Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Guest Post: Author Libi Astaire with Giveaway

In anticipation of her upcoming novel, the second installment of the Ezra Melamed Mystery series: The Ruby Spy Ring, mystery author Libi Astaire has kindly agreed to be featured as a guest poster here on The Bookish Type, as well as host a giveaway of the first novel in the series The Disappearing Dowry!

Ms. Astaire will be answering questions and responding to comments throughout the day, so please share your thoughts in the comments section!

Libi Astaire is an author and freelance journalist based in Jerusalem who often writes about Jewish history. The first book in her acclaimed Ezra Melamed Mystery series, The Disappearing Dowry, was honored with a 2010 Sydney Taylor Notable Book Award. Her novel about modern-day descendents of Spain’s crypto-Jews, Terra Incognita, was recently published by Targum Press.

The Mystery of a Good Mystery

When The Disappearing Dowry was published last year, my very talented marketing staff at Zahav Press came up with this tag line for an ad: Everyone loves a good mystery!

I loved it. After all, if everyone loves a good mystery wouldn’t that mean that everyone would love my new mystery series too?

But then the editor/compulsive re-writer in me chimed in with a dissenting opinion and asked, “Is that really true? Does everyone love a mystery story? And if they do, why? What’s the big appeal of a good mystery?”

Spoiler: I haven’t yet found the definitive answer, but here are a few clues that I’ve discovered so far:

Escape: Many mystery fans say they like the genre because it allows them to escape from their problems for a few hours. Some people like the vicarious thrill of being thrust into a dangerous situation. Other people just like to travel to a different time or place.

I know that one of the reasons why I enjoyed writing The Disappearing Dowry and The Ruby Spy Ring (the second book in my Ezra Melamed Mystery series, which is scheduled for publication this summer) was because it allowed me to escape to Regency England and explore the lives of London’s small Jewish community. Since this is an era in Jewish history that hasn’t been written about much by Jewish writers, the series has given readers a chance to explore a new world too.

Yet all fiction offers an escape route into another world. So what is the special allure of a good mystery?

Gym Time for the Brain: People who read lots of mysteries will often say something along the lines of, “It’s fun to try to figure out whodunit.” As someone who was a mystery reader long before I became a mystery writer, I can vouch for that. I’ll doggedly read a mystery to the end, even if I’m not in love with the book, just to get to that “Aha!” moment when all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place – something I might not do with a different genre of fiction.

Is this need to solve the puzzle something that’s hardwired in our brains? If scientists are correct, the answer is yes! Just as our bodies need exercise to stay healthy, our brains also need to get a good workout at a “mental gym.” So the good news is that when you read a mystery and try to figure out who did it, you’re doing your brain a favor (just don’t stay up until 3 am to solve the puzzle).

Comfort for the Soul: Yet another reason people give is that they find mysteries comforting. What’s so comforting about crime? Actually, nothing. The comfort comes when the reader gets to the last page and sees that order has been restored and the world is once again a safe place (at least until the next book in the series comes out).

This reason intrigued me, because it sounds like a page out of The Disappearing Dowry. My sleuth, Mr. Ezra Melamed, has taken up detective work only because he wants to help out a friend in his community, Mr. Samuel Lyon, whose money has been stolen under mysterious circumstances. That act of theft has set off a chain of events that could have dire consequences: the family’s eldest daughter, Hannah Lyon, might have to break off her recent engagement to her wealthy suitor and the entire family might have to leave their comfortable home and move into the debtors’ ward at Newgate Prison.

When Mr. Melamed contemplates the possible consequences of the thief’s actions, he is determined to find the culprit who has caused so much distress for an innocent family, so that order can be restored to their world. Does he succeed?

Of course. Otherwise, The Disappearing Dowry wouldn’t be a mystery – or at least it wouldn’t be a mystery that most mystery fans would want to read, since it seems that mystery lovers do want the good guys to prevail. And with this we may have come to the real reason why mystery lovers love their mysteries so much: a mystery’s happy ending restores our feelings of hope.

We all have our problems and those moments when we panic and think, “How am I ever going to get out of this?” Then we escape for a little while with a good mystery, which reminds us - to borrow the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a Chassidic master who lived around the time of the Regency period - “Never despair! It is forbidden to give up hope!” No matter how big the problem, if we’re willing to escape from our usual way of thinking and put our minds to work to follow the clues, we will eventually become the all-wise detective and find a way to solve the puzzle of our own life’s story. And that’s a comforting thought, indeed.

