Posts Tagged ‘Chloe Ellefson Mystery series’

Tradition of Deceit – A Retrospective

May 8, 2018

Front cover of Tradition of Deceit, the fifth book in the Chloe Ellefson Mystery series by bestselling author Kathleen Ernst.As I began conceptualizing Tradition of Deceit, the 5th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, I had several goals in mind. Since main characters Chloe and Roelke were getting along pretty well by the end of the previous book, I figured it was time to throw a new challenge their way:  distance.

I’d heard good things about the Mill City Museum after it opened in 2003. For much of the book, Chloe is in Minneapolis while Roelke is in Milwaukee. Both get tangled in murder investigations that involve good friends. How will they cope?

Back of the mill complex.

In Chloe’s day the mill was an enormous abandoned industrial site. The opportunity to have Chloe visit an urban historic site was intriguing. The mill itself told important stories from the days when Minneapolis was the flour milling capital of the world. After one visit I knew it had great potential as setting for a murder mystery. 

Taking notes on a behind-the-scenes tour.

Featuring this site also had good potential to satisfy another series goal—to provide a glimpse of the challenges inherent in museum work. In the 1980s, the abandoned mill provided shelter for many homeless people. This presented a dilemma for the historians working to turn the site into a museum. Chloe’s decision to help a friend develop an interpretive plan for the mill put her right in the middle of the debate.

Homeless Protest Master combined

(Star Tribune, May 2, 1990)

Choosing the mill as the setting also let me feature Polish immigrants and their experience in the new world. New food traditions and folk art! A thread of historical fiction gave me a chance to imagine the challenges faced by an immigrant woman named Magdalena and her descendants.

IMG_0802 - Version 2 – Version 3

Magdalena was skilled at Polish paper cutting, such as this piece displayed at the Old South Side Settlement Museum, Urban Anthropology Inc., Donated by Konkel Family.

Cop Roelke McKenna’s experience of trying to solve a friend’s murder in Milwaukee let me echo some of these same themes. Milwaukee was home to a large population of Polish immigrants as well. That commonality let me link Chloe’s mystery with Roelke’s.

Basilica of St. Josaphat

The Basilica of St. Josaphat, Milwaukee.

And, Roelke fans were letting me know they’d like to see even more of him. In Tradition of Deceit Roelke faces his most painful and challenging investigation. New aspects of his character are revealed as he follows both his heart and the sketchy clues.

I don’t outline stories in advance, so when I begin I’m not sure where any given story is going, or exactly how it will be resolved. This book had a more complicated structure than most, but in the end I think the pieces fell into place quite nicely. It’s one of my favorites.

SPOILER ALERT:  Plot points discussed below!

During my first scouting trip to the Mill City Museum, I learned about the tragedy of 1878, when the first Washburn A Mill exploded because no one at the time understood that the flour dust clouding the air was combustible. Eighteen workers died.

Harpers Weekly, May, 1878.

I wanted to include that in the book, but anyone working in the mill at that time was male. How to get a woman in the building? Playing with that question led to the creation of Magdalena and the historical plotline. I needed a plausible reason to get her into the mill on that tragic night.

One of readers’ favorite characters in this book is Pawel, a mill worker who gives Magdalena a chance to dream of happier days:

Magdalena regarded him. Pawel was a big man with massive shoulders and corded muscles rippling in his arms. He spent his 12-hour shifts rolling 196-lb. barrels of flour from the packing machines into train cars. He was part of the Polish Eagles, a six-man crew that usually bested other packing teams when challenged to a race.   No one would pick a fight with Pawel.

But unlike some of the other laborers, Pawel had a gentle manner. His face was broad and plain, his hair the color of dried mud, his hands huge. No one would call him handsome, but Magdalena liked him. She thought he liked her. Maybe, she thought, just maybe…

General Mills included this engraving from the 1880s in a 20th-century ad.

It would have felt too pat to have Magdalena visit the mill simply to see Pawel. Instead she goes to obtain some flour in hopes of baking a treat for him.

In the end, Magdalena’s legacy collides with Roelke’s search for answers to Rick’s death. When Roelke’s struggling to find Erin, the young woman who’d fled her abusive husband years before, his first clue is a business card decorated with wycinanki:

“All I have is this.” Danielle scrabbled in her pocket. “I found this sort of business card thing this morning under the coat hooks we use.”

