First Chapter – Contract for Chaos by Judy Alter

“We got to get outta property management, Kelly, or else I’m gonna blow my stack at someone.”

 

Keisha sipped at her wine, put the glass on the coffee table, and sank back into the couch.

 

Keisha is my office manager, confidante, trouble-shooter, and general all-around angel. She came to my office through a work-study program at an alternative high school, and I’ve blessed the day ever since. Big and black, Keisha is a style show unto herself, specializing in colorful, loose, flowing outfits, spike heels, and equally spiky hair, often tinted to match the outfit of the day. She and her new husband, José, are in their late twenties, whereas Mike and I are pushing uncomfortably close to forty. The age gap makes not one whit of difference in the closeness of our families.

 

I had taken a day out of the office, even though nowadays I was mostly back there, taking twelve-month-old Gracie with me. She had her own Pack ’n Play and almost a complete nursery in one corner of the office. After the kidnapping scare when she as an infant, I still couldn’t bring myself to trust anyone else with her care, except occasionally Keisha and her husband, José. I’ve never left my baby with my mom, who lives just blocks away. That, as you can imagine, is the source of some bitter comments.

 

Today, I just wanted to stay home with my baby. I knew the baby days would pass too quickly. Keisha was reporting on a young man who wanted to rent a house. It was property we managed for a client, not something I would have ever added to our company holdings.

 

“He came in, took one look at me, and asked, ‘Where’s the boss?’ Polite as I could, I said you were out for the day, but I could help him. He looked real displeased, but he told me he and three other ‘men’ wanted to rent that house on Alston. Saw our sign.”

 

I knew the house only too well. It was a square box, two-story, four bedrooms upstairs, living, dining, and kitchen down. The owner was a good client, who had bought and sold much more costly residences through our office, and I didn’t want to alienate her. My suggestion that she sell this property fell on deaf ears, but she did paint and update the kitchen and bathrooms. Still it wasn’t charming or old or Craftsman, not one of the houses that distinguished our historic neighborhood.

 

“I whipped out the form, asked him to fill it out, told him we’d check his references and get back to him, and that we also needed references for his roommates. All this time he stood in front of me like a statue, no smile, no introduction. I indicated the chair by my desk, but he stayed standing. When I said we’d need to meet the other tenants, he looked disdainful.

 

“‘I’m sure that won’t be necessary,’ he said. ‘I’ll discuss it with the realtor when he returns to the office.’ I told him the owner was Ms. Kelly O’Connell, and he got that sour look on his face again.”

 

“I wonder what his problem is,” I said idly. Honest, I was more interested in watching Gracie’s efforts, so far unsuccessful, to pull herself up. It wouldn’t be long, and she’d be standing . . . and then walking. I sort of hated to see my baby grow up.

 

Keisha’s next words pushed Gracie and kidnapping right out of my mind.

 

“Kelly, you know what his problem was. It was me. I’m black. I bet he’s one of those supremacist folks or something. I got a bad feeling about this.”

“We don’t have any supremacist organizations in Fort Worth,” I protested. “I’m sure, but I’ll check with Mike when he comes home.”

 

Mike Shandy, my husband and Gracie’s father, is the division head of the downtown Fort Worth police district. He’s wary of my inquiries and worse into police business, but sometimes I can’t help myself. At least this would be an innocent question, just to prove Keisha wrong. And I made a note to call the young man. “What’s the tenant’s name?”

 

She giggled. “Whitehead. Tom Whitehead. Fits, don’t it?”

 

* * * *

 

Me? I’m Kelly O’Connell, proud mom of Maggie, who turned seventeen just before this school year started and is, gulp, a junior in high school. She’s a star on the basketball court and a good student, a bit shy around the boys, which is why that evening was a big occasion. She was bringing a boyfriend for supper, a new experience for all of us. Maggie’s popularity had grown exponentially when Mike and I gave her a used Honda for her birthday. It wasn’t smart, showy, or any of those things, but it was reliable, safe, and low maintenance. She was thrilled.

 

Then there’s Em, thirteen, and in her first year of high school. Em is a sweet, protective child—and I use that word advisedly. While Maggie shot into high school and its supposed sophistication, Em remained the child who loved to be home. Now she dotes on her baby sister. I dread the day she’ll discover the outside world.

