# Excerpt #4 from A MOST MALICIOUS MURDER

Yay for Saturday! Here’s my latest snippet from A Most Malicious Murder — stuck in class and ruminating over what Poe had told him about the murdered chambermaid, Charles has to dissuade one of his friends from coming with him to meet Poe and discuss their next steps. Enjoy!

Unable to check his pocket watch and frustrated by the lack of visible clocks, an impatient Charles sat through his mathematics lecture only half-listening to the instructor as he tracked the passage of time by the wan afternoon sunlight. A milky square of it had finally reached the opposite wall of Mr. Sisson’s rooms when the mathematics don abruptly barked, “Mr. O’Donnell, am I boring you?”

Next to Charles, O’Donnell straightened out of a dozing slouch. “No, sir,” the undergraduate said, blinking heavily. “My apologies—I didn’t sleep well last night.”

“I see. You might wish to stay away from the public houses tonight. I find that a clear head and a stomach empty of alcohol makes sleep much more achievable.” The don pulled out his pocket watch, studying it. “We shall leave off our exploration of calculus here, gentlemen. I expect you all to do the assigned reading, and we shall continue our discussion next time.” His beady gaze fell on O’Donnell. “I look forward to your contribution, Mr. O’Donnell. Good afternoon.”

Charles gathered his books together, noting the barely restrained yawn that threatened to split O’Donnell’s face. Intellectually he knew that not everyone was as fascinated by mathematics as he was, but it still boggled him to see others nodding off during lectures on algebra and trigonometry. If he hadn’t been distracted with the news he’d learned from Poe, he would have been fascinated by Sisson’s discussion of calculus.

“The next lecture will be a joy,” O’Donnell said heavily as they filed out into the corridor. “Oh, well. Pater already knows I’m not a maths genius. Shall we deposit our notes in my rooms and go in search of afternoon tea? There may be more tidings about that poor chambermaid.”

The news about the murder had spread breathlessly throughout Christ Church by noon. While sawing through gravy-covered beef Charles had heard any number of theories about the murderer, each one more lurid than the next. “Oh. I-I’m afraid I have a prior engagement,” he apologized.

O’Donnell’s mouth quirked at that. “Abandoning me already? Ah, well. I suppose I can’t blame you—Pater always said I was a bad influence.”

“No, it’s n-not that at all.” Poe had intimated that he wasn’t to discuss the particulars of that unfortunate girl’s death. But O’Donnell couldn’t have had anything to do with it—quite apart from the fact that he was with me all evening, he’s not that sort.

Still, he didn’t like to lie, especially to a friend. “I’m going to finish the mathematics reading, and then I’m going to speak with M-mr. Poe about my writing.”

That caused O’Donnell to stop in his tracks. “You’re meeting with Poe? God in heaven, bring me along, please,” he begged. “I’d dearly relish a chance to speak with him about his inspiration.”

Charles wanted to groan in frustration. “I really m-must speak to him alone this time,” he said quickly. “But I promise I’ll d-do my best to get you an interview before he leaves, if you like.”

O’Donnell seemed ready to argue, but capitulated when Charles also promised to share his Mathematics notes. “Oh, all right. But if I don’t get a chance to speak to him before he leaves Oxford, I’ll grumble at you for the rest of the term.”

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# Excerpt #3 from A MOST MALICIOUS MURDER

TGIF! Here’s my latest snippet from A Most Malicious Murder — Eddy and Charles are puzzling over a mysterious clue left on the chambermaid’s body (and starting to get on each other’s nerves). Enjoy!

The undergraduates of Christ Church were housed in small but attractive rooms, a far cry from the catch-as-catch-can housing Eddy remembered from his time at the University of Virginia. “A pleasant space,” he said, fighting down a surge of jealousy as he studied the paneled walls and leaded windows.

Dodgson shrugged. “I’m more ap-preciative of the solitude, to be truthful,” he said, waving Eddy to a seat at an ancient oak table that doubled as a desk. “Now, if you can show me what needs to be translated?”

He pulled the paper from his breast pocket, smoothing it on the tabletop. “Does this make any sense to you?”

