We Asked Author K.B. Owen: Where Do Stories Grow?

Harry S. Truman once said: “There is nothing new in the world, except the history you do not know.” That was certainly the case with a major enigma in my life, my mother-in-law. (I know what you’re thinking…go ahead, insert mother-in-law jokes here). What I discovered about her, and the circumstances under which I learned it, are responsible for the historical mystery series I write today.

Joan was a school librarian and an avid reader. Books were one of the ways she and I connected with each other when moments grew awkward, especially in the early years of our relationship (she was a stoic Yankee, and I am definitely not). In the summer of 2005—she had been my mom-in-law for fifteen years by then—she suffered a devastating head injury and slipped into a coma. I would read to her in the rehab hospital, though I had no idea if she could hear me or not.

During this time I gave up teaching my literature and writing sections at the local university, as we were unsure about her long-term prognosis and how we would be needed.

So I had some free time, even with a four-year-old at home. I decided to try my hand at writing a historical mystery set in nineteenth century Hartford (I’d lived there for a time, and the nineteenth century was my dissertation area). But then I got stuck on the specifics of protagonist and exact locale. It wasn’t clicking.

I was still dithering about this four months later when, sadly, my mom-in-law passed away, never waking from her coma. All her grown kids and us spouses pitched in to sift through the contents of her house. I took charge of the front parlor—what I figured was the least personal space. In going through a side table drawer, however, I came upon letters, telegrams, and college circulars of her time as a student at Immaculata College in Washington, DC. It was the 1950s and she was living away from home, getting that heady first taste of independence.

I don’t think I got much done that afternoon. I sat and combed through the school circulars that detailed the unique customs, milestones, and celebrations of this small women’s college run by nuns. I read her correspondence with her father, as he gave her permission to buy a dress for her upcoming dance and they planned her visits home.

The ideas were coming fast and thick now. Setting my novel in a women’s college…the possibilities for a community of characters, complications, friction, and intrigue were limitless. I would stay with the 1890s, a time when women’s colleges such as the Seven Sisters were coming into their own. And my protagonist would be a lady professor, allowing me to tap into my own experiences.

That first book became a series. There are six novels so far, and it’s all because of Joan. And as you might have guessed—I dedicated the first one to her.


K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, K.B. did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts. Thankfully. No doubt, many folks are grateful for that little fact.

So far, there are six books in the Concordia Wells Mystery series. Find out more at: kbowenmysteries.com/books

 

 

Comments

Thanks so much for hosting me! It's always fun to see where our story ideas come from.

~Kathy

Now that I am a mother-in-law, I really appreciate how tricky these relationships are. You are thrust into a relationship with someone you hardly know, you had little or no input in picking them, and you are expected to be close, or at least get along. For me, the thing that made me finally relax was when my son told me how nervous his wife was that I wouldn't like her. And here I'd been worried about how she felt about me!

So glad you and your mom-in-law shared a love of books. It helps so much to have common ground. Even though her life ended in a tragic way, something good came out of it and I'm sure she would be very proud and honored to have been the catalyst for the creation of Professor Concordia Wells!

With time and children, Joan and I grew closer and came to appreciate each other. She had a great sense of humor and adored her grandchildren. I dearly wish she was here with us still.

I enjoyed learning how your Concordia Wells series came to life. Do you wish your mother-in-law could have read them? 

I enjoyed learning how your Concordia Wells series came to life. Do you wish your mother-in-law could have read them? 

Every day, Vinnie! I like to think that she would have enjoyed them.

Thanks for sharing, Vinnie. We get so used to the slivers of people's lives we're used to seeing. When something new peeks through the curtain, it can feel startling and marvelous.

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