Travels With Jo

I’m delighted to host author and friend JO MELE today, and to celebrate her latest book!

The latest of Jo Mele’s Travel Mysteries.
Cover by Brian Shea

What’s better than a cozy travel mystery? Two Travel Mysteries.

Writers know that their protagonists can lead them anywhere. Jo Mele’s tour director, June Gordon, seems to stumble into trouble on every trip.

In Death on the Danube, a relaxing cruise with her best friend Irene, June takes us to many tourist sites from Vienna to Serbia, and introduces us to the local culture, customs, and food.

At Hungary’s Iron Lock, they hear a scream, then a splash. Someone has gone overboard. A suicide note is found from a professor on the cruise. After speaking to a friend of the dead professor, June is convinced it was murder.

Don’t read this book if you’re hungry or love dessert, especially jelly doughnuts.

As a reward for helping to solve the professor’s murder, June is offered a free cruise for two, on the Rhine. The castle cruise has been on her travel bucket list for five years. Now she and her husband get to go for free.

Irene tells her that since she was already involved in solving a crime on her first cruise the next one should be peaceful.

The title of this second book, Corpse in the Castle, erases any chance of this being a relaxing cruise. June and Joe soon get involved in the murder of a CIA agent working on recovering stolen art. They learn that the Nazis hid over a quarter of a million pieces of art, before and during the war. Stolen pieces are still being smuggled across borders, and sold to private collectors.

June and Joe are asked by the police to follow a pair of suspected smugglers, fellow passengers.

Joe realizes how easy it is to get involved in finding justice for a victim, and apologizes to June for thinking she simply volunteers for danger.

Still, he is a little worried about her next trip, to Sicily. Delicious desserts, an active volcano, and the mafia. What could possibly go wrong?

Josephine (Jo) Mele is a world traveler, tour guide, and life-long mystery reader. Four books in her Travel Mystery Series, and The Odd Grandmothers, a memoir of three generations of her family have been published. She thought it was time for a cruise, or two, with more crimes to solve. Jo is a member of Sisters in Crime.

Jo Mele’s books are available at Reasonable Books in Lafayette or on amazon.

aka Camille Minichino

Most of my readers have already heard many stories about what it’s like sometimes for a woman to have a different name from her lawfully wedded husband. You may have read an article I wrote on the topic that appeared in Ms. Magazine in 1996.

But here we are, more than 2 decades later, and the issues are still not resolved. Here’s the latest story.

My husband and I had adjacent appointments for our Booster shots at a local pharmacy, his at 10:20, mine 10:40. He signed in at the counter, got paperwork, and to make it easy for the staff, told the pharmacist “My wife is next and she’s right here.”
The woman looked at the schedule and said, “I’m sorry, we have someone else booked for that time.”
Time for me to step up. I had email proof that I should be on her list. There was no one else in the area, so I decided I could beat this other person to the shot. I swiped my phone to show my reminder email and pointed to my time and confirmation number. “See, I’m next.” I smiled through my mask.
She looked at the message and frowned. “Oh, that’s you,” she said. “A different name.” As if I should have warned her.
I wonder what would have happened if I had the earlier appointment? Would she have put my husband through the same process?

** Full disclosure: while I declined to change my name to my husband’s, I didn’t hesitate when my publisher required a new pseudonym for each series. And so I acquiesced to Margaret Grace, Ada Madison, Jean Flowers, and Elizabeth Logan.

“They’re fake,” I tell my friends.

Westward Ho

I’m thrilled to welcome Award-winning author ANN PARKER talking about moving her mystery series from West, to farther West, from Leadville, Colorado to San Francisco.

Most mystery series lean toward one of two kinds of settings: Either the protagonist stays put and crime hits close to home—whether that home be the “big city” (for example, Victoria Thompson’s historical Gaslight series http://www.victoriathompson.com/My_Mysteries.html in New York City) or some fictional small town of the author’s invention (my host Camille Minichino’s cozy Miniature series http://www.minichino.com/MiniatureMysteries/Murder.html  in Lincoln Point)—or the protagonist is the ramblin’ type, who “attracts trouble” wherever  he or she goes (think: Lee Child’s Jack Reacher https://www.jackreacher.com/us/ , or Wendall Thomas’s Cyd Redondo https://www.wendallthomas.com/ ). When I first toyed with writing an historical mystery, my intention was to stay put and set all my books in the 1880 boomtown of Leadville, Colorado, during the silver rush.

