Tag Archive for: #mystery #astrology #SanFrancisco #ZodiacMysteries

Ten things we don’t know about Julia Bonatti?  Well, let me think.  As the author of the Zodiac Mysteries, I’m not sure there’s anything my protagonist Julia hasn’t already revealed.  I’ve tried to make her fairly open and honest about who she is and what motivates her.  But maybe I can go further . . .
Let’s see . . . Julia’s a Sagittarian and because she’s an astrologer she lets everyone know that her Sun sign indicates optimism, generosity, a free spirit, one who isn’t afraid to take on challenges or tackle danger.  But her birthday?  So far, that’s been a secret.  So here goes — Julia was born on December 3, 1981 at 11:51 a.m. PST in San Francisco.

You can see her chart here.  Notice that her Sun, Mercury and Uranus are all clustered around her 10th house cusp (her career).  Uranus always figures significantly in the charts of astrologers.  Neptune is in the 10th as well.  Her profession is linked to the mysterious, to the occult arts.  Jupiter, Pluto and Saturn are clustered in her 8th house, a mysterious arena, the house of death.  Her Ascendant is Aquarius.  She’s eccentric, doesn’t really fit into the norm of a woman her age.  And her Moon is in Pisces.  She’s sensitive and a pushover for people in trouble.

We do know that her parents were killed in a car crash on the Bay Bridge when she was just a child.  She really can’t remember them too well, just an occasional vague memory.  And she’s an only child raised by her grandmother.  What she doesn’t talk about very much is her sense of displacement, her sense of not belonging.  Her grandmother is her only link to the past.  Then of course there’s Kuan, her grandmother’s friend who lives in the first floor apartment of her grandmother’s house in Castle Alley and practices Chinese medicine.  Kuan was a dear friend of Julia’s grandfather (now deceased).  In fact, Kuan saved her grandfather’s life many years before, but that’s something I’m holding back for a future story.  To Julia, he’s a surrogate grandfather.

With such a small family, her friends, Gale and Cheryl, are terribly important to her.  Julia had hoped that when she and Michael married, that haunting sense of not belonging would be healed.  Together they would start a family, but sadly that was taken away from her with Michael’s death.  But what does Julia not talk about in the Zodiac Mysteries?  Her fears.  None of us can talk very lightly about our deepest fears.  Maybe we’re superstitious, as if talking about the things we fear will bring them about.  Julia fears her grandmother will die.  After all, everyone else has left her.  She knows logically that her grandmother will die someday, but it’s more than she can get her head around.

She fears she’ll be alone for the rest of her life.
She fears she’ll never fall in love again.
She fears she’ll make a terrible mistake with a client’s chart and make a wrong prediction.  That would destroy her reputation and her practice.
She fears her skills as an astrologer won’t help her prevent another disaster, like the death of her fiancé.
And she fears if she keeps sticking her nose in crime, she’ll die young.  Then she thinks, maybe that’s better than being alone and the last one left on earth.
She fears she’ll find out her parents weren’t the wonderful people her grandmother claims they were.  And most of all, she is still terrified of driving across the Bay Bridge.
Is that 10?  Oh, not quite.  One more thing — she absolutely loves bitter-sweet dark chocolate!

I hope you’ll get to know Julia even better in the books of the Zodiac Mysteries and tag along with her on her crime-solving adventures.  Don’t worry, she’s not going to talk about her fears, she’ll be following the clues and tracking down a murderer!  And hopefully entertaining you.

This post first appeared at Cheryl Loves to Read on July 20, 2018.

My  interview in The Bill Thrill for Tail of the Dragon appeared in August 2018.

I love ghost stories, especially the scary ones, even though I’ve never written about a ghost.  Well, maybe that’s not quite true.  If you’ve read The Madness of Mercury, the first book in the Zodiac Mysteries, you’ll remember there’s a ghost story connected to the Gamble House and even a séance!  But considering that San Francisco isn’t that old a city, it does seem to have more than its share of haunted sites.

For example, the Squando was a Norwegian sailing ship that docked in San Francisco in 1890.  The captain discovered that his wife was having an affair with his first mate, so he lopped off the first mate’s head and dumped the body in the Bay.  Shortly after, the captain, his wife and the head disappeared and were never found.
The story doesn’t end there though.  The next three captains of the Squando were murdered by their crews.  The ship was finally docked in New Brunswick but no one could be found who would guard the ship.  All claimed they saw a bloody headless man roaming the ship at night.  It’s also said that on foggy nights an old three-masted ship can be seen sailing aimlessly in San Francisco Bay.

