Monday, December 28, 2015

I Present to You....KARMA'S A KILLER!

January 8 is the official launch day for my third Downward Dog Mystery, Karma's a Killer, but I can't wait until then to share the book with you.  So now, for your reading pleasure, I present to you--the first chapter of Karma's a Killer!

“I can’t believe I let Michael talk me into this. The man is obviously nuts.”
I reached out my arms and slowly turned a complete circle, trying to fully take in the deafening chaos around me.
Under different circumstances, I probably would have been the one referred to as crazy. I was, after all, muttering to myself while spinning like a slow-motion top. But today, nobody seemed to notice. The soccer fields of Seattle’s Green Lake Park undulated with a buzzing, beehive-like swarm of people.
And their dogs.
Lots and lots of dogs.
All blocking the path to my destination.
A golden retriever pulled toward me from the front, practically dislocating the shoulder of an acne-scarred teenager. Behind me, a yapping Chihuahua flashed piranha-like teeth at the backs of my ankles. To my right, a geriatric woman tried, unsuccessfully, to restrain an adolescent bull mastiff that was seemingly intent on saying hello to, well, to everyone.
And that was just the start.
Each time a potential path opened, it was quickly obscured by a new member of the dense canine stew. I almost squeezed between two roughhousing pit bulls, but I got distracted by a huge Rottweiler head attached to six-inch-long wiener dog legs. A Rott-wiener? Was that even physically possible?
By the time I shook off the image, the momentary opening had disappeared.
The closely packed crowd shouldn’t have surprised me. Over two thousand people had registered for Paws Around Green Lake, today’s 5K dog “fun” walk. Twice as many as my boyfriend, Michael, had anticipated when he agreed to organize the fundraising event. I should have been happy for Michael, and I was. I was even happier for DogMa, the no-kill animal shelter that would receive the day’s proceeds. Or I would have been, if those same two thousand bodies hadn’t stood between me and my destination.
If only I’d brought my 100-pound German shepherd, Bella, with me. My treat-motivated tracker-dog would have bee-lined it straight for the food vendors, parting the crowd with me flying like a kite behind her. But Bella still didn’t like other dogs, or most bearded men, for that matter. I could never insert her into this canine carnival—not without risking a multiple-dog homicide—and it was too warm on this uncharacteristically sunny spring day to leave her in the car, even if I parked in the shade.
So here I was, on my own.
I took a step back and assessed the event’s layout, trying to simultaneously decipher an entrance and plot my escape. The normally empty field had been marked off in sectors. The northernmost end held a multicolored assortment of receptacles marked garbage, recycle, pet waste, and compost. Where the trash cans left off, a golden line of stacked straw bales began, outlining the fenced area allocated to Dale’s goat petting farm.
To the south stood a stage, a registration desk, several food vendors, and the roped-off area I would later use as makeshift yoga studio. The rest of the perimeter was lined with about two dozen tent-covered booths. My goal, should I choose to accept it, was to find the one assigned to my yoga studio, Serenity Yoga.
Okay, Kate. You can do this.
I plugged my ears to block out the din, lifted my heels, and stood on my toes in a tennis-shoed Tadasana, trying to see over the masses.
Maybe if I jag to the right, dive under that banner and—
The Chihuahua sank his teeth into my pant leg and yanked. I flailed my arms and tried—unsuccessfully—to stay balanced. My left foot got tangled in the fur-covered piranha’s leash; my right hand connected solidly with his owner’s coffee cup. The lid flew across the field. Hot, dark brown liquid spilled down my shirt.
“Hey!” she snapped. “What are you, drunk?”
I opened my mouth to apologize, but the supermodel-thin woman didn’t give me a chance. She snatched her dog off my pant leg, ignored the hot liquid soaking my chest, and pierced me with an ice pick-sharp glare.
“Watch where you’re going, you big oaf. You could have hurt Precious.”
My ears zipped right past the word “oaf” and landed solidly on “big.” Who was she calling big? I’d lost almost twenty pounds in the six months since my misadventures on Orcas. Even I had to admit that my five-foot-three-inch body had finally landed on the thin side of normal.
But that didn’t stop me from feeling insulted.
My body reacted much faster than my mind could control it. Anger-laced adrenaline zapped down my spine. My fingers curled into tight fists. My teeth clenched together so hard I was afraid I might shatter a molar.
Every fiber of my being wanted to lash back, which wasn’t surprising. I’d struggled with my Hulk-like alter ego since my first two-year-old temper tantrum. But I was trying to change—to better embody the yoga principles I believed in.
My father’s voice echoed inside my head.
Don’t do it, Kate. Not today. You don’t want to create a scene today.
Three years after his death, Dad was still right. Today’s event was important to Michael—too important to risk ruining. Besides, I had vowed not to lose my temper anymore. If I’d learned anything on Orcas, it was that bad things sometimes happened when I got angry. Sometimes people got hurt.
I shuddered.
I couldn’t let myself think about that.
Instead, I took a deep breath, consciously relaxed my jaw, and forced my lips into a smile.
The Chihuahua’s owner thrust her empty cup in my face. “You owe me a new mocha.”
Honorable intentions be damned. I seriously wanted to punch her.
My only alternative was to retreat.
I tossed her a five-dollar bill, took three large steps back, and bumped into the teenager. “I’m sorry.” I turned right and tripped over the mastiff. “Excuse me.” I stumbled and “excused me’d” and “I’m so sorry’d” my way through the crowd, toward the water. I burst onto the path and bolted past the Green Lake Community Center to my new destination: a large, T-shaped wooden dock. The clamor faded to silence.
Empty. Thank goodness.
The scarred wooden dock was normally occupied by local fishermen, but for the moment, it was mine. The crowds, noise, and limited parking kept everyone but the dog walkers away from Green Lake today.
I stood at the dock’s southernmost end, as far away from the pandemonium as possible. For several long, lunacy-free moments, I found peace. I stared at the lake, smelled the crisp, clean scent of the water, and took slow, soothing breaths. Hypnotizing light jewels rippled off the lake’s surface. The boards underneath my feet gently swayed. My nervous system rebalanced, forcing my inner demon back into her lair.
When I finally felt ready, I touched my palms together in the prayer-like Anjali Mudra, bowed my head to reconnect with my center, and turned back toward the soccer fields.
