Posts Tagged ‘Chloe Ellefson Mystery series’

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!

Fiddling With Fate

March 3, 2019

Is there anything more exciting for an author than turning in a manuscript for a new book? Yes! Anticipating publication day.

The 10th Chloe Ellefson mystery will be published on September 8, 2019—just six months away.

Chloe has a devil of a time unraveling the mysteries of Norway’s fiddle and dance traditions.

After her mother’s unexpected death, curator Chloe Ellefson discovers hidden antiques that hint at family secrets. Determined to find answers, Chloe accepts a consultant job in Norway, her ancestors’ homeland. She’s thrilled with the opportunity to explore Hardanger fiddle and dance traditions . . . and her own heritage.

Once their plane lands, however, Chloe and her fiance, cop Roelke McKenna, encounter only disharmony. Chloe’s research reveals strong women and the importance of fiddle music in their lives. But folklore warns against “the devil’s instrument” and old evils may yet linger among the fjords and mountains. As Chloe fine-tunes her search for the truth, a killer’s desire to stop her builds to a deadly crescendo.

I hope you’ll join Chloe and Roelke on this special trip to Norway!

Hardanger Folk Museum

Fiddling With Fate is available for preorder from your favorite vendor.

Happy reading!

Giveaway Winners!

January 31, 2019

Congratulations to Jacki Bedworth, Sue Gallagher, Kay Johnson, Karen Mayers, Hope McLeod, Cindy Patterson, Linda Roehrig, Beth Rogers, and Margaret Wurth! Each has won a signed and personalized copy 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. Huge thanks to all who entered! Your interest and lovely comments warmed my heart on this frigid winter day.

Chloe Ellefson Mysteries Update

January 25, 2019

The 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, scheduled for release in September, 2019, will be the last one released by publisher Midnight Ink—which is shutting down.

The setting for book 10!

While that isn’t good news, since the announcement I’ve been overwhelmed by the support from wonderful Chloe and Roelke fans. Thank you!

I do want to continue the series. My upbeat and savvy literary agent has already sent a proposal to a press which has expressed interest. The publishing industry wheels can grind slowly, but—fingers crossed!

In the meantime, I’m focusing on finishing Chloe 10. The manuscript is due to my editor on March 1. My recent Chloe books have been about 95,000 words in length, and I’m at 85,000 words now. I’m getting there!

Mr. Ernst and I also want to do everything we can to demonstrate to potential publishers that the series is still going strong. Thanks to you, we had a very successful launch of the 9th Chloe mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret, in October. Now we want to keep expanding the circle of Chloe Ellefson Mystery readers.

To that end, next week we’re going to hold, here and on my Facebook page, a special Giveaway for The Lacemaker’s Secret. We hope that loyal readers who have already read the book will encourage friends to enter.

Writing online reviews, and recommending the books to your local library, are also enormously helpful.

Over the past decade, Mr. Ernst and I have had an amazing time exploring historic places and meeting new reader-friends. We’re grateful! We’re optimistic that with your help, the adventures will continue.

Chloe 10 Sneak Peek!

December 2, 2018

I was planning to wait a bit before sharing a sneak peek at the 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery. But word is starting to leak out, and I want faithful readers to be in the know.  

Chloe and Roelke are going to Norway!

 

Here’s the story synopsis:

Chloe has a devil of a time unraveling the mysteries of Norway’s fiddle and dance traditions

After her mother’s unexpected death, curator Chloe Ellefson discovers hidden antiques that hint at family secrets. Determined to find answers, Chloe accepts a consultant job in Norway, her ancestors’ homeland. She’s thrilled with the opportunity to explore Hardanger fiddle and dance traditions . . . and her own heritage.

Once their plane lands, however, Chloe and her fiancé, cop Roelke McKenna, encounter only disharmony. Chloe’s research reveals strong women and the importance of fiddle music in their lives. But folklore warns against “the devil’s instrument” and old evils may yet linger among the fjords and mountains. As Chloe fine-tunes her search for the truth, a killer’s desire to stop her builds to a deadly crescendo.

The book will be published by Midnight Ink in trade paperback and electronic versions on September 8, 2019. I’ll share more details in the new year!