 

Maggie and Em are the children of my first marriage, which I would write off as a total disaster, except that it gave me these two amazing daughters. Their biological father no longer walks this earth, and I am sorry for him that he is missing seeing the girls grow. My husband, the wonderful Mike Shandy, adopted the girls with love in his heart, and he is the only father they know.

 

Baby Gracie got off to a rough start in this world, though she’d never know it. Someone who I’d crossed in my sometimes-misguided efforts to protect others and defend my neighborhood decided to take revenge by threatening to kidnap Gracie. Of course, we didn’t know who it was at first, and for agonizing weeks we lived in a cloud of fear. Mike increased the security system at home, doubled the bolts on the doors, and even asked occasionally for police surveillance. José brought a guard dog, and we prayed a lot. We are out from under that threat now, but it had been a rough patch for me as a mother and for us as a family. It taught us the color of fear, the fact that fear can make the closest families turn on each other. I bless Keisha for holding us together and upright during that ordeal.

We are recovering and trying hard to once again be the happy, cohesive family we had been before fear took over our lives. We still occasionally snap at each other, and I’m not sure when I will ever feel safe with Gracie out of my sight, but little by little we are clawing our way back to normality. That bit of history is one reason I was overly cautious about Maggie’s new boyfriend.

 

Those three girls sound like enough to keep me busy every day, but I am also the owner of Spencer & O’Connell Real Estate. The Spencer was my late husband, proud of what he claimed were aristocratic English ancestors and always a bit scornful of my Irish roots. We specialize in renovating Craftsman houses—I use that pronoun proudly, but it’s just Keisha and me, and we both like it that way. Of course, there’s also my construction manager, designer, and carpenter extraordinaire, Anthony. The three of us focus on the Fairmount Historic District in Fort Worth, Texas and we’ve done enough houses to leave our mark on the neighborhood, in a positive way. But there are plenty of houses left that need our attention—some classic beauties suffering from deferred maintenance, some that have been “updated” in a way that hid or distorted the wonderful features of Craftsman homes. You might call me a lady on a mission.

 

We also buy and sell other properties that come our way in Fairmount and surrounding neighborhoods, and we do property management for a few select clients. That’s how Tom Whitehead landed in our laps.

 

As I watched Gracie and listened to Keisha, a part of my mind was even then on supper. Cooking is not my forte but I’m getting better, and I wanted to fix a special meal. Maggie asked for Doris’ casserole, a dish Keisha had taught us that was meat and tomato sauce, and noodles with sour cream, cream cheese, and green onions, all topped with grated cheddar. One friend calls it American lasagna.

 

By the time Keisha arrived with her tale of woe, the casserole was ready to go in the oven, the salad crisping in the fridge, and bread ready to broil at the last minute. Em had set the table, so I was ready and more than willing to sit for a quiet glass of wine.

 

Keisha declined to stay for supper, though I knew she was busting out of her panties to see the boy Maggie had invited to meet the family. “That’s a big deal,” she said, “when you bring a guy home for dinner. I don’t want to intrude, but you tell me every detail, don’t forget nothing.”

 

“I don’t want to think about a big deal, Keisha. She’s only seventeen.”

 

“Oh, she won’t marry him. Don’t worry.”

 

“You’re welcome to stay for supper, since José is working. You know that.” José is the night patrol officer in our neighborhood, commonly called the NPO for Neighborhood Police Officer. He usually works from three to eleven or thereabouts.

 

She laughed, that deep, hearty laugh. “Baby girl would think I’m spying on her. Naw, I won’t ruin your dinner party.”

 

Before I could ask if her sixth sense had kicked in or not, she turned serious. “And, Kelly, let me handle Mr. Tom Whitehead. You don’t be running interference.”

 

My mouth was still open when she waltzed out the door.

 

* * * *

Dave Tucker was, at best, a nice looking but unremarkable young man, and I couldn’t understand why Maggie chose him. But then I remembered some of the boys I’d subjected my folks to and the fact that I chose from a limited field—boys were much more interested in cheerleaders and party girls than in the shy bookworm that was me. Of course, I saw Maggie as neither shy nor overly studious, but who knew how she came across at school. Besides, who can understand teenage attractions? Not me.

Maggie buys her clothes, with my approval, mostly from online boutiques these days. Dave’s shirt and jeans looked like they’d come from J. C. Penney or Sears, and while they were clean, they were rumpled and wrinkled. His hair was just a bit too long, but his face was scrubbed and his fingernails clean. Yeah, I notice details. If he’d worn glasses I would definitely have classified him as nerdy. Maggie was wearing glasses these days, because she finally confessed she had a hard time seeing the blackboard at school. She wore what she called her “geek glasses.”

