The Steampunk Heart of Victorian Spirit Photography

The cover image for SÉANCE IN SEPIA 

Spirit photography embodies the ultimate Steampunk conceit: it represents the nexus of two of the biggest Victorian obsessions--technology and the occult.

What was spirit photography? 

The first commercial spirit photographer set up shop in Boston in the early 1860's. His name was William Mumler and his photographs were an instant sensation. He soon moved to New York to further his reputation and success. The massive loss of life during the Civil War spurred interest in making contact with the departed. Séances were more than a popular parlor entertainment. A large percentage of the population sincerely believed they could contact spirits of deceased loved ones using the services of a medium.

Mumler began to conduct séances in his photographic studio and, because the technology represented by the new invention of photography, his spirit photographs had added credibility.  Technology was scientific and science couldn't lie, right? 

His most famous sitter was the recently widowed Mary Todd Lincoln whose portrait seems to show a spectral Abraham Lincoln standing behind her.

Harper's couldn't resist lampooning the Mumler trial in the cartoon
There were doubters, of course. P.T. Barnum and others charged Mumler with fraud, claiming that some of his ghost images belonged to living persons. The May 8th, 1869, issue of Harper's Weekly Magazine reported, "If there is a trick in Mr. Mumler's process it has certainly not been detected as yet. To all appearances spiritual photography rests just where the rappings  and table-turnings have rested for some years. Those who believe in it at all will respect no opposing arguments, and disbelievers will reject every favorable hypothesis or explanation. " 

Mumler was acquitted, but his reputation was damaged by the charges. Spirit photography's most famous proponent was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. In 1925, he wrote "The Case for Spirit Photography." 

A fascinating website is available from avid spirit photography collectors, Jack and Beverly of the BrightBytes Studio. They not only own an impressive collection of original spirit photographs, but offer a wealth of information and links to other sites on the subject.

In 2005, the Metropolitan Museum of Art created an exhibit on the subject of Spirit Photography.  A beautiful coffee table-sized book called "The Perfect Medium" was produced from the exhibition and is still available on Amazon.

My forthcoming novel, SÉANCE IN SEPIA, is a Victorian mystery delving into the world of spirit photography. Real life feminist Victoria Woodhull is featured as the protagonist in that, before she was the first female presidential candidate and the foremost proponent of Free Love and other radical causes, she was a spiritualist and even served as the president of the American Association of Spiritualists in the mid-1870's. (for more information on Victoria, please see my previous post here.)


Steamcon II--A Brass-Hued Memory

The past is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. After three days of corsets and bustles, jeans and sneakers felt pretty good when I boarded the plane that would return me to the year 2010. 

Still, those three days in Seattle attending Steamcon II were a magical respite from the annoying realities of modern life. I am still basking in the brassed-hued afterglow. 

So much entertainment was available--over 200 hours, in fact--that it was hard to choose among the many offerings. An interview with Jake Von Slatt, of the Steampunk Workshop, whose modding artistry I have mentioned in an earlier post, was one of the best.

He described the emotional impetus that led him to create his first Victorian computer, which he calls an intersection of romance and technology. (I got the chance to tell him that his creation changed my life--that I was a dedicated Steampunk from the moment I saw it.) 

The musical highlight of the weekend, for this chrononaut, was catching a set by Unwoman in the Sepiachord Cabaret. Unwoman, who is also know as Erica Mulkey, is a talented cellist with a hypnotic, otherworldly voice and a flair for dramatic songwriting.  

She is based in San Francisco and, in addition to her solo work, frequently performs with Steampunk staples like Vernian Process and Abney Park. My first exposure to her ethereal music was at last year's Steamcon.

Another musical highlight for me at this year's Steamcon was the discovery of Bakelite '78.  They opened for Abney Park at the Saturday night "Outlaw Night Concert." Their mix of jazz, blues, early rock n' roll, and American folk left me wanting more. Robert J. Rial is their frontman. He started out in Chicago, but now calls Seattle home. To learn more, check out the Bakelite '78 Myspace page. (Their name derives from the early form of plastic called Bakelite, used to press the original 78 rpm records.)