Dodgson studied the scrawled letters. “Hm. The alphabet is indeed Greek,” he said after a moment. “But the words are nonsensical. It’s as if someone simply c-copied down Greek letters in no particular order.”

Eddy felt his hopes sink. “Damn it all.”

The young man glanced at him, mouth pursed in disapproval. “Really, Mr. Poe, there’s no need to curse.”

Just his luck that he’d attracted an Oxford bluenose. “Dodgson, if you’d had the kind of morning I had, you’d be cursing like a sailor as well,” he said, rubbing his forehead. The hangover, held in abeyance by the need to find a translator, was making itself felt once more. “So this note is nothing but arrant nonsense?”

“I’m afraid so,” Dodgson agreed. “Unless someone is in the habit of sending c-coded messages in Ancient Greek, of course.”

A thought bulled through his headache. Coded messages, hidden meanings secreted behind a cryptological wall. “The words themselves may be nonsense,” he said slowly, “but could the arrangement of them form the pattern of a proper sentence, or whatever served as such in Ancient Greek?”

“Possibly,” Dodgson murmured. “You’re suggesting that this could be an anagram?”

“I am indeed. Can you try unscrambling it?”

“I believe so.” The undergraduate bent further over the desk, rapidly scribbling out combinations. “Yes, I think you’re right,” he muttered, writing out a revised version of the original code. “It appears to be a simple enough sentence—”

He stopped. “Oh, dear.”

“What does it say?” Eddy demanded.
Slowly, Dodgson took up the pen again and wrote five words in English underneath the revised Greek symbols. The two men stared at the translation, then at each other.

Catch me if you can.

Like what you’ve read so far? Preorder A Most Malicious Murder now from Amazon!

# Excerpt #2 from A MOST MALICIOUS MURDER

Happy Thursday! Here’s my latest snippet from A Most Malicious Murder from now until release day, just to whet your appetite. This snippet follows on a few minutes after the last snippet, and features Eddy trying to figure out how the heck he’s going to get out of Oxford in one piece. Enjoy!

I’m caught, like a rat in a cage.

Eddy rested his forehead against the door’s smooth wood, his gut aching from more than old wine. It was bad enough that he’d passed out in the same room as a corpse. Now he was trapped in Oxford until the police caught the murderer. Gossip flew on the wind; if the other stops on his tour caught word of what was happening, they could very well cancel his appearances, putting an end to his dreams for The Stylus and his career.

Elmira. He closed his eyes, thumping his forehead against the smooth oak with some force. For two years he had remained faithful to his temperance pledge, the only thing she’d required of him. If she learned of the shameful scene in the pub last night, he might lose his marriage as well as his career.

Or worse. They could arrest him for the chambermaid’s murder, and he would hang.

Eyes still shut, he stared at the pulsing starbursts in the darkness as if they could tell him what to do. Should he throw himself on the mercy of the local constabulary? Admit that he’d staggered dead drunk into the room opposite and passed out on the bed? Could he prove without a shadow of a doubt that he had nothing to do with that poor girl’s murder?

On the other hand, if he did stay quiet and they found out where he’d slept, he might as well sign a confession and march into the jail cell. He wanted to curl into a ball and weep. Tomlinson was useless, Ponsonby was in London and might as well be in Timbuktu, and he didn’t dare call on Elmira. Dear God in heaven, he was truly alone in this.

A hysterical laugh bubbled up in his throat. Not alone, no. How could he forget his looming guardian angels Collin and Furnow? His reputation, his marriage, his very life depended on the wit of two provincial police officers, when what he really needed were the services of—

Dupin. His eyes popped open. One of his greatest literary inventions, C. Auguste Dupin was a detective who had starred in four spine-chilling tales of mystery and murder. In each story Dupin had used ratiocination, or the process of logical thinking, to winkle out the killer.

Granted, Dupin was merely a fictional creation. But the brilliant detective was a product of his own imagination, and thus gifted with certain of his own characteristics, wasn’t he? If he used the same process of ratiocination, surely there was a chance that he could solve this crime himself, thereby clearing his name and saving his life in the process?

Returning to the room’s wooden chair, he dropped onto it. So what would Dupin do?

