Maia Chance Come Hell or Highball Teetotaled

Countdown to Teetotaled

Perhaps I shouldn’t frighten you like that.  None of us need to become teetotalers.  Yikes.  However, with The Discreet Retrieval Agency #2, TEETOTALED coming out on October 4th, I’m beginning to feel festive!  Maybe nervous.  But festive!

Teetotaled Maia Chance

If you missed it, the first book in The Discreet Retrieval Agency series, COME HELL OR HIGHBALL, will be released in paperback on Sept. 20th.  I’m curious to see what this will look like.  On Pinterest today I stumbled upon the cover of Come Hell or Highball‘s large print edition–I had no idea there was a different cover!  Fun.

Come Hell or Highball Maia Chance

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Mystery Readers on Reading: Daniel Stallings

It’s my pleasure to introduce the latest interview in my series Mystery Readers on Reading, Daniel Stallings!

M: Thanks for being my guest! First of all, YOU: Where do you live and what is your occupation? Besides reading, what are your favorite hobbies?

D: I live in a city named Ridgecrest buried deep in the Mojave Desert of Southern California. Although a sizeable city, it’s about two hours from any other city, surrounded on all sides by hot sand, spiky Joshua trees, and bristly creosote bushes. We’ve developed quite a rich, artistic tradition because of our isolation.

Daniel's town of Ridgecrest, CA.

Daniel’s town of Ridgecrest, CA.

Besides reading and writing (my two loves), I am heavily involved in theatre. We have about five to six theatrical organizations in my town. My occupation is that I run one of them. Master Mystery Productions is my baby, where I’ve taken my passion for mystery fiction, writing, and theatre and I create interactive mystery shows for audiences to try and solve. You can find it on Facebook.

M: (Okay, I found Daniel’s Facebook page here.) What would you choose for your last meal?

D: My mother is German, and the dish I think she makes best is a meal called Bratkartoffeln. It’s essentially skillet-fried potatoes, onions, bacon, and cheese seasoned with salt, pepper, and Hungarian paprika. I could eat that every day and be totally satisfied. Heaven.

M: You’re a mystery reader. What sort of mysteries do you read?

D: I adore mysteries where the mystery is the primary focus, where the plot and planning of the crime and its solution are extremely well-done. I like it when the writers get a little tricky and creative with the actual mystery. Imaginative settings, plots, and characters will always tug at the heartstrings. I love mysteries that remember the emotional side of human interaction. I love it when characters are furious or heartbroken or triumphant or empathetic, because then they read as real people.

M: Who are your favorite mystery authors? Why?

D: Dame Agatha Christie is my heroine, naturally. What a genius of plotting. I love the Golden Age mystery writers such as Dorothy L. Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries), Dame Ngaio Marsh (Roderick Alleyn Mysteries), Margery Allingham (Albert Campion Mysteries), Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe Mysteries), Ellery Queen, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Earl Derr Biggers (Charlie Chan Mysteries), and so on and so forth. For more modern writers, I adore Carolyn Hart (Death on Demand Mysteries), Nancy Pickard (Jenny Cain Mysteries), Ellis Peters (Brother Cadfael Mysteries), Martha Grimes (Richard Jury Mysteries), Peter Tremayne (Sister Fidelma Mysteries of Ancient Ireland), ad infinitum.

Maia Chance mystery author

Daniel is ready to cozily wait out the apocalypse with this enviable shelf.

M: I am right there with you on Agatha Christie and the Golden Age Gang. What sort of characteristics do you enjoy the most in a protagonist?

D: Brains is the number one thing. If you have a sleuth, your sleuth should actually solve the mystery. If they stumble upon it every time without any actual thought, they’re not sleuths. I love protagonists with hearts, too. I love them to have empathy with others, to maybe have some pain in their lives that allow them to open up to others and understand the complex web of emotions that arise in good mysteries.

M: What are your favorite kinds of settings?

D: Anywhere. Take me to your wildest kingdoms of imagination. And while I do love England and small-town America, I love it when authors are a little more adventurous in their locations. Egypt, Rome, the Black Forest of Germany…

M: Why do you read cozy mysteries? I mean, what is it about this special sub-genre that draws you to it?

D: Cozies are my guilty pleasure reads, and there are some smartly written ones out there. I like Susan Wittig Albert, Cleo Coyle, Earlene Fowler, Robin Paige, Kate Carlisle, and Maia Chance. There’s heart in a cozy mystery. It’s about day-to-day people. They can be funny and charming. And I like that cozies, probably more than any other type of mystery, focus of exploring a trade or a culture in detail. You can learn about everything from bookbinding to tea to Renaissance fairs to fairy tales. But they should always be–and I stress this–intelligently plotted. Keep me guessing, because I don’t want to solve your mystery too soon.

M: What haven’t you seen in a mystery, in terms of protagonist, setting, or premise, that you would love to read?

D: Hmmm…I’d like more variety in settings and protagonists as a whole. Don’t get me wrong. I love England and craft stores and small towns and food as much as the next guy, but I love to explore cultures and worlds and people so different from myself. I’d like more diversity and wilder locations. There’s so much beauty and history out there. Why not write a mystery about the pilgrimage of Mansa Musa during the Mali Empire? Or about the birth of sitcoms with the production of the first I Love Lucy episode? Or something set during the 1960’s Space Race?

M: I LOVE your birth of sitcoms idea. Oddly, publishers shy away from 1950s and 1960s for mysteries, but I’m hoping we’ll see this change soon. What is your favorite children’s book?

D: Tough pick. I can barely pick a favorite author. I suppose the ones I treasure most are The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osbourne. They were–pun intended–magical. All about books and magic and history and exploration. I adore them.

M: Where is your favorite place in the whole world to read?

D: My bed. It’s comfy and safe. With a mug of hot cocoa or cup of tea at my side, I can dive into the best mysteries in the world and feel completely serene.

M: If you were banned from reading mysteries EVER AGAIN, what would you resort to reading or doing instead?

D: I guess I would read plays and the classics, because I do enjoy them. Plays like Proof, A Raisin in the Sun, M. Butterfly, The Importance of Being Earnest, and so on are some of my favorites. I do read some Stephen King, but not religiously. And a have a few favorite poets. But the idea of never reading mysteries again breaks my heart. I love them. They are part of my world.

