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remembering barbara mertz

Happy Birthday to our favorite author

Seven years after Barbara’s death, it is amazing to witness how lively the interest remains in her writings and characters.  Anyone missing her can tune into many corners of social media to join in discussions of her books, characters, and the lore surrounding them (including “fancasts” filled with suggestions of actors and actresses to play the parts of our favorite Mertz-Peters-Michaels characters).  (Still no suggestions on Gargery, strangely enough….)  On this, her birthday, we celebrate Barbara from her beginning in downstate Illinois through her amazing life.  She so enjoyed the “small” things, watching hummingbirds, sitting with her cats (thinking of how she would kill off the next victim in her current mystery).  Things like that.  Let’s lift a glass to MPM!

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William Joy on “the other Amelia”

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Dear Reader,

We resume after a hiatus, with plans to honor Barbara in a number of ways, including some recollections of Malice Domestic.  But we begin with a post from William Joy, who has posted here before.  Who is William Joy?  For one answer to this question, we turned to Ray Johnson, director of the Epigraphic Survey at Luxor under the auspices of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.  Ray wrote to us:

William Joy is one of the most positive, behind-the-scenes forces in Egyptology today.  He is a skilled archivist and a first-rate scholar in his own right, and is unceasingly generous with his time, knowledge, and expertise, particularly in the history of some of the earliest Egyptologists.  I suspect that there is no one in the world who knows more about 19th century writer and Egyptologist Amelia B. Edwards than William, or is more enthusiastic about her.  His knowledge is extraordinary.

As many of you know, Amelia Edwards provided some of the inspiration for our own Amelia Peabody.  Here is a picture of Edwards, along with a letter she wrote, both of which hung in Barbara’s hall for many years.  Now they hang in the Barbara Mertz Bioarchaeology Lab at the British Museum.

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William wrote to us about Amelia Edwards after noticing a post on Twitter by avid Amelia fan Christina Startt.  He also sent the beautiful pictures of covers of Amelia Edwards’ books seen at top and bottom.

FROM WILLIAM JOY:

While I was on Twitter, I noticed a tweet by Christina Startt with a photo of her copy of Amelia B. Edwards’ “A Thousand Miles Up The Nile.” I could have said something about it, but I honestly don’t know how in the single short sentence that Twitter provides! So here is more than you probably ever wanted to know about Amelia’s most famous book.

The cover of her paperbound book is a reproduction of the second edition of Amelia’s work, which first appeared at the close of the year 1888 — just in time for Christmas of that year. These copies actually bear dates of “1889,” which was a standard practice for English publishers. They felt if the Christmas shoppers of 1888 saw a book with the date “1889,” they would know instantly that it was “new,” and therefore, be more encouraged to purchase it. Experience showed Victorian publishers that “old” books at Christmas time were never quite the big sellers that “new” ones were.

These copies of Amelia’s second edition were issued in varying base cloth colors. Christina’s is dark blue, but there were also red, green, tan, light blue… a veritable rainbow of colors. But the design was the same on each of them: patterned after one of the author’s paintings inside the book. 

Years ago, when I first noticed some of these, I thought they might be similar to American books of the same time (notably titles by Mark Twain), in that printing houses, when running out of a standard color cloth for a book, would just switch to whatever other color happened to be on hand, and continue the production. 

But no, that was not the case here. These books were purposely issued in variant colors — depending on the “color” and “mood” of your library, and where you were going to display the book — so the customer had a choice as to which would “look best” when they got the book home. 

One other Egyptology travel book, also by a woman, was like this: “Vom Nil” by Victoria, the Crown Princess of Sweden, which featured her photographs taken in Egypt in 1889 and 1890. It was issued in about six different color bindings. Speaking of Sweden, I recently sent a copy of “The Painted Queen” to Carolin Johansson, a professional Egyptologist based in Uppsala, Sweden, and she loves it! Well, who doesn’t? I sure did!

