I have the great pleasure and honor to introduce Julie McElwain to Layered Pages today, to talk with me about her book A Murder In Time. Julie is an award-winning journalist, who began her career as a business reporter at California Apparel News, a weekly Los Angeles-based fashion trade newspaper. She has freelanced for numerous publications from professional photographer’s magazines to those following the fashion industry. Currently, Julie is an editor for CBS Soaps In Depth, a national soap opera magazine covering the No. 1 daytime drama, The Young and the Restless. Julie lives in Long Beach, CA.
Julie, please tell your audience about A Murder in time.
A Murder In Time is about FBI agent Kendra Donovan, who goes rogue after her present day mission is botched. In her quest for justice, she infiltrates a costume ball at Aldridge Castle in England. When she encounters an assassin, she escapes through a passageway and encounters a terrifying phenomenon, which transports her back to 1815.
You could say that Kendra’s modern senses clash with Regency England’s sensibilities. She’s initially mistaken for a lady’s maid, but is quickly demoted to a below-stairs maid. When the body of a young girl is found brutally murdered, Kendra realizes that a serial killer is on the loose. Stripped of her twenty-first century tools, Kendra is forced to rely on her wits to unmask the murderer.
What are some of the courage and strengths of Kendra and possibly the isolation she may feel with these attributes?
As the offspring of two scientists who believed in positive eugenics, Kendra didn’t have a normal upbringing. Like an athlete, she spent her life “training” to excel in academics. Her intelligence has always set her apart from her peers, and made her feel isolated. She was only a young teenager when she went to college. Socially, she didn’t fit in with the older college students, which only made her feel more like a freak. When her parents abandoned her after she asserted her independence, Kendra was forced to develop a tough outer shell to survive. She became a loner, dedicated to proving herself in her chosen career, and deeply wary of emotional attachments because of her parents’ abandonment. As tragic as Kendra’s life was, I think it gave her the strength to deal with being transported to 1815, where she’s the ultimate outlier. I think a person with a more normal upbringing would have been driven insane or reduced to a quivering ball of fear!
What is the mood or tone your characters portrays and how does this affect the story?
There is a great deal of suspicion between Kendra and her nineteenth century counterparts, which adds to the tension. The Duke of Aldridge, Alec, and Sam Kelly are aware that Kendra lied about how she came to England. They have varying degrees of distrust. They also regard Kendra’s manners, speech patterns and behavior as peculiar, to say the least, but they put it down to her being an American. For her part, Kendra has a difficult time trusting them with her big secret, and that has her proceeding cautiously. And she worries about screwing up the space-time continuum, which is something she’s never had to worry about in her previous murder investigations for the FBI! She can’t help but be skeptical over this group’s contribution to the murder investigation. She was always more advanced than her peers, but with these people, she’s centuries more advanced. It’s not that she thinks she’s superior… but she kind of does. It will be a journey for her to reach a different conclusion.
Who are your five top antagonist? What motivates them?
Kendra’s father, Carl Donovan, is an early antagonist. He plays a small part in the overall story, but he is crucial in Kendra’s development as a human being. As a scientist, he prizes intellect above all else, and believes that Kendra stubbornly refused to live up to her potential. His black-and-white view always made Kendra feel unworthy, and therefore more determined to prove herself.
I consider Mrs. Danbury — the castle’s housekeeper — a wonderful antagonist. She’s like the Old Guard protecting the status quo. The world of aristocrats, servants, working class, and merchants is what she’s familiar with, and she finds Kendra’s bold behavior — her lack of deference to the hierarchy — to be bewildering and rather threatening.
I really don’t want to give away the murderer’s identity for someone who hasn’t read the book, so I will put the following men in the antagonist category, with Kendra bumping heads with each of them. Alec’s brother, Gabriel, is a self-pitying alcoholic. Mr. Harris is the youngest son of an earl, who was appointed the village vicar, a station that he thinks is beneath him. Mr. Morland lives in a nearby estate and is the local magistrate, whose chauvinistic attitude towards Kendra is typical of the era. Mr. Dalton is a former surgeon, who inherited a nearby estate, and is insulted to be considered a suspect in Kendra’s investigation. Finally, Captain Harcourt is Gabriel’s friend, and is hunting for an heiress to replenish his funds. All of these men are motivated to keep their secrets from coming to light. Of course, no one is more motivated than the murderer!