The answer was immediate—he’d start with the body. But I can’t go back and look at it—her.

Then again, perhaps he didn’t need to. Deliberately he closed his eyes again. The horrible image of the girl’s flayed belly with those crimson symbols carved over it came into view. Blindly, he scrabbled for his quill, dipping it into the ink pot by feel and scribbling the glyphs over his partial poem.

Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes and studied what he’d written. To his surprise, he recognized the symbols he’d scratched out; Ancient Greek letters, arranged in five groups. As if they formed a sentence.

He chewed his lip, trying to puzzle out out the letters. While some of the symbols were familiar, he had no idea what the actual words said. He needed a translator to work out the message. Surely in this center of learning, Tomlinson would know of someone fluent in that classic language—

Tomlinson. Eddy groaned. Ponsonby’s man was supposed to arrive at noon to escort him to the train station for the second leg of the book tour. But if Furnow had already interrogated him about the events of last night, Tomlinson was undoubtedly telegraphing London for instructions on how to handle a writer under suspicion of murder.

Grabbing his coat and hat, Eddy folded the paper and stuffed it into his coat pocket on the way out the door. He had to find Tomlinson, and quickly.

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# Excerpt #1 from A MOST MALICIOUS MURDER

I’m going to be posting snippets from A Most Malicious Murder from now until release day, just to whet your appetite. This snippet is set a few hours after Eddy has discovered that not only did he drunkenly stumble into the wrong hotel room, but there’s a dead chambermaid on the floor. Enjoy!

Eddy licked dry lips, trying to think. The discovery of the dead chambermaid would be forever branded on his brain; the gutted figure sprawled at his feet, the metallic odor of old blood heavy in the air, wine-flavored bile filling his mouth as he staggered back, fighting not to vomit it all over the corpse.

He forced himself to calm. “I was an invited guest at a lecture at Christ Church College, where I spoke about the state of American poetry. After which I was taken to a pub. I think it was called the Saddler’s Arms—”

“By whom?”

“By—oh. A Mr. Tomlinson. He’s an employee of Ponsonby Publishing in London.” He watched while the constable jotted down the information. “While there, I’m afraid I may have, uh, overindulged myself, and Mr. Tomlinson helped me back to the Mitre. After that, I don’t remember anything until I was awoken by that poor woman’s scream this morning.”

Memories crowded into his head, making him cringe. The chambermaid’s expression of utter despair, eyes dull and milky. Reddish hair disarrayed from its neat bun, and bruises ringing her throat. He’d edged past the sticky red pool, not wanting to look any longer at her body and the destruction wreaked on her lower abdomen, which had been flayed open like an anatomical illustration.

But his gaze kept returning to the gory opening with sick fascination; the killer had left her skirt flipped up, as if to show off his butchering artistry.

And the glyphs carved into the freckled skin of her belly.

The image had seared itself into his memory. Gorge rising, he’d lunged for the door. It was the purest of luck that no one was in the hallway as he darted across to his own room, especially as it took precious minutes to fumble the key from his pocket and shove it home into the lock.

Once inside, he had sunk onto the bed, shaking like the proverbial leaf. No time at all seemed to pass before he’d heard the first shrill scream from across the hallway. Someone, another chambermaid by the sound of it, had discovered the grisly scene. He knew he should act the part of the innocent bystander; throw open the door, demand to know what was going on. But his body had rebelled, keeping him cowering on the bed until mid-morning.

It wasn’t until someone knocked at the door that he’d managed to force himself off of the bedclothes. The visitor was an Officer Collin of the Oxford City Watch, who explained that there had been an unfortunate occurrence in the hotel that morning and it was his task to investigate the death of one Jane Billings, chambermaid.

Collin was a tall, florid man with pale hair and hard eyes who reminded Eddy unpleasantly of his in-laws. “Hm,” the watchman now said, peering at a small notebook where he had been jotting down the story. “And you heard nothing, you say? No struggles, no shouts or screams before the one that woke you up?”

Eddy dredged up a sorrowful look. “As I’ve already explained to you, I’m afraid I was well in my cups by the time I returned to the hotel.” His imp’s reedy voice piped up, and before he could stop himself he added, “I suspect the girl could have been murdered in my very room, and I wouldn’t have noticed a thing.”

