Tuesday, February 28, 2017

New Sins and Old Dogs

by Tj O'Connor
Cancer should be spelled with an F. That’s the way I spell it—F---ing Cancer.

Cancer took my girl. Fast. Painfully. Heartlessly.

First it took her by surprise. Then it took her leg. Then it took her dignity. Then, it forced me to … f---ing cancer.
I have faced death all my life. We all have in one form or another. But these past couple years has been one heartache after another. Still, nothing prepared me for the loss of my girl, Maggie Mae. Nothing. In 2015, I lost both my mentor, Wally, and my companion, Mosby. One as much as the other—a Lab and a brilliant but crusty old spy—devastated me nearly the same. I’m not embarrassed to admit it. Wally was 92 and had lived his amazing life. Up until the very end—the hour—we shared laughs and talked and made sure there was peace and understanding between us. But with Mosby, it was hard to share anything but the loss. I wanted him to understand there was no choice. To understand that there was no greater love than to let go and save him from pain and despair. No greater sacrifice than accepting responsibility for the strange, heart-breaking kindness that is sometimes death. I hoped—prayed—he understand that I was not betraying him. Not merely moving on. I was saving him from the worst fate.

I try to tell myself that every day. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it kills me all over again. Pain doesn’t go away, it just simmers in the background waiting for an opportunity to burn you a little more.

Maggie is different. Painfully different. I can’t explain why—perhaps because she was my girl or perhaps it was because it was such a shock. Perhaps it was something else—she was forever in bandages for something. Always on meds for this or that. A twelve year struggle to cure the next thing. But she lived without complaint. Without demand. Always happy and loving. Until December when she came up lame in one leg. The vet told me she had arthritis, maybe a damaged ligament. No worries. Pain meds, therapy… maybe a little surgery if it didn’t heal quickly. All would be fine.

Wrong. Dead wrong.

Three weeks later, I knew something was very, very wrong and sought out a specialist. My girl wasn’t going to limp anymore or down pain pills any longer. Whatever the reason. Whatever the cost. She was going to be healed—and fast.

Oh dear God … twenty minutes after arriving, the end lay in my lap, panting and begging me for a chance—a few more weeks. A few more months ...  Osteosarcoma. F---ing cancer. Deep in her bone. So deep it was killing me, too.

The doc, an amazingly lady with class, skill, and compassion, operated that day and took her leg to save her life. Chemo was scheduled. More pain meds. But hope was in my grasp. Within three days she was hobbling around, playing a little, loving a lot—the smile back in her eyes after two months in hiding. Even after her first chemo treatment, she was on her feet and fighting back. Fighting for us. Fighting for life. She loved on Toby, or black Lab and the love of her life. She played with my granddaughter, walked and slept with me, and ate everything she could find. After all, dying be damned—she was a Lab.

Until the second week. Paralysis consumed her. It was back. She couldn’t walk, couldn’t sit, couldn’t have the dignity of controlling herself … her face exuded embarrassment when I carried her for days into the yard just to keep her from soiling herself. I didn’t know what was killing her faster—f---ing cancer or shame.

Humans should have such dignity.

I can barely write these words. The next ones especially. Pain rains and fingers tremble—the thoughts of those last moments. For those who don’t share my emotions over pets, you shouldn’t have them. For those that do, I can only image you’re sharing a little of my grief right now. You know the rest of the story. I couldn’t allow her any more pain, anymore shame, anymore cancer. And in my arms, both of us shaking … I let her go.

Damn me for what I had to do. Damn me. I only pray that if there is a heaven—and for souls like hers and my boy, Mosby, there has to be—that she and he are together and happy. They deserve it like no human I’ve ever known. Loyal. Loving. Compassionate.

This is not the fun, lighthearted post I wanted to write. But it is the post I had to write. It hasn’t healed me yet—I am struggling still. But it helps. Because sadly, I’m not always the adventurous, tough Harley guy people think of me too often—I’m an UFO (ugly fat old guy) who cries over lost dogs and isn’t ashamed to post that pain for the world to read.

