Interview with Pat Camalliere, January 26, 2017:
Ursula Bielski, Chicago’s leading paranormal expert, author of such books as Haunted Bachelors Grove, and owner of Chicago Hauntings, said this about The Mystery at Sag Bridge: “Pat Camalliere has emerged as the perfect voice for the deeply historic, mysterious region which has enchanted so many of us for generations. Sag Bridge, Archer Road and their ethereal beauty and culture are both her canvas and her medium in her debut novel. Any Chicago history buff, ghost hunter or mystery lover will be smitten. I can’t wait to read the dozens of novels to come.”
Pat Camalliere is the author of The Mystery at Sag Bridge (Amika Press, 2015) and The Mystery at Black Partridge Woods (Amika Press, 2016).
Camalliere has lived in the Chicago area all her life and became intrigued by the unusual, sometimes mysterious region along the Des Plaines River Valley and Sag Valley in the Southwest suburbs of Cook, DuPage and Will Counties in the Greater Chicagoland area. Wanting to share that fascination with others, she began writing historical mysteries set in this locale, finding that a hint of the paranormal fit perfectly into the setting for the stories she wanted to tell. Convinced that readers will be drawn by the lure of the area, she writes books that relate a mystery from the past to a mystery in the present, while enlightening readers with details in both time periods through storytelling that surprises even lifelong residents.
Camalliere holds a Bachelor of Arts from Saint Xavier College. She lives with her husband in Lemont, Illinois, serves on the boards of Lemont’s historical society and public library, and sings classical choral music with the Downers Grove Choral Society. She writes a blog on local history, speaks on a variety of topics related to local history and writing, and enjoys book club appearances. Visit her website, www.Patcamallierebooks.com, or contact her for appearance, interview, or at any time at Pat@Patcamallierebooks.com.
Tell us how you became a writer.
Camalliere: I became a mystery addict one summer when I was twelve and found a box of about sixty Perry Mason mysteries in my parent’s attic. I read them all by the end of the summer, exhausted the library’s supply, and then moved on to Rex Stout and Agatha Christie. (My first preteen crush was on Archie Goodwin.) In high school I wrote mystery stories for the school’s literary publications, then after college I set writing aside for a “practical” career in medical group administration. Administration is all about writing: memos, reports, letters, website content, procedures, etc. I was told I had a real knack for the written word.
My passion for local history came later and increased after I moved to Lemont in 1998 and discovered the fascinating and quirky anecdotes and geography of the area. When I retired in 2007 I was ready to see if I truly had talent as an author. I had wasted too many years, and had no time to waste more. I bypassed the traditional route of soliciting literary publications with smaller works; my first serious manuscript became my first novel, The Mystery at Sag Bridge. It was received enthusiastically and my fans demanded more, so I began work on my next novel right away.
I didn’t think of myself as a writer of ghost stories at first, but more as of character-driven historical mysteries. It turned out the supernatural aspect of my story attracted many readers. When I started my second book my fans said it had to have a ghost too. And it does, as well as a legendary beast, but in a different and less significant way.
What are your books about?
Camalliere: In my first book, The Mystery at Sag Bridge, the main character is being haunted by the ghost of a young Irish woman who was killed in an unsolved triple homicide in 1898. The protagonist must solve the murder to allow the spirit to rest, but in the process becomes emotionally involved and shows reluctance to have the ghost depart. My readers loved the characters, so I decided to write the next book as #2 in a historical mystery series.
In The Mystery at Black Partridge Woods, the present-day characters are writing a book based on the memoirs of an American Indian woman whose only son was accused of killing a white man in 1817. To save her son the woman must find the real killer and bring him in, in an Illinois frontier with little more than vigilante justice. Soon the writers receive a threatening letter and then are attacked: someone wants to prevent publication of their book. This is a book-within-a-book, in which the Indian woman tells her story in her own words.
What is it about the time periods or characters that intrigued you and motivated you to write about them?
Camalliere: I had always had little oddball events happen to me that I couldn’t explain: drawers that opened on their own, things that disappeared and then were found back in place. Little things like that. I asked myself: what if there was a real presence out there, instead of just coincidence? What might that look like? The Mystery of Sag Bridge came into being as I followed answers to such questions. Oddly, the ghost began in my mind as a Guardian Angel. It was only as I was conducting paranormal and religious research that I realized the behavior patterns I wanted the character to have fit a ghost better than an “Angel gone awry.” I put some of my own experiences into the story, as I had vivid memories of my own Irish grandmother that could be used to bring some color to the part of the story that was told in first person by the woman who later became the ghost.
The Mystery at Black Partridge Woods was actually the first story I wanted to write, but I had absolutely no experience that related to the historic culture or time period, so I knew the research would be extensive. When I started writing I wanted to test my writing prowess more quickly, so this became my second book instead of the first. The idea developed from my interest in telling a story from the fur trade period, which again is part of the history of my town. I wanted to feature an American Indian woman. There were few stories that dealt with American Indian women as protagonists, especially the amateur sleuth sort, especially in the early 1800s. It took two years to research the time period to pick a date and assemble enough information to imbue the work with the history needed to make it come alive. But I knew from the beginning it would be set close to home, the same rich background with its forests, bluffs, and swamps in the Des Plaines River Valley southwest of Chicago. I loved this time and place so much I wrote a six-page historical afterword for the novel.
