Monday, July 25, 2016

Writing, Gardening, and Killer Laurel Hedges

By Tracy Weber

Surrounding my Seattle home is my new mortal enemy: the laurel hedge. In the decade my husband and I have lived in this house, our laurel hedge has been trimmed eight times. By eight different landscapers. Each of whom says when they finish, “I will never trim that hedge again.”

The last few years have presented a special problem, because our beloved dog’s health is waning. She goes crazy when strangers are near her house, and she’s susceptible to injury. In the past, we’ve taken her out of town whenever gardeners have been present, but we can’t do that anymore. So we let the hedge go.

Or, to be more accurate, we let it GROW.

This year, we couldn’t delude ourselves anymore. Something had to be done.

Since we couldn’t hire anyone for fear of harming the dog, hubby and decided to trim it ourselves. Five days and thirty-nine overly full yard waste bags later, I came to realize that trimming a laurel hedge has a lot in common with writing.

There are plotters and there are pansters. Plotters are like my husband. They buy three different ladders and four kinds of clippers, each which trims exactly one branch at time. They have a plan, you see. A process. From beginning to end, they know exactly how they will tackle this monster, the tools required for each step, and the artistic creation that will emerge.

Then the panster (yours truly) comes to a startling realization: this process will take FOREVER. The panster then grabs the closest clipper and starts cutting. “Let’s just see where this leads us!” she says.

The plotter groans.

The project feels like an insurmountable goal at first. You clip, clip, and clip some more. Blisters form on your fingers. You look back on your day’s work… And realize you’ve written less than one chapter. (Or in the hedge analogy, you’ve clipped only a few branches.) This is when you first realize that you’re completely in over your head.

Unfortunately, you’ve already told everyone you know that you’re clipping the Great American Hedge. You are committed. So you keep clipping, cursing your big mouth and your idiocy.

Once you get in the groove, you don’t want to stop. Frankly, you become a little obsessive. Nothing matters as much as this hedge. Not your family, not your job, not your life. People whisper behind your back and try to pry your hands off of the clippers. Some part of you knows you’ve become addicted to clipping. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is Finishing. That. Hedge.

At some point you see progress, followed soon after by hitting “the middle.” The point at which you realize how far you still have to go. The point at which you know, without a single doubt, “I suck at this.” This is, of course, after it’s too late to turn back. You’ve committed yourself to this monster even though you know, deep in your heart, that you are the worst hedge trimmer that has ever lived.

Every now and again, you step back to evaluate your work. Some places you trimmed look all green and healthy; some yellow and sickly. Some are great big plot holes showing nothing but sticks. But you keep going, knowing that what you can’t fix now will inevitably grow back in time. And if you killed it, well, then at least you won’t have to do this again next year.

Somehow, though in spite of your bumbling, clip by clip, word by word, you start to make progress. That progress propels you forward.

When you’re done, your hedge needs lots of editing. The lines aren’t straight, and for some unknown reason everywhere you look you see brown areas that you don’t know how to fix. The work needs distance. A second eye.  Someone who can look at it, tell you what you did wrong, and help you learn for the future.

People’s reactions to your work vary from “Way to go!” to “Are you crazy?” to “I’d never do that,” to “I could trim a hedge better than that,” to “Hey, I have a hedge. I’ll point you to it and all you have to do is trim it!” to “For goodness sake. Just hire someone competent to trim that hedge already!” All you can do is take a deep breath, smile, and keep clipping.

When you finish, you swear you’ll never do it again. Seriously. Never. You’ve learned your lesson. The gardeners you hired in the past were right. This thing is a monster. An evil being to be left alone. A being that will surely take over the planet.

Months pass. Most people don’t even notice your lovely hedge. Some do and really like how you trimmed it. Others give it one star on Amazon, saying, “Not my kind of hedge,” or even worse, “Meh.” But before you know it, new green leaves start showing, new idea tendrils form. Before you can stop yourself, you become convinced that you could trim that hedge easier next time.  Faster. Better. Prettier.

So you start all over again.

And so it begins.

Tracy Weber

books available

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


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Moonstones, Intuition, and My Upcoming Novel

By Lisa Alber

I'm cheating this week. This post comes from my blog. I ran out of time to write an original post -- yeeks. I'm hard at work on my novel for next year. AND, Whispers in the Mist comes out in less than three weeks! Midnight Ink is hosting a Goodreads giveaway for WhispersCheers!

