Monday, October 23, 2017

Will the Real Yoga Teacher Please Stand Up?

As a novelist, I’ve been blessed to meet many generous writers who have mentored me on the bumpy path to publication. Pretty much every seasoned writer I’ve met so far has given me one sage piece of advice: never read reviews.

I have to admit, I read them anyway.
Maybe it’s curiosity; maybe it’s excitement; maybe it’s simply my need to look for that ever-elusive stamp of approval, but I can’t seem to stop myself. I dig and I search and I devour every new review I can find. Most of the time, they make me smile. Occasionally, I learn something from a reader’s comments that will make me a better writer. Sometimes, however, a review leaves me shaking my head.
Some time ago, I came across one such review. I don’t remember now if the reader liked my book, or even which book she was reviewing. Something tells me it wasn’t her favorite. But one criticism stuck in my memory. She said that my protagonist wasn’t a realistic yoga teacher. If Kate were a real yoga teacher, the reader asserted, she’d be much thinner, more flexible, and less likely to lose her temper.
My protagonist is 5’3” tall and at the beginning of the series weighed 130 pounds, which is normal by most standards. Like many women, Kate has body image issues and hates her “chunky” thighs. All in all, she’s not a heck of a lot different than me, and she can do significantly more challenging yoga poses than I can. I’ve made my living teaching yoga for over seventeen years.
Yoga teachers (like yoga practitioners) come in all shapes and sizes. Some are lithe and can do amazing things with their bodies. Some are overweight. Some suffer from chronic illnesses and perpetually tight hamstrings. Some even start their yoga teaching career after retirement. The best yoga teachers know how to teach the students in front of them, in spite of their own personal limitations—or lack thereof. In fact, many great yoga teachers have imperfect bodies. If you can’t do a pose, learning how to observe your students and describe that pose becomes even more important.
Why do I care about this enough to write a blog article about it? The comment in the review highlights the very misperception of yoga that I’m trying to destroy: that yoga is only for the fit, the flexible, and the young. I have certified over three hundred teachers in the past fifteen years, and I have met privately to discuss Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training with at least three times that many. And yes, I've had teacher training students that smoke and most have known to have a drink on occasion.

My heart always breaks a little when an otherwise wonderful candidate decides not to pursue teaching yoga because they can’t do all of the poses, they don’t have a size-four body, or they think they are too old. The world loses a lot of great yoga teachers that way.
Is the protagonist in my book likely to grace the cover of Yoga Journal? Probably not. But perhaps it’s time we let go of the yoga stereotypes. If yoga teachers are more diverse, our students will be as well.
What do you think?

Tracy Weber’s author page
Kate's author buddy, Tracy Weber, on Facebook

Catch up on all four of the Downward Dog Mysteries.  Available at booksellers everywhere!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Goodreads Giveaway: MINING FOR JUSTICE

Head over to Goodreads and enter to win 1 of 5 copies of MINING FOR JUSTICE, the latest in the Chloe Ellefson Mystery Series by Kathleen Ernst!

Hurry! Contest is open October 16 - October 23, so enter now!

Quirky Characters: A Guest Post from Jeff Cohen

We welcome Jeff Cohen, author of the Asperger's Mystery Series (and the latest release, THE QUESTION OF THE ABSENTEE FATHER) to Midnight Ink's blog today! Here he shares how quirky characters in the media are becoming more prevalent...and why that's so great.

These days it feels like we are inundated in popular culture with depictions of people with characteristics that are described as being on the autism spectrum. A young man's family deals with his autism (which probably would have been diagnosed as Asperger's syndrome until recently) on the Netflix series Atypical. A young physician has autism (see previous parenthetical expression) and savant syndrome on the new drama The Good Doctor. There is a Muppet with autism on Sesame Street.

That's just scratching the surface. Books, films, video games, and comics are all dealing with autism in one way or another, and then there are the depictions of characters whose spectrum disorders—if you choose to see them that way—are not diagnosed or mentioned. The popular Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper is now headlining two situation comedies in which his "quirky" behavior is played for laughs.

