It’s my pleasure to welcome author Kathleen Enest as the special guest blogger here today at Thoughts in Progress.
Kathleen’s newest release is OLD WORLD MURDER. She stopped by to talk about culture clash and she has something special for those commenting on this post.
I’m grateful to Mason Canyon for allowing me to be a guest today. And I’m grateful to readers! I love my work, and I’d be nowhere without you. Leave a comment here, and your name will go into a daily drawing for one free book. The winner can choose any of my sixteen titles. OLD WORLD MURDER, one of my American Girl mysteries, a Civil War novel—the choice will be yours!
Last May I had the pleasure of participating in the “Culture Clash” panel at Malice Domestic, the annual convention celebrating the traditional mystery. The mystery at the heart of my new book, OLD WORLD MURDER, has at its heart a deep-rooted culture clash, so it was a great assignment.
I have long been fascinated by the topic. For a decade I worked as a curator at Old World Wisconsin, an outdoor ethnic museum which focuses on the architecture, folkways, and stories of 19th-century Yankee, African-American, and European immigrants to the upper Midwest. Later I spent five years helping to develop, script, and produce an instructional video series for public television called Cultural Horizons.
When getting started on the television series, my colleagues and I did some research with potential young viewers. We wanted to know how ten-year-olds defined the word ‘culture,’ and what meaning it had in their lives. Two main points emerged. First, most of the kids described culture narrowly, in terms of race and ethnicity only. Second, many of them identified culture as something only other people had—people who looked, spoke, and acted differently than they did.
In the series, and in many of my books, I’ve tried to explore “culture” from a variety of perspectives. Why am I so drawn to this topic? Well, we all have a cultural identity, which is comprised of much more than race and ethnicity. We all make choices about how we consider and express our unique cultural identity. And our unique cultural identity can grow and change over time.
I think it’s too simplistic to think of a “culture clash” in terms only of one group colliding with another. In my first historical mystery, TROUBLE AT FORT LA POINTE, protagonist Suzette is Métis—a blend of Ojibwe and French heritage. I tried to show that in addition to Suzette sometimes being caught between these two groups, clashes happened within the groups as well.
Many of my later mysteries for young readers also focused on some aspect of cultural confusion. BETRAYAL AT CROSS CREEK highlights how a small community of Scottish-American immigrants found themselves politically divided during the American Revolution. SECRETS IN THE HILLS touches on Hispanic and indigenous relations in 1825. THE RUNAWAY FRIEND explores the ways that Swedish immigrants tried, and sometimes failed, to make new homes for themselves in Minnesota during the 1850s. MIDNIGHT IN LONESOME HOLLOW highlights how regional and economic differences sometimes led to stereotypes and misunderstandings during the Great Depression.
So it’s probably not surprising that for my first adult mystery, OLD WORLD MURDER, I returned to the broad theme of cultural expression and identity. My protagonist, Chloe Ellefson, is just starting a new job as curator of collections at Old World Wisconsin. The year is 1982. At that time, it was still possible to meet elderly people who had never been to Europe, but who nonetheless spoke English with a German or Norwegian or Polish accent because they’d been raised in insular ethnic communities.
As curator, Chloe will wrestle with a variety of cultural issues as the series progresses. Can she interpret the past without perpetuating ethnic stereotypes? Can she balance visitors’ expectations and beliefs with what research suggests? How does cultural expression evolve over time?
And as a Norwegian-American, Chloe will also at times struggle with her own cultural identity. She belongs to a dwindling group of Americans with “pure” Norwegian heritage. Her mother cherishes certain aspects of cultural identity that do not interest Chloe. The subject has lots of threads for emotional sub-plots!
The mystery in OLD WORLD MURDER revolves around a missing antique Norwegian ale bowl. It is not a “Norwegian” book, though. Issues of individual cultural identity, expression, and—sometimes—clashes are, after all, universal. I hope that the questions which fascinate me will also intrigue you!
Kathleen, thanks so much for guest blogging here. Culture clash is an intriguing topic. It’s interesting how you’ve used it.
Now for some background on Kathleen. She is celebrating the publication of her first adult mystery, OLD WORLD MURDER (Midnight Ink). She has also written eight mysteries for young readers. Several have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards. For more information see her website, http://www.kathleenernst.com, or her blog, http://sitesandstories.wordpress.com
Join Kathleen on her virtual blog tour Monday, Oct. 25, as she stops at Chloe & Me (http://www.lorisreadingcorner.com/) where she will talk about “Writing From Real Life.” On Tuesday, Oct. 26, she’ll be talking about “Of Prairies and Plots” at Walking Nature Home (http://susanjtweit.typepad.com/).