I recently visited my favorite local coffeeshop, Driftwood Coffee, to splurge on an iced mocha. I love walking there with my dog on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The shop is a feast for the eyes because of the way the owner has decorated it. An old ladder hanging along the ceiling festooned with lights and dangling trinkets, a colorful collection of shutters arranged on the wall like a mosaic, shelves of locally made arts and crafts.

This moonstone necklace caught my eye, and it reminded me of my second novel, Whispers in the Mist. One of my protagonists, Merrit, wears a moonstone necklace that came from her mom. In fact, the necklace is one of Merrit's most cherished possessions. In my first novel, we learned that Merrit's long-lost father gave the necklace to her mother just before their relationship ended tragically. We also learn that moonstone is said to enhance intuition.

Intuition is a funny thing. Whenever I hear someone say, "I'm intuitive," I suspect they're talking about being psychic or highly empathic, as if "intuitive" is a superpower code word. Maybe thousands of years ago, when we were closer to nature, we were kind of psychic--this was our norm as a species ... I don't know. It just gets me thinking, is all. Like, maybe our world is so full of stuff and sounds and sensory inputs and social media and JUNK, that there's no way for the still, small voice of intuition to get heard.

I picture Merrit's necklace looking something like this.
I picture Merrit's necklace looking something like this.
Maybe people who do hear their intuition believe it to be a superpower because it's such a rare thing. Again, I don't know.
I believe intuition is an aspect of our humanity, but we're far away from our true natures, most of the time. The closest I get to feeling intuitive (and in those moments I do feel empowered) is within my writing process. Perhaps this is one of the many reasons I'm attracted to writing fiction--I get closer to my core. Sometimes I feel a welling of knowingness about some plot point or character insight. A-HA! My body reacts in a happy way, all tingly and excitable. I like to think my body is rewarding me for paying attention to my intuition.

Intuition is a sub-theme in my novels. It's something Merrit thinks about quite often. In Whispers in the Mist, coming out August 8th, she could use more intuition when a mysterious women steals her necklace right off her neck. Merrit is about to discover that her necklace has a connection to a past murder.

Do you consider yourself an intuitive person? What does "intuition" mean to you? 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Teacher, Teach Thyself

I am coming to the end of teaching my first term in an online graduate English program. Teaching creative writing at the college level was one of the big goals I had after completing my MFA in June of 2015. I was thrilled when I was offered the position and have mostly been thrilled with the work. It's a ten week course and the satisfaction I get from seeing students really take their writing to new levels surpasses what I expected by a lot.

There's been a pretty steep learning curve for me this first term. Grading. Oh, my God, the grading! If you've ever heard a teacher complain about grading, please know everything they're saying is true. It's awful. Terrible. Horrendous. I enjoy reading the short stories my students are working on and giving them feedback, but having to quantify it is crazy hard! We have rubrics and forms and all kinds of things to help us, but it's still hard.

Then there's the balancing the teaching and my own writing. I'm still trying to figure out the right way to balance things out. I like to write every week day. It keeps the wheels turning more smoothly for me. But if I have what we academics refer to as a sh*t ton of grading to do, it can take several solid days. Do I break it up into bits and go back and forth? Do all of one then all of the other? Then there's the transition thing, moving from one set of tasks to the other. I've never been great at that and I don't seem to be getting better with age.

Also there's the too much time in my own head thing. Between writing and teaching online, days and days would go by when I'd only talk to the cat. He's nearly 18 years old and cranky and even less of a conversationalist than he was as a kitten unless the topic has to do with his food or his litter box. By the end of the week, I'd be a little wifty. I've learned to set up a coffee date or two for each week to keep me from wearing aluminum foil hats or making the cat attend tea parties with my sons' old action figures.

I sort of expected all those things, though. I knew I'd have to figure out new schedules and learn new skills. I didn't expect how differently it would make me look at my own writing. Taking what I do and breaking it down into component parts and explaining how to put it all back together again has been fascinating. As I work on my current WIP, I can feel how much it's changing how I approach the page. By the end of this term, I think I will have all my students punctuating dialogue correctly and they will at least all know the basic components of what makes a good story. I will, however, have learned much more.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Runabout, Phaeton, Brougham, Rockaway?

Edith, here. I had the great fortune to go riding in a carriage a couple of weeks ago with a woman

who really knows her stuff.  I'm always looking to improve the details in my Quaker Midwife Mysteries, and Susan Koso is one way to do it.

She owns a mare named Hope. She owns a number of horse-drawn vehicles that my midwife Rose Carroll might very well have ridden in. She knows what kind of bridles and tack were used in 1888. And she's written academic published papers on the roads, the carriage industry, and the economics of the late 1800s. How could I go wrong?

