Tag Archives: Concordia Wells

The Last Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe

portrait by Samuel Stillman Osgood, 1845.

by K.B. Owen

This week marks the anniversary of the death of famous American poet/author/critic Edgar Allan Poe on Oct 7, 1849. Although the cause of his death was vaguely listed as “congestion of the brain,” the root cause is still a mystery. No autopsy was done or death certificate issued.

The circumstances of Poe’s death:

photo by KRichter (CC)

Poe was found in Baltimore near Gunner’s Hall (a tavern being used as a polling place that day) “rather the worse for wear,” according to Joseph W. Walker, the man who discovered him. Poe was able to give him the names of two acquaintances who lived in the area. Walker sent them urgent notes to come and help decide what to do with him. When they came to assess the situation, the general consensus was that Poe was the worse for drink, and they took him to Baltimore’s Washington College Hospital.

Strangely, he was wearing clothing not his own. According to the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore:

Poe’s clothing had been changed. In place of his own suit of black wool was one of cheap gabardine, with a palm leaf hat. Moran describes his clothing as “a stained, faded, old bombazine coat, pantaloons of a similar character, a pair of worn-out shoes run down at the heels, and an old straw hat” (Moran, Defense of Poe, p. 59.)

There wasn’t much that the doctors could do for him other than make him comfortable. Although he briefly regained consciousness at intervals (though never for long enough to explain what happened), he died four days later.

Which leaves us with all kinds of questions: how did he come to be where he was found, and in someone else’s clothes? What happened to him? What killed him?

We know that Poe left Richmond for Philadelphia (some say New York) via boat (one source says the train…arghh, research is a minefield) and arrived in Baltimore on September 28th. However, there is no reliable account of what happened to him between then and when he was found on October 3rd.

Poe’s bitter rival, and 150 years of slander:

Griswold, 1855.

I didn’t realize until my adult years that what I thought I knew about Poe and his death as a high schooler (decades ago, never mind how many, LOL), was shaped by the accounts of Poe at the hands of his most bitter rival, Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Griswold was extremely adept at character assassination, which he had already directed at Poe during his lifetime. But now the floodgates were about to be opened wide….

Read the rest at K.B. Owen Mysteries

 

 

K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, K.B. did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts. Thankfully. No doubt, many folks are grateful for that little fact. 😀

There are five books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, with book 6 due out in December.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

1890s Courtship Etiquette

by Kathy Owen

Among the rewarding perks of historical novel writing are the cool bits of info that I find along the way.

While researching the topic of courtship for the fifth book of the Concordia Wells Mysteries – a series set in a fictitious 1890s women’s college – I came upon a fascinating self-help etiquette book by Mrs. John Sherwood, entitled Manners  and Social Usages (1884, revised 1901). I thought I’d share it with you today, focusing on what was expected of men and women in their journey to the altar.

etiquette-manual-title-pg

 

At the time of its original publication, the United States was barely 100 years old. The author (an American woman who had read and traveled widely) was very much aware of the need for a guide. She says in her Preface:

The newness of our country is perpetually renewed by the sudden making of fortunes, and by the absence of a hereditary, reigning set. There is no aristocracy here which has the right and title to set the fashions.

But courtship was no mere fashion. It was a serious business, with significant consequences to the young lady’s reputation if she and her parents/chaperone weren’t careful:

etiquette-manual8a

Sadly, I think the “black sheep” will always be with us.

What were the consequences when one of these black sheep strayed into the fold? Wolfish rather than sheep-like (though a wolf with a big wallet and a taste in theater…but ahh, the metaphor is falling apart on me, so I’ll stop):

etiquette-manual-5a

Ouch. So, what is the remedy?

Chaperones. Yeah, even back then no one was crazy about the idea. Mrs. John Sherwood acknowledges the tedious nature of a young lady having to be chaperoned constantly. Apparently, American girls were particularly resistant:

etiquette-manual-9a

Besides having a chaperone, what else can a young lady do to protect herself? Mrs. Sherwood was a big fan of a girl “playing hard to get.” According to the author, “Men, as they look back on their own varied experience, are apt to remember with great respect the women who were cold and distant….

etiquette-manual-6a

Brrr, it’s getting chilly in here.

And the restrictions weren’t over once a formal engagement was announced…no, no.

etiquette-manual-2a

You can imagine my vexation, as an author, in not being able to get my engaged couple alone for some crucial plot points without the risk of vulgarity…but wait! Dear Mrs. Sherwood notes two exceptions to the rules of chaperonage, both of which apply to Concordia:

etiquette-manual12a

Check. Concordia is twenty-nine (was she ever a “giddy girl”?). On to exception #2:

etiquette-manual10a

Concordia is a literature professor at Hartford Women’s College…double check! Mrs. John Sherwood, I could kiss you. …okay, never mind.

What do you think of the courtship conventions of the 1890s? Are there any we should keep? Or are you relieved to be living in the 21st century? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,

Kathy

P.S. – Check out my new release, Beloved and Unseemly!

belovedandunseemlyebook

A stolen blueprint, a dead body, and wedding bells….
Change is in the air at Hartford Women’s College in the fall of 1898. Renowned inventor Peter Sanbourne—working on Project Blue Arrow for the Navy—heads the school’s new engineering program, and literature professor Concordia Wells prepares to leave to marry David Bradley.

The new routine soon goes awry when a bludgeoned body—clutching a torn scrap of the only blueprint for Blue Arrow—is discovered on the property Concordia and David were planning to call home.

