by Julie, summering/sweltering in Somerville
I’m thrilled to welcome Kelly Oliver to the blog today! Kelly serves as the vice president/incoming president of Sisters in Crime, and we’ve worked together closely during the past year. In addition to her service to the community, Kelly is a wonderful and prolific writer.
History is Fun??
Wanna hear something funny? Not funny haha. More funny, ironic. (Unless you find an entire shelf of unread books on WWI funny). I hated history in school. I ended up putting history courses on pass-fail, majoring in philosophy, and then going on to get a PhD in philosophy. Abstract thinking is my comfort zone. Anything detail-oriented, including history, not so much.
Fast-forward several decades (leaving out the little detail of how many), and I’m writing historical cozy mysteries. I love researching women’s stories that have been forgotten by canonical history. Finding amazing women and bringing their stories to life has become my passion— a passion for feminist reclamation in historical fiction.
Mata Hari (Margaretha Gertruida Zelle) is a great example of a woman maligned by history as a spy who allegedly exchanged sexual favors for state secrets. Biographer Pat Shipman argues that Mata Hari was a scapegoat for the double-dealing Georges Ladoux, France’s counterespionage chief. I couldn’t resist making Mata Hari a secondary character in my second Fiona Figg mystery, High Treason at the Grand Hotel.
Doing research for Villainy in Vienna, I came across Anna Sacher—the cigar-smoking, French bulldog loving, wife of the owner of the Sacher Hotel (think Sacher Torte). When her husband died, Anna took over the hotel and became known as a tough but discrete businesswoman. The most interesting woman I met on my journey to 1917 Vienna was Mileva Einstein, Albert’s first wife. She corrected Albert’s early work, went uncredited for collaborating on his early writings, and most likely contributed important research to Einstein’s theory of relativity.
In Mayhem in the Mountains (out August 15th), Fiona and her side-kick Kitty Lane travel to the Dolomite Mountains in Italy. There, they meet Marie Marvingt, a French bomber pilot and competitive athlete who invented the air ambulance. She disguised herself as a man to join the French army. In addition, she was a major in the Red Cross and worked as a nurse. A regular “renaissance” woman, Marie was quite a character in real life.
Another one of my favorite real-life characters appears in Arsenic at Ascot (out in November). Emilie Augusta Louise “Lizzy” Lind af Hageby co-founded the Animal Defense Society. In addition, she infiltrated the University College London Medical School as a student to uncover brutal vivisectionist practices. Together with Nina Duchess of Hamilton, she founded Ferne House as a refugee for abandoned pets during the world wars. Arsenic at Ascot features these early animal rights activists.
Bringing these amazing women to life in my fiction, I hope to reclaim their histories. And in the process bring new awareness to women’s issues both historical and contemporary.
In addition to rediscovering women’s stories, I love writing historical mysteries for plot points. If you find a great real-life mystery, you’ve got a built-in plot! And I feel such glee when I uncover a fun historical tidbit, especially if I can work it into my novel.
A couple of my favorites involve tea (Fiona’s favorite beverage and coincidentally 😉 mine too). With the Cake and Pastry Order of 1917, to ensure the troops had enough tea to keep fighting, the British government declared tea a necessary “weapon of war.” That’s kind of funny. Troops carried water to the front in tins used for fuel, and tea became a way to camouflage the taste of petrol. 🤢 Not so funny.
What do you enjoy about reading or writing historical fiction? What kind of balance do you like between history and entertainment? Why is it important to reclaim women’s history?
ABOUT THE BOOK
Mayhem in the Mountains
A Fiona Figg & Kitty Lane Mystery
(August 15th, 2023)
When a deadly blizzard traps Fiona Figg and Kitty Lane in the Dolomite Mountains, it’s all downhill from there.
Their hotel is snowed-in, and no one can get in or out. Then a man is found dead in his locked hotel room – and the killer is still on the premises. But with no murder weapon and too many suspects, their investigation is treading on thin ice.
The colder it gets outside, the hotter it gets inside as Fiona squares off with both her beloved Archie and her nemesis Fredricks. With her love-life on a slippery-slope, Fiona risks everything in one bold move…
As fast and twisty as a downhill slalom, this slick new cozy from Kelly Oliver will have you melting into a puddle of laughter.
Snap in and enjoy the ride.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kelly Oliver is the award-winning and bestselling author of three mystery series: Jessica James Mysteries (contemporary suspense); Pet Detective Mysteries (middle grade); Fiona Figg Mysteries (historical cozy).
Currently, Kelly is Vice President of Sisters in Crime. Kelly is a Emerita Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. To learn more about Kelly and her books, go to www.kellyoliverbooks.com.
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