Roelke felt his nerves quiver as Danielle extracted a creased business card. An address, a phone number—he’d be grateful for even the tiniest scrap of information.

He didn’t get an address. He got chickens. Two very pretty chickens, flanking a bouquet of flowers, printed in vibrant colors. It was all very artsy, and not the least bit helpful.

I made this wycinanki piece to represent the one described in the book.

Tradition of Deceit is all about power—who wants it, and what they’ll do to get it; who has it, and what they’ll do to keep it. One of the people abusing power is Professor Everett Whyte, the man found stuffed into a turn head distributor in the old mill. Whyte’s male students and colleagues admired him; his female students, not so much. I based Whyte on one of my college professors who made inappropriate suggestions to me and other female students. When I reported my professor’s behavior, my advisor replied, “Is he up to those old tricks again?” Evidently it was well known that my professor harassed women.

The turn head distributor at the Mill City Museum.

The book is also about secrets. Secrets, abuses of power, and geography might have meant the end of Chloe and Roelke’s relationship. Was Roelke’s emotional reserve understandable? Had Rick been right to keep a secret from his best friend? What did you think?

You can explore relevant people, places, and the past on mwebpage for Tradition of Deceit. Resources include a Google map, color images of key artifacts, a Discussion Guide, recipes, and links to lots of additional background material.

Heritage of Darkness Giveaway Winners!

April 20, 2018

Congratulations to Gloria Browning, Julie Clabots, and Donamae Clasen Kutska! Each won a signed and personalized copy of Heritage of Darkness. Winners were chosen from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page.

Thanks to all who entered, and for the lovely comments! We’ll hold another giveaway next month.

8ChloeGiveawayWinnersHOD-FB476x476w

Heritage of Darkness Giveaway

April 18, 2018

This year from January through August I’m holding monthly giveaways of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries. The featured book for April is the fourth in the series, Heritage of Darkness.

To enter the giveaway for Heritage of Darkness, just leave a comment below before 11:59 PM (Central US time) on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

Only one entry per person, please.

Three winners will be chosen at random from entries here and on my Facebook Author Page, and announced Friday. Each will receive a signed, personalized copy of the book.  Good luck everyone!

Heritage of Darkness – A Retrospective

April 4, 2018

Heritage of Darkness, the 4th Chloe Ellefson mystery, was the first to cross state lines. It’s set at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa.

By the time I started planning this book I’d visited this wonderful museum while writing the first Chloe mystery, Old World Murder, to study ale bowls. I’d also taken several classes through the museum’s folk art school.

Me with my first rosemaling instructor, Gold Medalist Joanne MacVey

 

I also learned the basics of Danish hedebo embroidery (featured in The Lightkeeper’s Legacy)  at Vesterheim. Here instructor Roger Buhr explains motif construction.

I’d enjoyed my own class experiences so much I wanted to feature that element in the book.  I also love Vesterheim’s annual Norwegian Christmas celebration, and decided to feature that as well.

Most importantly, this setting provided the opportunity to develop characters in new ways. A road trip to Vesterheim, where Chloe and her mom take rosemaling classes (Chloe is a beginner; Mom, advanced), let me explore a complicated mother-daughter relationship.

Also, at the end of Book 3, Chloe and Roelke have reached an understanding. They are a couple, and both want to see where their relationship might go. Having Roelke volunteer to come on the trip let their relationship develop as well.

SPOILER ALERT:  Plot points discussed below!

A mystery writer is always looking for ways to get characters in trouble, and for situations that might foster conflict. I was familiar with the old adage, Beware the man with many mangles, which referred to the tradition of men carving a mangle board for the woman he hoped to marry. If a mangle was refused, it could not be offered to another woman. How could I not use that bit of folk wisdom? Thus Emil was born.

This is a mangle board I painted as a class project.

I also decided to focus on some ancient winter customs. In the pre-Christianity days, many in northern Europe believed December’s shortest, darkest days brought evil spirits swooping through the sky. People developed traditions to help ward away the evil. By the time Christian Norwegian immigrants came to the Midwest, those traditions had evolved, but still persisted in the form of julebukking. Since the book came out I’ve talked to many people who remember disguising their identity with a costume and going out to visit neighbors.