To unravel the mystery that stands between them and their new life together, Concordia must navigate deadly pranks, dark secrets, and long-simmering grudges that threaten to tear apart her beloved school and leave behind an unseemly trail of bodies.

Now available at your favorite online bookseller (buttons are clickable):

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature. She is currently raising three boys and working on Book 6 in the Concordia Wells series of historical cozy mysteries.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

6 Tips for Coping When Change Is In the Air

by Kassandra Lamb

In addition to the crispness of fall and the hint of wood smoke on cooler evenings, change is in the air at misterio press. We have a lot of new releases coming up, and new series being started by some of our authors.

Change can be both good and bad. And even good changes are stressful.

Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, authors of the very first psychological stress test, knew that. “Marriage” is #7 on their inventory with 50 adjustment points attached to it (“death of a spouse” is first with 100 pts). “Retirement” is #12 and “outstanding personal achievement” is #25 with 28 points.

Holmes and Rahe contended that anything that requires adjustment adds to our stress level, even going on vacation (#41, 13 points) which is mostly about de-stressing.

moving truck outside house

(photo by William Grimes, English Wikimedia, public domain)

The biggest adjustments of course are the life-transition ones—getting married, changing careers, moving, etc. Here are some tips for reducing the stress of such transitions:

1.  Remember that even positive events can still have their down moments. If one approaches life transitions with a black and white attitude, the first thing that goes even a little bit wrong can be devastating, and can then influence your emotional view of later developments.

It’s a natural tendency when we are excited about something to be thrown for a loop if there’s a glitch. The more intense the positive emotion of anticipation, the more intense the disappointment can be if something doesn’t go just right. At such moments, we need to step back and look at the big picture. More on this in a moment.

2.  Research what to expect, good and bad, and see yourself dealing with it. If it’s a big move or a new job/career, find out as much as you can about that locale or vocation. If it’s a new level of relationship commitment, do a lot of talking with your partner about how this change will affect both of you.

Why is it important to be so well informed? Because stressors that take us by surprise are a lot more stressful than those we see coming.

Then visualize yourself in the new situation; this is a form of emotional practice.

basketball game

Practice makes us better, at sports and at life. (2004 Army-Navy game~public domain)

Like the athlete who practices jump shots or the back stroke, if we practice dealing with a situation in our mind’s eye, we will be better prepared for it when it becomes reality.

Imagining the challenges, payoffs and problems of the new situation will also allow us to develop some strategies ahead of time for dealing with them. One time, I took a new job that was an hour from home. It was a good opportunity, better pay, but as I contemplated the downside of that long commute, I felt my excitement eroding. I imagined myself listening to the radio. That helped some.

Then a better answer hit me. Audio books! The commute ended up being the best part of my day.

3.  Realize there may still be unforeseen developments. Don’t let all this researching and imagining and advance problem-solving lull you into believing that you are ready for anything. There may still be some things you don’t foresee, good and bad, but if you are prepared for most aspects of the transition, you can focus more of your coping skills and emotional energy on the things you didn’t anticipate.

4.  Be prepared to grieve, at least a little, for how things used to be. Very little is gained in this life without having to give something up. Realize that missing the freedom of single life doesn’t mean you don’t want to be married, or occasionally remembering a simpler time with nostalgia doesn’t mean you don’t want this new, more challenging job.

Life, and emotions, are more complicated than that. There are trade-offs and nothing is all good or all bad.

Brillant red leaves

We don’t get these vibrant colors in Florida; the deciduous trees turn a sickly yellow or just go straight to brown.  (photo by Mckelvcm CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia)

When we moved from my home state of Maryland to Florida, I found I missed the strangest things, not always the things I’d liked all that much when we lived up north. I missed the crispness of the air in the fall (humid Florida air is never crisp!) But I’d hated autumn when we lived in Maryland because the dreaded winter was right behind it.

After a couple of years of adjustment, autumn is now my second favorite season.

5.  If your life transition involves another person (or persons), maintain a “we’re in this together” mentality. It’s easy to get snippy with each other if things aren’t going perfectly (again, emotions are running high). But a strategy of “we’re over here together and this thing we’re dealing with is over there” will help keep the stress of adjustment from coming between you. And it will strengthen everyone’s ability to cope.

6.  Nurture your sense of adventure. If you can view life transitions as an exciting new opportunity, you’ll be in a more upbeat place to handle the transition. Being anxious tends to make us view change with suspicion and negativity.

If you can balance a realistic, “This may not go completely as planned,” with “This is gonna be great,” this new phase of your life will indeed be more great than not!

At my wedding rehearsal, Murphy’s Law was in full swing. Everything went wrong, and I ended up having a meltdown.

h5a3-my-wedding-going-in

Mom and I intent on keeping me cool on my wedding day!

I was still crabby at the rehearsal dinner, until my mother took me aside. “You’re about to embark on the biggest adventure of your life,” she said. “Do you really want to start it in such a foul mood? Just remember no matter what might go wrong tomorrow, at the end of the day you will be married, and that’s what counts.”

Her pep talk worked as she got me to step back and look at the big picture. Several things did go wrong the next day, starting with my father tripping over my train and letting out a loud “Oops.” But instead of being embarrassed, I laughed along with everybody else!

Two of our authors have new releases that fit this theme of life transitions. And since they are murder mysteries, of course the unexpected happens early on.

Here they are, now available for preorder. I think you’ll love them; I do!

book cover

BELOVED AND UNSEEMLY, Book 5 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries, by K.B. Owen

A stolen blueprint, a dead body, and wedding bells….

