Monday, June 15, 2015

Archaeology and Murder News June 2015

Below is my occasional newsletter, reinvented to coincide with the debut of Burnt Siena ...


My newest novel, Burnt Siena, comes out this week (on June 17) from Five Star/Cengage Learning. It begins a new series (The Flora Garibaldi Art History Mysteries). Flora is a young paintings conservator, recently trained in Florence, Italy, who moves to Siena to take a new job with a firm of Italian painters and conservators. Anticipating a dream job using her advanced skills, she is disappointed when her employers sideline her doing menial tasks like mixing gesso and applying gold foil to picture frames. Then, a colleague is murdered and her new job takes her into dangerous territory: forging paintings and smuggling antiquities.
The book comes out simultaneously in Kindle and hardcover.
More murder news: I am re-reading Ellis Peters/Edith Pargeter for her terrific descriptions and wonderful plots. She’s best known for her Brother Cadfael mysteries, but did you know she had several pseudonyms and wrote over 50 books total?
Other news: I had a blast teaching a course on “Archaeology and the Bible” at our local Osher Lifelong Learning center this past semester. A hundred students, ages 50-90, kept me challenged with fascinating questions and showed far more engagement than most undergraduates. The most outrageous site we discussed was the double palace and lake (complete with island) built by Herod the Great at Herodion.
More archaeology news:
Wine-making, anyone? Discovery of ancient pressing floor in Israel by a teen-ager walking her dog!
When I teach archaeology, I point out the obvious: I don’t look at all like Indiana Jones. But this fictional character has changed the world view of archaeology. Check out this new exhibit put on by National Geographic.

And last but not least, mummy news: Researchers continue to make new discoveries about health of Egyptians in ancient times through CT scans and other techniques. But animal mummies also provide surprises: many of them were fakes.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A New Book Cover!

I am delighted to post my new book cover from Five Star. "Burnt Siena" takes place in Siena, Italy. There was some debate (mostly on my part) whether the title should be "Burnt Siena" after the city or "Burnt Sienna" after the painting pigment. As you will see, "Siena" won, and I am pleased because the cover captures both meanings: my favorite city on earth, and the warm brown tones of much of the architecture there.

This will be the first of a new series, the Flora Garibaldi Art History Mysteries. Flora, a paintings conservator, uses many traditional pigments in her restoration work.

Friday, July 18, 2014

After my hip replacement surgery in February, my mood soared when I heard that Five Star Publishing, part of Cengage Learning, had accepted "Burnt Siena" for publication! This is a very exciting development for me since I have worked with very small presses up until now. Five Star is well respected in the mystery field, and many libraries nationwide have standing orders for Five Star mysteries. The novel will appear in June 2015.

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.