M: Thanks so much, Daniel!

Maia Chance mystery author

Part of Daniel’s magnifying glass collection poses in front of another serious stack of mysteries.

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Come Hell or Highball in Reader’s Digest Select Editions! (Or, I’ve Been Digested)

I am so happy (and flattered and tickled) to announce that May 1st marks the release of Reader’s Digest Select Editions Vol. 345 #3, which contains a condensed version of Come Hell or Highball alongside works by Lee Child, Charlie Donlea, and Amy Sue Nathan.

couplecouchfrenchDD

Reader’s Digest Select Editions have been around since 1950 (they were originally called Reader’s Digest Condensed Books), and although I read a LOT of them at my grandma’s house when I was younger, I never dreamed in a million years that one of my own books would be “digested.”

Maia Chance Come Hell or Highball

 

 

 

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Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna: It’s out!

Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna (Fairy Tale Fatal Book #3) is available now!  Read on for an excerpt. . . .

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Maia Chance mystery author

Three cups of birthday tea for three Fairy Tale Fatal books. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

BEAUTY, BEAST and BELLADONNA

 

Beware of allowing yourself to be prejudiced by appearances. –Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, “Beauty and the Beast” (1756)

 

1

 

The day had arrived. Miss Ophelia Flax’s last day in Paris, her last day in Artemis Stunt’s gilt-edged apartment choked with woody perfumes and cigarette haze. Ophelia had chosen December 12th, 1867, at eleven o’clock in the morning as the precise time she would make a clean breast of it. And now it was half past ten.

Ophelia swept aside brocade curtains and shoved a window open. Rain spattered her face. She leaned out and squinted up the street. Boulevard Saint-Michel was a valley of stone buildings with iron balconies and steep slate roofs. Beyond carriages and bobbling umbrellas, a horse-drawn omnibus splashed closer.

“Time to go,” she said, and latched the window shut. She turned. “Good-bye, Henrietta. You will write to me—telegraph me, even—if Prue changes her mind about the convent?”

“Of course, darling.” Henrietta Bright sat at the vanity table, still in her frothy dressing gown. “But where shall I send a letter?” She shrugged a half-bare shoulder in the looking glass. Reassuring herself, no doubt, that at forty-odd years of age she was still just as dazzling as the New York theater critics used to say.

“I’ll let the clerk at Howard DeLuxe’s Varieties know my forwarding address,” Ophelia said. “Once I have one.” She pulled on cheap gloves with twice-darned fingertips.

“What will you do in New England?” Henrietta asked. “Besides getting buried under snowdrifts and puritans? I’ve been to Boston. The entire city is like a mortuary. No drinking on Sundays, either.” She sipped her glass of poison-green cordial. “Although, all that knuckle-rapping does make the gentlemen more generous with actresses like us when they get the chance.”

“Actresses like us?” Ophelia went to her carpetbag, packed and ready on the opulent bed that might’ve suited the Princess on the Pea. Ladies born and raised on New Hampshire farmsteads did not sleep in such beds. Not without prickles of guilt, at least. “I’m no longer an actress, Henrietta. Neither are you.” And they were never the same kind of actress. Or so Ophelia fervently wished to believe.

“No? Then what precisely do you call tricking the Count Griffe into believing you are a wealthy soap heiress from Cleveland, Ohio? Sunday school lessons?”

“I had to do it.” Ophelia dug in her carpetbag and pulled out a bonnet with crusty patches of glue where ribbon flowers once had been. She clamped it on her head. “I’m calling upon the Count Griffe at eleven o’clock, on my way to the steamship ticket office. I told you. He scarpered to England so soon after his proposal, I never had a chance to confess. He’s in Paris only today before he goes to his country château, so today is my last chance to tell him everything.”

“It’s horribly selfish of you not to wait two more weeks, Ophelia—two measly weeks.”

Not this old song and dance again. “Wait two more weeks so that you might accompany me to the hunting party at Griffe’s château? Stand around and twiddle my thumbs for two whole weeks while you hornswoggle some poor old gent into marrying you? Money and love don’t mix, you know.”

“What? They mix beautifully. And not hornswoggle, darling. Seduce. And Mr. Larsen isn’t a poor gentleman. He’s as rich as Midas. Artemis confirmed as much.”

“You know what I meant. Helpless.”

“Mr. Larsen is a widower, yes.” Henrietta smiled. “Deliciously helpless.”

“I must go now, Henrietta. Best of luck to you.”

“I’m certain Artemis would loan you her carriage—oh, wait. Principled Miss Ophelia Flax must forge her own path. Miss Ophelia Flax never accepts hand-outs or—”

“Artemis has been ever so kind, allowing me to stay here the last three weeks, and I couldn’t impose any more.” Artemis Stunt was Henrietta’s friend, a wealthy lady authoress. “I’ll miss my omnibus.” Ophelia pawed through the carpetbag, past her battered theatrical case and a patched petticoat, and drew out a small box. The box, shiny black with painted roses, had been a twenty-sixth birthday gift from Henrietta last week. It was richer than the rest of Ophelia’s possessions by miles, but it served a purpose: a place to hide her little nest egg.

The omnibus fare, she well knew from her month in Paris, was thirty centimes. She opened the box. Her lungs emptied like a bellows. A slip of paper curled around the ruby ring Griffe had given her. But her money—all of her hard-won money she’d scraped together working as a lady’s maid in Germany a few months back—was gone. Gone.

She swung toward Henrietta. “Where did you hide it?”

“Hide what?”

“My money!”

“Scowling like that will only give you wrinkles.”

“I don’t even have enough for the omnibus fare now.” Ophelia’s plans suddenly seemed vaporously fragile. “Now isn’t the time for jests, Henrietta. I must get to Griffe’s house so I might go to the steamship ticket office before it closes, and then on to the train station. The Cherbourg-New York ship leaves only once a fortnight.”

“Why don’t you simply keep that ring? You’ll be in the middle of the Atlantic before he even knows you’ve gone. If it’s a farm you desire, why, that ring will pay for five farms and two hundred cows.”

Ophelia wasn’t the smelling salts kind of lady, but her fingers shook as she replaced the box’s lid. “Never. I would never steal this ring—”

“He gave it to you. It wouldn’t be stealing.”