Change is in the air at Hartford Women’s College in the fall of 1898. Renowned inventor Peter Sanbourne—working on Project Blue Arrow for the Navy—heads the school’s new engineering program, and literature professor Concordia Wells prepares to leave to marry David Bradley.

The new routine soon goes awry when a bludgeoned body—clutching a torn scrap of the only blueprint for Blue Arrow—is discovered on the property Concordia and David were planning to call home.

To unravel the mystery that stands between them and their new life together, Concordia must navigate deadly pranks, dark secrets, and long-simmering grudges that threaten to tear apart her beloved school and leave behind an unseemly trail of bodies.

Available for preorder on  AMAZON    APPLE    NOOK    KOBO

Or get it NOW in paperback on Amazon!

FOR PETE’S SAKE, A Pet Psychic Mystery (#4), by Shannon Esposito

A picture perfect wedding in paradise…what could possibly go wrong?

Pet boutique owner and reluctant pet psychic, Darwin Winters, is looking forward to watching her best friend and business partner, Sylvia, say “I do” to the man of her dreams. But when their wedding photographer turns up dead on the big day—and Sylvia’s superstitious mother believes his heart attack is a sign their marriage will be cursed—Sylvia’s dream wedding quickly becomes a nightmare.

Darwin only has a week to help her detective boyfriend prove the photographer’s death was not from natural causes before Sylvia’s family jets back home to Portugal, and the wedding is off for good.

As more than a few suspects come into focus—including Peter’s model clients, a rival photographer and the director of an animal shelter being investigated for fraud—time is running out. With just one clue from the photographer’s orphaned Yorkie pup to go on, can Darwin help save Sylvia’s wedding and capture a killer? Or will both justice and Sylvia’s wedding cake go unserved?

