This is the first of a series of posts about my upcoming mystery, A Death at Tippitt Pond.
It’s no secret that I’m crazy about history. Currently, I’m moving away from cozy mysteries and into a nebulous genre that resides somewhere between cozy and traditional. Despite beginning a new series after leaving my small Midwest town of Endurance, I find myself in still another Midwest town, a little bigger than my fictional Endurance, but with many similarities that reach into my own Illinois roots and the history of my hometown and region.
The Endurance Mysteries
In my Endurance mysteries [2014-2017], I had the luxury of going back in time. Endurance, an Illinois town of 15,000, was named for the hardy Presbyterian stock that moved from Ohio to brave the wilderness, harsh winters, and total lack of hotels to welcome them to Illinois in the 1800s. In the present day, Grace Kimball, the retired, 56-year-old teacher who was my amateur sleuth in this series, had also survived some horrendous episodes in her life. Hence, “Endurance” honored both the past and present with its name.
I loved to write about Grace’s former students that crossed paths with her in this small town, and I populated the town with colorful secondary characters and interesting place names. Sweetbriar Court, Tanglefoot Road, Patsy’s Pub, Gimble’s Paint and Wallpaper Store, and the Homestretch Funeral Home were a few of the cozy names I used for the town. Endurance had that soft humor and cozy underpinning to its world.
Despite its cozy nature, the Endurance mysteries tackled such darkness as arson, domestic abuse, blackmail, greed, hate crimes, and murders to cover up earlier murders. I suppose even in the coziest places human nature still shows its darker side.
History and Marry in Haste
In one Endurance novel, Marry in Haste, I was able to travel back in time to explore the late 1800s. I mapped out the town
with milliners, tailors, notions shops, dry goods stores, gunsmiths, a Western Union office, confectioner shops, saloons, and cigar and tobacco stores. It was such fun to imagine what the town would have been like a hundred years before Grace’s life. The names of some families in the present day go back to the 1800s—for instance, the Folger family who ran one of the town’s banks for generations. The institutions of the 1800s morphed into the banks, schools, and churches of the 21st century.
Well, that was then.
The Sweet Iron Series
Now we move forward to a new Midwestern town, bigger than Endurance, but also located in west central Illinois. Its name is Sweet Iron. I considered a lot of names before I came up with this one. I love the contrast of the hardness, weight, and strength of iron and the soft curves of “sweet.” Molly Grayson, the head librarian at fictional McClendan College, explains how the town got that name back in the 1800s.
A group of families from Pennsylvania founded the town in the new, young state of Illinois. Thomas Johannes
Bergmann’s family was associated with some of the first iron works in the colony of Pennsylvania. The demand for iron products in places like colonial Philadelphia was phenomenal. However, by the mid-1800s, the work of the iron foundries peaked, and conflicts became more commonplace between owners and workers. Bergmann could see the writing on the wall.
He was a visionary, and looking for adventure and a challenge, he founded the new settlement of Sweet Iron, along with his wife, Maria Catherine Sweet Bergmann, five children, and a handful of like-minded families who settled in west central Illinois in the 1830s. He named the town for a combination of the metal that had made him his fortune and the name of his wife’s family. One of the other pioneering families was led by Thomas McClendan, who was a minister interested in founding a college in the new community.
In a second wave of pioneers, the wealthy Tippitt family arrived. Founding a 19th century newspaper in the town, they also built a beautiful Queen Anne Tudor house which stayed in the family even in the present day.
Enter Elizabeth (Beth) Russell, who has a connection to the Tippitt family. A genealogist and historical researcher, the 48-year-old Beth will also make a trip, but this time from New York to the plains of current-day Illinois. What she finds there will be as dark as the secrets in Endurance, and she will have to be very courageous to survive in this town whose historical tentacles and secrets are dark indeed. People would like to see Beth leave, but she is an amazingly stubborn woman.
That day at Tippitt Pond changed everything …
A Death at Tippitt Pond will be available for pre-order in May and will come out in soft cover and e-book on June 15 from Encircle Publications.