Monday, January 25, 2016

Goals for the Year by Margot Justes

The new year is upon us, and many resolutions have been made, and I’m equally sure many have already been set aside. Rather than set resolutions, I established a few professional goals for myself. My resolutions usually disappeared mid-January. This year I’m after attainable goals.

The first one is to finish my novella-a sequel to A Fire Within, also set in Chicago, this project has lasted more than 2 years, and it is time finish.

The second one is to make a dent in A Hotel in Barcelona, so that I can get it out in 2017. I’m not a fast writer, and have plenty of research to do, and many words to write.

The third is to finish my sequel to Blood Art. A terrific idea came to mind in the middle of the night-and yes-for once I took notes. It’s about a vampire and a romance writer. Half is in rather familiar territory, the other half is the fun of making it all up.

The setting might be in Chicago, or somewhere in Europe-haven’t decided yet, but that is also the enjoyable part. Did I mention I love my job? I do, even the frustrating parts when I write myself into a corner, or I write a wonderful scene and have no idea why I wrote it, or where it belongs. Ultimately it always finds a home.

The goals also include a trip to Europe, specifically Barcelona. I was there three years ago, but need more detailed information on a few places, and to get the feel of the city, to capture the zest and joy of life that exists in Barcelona.  I didn’t realize I’d be setting my next book there during my last visit, or I would have been more prepared.  I’m serious about researching the places I write about. The characters come to life, and enjoy their visit almost as much as I do.

I chose Barcelona because I love Gaudi’s work, his creative style is beyond whimsy. He was an amazing architect who forever put his stamp on this city. I’ll share a few pictures-his work alone is worth a visit to Barcelona.

The goals seem attainable, the cruise is already set for October, and am now booking the excursions-a couple a month-that spreads the cost, and is easier to budget.  

Hope you enjoy the pictures, Gaudi's work is amazing.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within

Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Hotel in Paris by Margot Justes

Memories of my time spent in Paris are always with me, and I thought I’d share the 1st Chapter of A Hotel in Paris with you. It is the beginning of my ‘hotel’ series. It wasn’t meant to be a series, but I fell in love with the characters, and continued their life together.

It is slower in pace,  it is dreamy, and evocative. It is about a woman on the cusp of self discovery, filled with self-doubt and romantic pain. It is also the first thing I ever wrote, other than office memo.

