Friday, September 21, 2018

Finding the Story for BELOW THE TREE LINE: A Guest Post from Author Susan Oleksiw

We welcome Susan Oleksiw, author of the new Below the Tree Line, the first book in the new Pioneer Valley Mystery Series, to Midnight Ink's blog today! Here she shares the inspiration for Below the Tree Line.

A few years ago I was facing the end of one mystery series and trying to think up an interesting setting and protagonist for something new. An idea might come to me, but I'd put it aside because it wasn't compelling, and besides, I had other things to think about. In their retirement years my parents did the unexpected: they sold their home in a lovely town on the ocean and, in their seventies, bought a farm and went back to the land.

I watched this with some amusement, following my father along the trails he cut in the woods, waving to the farmer on his tractor, getting to know the neighbors at church suppers. My mother went back to canning vegetables from her small garden, something she hadn't done since the 1950s. They ate a lot of zucchini.

When my parents died I found myself the owner of a farm that consisted of large tracts of woods and a field rented to another farmer. I also found myself responsible for the periodic forestry management plans required by the state.

I'd helped with some of this legal work while my mother was still alive, but the full extent wasn't clear until I was solely responsible for all of it. I learned a lot about trees, ecology, forestry, and more. The work was interesting, the foresters helpful and informative, and a walk in the woods always a pleasure. I learned about this part of New England and read farm journals. And then it dawned on me. Why not use what I knew for a new series featuring a farmer whose farm is mostly wood products?

I invented a fictional farming community in the Pioneer Valley, to distinguish the area from the Berkshires, populated the town with a variety of friends and small-business owners based on long-gone relatives, and gave my protagonist a barn cat (everyone needs a cat to control the mice population) and a rescue dog (what's a walk in the woods without a dog?).

As I sketched out the first story, for Below the Tree Line, I was flooded with memories of all the evenings my brothers and parents sat around telling stories about the dairy farm where we'd been born, in Connecticut, my great-grandfather's farm (a man I knew), the farming community where my mother spent every summer of her childhood, and the occasional swamp Yankee we encountered. It turned out I knew more about this life than I realized.

My protagonist, Felicity O'Brien, took shape as the daughter and granddaughter of farmers, but also as the daughter of a line of women with a special gift for healing. This nugget of character came from an encounter with a small church whose members participated in healing services. Despite their apparent special gifts, they were ordinary folk anyone might encounter in the community--teachers, accountants, health care workers, loggers, shop owners. It was their matter-of-factness about their healing practices that caught my imagination.

The more I explored my fictional world in this part of New England, the more interesting it became. Instead of finding myself in an isolated community, I discovered the way these rural areas link to the larger world and feel every wave or wind brushing over the entire country. And all the while they are striving to maintain a way of life few even know about anymore.


Below the Tree Line In the Massachusetts countryside, family secrets run deep...but an outside threat could uproot them all

Felicity O'Brien hopes the warning shot fired from her porch is enough to scare off the intruder who's been snooping around her family's Massachusetts farm. Days later, when two young women are found dead nearby, Felicity can't figure out how the deaths are related, and even her inherited healing touch isn't enough to ease the community's pain over the tragic loss.

Felicity does know that somebody wants something bad enough to kill for it, but all she has is the neglected property her parents passed down to her. Joining forces with her friend Jeremy Colson, Felicity tries to uncover the truth and save herself and her land from those who are capable of unthinkable harm.

Praise for Below the Tree Line:

"Oleksiw crafts a classic small-town mystery...where a closely knit cast of characters are forced to wrestle with the unwanted intrusion of the modern world that threatens long-standing traditions."
—Sheila Connolly, New York Times bestselling author of the County Cork Mystery series

"A woman with healing hands and a rescued dog trap a killer in Susan Oleksiw's engaging Below the Tree Line."
—Hallie Ephron, New York Times bestselling author of You'll Never Know, Dear

Susan Oleksiw (Massachusetts) is the author of the Mellingham mystery series and the Anita Ray mystery series. She is the co-founder of Level Best Books, which publishes an annual anthology of the best New England crime fiction. Her writing has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and she served as co-editor for The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing. Visit Susan online at

Monday, September 10, 2018

eBook Deal: HUNTING THE FIVE POINT KILLER by C.M. Wendelboe is Just $0.99!

