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    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

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    Book Review: In the Blood GeneaFiction

     Exclusive Interview with Steve Robinson, Author of the Genealogical Crime Mystery Series

    It's warming up in Southern California, and if you're like me you're probably ready for a good beach/mountain/hammock/chaise lounge summer reading book. This week's book review highlights the Genealogical Crime Mystery Series by author Steve Robinson who was kind enough to answer a few genealogy specific questions via email.

    In the Blood  introduced readers to the affable Jefferson Tayte, an overweight American genealogist with a penchant for peanuts and a fear of flying. The latter places Tayte at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to onsite research "over the pond." He nearly loses his deep-pockets client over his reluctance to pursue the necessary research, but with grim determination he braves the air to beat out his genealogy competition and move the storyline from the U.S. to England.

    Tayte, or J.T. as he likes to be called, is a career genealogist drawn to the profession by the hollow spaces in his own past. At the death of his adoptive parents he discovers a photo of his birth mother and an apologetic note for not sharing the news sooner. Despite his expertise, Tayte has yet to uncover his own story and spends his time unraveling the past for his clients.

    When a wealthy Boson financier hires Tayte to uncover his wife's ancestry, neither expect to find a part of the family that literally disappears between Massachusetts and Cornwall. JT is puzzled by the lack of information, but it's the client who pushes for a resolution even if it will cost him a hefty amount, "…get over there and talk to those people. Confirm things. Half a job's no good to me."

    Tayte's journey to England expands as author Robinson develops a second plot revealing the eighteenth-century secret of what really happened to the Fairborne family. The two stories intersect as Tayte's investigation threatens the present with truths that will undermine generations and unsettle a legacy.

    In the Blood debuted as an author-published eBook last summer and I first heard about it via Twitter and Facebook. Within a few months, the novel had been named as a group read by the Goodreads UK Amazon Kindle Forum and selected by Amazon UK as one of the "Best Books of 2011" in the Kindle customer favorites category. The paperback edition was published in December 2011.

    British Steve Robinson worked in software and telecommunications until "redundancy" pushed him into a writing career. Like Jefferson Tayte, he has a nearby blank space on his family tree -- his maternal grandfather, an American GI who lived in England during WWII. I was curious about Robinson's own interest in genealogy and why he chose a professional genealogist as his main character detective, and contacted him via email. He's been kind enough to answer a few questions and confesses a weakness most family historians share -- a fondness for the "thrill of the hunt."

    A Chat With Steve Robinson

    Family Curator: How did you come up with the character of Jefferson Tayte, professional genealogist? Is he modeled after someone you know?

    Steve: The short answer is no, but I’ll try to explain where he did come from.  When I set out to write In the Blood all I had was a National Trust pamphlet that had a verse inside it, written by a farmer in 1803 about the ferrymen who operated the Helford ferry in Cornwall at the time.  The verse, reproduced in my first book, was quite damning and I asked myself, ‘What if the farmer was murdered the night he wrote it?’  I began to imagine the rest of the story from that.  Why was he murdered?  Who murdered him?  From there I knew I needed a way to get to that past story from the present and so the idea of genealogist was born.

    The character of Jefferson Tayte is based on no one in particular, although I had the image of a couple of actors in mind when I set about defining him.  I knew I didn’t want him to be a stereotype action hero with chiseled features and a six-pack.  He gets into plenty of action as other people try to stop him uncovering the past but I thought it would be good to cast him as a fish-out-of-water type - an everyman.  I define his actions in any given situation by asking myself what I would do, or what I think or hope I would do, if I was in that situation.  I gave him a light side to counter the deeper, psychological issues he’s had since learning that his mother abandoned him as a baby.  Not knowing who he is eats away at him and the upside of that is that it also drives him to be good at what he does.  I hope we’ll someday make that journey of discovery with him when it comes time for him to find his own answers.

    Family Curator: You say that you are not a genealogist, but it's obvious you know the basics of genealogical research. You even make a point through J.T. to acknowledge the difficulties  in family history research. How did you learn enough to feel confident using this profession in your books? 