Lacemaking in Belgium

November 13, 2018

As someone who gravitates toward folk arts, I knew almost nothing about Belgium’s lacemaking industry before starting research for The Lacemaker’s Secret. But one of the best parts about writing the Chloe Ellefson mysteries is learning new things, and this topic was no exception.

The mystery includes a strand of historical fiction featuring a Belgian farm girl, Seraphine. When Seraphine and her sister Octavie are orphaned at a young age, they find a home at a convent and lace school, The School of the Apostolic Sisters, in Bruges.

 

“A Lace School at Bruges”, The Art Journal, 1887, Rose G. Kingsley.

Women have made bobbin lace in Belgium for centuries, especially in the northern region of Flanders. Bruges is famous for it.

Historically, nuns ran schools in an effort to preserve the lace industry, and to teach girls a trade that would bring a bit of income. Most students were local girls “from the very poorest and lowest families” who came daily for lessons. For some, a bowl of soup at midday was their only meal.

A young Belgian lacemaker at work. This postcard image postdates Seraphine’s girlhood, but it helped me imagine her busy at her pillow.  (Nels, Bruxelles)

Outside convent grounds.

Seraphine experienced the city for the first time when she traveled to Bruges. Walls surrounded the convent itself.

“Bruges: Beguinage, A Corner of the Cloister.”  A beguinage housed religious women who lived in community but did not take vows.  Originally the complex was a convent, but the two terms diverged.  (An. Thill, Bruxelles)

I don’t have an interior photo of a workroom, but a visitor in 1887 described the scene:

The room was full of young women and children sitting in rows of three.  Each had a little stand before her, and on it a sloping cushion with hundreds of pins and scores of wooden bobbins; while down the centre of it where the pins were covered by a strip of calico, lay the precious filmy lace growing under the flying fingers. Our entrance, though it created evident surprise and interest among the sixty workers and the three white-coifed sisters who sat in charge of them, caused no cessation in the work…  The bobbins clattered, the pins were pricked into the holes on the patterns, the delicate fingers…worked on ceaselessly, as we moved up between the lines of dentellieres to meet a pleasant sister, who welcomed us with charming courtesy in perfect French.  (Rose G. Kingsley)

Ms. Kingsley said the lacemakers were “of all ages from seven years old and upwards,” but the little girl in this picture looks younger. (“Lace Manufactory, Chs. Berbigette, Antwerp”)

There were several other lace schools in Bruges, and over 900 in Belgium. The students could stay as long as they wished. Although some remained in the Beguinage as adults, most participated in lacemaking as a cottage industry. It was common for Belgian women to finish their own chores, then move outside to make lace in the sunshine, often visiting with friends and neighbors as they worked.

(Ern. Thill, Bruxelles)

Many different types of lace were made in Belgium, and in the 1800s, perhaps 150,000 women earned their living with their bobbins and pillows. But as other industries grew, women started taking better-paying jobs in factories.  Many people feared the knowledge of particular styles or patterns might be lost. In 1900, thousands of women in Bruges and other Flemish cities still supported themselves by making lace. By 1975—close to Chloe’s time—only a few hundred of them were left, mostly older women looking to earn some extra money.

Fortunately, some younger women have helped inspire a bit of a revival. And notably, one of the old convent lace schools (the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception) has been turned into a lace museum:

The Bruges’ Lace Centre is a private cultural institute which aims to preserve the lace handicraft for future generations. It manages a museum and a specialized library, organizes courses and lace workshops as well for youngsters as for adults, trains lace teachers and publishes, apart from the international magazine “KANT”, other publications. The Bruges’ Lace Centre’s ambition is to develop itself to the real knowledge centre of lace in Bruges and to a reference institute in the world of lace.

I hope to get there one day!

The Lacemaker’s Secret Giveaway Winners

September 14, 2018

Congratulations to KAREN AGEE, PHYLLIS NOONAN, CLARISSA PETERSON, LESLIE ROBINSON, and AMY OLSON SULLIVAN! Each has won an Advanced Review Copy of the 9th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret.

Huge thanks to all who entered—we had almost 500 entries here and on my Facebook Author Page, which was a record. It warms my heart to know there’s so much interest. Official launch date is October 8, and I’ll have lots more news to share soon.