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.

death along the river fleet_MECH_01.indd

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?

Summer Reads 2017

NEWS FLASH: Meg is the winner of Peg’s book for commenting yesterday. Congratulations, Meg! Peg will be contacting you by email.

It’s full summer in New England – sun-kissed tomatoes, sun-pinked skin from the beach, sunny yellow flowers abloom. So what are we reading, Wickeds and friends? Share your favorite kick-back-and-lose-yourself-in-a-story choices.

what-gold-buys-225-shadow

Edith: I have the great honor of being nominated for a Macavity Award, the Sue FederMemorial Award for Best Historical Novel, along with Catriona McPherson, Ann Parker, James Ziskin, Lyndsay Faye, and Susanna Calkins (in no particular order). I’m reading each of their nominated books before I head to Toronto for Bouchercon in October. So far I’ve loved Catriona’s The Reek of Red Herrings and Lynsday’s Jane Steele. Next up is Ann’s What Gold Buys, which I’m eagerly anticipating.

Sherry: I’ve read a lot of great books over the past few weeks. First up was Identity by Ingrid Thoft. I love this series and have to keep myself from binge reading it. Second I was delighted to read my friend Kim Stockley’s YA fantasy A Shattered Moon the first in a trilogy with the concept: There is still an Eden but it’s no longer paradise. I read an early version and loved it even more now. Then I read Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen. What a plot and full of his usual quirks. I just started Murder with Chicken and Waffles by A.L. Herbert who I met at an event on Saturday. When a book starts with cornbread you know it’s  going to be good.

Liz: I have so many books on my list! I just finished World Gone By by Dennis Lehane, and Spirit Junkie by Gabrielle Bernstein. Next on my list is Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz.

Julie: Diane Vallere and I were on a panel together at Malice. She mentioned that she will read through an entire series at a time–both to enjoy and to learn from. With that as an inspiration, and with a vacation coming up, I’ve decided to read Louise Penny’s series. She is a favorite of so many, and I am already glad I’m diving in.

Barb: I feel like a broken record, because I think every time we do this I’m reading William Kent Krueger. However, I am almost caught up to the present. Currently reading Manitou Canyon. Like Julie, I have vacation coming up. I’m planning to bring Paul Doiron’s latest, Knife Creek, and Bruce Robert Coffin’s second novel, Beneath the Depths. And, like every year, the last week in August, I’ll be at Sherman’s in Boothbay Harbor, picking up a copy of Louise Penny’s latest, Glass Houses this year, for my Labor Day weekend reading pleasure.

Jessie: I am currently reading Radha Vatsal’s A Front Page Affair and am enjoying it immensely! I recently finished Cold Comfort by Quentin Bates and Herbie’s Game by Timothy Hallinan. For non-fiction I am savoring Naturalists in Paradise: Wallace, Bates and Spruce in the Amazon by John Hemming.

Readers: Share your summer reads!

Save

Malice Domestic Highlights

Another Malice down! We’re getting back in the swing of real life, but thought we’d share the best and brightest moments from our time in Bethesda last week.

Edith: We all, including Accomplice Sheila Connolly, united for a panel at the Barnes & Noble the night before Malice started.

Sherry: It’s all about the people! I love seeing only friends and meeting new ones!

Jessie: I agree with Sherry about the people. It is such fun to catch up with friends and to make new ones.

Barb: The Best Contemporary Novel panel was a highlight for me I was on it with fellow nominees with Ellen Byron, Catriona McPherson, and Hank Phillippi Ryan, moderated by Shawn Reilly Simmons. Congratulations to the winner, the amazing Louise Penny. Catching up with my college friend Vida Antolin-Jenkins and meeting the super-impressive Kate Carlisle.

IMG_2371

Wickeds

The Sisters in Crime breakfast honored quite a few past presidents (that is, Goddesses) for our 30th anniversary celebration. Many of us credit Sisters in Crime with our writing making it into publication.

Past SINC Prez

Edith: It was such a treat and an honor that three of us were nominated for four Agatha Awards this year! Here are Barb, Jessie, and me before the awards banquet.

3WickedNominees

Liz: As usual, we had a really amazing time seeing friends and enjoying each other’s company. Here’s us getting ready for the banquet.

IMG_2387

Sherry, Julie and I had a lovely group sitting at our banquet table. And notice Julie’s really cool skull necklace!!

