Colette Clark started her literary career as a legal research librarian-isn’t that perfect for writing historical crime/mysteries? She loves crime shows, crossword puzzles and traveling. A true creative, she works on art quilts, drawing and sampling the weird cocktails on the menu. Colette writes the Penelope Banks Murder Mysteries, and you can follow her on BookBub, Facebook, Amazon, and Goodreads.
Let’s find out more about Colette’s books, I think you’re going to love her main character, Penelope Banks, background!
What made you decide to write a Historical Cozy?
I was a history major in college and have always been interested in the subject. As a reference librarian for my day job, it makes it easy to find resources and research. Since mysteries are my favorite genre to read, it just made sense to combine the two. In fact, I’ve begun including portions of my research as author’s notes in the back of my books.
Tell us what time frame your stories are in and what setting or world?
I picked the 1920s New York (though next year, my protagonist will do a little world traveling) since it’s such a fascinating period of change, especially for women. I know most mysteries of this period take place in the UK, but I’m in love with New York and think that era is particularly exciting for that location, what with Prohibition, the mob, jazz, flappers, the Harlem Renaissance, etc. I also enjoy witnessing the transition through my protagonist’s eyes. When she was a child, horse-drawn vehicles were still the norm and electricity was still a new-fangled thing. Now, cars are taking over and electricity is the norm in a lot of areas. She’s very much a modern woman.
Who is your protagonist? Tell us a bit about them and why they were chosen.
Her name is Penelope Banks. She’s a former wealthy socialite who was cut off and spent the three years prior to the start of my series gambling at cards in speakeasies and clubs for extra money. I wanted her to be exposed to and familiar with the various inhabitants of New York, not just the wealthy and privileged set of her past, but people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, socio-economic status, races, “proclivities,” careers, and yes, the criminal element as well. For the most part, they all play a role in each book. However, in her new occupation as a private investigator, she is still learning as she goes. For example, she eventually learns to use a gun, drive a car (there’s a fun bit in one of my books about being a New Yorker and never having learned to drive a car–which is still a thing today), and educating herself about local and world politics. Think Miss Fisher, before she became the great and worldly Miss Fisher.
What sets your mysteries apart from other cozies?
Other than taking place in New York, I really like to incorporate actual history into my stories. For example, the fight over extending Park Avenue and the reasons behind it, the Asian Exclusion Act, the Black and Tan clubs of Greenwich Village, the true history of specific cocktails and slang words. Sometimes they play a major role in the story. Sometimes they are little Easter eggs, like law students off-handedly discussing the Scopes Trial (from the play, Inherit the Wind) the way we might debate Roe vs. Wade today. I still like to keep things cozy, but I can’t help inserting real and sometimes controversial history into each of my books.
How much research do you do to create your story, and how much do you include in your books?
Quite a bit! Thank goodness for the internet, but I also take full advantage of being in the city where my stories take place. The Brooklyn Public Library is my second home. I’ve also learned quite a bit from the various tours the city offers, where I learn so many weird and wonderful facts. A Murder in Washington Square came about because of one of these tours, in fact. QUITE the interesting history there! I found the most ridiculous quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald that lead to A Murder in the Gardens. I’ve even visited a few authentic speakeasies–strictly for research purposes, of course. 😉 But seriously, research is one of my favorite parts of writing these books.
Do you feel the crimes committed in historical cozy are very different from a contemporary cozy?
Not really. Anyone who has ever traveled soon realizes that at our essence, humans are more alike than we are different. Time hasn’t changed that, and motives like jealousy, greed, anger, etc. remain the same. The only difference is laws and social norms that made means and opportunity easier or more difficult. Guns and dangerous substances weren’t quite as regulated back then. It was also easier to disappear in 1920s before Social Security came about, and when many people’s only record of birth was a name in the family Bible (like my own grandmother!).