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women who dare

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….

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!

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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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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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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!]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering and Celebrating

Four years ago, we lost a friend and author whose voice echoed in that of Amelia but also of Emerson and Nefret and Ramses — of Vicky and John and Jacqueline and Abdullah.  We hear her in the erudite narrator of Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs as well as in the silliest of the farcical moments in Naked Once More or The Camelot Caper.

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Celebrate!

Sensible, wistful, glorying in the ridiculousness of life, horrified by human cruelty, impatient with snobbery — there were many voices in her writings.  But no one who knew Barbara Mertz could doubt one key message she wanted to impart:  we should celebrate the many gifts we have.  Celebrate that we are here.  Celebrate each other. Celebrate the amazing variety of cultures and art and music and gardens and … well, it all gets too much to put in a paragraph, let alone a sentence!  Chocolate! Gin!  Cats! Celebrate that there are dahabeeyahs!   Barbara with her arms wide open in welcome and enthusiasm — we celebrate this memory.

We are also celebrating the publication of Barbara’s final Amelia book, The Painted Queen, completed by her dear friend Joan Hess, with help from another close friend, Salima Ikram.  It is awesome that the book has made multiple bestseller lists now — but it is even more awesome that it was friendship that carried it there.  (At this point, Barbara would say not to get too sentimental and schmaltzy.  Of course she did that all the time, while denying it vigorously.)

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Toward the end of her life, Barbara said that heaven would have to be pretty great to be better than this life.  But this life was great to her because she reveled in all it had to give. So today we celebrate, as she would want us to.  The New York Times bestseller list is great!  (It’s fantastic!  It’s worth an extra glass of gin or several extra brownies!) But so is a beautiful garden, or a book that takes us somewhere new, or even more important, the evil chuckles of friends who have just pulled the greatest prank of all with you….  (no, Joan and Salima and the rest of you — please don’t get any ideas!!) (But …. thanks.)

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Painted Queen, the weekend (Nefertiti Boot Camp)

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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.”

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But who could resist my charms?

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.

 

Alisha Trenalone Gives Us the Scoop on Painted Queen!

The Painted Queen (Amelia Peabody, #20)
by Elizabeth Peters, Joan Hess

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Alisha Trenalone‘s review

May 15, 2017
It was amazing
Read from May 10 to 15, 2017

 

I have been eagerly awaiting the final installment of the Amelia Peabody series ever since I heard that the late author Elizabeth Peters had one final book in the works. Thanks to the gracious folks who responded to my request at William Morrow/Harper Collins Publishers, I was able to get my hands on this advance reader’s edition, and you may be sure that I devoured it!

For those who may be coming to this book with no prior knowledge of the series, even though this book is #20, it fits chronologically about two-thirds of the way into the series and fills in a gap between previously published books. The Painted Queen will certainly be most meaningful to you if you have read the books that precede it, but I think it would stand up even if you came to it without that context.

That being said, here are my thoughts:

This is a stellar addition to the Amelia series. On page one, I admitted to myself some reservations. Joan Hess is the co-author for this work; I wondered, how would the collaboration flow? Would I really recognize my favorite characters? Would I be able to suspend disbelief and go along on their adventures with the same thrill I’ve gotten in many of Elizabeth Peters’ other works?

I realized by about page seven that the answer to all of those questions was YES! In fact, this book may actually mark the series’ peak of comedy, derring-do, and suspense. It’s very, very funny, and the action is tightly plotted without any slow bits.

I love the premise, which is absurd and therefore sits fair and square in Amelia’s world. Without any apology whatsoever, she OWNS the fact that her life is straight out of the most sensational of novels. She and her family of archaeologists are just beginning their latest venture in Egypt when a villain with a monocle bursts into her bath chamber, gasps “Murder!” and collapses in a dead heap on the floor moments before he would have strangled her. Naturally, she hoists herself out of the tub and begins going through his pockets. When she and her husband Emerson begin speculating about the presence of the monocle, she immediately informs him that it must be the insignia of a secret society, and that assassins sometimes travel in gangs.
“Assassins do not travel in gangs,” says Emerson.
(They are the perfect duo!)
This is the point at which I began to dissolve into fits of chuckling.

And that is just the beginning of an adventure that involves a whole parade of monocled men named after the great traitors of history. Also, you know the iconic treasure sitting in a museum in Berlin, the Nefertiti bust? The Emerson family is seamlessly inserted into that historical narrative. (I love the way Elizabeth Peters has always had them at or near the scene of great discoveries, but always in such a way that real history is left intact…they get their hands all over the story, but in the end they leave no trace!)
So, yes, the Nefertiti bust has been discovered, but then it vanishes, but then it reappears again…and again…and again…how many of them can there be? Amelia’s son Ramses and his best friend David traverse Cairo hunting down each new copy.
This keeps Ramses mostly away from Nefret, the Emerson family’s ward, now a grown woman with a tragedy in her past. Readers of The Falcon at the Portal and He Shall Thunder in the Sky know that since this new book is filling in that chronological gap, the relationship tension must be kept intact. It simmers ever so slightly below the surface.

I must mention one other big thing that I adored in this book….the appearances of the Emerson family’s perpetual nemesis (actually, at this point, “frenemy” is probably a more accurate description). Yes, it’s Sethos, or as Amelia likes to call him, the Master Criminal. His disguises and plots are ongoing joys of the series. When he shows up in The Painted Queen, it’s with greater panache than ever before. There are thundering hooves. There are dramatic interventions. It’s glorious. Those who know the rest of his story will revel in these moments.

So, in review, this book is everything I wanted the last Amelia Peabody novel to be. I’m sad that there won’t be any more of her adventures, but I’m happy that The Painted Queen is such a fitting swan song. I am totally elated to have read it, and you will be too. It goes on sale July 25!

***SO MANY THANKS to William Morrow/Harper Collins Publishers who provided me with this free advance copy in exchange for an honest review

Painted Queen Announcement!

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We are delighted to announce that HarperCollins has accepted a finished manuscript of The Painted Queen, started by Elizabeth Peters and completed by her dear friend and fellow mystery writer Joan Hess.  The publication date is expected to be July of 2017.  

Stay tuned for more details!

New MPM Manor Webpage Launched

Marking the third anniversary of our favorite author’s passing, MPM Manor unveiled the new official Barbara Mertz webpage on August 8, 2016.  Thank you to all the wonderful readers and fans who are helping her memory and her writings live on!

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