A Fiancée’s Guide to First Wives and Murder won’t go on sale until July 27, 2021, but I’m ready to share the cover art now!
Here’s a little bit about the book:
For Frances Wynn, widow to the late Earl of Harleigh, life has a cosmopolitan flavor of late. No sooner has she sent her mother and daughter off on a shopping trip to Paris than she and her fiancé, George Hazleton, are socializing with visiting members of the Russian royal family. Yet amid this whirlwind, scandal also comes calling when Inspector Delaney turns up outside Frances’s house with a young French woman with a shocking claim: she is Mrs. George Hazelton.
As the future Mrs. George Hazelton, Frances assumes the woman is either lying or demented. “Mrs. Hazelton,” aka Irena, makes other outrageous statements. Among them, she insists that she is the illegitimate daughter of Russian royalty, that she has been abducted and held for ransom many times, and that someone is sending her threatening letters. When George arrives, he clarifies that he is certainly not married to Irena—though he can confirm her royal parentage. But even as he agrees to investigate whether Irena’s life is in danger, her claim proves tragically true. Irena is found strangled in Frances’ garden.
To uncover a killer—and clear their own names—Frances and George must determine which of Irena’s outlandish stories were based in fact, and who stood to benefit from her death. And as the search reaches a shocking conclusion, they may find that villainy lurks all too close to home . . .
I love contributing my ideas for a new cover to my publisher. It usually involves browsing fashion magazines of the era and providing description of what I think the characters should be doing. This time I did it a little differently. The character’s expressions play a big part and I thought it would be great if I could send my editor a photo of real people with those expressions. We had friends coming over for dinner, so I thought, why not ask them?
Here’s how the evening started:
Here’s how it ended:
Just so you know, this was all pre-Covid. We actually had several possible photos for the cover, but this one never fails to crack me up! (That’s supposed to be a marriage certificate in my hand.) Considering what I submitted, I was really worried about this cover, but I’m pleased the artist chose the photo with “George and Frances” gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes. I think she did a beautiful job!
I’ll add buy links to the website soon, but if you’d like to pre-order, you can do so here.
This has been a rough year with the Covid 19 pandemic ravaging the world. But as we approach Thanksgiving here in the US, I’ve been thinking about gratitude. I’m still giving thanks for things like the continued good health of my loved ones, but I’ve found the pandemic makes me grateful for some things I’d never thought of before.
I’m grateful my husband is an awesome quarantine partner.
I’m grateful for friends who are willing to have Zoom cocktail parties with me.
I’m grateful I have a job I can do from home.
And with that in mind, I’m so grateful the internet is ready and waiting when I can’t travel.
It’s been a while since I last visited England, and since that’s where the Countess of Harleigh mysteries are set, writing these settings while in the US can prove difficult. There were a few locations I wanted to get an in-person feel for, so in 2019 we scheduled a trip to London and Paris for the fall. Due to an illness in the family, we had to cancel. I wasn’t concerned. We’d go in the spring of 2020. Maybe April.
I’m sure you all know how that worked out.
By Summer, there were travel bans throughout Europe that kept me home. Since I couldn’t travel, I did the next best thing—YouTube. The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden has a You Tube channel where in addition to performances, they stream rehearsals and some behind-the-scenes videos. Through internet searches I was able to find historical images and even a floor plan. I’m hoping the scenes I’ve set there feel as real to you and they did to me.
Marlborough House required a little more digging. I found so many images of the exterior—not so much of the interior. However, visiting in person might not have been much help in this case. The building now houses The Commonwealth of Nations and the interiors no longer look as they did when the Prince and Princess of Wales lived there. I had to rely on first-hand descriptions from long-ago visitors. I’ve found that to work reasonably well for much of my “building” research. I can view images, or use Google maps to study the exterior and find descriptions of the interior at the time since most of the interiors have changed greatly over the years. I’m currently reading a month of wedding announcements from the winter of 1900 because they often describe the interior of the church I plan to use.
