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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Showcasing a New Novel, Shakespeare's Blood and the author, Peg Herring

What people most need to know about me is that I write, read, and love mysteries. Formerly a high school educator, I began writing plays for my students but soon moved on to novels. I like the novel format because fiction so clearly reveals truth, if that makes sense. Although I read in nonfiction to keep myself honest, I find that fiction suits my writing style and my need to move a story along quickly to a satisfying conclusion.

Tell us about the genre of your work.

I write historical mysteries (the Simon & Elizabeth series), paranormal mysteries (the Dead Detective Mysteries), and stand-alones. I can’t see myself ever being tied to one series, because there are so many great stories that I want to tell. SHAKESPEARE’S BLOOD is more suspense than mystery, meaning it has a timeline shortened by imminent danger. It will someday have a sequel, since I found I like the protagonist enough to give her another shot. The idea is in my head (I’m thinking Dickens). It’s just a matter of having the time to write it down.

Why did you choose this genre?

I always read mysteries as a kid. I loved them all, from Gothic romances to hard-boiled John D. MacDonald types to Gypsy Rose Lee’s THE G-STRING MURDERS. What makes mystery so compelling for me is the combination of puzzle and story. I try to give my readers a good puzzle with plenty of clues so they can join the sleuth in trying to figure it out. Of course, any good book must also have characters readers care about along with action, setting, and style. It’s hard work to make a mystery come together, but when it does, it’s no longer “genre fiction”. It’s great writing.

What are some of your books, stories that have been published?

The historical series began with HER HIGHNESS’ FIRST MURDER in 2010, and will be followed in November by Poison, Your Grace. The paranormal series began in April of this year with THE DEAD DETECTIVE AGENCY and will continue with DEAD FOR THE MONEY. I wrote a Vietnam-era stand-alone GO HOME AND DIE, which was published in 2010, and now SHAKESPEARE’S BLOOD is available. If that sounds prolific, it’s because I’ve been writing for a while, but publishers are just beginning to notice.

HER HIGHNESS’ FIRST MURDER (Five Star ISBN 978-1-59414-842-2) can be found at tp:// (Also available for Kindle)

When headless corpses litter the streets of London, young Elizabeth Tudor joins with crippled Simon Maldon to discover who is killing beautiful women and leaving them dressed as nuns. If Henry VIII learns what his daughter is up to, there will be trouble, but Simon and Elizabeth find trouble enough when the murderer turns his attention to them.

THE DEAD DETECTIVE AGENCY (LL-Publishing ISBN 978-1905-091-70-6) can be found at (Available for most e-readers)

Tori Van Camp wakes up on a luxurious cruise ship with no memory of how she got there. What she does recall is being shot point blank in the chest. In order to learn who wanted her dead and why, Tori joins with an odd detective named Seamus, who knows exactly what to do. They must act quickly, however, for two people Tori cares about are in…dare we say it? grave danger!

GO HOME AND DIE (Red Rose Publishing ISBN 978-1-60435-687-8) can be found at (E-book format only)

Carrie Walsh is a ‘60s woman too prim for bra-burning, but when she witnesses a murder, she becomes interested in investigating the case. She joins with Jack Porter, recently returned Vietnam vet, to discover who killed his partner. But Carrie has no idea what kind of trouble she is stirring up—nor does she know that Jack brought home secrets from Vietnam that might cost Carrie her life.

SHAKESPEARE’S BLOOD (MysterEbook Publishing, E-book format only, see website for details)

Mercedes Maxwell thought she would have a restful vacation in Britain. Instead, her traveling companion is murdered, starting a headlong race to stay alive. Mercedes has information that will lead to ancient Spanish gold, if she can only figure out the clues. Avoiding a policeman who suspects her, a charming Scot who befriends her, and a vicious who killer stalks her, Mercedes strikes out on her own to solve the riddles contained in an old journal: the message from SHAKESPEARE’S BLOOD.

Want to know about Peg?  Visit her website:

How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?

The very first character I “invented,” Tessa, began with a student I’d had in school. Every writer knows that no matter what the initial source, a character very quickly turns into her own person. Still, there is a real Tessa who got me started and gave me a physical image to work from. Likewise, there were a Tori and a Carrie among my former students. Other characters’ names come from nowhere; they just seem natural for the person. Simon, for example seems like a Simon. I don’t think I’ve ever actually known anyone by that name.

