About Edith Maxwell

Agatha-nominated and national bestsetlling author Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mystery series (Kensington Publishing) and the historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries (Midnight Ink). As Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries series and the new Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries (both from Kensington Publishing). Edith has also published award-winning short crime fiction. She lives north of Boston in an antique house with her beau and three cats.

Guest: Marni Graff

Edith here, still a bit high from Bouchercon. I am delighted to welcome our friend Marni Graff back to the blog. She has an awesome new Nora Tierney English Mystery out, The Golden Hour. And she’s going to give away a signed copy to one commenter here today!

Take it away, Marni.goldenhour_cover_final_front

What’s in a Name?

One of my favorite parts of starting a new book is finding and assigning names for my characters as I create them. The way a name sounds, what it means, and even how often I’ll be typing a long name are all considerations. I vary ethnicity, and often choose surnames that are from the particular area in England where my American sleuth, Nora Tierney, will visit in this particular volume. I’ve even chosen names in homage to other authors or their characters. I do seem to have a thing about names.

My own name, Marni, is a nickname that stuck after the Hitchcock movie, reduced from Marnette, and the story behind that unusual name goes like this: my grandparents had decided to name their daughter Kathleen but needed a sturdy middle name to handle their German descent surname, Loschmidt. They were stumped and asked my godmother to come up with an unusual name. Martha wanted a bit of her name in there but thought “Martha” too old-fashioned for a baby born in the 1950s. She was reading Hugo’s Les Miserables at the time, and coined the name from the lovers, Marius and Cosette. In French it translates to “little sea” but while there was not a drop of French blood in my family on either side, they liked the Irish-French-German combination of names: Kathleen Marnette Loschmidt. Of course, my mother added to the mix by marrying an Italian, so my maiden name is Marnette Kathleen Travia!

Maybe my unusual name spurred my interest in names. In my new release, The Golden Hour, I have not one but two characters named after real people, a first for me. The first came after Bouchercon Raleigh, where I offered naming rights as a literacy auction prize. The winner asked me if I would name the character for her mother, who is a huge mystery fan. This character was supposed to make an appearance, nothing of significance, but this would be the perfect gift for her mother’s 80th birthday.

Yet as I asked Betty Kaplan’s daughter, Lisa, about her mom, I found out Betty had been one of the first pediatric nurse practitioners in California, and was also such a handy woman, she was on a first name basis with the Sears repair department, known for tackling her own appliances. I started to think of a way I could use Betty in my plot, and in the final book, my Betty Kaplan has all of those attributes, but is British and lives in Bath. She’s a retired nurse practitioner who volunteers at Bath’s Royal United Hospital in their Caring Angels program. How that fits into the plot I’ll leave for readers to find out. Happy Birthday, Betty!

The second character name request came from my son, Sean, a paramedic police officer who had lost a colleague on duty after a traffic stop cost Alex Thalmann his life. Sean and Alex had been in training together, where the former Marine had been a great motivator for the entire class. His loss was felt by our entire community, and I readily agreed to Sean’s request to honor Alex in the name of all of the men and women in uniform who put their lives in danger on a daily basis for us.

This time there was no question about creating a character for the British Alex Thalmann. In The Golden Hour, he’s the Somerset and Avon Constabulary detective leading the Bath case that involves Nora and Declan and affects their little family and their future. Alex’s mom is so pleased her son has been given a huge promotion and is immortalized on those pages. It was an easy tribute to make that gave her something to smile about for a change. We’ll miss you, Alex.

Readers: Has your name ever been used in someone’s book? And for writers, how do you go about choosing your character names?

Remember, Marni is going to give away a signed copy to one commenter here today!

MKGHdshotMarni Graff is the award-winning author of The Nora Tierney English Mysteries and The Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries. The Blue Virgin introduces . Newly published is The Golden Hour, with Nora, an American writer living in Oxford, solving crimes in Bath. Graff’s new Manhattan series, Death Unscripted, features nurse Trudy Genova, a medical consultant for a New York movie studio. Graff is also co-author of Writing in a Changing World, and writes crime book reviews at www.auntiemwrites.com. She is Managing Editor of Bridle Path Press and a member of Sisters in Crime and the NC Writers Network. All of Graff’s books are available wherever books are sold.