IMG_2378

IMG_2377

I met Elisa Varey, who won the bid on our Malice basket we put together for the auction. She came by my 5pm signing to say hello, and have me sign on of the books. Thanks for bidding on the Wickeds Elisa!

IMG_4770

Winning bidder on our Wicked basket at the Malice Auction. Photo by Cheryl Hollon.

18278157_10155293436559321_5513403511877814072_o

Hollon and Holmes, signing together again! Thanks for taking the picture Dru Ann Love.

Edith: I had a fabulous group at my table, too, including Elisa! Midnight Ink kindly donated copies of my new Quaker Midwife mystery.

EdithTable

Agatha Nominees for Best Contemporary Novel 2017

Hi Barb here. Since the nominations were announced, the Wickeds have hosted this year’s Agatha Award nominees for Best First Mystery, Best Short Story, and Best Historical. Today we’re bringing you the nominated authors for Best Contemporary Novel.

The Agatha Awards, given at Malice Domestic, honor the “traditional mystery,” and this year’s nominated novels span the length and breadth of the category–from cozy to edgy, amateur sleuth and professional, female protagonist and male, series mystery and standalone. I’m excited to be on this list with some of my favorite authors.

Agatha Award Nominees Best Contemporary Novel for 2016:

Body on the Bayou by Ellen Byron (Crooked Lane Books)
Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink)
A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books)
Fogged Inn by Barbara Ross (Kensington)
Say No More by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge Books)

Here’s our question for the nominees: Did you know at the outset that your main character was strong enough to carry a book/series? How did this character change as you got to know him or her better?

Ellen Byron: I didn’t know for sure if my protagonist could carry a series, but I knew she had to. I was too in love with the fictional world of Pelican, Louisiana – and the real world of Cajun Country – to stop writing about it after one book. What I find exciting is how I’m always discovering new things about Maggie Crozat. A friend who was trying to wrap her head around the amateur sleuth angle of my series once asked me, “Does she see things other people miss because she’s an artist and very visual?” To which I replied, “She does now!”

I’m currently working on the fourth Cajun Country Mystery, and Maggie just shared she’s an only child, and was lonely growing up. This came as news to me because originally I gave her a brother, but then put him on the back burner because he didn’t contribute to the story. I always thought he’d come back someday, but Maggie has spoken. She’s declared herself sibling-free. I feel so close to her that sometimes I forget she’s not real. Those are the moments when I think, “Hmm, might be time to go back to therapy.”

Catriona McPherson: Oh, I wish this was a series! I miss them all now that the book’s done, even though it took me a while to get to know Jude – my heroine – well enough to write about her with confidence. I knew she was a librarian and she lived in London, but I wrote and wrote and couldn’t get the essence of her. She was flat, while all the other characters came to joyous life around her.

Then one day I was writing a scene in the dusty, disordered bookshop where the story takes place and the thought of all the dirt and mouse-droppings and dust-mites was making me feel itchy. Suddenly, I got that tingly feeling (different from the itching) and I knew that Jude was a cataloguer who’d given up working on the desk with the general public because she’s a germaphobe and the way people treat library books distresses her too much. I used to work in a public library and I know this from bitter experience. Worst bookmark I ever found in a returned book? Bacon rind. Anyway, germaphobe Jude came instantly alive and the book was plain sailing after that.

But it’s not the start of a series. The story of Jude, Lowell the bookshop owner and the irrepressible pregnant nineteen-year-old Eddy is done. Unless I think of another one . . .

Louise Penny: Initially my main characters were going to be the artist couple, Clara and Peter Morrow.  But as I thought about it more, I could see that while strong secondary characters, making them the center, the core of the series simply would not work, for all sorts of reasons, primary that I was afraid readers, and I, would tire if they had too much of them.

The other reason was that the head of homicide seemed so fully formed when he first appeared and I realized he was the one I needed.  Gamache could hold the series together, and that would allow the secondary characters to shine without the burden of carrying the series.  But he needed to be someone whose company I would enjoy, perhaps for years.  And so I made him a man I would marry, since this is, in effect, a marriage.  As it turns out, far from creating Armand Gamache, I actually transcribed him.  Gamache is inspired by my husband, Michael.