How about the tall glass and steel highrise at 555 California Street.  It was built in 1969 and for a long time housed the Bank of America.  Office staff have been freaked out by files flying off shelves and cold spots moving through the rooms.  One theory is that victims from the 1906 earthquake are still trapped underground.  That’s not much of a stretch actually, because in truth, rubble from collapsed buildings and hundreds, if not thousands, of bodies were plowed into the Bay when the clean up after the earthquake began.  The powers in the city at that time were in a big hurry to clear up the mess and attract investors.  So much of the land South of Market Street is filled land (not good in a quake) and was created from this very rubble.

Then there’s Flora Sommerton.  She was a debutante from a wealthy family who was about to be forced into a loveless marriage to an older man.  Flora was having none of it.  At her engagement party in 1876, she ran away and never returned home. Many years later in 1926, she was found dead in a cheap hotel in Butte, Montana.  It’s said that on foggy nights, young Flora can be seen walking down California Street from Nob Hill still wearing her white ball gown, the same gown she wore that fateful night in 1876.

There are many more ghost stories in the city – the lady of Stow Lake, the Haskell House, the Atherton Mansion and even more.  If you’re interested in exploring, check out this site for a walking tour:  San Francisco Ghost Hunt.   Hope you’re not easily scared.  It’s not for the faint of heart!

This post first appeared at the Pulp and Mystery Shelf on June 26, 2018.   


On this blog tour for Tail of the Dragon, the third book in the Zodiac Mysteries, I planned to highlight a few iconic San Francisco locations — places where my sleuth, astrologer Julia Bonatti, might visit or become involved in a crime.  The Island of Alcatraz was one of them.  However, there was a slight problem — there is so much history and so many stories on this tiny island, just a mile and a quarter from the city, it was too much to squeeze into just one post.

So here goes – here’s what I’ve learned about the spirits of the island:  Alcatraz is considered one of the most haunted places in America and certainly the most haunted prison in the country.  Early explorers to the island found an eerie atmosphere.  Native Americans knew of the island for thousands of years and even though they gathered bird eggs and fish for food, believed that evil spirits resided there.  They used the island to deport criminals under tribal law and as a burial site for outcasts.  When the Spanish began to spread Christianity in the 1700’s, natives who did not want to convert used Alcatraz as their refuge.

Long before it was utilized as a federal penitentiary, it was a military prison for America’s earliest wars.  Many were incarcerated there, some were declared insane after their imprisonment, many died and many were horribly tortured.  So it’s no wonder that prisoners, rangers and visitors have reported a wide range of ghostly activity — whispering in empty cells, locked cell doors opening, phantom figures in corridors, cold spots, floating blue lights and figures, moaning, the clanking of chains in unoccupied cells and even the sounds of musical instruments and sewing machines.

Psychics and paranormal investigators believe that D-Block, the worst cell for punishment in the “Hole,” is the prime location of most of the ghostly activity.  Four of its forty-two cells are thought to be haunted.  Cell 14-D in particular is permanently icy cold even during the summer.  One inmate in this block claimed to have seen glowing red eyes in the dark and screamed for hours.  He was found dead the following morning with a purple face, bulging eyes, and unidentified strangle marks around his throat.  Although I suspect it’s likely there was human cause for his death.

In an odd twist of history, Native Americans occupied and held the island from November 1969 to June 1971 in an effort to create a cultural center on the basis of a broken 1868 treaty between the Sioux and U.S. government.  In their statement to the world they said:

“It would be fitting and symbolic that ships from all over the world, entering the Golden Gate, would first see Indian land, and thus be reminded of the true history of this nation. This tiny island would be a symbol of the great lands once ruled by free and noble Indians.”

Their efforts were commendable, but in light of the island’s eerie history, perhaps they should have heeded their ancestors and chosen a less haunted place.

What do you think?  Would you fancy a short ferry ride to Alcatraz?  Would you want to stay there overnight?  Brrrrr . . .

This post first appeared at Varietats2010.blogspot on June 17, 2018. 

If you’re a fan of the Zodiac Mysteries, then you’ve definitely visited the Mystic Eye.  You know a lot about it and have met many of the eccentric characters who hang out there.  The occult shop is owned by my protagonist, Julia Bonatti’s, good friend Gale.  And even though I didn’t plan to set so many scenes there when the series began, it just sort of happened.  It was a great place for the characters to come together, especially at the psychic fairs.

There’s Nikolai, the Russian past life regression hypnotist, a larger than life man with a mysterious background.  There’s Zora, the medium and psychic who scares Julia half to death sometimes, lots of other psychics, Wiccans, Tarot readers and all sorts of characters.

