A Wicked Welcome to Susanna Calkins! *giveaway*

by Julie, getting ready for a trip to Fenway Park tonight

I am delighted to welcome Susanna Calkins back to the blog today. I marvel at people who write historical mysteries, and the depth of research they do. I’m delighted Susanna agreed to come visit the Wickeds to talk about her latest book. DEATH AMONG THE RUINS.

As a writer of historical mysteries, I am often asked “Where do you get your ideas?” or “How do you do your research?” In some ways, my answers to both are the same. I am constantly asking myself questions about a given time period, the answers to which inform the plot and shape of each of my novels.

For my Lucy Campion mysteries, which feature a 17th century chambermaid-turned-printer’s apprentice, my overarching question stems from my curiosity about what had been like to live through the plague and the Great Fire of 1666? (Mind you, I probably have more insight into the former now!) From there, other questions emerged. How was it that only seven people perished in the Great Fire of 1666, when at least thirteen thousand homes and businesses were destroyed and one hundred thousand people were left homeless? What might have actually happened to the elderly, the infirm, the imprisoned? With the widespread destruction of guild records, wills, birth, marriage and death registers, how was someone’s identity confirmed, particularly if entire communities were torn apart? How was identity theft kept in check? (Short answer–it wasn’t. We tend to think of identity theft as a modern problem, but without photographs, DNA, fingerprints–one’s identity was only ever conferred by family and community–and when a community is dispersed, so goes the means to establish identity. Apprentices could take over their masters’ tools and trade, servants could take over the households, documents and seals could be forged).

As a historian, I did my best to answer these questions, using available evidence at my disposal. I was also asking myself, how literally did something work? In addition to scholarly publications, I also drew on an amazing collection of penny press–ephemeral contemporary news accounts, ballads, broadsides, collectively referred to as Early English books. (Such “true accounts” were how most people got their news, and printer’s apprentices and booksellers like Lucy would literally sing of murder to sell pieces on the street). I also found a surprising number of historic recreations online, which helped me visualize such things as how printing presses actually worked, or how someone might attach a wheel to a carriage.

For my latest Lucy Campion mystery–DEATH AMONG THE RUINS–two questions, one small, the other big, informed my plot. The small question focused on the lives of rag-sellers–how did homeless people survive in the ruins of London, given that looting was punishable with fines and imprisonment and they had no reputable access to income? The larger question focused on how could a body be identified if no one is looking for the victim? What kinds of clues could be found on the corpse, which would allow for a reasonable process of discovery? In pondering this question, I honed in on the busk, which was a long wooden stay that early modern women used inside their corset to keep their gowns stiff. It turns out that such items might be a token from their lovers, containing poems, signatures and even portraits. What a way to identify a body!! Everything fell into place from there, for me at least. For Lucy, nothing was as straightforward as it seemed.

Reader question: When you read, do you ask yourself questions as you go? What kinds of questions? Susanna will send a copy of the book to one commenter, US only.

About the book

London, 1668. Printer’s apprentice Lucy Campion is suspicious when she meets a young ragpicker who claims to have fine clothes to sell from a lady of quality. Are the garments stolen . . . or a sign of something worse?

Her suspicions are soon realized when the clothes are identified as belonging to a recently deceased elderly aristocrat. Young Mercy Sykes has robbed a grave! Mercy is arrested, and it’s only thanks to Lucy’s intervention that the ragpicker, who’s struggling to support her family, isn’t locked up.

Lucy doesn’t expect to see Mercy again, but their meeting soon has unexpected consequences. For when Mercy finds a dead woman in the ruins of Christchurch, dressed in unexpected finery, it’s to Lucy who she turns for help . . .

Lucy Campion is a feisty working-class heroine, plying her trade as a printer’s apprentice in Restoration London. If you’re new to the series (it’s safe to jump right in), we can’t wait for you to meet her in this twisty, puzzle-packed historical mystery, brimming with authenticity!

Buy the book here!