This reproduction in the Vesterheim collection represents the Christmas goat. In ancient times a goat head, real or effigy, was used to ward away evil.

That offered some interesting possibilities for a mystery plot! The whole notion of having a chance to act up led to the scene near the story’s end, which takes place in Vesterheim’s Open-Air Division:

The julebukker whipped something from behind his back and shoved it toward her. Chloe glimpsed glowing animal eyes, wicked animal teeth, wildly streaming animal hair—all evoking the childhood memory of the threatening strangers brandishing a bloody goat head on a stick.

…Chloe tried again to wrench away from the devil-creature. Her boots slipped over the drop-off beside the house. The julebukker swung her hard, like a mean child playing crack-the-whip, and released her abruptly. Chloe flew head-first toward the home’s stacked-stone foundation.

My working title for the book was The Power of Darkness, harkening back to those old times. My publisher changed it to Heritage of Darkness to get a “history” word in the mix, a trend which had been established in the first three books. (Old, Heirloom, Legacy.) I trust my many Norwegian friends know the sentiment isn’t personal!

I also trust that my many rosemaling friends know how I admire their work, and how much I enjoy painting myself—even though I have no innate aptitude.

I am always the slowest painter in any class. I think just about everyone else had left for the day when this picture was taken.

Chloe has a miserable time in her rosemaling class, but I wanted to leave open the possibility that some of her challenges stemmed from her own preconceived ideas. This led to one of my favorite moments in the story:

“Do you know what I have loved most about rosemaling?” Mom asked.

“Winning your Gold Medal.”

“No.” Mom stared at Chloe’s tray, but her gaze had turned inward. “Every time I pick up a brush, I feel connected to the old days when skilled painters traveled through Norway’s remote valleys. Rosemaling was done in the winter, so the artists probably traveled by sleigh, or perhaps just on skis. I picture isolated families welcoming the rosemaler into their dark little cabins—back in the days when most people lived in windowless houses with just an open hearth to provide warmth and light. Can you imagine what a joy it would be to have the painter at work while snow fell and wind howled? Can you imagine how people felt while watching the painter bring such vivid life and color to their world during winter’s bleakest, darkest days?”

“Well…I can now,” Chloe allowed.

A small step forward for Mom and Chloe.

By this point in the series, some readers were asking if/when Chloe and Roelke’s relationship would become intimate. Since this is a Traditional mystery, with no explicit sex or gore, I crafted a scene that I hoped conveyed the moment without spelling it out. Perhaps I should have been a wee bit more explicit, because I heard from a couple of people who’d read the book and were still wondering when the two main characters would have sex.

My talented friend Ellen Macdonald made this chip carved candle plate to represent the gift Roelke gave to Chloe, used in the hotel scene.

I also heard from a reader who complained about my sloppy writing, referring to the fact that about mid-book, I repeated a thought.  Chloe and Roelke are, in their separate lodgings, going to bed.  First Roelke thinks:

Tonight, with a killer wandering Decorah and a December wind rattling the windows, he really, really wished he could fall asleep with Chloe in his arms.

In a later scene, in Chloe’s point of view, she has the same thought:

Tonight, with a killer wandering Decorah and a December wind rattling the windows, she really, really wished she could fall asleep in Roelke’s arms.

I crafted that echo in hopes it would convey the growing bond between them; how they both wanted the same thing; that they were connected in thought even if physically apart. One never knows how such things might strike any individual reader.

While Chloe and Roelke’s relationship took a big step forward, Chloe’s relationship with Mom is only somewhat improved. I could have wrapped the book up with some moment of complete harmony and understanding between the two women, but it would have felt—at least to me—too pat and unrealistic.

What did you think?

You can explore relevant people, places, and the past on my webpage for Heritage of Darkness. Resources include a Google map, color images of key artifacts, a Discussion Guide, a recipe for Chloe’s Tomato Soup, and links to lots of additional background material.

A final thought:  People often ask how employees feel about me setting a murder mystery at their historic site or museum. I always chat with key staff before starting a new book, and make sure everyone is comfortable with the idea. The staff and volunteers at Vesterheim have been wonderful, and Mr. Ernst and I have made many friends within the Norwegian-American community. (We even celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in Norway!) The decision years ago to create a protagonist of Norwegian descent has brought wonderful things we couldn’t have imagined. We’re grateful.