But, the loss of one has one good fortune with the pain—room for another. Toby needs a companion—he morns for Mags every day. This house needs a girl—I do to. Not to replace you, Mags, but because you left such an emptiness behind.

So, to end this with a little hope … welcome Annie Rose. You’ve got big paws and a huge heart to fill. Be gentle with Toby and me—we’re still grieving. But he, like me, is coming around.

We’ll talk again next month.

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS (IPPY) FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of New Sins for Old Scores, coming in Spring 2017 from Black Opal Books, and Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell. He recently finished his new thriller and is beginning three sequels to previous works. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

Learn about Tj’s world at:

Web Site:  www.tjoconnor.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/tjoconnor.author
Blog: http://tjoconnorbooks.blogspot.com/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7148441.T_J_O_Connor


Monday, February 27, 2017

Of Life and Birth and Mysterious Journeys


By Tracy Weber

I never wanted to have children of my own. Scratch that.  I had a passing urge in my twenties. I got a cat and it went away. I do, however, enjoy helping other mothers and mothers-to-be. Still, it’s hard to authentically advocate how much prenatal yoga can help with childbirth and recovery when you’ve never been pregnant, much less given birth.
So I did the only think I could think of to learn about the childbirth experience: I became a doula.
At least on paper.
I’ve taken doula training twice.  I never thought I’d actually end up in a delivery suite, but I figured the more I knew about childbirth, the more I could be in help my students plan for it. I was immediately struck in the training by how strong people’s opinions were about the “right” way to give birth.  The topic seemed to be as contentious as recent presidential elections. But I digress….
I graduated and integrated my learnings into my prenatal yoga classes.  A student even asked me to attend her birth, but she needed an emergency c-section, and I wasn’t allowed in the surgical suite.  Years went by. I forgot everything I ever learned about being a doula, except as it related to my yoga classes.
Then my best friend got pregnant and told me that she thought she should have a doula at her first birth. I agreed. Hiring an experienced doula was a fabulous idea. 
“You don’t get it,” she said. “It has to be you.”
I tried to convince her that I was utterly incompetent. I assured her that that she could hire thousands of doulas who would be better than me. She refused to consider anyone else.  So back to doula school I went.
Attending that birth will always be one of the greatest highlights of my life.  My friend’s labor was a difficult one, over twenty hours long. I was, as I’d feared, pretty much incompetent.  But my friend didn’t seem to mind.  And I’ll never forget her son’s hand reaching toward me as he entered the world.
So how did I connect that experience with murder?  I didn’t. At least not directly. But I was moved by the stories I’d heard in training, perplexed by the controversies, and transformed by my own experience bumbling through such an important life event.  And of course my protagonist, Kate, would do anything for her best friend, Rene.  So when Rene became pregnant with twins in A Killer Retreat, I knew I’d eventually write about her birth.
The result is A Fatal Twist.
I hope you read and enjoy it. 

Tracy Weber

All four books in the Downward Dog Mystery Series are available at booksellers everywhere!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Pet Food Safety

I'm not just an author of pet cozies, I'm a pet owner, too! My family includes Eddie the Morkie, Mona Lisa the Mackerel Tabby cat, Cupcake the Maine Coon cat, and Zach the bearded dragon. So when I catch wind of a pet food recall, I take notice.

I've found a great website where every recall is listed. There are also reviews and a forum and all kinds of helpful information. DogFoodAdvisor 

Since I live in the US, I try to always buy food and treats made in the USA by FDA guidelines.

Do dog treats have to be FDA approved?
There is no requirement that pet food products have premarket approval by the FDA. However, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) requires that pet foods, like human foods, be pure and wholesome, safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled.Sep 20, 2016

Resources for You > Information on Marketing a Pet Food Product - FDA


The dog treat recipes in my cozies are tested in my kitchen, made with love, and Eddie Approved.

