It's my pleasure to welcome Kathleen Ernst, prolific author of historical mysteries for adults and young readers as well as historical novels for young readers. Leave a comment and you may win one of Kathleen's Chloe Ellefson mysteries! ~ Sheila
When Past And Present Collide
by Kathleen Ernst
I’ve been a history junkie since childhood. My librarian-mom kept me supplied with historical fiction, and family vacations always included stops at historic sites and museums. As an adult I’ve worked as a curator of education and collections at a large outdoor museum, and volunteered as a docent or reenactor at many sites and events.
So it’s probably not surprising that Chloe Ellefson, protagonist of my Historic Sites mystery series, is a history junkie too. Writing these books lets me stay in touch with a field I love, and explore topics and themes I’m passionate about.
The first, Old World Murder, revolves around an antique Norwegian ale bowl that has disappeared from the historic site where Chloe works. Her research uncovers a link between nineteenth-century immigrant folk art and modern murder. And in the course of solving the mystery, Chloe helps illuminate an overlooked corner of women’s history.
Old World Murder is set entirely in 1982, the year I entered the professional museum world. For the second mystery, The Heirloom Murders, I tried something different. Chloe again has reason to wonder if past events might be affecting the present. Although most of the book is set in 1982, I also created a few brief historical scenes to introduce readers to key characters in the chain of events that led to murder.
I was surprised (and delighted) by the number of emails and comments I received from readers who appreciated that secondary timeline. As I started writing the third Chloe mystery, The Light Keeper’s Legacy, I decided to develop a richer historical timeline.
Chloe visits an island in Lake Michigan as a guest curator, helping to research and restore a beautiful old lighthouse (the very real Pottawatomie Lighthouse in Rock Island State Park, Wisconsin). She quickly becomes fascinated with the life of Emily Betts, who did once live in the lighthouse with her family and serve as assistant keeper.
Chloe also is drawn to the site of a long-gone fishing village on the island—even though nothing tangible remains of the people who once lived and worked there. I created a fictional Danish immigrant fishwife, Ragna Anderson, as the second main character in the historical timeline.
Emily and Ragna’s scenes, which move from 1869 to 1906, are woven among Chloe’s contemporary ones. This structure was, I admit, a bit challenging to create! I needed to respect the real timeline of past events on Rock Island. I also needed to provide specific historical information at points that reflected Chloe’s progress as she investigates a woman’s death. Readers have more information than Chloe does, although the links between then and now don’t become completely clear until near the book’s end.
The Light Keeper’s Legacy was recently released, and I’m grateful to the readers who’ve let me know that they enjoyed the dual timeline. It was a fun technique to explore, and I’m sure I’ll return to it again.
After all, the past is never really gone. In families and communities, long-gone incidents often reverberate through time. Sometimes past and present collide—and that can be a very good thing for a fictional history junkie/museum curator/amateur sleuth like Chloe Ellefson.
I’m grateful to Sheila for allowing me to be a guest on her blog. And I’m grateful to readers! I love my work, and I’d be nowhere without you. Leave a comment here, and your name will go into a drawing; the winner may choose any of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries: Old World Murder, The Heirloom Murders, or The Light Keeper’s Legacy. For more information see my website, http://kathleenernst.com, or my blog, http://sitesandstories.wordpress.com .
The Light Keeper’s Legacy is Kathleen Ernst’s twenty-fourth published book. In addition to the Chloe Ellefson series, she has written many books for young readers, including American Girl’s six-book series about Caroline Abbott. Several of her mysteries for young readers have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards. Kathleen and her husband Scott volunteer as live-in docents for a week each summer at Pottawatomie Lighthouse.