Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels. She lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Sassy Dog, and Katie Cat. Learn more about Pat at her website/blog.
Wishing Caswell Dead is Not a Cozy
The characters in my new novel are about as un-cozy a bunch as you’d ever want to meet. Or not want to meet, to be more precise.
I created a little fictitious village called Sangamon that sits on a river in east central Illinois in 1833-1834. Young Jo Mae Proud lives there in a run-down log cabin with a down-on-her-luck mother and much-older half-brother Caswell. I gave Jo Mae a monumental challenge, then surrounded her with flawed, not-so-nice adults. Bad things happen to Jo Mae along the way. The worst character in the book, Caswell, is murdered. But we know there’s always good to be found, even when evil seems to rule the times. Jo Mae finds the good in the old Kickapoo Indian named Fish and escapes Sangamon in search of a better life.
Bringing a story like this to Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers might seem odd, but during my research, I found mention of so many early American crafts. The big loom that appears in one home in the story is something I saw in a museum.
Jo Mae’s home had not so much as a needle or even a bar of soap, and her best dress was fashioned from a printed feed sack. How many of you are even old enough to remember what those old feed sacks printed with tiny flowers looked like?
No fancy cooking went on in the Proud household. Boiling a small piece of meat or fish with vegetables was the best Jo Mae’s mother could do. When Jo Mae goes to live with the old Kickapoo Indian in his camp by the river, she learns a little more about eating good food. She also learns not to throw a handful of dried apples into the stew. The apples were windfalls…and they were wormy. Once tossed into the cookpot, the worms floated to the top, a very unappetizing sight.
Drying foods is a good way to preserve an overabundance of fruits or vegetables in today’s world, too. I’d recommend not using wormy apples. Slice them very thin (as with a mandolin, if you dare), and dry them in your oven. There are directions online for the process as well as recipes for using the dried fruits.
When researching this type of information for Wishing Caswell Dead, I visited the Museum of the Grand Prairie in Mahomet, Illinois. There was a wealth of information, including hand-quilted goods and needlework, tools, machines, and items used in homes and for cooking. I was most interested in quilting, something I’d like to try for myself one of these days.
I have an antique quilt that I’m afraid to display for fear it will be damaged in some way, especially as I have a cat with claws and a dog who loves to cuddle into cozy blankets. At present, I take the quilt out from time to time and refold or roll it to avoid permanent creases. The quilt came from Illinois originally and its age was authenticated by the Illinois State Museum. It’s not quite as old as the quilts that characters in the Village of Sangamon would use, but it’s certainly representative of the style and design of those times.
I’d love to know if any of you are expert quilters, and if you quilt by hand or by sewing machine. Any weavers with a loom at home? What about cooks who dry fruits and veggies for use later?
I won’t pretend Wishing Caswell Dead is full of killer crafts, but that historical period offers excellent ideas for today’s crafty reader looking for new projects…or for the crafty cozy writer looking for new plots and characters.
Wishing Caswell Dead:
In the early 1800s in a village on the Illinois frontier, young Jo Mae Proud wishes her cruel brother dead. Forced into prostitution by Caswell, Jo Mae discovers she is pregnant and vows to escape. When Caswell is injured by a near lightning hit, he becomes more dangerous, and more hated. The flawed residents of the Village of Sangamon harbor many secrets. Caswell knows them all. Will he tell? Jo Mae runs away and eventually finds shelter with Fish, the old Kickapoo Indian who camps by the river. Wishing Caswell Dead is an historical mystery about the evil that hides within a village, one girl who is determined to save herself and her child, and a violent murder no one wants to solve.