Definitely check it out. I can’t tell you how much time I spent getting lost at Hever Castle (Anne Boleyn’s childhood home). I’m so grateful for sites like these that take me away at a time when I can’t travel. Finally, I’m grateful to you readers, who read my books for the same reason. Happy Thanksgiving!
Since my blog post was due around Halloween, I pondered what I could write about that was Halloween related. Then I remembered—I wrote a book of ghost stories! How could I have forgotten? Haunted Highway, The Spirits of Route 66 was conceived twenty-some years ago when my co-author and friend, Ellen Robson and I decided we should collaborate on something. She lived in Arizona. I lived in Michigan. We both worked full time and spent vacation time attending writing conferences together.
It was 1997 at a conference in Albuquerque, at a diner on Route 66 when we decided to use that famous highway in whatever we decided to write. That way, we could travel the whole route from Chicago to Santa Monica. But what to write? Hmm. Did I mention we were at a diner? Actually, it was a historic diner. Maybe they’d be willing to contribute a recipe? We could write the Route 66 Cookbook!
We returned to our homes and spent the next three months learning all we could about Route 66 and hunting down diners, restaurants, hotels, and any other place that served food. Remember, this was all pre-Google! Imagine how disappointed we were when on the eve of our first leg of the trip—Arizona through California—Ellen found The Route 66 Cookbook in a bookstore.
My flight from Michigan was already booked. We took the trip anyway. Our first stop was in Flagstaff at The Museum Club, a popular road house. We still didn’t know what to do, but we chatted with the owner about his establishment. That’s when we learned it was haunted. The idea hit us at the same time—Haunted Highway, a travel guide to haunted sites along Route 66.
Over the next year and a half, we traveled Route 66, digging up ghosts who haunted places people could visit; restaurants, hotels, museums, theaters, and so on. We’d learn the history of the spirits, how they died, why they wouldn’t leave a particular place, and what it was like living with them. It was one of the best road trips I’ve ever had, though it was actually four separate trips.
In the spirit of Halloween, I give you one of my favorite stories from the book, and I’m giving away two print copies. Remember, though the book was updated in 2012, some of the locations may not be open to the public any longer. They’re still great stories. If you’d like to win a copy, just leave a comment here or on this post on my Facebook page. I’ll pick a winner Sunday night.
The Hotel Monte Vista in Flagstaff, Arizona
The Hotel Monte Vista, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, first opened its doors on New Year’s Day, 1927. In the forties and fifties, when Western movies were popular, more than 100 were filmed in the area of Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon, both close to Flagstaff. Because there weren’t any accommodations in that locality, the stars made the Monte Vista their home away from home. Rooms are named after some of the famous guests that have stayed there. A few celebrities that hold that honor are: Bing Crosby, Jane Russell, Gary Cooper, and Spencer Tracy. If you’re a fan of old romantic movies, you can request to spend the night in the room where a scene from Casablanca was filmed.
The hotel with a celebrated past not only has historical charm and character to offer, but a few ghosts as well. The “phantom bellboy” knocks at the Zane Grey room announcing in a muffled voice, “Room service.” When the guests open the door, they find no one standing there, nor do they catch a glimpse of anyone dashing away down the long corridor.
“In 1970,” Ellen Roberts, the desk clerk, explained, three men robbed a nearby bank and to celebrate, they decided to stop by our lounge and have a drink—even though one of the men had been shot during their escape. While having his drink, the wounded man died, and some feel he’s the spirit that’s haunting this area of the building.”
Some repairs were needed after a fight had occurred in room 220. When his work was completed, a maintenance man turned off the lights and locked the door. He returned in only five minutes to find the light back on, the television going full blast, and the bed linens stripped. In the early 1980s, a strange, long-term boarder rented this room. When he passed away, his body wasn’t discovered for two or three days. Was his ghost responsible for the upheaval that took place in the empty locked room?
“When a father and son checked out of the Gary Cooper room, the father made the comment that during the night, he suddenly sat straight up in bed feeling like someone was staring at him,” Ellen recalled. “His son started to kid him but his dad was very sincere and kept stressing that he knew someone had been watching him. The red-light district was south of the railroad tracks, not too far from the Hotel Monte Vista, and two prostitutes were murdered in that room. One version of the story is that they died after they were thrown out the window.”