Guest Linda Lovely

Edith here, writing from north of Boston, where fall has finally hit. Our guest today is the multi-published Linda Lovely.  Bones to Pick, the first mystery in herFINALBonesToPickfrontCover new Brie Hooker Mysteries series, releases in a few weeks! To celebrate, she’ll give away a signed ARC now or an ebook after the book comes out to one commenter here today. Take it away, Linda.

Wicked Research for Wicked Villains

This blog’s Wicked Cozy Authors title echoes my belief that the best cozy mysteries have plenty of wicked seasoning. Just because a novel eschews profanity, graphic violence and sex doesn’t mean the heroine (or hero) won’t confront a multitude of deadly dangers engineered by wicked, ingenious villains

A mystery’s heroine is most memorable—and heroic—when she faces scary villains. This requires some wicked research. The Writers’ Police Academy (WPA), held each August at a real police academy, offers hands-on experiences that writers can use to create haunting villains and plausible plots. WPA instructors are the same ones who train police in everything from firearms and non-lethal weapons to drones and crime scene investigation. Outside experts also explore subjects like bioweapons, forensic psychology, gangs, and private investigation techniques.

Full disclosure: I’m a five-year member of the Writers’ Police Academy (WPA) “family.” I handle registrations, coordinate the Golden Donut Short Story contest, and help with varied organizational details. I volunteer because the program affords me—and fellow crime writers—invaluable opportunities to pick the brains of experts and get the details right.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESOver the years, the WPA has given me the chance to fire a Glock and an AR-15…feel the tension of making a split-second, shoot-don’t-shoot decision…learn to free myself from a larger assailant…ride in an ambulance with a paramedic…handcuff a suspect…join a SWAT team in clearing a building…wear a duty belt…swing a baton. And the list goes on.

Once I’m home, these experiences weave their way into my cozy mysteries. In Bones To Pick, the first novel in my Brie Hooker Mystery series, Brie’s recall of her dad’s story about gangbangers hiding  weapons saves her life. (Though Brie’s dad is a horticultural professor, he’s also an aspiring crime novelist who attends the WPA each summer.)

In the second Brie Hooker Mystery, which I recently turned into my editor at Henery Press, the heroine flies a drone to gain key information. While Brie doesn’t pack heat, the villains she faces do. So I tap weapons’ knowledge gained at WPA to describe their firearms. Insights into police procedures, CSI techniques, autopsies, poisons and criminal proceedings also figure in how Brie interacts with law enforcement and the legal system.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

In the real world, amateur sleuths seldom prove the innocence of a loved one, solve a cold murder case, uncover fraud, or thwart a radical group’s attempt to rig an election. However, authors can make any of these plots more plausible by weaving in accurate criminal behavior and crime-fighting details.

Writers who can’t attend a WPA can look to information sources in their own backyards Options include ride-alongs with local police and online and in-person programs hosted by Sisters in Crime. Speakers at my Upstate South Carolina SinC chapter’s meetings have included K-9 officers, DAs, judges, detectives, US Marshalls, FBI agents, crime scene investigators, ATF officers, paramedics, bank fraud investigators, and even psychics.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe best part? I’ve yet to meet an expert who wasn’t willing to answer my questions. I’ve gained insights into experiences well outside my day-to-day existence. It’s also allowed me to make friends with people from many walks of life. Yes, research improves books, but it also enriches the researcher’s life.

