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.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Yoga Teachers, Doulas, Labradoodle Puppies--and Murder?

by Tracy Weber

Note from Tracy:  Hi all!  Today I decided to let Kate Davidson (the protagonist of my most recent
mystery, A Fatal Twist) take center stage today.   I hope you enjoy the interview!

 
Tracy: I'm delighted to be here today speaking with Kate Davidson, the yoga teacher/sleuth of my Downward Dog Mystery series and the protagonist of my most recent book, A Fatal Twist. Kate, why don't you tell our readers about yourself?

Kate: Protagonist?  Sheesh, Tracy.  After the amount of time we’ve spent together over the past four mysteries, I’d like to think of us as friends!
 
For those of you who don’t know me, I'm a yoga teacher and the owner of Serenity Yoga in Seattle, Washington. I've lived in Seattle my entire life and am a Pacific Northwest girl through and through. I'm also my 100-pound German shepherd’s devoted slave. Chasing after murderers is simply an unwanted sideline.

Tracy: Let's talk about Bella. What's it like owning a hundred-pound special needs German shepherd?

Kate: You think I own Bella?  That’s funny! If anything, Bella owns me! I'd be lying if I didn't admit that living with Bella is challenging, especially since she doesn't like bearded men or other dogs. But Bella is the love of my life. She has changed my life, in every way for the better. I'd be lost without her.

Tracy: Tell the readers about your new career as a doula.


Kate: It’s not a career, at least I don’t think so.  How could I take care of Bella and run Serenity Yoga with such an unpredictable schedule?  But when Rene asked me to be the doula for the birth of her twins, I had to say yes. Rene is my touchstone. Being there when her babies are born will be such an honor.

So I signed up for doula training and recently attended a birth as part of it.  Miracle—the baby—was so gorgeous! The only downer that night was the fight I witnessed between one of the doctors and Miracle’s delivery nurse.  Then, a few days later when …
Well, I don’t want to give too much away.

Tracy:  Speaking of twins, I hear you have two new family members.

Kate: Shh!  Don’t say that!  I don’t want Michael to get any ideas.  We are fostering—not adopting, I swear!—two baby labradoodle puppies, Mutt and Jeff.  Their real names should be Terror and Destruction. I like the cute little fur-demons, but their stay at our house is only temporary. Michael talked me into fostering them until they’re old enough to go to a rescue.  Or until they destroy our last earthly possession, which might come first. Michael and I joke that if we ever find out who abandoned Mutt and Jeff, we’ll punish them by making them take the two monsters back.

Tracy: What about you and Michael? Any kids your future?

Kate: It’s funny you ask that.  I didn’t think so, at least not for a few years. But after going undercover with Tiffany at Reproductive Associates (the fertility clinic owned by Dr. Dick, the murder victim), I’m beginning to re-think that decision. Maybe Michael and I shouldn’t wait too much longer.  I’m thirty-four after all. As Tiffany would say, my ovaries have already started shriveling.

Tracy: How is it that you keep getting involved in murder investigations?

Kate: Honestly, I have no idea. I was raised by a cop, but Dad never shared much about his work with me. In fact, he tried to shield me from it. Yet this is the fourth murder investigation I’ve been involved with in a little over a year.  My mother, Dharma, says righting wrongs is my lifework—my destiny.  Maybe she’s right.

Tracy: Thanks for chatting with us today, Kate. I'd tell you to stay out of trouble, but we both know that will never happen. So I guess I'll just tell you to  have fun!

Kate: You too, Tracy. I'd like to put in a plug for you before I leave. I know how much you love connecting with readers. So if you're reading this post, you can keep in touch with Tracy by friending her on Facebook at
https://www.facebook.com/tracywe or sending her an email at Tracy@WholeLifeYoga.com. She'd love to hear from you!

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, September 14, 2017

Learning American History Through Fiction

Edith here, loving the still-fabulous tomatoes, juicy peaches, and sweet corn of a New England September.

I'm often studying history. I live in an antique house in a town full of history, and I use much of what I've learned about both in my Quaker Midwife Mysteries. So I got to thinking about my fellow historical mystery writers. Given the period I write in, I naturally gravitate to authors also writing about the second half of the nineteenth century, maybe squeezing into the first part of the twentieth.

