Today, I’m delighted to welcome Kathleen Kalb and her fabulous Ella Shane history mystery series. Her quirky heroine and super engaging plots really make for great reading. I’m excited to especially dive into her newest release- A Fatal First Night. Come and join us as we talk about books, inspiration and that all-so-frightening first copy edit.
A FATAL FINALE features swashbuckling opera singer Ella Shane, best described as part Beverly Sills, part Anne of Green Gables, and part Errol Flynn, investigating a young colleague’s death with help from her colorful friends and a mysterious British duke, culminating in a dramatic duel with the killer. (And yes, Ella handles swordplay while the Duke waits in the wings!)
A FATAL FIRST NIGHT finds the premiere of Ella’s new opera, The Princes in the Tower, ruined when the singer playing Richard III apparently kills a man in his dressing room. As Ella investigates, her reporter friend Hetty finally gets a chance to cover a murder trial. Before it’s over, the cast will have to unravel a series of interlocking mysteries, including the unexpected return of a good friend, shocking revelations – and declarations.
Kathleen, let’s talk about your writing:
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you building a body of work with connections or themes between each book?
I write series mysteries, and I love the way the characters evolve over each book. More, it’s especially enjoyable in the historical context: one of the main themes of the series is the tension between Ella’s love of her singing career, and her growing desire to have a husband and children – without giving up her work. That’s a tough one in 2020…and in 1899, much more so. Another character, Hetty, is a newspaper reporter, and her efforts to get away from hats and onto hard news lead to several major plotlines. I really enjoy having the characters’ lives unfold over long arcs.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
It’s not over. I wrote a historical novel at sixteen and actually got a couple of editors to read it. Even though I’m glad now that my name isn’t on that bit of juvenile drivel, the rejections were devastating at the time. If I could, I’d tell that kid crying over her returned manuscript that there is a very interesting, if not easy, life ahead, and eventually – eventually – she will hold a book with her name on it.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
The copy edit was an amazing and humbling experience. I thought I knew the period, the mores and the language inside and out, and the editor found mistakes I never imagined. The lesson for me was not to rely on my overall research, but double-check everything. And I’m truly grateful for that copy editor. I’d far rather she found my errors than have a reader find them when I can’t change anything!
Tell us about your newest release:
What kind of research did you do, and how long did it take you?
I’ve always been interested in the 19th century, and especially the court of Queen Victoria. But the real heart of the book is Washington Square. I walk through the neighborhood, a part of New York’s Greenwich Village that looks much as it did in 1899, on the way to work. The location really helped build the story, especially after I fell in love with a pink stucco townhouse that made a perfect setting for Ella. As for more traditional research, I had to learn a LOT about opera to be able to write a singer. I’m a Beverly Sills fan, not a hard-core opera buff, and I had to nail down plenty of details about roles and productions.
How do you select the names of your characters?
I use some family names as a tribute. My main character’s original name is Ellen, from my grandfather’s mother. Tommy, her cousin, has a name shared by my grandfather, uncle, cousin and son. (You can tell I like him!) My favorite tribute, though, is Ella’s doctor, Edith Silver. I borrowed her first name from my husband’s aunt, an amazing lady, who is a doctor in her 90s. It was one of the best moments of the whole publication experience to hand her a copy of A FATAL FINALE and tell her that I’d named a character for her.
What would you want readers to think when they reach “the end.”
I had a great time! When do I get to have another adventure with these people…and what’s next for them?
Quick Q & A
Tea or Coffee
Coffee. Black when I’m working, cream and sugar otherwise.
Dark or Milk Chocolate
When were you the happiest?
Any time I’m with my family. And my current writing project.
Favourite Children’s Book
Rilla of Ingleside (I love the whole Anne of Green Gables series, but this one is special!)
Favourite Adult Novel
Strong Poison (Sayers’ Lord Peter, with quite literally everything on the line. Nothing better.)
Kathleen Marple Kalb grew up in front of a microphone, and a keyboard. She’s now a weekend morning anchor at 1010 WINS New York, capping a career begun as a teenage DJ in Brookville, Pennsylvania. She worked her way up through newsrooms in Pittsburgh, Vermont and Connecticut, developing her skills and a deep and abiding distaste for snowstorms. She, her husband the Professor, and their son the Imp, live in a Connecticut house owned by their cat.
.My website: https://kathleenmarplekalb.com/