dying novels have a historical subplot intertwined with the present day. Like all my novels, Dying to Know is based around places I’ve lived and worked, real-life plots I’ve been intimately involved with, and people I’ve known. At least in part. Oh, I’ve glued it all together around some Frankenstein-like characters who are an amalgamation of different people I’ve known, but, in the end, much of the components of Dying to Know come from my memory, not my imagination.

Let me explain.

Many of my characters are based on the real-life characters I’ve met in my past. One of them is most important—we’ll call him Mr. F.—and he’s one of the last surviving Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operatives in the world. He is also a retired big shot from the CIA. Mr. F. has seen and made history for going on 90 years. I have the fortune to have him as my closest friend and mentor.

Mr. F. is a brilliant man. He is a lawyer by education, an adventurer by personal experience, and my editor, mentor, and butt-kicker for more than twenty years. He fought the Germans in Northern Africa and Italy, guerrillas in Greece, communists around the world, and dozens of politicians and CEO’s on Capitol Hill and throughout the U.S. He is also the basis for two of my characters in two different novels—Spy Master Oscar LaRue, from Double Effect, an as yet unpublished story about terrorism in a small town (yes, Winchester), and as Doc Gilley, the affable and smartass spirit-surgeon in Dying to Know and other Oliver Tucker stories.
How could I not base characters on him?

Dying to Know—the story of Oliver “Tuck” Tucker, a dead detective who returns to solve his own murder—and others, is not the only story stolen from my past. Double Effect is the story of a rogue intelligence operative returned to Virginia to find his brother’s killer. At home, he finds that terrorists are trying to take root there and he and his former spymaster, Oscar LaRue, must stop them. Again, Winchester is the venue, terrorists from my past the antagonists, and the spy master, Oscar LaRue, is of course, Mr. F., my mentor. And, the real-life threat of terrorists operating from our neighborhoods is the theme. The truth can be scarier than you know.

New Sins for Old Scores, another as-yet unpublished novel, is about a Virginia detective, Richard Jax, and the spirit of a long-dead OSS agent, Trick McCall. They must stop a killer and reveal the truth behind a generations-old scheme—smuggle human cargo out of war zones in France and Afghanistan—separated by seventy years! The story takes the real World War II Operation Paperclip—missions by the OSS to secret German Scientists out of Nazi control to the U.S.—and updates it to the Middle East conflicts today. The truths behind New Sins are easy. Operation Paperclip was real. International outrage and wrongdoing has occurred from secret missions and operations in and around the Middle Eastern conflicts. Many of these are solved with the basic, fundamental crime solving skills of humble detectives and stalwart thinkers.

When in my novels is now and in the past. All my Oliver Tucker novels, along with two other murder mysteries as yet unpublished—New Sins for Old Scores and The Killing of Tyler Quinn—take place in the here and now. Each also has an historical subplot that intertwines a significant event from the past: In Dying to Know, it’s the Civil War battlefield and events leading to the discovered graves; in the first sequel, Dying for the Past, it’s 1940’s gangsters who worked with the FBI to uncover Nazi and Soviet spy rings; and in New Sins for Old Scores, it’s the 1940’s OSS Operation Paperclip. The past always influences the current plot in the story. The outcomes are often inseparable.

Dying to Know unfolds in Winchester, Virginia, and the surrounding Frederick County—Tuck’s home and mine. Winchester is a beautiful rural city with 19th Century charm and all the modern facets of life. It is steeped in hundreds of years of history and boasts many heroes and historical events. Among them are a headquarters of George Washington, dozens of battles during the Civil War, the rampages of John Mosby and Stonewall Jackson, the infamous Patsy Cline, and dozens of others. For a small place, it’s busting with lore and real-life adventure.
Winchester’s history also plays a vital role in Dying to Know.

One of the plotlines in Dying to Know is the discovery of Civil War skeletal remains during the excavations for a highway project around town. This discovery has a significant role in the story. True to fact, battlefields and historical markers are as prevalent in Winchester as any city in Virginia. Also true  is that a long-running debate in this area has been the development of land around Winchester for the construction of a highway bypass project that’s been heavily mired down by, among other reasons, historical preservation. This real-life battle has been waging on and off for years. And, at times, it’s become very heated. Having watched from the sidelines, I can tell you that land developers and historians mix like gasoline and matches. So far, though, no one has buried anyone in the hills outside town. Not that I know of anyway.