Linda Lovely finds writing pure fiction isn’t a huge stretch given the years she’s spent penning PR and advertising copy. Her blend of mystery and humor lets her chuckle as she plots to “disappear” the types of characters who most annoy her. Quite satisfying plus there’s no need to pester relatives for bail. Her new Brie Hooker Mystery series offers good-natured salutes to both her vegan family doctor and her cheese-addicted kin. While her new series may be cozy, she weaves in plenty of adrenaline-packed scenes to keep readers flipping pages. LindaHeadshot

She served as president of her local Sisters in Crime chapter for five years and also belongs to International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America. She’s the award-winning author of five prior mystery/suspense/thriller novels. To learn more, visit her website: www.lindalovely.com  

Readers: Which expert has helped you in some area of your life? Writers: Who is the quirkiest expert you’ve called on in the name of research? Remember, she’s giving away a signed ARC now or an ebook after the book comes out to one commenter here today.

On Persisting

Edith here, with so many tomatoes in my kitchen it’s turning red.

I’ve been thinking about persistence lately. Some of us have talked here and there about how important this trait is for authors to have and cultivate. Why would that be?

Let’s start with finishing a first draft. If you don’t persist and write through to the end, it’s not a book. Not a book you can revise and polish, not a book you can land an agent with, not a book you can sell to a publishing house, and more important, not a book anyone else will ever read. I just finished writing my seventeenth first draft of a novel, and there sure were times I didn’t want to keep digging, keep writing, keep trying to discern what needed to happen next. But I did. The author adage of “Butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard” really just boils down to persistence.

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Querying agents takes a huge amount of persistence. You just have to keep going until you have one, or more than one, who wants to take you on.  You might have to suffer through a hundred rejections. Once you do sign with an agent, it’s his or her job to persist until your book is sold.

And even before that, you need to persist all over again and come up with another book, the best book you can write, and then another.

Of course we persist in all kinds of other areas of our lives. Maybe it’s coming up with a peace treaty both sides can live with. Maybe it’s conceiving a child. Maybe it’s being patient and firm with a recalcitrant teenage child. Finding good care for an elderly parent. Weeding the garden. Scrubbing a burnt pot. Hiking the entire Appalachian Trail – or just continuing to pedal to the top of a hill.

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A postcard Julie Hennrikus got made up and handed out to us.The background names on this postcard are of women who persisted, from Malala to Alcott, Poehler to Ginsburg, Kahlo to Stanton, and more.

Standing up for the rights of those without a voice is a great place to persist. What if Rosa Parks hadn’t persisted, or Gloria Steinem? Sojourner Truth or Margaret Sanger?

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Julie and I share a senator who persists in standing up for the middle class, transparency in financial transactions, and so much more.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to persist in the first pass revisions of Death Over Easy!

Readers: Where have you persisted with good results? Any place it backfired on you? Which persistent person do you admire?

History, Mystery, Macavity, and Nominees!

Edith here, writing on a lovely late summer day from north of Boston.MysteryReadersInternational

I am hugely honored to have Delivering the Truth, my first Quaker Midwife mystery, nominated for a Macavity Sue Feder Memorial Award for Best Historical Novel this year. The Macavity Award is named for the “mystery cat” of T.S. Eliot. Each year the members of Mystery Readers International nominate and vote for their favorite mysteries in four categories.

A month from today we will already know who among the fabulous group of nominees is the winner (the award winners are announced on October 12 during the opening ceremonies at Bouchercon) – but we’re all winners just to have received the nomination. I wanted to introduce each of the nominees to you today.

I asked Susanna Calkins, Lyndsay Faye, Catriona McPherson, Ann Parker, and James Ziskin to share their favorite/quirkiest historical tidbit they learned while writing their nominated book, where they learned it, and how they worked it in. Going alphabetically, let’s start with Susanna – although she also writes the furthest back in time of any of us.

author photoSusanna Calkins: The first image that came to me, when writing A Death Along the River Fleet, was that of a distraught woman running across a bridge. I didn’t know who she was or where she was going but I wanted her on a bridge. Unfortunately, the London Bridge–the only bridge to cross the Thames in 17th century England—had been rendered virtually inaccessible after the Great Fire of 1666.

After studying 16th century maps with a magnifying glass, I located the Holborn Bridge, which crossed the mysterious “River Fleet,” a river rarely identified on modern maps. The River Fleet—once a river great enough to carry large Roman ships—had become by the 17th century an “uncovered sewer of outrageous filthiness.”  Moving through the Smithfield butcher markets, traversing Fleet Street, and emptying into the Thames, the river had become the Londoners’ dumping ground for animal parts, excrement, and household waste.  In other words, the perfect backdrop for murder.