I first met Susan at a couple of years ago at an Amesbury Carriage Museum event, where this not-young woman showed herself to be more agile and flexible than me, crawling around helping to secure carriages the museum was moving down from a second-floor loft.

In late June when the flies and mosquitoes were all hatched and bothersome, I drove to our riding appointment a few town's south of here, and I met her horse, Hope. Hope's
crocheted ear guard is similar to those horses would have worn to keep the bugs out of their ears and eyes. Susan hitched Hope to a beautiful restored runabout (an open two-seater conveyance with four wheels pulled by one horse), handed me a helmet, and off we went.

We wandered around Essex County Greenbelt Association trails, rode all through Appleton Farm (which used to be my walking route when I lived in Ipswich), and moseyed back, talking all the way. I got to experience Hope trotting, I hung on for dear life on bumpy trails and around corners, and I generally soaked up the atmosphere.

On a couple of trails, Susan said, "This would have looked exactly the same in Rose Carrols's day." I had to

As when I went riding the year before, I wore my long linen skirt and low boots to get a small feel for the clothing of the day.

I never stopped picking Susan's considerable brain. I learned more about all the different kinds of vehicles: phaetons, broughams, traps, and Rockaways, among others. She said the dash board in front of our knees - named to prevent hooves from dashing mud up onto passengers and drivers - might have been covered in patent leather. She told me a horse pushes a carriage rather than pulls it (which I still don't quite get). I even heard about the "fifth
wheel" - but that one's going to need further study before I use it in a book.

She suggested a couple of convenient ways for a malicious villain (oh, I guess that's redundant) to do away with someone by cutting almost through an important strap or to cause a horse to be a runaway. This is a woman after my own heart. Susan had also finished reading Delivering the Truth, and kindly pointed out a couple of small errors in horse-and-carriage procedure. I thanked her, of course. And then she read the manuscript for book two, Called to Justice, within a couple of days' time and corrected me on several points in that book, too.

I'm so delighted and grateful to have found a subject matter expert willing to share her extensive knowledge with me. Guess who's getting a complimentary copy of each book in the series as long as it runs?

Readers: Who is your favorite subject matter expert? Have you ever gone riding in an old carriage?

Monday, July 11, 2016

BOOK LAUNCH MONDAY | Julia Thomas Talks About the Epistolary Novel

Web mistress Lisa here. We've got a treat for you today! Julia Thomas's debut novel THE ENGLISH BOYS has just come out to great reviews. I'm so excited for her! Today she talks about why she was drawn to include epistolary elements in her novel. ~Lisa

My Epistolary Debut Novel

Hello, Inkspot readers!  My name is Julia Thomas, and my first novel, The English Boys, debuts this week. For my first blog, I thought I’d talk about one of the elements I used while writing this mystery: the epistolary novel. An epistolary novel is a book that contains or is fully constructed of documents or letters. There are many examples throughout literary history, from classics like Pride and Prejudice and The Moonstone to some of the popular modern books like Where’d You Go, Bernadette?  One of my personal favorites, and certainly an inspiration for The English Boys, is Possession by A.S. Byatt. In it, two modern day London scholars try to solve the mystery of a love affair between two Victorian era writers. Byatt studied the writing of Ezra Pound and Emily Dickinson in order to create extensive poetry and letters for her scholars to discover, an unparalleled literary feat that won her the Booker Prize in 1990.

The English Boys is a novel about two well-known young British actors who fall in love with the same woman, Tamsyn Burke, who is murdered on the day of her wedding. In the book, I’ve used emails, texts, letters, and diaries to help my protagonist, Daniel Richardson, try to solve the crime.

Here are some of the reasons I used epistolary writing in my first novel:
1.  Letters, diaries, texts, and emails reveal inner secrets. Just imagine discovering a stack of letters or diaries from someone who has been murdered. Many crime novels follow a DNA or scientific formula to solve a crime, but I found that I preferred a more personal, emotional approach.  Delving into a character’s private thoughts was both appealing and exciting to write.
2.  It allows you to get closer to your protagonist. Seeing the clues unfold through the character’s eyes helps you empathize with what he’s going through. In The English Boys, we feel Daniel’s fear and confusion and are trying to figure out the crime alongside him as we get a secret glimpse into other characters’ points of view.
3.  It’s a break from regular narrative and dialogue. One of my chapters is almost entirely constructed of old diary entries, taking us back into Tamsyn’s history and motivations. It’s a fresh way to engage readers and adds suspense and drama to the story.
4.  It adds realism to the novel. People love to document and share their lives, from social media to private diaries and journals. Using these means in a book heightens the feeling that we have that we’ve stumbled onto something personal and private. It also allows the author to explore morality and motives in an unconventional way.
5.  They’re fun to write. Of course, writing is just fun, anyway, especially when you love your characters as much as I do.