All that is absolutely fine. There was a time not long ago when no one understood that those "oddballs" among them might actually have a difference in their brains. Autism was rarely discussed and not often diagnosed. Asperger's syndrome was barely heard about before the 1990s.

And it is good that depictions of people with autism are not all the same. The word "spectrum" isn't used arbitrarily; the effects of autism on a personality fall into a very broad range of behaviors. Some people with autism are perfectly verbal, in fact to the point that they seem difficult to stop from talking. Others have no words at all. In between there are countless shades of difference.

So when we decided to start a mystery series surrounding a man with Asperger's syndrome (which was a diagnosis when we started), we wanted to find a way to make our books stand out but also to offer a depiction that wasn't what every other such story might be. So we let our character Samuel Hoenig speak for himself.

The books are written as first-person narratives, meaning Samuel is telling you the story himself. Everything that happens in the course of the tale will be filtered through Samuel's perspective. And he will tell you what he's thinking at any given point.

For example, in the newest novel in the series, The Question of the Absentee Father, Samuel, who runs a business called Questions Answered (and that's what it is), is asked a question he'd rather not answer—his mother wants to know where Samuel's father, who left the family when his son was only four, is living now. And her behavior convinces Samuel that the matter is urgent.

Samuel has no feelings about his father. That's not because of his Asperger's syndrome; the idea that people with spectrum characteristics have no emotions is false. To Samuel, his father's absence for twenty-seven years has simply served to remove Reuben Hoenig from Samuel's life, and that makes him irrelevant.

But his associate Janet Washburn—with whom Samuel is developing a slowly building unprofessional relationship—convinces him it's important to find Reuben even if Samuel doesn't see the need. That will require that Samuel leave his comfortable routine, something he absolutely doesn't want to do, and eventually leads Samuel, Janet, and Samuel's friend Mike the taxicab driver to Los Angeles.

And that, Samuel will tell you, is when things start to get weird.


The Question of the Absentee Father "WHERE IS YOUR FATHER LIVING NOW?"

Samuel Hoenig, proprietor of a business called Questions Answered, doesn't have strong feelings about his estranged father. After all, you can't miss what you never had. But when Samuel's mother receives an enigmatic letter and asks him where his father lives, Samuel is duty bound to provide an answer.

Unfortunately, answering this question means taking a trip to Los Angeles with his associate, Ms. Washburn. The personality traits of Asperger's Syndrome make flying across the country a major challenge for Samuel. Little does he know that as troubling as flying is, it's nothing compared to the danger they'll face when they land.


"The reader has the satisfaction of getting a mystery, a romp, and a respectful treatment of a neuroatypical protagonist."—Publishers Weekly

"Fans coast to coast can take pleasure in seeing Copperman's quirky hero remain his rational, literal self, even out in fabulous La La Land."—Kirkus Reviews

E.J. Copperman and Jeff Cohen write the Asperger's mystery series featuring Samuel Hoenig and his business Questions Answered. The latest installment, The Question of the Absentee Father, publishes in October.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Real Life Research

Edith Maxwell here, reporting on some inadvertent research I did last week. And giving away a large-print version of CALLED TO JUSTICE!

So I write mysteries featuring a long-ago midwife. Turning the Tide releases next April. Native to Massachusetts, Rose Carroll catches babies, hears secrets, and solves crimes back in the late 1880s. I had a part-time gig as a childbirth educator and labor coach a couple of decades ago. Until last week, the last birth I'd attended in any role was over twenty years ago.

Thirty-two years ago my best friend gave birth to my goddaughter, and I was in the room helping as best I could when she was born at home with the help of independent midwives. Last weekend that goddaughter gave birth to her own first baby, and once again I was there in a supporting role. I was so honored and thrilled to have that circle come round again.

She chose to give birth in a free-standing birth center which is affiliated with the hospital across the street.

Birthing figures from the birth center's living room
Over and over again through out my goddaughter's forty-hour unmedicated labor - mostly at home until the very end - I thought of Rose Carroll. Even though working nurse-midwife (and mystery fan) Risa Rispoli vets all my midwifery scenes before I turn them in, I still wondered if I had been writing details correctly.