This hotel certainly has a variety of ghosts, all stubbornly refusing to check out. Other strange occurrences are the peculiar rings of the lobby telephone late at night, an image of a woman outside the Zane Grey Room, and sounds of a man coughing continuously through the night. If you’re not lucky enough to be entertained by the permanent guests, you’ll still have a good time listening to live music in the haunted cocktail lounge.
There is nothing quite as exciting to a mystery writer as a mystery writers’ convention. Writing is a solitary endeavor—just like reading, and many of us readers and writers tend to enjoy that solitude. But every now and then there’s nothing I enjoy more than joining hundreds, or even thousands, of fellow readers and writers to talk about books! This year so many writer’s conventions and book festivals were cancelled, so I was thrilled to learn that Bouchercon was taking a stab (hehe) at a virtual convention!
Bouchercon is the world mystery convention; the granddaddy of them all and it’s huge. In person, it can be a little daunting. It’s usually at a sprawling location with nearly two thousand people rushing from one event to the next. There are so many panel options to choose from along with programs like author speed dating, 1-minute readings, and one on one interviews, and author signings—there is always something to do.
My first Bouchercon was in St Petersburg and I was lucky enough to be on a panel for historical mystery. I made the mistake of checking out the room where the panel would take place the night before. It was huge! But since Deanna Raybourn was on my panel, it’s what I should have expected. I didn’t sleep all night. By morning I was a nervous wreck. But once it began, it was just a group of people talking about books—our favorite subject.
Virtual Bouchercon will be different in the sense that we won’t have to rush from event to event, there won’t be crowds, and we certainly don’t have to dress up for it. But it will be the same in the most important sense—booklovers will be sharing our love of books!
If you plan to attend, I hope you’ll drop in on my panel, Long Ago and Far Away, October 16th from 3:00 to 4:00 PDT. I’ll be there with along with wonderful authors Kim Taylor Blakemore, R.J. Koreto, Edith Maxwell, and Karen Odden. Moderated by Sarah E. Burr.
I haven’t published an interview to my blog in a long time. Since Spitfire was one of my favorite books of 2020, and I’m just starting Nightshade, I thought I’d post this interview I did earlier this year with M.L. Huie. But first, here’s an introduction to both books:
It’s V-E Day 1946 in London. World War II is long over, and former spy Livy Nash is celebrating with her third drink before noon. She went to war to kill Nazis. Dropped behind enemy lines as a courier, she quickly became one of the toughest agents in France. But her war ended with betrayal and the execution of the man she loved. Now, Livy spends her days proofreading a demeaning advice column for little ladies at home, and her nights alone with black market vodka.
But everything changes when she meets the infamous Ian Fleming. The man who will create the world’s most sophisticated secret agent has an agenda of his own and sends Livy back to France with one task: track down the traitor who killed the only man she ever loved. Livy jumps at the chance, heading back to Paris undercover as a journalist. But the City of Lights is teeming with spies, and Livy quickly learns just how much the game has changed. With enemies on every corner and ever-shifting alliances, she’ll have to learn to fight a new war if she wants to conquer the past once and for all.
British spy Livy Nash has never had many friends. But fellow agent Margot Dupont was the exception to the rule. At least, until she disappeared during one of their missions in World War Two, never to be heard from again. Since then, Livy’s made do. Some people, you just can’t replace.
But when the British pick up Margot’s call sign–NIGHTSHADE–years after the war, Livy can’t help the glimmer of hope that she might see her old friend again. But Livy has her doubts: what their enemies are using it to lure out Livy and her team? What if it’s all a trick?
Despite her unease, Livy dives headlong into finding Margot, aided by her boss, the charming Ian Fleming. When evidence arises that a handsome Russian spy might have information about Margot, Livy agrees to her most dangerous mission yet: going undercover as a double agent to spy on the infamous “Red Devil”.
