Monday, February 27, 2017

Of Life and Birth and Mysterious Journeys


By Tracy Weber

I never wanted to have children of my own. Scratch that.  I had a passing urge in my twenties. I got a cat and it went away. I do, however, enjoy helping other mothers and mothers-to-be. Still, it’s hard to authentically advocate how much prenatal yoga can help with childbirth and recovery when you’ve never been pregnant, much less given birth.
So I did the only think I could think of to learn about the childbirth experience: I became a doula.
At least on paper.
I’ve taken doula training twice.  I never thought I’d actually end up in a delivery suite, but I figured the more I knew about childbirth, the more I could be in help my students plan for it. I was immediately struck in the training by how strong people’s opinions were about the “right” way to give birth.  The topic seemed to be as contentious as recent presidential elections. But I digress….
I graduated and integrated my learnings into my prenatal yoga classes.  A student even asked me to attend her birth, but she needed an emergency c-section, and I wasn’t allowed in the surgical suite.  Years went by. I forgot everything I ever learned about being a doula, except as it related to my yoga classes.
Then my best friend got pregnant and told me that she thought she should have a doula at her first birth. I agreed. Hiring an experienced doula was a fabulous idea. 
“You don’t get it,” she said. “It has to be you.”
I tried to convince her that I was utterly incompetent. I assured her that that she could hire thousands of doulas who would be better than me. She refused to consider anyone else.  So back to doula school I went.
Attending that birth will always be one of the greatest highlights of my life.  My friend’s labor was a difficult one, over twenty hours long. I was, as I’d feared, pretty much incompetent.  But my friend didn’t seem to mind.  And I’ll never forget her son’s hand reaching toward me as he entered the world.
So how did I connect that experience with murder?  I didn’t. At least not directly. But I was moved by the stories I’d heard in training, perplexed by the controversies, and transformed by my own experience bumbling through such an important life event.  And of course my protagonist, Kate, would do anything for her best friend, Rene.  So when Rene became pregnant with twins in A Killer Retreat, I knew I’d eventually write about her birth.
The result is A Fatal Twist.
I hope you read and enjoy it. 

Tracy Weber

All four books in the Downward Dog Mystery Series are available at booksellers everywhere!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Pet Food Safety

I'm not just an author of pet cozies, I'm a pet owner, too! My family includes Eddie the Morkie, Mona Lisa the Mackerel Tabby cat, Cupcake the Maine Coon cat, and Zach the bearded dragon. So when I catch wind of a pet food recall, I take notice.

I've found a great website where every recall is listed. There are also reviews and a forum and all kinds of helpful information. DogFoodAdvisor 

Since I live in the US, I try to always buy food and treats made in the USA by FDA guidelines.

Do dog treats have to be FDA approved?
There is no requirement that pet food products have premarket approval by the FDA. However, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) requires that pet foods, like human foods, be pure and wholesome, safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled.Sep 20, 2016

Resources for You > Information on Marketing a Pet Food Product - FDA

The dog treat recipes in my cozies are tested in my kitchen, made with love, and Eddie Approved.

Until next time!
Jamie Blair

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

10 Ways I'm Organizing in the "New" Year: Late Adopter's Edition

By Lisa Alber

I don't know about you, but about this time of year, mid-February, I'm itchy for spring. In Portland, OR, crocus and other spring bulbs are sprouting and the black-capped chickadees have returned. It feels like almost-spring, so I count is as the true start to my New Year. Forget January. January is for people who aren't bothered by season affective disorder.

I've always been a late adopter, so it's no surprise that each year I adopt a late-nik attitude to organization for the new year. Here are some of the things I'm doing right now to get back into a groove after a worse winter season than usual, weather-wise -- and morale-wise, if I'm going to be honest about it.

1. Invited gal pals over for brunch, which forced me to do my spring cleaning early. No one needs to know that all winter long I watched a generation of spiders live through their life cycles in the various corners of my home. Amazing how a clean home picks up my spirits.

2. While under brunch deadline, I spent hours organizing every paper that had accumulated on every horizontal surface for the last, oh, three-four-five months. Much of this had to do with finishing up PATH INTO DARKNESS, for sure. But still, I'm a crazy paper lady. If you're like me, you'd find inspirations and ideas for stories, phone numbers you thought you lost, stray checks, and so much more.

3. Bought a ridiculous day planner that I suspect I'll rarely use, but that has inspired me to start writing down task lists again, not to mention goals for the year.

4. Invested in Post-It notes and deposited them in various places around the house with pens nearby. Then, I'll write random thoughts down randomly as they occur to me, rather than try to hold everything in my mind and inevitably forget stuff.

5. Assigned a section of wall as my Post-It place. Every few days I plan to gather up my Post-Its and stick them up on the wall. I might even decide to group them according to priority. And, I'll throw them away as I go along rather than let them accumulate so that my counters and table tops end up looking like hamster nests.

6. Speaking of throwing away--I threw away my mail pile. Except for bills and tax documents, that's right, I zapped it! Anything important will come back to haunt me later -- I'll deal with it then. :-)

7. For longer-term projects that require planning, before month's end I'll pull on my big-girl undies and sit down, just me and my thoughts. Have you noticed how hard it is to just sit and think? It's crazy out there, and it's crazy in my head. I'll use my handy-dandy day planner to work backwards from writing deadlines (for me, this is publication of PATH INTO DARKNESS in August).