The 2,000 attendees at Steamcon literally outdid themselves this year on their convention attire. The phenomenal creativity on display made simple people-watching as entertaining as anything the many talented writers, artists, and historians could offer in their panels. 

Examining Castle's mechanical arm.

I don't intend any slight to the vast array of talented presenters, but the artistry displayed by the attendees alone was well worth the modest admission fee for the weekend. 

Mechanical wings and arms were a favorite this year. I even got to see the mechanical arm worn by Nathan Fillion in the the Steampunk episode of Castle. Its creator was offering his wares for sale in the vendors room. The gentleman in question had the privilege of  appearing as an extra in that episode. He said the filming of the scenes at the steampunk club, which probably occupied less than ten minutes of airtime, took sixteen hours to film.

A young miss whose wings fluttered gracefully.
A very attractive zeppelin crew

The brightest moment of the weekend for this dog-loving steampunk enthusiast had to be meeting M.U.T. His owner said his name was an acronym  for Mechanical Universal Tracker. His little spoon ears flapped and his recorded voice barked and panted as he rolled down the halls of the convention center posing for countless eager lenses.

Check out an ever-growing number of photos on Flickr 

Steamcon III is less than a year away. I will miss the Old West theme, though, as 2011 will focus on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and be held October 14-16 at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue. I can't wait though. How often does a girl get an opportunity to dress in a ruffled ball gown?


Steamcon II--Personal Reflections

Shamelessly showing off my new leather corset
The best part about attending Steamcon II, in Seattle last weekend, was learning that at least 2,000 others share my madness. This affliction, however, is so euphoric, we don't seek a cure. 

For three days, the halls of the Seatac Airport Hilton and Marriott were thronging with airship pirates, mad scientists, time travelers, intrepid adventurers, and countless other exceedingly well-dressed individuals with affiliations unknown.

Kevin Steil, Airship Ambassador
Among the best dressed was Kevin Steil, the Airship Ambassador, who conducted an hour-long interview with myself (and many others throughout the weekend) for his excellent Steampunk blog. also called Airship Ambassador.
On Friday, I moderated a panel on "Becoming a Writer" with authors Caitlin Kittredge and Jay Lake. We tried to give budding writers as much encouragement and reference points as possible. Jay was nominated for a Steamcon Airship Award this year, celebrating extraordinary achievement and contribution to the Steampunk community. 

Caitlin, at the tender age of 26, is already a publishing veteran with several paranormal series to her credit, and a new Steampunk YA series called The Iron Codex debuting in February from Random House with the first title, "The Iron Thorn."

Gail Carriger, David Malki! and me
Saturday included a panel on "Researching the Victorian Era" with bestselling Parasol Protectorate author Gail Carriger and Wondermark comic artist David Malki! (and, yes, he spells his name with an exclamation point.) 

Gail Carriger's academic background as an archeologist gave her research tips an added ring of authenticity. Her witty novels, Soulless, Changeless, and Blameless, are a Steampunk series not to be missed, and her livejournal blog is among the most amusing on the 'Net.

Davis Malki!'s Wondermark comic is a true original. He shared with us the intensive research he puts into his art. Please visit Wondermark --an entertaining foray into a Victorian world you won't soon forget.

Everyday Steampunk
"Everyday Steampunk" was my final panel of the day. My fellow panelists were Clockworks webcomic artist Shawn Gaston and artist Anthony Jon Hicks of Tinplate Studios.

Me with Shawn Gaston and Tony Hicks
In addition to drawing the unique and entertaining Clockworks, Shawn also DJs a Steampunk night at an absinthe bar in his home city of St. Louis.

Tony Hicks sells wildly original art on Etsy.com. Please stop by his shop to view his fascinating "Anomalies." They are disturbing and irresistible. 

And then the Green Hour,  L'heure Verte, arrived...

At six o'clock in the evening, a group began to assemble to hear your humble author hold forth on her favorite topic: Absinthe. 

I expected an audience of around 25-30 and was overwhelmed to see in excess of 150 onlookers fill our little "salon". 

Had I imagined a crowd this size, I would have placed the absinthe-inspired art of Manet, Degas, Picasso, and Van Gogh up on the big screen. 

