Monday, September 28, 2015

Attending a Mystery Writers of America Writers Workshop: A Pictorial Review

For those of you who don't know (probably most of you!) I take a writing sabbatical every August.  This is time that I minimize my yoga teaching and studio management duties in the hopes of having a solid chunk of time for my next book.  This year's sabbatical was very productive, and I spoke about it in this blog article.
The last day of Sabbatical was the best, however.  I attended a character development seminar with David Corbett that was hosted by the Mystery Writers of America Pacific Northwest Chapter.  Here is my photo log of the day.  I really did do some writing, I swear!

I got up at the crack of dawn (OK, 6:00) but somehow still managed to miss the ferry by literally seconds.  My car is the red one, first in line for the next boat which would leave an hour later.

My husband has nicknamed me the creepy puppy lady. This photo of my car's bumper hints at why.  Marc is especially fond of the sticker on the upper right. Husband and dog missing. Reward for dog.

Since I had sixty minutes to wait, I took the opportunity to work on revisions for my 4th Downward Dog Mystery, tentatively titled A FATAL TWIST

It was the perfect foggy Seattle day to learn about murder.

 The ferry is pretty dead on Sundays at 8 AM, so I had it almost to myself.

Did I take this photo before or after the zombie slot machine ate my brains? (I obviously haven't quite gotten the hang of taking a selfie yet.)

Even though I caught the ferry an hour late, I arrived  at the picturesque location at the Suquamish resort with enough time to walk around the gorgeous grounds

The resort is on the Suquamish  Indian reservation, with some awesome Native American artwork, like this magnificent totem pole.

I took this photo to prove to my husband that I actually attended a workshop.

And after the workshop, I spent some time in the casino. I wandered around the huge gambling area, taking my time. I vowed not to play until I'd discovered the exact machine that would help me make my millions. When I saw Zombie Outbreak, it was love at first sight. I vowed to spend however long it took to either double or lose the $20 I had allocated.  (Losing it took less than 5 minutes.)

Then it was home to a much brighter Seattle!
 The photos don't show it, but I did learn a lot, and I plan to put it to use with the start of my new series, tentatively called the Murder in Paradise Mystery Series.  Now I just need to find time to write it!

Tracy Weber

Karmas a Killer (4)And if you want to show me some love, you can 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

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Writing Women

Can men write about women?

Sheesh, I sure hope so.

Of all the upbeat comments I’ve had recently, this email meant a lot to me:

“Thought I'd say I enjoyed Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan. I like Allison—and I really like Trudy and the relationship between the two women. Not everybody does friendships between women well, but you nailed it—creating a great one that really resonates as true with me.”

“Allison” is Allison Coil, my protagonist, and “Trudy” is Trudy Heath. They live on the edge of the Flat Tops Wilderness in western Colorado. Allison is an outfitter and hunting guide; Trudy worked her way out from under a bad marriage (in Antler Dust) and she now owns a garden center and a line of specialty food products. They live across a small meadow from each other and they are best friends.

This email note was from—yes—a woman.

Allison and Trudy met in the first book and I can state emphatically and without question that I had no idea that they would pair up and become a team through Buried by the Roan, Trapline and the new one, Lake of Fire. Trudy started out, in my mind, as an important but temporary character.

I didn’t think Trudy would stick around for the next three books.

Or resonate.

But readers seem to like her. She’s earthy. She’s crunchy granola, to use a cliché. She’s herbs and organic gardening. She’s slow-moving and serene. She owns a successful business, which started to blossom in the second book, but she’s not all about profits. She cares about the environment but she’s practical, too. She’s healthy and mystical and calm. She’s a good counterpoint to hunting guide Allison Coil, who has her own kind of serenity and, I hope, cool.

But can men write about women?

I ask, why not? I’ve been thinking about this recently. In came up last week during an event at Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins for the fourth book, Lake of Fire. The ability to write across-gender is not a new topic; hardly!

I think if you take a close look, it’s more common than you’d think. To my mind, nobody wrote about men—especially weird, warped men—better than Patricia Highsmith. There are many examples of men writing from a woman’s perspective. Madame Bovary. Anna Karenina. Bleak House. The Fortunate Mistress. The Scarlet Letter. These men aren’t just writing about women—they are writing from a woman’s point of view.

But in genre fiction? The vast majority of the time, you have a female writer and you get a female protagonist. Male writer? Of course, male protagonist.

