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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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?
Dorothy 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.
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!