Friday, December 29, 2017

21 Questions about Writing: When did you decide to be a writer?

Last January, I gave this interview for "Flashes of Brilliance" the ezine for

Mostly I'd answer the questions in the same way now, except that I have two more books out: The Queen of Staves, Camilla Randall Mystery #6, and The Author Blog: Easy Blogging for Busy Authors, and we have lost the wonderful author and editor, Paul Alan Fahey, who had just launched our anthology Equality a few weeks before I gave this interview. I miss him terribly.

Q 1. When did you first know writing was the career for you?

I've written fiction pretty much since I could hold a crayon, and I had some poems published and plays produced when I was
Anne on the Wicked Stage
younger, but I didn't think of writing as a possible career until after I'd spent 25 years in the theater.

It hit me one day when I was driving home after a performance of A Comedy of Errors at the Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts. I should have been exhilarated. I love performing Shakespeare. But I realized that acting didn't feel creative anymore and I no longer felt that hunger to perform that had always driven me.

The next day I bought a copy of Jeff Herman's Guide to Literary Agents and decided to treat my writing as a career and not a hobby.

Q 2. What inspires you to write mysteries?

I've always loved to read mysteries for relaxation. 


People often ask me how I can find something as abhorrent as murder relaxing, but I'm talking about the classic British style mystery that's a puzzle rather than a gorefest. 

In a classic mystery, reason and order always triumph. I prefer to call what I write "classic mystery" rather than "cozy" because these days "cozy" suggests cupcakes will be involved. My books are darkly satiric and fairly cupcake-free. 

But what inspires me is that classic return to order. Like the resolving chord in a piece of classical music.

Q 3. Which one of your novels do you most like and why?

That's a tough question. It's like asking a parent which one of their children they like best. 

On SALE for 99c!
I do think a lot of people prefer No Place Like Home, the fourth of the Camilla Randall mysteries. It has a number of homeless characters and they are heroes, not victims, which people find refreshing.

It's also the one where I introduce Ronzo, the tarot-reading tough guy from New Jersey, Camilla's best bad boyfriend so far.

(Update: It's on sale in December 2017 for only 99c)

Q 4. What inspires you to write your blog Anne R. Allen's Blog... with Ruth Harris and give advice to other authors?

I've been in the business a long time now and I see so much bogus stuff out there. I feel the urge to help newbies fight through the fog of misinformation and scamitude.

Anne R. Allen's Blog...With Ruth Harris

Sometimes the blog can be overwhelming and Ruth and I talk about giving it up or cutting back. But writers keep telling us how much it has helped them with their careers, and how it's saved them from getting sucked in by scams or wounded by rejections. So we keep going. There are lots of writers out there making the same mistakes we did when we started out.

As we say, "We made the mistakes so you don't have to."

Q 5. How have the experiences from travelling and working in the Performing Arts made their way into your work?

Every person I've met and every role I've played has given me insight into another aspect of being human. 
As the Gypsy in Skin of our Teeth

I think my experiences have helped me have empathy with my characters. Even the nasty ones.

My varied background has also given me perspective. When you have distance from something, you can see the humor in it. My novels are all comedies.

Q 6. What is your favorite part of writing mysteries?

I love it when the story surprises me and I have to throw out my outline because the characters have taken over. 
The Latest Camilla Mystery

Very often I find I was totally wrong about who the murderer is.

I read recently that used to happen to Agatha Christie, too.

Q 8. Could you tell us a little about what inspired your main character from your mysteries?

Camilla Randall, who is a "magnet for murder, mayhem, and Mr. Wrong" was inspired by an article I read in the New York Times sometime in the 1980s. A snobby reporter wrote a profile of a young debutante that was so condescending I wanted to give her a voice to defend herself.

The Camilla Prequel

My story was just short flash piece, but the characters stuck with me—including the gay playwright who accompanied her. I later developed it into a longer story, and finally ended up writing a book about Camilla, plus the playwright Plantagenet Smith, and the interviewer Jonathan Kahn.

That was The Best Revenge, which now serves as a prequel to the other mysteries. It explains how Camilla and Plantagenet became a kind of Will and Grace of mystery-solving.

Q 9. How do you market your books? Do you have any advice for people marketing their works?

