The King’s Witch casts a mesmerizing spell

I love anything historical and witchy—particularly when it can be tied to New England’s (most especially Connecticut’s) witch trials, as Tracy Borman’s The King’s Witch can.

Released earlier this week in paperback, The King’s Witch tells the story of Frances Gorges, a young courtier first to the dying Queen Elizabeth, and then to the precocious daughter of Elizabeth’s successor, King James. Living at the royal palace by force, rather than by choice, Frances becomes the target of the scheming Lord Cecil, as well as at first unknowingly involved in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605—finding love, but putting her and her parents’ lives in danger. Surrounding these events is King James’ obsession with hunting and burning witches—which thanks to Lord Cecil, potentially includes Frances.

In real-life England, as Borman so effectively portrays in The King’s Witch, King James’ paranoia and fear about witches affected all of England during his reign, which spanned from 1603-1625. Among many, his actions created the belief that hunting down witches, and killing them, was as necessary as going to church on Sundays.

That mindset was brought to the New England colonies during the “Great Migration” of the early 1600s, influencing Connecticut’s witch trials, Massachusetts’ witch trials, and the many others that took place throughout young America.

The King’s Witch is a must-read for historical fiction and witch lovers. And now’s the perfect time to read it. Just released this week in paperback, you can throw the softcover in your bag and easily take it anywhere. (Though I don’t recommend pulling it out at stoplights. You’ll get too engrossed and miss when the light turns green.)

An even better reason to read The King’s Witch now is that its sequel, book 2 of Borman’s Frances Georges trilogy, will be released on September 3. It’s title: The Devil’s Slave—and no one is more excited than me to have an advance copy!

For many, The Devil’s Slave will be a perfect book to sink into at the start of fall. And good news for those who haven’t yet read The King’s Witch. If you start it now—which you absolutely should! So good!—you won’t have to wait as long as the rest of us to read its continuation!

Before We Were Yours + The Hellfire Club: New paperbacks with New England connections

Among the books with a New England connection out in paperback this week that I’m particularly excited about are one I’ve read and loved, and one that’s getting closer to the top of my #TBR list: Lisa Wingate’s wonderful Before We Were Yours, which I gave five stars on Goodreads, and Jake Tapper’s The Hellfire Club.

Went to college in New Hampshire

I’ll admit that if not written by Tapper—one of my favorite CNN reporters—The Hellfire Club would probably not be a book I’d be excited about right now. A news and political junkie, I find my brain going into overload these days when it comes to Washington lies, scandals and wrongdoings. Whereas I used to binge watch CNN for hours a day, I now take it smaller bites. So the idea of plunging into a lies-full, White House-related political thriller set in Washington, DC—the center of my current daily angst—does not necessarily appeal.That said, I love Jake Tapper and the thoughtful, straight-forward reporting and commentary he brings to CNN and his weekday and Sunday morning shows. A huge historical fiction fan, my interest is also piqued to see how he brings 1950s DC to life as he tells the story of Charlie Marder—an unlikely Congressman who discovers a conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of governance. So I’m giving it a go.

Tapper’s New England connection? He earned his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth in New Hampshire, graduating with a BA in history in 1991.

Like The Hellfire Club, Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours is historical fiction. Alternating between 1930s Tennessee and present-day South Carolina, it flips between the story of five siblings taken from the shanty boat their family lives on and put into an orphanage, and the journey of a Congressman’s daughter to discover her family’s history while nursing her father back to health. (There’s also some political grooming involved.)

Went to elementary school in Massachusetts

I read Before We Were Yours in hardcover. And now that it’s out in paperback, I just might read it again. You should too. Based on a real-life orphanage director who stole poor children and then placed them for adoption with wealthy clients, it’s engaging and compelling from page 1. I’d actually rate Before We Were Yours as one of the most-memorable novels I’ve read in the past few years.

Wingate, who now lives in Texas, spent several years growing up in Massachusetts. She credits her first-grade teacher Mrs. Krackhardt at Peasley School in Northboro with giving her the confidence she needed to eventually pursue a writing career. Said Wingate: “Mrs. Krackhardt wrote on my report card that she expected to see my name in the pages of a magazine one day, and I suddenly felt incredibly special. She started reading my stories to the class, and I was hooked. I quickly discovered the joy of having an audience, and set out on many, many writing projects.”

