Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Kathleen Ernst


As promised yesterday, fellow Midnight Ink mystery author Kathleen Ernst is visiting my blog today, with an article about her protagonist Chloe Ellefson's boyfriend. To read Kathleen's bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post. Also, Kathleen is running a contest for a free autographed copy of the latest release in her Historic Sites mystery series, Heritage of Darkness, the cover art for which appears above, or one of the other books in the series. Kathleen will select the winner tomorrow evening from among those who leave a comment today or tomorrow and will announce the name in a comment on this post.

In the book, for curator Chloe Ellefson, a family bonding trip to Decorah, Iowa, for rosemaling classes seems like a great idea—until the drive begins. Chloe’s cop friend Roelke takes her mother’s talk of romantic customs good-naturedly, but it inflates Chloe’s emotional distress higher with each passing mile. After finally reaching Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Chloe’s resolve to remain positive is squashed when she and Roelke find Petra Lekstrom’s body in one of the antique immigrant trunks. Everyone is shaken by the instructor’s murder, and when Mom volunteers to take over the beginners’ class, Chloe is put in the hot seat of motherly criticism. As she investigates, Chloe uncovers dark family secrets that could be deadly for Mom . . . and even herself.

Sounds like an exciting read to me! Below is Kathleen's article.

The Boyfriend
Kathleen Ernst

Chloe Ellefson, the protagonist of my Historic Sites mystery series, is a museum curator.  She is also thirty-two years old, single, and in the process of leaving behind an old relationship that failed in a particularly colossal way.  I knew from the start that I wanted Chloe to have a man in her life.  Enter Roelke McKenna, local cop.

I also want the series to continue indefinitely.  That means sustaining a believable relationship over a long arc.  It means letting Chloe and Roelke grow and change in each book, both singly and as a twosome.  And it means finding the right pace—not rushing things, but also not drawing things out to the point of annoyance for readers.  I want people to feel satisfied at the end of each volume, but still eager to see what comes next.  Based on mail from readers, the complicated interactions between these two is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the series.

Chloe and Roelke spend most of the first book in the series, Old World Murder, getting to know each other.  He’s interested; she’s wary.  They seem to have nothing in common.  She’s made mistakes in the past.  She doesn’t want to make any more.  He comes up with a pretty cool plan to help her move forward.

Fast forward to the fourth (and brand new!) book, Heritage of Darkness.  Chloe and her mom travel to Decorah, Iowa, to take concurrent painting classes at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.  When Roelke sees that a woodcarving class is being held at the same time, he signs up and comes along.  Chloe and Mom have a sometimes-prickly relationship, and he’s pretty sure he can help smooth out the tension.

Things don’t go as planned, of course.  Mom takes a shine to Roelke, which is great!  But when she bombards him with hints about traditional courtship and marriage customs, Chloe is mortified.

Then there’s the whole problem of how Chloe should introduce him to her mother’s friends.  Here’s how Roelke handles the conversation:

“Listen,” Chloe said, “this will probably sound stupid, but I need to ask you something.  How do you want me to introduce you to people?  What should I call you?”

“How about your boyfriend?  That works for me.”  It worked quite well, actually.

“That would make me feel like we’re in junior high.”

He considered.  “Is there some historical term you’d like?”

“Beau?  Suitor?  Gentleman caller?”

OK, that idea wasn’t as clever as he’d hoped.  “Those would make me feel like we’re living in some PBS show.”  And if one of his friends ever heard Chloe refer to him as her “gentleman caller,” he’d never live it down.

Despite the awkward moments, it was time for Roelke and Chloe’s relationship to make a real step forward.  By the end of Heritage of Darkness, it does.  (Right after they manage to prevent a killer from striking again.  This is a murder mystery, after all.)

While launching Heritage of Darkness into the world I’m also feverishly working on the fifth Chloe Ellefson mystery, so I’ve been giving this topic renewed thought.  How can Chloe and Roelke keep growing?  What new challenges will they, and their relationship, face?  I’ve still got a lot of ideas about that.  In real life, even the strongest partnerships require attention and care.