One more thing regarding “A Thousand Miles Up The Nile.” The first edition appeared in 1877 as a much larger and heavier quarto-sized volume than the second edition, a smaller octavo-sized book. It had thick bevel-edged boards. Copies of the first edition were usually covered with a red cloth cover, which had black and gold stamping on the upper board and spine, in Egyptian-style designs (though a few copies are known with a cream cloth; more on those in a moment). We have a copy of the red first edition that Amelia used for editing purposes, not long before the second edition appeared. She used a pencil to cross out words and experimented by writing in synonyms; she also added footnotes along the margins. 

We thought that a significant copy. But just recently I was alerted by Julian Mackenzie of Shapero Rare Books in London to something even more extraordinary. They obtained (and sold to us) another copy of the first edition, which has something no other copy has… and moreover, which no other Egyptology book of its time has, as far as we know. And that is a publisher-issued paper dust jacket, made in 1877, intended to be used for the first edition, with the printed title and author’s name on the front cover, and fold-over flaps and everything — just like a modern dust jacket. I have not made photographs of this yet, but it is real, and it is complete, and yes, we are simply astonished over it. Dust jackets, you see, are early 20th-century items; they generally don’t exist for books from the nineteenth century.

One thing, though: there is, for perhaps every 10 copies of the red first edition of Amelia’s book, one cream color copy. And as this newly discovered dust-jacketed copy is of the scarcer cream variety, it is possible that the dust jackets were made only for the cream-colored copies. Both the cream and red varieties bear the same binder’s ticket on the rear pastedown (Westleys & Company, of London).

Thank you, William, for sharing this with us!!

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The British Museum’s Barbara Mertz Lab

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British Museum Lab Opening

About a year ago, in May of 2018, the British Museum honored Barbara Mertz by opening a laboratory named in her honor.  We thought readers might like to hear a little more about that.  The lab was generously sponsored by Dr. Roxie Walker, a bioarchaeologist who is Director of the Institute for Bioarchaeology at the British Museum.

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Friends, colleagues, and fans gathered for the joint celebration that marked the openings of the Mertz Lab and the Adams Research Lab.  (One observer remarked that the group that attended to honor Mertz was considerably more rowdy — and costumed — than the others there … but that seemed in keeping with her memory!)  Among the outstanding visuals were Dr. Walker as Anubis ….img_1843

 

 

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 Dr. Neal Spencer (seen above with Anubis!)… Dr. Salima Ikram as the Crocodile Lady (worshiper of Sobek?) …..

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… and … why, is it Amelia and Nefret? (with Barbara’s daughter Beth in-between…)   Actually, these intrepid members of the Mertz/Peters/Michaels (MPM) fandom family — known to us as AmeliaPeabodyEmerson and Amelia-Peabody-Book-Club on Tumblr — traveled to the UK from the US to join in the merriment!

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Featured on the walls of the lab were a letter from the formidable Amelia B. Edwards — one of the inspirations for Barbara’s beloved Amelia Peabody character — as well as original artwork for the cover of The Ape Who Guards the Balance (featuring Thoth), one of the books in the Amelia Peabody series.

… from a hallway in Barbara’s home …

 

Barbara’s long-time editor, Jennifer Brehl, from HarperCollins was also in attendance, as was Barbara’s dear friend and Frederick Maryland bookseller Chuck Roberts of WonderBook.  Chuck contributed our final picture from the London event — a martini with rosemary (as we all know, that’s for remembrance).  The gathering featured hilarity and tears, quite a few toasts, and a robust gathering of Egyptology lovers.  Thank you, Dr. Walker, for remembering Barbara in style!

Midwest PQ Launches – 2017

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Meanwhile …. back in the MIDWEST, where Barbara was born….

JOAN HESS carried out book launches in Forest Park (near where Barbara went to high school) and in Madison, Wisconsin, at two beloved independent book stores….

