Thursday, February 6, 2014

My next book...

"Burnt Siena" tells the story of a young conservator who discovers that she is working for an Italian family of traffickers in illegal antiquities. Some of them are also art forgers. Flora Garibaldi McDougal, the daughter of an Italian mother and a Scottish-American father, loves living and working in Siena, Italy, but is dismayed when her dream job becomes corrupted and a colleague is killed.

This book allowed me to invent a whole new set of characters (although Lisa Donahue makes a cameo appearance) and set the action in one of my favorite cities on earth. An international conference a few years ago gave me the opportunity to return to Siena for a week and soak up atmosphere, take pictures of potential scenes for the book, and indulge in my favorite pasta dishes. Our conference was housed in an old psychiatric hospital in the southern part of the city--a fact I could not resist using in the novel.

The research for this book was mesmerizing. The world of illegal antiquities smuggling is now well-documented in books and movies, and art forgery receives nearly as much press. I used books such as Roger Atwood's Stealing History: Tomb Raiders Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World and Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities—From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums. I incorporated my own experiences: traveling in Italy, working in painting conservation as a student at the Cincinnati Art Museum and visiting the Iceman museum in Bolzano.

"Burnt Siena" is currently being proofread before I submit it. I hope I can find a new publishing home for this novel, and that Flora will be the heroine of a new series.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The importance of a book cover that tells your story

Everyone knows the importance of a good-looking book cover, right? I thought I did too, until recently.

A few months ago, I was contacted by a German woman running a book review blog. She wanted me to know that she was posting about "Bound for Eternity," my second book in the Lisa Donahue series. She liked the story and the writing, but found the cover inadequate. I wrote her to ask why, and she told me that although the cover design was fine, the mummy image on the cover (perfectly intelligible to me) looked like "garbage" or a pile of rags to her. I had to admit she was right--to people who hadn't worked with that mummy and known that the deteriorated head contained the remains of a face portrait, it DID look like a pile of rags. Here is the old cover:

Lesson learned. I needed to step back from that project, where I'd been obsessed by the content, and look at the book through the eyes of someone who'd never seen it before. I needed a new cover that was instantly recognizable as a mummy in a museum, a cover that referenced the mystery within. "Bound for Eternity" is the story of an archaeologist who discovers that a clue contained in an Egyptian mummy will help her solve a murder in her Boston museum. The new cover, designed by Josue Atibalentja of NewgenIT (a brand new computer consulting business) and my daughter Emily, does a much better job of telling my story. Here is the new cover:

I liked the new cover so much that when Josue send me an alternate image, I asked if I could use it for the novella form of the longer book. That shorter work, in a Kindle version only, is called" Mummy Dearest." Here is the new cover: 


Monday, July 23, 2012

Bound for Eternity now a audiobook

A smooth publishing experience...how many times does that happen? Curious about how to get my books turned into audiobooks, I pick up an Iambik business card at a mystery conference. Back at home, I wrote to the company but heard nothing for a couple of months. Then, when I had forgotten all about it, I received an email that invited me to submit a book file and that the company was interested. Iambik is based in Montreal, so I was excited about reaching a new audience. Within a few months, I was contacted with three audio files of the first chapter to choose my narrator. While all three readers were good, Priscilla Holbrook's appealed to me the most (rich voice with undertones of humor, clearly having fun reading). I chose that mp3, and to my surprise and delight, Iambik also gave me a chance to review the audio proofs of the book!
Now Bound for Eternity is published in yet another format, and I cannot be more pleased: http://iambik.com/books/bound-for-eternity-by-sarah-wisseman/

Friday, June 22, 2012

Bootlegging in Illinois


In downtown Big Grove (a.k.a. Champaign, Illinois) there’s a new bar and restaurant called Seven Saints. It used to be a sporting goods store and before that, a drugstore—with a speakeasy on the second floor. According to a 1999 newspaper article, patrons of the speakeasy escaped out a back door into an adjoining building and through an underground steam tunnel to avoid Prohibition agents. This part of town, conveniently located near the railroad station, was chock-full of illegal speakeasies, “blind pigs,” gambling dens, and houses of ill repute during the 1920s. Blind pigs were legitimate stores such as laundries, candy stores, or lawyers’ offices that housed speakeasies hidden away in the back or on another floor.
                      
            When I began to write my first historical mystery, The Bootlegger’s Nephew, I thought my theme would be archaeology in its “Wild West” days, before it became an academic discipline. To my surprise, Prohibition and the practice of pre-antibiotics medicine took over. With the year 1923 as my starting point, I plunged into a world of cheerful corruption: bribery, transporting bad booze, and all kinds of illegal behavior by perfectly ordinary citizens. My research taught me about the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in Illinois and Indiana, rabid anti-immigrant prejudice, the changing roles of women, and birth control in the age of Margaret Sanger.

Unexpected characters strolled onto my stage. My protagonist, Doc Earl “Illinois” Junker, is a forty-year-old physician and an amateur archaeologist who accepts artifacts looted from local sites instead of cash for medical treatments. Doc Junker travels his community in his Model-T Ford dealing with farm accidents, difficult pregnancies, and illnesses caused by imbibing adulterated liquor along with prescription medicines and home remedies. His daughter Anna, a nursing student who frequents local speakeasies, helps him track down a murderer and break up a local gang of bootleggers.

