Thursday, March 28, 2013

Characters, Characters, Characters!

It occurred to me recently that at present I have three historical cozy mystery series, and they all have more or less the same heroine.

This came about through a series of events that are not uncommon in the publishing biz, which is crazy most of the time and understandable never, at least to me.

First, along about 2001 or thereabouts, Daisy Gumm Majesty, phony spiritualist in Pasadena, California (my home town) in the early 1920s, popped into my brain. I love the 1920s, which were a fascinating era. I love the Pasadena of my girlhood. I love Daisy. She’s my favorite of all the characters in all my books. She’s a peach. In actual fact, Daisy’s me, only with a supportive family behind her and none of my crippling neuroses. Now it didn’t seem enough to have a cool heroine solving mysteries; I had to give her some problems. Therefore, I gave her a husband who was grievously injured (by both bullets and mustard gas) during the War to End All Wars (alas, misnamed). Billy Majesty, the love of Daisy’s life, had been all set to get a job as an automobile mechanic—a position greatly sought-after and respected at the time—but when he came back, shell-shocked, barely able to breathe and crippled, he couldn’t work anymore. Daisy, who had been fiddling with the Ouija board, tarot cards and palm-reading since she was around ten years old, boldly set out to make a living for the both of them. And if you think it’s tough for an ordinary, every-day woman without a college education and few skills to make a living today, you can probably imagine what it was like in the ‘twenties, when women were not merely believed to be, but KNOWN to be less intelligent and capable than men.

Mind you, I had to rear two daughters alone in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies, and that was no blasted fun either. Things hadn’t come a very long way, baby, by then. I remember job postings for men and job postings for women in the company for which I slaved as a secretary. A secretary—I believe they’re now called administrative assistants, but in my day we were secretaries—is the person who does all the things nobody else wants to do and takes the blame when anything goes wrong. I suppose the ‘sixties and ‘seventies were more enlightened than the ‘twenties, but not by very blasted much, they weren’t.

Ahem. I digressed there for a moment. Anyhow, I wrote the first two Daisy books, STRONG SPIRITS and FINE SPIRITS, assuming they would be marketed as historical cozy mysteries. Unfortunately, my editor said they didn’t have enough mystery in them (precisely true) and that they wanted me to take out the dead bodies, add a subsidiary romance (because Daisy was already married) and they’d publish them as romances. So I did. And they did. And the books tanked. I was brokenhearted. The late, great Kate Duffy even telephoned me one day to apologize for mis-marketing the books and asked if I wouldn’t please take another name (I already had four, for Pete’s sake) and write a series of romances. So I wrote my post-Titanic series. The first book in that series was the hardest book I’ve ever written because I didn’t want to write the cursed thing. After that, things got easier, but I was still crushed about the demise of Daisy.

 And then my good friend and fellow author, Mimi Riser, called to say that her good friend, the entrepreneur Melissa Alvarez (who has done smashing covers for a lot of my e-books) was starting a new publishing venture called New Age Dimensions, which would publish trade-size paperbacks and e-books. So I figured, what the heck, and wrote the first of my Pecos Valley books, PECOS VALLEY DIAMOND, which star Annabelle Blue, a young woman who lives in the gawd-forsaken town of Roswell (called Rosedale in the books because I don’t want anybody suing me) in 1923. These books, too, are historical cozy mysteries. That turned out fairly well, so I wrote the second book in the series. And then NAD was wiped out by Hurricane Wilma during the great hurricane epidemic of 2005. Wilma, by the way, was my late mother’s name. I don’t believe for a second that this is a coincidence. But now Annabelle was as dead as Daisy.

Faintly daunted but pursuing, I allowed Mercy Allcutt to swim into my generally enfeebled brain about that same time. Mercy, a Boston Brahmin of impeccable lineage, flies in the face of her family, takes shorthand and typing classes at her local YWCA, and shocks her mother and father by moving to Los Angeles, California, to live with her married sister Chloe, whose husband does something in the silent pictures, but Mercy isn’t sure what. Mercy, you see, yearns to become a member of the worker proletariat and learn how real people live. In order to do this, Mercy—gasp!—gets a job! What’s more, she works as a secretary (see where I’m going here?) for a private investigator, the jaded ex-cop Ernie Templeton. I sent this book (LOST AMONG THE ANGELS) to Five Star, and they published it! What’s more, they’ve published several more, and the second book in the series, FALLEN ANGELS, won the 2012 New Mexico-Arizona Book of the Year Award for mystery/suspense. This is the only contest I enter, by the way, because it’s so . . . I dunno. Incongruous, I guess, the state of literacy in New Mexico being what it is. 