Oh, that's a tough one! Pretty much everything that worked to market books last year doesn't work now, and what works now won't work in six months. 

My First Booksigning

We are so dependent on algorithms and tech these days, and it all changes so rapidly.

The one thing that's a constant is that you need to keep in touch with your fans with a mailing list for your blog or newsletter and don't count on any one platform or retailer. 

Q 10. What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?

I suppose the biggest surprise was finding out how few books really make any money and how every book is a gamble. 

Q 11. What would you like people to take away from your books?

I want to offer entertainment for readers who don't like to be patronized. I call it escapist reading for English majors.
A Satire of Small Publishing

I also offer insight into the publishing industry and make fun of its foibles. I hope I give people a chance to laugh. I'm a great believer in the healing power of laughter. 

Q 12. What interests you the most about the art of writing?

Meeting the people. Getting to know my characters as they emerge on the page.

Q 13. How do you work out the clues in your mystery novels? Do you plan where you are going to put them in advance?

Oh, yes, I plan everything in advance, and plot all those clues. 

Then halfway through the novel, I throw it all out the window because something more interesting happens. So I have to go back and replant every clue.

Q 14. Which writers inspire you?

Oh that's a long list! My tastes are wildly eclectic. When I was young, I was a huge fan of Vonnegut. Read everything he wrote. But I also loved Dorothy Parker. And William Butler Yeats. 

I carried around a copy of the collected works of W.B. Yeats when I hitchhiked around Europe after college. Couldn't be without it.

And I still read and reread the great classic mystery writers: Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Ngiao Marsh. 

And I adore P.G. Wodehouse. And Jane Austen. The real Jane, not the spin-offs. Most people forget that she's hilarious.

Q 16. What is the most important single piece of advice you offer aspiring authors?

Be kind. Work well with others. Writers are not in competition with each other. Networking is the best way to get ahead in this business.

Q 17. What was the best writing advice that you ever received?

I had a one-on-one pitch session with a Bantam editor at a writers' conference early on when I was nowhere near ready to pitch. At the end of my stumbling presentation, I asked him if he thought my book was any good.

He said, "I can't tell you that. I can tell you it's not what I'm looking for. That just means it's not what they're buying this year. But it doesn't mean they won't be buying it next year. Keep at it." 

Q 18. Your guidebook for writers HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE…A SELF-HELP GUIDE is a collaboration with bestselling author Catherine Ryan Hyde. Please tell us about the book and how it could/can help new authors.

Our book helps new writers in so many ways. It's got all the basic information about how to negotiate the publishing industry, whether you're planning to go indie or the traditional route. It helps you decide if you want to go for a contract with the Big Five, a mid-sized press, a small press, digital first press, or totally DIY.

We also have advice on how to build platform, start a blog, use social media, network with your fellow writers, plus write a good query, synopsis, pitch, etc.

But we call it a "self-help guide" for a reason. There's a lot about how to deal with rejection, writer's block, and cyberbullies, as well as social media etiquette and the "unwritten rules" of getting along with people online.

Q 19. Members often ask how to write a query letter. What advice can you offer?

Do your homework! Most queries get rejected because they're sent to the wrong person. I get queries every day from wannabe guest bloggers. Only about 1% of them have a clue they're querying a writing blog. 

Agent friends tell me the same thing. So many writers fail to check to see what they actually represent. 

Q 20. You are bringing out two new books on January 15th, 2017. What are they about?

I was part of a great launch event on the 15th, MLK Day, at a local
Paul Alan Fahey
bookstore. We launched a fantastic new anthology called Equality, which has contributions from 25 authors—some very well known—on the subject of "what you think about when you think of equality." It's a marvelously international book, published by Vine Leaves Press, an Australian company, and edited by my fellow Californian, Rainbow award-winner Paul Alan Fahey, with contributions from authors from all over the world.

They include historical mystery superstar Anne Perry, Christopher Bram (Gods and Monsters) Dennis Palumbo (My Favorite Year) Catherine Ryan Hyde (Pay it Forward) Victoria Zackheim (The Other Woman) and many others.

Six of us were also launching our latest books. For me it was the paper and audio versions of So Much for Buckingham, #5 in the Camilla Randall series, where I tackle the subject of cyberbullying in the writing community, from the point of view of a both a persecuted reviewer and an author who makes the mistake of responding to a review, which unleashes an attack of cyberbullying that leads to murder.

