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Memories of Malice (Part V, Finale!)

V. “One of the most exciting developments in mystery writing over the past decade has been the broadening of its boundaries and the breakdown of formerly rigid categories.”

Elizabeth Peters, “Malice Domestic I”
No one tops Malice Hat Ladies!

After the surge of cozies in the early 1990s, the pendulum swung back the other way for a bit.

“There was this real fluorescence of women writers, and publishers – as usual – it kind of got out of control,” James said. “They published way too many and eventually by the late 1990s, there was a correction in the market.”

Still, from the 1990s to the present, Malice has continued to grow in popularity. “From the beginning, it certainly seemed to fill a need, and has thrived,” Stashower said.

And in the process, Malice has expanded its definition of what constitutes an Agatha Award-worthy book, to the point where Foxwell said it became almost indistinguishable from Bouchercon. Last year, the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel went to Ann Cleeves for “The Long Call.” The novel is dark detective fiction – a mystery for sure, but not exactly a cozy.

“In the early years, we were always careful with that definition, so we would have a unique identity,” Foxwell said.

In the 2010s, traditional and cozy mysteries enjoyed another resurgence. Reissues of Golden Age mysteries and publications of cozies took off again. Joseph Knobbs, the crime buyer for Waterstones, told the Guardian that the subgenre had become “massive” for them.  

Malice Celebrates Traditional Mysteries In Style

Meanwhile, the publishing industry has heeded Malice’s call to publish traditional mysteries in greater numbers. By 2018, publishers like Kensington, Crooked Lane Books and Sourcebooks were reviving cherished cozy mystery series and releasing new ones, as author Amanda Flower noted in Publishers Weekly. Berkley also has widened its selection of mysteries. Authors like Ellery Adams and Kate Kingsbury have risen to popularity amid the cozy mystery publishing renaissance.

And by 2020, Kirkus Reviews had even run a defense of cozy mysteries. It argued that “once you agree that crime fiction is literature, then slotting cozies into a lesser category feels arbitrary and quite likely based on gendered, dated, or unexamined notions.”

Agatha Characters?

“What I hear a lot, especially during this pandemic, [is] people have run like crazy to cozies, to Golden Age mysteries,” Foxwell said. “They’re comforting, they’re reassuring – they’re a formula, sure – I have really seen people stampeding like crazy to cozies.”

The notion that traditional mysteries are the red-headed stepchild of the publishing industry has now been broadly challenged. But the question remains: did Malice change the industry, or did the industry change Malice?

“I think in some ways Malice was a victim of its own success,” James said. As the convention became profitable, organizers could afford to bring in more high-profile authors and pay their way. And they eventually ran out of traditional mystery writers to honor, so they started to look outside of the subgenre.

“I mean, I love Sara Paretsky to death, I think she’s a tremendous writer – no one has more passion for what she does than Sara – but Sara’s not Malice Domestic, and she would tell you that,” James explained. “And they gave Sara a lifetime achievement award. And Sue Grafton and Tony Hillerman and Dick Francis – those are not traditional mystery writers. They’re all terrific writers, but they didn’t belong at Malice. When that started happening, I thought ‘Malice has changed.’”

Morman said the convention grew more formal over time. Convention organizers also raised the cost of membership from $25, which is what it cost in the early years.

And for all the positive publicity that traditional mysteries have received in recent years, they still lag the darker fare in industry recognition.

“In terms of awards, still these days, you don’t see very many traditional mysteries being nominated for Edgars,” Foxwell said. “The Edgars still have shall we say a bias toward the darker, the thriller, the ‘serious’ book.”

Indeed, the fact that cozies still need to be defended suggests that Malice has yet to fully achieve its original aims.

“Barbara really did put her imprint on it, although I don’t think that she really has ever gotten full credit, because they still think these books are – you know, anything written by women for women can’t really be good and serious,” James said. “But kudos to Barbara, because our genre of books ‘don’t get no respect,’ as Henny Youngman used to say.”

And in the meantime, the mystery world, like the rest of publishing, has been transformed by the growth of the Internet and the rise of self-published writers.

