Thursday, December 1, 2016

Guest Post: Sue Ann Jaffarian - Rhythm & Clues

Ideas? 
I've Got a Million of Them!
by Sue Ann Jaffarian


As I write this blog post, I am hard at work on my 12th Odelia Grey novel. Yes, you read that right - #12. Blows my mind.

I currently have 24 published books, spread across four different series. It’s been an amazing journey and there is no end in sight, thankfully.

One of the most common questions I get at book events is: How do you come up with so many new ideas?

Hmmmm, frankly, I don’t know, but I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth.

I am always puzzled when other authors say they have no idea what to write next. Not because I think that’s silly, but because I’ve never experienced an empty faucet. I have new book ideas stacked up like planes over Chicago, just waiting for their turn to land. Some are for current series, some are for new series, and some are for stand-alone novels. I hope to be writing until someone slips a toe-tag on me.

So how can a writer avoid the empty well problem? Here are my tips:

Be Observant. About everything. I look for plots ideas everywhere. And sometimes they strike me when I’m not looking. Once a billboard caught my eye and bingo I saw the beginning of a book plot. Another time I was in a restaurant, overhead a conversation, and an idea hit. I immediately jotted it down on a napkin, mid-meal.

Read and Watch. The news, TV shows, books, movies, commercials, magazine articles, social media, etc., are all great breeding grounds for new ideas. I’m not saying to copy those ideas, but sometimes the smallest detail or character trait in someone else’s writing can trigger an entirely new book idea for you. That’s happened to me many times. You’re watching a show and suddenly the old what if? hits you, and you’re off and running.

Dismiss Nothing. If you get an idea that you think is too silly or weird, don’t toss it aside. It might just be the best foundation for a book plot you ever had. Go down the path a bit and see what turns up. You might be surprised.

Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone. You don’t write romance? So, give it a try. You don’t write about the paranormal? I didn’t either until I got the idea for my very popular Ghost of Granny Apples series. If you write police procedurals, try your hand at an amateur sleuth novel. Don’t be afraid to write about things you don’t know about. You can learn.

Throw Nothing Away. If you find an article or idea that interests you, but you’re not ready to use it, don’t dismiss it. Write it down and save it. Print it out and save it. Save it in a hard folder or on your computer, but save it. Several of my books involved plots that came to me years before I actually used them. Ideas do not need to be immediate. They do not have a shelf life like milk. Even a lot of topical ideas can be written long after they occur in the news.

Add New Recurring Characters to Existing Series. This is a great way to bring in new plot ideas. Or beef up a minor character from earlier books and slowly weave them into the main fabric of the series.

Keeping it fresh. One of the biggest problems with writing a long-running series is coming up with new plots. Avoid regurgitating old ideas for lack of new ones, and look out for becoming too formulaic in your plots. Stretch your legs and your mind and be open to ideas that are different. If you don’t, both you and your readers will become bored with your writing, and it’s difficult to recover from that situation.

Now get out there and write and flourish. I’ve got a book to finish!

***

Amateur sleuth Odelia Grey tries to get a band back together—and get her mother off the hook—in book eleven of the award-winning series

It’s a rockin’ flashback for Odelia Grey when her mother asks her to look into the disappearance of her neighbor Bo Shank, the former lead singer for a band Odelia idolized in her youth. But when a body is found in Bo Shank’s house, everything quickly gets thrown out of tune.


Sue Ann Jaffarian is a full-time paralegal who lives and works in Los Angeles. A member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters In Crime, Sue Ann is the author of three mystery series—Odelia Grey, Ghost of Granny Apples, and Madison Rose—and also writes general fiction and short stories. She is widely sought after as a motivational and humorous speaker.

For the most up-to-date list of all Sue Ann's activities, visit the calendar page at www.sueannjaffarian.com.




Monday, November 21, 2016

Guest Post: Patricia Smiley—Pacific Homicide

A Police Procedural? What Was I Thinking?
by Patricia Smiley



After writing four novels about an amateur sleuth with a sense of humor, I decided to mix things up a bit. PACIFIC HOMICIDE is the first in a new series and a change of pace for me. It’s a police procedural featuring Homicide Detective Davina “Davie” Richards, a petite, red-haired woman, a second-generation LAPD detective, an expert marksman who carries a Smith & Wesson .45, and a composite of every strong woman I’ve ever known.

