Thursday, December 14, 2017

An Almost Rose Carroll Story

Edith here, feeling just a little stressed about the holidays and various authorly tasks also on my to-do list. So I thought I would de-stress by asking you to celebrate with me. 'Cause who doesn't love a party?

My newest story, "An Ominous Silence," came out last month in Snowbound: Best New England Crime Stories 2017 from Level Best Books! Cue the cries of "Bravo!" and pop the champagne. It is my sixteenth published story (see the whole list here on my beautifully rehabbed new web site), and I have one more  story accepted for publication next spring.

So I thought I'd tell you the origin story behind the, well, story. Get comfy, kids, and put up your feet.

Five of my short crime stories feature Quaker midwife Rose Carroll from my Quaker Midwife Mysteries. One was even nominated for an Agatha Award last year. I had written a sixth for this year's Bouchercon anthology, the theme of which was travel, since the big mystery conference was held in Toronto, Canada. In the new story, Rose and her apprentice are on a train to Montreal in a snowy New England 1890s winter when the train is snowed in on a desolate stretch of tracks. A man is murdered, and his wife goes into labor. Rose comes to the rescue on both counts.

I was about to click Send when I checked the guidelines one more time. Ack! Because the committee wanted truly anonymous judging, authors couldn't use characters from any published book or series. That pretty much trashed Rose Carroll as the protagonist. I was cutting the deadline close, but I still had a few days left before they closed submissions.

So what does the creative mind do? Change the names to protect the innocent, of course. Or the series protag, as the case may be. Rose Carroll became midwife Catherine Colby--not a Quaker--and her apprentice Annie morphed into Genevieve Rousseau. I changed the date to a few years after the published Quaker Midwife mysteries take place and fixed the midwife's speech so she doesn't talk like a Quaker. I printed out the story, checked it one more time, and hit Submit.

Did they accept it? Alas, no. I'm a pretty seasoned author by now, however, and the word "No" no
longer devastates. We find a new venue and try again. Lucky for me, I heard about the rejection before the deadline for this year's Level Best anthology. I hit Submit again. And this time got a hit.

I hope you'll check out the anthology, which is full of dozens of amazing authors and delightful stories. And don't forget, Turning the Tide, Quaker Midwife Mystery #3, will be out April 8 and is available for preorder wherever books are sold!

Readers: What kinds of rejection have you bounced back from, and how? Which sow's ear have you  found a silver lining in, or which storm cloud have you turned into silk (to mix a couple of clich├ęd metaphors just for the heck of it)?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Promotion Pluses


by Linda O. Johnston

Holiday time seems to be a good time for book promotional events this year, or at least it is for me.  There are lots of kinds of events, too.  Over time, I have participated in quite a few different kinds and have considered the pros and cons of each of them.


Why get out there and promote?  There are a variety of good reasons. 


For example, it's fun to be on a panel and share information about my stories, how I came up with ideas for them, how I wrote them.  It's also fun to be on my own in front of a group and let 'em know what's on my mind and how I do things.  It's fun, as an author, to get to know readers and other authors.  It's hopefully fun for readers to meet other authors they've read and other readers who enjoy them--and to get an intro to those they haven't read--yet.


Last weekend I was on a panel with other mystery authors and had a good time--as I'd anticipated.  This in fact was my second time sitting on a mystery panel there.  The program was held at a women's club, and a moderator had sent us the questions she would ask so it easy to prepare.  The audience was interested and interesting, and seemed to enjoy the panel as much as I did. 


As I said, I do enjoy panels. I tend to go to several writers conferences each year where I generally participate in programs, again mostly on panels.  That way the audience can choose to hear a group of authors they may have read--or want to learn more about.  And the panelists can get to learn more about each other, too.


Next weekend I'll be at a book event at a local library.  Although there are speakers, this time I won't be among them.  But I'll get to meet potential and actual readers and discuss my books with them.


And over time, I've given talks myself at libraries and bookstores and more.  I've even given a few extension classes at colleges, hoping to help other authors start or polish their work.