“—and I will never, ever become. . . .” Ophelia pressed her lips together.

“Become like me, darling?”

If Ophelia fleeced rich fellows to pay her way instead of working like honest folks, then she couldn’t live with herself. What would become of her? Would she find herself at forty in dressing gowns at midday and absinthe on her breath?

“You must realize I didn’t take your money, Ophelia. I’ve got my sights set rather higher than your pitiful little field mouse hoard. But I see how unhappy you are, so I’ll make you an offer.”

Ophelia knew the animal glint in Henrietta’s whiskey-colored eyes. “You wish to pay to accompany me to Griffe’s hunting party so that you might pursue Mr. Larsen. Is that it?

“Clever girl. You ought to set yourself up in a tent with a crystal ball. Yes. I’ll pay you whatever it was the servants stole—and I’ve no doubt it was one of those horrid Spanish maids that Artemis hired who pinched your money. Only keep up the Cleveland soap heiress ruse for two weeks longer, Ophelia, until I hook that Norwegian fish.”

Ophelia pictured the green fields and white-painted buildings of rural New England, and her throat ached with frustration. The trouble was, it was awfully difficult to forge your own path when you were always flat broke. “Pay me double or nothing,” she said.

“Deal. Forthwith will be so pleased.”

Forthwith?” Ophelia frowned. “Forthwith Golden, conjurer of the stage? Do you mean to say he’ll be tagging along with us?”

“Mm.” Henrietta leaned close to the mirror and picked something from her teeth with her little fingernail. “He’s ever so keen for a jaunt in the country, and he adores blasting at beasts with guns.”

Saints preserve us.

 

*     *     *

 

Ophelia meant to cling to her purpose like a barnacle to a rock. It wasn’t easy. Simply gritting her teeth and enduring the next two weeks was not really her way. But Henrietta had her up a stump.

First, there had been the two-day flurry of activity in Artemis Stunt’s apartment, getting a wardrobe ready for Ophelia to play the part of a fashionable heiress at a hunting party. Artemis was over fifty years of age but, luckily, a bohemian and so with youthful tastes in clothing. She was also tall, beanstalkish and large-footed, just like Ophelia, and very enthusiastic about the entire deception. “It would make a marvelous novelette, I think,” she said to Ophelia. But this was exactly what Ophelia wished to avoid: behaving like a ninny in a novelette.

And now, this interminable journey.

“Where are we now?” Henrietta, bundled in furs, stared dully out the coach window. “The sixth tier of hell?”

Ophelia consulted the Baedeker on her knees, opened to a map of the Périgord region. “Almost there.”

There being the French version of the Middle of Nowhere,” Forthwith Golden said, propping his boots on the seat next to Henrietta. “Why do these Europeans insist upon living in these Godforsaken pockets? What’s wrong with Paris, anyway?”

“You said you missed the country air.” Henrietta shoved his boots off the seat.

“Did I?” Forthwith had now and then performed conjuring tricks in Howard DeLuxe’s Varieties back in New York, so Ophelia knew more of him than she cared to. He was dark-haired, too handsome, and skilled at making things disappear. Especially money.

“You insisted upon coming along,” Henrietta said to Forthwith, “and don’t try to deny it.”

“Ah, yes, but Henny, you neglected to tell me that your purpose for this hunting excursion was to ensnare some doddering old corpse into matrimony. I’ve seen that performance of yours a dozen times, precious, and it’s gotten a bit boring.”

“Oh, do shut up. You’re only envious because you spent your last penny on hair pomade.”

“I hoped you’d notice. Does Mr. Larsen have any hair at all? Or does he attempt to fool the world by combing two long hairs over a liver-spotted dome?”

“He’s an avid sportsman, Artemis says, and a crack shot. So I’d watch my tongue if I were you.”

“Oh dear God. A codger with a shotgun.”

“He wishes to go hunting in the American West. Shoot buffalos from the train and all that.”

“One of those Continentals who have glamorized the whole Westward Ho business, not realizing that it’s all freezing to death and eating Aunt Emily’s thighbone in the mountains?”

Ophelia sighed. Oh, for a couple wads of cotton wool to stop up her ears. Henrietta and Forthwith had been bickering for the entire journey, first in the train compartment between Paris and Limoges and then, since there wasn’t a train station within 50 miles of Château Vézère, in this bone-rattling coach. Outside, hills, hills, and more hills. Bare, scrubby trees and meandering vineyards. Farmhouses of sulpherous yellow stone.

A tiny orange sun sank over a murky river. Each time a draft swept through the coach, Ophelia tasted the minerals that foretold snow.

“Ophelia,” Forthwith said, nudging her.

“What is it?”

Forthwith made series of fluid motions with his hands, and a green and yellow parakeet fluttered out of his cuff and landed on his finger.

“That’s horrible. How long has that critter been stuffed up your sleeve?” Ophelia poked out a finger and the parakeet hopped on. Feathers tufted on the side of its head and its eyes were possibly glazed. It was hard to say with a parakeet. “Poor thing.”

“It hasn’t got feelings, silly.” Forthwith yawned.

Finally,” Henrietta said, sitting up straighter. “We’ve arrived.”

The coach passed through ornate gates. Naked trees cast shadows across a long avenue. They clattered to a stop before the huge front door. Château Vézère was three stories, rectangular, and built of yellow stone, with six chimneys, white-painted shutters, and dozens of tall, glimmering windows. Bare black vegetation encroached on either side, and Ophelia saw some smaller stone buildings to the side.

“Looks like a costly doll’s house,” Henrietta said.

“I rather thought it looked like a mental asylum,” Forthwith said.

Ophelia slid Griffe’s ruby ring on her hand, the hand that wasn’t holding a parakeet. Someone swung the coach door open.

“Let the show begin, darlings,” Henrietta murmured.

 

A footman in green livery helped Ophelia down first. Garon Gavage, the Count Griffe, bounded forward to greet her. “Mademoiselle Stonewall, I have been restless, sleepless, in anticipation of your arrival—ah, how belle you look.” His dark gold mane of hair wafted in the breeze. “How I have longed for your presence—what is this? A petit bird?”

