Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My Writing Mood Ring

By: Deirdre Verne

When I first started writing, I found I could only be creative when I was happy. Not mildly happy. I’m talking ecstatically happy -- running through a field of sunflowers in a wispy summer dress type of happy. For the words to come, I had to feel bubbly and light. It didn’t take me long to realize that this state of euphoria, although wonderful, is rare. Given this strict criteria, I calculated that it would take me a decade to crank out a three-line haiku.

In the name of progress, I’ve since learned to write through my moods, good and bad. I’ve also mastered the art of writing while sick or injured. This includes a stint recovering from back-surgery and then a broken ankle. After all that, I can say one thing for sure: no matter how badly I feel when I start writing, I most certainly feel better when I’ve finished for the night. In fact, if I ever want to feel like I’ve run through a field of sunflowers, all I need to do is create that feeling on paper. And if I’m not entirely thrilled with what I’ve written, I know there’s a library full of books to take me to my field of flowers, imagined into being by other writers just like me.

Deirdre Verne (Lower Westchester, NY) is a college professor who is currently the curriculum chair of the marketing program at Westchester Community College. Previously, she held senior marketing positions at Time, Inc. Her latest novel, Drawing Conclusions will be available through Midnight Ink in Febuary, 2015.

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!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Fiction, Gratitude, and Real Change

Like most of you, I've begun preparations for Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season. I'm also working like mad to get ready for the January 8th launch of A Killer Retreat. All things considered, it seems appropriate for this blog article to focus on gratitude. 

I’m grateful for so many things: my sweet puppy-girl Tasha, my supportive wonder-spouse Marc, the cool sweetness of the cherry/beet smoothie I drank for breakfast, the warm, soft snuggle socks wrapping my feet. I rarely, however, remember to be grateful for my admittedly saggy mattress, heat I can turn on with the flip of a thermostat, or a safe place to shower every morning.  I take all of that for granted.
Many people aren’t nearly so lucky.  

Like George, the murder victim in my first book, Murder Strikes a Pose.
George is a completely fictional character, as is the Dollars for Change newspaper that he sells.  His story, however, was inspired by vendors of a similar newspaper in Seattle called Real Change.
I’ve always been impressed by the tenets of Real Change.  Real Change publishes stories about the challenges of the homeless in Seattle while employing those same homeless individuals as sales people.  The organization doesn’t offer the homeless a handout; it offers them hand up: the opportunity to earn money while helping promote true social change. 
I have befriended many of their vendors.  Some have worked for the paper for well over a decade.   Others get the help they need and move on. One striking woman has not only pulled herself out of life on the street, she has also become an effective advocate for those who are still homeless.  Even though her situation has changed, she knows there is still much more work to be done.
It’s easy to walk by and ignore those less fortunate--more comfortable not to look.  But each one of those individuals is a unique human being with an often tragic backstory.  Given the right circumstances, any one of us could find ourselves living on the street next to them.
In the opening scene of Murder Strikes a Pose, yoga teacher Kate tries to get rid of the vendor hawking papers outside her yoga studio’s front door. Not because she’s an uncaring person, but because doing so would make her life significantly easier.  Lucky for Kate, George and his crazy German shepherd Bella refuse to leave. Inviting George and Bella into her life will soon change Kate, in every way for the better.  May we all be as lucky.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, filled with abundance, joy, gratitude, and compassion.  May all of our actions help promote real change.

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

About Tracy:

My writing is an expression of the things I love best: yoga, dogs, and murder mysteries. I'm a certified yoga teacher and the founder of Whole Life Yoga, an award-winning yoga studio in Seattle, WA. I enjoy sharing my passion for yoga and animals in any form possible.  My husband and I live with our challenging yet amazing German shepherd Tasha and our bonito flake-loving cat Maggie. When I’m not writing, I spend my time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sipping Blackthorn cider at my favorite local ale house.

For more information, visit me online at and

Thursday, November 20, 2014

November Releases!