About the author

Susanna Calkins writes the award-winning historical mysteries set in 17th century London and the 1920s Speakeasy Murders set in 1920s Chicago. Her fiction has been nominated for the Anthony, Agatha, Macavity, Lefty, and Mary Higgins Clark awards. A historian by training, she lives in the Chicagoland area now, with her husband and two sons. www.susannacalkins.com

Social media:

Twitter: @scalkins3
FB: Susanna Calkins, author

56 Thoughts

  1. Welcome back to the blog, Susie! I’m so excited for another Lucy Campion, and congratulations.

    I must comment on the busk – of course a besotten gentleman might want to give his beloved something she would wear close to her body! But imagine writing poetry on an item designed to keep her gown stiff. Ouch. Either way, it’s that kind of detail that brings historical fiction alive, and you are the best at it.

    1. I do ask myself questions at times when I’m reading historical novels.. they usually start with “wait a minute..what? Could this be?” I remember when I was a little girl I read about invisible ink. I already knew I could write with lemon juice, but I wanted to make a new ‘recipe’. The closest I got was dandelion juice and if you held the paper the right way in the sun you could see the message 🙂

      1. Carla, I love that so much! I also tried the invisible ink trick, and I don’t remember it working too well. That’s cool you tried to innovate. I think I might have tried orange juice LOL

    2. Thank you Edith! Seriously, everything related to the corset seemed so uncomfortable. I was so fascinated to learn about these love tokens. Especially the ones with faces on them. LOL

  2. This is a new to me series – how did I ever miss it? Now I have a whole series to look forward to reading.

  3. When reading a book, both past and present, I seem to always be asking myself “How would I do that?”. With books of the past, I also have to be reminding myself of what didn’t exist back then or at least not in the form we are use to these days. Through books written in the past, I have learned a lot about terms, occupations, and ways of life through thorough research of an author, to which I am very appreciative. Love it when they do their research not only to make the book accurate, but to entertain and enlighten the reader. To me, it’s what makes a great author and not just a person writing a book. It’s also fun to be able to work out something in my mind because of some tidbit I learned from another book. This all means that from me I say THANK YOU for the time, effort and drive to make a book accurate in history details!

    DEATH AMONG THE RUINS sounds like a wonderful book and I’ve most definitely added it to my TBR list. Can’t wait for the opportunity to read and review it. Shared and would be thrilled if I were the fortunate one selected.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Thanks Kay! I love learning from historical fiction too! I’m sure that’s what got me interested in being a historian and writer of historical mysteries too. Thanks for your kind words.

  4. Congratulations, Susanna! I do find myself asking questions when reading historical fiction, mostly starting with “Really? I did not know that.” Sometimes it has set me off on research trips of my own.

    1. Thank you Liz! I’ve had readers tell me that they started reading more about the Great Fire of London in particular, after reading my books.

  5. Congratulations on your latest book, Susie! I’ll admit, when Ii reading historical fiction, I often find myself thinking, *Man, I”m glad I live in modern times.” I love my creature comforts, like air conditioning, that folks in the past didn’t have. I’ve gotten soft over the years!

    1. Ha ha, JC! That’s probably the other question I get a lot–What time period would I most like to live, and why. And my answer is always now. Or the future. I have zero thoughts about a romantic golden past.

  6. Congratulations on your latest. To quote Gram, how did I miss this! What delightful detail.

    I do ask questions when I’m reading, and often end up falling down the rabbit hole of research and enjoying every second.

  7. congrats. I don’t read much historical fiction but this series has me intrigued and i will be looking forward to it. I do often find myself asking “why” questions while reading.

    1. Thank you! I’m a “why” person too! Although I sometimes am a “how?” because I just can’t figure out how it worked. but mostly why ?

  8. Your series sounds wonderful, I studied medieval literature and history in college so this is definitely something I will enjoy! I do ask questions while reading historical fiction, often wanting to visualize what I’m reading about – this sends me to the Internet for image searches.

