I Walk in Dread Author Interview
Lisa Rowe Fraustino answers questions about her book on the Salem witch hunts of Massachusetts.
Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D. & Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D.: As you went about doing your research on the Salem witchcraft trials, what piece of information surprised you most?
Lisa Rowe Fraustino: My research led me to many surprises, but perhaps the biggest one was the discovery that no evidence exists to support the most common storyline about the cause of the witch-hunt. The traditional story goes that a circle of girls gathered in the Reverend Parris’s kitchen to hear the slave Tituba spin tales of the supernatural and tell fortunes. This forbidden mischief was thought to have sparked the mass hysteria of the trials. Today’s most careful scholars believe that the popular myth about the occult circle of girls meeting with Tituba at the Parris home has little or no basis in fact.
RFA & EST: You've written other works of historical fiction, but this is your first novel written in diary form. What challenges go along with writing in this format?
LRF: One of my first books, Ash: A Novel, is written in a form very close to the diary: a secret journal written by Wes to his brother Ash. Writing it gave me good practice for I Walk in Dread. The diary or journal form allows the reader a special kind of pleasure forbidden in daily life, that of peeking into someone else’s private thoughts. It allows the writer to climb inside the mind of the narrator in a way deeper than possible with more objective viewpoints. It’s fun to write in the voice of a diarist, and yet no information can be given that the narrator doesn’t know.
This presents a storytelling challenge, as it can be difficult to show the complete picture through only private thoughts; a third person viewpoint allows the writer to give more information than the diarist would. When the diary is a work of historical fiction, another layer of challenge arises, and that is to remain true to the voice of a person who comes from a completely different time while also telling the historical truth. These things are almost impossible to know for sure, yet we do our best through research, research, research.
RFA & EST: On the acknowledgments page you thank the Star Pants critique group. How does this group of other authors help you in your own writing?
LRF: Writing is a solitary pursuit, and it’s important to gather with like-minded people every once in a while to remember we’re not alone. We share information about the professional end of the business as well as giving each other manuscript critiques and brainstorming solutions to writing problems. We teach and learn from each other as good friends always do.
RFA & EST: Your main characters, Liv and her sister Mem, have unusual given names — Deliverance and Remembrance. These stand out in contrast to the other female characters, Ann, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Abigail. What was your inspiration for so naming them?
LRF: Obviously, the names Ann, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Abigail were chosen for me by their parents — these were all real historical figures. There were dozens of girls and women involved with the witch hunts, so when naming Liv and Mem, I wanted to avoid confusion by giving them distinctive names that would stand out from all of the others I would be using in the story. Deliverance and Remembrance may be unusual names now, but they were both common during the Puritan period, along with other names that embodied religious principles, such as Hope and Mercy. I decided on Deliverance and Remembrance because the names suited their personalities, and they had nice nicknames. I always wished I had a nickname!
RFA & EST: Please tell us about the venus glass. What was its origin? Was it a real method of telling fortunes?
LRF: The venus glass was a real method of telling fortunes during the Puritan era. Named after the goddess of love, it was simply a clear glass of water into which the girl would drop an egg white and watch what shape it would take. The shape was superstitiously believed to indicate the trade of the girl’s future sweetheart. In a culture that believed in the power of witchcraft and the occult, such acts of “white magic” were extremely common even though regularly discouraged by ministers in their sermons.
RFA & EST: In your historical note, you mention several historical fiction books that focus on the Salem witch trials. Is there any book you'd recommend for your readers who would like to learn more about this period, especially one that is more historical fact than myth?
LRF: The first book written especially for young people to clear up the myths and focus on historical facts is Marc Aronson’s nonfiction work Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials (Atheneum 2003). I recommend it. Adolescent readers may also enjoy Marilynne K. Roache’s The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege, which was published for adults but isn’t too difficult to read and is very interesting.
RFA & EST: Do you see any parallels between the hysteria that surrounded Salem in the 1690s and the ever-present concern by some these days about the Harry Potter books and witchcraft and the occult?
LRF: The motivations of Puritan witch hunters and today’s Harry Potter censors are not so very different. Honest belief in and fear of witchcraft leads to honest concerns that may seem hysterical to those of us with a scientific viewpoint toward the occult.
RFA & EST: If you could ask youngsters who have read I Walk in Dread: The Diary of Deliverance Trembley, Witness to the Salem Witch Trials one question, what would that question be?
LRF: What would you have done if you were living in Salem Village during the witch scare? Do you think you would have become one of the accusers or one of the accused?