Jessie: Back in New Hampshire where some leaves are looking just the teensiest bit orange.
I am delighted to welcome Ashley Weaver to the Wickeds blog today. I have had the privilege of getting to know her and her work as a fellow member of the Sleuths in Time Facebook group. Ashley writes charming and engaging historical mysteries as I am sure you will see from her post! Take it away Ashley!
I’ve had a lot of strange research phases over the years, niche interests that I read about until I’ve finally mastered the subject—or my attention gets drawn away by something else. My family, friends, and coworkers have gotten used to my reading (and regaling them with information) about things like the French Revolution, polar exploration disasters, Paris during WWII, and survival cannibalism. But one of my earliest phases, which I developed as a teenager, was a fascination with Prohibition-era organized crime.
It came about, I’m sure, due to my love of old movies. I would often find a star I loved and watch as many of their films as I could get my hands on. I worked at the library, and my staff box would always be full of VHS tapes ordered from other branches. There was an almost unlimited supply! So I’m not sure if it was Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, or Edward G. Robinson who was to blame, but I soon spiraled into the world of smoky speakeasies, blazing tommy guns, and barrels of bootleg hooch.
My interest in the film portrayal of the topic led to my collection of history books, accrued from various bookstores over the years. There weren’t many kids my age reading about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and perusing vintage mugshots, but the era’s combination of glamour and grittiness, decadence and danger, drew me in. I found something so fascinating about the culture of gleeful lawlessness that developed around Prohibition and the cunning and violent men who took advantage of it.
You might think this kind of thing is off-topic for a mild-mannered librarian who writes cozy mysteries about a wealthy British socialite and her charming husband. But it turns out that all my research was not in vain! When I began writing my sixth Amory Ames mystery, which takes place in New York towards the end of Prohibition, I knew that I had the perfect opportunity to sprinkle in some of the details I had gleaned over the years.
And, so, though she hails from England, Amory gets to visit a speakeasy, mingle with the criminal element, and winds up entangled in a murder investigation that may or may not be linked to bootlegging. I even had a chance to include a dashing and dangerous gangster named Leon De Lora. He’s not based on any particular historical figure, but I feel like there’s a little of all my “favorite” mobsters in him!
It’s pretty exciting and satisfying that an unusual fascination I developed over twenty years ago has finally made its way into one of my books. I guess it just goes to show that learning is never a waste of time. And who knows? Maybe one of my other obsessions will find a place in a book one day! Though I find it a bit difficult to believe that survival cannibalism would make a good cozy mystery . . .
Readers, what’s the strangest niche interest you’ve developed? Have you ever been able to make good use of it? Ashley would love to offer a copy of A Dangerous Engagement to one lucky commenter!
Ashley Weaver is the author of the Amory Ames Mysteries and the Technical Services Coordinator for the Allen Parish Libraries in Louisiana. Weaver has worked in libraries since she was fourteen and obtained her MLIS from Louisiana State University. She lives in Oakdale, Louisiana.
Welcome, Ashley! I can’t think of any niche interests of mine at the moment, although at times I do tend to get obsessed with certain topics. Personally, I think Prohibition-era organized crime sounds fascinating, and I love how you included it in your book!
I thought it was a great topic too!
Thanks, Marla! It’s an interesting topic to research because there is always something new to learn!
Welcome to the blog, Ashley. It was a fascinating era, for sure.
Thank you! I’m happy to be here! It’s one of those topics that I always end up coming back around to.
For a while I was really into the mound builders civilization in Ohio and other states. I did a semester project on in for college (as an adult student) and found it all very fascinating. Even took a vacation just to visit some sites.
I love the Prohibition Era as a topic for mysteries. Looking forward to reading your latest.
I had no idea there were mound builders in Ohio! How fascinating!
I agree with Jessie! That IS a fascinating topic. Your project sounds fun and interesting, and it’s awesome you got to take a trip for your research!
Welcome to the Wickeds, Ashley. My novella that came out this week, “Hallowed Out,” in Haunted House Murder has a Prohibition theme, too, though the story takes place in the present. As for niche knowledge, I guess for my series I have learned an alarming amount about the reproductive cycles of various shellfish.
You do the most memorable research, Barb!
Thank you; glad to be here! I love the idea of a Prohibition-themed Haunted House Murder. And the reproductive cycles of shellfish is definitely an interesting niche topic!
Welcome Ashley! When I was in junior high I developed a fascination with the Costa Nostra. My speech teacher said it was an odd topic for a girl — yeesh. All these years later there is a mobster in my Sarah Winston books.
Thank you! Those old fashioned gangsters just led such interesting lives. It’s hard not to be fascinated by them! I love that you got to incorporate a mobster into your books, too!
