Down the Rabbit Hole without a Ladder

EDITED TO ANNOUNCE THAT TEMPEWYTCH IS MY WINNER! Please contact me at and tell me which Lady Adelaide Mystery you’d like me to send you.

Thanks to Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett and Kate Flora for inviting me to join and blog with Maine Crime Writers! I’m thrilled and honored to be in such exalted company. As a recovering romance writer, I have discovered it’s so much more fun to have people kill each other than kiss, and at only three cozy mysteries in, I’ve lost count of the bodies I’ve strewn about.

I think anyone who ever knew me would be startled at my recent foray into crime—I was an earnest rule follower from my fist tentative baby steps, ever the good girl. An only child. A teacher’s pet. I skipped two grades and consequently missed the year they studied my home state’s history. I know nothing, and would have forgotten it by now anyway. And since you don’t know MY history, I thought I’d share a personal fact I’m not sure I’ve even told my kids.

In the fourth grade, my whole class collaborated on writing a play based on popular children’s books and fairy tales. (Probably a violation of copyright, but it’s a little late to prosecute; fourth grade was many, many decades ago.) I was cast as Alice in Wonderland. My mother made me a ruffled pinafore to wear, and my long blonde hair was held back in an Alice band. Someone got dressed up in a rabbit suit, and at my cue I obediently followed him off stage.

Foreshadowing! Who knew I was to obediently follow all the rabbits and be forever lost down the rabbit hole of research? Some years ago, I wrote an Edwardian-era romance. (It got a starred review in Library Journal, upon whose laurels I still rest.) My characters get on a train and go to Kent, a county in England. The year was 1903, and it really would have been perfectly fine for me to have them meet at the unnamed station and get on the unnamed train, right?

Oh, no, the rabbits whispered. Which railway station in London would have been used to travel to Kent back then? What was the name of the company that serviced that area? How long would the trip take? When did the train leave? Do you see where I’m going here? (Not to Kent.) I probably spent at least an hour Googling train schedules and rail lines.

And what did I find out? The Chatham Line, which was in perpetual economic difficulty, left from Victoria Station to go to Kent. And what lyrical, sparkly gems resulted from that lost hour in the actual text of the book?

“…he was grateful to sink into a somewhat tattered first-class compartment of the Chatham Line. The railroad company had the reputation of being a somewhat shaky enterprise, but at least its trains always arrived on time.”

Anyone who traveled on the defunct Chatham Line to Kent in 1903 is undoubtedly dead. My readers most likely wouldn’t know or care if I had my characters meet at Paddington instead of Victoria. But you’ll remember this Alice was a goody-goody, so here we are.

I’m beginning a new mystery set in the 1920s to follow the Lady Adelaide series (the fourth and final book is out next fall), and already I’ve got myself in trouble. I was looking for a historical event that might provide a reason for someone to be murdered many years afterward. I hit upon a battle in the Zulu Wars, where a company of about 150 British soldiers held off between 3,000-4,000 Zulu warriors. I’ve read numerous articles, but don’t quite feel I have a handle on it. Am I going to have to watch the 1964 movie Zulu? I think you know the answer.

Are you a stickler for historical accuracy in books and movies, or are you willing to let things slide for entertainment’s sake? What’s a weird historical fact you’ve picked up? I learned mouse skin was once cut and glued onto foreheads to provide lush eyebrows. Alice’s dormouse had better watch out.

By way of introducing myself, I’ll give away the Lady Adelaide Mystery of choice (Nobody’s Sweetheart Now, Who’s Sorry Now?, or Just Make Believe) to one random commenter!

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31 Responses to Down the Rabbit Hole without a Ladder

  1. Welcome to the crew! I don’t tend to catch geographical/historical mistakes often, my more common catches are grammatical/proofing misses. Phazed for fazed seems to be a common one and i just read a YA mystery where the main character was pursued by a dark truck with a light bar that in subsequent chapters morphed into a car before deciding to become a truck again. Then there was the herbalist who was pouring ingredients into a vile.

    • maggierobinsonwriter says:

      LOL. No matter how many eyes are on a book, there’s always something. I go by what they do in the Middle East–rugmakers always make a mistake on purpose because only Allah is perfect. 🙂

  2. kaitlynkathy says:

    Welcome, Maggie. Great post. As you know, I already have all three of your mysteries, so i’m chiming in to tell our blog followers what fun they are to read (while still getting the details right).

    • maggierobinsonwriter says:

      Thank you so much for everything. I woke up in the middle of the night just last night realizing I’ve given the doctor two different names!

  3. Alice says:

    As an Alice who was (and maybe still is) a goody-goody, I was delighted with this post. Have read your first two mysteries, so I look forward to the third.
    I agree with everyone who gets frustrated with poor editing but I can easily forgive historical misses.

    • maggierobinsonwriter says:

      Hello fellow Alice! Some historical readers are pretty rabid when they come to what they think is a mistake. It’s amazing, though, how some language seems modern but has been in use for centuries.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Welcome, Maggie, and thanks for your fascinating post. Can’t wait to start reading your books.