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At Centuries and Sleuths, two large carrot cakes appeared (courtesy of relatives of Barbara’s who live in the Oak Park area), in honor of the occasion.  (Also mindful of the fact that Joan had declared carrot cake a full meal, as it contains all necessary food groups — protein, vegetable, fruit (raising) and carbs…) (no comment!)   Owner Augie Alesky remembered that Barbara LOVED kolackies from a local bakery, and had sneakily asked him to help her find some when she last visited Centuries and Sleuths.  So he and Tracy made sure they had some of those delicacies on hand also!

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In the window at Centuries and Sleuths, in honor of the occasion, was a display featuring Ancient Egypt (oh no, Budge!!) and details on The Painted Queen.  Joan put on her sparkle, and greatly enjoyed conversations with fans who had come from all over.  (She and Barbara both talked about how they would go to signings and “sparkle” for fans…)

NEXT STOP — Mystery to Me, a favorite haunt for mystery readers in Madison, Wisconsin.  Joanne Berg, Jayne Rowsam, and Doug Moe greeted Joan with (of course!) carrot cake.  Doug not only conducted a wonderful interview, but made sure that some vodka appeared as well.…  An enthusiastic audience joined in, and lined up for a book signing afterwards.  Another independent bookstore that came in high on Joan’s list, Mystery to Me is stocked not only with mysteries but with children’s books and other fare to feed the hungry reader!

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When the Painted Queen hit the bestseller list, Doug again checked in with Joan and published a terrific column to celebrate.  He described the launch party in Madison:

I’ve been doing author interviews at events at Mystery to Me for two years now and have enjoyed almost all of them.

The night of July 26—Beth Mertz came, too—was special. Not only because of the unusual circumstances behind the publication of “The Painted Queen,” but because in person Joan Hess turned out to be as spirited, humorous and salty as she was in our phone chat.

Illness and a bad hip kept her in a wheelchair that night, but Hess was undaunted. Entering the store, she spied the carrot cake that Mystery to Me proprietor Joanne Berg and brought for the occasion. There was wine, too, but I sensed from Hess that something was missing.

I phoned home. “Bring vodka!”

Mrs. Moe is resourceful, and we live near the bookstore. She was there in minutes with the requested libation. She and Hess bonded.  The store was packed with readers of the Peabody novels, grateful to hear the backstory…

And indeed, it was a special evening.  Together with the previous evening at Centuries and Sleuths, it gave Painted Queen a midwest launch that did justice to two friends,  Mertz and Hess, in a final bow.

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East Coast PQ Launches – 2017

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As the one-year mark passed on the Painted Queen book launches, we thought of the fun, even raucous, celebrations last year.  On the East Coast, fans celebrated in New York City and Frederick (Barbara’s home town).  The New York launch featured the one-and-only Barbara Rosenblat, doing her third reading from “Queen.”  One she did prior to Barbara Mertz’s death, reading a draft chapter from PQ for the Maryland Library Association when it honored Mertz in 2010.  The second reading was — well, the audio recording of the entire book!  (Check out this interview of Rosenblat about PQ and Barbara Mertz — whom she loved to call “Ethel”…) And the third reading helped to launch the book:  it occurred at  Book Culture on Columbus in NYC.

Meanwhile, MPM’s hometown in Frederick Maryland went all out to throw a big party at the bookstore owned by one of Barbara Mertz’s dear friends, Chuck Roberts.  Spearheaded by energetic “dear reader” and MPM fan Christina Startt, the launch party featured Emerson and Amelia in costume, as well as a talk by Dr. Ray Johnson, another dear friend of Barbara’s and Director of the Epigraphic Survey of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute at Luxor.

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IMG_1128Painted Queen book launch, Ray Johnson speaking, Wonder Book Store, Frederick, from outside, July 25, 2017. Photo by Chuck Roberts

Copies of Painted Queen sold at Book Culture and at WonderBooks in Frederick had bookplates signed by Joan Hess and by the Barbara G Mertz Trust.  (They may still have a few left.)

 

 

2017 in the MPM Fan World

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2017 was such a big year in the MPM fandom that we’re not sure we can do it justice here. Of course, the big news was the launch of The Painted Queen, with a pub date of July 25!