                                                            Chapter 1

The shrill wail echoed in the hallway, Minola Grey slammed the door to her hotel room and followed the sound of distress. She saw the maid dart out of a guest room in sheer panic.  Minola reached her in a few brisk strides and asked, "Yvonne, what's the matter?"  She didn't detect any sign of injury, just pure terror in her eyes.  This type of behavior was unlike Yvonne, who was always steadfast.  Nothing ever ruffled her.
"Mademoiselle Grey…body…blood…" she sobbed.
"Body?  Blood?  Whose body?  Yvonne, please…please sit down."  Minola led her to the plush oversized chair near the elevator.  "Tell me what happened," Minola pleaded.
"Lord Yardleigh.  In his room…dead…blood," Yvonne said, her voice shook, but the weeping now dwindled to a whimper.
"Yvonne, knock on Dr. Lebrun's door.  See if he's in.  I'll go to Lord Yardleigh's room."  Minola's voice quiet and subdued, she thought to offer comfort to the distraught maid. “Please call the front desk for help, and get Security up here, fast."
Lord Yardleigh's open door allowed Minola to walk in, and what she saw left no doubt in her mind.  Lord Yardleigh was dead.  The body splayed out on the floor did not diminish the quiet elegance of the room.  Minola’s stomach twisted in a knot, her muscles tightened and nausea rose in her throat.
She'd never seen a body, much less in this bloody state.  Think!  Don't touch anything.  She shook her head, as if to clear any lingering cobwebs.  Get hold of yourself. Where is the gun? I don't see a gun. Murder? Must be. He didn’t get up and dispose of the gun and then conveniently lay down and die. Not with that wound. A great fan of the mystery genre, Minola knew enough not to disturb anything in the room.  The crime scene needed to be preserved. 
Reluctantly, Minola looked at the body again and noted how impeccably dressed he’d been–crisp white linen shirt, gold cuff links, and an expensive watch still on his wrist–impeccable except for the bloody stain that had spread beyond the hole in the shirt and created a crimson river against the achromatic background.  To relieve her queasiness, Minola swiftly glanced at the rest of the room.  As an artist she focused on the de rigueur hotel furniture, then on the few contemporary canvases displayed on the walls. These were not hotel issue, and were good.
The colors and textures of the paintings strangely complimented the hues of the grim, yet powerful, scene before her. Contemplating the pieces on the wall gave Minola a much needed reprieve from the ghastly outline on the floor.  Her hands clenched as she began to shake.
Nothing appeared to have been disturbed in the quiet, serene room.  The curtains were open, and the sun filtered through to cast a warm dappled glow over the body.  Minola shuddered, turned and without touching anything walked out of the room.
Back in the hallway, she patiently waited for what she knew would be a barrage of questions by hotel security and the Police Nationale de Paris.
This hotel is my home.  What happened here?  To give her an essential, although temporary, reprieve from the tragedy, she focused on yesterday’s idyllic day sitting in a cafĂ©, in a cozy secluded booth across the street from the Luxembourg Gardens. Through the gilded wrought-iron fence she gleaned the contemplative and everyday life of the Parisians unlike today, where the horror of sudden death intruded on her contemplation.
As she waited for the police, she relived the relaxed pace inside the gardens, so peaceful and calm.  She remembered the old couple who sat on a bench and held hands, a woman watched her child play, and on another bench, two women sat in comfort and rolled the prams containing their precious cargoes.  Their hypnotic movements, back and forth, back and forth, helped lull Minola into utter contentment as the mesmerizing and soothing minutes flicked by. 
The image of Lord Yardleigh's body intruded on her thoughts.  So peaceful in repose…so still, so sanguine, except for the blood.  Go back to the gardens.   Go back to the gardens.
"Mademoiselle Grey…pardon, Mademoiselle," she faintly heard a voice call her back to reality.        Art drew her to Paris, so well represented–not confined to museums, but present everywhere, and always in the gardens which peppered this amazing city.
 "Mademoiselle Grey…Mademoiselle, s'il vous plait."  She heard that voice again, faint but urgent calling her.  Her serenity shattered, she faced the certainty of a gruesome murder in her quiet hotel.  Slowly Minola opened her eyes, and noticed the hallway was filled with police and crime investigators.  She recognized what looked like a solitary pathologist carrying a black medical bag.  The police did not block his entry.
"Mademoiselle Grey, are you all right?  I need to ask you a few questions."  The gentle yet insistent voice persisted through her hazy reality.  "Yes, of course.  I am sorry," she replied, and again clenched her hands to keep them from shaking.
"I'm  Luc Dubois with the Police Nationale.  Mademoiselle, we already have a statement from the maid.  She said that you went into the room.  Did you touch the body?" he inquired politely.
"I didn't touch anything…no…nothing at all.  I went in to see if I could help.  Yvonne had said blood…I just wanted to make sure…  I…"
He nodded his head and continued, "Did you notice anything unusual?  Did you see or hear anyone come up to this floor while you were waiting for the police?"
"The room appeared undisturbed.  So clean.  I didn't see or hear anyone, but I closed my eyes because I needed to escape. I am sorry, but I believe I drifted off a bit.  Maybe Yvonne heard or saw something.  Not a robbery…"  Her calm voice belied her distress. She looked down and tried to still her quaking hands.
"Yes, I know.  I had a difficult time bringing you out of your reverie, Mademoiselle.  The maid had gone downstairs to summon help; she could not get the phone to work.  I believe she was too agitated.  Pourquoi?  Why are you so certain that it was not a robbery?" he queried.
"You must have noticed he wore a gold Rolex.  There are also several very worthwhile contemporary art pieces on the wall.  A thief would have certainly stolen these items.  No self-respecting crook would leave a Rolex on his victim's wrist.” She said. “The Luxembourg Gardens are a far more delightful escape than seeing a murder victim." Her voice was wistful as she looked up, her eyes shimmered, but she refused to let the tears fall.
"There I would agree with you, Mademoiselle.  I am sorry you were a witness to such a tragedy."
"Merci.  Thank you for understanding."   
Minola closed her eyes and saw the sun filter through the pool of blood–a macabre scene, one that would stay with her forever.  She blinked twice and looked down at her watch. "Pardon, but I am already late for class.  May I please go, unless you still need me for any reason?  I will be back this afternoon.  I can leave my passport at the front desk."  As an afterthought she added, "If necessary."
"That will not be required, Mademoiselle.  You may go.  I understand that this is difficult for you.  There will be more questions for you this afternoon; please do make yourself available.  Merci, Mademoiselle."  He moved on to speak with another policeman.
* * *
Yves Lanier, of the Police Nationale, was a man with a mission.  His dingy grey office with matching furniture was so littered with papers and books that he couldn't find the phone on his desk.  It was here somewhere, he knew.  Damn it, I used it yesterday.  He briefly stared at the mess…then, with quiet efficiency, slid everything off his desk to the floor, and heard the ping of the phone hit the ground.  He bent down, picked it up, and dialed a London number he knew well.  A quiet voice answered: "Peter Riley."
"Bonjour, Peter.  How are you, my friend?"
"I know that tone, Yves.  Interpol at your service.  What's going on?"
"Peter, Yardleigh was murdered sometime late last night or early this morning.  I think your investigation into money laundering just veered off track."
The silence at the other end was palpable.  "What the hell happened?  He was cooperating.  What do you have?"
"We have nothing, mon ami.  He was shot once in the chest with a small-caliber gun.  No exit wound–the lab's still working on that.  Purely as an observation, it looks like he knew his killer.  No surprise or fear…there's nothing reflected on his face.  Nothing stolen.  Everything, as you English say, was neat and tidy, save for the corpse on the floor.  We secured the crime scene and did all the lovely things we are supposed to do.  The bastard was not nice enough to leave any clues."  Lanier spoke with the confidence of a seasoned cop.
"Let me talk to Clivers, my superior.  Murder is out of our jurisdiction.  I suppose that leaves Scotland Yard in the game."
"Peter, this started in England."
"Don't I know it.  I will call you back."  Lanier heard the phone click in his ear.
* * *
Peter Riley ran a hand through his hair and swore.  As he reached for his phone, it rang.  "Riley," he recognized the brooding voice, "what the hell is going on?"
"Sir, I just spoke with Lanier.  I assume you know as much as I do."
"Scotland Yard just filled me in.  As of right now you are on loan to Scotland Yard.  Riley, get over there…yesterday."
"Sir, just what am I supposed to do?  We can continue the internal investigation here…"  Peter was cut off again.
"He was killed in Paris.  You will go to Paris, do I make myself clear?"  The voice at the other end softened perceptibly.  "I can't think of a better man to handle this mess.  Keep me posted."
"Yes, sir, I'm on my way," Peter responded, and hung up the phone.  "Bloody hell," he murmured to himself.  He made a couple of phone calls and prepared to leave for Paris.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Happy New Year by Margot Justes

