Writer-In-Residence, Week 2

October 19, 2021

My time at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is flying by, and I’m enjoying every minute.

My second week here focused primarily on research. The park library is in a great old brick building near the confluence.

Although I have identified a specific era and themes to explore, I’m also leaving lots of room for discovery. I’m grateful to curator Mike Hoskings for helping me access materials.

(Am I the only person who wanders about libraries idly scanning the shelves? I think not.)

Some park collections are only available on microfilm. The old reader is noisy and creaky but gets the job done.

Among other things, I’ve been scanning old newspapers. They provide a helpful snapshot of everything from local gossip…

to public announcements…

to advertisements. Tiny details are very helpful for creating a sense of place and period in stories.

As always, the process of exploring new story topics and events is sometimes meandering. If a historical event intrigues me, I think about how it might work in a novel.

Early on, I got excited about two past events that overlapped. They would mesh perfectly in a novel. I was excited.

A few days later, while digging deeper, I discovered that the two events didn’t overlap quite as neatly as sources had initially suggested. Back to the drawing board.

One wonderful thing about being right here is the ability to balance my research hours. When my eyes get too squinty, I go out to a peaceful spot to spend more quality time with my project journal.

What will the next week bring? I’ll report back!

Writer-In-Residence, Week 1

October 11, 2021

I’m all settled in at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park for the month.

Wondering what a writer-in-residence actually does? Curious about the park? Let me provide a peek!

The park encompasses 4,000 acres at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers in West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia.

This photo was taken from Jefferson’s Rock in WV. The Shenandoah flows on the right, with Virginia on the far shore. It meets the Potomac River, which flows from the left and on under the bridge.

The Harpers Ferry historic district has been beautifully preserved.

Some old buildings have been restored inside to provide a glimpse of earlier days…

…and some house formal museum exhibits.

Although the park is perhaps best known for John Brown’s 1859 raid and Civil War events, there are layers and layers of fascinating history here. Park historians, educators, and volunteers have been developing new programs to share additional stories. I’ll be helping with research into a lesser-known period while I’m here.

My residency is supported by the Harpers Ferry Park Association and the park itself. The HFPA helps the park in many ways, including funding educational programs, managing the park shop, and occasionally publishing books about the park and its history. The HFPA has been very supportive of me since my first book, The Night Riders of Harpers Ferry, was published.

The National Park Service curator and rangers have also been generous with their time and knowledge. Highlights of my first week included a lantern tour of the Lower Town (historic district)…

…and a three-hour tour with a certified guide.

Guide Chris Craig did a superb job of sharing the area’s broad-ranging history. We’re on Bolivar Heights, considering how the landscape shaped events.
Cathy Baldeau, Executive Director of the Harpers Ferry Park Association, also joined the tour. Why yes, we did have a great time!

I’ve been coming to Harpers Ferry for over 50 years, but the overview tour made my realize how piecemeal my approach has been. I’m excited to get a better sense of the whole.

I’m soaking everything in as I learn from experts, walk the ground, and scribble in my journal. I’ll provide an update next week!

Virtual Historical Fiction Workshop

October 4, 2021

I am happily settled in as Writer In Residence at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park!

Although I won’t be doing any in-person events during my four-week stay, I am providing an online workshop: Writing Into The Past: Crafting Historical Fiction on Wednesday, October 20 or 27, 2021, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m Eastern Time Zone.

Storytelling is one of the most rewarding ways to explore history. Workshop participants will begin creating (or further develop) a piece of historical fiction set in Harpers Ferry or another location of choice.  They will engage in a variety of short, guided writing activities to explore the genre’s unique rewards and challenges regarding setting, character development, and plot. Students will also consider a variety of approaches for conducting research and finding inspiration. Both beginning and more experienced writers are welcome!

Space is limited, and pre-registration is required. These workshops are hosted by the Harpers Ferry Park Association, a fabulous organization that has supported this special place for 50 years!

Meet Hanneke Bauer!

September 9, 2021

I’m so happy to introduce you to the protagonist of my new Hanneke Bauer historical mystery series! The first volume, Lies of Omission, will be published on November 30, 2021 by Level Best Books.

I’ve actually been getting to know Hanneke for a long time.

When I accepted an interpreter position at Old World Wisconsin in 1982, I was assigned to the German Area. I loved working in all of the farms there, but was particularly fascinated by an extraordinary house once owned by the Schulz family.

The Schulz House, restored to its 1860 appearance.

I baked many loaves of crusty rye bread in the brick bake oven inside the Schwartze Kuche (Black Kitchen), and learned to spin and weave there.

Weaving linen cloth, 1982.

After spending so much time walking the floors, working through seasonal domestic chores, and thinking about farmwife Auguste Schulz, there where times when I almost glimpsed the hem of her skirt as she disappeared into the next room.

That’s when I knew I wanted to write a book about a Pomeranian immigrant.

This image of an unknown German woman helped me imagine Hanneke.

Other projects kept me busy. Finally, about fourteen years ago (while my agent was shopping around the first Chloe Ellefson Mystery, Old World Murder) I began working on the Pomeranian story. I was half-way through a rough draft when the Chloe series sold, and that kept me even busier. I was only recently able to finish the project.

Lies of Omission takes place in 1855, and begins just as Hanneke arrives in Wisconsin. Intelligent, capable, and strong-willed, she is looking forward to joining her new husband at his farm near Watertown. (Things do not, of course, go as well as she’d hoped.)

