In response to a great suggestion from one of Barbara’s “dear readers,” we’ve been inspired to post a little something about the room where she did her writing, in her beloved “MPM Manor” out in the Maryland countryside. She bought the old farmhouse from an interior designer, so it had already been decked out and updated in style. The study area already had a beautifully draped fabric hung from the ceiling; when it came time to replace that, MPM decided to have fun and “go golden.” Her house contained large collections of all kinds of books — mysteries, science fiction, historical novels, children’s books, classic literature (Jane Austen!), melodramatic old accounts of desert romances, you name it. In the study she kept a collection of her own books — one copy of each edition, including those in many different languages and the audio book versions. She also surrounded herself with books and journals pertaining to her central interests — Ancient Egypt, and the histories surrounding the exploration and development of archaeology there ….
Also bedecking her walls and shelves were many humorous notes and pictures from her writer friends, many of whom shared her often quirky sense of humor. Take, for example, the “Literary Cupcake” prize that she received from a mysterious group — for some serious accomplishments (tooth-chipping, anyone?):
It was less than a month before she died when Barbara put down her pen, announcing that she would not be writing any more. This caught many of us by surprise, much as we’d known the day would have to come. But despite many attempts to “retire” in previous years, she’d always found herself bored, restless, at sea when she stopped writing – and eventually relented to write (usually) “one more” Amelia. As it had been since she was a very young woman, writing remained her solace, the goal toward which so many of her days were bent. Through even the worst of days, it was the imaginative lens through which she loved to think about the world — and the magic that she sought to share with her readers. What a gift.
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.
We’ve been hinting that there might be a surprise or two from MPM Manor. In this post, we reveal a long-held secret, known only to writers and friends who were close to her:
It was Barbara who finished — indeed, wrote much of — her friend Charlotte MacLeod’s last book The Balloon Man.
As Charlotte planned and started to write The Balloon Man, she became increasingly ill and ultimately could not do much more than write an initial section with some sketches of where she wanted the book to go. This was the final book in Charlotte’s beloved Sarah Kelling/Max Bittersohn series. As a final gift to her dear friend and fellow writer, Barbara sat down with what Charlotte had written, and finished the book. She insisted on doing this anonymously, leaving the profits to go to help Charlotte during her final illness.
In preparation for this painful task, Barbara re-read the Kelling/Bittersohn series, and then attempted to write the book in a voice that was as faithful to Charlotte’s as possible. (It’s possible, now that readers know, that they may detect some Barbara’isms peeking through here and there.) Charlotte wrote in a humorous, erudite, “cozy” style that had always been very appealing to Barbara, and that exemplified the kind of writing in which her “Malice Domestic” crew specialized.
Here’s to writers, and to women, who support each other in meaningful ways — and here’s to paying it forward through many generations to come.
To any friends and fans who might have wound up with some of Barbara’s vintage collection: we’d love to see you in costume, or to see how you fixed up any part of the collection you might have gotten! (Because of logistics and the size of the collection, the home crew couldn’t go through all the items and photograph or catalog them. But we know for sure that we have pics of Barbara in some of the items, so we can trade photos….)
Here, for example is the white cowboy hat that was sold at the auction, and …..
…. here you see Barbara wearing the hat as she tries to get us to believe she is actually a country-and-western singer. (It looks like this was a time when she was really into southwestern jewelry, although she certainly started being interested much earlier, while visiting her parents out in Arizona.) …..aaaaand, look who else is wearing a very similar hat on the cover of Last Train to Memphis! (Photo credit for the picture of Barbara is to Kristen Whitbread, and for the pictures as formatted here to William Joy… thanks!)
SO if anyone has pics of recently acquired EP vintage stuff, please send them to us at
(and let us know if it’s okay with you for us to post them!)
“My own frock was a new one, and I had put aside my heavy working parasol for one that matched the dress … ruffles and lace concealed its utility” AP, Ape Who Guards the Balance
It turns out that Barbara just couldn’t write about things without doing intensive research … at least maybe that would have been how she thought about the collection of clothing, hats, and even parasols that she amassed over the years! Or maybe it’s just that she was an enthusiast and jumped into every new discovery with Amelia-like passion and thoroughness…
It’s been amazing to see the kind of depth Barbara went to in investigating so many details that went into her writing; her bookshelves are lined with references on so much of the background information — from clothing of different eras, to all kinds of aspects of Egyptian history, to jewelry and plants and … (the list just keeps going!)
