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Thursday, February 9, 2012


Kathleen Ernst is back today for another visit. Kathleen is the author of fourteen historical novels for young readers and the Chloe Ellefson mysteries for adults.  The second Chloe book, The Heirloom Murders, was published last fall.  Visit Kathleen at her blog to follow her meanderings through the intersection of history and fiction, and see her website for more information about her books.

Kathleen is offering a copy of any one of her seventeen books to one of our readers who leaves a comment this week. Don’t forget to check back on Sunday to find out if you’re the lucky winner. Otherwise we have no way of getting your book to you unless you leave an email address along with your comment. -- AP
Author Kathleen Ernst doing Rosemaling

I love handwork.  My current passion is rosemaling, sometimes called rose painting.  Rosemaling is a decorative folk art long practiced in rural Norway.  Nineteenth-century immigrants brought treasured pieces across the Atlantic in their trunks, but the art itself almost died out in the new world.  A revival began during the Great Depression, and an even bigger revival surged in the 1960s.

Today rosemaling is thriving.  I’ve been lucky enough to take two classes at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.  Vesterheim also sponsors a National Exhibition in the Folk Arts each July.  Entrants compete for ribbons; those who earn enough ribbons over the years earn a coveted Gold Medal.

Earning a Gold Medal would be extremely cool, but it’s not something I aspire to.  Developing such proficiency requires, I imagine, total focus and dedication to the art.  I’ve worked with equal tenacity to establish myself as a working writer.  When it comes to handicrafts, though, I don’t have that much single-minded commitment.  I’m an unashamed dabbler.

Author Kathleen Ernst at a weaving loom
My introduction to domestic arts and crafts is rooted in my fascination with history.  Most of my novels for young readers are historical fiction.  I’ve worked as an interpreter and curator at historic sites.  Chloe Ellefson, protagonist of my adult mystery series, is also a curator.  The plots always involve some historical event or theme that resonates through time and affects the here-and-now.  And many feature an heirloom art.

Folk-art pieces in museum collections are often the only tangible hint of anonymous lives long gone.  One of the characters in my newest book, The Heirloom Murders, is an elderly woman of Swiss descent.  When I found some embroidery in Swiss Historical Village and Museum in New Glarus, Wisconsin, I felt as if I’d found a reflection of my fictional character.

Overshot Weaving
Women who were illiterate or simply too busy to write diaries or letters did leave some of themselves in their quilts or woven coverlets or bits of lace; men in their painted trunks or carved ale bowls.  When I learn the rudiments of those crafts, I feel just a bit of kinship to the long chain of women and men who developed or practiced the art.  By incorporating a handicraft in a novel, I hope to honor all those people who faced enormous challenges and yet found ways to express themselves and indulge in creative pursuits.

Which brings me back to rosemaling.  The plot of the first Chloe mystery, Old World Murder, revolves around a missing antique—a Norwegian rosemaled ale bowl.  Chloe’s mom happens to be a Gold Medalist painter.  Those choices provide some mom-daughter conflict as the series progresses, introduced some readers to the art of rosemaling, and sparked my own interest in painting.  I’ll never be a great rose painter, but I do intend to keep learning and practicing as time permits.

Characters in some of my other mysteries include an 18th-century young woman who is passionate about overshot weaving, a basket maker living in the Kentucky hills, and Depression-era quiltmaking using flour sack fabrics.

Embroidery from the Swiss Historical Village and Museum
I just started developing ideas for my fourth Chloe Ellefson mystery.  No title yet, but I’ve decided the plot will include a glimpse of the centuries-old art of chip carving.  I’ve never dabbled in woodworking before.  I can’t wait to give it a try.

How about you?  Do you prefer to stick with one art or craft, or do you like trying new things?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I’m grateful to Anastasia for inviting me to visit.  And I’m grateful to readers! I love my work, and I’d be nowhere without you. Leave a comment (and a way to contact you), and your name will go into a drawing for a free book. The winner can choose any of my seventeen titles. A Chloe Ellefson book, one of my American Girl mysteries, a Civil War novel—the choice will be yours! To learn more, please visit my website.

Thanks so much for joining us today. As for me, I’m a dabbler like you. What about the rest of you readers? -- AP


Jane R said...

I read the first book in this series, Old World Murder, and loved it! Our son lives in Madison, WI and we try to visit frequently. The book mentioned several locations I'm familiar with, making it that much more enjoyable. On top of that, I love living history, visiting historical sites and museums and mysteries. Chloe is a great character and I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series. Thanks for the post!