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Bricked over in early 18th century, the River Fleet today is considered one of the great hidden rivers of London. Try to find it! But hold your nose.

Susanna Calkins writes the award-winning Lucy Campion historical mysteries, featuring a chambermaid-turned-printer’s apprentice (Minotaur/St.Martins). Holding a PhD in history, Susanna currently works at Northwestern University. A native of Philadelphia, Susanna lives outside Chicago now with her husband, two sons and a cat. She is delighted to be nominated for the Macavity alongside Ann, Catriona, Edith, Lyndsay, and James.

lyndsay1Lyndsay Faye:

I try to hold to a hard and fast rule with my historicals, which is that if the protagonist doesn’t care about the tidbit, that narrator won’t mention it.  But sometimes my copyeditors nail me on fascinating subjects just as a way of double checking.  Like guess what I learned during editing Jane Steele?

Pet doors have existed from at least the 14th century.

When your copyeditor asks, “Author, please confirm pet doors existed in 1837,” the author feels a momentary rush of overwhelming how in God’s holy Jesus H. Name will I do that followed by at least twenty minutes of ashen existential despair.  After those twenty minutes and some serious headdesking are over, however, you find via none other such venerable source as Wikipedia that 14th century author Geoffrey Chaucer referenced pet doors in “The Miller’s Tale.”JaneSteele

An hole he foond, ful lowe upon a bord
Ther as the cat was wont in for to crepe,
And at the hole he looked in ful depe,
And at the last he hadde of hym a sighte.

Following a discovery along these lines, your inclination is to laugh your face off because in the Great Jeopardy Game of Life, both you and your copyeditor can now be superstars.

Lyndsay Faye has been nominated for an Edgar Award, a Dilys Winn Award, and is honored to have been selected by the American Library Association’s RUSA Reader’s List for Best Historical.  She is an international bestseller and her Timothy Wilde Trilogy has been translated into 14 languages. Lyndsay and her husband Gabriel live in Ridgewood, Queens with their cats, Grendel and Prufrock.  During the few hours a day Lyndsay isn’t writing or editing, she is most often cooking, or sampling new kinds of microbrew, or thinking of ways to creatively mismatch her clothing.  She is a very proud member of Actor’s Equity Association, the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, the Baker Street Babes, the Baker Street Irregulars, Mystery Writers of America, and Girls Write Now.  She is hard at work on her next novel…always.

 

Catriona McPhersonCatriona McPherson: The best historical nugget I discovered writing The Reek of Red Herrings is the best bit I’ve ever discovered in the course of all twelve books.

I was reading about the wedding customs of the Aberdeenshire fisherfolk in the 1930s and I happened on the explanation for the best man and best maid (maid of honour). Get this: the bride and groom, inevitably prominent during their wedding, might well attract the notice of . . . the devil! If Old Nick’s looking for souls to steal, the buzz around a bride makes her tempting. The best man and best maid are decoys.

And, since the devil is – by anyone’s reckoning – a bit of an odd duck, with strange tastes, the herring fisherfolk made doubly sure the happy couple were protected by also 7b98a5ff-fdcb-478d-b41c-62517b4f7e22including a worst man and worst maid, with dirty hair and sooty faces, dressed in old clothes and odd boots.  You can just about see the connection to sacrificial scape-goats, can’t you?

As to how I included the research in the book . . . my female detective and her male counterpart needed to infiltrate the wedding party. Guess what roles they took.

Catriona McPherson is the multi-award-winning author of twelve Dandy Gilver historical mysteries and six contemporary stand-alones. She lives in California.

AnnParkerAnn Parker: One of the tidbits I picked up, fairly late in drafting What Gold Buys, involved who-did-what when it came to preparing a body for burial in 1880.

