Chappell, Helen 1947-
CHAPPELL, Helen 1947-
(Rebecca Baldwin, Caroline Brooks)
PERSONAL: Born May 1, 1947, in PA; daughter of Leslie Edward (a physician) and Helen (Brukart) Chappell; divorced. Education: Franconia College, B.A., 1969; attended School of Visual Arts, 1971-73, and New School for Social Research, 1975. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Episcopalian. Hobbies and other interests: Collecting china.
CAREER: Writer. Associated with the Joseph Elder Agency in New York, NY.
MEMBER: National Organization for Women.
AWARDS, HONORS: Bread Loaf Writers Conference scholar, 1975; Best Feature in a Newspaper, American Association of Medical Writers, 1991, for "Living with Alzheimer's"; Best Feature Story of the Year, Associated Regional Magazine Publishers, 1993, 1994; Jane Award, Jane Austen Society of Maryland, 1994, for Regency writing; Manderly Award, 1995, for essay "Who Was Rebecca?"
The Waxing Moon, Links, 1974.
All Things in Their Season, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1981.
Acts of Love, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1989.
The Oysterback Tales, John Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1994.
Oysterback Spoken Here, illustrations by Rick Kollinger, introduction by Tom Horton, Woodholme House Publishers (Baltimore, MD), 1998.
The Chesapeake Book of the Dead: Tombstones, Epitaphs, Histories, Reflections, and Oddments of the Region, photographs by Starke Jett V, John Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1999.
A Whole World of Trouble, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2003.
historical novels; under pseudonym rebecca baldwin
A Gentleman from Philadelphia, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1977.
The Cassandra Knot, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1979.
Peerless Theodosia, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1979.
A Sanditon Quadrille, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1980.
The Match-Makers, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1980.
A Season Abroad, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1981.
The Dollar Duchess, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1981.
Arabella and the Beast, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1988.
Dartwood's Daughters, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1989.
A Royal Visit, Thorndike Press (Thorndike, ME), 1997.
historical novels; under pseudonym caroline brooks
Regency Rose, New American Library (New York, NY), 1985.
A Sea Change, New American Library (New York, NY), 1985.
An Old Scandal, New American Library (New York, NY), 1987.
Marchman's Lady, New American Library (New York, NY), 1987.
The Runaway Princess, New American Library (New York, NY), 1987.
"hollis ball/sam wescott mystery" series
Slow Dancing with the Angel of Death, Dell (New York, NY), 1996.
Dead Duck, Dell (New York, NY), 1997.
Ghost of a Chance, Dell (New York, NY), 1998.
Giving Up the Ghost, Dell (New York, NY), 1999.
Contributor to periodicals, including Baltimore Sunday Sun Magazine, New Bay Times, Tidewater Times, Maryland Magazine, Annapolis, and Kaleidoscope.
SIDELIGHTS: Helen Chappell is a prolific writer of works including romances, mysteries, newspaper and magazine articles, and tales of small-town life on the east coast of Maryland. Chappell has been called the Garrison Keillor of Maryland for her humorous short fiction, which first appeared as monthly columns in the Baltimore Sun newspaper and was later collected in The Oysterback Tales and Oysterback Spoken Here.
During the 1970s and 1980s Chappell cut her novelist teeth on Regency-period romances, writing fifteen of them under the pseudonyms Rebecca Baldwin and Caroline Brooks. Several of these romances received reviews in the mainstream press, including The Cassandra Knot, which Library Journal contributor Barbara Kemp called "predictable but enjoyable," and Dartwood's Daughters, a tale about twin daughters switching themselves to foil would-be suitors, which a Publishers Weekly contributor described as an "entertaining" romance for its "attractive characters" and "period detail."
Working as a crime reporter for a small-town newspaper on the eastern shore of Maryland inspired Chappell to write mysteries. Between 1996 and 1999, she published her "Hollis Ball/Sam Wescott" series. Hollis is a crime reporter and sleuth, based in a small Maryland town, while Westcott is her deceased husband who aids her in ghost form, a premise that Chappell manages to make work. Her second installment in the series, Dead Duck, revolves around the duo's efforts to solve the murder of Judge Fish, who was to preside over Santimoke County's Decoy Jamboree. It earned a starred review in Publishers Weekly for its "whimsy, dry humor and snappish dialogue." Chappell continued in this vein in Ghost of a Chance, an investigation of a thirty-year-old murder, which also earned a starred review in Publishers Weekly for its realistic characters and "unrelentingly sharp and funny" prose. A Mystery Guide reviewer noted how well Chappell integrates supernatural and natural elements and praised her "clear, crisp style" and "gutsy" denouement, describing the book overall as "charming." Chappell's 1999 addition to the series, Giving Up the Ghost, deals with another contest, this time an Elvis-impersonating contest in which several contestants turn up dead. Demonstrating the hallmarks of her work—"comical characterizations, sarcastic dialogue, and absurd fiascoes"—Giving Up the Ghost shows Chappell in "fine form," a Publishers Weekly commented.
A number of Chappell's works have benefited from the local color of the eastern Maryland coast. For a number of years, she has contributed a monthly column to the Baltimore Sun newspaper. These humorous short pieces deal with the fictional Maryland town of Oysterback and have been collected in the anthologies The Oysterback Tales and Oysterback Spoken Here, the latter of which was illustrated by Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Rick Kollinger. She presents a more extended treatment of Oysterback material in the 2003 novel A Whole World of Trouble, "an extended sitcom in prose," wrote a Kirkus Reviews critic. In this title Chappell recounts the story of Carrie Hudson, a drifter from Oysterback, Maryland, who after more than a decade away, returns home when she learns that her mother has died. Once in Oysterback, Carrie discovers a host of secrets about her mother's life and learns a few things about herself as well. Booklist reviewer Deborah Donovan compared A Whole World of Trouble favorably to the works of Fannie Flagg and noted its humor and depiction of local color, observing the work "captures the essence of this small seaside town to perfection."
Reflecting on her varied career, Chappell once told CA: "I write fiction because I have no other vocation in life. I tend to concentrate, in my serious work, on the world in microcosm. After a long apprenticeship as a pulp writer of everything from television to science fiction, I feel competent to write, not only 'serious' fiction, but also screenplays. My ultimate fantasy is directing a film I've written."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Armchair Detective, fall, 1996, review of Slow Dancing with the Angel of Death, p. 485.
Booklist, December 1, 1988, review of Arabella and the Beast, p. 616; May 1, 2003, Deborah Donovan, review of A Whole World of Trouble, p. 1577.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2003, review of A Whole World of Trouble, pp. 492-493.
Library Journal, July 1, 1979, Barbara Kemp, review of The Cassandra Knot, p. 1481.
Publishers Weekly, October 21, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of Arabella and the Beast, p. 47; January 13, 1989, Penny Kaganoff, review of Acts of Love, p. 85; June 16, 1989, Sybil Steinberg, review of Dartwood's Daughters, p. 57; June 16, 1997, review of Dead Duck, p. 57; June 1, 1998, review of Ghost of a Chance, p. 48B; September 7, 1998, review of Oysterback Spoken Here, p. 87; May 31, 1999, review of Giving Up the Ghost, p. 90; June 1, 1999, review of Ghost of a Chance, p. 48B.
Mystery Guide Web site, http://www.mysteryguide.com/ (March 6, 2003), review of Ghost of a Chance.
Write Page Web site, http://www.writepage.com/ (March 6, 2003), author profile.*