Monday, April 29, 2013

The Witch of the South: Spotlight on Mona McGregor

by Jennifer Harlow

Under the guise of writing a story about how to run a successful small business, I was granted an interview with Mona McGregor, propritress of Midnight Magic in Goodnight, Virginia. In truth I had gotten her name from Dr. George Black, head of the F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad, months before as part of a series of articles for Government Secrets Gazette, which is now defunct thanks to budget cuts. Hoping to blackmail or at least get a viable story, I decided to meet with as many supernaturals as possible before I, you know, got caught. Ms. McGregor was the last to accept the invitation. I met her at her two-story Victorian home in her modest yet comfortable living room. Here is a transcription of the conversation:

Jennifer Harlow (JH): Thanks so much for meeting with me. And the tea.
Mona McGregor (MM): You’re in the south now, hon. You step in this house, I’m duty bound to feed and water you, whether you like it or not.
JH: Well, I have always appreciated the kindness of stra—

Two little girls, one about ten and the other a few years younger, come barreling in from the kitchen. [I later learned their names are Sophie and Cora.]

Cora: Aunt Mona! Aunt Mona! Sophie won’t let me have some soda. Tell her I can.
MM: You’ve had enough sugar today. You’re about a sugar cube away from running to California Water only. And don’t disturb us again, okay?
Sophie: Yes, Aunt Mona.

The elder escorted the younger from the room.

MM: Sorry about that. Everything’s a drama. So, we better make this quick before they find more trouble. Ask your questions.
JH: Fair enough. You run a magic shop, Midnight Magic. How did that come about?
MM: I inherited it from my grandmother about ten years ago. It was opened over a hundred years ago by my Great-Great Grandmother Ramona.
JH: So, when you inherit the coven, you also inherit the shop?
MM: Excuse me? What coven?
JH: The one you’re High Priestess of. According to George Black, you have over a hundred witches under your tutelage. You’re the most powerful witch in America, if not the planet. I’ve even heard you could rule the world with one hand and bake a cake with the other all with a gorgeous smile on your face. Kudos.

The witch stared me down for a few seconds.

MM: You’re not here to talk about my store, are you?
JH: Actually I’m compiling a tome on supernaturals such as yourself. I just left Kansas after talking to a telekinetic F.R.E.A.K. I lied on the off-chance you wouldn’t talk to me. Sorry. But George can vouch for me. I’ve known him for years. I’m practically an honorary F.R.E.A.K. Call him. Or Jason and Vivian Dahl, or Anna West. I’ve met them all. Got their stories, now I want yours. Bet it’s a good one. So…from what George tells me, you can control the elements: earth, air, fire, water.
MM: [a long pause] Yeah, I’m a walking natural disaster.
JH: And you’ve been in charge of the coven since you were, what? Mid-twenties if I recall correctly. Quite a responsibility for someone so young.
MM: I’d been groomed to do it almost since birth.
JH: And you’ve lived in Goodnight all your life? Ever want to leave? Give the job to someone else?
MM: Never. Like I said, I was prepared from birth to do it. It’s why I was put on this earth. To help people, to guide them. It’s hard, yes, and sometimes I want to throttle these people, but I keep calm and carry on.
JH: You’re also one of the people in charge of the annual supernatural summit. I would think werewolves, vampires and witches wouldn’t get along.
MM: That’s why the summit is so important. It provides community. Allies. Support. When your existence is supposedly surrounded in secrecy, it’s hard to find people in the same situation as you. It can be quite lonely.
JH: I can imagine.
MM: I doubt it. [a pause] Anyway, we help each other when needed. Co-oporation. I even attend the pack Christmas party. When I’m brave enough.
JH: Yeah, they are an intense bunch.
MM: To put it mildly.
JH: Seems like you have lot on your plate. Shop, over a hundred witches, kids, taking on other supernaturals problems in the spirit of cooperation. When do you find time to sleep? Or date? [She just stared at me. Obviously a sore subject. I cleared my throat.]  So, can all witches manipulate the elements?
MM: Only a High Priestess. All witches can perform spells, create potions and charms though.
JH: What does it feel like when you perform a spell?
MM: Your body goes warm and it’s like your battery is being filled. Then when you release it, it’s like releasing static electricity. That’s all magic is really. Energy.
JH: Ever have any problems with people doing black magic? Raising demons and such?
MM: Not really. Most witches are pacifists. We’re about nature and balance. Violence upsets that natural balance. Goodnight hasn’t had a death by supernatural means in decades. [scoff] We’re not werewolves.
Cora: [in other room] Aunt Mona! I need help with my homework, and Sophie’s being mean!
MM: [rolling eyes] I’m sorry, I’m going to have to cut this short. We have homework, and dinner, and I have a ton of potions still to make not to mention my sister just got engaged so…
JH: No rest for the wicked, right?
MM: [standing] Something like that. I hope you got everything you need.

