A Material World

Too many times we overlook the obvious and assume that what lies on the surface is all there is. But there may be stories lurking in plain sight right below your feet.

Enter the humble carpet, a common object which humanity has been trampling over for hundreds, arguably thousands, of years. Though it acts as a barrier to cold floors, even hangs on the walls of many homes, the carpet is often a repository of ancient and arcane iconology. Thus, without knowing it, we often tread over centuries of stories told and retold in a kind of woven visual book.

Our ancestors were far more visual than we were. They learned to read in pictures first since literacy wouldn’t spread widely until much later. That meant that the rug weavers of old worked in symbols and pictures, often using carpets as a means to tell a story or hint at at secrets and beliefs.

One such carpet features in my new Phoebe McCabe thriller, The Carpet Cipher, and thought it profiles a carpet painted into a commemorative wedding scene, the Renaissance master was tasked with a mission not uncommon in Renaissance art: to hide something of great value in plain sight. Welcome to The Agency of the Ancient Lost and Found, a new thriller series featuring an art historian with a penchant for textiles. And trouble.

 

Romantic fiction – and Richard III

I love it when authors engage in online conversations. Here Alex Marchant ponders an article I wrote for Authors Electric Blog and the discourse is well worth sharing.

The Order of the White Boar

Well, here’s a rather different blog post – not specifically about King Richard III* or his times, or even about Master Matthew Wansford. But a little musing on an interesting blog that one of my fellow Authors Electric bloggers, Jane Thornley,  posted about ‘romance’ fiction: ‘I should have been a romance writer’.

http://authorselectric.blogspot.co.uk/2018/04/i-should-have-been-romance-writer-by.html

After pointing out that writers of romantic fiction can tap into the largest pool of readers (and buyers) of any genre, Jane questions why the genre is looked down upon – and especially in terms of gender – with romance generally being seen as the preserve of female authors. As she says, love and what goes with it are what perpetuate the species and can offer some of the best aspects of life – though they can also be responsible for (and/or inextricably entwined with) some of its worst throughout history (from the ostensible reason for the…

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The Plunge–or Characters Achieving Gravitas

 

 

Writing a series with the same characters appearing from book to book offers so much opportunity for character growth that I can’t resist. Nobody stays the same. Like all humans, characters grow, learn from their experiences, and evolve into a much stronger version of themselves. Take Phoebe McCabe who launched the Crime by Design series in Rogue Wave as an immature and easily lead young woman, especially vulnerable to the men in her life. Yes, part of her is me. Or, was me.

When I think back to some of the decisions I made, or failed to make, in my early days, I could bang my head against a wall. I was afraid of everything, especially what people thought of me. It was more important to be liked than it was to be smart, and often being smart guaranteed not being liked. Women were not judged by their intelligence so much as by their looks and malleability. I’d sit quietly, stamping down my opinions lest some authority figure think less of me. Silly Putty was so popular in those days. Sound familiar? Most women growing up in this society have experienced some version of this to lesser or greater degrees.

So, five books later for Phoebe and several decades later for me, and the interior landscapes of both character and author have changed. The ground has hardened, the mountains have formed, and that great stony ridge running down the length of the human continent might finally be considered a backbone. And now I love nothing better than voicing my opinion, especially if it sparks a lively debate, whereas Phoebe McCabe will risk almost everything to get in THE LAST WORD.

Getting in the last word is an indicator of a strong sense of entitlement to speak one’s truth, whether it be right or wrong, loved or despised. At the very least, it signifies that the speaker stands for something and is willing to take the fall in its defence. In Phoebe’s case, it took awhile to sort through the weight of her heart versus the burden of her moral code. One so easily overrides the other though at the nexus of those two often conflicting elements, Phoebe makes a decision which results in her taking a very deep plunge. The younger woman character couldn’t have done what she does in book five and this older author hopes she’ll never have to do anything remotely similar.

The Plunge (coming out February 16th) is a turning point for the Crime by Design series. Though it’s still on the light end of the thriller spectrum, the character of Phoebe McCabe has at last gathered some gravitas. THE PLUNGE ON AMAZON

 

 

 

 

 

 

DOWNSIDE UP is Here!

Jenna on roof banner

Have you ever taken a stroll on a summer’s eve and chanced to glance into someone’s window? Maybe there were people inside and maybe not but, either way, it was a glimpse into another world, and perhaps it caused you to pause long enough to wonder what those lives were like. Yes, I know that most will pull their gaze guiltily away for fear of invading another’s privacy but some of us don’t. Some of us are curious bold-faced observers of the human condition and reality is a thousand times better than TV. And who are we harming, anyway?

We humans are fascinating and we love to see how others live, even speculate on how those lives may differ from our own. Are our neighbors happy or miserable, richer or poorer? Do they keep secrets, delicious, dangerous secrets? Chances are, whatever we speculate is wrong because people are both more ordinary and far more complex than we can ever imagine. Looking through a window only scratches the surface.

