“Keep in mind that hundreds attended our seminary a century before we arrived there. They became missionaries, traveling the world, enlightening the masses, and no doubt having a jolly good time abroad. They brought back curious objects—gifts from tribesmen, items used in odd religious rituals, and unique cultural trappings they picked up along the way. These oddities were amassed in the seminary’s basement, serving as a museum. This all happened well before television exposed us to the indigenous people of other continents. As young seminarians, we toured the collected relics to glimpse heathen cultures and gawk at their ritualistic tokens. Such dated collections were common teaching tools in seminaries across Europe and the U.S. The display broadened our knowledge and challenged us to follow in the footsteps of our alumni.”
Rosemont recalled the many good men who traversed the seminary halls over time. “Inspector, it was all well and good until 1970 when the United Nations developed an agreement against the trade of cultural properties. You see, people were losing their history to tourists and invading military forces. They strongly opposed the taking of their homeland antiquities.”
“I studied that act in college,” Remy said. “The multi-national agreement prevented looting during military coups and slowed the international trade of stolen relics. It won staunch support. Many countries passed even stricter laws to protect their unique heritage.”
Rosemont leaned forward; his voice cut with excitement. “Exactly. But back then, it meant priests and seminarians sat on top of illicit property. A vast collection of relics taken from multiple countries during colonial imperialism; historical tokens of unique religions and indigenous cultures. Of course, the missionaries had not intentionally stolen anything. Up until the early 1900s, everyone returned from abroad with such relics as souvenirs. But imagine how it appeared in the culturally awakened 1970s. That populace perceived it quite differently: Thou shalt not steal. And you know how that goes—people’s perceptions become their realities. Bear in mind that in the 1970s, people began questioning priests’ activities. What the Church couldn’t explain, it buried. Rather than risk embarrassment or arrest for hording cultural treasures, holy men nipped down to their collections and emptied the museums into skips in the dead of night.”
Excerpt from The Sheltering Stones
You are no doubt thinking: What a fantastical story. Well, it’s true. My husband was one of those dumpster-diving seminarians back in the 1970s. He and several classmates rescued a broad range of cultural antiquities, sparing them from a landfill rubble. The oddities are still guests in my home. Pre-Columbian pieces of architecture, a cup with a gruesome face, Roman coins, a scrimshaw tusk, cuneiforms, a figurine head of a bird, chainmail purse, and a tiny, sculpted bust of a Nubian woman are all on display. These cultural antiquities resonate with history. Each object’s uniqueness draws your attention and then forces you into quiet contemplation of all that has transpired before you. The oddities are portals to the past that breathe life into marginalized or extinct cultures and somehow still add magic and meaning to our lives. We are honored to be the temporary custodians of these touchstones; torn between our desire to protect and preserve the antiquities or repatriate them. It’s not an easy decision.
What Lurks Beneath
Remy’s career as a historical movie set designer depended upon details. Minutia matters in period-piece film. An inaccurate costume, a misdated theatrical prop, or a misassigned vintage wallpaper ruined a day’s take at a prohibitive cost to a production company. That attention to detail now served her well. She imagined the island’s cave as a movie set.
Excerpt from The Tide Turns
Eww! Disgusting imagery that creates an emotional lasso cinching you to our victim. You can’t help but feel inconsolable grief for a person who has been nibbled upon by sea beasties.
Having a character killed at sea required me to immerse myself in research on water forensics. It is an unnerving and repulsive read, to say the least. I am not a CSI fan but the need to be accurate when describing my poor victim pushed me forward. I learned the biology of drowning, decomposition in freshwater v. seawater, the effects of cold ocean vs. tropical seas upon a corpse, and the nasty business of putrefaction and scavenging creatures.
I read enough on these topics to write the above passage and later observations made by the coroner before embracing this unbendable lesson: Never be buried at sea.
Out to Sea
They shared grim looks. This was an island nation, surrounded by seas, cross-hatched by rivers, lakes, and estuaries. The inconstant water claimed lives. A handful of residents braved the foul weather when the coroner’s van arrived. They hovered on shore, watching men pull out a stretcher. Everyone was used to the sight of Royal National recovery crafts, yet fearful doubt flooded their hearts whenever a lifeboat appeared. Was it a spouse, a child, or a neighbor? Had they survived? Or had they slipped away beyond the caress of the endless surf?
Excerpt from The Tide Turns
Living smack-dab in the middle of a massive country, I was oblivious to the profound presence of water in an island nation. Driving across the UK, I found myself waterlogged by estuaries, trout-filled streams, calm canals, squidgy beaches, and the surrounding restless seas. Wherever there is water, there is the danger of drowning. My research took me to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a volunteer network of forty thousand courageous souls who jump in lifeboats at a moment's notice, saving countless lives and educating generations about water safety. The RNLI rescues twenty-two people every day. As they say, "ordinary people doing extraordinary things." The cost of their brave service has been the loss of more than six hundred volunteer lives since the institution's inception in 1824. Its long-standing commitment to water safety is stunning and worthy of our applause. Grab your tissues and read some of the witty, wry, and wise personal accounts of Royal Nationals from their online magazine.
