A Sit-Down with NYLA Member Turned Author, Eleanor Kuhns

Interview conducted by Rocco Staino
Eleanor Kuhns is the Assistant Director of the Goshen Public

placeholder imageLongtime NYLA member and past PLS President Eleanor Kuhns is now a debut author. Her mystery, A Simple Murder (Minotaur, 2012) will be out in May. NYLA was able to ask Kuhns, Assistant Director of the Goshen Public Library, a few questions about her work as a librarian and as a novelist.

Tell about your career as a librarian.

I started as a page in the Yonkers Public Library, worked as student help during college and became a trainee while in Library School. Since then, I have worked in every category in the profession, in Public Libraries, beginning as a Children's Librarian and ending up as a Director (first at the Sloatsburg Public Library and then at Finkelstein Memorial Library). I have even worked at a Cataloger and a Computer Tech. I am now the Assistant Director at the Goshen Public Library.

You are a longtime NYLA member; tell us about your involvement in the Association.

I've been a member of PLS almost as long as I've been a NYLA member. Through the course of the years, I've joined other sections: SLMS, LAMS, ESRT and so on, but PLS has been a constant. Besides innumerable Lobby Days, I served as chair of the Intellectual Freedom Committee for several years. I was an officer of PLS finally becoming president in 2000. I ran for NYLA President, unsuccessfully against Rocco Staino.

A Simple Murder: A Mystery is your first book, without giving anything away tell us about it.

The mystery takes place in 1796 and is set in a Shaker Village in Maine. I wanted to write a historical mystery using the history of this country, which I think is very rich even if not as long as the histories in Europe and Asia. My main character is a traveling weaver, one of the few non-gender specific professions at that time, and one that enables Will Rees to interact with women. Their lives and experiences are not well represented. The Shakers, a group that splintered from the Quakers, are an American phenomenon. They were very successful for two centuries, there are still some living Shakers in Maine, and were really done in by the shift of the United States economy from agrarian to industrial.

Have you always bee a fan of mystery & crime fiction? Who are some of your favorite authors?

I don't read mystery and crime fiction, I inhale them. Choosing some of my favorite authors is tough. One of my long time favorites is Agatha Christie. Her plots are so good. I love both Anne Perry and Barbara Hambly but I also read Nevada Barr, Michael Connolly and C.J. Box. I read the full gamut from cozy to hard-boiled. They all have their charms.

The book is set post Revolutionary War America; tell us about your research?

I started with the Whiskey Rebellion and wrote a prequel to the one I published. (I still hope to see the prequel in print). By then I'd done a lot of research on the period. Besides studying the historical events in each year, I read biographies of many of the famous people, mostly men! I've been a member of Colonial Williamsburg and love their catalog for the pictures. Also Tunis, who wrote those series of Children's Books on this time period, was very helpful in visualizing the clothing, tools, and other items of daily use. And finally, I visited several Shaker villages and purchased a number of books and pamphlets. I will say this, every time I find a new resource, I am amazed at how much I still don't know.

Did you draw upon any people and/or locations you know in writing this book?

Visiting the Shaker Museum Villages was very helpful in constructing my Zion, which is loosely based on the Sabbathday community in Maine. And Will Rees is based upon my father: a former soldier and fighter who is still in the process of growing up and looking back on his youth with some regrets.

How long did it take you to write this book?

A Simple Murder took over two years to write, and that was despite the amount of research I'd already done for the previous book. Rewrites take a big chunk of time, even if one has a basic plot and most of the characters.

As a debut novelist, explain how one gets their book published.

I won the First Crime Novel Competition sponsored by Minotaur and the Mystery Writers of America. Most of the debut writers I've talked to find Indie publishers that will take their manuscript. It seems that it is much harder to find an agent than a publisher. I still don't have an agent and my second book is already with Minotaur. (An aside: publishers are skittish with self-published writers unless they have been very successful.)

Will you be at the NYLA conference in November? Will members be able to buy your book and get it autographed?

I will be at the Conference in November. I missed very few conferences during the last thirty years. I am one of the authors featured at the PLS program Author! Author! (Ironic since I planned so many of these before the name change from the Victorian Tea). I will be signing my book after my talk.