Mrs. Krackhardt deserves our thanks!

Q&A with Nick Trout, author of The Wonder of Lost Causes

WonderofLostCauses_PBThis week saw the release of The Wonder of Lost Causes—the sixth book written by Massachusetts veterinary surgeon Nick Trout.

And doggone, aren’t we excited!

A novel, The Wonder of Lost Causes tells the story of single mother Dr. Kate Blunt, her son Jasper who suffers from cystic fibrosis, and a disfigured, abandoned dog named Whistler. Too old and too ugly to be adopted, the dog forms an instantaneous, almost magical connection with Jasper. Whistler does not bark, but he speaks to Jasper in a myriad of mysterious ways. With the clock ticking, the dog’s future hangs in the balance. Jasper would do anything to find him a home, but Whistler has chosen them for a reason that Kate, Jasper and readers will discover together. And according to early reviews, all of us will be inspired.

Eager to learn more and help celebrate The Wonder of Lost Causes publication, Literary New England’s Cindy Wolfe Boynton spoke with Nick Trout:

LNE: You’ve shared that like Jasper, the son in The Wonder of Lost Causes, your daughter Emily has cystic fibrosis (CF). As a former medical writer, I believe CF is a very misunderstood disease. Is awareness about CF one of the reasons you wrote this book?

NT: Absolutely.  I want people to see an honest account of CF, up close and personal, an account that explores the challenges for the child with the disease, and the primary care giver battling with every fiber of their being to keep that child in the fight. But I also wanted to pay homage to care givers of those with any number of chronic diseases, in a broader sense. It doesn’t have to be CF. It could be PTSD, autism, diabetes, opioid addiction. The list goes on and on. The kind of daily fights, frustrations, and struggle to find a path forward for CF can apply far more universally than this one disease.

LNE: I’m wondering about your daughter’s reaction to the book and whether she–as well as your own experiences with CF–are why The Wonder of Lost Causes feels like such a personal story.

Nick Trout author photoNT: I couldn’t have written this book without, to some extent, living it.  I hope the reader will sense the authenticity my experiences bring to the novel.  Sometimes it has felt like I have an obligation to share these experiences, and, if possible, try to parse it into something positive and helpful.

LNE: The Wonder of Lost Causes is your sixth book. And like the previous five, it features an irresistible dog on the cover. You know that any book or magazine with an adorable dog on the cover is always going to be a best-seller, right? Pet lovers can’t resist!

NT: Oh, how I wish it were that simple.  As far as I can tell, the potential to write a bestseller depends largely on whether a receptive audience even knows that this book exists.  It’s exactly this kind of experience, answering thoughtful and thought-provoking questions, that gives me a chance to reach a broader audience, and for that I’m extremely grateful.  Writing something that entertains and resonates helps and, yes, as you rightly point out, adorable dog covers can’t hurt. However, it has to be the right cover.  It’s all about the eyes.  Definitely forward facing, definitely out to make direct contact and, ideally, capable of reaching your soul!

LNE: Where does a full-time veterinary surgeon who also has busy family rsponsibilities find time to write?

NT: It’s hard and getting harder with every book I write.  Perhaps my best opportunity to write comes from the hour-long drive to work and home every day.  Especially early in the morning, I’m at my most creative, and I’ll often dictate ideas, dialogue, character development, into my phone as I drive. Hey, this is Boston.  My quality of driving blends right in.

Patron saint of lost dogsLNE: How did writing The Wonder of Lost Causes compare to writing your previous books? It’s been–what?–five years since the publication of your last novel, The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs? Would love to hear about your process.

NT: This was trickier, but I also wanted to take my time and feel as though I had it right.  After my last book, I wrote an entire book proposal about a heroic WW2 dog named Judy, a remarkable animal with a story not dissimilar to the book Unbroken. The week before hitting up editors, another author signed a deal to write his version of the story, a story that had been sitting there for seventy years!  What were the chances?  This knocked me back, and made me want to focus on fiction, and for me, writing fiction is much more challenging and time consuming than my version of non-fiction.  I also have an excellent agent, Jeff Kleinman, without whom my creative process could not happen. Jeff is tough for all the right reasons, so to satisfy him takes time and effort.