It all started when I was searching the internet for photos of 1880s-era embalming tools for my fictional undertaker. I stumbled across this news article about mortician James Lowry, who was preserving “the history of embalming”: http://www.wvgazettemail.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140924/DM07/140929575

The article was great, but I needed more. I started digging, tracked Mr. Lowry down on Facebook (yeah, I did), and sent him an out-of-the-blue inquiry, asking if he would be willing to talk about the embalming trade circa 1880. He responded, kindly, graciously, and quickly. In our subsequent phone interview, he explained embalming was refined in the 1860s during the Civil War and medical physicians not undertakers performed embalming until the first embalming school opened in 1883. What?? I had assumed What_Gold_Buys_Coverundertakers did the embalming, much like modern morticians. Visions of mad last-minute rewrites set in. However, Mr. Lowry saved me from despair, noting that in the late 1870s, some undertakers began forming “alliances” with embalming surgeons, adding that art to their skills set. I perked right up, thinking I can work with this! And I did. Whew. I’m forever grateful to Mr. Lowry, for saving me from that particular assumption about the past.

Ann Parker pens the award-winning Silver Rush historical series, featuring Leadville, Colorado, saloon-owner Inez Stannert—a woman with a mysterious past, a complicated present, and an uncertain future. http://www.annparker.net

ZiskinJames Ziskin: The favorite tidbit I’ve used in my books is the IBM Selectric type ball. And I had to wait five books for it to be invented before I could slip it in. The Selectric came out in late summer 1961, which disqualified the first four Ellie Stone mysteries. They all take place before that date. Patience paid off in the end. Here’s how Ellie puts the type ball to good use in tormenting her nemesis at the paper, Georgie Porgie (CAST THE FIRST STONE, February 1962):

“Since August of the previous year, the IBM Selectric had been the talk of the newsroom back in New Holland.selectric But Georgie Porgie was the only reporter who got one. And that was a waste. He could barely type his name with one finger. I’d exacted my revenge on several occasions, though, through subtle and not-so-subtle means. Whereas in the past I’d had to pry the green plastic letter covers off the different keys and switch them around to create confusion, the Selectric’s “golf ball” type element meant I could simply remove it and hide it. Or drop it from the fifth-floor window into the street to see how high it HeartofStonewould bounce. Other tricks included switching the American type ball for a German one that had come with the machine. It usually took George a paragraph or two before he realized ßomething was öff.”

 

James Ziskin is the author of the Edgar-, Anthony-, Barry-, Lefty-, and Macavity-nominated Ellie Stone Mysteries. Heart of Stone is a finalist for the 2017 Sue Feder Memorial Award for Best Historical Novel.

Delivering the TruthCoverEdith Maxwell: Since I’m a nominee, too, here’s mine.  While I was researching the series, I wondered how I could find out about police procedure in 1880s New England. I struck out at the Massachusetts State Police museum, and my local detective didn’t know where I could learn about it.

PoliceManualCoverI reached out to author Frankie Bailey, who is a college professor of criminal justice and also writes killer mysteries. She suggested I look for a book called The Massachusetts Peace Officer: a Manual for Sheriffs, Constables, Police, and Other Civil Officers, published in 1890. Sure enough, I found a reprint on Amazon. The manual includes all kinds of little case studies and all the regulations a twenty-first-century author could ever dream of.

One of my favorites rules, which I have now used in several Quaker Midwife mysteries and short stories, is that an officer making an arrest is required to touch the arm or shoulder of the person he is arresting. Bingo! Such a small thing, but I think it’s the kind of historical detail that brings stories to life. And the sort of detail each of the nominated authors include in their novels.

So, readers: Which of these fantastic authors have you read? Anyone have fun historical tidbits of your own to share?

A Story Comes Knocking

Edith here, hanging onto every last scrap of summer weather and sun-kissed vegetables.

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I pulled out my paternal grandmother’s travel journal recently. I’m not sure why I did, but I sat, mesmerized, turning the pages.

Dorothy Henderson, the eldest of six, at 18 and with her younger and only brother James, drove one of two Cole touring cars from Indiana to Portland, Oregon, and then down to Berkeley, California. She was the first woman to drive halfway across the country (or so the family lore goes). Her father, CP Henderson (my great-grandfather), drove the other car along with his wife, Irma, and the four younger sisters (my great aunts, all of whom I knew).