The discovery of the Civil War bones in Dying to Know and the underlying plot they bring in my story is also based in fact. Some twenty-seven years ago, I was a young OSI agent assigned in central Ohio when a building excavation on a military base unearthed a human skeleton. Stop the backhoes! At first, the history behind the site concerned us. During the 1st and 2nd World Wars, the ground under construction had been occupied by military barracks for soldiers and airmen. Had there been an unreported or unsolved murder? Was some long-forgotten soldier just now being discovered?
No. Thank God there was not.

Instead, we called in forensic experts from Ohio State University, whom we thought could shed some light on the age of the victim and provide us with some tips on how to handle such a dated and decaying find. Back in the 1980s, few CSI or other on-hand experts could swoop in and solve the murder in an hour while never losing their sunglasses. Yet, oddly enough, the forensic folks sent us down the hall to the archeology department where we met with scientists researching the Mound Builder Indian cultures. That’s where the trouble started.  
Within an hour of our meeting with the archeologists, we found ourselves at the beginning of a major controversy. At first, the archeologists believed our discovery was that of a pre-historic Indian from Mound Builders history—Ohio is laden with American Indian Mound Builder culture discoveries. And, after their initial speculation, they swooped in with court orders and papers that froze the scene for months while they sorted out the dig site. In the end—many, many months later—it was discovered that the poor soul in the site was a mid-19th Century farmer; probably a family burial left unrecorded. Oops. The lawyers, historians, government officials, and developers were in a mêlée over what to do. It got ugly.

My partner and I quietly exited stage left.

In the end, my stories, like many other authors, are truth smothered in a stew of imagination, storytelling, and what-if plots. It’s the reader’s job to figure out which are which. It’s our job to make that interesting. My past is my story’s subplots. And I’ll steal from them every chance I get.
Tj O’Connor lives in Virginia with his wife and three Labs. Dying to Know is the fourth of his seven novels. He works as an international security consultant specializing in investigations and anti-terrorism. Learn about his world at www.tjoconnor.com and Facebook at www.facebook.com/TjOConnor.Author.






Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Turning Real Life Experiences Into Fiction

by Lois Winston

Writers are often advised to “write what you know.” Anastasia Pollack, the reluctant amateur sleuth of my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, is the crafts editor at a women’s magazine. I’ve been a crafts editor for a craft book publisher and also freelanced as a designer for various women’s magazines. However, I was never a magazine editor. Still, I know enough about the world of magazine publishing that I feel I’ve done credible justice to my character’s profession.

When I was mulling over plot ideas for the fourth book in the series, I chose a familiar setting. At one point in my career, I worked several craft industry trade and consumer shows each year. Once at a trade show in Las Vegas our shipping case of models disappeared after being received at the loading dock. Trade shows are extremely costly, and the manufacturer I was working for lost thousands of dollars in business because she had no product to display. Then, at the end of the five-day show, when our empty cases were returned to us to pack up our bare booth, the shipping case of models magically appeared. Of course the convention center refused to take responsibility for the snafu.

This old memory got me thinking. What if the shipping case had been returned, not filled with craft models, but with a dead body? And thus was born the plot for Decoupage Can Be Deadly.

I wasn’t too far into the writing process when I learned about the hot new beauty crafting trend of Vajazzling. Of course, my curiosity was instantly piqued. I did a Google search and came across a video on the art of Vajazzling
This is definitely one craft Anastasia won’t be doing any time soon. But it fit perfectly into the plot I was developing for the book. So I ran with it.

If you’d like to see how I incorporated both a consumer show at a convention center and the art of Vajazzling into Decoupage Can Be Deadly, you can read the first chapter here

Decoupage Can Be Deadly
Anastasia and her fellow American Woman editors are steaming mad when minutes before the opening of a consumer show, they discover half their booth usurped by Bling!, their publisher’s newest magazine. CEO Alfred Gruenwald is sporting new arm candy—rapper-turned-entrepreneur and Bling! executive editor, the first-name-only Philomena. During the consumer show, Gruenwald’s wife serves Philomena with an alienation of affection lawsuit, but Philomena doesn’t live long enough to make an appearance in court. She’s found dead days later, stuffed in the shipping case that held Anastasia’s decoupage crafts. When Gruenwald makes cash-strapped Anastasia an offer she can’t refuse, she wonders, does he really want to find Philomena’s killer or is he harboring a hidden agenda?

