Going Live and Going Home!

CloseUp_withBoat_40percent (4)

In Close Up on Murder, L.A. Times photojournalist Britt Johansson is back in Spirit Lake recharging before her next overseas assignment when two murders and a string of threats against her brother set her in action. Are they hate crimes, a long-buried act of revenge or something else?


Last February, I wrote a blog, Going Live, to announce my debut novel, Focused on Murder. And now I’m happy to announce the second in the series, Close Up on Murder is published and available on Amazon. For more about the book, please check out my updated website.

In last February’s post, in addition to thanking my supportive friends and family for all their help with my first efforts to publish a book, I said I’d share some of what I’d learned about the publishing process in my future blog posts. I’ve reposted the list below and commented on how it went.

Tricks I’ve used to tame the fear and keep everything in perspective

There was no perspective and no taming the fear. I spoke in front of 250-300 people at a couple of conferences and don’t remember what I said. In a whirlwind event at Bouchercon, I participated in something called Author Speed Dating to pitch my book. I was given 2 ½ minutes at each of 45 tables consisting of eight readers, reviewers and other authors. It turned out to be immersion therapy. I’m no longer an introvert! That’s not really true, but for the two hours I raced from table to table talking about my book, I was on fire. It felt great.

Tips on how to use CreateSpace

By the time I was ready to publish my second book, I’d forgotten everything I learned from the first time and had to stumble through the process. Yes, they make it easy, but it still felt like trying to put together a Rubik’s Cube.

Reminders to tackle everything at your own pace

I know now that’s a silly statement. Who else’s pace would you use? It turned out that I am not the multi-tasker I thought I was. Once I started working on Close Up, my blogging and promoting slowed almost to a standstill. I switched back to introvert mode.

How to know the difference between resistance and the importance of doing what feels comfortable to you

I have no clue. I read five newsletters a day filled with advice, but I don’t end up doing very much of it. One I read today scared me. It said, “Don’t Crash Your Book Launch” and offered 14 ways to keep that from happening, which takes me back to the top: How to tame the fear and keep everything in perspective.

What I am going to do is load up my car with books and a positive attitude and take a road trip to Minnesota, the setting for my mysteries. I hope to get some perspective during the long drive. I’ll visit family, friends and bookstores, and have some fun working on ideas for my next mystery.


Now that Close Up on Murder is published, I hope you will read it and post your review on Amazon. My website has been updated with new information. Please visit me and say hello.

Meet Britt Johansson!

Luccia Gray, a wonderful blogger and author has invited me to participate in a Meet the Main Character blog hop. Check out her blog, Rereading Jane Eyre, and novel, All Hallows at Eyre Hall.

Thank you, Luccia! I’m thrilled to be part of this blog hop, and I love any opportunity to talk about my main character. Here are the answers to questions about my protagonist in my debut novel, Focused on Murder—A Spirit Lake Mystery.


1.  What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or historical?

My main character is Britt Johansson. She’s a fictional 34-year-old former Pulitzer prize-winning LA Times photographer.

2. When and where is the story set?

My Spirit Lake mystery series is set in Northern Minnesota. I’m drawn to stories that take place in northern climates, with unpredictable weather and people. I wanted to pay homage to the Native American culture, lakes and small towns. It’s my way of keeping in touch with my roots.

3. What should we know about her?

Britt has a big heart, bad attitude and wicked sense of humor. In Focused on Murder, Britt’s reckless behavior has nearly ended her career. She’s been fired from the LA Times and returns to the small town where she grew up to put her life and career back together. She gets a chance to redeem herself when she’s hired at the Northern Bureau of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Britt stumbles upon a co-ed’s frozen body, sets off to follow the killer and ends up in the crosshairs of an international crime ring, where she becomes the prey.

4. What makes her interesting?

Britt has been away for a long time photographing environmental and war disasters around the globe, but friends and family provide the stability and balance she needs. Her brother and his partner run a café in Spirit Lake, and she’s in love with forest ranger, who often thinks she’s too much trouble. She’s usually at odds with the people who love her, and yet they continue to care about her. She doesn’t believe in mystic powers, but an Ojibwe elder guides her in the right direction in spite of herself.

5. What is the personal goal of the character?

Britt’s personal goals—to stay in Spirit Lake surrounded by her loved ones—conflict with her professional goals, or calling—to document the suffering of the vulnerable of the world, usually women and children, and that means traveling to places like Iraq, South Sudan or Ukraine and putting herself in life-threatening situations.

However, even her hometown of Spirit Lake turns out to be a perfect location for all kinds of dirty deeds: easy entry points along the vast wilderness of the US/Canadian border, an Indian reservation that’s off limits to most law enforcement, and a dangerously mistaken perception that nothing happens in small towns.

6. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

See answer below.

