Edith here, north of Boston but delighted to be heading out of town soon for some down time
My good friend KB Inglee had a 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.
Something 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.
Emily 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 I 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.