Welcome to Bonnie Reads and Writes, Jolie Tunnell!
Q&A WITH AUTHOR JOLIE TUNNELL
Let’s go beyond the bio. Tell us something about you that we might not know after reading your bio.
I pulled a sixteen-year stint in the elementary school PTA because I had five kids attending. I built a music curriculum and organized a Fine Arts Festival each spring and when I tell you we did everything from building murals to the bunny hop to watching opera to installing gardens, you need to know that these school years are forever embedded in my family’s memory.
What inspired you to write the Idyllwild Mystery Series and choose the setting of Idyllwild, CA?
I’ve always been the keeper of my family trees and wrote a novel about my pioneering ancestors in the mountains of New Mexico. During my research, the year 1912 especially intrigued me. While the world was exploding with imagination and invention at the turn of the century, isolated communities were a good twenty years behind the times and not especially eager for “new-fangled contraptions”.
I transferred the setting to the California mountains, created Loveda from a composite of women, and did more research to give a history to both. Idyllwild feels like home to me and it’s important that my books convey the feeling of falling in love with a small community in the heart of a big mountain.
You weave some history of the time period into your books. Have any of your books required more historical research than others?
Absolutely! Each book pulls in a unique piece of history, and some pieces are bigger than others. Did you know Wyatt Earp went to Idyllwild? There was no way I wasn’t going to invite him into Loveda’s world, but it took me until the seventh book before I worked up the courage and research to do him a fair turn. I also wanted to do a good job representing the Cahuilla, their legend of Tahquitz Peak, and their embodiment in the character of Carlos.
The Idyllwild Inn is not only integral to every one of my books, but it’s still running today. It really was a tuberculosis sanatorium, it really did burn to the ground during an April blizzard, and the only thing they saved was a piano. I love that Mr. Lindley was a physician turned hotelier and that Mr. Hannahs was a logger turned postmaster. Poisons and explosives were easier to research than diseases and firearms. And every single character had to have a backstory.
I have a lot of research spreadsheets.
In Book One, Loveda is fleeing domestic abuse. Back in the early 20th Century (1912 in Book One), was there much a woman could do to protect herself legally?
Women could sue for divorce on grounds of cruelty in 1912, but it carried legal, societal, religious, and personal consequences and these were better or worse depending on where you lived in the United States. It wasn’t always granted. And it always carried a stigma.
If a woman found herself married to a bounder or fortune hunter, a cruel man or an abusive drunk, she had few alternatives. Women were still fighting for the right to vote, hold property, support themselves, and claim custody of children, all of which were the husband’s prerogative.
Loveda is a strong woman who runs a hotel in Idyllwild, CA. In one of the books, she claims that she is not a suffragette, but she has actually carved out independence for herself with wit and skill. Is she not the epitome of a suffragette, fighting for women’s rights?
In October 1911, women got the vote in California, only the sixth state to achieve it. Loveda embodies the determination and intelligence that carried women on to secure the 19th amendment ratified in 1920, but for now, she fights the fight on her own terms in her own backyard. She knows poppycock when she sees it and Idyllwild becomes the cause and crusade she fights for.
I would love our daughters to read these books and discover their own inner heroine. To decide that they can be confident in their own life choices, especially if they aren’t traditional ones, and that these choices are worth fighting for. To know that family is who you decide it is and not let past traumas define your future. As her papa says, “Look to the future, darling girl.”
Whether in the Edwardian era or our own, each of us can use our wit and skill to take a stand on our own two feet right where we are for a better future.
I love books set in a hotel, because new characters come to stay as guests and bring their own problems, quirks, and mysteries. Is it challenging to come up with new characters for every book?
Bringing new characters into town is one of my favorite parts of planning each book. Nobody comes to this remote place without a reason, and the reasons can be simple or complex. Characters can arrive in crowds or alone, on holiday or on business. Loveda’s hotel is small and simple compared to the sprawling Idyllwild Inn around the corner. Between them, there’s plenty of scope for a variety of shenanigans.
The challenge lies in what these characters are going to do once they arrive and how our townspeople feel about it. The residents of Idyllwild are consistent through the series and while not much changes on the mountain, they band together to protect it from the regular wash of “progress”—aka problems—and always breathe a sigh of relief once they have the town to themselves again. Very few interlopers remain in Idyllwild the way Loveda does.
You have written eight books in this series. Are there more to come?
The ninth and final installment is currently in progress! There will be a tenth book caboose following, bringing the summer of 1912 finally to an end. Other books and series are vying for attention after that, but expect to see one of the Idyllwild Mystery Series characters developed in a mystery series of her own.
Whoops. I’ve said too much!
Thanks so much, Jolie, for answering my questions today.
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