Guest Post: Tracy Ward

Witchy Wonderment

Ever since I was a little girl I have been drawn to anything to do with witches, vampires, ghosts and ghouls. The Addams Family was my favourite television show (when I could catch it on re-runs).  I watched the movie Beetlejuice so many times I could probably still recite the screenplay line by line. And there was nothing more fascinating to me than the Salem Witch Trials. By chance I found the book, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare in my grade school library and from then on I was hooked. I could not get enough of this dark period of history.

It’s probably no surprise, with such an interest in all things dark and mysterious, why I became a mystery writer but not too far down on my bucket list was a visit to the legendary village itself, Salem, Massachusetts. The opportunity arose a few years ago and despite being a mom of two young(ish) kids I had little trouble convincing my family to come along for a five day adventure into the past.

So much of my introduction to Salem had been through history books that I was surprised to find it was no longer a quaint pastoral village trapped in the pages of time. I am not sure what I expected really. Today, despite a number of witch museums and historical attractions, Salem is an urban bedroom community to the bustling city of Boston. But don’t be fooled, first impressions aside, Salem is steeped in history that begs to be discovered.

Any visitor with an interest in the Witch Trials will have a hard time choosing which museum or attraction to visit. We were able to visit all but one. Each independently owned attraction held its own appeal but if a traveller had to choose just one, I would recommend “Cry Innocent,” a live re-enactment of the trial of Bridget Bishop, the red-wearing suffragette before her time who was the first person executed in the hysteria. Arrested in the street, re-enactors guide you to the Old Town Hall where the trial takes place.

The hidden gem has to be The House of the Seven Gables, immortalized by Nathaniel Hawthorne, writer and unwilling descendent of the Salem Witch Trial judge,Salem 2008 118 John Hathorne. Nathaniel despised his connection to the notorious judge so much he added an ‘w’ to his name as a means to distance himself (ahem… worked like a charm, I see).  Somewhat altered to better resemble the home from the book, the historic house is an amazing museum and the tour is a must see. Nestled next to the water The House of the Seven Gables acts like an oasis from the urban feel of the rest of the village and makes any visitor feel transported.

The Witch House is the most popular attraction and the oldest surviving buildSalem 2008 181ing from the Witch Trial era. Reportedly haunted, the building would have been an impressive structure in its day far exceeding the standard dwelling at the time but the neighbourhood that has sprung up around it is worth a slow stroll today. Inside, the rooms are all adorned as they would have been during the time when Judge Jonathon Corwin inhabited it. It was behind these walls accusations were made and trials began.

In the centre of Salem Village is a Witch Trial Memorial, where the names of all the Salem 2008 055innocent victims are forever etched in stone to recognize the injustice of their trials. And immediately behind is a centuries old cemetery filled with gnarly trees and simple headstones. Nathaniel Hawthorne (there’s that name again) would steal away with his bride-to-be, Sophie, while courting in order to have some alone time (ahem!).

A visit to the Friendship, a 1797 replica of the East Indianman sailing vessel of 18th century trading fame, is also a must. Operated by the National Park Service, the tour takes you on the ship and across the road to a spectacular early 19th century building, the U.S. Customs House where millions of dollars of imports were tallied and taxed. Nathaniel Hawthorne (again) worked here for a number of years and its believed this is where he was inspired to write The Scarlet Letter. The tour culminates at small shop reminiscent of general stores of old where visitors are able to buy sweets and bulk spices as villagers would have done during the port’s heyday. The best part of this tour is that it’s free.

When the sun goes down a walking tour is the best way to explore Salem. Who better knows the ins and outs of a place than the locals? Ghostly tales and murderous deeds abound in a place with over 400 years of history.

Though sometimes overlooked during times other than Halloween, Salem is a great place to visit. The buildings still hold much of the New England charm it became known for and despite a modern city sprouting up around it in the last hundred years visitors can still feel the ghosts of the past… if they are only willing to stand still and pay attention.

