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!
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!
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.
We implore any fans who go to take pictures and send them to the jealous members of MPM who cannot be there!!! And we thank the many fans who came to the kick-off events in Forest Park, IL — Frederick, MD — and Madison WI ! We’ll be posting more about those soon. THIS IS PUB WEEK for our beloved Painted Queen … we are told the first week sales are key, and since we are pushing for some future plans on Amelia, we’re rallying Elizabeth Peters fans … THIS IS NOT THE END, IT’S THE BEGINNING of new horizons! (ALSO, we just love Barbara Rosenblat, the voice of EP books for decades and a major voice artist!!)
VERSION I: THE OMNISCIENT NARRATORS’ STORY (really)
Joan Hess was asked if she would finish The Painted Queen shortly after Barbara Mertz’s death. At first she was uncertain about whether she would take on that very daunting task (exact quote, “Hell no.”) Within several months, she was invited back to Barbara’s celebrated home (The Manor) along with highly respected Egyptologist (and another dear friend of Barbara’s) Salima Ikram. Piles and piles of notes and drafts for PQ were still at the house. The weekend trip was designed to allay Joan’s fears that taking on a book with so much Egyptology in it would be just too much. The plan was that Salima, with background encouragement from Barbara’s daughter Beth, would demonstrate her palpable support for Joan, and give everyone a basic introduction to the relevant Egyptology and its many pitfalls.
The three women found many folders of notes and research done by Barbara in preparation for writing PQ, along with multiple versions of the initial chapters. Over the course of the weekend, the small team examined each folder carefully, discussing how things would fit together. While there was a lot of material, this didn’t necessarily make things easier — everything was jumbled in a way that made sense to Barbara but not necessarily to anyone else. The three also shared discussions that they had been having with Barbara while she was plotting and writing the book. When Joan initially gazed on Barbara’s bust of Nefertiti, covered with a black Victorian lace headscarf, she turned pale and said, “Take that away.”
Local Frederick friends of Barbara’s dropped in bearing food and especially drink to support the endeavor. Everyone plied Joan with inducements, including one of her big favorites — carrot cake. (Carrot cake, she pointed out, counts as a full meal because it includes all 4 main food groups — fruit (raisins), vegetables (carrots), protein/dairy (egg/milk/nuts) and carbs.) Cocktails were made. And consumed.
By the end of the weekend, Joan was able to face Nefertiti (both with and without the scarf), fortified by much carrot cake (and, did we mention especially ‘drink’?). She was heartened when they found the final paragraphs of the book, handwritten by Barbara, in which the villain was identified and Amelia had the last word, as usual. (These are are reproduced verbatim in the published book.)
Dressed in borrowed Egyptian robes from Barbara’s amazing vintage and Egyptian clothing collection, Joan joined with Salima and Beth in a celebratory (okay, throwing in the towel) ritual to seal the deal and send Nefertiti (or at least part of her) wandering all over Egypt.
During the tough three years ahead, Joan soldiered through many difficulties to finish the volume, supported by Salima on Egyptology and historical Egypt, and Beth on various sundry research questions. She also had the help of other experts, friends of Barbara’s who had long given Barbara feedback on the Amelia books — Dr. Ray Johnson and Dennis Forbes (editor of Kmt). We will not speculate on whether all this help was fortified by the occasional sip of some sort of genial beverage. But certainly she completed the task with style.
Today we celebrate Joan Hess, friend and mystery writer extraordinaire, and also Barbara Mertz — aka Elizabeth Peters — as we join Amelia and company on one last adventure.
Version II: Joan Hess’s Story
If I recall, the sky was a curious shade of yellow as I departed the train station next to BWI. I knew I was doomed as I climbed into the car with Beth and Salima — they were masters of manipulation and I was an easy target. Indeed, upon arrival at Mertz Manor, I was plied with vodka & tonic (with a splash of lime juice). “Finishing the book will be a piece of cake,” Beth cooed as she slid a piece of carrot cake across the kitchen table. My protests were dismissed. Beth had gathered all of Barbara’s manuscript pages, most of which had scrawled notes in the margins. The notes were very challenging to decipher and not always illuminating. We read aloud what we could and searched for ways to rearrange the scenes for clarity. Although I’m certain that Barbara had devised the entire plot, she did not share the convolutions — with the exception of the final scene. Salima was able to answer my dumb questions about Egypt and Beth supplied insights into Amelia and Emerson.
