Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Q&A with Kathleen Ernst!

This week, we sat down with Chloe Ellefson Mystery writer Kathleen Ernst. Ernst's latest, Tradition of Deceit, is available now!

Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
Kathleen Ernst: I started writing stories when I was about 10, and wrote my first novel at 15 (the manuscript was awful, but the experience was empowering). Ten or twelve practice manuscripts later, I got my first book contract. That was twenty years and thirty books ago!

MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
KE: As a child, authors including Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, Marguerite Henry, and Anya Seton inspired me by showing that history is all about stories. I still read a lot of historical fiction, and of course many mysteries. I love mysteries that are character-driven and have a strong sense of place.

MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
KE: Well, even if I never got another book contract, I’d still write—it’s what I do, how I process the world.  If I looked for another job it would be at a park, historic site, or museum.

MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
KE: I’ve been a full-time writer for about a decade. That means having two jobs, really, with time split between actually writing and doing all the ancillary things (library visits, correspondence, writing blog posts, etc.). My earlier jobs as an interpreter and curator at a large living history museum (Old World Wisconsin), and as scriptwriter and project manager for instructional television programs, have influenced my writing. 

MI: What are your favorite things to do when you’re not writing or working?
KE: If there were a few extra hours in a day, I’d spend more time gardening, cooking, knitting, quilting, rosemaling, birdwatching, and hiking. My husband and I enjoy traveling.  Since we both like visiting historic sites, which I write about in the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, play time and work time tend to blur.

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis
MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
KE: Must I pick just one? I love Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell, Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson, Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak—all smart, capable, complex women.

MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
Kathleen at the Mill, Minneapolis
KE: My new book, Tradition of Deceit, features two cases. Chloe Ellefson investigates one murder in Minneapolis, while her significant other, Roelke McKenna, investigates the murder of a friend in Milwaukee. The book also includes a plotline that, in the end, links these two seemingly unrelated crimes. This plot structure presented some challenges, and I’ve been delighted with reader response.

MI: What was your inspiration for the Chloe Ellefson mysteries?
KE: I worked in the historic sites world for twelve years, and loved it. After moving on, I missed the work, the places, the people involved. Enter Chloe Ellefson, fictional curator.  Every book comes from my heart, and I love having the opportunity to feature different historic places and themes within the series.

MI: Tell us about Chloe Ellefson.
Kathleen, when she worked at
Old World Wisconsin
KE: Chloe is curator of collections at Old World Wisconsin, where I once worked. When the series begins she is recovering from a series of personal crises, and starting fresh at the historic site. She meets Roelke McKenna, police officer, while investigating a missing artifact.  They have a complicated relationship, but he’s good for her! Chloe is passionate about preserving historic places and telling the stories of people who might otherwise be forgotten. Her knowledge of history is needed to help solve the murders presented in each book. While she and I have some things in common, she is smarter and braver than I am, and much better at speaking her mind.

MI: How does this series compare to your past works?
KE: Most of my books have been historical fiction, including historical mysteries, written for young readers. The Chloe Ellefson books are my first novels for an adult audience. They are set in the 1980s, so I’m writing from memory, although that does make them “historical fiction” for some of my younger readers.

 MI: Do you have a pet? Tell us about him/her.
KE: My silver muted torby, Sophie, is my writing muse, companion, and lap warmer. Several times each year I travel to a quiet cottage or cabin for a week of intense writing, and Sophie always accompanies me.

MI: What food could you live off of for the rest of your life?
KE: I’ve been a vegetarian for forty years, and should start with something healthy.  Perfectly ripe peaches are my absolute favorite food. But if we’re talking about the rest of my life, I’d have to add mocha lattes, peanut butter, and really good cheese. 

MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
KE: Since Tradition of Deceit focuses on the flour milling industry, and the Mill City Museum, I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with old recipes. One of my recent favorites is Old-Time Cinnamon Jumbles, which is an old Gold Medal Flour recipe.   The recipe is posted on my blog:

MI: What’s your favorite part about being an Inker?
KE: The camaraderie and support among the Inkers.  I’ve made great friends and discovered wonderful books since joining the group. 

Tradition of Deceit, the fifth Chloe Ellefson mystery, is available online and in bookstores now!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Q&A with Mark Stevens!

This week, we sat down with Mark Stevens, who just made his Midnight Ink debut with Trapline!

Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
Mark Stevens: Since 1984. Yikes! Thirty years. I wasn’t published until 2007 (seven short years ago). Stubborn? A bit.  I learned so much before finally “breaking through” and even more since then.

MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
MS: Wow. How long do you have? An hour? All day? From Joseph Conrad to John Updike, from Patricia Highsmith to Nevada Barr and Tony Hillerman, writers I love show me there are many ways of capturing humanity on a page. I’m the son of two librarians (it’s true) so books and reading have been a way of life since I was old enough to hold a book.

MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
MS: Bass player in the band Cracker, one of the best rock bands on the planet.  Speaking of writers—the songwriters in that band, David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, are strong writers. Great imagery and ideas in the lyrics. That bass-playing job is not currently open, alas. But while I have your attention, Cracker has a new double album coming out next month: “From Berkeley to Bakersfield.” Can’t wait. And the band is playing Denver on New Year’s Eve this year. Please don’t me going about this band. I might never stop.  I think David Lowery knows the secret to the universe. (But he’s just not telling us.) 

MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
MS: I have my own public relations and communications business and work with a number of very cool clients—a small school district in the Denver area, a non-profit that works with poor families, and Denver’s shared-bike system, Denver B-cycle. Among others.

