Panning for Gold: How Women in History Inspired a Mystery Series

(by guest author Jolie Tunnell)

The Great Loveda Brown is the result of panning for gold. I’m as driven to look for the gold nuggets of history as any 49er who rushed California, and sometimes just as ornery.

My maternal grandmother was the first person to hint that there was more to my family tree than first met the eye. That there might be gold in them there hills. That some of the women-folk were, perhaps, not quite the meek and silent ladies implied by their photos.

Her own mother included. My own mother included.

I listened eagerly to the stories. The romantic Irish elopement. The scandalous California divorce. The murder trial. The Mayflower voyage. The horse thief. Meningitis and Cherokee blood and Viking relics. Suicide.

I went panning for the gold nuggets of truth and discovered that my sepia-tinged ancestors with the strange names were human after all, and closer examination proved that these strong, ornery women each had something to say. 

Sadly, the obscure and interesting questions, the ones no one thought to ask until it was too late and another generation laid buried in the local cemetery, had to be searched for, alone by the side of a river.

Or at the computer screen, sifting the internet flotsam for answers. 

I can tell you that, in 1912, Harriet Quimby was the first female pilot to fly over the English Channel. I can tell you that the RMS Titanic sank that April, that suffragettes were marching for the vote in Arizona, and that Life Savers candy was invented, all in 1912.

Women had to struggle to become more than property, they wanted the right to own property. They wanted the opportunity not just to direct a home but direct a nation.

But I can’t tell you how my great-great-grandmother felt about it. I can only imagine.

Thus, Loveda Brown appeared. Writing historical fiction is my way of giving a voice to the stories that need telling. Crafting them as mysteries creates the perfect vehicle to inform the reader about American 1912 juxtapositions, the vivid turn of the century when inventions overtook the pioneer ways, when it was laughable to imagine the first automobiles could ever replace a horse. When the West was still wild enough to hold people with a kaleidoscope of different perspectives at once.

Loveda represents the strong and ornery womenfolk of 1912. She embodies the age of optimism and exploration, the brief years before the shadow of World War I loomed on the horizon. A point of view that, in her own words, insists, “Everything is imagination until someone figures out how to make it. Then it’s called science.”

And to that definition of history, I bring a tiny mountain community lying in the crossroads of imagination and science, one about to lose isolation to burgeoning tourism. Authentic characters with all of the obscure and interesting questions I can no longer ask my ancestors. 

But I can try.

“Is the wilderness truly an appropriate place for ladies of refinement, such as yourself?” Mr. Peabody asked.

Mrs. Keen drew herself up even taller. “Mr. Peabody, it is the exact place for ladies. The American West was tamed with the blood, sweat, and tears of our pioneering foremothers. We are but the sixth state to give women the vote, and we are certainly not going to let them down now. Our daughters will have a voice.”

Yes. They will.

What do you do with a San Diego girl who grew up in a library and has written since she could hold a pencil in her hand? Exactly. Wait until fifty years and five kids go by and then ask whether she wants to be an author when she grows up. 

Better late than never! 

The Loveda Brown Mystery Series launched in 2020, set in Idyllwild, California in 1912. How fun is that?

Sign up for the Newsletter where I share excerpts, promos, and all things writerly and join the Facebook Group, Jolie Tunnell’s Earlybirds. You can find me pretty much anywhere on the web, but my thoughts are likely to be wandering Idyllwild, chasing squirrels and looking for a mystery to solve. 

2 responses to “Panning for Gold: How Women in History Inspired a Mystery Series”

  1. Great post! “Sepia-tinged ancestors” – I love that phrase!
    And although I’m a Texas gal now, I grew up not to far from Idyllwild. I was born in Glendora and spent most of my adult years in Ontario, Rialto, and Upland until I moved to Texas 13 years ago. I’m going to go check out this series. The backdrop of CA, my old stomping grounds, characters based on ancestors and a story in the past – I’m looking forward to reading these.

    1. You’ll like Loveda, Trisha, I’m sure!

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