Q 21. Where and in which formats are your books available?

All ten of my stand-alone books plus the two boxed sets as well as most of the anthologies are available in ebook. Most are also available in print (some large print) and four are also available in audiobook. Ghostwriters in the Sky is available in Spanish and Why Grandma Bought that Car is available in Portuguese and Italian.

What about you? Do you write? What was the best advice you ever received about writing? What made you decide to be a writer? 

No Place Like Home: Camilla Randall Comedy-Mystery #4

(But it can be read as a stand-alone)

Wealthy Doria Windsor is suddenly homeless and accused of a murder she didn't commit. But Camilla, with the help of a brave trio of homeless people, the adorable Mr. X, and a little dog named Toto, is determined to unmask the real killer and discover the dark secrets of Doria’s deceased “financial wizard” husband before Doria is killed herself.

"A warp-speed, lighthearted comedy-mystery"...Abigail Padgett
"A fun, charming novel about the rich and less so" ...Karen Doering
"A cross of dry British humor and American wackiness, and it all adds up to a fun read." ...Deborah Bayles.
"It's comedy about a dark topic – homelessness – and it succeeds without ever descending into tasteless insensitivity, or tipping over into sentimentality."...Lucinda Elliot
Available at all the Amazons and NOOK Page Foundry, Kobo and iTunes It's also available in paperback from Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Barnes and Noble, in regular and LARGE PRINT. LARGE PRINT is also available at Barnes and Noble.
Narrated by award-winner C. S. Perryess and Anne R. Allen (as Camilla)
Nearly 8 hours of hilarious entertainment!Only $1.99 if you buy the Kindle ebook

Friday, November 24, 2017

In Praise of Micro-Publishers

On November 23rd, The New Publishing Standard reported that sales from micro-publishers in the UK have soared by nearly 80% in the last year.
I'm glad to hear it. Micro- and small presses are responsible for my career, and I'm proud to have been published by four of them, three from the UK: Babash-Ryan, MWiDP, and Kotu Beach Press. Popcorn Press  which published two of my books in 2011, is in the US.

Babash-Ryan and MWiDP have stopped publishing, and Popcorn has gone back to exclusively publishing poetry and games. But Kotu Beach is still going strong. Next month they'll publish my nonfiction book, THE AUTHOR BLOG: EASY BLOGGING FOR BUSY AUTHORS.

I'm not surprised that smaller presses are doing so well. Things in big publishing are getting very same-y. There hasn't been a major new trend for a number of years.

The biggest trends in publishing generally come from small presses. The primary goal of small publishers is to produce good books rather than please corporate shareholders. With the smallest
the ones called "micro-presses"the owners are the editors and marketers as well, and they are often labors of love. 

That's why small presses start trends, rather than follow them.

Consider the Harry Potter series, first published by Bloomsbury, a small UK press, in 1997. And Fifty Shades of Gray was first published by an Australian digital micro-press, the Writer's Coffee Shop, in 2011. 

Why Small Presses Thrive in an Innovation-Starved Market

In another article on the subject this week, The UK's Guardian suggested a number of other reasons for the recent uptick in small press sales
  1. Smaller presses based outside London have found success by reaching markets beyond the white middle classes and recruiting authors from more diverse backgrounds.
  2. They pick up established authors dropped by large houses after disappointing sales or when the authors want to write in a different genre.
  3. They offer "something that readers want rather than just another novel with a dead girl on a train."
  4. They support literary fiction. "Advances from independents compare well with those offered by larger houses for literary fiction. And in some cases, they can be higher."
  5. They offer something new. “People are tired of being sold books based on what they bought earlier.”
When I was querying agents with my first two books, Food of Love and The Best Revenge, the almost universal response was "great writing, but this isn't on trend." If I got offers of representation, I would be given instructions to rewrite the book to the conventions of category romance or then-trendy shoes-and-shopping chick lit.

They all told me that literate romantic comedy with a social conscience was impossible to sell to big publishing.

But it was exactly what indie presses were looking for.


I will be forever grateful to James Brown, Michael Hall, and Richard Eadie of Babash-Ryan (later called Shadowline Publishing) for taking a chance on an unknown Yank writer and even giving me a place to stay in their sprawling printshop/warehouse/office/ living quarters in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire.