Collin frowned at that. “Odd that you should say that, Mister—” he studied his notebook again, “Poe. Your room is the closest to the room where the murder took place. It strikes me as rather strange that you didn’t hear a thing, even in spite of your, hem, condition.”

Shame caused his face to warm. “As I said before, I was not at my best last night,” he said defensively. “As a result, I heard nothing.”

Before Collin could continue his questioning, another knock sounded. Muttering an apology, Eddy went to the door and opened it.

A portly man in a plain but serviceable black suit and bowler hat stood in the hall. Belatedly, Eddy remembered Tomlinson pointing out the sartorial combination as the uniform of the university’s private police force, referred to as bulldogs.

“Mr. Poe, I believe?” the man said, tipping his hat politely. “My name is Constable Furnow. I’m with the Oxford University Police. May I come in?”

Like what you’ve read so far? Preorder A Most Malicious Murder now from Amazon!

# Foo. It’s Done.

As you may know, Bob, twelve years after its inception I finally finished A Most Malicious Murder and put it up for pre-order on Amazon (it comes out there on August 31st, will be available on all other ebook platforms the day after, and will also have a print version).

Of course, now I have to launch into all the pre-release activities that will hopefully get the book noticed and reviewed. I’m in the middle of putting together a media pack, I’ll have ARCs ready by the end of next week for reviewers, I’m going through and finding all the Poe and Carroll websites I can in hopes of drumming up interest in said ARCs/media packs, and I may even go with a book tour company for this one.

One huge blessing with all of this is that I’m an old pro at promotion, thanks to all of my Nicola Cameron books. Of course, MMM will be slightly different — I won’t be able to use any of my romance reviewers/book bloggers/Bookstagrammers, so I’ll have to build an SF/mystery list of those from scratch. But I do have a To Do list of everything I need to get done in the next three weeks, and I’m going to spend the weekend compiling a list of reviewers and bloggers who like mixed genre books.

And I have to admit, I’m excited about this. It’s my first novel to come out under my own name, and I’m really hoping that SF and mystery readers enjoy it as much as romance readers have enjoyed my Nicola stories. Gonna be a busy August, that’s for sure.

# Currently on the writing desk

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I not only have three novels and one novella in progress at the moment (all of them for my Nicola M. Cameron SF/fantasy/paranormal romance line), I’m also editing my first full-length novel to be published under my own name, A Most Malicious Murder (aka Edgar Allan Poe and Lewis Carroll team up to solve a murder in 1851 Oxford).

Granted, MMM has been in progress for about ten years, ever since I saw Jeffrey Combs’s one-man play Nevermore, and finished for about eight of those years, but I’m finally at the point where all I need to do is give it a good whack or two with the editorial machete, have my regular editor check it to make sure I haven’t screwed up anything, and it’ll be ready for release.

I hope. We’ll see.

At right, BTW, is the draft cover. Once I get the text done and off to the editor, it’ll be time to buy all the requisite images and do the final version. Oh, this is gonna be fun

# Trying something new

As you may know, Bob, the knee that I violently dislocated in college (snapped a chip off the underside of the patella, required surgery to relocate it) has finally deteriorated to the point where I need a knee replacement. Well, to be honest I needed one about two years ago, but we weren’t in a financial position to afford that.

We are now, thanks to my contract work, but of course COVID-19 has made going into a hospital something of a crap shoot and I’m willing to put it off until the curve flattens to my satisfaction here in the clavicle of Texas. While I am waiting, I have decided to see if I can reduce my weight to the point where 1) it makes surgery safer and 2) it takes pressure off my bad knee.

Now, I’m a heroically sized woman with two metabolic disorders, so I’ve tried every frigging diet there is over the years. The only ones that ever seemed to work were some form of carb restriction, but for me those are hard to maintain because 1) buying all that protein and good fat gets expensive and 2) you have to do a shitload of cooking. Also, the moment I went off them the weight came back on, so not a long term solution for me.

