Jessie: In New Hampshire where we still are waiting for that last bit of snow to melt on the north side of the house.
It is my very great pleasure today to welcome the nominees for the 2017 Agatha Historical Award! Each of my fellow nominees were gracious enough to answer the following question:
What first attracted you to the historical era in which you set you books and what draws you back to it time and time again?
Rhys Bowen is the New York Times bestselling author of two historical mystery series: the Molly Murphy Mysteries, set in early 1900s New York City and the lighter Royal Spyness novels featuring a minor royal in 1930s London. She has now also published two stand-alone novels. The first of these, In Farleigh Field was #1 on Kindle for six weeks, won the Lefty award for best historical and is currently nominated for the Edgar and Agatha awards.
Rhys is a transplanted Brit who now divides her time between California and Arizona (and Europe whenever she can escape)
Rhys: In Farleigh Field was something I’d wanted to write for a long time. It was a big risk for me: a stand-alone novel when I have built up a great fan base for my series. Would they follow me to a new time and place? To a book that is more thriller than cozy mystery?
I’ve always been fascinated with WWII. It was the last time we had a clear sense of good versus evil and everyone knew he had to do his part to stop evil before it swallowed up the world. It was a time of hardship and misery and bombings but also a time of heightened emotions, camaraderie and a joy in being alive.
I suppose I am attracted to the period partly because I was born toward the end of it and so my early memories were of my father coming home, rationing that continued until 1953, stories of hardship and bombing, and the black market. What I had not heard as a child were stories of traitors. I was horrified, when I read a biography of the former King Edward VIII (the Prince of Wales who married Mrs. Simpson) that suggested he was whisked to the Bahamas because of his pro-Hitler sentiments and that the Germans wanted to invade and put him on the throne. Further investigation revealed that there was a group of aristocrats who were pro-German and wanted to aid the invasion, believing, mistakenly of course, that Hitler would treat Britain kindly and that this would stop the destructive bombing of Britain’s monuments. This was a story I had to write.
I also loved the freedom of multiple stories, multiple points of view. We see the war and the unfolding mystery through the eyes of Lady Pamela, daughter of an Earl, now working secretly at Bletchley Park, her sister Margo, now taken by the Gestapo in Paris, her youngest sister Phoebe, a precocious 12 year old, and Ben, the vicar’s son, now also working secretly for MI5. And through each of them we put together pieces of the puzzle while we watch their interpersonal relationships develop.
Renee Patrick is the pseudonym for married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist. Both native New Yorkers, they currently live in Seattle, Washington.
Rosemarie and Vince share a love of movies, cocktails, and the New York Mets. Together, they’ve introduced movies at the famous Noir City Film Festival and on Turner Classic Movies. Separately, they’ve appeared on game shows. While they grew up mere subway stops apart in Queens, they didn’t meet until fate threw them together at a South Florida advertising agency. Their most successful collaboration to date, Design for Dying was published one month before their silver wedding anniversary. And some said it wouldn’t last.
Renee: What attracted us to the era is the same thing that attracted us to each other, namely our love of classic Hollywood movies. We both grew up watching black and white films on television, and that interest has only intensified over the years. We’re both still suckers for the 1930s Hollywood version of sophistication exemplified by the Thin Man movies and Astaire & Rogers musicals—the champagne cocktails, the sparkling repartee. Knowing that Hollywood was serving up these dreams as the world was struggling through the Great Depression only makes us admire the movies more. The 1930s is also when Edith Head, one half of our detective duo along with failed actress Lillian Frost, was coming into her own as both a costume designer and an executive. What keeps drawing us back? Those movies! That will always be our answer to everything.
Susan Elia MacNeal is the author of The New York Times, Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today-bestselling Maggie Hope mystery series, starting with the Edgar Award-nominated and Barry Award-winning Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, which is now in its 22nd printing. She is currently at work on The Prisoner in the Castle, the eighth novel in the series.
Her books include Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, His Majesty’s Hope, The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante, The Queen’s Accomplice, and The Paris Spy. The Maggie Hope novels have been nominated for the Edgar, the Macavity, the ITW Thriller, the Barry, the Dilys, the Sue Federer Historical Fiction, and the Bruce Alexander Historical Fiction awards. The Maggie Hope series is sold worldwide in English and has been translated into Czech, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Turkish. It is also available in large print and audio. Actress Daisy Ridley (Star Wars, Murder on the Orient Express) has bought the film and television rights to the series.
