Kathy: The Bianca Goddard Mystery series is set in the 1500s. What led you to set your series in this time period?
ML: One of my interests was to read Shakespeare's plays. I felt woefully ignorant of his work so I undertook educating myself. I fell in love with the archaic words and his clever humor and I wanted to learn more about the Tudor era. The dynasty sat on the cusp of modern society but people still clung to their medieval superstitions. I thought it would be interesting to explore and imagine people's attitudes back then. I became hooked.
Kathy: Historical mysteries require an extra special brand of research. What's your favorite method to research this time period?
ML: When I find a topic of interest, I start googling for resource material and look for experts in the field. I hunt down academic papers in JSTOR and other online resources. Usually I buy a couple of books specifically on the topic and sit down and read. I always uncover little pearls I find interesting enough to include in my text. I also rely heavily on the online Agas map of London--a nearly 3-Dimensional rendering of the streets and buildings of Tudor London. I cross-reference that with John Stowe's "Survey of London." John Stowe wrote a detailed account of nearly every building and ward in London. He was wonderfully descriptive and his opinions of the time often leak through his accounts. It's great stuff!
Kathy: I have long been fascinated by alchemy and herbal studies. Did you have an interest before writing your series?
ML: I had an interest in alchemy only in the sense of understanding the roots of modern science. Alchemy is pretty convoluted and my interpretation of it for the series is based on my own understanding. Purists might argue with how I present the men and their methods, but I decided long ago, I could never get it 'right'. I just do the best I can.
As for herbal studies, I've always been interested in identifying plants and learning more about them. But I don't dabble with making anything like Bianca.
Kathy: In The Alchemist of Lost Souls Bianca's father discovers an element known as lapis mortem, the stone of death. Is this based on an actual alchemical material?
ML: The Lapis Mortem is loosely based on the properties of phosphorus. I've exaggerated its qualities for my purposes. It can have a slightly garlic scent and I did read that there was a documented account of someone emitting a green vapor after having ingested it. But phosphorus was not officially discovered until the next century by a German chemist. However, he discovered it by fermenting his urine, which alchemists had always believed was precious and could lead them to the philosopher's stone. Who is to say that some alchemist before Hennig Brand couldn't have discovered it first?
Kathy: What first drew you to historical mysteries?
ML: I've been writing historical fiction for years. After several near misses getting a contract with a publisher, I took a step back and thought about what I was doing. I was ready to quit writing and do something worthwhile with my life. But I realized I loved writing too much to give it up. So I revisited a manuscript "The Alchemist's Daughter" which was a coming of age story, and decided to keep the main characters, throw out the old plot, and try my hand at writing a mystery.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
ML: Historical fiction.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
ML: The Bianca Goddard Mysteries are set during the final years of King Henry VIII's reign. Bianca is the daughter of an infamous alchemist and uses alchemy and rudimentary chemistry to help solve murders and to create medicines for sale at market. There are four titles in the series: The Alchemist's Daughter, Death of an Alchemist, Death at St.Vedast, and now The Alchemist of Lost Souls. Next year The Lost Boys of London will release as the final book in the series.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
ML: Meddybemps is my favorite character. He's a pleasure monger with a darkside. He adores Bianca, acts as a surrogate father since she doesn't get along with her own. I based his appearance on Marty Feldman and gave him the irresitable urge to recite silly patters when the spirit moves him. (And it moves him at least once in every book).
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
ML: No. This is my own invention. One thing led to another. I loved the Tudor era and wondered what it would have been like being an alchemist under Henry VIII--trying to practice science during such a superstitious and religious time. Like I said, I originally wrote a very different story, but years of rejection and rethinking led me to write mysteries.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
ML: I never wanted to self-publish. When I first started writing that wasn't even an option. But now that self-publishing is so wide-spread I could have gotten my work 'out there' much sooner but I wanted the validation of knowing that my writing was good enough for a publishing house to get behind it. I did it the hard way. And I have some pride knowing I succeeded.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
ML: Ooo that would be fun. Definitely the two British authors Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall), Jeanette Winterson (Oranges Aren't the Only Fruit), Elmore Leonard (3:10 to Yuma) and William Shakespeare (or whoever actually wrote his works). In my mind, they are superb crafters of an engaging story. They all have a sense of humor and getting them together in the same room to talk about writing would be phenomenal.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
ML: I've started Fred Tribuzzo's Pulse (a dystopian adventure) and Edward II by Kathryn Warner--there is more intrigue and passion than Game of Thrones and it actually happened.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
ML: I run a berry farm with my husband and we make jams out of our fruit for sale at market. Being outside and getting my hands dirty keeps me sane. (The amount of work, though, makes me insane). I think if more people gardened or farmed, the world would be a better place. I also took up piano five years ago. I used to play viola and violin. My father always told me he wanted to give me his baby grand. I never had a house big enough to put it in until I moved to the country.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
ML: Half n half, coffee, tea, and Jolly Rancher's sour cherry candy.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
ML: I want to work on a stand alone Tudor story and also revisit an abandoned manuscript about Henry Longfellow and see if I should work on it. I have another idea for a historical mystery series set in Maine. But the Bianca Goddard mysteries will end at book 5 for now. Maybe someday I will revisit it.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
ML: Feeling that little zing of satisfaction when I get a phrase "right". It also makes me happy when I hear from readers that they enjoy the stories. I've never gotten over the scars of rejection and if I can bring someone some enjoyment from my stories then I can reassure myself that I made the right decision to keep writing.
The Alchemist of Lost Souls (A Bianca Goddard Mystery) by Mary Lawrence
About the Book
Historical Mystery 4th in Series
Kensington (April 30, 2019)
A dangerous element discovered by Bianca Goddard's father falls into the wrong hands . . . leading to a chain of multiple murders.
Spring 1544: Now that she is with child, Bianca is more determined than ever to distance herself from her unstable father. Desperate to win back the favor of King Henry VIII, disgraced alchemist Albern Goddard plans to reveal a powerful new element he's discovered--one with deadly potential. But when the substance is stolen, he is panicked and expects his daughter to help.
Soon after, a woman's body is found behind the Dim Dragon Inn, an eerie green vapor rising from her breathless mouth. To her grave concern, Bianca has reason to suspect her own mother may be involved in the theft and the murder. As her husband John is conscripted into King Henry's army to subdue Scottish resistance, Bianca must navigate a twisted and treacherous path among alchemists, apothecaries, chandlers, and scoundrels--to find out who among them is willing to kill to possess the element known as lapis mortem, the stone of death . . .
About the Author
Mary Lawrence lives and farms in Maine and worked in the medical field for over twenty-five years before publishing her debut mystery, The Alchemist’s Daughter (Kensington, 2015). The book was named by Suspense Magazine as a “Best Book of 2015” in the historical mystery category. Her articles have appeared in several publications most notably the national news blog, The Daily Beast. The Bianca Goddard Mystery series also includes Death of an Alchemist, Death at St. Vedast, The Alchemist of Lost Souls, and the fifth title for 2020.
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