Researching The Light Keeper’s Legacy

March 13, 2018

 

Color photo by Kay Klubertanz of author Kathleen Ernst and "Mr. Ernst" serving as docents at the 1858 Pottawatomie Lighthouse on Rock Island, Wisconsin.

 

Photo of the front cover of The Light Keeper's Legacy, the 3rd Chloe Ellefson mystery by Kathleen Ernst, Published by Midnight Ink Books.

This article explores examples of how technical research and photographic documentation were used to help Kathleen write the award-winning third book in her Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery series.

The Light Keeper’s Legacy (TLL) takes place in two time periods:  A modern one in September 1982 featuring Chloe and police officer Roelke McKenna; and an historical thread stretching from 1869 to 1906.

Kathleen first included an historical timeline in the previous book, The Heirloom Murders. Based on reader feedback, she crafted a more extensive one for TLL. It tightly braids together the two storylines, their characters, histories, and mysteries.

This set the standard for most of Kathleen’s follow-on Chloe books.

 

Black & white historic photo of a log cabin on Rock Island, Wisconsin.

 

Kathleen does the vast majority of research for each mystery, and TLL is no exception. She spends a lot of time doing this, and is very good at it. But only a small part of what’s uncovered ends up influencing or appearing in her books. Those choices are one of the reasons Kathleen’s stories have a descriptive richness, enabling readers to immerse themselves in her books.

Chapter 42

Most of The Light Keeper’s Legacy is set on Washington and Rock Islands, just off the tip of Door County, Wisconsin, in Lake Michigan. There are no bridges to either island; access is by public ferry boats and private watercraft — and in the case of Washington, by small aircraft. This remoteness plays a key role in the book.

Chapter 42 includes a number of exciting scenes. Below are brief excerpts from two, followed by examples of the research Kathleen used to craft them.

As the chapter begins, Roelke is trying to land a small plane on a grass runway at the airfield on Washington Island.

 

Google satellite map of Washington Island, WI.

Imagery Copyright 2018 Google, NOAA, Terrametrics.

 

Since I hold a private pilot’s license, Kathleen asked me to pull together the technical details she’d need. The following is from the book.

 

[Roelke] made two left turns, which brought him in line with the runway.  Airspeed and descent looked good. “Washington Island traffic, Seven-Seven-Echo on final for Two Two.”  There were trees near the approach end of the grass strip, so he set the flaps full down.

He was clearing the woods when the deer bounded from cover. Three of them, all does, running straight toward Two Two.

Dammit. Roelke pulled back on the yoke and shoved the throttle forward, trying to get the Cessna to climb. Instead of ramping up the engine hesitated.

What the hell was wrong? A few eternal seconds later, the engine recovered with a roar, but airspeed was still dropping. The stall warning began to wail.

I’m screwed, Roelke thought. He was seconds away from a crash.

 

Below is the cover page of the six-page research paper I prepared.

 

Scan of the first page of the research report about Roelke's Flight to Washington Island, created for The Light Keeper's Legacy Chloe Ellefson mystery by bestselling author Kathleen Ernst.

Copyright 2011 Kathleen Ernst, LLC

 

Feel free to review the research; you can download a PDF copy by clicking HERE.

The second scene from Chapter 42 involves two unknown assailants who trap Chloe alone in the lighthouse, pursuing her to the very top of the four story building.

 

Google Satellite map of Rock Island, WI.

Copyright 2018 Google, NOAA, Terrametrics.

 

As Kathleen scoped out the setting and considered what Chloe would do in this situation, I took photos to serve as reference material for use when she wrote the scene later.

Note from Kathleen:  This was one of those afternoons where I had to be careful to keep my voice down. No need for visitors to hear Mr. Ernst and I discussing the logistics of mayhem.

 

Chloe didn’t waste time on a glance through the hatch. She’d slowed Balaclava Man down. Maybe even disabled him. Guy Two could be after her any moment though. The instinct to run-run-run buzzed through her brain.

She couldn’t go down. She couldn’t go up. Only option: going out.

Chloe dropped to her knees beside a low wooden door, wrenched it open, and scrambled onto the narrow walkway outside the lantern room. “Oh God,” she whimpered, clutching the paint-sticky railing, fighting a wave of vertigo. The trees and picnic table and outhouse below looked dollhouse-sized.