What do you think about relationships in long-running series?  Do you have a favorite fictional couple?  Do you look for peaceful equilibrium, or ever-evolving growth?  It’s a topic most mystery authors confront, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered in a drawing for your choice of Chloe Ellefson mysteries:  Old World Murder, The Heirloom Murders, The Light Keeper’s Legacy, or Heritage of Darkness.


Thanks, Kathleen! Now, who has an answer, comment or question for Kathleen Ernst? Good luck in the contest!


31 comments:

mike said...

Mandy meets Chloe - life is good. Like the RM series, the Chloe series is very enjoyable with great character development. KE has very strong portrayals of some characters who may appear in only one book. I really like character evolution through a series and am still "irritated" with Kent Krueger for killing off a primary character; however, this death then, obviously, required further development in other characters.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Mike - I'm so glad you're enjoying the series, and I appreciate your kind words. I enjoy character-driven mysteries as a reader, and that's what I try to write. I don't have any plans to kill off a major character on the horizon, either. I've heard writers talk about doing that, and oh my, it's a risk.

Nancy said...

This is a series that I really enjoy.

Mary E. Trimble said...

I've always enjoyed this relationship. Kathleen has a wonderful way of dealing with people and makes her characters come alive. I haven't read this latest mystery, but I've read the previous ones and have loved them!

Kristin Howell said...

Definitely look forward to getting into these books :-)

Barbara T. said...

My Norwegian ancestory is calling me to read this book.

Sue said...

I've enjoyed the unfolding of this relationship in all of its awkwardness, which keeps it most real. I think discovering real-world interests that they have in common (aside from a knack of solving murders together), like crafting things, will serve to bring them closer together.

Kaye Killgore said...

This sounds like an interesting series.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Nancy, Mary, and Sue - I'm so glad you're enjoying the series, and the relationship. Chloe and Roelke have had some bumps along the way, but they both have good hearts and have a lot to offer the other, I think!

Kathleen Ernst said...

Kristin and Kaye, I hope you do enjoy the series! And Barbara, although you don't have to be Norwegian to enjoy the story, I think that people like you will find a bit of special meaning.

Alice Trego said...

This latest story sounds really intriguing, Kathleen. I love that Chloe and her boyfriend are stepping it up a notch, while at the same time solving this latest mystery. And I love the banter they have between them. Definitely female perspective/male perspective -- makes me smile.

As for my favorite character couple who've been together through a long-running series, hmmm, that's a hard question!

Judith said...

Coming from the museum world, I think this series sounds like fun, and I'll be ordering the first book. My favorite couple? Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey, though she protested a little too much.
Judith

Kathleen Ernst said...

Thanks for stopping by, Alice! When a mystery deals with heavy stuff, it's nice to have a few light moments, and often dialog provides a perfect chance.

Barb W. said...

I've only read the first book in this series, but I have the others on my TBR list, because I really liked the setting, the characters and the 'theme' of the first book. I like a bit of romance mixed in with my mysteries, but like many of my fellow readers, I despise the long drawn out love triangle. Thank you, Ms. Ernst, for NOT including a triangle in these books!

Beth Groundwater said...

I'm so glad that all my readers are giving Kathleen such a warm welcome and are making so many comments! Keep those comments coming until tomorrow evening, when she will draw the name of a winner in her free book contest.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Barb W., thanks for your comment. No triangle!

Melissa M said...

I've read Old World Murder and want to read the rest, partly to see what happens in this relationship. I think a real relationship has ups and downs and like to see that portrayed in a series. I also agree on being frustrated with some of the drawn out love triangles and don't care to read about those.

Judy Hudson said...