“What? Oh. Yes.” Ophelia couldn’t even begin to explain the parakeet. “It’s very nice to see you, Count. How long has it been? Three weeks?”

Griffe’s burly chest rose and fell. “Nineteen days, twenty hours, and thirty-two minutes.”

Right.

Forthwith was out of the coach and pumping Griffe’s hand. “Count Griffe,” he said with a toothy white smile, “pleased to meet you. My sister has told me all about you.”

Ophelia’s belly lurched.

“Sister?” Griffe knit his brow.

“I beg your pardon,” Forthwith said. “I’m Forthwith Stonewall, Ophelia’s brother. Didn’t my sister tell you I was coming along?”

The rat.

“Ah!” Griffe clapped Forthwith on the shoulder. “Monsieur Stonewall. Perhaps your sister did mention it—I have been most distracted by business matters in England, très forgetful . . . And who is this?” Griffe nodded to Henrietta as she stepped down from the coach. “Another delightful American relation, eh?”

It had better not be. Ophelia said, “This is—”

“Mrs. Henrietta Brighton,” Henrietta said quickly, and then gave a sad smile.

Precisely when had Miss Henrietta Bright become Mrs. Henrietta Brighton? And . . . oh, merciful heavens. How could Ophelia have been so blind? Henrietta was in black. All in black.

“Did Miss Stonewall neglect to mention that I would chaperone her on this visit?” Henrietta asked Griffe. “I am a dear friend of the Stonewall family, and I have been on a Grand Tour in order to take my mind away from my poor darling—darling . . . oh.” She dabbed her eyes with a hankie.

Griffe took Henrietta’s arm and patted it as he led her through the front door. “A widow, oui? My most profound condolences, Madame Brighton. You are very welcome here.”

Ophelia and Forthwith followed. The parakeet’s feet clung to Ophelia’s finger, and tiny snowflakes fell from the darkening sky.

“You’re shameless,” Ophelia said to Forthwith in a hot whisper.

Forthwith grinned. “Aren’t I, though?”

 

2

            Ophelia’s conscience demanded that she call off the entire visit now. Because, well, the gall of Henrietta and Forthwith, springing those fake identities on her at the last minute. On the other hand, she didn’t have a centime to her name. Griffe would surely kick her out on her ear when he learned she was a fraud. She needed a little more time to cook up a plan.

She was led upstairs to a chamber with a canopied bed, walls painted with dark forest scenes—trees, rivers, castles, and wild animals—and a carved marble fireplace. Footmen brought up the two trunks of finery borrowed from Artemis Stunt, and then a maid arrived.

The maid, a beautiful blonde woman of about thirty years with the full, sculptured figure of a Roman statue, tapped her chest and called herself Clémence. As Clémence hung the finery in the wardrobe, she furtively inspected Ophelia from top to bottom. Then she led Ophelia down a creaking corridor to a small bathing chamber. Marble from floor to ceiling, with a tinned copper tub and gold water spigots shaped like duck’s heads. Clémence ran the bath, gave Ophelia a cake of soap and parting glance of disdain, and left Ophelia to bathe.

How discomfiting, having people tend to you. Especially when they made you feel that you ought to be waiting on them.

After her bath, Ophelia returned to her bedchamber, dried her hair before the fire, and arranged it in a frivolous braided knot . Then she squirmed and laced herself—she would not ring for Clémence—into corset, crinoline, evening slippers, and Artemis’s green velvet dinner gown.

After that, she checked on the parakeet. Griffe had sent up an unused brass birdcage from somewhere, its bottom lined with newspaper. Ophelia hung the cage near the fireplace with a saucer of water and a little bowl of breadcrumbs. The parakeet was fluffed up, its eyes mostly shut. “Are you all right?” Ophelia whispered.

The parakeet ignored her.

Outside the windows, snow blew sideways through blackness. The Baedeker claimed that it never snowed in the Périgord.

A rap on the door.

Entrez,” Ophelia called. She was picking up licks of French.

Clémence had returned, carrying an envelope. She gave it to Ophelia in sullen silence and left.

Ophelia looked at the envelope—it read Mademoiselle Stonewall—and sighed. She knew that sloped, smeary handwriting. Although she hadn’t seen the Count Griffe since the day after she’d accepted his marriage proposal, he’d written her daily rhapsodic letters from England. Luckily, she’d been spared the need to reply because he had been traveling.

She tore open the envelope and read,

 

Dearest Mademoiselle Stonewall,

 

It is with a swollen heart and fevered brow that I welcome you at last to this, my ancestral home. How ardently I dream of showing you every inch of this sacred place, the formal gardens by moonlight, the riches housed in the library, the Roman statues alongside the ornamental canal, the fruits and blooms in the orangerie. How I long, too, to show you the more intimate features of your future home.

 

Ophelia’s palms started sweating.

 

For instance, my late mother’s own wedding gown, preserved in delicate tissue in a box, and the nursery and schoolroom where I once romped and studied and where, God willing, our own children will romp and study, too.

 

Ophelia went to a side table, where she’d seen a decanter of red liqueur. She poured herself a small glass and drank it down. Cherry.  She coughed. She wasn’t really a tippling lady, but the image of a half dozen hairy baby Griffes crawling around in diapers required blurring.

She turned back to the note.

 

We did not enjoy even one moment alone upon your arrival today. Might I beg you to join me at half past eight this evening—dinner will be served at nine o’clock—in the ballroom? There is so much in my heart I must convey, ma chérie —may I call you that?—and a pressing question I must ask.

 

Your most humble and obedient admirer,

Griffe

 

Oh, Lorks.

Ophelia checked the mantel clock. Almost half past eight already. She stuffed the note in a drawer and sat down to wallow in guilt until nine o’clock. She’d rather stick her hand in a beehive than be alone with Griffe. She could tell him she’d fallen asleep.

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It’s Out! JOY TO THE WORLDS On Sale NOW! Plus a Free Preview.

Joy to the Worlds: Mysterious Speculative Fiction for the Holidays is officially out!

(And because Amazon does weird things, it has been unofficially out there for a few weeks and it has already made the top 100 in Amazon’s Sci-Fi Anthologies, Mystery Anthologies, Fantasy Anthologies, Sci-Fi Short Stories, and SF SS New Releases categories.  Yeah, it’s an Amazon bestseller!