    Steve:  All the research JT has worked through in my books, I have done myself or at least done to a point where I knew what was possible and what was not.  That was the only way I felt I could be accurate and fully appreciate what it’s like to be a genealogist, working through the problems real genealogists face in their research.  I’m sure that’s helped to make my character seem like a real genealogist even if I am not, which was always my goal.  I’ve learnt a great deal and if my writing career doesn’t work out then I may well go pro as a genealogist, lol, but writing about a genealogist gives me the best of both worlds.  I love the research and that’s something that writing and genealogy very much have in common.

    Family Curator: Your website mentions your search for your maternal grandfather through military records to Arkansas and San Francisco. Have you traced other family lines? Do  you have ancestors who might inspire other story lines or characters in your writing?

    I think this was partly why I turned to genealogy to tell the story of In the Blood.  My maternal grandfather has always been a mystery to me and I suppose that sense of wonder about who he is or was has been at the back of my mind for some time.  I went as far as I could go without too much difficulty and I was able to give my mother his military service number with which I knew she could unlock so much more.  As my mother and grandmother are still alive and I’m not direct next of kin I felt that it was up to them to take the next step if they wanted to.  It’s difficult isn’t it?  But I felt that it wasn’t something I should try to cajole them into and so for now at least the search has gone no further.  As for tracing other family lines, I find that my writing takes up all my time, although I have certainly been inspired by my recent ancestors who helped a great deal with the wartime narrative that is so much a part of my second book, To the Grave.

    Thanks very much for asking me along.  If any Family Curator website subscribers would like to chat further about anything just give me a shout.


    Questions & Comments Welcome

    Steve will be checking in on the comments of this review, so please feel free to ask questions or leave a note for him. Thanks, Steve, for sharing thoughts. I know I am already looking forward to J.T.'s next adventure.

    Robinson's novels are the kind of books that put the 'Summer' in reading to me. I thoroughly enjoyed In the Blood and the main character Jefferson Tayte. To the Grave, the second book in the series was released in June 2012, but I can't say much about it, yet. I've been saving it to take my mind of the flight on an upcoming trip! You can read about it on Robinson's website and on Steve Robinson's Amazon Page.

    In the Blood (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery)  Kindle, Paperback, Audio

    To the Grave (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery)  Kindle, Paperback, Audio

    Visit Steve Robinson's Website for updated book news

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    Reader Comments (17)

    I'd like to say a big thank you for inviting me along, and thanks for the great writeup for In the Blood - I might have to pinch some of that. :o)

    July 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Robinson

    I really need to hurry up and get these books!

    While I have your attention I want to let you know that I have nominated you for the Illuminating Blogger Award. You can pick up your award here = > and my contribution is here =>

    July 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie Ann

    Steve, I enjoyed chatting via email and hearing more about your character J.T. Thanks for joining in! - Denise

    July 18, 2012 | Registered CommenterFamily Curator

    Thank you for writing these books! I really enjoyed them both. When is the next JT book coming out?

    July 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCathi Desmarais

    Great to hear you enjoyed the books, Cathi. I'm plotting the next one at the moment and hope it will be out in the spring. It's going to be a bit different - no past narrative, but lots of history and mystery revealed through JT's research and the action that takes place in the present. And I wanted to keep things fresh so the series isn't predictable or formulaic. It's going to be a lot more about JT.

    July 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Robinson

    I have to wait until next spring?! Oh no! <g> OK, I guess I'll have to wait. And hey, if you ever need any background information from a professional genealogist (in addition to the Family Curator, of course), I'd love to help!

    July 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCathi Desmarais

    As a genealogist who is looking to branch out into fiction-writing, this was an exciting post to read!

    I immediately headed to my Kindle app and bought In the Blood and started reading. Now I've finished (I read quickly!), and I was not disappointed! Onto To the Grave!

    Being a big fan of the mystery/thriller genre, seeing a genealogist as the lead was fun, since usually the lead characters are professors, ex-special forces, archeologists, etc.

    Questions for Steve: Are you still "self-published"? How did you handle publicity? Any tips for a genealogist also trying to be a writer?