After describing the cultural history of Absinthe and its place in Belle Epoch cafe society, I demonstrated the time-honored method preparing Absinthe. I worry that the audience members sitting farther back could not see the lovely louching process first hand.  (Note to self: MUST add a big screen to all future presentations.)

The many fans of the notorious Green Fairy asked interesting questions and shared their own experiences. A drawing was held to give away door prizes: Three absinthe spoons, each accompanied with a copy of my own: "The Second Glass of Absinthe."

In my next post, I will detail my general experiences as a Steamcon attendee as opposed to a presenter, with many more photos to come. Stay tuned...


We have three winners!

Many thanks to all who entered my Halloween Absinthe contest, either by leaving a comment here or through my website. I loved hearing from you all.

As promised, three winners' names were drawn from my absinthe fountain.  The drawing was monitored by Sprocket, the Steampunk Schnauzer. (try to say that three times, fast.)

The winners--Penny, Helen, and Liz--have all been contacted and their prizes are on the way to them. They resided in all parts of the country, from one coast to the other.

Hosting a giveaway drawing was so much fun, I want to do it again and again!  Stay tuned...


Free Books and Absinthe Spoons--A Halloween Drawing!

Halloween is my favorite time of year.  To celebrate, I am giving away three copies of THE SECOND GLASS OF ABSINTHE, each accompanied by its own absinthe spoon! (If you don't drink absinthe, you can always use the spoon as a bookmark.)

Entering the drawing is simple:  Just send me a message here on my blog, or through my website:
between now and October 31, 2010. (Contest restricted to U.S. addresses only.)

If you would like to know more about THE SECOND GLASS OF ABSINTHE or the Absinthe ritual, check out my earlier post: The Second Glass of Absinthe Returns.

   All the entries will be placed in my absinthe fountain--which will be dry and empty for the occasion--and three winners' names will be pulled out. Once the fountain has performed its contest duties, it will resume the dispensing of ice water for my post-Halloween sip of absinthe.

I will contact the three winners on November 1 to obtain their mailing addresses.
(Rest assured, your email addresses will not be shared or used for any other purpose.)

Good Luck!


Are Bloggers the New Gatekeepers?

Read the first chapter online
This week, I was interviewed by Jane Friedman on her Writers Digest Blog, "There Are No Rules."  The title of the interview is "Are Bloggers the New Gatekeepers in Publishing?"

Please stop by and give it a look. In it I discuss my recent self-publishing venture involving my 2001 novel, An Uncommon Enemy. Those who have been following my progress on this project will already know how a review and excerpt of the novel on the Kindle Nation blog sent sales of the ebook soaring into the bestseller range a few weeks ago. 

An Uncommon Enemy's success stands in contrast to the sales figures for its sequel, The Second Glass of Absinthe, published as an ebook and a mass market paperback by Macmillan the same week. How does a self-published book out-sell its New York-published counterpart?

Price may be one factor. Enemy's list price on Amazon is $2.99.  Absinthe retails at $7.99. That's a hefty price differential.  Still, the decisive difference may be that I, as the publisher, took the trouble to increase my book's exposure to the reading public.  No one can buy a book if they don't know it exists.

I want to thank Jane Friedman for the opportunity to share my views and my experiences on this interesting new topic of digital publishing. Her blog is filled with the latest information on all aspects of publishing today. I am now a regular reader and believe writers can learn valuable information on all aspects of the trade. Be sure to visit There Are No Rules

And STAY TUNED...the trade paperback version of An Uncommon Enemy is in the works.


Happy Birthday, Victoria Woodhull!

On this day in 1838, a woman was born who would change American history forever--Victoria C. Woodhull.  She would become the first woman to run for the U.S. presidency, but that is only one in a long list of "firsts" for this remarkable woman.

Born into poverty in Ohio and given little formal education, she married at fourteen and gave birth a year later to a handicapped son. Her new husband proved to be an alcoholic, incapable of supporting her, so she was forced at the tender age of fifteen to become the primary breadwinner for herself, her child, and even her husband, whenever he managed to be on the scene.

She supported herself as a spiritualist--a popular and lucrative career for a woman in the mid-Nineteenth Century when women's options were few.  Just after the Civil War, she met her future husband, James Blood, in St. Louis.  They fell madly in love, divorced their current spouses and quickly married.