Until next time!
Jamie Blair

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

10 Ways I'm Organizing in the "New" Year: Late Adopter's Edition

By Lisa Alber

I don't know about you, but about this time of year, mid-February, I'm itchy for spring. In Portland, OR, crocus and other spring bulbs are sprouting and the black-capped chickadees have returned. It feels like almost-spring, so I count is as the true start to my New Year. Forget January. January is for people who aren't bothered by season affective disorder.

I've always been a late adopter, so it's no surprise that each year I adopt a late-nik attitude to organization for the new year. Here are some of the things I'm doing right now to get back into a groove after a worse winter season than usual, weather-wise -- and morale-wise, if I'm going to be honest about it.

1. Invited gal pals over for brunch, which forced me to do my spring cleaning early. No one needs to know that all winter long I watched a generation of spiders live through their life cycles in the various corners of my home. Amazing how a clean home picks up my spirits.

2. While under brunch deadline, I spent hours organizing every paper that had accumulated on every horizontal surface for the last, oh, three-four-five months. Much of this had to do with finishing up PATH INTO DARKNESS, for sure. But still, I'm a crazy paper lady. If you're like me, you'd find inspirations and ideas for stories, phone numbers you thought you lost, stray checks, and so much more.

3. Bought a ridiculous day planner that I suspect I'll rarely use, but that has inspired me to start writing down task lists again, not to mention goals for the year.

4. Invested in Post-It notes and deposited them in various places around the house with pens nearby. Then, I'll write random thoughts down randomly as they occur to me, rather than try to hold everything in my mind and inevitably forget stuff.

5. Assigned a section of wall as my Post-It place. Every few days I plan to gather up my Post-Its and stick them up on the wall. I might even decide to group them according to priority. And, I'll throw them away as I go along rather than let them accumulate so that my counters and table tops end up looking like hamster nests.

6. Speaking of throwing away--I threw away my mail pile. Except for bills and tax documents, that's right, I zapped it! Anything important will come back to haunt me later -- I'll deal with it then. :-)

7. For longer-term projects that require planning, before month's end I'll pull on my big-girl undies and sit down, just me and my thoughts. Have you noticed how hard it is to just sit and think? It's crazy out there, and it's crazy in my head. I'll use my handy-dandy day planner to work backwards from writing deadlines (for me, this is publication of PATH INTO DARKNESS in August).

8. Money stuff? Yeah, who doesn't have money stuff. Every year there are at least a few larger expenses I need to wrangle. I planned a tight budget to hopefully, if all goes well, save up as much money as possible before the expenditures. This year, I'll be going to Toronto for Bouchercon, and I'd like to hire painters to paint my house (interiors--I hate beige and all my walls are beige) -- I can't do it myself because I don't feel like dealing with it -- plus I've got vaulted ceilings. I've got a house savings bucket and a travel savings bucket, and I'm gonna fill them slowly but surely.

9. Ack, the yard... Screw it, I hired someone to do the major stuff. Problem solved. Sometimes throwing money at things is the best solution. Frees up my brain for other things.

10. As soon as I run out of something, *especially* things I don't have to buy often like Scotch tape and light bulbs, my new plan is to re-stock immediately. Light bulbs drive me nuts. I never seem to have any around, and I've let it go on too long. I'd say about a quarter of mine are burned out now. So before the end of the month I'm hitting Home Depot for a light bulb binge. (And I'll buy extras!)

So that's what my February "New" Year looks like.

How are you doing right now as we wish for winter's end? 

Lisa Alber is the author of the County Clare mysteries. Her debut novel, Kilmoon, has been called "utterly poetic" and "a stirring debut." Her second in the County Clare mysteries, WHISPERS IN THE MIST came out in August from Midnight Ink Books. Looks for PATH INTO DARKNESS in August 2017. Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Facebook | Twitter

Thursday, February 9, 2017

New Releases - February 2017

Midnight Ink's February titles are out now!

