Monday, January 25, 2016

Mystery and Mayhem—Animal Style!

I have adored animals for as long as I can remember.  From my first German shepherd, a lovely animal named Duchess, to my Holstein cow Beauty, to my first kitty, Smokey. Then there was my childhood horse, Becky, and the other assorted, dogs, cats, turtles, fish, parakeets, gerbils, canaries—even a pigeon named Lollipop—that followed.  Each has commanded a special place in my heart.

My favorite childhood cow, Beauty.
When I was a child, cats followed me wherever I went like children chasing after the Pied Piper. I nursed injured butterflies back to health. One day, I tearfully convinced my fourth grade teacher to let me release the winged grasshoppers she’d accumulated for the science class’s dissection.  I’m pretty sure the grasshoppers were happier about my success than the school’s groundskeeper.
Hanging out with a herd of cats on "Cat Island"
Not much has changed since then. When I see a drowning earthworm, I relocate it. I move caterpillars off walking trails so they don’t get smashed. I save snails and slugs.  (Don’t tell my neighbors!) If it weren’t for my husband, I’d surely be locked away in whatever prison they use to hold well-meaning hoarders. 
So it’s not surprising that animals play prominent roles in my mysteries. How could they not?  After all, I write what I love, and I love nothing more than animals.  The mystery in Karma’s a Killer gave me the perfect opportunity to weave in some unusual animal characters.  The story revolves around an animal rescue group, a wildlife rehabilitator, and a group of animal activists who clash with deadly results.

Animal rescue and animal activism collide in Karma's a Killer

As always, my writing is fiction, but it’s strongly informed by my life. Many of the animals in Karma’s a Killer are based on real-life creatures.  Bella, the German shepherd, is in many ways a carbon copy of my own special needs German shepherd, Tasha. Blackie—a rehabilitated crow who plays a prominent role in the story—is modeled after a wild crow that has befriended her. Their relationship has touched me and changed my opinion of crows forever.

Tasha and a murder of her crow friends at Green Lake--one of the pivotal locations in Karma's a Killer.
Mister Feathers, the pigeon that decorates the entrance to Kates yoga studio, is similar to a pigeon that roosted above my own yoga studio, Whole Life Yoga, a few years ago. I saved him from a hawk attack, and the experience changed me in a profound way.  If you're interested, here's a blog I wrote about that day.
Raising goats is still a pipe dream, but I’m chiseling away at my husband’s resolve a little more every day.  If I have my way, pigs and a few chicken-girls will soon join the menagerie.  ;-)
Someday I'll have some chicken-girls!
How about you?  What animals are important in your life?  Tell me about your favorite furred, feathered, scaled, and exoskeletoned creatures in the comments.  Who knows?  Maybe they’ll end up in my next mystery!

Tracy Weber

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PS--all three books in my Downward Dog mystery series are now available!  Learn more at  Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

5 Sure Signs That I Can Let Go of My Manuscript (Finally!)

By Lisa Alber

Over the weekend, I read a printed copy of my manuscript for WHISPERS IN THE MIST (August 2016). I read it fast, looking out for loose ends and moot remnants still hanging around from previous versions.

At this point in the writing process, I always know that I'll feel compelled to read the manuscript just one more time before hand off, and I know I'll still find things that need fixing, and I know I'll worry about whether the newest changes have themselves caused inconsistencies (or typos!) that will require me to re-read the manuscript AGAIN ... 

It could go on forever, but there comes a point when I have to let my baby go. Given that I can always continue improving my stories, when do I feel that "yes" feeling about letting a manuscript go?

1. The latest manuscript read-through was mostly clean. Changes were only for clarity, consistency, and pruning. Nit-piks.

2. I have no more questions to myself about nitty-gritty plot points. (My stories are kind of complex.) Yes, all the bits and pieces are there.

3. I've considered every piece of beta reader feedback. I've incorporated what my gut says "yay" about, and I've ignored what my gut says "nay" about.

4. I've gone through a copyedit (as best as I can since I'm not a copyeditor) on my own. I catch a lot of weird prose quirks when I focus on the line-by-line. We all have our easy-way-outs when we're writing. For example, I love m-dashes, but they can be used in place of properly crafted sentences.

This is also when I deal with rhetorical questions, such as this example from a previous draft of WHISPERS:   

Danny still couldn’t fathom why Malcolm had offered up the alibi unless it was to humiliate Danny. But why? Because he was pissed that Danny hadn’t prioritized the graffiti vandalism? Because he didn’t like Danny prying into McIlvoy’s life?

This is just lazy writing. Really. At least for me. A bunch of rhetorical questions in a row tell me I need to go deeper and get to the heart of the matter in a more precise fashion. This might mean adding word count, but that's OK. So now it's this:

Danny still couldn’t fathom why Malcolm had offered up the alibi unless it was to humiliate Danny. He hadn’t prioritized finding the phantom graffiti artist, true, but surely Malcolm understood that vandalism didn’t rate as high as murder.