7. When can we expect the book to be published?

Focused on Murder—A Spirit Lake Mystery is now available for purchase at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, ITunes and Kobo.

Close Up on Murder—A Spirit Lake Mystery, second in the series is due in 2015. After that, I’ll publish a Prequel that reveals the story of what initially brought Britt back to Spirit Lake—a murder, of course, but whose?

8. Tap several more authors to highlight their books.

It’s my pleasure to introduce you to the following bloggers and writers:

Julie Williams author of Drama Queens in the House

June Gillam author of House of Cuts and House of Dads

 Kevin Cooper author of The Wizard, the Girl and the Unicorn’s Horn

 I’m looking forward to reading about their main characters!

Milestones and Reader Support

Last week I was pleased to announce another milestone reached—Focused on Murder is now available on iTunes, Barnes and Noble and Kobo, as well as Amazon!

Moving past those milestones in the publishing process is rewarding, but reader reviews and support are what really thrill me. It’s easy to bury myself in writing the second book in the Spirit Lake Mystery series, especially because readers have been asking for it, but your positive comments have helped me leave my “introvert cocoon” and put myself out there to let more people know about Focused.

Here are a few examples of reader comments I’ve found so gratifying because they’re about Britt, who’s been so much fun to create:

“…The character of Britt is not your usual mystery heroine. A prize-winning photo journalist living in a small town In Minnesota, she is tough, flawed, and loving. The story brought me places I rarely enter – in books or life.” –KM

“…Britt is a wonderfully complex character and so well written you feel like you are inside her mind thinking as her: working through problems, finding solutions, and living her life. –AC

“…Following the curious, risk-taking, experienced photographer Britt into such a series of forbiddens kept me saying “One more page, one more…” The descriptives colored each scene so vividly that each adventure was amazingly brought to life.” –CZ

“…A main character I want to get to know more deeply, secondary characters that help create a place that I want to keep coming back to, and a setting so beautifully developed I want to hang out there.” –JW

As an author, there’s no higher praise than knowing people are enjoying my work. Thank you! I appreciate your reviews!

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Are You Like Your Protagonist?

I recently read a piece by Donald Maass in one of my favorite blogs—Writer Unboxed, and he asked compelling questions about why we choose a particular protagonist. I wrote about this in a guest blog a few weeks ago, but in case you missed it, here are my thoughts.

Why do writers choose a certain type of protagonist and subject matter?

My story ideas are based on a social issue that haunts me, and then I have a rough idea of what’s going to happen. But I never know which new characters will pop up, or what twists and turns are coming, and that discovery is the most fun.

I expected that to happen, but what I didn’t expect was how creating Britt Johansson as my protagonist would change me. When I first imagined Britt, I thought I was creating someone almost the opposite of me. She’s tall and athletic, a tough photojournalist willing to make people uncomfortable to get her photos, blurts out whatever she’s feeling or thinking, and doesn’t like to delve too deeply into her own psyche.

I’d have made a terrible journalist because I would hate to ask hard questions that put people on the spot. I’m deliberate where’s she’s spontaneous, and I’m a ruminator. And yet, I wonder if there isn’t a shadow side of me that harbors some of those characteristics.

In addition to following the murder of a local coed, and getting involved in a dangerous high-stakes crime that requires every ounce of her strength and skill to make it out alive, at the core of my story is Britt’s decision whether to stay in Spirit Lake or go.

I’ve moved quite a bit in my life—my grandmother used to say I had wandering feet. I don’t wander that much anymore, but the desire is still there, and I continue to feel the loss that happens when you give up one thing to get something else.

So I created a character who longs to go and longs to stay and through following her adventures, I get to explore some of my own feelings about what that conflict has meant to my own life.

And, since writing about Britt, I’ve become much more physically active, and I take more risks. Not Britt’s kind of risks, but the kind that build confidence in small ways every day. Is there a connection? Has my inspiration inspired me? I hope so. I look forward to how else Britt might inspire me in her next adventure.

Have your protagonists changed you? In what ways?

feet (2)


Today I’m posting the first chapter of my mystery novel. I’d love to hear what you think of it. Would you keep reading?

Focused on Murder – A Spirit Lake Mystery

Chapter 1

I pushed my half-eaten cinnamon roll the size of a dinner plate toward my brother.  “Why the smug look?”

Little set the plate in a bin under the counter. He peered over his black-rimmed glasses, a snowy owl ready to swoop down on its prey. “I’m remembering when a certain person picked on her younger sibling for leaving teaching to move back here.”

More was coming.

“A year later, here’s the scoffer, a former big fish living in a big pond, now a small fish in a really small pond.” He pushed his glasses back into position and rubbed at a coffee ring. The barest hint of a smile tugged at his mouth.

I let him enjoy his moment. There was always payback.