My biggest cheerleaders were James Brown, a wild man who followed no rules of publishing, or any other institution, and
James Brown
Michael Hall, a literary techie with a Ph.D. from the University of Nottingham. Together, they inspired my character of "Peter Sherwood," who appears in two of my Camilla books, Sherwood, Ltd. and So Much for Buckingham.

Like the fictional Peter Sherwood, the real James Brown disappeared off his boat in 2005, and his body was never found. 
Michael Hall

Babash-Ryan/Shadowline didn't survive more than a year after James' disappearance, in spite of the hard work of Michael Hall and Richard Eadie.

So I was out of print and back on the query-go-round. I went back to freelance writing for a number of local publications and got a steady gig at Inkwell Newswatch, the journal of Freelance Writing Organization—International

Popcorn Press

I spent five discouraging years trying to find a new publisher, and in 2010, I started my blog for writers, now at I was considering jumping on the new self-publishing bandwagon, when a new publisher found me. Lester Smith of Popcorn Press started reading my blog and offered me a contract to republish the two Babash-Ryan books, Food of Love and The Best Revenge.

Although Popcorn primarily published poetry, Les took a chance on my books, and gave me the encouragement I needed to keep writing.


At that point, the UK's Mark Williams International Digital Publishing was expanding like mad. Mark's own thriller, Sugar and Spice (written under the pen name Saffina Desforges) was a top-selling indie-published book—11th in the UK for 2011. He and his partners wanted to spread the wealth around, and took on 30 or so authors, including me, and published two of my new books, The Gatsby Game and Sherwood, Ltd.
Mark Williams

I discovered Mark Williams' "international" tag is literal. He moved back and forth between London and Banjul, in the West African country Gambia, where he supports a school in a remote village.

In Africa, Mark caught a life-threatening tropical disease and was airlifted back to London, where it took nearly a year for him to recover. His partners were not able to keep the company going, so MWiDP fell apart.

Kotu Beach Press

Mark Williams at his Gambian village school
But Mark finally recovered and returned to Africa, where he continues to publish my books with his micro-press, Kotu Beach Press, as well as supporting his school and writing his books.  He also is now the managing editor of The New Publishing Standard.

I'm going to keep hanging on as long as Mark is willing to be my editor. He can be fierce, but he's almost always right. I know it's not easy for him to fit me in with the daily power outages, iffy Internet and water shortages in his village.

These days, Mark's focus is on the international publishing scene. Besides his work at the New Publishing Standard, he moderates a Facebook community, the International Indie Author. 

Have you read books from small presses? Have you ever been published by a small press? What kind of books do you wish micro-presses would publish?

SHERWOOD, LTD: Camilla Mystery #2 
Only $2.99!

Inspired by my epic adventures with a UK small publishing company! 

Suddenly-homeless American manners expert Camilla Randall becomes a 21st century Maid Marian—living rough near the real Sherwood Forest with a band of outlaw English erotica publishers—led by a charming, self-styled Robin Hood who unfortunately may intend to kill her.

When Camilla is invited to publish a book of her columns with UK publisher Peter Sherwood, she lands in a gritty criminal world—far from the Merrie Olde England she envisions. The staff are ex-cons and the erotica is kinky.

Hungry and penniless, she camps in a Wendy House built from pallets of porn while battling an epic flood, a mendacious American Renfaire wench, and the mysterious killer who may be Peter himself.

Sherwood, Ltd. is available in ebook from all the AmazonsiTunesGooglePlay Scribd24SymbolsInkteraKobo, Nook, and SmashwordsAnd in paper from Amazon and Barnes and Noble
Sample Reviews:

"A wily tale of murder, deceit, and intrigue that can stand with the best of them. Her characters are all too real and her dialogue took me from laughter to chills" David Keith on Smashwords

"Smartly written and nearly impossible to put down, I found myself counting the hours until I could leave work and get back to reading! Well done!" T.L. Ingham on Smashwords

I've just finished Sherwood Ltd and I loved every scabrous word. It's an hilarious lampoon of crime fiction, publishing and the British in general. Anne Allen gets our Brit idioms and absurdities dead to rights. Whether you enjoy crime suspense, comedy or satire - or all of them together - you'll have enormous fun with this cleverly structured romp. Highly recommended!...Dr. John Yeoman

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Queen of Staves: Can Tarot Cards Solve a Mystery?