So, Happy Book Birthday to Raven Oak, Janine A. Southard. G. Clemens and Yours Truly!  This short story collection has something for everyone–just ask our reviewers.

Scroll down for an exclusive sneak-peek of one of the two stories I wrote for this collection, “Odysseus Flax and the Krampus,” starring none other than the brother of Fairy Tale Fatal’s Ophelia Flax.

P.S.–If you happen to live in the Seattle or Portland areas, please drop by one of my book tour appearances.  They promise to be a lot of fun, and you can get your holiday shopping done, too.

Joy to the Worlds Maia Chance

 

Odysseus Flax and the Krampus

            Everyone has their own notion of Hell on Earth, and for Odysseus Flax, Hell was traveling sickness.

The steam train snaked deeper and deeper into the Alps—what country was this? Odysseus didn’t care—hugging mountainsides, plummeting in and out of tunnels, churning over precarious trestle bridges. In flashes he glimpsed ravines and outcroppings lit and shadowed in mysterious ways, and then they were gone.

He leaned his forehead on the velveteen seat in front of him, eyes squeezed shut, his spatial imagination in cartwheeling free-fall inside his skull. Lord, he did not wish to vomit. He had already assessed his belongings as potential sick receptacles and had concluded that since his valise contained all of his earthly possessions and he required his coat in December, his bowler hat must suffice. And he had only the one hat.

The track descended—or did it rise?—and then locked into a series of loops and—truly?—spirals. Odysseus began to perspire in odd places—the back of his hands, his chin. His jaws panged with saliva. Vomiting was inevitable; he fumbled for his hat.

Then, a chink of light in the black ceiling of Hell: the train screeched to a stop.

Odysseus lifted his head. Outside the window, a snowy slope rose up, pillared with black wet trees. Wilderness out there, and a chamber in a baroness’s castle waiting for him, miles and miles down the track.

A few people were filing out of the train carriage, all bundled up. Through the opposite window Odysseus saw a neat little station with a sign that read KIEFERTAL. So, maybe not total wilderness, but close.

Nausea rocked him again, and suddenly a featherbed in a baroness’s castle didn’t sound half so tantalizing as a breath of fresh air. Odysseus clamped on his hat, grabbed his valise, and leapt off the train just as it was gearing up once more into infernal motion.

#

Well, Odysseus had, by the look of things, stopped at Kiefertal on the wrong day.

Sure, in the falling dusk, with those heavy-eaved wooden buildings and the stars twinkling above the snowy line of peaks, it could’ve been on a Merry Christmas card. But as Odysseus walked from the train station and onto the main street, he sensed that things weren’t winding down for a snug winter evening. Women bustled behind lit-up windows. Children and dogs still romped in the icy streets. He passed three drunk men. What looked like two hairy costumes dangled on a clothesline. Was there to be a pantomime?

Why, precisely, had he gotten off the train?

At the station Odysseus had learned that the next train out wasn’t for twenty-four more hours. Tarnation! Three more hours on the train wouldn’t have killed him, and now he’d be a day late to steal that painting from the baroness.

No use crying over spilled milk. Anyway, Odysseus knew that suffering cannot be quite remembered, for if it could, well, all of life would be Hell, wouldn’t it?

He found a tall wooden building with a sign that read Hotel Baumberg. He paid for a chamber, dumped his hat, coat, and valise in it, went back downstairs to the dining room, and seated himself. He was still a little queasy, but his chamber was lonely.

“Good evening, sir,” the waitress said to Odysseus. Her fair plump blondeness glowed, holy, from inside her somewhere.

“Uh,” Odysseus said, forgetting to blink. His pupils throbbed, attempting in vain to absorb her gorgeousness.

“You do not speak our local language?”

Odysseus woke up. “Yes, I do,” he said, to prove it.

“All right then, what would you like? The sausage is nice, served with leeks and potatoes, and I could bring you first a plate of pickles and onions.”

Odysseus’s jaws twanged and he gulped back the thought: vomit. “Only a glass of water, please, and perhaps some wine, Miss—?”

“Anna.” She retreated in a swish of blue skirts and white apron strings.

The dining room, pine-beamed, cozy with that blazing fire in the stone hearth, was near empty. A pale, thin-lipped gentleman all in black sat alone at the corner table, reading a book. He wore blue-tinted glasses with steel bows. Such tinted glasses were designed to be sunshades, with lenses that could flip to the side for use on moving trains, like blinders. Why the gentleman wore them inside, Odysseus chalked up to eccentricity or an eye ailment.

Huh. Maybe Odysseus could have used some of those glasses on the train. Maybe they would’ve saved his equilibrium.

A family of three occupied the center table: mother, father, and a boy of perhaps twelve. Dishes and domes and bottles clogged their tabletop, as though they were sampling every dish on the bill of fare thrice over. They spoke in low, prickly tones. A burly young man slumped, bleary-eyed, over a glass of clear spirits at another table. The rest of the tables sat empty.

Anna returned and set glasses of water and white wine before Odysseus. “Are you British?” she asked.

“American.”

“I should have known, you being such a tall and handsome young man. What are you doing here? Americans never come here.”

“Traveling through.”

“Not here for Krampusnacht, then?”

“What is that?”

“The night when the Krampus comes to scare all the naughty children into behaving themselves. You have never seen him, with his forked tongue and hooves and horns and all that hair?”

“Not in the flesh, no.”

“I meant in storybooks and such,” Anna said. “He will walk right out of Hell tonight with a basket strapped to his back and a birch switch for swatting the naughty ones.”

“What is the basket for?”

“For carrying the really bad ones off to Hell.”

Saint Nick truly was a goody-two-shoes, wasn’t he? “I saw some hairy costumes, hung out for an airing, on my walk through town,” Odysseus said. “I suppose they were Krampus costumes?”

Anna nodded. “Tonight, people will dress in disguises—Krampuses, witches, and wild-men. People drink a great deal and run through the streets. Remember” —she laughed— “if you have a run-in with one of the drunken Krampuses you must offer him schnapps and he will let you be.”

“Schnapps.”

“The children fancy Krampusnacht is exciting, but they all get a good scare, too.”

“I have noticed in my travels that every place has its own child-rearing methods.”