Most people don’t realize that patrol officers in high crime areas might draw their weapons every workday but most cops spend their entire careers without firing a gun in the line of duty. Davie is an outlier, a cop who killed a suspect to save her partner’s life.

Here’s what Library Journal said about PACIFIC HOMICIDE: "...Smiley kicks off a hard-boiled series with a bang in this fast-paced novel that sweeps readers along quickly. Davie is an engaging sleuth; her tough exterior hides a fragile heart. VERDICT This classic police procedural, with the obligatory cop humor included, recalls titles by Robin Burcell or Alafair Burke."

The Los Angeles Police Department: A whole slew of authors have written about the LAPD, many of them with connections to the department. Michael Connelly’s early books were set in Hollywood Division, as are those of multiple other authors. Paul Bishop’s detective Fey Croaker is assigned to West L.A. Joseph Wambaugh has varied the locations of his novels.

My book is set in the LAPD’s Pacific Area Police Station, which covers the Westside of Los Angeles from Venice Beach and Playa del Rey to LAX, with Culver City to the east, extending northeast to the intersection of Westwood and National Boulevards. Pac-14 is a diverse area that includes public housing, upscale homes, movie stars, and thirty-five known street gangs. It’s also near where I live.

The LAPD and me: Back when I was writing the first book in my amateur sleuth series, False Profits, I wanted to place a scene in a police station, but I’d never been in one before. That’s a good thing, right? One night I went to a Neighborhood Watch meeting and a Senior Lead Officer from Pacific Division asked for a volunteer to create a flyer for a neighborhood cleanup. I raised my hand. She was impressed with the result and encouraged me to volunteer at the station. One of the first things they asked me to do was lead a guided tour for an open house. Divine providence?

I worked with the LAPD for fifteen years as a volunteer and Specialist Reserve Officer (non sworn), mostly assigned to Pacific Division but for a time with detectives at the LAX substation and on a short-term project at Hollywood Homicide. The last five years was spent in the detective squad room. My supervisor saw potential and sent me to law enforcement computer database training, detective school, and homicide investigation school. He taught me how to investigate burglaries and thefts, interview witnesses, victims, and suspects, write search warrants, and present cases to the DA’s office. During my time interacting with patrol officers and detectives, I also learned how easy it was for the best of cops to run afoul of the disciplinary system. Those and other stories inspired PACIFIC HOMICIDE.

Set in Los Angeles: “Why write about L.A.?” you ask. “It’s so been done before.” True, but there are over three million people in the city, over ten million in the county, and over 150 languages spoken in the city’s schools. At the end of every freeway exit is a new neighborhood and another writer’s story. There’s plenty of room for everybody.

Mostly I write about L.A. because I live here, which gives me access to the sensory and cultural details of the city. But Davie’s travels won’t be limited to the city. Homicide detectives travel far and wide to track down leads. In the second book in the series, I take her outside the city and the state in search of justice.

Research: I learned volumes from my past volunteer experience, but to supplement that knowledge I read the Los Angeles Times, which provides extensive coverage of police issues. While I was writing PACIFIC HOMICIDE, the LAPD switched their department-issued duty weapons from Glock to Smith & Wesson. It’s a small but important detail I wouldn’t have known about except for an article I read in the newspaper.  Another valuable research tool is the official department website www.lapdonline.org. But the most important sources of information come from my contacts in the department. They tell me what’s possible, what’s reasonable and more importantly, what I got wrong. They also forgive me when I don’t take their advice.

Happy reading!


For more information please visit my website www.patriciasmiley.com or follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/patriciasmileyauthor/?fref=ts

***

Most cops spend their entire careers without firing a weapon in the line of duty. LAPD Homicide Detective Davie Richards is an outlier, a cop who killed a suspect to save another officer’s life. While she waits for the police commission to rule on the shooting, she’s called out to probe the gruesome homicide of Anya Nosova, a nineteen-year-old Russian beauty whose body is found in the Los Angeles sewer system. With her own case in limbo, Davie knows that any mistakes in the investigation could end her career. As she hunts for the murderer, somebody begins to hunt her . . . and it’s no longer just her job that’s on the line.


