Please give a warm Mysteristas welcome to Eleanor Kuhns, author of Will Rees mysteries!
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
One in which I get to write for more than 45 minutes without interruption.
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?
My favorite color is red. My husband and friends tease me because I always say “It’s maddening.”
Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
My childhood favorites were Robert Heinlein, Andre Norton and Rosemary Sutcliffe. Once I began reading mysteries I zoomed through all of the Agatha Christie. Now my favorites are Barbara Hambly and Anne Perry.
Do you listen to music when you write?
Sometimes, if it is noisy in the house. If it is quiet and I don’t need the white noise, I usually don’t.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Bittersweet chocolate. I try to straddle the cozy and the noir.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I think this period of American history, the so-called Federalist period, is one of the forgotten eras. Many people believe that after the Revolution the new country was all set. Nothing is further from the truth. Besides all the problems that were not resolved during the Revolution (between North and South, city and country side, slave owner and abolitionist) there were already signs like the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 of the coming Civil War.
While I was researching Death in Salem – and visiting Salem – I kept running into all the displays, plays and other things memorializing the witch trials of 1692. I couldn’t get the women accused of witchcraft out of my head. How must it have felt for them when friends, neighbors and family turned on them? Lydia, as a former Shaker and therefore suspicious, would have been an easy target.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I write a lot about the conditions surrounding women. They were so oppressed then. If they were widowed, they did not even inherit unless the husband left a will particularly mentioning his wife by name. If he did not, she became the ward of her eldest son.
I also write about the vulnerable – the disabled and the ill. I can’t help but wonder about the lives these poor souls would live during that time when there was NO safety net – unless one was lucky enough to be taken in by the Shakers. In Simple Murder one of my main characters had a cleft palate. I discussed the effect of Poor Laws on orphans in Cradle to Grave. In the newest book, so far still unpublished, I have an autistic character.
Tell us about your main character.
Will Rees, a Continental soldier during the Revolutionary War, is now a traveling weaver. One of my hobbies in weaving so I could write about it with some knowledge. (I love, love, love textiles and I quilt, spin and dye as well.) In the late 1700s one of the few jobs done by both men and women was weaving. Men took their looms on the road while the women who owned looms, which were very expensive, stayed in the home. So I had my main character. He has a quick temper and was a brawler in his youth, a past that sometimes comes back to haunt him. He also has an insatiable curiosity and a passion for the truth.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Steven Hockensmith with Lisa Falco
What’s next for you?
Besides the just-completed new book, I have several more ideas for Will Rees. I’d also like to begin a new series, this one set in Bronze age Crete, although I admit the research seems a little daunting.
Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel. A lifelong librarian, she received her Masters from Columbia University and is currently the Assistant Director of the Goshen Public Library in Orange County New York.