In parallel, one of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that my metabolism adjusts really quickly to any sort of change. Calorie reduction diets tended to work for about a week, and then I hit a plateau as my body clearly assumed I was in a famine situation and it had to hang onto every ounce of fat possible, so it slowed to a crawl. In the back of my mind I’d mused that I really should try mixing up eating programs in order to fool my metabolism and get past those plateaus. Hold that thought because we’re going to come back to it in a minute.

Last Thursday, I was idly doomscrolling through Twitter when I saw a promoted tweet by a trainer inviting me to find out what kind of body I had and what my unique metabolism needed in order for me to get fit. Normally I ignore those, but since I was in “let’s get knee surgery” mode I figured I would check it out. It led to a website that asked my sex, age range, height, activity level, and what my body shaping goals were. I entered everything honestly, and a video started that told me I was an endomorph.

Yeah, no shit, Sherlock, kinda aware of that. But the trainer went on to explain that endomorphs are metabolic marvels because — ta da — our metabolisms will adjust quickly to any sort of caloric restriction and slow down to a crawl in order to save our lives because clearly we’re living in a famine. Once regular caloric intake is resumed, it starts storing fat again to ward off the next famine. Okay, knew that already.

He then explained that what endomorphs needed to do in order to get fit is engage in metabolic confusion. Essentially, instead of restricting calories we need to talk our metabolisms into not shutting everything down by cycling calories and macronutrients — days that concentrate on good fats are followed by days that concentrate on complex carbs, and low calorie days are followed by normal calorie days.

*blink*blink* Oh. OH. Like mixing up those eating plans. Like the times I was surprised when I didn’t eat a lot one day, then ate a bunch the next day, and on day 3 I lost weight. You mean, I was supposed to be doing that all along?

Now, the science behind this is still a little murky, and proponents admit this. But from an evolutionary standpoint, metabolic confusion does make a certain kind of sense. We’re descended from primates that were never sure where their next meal was coming from, so lean days followed by feast days was just another week for them, and we still have those genes. (Man, do I have them.) Also, this may not work for everyone. If you can eat whatever you like and not gain weight, obviously this is not a good eating plan for you, and it’s probably not the best thing for athletes or bodybuilders. But for me, a 54-year-old writer whose exercise methods have been curtailed by COVID-19 and a crappy knee, and who regularly hits plateaus on other eating plans? Yeah, it might just work.

So I figured fuck it, it sounds reasonable (moreover, it sounds DOABLE), and I’d try it. I didn’t have anything in the house for a proper low-carb day so the next day, Friday, was a carbs day with a serving of carbs at every meal. I masked up and hit Kroger to get what I needed, and Saturday was a fats day, Sunday was a carb day, and Monday was a fats day — my schedule for the next four weeks would be M-W-F-Su as fats days and T-Th-Sa as carb days.

Now, mind you, even on carb days I’m not going crazy with carbs — I’m eating vegetables and lean protein, and drinking 64 ounces of water, and I’m doing my best to focus on complex carbs. Have I had some cookies or ice cream? Yes to both. But as the occasional treat, not as meals.

Today is Tuesday. Last Thursday I weighed 331.2. This morning I weighed 327.8. I haven’t done anything unusual, didn’t even really start working out (that starts this week), ate plenty, never felt hungry, and dropped 3.4 pounds. But that happens every time I start a new eating plan. The question is, will it actually continue this time?

I don’t know, but it’s not as if I have anything else to do right now, so what the hell, might as well experiment. The goal is to get under 300 pounds because that will be a point where a surgeon will be more willing to take me on as a knee replacement candidate (it also means I can climb ladders with some degree of safety). If I can go lower, great, but right now I’m just focusing on those 27.8 pounds. And if it looks like I’m plateauing, I’ll switch it up to fats on MTWTh and carbs FSaSu, or even do it one week fats and one week carbs, and continue to switch things back and forth as necessary.

Let’s see how this goes.

# A great end to a terrific con

This weekend I attended the last ever ConDFW, one of the excellent literary SF conventions in the DFW area. I’ve been an attendee and panelist since it first started in 2001, and I’ve followed it through four hotel changes and some absolutely amazing GOHs. This year’s guests were Charlaine Harris, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing on Saturday, and Yoon Ha Lee, who was interviewed by my friend and fellow Future Classic Michelle Muenzler.

