In the book world, “voice” is a difficult-to-define but prized element. “I can’t describe voice,” editors say, “but I know it when I see it.”
When conceptualizing my latest Chloe Ellefson mystery, Death on the Prairie, I’ve thought a lot about finding a voice—and not just my own as a writer. Chloe is curator of collections at a large historic site called Old World Wisconsin, a site where I once worked. The series is set in the early 1980s because that’s the era I’m familiar with.
And from the beginning, Chloe sometimes struggles to make herself heard. She once was in a relationship with a man who truly loved her, but couldn’t resist making decisions for her, instead of with her. In her work environment, men (especially one overbearing administrator) try to drown her out.
In Death on the Prairie, a family friend produces an antique quilt said to have been owned by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Chloe decides to visit each Wilder homesite and discuss the quilt with experts. She and her sister set off on an epic road trip to see six sites in six states—with, of course, a killer on their trail. The notion of “finding your voice” surfaced again as I thought about theme and plot potential.
Laura Ingalls Wilder has been in the news a lot lately due to the publication of her memoir, Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography (Pamela Smith Hill, editor; SD Historical Society Press, 2014). Laura wrote it before turning her hand to fiction, but could not find a publisher.
Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, was the first in the family to find publishing success. Rose even used some of Laura’s memories and stories in her own books. Rose also served as a first (and sometimes heavy-handed) editor for Laura’s stories. Laura struggled for years to find her own voice, and the publishing success that came with it.
In each book in the Chloe Ellefson series I look for echoes between the historical story—in this case, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life—and issues that Chloe confronts. Death on the Prairie introduces readers to Chloe’s sister Kari, who is struggling to find her own voice at home.
One of the things that makes reading such a compelling pleasure is the ability to relate to basic human experiences as they emerge within a story, no matter how distant the time and place. I suspect that most of us—women and men—know what it feels like to be tuned out or drowned out.
I hope Death on the Prairie resonates on a personal level, and provides a satisfying read!
Death on the Prairie is the 6th Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery. In addition to the Chloe series, Kathleen has written many books for American Girl, including nine about the historical character she created, Caroline Abbott. She also writes nonfiction, including A Settler’s Year: Pioneer Life Through The Seasons. Over 1.5 million copies of Kathleen’s titles have been sold. The Chloe series has earned a LOVEY Award for Best Traditional Mystery, and several of her mysteries for young readers have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards.
Chloe Ellefson and her sister, Kari, have long dreamed of visiting each historic site dedicated to Laura Ingalls Wilder. When Chloe takes custody of a quilt once owned by the beloved author, the sisters set out on the trip of a lifetime, hoping to prove that Wilder stitched it herself.
But death strikes as the journey begins, and trouble stalks their fellow travelers. Among the “Little House” devotees are academic critics, greedy collectors, and obsessive fans. Kari is distracted by family problems, and unexpected news from Chloe’s boyfriend Roelke jeopardizes her own future. As the sisters travel deeper into Wilder territory, Chloe races to discover the truth about a precious artifact—and her own heart—before a killer can strike again.