Monday, January 23, 2012

On Raising the Dead

Thought for the day:  Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.  Dr. Victor Frankenstein

This writer knows how to put flesh on those bones.
The thought for the day could very well have been uttered by Dianne Salerni. Not that she created scary monsters from bits and pieces. No, nothing as sinister as that. What she did is dust off the bare bones of people from the past, put flesh on them, breathe air into their lungs, pump blood through their bodies, and give them substance and emotions. Her book We Hear the Dead successfully floods the dark past with a torrent of light, and makes a somewhat obscure history sparkle with renewed life. Essentially, in telling this tale about the Fox sisters, spiritualism, and talking to the dead, she masterfully raises these characters from the dead, and makes them live again.

Fox sisters Maggie, Kate, and Leah

The mysterious rapping began as a devious plot to drive away an unwanted house guest, but as rumors spread, and more and more people crowded into their bedroom to hear the spirits, young sisters Katie and Maggie simply gave the people what they wanted to hear. When older sister Leah discovered their chicanery, she coerced them into continuing the fraud on a grander scale, with more sophisticated tricks, and her, of course,  in charge ... charging clients a fee.

Thus began the spiritualism movement. And, believe me, not everyone was happy about it, either. The girls were as likely to be met with shotgun fire or a vat of hot tar as they were with a shower of accolades. Theirs is a fascinating tale, from the descriptions of their tricks of the trade, to the agonizing choice Maggie has to make between the way of life she knows with her family, and the uncertainty of life waiting in a remote location for  the man she loves, Elisha Kane, a celebrated Arctic explorer ... whose wealthy family wants nothing more than to keep a common guttersnipe like Maggie out of his life.

Frauds, one and all, right? Maybe. Maybe not. You'll have to read the book, and decide for yourself. But I can tell you one thing. I don't need a Ouiji board to make a sure-fire prediction ... you're gonna love this book.

After finishing her book, I had some questions for Dianne, and she most graciously provided the answers.

Q: Of all the obscure, potentially interesting stories to be found in the history books, why this one? How did you find out about the Fox sisters, and what drew you to their story?
A: I didn't start out to write a historical fiction book. I was researching seances and mediums with a vague idea about writing a humorous story about fraudulent mediums.  But the story of the Fox sisters kept coming up in my research, and the idea that the entire spiritualist movement began with two girls aged 14 and 11 fascinated me.  So, I bought a biography of the Fox sisters, Talking to the Dead by Barbara Weisburg.  By the time I got to the part about Maggie Fox's star-crossed romance with Arctic explorer Elisha Kane, I was hooked.  I knew I wanted to novelize Maggie's story.

Q: How much of your book is based on historical facts, and how much on imagination?
A: Everything that happens in We Hear the Dead really did happen, based on historical record.  Where my imagination came into play was deciding WHY it happened and HOW it happened.  The girls lied; their sister lied; their clients lied to save face. Elisha's family claimed he was never seriously involved with Maggie; his letters suggest otherwise.  I fictionalized the story to emphasize the dramatic elements -- and to fill in the gaps where nobody wanted to tell the truth!

Q: Was your research fairly easy-going, or was it difficult to find information about the Fox family?
A: There are several biographies on the Fox sisters and also on Elisha Kane, so it was easy to find information on their lives.  I even acquired Kane's book Arctic Explorations and got to read about his adventures in his own words.  There were gaps, as I mentioned -- places where information is missing.  I don't REALLY know how Maggie got out of Troy when those men tried to kill her, for instance.  But I know my explanation fits all the facts. It might even be true!

Q:  Is it true a movie is in the works, based on your book? And you're doing the screenplay yourself?
A: There is a film option on the book, which doesn't guarantee a movie will be made.  And I did, in fact, write a screenplay which has also been optioned and is currently making the rounds of submission in Hollywood.  There is a lot of "might" and "if" involved in this process, and I've already had a near miss once.  But anybody who wants to keep their fingers crossed for me -- I'll appreciate the good wishes!

Q: What's next? Can we look forward to more books from you that make history come alive?
A: My next book, The Caged Graves, will be published by Clarion Books. I don't have a release date yet, but Goodreads predicts 2013, and who am I to argue with Goodreads?  The Caged Graves is also historical fiction.  The story was inspired by two real graves in an abandoned cemetery in Catawissa, PA that are surrounded by iron cages.  The women buried there were sisters-in-law who died within a couple days of one another in 1852.  Local historians have been unable to determine why their families thought it necessary to enclose the graves in cages -- so I had free reign to write their story any way I wanted!

Q: Anything else you'd like to add?
A: Just that I'm thrilled you enjoyed my book!  Interestingly enough, I was recently contacted by a descendant of Elisha Kane -- his great great great niece -- who read We Hear the Dead.  I held my breath, but turns out she liked my portrayal of Elisha and didn't mind the terrible things I said about the rest of his family. Phew!  It does make me wonder who might turn up, claiming a relation to the women in those graves some day ...

Dianne Salerni
We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks 2010)
The Caged Graves (coming from Clarion)

Thanks so much, Dianne, and you betcha we have our fingers crossed for your book's screenplay  making it to the big (or little) screen. Either way, it'd make a terrific movie!

And now, folks, to pique interest in her next book, Dianne's provided some intriguing pictures.

Doesn't this make you wonder ...?

I can hardly wait to read Dianne's explanation.

                                        Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.


