Miss Matthews touring 1909            My great Aunt Mary was a real person.  After attending Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, she went off to Monastir, Macedonia as a foreign missionary in 1888 and did not return until 1920, when I believe she was sent away by Serbian authorities for being an American spy.

During her tour of duty running a school for girls, she acted heroically through one crisis after another:  the end of the Ottoman Empire; the Young Turk Revolution; Balkan Wars I and II; and, especially, the relentless German bombardment of her school and city during World War I.

In an age when women were taught to keep a low profile and be guided and protected by men, Aunt Mary became a force of her own in Monastir, dealing with Turkish, Bulgarian and Serbian governors; providing a haven and provisions for victims of war (she did not discriminate along ethnic or religious lines); becoming in every sense a strong feminist against the Victorian odds.

And she left thirty-two years’ worth of diaries, letters and pictures for her family to peruse, transcribe, and donate to her beloved Mount Holyoke—where she had received the Medal of Honor for her work in the Balkans.

After a year of immersion in the Mary Matthews collection, intending to publish it as a diary, I realized I needed to take a different tack.  With two mysteries under my belt, DEADLINE ISTANBUL and DEADLINE YEMEN, I had my aha! moment: I am a mystery writer, not an academic Istanbul coverresearcher.  Aunt Mary will be available to academics once the Collection is archived and opened by Mount Holyoke in fall of 2015.  For my tribute, I needed to turn her into a sleuth.

At first I thought it would be easy.  Having read all her first-hand material, I knew Mary Matthews’s mind and heart.  I have researched the Victorian era until I am practically wearing bustles.  Much about life in Monastir echoed my own experience in central Anatolia as an early Peace Corps volunteer.  Even the street names were in Turkish!

Miss Matthews, as she was known, wrote in detail about daily events at her school and in her town—and many of those events cried out to be tweaked just a bit to make them murderous.  She was the “go-to” person when any crisis occurred, whether it be a sick cat, a needy neighbor, disgraceful behavior by her girls or an epidemic of scarlet fever or flu.  I would have all the names and the descriptions from Mary herself…

Except that Mary Matthews edited her own papers ruthlessly before she died.  I know that “Mr. Eftim picked a rose” in 1917.  I know nothing about the 23-year-old missionary’s feelings as she embarked from her protected life across the Atlantic on a Cunard liner, spent a few days in London when Jack the Ripper held the city in fear, or ate oysters and prime rib aboard the luxurious Orient Express.  (Since this was all pre-electricity, one almost doesn’t need to invent mysterious deaths among the passengers!)

I believe Aunt Mary deleted all this interesting material later in life when she feared it might not look “missionary” enough.  We are left with a paragraph from one of her mother’s letters naming the ship, the dates in London, and the fact that Mary and her woman companion “made their way across Europe to Constantinople.”  The only way they could have visited the cities mentioned was by the newly-opened Orient Express.

Despite not having much to go on, I wanted to start my series with the journey of that young woman.  This meant inventing characters who might have been with her or at least could have been with her.  I put in a few people who are mentioned later in the actual diaries (Miss Ellen Stone, a British nurse, kidnapped in 1901 and who eventually went to Monastir) or about whom I had read (the British journalist who made his career following Miss Stone’s adventures in the Macedonian mountains.)

As I made up characters and incidents, I had fun imagining Mary’s interactions with them.  It was delightful to research what London and Paris were like at that time.  (Did you know the Eiffel Tower was being built in Fall of 1888?)

I love dining-car scenes and began to immerse myself in the gossip and putdowns and kindly remarks exchanged among the passengers.  To do that, I had to place people at tables, sketch them out – and, where necessary, go back to the S.S. Bothnia or the respectable little hotel in London to position red herrings.

I wish I were a writer who could plan out everything before she starts!  I’m not.  I’m as surprised as anyone when something untoward is found under the berth or in a lady’s purse.

The working title for my book is UNHOLY DEATH ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.  So…don’t expect all the religious people making the trip to be saints.  Don’t get too attached to a character who might, just might, become a victim.

Trust Aunt Mary.  She was a problem-solver in life. She will be a problem-solver in fiction!