But my protagonist had other ideas…

Leadville, for those who are unfamiliar with it, is a real town, high up in the Rocky Mountains, with a rich and varied mining history. Leadville’s silver-mining glory days are long gone, but while they lasted, it was quite the rambunctious place. People rushed in from all corners of the globe, giddy with the possibility of getting rich overnight. Leadville exploded from a tiny mining camp to a city within the space of a year. Lawlessness, greed, and desperation reigned. As a real-life Leadville lawyer of that time noted in a letter, “A murderer is safer in Leadville than a horsethief.” (There’s more about the lawyer and his letter here https://silverrushmysteries.blogspot.com/2009/01/letters-windows-to-past-part-3.html.) It was the perfect venue to place my protagonist, Inez Stannert, and set her about solving murder mysteries.

When the first book of the series, SILVER LIES, opens, Inez—a woman with a mysterious past, a complicated present, and an uncertain future—is running a saloon in Leadville assisted by her missing husband’s business partner.

For each book, I dove into research, reading letters, biographies, and historical newspapers, and scrutinizing city directories and the census data. All sorts of fascinating historical facts and events proved fodder for fiction: A railroad war to see what railway company would win right-of-way to build its roads to the city and its mines. Former president Ulysses S. Grant’s visit to Leadville https://silverrushmysteries.blogspot.com/2010/01/late-night-dining-1880s-or-pass-alka.html. Rumors of grave-robbers haunting the city’s cemetery after dark to steal bodies for underground “anatomy classes.”


My protagonist, Inez Stannert, would have felt right at home behind the bar of this 1880s saloon in Trinidad, Colorado (Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1027484 )

I was feeling quite at home in 1880 Leadville. Then, as I was writing the ending of WHAT GOLD BUYS, the fifth book in my series, Inez decided she needed a new start. She was heading west to San Francisco.

Really???

I sat back, stared at what I’d written. I tried to come up with a different scenario. A scenario where she would just stay put, or maybe where she’d traipse off for a quick adventure and then return to Leadville.

Nope, nothing else rang “true.” And, as I looked back at the previous books, I realized that they had been driving toward this moment, when Inez resolves to go to San Francisco.

So, off she went.

Now, I had an entirely new set of challenges. Just like Inez, I had to navigate an entirely new setting. It was a setting with a different history, different social dynamics, different people and different issues. I had to decide how to position Inez and determine her place in the 1881 “Paris of the West,” as San Francisco was then called.

One of my first decisions was to settle on what Inez would do to make ends meet. She couldn’t very well buy a saloon and take up that life again. For one thing, she was now guardian to a twelve-year-old orphan, Antonia. Inez wanted to create a stable life for the girl in San Francisco. Luckily, from the very start of the series, I’d set Inez up to be a talented pianist, so it made sense to have her take a position as manager of a music store. This being fiction, I located that store where it best suited me and Inez’s future exploits. Thus, the D & S House of Music and Oriental Curiosities sits at the edge of the city’s business district, not far from the red-light district, Chinatown, and the waterfront. Since Inez has shown her mettle as an astute businesswoman from the get-go, she also has a side line in San Francisco as a 19th-century “angel investor,” providing financial backing for enterprising women running small businesses such as laundries, boardinghouses, and millinery shops.


Once settled in San Francisco, “angel investor” Inez relied on her musical and business acumen… no more saloons for her! Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1027484

Another conundrum facing me when I up and moved my protagonist from Colorado to California was that I had to leave my beloved cast of secondary characters behind. Inez needed new friends, new business partners, a new neighborhood. I found inspiration in the plentiful research resources available for 19th-century San Francisco. A group of young musicians who hung around the music store evolved in place of Inez’s poker-playing intimates in Leadville. The businesswomen Inez backed also helped flesh out the cast.

I also found story inspiration in events, past and present. For instance, for THE SECRET IN THE WALL, the initial spark for a story came from a 2016 news article https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Little-girl-rose-still-in-hand-found-in-coffin-7943552.php that detailed the unearthing of an elaborate bronze-and-glass casket from beneath a San Francisco home. The well-preserved body of a young girl, with long flowing blonde hair, was visible through the glass “window” of the casket. No one knew who she was, or when and how she came to be buried in that spot. My imagination took off from there, creating a scenario in which the remains of a long-interred body of a man falls out of a wall, along with a bag of gold. Questions immediately arose: Who was he? How, when, and why did he die? And what is he doing in the wall, with all that gold?