“Things are different today,” Stashower said. “There is still of course the traditional publishing path, but there are other [avenues]. In the same way that the music industry has diversified, there are other ways to put books out there. Obviously, there’s self-publishing, there are small independent publishers, there is all kinds of stuff happening online. It’s a very different landscape now.”

Still, Malice has become one of the crucial stops for denizens of the mystery scene, whether their novels are traditional mysteries or more hardboiled fare.

Stashower said Malice today is “energizing, because there are so many people who are coming into the community” these days. And the convention is more popular than ever.

Indeed, last November, Mystery Writers of America announced that Malice Domestic had won its Raven Award for outstanding achievement in the mystery field beyond the realm of creative writing.

“Malice did establish a fairly high profile in the mystery world,” James said. “And I know newer writers coming along always wonder, ‘Should I go to Malice?’”

Should you go to Malice? The answer is obviously …. yes!!!

Thank you for following our series highlighting the beginning of Malice Domestic, along with fond memories of Barbara and others from that time. AND CHECK OUT THIS YEAR’S EXCITING ON-LINE EVENT: “More than Malice”!

Memories of Malice (Part IV)

IV. “It is now [1992] one of the big events of the mystery year, and the Agatha is one of the most coveted of mystery awards.”

Elizabeth Peters, “Malice Domestic I”
[Photo: Charlotte MacLeod, Barbara Mertz, Patricia Moyes, and Sarah Caudwell]

Malice’s heyday arguably corresponded with a boom in traditional and cozy mystery books in the 1990s.

“Into the early ’90s, there was a sudden flourishing of women writers,” Dean James said. “Publishers became aware that there were women out there who were looking for something besides the… loner private eye, the divorced police detective and all that kind of stuff.”

“Barbara really was at the leading edge,” he added. “She deserves real credit for that.”

As for Malice, it grew and grew. In 1992, Malice incorporated as a nonprofit. Since then, a volunteer board of directors has run the convention.

The event itself recovered from that disastrous first year and went on to become a popular and (mostly) smoothly run convention.

“After the first year, we knew we needed a new hotel, no question,” said Elizabeth Foxwell. “So we went to Bethesda… We were at the Bethesda Hyatt for a long time. And we were one of their top clients. The liquor sales were huge, to the point where one year the hotel actually ran out of liquor. So the Bethesda Hyatt really loved us.”

Malice organizers finally had to leave their beloved hotel in Bethesda after eight or nine years because the ballroom couldn’t fit all the people who wanted to come. So they moved into D.C. But the hijinks continued there.

Foxwell said Peters was a sort of godmother figure at Malice. “Through her presence, through bringing her friends in, through staging some wacky occurrences throughout the convention, she helped create the culture,” she recalled. “When Barbara was around, there were always some shenanigans.”

One example cited by several Malice attendees was the time Dan Stashower, Edgar Award-winning author of “Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle,” among other books, handcuffed himself to British mystery writer Penny Moyes.

“When I got there, I had no idea about what it would be like or what I would find,” Stashower said of attending the convention early on. “But right away I was meeting people like [Peters], Sarah Caudwell, Penny Moyes, Joan Hess, and people like that.”

Hess was reportedly behind many of the shenanigans along with Peters. Soon enough, Hess was recruiting Stashower to participate in some of her more outlandish stunts, including the handcuffing incident.

“[Hess] thought it would be funny if we were pretending that we were all squabbling with each other,” Stashower recalled. “And somehow it got from there to me handcuffing myself to Penny Moyes. At a remove of more than 20 years, I no longer remember how I got there. But I remain grateful that Penny Moyes, this figure of legend, took it in good humor when I came out into the audience and handcuffed myself to her wrist. And somehow, I dragged her onto the stage… and then started doing a bit where I’d raise my hand, and then her hand went up.”

Moyes handled it in stride, laughing and cracking jokes as they went along. And as Hess had promised, it turned out to be quite funny.

“I felt like I had found my tribe,” Stashower said.

