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Interview with Historical Author Susanna Calkins about her 17th Century London Mystery Series

Today, I have an interview with historical mystery author Susanna Calkins, after previously publishing a review of her third novel earlier today! To read my review of The Masque of the Murderer, which releases mid-April 2015, read HERE.

Enjoy!

Hi Susie, welcome back to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! Always a pleasure to have you here with us! This time, you’ve recently had your second historical mystery book, From the Charred Remains, publish in paperback (3/17/15) and your third book, The Masque of the Murderer,  is about to release! You’ve come a long way fast since we first featured the first book in your Lucy Campion Mystery Series! How does it feel to have a third book coming out?

Susanna: Thank you so much for having me! These last few years have been such a blur, but it feels wonderful to see my third Lucy Campion mystery out and about in the world.

Erin: Yes, you are a very busy woman! We are fairly close in proximity, with you in Illinois and I in Ohio (though I know you are native Pennsylvanian!) so I thank you for blowing in from the land of the Windy City and into chilly Ohio. Let’s put on a pot of tea, let’s do something English? I might have some English Breakfast tea today. What would care for? Sugar and cream?

Susanna: Delightful! I’ll take mine with a little honey, if you have any.

Erin: Wonderful! I’ll pour right after I bring in some fresh baked mini-almond cakes! And now, we’ll have a seat and chat for awhile together. Let’s get started!

Susanna: Alright!

Q: You debuted as an historical mystery author in 2013 with A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, first in the Lucy Campion Mystery Series set in 17th Century London.  How does that first launch (in terms of nerves and know-how), and that first book (in terms of writing), compare with your third year of publishing and the upcoming third novel/writing the fourth?

Murder at..

A: That is a great question. I wrote my first novel in a little cocoon for years and years (well, let’s be honest, essentially a decade) just as my own personal pleasure.  So it was extremely nerve-wracking when I put my book out into the world.  Even my second novel, From the Charred Remains, was written in a little bubble, because I completed it before anyone had read the first. This third novel, The Masque of a Murderer, was the first one I wrote while actively promoting the first two. So some things are easier now, because I understand the process, and some things are more challenging, in terms of timing.

Q: What has been the best thing, or most useful thing, that you’ve discovered over these last several years of experience in writing a mystery series?

A: This probably seems obvious, but I never understood until From the Charred Remains came out that I am always promoting my first book.  And that makes complete sense—most people wish to read a book from the beginning of my series. Although I did write each book so that it could be read separately, I can see why people like to see how Lucy’s story began, and how she has grown over the first three books.

Q: When you first wrote A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, were you planning to create this series with Lucy at the helm? Can you explain, either way, about the process?

A: No, I didn’t even really understand the concept of “series potential,” because I was so new to publishing. So I did write the first book as a standalone, but I was quite sad when I finished because I wanted Lucy’s story to continue.  What happens after the Great Fire anyway…?

Q: In the second book, From the Charred Remains, I particularly liked the apprenticeship/assistant job that you created for Lucy, primarily since I love journalism and print publishing so much. I have a penchant for the history of print news and books. How did you research this particular business of the time, from the intricacies of the printing press to its role in society? What did you learn that intrigued you the most?

Charred Remains

A: When I was a graduate student in history, and later as a historian, I spent a lot of time reading through the cheap print of the 17th century—the strange and odd things that people wrote (“Strange News from Kent!” “A True Account of a Most Cruel Murder!”; “The Monster from York,” etc).  Additionally, I was intrigued by the print-making and bookselling trades—which actually were two separate trades, which I collapsed into one. When I started to read about how printing presses actually worked, I was fascinated by the way printers actually regarded the presses, almost as their wayward children or servants. They “bled” ink, they sometimes stopped working like recalcitrant servants etc.  So I found that pretty interesting.

Q: I’m assuming it would be terribly hard to find a way for a woman of the 17th century to not only be allowed to roam around single, but also to be privy to enough news to investigate anything more easily! In Sam Thomas’s books, he used a midwife, you’ve chosen to my delight to make Lucy a printer’s apprentice, allowing her to know all the latest news as well as be able to move around the streets on writing missions or selling of books. Do you feel it was important for a female to be featured as the lead amateur detective in your novel, why or why not?

