A Change of Scene

cover - birds fixed - Murder at the Mansion 12-11-17Liz Mugavero kindly offered to let me take over her slot today, because my new book in a new series is coming out today: Murder at the Mansion, the first of the Victorian Village Mysteries from Minotaur Books.

Those of you who have read any of my earlier books will know that I write mainly about New England (particularly Massachusetts) and Ireland. These are the places I know best, and in addition, I hear my relatives calling me in those particular places. (Am I kidding? I’m not quite sure.)

Why did I shift the new series to Maryland? A couple of reasons. I confess I’ve never lived there, although my parents did for a while and we did a few touristy things together in the area. In addition, the City of Baltimore was once a client of a Philadelphia firm I worked for, plus my sister-in-law lived in the city for a few years (near where they filmed Homicide: Life on the Street, if you remember that).

Silas Abbott Barton ca 1890But one driving force was my great-great-grandfather Silas Barton. No, he didn’t live in Maryland (he was born and died in Massachusetts), but he fought in the Civil War, and somehow that era and the years after the war became the focus of the new series—hence the “Victorian Village” name. I kind of borrowed my great-great-grandfather’s Barton family, and bits and pieces of his history, and even his house, and then transplanted them across several state lines. One reason I thought it was time I learned a bit more about the Civil War was because the war played such a significant role in his life (he signed up when he was sixteen, with his father’s approval). He even included his military rank in large letters on his tombstone, although he never rose past the rank of corporal.


SAB House 1

The more I dug into the history of that time, the more intrigued I became. Some things about that part of our history many of us share as common knowledge, but others we might never have heard of or thought about. Oddly enough, one thing that came home to me was how chaotic the war was. What was most horrifying was how badly planned so many battles were—and how arrogant the North was.

The assumption was that the Northern troops would march in and win easily over the South. As a result, nobody in government had planned adequately for a non-victory. Where was the food, the medical care, even such simple things as bandages? Where were the vehicles to get weapons and ammunition to the front, and then get the wounded and the cannons out again? Who was going to bury all the horses that died? So much of this was never considered by the planners sitting in Washington.

But Clara Barton made a real difference, and I’m happy to claim her as a distant relative 3rd cousin 6 times renewed–she never had children, so there are no direct descendants). She saw the problems, and she set Signabout doing something—contacting friends for contributions, recruiting nurses, and simply organizing things. It must have been a challenge: picture this upstart single woman telling military leaders what they had to do—and surprisingly often they did it. Even after the war she kept working: she wheedled money from President Abraham Lincoln to set up a department to help to find the thousands of soldiers who had gone missing during the war. Her Washington office is now a small museum, which opened in 2015, and which I visited a year ago. (For the full story, see http://www.clarabartonmuseum.org/)

It was such a compelling story that I had to include what she did after the war as a key element in Murder at the Mansion.

Writing about a place I didn’t know well was both liberating and challenging. I had to do a lot more research, especially because I like to get the details right. But without that research I would never have known Clara Barton’s story.

Of course there’s a murder and some romance and old friends and a quest to save a small rural town that’s rapidly going broke.

Reviewers have been more than kind:

“Fascinating read…The prolific Connolly kicks off a new series that skillfully combines history, romance, and mystery.”―Kirkus

“Amiable…cozy fans will enjoy Connolly’s characteristically warm treatment of small-town life.”―Publishers Weekly

“Connolly’s accomplished series launch avoids the tired tropes found in many cozy debuts, incorporating humor, a realistic setting, and well-developed, appealing characters. Fans of the author’s “Museum Mysteries” will welcome the guest appearance of series protagonist Nell Pratt.”―Library Journal

“Exceeded my expectations. It blew me away. I will definitely be picking up the next one.”―Night Owl Reviews

So I must have gotten the details right!

Writers, do you have a favorite ancestor, relative or friend (or even someone you hate!) who begs to be included in a book? Or a place that demands to be used as a setting? What about a single historical event that captures the spirit of an era? Readers, can you tell when some of a book’s details come from real life rather than book (or Internet) research?