I’ve never known a Mercedes, either, but that name stuck to the character in SHAKEPSPEARE’S BLOOD. I kept trying to change it, but again, the character took on a life of her own, and Mercedes simply had to be her name. The charming Scotsman, Colm (pronounced Col um), is named for an actor I’ve admired for years at the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. His name is Colm Feore. (You might have seen him in a few movies, where he usually plays the evil guy who gets it at the end.)

Places are usually real, especially in the historicals, although when it gets down to specifics, I make up a town or two. It’s easier than trying to make the streets all match, and I understand that some readers will go there and see if they do!

How did you develop the character of your protagonist in this book?

People often ask that question, and the answer is I let my brain do it on its own. Sometimes a character has to have certain traits in order for the plot to work out. In SHAKESPEARE’S BLOOD, Mercedes could not be the kind of woman who dissolves into tears when bad things happen. She has to think things over and make her own decision, whether the rest of the world agrees with it or not.

I recall being questioned by an attorney when I was called for jury duty once. He asked me what my husband thought of the case (a spousal beating that resulted in the woman’s death, it had received considerable media attention). I was shocked at the implication that my husband’s opinion had anything to do with how I would serve as a jury member. If I can’t think for myself and come to my own conclusions, right or wrong, what good am I?

That’s how my protagonists begin: as women who think for themselves, whatever the era, the situation, or the company. Some argue that women in the past were meek and submissive. I would say they were taught to BE meek and submissive, but there had to be some, like Elizabeth Tudor, who used their brains for more than locomotion from room to room.

My Vietnam era protagonist, Carrie, is learning to be her own person, and I like that. Women in the ‘60s kind of “woke up” (at least some of us) and said, “Wait. I can do stuff!” The lucky ones found men who agreed with that concept.

In SHAKESPEARE’S BLOOD, Mercedes is thrown into a situation that few can imagine: being chased by a madman, possessing valuable information no one else has, and being in a foreign place where she has no idea who can be trusted. She makes some mistakes, but I can say without giving away too much: Mercedes will survive.

What about an antagonist…is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?

I try to think carefully about why my “bad” characters are bad. They generally fall into either crazy or greedy modes, but I work to give them substance. One character that is obviously insane was driven to that state, quite understandably, by conditions in the world that left him unable to achieve goals he had worked his whole life to attain. Like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, ambition plays a role in most of my antagonists’ motives: they want what they can only get by murder. Often, there is something in their early life that twisted them, perhaps poverty or some kind of abuse. In GO HOME AND DIE, the evil arises from one of those odd but very real circumstances where amoral characters meet, recognize each other’s desires, and enable each other.

So the answer is no, I don’t see a recurring nemesis type in my writing, just evil in all its forms. I freely admit, however, that I WILL see justice done in the end. After all, they’re my stories!

What is your favorite thing about your book, Shakespeare’s Blood?

In SHAKESPEARE’S BLOOD, I used all sorts of trivia and speculation about the Bard of Avon, weaving it into the story to make a revisionist but altogether fun (for me, at least) scenario. There have been all sorts of people over the years who claim that Shakespeare could not have written all that great stuff because blah, blah, blah. I hate the idea that he was “just” a small-town boy and therefore not capable of genius. Since when did being born in a big city or to a specific social stratum predict creative talent? I set out to write an exciting story that offers a fictional and fun explanation for some of the objections to Shakespeare writing Shakespeare. I hope readers find it clever.

How is writing in the genre you write, different than other genres?

Mystery is sometimes sneered at, but I think it’s very difficult to combine good writing, good storytelling AND a plot that offers readers the chance to go along with the sleuth and perhaps solve the crime, or aspects of it, before he/she does. If you look at writers who do all that well, they rank with good writers in all genres. And there’s a puzzle, too!

Why and when did you begin writing?

I wrote a play for my students when we could not find plays for a cast of twenty-five girls and five boys. The audience liked my first play, so I sent it to a publisher, who took it in a matter of weeks. That was my downfall. I thought publishing was easy, so I wrote my first novel. Publishing that took six years, but it was worth it to see my name on a book cover in the local library.