Peggy brown scarfPeggy Hanson is an author and travel blogger who loves to share her international life with her readers. Peace Corps, Voice of America, teaching of English–all these have played major roles in her life. Growing up in a series of small towns in Colorado, the daughter of a mountain-climbing Congregational minister and teacher, probably helped mold her affinity to nomadism. In her adult life, she’s lived for extended periods in Turkey, Yemen, India and Indonesia.

Her first two books are mysteries in the Elizabeth Darcy series set in other countries: DEADLINE ISTANBUL and Deadline Yemen cover by AnneDEADLINE YEMEN. She is currently working on the third in that series, DEADLINE INDONESIA, and is also compiling and editing her great aunt Mary’s diaries and letters and pictures from 1888-1920 when she was a missionary teacher and principal in the Balkans. The working title of the diaries is UNHOLY DEATH ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. It is a story of early feminism and a woman’s bravery in the face of war.


Facebook https://www.facebook.com/hanusa2?fref=ts

Twitter @phanusa2

Meet Peggy Hanson

Peggy Hanson

Peggy Hanson

I am an unlikely author to ask about her writing career.  Virtually nothing about my experience fits into the proverbial “box.”  And that question PJ asks about “when did you feel successful as a writer?”  Well, I’m still hoping that moment will come!

The one thing I have in common with all writers is that I have always done it, have always loved it, have always had it as a goal. I’m never happier than when I exercise the discipline to write in a serious way.

And I will admit that when I got down to applying that discipline (built up by being a journalist on deadline) to polishing up and actually publishing my first two novels in the Elizabeth Darcy series, DEADLINE ISTANBUL and DEADLINE YEMEN it felt pretty good.  After all, by that time, I was age 73!


The truth is that I have always written, just to write.  I never really focused on publication.  Often, I didn’t even read over or edit my random jottings.  Life has been varied and complicated enough to hold my interest:  teaching English for the Peace Corps in Turkey, returning to the US; having two children; taking them to Turkey and then to Yemen for several years; divorce; news career with Voice of America as an international radio broadcaster; remarriage,

In the village of  Dhra Yemen

In the village of Dhra Yemen

complete with a surprise third child 20 years younger than his oldest sister; living in India and Indonesia with that child, while also working as a foreign correspondent…


And that’s where I began to write fiction—living in Indonesia.  Suharto’s dictatorship didn’t allow me to practice journalism there while married to a World Bank economist, so I quit VOA.  It was the first time I’d felt free enough to devote myself to what I’d always wanted to do.  With cook, driver, house cleaners, gardener, guards to keep everything running smoothly and ferry my young son to and from school and activities…the situation was ideal for a writer. I joined a writing group and wrote the first draft of DEADLINE ISTANBUL.  It was a joyous experience to return to Turkey in memory, conjuring up the sights and sounds of 8 years in that amazing country.  Later, when we moved back to India, I wrote the first draft of DEADLINE YEMEN.


But let me try to make an organized structure out of this “career,” while answering some of PJ’s actual questions.  (I put quotation marks around career because it feels a little fraudulent to call writing that when my dear husband Jim has been able and willing to support me through the whole process.  I know that has taken much of the “bite” out of trying to get published and trying to sell my books.  I admire and respect beyond measure authors who actually have to make a living doing this!!)


From first draft to publication of both the DEADLINE books, several years ensued.  I honestly don’t know why I persevered through rejections and, frankly, a lack of interest on the part of agents and editors in esoteric topics like Turkey and Yemen.  Adding to the problem was my “soft” approach to topics more usually in the realm of thrillers:  terrorism, drug and arms smuggling, assassination, international cast of shady characters.  I mean, really:  Jane Austen, cats, woman with a sense of humor…terrorism?  Really??  Set in places where these things really exist (though I would point out to Americans that we of all people should recognize that terrorism is NOT limited to that arising in Islamic cultures.)


So…no niche, no interest, lots going on in my life.  Maybe I would never publish the books.  Would that matter?


Peggy reading at MWA University

Peggy reading at MWA University

Well, to me, it mattered.  (My kids wouldn’t even know my computer password, for Pete’s sake!) I kept going to conferences and writing courses (thank you, Noreen Wald!), jotting down stuff in diaries and travelogues, meeting with other writers in various venues, including a long-term writing group that met at my house and had several well-published authors in it.


