Thursday, February 26, 2015

Monday, February 23, 2015

Q&A with Jess Lourey

This week we sat down with Jess Lourey, the author of one of our longest-running critically-acclaimed series, the Murder-by-Month mysteries. Her latest, February Fever, was released earlier this month!

Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
Jess Lourey: My first piece of writing to receive wide acclaim was this poem:

Grandpas are full of love, grandpas are full of tickles, but grandpas are especially full of pickles.

I was five. My poetry skills haven’t improved, but I never lost my love for writing. I completed my first novel in 1996 and wrote two more before I landed my first publishing contract in 2004.

MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
JL: My mystery writing is tremendously influenced by William Kent Krueger’s and Janet Evanovich’s writing. My magical realism writing is inspired by Isabel Allende’s and Alice Hoffman’s beautiful prose. For my young adult novels, I turn to the books by Cornelia Funke, Suzanne Collins, and Philip Pullman. I *love* books and learned most of what I know about writing them from being a close reader.

MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
Jess's kids
JL: A writer. There’s no other choice. Seriously. But I do love teaching, also, particularly if I get to teach about writing.

MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
JL: 2014-2015 is my first year as a full-time writer. My plan is to write and sell The Book by July 2015 so I do not need to return to my college teaching job. While I love teaching, turns out I hate grading and office politics.

MI: What is/are your favorite thing/s to do when you’re not writing or working?
Jess and her boyfriend
JL: Travel is a passion of mine, as is talking to people and hearing their stories, starting with the people closest to me: my kids, my boyfriend, my wonderful friends. I used to love to garden, but I’ve been too busy the past two summers to dig my fingers into the soil. Eating good food remains a favorite passion, particularly if someone else cooks it, though I also love to bake.

MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
JL: Early Stephanie Plum because she showed me that a sleuth could be funny, smart, and real.

MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
JL: Is it terrible that I never remember the specifics of the cases, only the characters? A finely-crafted character sticks with me for a long, long time.

MI: What was your inspiration for this series?
JL: The inspiration for the Murder-by-Month Mysteries was sanity. I was living in rural northern Minnesota with poor TV reception, and I needed to occupy my brain. I was reading a lot of great mysteries at the time—books by Kent Krueger, Sue Grafton, Tony Hillermann, and Janet Evanovich—and when I ran out, I decided to try writing one of my own. Man, am I glad I did.

MI: Tell us about Mira James.
JL: Mira James, when I first conceived her, was loosely based on where I was at in my life in 2004. She grew up in a small Minnesota town and moved to Minneapolis, then found herself back in a small town. She has (had?) bad luck with men, an English degree she doesn’t know what to do with, and an outlook on life that it’s better to laugh first, ask questions later. She and I have since found our lives going different directions, but I still love to check in with her.

MI: You are 10 books into a series! How has your writing process/approach to publishing changed since May Day?
JL: I’m a faster writer, and I hope a better writer, with every book. The process is still essentially the same, though. I come up with a one-sentence concept for a book, I do some freewriting (not more than a page—I hate freewriting) to flesh out the concept, and then I write a working outline. After that, it takes me about three months to finish writing a mystery. As far as publishing, I’m lucky that Midnight Ink keeps offering me contracts! I intend to never take that for granted. It wasn’t so long ago that I couldn’t get so much as an agent, let alone a publisher.

MI: How does this book/series compare to your other works?
JL: I’m proud of the Murder-by-Month Mysteries. I think they’re funny and well-paced, and I love the characters who populate them. I write in different genres, though, and so nothing else I write is quite like them. Even when I stay in the crime fiction genre, what I work on is very different from the MbM Mysteries. Here’s a working synopsis of the thriller I’m working on now:

Salem and Izzy must uncover the connection between the Witch Hunt of the 1600s and the modern disappearance of single mothers all over the globe to stop the assassination of Senator Gina Hayes, the first viable female Presidential candidate in the history of the United States.

MI: Do you have a pet? Tell us about him/her.
JL: I have a dorky boxer named Juni. She’s sweet and loyal and kind of stinky. My daughter just got a hamster named Frank Ocean, too. I can’t tell you a lot about Frank except that he seems to always have someplace he needs to be, which is impressive when you live in a 2’ x 2’ world.

 MI: What food could you live off of for the rest of your life?
JL: Beer and bread. YUM.

MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
JL: I come from a family of great cooks (my mom and daughter are the best), and so we try all sorts of different recipes on a regular basis. My current favorite is a shrimp curry soup made with plump shrimp, rich coconut milk, pineapple and hot peppers, and seasoned with fragrant lemongrass and fresh ginger.

MI: What’s your favorite part about being an Inker?
JL: I love the camaraderie at conferences. It’s like being invited to the cool kids’ slumber party. But if I had to pick a single thing, my very favorite part about being an Inker is getting to work with Terri Bischoff. She’s the real deal.

Thank you for having me!

Pick up February Fever online and in bookstores now! 

Monday, February 16, 2015

An Open Letter from Loretta Ross

An open letter to my niece:
Dear Nichole,
Congratulations on the impending birth of your son! I understand you're having trouble deciding what to call the little angel. Tell me, Nicky, have you considered naming him Death?
No, really. Death.
Death as in Death Bogart, the hero of my mystery, Death and the Redheaded Woman.
It would make a lovely baby name!
For one thing, it's versatile. You can say it "Deeth," like Death Bogart. Or, you can do like Dorothy Sayers' classic detective, Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey, and "pronounce it to rhyme with breath."
It's short and easy to spell, and yet it's unique. It's unlikely there will be seven Deaths in his kindergarten class. Teachers would remember it. He won't get bullied (who would bully Death?) and you can discourage telemarketers by introducing yourself as "Death's mother" and say things like, "if you're looking for Death, you've come to the right place."
And, since it's only one syllable, it would be easy to shout out the back door at dinnertime. I'm sure the cops would stop showing up too.
Why are you giving me that look?
I sense you're having a craving. Possibly blood.
Possibly mine.
Okay, okay, so it is a bit...exotic. I understand. You want something traditional. One of the classics, perhaps.
Tell me, Nicky, are you familiar with the classic Johnny Cash song, "A Boy Named Sue"...?
Loretta Sue Ross

Loretta Ross shared an open letter to her niece with us in our February publicity newsletter. To sign up, please email publicity (at) 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

February Release Books Available Now!

Don't miss Midnight Ink's latest releases!

“Ross’ thoroughly entertaining debut combines smart details about the auction business with two engaging mysteries and a uniformly appealing cast.”
Booklist (starred review) on Death and the Redheaded Woman

"Verne's mystery is a winner, with plenty of twists and turns, an intriguing heroine and an ending that shocks in more ways than one."
Kirkus Reviews on Drawing Conclusions

“Lourey skillfully mixes humor and suspense . . . the characters are wonderful and wacky, and the mile-a-minute pace never falters.”
Booklist (starred review) on February Fever

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

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Q&A with TJ O'Connor

This week, we sat down with TJ O'Connor, author of the Gumshoe Ghost mysteries. His latest book, Dying for the Past, was released last month.

Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
TJ O'Connor: I first began writing when I was in the 5th grade—that was about 1972. Holy crap, has it been that long ago? I wrote short stories and plays in class for my friends. I was caught one day by my teacher and he read one out loud—first to embarrass me. But everyone liked it and he ended up being a big supporter of mine all the way through high school.

MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
TJO: More than you could imagine. I first began to read ferociously in the fifth grade as an escape from a tough home life. It started with Mystery of the Witches' Bridge by Barbee Oliver Carleton, and then Gordon D. Shirreffs’ Mystery of the Haunted Mine. From there, I began reading every Hardy Boys mystery I could find. By the time I finished my third book, I knew I wanted to write. As I grew older and read more and more genres, authors like Agatha Christie, Robert Ludlum, Nelson DeMille, Raymond Chandler, and a long list of others influenced my love of mystery and thrillers. But it was a book by James Grady called Six Days of the Condor—a story about a CIA researcher being hunted by his own people—that made lead me into my profession in intelligence and anti-terrorism. From there, between my profession and my passion for writing, my entire life thus far played out. All thanks to some amazing authors.

MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
TJO: What I’m doing already—I’m an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and security operations.

MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
TJO: I’m an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and security operations. That, and a family of five kids, four kid-spouses, five grandkids, three Labs, and a host of others who appear in my house routinely for meals and movie-night.

MI: What is/are your favorite thing/s to do when you’re not writing or working?
TJO: That’s tough since I work and write collectively about 90 hours a week. But if I can steal some time here and there, I am an avid Harley Davidson rider, spend time with my grandkids and Labs, and love old movies. In fact, the old movies keep me up all hours of the night while I write notes and ideas for my books.

MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
TJO: There are way too many to say favorite. So I’ll name those I’ve enjoyed the most over the years. (In no order of importance) In my youth were the Hardy Boys. DeMille’s John Corey; Christie’s Poirot; Earl Biggers’ Charlie Chan; Anthony Horowitz’s Christopher Foyle; and who could forget Scooby and Shaggy!

MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
TJO: Actually, two of my unpublished works, New Sins for Old Scores and Double Effect are my favorites. New Sins for Old Scores is a historical murder mystery with a paranormal twist. The murders of a WWII OSS Operative in 1944 and a Virginia BCI agent in 2014 connect the two stories—they collide with a historical subplot. In Double Effect, the detective-brother of Jonathan Hunter, an Iraq War covert operative, is murdered while tracking down a local street gang with ties to Middle Eastern terrorists.  Hunter returns to get answers about his estranged brother and lands smack in the middle of a series of murders and corrupt cops.

I love these two cases because so much of them comes from a Frankenstein soup of my life’s work. I stole bits and pieces of cases I worked on and cases my mentor worked on— he’s one of the last World War II OSS Operatives still alive.

MI: What was your inspiration for the Gumshoe Ghost mysteries?
TJO: A nightmare that plagued me for over twenty years. In the early 1990s, I was a government anti-terrorism agent serving overseas. While in Greece, I ran dozens of anti-terrorism operations. When I returned home, I started having a recurring nightmare that I was killed on an operation and returned as a spirit to help my partner solve my killing. Over twenty-years later, after telling my daughter about the nightmare, she encouraged me to write the story. I did—but only for them. Oddly enough, it turned out good—a fun, fast-paced murder mystery with a paranormal twist. And poof—I found an agent and Midnight Ink picked up a three-book series centered on this nightmare.

MI: Tell us about Tuck.
TJO: Tuck is about one-half me (not the dead part though) and one-half a mixture of all the things I think I wish I were. He’s a funny, sometimes sarcastic, but a driven detective who is killed in the opening pages of Dying to Know. He returns to solve his own crime, and in the process, learns that he has a very unique skill—he can connect with other murder victims form the past and commune with the living to solve their cases. He is a champion of cold cases—dead cold—and he helps the victims who’d been forgotten find a little cold-justice. He loves his beautiful, brilliant history professor wife, Angela—Angel—whom knows he’s around and works as his partner with the living—often times begrudgingly. And he’s got Hercule, his black Lab companion who is Angel’s protector and Tuck’s conduit to other characters in the stories. Tuck was never a student of history, but his stories always have a historical subplot and Tuck learns as he goes—both about the historical events surrounding the murders and about himself and the new murder cases. He’s finding out in Dying for the Past that his own family roots—he was raised in foster care and never knew his family—are filled with criminals, spies, vagabonds, and spirits.

MI: Do you have a pet? Tell us about him/her.
TJO: I raise pure-bred Labs. Until a couple months ago, I had three Labs—Mosby, Maggie Mae,  and Toby. On Veteran’s Day, we lost Mos. He was 14 years and 3 months old. It broke my heart and continues to be a painful chasm. All three of my Labs—but Mosby the most—are the most gentle, intelligence, and loving creatures I’ve ever known; and perhaps ever will.

MI: If you don’t have a pet, do you have a favorite animal?
TJO: Our Labs allow us to have a self-centered cat who stalks them without mercy.

MI:What food could you live off of for the rest of your life?
TJO: I’m the chef in the family and love to cook. So whatever I can find in my pantry and frig I can whip into something pretty damn good. But if the zombies or Martians invaded us and I had a supply of peanut M & M’s, I could find the strength to fight back.

MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
TJO: Anything Greek, French, or Italian. Like Greek tiropita or Coq au Vin.

MI: What is your favorite part about being an Inker?
TJO: Actually, it’s not about being an Inker so much as the privilege and luck of simply having my first of eight novels published by Midnight Ink. They gave me a start that I hope will flourish into many published novels to come. If that never happens, I’ll be thankful for Midnight Ink for allowing me to share Tuck, Hercule, and Angel’s cases with a few fans.  

Pick up your copies of Dying for the Past online and in bookstores now!