M.E. Kemp’s historical mysteries feature nosy Puritans

Today I’m delighted to welcome my friend M.E. Kemp, who writes fascinating and witty historical mysteries set in upstate New York and New England. She grew up in Oxford, Massachusetts, where her ancestors settled in 1713. Her grandfather’s tales of family history from the Civil War to the Gold Rush and her father’s penchant for trips to historic sites brought history alive for Kemp. After years of writing textbooks and magazine articles, she began a mystery series featuring Hetty Henry and Creasy Cotton, two nosy Puritans from Boston.  

I got to know M.E. Kemp, aka Marilyn Rothstein, when she encouraged me to join The Unusual Suspects, a wonderful group of mystery writers based in Saratoga Springs. Her feedback and encouragement have been invaluable to me over the past several years. Her fourth book, Death of a Dancing Master, will be published in the fall of 2010. Visit her website, www.mekempmysteries.com, to learn more about Marilyn and her books. Here’s what she has to say about historical mysteries:

WRITING THE HISTORICAL MYSTERY by M.E. Kemp

M.E. Kemp

We try to be accurate to the best of our abilities, we writers of historical mysteries.  My preference is to walk over or to ride through the scene I’m going to write about.  I want to get the feel of the place.  For instance, I took a boat ride down the Hudson River so I could see what the shoreline looked like in the 17th c.  (It hasn’t changed much.)  I sneaked onto private property to view a backwater location for one of my books.  I wanted to know what kind of reeds grew on the shore and what the old house looks like.  (Actually, I rang the bell first, but no one was home.)  This was for my book set in the Albany area, DEATH OF A DUTCH UNCLE.    I also like to go to colonial sites with a special interest in the kitchen areas.  I want to know what kinds of foods they ate and what they drank.  The people of Ipswich, MA. must have had stomachs made of iron — one tavern’s speciality was a drink made of: beer, rum, molasses and bread crumbs!  Doesn’t that sound yummy?

Probably the scariest research I did was on West Indies Voodoo.  (Anyone want the recipe for making a zomby? And I don’t mean the drink.)  One shrine I saw featured a butcher knife stuck in a pail of knick-knacks.  It seemed effective in keeping the spooks away — I know it kept me away.

There are advantages to this insistence upon accuracy.  I have to make a trip or two to Cape Cod to check out the shore line in the Mid-Cape area.  This is for the fifth book in my series featuring two nosy Puritans as detectives.  This area is historic and also a prime area for artists and writers.  Two summers before I spent a week on a beautiful beach in Ipswich, MA for my book that involves the Salem witch trials; DEATH OF A BAWDY BELLE.  Salem is such a busy city I felt that Ipswich has more of the 17th c. feel to it.  Although I stayed away from drinking in Ipswich taverns.

I took fencing lessons, which  helped with my fourth book, DEATH OF A DANCING MASTER.  (This book will be out from L&L Dreamspell in the Fall of 2010.)  The dancing master is killed with a fencing foil — he taught fencing to men and dancing to women, which is what got  him into trouble.  My stories are based on real quirks of history.  In this case, the dancing master wasn’t killed, but he was run out of Boston by the ministers and the magistrates.  When I read about this I thought of all the suspects there would be if he were murdered!  That’s the way our devious minds work in the writing game.   I am currently working on my fifth book, DEATH OF A  CAPE COD CAVALIER, and my cavalier gets too friendly with the ladies, which may be the cause of his demise . . . Time will tell, as I’ve only just begun to write this book.  But if my research calls for my lounging on the beaches of the Cape this summer — well, it’s a tough  job, but somebody’s got to do it.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Helen Ginger
    Dec 12, 2009 @ 17:23:21

    If I had travel money, I would set all my books on warm beaches, just so I could justify the research trips!

    Helen
    Straight From Hel

    Reply

  2. M. E. KEMP
    Dec 16, 2009 @ 11:40:57

    Helen, it helps that my family lives about an hour from the beach! I get to go to my family home for an overnight and run down to the RI beaches, which are as yet mostly undiscovered, and spend the day. I’ll actually have to find a place to stay on the Cape, though, because it’s further away from my home town. (Which my ancestors settled in 1713.
    Actually, they were kicked out of Salem in the mid-1600’s and settled on the Cape. The Scots branch settled in Oxford, MA. in 1713.) Where do you live? I hope you are close enough to the ocean to get there once in awhile. I find I just have this urge to get to the ocean every now and then. My girlfriend has it too, and her family has roots in Upstate NY. There’s just something about the ocean that draws you like hypnosis. Marilyn

    Reply

  3. Jane Kennedy Sutton
    Dec 16, 2009 @ 12:38:07

    What an interesting interview. I admire those who write historical fiction because of the amount of research it takes, but it sounds like Marilyn finds ways to make that research fun. I have added her books to my want-to-read list.

    Reply

  4. julielomoe
    Dec 16, 2009 @ 17:18:50

    Hi Helen and Jane,

    Thanks for checking in. I think you’ll like Marilyn’s books. I enjoy them even though I don’t usually read historicals.

    I agree that traveling to do research for one’s novels sounds like great fun – especially if you’re earning enough to be able to write it all off as a tax deduction. I’m not there yet, though.

    Marilyn, thanks for stopping by. Your post will be up indefinitely, so feel free to send more people here!

    Reply

  5. M. E. KEMP
    Dec 29, 2009 @ 18:30:07

    Thanks for the kind comments, Jane and Helen. I’m a little late getting to them in the holiday rush, but I hope your Christmas was as wonderful as mine. We were invited to my son-in-law’s house for his prime rib dinner with all the trimmings! Yum! I ate so much I’m just beginning to move with New Years dinner coming up. Good company, great food and my two granddaughters, who are just plain great kids. I’ve started my fifth book for the New Year and am doing research on old Cape Cod – can hardly wait until it warms up a little to head there in person. Marilyn aka: M.E . Kemp

    Reply

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