Friday, November 9, 2018

Cats, Florida, and the Tarot: A Guest Post from FOOL'S MOON Author Diane A.S. Stuckart



We welcome Diane A.S. Stuckart, author of the new Fool's Moon, the first book in the Tarot Cats Mystery Series, to Midnight Ink's blog today! Here she talks about why cats, the tarot, and the state of Florida are so central to her new book.

Cats. Florida. Tarot.

Those three words are the soul of Fool's Moon, the first in my new Tarot Cats Mystery series. It's been one of my favorite books ever to write, mostly because each of those words has special meaning to me. And since this is a "get to know you" kind of blog post, let me explain so you can learn about me, as well as about my series.

Cats. I grew up as a Crazy Cat Kid (can I trademark that phrase?). Numerous of my childhood photos show me carrying, petting, or otherwise engaging with a feline. Unfortunately, my parents weren't exactly animal lovers, which meant that when I grew up that I surrounded myself with critters.

My current clowder (the official term for tons o' cats) consists of my orange tabby brothers, Butch and Sundance, and sibling black cats Brandon Bobtail and Ophelia. And, yes, the latter pair are the inspiration for Brandon and Ophelia in Fool's Moon. But as plotting circumstances worked out, the personalities of my real life kitties and their fictional counterparts swapped themselves. The Brandon in Fool's Moon is smart and levelheaded. Real life Brandon is a loving but feisty little (well, big) butthead. Similarly, the real life Ophelia is sweet and mostly defers to her brother, while fictional Ophelia is the mouthy one.

Florida. I've lived in South Florida for more than a dozen years now, moving from Texas, where I was born and lived most of my life. Being a Texas native has always been a crucial facet of my identity, in part because our ranks are dwindling as more people move to the Lone Star State. I have found, however, that the Sunshine State has a similar pride of birth, with even fewer native Floridians to be found. The folks here are equally independent (remember that the Keys once seceded from the nation), and even more of a cultural mix, from Native Americans to Cubans to Haitians to New Yorkers. Perhaps it's that mix that makes the state more than a little quirky (when was the last time someone in Connecticut tossed a live gator through a fast food drive-thru window?). And that quirkiness made me eager to set the Tarot Cats Mysteries here in my new home.

Tarot. I've been fascinated by the Tarot ever since I was a teen in the 70s. As a storyteller, I'm drawn to its "hero's journey" imagery and the deep symbolism of the cards. However, like my human protagonist in Fool's Moon, Ruby Sparks, I don't see Tarot decks and Tarot readers as anything supernatural. As Ruby would tell you, the Tarot is simply a tool for self-discovery.

But what's this about cats reading Tarot in Fool's Moon? Yep, Ophelia learns to interpret the cards by watching Ruby and thinks she does a much better job of it than her human. And, full circle, her readings serve to set her and Brandon off on a literal journey of their little part of Florida.

***

Fool's Moon Two tarot-savvy cats and their tenderhearted human outwit a cruel criminal in this animal-centric whodunit.

Most days, Ruby Sparks feels like the sign that says "Tarot Card Reader Extraordinaire" should say "Tarot Card Reader Fairly Competent." But as challenging as it is to take care of her half-sister's New Age shop—and her growing menagerie of enchanted pets—Ruby never worries that she's bitten off more than she can chew...until a customer wants her to divine the truth about a murder.

When her own life is threatened with a double dose of danger, Ruby begins to wonder if she's being played for a fool. Luckily, she has Ophelia and Brandon—sibling black cats with a talent for tarot—and a feisty pit bull friend who all lend a paw in collaring the culprit before Ruby finds herself taking her final cat nap.


Praise:

"[Stuckart] writes throughout with charm and warmth. Anyone with a pet will enjoy."
Kirkus Reviews



Diane A.S. Stuckart is the New York Times bestselling author of the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series. She's also the author of the award-winning Leonardo da Vinci historical mysteries, as well as several historical romances and numerous short stories. Her Tarot connection is even more sprawling. She's been an on-and-off student of Tarot since she was a teenager, though she confesses to being more of a collector of decks than a reader. She will, however pull out the cards for a friend on occasion.

