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remembering barbara mertz

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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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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.

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