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07 Feb 2013 Margaret Frazer, 1946-2013

Last Monday night, the world lost one of the bravest women I’ve ever been privileged to know.

Margaret Frazer’s double-Edgar-nominated Sister (later Dame) Frevisse books were my introduction to historical mysteries. Margaret, whose real name was Gail, was prolific, funny, strong, generous, and heartstoppingly gallant—she fought her great enemy cancer for twenty years and wrote twenty-five novels and a baker’s dozen of short stories while she was doing it. With one hand tied behind her back. (Well, not really, but you know what I mean.)

I remember a long thread on the Crime Thru Time email group when Gail was trying to figure out the title for her book The Sempster’s Tale. It was the world of the historical fiction writer in microcosm—“sempster” was the word that would have been used at the time of the story, but would readers understand? Should she change it to “sempstress”? “Seamstress”? In the end she stuck with “sempster,” because she was fiercely dedicated to historical accuracy. And you know, that one word, I think, set the tone for the book and the story.

Vale, Gail. May they have an endless, endless library on the far side of the universe.

Margaret Frazer’s website, with a complete list of her wonderful books and short stories, is at www.margaretfrazer.com.

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20 Jan 2013 Tonight’s the Night

Tomorrow (January 21st) is the Feast of St. Agnes, so today, well, today is the Eve of St. Agnes, and tonight is the night you can see (according to the old legends, anyway) the person you are going to marry.

Don’t forget I have a free short story called The Eve of Saint Agnes, set in the world of The Flower Reader, which originally ran in the Scottish magazine My Weekly. It’s a PDF file for downloading:


The Eve of Saint Agnes by Elizabeth Loupas

 
Enjoy, and may you see your heart’s desire in your dreams tonight.

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06 Jan 2013 Happy Epiphany!

labefana

I’ve just finished writing a chapter set in the midst of sixteenth-century Florentine court revels for the Epiphany, also called Twelfth Night. In medieval and Renaissance times, gift-giving was associated with the Epiphany and not with Christmas day. And in Italy, children received gifts (if they were good—they got lumps of coal if they were bad) from la Befana, pictured at right.

La Befana, so the story goes, was an old woman whose greatest joy in life was keeping her cottage spic-and-span. She was in the midst of her sweeping when the Magi knocked on her door and invited her to join them as they searched for the Christ Child. She refused, being determined to finish her housework.

Later she regretted her decision, and with her broom she set out to catch up with the Magi and offer her own gifts to the Christ Child. To this day she is still looking for them, riding on her broom, and on the eve of Epiphany (in Italian “la Epifania” and “la Befana” are related words, and often used interchangeably) she gives her gifts to good children.

And of course since any hint of a cookie recipe always gets my attention, her traditional gifts are cookies called befanini. There are hundreds of different recipes out there, most of which seem to be pretty basic sugar-and-butter cookies spiced with anise and orange peel, occasionally spiked with rum or sambuca, and decorated with colored sprinkles. Here’s an easy one, and here’s a traditional one.

Buona Befana!

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19 Dec 2012 A Free Short Story for Christmas

 

Merry Christmas! Here is a short story set in the world of The Flower Reader, about a year and a half after the book’s timeline ends. A hint of what might turn up in a sequel? Who knows?

“The Eve of Saint Agnes” first appeared in My Weekly magazine, in their June 30, 2012, issue. My Weekly has kindly given me permission to offer a PDF of the original pages, including their beautiful artwork.



Click the thumbnail above to access the PDF, which can be downloaded or read online. If you don’t have Adobe Reader, you can download it here. It’s free, too.

Adobe Reader

I hope you all enjoy the story, and I wish everyone a wonderful Christmas and a very happy New Year!

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24 Oct 2012 A Trip to Ferrara

My Goodreads friend Lynne and her mom vacationed in Italy a couple of weeks ago, and she went to Ferrara! She visited many of the places where Barbara and Lucrezia and Duke Alfonso of The Second Duchess lived and celebrated and suffered and died. As she wrote to me, “There are no words for actually standing in these places.”

Here are some of her photographs, with brief quotes from to book illustrating how they were part of the story.

 

“The Monastero del Corpus Domini was in the old part of the city, occupying almost an entire city block in a section of narrow cobblestoned streets with names like Via Campofranco, Via Praisolo, and Via Pergolato. There were, however, no fields in sight, no meadows, and certainly no trellised arbors; the rose-colored brick walls of the church were almost flush with the pavement, with only the narrowest of paved walks to keep one’s feet out of the gutters… The bell for terce was just ringing as I directed my Austrian gentleman-at-arms to go up and knock. Nothing happened at first, and he knocked more vigorously. At last, a wicket inset into the wall beside the door was drawn back and a face appeared, framed in a wimple and veil.”

Lynne stood at the door just as Barbara did, and rang the bell. She wrote to me, “There was a doorbell, so I rang it.” I think that gave us both chills.

 

“For my prayers I was allowed to enter one of the stalls of the choir, a concession to my rank most visitors to the church would not enjoy. Not far from where I knelt were the tombs of the Este: the first Alfonso and the notorious Lucrezia Borgia, Ercole II the present duke’s father, and a number of others. With them lay Lucrezia de’ Medici, entombed not quite four years previously.”

