Posts Tagged ‘Chloe Ellefson Mystery series’

What's Next For Chloe Ellefson

February 6, 2020

Launching the 10th Chloe Ellefson mystery, Fiddling With Fate, was a whirlwind of fun last fall! It was a joy to meet and hear from so many readers. One question came up frequently.

What’s next for Chloe and Roelke?

Over a year ago I learned that my publisher, Midnight Ink, was shutting down. Fiddling With Fate would be the last Chloe book that they printed. The news was a shock.

Still, the announcement did give me a chance, after ten very busy years, to take a deep breath, and take stock. There were two basic questions to answer.

Did I want to keep writing the Chloe series?

For me, the choice was simple. I am not ready to say good-bye to Chloe and Roelke. There are lots more stories, historic places, and ethnic traditions to explore.

And thankfully, as many of you know, I have an amazingly supportive spouse. Mr. Ernst’s take was this:

So what if you don’t have a contract yet for Chloe 11? You didn’t have one when you wrote the first book in the series. If you want to write another Chloe mystery, you should definitely write one.

The second question was equally important.

Did readers want the series to continue, especially after the momentous development in Fiddling?

I can’t speak for all readers, of course. But as I considered options, notes like this one from Sharon B. warmed my heart.

I am currently deep into my third reading of Fiddling With Fate. Though not Norwegian, I feel a kinship to Chloe and miss her company when her stories finish. Please keep her world alive for all of us.

Right now, the only thing I can announce with certainty is that I am working on the 11th book in the series.

My ritual when starting a new book is to select a journal that feels appropriate for the project. This seemed right for Chloe 11.

It’s way too early to share many details, but Chloe 11 does involve a new historic site and ethnic group.

I’ve spent time exploring archival collections, squinting at old photos, driving back roads searching for immigrant barns, and learning about new folk arts and ethnic foodways from local experts.

I’m happy, focused on the work, and gratefully leaving the business end of things to my savvy literary agent.

So while I don’t have specific publication information to share, there will be an 11th Chloe Ellefson mystery. Thank you for your encouragement, and for hanging in there as I find my way through this transition period.

In the meantime…I want to set up another special tour at one of the settings featured in the Chloe Ellefson mysteries. If you’d be interested in such a tour, which historic site or museum would be your top choice?

If you need to refresh your memory, click HERE to reach the series page on my website.

Happy reading!

The Voss Folkemuseum

January 16, 2020

Although most of Fiddling With Fate centers on the Hardanger Folkemuseum, I also wanted to include the Voss Folkemuseum, a sister site. The museum, founded in 1917, preserves the old farmstead at Mølster (Mølstertunet). That museum has a special claim: all of the buildings at the site stand on their original locations.

Historians believe the farm at Mølster was established over a thousand years ago. In western Norway, it was once common for several small farms to be clustered together.

This drawing showing clustered farms, on exhibit at the museum, was made by historian Arne Berg.

Individual families had their own buildings and plots of land, but shared a common courtyard. In Voss, these jumbled patches didn’t start getting consolidated until about 1860.

(Diorama on exhibit at the museum.)

Two families lived at the farm until 1924, when the property was formally transferred to the folk museum.

The museum board visiting the farm in 1919. (Photo displayed at the museum.)
This old postcard shows the farm perched on a hilltop. (Enerett Normanns Kunstforlag A/S Oslo)

In the book, Chloe visits the Voss Folkemuseum with a colleague. After a meeting, she’s able to enjoy a quick tour of the site:

The guide slogged across the muddy lane. “Let’s start in the barn. We’ll be out of the rain and we can see the whole farmyard from there.” She headed toward a large barn with side bays for hay and grain, and a central drive-through/threshing floor. “There have probably been two families farming here since before the Black Death in the thirteen hundreds …”

Chloe tried to listen, she really did, but on this cloudy day the deserted old homes and cowsheds and storage houses—their logs weathered almost gray, with roofs of slate or turf—seemed especially evocative.

The courtyard, as viewed from the barn.
This is the barn Chloe visited.

Focus, Chloe ordered herself, but the palpable rage and joy lingering in the barn were too strong to ignore. …And from a distance, she heard a hardingfele’s irresistible call.

The barn became the setting for the 1888 fiddle competition and dance which Britta and Erik attended.

My visit to the folk museum provided lots of other details for the mystery. The oldest building is an årestove, a log house with a central open hearth, which has been dated to about 1500.