“What is that?” Anna asked, pointing to Odysseus’s hip, where his jacket had fallen open.

“Nothing.” His hand flew to the leather pouch, the size of a plum, attached to his belt. He arranged his jacket to cover it.

“Looked like something to me. Allow me to see it—the beadwork is ever so fine. Is that from America?” Anna reached out.

Odysseus drew back. “No one might touch it but me.” Panic washed over him, the boneless panic of a rodent in the jaws of a cat. Why hadn’t he seen that sneaky spark in Anna’s eyes before? Wait. No—it was gone. His muscles regained their vigor. “It is only a small token that is significant to me, yet with no value beyond that.” He would never untie the pouch from his belt, and when he died, it would be buried with him.

“It is something made by natives of America, perhaps?”

Odysseus drained his water glass. “From the far western territories. I worked out there as a gold miner and a tracker.”

“Gold?” Anna’s eyes flared.

“Never found much, sorry to say.”

“What is a tracker?”

“I’m good at finding things, out in the woods, say, or in a city, too. There are little signs, see, that most folks don’t notice.”

“Such as footprints in the snow?”

“Sure. I can track anything in the snow. I could track a ghost in the snow.”

Buy Joy to the Worlds: Mysterious Speculative Fiction for the Holidays.

Thanks to Wikimedia.org!

Thanks to Wikimedia.org!

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Review Roundup: JOY TO THE WORLDS

This week I’m restructuring the second half of a plot that I thought was DONE.  It’s exhilarating, since anything is possible.  It’s frustrating for the exact same reason.  The situation looks like this:

Maia Chance mystery author

So I was thrilled to take a break from all those little rippy bits of paper and read some of the reviews that have rolled in for my upcoming release Joy to the Worlds: Speculative Fiction for the Holidays.  Take a look!

Publishers Weekly says the tales in the collection “glisten with holiday wonder, each one decorated in hues of legend, myth, SF, and quirky, joyful fun.” Read the full review here.

Library Nerdette writes, “The good news is . . . Joy to the Worlds did not disappoint.  The bad news is, I want more!  Way more.”  Read the full review here.

Fangirl Nation writes that Joy to the Worlds is a “splendidly eclectic collection of science fiction and fantasy Christmas mystery stories . . . brain-bending, strange, and wonderful.”  Read the full review here.

San Francisco Book Review writes that the collection features “four talented authors and eight phenomenally written short stories.”  Read the full review here.

Joy to the Worlds is available for preorder now!  And if you happen to live in the Seattle, WA or Portland, OR area, please attend one of the events on the Joy to the Worlds book tour and stop by to say hi!

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Mystery Readers on Reading: Jennifer Chance

Here is the third installment of my Mystery Readers on Reading interview series.  Hopefully not the final installment, although I AM still looking for more victims *cough* I mean interviewees!  If you’re a reader who would like to share your thoughts on the genre, please contact me here.

Today’s guest is Jennifer Chance.  Since she’s my mother AND a recovering English major, of course she had to tweak the interview format and make this a nice little essay.  One thing my mother taught me is that rules are made to be broken. –M

Maia Chance mystery author

Jennifer’s amazingly lovely 1870s farmhouse in Vermont. Overlooks the White Mountains. Is possibly haunted. This region is the birthplace of Ophelia Flax.

I am Jennifer Chance, and yes, I am Maia’s mom!  Although I am a native of the Pacific Northwest I live in (very) rural northern Vermont.  It is lovely here but I truly miss home.  In the past I have been an archaeologist and an art teacher.  Right now I wish I were hanging out and making pottery but I spend most of my free time working on this giant behemoth of a farmhouse I live in here in VT.  BTW, Maia gets her love of literature and writing from my side of the family:  she is just the most recent in a long line of English Majors!

If I were given carte blanche to dream up the best meal in the world it would have to be breakfast on a French oceanliner, circa 1971. The meal would consist of fresh croissants and real, genuine chocolat: one small silver pot of thick, black, bitter cocoa dissolved in hot water, and a second larger pot of steamy milk. Sugar cubes dispensed with tiny silver tongs mandarory. Of course, there would be plenty of butter and jam to slather on the croissants and a big, starched linen napkin for the crumbs.

I am very judgemental when it comes to mysteries. I like good plots and interesting settings, unusual protagonists and wily bad guys. Usually all these elements can be found in mysteries written by Scandianvian and Icelandic writers. Two of my favorites are Jussi Adler-Olsen (Department Q) and Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Thora Gudmundsdottir). These novels are quirky, a mixture of hard-core mystery and off-beat humor. Needless to say, there are many more outstanding Scandinavian mystery novels out there just waiting to be read. I love a good British mystery, especially one crammed with local color and vivid descriptions of the English countryside. Agatha Christie is hard to beat: I think Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot are some of my best friends! The recent series by J. K. Rowling, writing as Robert Galbraith, are fine, absorbing novels, too. These star an overweight, oddball detective and his somewhat incredulous secretary.

But I most love a cozy mystery. In my book, cozies should deliver humor, unusual and engaging characters and enticing settings. Typically, plots are secondary to the success of a cozy. (A cozy that also sports a great plot is worth fighting for). Cozies are where I come to see what my favorite characters are up to at the moment. Who isn’t dying to learn what new shenanigans Agatha Raisin or Lady Amanda Golightly are up to? M. C. Beaton and Andrea Frazer are two of the best in this little corner of the mystery world. There are many other writers of cozies and many settings and premises. As I mentioned, my tastes are somewhat rigid, probably stemming from my distant past as an English major, so I tend to shy away from mysteries that require me to suspend my disbelief a bit too much–I am not a big fan of mysteries with witches or craft clubs.

Maia Chance mystery author

Jennifer is a constant creator. You may notice that she also enjoys M.C. Beaton.

I am an escapist, so I read cozies. They provide an alternate world of adventure, crime without gore, puzzlement, familiar faces and new characters, all wrapped up in a humorous package.

I would enjoy a series set on one of the islands off the coast of NW Washington and British Columbia. So much history and natural beauty. It would have to be archaeological, of course.

My favorite of anything is constantly changing, but right now I am intrigued, again, with Mary Norton’s The Borrowers. My favorite place to read is tucked up in bed late at night. If I couldn’t read mysteries anymore I would return to the classics. in fact, I think I need to pull down my Thomas Hardy novels from the bookshelf and get going!