Barbara Ross: When I go back now and look at the original proposal for the Maine Clambake Mysteries, it’s amazing to me how much of Julia Snowden was there. Her family was there–her mother, sister, pain-in-the-neck brother-in-law, and niece were there, as was the still acutely felt absence of her late father. Her parents’ unusual marriage between a summer person who lived on a private island and the boy who delivered their groceries in his skiff was there, too.

This last was particularly important to me, because I am not and would never claim to be a native Mainer, so I needed to be able to write with the perspective of someone on the outside looking in. In her view, her parent’s marriage has left Julia forever on the outside, belonging to neither tribe in her resort town. (Her sister Livvie, on the other hand, doesn’t feel that way at all. Which is something that fascinates me, how people can be brought up by the same parents at more or less the same time, yet experience their circumstances utterly differently.)

But there was huge thing I didn’t know at the beginning–how Julia would act and react when put in a series of extraordinary situations. While I had a sense of her character, there was no way to know until those scenes were written. In that sense she continuously reveals herself to me.

Hank Phillippi Ryan: That is such a great question, because it made me examine my choices, and realize I hadn’t asked myself that question at all.

When I began the Jane Ryland books with The Other Woman, that started with a plot. And forgive me, here is a tiny bit of backstory: I had been reading about Governor Mark Sanford, who told his wife and constituents that he was “hiking the Appalachian Trail “when he was actually off with his mistress. And I started thinking about why anyone would be the other woman. It’s so destructive in every way. So someone was quoted as saying “You can choose your sin, but you cannot choose your consequences.”

And I thought: that’s my book.

So I needed a main character to tell that story. And it couldn’t be my first series character, Charlotte McNally, because the story was too big and textured for first person.
But I knew she would be a reporter, a tough, strong, curious, honorable, caring reporter.
And a reporter’s life is all about the search for the next big story. That is natural! So once I decided on “reporter,” it never crossed my mind that she wouldn’t be able to handle it.

But the fabulous part is how she came to life! Jane Ryland is 33-ish, when the book starts, so 64 year-old me, at the time, could not really draw on my experiences at that age, since that was a million years ago. That made me channel her through a different time…how that age would behave now. And I love how she showed up on the page! Confident, and not self-centered, and a little fearless when it comes to asking questions. Sometimes I am too worried about what other people think, and I was delighted to say she is somehow less timid than I am.

SAY NO MORE has her tackling a very difficult and sensitive subject. Not only testing her responsibilities as a journalist, but her emotional capabilities when dealing with victims and perpetrators of campus sexual assault. She turns out to be compassionate, and caring, and I love how she weighs her responsibility to the subject of her story with her responsibility as a journalist.

Yes, I know I wrote it, but you can’t MAKE a character do something they wouldn’t do. That’s when I know the plot is driving the story, not the character. Jane lets me know when I am doing that—it comes across awkward and “written.” And I think, oh, that’s Hank, not Jane. So when I am lucky, Jane reveals herself to me on the page, and I am so proud of her in SAY NO MORE. (Well, eventually.)

Readers: What do you look for in a character to carry you through a book–or series?

Ellen, Catriona, Hank and I will be at Malice at end of this month. If you’ll be there, we’d love to have you attend our panel, “Simply the Best: Agatha Best Contemporary Novel Nominees,” moderated by Shawn Reilly Simmons on Friday at 1:00 pm. (Or honestly, come talk to any one of us at any time.) Louise, we’ll all be thinking of you!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Agatha Award for Best Historical Mystery 2017

Edith here. Last week we hosted the Agatha nominees for Best Short Story and Best First Novel. Today we’re lucky enough to have the nominees for Best Historical Mystery! Jessica Estevao (otherwise known as Jessie Crockett) and I, also nominees, are delighted to welcome D.E.Ireland (also known as Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta), Catriona McPherson, and Victoria Thompson to the Wicked Cozys. Here are (imagine me wearing my Oscar Ceremony gown here) the nominated books, in author-alphabetical order:

  • Jessica Estevao: Whispers Beyond the Veil
  • D.E. Ireland: Get Me to the Grave on Time
  • Edith Maxwell: Delivering the Truth
  • Catriona McPherson: The Reek of Red Herrings
  • Victoria Thompson: Murder in Morningside Heights

First, Jessica asks: In which time period do you set your books and how did you come to choose that era?

