Amid the fog on the Maine coast:
Thank you all for welcoming me to Wicked Cozy Authors. I come by my credentials honestly, with thirteen generations of New England ancestors on my mother’s side, who started arriving in 1620. Most of them never got out of Massachusetts, and I visit them regularly in cemeteries across the state (even met some new old ones recently—the hunt never ends).
But I grew up in Delaware and New Jersey and Pennsylvania, not New England. My grandmother was raised in Rhode Island, but in all the years I knew her she never mentioned the state (she had a less than happy childhood). I had no exposure at all to New England until the summer I was eleven, when a school friend invited me to spend a week with her and her family on Squam Lake in New Hampshire.
Actually, I had already fallen in love with the place, based on a tiny photo in a copy of Readers’ Digest. It showed, predictably, a small town with a white church spire and trees in glorious autumn colors, and I was hooked. When it came time to go to college, I chose one in Massachusetts (as it turned out, a number of my ancestors had lived in that town, although I didn’t know it for many years after I graduated).
And then life went on, and I met my husband (in Massachusetts, although he’s from Indiana), and we got married and lived in North Carolina and California and Pennsylvania. It took us thirty years to get back to Massachusetts, which I’ve always thought of as “home.”
When I first started writing, more than a decade ago, the first series I sold under my own name was the Orchard Mysteries, set in one of those typical small towns in western Massachusetts. I stumbled on the real place by accident, when my daughter was looking at colleges and I found a bed and breakfast in Granby—and realized the house had been built by one of my ancestors. And that’s where the heart of the series came from: an old Colonial house in a small town that looks much the way it did two hundred plus years ago. I can tell you who built half the houses in the town, because I’m related to them. (By the way, it turns out that yet more ancestors lived in the Massachusetts town where my daughter went to college—down the street from her dormitory. Do you think they’re all haunting us?)
The more I’ve talked about the fictional town of Granford to readers or at conferences, the more I realize that it is everybody’s idealized image of America, no matter where they actually live. And then I added an apple orchard, which really sealed the deal. We all know about Johnny Appleseed, right (yes, another relative, several times removed). I think my subconscious was working overtime when I pitched the story idea—or maybe all those ancestors were cheering me on. I think they like having visitors.
The other half of my family tree is Irish, but that’s a story for another day.
Sheila Connolly is the Agatha and Anthony Award–nominated and New York Times bestselling author of the Museum Mystery series, the Orchard Mystery series, and the County Cork Mystery series. She has taught art history, structured and marketed municipal bonds for major cities, worked as a staff member on two statewide political campaigns, and served as a fund-raiser for several nonprofit organizations. She also managed her own consulting company, providing genealogical research services. In addition to genealogy, Sheila loves restoring old houses, visiting cemeteries, and traveling. Now a full-time author, she thinks writing mysteries is a lot more fun than any of her previous occupations.