  5. crys101497 says:

    As a history major I prefer historical details to be correct. I love the 1920s. I have read some of Alice Duncans stories from the 1920s and love them. Would love to win a book.

    • crys101497 says:

      After reading some of the other posts I have to chime in again and say typos and grammatical errors irritate me more than historical errors too. Good editing is so important for readers and I am a reader. I read about 150 books a year. Welcome to the blog. I faithfully read this blog and have read some wonderful books since discovering this blog. Will have to save my pennies to get your mysteries.

    • maggierobinsonwriter says:

      I wish I’d taken more history courses (English major here), but I’m trying to make up for it now. It’s almost criminal what I don’t know, LOL.

  6. Jennifer Wyatt says:

    Mouse skin! Yikes!
    It’s hard not to go down the research rabbit hole, but a well-researched book has that extra sparkle. I can suspend disbelief only so far!
    You are a very gifted storyteller.

  7. tempewytch says:

    I think this is why I have never yet finished writing a book, I spend too long down rabbit holes of interesting facts!

    • maggierobinsonwriter says:

      It’s so easy to get lost in the rabbit warren! One thing leads to another. Online research is such a treasure trove, though of course one must be careful. As Abe Lincoln said, “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.” 🙂

  8. Brenda Buchanan says:

    Welcome to MCW, Maggie!

  9. Julianne Spreng says:

    As an avid reader, even cereal boxes or pudding packets if that’s what’s in front of me, the misspelled words, misplaced words, missing words, and serious grammatical errors drive me bonkers! Our local news papers are the worst. They’ve cut staff down to a skeleton’s skeleton with rush on every article. “On the on the Ohio governors’ list of” is one of many such in this morning’s paper. Front page no less! It’s my feeling that many mistakes in books would be caught if the final proof was done by someone stone cold who has not seen any of the copy before.

    All the extra details authors ferret out and weave into the story add so much. Keep going down those rabbit holes. Just remember to climb out once in a while!

    • maggierobinsonwriter says:

      I was once going over the final page proofs from the production editor (after reading the book a zillion times before). I sailed through, marveling that everything had been cleaned up…until the *very last page,* LOL. There were two periods after a sentence, which were not a deal breaker, but still. So close. You’re right–after so many passes, the mistakes look perfectly fine. I used to reach elementary school, and after a while, the same spelling errors looked normal!

  10. Jane Nelson says:

    Welcome, Maggie! I definitely want the history to be accurate; nothing throws me out of a story worse than a feeling that something just isn’t right! And that also includes grammar and vocabulary. That said, I have loved your first two Lady Adelaide books, and can hardly wait to read the latest!

    • maggierobinsonwriter says:

      Thanks so much, Jane! I tried to make sure the twenties slang I used was British, not American, but I probably goofed. Oh, if I could travel back in time!

  11. bangorgirl says:

    Welcome! Love historical mysteries…can’t wait to discover yours.

  12. itslorrie says:

    Hi Maggie, Welcome! I love historical fiction and truly appreciate the effort involved in writing those details into a good story. It is one of the reasons I am a big fan of Kaitlyn’s books. Lady Adelaide is now in my tbr list. Of course, now that I am trying to recall some interesting tidbit I am drawing a blank.

  13. Nina Pierce says:

    Oh, those rabbit holes are numerous and deep! I once spent an hour or so researching particular cars and whether they had side air bags and then watching videos on how they deployed to figure out if my heroine caused a crash, could she get out of the car if an airbag deployed. LOL!

    I love historicals, but know nothing really of historical facts so clothing fasteners and train lines just go right past my eyeballs. I do however, appreciate your due diligence as I’ve been known to quote “facts” from fiction novels I’ve read … probably not the most reliable source. *snerk* Best of luck with your newest novel, Maggie.

    • maggierobinsonwriter says:

      Oh, Nina. I have a book on old cars and I couldn’t understand one word. I bought it to research that 1903 book above. In the beginning there was no uniform anything–every car started differently and had different parts. I would have crashed into everything if I could have gotten the car started!

  14. susanvaughan says:

    Maggie, I do both, the grammar and spelling flubs and the deep dive into research. I wouldn’t notice in an historical mystery if the author had been creative in details, but I try to be accurate in my books. If I get creative in geography, I let the reader know in an author’s note. Along with many other commenters, i love your Lady Adelaide mysteries, am currently reading Just Make Believe. I applaud your ability to keep me in suspense! I’ll miss Addie, but look forward to new adventures in a new series. And … welcome to MCR!

  15. Deb Noone says:

    Maggie – I can barely remember my own name these days, much less historical facts that MAY have taken place yesterday. But I do remember all three of your Lady Adelaide books. I loved the historical period and detail and the wit and a bit of burgeoning romance between Lady Adelaide and the inspector. Whoever wins your drawing is a lucky reader. And I so much enjoyed this blog. As usual, your sense of humor comes out.

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