WhispersbeyondtheveilJessica:A few years ago my family purchased a vacation home in Old Orchard Beach Maine. By the end of our first summer there I knew I wanted to start a mystery series set in that town. The biggest question was when it should take place. After all, in a town as steeped in fascinating history as Old Orchard, a writer is spoilt for choice!  are So, I decided to begin at what was the beginning of the town’s real fame, 1898 when the original pier was built.  Between the cultural shifts, the technological developments and the architecture it proved to be a fertile time period to explore!

DE: Our Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins series features the main characters from Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, and begins mere weeks after the action of the play concludes. We couldn’t have chosen a better historical setting than 1913 London. Although the Edwardian era technically ended when King Edward VI died in 1910, the four years between his death and the outbreak of war is a fascinating mélange of old world traditions coming up against an upheaval in politics, culture and technology. In other words, a perfect time in history for an iconoclastic phonetics teacher to partner with a former Cockney flower girl turned lady. But a lady who demands to be regarded as an equal.

Of course, Eliza Doolittle may have learned to speak and act like a lady in the earlier Victorian era, but her prospects for respectable employment would have been limited. But 1913 is a perfect time for Eliza to become a teacher like Higgins, allowing her to help others to better themselves as she has done. While Shaw made Higgins something of a careless misogynist, we’ve let readers occasionally glimpse a warmer side to the arrogant professor – all thanks to a newly independent, modern Eliza. We are also far less inclined to rush Eliza into marriage with her ardent suitor Freddy, as Shaw intended. Instead, we decided our characters need to take full advantage of these tumultuous and exciting years before the war. It is a new, uncertain century, one suited for a pair as rebellious and resourceful as Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins.

Edith: My choice of era came about accidentally. I had moved to Amesbury , Massaschusetts in 2012, having bought a modest home built for the textile mill workers in 1880, but I had been in the area and a member of Amesbury Friends Meeting (Quaker) since 1989. In April of 2013 I read a local newspaper article about the Great Fire of 1888, which burned down many of the factories which made Amesbury’s world-famous carriages. A few days later I was walking to worship on Sunday morning, as Friends have over the centuries in Amesbury, and a story popped into my head about a 17-year-old Quaker mill girl who solved the mystery of the arson. (Historically it wasn’t arson, but hey, I write fiction.) After the short story was published in a juried anthology, the characters and setting refused to go away, so I invented the mill girl’s aunt Rose, an independent midwife.

As it turns out , 1888 is a really interesting time to write about! So much is in flux – electricity and telephones are starting to come in but aren’t widespread, midwives still predominate but physicians are starting to edge into the birthing world, and even women’s clothing is changing with the new emphasis on bicycling and physical fitness, leading to looser garments and fewer corsets.

Catriona: I don’t really set mine in a real historical era. Dandy Gilver lives in a corner of our culture that’s half the 1920s (eek – except I’m up to 1934 now!) and half the Golden Age of British detective fiction, where gently-born amateur sleuths solved murders. It’s never happened in real life, but in between the wars in the UK it seems normal.

MorningsideVictoria: The Gaslight Mysteries are set in turn-of-the-century New York City.  The series starts in 1896 and the most recent, MURDER IN MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, is set in 1899. Oddly enough, the original concept was generated by Berkley.  They did that a lot in the early days at Berkley Prime Crime.  My agent called me one day to tell me she’d just had lunch with a Prime Crime editor who was looking for someone to write a series set in turn-of-the-century New York  City where the heroine was a midwife.  My agent thought of me, since I’d recently written a book set in that time period and I had been putting mystery subplots in my historical romances for a while.  They sent me their ideas for the series.  I liked some of them and threw out a few others.  Then I realized that my midwife, Sarah, would need a male cohort, preferably someone who would logically be solving murder mysteries, so I created Police Detective Frank Malloy. Berkley had suggested that Sarah be a poor relation of a rich family, but I made her the rebellious daughter of a rich family, which would give her entré into all levels of society.

My new series, The Counterfeit Lady Series which launches in November, starts in 1917.  I purposely chose this era because so much was happening in the world at that time.  Women were demonstrating for the right to vote, which finally came in 1920.  The US had just entered World War I.  The flu epidemic that killed millions is looming on the horizon.  Most importantly, for both my series, the issues people were concerned about then are the same issues we are concerned about today, which makes these books a lot of fun to write.

