Which Comes First, The Story or the Research?
Research is key to a novel, but diving into background can also inspire the writer’s muse. M. S. Spencer should know. She’s lived in Chicago, Boston, New York, France, Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, and England, and the last 30 years were spent primarily in Washington, D.C. as a librarian, Congressional staff assistant, speechwriter, editor, birdwatcher, kayaker, policy wonk, non-profit director and “domestic engineer”, aka parent. Once she escaped academia, she worked for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Department of the Interior, in several library systems, both public and academic, and at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. Whew! Here’s her take on the topic:
Authors must do quite a bit of research for their books even when they know the subject well. The Mason’s Mark, my newest release, is set in my former home town of Alexandria, Virginia at the George Washington National Masonic Memorial. A landmark of the Washington skyline, the building is not only a Masonic lodge, but a memorial to our first president. I began with the idea that my heroine would find a dead body on the ninth floor observation platform, with no rational explanation of how it got there.
To ensure authenticity I set about Googling both freemasonry and George Washington, but my search soon led me into a strange world of global intrigue and crime. I followed one thread to a remarkable Italian scam artist named Licio Gelli.
Starting in the 1940s Gelli embarked on a lifetime of bizarre scams and crimes. Alternately linked to rightists and leftists, he bilked or used people from Italian politicians, to the Nazis, the Communists, the CIA, even to Juan Peron, dictator of Argentina. His exploits cross the globe and spanned four decades. He was still alive in December 2015, in his nineties and writing poetry from prison. In 1996 he was even nominated for the Nobel prize in literature.
Note: He died December 15, 2015.
Here is a link to an obituary: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/12054716/Licio-Gelli-financier-obituary.html
Gelli is most famous for founding a Masonic lodge called Propaganda Due, a renegade group that was first dissolved, then reinstated, then erased by the Grand Orient de Italia. He had ensnared many prominent Italians into P2, which ultimately led to several huge scandals.
How could I resist? I added him to the mysterious corpse. Further Googling on George Washington tossed up lots of fascinating scandal rumors. So now I had a body, a renegade Mason and scam artist, and long-lost George Washington letters. Voila! The Mason’s Mark: Love and Death in the Tower, a contemporary tale about old scandals. And a dynamite love story.
Sneak peek of The Mason’s Mark:
In both the best and worst first day at work ever, docent Claire Wilding meets the man of her dreams, but her carefully rehearsed guided tour of the George Washington National Masonic Memorial collapses when she discovers a body and is drawn into a dark world of black ops and Italian renegade masons, of secret cabals and hidden treasure. Also cloaked in mystery is handsome Gideon Bliss, a George Washington expert who haunts the Memorial, his manner evasive. What is his secret? Claire fears she’ll fall in love with him only to learn he’s a thief or even a murderer. Juggling two eccentric mothers, an inquisitive sister, and an increasingly smitten detective, Claire must find answers to a complex web of intrigue, including who to trust and who to love.
Wild Rose Press, May 6, 2016 (Crimson Rose imprint)
Mystery/Cozy Mystery, Romantic suspense
ebook 79,000 words; print 322 pp.
M/F; 3 flames
AllRomanceEBooks (pre-order): https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-themason039smarkloveanddeathinthetower-2017038-149.html
If you like the Mason’s Mark, you might want to check out The Penhallow Train Incident, also from the Wild Rose Press.