The tomb in the center is that of Alfonso I and his wife Lucrezia Borgia, with two of their children. On the left is the tomb of Ercole I, and on the right the tomb of Lucrezia de’ Medici.

 

“The orange garden was not, as one might think, in a courtyard on the ground level with the other gardens and orchards of the Castello; it was a hanging garden, a square rooftop terrace jutting out from the great Lions’ Tower, landscaped with small paths and flower-beds with soil in boxes. The orange and lemon and citron trees in their wooden tubs were carried upstairs and downstairs as needed, and in cold weather such as this they were tended indoors like the petted aristocrats from the south they were. Surrounding the garden were parapets over which one could gaze out upon the city with its ancient walls, its marshes, its fields, and the silver branches of the Po, as if floating above it all.”

 

“The chapel was beautiful, small but with elegant geometric lines and a vaulted ceiling frescoed with images of the four Evangelists attended by their traditional symbols—Saint Matthew’s angel, Saint Mark’s lion, Saint Luke’s eagle, and Saint John’s bull—as well as by the proud white eagles of the Este. There were two or three niches along the walls, with statuary in the classical style.”

And of course there are extensive renovations to the ducal chapel in the course of the story. (!) The chapel was indeed greatly redecorated and renovated during the reign of Alfonso II.

 

As I wrote to Lynne when she was in Ferrara: “I am literally choking up with tears to think that you are there, in the monastery, where so many of the Este are buried. Standing there at Lucrezia’s tomb! It gives me chills, even though it is you and not me.”

It was such a delight to “travel” to Ferrara with Lynne and her mom, and I hope you all are as fascinated by these photographs as I am.

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18 Oct 2012 White Violets

 

My violets are blooming their heads off right now. I think they love this south-facing window, which is immediately to my left as I sit here and type.

In The Flower Reader, white violets symbolize Mary Livingston, one of Mary Queen of Scots’ “Four Maries” and a good friend to my heroine Rinette Leslie:

Mary Livingston took my hands in hers. She had warm, strong hands. I felt a sense of white violets about her, simple and joyous, although with the deep purple of mourning in the center hinting at darkness to come.

Mary Livingston did have sorrow to come in her life. After Queen Mary was forced to abdicate (and fled to England, with disastrous results), she was accused of hiding away some of the queen’s jewels and fine clothing. Her husband was imprisoned and Mary Livingston herself was interrogated and threatened. Later a grant of land the queen had made to Mary and her husband John Sempill was nullified; John Sempill fought strenuously against this injustice and ended up imprisoned, tortured with the boot, and sentenced to death. A broken man, he was allowed to go home to die.

In the end, Queen Mary’s son James VI and I restored the disputed land to the widowed Mary Livingston. She last appears in the historical record in 1592, but the exact date of her death is unknown.

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21 Sep 2012 An Evening in Kenai

Last night I had a truly delightful Skype meeting with the Kenai Library Community Book Club, in Kenai, Alaska—they’d been reading The Flower Reader.

I always learn something when I sit in with readers. One of the book club members pointed out that Nico seems to get younger as the story progresses, and although it wasn’t conscious on my part, it’s true. As Nico slowly allows his true self to emerge from his facades, deceptions and masquerades, he does seem to get younger—we see the real Nico at last, like a peacock (of course a peacock, being Nico) chick emerging from its shell.

At one point, Cressie happily jumped up on my lap and joined in the conversation. She wanted to make sure everyone knew that she was the inspiration for Seilie’s freckled paws.

Many thanks for the invitation to the Kenai Library Community Book Club, and to Reilly Becker of the Library staff for making the arrangements!

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12 Sep 2012 Rinette Goes to Italy!

 

 
Here is the gorgeous cover of the Italian edition of The Flower Reader. Called La Lettrice di Fiori, it’s scheduled for publication on October 4th by Newton Compton. Here’s a link to the publisher’s page with details.

I am just dazzled by this beautiful cover–look at it from a distance and the artwork itself becomes the center of a flower. Look at it closely, and you see intriguing details about some of the flowers that figure in Rinette’s floromancy.

The most exciting thing of all, though, is that Newton Compton has produced a beautiful book trailer for La Lettrice di Fiori. It’s my first book trailer ever, so you can imagine my delight. Look at it here, and if you have a YouTube account, please “like” it and leave a comment!
 



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31 Aug 2012 Crocodile Tears

I do love research. And language.

This morning I was writing along and I came to a moment when someone (the Ferrarese ambassador at Cosimo de’ Medici’s funeral, which will make perfect sense to readers of The Second Duchess) is weeping large crocodile tears. I assumed this was some kind of modern figure of speech and went to my beloved Online Etymology Dictionary to check on it. Imagine my surprise to learn that the concept of crocodiles crying false tears goes back to at least the ninth century, figured prominently in medieval bestiaries, was spread widely in English by the mysterious and possibly fictional explorer/adventurer “Sir John Mandeville” in the fourteenth century, and turns up in two Shakespearean plays (Othello and Henry VI, Part 2). So crocodile tears it is.

One of the great joys of writing is that there’s always something new and intriguing to learn.

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