From Greater St. Louis Sisters in Crime at
  • Midwest Mystery Authors & Their Writing Tips--Fedora Amis

  • by Pam DeVoe

    Fedora Amis, Historical Mystery Author with a Humorous Twist, Member of SinC

    Fedora Amis’s debut novel, Jack the Ripper in St. Louis is a humorous Victorian mystery, which won the coveted Mayhaven Award for Fiction.


    Fedora Amis

    Fedora’s distinctive voice is apparent right from the first line in her Jack the Ripper in St. Louis mystery. Her take on characters, relationships, setting, and story line makes this evocative historical mystery a captivating must-read. The reader is kept on the edge of her seat griping the handrail in a dazzling roller-coaster ride of a mystery. Unexpectedly, interwoven throughout is a strong dose of humor providing brief respites, just before another tension-filled scene. Such creative pacing makes for quite a ride!     

    Obviously, since her Jemima McBustle series is set in late 1890s St. Louis, Missouri, Fedora couldn’t follow the dictum, “write what you know.”  Or could she? When queried about research, Fedora revealed fascinating insights into how to develop convincing historical characters and settings.

    Fedora’s historical detail is in many ways personal. For example, she has portrayed characters from the 1800s for a St. Louis, Missouri speaker’s bureau. To do this, she developed her own personas, researching personal items like clothing, which she also made herself, and the speech mannerisms and patterns her characters would likely have used. Naturally, she also delved deeply into the events of the time—through reading local newspapers and magazines. After all that, she wrote and acted out the 1800s person she created. Thus, in many ways, this personal, hands-on involvement with her characters allowed her to have a more intimate understanding of their time and place. What a base for her future Victorian mystery novels to build on!

     And, of course, as she begins a new Jemima McBustle novel, she uses the same meticulous attention to culture, time and place. Jack the Ripper in St. Louis and her upcoming books usually occur within a one week span in a particular year. She spends hours in the library reading that week’s articles and reviewing advertisements in local newspapers and magazines—much of it on microfilm. This allows her to get all kinds of seemingly superfluous information, but which can be critical for credibility—such as what the weather was like and what people were talking about, whether in politics, entertainment, or social life.

     Another defining trait of Fedora’s mystery is her ability to draw a scene so well for the reader that we feel we are watching a movie. This is something all writers hope to do well and she is masterful. Interestingly, she noted in the interview, that she is mindful of the importance of a related dictum: “show, don’t tell.”  Your alpha and beta readers or your critique group can be helpful in keeping you on track for this. I admit to being surprised when Fedora said she carefully edited her work highlighting the need to show and not tell because, as I said, her novel is not unlike watching a movie. This also indicates how important it is for the author to know what she wants in her final product—the novel—and to follow through with care and precision.

    With the debut of Jack the Ripper in St. Louis we have an exciting historical mystery with a lively, humorous edge—and the debut of an up-and-coming author with a unique voice. Read Fedora Amis’s Jack the Ripper in St. Louis and buy a copy for your favorite history or mystery buff.

    Fedora’s Writer’s Tips
    Write every day:  Yes, you may have heard this before, but Fedora sees it as essential. If you don’t have much time, set a modest daily goal. As she pointed out to me, if you simply write 100 words a day, you will have a completed novel in two years. That’s only about seven typed lines on your computer!  Fedora follows this rule herself and writes every day, first thing in the morning for at least a couple of hours, even before breakfast. Okay, this last may not would work for you, so do breakfast first, then write; or write at lunch; or when the kids are doing homework; or before you go to bed. What’s important is to write consistently.

     Write the book you want to read: Another way Fedora put this was to “write the book of your heart... Writing isn’t something you choose. It chooses you.”  In other words, take the story that’s been clamoring around in your head and put it on paper (or the screenJ). Don’t give up.

  • Go to the SinC St. Louis Blog to follow the rants of
    Fedora AMIS
    Grammar Shamus




  • President of St. Louis Writers' Guild, Brad Cook, Interviews Fedora Amis and Denise Elam Dauw on YouTube. October 28, 2013

    From Jack The Ripper To James Gordon Bennett Jr.