 

When Maggie and Dave came in after school, I gave them lemonade and sent them out to the yard to play with Clyde, our dog. It was a smart move, because they were still outside when Mike came home. Em and Gracie were in the living room, so I corralled Mike in the kitchen.

“Remember, Maggie brought a friend home for supper tonight.”

 

Judy Alter is the award-winning author of three mysteries series: Kelly O’Connell Mysteries: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, Danger Comes Home, Deception in Strange Places, Desperate for Death, and The Color of Fear; three in the Blue Plate Café Series: Murder at the Blue Plate Café, Murder at the Tremont House, and Murder at Peacock Mansion; and two Oak Grove Mysteries: The Perfect Coed and Pigface and the Perfect Dog. She is also the author of historical fiction based on lives of women in the nineteenth-century American West, including Libbie, Jessie, Cherokee Rose, Sundance, Butch, and Me, and The Gilded Cage, and she has also published several young-adult novels, now available on Amazon..

Her work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and the WWA Hall of Fame.

Judy is retired as director of TCU Press, the mother of four grown children, and the grandmother of seven. She and her dog, Sophie, live in Fort Worth, Texas.

 

Follow her at (Amazon) http://www.amazon.com/Judy-Alter/e/B001H6NMU6/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1377217817&sr=1-2-ent;

her blog: http://www.judys-stew.blogspot.com;

and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Judy-Alter-Author/366948676705857

 

Buy link for Contract for Chaos:

https://www.amazon.com/Contract-Chaos-OConnell-Mysteries-Number/dp/0996993509/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1535316347&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=contract+for+chaos

 

Buy link for Murder at the Bus Depot:

 

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A CHARACTER IN SEARCH OF A STORY by Jackie Minniti

Every so often, a character takes up residence in a writer’s mind and refuses to leave until his story is told. That’s what happened to me with my latest novel, One Small Spark. I really had no intention of writing another middle grade historical, but an eleven-year-old boy who lived in Boston in the 1760s had a different idea.

This is how I got to know Christopher Seider.

I’d learned in elementary school that Crispus Attucks was the first casualty of the American Revolution, so imagine my surprise when I found out that I’d been mistaken for more than fifty years. It happened one evening while I was channel surfing and came across a program on National Geographic titled Legends and Lies: The Patriots. I’m not sure what it was about the show that caught my attention, but I put down the remote and settled in to watch it. The storyline focused on the period immediately preceding the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Boston was in crisis.  Part of the population wanted to break away from England , but not enough were actually willing to take up arms. The colonists were engaged in a boycott of British goods that was taking its toll on the English economy. Samuel and John Adams, Paul Revere, John Hancock, and some other patriots had formed a secret society known as the Sons of Liberty to try to foment anti-British sentiment. They recruited a gang of boys to harass merchants who broke the boycott and vandalize their businesses. British soldiers were occupying the city because of the unrest, which added to the colonists’ outrage.

Enter young Christopher Seider. The son of poor German immigrants, Christopher was working as a servant in the home of Grizell Apthorp, a wealthy widow. On a cold February day, Christopher had joined a gang of boys who were demonstrating against a local merchant named Theophilus Lillie. Lillie had spoken out against the non-importation boycott and became the target of the Sons of Liberty, who enlisted some of the neighborhood ruffians to teach him a lesson. No one is certain why  Christopher was present in the protest. Was he a political ally, a curious kid, or just someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time? While his motive is lost to history, his decision turned out to be deadly.

Ebenezer Richardson, a man of ill-repute and a known British informant, tried to intervene on Lillie’s behalf. The gang followed him home and began pelting his house with snowballs and rocks. When an upstairs window broke, Richardson fired his musket into the crowd, injuring one boy and mortally wounding Christopher. When news of this tragedy began to spread, the colonists were enraged. The Sons of Liberty saw this as a perfect opportunity to promote their cause. Newspapers throughout the colonies recounted in heart-breaking detail the final moments of Christopher’s life. When Christopher was laid to rest in the Granary Burying Ground, over two thousand Bostonians attended his funeral. Speeches were made by local dignitaries touting the bravery of the little lad. More than 500 schoolboys walked in a procession behind his coffin, which bore a velvet drape with a Latin inscription that read, “The serpent lurks in the grass. The fatal dart is thrown. Innocence is nowhere safe.” written in Latin. By the time the sun set on February 26, 1770, the colonists were ready to take the final step toward armed revolt. A week later, five Bostonians, including Crispus Attucks, were killed in what became known as the Boston Massacre, and the American Revolution was underway.