    July 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAntra

    Thanks for the offer Cathi. I'll keep you in mind if I get stuck anytime. :o) And spring will be here before you know it. You know how time flies.

    July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Robinson

    Hi Antra,

    Thanks very much for taking an interest in my books. You really do read quickly! Does that mean you'll be able to let me know what you thought about To the Grave tomorrow, lol.

    I am still self published. Funny thing is that I had an email from the literary agent who took me on with In the Blood and tried to get a publisher for it. She wanted to congratulate me on the success of my books and asked if I would want a trad publisher now if an offer came in. My answer was a bit more complicated than a straight yes or no, but it highlights that fact that success in writing books no longer depends on having a big publisher behind you. Don't get me wrong, they still have plenty to offer a writer and I'd love to see my books being advertised on the side of a bus and in book store windows, but I'm not sure what I'd do just now. As I said to my agent, It would be a nice bridge to cross if and when I come to it.

    Publicity for an indie-author is all down to you as the writer. I've joined forums and connect with like-minded people on Twitter. Facebook is supposed to be good for writers but I didn't get on with it. After a while, once my first book started selling and getting good reviews though, I found that sales became self perpetuating to a point. The higher a book climbs the charts the more visibility it has and that leads to more sales so it climbs higher - or at least it finds a level and tends to stay there in my experience. What that level will be really depends on the appeal of the book and the reviews because at some point, unless you do have some other kind of advertising that will bring readers to your book's product page, your book has to sell itself to some extent. Word of mouth is of course the best advertising you can get. If you can get people talking about your books in a good way then you get into a cycle where other people are advertising your books for you, and with a personal recommendation, which is as good as it gets.

    The best tip I can give you is to try not to let everything you know as a professional genealogist get in the way of the story. That's not such a problem for me because I learn much of what I write about as I go. I spend a lot of time on research and I have to learn what you already know, but very little of what I learn gets onto the page. The bits that don't go into the book however, give authority to the bits that do so nothing's wasted. What you don't want to do is to try to get all your vast knowledge of the subject across when it's not needed in the story. You have to find the balance and it's not always easy to get right. Put another way, I think you have to be a writer first and foremost and just draw on you genealogical experience as required. You just won't have to spend quite so many hours doing that as I do. :o)

    July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Robinson

    Sound like the perfect summer reading books. I'm adding them to my summer reading list! Can't wait to get started!

    July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle Goodrum

    I, of course, am your biggest fan. I was so excited to read your books on my iPad. Reading electronically is one of my passions.

    I love that J.T. is a genealogist that can't resist sweets. I think he should try to make a research plan and when it doesn't work out as intended complains loudly and gets himself into his usual mess.

    Great books. By the way, I'm ready for another.


    July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMidge Frazel

    Thanks Michelle and I hope you enjoy them. Please track me down once you've read them and let me know whether you did. :o)

    July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Robinson

    Hi Midge! It's great that you dropped by.

    JT probably shares my sweet tooth, only I don't seem to put any weight on and he does, lol. Poor JT. I think I'm going to get him jogging soon! Hmm... This research plan... Tayte's been in the game so long now that he probably knows they don't work for him. Or maybe he does use them but it could be detail we don't need in the books (see earlier post, lol). I might at least have to throw in a reference to it - probably in as much as it's gone out of the window because of everything else that's usually going on. I think he might start one when he gets closer to discovering his own ancestry. He'd want to plan that meticulously I should think. But it will no doubt all fall apart and the action will kick off as you say.

    That's a few books away yet, but I'll certainly get another genealogical crime mystery onto your iPad as soon as I can.

    July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Robinson

    I am for sure adding these books to my reading list. I love to read series collections! I must admit that I had never even considered a genealogical mystery even though my life is taken up with genealogy and family history. I am really excited to get started.

    July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPam I.

    Hi Pam! Thanks very much for adding my books to your reading list. Just about everything to do with family history (beyond our more resent ancestors perhaps) is a mystery to begin with isn't it? Some are just harder to solve than others. It seemed like the perfect marriage to have a genealogist solving some of the darker family mysteries that are out there. I hope you enjoy the books when you get to them. :o)

    July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Robinson

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