Friday, June 26, 2009

Part 2 -- Creating The Rune Stone Murders

It’s amazing how time gets away from you. I was planning to post part two of "Creating the Rune Stone Murders" late last week. But massive storms inundated Chicago on Friday. Instead of writing my blog, I spent the day helping my husband pump rainwater out of our basement. Saturday I had a book signing at Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore followed by a birthday party for my great-nephew and a bowling party with my grandchildren. Sunday we celebrated Father’s Day with a barbecue at my daughter’s house. Then on Monday and Tuesday I babysat my 4-month-old grandson Christian all day. As for Wednesday…don’t even ask!

But now it’s Thursday, and without any more excuses, here’s how a History Channel program extolling the exploits of Leif Erikson helped me tie my perfect heist plot to a Renaissance Fair setting.

For those of you who dozed through World History in high school, let me give you a brief background lesson on Leif Erikson.

Leif was a Norseman – or Viking – who was born in Iceland over a thousand years ago and lived most of his life in Greenland. Like all adventurous Vikings, Leif spent a good deal of his time aboard ships. Around the year 1001, he sailed west from Greenland in search of new lands. He eventually put ashore at a place he called Helluland ("Land of the Flat Stones"), now reckoned to be Canada’s Baffin Island. From Helluland he sailed on to a forested region he named Markland ("Wood-land") in what is believed to be modern day Labrador. After more time at sea, he finally dropped anchor in Vinland ("Wine-land" or "Meadow-land") where he spent the winter.

Vinland’s exact location remains unclear, but historians believe it was somewhere along the Canadian or New England coastlines. Those who favor the Canadian theory were cheered by the discovery in 1960 of the remains a Norse settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. The structures and artifacts found there didn’t prove conclusively that Vinland and L’Anse aux Meadows were one and the same. But they did prove without a doubt that Leif Ericson reached North America approximately 500 years before Christopher Columbus.

There are those who believe that Ericson – or his followers – explored not only the coastline of North America, but also the interior of the continent. In 1898, Olaf Ohman uncovered a possible Viking relic while farming in Minnesota. The stone he dug up was covered with runes, letters from the ancient Norse alphabet. Known as "The Kensington Rune Stone", the artifact was the subject of much debate among archaeologists. Some dismissed it as a hoax while others swore it was authentic. Despite the controversy, the stone was placed in a Minnesota museum where, nine years ago, two respected scientists examined it using modern technology. Their tests showed the stone to be at least 700 years old. Dated to the 1300’s, the Kensington Rune Stone appears to be a genuine record of Viking exploration into the heart of America.

All the above information was covered in the History Channel’s program. A thought occurred to me after watching it: if the Vikings reached Minnesota via the Great Lakes, why couldn’t they also have reached Illinois, home to my fictional university town of Rhineburg? And if they did reach it, why couldn’t they have left a rune stone behind to record their achievement?

A perfect heist, a Renaissance Fair, and a rune stone. Hmmm….

And then it came to me. What if the students at Rhineburg’s Bruck University dug up a rune stone while preparing for the school’s annual Renaissance Fair? And what if the rune stone was stolen, thus leading to an investigation by my main characters, Caroline Rhodes and Professor Carl Atwater?

But why steal a rune stone? And how could I tie the theft to the perfect heist I’d already plotted for the book?

These and other questions will be answered in part three of "Creating The Rune Stone Murders".

Friday, June 19, 2009

Creating The Rune Stone Murders

What do Renaissance Fairs, rune stones, and post office employees have in common?

Absolutely nothing -- unless you allow a writer to run wild with her imagination.

That’s exactly what happened to me when I wrote The Rune Stone Murders.

I had an idea for a perfect heist story, one where the bad guys got away with their crime for decades. I only had to figure out how my series characters, Caroline Rhodes and Professor Carl Atwater, would root out the criminals and reveal their perfidy.

And then my oldest daughter suggested a day out for the women in the family. It was summer, and there was a Renaissance Fair taking place in Wisconsin just over the Illinois border. A day at the fair sounded like fun, so we all piled into one car and merrily made our way north.

It was one of those perfect Midwestern summer Sundays when the sky is free of clouds, the humidity is acceptably low, and the temperature is pleasantly warm but not outrageous. A good-sized crowd was in attendance at the fair, and everyone was in a good mood.