    Educator Donna Ross brings characters to life

    By Don Corrigan in the Webster Kirkwood Times

    Donna Ross, seen here portraying publisher James Gordon Bennett Jr., has shared her knowledge of historical figures with students at Webster University and with residents of local retirement homes. photo by Diana Linsley

    Many scholars believe old Jack the Ripper was a serial killer confined to Victorian London. Donna Ross, who lectures and writes about Jack the Ripper, said she believes the famous killer was actually Francis Tumulty, who left England and visited mayhem and murder upon St. Louis until his own death in 1903.

    Ross not only plays and lectures about Jack the Ripper, she has written a soon-to-be-published Victorian Whodunit entitled, "Jack the Ripper in St. Louis." The Chesterfield resident won the Mayhaven Literary Prize for her fiction on Jack the Ripper's life.

    "No one really knows who Jack the Ripper was, but everyone knows he was pretty strange," said Ross. "I have lots of evidence that he was, in fact, Francis Tumulty. And Tumulty probably committed a few bad deeds right here in St. Louis."

    Like Jack the Ripper, who may have had multiple personalities, Ross brings forth many characters herself. Among the notables whom Ross performs are: James Gordon Bennett Jr., eccentric publisher of the New York Herald; Jesse Benton Fremont, daughter of Missouri's Thomas Hart Benton; and Marguerite Susanne DeRiehle McNair, wife of the first governor of Missouri.

    "I like doing retirement centers because older people have a keener interest in history," said Ross. "Maybe that's because they have a little history themselves and they care about the past."

    Ross taught speech, debate and English in the Parkway School District before retiring. She achieved all three honors bestowed by the Speech and Theatre Association of Missouri (STAM), and is in that organization's hall of fame.

    Flamboyant Journalist

    Ross recently performed publisher Bennett before a group of Webster University journalism students. She dressed in a men's Victorian frock coat and an impressive black top hat.

    As Bennett, she made a number of observations as to the effects of being horsewhipped by opponents of his opinions expressed in print. This involved blood running from the sidewalk to the gutter. Bennett also explained just why the Herald's journalism was so successful.

    "The lesson is to be as flamboyant and outlandish and to stretch the truth as much as you can," said Bennett, the man whose newspaper is credited with establishing the reportorial interview and the concept of the journalistic scoop.

    "One of the first things Bennett did after inheriting the newspaper at 25 was to send a reporter to find a lost missionary in Africa," said Ross. "That stunt is remembered with the immortal words: 'Dr. Livingstone, I presume.'

    "Bennett also scooped all the other papers with the story of how Gen. George Armstrong Custer managed to get himself killed at the Battle at Little Big Horn," Ross noted.

    Ross said she thought about doing historic impersonations of William Randolph Hearst or Joseph Pulitzer, who are better known, but Bennett was too quirky and colorful to ignore. After all, only the irascible Bennett had the gumption to drive his horse-drawn coach stark naked when the moon was full.

    Best of Bellefontaine

    When Ross isn't playing Victorian James Gordon Bennett or Jesse Benton Fremont, she might just be hanging out at the celebrated St. Louis resting place known to many as Bellefontaine Cemetery.

    Among the accomplished characters who've found a permanent residence at Bellefontaine are:

    • A legendary steamboat pilot who taught Mark Twain how to navigate the Mississippi River for $500.

    • A West Point grad who explored the American wilds and for whom the salt flats in Utah are named.

    • An activist woman who founded the League of Women Voters (LWV) in 1920.

    • An educator who came to found Washington University and whose grandson became a famous poet.

    • A maker of rifles whose famous brand tamed the West and was used by the likes of Daniel Boone and Kit Carson.

    • A noted lawyer who coined the phrase of praise to canines as "Man's best friend."

    • An ad man who used Tom Mix and western fever to sell tons of Hot Ralston Cereal.

    To identify these folks by name, you may seek out the answer key on her Web site about history at the Internet address of

    Ross's current creative obsession is refining a fictional character she calls Mrs. McBustle. She is writing a series of stories based on her 19th Century composite of an American woman whom Ross has affectionately nicknamed "Mrs. McB."

    "She was created especially for lovers of flora. She can be slightly risqué," explained Ross. "The program demonstrates the ways ladies of yesteryear used their gardens to invite love and enhance beauty."

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