Blood was an intellectual and a social radical. He tutored Victoria in all manner of political discourse of the day and recognized not only her astonishing intellect, but her amazing gift for oratory.  They moved to New York and together with Victoria's younger sister, Tennessee Claflin,  started a radical newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly.  They opened the first women's brokerage house on Wall Street.

Victoria began speaking out on women's issues, particularly suffrage, and was the first to address the Judiciary Committee of Congress on the issue of whether women were "persons" within the meaning of the newly passed Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the constitution. (A topic still inciting controversy to this very day.) She became famous--some would say, notorious-- for her advocacy of the notion of Free Love.  She knew through her own hard experiences in life what many women's rights advocates of her time did not: that women needed much more than the vote to achieve a fair and equal place in American society.  They needed a full bank of rights--liberalized divorce laws, fair property rights, in short--equal protection under all the laws.

Available on Amazon
This is just a short introduction to the life of this amazing woman.  I found her so fascinating, I included her as a character in my next novel, Séance in Sepia (coming in October 2011).  To learn more about Victoria, there are several good biographies available.  My favorite is: Notorious Victoria, by Mary Gabriel.

A comprehensive website to visit is http://www.victoria-woodhull.com/


The Victorian West Welcomes Sarah Johnson

Readers of historical fiction may already know Sarah Johnson. She is a reference librarian at Eastern Illinois University, but she is best known to the literary world as the editor of the Historical Novel Review, the magazine of the Historical Novel Society, a position she has held for the past 11 years.  She has written two books surveying the field of historical novels, covering over 7,000 books--a resource to both librarians building their collections as well as lovers of the genre.

She reviews novels and interviews authors on her excellent blog:  Reading the Past
Today she has been kind enough to visit my site and share her personal definition of the Victorian West novel and her choices for the best representations of this sub-genre.

Reading the Victorian West: A Few Personal Picks
By Sarah Johnson

I’d like to thank Michelle for the invitation to write a guest post for her blog.  Although I’m a native Yankee now living in Illinois, I’ve spent many a summer vacation driving around and visiting historic towns out west.  To me, the phrase “Victorian West” presents a fascinating study in contrasts: rough-and-tumble frontier settings meet up with high society manners, elegant dress, ornate Victorian-style architecture, and classic small-town politics.  Reading historical novels with these settings lets me envision how people lived and interacted at this exciting point in time.  Here are some of my favorites.

Richard Wheeler (who I see has recently contributed a guest post here himself) is a superb author of historical westerns.  Whether he’s writing biographical fiction that reveals the human side of famous western personalities or sprawling epics about mining boomtowns notched high in the Rockies, his novels illustrate the diversity of the Western experience, and they’re remarkably free of stereotypes or clichés.  Second Lives, which may be my all-time favorite western novel, not only showcases Denver at the height of the Gilded Age but also serves as a brilliant character study of down-on-their luck men and women hoping for a new shot at life.

Among other Colorado-set novels, Ann Parker’s Inez Stannert mysteries set in 1870s-80s Leadville, beginning with Silver Lies, center on a strong woman striving to make her way in a man’s world.  A straight-talking saloon owner who can deal cards with the best of them, Inez also gets to show her vulnerable side, and her romantic interest, the Rev. Justice Sands, gets my vote for sexiest minister west of the Mississippi

Leadville’s most famous celebrity couple, Horace and Baby Doe Tabor, figures in many historical novels (John Vernon’s All for Love may be the best known), but what of Horace’s long-suffering wife, Augusta?  Jane Candia Coleman’s magnificent first-person novel Matchless (alt. title Silver Queen) demonstrates not only her independence and fortitude, roughing it as the first woman in Colorado’s silver mining country, but also her wisdom in knowing how to stay afloat during the era’s big reversals of fortune.  And while we’re spending time high in the Colorado mountains, I can’t resist mentioning Michelle’s own Never Come Down, an entertaining multi-period romantic drama set in the ghost town of Leap Year. I love novels that unravel genealogical connections, and the suspenseful plot kept me guessing.

