One of my favorite parts of writing this series has been the research. For me, the hard part is knowing when to stop researching, and when to start writing. When I decided to make the clock tower in the Orchard Town Hall the focal point of Chime and Punishment, I had a vague idea of what a clock tower looked like inside, mostly from movies. My plot relied on those imaginings. Thankfully, I know a clockmaker who offered me a chance to wind a clock in a tower.
I still remember the day I was telling my friend Susan about the clock shop series, and she said something to me that changed everything. “You know my husband is a clock maker, right?”
David Roberts runs the Clockfolk of New England [http://jimclockfolk.ipower.com/clockfolk/index.shtml] with his brother James. A visit to the shop, as well as to the wonderful American Clock and Watch Museum [http://www.clockandwatchmuseum.org/] got my creative juices flowing about the clocks themselves. But talking to the Roberts brothers helped me understand the training, dedication, patience, precision, and passion that are required to be a clockmaker in 2017. These days, we can keep time with our phones. But clocks are much more than timepieces. That are works of art.
Last summer Dave invited me on a field trip, to a clock tower in a church in Massachusetts. He, or James, or Susan, go there every week to wind the clock. That’s one of the things about clock towers I knew intellectually, but didn’t really understand until I went with them. Clock towers need to be wound every week. For this clock, that meant 50 revolutions per day, or 350 to keep it running for the week. The tower required climbing stairs to the balcony, and then ladders to the tower. It was hot, really hot. Clock towers aren’t typically air conditioned or heated.
Once I was up in the tower I realized I needed to rework the plot of the book. Clocks in clock towers are amazing machines, but they are more compact, not sprawling. The mechanism I saw was built by the Seth Thomas company in 1912. Now, the arms to the clock faces and the weights, they add more visual drama. But the clock itself was what inspired me. It was built to be in a tower where very few people would see it, yet there are details like an acorn topped brass screw that are lovely. There is a complicated simplicity to how the machine works. Simple in that I understood it, and marveled at the paddles that slowed down the bell so it wouldn’t ring extra times. Complicated in that I can’t imagine being able to dream up a clock in a tower. Things like the clock weights needing a special shaft because they needed to run the height of the tower so the clock could run for a week. That isn’t how my brain works.
But my brain does write mysteries, and my visit to the clock tower helped me think through my plot. It also helped me pay more attention to clock towers wherever we go, and silently thank the folks who keep them running.
So how did I use my clock tower field trip in Chime and Punishment? You’ll have to read the book to find out!
Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. The first in the series, the Agatha nominated Just Killing Time, debuted in October 2015. Clock and Dagger was released in August 2016, and Chime and Punishment had an August 1, 2017 release date. As J.A. Hennrikus, her Theater Cop series will debut in the fall of 2017 with A Christmas Peril. She has short stories in three Level Best anthologies, Thin Ice, Dead Calm and Blood Moon. She is on the board of Sisters in Crime, and is a member of MWA and Sisters in Crime New England. She blogs with the Wicked Cozy Authors and Killer Characters. JHAuthors.com T:@JHAuthors I: @jahenn