But don’t all books, save for Lord of the Flies, have both genders? If you are a male writer and you include a woman, shouldn’t she be as fully formed, as fully thought-through, as your men? I’m not thinking about the bit parts, the transitional roles. I’m thinking about the major players—your hero’s wife or girlfriend or mother or co-worker. 

Sure, there are a few things a guy can’t experience quite the same way. Giving birth, for instance. That’s one. But we can read a thousand accounts of what it’s like and draw some conclusions. Can’t we? Isn’t the point to know, specifically, what your character is going through?

General doesn’t cut it.

Writers deal in specificity. At least, I think that’s where the work lies.

As writers, one of our most important jobs is to answer the question of how—how does my specific character do X or Y or Z? How does my specific character feel about doing X or Y or Z? Regardless of gender, who better to answer that question than the writer who created them?

Because neither gender has a corner on certain emotions, do they? Sure, women might be more A and men might be more B. Again, those are generalities. How does your individual character process the events being hurled her way? That’s the question.

Is this pure hubris? Am I being too, um, cocky?

I’ll let you be the judge. All I know is that it’s fun trying to get it right.

Key word: trying.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

5 Foody Tips for a Successful Writer's Retreat (Recipes!)

By Lisa Alber

Oh hey, before I get down to the topic, this week I've got blog posts up in a few spots. If you're curious about how my novel is coming along, read here. If you're curious about general news regarding award nominations (you can vote!) and such, read here. Also, I'll be hosting a cover reveal giveaway (YAY!) soon. You can check in on that on my website.

My morning spot.
There's nothing like a writer's retreat to rejuvenate my writing process. No overstuffed laundry hampers and dog-pooped-upon lawns begging me to do something about them. No pesky social obligations, or family obligations, or anything obligations -- except to the writing. Other than posting pretty pictures, I ignore Facebook and Twitter. I check email once a day and that's it.

I spent last week on retreat at Rockaway Beach, Oregon, a wee village with nothing much to it except railroad tracks running along a not-so-highway-ish Highway 101. Two writer buddies and I stayed at Colonyhouse, a retreat house sponsored by the Oregon Writers Colony.

We all know that location and compatible retreat mates (if any) are crucial to a successful retreat. Location-wise: I need the coast, that's about it. But any beautiful setting with a view and walking opportunities will do. Mates-wise: Please, be the quiet sort and the pick-up-after-yourself sort. Double please, don't be the person who is so addicted to social media that you can't stop yourself from commenting all day long to no one in particular about what your friends (or worse still, celebrities!) are wearing or buying or whatevering.

OK. Enough said. Let's talk about food. My thing is that I don't want to think about it once I'm in super-duper writing mode. I don't want to run to the grocery store. I want meals that are easy to fix. All this assumes that you're driving to your retreat, of course.

1. Coffee, big yes! I bring my own ceramic one-cup dripper that I set on top of my coffee cup. My coffee, my filters, my milk/creamer. It just makes me happy first thing in morning, which is better for my writing. Besides, then I can make my coffee on my schedule and fresh.

2. Breakfast: Oatmeal, but not just any oatmeal. I consider myself quite the genius for thinking this up even though it might be common: double-boiled (so to speak) crock pot oatmeal that's ready for me, warm and gooey and lovely, when I wake up! (Recipes below, by the way.)

3. Lunch: Before leaving for the retreat, I made a big batch of zingy beans, in, yes, my crock pot. (Do you see a theme here?) Tortillas, cheese, anything else you want to bring, and -- ta-da! -- quickie, healthy lunch burritos! Yum!

4. Snack: There comes a point in the afternoon when I get restless and/or start eyeing the bed for a snooze. Snacks help. I like mine to be more decadent than I allow myself to eat at home, just cuz making all aspects of the retreat feel special helps keep me motivated and writing. I brought those peanut-butter-stuffed pretzel thingies that Trade Joe's sells. A tad addictive, but I'm happy to report that I didn't eat the whole bag!

5. Dinner: Crock pot again! I threw everything into the pot in the morning and that was it except for roasting broccoli for extra veg. I made an enchilada casserole. Soo easy. And it made for great lunch leftovers that we shared. Soups are great too. One of my mates made a lentil soup to die for, and I had that for lunch on one of the days.

