Monday, February 23, 2015

Do Awards Boost Anything Except Egos?

My editor, the fabulous Terri Bischoff here at Midnight Ink, recently published a blog article in which she wondered out loud if winning an award—be it the Agatha, Lefty, or Edgar—meant anything to readers or to the future sales of an author.

It’s a valid question. We all bemoan poorly written manuscripts that manage to become New York Times bestsellers. I’ve yet to see a positive correlation between number of awards won and number of copies sold. So, other than hoping for an ego boost, why even bother?
The answer, for me, became clear last Sunday night when my first book, Murder Strikes a Pose, won the Maxwell Award for Fiction. Most of you have probably never heard of the Maxwell awards. In the mystery world, they are barely a blip on the radar. But in another writing community—people who write about dogs—the Maxwell Awards are important. They are the Academy Awards, if you will, of the dog writing community.

If you’ve read my work, you know that I’m dog crazy, and that a 100-pound German shepherd plays a prominent role in my series. Still, I’m a crime writer and my primary goal is to entertain readers.
But that’s not my only goal. My second goal is to save lives.

This moment might not have been possible
without the kindness of a stranger.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, the idea was planted nine years ago. I was walking my then-six-month-old puppy, when I met a man with a gorgeous, healthy-looking male German shepherd. The man stopped me to share that his dog—I’ll call him Thor—had an autoimmune disease called Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI), and that without special medication with each meal, Thor would starve to death. He warned me to watch for the symptoms of EPI in Tasha, as the rare genetic disorder occurs most commonly in adolescent German shepherds.
Fast forward a year and a half. Tasha began losing weight. A lot it. Twenty-five pounds in a month, to be exact. The vet theorized cancer and recommended exploratory surgery. I insisted that he test for EPI first. When the results came back positive, my now-former vet made it sound like a doggie death sentence.

I remembered Thor, switched vets, joined an EPI support group, and began the process of successful lifelong management. Simply put, that five-minute conversation with Thor’s owner saved my dog’s life.
The tragedy of EPI isn’t the disease itself. Tasha has been thriving with EPI for over eight years. The tragedy is that so few people, veterinarians included, know about it. Dogs often go months or longer without a proper diagnosis. Many die before anyone figures out what’s wrong with them. Even worse, about twenty percent of animals who are diagnosed with EPI are needlessly euthanized without any attempt at treatment.

Writing has done so many great things for me. It’s connected me with fabulous authors, brought out my creativity, and helped me to make new friends. I hope it also spreads the word about EPI. EPI is not a death sentence.
What does any of this have to do with awards?

Winning the Maxwell Award for Fiction has put my work in the hands of other dog writers. The award is making dog readers pick up the book. I’m pretty sure the award-related exposure even sold a copy or two, though honestly, not enough to get excited about. Still, each new reader helps spread the message. Maybe someday one of them will have an animal that is wasting away for seemingly no reason. Maybe they’ll remember Bella, the dog in my books. Maybe that memory will help save a life.
I’ll admit, it’s a lofty goal for a piece of metal strung on a ribbon. But even if the award does nothing else, it gives me hope. Hopefully it provides someone else hope, too.

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

About Tracy:

My writing is an expression of the things I love best: yoga, dogs, and murder mysteries. I'm a certified yoga teacher and the founder of Whole Life Yoga, an award-winning yoga studio in Seattle, WA. I enjoy sharing my passion for yoga and animals in any form possible.  My husband and I live with our challenging yet amazing German shepherd Tasha and our bonito flake-loving cat Maggie. When I’m not writing, I spend my time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sipping Blackthorn cider at my favorite local ale house.

For more information, visit me online at and

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


By: Maegan Beaumont

Take a look at the fantastic Midnight Ink has to offer this month!

 Death & the Redheaded Woman
By: Loretta Ross 
An Auction Block Mystery #1

Starred Review“Ross’ thoroughly entertaining debut combines smart details about the auction business with two engaging mysteries and a uniformly appealing cast. Fans of small-town cozies, especially those by Denise Swanson, will love this, as will mystery readers who double as thrift-store aficionados and followers of auction reality shows.”—BOOKLIST (STARRED REVIEW)

Drawing Conclusions
By: Deirdre Verne 
A Sketch in Crime Mystery #1

"Verne's mystery is a winner, with plenty of twists and turns, an intriguing heroine and an ending that shocks in more ways than one."—KIRKUS REVIEWS

Starred Review“Lourey skillfully mixes humor and suspense . . . the characters are wonderful and wacky, and the mile-a-minute pace never falters.”

