Guest Blogger – June Trop

Miriam bat Isaac, Alchemist and Sleuth Extraordinaire by June Trop

I write historical mysteries set in Roman-occupied Alexandria during the first century CE. My protagonist, Miriam bat Isaac, is an alchemist and amateur sleuth whom I got to meet quite unexpectedly.

You see, I spent my early professional life as a science teacher. I met Miriam when I was taking a course on the historical development of concepts in chemistry. Chemistry is generally taught as if the knowledge accepted as Truth now has always been known. So, when the professor assigned a paper on some chemistry concept from the past, I had no idea what to write about. In desperation, I roamed the stacks of the library while looking toward the heavens for some inspiration. If I’d been looking where I was going, I might never have met Miriam.

As I bumped into one of the bookcases, a tome from a top shelf fell on my toe. It opened to a short article about a woman known as Maria Hebrea. I wondered how a woman from Ancient Alexandria came to be the legendary founder of Western alchemy and hold her place for 1500 years as the most celebrated woman of the Western World.

In the alchemical literature, Maria Hebrea is alternately referred to as Mary the Jewess or Miriam the Prophetess, sister of Moses. Like her, all alchemists wrote under the name of a deity, prophet, or philosopher from an earlier time to enhance the authenticity of their claims and shield themselves from persecution. Although the tradition among all the crafts and mystical cults was to guard the secrecy of their work, persecution was a real risk for alchemists, who could be accused of and summarily executed for synthesizing gold to debase the emperor’s currency.

With so little known about her, not even her real name, I was free to invent a life for her. With her plucky spirit and analytic mind, why not make her my detective in a mystery series? She’d be up to the challenge; she’d play fair; and she’d make the pieces of the puzzle fit together. She’d even give readers a chance to the solve the puzzle along with her, although they’d likely be unable to do so. And the solution would satisfy her sense of justice. So, while my Miriam bat Isaac is fictive, her personage is based on the once-famous Maria Hebrea, alchemist extraordinaire.

In the latest of her five adventures, The Deadliest Thief,Miriam’s best friend, Phoebe is kidnapped. At the same time,a brute of a man is stalking Miriam’s assistant, Nathaniel ben Ruben, an itinerant potbellied dwarf. Could this brute be the same man who kidnapped Phoebe? And can Miriam find her before it’s too late?

According to Kirkus Reviews, The Deadliest Thief has “an entertaining plot ending with a most unexpected twist.” [but] “The real strength of Trop’s atmospherically rich book lies in her ability to transport her audience to a distant time and place.” So, let The Deadliest Thief, e-book or paperback, take you into the Alexandria’s underbelly to help Miriam solve her most baffling case yet. 

The Deadliest Thief

Miriam bat Isaac, a budding alchemist and amateur sleuth in first-century CE Alexandria, becomes frantic when her best friend, Phoebe, is kidnapped. At the same time, a brute of a man is stalking Nathaniel ben Ruben, an itinerant potbellied dwarf. Could this brute, the last surviving jewel thief from the Temple of Artemis, be the same man who has kidnapped Phoebe?

Buy Links:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/the+deadliest+thief?_requestid=261164

or wherever e-books or paperbacks are sold.

As an award-winning middle school science teacher, June used storytelling to capture her students’ imagination and interest in scientific concepts. Years later as a professor of teacher education, she focused her research on the practical knowledge teachers construct and communicate through storytelling.

Her books have been cited for excellence at the New York Book Festival, by Wiki Ezvid, the Historical Novel Society, and as a 5-star Readers’ Favorite.

An active member of the Mystery Writers of America, June lives with her husband Paul Zuckerman in New Paltz, NY where she is breathlessly recording her plucky heroine’s next life-or-death exploit.

Connect with June on her website www.JuneTrop.com or her Facebook page: June Trop Author.

Secondary Characters Who Pop by Paty Jager

Most readers remember the main characters or protagonists in a book or story. They carry the story and have the most ups and down, triumphs and failures. I love my main characters and showing their growth and life changes through each book.

But I love coming up with new secondary characters for each book. While some continue through other books because they live in the area where my protagonists do, there are always the new secondary characters who are caught up in the murders. The victims, the people who were close to them, and the people who end up on my suspect chart.

