Mary Reed and Eric Mayer's Nine for The Devil

My guests today are writing team Mary Reed & Eric Mayer, authors of the Lord Chamberlain mysteries. Welcome. There's so much to chat about and so little time, so let's talk writing!

Anne - Tell us about your latest release.

Mary - Nine For The Devil is the ninth book in our series about John, Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian. The titles follow a variant of an old fortune-telling rhyme involving counting black birds such as crows or ravens. Thus they run One For Sorrow, Two For Joy, Three For A Letter, Four For A Boy (the prequel to the series), Five For Silver, Six For Gold, Seven For A Secret, and Eight For Eternity. I should add we ran out of traditional lines at Seven so invented Eight, claiming it's oral tradition at work, but for Nine For The Devil we returned to a second version of the rhyme.

Here’s the blurb: The year is 548 and Empress Theodora is dead, the victim of cancer. Or so everyone in Constantinople, capital of the Roman Empire, believes. Everyone except Emperor Justinian who orders John, his Lord Chamberlain, to find the murderer or suffer the consequences. John embarks on an impossible investigation. There is no sign of foul play, but many of the quarreling, backstabbing aristocrats at the imperial court had good reason to want Theodora dead. As if seeking a murderer who seems to be a figment of the emperor’s grief-deranged imagination isn’t difficult enough, John must also grapple with domestic upheavals. Will John be able to serve justice, his loved ones, and the emperor?

Anne - What do you enjoy most about writing a series? What part do you loathe?

Eric - One of the best things about a series is that when we start writing a new book we already have a familiar setting and characters with which to work. That's also one of the worst things about writing a series.

It is easier to write about characters we already "know" well. We don't have to figure out what they look like or where they come from. We have a good idea of how they are likely to react to a given situation. We can concentrate on adding depth, on perhaps revealing some new, unglimpsed facet of their personalities. On the other hand, every time we describe some aspect of a character we are stuck with it -- convenient or not. So in book one we reveal that Felix, the Captain of the Imperial Guards, is from
Germany. Years later, as we write book ten or eleven, it might turn out that it would open up all sorts of plot possibilities if he were from Italy instead. Unfortunately, it's too late to change his origin. How could we have guessed, back in book one?

Oh, and one other problem -- we have to remember all the ever accumulating details about each character. We try. Mary keeps updating their biographies. We're not guaranteeing that no one's eye color ever changes though.

Anne – Would you share an excerpt of Nine For The Devil with us?

Mary/Eric – Of course!

Theodora may have been dead to those at the Great Palace and to the patrons of the inn within sight of the palace's bronze gates, but in the empire beyond she still lived. Soldiers camped on the Persian border traded coarse jokes about the former actress, thinking they insulted a living woman. General Belisarius, beaten back by the Goths in
Italy, could continue to hope for a few days longer that the empress might sway Justinian to send reinforcements. In Alexandria a monophysite clergyman penned a homily on Theodora's piety, unaware that she had already joined his heretical saints.
Now released into the city, word of her death flowed like a swiftly lengthening shadow along Constantinople's thoroughfares. It reached into taverns and baths, tenements and churches, bringing jubilation, satisfaction, and even sorrow. Borne by worshipers, the shadow fell across the encomium to her charitable works chiseled into the white marble entablature of the church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, and on the lips of a garrulous ferryman it passed over the whitened bones of her enemies scattered against the sea walls beneath the waters of the Marmara.
By nightfall Theodora would be dead to all who dwelt within the area bound by the capital's land walls. Weeks would pass before she died at the furthest outposts of the empire, from the Danube in the north and Egypt in the south, from Lazica east of the Black Sea to the westernmost part of the African Prefecture. She would go on living for several extra days in Syria, thanks to John the Cappadocian, the former official she so hated. News traveled slowly there because the Cappadocian had substituted plodding mules for horses as a money-saving measure.
Another John the late empress had hated, the Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian, turned away from the newly widowed ruler as the brief meeting of the imperial council ended.
John the Eunuch, as many called him but never to his face, was in his early fifties, a tall, lean Greek, clean-shaven, with high, sharp
cheekbones and sun-darkened skin. Age had not grayed his closely cropped black hair. He wore deep blue robes made of the finest cloth, adorned only by a narrow gold stripe along the hem. Dressed less elegantly, he could have passed for the mercenary he had been as a young man or a desert-dwelling hermit.
"John, please remain." The emperor spoke softly. His bland round and slightly puffy face looked too calm to belong to a man standing beside the body of his newly deceased wife.

Anne - Any words of advice for struggling, unpublished writers?

Mary - Write something every day. Should your ms be rejected, send it out again within 24 hours if at all possible. But don't take rejections personally. Remember, it's only one editor's opinion and the next could well be seeking just the sort of novel you have written. Above all, be polite, accept that luck can play a part in being published, and keep your sense of humour well sharpened. You're going to need it!

Eric - The two pieces of advice I would give are somewhat contradictory. You need to mostly ignore other people's opinions of your writing, but you also need to recognize when to take advice.

The manuscript for our first published novel, One for Sorrow, garnered few rejections from publishers and agents. One agent sent us a page of supercilious advice, indicating that we should be concentrating on earning the basics of writing before even thinking about publication. f course the book she dismissed as amateur drivel soon sold and was published to excellent reviews. Every individual's reaction to a book is subjective, no matter how much agents, editors, and reviewers might protest otherwise. The would-be writer has to keep searching for an editor or agent who shares the writer's taste. You can't give credence to every rejection.

However, at some point, if many people whose opinions can be trusted say the same things about your work, then maybe you need to pay attention. Too many writers insist on making the same mistakes over and over again. Simply repeating the same mistakes is not helpful. In fact, with too much practice the mistakes can become ingrained.

Anne – Great advice. Thank you Mary and Eric for dropping by today. It’s been such fun interviewing you both. In conclusion I’d like to encourage readers to visit your website, Eric's blog, and Mary's blog
Reader comments are always welcome and appreciated. Become a follower to ensure you receive every author interview, announcement and/or blog post on the Muriel Reeves Mysteries. Until next time, happy reading! J

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