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Story That Got Away

by Shannon Baker

I had this really great idea for a book. I mean, scorching hot. My daughter and I had occasion to hang out at Denver International Airport and we were struck by some bizarre and disturbing murals. My daughter happened on a website that went into detail explaining a conspiracy theory involving a One World Order group and bunkers below the airport to house the world’s elite in the event of a nuclear holocaust.
I was off and running. Following Internet rabbit holes revealed how extra-terrestrials or aliens from the center of the earth had various plans for DIA. The runways created a Swastika, the murals and other public art warned of biologic warfare. I gathered it all up, plotting, planning, creating a story that wound Hopi legend and belief in Sky People with DIA and stuff worthy of Trilateral Commission mythology.
I stuck Nora (the protagonist of the Nora Abbott Series) in the middle and plopped it all in Moab, UT amid polygamists and environmentalists. I’m telling you people, this was an amazing plot.
According to my editor, it was too amazing.
But, but, but…
She didn’t think it was a great idea to use theories that could easily be debunked with a minimum of real research and wondered if I might be opening myself up for lawsuits by claiming certain far-fetched stories as truth.
I’d written the whole book with the premise of Evil lurking at DIA as the central event. The entire plot was formulated from the seed planted the day we wandered around the airport. I began to examine the book with fresh eyes. If you didn’t know the starting point was the bizarre and unsettling DIA weirdness, how would you see the plot? What would be the most important elements?
There’s Nora, our protagonist and what she’s gone through in the previous two books to bring her to this point. She’s the executive director of an environmental non-profit. There’s her best friend, the woman who is producing a documentary film to advocate for expanding the borders of Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah. Nora’s mother, Abigail always wants to butt in and the books all deal with Hopi tribal history and legends.
When I boiled it all down, I discovered the DIA element was the least important in telling the story I had in mind. I pulled it out without disrupting an already crowded story line.
Other writers understand the way stories develop and morph from first idea to published book. I find it’s good to stay flexible, able to bend the original idea. If you’re like me and get stuck with a questionable premise, it’s great to unfold it and smooth out the crinkles to fold again.
The non-writers in my life are driven to drink (yes, they’d probably drink anyway) by this nutso process. I discuss plots with my favorite guy over cocktails in the hot tub. He’s often more vested in the original idea than I am and gets frustrated when I say casually, “Not anymore. I changed that.”
Eventually the books get made, messy process notwithstanding. What about you, what’s the best idea that you never wrote?

BTW- Tattered Legacy (without the DIA plotline) is available March 8th.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Farewell Is A Killer

By Tj O’Connor, author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell

As a mystery writer, death becomes almost cliché—at least, fictional death. It’s the heart of a story and everything surrounds it. We treat death as no more than a plot and the make-believe root of our writing lives. It’s easy to forget what death really is.

In real life, it’s truly a killer.

Saying good-bye is one of the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. It was no matter that it came at the end of a long, wonderful, and full life, either. It was still hard. Gut-wrenching. Sad.

I am generally a tough guy—not a muscled bouncer or martial arts Ninja—although in my past years I could be pretty tough, too. No, I control my emotions from others’ perception and choose to most often. Friends and family have thought me removed, even unfeeling at times. That’s not from a lack of emotion—no, not all—but from an ability to take those feelings and lock them up when it’s needed. Maybe it’s from years under an abusive father. Maybe it’s from my often tumultuous past life. Or, perhaps, it’s just my way of protecting myself.

But not with Mosby. Not when it was his time. I lost my way to the emotion-lockbox. My stone exterior crumbled to tears and pain—a weeping, trembling wreck. My boy—best friend and companion—was done. Mos, my 90 pound yellow Lab had reached the end of his 14-plus years and couldn’t go on. He had tumors, cancer, arthritis, and lord only knows what else—although you’d never know it. We cared well for him and up until the last week of his life, there had been little pain but for the arthritis in his knees. A few good meds and my carrying him up and down stairs whenever he wished took care of that. He repaid me with devotion. When not stalking me for a treat or meal, he was sleeping close to my desk or at my feet watching a movie. Never complaining. Never grumbly or irritable. Never far away. 

At the end, he was just done—his life was yesterday and there was no more to have. His body was failing and his dignity was nearly spent. His pure bred Lab companions—Maggie, the Chocolate, and Toby, the Black—were constant attendants. Toby walked at his side up and down the stairs whenever I was not near—gently pushing him against the wall to keep him from stumbling. Mags found me whenever the old boy needed something and I failed to noticed. He had raised them from pups and they were shouldering him in his last days.

People should have such compassion and loyalty. People should try to understand the love and devotion that Mos gave to everyone. I challenge you.


As a young dog, Mos grew up with five teenagers my wife and I raised in North Western Virginia. His favorite things were food, toys, family, food … and rules. If there was a rule in the house—for dog of child—he enforced it. If the boys were getting too rough around the basement pool table, Mos summoned me. If my cooking threatened to alert the smoke alarm, he barked a warning. If one of the other dogs were out of line, he sought their correction.

Except at Christmas time. Rules be damned.
Christmas with five teenagers was a free-for-all. And our kids always made sure they had a wrapped present for Mos and the others. And up until Christmas morning, they hid presents in their rooms out of sight and mind. Did you ever try to hide a dog toy from a Lab? Before Christmas Eve, Mos would have found each and every one of his presents and deftly opened them—so much for rules! One year, he opened my daughters closet door to dig beneath the family presents and retrieve his own. How? Because at an early age he learned to roll his nose between doorknobs and doorframe and open a door. How did he know which were his gifts and which were not? Practice.