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Sunday, September 9, 2018

#MeToo, Gun Violence, and Black Swan Rising: A Guest Post from Lisa Brackmann

We welcome Lisa Brackmann, author of the new Black Swan Rising, to Midnight Ink's blog today! Here she talks about #MeToo, gun violence, and the inspiration for BLACK SWAN RISING.

In late fall 2013, I moved back to my hometown of San Diego after two and a half decades away. It's not like I'd been a stranger all that time—I'd been living up the freeway in Venice Beach, and I visited San Diego frequently. But visiting a place and living in it are two different things. The city of my birth had changed–a lot.

I spent a lot of time taking very long walks around different parts of San Diego, particularly around Clairemont, where I’d gone to high school. I’d always thought of Clairemont as the absolute burbiest of the burbs—a middle-to-working class community of tract houses that sprawls over a large area north of the 8 freeway and east of the 5 and the bay. My high school, Clairemont High, was the real life inspiration for Fast Times at Ridgemont High. That should give you some idea.

On foot, I was finding Clairemont to be a lot more interesting than I’d remembered–I encountered a Buddhist temple in a tract house, a trailer park, Middle Eastern and Brazilian markets, Taiwanese bakeries, pho restaurants, breweries, and a whole lot of taco shops and Tiki decorations. Still middle-to-working class for the most part, but with a growing number of faux Tuscan McMansions.

Clairemont, like the city of San Diego itself, had become bigger, busier, more diverse. (You can see some of the Clairemont sights in my Instagram account, @otherlisa, using the hashtag #WildsofClairemont.)

Oh, and the beer! There are six breweries within walking distance of my house (CAVEAT: I take long walks). San Diego can credibly claim to be the craft beer capital of the world, with 152 operational brewhouses as of 1/30/18.

That’s...a lot of beer.

Politically, San Diego was no longer the conservative military town of my childhood. In fact, Clairemont had become a swing district, electing a Democrat to the House of Representatives for the first time in 2012. But in 2014 this was still most definitely a swing district–and the Congressional race that year was heavily contested. At the time more money was spent on this race than any other congressional race in history. The advertisements were constant and the attack ads, ubiquitous and incredibly nasty. I've always been a political junkie, and I watched it all, fascinated and repelled.

Another thing going on at that time that I found fascinating and repelling: GamerGate.

In case you missed it, "GamerGate" was ostensibly about ethics in journalism covering the online gaming industry. What it really was about was attacking and shaming women involved in that industry who dared to advocate for more inclusive and more women-friendly games or even examine the kinds of sexist and racist tropes common in gaming. These attacks ranged from constant online harassment of women, people of color, and at times, their male allies to doxing, "swatting" (calling in a fake police report to provoke a SWAT team response on a target) and real-life death threats.

The attackers? Mostly young, angry white men.

The internet has long been hostile territory for women and people of color, but this was several steps beyond anything that had gone on before, with subReddits and other chat boards used to organize and coordinate attacks.

GamerGate was not taken terribly seriously by many. After all, it was just the internet, right? If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Or more accurately, get back into the kitchen where you belong. The virulent misogyny behind this "movement" was undeniable, but for whatever reason, online platforms and commentators were slow to respond in any positive way.

Here's the thing, though. Misogyny is frequently the canary in the coal mine.

It is not a stretch to say that the current "Alt-Right" movement, up to and including Neo Nazis, grew out of GamerGate, sharing ideologies and adopting their methods of online organization and harassment.