Moving further West, Cecelia Holland’s duology Railroad Schemes and Lily Nevada follows one of her most fascinating fictional creations, bookish gambler’s daughter Lily Viner, as she teams up with an Irish outlaw on heists along the rails in 1850s Los Angeles and later becomes a famous actress in San Francisco.  Nora Simms, the prostitute heroine of Erika Mailman’s Woman of Ill Fame, establishes her independence in a very different sort of way, aiming to climb society’s ladder one customer at a time.  This unabashedly bawdy tale stands out thanks to Nora’s witty narrative voice and joyous, unbridled greed. Mailman presents Gold Rush-era San Francisco as an ethnically diverse, colorful place with opportunity and risks aplenty, especially for those in Nora’s profession.

Women kept up with social proprieties even in isolated 19th-century frontier towns, and Jeanne Williams’ Lady of No-Man’s Land appealed to me because of its resourceful heroine, a Swedish immigrant who uses her talent for sewing to make a living in a new and unfamiliar country.  Kirsten Mordal, only seventeen when the novel begins, endures many hardships, including the death of her sister, brutal weather conditions, treacherous outlaws, and the knowledge that the man she loves is already married.  It’s not a depressing story at all, however, but one of strength, patience, and triumph.  You can’t go wrong with any of Williams’ western novels, particularly if you like reading about strong women overcoming adverse circumstances.

Likewise, one doesn’t think of the plains of north Texas in the late 19th century as the pinnacle of high society (and it wasn’t), but Clay Reynolds’ The Tentmaker depicts the growth of a western town from its earliest beginnings as a gathering of handmade tent-shelters to a full-fledged settlement with a saloon, general store, and even a madam-with-an-attitude.  Victorian virtues didn’t always trump the lawlessness of the rowdy frontier, but I had a great time watching these colorful characters attempt to establish a civilizing influence on the gritty and violent western landscape.


Reindeer Games

The ebook revolution has been nearly fifteen years in the making, but sometimes the success of one invention requires the invention of another.  Builders had the method to create skyscrapers long before they had the initiative to do so.  Tall buildings could not meaningfully exist before the invention of the elevator.  Sure, people were capable of walking up and down thirty flights of stairs but it was scarcely desirable or practical to do so.

Books could be read on computer screens for decades, but it was not an enjoyable experience. The last two years have seen the introduction of a variety of ebook readers that not only mimic the traditional experience of reading a paper book, but now in many ways enhance, even exceed that experience.

Adjustable text sizes eliminate the need for those #$%&-ing reading glasses. Online page syncing allows the reader to simultaneously read the same book on multiple devices--Kindle at home, smart phone with Kindle app on the lunch break? No more sitting in that dentist's waiting room thumbing through year-old copies of People Magazine. (Only to learn the depressing news that the same Lindsey Lohan stories are printed every year.)

But the Kindle, Nook, and iPad were not the first portable reading devices.  I bought a Rocket eBook back in 1998.  It cost a staggering $499 (remember these are 1998 dollars, too), but I was so excited that I sold my first novel to a royalty-paying ebook publisher that I could not wait to embrace the future of reading. The Rocket eBook was a nice reading device, not very different from the Kindle in size and page appearance.  It was much heavier, I recall.  Battery size and weight have aided the new generation of ebook readers.

The various writers' groups I belonged to back in those days gave the ebook concept a collective cold shoulder.  Few of those groups would grant me "published author" status--I was not allowed to join in any reindeer games--because they informed me with confidence that "Ebooks are not Real books."

That now seems like such a quaint notion, especially given the fact that ebooks have out-sold hardcovers for the last several months. What the next fifteen years will bring to my home library, I cannot even imagine...but I bet it's going to be fun. (she said, as she composed this blog on her iPad.)


The Victorian West Welcomes Richard S. Wheeler

Richard S. Wheeler is the author of more than 60 published novels.  He is best known for his historical novels, for which he has won five Spur Awards plus the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement in the literature of the American West.  He also writes mystery novels under the name Axel Brand.

I have had the good fortune to know Richard for nearly a decade. He graciously agreed to read and blurb my first Eden Murdoch novel, AN UNCOMMON ENEMY, before I ever met him. His generosity to his fellow authors is as big as his wonderful talent.