A:Well, as a historian of women’s history, I’ve long been astounded by how women were so easily written out of history. Even if found a way to transcend the constraints around them, their accomplishments were often dismissed as unimportant. So, yes, to me, I wanted my lead to be female. And women who were servants or in trade actually had more freedom than gentlewomen and noblewomen.

Q: I think your characterization of Lucy was so well-done. I feel so connected to Lucy and am excited to read more of her adventures. She seems authentic and inquisitive. How did you construct her character? What personality traits did you intended for her to have as you wrote her onto the page?

A: I wanted Lucy to be curious about the world, and inquisitive in nature.  I also wanted her to be someone who sought to improve herself, by learning to read and write, which then opened her mind to bigger questions about bigger issues in the world. Throughout time and across the globe, there have always been people who managed to overcome humble beginnings, and I thought Lucy could be one of those people. I had to give her enough agency as well that if a murder happened and someone she knows is accused of the crime that she wouldn’t just say, “Alas, that’s a shame. But there’s nothing I can do.” It wouldn’t make for a very fun sleuth! 😉

Q: Is she destined to be single, or is romance coming within book three or four? Why or why not?

A:I have struggled with this a bit. Lucy does have two potential love interests—Adam Hargrave, the son of the magistrate, and someone whom I introduced more fully in book two, Constable Duncan.  Adam—her first love—is a bit above her station, which she clearly understands, while Duncan is a bit more at her level.  However, despite popular perceptions to the contrary, people in the laboring class and those of the “middling sort” actually did not get married until they were closer to age 25, because they needed time to establish themselves.  Only people of the upper class married when they were younger. So it is actually not that strange that Lucy would wish to hold off. She also knows that if she married Adam, she is likely to have to give up her occupation as a printer, which gives her pause as well.

Q: The 17th Century, and Restoration England/London, was a time and place dealing with much social, political, and religious upheaval. How did this play into your novel? Were there any lessons you hoped readers would pick up on in regards to social injustices, or did you just intended it to be more of an overall education of the time period intermixed with your mystery plot? These questions pertain to all or any of your books.

A: Another great question! I did deliberately bring in these larger social-cultural themes because I have always been interested in how those forces play out in the everyday lives of real people. Even though I am an educator, I did not mean the books to be textbooks, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised when readers say they have learned from reading my book.

Q: By the third book, The Masque of a Murderer, does Lucy decide that she enjoys figuring out these crimes or does she still feel like they keep falling into her lap? How or why?

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A: Lucy has been characterized as a “reluctant sleuth” by others, and I think that is an accurate depiction. She’s not hanging out the proverbial shingle as a detective; I’ve tried to design the mysteries that come her way as personal—she needs to become involved because someone she loves might be injured or blamed for a crime.

Q: How does The Masque of a Murderer differ from From the Charred Remains? This could be in historical foundation, characters, plot, etc.

A: The Masque of a Murderer is set a few months after From the Charred Remains leaves off. I set this one in the midst of a Quaker community, so I may have emphasized the ongoing religious tensions even more in this book. All of my books seem to bring in the idea of identity theft—because the communal ties were so disrupted by the plague and the Great Fire, that people could say they were someone else, and their neighbors are no longer around to deny or confirm their claims.

Q: I know there is a fourth novel on the way. What kind of historical research, if more, will you be doing for this novel in the series? What will be happening in London during the plot of book four?

A: I am currently writing A Death along the River Fleet. It is going to deal with madness and witchcraft. Yes, I always do a lot of research, reading books, and reading primary sources to support the fictional parts.

Q: Will there be more books in the Lucy Campion Mystery Series beyond book four that you are presently writing? Will you take on the 18th Century in London?