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

On Midwife-Entrepreneurs

Edith here, recuperating from knee replacement surgery. But also ecstatic to have Delivering the Truth nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Historical Mystery, and "The Mayor and the Midwife," my short story featuring midwife Rose Carroll, nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Short Story!

A friend found a used book she thought I'd enjoy, Catching Babies: The Professionalism of Childbirth 1870-1920 by Charlotte G. Borst, now a history professor in Birmingham, Alabama. (This copy is inscribed, "To Mother, with love, Charlotte," so now I'm imagining Mother, and Charlotte, and how the book came to be for sale in a used book store. Hmm, a new short story, perhaps.) The book appears to be Borst's doctoral dissertation and focuses on birth logs and other primary historical sources in four Wisconsin counties.
Perfect! Thanks, Rae Francoeur

So I've been leafing through it, gleaning useful research for my Quaker Midwife Mysteries. Chapter Four is titled, "Midwife Entrepreneurs in the City" and uses several urban Wisconsin midwives as case studies. Despite being an academic treatise, it reads easily and well. And I'm finding all kinds of interesting facts.

Mary Gerrard left a complete record of the births she attended. During the years my books take place, the end of the 1880s, she attended around 200 births a year. She was a full-time midwife despite having seven children at home. She had attended a three-month course at the Northwestern Academy of Midwifery in Chicago and earned a diploma in 1878. Borst discusses other urban midwives following similar careers. All were able to earn a decent living. This bodes well for my fictional Rose Carroll continuing her midwifery practice should she and beau David Dodge ever manage to tie the knot.

One point of Borst's I found interesting is that despite these women being successful in their chosen field, they didn't attempt to move beyond their neighborhoods and promote a professional identity for their occupation. The work of even these successful, educated entrepreneurs basically didn't differ much from that of the less-educated rural neighbor-midwives, and they didn't organize into a professional organization. 

Once the concept of the professional began to be more popular after the turn of the century, childbearing women started to seek out physicians to assist with their births. (Physicians certainly also sought to control the birthing environment, but that's a different book.)

Stay tuned for Called to Justice, book two in the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, which releases April 8! 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Guest Post: Adrian Magson - The Bid

Adrian Magson takes time to share his journey on finding Midnight Ink and the idea for the Cruxys Solutions Investigation series.

