The Mapmaker’s Children – A Dual-time Mystery

Shortly after Time and Regret released, I had the good fortune to write a post for mystery author Elizabeth Spann Craig‘s blog. The post was called 8 Tips on Writing Dual-Time Mysteries. Let’s see how author Sarah McCoy’s novel The Mapmaker’s Children, which I’ve recently read, stacks up.

Are you telling two stories or one? Each timeline must enhance the other. For me, this is an area where The Mapmaker’s Children disappoints. One storyline deals with Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist, John Brown while the present day story centres on Eden, a woman desperate to conceive a child. The link between the two stories is the house Eden and her husband Jack live in and the head of a porcelain doll she discovers in the root cellar. Unfortunately, Eden’s struggles offer little connection with Sarah’s and the two stories do not enhance one another.

Both timelines have to engage the readers. I found the Sarah Brown story very engaging. The history of that time is rich and the story combines danger and uncertainty with strong emotions and a family torn apart by war and abolitionist sentiments. In comparison, the present-day story seemed simplistic and predictable.

Readers must care deeply about both protagonists. Sarah Brown’s plight engaged my emotions; Eden came across as unreasonable and full of self-pity.

Each protagonist must have a distinct voice. McCoy does a good job of creating distinctive voices for her two protagonist. Eden’s is clearly modern while Sarah Brown’s voice invokes a past time by using different language and sentence structure.

Readers must be clear about which era they’re in at any point in the novel. Beyond distinctive voices, the author makes the timeline clear to the reader by adding the protagonist’s name to each chapter heading. And beyond that, the action and historical references keep the timelines clearly delineated.

Plotting a dual-time mystery is even more complicated than a regular mystery. Because of what occurs in Sarah Brown’s timeline, as readers we know a good deal about the mystery Eden is struggling to solve. Unfortunately, this takes away from the suspense of the story.

Avoid jumping back and forth too frequently. The author handles the balance between the two timelines well.

The rules of excellent historical fiction still apply. Sarah McCoy bring the past to life with a great piece of historical fiction embedded in The Mapmaker’s Children. I thoroughly enjoyed Sarah Brown’s part of the story and learned a lot about the underground railroad. In my opinion, the author could have written a brilliant novel solely concerned with the historical piece of the story.

If you’ve read The Mapmaker’s Children, what are your thoughts? If you’ve read other dual-time mysteries that you feel hold up agains these criteria, I’d love to hear about them.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

The Whirl of Launching a Novel

TodMK-TimeandRegret-22790-CV-FTLaunching a new novel is a very exciting time in any author’s life. In preparation I booked two virtual tours, one with Amy Bruno’s HFVBT and the second with Emma Cazabonne’s France Book Tours (starting Sept 1). Beyond the book tours, many friends  helped publicize Time and Regret on blogs, Twitter and Facebook – I am very grateful for their support!

Several bloggers agreed to host a guest post, which meant that during the month prior to launch I was busier than the proverbial one-armed paper hanger writing articles. I thought I would gather them together here. Many thanks to these wonderful bloggers and authors.

Tony RichesThe Writing DeskWriting a mystery – more challenging than expected 

… a mystery is a very different beast. Mystery lovers have expectations, specifically the expectation that you will keep them guessing until the last possible moment and equally the expectation that the smart reader should be able to figure it out. They expect clues strategically sprinkled throughout the novel, many red herrings, a few plot twists, and more than one potential culprit. They expect the excitement to build and build, and the protagonist to have his or her own life problems to add depth to the story … to read the article click here

Elisabeth StorrsTricliniumWhy I used a first person narrator

Time and Regret is the first novel I’ve told using a first person narrator. In other words, the operative word is I. According the Elizabeth George in her non-fiction book Write Away, “When a writer uses this, she stays with one narrator throughout the novel. She’s in that character’s head and no one else’s.” To read the article click here

Jaideep Khanduja – life.paperblog.com – Millennial Readers – What do we know about them?

Millennials have demonstrated the tendency to read more—and buy more books—than other generations. In fact, Millennials buy 30% of books, compared to the 24% purchased by Baby Boomers.” To read the article click here 

Meg WessellA Bookish Affair Essentials of a Good Mystery

… Plot is everything. You have to have a great story; one that engages readers from the outset offering twists and turns and unexpected developments. For example, a character your readers expect to be the culprit dies before the novel ends. Or perhaps your heroine loses the very clue that promised to solve the mystery or her lover is revealed to be working against her. To read the article click here

Elizabeth St. John – author blog – Through the Eyes of a Historical Fiction Writer

I look at the sweep of land, the flowers and shrubs that border the roads, the rivers that meander or rush, the cows huddled beneath a tree; I watch the people, noting gestures and the rhythm of speech, facial features, colouring, the slope of someone’s brow, the way their eyes flash or their chins lift. I wander through markets imagining similar cheeses and meats, flowers and vegetables on narrow stalls crammed one against the other in the town squares of one hundred years ago. A small cat twitches her tail, a dog barks, church bells ring, a cock crows. Sounds too are important, as are smells. The intent is to immerse myself as completely as possible in the world that will become my story. To read the article click here

Debra Brown – English Epochs 101 – Bringing One Soldier’s Experience to Life

For the past six or seven years, I’ve been fascinated with World War One. So much so that I’ve written three novels centred on that horrifying world conflict. And still it haunts me. To read the article click here

Elizabeth Spann Craig – author blog – 8 Tips on Writing Dual-Time Mysteries

What do The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig, The Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian, The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro, and The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier have in common? Answer: they are all dual-time mysteries. I love reading stories like these. But writing one proved to be a significant challenge and demanded a different approach from my previous historical novels … to read the article click here

Marie Burton – The Burton Review – Five WWI Novels that Influenced my Writing

… A huge leap is required to turn your life upside down and do something completely different and I had a lot to learn about war. Beyond the usual internet sources and history books about those times, five novels stand out for the beauty of their writing, their evocation of sights and sounds and the tidbits of historical detail that are seamlessly woven into the stories. I’ve read these five, reread them, unlined sections and even marked particularly interesting pages with little yellow stickies. They are my go-to source whenever I need an injection of WWI atmosphere to spark my writing. To read the article click here

Lorna Ferguson – Literascribe – The Making of a Novel

Each author creates and writes in her or his own way. There is no best approach; what matters most is whether in the end the story is compelling from a reader’s point of view. I tend to get an idea and then put flesh on it using a detailed chapter outline before I begin the real writing. The idea for my latest novel, Time and Regret, came while travelling in France with my husband Ian to visit the battlefields, monuments, cemeteries, and museums dedicated to World War One … to read the article click here

I also had the pleasure of being interviewed by Richard Sutton (Saille Tales) Sarah Johnson (Reading the Past) and Colleen Turner (A Literary Vacation)

To all of these wonderfully supportive individuals a VERY BIG THANK YOU.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.