See how that works? It was utterly perfect. BUT, I forgot something:

6. Wine! I love wine, but I don't drink on a daily basis. It felt special to celebrate my productivity with wine before/during/after (eh hem, yeah, don't sue me for overindulging a bit) dinner. The three of us hung out together at day's end, watching the sunsets, talking writing, and helping each other brainstorm plot problems. We all looked forward to dinner; it was the come together social time.

When I was a kid, my Irish-Catholic aunties from Chicago visited now and then, and the only topic the adults seemed to talk about was the next meal. Boooring. I didn't get it. At all. Now, obviously I do. :-)

Do you have any crock pot recipes or particular food rituals that you perform when on vacation? Any tips and tricks welcome!

Crock Pot Delish Oatmeal
In a bowl that fits inside your crock pot, place the following ingredients in the following order. Do not stir.
1. Sliced apple.
2. Brown sugar and cinnamon to taste.
3. Pinch salt.
4. 1/4-cup steel cut oats
5. 1/2 cup each of water and your milk of choice, plus about 1/8 cup of water to account for evaporation.

Fill the crock pot 1/4-1/3 full with water, set the oatmeal bowl in the water (if it floats, pour out some of the water), and cook on low overnight. Genius, right? No crock pot cleaning!

Crock Pot Delish "Refried" Beans
One onion, peeled and quartered (no need to chop)
1 1/2 cups dry pinto beans, rinsed
1 jalapeño or 1 Anaheim pepper, seeded and chopped
3 Tbsn (or more! to taste) minced garlic
2 tspn salt (or to taste)
1 tspn black pepper (or to taste)
1/8 tspn cumin
4 1/2 cups water

Put everything in the crock pot and cook on low overnight, approximately 10 hours. With a submersible blender, blend until smooth.

Crock Pot Delish Yam and Chorizo Enchilada Casserole
I made this vegan style, but you can layer in shredded cheese too:
1 large yam, thinly sliced
2 12-oz jars of enchilada sauce
bag corn tortilla chips
1 12-oz package of soy chorizo (or use regular chorizo)
2 15-oz cans of black beans, drained and rinsed

Oil the crock pot and coat the bottom of it with enchilada sauce. Then layer the ingredients in the following order, three times: layer of chips, chorizo, yam, beans, enchilada sauce. End with one more layer of corn tortilla chips and the remaining enchilada sauce. Cook on low for 4 or 5 hours.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Doing My Research

Edith here, working on bringing 1888 to life.

In 1888, if you wanted to get somewhere closer than fifty miles away, you generally traveled in a conveyance pulled by horses. There were buggies, carriages, phaetons, wagons, surreys, carts, and plenty of other varieties. Some had two wheels, some had four. They were pulled by one, two, four, or even eight horses.

I've now written two books (one is still a draft, thank goodness) featuring vaguely worded
carriages and buggies. The Quaker Midwife Mysteries are set in Amesbury, which was called the Carriage Capital of the World, shipping graceful, sturdy vehicles shipped all over the US and internationally. I'm a member of the Amesbury Carriage Museum and have seen plenty of antique carriages around, even sat in a couple as they sat unhitched to a steed.

But I'd never ridden in one. So last week I hied myself fifteen minutes north to The Carriage Barn in Kensington, New Hampshire. They provide equine therapy, carriage driving lessons, and much more. The generous director, Ann
Ann Miles, director and guru of the Carriage Barn
Miles, knows more about riding, equine therapy, AND historic carriages than her brain has a right to.

Ann showed me a couple of dozen carriages - no, there was a buggy, a runabout, a couple of sleighs, a governess's cart, a phaeton, a sailor's wagon, a wagonette, and more.
I think this is a runabout.

Governess cart

We talked about the history of the time. She lent me two volumes of the Carriage Journal. She handed me a helmet - because I was about to go riding! One of the people who come and take riding lessons, Sue, had agreed to have her lesson with me aboard.

Sue (behind), Ann, and Emily (in pink) hitching up Casey.
Sue and delightful barn employee Emily brushed and cleaned and harnessed up the patient, calm, strong Casey. Sue and Ann brought a replica carriage out and they all worked together to hitch Casey to it.

I learned that the driver's seat was always on the right, not the left, and the driver mounts first. I'd worn my homemade earlier-century long linen skirt and ankle boots to get the feel of climbing up into the carriage, and yeah, I had to keep the skirt out of the way.

