Who is Emily?

Edith here, north of Boston but delighted to be heading out of town soon for some down time

My good friend KB Inglee had casebookemilylawrencekbing__00633.1460751519.190.250a book published last spring, The Casebook of Emily Lawrence (Wildside Press). It is an intriguing, compelling collection of stories that reads like a novel. I wanted her to join us and talk about how this happened. She has impeccable history credentials, by the way, working as a living history interpreter in Delaware. She also graciously reads each of my Quaker Midwife Mysteries before I send them in to catch anachronisms and other errors.

KB is going to give away a copy of The Casebook to one lucky commenter here today. Take it away, KB!

Before I started writing Emily short stories I had read every Linda Barnes/Carlotta Carlisle mystery I could find. Carlotta is six feet tall with red hair. While I loved the detective dearly, I knew that if I were to write a mystery story my detective would be a small plain woman with dark blond hair. She would have two abilities: she could vanish into the woodwork, and people would find her easy to talk to.

smythsonianSomething else intrigued me about the Barnes stories: the sense of place. I could follow Carlotta on a map of Cambridge and Boston. I knew I would have that in my work, too. My mother worked at MIT Press and she gave me a series of their books with details of architecture in Cambridge. I spent hours looking for the perfect house for Emily and her friends. Like Carlotta, Emily had to live in Cambridge, though I had long ago moved away.

I thought the hard part of writing would be making up the characters. Actually that turned out to be the easy part. On one eight hour train trip from Boston to Wilmington, Delaware, I came up with a whole household of characters. Emily lived in a boarding house that I moved from Fayette Street to Dana Street, because Dana Street was where the trolley fair changed from five cents to seven cents. I filled the house with the appropriate things for the era, especially a square piano that belonged to…well, never mind.

I had no plot, no idea where I was going, only a house full of people that Emily met at the beginning of the book. I thought if I put the characters together they would write the story for me. They didn’t. I actually had to work hard at the plot. A member of my critique group constantly cries, “You need to put some story into this story.”

It was a long time before I realized that you can’t start a novel by introducing someone to a house full of strangers. Another critique partner pointed out that I had way too much “furniture” and that I should get on with the story. To this day I am far more intrigued by the furniture than the story. Three cheers for critique groups.

washingtonEmily became the hero of short stories when I reread the first novel and realized it was a series of stories rather than a single linear narrative. When I started writing about Emily she was 40 and had retired from the detective agency that she and her husband Charles ran. I thought the short stories I wrote were merely to fill in her history. I discovered that we were both better suited to short stories than novels. I now have maybe 100 short stories in various degrees of doneness.

I am not sure where any of my characters come from. I don’t know how much Emily is like me, but I know she is a lot like the person I wish I were. I discovered by accident that one of her jobs is to solve problems for me so I toss her into a situation to see what she does. Only after KB yes1I have finished the story do I realize that Emily was working through something that had been bothering not her, but me. I am more likely to model my behavior after hers than the other way around.

If I had her courage I would have been published much earlier.

Edith: Remember, one commenter today will receive a signed copy of the Casebook of Emily Lawrence!

Readers: Have you read other episodic novels? What’s your favorite historical fiction era? Stop by and ask KB a question!

KB Inglee’s short stories and episodic novel, The Case Book of Emily Lawrence, are set in America from the early colonial period to the end of the 19th century. She works as an interpreter at a water powered gristmill in Delaware and has cared for a flock of heritage sheep.

50 Thoughts

  1. Interesting post, KB, about how you created Emily Lawrence and her world. The journey from writing 100+ Emily short stories to your publishing Emily’s casebook is fascinating. Congratulations! BTW, I also absolutely devoured the Carlotta Carlyle books when they were published. Carlotta stood out amongst the other female PIs being published at the time as a red-headed, 6 ft 1″ ex-cop, former cab driver, and I loved the Boston setting.

    My favourite historical fiction era is England in the 1920-1930s, and I like reading about female protagonists in unique professions. I enjoy reading books by mystery authors such as Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs), and Rhys Bowen (Royal Spyness series).

  2. I wish there were more stories by Barns. I once thrilled my mother by taking her to a restaurant mentioned in one of her books.

    1. Yes, me too! I see that Linda Barnes’ web site has a section called Carlotta’s Boston where she provides links to the various restaurants, walks, views and sites Carlotta visited in her books.

