When most people think of Salem, Massachusetts, they likely (and rightly so) think first of the Salem Witch Trials that began in 1692 and tragically persisted into 1693, claiming the lines of nineteen women and men and two dogs.
Last year, The House of Seven Gables, the titular homestead of Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1851 classic, preserved by a historic foundation in Salem, celebrated its 350th birthday. Also on the grounds is the house that was Hawthorne's true homestead, as well as other historic buildings, and an incredible garden (which was undergoing fresh planting when I visited!). I happened to have a chance to tour the estate shortly before the anniversary, during the few short weeks they allowed interior photography. You can check out the rarely seen pictures below, including a super secret staircase that fans of the novel will recognize!
The House of Seven Gables (in rarely seen photos!)
I've always been one of those kinds of people that has a really difficult time sitting still. I love to move around, to experience new people and new places, and I often find inspiration in these adventures which find their ways into my stories in ways that range from the largest ideas to the tiniest details. I'll be spending quite a bit of time traveling this year, so I thought I would share some of these lovely visits with you, in case they inspire you as well.
Of all my favorite places in this great big beautiful world, perhaps the one that holds the biggest piece of my heart is the open ocean and the beaches of the Caribbean. I shamelessly try to visit as often as possible, often repeating the same trip exactly and every time enjoying it as if it were a brand new experience. It was on these waters and in these sands that I wrote The Isle of Gold, both in terms of the inspiration for the story and a significant amount of the research that went into writing the details down as accurately as possible. I dreamed of Winters one night on the stretch of nautical miles between Port Canaveral, Florida and the Bahamas. I sat on the outer deck of a ship late at night and sipped on rum and brandy like Dunn while staring out at the open waters of the nighttime sea. I wandered museums and roamed the streets of Nassau and thought about quayside villages of the past. It was a wonderful experience to spend so much time writing a historical fantasy while entrenched in the places that the story might have lived and to feel the same salty air and see the same dazzling blue seas as 17th-century sailors would have sailed upon.
Here are some of my favorite snaps collected over the years when visiting the Bahamas. Spring or summer, sunny or overcast, this tropical paradise is - in this writer's ever-humble opinion - easily one of those most spectacular places on Earth.
Mary Shelley was a leading lady of horror before she ever penned Frankenstein. The daughter of a pioneer of feminist thought, Shelley was raised under the influence of both her father’s radical political ideas and her mother’s feminist thinking. When challenged by Lord Byron to write a “ghost story”—a task deemed inconceivable for women at the time—Shelley wrote Frankensteinand basically girl bossed the f*** out of the lot of them (though she would be forced to initially publish her work anonymously before paving the way for women in literature in the centuries to follow).
Last year marked the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Long considered a cornerstone in gothic literature and women’s horror fiction, Frankenstein is not only a personal favorite but also a potent feminist text—and one that pulls no punches as it explores the power relationship between men and women, both literally and figuratively. While on the surface a dark story of a mad scientist, Frankenstein is in fact a much deeper story, as through male narration Shelley depicts how her female characters—from Elizabeth, the soft-spoken love interest of Victor, to the strong-willed Safie, to the near creation of the Monster’s female companion—are thought of and treated by the male characters. While her feminism is plain to see (read), Shelley’s critique is not limited to the power relationship between men and women, but a larger allegory to the imbalance between the toxic masculinity of mankind and the feminine spirit of nature. Thus, the real story inside Frankenstein isn’t the dear doctor and his monster. Instead, another battle rages between the lines that was just as relevant two centuries ago as it is today—that between science and its relentless goal to subjugate nature.
The battle begins in the first paragraphs. After being rescued by the charitable hands of a northern-bound sea vessel, Victor Frankenstein, mad scientist, declares, “I pursued nature to her hiding places,” where he was richly (and rather vainly) rewarded “…from the midst of [this] darkness, a sudden light broke in upon me – a light so brilliant and wondrous, yet so simple, that while I became dizzy with the immensity of the prospect which it illustrated, I was surprised that among so many men of genius…that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret.” It is clear that Victor, an ambitious and excelled student of science, considers himself to have been deserved of such an “awesome power.” Upon learning nature’s secret, Frankenstein toils endlessly to demonstrate his newfound power in spite of the natural progression of life and death, proclaiming, “my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature.”
