Friday, October 19, 2018

A Strong Sense of Place: A Guest Post from Kathleen Ernst

We welcome Kathleen Ernst, author of the new Lace Maker's Secret, the ninth book in the Chloe Ellefson Mystery Series, to Midnight Ink's blog today! Here she talks about why the setting is such an important element of a book.

Authors sometimes debate which is most important: character or plot. Character comes first, in my opinion, but the discussion itself often ignores an element that should rank right up there in the top tier: setting.

As a reader, I gravitate toward books that provide me with a strong sense of place, books that transport me somewhere new with complete authenticity. I try to do the same with the Chloe Ellefson mysteries.

Chloe is a curator at a large outdoor ethnic museum called Old World Wisconsin, a real site where I once worked as a curator. When writing the first book in the series, writer friends urged me to create a fictional historic site. I couldn't imagine doing so. I knew, and wanted to share with readers, real and special historic places.

As the series has progressed, books have featured other museums and historic sites in the Midwest. The ninth book in the series, The Lace Maker's Secret, is set in northeastern Wisconsin, home to the largest rural community of Belgian-Americans in the nation. Chloe has been hired to develop a furnishings plan for a Belgian Farm being restored at Heritage Hill Historical Park in Green Bay.

The Lace Maker's Secret includes a strand of historical fiction braided with Chloe's story. It introduces Seraphine, who immigrated to Wisconsin in the 1850s with her new husband. The Belgians came looking to farm, and were granted acreage in forested land instead. This is how I described their arrival:
"Jean-Paul," Seraphine hissed."This can't—" She stumbled, fell to one knee, clambered back to her feet. "This can't be right." The uncertainty in her husband's eyes did nothing to stay her growing unease.

…They were following their guide through a forest, deeper and deeper, away from the bay of Green Bay which had, for a time, glimmered through the trees. There was no trail, just several inches of slushy snow to hide roots and rocks. They shoved through thickets and skidded down ravines and clambered over windfalls. The trees were so tall and thick that midday was gloomy as twilight. Every strange bird call startled Seraphine. Every cracking branch made her jump. The cold pressed into her bones, numbed her toes. She carried a bulky sack over one shoulder. The skillet dangling from one mittened hand slipped from her grasp over and over. …How could the guide possibly know where he was going? They'd been walking for hours. There were no landmarks. The endless forest had swallowed them.

The Belgian immigrants faced hunger, epidemics, and a devastating forest fire. I couldn't hope to convey Seraphine's story without imagining the place where she landed.

While researching the mystery I spent a lot of time in Green Bay talking with site staff and volunteers, digging through the employee library, visiting local historical societies. But one of the most meaningful things I do when developing a new book is less academic: I settle in.

There is something powerful about walking the ground where 19th-century immigrants once walked. There is something powerful about gaining insight into their environment, and how it impacted their lives. There is something powerful about simply hunkering down with a notebook in hand to record the specific sensory details that will help bring a description to life.

I hope readers will enjoy being conveyed to another time and place as much as I do.


The Lace Maker's Secret Greed, Uncertainty, and Death Get Tangled in the Mystery of a Rare Piece of Belgian Lace

Curator Chloe Ellefson needs distraction from the unsettling family secret she's just learned. It doesn't help that her boyfriend, Roelke McKenna, has been troubled for weeks and won't say why. Chloe hopes a consulting job at Green Bay's Heritage Hill Historical Park, where an old Belgian-American farmhouse is being restored, will be a relaxing escape. Instead she discovers a body in a century-old bake oven.

Chloe's research suggests that a rare and valuable piece of lace made its way to nearby Door County, Wisconsin, with the earliest Belgian settlers. More importantly, someone is desperate to find it. Inspired by a courageous Belgian woman who survived cholera, famine, and the Great Fire, Chloe must untangle clues to reveal secrets old and new...before the killer strikes again.


"In this heartfelt tale of labor and love, Ernst produces one of her most winning combinations of historical evocation and clever mystery."
Kirkus Reviews

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. For more information, visit her online at

Friday, October 12, 2018

Are Ghosts Real: A Guest Post from E.J. Copperm

We welcome E.J. Copperman, author of the new Question of the Dead Mistress, the fifth book in the Asperger's Mystery Series, to Midnight Ink's blog today! Here he talks about whether or not he believes in ghosts, like the one in his new book.

"Do you believe in ghosts?"

I actually get that question considerably more often than most walking-around civilians. I understand the question, and no, I'm not ever going to give you an answer.

I write a series of mystery books about a woman who runs a guesthouse on the Jersey Shore that just happens to be haunted. So people—and I get why—want to know where I stand on the Casper-and-his-Friends question.

I don't answer because I don't want to annoy any of my readers. If I say I do think there are undead spirits inhabiting various structures around the world, the ones who think that's silly will think I'm silly. If I say no, the people who read the books for the ghosts could easily feel betrayed. So I'm staying mum on the Ghost Question, and by that I don't mean the movie with Patrick Swayze. Whoopi definitely earned her Oscar.

But in the latest Asperger's Mystery series (which I write with Jeff Cohen) novel, The Question of the Dead Mistress, the main character Samuel Hoenig, who has personality traits that some would say place him on the autism spectrum, has to answer the question, and he has a very quick answer.


Samuel, whose mind deals with facts and that which is provable, refuses to admit to his brain the concept. People die, and that's it. Samuel has no definitive proof that anything else might be the case, so it's not an issue for him.

When a client walks into the office of Samuel's storefront business Questions Answered (it's all there in the business name) and asks if her husband is having an extramarital affair with a deceased woman, Samuel answers her question immediately, and without charge: No, he's not, because there's no such thing as a ghost.