By: Maegan Beaumont

Check out these exciting new reads!

Bloody Politics
By: Maggie Sefton 
A Molly Malone Mystery #3 
"A strong protagonist."—LIBRARY JOURNAL

 Hell on Wheels
By: Sue Ann Jaffarian 
The Odelia Grey Mysteries #9
“Action-filled . . . Jaffarian neatly pulls all the plot lines together for a satisfying outcome."—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“Trapline rings as true as the beautiful mountains and valleys that frame this exciting, tense drama of today’s Colorado.”—Manuel Ramos, award-winning author of
Desperado: A Mile High Noir

"Ernst keeps getting better with each entry in this fascinating series."—LIBRARY JOURNAL

Maegan Beaumont is the author of the award-winning Sabrina Vaughn thriller series. The third installment, Promises to Keep, will be released in the late summer of 2015 by Midnight Ink.

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.!

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Very Best Thing

By: Maegan Beaumont

This past weekend, I attended my very first Bouchercon... and it was wonderful. Here is a list of some of the great things that happened to me:
1) I met loads of my fellow MInkers. I liked them and I think a few might like me back.
2) I had the opportunity to develop some fledgling friendships (I'm looking at you, Shannon Baker!).
3) I sat in on a last minute and decidedly awesome panel called WOMEN KILL AT MYSTERY. An entire hour dedicated to singing the praises of unsung (and undersung) mystery writers by their contemporaries. It was hangs down, the best hour I spent at B'con.
4) I was invited to dinner by my very good friend, Les Edgerton (who is a terrific Noir writer, you should check him out). We haven't seen each other in a while and it was so nice to see him again--I really love that guy!
5) Our very own Catriona McPherson took home an Anthony for best paperback!
6) I was invited to participate in a panel called EXPERIENCING FEAR with some of my most favorite writers. 

All of these things were fantastic but there was one thing that happened that I have decided was the very best thing that has happened to me as a writer so far...

During my panel (and I'm sitting shoulder to shoulder with Alison Gaylin and Alex Sokoloff--a couple of heavy hitters, for sure), I notice a little girl in the audience. She's about 10 and she's with her mom and I think to myself, what in the world is she doing here? We're talking about some pretty gritty stuff. I hope she's not freaked out...

And then she raises her hand and announces to the room that she's currently writing a novel about a serial killer and proceeds to ask some of the most thought-provoking and intelligent questions I have ever been asked. I was floored by this young woman's confidence and curiosity. 

But that's not the very best thing...

The very best thing is that after the panel, as everyone is filing out, this young writer approaches the panel... and asks me (ME!) writing advice.

I came down off the platform and sat with her for a few minutes. We talked about writing and I gave her my email address and invited her to write to me. I didn't ask for her name or for a picture--because, hello! Minor!--but I really hope she writes to me. At her age I was a writer but I didn't have the self-confidence to proclaim it to the world and I certainly didn't have the self-confidence to ask another (grown-up) writer for advice. 

Young writer, whoever you are, you are awesome! Thank you for being my very best thing--I hope I helped you as much as you helped me.

Maegan Beaumont is the author of CARVED IN DARKNESS, the first book in the Sabrina Vaughn thriller series (Available through Midnight Ink, spring 2013). A native Phoenician, Maegan’s stories are meant to make you wonder what the guy standing in front of you in the Starbucks line has locked in his basement, and feel a strong desire to sleep with the light on. When she isn’t busy fulfilling her duties as Domestic Goddess for her high school sweetheart turned husband, Joe, and their four children, she is locked in her office with her computer, her coffee pot and her Rhodesian Ridgeback, and one true love, Jade.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Never Put Off Until Tomorrow...

by Shannon Baker

I had a colonoscopy this week.

The only remarkable thing about it was how totally unremarkable it was. Sure, I got a little hungry. And I had a kind of queasy hour or so before I got into the flow, but in the grand scheme of things, it was much less painful than sitting through August in Osage County.