Kathleen Ernst said...

Jane, I'm so glad you enjoyed Old World Murder! It's fun to incorporate real places in these stories, adding a bit of fun for those readers who are familiar with the area. Thanks for the kind words.

Liz said...

Finished Too Afraid to Cry. Excellent.
Must try your mysteries. Thanks for this chance.

traveler said...

Your mysteries which involve fascinating locations and wonderful plots are a joy. Your craft ability is special. I am not creative nor talented. I cook gourmet meals. Best wishes.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Liz, thanks so much! I've written in diverse arenas, but it's all wrapped around the common theme of looking for the long-gone human stories that often get overlooked.

Traveler, I so appreciate your comment! And ooh, cooking gourmet meals...that sounds like a crative talent to me.

-=/\/=- said...

I think it is amazing that you learn new crafts while doing your research, and then incorporate your new-found knowledge into your stories. Can't help but add a sense of "realism" to what your audience reads. I love being introduced to new authors, and cannot wait to start reading "Old World Murder!" Thanks for the chance to win one of your books!

Nancy Graziano

Dru said...

Hi Kathleen,

I like to try new things, but unfortunately, sometimes I can't find classes locally.

Linda Loeffelholz said...

I live in Wisconsin and am looking forward to reading your books. I just heard about them today.

Stephanie said...

I am reading Old World Murder right now and really enjoying it. The level of detail around the museum and crafts make the story unique. I like how you capture the frustrations of starting a job and being given conflicting directions. You know what needs to be done, but you get stuck in workplace political battles.

Kathleen Ernst said...

N - I do get a bit intense about research sometimes, but it makes the process so much fun!

Dru - I do understand that frustration. I tend to treat myself once a year to a particular workshop somewhere out of my own area, such as rosemaling for several days in Decorah, Iowa. Being away from home lets me really immerse myself in something new.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Linda - I hope you do enjoy them! I've heard from readers around the country, but I think WI readers do appreciate the familiar landscape.

Stephanie - I often tell people that Chloe is *not* me...but nonetheless I draw from lots of memories about my own days in the museum biz for some of those details!

Prentiss Garner said...

I am a dabbler, but my first love is reading!!!! Your books sound great.

Prentiss Gsrner
3047 Winston Dr #170
Burlington, NC 27215


pennyt said...

I've read and enjoyed several of your teen mysteries, but am now looking forward to meeting Chloe. Thanks for a great post.

pennyt at hotmail dot com

Stacie said...

I can't wait to read your series. I'm a genealogist and a cozy mystery addict so I know I am going to love your books. Your research sounds like a lot of fun. Thanks for the giveaway!


Lexie said...

Really enjoyed some of your American Girl books when I was younger, so I'm definitely interested in checking out your adult series now. :) Thanks for the post!

shakes pearean lover 1215 AT yahoo DOT com

Kathleen Ernst said...

Prentiss - I hope you enjoy them! North Carolina is one of my favorite states, and I hope to get protagonist Chloe there sometime.

Penny - so glad you enjoyed some of my YA mysteries. I do hope you like the Chloe books too.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Stacie - it sounds like the Chloe books would be a good match! Chloe's mom is a genealogist extraordinaire, and each mystery involves past events stretching out to plink current ones.

Lexie - I'm glad you enjoyed some of my AG books! I'm still writing for AG, but it is fun to spend time writing for adults as well.

Heidiwriter said...

The thing I love most about writing is learning new things! Your experience sounds like such fun.

Tawnie said...

Loved your AG books. Look forward to reading more of them. Thanks for the giveaway!!!

Stacie said...

Kathleen, you're right your series sounds absolutely perfect for me. I moved it to the top of my TBR list. I love mysteries that entwine the past & historical elements with the present. It gives them such depth & dimension.
When will your 3rd book be released? Also, I love the idea for book number 4. My finance does wood carving/restoration as a career following several generations of his family in the business. His carvings are amazing & totally mesmerize me. I love keeping the arts and crafts alive as they are an important part of our history. Thank you for incorporating these heirloom arts in your books. Hopefully it will spark some new interest. Keep the books coming! Thanks again for the giveaway! :)


Steven said...

My wife loves historical mysteries. This series sounds perfect for her. Thought I'd enter and surprise her if I win. Thank for the post!