When I say choosing a period I don’t mean in a grammatical sense. I do mean that it’s probably the most important thing in your life if you want to write an historical mystery or historical book, fiction or nonfiction. This is something you have to live with for years so you better be comfortable with the period you want to write about. This could also mean a contemporary work, as you’ve got to provide color even in nonfiction, which means getting the right songs, slang and clothing for the correct year. If you make a mistake someone is sure to catch it and chide you for it. That makes you look like a sloppy researcher. When a writer loses credibility he/she loses readers and sales.
I feel quite comfortable in my period — I write about two nosy Boston Puritans in the years 1689 to about 1712. (I’m writing in sequence so I’m only up to 1693 so far.) Why am I so comfortable in this period? Well, I was born in 1713…. Ooops – that’s when my ancestors settled my hometown of Oxford, MA. My family still lives in the town and I go back frequently to renew my accent — I start dropping my “R’s” like crazy as soon as I get out of the ‘cahh.’ Other ancestors go even further back to Salem in 1636. I might have had an ancestor hung during the witch trials of 1692 except that they were such a contentious lot they were excommunicated from the church and forced to leave Salem in the mid-1660’s. And yes, one of them was a horse thief.
My favorite of all cities is Boston, and it’s a great city for someone writing in my period. You can still walk the alleys and by-ways of Boston and feel like you’re back in the 1690’s. Walk over to the North End and enter the church of the famous Mathers, father Increase (the actual Great Man of the time,) and his son Cotton, much misunderstood and stereotyped. Go up to the cemetery where the Mathers are buried for the best sight of Boston Harbor — it’s easy to imagine the forest of masts and riggings from the olden times. Eat at our favorite restaurant, the Union Oyster House, where they’ve been shucking oysters on the polished bar since the early 1700’s. I contend there may be more early structures in Boston than in London, England, primarily because of the Great Fire of London and the German bombings during WWII.
One of the glories of Boston to me was always the old bookstores. Perhaps they haven’t survived the economic downturns, I’m not sure, but I used to find bargains for old histories of Boston at 25 cents or 50 cents. When you think of the famous historians the city has produced over the centuries — diarist Samuel Sewall, writers like Charles Adams and Francis Parkman to Doris Kearns Goodwin — what a treasure trove for a writer! I’ve built up my own library with these histories so that I have information at my fingertips for most subjects. Oh, and I have to mention the very neglected Alice Morse Earle as a social historian. Because she was a woman writing about customs and clothing and social subjects she was relegated — by male historians — to the slag heap of history. However, the more sensitive male historian of today admits that she knows her stuff and that the topics she covers are valid. Alice is much revered by me and her books are always at my fingertips because these are precisely the details I need to know! What did they eat? What did they wear? How did they party? (Funerals were jolly affairs!) She’s another of those author’s I picked up for 25 cents or so. Priceless!
My detective duo began with one, a young minister-cousin of Cotton Mather’s, Increase “Creasy” Cotton. (Creasy was the actual nickname for Increase. New Englanders used nicknames a great deal.) The idea was that Creasy being trained in the ministry, he could ferret out the guilty secrets of the human soul. In the first book, MURDER, MATHER AND MAY HEM, I introduced the character of wealthy widow Hetty Henry. Hetty is such a pushy broad she took over the book and then the series. Hetty and Creasy make a good investigative team. She has connections to high and low society and Creasy has his own kind of charm so that people talk to him. In the new book due out on November 20th, DEATH OF A DANCING MASTER, the two discover many suspects when the dancing master is found with a fencing foil through his guts. The magistrates and ministers had combined to harass him out of town; jealous husbands were angry at his attentions to their wives, and perhaps the women were jealous of their rivals in the dancing master’s affections. All my books are based upon historical incidents. In this case the dancing master was effectively driven out of town, but I thought to myself what if he were found murdered? And so the story begins…. The more you know your period, the more stories you find!
Bio: M. E. KEMP lives in Saratoga Springs, NY but grew up in Oxford, MA where her family still resides. She writes short stories and the two nosy Puritan series of historical mysteries. She regularly appears on panels at Malice Domestic, Deadly Ink, The Chronicle Book Fair and gives talks all over New England and New York State. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and the Hudson Valley Writers Guild. For fun she dances and has run a dance program for ages 50 plus at the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, NY. She is married to Jack Rothstein and lives with two kitties named Boris and Natasha. http://mekempmysteries.com DEATH OF A DANCING MASTER, print ISBN: 978-1-60318-240-9; ebook ISBN: 978-1-60318-241-6