Off I went, on a merry chase through San Francisco’s history, pulling facts from history here and there and spinning them together with fiction. My protagonist’s move West proved a challenge, but like many challenges, it came with opportunities… and who knows? Perhaps some time in the future Inez will get tired of San Francisco, and she and Antonia will head off for somewhere else, in search of more adventures.

Ann Parker is a science writer by day and fiction writer by night. Her award-winning Silver Rush Mysteries series, published by Poisoned Pen Press, a Sourcebooks imprint, is set primarily in 1880s Leadville, Colorado, and more recently in San Francisco, California, the “Paris of the West.” The series was named a Booksellers Favorite by the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association, and Ann is listed in the Colorado Authors’ Hall of Fame. The Secret in the Wall is the eighth and newest entry in the series.

Back Again Again

NO, it’s not a typo, but a re-return. You may remember I scooted away after a second Spam attack. But I’m ready to try again, starting on Thursday March 31, with a guest post from award-winning wonderful writer, ANN PARKER!

Sending an attacker on their way!*
*And in case you didn’t get the memo, it has now become acceptable to use THEIR instead of he/she or he or she when there’s only one referent. The ever-changing Rules of Grammar!

I hope you’ll join me in welcoming her!

Camille

Attack!

Sorry to report there’s been another Spam attack on this blog. Nearly 300 “comments” flooded last week’s post about “back to school” so I deleted the whole post.

I’ll see what happens to this brief announcement and let you know.

Sad that there are people who appear to have nothing better to do.

Stay safe,

Camille

How Long is Short?

I’m not talking about skirt length, or even of a prison term, but of STORIES.

I sat through a program about short stories recently and came away with one interesting factoid (yes, only one, therefore I won’t name the sponsor).

The factoid: The Great Gatsby, often called the Great American Novel, is barely longer than a long short story.

Sorry about the outpouring of adjectives, but I checked it out and, sure enough, The Great Gatsby is fewer than 48,000 words. Today that would be called a novella, shorter by 30,000 + words than a typical mystery novel, even a cozy.

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (born September 24, 1896, a distant cousin of THE OTHER Francis Scott Key) tended to write short, as did several other well-known writers.

Here are four more short novels: Fight Club, Slaughterhouse Five, Fahrenheit 451, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

I can hardly wait till my next contract negotiation.

In Person

Next week at this time, I’ll be preparing to venture OUT to an in-person book event. Wish me luck. I hope I remember to wear my street clothes.

9/11

September 11, 2001, coming this week, the 20th anniversary of a day every adult remembers.


One impressive new version of the World Trade Center stands in Manhattan. I’ve written about it and included an image in my September newsletter. There are also other formal memorials and tributes to those who found themselves drawn into what we simply refer to as 9/11.

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I’ve chosen a less formal, but poignant image as we reflect on the heroes and those we lost.

Part of an informal memorial to the victims of United Flight 93, which crashed in a nearby field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after passengers fought with hijackers who had taken the plane and directed it to Washington during the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001.
Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

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Labor — the beginning

Revere Beach Boulevard in the ’50s
My cousin Richard and his mother, my Aunt Annie, across the street from the Cyclone Roller Coaster.

Labor Day and who doesn’t recall her first job?

Mine was twirling cotton candy at a concession stand on Revere Beach Boulevard. I was 12 years old.

The area under the cyclone in the top photo is where Fred and Lil hired me to twirl cotton candy. Each of the following summers I was promoted to a different part of the concession. The soft drink section. The pepper steak grill. The fried clams!

Don’t look for the coaster now — it’s history, along with the rest of the amusements on the 2-mile boardwalk.

Deal of the week: Several decades later, I wrote a short short story set on the Cyclone. You can read it free if you have Kindle Unlimited. If you don’t and you pay $.99 to read it, let me know and I’ll “reimburse” you with one of my paperback mysteries!

19th Amendment

August 26 is the anniversary of the ratification the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (seated) and Susan B. Anthony, Library of Congress photo