So where did my Mystic Eye come from?  A long time ago, there was a real Mystic Eye, also on Broadway in San Francisco, but a little farther east, past the strip clubs and bars and comedy clubs of North Beach.  I remember it well.  It was a strange, dark little place, draped in black hangings.  It sold books and ointments and image candles for candle burning rituals, books on cultural and religious practices, some of it rather dark.  Not particularly my cup of tea, but I was curious since there was no shop like it in the city at the time.  It’s long gone now, so I felt safe using that name for the Zodiac Mysteries.
Julia’s Mystic Eye of the Zodiac books also has an exotic and mysterious atmosphere – plaster gargoyles, Tarot cards, crystals, books on psychic power and healing and religions of all sorts, candle burning supplies, dreamcatchers, magical herbs and ointments, greeting cards and lots of things that make great gifts.  Here are some photos that in spired me when I was writing the Zodiac Mysteries.  Have a look and see if this looks like your mental image of the Eye.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Is there anything happening at The Mystic Eye that you’d like to know more about?  Is there any field of study in the occult world that I haven’t touched upon?  Pyschometry? Remote viewing?  Candle burning?  How about crime or murder?

I hope you’ll stop in at the Eye soon and read about Julia’s adventures in the third book in the Zodiac Mysteries — Tail of the Dragon.  See you at the Eye!
This post first appeared at Island Confidential [frankiebow.com] on June 23, 2018.

Sagittarius-Kitab_al-Bulhan_---_zodiac_centaur_sagittarius(1)Julia Bonatti, my protagonist in the Zodiac Mysteries solves crimes using astrology.  And I hear from readers all the time – some love the subject of astrology and want to know more, while others aren’t particularly interested and are happy to skip those parts.  That’s fine with me.  It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.  Julia just happens to have an unusual occupation.  Hopefully, there are enough thrills and chills in her investigations that will keep readers turning the pages.

Mostly, people want to know how Julia figures things out and what she sees in a chart that alerts her to possible danger.  She can tell an awful lot about an individual from a chart and can make an educated guess about how that person approaches life.  Here’s an example that might help explain a few things:

This is a chart of a man born on July 26 at 7:29 p.m. in Kesswil, Switzerland.  I won’t mention the year, not yet.  What can we tell from the chart, without knowing the man’s name or his profession?

ChartHe’s a Leo with a Moon in Taurus and Aquarius rising.  All fixed signs – he’s proud, stubborn and not easily swayed.  There’s a heavy emphasis in his 6th house.  Mercury and Venus are conjunct on the cusp.  And the Sun and Uranus are also in the 6th.  The focus of his life will be his work (6th house).

He’s possibly involved in medicine.  But since Mercury and Venus are in Cancer, a sign ruled by the Moon, there’s an element of “feeling” and “emotion.”  The Moon/Pluto conjunction tells us he’s an intensely emotional individual.  In the 3rd house he’d probably be a writer of some sort.

Aquarius_zodiac_sign,_Jantar_Mantar,_Jaipur,_IndiaAquarius rising — he’s eccentric and marches to the beat of his own drum.  With Saturn on the Ascendant he would appear cold or clinical, but Uranus (the ruler of his Ascendant) is very close to his 7th house cusp.  He’d be radical and eccentric in his relationships.

Sagittarius is on the cusp of his 10th house (Midheaven), along with Mars in Sagittarius.  In his career, he would pay absolutely no attention to what his mentors or colleagues thought.  He’d be fearless and innovative.

Taurus_zodiac_sign,_Jantar_Mantar,_Jaipur,_IndiaNeptune is in square (90 degree) aspect to his Sun sign.  This would give him a mystical bent, but he could possibly misuse the Neptune energies and be vulnerable to addiction.  He might avoid that escape as long as he is dedicated to his work.

Can you guess whose chart this is?  I’ll give you a hint.  He was born in 1875.  He died in 1961 at the age of 86, a nice long life which he dedicated to developing analytical psychiatry (medicine and emotions).  The chart belongs to Carl Jung.  He was a prolific writer and a protégé of Sigmund Freud until he broke from his mentor to pursue his own path.  He was married with five children and maintained an open extra-marital relationship for many years, heedless of what society at the time thought.

CGJungHe was also an astrologer!  (Uranus)  He worked with dream states (Neptune) and observed recurring archetypes in his patients’ dreams.  He came to believe that the archetypal images in astrology represented experiences and emotions common to all people and theorized that humans share a collective unconscious.  He said, “Whatever is born or done at a particular moment of time, has the quality of this moment of time,” i.e., an astrological chart.

