Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today writing about incorporating the history of a real place into fiction, something I get to do with my “Deadly Edits” series set in the part of New York State where I spent my formative years and where various branches of my family settled a good long time ago.
The fictional village of Lenape Hollow is about to celebrate its quasquibicentennial—225 years since its founding—and Mikki Lincoln, my retired teacher turned book doctor and amateur sleuth, has been recruited to update the pageant presented by the local historical society twenty-five years earlier as part of Lenape Hollow’s bicentennial celebrations. There are problems even before a mummified body is discovered inside a walled up chimney.
I’ve been a genealogy buff ever since my grandfather compiled a family history back in the 1960s. It wasn’t much more than a list of names—who was married to whom and what did they call their kids—but he also took me to the local cemetery and, literally, showed me where the bodies were buried. He also wrote his memoirs, including some family stories. As I got older, I found more of those in other sources. Naturally, a few of them found their way into Clause & Effect, the second “Deadly Edits” mystery, in stores on June 25.
One provided a clue. Or perhaps it’s a red herring. You’ll have to read the book to find out. Whichever it is, Mikki finds the following passage in the pageant scrip she’s been asked to edit.
Josiah Baxter was one of the earliest settlers in Lenape Hollow and the following year he persuaded his father, Joshua Baxter, who was formerly from Scotland but for some time a resident of Connecticut, to move west. Joshua, his wife, and his sons Ephriam and Nathan, stopped first at Thunder Hill and then settled in Lenape Hollow. His son William joined them in 1796. Josiah’s wife brought apple seeds with her, which she planted promiscuously among the logs.
Something bothers Mikki about that story, and it doesn’t take her long to figure out what it is. Her grandfather was proud of their ancestor, John Greenleigh. One day when Mikki was ten or eleven, he showed her several passages in a very old book. The first had to do with the founding of Lenape Hollow. The second, in another section, related how John Greenleigh’s cousins settled in nearby Fallsburgh, where his aunt scattered apple seeds “promiscuously among the logs.”
In reality, it was my ancestor, John Gorton, who came from Connecticut. According to Hamilton Child’s Gazetteer and Business Directory of Sullivan County, NY for 1872-3, he arrived in Liberty, NY in 1795 “having previously, in 1793, located with his cousins, Thomas and William Grant, in Fallsburgh.” The history of Fallsburgh in the same volume tells of the arrival of the Grants and a footnote records that “Mrs. Grant brought with her, in her pocket, some apple seeds, which she planted promiscuously among the logs, and now a large number of large trees are scattered over the field.”
How can you not love that description?
I also used another bit of family lore in Clause & Effect. A new character introduced in this second volume in the series is Mikki’s young cousin, Luke Darbee, who comes to Lenape Hollow seeking information about one of his ancestors. He’s figured out that he and Mikki are second cousins twice removed . . . but are they? It seems there was a little hanky-panky going on a few generations back. Luke’s ancestor’s real mother was Mikki’s grandfather’s eldest sister, a sister who got pregnant without benefit of marriage. To preserve her reputation, the child was raised as her brother rather than her son. Luke and Mikki are really second cousins thrice removed. Does that make a difference when there’s a murderer on the loose? Once again, I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that at one time or another Mikki suspects everyone, even Luke.
Mikki ends up solving both past and present murders in Clause & Effect, which leads me to a question for you readers out there: when a mystery series is set in a small town, do you enjoy learning bits and pieces of that town’s history, and sharing the memories of characters who live there, or would you rather have the story focus on the here and now, solving the crime or crimes committed in the present?
With the June 2019 publication of Clause & Effect, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett will have had sixty books traditionally published. 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 as Kaitlyn. As Kathy, her most recent book is a collection of short stories, 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.