Cozy mystery author Brynn Bonner stopped by XOXOAD today to talk about the good ole days! In her Family History Mystery series, she effortlessly weaves together a professional genealogist duo’s search for the link between a death from long ago and a modern-day murder. Be sure to read on to find out her favorite part of the research process, and download your copy of her latest release, PICTURE THEM DEAD, today!
I’m a research junkie. There, I’ve said it. When I’m in research mode for a new book, I get carried away. I particularly got carried away for my Family History Mystery series which features genealogist Sophreena McClure and her business partner Esme Sabatier. Sophreena and Esme dig into the backgrounds of their clients and often find skeletons in the family closets. I need to understand a little about the time period, and the social standards, and history that shaped the time period to make the back stories authentic. But I confess I sometimes go overboard.
My favorite sources for this series are the ephemera of ordinary lives: personal letters, diaries, random lists and notes that document everyday living. For the latest installment, PICTURE THEM DEAD, which was released June 30, I read dozens of WWI battlefield diaries and many, many wartime letters, mostly correspondence between sweethearts or married couples.
The cards and letters were completely engrossing. I don’t consider myself a lost-in-the-fog kind of romantic, but reading these letters makes me sigh a lot. They are addressed to “My Darling One,” “My Dearest Sweetheart,” or “My Beautiful Love.” The separated couples write so tenderly of their longing to be together again and of the fear that they’ll be forever parted. These declarations drill down to the very core of the human connection.
It makes me wonder what will be missing in years to come when future researchers start to dig around in today’s ephemera. I somehow doubt the “Whatssup?” from a text message will evoke the same pathos as “My Darling One” or the letter addressed to “My Bright Sassy Gal.” And “L8er” is a far cry from “With my most ardent love until we meet again.”
And right there alongside the pledges of eternal love and endless devotion are the small sweet notes that make up the musical score of everyday life. Not so many exchanges involve what we deem to be life’s milestones; births, deaths, degrees earned, job promotions, and the like. But rather, a soldier wants to know if the fig tree bore fruit this year, or if the little shop where he and his intended shared ice cream sundaes is faring well in the wartime economy. She wants him to know the song they liked so much when they first heard it on the radio is now being played so frequently everyone knows the words by heart. And that his mother is teaching her to make the bread pudding he likes so much.
It’s there, in those tidbits of life, that hopes and dreams hold firm amidst the terror and hardships of wartime. These are important papers. Sometimes I feel like a voyeur as I know I’m intruding on what was meant to be private between two individuals. But mostly I feel my having read the letters means some small part of each person lives on. I feel it strongest when I have an actual letter in hand. Not only do the words touch my heart, but I’m keenly aware that I’m touching the same piece of paper that the writer handled all those years ago. I have no idea why that makes the experience more powerful, but it does. Just like I know that sitting down to write a letter on paper with a pen will result in a much different version from one I’d produce on the keyboard.
I’m no Luddite. I’m grateful for (most of) the advances in technology and I lust after the latest Apple device right along with techies. But there are things I miss and handwritten letters are high on that list. Maybe I’ll dig out my favorite stationery today and write to an old friend I’ve been thinking about this week.
Then I’ll get back to my research.