Strolling down the grassy paths that wound among the Old English buildings erected for the fair, we explored booth after booth featuring crafts from the Middle Ages. Candles, jewelry, herbs, glassware, and leather and woven clothing of all sorts dominated the scene. Fortunetellers sat stolidly in the shade, waiting to read your palm or the Tarot cards after you finished gorging on deep-fried turkey legs and roasted corn on the cob. Knights and ladies casually made their way to the queen’s pavilion, waving to fair goers while jesters followed them juggling brightly colored balls and wooden bowling pins. Shaded by an awning, three men wrestled in a mud pit to the amusement of their audience. Farther down the road, a man demonstrated falconry to a crowd seated near the jousting stands. Magicians and acrobats wandered the grounds, delighting both young and old.

It was a magical day, full of delightful new experiences for me, and I came away from it determined to include a Renaissance Fair in one of my novels.

But how could I mesh my perfect heist with a Renaissance Fair setting? The answer came to me a week later while watching a TV program about Leif Erikson and his Viking community in Newfoundland.

Coming in my next blog: Leif’s impact on The Rune Stone Murders.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

We Have Our Winners!

We have our winners in the "Things Babies Think" contest!

Doranna suggests this caption for the picture on the left.

"For my last trick, I'll blend completely into the background and leave only my smile."

Great line, Doranna!

Natalie sent in the following caption for this picture.

"The first one to blink loses."

And in the picture to the left, Lane thinks Christian is saying,

"I won't go to sleep until I finish Grandma's book! I won't go to sleep. I won't go..."

Thanks to their imaginative replies, Doranna, Lane, and Natalie all win a multi-author signed copy of MISSING. Congratulations to all!

Friday, June 5, 2009


Have you read the blog below called "The Things Babies Think!"? It includes some fun photos of my youngest grandchild along with captions depicting what I think he's thinking. If you can come up a better caption for one of the pictures, you just might win a multi-author signed copy of MISSING, an anthology of short mystery stories, all of which revolve around missing people and or things. Send your caption as a comment to the blog below, or email me at I'll be announcing the winner in one week.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Things Babies Think!

Did you ever wonder what babies think of when interacting with adults? My husband and I have been babysitting our 3-month-old grandson two days a week since mid-May. Over the past few weeks we've tried to imagine Christian's thoughts as we coo and burble and make funny faces at him. We're simply trying to amuse the little guy, but is that how he sees it? Does he find us to be funny, or simply crazy? When I look at the pictures below, here's what I imagine he's thinking.

"Safe and sound in Dad's arms. Not a bad way to sleep."

"Okay. My feet are on the floor.
What do I do next?"

"Don't worry. Your mom will come back for you.
Mine always does."

"You want me to do what?"

"This is how you should hold your bat, Dad!"

"And I'm supposed to do what with this?"

"Oh, yeah. Keep scratching that spot, Mom!"

"Got my flag, got my pillow.
Bring on the Olympics!"

"A warm bottle, a long nap, and a
good poop in the pants. Can't get much
better than this."

"You protect yourself
with your left hand and
jab with your right!"

"So if pi equals 3.14, then the circumference
of the lion's head must be..."

"Hey! Don't blame me. The leopard thing was her idea!"

Monday, June 1, 2009


If you live in Chicago, or anywhere near it, and have never attended the Printers Row Lit Festival, you don't know what you're missing.
Every year thousands of people head to downtown Chicago to peruse the over two hundred booths and tables manned by an equal number of booksellers, publishing companies, writing groups, and other book related vendors. Be it fiction or non-fiction, used or new or antiquarian, you can find whatever type of book you're interested in at Printers Row.
And the fun isn't limited to adults only. There are plenty of activities for children centered around the Kids Center Stage sponsored by Chicago's Shedd Aquarium. Music, story-telling, and hands-on activities are supplemented by dozens of dealers selling children's books. Six other stages covering a five-block area feature over 100 free literary programs for people of all ages.

This year's Printers Row Lit Festival takes place on June 6th and 7th from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M., rain or shine. I'll be there signing books in the Echelon Press booth along with a dozen other authors currently published by that company. The booth can be found on Dearborn Street just north of Harrison, so if you're in the neighborhood, please stop by and say hello. Along with several other authors, I'll be signing copies of MISSING, an anthology of short stories dealing with missing people or missing things. My story, "The Case of the Fugitive Farmer", features my series character Caroline Rhodes in an investigation that stretches back to World War I.

I'll also be signing copies of A MERRY LITTLE MURDER and THE RUNE STONE MURDERS, both of which feature Caroline Rhodes and her good friend Professor Carl Atwater. I'm pleased to say that both books received favorable reviews by sources such as the Chicago Sun Times and Romantic Times Magazine. If you enjoy amateur sleuth novels, you might want to try one of the four books in my "Rhodes to Murder" series. If you can't get down to Printers Row, you can ask for them at your local library.
You can find more information on Printers Row, including maps and directions to the fair, at I thank the Tribune for the wonderful photos shown on this page.