But Samuel has a problem: His most trusted associate, Ms. Washburn, does believe, based on an experience she had as a teenager. So she wants to attack the question and answer it definitively for the woman who has ventured into the office with concerns about her husband and a spirit.

They arrive at what seems like a perfectly equitable solution: Janet (Ms. Washburn) will research the question and Samuel will work on some of the business' other files. Given Janet's intelligence and experience, that would work out just fine—until the husband in question ends up just as dead as the woman his wife suspected he was seeing on the side. And he has not died due to natural causes.

The Ghost Question never really leaves the story, but it is added to the question of the also-dead husband. Astute readers will note that the authors do not necessarily settle the existential issue, and that's intentional.

The Question of the Dead Mistress "Is my husband having an affair with a dead woman?"

For Samuel Hoenig, the proprietor of a unique agency called Questions Answered, the answer to this most recent question is simple. Since there's absolutely no evidence that apparitions exist, it would be impossible for Ginny Fontaine's husband to be having an affair with one.

But Samuel's associate, Janet Washburn, isn't so easily convinced.

Wrestling with his complicated feelings for Ms. Washburn, Samuel proposes that she take the lead on the question. As soon as her research begins, the husband in question ends up dead, leaving Janet and Samuel wondering if they stand a ghost of a chance at unraveling this twisted tale of danger and deceit.

Praise for the Asperger's Mysteries:

"Readers will delight in watching Copperman's literal-minded hero grapple not only with unpredictable and nuanced human thinking, but with logic from beyond the grave."
Kirkus Reviews

E.J. Copperman and Jeff Cohen are the authors of The Question of the Dead Mistress, the fifth Asperger's Mystery novel. And no, they're not going to tell you what they think about ghosts. But whatever you believe, they agree with that

Friday, October 5, 2018

It Was the Best of Advice, It Was the Worst of Advice...Or, Write What You Know: A Guest Post from C.M. Wendelboe

We welcome C.M. Wendelboe, author of the new Hunting the Saturday Night Strangler, the second book in the Bitter Wind Mystery Series, to Midnight Ink's blog today! Here he talks about writing what you know.

Inspired by stories that had to be written as a young boy, I studied ad nauseum what few books and magazines I could that might guide me. And every one hammered on one of the basic tenets of writing—write what you know. That was all fine and good for someone with life experiences, but what could I write about if I followed this rule? I worked on farms as a kid, and those were the sole experiences from which I could draw.

Years later, after a discharge from the Marines, I continued to follow this advice and wrote a novel set in Vietnam during that conflict. It was horrible. Even though I wrote just what I knew, it was boring and inflexible and read like a flat documentary. So, I thought about what really interested me, and I recalled what I enjoyed reading as a youngster—Westerns. But I didn't know much about the West back in the day, so I studied historical periodicals, books, talked with elderly folks who lived during those times. And suddenly, I knew the West and could write about those events comfortably.

And I got to thinking how that advice—write what you know—hamstrung me for years. No one nowadays lived during the Roman Empire reign, for instance, yet there are so many incredible and informative stories about that time period. Same with stories about—pick one—the American Civil War, England during the time of the Tudors or the Stuarts, the culture of the mountain men in the West.

So now, I do not hesitate writing about subjects about which I have no clue. Research develops those clues, that knowledge necessary to write about a time period or a subject with conviction.

In writing murder mysteries, I confess as a career lawman that I write about what I know. But I cannot know every aspect of crime drama, cannot know every area of forensics, for example. And when I enter a place where I am not familiar enough, I research until I am writing what I know.

I have talked with so many aspiring writers who have a burning desire to tell a tale set in a period they know little about, or characters they have a hard time developing because they know little of the subject they wish to explore. But with sufficient drive to know the era, know the characters, they can become subject matter experts.

Lastly, I’d like to think established writers should also be teachers, helping aspiring writers to reach their goals. So whenever struggling writers get the chance, whenever they meet successful professionals, they should engage the writer, and learn from those conversations. Combined with exhaustive research into their chosen era, they can—with conviction—write what they know.


Hunting the Saturday Night Strangler Retired homicide detective Arn Anderson tracks a coldblooded killer in this riveting novel of suspense by the author of Hunting the Five Point Killer.

Two innocent victims, strangled to death on consecutive Saturday nights. Even as they see the pattern emerging, retired detective Arn Anderson and TV reporter Ana Maria Villarreal can't seem to convince the Cheyenne police that the killer may strike again.

Hunting a remorseless murderer leads Arn and Ana Maria down a rabbit hole of ranchers and rustlers. But the closer they come to catching the killer, the more they're met with suspicion. And when their investigation collides with a desperate act of violence, they wonder whether they're unwinding the killer's twisted thread of clues or tightening their own noose.

Praise for the Bitter Wind Mysteries:

"A slow-burning cold case with copious clues, conscientious detection, a high body count, periodic interruptions from the killer's viewpoint, and all the pages and pages of unraveling you'd expect from such a generously plotted mystery."
Kirkus Reviews

"Wendelboe is a skilled writer who ratchets up the suspense."
—Margaret Coel, New York Times bestselling author of Winter's Child

C. M. Wendelboe (Cheyenne, WY) is the author of the Spirit Road Mysteries (Penguin). During his thirty-eight-year career in law enforcement, he served successful stints as a sheriff’s deputy, police chief, policy adviser, and supervisor for several agencies. He was a patrol supervisor when he retired to pursue his true vocation as a fiction writer. Visit him online at