Debut Author Snapshot: Emily Littlejohn

November, 2016
Emily Littlejohn

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In the debut Inherit the Bones, secrets can't stay buried in a small Colorado town as a 40-year-old chain of events leads to murder. Author Emily Littlejohn's Detective Gemma Monroe is six months pregnant, uncertain of her future, and distrustful of her charming partner as she works to solve the death of Reed Tolliver, a circus clown who was found inside a storage tent with his throat cut.

Littlejohn, who lives in Colorado, wrote the book over the course of two years and incorporated her fascination with mystery, horror, and the macabre into her debut book. Here she discusses how she was inspired by small-town life, the secrets passed down from generation to generation, and the masks we all wear.



Goodreads: Your mystery opens with "a scarlet smear, stretched across greasy stage makeup and then angled up toward a wig"—the body of a dead clown. What do you think it is about clowns that strikes such an unnerving chord with so many people?

Emily Littlejohn: Inherit the Bones grew out of a single question: Who is the man behind the mask? The man, of course, is Reed Tolliver, the clown whose murder Detective Gemma Monroe is called to investigate. And the mask is his costume, with its unsettling, too big grin and oversize rubber shoes.

"A lake near my house in Westminster, with Longs Peak in the distant background." (Photo source: Emily Littlejohn)
When we see clowns, at the circus or at birthday parties, they're always in character. We notice the makeup and the costume, but we don't usually see the man or woman behind the clown. I loved the idea of exploring Reed's life. Why did he join the circus? What secrets did he keep? And most importantly, why has he been killed?

I've heard from readers that the opening scene is one of the most memorable in the book, and yet Inherit the Bones is not a book about the circus or about clowns. It's about the secrets and lies that grow in a small town that is still dealing with the aftermath of a long-unsolved crime.

I think clowns strike an unnerving chord with so many people precisely because of the masks and makeup they wear. Clowns are caricatures of their human counterparts. Their expressions are so exaggerated; think of the tragically sad or ridiculously happy clown. Their shoes are oversize, their clothes baggy, their hair bright and unnatural. They are almost not human. There's enough there to be recognizable and yet enough is 'off' to be frightening.

GR: Like your main character, Detective Gemma Monroe, you live in Colorado. Did you always want to set this story in Colorado, or did that setting evolve over time?

EL: There's a lot of advice out there for writers to "write what you know." I've lived in Colorado for 13 years, and I knew I wanted to celebrate its natural beauty. We have it all here: The seasons and dramatic weather bring an ever-changing look to the landscape. There are raging rivers, placid alpine lakes, dusty plains that stretch to the horizon, mountains and peaks that reach for the skies, deep forests to lose yourself in, and mesas and plateaus that create moonscapes.

"A bridge in Ouray that has all sorts of possible stories associated with it." (Photo source: Emily Littlejohn)
Metropolises like Los Angeles and New York City might have more diversity, more crime, and more potential for big, explosive plots…but I enjoy exploring the characters and stories that make up the fabric of small towns. The fictional town of Cedar Valley is a mash-up of a number of places that I've fallen in love with: Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Ouray, and Telluride.

I also knew I wanted to write a series that had potential to explore both present-day Colorado and tap into the state's rich history. From the Native American tribes and the early conquistadors, to the gold and silver miners, to the pioneers and farmers, there are thousands of real-life stories to inspire a great many future fictional plot.

GR: We hate spoilers as much as the next reader, but can you discuss the meaning behind your book's title, Inherit the Bones? At what part of the writing process did you think of that title?

EL: I'll try to answer that without giving away any spoilers! The title refers to two things. When Detective Gemma Monroe starts an investigation, she is quite literally "inheriting" the bones. She is left with what remains after a murder or a crime, whether it is actual bones or simply clues.

The title also refers to what is passed on from family to family, generation to generation. Each of us, we "inherit the bones" of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents—all the way back to our distant ancestors.

The title came after the second or third draft of the book. The story had a previous title—which I'll keep secret in case I use it for a future book—that just didn't do justice to the essence of the story. "Inherit the Bones" does a much better job of establishing that this is a compelling mystery.

"A panoramic shot of western Colorado." (Photo source: Emily Littlejohn)
GR: Detective Gemma Monroe tracks a killer while six months pregnant. What fictional sleuths inspired your resilient detective?

EL: Well, first of all I owe Gemma an apology! I'm expecting my first child in spring 2017, and I feel terrible placing her in this situation. She should be relaxing on the sofa with some comfort food and a good movie, not chasing down killers. But she can be very single-minded in her pursuit of justice, so she probably wouldn't have stayed on the couch for long.

I've always admired the humanity in James Lee Burke's New Orleans detective, Dave Robicheaux. In each novel Robicheaux strives to keep his faith in mankind in spite of the horrible things he encounters. J.D. Robb's futuristic sleuth, Eve Dallas, is another detective I admire. She is dedicated and never gives up, but she also takes time to enjoy her (few) friendships and her relationship with her attractive and (and fabulously wealthy) husband, Roarke.

GR: You've worked at libraries for several years. How has that experience shaped your own writing?

EL: Mark Twain is quoted as saying, "I like a good story well told." I believe this is a universal feeling; we are a species that has evolved with a great love for storytelling. Myths and legends are passed down from generation to generation, and in much the same way, books are passed around families and among friends.

Books bring people together. I've seen people from very different walks of life, with different backgrounds and different cultures, all request the same Lee Child mystery, the same Nora Roberts romance, the same J.K. Rowling story.

Books bind us; like movies, they offer shared common experiences.

As such, I believe an author has tremendous responsibility to honor that great power. Books, like everything else these days, are competing for people's attention. I've tried to keep that in mind as I write.

Because after all, there are few things more magical than a good story told well.


Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Larry (new)

Larry Darter Great interview and the book sounds great.


message 2: by Jasa (last edited Nov 10, 2016 03:55AM) (new)

Jasa Can't wait to read the book, it sounds like my cup of tea!


message 3: by Meg (new)

Meg This sounds like a great read and am excited to order it.
Living in Northern AZ, I am a fan of CO, and love a great female detective story. Nice interview, thank you.


message 4: by Barbara (last edited Nov 10, 2016 04:02PM) (new)

Barbara Littlejohn The books sounds great and can't wait to read it. The main thing that caught my attention was the author's last name, Littlejohn. My last name is Littlejohn also. From one Littlejohn to another I hope her much success on her book!g


message 5: by Lauren (new)

Lauren Can't wait to read it!


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