Thursday, March 31, 2016

Dying To Be A Character

What a month. Holy crap on a peanut butter sandwich what a month. I’ve had more ups and downs and twists and turns than in my novels. But when you write those twists and turns, you can control them, right? Well, no, my characters control all that. But they let me have a say. Sometimes. In real life, you’re at the mercy of life itself. At times I thought my world was on fire—new book almost finished, a new book deal, I didn’t crash my Harley into that tractor-trailer … and, well, other things words can’t explain. But then there were the lows—lost contracts in the mail, speaking when I shouldn’t (big surprise, right?), dreadful communications … misunderstandings. And more … too much work and not enough hours. Loss. Lost chances. Days without focus. Nights without sleep.

What’s next, an IRS audit? Identity theft? Will I lose a billion dollar lotto ticket?

Gulp. Okay, I’ll suck it up. I was not careful what I wished for and I’m getting some of it. The books, the edits, the travel, sleeplessness, the toils of contracts, editors, and predators! Bring it on! I’m tough. I can handle it … and for the most part, I love it! And for those challenges I cannot overcome, no fear … I have a solution.

I’m going to become my characters. Yep, I’m stepping into the pages of my books and assuming a new identity.

Why not? They live a more exciting life than me—at least, these days. They’re immune to the realities of life. They swashbuckle and chase bad guys. They’re witty and smooth and adventurous. They survive the pitfalls in life and go on to a bigger, better sequel.Damn, I’d like a little of that!

Truth be told, I’ve been a lucky guy most of my life. I’ve done most of what my characters have. Perhaps not as smooth or as cool, but been there, done that. Now, I’m just a UFO (old, fat, ugly guy) banging away on the keyboard chasing my life’s dreams and wishing for some years and memories back. So, eh, I shouldn’t complain, right?

But what if we could actually become our characters? What if we could write our own life, our own stories, and our own ending? How cool would that be? I was thinking about that all night when I should have been sleeping. Instead, I was jotting email notes to myself about my new thriller and pining for do-overs on my recent screw-ups. I took a good look at my recent characters and came up with some thoughts …

Oliver “Tuck” Tucker (The Gumshoe Ghost Mystery series)—Tuck is a homicide detective extraordinaire—he’s a sarcastic, fun-loving cop who chases bad guys with a history of crime. Tuck’s favorite things are: Angel, his wife; Hercule, his Black Lab; and Bear Braddock, his curmudgeon former partner. His weaknesses are his sarcasm, and, oh yeah, he’s dead. Tuck is already so much of me and I don’t want to be a dead detective, so I guess I’m stuck with writing about him and not stealing any more of his life, er, death. Eh, could be worse.

Richard Jax or Patrick “Trick” McCall (New Sins for Old Scores)—Jax is a lucky-to-be-alive BCI agent trying to clear his name after his partner and ex-fiancĂ© are murdered. He’s a little onery at times, down-on-his-luck, and grousing about the spirit of a World War II OSS man, Captain Trick McCall, haunting his case. Now, Trick is my kinda guy—sarcastic, fun-loving, a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants adventurer, and all around smooth operator. He chases bad guys, his lost life, adventure, and dames … all at once. And not necessarily in that order. Yup, my kinda guy!

Jonathan Hunter (Double Effect – my soon to be completed thriller)—Hunter is a border-line wreckless CIA consultant with too many one-liners and a complicated sense of right and wrong. He’s called home after 20-years by his estranged brother and arrives in time to witness his murder. He’s on the trail of Salvadorian gangsters and a Middle East terror cell plotting the demise of the US! Hunter is tormented by many things, not the least is a dead brother—his only family, his recently lost career, lost loves, and a lost future. He is confronted by a beautiful and alluring widow, a hateful and jealous deputy sheriff who would kill Hunter for the widow, and a team of FBI agents all with their own agendas; especially the sultry lead Fed—Victoria Bacarro—who can’t get enough of him—in or out of handcuffs (insert snicker here). So Hunter’s a good candidate for me to daydream about. Except he gets the crap kicked out of him a lot. And shot. Hopefully you’ll read about him in the next year, but life for him is complicated and dangerous and painful. Still, he’s my number one character to become for a lot of reasons. The biggest is his sidekick, Oscar LaRue, who is based on my mentor, Wally F. I lost Wally last summer at age 92 (you can read about him in one of my earlier blogs). The relationship and dynamic of these two characters is soooooo the two of us over the years. Writing these parts brought back great memories. I think I’ll keep them around for a couple books—even if they don’t sell.