Welcome, Ashley! I can’t think of anything overly exciting; however, when I was a kid, I was enamored with haunted buildings and the ghost stories that went along with them. I love your topic and am thrilled that you found a way to incorporate it into your newest book.
I agree. I love haunted buildings and ghost stories. I think it’s the aura of past mystery that makes them so intriguing!
For since I was a child, I was fascinated with clowns. Not the scary clowns of these days, but the funny, wholesome clowns of days gone by. When our daughter died in a car accident, I knew I had to find something to occupy my mind. The first thing that came to mind was clowns. It started with me searching antique stores and online to find a clown doll of Emmett Kelly that I had as a child. An art teacher in junior high trade me that doll for an A. Yep, not right but it happened. I found the doll, but that lead me to finding out that his son, Emmett Kelly Jr.had followed his Dad’s line of work and was also clowning as well as touring for his collectibles line.
We not only traveled over to Dallas to see him (and buy some of the collectibles) but over time and many more trips to other places to see him, we became not only fans but friends. It lead to learning more about the craft of clowning and meeting many more clowns. After a few more years, Emmett decided that we needed to get on the other side of the grease paint. Years of research and observing, we were able to apply that information along with a lot of instructions to become Pepp R. Mint Pal and Cook E. Lady performing in places from Frankenmuth, MI to Houston, MO (Emmett’s hometown), to Tombstone, AZ (EKJ’s place of residence), to Atlanta, GA.
It was a wonderful time and so much fun to bring smiles and joy to both the young and old as our clown characters. Enjoyed putting all the research to life and in a way replacing grief with happiness – at least in spurts while behind the grease paint.
Now even more years later, Emmett has passed on the circus in the heavens and our age and health have had up putting the grease paints away, but there are still wonderful photographs and fond memories to look back on.
“Dangerous Engagement” sounds like a wonderful book and one that I would greatly enjoy having the opportunity to read. Love reading stories from that time era. Being before mine, it gives me a glimpse in how it might have been during my parents and grandparents time. Thank you for the chance to win a copy!
2clowns at arkansas dot net
Hi Kay! What a lovely story. I’m so glad researching and participating in something so joyful was able to help you through your grief. It sounds like your interest brought many years of happiness–not just to yourself, but to others. Thank you for sharing with us!
Oh, Kay! What a touching story. Thanks for sharing it with us!
Welcome, Ashley! I love this era, especially how all these dangerous gangsters were such dapper dressers. 🙂 Based on their mug shots, you’d think they’d been arrested for embezzlement, not murder.
Yes! They always looked so dashing. Those were the days when you couldn’t even go to prison without a tie! 😉
My niche interests vary by the week and I dive into them wholeheartedly, to the dismay of my family and employers! But I always come back to books and I am so excited for Amory’s next adventure!!
I feel like it’s almost impossible not to vary subjects because there are so many fascinating things to learn! And, if nothing else, it has the added advantage of making a person an interesting conversationalist! 😉
Welcome, Ashley. What an interesting post. Adding your books to my list right now! My take on gangsters might be a little different though – after writing a Brooklyn book that included some of the history of the very real Murder Inc – those guys were thugs. Answering your question – in 4th grade I tried to write a book about a little girl who lived in New York when it was still Dutch New Amsterdam. Nope, did not live in NY and nope, had no Dutch connections. I was just somehow fascinated by the canals, wooden shoes, windmills. So here I am now, writing not historicals but books with lots of historical background. About New York. And I live there too. Still fascinated. (Ask me about the long lasting Dutch influence in Brooklyn. Ask me about Washington and the Battle of Brooklyn. Ask me about the legendary Brooklyn Navy Yard) I’m pretty sure there is a connection!
Hi Triss! Yes, they may have dressed dapper, but they certainly weren’t gentlemen at heart! I love that an interest you developed in childhood has stayed with you, and that you get to write about it! It’s so interesting how life leads us back around to things we like.
Isn’t it satisfying when you’re able to use some knowledge you picked up along the way especially if others think learning it is a waste of your time? Case in point, I minored in anthropology in college which no one could understand because my plan was to work in corporate libraries. How would anthropology help me, ever? Fast forward to my fourth library job where I became, among other things, the subject librarian for anthropology!
I thoroughly enjoy the Amory Ames series and I’m looking forward to your next book,
Hi Nichole! That’s fabulous that your interest in anthropology ended up working into your career! As a fellow librarian, I really appreciate that you’re putting your specialized knowledge to great use!