By the end of the weekend, we had come up with some ideas where the story might go. I felt I was out on a limb that had been patched with duct tape by my dear friends. Or masking tape. Thank goodness for vodka and carrot cake.
Hi all, we are getting some updates on the “Discovery Sale” being held online only, alongside the Gallery Auction at Cooper’s this week. Items from both events are being displayed simultaneously, although the “Discovery” items are being sold separately (with lower-ticket stuff, it seems).
This is most definitely more Barbara’s than our kind of setting and interest, so we will just highlight the BOOKS! (Always a shared interest!) and Egyptian things that wound up in “Discovery” — but there are also some other assorted items (all marked as being Barbara’s).
… and people who, like Barbara, are into antiques…. (unlike some (not all!) of Barbara’s progeny, for whom being dragged to antique shows ranked lower than going to the dentist).
There are going to be several events coming up in the Baltimore-Frederick area in the next couple of months that will feature some items from Barbara’s estate. One part of this effort will involve bundling part of Barbara’s (incredibly massive) book collection into themed parcels .. including, for those of you following recent exchanges about this on Facebook’s “Another Shirt Ruined” group — her H. Rider Haggard collection! (Be forewarned, Barbara used her books with gusto — they were there to be read, not looked at! She boasted that as a child, her father teased her that he never knew what food items might show up in a book she was reading….) (Chocolate ones preferred, of course.) Some of this will be cataloged online, while some will just be up for viewing at the event sites.
We mention this in case you’d like to see things from the grand to the little and silly from Barbara’s life. (To be clear, this is about sharing the fun, not urging anyone to buy anything…. there will be plenty of collector-types, just like Barbara, to do that!) You can eyeball some things online — but the actual display in the galleries may be fun to browse in person if you’re in the area (and it’s free to go see it!).
SO, the first event is at Alex Cooper’s galleries in Towson, Maryland, on April 7 and 9. The official catalog features the big items — but there should also be some smaller, Egypt-themed silly stuff on display. (Barbara prided herself on never losing a child-like sense of humor and fun, so she delighted in kids’ toys and collected Lord-of-the-Rings stuff of all kinds….) Not sure yet about the books, but will update as we can. And oh, all right, yes, there’s some furniture (yawn)(sorry, still can’t get excited about it!).
Hi all! This post took some time to compose, but with help from fans and friends, we’ve begun to pull together some of the diverse threads of the Mertz-Peters-Michaels fandom for this “Review of the MPM World in 2015.” If you know of something we missed, we’d love to hear from you!
This has been an exciting time for us. As novices in social media, we at MPM have been really enjoying our introductions to the rich and creative discussions and posts in places like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr … and we’ve just started to venture into Pinterest as well. MPM fans are doing everything from readings of Amelia books (complete with period illustrations and background research) – to a collective effort at developing a timeline for the AP series. And there are fun musings on all aspects of MPM’s writings in a number of places – we keep finding more….
On Twitter and Tumblr, the unstoppable TeamRamses (TR)completed a spirited (and always funny!) reading of “Lion in the Valley”, and set us up for a 2016 foray into “Seeing a Large Cat.” (Check out the growing and beautifully illustrated set of quotes from “Cat” on Tumblr) We especially appreciated TR’s explanation of 3 story arcs in the Amelia series.
MPM started its own Twitter account this year. Other Twitter highlights in 2015:
an exchange about cool things people learned (and did extra reading on) from reading Amelia, ranging from Cyrano to Egyptian history (this is so Barbara!)
And, in addition to TR, there are some great long-term Amelia-ites on Tumblr: CHECK OUT AmeliaPeabodyEmerson (APE) and AmeliaPeabodyBookClub (APBC), who joined forces this year to take us on a tour of the Petrie Museum in London. Take a look as they “hit up the Petrie Museum for some mutual Egyptology and Amelia Peabody geeking out.”
AmeliaPeabodyEmerson’s Tumblr tag line is a favorite Amelia-ism: “When one is striding bravely into the future one cannot watch one’s footing”… and the APE archive has some great quotes from the books.
Also on Tumblr, APBC updated the Book Club’s pages, which have a growing wealth of commentary, analysis, fanart, and more. One of the more searching discussions of some hard-to-pin-down aspects of Amelia’s timeline can be found here. The Book Club crew also began a discussion and critique of some Egypt-related movies. In 2016 AMBC is inviting fans and friends to join in the the ambitious task of putting together a detailed timeline for the AP series – the start of which can be seen here.