These characters can be as interesting and complex as my protagonists. If they don’t have a complete- well-rounded life for the reader to know about, how will the reader care if their murderer is found? At least that’s how I feel.

The victim, no matter how awful he or she might be, has to have a life before their death. One that, even if the reader doesn’t like them that much, they want to know why and who killed them.

My current WIP ( work in progress) has me really stretching my research skills to make sure my characters from around the world ( the book is set in Iceland at a world-wide SAR conference). SAR is Search and Rescue. When I did my research on the conference that does happen every other year, I noticed that the attendees are from all over the world.

Harpa- this is where the conferences is being held this year.

I have always had an eclectic group of characters. So why stay with only American and Icelandic attendees when the conference draws them in from all over? I have British, Australian, Kenyan, and Japanese characters who are integral to my story. And of course, Icelandic and American.

My bookcase has many useful writing books and the one I used to start my latest WIP was A World of Baby Names. It gives common names from many countries. I have also been emailing with the tour guide I had on my trip to Iceland. He gave me common Icelandic names. He has also helped me with information I’ve been unable to find online or in books. He’s been a lot of fun to work with.

The goal with this in-depth research is to discover how people from these countries would use slang from their countries while speaking English. I feel it will make the people more realistic.

Of course, this is a conference and the other thing that will be working against me and my character will be time. The people will scatter at the end of the four day conference and the body is found on the second day of a pre-conference event. There is going to have to be some quick digging of clues to find out who the murderer is before the attendees scatter all over the world.

I’ll be giving you updates on this as I write.

Do you like well-rounded secondary characters?

First photo source: Depositphotos

Second photo source: Paty Jager

Guest Author – Susan Elia MacNeal

My series’ heroine, Maggie Hope, has been through a lot in the eight novels of the series—most recently falsely imprisoned on a Scottish island. Before that she was held by the Gestapo in Paris, and before that she went up against a serial killer in London. And then of course there’s the war itself. Which is why for her ninth outing, THE KING’S JUSTICE, I wanted to not only write a new thriller/mystery—but also show the toll Maggie’s experiences have taken on her.

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is the modern name for what in Maggie’s time was called “shell shock.” And although I sometimes describe Maggie as “Nancy Drew meets James Bond,” one thing that makes Maggie different is that all of her experiences, both good and bad, have changed her as a person. (As opposed to Nancy and James, who, while wonderful, remain static characters, regardless of how much danger they’ve be in and trauma they’ve survived.) In this novel, she tries to ignore her psychic damage by quitting the secret agent game, smoking non-stop, drinking too much, and riding much too fast on a motorcycle. But eventually she has to come to terms with her past, her trauma, her fears, and her vulnerabilities.

THE KING’S JUSTICE takes place during March of 1943, in London. The Blitz is over, but the war continues—and unexploded bombs can be found all over the city—just waiting for something to set them off. I have Maggie working as a bomb defuser, a job desperately needed in London at the time, —and also because Maggie’s a bit of an unexploded bomb, too. To defuse herself, she needs to work through her past traumas, some brought to light by a stolen violin and a new serial killer.

This killer is dropping suitcases full of bones in the Thames, and they’re washing up on the banks, sometimes half-buried in sand and silt. Some of the “mudlarkers” of London—those who dig on the riverbanks for lost historic treasures like Roman coins, medieval pottery shards, and Elizabethan rings—find the suitcases with the bones, and report them to Scotland Yard. Maggie’s beau, DCI James Durgin takes the case, and Maggie is ultimately recruited to help, because of a connection to someone from her past.

Like unexploded bombs, I really loved working in the metaphor of mudlarking—sifting through trash to find treasure. I think Maggie’s coming to grips with the traumas of her past was a lot like mudlarking—she has to excavate a lot of “dirt,” before she can find her “treasure”—a return to, well, not her old self, of course—but someone who’s experienced trauma, processed it, and come through the other side.

Without giving anything away, in the novel’s first scene, we meet Maggie as she’s in a deep pit, defusing a bomb. By the last scene, she’s looking down on London from the observation deck of the Monument to the Great Fire of London. Like the city itself, Maggie has gone through disaster and rebuilt, now stronger, smarter, and more compassionate. I hope readers will find her journey inspiring.