When I clicked off the television, I was amazed that I’d never heard of Christopher Seider. How could someone so pivotal to our country’s past become lost to history?  When I went to bed that night, Christopher whispered to me in my dreams, and I knew then I’d have to tell his story.

The next day, I began my research and discovered that, while there were accounts of Christopher’s death and mentions of him in some history books, no one had written a book about him. Since he was the perfect age for a middle grade novel, I decided to write for that audience. This led to a thorny problem. I knew I couldn’t make Christopher the focal character because he would eventually be killed, and that’s not something that would sit well with younger readers. After thinking about this for a few days, I decided to tell the story from the point of view of a boy who became his friend. I thought Christopher would like that. And as I wrote, the Christopher Seider in my head began to come to life on paper. When I finally typed The End, I could almost see Christopher jump from my head into my pages. I hope his story will be an inspiration to young readers, and I’m glad that they won’t have to wait fifty years (like I did) to meet this important young man.

 

Jackie is currently a columnist for The Island Reporter in St. Petersburg. She is a member of the Florida Writers Association, the Bay Area Professional Writers Guild, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Several of her stories have been included in Chicken Soup for the Soul collections. She lives on Treasure Island with her husband, John, and two noisy macaws and enjoys reading, walking on the beach, boating, and visiting her three children and six grandchildren in New Jersey. Jackie has been a featured speaker at schools, book clubs, women’s clubs, and libraries and writes a blog featuring Florida writers (www.fabulousfloridawriters.blogspot.com.She can be reached through her website: http://www.jackieminniti.com.

Website URL: http://www.jackieminniti.com

Blog URL: http://www.fabulousfloridawriters.blogspot.com

Facebook URL: https://www.facebook.com/Jackie-Minniti-writer-125991605555/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

Twitter:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jackieminniti

Skype: jackie.minniti

 

Barnes & Noble buy link for Jacqueline:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/jacqueline-jackie-minniti/1122339883?ean=9780996329088

 

Amazon buy link for Jacqueline:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B011SCVPJS?keywords=jacqueline%20minniti&qid=1452463585&ref_=sr_1_1&s=digital-text&sr=1-1

Researching – the Backbone of any Novel by John R. Beyer

When the concept for writing my fourth novel began to form in my cranium, I decided that teaming up my protagonists, Jonas Peters and Frank Sanders in their first appearance in a book together. I knew this would require me to do some serious research to ensure the readers would believe the words put down on paper. There was never a chance I would spend a year or more writing a tale involving these two fine gentlemen without the diligence of powerful exploration and research.

That is the hallmark of any good writing. Without painstaking research, a writer risks ending up with a tale without merit. Fictional writing may be what wordsmith’s make out of their creative genius, but good fiction must resemble non-fiction to the audience.

When I read a novel, I want to be taken away from the present reality and thrust into a new reality. What I did not realize when the genesis for the idea for ‘Iquitos – the Past Will Kill’ sprang to life, was that I would be spending a month in the darkness of the Amazon rainforest.

But if the novel requires a jungle, then the writer must experience the jungle. Only with the truth of experience, can the tale be woven with credibility and the senses engaged.

The forest comes alive at night, and hunkered beneath mosquito netting while swinging in the heavy moist air in a hammock, one senses how much safer it is to be inside than outside. More than once in the cacophony of night sounds, something outside would let loose with a scream and suddenly only silence invaded the air.

During the daylight, all one did was sweat in the ninety percent humidity while wishing for a breeze. This is a hostile environment and not meant for the faint of heart. Every step must be calculated so one doesn’t step onto or in front of something life-threatening lurking in the canopy or the floor.

The rainforest is a dangerous place.

On a previous trip to Peru, my wife, Laureen, and I had made close friends with a naval commander who was able to organize our Amazonian adventure, including a ride-along in the one of the fastest naval boats on the river. This small boat, a necessity when searching for smugglers and others with dark intent, was capable of speeds in excess of sixty knots on the wide and dark river and sported two fifty caliber machine guns. It was a fitting vessel for Jonas, who was the only character to venture into the Amazon, to hitch a ride and explore firsthand the magnitude of one of the largest rivers in the world.