On Facebook, the venerable and venerated “Another Shirt Ruined” group continues to provide opportunities for fans and friends to share thoughts about MPM’s books, as well as memories of Barbara (thanks to Lyn Green’s leadership!). In 2015, Don Ryan posted a lovely recollection: “I met Barbara about 20 years ago and we became very good friends. She loved visiting Egypt from time to time, especially Luxor, where she rented the most expensive suite at the Winter Palace Hotel. She was usually accompanied by a small entourage of pals and they all had a grand time. Her visits coincided a couple of times with my expedition in the Valley of the Kings and we were delighted that she came out to the site to see what we were finding. And every evening she would have cocktails with her friends out on her balcony to watch the beautiful sunset over the Theban mountains.”
Lyn Green and William Joy also pointed readers of “Another Shirt” to the way Barbara combined research for her books with hobbies such as vintage clothing and jewelry collecting. And there were interesting posts to this group on Hilda Petrie and similarities between her and Amelia — as well as comments on MPM books beyond just the Amelia series. You can also check out MPM’s own new Facebook page.
And we are using THIS BLOG as our primary site for recollections of Barbara, inspired initially by Deborah Lehr’s wonderful piece written on the second anniversary of Barbara’s death in August of 2015. We thank William and Laura for their work in getting us up and running in these various locations – and the generous friends and fans who’ve welcomed and supported these nascent efforts.
WEBPAGE UPDATE: we’re in the process of shifting Barbara’s official webpage, and are awaiting that shift before anything more can be added. Stay tuned for news on that and other developments, through this blog.
You’re very welcome to JOIN IN these efforts, or let us know about other efforts we haven’t yet discovered! The MPM email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
There’s something about cats and writers, not sure what, but certainly any fan or friend of Barbara’s knew the connection was there! Every year at this time, for many years, she sent out an annual season’s greetings… and each card featured one of her cats.
So, in honor of the season, we thought we’d share a photo from 2007. Here you see a younger version of Gandalf (whom you met in an earlier post as he clung determinedly to “his” chair in Barbara’s kitchen).
For anyone wanting to revel in cats and seasonal references, we recommend Trojan Gold — a Vicky Bliss mystery. Set against the backdrop of a Bavarian Christmas, the book ends with a feline flourish… (No spoilers! But suffice it to say that one of our heroes may have met his most painful adversary in a cat resisting the indignity of a bow tied around her neck … “The bow was under her chin, and so lacerated I had to cut the ribbon off. It took all three of us to cram her in the carrier I had bought that morning…. the thing that touched me the most was my hero’s gallantry in taking on [the cat] singlehanded…”)
With each new year, like many in her Amelia Peabody family, Barbara often spoke of her hopes for a peace that could reach across senseless habits of suspicion, violence, and ill-will toward others. This seems an appropriate year to renew those wishes, in the spirit of good-will and basic human decency that characterized so much of what she stood for.
All our best hopes and wishes to you and yours in 2016.
This was what Barbara envisioned writing in an indignant letter to a newspaper (which shall remain nameless) that published a critical review of one of the Harry Potter movies. She felt that the reviewer had missed the spirit of Harry Potter by watching through a jaded adult’s eyes. And she believed in keeping the magic of childhood alive, whether through reading (and re-reading) children’s books, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the latest fantasy and science fiction movies, or delighting in a new children’s toy she’d discovered.
And no one entered the holiday season with more feelings of fun and anticipation. Barbara was easy to buy for — a silly-looking stuffed cat, a light saber, Bilbo/Frodo’s sword Sting, or some goofy joke ornament for her tree — all would be received with her characteristic throaty chortle. So it seems like a good moment to think about the magical worlds that opened up for many of us when we first encountered books as children. This was something Barbara never forgot, and throughout her life she could be seen buried in one children’s book or another, along with all the other books she was devouring. (She was a quick and avid reader.)
As you can see, Rosemary Wells’s Max and Ruby books rub shoulders with George MacDonald’s Princess and Curdie on her bookshelves — and every L.M. Montgomery or L. Frank Baum book ever published can be found tucked away somewhere or other. Some favorite series by women authors were accompanied by biographies, so that she could read about Montgomery or Alcott or Nesbit after reading what they’d written.
What were/are your favorite children’s books? It’s a great season to once again experience the magic of books — and the world — through a child’s eyes.