In the meantime, readers were busy with everything from fancasts to Amelia vocabulary lessons to very active Facebook discussions (see Another Shirt Ruined:  a group for fans of Barbara Mertz and  The Amelia Peabody Fan Club for starters!) …. and then there were all the PQ book launch activities, fan reviews and more!

In March, Egyptologist Edmund Meltzer discussed Barbara Mertz’s status as “Queen of Egyptian-themed mysteries” at a convention in Wisconsin, continuing an admiration he’d had for her writings since he reviewed the first Amelia novel in … 1977!!

Spring 2017 also brought an exciting show-down on the Ball State English competition. At first Amelia Peabody made it to the “elite eight”:

“Our next Elite Eight match has The Girl on the Train taking on the Amelia Peabody series. Who will advance to the Final Four?”  

Amelia fans rose to the task, and AP advanced to the “final four” but had to face off against ….. Harry Potter!! OH NO! (As MPM was a huge fan of the Harry Potter series, we hastened to tell everyone that we could live with a loss.)
HOWEVER …. the AP team once again prevailed, sending us to the finals. And in the end… 4/4/2017 – Ball State English Amelia Peabody 62% to Bad Feminist 38%

The Amelia fandom is clearly alive and kicking!

Throughout the year, Amelia fans shared their ideas about who should play their favorite characters, still desperately dreaming of the day when they might see Amelia and Emerson, Walter and Evelyn, traipsing through the Egyptian wilderness on the silver screen! In the meantime, the fan-casting continues! Some 2017 fan-casting highlights:  FebruaryMarchSeptember(1)September(2)October (1)October (2)October (3)October (4)November (and that’s just the start!)

Tumblr user riley1cannon recounts the time she realized she was reading the Amelia Peabody books out of order: “Ramses is 34!” –> “He was just a baby the last time I’d seen him!”

All this team spirit put us in the right mood for the rising energy surrounding not only the publication of Painted Queen but also the re-publication of Amelia Peabody’s Egypt (**THE ONLY BOOK BY BARBARA MERTZ THAT HAD BEEN OUT OF PRINT AT THE TIME!!!)(Barbara enjoyed touting APE during a talk she gave at the Library of Congress...)

DOUBLE-DECKLE BOOKS …. Also, please take note: both books were issued with fancy deckle edges, which made the pages fun to flip. (Nerd pleasures)

As the much-awaited pub date approached, the publisher teamed up with @teamramses (and Goodreads) to give fans several chances to receive pre-publication copies (which had not yet received final edits)… Oh the excitement!

Early fan reviews began to hit the internet, a number of which we were able to include on our blog… Still more excitement, as we heard from Brent Butler, Alisha Trenalone, Benjamin Phillips and others!!!

AND FINALLY IT WAS LAUNCH DAY — JULY 25 2017! With events in New York, Chicago, Madison WI, and Frederick MD, Painted Queen hit the ground in style! In New York, “the voice of Amelia” Barbara Rosenblat gave listeners a taste of the audiobook version of PQ — a sentimental moment for her as a dear friend of Barbara Mertz’s (as well as Mertz’s preferred reader for the Amelia audiobooks).

As HarperCollins proudly announced,
THE PAINTED QUEEN by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess (on sale 7/25) made its debut on the New York Times Bestseller List (8/13) at #7 and was featured on the NYT’s “Inside The List”. As a crowning moment, the Washington Post List debuted Painted Queen even higher, at #5.

And PQ earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly:
“The long-running series by MWA Grand Master Peters (1927 – 2013) featuring forthright Amelia Peabody Emerson and her irascible archeologist husband, Radcliffe Emerson, comes full circle with this energetic final novel completed by Hess, Peters’s friend and fellow mystery author. … ), the Emerson clan takes a fitting final bow as the curtain falls on a pioneering career.”