The roof’s peak stretched south from the lantern room. The roof itself fell steeply on either side. Chloe’s stomach twisted again as she imagined trying to creep down to the gutters without falling.

Wait. A heavy cord of braided copper ran from the lightning rod on top of the tower down the west side of the roof before disappearing over the edge of the gutters.

Chloe bit her lip hard. Would the cable support her weight? And even if she did make the gutters without somersaulting into thin air, what then?

 

Below are some of the photos, with descriptions linking them to the passage above.

 

Pair of color photos of the stairs leading up to the floor hatch in the lightroom at the top of the Pottawatomie Lighthouse on Rock Island, Wisconsin.

Left: Chloe’s view as she races up the stairs into the lantern room. Right: Her view from the lantern room looking down through the hatch to where her pursuers will emerge.

 

Photo taken in lantern room of the Pottawatomie Lighthouse on Rock Island, WI.

Chloe’s view of the low wooden door to the narrow walkway outside the lantern room. Visible to the right is part of the Frenel lens that surrounds, magnifies, and directs the lamp light at night.

 

Photo taken from the Pottawatomie Lighthouse lantern room looking south.

This reveals the steep fall of the lighthouse roof, and why Chloe’s view of the picnic table and outhouse made them look dollhouse-sized. On the right side of the photo is the heavy cord of braided copper that runs down from the lightning rod to the roof and over the gutters.

 

Photo of the west side of the Pottawatomie Lighthouse showing the braided copper wire.

Here’s a ground-level view from the west of the braided copper cord running from the lightning rod (just visible atop the lantern room) down across the roof and over the gutters to the ground.

 

Now that you’ve had a chance to compare excerpts with some of the research used to write them, we’d love to hear what you think. Please leave us a comment below.

But Wait, There’s More

Hopefully this article has piqued your interest in discovering more about the ‘people, places and the past’ in the The Light Keeper’s Legacy.

There’s a whole page full of information about it on Kathleen’s website, including a discussion guide for the book, a custom Google map and a locations guide about where key scenes are set, a recipe mentioned in the book, a slide show of objects featured in the story, public radio interviews with Kathleen about the book, additional blog posts, links to booksellers that carry TLL — and more. To explore them, click HERE.

Next month I’ll post an article on this blog about interesting things that turned up whle researching Heritage Of Darkness, the fourth book in the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery series.

Researching The Heirloom Murders

February 20, 2018

 

Color postcard of Sasso's Bar in the Village of Eagle, Wisconsin, circa 1982.

 

Front cover of the Chloe Ellefson Mystery #2, The Heirloom Murders, by bestselling author Kathleen Ernst, published by Midnight Ink Books.

Mr. Ernst here. This month the focus is on things interesting and indicative that turned up while researching The Heirloom Murders, the second book in the Chloe Ellefson mystery series.

Some of the following made it into the book. Other things influenced the story. And some things below are included merely to reflect the times.

Kathleen and I hope you find them interesting too.

THM takes place at Old World Wisconsin (an actual outdoor history museum in the Southeast corner of the state), the nearby Village of Eagle, and the Village of New Glarus in Green County, WI.

A Modern Mystery with Historical Roots

THM is the first book in the Chloe series to feature an historical thread, which in this case centers on the actual 1876 discovery in Eagle of an extremely rare glacial diamond. Kathleen also chose to weave the modern mystery of this gemstone into the story’s 1982 timeline.

EagleDiamond16CaratStolen500w
The Eagle Diamond changed hands many times over the decades between being unearthed and its donation to the American Museum of Natural History. It was one of a number of precious gems (including the legendary “Star of India”) stolen from there by a 3-man crew led by a jewel thief playboy named Jack “Murph the Surf” Murphy.

Black and white photo of Jack Murphy and his girlfriend Bonnie Lou Sutera taken in 1964.

Jack Murphy and his then girlfriend Bonnie Lou Sutera, 1964.

Murph made the fateful mistake of bragging about the heist and was quickly arrested. He served 21 months; Bonnie Lou committed suicide. All the jewels were recovered — except for the Eagle Diamond.