Diane has served as Chapter President of the Mystery Writers of America Florida chapter, is a member of the Cat Writers' Association, and also belongs to the Palm Beach County Beekeepers Association. She lives west of West Palm Beach with her husband, dogs, cats—including the real-life Brandon Bobtail and Ophelia—and a few beehives. Visit her online at http://www.tarotcats.com.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Inspiration from...Beyond? A Guest Post from A VINTAGE DEATH Author Mary Ellen Hughes



We welcome Mary Ellen Hughes, author of the new Vintage Death, the second book in the Keepsake Cove Mystery Series, to Midnight Ink's blog today! Here she talks how her inspiration for her latest series may have come from...beyond.

When I started putting together my thoughts about a new mystery series, I knew that at least two elements would be in it: a female protagonist and a small town setting. I had nothing more than that, but little by little ideas began to form. One of the basic "rules" of fiction writing is to write what you know. This can refer to what you already know or to what you can research and learn. I started with things I knew and sifted through them for something intriguing. A story I'd heard some years ago fit that bill.

There's a very old house down the road from me. Old enough to be historical, but in a small way, meaning George Washington never slept there. The couple that bought it happened to move in on a stormy night—yes, a dark and stormy night! This old house had a few pieces of furniture left behind, and as the couple carried in their boxes, they heard a very faint sound of music. They eventually tracked it down to an old, roll-top desk, which was closed and locked.

The husband managed to pry it open, and inside they found an old music box—which was playing. Nobody had wound it, of course, so it was a bit spooky, to say the least. They eventually decided that "Gerard," a long-ago deceased owner who may or may not have been seen on the premises over the years, had welcomed them, and they took it as a very positive sign.

That story stayed with me, and I decided to work it into my new Keepsake Cove series. I set A Fatal Collection in a collectible music box shop. My protagonist's Aunt Melodie, who dies early in the story, seems to communicate at crucial times to her niece, Callie, through her favorite music box. Or does she? Callie never knows for sure, but she kind of likes the idea of being looked after in that way.

With that start, I created Keepsake Cove, a town-within-a-town of shops that specialize in all kinds of collectibles, including the music box shop. The shopkeepers seem to be good people. Or are they? This is a mystery, of course, and bad things have to happen. Once I had my beginning, I was on a roll, and all because of that mysterious music box playing on its own one night many years ago.

A Fatal Collection is now followed by A Vintage Death. I hope you'll want to find out if the music box continues to warn Callie (if that’s what it's actually doing,) and meet the new people who've come to Keepsake Cove. One of them happens to be an author, who I enjoyed creating from a mix of the many different authors I've met over the years. Will you recognize them? Maybe not, since I've also added ingredients from my imagination. But they definitely helped inspire me as I once again followed the rule of "write what you know."

The intriguing thing to me is how "what you know" can quickly turn into something you never imagined before. But that's all part of the fun of writing fiction!

***

A Vintage Death Callie Reed has put together a special event, but a killer is ripping it apart at the seams

As the new owner of a music box store in Keepsake Cove, a quaint town full of collectible shops on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Callie Reed is eager to get more involved in her community. So she volunteers to plan the fall street decorations and welcome a visiting author who's come for a special book signing. But the celebratory mood is cut short when the local B&B owner is found dead, killed with a pair of vintage scissors.

Suspicion is cast on the victim's estranged wife, Dorothy, who owns Keepsake Cove's vintage sewing shop. Callie is sure Dorothy is innocent, and the visiting author agrees. Together, they begin their own investigation, only to discover that many people in Keepsake Cove have secrets. Secrets that are worth killing to keep.