A: Fun question! I’ve decided that each book will only cover a few months of Lucy’s life at a time now. At this point I’m not contracted for books beyond A Death along the River Fleet, but I have a number of ideas that get me through the 1670s.  I’m not sure I can bring Lucy up to the 18th century or not…

Erin: Of course she may not, but you never know when a family member might come along and continue the legacy!

Q: Do you hope to write anything beyond this mystery series? What other times and places, or types of books, do you think about writing on? Pirates, maybe? 😉

A: I had actually thought about pirates, since I was a pirate in 16th century London. (well, I served aboard a replica of the 16th century Golden Hinde, which is currently dry-docked in the Thames. We were tour guides during the week, and pirates on the weekends. Not a bad gig. But I digress). I was interested in real pirate Mary Reed. However, I did write two other books, temporarily in the drawer, one set in 1930s Chicago, the other set in the sewers of Paris, set in late 19th century.

Q: Who is one of your favorite women, or role models, in history? Why or why not?

A: While I admire women like Queen Elizabeth and Eleanore Roosevelt, I really just admire lesser-known women who managed to write books even when people said they shouldn’t.  Like most of the Quaker women I studied in graduate schools.

Q: If you could travel this summer, where would you go and what kind of food would you beat the pavement to enjoy?

A: While I always enjoy travelling in England, Ireland and Scotland (and there are many places I’ve never been, like Wales, which I’d like to go), I have to admit everywhere I go after trying the local cuisine, I usually seek out an Indian restaurant, as that is my favorite cuisine. One day I am hoping to travel to India as well.

Q: I know you’ve been shortlisted for several awards for your books, which must feel tremendous! What an achievement! What do you feel is another success story for you?

A: Thank you. It has been such an honor to be nominated for a few historical mystery awards.  I guess as an author with a traditional press, I will view another contract as a huge success. I would, at some point, love to see the other books I’ve mentioned published as well.

Q: I’m glad to see historical mysteries of the rise. Do have any classic favorite mystery writers? Any current ones? What do you love the most about writing mysteries?

A: I grew up on Agatha Christie, so she is a personal favorite. But Anne Perry, Rhys Bowen, Charles Todd, Tasha Alexander, and Charles Finch all inspired me to write historical mysteries. And I have to say, its been such an honor and privilege to have met them all.  As for writing mysteries, I just love the puzzle of it all. Writing itself is a bit of a puzzle, and thinking through a mystery in particular, is my favorite type of puzzle.

Erin: Susie, thank you so much for sharing so much of yourself, your work, and your time with me! It’s always a joy to have you stop by. I wish you much success with entire series! 🙂

Susanna: You’re wonderful! Thanks for all you do for readers and authors alike.

Erin:  My pleasure!

02_The Masque of a Murderer_Cover

The Masque of the Murderer, Synopsis~

Publication Date: April 14, 2015
Minotaur Books/St. Martin’s Press
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Pages: 323

Series: Book Three, Lucy Campion Mysteries
Genre: Historical Mystery

GoodReads

In Susanna Calkins’ next richly drawn mystery set in 17th century England, Lucy Campion, formerly a ladies’ maid in the local magistrate’s household, has now found gainful employment as a printer’s apprentice. On a freezing winter afternoon in 1667, she accompanies the magistrate’s daughter, Sarah, to the home of a severely injured Quaker man to record his dying words, a common practice of the time. The man, having been trampled by a horse and cart the night before, only has a few hours left to live. Lucy scribbles down the Quaker man’s last utterances, but she’s unprepared for what he reveals to her—that someone deliberately pushed him into the path of the horse, because of a secret he had recently uncovered.

Fearful that Sarah might be traveling in the company of a murderer, Lucy feels compelled to seek the truth, with the help of the magistrate’s son, Adam, and the local constable. But delving into the dead man’s background might prove more dangerous than any of them had imagined.

In The Masque of a Murderer, Susanna Calkins has once again combined finely wrought characters, a richly detailed historical atmosphere, and a tightly-plotted mystery into a compelling read.