Have a happy summer, and happy reading!

The novel sounds fantastic, Julia! Readers and writers, do you like epistolary elements in your stories? What are some of your favorite books that use them? 

Julia Thomas is the author of The English Boys, published by Midnight Ink, which earned a starred review and was named Debut of the Month in the July 2016 issue of Library Journal. She is married to author Will Thomas, who writes a crime series set in Victorian London. In addition to writing, she loves reading, photography, and playing with her three adorable Pekes.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Dying Because Life Is Too Short

Today, just now, I sat down to write my monthly blogs—something I procrastinate on and then feverishly bang them out impromptu (it keeps me agile). I was panicked for a topic and tired from travelling around begging looking for fans. I was grasping for a blog idea. A good friend of mine suggested I write about just that—weekend travels for my books and the ups and downs along the way—how tiring and rewarding it is. So I plopped down at my keyboard—iced tea at my right, cat on my left, three dogs beneath my feet—and stared at the keyboard.

And then the news came in.

A heartbreaking story touched me of a local man killed in a tragic automobile accident not far from our home. Shag was a hard-working retail worker at our local Costco that everyone—and I mean everyone—adored for his good nature and kind words. Oddly, I only knew his first name—his nickname was Shag—and I’d just seen him yesterday evening on my way out. His last words to me were, “Be safe, now. Have a nice day.” Yes, sir. Right back at you.

Sadness didn’t have to fill me too far. I was still reeling from last Friday, June 24th, —my friend and mentor’s birthday. Wally F. would have been 93. He was one of the last OSS—Office of Strategic Services—men from World War II ( He was the retired Deputy Director of Communications at CIA. He was the Vice President and General Manager of a former consulting firm where we met. Is, was, will be forever, my best friend. I lost him August 16 of last year. But on Friday, I visited Arlington National Cemetery and had a few words with him. Afterwards, there was lunch at our favorite Greek Taverna where I tipped Retsina in his absence. For days before, and still today, his loss remains ever present. And hearing about Shag—whom I barely knew—strangely stilled me. It reminded me of the brevity of life and the looming mystery none of us can solve—when is it too late?

Life is just too short. Are we living it or waiting and watching it go by?

So, I cannot blog about life on the road or the toils and joys of being an author. I cannot complain about exhaustion and friendships and heartbreak and angst. I cannot blog about life as a writer where I get to do and say and write whatever I wish in the name of my stories. I cannot suggest that my dream coming true is in anyway a misgiving or burden. Even the down days—the terrible days—I cannot.

Searching my computer for the tragedy of Shag’s passing, the headlines turned my other cheek—Istanbul. Terrorists hit again and massacred dozens of innocents. Weeks ago it was Florida. Before that, Paris, California ... others—more and more and more. Unfortunately, I understand those headlines. I get that world. It has been part of my profession my entire life. Bad guys. Victims. Terrorism. Loss.

But vehicle accidents, heart attacks, and age? The end result is the same. None of us is getting out of here alive.

This blog isn’t about my horrible, crazy life as an author—I say that sarcastically with a touch of embarrassment that I would even consider blogging that today, even in jest, about this life I love so much. Not now.  

Life is just too short. We know where we’ve been—what brought us to this day—but we don’t know if tomorrow is there or not. Do we know where we’re going? Why we’re headed there? And with that uncertainty comes the biggest questions we should be asking every day we open our eyes—am I doing what I want? Am I who I want to be? Do I dare reach for what’s missing?

What if

Some thirty-seven years ago I ran like hell from a small town in Upstate New York seeking adventure and life away from a small farming community where the streets rolled up before dark. I chased life pretty hard and escaped many an adventure unscathed. My dream was to write and travel and swashbuckle. But for the better part of thirty years I skipped my writing dreams and focused on family and career—until a series of events changed my life. First, the company I was COO of was sold out from under me and left me standing alone and scared. The same year, my brother in law, Randy—a dear, close friend—unexpectantly died. In his wake I found myself teetering on the edge of my own medical crisis and wondered if I were next.