Happy New Year!

May we have a bit of hope, and peace in 2016, along with the usual health and happiness wishes.

I’m not making any resolutions this year, because in the past I have not kept them-this year it will be one day at a time.

Like most of us, I spent time with my family and loved every minute of it. The kiddies trekked 7 miles on a rainy day in DC, and did not complain at all. Solonge kept track of our steps with her electronic gizmo, aka Fit Bit.

We visited the WWII Memorial, a solemn and profound monument, also the Viet Nam Memorial, this one gives me goose bumps every time I visit-so many souls lost. The names listed make this monument more thoughtful, and somehow more poignant.

We trekked to the Lincoln Memorial, and of course the Washington Memorial, the elevators were not working, and kiddies were disappointed in not being able to go to the top.

The National Tree had to be seen, and we captured a beautiful picture-the rain allowed us a slight break, which we greatly appreciated. From afar in the mist, we were able to see a bit of the White House and the decorations.

By the day’s end, my shoes squeaked from the water and unavoidable puddles-not smart to wear canvas shoes in the rain. They were comfy until they became wet.

We stopped for a festive late lunch at Old Ebbitt Grill, ( that allowed the kiddies to dry out and eat, before resuming the rainy hike. The food was delicious, best meatloaf ever, and since I was dripping wet, and rather hungry, pictures were not a high priority.

This Christmas was truly magical, and I’m grateful I could spend it with my family. Can’t think of a better blessing, than the usual health and happiness. May we strive to achieve some peace, less hate and more kindness in 2016, it is within our individual power to do. That indeed would be a great blessing.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Setting the Story by Margot Justes Redux

I write romantic mysteries for a niche market, my stories deal with art, travel, a bit of mayhem and romance. I might preface that with-I love art and I love to travel-and have been fortunate to be able to do so. The old adage write what you know and love is true.  

When I started writing, I knew my novel would be set in Paris. In my youth, I lived there for a year, and have since gone back a few times. It stood to reason that my first romance should be set there. I’m familiar with the city, and over the years from my perspective, little has changed in the City of Light. The Louvre now has Pei’s Pyramid at the entrance, a few buildings have been added, but the age old charm, the cobblestones, the meandering streets, the essence and soul are still very much there.

