Let me start by saying that the title of this post is misleading. My new beginning for 2014 is not entirely new.
For the last seven years, as Kaitlyn Dunnett, I’ve been writing contemporary, hopefully humorous, traditional mysteries about quirky characters who live in Moosetookalook, Maine. For six of those years, as Kate Emerson, I’ve also been writing non-mystery historical novels set at the court of King Henry the Eighth of England. But before that, under my own name (Kathy Lynn Emerson), I was happily writing the Face Down Mysteries, a series set in Elizabethan England and featuring Susanna, Lady Appleton as an amateur detective who just happens to be an expert on poisonous herbs. Starting with Face Down in the Marrow-Bone Pie in 1997, ten novels and numerous short stories appeared in print in which Susanna and her friends solved a variety of crimes. In the small world of people who like historical mysteries that veer more toward the cozy than the hard boiled, I became known as “the Face Down lady.”
I loved writing those novels. So, why, I hear you asking, did you stop? Why did you start writing under pseudonyms? Why not just keep on keeping on? Because, dear reader, I needed to make a living. The image of the writer starving in his or her garret for art may be romantic, but it’s not a fate I’ve ever aspired to. I don’t have any great ambition to make best seller lists or sign million-dollar contracts, but a steady income is nothing to sneeze at.
Fast forward to 2013, when my contract for the non-mystery historicals came to an end after six books. I made an attempt at a suspense novel set in Elizabethan England, but it just wasn’t coming together. Maybe it will someday, but as I worked on it (and occasionally wrote about it here), I realized that what I really wanted to do, in between writing the next few Liss MacCrimmon mysteries, was revisit the world I created in the Face Down series. Naturally, my first thought was to resurrect Susanna, Lady Appleton. But then I took a good hard look at where the last book, Face Down O’er the Border (still in print from Perseverance Press) ended. Having been away from the characters for awhile, I was struck by something that hadn’t seemed such a problem in the past. Each book had been set roughly two years later than the previous one, with the result that Susanna, for her times, was old. Women her age in the sixteenth century were already starting to suffer from all the ailments common in someone in their eighties today. There was no question that she could still solve crimes—in fact, a couple of short stories set at later dates have already been published—but did I really want to reboot the series with a central character who would, to be realistic, have to suffer ever-greater physical challenges?
Mind you, I have nothing against older protagonists. However, as the author, I have to live with my sleuth for months on end. I’d have to develop plots that would work around whatever disabilities were slowing Susanna down. The secondary characters who helped her solve murders in the earlier mysteries weren’t getting any younger either. The solution seemed pretty obvious: shift the focus to a younger, more active character and let her take the lead in any detecting.
It took me about two seconds to settle on a new sleuth. She’s Rosamond, illegitimate daughter of Susanna’s late husband, the despicable Sir Robert (the murder victim in Face Down Beneath the Eleanor Cross). Although Susanna had a hand in raising Rosamond, she’s her father’s daughter and also inherited one or two less-than-desirable traits from her mother. As a young teenager, she helped solve the crimes in Face Down Beside St. Anne’s Well. At sixteen, in the short story “Any Means Short of Murder,” she caused a major family crisis by eloping with Rob Jaffrey, son of Susanna’s faithful sidekicks, housekeeper Jennet and steward Mark.
After some thought, I advanced the timeline by a few more years to bring us up to late 1582 into early 1583, a period during which some interesting things were happening in England. I created reasons for Rosamond to be estranged from her entire family, including her husband, and thought of a way to provide her with a house and an income independent of said husband. That last was tricky. In Elizabethan England, husbands legally take possession of everything their wives own from the moment the vows are said.
There were a few more decisions to make before I could start my “Rosamond Reboot,” and some research to do. Then I spent most of the last six months writing. The result is Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, the first “Mistress Jaffrey Mystery.” The manuscript is finished. My agent is happy with it. Now it’s time to cross my fingers and hope for the best. What is the best? That an editor will read it, love it, offer a healthy advance, publish it, and want more books in the series . . . and that fans of the Face Down mysteries will like “Face Down: The Next Generation” even more than they enjoyed the original adventures of Susanna, Lady Appleton.