I want to share his thoughtful essay on the tumultuous state of publishing today and why he feels the current and coming changes will benefit that industry and all those involved in it.

A Rosy Future    by Richard S. Wheeler

Available now on Amazon.com
The more I consider the future of American publishing, the more delighted I am. American publishers are gradually getting rid of various problems that have been the bane of their existence, and also evolving new channels to sell their product.

Their real product is intellectual property, not physical books. Printed books are only one of several media by which intellectual property can be transmitted and sold to customers. The onslaught of the digitized world has great and positive implications for publishing. Books can now be delivered weightlessly in a variety of digital and audio formats, all tailored to each customer's preference.

Technology is swiftly eroding the return system that has afflicted American publishers, but not those in other nations, since the 1930s. Ebooks and POD books are not returnable. Consignment distribution has meant that huge parasitic chains, like BN, have been able to stock their entire stores at minimal cost; the actual burden has been on the publishers, with BN delaying payment for its merchandise more or less indefinitely, at enormous cost to publishers, simply by returning books and using the credit to order new ones.

The transportation costs of moving books are enormous. Paper is heavy. The return system operates at high cost. All those heavy books have to be shipped, examined, warehoused, and resold or remaindered. And the accounting will be greatly simplified. Books delivered electronically are not only weightless, they are not subject to return, and that will be true of audio delivery as well. The enormous cost of hauling paper around, and warehousing paper, will be greatly diminished.

Another prospect is local printing in local bookstores, which also mitigates transportation costs. Customers can have the title of their choice manufactured in a few minutes, in cozy stores that feature display copies and covers more than actual titles, and trucking companies, UPS, the postal service, or FedEx won't get a nickel out of it, apart from delivering supplies to local stores.

Authors will benefit not only from higher royalties but also because the traditional reserve against returns will no longer be necessary in some cases, and authors will be paid promptly instead of having to wait several years. Publishers will be able to produce small editions profitably, which could revive mid-list titles and specialized editions. And that means that many fine authors, currently shut out of commercial publishing, could be profitably published.

Existing accounting is so complex that it eats deeply into publishers' budgets, but the elimination of consignment distribution will radically reduce accounting costs, and simplify royalties.

I am not worried about the collapse of the chains. That will not sink publishers, and will, after some initial difficulty, result in a far more rational and economic system of selling publishers' intellectual property in all forms. The chains are parasitic, burdening publishers with the cost of stocking those huge stores, and the publishers are well rid of them.

The industry is suddenly going light: much of that heavy paper, many of those semis full of books, most of those burdensome warehouses, most of the cost of packaging, including cover and jacket design, will disappear. Press a few buttons and an audio book will be transmitted to your personal listening device, including your computer. No more CDs to make and sell and mail.

There may be some chaos as the chains collapse, but the future of American publishing is as rosy as it gets.

[Reprinted from A Curmudgeon's Diary with permission.]


A beautiful bookstore; a day spent among friends...plus Absinthe!

On Saturday, September 4th, the Kansas City chapter of Sisters in Crime and the I Love A Mystery Bookstore hosted an Absinthe Party to celebrate the paperback release of The Second Glass of Absinthe.

I hope all in attendance had as much fun as I did. In addition to showing some of the absinthe-inspired works of art created by Manet, Van Gogh, Degas, and Picasso, I demonstrated the absinthe ritual and handed out little samples of the Green Muse to anyone curious about whether the fabled libation might enhance their creativity (as those 19th Century artists and poets claimed).



A few weeks ago, I re-published my 2001 novel, AN UNCOMMON ENEMY.  Originally published (and nearly forgotten) in the tragic week following September 11th, I believed the story deserved a second chance. The moral and political controversies raised after Custer’s attack on a peaceful Cheyenne camp on the Washita in 1868 were not so different from the questions faced by America in the wake of 9/11. I felt the issues posed still resonate, so I hoped the book might somehow find a new readership. 

I never imagined what would take place last Thursday night.