And yet, if you swept all the annoyance at being harassed by my health care providers, the dread of having to do it, the effort of putting it off, the bone-deep belief that the test would reveal nothing but the cutest colon, and the nagging of caring friends, you’d see a pile of negativeness far larger and lumpier than the mild inconvenience of the actual procedure.
Which brings me to marketing. As it would.
Much like my conviction that the colonoscopy would be torture, I’ve convinced myself that marketing is the Devil. It takes time. That’s time I could be writing. It’s mysterious and often times ineffective. Yet, everyone agrees you have to do something.
No one knows what magic cocktail of direct mail, personal appearances, blog tours, paid advertising, and giveaways will net that intoxicating high of sales. Unless, of course, you crack the BookBub code and then you can retire on royalties.
I’ve handled marketing in about the same dysfunctional manner as going in for the colonoscopy. I’ve denied the need to do it. I’ve avoided it at all costs. I’ve skirted around it and touched on it half-heartedly, sort of like going in for yearly checkups but not making the total commitment.
I made lists of books stores to contact or reviewers to query. And put off calling because *whine* cold calling is scary. So instead of doing, I procrastinated and worried, then I climbed on the I Suck Train for not doing what I should have done.
Well, kids, this is where I get off. A few months ago a friend, Master Marketer Julie Kazimer, convinced me I need to do it. Much like the impending retirement of my patron (husband) nudged me into getting the colonoscopy while it was still covered by insurance, I realized the time has come for me to jump into the marketing fray.
So I did. I started making lists and then forcing myself to make the calls and write the emails and follow up.  Here’s what I discovered:
Just as the unremarkableness of the colonoscopy, setting up book signings and arranging a blog tour is not that big of a deal. Sure, it takes some time. But it’s not like someone is bludgeoning me with a fence post.  There is surprisingly little physical pain involved in phone calls and emails.
Book signing that didn’t hurt. With William Kent Krueger and Sean Dolittle

I’ve even forced myself to teach a few workshops and do some public speaking. And there was absolutely no prescription pain medication involved. Although I might or might not have self-medicated after the fact, in a purely congratulatory fashion.
As Granddad used to say, (sure, someone else made it famous but Granddad did say it a lot so I’m going with possession being 9/10ths and all that)  “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”  
It might sell a book or two and it keeps you off that Crazy Train.

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!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Long and Winding Road

Keith Raffel here for the first time in a while.

I live in Palo Alto, California and worked in high tech for a quarter century. That makes me a Silicon Valley guy.

What does that mean?

That means I’m almost always willing to try something new. If it pays off, fine. If not, well, that’s fine, too. I’ll just try something else.

Getting into novel-writing was something new. I was a little bored at my job so I signed up for a mystery-writing class at UC Berkeley Extension. When my work life heated up, I threw a half-finished manuscript into a drawer. A few years later I pulled it out and finished it. I found an agent who sold Dot Dead to Midnight Ink. Twenty months after signing the deal the book came out. Midnight Ink bought my next book, too. (I am skipping over the trials and tribulations of querying agents and publishers – another time.)

The reviews on my first two books were encouraging, and the second even showed up on a national bestseller list. Okay, good. Now it was time to see if I could support myself at this writing gig: what I was making with a traditional publisher wasn’t going to cut it. So I decided to try something new. I self-published my next two books, Drop By Drop and A Fine and Dangerous Season, and put them up on Amazon and Somewhat to my surprise, I sold more copies and made more money than I had on my first two books. Another few steps down the road to making a living.

Amazon has its own publishing arm for crime fiction called Thomas and Mercer who were impressed enough with A Fine and Dangerous Season’s sales to offer to buy rights to it and bring it out under its own imprint. Sure, why not give it a try? It was a great ride. On one glorious day this past March, I saw my book ranked as the #5 seller on all of But I still wasn’t making enough to support myself, let alone pay for another two kids’ worth of college tuition.