Islands would appear out of nowhere – the shores teaming with life. Howler monkeys kept eyes on us as we swept by the land masses as toucans and macaws flew overhead. The skies were often covered with heavy rain clouds ready at any minute to unleash a deluge. Often without warning the sky would open up, and we would suddenly be drenched but smiling as felt the thrill of research – to be somewhere not expected and enjoying every minute of it.

After nearly a month on the trail with Paul Bakas, our good friend and photographer for our blog, J and L Research and Exploration, we were satisfied with the research.

It takes a special type of person to make it day to day in the jungle. We made it, but only with the support of a guide, food and lukewarm beer, and of course, the repeated warnings of the dangers behind every bush. We were spoiled.

As Laureen observed as we headed back home: “That was the best trip I never want to take again.”

‘Iquitos – the Past Will Kill’ is a novel based on an explosive event which sends Jonas Peters back into the wilds of Peru and the Amazon jungle as the past comes rushing to the future, with deadly results for those involved. It is a journey of discovery and sorrow for both Jonas Peters and Frank Sanders, but the story must be told as all stories must.

 

John R. Beyer spent nearly ten years in law enforcement in Southern California as a street cop, a training officer and a member of the elite SWAT team. After leaving the force, he continued in public service entering the field of education. During his tenure, he served as classroom teacher, school administrator and district administrator, and was an integral part of the gang and drug force in San Bernardino. While in both worlds he earned a Doctorate in School Administration and a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.

During all those years, he never gave up the passion for writing – both fiction and nonfiction. He has been published in numerous magazines, newspapers and the like for decades, writing on a variety of topics. His latest short stories in the past year can be found in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine (2016) and GNU Journal (2017). He is also the author of three highly praised internationally known novels – Hunted (2013), Soft Target (2014) and Operation Scorpion (2017).

His newest novel, ‘Iquitos – the Past Will Kill’, will be released in November of 2018 by Black Opal Books bringing two of his protagonists together for their first investigation. Jonas Peters and Frank Sanders will work hand in hand with an international incident which left undetected could cause a catastrophic issue for the United States. They are friends and they are good at what they do. Catching the bad guys.

New novel & no ideas? So wrong! By Lala Corriere

Writer’s block is when even your characters won’t talk to you.

Writers know when they’re nearing the end of their manuscript. This stage is engulfed with rampant emotions. We’re proud of ourselves for achieving such a huge endeavor and yet we’re sad to say goodbye to some if not all of our characters we’ve so thoroughly crafted.

And then it might hit us. We want to write the next bestseller. And, horror of horror, we haven’t developed an inkling of an idea.

Fear not! As they say, rip something from the headlines!

My novel, TRACKS, includes a focus on the ongoing opiates crises. Difficult research that proved devastating and scary.

Recently, I went to the headlines and ideas flooded, literally with the terrifying approach of Hurricane Florence and its aftermath. If you write suspense you might consider a pre-meditated murder. The evidence is washed away and a body might just disappear, as well. If you write romance, do you see young strangers holed up in a safe place for days, surviving, and falling in love? Looting could be pre-meditated with homes earmarked with the goods, or the single property your antagonist needs to trespass to steal just one thing.

The gas explosions north of Boston might not be accidental but rather targeted in your great novel. A grudge against a new developer?

I’m not into writing about politics or religion, but you? I’m guessing there’s plenty of fodder out there to weave a tail around, like the Nevada professor whose attempted suicide to protest Trump failed and he now faces felony charges to include discharging a gun within a prohibited building and carrying a concealed weapon?  The dude left a $100 bill taped to the mirror tagged for the janitor. For the adventurous, you’ll find a story set in Russia or North Korea, as ripped from the headlines and made your own.

More obscure news stories? Today I found several:

  • The discovery and opening of a four-thousand-year old Egyptian tomb. This could make for a fun and wickedly delicious plot.
  • A sex doll brothel opening. A legal means to release violent urges, claims the company.
  • The man charged with sexual child abuse when faking he had Down Syndrome.

Nothing strike your fancy? Keep looking and cooking up your creative spins on current news, or old news with new life.

I’m writing my seventh novel, Lethal Trust. It’s based on a true event that’s happening now, sans the murders. Because of the relationship to a true story with the lives of very public individuals, I have to use extreme care in changing everything including cities and names. I don’t need their lawyers knocking at my door. Still, when I first learned about the basic facts I knew murder had to be involved, my way.