If anything, they looked more chaotic. I couldn’t deal with all of those people. Not yet.
Perhaps a short visualization practice would help.
I sat cross-legged on a relatively goose-dung-free spot, closed my eyes, and touched my fingertips to the wood’s warm, rough surface. The sun melted my shoulders; a cool breeze pinked my cheeks.
I mentally transported myself to the beach near the soccer fields. Soft, white energy floated above the water and spilled over the lake’s borders. The fog-like mist expanded, filling the grassy area. It stilled the crowd, creating more space. In my mind’s eye, I reached out my hand. The field still wasn’t empty, but at least it was permeable. I could sift through the crowd, untouched. I took a deep breath, lifted my right foot and—
Angry whispers interrupted my meditation.
“No one asked for your opinion.”
I opened my eyes and turned toward the sound. Two quarreling women huddled near the shore, hidden behind a half-dozen bright yellow paddle boats. Their hushed voices carried across the water as clearly as if they were using a megaphone.
I considered ignoring them, and frankly, I should have. The Yoga Sutras might not explicitly condemn eavesdropping, but I was pretty sure it was considered bad karma. Still, I was curiously drawn to their conversation. Something about them felt oddly familiar …
I shaded my eyes from the sun and tried to make out their faces. Both women dressed completely in black: black long-sleeved T-shirts, deep black jeans, black tennis shoes. The only touches of color were the bright orange flames embroidered above each woman’s left breast.
The woman speaking was about my age—early to mid-thirties. She cradled a stack of picket signs in one arm and gesticulated wildly with the other. The sign on the top said “Apply the HEAT” in bold red letters. Her fingernails matched her deep black outfit, except for the middle fingernail of each hand, which was painted blood burgundy. Long, curly dark hair bounced off her shoulders with every emphatic shake of her head.
“You have to choose, Dharma. Either you’re one hundred percent on board, or you’re out. Which will it be?”
The second woman, obviously named Dharma, didn’t answer immediately. She was small—about my height and maybe five pounds heavier—and at least ten years older than her friend. She wore black, wire-rimmed glasses, and her gray-streaked brown hair was tied back from her shoulders in a single long braid. When she spoke, she sounded exasperated, as if she had repeated this argument many times before.
“You’ve clearly lost all perspective, Raven. This protest doesn’t make any sense. We have more important issues to deal with. Why don’t we go after factory farming? How about animal experimentation? Heck, I’d rather go back to Brazil and try to preserve what’s left of the rain forest. Why beat up innocent, sensible pet owners?”
“Innocent? What’s innocent about slavery? Do you have any idea how many of these so-called innocent slime bags abandon or euthanize their pets every year?”
Dharma leaned forward earnestly. “Which is precisely why we shouldn’t go after a low-kill shelter like this one.”
Go after a shelter? Were they planning to protest DogMa? Today? I kept listening, hoping that I’d misunderstood.
“Don’t be fooled by all of their pretty promises,” Raven scoffed. “These people are frauds, and I’m going to expose them.”
I couldn’t make out Dharma’s grumbled reply, but her tone didn’t sound friendly.
Raven held up her hands. “Back off, Dharma. I don’t need your help, but I won’t stand for your insolence. I’m taking this place down with or without you. Trust me; these hypocrites at DogMa are going to burn.” Her voice turned low and threatening. “And if you get in my way, I might have to fry you, too.”
Dharma flinched and glanced warily over her shoulder. “Watch what you say, Raven. Someone might take you seriously.”
Raven snorted. “Yeah, well, maybe they should.”
Dharma’s mouth opened, but she didn’t respond, at least not at first. After several long, tense moments, she shook her head, almost sadly. “I’m sorry, Raven, but this has gone far enough. Eduardo talked me into coming on this ill-conceived road trip, but we never agreed to violence. I’m out.” She turned and started walking away. “We both are.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about Eduardo.”
Dharma froze. Her entire body stiffened. When she slowly turned around, her expression was tight, as if her thinned lips and hardened eyes had been carved out of stone.
Raven’s lips lifted in a cruel-looking grin. She crossed her arms and leaned back against the paddleboats. “Sweetheart, you can leave any time. The sooner the better. I never wanted you here to begin with. But trust me, Eduardo’s not going anywhere. By the time I get done with him, he’ll be finished with you, too.”
The older woman exploded.
She howled and shoved Raven into the boats, using significantly more force than I would have expected from someone ideologically opposed to violence. Raven’s face hit the edge and she fell, splitting open her lower lip. Picket signs scattered in every direction.
Dharma scooped up a sign, snapped its wooden handle in two, and waved the jagged edges at her friend.
“I’m warning you, leave Eduardo alone, or you’ll be the one who burns.” She jabbed the wooden stake at Raven’s chest for emphasis. “In Hell.”
Raven’s response seemed more amused than frightened. She licked the blood from her lower lip, stood, and slowly clapped.
“Well done, Dharma. Well done. We’ll make an anarchist out of you yet.”
Dharma gaped at her hands, as if surprised to see them grasping a weapon. A strangled cry escaped from her throat. She took two large steps back, threw the broken sign to the ground, and stumbled away, sobbing. A moment later, she disappeared into the crowd.
Raven mumbled several words I couldn’t decipher, gathered the rest of the signs, and sauntered off in the opposite direction. I lost sight of her midway through the parking lot.
I stared after her, torn. Whatever Raven was up to, it couldn’t be good. Part of me wanted to stop her. But how, exactly, was I supposed to do that? Commandeer her picket signs? Tie her to a bicycle rack with my shoelaces? Yell the word “cat” and hope the dogs took care of the rest? I considered trying to find one of Green Lake’s bicycle patrol officers, but what could the police do? The fight was already over and picketing, though disruptive, wasn’t illegal.
A confident female voice called out over the loudspeaker. “Dog walkers, welcome to Paws Around Green Lake, DogMa’s first annual furry 5K fun walk. Pick up your leashes and gather your treat pouches. Let the walk begin!”
I glanced at my watch. Ten o’clock. I should have opened my booth an hour ago. The crowd’s human-canine duos trickled toward the trail and started jogging, walking, sniffing, and marking their way around the lake. If the two women I’d witnessed were planning to protest, they’d likely do it during the post-walk celebration. I still had plenty of time to find Michael and help him plan for the threat.
I hoped.