This provides another view of the type of kitchen described at the high farm, in the early years, in Fiddling With Fate

The cluster includes a more modern home (the building on the left in the photo below).

Some of the artifacts in the home helped inform my descriptions of the later years in Fiddling With Fate’s historical timeline.

The room below, in a storehouse, is similar to the one Lisbet visited with Gudrun in 1838: They climbed to the loft, where the family stored wooden chests filled with rye and barley, her mother’s silver jewelry, her father’s savings, their best clothes. Those included Lisbet’s bridal attire.

And this shows the type of bunks provided in the outbuilding for farm workers. Torhild and Gjertrud slept in a storeroom like this while working at the Hotel Utne in the 1850s.

Mr. Ernst and I visited the Voss Folkemuseum on an evocative rainy day, which turned out to provide lots of inspiration. If you have the chance to visit the Hardanger region, keep this historic site on your list!

Kransekake

January 4, 2020

For the final scene in Fiddling With Fate, the 10th Chloe Ellefson mystery, I needed a special and festive Norwegian cake. The decision was easy: kransekake!

The Norwegian kransekake, or wreath cake, is formed from a series of concentric rings, stacked to make a cone.

(Wikipedia)

I like to experiment in the kitchen, but to learn about making kransekakes, I turned to some experts at the Sons of Norway-Mandt Lodge in Stoughton, WI.

Vicky, Joyce, and Carol

Special pans allow bakers to create perfectly sized tiers.

My reader-friend Larry, who also writes about Norwegian heritage, recently speculated that immigrants would not have been likely to pack such tins in their trunks. It is possible to make the rings without the pans, although it is much harder to get them sized correctly! I don’t know when the special pans became popular, but today you can buy them in a set from most any Scandinavian import shop. (The cakes are also popular in Denmark. Kransekage is the Danish spelling.)

The thick dough is made of almond meal, powdered sugar, and egg whites. You can grind your own almonds, but buying meal saves time.

Once the dough is mixed, small portions are rolled out into long lengths by hand. It takes practice to get them even and sized properly for the pans. (I could identify my rings because they were less uniform than the others!) It’s also best to work quickly so the dough doesn’t dry and crack.

Once a roll is made, the baker breaks off pieces and fits them into the pans.

Kransekakes commonly have eighteen layers (some even more), although you can also make smaller ones. That’s what we did, which is why all the rings weren’t filled.

It takes a careful eye to get the rings baked properly. They must be chewy, but firm enough to stack.

At that point, they come out of the pan to cool. If you’re doing multiple cakes at once, keep the rings organized in sets!

The ladies assured me that all the wobbles and bobbles in my rings would disappear when the traditional drizzle of frosting was applied. Below is my first mini-kransekake, and it did look much nicer once I decorated it.

It’s also possible to pack the baked rings away in the freezer, to be assembled right before serving.

When I celebrated the launch of Fiddling With Fate with a special dinner and program at the Lodge, my baker-friends kindly agreed to make kransekakes so guests could enjoy the cake Kari made for Chloe and Roelke in the book. We baked a small one for each individual table. Doesn’t it look festive?

The ladies also made one full-sized kransekake so guests could get the impact of a full tower!

It also let Mr. Ernst and I demonstrate a wedding tradition. After the feast the groom covers the bride’s eyes, and she picks up the top layer of the kransekake. However many layers come up with it, attached by frosting, indicate how many children the couple will have!

I’m glad I had tutelage, but once you get the hang of it, making kransekakes is easier than it might appear. And while the simple loops of white frosting might be most common, bakers can decorate however they wish. Sometimes small gifts are attached, or—at weddings—tiny objects of importance for the bride and groom.

If you want to try baking a kransekake, a set of purchased pans will come with a recipe. You can also find recipes online and if you feel daring, try baking one free-form. Let me know how it turns out!

Rømmegrøt Bars

November 21, 2019

I love exploring historic and ethnic food traditions. Working at Old World Wisconsin in the 1980s and ’90s provided my first opportunity to delve into traditional Norwegian foodways.

Making krumkake on a wood stove at the 1865 Kvaale Farm.

Deciding to make Chloe Ellefson (protagonist of my mystery series) a Norwegian-American rekindled my interest in traditional foods. I imagined taking plates of Norwegian cookies to every library program and bookstore visit.

While writing Heritage of Darkness, a Norwegian-themed book that mentions traditional holiday baking, I took a hands-on class about Norwegian cookies. (You can get a peek at that experience HERE.)