Then there was the time when Hess, Sharyn McCrumb, Dorothy Cannell, and Margaret Maron decided to give out the W(h)imsey Award for comedy in mystery. (Lord Peter Wimsey is the hero of a series of mystery novels by Dorothy L. Sayers.) The award was a stuffed muskrat in a skirt and hat.

Joan Hess, Dorothy Cannell, Sarah Caudwell, and Sharyn McCrumb

“And they called out the nominees, and the nominees were themselves, and then they said, ‘And the winner is – Sarah Caudwell,’” James recounted. “And then Sarah stood up, and there was this gabbling, and she comes up to the stage, and she was so excited. She tried to take it home with her. And the customs people didn’t want to let her. She eventually had her way, and that thing is somewhere in England, I guess.”

The convention was a success, no question about it. And many of the attendees forged memories that they cherish to this day.

But even then, critical acclaim remained elusive. The same year that Peters dubbed the Agatha the “most coveted” mystery award, the New York Times declared, “One would like to think that our best authors are immune to the relaxation of technical skills that the cozy mystery has made possible.” The Gray Lady charged cozy mystery writers with an “aversion to plotting” and went on to praise hardboiled authors and mystery writers outside Malice’s purview.

“There are people out there who still denigrate the cozy and the traditional mystery, who feel like the only good mystery is a hardboiled mystery or something that is extremely dark,” Foxwell said.

Contrary to suggestions otherwise by the Times, Mary Morman noted, Malice has never been an advocacy organization. It began as an appreciation society but became a forum for industry workshops over the years.

Stay tuned for Part V, our finale!

Memories of Malice (Part III)

III. “And it has been fun, though there were times that first nerve-wracking year when some of us wondered whether we had rocks for brains.”

Elizabeth Peters, “Malice Domestic I”

The first year of Malice was a blur of mishaps and unforeseen problems.

The food was inedible. The tea was served in Styrofoam cups. The maids left little notes in some rooms asking people to clean the rooms themselves.

The convention drew about 350 people initially. By comparison, Bouchercon was drawing around 1,500 people at the time.

“There always was the feeling that we didn’t want it as big as Bouchercon,” Elizabeth Foxwell said. We wanted it sort of small and intimate. There was always some tension about how big do we want it. More and more people wanted to come, and yet we didn’t want it to be this gigantic convention center event.”

As they launched the convention, the Agatha Committee was still figuring out what type of book deserved an Agatha Award.

“We kind of made up some of the rules as we went along, in terms of the Agathas,” said Dean James. “Because when you’re starting at the very beginning, people are not really sure what’s going on.”

“We got some very bizarre nominations that first year for totally inappropriate writers,” he added. “You know, like Sue Grafton and some of the hardboiled stuff. So we went from there and people began to be more aware of what the point was.”

As for the hotel, it was nothing if not memorable.

“That was a horrible hotel,” Mary Morman said. “It was so bad that it was really funny. We only saw before the convention the best of the rooms. They had two or three floors full of rooms that were okay, one floor that was quite nice and three floors of rooms that didn’t even have hot water… I still have somewhere the note from a chambermaid saying, ‘Please clean the room before you leave.’”

But everyone pulled together and enjoyed themselves in spite of their surroundings. And the hotel became a conversation piece for guests at the convention.

“It was really interesting, because once Barbara was talking to Mary Higgins Clark about how bad the first Malice hotel was,” Foxwell recalled. “And Mary said, ‘Oh no, it’s very important to keep the price low, so people can come.’ Mary was all about how you make it affordable for people to come.”

And thus the sense of camaraderie overpowered the hotel’s downsides, even in that first year. Longtime Malice attendees speak fondly of the serendipitous conversations, pranks and general merriment to be had at Malice.

Foxwell said one highlight of Malice was the sorts of conversations people had in the bar at midnight. “People would say so many times, ‘I didn’t know there were other people out there who read what I like to read,’” she said. “And so, you would hear conversations like, ‘Oh, have you read this author? Oh, you need to try this book!’ Those sorts of wonderful types of conversations.”