The new Camilla comedy-mystery, The Queen of Staves goes on a countdown sale!

The sale goes from Saturday, October 21-Thursday, October 22, 2017. The ebook, regularly $4.99, is only 99c in the US and 99P in the UK. It's also available in paper (on nice paper with large print — great for gifts!) for $14.99.

I've always been fascinated by the Tarot and bought my first deck of tarot cards sometime in the late 1990s. The history and the symbolism intrigued me, and I found that working on interpreting the cards gave me a lot of insight — not into the future  but into my own mind. Reading the tarot is a great way to sort through your own feelings about a subject and find a focus and a path of action. 

What prompted me to bring the tarot into my Camilla mystery series was the same incident that prompted me to buy my first tarot deck. 

I was working in a bookstore in Morro Bay when a distraught woman rushed in, demanding "a reading." At first I thought she was an author wanting a public reading/signing of her book. The store was too tiny for that sort of thing, which I tried to explain. But slowly I realized she wanted — in fact, felt she needed — a tarot card reading. There was a New Age bookstore around the corner and she had probably confused us, although she was too upset to believe me. She just kept pounding the desk and demanding her "reading."

The woman obviously had some mental health issues, but the intensity of that woman's need made the incident stick with me. I went to the New Age bookstore the next day and bought some cards and a handbook for learning to read them.

All these years later, now that I've given Camilla her own Morro Bay bookstore, I thought it would be fun to bring in the desperate tarot lady and explore what her needs might have been.

The result is The Queen of Staves. 

I use the older word "Staves" instead of "Wands" as it appears in the Rider Waite Tarot, becauses a "Stave" (Staff) sounds so much sturdier than a "Wand," and the earthy woman who embodies the "Queen" of the title is nothing if not sturdy

The cover, by the marvelously talented Keri Knutson of Alchemy Designs, is based on the 1910 Rider Waite Tarot deck, drawn by illustrator Pamela Colman Smith from the instructions of mystic A. E. Waite, and published by William Rider and Sons in LondonBut instead of a small black cat at the queen's feet, there's a rather large tuxedo cat — Camilla's cat Buckingham. I hope people will enjoy the sly humor of that. 

I always picture Ronzo looking like Jon Bon Jovi
I also hope people find it funny that the person who steps up to read the Tarot cards is none other than Camilla's secret boyfriend Ronzo, the tough-guy Iraq war veteran with the Tony Soprano New Jersey accent. 

I guess I have a special fondness for Ronzo, which is why he's lasted longer than any of Camilla's other boyfriends. In this book he gets to tell his own story, with half the chapters told from his point of view. In a lot of ways it's his story. 

Camilla doesn't really believe his Tarot readings are anything but a con, but his belief in the Tarot is sincere, and in the end, the cards come through for both of them.

Ronzo is seriously down on his luck at the opening of the Queen of Staves. In the last book, So Much for Buckingham, he'd given an unfavorable online review to a band called Leftenant Froggenhall, who set out to destroy his life. 
Buckingham is on the case

Ronzo can only escape the band's gruesome persecution and threats to his loved ones by faking his own death and living as a homeless dumpster-diver.

In this book, he's forced to hide his blossoming relationship with Camilla to keep her safe from the band's vengeful clutches. Not easy when they're together every day, as Ronzo's unexpected tarot-reading skills keep Camilla's failing Morro Bay bookstore afloat.

When a mysterious Irish poet shows up dead on a tarot client's beach, it's up to secret lovers Camilla and Ronzo—and the tarot cards
to find the killer. Hopefully before the homicidal Froggenhalls arrive in Morro Bay... 

Luckily Buckingham the cat is on the case, ready to fight the bad guys, tooth and claw.

And yes, your knowledge of poisons will help you solve the mystery, but I can't tell you any more. Spoilers! 

What about you? Have you ever wondered about the symbolism of the tarot? Grab a copy while it's practically free! 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Lead: Poisoning People for Fun and Profit #30

Lead kills. Everybody knows that. Lead is what bullets are made of. Bam. Acute case of lead poisoning. 

But lead itself, the elemental metal, (atomic number 82, symbol Pb) when not propelled by a charge of gunpowder through the cylinder of a gun, can still be lethal.

