Four Wickeds and Lots of Friends in Portland, Maine on April 10

by Barb who is packing up in Key West and preparing to head north too soon

On April 10, from 7 to 9 pm Jessie, Liz, Edith, and Barb will be at an exciting event in Portland. Maine. Co-sponsored by Print Bookstore and Kensington, the evening is billed as a Cozy Mystery Author Palooza. The event will be held at at local brew pub. Partner vendors will provide delicious beer, drinks and snacks. You can get all the details on Print’s website here.

Rising Tide Brewing
103 Fox Street
Portland, ME 04101

The authors coming include

Anne Canadeo, author of KNIT TO KILL
Maddie Day, (Edith Maxwell) author of BISCUITS AND SLASHED BROWNS
Devon Delaney, author of EXPIRATION DATE (out 4/24/18, pre-orders available at the event)
Kaitlyn Dunnett, author of X MARKS THE SCOT
Jessica Ellicott (Jessie Crockett), author of MURDER IN AN ENGLISH VILLAGE
Sally Goldbenbaum, author of MURDER WEARS MITTENS
Leslie Meier, author of BRITISH MANOR MURDER
Liz Mugavero, author of CUSTOM BAKED MURDER
Carlene O’Connor, author of MURDER IN AN IRISH CHURCHYARD
Barbara Ross, author of STOWED AWAY
Misty Simon, author of CREMAINS OF THE DAY
Lea Wait, author of TIGHTENING THE THREADS

We’d love to see our New England peeps there!

So Wickeds, a brew pub is an unexpected place for a cozy mystery signing. What the most unusual author event you’ve participated in–place or any other factor?

Julie: I so wish I could be there to cheer you all on! What a wonderful event, and a great lineup! As to my most unusual place–I need to get on this. So far they’ve been pretty standard, but I aspire to sign in a brew pub, so there’s that. I expect tons of pictures my friends!

Edith:  Probably my most unusual event was my dual launch of Called to Justice (written as Edith Maxwell) and When the Grits Hit the Fan (by Maddie Day). I had my two personalities interview each other at a local indy bookstore. It was fun and the audience loved it. And if you don’t get enough great beer at our Portland event, come to my launch party on April 11 in Amesbury! Please see my web site for details.

Jessie: Several years ago I did a murder mystery night event at Zorvino Vineyard in Sandown, NH. The organizers had invited several mystery authors to play roles in the event along with a bunch of seasoned actors. It was a ticketed event and part of what was included was a signed copy of a book by one of the authors. There must have been over two hundred mystery enthusiasts in attendance. I got to play the victim!

Barb: This question caused my mind to travel over a lot of venues. Hard to believe I’ve been at this for 7 and 1/2 years. What I saw was a whole lotta libraries and bookshops, and the occasional auditorium, theater or classroom.No place unusual. I think one of the most unusual things was after my first book, The Death of an Ambitious Woman, was published. When I showed up for a library visit, there was a lovely display with my photo and bio–and no book. “I’m sorry, your book was stolen,” the librarian reported. I didn’t know whether to be insulted or flattered!

Sherry: Have a fantastic time in Portland! The strangest was the time a bookstore put me in the children’s section and I had to keep telling parents not to buy my book for their children. Last week the Centreville Regional Library set up an event for me at the Winery at Bull Run here in Virginia. It was a lot of fun.

Liz: For my very first book launch for Kneading to Die, I did it at The Big Biscuit, the pet bakery in Massachusetts. These are the wonderful people who supply me with recipes for the books. It was such a fun experience – dogs and people abounded, and there was even a doggie cake for Shaggy and her friends. One of my favorite times ever.

Readers: What is the most unusual place you’ve been to or done a book talk?

Wicked Wednesday: Biscuits and Slashed Browns

BiscuitsToday we are celebrating Maddie Day’s Biscuits and Slashed Browns release! A reminder about the book:

For country-store owner Robbie Jordan, the National Maple Syrup Festival is a sweet escape from late-winter in South Lick, Indiana—until murder saps the life out of the celebration . . .

