Writing Life

Dangerous and Unseemly: An Interview With K.B Owen

It is with great pleasure that I introduce author K.B. Owen. Kathy has been a wonderful cyberfriend, and our appreciation for women’s history and chocolate connected us long ago. I love reading Kathy’s blog and following her on Twitter, and now her mystery Dangerous and Unseemly: A Concordia Wells Mystery is out, you guys!

D&U cover2
Click here to buy at Amazon!

You want to know what K.B.’s book is about? Okay. It is 1896. Professor Concordia Wells must discover who is behind malicious pranks and attacks at her college, before she is the next target.

RASJ: Receiving a college education was pretty new for women when Concordia was around. I attended Hobart and William Smith College, a coordinate college, where women had dormitories separate from the men. What is Concordia’s living arrangement like? And what challenges did she face?

KBO: Although Concordia is a professor rather than a student, her living situation certainly poses some difficulties. At Hartford Women’s College, there is little separation between one’s teaching duties and one’s personal life. Women teachers are required to live in the cottage dormitories with their students and act as surrogate mothers/chaperones. They are assisted by house matrons – one to each cottage – who have light housekeeping and supervisory duties. What is grossly unfairly, of course, is that the male teachers have it easy, and aren’t given such responsibilities. This is the norm throughout all women’s colleges at the time.

faculty room WellesleyConcordia has faculty quarters in Willow Cottage, which houses about two dozen female students. Her rooms, which consist of a study and a bedroom, are on the ground floor, so she is subjected to a lot of noise from the heavy-footed students above her. While she enjoys spending time with the girls in her care, they can be a rambunctious lot. They play pranks upon each other, engage in illegal cooking in their rooms (fudge, hot cocoa, etc), and have a heightened sense of drama when things go wrong. Concordia’s greatest challenges are managing her time, and keeping her students out of mischief.

RASJ: Rambunctious girls? A heightened sense of drama? I can’t imagine what you might be talking about. *ahem* While living in the dorms, I had to share a bathroom with a lot of women who were always trying to look their best. Back in the 1980s, I wanted to be Stevie Nicks, so I dressed in flowing skirts. Who would Concordia have wanted to look like? What was the fashion like back then?

KBO: Concordia isn’t exactly a fashionista, although she likes to look fashionable for special occasions, such as balls and teas. She and the other female academics typically wear simple shirtwaists (blouses) with serviceable full skirts in wool or cotton lawn, depending upon the season. She is especially fond of smart-looking jackets, however, especially if they are trimmed in an attractive braid or the lapels are faced with a contrasting color that complements her outfit.

Wikimedia Commons

Since she is a redhead with a pale-freckled complexion, she’s very aware that certain colors look dreadful on her. The 1890s style is leg o’ mutton sleeves and tapered waists, with a significantly diminished bustle. The 1896 sketch at right, titled: “Bicycling: The Ladies at the Wheel,” by Francois Courboin, gives a good idea of what the typical outfits looked like.

RASJ: When I wasn’t in class or studying, I danced in an on-campus organization, that’s still around today. I wore leg-warmers, a leotard and tights. Fraternity life was a big part of the social life on campus, as sororities were not allowed. At night, I studied in the library, then — later, after hours, I went to local bars to dance and, even later, I came back on-campus to attend fraternity parties. What was a woman like Concordia allowed to do for fun in the late nineteenth century?

KBO: There are limitations to what proper 1890s ladies can do. Their skirts are their leg-warmers, LOL. And a bar? Never. There are ladies’ restaurants, tea shops, and soda/ice cream parlors where women can go for refreshments and to meet with friends. Several of the ladies’ restaurants in Hartford (the setting of my story) are located in department stores like G. Fox and Brown Thomson’s, so it’s a win-win: shopping and lunch! All of these are just a quick trolley ride away from campus. The street rail system in Hartford has just been upgraded from horse-drawn to electric-propulsion, so it’s even more efficient.