And then the questions starting colliding—No, I wasn’t who I wanted to be. No, I had things I damn well wanted to do. Tomorrow would wait. Today was infront of me—in my hand. Now.

I sat and wrote my second novel in fifteen years, and when it was done, wrote two more. My fourth, Dying to Know, was my first published book some 902 days ago and poof, I was an author. Since, I’ve published two more, have another coming out in 2017, and just finished my ninth novel of my career. All of that—every ounce of energy and drive and every word I wrote—came because of the one simple epiphany—life is too short. None of us is getting out of here alive. For me though, they’re going to have to carry me out, because I’m going to be worn out! I realized that I had to reach out and take what I’d chased all my life. There is no “later” or “maybe” or “hope.” There is only now. Only action. Only the realization that I didn’t want to get to the end of life—especially if it sneaked up and bit me in the …—with more regrets than smiles.

So, for friendly, gracious Shag whose life was so tragically stilled, and for Wally and Randy and all the others who have touched my life, I owe it to you all to not blog about poor me the tired, travelling author. I owe it to you to say, “My turn. I’m going to write more books. I’m going to find what’s missing and seize it. I’m going live now. I’m going to make sure that when I die—tonight or fifty years from now—I’m so worn out and ragged that hell won’t have any use for me. I will be answering for my life with “Been there, done that.” Regrets—Ummm, nope, sorry. But boy, do I have stories…

I may never write the great American novel or even a New York Times Best Seller. But I’m going to write a ton of books about life and adventure and fun. I’m going to chase my losses until they’re gains. I’ll ride my Harley until the wheels, or I, fall off from age and decay. I’ll find lost friends and rekindle the kinship, and for new ones, they will know me and I them. Most of all, I won’t take the safe route. I won’t be sheepish and polite and withdraw and let others blaze the trail. I won’t settle for second or third choice because it’s the “correct” or “nice” thing to do. I’m going to live life and suck it dry—ride, write, love, and adventure on. I’m going down in flames. When I die and the devil takes a look at what’s left, he’ll say, “Jesus, what was wrong with you?” And he’ll pass because along my way, I will have made others happy and glad to have known me. They’ll miss me and miss my good work and books and charity and above all, miss my lust for life. And they—and the devil—will envy my choices in life. Maybe somewhere along the way, someone will say, “I’m with him.”

But most of all, I’m going often to Arlington and brag to Wally about my latest adventure and try to one-up his life’s work—I never will of course. Somewhere, he’ll be laughing and shaking his finger and cautioning me about my limits. Even then, neither of us will know what they are.

So for all of you I say again—Life is too short. Dammit, go do something about it!

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 coming in 2017! He recently finished his new thriller and is beginning three sequels to previous work. 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, July 4, 2016

Happy July Fourth!

by Linda O. Johnston

    It's the first Monday of the month, which is when I post my blog here at InkSpot.  It's also the Fourth of July.  Independence Day.  An important national holiday.  A day of freedom.

   So what am I going to do?  Write, of course!

   I'm delighted that I have the freedom to write.  I've retired from my career as a lawyer, and though I miss it I now can create even more stories that originate in my own mind.  I was a transactional attorney, which means I handled--what else?--transactions.  I didn't go to court, but I negotiated contracts.  And I've always said that contracts are just another form of fiction.

   And now I'm all about fiction.  And dogs.  In fact, most of my fiction contains dogs.

   Plus, as long as I've been at this, I'm still learning.

   What am I learning?  Well, for one thing, that I'm not the only one who loves dogs.  When I communicate with readers or other writers, they often let me know about their own dogs.  And it's certainly fun to write about those smart and sweet creatures.

   Then there's the fact that killing people is a good way of easing tensions--as long as it's done fictionally.  I often say I'm glad I've had books published, since if anyone hacked into my computer and saw what I research they might think I'm really a killer.

   And I'm always learning more as I delve into research for each series, and each book in the series.  For my Barkery & Biscuits stories, I'm learning about things that are healthy to feed dogs, and for my Superstition Mysteries I'm learning more about superstitions.  My most recent release from Midnight Ink was TO CATCH A TREAT, the second Barkery mystery, and my third Superstition Mystery, UNLUCKY CHARMS, will be published in October.

   Will I learn even more?  Of course!  Mysteries always require research.  And I also write romances and additionally research stuff involved in their backgrounds.

   In any event, I'm glad I have the freedom to write what I consider to be fun.  And that others have the freedom to read what I write!

   So, happy Fourth of July everyone!  Hope you enjoy the fireworks wherever you are.  And please make sure your pets are safe.