Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Q&A with Kathleen Ernst!

This week, we sat down with Chloe Ellefson Mystery writer Kathleen Ernst. Ernst's latest, Tradition of Deceit, is available now!

Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
Kathleen Ernst: I started writing stories when I was about 10, and wrote my first novel at 15 (the manuscript was awful, but the experience was empowering). Ten or twelve practice manuscripts later, I got my first book contract. That was twenty years and thirty books ago!

MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
KE: As a child, authors including Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, Marguerite Henry, and Anya Seton inspired me by showing that history is all about stories. I still read a lot of historical fiction, and of course many mysteries. I love mysteries that are character-driven and have a strong sense of place.

MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
KE: Well, even if I never got another book contract, I’d still write—it’s what I do, how I process the world.  If I looked for another job it would be at a park, historic site, or museum.

MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
KE: I’ve been a full-time writer for about a decade. That means having two jobs, really, with time split between actually writing and doing all the ancillary things (library visits, correspondence, writing blog posts, etc.). My earlier jobs as an interpreter and curator at a large living history museum (Old World Wisconsin), and as scriptwriter and project manager for instructional television programs, have influenced my writing. 

MI: What are your favorite things to do when you’re not writing or working?
KE: If there were a few extra hours in a day, I’d spend more time gardening, cooking, knitting, quilting, rosemaling, birdwatching, and hiking. My husband and I enjoy traveling.  Since we both like visiting historic sites, which I write about in the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, play time and work time tend to blur.

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis
MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
KE: Must I pick just one? I love Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell, Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson, Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak—all smart, capable, complex women.

MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
Kathleen at the Mill, Minneapolis
KE: My new book, Tradition of Deceit, features two cases. Chloe Ellefson investigates one murder in Minneapolis, while her significant other, Roelke McKenna, investigates the murder of a friend in Milwaukee. The book also includes a plotline that, in the end, links these two seemingly unrelated crimes. This plot structure presented some challenges, and I’ve been delighted with reader response.

MI: What was your inspiration for the Chloe Ellefson mysteries?
KE: I worked in the historic sites world for twelve years, and loved it. After moving on, I missed the work, the places, the people involved. Enter Chloe Ellefson, fictional curator.  Every book comes from my heart, and I love having the opportunity to feature different historic places and themes within the series.

MI: Tell us about Chloe Ellefson.
Kathleen, when she worked at
Old World Wisconsin
KE: Chloe is curator of collections at Old World Wisconsin, where I once worked. When the series begins she is recovering from a series of personal crises, and starting fresh at the historic site. She meets Roelke McKenna, police officer, while investigating a missing artifact.  They have a complicated relationship, but he’s good for her! Chloe is passionate about preserving historic places and telling the stories of people who might otherwise be forgotten. Her knowledge of history is needed to help solve the murders presented in each book. While she and I have some things in common, she is smarter and braver than I am, and much better at speaking her mind.

MI: How does this series compare to your past works?
KE: Most of my books have been historical fiction, including historical mysteries, written for young readers. The Chloe Ellefson books are my first novels for an adult audience. They are set in the 1980s, so I’m writing from memory, although that does make them “historical fiction” for some of my younger readers.

 MI: Do you have a pet? Tell us about him/her.
KE: My silver muted torby, Sophie, is my writing muse, companion, and lap warmer. Several times each year I travel to a quiet cottage or cabin for a week of intense writing, and Sophie always accompanies me.

MI: What food could you live off of for the rest of your life?
KE: I’ve been a vegetarian for forty years, and should start with something healthy.  Perfectly ripe peaches are my absolute favorite food. But if we’re talking about the rest of my life, I’d have to add mocha lattes, peanut butter, and really good cheese. 

MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
KE: Since Tradition of Deceit focuses on the flour milling industry, and the Mill City Museum, I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with old recipes. One of my recent favorites is Old-Time Cinnamon Jumbles, which is an old Gold Medal Flour recipe.   The recipe is posted on my blog:

MI: What’s your favorite part about being an Inker?
KE: The camaraderie and support among the Inkers.  I’ve made great friends and discovered wonderful books since joining the group. 

Tradition of Deceit, the fifth Chloe Ellefson mystery, is available online and in bookstores now!

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