Great answers! Now, how about this one from me (Edith):

What’s the most fun thing you’ve ever done as research for your series? How about the hardest or most risky?

Jessica: This past summer I spent several days in Lily Dale, NY which is the world’s largest Spiritualist enclave. It dates to the Victorian era and was a delightful place to work and to conduct research. I atttended open air platform readings by a wide variety of mediums. I attended talks, visited the library and booked a private consultation with a medium. All in all it was a fascinating trip and it taught me a lot about what it would be like to live and work in the fictional world I have created for my characters to inhabit.

FinalGetMeToGraveFullCoverDE: Although learning about the Edwardian era is always fun, neither of us have done anything hard or risky regarding research for this particular series. However research was responsible for the plot of the first book in our series, Wouldn’t It Be Deadly, where a Hungarian linguist blackmails his students. In the process of researching Pygmalion, we discovered Shaw later wrote updated versions of the play, including screenplays and revisions to the 1912 text. One of the revised versions of Pygmalion contains a scene between Higgins and this Hungarian language expert, who boasts that he makes all his students pay, “and not just for lessons.” Voila! Researching Shaw’s revisions gave us our first murderer, with a motive already provided.

A similar serendipitous moment occurred in our second book, Move Your Blooming Corpse. Because the novel opens at Royal Ascot in 1913, we knew the real life Harold Hewitt would run onto the racetrack and be trampled by horses – in a copycat of Emily Davison at the Derby. While creating a colorful cast of suspects who would attend this deadly Ascot race, we learned Harold Hewitt survived being trampled and was sent to a mental hospital. Soon after, Hewitt escaped and was never captured. This true event allowed us to make Hewitt one of our murder suspects. We’ve never been happier to discover how correct Mark Twain was when he wrote, “truth is stranger than fiction.” All it took was a little research to prove it.

Edith: The most fun has to be riding in a real carriage (buggy, actually) drawn by a real horse on real outdoor trails. I wore my long linen skirt and hung on tight. The side of the carriage are low, there are no seat belts, and it’s bumpy! I fully understood what women as old as me and with knees as creaky as mine went through to relieve themselves in the middle of the night back then.

Called to JusticeIn one of my past lives as a childbirth educator and doula, I did attend a number of births, first as an observer and then as a support person (but not a midwife – I never wanted the responsibility a midwife carries). I know firsthand the risks of any birth, as well as the normal, healthy process that it is in the absence of risk factors. It wasn’t dangerous to me personally to be part of the miracle of these births, but I was present at more than one where things went seriously wrong due to no fault of the caregivers or the birthing mother. Those experiences have enriched my fictional descriptions of childbirth, both easy and otherwise.

 

Catriona: I’ve never put myself in danger. But fun, now? The way I do research it’s a 7b98a5ff-fdcb-478d-b41c-62517b4f7e22stretch to call it working. I go to castles, palaces, manor houses and various other stately piles in Scotland and I ask awkward questions until one of the docents demands to know why. Then I reveal that I’m writing a book (and produce an earlier one to prove it). And without fail, at that point they fetch an enormous bunch of keys and take me to my favourite place – “round the back”, aka the attics and dungeons where the public don’t get to go.  Bliss for a nosey parker!

 

Victoria: Funny you should ask. I did one thing, completely inadvertently, that really helped with my Gaslight research into what a midwife does.  I arrived at my daughter’s house for the birth of grandchild #3 to discover that, after two C-sections, she intended to have a natural home birth with a midwife and a doula. My duties included a trip to the hardware store for an adapter so we could fill the inflatable tub for a water birth (which didn’t happen) and keeping the two older boys, ages 6 and not-quite 2, occupied during her labor.

We were all present when Keira Jane made her dramatic entrance into the world and when she didn’t realize she was supposed to start breathing right away. A little oxygen and an unnecessary visit from the fire department paramedics set her on the right path, though, and I got way more information than I needed about how a midwife works.  I even got to see a placenta up close and personal (while the midwife explained its function to my oldest grandson and the younger paramedic) and watch as my oldest grandson cut the cord. Was it fun?  Oh, yes, when it was all over.  Was it hard?  Let’s just say explaining the situation to the 911 operator while my newborn granddaughter turned blue was pretty difficult.  Was it risky? Not for me, since I didn’t actually have heart failure and it all turned out fine. Keira is now 7 and just as feisty as you’d expect. I’ll never forget the 911 operator asking me if she was breathing, and when I looked over the midwife’s shoulder to see, Keira was staring up at me, all pink, as if to say, “What’s all the fuss about?”