SophCrew Wellesley 1879There are events on campus: teas, socials, play productions, recitations, picnicking on the grounds in the nice weather and “coasting” (sledding) in the winter, hikes, bicycling, lawn tennis…the list is endless. Concordia, for example, is an avid bicyclist. The one challenge for students, of course, is that they have to follow the “ten o’ clock rule” – in bed, lights out, by ten p.m. This is standard practice at women’s colleges.

RASJ: As a student, I developed close relationships with female faculty members at my college. Toni Flores was a Women’s Studies professor, and I babysat her children. Deborah Tall was a poet who helped inspire me to publish my first poem. Both of these women became mentors whom I could go to if I needed help. When Concordia finds herself in trouble, in whom does she confide?

KBO: The mentoring and friendships one develops in college/grad school are wonderful, aren’t they? It was that sort of atmosphere I wanted to create in the novel’s college, too. While Concordia does her fair share of mentoring troubled students, she finds herself needing confidants to lean on in the story. Lord knows she’s faced with enough difficulties: the college as a whole is dealing with arson, malicious pranks, threatening notes, and other bits of skullduggery that I won’t spoil for you, and compounding that is Concordia’s personal trouble with her mother and sister, and a mysterious death close to home.

Her best friend is Sophia Adams, a very unconventional young lady (the same age as Concordia), who lives and works in the settlement house in Hartford. She works with the poor and advocates for women’s suffrage and other progressive social issues. Sophia is someone Concordia enjoys spending time with, and can turn to in times of trouble. Two other people she relies upon are Chemistry professor David Bradley and Lady Principal Hamilton. Although the “lady principal” designation is becoming outmoded by this time, it’s still in use. A lady principal is second in responsibility and position to the college’s president, and she is in charge of matters dealing with the faculty.

RASJ: How is Dangerous & Unseemly a story only you could have written?

KBO: I have always been a mystery-lover, especially of the classic, detective tradition. I wanted to write a book that I would enjoy reading myself, so that’s why it is in the “cozy” style.

I taught literature and writing for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, so that gave me plenty of experience with eccentric teachers, student peccadilloes, and some of the unique faculty-student interactions. I have a doctorate in nineteenth-century British literature, which provides me with a good background in the time period, although I still had a lot of research to do in writing the novel. I lived in the Hartford area for five years, and fell in love with the locale and its history. All around, it seemed a good fit for me.

RASJ: What do you love about this book?

KBO: I thought at first that I would say I love the plot, but in thinking about it, I love the characters even more. They stay with me: their convictions, their inner demons, their eccentricities; and I love how they respond to events in the novel. It’s cool to be puppet-master. Bwahaha.

RASJ: Oh, Kathy! I know mystery lovers and folks who enjoy women’s history would like your novel as well. How can people get it?

KBO: Well, they can click HERE to buy at Amazon or click HERE to buy at Scribd or click HERE to buy at Barnes & Noble.

• • •

And now a little mystery fun. Remember the game “CLUE”? Each stop in K.B. Owen’s book launch tour features a mystery question to answer. When you have them all, unscramble the answers to which ROOM, WEAPON, and SUSPECT, and email Kathy at kbowenwriter (at) gmail (dot) com. Click HERE for details on how the game works. She’ll announce the winner (chosen from the correct entries) on the last stop of the tour. Then she will email the winner!

What can you win? A free ebook copy of Dangerous and Unseemly, and a $25 gift card of your choice to either Starbucks, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble! If you run into a few stumpers – no problem! Check out K.B.’s Mystery Quizzes page for links to the answers. If you’ve joined us in the middle of the tour, the complete list of Book Tour hosts can be found at Good luck! (Deadline to email K.B. with your answers in April 1, 2013.)

The special question for my readers is as follows:

Nate the Great, a “soft-boiled” kid detective from a popular children’s series, eats a favorite food when he needs to think out a case. What is it?
Q) hot dogs
R) pancakes
S) Doritos
T) broccoli
Happy sleuthing, and congratulations to K.B. on her new book!