Long ago, when I started writing, I assumed writers just wrote and got published and had fun that way.  Sure, that's fun, but I learned from experience that writing isn't just writing.  We need to get out there and make sure prospective readers find us.  And so, though I used to be shy and uncomfortable with public speaking, which isn't surprising for a writer, I've learned through experience to face the world and an audience and talk to the crowd.



It's all part of writing... and it's fun.





Linda O. Johnston is currently writing the Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries for Midnight Ink.  Her most recent one was Bad to the Bone, and the next in the series, Pick and Chews, will be a May 2018 release.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Dedications, Gratitude, and Appreciation, Oh My!



The Monday after Thanksgiving seems appropriate to share my intense gratitude for all of the people who have helped me on the path to publication for my newest book, Pre-Meditated Murder.  Even though it's not out until January, the individuals mentioned below helped me over a year ago, meaning that this thanks is well overdue.  To all of the people who help me every day of this life, I probably don't say it enough, but I appreciate you!!

Dedication:

To my precocious German shepherd pup, Ana. Thank you for filling my days with laughter and my nights with warmth.

Acknowledgements:

The longer I write, the more I realize that writing is a team sport.

Thanks, as always, to editor Sandy Sullivan at Midnight Ink and freelance editor Marta Tanrikulu. Your insights and feedback both amaze and humble me. Thanks also to my agent, Margaret Bail, and editor Terri Bischoff at Midnight Ink. I am grateful that you were willing to take a chance on this newbie author five years ago.  Without you, my series would still be gathering dust at the bottom of my closet.

Special thanks to Jane Gorman, Brandy Reinke, and Renee Turner, who helped me understand the complex process of immigration and the particular challenges faced by immigrants coming to the United States from Mexico. Any errors are solely my own.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the town of Cannon Beach, Oregon, which is one of my favorite places in the world. I took some liberties with the Sand Castle Festival, including moving it to autumn instead of early summer, but the loveliness of the town is unchanged. I hope to retire there someday.

My husband, Marc, gets extra kudos for designing and maintaining my author website, as well as for listening to all of my grumbles and supporting me through all of my challenges. Ana Pup, the new canine love of my life, gets my eternal gratitude for keeping life interesting.

Finally, thank you to all of my readers, who keep me glued to the keyboard even when I feel like giving up. I write for you.

Tracy

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

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The New England Crime Bake

Edith here north of Boston, packing and checking items off her To-Bring list.

What am I packing for, you ask? Why, the New England Crime Bake, of course. 





Now in its 15th year, the "Bake" is co-sponsored by Sisters in Crime New England and Mystery Writers of America New England. As I am the current president of the SINC chapter, I am expected to be there. But I wouldn't miss it for anything. I started going in 2006, and have missed only one year since.

Unlike some of the big fan conferences -- think Bouchercon or Malice Domestic -- this one is a writers' conference. It offers master classes on the first day. Agent and editor pitch opportunities. Manuscript critiques. Forensics workshops. The audience is almost exclusively made up of published and aspiring crime fiction writers.

So we all come to learn, to network. But we have lots and lots of fun, too. There's usually a panel where the panelists make up mysteries on the spot. Friday night there's a pizza party. Our SINC chapter presents a game, which this year is Pin the Wound on the Corpse. All attendees get a bingo card at the beginning, and have to go around finding authors fitting the description to sign each square: Writes Three Series might be one. Former SINC National president might be another. MWA member from Vermont another. It's a great ice breaker. 


Sheriff Edith with cowgirls Shari Randall and Kim Gray.
The banquet always has a theme related to the guest of honor and attendees are encourage to dress up in appropriate costumes. When Craig Johnson of Longmire fame was guest of honor, for example, we all turned out in cowboy (or cowgirl) gear. The year Charlaine Harris was our honored guest, Saturday night was the Vampire Ball. You get the idea! This year the guest is Lisa Gardner, and the banquet theme is the Red Carpet, so the dress will be of the more conventional fancy awards-ceremony sort. As with every year, there will be dancing!