Praise for the Keepsake Cove Mystery Series:

"Hughes kicks off her new Keepsake Cove series with a charming locale."
Kirkus Reviews



Mary Ellen Hughes is the bestselling author of the Pickled and Preserved Mysteries (Penguin), the Craft Corner Mysteries, and the Maggie Olenski Mysteries, along with several short stories. A Fatal Collection is her debut with Midnight Ink. Visit her at www.MaryEllenHughes.com.

Friday, October 19, 2018

A Strong Sense of Place: A Guest Post from Kathleen Ernst




We welcome Kathleen Ernst, author of the new Lace Maker's Secret, the ninth book in the Chloe Ellefson Mystery Series, to Midnight Ink's blog today! Here she talks about why the setting is such an important element of a book.

Authors sometimes debate which is most important: character or plot. Character comes first, in my opinion, but the discussion itself often ignores an element that should rank right up there in the top tier: setting.

As a reader, I gravitate toward books that provide me with a strong sense of place, books that transport me somewhere new with complete authenticity. I try to do the same with the Chloe Ellefson mysteries.

Chloe is a curator at a large outdoor ethnic museum called Old World Wisconsin, a real site where I once worked as a curator. When writing the first book in the series, writer friends urged me to create a fictional historic site. I couldn't imagine doing so. I knew, and wanted to share with readers, real and special historic places.

As the series has progressed, books have featured other museums and historic sites in the Midwest. The ninth book in the series, The Lace Maker's Secret, is set in northeastern Wisconsin, home to the largest rural community of Belgian-Americans in the nation. Chloe has been hired to develop a furnishings plan for a Belgian Farm being restored at Heritage Hill Historical Park in Green Bay.

The Lace Maker's Secret includes a strand of historical fiction braided with Chloe's story. It introduces Seraphine, who immigrated to Wisconsin in the 1850s with her new husband. The Belgians came looking to farm, and were granted acreage in forested land instead. This is how I described their arrival:
"Jean-Paul," Seraphine hissed."This can't—" She stumbled, fell to one knee, clambered back to her feet. "This can't be right." The uncertainty in her husband's eyes did nothing to stay her growing unease.

…They were following their guide through a forest, deeper and deeper, away from the bay of Green Bay which had, for a time, glimmered through the trees. There was no trail, just several inches of slushy snow to hide roots and rocks. They shoved through thickets and skidded down ravines and clambered over windfalls. The trees were so tall and thick that midday was gloomy as twilight. Every strange bird call startled Seraphine. Every cracking branch made her jump. The cold pressed into her bones, numbed her toes. She carried a bulky sack over one shoulder. The skillet dangling from one mittened hand slipped from her grasp over and over. …How could the guide possibly know where he was going? They'd been walking for hours. There were no landmarks. The endless forest had swallowed them.


The Belgian immigrants faced hunger, epidemics, and a devastating forest fire. I couldn't hope to convey Seraphine's story without imagining the place where she landed.

While researching the mystery I spent a lot of time in Green Bay talking with site staff and volunteers, digging through the employee library, visiting local historical societies. But one of the most meaningful things I do when developing a new book is less academic: I settle in.

There is something powerful about walking the ground where 19th-century immigrants once walked. There is something powerful about gaining insight into their environment, and how it impacted their lives. There is something powerful about simply hunkering down with a notebook in hand to record the specific sensory details that will help bring a description to life.

I hope readers will enjoy being conveyed to another time and place as much as I do.

***

The Lace Maker's Secret Greed, Uncertainty, and Death Get Tangled in the Mystery of a Rare Piece of Belgian Lace

Curator Chloe Ellefson needs distraction from the unsettling family secret she's just learned. It doesn't help that her boyfriend, Roelke McKenna, has been troubled for weeks and won't say why. Chloe hopes a consulting job at Green Bay's Heritage Hill Historical Park, where an old Belgian-American farmhouse is being restored, will be a relaxing escape. Instead she discovers a body in a century-old bake oven.

