Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Terry Shames

As promised yesterday, fellow mystery author Terry Shames is visiting my blog today, with a post about returning to Texas as a "foreigner" after having lived in California for many years. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post. Also, Terry is running a contest for a free autographed copy of her the second mystery in her Samuel Craddock series, The Last Death of Jack Harbin, the cover art for which appears above. Terry will select the winner tomorrow evening from among those who leave a comment today or tomorrow and will announce the name in a comment on this post.

In the book, with the chief of police out of commission, it’s up to trusted ex-chief Samuel Craddock to investigate the brutal murder of a Gulf War veteran who was a former high school football star. Craddock uncovers a dark tale of greed and jealousy that extends into the past, and well beyond the borders of the small town of Jarrett Creek.

Sounds like a chilling read to me! Below is Terry's guest article.

Returning to Texas
by Terry Shames

When you read this, I’ll be spending two weeks in Texas. Texas?!!

I can’t tell you the number of people who have said to me, “I wouldn’t like to go to Texas. I can’t stand the weather or the politics.” And yet those same people would jump at the chance to go to Russia, Indonesia, Iran, Egypt, England, Venezuela—or any of a host of countries where the weather and/or the politics might be extreme.

I was brought up in Texas and couldn’t wait to get out. Couldn’t stand the weather or the politics.

And yet, I love to go back and visit, not just because I have a slew of relatives there that I love, nor because “home” is always in your blood. I like to go because in its own way Texas has an exotic way of life and a cultural heritage unlike any other. When I go now, I look at it through the eyes of a tourist.

Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio have wonderful art museums, ballet companies, and fine dining. Austin has its music scene. But even in the hinterlands you can come across pockets of “exotic” culture. You can run across a church that is having a performance of amazing gospel music, or a small-town fiddle contest,

or an art gallery that has discovered a local artist who produces work like you’ve never seen anywhere else.

The strong Mexican heritage of Texas means that all over the state you run into interesting adobe structures—houses and missions, and wonderful murals and art, not to mention mariachi music  and soulful serenades.

Texans have a strong need to boast—but you really can find fantastic barbecue, succulent oysters and shrimp, delicious Tex-Mex entrees and margaritas.

In the spring driving back-country highways, you want to stop again and again to feast your eyes on the blankets of wildflowers that were the passion of Ladybird Johnson.

If you are more interested in challenges, try Big Bend National Park for some of the most rugged and dramatic mountains you’ve ever faced.

Or try windsurfing or kiteboarding or just walk for miles on the beaches of Padre Island. Bird watching in the state is amazing. A few years ago, I played tourist and went to King Ranch and saw as many birds in one afternoon as I did on the best day in Costa Rica.

In the 90s I lived in Italy for a time, and you would think I would return and find Texas architecture sadly wanting. But after the grandeur and beauty of the old, old Italian cities, I found myself appreciating the austere stateliness of prairie architecture.

I go back to Texas often to renew my “feel” for the extremes of weather and culture of Texas because my Samuel Craddock series is set there in a fictional town much like any small town in central Texas. I’ve come to appreciate the state from the outside looking in. In some ways it’s as exotic as Russia or Indonesia—and a lot easier to get to.

Thanks, Terry! Now, who has a comment or question for Terry Shames? Good luck in the contest!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tomorrow's Guest: Terry Shames

Tomorrow, fellow mystery author Terry Shames will guest on my blog. She's written a post about returning to Texas as a "foreigner" after having lived in California for many years, and I'm sure you'll be intrigued by what she has to say. Also, Terry will run a contest for an autographed copy of her recent mystery release, The Last Death of Jack Harbin, her second Samuel Craddock mystery. She will choose the winner from among those who leave a comment.

Terry Shames is the best-selling author of A Killing at Cotton Hill and The Last Death of Jack Harbin, Seventh Street Books. Her books are set in small-town Texas and feature ex-chief of police Samuel Craddock. Terry lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two rowdy terriers. She is Vice President of Norcal Sisters in Crime and on the board of MWA Norcal. For more information, please visit her website.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Waxing Nostalgic: My First Post on this Blog

After the New Year's Day celebrations ended, I was feeling nostalgic, so I went back to the first post I ever put up on this blog in January, 2006 and re-read it. I've sure come a long way since then, with a second literary agent and publisher and six books published now! Here's that first post:

At 11 am yesterday I received an email from John Helfers saying Tekno Books would like to purchase my novel, A Real Basket Case, for their Five Star Mystery line. I danced upstairs from my basement writing room and announced the news to my husband. After seven long years of pursuing a fiction-writing career, I'm finally going to be published in novel-length fiction! Then I called my mother, my sister and my daughter in college, who were all thrilled. I told them to keep quiet about it because I hadn't signed the contract yet. Today, I sent the contract attached to Helfers's email to my agent for review, along with a list of questions, and told John that I'd done so. Now I'm twiddling thumbs!