Now, supposing you are a person with a craving for high places, specifically mountains in nature and, maybe in the urban world, roofs. Supposing that your only way to think, to relax, is to literally get away from it all by climbing up into those nether regions far above where you can breathe and just be. Nobody will bother you up there, nobody will even try. Yes, you are an introvert but also a searcher and a risk-taker. You are not easily daunted. So, when it seems that your predilection can provide valuable information to solve one crime and stop another, while simultaneously putting your grieving aunt’s mind to rest, what do you do?

You jump.

Meet Jenna Elson. In my new suspense series None of the Above, you will meet a woman driven by love and her own inner desires to do what is wrong for all the right reasons.  In Downside Up, book one, you will find out that scratching the surface of others’ lives is one thing, but crashing through those walls of illusion is something altogether more … deadly.

Downside Up is available for purchase now in all online bookstores and in both e-book and print formats. For Amazon: Downside Up on Amazon

 

MY CRIMINAL MIND

I admit to having a criminal mind, and consider it to be an absolute necessity for mystery and thriller writers. We need to be devious by nature in order to contrive the dastardly acts we describe.
 
Imagine the interesting, potentially questionable, and possibly arrest-worthy situations such a brain such as mind can cause. For instance, I once spent an hour leaning over the side of a footbridge in Civita di Bagnoregio in Italy trying to phantom how best to run a Maserati over the edge. While discussing the possible scenarios with my husband, at least one eavesdropper was seen inching away from me as quickly as his sneakers would carry him. 
We must also be dogged researchers. 
 
While researching that same novel, Beautiful Survivor,  I also plunged deep into the world of Campagna citizens living with the realities of the Camorra crime families. One reader accused me of giving into the Italian Mafia/Camorra stereotype–you know, the one were every Italian family must know or have experience with one or two major crime families? But that stuff is real, folks. Check out the garbage collection woes in Naples, if you don’t believe me.
 
Which brings me to my new series,  Downside Up, launching this year. For this setting, I’ll be journeying to London to research details of how to spy at roof-level, specifically Victorian terrace house roof-level. My character will be tracking down a serial killer above ground in the Chelsea area, which requires me to peer at homeowner’s rooftops for an unseemly amount of time. The question is: will I have the courage to ring the bell and inform said homeowner that I am but a lowly author and not a prospective cat burglar? These are dangerous times in London. I can only hope my look of innocence holds up under scrutiny.

“Old School” is Open

“These stories are EXACTLY what I like to read, and I don’t say that lightly. So many books today are all plot with little description and minimal character development. Jane Thornley writes “old school”. You understand her characters and their motivations. You see the exotic locations. You taste the food and feel the breeze. You have no idea what’s behind the mystery until it all comes together at the end. Oh, and you’ll need a vocabulary that exceeds fifth grade. These books are chock-full of adventure, romance, and mystery…and knitting, but you don’t have to be a fiber-fiend to enjoy them (I’m not). Can’t wait to read more from Jane Thornley! –Maria Romana, Romantic Suspense author
Once in awhile, I troll through my reviews, re-reading each one, searching for pithy lines that illuminate problem areas or places where I seem to have hit my stride. I came across the review above not long ago and was floored. I do not know this author, I hasten to add,  but I’m very grateful to her for illuminating something about my writing that hadn’t occurred to me before: I’m “old school”.
 
So what does that mean? You see, since I write a form of thriller, I frequently attract criticism that my novels are slow-starting, meaning that I ease the reader into the lives of the characters before hurling them along the Amalfi coast, plunging them into ancient tombs, and otherwise accelerating the action into breathless. I don’t shy away from description; I want you to feel that sense of being there. I also want you to get to know the characters, and become a part of their lives before the thrills begin. OLD SCHOOL. And, my friends, please note her comment that “…you need a vocabulary that exceeds fifth grade.” My readers are literate. Thank you for that, everybody. Hey, I’m okay with all of it, in fact.
 
So,  book four of the Greater of Two Evils  is ready to roll, and you’ll have a bit of time to spend with the characters you love while the suspense thickens. though I’m still holding off until my return from Italy (more research) in November. In the meantime, I have a riddle for you: what does knitting socks have to do with Ivan the Terrible and Phoebe McCabe? Ah, there’s the dilemma. Of course, Russian rulers wore socks in the 15th century–this was Russia, after all–but Phoebe doesn’t knit socks. That’s more Sir Rupert’s domain. In any case, those seemingly diverse elements come together in book four of Crime by Design in a way that will keep you at the edge of your seat and in stitches. In the end, I aim to thrill and surprise.
 
Remember that, as well as being available on all online vendors, the Crime by Design Series is available as REAL books in paperback format, too,  for my old school readers.

Beautiful Survivor–Book 3 in the Crime by Design Series

I am a great admirer of the survivor, whether it be an ancient artifact or a living being. In fact, anything or anyone who has withstood time and trauma deserves accolades and the deepest respect. That could be a Syrian refugee or a Roman amphitheater.  Or you, if you’re over forty. Not everybody gets the chance to grow older.