 

 

Then and Now: A Series Evolves By Frankie Y. Bailey

            I had no master plan for my Lizzie Stuart series. I wasn’t even sure I could finish the first book. I had an idea – a mystery inspired by an incident I had discovered while doing research for my dissertation. I decided to create a fictional sleuth – Professor Lizabeth Stuart, crime historian – who would investigate a fictionalized version of that incident. In this mystery novel, Lizzie would go to “Gallagher, Virginia” to investigate a lynching that her grandmother, Hester Rose, witnessed as a child.

Writing that book was a slow process. I had written two romantic suspense novels that were tucked away in a bottom drawer. I needed to learn how to write a mystery. Along the way, I joined a writing group that provided me with support and encouragement. But five years later I was still revising and revising and spinning my wheels.

When a friend from graduate school invited me to join her and her six-year old son for a week’s vacation in Cornwall, England, I said “yes.”  To justify my vacation, I decided to take Lizzie with me, to try writing a book set in Cornwall. A modern version of the kind of book Agatha Christie might have written about murder in an English artist colony/seaside resort.

This vacation book was intended to be no more than a writing exercise. It became much more. In London and in Cornwall, Lizzie, my Southern-born, African American sleuth came to life. Suddenly, I could hear her voice in my head. I understood how she saw the world.          Death’s Favorite Child, the book that began as a writing exercise, became the first book in the series. It was the book I sold to a small independent publisher. The book I had been working on for five years became A Dead Man’s Honor, the drastically revised second book in the series. Those revisions were necessary because in Cornwall I had learned much more about Lizzie – and Lizzie had met a Philadelphia homicide detective named John Quinn. Quinn had always been around, but for five years he had been the police chief in Gallagher, Virginia. He was to have appeared only in that book. But in Cornwall, he turned up as a much different character, walked into the series and decided to stay.

Now eighteen years after that first book was published, the series is being reissued by a new publisher. Although I was certainly not clever enough to have planned for this possibility, I am benefitting from the fact that I have been writing in “series time.”  In the context of the events in Lizzie’s life, only four years have passed. In the series, the current year is 2004. But Lizzie is much stronger and much more confident than when she set out on that vacation in Cornwall. That’s just as well because in the sixth book, now in progress, meeting her fiance’s family will not go as planned.

Pliny the Younger—More than a Beer by Albert Bell

The Russian River Brewery in northern California produces a beer called Pliny the Younger. I have a T-shirt from there, but I don’t know how on earth they came up with the idea. Pliny (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus) was a Roman aristocrat who lived from approximately 62-112 AD. His surviving writings include a lengthy speech and 247 letters to a variety of friends, including the historian Tacitus. Two of those letters describe the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, which he witnessed from a distance. They are the only eye-witness account of a natural disaster that we have from antiquity. Another gives us our first non-Biblical description of Christians.

 

But he had nothing to do with beer.

 

Nor did he have anything to do with solving murders, so why have I written a series of novels featuring him as an amateur sleuth? The first, All Roads Lead to Murder, came out in 2002. The seventh, The Gods Help Those, is being published this month by Perseverance Press. When a warehouse that Pliny owns collapses in a flood, several bodies are found in it. One of them is a man wearing a tunic with an equestrian stripe on it, a sign of aristocratic status. Who is he? What is he doing there? And where did the baby come from? I am currently at work on the eighth book, with the working title Hiding from the Past.

 

I chose to use Pliny as a detective because he has a skeptical, inquiring mind. As a historian I’ve studied him for years. Using a historical person in a work of fiction can be a challenge, though. I am constrained by what is known of his life: his birth and death dates, the offices he held and when he held them, his presence at certain places and certain times (e. g., near Pompeii in August of 79 AD), and his personality as revealed in his letters.

 

I think I have remained true to Pliny’s character. He was a slave-owning, wealthy, Roman aristocrat. I am none of those things, but as a writer I try to put myself in the mind of such a person. I’ve written books from the first-person POV of a woman and from the POV of an 11-year-old. I must not be too far off the mark, because I’ve gotten fine reviews for all of those books.

 

Some of the people around Pliny are historical. He and Tacitus were good friends, to judge from Pliny’s letters. He mentions his mother in the letters about Vesuvius. He hated a man named Regulus. When Regulus died, Pliny told a friend, “Regulus did well to die. He would have done better to have died sooner.” How can you not like a guy who can write that?