No, the alibi had to be a good-old-fashioned diversionary tactic. Most likely to distract Danny from prying into Malcolm’s relationship with McIlvoy.
5. Last but not least, I've word-searched words I know to be problematic, such as the "just"s and "really"s. Excess adverbs. The verb "was," which could indicate a yucky passive voice sentence or a sentence that needs rewriting with a stronger verb. I have a word list that I keep handy for this tedious, final task.

It's not that I get rid of every "just," "really," and "was" -- but I do consider them carefully. It's so easy to fall back on them -- another easy way out. (Oh, look at that, falling back on m-dashes again!)

Also, during all of this, I'll have noticed other words -- not the usual "blah" words -- that I fell in love with for some reason. For example, while writing WHISPERS, I used "flicker" a lot. Everything was flickering, from candle and sconce light, to gazes, to birds in flight. It was a positive flicker-fest, enough to cause a migraine!

All of this may be tedious, it may add to my writing time, but in end, I love the satisfaction of knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I've done all that I can do.

There's no such thing as perfection; there's only doing the best we can.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

On Birth Days

Edith here. My 1888 midwife Rose Carroll attends births in her clients' homes as her profession. When I was having babies several decades ago, I also enlisted home birth midwives. In fact, today is my younger son's birthday.

Baby Allan, one week old
Despite working with a well-known independent midwife (with physician backup) for my older son's birth, his positioning and large head led us to need a C-section after forty-eight hours of labor. These are the cases where, unlike in 1888, we are glad for antiseptic procedure and skilled surgeons. My nine-pound twelve-ounce son (with his sixteen-inch head) was fine. The hospital nurses said they'd never seen such a big head on a newborn. I ended up fine, too, and we nursed as a couple until I became pregnant with Allan's younger brother two years later.

I had done my homework and I knew second births are usually faster and easier than firsts. We again signed up with an independent midwife for a home birth, also known as VBAC: vaginal birth after Cesarean.

Edith and midwife Miriam Khalsa
To my dismay I experienced two days of vigorous labor just like the first time. I walked the halls. I labored on hands and knees and in a tub.
I squatted. My baby was lodged in a transverse (face up) position and nothing was bringing that little guy out, so we were forced to endure another surgery. Imagine my surprise when they said this nine-pound eight-ounce boy's head measured sixteen and a half inches!
Baby John David, a few days old

From my studies, I believe if Rose Carroll had encountered births like these, she would have waited longer, but if the baby showed signs of serious distress, she could have transferred the mother to the new hospital across the river in Newburyport. C-sections were being done by then, and the importance of keeping incisions clean to avoid infections was known.

John David and Allan, with Anna, my goddaughter and their friend for life (who was born at home with a midwife)
Perhaps the third Quaker Midwife Mystery will include an emergency C-section. Meanwhile, my second baby also thrived and is now a smart, generous, hardworking, thoughtful, handsome, and fun twenty-seven year old. Happy birthday, John David!

Readers: want to share your birth story - your own, your child's, or one you witnessed? Any experience with home birth, or are you squarely in the hospital camp?

Delivering the Truth, Edith Maxwell's first Quaker Midwife Mystery, releases April 8 from Midnight Ink. She writes several other mystery series as well as award-winning short stories, and blogs with the Wicked Cozy Authors.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Dying to Tell ... Charge!

