Guest Blogger & Giveaway!

Good Monday morning. I had an eventful weekend. On Saturday, I had a wonderful time with the Ozark Romance Authors and then sadly, on the way to the signing at Half Price Books, I was involved in a car accident. I’m ok. The car was driving is not.

Anyway, I’m happy to settle in with you in the safety of cyberspace for a visit with my guest blogger, Dorothy St. James! She’s a cozy mystery writer I’m sure you’re going to love.

A  Brief History of A Cozy Mystery by Dorothy St. James

My most recent novel, FLOWERBED OF STATE is a contemporary mystery. So what in the world am I doing on a historical romance novelist’s blog?

Because Mia’s blog is wonderful? Well, yes!

Because I love history? You bet I do!

Because I love her books? That, too!

I’m also here to share with you what I’ve learned while writing this book: Historical research is unavoidable regardless of the time period.

Flowerbed of State, the first book in the White House Gardener Mystery series, follows the adventures of the White House’s newest organic gardener, Casey Calhoun. While she has a knack for getting herself into zany situations, I wanted readers to connect with her as a real character and feel as if they had experienced a slice of life in the White House themselves.

In order to do that, I had to immerse myself in the inner workings of the White House. This started with reading a host of newspaper articles, conducting site visits, taking tours, and interviewing people who used to work in the White House. While that gave me a pile of information to work with, I felt as if a piece of the puzzle was missing. And it was.

In order to understand the all-important hows and whys of the place, I needed to study the White House’s history. Here are a few interesting facts about the White House that helped bring Flowerbed of State to life:

History of the City, the Building and the Gardens

  1. Washington, D.C., once called the Federal City, was built on a collection of fields, swamps and farms. Knowing this helps tell the story about the condition of the soils and drainage patterns in the area, information my intrepid gardener, Casey Calhoun, would naturally know.
  2. If I hadn’t researched how the British troops burned the White House in 1814, I wouldn’t have known that Casey would pass visibly scorched beams on a daily basis as she went from the grounds office in the White House basement to the gardens.
  3. President Andrew Jackson’s wife, Rachel, tragically died shortly before he took office. In 1828, the bereaved President planted a sprout taken from his wife’s favorite Southern magnolia tree at The Hermitage. The tree stands there today, to the left of the White House portico. This marked the beginning of the tree-planting tradition that every president has since followed. Knowing this history adds a new dimension to the tree and all the other trees that have since been planted by a president on the White House grounds.

Traditions/Cultures

  1. Reading memoirs of past employees pulled back the curtain and let me peek inside the inner working of the White House. Some of these books dated back to the 1950s, but that was okay. These books explained how many traditions came about and how some traditions changed belowstairs. Most employees believe that working at the White House is to serve as a guardian of national honor. This pride of position has not changed since the 1800s.
  2. White House employees hear nothing, know nothing, see nothing, and keep everything to themselves. They also don’t care who is president, because they are working for the public, just like the president is.

History of the Position

  1. Although James Monroe appointed the first White House gardener in the early 1820s, that position of honor has been held by relatively few men over the years. Once in the job, the head gardener often stays in that position over many administrations and often far past the retirement age.
  2. Fredrick Law Olmsted Jr., son of the famous landscape designer of Central Park, drew up the plans for the White House gardens in 1933. Despite some changes during the Kennedy administration, these plans are still being followed today. An original copy of these plans hangs on the concrete block walls in the grounds office of the White House.

This is just a sampling of the kind of information I uncovered during my research. Some of these tidbits made their way into the book. Most of my research stayed within the head of my characters, guiding their actions and shaping their motivations. I believe every stray detail that I found added depth and color to my story whether I revealed it or not. It also made my job easier when writing about Casey’s experiences.

What are some interesting facts that you know about Washington D.C. or about your hometown?

DorothyDorothy St. James started her career as historical romance novelist, Dorothy McFalls. She has since branched out into contemporary works including paranormal, thriller, and now her cozy mysteries written under her new pen name of St. James. All of these genres feed her addiction to her first love: research.

You can find Dorothy on her website (www.dorothystjames.com), at her Facebook page (www.facebook.com/dorothystjames), or tweeting on Twitter @dorothystjames.

Thanks so much for this fascinating peek into the White House, Dorothy.

Now it’s your turn to leave a comment or question for Dorothy for a chance to win a copy of her terrific new book!

16 thoughts on “Guest Blogger & Giveaway!

  1. Fascinating stuff. I love doing historical research, but I have to control myself, as it’s so time-consuming…

    1. Thank you, Barbara. I need to control myself more. I tend to get too wrapped up in the research, making my writing S-L-O-W going.