Chloe's research suggests that a rare and valuable piece of lace made its way to nearby Door County, Wisconsin, with the earliest Belgian settlers. More importantly, someone is desperate to find it. Inspired by a courageous Belgian woman who survived cholera, famine, and the Great Fire, Chloe must untangle clues to reveal secrets old and new...before the killer strikes again.


Praise:

"In this heartfelt tale of labor and love, Ernst produces one of her most winning combinations of historical evocation and clever mystery."
Kirkus Reviews



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. For more information, visit her online at KathleenErnst.com.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Are Ghosts Real: A Guest Post from E.J. Copperm



We welcome E.J. Copperman, author of the new Question of the Dead Mistress, the fifth book in the Asperger's Mystery Series, to Midnight Ink's blog today! Here he talks about whether or not he believes in ghosts, like the one in his new book.

"Do you believe in ghosts?"

I actually get that question considerably more often than most walking-around civilians. I understand the question, and no, I'm not ever going to give you an answer.

I write a series of mystery books about a woman who runs a guesthouse on the Jersey Shore that just happens to be haunted. So people—and I get why—want to know where I stand on the Casper-and-his-Friends question.

I don't answer because I don't want to annoy any of my readers. If I say I do think there are undead spirits inhabiting various structures around the world, the ones who think that's silly will think I'm silly. If I say no, the people who read the books for the ghosts could easily feel betrayed. So I'm staying mum on the Ghost Question, and by that I don't mean the movie with Patrick Swayze. Whoopi definitely earned her Oscar.

But in the latest Asperger's Mystery series (which I write with Jeff Cohen) novel, The Question of the Dead Mistress, the main character Samuel Hoenig, who has personality traits that some would say place him on the autism spectrum, has to answer the question, and he has a very quick answer.

No.

Samuel, whose mind deals with facts and that which is provable, refuses to admit to his brain the concept. People die, and that's it. Samuel has no definitive proof that anything else might be the case, so it's not an issue for him.

When a client walks into the office of Samuel's storefront business Questions Answered (it's all there in the business name) and asks if her husband is having an extramarital affair with a deceased woman, Samuel answers her question immediately, and without charge: No, he's not, because there's no such thing as a ghost.

But Samuel has a problem: His most trusted associate, Ms. Washburn, does believe, based on an experience she had as a teenager. So she wants to attack the question and answer it definitively for the woman who has ventured into the office with concerns about her husband and a spirit.

They arrive at what seems like a perfectly equitable solution: Janet (Ms. Washburn) will research the question and Samuel will work on some of the business' other files. Given Janet's intelligence and experience, that would work out just fine—until the husband in question ends up just as dead as the woman his wife suspected he was seeing on the side. And he has not died due to natural causes.

The Ghost Question never really leaves the story, but it is added to the question of the also-dead husband. Astute readers will note that the authors do not necessarily settle the existential issue, and that's intentional.
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***

The Question of the Dead Mistress "Is my husband having an affair with a dead woman?"


For Samuel Hoenig, the proprietor of a unique agency called Questions Answered, the answer to this most recent question is simple. Since there's absolutely no evidence that apparitions exist, it would be impossible for Ginny Fontaine's husband to be having an affair with one.

But Samuel's associate, Janet Washburn, isn't so easily convinced.

Wrestling with his complicated feelings for Ms. Washburn, Samuel proposes that she take the lead on the question. As soon as her research begins, the husband in question ends up dead, leaving Janet and Samuel wondering if they stand a ghost of a chance at unraveling this twisted tale of danger and deceit.


Praise for the Asperger's Mysteries:

"Readers will delight in watching Copperman's literal-minded hero grapple not only with unpredictable and nuanced human thinking, but with logic from beyond the grave."
Kirkus Reviews



E.J. Copperman and Jeff Cohen are the authors of The Question of the Dead Mistress, the fifth Asperger's Mystery novel. And no, they're not going to tell you what they think about ghosts. But whatever you believe, they agree with that

Friday, October 5, 2018

It Was the Best of Advice, It Was the Worst of Advice...Or, Write What You Know: A Guest Post from C.M. Wendelboe



We welcome C.M. Wendelboe, author of the new Hunting the Saturday Night Strangler, the second book in the Bitter Wind Mystery Series, to Midnight Ink's blog today! Here he talks about writing what you know.