Launch! Friday, January 8th, Dying to Tell launches into the bookstores. Tuck is on his third murder case with a paranormal twist—it’s the dead of winter in Winchester while reclusive dead bankers, suave executives, sneaky accountants, exotic archaeologists, and the ghosts of World War II Cairo—figuratively and in truth—run amuck. The bodies are piling up.
Nothing out of the norm for Oliver “Tuck” Tucker—dead detective extraordinaire.
But anyone following Tuck’s cases already knows. Those who don’t are about to. Perhaps what you don’t know is what goes into the next twelve months as I try to acquaint new readers and meet fans on my quest to build an audience. Oh, the miles, the podiums, the conventions and book stores, the hotel rooms, the … oh, hell, I love it all!
In the world of writing, I have found that the easy part is just that, writing. Oh, it’s a long, lonely process that you either love or hate but a few just “like.” It’s more work than anyone who hasn’t done it could even imagine. It’s writing, editing, rewriting—deleting your favorite chapter or supporting character because you must. It’s stealing time from family and friends and your dogs (sorry, Toby, I have no choice). And, as I’ve told writing groups and in guest appearances, the most rewarding part is when you get to “The End.” I truly believe that most people who set out to write a novel never get that far. And that is a shame. You don’t know what you’re missing—like, the real work. The real work isn’t writing the book, it’s everything thereafter. The work is editing, rewriting, editing, editing, editing. It’s finding an agent (if that is the direction you take), and it’s working with a publisher, then more editing and editing and editing. Then, it’s blogging and marketing and marketing and marketing.
Are you seeing the picture here? Being a writer is just that. You write. Being an author is being a writer with the added bliss of publishing, more editing, and marketing and seeking an audience. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
Each of us—authors that is—have our own ways of doing this. Writing is not a team sport—until you get an agent and a publisher. Each of us seeks an audience in different ways, often using the same tools and ideas, but perhaps in different ways. Let me show you what I have planned for 2016 to try to continue to build an audience for Tuck and his pals.
Now-End of Year: 2016 Blog-A-Thon. Every month, I write two blogs—or at least post two blogs. One is here for Inkspot with my pals from Midnight Ink. The other is through my website at Blogging is a requirement of this life, something I’m not too fond of. I work a billion hours a week for my real job—the one that pays the bills at least—and all my free time is writing. To then sit and bang out two blogs every month is time I truly don’t have. And frankly, I am one who doesn’t think readers really care much about what I have to say—other than in my books. So I always feel like, “Who cares what I think?” Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps not. 
Coming Soon: Bitten By Books: The great book review site I’ll be doing a book launch event, giveaways, and blogging. Date to follow!
January 23: Winchester Book Gallery, Winchester, VA: Next, I’ll be at my favorite indie book store! Winchester Book Gallery at 2 pm until 4 pm. Christine—who sponsors me at many of my events—and I are hoping we don’t get snowed out again like last year. There will be my daughter Jean’s famous crime scene cupcakes and books and some giveaways. Come one, come all. Bring a friend. Bring ten friends. Bring money …
February 12-14: Farpoint convention for all types of “imaginative fiction” like imaginative fiction – Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, SuperHeroes. The convention is at North Baltimore, Maryland. There will be some celebrities there (yes, I’ll be there but don’t qualify as a celebrity) including Hugo and Nebula Award winning author, Davide Gerrold, and Firefly and Arrow actor Sean Maher. I’ll be signing books and begging, excuse me, seeking new fans! 
February 26: Marlton Middle School and High School, Marlton, New Jersey. What a day and night planned! I’ve got the entire day talking to middle and high schoolers including a “lunch and learn” session, some class sessions, a wonderful “Tea with Tj” (wow, they named a tea after me!) and a signing. Then, the amazing folks have set me up to go to … 
Barns & Nobel, Marlton, New Jersey! It’s on to the local bookstore from 6 pm to 8 pm for a book signing and to meet new fans and talk books. 

March 10: I’ll be at the Army Navy Club, Arlington, Virginia doing a talk on writing and books. This will be a fun event talking to club members and guests followed by a signing.
April 29: Malice Domestic Writers Conference, Bethesda Maryland: My favorite writers convention. Panels, book signings, meeting fans, and most of all, spending time with all my author and publishing pals! Cannot wait!
May 21: Millbrook Book Festival, Millbrook, NY: My favorite out-of-state book festival by far. Fans, panels, author pals galore!
August 13: Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival, Suffolk, VA: My FAV Virginia book event by far!!!!! Panels and fans and of course, hanging with all my author pals again.  

Wait … are these events just to party with fellow writers? Pretty much, yep …

That’s my first half of the year … more to follow and fill in later,

So, mystery fans and fellow writers and authors, how’s your year looking? The events above are just the start—I haven’t even begun sorting out other requests I’ve received for guest speaking and book events. Last year, I spent nearly every other weekend on the road except for two months of the year. My goal is to do that again. I met some amazing folks and sold a bunch of books. Some of my newest, dearest friends were made on my travels. I’m hoping to see them all this year.

As for the rest of my travels, stay tuned. I’ll be posting about those events and telling a few stories of my adventures. At least, those that are able to be put into print.

We’ll chat again 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, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell, available in bookstores and e-books from Midnight Ink. 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, January 4, 2016

My First Post of the Year

--by Linda O. Johnston

Hi, InkSpot fans,

Last month I wrote my last post of 2015.  And now--it's January.  This is my post for the first Monday of the month, in the first month of  2016.

I'm planning a fun, busy and productive 2016.  As I mentioned last month, my second Barkery & Biscuits Mystery, TO CATCH A TREAT, will be a May 2016 release, and my third Superstition Mystery, UNLUCKY CHARMS, is scheduled for October 2016.

And on the last day of 2015, I received some wonderful news.  My first Barkery Mystery, BITE THE BISCUIT, is a finalist for the Maxwell Award in the fiction category of the Dog Writers Association of America's annual writing competition!  I've got some stiff and excellent competition, including Midnight Ink's Sheila Boneham, but I'm thrilled just to receive the nomination, whether or not I win. 

So... Happy New Year!  May you each have a wonderful 2016, filled with happy surprises, lots of fun mysteries that you read and/or write, and everything else that you hope for.