CLAUDIA RIESS – Art Historian and Mystery Author

Claudia Riess is the author of seven novels, four of which form her art history mystery series published by Level Best Books. She has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt, Rinehart and Winston and has edited several art history monographs. Stolen Light, the first book in her series, was chosen by Vassar’s Latin American history professor for distribution to the college’s people-to-people trips to Cuba.

To Kingdom Come, the fourth and most recent will be added to the syllabus of a survey course on West and Central African Art at the University of Cincinnati. Claudia has written a number of articles for Mystery Readers Journal, Women’s National Book Association, and Mystery Scene magazine. At present, she’s consulting with her protagonists about a questionable plot twist in Chapter 9 of the duo’s murder investigation unfolding in book 5; working title: Dreaming of Monet, scheduled for release in winter 2023.

To Kingdom Come, released May 31, 2022 – Amateur sleuths Erika Shawn, an art magazine editor, and Harrison Wheatley, an art history professor, are caught up in a multiple murder case involving the repatriation of African art seized during the colonial era. The story alternates between present-day events and those described in a journal penned in the late 1890s. Much of the action takes place in London, the scene of the crimes and quest for redemption.

The backstory to an art mystery series – My introduction to the art world came at a very early age and was as much a part of the natural course of events as learning to read and being read to—Winnie the Pooh, Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland—and being told laugh-out-loud stories, ad-libbed by my father, about a little girl named Jeanie, clearly my alias, and her adventures with her anonymous daddy, clearly my own. And like bedtime stories, my introduction to art—my association with art—was, and is, bound up with family, with adventure, with safe harbor. It began with outings to museums. We lived in Brooklyn, and a few great ones were a short subway or car ride away: The Metropolitan, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Frick. And typically, these outings were followed by take-out Chinese food and talks around the kitchen table about what we had seen that day. We debated about which painter’s perspective best described the real world and what the real world really was. Color and light? Shape and dimension? And what about imagination? Created imagery? Inner reality that distorted the exterior world? Talks of the relative nature of beauty and truth were woven into these conversations, and all the while, we were savoring our chicken chow mein and fried rice with lobster sauce.

Because of my background, for a good many years, my idea of the art world was a romanticized one. It was not until later in life, after I’d written a couple of rom-com-like novels and murder mysteries, did I consider writing an art suspense novel. By then, I’d learned a lot more about the art world: About how the price of art is virtually uncontrolled, dependent on the whims of collectors and dealers and the transient tastes and fads of the times. And on the seamier side: art was ransomed, forged, used to launder money, stolen, and sold on the black market. That the art world is, in fact, a world in which the most sublime of human instincts collide with its basest. What a great amalgam for fiction!

So I began to write my art mystery series. I’m a stickler for historical accuracy, so I take off from it, filling in the gaps with events that conform to its character and, therefore, might have been. Then, in a butterfly-effect maneuver, I fast-forward to the present and drop a pair of resourceful lovers (I’m an incurable romantic) into the challenging set of circumstances that have evolved—multiple murders included—and see if the sleuthing duo can sort it out. For instance, in Knight Light, the third in the series, my inspiration came from two quotes. From the painter Marcel Duchamp: “Not all artists are chess players, but all chess players are artists.” And from World Chess Champion Alexander Alekhine: “Chess for me is not a game, but an art.” Interesting! From there, I discovered that the two had actually been teammates on the French chess team in the 1933 Chess Olympiad and, furthermore, that Alekhine’s death in 1946 has been considered a cold case to this day. My fiction took off from there, integrated with the facts.

Although To Kingdom Come, the fourth and most recent book in the series, is basically structured on the same criteria as the three books before it, it’s the first one inspired not by a subject I was at least moderately in the know about, but by one that I was essentially unfamiliar with, that is, the Benin Bronzes. I knew that they existed, yes. I had seen several of these amazing works on exhibit. But it was not until I, by chance, came across a news article about African agents in the fields of the arts and government pressing for their return that I was minimally clued in. I wanted to learn more. Although not my only source, Dan Hicks’s The Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence, and Cultural Restitution was the main one, and the line that most made my blood boil and led me to writing To Kingdom Come is this: “The sacking of Benin City in 1897 was an attack on human life, on culture, on belief, on art, and sovereignty.”

It took a while to drum up the courage to write the book. I took notes, made outlines, and procrastinated. I was afraid of being accused of either exploiting or trivializing the subject, especially in these understandably sensitive times, when writers engaged in the intimacy of fiction are apt to be criticized for stepping outside their lanes—of race, religion, social status, cultural heritage.

I asked myself how I’d feel if the tables were turned if a fiction writer for whom the Holocaust is not directly related to their history—part of who they are—were to create a story in which the Holocaust is a pivotal plot point. I answered that provided they’re mindful of the sensibilities of others, it’s fine—welcome, really.

