I am interested in writing teams–mother/son, husband/wife, as in the case in today’s guest post–just how do they DO that? And I’m also interested in the historical fiction that so many readers of this blog love and have pointed me to. Today’s guest post has both.
The husband and wife team of Mary Reed and Eric Mayer, whose Moment appears here, have been penning a successful historical mystery series across many volumes. Today they discuss what writing a prequel to a successful series is like, as well as what innovative offers their topnotch independent press is taking part in. Welcome back to the blog, Mary & Eric!
Our Byzantine mystery Four For A Boy is the fourth book about our protagonist to be published by Poisoned Pen Press. However, it is the prequel to our chronicles of detections carried out by John, Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian.
It was this way. During prior books we had mentioned John, a free man caught and enslaved by Persians and subsequently sold to the palace administration in Constantinople, regained his freedom through rendering a very delicate service for Justinian. However, we had not described what this service had been in any of the previous books, so when editor Barbara Peters suggested writing a prequel and telling the story, we decided to do so.
Four For a Boy not only explains how John re-won his freedom and began his journey to high office but also the manner in which he met a number of characters, including some who are now close friends.
It’s set at the time when an ailing Justin is still ruling the empire but Theodora and Justinian are waiting impatiently in the wings.
One of the main characters is a villainous type based on Theodotus, a real person who held the office of City Prefect and was called The Gourd– but not to his face — due to his hideously misshapen head.
The historical Gourd was believed to practice magick and overall had a very brutal character. We had great fun explaining the manner in which he accomplished his magick, such as how he is able to plunge his hand into boiling pitch without injury during a banquet at which Theodora is the guest of honour. The incident is described thus:
“Whose hand do you propose to use?” Theodora asked with an alacrity that made John wonder if she’d played magician’s assistant during her former career.
Theodotus flexed his stubby fingers. “Whose hand? Why, it will be my own!” Suiting action to word, he plunged his bared arm wrist deep into the bubbling mixture.
A high pitched babble of alarm and shock surged around the room. More than one guest looked hastily away.
John looked away also but toward the window. His keen hearing had caught the sound of someone running across the garden.
A collective gasp drew his attention back to Theodotus. The Prefect had withdrawn his arm from the boiling mix and was waving his apparently uninjured hand triumphantly.
He formed a fist and hammered at the air. “This is the indestructible hand that reaches into the darkest alleys to choke the life from the murderous bastards who lurk there! Why do you think they whisper my name with such dread? They know my powers. They fear me. And rightly so!” He glared at
All in all, the Gourd was a bad egg, so we don’t think he would have objected to our portrayal of him, given when people fear a person in power, more power is granted to the latter. Which would certainly
have suited the Gourd!
In the same book we describe how John flies for a brief period although it is by utilising practical means rather than magick. We returned to magick in Six For Gold, wherein the diminutive Egyptian magician Dedi claims responsibility for sheep committing suicide –they belonged to a man with whom he is feuding — not to mention performing the miraculous cure of a crippled man through the medium of a human-headed snake oracle and summoning an air-borne flaming demon.
And yes, all is explained in due course.
Being counted among those who always want to know what happened in the end, I am happy to reveal Four For A Boy includes an afterword relating the later life of the historical Gourd. And without giving anything away, it turned out to be a good demonstration of what we nowadays call karma.
The husband and wife team of Mary Reed and Eric Mayer published several short stories about John, Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian, in mystery anthologies and in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine prior to 1999′s highly acclaimed first full length novel, One for Sorrow. Entries in the series have been honored by a Best Mystery Glyph Award, an honorable mention in the Glyph Best Book category, and was a finalist for the IPPY Best Mystery Award (Two For Joy), nominations for the Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award (Four For A Boy and Five For Silver), and a Glyph Award for Best Book Series (Five For Silver). The American Library Association’s Booklist Magazine named the Lord Chamberlain novels one of its four Best Little Known Series.