Friday, October 14, 2016

Guest Post: Kathleen Ernst - A Memory of Muskets

Two Mysteries, Two Timelines
by Kathleen Ernst

Introducing mystery author Kathleen Ernst, and her newest title A Memory of Muskets. Kathleen has taken the time to tell us about the two timelines skillfully woven throughout her book, and why she was inspired to write Rosina's story.

The Chloe Ellefson mysteries are set in the early 1980s.  But in the latest book, A Memory of Muskets, one of the main characters died decades earlier.

Chloe works as a curator at a large historic site.

The Schulz Farm, restored to its 1860 appearance at Old World Wisconsin.

Her romantic interest is local cop Roelke McKenna.  Chloe is a reluctant sleuth who gets pulled into murder investigations when  past events impact modern crimes.

Most of the Chloe mysteries have contained a historical plotline braided with the main plot.  I love giving readers a front-row seat to events that Chloe, for all her research skills, may never uncover.  When I structure a book this way, readers often know more by the end of the mystery than Chloe and Roelke do.

Two of the early books revealed stories relevant to Chloe’s Norwegian heritage.  For A Memory of Muskets, 7th in the series, I decided it was time to learn something about Roelke McKenna’s German heritage.

 This photograph was taken in the area I used as setting in A Memory of Muskets.

Chloe and Roelke’s overt challenge comes when an unidentified Civil War reenactor is found dead at Old World Wisconisin’s Schulz Farm.  While investigating the death, Chloe simultaneously plunges into research about Roelke’s great-great grandmother Rosina, hoping to solve an inexplicable mystery at his family farm.

Rosina immigrates to Wisconsin at sixteen, already promised in marriage to a man she’s never met.  The Civil War begins, and threatens to tear the German-American community apart.  Rosina does not have an easy time in her new home, and I hope she emerges as a strong, compelling character.

I’ve written lots of historical fiction, and love picking specific sensory details to help bring the period setting to life.  Rosina was particularly satisfying to write because her time and place were comfortable for me.  I once worked at the historic site where Chloe now fictitiously works.

That’s me at the Schulz Farm, 1982.

Three 1860s farms have been restored at the site, including the one that belonged to a newly-arrived German-American family.  Working as an interpreter at the Schulz Farm gave me hands-on practice with cooking, baking, processing flax into linen cloth, and other domestic chores. 

While working there I studied many immigrant diaries, letters, and reminiscences.  I was an active reenactor, portraying everyday women during the Civil War.  As Rosina’s story emerged I spent hours squinting at period newspapers preserved on microfilm, getting a feel for her specific locale.

My general familiarity with Rosina’s world allowed me to focus on her character, her experiences, her emotions.  And that’s where readers can connect with her—on an emotional level. 

My first obligation as a mystery writer is to tell a good story. In this case, I hope readers enjoy two.


Curator Chloe Ellefson is happily planning to spotlight home-front challenges and German immigrants at Old World Wisconsin’s first Civil War reenactment, but her overbearing boss scorns her ideas and proposes staging a mock battle instead. And when a reenactor is found dead at one of the historic site’s German farms, Chloe’s boyfriend, cop Roelke McKenna, suspects murder.

The more Roelke learns about reenacting, the more he fears that a killer will join the ranks. Then Chloe discovers a disturbing secret about Roelke’s Civil War–era ancestors. Together they struggle to solve crimes past and present . . . before Chloe loses her job and another reenactor loses his life.

Kathleen Ernst is an award-winning and bestselling author, educator, and social historian. She has published over thirty novels and two nonfiction books.  Her books for young readers include the Caroline Abbott series for American Girl.  Honors for her children's mysteries include Edgar and Agatha Award nominations.  Kathleen worked as an Interpreter and Curator of Interpretation and Collections at Old World Wisconsin, and her time at the historic site served as inspiration for the Chloe Ellefson mysteries.  The Heirloom Murders won the Anne Powers Fiction Book Award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers, and The Light Keeper's Legacy  won the Lovey Award for Best Traditional Mystery from Love Is Murder.  Ernst served as project director/scriptwriter for several instructional television series, one of which earned her an Emmy Award.  She lives in Middleton, Wisconsin.  For more information, visit her online at

Visit all of Kathleen's Chloe Ellefson Mysteries at

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