The Wine Blog by Karen Shughart

I’ve always believed that it’s easier to write about what you know, which is why wine features so prominently in my Edmund DeCleryk mysteries. Like my husband and me, Ed, and his wife Annie, live in the northern Finger Lakes region of New York, the second largest wine producer in the U. S. Wine is very much part of the lifestyle here.

Our own wine journey began many years ago. Our kids were in college, our careers at their peak, and we came home each night exhausted. We made the transition from workday to evening by having a glass of wine (or sometimes for Lyle, a Scotch) before dinner.  We caught up, chatted about our day, and even when my husband traveled for business, we designated a time to call each other, evening drink in hand. Although now retired, we continue the tradition to this day.

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One weekend we were invited to a dinner party at some friends’ house. We were asked to bring a dish to share and a bottle of wine to pair with it. It was the genesis of a gourmet group that met quarterly for many years, rotating hosts. A specialist at a wine store helped us choose the wines to go with each course. We quickly learned that to enjoy wine is to slowly sip and savor it.

Some of us took a cruise together from San Francisco Bay, along rivers that led to the Napa, Sonoma and Carneros wine regions of California.  Each evening we’d dock and before dinner attend a wine education session. The next morning we’d board a bus that would take us to charming towns for vineyard tours, wine tastings and to explore galleries and shops.

One weekend Lyle and I traveled to the Finger Lakes; a short drive from where we lived in Pennsylvania. We were enchanted by the wineries and restaurants, the vibrant jazz scene, and postcard-picture beauty.  We purchased an 1890s cottage on Lake Ontario; after retirement, we decided to make it our permanent home.

We joined a wine club.  At a series of monthly classes at New York Kitchen in Canandaigua, we learned about regions around the world where wine is crafted and how terroir, the natural environment in which grapes are grown, results in differences in color, smell and taste of the same varietal.  We cleaned up our musty basement and created a wine cellar in what was once a cistern, dry as a bone with thick stone walls and floor and about 56 degrees year ‘round.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot about wine, and I write about it in my mysteries. It is, after all, part of the local lore, and an integral part of the culture. And just like Lyle and me, having a glass of wine at the end of the day is a way for Ed and Annie to unwind and share their stories.

Guest Author – Kathleen Kalb

What Are We REALLY Talking About?

by Kathleen Marple Kalb

  Keep your eyes open when my characters start talking about social issues.

 Chances are pretty good I’m slipping in some very important evidence that you’ll want to remember later. One of the wonderful things I’ve learned as an historical mystery writer is that all of that background gives me unique ways to work in key clues while most of the reader’s attention is on other things…for an especially satisfying reveal later in the story.

Here’s an example: in A FATAL FIRST NIGHT, most of the cast is at the main characters’ home for Sunday afternoon tea, and they get into a wonderful discussion of suffrage, women’s role in the world, and whether females can kill. Some extremely important evidence comes out during that talk, and of course, I’m not going to tell you what it is because of the potential spoiler. But that scene is one of my favorites.

I’m far from the first writer to use this trick. Many of my favorites, especially people I grew up reading and wanting to emulate, do the same thing. Elizabeth Peters, probably my all-time favorite, was the sneakiest of them all. Especially in her Amelia Peabody historical series, you’d be thinking about amulets or dead pharaohs, and first thing you knew, the Master Criminal had pulled off some dastardly deed that Amelia would sort out at the end.

Ella’s world is just chock-full of similar opportunities. Not only is there all of the social ferment to fuel heated teatime debates, there are also the worlds of opera, newspapers and sports, all of which contribute bits of the solution to the plot, and provide fun ways to get there. Plus, because this is a series about a performer, classic backstage dramas.

My favorite writers take familiar plots and tropes, and give them a twist just when you think you know what’s going to happen, and that’s what I like to do too. Ella’s relationship with her beau, Gilbert Saint Aubyn, Duke of Leith, is all about upending expectations. In old-school historical romances, a Duke is the ultimate matrimonial prize, usually drawn as a suave fellow who could have any woman he wanted but chose our heroine because she was interesting, and of course, virtuous.