In the creation scene of Frankenstein, the intricacies of the creature’s birth are carefully avoided, conceding only that Victor himself “infuse[d] a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at [my] feet.” His scientific tools collected, Victor wields the power known only to him through the study of science (and careful dominance of nature) and brings to life the being he had formed: a man in his own image. But, though he had carefully selected each portion of his creature’s form, Frankenstein is displeased, even repulsed, by his own work upon seeing it alive. “Now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart”, confesses Victor after the birth of his Monster, after which he rushes from his laboratory, leaving his creature to survive and fend for itself, not unlike a snake, who abandons its young to the unknowns of the wild. In his single act of betrayal, Victor humanizes the creature in a creation story as vapid and callous as that of Genesis itself.
In the film adaptations of Frankenstein, extensive creative liberties are taken to illustrate the scene of Victor Frankenstein’s triumphant childbirth. In the 1931 classic, on the stormy eve that is to be the birth night of the Monster, Victor—along with his incompetent and creepy assistant Fritz—usher visitors into the laboratory, which doubles as a very untraditional delivery room, to witness the birth of his creation. Lightning flashes as Victor (recast as Henry), his white lab coat billowing in the tumultuous wind, harnesses the power of the storm (an angry outburst of a vengeful nature) and funnels the power of raw electricity into the corpse of the creature, endowing it with life. The delivery room audience watches in unbridled horror and amazement as Victor shrieks to no one and everyone: “It’s alive! It’s alive!” Similarly, in Kenneth Branaugh’s 1994 adaptation, a sweaty and heavy-breathing Victor pants his way through the assemblage of the scientific devices hooked to the creature’s metal placenta and watches in an open-mouthed, eyes glazed over daze as electric eels swim through the creature’s tubes of umbilical cord. Then, tearing the newborn creature from his metal womb, Victor attempts to wrestle the giant babe to standing in a sloppy, wet, clicking slime grossly reminiscent of embryonic fluid. The monster a failure, Victor looks on helplessly as the culmination of all his efforts hangs dangling from chains above the dirtied delivery room floor in a morbid demonstration of failed childbirth. “What have I done”, Victor whines.
The argument presented as to Frankenstein’s battle of science versus nature (and masculinity versus femininity) is beautifully surmised in critiques such as Anne K. Mellor’s Possessing Nature: The Female in Frankenstein. “When Victor Frankenstein identifies nature as female,” Mellor writes, “he participates in a gendered construction of the universe whose ramifications are everywhere apparent in Frankenstein.” Mellor goes beyond the symbolism of the creation scene of the novel and discusses the various female characters in the book and their sexist functions: “Inside the home, women are either kept as a kind of pet, or they work as housewives, child care providers, or nurses, or servants.” In a thoughtful analogy, Mellor examines the consequences of the division from feminism and the role of women in science as depicted by Shelley, and correlates this emotional vacancy in Victor as the reason he is unable to love or care for his creation and is such an unfit ‘father.’ In her conclusion, Mellor surmises: “At every level, Victor Frankenstein is engaged upon a rape of nature, a violent penetration and usurpation of the female’s “hiding places”, of the womb.”
Another thought-provoking critique is Mary Poovey’s My Hideous Progeny: The Lady and the Monster: “The monster is the victim of both the symbolic and the literal. And, as such, it is doubly like a woman in patriarchal society – forced to be a symbol of (and vehicle for) someone else’s desire, yet exposed (and exiled) as the deadly essence of passion itself”, writes Poovey. Later, Poovey further concludes that upon discovering the truths of his origin, from that time on the “monster’s attempts to deny its nature are as futile as they are desperate.”