8. Money stuff? Yeah, who doesn't have money stuff. Every year there are at least a few larger expenses I need to wrangle. I planned a tight budget to hopefully, if all goes well, save up as much money as possible before the expenditures. This year, I'll be going to Toronto for Bouchercon, and I'd like to hire painters to paint my house (interiors--I hate beige and all my walls are beige) -- I can't do it myself because I don't feel like dealing with it -- plus I've got vaulted ceilings. I've got a house savings bucket and a travel savings bucket, and I'm gonna fill them slowly but surely.

9. Ack, the yard... Screw it, I hired someone to do the major stuff. Problem solved. Sometimes throwing money at things is the best solution. Frees up my brain for other things.

10. As soon as I run out of something, *especially* things I don't have to buy often like Scotch tape and light bulbs, my new plan is to re-stock immediately. Light bulbs drive me nuts. I never seem to have any around, and I've let it go on too long. I'd say about a quarter of mine are burned out now. So before the end of the month I'm hitting Home Depot for a light bulb binge. (And I'll buy extras!)

So that's what my February "New" Year looks like.

How are you doing right now as we wish for winter's end? 

Lisa Alber is the author of the County Clare mysteries. Her debut novel, Kilmoon, has been called "utterly poetic" and "a stirring debut." Her second in the County Clare mysteries, WHISPERS IN THE MIST came out in August from Midnight Ink Books. Looks for PATH INTO DARKNESS in August 2017. Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Facebook | Twitter

Thursday, February 9, 2017

On Midwife-Entrepreneurs

Edith here, recuperating from knee replacement surgery. But also ecstatic to have Delivering the Truth nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Historical Mystery, and "The Mayor and the Midwife," my short story featuring midwife Rose Carroll, nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Short Story!

A friend found a used book she thought I'd enjoy, Catching Babies: The Professionalism of Childbirth 1870-1920 by Charlotte G. Borst, now a history professor in Birmingham, Alabama. (This copy is inscribed, "To Mother, with love, Charlotte," so now I'm imagining Mother, and Charlotte, and how the book came to be for sale in a used book store. Hmm, a new short story, perhaps.) The book appears to be Borst's doctoral dissertation and focuses on birth logs and other primary historical sources in four Wisconsin counties.
Perfect! Thanks, Rae Francoeur

So I've been leafing through it, gleaning useful research for my Quaker Midwife Mysteries. Chapter Four is titled, "Midwife Entrepreneurs in the City" and uses several urban Wisconsin midwives as case studies. Despite being an academic treatise, it reads easily and well. And I'm finding all kinds of interesting facts.

Mary Gerrard left a complete record of the births she attended. During the years my books take place, the end of the 1880s, she attended around 200 births a year. She was a full-time midwife despite having seven children at home. She had attended a three-month course at the Northwestern Academy of Midwifery in Chicago and earned a diploma in 1878. Borst discusses other urban midwives following similar careers. All were able to earn a decent living. This bodes well for my fictional Rose Carroll continuing her midwifery practice should she and beau David Dodge ever manage to tie the knot.

One point of Borst's I found interesting is that despite these women being successful in their chosen field, they didn't attempt to move beyond their neighborhoods and promote a professional identity for their occupation. The work of even these successful, educated entrepreneurs basically didn't differ much from that of the less-educated rural neighbor-midwives, and they didn't organize into a professional organization. 

Once the concept of the professional began to be more popular after the turn of the century, childbearing women started to seek out physicians to assist with their births. (Physicians certainly also sought to control the birthing environment, but that's a different book.)

Stay tuned for Called to Justice, book two in the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, which releases April 8! 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Using Reality

by Linda O. Johnston

  I very much appreciated my the post before mine here at InkSpot, since we've both had similar stuff going on in our lives.  And we're both using it in our ongoing writing.

  Like Tracy Weber, I lost a beloved dog last year.  Lexie, who was thirteen, left us in October.  Her "sister" Mystie, another Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, seemed to step up to take over as number one pup.  But for various reasons, including not wanting Mystie to be alone long periods of time as we took on travel plans, we looked for another Cavalier.  We brought Carina, Cari for short, home in January, when she was eleven weeks old.

  Now, I write a lot about dogs in both my Midnight Ink mysteries and in romances.  I love them, especially my own.  But I hadn't had a puppy around for nine years.  And Cari, as cute as she is, is quite rambunctious.  I've maintained some control over her, partly because she's small, but she still doesn't seem to understand that the humans around here are alpha over her.

  My mind has been whirling around how to use this in something I'm writing.  In more than one thing I'm writing.  Plus, since I've been researching dog training for a series I'm doing for a different publisher, I intend to take Cari to a special training school when she's old enough--and of course use what I learn in as many things I write as possible.   Hopefully, she'll learn enough to be considered a trained pup.  Or not.

  All this has made me think once more about how we all incorporate what we know, and what we love, in our writing.  Cozy mysteries generally all have themes as their background, so those of us who write them choose the things we enjoy as those themes: pets, yes, and also different kinds of hobbies or jobs or other things such as handcrafts or cooking or home improvement or books and bookstores and more.  Presumably readers who share those interests are among those who are most likely to pick up our books and read them.

  Plus, a lot of people have multiple interests in their lives, so writers can write more than one series incorporating vocations or avocations that they love.  I've taken on different aspects of pets, and even, in an early mystery series, included my then-career as a lawyer.

  As always, I keep plotting, and have some ideas for other works that would incorporate my interests.  Don't know if I'll follow through with any of them... but it's always fun to plot!

  And meantime, I'm looking forward to my next Midnight Ink mystery, BAD TO THE BONE, a Barkery & Biscuits Mystery, which will be published in May.