Sandbakkels

I’m sorry to say that the whole idea of baking dozens of cookies for readers never materialized. The traditional Norwegian treats I’m familiar with are putzy. I’m not opposed to putzing; I just don’t have time.

So when I contemplated the idea of refreshments for the launch party for Fiddling With Fate, which is largely set in Norway, I compromised. First, I ordered rosettes from the Fosdal Home Bakery in Stoughton, WI.

Second, I whipped up a couple of batches of rømmegrøt bars.

Rømmegrøt is a Norwegian porridge. In the summer, Norwegian women at the high pastures mixed together sour cream, milk, flour, and butter to make a rich, thick dish topped with melted butter and, sometimes, sugar and cinnamon.

(Wikipedia)

Although I love rømmegrøt, the logistics involved with serving warm porridge in a bookstore seemed challenging.

Rømmegrøt bars are reminiscent of the porridge, delicious, and super-easy to make. I got the recipe from my friend Darlene, who often baked them for students attending folk art classes at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

Rømmegrøt Bars

  • 2 tubes Pillsbury Crescent Rolls (or Pillsbury Baking Sheets, which do not have perforations; I’ve also used Crescent Rounds)
  • 2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened (I’ve used Neufchatel)
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon

Grease a 9 x 12 ” pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Open one can of crescent rolls and carefully unroll the dough. Place on the bottom of the pan. Gently spread the dough with your fingers until it touches the sides of the pan. Try not to let it get too thick along the edges.

Cream together cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and the egg yolk. Spread this mixture over the dough in the pan. Unroll the second can of dough and place over this filling.

Beat the egg white until foamy and spread on top of the dough. Mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle on top. Bake 25-30 minutes. Cool and cut. Store in refrigerator. Cut bars can be frozen.

Enjoy!

Fiddling With Fate Giveaway!

July 28, 2019

How would you like to read my new Chloe Ellefson mystery a month before it is officially released?

Fiddling with Fate is a riveting page-turner that culminates in a nail-biting ending. It is more than superlative fiction. It’s a masterpiece. -Author Maddy Hunter, Passport to Peril Mysteries

Publishers prepare Advance Review Copies (ARCs) in order to get some buzz going prior to publication. And I have six to give away.

The six winners will be randomly selected from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page. Each will receive a signed paperback ARC—which I will send via priority mail.

Enter to win by leaving a comment below before 11:59 PM (Central US time), Monday, July 29, 2019. One entry per person, please.

The winners’ names will be posted here the following day. Good luck!

Fiddling with Fate is a story about proud, strong women and bitter dark secrets. In her richly-detailed and multi-faceted mystery, Kathleen Ernst skillfully intertwines the past with the present as Chloe and Roelke search for her family roots in Norway amid escalating danger. Author Patricia Skalka, Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries

Norwegian Folk Dance

July 23, 2019

It’s no secret that Chloe Ellefson, protagonist of my historic sites mystery series, loves folk dancing. In the second book, The Heirloom Murders, she dances with her Swiss ex, Markus.

The 10th book, Fiddling With Fate, reveals that she was a member of Stoughton High School’s Norwegian Dancers group. (Stoughton, WI, is well known for its Norwegian heritage.)

The Stoughton Norwegian Dancers formed in 1953 to help foster ethnic pride in the community.

Scrapbook with Yearbook photo. (Stoughton Public Library)

Those early years were challenging. Jeanne Reek, the first director, had no experience with folk dance or Norwegian heritage. Money for costumes or travel was minimal.

But the group was something special. The director traveled to Norway to learn all she could about traditional dance. The dancers’ parents organized to raise funds. The Stoughton Norwegian Dancers quickly became a beloved community institution.

That story is part of Chloe’s background.

1967-68 Stoughton Norwegian Dancers (Stoughton Public Library)

I planned Fiddling With Fate with the premise that a research expedition takes her to Norway. What would appeal to her more than learning about folk dance and music?

This travel poster beautifully captures the romance of Norwegian folk dance. (Artist unknown)

Once in Norway, Chloe finds plenty of information about traditional dances. However, she’s interested in more than documenting dance steps and styles. Here’s a scene where she and Roelke McKenna, her fiancé, visit an old dance site:

“There’s the platform.”  Roelke strode over to inspect the crumbling wooden structure.  “What’s left of it, anyway.  Do not try to climb on that.”

