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Susan Elia MacNeal Reading at Mysterious Bookshop

May 17, 2013

On Tuesday night, I got to go to a reading and signing by Susan Elia MacNeal, author of the Maggie Hope World War II mysteries.

Walking into the Mysterious Bookshop on Warren Street, I couldn’t believe it was my first time in there. I got there a little bit before Susan Elia MacNeal’s reading, and it was a good thing: gave me time to gape a bit at the floor-to-ceiling shelves, and the back wall devoted to Sherlockiana. Definitely need to go back there. I could see liking it a great deal, though I still grieve the passing of Partners and Crime.

Susan Elia MacNeal partnered up with fellow historical fiction writer M.J. Rose to do the reading. Rose hadn’t been on my radar, but after hearing her talk about her latest novel, which evokes Victor Hugo, I’m intrigued. To get into the spirit of writing Victor Hugo, she wrote in fountain pen. Wrote the entire novel out longhand, in fountain pen. And then had to type it up to submit it to her editor. I also learned that Hugo wrote standing up. Hemingway also did, but I find that easier to believe.

MacNeal read a passage from her latest novel, that showed some of the things I like best about Maggie Hope. She’s smart, and brave, and really good at some things like mathematics and codes. I really like the way she’s balanced as a character, between competently smart, and also flawed, humanly flawed rather than comically-for-the-plot flawed. I’m having trouble explaining exactly what I mean, but I’ll see if I can find better words for it after I finish the next book. Almost done. Yes, I did just get it Tuesday. Did I mention they’re fast reads?

Running into Nancy Bilyeau in the crowd was a nice surprise, just a few weeks after I zoomed through her latest, The Chalice. She teased me about reading it practically in one sitting “it’s good to get up and move!” she admonished me. Heh. I teased her about torturing her characters and needing to write faster.

MacNeal’s husband, Noel is a puppeteer who has worked with Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. I might have fangirled at him just a bit.

There was a Q and A after the reading, and I got a chance to ask what I always want to ask historical fiction writers: how do you switch gears and get your head out of the 21st century? For M.J. Rose, it took writing her entire novel longhand with a fountain pen. For MacNeal, it sounds like a combination of immersing herself in extensive research, and having the chance to travel to the places she wrote about. She told a story of being able to go into Churchill’s War Room, seeing them as they were, and really feeling a sense of time telescoping and history. I think I want to know more about this.

Mingling after the reading, I got a chance to tell Susan MacNeal that I’d in fact blurted out “holy S____” when reading the end of her second book, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy. She and her publicist both laughed at that.

Talking to MacNeal’s publicist, and with other fans of the book, the conversation turned to the fact that there’s somewhat of a love triangle for Maggie, as two men have entered the picture by the end of the second book. So a couple of people asked me whether I was rooting for John or for Hugh. I… don’t honestly know. I don’t tend to have an answer on the Team ThisGuy versus Team ThatGuy question in fiction. Ranger or Joe Morelli, Peeta or Gale… I’m usually ready to go along for the ride and see how it happens. Although in this case, Maggie’s relationship status would definitely be “It’s complicated.” Yeesh. More than that, I cannot say because spoilers.

Many thanks to my friend Jannette, who tipped me off to this reading… It hadn’t been on my radar.

And I will have to come back to the Mysterious Bookshop. Though, possibly, not until I have some book money to spend. Lots and lots of book money.

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