Buy Links

Award-winning author Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series featuring magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack. Lois is also published in women’s fiction, romance, romantic suspense, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Visit Lois at www.loiswinston.com, visit Emma atwww.emmacarlyle.com, and visit Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog,www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. Follow everyone on Twitter @anasleuth.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Saying Good-bye to My Baby

by Jennifer Harlow

Writing an entire book is like running a marathon (not that I ever have or will run one) or finding out you're about to have a baby, where you start off fast and happy, hit a wall of fear, curse the gods for ever giving you the thought of pursuing this madness, but keep going until the end with renewed vigor, or as I like to think of it, "I made it this bloody far, I will not let anything stop me. I'll show them! Ha ha ha!" So you continue on toiling through the backaches, the sleepless nights trying to figure out what happens next, even through the bloating (though that could just be me) until you get to write those two wonderful words, "The End," and make yourself a large, stiff drink. You’ve earned it. And you’re gonna need it because your baby is finally here...and now comes the hard part.

After the first draft comes the first and second edits, each where you stare at every word trying to figure out if it’s the best choice, second guessing yourself a million times along the way, before you give it to your beta testers, who take their sweet time reading and editing. Then you take their suggestions, edit again, send it to your wonderful agent for her to edit, make the corrections she suggests, edit again, and finally it's ready to shop around. And if the publishing gods deign her worthy, the publisher will have you edit it at least twice more. So "The End" is simply the beginning of a grueling process, almost like raising a child, where you will curse your characters for ever entering your imagination or life in the first place at least once or twice. But you love her regardless, and you solider on to do your best to help her grow.

My baby has gone through so many changes I barely recognize her. She has gone through so many changes since I conceived her seven(!) years ago, I barely recognize her. The beginning chapter I started with is completely gone, characters names have changed, and I don't know how many paragraphs have been shortened or expanded. She (like all cars manuscripts are female) has grown from a seed in my mind to an infant as I did the first draft. All her parts were there, her personality, but she needed shaping to become a productive member of book society.

So through the years I did my best to trim her fat, improve her vocabulary, scream at her when she wouldn't listen to me, and make her the best she could be. (Those teenage years...shudder. I almost gave up on her when I was trying to sell her, but we soldiered through). Now, it's as if she is about to graduate college. She's standing on her own two feet, but still needs her Mommy for a few last bits of advice. That's what I'm doing now with the final edit. Never again will I be able to change words, add to characters, plug in narrative holes, etc. She will forever be out in the world as is for other people to judge, enjoy, or just plain hate. She is her own entity now. I just hope my baby will become President instead of a bum. Regardless, I have to let go. I've done all I can to get her to stand on her two feet, and I am proud of her...though I never want to see her again.

Now…onto her siblings.

And for all you F.R.E.A.K.S. fans, check out the e-short published last week featuring your favorite hipster teenage teleporter...

Only $1.99. Buy it HERE.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

INKSPOT NEWS - November 9, 2013

To promote the release of A Basket of Trouble, the critically-acclaimed third book in her Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series, Midnight Ink author Beth Groundwater will make two appearances in Colorado Springs, Colorado (the setting for the book) next Wednesday:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013, 10:00 – 12:00 AM
Visit with Mystery Book Club, public welcome
Briargate Community Library
9475 Briar Village Point, Suite 100, Colorado Springs, CO 80920

Wednesday, November 13, 2013, 3:00 – 6:00 PM
Barnes and Noble Booksellers
795 Citadel Drive East, Colorado Springs, CO 80909   

Friday, November 8, 2013

Writing Fun Books for Kids in One Easy Step -- Step 1: Write a Fun Book for Kids

by Steve "Not a Guru" Hockensmith

Meet the world’s worst creative writing teacher. Me.

I’ve written half a dozen mystery novels (including Midnight Ink’s The White Magic Five and Dime, coming to a bookstore near you next summer!), but what do I say when aspiring writers ask me how to do it themselves? Something along the lines of, “Gosh, I don’t know. Uhh...just keep writing until you figure it out?”

I’ve had more than 30 short stories published in magazines and anthologies, but how do I respond when folks ask me how to write those? Something like, “Umm, I’m not sure...but if you work at it long enough you’ll probably get the hang of it.”

And now as of this week I’m officially an author of kids’ books, thanks to the publication of Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab, a middle-grade mystery I wrote with “Science Bob” Pflugfelder. So what words of wisdom do I have for anyone who’d like to follow in my footsteps?

Come on. Guess.

That’s right. “I’ve got bupkis. But good luck!”