Anyway, as fellow humans, aren’t our histories from a broader perspective integrated, the divisions of “otherness” blurred? In the end, I decided it’s possible to preserve the sanctity of a group’s heritage without its becoming sacrosanct. We buy travel guides, visit foreign lands, read history books and memoirs, and write fiction. Why else, if not to reach beyond our own frontiers in the hope of understanding what to others is familiar ground?

Organizations of which Riess is a member:
Sisters in Crime (SinC)
National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE)
Women’s National Book Association (WNBA)
Historical Novel Society

Contact links:
Website: claudiariessbooks.com
Twitter: @ClaudiaRiess
Instagram: @claudiariessbooks
Pinterest: claudiariessbooks
Email: claudiariess.w@gmail.com

Amazon Link: Amazon.com: To Kingdom Come: An Art History Mystery: 9781685121105: Riess, Claudia: Books

10 Comments

  1. John G. Bluck

    Claudia, I’m impressed by your story of how you formulated the ideas for your books. Your vivid description of your process made me picture you writing your books. I’ve dabbled in many things and hobbies, among them artwork and photography. I look forward to reading your novels. Cheers.

    Reply
  2. Marie Sutro

    Love the part about drumming up the courage!

    Reply
    • Claudia

      Thanks, Marie.
      This one took a lot more courage than my previous novels. Mostly because I was basically heading into the unknown on a very current and sensitive subject,

      Reply
  3. Karen A Phillips

    Very fun post! I love how, as a writer, research for a novel can take you down unexpected paths and you learn so much in the process.

    Reply
    • Claudia

      Thanks, Karen! Yes, I’ve learned a lot of things about the external world in the process of writing mysteries pivoting on historical events or individuals. And in going down those “unexpected paths” you speak of, I’ve learned a lot about myself, too.

      Reply
  4. Michael A. Black

    I think it’s fabulous that you’re able to integrate the works of art into your writing. Your description of your family discussion after visiting the museum brought back a memory of mine of the thrill of seeing the paintings of Renoir and Monet for the first time at the Art Institute. Good luck with your new book.

    Reply
    • Claudia

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Michael. Glad my discussion elicited that wonderful memory!

      Reply
  5. Marcia Rosen

    I’ve read this book and it’s a wonderful story, beautifully written.

    Reply
    • Claudia

      Thank you, Marcia!

      Reply
  6. Claudia

    Thank you for having me as a guest, George. Much appreciated!

    Reply

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GLENN QUIGLEY – Irish Author and Artist

Glenn Quigley is an author and artist originally from Tallaght in Dublin, Ireland, and now living in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, with his partner of many years. His first novel, The Moth and Moon, was published in 2018. When not writing, he paints portraits in watercolours and tweets too many photos of lighthouses. He maintains a website of his latest work at www.glennquigley.com.

The Knights of Blackrabbit book one: These Young Wolves  – Spinning off from the Moth and Moon trilogy, THE KNIGHTS OF BLACKABBIT book one: THESE YOUNG WOLVES sees burly former crime lord Vince Knight returning to Port Knot to take command of the Night Watch—the very people who spent a good deal of time trying to imprison him. Under the scrutiny of the island’s ruling council, a distrusting local population, and a certain dashing captain, Vince must battle against the criminals he used to lead.

The Knights of Blackrabbit book one: These Young Wolves was released on 20th December 2022 from Ninestar Press. www.ninestarpress.com

The Great Santa Showdown It’s two weeks before Christmas, and the official Santa Claus of the small town of Yuleboro is retiring. Bookstore owner Gregory and tree farmer John will have to battle through a tournament designed to test the skills of any would-be Kris Kringles. As they go head to head in the town’s first-ever Great Santa Showdown, will it be more than just the competition that heats up?

The Great Santa Showdown is available from JMS Books: https://www.jms-books.com/glenn-quigley-c-224_559/the-great-santa-showdown-p-4550.html

You can find my other published works on my Amazon page: https://viewauthor.at/glenquigley.

Do you write in more than one genre? I tend to write Historical Fiction* for my novels and contemporary for my short stories. That said, I am currently working on a contemporary novel.

(*Technically, as they’re set in an alt-history, my novels are Historical Fantasy, but that makes it sound like a world of “knights, wizards, and dragons” instead of “everyone is treated equally, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.”)

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write in my spare bedroom/study with the door closed. I cannot have any other sounds except for the white noise of a howling thunderstorm and crackling fire that I found on Youtube. I started listening to it when writing the storm scene in my first novel, The Moth and Moon and found it really helps me concentrate. I can’t listen to music or TV as I can’t have any other voices or competing narratives playing while I’m writing.

