Eleanor, what was the inspiration for your latest work of fiction?
I grew up hearing stories about my distant grandfather who led a beleaguered band of religious dissenters safely out of Germany to establish a village in the Ohio wilderness in 1817. Why not set a series in the quaint village, I thought. It remains a historic town, complete with museums and reenacters who demonstrate the work and lives of the settlers.
Uncovering the beliefs and practices of this unusual group of believers surprised me. They called themselves the Society of Separatists and named their village Zoar for the place where Lot had found sanctuary much as these settlers had in America. But all was not perfect in this Garden of Eden, I discovered! Perfect, however, for murder!
I love history and how wonderful to have such an interesting family history. Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
One real person is my fourth great grandfather. He was the village leader, thus, must be included when there’s a murder in town. According to historical documents, he dominated everything in town from secular decisions to preaching on Sunday. Still, capturing his interactions in the story proved to be more difficult than I expected. I kept thinking he was somewhere listening to how I depicted him! Ghost hunting, anyone?
Seriously, though, all other characters are my own creation, providing me with an opportunity to populate the village with all sorts of troublesome characters, including, of course, at least one murderer!
What was the most interesting research you had to do for any of your books?
Absolutely the most fun was traveling to Zoar, As I walk the streets of the town and hike down to the river that runs through it, I envisioned Adelaide going about her work and her life along the way. Knowing that my distant grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins all walked these byways, I know that on some level I’m connecting with their lives as well.
But even better is a trip this fall to the village in Germany where my ancestors originated! A group of descendants of the early Ohio settlers are traveling to the towns where our ancestors were born, lived, worked, and were imprisoned for their beliefs. I anticipate it being a rewarding, and yet somewhat emotional, trip for me.
When my ancestors left Germany, they knew they would never return, never see their homeland. My distant grandfather even left a 14-year-old daughter there. I’m trying to trace her to see if she might have descendants in Germany. Of course, if they hadn’t come to America, there wouldn’t be any Singular Village Mysteries. And I’d be speaking German today!
Must have been a very enjoyable trip. What other sources do you utilize for further research?
I also use primary and secondary sources online and in libraries to research how people lived and worked in that area in the 19th century. I’ve loved learning about blacksmithing, carpentry without power tools, and tin making as well as herbal medicine and childbirth practices. My blog reveals this history behind my fiction.
In addition, Zoar’s official historian serves as a resource and a fact checker for my stories. She’s the reason I can say my books, though fictional accounts of solving a murder, are historically accurate.
How do you go from an idea for a book to the birth of the story? Is the process the same for every book you write? How long does it take you to write a book?
Some incident in history or an obscure mention today triggers my thinking. For example, I read about itinerant artists, called limners, in the 19th century who traveled from town to town painting children’s faces atop bodies on pre-painted boards. One such limner invades Zoar in the second book in the series titled, Graven Images, due out next year.
Recently I discovered that the census records from 1820 have my ancestor incorrectly listed as the owner of ten female slaves when slavery was illegal in Ohio! That mix-up will become the germ for book number three.
Then I start with the murder: who’s murdered, by whom and why. Then I fit in my protagonists (the midwife and her cabinet maker husband), using their backstory and building on their flaws, fears, and hopes. I add a supporting cast (some new, others from previous stories) and create a mind map, linking names to reflect their connections. I give each a role in the story and then figure out each character’s name to convey just the right message about the person. At the same time, I work on his strengths and weaknesses as well as his appearance that could reflect his personality or counter it.
All books seem to work the same, but it’s never fast. I’m also under contract to Prentice Hall for books for nurses so all my time isn’t spent on the mystery. In all, it’s several years in the making. I keep hoping I’ll become faster in the future!
Do you have any advice for beginning writers on how to write a book? Do you have any advice for them regarding promoting that book once published?
An early editor told me that the difference between a published and unpublished author was persistence. Persistence in learning your craft, persistence in accepting criticism, and persistence in putting your work out there. It seems to me that those who don’t get published refuse to do one or more of those.
Also, I continue to study my craft, attend workshops, and, most of all, use the services of an excellent editor.
The world of promotion has changed considerably since I was first published. At that time, authors asked (sometimes begged) bookstores to order books and hold signings. Even the biggest names in fiction have had the experience of sitting at a table with a stack of books and few buyers.
Today, fortunately, technology keeps authors just as busy but from the comfort of their own office. Social media participation is a must, as it an up-to-date website. Two requirements for success in this world are: provide readers with useful, interesting content and help other authors but touting their books and writing online reviews.
Thank you for the sage advice. I wholeheartedly agree. In the last 8 years since my first novel was published, promoting has drastically changed. What’s the most challenging aspect of writing for you? ~ POV issues; using too much passive voice and not enough active voice; trouble creating active and engaging dialogue; using too many similar words in starting sentences; or something else?
I have two challenges in writing. As a former scientist, I love doing research. Then, of course, one interesting fact leads to another and soon I’m buried in information. So my challenge is integrating description, slipping in details without slowing the story.
Another challenge is revealing characters’ emotions by showing, rather than telling, them. Visceral reactions are best. I’ve studied acting books for ways to put myself into the character’s emotion. What would I feel if I were in her situation, I ask myself. Would my stomach clench? My throat tighten? Tears threaten? Once I’ve felt, really felt, the emotion, I have to figure out how to write these emotions in fresh ways.
Writing is a continual learning process, one that energizes and inspires me. I hope to do it forever!
In a strict, religious society in 1830s rural Ohio, a 16-year-old girl is murdered because she’s pregnant, but the only person who suspects it wasn’t an accident is Adelaide, a young midwife. Her husband, Benjamin, fearful that they’ll be banned from the prosperous community, forbids her from questioning the girl’s death. But a mistake she made years ago cost the life of a mother and her unborn babe, and Adelaide vowed to never let another mother die. Pressure mounts when Adelaide is accused of harming the girl, but the allegation only fuels her determination to find the killer, disregarding danger to her own life.
Where can readers find your book online?
You can find Cover Her Body on Amazon
You can connect with Eleanor online here:
Find Eleanor on Facebook
Eleanor, thank you so much for guesting today. I had a fun time chatting with you and learning more about you and your books.
Hope you all can stay for a while to chat with Eleanor.