Thanks, ladies. See you all in Bethesda at the end of April! Below, left to right: Catriona McPherson, Victoria Thompson, Sharon Pisacreta, Meg Mims. You can find Jessica and Edith in the Wicked Cozy banner.

Readers: What era do you like your fiction set in? What risks would you take – or not take – in the name of research?

Guest: Catriona McPherson

Edith here, so pleased to welcome the talented and prolific Catriona McPherson back toCatrionaEdith the blog! She’s got a new Dandy Gilver out, The Reek of Red Herrings, which I can’t wait to read, and she’s telling us how she came up with the story today. Plus she offers a chance at a fabulous giveway and a free short story.

Take it away, Catriona.

Wicked Cozy Herring

I never meant to write a Christmas book, but I’ve done it twice now. The first time I wanted to set a story at my detective’s country home in the back end of nowhere and I wanted to write about a circus. But why would a circus come to such an isolated patch? Well, it turns out that in the 1920s travelling circuses had to find somewhere spacious and cheap, with fresh water and rabbits for the pot, there to hunker down and see out the bad weather. They called it . . .

pic-1-winter-ground

This time, I wanted to set a story in an isolated village, with just one road in, where a tree falling in a bad storm could cut everyone off from the outside world. I found the perfect spot. The north coast of Aberdeenshire is home to a string of fishing villages with hair-raisingly steep roads leading down to a crammed jumble of houses and nothing but the wild waters of the North Sea facing you at the road’s end. Look!

pic-2-gardenstown

I knew it would need to be winter, to get the weather truly atrocious. And so for a while I thought the history of these fishing villages had handed me the lazy writer’s favourite gift: a small cast of characters – so much easier to manipulate than a multitudinous horde.

Because you see, for most of the winter – in fact, for much of the year – not all the villagers were actually there. The herring fishermen (most of the men, in other words), and the “herring quines” – the women who gutted the fish, packed them into barrels and salted them down – followed the herring’s migration: from the northernmost islands, round the mainland coast, across the Irish sea and down to England.

pic-3-herring-quines

 

I was raring to go. I had struck gold with the setting: a spaghetti tangle of tiny lanes, staircases so steep there were ropes to help people climb to their houses, dead ends disguised as cut throughs and cut throughs that looked like dead ends until you were pressed against the back wall.

And I had struck shinier gold with that legitimate excuse to keep the character list tiny.

Then, sitting in a reference library in Oldmeldrum, I struck platinum. I found a slim volume of local history that spoke of the one time of year when the herring boats came home: Christmas. And while all the lads and lasses were with their families for a change, what did they do? It makes sense when you think about it: they got married. Christmas was the wedding season.

And the wedding season of the herring-folk was pure dead bonkers. I read the slim volume with my mouth hanging open. By the time I left the library, my book was hijacked. No more small cast, no more locked room: this book was going to be an extravaganza.

I don’t want to tell you everything in case you read it, but let me just say the weddings took a week, every day with its own dedicated event (some sweet, some gross, all weird), leading up to the grand finale on Saturday night when the new bride and groom were tucked into their bed with a bottle of whisky and a loaf of bread (to keep their strength up) and spent the night with all their friends outside the bedroom door, shouting encouragement and cracking jokes. You can’t buy class, eh?

I found out the origin of the best man and maid of honour – I had never thought to wonder why these people existed; I certainly never suspected the devil was involved – and I found out about the worst man (and maid of dishonour?) too. I’d never even heard of them before.

Best of all, I discovered that one of the strangest traditions of the whole week-long jamboree still happens! There are videos on Youtube, filmed on the harbourside in the very village where my book is set.

Google ‘blackening the bride” if you don’t believe me.picture-4-book-jacket

And if I’ve whetted your appetite for schlock-Gothic goings-on in 1930s Scotland (I haven’t even mentioned the amateur taxidermy), see below for a gift and giveaway.