Already enchanted, Chloe didn’t need to climb on anything.  She quivered with the joyful energy left by generations of people who’d barely scraped a living from the rugged landscape.  This is what I need to capture back in Stoughton, she thought. How important music and dance were to rural people who worked hard for every morsel.  

I think about that every time I watch a folk dance performance. In fact, when I recently watched the Stoughton Norwegian Dancers perform for Syttende Mai (Constitution Day), I got a little emotional.

The Stoughton Norwegian Dancers, 2019.
Always a crowd pleaser!

One dance, the Halling, lets boys show off their athletic ability in hopes of impressing the girls.

The Halling ends with a particular feat. A female dancer holds a hat high on a stick, and then male dancers attempt to kick it free.

Scrapbook, Stoughton Public Library.
The Stoughton Norwegian Dancers, 2019.

What would the early Norwegian immigrants have thought to know that over a century after their arrival, a group of high school students would work so hard to preserve and share this aspect of Norwegian heritage?

Scrapbook, Stoughton Public Library.

And that these beloved dance traditions are still enjoyed today?

Stoughton Norwegian Dancers, 2019.

I can only imagine they’d be pleased.

# # #

Many thanks to Susan Slinde for sharing her memories of the Norwegian Dancers.

Why Norway?

July 10, 2019

Cultural identity, and the many ways people explore and express their own, is one of the recurring themes in the Chloe Ellefson Mystery series.

When readers meet Chloe in Book 1, Old World Murder, she takes her own Norwegian heritage largely for granted. Her feelings evolve over time, and by Book 10, she is eager to learn more about her ancestors.

Mr. Ernst and I were lucky enough to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary with a trip to Norway arranged by Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

We loved every minute in that beautiful country, but the place I was most reluctant to leave was Utne, in the Hardanger District of Hordaland County.

Utne, Norway.
The village of Utne marks the northern tip of the Folgefonna peninsula between the Hardangerfjord and one of its branches, the Sørfjord.

The charming village is home to the Utne Hotel. It opened in 1722, and may well be Norway’s oldest continuously operating inn.

Hotel Utne

The region is famous for its rich folk heritage, including Hardanger fiddles and exquisite textiles. Utne is home to the Hardanger Folkemuseum, which preserves and celebrates these traditions.

Tradtional folk clothing on display at the museum. The couple on the left are dressed as bride and groom.
The museum has a fine collection of Hardanger fiddles.

In addition to formal exhibits, the museum includes an open-air division. Most of the buildings have been moved from locations within the Hardanger region and restored on the museum grounds.

I wanted to get Chloe and her fiancé Roelke McKenna to Norway. When I started conceptualizing the 10th Chloe mystery, I knew what region they would explore. Quests both professional and personal send them to Utne.

Are you up for some armchair travel? I hope I captured a bit of the Hardanger area’s magic in Fiddling With Fate!

Fiddling With Fate cover

The book will be published on September 8, 2019. Stay tuned for more peeks behind the scenes.

The Badger Mine and Museum

June 12, 2019

If you’re exploring southwest Wisconsin’s lead mining history, be sure to include a stop at Shullsburg’s Badger Mine and Museum. Mr. Ernst and I visited while I was working on Mining For Justice, the 8th Chloe Ellefson mystery, and we’re glad we did. (I recommend both Platteville’s Mining and Rollo Jamison Museums and Shullsburg’s Badger Mine and Museum. They’re quite different.)

White and some African-American miners were digging lead in the Shullsburg area as early as 1818. The community boomed during the Lead Rush of the late 1820s. The Badger Mine, hand-dug in 1827, became one of the most productive mines in the area. Experts estimate that about five miles of mine tunnels exist beneath the city.

The last lead mine in Shullsburg closed in 1980. Fortunately, you can get a good peek at life for early miners on a tour of the Badger Mine.

The tour begins in the museum.

A windlass, used for raising and lowering ore—or men.

Visitors descend  51 steps to reach the mine.  (Note: The steps are steep.)

Mine passage.

Despite the guide’s warning, I kept forgetting that some of the passageways were shorter than I am. It was a good reminder of the cramped conditions miners faced.

Our guide demonstrated how the early miners drilled holes…

…and gave us the opportunity to experience the mine lit only by a candle in a sticking tommy.

The Badger Mine has limited hours, so be sure to check the website for more information.

Enjoy your tour!

Sabots

April 22, 2019

When I went to work at Old World Wisconsin many years ago, one of my first assignments was working at the 1860 German farm. The curator who’d furnished the building left a couple of pairs of reproduction wooden shoes near the back door. “Aren’t those Dutch?” visitors often asked.