Because time is a wildcard. Time is a disaster not waiting to happen because it already has–successively and with impact. Look back into the centuries, or even across the days of a human life, and you’ll see wars, earthquakes, explosions, personal losses, heath crises, and heartbreak. Those that walk away, those that withstand the ravages of time, have stories to tell, and authors are tasked with the telling. All right, I admit, we embellish our tales and take license with the facts, but the core of truth is what matters.

I prefer my truths served with humor. It’s a necessary element of survival, perhaps the most important one. For that reason, you’ll never find my stories to be too serious. Even when I touch on weighty topics like crime, murder, death, and destruction, I lightened the load. Let the nightly news handle the raw matter. I’m here to entertain. I’m here to help you survive.

Beautiful Survivor, book three in the Crime by Design series, is soon to be released and, at its heart, it’s about survival, too. Yes, there is trauma, crime, fear, pain, but, you’ll still recognize the personal sinew that keeps the characters powering on.

This action suspense picks up where Phoebe McCabe left off in The Warp in the Weave and, as with the first two books in the series, it’s humorous, fast-paced, filled with vivid characters, a little romance, and bound to take you by surprise. This book is set in one of my favorite lands, Italy, a country that takes survival seriously. Think of the Etruscans, the Romans, the dolce vita.

Pick up your copy January 27th or pre-order from Amazon today.

What does an Antique Textile have to do with how Men Worshiped Women Thousands of Years Ago?

Men used to worship women, I mean really worship them.

Our value wasn’t weighed by how thin we were (lean was mean), or how young, or even how pretty. We were valued based on our contribution as the life-givers, our ability to generate new life to continue the tribe and, following our fecund years, honor was bestowed on all we’ve been and done.

Research on ancient humans plunging way back to the Bronze Age, have unearthed round, bountiful female statues that would never make the cover of Vogue. Fertility Figures they’re referred to now, as if that can tidy them away among the fossils and dinosaur bones.

Ancient sites like Turkey’s Çatal Hüyük discovered an advance civilization where men and women appear to live in a harmonious balance of mutual admiration. The Goddess sits on her leopard throne in a shrine surrounded by symbols of male energy, the bull (some things never change), as if the male hunters and warriors served the giver of life rather than ruled her.

And the Goddess looks more like your great aunt Mable than Gisselle Bündchen .

Think about it. Was this ancient civilization so much more advanced than ourselves that we actually valued multiple kinds of womanhood? Could it be that we didn’t lose our value in society as we aged and ‘lost our looks’?

Which brings me to the title of this post: how does an antique textile relate to how men worshiped women thousands of years ago? That question lays in the heart of my second book in the Crime by Design series, Warp in the Weave.

The answer may surprise you. It certainly should change how you look at traditional carpet patterns in the future and, just maybe, how you view women, ancient or otherwise.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00YPF6FJG?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00IDDF452?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

Give me History and I’ll Give you Life

Research, some writers love it and some find it a chore. I fall into the the first category. Give me an excuse to imagine life in another time, in another place, and I’ll take it on completely. Writers of historical fiction obviously need a sound background in the century of  their book, not just in terms of history but also social mores, clothing, food, and every single detail between. Some writers go so far as to research old cookbooks and make whatever dish that is to be served to a character so the reader may share the experience. That’s dedication. Pass the pig trotters and mead, boys. I can only imagine what Diana Gabaldon had with Outlander.

Every story is a human story. It’s all about plunging a reader into a place and time so real they can experience being human in another century, under a different set of challenges.  When society in the fictive world differs from the way you’ve grown up, the way you think is challenged, too.

What if you were an French-speaking Acadian girl banished from your colony up the Atlantic coast (now known as Nova Scotia) by the British in 1755 and shipped off to boggy Louisiana, just saying? What if you manage to find your way into the Ursuline convent, a convent sheltering young women from good French homes, with the view to marrying them off to the French settlers? The French King at the time, Louis XIV, fretted that New Orleans would grow into a cesspool of rowdies if they continued to breed with unsuitable women. His royal self decreed that the Order of St. Ursuline might properly harbor these French ‘Casket Girls’ shipped over from good French families as a way to improve the gene pool. Presumably, the irony of nuns training girls to be wives didn’t occur to him.

And then, circumstances change, as circumstances are wont to do. France gives Louisiana away in treaty to Spain in 1763 and a Spanish governor arrives to rule the French.  Now you have a French convent housing French girls for the marriage market and the Spaniards are coming. Oh, just imagine the fun!

Back to the Acadian girl, for a moment. Her status as an orphaned peasant farmer’s daughter thrust her to the bottom of the French social heap from the beginning. Hierarchies existed even in convents. She would never be a mate for a proper French gentleman, not that there were many of those in New Orleans at the time. However, it turns out she’s clever, can speak both French and Spanish, and burns with rage. What a perfect pawn, what a perfect spy…

This is how a human story is born, this one playing out in two centuries inside the pages of   Frozen Angel. Yes, I researched it to bits but the story drove me. The heart and mind of someone struggling to decide what is wrong and right in competing ideologies has always fascinated me. History provides such rich fodder.  Stir in a lot of fact and even more imagination, and the writer creates a heady brew. Continue reading