LNE: You’ve said that dogs want to take every bite they can out of life and, unlike people, have learned to live their lives without regret. Is this you, too?

NT: I can definitely claim to be ‘trying’ to live every minute of every hour of every day in that I feel as if I am constantly busting my chops to squeeze in every commitment I take on, both personally and professionally.  But, unlike dogs, being human leaves me flawed.  Like I’ve said before, mistakes are inevitable, but what is not, and what will set you apart, is what you learn from them.

LNE: On your website, you talk about how fortunate you feel to have a job that provides you with material for “heart-warming stories [that] quite literally walk, hop and slither through [your] hospital doors. Is this a hint that rabbits and snakes might find their way onto the covers of your novels? I’m sorry to say that if you write a book about a boy and his snake, I’m going to have to pass.

NT: Have no fears, I will not be writing about a snake as a central character in a book.  Then again . . .

LNE: What do you hope people will experience, or take away, from reading The Wonder of Lost Causes?

NT: Where to begin.  A better understanding of cystic fibrosis. An awareness of how hard it is to parent a chronically ill child, no matter what the underlying disease or disorder.  A recognition of how a dog, any dog, can brighten your days, change your outlook, give you purpose and make you want to live.  Like most authors, I’m hoping to entertain my reader, but if I can leave him or her changed in some small, sensitive, even miniscule way, I will have succeeded.  It’s a book about the quest for hope and how a creature as unlikely as a dog might just be what you need to get through and lead you to a brighter side.

Lange morphs from profit-maker to political activist in Hooper’s ‘Learning to See’

I use these Dorothea Lange photographs of destitute pea pickers, taken in California in 1936 during the Great Depression, as a tool to teach my college journalism students about the difference between reporting and storytelling.

Consequently, I was thrilled to learn about, and then read, Learning to See by Elise Hooper.

The novel provides a fictionalized account of Lange’s journey from a successful and self-focused portrait photographer in San Francisco in the late 1910s, to a controversial, politically-minded photojournalist during WWII, determined to show the truth about Japanese-Americans being held in internment camps. Hooper creates a compelling narrative, doing a great job blending historical fact with the complicated inner life of her fictional version of Lange, who relentlessly works to have both a career and keep her children and family together, despite a husband unable to provide either consistent financial support or fidelity.

The result is an engaging story that shows how our relationships, circumstances and choices shape not just who we become, but those whose lives we touch. Often selfish, though also a woman who makes soul-breaking sacrifices, Hooper’s Lange comes to life on the page—challenging us to consider like Lange does how and what we are willing to see.

I gave Learning to See four stars on Goodreads and recommend it to historical fiction lovers, those interested in journalism and photography, and to anyone with a desire—or who questions their ability—to make art and a difference.

Like May Alcott, little sister to Louisa and the protagonist in Hooper’s first novel, The Other Alcott, Hooper grew up in Massachusetts. She now lives on the West Coast and had this to say about Learning to See:

Q: Why did you decide to write about Dorothea Lange?

A: After I finished writing The Other Alcott, I decided to be practical and find a new story set closer to home. I’d always found Oregon-born Imogen Cunningham’s abstracted flower photographs to be beautiful and wanted to learn more about her. During my research, discovered that her best friend, Dorothea Lange, had also been a pioneering photographer, although the women had very different views on the purpose of art and photography. When I learned Lange had photographed the internment of Japanese Americans and that these photos had been impounded due to their subversive points of view, I decided to shift my focus from Cunningham to her best friend, Lange.

Midway through writing this novel, the political climate of the United States shifted with the results of the 2016 presidential election. Women took to the streets in January 2017 to express many grievances over the direction of the nation’s policies and values. This energy and rising political consciousness made me believe Dorothea Lange was more relevant than ever since she was a woman who had experienced a political awakening in her late thirties and acted on it. As a result of the worsening economic conditions in California and the breadlines threading down the sidewalk underneath her studio window in the 1930s, she became an activist for democratic values and social justice. Though she sometimes denied any political angle to her art, she often spoke about her desire for her work to prompt conversations about labor, social class, race, and the environment. Her awakening as an activist breathed new life into this project for me and made me more excited than ever to tell her story.