I explained that many rural people wore such clogs. (In this 1982 photograph I’m wearing a pair while knitting in the doorway of the 1845 Fossebrekke cabin, home to Norwegian immigrants.)

The clogs were sturdy, and kept the wearer elevated from muddy pastures and mucky barns. Most that I’ve seen are pretty basic.

This pair worn by a Swiss immigrant is on display at the Swiss Historical Village & Museum, New Glarus, WI.

I got a lot more interested in wooden shoes when I began learning about the Belgian immigrants who settled in northeast Wisconsin for the 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret. One man recalled:

While at work or at home the Belgians all wore wooden shoes…  When plowing, they wore them without socks, for the sabots soon filled up with loose soil.  …They were also worn in winter when logging or working around the sawmills.  They then tacked on long canvas leggings which made cheap and serviceable footwear.  The sabots of the women were fastened on the foot with a strap above the instep.  A few could even dance with them but that was exceptional.  (Hjalmar Rued Holand, Wisconsin’s Belgian Community, Door County Historical Society, 1933)

Belgians called their clogs sabots. The word can be traced to early 17th century France—a blend of savate (shoe) and botte (boot). (Most of the Wisconsin Belgians spoke Walloon, a language similar to French.)

By the early 20th century, another word had developed: saboter, which roughly meant “to kick with sabots, to willfully destroy.” These acts of willful destruction gave rise to one more term:  sabotage. One definition provided by Merriam-Webster is this: “destruction of an employer’s property (such as tools or materials) or the hindering of manufacturing by discontented workers.”

Early in my research I found a reference to poor tenant farmers in Belgium wearing their sabots to crush harvest crops if they were angry with their employers. How could I not use that in my novel?

Now that I was paying more attention to wooden shoes, I was attracted to a pair on display in the Belgian Farm at Heritage Hill State Historical Park. These are the sabots that are attributed to Seraphine in The Lacemaker’s Secret.

I love the decorative carving on these. The shoes are still practical, but beautiful too. (I don’t know what the small holes were used for—perhaps to tie the shoes together when not being worn?)

I’ve since read about other sabots that were carved or painted.  Some were evidently quite colorful.

These shoes, on display at building owned by the Peninsula Belgian American Club in Namur, inspired another pair mentioned in the mystery.

And here’s a beautiful pair:

Sabots

On display at the Peninsula Belgian American Club, Namur, WI.  I’m sorry I don’t know who made them.

Sabots popped up again when I read about the plight of Belgian civilians during the German occupation of World War I. This headline is from the September 25th, 1914 edition of the Green Bay Gazette:

Version 2

(Associated Press)

Every day at 5 o’clock a bell rings in the Exhibitions Hall of Alexandra Palace, whereupon 1,500 hundred women, children, and old men, with a scattering of youths, set up a clatter of wooden shoes.  This amusement park is now the largest camp for Belgian refugees in the London district….

The Belgian settlers continued to wear their sabots in Wisconsin. The photo below is one of my favorite images in the extensive Belgian-American Research Collection in the UW-Green Bay Archives (shown here on exhibit at the Belgian Heritage Center, Namur, WI.)

IMG_1313

(Mrs. Frank Martin pumping water for the cows.  Photo dated March 5, 1919)

Many Belgian people wore sabots as they met challenge after challenge. I was thinking about that when I wrote one of my favorite moments in The Lacemaker’s Secret, when Sharon makes a confession:

“Seraphine must have had a hard life. All of the earliest arrivals did. I probably shouldn’t admit this to a curator, but…sometimes when I’m facing a challenge I slip off my shoes and stand in Seraphine’s sabots.” Sharon’s gaze flicked to Chloe, then away again as if afraid she’d see mockery.

But Chloe was anything but amused, or annoyed. “Standing in her shoes,” she said softly, with complete understanding.

“Exactly.” Sharon’s shoulders relaxed. “Seraphine—all of the women who came in those early years—they were so courageous. Their faith was so strong. It’s inspiring.”

Artifacts are most precious for the stories they can tell, and the people they represent.  Belgian sabots are a wonderful example.

Large Print Giveaway Winners!

March 28, 2019

Congratulations to Dianne Martingano, Miriam R. Nelson, and Kathleen Newberg! Each won a signed, hardcover copy of the large print edition of the 9th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret.

Winners were chosen at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page.

Thanks to all who entered!