Are there other reasons why people love to read a good mystery? I’d love to hear what you think.

(Don't forget, Ms. Astaire will be responding to commenters throughout the day, so please share your thoughts!)

Coming this summer! 
The Ruby Spy Ring
By Libi Astaire
Published by Zahav Press, an imprint of Targum Press
Available at www.targum.com

With the excitement of her elder sister’s wedding now just a memory, a restless Rebecca Lyon is thrilled to be invited for a visit by her best friend, Miss Harriet Franks. However, her stay turns gloomy when she accompanies the Franks family to a fashionable picture gallery and Mrs. Franks inexplicably faints while viewing a picture. Then a coded message is found in the Mayfair tailoring establishment of Harriet’s father, and Mr. Franks is accused of being part of spy ring that is working for the French.

While Mr. Franks languishes in prison, Mr. Ezra Melamed, a wealthy widower-turned-sleuth, attempts to discover the identity of this dangerous spy ring. But to his dismay, the one person who could possibly shed light on the matter seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. With only the coded message, a mysterious ruby ring and a cryptic message from a Chassidic Rebbe to guide him, will Mr. Melamed be able to save Mr. Franks from the hangman’s noose?


Giveaway [CLOSED]

Ms. Astaire has kindly offered a copy of the first novel in the Ezra Melamed Mystery series: The Disappearing Dowry to one lucky reader living anywhere in the world!

The Disappearing Dowry
By Libi Astaire
Published by Zahav Press, an imprint of Targum Press
Available at www.targum.com

It is the summer of 1810, and the Napoleonic Wars are raging. But for Mr. Samuel Lyon, clockmaker to the fashionable world, disaster has struck closer to home. Not only has his bank gone bankrupt, but someone has broken into his shop and stolen the last of his money. And so instead of leading his eldest daughter to the wedding canopy, it now seems that Mr. Lyon will be leading his unfortunate family to the debtors’ ward of Newgate Prison.

The Lyon family is on the verge of despair when help arrives from an unexpected source: Mr. Ezra Melamed, a wealthy widower turned sleuth. But with only a key, a button, and a few cryptic words from a Chassidic Rabbi to guide him, can Mr. Melamed restore the disappearing dowry to its rightful owners before the Lyon family faces total ruin?

What do you have to do to win? Simply leave a meaningful comment on this post, including your email address so that you can be contacted if you win! If you win, please respond within 48 hours with your mailing address or a new winner will be selected. Winner will be picked via random.org. Contest ends June 30 at midnight EST.

You can also get extra entries!

+3 Old followers (before this contest)
+2 New Followers (after/during this contest)
+2 Following @LibiAstaire on Twitter (please leave your Twitter name)
+1 Following @The_BookishType on Twitter (please leave your Twitter name)
+1 (per link) Sharing this contest and guest post (Twitter, Facebook, Sidebar, etc - leave links for each)
+3 Blog Post about this contest and guest post (leave a link)

Be sure to include any extra entries in your comment, and add up your total entries! Any extra entries without verification links cannot be counted.

Thank you so much to Ms. Astaire for agreeing to guest post and for generously offering to provide a copy of her novel for the giveaway!


Melanie said...

I know I do love a good mystery and I never really thought of it as "gym time for the brain", but I like that idea! I look forward to reading this series.

+ 3 old follower


Patsy said...

I love mysteries! I make a game of it. I always try to pay close attention and find all the clues...I am always certain I will be able to find out who did what and I am thrilled when that happens (It happens so seldomly). I just made a good case for "gym time for the brain"!LOL

Patsy said...

I forgot to add, I am an old follower(+3).

Ashley said...

Great review, I would love to read this mystery!!

hewella1 at gmail dot com

Ash Oldfield said...

I do love a good mystery, but don't read them to often as I tend to stay up all night reading in order to find out 'whodunnit'. When I was younger I used to read the last page just to make sure there was a happy ending, so maybe the 'Comfort for the Soul' theory is accurate?

+3 old follower

oldfield (dot)a(dot)m (at) gmail (dot) com

Kailia Sage said...

