My newest book is The Lacemaker's Secret: A Chloe Ellefson Mystery (Midnight Ink, 2018). It's the 9th book in the series, and my 37th published book! It took me a long time to hone my craft well enough to break in, so I find that number a bit astounding.
Why is your book set in 1983? How did you develop your character and choose your location?
I am passionate about historic places and objects, and the stories they can tell. I worked as a curator of interpretation and collections at a large historic site in Wisconsin in the 1980s and 1990s, and after I moved on, discovered that I missed the museum world. Chloe Ellefson is a fictional character, but she works at the same historic site where I once did. She also travels to other museums and historic sites as the series progresses. One of my primary goals for the series was to celebrate special historic places and stories.
Second, since I write about real places, I like to put some distance between my fictional murder and mayhem and readers' modern experiences at any of the features historic sites.
Third, the 1980s setting means Chloe has to rely on her own skills and training to find answers and get out of trouble. She can't whip out her cell phone and call for help or search for information!
What is a day in the life of an author like? Do you write a certain number of words, do you write in the morning or evening?
I have been a full-time writer for over a decade. That means I spend more time on the writing business than I do actually writing the books. Mornings and evenings are usually spent answering correspondence, preparing programs, writing blog posts, etc. Also, I often travel to make presentations at libraries or conduct research for upcoming books. I try to get some solid writing time in every afternoon. I'm not rigid about word count, but in general aim to produce between 1,000 and 2,000 words a day. It goes more slowly at the beginning of the process.
I also take week-long writing retreats several times a year, holing up in some quiet location with my laptop. Those weeks are tremendously productive, and make it possible for me to meet deadlines.
Do you model your character after yourself or any one you know?
Superficially, Chloe and I have a lot in common. She has a job I used to have, she rented the farmhouse I once rented, she went to college where I did, etc. However, Chloe is definitely a fictional character, created to serve the stories.
None of my characters were developed to represent any single real person. Ralph Petty, Chloe's boss, is an amalgamation of every bad boss I've ever had--plus some of my friends' bad bosses too. Spending time with police officers helped me create Roelke McKenna, local cop and Chloe's love interest. I knew very little about police work before starting the series, and so am very grateful to the officers who have let me shadow them.
If your books were made into a movie, who would you want to play the lead character?
That's a delightful question! I think, though, that I would prefer unknown actors to play Chloe and Roelke. Readers have their own image of these characters, and it might be jarring to have a famous star in the roles. (I know, I should be so lucky!)
Who is your favorite author?
Oh dear, so many to choose from. I don't think I can pick one mystery author. Favorites outside the genre include Barbara Kingsolver and poets Ted Kooser and Mary Oliver.
If you could invite five people – living or dead – to a dinner party, who would they be?
Abigail Adams, Harriet Tubman, Olympia Brown, Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart.
If you could not be an author, what would like to do as a career?
My undergraduate degree was in environmental education, and I'd be delighted to work again for a park or historic site. But I wouldn't stop writing!