Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Defiance: The Inspiration for "Lake of Fire"

Not since Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid had the West seen such a manhunt.

It started on the morning of May 29, 1998 when Cortez Police Officer Dale Claxton died in a flurry of gunfire when he tried to pull over a stolen water truck. 

The ensuing pursuit of Jason McVean, Robert Mason and Alan “Monte” Pilon mobilized more than 75 law-enforcement agencies and the U.S. Army’s Special Forces. The chase pitted three outlaws who had trained in wilderness survival against an entire army of officers—500 in all—and all their sophisticated tracking technology.

The outlaws won.

Well, maybe 'won' is too strong a word. They managed to avoid being captured. Their bodies were found one week later, five months later and many years later.

Dan Schultz’s gripping account, Dead Run, The Murder of a Lawman and the Greatest Manhunt of the Modern American West, is fascinating in peeling back the issues that thwarted a better search, including poor coordination and leadership among the many law enforcement agencies.

But what grabbed me about the book, when I was researching ideas for the fourth Allison Coil Mystery, was the portraits of the three individuals and their vehement anti-government stance.

Schultz’s portrayal of the three strong-willed individuals is what really got my juices going—and I started to think about all the standoffs out west, including the tense war of words between Cliven Bundy (and a militia) and the Bureau of Land Management. Bundy owed over $1 million in fees and penalties for trespassing on federal without a permit for over 20 years.

Currently, a similar type of battle has been brewing over the Sugar Pine Mine in Oregon; there are really no shortage of stories and situations like it—with underground networks of civilian militia ready to pop up and defend those they feel are being preyed upon by the government.

Of course, Dead Run was only the source of inspiration for the type of villain—villains—that I wanted to write about. Lake of Fire includes no murdered police officer, but there is (I think) a sinister plot that that requires hunting guide Allison Coil to confront those very close to her inner circle.

Anti-government extremists are everywhere including, sometimes, in your own backyard.

The west is a fascinating place. There are plenty of places to hide, plenty of places to run. Ask Butch Cassidy. Ask the Sundance Kid. But the question remains, are we a civilized society—or not?


Lake of Fire comes out Tuesday, Sept. 8. Kirkus Reviews has already called it “thrilling” and “irresistible.” 

I hope you enjoy it. 

If so, it's number three in the series following Antler Dust, Buried by the Roan and last year's Trapline, which won the Colorado Book Award in 2015 for best mystery.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Fifty Ways to Show Readers Some Love (Part 3)

Today is the final installment in my three-part series on ways writers can show their readers some love.  Check out days 1 – 20 and days 21 – 40 at the highlighted links.

·       Day 41: Write a prequel and post it on your website!  A prequel is fun because it doesn’t give away anything for readers who might not have read your entire series—yet.  And it can be like a between-book snack to keep them happy between book releases!
·       Day 42:  Help them kill off their spouse!  OK, not literally, but how about a contest in which a reader chooses the name of the next murder victim.  As long as it’s all fun and games and the victim agrees, sounds like a great idea!  Just realize Thanksgiving dinner with your mother-in-law might be a little more awkward… 
·       Day 43: Have a word challenge contest!  Have a contest in which readers come up with unusual words and challenge you to use them in your next manuscript. Pick a winner and exercise your creative brain to make it fit within your story!  It might even spark a new red herring!
·       Day 44:  Donate your books to their favorite charities!  I realize that the vast majority of authors are writing at well below the poverty level (yours truly included).  But if you can, allocate a few books each printing to donate to your most loyal readers’ charities.  Perhaps you can even work together to make a themed basket containing your books (you donate the books, they do the rest).  You support the causes they love and get a little exposure in the bargain! 
·       Day 45:  Host a fan of the month contest! If you have an official street team or fan club, why not recognize a particular fan each month?  Maybe you draw names to choose your fan; maybe you have a contest they enter.  Perhaps you give prizes or maybe you simply post a photo and thank them in your blog.  Totally up to you.  But what fan wouldn’t like to be given a little recognition?
·       Day 46:  Let them interview you on Facebook! What better way to show your readers some love than to make yourself available to them! A Facebook “ask the author” event might be just the ticket!  It can be a great way for readers to get to know you as a person while learning more about your writing process. 
·       Day 47:  Ask for their advice!  Stuck on a plot point?  Not sure which action your heroine should take next? Ask your loyal readers! Their thoughts might give your muse the kick she was looking for! 
·       Day 48:  Mention them in the acknowledgements! Has a reader truly gone out of their way to help you?  Perhaps, like me, you have an awesome street team?  Why not mention them in the acknowledgments in your book?  Let the people who help you spread the word about your work be an actual part of it!
·       Day 49:  Feed Them! I’m not at all above bribery to get people to talk to be at book signings. Show your readers you love them by providing a bowl of candy or a plate of home-made cookies at signings.  Believe me, no one wants to eat any cookies I’d make, but I’ve been known to provide vegan chocolate mousse cake and bubbly.
·       Day 50:  Let them name something in the book!  We spoke on day 31 about letting readers name a character, but that’s just the beginning.  How about letting them name a town, road or business?  They can have their place in fictional history in so many ways, and you can keep your creative hat focused on story!   

