Under the name Carroll Thomas, Carole Shmurak co-authors (with Tom Ratliff) the "young adult" mystery series featuring dauntless Matty Trescott. But it wasn't clear at the beginning that this would even be a mystery series. Here's what happened. And thank you, Carole, for bringing us into the "story of the story." -- Beth
After four years of writing and revising the manuscript and several years of receiving rejection letters from publishers, we were offered a contract by a small press — IF we would turn Matty's adventures into a three book series. We were able to write a prequel to Matty's War fairly quickly because we had already alluded to many events in Matty's life before the war, and now we just had to elaborate upon them; this became the book Blue Creek Farm, which describes Matty's life in Kansas just prior to, and at the start of, the War between the States.
But the sequel presented us with a challenge: with the Civil War over, we wondered how to bring excitement and drama to the story. Then the idea of a murder mystery came to us. As the Civil War ends, Matty's war experiences lead her to want to become a doctor. While she is working in a Boston hospital, a dying woman utters some strange last words to her, and Matty and her cousin Neely set off on a quest to find out the meaning of those words. In a world without modern forensics, our young protagonists take on and solve a most baffling murder case.
In 1865, there were two medical schools for women, one in Boston and one in Philadelphia. Since we lived in Connecticut, the Boston school was the easier one to research; the archives from New England Female Medical College reside in the library of Boston University. And the more we learned about Boston in the mid-1860s, the more we became intrigued by the many famous people who were living there or who were likely to be visiting friends there: the scientists Asa Gray, Lydia Shattuck, and Louis Agassiz, novelist Lydia Maria Child, abolitionists Abigail Kelley Foster and Maria Chapman, and women’s suffrage leader, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. So when Neely comes to spend time with Matty, the two young women get to attend a party at which many of the famous Bostonians and their friends are present. Matty gets to hear Stanton's views on women's education and Neely, a science student, eagerly listens to Gray and Agassiz arguing about Darwin and his theory of evolution.
Early on in the book, we have the two cousins discussing one of the important issues of the day: with the passage of the 15th Amendments giving black men the vote, many of the women who had been staunch abolitionists took on a new cause — getting the vote for women. Other feminist causes, like gaining the right to own property and getting the opportunity to attend college, became central to the plot of our book — and to the solution of the mystery.