Like who, you ask? Let's start with Nancy Herriman's Old San Francisco Mysteries. I love this series. A British-born nurse tends the poor and neglected in post Civil War San Francisco. Nancy's writing is vivid and chock-full of correct historical detail. No Pity for the Dead has Celia Davies bumping up against a ruthless real estate developer. Some things just never change! But along the way you feel what it was like to live in a rapidly developing San Francisco (one of my favorite cities, by the way). 



My fellow Macavity nominee (for the Ann Feder Memorial Award for Best Historical Novel) Ann Parker writes the Silver Rush Mysteries. I love these books, set in the real boomtown of Leadville in 1880 Colorado. I didn't know anything about the Silver Rush, and Ann brings it all alive. The dust, the issues of a woman and an African-American owning a respectable bar, the complications of a woman wanting a divorce from her disappeared husband, and so much more.


Anna Loan-Wilsey's Hattie Davish series come along next, set in various places around the country in the 1890s. Her protagonist is an independent "typewriter" - which means she's a typist. Sometimes she works for the wealthy man who employs her, and sometimes she's on loan to a friend of his in places as far flung as Missouri, Rhode Island, Arkansas, and Illinois. Anna drops in atmosphere in each place so you feel like you are there. In her latest, A March to Remember, she's researching something for Sir Arthur in our nation's capital but instead gets swept up in the worker's rights as well as the women's rights movement. The movements were real, as were some of the characters.

Alyssa Maxwell (no relation) pops up next in the chronology, with her wonderful Gilded Age mysteries set in Newport, Rhode Island in 1895 and thereabouts. While I used to live in Newport Beach, California, I didn't know much about the eastern version except for the row of big mansions (which I still haven't seen in person yet). Emma Cross is a less-than-well-off relation to the Vanderbilts, and a reporter. I love where she takes me in and around Newport, and what I've learned of the lifestyles of regular people as well as the rich and famous.


Jessica Estevao's (aka Jessie Crockett) Change of Fortune series starts at the very end of
the 1890s and is set in scenic Old Orchard Beach, Maine, where I happen to know that Jessie owns a summer home. Her latest book, out in two weeks, is Whispers of Warning. Her series protagonist Ruby Proulx, was raised by a con artist but escaped the itinerant life to live with her aunt, Honoria, who runs a hotel for spiritualists. Ruby herself is psychic in that she appears to hears voices from beyond. I love how Jessie captures the end-of-the-century feeling of Old Orchard with all the senses alive.

One of my inspirations for writing the Quaker Midwife Mysteries has been Victoria Thompson. Her Gaslight Mysteries begin in 1899 in New York City featuring an upper class midwife. I knew basically nothing about the city at that time, and now I can traverse it in its modern reincarnation and recognize names and landmarks. 

Vicki also has a new historical mystery series debuting this fall with City of Lies. I read her short story featuring the characters and was lucky enough to snag an advance copy of City of Lies. Elizabeth Miles, the protagonist, and her father are scam artists but of the Robin Hood sort. You're going to love it! The series starts in 1917 and is mostly set also in New York.

And my little run through a portion of American history wouldn't be complete without mentioning Rhys Bowen and her Molly Murphy series, which begins in 1901 and also takes place in New York City. I have followed Irish Molly all the way from her beginnings to the latest book, Time of Fog and Fire, which takes place only five years later in book time but fifteen years later in author time. As with Vicki's Gaslight books, Rhys takes you all over the city and through all layers of society, too.



Okay, readers, who did I forget? (Apologies ahead of time!) Favorites among this list? Extra points if you've read at least one book by each author. What have you learned from reading historical fiction? And I'll send a large-print copy of Called to Justice to one commenter here today - but be sure you include your email address. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Publishing, Promoting and Enjoying


by Linda O. Johnston

 

Dogs. 

I wrote about them here last month, and other times, as being part of my research, part of my life, my writing theme.  And Midnight Ink really helped me celebrate National Dog Day last week, on August 26.  They held a contest on their Facebook site where the prize was the first three books in my Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries.  Those who entered all had to comment about their favorite dog.


Did I ever have fun reading the entries!  Of course, I always enjoy reading about dogs, as well as writing about them.  And seeing how others have incorporated dogs into their lives, into their families... always a pleasure!