Kindle Nation, a blog for Kindle users, favorably reviewed the novel and posted its first chapter online. Within hours, the Amazon sales ranking jumped from #124,000th to #127th in the Kindle store.  By the next morning, AN UNCOMMON ENEMY was the #1 Western novel across ALL formats on Amazon, paper or pixel.  Number One!  The raw power of a single very influential blog to move an otherwise forgotten novel in this totally-new publishing landscape is striking. 

I also learned another lesson.  Bookstores--and the publishing industry itself--tend to force all books into narrow genres and all readers down narrow aisles.   Bloggers need not follow such dictates or conventions, and can allow their readers to self-sort their book selections without restriction.  The Kindle Nation blog, for instance, is ecumenically focused on all Kindle readers, regardless of book genre.  Think of the effect this had on my sales when Stephen Windwalker, of Kindle Nation, summed my book up this way: 

"If it weren't for my efforts to be genre-agnostic, I probably would not have gotten hooked on this novel. But the fact is that it can't be pigeon-holed in a genre; it's just a great story, well told, with totally unexpected, astonishingly well-imagined characters."

Kindle readers, who might never walk down the Western aisle of a Barnes and Noble, or read a western-themed magazine reviewing books of interest, were instantly exposed to my cross-genre novel.  (Which is more a general “historical novel” than a true “Western.”) For a brief moment, it did not have to compete for their attention with 120,000 other volumes lining the shelves and capping the ends of any bookstore.  

Bottom line: AN UNCOMMON ENEMY found an uncommon friend, for which I am very grateful.


Séance in Sepia

I have a new novel to announce:  Séance in Sepia is scheduled to be published in hard cover by Five Star Mysteries in October 2011.

The story begins in the present day when a woman buys an antique "spirit photograph" at an estate sale.  She doesn't know anything about spirit photography--all the rage in Victorian America--but when she puts the picture up for auction on Ebay and the bidding soars over a thousand dollars, she realizes she must find out more.

She soon learns that the three people pictured in the photo were the focus of a notorious murder case that rocked Chicago in 1875.  I will share more in the coming months but know that the working subtitle has always been:  Victoria Woodhull and the Free Love Murders.


On the airwaves

I had the enjoyable privilege yesterday to meet with two wonderful Kansas City-based mystery authors, Nancy Pickard and Joel Goldman. The three of us were interviewed on our local public radio station, KCUR, by Steve Kraske.
We spent the hour discussing the craft of mystery writing.
The show is now available as an mp3 stream on the station's website --click here:  KCUR.

If you haven't read it yet, Nancy's bestselling new book, The Scent of Rain and Lightning, is a stunner. As she did in The Virgin of Small Plains, Nancy evocatively captures the essence of rural prairie life in modern-day Kansas and the raw emotions that echo down the decades after a single night of terrifying violence.  Here is her website: http://www.nancypickard.com/

Joel's new book, No Way Out, will be in bookstores in just a few weeks.  This is the third installment in his exciting Jack Davis series.  Read more about it and check out a fantastic book trailer on his website:


Happy Pub Day

Today is the official publication day of the paperback version of "The Second Glass of Absinthe," but I am also excited to announce that the first Eden Murdoch novel, "An Uncommon Enemy," is also debuting this week as a Kindle edition.  
Buy it here for just $2.99.
You can read the first chapter on my website.

I have often been asked whether the character of Eden Murdoch was a real person, given that many characters in the novel did exist--Custer, Sheridan, Black Kettle. 

The answer is technically, no, she is a fictional creation, but she was inspired by two separate events. Custer mentioned in his field report, filed the morning after the battle, that they found the body of a white woman in Black Kettle's camp. He did not identify her and never mentioned her again, though he wrote extensively of the Washita Battle in later years.

The identity of this mystery woman has never been solved by scholars, but it must be assumed that it was not the body of another white captive, Clara Blinn, who was found a week later in another location. Despite this lack of documentation, General Sherman, 
Sheridan's superior, used it as conclusive proof that Custer struck a hostile camp, when he testified before Congress on the matter.
My novel poses the question, what if that woman had been found alive, and what if she did not tell the story the Army longed for her to tell? What if she instead gave an articulate report of the battle from the 
Cheyenne point of view?
Eden's character was inspired by the story of another white captive, Cynthia Ann Parker, a woman "captured twice," as Eden was. Parker was captured by the Comanches, lived among them, married into the tribe, and lived there for more than two decades before being "recaptured" by the Army and forced to return to white civilization against her will. She was never able to see her children again, one of whom grew up to be the great Comanche chief, Quannah Parker.