Recognize this house? It’s the house of Max’s love interest, Alison, in the movie, Salem 2008 178Hocus Pocus. The Salem Commons and other locations in Salem were used during the filming.

 ***

A journalist in her previous life, Tracy L. Ward is the author behind the Peter Ainsley Mystery series featuring thescavengersVictorian morgue Surgeon Peter Ainsley and his highborn sister, Margaret Marshall. The first book in the series, Chorus of the Dead, was released in July 2012 and its sequel, Dead Silent, was published earlier this year. Tracy is finishing up the final details of her third installment and expects it to be available in the spring of 2014.  She lives near Toronto with her husband, two kids and a dog named Watson.

Facebook: /TracyWard.Author
Twitter: @TracyWardAuthor

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New Release: The Star Family

Theresa Crater’s latest book, The Star Family, is now available!

A secret spiritual groupthestarfamily

A recurring dream

A 400-year-old ritual must be completed

before it is too late

Jane Frey inherits a Gothic mansion filled with unexpected treasures. A prophecy claims it hides an important artifact – the key to an energy grid laid down by the Founding Fathers themselves. Whoever controls this grid controls the very centers of world power. Except Jane has no idea what they’re looking for.

The Star Family . . . explores the esoteric aspects of a progressive Protestant sect called the Moravian Brethren and weaves their history into a fascinating piece of speculative fiction. What if the Moravians had continued to observe some of their controversial practices in secret? What if their rites and music have played a role in withstanding the malignant forces that threaten to overwhelm modern society? What if one woman who discovers her true ancestry could oppose dominion of darkness through music and erotic spirituality? What if a town in North Carolina holds the key to bringing harmony to the world? Readers who enjoyed The Historian and The DaVinci Code will enjoy The Star Family.”   –Dr. Craig Atwood, Moravian College, Director of the Center for Moravian Studies

For more information, please visit theresacrater.com.

Congratulations, Theresa!

Interview: Judy Alter

Please welcome Judy Alter, author of the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries and Blue Plate Café Mysteries.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
My idea of a perfect day is to spend the morning at my computer, maybe with time out for my yoga routine, eat an early lunch widangercomeshometh a glass of wine, nap, get my grandson from school and do his homework, and spend the evening dining with friends, end the day with a book of more work at my computer. Ah, heaven!

 Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I wear Jean Naté cologne, and my grandchildren have been known to say I smell like my house.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Fred Erisman, once my graduate school prof and now a longtime good friend; my mother, who taught me to love books and to cook; Susan Wittig Albert, who told me to join Sisters in Crime and gave me insights into the world of writing mysteries when I thought I couldn’t do it.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No. Sometimes I have the TV on but muted.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Milk chocolate with chopped peanuts and jalapeno—-sweet yet hot—-and my favorite chocolate.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Danger Comes Home is the fourth Kelly O’Connell Mystery. I wrote it because I didn’t think Kelly’s accidental involvement in criminal situations is over yet. The main idea that came to me was rescue of an abused child, but I can’t bear to write about physically abused children, so Jenny is emotionally abused—-still hard.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Family, neighborhood, women’s issues, food

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Kelly O’Connell, about whom I’ve written the most, was autobiographical at the beginning—-a single parent, a career, curiosity about people, love of old houses. She’s grown . . . and married . . . during the series, becoming more self-confident but she still gets in trouble trying to help others. She can’t resist.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I’m absolutely at a loss on this question. Kelly O’Connell is who she is—-maybe a dash of Erma Bombeck, though not as humorous and clever; a bit of Agatha Christie in that she always walks into “situations”; and a wee smidgen of June Cleaver, because she really is a good mother.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

I’d probably invite the authors, mostly from Sisters in Crime, whose work I enjoy today: Polly Iyer, Kaye George, Julie Hyzy, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Deborah Crombie, and Diane Mott Davidson

What’s next for you?
One novel each in my two series, Kelly O’Connell Mysteries and Blue Plate Café Mysteries—Murder at Tremon House comes out in February, and the fifth Kelly novel, probably Deception in Strange Places, is due next July. I’ve written a stand-alone which I’d like to edit, polish, and possibly self-publish as my next big project.