Plus, it's always enjoyable to see how something so important to what I write can also be used to help publicize my stories.  I was able to share the contest info on social media, including several Facebook groups I belong to that spotlight cozy mysteries.  And since there was a contest, possibly some people who weren't previously aware of my stories focused on them and, hopefully, decided to check them out even if they weren't the winner.


I always get a kick out of letting the world know about my books!  And I always get a kick out of writing them, too.  Plus, I have lots and lots of fun researching and writing about dogs.


So, hey, world.  There've been three Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries so far: BITE THE BISCUIT, TO CATCH A TREAT and BAD TO THE BONE.  Get the theme here?


And the next one, PICK AND CHEWS, will be released in May 2018.  I look forward to letting the world know even more about that one!

Monday, August 28, 2017

I Think She was Murdered


Note from Tracy:
I've spent the last eight days soaking up the sun and vacationing at the site of my next Downward Dog Mystery, Pre-Meditated Murder.  The visit inspired me to tempt you with an excerpt.  Enjoy!

Pre-Meditated Murder  releases January 8, 2018.
 
We followed the shoreline back toward Cannon Beach. I swung Bella’s leash in my right hand while she herded waves on my left. By the time we reached the rock wall at Arcadia State Park, the tide had gone out enough that we could walk around it without getting wet. Now that it was almost noon, small groups of matchstick-sized people wandered the beach. Some of them were walking toward us.
I reached for Bella’s collar, but stopped. A few hundred feet ahead, a colony of seagulls—dozens of them—dotted the shore. Bella’s eyes begged me.
Please? Just one more run?
Why not? One of us should be having fun. “Okay girl. Go get ‘em!”
Bella galloped after those birds like a cheetah after a gazelle. It was ridiculous, really. All of us—human, canine, and seabird included—knew that Bella would never catch them. But that didn’t diminish anyone’s fun. When Bella was about fifteen feet away, the birds took off in unison, flew a hundred feet down the beach, and landed, still in formation. Bella skidded to a stop, let out a single, loud bark, and tore after them again.
May as well give up, hunter dog.
I reached out my arms and yelled, “Bella, come!”
As trained, Bella turned a one-eighty and ran back to me at full steam.
Three hundred feet … two hundred … one hundred … “Bella, slow down!” I yelled. I repeated the command three more times in a rapid-fire panic. “Slow down! Slow down! Slow down!”
Bella didn’t hear, didn’t understand, or—more likely—chose not to listen. She launched through the air, collided with my chest like a hundred-pound bowling ball, and knocked me flat on my sitting bones for the second time in thirty minutes. A quick German shepherd chin nibble later, she ran a quick circle around me and chose a new destination: a Jenga-like stack of driftwood piled up against the cliff.
I spit out a million tiny particles of sand. “Bella, come!” I commanded.
No response.
I stood, brushed the wet sand off my bottom, and trudged toward my dog. “Bella, knock it off and get over here! Leave it!”
Bella pretended to be deaf.
What on earth was she so interested in? Half-eaten hotdogs? Urine from a particularly studly Golden Retriever? A seagull corpse?
Bella stopped sniffing and commenced digging.
I groaned. It had to be a dead creature of some kind. Bella couldn’t digest real food unless it was incubated in expensive prescription enzymes. I imagined scooping up undigested seagull parts and groaned louder.
“Bella, I said come!”
Not even an ear twitch. This level of disobedience was unusual, even for her.
I broke into a jog. When Bella wanted something this badly, it was a sure bet that I didn’t want her to have it. I skidded to a stop next to my recalcitrant canine and clipped the leash to her collar. “That’s enough girl. Leave it.”
She ignored me.
I tightened the leash and made my voice especially stern. “I mean it.”
Bella refused to move.
Whatever she’d found, it was infinitely more interesting than a five-foot-three-inch yoga teacher.
Bella channeled her inner Ricky, grabbed onto something and pulled, exposing a woman’s tennis shoe.
“Seriously, Bella?” I grumped. “This much drama over a shoe?”
Then I looked closer and gagged.
The shoe was attached to a foot. A foot that was attached to a caramel-skinned ankle. A caramel-skinned ankle wearing a starfish ankle bracelet.
Oh God, no.
Bella had unearthed a body—a woman. She was buried, facedown, in an obviously man-made mountain of driftwood, seaweed, and sand.
I wish I could say I was horrified. I wish I could say I screamed like a scared little schoolgirl. I wish I could say I vomited like I did the night I found my friend George’s body.
But I didn’t. I simply stood there, thinking the same words over and over: not again.
 I clawed through the rocks, unearthed the broken body’s left wrist, and forced myself to feel for a pulse. Her fourth finger was bare, except for a band of lighter skin where her wedding ring used to be. I suppressed the urge to run off to warn Michael, pulled out my cell phone, and dialed 911.
“Hi. My name’s Kate Davidson. I found a woman’s body. I think she was murdered.”