The ongoing battle of male versus female rages covertly within the lines of Shelley’s watchful prose. Victor’s intense abhorrence of his disastrous creation, and the creature’s bittersweet revenge against his own maker, acutely portray the consequences of usurping the circular progression of nature, serving as a timeless reminder of the careful balance of ethics and responsibility inherent in discovery. Perhaps most horrifying in Shelley’s classic isn’t the monster itself, but the horror and despair wrought by the hands of a naïve and careless “man of genius” which acts as a beacon to remind humanity of our place in the natural world. Through the sadness and misery gleaned from the book’s unfortunate characters we are reminded that a step forward is not always progress and that nature will always exact her revenge. It’s a great lesson, beget at a great price—and it’s one we should be thinking about in today’s contentious climate where we continue to use science and technology to force the beautiful, natural world and its beings—particularly women—into subservience.
Last November, I achieved one thing that all (or at least most) early-career and aspiring writers dream of: I signed with a literary agency. I was lucky enough to achieve something of a double whammy when I signed with Gandolfo Helin & Fountain Literary Agency, earning representation on the literary side with publishing industry veteran Renee Fountain, and on the film/entertainment side with the ever-impressive Italia Gandolfo.
Now, everyone's publishing path is a bit different, and everyone's journey takes its own unique (and often very winding) road. Mine was the same. I've been writing for as long as I can remember. I've self-published under pseudonyms and I've published non-fiction with major traditional houses, but all the while my ultimate dream has been to be a novelist, replete with representation and a publicist and, hopefully, an advance nice enough that it kind of makes up for the hundreds of hours I spend in front of my laptop.
When I wrote my first book, The Isle of Gold, I didn't go the traditional route. I was lucky enough to land a publishing offer with an up-and-coming small press. The book itself--still a baby as it just released last October--has done well, but more importantly, it earned some really wonderful reviews from very well-respected outlets. It also introduced me to my publicist, Sarah Miniaci at Smith Publicity, who has coaxed me gently (read: pulled me kicking and screaming) into the barest bit of limelight with things like media interviews and blog tours (the horror). These experiences allowed me to parlay my very meager publishing success and footprint into my query for my next book. (I'm such a strategist...not really.)
When I finished my next project, I queried a few agents I'd had my eyes on. The process was sort of similar to sending in college applications; the list was comprised of the usual suspects, some pretty solid leads, and, of course, the reaches. I received some nice no-thank-yous, some non-responses, and a handful of requests for partials and fulls. But, along my journey, I also started talking to friends and peers in the writing community, particularly those who had endured good-bad-ugly experiences with their agents (or former agents). I spoke with friends, who talked about their agent experiences, I got active in Twitter’s booming #writersxommunity, I started writing columns and networking in the Women’s Fiction Association. Now, I know some people say publishing is more about who you know that what you've written, and I'm sure this is true in some cases, but it truly wasn't in mine even though I got “to know people.” Online friends became life support, colleagues became mentors, and slowly but surely I found a home amongst the bookish.
I found the agent I wanted to work with in Italia, who started out as a woman I was terrified of (in a good way!), became an ally, and a mentor, I polished up my package and sent it over.
About a week later, after Renee had finished reading the manuscript, Italia and Company made the very courageous and somewhat questionable decision (I kid, I kid) to sign me. I received other interest from my query attempts, but signing with Gandolfo Helin & Fountain had already begun to feel like home and putting my name on her contract was a no-brainer. So far, my manuscript has been sent to some pretty impressive houses, and while we're still working the process, I can't speak highly enough of these women who have brought me into their tribe. They're phenomenal, exercising the sort of patience and encouragement that a young writer needs in their corner. Between the two of them, they've answered probably hundreds of questions, listened to great and not-so-great ideas on my next projects, and talked me off a ledge or two. Most of all, they've shown me in just two months how empowering and inspiring having people who believe in you and your work is, and they've encouraged me to work even harder going forward.
For what it's worth, my best advice to writers seeking an agent is this: find your home. Find an agent who not only knows the business but who champions your project, and you. Find an agent you can be friends with because you will laugh, cry, and vent together, and probably both get on each other's nerves a LOT. And I know this sounds very trite, particularly when you're just seeking an agent, but at the end of the day I believe firmly that it's not just about the house or the agency or the royalty paycheck, it's about the shared passion for books, and finding an agent as passionate as you.
One of my favorite annual goal-setting moments is what I call my "literary challenge," which encompasses my writing and reading goals for the next year.