I love old movies, too. TCM is a favorite resource for old mysteries. They often run a marathon of a particular star. Then I go down the Google rabbit hole researching the actors and movies. Haha
After a trip to Ireland a few years ago, I became interested in the Easter Uprising and the Troubles. Fascinating history. I can’t wait to read the AA book. Crossing my fingers I might win a signed copy😊
Hi Barbara! I love TCM, too. It’s so nice that they play a lot of the old, “forgotten” movies and introduce us to the stars of yesteryear. I JUST got back from a trip to Ireland, and I also found those subjects to be intriguing! I have a feeling I’ll be delving in further… 🙂
It’s so nice you got to use all that long ago research in a book. Me? I still haven’t found any practice use for my obsessive knowledge of Disney trivia. (And I could certainly research more on the topic.)
Disney trivia is an awesome niche interest! So much to learn and so much fun to learn it! 🙂
I always loved historical fiction and Prohibition is fascinating. I once read all the Jean Plaidy books about English rulers .I am enjoying L A Chandlers series on NYC with Mayor LaGuardia and will looks your books up.
Hi Candy! It was definitely an interesting time, and there are so many interesting aspects to read about!
Welcome amongst the Wickeds!
Hmm. The Donner Party Murder Mystery: Who Ate the Evidence? No, I don’t think that one will fly as a cozy.
To me, one of the great joys of reading the wide variety of authors I follow is that every one of them has a niche in terms of setting or a profession or a hobby or even a historical period.
For example, I just finished one of Annette Dashofy’s excellent Zoe Chambers mysteries. As a life-long California boy, other than some skiing excursions up to the Sierras, I’ve never had to deal with the realities of living in a cold winter environment. And I’m pretty sure I’m finding it much more pleasant to read about having to shovel one’s driveway just to go to the store than actually doing it. And it the same novel, I learned things about the life of an EMT, details of autopsies, the realities of boarding and caring for horses, and assisted care facilities for those with dementia (alas, a subject I DO no something about),
All of these fascinating “niches” in a single novel. I just sat down and counted up the different “niche” areas in the novel I’ve been working on for the past 247 years. It’s not a historical, but even so, I was able to count up seven different specialized areas that are touched on in my book. Most of them aren’t so unusual that they’d be unfamiliar to most readers, but I think there might be something related to each one of them that would be new (and I hope interesting) to each reader.
If you think about it. Every good book is a collection of niches. Even some things we might not initially think of that way. For example, a novel might include adultery as a theme. It’s not a subject with which I have any personal experience (nor do I believe that there’s any chance I ever would have … if I’ve made it to 70 without dabbling in infidelity, I think the marriages in my circle of friends are probably pretty safe), but I still find it interesting to read about in a well-written book.
In the same way, while I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed actually knowing and living among the bootleggers and mobsters of the prohibition era, I can read about them with delight, so I look forward to devouring A Dangerous Engagement at an early opportunity!
Hi Lee! Very true. I think ,as writers, we can’t help but be specialists in certain niche topics. I always find it fascinating that sometimes writing leads us to the topic and sometimes the topic is what leads to writing! I have learned so much from fiction, and I have a lot of great authors and their excellent research to thank for it! I agree that there a lot of places and people I love reading about that I probably wouldn’t want to encounter in real life. How magical books are that we can transport to different times and places all from the safety of our own homes!
I think Prohibition era historical mysteries are great are really interesting. I guess my niche interest is in Revolutionary War history, specifically I have a fascination with colonial era cemeteries. I just think it’s fascinating to read the tombstones and think about the people buried in those graves and what they went through.
I agree! Visiting old cemeteries is really interesting. It’s always fascinating to see what is written on the stones.
I visited The Mob museum when I was last in Vegas and found it fascinating!
I like you even more now that I know you’re a classic film fam. Rachel introduces me to your books and we decided Laurence Olivier would have been great casting for Milo, but couldn’t quite settle on who would have played Amory.
Ooh! The Mob museum sounds really fun! I’ll have to add that to my list!
I hadn’t considered Laurence Olivier, but I like the idea! I always say my closest match for Amory is if Norma Shearer was British.
Ooh! Silent Norma or pre-code Norma? Personally I’m a fan of both and could see her as Amory.
I guess I picture The Divorcee-era Norma. There’s just something very elegant about her. I suppose the fact that the movie has such an angsty relationship story also kind of reminds me of her! 😉
My niche interest is the Antebellum and Civil War era. I love visiting the South and touring the plantations and battlefields. History is so interesting and I love reading about it also.
Yes, history is so fascinating. I love learning new things from both nonfiction and fiction!
Ashley I just finished reading A Dangerous Engagement and thoroughly enjoyed the book! I loved the setting and I am definitely going back to read the rest as I love Amory and Milo so much!!
Thank you, Michelle! I’m so glad you liked it. I hope you enjoy their other adventures, too! 🙂
Comments are closed.