Q: It’s interesting that a woman who is best known for taking such poignant images of women and children had such a conflicted family life.

A: Dorothea’s complex and seemingly contradictory feelings about motherhood fascinated me. Her own father abandoned her family when she was twelve, and this left her with a powerful sense of rejection. So deep was her hurt that she rarely spoke of it to anyone. In fact, it wasn’t until after her death that Paul Taylor learned the truth of her father’s absence in her life. Yet despite the anguish that her father’s abandonment caused her, she fostered her own sons out during the Great Depression, a choice for which her children never forgave her.

No one faulted Maynard and Paul for not attending to their children, but people questioned Dorothea’s choices and this criticism stung her. Her ambitions and talents put her at odds with many of the norms of the time when few women were the breadwinners in their families. So, although she sometimes felt guilty and selfish, she persevered with work she believed was necessary and important. This tension between ambition and parental duty drew me into her story. While I wrote this story, there were times when I struggled to make sense of Dorothea’s choices to foster her children out to strangers, especially after she married Paul Taylor, but I had to remember that in the early 1900s commonly accepted ideas about child-rearing and child development differed from today. People tended to emphasize the resilience of children and overlook their emotional needs. In some ways Dorothea reminded me of another woman from the same era who is celebrated for her humanitarian work: Eleanor Roosevelt. Like Lange, Roosevelt had a fraught relationship with her children stemming largely from her active political career outside the home. The fact is that women who chose to pursue careers in the early 1900s lacked role models, mentors, affordable childcare options, and other supports that are now widely accepted to be critical to balancing motherhood with work outside the home.

Q: Why didn’t Maynard or Paul do more to help with the care of their children?

A: The expectations of the time were that women tended to children. It was that simple. Regardless of social class, it never appears to have entered into people’s consideration that men could have played a hands-on role with raising their sons and daughters. And this trickled down to the children of this generation. Interviews with Dan Dixon when he was an adult reflect that his hurt feelings were aimed mostly at his mother. He never seemed to hold Maynard accountable in the same way that he blamed his mother for leaving him.

Q: What happened to Lange’s impounded photos of the Japanese American internment?

A: The army impounded the images until after the war and then they were quietly placed in the National Archives. In 1972, Richard Conrat, one of Lange’s assistants, published some of them when he produced Executive Order 9066 for the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. It wasn’t until 2006 when Linda Gordon and Gary Y. Okihiro published their book Impounded that the photos received widespread attention. In 2017, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum produced an exhibit entitled Images of Internment: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II to commemorate the seventhy-fifth anniversary of FDR’s infamous Executive Order 9066. I visited the show and viewed photographs by Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and others. Seventy-five years later these photos are still relevant and serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of maintaining civil liberties in our democracy.

Literary New England interview with ‘The Age of Light’ author Whitney Scharer

“… You should own your creativity. You should own your art, and call yourself an artist, or writer, if that’s what you are. And so I hope that people read this book [and], if they are creative people, they take away this lesson from the story.”

Those are the words of author Whitney Scharer on Lee Miller, the protagonist in Scharer’s debut and much-buzzed-about novel, The Age of Light.

Literary New England’s Cindy Wolfe Boynton interviewed Scharer yesterday, just hours before she flew from her Massachusetts home to the United Kingdom for several book events. Scharer will be back in the U.S. by early March for a cross-country book tour, including several stops in New England.

The Radium Girls and the Power of Women’s Anger

I prepared to go see the first fully-staged Connecticut production of “These Shining Lives” by reading The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by British author Kate Moore.

Moore, also an actress, said she was inspired to write The Radium Girls while directing two London performances of “These Shining Lives,” which I saw earlier this month at the Milford Arts Council in Connecticut.

From the Milford (Connecticut) Arts Council performance of These Shining Lives, which runs through Sunday, Feb. 17.

