Ernst to launch new novel
September 03, 2019
Mystery novel to be launched at Høstfest
MINOT ND — Author Kathleen Ernst’s 10th novel in her Chloe Ellefson Mystery series, Fiddling With Fate, will be released this month. “The novel is set largely in the Hardanger region of Norway,” Ernst said. “What better place to launch the book than Norsk Høstfest?”
This will be the award-winning and bestselling author’s first time attending Norsk Høstfest – North American’s largest Scandinavian festival — held September 25-28, in Minot, North Dakota.
“I’m thrilled!” Ernst said. “I've been aware of the festival for years, and have long wanted to visit. The main character of my mystery series, Chloe Ellefson, is a Norwegian-American, and the series celebrates ethnic heritage in its many forms. I'm excited by the prospect of being immersed in Scandinavian culture for a few days. Food, folk arts, history, music--I love it all.”
She will bring the first nine titles of the Chloe Ellefson Mysteries to Høstfest, too, many of which have Scandinavian elements. “Old World Murder features a missing Norwegian ale bowl, The Lightkeeper’s Legacy features a Danish immigrant, and Heritage of Darkness is set at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.” Ernst said. “I will also have copies of A Settler's Year: Pioneer Life Through The Seasons, my nonfiction book about the immigrant experience in Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest.”
Although Ernst said she cannot claim Scandinavian heritage herself, “I chose to make Chloe of Norwegian descent because I had loved working in the two Norwegian farms restored at Old World Wisconsin during my time there. As an interpreter I learned a bit about traditional Norwegian foodways--and cooking on woodstoves! As a curator, I had the opportunity to consider many pieces of Norwegian folk art, and wanted to learn more. I knew I would enjoy going on a long journey with a Norwegian-American main character.”
Old World Wisconsin is an outdoor ethnic museum that includes over 60 original structures built by immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries, Ernst said. “The site included two working Norwegian farms and a Danish farm. As a costumed interpreter, and later as a curator of education and collections, I delved into food, craft and agricultural traditions. Now, I get to celebrate those things in the Chloe Ellefson mysteries.”
Ernst’s fictional Chloe Ellefson “was born and raised in Stoughton, Wisconsin, a town which proudly celebrates its Norwegian heritage,” Ernst explained. “Her mother is a talented rosemaler, both of her parents are active in the local Sons of Norway lodge, and Chloe performed with the acclaimed Stoughton Norwegian Dancers group while in high school. At the beginning of the series she takes her ancestry largely for granted. By the 10th volume, Fiddling With Fate, Chloe is eager to learn more about her ancestors. That quest takes her to Norway.”
No one directly inspired her Chloe Ellefson character, however, “in some superficial ways Chloe is a lot like me. She works as a curator at the same historic site where I worked, for example. But Chloe is definitely a fictional character, created to serve the stories,” Ernst said. “I hope readers find her a complex person who is passionate about immigrant history. She sometimes makes mistakes, but does her best for her friends, colleagues, and the elders she meets while conducting research.”
Ernst said she is grateful to the Norwegian Americans and others who have embraced the Chloe Ellefson series. “Members of Stoughton's Mandt Lodge were very helpful as I developed this book. The staff at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum have been wonderfully supportive of the series, and artifacts in their collection are featured in several books. I also met with the director of the Hardanger Folk Museum in Utne, Norway, and spotlight that museum and some of their collections in Fiddling With Fate.”
Chloe Ellefson books are traditional mysteries, without the sex scenes, blood and gore some authors add.
“When I write a Chloe Ellefson mystery I'm most intrigued by the human emotions inherent in the stories, and in weaving historical stories and artifacts and places into each book. Based on feedback, those are the elements that my readers love best, too,” Ernst said.
“Also, I think romantic scenes can be especially powerful if most of the action is left up to the readers' imaginations,” she added. “At the end of Heritage of Darkness Chloe and the other main recurring character, cop Roelke McKenna, take a big step forward in their relationship. I took them into the bedroom, but no farther, and everyone seemed happy with that.”
The same is true of violence, Ernst said. “Since I write murder mysteries there will always be a dead body, but graphically describing the death or aftermath wouldn't serve any purpose. I've never had a reader ask for gory details.”
Ernst also enjoys creating books for young readers and has written 20 books for American Girl, a company that makes high quality dolls that can be ordered to look like the child who will play with it. “When I created the character of Caroline for American Girl, it was exciting to know that, after reading my stories, young readers could use their own imaginations while playing with the doll or exploring book-related activities,” Ernst said. “As a child I learned to love history by reading historical fiction and visiting historic sites with my family. Writing historical fiction for kids now lets me pass on some of my own passion.”
Through her work and experiences, Ernst grew into the life of an author. “People are often surprised to learn that my first college degree was in environmental education,” she said. “To me, juxtaposing a passion for the natural world with a passion for history makes perfect sense! When immigrants arrived in North America the environment they found had everything to do with their struggles and successes. We can't understand their experience without trying to understand their landscape. I strive to instill a strong sense of place in my books, and having a background in environmental education helps.”
For many years, Ernst held day jobs and worked on writing only on her off hours. For the last 10 years, however, she has been a full-time writer, which she calls “a dream come true!”.
“I usually spend about a year working on each Chloe Ellefson Mystery, which includes research, writing, and editing,” Ernst said. “I sometimes work on a second book at the same time; if so, I work on each project every day. Once under contract I'm not able to wait for inspiration to come along, but fortunately, I'm usually so excited about whatever manuscript is in progress that I'm eager to get back to the keyboard each day.”
Ernst’s writing time gets balanced with travel and the business aspects of being an author. “Although I love the process of disappearing into a story, I also love meeting readers at events like Hostfest! It's a joy to hear that a particular Chloe Ellefson mystery resonated with someone, that a theme echoed a precious family story, or that reading one of the books inspired a trip to the featured museum or historic site.”
She writes to honor the immigrants “especially women, who made sacrifices, faced challenges and survived hardships almost unimaginable today, all in the hope of creating a better life for their children” Ernst said. “I hope to shine a bit of lamplight on everyday people who lived extraordinary lives. Their stories inspire me, and I hope they inspire readers as well.”
Norsk Høstfest is held Sept. 25-28, 2019, at the North Dakota State Fairgrounds. To purchase tickets, visit hostfest.com or call (701) 852-2368.
To learn more about Kathleen Ernst, visit https://www.kathleenernst.com.