In the end, my books are really about me reliving life lost to age and reason. My characters and I share more than just the keyboard and pages—we share life. They are me and I am them. Some of them like the adventurous, risk-taking, cool characters. The sniveling, cowardly, killers and weirdos, not so much me. Sure, sure, some of you will disagree (thanks a lot, Greg).

Earlier I said … what if we could actually become our characters … write our own life, our own stories, … our own endings? How cool would that be? The truth is, we can do that. I do it all the time. Anyone can and you don’t have to be a writer or a spy or a federal agent or even a dead detective. You only have to do it. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. I wanted to be a detective, a government agent, and swashbuckler and have adventures. I did all that. I’m still doing it. Sure, sure, I have bad days and weeks and even years. But life is something I can control … most of the time.

And yes, there are those things I wish I could just jump off my world onto another and have something I truly, deeply want. That’s not always possible. It’s not always right or fair. Mostly, it’s not always simple. So, in those cases—and there aren’t many—I simply write about them. I live through my stories, my characters, and my plots. I live those lost wishes vicariously through them. It ain’t perfect, but it’s better than nothing. And I don’t get beat up, shot, or dead—win win.

So the next time you sit back and wish—be careful what you wish for. And if you can’t be careful—just do it.

We’ll again chat next month …

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS (IPPY) FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell—and New Sins for Old Scores, a new paranormal mystery, will be out in late 2016-early 2017! He is currently working on 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, March 28, 2016

Ten Ways to Show Your Favorite Author Some Love

By Tracy Weber

Until I started writing, I had no idea how important reader support was, nor did I know the many simple ways readers can help.  Last year, In honor of Valentine’s Day, I did a “Show your Favorite Author some Love” event,  in which I posted a unique idea for readers every day for 58 days.  Below are ten of my favorites.  Most of them are quick, free, and almost painless!