The first time I visited Bath, England, many years ago, I said I must come back, and I did. My second book is set there. My third hotel book, is set in magical and mysterious Venice. All three cities are unique and romantic places.

My heroine is an artist, and through her eyes, I introduce my readers to my favorite artists, allow her to live in exciting places, give her mysteries to solve, and someone to love. The best of all worlds.

For me it is essential to visit the place I write about, get a sense of the culture, the everyday, mundane activities that make up our lives. The magical moment of sitting in a cafe, sipping an espresso, and watching people go by. An image is created that will allow a glimpse of that perfect intimate moment.  A sculpture in a garden described so well that the reader can almost reach out and touch a sinew, that is the wonder of the written word.

Rodin has always set my pulse racing, his work is strong, exuberant, poignant to the point of agony, and sometimes even mischievous. I tried to bring that sense of joy and discovery to my hero in A Hotel in Paris, and hopefully to my readers. I find solace in art, for me it’s therapeutic. You don’t have to be an art scholar to enjoy it, it’s everywhere we turn, it surrounds us, all we have to do is take note.

Imagine tea at the Pump Room in Bath, and that first sip of the heavily scented Earl Grey tea, you take a deep whiff to savor the smell of the bergamot oil, take a bite of that a fresh scone still warm, loaded with clotted cream and strawberry preserves-except that I skip the cream and go directly for the jam, lots of jam. Those are all real memories that will enrich a story.

Visit a restaurant that has been in business since the early 1600s, watch out as you step down on the crooked stairs and touch the warped wall, coated with gobs of thick paint as you continue your descent that doesn’t seem to end, and then you gingerly sit down in a rickety old chair and hope you won’t be sitting on the ancient brick floor instead.   
From the Rodin Museum in Paris, to the Pump Room in Bath, to the dark and narrow canals in Venice, where the water mysteriously shimmers in the moonlit night. It’s all there. Familiarity with a location makes it easier to write about, it makes it come alive.

Even though I write contemporary romance mysteries, I love history and art, and that is what I write about. It goes back to the beginning, write what you know and love. 

Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within
Blood Art

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Changing Holiday Traditions by Margot Justes

 I thought I'd share a few pictures from the Biltmore Estate. I'm heading back Monday, on my way to Charlotte to check out the Christmas decorations. I've read they're wonderful, and I'll post pictures. 

The ham sandwich, the best I've had in many, many years was from Cedric's Tavern on the estate. The excellent coffee, and freshly squeezed orange juice came with breakfast.

Have a happy and thankful Thanksgiving. 

Traditions evolve and change, that is life. I didn’t grow up with any, but I made sure a few were created when my daughters were born. Something as simple as going apple picking every fall-that tradition continued with my grand-kiddies until my older daughter moved out of state.

Then there was the annual pizza party at Halloween until we moved-now I see pictures of the kiddies dressed in costumes. I still hand out candy, but no longer decorate, except for a few treasured pieces I kept, all the other stuff was given away prior to my move.  Do I miss it? Yes, but I understand that things change.

Thanksgiving was always at the house, and both daughters always made it home for the holiday, until my older daughter married, and then the tradition moved to her house, and continues to this day. It is such a beautiful, poignant, and quiet holiday-one of my favorites.

Adapting to new situations as life progresses, and making them work is essential, otherwise we lose track of what is important.

I hope to establish a new tradition with my daughters, hopefully next year we’ll all be able to spend a couple of days in Asheville, and then head to Charlotte to celebrate Thanksgiving.  That may not be possible because the young kiddies are in school. It will be a work in progress, but even one night would be a delight.

I spent a couple of days in Asheville this October, and fell in love. It would be lovely to start the season and see the Biltmore Estate decorated for the holidays.

I had a Christmas tradition as well, the annual Ruth Page production of The Nutcracker in Chicago, that tradition continued until the production ceased to exist. Then we tried other productions, a play, high tea-anything that celebrated the spirit of the holiday. It continues even now, it’s been adapted, but it continues. Christmas is a jubilant, boisterous holiday filled with light and spirit. There are always many things to do during the season.

Our traditions have evolved to suit our needs because our lives have changed. This is the first time in many, many years, that I live close to my younger daughter, and I love it.

She was away at school for many years, and would always come home for the holidays, but grad school and post doc work put her in a college environment for a long time. For her this will be a first Christmas since  she started college that she doesn’t have to travel, because this year we’ll all be together in Alexandria.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within

Saturday, October 31, 2015