I stood and was escorted to the door.

JH: Thanks for your time. And the sweet tea.
MM: Just…out of curiosity. Who said that about me? The gorgeous smile and ruling the world thing?
JH: A good reporter never reveals a source, Miss McGregor. But I will say you may not think highly of werewolves, but one sure does think highly of you.

With a wink, I walked off her painted porch. 

To find out more about Ms. McGregor and the town of Goodnight, check out What's A Witch To Do available now.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Guest Blog: Adult Truths

Today, let's give a big Inkspot welcome to Stephen L. Brayton. 

“I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page technical report that I swear I did not make any change to.”

Yeah...I get this a lot on my documents. I'm tempted to hit Control-Z so it will erase any change I supposedly had made, but that scares me even more.

This truth made me think of note taking and how I change not only documents, but outlines and entire stories.

I'll detail outlining in a future Truth, but one of the rules to keep in mind if you are scared of outlining is: don't be governed by your outline. Unless you're Jeffrey Deaver and produce a 200 page outline knowing every single detail, your story is going to change. In fact, I'll wager that Deaver's changes as he moves through the story, if even minutely.

I am constantly making notations on my outline. Questions about certain locations or other information pop up so I jot a note to find time for research. I think of additional scenes or things to add to a scene. Recently while jogging, I thought out all of the details regarding a future fight scene my heroine Mallory will have. When I finished my run, I immediately wrote the choreography of the fight. Sometimes I run into problems, usually time related and I'll make a note to review the day's activities within the story and either change a few things around or create new scenes to add. I don't like lag time. I don't like hours passing without knowing what is happening, even if my character is sleeping. I remember a particular book I read for review. I don't recall the title, but I thought the story flawed because literally days would pass within the story where nothing happened. However, the plot was such that-since it was a murder mystery with a killer on the loose-SOMETHING needed to be occurring. The detectives just didn't sit around all day. The author thought he could jump ahead to the action scenes but threw off the reader because nothing happened. I would have loved to have seen this guy's outline if it existed.

Ideas can occur anytime, anywhere. In the shower, while dreaming, while sitting at a bar slugging back martinis. (Uh, I've never done the latter, mom, so you don't have to worry. Besides, I don't like martinis.) You hear about authors writing notes on napkins and paper menus. Even on their own hand. I don't get that exotic. Scrap paper usually does the trick. The challenge is putting those scraps in a place where I won't forget about them. Yes, I have forgotten some notes, discovered them later and was unable to either remember why I wrote the note at the time or couldn't understand to what I wanted to refer.

Katherine, an author friend I've mentioned in previous blogs, saves everything. She has emails she's never opened dating back almost a year. I know this because I once sent her an email regarding a marketing plan and I subsequently lost mine. A year later, she found the email. She also saves each rewrite of her manuscripts. This is not a bad idea for some people. If you remember what changes you made the previous times, you can retrieve the information if needed in future rewrites.

The key to note taking, I think, is to not let the idea sit in your head until you can find time or material to write it down. Don't wait. Have a notebook with you constantly or have access to something at all times. If you wait even an hour until you have paper/time, you may risk losing the completeness of the thought. I know this from experience. Get it down on paper fast because to wait means other distractions intruding and designating that awesome idea to the background where it may become watered down or, heaven forbid, forgotten.

Whether it's a story idea, the germ of an idea, a news article that strikes your fancy, a scene change, a chapter addition/deletion, or a complete rewrite plan, get it down.

Save it. Save it again just to be sure you have it.

Then save it again.

Stephen L. Brayton owns and operates Brayton’s Black Belt Academy in Oskaloosa, Iowa. He is a Fifth Degree Black Belt and certified instructor in The American Taekwondo Association. He began writing as a child; his first short story concerned a true incident about his reactions to discipline. During high school, he wrote for the school newspaper and was a photographer for the yearbook. For a Mass Media class, he wrote and edited a video project. In college, he began a personal journal for a writing class; said journal is ongoing. He was also a reporter for the college newspaper.During his early twenties, while working for a Kewanee, Illinois radio station, he wrote a fantasy based story and a trilogy for a comic book. He has written numerous short stories both horror and mystery. His first novel, Night Shadows (Feb. 2011), concerns a Des Moines homicide investigator teaming up with a federal agent to battle creatures from another dimension. His second book, Beta (Oct. 2011) was the debut of Mallory Petersen and her search for a kidnapped girl. In August 2012, the second Mallory Petersen book, Alpha, was published. This time she investigates the murder of her boyfriend.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

One Extraordinary Librarian

by Kathleen Ernst

Like all writers and readers, I owe a huge debt of thanks to librarians.  As a history junkie, I’m particularly interested in the pioneers in that profession.