Thanks for reading!

PS--Purchase Karma's a Killer  before January 8 and e-mail me at to receive an autographed bookplate!

Tracy Weber

Karmas a Killer (4)Purchase my newest mystery, KARMA'S A KILLER, now at Amazon Barnes and Noble or a bookstore near you!

Check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere

Friday, December 18, 2015

5 Things Revision Has Taught Me About Myself

By Lisa Alber

I'm having a fantastic time revising WHISPERS IN THE MIST. Aspects of the story that had been bothering me have finally achieved clarity. Yay! I got to thinking about how the revision process illuminates some aspects of my own character.

1. It's funny how sometimes our characters' lives parallel our own. Merrit Chase, one of my  protagonists, is an American living in rural Ireland. As I worked through her plot line in an attempt to get to the heart of her, I started thinking about the concept of "home." This year, for the first time, I bought a house. My very own sanctuary with no shared walls, a blank canvas that I could make all my own. It took me no time at all to feel like I was home. It's a soul thing--for me and for Merrit. As soon as I realized that Merrit was missing a little soul, I knew exactly how to revise her scenes to better bring out her story.

2. I may be having a fantastic time revising now, but you should have seen me a month ago. I might have written a different blog post entirely. At times, I got to wondering: WHY am I putting myself through the ringer like this? What's the point? After all, I'm not motivated by some of the usual things like money, power, and vanity. I mean, I'm a poor and lowly, not to mention disheveled, novelist. I'm joshing, but it's sorta true. So what does motivate me to work through the doldrums and frustrations? Authenticity, connection, and personal achievement. It helped to clarify these for myself. When I do my character development, I call these "core needs."

3. I'm an introvert, to be sure, but I'm less of a lone wolf than I like to think I am. Self-sufficiency is a sham game I play with myself. The truth is, when it comes to my life and also my stories, I can't figure everything out on my own. I've learned this over and over during revisions as I turn to others to provide feedback on my drafts. Sharing is a good thing, risking vulnerability is another good thing. Sometimes it's difficult to cop to my flaws or to my story's flaws, but once I do, the flaws lose their power. Come to find out that I like the communal aspect of the revision process.

