by Barb, in Maine, wishing it would warm up just a tick.
Say Happy Book Birthday to Anna Loan-Wilsey. A Sense of Entitlement, her third book featuring traveling secretary and dilettante detective Hattie Davish, releases today.
I first met Anna when we stood next to each other signing books at the Kensington table at Bouchercon in Albany. We discovered in addition to sharing a publisher, we also shared an agent (John Talbot).
Anna’s historical mysteries are set in the 1890s. A Sense of Entitlement brings Hattie to Newport, Rhode Island–i.e. right into Wicked Cozy territory. So we thought release day was a good time to chat.
Hi Anna. Welcome to Wicked Cozys. Your protagonist Hattie Davish is a traveling secretary. Why did you decide that was the occupation for your amateur sleuth, and what attracted you to Hattie?
I originally thought my amateur sleuth would be a librarian since I was a librarian and was told to “write what you know.” But when I decided I wanted to set each book in a different setting (hoping to satisfy both a need to keep the series fresh and satisfy my love of travel), I needed a viable profession for a woman from the 1890’s that could also move about. When I was researching the era, I discovered that lady “typewriters” in typing or steno pools were becoming common, working mostly for big industry. Making the leap from “typewriter” to private secretary allowed Hattie to travel to or with her wealthy employers and enabled me to throw her into a variety situations that would require more of her than her secretarial skills.
Hattie attracted me because she would have to be exceptional at her job to succeed in an occupation typically performed by men while at the same time having to live within the constraints put on women during the late nineteenth century.
Your latest novel, A Sense of Entitlement, brings Hattie to Newport, Rhode Island. Were you able to visit Newport for your research? What did you discover there that you might not have found if you hadn’t gone?
I definitely visited Newport, RI to research my book. I make sure to visit every location where my novels are set as I never know what part of the local history will find its way into my book. And this was no more true than for Newport! Besides discovering the obvious things like the scent of the air, the practical distances between key locations in town and what walking the Cliff Walk would truly be like, I discovered while reading the archived newspapers at the Newport public library, that a telegraph operator’s strike occurred the very week Hattie would be arriving in the summer of 1893. This little tidbit, which took up less than an inch on the page, ended up inspiring the main plot idea of book– pitting Newport’s elite summer residents against the labor movement that was starting to gain momentum throughout the country.
This month on Wicked Cozy Authors we’re focused on research. I’m fascinated by the research historical mystery writers do. How and when do you do your research? How does it weave into the process of writing the novel?
As I mentioned, a major component of my research is my visit to the book’s location. I usually spend 3-4 days there walking the streets, photographing the architecture, and combing the library’s archives, local book collection, period newspapers and appropriate yearly city directories. I literately spend every waking moment trying to soak up the atmosphere, the attitude and the history of a location for as long as I can. (And for Newport, this was a joy to do. It felt more like vacation than work!) One way I’m able to do as much as I do in a short time is by using my digital camera to capture everything from newspapers on microfilm from the exact dates Hattie will be in Newport, pictures of “cottage” gardens in a turn of the century book available only at Salve Regina University library to all the names of the real millenary shops listed in the 1893 city directory or the exact 1893 city atlas. Not only does it save me time but I also capture historic details that I can use later.
After I return home and start writing is when I discover what actual historic details I need. For my first draft, when I want to include a particular detail, I leave a blank space or a note and return later, as finding or verifying a detail can take anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours. To find those details, I’ll consult what I learned on my site visit or if I find I didn’t gather the necessary data, I use books I ordered through Interlibrary Loan from my public library, the internet or my own library of reference books, which includes a encyclopedia of carriages, a history of dining and food in Victorian America, a dictionary of American furniture, a half-dozen “the meanings of flowers” dictionaries and several Sears & Roebuck mail-order catalogs from the 1890’s.