For more details about Murder at the Mansion, see http://www.sheilaconnolly.com

19 Thoughts

  1. Congrats on the new release! It’s always interesting to hear how a new series comes together.

    1. I can point to the moment when this series was born. I was in Boonsboro, in western Maryland, for a signing at Nora Roberts’ bookstore, and I was wandering around the town before. The town still looks much as it did over a century ago, but the thing that struck me, looking at the wall of a small building, was that the original building was still there, under the later siding (which hadn’t lasted nearly as well!). I could easily see stripping off the newer stuff to reveal what the building looked like when it was built. It felt like the whole town was still under there, just waiting.

  2. A brand new locale, Sheila – what fun! I thought I had more than enough to keep busy with my settings in Boston and, of course, Ireland. But the next book – while Boston is the anchor setting – is largely set in Pittsburgh, which has such a rich history and ethnic mix. My sister lives there and we have spent many happy hours poking around old neighborhoods (and cemeteries, naturally!) for research. There are also a couple of scenes slipped into Presque Isle, Maine. I can’t even tell you where that came from. The mind works in mysterious ways.

  3. Awesome, Sheila. I can’t wait to read it. And a truly positive Kirkus review – that’s impressive.

    My Maxwell grandmother drove an automobile from Indiana to Oregon and down to Berkeley in 1916 when she was seventeen. I have her trip journal complete with drawings, newspaper clippings, and tickets pasted in. She is (politely, of course) tapping on my shoulder asking when she’ll be part of one of my stories!

    1. That journal is such a treasure! The only personal communication I have from Silas is a letter he wrote to his mother while he was in the army, in which he promises to become a better person. I’ve always thought I would like to have met him.

  4. As I commented on Lesa’s Book Critiques this morning…/this book has been on my hold list at the library since they put it on their lists..can’t, but must wait.

  5. I added to my list of must reads this summer! This newsletter has been such fun to learn about new authors and their books.

  6. Congratulations, Sheila! I love the inclusion of the Clara Barton story. It sounds perfect for Hollywood so I hope they come knocking. I used a bit of Hemingway history in my next book The Gun Also Rises. It’s so fascinating to stumble across bits of history.

    1. It is fun to work in “real” people and events (accurately, of course!). I cherish the hope of finding Silas and Thomas Edison in a photo together, because when General Electric was created, they were both very much involved (and did you ever notice that while Edison gets all the publicity, his name was not on the company letterhead? His company was not in the lead.)

  7. Congratulations on the release! Yeah, the Civil War didn’t quite go as planned. They never do, but this one was particularly chaotic.

    I just finished a historical where the protagonist is loosely based on my grandmother. She worked at Bell Airplane as a “Rosie the Riveter” making P39s during WWII. Of course, I made her into an aspiring private investigator, a la Sam Spade. 🙂

  8. I have an ancestor who met George Washington. He was the Rabbi at the Newport Synagogue at the time. Rabbi Seixas.

    I’m looking forward to reading your new series and it looks like I’ll have to hassle my local libraries into ordering copies. As of this morning, neither the Queens or Brooklyn County libraries have it or show it on order. Boo Hoo Hooo!

  9. Sheila, best of luck with the new series. I am looking forward to reading book #1. Loved your post today. Your story about Silas Barton ‘s military service went straight to my heart. Here’s why: my maternal grandfather served in the army in World War I. He didn’t have to. He was actually underage – his father lied about his age when they came to US, so he could go to work instead of school- but he went. According to him, he never did a thing but peel potatoes, and I think the war ended just about the time his ship got to France, but he was intensely proud of that service the rest of his life. A Roosevelt Democrat, he belonged to the intensely conservative American Legion and VFW for his whole life, and he had a military funeral, with taps and a flag, when he died.

    1. Silas had three older brothers, and they all signed up together at Springfield, Mass. After the Civil War, Silas was very involved in the Grand Army of the Republic, serving on its board, organizing public events, etc. The War was a major factor in his life, as another war must have been for your grandfather.

  10. Congrats on your new release! I love that so much of your family history goes into your stories. It must be such fun to research.

  11. Even if I live in the area where a book is set, there is usually FAR more going on than I am aware of

  12. Just getting into the book and loving every page of it. Of course I am already a fan from your other series. Had a grandfather who was a water boy at 13 and 14 from Atlanta at 2 battle sites. Love the history aspect.

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