Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Christmas All Year Long

My fourth Chloe Ellefson mystery, Heritage of Darkness, is soon hitting the bookshelves. Chloe Ellefson, my curator-protagonist, has traveled to Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Iowa.

The book takes place during the first week of December, 1982. Chloe is asked to interview several elderly people about their Christmas traditions. Those traditions shape the plot. The book’s climactic scenes takes place against the backdrop of the museum’s annual Norwegian Christmas Weekend.

Several friends have wondered about the Christmas theme. Have I limited my audience? Will people want to read the book in July? Will Jewish readers be put-off?  Etc., etc.

I can’t help wondering why I haven’t ever gotten the similar questions in reverse. The first book in the series, Old World Murder, takes place in June; The Heirloom Murders takes place in July; The Light Keeper’s Legacy takes place in September. No one’s ever asked if I’m worried that readers won’t want to read those books in winter.  No one’s suggested that the series is only of interest to Christian readers because Chloe was raised in the Lutheran church.

Perhaps it’s the specific holiday that prompts the question.  Are people in the mood for Christmas reading while sunning on a beach?  Will people who don’t observe Christmas be interested?

Obviously, I hope so.  What attracted me to this time and place is the wealth of heritage and traditions swirling around the holiday observances.

Photo courtesy Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.
Chloe discovers that some of the customs popular in Norwegian-American communities have roots that stretch far into the pagan past, when evil spirits roamed the skies during the darkest, coldest days of the year. Any humble peasant who dared venture forth was in danger, and people developed unique traditions as they tried to ward away evil.

Darkness, evil, fear…all pretty good stuff for a mystery writer!  I had great fun weaving some of the folklore into the plot.

So, what do you think? Are you careful to read books only “in season?” Do you mind reading books that touch on specific holidays? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Want to learn more? You'll find lots of resources on the Heritage of Darkness page of my website.


mike said...

I was fortunate enough to read a galley copy of Heritage of Darkness last week. I found the book very entertaining. I did not find the Christmas setting to be an issue because I did not find the primary focus to be Christmas; however, I expect some will enjoy it more if they are reading under their Christmas tree. Finally, is Chloe being female, of Norwegian heritage, or whatever other prejudice someone may harbor enough to prevent them from reading the book? - if so, then so be it! Very good series!!!

Kathleen Ernst said...

Thanks for your comment, Mike! It's nice to get feedback from someone who's read the book already. I'd hoped that while the Christmas theme would be of interest, it wouldn't overwhelm the rest of the story. I'm so glad you're enjoying the series!

Elizabeth J said...

I think one of the most wonderful things about books is their ability to transport us to different places, times, and cultures. When I get involved in a story, it’s easy to imagine I’m right there with the characters, regardless of the season.

I do have favorite books that I save for particular times of the year. When I’m home for the holidays or go on vacation or go camping, I am careful to choose a book that will fit the mood. However, I certainly will not be waiting until Christmastime to enjoy Chloe’s next adventure!

Kathleen Ernst said...

Thanks, Elizabeth! I love your comment about being "right there" with the characters...that's the best that can happen when reading a book, I think. I like to disappear into the story with the characters.

Sue Morris said...

I think art transcends occasion. While certainly I think that it makes sense to thematically market certain materials to coincide with a particular time of year, I don't think enjoyment is limited to a specific calendar period. Heck, I listen to lovely holiday music CDs all year long!