Stay tuned for Part IV.

Barbara greets Charlotte MacLeod arriving for Malice

Memories of Malice (Part II)

II. “I was strongly in favor of a convention honoring the traditional mystery, for it seemed to me that this part of the genre had not received the respect it deserved… Critics tended to dismiss such books as ‘froth,’ awards committees considered them frivolous and unrealistic, and publishers weren’t publishing them in sufficient numbers.”

Elizabeth Peters, “Malice Domestic I”

In Malice’s formative years, the traditional mysteries – often, though not exclusively, written by women – were getting short shrift, not only from the big awards committees, but from publishers and critics as well.

The critics were not always kind to Peters herself. In 1988, Peters had released “Deeds of the Disturber,” an Amelia Peabody mystery set in London. Kirkus Reviews said the “bizarre plot” lacked “credibility,” adding, “Amelia’s ever-increasing smugness is getting to be a bit of a bore.”  

And traditional mysteries had never featured heavily in the history of the Edgar Awards, widely considered the most prestigious mystery awards, author Dean James said. Cozies in particular came in for special disdain within the industry.

“The convention started out of [Peters being] very disturbed by the fact that essentially mysteries by women were not being recognized with award nominations or awards,” author and mystery fan Elizabeth Foxwell said. “[She] was really appalled at the situation. What tended to get the awards and the recognition were hardboiled works, which mostly were written by men. Cozies… were often sort of slapped around and regarded very dismissively, perhaps because they’re usually written by women.”

So in 1988, Peters and her small band of collaborators began to divvy up tasks. Peters quickly took to sorting mail and writing to all her author friends, including Mary Higgins Clark, to get them to come.

“What started out as a fan convention – for mystery fans with a few writers – very quickly became a convention of writers,” co-founder Mary Morman recalled. “We just put out notices, and Barbara wrote all her friends, and they sent us money. It was absolutely amazing.”

Peters was deeply involved in Malice’s launch. She took on many of the more tedious tasks herself.

“Barbara was doing nitty gritty things for Malice such as going to the post office box, picking up the checks and registering people,” Foxwell said.

It was quite the undertaking. But Peters hosted meetings at her old Maryland farmhouse, and the whole crew sat at her wooden kitchen table, eating her famous soup, as cats prowled the stone floors beneath them. And slowly, the convention began to take shape.

“As I got to know Barbara better, I knew that when Barbara was determined to do something, it was going to get done,” James recalled. “She was a force of nature in so many ways.”

James and Morman had corresponded. Eventually, she told him to introduce himself to Peters at an International Crime Writers’ Congress meeting in New York. James did, and that was the beginning of his involvement in Malice.

They put him in charge of the Agatha Committee as soon as they decided to give out the awards. There were three committee members total.

“I was the chair of the Agatha Committee for the first three years,” James recalled. “And I served two more years after that as a member of the committee.”

The first Malice convention took place in 1989, with the first Agatha Award for Best Novel going to Carolyn G. Hart for her 1988 mystery “Something Wicked.”

There were four original categories for Agathas: Best Novel, Best First Novel, Best Short Story and Best Nonfiction. Since then, Malice has added several categories.

They deliberately named the Agathas for a woman, noting that all the major mystery awards were named for men. Foxwell said she believed Peters had it in her mind all along to honor Christie by naming the award after her.

Foxwell herself got roped into joining that original group when she went to a book signing in Georgetown. It was a different era in many ways, when networking happened face-to-face rather than over Zoom.

“There was no way to get together and talk to people, unless you came to a convention or you had a local mystery club, perhaps,” Morman said. “But so much that we do now online you simply could not do.”

Stay tuned for Part III.

Remembering the founding of Malice Domestic (Part I)

“I’m proud to have been one of the founders of Malice Domestic, for I believe it is achieving the objects I hoped for in the beginning—greater respect for the genre, greater financial and critical success for the practitioners thereof… and a lot of fun.”

Elizabeth Peters, “Malice Domestic I”

To understand the appeal of the Malice Domestic mystery convention, it helps to know what the publishing industry was like for traditional mystery writers around the time that Malice began.

