Henery Press released the third book in Julie Mulhern’s “Country Club Murders” mystery series. Clouds In My Coffee (I hear Carly Simon and Mick Jagger, can you?), the third in this series is set in 1974, making it historical (oh my!), when I was a college freshman/sophomore. My memories are clear. Julie gets the era right.
In 1974, I remember feeling so progressive with the trials of the 1960s behind us. Julie’s main character, forty-year-old Ellison Russell, battles for her independence and career in an era when many women still sought the profession of housewife and mother. As I think back to how I felt then, reality sets in—like realizing your existence confirms your parents actually had sex—it provokes our feelings of naiveté. Ellison’s mother and aunt provide that smack of reality, showing the constraints on women of the previous generation and the consequences. The victory of WWII can’t overshadow the hard won equal rights our generation won. Ellison is a great role model, but then she also solves murders!
The book was an unexpected find and a fun read. Please welcome Julie Mulhern to WWK, and I hope not her last appearance here! E. B. Davis
What was the best advice you ever received on writing?
Any new writer has heard the words “show don’t tell”.
Lord knows I heard them.
What exactly do those words mean? In a nutshell, She reached out to touch his cheek is telling. She reached out and touched his cheek is showing. One demonstrates intent, the other action. I have developed a list of “telling” words that I avoid.
And then there are filter words – thought, felt, wondered, etc… She thought he was handsome. Don’t tell the reader what the heroine thinks. Show them. He was tall with an adorable divot in his chin.
Your series is set in 1974. What drew you to that era?
I was a kid in the 1970s and I have such fond memories. I set my books in 1974 out of a sense of nostalgia and also because it was an era when things were changing for women.
You set the series in Kansas City. Are you from that city?
I am a fifth generation Kansas Citian.
In creating your main character, Ellison Russell, did you base her on your mother, an aunt, or an actress from the time?
When you write do you put yourself in the context of the times—such as where you were then, what you were doing, and what was going on around you—or do you rely on old newspapers?
I was seven in 1974 so the things I remember aren’t entirely relevant to a murder mystery. I am the proud owner of a year’s worth of Gourmet, Vogue, House and Garden, and Glamor magazines. They are my primary sources. Being able to stream The Streets of San Francisco or All in the Family is also tremendously helpful. I’ve read the bestsellers, watched the top-grossing and critically acclaimed movies of the decade, and have my radio permanently set to 70s on 7.
Ellison is not an average woman of the era, who went to college to get an MRS as well as a degree she won’t use. Ellison has artistic talent, and she is pursuing a career. What function did you want that difference to fill in your storyline?
Ellison’s career started out as an acceptable hobby. Turns out she was really good at it. She married the man her mother wanted her to marry and has lived, in large part, the life that’s expected of her. Part of the fun of the Country Club Murders is seeing Ellison push against the expectations that hold her back.
People today seem to forget about the bohemia of the 1920s and 30s, thinking only of the 1960s, but Aunt Sis’s experience reminds us. Have we become a more forgiving society due to the 1960s?
Absolutely! Things that were edgy in the sixties went mainstream in the seventies. It was a decade caught between the sexual revolution and AIDS. It was a decade when women fought for equal rights. It was a decade that celebrated youth. In 1974, three of the top shows on television took on older men being challenged by younger, liberal men – All in the Family, Chico and the Man, and Sanford and Son.
I understand the Country-Club Mentality due to my grandparents. Is it elitism, a social network, or a community for a certain economic class?
I tend to think of it as a community.
I’ve known and avoided women like Ellison’s mother. Why does Ellison always refer to her as “Mother” rather than “Mom?”
Frances as Mom? Doesn’t work for me. There is nothing remotely informal about Frances. That said, Ellison, a woman pushing 40, still calls her father, Daddy.
Are sisters always “peas in a pod” and at the same time total opposites? When they finally grow up do they stop competing?
I will let you know if I ever figure that out.
Ellison has two eligible men vying for her attention. Give our readers the CVs of both men, if you would?
Anarchy Jones is a homicide detective whose father is a professor at Berkley. His mother is a fiber artist. The only way he could rebel was to be conservative (think Alex Keaton on Family Ties). He has a healthy respect for the rules—they should never be bent.
Hunter Tafft is a silver-haired, silver-tongued lawyer. He’s thrice divorced and considered a catch.Unlike Anarchy, Hunter is willing to bend rules if the situation calls for it. With Ellison, it often does.
Dastardly dog? How did your dog earn that adjective? A model for Max? A picture, please!
Max IS Sam. Sam is dastardly. Sam’s vet bills have paid for whole semesters of college for our vet’s daughters. He ate what?
What’s next for Ellison?
Ellison will be back in October with Send in the Clowns. More murder, more mayhem, and more coffee!
Are you a beach or mountain woman, Julie?
That’s tough. Mountains in the summer. Beach in the winter. Says something right there, doesn’t it?