    1. Judith, thank you. I love looking at images when I write too, it makes it easier for me to imagine a scene.

  9. Oh yes, I’m always asking me questions lol! Most of the time, I’m asking how which characters are related to each other or how they fit into the story. Also, I question whether faces or information presented is actual or just invented for the story, which oftentimes sends me googling.

    1. HI Kathy, that’s definitely the challenge. For my part, the characters are made up, but I try to make the details as plausible and authentic as possible. Sometimes its impossible to know EVERYTHING, so sometimes I have to make my best guess. And of course, as the saying goes, truth can be stranger than fiction.

  10. Welcome and Congratulations Susanna! Thank you for your interesting and exciting blog! I am too much of a researcher to pass by information mentioned in the books I read. I keep a notebook nearby and write any curious details, locations and events. When I take a pause, I research them and if I am reading a book for my book club, I send out my research information in my weekly email with housekeeping items, usually an inspiring musical clip, jokes, a recipe related to what we are reading, or what I see in the mystery lover’s kitchen website….and my Word attachment with research items and images. FUN! I look forward to reading DEATH AMONG THE RUINS! Luis at ole dot travel

  11. Wow, am I ever happy to meet you! Your series sounds wonderful. I love historical mysteries and I love to learn how things were done. I do a little research of my own as I read if I don’t understand something fully. I don’t have the patience to do an in-depth study, but I love reading what other people have uncovered! On my way to the bookstore.

  12. Welcome back to the blog, Susie and best of luck with Death Among the Ruins. I always ask questions as I read or watch movies or Tv, especially historical fiction, often pausing to look up things that interest me about big events and well-known people and small details. You would think it would take me out of the story, but it doesn’t. For me, it enhances the experience.

  13. Welcome! I do ask myself questions and I’m reading. Usually stuff like what would I do in that situation. Thanks so much for the chance! You are a new author to me!

    1. HI B, thanks. I always giggle when I put my sleuth into places where I would never, ever want to go. If I were to find a body, I’d probably go get help not think about clues LOL. But our mysteries would be really short if our sleuths weren’t proactive LOL.

  14. Congratulations on the new release! I do enjoy historical fiction. It is fun to learn new things about historical happenings I didn’t know before. Many times I think to myself, “Wow! I didn’t know that.” Sometimes it leads me to want to know more about it.

    1. Thanks Cherie. Even when I’m walking down a street I find myself wondering where a street’s name came from, or what it looked like 100 or 200 years before.

  15. Yes, I do ask myself questions when I read or watch TV. If the author doesn’t have an afterword that tells me what happened to real people that they have mentioned, I sometimes have look them up. Looking forward to your new book.

  16. When I read, I make it a point to notice the setting. I want to know exactly where in the country or in the world I am. If the story takes place in a particular historical time, I want to know exactly when it happens. On another note, Julie is going to Fenway Park today. Go Red Sox! Don’t be afraid of the Tampa Bay Rays!

    1. HI Patti, thanks. Me too. I keep a very careful timeline just to make sure my days and dates are correct. The interesting thing is that, in the 17th century, England was on the Julian calendar, while across the channel, most of Europe was on the Gregorian calendar. So the dates didn’t match up for big events. I made my editors crazy with my first book until I explained how the calendars worked, LOL

  17. Congratulations on your new release! I enjoy reading historical fiction and I always have a question about something that I end up checking out on Google. I always learn something new when reading a historical story.

  18. It depends on the book. If it is a mystery or romantic suspense, I may ask questions concerning how or why someone did something or try to guess who is responsible for what is happening. Thank you for sharing. God bless you.

  19. I do ask questions as I read, whether the book is historical or contemporary.

  20. Congratulations! Since historical fiction is my favorite genre I am immersed within the story and enjoy the vivid descriptions of the setting and life at that time. It becomes so important and relveant to the story and gives me great enjoyment.

  21. I always ask questions about historicals since the specific era, and setting is what appeals to me and I want to engage with the individuals lives. I am concerned about their livelihood and health since it impacts their families and their welfare.

  22. Wow! I didn’t know that all those endearing items could be in a corset. I always learn something fascinating from historical fiction.

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