Available for preorder on  AMAZON    APPLE

~~~~~~~~

How about you? How well do you cope with life transitions, and change in general?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The mystery of 1890s train travel…and a book release!

Concordia logo FINALby K. B. Owen, misterio press author

I love being a historical mystery writer. Though it means additional research time as well as longer gaps between book releases, I run across fascinating stuff. I enjoy weaving the plot of a mystery into the historical world. I hope you’ve been pleased with the results so far!

I’m here today to announce my newest release, Unseemly Haste (book 4 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries). It’s set in the summer of 1898, as my characters make their way from New York to San Francisco aboard a Pullman sleeper car train. LOTS of research. Want to see some of the cool things I ran across?

I’m so glad you said yes. *wink*

Planning the journey: the route from New York to San Francisco

The New York Tribune, May 21, 1898. ChroniclingAmerica.loc.gov

The New York Tribune, May 21, 1898. ChroniclingAmerica.loc.gov

Railway mergers, shared use agreements, and the standardization of track gauge, platform configurations, etc, made cross-country travel by rail easier than ever by the 1890s. The three-day trip covered 3,270 miles. For the route my characters took, four different railways were involved: the Pennsylvania RR, the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago RR, the Central Pacific RR, and the Union Pacific RR. According to Appletons’ General Guide to the United States and Canada: Western and Southern states (D. Appleton and Company, 1889), the cost of the Chicago Limited Express (sleeper compartment included in the price) from New York to Chicago was $28, then from Chicago to San Francisco, aboard the Overland Limited, $72.50.

All aboard! Dining and Recreation:

Though a short journey for its time, passengers still needed places to sleep, eat, and relax along the way. Pullman Palace cars supplied passengers needs with style. Luxury amenities included electric lighting, steam heat, chandeliers, and gourmet menus.

 

Lithograph advertisement, Strobridge&Co, 1894. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Lithograph advertisement, Strobridge & Co, 1894. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

 

1895 Baltimore and Ohio RR publicity photo. Wikimedia commons public domain).

Dining car, 1895 Baltimore and Ohio RR publicity photo. Wikimedia commons (public domain).

 

courtesy of University of Nevada, Las Vegas University Libraries.

Courtesy of University of Nevada, Las Vegas University Libraries.

 

Pullman parlor car, Smithsonian Institute Archives, http://sirismm.si.edu

Pullman parlor car, Smithsonian Institute Archives, http://sirismm.si.edu

Sleeping:

The ingenious Pullman design converted seats to private bunks at night.

 The interior of a Chicago and Alton Railroad Pullman car circa 1900. Photo by Detroit Publishing Co, c. 1900. Library of Congress.

The interior of a Chicago and Alton Railroad Pullman car circa 1900. Photo by Detroit Publishing Co, c. 1900. Library of Congress.

 

George Pullman's 1865 sketch for patent #49,992, via midcontinent.org.

George Pullman’s 1865 sketch for patent #49,992, via midcontinent.org.

 

For those who could afford it, entire private cars were available, as pictured below. (Less expensively, private compartments within a railway car were also available).

Henry M. Stanley and party standing on back of train at Monterey, California, March 19th, 1891, porters standing at side of car. Library of Congress.

Henry M. Stanley and party standing on back of train at Monterey, California, March 19th, 1891, porters standing at side of car. Library of Congress.

Porters:

Pullman porter helping passenger aboard, 1890s. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Pullman porter helping passenger aboard, 1890s. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Pullman porters at the time were exclusively African-American, and were referred to by passengers and industry officials alike as “George,” no matter their given name. Working conditions and pay were exploitatively poor. They finally unionized in 1925, under the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, led by A. Phillip Randolph. According to the A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum:

The porters had tried to organize since the beginning of the century. The wages and working conditions were below average for decades. For example, the porters were required to work 400 hours per month or 11,000 miles—whichever occurred first to receive full pay. Porters depended on the passengers’ tips in order to earn a decent level of pay. Typically, the porters’ tips were more than their monthly salary earned from the Pullman Company.

It was certainly a thankless job, which I kept in mind when creating Jonas, the porter who features prominently in Unseemly Haste.

Which brings me to my announcement:

NEW RELEASE!

Unseemly Haste

Book 4 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries

cover by Melinda VanLone

cover by Melinda VanLone

 

Murder aboard the Overland Limited…

It is the summer of 1898. Professor Concordia Wells is eager to accompany her friend, Pinkerton detective Penelope Hamilton, on a cross-country train trip to San Francisco. Breathless vistas and exciting locales will be a welcome change from a fiancé impatient to set a wedding date and the threat of revenge from the remaining Inner Circle members back in Hartford.

But Concordia should know there is no such thing as a free ride. When the Pinkerton Agency switches assignments at the last minute, she and Miss Hamilton both have jobs to do. Fellow passengers prove to be both help and hindrance: a lady reporter in hiding, a con man, Chinese acrobats…and a corpse or two. Then there is the handsome gentleman with the dark hair, green eyes, and a secret agenda of his own. Good thing Concordia is an engaged lady. Or is it?

Available now at these retailers (buttons below are hyperlinked):

*coming soon to iBooks

Have you ever traveled via sleeper train? Do you wish you had the chance? I’d love to hear from you.

~Kathy

 

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature. She is a mom to three sons and writes the Concordia Wells series of historical mysteries. Her twitter handle is @kbowenwriter, or you can connect with her on her Facebook page.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The Two-Sided Sword of Ambition

by Kassandra Lamb and K.B. Owen

I woke up the other morning with the subject of K.B. Owen’s new release, Unseemly Ambition, on my mind. My muse had apparently spent the night pondering the question: What happens when ambition, normally a good thing, is no longer reined in by a conscience?

When we say someone is an ambitious young man or woman, that’s meant as a compliment. We’re saying that they are going to work hard in life and probably accomplish great things. And if we say that someone “lacks ambition,” we’re putting them down, indicating that they are practicing one of the seven deadly sins: sloth. They are being lazy, cruising through life. We may even view it as an intrinsic flaw in their character.

1725 engraving of "The Lazy Student"

“The Lazy Student” 1725 copper engraving by Johann Georg Puschner

A synonym for ambition might be goal, or even dream. And we’re supposed to have goals and dreams. The only times in life when someone is allowed to not be ambitious are childhood and retirement. And even then, although it’s not expected, we still applaud ambition when it occurs.

Many of my younger writer friends complain about the reactions they sometimes get from others (sometimes even total strangers). Some people tell them to “stop wasting their time” and “get a real job.” These critics don’t see writing as a worthy ambition. “You’re just sitting around all day writing.” As if crafting words were the same as eating bonbons.

I have never gotten that reaction. When people ask me what I’m up to these days and I tell them, their response is always positive. “Wow, that’s so cool!” Why? Because I’m retired from two previous careers as a psychotherapist and college professor. So I’ve already fulfilled the requirement to be ambitious. Now, my efforts to write are seen as a bonus ambition!

But ambition has a dark side. What happens when one is so obsessed by their ambitions that they become ruthless?

I’m reminded of a famous incident 20 years ago, when those close to a champion figure skater conspired to take out the competition via a physical attack. In 1994, Tonya Harding’s ex-husband and her bodyguard hired a man to attack Nancy Kerrigan and break her leg. Their ambitions were successful in the short term. Kerrigan was forced to withdraw from the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championship, leaving the path open for Tonya Harding to win that event.

Stamp of Azerbaijan--Nancy Kerrigan skating

1994 Azerbaijan Republic stamp honoring Nancy Kerrigan

Kerrigan, fortunately, recovered from the attack, her leg only bruised rather than broken. She continued her career and won or placed in other champion-ships, including winning a silver medal in the 1994 Olympics.

Those who had engineered the attack ended up in prison, and Harding avoided jail time only by pleading guilty to hindering the prosecution of those men. Her career was over. The U.S. Figure Skating Association conducted their own investigation and determined that she knew about the attack in advance. They stripped her of her 1994 Championship title and banned her from skating.

In this case, the overly ambitious were caught and punished, and their intended victim recovered relatively unscathed, but that doesn’t always happen in the real world. Indeed, when we stop and think about it, much of the evil in the world is perpetrated by those who have crossed the line to the dark side of ambition.

When ambition is no longer balanced by ethics and compassion for others, it becomes ugly… and unseemly. But fortunately, in both the real world and in fiction, there are those who are willing to stand up to the overly ambitious, such as K.B. Owen’s intrepid Concordia Wells.

Your thoughts on the two-edged sword of ambition? Have you ever felt its bite? Talk to us in the comments, but first here’s K.B. to tell you more about her new book, and a contest. Woot!! (Psst, it’s okay to have the ambition to be one of the twelve winners. Make sure you enter multiple times. That’s allowed.)

Hi, K.B. here. So excited to tell you about Concordia’s latest adventure…

book cover UNSEEMLY AMBITION, A Concordia Wells Mystery
by K.B. Owen

A murder…a missing boy…a secret society’s bold and deadly plot.

It is 1898, and Professor Concordia Wells turns to an old ally when her good friend, the eleven-year-old Eli, disappears after his mother’s murder. Complicating Concordia’s desperate search for answers is the ever-watchful college dean, who has recently learned of her past “lady sleuth” doings. It also doesn’t help that Concordia’s own school colleagues are not above suspicion.

Despite the dean’s close scrutiny, the lady professor presses on with her unseemly inquiries. Far more people are in jeopardy than the loved ones she seeks to protect, and now there is no turning back.

Available at:     AMAZON     BARNES & NOBLE      KOBO     SMASHWORDS

And in paperback as well!

Ready for a little “Unseemly” giveaway?

We’re ready to celebrate the recent release of the new Concordia Wells mystery, Unseemly Ambition, and we want you to party with us!

K.B. Owen mysteries logoPrizes: ebooks from the series, a signed paperback, promo goodies (Post-It pads, candy tins), and even the opportunity for folks to collaborate with K.B. to name a character or pick a distinctive trait for a character in book #4, Unseemly Haste! She’ll be randomly drawing twelve winners overall. If any of the winners live outside the United States or Canada, she’ll substitute a gift card to Amazon because of the prohibitive postage for certain items.

When: between now and January 31, 2014. Winners will be announced on February 6, 2014.

How to get your name in the drawings (choose from any or all of these): 

1. subscribe to K.B.’s newsletter (those who have already subscribed will have their names automatically entered);

2. write a review on Amazon or BN for any of the Concordia books (your name will be entered TWICE for each review, and if you’ve already left a review in the past, drop her a line to confirm that you want her to enter your name in the giveaway, either in the comments or email: contact@kbowenmysteries.com);

3. send her a pic of yourself (to the address above) with any of the Concordia books (on your e-reader or in print)…or, if you feel camera-shy, send her a pic of one of the books “in the wild.” She’d love to see where Concordia has traveled to! She’ll post them on her Unseemly Readers page;

4. leave a comment on today’s blog post, and any she writes at kbowenmysteries.com. There will also be the opportunity to comment on upcoming guest posts K.B. writes (to be announced).

Remember, your name can be entered more than once, so participating in multiple ways will increase your chances of winning!

 K.B. Owen is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature. She is currently raising three boys and working on Book 4 in the Concordia Wells series of historical cozy mysteries.

Researching Murder and Mayhem

posted by Kassandra Lamb~on behalf of the whole gang

We mystery writers often wonder why the police or the FBI haven’t come knocking on our doors. If they were monitoring our research on the worldwide web, they certainly would be.

When you write about murder and mayhem, you end up googling some very strange things at times. We thought it would be fun to share some of our researching exploits with you all.

First up is our newest edition to the misterio press family, Vinnie Hansen, whose Art, Wine and Bullets was recently re-released under our imprint. Take it away, Vinnie:

I knew from the outset that the victim in Art, Wine & Bullets would be throttled. This sent me out to research garrotes.

Did you know there are two types? Yup, cutting and choking. Cutting sounded too messy even for my black sensibilities.

A person can fashion a garrote with any number of handy items: wire, fishing line, computer cables, or piano wire.

I opened my piano and gave the strings a fresh look.

Guitar strings peaked my interest. I play my keyboard with a couple of ukulele groups. I tried to broach the topic with my ukulele friends without scaring them, but that led to puzzlement. Did I play an ukulele? Did I want strings for a soprano, tenor or baritone ukulele?

Vinnie playing her keyboard with ukulele band.

Vinnie rockin’ it with her ukulele posse (All in Good Time Orchestra, with guest appearance by Tammi Brown)

 Finally, at a music store, I got down to it, “Which string would be best for killing someone?”

I ended up purchasing a black nylon guitar G-string. I played with it around my neck, wondering how a person warmed up to autoerotic asphyxia.

Art, Wine & Bullets also, of course, includes bullets–.38’s to be exact. That research required shooting a Smith and Wesson. But that’s another topic.
~~~~~~~~~~
Paranormal mystery writer Kirsten Weiss is certainly no stranger to strangeness. Here’s one of her recent research experiences as she was writing book 6 in her series, The Hoodoo Detective, set in New Orleans (to be released soon).