Lucy Campion Mystery Series Titles

Book One: A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate
Macavity Award Finalist Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award (2014)
Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s Selection (“Mystery Pick” and “Featured New Arrival”)
Chicago Book Review – Best Books of 2013

Book Two: From the Charred Remains (Paperback release on March 17, 2015)
Short-listed for the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award (2015)

Book Three: The Masque of a Murderer (coming April 2015!)

Praise for the Lucy Campion Mystery Series~

“…the high-quality writing augurs well for future outings.” -Publisher’s Weekly

“Calkins makes Lucy’s efforts to find the real killer entirely plausible, leading to a nail-biter climax with London in flames. This history-mystery delivers a strong heroine making her way through the social labyrinth of Restoration London.” -Booklist

“Calkins’ debut mystery places her unusual detective in a world rich in carefully researched historical detail.” -Kirkus

“A historical mystery with originality and great attention to detail. Readers are transported to 17th century England, a time when social classes were just beginning to change. The characters are multi-dimensional–including the smart, adventurous Lucy Campion–and the mystery will keep readers turning the pages, and they’ll eagerly await the next book in the series.” RT Book Reviews (4 Stars)

“…an intricate tale of fraud and blackmail, leavened by a touch of romance. Calkins, who holds a doctorate in British history, puts her knowledge to sparkling use in this intriguing mystery, which combines a gripping plot with rich historical detail and one of the most admirable protagonists in the genre.” -The Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Calkins is able to seamlessly weave this romance into the story without making it the main plot line, and keeping the mystery the main focus of the story….The puzzles, anagrams, and many secrets combine to make intertwining plot twists that keep the pages turning. FROM THE CHARRED REMAINS is an exciting, secret filled, historical mystery that will keep readers guessing until the very end.” –Fresh Fiction (Reviewer’s Pick)

“A good yarn and a fascinating look at life in England in a time when things began to change…social classes, positions, servants’ rights…all because of plague and fire.” -Book Babe Blog

“For me, this book was more than a mystery. It was an eye-opening look at what London was like in the mid-1660s, including the plague and fire that ravaged London, class struggle, the plight of women, and the laws of the time. The author’s engaging writing style made it easy to slip back into the past and experience these things with Lucy.” -Book of Secrets

“A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate is Susanna Calkins’ absorbing debut novel. Just a warning that time WILL easily slip away as you become engrossed in this historical fiction mystery.” -1776 Books: A Philadelphian’s Literary Journey

Pre-Order the Book~

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Author Susanna Calkins, Biography~

calkinsBorn and raised in Philadelphia, Susanna Calkins lives in Highland Park, Illinois with her husband and two sons, where she is an educator at Northwestern University.

With a PhD in history, her historical mysteries feature Lucy Campion, a 17th century chambermaid-turned-printer’s apprentice. Her first novel, A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, was a finalist for the Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award (Macavity).

The second in this series, From the Charred Remains, is currently a finalist for the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award. Her third, The Masque of a Murderer, will be released in April 2015.

For more information and to subscribe to Susanna Calkins’ newsletter please visit her website. You can also follow her blog, and connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/themasqueofamurdererblogtour/

Hashtags: #TheMasqueofaMurdererBlogTour #HistoricalMystery #History #SusannaCalkins

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @scalkins3 @MinotaurBooks

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Susan Spann Talks with Me about Writing Mysteries, Asian Fascination, and Raising Seahorses!

Today I have a wonderful mystery…the mystery behind the writing, reading, and seahorse raising life of Susan Spann! Just kidding, it’s not a mystery, but the interview is great and I hope you stay and enjoy the read! Maybe see what her favorite Agatha Christie mystery is? If you missed my review yesterday, in which I raved about the book,  you can view it HERE. Enjoy!

Blade of the Samurai

Hi, Susan! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! It’s not 16th Century Japan, but I’ll try to make you at home here as well and we’ll talk about your life and your books.

Just take off your shoes and have a sit on the mat with me. I’ll call for tea. What kinds of tea would you prefer today?

Susan: I’d love some white jasmine tea – it’s my favorite, especially the pearl-shaped kind!

Erin: I’ll have what you’re having! That sounds delightful. Let’s settle in and get started.

