As a member of the Chicago Writer’s Association (http://www.chicagowrites.org/), I’m thrilled to meet local writers who share a passion for Historical Fiction, even if they’re not always in genres or styles I normally delve into. In the next couple of posts you’ll meet a couple of these folks. First up is Pat Camalliere, author of the new historical mystery, The Mystery at Black Partridge Woods. It’s part of the Cora Tozzi Mystery Series.
You live just down the road from me… what should my readers know about you?
I became a mystery addict one summer when I was twelve and found a box of about sixty Perry Mason mysteries in my parent’s attic. I read them all by the end of the summer, exhausted the library’s supply, and then moved on to Rex Stout and Agatha Christie. (My first preteen crush was on Archie Goodwin.) Wayne’s note: me too! My grandmother left us boxes of books by Erle Stanley Gardner and Zane Grey and I worked through them all. In high school I wrote mystery stories for the school’s literary publications, then after college I set writing aside for a “practical” career in medical group administration. Administration is all about writing: memos, reports, letters, website content, procedures, etc. I was told I had a real knack for the written word.
My passion for local history came later, and increased after I moved to Lemont in 1998 and discovered the fascinating and quirky anecdotes and geography of the area. When I retired in 2007 I was ready to see if I truly had talent as an author. I had wasted too many years, and had no time to waste more. I bypassed the traditional route of soliciting literary publications to print smaller works; my first serious manuscript became my first novel, The Mystery at Sag Bridge. It was received enthusiastically and my fans demanded more, so I began work on my next novel right away.
So this is your second novel. What’s the tale about?
It was important to me to tell stories that would delight local residents with little-known facts about the place they lived and introduce nonresidents to a unique part of the Midwest. Of course, my stories had to be historical mysteries, and they had to be entertaining, with perhaps a bit of humor, whimsy, and a touch of the supernatural. Both books begin in present day and reveal a mystery that relates to another mystery from the past. The books then step into history and uncover the circumstances that led to the murder from the viewpoint character in that time period, and then return to the present and the amateur sleuth deals with both mysteries. I call them sandwich mysteries, the meat in the middle.
In my first book, The Mystery at Sag Bridge, the main character is being haunted by the ghost of a young Irish woman who was killed in an unsolved triple homicide in 1898. The protagonist must solve the murder to allow the spirit to rest, but in the process becomes emotionally involved and shows reluctance to have the ghost depart. My readers loved the characters, so I decided to write the next book as #2 in a historical mystery series. In my new release, The Mystery at Black Partridge Woods, the present-day characters are writing a book based on the memoirs of an American Indian woman whose only son was accused of killing a white man in 1817. To save her son the woman must find the real killer and bring him in, in an Illinois frontier with little more than vigilante justice. The writers soon receive a threatening letter and then are attacked: someone wants to prevent publication of their book. This is a book-within-a-book, in which the Indian woman tells her story in her own words.
So what brought you to the story and this particular time period?
I had always had little oddball events happen to me that I couldn’t explain: drawers that opened on their own, things that disappeared and then were found back in place. Little things like that. I asked myself: what if there was a real presence out there, instead of just coincidence? What might that look like? The Mystery of Sag Bridge came into being as I followed answers to such questions. Oddly, the ghost began in my mind as a Guardian Angel. It was only as I was conducting paranormal and religious research that I realized the behavior patterns I wanted the character to have fit a ghost better than an “Angel gone awry.” I put some of my own experiences into the story, as I had vivid memories of my own Irish grandmother that could be used to bring some color to the part of the story that was told in first person by the woman who later became the ghost.
The Mystery at Black Partridge Woods was actually the first story I wanted to
write, but I had absolutely no experience that related to the historic culture or time period, so I knew the research would be extensive. When I started writing I wanted to test my writing prowess more quickly, so this became my second book instead of the first. The idea developed from my interest in telling a story from the fur trade period, which again is part of the history of my town. I wanted to feature an American Indian woman. There were few stories that dealt with American Indian women as protagonists, especially the amateur sleuth sort, especially in the early 1800s. It took two years to research the time period to pick a date and assemble enough information to imbue the work with the history needed to make it come alive. But I knew from the beginning it would be set close to home, in the forests, bluffs, and swamps in the Des Plaines River Valley southwest of Chicago. I loved this time and place so much I wrote a six-page historical afterword for the novel.
Where can people learn more?
They can find my website and local history blog at www.Patcamallierebooks.com
And you can find me on Facebook at PatCamallierebooks