A successful launch! A DEAD MAN'S EYES is now availble everywhere!
The support I have gotten from the local community, family members, friends and even strangers for the launch of A DEAD MAN'S EYES has been overwhelming. I am truly grateful and humbled. I have been nervous about reviews, but they have been wonderful so far. Thank you so much to all those who have reviewed or rated A DEAD MAN'S EYES! If you have read the novel and enjoyed it, I would greatly appreciate an honest review or a rating on Amazon, Goodreads or Barnes & Noble. Reviews mean a lot for an unknown author like me because readers have no other way to gauge whether a novel is worth their time and investment. Thank you once again!
A Dead Man's Eyes is now available!
Order at these links or from your favorite book store.
We are joined this month by fellow Level Best Books author Laraine Stephens, whose debut novel, TheDeath Mask Murders, releases June 1. As of the publication of this newsletter, her novel was not yet available for pre-order, but I will share links on my Facebook page when it is ready. I can't wait to read it! Learn more about Laraine, her life in Australia and her novel, and follow along with on my own publishing journey in this edition.
Meet Laraine Stephens
Laraine Stephens lives in the bayside suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. With an Arts degree from the University of Melbourne, a Diploma of Education and a Graduate Diploma in Librarianship, she worked in secondary schools as a Head of Library. On retirement, Laraine decided to turn her hand to the craft of crime writing. Laraine’s debut novel, The Death Mask Murders, is set in Melbourne in 1918. It is the first in the Reggie da Costa Mysteries series.
The Death Mask Murders
Death is just a close shave away.
It is February 1918. Somewhere in the bayside suburbs of Melbourne, the Death Mask Murderer is lurking, engaged in a ritualistic killing spree: shaving the heads of young women, strangling them and creating a gruesome memento of each in the form of a death mask.
As a wild storm batters Brighton, Emma Hart, an aspiring artist, and Max Rushforth, a shell-shocked ex-soldier, take refuge in the cellar of a derelict mansion, the killer’s lair and home to his sinister collection of plaster casts. With Max under the spotlight of the police investigation, Emma calls on the expertise of crime reporter, Reggie da Costa, and Dr Silas Bacon, an expert in death masks, to prove his innocence, unaware that she, too, is in the killer’s sights.
A conversation with Laraine Stephens
Q: I see that you started writing after you retired from your career as head of library for secondary schools in Australia. Have you always known you would eventually write fiction? How did you settle on historical thrillers?
Laraine: I have always loved crime fiction since I was in high school. I read everything that began with ‘The Mystery of …’ or ‘The Secret of …’ in the school library, which resulted in some surprises, not all of them being crime fiction! It was in my teenage years that I discovered Sherlock Holmes. When I retired, I decided that I would combine my love of History, which I studied at university, with my love of detective/mystery stories. With my children grown and time to indulge myself, I started to write, and I have found great satisfaction in doing just that. It’s now an integral part of my life.
Q: You have done a great deal of traveling to some pretty cool places—Iceland, Egypt and the Scottish island of Harris and Lewis. Do your travels influence your writing?
Laraine: My love of History has often influenced the places we have visited, including the battlefields of the Somme in France where my grandfather fought in 1917, as a member of the Australian Imperial Force. I drew on the experiences of returned soldiers, suffering from shell shock, to create the character Max Rushforth, one of the protagonists in The Death Mask Murders. The novel is set in Melbourne, Australia, in 1918.
Q: The Old Melbourne Gaol, where you volunteer as a guide, has an exciting history. Some of Australia's most notorious criminals were imprisoned and executed there before it ceased operation in 1924, and death masks were created in their images. Was your work there part of the inspiration for your novel, The Death Mask Murders?
Laraine: Walking into The Old Melbourne Gaol is like walking back into the past. Built in 1842, with its forbidding bluestone walls, it housed dangerous criminals as well as petty offenders, the homeless and the mentally ill. In the cells are exhibited death masks of some of the 133 men and women who were executed there, including the infamous bushranger, Ned Kelly.
I found it fascinating that death masks were at one stage linked to the pseudo-science of phrenology, widely popularised in the 1800s, which claimed that a person’s character was determined by the shape, or contours, of the skull.
My work at The Old Melbourne Gaol has certainly influenced my writing. Without it, The Death Mask Murders would not exist.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your protagonist?
Laraine: Reggie da Costa, senior crime reporter for Melbourne’s premier newspaper, The Argus, is ambitious and vain. He is obsessed with his appearance, his wardrobe and his automobile: a sleek 1917 two-seater Dodge Roadster, with wooden steering wheel, immaculate black paintwork and shiny large headlamps. Classy yet flashy, just like Reggie.