Sometimes, research has an intuitive, luck-driven feel, with the right facts turning up at the right moments.

Last month, an acquaintance gifted me a skeleton key. I showed it to another friend, and she told me the keys were often used in magical rituals.

As a paranormal mystery writer, that was the sort of lead I felt compelled to follow. I’m always seeking magical inspiration for my Riga Hayworth series of paranormal mystery novels.

A quick spin on the interwebs informed me the skeleton key is associated with Hecate, a Greek goddess with a connection to my heroine. Even better, it’s also used in hoodoo, the subject of my next Riga Hayworth mystery. Eureka!

Magically, the skeleton key represents unlocking opportunities and removing obstacles. The gift of the skeleton key unlocked my work in progress, simply because I bothered to do a little research.

~~~~~~~~~~
K.B. Owen is our resident history buff. She writes historical cozies set at a women’s college in the late nineteenth century (Dangerous and Unseemly and Unseemly Pursuits). It’s a good thing she loves research because she sure has to do a lot of it.

In the course of my early research into what life was like at women’s colleges of the 1890s, I found out that the game of basketball was quite popular with the young ladies.

Wow…really? You know I had to learn more (and use it in my series)! Here’s a quick overview:

Dr. Naismith, holding a ball and a farm basket.

Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball (photo from Wikimedia CC licensed)

Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Massachusetts.

In 1892, Senda Berenson Abbott started the first women’s basketball program at Smith College, making modifications to the rules for women’s play.

Women’s rules divided the court into zones, with two players from each team limited to each zone.

Dribbling more than three times was forbidden, as was blocking, stealing the ball from another player, or holding the ball for more than three seconds.

The women’s rules created a game that was slower-moving and more stationary, and therefore would not tax a woman’s “delicate system.” However, the nature of the activity still necessitated shortened skirts, bloomers and stockings, which was considered rather scandalous. In fact, male spectators were barred at Smith.

Smith College Class of 1902 basketball team (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Smith College Class of 1902 basketball team (photo from Wikimedia CC licensed)

By 1895, the game had spread to colleges across the country, including Wellesley, Vassar, and Bryn Mawr. The first women’s intercollegiate game was played on April 4, 1896, Stanford vs. Berkeley. Stanford won.

Even as women avidly embraced the sport, a backlash was growing against it. The biggest problem was that the inherently aggressive nature of competition clashed with notions of “ladylike” behavior. If a lady lost her self-control in the heat of competition, what would be the unseemly result?

We seem to have survived it. 😉
~~~~~~~~~~
As for me, I’ve researched my share of oddities while writing the Kate Huntington series, but the oddest yet was a recent search I conducted for my work in progress, Fatal Forty-eight (due out this fall).