In THE KING’S JUSTICE, the ninth book in the acclaimed Maggie Hope mystery seriesby Susan Elia MacNeal (Bantam Hardcover; On Sale 2/25/2020),our heroine is on edge. Maggie has returned to London after being imprisoned on a remote island for knowing confidential SOE information, but she is traumatized by her experience. As Maggie takes a break from spying, she starts to behave more and more recklessly. She drinks too much, speeds through the streets on her motorcycle, and joins a squad tasked with defusing unexploded bombs left in London from the Blitz.

When conscientious objectors to the war start disappearing, Maggie is determined to stay out of it. But as human bones start washing up on the shores of the Thames inside of suitcases, it becomes clear that a serial killer is afoot, and Maggie must put aside her hesitations and get to work. Little does Maggie know that this investigation will force her to conquer her demons and face her past in order to solve the case.

Susan Elia MacNeal is the New York Times bestselling author of the Maggie Hope mysteries. MacNeal won the Barry Award and has been nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, Agatha, Left Coast Crime, Dilys, and ITW Thriller awards. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and son.

susaneliamacneal.com • Facebook.com/MrChurchillsSecretary

Twitter: @SusanMacNeal • Instagram: susaneliamacneal

Guest Blogger – Collin Glavac

I am happy to say that I finished writing my first book, Ghosts of Guatemala, a spy thriller that follows a cold-blooded assassin on a kill mission in Antigua for the CIA. It’s the first in a trilogy and readers have been giving me really great reviews!

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Pretty much. I’ve wanted to be a lot of things, but I had gotten compliments on my writing when I was younger which helped fuel my desire, and I’ve also just had a burning love for stories and imaginary worlds for the better part of my life. I’ve been working at writing fiction since I was twelve. Every time I heard a good story or read a bad book, it only wanted me to write something of my own.

How did this book get started?

Years ago my dad took me on a road trip to Chicago. Amidst our father-son shenanigans, he proposed I write a stageplay for him. I thought he was joking. Turns out he wasn’t. Once he confirmed he’d finance the whole project (he’s a retired teacher who wants to do stuff) I agreed. We had a blast producing two stageplays, and I got to write, direct, and act in both. Both were comedies; the first was about quirky college kids and their relationships revolving around a video game in In Real Life, and the second play was a reverse romcom with a magical twist in LoveSpell. I was happy to cut my teeth on this creative work but I’d been working on long-form fiction since elementary school, though nothing that would stick or be appropriate to send off to an agent. Dad suggested we tackle a novel together – his idea, my writing, his marketing. And bam! A couple years of arguing later we’ve got a sweet sweet book up for sale. I wrote the entire thing in a single night of a fevered sweat…

Actually though?

No. It took me about two months to write the bulk of it (three if you count the third month I spent procrastinating to write a single chapter). Then waiting on beta readers, and back and forth editing, and more procrastinating…my parents sat me down and threatened to publish the thing in a week whether it was ready or not. So I made sure it was ready. The word count is around 75k, which is a little longer than the first Harry Potter book. I’m really happy with the length – I wanted something with substance but still a quick read.

Did you have any objectives when writing the book?

Yes. My first and foremost objective is to try to create a cohesive story. I forget where I read it, but a comic book creator was talking about telling stories, and they said that if the reader can’t tell what’s going on in the frame it doesn’t matter how good your story is. The most important thing is making sure the reader knows what’s going on. That’s not to say we can’t play around with mysteries, clever reveals, or unreliable narrators, but it still rings strong in my mind as the first thing I have to do as a writer. And I find it a lot harder to do that than I’d like to admit. It is a difficult thing to write a story that makes sense throughout multiple perspectives, keeping track of a timeline and time zone shifts, knowing which secrets some characters know that others don’t and what the reader knows and doesn’t, and so on. My second objective, after I think I am meeting the first, is to make a compelling story, a story that is interesting, and something that I hope readers would enjoy reading. If I complete those two things, I feel very accomplished. If I had a third objective, it would try and be unique and put enough originality into the piece that makes readers really impressed. And although I tried to do that, I was still very much invested in the first and second objectives.

Speaking of which, what makes your book unique?