  1. This book sounds terrific, on a subject that really interests me. I'm so pleased for Dianne.

  2. Sounds very interesting. I look forward to reading it.

    Janie Junebug

  3. Susan, Thanks for the wonderful review and the chance for an interview! I'm glad you enjoyed the book. I'll let you know if I get any good news regarding the screenplay! :D

  4. What a great story to have uncovered. Best of luck with it!!

  5. My family were Spiritualists on Thursday nights. My mother became a Spiritualist minister when I was 11. It's a bizarre religion, but most are. The Fox Sisters weren't outted as frauds for years, and got away with so much. I can't wait to read this!

    And The Caged Graves, too- makes you wonder if they were keeping someone out- or in...
    Thanks for letting us know, Susan. All good luck to you, Dianne!

  6. Sarah- It really IS terrific. If spiritualism is a subject that already interests you, you would especially enjoy this book.

    Janie- Good. I hope you do read it.

    Dianne- You're very welcome, but hey! I thought you were supposed to be skiing, young lady! Okay, now, step away from that computer and get out on them slopes ... (MUSH!)

    L.G.- You're right; it was a great story to uncover. (And completely new to me.)

    Austan- How interesting! You have quite a unique background, don't you? You'll have to tell us more on your blog sometime.

    Arleen- Great book! (Easy to write a good review for it.)

  7. Ooooh, this sounds fascinating. Wonderful interview. Thanks! (Beautiful cover design, too.)

  8. The book sounds really intriguing!!
    Hope they do make a movie on it!

  9. I loved this book! I'm looking forward to the release of Caged Graves as well.

    I really don't know how Dianne teaches full time, keeps up with her lively daughters, Sorcia the house dog, and a pond full of weird fish (see, I follow Dianne's blog).

  10. You find the most obscure stuff, I love it.

    Very nice interview. I can't wait to read both books. Thanks.

  11. I'm always looking for a good read. This one sounds intriguing. You can never find anything more mysterious/outrageous/unbelievable than what happens in real life.

  12. Great interview! Dianne is a lovely lady and a fantastic writer. She deserves every success. :)

  13. Carrie- It IS fascinating! Glad you enjoyed the interview.

    Jennifer- I hope they make a movie from it, too. It'd be a real winner.

    Marva- I don't know how she manages all that, either. Super woman, I guess. What I do know is she must be an excellent teacher. Thanks for stopping by, dear lady.

    Tina- Knowing that the book is based on facts makes it all that much more interesting. I hope you have a chance to check it out.

    Linda- Yes, ma'am. You betcha. Now I'm getting primed to read YOUR book. Yeah, I know it'll be a while, but it takes me awhile to get the pump going.

  14. that book sounds like my cup of tea, as the expression goes - glad I swung by and you called attention to it as I will be on the lookout for it...might those caged graves have something to do with thwarting grave-robbers? Now if the cages had been underground around the caskets, that would've been macabre!

  15. What an amazing story Dianne has. Sounds like a great read. (I can't say this stuff happens or doesn't happen; it does make me wonder.)

    Blogger acted up a bit more but seems to have settled down. One can only hope and smile.

  16. I enjoy historical fiction and this story of the Fox sisters sounds like a good one. I'm pretty skeptical about most spiritualists, but always fascinated in the stories--especially when it's known to be a scam.

    The story of the caged graves sounds like it has some real potential.

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  17. Gullibility has no bounds. Yet Spiritualists, sooth sayers, astrologers, et al, all still exist (and do very well from it).

  18. That sounds like a good read! Excellent interview, by the way!

  19. Diane came down off the mountain long enough to give an interview?? :) A very entertaining read!

  20. Wonder- Thank you so much for stopping by. Dianne's book was my cup of tea, too. I think you're right about those cages maybe having something to do with trying to thwart potential grave robbers, but as Dianne told me, there's more to it than that.

    Kittie- I kinda like reading things that make me wonder, don't you? Yeah, Blogger's been giving a lot of people a fit lately. Knock on wood, maybe it's done messing with us now.

    Lee- Being scammed isn't fun, but it is fun finding out HOW these young girls pulled it off. Kinda like figuring out a magician's trick. And Dianne does such a nice job of it.

    Cro- I'd write something clever here, but my horoscope says this is a bad day for me to be clever.

    Al- Thanks, Glad ya liked it.

    Kara- It is! And thank you.

    DL- Not exactly. We did the interview a week or so ago, but I sure was surprised to see a comment from her when I thought she was out playing the snow. Guess she had to come in and get warm.

  21. Susan, excellent interview and review! We Hear The Dead sounds amazing, and I especially like the cover. I've also never seen caged graves before and the fact that sisters-in-law are buried there is quite intriguing. Best of luck to Dianne with both books and the screenplay! Julie

  22. I don't know why I hadn't done this before, seeing as I'm a big fan of Dianne's blog, but I just bought We Hear the Dead for my kindle--and it was this review that did it. Wonderful review and interview, Susan!

  23. Wonderful interview and background. This book is already on my to-read list and can't wait for Caged Graves 'cuz Dianne just rocks.

  24. Julie- Glad you enjoyed it. From the little bit of research I've done since Dianne told me about the caged graves, those two appear to be the only two in the entire country.

    Sarah- Awesome! (Think Dianne will send me a commission? HA!) Thank you so much for signing on as a follower, I do appreciate it.

    Donna- Thank you. Yes, she does rock, doesn't she?

  25. The sounds interesting and great interview. Historical research is fun because you never know what will turnover in front of you. Thanks for sharing this.

  26. Barb- History is only "dead" if we let it be. There's lots of fascinating stories out there just waiting for us to dig 'em up.