For this novel, I needed to know how one goes about building a secret room in one’s house–one sufficiently hidden that even a search by trained law enforcement officers wouldn’t find it.

A secret corridor leading to a hidden room

A secret corridor leading to a hidden room (photo by Kecko from Switzerland CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia)

Several sources suggested that it was easiest to build a secret room off of a bedroom. This fit perfectly with my story since the kidnapped inhabitant of the room would need a bed, and a bathroom.

Walk-in closets make great secret rooms, I discovered, but that would be too small for my purposes. Building a wall to divide the master bedroom (with the master bath on the secret side) would work, however.

Now how to hide the entrance to the room? I discovered on WikiHow that the do-it-yourselfer could build a bookshelf door in six easy steps.

But another article indicated that a mechanical engineer should be consulted to build a hidden room properly. Since my bad guy wouldn’t want to have any witnesses to where his hidden door is nor how it works, I decided he would just have to be an engineer himself.

I was expecting the reality of secret rooms to be different than in the movies, but as it turns out, Hollywood got this one right.

If you have the budget for it, a custom secret entryway can be created specifically for your secret room…The door is actually a high-tech machine that can be controlled by a wireless transmitter hidden inside a book, sculpture or other object that opens the door when tilted or moved, just like you would see in a movie. The entryway is shipped to the location in its own frame that is designed to fit precisely in the space for which it was created. ~ from How to Put Secret Rooms in Bedrooms, by Michelle Radcliff, Demand Media

The hidden doors are often triggered by moving an object. Excellent! That worked perfectly for my story.

How about you? What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever plugged into that Google search box?

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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Like Detective Fiction? Thank the Metropolitan Police Act

By K.B. Owen

Ever wonder how the police came into existence?  We certainly wouldn’t have any detective fiction without them.

Although each country has its own history in that regard, the formation of the police force in England was what led to the birth of detective fiction as we know it.

Here’s where it all started:

The Metropolitan Police Act of 1829

Manchester Police, 1880s, from flickr.com

Sir Robert Peel, Home Secretary in the British Cabinet and a Tory, brought about a number of reforms in the area of criminal law and the gaol system, but it was the Metropolitan Police Act in 1829 that was most far-reaching and controversial at the time.  For the first time in Britain’s history, the Act established an organized police force in London, with 17 divisions of 4 inspectors each, its central base at Scotland Yard, under the purview of the Home Secretary.  (The Detective division was formed in 1842).

The early names for these policemen – “Bobbies” and “Peelers” – derived from the man who passed the reform.  They carried truncheons as their only protection, and dressed in blue uniforms (similar to the color of the Royal Navy uniform) with long tail coats and top hats (LearnHistory.org.uk says that the top hats came in handy as stepping stools for policmen to stand on and look over walls).

However, the idea of a government-instituted police force made people nervous.  It was an alien concept, in an age of  Bow Street Runners and local constables (poorly-paid and barely trained), hired individually by each town, walking a beat.  What if the government started using this new police force to get rid of its political enemies, or to spy on honest citizens?

But people also knew that their options were few.  The Industrial Revolution was crowding London quickly, and with more people came more crime.  Constables were notoriously unreliable, preferring to drink in a sheltered corner on a cold night, go to sleep, or visit a prostitute.  Even if every constable was reliable, there still weren’t enough of them.

Although it took a while for the general population to accept police (who were often jeered in public), the police force worked well in suppressing riots and bringing down crime in the areas they were allowed to go, driving crime, in a way, out into the neighboring boroughs, which experienced an increase (later Municipal Acts were instituted to address this problem).

One significant black eye for the police, however, came in 1888: Jack the Ripper. But that’s another post.

Punch cartoon by John Tenniel, Sept 22, 1888. Wikimedia Commons.

Want more info?

Text of the 1829 Act

Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 (Wikipedia)

History of the Metropolitan Police

Crime, Punishment, and Protest Through Time, c. 1450-2004

The Metropolitan Police

So, who’s your favorite detective? Do you prefer your protag to be an amateur or a professional, private eye or cop? I’d love to hear from you!

~Kathy

About K.B. Owen:

K profile pic 2014K.B. Owen taught college English at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.  A long-time mystery lover, she drew upon her teaching experiences to create her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

K.B. currently lives in Virginia with her husband and sons, and is busily planning the lady professor’s next adventure.