As Robbie arranges a breakfast-themed cook-off at Pans ‘N Pancakes, visitors pour into Brown County for the annual maple extravaganza. Unfortunately, that includes Professor Connolly, a know-it-all academic from Boston who makes enemies everywhere he goes—and this time, bad manners prove deadly. Soon after clashing with several scientists at a maple tree panel, the professor is found dead outside a sugar shack, stabbed to death by a local restaurateur’s knife. When an innocent woman gets dragged into the investigation and a biologist mysteriously disappears, Robbie drops her winning maple biscuits to search for answers. But can she help police crack the case before another victim is caught in a sticky situation with a killer?

In honor of the newest Robbie Jordan adventure, let’s talk about breakfast, Wickeds. What is your favorite “eating out” breakfast?

Jessie: I don’t have a specific favorite place for breakfast. What I do favor is breakfast in beautiful hotels. I love to sleep in and then head down to a restaurant in the hotel about an hour before they stop serving. I like to ask the waitstaff for a carafe of coffee and then let them know they needn’t worry about me any further. I sit with a notebook and a stack of postcards and nibble and people watch. It is a bit of a travel ritual for me. I’ve done it in Orlando, Vegas, San Francisco, NY, China, Iceland, Brazil, and in the U.K.

Sherry: Jessie, that sounds like a fabulous way to spend a morning. Congratulations on the new book, Edith. I love to order something more complicate than we would make at home. Sigh, with my cooking skills that’s almost anything. It’s a great time to try something new, especially regional dishes. I have to say I tried fried toast in England and it wasn’t my favorite!

Barb: I love diners. For any meal, really, but especially for breakfast. My two favorites in Portland are Becky’s and the Miss Portland. Favorite orders: Omelet with cheese, ham and onions, or blueberry pancakes with syrup and bacon. I’m making myself hungry just typing this.

Liz: I love diners too! And I especially love when I find a diner that has food I can eat 🙂 Omelets are usually my go-to, with mushrooms and spinach, and home fries. And coffee. Lots of coffee!

Julie: I love breakfast, and could happily eat it for every meal. I am an Eggs Benedict fan. I usually order it, since I never make hollandaise sauce at home. Lately, the S&S (a favorite local spot) has expanded on my go-to with Eggs Oscar. Poached eggs on potato pancakes, topped with asparagus and crabmeat. And, of course, the sauce. So. Good. That said, I’m also a pancake fan, and if I’m in a diner I always ask about the special.

Edith: Thanks for helping me celebrate, Wickeds! For breakfast out, I often order crispy  hash browns, which are so hard to make at home, with a fried egg. Like Julie, though, I don’t make hollandaise sauce at home, and I once had a California Benedict with avocado to die for.

Readers, help us celebrate this book birthday by sharing your favorite breakfast!

Guess Which Wicked

Hello friends!

On this very snowy and cold day in New England, we have a game for you! Each Wicked gave us a clue to the picture they shared. Guess which is which! We’ll post the answers on Saturday.

WCA GUESSING GAME

Liz: These have helped get me through long days of baking!
Barb: An appropriate Christmas gift.
Sherry: What I love to do on Saturdays.
Edith: Spied this in a certain Indiana country store.
Jessie: Purchased purely in the name of research!
Julie: Part of a theme.

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?

Cover Reveal – Biscuits and Slashed Browns

Edith, with some delightful news, and a giveaway!

I have, that is, Maddie Day has, a cover for Book Four in the Country Store Mysteries. The book is called Biscuits and Slashed Browns, and it takes place during maple sap season in Brown County, Indiana. The book releases January 30, 2018. It is, of course, available for preorder wherever books are sold, and preorders really help the author. I’m giving away an apron and a signed cover flat to one lucky commenter today (US aprononly)!

Here’s the cover blurb:

For country-store owner Robbie Jordan, the National Maple Syrup Festival is a sweet escape from late-winter in South Lick, Indiana—until murder saps the life out of the celebration . . .