In fact, its widespread use has resulted in extensive environmental contamination and significant public health problems in many parts of the world.

Lead is a Major Hazard to Public Health. 

According to the World Health Organization these are some of the hazards:
  • Lead is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems and is particularly harmful to young children.
  • Lead in the body is distributed to the brain, liver, kidney and bones. It's stored in the teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time. Human exposure is usually assessed through the measurement of lead in blood.
  • Lead in bone is released into blood during pregnancy and becomes a source of exposure to the developing child.
  • There is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe.
  • Lead poisoning is entirely preventable.

The WHO says lead was responsible for at least 830,000 deaths in 2013 alone, almost all accidental, mostly in the developing world.

History of Lead Use

And yet people have used it for over 6000 years. A lead necklace found in Turkey is thought to be 6000 to 8,000 years old and a lead mine nearby is at least 6500 years old.

The ancient Romans seem to have had a special fondness for lead. They used it in everything from wine to water pipes. In fact the word "plumbing" comes from the Latin word for lead, plumbum.

Ancient Romans added "sugar of lead" to their wine
There's a theory that many wealthy Romans unknowingly poisoned themselves with lead in the form of an artificial sweetener called "sugar of lead" (lead acetate.) I have to admit that before I researched this article, I had never heard of sugar of lead, but it's a thing.

The Romans had no sweetener but honey, but they would boil down the fruit mash left over from making wine in lead pans, and the acid in the fruit mash corroded the pans to form lead acetate, which had a sweet taste. They called it sapa and often added it to beverages.

In my five years of studying Latin, I never came across the word sapa/sapae but I guess most of those texts we slogged through had more to do with soldiering than wine-making.

The Romans knew sapa was powerful and could be dangerous, because ancient Roman hookers used it as a way to induce abortions, but they thought it was safe to drink a little mixed in with their wine.

I don't quite get this, since the area around Rome has been producing some very tasty wine for a couple of millennia now, without any added sweetener, but maybe some young Romans preferred a Boone's Farm type of alcoholic beverage. (Yes, for those of you waxing nostalgic for that sticky-sweet wine of your youth, they still make Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill and it's still cheap.)

But I digress…or maybe I don't. Who knows what damage we may have done to ourselves with all that Strawberry Hill?

The ancients did know that lead wasn't exactly good for you. Hippocrates wrote about a lead miner who had terrible symptoms from lead poisoning. 

Did Elizabeth I to Lose her Hair because of Lead Poisoning?

Obviously people didn't pay enough attention to Hippocrates.

Pope Clement II died in 1047 from drinking wine sweetened with sugar of lead (although many think this might have been administered purposely by an assassin.)

Europeans were still adding sugar of lead to wine in the late 1690s, when there was a severe outbreak of intestinal disease In the German city of Ulm, which was traced to wine from a monastery where they used lead acetate to sweeten their wine.

From the Renaissance through the 19th century, people used sugar of lead as a cosmetic and "cure" for skin ailments. That white face powder Elizabeth I made so fashionable was probably responsible for her losing her teeth and hair. The powder, called ceruse, could corrode the skin, cause tremors, and even kill. (Lead in cosmetics is believed to be what killed the famous London courtesan, Kitty Fisher.)

Lead has also been dangerous to painters, since a number of paints contain lead. In 1787, painter Albert Cristoph Dies accidentally swallowed lead acetate and although he recovered, he had symptoms the rest of his life. And it probably contributed to Francisco Goya's death.

When Beethoven died, doctors found his hair contained 100 times the normal level of lead.

There's evidence President Andrew Jackson died of lead poisoning too. His death had long been attributed to mercury poisoning from a medication he took regularly, but a study of hair clipped shortly before his death showed high levels of lead. It was probably caused by a bullet lodged in his shoulder for 20 years after a gunfight.

Lead as a Murder Weapon

In the 19th century, when people began to realize that lead could be lethal, it became a method of murder.

In 1882, Londoner Louisa Jane Taylor got a doctor to prescribe her some sugar of lead to treat a fictional skin disease. Instead she used it to poison a Mrs. Tregillis, the elderly lady she cared for.