 

Other people in the books are, of course, my own creations. Pliny was married several times, as any man of that time might be. I have given him a mistress—one of his slaves named Aurora. The relationship, which has developed as the series has gone along, is entirely consensual. Aurora came into his household when they were both seven. They grew up as friends and have become lovers. Aurora has become a powerful character in her own right. Beginning with the fifth book, The Eyes of Aurora, I began to write some sections from her POV.

 

Historical mysteries aren’t everyone’s cup of tea; I know that. I think Pliny and his associates are compelling characters and of interest, regardless of when they lived. When the previous installment, Fortune’s Fool, appeared, one reviewer said, “Bell reinforces his place among those who are pushing the mystery beyond genre, toward the literary.” About the same book, another reviewer said, “This novel is packed with it all—compelling, complex plotting, keen historical observation, painful irony and pathos, and broad Roman humor.”

 

Albert Bell teaches history at Hope College, in Holland, MI. His specialty is ancient Rome. He and his wife, a retired psychologist, have four adult children and two grandsons. Albert has had 16 books published, as well as articles and stories. In addition to his Roman mysteries, he has written three middle-grade mysteries, and several stand-alone adult contemporary mysteries. When he’s not teaching or writing, he enjoys his perennial flower beds and his collection of old baseball cards.

 

http://www.albertbell.wixsite.com/writer

 

https://www.amazon.com/Gods-Help-Those-Seventh-Notebooks/dp/1564746089/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1535721952&sr=1-1&keywords=gods+help+those&dpID=51m-pxkr02L&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

http://www.albertbell.wixsite.com/writer

First chapters – Death’s Favorite Child by Frankie Y. Bailey

Do you have your copy yet?

 

 

Chapter One

 

Wednesday, June 17, Drucilla, Kentucky

 

Rituals for the Dead and Dying.  I’d scrawled those words across the yellow page of a legal pad one robins-chirping, tulips-blooming afternoon in May.  That day, moving my hand across the page had been the only thing that had kept me from toppling over.  The paperback thriller I had brought along in my tote bag had stayed there, too intricate for my brain even if my eyes hadn’t been filled with grit.

Rituals.  During slavery, blacks on plantations often wrapped their dead in “winding sheets” and buried them at night.  Laboring from sunup to sundown, the slaves spent their daylight hours performing their masters’ tasks. Night was the only portion of the day that they could call their own.  So that was when they buried their dead. Singing, carrying torches to light the way, they delivered the body to its grave.

Such processions puzzled, even frightened, the whites who observed them.  Prone to their own superstitions, whites in the antebellum South understood better the “death watch” for the departing loved one and the “laying out” of the corpse.

They, white people, died of diseases and in childbirth. Black slaves died of the same causes and of hard work and abuse. Death was a constant presence in the lives of both groups. Death required rituals.

It still does. My grandmother, a descendant of field slaves, did her dying in a hospital room under medical supervision. But each day I drove back and forth to Lexington to keep my vigil at her bedside.

On the night that she died, I had lost my battle with exhaustion and fallen asleep in an armchair. Her voice jolted me awake. She had pushed herself upright in the bed. “Becca? Don’t you play your games with me. I see you there.”

I twisted around in my chair. For a moment, in that dimly lit room, I expected to see something there in the shadows.

“Becca, you stop your laughing!”

I had never heard Becca laugh. Neither one of us had laid eyes on Becca, my mother, in the thirty-eight years since my birth. But to the best of my knowledge she was still alive. Not a ghost to haunt her mother’s passing.

I staggered to my feet. “Grandma? Shh, it’s all right. Let me help you lie back down.”

She turned her head and looked up at me. “Becca? What you come back here for?’

“Grandma, it’s me. It’s Lizzie. Here, let me–”

She grabbed my hand in an urgent grip. “It would kill you daddy if he knew. We can’t never let him find out. We can’t let nobody find out.”

“What. . .find out what?”

She groaned, rocking herself. “How could you do it, Becca? That man–” Her voice sunk to a whisper. “Oh, lord, baby. Becca, get on your knees and pray . . . pray for you and that child growing inside you.”

“Grandma, what–?”

She slumped against my arm.  I held her for several heartbeats, then eased her back down onto the pillow.

She was dead.  I knew that even before I pressed the button for assistance, even before a nurse rushed into the room to check her vital signs.  Hester Rose Stuart was dead.

As for Becca–Rebecca, headstrong by all accounts, had been a few weeks short of eighteen when I was born.  Five days after my birth, still without revealing the identity of my father, she had boarded a Greyhound bus and left town. Or so my grandmother had always told me.