As Robbie arranges a breakfast-themed cook-off at Pans ‘N Pancakes, visitors pour into Brown County for the annual maple extravaganza. Unfortunately, that includes Professor Connolly, a know-it-all academic from Boston who makes enemies everywhere he goes—and this time, bad manners prove deadly. Soon after clashing with several scientists at a maple tree panel, the professor is found dead outside a sugar shack, stabbed to death by a local restaurateur’s knife. When an innocent woman gets dragged into the investigation and a biologist mysteriously disappears, Robbie drops her winning maple biscuits to search for answers. But can she help police crack the case before another victim is caught in a sticky situation with a killer?

So, without further ado, I present the cover:

Biscuits and Slashed Browns

Don’t you love it? We have the bottles of syrup, the sugaring-off shack, the sap buckets, pancakes, biscuits, a little March snow left on the ground, even the slashing knife.

And on the bench sits Robbie’s cat Birdy. For those of you who didn’t hear, this Birdy is modeled on my real-life cat Birdy, and he died on June 6, just a few weeks ago. I miss him terribly, and am comforted that he’ll live on in this series.

BirdywithFLIPPED

Birdy, the cat in the Country Store Mysteries – literally, in this case!

Readers: To win one of my Edith Maxwell/Maddie Day aprons–which I save for extra-special giveaways–and a signed cover flat, tell me in the comments section what’s your favorite thing to eat using maple syrup. Pancakes? Maple sugar candy? A mapletini? Oatmeal? Maple bars? Dish, gang.

 

Wicked Wednesday-4th of July Memories

NEWS: Mary Lou H is the winner of Mulch Ado About Murder! Check your Inbox or Spam folder, Mary Lou. And congratulations!

called-to-justiceJessie, In NH, dreaming of warmer weather!

Edith’s latest release, Called to Justice, opens on Independence Day. Which got me thinking fondly of the 4th of July which happens to be one of my favorite holidays. So, Wickeds, do you have any special memories of our nation’s birthday?

Barb: I, too, love 4th of July. I love barbecues with friends and family, parades, and fireworks. I have many happy memories of 4th of Julys past, from childhood to last year. Our front porch in Boothbay Harbor offers a fantastic view of the town fireworks, which are set off over the water. For the last several years, both my kids, their spouses, and my granddaughter have been with us, which makes it extra special. I especially love that my granddaughter shares my love of fireworks.

Edith: When my sons were growing up we had a one-acre back yard. On the 4th of July we’d invite everyone we knew and fill up the place, sometimes with more than a hundred friends. Kids jumped on the trampoline or splashed in the kiddie pool. Adults played horseshoes and volleyball. We set African rugs around on the grass for lounging. People brought sides or desserts, we grilled meats, and a keg of beer flowed under the big shade tree. It was a splendid way to gather community for a relaxing celebration, although I don’t miss the work it took to pull it off!

Liz: When I was a kid, we used to have family cookouts for the 4th. It was a big deal to have lobsters. My grandfather loved them and he would devour every piece that he could, right down to the icky green stuff. It wasn’t my thing, but I’ll always remember how happy he was sitting at the picnic table eating his lobsters and watching us play on the swing set.

Jessie: There is a Fourth of July parade that goes right past my house every year. There are antique cars, kids on bikes decorated bikes and the town fire and rescue vehicles. It is organized by volunteers and has a very small-town, nostalgic feel to it. The parade route is so short that they often go around twice. Ahh, village life!

Sherry: One of my most interesting Fourth of July experiences is when we were flying from Miami to Boston on a flight that left at 8:00 pm and landed around 10:00. For almost the entire flight we could see fireworks displays from above. It was so beautiful and we even saw part of the Boston celebration.

Barb: Sherry–I had a similar experience one year on the ferry from Provincetown to Boston. It was wonderful!

Julie: I adore the 4th of July. I have a ton of fond memories, including one year at Old Orchard Beach.  But my favorite thing to do is to watch the Boston fireworks, whether from my house (I can see them through my living room windows) or down on the Esplanade, which is very crowded but stunning. My favorite time was when my friend Mary was in town on the tour of Mama Mia (she played Rosie), and they were going to sing at the Pops concert. Knowing how much I love the holiday, she invited me to be one of her special guests! It was beyond thrilling, and a memory I will treasure forever!

Readers: Do you have a favorite Fourth of July memory?

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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?