  2. Carol Wong says:

    I haven’t ever thought of the White House as a setting for a cozy mystery, great idea. I have been there three times and each time, I saw different museums and memorials. I really want to go again.

    Have to tell you what happened on my first visit. My whole family went on one of the White House tours. My mother turned her head and then was very excited. She saw Jackie Kennedy in the Rose Garden! I know that she was thrilled. She loved to sew her own clothes and she had made quite a collection of pill box hats after Jackie’s.

    CarolNWong(at)aol(dot)com

    1. That is exciting, Carol! I’ve heard other stories of families on tour bumping into the first family. I kept looking when I went on mine. Not even the puppy. I don’t think they were in town.

      The White House setting offers me a world of possibilities. This series has been fantastic to write.

      D.C. is the one city that I’ve visited the most, both because of work and pleasure. Every time I go, I find a new museum to visit. It’s amazing.

  3. Linda Townsend says:

    Wow! I’ve been to Washington D.C. twice MANY years ago. A few years ago at the EPCOT Flower & Garden show, I won a magnolia tree that was grafted from the tree that Andrew Jackson brought with him from the Hermitage in TN and planted at the White House in honor of his wife, Rachel, who had died right after he was elected but before he moved into the White House. I had it for a few years but didn’t have room for a large magnolia tree… so I gave it my sister while she was here visiting. It’s currently planted at their home just outside Memphis. I’m a gardener and love to read stories about gardens and our history. Thanks for the snippets you shared in your interview and for the give-a-way!
    Linda T.
    lindalou(at)cfl(dot)rr(dot)com

    1. Oh WOW! What a great tree to win. I’m jealous!

      Magnolias do take up quite a bit of space. They can be messy too. When I bought mine, the clerk tried to talk me out of it. I do love the giant white flowers. Mine are blooming right now.

      I’m glad you were able to find a home for the tree at your sisters.

      I hope to make it to EPCOT’s Flower and Garden show next year. Thank you for sharing your experience there with us.

  4. That’s terrible news about your car, Mia! I do hope that you’re okay. What a shock that must have been. I hope you were able to make it to the signing?

    Thank you, again, for having me on your blog today. I’m sorry I’m late to the party. My dh had a medical procedure this morning. Turns out I’m pretty squeamish. Spent the day in the bed beside him feeling his pain. At least he has pain killers. I’m so jealous. Not really. I’m just glad he’s okay.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks, Dorothy. I’m ok, but dealing with the tow made me miss the signing altogether. Made me feel terrible because the bookstore and Ozark Romance Authors had gone to such trouble to set it up.

      1. How frustrating, Mia. I’m sure that the Ozark authors understand, but I know how much I’d want to try and get to the signing too.

  5. catslady says:

    I was able to go twice with both of my children. I enjoyed it so much and I’m sure I enjoyed it more than the 6th graders lol. I do think the older you get the more you can appreciate the past. Unfortunately, a 4 day trip is hardly enough time but I learned a lot and would love to go back. I live live in Pittsburgh with a great history. The best way to learn your own city is to take a visitor lol. Your book sounds like it has a lot of wonderful facts which are so much more enjoyable within a story!

    1. Hi catslady, thank you for stopping by. Yes, the facts are much more enjoyable when wrapped into a story. That’s why I love historical romances and mysteries with a unique setting.

      I’ve never spent much more than a long weekend in D.C. I do try to hit new locations each time. There’s always something new to discover. I love that most of the museums are free. Makes for a stress-free adventure, not having to worry too much about the cost.

      If you give my book a try, please do let me know if you like it.

  6. Quilt Lady says:

    I have never been to DC but my son went on a school trip years ago and really enjoy the trip. Its a place that i think everyone should visit sometime in their life and I may make it one day.

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Quilt Lady! One of my favorite shows to watch on TV is a quilting show. I made a quilt once in college for my dorm room bed. I have a dream of making a large one for my bed now.

      I do highly recommend D.C. as a destination. There’s so much history. Everywhere you turn, you find something. The last visit, we were simply wandering the streets and keep finding artifacts of the canals that used to run throughout the city.

  7. Barbara Britton says:

    Hi Dorothy,
    I haven’t been to Washington, D.C. since I was nine years old, but I still remember the monuments. My family is due another trip to show this meaningful place to my kids.
    The White House is a fun and fascinating place to set a book. I never really thought of all the jobs surrounding its upkeep. Thanks for giving us a snapshot of what life is like working around the President’s home.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      DC is fascinating and designed to impress. I heartily recommend a trip there if at all possible.

      1. You’re most welcome, Barbara! Thank you for stopping by. I hope my book will make you even more excited about planning a trip to D.C. It’s one of my favorite cities. A great place to bring the kids, too. One of my favorite childhood memories is the excitement of seeing the Air and Space museum for the first time.

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