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





Tracy Weber is a certified yoga teacher and the founder of Whole Life Yoga, an award-winning yoga studio in Seattle, where she current­ly lives with her husband, Marc, and precocious German shepherd puppy, Ana. She loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any form possible. When she’s not writing, she spends her time teaching yoga, trying to corral Ana Tasha, and sip­ping Blackthorn cider at her favorite ale house. Tracy loves connecting with fans.  Find her on her author web page or on Facebook.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

5--no, 6--Things I Love About Launch Day the Third Time Around

By Lisa Alber

Path Into Darkness is out in the world now. My third novel, and I can't help but compare the book launch day experience for this novel against the same day for my debut novel, Kilmoon. There's nothing like a debut novel. I remember wiser novelists cautioning me to remember to enjoy the experience; it only comes around once.

So true! But, just to play Devil's Advocate with myself, in some ways, thank goodness the experience only comes around once! Here are the five ways that I enjoyed the book launch for Path Into Darkness.

1. It wasn't heady, loud, OMG everything is going to change BECAUSE I'LL BE PUBLISHED AUTHOR. So much stress and drama to go along with the thrill. Every year, the new batch of debut authors reveal themselves, and I so understand how big and new everything is, and I think, I was like that too; that was fun; but I'm glad I'm here now.

By contrast, what was launch day like this time around? Pleasant and relaxed because I had no expectations. I woke up and got my writing in for the day as usual before doing the online thing.

2. Not having a book launch party the week of book launch. The past two book releases I had the party at my local bookstore the week of. Ugh. I'm a stressed-out event planner anyhow, and I'm not exactly an extrovert who loves being the center of attention. I planned big parties in the local Irish pub and made a big production of them, especially for Kilmoon. I mean, you gotta for the first book, granted, but, man--too much stress!

So what am I doing this time around? My launch party is next week, a couple of weeks after book launch day. Best yet, it will be a joint event with two other author friends with books out now too. I'm so much more relaxed -- and I'm even looking forward to it! (That's mostly a joke, but not 100%.)

3. The little things that surprise me. Since I don't have huge expectations anymore, I found great pleasure in the little things that posted online. For example, I was the book of the day for Foreword Reviews. I enjoyed sharing that. Other mentions and reviews and hurrahs came through too. I appreciated every one of them.

4. I don't feel desperate. I have a way more relaxed attitude about the whole thing when it comes to readers. I remember for Kilmoon, I was so nervous. It was like my very existence hinged on whether people would like my book, and how many (sales!) of them there were. It's true that promotion is an important part of our jobs, but I now understand how little control I actually have. That's a relief. Honestly.

So what is it I'm really saying? I've returned to the love of process. I love writing. Just that. I'm writing the first draft of my next book now, and I'm having so much fun with it. Just gotta keep writing!

5. Holding the book in my hands. This is one of the few things that hasn't changed. I brought a copy to a few parties over the last month for show-and-tell, like I was showing off my newborn infant. I still take pride in my work. It's an awesome feat, to complete a novel all the way to the point of publication. I'm honored to be a member of the tribe, and I appreciate it so much.

On a related note, one of the things that was cool this time around was holding a book in which the flap copy says things like, "By the author of Whispers in the Mist, heralded by Library Journal as “a first-rate crime novel,” comes this haunting tale of family secrets, madness, and healing in small-town Ireland." It feels weighty in a nice way, like, yes, I have a track record now, and it's pretty darned good. I'm surprised by how good this feels.

And 6. This just came to me. There are people out there who have been looking forward to the next in my series. I didn't notice this so much for the second book, because it's a second--that's it own thing--but now? It's so--I don't know--heartwarming? It's like, Wow, I've written stories that people are telling me they're excited to read. That they CAN'T WAIT to read. I don't know what the word for this is, actually. Mind-boggling comes pretty close. :-)