His favorite game—other than eating—was hide and seek. One of my daughters, and later one of my grandchildren, often played with him often. She’d sneak away and hide, and within minutes, Mos had patrolled the house and sniffed her out. A bark, a pat, a treat, and he was on the chase again.  

Mos was the center of the family and for good reason. He played Frisbee with everyone. Stayed close for the beer pong and pool games. Was within arm’s reach of the grandchildren as they learned to walk and play. He even sat at the dinner table—yes, in a chair—to listen to evening banter and share in the laughs. But no responsibility was as important to him as being my co-author, office mate, late-night movie partner, and constant foot-warmer. Well, perhaps dinner-time taste-tester! Even at the end in my home office, Mos barked for me to help him move from wherever he was to wherever I was—that distance could be no more than feet. If that was in the basement gym, than damn the stairs and carry him down.

Mosby died Veteran’s Day—three months ago. It’s only been a short time and I still get up in the morning and step careful beside the bed for fear I might step on him. As I work in my den, his ashes are nearby beside a ceramic likeness and a photograph. It’s taken me these three months to have the clearness of vision to write these words. Yet, I cannot say good-bye. The starch of my emotions fail me with his memory so much that I cannot bury him—should we ever leave this home, I could never leave him behind.

What a sap. What a woosie boy. What a cry-baby! No—he earned every tear I’ve shed.

My only solace is that at 14 +, he did not go because of his ailments over the years that I lined up doctors to cure. He loved life and family and dinner and toys. He reveled in the love he received from all of us. His life had been so full, it could simply take no more. There was nothing more for him and he made room for another to find this home. In time—not soon—we’ll do that.

Life is like that. It gives and takes. I think you have to give first because when it takes, it’s too late to make up for the loss. You have to pay in advance. With Mos, we paid plus interest. I know he knew that. At the end, he found the strength to climb onto my bed—something he hadn’t done in over two years—and lay his head on my lap. He wanted me to know it was time ... and that it was okay.

Mosby’s his first love, Belle, passed this last week, too. Belle was Mos’ age and was my daughter’s dog. We got her thirteen years ago to be his companion while the family was at work. They grew up together and when my daughter married and moved across the county, Belle went with her. We, of course, had brought Maggie into the family by then. Like Mos, Belle succumbed to life. She was14 plus years, too, and had a full life. Losing those two so close together was devastating to us all. Strangely, one has to wonder if they were not supposed to be together. Dogs need companionship—perhaps here and there, too.

One can hope.

My current mystery series, The Gumshoe Ghost, has Hercule, a black Lab as a key character. Not because I wanted to fit into the cozy community or knew in advance having an animal was chic. I included Hercule because Labs are so much a part of my life that I couldn’t see my character not having one. In the future, the importance of a dog will have a new meaning.

I’m still surrounded by sweet, loving Labs (and another daughter’s Mastiff, too). They keep me company as I toil over my keyboard. They are a great comfort and as close to me as Mos ever was. Yet, no matter how close they are, there is still that void.

I hope it doesn’t leave too soon. Pain is a reminder of loss. I don’t mind keeping him around a little while longer—even if it’s painful. Nothing so important should be easily lost.

A lot of you will understand me having to commit this to words. For those of you who can’t—or who call me a silly man—you have no idea what you’re missing. Deep down, loss reveals something so amazing.

 Tj O’CONNOR IS THE AUTHOR OF DYING FOR THE PAST and DYING TO KNOW, available in books stores and e-books from Midnight Ink. His third paranormal mystery, DYING TO TELL, will be released January 2016. 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 for the Past and Dying To Know are the first of eight novels to be published.  Learn more about Tj’s world at and on Facebook at

Monday, February 2, 2015

Focus on New Series

--by Linda O. Johnston

I've mentioned here before that I'm writing several novel series at the same time--four, to be exact.

Fortunately, right now, I'm able to focus on one of them, my Barkery and Biscuits series for Midnight Ink. 

That's because I'm just finishing up the edits on the first in the series, BITE THE BISCUIT, which will be a May release.  Plus, the next manuscript for which I'm under deadline will be number two in the same series, due on June 1.  I've been plotting it and have begun writing it.  So far, I don't have a working title, but I will.

It's unusual for me to be able to focus on one series like that.  The last manuscript I finished was for one of my Alpha Force paranormal romances for Harlequin Nocturne, plus I revised a proposal for a Harlequin Romantic Suspense.  And soon, I'll need to write my next Superstition Mystery for Midnight Ink.

Like most people, writers and readers alike, I multitask.  I've always done so, especially when I was formerly practicing law as a transactional real estate attorney.  Now that I'm not actively pursuing another profession, I'm a full-time writer.  But that doesn't mean that all I do is write.  For one thing, I still volunteer at an animal shelter.  And recently, I've become interested in a local political campaign and have done a bit of blog writing for a candidate I like. 

But plotting and writing is who I am.  I may go off on tangents, as most of us do, but I always get back to, and focus on, what's particularly important to me: creating and sharing stories I hope everyone will enjoy.

That's why I'm a writer.