And then there's always the bar. For me by now, attending Crime Bake is like going back to summer camp and connecting with people you've missed all year. Next year and the year after I will be co-chair of the conference, sharing the duties with someone from the MWA chapter, so I expect my responsibilities might cut into my fun a bit. But that's okay - it's my turn to give back.

Readers: Are you going to Crime Bake or have you? Which annual conference do you attend where it's like going back to summer camp?

Monday, November 6, 2017

Creating Characters


by Linda O. Johnston

I love creating characters for my novels. 

Or do I create them?  Maybe they create me.

There is, after all, an element of me in all of them, or at least in my protagonists.  For example, Carrie Kennersly, from my Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries, is a veterinary technician who buys a bakery from a friend and turns half into a barkery where she sells healthy dog treats that she created.


There appears to be very little of Carrie in me.  I'm not much of a cook, for one thing.  I've been fortunate enough to get most of the recipes in my books from friends.


But once upon a time I wanted to be a veterinarian, and Carrie as a vet tech has to do a lot of the things that her vet bosses do.  I realized that I wouldn't be able to deal with being around sick animals, even to help them.  And I especially couldn't handle cutting them open, even to save their lives.  So, I became a lawyer--and a writer. But I'm delighted that Carrie can deal with the bad as well as the good to take the best care of ill animals.


And believe it or not, there actually is a lot of Carrie in me--or me in Carrie.  We both love animals, especially dogs.  We both solve murders.  Of course I happen to create those murders in my stories for her to solve, but in a way we join forces to put together a mystery and incorporate it into a book that will hopefully be fun to read.


Plus, Carrie owns a dog, Biscuit.  Biscuit is always in her life.  And I am owned by a couple of dogs, Mystie and Cari.  They probably control my life more than Biscuit controls Carrie's, but that's fine with me.



Yes, there are other characters in the books who are important to the story.  There is possibly a touch of me in all of them--maybe even the murderers.  I'll have to consider that more and possibly write about that here sometime in the future.



www.LindaOJohnston.com

Monday, October 23, 2017

Will the Real Yoga Teacher Please Stand Up?



As a novelist, I’ve been blessed to meet many generous writers who have mentored me on the bumpy path to publication. Pretty much every seasoned writer I’ve met so far has given me one sage piece of advice: never read reviews.

I have to admit, I read them anyway.
Maybe it’s curiosity; maybe it’s excitement; maybe it’s simply my need to look for that ever-elusive stamp of approval, but I can’t seem to stop myself. I dig and I search and I devour every new review I can find. Most of the time, they make me smile. Occasionally, I learn something from a reader’s comments that will make me a better writer. Sometimes, however, a review leaves me shaking my head.
Some time ago, I came across one such review. I don’t remember now if the reader liked my book, or even which book she was reviewing. Something tells me it wasn’t her favorite. But one criticism stuck in my memory. She said that my protagonist wasn’t a realistic yoga teacher. If Kate were a real yoga teacher, the reader asserted, she’d be much thinner, more flexible, and less likely to lose her temper.
My protagonist is 5’3” tall and at the beginning of the series weighed 130 pounds, which is normal by most standards. Like many women, Kate has body image issues and hates her “chunky” thighs. All in all, she’s not a heck of a lot different than me, and she can do significantly more challenging yoga poses than I can. I’ve made my living teaching yoga for over seventeen years.
Yoga teachers (like yoga practitioners) come in all shapes and sizes. Some are lithe and can do amazing things with their bodies. Some are overweight. Some suffer from chronic illnesses and perpetually tight hamstrings. Some even start their yoga teaching career after retirement. The best yoga teachers know how to teach the students in front of them, in spite of their own personal limitations—or lack thereof. In fact, many great yoga teachers have imperfect bodies. If you can’t do a pose, learning how to observe your students and describe that pose becomes even more important.
Why do I care about this enough to write a blog article about it? The comment in the review highlights the very misperception of yoga that I’m trying to destroy: that yoga is only for the fit, the flexible, and the young. I have certified over three hundred teachers in the past fifteen years, and I have met privately to discuss Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training with at least three times that many. And yes, I've had teacher training students that smoke and most have known to have a drink on occasion.