What is unique about your books?
Camalliere: Lemont is unique, and I wanted people to know that, to make them realize what a really special place it is. I wanted the town to be as important as any character in the book. I wanted to tell stories that would delight local residents with little-known facts about the place they lived and introduce nonresidents to a unique part of the Midwest. I love it when readers say how much they enjoyed reading about places they know and finding out things they didn’t know about Lemont, even though they lived here all their lives.
My books are also rather genre-bending, not just mysteries, as they blend historical backgrounds with a bit of the supernatural, and are strongly character-driven with poignant moments. And they had to be entertaining, with a bit of humor and whimsy. Both books begin in present day and reveal a mystery that relates to another mystery from the past. The books then step into history and uncover the circumstances that led to murder from the viewpoint character in that time period, and then return to the present and the amateur sleuth deals with both mysteries. A writer friend of mine calls them sandwich mysteries—the meat in the middle.
Your books are set in historical periods. Did the writing entail a lot of research?
Camalliere: Oh, yes, definitely, for both books. I worked on “Sag Bridge” for a number of years with other major things going on in my life, but I spent well over a year of research to fill out things I didn’t know, such as about the spirit world, and events going on during the time period. I knew a lot about the history and settings in Lemont, but there were still a lot of facts that had to be checked.
“Black Partridge” took over two years of research before I could outline the plot and set a date on the historical portion. Even after that I frequently had to stop mid-writing to look into questions that developed along the way. A writer does not exactly become an expert on a given period, but it’s important that I give the reader an accurate picture of the time and that I intrigue them with how historic events and people affected the story.
Without giving away spoilers, what’s your favorite scene or event in the book?
Camalliere: The Mystery at Black Partridge Woods is a complex story with a good deal of adventure involved, and the most dramatic (read “favorite” here) would be spoilers. However, there is a quiet scene I especially liked. The Indian protagonist is not young or physically strong, but she is smart. A man has been helping her chase the killer, but he is seriously injured in the midst of a snowstorm. After stabilizing him, she sets out alone, plodding over two-foot-deep snow on homemade snowshoes to look for help, knowing it is likely to be a futile attempt. Having done everything she could, her mind seeks relief from the disastrous events, and turns to appreciate the awesome beauty of the snow-covered plain. She sees tracks of wildlife, and distracts herself by imagining the activities of the animals that made them. It’s quite a pretty little scene and was fun to write and research tracking.
I also had a great deal of fun putting animal characters in the story. The historic part has a gentle Newfoundland dog and a Maine Coon Cat that are participants in the action, and both time periods have wolves and a legendary Pottawatomi water beast. The reader must make up their minds whether these are real, spiritual, or imaginary presences.
Do you have a favorite character?
Camalliere: Both books have chapters that are written in first person by a character who lives in a past time period. I really enjoy the challenge of dealing with those characters’ thoughts, putting them in situations that could happen in either time period, figuring out if they would react similarly or differently to those situations, and then express their thoughts. I love comparing and contrasting characters in two time periods.
For the present-day portions of the books, I really enjoy writing about Frannie. She is such a free spirit, and a little wacky, and doesn’t really care what people think about her. She can be outrageous, but she is highly intelligent, energetic, and a faithful friend. She is like me in that she has a fascination for the unique and mysterious, but her actions are grounded in common sense. Even the most difficult things we face in life come with moments of humor. Frannie allows me to make that point and then move on and solve the challenge.
Both of your books deal with relationships between mothers and their children. Is there a reason behind this?
Camalliere: When I began writing “Sag Bridge,” I was at that time caring for my own mother during her final illness. We often talked about the story as it was being developed. When I told her I wanted to have both the protagonist and antagonist struggle with mother-daughter feelings, she didn’t like the idea, but I was stubborn about it. After my mom’s death, the story just fell into place. I didn’t complete the first draft until more than a year after she died and didn’t realize until I was editing that so much of our relationship was revealed in the telling. I continued to imbue the work with poignant female relationships, not only between mother and daughter but between other female relatives and friends. There was an element of working out my loss in the process.
“Black Partridge” did not start out to be about a mother and son either, but the Indian woman had to have strong motivation to search out the killer and that was the strongest motivation I envisioned. What I wanted to say at that point was that mothers, regardless of cultural background or when they lived, would do whatever it took to save their children. It showed a continuity between cultures that spans the years. That became the point of the story.
Are there more books in the works?
Camalliere: Definitely! The present-day characters and the setting provide a rich background for stories and I have a number of them roughed out. It’s only a matter of finding time to complete the research and make them happen.
Book #3 is in the works, and will deal with yet another mother-daughter relationship. It deals with woman who was deserted by her mother and blames that experience for adversely affecting her life. While digging into possible explanations, Cora reveals tragic events in the mother’s life that led to the desertion, ties to the Chicago Outfit, and still another mysterious place in the woods with ghostly beings.
Where can people find you and your book?
Website and local history blog: www.Patcamallierebooks.com
Pat Camalliere is also on Facebook.