I recently attended a special event called “The Women of Mill City” at The Mill City Museum in Minneapolis, MN. Actors portrayed several remarkable women. 

In belated honor of National Library Week, I'd like to share a bit of what I learned about Gratia Alta Countryman--who once wrote in a letter to her father, "I do so long to be more than an ordinary woman."

The daughter of immigrant farmers, Gratia Countryman (1866-1954) grew up in a time when libraries were often accessible only to those who could pay a membership fee.  She attended college and became a librarian in 1889.

In 1904, she became head of the Minneapolis Public Library—the first woman to lead a metropolitan library system. In 1934 she became the first woman president of the American Library Association.

(Minnesota Historical Society/Creative Commons)
She is perhaps best remembered for her philosophy of outreach. She wanted all residents to have access to books, regardless of their income level or social status.

In her 1905 Annual Report she wrote, “How to reach the busy men and women, how to carry wholesome and enjoyable books to the far-away corners of the city, how to enlist the tired factory girls...these are some of the things which I conceive to be my duty.”

During her 32 years as head librarian, she was responsible for the construction of 12 new branch libraries and the addition of over 500,000 volumes to the city collection. She established a book wagon. She created satellite libraries in factories, hospitals, prisons, community centers for new immigrants, parks, the Salvation Army, and many other locations.  She started the first children's department in the country.

When Gratia Countryman died, her eulogy captured her passion for libraries and literacy:  “In her youth a library was a sacred precinct for guarding the treasures of thought, to be entered only by the scholar and the student... Her crusading zeal carried the book to every part of her city and county, to the little child, the factory worker, the farmer, the businessman, the hospital patient, the blind and the old.”

After the performance at the museum, I spoke with the Living History Player who portrayed Gratia.  We lamented the fact that instead of continuing to build upon Countryman’s accomplishments, recent years have brought a reduction in library services.

I hope that pendulum swings back again.  As Gratia Countryman knew, libraries are not luxuries.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Fun with Anthropomorphism

By Deborah Sharp

An osprey flew overhead the other day as I sat on the backyard dock. The big bird clutched a mullet in its talons. Sometimes, I watch as a fish flops and wriggles, trying to escape. Once I saw one break free, splashing into the New River and darting away in a streak of silver.
But not this fish. He didn't wiggle. He didn't struggle.
''Check out that mullet's face,'' I said to my husband. "He looks completely resigned to his fate.''
"Oh, great. Now you're reading the fish's mind.''
Now, I know that many scientists -- along with my husband -- scoff at ascribing human emotions to finned, furred and feathered creatures. We're just projecting our own feelings and interpretations unto them, the scientists say. Still, in the proud tradition of many a mystery author, I'm not above a bit of anthropomorphism now and then. In my Mace Bauer Mysteries, a gator may look accusingly at the main character -- who has a sideline as a trapper. Sometimes, a cat that Mace inherited seems to listen sympathetically to her problems.
In my life outside fiction, I frequently imagine I know how an animal ''feels'' by the expression on its face.
A squirrel scurrying across an oak branch took a tumble and hit the ground, right at my feet. He wasn't hurt, but before he scrambled away, he shot me a look of sheer embarrassment. Recovering quickly, he replaced it with what looked more like cockiness.
"Uh, yeah, I intended to do that,'' said the look on his pointed little face.
I've also seen proud horses, regal birds, and confident cats. They reveal so much in the way they hold their heads, along with the look in their eyes.
I thought I was alone in this little quirk until I stumbled across thousands of hits for ''Guilty Dogs'' on the Internet. (Honestly, you can get lost, but here's one fun site:  )
Not only do all these jillions of people believe their dogs feel guilt, they catch them conveying that very emotion through adorable expressions. Here's one picture of such a dog:
And another:

Cat lovers have also jumped on the bandwagon. As far as I'm concerned, the feline pictures don't measure up. The cats don't appear remorseful to me. They look brazen. Defiant. But maybe I'm just projecting my own feelings onto them. You be the judge as to whether this kitty feels bad: 

Right. I didn't think so. 
How about you? Do you use (or like to read about) animals in your mysteries? Do they express human emotions?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

INKSPOT NEWS - April 20, 2013

On Sunday, April 28, 2013, from 1:00 – 4:00 PM, Midnight Ink author Beth Groundwater will sign books at the "2013 Meet the Faces – Colorado Author Open House" at the Englewood Public Library, 1000 Englewood Pkwy, Englewood, CO 80110-2373.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Our Guest Velda Brotherton's Take on Sympathetic Characters

Today visiting our blog is Velda Brotherton, author of the recent Wilda's Outlaw: The Victorians. Thank you, for being here today.

