Kathleen has exciting news; her book, The Thanksgiving Ragamuffin, has been nominated for a 2022 Derringer Award for Short story from the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Congratulations!
This author didn’t start her career writing historical fiction. She started on the radio and in the newsroom. She is a weekend morning anchor at 1010 WINS, New York’s top all-news station. She lives with her family and cat in Connecticut. She also writes a blog, that you can access from her website.
What made you decide to write a Historical Cozy?
Well…I’ve been a history buff and a mystery fan since I was able to read, so the idea of putting the two together was just natural. Writing cozy was also natural; I’m a New York City radio news anchor and I get more than enough hard-boiled stuff at the office! So all of that was there. But honestly, Ella Shane and her world just grew around me as I was walking through Washington Square on my way to work. Many of the 19th century buildings are still there, and I found myself thinking about who would live there and what adventures they would have.
Tell us what time frame your stories are in and what setting or world?
The Ella Shane series is set in the Washington Square neighborhood of New York City in 1899-1900. It’s an artistic but respectable enclave, not all that far away from either the older Fifth Avenue mansions or the poorer immigrant neighborhoods.
Who is your protagonist? Tell us a bit about them and why they were chosen.
Ella Shane, born Ellen O’Shaughnessy, to an Irish father and Jewish mother, is a Lower East Side orphan who found fame and fortune as an opera singer specializing in “trouser roles,” heroic male parts sung by women. I got the trouser role idea first; I loved the idea of a woman who can duel and fight like a man, who challenges the limits of her time, and who’s also a bit of a star. But I didn’t want to spend time with a diva, and I doubted any readers would, either. She had to be real. So she became an orphan girl who’s survived deprivation and prejudice and made good thanks to her talent. I like to describe Ella as: part Anne of Green Gables, part Beverly Sills, part Errol Flynn, and all her own woman.
What sets your mysteries apart from other cozies?
For starters, Ella – the Diva Who Duels — is unique. As far as I know, while there are other mysteries set in the opera world, none have main characters who play trouser roles – or handle their own swordplay! She also stands out as a main character who’s from a mixed religious background (very unusual at the time) who practices the faiths of both of her parents. And the diversity of the cast in general is unusual for a 19th century cozy. Ella’s cousin and best friend Tommy Hurley is a boxing champ who’s “not the marrying kind,” i.e. as out and proud as it’s possible to be in 1899. The surrounding cast includes working women, working mothers, and people of every ethnicity that you’d find in New York in 1899. In the second book, A FATAL FIRST NIGHT, there’s even a key character who is Black and passing as white. And they’re all just who they are; this isn’t about checking boxes, it’s about telling a good story with a wide variety of characters.
How much research do you do to create your story, and how much do you include in your books?
I think I’ve been researching these books since the elementary school library! The Victorian Era is one of my favorite historical periods (the Tudor Courts are the other) and I just love immersing myself in the time, the style, and everything involved in just being alive then. A lot of it does make it into the books – I hope not TOO much! Mostly, it’s about giving readers a strong sense of the place and period. So you’ll know what my characters are wearing, and how it feels to move in those clothes, for example. Much of the period detail becomes key plot points, too, of course. In A FATAL OVERTURE, the characters are hoping to avoid headlines about their murder case, so they’re very grateful to see a different scandal on the front page. I had to track down what would have been the top news in February 1900 to make that one work!
Do you feel the crimes committed in historical cozy are very different from a contemporary cozy?
Absolutely. While the handling of the crime is the same (no blood and guts, discreet descriptions of forensic evidence, etc.) as it would be in a contemporary, there are a lot of ways to kill people or solve a murder that are just off the table. No DNA, limited forensics. No information the main characters couldn’t get through traditional legwork. That’s what makes it so fun. Just as Inspector Poirot has to solve his cases with the “little gray cells,” we historical cozy writers have to set up ours with them! I admit, though, that I’ve given myself a little jump on this one: the Duke, Ella’s beau, trained as a barrister and has some forensic expertise – 1890s forensic expertise. So he brings a few twists to the table…but he still can’t whip out a DNA report. Which is as it should be.
A Final thought from Kathleen…
The best thing about writing Historical Cozies, for me, is being able to go back in time to this wonderful place and spend time with a group of people I love…and put them through some fun adventures!
I hope you enjoyed hearing from Kathleen. I have more Historical Cozy Authors to share!