What inspired you for your main character to be an FBI agent?
I really wanted Kendra to be in some type of law enforcement. She needed to have a specialized skill set — the ability to read a crime scene, to understand criminal behavior, and to be able to defend herself. Being an FBI agent was very organic to the story, which involves a serial killer. But it also felt right, given Kendra’s background. Her parents are driven, ambitious scientists who are at the top of their field. While Kendra chose a different path, which led to a chasm between her and her parents, she is as ambitious and determined to prove herself, and wants to be at the top of her field. Being the youngest agent ever accepted by the Bureau certainly put her on that path!
Why did you choose 1815 for the period Kendra falls back in time too?
I’ve always found this period in history to be utterly fascinating. It parallels our own era in so many ways. The war with Napoleon had just ended and the Industrial Revolution was just beginning. New machines were taking away jobs, creating a lot of simmering tensions between the haves and have nots. It was a time of contrasts — with great wealth on one side, and terrible poverty on the other; a silliness in its celebrity culture and yet a seriousness in the political upheaval. Of course, I’m also a big Jane Austen fan, and have enjoyed reading romances set during this era… I just wanted to write a mystery that actually had a modern day heroine — sort of Jane Austen meets Criminal Minds.
Does Aldridge Castle really exist?
No, but I’ve traveled throughout England, Scotland and Ireland, and one of my favorite things to do is tour old castles and great estates. Aldridge Castle is an amalgam of many of the fantastic places that I’ve visited, including Dublin Castle, Kensington Palace and Leeds Castle, just to name a few.
How much research went into your story?
I did tons of research! I probably own every reference and history book on the time period. There are many wonderful blogs and websites by romance writers who specialize in the Regency era, which were invaluable. I also have a library of forensics books and police procedurals, and I did a lot delving into the subjects of quantum physics, wormholes, and string theory. This may be a piece of fiction, but it was important to me to be as accurate as possible.
What do you like most about writing a time travel story?
I really liked the idea of taking a smart, modern person and tossing them back in time. We have a tendency to think that we’re so much more intelligent than our ancestors. But if you take away our modern inventions, just how smart are we? Would we be able to survive? Once my DSL went out, and I was forced to use dial-up to get on the Internet for about a week. That darned near killed me! I loved putting someone as clever as Kendra, as self-sufficient and independent, in a world that was totally alien to her, and watching how she would cope.
The time travel element also allowed me to offer dual viewpoints. Kendra was as much a puzzle and an oddity to her nineteenth century counterparts as they were to her. I liked being able to view the early nineteenth century through modern eyes, while at the same time, look at our own twenty-first century culture through the lens of the nineteenth century. We don’t blink an eye anymore at using profanity in casual conversation, but that would have shocked and appalled most people in 1815.
Time travel is pivotal to the plot, but this is not a science fiction story. Of course, Kendra thinks about the mechanics of time travel — how could she not? — but I’m more interested in the human element, on how we’ve changed as a people… and how we’ve stayed the same.
Will there be a sequel?
It depends on how well A Murder In Time does, but I’m currently working on a sequel — so cross your fingers!
Who are your influences in writing?
I’m an avid reader, and am inspired by many authors. Some of my favorites are Karen Slaughter, Lisa Gardener, Tami Hoag, Tess Gerritsen, Nora Roberts, Dean Koontz, Lee Child, Ariana Franklin, Amanda Quick… the list goes on. I tend to be pretty eclectic in what I read, but I veer towards mysteries and thrillers. Let’s just say, I get motivated by anyone who can spin a good tale.
Where can readers buy your book?
Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores, as well as online retailers like Amazon.
Thank you, Julie!