I’m interviewing June Trop, author of historical mysteries. She gifted me a copy of a novel in her series which I enjoyed reading. I was impressed by the depth of her historical knowledge.
Question: June, what is the title of your current novel? Why did you select it?
The Deadliest Thief (Black Opal Books, 2019) is the fifth novel in my Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series of historical fiction, which is set in first-century CE Roman Alexandria. The only surviving accomplice in a jewel heist vows to kill Miriam and her occasional deputy, the itinerant potbellied dwarf, Nathaniel ben Ruben. At the same time, a kidnapper seizes Miriam’s closest friend, Phoebe, and threatens to butcher her piece by piece. Miriam suspects the events are connected, but can she find her friend before it’s too late?
Aside from my own life-long love of mysteries, I thought writing a good mystery would be the greatest challenge. Readers should have access to all the clues but, at the same time, be unable to solve the puzzle. In fact, The Deadliest Thief has been praised for its surprise ending. And then, the solution must satisfy. That is, readers must see that the author was fair. And finally, justice should triumph. Writing doesn’t get more challenging than that!
Question: What inspired this novel? How did it come about?
Many years ago, I was taking a course on the historical development of concepts in chemistry. The professor assigned a paper in which we’d select an historically significant concept and trace its development. I hadn’t a clue what to pick so I wandered through the stacks of the library hoping an inspiration would hit me. Instead a book did. Fell right off the top shelf, landed on my poor toe, and opened to an article about Maria Hebrea. She was a first-century alchemist living in
who held her place for 1500 years
as the most celebrated woman of the Western World. Alexandria
I wrote my paper on alchemy but never forgot this woman or her inventions. Since very little was known about her personally, I was free to make her my amateur sleuth.
Question: Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your novel?
Actually, Miriam is right here. She’s always with me and will tell you about herself as long as you swear by Alethia to keep her work a secret:
Times are dangerous here in Roman Alexandria. I am an alchemist, and while the goal of our league is to perfect human life—to heal, extend, and rejuvenate it—we also focus on base metals like copper and iron, to perfect them into gold. But that’s where we can get into trouble, big trouble. The emperor is afraid that by synthesizing gold, we will undermine his currency and overthrow the empire. And so, the practice of alchemy, even the possession of an alchemical document, is punishable by the summum supplicium, the most extreme punishment. Like the vilest of criminals, any suspect is summarily crucified, left to hang outside the city gates to serve as an appalling warning to others. And so, when an alchemical document was stolen from my home (see The Deadliest Lie, Bell Bridge Books, 2013), I began to practice sleuthing. Now don’t forget: You must swear to keep my alchemical work a secret.
Question: Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?
The story in each of my five Miriam bat Isaac novels stands alone, but the core characters mature through the series. All the titles start with these two words, “The Deadliest…” and begin with The Deadliest Lie, then Hate, Sport, Fever, and Thief. All of them have been praised for their historical accuracy and for bringing the reader to that very time and place.
Before writing fiction, I was a professor of teacher education. My research focused on storytelling as a way of constructing and communicating practical knowledge. My first book, From Lesson Plans to Power Struggles (Corwin, 2009) is about the stories new teachers told about their early classroom experiences.
Question: What are you working on now?
Right now, I am working on a collection of Miriam bat Isaac short stories.
Question: What made you start writing?
I started writing with my twin sister when we were six years old growing up in rural
sold our story, “The Steam Shavel [sic],” to my brother for two cents. But more
than the story and the proceeds, I saw the magic of expressing oneself in
words. The challenge and the satisfaction have never left me. New Jersey
Question: What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?
I hope these precepts can support and encourage other writers:
1. Avoid comparing yourself to other writers. You have your own distinct voice and stories to tell.
2. Accept your failures and learn from them. In fact, if you’re not getting rejected some of the time, you’re not taking the chances you need to improve your craft.
3. Be grateful you have this opportunity to express yourself.
Question: Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?
You can order my novels in e-book or paperback formats from any online or independent bookstore. Moreover, my website, http://www.JuneTrop.com, has a blurb, video trailer, excerpt, and reviews of each novel, and a button to order directly from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about me, Miriam, and my future and recent past events; read my weekly blog on Life in Roman Alexandria; and contact me. I’m eager to hear from you here or on my website.
June welcomes comments!