4. I hang on to my little darlings for too long. This includes darling notions that I carry around with me that I don't need anymore, like outmoded emotional crutches and avoidance tactics. A writer friend recently said (related to writing), "If you're not sure you should hang on to your little darling, it probably means you should let it go." In my revision, I've been doing quite a lot of darling deletion lately. And you know what? It feels great! Time to take some of that and apply it to my life.

5. I do have pretty good instincts -- I need to trust them more. When it comes to fiction, I sometimes don't know what the exact problem is, only that something's not quite right. I can't let the manuscript be finished because in my heart it's not. The niggling feeling may be related to a plot point or character, anything really. And then, lo and behold, I engage with my community (#3) and receive feedback that gets the A-HA going. I'm vindicated! I wasn't just being a crazy perfectionist or an Eeyore. In my life, the same thing goes: listen to the niggle and trust it.

Recently, I felt the "fill the well" niggle, so next week I'm going to the Oregon coast to relax for a few days before Christmas. Will I work? Oh probably, but only after sleeping (lots of catching up to do!), reading, walking the beach, staring at the waves, and sleeping some more.

Wishing you all the best for a wondrous holiday and happy new year, cheers, Lisa

What do you do to fill the well? How can you tell when you need well-filling?

WHISPERS IN THE MIST is available for preorder here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Midwifery Then and Now

Edith here, thinking about childbirth through the ages.

In my Quaker Midwife Mysteries, Rose Carroll is an independent midwife helping pregnant women
give birth in the safest way possible - in an 1888 New England mill town. How is that different from how independent midwives operate today, in the US and around the world?

Uncomplicated pregnancies and births really have not changed for many thousands of years. And as long as women have been experiencing the journey of their infant as it travels through their bodies and emerges, likewise have other women been helping them through that process.

Sisters, mothers, and friends might not have understood anything of the science of birth, but that didn't stop them from providing comfort. A damp cloth to the forehead. Strong arms to hold on to while squatting. A loving grandmother to take the new baby and wipe her eyes and mouth clean, wrap her, and hand her back to her new mother. Someone to explain breastfeeding.

A midwife merely makes it her profession to do so. She brings some way to monitor the baby's heartbeat. Something clean and sharp with which to cut the umbilical cord. Knowledge of what normal labor and birth look like and what to do when something goes awry. Often a collection of medicinal herbs. Most of all an encyclopedia of prior births in her head.

Birth these days in first world countries can be complicated by modern drugs, by ultrasound monitoring, by the hospital setting, by surgeons who want to schedule deliveries. Lives are certainly saved by modern medicine. No doubt about it. But the straightforward pregnancy and delivery of a healthy well-informed woman might not differ at all from one in 1888.

I trained for several years as an independent childbirth educator, and also worked as a doula, helping couples through their labors in a birthing center or hospital. I was not a midwife - I didn't want that level of responsibility - but I was all done producing more babies in my own family and I loved coaching couples about what to expect for their labor, birth, and neonatal period. I also visited a group of village midwives way out in the bush in Mali, West Africa at the time - not a population with a hospital anywhere in less than a day's journey - and I collected stories from them about their methods and their deliveries, both healthy and sadly not.

Those experiences gave me the confidence to write about a working midwife in this series. I was grateful for input on the birth scenes in the book from modern-day midwife and mystery fan Risa Rispoli - and gratified when she didn't find anything that needed changing!

Readers: Do you have experience with midwives in any setting?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Last Post of the Year

--by Linda O. Johnston

Hi, InkSpot fans,

Well, here we are, in December.  This is my post for the first Monday of the month on the last month of the year.

I've had a great 2015.  How about you?  For one thing, I had two mysteries published by Midnight Ink: BITE THE BISCUIT, the first Barkery & Biscuits Mystery, which came out in May, and KNOCK ON WOOD, the second Superstition Mystery, which was published in October.

I'm now looking forward to the same months, different year.  My second Barkery mystery, TO CATCH A TREAT, will be a May 2016 release, and my third Superstition Mystery, UNLUCKY CHARMS, is scheduled for October 2016.

That's not all I've been doing with my writing, but I figure those are the most appropriate to mention on InkSpot!

In any event, I hope all of you had a wonderful year and are having a great holiday season.  Enjoy what's left of 2015!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Dying to Tell II-The stories behind the Story

December already? Ugh … the crush of the holidays, the long nights, and shortened days. Less business days to work and no less demand to produce. It’s the time of year that makes me scream for more time to write. All this and my new book, Dying to Tell, the third book in the Gumshoe Ghost mystery series, launches January 8th.

As anyone who’s read Oliver “Tuck” Tucker’s books, each novel has three elements: a traditional murder that launches the story, ala Agatha Christie style; a historical subplot that is spirited into Winchester where the stories take place; and Tuck’s continuing family saga of past lives and adventures that, with his spirit-skills, forms the nexus between past and present murders to culminate in a twisty, winding conclusion. It’s a tricky business weaving the past into the present and traversing two storylines so that they wind up on the same page. And often, it gives me a headache just trying to sort out the details and keep true to the characters. But, in the end, I think it adds some fun and adventure to a traditional murder mystery—albeit with a paranormal twist.