"Before white supremacists, neo-Nazis and white nationalists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia in August they were organizing behind a computer screen," according to a video piece by NBC News. "And a lot of that organizing happened through a messaging service called Discord which was original created to connect video game players to one another. "This is just the latest in the long-running, shared history between the gaming community and the alt-right."

Something else I found fascinating and appalling became another key element of BLACK SWAN RISING: Mass shootings, in particular the constant drumbeat of these stories, of deaths, of a media storm over a particularly violent incident that quickly subsides and is replaced by the next mass slaughter, to the accompaniment of meaningless "thoughts and prayers."

I started researching mass shootings as a phenomena. I found that the great majority of mass shooters have domestic violence in their backgrounds (in fact, most mass shootings are "domestics," with the victims primarily being the male shooter's family). At the very least, these shooters have documented sentiments of hatred of women.

Elliot Rodger, the Isla Vista shooter, is just one example. "I will punish all females for the crime of depriving me of sex," he wrote in a document outlining his massacre plans. "They have starved me of sex for my entire youth, and gave that pleasure to other men. In doing so, they took many years of my life away."

"I will arm myself with deadly weapons and wage a war against all women and the men they are attracted to. And I will slaughter them like the animals they are."

Another common thread? Racism and other "Alt-Right" beliefs.

Elliott Rodger, Dylann Roof, Christopher Harper Mercer, Alexandre Bissonette, Nikolas Cruz (the Parkland shooter)—the list goes on and on.

From Rodger, again: "How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me? I am beautiful, and I am half white myself. I am descended from British aristocracy. He is descended from slaves. I deserve it more."

"How could an ugly Asian attract the attention of a white girl, while a beautiful Eurasian like myself never had any attention from them?"

And thus the horrible circle—online harassment, misogyny, racism, right-wing extremism, and mass slaughter—is closed.

I wrote the first chapter and a pitch for BLACK SWAN RISING in mid-2014, and then put it aside to write GO-BETWEEN. I ended up writing most of BLACK SWAN RISING in 2016. All I can say is that watching the political events unfold as I was writing was another peculiar mix of fascinating and appalling. There were times that I was afraid to write down what was in my head because I was scared that it might actually happen in front of me. I know, rationally, that this is ridiculous. But I felt a bit like Casey Cheng, one of the heroines of the novel, a reporter who by giving something a name fears that she's helped bring it to life.

This was not an easy book to write. Generally my books have a lot more humor to them than this one does. But I felt that it was an important book to write, and a necessary one. Maybe one thing that the #MeToo era has shown is that we need to call these things out, to give them names, to bring them into the light, if we truly want to defeat them.


Black Swan Rising Sarah Price wants a career in politics. But she has a secret past that won't stay past, threatening her job on a San Diego congressman's reelection campaign.

Casey Cheng wants a story. An ambitious local television reporter, Casey needs to get her career back on track after being seriously injured in a mass shooting. When she investigates the man who nearly killed her, she finds a connection to a group of online harassers called #TrueMen—and realizes her shooter may not be the only killer they have inspired.

Casey's investigation and Sarah's secret put them both in the crosshairs of a hate group that targets anyone they've deemed to be against their cause, including Sarah's boss, the congressman. Now Sarah and Casey have a choice to make—do they hide? Or do they fight back?

Praise for Black Swan Rising:

"Black Swan Rising is more than the sum of its parts...In this gripping novel, Lisa Brackmann tells not just the harrowing story of two women impacted by a mass shooting but the story of America's deadly love affair with guns."
—Bryn Greenwood, New York Times bestselling author of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

"Lisa Brackmann's Black Swan Rising is a savvy, riveting thriller that's also deeply human, with characters who are as authentic as they are compelling."
—Lou Berney, Edgar Award–winning author of The Long and Faraway Gone

"Lisa Brackmann writes with passion, guts, and heart. Black Swan Rising is more than just a thrilling read—it's also an unflinching examination of the corrosive effects of racism and misogyny on American culture."
—Chris Holm, Anthony Award–winning author of The Killing Kind