I do think I had an advantage when I started working with Science Bob, though. Well, maybe two advantages. The first was that I was collaborating on a book for kids with a guy called “Science Bob.” How could you go wrong?

The second advantage was that I’d already failed. Twice.

I’d been interested in giving middle-grade books a try for a while, so a couple years ago I started writing one. I had an O.K. premise (though in hindsight it wasn’t particularly fresh) and, hey, I like to think I can put words together (just don’t ask me how). Yet when I started showing folks the first 50 pages, the response was overwhelmingly underwhelming. To sum up the consensus: Meh. Fortunately, all I’d written were those first 50 pages, so it was relatively painless to cut and run.

I started over with a new idea -- one that I now realize was also a bit stale. But that wasn’t even the problem. Projects based on stale ideas are huge successes all the time. Just look at...nah. I’m not going there. James Cameron might read this blog, and what if he’s thinking of making Nick and Tesla: The IMAX 3-D CGI Adventure in Sensurround and Smell-O-Vision?

Anyway, when I started sending around the first 50 pages of Attempted Kids’ Book #2, the crickets I’d heard before went right back to chirping. It was another non-reaction reaction. More shrugs, more “It just doesn’t do it for me.”

So I gave up for a while. Then along came Nick and Tesla, and guess what? Somehow, it just felt right from day one. And when people started reading it, instead of crickets I heard, “I love it!” Why?

I’ve still got bupkis. In terms of theories, anyway. But I do have something tangible: a kids’ book that folks seem to like quite a bit. I have no idea why it turned out so well.

Good thing I didn’t let that stop me, or it wouldn’t exist.

Steve Hockensmith’s novels include the Edgar finalist Holmes on the Range and the New York Times bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls. Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab, the first in a series of collaborations with "Science Bob" Pflugfelder, was recently picked by Amazon as the best middle-grade book of the month.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wreaking Havoc

The plot of my new Chloe Ellefson mystery, Heritage of Darkness, reflects the fundamental challenge I face each time I begin a new book in the series.  First, I pick a town and museum or historic site that I love to serve as setting.

Then, I start making (fictional) trouble.

Heritage of Darkness is set in Decorah, Iowa. The plot sees Chloe, her mother, and boyfriend/cop Roelke McKenna visiting Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum for folk art classes in December. The week gets off to a bad start when Chloe peeks inside an artifact trunk and finds a woman who was attacked and left for dead.

This is the trunk, which is on display in the Norwegian House exhibit at Vesterheim.
"I'll never be able to look at that trunk the same way," one of the curatorial staff told me after reading an advance draft of Heritage of Darkness.

Another key scene takes place in one of the buildings preserved in the museum's Open-Air Division. A volunteer who leads tours there had much the same reaction.

The Valdres House (in red) provided just what I needed.
Fortunately, both the volunteer and the curator thought that Heritage of Darkness was great fun.

Since all the books in the Chloe Ellefson series deal with the past, I work hard to learn as much as I can about not only the events that drive the actual plot, but the history of the museum or historic site being featured. I have a filter in my brain that automatically picks up on anything that I might be able to put to use in a mystery.

When I began writing the series, several writer-friends advised that I use fictional historic sites. I did consider that, but in the end couldn't do it.  My plots are inspired by real events, and I love having the opportunity to share museums I admire with readers.

Many readers seem to love that too. Some have the fun of reading a mystery set in a place they know well. Others are intrigued by what they read, and follow up by visiting the site.

So far, everyone involved with the host museum for each book has embraced the Chloe mysteries with enthusiasm. The books are set thirty years in the past, which provides some distance. Also, since I only write about places that I truly love, I think that in the end, that honest affection shines through more brightly than the passing details of a murder mystery plot.

Last week I had the pleasure of officially launching Heritage of Darkness at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

Here I am with Steve Johnson, Vesterheim's Director.
It was a wonderful experience, in part due to the partnership that emerged as I worked on Heritage of Darkness. The staff has been phenomenally supportive. The museum gave us permission to include photos from their collection in the book, for example. In return, I'll do my best to introduce the museum to a new audience.

It's exactly what I hoped would happen when I began conceptualizing a mystery series featuring an historic sites curator.

I'm grateful for all the museum staff and local readers who have forgiven me for wreaking fictional havoc at the sites featured so far in the Chloe series. I hope to keep writing Chloe Ellefson mysteries, and building partnerships like this, for a long time.

Display at the Vesterheim Museum Store.

To learn more, please visit http://www.kathleenernst.com/chloe_ellefson.php