I travel a lot for my books and take every opportunity to talk about my writing and stories. In fact, I’ll go pretty much anywhere to find an audience. In the past year, I’ve spoken to dozens of forums including mystery conferences, book festivals, charity organizations, monster-fan conferences, and bookstores. I get a lot of great questions, but the most common question is, “Where do you get the historical subplots to your books?
Great question … and the subject of this post.

Hekmet Fahmy
In Dying to Tell, the story follows the discovery of a reclusive bank executive found murdered in his secret bank vault. Surrounding William’s fate is a treasure trove of Egyptian antiquities. Now those relics are missing. Also surrounding William are secrets that began in Cairo, Egypt, during World War II, and a Nazi Abwehr spy operation called Operation Salam. The Abwehr, or Nazi Military Intelligence, tried sneaking two German operatives, Johannes Eppler and Hans Gerd Sandstede, into Cairo to spy on the Allies in 1942. The mission carried Eppler and Sandstede across Libya and Northern Africa and into Cairo where they infiltrated the nightlight in Cairo with help from Egyptian Nationals friendly to their cause. One in particular was a famous belly dancer—and real German spy—Hekmet Fahmy, a beautiful seductress who could get Allied soldiers talking with a wiggle of her veils—a very deceptive honey trap. Eppler and Sandstede set up their operation out of a houseboat on the Nile and they worked the Cairo nightlife trying to gather intelligence. Unfortunately for Eppler and Sandstede, they were captured by the British just a few months after arriving in Cairo. Interestingly, all they really accomplished was to spend a lot of money and have a good time on the Cairo nightlife—very little if any actionable intelligence was gathered.

Shepheards Hotel, Cairo
But in Dying to Tell, I asked the question, what if there were three Abwehr spies that went into Cairo and this mysterious third spy was never captured? What if this third spy got involved in a local murder and tangled with OSS—Office of Strategic Services, the mother of the modern day CIA? And, what if OSS Operative, Oliver “Ollie” Tucker was hot on his trail? What would happen if the German spy’s misadventures were never revealed and led back to the US? How much fun and mayhem could this bring to Bear Braddock and Tuck while trying to solve the modern day murder of William Mendelson? A lot.

And so my historical subplot was devised. Tuck’s grandfather, Ollie Tucker, enters the series as a younger version of Doc, the ever-critical spirit-guide that keeps Tuck moving forward, and backward, chasing two killers—the murderer from World War II Cairo and one from present day Winchester. He’s chasing the spy who got away and someone who got away with far more than just murder. He hasn’t rested yet and won’t until revenge is served—cold.

And because I’ve always loved Egyptian archeology and its culture, I had to have a little fun with it, too. Tuck is menaced by Seth—a statue of the Egyptian God. And as Angel Tucker points out to him, “Seth is the Egyptian God of chaos and destruction—other things, too ... I think Seth was related to my dear departed husband.” And he picks up clues from the Shepheard Hotel—a real World War II Cairo landmark for the Allies to hang out, drink tea, and feel normalcy amidst war. And there is the Kit Kat West club, a new jazz joint in Winchester that brings back the nightlife like the original Kit Kat in Cairo where the beautiful seductress, Hekmet Fahmy, twirled her beads and veils and other assets. Throughout though, Tuck has to admit that other than his spirited-visions of Cairo here and there, his grasp of Egyptian history comes from watching Charlton Heston and the History Channel. Not much help in solving his latest case.

In the end, Dying to Tell continues the footprint that Tuck’s previous cases, Dying to Know and Dying for the Past, set down. Tuck’s spirit skills traverse past and present murder cases all based on real historic events—with a twist of my imagination, of course. And, in the end, the collision of history with the present has a few more twists and turns in it. Right up to the end, you’ll be counting the suspects and wondering when the next shoe will drop—and in this case, whodunit should be whodidn’tdoit.

We’ll again chat next month …

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know and Dying for the Past, available in bookstores and e-books from Midnight Ink. His third paranormal mystery, DYING TO TELL, will be released January 2016. He is currently working on a traditional mystery and a new thriller. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

Learn about Tj’s world at:

Web Site:

Monday, November 23, 2015

Revisions, Bloody Revisions

I had dinner with a writer friend of mine the other night. Mary Daheim is one of the few mystery writers I know who makes a living at writing. She’s had well over fifty books published, all decent sellers. When I asked her how many drafts she writes before she turns her work in to her publisher, she looked at me oddly and said, “One. My first draft is the final draft.”

I should be so lucky. By the time I finish a book, I’ve read, revised and changed it about thirty times. If I were to tell you each step in my revision process, I’d simultaneously bore and horrify you. And it probably doesn’t matter anyway. No matter what anyone tells you, there is no perfect word count an author should type each day, no perfect revision process, no perfect writing software. There’s no perfect anything when it comes to writing. Only what works for you. The process I outline below isn’t a recommendation. It’s a single example in an infinite variety of right answers.  