MI: What is/are your favorite thing/s to do when you’re not writing or working?
MS: I’m a decent cook and enjoy it. I’m a decent bass player (and should get better). And I love hanging out in Denver (restaurants, movies, theater) and around Colorado.  Must do more camping and hiking next year, especially in the Flat Tops Wilderness where the Allison Coil Mysteries are set.  I know that sounds self-serving but it’s one of the most beautiful places on the state. Just don’t tell anyone. Please. Whatever you do, keep this between us.

MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
MS: I’m a big fan of Walt Longmire—in the series of mystery novels by Craig Johnson. (I thought the television version didn’t quite nail the Longmire character.) Johnson’s Longmire is a restrained intellect and regards humanity with a near-poetic eye. I also liked Jim Chee in Tony Hillerman’s books and Anna Pigeon in the Nevada Barr series. Anna is highly underrated. She is such a strong character and delivers strong “point of view” every time. I like good crime-solving in mysteries. But I also dig good crimes and criminals. Got a dark side.

MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
MS: How about a favorite plot? I love Suspension of Mercy by Patricia Highsmith. A frustrated mystery writer decides one weekend, while his wife is away, to go through the motions of pretending to murder her.  So, of course, he can “feel” what it’s like. And what happens? Well, the wife goes missing. And our “hero” is investigated for her death. I really can’t give away the ending. OK, yes I can. I’ll be obtuse. Pretend turns real. That doesn’t give away too much, does it. A spine-chilling read. 

MI: What was your inspiration for the Allison Coil mysteries?
MS: She’s based on someone I met! Today she’s a veterinarian in Western Colorado but at the time she was a hunting guide in the Flat Tops Wilderness.  (Again, the most beautiful area in the state, but don’t tell anyone.) I remember the moment I met her and thought, boom, here’s a perfect character for a mystery novel. I mean, a strong woman in a man’s world of hunting. So, you’ve got guns handy. And harsh conditions, rugged terrain, and usually some alcohol around the hunting camps. So the inspiration for Allison Coil was both the woman and the setting. The day that happened was like finding out you had two winning lottery tickets.  

MI: Tell us about Allison Coil!
MS: First, she’s a refugee from the city. She survived a commercial airplane crash in New York City. The crash haunts her. Surviving haunts her. Seatmates died. She didn’t. She was a typical big-city young professional and, then, as part of recovering from her injuries she recuperated in the Flat Tops Wilderness (have I mentioned this is an amazing part of the state?). She now considers the Flat Tops her healing spot. She isn’t leaving. She learned to ride horses, learned to guide hunts and now owns an outfitting business. She will do whatever it takes to protect the Flat Tops. 

MI: How does this series compare to your other works?
MS: It’s more “outdoors.” My other three completed mysteries are all city-based.  All set in Denver. 

MI: Do you have a pet? Tell us about him/her.
MS: In late October, we said goodbye to our black lab mix Hercules, who was with us for nearly 15 years. He was two when we got him and he watched our two daughters grow up from little girls to young women. Isn’t incredible how dogs become part of the family? Just unbelievable. We also have two black cats, Zipper and Sadie. Two very different cats who have found a way to cohabitate. Sort of.

MI: What food could you live off of for the rest of your life?
MS: A perfectly spicy tortilla soup. Or anything Mexican, really. Or Italian. Or Mediterranean, you know, like Greek food is wonderful. Or . . .

MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
MS: This one from is like one I’ve been making for decades.  The best part is slathering on amazing mango chutney or something . . . store-bought or homemade.  Apple chutney is great, too.  So when the recipe mentions about sour cream at the end, imagine a few scoops of chutney, too. This recipe is an excuse to eat great chutney.

1 lb. ground turkey
2 green onions, diced
1 (7 1/2 oz.) can tomatoes, cut up—drain the juice off !
1 med. green pepper, chopped (totally optional)
1/2 c. shredded carrot
1/4 c. raisins
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 (9") unbaked pie crusts
1 beaten egg
Plain yogurt or sour cream
Chives, optional

For Filling: In 10 inch skillet cook turkey and onion until brown; drain fat, stir in undrained tomatoes, pepper, carrot, raisins, curry powder, cumin and pepper. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Remove cover and cook until liquid evaporates. Spoon into bowl and cool.

For Pastry: Roll out two 9 inch circular pastries and sprinkle with flour. Spread filling on half of pie crust and fold. Seal and flute edges. Cut side in crust to let steam escape. Transfer to cookie sheet for baking. Brush with beaten egg. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with dollops of plain yogurt or sour cream mixed with chives. 4-6 servings.

MI: What is your favorite part about being an Inker?

MS: Having the whole team behind me—editors (Terri and Connie), publicist (Beth), and cover designers. (I sure hope Lisa Novak designs the cover of my next book because how much I love the cover for Trapline).

Trapline, An Allison Coil Mystery, is available online and in bookstores now! And, if you're in the Denver-area, don't miss Mark's launch party this Friday (November 21) at 7:00 p.m.!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

November 2014 Books Available Now!

Don't miss Midnight Ink's latest releases!

"Allison's third adventure . . . combines a loving portrait of a beautiful area with an ugly, all-too-believable conspiracy that could have been ripped from today's headlines."
Kirkus Reviews on Trapline

"Ernst keeps getting better with each entry in this fascinating series."
Library Journal on Tradition of Deceit

“Action-filled . . . Jaffarian neatly pulls all the plot lines together for a satisfying outcome."
Publishers Weekly on Hell on Wheels

"A strong protagonist."
Library Journal on Bloody Politics

Now available from Midnight InkBarnes & NobleAmazon, Indiebound, and your local bookseller!