Friday, July 13, 2012

Welcome, Guest Author Carole Shmurak: When Teens Solve a Murder (in 1865!) -- How the Matty Trescott Series Started

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

Ring Out Wild Bells was nominated for the Agatha Award for Best Young Adult Mystery of 2001, but it didn't start out as a mystery. My co-author Tom Ratliff and I had created a book we called Matty's War, about a sixteen year old girl who disguises herself as a boy and goes to fight for the Union army in the Civil War. It was based on a 1994 article in Smithsonian magazine about the 400 women who actually did this — a little-known part of American history.

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.

About the title: Ring Out Wild Bells is a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, published in 1850, which contains the line, “Ring out the old, ring in the new.” Our book begins with the ringing of church bells throughout the city of Hartford, Connecticut, announcing the end of the war, and it ends with the ringing of wedding bells, as one of our major characters is married. And much of the book deals with the changing of old ideas and customs to new ones: the end of slavery, the growing acceptance of the theory of evolution, the beginning of the fight to allow women to vote, and the emergence of higher education for women.

 — Carole Shmurak, mystery author, who co-authors the Matty Trescott series under the pen name of Carroll Thomas.


Carole Shmurak said...

Thanks, Beth, for allowing me to tell our story.
Please visit our YA website
and my mystery site

Janet Lomba said...

Thank you Carole - I've enjoyed your other mysteries, and may pick these up for the Grandchildren, when you come to Windsor Locks in September.

Janet Lomba
Christie Capers

Beth Kanell said...

By the way, Carole and I are co-authors, with 50 others, in Stacy Juba's upcoming book 25 Years in the Rearview Mirror:

Mary Deal said...

With the amount of detail you write about here, I can tell you did a vast amount of research for this novel. It's no wonder it's won awards.

Stacy Juba said...

What an interesting post, Carole! I really admire authors who can blend a great story with authentic historical details - it not only takes a lot of research, but a special knack.

Maryannwrites said...

I enjoyed the story behind the story. I did know that women and young girls disguised themselves and joined the war effort, but I did not know there were so many.

Lois Mathieu said...

Very interesting account of a major series. Congratulations, Carole!

Pat Abbruzzi said...

I graduated with Carol from Curtis H.S.
It was than that I learned that she had becomean author. I have read several of her Susan Lombardi mysteries. They are full of twists and have great character development. Thank you carol.

Monica M Brinkman said...

As the VP of our local Historical Society, I embrace this book. Look forward to reading it in the future. Thank you for sharing with us.

Monica M Brinkman said...

As the VP of our local Historical Society, this book intrigues me and it will be on my 'must read' list.

Thank you for sharing.

Jay Scheikowitz said...

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed all four of your Susan Lombardi mysteries, I'm now looking forward to your Matty Trescott series and some good summer reading. Keep writing Carole, I love your work.

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