And a few bonus days…

·       Bonus Day 51: Make them feel special! Share insider-only information to members of your fan club or newsletter subscribers, such as a nugget of character back story that isn’t revealed in your books or a recipe that reflects the tastes of one of your characters. Homemade dog cookies for Bella, anyone? 
·       Bonus Day 52:  Create some downloadable swag!  Postage can get expensive, particularly if you have lots of out-of-country fans.  Why not make your swag downloadable?  Bookmarks, stickers they can print out, special for-your-fans-only photos—if you can think it up it can probably be created online. 
·       Bonus Day 53: Personally reply to their e-mails!  Auto-replies are great if you need to let someone know you’re out of the office.  No replies are well, lonely.  If a reader takes the time to send you an e-mail, reply to it!  Long before I was a writer, I sent an e-mail to Susan Conant, asking about future books.  I was over the moon when she replied.  A minute or so of your time may make someone’s day! 
·       Bonus Day 54: Tap into their inner muse!  Have your readers write an opening line to your next book. Something that creates an idea of what they think the storyline will be. Who knows?  They might even inspire a future story!
·       Bonus Day 55: Give them swag!  Lots of people mentioned swag to me in their “show some love” tip ideas.  From bookmarks (listing all of the author’s books) to pens, to coffee mugs, to…well, the sky is the limit.  Is there a non-expensive (because we all know most authors are broke) creative thing you can give readers that ties in with your book theme?  I know writers who custom make jewelry with their book covers, make one-of-a-kind book marks—some who give dog-cookie swag to their reader’s pets!  Come up with something creative, and your readers may love you forever! 
·       Bonus Day 56: Provide an audio character interview!  Give your readers a little more insight into their favorite characters by recording an interview in which you or a friend play the role of the character answering in their own unique voice.  Many writers spent hours developing character profiles and back story that never make the final page.  Let all of those juicy tidbits come out while entertaining your readers at the same time!
·       Bonus Day 57: Let them help you cook things up!  I’m no longer allowed to cook (yes, I’m that bad) and my yoga-related mysteries don’t contain recipes, but many culinary cozies do.  Why not showcase the favorite recipe of one of your readers? Or even better, have a reader recipe of the month in your newsletter? It’s a great way to “spice things up” and show your readers you love them at the same time!
·       Bonus Day 58: Skype it baby!  We talked about skyping with book clubs on Day 11, but I just realized that’s not the only reason to Skype with your fans.  Run contest for a half-hour personal skyping session…Maybe do a birthday Skype message for your most loyal fans.  Think about how to use technology to connect “in-person” any way you can!
·       Bonus Day 59: Take their suggestions!  Readers come up with great ideas.  Using them recognizes their greatness.  Do it whenever you can.

I’m sure there are many more ways to show readers some love than the 59 I came up with in this series of articles.  Keep showing the love in any way that you can.  Add other ideas in the comments.

Happy reading and writing, everyone!