We're Going to Party Like It's 1899!

A date has just been set for an Absinthe Party to celebrate the paperback release of THE SECOND GLASS OF ABSINTHE.

The setting will be the beautiful I LOVE A MYSTERY BOOKSTORE in Mission, Kansas.  If you are a book lover, no visit to Kansas City would be complete without a stop--nay, a pilgrimage--to this wonderful store.  Styled like a Victorian library "with a twist," this shop reminds us all how delightful and special an independent bookstore can be.  Biblio-heaven!

On September 4, 2010, at 11:00am, the local chapter of Sisters in Crime will allow your humble author to hold forth on the mystical history of absinthe and demonstrate the absinthe drinking ritual.  Everyone (over 21, that is) will be given the opportunity to sample the fabled libation.  Now some might suggest that 11a.m. is a tad early in the day to be imbibing this highly alcoholic beverage, but in the immortal words of Jimmy Buffett, "It's five o'clock somewhere," right?

And just what is involved in the Absinthe Ritual?  My character, Kit Randall, describes his version in the opening pages of "SECOND GLASS":

"His thoughts returned to that bizarre absinthe dream. Why did it refuse to leave him? What had really happened here last night? In his only solid memory he had "watched the clouds come out." That was his euphemism for gazing at the slow, tantalizing process by which one prepares to drink the liqueur the French called la fée verte, the Green Fairy.

The light emerald liquid was dripped through sugar cubes that sat perched atop a slotted spoon. Icy water was then added which rendered a spectacular transformation. The clear green absinthe blossomed into a milky opalescence and was ready to sip.

He recalled settling back deep into the sea of sofa cushions in Lucinda's bohemian-inspired second parlor and staring up at the famous Eye Dazzler rug hanging on the wall. He loved to watch the bright zig-zagging pattern come alive. A thousand triangles danced before his eyes in a carefully terraced lockstep, vibrating red black white, red white black, hypnotizing him as it always did."

Absinthe spoons will be given as door prizes, so come indulge in delicious decadence and mysterious camraderie! We're going to party like it's 1899!


Tale of Two Covers

This coming August, my publisher, Macmillan, will release my historical mystery novel, THE SECOND GLASS OF ABSINTHE, in paperback. The cover design is markedly different between the original hardcover and the new, mass market paperback. In different ways, I like them both.
The older version, shown at left, is special in that it incorporated important elements of the novel. The painting of the woman holding the parrot is a real painting described in the book, only incorporated into the story in a fictional way. The painting is supposed to represent a portrait of the widowed heiress, Lucinda Ridenour, owner of the Eye Dazzler mine.
The absinthe bottle is colored too darkly emerald green to be “real” absinthe, which is a lighter, almost peridot, but, in the cover designer’s defense, absinthe was still illegal in the United States when the first cover was designed, so perhaps the artist did not know what real absinthe looked like. A forgivable mistake.
The “label” on the bottle shows a contemporary illustration of the town of Leadville, Colorado, the setting of the novel. This picture first appeared in Frank Leslie‘s Illustrated News in 1879, the year before the time of the novel, but clearly showing the “city in the clouds” at its busy, raucous best, which the novels details in some length.
The new cover also highlights the absinthe theme, but this time using an absinthe glass with a spoon and lump of sugar as its centerpiece. The color of the absinthe filling the glass is more accurately represented this time around, but absinthe has since been legalized and available at most larger liquor stores in the U.S..
The background again highlights a beautiful, sexy woman, who looks like trouble (that is, I am assuming the artist intended this woman to be Lucinda, rather than the novel’s amateur sleuth, Eden Murdoch, who has an exotic past of her own--detailed in the two prior novels, AN UNCOMMON ENEMY and ABSINTHE’s prequel, SOLOMON SPRING--but has never aspired to become a femme fatale.)
Which is my favorite? I love them both. The cover art is considered to be a major element in the marketing of the book, so I guess the most successful cover is one that entices the most potential readers to try the book. Only time will tell...