Written by award-winning American television writer and playwright Melanie Marnich, “These Shining Lives” tells the true story of four of Ottawa, Illinois, women who suffered the painful and deadly effects of radium exposure while painting glow-in-the-dark numbers on watches and clocks in the early 1900s. It’s narrated by a young woman named Catherine Donohue, who like all the female workers painting dials at clock factories in Illinois, New Jersey and Connecticut was told to use her lips to create a fine point at the end of her brush before dipping it in to the luminous green paint.

Lip, dip, paint. Lip, dip, paint. Lip, dip, paint.

Many of the radium girls suffered from large, grotesque tumors on their jaws. Eventually, their jawbones crumbled away.

From roughly 1917 to 1940, this was the song of sometimes thousands of nicknamed “radium girls”—most of them in their 20s—who lipped and dipped each time they painted a number, 1 through 12, on up to 150 watch faces a day. The women became irradiated from within, leading to broken bones, grapefruit-sized tumors, their teeth falling out, jaws breaking, immovable arms and legs, and spines collapsing. Many reported rolling over at night, catching a glimpse of themselves in their bedroom mirrors, and seeing—with horror—that their bodies glowed in the dark.

Even though the men who ran the factories knew that radium was dangerous, the women were told the paint was safe. Many complained of its gritty taste and worried about what they might be ingesting. But as one of the women matter-of-factly states in “These Shining Lives”: “You get used to it.”

Lyrically written, “Shining Lives” uses the stories of Catherine and co-workers Francis O’Connell, Charlotte Purcell and Pearl Payne to show not just the excruciating pain and disfigurement that countless radium girls like them suffered, but also the endless courage, tenacity and resilience they displayed as they fought for recompense, justice, and the establishment of new protections for future dial workers.

At the performance I attended, audience members laughed, disbelieving, when the company doctor blamed stress for the cause of Catherine’s lost teeth and debilitating leg pain. They then gasped when she was fired for becoming too sick to work.

Charlotte Purcell, whose left arm was amputated because of the effects of radium poisoning. Her story is featured in both “These Shining Lives” and The Radium Girls: The Dark Story Of America’s Shining Women.

The play skillfully uses both humor and horror to connect with its audience. But as powerful as it is, there are limits to the depth of story that a stage can tell.

From page 1 of The Radium Girls, Moore uses unapologetic, no-nonsense and often gruesome prose to vividly show the extent that working with radium, and being lied to about its dangers, affected not just the women, but their families, the baffled doctors who did their best to care for them, and the legal experts who fought for the justice they deserved.

Moore does nothing to whitewash what Catherine and the other girls experienced:

Her mouth, empty of teeth, empty of jawbone, empty of words, filled with blood, instead, until it spilled over her lips and down her stricken, shaken face. … [It was] a “painful and terrible death.” She was just twenty-four years old. (Ebook page 69)

… New bruises bloomed on her body, blood vessels bursting under her skin. Her mouth would not stop bleeding; pus oozed from her gums. Her bad leg was a constant source of pain. She couldn’t take it anymore; she became “delirious” and lost her mind. (Ebook page 195)

She suffered excruciating, constant pain that required continuous administration of narcotics. Her jawbone continued to fracture into ever-smaller fragments, each new break more painful than the last, and with the new breaks came a new development. Catherine started hemorrhaging from her jaw. She lost approximately one pint of blood each time. (Ebook page 521)

Too sick to travel to the courthouse hearing her case, radium girl Catherine Donohue literally gave evidence from her deathbed. “Wolfe” was Catherine’s maiden name and is mine, which is one of the things that made me want to know her story.

Part of my wanting to read Moore’s book, and see Marnich’s play, was to learn about the radium girls who worked in New England at the Waterbury Clock Factory. I had heard a little about Frances Splettstocher, the first Connecticut woman to die from working there with radium. She was followed by Mildred Cardow and Mary Damulis. All were in their early 20s.

Between 1926 and 1936, the Waterbury Clock Company issued more than $90,000 in medical settlements to radium girls. Yet Waterbury was barely mentioned by Marnich, and only tangentially referred to by Moore. A little research led me to a 2002 Waterbury Observer article that perhaps explains why. While the New Jersey and Illinois dial painters received extensive media coverage—the impact of which Moore deftly shows—no news articles were ever written about the Waterbury women. Their cases were all settled privately, out of court, with no reports made to state or federal agencies.