Hi Kathleen, this fits right into my goodreads mystery thread question about authors who write cultural mysteries so I added your name to the pot. (https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1521715-cultural-travel-mysteries?utm_medium=email&utm_source=comment_digest)

I'm working on a travel/ cultural mystery myself, with a building relationship, so it was interesting to hear your thoughts on the subject. I'll have to get a copy :-)

cyn209 said...

i like the idea of a long-standing relationship in a series......that gives the series that one stable foundation.....

thank you for the chance to win one of Kathleen's books!!!

cyn209 at juno dot com

ceblain said...

There are so many great authors out there and it is so hard for us readers to know where to begin, but I have heard such good things about Kathleen and her book that I would love to be able to win a copy of it, and get a review posted. The cover is great as I am sure that the story is. Keep up the great work Kathleen.

Dru said...

I like romance in a mystery as long as it doesn't overshadow the mystery. It's part of life and it should be in a continuing series.

I'm definitely looking forward to reading this book. Don't enter me as I already have my copy.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Judith - with a museum background I do think you'll particularly enjoy the series. I miss working in the history world, so this lets me stay connected.

Melissa, I hope you enjoy the series--and particularly the relationship. The book I'm working on now presents an unexpected challenge, and exploring it is giving me new insight into these two characters.

Judy - thanks for the connection at Goodreads! I have a presence there, but am not able to spend as much time as I'd like and so am usually behind. Best wishes on your own mystery. For me, exploring cultural themes is an added pleasure in each new Chloe book.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Cyn - Thanks for dropping by! Ceblain - Thanks for the kind words. Good luck with the drawing.

Dru, I agree--the relationship can't overshadow the plot. Always a balance!

Denise Z. said...

I so want to win book 4. I have the other three and I'm so pleased to learn there is more to come.

I particularly enjoy Chloe because of her working for state government; that's something we share in common. And I like that she's flawed but keeps on trying.

I also like that she and Roelke are getting closer. I think you have a deft touch with the romantic aspect of the characters. Your books are still mysteries (as opposed to romances dressed up in mystery clothing), but the romantic parts are icing on the cake.

Beth Groundwater said...

A comment from Denise on Facebook:
"These books are grand. I go the first one (e-book) free and paid serious money - more than I've ever paid before or since - for books 2 and 3 (also in e-book). and they were worth it!"

Elizabeth J said...

I like to see Chloe growing and changing. Personally, like Roelke, I am glad to that Mr. Swiss is currently out of the picture, and that Chloe is moving on, but at the same time, I do enjoy some tension and mystery in the relationship aspect of a story.

I imagine it's difficult to decide how much to build on from earlier books, or whether to let book be its own little bubble, and mostly complete within itself. As for fictional couples, I particularly enjoy Mrs. Pollifax and her husband, Cyrus. I like that sometime Cyrus comes along on adventures, but Mrs. Pollifax can still go off on her own and kick butt!

Kathleen Ernst said...

Denise Z. - thanks so much for your kind words. Can you tell that I worked for the state government for many years? No shortage of material! And I appreciate your summary: "flawed, but keeps on trying." Although both of these characters stumble at times, each has a good heart.

Denise from FB - Yikes! I'm delighted to hear that!

Elizabeth J. - You're so right! It's a tricky balance, deciding how much to bring in from previous books and how much to leave out. Each book should stand alone, but I do think that for readers who enjoy series, there is extra pleasure in following the overall trajectory. I also appreciate your comment about Mrs. Pollifax. Roelke has a strong protective instinct--more about that in the *next* book--but Chloe is also quite capable on her own.

Beth Groundwater said...

Facebook comment from Kari:
"I love this series."

Kathleen Ernst said...

Congratulations to Melissa M! Melissa, you've won your choice of Chloe mysteries. You can contact me through my website, www.kathleenernst.com

Thanks to everyone who stopped by - I enjoyed the conversation. Special thanks to Beth for hosting my visit!

Melissa M said...

Yeah! Thanks! I will go to the website and let you know!

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks so much for visiting, Kathleen, and congratulations, Melissa!