Getting ready to head out in a wagonette.

We walked a few laps, and then trotted quite a few over the grassy field. Wow. The carriage lists from side to side. There's nothing much to hang onto.

Sue, who is a couple of inches shorter than I, was remarkable in holding the whip at the ready but only touching Casey gently with it when she gave him a command (and not letting the whip sag and touch him inadvertently). Casey was voice trained - who knew?

I thanked them all, and Casey, after we finished. It was a hugely useful couple of hours. I know I'll be back.

Readers: What kind of detail do you look for in an historical novel? Or even in a contemporary? Have you ever stopped reading because you found an error in fact? Writers: what do you do for research?

A Day Late but Here and Happy

--by Linda O. Johnston

I apologize.  I'm supposed to post at InkSpot on the first Monday of every month, and now it's Tuesday.  I could claim it was because yesterday was a holiday, Labor Day, but that didn't directly have anything to do with my forgetting.  And it also isn't the first time I've posted late.

But I had a busy weekend.  I have a new paranormal romance release this month, a Harlequin Nocturne in my Alpha Force miniseries about a covert military unit of shapeshifters: CANADIAN WOLF.  I'm involved in promoting it.

Plus, I'm working on promoting my next Superstition Mystery for Midnight Ink, KNOCK ON WOOD, which is an October release.

And, wouldn't you know it, my husband and wonderful handyman was gone when an alarm in my house started letting me know once a minute that it needed new batteries.  At first I had no idea where those beeps were coming from and I thought that night's sleep would be just a dream!

Now, though, all is well.   I'm working on my third Superstition Mystery.  My house is quiet.  Except for my dogs, of course, but they're always giving me orders.

I'm posting this after some very inspirational posts from other Midnight Ink authors.  There's nothing inspirational about what I'm writing here, and I admire my fellow Inkers for what they've said.

Looks like I need to do some research into superstitions about being late.  But at least I'm at last putting my post up.  Happy September, everyone! 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dying Is Not Farewell

by Tj O'Connor, author of Dying for the Past, Dying to Know, and the upcoming Dying to Tell. 

Heroes are not born. Heroes are not created by government or society. They certainly are not sports stars on television or in newspapers. Heroes are made by circumstances and life itself. Not everyone has it in them to be a hero. Few do. Oh, it’s not just the daring and the brave and the larger than life who can be heroes. No. To me, they are not always those who blaze into battle or swashbuckle into adventure with sword and weapon slashing away at evil and despair. Sometimes—perhaps more often—heroes are the quiet, unassuming ones who tough it out event after event, year after year, doing good and battling the darkness without fanfare or notoriety. More often than not, heroes are unsung as they are invaluable—a quote from a book I read long ago and cannot recall the source. We may not know they are around us. But when they are not, we feel their absence. We see the void.

I feel that void now—and I will for a very long time.

As an author, I like my heroes just that way—less swashbuckling and more demure. Oh, I like to write them with some flare—a crazy sense of humor, a snappy wit, perhaps a wry disposition. But they don’t blaze in or careen about in danger. They blunder and fail, and above all, they flounder forward. Not always intentionally, but always forward.

In my books—and of the nine I’ve penned, only three have been published—they all have a common hero. Oh, he goes by various names and has differing roles to play—Trick McCall, Doc Gilley, and the ever present Oscar LaRue. They are all the same man. This character is not a product of imagination and late night keyboard-dancing. He is real—was—and has been my friend, mentor, and hero for nearly twenty-five years. Oscar LaRue—the current namesake—has had a place in three unpublished novels and morphed into Doc and Trick along the way to three others. Doc has seen the bookshelves, and I promise my friend, Oscar will too. One day. I owe you that. You insisted on that.

I lost Oscar LaRue on August 16 of this year. Oscar did not suffer. He did not show any signs of weakness or failure—the doctors continually reminded me the end was near. I couldn’t see it and yet, I also couldn’t write a new chapter and give Oscar another few pages. He had a heart attack in between two of our ritual lunches the week before and he didn’t know it. Neither did I. It would take him just four days later with reoccurrence. Oscar simply succumbed to age and a failed heart with his daughter beside him—a promise I made when he first reached the hospital. He’s done it all but wanted one last visit with her. I promised. I stayed with him over night waiting for her arrival—watching the clock and dials and monitors and ... him. Despite the lines and wires and hospital wizardry, we shared stories and laughs and a few tears in those hours. Some I will not repeat. Some I will steal for a future Oscar LaRue thriller. All I will never forget. 