These were happy moments for Joan Hess, who had finished The Painted Queen as a final act of friendship for Barbara Mertz. During the time Hess worked on PQ, she was quietly struggling with increasingly serious health problems. She died on November 23, 2017. Days before her death, she learned that Malice Domestic would be giving her an Amelia Award for her work on The Painted Queen.

It was a year of highs and lows, a time we’ll all remember. Like Barbara, Joan would not welcome maudlin sentiment — her preferred mode was sly humor, a trait that endeared her to her readers and friends. Wherever they are, Barbara and Joan are doubtless chuckling and raising their glasses for yet another toast.

Credit again to @teamramses for co-writing this!!

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2016 in the MPM Fan World (Prequel)

Now that we’ve made it through the incredible highs and lows of 2017, we have a moment to look back – not only over this past year, but also over 2016.  (Thanks as always to @TeamRamses, who had already prepped most of this post for 2016 last year as the Painted Queen frenzy was beginning to hit!!  Our bad that we’re just now catching up ….)

2016 marked some amazing moments that highlighted not only the humor and continued energy of the MPM fandom … but also its kindness and generosity.

In April of 2016, Papyrus-Leaves a.k.a. BookishArdor bid on a batch of MPM’s book collection at an auction and won! She has also been doggedly reading every MPM novel (yes, every. single. one.) In September, she posted about her favorite Barbara Michaels novels here.

Every day in May, Artist Élena Nazzaro illustrated a portrait of strong female literary characters, and May 4th was our very own Amelia. Check it, and her other lovely artwork, out at her website: blog.frenchtoastgirl.com.

In July, the Meet Mystery Book Club (@MeetMystery) took the fans through a lively discussion of Crocodile on the Sandbank on Twitter.

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In September, in the true spirit of the Amelia Peabody, the community joined together to help a fellow fan who lost her beloved MPM book collection in the Louisiana flood.  On Tumblr, AmeliaPeabodyBookClub tracked the donations so we didn’t duplicate, and in the end not only all the Amelia books were retrieved, but quite a few other Elizabeth Peters books as well.  Here is the thank you note we received from our fellow “dear reader” after receiving books mailed from all over the place:

To the thoughtful fans of Elizabeth Peters —

You have touched my heart! As you know, the recent floods in Baton Rouge devastated our home. Even worse, it drowned my cherished collection of books by the amazing Barbara Mertz. The water rose above the eaves on our roof and our beautiful home sat there, stewing in the water, for almost 7 days. When we were finally able to get inside and sort through the soggy remnants of our life, it was one of the lowest moments I’ve ever faced. I picked up book after beloved book and forced myself to toss them into the growing pile of trash. They reeked. The pages were glued together with mud and the bindings were falling apart in my hands.

It was beyond devastating. This feisty Amelia Peabody had become a friend to me. I valued her advice. I loved her wit. I shared her with fellow book-devourers. We even had a history together, Amelia and I. You see, I wielded her like a secret weapon on my little sister, a college student, who for years could not be convinced to enjoy reading. I gave her the first Amelia book with the promise that if she did not fall in love immediately, I would never pester her again about reading good books. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now, imagine my surprise when, on my birthday, I open a box full of books — cherished, treasured books. The sheer shock… and joy! The thought that each was chosen for me, from your personal libraries, is emotionally overwhelming. (Yes, I know Amelia would have something to say about my emotional state!) There were also several Vicky Bliss novels sent that I can’t wait to introduced myself to. I found that many of the books had notes tucked inside, full of kind and inspiring words. These things have become my new treasures.

I think that Barbara Mertz would have been pleased to see what she inspired in those who adore her work – this community of friends, willing to give pieces of themselves to someone they’ve never met. Thank you all – you have brought Amelia to life for me one more time and I’m forever grateful!

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Throughout the year, TeamRamses took us on a journey back through Seeing a Large Cat. The fandom spent a good chunk of time sobbing over Bastet (#notoverit) and researching French playwrights. Two things that probably don’t seem to go together but totally do when you are an MPM fan!