For me, the con went out on a Queen of the Night-worthy high note. I hit a new personal best of moderating nine panels over a weekend (seven in one day), the interview with Charlaine went incredibly well and the audience enjoyed it, and I made a tidy sum in the dealer’s room thanks to a generous donation of a table by Gloria Oliver. Even better, I came home energized and pumped on a number of fronts, both creative and promotional, and tomorrow I’m going to get stuck back into writing with a vengeance.

My thanks go out to Dan Robb and his amazing troupe of department heads, volunteers, and everyone who has made this con run like clockwork over the last eighteen years. Y’all have done yeoman work with ConDFW, and will now get your well-deserved break.

# Huh. That’s interesting…

On Tuesday, I had a doctor’s appointment to remove a small epidermoid cyst on my upper back. No big deal, totally benign, it’s basically skin cells that become envaginated inside the epidermis and slowly grow until the cyst is removed.

While I was stretched out on the exam table as Dr. W did his job, I mentioned that my BP had been elevated when the nurse had taken it (she’d done it on my left arm and had gotten a reading of 180/100, which scared the crap out of her. When she tried my right arm, it was 160/88, which was better but still not good) and how I’ve been having an elevated BP all year and maybe it was time to discuss hypertension meds. He agreed, took my BP again after the removal procedure (it had dropped to 130/84, go figure) and said, “Yeah, considering your history and all, let’s put you on an ACE inhibitor. It’s effective, dirt cheap, and the only side effect most people report is a dry tickle in the throat.”

So off I go with my spandy new prescription for lisinopril, get it filled, and take the first dose. No side effects, but I did notice that there was a certain loosening in my chest, which felt good. I then went home and researched my new med, and found medical studies that recommended taking it at bedtime so that it would be most available during the night when the heart repairs and remodels itself. Makes perfect sense, and last night was the first one I took a dose at bedtime.

Then I found another study on ACE inhibitors from 2008, an Australian one with an absolutely fascinating result. It had been reported in a lot of the news agencies at the time, then promptly disappeared. I did some more digging and found follow-up studies from 2012 and 2013 that seemed to reinforce the conclusion from the 2008 study. I don’t want to wander off into tinfoil hat woowoo territory so I’m not going to go into detail about this, not yet. Not until I’ve had a chance to see how the conclusion of the study applies to me, if it does at all.

Although if it does, I may have to fly to Australia and give those researchers some big ol’ kisses because it would explain one hell of a lot about the hot mess that is my endocrine system. Stay tuned.

# I probably should post something here, hey

The reason why I haven’t posted anything since I pretty much moved everything over to WordPress is simple — I now have four different WP website/blogs that I maintain, and logging in and out is a PITA so I tend to stay logged into one and keep it that way.

That being said, it’s ridiculous that I’m paying for a blog over here and not using it, so, hello. New publishing stuff since April — I’ve published another Nicola paranormal romance novella, Shifter Woods: Roar,  I have two short stories out in the new Future Classics anthology A Lone Star in the Sky, I’m thisclose to finishing book three in Nicola’s Two Thrones series, and I’ve submitted works to Carina Press and an agent.

New arting stuff — I now have 33 covers under my belt, which pleases me as a graphic artist, and I’ll be adding at least three more covers to that number before the end of the year. I knew buying that Wacom drawing tablet was going to be a good investment.

New personal stuff — this past summer in the clavicle of Texas has been remarkably mild, and according to the battery of medical tests I’ve had due to turning 50 and being eligible for ALL kinds of free screenings I’m relatively healthy and should continue to kick around for another twenty years or so, barring accident, murder, or incoming asteroid. The J Crew continue on their merry feline ways, the Bodacious Brit is both British and bodacious as always, and while I rather liked Episode 1 of Star Trek: Discovery I doubt that we’ll be paying for CBS Access because that way lies madness.

Oh, and apparently as of October 18th the Department of Homeland Security will start collecting social media information on all immigrants and their families/associates, so as the wife of a green card holder I presume that I’ll be watched by DC. Hello, boys!