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Back row from left: Jimmy, Dorothy, CP, Ruth, Irma. Front row from left: Alice, Edith, Helen

I knew of this journey, but I’m not sure I knew of it before a series of strokes stole my grandmother from us when I was in ninth grade. I don’t remember her speaking of the trip at any time. But after reading the journal, a new character, a new era, and an entirely new scope of research came knocking at my brain – and I’m resisting as hard as I can! Here are the reasons:

A. I already write one historical mystery series. B. I already write three books a year. C. I know next to nothing about the period.

But consider these delightful bits that Momma Dot (as her grandchildren called Dorothy) so generously scribed – and illustrated – in a clear hand about the trip that started on June 16, 1918 – ninety-nine years ago! Each of the other children kept a diary, too. Her father was to be the new western regional manager for the Cole car company, so the trip was in part a publicity tour, and the family and the two Cole Eights were written about in the newspapers several times. 20170827_122418

On their first day, it took eight hours to drive 200 miles west from Indianapolis to Cedar Lake, where they camped.

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In certain places after it rained they had to stay in a hotel for a few nights waiting for the mud to dry. She writes, “The roads were almost impassible. Deep, black, sticky mud hub high was everywhere! All of us wish for some good old Indiana roads!”

windmilldrawingThey continued through Illinois and Nebraska, sometimes camping, sometimes in hotels, making about 200 miles each day. She barely complains about anything, instead describing the scenery in vivid language. “A lovely full moon is rising above the fields of wheat that stretch for miles about us. An old windmill looms up threateningly against the black-blue sky. A cross-continental train just shot past across the prairies looking pretty against the sky with the sparks flying.” She drew the windmill and moon on top of her words, too.

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The family made it to Denver in nine days and took a day trip to Pike’s Peak, where “a charge of two dollars was made for each one going up to the top by the new auto road,” and she reports that several of the family felt ill and dizzy at the summit. Having gotten word of poor roads in Wyoming, they decided to continue via Salt Lake City, instead. “The roads were not very good for the most part, being narrow and along ledges, down which you can look for hundreds and thousands of feet.”

They traveled through what Dorothy calls the Great Utah Desert, and helped other travelers along the way, pushing one car up a steep incline, pumping up a tire for another, and sharing water with a third.

My grandmother celebrated her nineteenth birthday in style in Salt Lake City, with dinner on Hotel Utah’s rooftop garden. “Our wonderful dinner was well seasoned with dancing and music so everything was ideal.”

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And on they went, including a stop at Yellowstone.

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From there they made it to Portland, Oregon, finally landing at their new home in Berkeley, California, on August 10.

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My grandmother includes many more rich details about the trip in the diary. Can you see why I have a new story brewing? Or maybe I’ll just let Dorothy tell her own. I also have  the diary of Allan Maxwell, Sr. (my grandfather, and Dorothy’s husband) from his 1912 European “tour” with his older sister Ruth when he was sixteen. Every entry includes the weather (a Maxwell family inherited interest) and what he ate that day – which might sound familiar to those who have been or known teenage boys!

Readers: Have you been blessed with an ancestor’s journal or diary? Or read historical fiction based on a real account?

 

Guest: Triss Stein, Inspired by Facts

Edith here, happy to welcome Triss Stein back to the blog! She has a new mystery out – Brooklyn Wars – in a series I love. And she’s giving away a copy of either this book or Brooklyn Bones, the first book in the series, to one commenter here today.BrooklynWarsCover-ONLINE

From the earliest days of the Republic until the administration of LBJ, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was, proudly, both an arsenal of democracy, in FDR’s words, and the creator of 70,000 local jobs. In time it became best known as the scary place New Yorkers had to locate to rescue their impounded cars. And then it came back to life, but not without a war.
 
