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
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.