Here are a few things I'll be incorporating in my next Quaker Midwife mystery:
  • A woman in labor with her first child looks at her husband and says, "No more babies!"
  • During the first phase, the mom-to-be goes inward with each contraction, very quietly, very stoically.
  • Before active labor kicks in, her contractions slow overnight to every eight to ten minutes, and she snoozes in between.
  • After active labor start, with pains coming every three minutes and lasting two, the woman despairs, weeping and swearing, but persevering.
  • She throws off any hand or touch that she doesn't want.
  • She pushes on her hands and knees for almost two hours.
  • The midwife checks the heartbeat during pushing, and has to get the listening device in just the right position to hear the baby's heart.
  • The woman swears and grunts as she pushes, her whole body taking part.
  • The midwife uses oil and eases the head out slowly so the mom doesn't tear.
  • Once the head is out, the baby looks around and smacks its lips together, already alert.
  • The cord is a tough membrane and beautiful, silvery and translucent.
  • Instantly after birth the mom feels better and speaks softly to her child at the breast.
I'm sure there are more, but this experience - a miracle and an honor for me - really brought birthing alive again.

Readers: Any vivid birth memories you'd like to share?  Your own or that of others? One commenter will win a copy of Called to Justice (make sure I know your email address so I can find the winner).

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Book Boyfriends and More: MINING FOR JUSTICE Author Kathleen Ernst on Character Roelke McKenna

We welcome Kathleen Ernst, author of the Chloe Ellefson Mystery Series (and the latest release, MINING FOR JUSTICE), to Midnight Ink's blog today! Here she shares how one supporting character has quickly become readers' favorite (and...gasp!..a book boyfriend!).

The protagonist of the Chloe Ellefson Mysteries works as a curator at a large living history museum. She gets involved in crime-solving because her knowledge of the past is needed to solve contemporary crimes. Since Chloe is a reluctant sleuth, I knew from the beginning that I needed a recurring cop character to handle real police work.

What I didn't know was that Roelke McKenna, beat cop in the Village of Eagle, Wisconsin, would get more fan mail than Chloe does. One woman asked, "Can I have Roelke when Chloe is finished with him?" Another reader-friend has deemed Roelke her "book boyfriend." And one man drove two hours to a signing so he could tell me, "Whatever you do in this series, do not kill off Roelke." I love comments like these!

Roelke (pronounced Rell-kee) is not perfect. He has a temper, particularly when confronting a killer. He makes mistakes. He takes risks.

But Roelke also has a big heart. When he screws up, he tries to learn and move on. He wants desperately to be a good cop–to make his boss proud and do right by the citizens of Eagle. He has a sound sense of right and wrong, and holds himself to high standards. He's a strong character. He also has his vulnerabilities.

The eighth Chloe Ellefson Mystery, Mining For Justice, presents Roelke with a moral dilemma. His family is being threatened. As much as he wants to go beat up the guy responsible, he insists that the local cops must be left to do their jobs and handle the problem. But when justice is slow in coming, and the threats intensify, he faces an impossible choice.

How far would you go to protect the people you love?

Mining For Justice features other plotlines as well. Chloe is visiting a sister historic site in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, and struggling to solve murders past and present. A separate thread presents a young Cornish woman who settles in the area and sets off a chain of events that ripple into the future. I suspect, though, that Roelke fans will particularly enjoy his story.

What do you think? Is there a series where your favorite character does not have her/his name on the cover?


Mining for Justice Digging Up Secrets Uncovers a Legacy of Peril

Chloe Ellefson is excited to be learning about Wisconsin’s Cornish immigrants and mining history while on temporary assignment at Pendarvis, a historic site in charming Mineral Point. But when her boyfriend, police officer Roelke McKenna, discovers long-buried human remains in the root cellar of an old Cornish cottage, Chloe reluctantly agrees to mine the historical record for answers. She soon finds herself in the middle of a heated and deadly controversy that threatens to close Pendarvis. While struggling to help the historic site, Chloe must unearth dark secrets, past and present, before a killer comes to bury her.


