Very Special Seniors
When I was planning my Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery series, I thought hard about my two main characters. I wanted Chloe, curator at a large historic site, and Roelke McKenna, police officer in the nearby village of Eagle, WI, to have complex and evolving stories. I’m having a great time with Chloe and Roelke.
There are other recurring characters in the series, of course. Those are fun to develop as well.
And then there are those people who appear in one book and disappear again. I’m four books into the series now, and over the past few years I’ve been surprised but delighted by reader response. Often characters with very small roles prompt the most feedback.
And often, those characters are seniors. In Old World Murder, the first book in the series, a elderly woman appeals to Chloe for help. Chloe reflects upon the request:
She genuinely liked old people. She liked their stories, their memories, their hard-won experience. Their mementos, their refuse, even their homes—these things comprised her chosen profession. Mrs. Lundquist didn’t need to beg, or to cajole; Chloe truly wanted to help her.
In the brand new mystery, Heritage of Darkness, Chloe is visiting Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa. She volunteers to interview local seniors about Norwegian Christmas traditions. Some of them share Christmas cookies and cozy memories. Others, however, have tales of some of the more spooky customs that date back to pre-Christian times, when uneducated peasants in rural Norway feared the darkest and coldest days of the year.
Chloe visits a woman in her nineties named Edwina Ree:
“As I’ve heard about old Christmas traditions this week,” Chloe said, “I’ve been intrigued by the transition of some aspects of holiday celebrations from pagan to Christian times.”
Edwina nodded. “Many a good Norwegian family today considers a thorough housecleaning the first essential step of holiday preparation. Women say they do this to welcome the infant Christ. But as children, my grandparents were taught to clean well at Christmas because this period signaled a return of the dead.”
“A return of the dead?” Chloe took that in. “I did not know that.”
“You were raised in a Christian church?”
“Well, it hasn’t been all that many generations ago that church leaders labored to Christianize people’s worldview,” Edwina said. “Preachers urged Norwegian folk to forget stories that had been passed down for centuries. Have you heard of mørkemakten?”
“It refers to the power of darkness. Our ancestors believed that evil forces were present during these dark days.”
This theme provided perfect inspiration for a murder mystery. And Edwina Ree became one of my own favorite characters. Edwina was trained as an archivist, and has an academic interest in the topic. But Chloe also observes Edwina standing alone one night on the porch of her isolated farmhouse, head tipped as if listening for the evil spirits once believed to roam the winter skies.
As a former curator myself, I—like Chloe—particularly enjoy spending time with elders. I entered the museum world in the early 1980s. I got to meet elderly men and women who had been born in Wisconsin, but still spoke with an accent because they were raised in tight-knit ethnic enclaves. They shared recipes and family stories and folk traditions. Some of my fondest memories involve time spent with those wonderful people.
Creating characters like Edwina Ree lets me pay quiet homage to that generation. I hope you enjoy meeting some of them within the pages of Heritage of Darkness .
Are there special seniors in your life, or in your memories? Anyone who shared special stories or traditions with you? I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment, and your name will go into a drawing for any one of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries—winner’s choice.
I’m grateful to Dollycas for allowing me to be a guest on her blog. And I’m grateful to readers! I love my work, and I’d be nowhere without you.
For more information, visit: http://www.kathleenernst.com/chloe_ellefson.php
About Kathleen Ernst
Bestselling writer Kathleen Ernst is the award-winning author of 25 mystery, historical fiction, and non-fiction books for adults and young readers. Her latest books include “Heritage of Darkness,” the fourth Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery for adults from Midnight Ink, and “Traitor In The Shipyard,” her seventh Caroline Abbott children’s novel from American Girl.
Over the years Kathleen’s work has earned numerous honors, including multiple Edgar and Agatha mystery award nominations, and an Emmy for educational programming. To date, readers have purchased 1,000,000 printed, electronic, and audio copies of her books.
Kathleen is the author of a nonfiction history book about the American Civil War, “Too Afraid to Cry: Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign,” an alternate selection of the History Book Club. It tells the stories of non-combatants who, 150 years ago, found themselves caught up in the bloodiest day in American history.
For ten years Kathleen wrote instructional video scripts for public television; honors for those include an Emmy, Platinum Best of Show Aurora Award, and a Wilbur Schramm Award of Excellence.
Kathleen has a Masters Degree in History Education and Writing from Antioch University, where her self-designed program focused on nontraditional methods of teaching and learning history–with a special emphasis on historical fiction. She spent over a decade as a Curator of Interpretation and Collections with the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Historic Sites Division, which provided great material for her novels.
She lives near Madison, Wisconsin with her husband Scott and Sophie the cat. Some of her greatest pleasures include gardening, learning folk crafts, traveling to research new books, and hearing from readers. To that end, she maintains an extensive website, an author’s page on Facebook, and a blog called Sites and Stories on WordPress.
Heritage of Darkness
(A Chloe Ellefson Mystery)
4th Book in Series
Midnight Ink (October 8, 2013)
An Imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd.
Trade Paperback: 360 pages
E-Book File Size: 1165 KB
Dark Secrets Hidden in Norwegian Traditions
For curator Chloe Ellefson, a family bonding trip to Decorah, Iowa, for rosemaling classes seems like a great idea—until the drive begins. Chloe’s cop friend Roelke takes her mother’s talk of romantic customs good-naturedly, but it inflates Chloe’s emotional distress higher with each passing mile.
After finally reaching Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Chloe’s resolve to remain positive is squashed when she and Roelke find Petra Lekstrom’s body in one of the antique immigrant trunks. Everyone is shaken by the instructor’s murder, and when Mom volunteers to take over the beginners’ class, Chloe is put in the hot seat of motherly criticism. As she investigates, Chloe uncovers dark family secrets that could be deadly for her Mom . . . and even herself.
I love these excursions with Chloe back in time before the internet and cell phones. Yes, we did survive 🙂
Chloe really does need to rebuild her relationship with her mother and poor Roelke is caught in the middle.Both women are very stubborn and set in their ways. Can a murder bring them together or will it drive them even farther apart? No spoilers here. You will need to read it for yourself.
Beyond Chloe and her mother’s story there is a rich story of Norwegian Heritage woven within the murder mystery. I have learned so much but not in a history book way. Some of the traditions I knew from Wisconsin History classes in high school and college but put into a story such as this where they effect actual people you are getting to know gives it so much perspective. It also helps solve the mystery of the murder.
Ernst creates such vibrant characters. She takes us back to the 80’s and even back to 1949 and 1967 to help us piece together the clues. You know she has done her research and she does travel to events so that she can bring them to life in these pages for all of us to enjoy. I picked up the first book in these series because it was set here in Wisconsin and it didn’t take more than a few chapters to become a huge fan of Kathleen Ernst. She is an awesome storyteller.
I believe you can read Heritage of Darkness easily as a stand alone, but I know then you are going to want to read the rest of of the series too. Just a little warning, I have found with Kathleen’s books, that once you start them they are extremely hard to put down so plan accordingly.
SUPER EASY GIVEAWAY!!
U.S. ADDRESSES ONLY
Are there special seniors in your life, or in your memories?
Anyone who shared special stories or traditions with you?
I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment, and your name will go into a drawing
for any one of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries—winner’s choice.
Be sure to leave your email address so we can contact you!!
Contest Will End November 6, 2013 at 11:59 PM CST
Winner Will Be Chosen By Random.org
Winner Will Be Notified By Email
and Will Be Posted Here In The Sidebar.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”