As Livy is pulled deeper into the shadows of treachery, the possibility of finding Margot alive diminishes as the danger grows. How much will she have to sacrifice to find a friend she thought she’d lost forever?
DF:What inspired the story of Spitfire?
MH: Two things. I read Elizabeth Wein’s brilliant YA novel CODE NAME: VERITY and then started looking into the women of Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE). I found the stories so vivid and alive. These women were really amateurs who were given training during World War Two and dropped behind enemy lines to do extremely dangerous jobs. At the same time in my own life I went through a period of unemployment and it made me wonder how a woman who loved this secret work might feel once the war was over and was told she just wasn’t needed anymore.
DF: Livy has a difficult time adapting to civilian life, she’s angry, she’s hurt, and she seems to need that thrill of living on the edge. What did you pull from to create this complex character?
MH: I don’t get the rush from danger that Livy does, that’s for sure. However I certainly have felt discarded in the past, and thought, “I could do some great things if given the chance.” I think we’ve all felt that at one time or another. Plus I believe that damaged characters are so interesting to write. I have been a fan of the James Bond novels my whole life. In many ways this book addresses the good and bad sides of those books. Bond is damaged too, but Fleming didn’t spend a lot of time delving into his psyche.
DF:You do a great job of bringing post-war London and Paris to life. What research did you have to do to create such vivid images?
MH: I’ve been to both London and Paris, but obviously never in 1946. Time travel needs to be invented for authors now! So, I relied on images from that time, newspapers, snippets from books here and there. I also have a good friend, André Roche, who lived in France during the occupation and fought for the Free French Forces. So, when I wondered where does one go to use a public telephone in 1946 Paris I just asked André.
DF: One thing I love about writing historical fiction is the research. Did you learn anything in your research that surprised you?
MH: The bravery of the men and women of the SOE is really hard to overestimate. They took enormous risks, and yet they were quite normal people like you or me. They just lived in an extraordinary time. I read several biographies of these women and really tried to put myself in their shoes.
DF:Pervasive in the story is a transition from “The Last War” to “The Next War,” which sets Spitfire apart from WWII thrillers. Can you tell us how you carried that theme throughout the book?
MH: I thought of this story as one of the first skirmishes of the Cold War. 1946 is a time when you’re still not sure who’s on your side. That’s one of the big challenges for Livy to transition from a hot war where the enemy typically wore a uniform to the “shadow war” where you have to figure out who the enemy is first. The first piece of research I did was to re-watch the great post-war thriller THE THIRD MAN. The gray noir-ish world in that film was a major influence on the tone of the book.
I hope you enjoyed the interview! If you’d like to know more about M.L. Huie, you can find his website here: www.mlhuie.com
It’s been a busy month and I’m so excited to say I’ve finished the first draft of the fifth Countess of Harleigh mystery! I’m a plotter and an outliner, so I do quite a bit of work before I ever start writing the book. I’ve plotted the crime. I know “who done it” and who my suspects will be, how the investigation will proceed and who my characters are—or so I think. While all of these elements are subject to change, it’s that last part that so often changes when I actually begin writing the story. Characters I thought I knew—I did create them after all—often reveal themselves as someone completely different once they take up their roles in the story.
This time it was Frances’ father, Franklin Price. I’d anticipated him taking an active part in the investigation, yet every time I gave him an assignment, he performed it with a complete lack of interest. What? Franklin is not a lackluster character, but when doing something productive, he was clearly just going through the motions. Several chapters in, I realized that behind my back, he was taking shortcuts to justice. Much to Frances’ surprise, and mine, he tried to bribe an officer of the Metropolitan Police on more than one occasion.
This was NOT the man I created!
Yet I found him very interesting—much more so than when I was forcing him to act like my idea of Frances’ father. So, I decided to go with it and let him be the privileged scofflaw he wanted to be, and I had so much more fun with his character. I’ll have to go back and revise the beginning chapters—maybe bring in another character to pick up those assignments that Franklin blew off—but I always knew I’d be revising anyway.