Sympathetic Characters Make Your Story

Several reviews of my books claim my strongest point is creating characters, and sometimes I'm not sure how that came about. People fascinate me, especially those who are slightly off kilter. Who walk the edge and often topple off it. One thing's clear, in all the years I've spent writing and observing people, they do change and often. If everyone remained the same from young adulthood to old age, how boring they would be. Both to others and themselves. And one thing's for sure, even the best plot will fall flat without interesting characters.
As I create characters, they change over the course of the story. They adapt to the world around them, wherever they may go. They grow stronger and wiser while they struggle to survive whatever I throw at them.
No two are alike either. Each has some flaw that defines them, just as their strengths define them. Their fears are useful too. If a character fears dark places, then put her there sooner or later so she will have to overcome that fear. Challenge each one with the toughest conditions you can come up with. Don't feel sorry for them, don't let up. Once they conquer one challenge, hit them with another. They will develop their own strengths and weaknesses.
Not only is it important to create different characters for your novel, it is important they don't all speak alike. Perfection is boring, as is perfect English as the spoken word. So working on the dialog of each character is so essential. In today's world, though, dialect is a no-no. That was popular when Mark Twain was writing his wonderful books. It no longer is. A word or two, sprinkled sparsely is enough. It's sufficient to say he spoke with a Western twang and dropped his gs, or she spoke with a southern drawl as sweet as honey, than it is to try and write their speeches phonetically.
Some writers make charts for their characters. I don't. Mine develop their own lives as I write the first two or three chapters. It's fun to discover from my heroine that she is afraid of rats and not snakes, or that she is tolerant of the behavior of the hero because she has three brothers, and then realize three or four chapters later that this is going to work fine with a scene. Of course, this means a lot of scribbling as I write to make sure I don't forget anything. I'm a firm believer that our brains allow certain things to happen for a reason when we write. We should go with our "gut" so to speak. However, some people cannot write that way, and that's fine. Make charts, do outlines, write synopsis if you want.
Create characters that readers can relate to, sympathize with, laugh and cry with, and you'll have a good book.

Velda Brotherton is the author of 15 historical books, both fiction and nonfiction. She writes of romance in the old West with an authenticity that makes her many historical characters ring true. A knowledge of the rich history of our country comes through in both her fiction and nonfiction books, as well as in her writing workshops and speaking engagements. She just as easily steps out of the past into contemporary settings to create novels about women with the ability to conquer life’s difficult challenges. Tough heroines, strong and gentle heroes, villains to die for, all live in the pages of her novels and books.

You can visit her at:

Twitter: @veldabrotherton 

Buy link:  Wilda's Outlaw

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Carved in Darkness... Synopsis and Reviews

 By: Maegan Beaumont

It's almost here! The debut of my first novel, Carved in Darkness, is upon us (May 8th!). In anticipation, I thought I'd share a short synopsis along with a few reviews....

Past horrors bleed into a present-day nightmare

Fifteen years ago, a psychotic killer abducted seventeen-year-old Melissa Walker. For 83 days she was raped, tortured, and then left for dead in a deserted churchyard . . . but she was still alive.

Melissa begins a new life as homicide inspector Sabrina Vaughn. With a new face and a new name, it’s her job to hunt down murderers—a job she does very well.

But when Michael O’Shea, a childhood acquaintance with a suspicious past, suddenly finds her, he brings to life the nightmare Sabrina has long since buried.

Believing his sister was recently murdered by the same monster who attacked Sabrina, Michael is dead set on getting his revenge—using Sabrina as bait.

