Last spring I was on a panel at Malice Domestic, and Margaret Maron was moderating. She was asking questions about Just Killing Time, the first book in this series. She wondered if anyone in my family was a clock maker, since my protagonist Ruth Clagan had such a palatable love for clocks.
No one in my family is a clock maker. But research for this series has made me passionate about them, and I’m happy if that spills onto the page. What has my research taught me?
Being a clockmaker takes years of learning and apprenticeship. Like writing (or acting, or playing a musician), talent is important. But as important, maybe more, is spending time learning your craft. I admire people who dedicate themselves to learning as part of how they make their living. Especially when actually making a living isn’t a given.
Clocks are beautiful on the outside. If you go to the American Clock and Watch Museum in Bristol, Connecticut, you will see dozens and dozens of clocks and watches. Some clocks are “just” clocks, but most are also pieces of art unto themselves. Cabinetry, painted faces, choice of clock hands, size, style. Details matter on clocks, and they speak volumes about the owners of the timepieces.
Keeping time is an amazing thing. Think about it—a hundred years ago, clocks were the only way people could tell time. Now, we are all synched to the second with our cell phones, but for a long time there was an “ish” factor about clocks. (“What time is it?” “Twoish.”) Precision wasn’t necessary, but the desire to capture time has been part of us for a long time.
Once the industrial revolution started, two things happened. First, trains started running all over the country. Second, timing of the trains had to be precise. So a standard for railroad watches came into practice, so all conductors would be able to be on the same schedule. I find that amazing—we had to capture time, and made watches that did just that.
As the need to capture time, some of the artistry of timekeeping has been lost. More and more clocks are electric, which puts clockmakers like Ruth Clagan out of business. Except that old timepieces are passed down from generation to generation, and keeping them running isn’t just about keeping time. It is about preserving memories.
I love writing the Clock Shop Mystery series, and learning more about clocks. I used to take them for granted, but no longer. I always stop and look, ask questions, listen to stories. I am passionate about clocks, and glad that spills over onto the page.
CREATING A TOWN
I blog with the Wicked Cozy Authors, and a few weeks ago our Wicked Wednesday topic (we do a group post every Wednesday) was about the myths about writing we’ve figured out aren’t true. One of the myths, for me, was the idea that you needed to have a perfectly accurate setting and very detailed character sketches before you could start writing a book.
I have found that layers reveal themselves as you write. I’m finding this especially true about Orchard, Massachusetts, the setting for this series. Orchard isn’t a real place, but it is located in the Berkshires here in Massachusetts. I know the Berkshires, and found a town to use as a model. I decided every building would be different—different eras, different materials, different styles. They would also be stand alone buildings, running along the main street of Orchard, which is Washington Street. The Cog & Sprocket, the clock shop in the series which doubles as Ruth Clagan’s home, it at the end of the street, and she can see all of downtown Orchard from her front porch.
At the end of Just Killing Time, Ruth has decided to make some renovations to the shop, and to upstairs. It is still small, cozy, and cramped. But now it had more of Ruth’s personality in. it. The literary renovation was fun. I kept a lot about the shop the same, but took down a wall and painted the walls. Upstairs, the apartment was restored, going from a storage space into a home. Walls were painted, furniture was moved in. Thanks to the scratch and dent section of the home improvement store, the kitchen was updated and the bathroom now has a separate shower rather than the too short claw foot tub contraption. The kitchen table Ruth uses was one of two pieces of furniture she got in her divorce from her ex husband.
Now, when I started writing this series, did I have the renovated Cog & Sprocket in my mind, with all the details? No, of course not. That’s the myth that needs to be busted. Those details come clear when you need them to.
I recently wrote a scene where Ruth goes running. She goes further than she ever has, and as I wrote the scene a mist was lifted, and details emerged about this next ring around Orchard. This is the fun part of writing. Making it up as you go along, filling in details as needed. The tricky part is keeping track of those details, so you get them right in the future.
I have nieces and nephews, and played Minecraft with them one Christmas. One of my nephews (who was very young at the time) kept destroying the towns the other kids had built, so eventually he had to play on his own. While I did not break down walls and invite sheep to graze in the living room, I elected to play on my own as well. I’m a writer. I build my own towns. I hope you enjoy visiting it in Clock and Dagger.
Julianne Holmes’ Clock Shop Mystery series debuted in October 2015 with Just Killing Time, which was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Clock and Dagger was released August 2, 2016. As J.A. Hennrikus she has had short stories published in Level Best Books anthologies: “Her Wish” in Dead Calm, “Tag, You’re Dead” in Thin Ice, “The Pendulum Swings, Until It Doesn’t” in Blood Moon. She is on Twitter (@JulieHennrikus), Instagram (@jahenn), Pinterest, and Facebook. She blogs with the Wicked Cozy Authors, Live to Write/Write to Live, and is on Killer Characters on the 20th of each month. Julie is a board member of Sisters in Crime and New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime. She is also a member of Mystery Writers of America and the Guppies. JulianneHolmes.com