1.    Write a short (1 – 2 sentences are great!) honest review of your favorite author’s book(s) and post it on Amazon.  Love Amazon or hate them, they are a key player in book sales, and reviews help your favorite authors rank higher in the Amazon search engines.  Some promotional opportunities are only available to authors if they have a certain number of Amazon reviews. Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, and personal blogs are also fantastic.  Most authors I know think Amazon reviews provide the most access to new readers, though. Best yet--you don’t have to purchase the book on Amazon to review it there.
2.    Buy their books!  This may seem obvious, and I know not everyone can buy all of the books that they read.  However, if you really like an author, purchase their books rather than borrow them.  Publishers drop series that don’t sell, so the best way to help ensure you’ll see your favorite author’s next book is to buy it.   If you’re on a limited budget, save up for the books you really like.  Your purchase helps ensure that there will be a next book in the series!  And remember, books make great gifts!
3.    Attend their events, virtual or in person.  There is nothing worse than hosting an event that no one except your mother attends.  And sometimes even your mother is busy!  Make your favorite author’s day by coming to their signings, asking questions, and sharing your enthusiasm.  While you’re at it, bring a friend! I promise, we don’t bite, and many of us give out bribes. (Oops, I mean prizes!)
4.    Talk up their books at your local bookstore.  Depending on which source you believe, there are between 1600 and 2700 new books published every day in the US alone.  Your neighborhood bookstore can’t carry all of them or even keep up with new titles.  So nudge them in your favorite author’s direction.  The next time you’re at a book store, talk up your favorite author with one of the employees.  Point out the cover.  Tell them what you love.  You might just provide the information that helps that employee connect a future customer with that author’s work!
5.    Sign up for their newsletter!  Facebook is a lovely community-builder, but it only shows a very small fraction of the posts written on author pages (considerably less than 5%) and Tweets fly by faster than geese flying south for the winter.  So how can an author best communicate with her most loyal fans?  Via a newsletter!  If you go to your favorite author’s web page, they may have a link to their newsletter.  Join and be sure you don’t miss out on any of the fun!  My newsletter is at
6.    Ask your local library to carry their books. Library systems vary greatly in budgets and ability to act on patron requests, but you never know until you try! Sometimes all it takes is a single request for a book to get placed in the ordering system.  And even if your library can’t carry THIS book, you’ll have put your favorite author on their radar screen for the next time they order.  Just think, you may be introducing your favorite author to dozens of readers by requesting a single book!
7.    Join their street team!  Street teams are made up of readers who enjoy an author’s work.  They help spread the word in lots of ways, including social media.  Even better, they are often first in line for cool author swag! My street team is at
8.    Tell a librarian about their work!  Librarians are in the business of matching readers with work they will love, but they can’t read everything.  Tell them about your favorite author’s work and what you love about it. Point out the cover if it’s already on the shelves. The more a librarian knows about a book, the more likely they are to recommend it to patrons that might enjoy it.
9.    Share the love on social media!  Authors rely heavily on social media to spread the word about their work.  Help them expand their reach!  When your favorite author has something to brag about, share it with your Facebook friends. Tweet your heart out. Pin their book cover on Pinterest. Heck, make a video of you doing a happy dance holding their book and put it on Youtube. You may help your favorite author go viral!
10.  Think outside of the bookstore.  Does your favorite author have a hook you can help them exploit?  Love their knitting mysteries? Talk them up at a yarn shop.  Devour dog mysteries? Maybe your favorite dog trainer would like it.  Practice yoga?  Why not talk it up in your next yoga class? Many of the people who would love your favorite author’s work won’t look for it in the mystery section of your local bookstore. If you’re really passionate about sharing, ask your favorite author to mail you some bookmarks or post cards to share with your friends!
And a bonus, and probably by far the most important way you can show your favorite author some love:
11.  Tell them you love them!  Most of the authors I know make essentially no money on their writing.  (Sad, but true!)  Some of us spend more than we make. So why do we write?  For our readers!  Drop your favorite author a line and tell them you appreciate their work.  Better yet, include a selfie of you holding their book or a photo of it on the shelf of your favorite bookstore or library.  Facebook message them, send an e-mail, post a tweet with their hashtag.  Believe me, you will make their day!
Tell me, reader lovelies.  What would you add?

Tracy Weber

books available

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


Thursday, March 24, 2016

See No Evil?

From: url

True crime, historical, cozy. You can find many a mystery in all your favorite categories on T.V. At my house, my husband has been watching a lot of Investigation Discovery lately. (Spoiler: the husband usually does it!) My current "laundry folding" show (the show I pick to binge watch on Netflix while folding loads and loads of laundry) is How To Get Away With Murder. I'm loving every second of it. It's like a mystery within a mystery. My last binge watch was The Mysteries of Laura. I was so bummed when I couldn't find season two on Netflix. I'll find a way to catch up somehow! I'm anxiously awaiting the return of Grantchester's next season that begins on Easter Sunday, March 27. (And not just because of James Norton, but I'll admit, he's a bonus!) I don't get the Hallmark Mystery Channel to watch Murder, She Baked, but I haven't read the books either. (I know! I know! One of the most popular cozy series and this cozy author hasn't read them! I'm so ashamed.) 

If I could choose one book series that the T.V. producing fairies would magic onto my T.V., it would be Alan Bradley's Flavie de Luce series. I have a serious "thing" for quirky, British, historical stories and characters. What would your wish be to the mystery T.V. fairies?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Keeping the Voices Straight

So I'm here as Eileen Rendahl, author of urban fantasy, chick lit, and suspense novels. Earlier this month, however, my first book as Kristi Abbott was released by Berkley Prime Crime. Kristi writes a cozy mystery series set in northern Ohio about a woman who runs a gourmet popcorn shop and has a poodle as a sidekick. If it sounds a little weird to have me talk about Kristi in the third person as if she's not me, you're right.