Q: It sounds like the history and culture of China and Japan have always intrigued you, even before you went into law. What was the catalyst for this interest? What motivates you about the subject?

A: I “discovered” Japan in 1980, when I saw the SHOGUN miniseries on TV (the one with Richard Chamberlain in the starring role). The day the miniseries ended, I went to the library, checked out the James Clavell novel that inspired the program, and fell in love with the samurai era.

Ironically, my deeper interest in Asian history came from a book I never read. In 1983 (and yes, I’m dating myself a little), my seventh-grade history class was assigned to read a book called THROUGH CHINESE EYES, which talked about Asian history through the eyes of the people who lived it. Before that, I thought of history as “dates and dead guys” – but when my class ran out of time and didn’t get to reading that book, it made me wonder what I might have missed. Now, of course, I realize that I could have read the book on my own, but seventh-grade me considered the “missing book” an intriguing mystery to the “real” nature of history.

By the time I reached college, and discovered that “Asian Studies” was “a thing,” I dove right in and never looked back.

Q: You started reading Agatha Christie at a young age. I am a huge fan! What is your favorite mystery that she has written? What techniques does she use that all mystery writers still today can study?

A: My favorite Agatha Christie novel is The Floating Admiral, ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Floating_Admiral)) a novel she co-authored with thirteen other mystery writers as a collaborative game. Each author wrote one chapter, continuing the story with no knowledge of the “solution” the previous author(s) had in mind, but which must account for or include the clues and suspects presented in previous chapters. It’s a delightful exercise in mystery, and a fun novel on many levels.

As far as her independent works, my favorite is Murder on the Orient Express. It was one of the first mystery novels I ever read (I was ten years old, and got it from the library), and I still remember being shocked and delighted that my love of puzzles could “translate” into books.

I’m a huge fan of the way Christie’s detectives (Poirot is my favorite, by the way) often “reveal” the solution in a room filled with suspects, using the explanation to draw a confession from the guilty party. I love it so much, I’ve deliberately included it in my novels, too!

Erin: Murder on the Orient Express is one of my top favorites of her also. I was shocked that my love of trains, mysteries, writing could all assemble!

Q: I’m sure your love of mysteries helped to inspire you to write them too! Was it fun to merge two of your favorites together (mysteries and cultural/historical Japan)? What made you decide to write this kind of fiction, beyond your love of both things?

A: I was attacked by ninjas! Well, in reality it wasn’t quite that glamorous. I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, getting ready for work, one morning in 2011, and I had a random thought: “Most ninjas commit murders, but Hiro Hattori solves them.”

I knew immediately that this was a book, and a series, I had to write.

Q: When you started out did you find it easier or harder to write a mystery than you expected? What challenges did you have and what breakthroughs? What did you do differently the second time that you learned from the first?

A: I’d resisted writing a mystery, despite my love for the genre, because I was afraid I’d do it badly. But when I actually sat down to write, the pieces fell into place much faster and more easily than I imagined. By the time I finished writing the first Shinobi Mystery, Claws of the Cat, I realized I’d found my writing niche.

One of the biggest challenges, for me, is narrowing the “cast list.” Every novel I write starts out with 3-5 extra characters who seem important in the outline but end up as “fifth wheels” when the drafting starts. I normally either meld them into other characters or cut them out of the book completely. Whatever role they supposedly filled gets handed to someone else.

The biggest change I made in writing Blade of the Samurai, which I continued to use in the third book Flask of the Drunken Master, and am using while writing the fourth novel also, is the elimination of chapter breaks in the early drafts. I write sequentially (some writers skip around in the scenes, but I write my novels straight through, start to finish), and writing without any chapter breaks lets me focus on the story as a whole. By the time I reach draft 3, I can see where the natural breaks arise, so that’s when I add the “chapters.”

Q: How do you create your characters? Are they outlined and determined with strict guidelines or do they call the shots?

A: A little of both.

I outline every novel, and my outlines include a name and short biography of every character (primary and secondary) who has a “speaking role” in the novel. I try to develop the characters as much as I can before I start writing, because it helps to create more depth – the more real they are to me, the more real they seem on the page.