Inspired by stories that had to be written as a young boy, I studied ad nauseum what few books and magazines I could that might guide me. And every one hammered on one of the basic tenets of writing—write what you know. That was all fine and good for someone with life experiences, but what could I write about if I followed this rule? I worked on farms as a kid, and those were the sole experiences from which I could draw.

Years later, after a discharge from the Marines, I continued to follow this advice and wrote a novel set in Vietnam during that conflict. It was horrible. Even though I wrote just what I knew, it was boring and inflexible and read like a flat documentary. So, I thought about what really interested me, and I recalled what I enjoyed reading as a youngster—Westerns. But I didn't know much about the West back in the day, so I studied historical periodicals, books, talked with elderly folks who lived during those times. And suddenly, I knew the West and could write about those events comfortably.

And I got to thinking how that advice—write what you know—hamstrung me for years. No one nowadays lived during the Roman Empire reign, for instance, yet there are so many incredible and informative stories about that time period. Same with stories about—pick one—the American Civil War, England during the time of the Tudors or the Stuarts, the culture of the mountain men in the West.

So now, I do not hesitate writing about subjects about which I have no clue. Research develops those clues, that knowledge necessary to write about a time period or a subject with conviction.

In writing murder mysteries, I confess as a career lawman that I write about what I know. But I cannot know every aspect of crime drama, cannot know every area of forensics, for example. And when I enter a place where I am not familiar enough, I research until I am writing what I know.

I have talked with so many aspiring writers who have a burning desire to tell a tale set in a period they know little about, or characters they have a hard time developing because they know little of the subject they wish to explore. But with sufficient drive to know the era, know the characters, they can become subject matter experts.

Lastly, I’d like to think established writers should also be teachers, helping aspiring writers to reach their goals. So whenever struggling writers get the chance, whenever they meet successful professionals, they should engage the writer, and learn from those conversations. Combined with exhaustive research into their chosen era, they can—with conviction—write what they know.

***

Hunting the Saturday Night Strangler Retired homicide detective Arn Anderson tracks a coldblooded killer in this riveting novel of suspense by the author of Hunting the Five Point Killer.

Two innocent victims, strangled to death on consecutive Saturday nights. Even as they see the pattern emerging, retired detective Arn Anderson and TV reporter Ana Maria Villarreal can't seem to convince the Cheyenne police that the killer may strike again.

Hunting a remorseless murderer leads Arn and Ana Maria down a rabbit hole of ranchers and rustlers. But the closer they come to catching the killer, the more they're met with suspicion. And when their investigation collides with a desperate act of violence, they wonder whether they're unwinding the killer's twisted thread of clues or tightening their own noose.



Praise for the Bitter Wind Mysteries:

"A slow-burning cold case with copious clues, conscientious detection, a high body count, periodic interruptions from the killer's viewpoint, and all the pages and pages of unraveling you'd expect from such a generously plotted mystery."
Kirkus Reviews

"Wendelboe is a skilled writer who ratchets up the suspense."
—Margaret Coel, New York Times bestselling author of Winter's Child


C. M. Wendelboe (Cheyenne, WY) is the author of the Spirit Road Mysteries (Penguin). During his thirty-eight-year career in law enforcement, he served successful stints as a sheriff’s deputy, police chief, policy adviser, and supervisor for several agencies. He was a patrol supervisor when he retired to pursue his true vocation as a fiction writer. Visit him online at www.SpiritRoadMysteries.com.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Finding the Story for BELOW THE TREE LINE: A Guest Post from Author Susan Oleksiw



We welcome Susan Oleksiw, author of the new Below the Tree Line, the first book in the new Pioneer Valley Mystery Series, to Midnight Ink's blog today! Here she shares the inspiration for Below the Tree Line.

