Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today writing about the inspiration for Lenape Hollow, New York, the setting for my “Deadly Edits” mysteries. Crime & Punctuation, the first in this series featuring retired teacher turned book doctor Mikki Lincoln, came out earlier this week.
When I set out to write Crime & Punctuation, I knew I wanted to have my recently widowed protagonist move from her long-time home in Maine back to rural New York State, where she grew up. I was born and raised in the small Sullivan County town of Liberty, New York, famous in its heyday as the home of Grossinger’s Hotel and Katz’s Bakery (best bagels in the universe). This meant I had a choice to make. Should I use the real place as my setting or invent a home town for Mikki?
You’d think using a real place would be easier. It’s not. For one thing, it takes a lot more research to make sure the story reflects the way things really are in that town. For another, based on what I’ve heard from those who have used real places as settings, every time the writer gets something wrong, people not only spot the error, they point it out. And, of course, there’s the problem of real people holding positions the writer might want to give to a character. Liberty, for instance, already has a police chief, police officers, a
mayor, a board of trustees and so on. That’s the village of Liberty. The town of Liberty has a town supervisor, councilmen, clerk, tax collector, dog control officer—you get the picture. For police protection, in the hamlets outside the village limits, the town relies on the county sheriff’s department. I might have been able to fudge on the other offices, but in a murder mystery those in local law enforcement are essential characters. If I were to make up police officers but put them in a real place, and especially if I were to have my amateur sleuth solve the mystery right under their noses . . . well, let’s just say that’s a situation I prefer to avoid.
So, the best choice for me was a fictional setting, but since fiction is based on reality, my Lenape Hollow still has a lot in common with Liberty. I used a map of the village to help me plan locations. Some things, past and present, I left in the same place. The house I grew up in is now Mikki’s. The school on Main Street and the gas station across from it are in the same locations they’ve always been. A new police station was built sometime in the last fifty years. I put Lenape Hollow’s PD in the same place, but I invented a café, Harriet’s, across the street from it. Since I needed a large tract of land for my storyline, I blithely did away with the “new” high school we moved into in 1963, combined it with features of Revonah Park and Walnut Mountain, and came up with the site for a proposed theme park called “Wonderful World.” Apologies to all those whose homes I wiped out in the process.
I couldn’t use Liberty’s redbrick municipal building in this series—I already borrowed it, moved it to Maine, and set it down on one side of the town square of Moosetookalook as part of the setting for my Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries. I also wanted to avoid using real people from my own past as characters, even though I did give Mikki some of my memories. I wrote one scene, in which Mikki discovers that a childhood playmate is still living just down the street from her. Imagine my surprise when I learned that one of the siblings in that real family does still live there!
All of Sullivan County has changed a lot in five decades, from boom to bust to rejuvenation. I hope to capture that as the series continues. In my fictional Lenape Hollow, the real world will be mixed with an imaginary one, but it’s one I hope readers will find believable. Above all, I hope they will want to revisit Lenape Hollow and Mikki Lincoln in future books in the “Deadly Edits” series.
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of more than fifty-five traditionally published books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series (Crime & Punctuation—2018) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” mysteries and is set in Elizabethan England. Her most recent collection of short stories is Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com and she maintains a website about women who lived in England between 1485 and 1603 at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women.