K.B. Owen is a true cyber buddy. She listened to me whimper when my computer crashed and when I had some medical stuff…
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!
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.
Concordia 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.
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.
There 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?
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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 kbowenmysteries.com. 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 dogsR) pancakesS) DoritosT) broccoli
Go ahead. Ask K.B anything about women in higher education right around the 1900s. I’ll be she knows the answer!
K.B. Owen is a true cyber buddy. She listened to me whimper when my computer crashed and when I had some medical stuff going on. And she sent me this amazing “extended comment” in response to my Tingo Tuesday post. I had to share it here. Because it is that awesome, and because it should give you some idea of how talented and giving K.B. Owen is. Check out her blog and follow her on Twitter @kbowenwriter! Kathy is truly one of the most wonder tweeps out there.
If you’d like to win a chance to win some December sidebar linky-love, you are up against K.B. and a bunch of other folks. The comments are amazing, and you can enter to win until November 30. Interested? You don’t have to be a blogger to win. Click HERE for details.
• • •
My Grief Bacon, by K.B. Owen
My “Grief Bacon” story involves the blizzard of 2010 – aka “Snowmageddon, ” “Snowpocalypse,” “Snowzilla,” and “snOMG”… and cheeseballs.
Yep, cheeseballs. I know, I’m not proud of it. I’d much rather be carrying around this surplus fifteen pounds because of homemade butter spritz cookies, or macaroni and cheese, or even pie, but it’s really the cheeseballs that did it.
Target is partly to blame.
(No, really. But I’ll get back to that in a moment.)
So, anyway, the Blizzard was coming. The weather forecasters in Northern Virginia – who don’t see much in the way of snow on a regular basis, I might add – were practically wetting themselves in excitement. Our local weather guy has a “Bread-O-Meter” that he pulls out when he makes snow predictions on the air. It’s named after how fast the bread goes flying off the shelves when folks around here start panicking, even when there’s only a dusting of snow on the ground. For the first time in the 20+ years that I’ve been living in the area, his Bread-O-Meter was a 10 – a designation he also refers to as “Run for the Hills.”
Hmm…looks like I need to get ready! I have to admit that I was excited. We don’t see much snow around here, and it sounded like we’d be digging tunnels out of the stuff (and we were). Time to inventory the gloves, hats, boots, flashlights, batteries, Parmalat, etc.
List in hand, I headed to Target because they have everything – food, DVDs, batteries, clothing – all in one place. We had to be prepared for a possible power outage, and since we didn’t have an SUV, we needed to be able to stick it out at home.
So I’m doing fine, making my way through the list, being sensible in my food choices (non-perishable, nutritious, etc), when I see…this ENORMOUS clear plastic bin of cheeseballs. As high as my knee, and the size of a tall drum. O.M.G. This was the sort of thing I’d pass by when the boys were little. They’d be sitting in their shopping cart seats, and point to it and drool.
Ooh! Can we get that?
But this time, it was different. My survival instincts were kicking in. I knew those cheeseballs would keep forever. Fat calories for keeping warm. And yummy.
In retrospect, I’m not quite sure what was going through my brain, but I put it in my cart.
The boys were super-impressed with mom plunking this huge canister of cheeseballs on top of the fridge. Hubster rolled his eyes.
The devil had entered our house.
But I was blissfully ignorant. I had visions of the pretty snow, of kids sledding and building forts and missing school, of me making hot chocolate and drying mittens and boots beside the fire while reading, my hubby home from work to hang out with us.
And you know what? That was all true.
But then we got a little bored, and the kids couldn’t really play in snow that was so deep they kept sinking into it up to their hips; hubby and I had work to do, but shoveling was all we could accomplish (and where to put the stuff was our biggest mental challenge). The schools were closed, the roads were closed, the stores were closed. And it was okay; we were making do. We knew it was temporary.
But the cheeseballs had become an extra guest in our house. That canister was so easy to dip into. It’s okay, I thought, as I filled another bowl. I’ll be shoveling snow later. So we’d play a board game, and I’d munch on cheeseballs. The boys ate some, too, but I think I was the one who kept going back to it, again and again, until it was gone.
I feel stuffed just thinking about it.
Here’s one of the pics from the blizzard. Our cars are in there somewhere.
• • •
My thoughts are with the folks who are experiencing yet another storm. I hope everybody got their batteries and their water. And their cheeseballs. Stay warm.