This book sounds really great!
+3 Old follower
+2 Follow @LibiAstaire on Twitter @KailiaSage
+1 Following @The_BookishType @KailiaSage
+1 tweeted: http://twitter.com/KailiaSage/status/16274172947
total: 7 twilightforever.edward(at)gmail(dot)com

mariska said...

OHHH ! I LOVE Mysteries. And She's a new for me author. i would really like to dive into her mystery world !

+3 Old followers
+2 Following @LibiAstaire on Twitter (@becunique)
+1 Following @The_BookishType on Twitter (@becunique)
+1 i tweeted : http://twitter.com/becunique/status/16286966949

total : 7 points

uniquas at ymail dot com

Libi Astaire said...

Melanie, Patsy, Ashley, Ash, Kailia, and Mariska - you all certainly win the early bird award! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about why we love mysteries.

Jamie said...

I think people love mysteries so much because it offers readers a chance to experience something that would more than likely never happen in their lives :)


+1 following @the_bookishtype

My Never said...

Great post! I was wondering if it was hard to write a mystery story that fills these requirements? It seems like it would take a lot of precision and remembering a lot of facts in order to piece together the important details. Thanks!

Libi Astaire said...

My Never, thanks for your question. I think most writers naturally gravitate to the genre that suits them best. I'm a pretty organized person, and so I like the fact that a mystery has a very organized framework for telling the story. Of course, there is room for detours - to include subplots and have fun with some of the historical elements - but you can't stray too far. You have to keep the story moving toward a clearly defined goal: the solving of the mystery!

As for remembering the details - it helps that I'm a chronic rewriter. I rewrite as a I write, so that enables me to catch most of the inconsistencies before I turn in the manuscript to my publisher. But Zahav Press does have an editor whose job is to "track" the storyline and make sure there aren't any loose ends still hanging or things that don't make sense. That's one of the advantages of working with a traditional publisher - a few people give the manuscript a close read before it goes to the printer.

Sarah said...

This was really interesting - getting a mystery writer's take on the genre! Thanks for the great post! Are mysteries your favorite genre, Ms. Astaire?

Libi Astaire said...

Thanks for dropping by, Sarah. I love to read mysteries, but I'm also a big fan of British literature in general. One of the perks of writing my Regency-related mystery series is that it's given me a good excuse to buy books by authors that I somehow missed when I was school, like Ann Radcliffe and Wilkie Collins. Of course, their novels do usually revolve around an unsolved mystery, so maybe that's why I like them.

Sarah said...

Oo! You've been reading Ann Radcliffe? I love Northanger Abbey (love the review, btw, Casey!), so I've always wanted to read the Mysteries of Udolpho! Which of her works have you read? What did you think?

Libi Astaire said...

Hi again, Sarah.

The narrator of my mystery series, a young lady named Rebecca Lyon, is a BIG Ann Radcliffe fan. She loves The Mysteries of Udolpho, and so you might (correctly) infer from this that I prefer Udolpho to The Italian. I just bought A Sicilian Romance last week, while I was in England, but haven't started it yet so I can't give an opinion.

To be honest, I find that many novels written in the 1700s tend to be too long and repetitive. It was such a different era from our own: they seemed to like stories that went on and on and on, while we want everything to be fast. But if you can manage to enter into that earlier world, Udolpho is a fun read.

I reread Northanger Abbey before I start a new book in my series. I love the humor, and it puts me in the right "Regency" frame of mind.

Anonymous said...

I definitely agree with the reasons you give for the appeal of mysteries. I also think part of it is the appeal of the detective himself/herself. The way they think is foreign to most of us, and as a result they're fascinating for us to study. The detective that most stands out in my mind in this respect is, of course, Sherlock Holmes, but I think the same applies to the less eccentric ones as well =) What do you think?

Thank you for this great post and giveaway!

Libi Astaire said...

Hello Anonymous,

You've brought up a good point. Entering inside the detective's head is like getting a glimspe into an artist's world. They see things differently than most us; they observe the tiny details that we usually miss. Then they put the details together in a way that's surprising and unique, and that's definitely a big part of the fun.

grace said...