Once the drafting starts, however, I let the characters off the leash—and anything can happen. My newest novel Blade of the Samurai, features a teenaged samurai named Ichiro who wasn’t even in the original outline but ultimately proved critical to the story. I love surprises, and discovering a new, favorite character in the drafting process is an excellent surprise.

Q: You like martial arts, so do you practice any? Or are you just like me and enjoy watching them? Ever since Karate Kid and the American Ninja movies, I’ve been hooked. What types do you enjoy, either doing, studying, or watching?

A: I’ve studied Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido, and some traditional sword and archery arts, as well as a little knife and shuriken throwing. I’ve always wanted to study Aikido and Kendo, and I’m hoping to find a place to do that soon.

Q: How do you learn to “write” ninja action into a fiction novel? What did you have to learn to do so precisely and with momentum enough for readers? Do you write like for the screen or with more details for die-hard readers?

A: It helped to study martial arts, both in person and by watching other practitioners sparring. When you’ve held a sword, and taken a punch, you develop a sense of what’s possible (and what’s not). I tend to think visually, and I watch a lot of movies, so that definitely plays into the writing, too.

Q: Are your mystery novels purely fiction or do you have any historical fact interwoven into them? What is your overall plot line for the series or are they stand alone mysteries?

A: Hiro and Father Mateo are purely fictitious, and the plots all center on “made-up murders,” but the backdrop and some of the secondary characters in my novels are based on historical fact. I try to weave at least one “real” historical subplot into each book in the series – in Blade of the Samurai, it has to do with the shogun, though I can’t tell you more without spoilers! The way the subplot unfolds doesn’t always track the history exactly. I do take some license there, though I try not to write anything that contradicts known historical facts in a significant way if I can help it.

The books also feature “real” historical figures, in supporting roles, though obviously I have to fictionalize them for the novels. Blade of the Samurai introduces Matsunaga Hisahide, a real Japanese warlord who played a major role in Japanese history during the mid-16th century. He’s well-known in Japan, so I felt a great responsibility to write him as well as possible.

I do have an over-arching plot line for the series, even though each novel is stand-alone. As the series continues, readers will learn more about Hiro’s mysterious background, and more about Father Mateo and the other recurring characters too!

Q: I can’t NOT ask this question, based on the fact that I am a seahorse fanatic, you raise seahorses??! How adorable. Also, rare sea coral? Please do tell, I’m very interested in how easy or difficult this is within an aquarium. Do they ever beg for face time in your novels?

A: I’ve loved seahorses all my life, and jumped at the chance to set up a seahorse reef when I started working from home five years ago. They do take a little extra care – for example, they don’t have stomachs like most creatures do, so they have to eat at least once, and preferably twice, each day – but they’re remarkably interactive and totally worth the extra effort.

They don’t beg for face time in the novels, but they DO beg for food. The tank sits directly to the right of my writing desk, and the female spends her evenings tapping the glass with her snout and swimming up and down to get my attention. When I do turn and look, she swims to the spot where I put her food and looks at me, clearly hoping I get the point. I didn’t realize how smart, and how interactive, seahorses really were until I started raising them. They’re remarkable little creatures!

Q: I also know of course that you are an attorney and you help authors with publishing law. That’s fantastic. Besides your help on Twitter (@susanspann) with the hashtag, #PubLaw, why do authors need assistance in this regard and what do you do to lead them in the right direction? Do you take clients from anywhere or stay focused in your location?

A: Many authors get so excited by the prospect (or offer) of a publishing contract that they don’t stop to consider the “fine print” in the contract. This can be dangerous, because the contract governs the relationship between the author and the publisher, and once it’s signed there’s no “going back” unless both sides agree to change the terms (which almost never happens). My goal with #PubLaw is to help spread the word about important contract terms – the ones to look for and the ones to avoid – and to encourage writers to get legal help with contracts, from an agent or attorney, whenever possible.