I blame my parents. Well, if you have to blame them for something, it’s better if it’s something positive – and in my case it was for setting me on a life of writing.
They encouraged me from an early age to read, and by the age of eight I was into Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour and Leslie (The Saint) Charteris, among many others. I stumbled a bit over Hank Janson and Mickey Spillane, but only because a lot of it went over my head. At first. But along the way it struck me that writing books must be a great way to make a living.
That was a tad naive, but you live and learn.
For many years while holding down a variety of day jobs, I wrote romantic fiction for women’s magazines. Lots of it. It paid, and was a great apprenticeship, but it was a long time before I sold my first crime/mystery novel. It was even longer before I could make the leap into full-time writing. But persistence paid off.
That first mystery novel, featuring a female reporter, Riley Gavin, was followed by 4 more in the series, followed by a spy series (feat. Harry Tate - also 5), then a French police series (feat. Insp Lucas Rocco – 4). It was after writing the first in a new spy series (feat. Marc Portman – 4 so far), that I went for a change of tack. I decided to go back to writing about a female lead character.
But what to write about?
While mulling over a number of possible storylines, I opened a gym locker one day and found a card inside with Adrian scribbled on it. It wasn’t for me, but it started a chain of thought: what if the card was addressed to a specific person… a woman… and …? That was it, I was off.
And this is where Midnight Ink came in.
The story, titled ‘The Locker’ - Jan 2016 – (and the word locker has more than one meaning in this story) starts out as a kidnap novel, when a little girl, Beth Hardman, goes missing from her London home along with her Polish nanny. But it soon turns into something far deeper and puzzling. Unusually, there’s no ransom demand; no predator horror facing her mother, Nancy; simply an instruction that Beth’s father, Michael, must be told, and to keep the police out of it.
Nancy remembers that her husband once told her that if anything bad were to happen, she was to call a special number. This leads to a private security company called Cruxys Solutions, which specialises in insuring people in dangerous occupations. She calls them and before long two investigators arrive: Ruth Gonzales, a former soldier and British cop, and Andy Vaslik, a former NY cop and Dept of Homeland Security agent. The first problem they face is that Nancy has no way of contacting Michael, an aid worker, and has no precise idea where he is other than somewhere in Africa or the Middle East. The second problem is that the investigators can find no trace of a Michael Hardman anywhere; no documentation, no footprint, nothing. Yet Nancy insists he exists, and is out there somewhere.
So who is this mystery man and why has his daughter been kidnapped?
To tell would be giving away too much. But it’s very clear that whoever or whatever Michael Hardman is, snatching his daughter has been carefully planned, and that if he does  come back, he’ll be walking into a trap.
‘The Bid’ (Jan 2017) – the second in the Gonzales & Vaslik series, involves another disappearance, this time of Richard Chadwick, an American drone expert. Also missing is a shipment of small drones high-jacked from the cargo hub at Memphis International Airport. But these drones are not weekend playthings; used by film studios and wildlife rangers among others, they are the latest in high-tech machines capable of carrying small loads… with terrifying possibilities.
Ruth and Andy follow a trail from London to New York, and across the central United States, slowly tracking the missing expert and the men who have kidnapped him, from vague clues left behind. All the while their progress is being monitored by the FBI and DHS, who suspect Chadwick, a former USAF intelligence officer, has become involved in a terror plot.
As they soon discover, time is not on their side.
Adrian has had 21 books published, including a beginners guide for writers, writes regular book reviews and a monthly column for beginners in Writing Magazine (UK). For more information about him, see his website at: http://www.adrianmagson.com
Adrian lives in the Forest of Dean, in the west of England, with his wife, Ann.


Using Reality

by Linda O. Johnston

  I very much appreciated my the post before mine here at InkSpot, since we've both had similar stuff going on in our lives.  And we're both using it in our ongoing writing.

  Like Tracy Weber, I lost a beloved dog last year.  Lexie, who was thirteen, left us in October.  Her "sister" Mystie, another Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, seemed to step up to take over as number one pup.  But for various reasons, including not wanting Mystie to be alone long periods of time as we took on travel plans, we looked for another Cavalier.  We brought Carina, Cari for short, home in January, when she was eleven weeks old.

  Now, I write a lot about dogs in both my Midnight Ink mysteries and in romances.  I love them, especially my own.  But I hadn't had a puppy around for nine years.  And Cari, as cute as she is, is quite rambunctious.  I've maintained some control over her, partly because she's small, but she still doesn't seem to understand that the humans around here are alpha over her.

  My mind has been whirling around how to use this in something I'm writing.  In more than one thing I'm writing.  Plus, since I've been researching dog training for a series I'm doing for a different publisher, I intend to take Cari to a special training school when she's old enough--and of course use what I learn in as many things I write as possible.   Hopefully, she'll learn enough to be considered a trained pup.  Or not.

  All this has made me think once more about how we all incorporate what we know, and what we love, in our writing.  Cozy mysteries generally all have themes as their background, so those of us who write them choose the things we enjoy as those themes: pets, yes, and also different kinds of hobbies or jobs or other things such as handcrafts or cooking or home improvement or books and bookstores and more.  Presumably readers who share those interests are among those who are most likely to pick up our books and read them.

  Plus, a lot of people have multiple interests in their lives, so writers can write more than one series incorporating vocations or avocations that they love.  I've taken on different aspects of pets, and even, in an early mystery series, included my then-career as a lawyer.

  As always, I keep plotting, and have some ideas for other works that would incorporate my interests.  Don't know if I'll follow through with any of them... but it's always fun to plot!

  And meantime, I'm looking forward to my next Midnight Ink mystery, BAD TO THE BONE, a Barkery & Biscuits Mystery, which will be published in May.