 

 

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RockinSanta2

Joy to the Worlds Book Tour Dates!

In December, Joy to the Worlds: Mysterious Speculative Fiction for the Holidays will be released with MUCH fun and fanfare.  I hope you can join me and my fellow Joy to the Worlds authors for one or more of these live AND online events.  Tour events will include all four authors (Maia ChanceJanine A. SouthardG. Clemans, and Raven Oak).

Joy to the Worlds is a juicy holiday short story collection that will entertain and surprise at every turn.  I’ve got two stories in the collection, including one starring Ophelia Flax’s long-lost brother Odysseus and one about a couples’ Christmas pageant gone dreadfully wrong.  Oh–and it would make an EXCELLENT holiday gift for the mystery, fantasy, and science fiction readers on your list.

DEC. 4Book Tour Kick-Off Party (Seattle, WA). Join us for a selfie photo booth contest, good food, drinks, and more. 7PM – 11 PM at 10326 45th Ave. NE, Seattle 98125.

DEC. 5—Virtual Book Tour Event streaming live on Google+ and YouTube. Join us for a short reading and Q&A. We’ll be giving away a free autographed copy as well. (Link coming soon.) 5:30-6:30 PM CST.

DEC. 6UW Bookstore Event in Bellevue, WA. Join us for a mini-mystery hunt (with prizes), seasonal treats, Q&A, and book signing. 3-4 PM. Further details here.

DEC. 11Barnes & Noble Event in Beaverton, OR. Join us for a reading, Q&A, and signing. 7-8 PM. Further details here.

DEC. 12Seattle Mystery Books in Seattle, WA. Come chat with the authors and snag a signed copy of Joy to the Worlds while you enjoy the ambiance of this unique bookstore. 12-1 PM. Further details here.

DEC. 13–Kings Books in Tacoma, WA. Join us for a short reading, Q&A, and signing. 2-3 PM.

Save the date and come join us for some holiday merrymaking a bookish fun!

Joy to the Worlds Maia Chance

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Barra & Drnsngr 2,Lig 05

Mystery Readers on Reading: Barra Jacob-McDowell

Welcome to the second installment of my Mystery Readers on Reading Series.  (And don’t forget, if you’re a mystery enthusiast who’d like to share, please, email me here.) –Maia

M: Thanks for being my guest, Barra! Where do you live and what is your occupation? Besides reading, what are your favorite hobbies?

B: Thank you for asking me! I live in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA. Occupation—well, I retired early from my last day job to be my severely physically handicapped husband’s full-time caregiver, but I’ve had a wide variety of work experiences over the years, and still do my favorite one (although scaled back): for almost 30 years, I’ve performed as Barra the Bard, Celtic storyteller and harper, specializing in Scottish and Welsh tales and music. Hobbies include needle arts (needlepoint, crewel embroidery, knitting, finger-weaving); volunteering on a few committees at the Friends’ Meeting-house; singing; baking; learning to read and write Scottish Gaelic, and writing. I’ve been working on poetry, a Scottish Western novel, and love doing Middle-earth fan fiction; I have 2 WIP novels and several short stories at www.tolkienfanfiction.com. Doing the research is fun and I love learning new information! Recently I’m thinking I should start up my blog again….

M: Scottish Western? I’m intrigued. What would you choose for your last meal?

B: You’ll laugh and think I’m weird—

M: I am in no position to think anyone else is weird!

B:—but I’d want to have haggis, neaps (mashed turnips) and tatties (boiled potatoes), with Scottish pastries, especially fern cakes, for dessert, and Bar-le-Duc tea. My duo partner, Linda McNair, and I give a Burns Night Supper every January, and I treasure those evenings of food and entertainment. Hey, I’m proud of my Scottish heritage!

M:  The supper sounds so lovely. You’re a mystery reader. What sort of mysteries do you read?

B: Cozies, historicals, Golden Age, humorous, and particular authors. I don’t really like thrillers or procedurals, or those heavy on legalese.

M: Who are your favorite mystery authors? Why?

B: When I took my MA comprehensive oral exam in English in 1975, I chose as my optional area (Ahem!) to do “The History & Development of British & American Detective Fiction from 1841-1941.” So that covers quite a few names right there…I love Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody, Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael, Margaret Frazer, Bruce Alexander, Pat McIntosh, Charlotte MacLeod, Earlene Fowler, Kaitlyn Dunnett, Peter Tremayne, Laurie R. King, to name only a few! What they have in common are good writing, well-developed characters and plots, nice pacing.

M: What an AMAZING idea for MA oral exams. Genius, actually. What sort of characteristics do you enjoy the most in a protagonist?

B: As Lorena Tucholke wrote, I don’t like whiners! Someone who doesn’t take him- or herself too seriously, who has compassion and a caring heart, is passionate and admirable despite any flaws. I stopped reading Kinsey Milhone books because she just seemed so detached from most people, with very little humor, and they seemed to me to be getting formulaic. What does she do for fun? As Anthony Trollope said in his autobiography, characters should change and develop; it’s one reason I love Amelia and her extended family. She’s bossy and opinionated—but she is extremely competent in what was a man’s field, fiercely protective of those she loves, and willing to try new things. I’m fascinated by how someone functions within the limitations of their society and the choices they’ve made. I’d love to have dinner with Brother Cadfael, Amelia, Alys Cunningham, Sister Fidelma, Benni and Dove Harper, Mary Russell, Jeremy Proctor…

In action as Barra the Bard.

In action as Barra the Bard.

M: What are your favorite kinds of settings?

B: Anything to do with Scotland, Wales, England, parts of the US where I’ve lived, for places. I already mentioned historical settings (although, coming from a family of history-lovers, I hate anachronisms). Any setting to do with needle arts, or cats, or Quakers, music (particularly singing) or literary (I’m a sucker for books about authors as detectives, whether Jane Austen, Josephine Tey or Chaucer). She isn’t a mystery writer per se, but Mercedes Lackey has written a couple of very well-done mysteries within the fantasy genre, and Diana Gabaldon has ventured into several genres (mystery too) in her Outlander series and some of her Lord John books.