Then, a couple of years ago, at Anne Hillerman writer’s conference in Santa Fe, I met my agent, Liz Trupin-Pulli, who expressed interest in my work.  I took the day-long writing course there from Sandi Ault (full of practical suggestions) and then put nose to the grindstone for a period of four months and rewrote both DEADLINE ISTANBUL and DEADLINE YEMEN for Liz to see.  She accepted me and did a great edit on both books.  I HAD AN AGENT!!!


We still had the “niche and unknown countries” problems with big editors.  Fortunately, a member of my book group, Carla Coupe, had begun working for a small press, Wildside Press.  They accepted the books and Liz and I decided that would be a good route for me.  Carla did another edit, and after two more months of nose-to-grindstone, both books came out.  My talented daughter, Anne Welles (of Lunatic Fringe Productions), painted dramatic and impressionistic covers for both ISTANBUL and YEMEN.  She had grown up in those countries, after all, and could get the feel of things as no other artist could have done.  I’m about to get her going on DEADLINE INDONESIA, with palm trees and volcanoes!


Since I am writing books in two different series right now (DEADLINE INDONESIA and the first book in the MARY MATTHEWS VICTORIAN MISSIONARY SLEUTH series) I have not had time (or talent, or energy, or aptitude) to sell my books broadly.  That is where PJ Nunn has made all the difference.  Elaine Viets told me to go to her, and what a dynamo she is!  (Both are, really.)  PJ has made me write several guest blogs, has gotten me radio and television interviews all over the country (scheduled but not yet aired), has contacted bookstores and libraries—I cannot keep up with her!  Having PJ means that I can concentrate on doing what I love, writing, and follow her orders about what to do about selling.  It’s going well, I think.


My biggest discouragement about writing?  Probably the fact that agents and editors weren’t interested in the topic or the approach.


My biggest pleasure derived from the writing?  The fact that friends all over the world, of various nationalities, who either bought the books or were sent the books, are clamoring for the next volume.  That’s what I always wanted to do:  provide some pleasure, comfort, fun, and interest to the lives of other mystery fans.

Evening on the Nile

Evening on the Nile


Next month when I spend three weeks in Cairo and Upper Egypt, thanks to my husband’s work, I will be doing what I always do:  jotting notes to send back to family and friends.  This time, because of PJ, I will try to publish those jottings.  It’s a whole new world out there!


Istanbul coverDEADLINE ISTANBUL outlines the adventures of Elizabeth Darcy, newspaper reporter, as she seeks answers to the death of her friend, the Istanbul Deadline Yemen cover by Annecorrespondent.  She’s supposed to fill in for him.  But Elizabeth is too nosy for her own good, and soon she is coming up against hidden dangers on every side, from the storied souqs to the enchanting Bosphorus dividing Istanbul.  Some of the men she encounters are attractive.  Are they also dangerous?  And what, pray tell, about the women?  Everyone knows the female is more deadly than the male.  It takes all of Elizabeth’s ingenuity, along with a little help from a cat and a journalist, to survive the outcomes of her investigations.


Both DEADLINE ISTANBUL and DEADLINE YEMEN are available from independent booksellers like Edgar Award-winning Mystery Loves Company (Kathy Harig), from Amazon as either paperback or Kindle, and on I-book.





Van cat Sultana


For those who’ve already read the books, meet the real Sultana, above.



Peggy and camel friend on recent trip to Egypt

Peggy and camel friend on recent trip to Egypt

Peggy Hanson has lived more than twenty years in Yemen, Turkey, India and Indonesia.  An avid mystery fan, she draws on her background as a Peace Corps volunteer and International Broadcaster for the Voice of America to bring the world to her readers through the mystery medium.  She finds it more fun to write fiction than to stick to facts as she had to as a journalist, though she tries to be as accurate as possible.


Peggy has published two mysteries in the Elizabeth Darcy series, DEADLINE ISTANBUL and DEADLINE YEMEN.  Both take the reader into the intricacies of people in those Islamic countries, with which she is very familiar.  She is working on the next in that series, DEADLINE INDONESIA.


She is also beginning a new series featuring MARY MATTHEWS, Victorian American Missionary Sleuth in the Balkans.  That series is based on the diaries and letters of Peggy’s great aunt, who was ultimately sent out of Macedonia–possibly for being an American spy.


Peggy lives in McLean, Virginia, near Washington, DC, with her husband Jim and two lively cats. http://peggyhansonauthor.com/