All Signs Point to MurderSo that’s how Julia does it.  How I do it is struggling to find a believable chart for my murderer or his victim.  Just in case any astrologers out there are paying attention!

This post first appeared at CMash Reads on August July 23, 2017.

City FogI knew when I started writing the Zodiac Mysteries . . . well, let me backtrack . . . I knew even before I started working on this series that I wanted it to be set in San Francisco, a city of bright windy days, dank and foggy nights haunted by the baritone voices of the foghorns.  Lots of people think of Los Angeles when they think of noir, but in my opinion, San Francisco is the capital of noir.  And the idea of an astrologer as my amateur sleuth seemed very fitting.

I’ve always known that lots of mysteries have been set in the city, and I thought it would be fun to write a post about fictional San Francisco detectives, but the more I researched and surfed the web, the more overwhelmed I became.  The list is unbelievably long.  The upside of that is that I must be in good company if lots of other authors had the very same idea.

I realized I had bitten off much more than I could chew.  Then I thought perhaps I should break it down?  Maybe by noir or police procedurals or amateur sleuths or . . . what?  Or maybe by time period or books and films or even TV episodics based on books.  And I was working on a list that didn’t even include “the Bay Area” or Northern California.  I was focused strictly on San Francisco but the more facts I unearthed, the longer the task seemed.
If I only included amateur sleuths, my list wouldn’t be quite that long, but then I’d have to leave out some of my favorite authors and favorite films.  Films like The House Across the Bay where George Raft watches and bides his time through the bars of his prison on Alcatraz.

GG Murders-AdOr The Golden Gate Murders with David Janssen as a cop and Susannah York as a nun who team up to catch a silent murderer.  Those scenes have stayed in my mind for years and I don’t think I’ve ever driven across the Golden Gate Bridge and not remembered the orange-caped (to match the color of the Bridge) murderer.  Perhaps he’s still lurking in the towers of the Bridge.  Lots of foggy atmosphere too!

But my all time favorite fictional San Francisco detective is Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon.  I loved it in book form and in film (the 1941 version) with Humphrey Bogart of course.

Maltese FalconI can just imagine the author at 891 Post Street writing his novel and even using his own apartment as the setting for Sam Spade’s digs.  But the story of the Dingus wasn’t the first crime novel set in the Bay Area. Not by a long shot.  There had been scores of other books.  The earliest I’ve read of is The Mysteries and Miseries of San Francisco (1853) by an anonymous author.  It has the distinction of being the earliest known crime novel with a Bay Area setting.

As for film and television, how could I not mention The Streets of San Francisco?  Starring Karl Malden as Detective Mike Stone with Michael Douglas (1972-1977).  Or the Dirty Harry films (1971-1988) — Inspector Harold Francis “Dirty Harry” Callahan, an icon of an antihero who crosses all sorts of ethical boundaries to pursue justice.   Or even Nash Bridges with Don Johnson and Cheech Marin as inspectors with the SFPD.  Or how about Monk?  Adrian Monk, a truly unique detective with OCD and multiple phobias?

The list goes on and on – there’s Juliet Blackwell’s witchcraft mysteries with Lily Ivory, and Robin Burcell’s inspector Kate Gillespie and Kate Carlisle’s Brooklyn Wainwright, a rare book expert.  There’s Dianne Day’s Fremont Jones series set at the turn of the century and Meg Gardiner’s Jo Beckett and then Marcia Muller, Bill Pronzini, Joe Gores, James Patterson, Laurie R. King’s Kate Martinelli and John Lescroart’s Dismas Hardy.  The more I searched, the more I found.  This couldn’t possibly be covered in a blog post, there’s enough material for ten volumes at least.

But along the way, I stumbled upon some fabulous mystery sites.
Here’s Don Herron’s website.  He’s a collector of San Francisco mysteries.  Or this one – A Woman’s Place is on the Case featuring female sleuths of all sorts.
And then I discovered Golden Gate Mysteries! And guess what?  My San Francisco sleuth is there!  Check out this listing! Golden Gate Mysteries

GG StraitsI breathed a contented sigh of relief.  Julia Bonatti isn’t alone.  She’s in some great company and proud to join the ranks of fictional San Francisco sleuths.  And so am I, thrilled to be able to contribute to a great genre.  I hope every reader will enjoy Julia’s world as much as I enjoy writing about it.

This post first appeared at Jane Reads on August 3, 2017.