Drinking a virtual cup of hot chocolate with us today is M. E. KEMP, author of DEATH OF A BAWDY BELLE.
Q. Marilyn, tell us why you used the famous Salem Witch Hunt time and place as the setting for your novel.
A. Actually, I didn’t choose Salem 1692 as my time; it came chronologically in my historical mystery series featuring two nosy Puritans. How could I not work Salem in there, though? It was a defining moment in American history. We made a mistake there, admitted it and didn’t do it again, even though Europe kept on executing witches into the 18th century.
Q. Mmm, I must have Salem on my mind a lot, probably because it's such an important piece of our history and culture. Now, in your book, the amateur detective is a female. How did that go down with the public in the 1600s?
A. Strong women always have had power, even in the 17th c. Don’t forget Queen Elizabeth, who reigned earlier. She wasn’t exactly a sob sister. Widows especially had rights and could run their late husband’s business on their own. I made Hetty twice widowed – she has wealth and connections to high and low society. Even in the Victorian era, on the island of Nantucket women ran the business at home while their husbands spent years at sea hunting whales.
Q. As a female, Hetty draws clues from items such as the victim’s clothes, clues that have already been overlooked by (male) professionals. Can you give us such an example from “Death of a Bawdy Belle?”
A. One thing that hasn’t changed over the centuries; most men are clueless when it comes to women’s clothing. That’s part of my young minister Creasy’s charm; he’s clueless when it comes to women. In “Death of a Bawdy Belle” Hetty just looks at the clothing worn by the unknown murder victim and can tell what she was like. For instance, Arabella wears plain clothing over a lacy shift – either she’s hiding a secret life or she’s one of those loose Church of England people.... Her dress size is small, but her bust line shows she’s no child, as the Salem sheriff assumed.
Q. Your book must have called for extensive research. What’s your favorite medium: the Internet, the library, movies?
A. For research I rarely use the internet, and I never trust the movies for authentic detail. I have my own collection of Colonial history books; I prefer them for research. We picked them up wandering the streets of Boston, my husband and I, on vacation. My secret weapon is a marvelous lady named Alice Morse Earle, who wrote social histories at the turn of the last century. Because she was a women, writing about women’s daily lives, Mrs. Earle was neglected by male historians, who often copied her word-for-word without giving her credit. She is finally getting some recognition.
Q. How did you come up with the title for your book?
A. I wanted the series to follow the prior book, “Death of a Dutch Uncle,” in the same vein, so it’ll be “Death of...” for the rest of the series. Bawdy Belle describes my victim, Arabella, to a tee. She’s a very naughty lady.
Q. Ooo, naughty how? No, don't tell us, we'll read the book. :-) Where can we buy it?
A. You can buy DEATH OF A BAWDY BELLE at your local bookstore or at Amazon.com - it's scheduled for release at the end of the month (March 2008).
Q. Excellent! Before I read a book, I like to think about the author and the way in which the book was created, so could you describe your typical writing day for us?
A. I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of writer. I don’t have a schedule.. I usually check my emails in the morning, though. I believe a writer should go out and experience life, not live in an ivory tower. Call me up for lunch and I’m outta here! Thank goodness the mystery has a certain structure of its own – plot, red herrings, detectives, etc. or I’d be the new James Joyce, forever meandering on about chicken livers. No, I don’t do structure very well.
Q. LOL, I hear you about James Joyce. Can you give us a teaser for your next book?
A. DEATH OF A DANCING MASTER, the next book in the series, is in the works. Like most of my plots, it comes out of a history book. Boston didn’t take kindly to dancing masters – the ministers and magistrates drove ‘em out of town. I took it to the next level. What if the Dancing Master was murdered and a young minister, who’d argued with him earlier, was found standing over the body? What if that dancing master turned out to be overly fond of the ladies he taught? No lack of suspects here.
That sounds awesome, Marilyn. Thank you for this interview, and we look forward to chatting with you again about your publicity plan and marketing tips.