The Heirloom Murders – A Retrospective

Welcome back to the behind-the-scenes look at the Chloe Ellefson mysteries! Up today: The Heirloom Murders, second in the series.

I knew where I wanted to go after wrapping up the first book, Old World Murder—Green County, Wisconsin, famous for its Swiss heritage. My father’s parents were born and raised in Switzerland, so that was a natural draw.

 

Fondue dinners in New Glarus became “research trips.”

Me and Mr. Ernst, New Glarus Hotel.

Spotlighting Swiss heritage, and places like the Swiss Historical Village & Museum and the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, satisfied my wish to celebrate Wisconsin’s cultural heritage and museums.

It was great fun to learn more about sap sago and other aspects of Swiss cheesemaking. And the timing was good—staff and volunteers at the Cheesemaking Center in Monroe were restoring the Imobersteg Farmstead Cheese Factory on their grounds while I was writing the book.

I knew nothing about heirloom plants, and how much diversity we’ve lost, until I went to work at Old World Wisconsin in 1982. I was fascinated by the topic, and the role historic sites around the world play in preserving genetic diversity. As I considered what aspect of museum work to showcase, heirloom plants and rare-breed livestock seemed like a good fit.

Antique apples like these may not look perfect, but they have more taste than some types bred to look good over long transports.

I’d known about the legendary Eagle Diamond, and thought it would be fun to fictionalize the story of its discovery and eventual theft. This book was the first in the Chloe series to include a thread of historical fiction, braided with the more contemporary plot strands. Reader feedback was positive, and I’ve used this approach in most of the later books.

Eagle Diamond

Five views of the Eagle Diamond. (Wikipedia)

Many authors say that the second book in the series is the hardest to write. (The first was written on speculation, without a contract; suddenly, there’s a deadline imposed on #2.)  The Heirloom Murders wasn’t harder to write, but it was challenging to market. The overall plot involved a woman’s death, a stolen diamond, Swiss green cheese, and heirloom gardening. Try summing that up in a concise but appealing way! And that’s without mentioning the main characters’ personal lives.

My original title for this book was “Deadly as Diamonds.” My editor changed it because another author with the same press had a book coming out with “diamond” in the title. When I saw him a few months later at a conference I gave him a hard time for “stealing” my key title word. Turns out his original title hadn’t included the word “diamond” at all, but it was changed for a similar reason!

SPOILER ALERT – plot points are discussed below!

The first thing I do when planning a book is think about the main characters’ emotional growth. Just when Chloe was finally moving on after what happened in Switzerland, Markus shows up. Chloe and Markus have a great deal in common.  Chloe and Roelke, not so much. That provided some good conflict.

A number of readers let me know that they particularly enjoyed meeting Johann and Frieda Frietag, even though they had a small role. That was a good reminder that minor characters need just as much care and complexity as the main ones!

I imagined Frieda bustling about this kitchen when Chloe and Markus visit. Swiss Historical Village & Museum, New Glarus.

The main mystery plot about Bonnie Sabatola’s death came from a late-night talk I had with an Eagle police officer. I was doing a second-shift ridealong and when we got back to the station, the conversation somehow turned to cases that had packed an emotional wallop. While working for another police department, he’d encountered a situation similar to what I described—a murder made to look like suicide.

The questions surrounding the case gave Roelke a lot to work with, and showed his tenacity. I’d already heard from readers who wanted to see more of him.  I hope his fans enjoyed his role in bringing the killer to justice. However, this book also revealed his trouble with anger management. Roelke threatens Markus with physical harm, and kicks Simon Sabatola. As an author, that may have been a risky choice, but I wanted Roelke to be a complex character, struggling with real issues.

So, what did you think? If read books one and two in order, did you want Chloe to end up with Markus, or Roelke? Did you understand Roelke’s anger, or was that indefensible? Was justice served? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

You can explore relevant people, places, and the past on my webpage for The Heirloom Murders. Resources include a Google map, a Locations Guide, full Discussion Guide, a recipe for Swiss Pear Bread, and links to lots of additional background material. Happy reading!

National Historic Cheesemaking Center. Photo by Mr. Ernst.

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4 Responses to “The Heirloom Murders – A Retrospective”

  1. Susan Slinde Says:

    Of course it’s Roelke–He’s sweet and understands Chloe. now if he will just propose–maybe on Valentine’s Day???

  2. holdenj Says:

    I like Roelke a lot as a character and he has continued to be complex.

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