Patricia Smiley (Los Angeles, CA) is a bestselling mystery author whose short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Two of the Deadliest, an anthology edited by Elizabeth George. Patricia has taught writing classes at various conferences throughout the US and Canada, and she served on the board of directors of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and as president of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles. Visit her online at www.PatriciaSmiley.com.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

News From Midnight Ink

A New Cover for Don't Tell Anyone

Happy Tuesday!

We don't do this a lot, but Midnight Ink decided to recover Don't Tell Anyone by Eleanor Gray (aka Eve Seymour).  Eve took a few moments to give me her thoughts on the new cover. She says,"I'm just getting used to the cover but, from what others tell me, they prefer it to the original. Sure as hell, it's lovely to see the quote on the front.  Seriously, I think the cover captures the mood and drama of the story.   I'm not normally a fan of faces on cover images but this works because it perfectly conveys the wary and bewildered expression in the girl's eyes."


Don't Tell Anyone will be available December 8! 
 At Midnight InkBarnes & NobleAmazonIndiebound and your local bookseller.

"Eleanor Gray's Don't Tell Anyone is a book you'll be telling your friends about. The voice—and anguish—of Grace Neville compels us toward answering the question we may have all wondered: What if we don't really know the people closest to us?"—Lori Rader-Day, Mary Higgins Clark and Anthony Award winning author of The Black Hour and Little Pretty Things

Nearly lost in a fog of grief over the fatal stabbing of her daughter, art historian Grace Neville feels only sorrow as Jordan Dukes is found guilty of murder. Days after the sentencing, Grace receives a visit from Jordan’s father, who claims that his son is innocent and a grave miscarriage of justice has taken place. Jordan’s history of gang-related violence and the fact that he doesn’t have an alibi make his father’s plea hard to believe. But then why does somebody break into Grace’s home and go through her daughter’s belongings?

In Don’t Tell Anyone, Eleanor Gray explores the relationship between a mother and a daughter, and the secrets that drive Grace to seek the truth no matter what the cost.

Eleanor Gray (England) has written nine novels under several pseudonyms. She began writing after a successful career in public relations and raising five children. She has published articles in Devon Today magazine and had a number of her short stories broadcast on BBC Radio. You can visit her at www.EveSeymour.co.uk.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Guest Post: C.S. Challinor - Judgment of Murder

The Story Behind the Story
by C.S. Challinor

C.S. Challinor, author of the Rex Graves Cozy Mystery series, tells all in her blog post, "The Story Behind the Story."


The recent updating and revamping of my author website at www.rexgraves.com (plug, plug) prompted the subject of this blog, which I trust you will read with the breathless anticipation you would feel for a new season of “Downton Abbey.”

Christmas Is Murder (2008) was the debut novel for my mystery series, which features Scottish barrister-sleuth, Rex Graves QC, and there was some debate at Midnight Ink as to whether it might prove too seasonal, and thereby have a limited shelf life. The acquisitions editor at the time prevailed, and it still sells best of all the Rex Graves titles to-date. I heavily brainstormed the title for that particular novel, as when naming one’s first child. It wasn't, in fact, intended to be the first book in the series. I had started writing Murder in the Raw, but the Christmas idea just sort of took over.

For Murder in the Raw (2009) I really did spend three weeks au naturel (with my husband) at an exclusive naturist resort on Saint Martin in the French West Indies, the setting for the novel. It was the best beach on the island, picture postcard perfect, and when in Rome... Would I do it again now, a decade later? Probably not. For my conservative Scots barrister, it was certainly an eye-opener.

After Phi Beta Kappa came out in 2010, I had several members of the Phi Beta Kappa Society write to my website informing me that theirs was the most prestigious and oldest existing academic honor society in America, founded at The College of William and Mary in 1776. My fraternity at a private university in Jacksonville, Florida, is quite the reverse. I should have called it Phi Beta Kaput, or similar, to avoid any confusion. Mea culpa. I was educated in the UK, and we didn't have "Greek" sororities and fraternities, though I did study ancient Greek in school and can still recite the entire alphabet. My husband who went to a non-ivy league college in Florida came up with the ΦBK, simply because the letters readily sprang to mind. One member of the illustrious society and a fan of my books, bless her, actually took the time to go through each Rex Graves book and send me a list of editorially missed typos for the “Errata” section on my website, an honor indeed.