Go ahead. Ask K.B anything about women in higher education right around the 1900s. I’ll be she knows the answer!

tweet us @ rasjacobson & kbowenwriter

67 thoughts on “Dangerous and Unseemly: An Interview With K.B Owen

  1. Kathy! I’m so excited to be included on your book launch. As you know, I consider you a wonderful blogging friend as well as a fabulous support in real life, too. I wish you much success with your first Concordia mystery! I can’t wait to get my hands on it! 🙂

  2. Terrific interview, Renee! What great questions you ask. I’ve read Kathy’s book and it’s as good as it sounds. I can’t wait for the next installment in the series.

    1. Yes, Perry. I’m sure that K.B. will let you drip chocolate on her if you collect all the clues in her contest and email them to her. I’m almost positive of this. And if she won’t, I’m always here for you. Just like a white-winged dove. Or a Dove Bar. Either way. 🙂

      1. Chocolate is for eating, not for wearing, although there are some spas out there that would disagree…either way, I gave it up for Lent. Sigh.

    2. LOL, Perry, Renee trimmed out my original comments on her fashion choices:

      KBO: “…give me a minute to clear that “Stevie Nicks” image from my mind…ok, where were we?”

      And then there was:

      KBO: “…okay, leg-warmers while sipping ginger ale on a bar stool?…never mind. You’re killing me, Renee.”

      Perry, I never knew that “Nouveau Old, Formerly Cute” always wanted to be Stevie Nicks…would that include leg warmers, too? Live the dream! (and post a pic! – well, maybe not) 😉


      1. I had to cut out some of the fat! This interview was getting long! 🙂 But look, we learned that Perry wanted to wear twirly skirts, too. Maybe I need to have a “I wished I Was Stevie Nicks” contest. Hmmm.

  3. Enjoyed the interview, Renee .Good luck with your new book, Kathy, I will check it out– sounds terrific. Thanks for writing about sharp women who figure things out all on their own!

  4. Sounds like fun. I love historicals. One of my favorite TV shows is ‘The Murdoch Mysteries’ which is set in 1890’s Toronto.

    I also write some historical stuff, recently turned in a horror story set in Haileybury Ontario in 1912 (I know the area really well, because that’s where I live).

    The social milieu of the period confuses most people. That woman public school teachers weren’t allowed to marry, or even to been seen in the company of a man, seems odd to 21st century people. Or for that matter the schools of the time had two entrances, one for boys, and one for girls. Not sure which sex had cooties…

    Sounds like a fascinating book, and like you’ve put a lot of work into it. Hope you have a lot of success with it.


      1. I suspect you’d adore Murdoch. The complications caused by the morals and thought patterns of the times is very much a part of the show, and well, you touch on them with the way woman teachers are expected to do cleaning as well as teaching 🙂


        1. Not cleaning, exactly, but a whole lot of surrogate mothering. 😉 They had little in the way of private lives! The Murdoch Mysteries sound interesting.

  5. I liked how you and K.B. owens related with each other. I wish your friend great success with her new book.

  6. I’m jumping into the tour at random. I’ll have to link back to some posts for all the quizzes. Then, I’ll cheat and Google the answers.

    GREAT interview questions, Renee. [I suspect our college shenanigans in the non-academic arena were similar. Rules? Curfew? Will meet Way-around-them.]

    Kathy, you paint such a vivid picture of life in those times. I am uber anxious to read Dangerous and Unseemly. I love that the characters took over and drove the story for you. That’s what engages me. Strong, quirky characters, and it appears they gave you more than a few humor hits.

    I’m thrilled for you.

    1. Thanks, Gloria! Sometimes, when you’re not as enthusiastic about starting your writing day, a few quirky characters are enough to help you jump back in! And thanks for putting the book on your TBR pile! 😉

  7. Renee, I had such a blast chatting here with you! To repeat what Kass said, you ask the most intriguing questions. Your readers are a special group of peeps, too! (Even that old guy asking me about chocolate, wink, wink). It’s terrific to meet all of you!

    Thanks again for all of your fab support, Renee hunny! 😀


  8. R) Pancakes

    I am intrigued as to the time period in the book. I, too, studied quite a bit of 19th century literature in college and was always fascinated. It must have been quite the challenge for KB to set aside her own current technologically advanced surroundings to immerse herself in how it would have been for a female teacher in that time. Bravo to her for her success.

    Great interview, Renzay!!