So I was ready to try something new to move the ball down the road. I decided to raise money via Kickstarter, the crowd-sourcing site, for my fifth novel, Temple Mount. Why? Two reasons. First, I wanted to get buy-in from my fans. There’s an old Silicon Valley saying that when you eat a bacon-and-egg breakfast, the chicken participates, the pig commits. I wanted commitment from my fans (but I did want to keep them alive, too). And I think I got it. They were co-publishing right along with me and had a stake in the venture. They’ve helped the spread the word and 50 of them even helped edit the book. (Paying for the privilege to edit? That made me feel like Tom Sawyer.) I’ve been blown away by their enthusiasm and generosity. Second, the money raised spurred me to try something new, or maybe old, to publicize Temple Mount. Starting next week we’re running an ad for it on Bay Area cable stations. (You can see the ad below.) I’m keeping my fingers crossed on how it does.

So here I am, getting closer to my goal of making a living as a writer, but still not quite there. When I started at this game, I went the only way I could: signing with a traditional publisher. Now an author can also self-publish, publish via a publisher with a new model like Thomas and Mercer or Polis or Brash, or even crowd-publish. Any one of them might be the right one for an aspiring author or even an old hack like me. It just depends what she or he wants.

I do feel lucky to be writing in a time where authors have choices.


Before turning to writing full-time, Keith Raffel watched over the CIA, supported himself at the racetrack, founded a software company, taught writing to Harvard freshmen, ran for Congress, and sold DNA sequencing to medical researchers. He became a published author in 2006 with Dot Dead, which the New York Times said was “worthy of a Steve Jobs keynote presentation.” These days he can usually be found tapping his laptop’s keys and power-drinking green tea at a cafĂ© around the corner from his home in California’s Silicon Valley. His latest novel Temple Mount ("a terrific battle of wit and wills" -Steve Berry) came out this month.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dying for What's Next!

