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 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?) 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 and Facebook at






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, visit Emma, and visit Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, 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

Monday, November 4, 2013

What If?

By Deborah Sharp

When I started on my path from non-fiction to mystery writing, I took some classes designed to make me think like a  fiction writer. I needed some tools to exercise my making-it-up muscles. Writing prompts were a big part of that.  Pictures. A line of prose. A headline from a newspaper or magazine. Any of these can be used to spark the creative process. To "prompt'' a writer to ask the question What If? Ask the question enough times -- What if this happened? Then, what if this happened next? -- ultimately even the least cunning writer will have the bare bones of a story.

I know it works, because my entire Mace Bauer Mystery series was begun with one prompt. Paging through the Miami Herald, I saw a full color ad for seniors' health insurance. It showed an older woman driving a turquoise convertible, her mouth open in a life-loving laugh. What if that woman was a Southern belle known as ''Mama?''  What if she found a body in the trunk of that convertible? Then, what if the police thought she was the killer? 

The answers to those questions led me to write my first short story, which became my first book: Mama Does Time, published by Midnight Ink in 2008. Here's a picture of what became the cover:

The other day, a post by a friend on Facebook reminded me of how much fun I used to have with prompts. Romance writer Kathleen Pickering snapped a photo of a pair of gold sandals, deserted in the middle of an empty street. She asked her writer pals -- and others -- to start a story based on the golden shoes. She got more than 30 responses. Mine was one of them. Here's Kathy's photo, if you'd like to take a crack:

Back when I decided to leave journalism to try to write mysteries, my confidence was definitely misplaced. It would be easy, I though. After all, I'd been a professional writer for more than 20 years. I'd loved mysteries ever since I was a girl. How hard could it be?

Pretty hard, it turned out. For 20 years, editors of newspapers and magazines had made it abundantly clear that I was to stick to the facts. Making things up, rewriting events, was a firing offense. And now, all of a sudden, I'm SUPPOSED to make things up? That required a major attitude shift. Prompts gave me the permission to do that. To tell a story, instead of to report what happened.  What freedom!

Have you used prompts in the past? Do you still use them? 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

INKSPOT NEWS - November 2, 2013

Here are the new releases from Midnight Ink for November, 2013. They're both terrific reads!

A Basket of Trouble by Beth Groundwater

"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

"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

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

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

 Best Defense by Randy Rawls

"[Best Defense] is a satisfying, lighthearted adventure." —Publishers Weekly