About then, and since Five Star had a women’s fiction line, I decided to send my third Daisy book, HIGH SPIRITS, to Five Star and see if they’d bite. They did, and by gum, Daisy was reborn! I was totally, absolutely and deliciously delighted.

And then, greatly daring (actually, I figured what the heck) I sent the second Pecos Valley book, PECOS VALLEY REVIVAL, to Five Star—and they published it! My cup very nearly ran over, but I managed to contain myself, mainly because I was still poor as a church mouse. I mean, unless you’re Nora Roberts or Stephen King or one of a very few other lucky and talented authors, you really can’t make a living at this. However, PECOS VALLEY REVIVAL got a starred review in Booklist, so I’m not repining. What’s more, the third book in the series, PECOS VALLEY RAINBOW, has just been published. Five Star, by the by, creates fabulous covers for their novels, so I really am a fortunate person. In some ways. Truth to tell, I’d rather be rich than have a way with words, but I guess we all have our own . . . blessings? Well, whatever. Here are the covers for the latest books in each series:

And there you have it. Three historical cozy mystery series all featuring more or less the same female protagonist. Go figure. The whole thing’s beyond me. Blame publishing.

Please feel free to enter my monthly contest by sending your name and address to me at . At the end of April I’ll be giving away copies of Mercy Allcutt’s fourth adventure, ANGELS OF MERCY. Also, please feel free to visit my web site, where you can read the first chapter of darned near every one of my fifty or so books ( ), and feel free to hang out on my Facebook page, too, if you feel like it:


Monday, March 18, 2013

Jean Henry Mead has a new book out, NO ESCAPE: THE SWEETWATER TRAGEDY! What's more, she graciously agreed to tell us about it on my blog. So here we go. Read all about the book, and then read the book!

Writing an Historical Mystery/Suspense Novel

by Jean Henry Mead

I was researching a Wyoming centennial history book during the mid-1980s, by reading 97 years’ worth of microfilmed newspapers. During that period I read about a young woman named Ellen “Ella” Watson, who had been hanged by cattlemen along with homesteader James Averell. The lynchers claimed that the pair had been running a rural bawdy house and taking cattle for Ellen’s services. 

They called Ellen“Cattle Kate” and vilified her by claiming that she was not only a prostitute but a rustler. The Cattlemen’s Association, headquartered in Cheyenne, controlled a local newspaper and reports of the hangings were published worldwide, resulting in considerable condemnation that a woman had been hanged, despite the cattlemen’s claims.

I was mystified by the newspaper reports of 1889, when the murders took place, and decided to write a novel about it, someday. When I learned that Thomas Watson, Ellen’s father, believed the lies, I thought they must be true. A number of writers had written about the hangings from the cattlemen’s point of view, and western films had been produced, portraying Ellen as a pistol packing outlaw. That didn’t jibe with news reports from the Casper Weekly Mail, which published James Averell’s “letters to the editor,” complaining that greedy cattlemen were gobbling up all of Sweetwater Valley, so they could graze their cattle on government land, without paying for it.

James and Ellen had legally filed homesteads under the Desert Land Act, which happened to be located in Albert Bothwell’s hay meadow. Aha, I thought, there’s more to this story than the cattlemen claim. But finding out more about it would require more time and travel than I could spare at that time. Later, George Hufsmith’s nonfiction book was released and I was able to write my novel. Hufsmith had been commissioned to write an opera about the hangings, and was so intrigued that he spent the next 20 years researching and interviewing residents of Sweetwater Valley, who had intimate knowledge of the people involved as well as the real reason for the hangings
To my surprise, Hufsmith discovered the wedding license that James and Ellen had filed in Lander, Wyoming, and the fact that they kept their marriage secret, so the government wouldn’t take Ellen’s homestead land away from her. Only single women could own homestead land. 

Because I didn’t want to end my novel with the Averells' deaths, I wrote the story mainly from the viewpoint of a single woman homesteader, a neighbor of the Averells. From my research I learned that some 200,000 single women filed for homestead land of their own. Many of them married before they proved up on their land, but quite a few persevered, and even thrived, alone on their land.