 

Check out the latest Concordia Wells adventure!

cover art by Melinda VanLone

cover art by Melinda VanLone

A deadly secret that won’t stay buried…

It is the fall of 1896, and Miss Concordia Wells is hip-deep in the usual tumult of a lady professor’s life: classes, clubs, student pranks, and the unending drama generated by the girls she lives with on campus.  Complicating this normality is the new Lady Principal, whom the students have nicknamed “the Ogre.”  The woman seems bent on making Concordia’s life miserable.

And then there’s the exotic spirit medium, Madame Durand, who has befriended Concordia’s mother and has started a “Spirit Club” on campus.  Madame’s prognostications of doom are at first only mildly irritating – until events take a sobering turn.  An ancient Egyptian amulet donated to the college mysteriously disappears, the donor is found murdered, and his daughter – Concordia’s best friend – confesses to killing him.

Desperate for answers, Concordia unravels a 20-year-old secret, closely guarded by men now dead.  But such secrets can be dangerous for the daughters left behind, including Concordia herself.  Can she make sense of the mystery that has bound together their fates, before it’s too late?

Where to buy Unseemly Pursuits:

Kindle

Barnes and Noble

Smashwords

Kobo

iBooks

Ready for an “unseemly” giveaway?

SwagKitDuring K.B.’s Unseemly Pursuits book tour, which goes through the first week of March, there’s a giveaway at each blog stop (including here!).  The winner, randomly drawn from the commenters at each stop, will get a free ebook copy of Unseemly Pursuits.  At the end of the tour, she’ll hold another random drawing from among the ebook winners for the final prize: a special Concordia Wells series swag package! It includes customized mug, keychain, JellyBelly mini-tin, and signed paperback copies of the first two mysteries: Dangerous and Unseemly and Unseemly Pursuits. You can read, sip your coffee, and snack on candy in unseemly style. Check the sidebar on the home page of kbowenmysteries.com for the full tour schedule and other info.

***

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

K.B. Owen’s Such A Tease…

K.B. OwenWe’re doing our weekly post on Thursday this week. It’s part of K.B. Owen’s blog tour for her new release, Unseemly Pursuits.

Today she’s over at Tiffany A White’s Ooo Factor discussing one of my favorite fictional detectives, Columbo. Check it out ~ Just One More Thing: Columbo

On Thursday, she’ll be giving us the history behind the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829. Did you know that there was no formal police department in England before then?

Stop by and find out why British police officers are called “bobbies.”  (If you’d like a reminder on Thursday, sign up to follow this blog and you’ll get an e-mail each time we post–usually once a week.)

If you love to know the story behind the story, check out the rest of K.B. Owen’s blog tour stops in the sidebar of her website.

Veterans, Gratitude and My Post-Menopausal Fu Manchu (plus boxed sets)

November is a crowded month. We have Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas shopping, plus another event I’ll get to in a moment.

First, a big salute and thank you to our veterans! They endure and sacrifice so much and I think everyone would agree that we should take care of their needs when they come home. Did you know that Gulf War era II (deployed since Sept, 2001) veterans’ unemployment rate, while on the decline, is still almost 3% higher than the national average? Come on, America, we can do better than that!

On a lighter note, here’s the hubs in his Army days!

young serviceman

Handsome devil, isn’t he? And dig that psychedelic, early 70’s wallpaper in the barracks. He says they only got away with that because they were deployed out in the middle of nowhere.

If you look close you’ll see the beginnings of the mustache he grew in the Army, and sported for several decades after. Which brings us to that other thing that’s happening in November.

One of my online writer friends, Susie Lindau, is a breast cancer survivor, But she hasn’t just survived and endured, she has thrived and inspired (see her Boob Reports). And now she’s participating in No Shave November or Movember, an initiative by the American Cancer Society to raise consciousness about cancer, and also money.

The idea is that you let your hair grow wherever it may–mustaches and/or beards for men, legs and/or underarms for women–and then donate what you normally spend in a month on self-grooming to the cause of fighting cancer.

I certainly plan to make a donation, but this whole thing got me thinking about menopause and hair.

After menopause, women’s hormones shift. Well, duh. You already knew that. But what you may or may not have known is that it isn’t just estrogen and progesterone that go down. Testosterone also goes down some in women post-menopause.

Wait! What? Testosterone in women? Yup, women have small amounts of testosterone produced by their ovaries and adrenal glands. This testosterone is responsible for sex drive (yay!) and body hair (nay!)

So here’s what happens hair-wise for older women like myself. Less testosterone equals less body hair. I now shave my legs every other week instead of every other day. But the little bit of testosterone we have left in our systems isn’t as cancelled out by estrogen (which discourages facial hair). So now we have hair on our chinny-chin-chins. And mustaches. Oh, goodie!

I may not have to shave as often but I spend a lot of time in front of the mirror plucking out my fu manchu, and bitching mentally about how unfair it all is.

So what hit me right between the eyes about Susie’s post was this – November is also the month of Thanksgiving, of gratitude. Instead of bemoaning the fact that I now have a mustache, I’m going to focus more on being grateful: for my health, for my wonderful family and great friends, and for not having to shave my legs all that often!

And in response to Susie’s “I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours” dare, here’s my fu manchu!

Kass's photo with fu manchu mustache drawn in
Another thing we at misterio press are grateful for are our wonderful readers, and to show our gratitude we’ve put together boxed sets of some of our books for Christmas-giving ease (or your own reading pleasure). Volume 1 has just released and Volume 2 will be out in December.

Women of Mystery boxed set cover

Just $4.99 ~ three books for the price of one. Yay!!!

