A Wicked Welcome to Beth Kanell

Being a member of the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime afforded me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful writers throughout the region. Beth Kanell is one of those people. I was delighted to learn that she has a book coming up later this month, and thrilled when she agreed to be on the blog.

I am living in a tent camper this week, having sold my long-time home and jumped up the road to what’s still an unfinished structure; background music here, after the morning birds, is mostly saws, drills, and contractor exclamations!

It’s a good contrast to the magic I’m contemplating as This Ardent Flame moves toward publication June 23. This is the second in my Winds of Freedom series of historical mysteries, seeing the approach to the Civil War through the eyes of Vermont teenaged girls. In 1852, to be 14 was to be on the verge of womanhood—and to contemplate big questions, like Abolition, Temperance, and votes for women. Also, if you are Alice Sanborn, to confront the wickedness of a man who beats a horse and probably does the same to humans.

Writing This Ardent Flame became magical for me as Alice and her bosom buddy Caroline, deaf from childhood and newly home to Vermont after years of boarding at the School for the Deaf in Hartford, CT, were riding the train north from Boston. Their mission at that moment was to help provide a merry family distraction around two Black men traveling with Alice’s brothers. The men were freemen, but still at risk even in New England, due to the horrors of the Fugitive Slave Law.

As the girls were “conversing” in their adapted language of American Sign Language, lip reading, and already being well attuned to each other’s thoughts, a woman paused to observe and then to ask them about the exchange of Sign. Fascinated, she assured them she’d be following up on this, then leapt off the train for her connection to Maine.

I suddenly knew who it was, before the girls were aware, of course: Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a woman who would later meet President Abraham Lincoln, who supposedly said to her, “So this is the little woman who started this big war.”

Students and teachers at the American School for the Deaf

Abashed at my own hubris in walking such an important person into the scene, I emailed one of my consultants: the historian at the American School for the Deaf. “Do you mind,” I asked with shaking typing fingers, “if Harriet Beecher Stowe walks through a scene? Could that be historic?”

The quick reply was basically: “Go for it!” Harriet Beecher Stowe and her sister Catherine, it turned out, had been close friends of Alice Cogswell, who ran the school! And in Alice’s scrap book was (gulp) an unpublished poem by the famed Hartford author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin!

And that, my friends, is the magic of writing historical mysteries—that every now and then, an unexpected guest walks into the scene, and turns out to uncover a real-life revelation.

Has that happened to you recently? Have you said or written something without a lot of prior intention, only to discover a magical new connection? I hope you’ll share your own experience! And I wish you delight in reading This Ardent Flame.


Beth Kanell lives in northeastern Vermont, with a mountain at her back and a river at her feet. She digs into Vermont history to frame her “history-hinged” mysteries: This Ardent Flame (publication June 23), The Long Shadow (SPUR award winner in frontier fiction), and others. Her poems and historical articles scatter among regional publications and online. So do her short stories and memoir pieces. She shares her research and writing process at BethKanell.blogspot.com. A former Civil War reenactor, she is a member of both Sisters in Crime and the National Book Critics Circle. #amwriting #Vermonthistory #historicalmysteries #CivilWar #SinC #SinCNE

22 Thoughts

  1. Beth, what a wonderful story! I can’t wait to read the new book. When I started writing about John Greenleaf Whittier, I included a scene where he winked at a little girl. It was only later that I read in his biography how much he liked children!

  2. What a great story, Beth. I don’t know if I’d be brave enough to include a real person in my historical fiction, but I haven’t had the opportunity yet.

  3. Fascinating story. Love it when fiction and history meet like that!

  4. Welcome to the Wickeds, Beth! Congratulations on the new house and the release of The Ardent Flame. I love it when historical figures make cameo appearances in fiction. It really grounds you in the period. I have in my possession a series of letters my great-great grandfather wrote to a 14-year-old niece from various Civil War battlefields. Unfortunately, only his letters survive but you can tell from his responses to her that she was an intelligent young woman who asked great questions and showed great empathy.

  5. Thanks for visiting with the Wickeds, Beth! I love this story of research that leads somewhere exciting! I love researching for my own novels and know just what you mean about those threads that make the heart pound! Kudos on your adventure!

  6. That’s a very cool connection! I love moments like that in historical mysteries, especially if there is a real connection to a cameo.

  7. Wow, what an intriguing story and the book cover is also very intriguing ! Congratulations on your new book. Thank you for sharing about it. Have a Great weekend and stay safe.

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