The history and mystery of this rare gemstone is fascinating. Read Wood V. Boynton and the Incredible Journey of the Eagle Diamond by Mara Kent (Wisconsin Magazine of History, Volume 97, number 2, Winter 2013-2014).

Anatomy of a Scene

Kathleen often builds individual scenes around historical events uncovered while doing research. One was inspired by this article.

newspaper clipping about film schedule for 1982 Summer Movie program in the Village of Eagle, Wisconsin, 1982.

Palmyra Enterprise newspaper, June 10, 1982.

This series of free public movies was proposed by the Chief of the Village of Eagle Police Department (EPD) as a way to deter crime. His thinking was that if local teens were at a police-sponsored, police-chaperoned film, they couldn’t get into too much trouble.

Wielding some artistic license, Kathleen put EPD Officer Roelke McKenna in charge of organizing and running the July 10th showing of MacKenna’s Gold, which she has his co-worker, Officer Skeet Deardorff, select (sight unseen) as a humorous play on Roelke’s name.

Color movie poster for MacKenna's Gold.

Copyright 1969 Columbia Pictures. This Western had an all-star cast, including Gregory Peck, Egyptian actor Omar Sharif as a Mexican bandit, and Julie Newmar playing an Apache Indian who goes swimming in the nude. The film was a financial failure, costing $7M ($47M in 2018 dollars) while earning just $3.1M ($21M now), despite becoming a long-running hit in the Soviet Union.

Next Kathleen introduced a series of challenges resulting in Roelke being the sole officer present that evening, and added an angry teen couple whose loud argument disturbs the movie and forces Roelke to intervene.

Note from Kathleen:  I wanted readers to learn more about Roelke’s approach to policing. When Mr. Ernst turned up the notice about Movie Night, I knew I could make that work. Roelke is a good cop. Sure, he wants to catch bad guys, but he also wants to be proactive about keeping kids out of trouble. And dealing with TJ and his pregnant girlfriend shows Roelke’s ability to de-escalate a problem, not simply chase after lawbreakers.

Say What?

Kathleen uses the popular-in-Wisconsin term “soda” in the scene above. For those who are not familiar with it, there’s the wonderful Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE).  The article below describes the then 17-year old University of Wisconsin project to gather and publish it, including explanations of three popular Wisconsin-isms.

Regional dictionary is place for 'bubbler' headline.

July 29, 1982 – Waukesha Freeman newspaper.

“When you’re frying out and forget your soda, you can always look for a bubbler… Fry out is an expression meaning grill out or barbecue. It’s unique to to Calumet, Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and Fond du Lac Counties. …The heavily Germanic population took it from the practice of frying sausage. Soda describes soft drinks in the area of Wisconsin along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Elsewhere, pop or soda pop is preferred.

Bubblers are drinking fountains. …Researchers traced the word back to a 1914 publication of the Kohler Co. in Sheboygan, which mentioned a “bubbling valve” on a fountain. In 1915, company literature began talking about a “continuous flow bubbler” and the word was coined… While fountains no longer bubble continuously, the word is still used.”

Color photo of a 'bubbler' - a Wisconsin term for water fountain.

By Sulfur (Own work) GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)


Indicative of the Times

Kathleen chose not to make reference to any of the following in THM, but each tells us something about the summer of 1982, and enables a perspective on events of today.

Three States Short of Approval, ERA Dies article newspaper clipping.

June 22, 1982 – United Press International.

One wonders how things might be different today had the ERA been adopted back then.

Speaking of which…

Businesswomen 'too sexy' in pants headline.

June 25, 1982 – Waukesha Freeman newspaper.

“A survey of corporate employees shows businesswomen who wear pants to work have plenty of sex appeal but not much professional standing. In the survey of 480 firms selected from the Standard & Poor’s register 99.8 percent of the men who responded felt pants on the job were inappropriate for an executive woman.

Men and women …thought women who wore dresses to work were more confident and did not feel the need to “dress like a man to convince other people of their abilities.” That refutes the traditional advice that career women wear suits on the job.”

And then there’s this ‘man bites dog’ piece below written by Joan Beck. The article uses a Wisconsin sexual harassment case to make a series of pointed observations about the very real challenges, and double standards, that women workers were experiencing back then. The snarky headline was probably written by a man.

State sexual harassment case is something to snicker about headline.