WOMEN of MYSTERY, Volume 1 (click on titles below to see the descriptions):

Dangerous and Unseemly, A Concordia Wells Mystery

Collateral Casualties, A Kate Huntington Mystery

The Alchemical Detective, A Riga Hayworth Mystery

Available at AMAZONBARNES & NOBLE,  and KOBO

How about you? What are you grateful for? And just how hairy can you get for a good cause?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

How Sam Spade Came to Be Hard-Boiled, Part 2

Hi!  K.B. Owen here again, with the rest of the story behind The Maltese Falcon.  If you missed Part 1, click here.  Thanks for joining me today!

Samuel Dashiell Hammett:  1894-1961

Hammett’s life was more important to his work than is usual with an author.  Hammett was the first detective (a Pinkerton) to write detective novels, and is considered one of the best practitioners of the hard-boiled detective genre.  His life was varied and controversial.  He was friends with Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and West, and was Lillian Hellman’s lover.

image of Dashiell Hammett

Samuel Dashiell Hammett

His middle name came from the French side of his mother’s family the “DeChiells,” who had been famous in France for their bravery in battle, but his upbringing was humble.  Hammett was born on a run-down farm in Maryland to a struggling Irish middle-class family.

He loved to read anything and everything, and would do so late into the night.  However, he had to quit school at 15 to help support the family when his father became ill.  He hated his jobs, which were mostly in the railroad and industrial fields, and never held one for any length of time.

He became a Pinkerton operative when he was 21, and liked it.  The Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency was the largest private law enforcement agency in the U.S., founded in 1850 by Allan Pinkerton, a former Chicago policeman.  He invented the trademark of his business – the unblinking eye – and its motto, “We never sleep,” which led to the shortened tag of “private eye.”

The Pinkertons filled a gap between the federal government’s small Secret Service and the local police forces.  As the nation grew more complex, the gaps grew:  the Pinkertons were called upon to prevent assassinations and to solve difficult cases, especially those crossing several local jurisdictions.   These are the kind of tasks the FBI performs today, but the FBI (founded1908) of the ‘20s didn’t really get going in terms of its mission, organization, and jurisdictional authority, until it was re-organized under J. Edgar Hoover in 1934.

Pinkerton logoThe Pinkertons were also hired by big businesses to break up the formation of unions – with varying degrees of success, as those of you familiar with the Homestead Strike of 1892 know. The Pinkertons were highly disciplined.  They were on 24-hr call, were required to keep meticulous reports, and had to be able to successfully watch a house for days at a time without being detected.  Their work took them all over the country:  Hammett went to Idaho, Utah, Montana, and San Francisco for assignments.

Hammett joined the Army during WWI, but became disabled with tuberculosis and was discharged.  For the rest of his life, he would be plagued with respiratory problems.  He also smoked and drank a lot, which of course didn’t help.  He worked off and on as a Pinkerton for a number of years.

During one of his rehabilitations at a hospital, he started dating one of the nurses and got her pregnant. He married her, moved to San Francisco, and eventually they had two children, but then later divorced.

After another stint as a Pinkerton in San Francisco, Hammett got sick again, and they couldn’t get by on his disability pension.

At this point he was too ill to do the physically demanding detective work, so he began writing detective stories, and then novels.  The Maltese Falcon was his most successful, and the one for which he’s best known.  His Pinkerton experiences gave him a unique inside view of his detective creation.  Hammett, in one edition of the novel, describes Spade as his ideal of the hard-boiled detective:

He is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been and what quite a few of them in their cockier moments thought they approached.  For your private detective does not want to be an erudite solver of riddles in the Sherlock Holmes manner; he wants to be a hard and shifty fellow, able to take care of himself in any situation, able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with, whether criminal, innocent bystander or client.

Hammett also wrote the Nick and Nora Charles detective series for the screen: The Thin Man (1934) and After the Thin Man (1936).

Even with all the money he was making at the time, he couldn’t hang onto it. His drinking problem became serious and he was hospitalized at age 42.

Hammett also became involved in Communist party activities, and was named chairman of the Committee on Election Rights, a group allied with the Communist Party.

Somehow, he managed to join the Army again in 1942 (at age 48, with TB!).  The Army was aware of his communist affiliations and kept a close eye on him.

He was sent to jail in 1951 for refusing to testify about the Civil Rights Congress bail fund (which had helped put up bail for people arrested for Communist activities, who then turned right around and jumped bail). Hammett was also interrogated by the McCarthy Committee in 1953.

He died of lung cancer in 1961.  As a veteran of two wars, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Publication and response to The Maltese Falcon:

The story was first serialized in Black Mask Magazine the year before it was published as a novel in 1930.

The third film version of The Maltese Falcon in 1941 (directed by John Huston, with the fabulous cast of Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre) became the definitive version of the novel.

Bogart and Astor--confrontation scene

Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greenstreet and Lorre

Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway praised Hammett’s story.  When Gertrude Stein came back to the U.S., Hammett was the writer she wanted to meet.  Eleanor Roosevelt loved the book, and wouldn’t let it be pulled from the shelves when the anti-communist movement blackballed Hammett.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes about The Maltese Falcon, and it was written by fellow hard-boiled mystery writer Raymond Chandler:

[Hammett] took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley; it doesn’t have to stay there forever, but it looked like a good idea to get as far as possible from Emily Post’s idea of how a well-bred debutante gnaws a chicken-wing.

Have you read The Maltese Falcon?  Do you enjoy the hard-boiled detective genre?  I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,
Kathy

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature, and the author of Dangerous and Unseemly, A Concordia Wells mystery. She is currently raising three boys and working on Books 2 and 3 in the Concordia Wells mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)