Oscar LaRue was my hero. Not just in my novels. Not just in my head. He was in my life, too. And he’s gone now. But his wisdom, camaraderie, wry wit, and constant mentoring will fill me forever. Oh, hell, I’ll even miss his damn puns!

I first met the man who would be Oscar LaRue in November of 1992. I had recently left the OSI and was searching for a new career and home. I was nearly out of money, bordering bankruptcy, and had heard “No” so many times I had lost hope. Oscar found me—how, I don’t know—but within hours I was sitting across his desk staring at an unassuming man. Oscar was no greater than five-three or so—slight of build, pale, Germanic features, thinning hair, and devilish eyes smiling behind his wire rimmed glasses, which he polished every few moments—more for effect than clarity of vision. After a brutal interview, I was about to excuse myself in defeat when Oscar found the connection that would change both our lives for the next twenty-five years. “Ah, I see you operated in Greece in the 80s. So did I—but in the 1950s.”

And so it began. Oscar and I had stomped the same marble paths, the same dusty roads. We’d drank in the same towns and tavernas. He’d fought the communists in the early fifties in Greece, and my enemy had been the terrorists in the 1980s. We’d both grown up there, among the ancient ruins, separated by thirty-five years.

My new career, and our bond, began that afternoon. For four years we worked together—he my mentor and I his protégé—until his retirement. Afterwards, he took a personal interest in my writing and became my editor, creative director, critic, sounding board, and constant companion through six more novels. What had been a daily routine over tea and coffee in his corner office lasted all these years over wine and lunch and dinner and travel.

Until August 16, when Oscar gave me his last editorial on my current novel. He pointed his last finger with steel and admiration and directed how Oscar LaRue would maneuver through my books. And then, after time with his daughter, he was gone.

The true man behind Oscar LaRue makes him a hero by any standard. Oscar was raised in Rough and Ready, Pennsylvania—a Depression-era farm town. He was an only child and he and his mother worked hard and long for everything they needed to simply survive. World War II was upon us and Oscar was recruited into the Office of Strategic Services—OSS—a unit of saboteurs, spies, and hell raisers—the first of this country’s special operations forces—and he fought the Germans in Northern Africa, Italy, and Europe. Afterwards, he joined the Central Intelligence Agency where he climbed the ranks and become the Deputy Director of Communications. During those years, he witnessed—and participated—in history that many today don’t recall, can’t understand, or simply find meaningless. I’m talking about the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the USSR, China, Viet Nam, spies, saboteurs … No, Oscar was not the spy behind the Iron Curtain or the linchpin at the Paris Peace Talks. But he was a fixture of intelligence and communications, an advisor and a thinker. The man behind the curtain. A finger in many pies.

Oscar was a father. A writer. A lawyer. A senior executive. My boss. My mentor. My friend.

Age took Oscar—he was 91. He’d travelled the world ten times over. He’d studied all there was. He’d learned all he could. He’d fought the bad guys, saved the good guys, and pushed the rest of us up the mountain more than once. He did for me. There was little more for any man to do.

Oscar LaRue is that character in all my books that he was in real life.  Not the main swashbuckling hero, but the man behind the scenes. He’s the curmudgeon Doc Gilley guiding Oliver Tucker with a slap behind the head and a pointed-thrust of his tongue in Dying to Know. He’s the mysterious, Trick McCall, the OSS operative returned to right the wrong and help Richard Jax stop human traffickers in New Sins for Old Scores. And he’s the omnipotent spy master, Oscar LaRue, poking and prodding Jon Hunter in Double Effect as they stalk terrorists in small town Winchester. And in them, and my novels to come, Oscar LaRue, perhaps under other nom de guerres, will go on to new adventures and live forever in print.

Wallace K. “Wally” Fetterolf was—always will be—Oscar LaRue, Doc Gilley, and Trick McCall. Life took him August 16, 2015. He was a great man. A great father. A great storyteller. The greatest friend and mentor. He was my hero.

I refused to say goodbye in that hospital room. I will not now, nor ever will, say farewell in my novels. You will be there. Somewhere. After all, you insisted.

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”   George S. Patton 

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: