Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Planting Seeds, Growing a Series

by Kathleen Ernst

I’m grateful to Deb Baker for allowing me to be a guest here on Cozy Chicks. And I’m grateful to readers! I love my work, and I’d be nowhere without you. Leave a comment here, and your name will go into a daily drawing for one free book. The winner can choose any of my sixteen titles. Old World Murder, one of my American Girl mysteries, a Civil War novel—the choice will be yours!

What’s even more fun than holding a copy of your own book in your hands? Holding a copy of the first book in a new series. After fifteen stand-alone titles (most in the juvenile/young adult realm), I’m launching an adult mystery series this month: Old World Murder, A Chloe Ellefson Mystery (Midnight Ink).

My protagonist, Chloe Ellefson, is the new curator at a huge historic site called Old World Wisconsin. She’s struggling to leave behind some heartaches, and wants nothing more than to get off to a good start at the historic site. On her first day, however, an elderly donor begs (unsuccessfully) for the return of an artifact she’d donated to Old World years earlier. Moments after that meeting, the woman dies in a car crash. Chloe soon discovers that the artifact is missing—and that someone else who wants it is willing to kill.

I knew from the get-go that I wanted Old World Murder to begin a series. Structure-wise, I thought it would be fun to have Chloe visit other historic sites as the series progresses.

But as a reader, I know that what keeps me coming back to favorite series is the personal arc that propels complex and appealing characters from book to book. So I made some choices that will, I hope, give me lots to work with in the future.

First, I decided to have two point-of-view protagonists. The second is Roelke McKenna, a part-time patrol cop in the small village of Eagle. Roelke is struggling with some personal issues of his own, including the fact that his family and friends think he made an enormous mistake to leave the high-intensity Milwaukee police department in favor of a small town. He’s got a good heart, but when pushed too far, can cross professional boundaries.

Planning a series gave me the fun opportunity of creating complex backstories for both Chloe and Roelke. Chloe has some unfinished business with a colleague in Switzerland. Roelke keeps a photograph of a woman who disappeared years earlier. Chloe’s parents, who live nearby, are affectionate but detached. Roelke’s father was an alcoholic, and his brother is in prison. I’ve dropped some references to these situations into Old World Murder, but I’ll be exploring those relationships in later books.

I also had fun creating a couple of recurring secondary characters with their own complicated backstories—all providing more opportunities for future storylines. Book 2, tentatively titled Deadly as Diamonds, is well underway.

I earn my living as a novelist, and I know how lucky I am. I am also enormously grateful to the readers and publishers who make that possible. I hope you enjoy reading Old World Murder as much as I enjoyed writing it.

What keeps you coming back to your favorite series?

Kathleen Ernst is celebrating the publication of her first adult mystery, Old World Murder (Midnight Ink). She has also written eight mysteries for young readers. Several have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards. For more information see her website,, or her blog,