If you pre-order THE REEK OF RED HERRINGS between now and midnight on the 12th, I’ll send you an exclusive short story, set in Dandy Gilver’s house at Christmastime and enter you in a draw to win a bundle of all eleven novels. See here for details.

Readers: Have you ever been to Scotland? Did you know the word “quine” before today?

Catriona McPherson is the author of eleven novels in the Dandy Gilver series, featuring Dandy Gilver, her sidekick Alec Osborne, and Bunty the Dalmatian, set in Scotland in the 1920s and 30s. They have won Agatha, Macavity and Lefty awards and been shortlisted for a UK Dagger. The series is currently in development for television, at STV in Scotland. She also writes contemporary standalones, including THE CHILD GARDEN and QUIET NEIGHBORS, which have won two Anthonys and been shortlisted for an Edgar and a Mary Higgins Clark award. Find out more at www.catrionamcpherson.com.

 

 

 

 

Malice Memories with guest Annette Dashofy

WithAVengeance cover FRONTAnnette, thanks so much for taking time to stop by during the launch of With A Vengeance the fourth Zoe Chambers!

By the time you read this, Malice Domestic will have been long past. But as I’m writing this post, I haven’t even unpacked yet. Seriously. I need to do laundry. Later.

Wow. What a fabulous weekend.

Sherry Harris, Joyce Tremel and Annette Dashofy

Sherry Harris, Joyce Tremel and Annette Dashofy

Malice, for those of you who have never experienced it, is one big family reunion. Every year the family grows by leaps and bounds. The moment I walked through the hotel doors, I spotted Dru Ann Love charging toward me with her lovely smile and her arms open wide for the first of many hugs. Yeah. It’s like that. All weekend long. I’ve learned to start out at least fifteen minutes early to get from Point A to Point B because there will be many stops along the way for embraces and squeals of delight at seeing an old friend or meeting a new fan.

Last year I had been nominated (along with Wickedly Wonderful Sherry Harris!) for Best First Novel. I didn’t think it could get any better than that.

I was wrong.

IMG_8756This year, I went to Malice carrying the mantle of nominee for Best Contemporary Novel (for Bridges Burned). With fellow nominees like Hank Phillippi Ryan, Margaret Maron, Catriona McPherson, and Louise Penny, I went in with low expectations for a win, but with high expectations for breathing rarefied air. My Cinderella weekend. It was definitely that and more.

Does an author ever tire of having readers stop her in the hall to tell her how much they love her books? Or having readers and fellow writers whisper, “I voted for you!” as they scurry to the next panel? I think not.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking back at the weekend, there are a lot of special moments that stick with me and keep the smile on my face. Some big, like Opening Ceremonies, sitting in the front row next to Guest of Honor Victoria Thompson, a fellow Pennwriter, whom I’ve long admired and adored. On my other side, none other than Best First nominee Julie Hennrikus herself! Then having my name called, walking up to collect my nomination certificate, and standing with Hank, Margaret, and Catriona for the photo. Let’s just say tears were very close to the surface.

IMG_8909Speaking of tears, Amanda Flowers’ sweet speech following her win for Best Children’s or YA Novel in which she shared emotional memories of her parents will also stay with me.

But there are those smaller moments. Quieter moments. The ones with no photos to document the occasion. Sitting in a corner catching up with a long time friend. Chatting one-on-one with a reader I’d just met, and with a wonderful pair of fans—a mother and daughter I met two years ago who have become my good pals. An unplanned Working Stiffs (my old group blog) lunch reunion. And of course, hanging out with all the Wicked Cozies!

Speaking of… You ladies rock! Congratulations to Julie and Edith on your nominations! I loved watching both of you bask in the limelight. And while none of us brought home the tea pot this year, here’s my biggest take-away from Malice Domestic 28. Those Cinderella moments don’t necessarily only happen once. Never take them for granted. But don’t completely count out the idea of starting a collection of those nomination certificates!

Who knows. One day we might add a teapot.

Readers: What dream are you waiting to accomplish?

Dashofy-1559 (534x800)Annette Dashofy is the USA Today best-selling author of the Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township. CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE, published by Henery Press, was a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel and BRIDGES BURNED was an Agatha Award finalist for Best Contemporary Novel of 2015. Her latest release, WITH A VENGEANCE, is the fourth in the series.