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remembering barbara mertz

The yearly MPM cat greeting…

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.

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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.

 

 

Magic of books, a child’s eyes

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“You have to bring the magic with you!”

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.)

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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.

 

Barbara’s secret “other” book

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.

IMG_0526As 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.

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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.

 

Postscript on Vintage Barbara: send us your pics!

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….)

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Here, for example is the white cowboy hat that was sold at the auction, and …..

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…. 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

mpmmanor@gmail.com

(and let us know if it’s okay with you for us to post them!)

Vintage Barbara! …hats,clothing,parasols….

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“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!)

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Everything from English Women’s Clothing to Bloomingdale’s Illustrated 1886 Catalog!
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… and one tiny sample from the many shelves of books on Egypt….

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

Knowing Barbara, this seems quite possible!

Happy Birthday Dear Barbara

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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!

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Sir E A Wallis Budge’s cat Mike (thanks to the Joys)

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

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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!

12th Dynasty to 20th Century…did someone pounce on the birds…?

Just to follow up on the Gandalf post commentary on the scenes, here are the two side-by-side….  the panel to the left in Barbara’s tiles are indeed Amarna — ish, as some have pointed out…. but not a copy of anything particular.

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New Bookshelf … from WonderBook

“Jacqueline could feel herself succumbing to the lure of the books.  It was all she could do to refrain from taking one of the volumes, squatting on the floor, and starting to read. …. Jacqueline…wandered on, marveling at the breadth….There was an entire shelf on the Brontes, including the standard works devoted to their juvenilia.  Poetry, ancient and classical history….”  Elizabeth Peters, on the lure of books ….

WonderBook bookshelf battle!
WonderBook bookshelf battle!

Our last post told the triumphant tale of Gandalf, who refused to be evicted from HIS chair in the MPM Manor kitchen.  In this post we introduce the person who gave Gandalf to Barbara — and who shared an abiding love of — well, really addiction to —  books with her.  Chuck Roberts, owner of the WonderBook warehouse and bookstores, met Barbara in the 1980s after she had made her way out to the Frederick area, hoping to escape the growing sprawl and traffic nearer to D.C. (and finding her dream home in the process).  The two friends bonded over their love of books — and Star Wars, and Tolkein, and …. the list goes on and on.    Barbara went from renting videos at Chuck’s first small store to signing books for him to sell through his now sprawling warehouse-internet book emporium.  Neither one of them could ever stand to let a book get thrown out if it could possibly be saved …  and neither one of them could stop talking if a good Tolkein or Star Wars argument was underway.  (Believe us on this one.)  There was often quite a crew of book-lovers gathered at Barbara’s, including writer friends as well of course, and the conversation got more and more animated as the evening (and the drinks) went on….

(Chuck was the only one of the crew who could manage gin and chocolate at the same time)

If you look carefully at these pictures, you’ll see a quarter that was put in for scale, and also a very small copy of “Little Women” — which is an actual edition of the book!

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