"Richly imagined and compelling, Mining for Justice once again highlights Kathleen Ernst's prowess as a storyteller . . . Ernst is a master of reconstructing the past."—Susanna Calkins, author of the Macavity-winning Lucy Campion Mysteries

Kathleen Ernst(Wisconsin) 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. Visit her online at

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Goodreads Giveaway: WEYCOMBE

Head over to Goodreads and enter to win 1 of 5 copies of WEYCOMBE, the latest release from G.M. Malliet!

Hurry! Contest is open October 3 - October 10, so enter now!

Monday, October 2, 2017

A Writer's Education: A Guest Post from C.M. Wendelboe

We welcome C.M. Wendelboe, author of the new HUNTING THE FIVE POINT KILLER to Midnight Ink's blog today! Here he shares how his history with in law enforcement—and encounters with death—inspires the dead bodies on his pages.

Much has been written about the education a writer should obtain—often along the lines that a writer must earn an advanced degree such an MFA in writing. Though I don't discredit the value of such a degree, with the quiet retreats alone with one's thoughts, and the lofty discussions with other writers, I confess the only advanced degree I have is a PHD (Post Hole Diggin'.)

What education I have is more on the practical side—I worked as a lawman for nearly forty years. During that time, I was fortunate enough (though some may think unfortunate) to be called to so many dead body calls I can still taste the tragedy. A great many were natural, which was of limited value to me as a writer, but valuable to me in honing my death-notification skills and empathy with the deceased kin.

It was those folks that died violent, often gruesome deaths that taught me what I wished to include in my stories, and that gives authenticity to them. While most writers don't have this background, and have to rely on law enforcement and medical examiners and text books to construct their scenes, all I have to do is set back and close my eyes. And the crime scenes come back.


Even though none of the deaths that my novels portray are based entirely on any of these calls, the scenes relay a composite of what I have seen—a gunshot victim from one call, the house arrangements from another death call, a gun or weapon from yet another. I have tried to tone down the graphics of what I import to my scenes, but it is often difficult to expel images from my memory, hard not to include many of the things that would made a reader retch. As I have done on more than one occasion responding to them.

I hope readers of my novels will never feel they have been BS'd. I hope they feel that when they read about a death scene and the aftermath, they will know that it was written from the mind of a working lawman. And know that the nearest they really have to get to the nastiness is waiting just on the next page.


Hunting the Five Point Killer by C.M. Wendelboe On the tenth anniversary of a series of unsolved murders, the Five Point Killer is back for blood—and retired cop Arn Anderson could be the next investigator who gets too close to the truth.

Retired detective Arn Anderson never thought he'd be broke enough to take on a cold murder case. Or desperate enough to team up with a TV reporter. Or pathetic enough to go back to his rundown childhood home after he swore he'd left Cheyenne for good. But here he is, hunting a serial killer who also appears to have come out of retirement. On the anniversary of the Five Point Killer's crimes, Arn's only option is to survive the carnage of a murderer who may be too twisted—and too brilliant—to catch.


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

"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

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

Why Write Mysteries?

by Linda O. Johnston

The answer to that question, if posed to most mystery writers, will probably yield a lot of answers.

Because I love to read mysteries, is one of the primary ones, I suspect. 

Some others?

Because I love to stump others who read my work.

Because I enjoy creating smart, creative protagonists--and bad guys, too.

Because I enjoy belonging to organizations of mystery writers.

Because I have fun writing mysteries--and editing and even re-reading my own work.

Because I like my publisher.

Because it's a challenge, and I enjoy challenges.

Because I enjoy writing blog posts about mysteries.

Because... well, those of us who are active on this blog write mysteries for Midnight Ink, of course. Some of you might identify with what I've already said.  Others might have a lot more ideas of your own about what spurred you to start writing mysteries. 

But one that probably all will identify with?  Because it's who I am and what I love.