Poisoner Louisa Taylor was hanged at Maidstone Prison

But what Mrs. Taylor didn't realize is that lead takes a long time to kill, and even though Mrs. Tregillis was dying, she lived long enough to testify against her murderer. She pointed to Taylor and stated she had seen her pour a white powder into her medicine. After Mrs. Tregillis died, Taylor was convicted of murder and hanged at Maidstone prison.

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

The symptoms of acute lead poisoning of the type Mrs. Tregillis suffered, include blackened teeth, blue gums, and black vomit. Victims suffer sudden memory loss and confusion as well as intestinal distress, difficulty breathing, and often go into a coma.

Painter Albert Christoph Dies died of lead poisoning.

Slow lead poisoning can be lethal too, and so often people aren't aware they're being exposed. The dust of lead paint in a house can be a factor. So is drinking wine that has been kept in a lead crystal container. Some pottery glazes contain lead too. Also old metal toys, some Mexican candies and folk remedies for skin rashes and breast pain in nursing mothers.

The symptoms of slow lead poisoning:
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Gout
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Difficulties with memory or concentration
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Mood disorders/aggression
  • Reduced fertility
  • Miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth in pregnant women
  • Lowered IQ in children. 
Lower levels of lead poisoning can be treated with chelation therapy, either oral or intravenous. 

Lead in contemporary Life

Canada and the European Union have banned most lead compounds in gasoline, paint, and industrial uses since 2005. California lists it as a carcinogen.

But in most countries, lead acetate (good old sugar of lead) is still completely legal.

It's even present in Grecian Formula men's hair coloring.

I'm not sure a bottle of Grecian Formula would contain enough to kill, and it would be tough for a murderer to administer, I should think.

But lead acetate is still used in the US for textile dying, mixing paint, and also cleaning guns. It's available by mail order in the US contiguous 48 states.

For a crime writer, using lead as a murder weapon could work. If somebody drank lots of wine he kept in a lead crystal decanter, it might be possible to kill him undetected by adding lead acetate to the decanter.

As long as the murder doesn't take place in Canada or the EU, you might have the perfect (if unnecessarily nasty) murder.

Had you heard of "sapa" or sugar of lead? Did you know Elizabeth I lost her hair and teeth because of her make-up? 

Here's a list of all the poison posts in this series:

SALE!! 99c at Amazon

THE BEST REVENGE: The prequel (Camilla Mystery #3)

When Camilla Randall, a 1980s New York debutante, is assaulted by her mother’s fiancé, smeared in the newspapers by a sexy muckraking journalist, then loses all her money in the Savings and Loan Scandal, she seeks refuge with her gay best friend in California. But her friend has developed heterosexual tendencies and an inconvenient girlfriend, so Camilla has to move in with wild-partying friends. When a TV star ends up dead after one of their parties, Camilla is arrested for his murder. She must turn to a friendly sanitation worker, a dotty octogenarian neighbor and the muckraking journalist who ridiculed her--who also happens to be her boss. 

The Best Revenge is available at all the AmazonsSmashwordsKoboGoogle Play Apple, and NOOK. It's also available at Page Foundry (Inktera) and 24 Symbols

Friday, August 25, 2017

Antimony—Poisoning People for Fun and Profit #29

Antimony is an element, a "metalloid" like arsenic. Its symbol in the periodic table of the elements is Sb, because it is most commonly found in the sulfide mineral stibnite

In the ancient world, stibnite was known as kohl. Egyptians famously used it for eye make-up. It was an important part of their culture as early as the Proto-dynastic Period (3100 BC ) They believed it protected the eyes from eye ailments and the glare of the sun.

Egyptians used antimony for eye make-up

Antimony compounds were often used for medicine. Pliny the Elder described several different compounds, which he designated "male" and "female" to be used in small doses for treatment of various ailments. 

But they were all known to be poisonous in larger doses. 

"The Monk-Killer"

In fact, the name antimony is said to come from the Greek word ἀντίμοναχός, anti-monachos. Which means "monk-killer". Some dispute this, but since compounds containing antimony can kill, the name makes sense.

Antimony by itself hasn't been proved to have a toxic effect on humans. It's the compounds that are the problem.
Antimony is rarely found in its pure metallic state

The thing is, antimony is rarely found in its pure isolated form. But it is part of many compounds, both natural and manufactured. A lot of those compounds are poisonous.