Tremendous numbers of German-speaking immigrants were settling during the state in this period, which prompted a backlash of anti-immigrant sentiment in Wisconsin and elsewhere. The nativist movement provided some good material for a mystery! And fictionalizing the Schulz Farm created a setting I can see clearly in my mind’s eye.

After all these years, it’s a special pleasure to see Hanneke emerge on the printed page. I hope you enjoy meeting her as much as I enjoyed creating her! I’ll share more insights about the book as publication day approaches.

(Chloe fans, never fear. I’m already working on her next adventure!)

Exciting Discovery

August 30, 2021

After the special event at the Hanka Homestead on August 21, Mr. Ernst and I made a detour so we could visit the Oulu Cultural & Heritage Center in northern Wisconsin.

When our guides took us into the tool shed, I spotted an old handmade loom reed hanging on the wall.

In the 11th Chloe Ellefson mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge, Chloe finds just such a reed in the Hanka family’s trash dump. Look at the craftsmanship!

Here’s the scene:

Chloe was about to turn away when something snagged her attention. She shoved some loose barrel staves with a foot to get a better look…and caught her breath. “Oh!” She was looking at a loom’s reed, the wide tool with evenly spaced gaps weavers used to keep warp thread spread consistently. It was filthy, the teeth caked with dried mud, but she pulled it free and regarded it with wonder. Someone in the Hanka family had been a weaver.

Chloe thought about one of those Hanka women weaving rugs for the family in that once-cozy home. She thought of her own Lake Superior rug, which she’d locked inside the Pinto that morning for safekeeping. And she thought about the immigrant women who’d brought their weaving experience with them from Finland—whatever their grandmothers had taught them about weft preparation and warp tension, about color and balance and design. Had they known that the tradition, unlike so many domestic arts, would persist through coming generations?

I used the reed in the story because of what it could suggest or reveal about the person who once used it. I wasn’t able to view one while writing the book, so this made my day.

The Center also owns a fabulous loom made entirely from a single tree. (Learn more about tree looms/root looms here and here.) It’s a thing of beauty, and educators are using it to teach the art to weaving students.

I’ll do a full blog post about the Oulu Cultural & Heritage Center later, but I hope you enjoyed a glimpse of these artifacts as much as I did!

August Newsletter

August 8, 2021

Why am I sharing a photo from 1996? Catch up on the latest news and announcements here.

Washington Island Cancellation

August 3, 2021

I am very sorry to report that my visit to Fair Isle Books & Gifts on Washington Island, scheduled for August 7, has been cancelled. I look forward to seeing my Door County friends at the store next year.

In this meantime, I hope you will support this wonderful independent bookstore (which also sells fair trade items)! The physical shop is open seasonally, but virtual purchases are available all year long.

Signed bookplates will be available at the shop. If you purchase a book from Fair Isle (in person or online) any time during the month of August, and would like a personalized bookplate, contact me.

Folk Arts, Fjords, and Fiddles – 2022!

July 14, 2021

Let’s try this again!

After a pandemic-caused delay, I’m thrilled to announce new dates for the Chloe Ellefson-themed tour of Southern Norway.

When I decided on a Norwegian setting for Fiddling With Fate, the 10th volume in my Chloe Ellefson Mysteries, I chose the area that enchanted me most. In partnership with the Mount Horeb Area Historical Society, I invite you to join me in May, 2022, on a trip to the land of Chloe’s ancestors!

Click the image below to see what we have planned.

We have a Tour Norway With Kathleen website created just for the adventure! It’s your portal for trip information—hotel and destination links, a schedule of Constitution Day festivities (we’ll be in Bergen for the holiday), and more.

Quick Links:

Full Trip Brochure
Travel Insurance

We’ve forged a relationship with Borton Overseas for our 2022 adventure. (Our original travel agent, who did so much to develop our plans, is enjoying a well-earned retirement.)

Borton Overseas began in 1894 as Sunden, Vanstrum, and Co., specializing in steamship travel for Scandinavian immigrants coming to the U.S. We’ll have over a century of experience supporting our trip!

For more information:

amy@bortonoverseas.com
1-612-661-4634
800-843-0602

Discounts are available for members of Sons of Norway, Swedish Institute, Danish American Center, and Norway House.

Note: If the pandemic presents any unexpected challenges for 2022, we will immediately contact you to discuss options. At this time, we don’t know if the Norwegian government will require vaccinations.

However, for the safety ad peace of mind of all, the Mount Horeb Area Historical Society kindly requests that travelers be vaccinated against Covid-19 to participate in this tour. Please keep this in mind when registering. The most up-to-date information regarding entry requirements will be provided as we get closer to our departure.

I’m dreaming of Norway. You too? I hope you can join us!

Logistics for the Hanka Homestead Tour

July 11, 2021

I’ve had some questions about carpooling and lodging relevant to the special Hanka Homestead Finnish Museum Tour on Saturday, August 21. This evocative historic site is the setting for the 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge.

The Hanka Homestead Finnish Museum is located in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. Here’s a map.

Lodging is limited in the vicinity, so if you’re searching online for accommodations, you might need to cast a wider net than usual. The event doesn’t start until the afternoon, so you’ll have some time to travel that morning.

If you’re interested in attending and would like to share the driving with someone, let me know where you live and I’ll do what I can to help facilitate connections. For starters, a friend in the Madison, WI area is hoping to find a companion for the trip. Contact me if you can help.

For more information about this free program, visit my event registration page. It’s going to be an awesome afternoon!

June Newsletter Available

June 25, 2021

You can read it here. Lots of event news this month!