Thursday, October 28, 2010

OMN Welcomes Kathleen Ernst, Author of Old World Murder

Omnimystery News: Authors on Tour

Omnimystery News is delighted to welcome Kathleen Ernst as our guest blogger. Though Kathleen is well known for her American Girl mysteries, she has just published her first adult mystery, Old World Murder (Midnight Ink Trade Paperback, October 2010, 978-0-7387-2087-6).

Today, Kathleen writes about creating a cop. And she's also providing our readers with an opportunity to win a copy of her book. Visit Mystery Book Contests, click on the "Kathleen Ernst: Old World Murder" contest link, enter your name, e-mail address, and this code (0779) for a chance to win! (One entry per person; contest ends November 11, 2010.)

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Kathleen Ernst
Photo provided courtesy of Kathleen Ernst

When I began planning my new mystery, Old World Murder, I knew from the start that I wanted to have two point-of-view characters. The first, Chloe Ellefson, is curator of collections at a large historic site called Old World Wisconsin. It’s a real place, and I was an interpreter and curator there for twelve years. Writing Chloe? No problem.

The second main character, Roelke McKenna, is a part-time officer with the Village of Eagle Police Department. Writing Roelke? Well, I knew it would be a challenge. I knew nothing about law enforcement. I lurked for a while on a public online forum, where officers answered questions, but many of the responders were so sarcastic or contemptuous that I never dared ask a question.

The book is set in 1982, so I was able to glean some information from old newspapers. In 1982 the EPD was only a few years old. News articles of the day painted a picture of officers who were ready to handle any crime, but were also active members of the community.

The articles were great, but I still needed to spend time with cops. Fortunately, the chief of police in Eagle was receptive to the idea. He answered lots of questions about the role of chief, and invited me to do some ride-alongs. I’ve done maybe half a dozen now, meeting several different officers. They’ve all been generous with their time and information, and encouraging to me as a writer.

And you know what? I am in awe. The Eagle cops I’ve met are still integral parts of the community. They do outreach in the local schools. They get personally involved with at-risk young people. After a tornado ripped through the village last June, they organized a “Christmas-in-August” party for kids most affected by the storm.

They are also ready to handle whatever might come up. When the phone rings or radio buzzes, they don’t know if the call will involve a lost puppy or a murder. They help kids with homework and wade into bar fights. They see people at their worst and at their best. Some of the stories I’ve heard make my heart ache.

And the officers take a lot of abuse. I once watched a drunk driver get arrested. The man was verbally abusive, spewing profanity and promises of physical violence at the two officers involved. Later I told the cop I was riding with how horrified I was by the man’s threats. “That happens all the time,” she said. “The tough ones are when they threaten your kids.”

Kathleen Ernst / Officer Gwen Bruckner
Photo provided courtesy of
Kathleen Ernst

Officer Gwen Bruckner, who’s been helping me recently, was recently named Wisconsin’s Female Police Officer of the Year because of her service during the Eagle tornado and it’s aftermath. It’s a well-deserved honor! She’d be the first to say she was just doing her job, though. All of the officers I’ve met in the Village of Eagle take risks every day, and deal with situations I hate to contemplate.

On my first ride-along, Officer Robert Bord talked with me about why he went into law enforcement, and why he loved his job. One comment struck me in particular: “It’s the little things,” he said. “I do lots of little things in Eagle that no one sees, no one knows about, but it makes the village a safer place. That’s satisfying.”

With help from the Eagle Police Department, I felt able to create my cop character. Because I’m planning a series, I tried to create a complex character, someone with both inner strength and character flaws; someone who could grow and change over the course of not just one novel, but many. Officer Roelke McKenna was born.

The first time my husband read a draft of Old World Murder, he asked me if Roelke was based in particular on one of the officers I’d met in Eagle. “No,” I told him. “But the officers I’ve met showed me the kind of cop that Roelke will always aspire to be.”

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Kathleen's first permanent job was at Old World Wisconsin, the setting for her debut novel. She has also written eight mysteries for young readers, several of which have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards.

She and her husband live in Wisconsin, with a great office space where she can watch birds from her desk. Sophie, her silver tabby, keeps her company. For more information, visit her website at, or stop by her Sites and Stories blog.

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Old World Murder One by Kathleen Ernst
More information about the book

About Old World Murder: Hoping to leave behind her heartbreaking past, Chloe Ellefson makes a fresh start as the new collections curator at Old World Wisconsin. This outdoor ethnic museum charms visitors with authentic historical artifacts and costumed employees who churn butter, make shoes, and reenact 1870s settlement life. But Chloe's first day on the job only brings misfortune when an elderly woman pleads with her to find the priceless eighteenth-century Norwegian ale bowl that she donated to the museum years ago. Minutes later, the disappointed woman dies in a mysterious car crash.

Throwing herself into a dangerous investigation, Chloe discovers that someone is desperately trying to erase all traces of the bowl's existence by any means necessary ... including murder. With the unnervingly attractive part-time cop Roelke McKenna at her side, Chloe must solve a decades-old puzzle, catch a covetous killer, and stay alive in this deadly heirloom hunt.

For a chance to win a copy of Old World Murder, courtesy of the author, visit Mystery Book Contests, click on the "Kathleen Ernst: Old World Murder" contest link, and enter your name, e-mail address, and this code (0779) in the entry form. (One entry per person; contest ends November 11, 2010.)


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