The Barrister (as most of the cast calls him) is in fact a Duke, and easy on the eyes. After that, though, the tropes are out the window. He’s anything but suave, inevitably saying stupid things when he tries to impress Ella, and much more comfortable playing the lawyer he trained to be than the Peer he became. She likes him because he’s open-minded and unpretentious, but still has less than no interest in marrying him and becoming his legal property.

I’d keep my eyes open for clues whenever those two are fencing and courting. You never know where I might hide something…

A FATAL FIRST NIGHT (coming 4/27/21) opens with a murder in Richard III’s dressing room after the premiere of the Ella Shane Opera Company’s new production, The Princes in the Tower.  Ella and friends aren’t at all sure about their colleague’s guilt — even though it seems obvious. Meanwhile, newspaper reporter Hetty MacNaughten has finally escaped hats to cover a sensational murder trial. Before it’s over, the cast will have to sort out several interlocking mysteries, welcome an unexpected visitor…and find another Richard III. Will everyone survive to the final curtain? 

PREORDER: https://www.kensingtonbooks.com/9781496727244/a-fatal-first-night/

Kathleen Marple Kalb grew up in front of a microphone and a keyboard. She’s currently a weekend morning anchor at 1010 WINS Radio in New York, capping a career she started as a teenage DJ in her Western Pennsylvania hometown. She’s the author of the Ella Shane Mystery historical mystery series: A Fatal Finale is out now, A Fatal First Night this spring. She also just began a darkly comic new chapter series on Chanillo.com: On the Side of the Angels.

WHERE TO FIND ME:

Website: https://kathleenmarplekalb.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Kathleen-Marple-Kalb-1082949845220373/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KalbMarple

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kathleenmarplekalb/

Photo source: public domain picture from the NYPL Digital Collections

Guest Blogger – Diana Rubino

I’ve been a mystery book buff since age 12 when I started reading the Trixie Belden series (similar to Nancy Drew). As my reading preferences matured, I graduated to murder mysteries. I always wanted to write one, but didn’t believe I had the ability to weave an entire plot around a murder, plant clever clues, red herrings, and surprise the reader with ‘whodunit.’ So I began writing murder mystery subplots in my historical novels, starting with FROM HERE TO FOURTEENTH STREET.

When I wrote my biographical novel about Eliza Jumel Burr, Aaron Burr’s last wife, my agent told me it needed a bit of ‘punching up.’ I pondered how to do this, then thought, ‘what would be more punched up than a few murder mysteries?’ So I wrote two subplots involving true-life murders that occurred during the time of the story. In one of them, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton defended the accused, Levi Weeks, after his fiancée Elma Sands was found drowned in a well once owned by Aaron. In real life, Levi was acquitted, but public opinion maintained this was due to Levi’s high-priced ‘dream team.’ In my story, I involved Eliza in the lives of Levi and Elma, and Levi eventually confesses to her. As for all murder mystery authors, knowing the killer makes writing a mystery less daunting. I began writing mystery subplots in my books that followed: DARK BREW, FOR THE LOVE OF HAWTHORNE, and the biographical novel I just finished, about Edith (Mrs. Theodore) Roosevelt, who helps the New York City Police, of which her husband is Commissioner, find a serial killer.

I stay as close as possible to the historical record, but in writing novels, I must ‘take license’ and weave fiction in with the true life events. I’m careful to give readers lush descriptions of the settings, to send them on a journey back to that time, without rambling on, to avoid giving a history lesson. That, as well as writing murder mysteries, became easier with practice.

 ELIZA JUMEL BURR, VICE QUEEN OF THE UNITED STATES

Abandoned and left to survive on the streets of Providence, Betsy Bowen dreams of being reunited with her father – none other than George Washington. During her ninety-one years, she begs, sells her body, marries a rich man, marries a poor man, solves a murder, meets her father in secret and becomes Eliza Jumel, the wealthiest woman in New York City. She actually could have been George Washington’s daughter, according to the historical record–he visited Providence nine months before she was born.