Most of the revisions I list below actually represent three complete reviews of a manuscript. I can’t type worth beans and I go cross-eyed if I try to proof on screen, so my process involves handwriting, speech recognition software, typing, printing, and note-taking. Suffice it to say that we go through a lot of paper in my house! Whether you write one draft or a thousand, I hope the steps below provide a tool or idea that is useful for you.

Tracy’s Fourteen Steps to Writing (Revising) a Novel:
1.    Write the First Draft.  I’m always tempted to genuflect in awe when I hear about authors who write 3000 to 4000 words per day or (God forbid) are brave enough to use software like Write or Die.  Rest assured, I’m not one of them.  When I write a first draft, I target 5000 words a week.  That may seem low, but even though I call this my first draft, it already incorporates multiple revisions.  I handwrite most of my first draft scenes, then read them into Microsoft Word using Dragon speech recognition software, which is an adventure all by itself!  I do at least three rounds of revisions on each scene before I move on to the next.  After a couple of months, I have what I call my first draft, which is really the equivalent of three or four drafts for most people. I’ve done this step in as little as three weeks and as long as four months.
Then the fun begins. 
2.   Percolate.  I never seem to leave enough time for this, but I did it with my first book and I highly recommend it.  Take a few weeks away from your baby and let it mature in your mind like a fine red wine.  Jot down ideas about scenes, characters, plot lines, and settings. You’ll be fresher and more willing to use that red pen when you come back. 
3.   Revise and Create an Outline.  I’m a devoted pantser (meaning I write by the seat of my pants).  I never know where the story’s going to take me ahead of time, so how could I outline? That said, I can’t weave clues and red herrings into the text, have consistent character descriptions, or develop a coherent and plausible timeline when the story is revealing itself to me as I type. And my characters have an annoying habit of changing as I write them.  They refuse to follow my instructions.  They change hair color, weight, and romantic relationships.  In my first book (Murder Strikes a Pose), my chosen murderer flat out refused to commit the crime.  So as I revise the first draft, I outline using a Word template I’ve created that uses the columns in the table below.

       Here, of course, I discover inconsistencies, plot holes, time line issues, etc.  I don’t fix them at this stage.  I simply indicate them in the outline document to fix later.  In this stage I also do significant rewriting of the first draft.  (And believe me, it needs it!) This step usually incorporates what most people would call an additional three to four revisions. Writing and outlining this draft usually takes two to three months.
4.   Fix Issues Identified In Outline.  Now I go back and fix all of the issues I discovered above, writing new paragraphs and scenes as I go.  Sometimes I review and re-write the entire document, sometimes I just fix the areas that need fixing. It all depends on how happy (or horrified) I am with the draft I created in Step 3.
5.   Look at the Sentences.  Once the plot is down and the outline errors are fixed, I dive in with my thesaurus, grammar books, and texts on body language to tackle the novel sentence by sentence. I read through the entire book one to three more times.  I know I’m done with this step when I’m so sick of the novel that I’ll vomit if I read it one more time.
6.   Break Out the editing software. I’m sure there are a gazillion pieces of editing software out there, but I use SmartEdit by Bad Wolf Software. It compiles dialogue tags, adverbs, overly used words and phrases, profanities, and obvious errors. (As well as a lot more!)  I do multiple passes with the software, making changes that hopefully make my writing stronger.  This is my least favorite step, but also one of the most useful in honing my craft.
7.   Read and Revise Manuscript for Voice. Sometimes the things I fix in Step 6 break my voice or introduce their own annoying quirks. In this frustrating step, I often find myself changing back some of the revisions I made in Step 6. Such is life.
8.   Get Feedback from Beta Readers.  I don’t use beta readers nearly as much as other writers I know.  I do reach a point, however, at which I can’t make the work any better without feedback.  I send the manuscript to my wonderful freelance editor Marta Tanrikulu and my agent Margaret Bail.  Marta typically gives me seven to ten pages of written feedback.  Margaret gives less, but she’s brutally honest, which is a wonderful thing.  Whoever you choose as your Beta readers, make sure they don’t love you.  That way you’ll get the hard-to-hear honesty you need to make your work stronger. I get all warm and fuzzy when my mom tells me “It was a nice story, dear,” but that kind of feedback isn’t particularly helpful.
9.   Incorporate Feedback.   I don’t take all feedback offered to me, and neither should you. Not even the best readers and editors can understand the goals, themes, and desired idiosyncrasies of your work the way you do.  I look carefully for areas of agreement between Margaret and Marta, and I always change those. As for the rest, it depends. I ask questions, push back, and follow my gut. I mark on my outline what changes I want to incorporate and where I think I can incorporate them.  Then I write the changes and insert them in yellow in the manuscript. I revise the yellow-marked items at least two or three times before moving to Step 10.
10. Read the Complete Work, Noting and Fixing Inconsistencies. At this point, I’m looking for the things I have “broken” by incorporating feedback, and there are usually several. I also take a final pass through for voice, humor, word choice and “show don’t tell.”
11. Proofread!  By this point, I have the manuscript memorized, so I send it to a friend who proofs it for me. When she sends it back, I look at her recommended changes, incorporate the ones I agree with, and proof it a final time.
12. Send to Your Editor/Agent. After Steps 1 through 11, I’m finally ready to send the work off to Terri Bischoff, my editor at Midnight Ink. Those of you who don’t have a publisher will send them to your agent or start shopping for an agent at this point. (By the way, the AgentQuest Guppy subgroup is awesome for advice on queries!) 
About five minutes after I hit “send,” I realize all of the things I’d like to change, and I e-mail Terri, begging her to let me fix them.  She refuses.  I sit and bite my fingernails, waiting for her revision requests.  She asked for a few in Murder Strikes a Pose, but A Killer Retreat and Karma’s a Killer were accepted as submitted.
After Terri accepts the work, she gives me the green light to make those changes I’ve been yammering to her about. That adds another draft or two.
13. Let the Production Cycle Begin!  Believe it or not, after this, two more editors look at the book before it hits your local bookseller.  The production editor and a proofreader at Midnight Ink both get to weigh in. I usually end up doing at least three drafts at this stage as well, but your process will vary depending on your publisher, so I won’t bore you with the details. 
14.   Celebrate!  Your Book is On the Shelves!  You’d think that by this point, my writing would be perfect.  And, in all honesty, it’s as perfect as it’s ever going to be. Still, readers find errors and report them to me—which pretty much proves that I need to do even more drafts!
That’s the writing process that works for me.  As they say in diet commercials everywhere, individual results may vary. Perhaps someday I’ll be a proficient enough writer to finish a book in a single draft like my friend Mary, but I’m not counting on it.
What’s your writing process?