We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave or run wild? They mostly behave themselves though if one character pushes to the front of my mind, they tend not to shut up until I’ve written their story. Very occasionally, one character will refuse to do what I want and insist on doing things their own way. For example, Lady Eva Wolfe-Chase was a side character in The Moth and Moon, but she insisted on becoming central to the plot of the follow-up novel, The Lion Lies Waiting. Sometimes, you’ve got to get out of a character’s way and let them have their turn in the spotlight.

Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Absolutely. Subplots are essential to my work. They flesh out side characters and help build a world. In my Moth and Moon series, the setting is a little village on a remote island. Subplots help to establish the world and convince the reader that this is a living, breathing place. Sometimes the subplots tie directly into the main plot, sometimes, they’re there to justify a side character’s actions later in the story, and sometimes they add some flavour or shift the tone a little.

Do you base any of your characters on real people? In a way. I often cast actors in the roles of my characters, especially during a first draft. This helps to solidify them in my mind and gives me something to build from. Usually, by the time the story is finished, they’ve evolved and grown into their own thing. I have a character in my upcoming novel, The Knights of Blackrabbit, book one: These Young Wolves, who was inspired by the late actor James Robertson Justice. I took his on-screen persona (big, blustering, and physically intimidating) and applied it to the character of Captain James Godgrave. This was an enormous help in getting that character off the ground, so to speak. It was a foundation on which I could build. Similarly, in my new short story, The Great Santa Showdown, I cast two of my favourite Hallmark movie actors in the lead roles.

I’ve yet to consciously base a character on anyone I know personally, though reading back, I can spot some friends and family popping up in certain aspects. It’s funny how that happens without me being conscious of it at the time.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? For The Great Santa Showdown, I had a rough idea for the plot first (a small town holding a competition to pick their new Santa Claus), but mostly I tend to start with an image or line of dialogue and build on that. Once I’ve got a sense of the story, I’ll work out a character arc (a story circle). This usually gives me enough sense of what the plot will need to be for the arc to make sense. So, I’m a little bit of both, I think.

What kind of research do you do? My novels are set in an alternate 18th century, so I have a lot of leeway when it comes to historical accuracy, but I still try to stick as close as I can to actual history. This tends to be less about world events and more about clothing/architecture/day-to-day life. I read a lot about small towns, fishing villages, boats, and clothing of the era. A lot of research is done online, which can be time-consuming as I have to check the sources on many things. The main character of The Moth and Moon trilogy, Robin Shipp, sails a Cornish lugger (a traditional fishing boat), and I read two books written by someone who sailed a similar boat in the late 20th century just to try and pick up some little details that I could use. I’ve also got a dictionary of Regency-era slang words, which is a fun read!

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Fictional. I created a group of islands off the coast of Cornwall called the Pell Isles, and that’s where The Moth and Moon trilogy and its spin-off, The Knights of Blackrabbit series, are set. I find there’s much more freedom in a fictional location and a lot to keep track of. I have maps made of Merryapple (the island setting for The Moth and Moon) and Port Knot (the town where The Knights of Blackrabbit is set) to help keep things straight. For The Great Santa Showdown, I created the small, All-American town of Yuleboro and gave it lots of Christmas-themed street names, which I loved doing. Some of the best fun in writing comes from making up places you’d love to visit and making up people you’d love to meet there.

                                

Where to find me online:
Facebook: www.facebook.com/glennquigleyauthor
Twitter: @glennquigley
Instagram: @glennquigleyauthor
Mastodon: @glennquigley@mastodon.online
Website: www.glennquigley.com

Other works by the author:
The Moth and Moon
The Lion Lies Waiting
We Cry the Sea
Use as Wallpaper
The Great Santa Showdown

2 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    It sounds like an interesting concept writing historicals set in an alternate universe. Do you use a big printed template to keep things straight or is it all in your head? Best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Glenn Quigley

      Thanks, Michael! I have a master timeline of all events mentioned, and that gets updated with each new story. Aside from that, I’ve got some notes about the technology used (it’s mostly clockwork stuff) so that I can drop those into the stories to maintain a sort of continuity. I try to steer as close to real world history as I can, for the same of simplicity.

      Reply

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KASSANDRA LAMB – The Bittersweet Task of Letting Go of Old Friends (i.e., Characters)

In her youth, Kassandra Lamb had two great passions—psychology and writing. Advised that writers need day jobs—and being partial to eating—she studied psychology. Her career as a psychotherapist and college professor taught her much about the dark side of human nature but also much about resilience, perseverance, and the healing power of laughter. Now retired, she spends most of her time in an alternate universe populated by her fictional characters. The portal to this universe (aka her computer) is located in North Central Florida, where her husband and dog catch occasional glimpses of her.