Wow, you actually nailed all three reasons why I love reading mystery novels! ^^

Actually, of all the genres I've tried the mysteries are the ones I actually read with the shortest span of time. I just have to find out what happened! It always starts with 'just until the next chapter, then I'll sleep', and then something happens and then I go 'just a few more pages', and then it's already morning and I just finished the book. ^_^

vesipisaroita [at] gmail [dot] com

lisa :) said...

Hi Ms. Astaire,

Thanks for the post and I do think you captured many of the great reasons to love mysteries. I have not yet read your books, but one question I always like to ask mystery writers is do you find it hard to write stories that are believable but still a little unpredictable? How to you balance providing enough "clues" while not making the ending obvious to the reader?

Thanks for taking the time to chat with all of us!

debbie said...

I love mysteries, they are my favorite genre. The nice thing about them, is there are so many types of mysteries. I think to say it is a mental workout is a perfect description.

Giada M said...

This is the first time I read about the Ezra Melamed Mystery series and it sounds soooo intriguing. Thank you for the interesting post and for this awesome giveaway!
I already added this series to my ever growing wishlist! :)

Giada M.

fabgiada (at) gmail (dot) com

+2 New Followers (after/during this contest)
+2 Following @LibiAstaire on Twitter @hatshepsut0011
+1 Following @The_BookishType on Twitter @hatshepsut0011

Total: 5

LilMissMolly said...

Great post! I love historically set mysteries. As my Grandma use to say, they are "brain food."
+2 new follower
lvsgund at gmail dot com

Libi Astaire said...

Hi Lisa,
Sorry for the belated reply. Thanks for bringing up two very interesting points about the craft of writing mystery stories.

There's an old expression that "truth is stranger than fiction," and I think there's a great deal of truth in it. People are so varied in terms of what motivates them - for both the good and the bad - that a writer has plenty of material to choose from real life, without resorting to far-fetched story lines. A big part of the writer's job is to convincingly lay down the groundwork throughout the story, so that when the culprit is revealed the reader can look back and say, "Of course, now I see it!"

That brings us to your second point, planting enough clues without giving away the ending. I think this is where rewriting and rewriting some more comes in. For instance in my mystery that is coming out later this summer, The Ruby Spy Ring, I was about 3/4 done when I realized that I was having so much fun with one of the subplots that I really hadn't planted enough clues for the reader. So I had to go back and rewrite a few scenes. As to how to plant clues so they're not obvious, one technique writers often use is the idea of the "red herring" - the clue that seems to be too good to be true, and usually is. But while the detective and reader are chasing after the red herring, the author can be quietly revealing a clue here and a detail there, whose importance will only be revealed later on.

Haku said...

Hi thanks for make it international and for the chance to win.

Life is full of mysteries, I love mysteries stories and this looks awesome, genre sounds cool so I hope to win XD the cover is great too.

enter me please: simply_haku@hotmail.com

extra entries!

+2 New Followers

+2 Following @LibiAstaire on Twitter

+1 Following @The_BookishType on Twitter

+1 Sharing this contest and guest post

Twitted: http://twitter.com/simplyhaku/status/16999989532


Sidebar: (Button "links")

Stella (Ex Libris) said...

Great guest post, your Ezra Melamed Mystery series sounds exciting! I agree, everyone loves a good mystery. Me personalyl I love the thrill, that while I'm reading I become the detective, guessing who might have committed the murder and how it could have been done. Mysteries in my opinion are not only gym for the brain but also for the imagination. (and it sure pumps up your heart rate! lol :-D)

Thank you for the giveaway (especially thank you for making it international!)!

+3 Old follower
+2 Following @LibiAstaire on Twitter (@Stella_ExLibris)
+1 Following @The_BookishType on Twitter (@Stella_ExLibris)
+1 tweeted here: http://twitter.com/Stella_ExLibris/status/17339223739
+1 posted on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000899165880&v=wall&story_fbid=135027796517133

stella.exlibris (at) gmail (dot) com

Jasmine1485 said...

I agree with the 'Gym Time' theory - I LOVE trying to work out who's the murderer/arsonist/blackmailer, but I'm terrible at it! This stands whether it's a novel, movie or TV show, I always try to pick the less obvious choice, but I still don't get it right. It's infuriating if it's something my partner has read or something we're watching together as he's really good at working out who the culprit is. :) The escapism works for me with any genre of book, they're all outside my scope of reference and I enjoy seeing how other people view the world.

Kate1485 at hotmail.com

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