One excellent internet resource is the NY Times Archives Online. Besides my 1900 dictionary, I use the newspaper archive extensively to verify whether certain words and phrases are historically appropriate. I was lucky in that Newport has a long, well-recorded history. I found lots of wonderful books that I consulted that were very specific about the town and the wealthy that summered there, including a book written around 1915 called, Confessions of a Social Secretary, by a woman who worked for a well-known Newport Socialite. The details that provided were invaluable.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on Hattie’s next adventure, A DECEPTIVE HOMECOMING. Unlike the previous books in the series, Hattie is not preoccupied with work but returns to her hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri, home of the Pony Express, and site of Jesse James’ demise, for a funeral. Unfortunately for Hattie, the body in the casket is not the person she expected to see.
Thanks for coming by and telling us about your fascinating books, Anna. Readers, do you have questions or comments for Anna?
About Anna Loan-Wilsey
Anna lives in a Victorian farmhouse in the Iowa countryside with her patient husband, inquisitive four-year-old daughter and her old yellow dog. She was born and raised in Syracuse, NY but has lived in Finland, Canada and Texas. She has a BA in Biology from Wells College in Aurora, NY and a MLIS from McGill University in Montreal. She’s a biologist, librarian, information specialist and now with the Hattie Davish Mysteries Series, a novelist.
Welcome, Anna! I read Anything But Civil, after also having met you at Bouchercon at the same event, and loved the story and Hattie’s gumption. Now I have to catch up on the next two. I’m writing an historical mystery myself (see my post here in a couple of days) and find many parallels with your research methods, although I wish I also owned a couple of those research books. And thanks for the tip about the NYT archives online.
Hi Edith, I’m glad you enjoyed Anything But Civil and I’m excited to hear you’re writing an historical mystery too! (I’ll make sure to check out your upcoming post.) Glad I could give you some tips. If you need me to check something in one of my reference books that you don’t have, just me know!
Will do. ;^)
I am looking forward to reading your series this summer!
Thank you for stopping by today! I hope you enjoy the books. Have a great summer!
Anna, I really enjoyed Hattie in Anything But Civil . We share a love of hats! I am really looking forward to visiting Newport with her in a Sense of Entitlement.
Thank you for the kind word about Anything But Civil and for stopping by today. It’s so nice to connect with someone with Hattie’s penchant for hats! It’s always fun to figure out what Hattie and the other ladies will be wearing next- especially the rich Newport crowd!
Anna, it was so nice meeting you at Malice! I’m looking forward to reading your series and love all the details about your research.
It was great meeting you at Malice too, Sherry! I look forward to reading your series. I used to be a big “garage” sale shopper when I was younger. Now I’m the one that needs to have a sale!
Thank you for having me, Barb!
Hattie’s trip to Newport was my introduction to Hattie, but she was a great tour guide to the location and the past. All the research certainly paid off.
Thank you so much for your kind words, Mark. I’m really glad you enjoyed the book!
I just want to wish a happy book birthday to Anna, and thank you for the great blog today.
I’m researching early Québec by reading local family histories of the 16th and 17th centuries and The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610—1791. A Jesuit priest friend of mine made it available on the internet, so that makes it very easy to read. If you have any ideas for other ways to research this, I’d love to hear them.
Reine- your research sounds fascinating! If you haven’t already, I would definitely recommend visiting the parts of Quebec your researching, contacting the local librarians or the universities in those areas. I lived in Montreal and know that Quebec has rich history that has been well preserved! Good Luck!
Thanks, Anna. I definitely have to go back for a visit/research trip. I have been in touch with Bertrand Desjardins at the PRDH at the Université de Montréal. He has been more helpful than I’d imagined anyone could be. He corrected a huge historic misunderstanding regarding a particular family misidentified as French that was actually English—a very important piece to my story—and untangled the two Zacharie Cloutiers and thus First Nations/French family histories from Oka.
Sorry to be a day late here (internet was on the fritz) but I definitely wanted to wish you a Happy Release Day and tell you how excited I am to read A Sense of Entitlement! I haven’t met Hattie before, but something tells me I’m going to love her.
Thank you, Alyssa! I do so hope you like Hattie! I can’t wait to read your book too!
Comments are closed.