Please welcome author Meg Wolfe, who will talk about her Charlotte Anthony Mysteries:
Meg Wolfe: About the Charlotte Anthony Mysteries
I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce readers to my Charlotte Anthony novels. They are traditional, character-driven mysteries whose overarching theme is how the past informs the present, and how a small town in the American Midwest can be connected to a much larger world.
Originally, I planned to write a cozy series, fairly madcap and lighthearted. After about a month, I realized that while I could do cozily domestic up to a point (nesting, cats, tea and coffee drinking, recipes, etc.), madcap and lighthearted were not part of my repertoire. I enjoy reading such books, but writing them was torture, and my respect skyrocketed for anyone who can write them.
No, I had to accept the fact that as a writer, I was of a more introspective temperament. A traditional sort of mystery would better suit.
Thus, Charlotte morphed from a spiky widow mistakenly reputed to be a witch into a forty-something divorced editor and mother of a gifted teenager who suddenly finds herself facing an empty nest and financial disaster. In her attempts to downsize and reinvent her life, Charlotte is forced to move back to her former town and to rely on the help and goodwill of what friends she still has, plus the new ones she makes. One of them connects her with an editing project, which seems ideal, except that Charlotte finds the elderly client left for dead the first day on the job. The client’s sister wishes the work to continue, and in the course of juggling the job and selling off everything she owns, Charlotte finds herself caught up in a murder mystery as both amateur accidental sleuth and potential victim.
What I enjoyed the most in writing this first book of the series, An Uncollected Death, is the way Charlotte discovers how a small town could have inhabitants with connections to a much larger world, and not just a criminal one, either. To me, this wasn’t far-fetched at all. I grew up on a farm five miles from a small town, went to college in a small town, and lived in a small, laid back, lakefront town. But I’ve met people who had incredible stories and wide-reaching influence. A lot of them can exist in the same small town, too, and occasionally their stories overlap.
For me, the most interesting stories are the ones where the motivation extends back into time. Even good people have done things that they regret, things that they cannot go back and change. For many years I was a garden designer, and I built up my business by word of mouth referrals. As a result, many of my clients were elderly, each one full of stories and with homes that reflected a lifetime of cultivated interests. One of my favorite clients was a scientist on the Manhattan Project who later became a world traveler and a civil rights activist. He and his wife lived in an International-style house nestled in a wooded dune, and their home was full of books and amazing art and artifacts. But it was the things he had to say about the world—his first-hand experience of history, people, and consequences—that really stuck with me. “The past informs the present,” he said. I’d heard that phrase before, but his take on things made it come alive, and I began to see local history in a new way.
As a couple of decades went by, the changes I witnessed in people and places only emphasized how the past influences things that happen today and the way they happen. When I am faced with the question of a character’s motivation, it seems natural to burrow into the past, dig into their history, and into the history of the place where they live. What was at stake for them thirty or forty years ago, and what’s still at stake today? What is valuable now, and how did it come about fifty or even a hundred years ago?
The love of research and an eye for patterns, trends, and themes are handy skill sets for an editor in the design industry, as Charlotte was before her life changed. It is also the skill set that brings a state police detective to occasionally engage her help as a “community resource” when suspects and motivation are elusive. This keeps Charlotte squarely in the amateur sleuth camp, but also enables her to dig for treasured clues below the surface of the people and places of Elm Grove.
She quite literally goes below the surface of Elm Grove in the second book, An Unexamined Wife, where a tunnel system, once part of the Underground Railroad and later expanded during Prohibition, plays an important role in both a cold-case murder and a contemporary one. Metaphorically, the buried desires and hurts harbored by a person—whether it is the criminal or Charlotte herself—can come to the surface and cause them to do things that others cannot at first understand.
Some readers have described my books as women’s fiction framed by a mystery, and that is probably accurate. I wanted a heroine who goes through real-life challenges and growth that are parallel to the story of the crime, and yet become part of the tools she needs to solve the mystery. Each of the books reveals something important not only about the town of Elm Grove and its denizens, but about Charlotte and her past—the way she sees the world around her, and the way she shifts her perspective. Like most of us, she doesn’t have all the answers to life’s questions going in. She’s stubborn about some things, and changes her mind about others. She tries hard to be a good person. She has a tendency to second-guess her own motivations and desires.
The origins of the crime in the third mystery, An Undisclosed Vocation, mostly date from the war in Vietnam, and from as far back as when that country was French Indochina. But it also finally reveals Charlotte’s own background and childhood, giving us an even better understanding of her personal conflicts and weak points. We know from the opening paragraph of the first book of the series that she is prone to drinking a little too much red wine, but it isn’t until the third that we learn why it is a sensitive issue. But by getting in touch with her past and her memories, she is able to free up a lot of things she knows, things that help her to see patterns of behavior in the crime.
I’m currently working on the fourth Charlotte mystery, An Uncharted Corpse, which will be available this fall. Things are now pretty stable in Charlotte’s personal life, or at least until her daughter Ellis comes home and delivers a bombshell. There’s also a mummy, a conflict between academics and fan-fic enthusiasts, a famous composer who took a twenty-year break to write about astrology, and something a little naughty in Charlotte’s past that doesn’t overly bother her—until it looks like it might have something to do with why someone died.
As always, the past informs the present.
Meg Wolfe is the author of the Charlotte Anthony Mysteries and other fiction and creative nonfiction, having finally settled down after a lifetime of varied and interesting careers in garden design, cooking, and art. She lives in Northwest Indiana with her husband, photographer and artist Steve Johnson.
Meg’s books are available at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Meg-Wolfe/e/B0058PWO38/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1