A story of desperation, ambition, heartache and betrayal, borne with humor and refusal to compromise with what the heart asks first.

Purchase ELIZA JUMEL BURR: http://getBook.at/ElizaJumel 

Diana writes about folks through history who shook things up. Her passion for history and travel has taken her to every locale of her books, set in Medieval and Renaissance England, Egypt, the Mediterranean, colonial Virginia, New England, and New York. Her urban fantasy romance, FAKIN’ IT, won a Top Pick award from Romantic Times. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Richard III Society, and the Aaron Burr Association. When not writing, she owns CostPro, Inc., an engineering business, with her husband Chris. In her spare time, Diana bicycles, golfs, does yoga, plays her piano, devours books, and lives the dream on her beloved Cape Cod.
Visit Diana at

www.dianarubino.com

www.DianaRubinoAuthor.blogspot.com https://www.facebook.com/DianaRubinoAuthor

and on Twitter @DianaLRubino.

Guest Author June Trop

ANCIENT FORENSIC SCIENCE

My mysteries are set in Roman-occupied Alexandria during the first century of the Common Era. Why then? Well, one reason is I thought my protagonist, Miriam bat Isaac, wouldn’t have to deal with forensic technology. Little did I know that, although the Romans didn’t have a formal body of forensic knowledge, they used some methods similar to what we have today. One example is bloodstain pattern analysis.

In The Deadliest Sport, Miriam examines the blood spatters in the room of a sleazy waterfront inn to solve a “locked-room mystery”, that is, a mystery about a crime, usually murder, that appears impossible to have been committed. The crime need not take place inside a locked room, as it does in The Deadliest Sport, but in any utterly inaccessible place.

The most famous case of a Roman jurist analyzing a bloody handprint is titled “Paries Palmatus” or “The Wall of Handprints.” A blind son is accused of stabbing his father in his sleep to obtain his inheritance. Purportedly, the blind man took his sword from his room, walked across the house in the dead of night, and entered his father and stepmother’s bedroom. Then he stabbed his father once, killing him instantly without waking his stepmother, who found her husband dead in bed when she awoke. A trail of bloody handprints led from the parents’ room back to the blind son’s room, and his blood-covered sword was found as well.

The defense argued that the stepmother did it, upset because she would lose out on the father’s fortune to his blind son. So, she framed the blind man using his own father’s blood:

It was the stepmother, yes, the stepmother who set this up with her sure sight; it was she, with her right hand, who brought that poor blood there and made the imprint of [her] hand [on the wall] intermittently! The wall bears the imprints of one palm, has them at intervals, with a certain empty space in the middle, and everywhere the palm-print is intact; a blind man, on the other hand, would have dragged his hands [along the wall].

What other forensic techniques did the Romans use? Emperor Tiberius used footprints and drag marks to argue that his praetor, Silvanus, threw his wife out their bedroom window rather than, as the husband asserted, she chose to jump. Unfortunately for Silvanus, the marks of her struggle and his forcible ejection convinced the Senate of his guilt.

The point for me was that I learned every setting, especially a historical setting, is going to have its challenges, even its surprises. So, set your story in a time and place you’ll enjoy researching and then take your readers there. 

FOR THE DEADLIES SPORT by June Trop

Miriam bat Isaac, a budding alchemist in first-century CE Alexandria, welcomes her twin brother Binyamin home to fight his last gladiatorial bout in Alexandria. But when he demands his share of the family money so he can build a school for gladiators in Alexandria, Miriam explains that he forsook his share when he took the gladiatorial oath. When she refuses to loan him the money for what she feels is a shady, and dangerous, enterprise, Binyamin becomes furious. Soon after, the will of Amram, Miriam’s elderly charge, turns up missing, Amram becomes seriously ill, and the clerk of the public records house is murdered. Could Binyamin really be behind this monstrous scheme? If not he, who could be responsible? And is Miriam slated to be the next victim?

Buy links: https://www.amazon.com/Deadliest-Sport-June-Trop/dp/1626947554

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-deadliest-sport-june-trop/1127167995

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.

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.