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The Sirens of Suspense

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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Amanda Flower, an Agatha-nominated mystery author, started her writing career in elementary school when she read a story she wrote to her sixth grade class and had the class in stitches with her description of being stuck on the top of a Ferris wheel. She knew at that moment she’d found her calling of making people laugh with her words. Her debut mystery, Maid of Murder, was an Agatha Award Nominee for Best First Novel. Amanda is an academic librarian for a small college near Cleveland. She also writes mysteries as Isabella Alan.

 

Find Amanda on Facebook and Twitter.

http://www.amandaflower.com

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Have you ever visited a living history museum or park like Williamsburg and tried to make the person in historical costume crack and reveal they own a cell phone or a car? I’ve seen it happen many times. One summer before my senior year of college, I worked at a 3rd person historical interpreter at a living history museum in Ohio. The people who wear the costumes and try to stay in character at all costs are 1st person interpreters. They walk around living history museums and grounds as if they lived a century or more ago with their cell phones hidden in their jacket pockets and berry baskets.

As a 3rd person interpreter, I didn’t have to wear period clothing—something I was very grateful for on those hot summer days—instead I wore a polo shirt and khaki pants, which meant I was crafter. To this day, I cannot wear khaki pants because it feels too much like a uniform to me. As a crafter, I made a variety of crafts, including candles, brooms, baskets, and bricks, using 19th century technology. My specialty that summer was baskets, and I hand wove baskets in the Shaker style using a basket mold. I still have many of those baskets around my house. The ones I didn’t take home were sold in the museum gift shop. Each one has my signature on the bottom with the date I made it.

Even though I was particularly good at the baskets more often than not, I was assigned to the brick pit to make handmade bricks. Brickmaking was a skill that the settlers would to have had in Ohio during the early nineteenth century to make brick homes and other buildings. To make handmade bricks, it takes mud and brute force.

The brick pit was a six by six hole in the ground, roughly two feet deep. Once the hole was dug, water was added. The water made mud, and the mud made bricks. It was important for the brickmaker to stomp the mud to remove as much air as possible before the brick was hand-kneaded and thrown into the brick mold, which looked like a meatloaf pan made of wood. After the brick was kneaded and thrown, it was fired in a kiln.

The best way to stomp mud for bricks is barefoot. Imagine a twenty-one year old girl (that’s me) stomping mud in a circular pattern while tourists stopped and asked questions about 19th century American history. In midstride, I had to be able to answer those questions, and if I didn’t know the answer, I had to think up another factoid about history to distract them. It was hot, exhausting, and an absolute blast. I met so many interesting and quirky people that summer, some of whom may have inspired future characters in my novels.

However, it wasn’t always fun in the mud. Some of the hazards of the brick pit were bees and wasps. In the hot and humid Midwestern summer, the bees and wasps liked to rest in the brick pit because it was cool, and mud daubers, a kind of wasp, liked to burrow into the mud and make their homes there. The mud daubers could be difficult to spot. Every morning when I pulled back the tarp from the brick pit, I would to check the pit to make sure there were no bees or wasps. I was thorough. My goal that summer was not getting stung. Thankfully, I never was, but many of my coworkers were. I remember one staffer being stung in the big toe. Her toe swelled up to the size of a plum.

Over a decade later when I decided to write a mystery series based on that summer job, I knew that I had to include the brick pit because it was such a big part of my life that summer and brickmaking is also a unique skill I was able to draw upon for the novel. While mulling over the story, I remembered if a staff person at the museum was allergic to bees he or she were not allowed to work in the brick pit. Naturally, I wondered what would happen if someone allergic to bees got into the pit and what if his death by stinging was a cover up for something else. All those thoughts and the job I had over fourteen summers ago led to the murder in The Final Reveille, and a mystery novel was born.

 

 

WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE LIVING HISTORY MUSEUM OR PARK? Tell us or leave a comment on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of THE FINAL REVEILLE! (U.S. only please.)

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