History and Mystery and Crime Bakes

 I returned home from New England Crime Bake late Sunday night. I spent a wonderful weekend in Woburn, Massachusetts meeting old friends, meeting Facebook friends face-to-face, and making new friends. I participated on a great panel, moderated by fellow Missdemeanor, Michele Dorsey, where we discussed mash-ups/cross-genre novels, what they were, how they came to be, and what they mean for the publishing industry. Hank Phillipi Ryan complemented me on my panel performance. (How cool is that?) I spent time chatting with conference attendees about medicine and whiskey. I got to hang out with the incomparable Walter Mosley. And I heard Mr. Mosley, Frankie Bailey, Bill Martin, and Elisabeth Elo talk about how they use history in writing mystery. This panel especially intrigued me, as I’m a history buff. The past fascinates me. Not so much the big, well-known stories—although as I discover the version of history I learned in school as “fact” may not have been 100% accurate, I’ve re-examined some of the big stories and found them more interesting than I originally thought—but the history of everyday people. How did Regular Jane and Average Joe earn their living? What did they wear? What did they eat? What did they think about the “big” stories, stories that were news to them, not history? How fitting that Crime Bake is held in one of the most history-filled areas of the United States. I wondered why our hotel was decorated with sewing machines, shoe lasts, and photos of old bills for footwear, some Google sleuthing revealed Woburn’s leather tanning industry dates back to the 1600s. Woburn is near Boston, a historical treasure trove, but it’s also near Salem, home of the infamous Witch Trials and location of the house made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne as The House of the Seven Gables. I made time for a side trip to Salem and spent a sunny afternoon learning about the Turners and Ingersolls (the house’s real-life owners) and Hawthorne. I had no trouble understanding why the mansion (and his cousin who owned it) inspired Hawthorne to make it the centerpiece of his novel. Are you a history fan? Are you a names and dates kind of history buff or do you prefer the stories of the not-so-famous people who lived on the dash between the dates? Or the more thoroughly researched stories of the famous which goes beyond the popular myths and shows them to be humans who accomplished things? What historical person or period would you want to experience in a novel?

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