The old Waterbury Clock Factory in Connecticut—the only New England location where radium girls worked.

Unlike the radium girls in Illinois and New Jersey, the Waterbury dial painters had no champions.

“No one in Connecticut with power was willing to help those women,” said Claudia Clark, author of Radium Girls: Women and Industrial Health Reform, 1910-1935, in the Observer article. “The state was so ant-labor and pro-business. Even the women’s organizations wouldn’t help. It would have been great if someone with power and authority got involved, but it didn’t happen.”

As Moore explains, the radium girls’ cases that went public played a significant role in the establishment of new, strict federal occupational health and safety guidelines for those working with radium and other hazardous materials. They also led to Congress passing a law to give workers the right to receive compensation for occupational illnesses.

Click here to listen to a fascinating Connecticut Public Radio interview with Moore and other guests, including a relative of Mae Keane, the last living radium girl from Waterbury, Connecticut, who passed away at 107 years old in 2014. Despite working as a dial painter for just a few months, she lost all of her teeth by the time she was 30 and battled cancer several times during her life.

Yet the blatant lies these women were told; the bosses who stayed silent despite what they knew—unacceptable. Shameful. And in many ways, as viscerally painful as what these women went through. I’m nauseous as I think about it and type these words.

Moore’s The Radium Girls is a must-read not just for those interested in history, but for those who believe in equal rights and justice. Yes, this past century has seen advancements in gender, workplace, healthcare and economic rights. But so many more are needed. There are also too many similarities between the battles Catherine Donohue and other radium girls fought with those still going on today.

Eager to learn more about how women’s anger about injustices have led to needed change, I’ve put Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger at the top of my #TBR nonfiction pile. I saw Traister interviewed by Fareed Zakaria this past Sunday morning on CNN, and her insights and expertise grabbed me.

Published last year, Good and Mad examines the contemporary and historical impact of women’s anger on American society. According to the book description, Traister shows that while women’s fury over injustices has long been repressed and dismissed, it has also been one of the most powerful forces in U.S. politics and culture.

As an often-angry feminist who has been told that I’m crazy, irrational, and wasting my time, I can’t wait to crack the cover.

Conjuring New Haven in The Book of Life

The_Book_of_Life_US_CoverI DON’T USUALLY WRITE ABOUT BOOKS UNTIL I’ve finished reading them. But I’m too excited. A few days ago, I discovered that my current literary BFF Diana Bishop is right now in New Haven, Connecticut, just 15 minutes from my house.

I’m half-way through The Book of Life, the third and final installment of Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy. And I’m loving it. The writing is crisp; the story engaging; and Diana is a compelling, likeable, and authentic protagonist—intelligent, stubborn, determined, vulnerable.

New haven signYet while I’ve known from the start of the series that Diana, a witch, is also a history professor at New Haven’s Yale University, there was never any hint she or the story would go there.

The first two books in the series, A Discover of Witches and Shadow of Night, take the reader to London, France, Venice, and Prague of today and 1591 as Diana and her vampire husband Matthew search for the missing pages of an ancient and mystical manuscript. The book is known both as Ashmole 782 and the Book of Life, and it’s believed to hold the key to the origins of vampires, witches, and daemons—knowledge that some vampires and witches are willing to kill for.

The Book of Life starts with Diana, Matthew and their extended witch-vampire families at Matthew’s towered, 11th century castle Sept-Tours in France. Hunted by the Congregation of vampires, witches, and daemons that believes bloodlines must remain pure, and has outlawed supernatural beings from cross-breeding, a pregnant Diana and Matthew escape to the haunted, upstate New York house Diana grew up in. Aided by Matthew, her witch Aunt Sarah, her vampire nephew Gallowglass, and other family and friends, Diana works to hone her emerging magical powers. Talk of travel revolves around Diana and Matthew going back to England for the birth of their twins. But then Diana’s best friend, scientist and fellow Yale professor Chris Roberts arrives.

