Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"Details Fell Eerily Into Place" by Diane K. Salerni of WE HEAR THE DEAD [Guest Post]

We are pleased to welcome Dianne K. Salerni, author of WE HEAR THE DEAD, to I Heart Monster today! We asked her to write a post about something interesting she uncovered while doing research for her book, so read on to discover some facts that led Dianne to write the story the way she did.

When I first began writing We Hear the Dead, I thought I had it easy. My plot was laid out for me in the shape of events that had already occurred. I had all the right elements – a ghost story, the biggest fraud of the nineteenth century, and a star-crossed romance. However, I soon discovered that novels are very different from non-fiction in that biographers can simply state “the subject did this or that.” A novelist must explain “why the subject did this or that” – and make it believable to the readers. It was my job to get inside the heads of people who lied for a living and left a historical record muddled with falsehoods.

Various problems came up in my research for the early parts of the book. Why did E.E. Lewis’s account of the original Hydesville Haunting scarcely mention the girls Maggie and Kate Fox at all – and never by name? If, as they later admitted, the girls created the ghostly noises by cracking their toe and knee joints, how could their neighbor Mary Redfield claim that the ghost had rapped out her age (33 years)? That’s an awful lot of toe cracking! And why, after having convinced the town that their house was haunted, did the girls decide to shift the focus of everyone’s attention from the house to themselves by “rapping” for other spirits in new locations?

Sometimes it was spooky the way the problems unraveled themselves. Perhaps E.E. Lewis was just too much of a gentleman to name underage girls in his pamphlet about haunting, and when I considered how the girls might feel to be dismissed so easily, I suddenly had my answer to the third question. As for Mary Redfield, there was only one reason I could imagine for any woman to deliberately announce her age to a journalist: It wasn’t her real age! Mrs. Redfield wanted to publicly shave some years off – and once I realized that witnesses could lie as readily as the girls themselves, I had the answer to many small piddling questions.

One of the biggest holes in the historical record concerned an incident in Troy when Maggie was attacked and practically besieged in the home of Robert Bouton. This event, described by Maggie’s sister Leah in her memoirs, was bizarre from beginning to end. The police refused to help them, and Mr. Bouton arranged to have his home guarded by armed friends. Bouton was unable to move Maggie safely from his house, but Leah reported that when she arrived, the two of them were transported to Albany. What in the world really happened?

I puzzled over this for a long time, and once again, details fell eerily into place. I won’t describe the resolution to this episode but I will mention several facts which pointed me in a plausible direction.

  1. The year was 1850, the year that The Fugitive Slave Act was passed.
  2. The Fox sisters frequently consorted with abolitionists.
  3. Although Leah’s memoirs describe the attack on Maggie in great detail, Leah never revealed how she and her sister escaped Troy.

My fictional solution to this hole in my research was, I think, satisfying and logical. Who knows? It might even be true!

Thank you for hosting me on your site!

Dianne, thanks so much for that awesome story. If you want to know more about the Fox sisters and what Dianne's resolution to the hole in her research was, pick up a copy of WE HEAR THE DEAD from Amazon, Book Depository, or Changing Hands. Or, ask for it at your local library! You can also connect with Dianne on Twitter!

1 comment:

Pam said...

I thought I brought the book with me on vacation and now I can't find it. I assume it is near my bed where I packed. Meh. Great guest post.