Susan graduated from Nardin Academy in Buffalo New York, and also cum laude and with honors in English from Wellesley College. She cross-registered for courses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and attended the Radcliffe Publishing Course at Harvard University. Her first job was as the assistant to novelist John Irving in Vermont. She then worked as an editorial assistant at Random House, assistant editor at Viking Penguin, and associate editor and staff writer at Dance Magazine in New York City. As a freelance writer, she wrote two non-fiction books and for the publications of New York City Ballet.
Susan is married and lives with her husband, Noel MacNeal, a television performer, writer, and director, and their son in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Susan: I was in London with my husband (who was promoting his show with the Jim Henson Muppets) and we met up with a friend in a pub. Our friend handed me a copy of Time Out London and when I flipped to a page with an ad for the Churchill War Rooms, he said, “Maybe you should go — despite what you Yanks may think, World War II didn’t start with Pearl Harbor.” So I took it as a personal challenge and went.
It was an absolutely life-altering experience.
Of course, I never dreamed that I would be so captivated by going there, and that the visit would be a catalyst for writing a novel! Or a series! THE PARIS SPY comes out in Trade paperback tomorrow and Maggie Hope, #8, THE PRISONER IN THE CASTLE is to be published on August 7.
Edith Maxwell Agatha- and Macavity-nominated author Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, the Local Foods Mysteries, and award-winning short crime fiction. Called to Justice, Maxwell’s second Quaker Midwife mystery, is nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel. As Maddie Day she writes the popular Country Store Mysteries and the new Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries.
Maxwell is president of Sisters in Crime New England and lives north of Boston with her beau, two elderly cats, and an impressive array of garden statuary. She blogs at WickedCozyAuthors.com, KillerCharacters.com, and Under the Cover of Midnight . Read about all her personalities and her work at edithmaxwell.com.
Edith: I stumbled onto the late 1880s from a newspaper article about Amesbury, Massachusetts’ Great Fire of 1888, and I wrote a short story about a Quaker mill girl who solves the mystery of the arson (which wasn’t the cause, historically). The characters and setting – 130 years ago right here in my town – didn’t want to go away, so I wrote Delivering the Truth, got a three-book contract (already renewed for at least two more), and here we are!
It turns out the late 1880s is a fascinating period to write in. So much was on the cusp of change. The horse-drawn trolley didn’t become electrified until 1890 but parts of the town had electric street lights. The germ theory of infection was known but not blood typing, and most births still happened at home. Fingerprint analysis wasn’t yet developed. Some fancy houses had indoor plumbing but not the modest ones. Amesbury’s factories sold well-engineered graceful carriages internationally and the town was thriving. Screen doors were new. Corsets were loosening and hems were starting to creep upward.
I love having Rose experiences these changes, navigate them, and comment on them, and I hope you do, too. See you all in North Bethesda!
Jessica Ellicott loves fountain pens, Minin Coopers and throwing parties. She lives in northern New England where she obsessively knits wool socks and enthusiastically speaks Portuguese with a shocking disregard for the rules of grammar.
As Jessie Crockett she’s the author of the nationally bestselling Sugar Grove Mysteries and the Daphne du Maurier Award winner, Live Free or Die. She also is the author of the books in the Change of Fortune Mystery series under the name Jessica Estevao.
Jessica: I think it was a combination of influences that led me to write about the 1920s. As a child I loved reading books by Agatha Christie and that lead me to seek out books written by her contemporary mystery writers. I particularly loved those written by Ngaio Marsh. At about the same time I fell in love with the work of P.G. Wodehouse. I just couldn’t get enough of his charming, uproarious world. Somehow along the way the two sorts of books set in the same approximate time period wound together in my mind.
And as much as I love writing about the era because of the hats, the automobiles and the music, it is the way the world was changing for women and for each socioeconomic class that keeps bringing me back. The more I research about the people who experienced the aftermath of WWI and the march towards WWII the more I want to explore, to mull over and to create.
Readers, do you have a favorite historical era? The nominees will each give away a copy of their latest book to one commenter!