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?