Sara Blaedel is the author of the new novel The Undertaker's Daughter, the first in a new series. She also has written the Detective Louise Rick series, including The Forgotten Girls and The Lost Woman. Originally from Denmark, she now lives in New York City.
Q: The Undertaker's Daughter introduces a new character, Ilka. Why did you decide not to have a detective as your main character this time?
A: I’m not committed to only centering on detectives, though I am a huge fan of crime fiction. The process must be organic for me, and I’m open to exploring what feels right and captures my imagination. I wasn’t looking for a change. Instead, the concept came to me.
It was the experience I had after losing my parents that was the impetus for The Undertaker’s Daughter and Ilka. The woman I hired to handle the burials and funerals was and remains a bright spot in my life during the most difficult time.
I, at that time, had not the slightest idea of all that goes into being an undertaker. The whole process was a learning one for me, and I couldn’t have found a better, nicer, kinder, more sensitive, respectful, and professional person to take care of business. She was in every way a master of her trade and a natural. She resonated with and inspired me. I created Ilka because of her.
Q: The novel takes place in Racine, Wisconsin. How did you choose that as the location, and what impact has your own move to the U.S. had on your writing?
A: As Ilka is Danish and traveling to the town in which her Danish father settled, I thought it made sense to find an American region with a sizable population of immigrants from Denmark. I homed in on Racine, which fits the bill and is an altogether wonderful city. Once I traveled there and stayed for a lengthy visit, I felt certain I’d made the right choice.
Like with learning a new language, getting acquainted with a place requires immersion for me. During my stay in Racine, I shopped at the stores, ate their food, observed the daily routines, watched and read the local news, and got to know people.
Capturing Racine started with me living in the States (I couldn’t have done so without being here) and required spending time there at the heart of the matter. At the very scene.
Other than the difference in the details, my writing style remained the same.
Q: What kind of research did you need to do to write the novel?
A: Research is always essential for me. In this case, given that I was tacking a new setting (Racine) and industry (undertaking), I had much work to do.
I carefully and obsessively studied the American funeral business, which varies greatly (with regard to laws, common practices, and culture) from the Danish way. In fact, I learned that regulations and laws are different within America, from state to state. I spent a lot of time in Racine, endeavoring to pick up on the local sensibility. It was such a wonderful time!
Q: Will you return to your character Detective Louise Rick at some point?
A: Absolutely, yes! I miss Louise and will revisit her when the right idea pops into my mind.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m excitedly working away on the third and final volume in The Undertaker’s Daughter trilogy. I have loved every minute of planning and digging into this series.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: While on my book tour, I met several undertakers’ daughters who stopped by to say hello. They were lovely, and it was fabulous to meet with and get feedback from the real authorities. They said I was spot-on in my depictions and sent the nicest letters to me. That meant the world to me, both personally and professionally. As I’ve said, in my writing process, authenticity is crucial.
Signing their books to “The Undertaker’s Daughter” was joyful.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Sara Blaedel.