November 17, 2010

Guest Post: M.E. Kemp

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:41 am

Writers will go to great lengths for their work. They delve deep into subjects they know nothing about–or find horrifying–in the name of research. They travel to far off places to ensure accuracy of settings. In the post below, M.E. Kemp discusses the literal lengths she went to for her latest novel.

M.E. Kemp


Writing’s a tough game. Extend, parry, lunge, bent knees, deadly
blades of silver — don’t forget to breathe! I’m taking fencing
lessons because I’m writing an historical mystery and one of my
characters is a fencing master. Am I taking accuracy a bit too far?
I’m too old to beat off a sharp object that could turn me into a
shish-kebob. I’m wearing a mask that makes me look like Jason’s
grandmother. The chest protector I’m wearing makes me feel like
Margaret Dumont in the old Marx Brothers movies.

Fencing masters were also dancing masters, and my novel, DEATH OF A
DANCING MASTER, relates to dance more than fencing, although my poor guy is found with a foil through his gut. In point of fact, there was a dancing master in Ye Olde Boston but the magistrates and the
ministers drove him out of Town. That gave me the idea for my story.
I like to base my books on an actual incident in history. I also like
to dance and take dance lessons on a regular basis. But court dance in Colonial days is based upon ballet, and when you’re over fifty — we
won’t say how much — twisting your feet in opposite directions for
fifth position is all but impossible. In ballet you also belly up to
the barre — kick, back; kick, back. Ouch! My thighs protest and my
calves cramp. (I won’t even go into Modern Dance. Martha Graham class leaves me with an ache in the small of my back that lasts for days.)

Still, one is supposed to suffer for one’s art, isn’t one? In
Baroque dance I can mince along with the best of courtiers, so that’s
not so bad. Baroque is what my victim uses to seduce his women pupils – ooops! I didn’t mean to touch your bosom like that…. (My own male instructors never make mistakes like that, more’s the pity. I tend to get ex-Marine Sargeants: “Bourre, jerk! Releve – higher, higher!”)

Well, I know I’ll never make it as a ballerina for the New York City
Ballet – heck, I wouldn’t even make Charwoman for the company — but at least I’ve discovered the joy in movement, and some instructors think that’s even more important than technique. There has yet to be a writer on Dancing With the Stars… Have jazz shoes, will travel!

M. E. Kemp’s first novel, Murder, Mather and Mayhem, (Xlibris) introduced two nosy Puritans as detectives. Publishers Hilliard and Harris picked up her series with Death of a Dutch Uncle (’07) and Death of a Bawdy Belle (March ’08.) The 4th book in her series, Death of a Dancing Master, is just out.

Marilyn Kemp travels around the Northeast with her popular slide-talk based upon her research, “Naughty Puritans and Saintly Sinners.” She has taught nonfiction writing courses for local colleges and libraries.

She lives with husband Jack and two cats, Boris and Natasha, in Saratoga Springs, NY.


  1. More power to you! I hate research which is why I only write things I know about. :)

    Comment by Judy — November 17, 2010 @ 9:46 am

  2. Neat! There is nothing quite like doing what your characters do to be able to write about it well.

    Comment by Sara — November 17, 2010 @ 11:13 am

  3. Boris and Natasha–gotta love that! Your work sounds really intriguing, and the lengths you went to are impressive!

    Comment by Savvy — November 17, 2010 @ 11:23 am

  4. Judy – how anyone can hate research I don’t know — it gives you an excuse for not planting your can in chair and writing! Marilyn

    Sara – I only hope I don’t have to run through a graveyard at night being chased by a murderer. I do draw the line at some experiences. Marilyn

    Savvy – thanks! My cats like to be acknowledged for their influence. Marilyn

    Comment by M. E. Kemp — November 18, 2010 @ 1:24 pm

  5. A terrific blog, Marilyn–makes me want to dance! And of course I’m thrilled to see your new book out. I love it–utterly delightful! (your pal and fellow historian, Nancy)

    Comment by Nancy Means Wright — November 22, 2010 @ 8:07 pm

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