The Mystery of History by Kait Carson

I was born and raised in New Jersey. Growing up in the shadow of New York City was like having a ringside seat to history in the making. From ticker tape parades honoring astronauts to mounting the endless swirl of steps to the Crown of the Statue of Liberty[1], my dad made sure I missed nothing. He also made me study for each event and pass a test before I could attend. Cruelty? No. It gave me a thirst to know the backstory and understand the why. Not bad lessons for a future mystery writer.

The skills taught to a child flowed over into the adult. In 2005, my husband and I moved from the steamy, tropical, hurricane prone east coast of Florida to the Crown of Maine. He’d been a rocket scientist and his involvement with various missile programs had brought him to Limestone from time to time. He loved the area and wanted to return. I’d been to Maine as a nine-year-old camper. Don’t remember the name of the camp, but I remember the rocky shores and cold, cold water. I was also ready to leave my paralegal career behind and try my hand at becoming a full-time writer. If only it were that easy.

I set my first books in South Florida and the Florida Keys. Write what you know. It wasn’t until last year that I became comfortable setting anything more than a short story in the County. Short stories, by their very nature, require pinpoint precision. They are a moment in time, not an epic procession. Novels are a very different breed of cat. One that I’m not comfortable writing unless I can crawl into the story, pull it over my head, and experience it through the eyes of my protagonist. In short, a novel requires knee jerk knowledge. Part of that comes from a sense of history.

When we first moved to Aroostook County, the sign at the edge of Soldier Pond commemorating the bloodless Aroostook War of 1838-1839 intrigued me. Despite a history degree, the terms war and bloodless rarely went together. When I decided to write a novel set in The County, I knew I needed to know more. Not because I planned to feature the war, or even Soldier Pond, but because I set the story in the Allagash and the Maine/Canada border is a major player. Border wars, even bloodless ones, shape both an area and its population. Good natured teasing between residents on both sides of the border is commonplace. Most locals have relatives in both countries. Sometimes it seems the border is still in dispute.

The problems that gave rise to the Aroostook War began with the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War. The treaty failed to determine the boundary between British North America and the United States. When Massachusetts began handing out land grants in what was then the District of Maine, boundary disputes followed. The Americans built a system of blockhouses along the disputed border. Of these, the one remaining original stands in Fort Kent. The Webster-Ashburton Treaty settled the dispute in 1842. The term bloodless is a misnomer. The War claimed thirty-eight non-combatant lives, most by accident or disease. Local lore holds that two of these casualties resulted from bear mauling.

Today the border runs along various rivers. In wooded areas, it’s determined by The Slash. A twenty-foot-wide clear-cut area between the two countries. The modern-day Slash figures in my latest work in progress, the Aroostook War does not. The book is contemporary, not historical. Knowing the history gave me background to understand the subtilties of the setting and my protagonist.

Reader and writers, do you find a touch of history adds to your enjoyment of a setting and a story?

[1] Which as a Jersey girl I know is located in New Jersey.

About kaitcarson

I write mysteries set in South Florida. The Hayden Kent series is set in the Florida Keys. Hayden is a SCUBA diving paralegal who keeps finding bodies. Underwater, no one can hear you scream! Catherine Swope is a Miami Realtor with a penchant for finding bodies in the darndest places. I live in the Crown of Maine with my husband, four cats, and a flock of conures.
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15 Responses to The Mystery of History by Kait Carson

  1. Kaitlyn Dunnett says:

    Great post, Kait. And we have the slash in Franklin County too.

    (this is Kaitlyn/Kathy, in case I come through as “anonymous” again)

    • kaitcarson says:

      Thanks, Kathy. It’s a fascinating place, especially when seen from the air! Lots of grist for the writing mill in that.

  2. jselbo says:

    I wish my dad (or me or anyone) had encouraged the history lesson to prepare for the event. Great idea. Is this book out yet? I really want to read it!

    • kaitcarson says:

      Thanks Jule. The book is in the first draft stage, so it has far to go.

      My dad was a stickler for hands on learning. Most kid got fairy tales at night, I got the Book of Knowledge. I think he had the right idea.

  3. Love the story about your father making you learn history. What a great way to enhance your knowledge of things and encourage research in the future. Way to go, Dad! Loved your post.


    • kaitcarson says:

      Thank Kate. Dad was one of a kind. He was an industrial engineer by trade, but he loved to teach and never told me I couldn’t do or learn something. An amazing guy I miss daily.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I majored in history in college and have written one YA historical novel. Researching it took me back to the late 1960s. There are certain places that really create feelings. Harpers Ferry and Mount Rushmore come to mind.

    • kaitcarson says:

      So true about places creating feelings. Harpers Ferry, Charleston, and other places really bring that home! Thank you for commenting.

  5. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    From the swamp to the snow! The County is a country of its own. Love that you’ll be writing about it!

  6. Amber Foxx says:

    I’m working a book now that includes Maine as well as New Mexico, and I wonder if Maine is still as vivid to me as it once was. Knowing the local history gives depth to my New Mexico stories–Truth or Consequences’ history as Apache land, the history of the ghost town of Chloride–because the history is meaningful to many of my characters.

  7. Brenda Buchanan says:

    Such an interesting post, Kait! I learned some things I didn’t know and am looking forward to that work in progress. The County is a wonderful setting!

  8. Sandra Neily says:

    Kait, loved this post. Especially The Slash….looking forward to how it appears in your work. Moose poachers on the Candian side build (built?) huge towers to spot moose. They cross, kill them, and drag them across the river. At least Game Wardens I knew long ago got posted up to the SLASH to deal with this thing. Wonder if it’s still going on?

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