At the book signing I had for Kernel of Truth (get it? Kernel of Truth set in a popcorn shop?), someone *cough Spring Warren cough* asked me how it felt to be writing in so many genres. I answered that I occasionally had trouble keeping all the voices straight and then realized how crazy that made me sound. Sometimes it feels even crazier than that.

The truth is, though, I was already crazy. Want to know how crazy? You may want to scroll down to see my description of the craziest thing I've ever done. To be honest, though, even though I may be crazy, writing in several different genres is probably one of the things that keeps me the most sane.

I will totally cop to being moody and also to being (like most people) a multi-faceted individual. I have days where I want to be funny and light and days when I want to be broody and dark. It's an honor and a privilege to be able to publish books that allow me to express all my different sides. I'm really grateful for the opportunity. So even if it makes me sound a little cray-cray when I talk about myself in the third person, I'm okay with it. Please don't make me move to another city.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Traveling to Ireland -- Woohoo! (And Happy St. Patrick's Day!)

By Lisa Alber

Oh! I got confused this month. It feels like the second week of the month, not the third. Too bad, too, because, I was supposed to post yesterday, St. Patrick's Day, and my novels are set in Ireland ... So let's pretend it's still yesterday, OK?

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I've been thinking a lot about Ireland lately, and not just because my novels are set there. I'm counting the days until I leave for a novel research trip next week. Woohoo! I'll be heading here:

I inserted the picture extra large so you can see -- see right up there, that little "Kilmoon"? That's where I'm going! It'll be my hub out of which I'll venture for novel research and sightseeing expeditions.

In case you didn't know this, my debut novel, aptly titled KILMOON, was inspired by this lovely early Christian church ruin. I loved this site. It spoke to me, and so a fictionalized version of Kilmoon Church appears in Kilmoon. It's a place where bad things have happened and where secrets fester. It's central to the plot, for sure.
It strikes me funny that Kilmoon appears on the maps because there's nothing there. Literally: nothing. Except Kilmoon Church and rock walls and sheep and cows and houses here and there -- and also the B&B I like to stay at.

Kilmoon is a couple of miles outside of Lisdoonvarna, which was my destination when I first traveled to Ireland. To be honest, when I chose the B&B for that first trip, I didn't know it was two miles outside of Lisdoon (as the locals call it). I thought it was in Lisdoon. But that turned out OK because I discovered Kilmoon Church, which is located just down the lane from the B&B. I probably wouldn't have otherwise. Serendipity at work!

Lisdoon's claim to fame is its annual matchmaking festival. This festival was also an inspiration for Kilmoon, and my protagonist Merrit's adventures as matchmaker-in-training continue in WHISPERS IN THE MIST (August!). At the moment she's a reluctant trainee. She's not sure what she got herself into when she arrived from California in the first novel.

Gotta say, it's fun writing a series. Reeeeally fun to get to know my characters and help them evolve and change and work through conflicts.

When I travel for novel research, odd things grab my attention. Like these silage bundles. They seemed like hibernating alien creatures or something. You never know when some oddball thing like silage bundles will insert their way into a story. Silage bundles like these appear in Whispers in the Mist, in fact, and play an important role.

My number one priority is to remain open. Explore and experience and hang out in pubs (hehe) talking to locals. I can. not. wait. to incite a heated pub debate about our presidential nominee race. Oooh boy, that should be a riot! On my last trip, I noticed that the Irish were 1) vocal in their opinions, 2) apt to think we're a bit nutty in this side of the pond when it comes to politics, and 3) canny in their ability to see through rhetoric and BS.

OK, enough of that. As I was saying, I need to experience Ireland, but I also have particular research topics that will hopefully include me visiting a police station, a hospital ICU, and an elder care facility. This is for Book #3, after Whispers. I'll also be unfurling research tentacles for Book #4. I have a glimmer of an idea that I hope to solidify.