Note: I submitted A Real Basket Case on November 30, shortly after signing with my agent, Barret Neville, and discussing the book with Tekno editor, Denise Dietz, both of whom I met at the Colorado Gold Conference in Denver, CO in September, 2006.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Beautiful Libraries and Beautiful Quotes About Them

I've been an avid reader all of my life, since I learned to read, and all of my life, I've been a member of whichever library system was closest to where I live. I can't buy ALL of the books I read, so I check many out of the library and read them at home before returning them for others to read. Libraries are so vitally important to their communities for so many reasons and deserved to be lovingly funded and maintained.

I ran across this post recently: 28 Beautiful Quotes About Libraries. Read them, then go make a donation to your local library, and if you don't yet have a library card, get one!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Skiing at Breckenridge

Just for fun, I thought I'd share a photo of myself at the top of the Kensho chair on the new Peak 6 terrain that opened at the Breckenridge Ski Resort this season. It was a cold, blustery day, which is why I'm all bundled up. This is what I do for exercise on winter mornings!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book Award Season - Please Consider My 2013 Titles!

This is the season for nominating books that were published in 2013 for various awards. My publisher, Midnight Ink, or I have nominated one or the other or both of my 2013 titles for the following awards:

- Best Novel Edgar Award given out by the Mystery Writers of America (a judged award)
- Best Genre Fiction Novel Award given out by the Colorado Book Awards (a judged award)
- Best Contemporary Fiction WILLA Award given out by Women Writing the West (a judged award)

- Best Contemporary Novel Agatha Award given out at the Malice Domestic conference (a fan voted award)
- The Squid Award (for best mystery set in the US) given out at the Left Coast Crime conference (a fan voted award)

Now, I have a favor to ask. If you are a mystery fan who has read and enjoyed one or both of my 2013 books, and you are able to nominate books for the Agatha or Squid awards, I hope you'll consider adding my books to your list. Here's some information about them to remind you, and you can follow the links to their book pages on my website if you need more information. Thanks!

A Basket of Trouble, third book in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series, released in November, 2013.

“Groundwater combines a satisfying mystery with aspects of riding life and a look at the illegal immigration issue. A good choice for fans of small-town amateur sleuths.”
   -- Booklist, Oct 1, 2013

Fatal Descent, third book in my RM Outdoor Adventures series, released in June, 2013.

“Groundwater’s third entry (after the Left Coast Crime Rocky Award finalist Wicked Eddies) is marked by an outdoorsy intensity and authentic sports chatter sure to resonate with Nevada Barr readers. Her methodical, gentle buildup mirrors the river’s course so that when the characters hit the rapids, life jackets are a must.”
    -- Library Journal, June 1, 2013

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Tracy Weber

As promised yesterday, fellow Midnight Ink mystery author Tracy Weber is visiting my blog today, with answers to my interview questions. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post. Also, Tracy is running a contest for a free autographed copy of her first mystery release, Murder Strikes a Pose, the cover art for which appears above. Tracy will select the winner tomorrow evening from among those who leave a comment today or tomorrow and will announce the name in a comment on this post.

In the book, Seattle yoga instructor Kate Davidson tries to live up to yoga's Zen-like expectations, but it's not easy while struggling to keep her small business afloat or dodging her best friend's matchmaking efforts. When George, a homeless alcoholic, and his loud, horse-sized German shepherd, Bella, start hawking newspapers outside her studio, Kate attempts to convince them to leave. Instead, the three strike up an unlikely friendship. Then Kate finds George's body. The police dismiss it as a drug-related street crime, but Kate knows he was no drug dealer. Now she must solve George's murder and find someone willing to adopt his intimidating companion before Bella is sent to the big dog park in the sky. With the murderer on her trail, Kate has to work fast or her next Corpse Pose may be for real.

Sounds like a fun and fascinating read to me! Below are Tracys answers to my interview questions.

1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?

I blame it all on a bad workout and Susan Conant. I’m a pretty faithful exerciser, but riding a stationary bike is terminally boring, so I distract myself by reading. I love anything related to dogs, so when I discovered Susan Conant’s series a few years ago, I devoured them.

 One day, after a particularly brutal workout and a passage from Black Ribbon that make me laugh out loud, I decided to learn more about her. Less than two hours later, I stumbled across a website dedicated to cozy mysteries, and thought, Huh? Wonder if I should write a cozy about yoga? I filed the idea in the too-crazy-to-be-pursued file for two years, then started writing. The rest is, as they say, history.

2. What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?

My characters stalk me. Meaning, they live inside my head and harass me until I write them. Kate (my protagonist) is particularly insistent, though her friend Rene likes to butt in as well. They can be really quite annoying. I get to know them by typing their stories.