Erica Donato, under pressure to complete her dissertation about changes in Brooklyn neighborhoods, watches as a community meeting becomes a battleground over plans to redevelop the once-proud Yard. That night, on the Yard’s condemned Admirals’ Row, she witnesses the shocking murder of a power-broker.
 
 Erica once again discovers “what’s past is prologue” to both murder and to her life.

 

INSPIRED BY FACTS

What do these random items have in common?

  • A flock of bright green tropical parrots live on a chilly northeastern urban college campus. No one knows where they came from. Sometimes they take a little trip over to a nearby park-like cemetery
  • A long-rumored, legendary underground tunnel at a major transportation hub was rediscovered found some years ago. Pirates? Bootleggers? John Wilkes Booth? All are suspected
  • Valuable stained glass windows have been stolen from old cemeteries and churches.
  • During World War II, damaged ships brought to a huge navy yard sometimes still held the bodies of sailors trapped below when the ship was hit
  • Before the Civil War there was a flourishing hamlet of freed slaves. Then it vanished into the growing city.BrooklynSign

Have you guessed? They are all about Brooklyn and they are one of the reasons I write mysteries that take place in different Brooklyn neighborhoods. How can I resist making these odd bits of history part of a story?

One of them made it into a book (in fact, inspired one), one made it into a story in my publisher’s anniversary anthology, Bound by Mystery, and three, well, I haven’t figured out how to use them. Yet.

TreeWhere did they come from? One was a story an old man remembered hearing as a boy, and two were in newspapers, and I am the person who remembered and looked for more. I worked for awhile in the neighborhood near a third. Those parrots? I’ve seen them in Green-Wood Cemetery, sitting all over the huge Gothic entrance and making quite a racket.  But I found out there are conflicting stories about their origins by researching online.

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Photograph by Anthony Russell, used with permission.

For the brand new book Brooklyn Wars, I did much research the old fashioned way. In the library. The book is set against the history of the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, a large piece of real estate, and, at different times, a source of Brooklyn pride, of politics and of contention. I went in to Brooklyn history room and said, “Give me everything you have on the Navy Yard. ”  I spent a day taking notes, making copies and jotting down the names of books I might be able to buy on used books sites.

I looked for inspiring photos that captured a moment. Did I find them?? How about Senator Truman and his family, dedicating the USS  Missouri? How about some of the first women workers there, striding proudly out the gate?  I even found an old dissertation about the heated politics of the closing of the Yard.  Dry academia? There were dozens of possible plots in those pages.

poster3I love spending a day like that, looking for that one odd fact that focuses  a whole story. I always find one and sometimes several. My protagonist, Erica Donato, is a history grad student still working on her dissertation. She loves spending a day that way too.

It’s not impossible that writing these mysteries is an excuse to indulge my inner history geek . At least it gives me a reason to explore odd facts and odd places.

The next book, just getting started, will be about Brooklyn Heights, one of the oldest parts of Brooklyn and the very first official Historic District in New York city. And this is, after all, Brooklyn, a place where people have opinions. It was quite a battle.

Here is a Brooklyn Heights urban legend I was told by a colleague many decades ago, when I lived at the corner of Orange Street. It turns out to be, probably, true: an elderly descendant of an old Brooklyn family objected to streets being named for other old families. She objected so much she would take the street signs down late at night. The city finally gave in and renamed them for fruits.

Who wouldn’t be inspired by that?

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Do you know a surprising or fun fact about your town? And if you are a writer, have you ever felt compelled to write about it? Remember, Triss is giving away a copy of either the new book or the first book in the series to one commenter!

Triss Stein grew up in northernmost NY state but has spent most of her adult life in Brooklyn. This gives her a useful double perspective for writing mysteries about the neighborhoods of her constantly changing adopted home. In Brooklyn Wars, her heroine Erica Donato witnesses a murder at the famous Brooklyn Navy Yard and finds herself drawn deep into both old and current conflicts.