In a recent virtual event, someone asked how much I know my characters before I start writing. The answer is, I think I know them very well, but I often discover something new about them in the first draft. It’s like the old saying; you never really know someone until you live with them!
In other news, it’s Agatha Christie’s birthday today! Coincidentally, it’s also Cozy Mystery Day. Do you have a favorite Christie novel? Next Tuesday, I’ll be part of a multi-author Facebook page hop and I may be giving away a couple of my favorite Christie novels–in addition to the Grand Prize of each author’s first in series book! Check us out!
When I turned in the fourth book in the Countess of Harleigh series, I wrote my first ever Author’s note. I needed one because I used some real people as characters in that book, and they take part in parties and events that are fictional. I also sent one of them on a trip that he really took 20 years earlier.
After writing that note, I wondered if I should have included notes in the earlier novels. I get lots of questions asking why I chose to do one thing or another—and I love getting questions—but more than any other choice, I’m asked why I don’t call Frances the Dowager Countess of Harleigh. There’s a story to that.
First, there’s a case to be made that she isn’t the dowager in the strictest sense of the term. She’s the widow of the previous earl, but not the mother of the current one. Under normal circumstances, she’d still be called the dowager, but that leads to the second reason.
This is the tricky part. There can’t be two Dowager Countesses of Harleigh, and Frances’ sister-in-law, Delia, the current countess, won’t be able to use the term dowager, if Frances gets to it first. Delia would not let that go uncontested, particularly because she feels she has a stronger claim to the title since she’s the wife of the current earl and mother of the next. I didn’t think Frances would care enough to fight Delia on this issue. But then things got even trickier.
The last reason is timing. After an early reader, an author I respect, told me that she thought Frances ought to be the dowager, I contacted Debrett’s about the matter. I’d already used their reference material in making the decision, but maybe I was misinterpreting it? Their determination—unless the title was from Scotland, she would almost surely be called dowager. Delia would just have to deal with that. I called my editor, who called production, who said, sure, we can change it. But it was too late. So, the main reason Frances isn’t called the dowager countess, is timing. Maybe in the next edition.
There you have my author’s note for A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder. All that for one word! If you have more questions about anything in the books, don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll be doing a Zoom event with Alyssa Maxwell and Murder by the Book Tuesday, September 1st at 8:00 pm EDT. I can answer your questions there too!
It was so nice to hear so many responses about moms! Thanks to everyone who entered the contest. I loved your comments. Using a random number generator to determine the winner, and that person is Vickie Williams! Congratulations! You have won a hardcover copy of A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder! Please send me an email at Diannefreemanwrites@gmail.com and include an address where I can send your book.
Tuesday was release day for A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder and I celebrated by joining ten other Kensington Books authors for a release party on Facebook. Since there are no in-person events these days, I’ll be doing a couple virtual events too. The first will be with author Jennifer Ashley on the Poisoned Pen’s FaceBook Live feed on August 15th at 4:00 pm (EDT). I’ve also done a book blog tour and a Bookstagram tour and the result of all this online activity is that I had a lot of book mail to send out!
I don’t want to leave the subscribers to my blog out in the cold, so here’s a giveaway just for you. A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder is the first time we meet Frances and Lily’s mother, Daisy Price. Daisy is ambitious, formidable, and difficult to please. She’s a lot to take, but she loves her children and in her own way, she does what she thinks is best for them. Frances and Lily struggle to remember that, just as Daisy struggles to remember that her children are adults.
Since the story covers the theme of mothers and daughters that’s part of the giveaway. For a chance to win a hardcover copy of A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder, leave me a fun fact in the comments about mothers and daughters. It can be about you and your mother, you and your daughter, your mom, your daughter, or somebody else totally unrelated to you who is a mom or a daughter. When you leave the comment, click on the box “Notify me of new comments via email,” because you may be the winner! I’ll close the contest Tuesday evening (8/4), randomly draw a name, and announce the winner in the comments. If you forget to click on that box, check back Tuesday evening!
This is the first contest I’ve run on this blog, so I’m crossing my fingers that it will go smoothly, and that some of you enter! Good luck to all of us!