Tracy Weber

And if you want to show me some love, you can preorder my newest mystery, KARMA'S A KILLER, at these outlets now!.  E-book versions available for pre-order soon!

Yee haw, yippee, and yahooey!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What Does My Research Say About My Novel?

By Lisa Alber

I'm about 15,000 words (~60 pages) into my work in progress (WIP), and it occurred to me that you might be curious about what novel research looks like for one author.

My novels take place in Ireland, so I have an extra level of research. For example, I can't just research, say, coma patients in hospitals. I'd need to know the particularities about coma patients in Irish hospitals.

I start with research here in the States -- this gives me a baseline -- but then I need to do the groundwork in Ireland. (Lucky me!) As I'm writing my first draft I keep notes about everything that I'll need to check into in Ireland.

It may seem odd, but I prefer to do my Ireland research after I've written the first draft. I can get away with this because I already have a feel for the country from previous research trips, and I have a world that I've already created. And there's so much I can find out online to get me started anyhow.

And frankly, at this stage in my progress, when the story is a tender thing with shallow roots, I'd prefer not to let reality get in the way of the storytelling. I know, I know -- that may sound bass-ackwards, but I truly believe that knowing too much reality could limit my creativity.

I can just hear my big old editor brain bossing me around like it alway does: Oh no, character X couldn't possibly do that because that's not realistic.

So, yeah, I like to steer clear of reality as much as possible while writing the first draft. Here's my equation:

ignorance = writing bliss

I'm exaggerating somewhat, but you get my drift. And, just to contradict myself, in my initial  research forays I often stumble onto quirky, odd, and interesting factoids that rock my novelist's world, things I could never have thought of on my own.

So maybe research is a balance, after all. Enough research to get me started but not so much that I get bogged down trying to cram my story into what the research tells me reality it supposed to look like.

So here I am, 15,000 words into my first draft, and here are some of the topics I've looked into thus far:
  • Psychiatric nursing as a career
  • Sociopathy
  • Night terrors
  • PTSD
  • Bible quotes related to resurrection
  • Butterflies as symbols
  • Easter/Spring rites
  • Private nursing homes
  • Lung cancer misdiagnoses
  • Raku pottery
  • Objectivity
You can probably tell a few things about the story from this list. Or may not. Give the same list of prompts to 100 writers and you'll end up with 100 vastly different stories.

So what do you think of when you read my list of research topics? What's the last thing you researched online, related to anything?

Lisa Alber is the author of KILMOON, A COUNTY CLARE MYSTERY, which has been called "utterly poetic" and "a stirring debut." The second novel in the series will be published by Midnight Ink in 2016 (more information to come!). Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Visit her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Looking for Names

Edith here, always searching for names.

True, I have trouble remembering names. But that's not why I'm searching. Any author can tell you that discovering names for characters isn't always straightforward. The name has to fit the character. If I'm writing a tough strong woman, I'm unlikely to name her Susie or Tiffany, for example. I'm also unlikely to name a male villain after one of my sons.

And then there's keeping names distinct. If I have a continuing character named Kevin, I shouldn't name a new character Keith or Ken. To avoid this I try, within a book, to have only one character whose name begins with the same letter of the alphabet, at least within the gender. I think readers
won't be confused if I include Katie along with Kevin. And thus the importance of the character bible, my list of series characters and their characteristics. When I'm naming a new personality, I scan the list to make sure there isn't overlap.

But with the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, I also have to have period-appropriate names. How do I
know what people were named in 1888 New England? One great resource is the Social Security Administration database of names. Here's what the page I use says:

The following table shows the 200 most popular given names for male and female babies born during 1880 - 1889. For each rank and sex, the table shows the name and the number of occurrences of that name. The 200 most popular names were taken from a universe that includes 1,177,184 male births and 1,399,591 female births.

Edith, which essentially no one is named these days, is number 31 in frequency! Other older-sounding names include Flossie, Matilda, Etta, and Winifred for girls, and Otis, Silas, Tobias, Felix, and Sylvester for boys. I'm gonna bet you won't hear most of these in this year's kindergarten class.

