Guest Post: Mrs. Meade's Colorado by Elisabeth Grace Foley

08 April 2014

Please join me in welcoming Elisabeth Grace Foley to Literary Lane to celebrate the publication of The Mrs. Meade Mysteries: Volume One! Up to this point, she has released these  novelette-length mysteries in e-book format, but now you have the opportunity to purchase a paperback copy featuring the first three stories. With each mystery averaging around 15,000 words, they are the perfect length for a warm afternoon and a cup of tea. Pick up a copy today and dive into Mrs. Meade's world of Sour Springs, Colorado. Elisabeth introduces us to the inspiration behind that world in the following guest post.

mrs. meade's colorado
by elisabeth grace foley

When you’re writing historical fiction, your setting becomes an intrinsic part of your story. I’ve found this to be very true with the Mrs. Meade Mysteries. The funny thing is, I didn’t start out by deliberately choosing a time and year for the series. The setting—Colorado around the turn of the 20th century—seemed to blossom of itself from a notion that popped into my head while I was putting together the pieces of the first story. In retrospect, I think it came about mainly because of two books I had read, and a random sentence in a third. The first was Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden, the true story of two Edwardian-era girls from wealthy families who went west to become schoolteachers in rural Colorado. The second was Clover by Susan Coolidge (the fourth book in the What Katy Did series). One was nonfiction, the other fiction; but both were set in Colorado at reasonably close time periods, and the descriptions of the setting in both books fascinated me. 

To begin with, I've always adored mountains. If I had the choice of anywhere in the world to go on a vacation, it would be somewhere with mountains, whether it was the Adirondacks or the Rockies or the Alps. The idea of writing in a setting that I loved was very appealing. In addition, the juxtaposition of early 20th-century modernity with the remnants of the frontier West, as portrayed in Nothing Daunted, presented all sorts of fascinating possibilities for stories. Edwardian-era Colorado had both thriving cities and remote settlements. Ranching, mining and railroads were industries that held plenty of interest. Also, the plot of Clover was driven by the heroine's accompanying her younger brother to Colorado for his health—which opened up even further possibilities. In the late 19th century Colorado was an extremely popular health resort, its dry, sunny climate being considered especially good for the treatment of tuberculosis. (In 1900 a historian claimed that one-third of the state’s population had come there for health reasons). The state’s beauties also attracted tourists. As a well-known destination for invalids and travelers of all sorts and social classes, where could I find a better place for bringing in whatever characters I needed to fill the cast of a mystery?

The clincher might have been a sentence in Initials Only, a 1911 mystery by Anna Katharine Green, which I read just a short time after reading Nothing Daunted. A family of travelers staying at a New York hotel, filling a small but important role as witnesses to a murder, was referred to as being "well known in Denver." Green's work in general had a significant influence on the development of Mrs. Meade—not only did she create one of the first lady detectives in her Miss Amelia Butterworth, but the milieu of Victorian and Edwardian life portrayed in her books was one of the things that I enjoyed most about them, and which I wanted to reflect in my own historical mysteries. The reference to Denver seemed to link this in neatly with the Colorado setting that already attracted me.

Doing additional research for the Mrs. Meade Mysteries has deepened my interest in the Edwardian era as a whole. I’d had a cursory admiration for the lovely fashions and hairstyles of the time, gained from watching Anne of Green Gables and the like. Now I’ve found what I previously regarded as a rather uneventful section in the history books to be an intriguing transitional period in American history, apart from the appeal of its fashions and culture. Over the last few years I’ve read a lot of early Western fiction, and was frequently surprised to discover much of it written and set around the turn of the century—some of the Old West that I’d imagined ending much earlier still lived, through those first pre-WWI decades, alongside the automobile and telephone and other aspects of modern civilization gradually spreading through the country. Since I was already accustomed to writing Westerns, Mrs. Meade’s small town felt like home ground, and the prospect of learning more about Edwardian culture was a pleasant one.

I feel I've yet to fully explore the possibilities of this setting. Hopefully that will develop further in future stories. But it has provided me with a distinct backdrop to work against, and has even sparked the beginnings of some plots by itself. One thing is certain: I know I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of its potential!

. . .

all about mrs. meade

Meet Mrs. Meade, a gentle but shrewd widow lady with keen insight into human nature and a knack for solving mysteries. Problems both quaint and dramatic find her in Sour Springs, a small town in Colorado at the turn of the twentieth century. Here in Volume One are her first three adventures, novelette-length mysteries previously published individually. In The Silver Shawl, a young woman has disappeared from the boarding-house where she lives—was she kidnapped, or did she have a reason to flee? In The Parting Glass, Mrs. Meade puzzles over the case of a respectable young man accused of drunkenly assaulting a woman. And in The Oldest Flame, Mrs. Meade’s visit with old friends turns to disaster with a house fire that may have been deliberately set. Quick and entertaining forays into mystery and times past, each story is just the perfect length to accompany a cup of tea or coffee for a cozy afternoon.

all about elisabeth grace foley

Elisabeth Grace Foley is a historical fiction author, avid reader and lifelong history buff. Her first published story, “Disturbing the Peace,” was an honorable mention in the first annual Rope and Wire Western short story competition, and is now collected with six others in her debut short story collection, The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories. Her other works include short fiction set during the American Civil War and the Great Depression. A homeschool graduate, she chose not to attend college in order to pursue self-education and her writing career. Visit her online at www.thesecondsentence.blogspot.com.

5 epistles:

  1. Such fun to hear more about Mrs. Meade's setting! Can't wait to get my copy. :)

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  2. I'm so excited about this series! I'd definitely like to read Miss Foley's books. The Colorado scene reeled me in because it reminds me of Dr. Queen, Medicine Woman (a tv series I used to enjoy so much... and I've been intrigued with CO ever since!) Additionally, the Edwardian period is my favorite time in history to study about... thusly, I'm instantly interested in the Mrs. Meade Mysteries.

    It has been waaay too long since I read the What Katy Did series, and certainly did not remember that it took place in CO. I must thank the authoress here for all the other shout-outs to the other great-sounding bits of literature she mentioned... which I now must read!

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  3. Fascinating post! I'm excited about this series, too, and I really love the sound of your setting. Setting is, to me, one of the most important parts of a story, and it sounds like you've picked one that's a character in its own right. I'm researching the Edwardian era now and barely scratching the surface ... but I can tell it was a significant time of transition and juxtaposition!

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  4. Thank you all so much for your comments, and thank you, Elizabeth, for having me here!

    Tarissa, if you're interested in Colorado I bet you'd really enjoy Nothing Daunted—I found it fascinating. I somehow never read What Katy Did until a couple years ago, though I'd read the description many times in the back of my paperback copy of The Railway Children. Then I discovered it for free in the Kindle store, and I read straight through the whole series in a few days while I was sick in bed. :)

    Kelsey, that's neat that you're researching the Edwardian era too! Is it for a writing project?

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  5. This is a very interesting post, and I enjoyed reading the background behind your mystery novel, Elisabeth Grace Foley! It is a very interesting and unique process which finds us choosing our settings and era to write in (or rather, sometimes, the settings/eras find us!). I am not awfully acquainted with America during the turn of the century, but it does capture my interest. I am probably more familiar with European history in general! :).

    But I very much look forward to reading Mrs.Meades mystery one of these days, and seeing more of your works with her character. God bless and congratulations on the publication of your novel!

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