In the days since my grandmother’s death, I had been adjusting to living alone in the house that was now mine. Adjusting to silences filled with voices from my childhood. At around three that afternoon, I came to rest there in the kitchen doorway.

Silver-edged thunderheads loomed.  I considered getting in my car and driving down to the Sheraton Hotel.  I thought of sitting there in the lobby cafe sipping mint tea while the pianist played and the fountain tinkled, drowning out the storm raging outside.  I thought of leaving home before the storm broke, but I kept on standing there in the doorway with that photograph in my hand.

It had been taken out by the old oak tree.  My grandfather, Walter Lee, grinning that grin that people still mentioned when they spoke of him, faced the camera.  He was ebony-skinned and lanky.  Hester Rose, petite and pecan-colored, peeped around his shoulder.  That afternoon, touched by some fleeting joy, she had dared risk one of her rare full-mouthed smiles.  A hand had snapped the photograph and then it had been forgotten.

I had found the camera when I was searching the attic. After two hours of dust and spider

webs, after finding nothing more significant about my mother than the paperback novels–Moby Dick, Jane Eyre, and The Scarlet Letter—that she must have been assigned in a high school English class, I had been about to give up. Then I’d opened a dented steamer truck. The camera was buried beneath a pile of moldy sheets. When I realized it contained film, I ran downstairs to change.  Half an hour later, I was walking into a camera store in Lexington. There among the prints of house, flower beds, and vegetable garden had been that single photograph of my grandparents, the proud homeowners.

Both dead now. He of a heart attack, years ago when I was at graduate school. She at a little after midnight on June 1, the combined effects of hip surgery, diabetes, and a virulent strain of pneumonia—and perhaps whatever it was that had kept her mouth tight and her eyes wary.

Lightning zigzagged across the sky.  I stepped back into the kitchen and let the screen door bang shut.

When I was a child, I had been sure God was Zeus, with lightning bolts that he flung down at people who had been bad.  I shared this with my grandfather during one of our tramps through the woods, and he laughed until tears streaked his cheeks.

Seeing my chagrin, he hugged me to his side. “Lizzie, if that was the way of it, child, you wouldn’t be able to walk after a storm for all the dead folks you’d be stumbling over.” That might be true, but all these years later I could still have gone for a very long time between colliding weather fronts.

Lightning flashed. Thunder cracked and boomed, shaking the house. I clutched my grandparents’ photograph and scrunched myself tighter into a corner of the flowered sofa. The shutter on one of the upstairs windows was loose and banging. Rain slashed against the picture window in the living room. I huddled there on the sofa, mumbling an apology for being ungrateful for what I had. An apology for being angry because I was without kin.

God did not strike one dead for having wicked thoughts.  If that were the case, I’d already be dead.

I was astraphobic, brontophobic.  Scared of storms.  One of those silly childhood fears I intended to outgrow someday soon. The upstairs shutter banged like a gavel in the hand of an irate judge.

“All right, you’re being ridiculous. One hundred, ninety-nine, ninety-eight. First thing tomorrow, find a repairman to fix the shutter. Ninety-seven, ninety-six. I am calm and relaxed. I am–”

White light exploded in the room. I screamed. I thought I was dead. But it was the tree. The old oak tree in the backyard had been struck by lightning. Blasted to its roots. Hester Rose, my grandmother, would have said it was an omen. A “sign.” But a sign is only useful if you know how to read it. At any rate, it was a moment of transition. Not dying was amazingly therapeutic.

***

Criminologist Frankie Bailey has five books and two published short stories in a mystery series featuring crime historian Lizzie Stuart. The Red Queen Dies, the first book in a near-future police procedural series featuring Detective Hannah McCabe, came out in September 2013.  The second book in the series, What the Fly Saw came out in March 2015. Frankie is a former executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime.

Website URL: http://www.frankieybailey.com

Twitter:  @FrankieYBailey

 

Amazon: Death’s Favorite Child

https://www.amazon.com/Deaths-Favorite-Lizzie-Stuart-Mystery-ebook/dp/B078FQT4XD/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1536271507&sr=8-1&keywords=death%27s+favorite+child

 

Amazon: What the Fly Saw

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00MLNBJC2?keywords=what%20the%20fly%20saw&qid=1450548269&ref_=sr_1_1&s=digital-text&sr=1-1