    1. Okay Misty! You just told EVERYONE the answer to the mystery question. Which is kind of awesome because some of her quiz questions are really hard. If you wangt to try to win her book, go back to all her book launch tour visits and collect all the clues. (You now have one.) Gather them up, and email them to K.B. for a chance to win a book and a $25 gift card to Amazon! She knows so much about this subject; it’s incredible.

      1. Oops!! Yeah, someday I read real goodly. Apparently, reading comprehension is key. Sorry!! (I was totally confused, but now I get it . . . too late). 🙁

        1. Someday I read goodly, too. Fo reals. Or not.

          Actually, I don’t think anyone really reads the whole thread, so you are fine fine fine. And you could totally win. This book is going to be awesomesauce. I can’t wait to read all about Cordelia and her adventures.

    2. You are CORRECT, Misty! (No worries about spilling the beans…peeps still need to read Renee’s post and comments now to get the answer!). That immersion thing can be tricky, for sure. 😉 Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

  9. Just added it to my Goodreads “to read” list. Can’t wait. Love mysteries! It sounds like Nancy Drew…if she turned into a professor and went back in time a century. 🙂

    1. Larisa! I think you will LOVE this book! I really do. Kathy (KB) is a great writer. You should try to win it! Go back to her blog and look in her right sidebar. See if you can figure out the answers to her questions (by Googling them), email them to her, and you might even win the book! K.B. LOVED Nancy Drew (as you will see from earlier interviews. This is not a creepy psychological thriller. It’s a cozy thrill. I bet you’ll dig it!

    2. Larisa, thank you! That’s terrific. I think you’re right about this being Nancy Drew as a professor at the turn of the 19th/20th century. Now that you mention it, it’s sort of Nancy Drew meets Gaudy Night. 😀

  10. Thanks so much, Marlene! Hope you enjoy it! And I’m still giving away a gift card in addition to a free copy. Hope you have a chance to play along!

  11. Oh, btw Renee, she’s Concordia rather than Cordelia. Her father named her after the Roman goddess of harmony.

    No worries – she gets that a lot, LOL. 😉

  12. Leg warming skirts? LOL Another reason I’m grateful for modern life. 🙂
    So much fun, learning about your story and its star. Concordia (love that name) seems like a treat, and so does your novel. Wishing you huge success, Kathy!

      1. It would be fun to dress up as our favorite character from the series. You know, once people have had a chance to read it. Just putting it out there. 😉 I might like to go looking for some leg o’mutton sleeves. And a long skirt. You know, to hide my leg warmers.

          1. I’ve been trying FOREVER. You have no idea. I want to get on for myself. I would love to see how far I could go. And I thought this week’s episode was LAME. No twists. They’d better step it up. I’d love to hear who you ladies are rooting for. Maybe we need to do some kind of round robin post, eh? With the three of us.

  13. Kathy, congratulations. I’m inspired and impressed by your knowledge and love of your characters and this time period. I’ll add your book to my “to read” list and look forward to getting to know Concordia. Best of luck to you throughout this journey! And Renee, you can add great interviewer to your list of many talents. Well done!

    1. Isn’t Renee the most creative gal? It was so much fun to be here.

      Thanks so much for your good wishes, and for a place on your TBR pile! 😀

  14. Great interview, Renee and Kathy! I bought Dangerous & Unseemly on the FIRST DAY, and have yet to get to it. Definitely will make time this weekend. Concordia is my kind of gal!

    1. Ooooh! You are an early adopter. I haven’t had a minute to download anything. But as soon as I clear a few things off my plate, Kathy is on my reading list. I might also get my book club to read it. We shall see. I have tricked them into doing other dangerous and unseemly things before. 😉

    2. Debra, you just made me smile a mile wide that first day, when you tweeted me about it! (and I’m still smiling!). Thanks for all of your wonderful support, my friend. I still have to sit down and see what I can come up with for your personal story series!

  15. Sorry to be late to the party, but I had family in town. So now I’m playing catch-up. This is one great interview ladies. Renee, you are awesome! You and Kathy supplied just the right amount of information to trigger our interest. I am so happy for Kathy! This is one amazing book launching tour! 🙂

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