***

An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of four books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, and Danger Comes Home. She is also the author of Murder at the Blue Plate Café.

Her work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame.

Judy is retired as director of TCU Press and the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of seven. She and her Bordoodle, Sophie, live in Fort Worth, Texas.

Website:http://www.judyalter.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Judy-Alter-Author/366948676705857?fref=ts
Buy link: http://www.turquoisemorningpress.com/p/bookstore.html
Judy’s Stew http://www.judys-stew.blogspot.com
Potluck with Judy http://potluckwithjudy.blogspot.com
Twitter: @judyalter

Fear of the Blank Page

Here you are staring at the white screen of the computer wondering how it could be possible that the vivid, lively and perfect book in your mind has dried up and blown away in the wind. Or why that beautiful sentence just can’t make its way down the synapses to the muscles of your fingers so you can put it down in ink or captured electrons.

Or perhaps it’s the fear of the second novel. You wrote that first one for a couple of years. OK, may more. You went to critique groups, to conferences, attended workshops. Revised and edited. Submitted to agents and editors. Finally got an offer. Revised again. Revised some more. Corrected galleys. Got books in the mail. Did a signing. Had a party. And now?

They want another book. Within a year. Sometimes six months.

Holy ______ (insert appropriate expletive).

Some writers have a whole queue of books waiting to be written, nudging each other in line, eager to see themselves on the page. These writers take a short break and then start the next one.

I’m not one of them. Yeah, I have ideas, vague notions about the next book or so, but not fully developed plots. I often reject these ideas at first, waiting for something concrete and certain to emerge. I jot down notes, make trial outlines of the inciting incident, the three big surprises, the darkest moment.

“But that’s so commercial,” my literary-trained brain says.

“Shut up,” the writer-self answers.

Ages ago, Susan Griffin introduced me to a technique to use for the critical voice that often interferes with the writing process. You know the one. “Nobody will read this.” “This has all been said before.” “People will laugh.” “This is bad.”

This critical voice (or literary-trained brain) can help revise a piece, can find the weak spots, or can suggest improvements to a manuscript. But it can’t create one. Only the creative self can do that.

Griffin suggested letting these two sides of our psyches talk. First one writes for five minutes, introducing itself. It can describe itself, tell what it likes to do on Saturday night, confess its secret desires. Then the other takes a turn. Then—horrors—they talk to each other. Sometimes they fight. But they must make a deal. Usually that deal is the creative self says, “Leave me alone for a while. I’ll show it to you before it goes public.”

We must be free to make mistakes to create something good. We must face the silence and let that next luminous piece surface from the pool of our mind like a beautiful goddess rising from the water. (OK, I wish.)

I just attended a concert of Deva Premal and Mitten. Deva Premal asks audiences not to applaud. She wants us to sink into the music as if it is a huge group meditation. She said, “Trust the silence.”

That’s what I say about facing the blank page, the next book. Trust the silence.

Theresa Crater

Belle-the Scaredy Dog

I have an English bulldog named Belle, whose spirit is personified (dogified? caninified?) by fear. Despite a compact, muscular body, stout legs and jaws that shear through leather like a heated knife through ice cream cake, she is… well… a mite skittish.  We first began noticing this trait when she was a pup. (And, yes, we’ve raised her from the time she was first able to leave her mama’s side, so she has definitely not been abused. She has no excuse.) One night, my then eight-year-old daughter decided rather than take the long journey upstairs to her bedroom to get her pajamas, she’d just grab one of her daddy’s t-shirts. When she came into the family room wearing the floppy, shin-length shirt, Belle took one look, transformed herself into a flying squirrel and landed in my lap.  From there, she burrowed behind my back and quivered. Despite lots of cooing and reassuring, she remained convinced that something evil  had swallowed our child whole and would certainly eat her, too, if given the chance.