I'll have so much to write about for next month's post! Slainte!

So, what comes to your mind when someone mentions Ireland? Have you been?

Monday, March 14, 2016

BOOK LAUNCH MONDAY | Kirsten Weiss and the Paranormal Museum

Web Mistress Lisa here to introduce Kirsten Weiss. I love the title of her latest novel, The Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum. Please welcome, Kirsten! ~Lisa

What Makes a Proper Paranormal Museum?

When I titled my first cozy mystery The Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum, I didn’t think Midnight Ink would let me keep the name. It’s too long for a decent tweet. It barely fits on a book cover. And sometimes even my tongue gets twisted saying it out loud.

But I’m glad they did, because the title usually gets a laugh. What, after all, could be perfectly proper about a paranormal museum?

One hosting a corpse, for starters. This is a mystery novel, after all.

What else might you find in the museum? A black cat with an attitude. A creepy doll room. A haunted rocking chair.

But it’s the people who really perfect the paranormal museum. The museum’s new owner, Maddie Kosloski, has to fend off a taxidermist determined to get his creations into the collection, a middle-aged collector of supernatural objects, and a range of quirky friends, frenemies, and relatives. Someone seems to always be dropping by bearing food and random demands.

Maddie might not believe in the supernatural, but her oversized imagination makes up for the lack. And she’s happy to cater to those who do believe, whether they be ghost hunters or goths or guests recovering from a tasting at a nearby winery.

The museum’s historical objects exert a powerful fascination over Maddie. Was that spirit cabinet really used by Madame Blavatsky’s second cousin to communicate with ghosts? Is the haunted Houdini poster an original or a reproduction? Notes on the exhibits are scarce and speculative, so Maddie’s got a lot of research to do... If solving a present-day murder mystery doesn’t kill her first.

So I invite you to crack open a book and enter the strange and wacky world of The Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum, where nothing is as it seems, and murder is just around the corner…

Thanks, Kirsten! I'm trying to imagine what I'd like to see in a paranormal museum. Ooh, a haunted reliquary! I'd have to avoid the creepy doll room <shiver>. What about you, readers -- what do you imagine might be lurking in Kirsten's paranormal museum?

Kirsten Weiss worked overseas for nearly fourteen years in the fringes of the former USSR and in Southeast Asia. Her experiences abroad sparked an interest in the effects of mysticism and mythology, and how both are woven into our daily lives.

Now based in San Mateo, CA, she writes steampunk suspense and paranormal mysteries, blending her experiences and imagination to create a vivid world of magic and mayhem. Kirsten has never met a dessert she didn’t like, and her guilty pleasures are watching Ghost Whisperer re-runs and drinking red wine. Sign up for her newsletter to get free updates on her latest work at:

Thursday, March 10, 2016

"A Questionable Death" - Agatha Nominated!

Edith here. I've been enjoying writing short stories set in the time and place of my Quaker Midwife
Mysteries: Amesbury, Massachusetts in 1888. [NOTE: Giveaway details at the end.]

A year and a half ago I crafted a story about one of midwife Rose Carroll's clients, a young pregnant wife named Helen. Rose discovers that Helen's husband has been physically abusing her. Rose asks her police detective friend for help, but the police wouldn't touch domestic violence in those days. Rose enlists her quirky postmistress friend Bertie Winslow to help her find a solution to the problem.

I polished "A Questionable Death" and submitted it to an anthology of historical mystery called History and Mystery, Oh My! and to my delight it was accepted for publication. The anthology came out in January 2015. To my further delight, after the rights reverted to me, Kings River Life Magazine reissued the story in January of this year, this time with pictures.

Hank Phillippi Ryan with her
Agatha Award teapot
a few years ago. 
And to my extreme delight, the story was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Short Story! Icing on the cake? Delivering the Truth, the first Quaker Midwife Mystery, will be published on April 8, a few weeks before the Malice Domestic conference where attendees will decide the Agatha winners. Talk about worlds converging. I'm really over the moon about that.

I suspect the story was nominated in part because of the twist at the end. You can read it and decide for yourself!