Martha Junker, Anna’s mother and Earl’s wife, is the other heroine. Martha is a rather straight-laced German immigrant, the daughter of an alcoholic and a member of the local temperance league. Encouraged by a fellow immigrant, Martha breaks out of her usual roles of obedient wife and strict mother and becomes a bar maid in an effort to locate illegal liquor distribution hubs. >Born and raised on the East Coast, I had no clue the Midwest would become my home.  Writing this book led me to take an architectural history tour of our university town, visit local archives, sit mesmerized in front of Ken Burn’s PBS series on Prohibition, and soak up the stories of local residents. All this has enriched my appreciation of where I live.

Friday, January 27, 2012

New Editions and New Shorts

Happy New Year! I have joined the throng of authors making use of Amazon software to republish older works and add short stories to the Kindle bookstore that have appeared elsewhere.

In January, I prepared a new edition of "Bound for Eternity" on Amazon.com. This is exactly the same book that was first published in 2005 with a yellow and white cover, but it has been edited slightly to remove typos and has a new cover. The new edition is also cheaper! The same story appears (for only $2.99) as a Kindle edition here.

Just to confuse readers even more, I created a novella version of Bound for Eternity (the challenge was to reduce over 60,000 words to less than 25,000!). Because the shortened version required removing a couple of subplots and a major character, the short version is now called "Mummy Dearest."  The novel is also a Kindle ebook.

I have also taken advantage of Amazon's user-friendly Kindle platform to post short stories previously published in the ezine Mysterical-E, "Heaven for Roosters" and Wings EPress, "Then, Fall Caesar."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What’s more important, plot or character?

This post is part of a Rolling Blog Tour--check out the other entries at the end


Actually, I hate this question—which is why I chose to write about it today. Plot or character?  Both. They are intertwined and you can’t have a good mystery story without both. The events of the plot fuel reactions from the characters, and these reactions reveal human strengths and flaws that engage the reader. For example, in my first mystery, Bound for Eternity, Lisa Donahue finds a body in her museum’s mummy case at night. She keeps her cool long enough to get her daughter out of the way and call the police and, and then discovers her legs feel like cold linguini. She’s a good enough mom to want to protect her daughter, but she trembles with fear and horror when she realizes the dead body is that of a friend and colleague. Why is she messing around with a mummy after 5 pm? Because she’s just taken it for a CT scan at a local hospital. The mummy is the star of the plot, because everything revolves around it.

Just to make the question more complicated, one of the other “characters” is a also the setting: a creepy old attic museum with pigeons flying in and out of broken windows, no air conditioning, and an archaic security system. This attic museum, just like the one where I worked as a curator early in my career, inspired the story in the first place: it is such an delightful setting for a murder.

One of the villains in my third mystery, The Fall of Augustus, is The Boss Everyone Loves to Hate—a domineering woman who enjoys manipulating the emotions and actions of her primarily female staff. The sound of her high heels clack-clacking down the hall makes Lisa and her fellow employees flinch and shiver as they wonder what new public humiliation is in store. This character, like many obvious obnoxious people, fuels the plot because she generates hatred and fear—and the reader immediately wonders if she will be a murder victim.

The best villains are the ones who are not cardboard characters, but flesh-and-blood people with some redeeming characteristics as well as flaws. Their complicated pasts provide plot twists for the writer to explore, making the mystery a many-layered treat for the reader.

Visit the other writers and blogs at:

Mollie Bryan http://www.molliecoxbryan.comKathleen Kaska http://www.kathleenkaskawrites.blogspot.com,


Saturday, August 6, 2011

WRITERS CONFERENCES: TO GO OR NOT TO GO?

This post is part of a rolling blog--see the list at the end for other writers who have posted on the same topic.
Conferences?  Exhilarating, expensive, exhausting, but never a waste of time. At each one I’ve been to, I’ve made new friends and connections. And at one, Love is Murder in Chicago (every February) I connected with two of my current small press editors. Love is Murder celebrates the entire mystery genre from hard-boiled to cozy, with all things in between. We have the Poison Lady (a.k.a. Luci Zahray , a pharmacist in her day job) who teaches us how to poison our characters, and cops-turned-writers teaching us about crime scenes and guns. When these guys set up a mock crime scene, they give two prizes for interpretation: 1) most accurate, and 2) most creative…Other favorite conferences are Magna cum Murder , a lively weekend conference in Indiana in October, and Malice Domestic , a medium sized house party in Maryland/D.C. every late April. Unlike LIM, Malice attracts the writers of cozies and traditional whodunit mysteries, a la Agatha Christie (not surprisingly, the coveted Agatha award is a teapot).

The only conference I’ve attended in my pajamas, though, was an online mystery con sponsored by Poisoned Pen Press a few years ago. It was great fun—we had podcasts, chat rooms, video conferencing, and asynchronous posts on all the usual topics. People I met online later showed up in person at other cons.

What all of this conferences have in common is camaraderie and the joy of interacting with people. Since writing is a lonely business most of the time, writers love to mingle and swap experiences as well as meet fans, potential readers, editors, and agents. There’s another advantage: some editors and agents are so overwhelmed with submissions that they are choosing to accept manuscripts only from people they’ve met at conferences. And doing a pitch session (speed-dating for writers) is a great way to make that crucial connection.

Best of all, I come home happy and energized and convinced that I want to keep writing as long as I can hold a pen or tap on a keyboard.

Check out the next blog in this roll by Kathleen Kaska.

And also: KT Wagner http://www.northernlightsgothic.com/blog
Mollie Bryan http://www.molliecoxbryan.com
Ryder Islington http://www.ryderislington.wordpress.com