Writers of historical fiction who do their homework seemingly have to know about everything from capes and hats to undergarments … and Barbara’s own collection included some of everything. The collection is on display right now on the Alex Cooper website — we’re not advocating that anyone but collectors buy anything — but just thought fans might have fun browsing through the offerings. There are Egyptian robes and Victorian clothes and some items that clearly were just for fun. The collection echoes not only of Elizabeth Peters characters, but also of Barbara Michaels at points …
We note that one of the parasols is a bit cracked at the end — perhaps due to the kind of vigorous prodding for which Amelia was infamous???
“I approached Alberto and jabbed him in the waistcoat with my parasol. He jumped back.” AP, Crocodile on the Sandbank
Today would have been Barbara’s 88th birthday …. not quite the triple-digit 111th birthday that Bilbo reached, but a double-digit worth commemorating nonetheless. In honor of the occasion, we’re posting some pictures from Barbara’s 80th birthday, which she celebrated at her beloved Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. As you can see, she was enjoying herself immensely!
Her friends brought out copies of her MA and PhD theses …. and no one will be surprised to learn that her dissertation dealt with some of the notable women in ancient Egypt. AND there was chocolate cake. (We won’t apologize for repeating the picture of the cake, as we share Barbara’s philosophy that one can never have too much of a good thing like chocolate….)
Happy birthday to someone we’re missing — but who would tell us to keep going in style!
Emerson: It may even be a perverse joke perpetrated by a modern tourist or by one of my professional enemies. Some of those fellows — I name no names, Peabody, but you know to whom I refer– would like nothing better than to see me make a fool of myself over a bundle of sticks or a dead sheep. Wallis Budge —
Amelia: “Yes, my dear,” I said soothingly. When Emerson gets on the subject of his professional rivals, especially Wallis Budge, the keeper of Egyptian antiquities at the British Museum, it is necessary to cut him short. SEEING A LARGE CAT
To round up our discussion of cats this month — courtesy of the fabulous Joy collection — we’re delighted to share with you the story of Mike. William Joy wonders whether Amelia might have softened on Budge had she known of his abiding attachment to the British Museum cat? In this pamphlet MPM-Joy-Mike the Cat (1) Budge details Mike’s mysterious arrival at the British Museum in the mouth of Black Jack, and his subsequent long career there — ending when Mike was almost 20 years old. Apparently the British Museum house cats trained Mike to catch (but not kill) pigeons: The pigeons were taken into a little side room, and after they had eaten some maize and drunk water, they flew out of the window none the worse for their handling by the cats.…
NOTE TO SALIMA IKRAM: Mike attached himself to the Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities because of the care which that official bestowed on the mummies of Egyptian cats.
Mike also eventually developed the habit of chasing dogs out of the Courtyard of the Museum — The dogs that laughed at policemen and gatekeepers fled in terror before the attack of Mike, who, swelling himself to twice his normal size, hurled himself on them.
As Mike aged, he received the royal treatment: He preferred sole to whiting, and whiting to haddock, and sardines to herrings; for cod he had no use whatever.
In what Budge describes as “the most excellent Memorial Poem on Mike,” F.C.W. Hiley, M.A., Assistant Keeper in the Department of Printed Books, details Mike’s disdain for pats or handling by most people: And if perchance some forward minx/ Dared to go up and stroke the Sphinx — / Her hand shot back, all marked with scores / From the offended Michael’s claws ….BUT he laid aside his anti-human grudge for Budge: Each morn Sir Ernest, without qualms / Would take up Michael in his arms.
Now the pamphlet does tell us that Mike especially disliked the pokings in his ribs which ladies bestowed upon him with their parasols — but then Amelia would totally know better than to treat a cat that way.
Great ending to the poem includes: Old Mike! Farewell! We all regret you / Although you would not let us pet you
So, would this have softened Amelia? (realizing that nothing would have softened Emerson!) …. well, knowing how she felt about the smuggling of antiquities, and her dire suspicions of Budge — it’s hard to say!