My heart always breaks a little when an otherwise wonderful candidate decides not to pursue teaching yoga because they can’t do all of the poses, they don’t have a size-four body, or they think they are too old. The world loses a lot of great yoga teachers that way.
Is the protagonist in my book likely to grace the cover of Yoga Journal? Probably not. But perhaps it’s time we let go of the yoga stereotypes. If yoga teachers are more diverse, our students will be as well.
What do you think?

Tracy Weber’s author page
Kate's author buddy, Tracy Weber, on Facebook

Catch up on all four of the Downward Dog Mysteries.  Available at booksellers everywhere!
 
 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Real Life Research

Edith Maxwell here, reporting on some inadvertent research I did last week. And giving away a large-print version of CALLED TO JUSTICE!

So I write mysteries featuring a long-ago midwife. Turning the Tide releases next April. Native to Massachusetts, Rose Carroll catches babies, hears secrets, and solves crimes back in the late 1880s. I had a part-time gig as a childbirth educator and labor coach a couple of decades ago. Until last week, the last birth I'd attended in any role was over twenty years ago.

Thirty-two years ago my best friend gave birth to my goddaughter, and I was in the room helping as best I could when she was born at home with the help of independent midwives. Last weekend that goddaughter gave birth to her own first baby, and once again I was there in a supporting role. I was so honored and thrilled to have that circle come round again.

She chose to give birth in a free-standing birth center which is affiliated with the hospital across the street.

Birthing figures from the birth center's living room
Over and over again through out my goddaughter's forty-hour unmedicated labor - mostly at home until the very end - I thought of Rose Carroll. Even though working nurse-midwife (and mystery fan) Risa Rispoli vets all my midwifery scenes before I turn them in, I still wondered if I had been writing details correctly.

Here are a few things I'll be incorporating in my next Quaker Midwife mystery:
  • A woman in labor with her first child looks at her husband and says, "No more babies!"
  • During the first phase, the mom-to-be goes inward with each contraction, very quietly, very stoically.
  • Before active labor kicks in, her contractions slow overnight to every eight to ten minutes, and she snoozes in between.
  • After active labor start, with pains coming every three minutes and lasting two, the woman despairs, weeping and swearing, but persevering.
  • She throws off any hand or touch that she doesn't want.
  • She pushes on her hands and knees for almost two hours.
  • The midwife checks the heartbeat during pushing, and has to get the listening device in just the right position to hear the baby's heart.
  • The woman swears and grunts as she pushes, her whole body taking part.
  • The midwife uses oil and eases the head out slowly so the mom doesn't tear.
  • Once the head is out, the baby looks around and smacks its lips together, already alert.
  • The cord is a tough membrane and beautiful, silvery and translucent.
  • Instantly after birth the mom feels better and speaks softly to her child at the breast.
I'm sure there are more, but this experience - a miracle and an honor for me - really brought birthing alive again.

Readers: Any vivid birth memories you'd like to share?  Your own or that of others? One commenter will win a copy of Called to Justice (make sure I know your email address so I can find the winner).

Monday, October 2, 2017

Why Write Mysteries?


by Linda O. Johnston

The answer to that question, if posed to most mystery writers, will probably yield a lot of answers.


Because I love to read mysteries, is one of the primary ones, I suspect. 


Some others?


Because I love to stump others who read my work.


Because I enjoy creating smart, creative protagonists--and bad guys, too.


Because I enjoy belonging to organizations of mystery writers.


Because I have fun writing mysteries--and editing and even re-reading my own work.


Because I like my publisher.


Because it's a challenge, and I enjoy challenges.


Because I enjoy writing blog posts about mysteries.


Because... well, those of us who are active on this blog write mysteries for Midnight Ink, of course. Some of you might identify with what I've already said.  Others might have a lot more ideas of your own about what spurred you to start writing mysteries. 



But one that probably all will identify with?  Because it's who I am and what I love.