What is your writing schedule?

I generally write early in the morning, when my brain is fresh. I might or might not return to the computer in the afternoon, but in the evening, I’m likely to edit what I’ve written.

People often ask how long it takes to write a book, and for me, that is all over the map. I can get a first draft down in six weeks if I’m motivated and if the characters cooperate. I require myself to work on only one book at a time, but there are times when I will leave a book that’s giving me trouble and work on something else. When I go back to it, I’m usually ready to make it work.
I make myself put a book away for a while when it’s done. I go back to it a month or so later, and at that point I will see all sorts of things that need fixing that I couldn’t see when I was standing in the middle of it. I like to have a full year to get a book ready to submit to a publisher, because I’m definitely an onion writer-lots of layering for my work!

What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?

I probably have enough to do just writing sequels, but I do have an idea or two stored in my “Unfinished Novels” file. I like the idea of odd sleuths, and I also like sleuths of a certain age, so I’m thinking in those directions: a series with a very odd protagonist and a series with some older but very capable women in charge.

What kind of advice or tips to you have for someone who wants to write (especially mystery)?

To me, the plot has to be central in a mystery. Yes, readers have to love the characters and want them to succeed, but it drives me crazy when the plot is weak, when people don’t act like people really do, or when the killer’s method is so ridiculously complicated that it is beyond possibility. (I loved THE LIPSTICK CHRONICLES, by the way, because the plot stretches so common in mysteries were used humorously to enhance the story.)

As far as advice to ALL writers, there is only one word: PERSIST. You must persist in becoming a better writer. You must persist in believing in yourself when it seems that no one else does. In addition, you must persist to get published, because it doesn’t happen overnight.
Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?

In view of recent developments, I have a word of warning about self-publishing. It’s not a good idea to self-publish your first novel or even your second one, in my opinion. Yes, self-publishing might be the way things are going, but having experience with the publishing world and having recognition (other than your mom’s opinion) that your work is publishable goes a long way in helping a newbie writer become a writer with credentials.

What do you do when you are not writing?

Read, of course! I love to sing, so I direct several choirs. I also garden, mostly to benefit the rabbits, deer, and elk who “night-nibble” everything we plant. I live in northern Lower Michigan, but I love to travel with my husband of many, many years. We’ve been to Britain and the Middle East, but we have also visited all over the United States and Canada. When we’re home, we are usually working to keep some part of our century-old farmhouse from crumbling away.

What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?

The first one I remember was at Malice when two women in the elevator elbowed each other as I got in. One of them finally said rather shyly, “We’re reading your book, and we just love it!”

I was also surprised by the great reviews both HER HIGHNESS and DEAD DETECTIVE got. Small presses, unknown writer--I had no idea critics were even going to read the books, much less love them.


Marilyn Levinson said...

Great post, Sylvia and Peg. Peg, your mysteries sound intriguing.

Author Peg Herring said...

Thanks, Marilyn. Comments like that help me keep at work on Book #2!

Donna Fletcher Crow said...

Great interview, Peg. I loved reading about all your books and your methods. How interesting that you started out writing plays when you couldn't find an appropriate published script. I started that way, too--I was directing plays for our church and in those days once you'd done "The Robe" and "A Man Called Peter" you'd done the repertore.

Author Peg Herring said...

Too funny! I wonder if you (like yours truly) wish you could go back and "fix" some of those early works. I suppose all authors have the same feeling about early works. Julie Hyzy and I were talking about it a while back at Printers' Row, that "Did I really write that?" feeling. Can't fix it; have to go on!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I love historical mysteries and these sound exceptionally interesting.

JLC said...

This interview did several things for me (though I don't suppose you had that kind of motive in writing it): it gave me hope for my own attempts; it made me champ at the proverbial bit to read some of your stories; and it made me wonder for the fiftieth time if I could ever manage a mystery--plotting is what I have the worst trouble with. I also much admire the way you express yourself. I read this at just the right time because I just finished the final corrections for a collection of short stories, and I really need something to do while I continue to struggle to find an agent for my third novel.

So this is to say, Delighted to meet you!