Tracy Weber

Karmas a Killer (4) Preorder my newest mystery, KARMA'S A KILLER, now at Amazon Barnes and Noble.

Yee haw, yippee, and yahooey!

Check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Sneak Peek into Delivering the Truth

Here's a sneak peek into the opening of Delivering the Truth. It releases April 8 and is available for preorder!

Minnie O’Toole screamed again, a long piercing wail. Her eyes bulged and her round face shone as red as hot coals. “I’m going to die,” she whimpered when the pain subsided. “The babe and I are both going to die.” She grabbed my hand and squeezed.

I wiped the pretty young woman’s brow with a cool cloth. “Thee isn't going to die, Minnie. Look at me.” I gazed into her eyes and willed her to listen. “Thee is a healthy nineteen and thy body is meant to give birth. Exactly like every woman anywhere in the world. I’m thy midwife and I’m here to help get this baby out. Now sit up a bit more.” I leaned over, hooked my hands under her armpits, and raised her further up on her pillows against the plain wooden headboard.

She had been in hard labor for hours, and was becoming weak from the effort. I had trudged through the remnants of the Great Blizzard to reach her. It had been scarcely three weeks since the storm buried us and the rest of New England in four feet of cold blowing snow, the worst storm we’d had in this year of 1888 or any year in prior memory.

But her birth canal still wasn’t fully open. I had finally sent word, asking Minnie’s landlord to call on his new telephone, to my doctor friend, David Dodge, whom I sometimes consulted during difficult births. The midwife I’d apprenticed with, Orpha Perkins, was now too elderly to help.

I heard David enter Minnie’s small flat. “I'm glad thee is here,” I said to him as he walked into the bedroom. He set down a black bag, removed his coat, and rolled up his shirtsleeves. To Minnie I said, 
“We will be back directly. Try to rest between contractions.” I led David back out into the hall.

“I’m always glad to see you, Rose Carroll.” He smiled at me and winked, an unruly lock of his wavy dark hair falling onto his brow. “How’s my favorite Quaker, with your thees and your thys?”

I blushed. We had been courting in recent months, but this was no time for that. “I am well. Now, her name is Minnie O’Toole. Her labor started yesterday morning, but the pains began coming a minute apart about four hours ago.” I opened my pocket watch, which I’d pinned to my left bosom so I could easily check it. “Yes, it’s now six in the morning. They became more intense at about two.”

“And the opening?”

“Still has about a thumb’s width to go. The baby’s heartbeat is fine, although the mother is tiring. She's neither too young nor too old, so it isn’t her age slowing the labor. Perhaps a fear of supporting the babe holds her back. She has no husband and won't tell me who the father is.”

David raised dark eyebrows over deep blue eyes.

I ignored his expression. I'm a midwife. As part of my calling, and because I'm a member of the Society of Friends, I serve rich and poor alike, and I don't refuse to care for women who land in circumstances outside what society expects.