I won’t spoil how or why Diana and Matthew decided to go to New Haven. Unlike the first two books in the series, which were slower paced and sprawling, Life is as action-packed and urgent as the tasks Diana and Matthew must complete before death, or any other form of irreparable tragedy, strikes them or someone they love.

New Haven Lawn ClubWhen we first see Diana in New Haven at the start of Chapter 15, she is sitting at a table at the New Haven Lawn Club:

The hushed confines of the main building dampened the distinctive plonk of tennis balls and the screaming children enjoying the pool during the last week of summer vacation. … “Here you are, Professor.” My attentive waiter was back, accompanied by the fresh scent of mint leaves. “Peppermint tea.” (Chapter 15)

Sitting in the New Haven Lawn Club myself, eating lunch at a table probably not too far from where Diana sat, I’ve heard the same thump of tennis balls, and splash of arms, that can float in to the club dining room. Continuing to read Life over the past few nights, I’ve also discovered more ways that my and Diana’s New Haven have overlapped.

Beinecke libraryLike her, I’ve researched rare books at the Beinecke Library, marveled at the “glass-encased books [that forms] the Beinecke’s spinal column,” eaten at Wall Street Pizza, and driven to nearby Sleeping Giant State Park (though admittedly not with a vampire husband) to look at the stars at night:

Mabon moonMatthew scanned the horizon, unable to stop searching for new threats. Then his attention turned skyward.

“The moon is bright tonight,” he mused. “Even here it’s hard to see the stars.”

“That’s because it’s Mabon,” Diana said quietly.

“Mabon?” Matthew looked startled.

She nodded. “One year ago you walked into the Bodleian Library and straight into my heart. As soon as that wicked mouth of yours smiled, the moment your eyes lightened with recognition even though we’d never met before, I knew that my life would never be the same.” (Chapter 22)

Court Street New HavenReading Life, I know exactly where the Yale Center for Genome Analysis they work in is located; am sure I’ve walked past the tall, “red door with the white trim and the black pediment” that opens into Diana’s Court Street apartment; and have parked my car near Gallowglass’s condo inside a converted Catholic church on Green Street.

What distinguished the vampire’s house was that the drapes were tightly closed and only cracks of golden light around the edges of the windows betrayed the fact that someone was still awake. (Chapter 20)

I realize that Diana is a fictional character and only literarily, rather than literally, in New Haven.

But when you’re a bibliomaniac like me, an emotional connection to a literary character can feel as real as one to a real person. I’m one of those people who likes to take literary pilgrimages to places described in a book; to places where I can breathe the same air as the character or author I’ve fallen in love with; to places that inspired favorite writers, so that I can feel that inspiration, too. It makes the reading experience richer. And it makes me feel that much more connected to my understanding of the world and myself.

Doing a quick Google search before writing this post, I found a terrific website called The Tenth Knot, which features articles by Deborah Harkness superfans who have followed Diana’s and Matthew’s footsteps around the world. Among them are two posts that provide addresses, book quotes and other details about all the New Haven cites included in The Book of Life. They’re listed as New Haven, Part 1 and New Haven, Part 2. And for anyone looking to take an All Souls New England pilgrimage, they provide all the information you’ll need.

When The Book of Life was published in 2014, I interviewed Deborah Harkness for the Literary New England Radio Show. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, Deborah told me her New England roots go back to ancestors who traveled here from England and Scotland in the 1600 and 1700s to settled just outside of Boston and in Western Massachusetts.

deb-harkness-feature-master-16Deborah joked that while she created Diana to be descended from accused Salem witch Bridget Bishop, she herself has no such lineage: “I would be proud and delighted to have [a witch as an ancestor], but I have not found one yet.”

She also talked about how “wonderful and strange” it is that Diana and other characters she “fully created” from her imagination have become so vividly real to people like me: “That I could create something that people could embrace so fully. …. That’s a rare and precious thing,” Deborah said. “I feel so privileged to have met so many amazing people who feel this way, and to have been able to experience it.”

Like all the books I read, I’ll rate The Book of Life on Goodreads once I’ve finished it. In the meantime, if you’re a history-romance-fantasy fan, don’t hesitate to add the All Souls Trilogy to your #TBR list. And if you decided to take an All Souls literary trip to New Haven or other location, definitely let me know!