  3. I seem to have talked a lot about Emily in Cambridge but put in pictures of Washington. Emily and Charles ran an agency in Washington and most of the stories take place there..

  4. LOL! I started a mystery with a big party that introduced all the possible suspects and the victim. Critique partners gave it two thumbs down and said, “Somethings got to happen!!” Could not do it without them!

  5. Welcome to the Wickeds, KB! I love to hear about the process other writers employ to create their stories. Thanks for sharing some of yours here today!

    1. Most of my recent works have been set in the Colonial and New Republic period because those are the periods I work in, but Emily is still my favorite.

  6. this looks good, I have been looking for historical mysteries to read.

  7. I love historical mysteries, especially when I am familiar with the topography. Entertainment and education in one sitting! I look forward to a further meeting of Mrs. Lawrence!

    1. I try really hard to get the history right because I am a teacher at heart. That’s why I dress in period clothing and show kids how to spin and take care of sheep at Newlin Grist Mill and Greenbank.Mills.

  8. Welcome to the blog KB, and huge congratulations on your book! I am downloading it now. I love that you wove stories. Of course, your setting. I am here.

    I share your love of Linda Barnes as well. Such a great writer!

    Congratulations again!!

  9. Hi KB! Thanks for stopping by. Great post, and I love how you’re more interested in the furniture than the story…Also love Linda Barnes. Congrats!

  10. I haven’t read episodic novels before. The Casebook sounds intriguing. I’ve enjoyed a few Victorian-era mysteries. Good luck with your book!

    1. I think I had read a couple, but I was surprised when everyone started calling my short story collection an episodic novel. I guess you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.

  11. What an interesting discussion of your creative process. I have never enjoyed short stories as much as novels but I think I would like to read yours.

  12. Sounds interesting. As I’ve stated before, should I win I will promptly read and review. Always happy to add another author to my list.

  13. I love short stories (I can finish one and still get a good night’s sleep).

  14. My favorite mysteries to read are period pieces. I find those set during the Civil War and also The Depression periods draw me to them. Thanks for the info on KB Inglee’s book. I will definitely put this on my list of books to check out. robeader53@yahoo.com

  15. I am a New Englander, born and bred even if I live in Syracuse NY now. This is a definate TBR….

    1. Yes, New England will always be home. I haven’t lived there since my daughter was in preschool. She is now in her mid forties and a novelist herself.

  16. I have not yet read any episodic novels, but the idea does intrigue. And it’s not like we don’t see that all the time these days with TV shows.

  17. This book looks very interesting. I enjoy all historical mysteries! I can get bits of history from each novel I read. Congrats on your new book!

    1. Thanks. That is what I hope happens. It, ‘s way more fun to learn history from fiction or from a daily life interpreter (like me) than from text books.

  18. Welcome to the Wicked Cozy Authors, KB!

    I LOVE connected stories. Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, Art Taylor’s On the Road with Del & Louise. The Casebook of Emily Lawrence sounds like something I would really enjoy.

  19. I enjoyed your telling, KB, of the process of going from a room full of characters to actual stories. Thanks!

  20. This sounds good! I love mysteries of course but rarely read short stories. I’m looking forward to starting.

  21. I have read other episodic novels, but I can’t recall the titles. I love reading historical novels and stories. My favorite era to read about is the antebellum era in the South and the Civil War era. I also like reading about Victorian times and around the turn of the century. Would enjoy reading your collection of stories.

  22. Hi KB! Thanks for sharing your book and process with us today. I’m posting late so I may not get a response but I’m curious to know what your future plans are? Will Emily continue “sharing” stories? Will you create a different character and share their stories?Thanks for the opportunity to receive a copy of your book!

      1. I am working on a novel set in a fictional town in Delaware in September 1752. I started a humorous short story today in response to a call from a publisher who has taken my works before.

  23. Very intriguing. I’m always interested in architecture. I don’t know Cambridge but look forward to traveling there with Emily! I wonder if episodic books were more common in previous times. I loved Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. I think it’s an interesting book form.

  24. This sounds wonderful! I love how she can disappear into the woodwork and is so easy to talk to. Excellent qualities for your protagonist! All best!

  25. I loved the Casebook, KB, and I hope you’ll consider publishing some of Emily’s other cases. She’s an intriguing character who lives on in one’s mind long after the stories have been read.

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