Lots of folks have very ambitious reading goals every year--I've seen readers add hundreds of books to their TBR lists--and while I wish I could commit to such lofty numbers, I have to balance my reading for pleasure with reading for research and also writing, so I set my sights a wee bit lower.
In 2019, I'm committing to reading 24 books (two a month) and listening to 24 books (again, two a month). I'm also challenging myself to focus more on new books or upcoming 2019 releases, and try to avoid reading backlist titles. This is important for me as an author, so I can keep a pulse on the market. It also stops me from re-reading Frankenstein and every Wally Lamb book for the 500th time. That said, there's still a few amazing 2018 releases sitting on my bedside table, so they deserve some love, too. If you're looking for inspiration on what to add to your TBR list for 2019, here's a fun list on Goodreads to get you thinking, as well as this list of anticipated 2019 titles from Esquire.
What's on my list? Well, I'm still working on that, but I can tell you I will definitely be reading some of the up-comers from my friends over at Black Spot Books, including the next installation in Sam Hooker's Terribly Serious Darkness, Soul Remains, and the next Amanda Grey novel from Alcy Leyva, And Then There Were Dragons.
If you're looking for titles to add to your wish-list to keep you busy in 2019, there are lots of really fun reading challenges out there, with all kinds of quirky tactics to get you to read outside your comfort zone, like this one from PopSugar. Regardless, what's more important that bookish bingo is just making sure you're getting out there and reading! I hope you enjoy every book you read in 2019, whether it's old or new, and weather it's five books or five hundred.
I'd also love if you'd read along with me! By my "friend" on Goodreads here. Happy reading!
I can’t believe the end of the year is upon us. Friday brings the Winter Solstice, and we officially say goodbye to the Holly King as the Oak King again takes the throne until midsummer.
Whether you see it as more practical or spiritual, the solstice marks a pivotal moment in the year (specifically, at 5:23pm EST on 12/21). In my home, it is the inciting event that kicks off our twelve-day midwinter celebration of Yuletide. We will spend the evening over a roaring campfire, singing carols and roasting marshmallows as we prepare for the arrival of our holiday guests. My boys will have their annual mock Holly versus Oak King battle, we’ll drink homemade mead, and then we’ll wake up the next morning and welcome our Yule Log into our home with song and merriment.
More than a season of celebration, the winter solstice (and the entire midwinter holiday) provides a perfect time to reflect on the past year: to celebrate successes, to plan for the new year, and—most important—to take time away from the hustle and bustle of every day and spend it instead with friends and loved ones, making merry and enjoying the warm company of the people who matter most in our lives.
As my holiday gift to you, I’d like to share with you one of my favorite tunes of the season from Damh the Bard, a modern-day Bard whose spirituality and love of folk tradition is expressed through his music, storytelling and poetry.
For me, these two weeks give me time to catch up on reading and dwell on the ideas that have been swirling inside my head as I plot out my projects for the new year. The past year has brought so many wonderful things into my life—a debut novel and a new agent among so many other blessings—and I am so grateful for everyone who has been a part of this journey with me. There are so many new things coming in 2019 that I am eager to announce, including a new project for the Havenwood Falls collective, a super secret authors project at Black Spot Books, and so much more! For now, I’ll be tucked away by the fire, reading and dreaming, and hope that you will be, too.
Happy holidays, and be merry!
In what could rightfully be deemed a revival of the horror genre, two things have happened of late. The first has evidenced itself cinematically, with new spine-tingling features coming to screens in the veritable gush of Stephen King stories-turned-films on streaming platforms and Hollywood both (Gerald’s Game though, sigh) alongside a swarm of other new horrifying literary adaptations, like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (originally published in 1959), revivals of nostalgic, spooktastic series like Goosebumps (I previously wrote on the same here), new installments in the Halloween franchise (the film that quite literally cut its teeth biting off what’s since been known as the slasher genre), and a general enchantment with watching all things existing on the spectrum of terror—from true-story haunting series like Netflix’s Haunted to cooking shows (and not the scary Gordon Ramsey kind, unfortunately). Even Halloween, which didn’t reach 2017’s record high in spending last month, did achieve an impressive $9b, a significant amount being spent on costumes—and pet costumes. (I feel the need to remark Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas’s Gomez and Morticia Addams costumes, which, if you have not yet seen them on the Internet, are spectacular).