M: I hadn’t heard of Lackey, but fantasy mysteries sound like something I would LOVE. I’ll have to try her. And speaking of sub-genre, why do you read cozy mysteries? I mean, what is it about this special sub-genre that draws you to it?

B: I looked up the dictionary definition: “warn, snug, giving a feeling of comfort and relaxation, marked by the closeness of a family or group. A cover for a teapot.” So often, the protagonist is acting in self-defense (chief suspect) or to defend or help someone else (part of the group, or someone cared about by a group member). Many take place in a small community, even in the midst of a larger context (war, a big city, the Depression). The conventions of a mystery have come to mean that it will end in a solution, which is satisfying unless I disagree with who did it! Justice, if not mercy, will triumph, and in our messy ongoing lives, that is often a relief. I might forget to do the laundry, but a bad guy has been stopped from hurting others.

M: What haven’t you seen in a mystery, in terms of protagonist, setting, or premise, that you would love to read?

B: Other than in Irene Allen’s few books, I haven’t seen a Quaker protagonist, or one about a condo association, or other than Kaitlyn Dunnett and Sharon MacCrumb, none at a Highland Games. There are a lot of authors I’d like to see as detectives from several periods. I’m currently working on a mystery set in Minas Tirith with a harper and healer, but haven’t gotten too far yet. I’d like to see more set in the worlds of folklore, science fiction, and fantasy. Originally, novel meant new; fiction was less genre-driven. But I’m constantly amazed by the imagination shown by mystery writers in coming up with new protagonists, premises and settings!

M: OK, I have to plug for my friend. Condo associations? Nina Post wrote The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse—well-written, witty, and hilarious.  Changing gears: What is your favorite children’s book?

B: I’m going to say two: A Is for Annabelle, by Tasha Tudor, the alphabet book my blind granny used to teach me to read when I was 3; and Thee, Hannah! by Marguerite De Angelis, two wonderful author-illustrators who wrote beautiful books.

M: Where is your favorite place in the whole world to read?

B: On a rainy or snowy day or night when I don’t have to go out, curled up in an armchair with a cat purring on my lap and a cup of tea in my hand—bliss! Never thought I’d care for using e-books, but often read one on the Kindle app on my phone while waiting in line at the grocery store. BTW, I love the free books one can download from the library; with limited funds, I’m choosier about what I spend my money on these days.

Lucy Feathertail.

Lucy Feathertail.

M: What are your favorite bookstores?

B: The Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA, just up the river.

M: That bookstore looks dreamy.  One last question: If you were banned from reading mysteries EVER AGAIN, what would you resort to reading or doing instead?

B: Perish the thought! I’d probably reread a lot of the ones I have, unless they’re taken away, too. Rats, I was hoping you only meant buying new ones to read!…Well, I’d have more time to practice playing my Celtic harp, or baking, or needle arts or many other projects lined up. I might even finally organize the storage bin! Mother once remarked that learning to read was like learning to breathe, so doubtless I’d read more fantasy, poetry, autobiographies, spiritual books, history, and scifi. I might even begin learning Welsh and Lenni-Lenape. And write more myself!

M: Thanks so much for your time, Barra. (And, you’ve provided me with a whole new reading list!)

 

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Dino

This Week’s Thrills

This has been a THRILLING week.

–I finally finished Teetotaled (Discreet Retrieval Agency #2) and got it off to my editor.  YAY.

–My upcoming short story collection Joy to the Worlds is currently on the “most requested” list at NetGalley.

–I was a September 2015 bestseller 3x at my beloved Seattle Mystery Bookshop!  Take a look:

Hardcover

1 – JA Jance, Dance of the Bones, Morrow

2 – Lee Child, Make Me, Delacorte

3 – Louise Penny, The Nature of the Beast, Minotaur

3 – Julie Weston, Moonshadows, 5 Star

4 – tie

         Maia Chance, Come Hell of Highball, Minotaur

         Lawrence Block, The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes, Hard Case Crime

         Peter May, Entry Island, MacLehouse

7 – David Lagercrantz, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Knopf

8 – Jussi Adler-Olsen, The Hanging Girl, Dutton

9 – tie

         Ian Rankin, The Beat Goes On: The Complete Rebus Short Stories, Little Brown

         Don Winslow, The Cartel, Knopf

10 – tie

         Chris Holm, The Killing Kind, Mulholland

         James R. Benn, The White Ghost, Soho

         Daniel Silva, The English Spy, Harper

Trade Paperback

1 – K.K. Beck, Tipping the Valet, Perseverance Press

2 – Andrea Camilleri, A Beam of Light, Penguin

3 – Daniel O’Malley, The Rook, Backbay

4 – tie

         Craig Johnson, The Cold Dish, Penguin

         Jussi Adler-Olsen, The Keeper of Lost Causes, Plume

6 – Robert Lopresti, Greenfellas, Oak Tree

7 – tie

        Arnaldur Indridason, Strange Shores, Picador

        Maurzio De Giovanni, I Will Have Vengenace, Europa

9 – tie

         Anthony Horowitz, Moriarty, Harper

         Burt Weissbourd, The Inside Passage, Rarebird

Mass Market

1 – J.A. Jance, Stand Down, Harper

2 – Leslie Budewitz, Assault and Pepper, Berkley

3 – Maia Chance, Cinderella Six Feet Under, Berkley

4 – Ann Bishop, Written in Red, Roc

5 – tie

         Hank Phillippi Ryan, Truth Be Told, Forge

         Louise Penny, Still Life, Minotaur

8 – tie

         Maia Chance, Snow White Red-Handed, Berkley

         J.C. Nelson, Free Agent, Ace

         Reed Farrel Coleman, Blind Spot, Berkley

         Larua DiSilverio, Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco, Signet

         J.K. Rowling, A Casual Vacancy, Little Brown

        Dorothy Gilman, The Unexpected Mrs. Polifax, Fawcett

Sure, I’m not #1 but let me tell you, it’s FUN to see my name up there with all those famous writers!

–I learned that “must” is etymologically the past tense of “mote” (as in “so mote it be”).  WHAT?!

–I learned that Harry Houdini was rather attractive even as an older man.  That captivating gaze.

Harry Houdini in 1918.

Harry Houdini in 1918.

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