Most of my clients do live in California, but when the circumstances and lawyers’ licensing rules permit, I take clients who live outside the state as well.

Q: Your first mystery novel, Claws of the Cat, did very well and was named a Library Journal Mystery Novel of the Month. Of course, I know you are hoping for more good news with Blade of the Samurai. But will there be more in the series? What’s coming next?

A: The third Shinobi Mystery, Flask of the Drunken Master, is already with the publisher, and I’m working on the fourth installment, under the working title Blood of the Outcast. That title might change, but Flask of the Drunken Master will publish under that title in July 2015!

Q: Where can readers and writers connect with you?

A: The best way to reach me is either via my website (http://www.susanspann.com) – there’s an email widget there on the contact page – or on Facebook (I’m SusanSpannAuthor) or Twitter (@SusanSpann). I love to connect with readers and other authors, so I welcome email, tweets and Facebook messages!

Erin: Thank you so very much for coming by Susan to tell us a little about yourself, your love of Japanese culture, your novels, and your cute seahorses. Best of luck to you with your writing! Will be happy to see you back when you release your next book!

Susan: Thank you for having me here, Erin! I had a great time talking with you, and appreciate the chance to talk with you and your readers about the Shinobi Mysteries, law, and seahorses!

Blade of the Samurai, Synopsis~

Blade of the SamuraiPublication Date: July 15, 2014
Minotaur Books
Formats: eBook, Hardcover

Series: Shinobi Mystery
Genre: Historical Mystery

READ AN EXCERPT.

June, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori receives a pre-dawn visit from Kazu, a fellow shinobi working undercover at the shogunate. Hours before, the Shogun’s cousin, Saburo, was stabbed to death in the Shogun’s palace. The murder weapon: Kazu’s personal dagger. Kazu says he’s innocent, and begs for Hiro’s help, but his story gives Hiro reason to doubt the young shinobi’s claims.

When the Shogun summons Hiro and Father Mateo, the Jesuit priest under Hiro’s protection, to find the killer, Hiro finds himself forced to choose between friendship and personal honor.

The investigation reveals a plot to assassinate the Shogun and overthrow the ruling Ashikaga clan. With Lord Oda’s enemy forces approaching Kyoto, and the murderer poised to strike again, Hiro must use his assassin’s skills to reveal the killer’s identity and protect the Shogun at any cost. Kazu, now trapped in the city, still refuses to explain his whereabouts at the time of the murder. But a suspicious shogunate maid, Saburo’s wife, and the Shogun’s stable master also had reasons to want Saburo dead. With the Shogun demanding the murderer’s head before Lord Oda reaches the city, Hiro and Father Mateo must produce the killer in time … or die in his place.

Blade of the Samurai is a complex mystery that will transport readers to a thrilling and unforgettable adventure in 16th century Japan.

Book One of the Shinobi Mysteries series, Claws of the Cat, was released in 2013.

Praise for Blade of the Samurai~

“The second Hiro Hattori mystery (after 2013’s Claws of the Cat) finds the sixteenth-century ninja—and unofficial investigator—presented with an interesting problem…A strong second entry in a very promising series.”—Booklist

“Hiro and Father Mateo’s second adventure (Claws of the Cat, 2013) combines enlightenment on 16th-century Japanese life with a sharp and well-integrated mystery.”—Kirkus Reveiws

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Author Susan Spann, Biography~

Susan Spann 1Susan Spann acquired her love of books and reading during her preschool days in Santa Monica, California. As a child she read everything from National Geographic to Agatha Christie. In high school, she once turned a short-story assignment into a full-length fantasy novel (which, fortunately, will never see the light of day).

A yearning to experience different cultures sent Susan to Tufts University in Boston, where she immersed herself in the history and culture of China and Japan. After earning an undergraduate degree in Asian Studies, Susan diverted to law school. She returned to California to practice law, where her continuing love of books has led her to specialize in intellectual property, business and publishing contracts.