I do think the book enjoys a bit of a unique spin. The most unique part about Ghosts of Guatemala is that it takes place in Antigua, Guatemala, and this setting acts as a vibrant part of the story. Most of the book is fairly typical of the thriller genre – I’ve got the CIA doing shady stuff, a cool and collected protagonist, and a bad guy we can’t help but love – which was my aim in telling a story in this genre. But Antigua gives a great opportunity to inject a ton of culture, language, geography, and history that not too many are familiar with. I try to make sure it’s not just a simple paint-job over the story. I really wanted Antigua and the city’s personality to help impact and shape the plot. Full disclosure; I’ve never been to Latin America, but my father has (for months at a time) and this is where he was integral to the creation-process. I would send him chapters and he would edit my poorly worded Spanish, or point out that buildings weren’t as high as I had written and so on. One of my favourite parts had to be completely cut from the story because I had written an awesome fight scene taking place on a beach. Unfortunately, Antigua is landlocked in the mountains – yikes.

What was it like writing this book?

If I’m being perfectly honest, Ghosts of Guatemala isn’t my kind of genre. I’m a sci-fi/fantasy guy; I’ve been reading almost nothing but swords, dragons, and spaceships for the better part of thirteen years. I’m a nerd! But I also take pride in being a chameleon in my craft. If I’m required to write in a different style, or about a different topic than I am used to, I best be prepared to do it. Simple as that. My approach was one of mimicry. I thought of every stereotype and cliché in the genre, then tweaked them or made them my own. I’m constantly reminded how hard it is to write a true cliché. By the time you spend some time with something you think is unoriginal, it’s usually become your own. I also altered my default writing technique a bit more toward something that fit this genre better – shorter, terse sentences and more exposition than I usually prefer.

Who can you trust when corruption and danger are a way of life?

The CIA never left Latin America, and is facing catastrophic blackmail at the hands of an erratic Guatemalan drug lord: the infamous patrón of Antigua – Pablo Puentes. Desperate for a swift solution, the agency calls in their black operative fixer: John Carpenter.

John is a cold-blooded professional ready for the job. But the mission doesn’t have a simple fix. Pablo has a disastrous kill switch in place. John is still haunted by the mysterious death of his best friend who died on a far too similar mission, and now is uncertain about how much he can trust his handler or his sensual partner.

Back at the agency, tensions are running hot as the stench of corruption is growing to a boiling point. If things aren’t put to rights – and soon – the entire mission will go up in flames and take the CIA down with it. Only John Carpenter can bring this drug lord to justice and get the answers he deserves.

Because this mission is personal…

“If you like the relentless tension of Daniel Silva and the gritty reality of Lee Child then you’ll love this first book in the John Carpenter Trilogy!”

Buy Links: https://books2read.com/u/38Epw7

Collin Glavac is a Canadian born actor and writer who lives in the Niagara region. He has written, directed and acted in two original stage plays, In Real Life, and LoveSpell. He completed his Dramatic and Liberal Arts B.A. and M.A at Brock University.

Ghosts of Guatemala is his first novel.

Author website: www.collinglavac.com

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Collin-Glavac-Books-1121304391410779/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CollinGlavac

Wrapping Up a Murder by Paty Jager

I just finished the 14th Shandra Higheagle Mystery book. This book is set in Kauai, Hawaii. Yes, I had to write off the trip I took to Kauai last October. LOL Actually, it took me 40 years to get my husband to go to Hawaii with me and I happened to like the idea of setting a book there.

I enjoyed revisiting the places we went to add spice and authenticity to the book. My photos, some I took with the intention of using for the cover, and others so I could remember what I’d seen, helped me bring the island to life in the book.

While the writing, bringing in the island flavor, and discovering an actual event that brought my amateur sleuth potter to the island in a real way, it was the intricacy of the plot that kept me spellbound as I wrote the book.

Artwork from the exhibition in my book.

As usual, I started out with my suspect chart, all part of the art world on Kauai. But as I researched and discovered more about the island, the art world became more dark and convoluted. This on an island that boasts very low crime rates. But I couldn’t help myself. The island is warm, inviting, and overpopulated with tourists.

Because of the tourists, I have my characters catering to the masses. I’m not saying what I wrote about isn’t happening on the island, but it isn’t in the statistics that I read. However, I did read about the influx of drugs back about 5 years and taking creative license, I used that information to sway the direction of the story.