Another great resource is cemeteries. I've found first names like Urania, Jabez, Alpheous, Fanny, Willard, Frelove, and Zilla, just by checking headstones for the 1800s.

In the Union Cemetery here in Amesbury, where the series is set, there is a Quaker section. Members of the Religious Society of Friends name the months and days of the week with numerals instead of the traditional names, so you know you're looking at a Quaker headstone when it says the person died on Fourth Day, Ninth Month, 1873. And from these stones I've learned that some of the Quaker family surnames were Huntington, Breed, Winslow, Latting, Stillwell, and Cartland.

Readers, what's your favorite old-fashioned name? Writers - where do you find inspiration for character names?

Friday, August 7, 2015

New Midnight Ink releases for July and August!

By: Maegan Beaumont
Check out these cool summer reads!

Hidden Vices
By: C.J. Carpenter
A Megan McGinn Novel #2

“Quick, engaging . . . Megan is a feisty, multitasking homicide detective.”—RT BOOK REVIEWS Starred ReviewStarred ReviewStarred ReviewStarred Review

Murder on the Bucket List
By: Elizabeth Perona
A bucket List Mystery #1

“Bubbly characters keep this cozy debut lively as you search through the red herrings for the big fish.”—KIRKUS REVIEWS

Fool Me Once
By: Steve Hockensmith & Lisa Falco
A Tarot Mystery #2

“Readers who adore the women detectives of Dorothy Cannell and Maggie King will be pleased by this quirky series.”—LIBRARY JOURNAL

Murder Comes Calling
By: C.S. Challinor
A Rex Graves Mystery #7

“Nicely mixes procedural detail and village charm and will appeal to fans of Deborah Crombie and Anne Cleeland.”—BOOKLIST

Promises to Keep
By: Maegan Beaumont
A Sabrina Vaughn Thriller #3

"Edge-of-the-seat-plotting will keep readers’ attention late into the night. Sabrina’s third outing (after Sacrificial Muse) is a solid choice for Chevy Stevens and Taylor Stevens fans." —LIBRARY JOURNAL

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Dying For Scares That Care

On the road again … So, the first thing I saw when I walked into the Williamsburg Hilton Double Tree hotel was this:  

I knew I was in the right place—Scares that Care—a children’s charity convention. According to its web site at, “Scares That Care is an approved 501(c)(3) who fights the REAL MONSTERS of childhood illness, burns and breast cancer by helping families that are experiencing these extraordinary hardships cope with the financial burden … Our non-profit organization provides money, toys and other items to help sick children.”

That’s all I needed to know. Count me in.

And yes, I knew that people such as the masked monks of who-knows-where were all part of the d├ęcor.
This charity event brought these cosplay folks out for the costumes, action figures, jewelry, books, and memorabilia. They patrolled the halls and restaurants, gave passersby little skits and photo ops, and had their shtick ready to go on demand. The convention wouldn’t have been a success without them. And, I’d be sitting at my table of books, often bored and lonely, without the constant flow of the unusual to keep me entertained. Trust me, I was entertained the entire three days!

As an author struggling to build an audience, I have taken the road less traveled (sorry, Mr. Frost) and appear at various theme-conventions such as Monstermania, Comic Con, Farpoint, and others to set up shop, talk, and sell my books. These cosplay conventions stir the bizarre in all of us—well, in all of them. There are spaceship heroes and aliens, monsters from the deep and beyond, swashbuckling space-pirates and real pirates (there you go, Jesse, your plug), and even maidens scantily clad in, well, scant-stuff. At these events, I’m the odd-man-out dressed in my traditional sport coat, loafers, and jeans. “Aghast! What character are you?” they ask. “A Man In Black? The Blue Hornet? The Spy From Beyond?” “No,” says I, “The Unknown Author—a humble writer seeking truth, justice, and fans … buy my book!”