Susan’s interest in Japanese history, martial arts, and mystery inspired her to write the Shinobi Mystery series featuring Hiro Hattori, a sixteenth-century ninja who brings murderers to justice with the help of Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit priest. When not writing or representing clients, Susan enjoys traditional archery, martial arts, horseback riding, online gaming, and raising seahorses and rare corals in her highly distracting marine aquarium. Susan lives in Sacramento with her husband, son, three cats, one bird, and a multitude of assorted aquatic creatures.

For more information please visit Susan Spann’s website and blog.  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate by Susanna Calkins is a Must Read 17th Century English Mystery

Murder at..This week, Susanna Calkins introduced A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, her 17th Century Murder Mystery. If you are reading only a few historical mysteries this year, I recommend please putting this one on your list! The cover will outright lure you in, but the tale itself will hold you in its grasp until the very last pages.

By the first 100 pages or so, in which she introduced her characters, set the scene, and gave us a murderer to ferret out, Calkins was able to already have me feeling connected to her characters, in tune to their personality quirks, captivated by their emotions, and feeling a friendship with Lucy, her protagonist who is a chambermaid in the house of a magistrate.

I loved Calkins use of creative participants such as the painter, gypsy fortune tellers, and other off-beat cast of characters who portrayed the more “seedy” dealings of society the common places, the dirty streets of London, and even in the homes of high society.  Most primarily I liked her use of the murderer leaving “a note” that was found with the body and the use of a legend of the lover’s park. Calkins brought to me, as a reader, fresh characters that many people don’t always use in their historical writings. Her story is original and her characters real.

I felt like I was reading Downtown Abbey mixed with the adventures of the London streets that comes with gossips, servants, drunks, and well….murder, reminiscent of Jack the Ripper. The mystery takes us on a thought-provoking adventure as we see how lives intersect, even between classes, and discover the mystery.  During this journey, we also can sense Lucy gathering an amazing amount of self-confidence and self-worth.

Lucy is quite the female–not overly aggressive, but yet independent. Emotional, yet rational. Analytical, yet compassionate. Virtuous and endearing. I love her!! I hope that Calkins does a series with Lucy, you know the type of character who is always trying to go around living life and saying she isn’t a detective, BUT murder just seems to fall in her lap and she can’t help solving it? (hint, hint)

I don’t want to give too much away, but the murderer probably won’t be who you thought either. She does a wonderful job of leading up to a fantastic finale! I like how Calkins used a smaller cast of characters in a condensed and not overly done setting, which reminded me of some of Agatha Christie’s earlier mysteries. Her character development is superb and her mystery plot exciting and entertaining. I enjoyed guessing the clues along with Lucy.

I am very pleased with Susanna Calkins debut mystery novel and I look forward to much more writing from her. The mystery had an endearing cast of characters, a quaint setting that allowed for a more proper character led plot, a mystery that kept me guessing, a fantastic use of historical details and life struggles, and some great writing that flowed smooth as a pen on paper.

A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate: A Mystery, Synopsis~

Murder at..Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press (April 23, 2013)

When someone she loves faces hanging for the murder of a fellow servant, Lucy Campion—a seventeenth-century English chambermaid—must interpret the clues hidden in miniature portraits, popular ballads, and a corpse’s pointing finger–to save his life, before the true murderer turns on her…

Giveaway~

Enter to win one (1) copy of A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate by commenting below or by email to hookofabook(at)hotmail(dot)com by 11:59 p.m. EST 2 weeks from this posting.

For 1 extra entry, follow this blog, for extra 2 entries, join my new Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HookofaBook. U.S. only, please.

Author Susanna Calkins, Biography~

calkinsSusanna Calkins is a historian and academic, currently working at Northwestern University. She’s had a morbid curiosity about murder in seventeenth-century England ever since she was in grad school, when she was first working on her Ph.D. in history. The ephemera from the archives—tantalizing true accounts of the fantastic and the strange—inspired her historical mysteries, including A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate (St. Martins Press/Minotaur Books). Born and raised in Philadelphia, she lives outside Chicago now with her husband and two sons.

See the wonderful interview Susanna and I did earlier this week by clicking HERE!!

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