Belle also has a thing about hats. Any hat. Apparently hats have the power to so transform the human body as to be utterly unrecognizable. Hats (and their now hideously mutated body) elicit screams high-pitched barking and require lots of darting and dashing in circles around the furniture, so as not to let the hat-beast-man corner and, of course, eat her, if given the chance.

Let’s not discuss thunderstorms. Or semi-trucks. Or the nice Amish couple who drive by the yard in their horse and carriage. Bikes are worrisome.  Birds are unpredictable. And sometimes Belle’s daddy smells like gasoline and this is not to be trusted.

Belle simply cannot handle the unknown. She has no faith in her own abilities to deal with anything.  Insecurity paralyzes her. Uncertainty sends her in dizzying circles.

For years, I was afraid to sit down and tell the story I had inside me. I was, and still am, a voracious reader, and at some point an idea for a mystery occurred to me.  An “I wonder what would happen if…” started a chain reaction of deliciously twisty plotting and character building. All in my head, of course. I was afraid to put it to paper. Afraid that it would be stupid. That I couldn’t really do it. That my writing would suck.

And then, when I was pregnant with my first-born and all swollen with fat baby (and water—you shoulda seen my ankles!) and consumed with wonder at all of the possibilities the world would offer this little one, I realized how badly I was cheating myself. How could I teach my child to face his fears if I didn’t face mine? Was he going to learn the courage to risk failure by watching some inspirational Disney movie? How would he ever know that it was okay to not be certain?

So, in one of those “suck it up, buttercup” moments, I sat down face-to-face with that awful blank page and wrote my first book. And it sucked. Of course, it did. It needed to be re-written. Several times. And edited.

I discovered that facing that first fear—that “who am I to think I can do this?” angst—created a resolve in me to see this thing through all the way. It hasn’t been a smooth journey, but it’s been a richly satisfying one. 

Now, if I could only get Belle to accept hats. Oh, the world that would open up for her!

Fear and Film

[Top Ten Movies That Scared Me Senseless]

10. Jurassic Park (1993): Before you mock, if you saw this for the first time in a theater with a huge screen and surround sound, weren’t you at least a little shrieky during the T-Rex vs. The Kids In The Car scene? This selection is tied with The Ring (2002), but only the scenes with uber-creepy dead girl lurching around. Still, that’s plenty. Shiver.

9. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): Thanks, Wes Craven. I didn’t want to sleep during my college years, anyway. Tied with Poltergeist (1982): Demonic clown and those people in the tv. Enough said.

8.The Entity (1981): Not sure if this were more frightening or disgusting, actually, but it was enormously disturbing. I wish I could unsee it.

7. The Blair Witch Project (1999): C’mon. Tell the truth: it was freakin’ scary. Especially if you had unwisely scheduled a camping trip for right after you saw it, like we did.

6.When a Stranger Calls (1979): “The call came from inside the house” moment marked the definitive end of my babysitting career.

5. Halloween (1978): It was all just too much. I wanted to flee every minute. (The only reason I watched the entire film? My date was cute.)

4. A Clockwork Orange (1971): Terrifyingly bizarre. Watching it felt like being kicked repeatedly in the stomach by a steel-toed boot for two hours straight.

3. Alien (1979): The first film I ever snuck into. And then wished I hadn’t because for the next several months, I lived in genuine fear of something leaping out unexpectedly from behind doors and whatnot. Tied with Psycho (1960) for general mind-bending properties.

2. The Shining (1980): Haunting and suspenseful on about 4,000 levels. It all freaks me out: redrum, the weird twins, the elevator of blood, the chases, and pretty much everything Jack says for the final third of the film. I still can’t watch it without covering my eyes at certain points.

1. The Thing (1982): I didn’t expect this to be scary at all, for some reason. Maybe because I knew Kurt Russell of Disney fame was in it. But Holy Flubber! Prepare to scream, my friends.

Your turn!  What movies scared you?