A few years ago I was facing the end of one mystery series and trying to think up an interesting setting and protagonist for something new. An idea might come to me, but I'd put it aside because it wasn't compelling, and besides, I had other things to think about. In their retirement years my parents did the unexpected: they sold their home in a lovely town on the ocean and, in their seventies, bought a farm and went back to the land.

I watched this with some amusement, following my father along the trails he cut in the woods, waving to the farmer on his tractor, getting to know the neighbors at church suppers. My mother went back to canning vegetables from her small garden, something she hadn't done since the 1950s. They ate a lot of zucchini.

When my parents died I found myself the owner of a farm that consisted of large tracts of woods and a field rented to another farmer. I also found myself responsible for the periodic forestry management plans required by the state.

I'd helped with some of this legal work while my mother was still alive, but the full extent wasn't clear until I was solely responsible for all of it. I learned a lot about trees, ecology, forestry, and more. The work was interesting, the foresters helpful and informative, and a walk in the woods always a pleasure. I learned about this part of New England and read farm journals. And then it dawned on me. Why not use what I knew for a new series featuring a farmer whose farm is mostly wood products?

I invented a fictional farming community in the Pioneer Valley, to distinguish the area from the Berkshires, populated the town with a variety of friends and small-business owners based on long-gone relatives, and gave my protagonist a barn cat (everyone needs a cat to control the mice population) and a rescue dog (what's a walk in the woods without a dog?).

As I sketched out the first story, for Below the Tree Line, I was flooded with memories of all the evenings my brothers and parents sat around telling stories about the dairy farm where we'd been born, in Connecticut, my great-grandfather's farm (a man I knew), the farming community where my mother spent every summer of her childhood, and the occasional swamp Yankee we encountered. It turned out I knew more about this life than I realized.

My protagonist, Felicity O'Brien, took shape as the daughter and granddaughter of farmers, but also as the daughter of a line of women with a special gift for healing. This nugget of character came from an encounter with a small church whose members participated in healing services. Despite their apparent special gifts, they were ordinary folk anyone might encounter in the community--teachers, accountants, health care workers, loggers, shop owners. It was their matter-of-factness about their healing practices that caught my imagination.

The more I explored my fictional world in this part of New England, the more interesting it became. Instead of finding myself in an isolated community, I discovered the way these rural areas link to the larger world and feel every wave or wind brushing over the entire country. And all the while they are striving to maintain a way of life few even know about anymore.

***

Below the Tree Line In the Massachusetts countryside, family secrets run deep...but an outside threat could uproot them all

Felicity O'Brien hopes the warning shot fired from her porch is enough to scare off the intruder who's been snooping around her family's Massachusetts farm. Days later, when two young women are found dead nearby, Felicity can't figure out how the deaths are related, and even her inherited healing touch isn't enough to ease the community's pain over the tragic loss.

Felicity does know that somebody wants something bad enough to kill for it, but all she has is the neglected property her parents passed down to her. Joining forces with her friend Jeremy Colson, Felicity tries to uncover the truth and save herself and her land from those who are capable of unthinkable harm.



Praise for Below the Tree Line:

"Oleksiw crafts a classic small-town mystery...where a closely knit cast of characters are forced to wrestle with the unwanted intrusion of the modern world that threatens long-standing traditions."
—Sheila Connolly, New York Times bestselling author of the County Cork Mystery series

"A woman with healing hands and a rescued dog trap a killer in Susan Oleksiw's engaging Below the Tree Line."
—Hallie Ephron, New York Times bestselling author of You'll Never Know, Dear


Susan Oleksiw (Massachusetts) is the author of the Mellingham mystery series and the Anita Ray mystery series. She is the co-founder of Level Best Books, which publishes an annual anthology of the best New England crime fiction. Her writing has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and she served as co-editor for The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing. Visit Susan online at www.SusanOleksiw.com.