And to celebrate, I'm giving away an ARC of Delivering the Truth to one commenter today! Make sure you include your email address so I know where to find you.

So tell, me dear reader, what's your favorite thing about reading historical fiction? What's your pet peeve about same? Or do you never touch the stuff?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Left Coast Crime Retrospective

by Linda O. Johnston

Hey, it's March 7 already.  My InkSpot blogs appear on the first Monday of each month.  This month Leap Year Day, February 29, was a Monday, and March 1 was therefore the first Tuesday of the month.  So here I am.

I happened to be flying home from Phoenix on February 29.  I spent a day with some family there after Left Coast Crime.  It was good to see them, and I loved the conference!

For one thing, I was on a panel with other mystery writers who have pets in their stories.  It was called Four-Legged Sidekicks.  The animals in our mysteries weren't necessarily sidekicks, but they were definitely important to each of the stories.  I enjoyed my fellow panelists and our moderator--and even ordered a copy of our panel to listen to and critique myself.  It hasn't arrived yet, though.

In addition, it was great fun seeing quite a few other Inkers there in addition to friends from all over the country, not just the area comprising Left Coast, which is defined on the website as "Western North America, as defined by the Mountain Time Zone and all time zones westward to Hawaii."  Those Inkers included Catriona McPherson, who was the conference's Toastmaster.  I attended her interview, and she mentioned me as one of those attendees who was busy.  I wonder why...

I also had a chance to chat with my wonderful MI editor Terri Bischoff.  It's always great to see her, and I'll see her again soon at Malice Domestic. 

Speaking of the area comprising LCC, I was also very happy that one of the people there recruiting attendees for next year's conference in Hawaii was a very nice woman who happened to have a service dog with her.  The dog happened to be a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, my favorite breed!  I was away from my own pups but at least wasn't totally dog-lonesome thanks to Koa, whose name is a type of Hawaiian wood.

Anyway, I'll be attending the Sisters in Crime in Hollywood soon, before I head to Malice Domestic at the end of April.  That's just before my second Barkery & Biscuits Mystery To Catch a Treat will be published, and I expect to have a great time there, too.

Do you get the impression I'm a conference nut?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Dying for Marlton

Oh, to be a real author … No, I haven’t lost my mind (much) or forgotten that I am an author of tiny repute and small fanbase. I’m talking about the real world of being an author vs. what I thought it would be. Some of it surprises and scares me. Other parts of this life are exactly what I’d envisioned. All in all, I’ll take it—I love it—and wouldn’t trade it for anything. Even without the riches piling at my feet or the private jets and limos and movie deals. Sure, all that would be great. But let’s face it, there is life beyond that—and a good thing, too, because I don’t see any of that anytime soon.

So many times I’ve sat and looked at the bundles of money I spend pursuing my dream to be a successful author. Thus far, that success has eluded me—at least the business-success. And every time I think that perhaps I should dump all that money into my retirement or an investment and abandon this life of storytelling, something happens to remind me that success isn’t about royalties or fanfare or applause. Last week, I was hit with a couple years worth of sobering proof that my writing is about so much more than material things. Last week, I was hit with a day like I haven’t had in all the time I’ve been writing.

 Marlton, New Jersey—thank you.

Who knew how to measure success as an author? There’s no “Author’s Life for Dummies” but there should be. Nobody told me I’d be my own publicist, marketer, sales rep, and seller-in-chief. No one said I had to blog my brains out and hunt down the next audience all by my lonesome. Where’s the army of publicists and marketers and sales folks? What? I’m unknown and on my own? Where was this in the brochure???? So if I’m doing all this and not making much money, then how do I know it’s all worth while?

Easy—Marlton, New Jersey.

I say all the time that writing is not a team sport. And damn, it’s not. But you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have a brilliant, supportive agent who is in my corner and I often wonder why. I found an amazing publicist who also supports me and is trying her every trick to boost my presence in the markets. And I have a few fans—far fewer than I’d hoped at this point, but they are there. And then there was Marlton. A small community east of Philadephia in a beautiful part of New Jersey I never knew existed.