I take pride in so many readers saying they didn’t know who the murderer was until it was unveiled in most of my mysteries. And so, I go at each book with the intent to drop clues but keep the reader wondering until the end. I hope I’ve done that with this book as well. We’ll see when I get my critique partners’ notes on it.

Here is the cover for Abstract Casualty, set on Kauai, Hawaii.

Guest Blogger- Reggi Allder

Hi Ladies of Mystery, thank you for having me.

I write in two different genres, suspense and contemporary romance. Years ago, I found an old romantic suspense novel in a friend’s basement and read it. I was hooked and thought what could be more exciting than combining the thrill of falling in love while wondering if you will solve a mystery and stay alive. So, I wrote my first romantic suspense, Shattered Rules. My current suspense is Dangerous Web

After spending a great deal of time with the villains in my suspense books, I needed a change of pace and decided to write a contemporary romance and so, Her Country Heart a Sierra Creek Novel was written. I now look forward to spending time in my imaginary small-town of Sierra Creek, California where strong men and determined women intersect. If you love cowboys and independent women check out Her Country Heart.

I’m a pantser rather than a plotter, though I don’t work backwards, I often know the end of a book before the beginning. Whether I’m writing a suspense or a small-town romance, I begin the first chapter even though not all the characters and the plot twist are understood. Still, I have visualized the ending, sometimes writing the last scene first.

In both my suspense and contemporary novels, the characters have difficulties to overcome. The males are strong but may be a wounded hero. The women are determined to make changes in their lives in order to manage their future. All my characters must cope with their passion as each fight to discover a hidden strength and work their way toward a lifelong goal.

My Suspense Series: Dangerous Web, coming next Dangerous Money and Dangerous Denial.

Dangerous Web

A web of intrigue brings the reader into the world of black ops, mystery, and desire.

Emma lives a quiet life. When the past returns to threaten her present, is the key to her safety the man offering protection? Does he have secrets that will put her in greater danger?

Webb lives undercover and never lets anyone get too close. However, in his current perilous situation, Emma is the only one he can trust. Still, if he accepts her aid, he might be putting her in jeopardy. Can he justify involving her? Will he be able to manage his growing desire for Emma? 5.0 out of 5 stars Amazon  A non-stop suspense from the first chapter until the end!

Buy Link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07XXNBDXV

Reggi studied creative writing and screen writing at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and was a past chapter president of Romance Writers of America (RWA).

When she is not writing, she enjoys viewing romantic movies with her hubby and searching antique shops for vintage tea cups and saucers. Her dogs make sure she gets exercise by going on long walks with them.

She enjoys hearing from readers. Follow her on Bookbub, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, allauthor.com

New Year, Fresh Perspective by Paty Jager

I wasn’t a child who thought too much about the future. At least not beyond my own desires. There was a time when I wrote a story about being a writer and living on the Oregon Coast in a renovated barn. I would have two tigers as my pets. If you’ve ever read the “Cat Who” books by Lillian Jackson Braun, you know that the protagonist, Qwilleran, made walkways for his cats in his home. This was how I saw my barn, only the funny thing is, I’d never read one of the “Cat Who” books until later. When I did, it was deja vue and my mind went right back to that story I’d written in Jr. High

While I had dreams of being a writer as a teenager, it wasn’t until I had children that I decided to fulfill that dream. I started writing mystery. It was the genre I loved to read. But after two books and a bad start with finding help to make my books better, I segued into romance.

Three years ago, I decided to write what I had always wanted to write. I am a better writer, I’ve had enough classes on craft, and still read murder mystery books. I could do this. And I did.

The best part about how much I enjoy writing the mysteries, are the reader/fan emails I receive. All the years I wrote romance, I think I had a half dozen readers comment on how they enjoyed reading my books. With mystery, I receive something every week!

And a friend who has been with me on my road to becoming published, says my true voice comes out in my mysteries. It took me nearly 30 years to get back to the genre I love best, but I am here and I plan to stay writing murder mystery until my hands are so gnarled I can’t type anymore. 😉

As a writer, did you start with mystery or did you start in another genre? As a reader, have you always read mystery or did you discover it recently?

Oh, and the fresh perspective in the new year? I am only writing mystery. I’ve put writing romance books aside, so the mysteries can come faster!