Sometimes they give me an idea about themselves that isn’t fully formed, but comes to me as an image or word. Then I do Google Image searches until they visually reveal parts of themselves that way.

Hopefully all of the above means I’m creative, not psychotic.

3. How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?

I do both. The first draft is by the seat of my pants. Who has time to outline when you’ve got characters like Kate and Rene harassing you to hurry up and write them? While I write the second draft, I outline what I’ve already written, identify plot holes and inconsistencies. I try to fix those in the third draft. After that, it’s only 27 more drafts until the finished product!

4. In the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in a murder mystery and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?

Character, character, character. But then again, according to the yoga teachings, our character is defined by the actions we take and our reactions to the world around us, and isn’t that plot? This question makes my head spin.  ;-)

5. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?

Oddly enough, my dog is the biggest inspiration in most of my life. My work is Kate’s story, but Kate adores Bella (her German shepherd) and Bella makes Kate a better person, just like Tasha does me.

My biggest challenge? Probably finding the time to write, teach yoga, run my business, and market myself as a new author. I hope human cloning is viable soon.

6. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?

I’m lucky. I own my own business, so I’m able to work any eighteen hours a day I want. Seriously, sometimes it feels that way. But my writing ebbs and flows based on the other competing priorities of my life. Sometimes several weeks will go by without my having time to write a word. Other times I do it nonstop. I’m most creative late at night, which drives my husband crazy. Most weeks I probably dedicate 30 hours or more to fiction writing. Blogs and other writing are on top of that.

7. What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

Don’t give up! Writing is a TOUGH business. No one gets published without facing rejection. When I was trying to land an agent, I allowed myself 24 hours to feel bad about every rejection, then I forced myself to do something proactive. Send out another letter, connect with another author, write another page.

You can’t please everyone, and yet when you write, you so desperately want to. (At least I do.) Just keep writing what you love and know that your work isn’t defined by what any one person thinks of it.

8. Now here’s a zinger. Tell us something about yourself that you have not revealed in another interview yet. Something as simple as your favorite TV show or food will do.

Dogs are my love and a dog is the center of my books, but I started out as a cat person. I’ve owned cats most of my adult life, but I didn’t get my first dog (as an adult) until the age of 40. She was worth the wait. My cats disagree, but that’s another story…

9. What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

I’m currently writing the second installment of the Downward Dog Mysteries, tentatively titled A Killer Retreat, as well my yoga blog. I definitely plan to keep going with Kate and Bella’s stories, but another series is forming in my mind. I’m pretty sure those characters will start harassing me soon, so I’ll probably have to start working on that one as well.

10. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?

Check out my author website  and my weekly yoga blog.

And, of course, Murder Strikes a Pose is available at AmazonMidnight Ink,  and other major booksellers.  Autographed copies can be purchased from Whole Life Yoga.

I’d love to hear what you think of the book and/or to talk at book clubs or other venues. Keep reading, and go after your dreams!

Thanks, Tracy! Now, who has a comment or question for Tracy Weber? Good luck in the contest!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Tomorrow's Guest: Tracy Weber

Tomorrow, fellow Midnight Ink mystery author Tracy Weber will guest on my blog. She answers my interview questions, and I'm sure you'll be intrigued by what she has to say. Also, Tracy will run a contest for an autographed copy of her first mystery release, Murder Strikes a Pose, which features a yoga instructor. She will choose the winner from among those who leave a comment.

Tracy Weber is a certified yoga teacher and the founder of Whole Life Yoga, an award-winning yoga studio in Seattle, where she currently lives with her husband, Marc, and German shepherd, Tasha. She loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any form possible. Tracy is a member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Dog Writers Association of America, and Sisters in Crime. When she’s not writing, she spends her time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sip­ping Blackthorn cider at her favorite ale house. Murder Strikes a Pose is her debut novel.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy 2014!

Happy New Year!! My husband and I celebrated New Year's Eve with a lamb roast dinner at home, served to some close friends. After watching the Breckenridge fireworks at 9 PM, we toasted the new year with champagne. And, I always eat two good luck foods for new year's: pickled herring on New Year's Eve and Hoppin' John on New Year's Day.

Now, on to the hard work of resolutions. Every year, I resolve to lose some weight and I usually succeed in losing a few pounds--the few I put on over the holidays, that is! I'd always like to lose more, but I least I keep on trying. So, I'm trying again. I'm also going to focus on my priorities in life and try to assure that the activities that are occupying my time are those that match my priorities. That likely will mean that I will post less often on my blog. Don't miss my mystery author guest on Wednesday, January 8th, though!

What are your New Year's resolutions? Do you make them? If not, why not?