This past week I was invited to speak to more than 320 Middle Schoolers, High Schoolers, and some faculty and followed it up with a great book signing at the local Barnes and Noble. I arrived to Cherokee High School and was greeted by the local police officer assigned to the school who knew me by name and said, “I saw you on all the posters and newsletters.” Students stopped and said hi, teachers waved and greeted me when I toured the building. Then, later in the day, I walked up to the front doors of Marlton Middle School. Handmade signs from the students hailed me. Signs and posters in the hallways welcomed me. And as the students filed into the library for my talks, they knew my name. Some waved, others were already asking questions.

For a guy without many fans, I was a celebrity in Marlton. And who better to be fans than students? Who can you still reach with words and good will and support? Who is worth urging on and encouraging? They were. They are. All of them.

These past couple years, I’ve met dozens of folks and gained a few fans along the slow, uphill slog to finding readers. But in Marlton, they were there for the taking, ready for me and eager to hear about life as an author. And afterward, as part of my day that set up by Janice Urban—Librarian Extraordinare—I went to the local Barnes and Noble for a signing. Many of the students arrived at the bookstore and other students from other schools were there, too. It was an unbelievable day.

All in all, I sold a bunch of books and had a 14-hour day that was one of the best I’ve had in a very, very long time. Why? No, not because of the sales or because I came away with a dozen or more fans. It’s because of the kids—the students—who were the best audience I’ve ever had. They asked great questions, they were interested, and they churned in their seats to ask more questions and tell me things about their favorite books. And in the end, I realized that reaching these students was a purpose all by itself for a new author. If you can get just a few to be readers and just a few more to be fans, then success is within reach.

During the day, I remember being a high schooler wishing to be an author. If I’d had the opportunity just one day to speak with just one author—one struggling, new author—and hear what life was like and what writing was truly about, well, that day would have been the best in my life. It never happened to me. But in Marlton, I cannot tell you (you’d never believe me anyway) how many students came up to speak with me after my talk and said just that—that talking with me was a huge thing for them. Some wanted to be writers. All wanted to just be readers and read everything they could. So many just wanted to hear from someone—other than their teachers and parents—who cared enough to share a little life with them.

Their wall posters and greetings said it all.

But you know the biggest personal thrill I received? It was at Barnes and Noble when a half-dozen students came in with their parents to see me and buy my books. Oh, it wasn’t because they bought my books. It was because they cared enough about books and writing to travel across town and come talk to me a little more after school. There were photographs and little chats, handshakes, and some stories about where my stories come from. There were more questions and them telling me of their favorite book—not mine but one day maybe—and how much they loved the bookstore and how many books they bought. So many of these kids told me that they cannot wait to go to the bookstore each week and check out all the books.

Wait, what? Can’t wait to go to a bookstore and check out the books? Hello, America, there is hope for our country yet. Forget the video games. Forget the T.V. and forget the internet. Kids still cannot wait to get to a bookstore and meet a struggling, unknown author like me.

And that, sports fans, is exactly what being an author is all about for me. It’s the author’s life I craved and didn’t even know until last week—meeting young readers who “can’t wait to get to the bookstore and check out the books.” It’s their love of stories. It’s the kids. The students. The families and teachers who believe that books are the key to our world—as I do.

And before I made the four hour drive home, I got oen last huge surprise. During the school talks, I gave the students a little quiz: What was the most important thing in the world they could all do—equally among themselves of different ages, races, backgrounds, genders, and so on—to be successful. Each group—four of them throughout the day all got it—read. And in Barnes and Noble, late in the evening as I was about to leave, one student from Marlton Middle School came up to me with Dad and told me she was in one of my talks. She turned to her dad and said, “And being a reader will make me successful. I love to read.”

Thank you Marlton Middle School. Thank you Cherokee High School. Thank you Janice Urban. Thank you Lisa Bakanas and Lisa Kapenstein. The fate of our world is with those students. And so far, they’re passing with flying colors.

We’ll again chat next month …
Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS (IPPY) 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.
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