The year was 1989. Authors like Dean R. Koontz, Tom Clancy and Elmore Leonard were topping the New York Times Best Seller List. Thrillers with a dash of horror and spy novels were the order of the day.

Bouchercon – short for the Anthony Boucher Memorial World Mystery Convention – was the primary mystery convention on the scene. The organizers of Bouchercon presented their first annual Anthony Awards in 1986.

The awards were named for Anthony Boucher, a mystery author and a critic for the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. His books featured supernatural elements and science fiction themes. He died in 1968.

In 1989, the Anthony Award for Best Novel went to Thomas Harris for “The Silence of the Lambs.” The novel famously involves both a gruesome serial killer and a psychopath who ate his victims. Kirkus Reviews called the book “a tour de force of suspense, dark and polished as onyx.”

Even the Edgar Awards, presented by the New York-based Mystery Writers of America, were hewing to those trends. In 1989, the Edgar for Best Novel went to the hardboiled Cold War mystery “A Cold Red Sunrise” by Stuart M. Kaminsky.

But what about lighter fare? Books that abstained from gore and raunch in favor of the intellectual puzzles pioneered by writers like Agatha Christie?

It was in that atmosphere that a small band of mystery aficionados hatched a plan to launch their own convention and dispense their own award.

The convention came to be called Malice Domestic, so named for the personal nature of the crimes in their preferred mysteries (no serial killers, terrorists or hit men). And the Malice Domestic award was christened the Agatha, after mystery doyen Agatha Christie.

Spearheading that small group – it was anywhere from five to eight people at first – was Elizabeth Peters, a.k.a. Barbara Mertz, best known for her Amelia Peabody mysteries.

Mary Morman, author of the Friends of Elizabeth Peters newsletter, brought together the group that launched Malice. Peters credited her with the idea for the convention. Morman later said that she just wanted to make Peters happy.

“There were many people who were not interested in those [hardboiled] kinds of mysteries and didn’t like the fact that people who liked different kinds of mysteries were talked down to,” Morman explained. “It was a matter of respect.”

Peters was adamant that the world needed a forum to celebrate the traditional mystery. Moreover, as she noted in the foreword to Malice Domestic’s first anthology, Malice Domestic was not just for cozies. The convention “celebrates the traditional mystery in all its forms,” she wrote. “These forms are diverse and nonexclusive.”

Cozies are mystery novels that omit graphic sex and violence and typically feature an amateur sleuth. They traditionally take place in a small village. And the detective is often, though not always, female.

“So many writers who write books like I write are not taken seriously,” said New York Times bestselling author Miranda James, a.k.a. Dean James. “And Barbara understood that, and she was determined to do something about it.”

So Malice became a forum for cozies and other types of the often overlooked and maligned traditional mystery novel. And Peters and her merry band of enthusiasts overcame long odds to bring the convention to fruition.

“Part of her feeling about starting this convention was that cozies, or traditional mysteries, are often in a lighter vein,” Agatha Award-winning writer and longtime Malice attendee Elizabeth Foxwell said. “One of her tenets was that this is a legitimate form of literature. People enjoy it. We should recognize it. And why isn’t it recognized?”

Stay tuned for Part II.

Midwest PQ Launches – 2017

   2017-07-25 OakParkCake1       2017-07-25 OakParkCake2

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….

CENTURIES & SLEUTHS   and  MYSTERY TO ME

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!

2017-07-25 OakPark2

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!

MysterytoMe-1

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.

2017-07-25 OakPark4

2017-07-25 OakParkJoan-Madison

 

East Coast PQ Launches – 2017

PQBookplateWonderBooksAmeliaEmersonRay

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.

WonderBooksJuly2017

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

Joan-Madison7 B Mertz Luxor Temple Luxor B Jan.1994. (1)

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!!

PaintedQueenHC_cmp-rev12Mertz Interiors 230Hess_Mummy Dearest-11a Barbara Mertz camel 1994 jpg

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

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