Inhaling antimony trioxide dust can cause a number of lung ailments, including lung cancer. And antimony chlorides are corrosive to skin. Scary stuff.

Symptoms and Treatment

Symptoms of an antimony overdose usually appear within 30 minutes of ingestion. There will be vomiting, sweating, diarrhea, and an acrid, metallic taste in the mouth. External exposure can cause skin irritation. Severe antimony poisoning has symptoms similar to arsenic poisoning.

Some people work in industries where they are at greater risk of exposure to antimony compounds, and the cumulative effect can cause health problems like skin irritation "antimony spots," lung irritation, and gastrointestinal problems. Port workers often come into contact with toxic levels of antimony because it is used in brake pads on the vehicles used for loading ships.

Treatment is the same as for arsenic and other heavy metal poisoning—gastric lavage if it has been ingested recently, then treatment with chelating agents that will bind with the metal so the body will eliminate it naturally. Three common drugs for treatment of metal poisoning are: BA. (Dimercaprol), Calcium EDTA (Calcium Disodium Versenate) and Penicillamine.

Uses of Antimony

Today antimony compounds are used in the manufacture of such varied products as flame retardant, polyester, safety matches, paint, glass art, and the manufacture of TV screens.

Combined with lead, antimony is used in lead-acid batteries, bullets, electrical cable sheathing, type (in printing machines), solder, pewter, and organ pipes.

In medicine, the antimony compound, Potassium antimonyl tartrate, or tartar emetic, was used as a treatment for parasitic infections in humans and animals for many years, although it has been replaced more recently.

Other antimony-based drugs, such as meglumine antimoniate, are still used in veterinary medicine for skin conditions and infections.

The Most Infamous Antimony Poisoning Case: Dr. Charles Bravo

The 1875 poisoning death of London barrister Charles Bravo, four months after he married his wealthy second wife, the scandalous Florence Ricardo, was one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Victorian era.

Bravo had been involved in scandal himself since he had fathered a child out of wedlock, and Florence had been shunned by her family for her extramarital affairs. 

Charles Bravo was poisoned with antimony
Charles Bravo was known as a bully and an abuser. His groomsman and housekeeper described him as a nasty employer.

Bravo's death by antimony poisoning (in the form of tartar emetic) was drawn out, lasting from two to three days, and painful. The strange thing about it was that he would do nothing to help his doctors find out the cause of his condition.

Many people thought he might have accidentally poisoned himself while trying to poison his wife, who had developed a mysterious chronic illness right after the wedding.

He himself was taking laudanum for a toothache, and the theory is that he mistakenly took the "medicine" he'd been giving his wife, and it killed him.

Apparently he told his housekeeper he had accidently taken the tartar emetic, but later changed his statement, perhaps in hopes of incriminating his wife.

But other investigators suspected the housekeeper herself of the murder. The unhappy groomsman was a suspect too.

The coroner held two inquests, and the details were considered to be so scandalous that women and children were banned from the room while Florence testified. The first had an inconclusive verdict. The second returned a verdict of murder.

But no one was ever arrested. Florence died two years later.

Books Inspired by the Bravo Case

The first time I heard about the Bravo story was in reference to John Dickson Carr's classic Gideon Fell mystery from 1949 Below Suspicion.

Agatha Christie also refers to it in her Ordeal by Innocence

The 1948 Ray Milland film So Evil My Love (based on the novel by Marjorie Bowen) has elements of the story as well. 

Had you heard the story of Charles Bravo? Can you think of any other books or films where antimony is the murder weapon. Do you read John Dickson Carr? You don't hear much about him anymore. 

Here's a List of All the Posts in the Poison Series

Part 28: Mustard Gas

It's HERE! The New Camilla Randall Mystery

It's #6 in the series, but can be read as a stand-alone
At all the Amazons (FREE in KU)

Why does everyone think Camilla has the lost Portuguese crown jewels? And what has turned polite little Buckingham into an attack cat? Can Camilla keep her boyfriend Ronzo safe? Or will the murderous Mack Rattlebag find out Ronzo faked his own death?

It's one surprise after another in this warp-speed comedy-mystery where a too-perfect doctor may or may not be in cahoots with a bunch of homicidal New-Agers. Will Camilla and Ronzo, and the tarot cards, solve the mystery?