Wednesday, August 14, 2013


When I read the news, I felt as if I'd been kicked in the stomach--Elizabeth Peters had died.  EP was my favorite contemporary mystery author (although she did not always write contemporary books), and back in 1998, I had a chance to interview her for an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

We spent two hours on the phone, and just as I expected, she was witty and intelligent, warm and friendly and generous with writing and publishing advice.  I pulled out the article and in her honor, thought I'd share parts of it today.  It starts out . . .

Barbara Mertz has been known to say that anyone without at least two distinct personalities is a bore.  She ought to know.

Mertz, with a PhD in Egyptology, is the author of nonfiction classics in ancient archaeology.  But Mertz the scholar is also Barbara Michaels, the author of books that use paranormal bumps in the night and thoroughly modern heroines to put a new slant on the old Gothic formula.  Barbara Michaels is also Elizabeth Peters, the best-selling mystery author and Grand Master of Mystery Writers of America.

"Certain plots require a certain telling," EP explained.  "Some of my ideas are obviously meant to be Michaels' books.  Others are Peters' material.  Changing names as I change the kinds of books I write is a chance for me to do my Jekyll and Hyde bit.  I don't have to limit myself to a certain state of mind and the chance to solidify each of those personalities is fun."

In the article she goes on to talk about her newest book (this was back when "The Ape Who Guards the Balance" was published).  It was book #10 in the amazing Amelia Peabody series and one of the things we talked about was Amelia's age.  Since EP mentioned how old Amelia was in "Crocodile on the Sandbank," the first book in the series, and since she added historic details that place each book in a certain year, it was obvious that her heroine was getting older.  I aksed her how she planned to handle that.

"They (Amelia and her husband, Emerson) will go on doing exactly what they want to do," she said.  "That's one of the things that makes them endearing.  They refuse to be limited by age.  People shouldn't."

Elizabeth Peters didn't.  She was 85 when she died last week.

When I pulled out the old newspaper article so I could write this blog, I also found a handwritten note from EP.  "We are all thrilled by the interview," she said, "including moi.  What a great job!"

I can certainly echo the sentiments.  Thanks, Barbara Mertz, Barbara Michaels and Elizabeth Peters for the many hours of reading pleasure you've given me.  What a great job!


Rebe said...

I love BOTH Barbara Michaels and Elizabeth Peters' books! I grew up reading the gothic mysteries/romances that she wrote as Michaels, and my Mom got me hooked on Amelia Peabody a few years ago. I was so sad to read about her death last week.

Casey said...

While preparing for a talk I'm giving this weekend at a writing conference, I went through an old file...and found another handwritten note from Elizabeth Peters. Nice to check in with her this way!

Bridget said...

I had not heard this news. I am sad. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Angie Fox said...

Oh, that is so neat. Her Barbara Michaels books were some of my first "adult" mysteries. And then I fell in love with the Amelia Peabody series.

How fun that you were able to meet Barbara. I went to Malice Domestic one year where she was the honored guest and she did a back and forth where she talked with "Amelia Peabody," who was played by the woman who narrates her audio books. Hilarious, and sweet and absolutely wonderful. She will be missed.

ButterflyLabGal said...

Interviewed Elizabeth Peters! Wow, what an experience!