The theft of antiquarian books from libraries for black-market sale is a crime which prompted murder in my first two novels. The idea was launched by a few articles I had read about Marino Massimo De Caro, the former director of the Girolamini Library (Italy) who was accused of stealing thousands of rare books, including 15th and 16th century tomes penned by the founders of astronomy. Turns out that theft from libraries—a cultural heritage crime—is all too common.
A library’s rare books, illustrations, and maps are most often snatched for profit, feeding the growing black market for cultural relics. The greatest problem is that while most curated items are one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable historical gems, there are limited protections in place. Few libraries have funds for high-end security systems, relying instead upon manual checkouts, turnstiles, and—most recently—electronic tag detectors. How do you guard a collection that can be browsed by anybody? Once upon a time, books were chained to the wall. With the production of more books, chains became unmanageable. In the Middle Ages, the weapon of choice against potential book thieves was a curse. Such harm-filled magical spells included the threat of being struck by palsy, suffering eternal damnation, or—my favorite—having all your members blasted. Ouch!
Who are the most common library book thieves? Employees. Insider theft happens regularly because it takes little planning beyond the common sense of not taking what is highly popular. Unpopular items are rarely missed or reported. Janitors might tuck a book into their mop buckets, but only a librarian can remove the card catalog record, a trail documenting an item's existence. The whistle might still be blown, of course, if the item has been used by a researcher, creating another trail when used in citations. Honest book buyers and vested librarians often spot and report stolen items appearing at auction or in online sales. This is how De Caro was finally tripped up in Italy.
Punishment for the theft and sale of such cultural antiquities is a whole other issue. In 2013, Massimo De Caro was convicted and given a seven-year sentence for embezzlement. He was in prison for only six months and then allowed to serve the remainder of his sentence at his own home. Although his assets were seized and visitation heavily restricted, I’ve read that he dwells in “confined splendor,” awaiting subsequent trials and appeals for looting, conspiracy, and forgery while enjoying the view from his villa. It's no wonder cultural heritage crimes flourish in the modern era.
It's All in a Name
Craig Braitten? No. Craig Fletcher? No. Craig Merlo? Yes!
I seem to have fallen upon some already used names when creating a more recent character—the ginger-haired police constable in The Nighthawk’s Nemesis. I finally landed on Craig Merlo because I discovered that “Merlo” is an Italian/Spanish reference to “blackbird.” That feels all too appropriate, as this novel itself hovers around birds and birdwatchers.
Each new book tosses me into endless research. I love it, of course. All that fresh knowledge at my fingertips, widening my view of the world. Upon finishing The Nighthawk’s Nemesis, I wrapped up my studies of ornithology, taxidermy, oology, birder’s slang, and migration patterns along England’s coast. All of that invariably led to further research on the impacts of global warming upon birds, bugs, fish, and fishermen. It is a bleak picture, and no solution has been readily embraced by mankind. Yet people think blackbirds are foolish and gullible?
Unable to leave on a sad note, I remind you all that a group of owls is called a 'parliament', a group of larks is an 'exaltation', and a group of blackbirds…a 'murder'. Merlo. How terribly appropriate.
A Night to Remember
Did you know (Remy’s favorite phrase) that there are three kinds of twilight? Civil. Nautical. Astronomical. This kind of minutia drives some people insane, but if you are a writer it’s your passion. So much of what we write stems from solid research. Hours spent chasing after fine details; Alice diving down that grubby rabbit hole.
Details make or break the plot. Specific words paint the picture. In my first novel, I wrote, “Twilight plummeted into the yawning sea.” Was that civil twilight? Nautical twilight? No, it had to be astronomical twilight since we are using a telescope in that specific scene.
Do readers really care? Hell, yes! Heck, no! It depends on the reader. We can’t please everyone! Still, I find it all so very fascinating as I strive to get my scenes set perfectly in place.
For those who really must know: Civil twilight, nautical twilight, and astronomical twilight all refer to the number of degrees that the sun is below the horizon. Good old dusk occurs at the very end of astronomical twilight, but if you look closer, there is also a civil dusk, a nautical dusk, and an astronomical dusk. The same is true for our lovely dawn. Splitting hairs will drive readers up a wall, disrupt pacing, and bog down the storyline...so I’ll just stick with “Twilight plummeted into the yawning sea” until I get some formal complaints.
What a Bunch of Eggheads!
Oology. I love the sound of that word. It slides across my tongue like luscious, cool yogurt. Oology–the study of nests and eggs–also refers to the hobby of collecting wild bird eggs. That sounds like a bizarre hobby (right up there with 'beetle fighting'), but before powerful binoculars were developed, egg collecting was a significant source of scientific data.
In the U.K., collecting of this sort is now illegal, as the hobby has lead to the endangerment and extinction of certain bird species. If you want to keep a clutch of wild bird eggs, you better have proof that they were gathered before 1954 and never intend to sell your collection. Heck, even museums don’t want them! Oology activity is also restricted heavily Stateside–considered a criminal act, in some cases. We can only hope other nations follow suit.
This blog is where I post my inspirations for each book in the Barrington Bay series as well as behind-the-scenes tips, pics, and other tidbits. Feel free to click 'Read More' for in-depth posts.