Of course, we don’t only like to watch horror or dress up like it, but we like to read it as well. The last year has seen the publication of several spectacular horror titles, among them Claire Legrand’s Sawkill Girls and The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager. Thus, the second shift in the revival of the horror genre has been a call, not to the directorial or theatrically inclined, but to the writers—particularly to the women of horror fiction, a historically underrepresented group in the genre (I’m speaking of adult horror, sparkly vampires don’t count). From boutique indie publishing houses with open calls looking for stories by (or about) ladies of shivery goodness, like Stangehouse Books, to new bookish review and author fan groups like the Ladies of Horror Fiction who tweet, podcast, review, and otherwise champion the women’s horror writing market, the invitation to join the club of horror writers has grown wide, inclusive, and unabashedly interested in producing work that has the ability to scare the hell out of all of us.
So, to keep us in a steady supply of creepy new stuff to make our blood run cold, while King is offering rights to his short stories for $1 to film students via the Dollar Babies program, the publishing community is serving up its own set of opportunities. And if there’s one thing that those of us saddled with the sometimes-competitive-and-often-masochistic author gene simply can’t resist it’s a chance to show our stuff in a battle of writing wits, namely, a contest—maybe even one that could put us in the running for the coveted Bram Stoker award (I’m just saying).
This year, Inkshares, the publisher of speculative fiction which has produced two standouts—in 2017, Scott Thomas’ Kill Creek, a debut literary horror that was selected by the American Library Association’s advisory committee as the horror book of the year, shortlisted for the Bram Stoker, termed “the horror debut of 2017” by Barnes & Noble, and is in development for television at Showtime, and this year Christopher Huang’s A Gentleman’s Murder, which, in addition to receiving a coveted starred review from Publishers Weekly, is in development at Endeavor Content with the former heads of HBO and Showtime—has just opened a call for submissions for its second-annual Horror Novel Contest.
I’ll go ahead and mention that both Inkshares authors of the aforementioned titles have had their books licensed by major houses in foreign territories and gotten their cold, skeletal fingers on significant five-figure advances. Not accomplishments to snub a nose at for sure.
It’s also worth pointing out, just for the record, that both authors are men. So, ladies of horror, let’s make this year’s contest one for the books (pun!). Seasoned or aspiring writers alike, whip out your pens, pencils, or whatever writing device you use, and start (or finish) that horror book that’s been whispering dark thoughts in your ears. Whether you’re a Morticia, a Lily, or an Elvira herself, ready your best horror manuscript and get your submission on. The horror genre is back—just check out this article by my literary agent Italia Gandolfo—and this time it’s ours.
Submissions are open now through December 14th (I’ll say it again for the folks in the back--submissions are open until December 14th) and are open to anyone with a partial or finished horror manuscript. Inkshares will be accepting at least three novelists for publication and rights management. Full submission details and other nuances of eligibility here.
I often look to history for inspiration, not only when writing historical fiction but anytime I am thinking about the times, places, and people who have driven stories, good and bad, through time. There is a wealth of information and inspiration that can be learned from the past, as well as some hard lessons and sad truths in how much damage can be done when we close our minds and hearts to people and allow our biases and judgements to run away with us. It is a bittersweet story, but a powerful example of the best and worse of the human condition.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of spending some time in Salem, MA, exploring historical sites and digging into the history of the town with one of the area's historians, and the owner of Bewitched After Dark, Jeff, who led me through town, providing a candid history of the accused and their accusers and sharing little-known history not found in any textbook. I visited off-season, so the streets were uncrowded and the landmarks accessible. As it also happened to be the anniversary of the House of Seven Gables, I was even able to snap some rarely seen interior photos of the historic home!
I've included some of my shots below to guide you through a brief but inclusive photo tour of Salem and some of the surrounding areas. It's a wonderful, spirited place brimming with history, magic, triumphs and tears--from the Old Witch Gaol and Burying Point, to the home that inspired a literary classic, to the final resting place of several authors who have shaped American literary history. Enjoy!