My brother’s real name is Jan Jr. As a baby we called him Little Jan and then just Little. It wasn’t an ironic name. He didn’t make it past five-foot-five and he still looked like a kid at thirty. I took after our six-foot-two, viperous old drunk of a father, now deceased.

Little’s partner Lars rattled the newspaper from his perch on the next stool. “Hey, Britt, sweet picture you took of the Branson U hockey team getting trounced.”

A fringe of pinkish hair stuck out from Lars’ stocking cap, covering a mostly bald head. The former U of M English prof now favored plaid flannel shirts and suspenders. Circus clown meets Paul Bunyan.

Little raised an eyebrow at Lars. “It’s the first week of January. I doubt she’ll make it through an entire winter up here. Shall we make a wager?”

Lars nodded, “Yah, Britt missed the real weather last year.”

“One, stop talking in front of me as if I’m not here, and two, remember the blizzard?”

“Jazus, you’re right,” said Lars. “First a blizzard almost gets you, and to top it you get shot.”

I regretted bringing it up. “A rare convergence of bad luck and poor timing. Never happen again.”

Baiting me was their favorite winter sport, especially when the restaurant business was slow. Little’s taunts carried an undertone, though. He knew I was restless. I thrived on change and Little hated it.

“Mock me all you want, boys. I’m here to stay.” I set my cup on the counter and zipped into my ski jacket. Wrestling with stocking cap, wool scarf and insulated gloves, I pushed out the door amid a wave of regulars arriving for their morning gossip break, stamping snow and shedding coats. Lars lined up coffee cups.

Soon the row of knotty pine booths along the windows facing the lake would fill. In case a customer forgot they were in prime fishing country, glass-covered tabletops displayed maps of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. Framed photos of fishermen with prize-winning bass lined the walls. Fishing never stopped here. In winter, ice houses dotted the lake.

The aroma of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls, a Little’s Café specialty followed me out the door. Four years younger than me, Little was the one who’d gotten his life together. He’d quit teaching and moved up here with Lars to transform what had been our tension-filled Johansson family home into a warm and inviting gathering place for locals and strangers.

Rock waited outside, tail wagging. I strapped on the sleek new Atlas Elektras I had left propped against the side of the restaurant. Snowshoeing saved me. I used to be addicted to work, then vodka. These days, without much work to do and alcohol taboo for me, I took the edge off with exercise.

“C’mon, Rock. Winter in Northern Minnesota is not for the weak of spirit.” I’d inherited the black and white spattered mutt as well as my cabin on Spirit Lake from an old friend, who took me in when I was a confused and angry teenager, guided me and loved me. I ached with her loss, but felt her presence in my loyal companion.

We crossed the street, skirted eight-foot- high piles of snow cleared by plows after the last storm, and veered onto the Paul Bunyan Trail. Used by snowmobilers in winter and hikers and bikers in summer, it ran fifty miles from north to south through forests and lakes. Fueled by caffeine and carbs, we left the trail and navigated through dense woods and undergrowth along Spirit Lake.

After an hour, I took a different route back just to change my routine. Deep snow and thick brush turned the trek into hard work. I had to push my poles into drifts and pull forward. The sky dimmed to a leaden gray heavy with snow. Weak light might filter through, but we wouldn’t see real sunshine for months.

The guys were right in their assessment of how I was handling winter. But the LA Times wouldn’t take me back and deserting Little again was not an option. He’d helped me through a rough divorce and kicking alcohol last year. I owed him.

Daydreams of beaches and 80-degree temps entertained me until my left snowshoe jammed into a snow-covered log and sent me face first into a drift. Using my glove to wipe snow from my face only deposited more. My left ankle twinged.  I stood. It held my weight. Falling in snow is better than crashing into concrete.

Rock barked at a brush pile next to the log. He scrabbled in the snow, his behind high in the air.

“What have you found, Rock?”

Rock’s bark changed to a high-pitched tone. “Watch it, whatever’s in there might take a chunk out of your nose.”

He backed out. A multicolored mitten, pink and dark red dangled from his mouth. My radar went up. An odd place to find a mitten.

“Drop it, boy.”

It was a white mitten, blood-stained.

Adrenalin pumping, I grabbed my camera and parted the brush. A body, about five-six or seven, covered with several inches of snow lay in front of me. I gently blew the white powder away revealing a young woman’s frozen face. Dark curls tumbled around it. Long, black lashes rested against white skin. Snow White.

Her boots had tripped me, not a log. Dread seeped into my bones, colder than the sub-zero air. I’d witnessed death in urban back alleys and on a battlefield. A dead girl in the middle of the natural world surrounded by pristine whiteness and Christmas trees was an unexpected violation. The cinnamon roll started to come up. I swallowed, focused my camera and photographed her from every angle. Then I checked my cell phone for a signal.