Murder on the Moor (2011). In 2010, I returned after a long absence to the Scottish Highlands, which I used to visit as a child when living near Edinburgh from age four to fourteen. I picked out the precise spot for Gleneagle Lodge, Rex's fictional “retreat” on a loch near Spean Bridge, a village known to tourists as the crossroads of the Highlands. The euphemistically-termed retreat hosts two separate murderous events in the series and all the ensuing mayhem. I took numerous photos and made a map of the surrounding untamed countryside to refer to for Murder on the Moor and, later, Murder at Midnight.

Murder of the Bride (2012). You will always find a disclaimer at the front of a work of fiction to the effect that any resemblance of characters in the novel to people in real life is purely coincidental. Not so much. Writers inevitably draw on people they have known or met, if only in one or two physical or personality traits. A character in my wedding mystery is loosely based on someone I knew, although the fictitious person is different in nationality, age, profession, and impending familial status. I just couldn't help myself. Most authors leave a little of themselves in their books, subconsciously dipping into the great computer that is the brain where memory lies dormant, and recapturing fragments.

With Murder at Midnight (2014), I tried to emulate Christmas Is Murder, the first novel in the series, but as a New Year's Eve murder mystery; although I was aiming for more sinister and foreboding. The sort of ending I thought, retrospectively, I should have put in, I incorporated into a subsequent novel. I sometimes wish rewriting real life could be so easy!

A third of Murder Comes Calling (2015) was written on the deck of a cruise ship on the way to Aruba. While solving a spate of murders in a sleepy community in central England, Rex’s fiancée takes this same Caribbean cruise. I would get up early, grab breakfast before the hangover rush, and scribble away in a small legal pad on the newly scrubbed deck. This would go on for hours. I was in the “zone,” which I attribute to the invigorating sea breeze. Traveling is my passion. My son is a licensed boat captain, but I hardly ever get to go out on his boat. If I had my own vessel, I would probably call it Wanderlust. (I just love naming things.)

Judgment of Murder (Nov 8, 2016; Election Day!!) evolved from a short story. The publisher asked if I had a new Rex Graves novel in the works. At the time, I was writing a short story featuring my indefatigable and problem-solving barrister-sleuth. My head was in it, so away I went. The initial plot was about the murder of Lord Gordon Murgatroyd, a once redoubtable judge, in Canterbury, England (where I attended university). I added the abduction of a young girl in nearby Dover, of White Cliffs fame. Somehow the two plots forged together and a book was born of a story.

When people ask where I get my ideas from, I can never come up with a single answer. It starts from a concept (such as a snowbound hotel, a fatal wedding reception, a targeted community of homeowners); a place (a luxury resort, a Florida college); a mood (a desolate moor, a murder on the final midnight of the year); a name (a judge whose surname sounds like murder).

The next Rex Graves novel, which I'm within tantalizing sight of finishinghopefully before Christmaswas based on what I decided was a totally brilliant idea, and I even have a brilliant title for it, not an easy feat, since my titles are never more than four words, including any definite article and preposition, and must feature the all-important word MURDER. The second most important word aims to give an inkling as to what the mystery is about. A bit of alliteration can help give it a good ring. I write more confidently when I have a satisfactory title locked down. It's my signpost. It informs the story and keeps me on track.

Thank you for letting me share some of my inspirations and experiences with you.

Happy writing and reading!
Caroline 
***

It’s a dark day for Scottish barrister Rex Graves when he learns that Lord Gordon Murgatroyd has passed away. Referred to as “Judge Murder” by Rex’s colleagues, the famously severe judge supposedly died of natural causes—but his daughter Phoebe thinks otherwise. Wanting to honor the man who’d always been uncharacteristically kind to him, Rex thinks it would be a good idea to follow up on Phoebe’s suspicions . . . until a meeting with his first suspect. With a target on his back and a child abduction case gripping the region, Rex fears that the judge’s death won’t be an isolated incident.






C.S. Challinor (Florida) was educated in England and Scotland, and has traveled extensively.  Her short stories have been published in women’s magazines in the United States and the United Kingdom.



Visit all of C.S. Challinor's titles at www.MidnightInkBooks.com.



Friday, October 14, 2016

Guest Post: Kathleen Ernst - A Memory of Muskets

Two Mysteries, Two Timelines
by Kathleen Ernst

Introducing mystery author Kathleen Ernst, and her newest title A Memory of Muskets. Kathleen has taken the time to tell us about the two timelines skillfully woven throughout her book, and why she was inspired to write Rosina's story.