 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

The last year has been eventful for Marcia and her husband, Will. They’ve successfully launched their private investigation agency and completed their family with an adorable but creatively energetic baby girl. They’re about to ring in the New Year with friends and neighbors, but there’s something more than champagne bubbling in Mayfair, Florida.

The octogenarian matriarch of the town is always looking for ways to boost the community’s economy. Her latest scheme is the addition of a row of shops along Main Street. But a few of her new tenants have something more nefarious in mind than simply selling their wares.

When old hostilities set off New Year’s fireworks, a shopkeeper ends up dead, and two friends of Marcia’s are prime suspects. Determined to clear them, Marcia and Will—with Buddy’s help, of course—set out to uncover the real Grim Reaper.

I’m ending a mystery series this month for the second time in my writing career. And letting go of old friends, i.e., the series’ characters, is not any easier this time around.

There are lots of good reasons for ending a series, one of them being that the main character(s) have reached the culmination of their character arc. They start out with flaws, issues, neuroses to overcome, and over the course of the series, they mature and grow.

When it gets to the point where those issues are mostly resolved, their arc is complete, and it’s time to let go.

I’m happy for my main characters, Marcia and her husband. Their lives are going well, and they have an adorable baby girl now. I’m happy they will get to enjoy the fruits of their labor. (And I’m excited about the new series I’m starting.)

But on the other hand, it feels like good friends—or maybe grown children would be a better analogy—are moving to the other side of the world. It’s not just that they are going away, but I won’t be keeping in touch with them. I won’t know what’s happening in their lives. No phone calls, no emails, no texts!

And it’s not just the main characters I will miss. These stories were set in a small fictitional Florida town called Mayfair, a town I have grown to love as much as Marcia does.

I’m going to miss all the quirky neighbors—the octogenarian town matriarch who wears brightly colored muumuus and flip-flops, and the regal Black woman, a retired schoolteacher, who lives next door and who always has a pitcher of iced tea in her fridge and some sound advice to offer.

And even more secondary characters—the matriarch’s niece, sweet Susanna Mayfair, who shares Marcia’s love of horses, and her son Dexter, not the brightest bulb in the package but a truly loveable guy. And Marcia’s friends, the Mayfair diner’s owner Jess, and Marcia’s fellow service dog trainer, Carla, and her best friend, Becky. Oh, and Marcia’s mom and her new stepfather.

Most of these characters have also grown and changed over the course of the 13-book series. And I feel like they are my friends and neighbors too.

But I’m leaving them and Mayfair behind. I won’t be able to stroll down its streets again—the fictitious Black Lab Buddy on his leash—waving at folks or stopping to gossip.

Yes, it’s time to let Marcia and her crew have some peace and quiet. No more murderers or other culprits will be coming their way, making life scary and difficult in their little town. I’m happy for them.

But I’m sure gonna miss all those good folks!

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:
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BLOG: https://misteriopress.com
FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/kassandralambauthor
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BOOKBUB PROFILE: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/kassandra-lamb
AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE: http://www.amazon.com/Kassandra-Lamb/e/B006NB5WAI/

BUY LINKS:
AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BRNSP9CM
APPLE: https://books.apple.com/us/book/id6445299219
KOBO: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/auld-lang-mayfair
NOOK: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/auld-lang-mayfair-kassandra-lamb/1142910606?ean=2940166853714

 

6 Comments

  1. Kassandra Lamb

    Thank you so much, George, for having me as a guest.

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Glad you were able to stop by and share your story with us.

      Reply
  2. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    I enjoyed this emotion-evoking and fun post, Kassandra. Thanks. Your explanation for why you choose to stop writing a series is clear and logical. What do you think of series that don’t seem to quit even after the couple is married with children and happy? For instance, Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mysteries Series or some TV shows like Bones. So many still enjoy them–maybe insert here that I still enjoy them–and they have many readers/viewers. Do you think that in these cases, the characters are still growing and changing?

    Reply
    • Kassandra Lamb

      I do think that series are sometimes extended beyond their natural end. Sometimes I can’t help wondering if it’s because the author and/or publisher wants to keep making money off a successful series, so they keep it going when they probably shouldn’t.

      TV shows perhaps fall into a different category. I’m a huge Law and Order, Special Victims fan, and they’re going on their twenty-something season, and it still seems fresh to me…but they’ve had a lot of characters come and go. Those new characters can develop and change, and Olivia Benson and Fin provide the continuity (and they’ve changed as well over the years).

      Reply
  3. Kassandra Lamb

    I always leave the door ever so slightly ajar, Michael. I might very well write another novella or two down the road.

    Reply
  4. Michael A. Black

    Parting is such sweet sorrow… But don’t close the door completely. Maybe, down he road, you’ll find your way back to Mayfair again. Good luck.

    Reply

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