Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by Connie Knight.
My History Mystery by Connie Knight
When I wrote my first novel, I decided on mystery as my genre. I put a rough outline together, created a basic plot, came up with a setting and some characters. The Texas ranch land some miles from San Antonio appealed to me. My father’s family had settled there in 1825; we visited relatives often when I was a child; and I decided the country was an interesting place to write about.
But as I put my paragraphs on paper, I found that dips into the past were necessary to develop the contemporary story about the current murder. I had to develop motives for one character to dig up a patch of irises in an old graveyard, and a motive for someone to shoot him. A reason for Caroline and Janet to find Prof. Harrison’s body in their family cemetery, and a way for them to become amateur family detectives.
I thought about my characters, gave them names and sketched their personalities. Caroline had an interest in genealogy that brought her into research and turned up clues about the murder. She used census records, deeds, letters, oral history, trips to San Antonio to assess historic houses, talk to people, and attend a funeral. Some records or newspaper articles were on the computer; others she obtained from county courthouses and another genealogist.
The ancient documents that fell into Caroline’s hands reflected Texas history from the days that generated them. Long-ago deeds, a Bible listing the family tree, a rifle used in the Civil War, might have a tangle of effects now. I had to research life as it was in the 1800s to depict these things, and more, in my fictional story. Establishment of Texas colonies in 1825, the Civil War and its impact such as the terrible Sutton-Taylor Feud in DeWitt County, family secrets that would have disappeared if Caroline didn’t want to hear them—these are fictional but based on real items and events that my research revealed.
Caroline researched old records, but clues from today’s events also solved the puzzle. As a writer, research about today’s events—a struggle to depict today’s life in the country when I remember visits there as a child—involved reading the local newspaper and talking to people, so I could create a fictional life in a real, current town.
Another reason for research: you may have a touch of knowledge about something like the Chisholm Trail, or the construction of railroads, but do you have the necessary details your story requires? Very often I didn’t. Research, research, research. It may not create the plot and the characters, but it gives you the material for the background. Your story becomes a history mystery, whether the history is one hundred years ago or yesterday.
Thank you, Connie. I write very little history but that certainly makes it more appealing.
Connie Knight grew up in San Antonio, Texas with many childhood visits to her family in the DeWitt County area. Her writing career includes work as a journalist and magazine editor. She now lives in Houston with her family, visits her cousins, and works on a third Caroline Hargrove Hamilton mystery. Cemetery Whites and Chances Choices Changes Death are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can find out more about Connie and her writing from:
- and from this blog, my guests who have written on this topic are… Alison Bruce, Lou Allin, Margaret Muir, and Phoebe Matthews (historical), Graham Smith 1, Graham Smith 2, DJ Swykert, Jim Webster, Marietta Miemietz, Marla Madison, Quentin Bates, Warren Bull, and Wayne Zurl (crime / mystery / thriller / suspense).
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