The Costume one is
on the right ... no, the left!
But, behind all the macabre costumes and fanciful themes lies the true meaning of why we’re all there. The charity. The kids. There is no better cause—none. But there are other reasons many of us attend. For me, it’s the friendship—the camaraderie. Meeting new people. Finding the one or two that I might truly connect with and who share a love of my world—books. I’ve said many times that writing is a lonely business. For me, my Labs are my best companions and greatest fans. But even they are bored with my constant soliloquies about my stories. These conventions offer the possibilities of new readers and fans. The conventions bring in people with love for stories—be it science fiction, horror, or mystery. There’s a kinship in this. Sort of like Stockholm Syndrome—you bond with your captors.

 I found that kinship at these conventions early on—and these trips have given me something I never expected … not just readers, but dear friends. I’ve met some extraordinary people. I can’t list them all, but my email list grows after each trip. I’ve met independent studio movie makers like those from MILFS vs. Zombies—nope, not a misprint; amazing photographers like Jenna from Images by Jenna; and wild-ass crazy pirates like Capt. Mango de Cayo Hueso. Then there is Clay, the aspiring D.C. author; Jim the clockmaker; Louis the author-film maker-entrepreneur; Wayne the part-time ghost hunter; and some down-to-earth lovelies like Karen, Kayla, and Kelly who went to Williamsburg on a monsters quest. In between are some very talented people who make these trips interesting—artists, film makers, costume designers, writers, sculptors, toymakers, and more. There’s no room for boredom or solitude—even if you’re a man in black.

Many of these folks—okay, maybe a few—I’ve really bonded with. Yes, bonded. I know it’s a laugh to those who know me, but deal with it. And I’ve kept those friendships long distance. I look forward to the next convention so we can share a drink, a meal, and some laughs and more stories. Some of those stories I’ll tell in my blogs—the vampire bar-hottie biting lovely ladies through the night (on camera) just for us; chatting with Eureka’s Colin Ferguson before breakfast (I gave him a book!); chatting with The Walking Dead’s Scott Wilson (Yes, I gave him a book, too); the drunk lady who crashed into our display table and took out the whole shebang but never spilled her beer (then went on to steal all my business cards and bookmarks!); meeting Chewbacca and Princess Leia; disappearing in Doctor Who’s Tardis; being stalked by God-only-knows-who several times, and on and on …

Many stories, however, will remain locked away in memory only—it’s for the best, trust me. And there may be a statute of limitations.

So, to my new friends made during my many travels—as Mr. Frost wrote (sort of)—I took the road less traveled by, and you have helped make all the difference.

To all of you—Thank You.

PS: Here are a couple links for folks I’ve met along my travels:

Scares that Care

Images by Jenna

MILFS vs. Zombies

Capt. Mango de Cayo Hueso

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 a Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award finalist.

Learn about Tj’s world at:

Web Site:


Monday, August 3, 2015

Mystery Writer at Romance Conference

--by Linda O. Johnston

Okay, actually I'm both--a romance writer as well as a mystery writer.  Currently, I am writing for two Harlequin series: paranormal romance for Harlequin Nocturne, as well as Harlequin Romantic Suspense.  I'm also writing two series for Midnight Ink:  the Superstition Mysteries and the Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries.

Near the end of July, I attended the Romance Writers of America National Conference in New York City.  There, I roomed with a couple of writers who also wrote mysteries as well as some romance.  We were additionally on a panel together, along with two others with similar backgrounds.

We each discussed our careers before becoming writers and how those careers have factored into our writing.  Since I started in advertising and public relations and segued into being a lawyer, both have been helpful to me in both writing what I do and also the business aspects of my writing career. 

And that career so far?  My first published fiction was a mystery short story in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine which won the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award for best first mystery short story of the year.  My next published fiction consisted of time travel romance novels, and then Harlequin Intrigues, which are romantic suspense.  I've since published cozy mysteries, more paranormal romance and more romantic suspense, so yes, I'm both a mystery writer and a romance writer, and most of my stories contain both elements but in different amounts.

At the RWA Conference, I was delighted to sign and sell my latest MI mystery, BITE THE BISCUIT, at the Literacy Signing, where proceeds go to organizations that support literacy. 

Fun event?  Yes.  Next year it's in my backyard--San Diego (I live in LA) so I figure I'll be there, too.  And by then I'll have more romances, and mysteries, to talk about.