Another scream resounded from the next room. “That cursed man,” she wailed.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Dying to Tell: The Story Begins

It’s the fall again. October. Halloween. The feverish run-up to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all the holidays. It’s also my transition from promoting my last book, Dying for the Past, to promoting my next book, Dying to Tell. Somewhere between is a blur of days and hours and hotel rooms. In the past several months, I can count the number of weekends I’ve had without travel or book events on one hand. I think I might have some fingers left over, too. But hey, I’m not complaining! It’s been fun meeting the readers and fans, talking with other authors, and giving key note speeches and book discussions. This past summer has been a blur.

Now, it’s time to take a deep breath and start again. I have three Dying for the Past events remaining this calendar year and will begin the events for Dying to Tell with this blog. Phew.

And somewhere amid the hotel rooms and podiums and meeting all the fantastic readers and fans, I’ve managed to pen three-quarters of a new thriller—Double Solution.  I hope I can keep them all straight. Let’s see, Oliver “Tuck” Tucker’s books are cozy mysteries about a dead detective solving crimes with a historical subplot and a few laughs along the way. Double Solution is about Jonathan Hunter, a wayward CIA consultant who is hunting his brother’s killer and finding his worst Middle East nightmares right at home in small town Winchester, Virginia.  Double Solution is still in the making and I cannot wait to get back to the keyboard and see what Hunter will do next.

For now, Dying to Tell, the third Gumshoe Ghost installment, hits the shelves in January 2016. It’s time to tell Tuck’s latest tale—the story of William Mendelson, a recluse bank executive, found murdered in his secret vault. Surrounding William’s fate is a treasure trove of Egyptian antiquities. Now those relics are missing. The secrets are coming out. The dead are talking.

Tuck is pulled into the case by the spirit of a World War II Office of Strategic Services operative with his own agenda. OSS Captain Ollie Tucker I—Tuck’s namesake—knows the past is catching up to the survivors of an Egyptian spy ring from more than seventy years ago. With the help of his beautiful and brilliant wife, Angel, and his gruff former partner, Detective Bear Braddock, Tuck must unravel a tale of spies, murderers, and thieves. But how to begin? Perhaps, with the botched robbery at Mendelson’s bank and the disappearance of his Egyptian loot? Or, the Kit Kat West nightclub where the sultry Lee Hawkins revives 1944 Cairo nightlife with her WWII veteran grandfather, Keys Hawkins? There are too few clues and too many suspects—like Marshal Mendelson, the conniving, bitter son; a suave bank executive wooing Angel; the vivacious bank teller sharing whispers with a lonely but heroic security guard; and the alluring and dangerous Egyptian antiquities professor whose arrival in Winchester coincides with Mendelson’s murder.

Who killed William Mendelson and what did his murder have to do with the 1944 murder of Professor Youssif Iskandr?

Writing Dying to Tell was different. As the third installment of Tuck’s dead detective adventures, I wanted to take Tuck’s unusual life—or death as it were—somewhere very personal to him. In Dying to Know, Tuck struggled with being dead. First, how to maneuver in the world of the living but with different rules. How to contact Angel and how to pursue his killer while still learning to be a dead detective. Hercule, his devoted black Labrador, helped him with much of this. And so did Doc, his live-in spirit guide. It was painful, difficult, and at times, heartbreaking for him. Ultimately, Tuck found his way.

In Dying for the Past, Tuck is in contact with Angel and is working steadily to reach that same resonance with Bear, his stubborn and grouchy former partner. But, he also has to come to terms with a new secret—that his long-lost family might just be made up of gangsters, spies, and rogues. All of them may have ended up as spirits, too. Tuck also finds some enjoyment to being a dead detective. He learned to use his world to his advantage. So what more could a guy want?

Life. At least, the taste of his former life. Love. Confidence in his commitment to Angel—and in hers to him. Is that too much to ask?

Dying to Tell takes on the issue of Tuck being back amongst the living but not truly one of them—his life with Angel. Angel, as you might know, is a beautiful, brilliant history professor. She’s on her way to bigger and better things at the University. She’s attracted the attention of a handsome, mysterious, and suave suitor. Tuck, being the witty and self-reliant spirit-cop that he is, is smart enough to see the writing on the wall. How can he keep Angel to himself when their life together is everything except real? They can share no glass of wine. No kiss. No touch. No romance after dark. Tuck is everything Angel ever wanted—except alive. Except physical.

What is she to do? What is Tuck to do?

 Dying to Tell summons up the three elements that Tuck’s books always bring: a traditional murder; a historical subplot that connects to the present; and a twisty, turning conclusion that makes you ask, “Who isn’t a suspect?” But it also takes Tuck and Angel’s life to the next threshold. After two years of being spirit and wife, does “death do you part” mean it’s time to part?

And as for Operation Salaam, the OSS, and famous World War II spies, I’ll discuss some of the historical research I did for Dying to Tell next month. This was, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable books to research of the three Tuck mysteries so far. Next month, I’ll talk about the way I wove in the historical facts, twisted a little history, and came up with Dying to Tell.

See you then.

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know and Dying for the Past, available in bookstores and e-books from Midnight Ink. His third paranormal mystery, DYING TO TELL, will be released January 2016. He is currently working on a traditional mystery and a new thriller. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

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