Abandoned by his father, a violin-playing scoundrel and philanderer, Reggie clawed his way up the ranks to become one of the top crime reporters in Melbourne, due to his innate intelligence, his way with words and a reporter’s most important asset: his circle of contacts. The one thing that he is missing is that elusive wife, one with money and social status, who can restore him to his rightful place in society.
Q: Do you have any advice for struggling writers?
Laraine: Here’s what I would recommend:
Read in the genre you’re writing. Learn from reading other authors’ work. I would advise aspiring writers to join a writers’ group, which offers workshops and support services. You need objective appraisals of your manuscript, not the advice of friends and family. Be prepared to write numerous drafts before you submit. Leave your final draft for a few weeks then come back and read it with fresh eyes. Once you’ve sent it to a publisher and it’s rejected, that’s it, folks! If a publisher asks for three chapters, a 200 word biography, a 500 word synopsis, that’s what you send. Keep versions of cover letters, synopses, etc. and adapt them to suit submission requirements. Think outside the publishers you know. I started with Australian ones, then branched out into the United Kingdom, then to the USA. My main recommendation is to persevere.
Q: What can we expect from you next?
Laraine: My next novel, A Dose of Death, is set in Melbourne in 1923 and will be published in 2022. Reggie da Costa is a little older, a little thicker about the waist, but still has it as a crime reporter and investigator. And can he do the tango!
This is where you will find me virtually and in person!
(For the always-updated website version, click here.)
May 14, Creatives Q&A, 12- 4pm EST. Professionals will answer questions about writing, music and movie careers during this free virtual event. I will be talking about interviewing skills for fiction and nonfiction research from 1:45 to 2 p.m. Get tickets at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/creative-qa-tickets-148800156273
May 22, Canal Town Book Fest. This virtual event is hosted by the Dover (OH) Public Library and already includes more than 60 authors representing a huge variety of genres. There will be lots of give-aways and I will be participating on a panel with other authors. Links and more information to come!
July 3,Cupboard Maker Books, 157 N. Enola Road, Enola, PA. Noon- 2 p.m. I will be among several authors representing multiple genres selling and signing books throughout the weekend. It should be a lot of fun! Come join us!
Aug. 25-29,Bouchercon: The World Mystery Convention, New Orleans, Louisiana. Come join hundreds of authors, fans, publishers reviewers, booksellers, and editors for five days of panels, parties, and pure mystery fun at the world’s premier annual crime fiction event. I will be there. I hope you will be there, too!
Isn't that the coolest bookstore? You are looking at Cupboard Maker Books in Enola, PA, just outside Harrisburg. I spent a few hours there April 25 taking an awesome book signing class for authors. I hope to be there again for a book signing with several other authors from noon to 2 p.m. on July 3. On the right is my table for a festival May 1. I learned something important that day, that I should always bring sunscreen just in case I can't erect the tent.
What's up with my books?
Writing novels is the easy part.
The hard part is everything that comes after -- the promotion, the marketing and the virtual and in-person events. I have spent countess hours over these past few months reaching out to reviewers, book bloggers, bookstores and media outlets to promote the launch of A DEAD MAN'S EYES. The response has been fantastic considering that I have been doing it on my own without the help of a publicist, but success on those fronts has lead to more work. Much of my time each day is spent writing guest blog posts, answering some darned-good interview questions, doing podcast interviews, and committing the time and resources to virtual and in-person events.
I am not complaining though. I wish I had more time to write, but I am grateful for every single opportunity. The writing and reading communities are packed with some the best people I have ever known, comparable only to the running community. They have opened their doors and invited me into the homes of their own audiences, knowing little or nothing about me from the start. I have done only three in-person events so far due to Covid restrictions and all have been a blast. I was humbled by the attendance for my launch party, inspired by the kids in the local school district's creative writing club and thrilled to meet all kinds of new people at a local festival, including some fellow writers.
I will need to slow down soon to edit NEVER BROKEN, which is book two in the series and releases in April of 2022, and to finish NO TIME TO BREATHE, book three, but I have enjoyed every minute of it. I love people and I have made many new friends along the way. It is benefit I had not considered when I started this journey.
What's up at home?
Spring has been a busy time at home, but in a good way. The twins are participating in track and both have roles in the school musical. The college kids are wrapping up the semester and looking for summer jobs that will give them experience in their future career fields (Anyone need a budding paleontologist or a Global Studies major who is learning Japanese?) My husband and I are balancing work with spring cleaning, gardening and hikes around the property. Soon, we will have to seal the exterior of house once again and repaint inside here and there. It is hard to believe we have lived in this house long enough that whole rooms require fresh paint.
I am looking forward to movie nights with camp fires in the woods beside our house with the kids and with friends, outdoor adventures with the kids and visits with vaccinated friends and family. This spring brings promises of a good summer to come.
Happy writing and reading. I hope you enjoy A DEAD MAN'S EYES!