 

Guest: Alexia Gordon

Edith here, loving the smells of summer, and delighted to welcome mystery author Alexia Gordon as our guest today! Her second Gethsemane Brown mystery released this month. I read Murder in G Major, the first Gethsemane Brown mystery (nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel, I might add), and loved it. I can’t wait to read the new one. Here’s what Death in D Minor is about:

DeathInDMinor front

Gethsemane Brown, an African-American classical musician a living in an Irish village, scrambles to call her vanished spectral roomie back from beyond and find a way to save her cottage from being sold. When her visiting brother-in-law is accused of stealing a valuable antique, Gethsemane strikes a deal with a garda investigator to go undercover as a musician at a charity ball and snoop for evidence linking antiques to a forgery/theft ring in exchange for the investigator’s help clearing her brother-in-law. At the party, she accidentally conjures the ghost of an eighteenth-century sea captain, then ends up the prime suspect in the party host’s murder. With the captain’s help, she races to untangle a web of phony art and stolen antiques to exonerate herself and her brother-in-law – until the killer targets her. Will she bring a thief and murderer to justice, or will her encore investigation become her swan song?

Doesn’t that just sound delicious? And Alexia is giving away the audio book (on CDs) of Death in D Minor to one lucky commenter here today.

A Method To My Madness

I’m used to doing things without giving much conscious thought to the steps involved in execution. I’m like Nike, I “just do it”. I have a process, of course, and it’s a logical process but it’s an unconscious one, like those programs always running in the background on your laptop. I think it’s hereditary. I never learned to cook from my mother because she’s a “some-bit cook”. I’d watch her in the kitchen, far enough away to not be underfoot, and ask how much of a particular ingredient she added to the pot. “Some,” she’d answer, or, “A bit.” I’ve had to become more aware of those processes since becoming a published author, however, because one of the questions I’m often asked is, “What is your writing process?” I’m forced to come up with a better answer than, “Um.”

I go through several phases as I write a book: brainstorming (a.k.a. daydreaming), researching, plotting, outlining, developing characters, writing, rewriting. Not necessarily in that order. Definitely, not in a linear order. Multi-phase execution occurs simultaneously. I may develop characters while I research. I flip back and forth between outlining and writing.

Brainstorming and research are two of my favorite phases. I love to play the “What if?” game. I read the recent article about a company offering to implant a microchip in employees’ hands to allow them the convenience of unlocking doors and turning on the copy machine with a key card. Instead of thinking, “Wow, that would be convenient, what a great idea,” I thought, “What if?” What if someone wanted to access a secured building? Would they cut off someone’s hand to get the chip? Kidnap the chipped employee and force them to do the dirty work so only their fingerprints were left at the scene? And what if a chipped employee quit? How far would the company go to retrieve it’s data? All sorts of criminal possibilities flooded my brain.

I also love to people watch (and to eavesdrop), all in the name of research. Several days ago I needed a model for a character. I won’t say which one. I went out to eat and kept my eyes and ears open. Before I finished my coffee, I spotted diners at a nearby table who exhibited behavior that begged to be fictionalized. This week, I’m at a conference related to my day job. I attend the sessions and listen to the speakers to get the information I need for work but a tiny part of my brain stays alert for some tidbit that could work its way into fiction someday, like a robotic vehicle that recovers casualties from a building in midtown Manhattan that’s under attack by aliens. (None of the speakers mentioned aliens. I made that up.)

So, there’s a partial answer, my attempt to quantify “a bit”. I’ll keep “just doing it” because that’s how my brain works. But I’ll be more mindful of the how. Because “Um” isn’t a good answer.

Readers: Do you map your processes? Or do you just do it and sort out how later? Remember, your comment could win you the audio book (on CDs) of Death in D Minor!

AlexiaGordonA writer since childhood, Alexia Gordon continued writing through college but put literary endeavors on hold to finish medical school and Family Medicine residency training. Her medical career established, she returned to writing fiction. She completed SMU’s Writer’s Path program in Dallas, Texas. Henery Press published her first novel, Murder in G Major, book one of the Gethsemane Brown mysteries, in September 2016. Book two, Death in D Minor, premiered July 2017. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Writers’ League of Texas. She listens to classical music, drinks whiskey, and blogs at http://www.missdemeanors.com.