By Tj O’Connor, author of Dying to Know & Dying for the Past
I did it. I finished. Tuck solved another case and I wrote “The End” on Dying to Tell, the third book of Oliver Tucker’s case files— dubbed “The Ghost Gumshoe” by Midnight Ink, my publisher. Dying to Tell was a killer, no pun intended. The hardest thing I did in a very long time was hit “send” on the email that whisked Dying to Tell off to my agent, Kimberley Cameron.
It was painful. The email sat in my draft box for hours before I could muster the courage to send it. No, I wasn’t concerned about the book—my test readers loved it.  It was about The End, plain and simple.
You see, a little more than a year and a half ago, Midnight Ink bought Dying to Know—my fourth novel and first to be published—along with two sequels. Dying for the Past, the first sequel, releases January 8, 2015, and Dying to Tell, the second sequel, releases January 2016. Selling Dying to Know as a series thrilled me—and terrified me—and thrilled me some more. And, for the past year-plus, I wrote those two sequels night and day. Turning in Dying for the Past was easy. “The End” and on to Dying to Tell. No problem.
Then, a strange thing happened around page 300 of Dying to Tell.  A ball of “oh crap” filled my gut every time I sat at my keyboard. I found reason after reason to rewrite chapters and refine plot twists. This character changed, that character died. Then undid it all and started again. In the end, the final draft looked identical to the first—except I had languished over it for an extra two months.
As I neared the final chapters of Dying to Tell,  I was indeed dying—dying for the next story, the next book deal, the next bit of proof that my work was good enough for the world to read. Dying to Know, not a book I ever meant to publish, gave me a huge confidence boost when it first landed me my agent, Kimberley, and then ended up being my first published book of four at that time. Success! Someone besides my three Labs thought my work was worthy!
And the reality smacked me in the face. The series was written. The contract all but fulfilled. All there was to do was wait for the launch dates and try to build more readers. Not that all that is easy, mind you, but the real work was done. And, even before I typed “The End,” I missed Tuck and Hercule. And, with that, I worried about what was ahead.
On page 325 of Dying to Tell, I realized any evidence of talent I might have was not yet in hand. It would be the next book. It was the next sale. The next series. Tuck’s adventures were a great start. But was it a fluke? Had my agent and publisher had one-too-many the night before and saw something in my work that wasn’t there? (Gasp, eerie music, another gasp.)
Panic. Does that make me nuts? A defeatist? No. I think it makes me humble (yes, children of mine, I am humble now and then). I think my fear of failure is normal. In particular, after the first book sale. You wonder if it’ll ever happen again. You wonder if anyone will remember your name, your books, or your damn Facebook page.
You just wonder.
I think many authors face this—that scary place between your first book sale and your next. Writing books is easy—well, sort of—but finding success is not. Success comes not justfrom fans, readers, critics, and the occasional atta boy. To publishers, it’s mostly about commercial success. Sales. And, let me tell you, selling books is painful, slow, and often a climb that breaks your spirit. It’s tiny little steps—a book here, a few books there… a slow, almost endless quest to build an audience that will get you notice and more book contracts.
So you go on. Signings. Book fairs. Monstermania (yes, I went there and had a blast) and any place you can get yourself invited to. You Facebook, blog, blog some more, take out ads, take out more ads, and find every inventive way you can to get your book in someone’s hands. You will do whatever it takes…
And, when you ask why, it’s easy—How bad do you want to be an author?
Bad. Sinfully bad. Sell my soul and refuse to pay taxes bad. (No, IRS, I do pay my taxes.)
And, for me, the fear of failure is—wait for it—palpable. I finished Dying to Tell and began to worry about the next book, the next plot, and above all, the next book deal. Since selling Dying to Know, I’ve penned two other novels in addition to Tuck’s two sequels. New Sins for Old Scores, another murder mystery with a paranormal twist and a historical subplot, is with Kimberley trying to find a home in the market. The Killing of Tyler Quinn is a more traditional story about a small town journalist who returns from the Gulf War after disappearing for years. Quinn’s best friend is found murdered on the evening Quinn reappears—his mysterious disappearance and the murder too coincidental for the town—he’s the prime suspect. The question is—will either of these sell? Will they find a home in this ever-tightening market?
What if they don’t? Will I perish in the land of the unknown authors—a crowded, lonely place where blogs and Facebook are your only comfort?
Kimberley says be patient, relax, my career has just started. And I trust her. But, deep down, hidden behind the thrill of having three books published and my past swashbuckling around the world chasing terrorists and spies is the woosie-boy in me. Can I do this? Will I sell another book? Can Wilfred stop the evil Dr … no, no, that’s a soap I watched the other day.
Nuts? No. I think people like me—self-driven madmen—measure ourselves not by what’s behind us but by what’s in front. You’re only as good as your next book. You’re only as loved as your next review. You’re only as talented as those weird voices in your head say. Okay, I’m nuts.
Now, given my fear of failure, one might wonder how I keep from leaping off my porch to my bitter end. Well, my porch is only two feet off the ground. But, for real, it’s the occasional email or random fan who drops me a note or stops by a signing just to tell me how much they loved the book and can’t wait for the next—and what else am I writing … when will it be out? I’m just getting started and I’ve only had a few dozen of such emails and conversations, but each one is a thrill for me.
Nuts? Hell yes I am—to the bone. But, that has nothing to do with writing books.
Warning: The following is a cheap promotional announcement…
Don’t miss the sale… Amazon has Dying to Know on sale for Kindles… $1.99 between 11/7 and 11/23!
Tj O’Connor lives in Virginia with his wife and three Labs. Dying to Know is the fourth of his eight novels and is currently available in bookstores and online. Dying for the Past, the first of two sequels, will be released in January 2015—available now for pre-orders. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism and investigations. Learn about his world at and Facebook at