Praise for Carved in Darkness:

“Beaumont knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat . . . Buckle up for the ride of a lifetime, this one is the roughest rollercoaster you ever had to endure.”—Suspense Magazine

“Pulse-pounding terror, graphic violence and a loathsome killer.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Beaumont knows how to cook up and serve a dish called revenge, but she doesn't serve it cold. She serves it sizzling hot."—Vincent Zandri, bestselling author of The Remains and Murder by Moonlight

 Maegan Beaumont is the author of CARVED IN DARKNESS, the first book in the Sabrina Vaughn thriller series (Available through Midnight Ink, spring 2013). A native Phoenician, Maegan’s stories are meant to make you wonder what the guy standing in front of you in the Starbucks line has locked in his basement, and feel a strong desire to sleep with the light on. When she isn’t busy fulfilling her duties as Domestic Goddess for her high school sweetheart turned husband, Joe, and their four children, she is locked in her office with her computer, her coffee pot and her Rhodesian Ridgeback, and one true love, Jade.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

INKSPOT NEWS - April 13, 2013

On Saturday, April 20th, from 1:00 – 3:00 PM, Midnight Ink author Beth Groundwater will sign books at the 2013 Longmont Library Festival's Colorado Author Open House in the Longmont Public Library, 409 4th Ave., Longmont, CO 80501.

Also on Saturday, April 20th, Deborah Sharp will be among dozens of authors scheduled to take part in the 15th Annual Southern Kentucky Bookfest in Bowling Green. Deborah's mystery panel is slotted for 1:45 pm in the Carroll Knicely Conference Center, 654 Campbell Lane, Bowling Green, KY 42101. The event is a fundraiser to promote literacy in the region.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Idea Fairy

by Shannon Baker

Where do you get your ideas?
Writers get asked that all the time. Sit in on writers’ panels and workshops and it’s bound to come up 85.6% of the time. (Yes, I made up the statistic.) Most writers are polite but the overwhelming responses I’ve heard all come down to this: they have so many ideas coming at them so frequently they’re like Minnesota mosquitoes in June.

I want to shout, “ARE YOU SERIOUS?!”
My measly excuse for a lazy-assed brain churns out ideas at about the same the rate as ice freezing in Tucson.  
I worked on the same novel for nine years because I thought it might be the only good idea I’d ever come up with. Ever. And really, that one didn’t come from me, either. After I told some writer friends about a random news story I found interesting, one of them asked, “When are you going to write the book?”
If I’d been one of those writers who have too many good ideas to use, I’d have figured that out all on my own. But I’m much too dense to see the obvious.  Ideas are doing a kamikaze dive into my brain and I’m wondering if we should have meatloaf for dinner or if I ought to paint the living room red.
But then we moved to Flagstaff a while back. I started reading the paper to acquaint myself with the goings on around town. And there it was--the idea I’d been afraid would never arrive.
So get this: In Flagstaff, just an hour or so from the desert, there is a ski resort, Snowbowl. It’s one of the oldest in the country, dating back to 1938. Did I mention the proximity to the desert, which would hint at lack of water, and, hey, we’re in a drought!
American’s are nothing if not determined. Instead of giving in to logic, Snowbowl’s owners decided to make snow. Still, lack of water and all that. So they are using reclaimed waste water. Grey water. Pretty ingenious, right?
Turns out, not one, not two, but thirteen Native American tribes consider that mountain sacred. It features heavily into their creation stories. Are they happy about the ski resort? Naw. Does treated wastewater tickle them? Not at all.

That’s one big conflict. Perfect for a murder mystery. And I didn’t even need my writer friends, who have ideas to spare, point it out to me.
I started researching tribes in the area and found out, Hopi, one of the smallest tribes in the world lives on isolated mesas and one of their villages is the oldest constantly inhabited village in North America. This small tribe believes they are responsible for the survival of the world. The Whole World.  
Then I got a job working for The Grand Canyon Trust, an environmental non-profit whose mission is protection and restoration of landscapes on the Colorado Plateau. (If you don’t know, and I didn’t before I got the job, the Colorado Plateau covers northern Arizona to southern Utah.) For twenty years I’d lived in the Nebraska Sandhills, where environmentalists are shot on sight. More conflict.
 So my writer’s “What if” bone kicked in and I ended up with all these ideas. When Tainted Mountain opens, Nora Abbott is the owner of ski resort in Flagstaff on a sacred mountain and she’s just won a court victory allowing her to make snow. She’s got environmentalist tendencies which clash with mining interests and big business. The kachinas, Hopi spirits of the mountain, are not pleased. And let’s not even get into the issues with her annoying mother.

The what ifs kept coming and pretty soon I had a bunch of ideas. In fact, I had so many that I ended up with a series.
So now I’m feeling cocky. Look at me, the writer with enough ideas for the next few books.
Then a very successful writer friend of mine brought me back down to where I live. She was talking about her multi-book series and said, “I need to get this book finished so I can work on all these other books I really want to write.”
You mean one mystery series isn’t enough? I should be working on something else? She has so many ideas she doesn’t know where to start. Me? Not so much.
Where will I ever get another idea? 
What about you, where do you get your ideas, and do you have any to spare?