"A raw and masterful mystery thriller that explores the real darkness of the human soul."
—Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Glimpse

Lisa Brackmann has worked as an executive at a major motion picture studio, an issues researcher in a presidential campaign, and was the singer/songwriter/bassist in an LA rock band. Her debut novel, Rock Paper Tiger, set on the fringes of the Chinese art world, made several "Best of 2010" lists, including Amazon's Top 100 Novels and Top 10 Mystery/Thrillers, and was nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best First Novel. Her second novel, Getaway, won the Los Angeles Book Festival Grand Prize and was nominated for the T. Jefferson Parker SCIBA award. Hour of the Rat, #2 in the Ellie McEnroe series, was short-listed for Left Coast's World Mystery award, as was Ellie #3, Dragon Day (and was a Seattle Times Top 10 Mystery Pick). Lisa lives in San Diego with a couple of cats, far too many books, and a bass ukulele. Visit Lisa online at

Friday, September 7, 2018

Five Fun Facts About Jess Lourey: A Guest Blog Post from MERCY'S CHASE Author Jess Lourey

We welcome Jess Lourey, author of the new Mercy's Chase, to Midnight Ink's blog today! Here she shares 5 facts that you'd never guess.

1. I write with a box of See’s Chocolate Lollipops close by. If I can’t find a way out of a scene or get stuck on a big, white page, I suck on one of those, and it pulls the words loose.

2. The idea for the Salem's Cipher thriller series came from an offhand comment Chelsea Cain made while she and I were on a panel together. "I wish there were more kick-ass thrillers written by women and about women." Yeah, sister!

3. While Salem Wiley, the protagonist in Mercy's Chase, is a genius cryptanalyst, I am not. Doing crossword puzzles, reading mystery novels, and playing hide-and-go-seek are me at the top of my code-cracking game. I am, however, an excellent research and was delighted to discover all sorts of great cryptanalytical books and articles out there, including Helen F. Gaines's Cryptanalysis: A Study of Ciphers and Their Solution and Simon Singh's The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography.

4. In my head, Salem Wiley looks like a cross between my niece, Esmae, and my friend, Angie. I think of the two of them whenever I write her.

5. For research, I visited most of the locations included in Mercy's Chase, including a tour that brought me inside of Stonehenge. Tough job!


Mercy's Chase "An immersive voice, an intriguing story, a wonderful character—highly recommended!"
—Lee Child, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Jack Reacher novels

What if everything you thought you knew about Stonehenge was wrong?

When agoraphobic genius Salem Wiley lands her dream job as an FBI cryptanalyst, she vows never to return to the witch hunt underworld, where ancient secrets encrypted by hunted women have the power to rewrite history. Her resolve disappears when sweet Mercy Mayfair, the child she is pledged to protect, is kidnapped. With the help of the enigmatic Agent Lucan Stone, Salem is forced to code hunt in Ireland, England, and Scotland to keep the girl alive. As the clock ticks, she must face the terrible truth that there is only one way to free Mercy: crack the unbreakable code of Stonehenge.

Praise for Mercy's Chase:

"Both a sweeping adventure and race-against-time thriller, Mercy's Chase is fascinating, fierce, and brimming with heart—just like its heroine, Salem Wiley."
—Meg Gardiner, author of Into the Black Nowhere

Jess Lourey (rhymes with “dowry”) is an Anthony, Lefty, and Agatha-nominated author best known for her critically-acclaimed Mira James Mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing “a splendid mix of humor and suspense.” She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft's Excellence in Teaching fellowship, a regular Psychology Today blogger, and a sought-after workshop leader and keynote speaker who delivered the 2016 "Rewrite Your Life" TEDx Talk. Mercy's Chase, the second in the feminist thriller series Lee Child calls "highly recommended," releases September 8. You can find out more at