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.
You can learn more about Kathleen and her books at her website/blog. She can also be found on Facebook and Goodreads.
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.
Margot Kinberg says
Finding one’s voice is really important, whether we’re talking about a character or the author. In both cases, an authentic voice adds depth and richness to writing. There’s a lot to think about here, for which thanks, both.
Kathleen Ernst says
Thanks, Margot–“depth and richness” is a wonderful way to put it.
Kathleen Ernst says
Good point, Alex! And Patricia, thanks for inviting me to visit today. I’ll be on the road, but will check in this evening.
Thank you for being here, Kathleen! Books with echoes of the history behind the story are as much fun to read as good historical novels. I’m eager to read Death on the Prairie, just because I have an authenticated antique quilt that was given to my mom and then put in my hands for safekeeping. I’m afraid to put it out on display for fear my Katie Cat will decide to sharpen her claws on it. 😀
Kathleen Ernst says
Patricia, our feline friends do seem to know just what we don’t want them to knead! But how nice that you have such a treasure.
Alex J. Cavanaugh says
Sounds like with this book, everyone was trying to find a voice. Interesting to tie Wilder in with the story. I’m sure that draws in even more fans.