July 27, 1982 – Chicago Tribune newspaper

“Sexual harassment on the job isn’t for snickering. It’s heavy stuff, abhorred by women, forbidden by company policies, outlawed by federal regulations, punishable by the courts, a sin in the eyes of management training manuals and feminist manifestoes alike.

So it won’t do to admit a sneaky little snicker of satisfaction about the sexual harassment story from Madison, Wis. This time, the victim was male. And the supervisor who demoted the employee for resisting sexual overtures is female.

So let’s just say it’s OK to be encouraged that at least one complaint of sexual victimization has been taken seriously enough to move a jury to give the victim $196,500 in punitive and compensatory damages.”

That’s $504,724 in 2018 dollars.

But Wait, There’s More

Hopefully this article has piqued your interest in discovering more about the ‘people, places and the past’ in the The Heirloom Murders.

There’s a whole page full of information about it on Kathleen’s website, including a discussion guide for the book, a custom Google map and a locations guide about where key scenes are set, a recipe mentioned in the book, a slide show of objects featured in the story, public radio interviews with Kathleen, additional blog posts, links to booksellers that carry THM — and more. To explore them, click HERE.

Next month I’ll post an article about researching The Light Keeper’s Legacy, the third book in the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery series.

The Heirloom Murders – A Retrospective

February 13, 2018

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.

Chloe 9 Reveal!

February 6, 2018

Last week I zipped the manuscript for the 9th Chloe Ellefson mystery off to my publisher. This week, it’s available for pre-order! I’m excited to provide a peek at the next adventure for Chloe and Roelke.

Curator Chloe Ellefson needs distraction from the unsettling family secret she’s just learned. It doesn’t help that her boyfriend, Roelke McKenna, has been troubled for weeks and won’t say why. Chloe hopes a consulting job at Green Bay’s Heritage Hill Historical Park, where an old Belgian-American farmhouse is being restored, will be a relaxing escape. Instead she discovers a body in a century-old bake oven.

Chloe’s research suggests that a rare and valuable piece of lace made its way to nearby Door County, Wisconsin, with the earliest Belgian settlers. More importantly, someone is desperate to find it. Inspired by a courageous Belgian woman who survived cholera, famine, and the Great Fire, Chloe must untangle clues to reveal secrets old and new . . . before the killer strikes again.

The Lacemaker’s Secret will be published in October, 2018.  You can pre-order now:

IndieBound – Trade Paperback
https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780738753546

Amazon – Trade Paperback
https://www.amazon.com/Lacemakers-Secret-Chloe-Ellefson-Mystery/dp/0738753548/

Amazon – Kindle
https://www.amazon.com/Lacemakers-Secret-Chloe-Ellefson-Mystery-ebook/dp/B0795R5H4C/

Books-A-Million (BAM) – Trade Paperback
http://www.booksamillion.com/p/Lacemakers-Secret/Kathleen-Ernst/9780738753546?id=7179386161819

The story of Wisconsin’s Belgian immigrants is compelling, and I hope The Lacemaker’s Secret honors those early settlers—and the many people who have worked hard to preserve and interpret their history at Heritage Hill, and the Belgian Heritage Center in Namur.

Old World Murder Giveaway Winners!

February 1, 2018

The lucky winners of my first monthly Chloe Ellefson Mysteries Giveaway are Sharon Butera, Sandra Redford Griswold, and Maryjean Samer. Congratulations!

Each will receive a signed and personalized trade paperback of Old World Murder, the first book in the series. Winners have been contacted by email.

Stay tuned for a giveaway of the second book, The Heirloom Murders,  in late February!

Old World Murder Giveaway

January 30, 2018

Heads-up everybody!

For the next 8 months I’m giving away trade paperback copies of my 8 Chloe Ellefson mysteries, starting now, with the first book in the series.

Graphic showing Chloe Ellefson mystery book covers overlaid with the front cover of Old World Murder, and labeled 8 Monthly Giveaways.
To enter this month’s Old World Murder giveaway, just leave a comment below before 11:59 PM (Central US time), Wednesday, January 31, 2018.

Only one entry per person, please.

Three winners will be chosen at random from entries here and on my Facebook Author Page, and announced Thursday. Good luck everybody!

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Due to a glitch in our email program, any comments posted here for February’s Giveaway for The Heirloom Murders *will* be entered!