The Chloe Ellefson mysteries are set in the early 1980s.  But in the latest book, A Memory of Muskets, one of the main characters died decades earlier.

Chloe works as a curator at a large historic site.


The Schulz Farm, restored to its 1860 appearance at Old World Wisconsin.

Her romantic interest is local cop Roelke McKenna.  Chloe is a reluctant sleuth who gets pulled into murder investigations when  past events impact modern crimes.

Most of the Chloe mysteries have contained a historical plotline braided with the main plot.  I love giving readers a front-row seat to events that Chloe, for all her research skills, may never uncover.  When I structure a book this way, readers often know more by the end of the mystery than Chloe and Roelke do.

Two of the early books revealed stories relevant to Chloe’s Norwegian heritage.  For A Memory of Muskets, 7th in the series, I decided it was time to learn something about Roelke McKenna’s German heritage.


 This photograph was taken in the area I used as setting in A Memory of Muskets.

Chloe and Roelke’s overt challenge comes when an unidentified Civil War reenactor is found dead at Old World Wisconisin’s Schulz Farm.  While investigating the death, Chloe simultaneously plunges into research about Roelke’s great-great grandmother Rosina, hoping to solve an inexplicable mystery at his family farm.

Rosina immigrates to Wisconsin at sixteen, already promised in marriage to a man she’s never met.  The Civil War begins, and threatens to tear the German-American community apart.  Rosina does not have an easy time in her new home, and I hope she emerges as a strong, compelling character.

I’ve written lots of historical fiction, and love picking specific sensory details to help bring the period setting to life.  Rosina was particularly satisfying to write because her time and place were comfortable for me.  I once worked at the historic site where Chloe now fictitiously works.


That’s me at the Schulz Farm, 1982.

Three 1860s farms have been restored at the site, including the one that belonged to a newly-arrived German-American family.  Working as an interpreter at the Schulz Farm gave me hands-on practice with cooking, baking, processing flax into linen cloth, and other domestic chores. 

While working there I studied many immigrant diaries, letters, and reminiscences.  I was an active reenactor, portraying everyday women during the Civil War.  As Rosina’s story emerged I spent hours squinting at period newspapers preserved on microfilm, getting a feel for her specific locale.

My general familiarity with Rosina’s world allowed me to focus on her character, her experiences, her emotions.  And that’s where readers can connect with her—on an emotional level. 

My first obligation as a mystery writer is to tell a good story. In this case, I hope readers enjoy two.

***

Curator Chloe Ellefson is happily planning to spotlight home-front challenges and German immigrants at Old World Wisconsin’s first Civil War reenactment, but her overbearing boss scorns her ideas and proposes staging a mock battle instead. And when a reenactor is found dead at one of the historic site’s German farms, Chloe’s boyfriend, cop Roelke McKenna, suspects murder.


The more Roelke learns about reenacting, the more he fears that a killer will join the ranks. Then Chloe discovers a disturbing secret about Roelke’s Civil War–era ancestors. Together they struggle to solve crimes past and present . . . before Chloe loses her job and another reenactor loses his life.



Kathleen Ernst is an award-winning and bestselling author, educator, and social historian. She has published over thirty novels and two nonfiction books.  Her books for young readers include the Caroline Abbott series for American Girl.  Honors for her children's mysteries include Edgar and Agatha Award nominations.  Kathleen worked as an Interpreter and Curator of Interpretation and Collections at Old World Wisconsin, and her time at the historic site served as inspiration for the Chloe Ellefson mysteries.  The Heirloom Murders won the Anne Powers Fiction Book Award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers, and The Light Keeper's Legacy  won the Lovey Award for Best Traditional Mystery from Love Is Murder.  Ernst served as project director/scriptwriter for several instructional television series, one of which earned her an Emmy Award.  She lives in Middleton, Wisconsin.  For more information, visit her online at www.KathleenErnst.com.

Visit all of Kathleen's Chloe Ellefson Mysteries at www.MidnightInkBooks.com.



Monday, October 10, 2016

New Releases - October 2016

Don't miss Midnight Ink's October Releases!

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Now available from Midnight InkBarnes & NobleAmazonIndiebound and your local bookseller!