And of course, many, many, many fans shrieked and did a little jig to (finally) have the official announcement for The Painted Queen.

……. and THAT adventure was just beginning! To be continued (as soon as we can collect enough of the events from 2017 into one document and post it!) ….

Credit & thank-you to @TeamRamses for writing most of this post

A Sad Goodbye to Joan Hess

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Many of you have probably already read of Joan Hess‘s passing on Thanksgiving Day, 2017.   She had been undergoing serious health challenges throughout the three years during which she was completing The Painted Queen.  But, she persevered valiantly throughout, and was very excited to see the book published this past July.  Joan personally attended signings in the Chicago area and in Wisconsin, revisiting two independent book stores that had long been favorites of hers and Barbara’s.  In the Chicago area, Hess signed books at Centuries and Sleuths — where owner Augie Alesky greeted her with a marvelous window display and treats for all comers.  In Madison, Wisconsin, Joan delighted in her interview at Mystery to Me with writer Doug Moe — and the carrot cake thoughtfully supplied by owner Joanne Berg.  Doug recently wrote a post that recalled Joan’s visit, and her wistful hope that she could hit the bestseller list after a long career as an accomplished mystery writer.  Author of the hilarious Maggody series featuring Arly Hanks, she also toasted her hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas in a series centering on bookstore owner/sleuth Claire Malloy.

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PQ hit the New York Times bestseller list at #7 in its first week, and also reached #5 on the Washington Post list.  This was a fitting tribute to Joan’s labors, to Barbara’s final efforts at giving voice to Amelia, and to their friendship.  They were part of a close group of writer friends who had long supported each other, attending Malice Domestic together — and then separately holding their own “Grouchercons” to vent their own brand of sardonic humor.

We risk inciting them to haunt us if we end with maudlin sentimentality (although it must be said that they were both deeply sentimental despite many avowals to the contrary!).  So, have a slice of carrot cake, lift a glass of vodka (if you can stand the combination!), and drink to the memory of one hell of a woman.

Celebrating Barbara, and Amelia

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On September 29 — Barbara Mertz’s birthday — we can happily celebrate a year during which Barbara’s legacy has flourished with the publication of her final novel, The Painted Queen finished by her dear friend, Joan Hess.   (For more on Hess’s labors, assisted by another Barbara friend, Salima Ikram, see our earlier blog post.…)

Painted Queen debuted at  #7 on the New York Times bestseller list, and #5 on the Washington Post bestseller list.  What a testament to the pent-up demand of many fans who had been waiting for this final chapter of the Amelia series!  Chronologically, the final book was Tomb of the Golden Bird, published in 2006.  Barbara said she wanted her beloved characters to go off into the sunset happily, and that she wanted to write the actual ending of the series while she was still at full strength in terms of her writing.  She had commented admiringly on Agatha Christie’s similar decision to write the endings for her sleuths Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot long before the end of her writing career.  But where Christie held the final books for publication until the very last, Barbara published her final Amelia and then went back to fill in “missing years” in the Peabody/Emerson chronicles.  Queen is the last of these fill-in novels.

Barbara was so invested in this final novel that she actually asked friend — and voice of the Peabody/Emerson clan — Barbara Rosenblat to perform a public reading of the then-unfinished book.  Rosenblat read this early part of the novel at a ceremony in which the Maryland Library Association honored Mertz — attending in the author’s stead because she was too ill at the time to go.  Rosenblat assumed that the book would never be finished.  As it turned out, she was able to do one more Amelia reading after all!

So, happy birthday — here’s to Barbara! —  and to Joan and Salima and “Rosenblat” (affectionately) and to the whole community that continues to love and breathe life into the worlds that Peters and Michaels left us.

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[**Readers of Silhouette in Scarlet will appreciate the picture above of a hand-cut silhouette made of Barbara many years ago.  The other silhouette is from stationery Barbara had made for her “official” MPM Manor correspondence …  the similarity to Amelia is unmistakable!]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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