Well in relation to sort of the craft of writing historical fiction, you know in this class, and whenever we're reading a book, I think my strategy is usually to see, you know what elements are a historical accuracy, and what elements are just, you know a story. Because you also need to entertain, obviously. >> Right. >> to sell books. And I think that you walked a really fine [UNKNOWN] and did it really well, in terms of creating a plot line, adding characters, you know, her romance with Sam, her relationship with her mother. That sort of moves smoothly alongside these huge chunks of sort of information you provide the reader. So, I was wondering, how you went about that. How you were able to balance the two different priorities. Cause, it's basically two different stories that your trying to write but make it seem you know one. And I think that's a pretty difficult thing to do. >> Well, thank you. I'm delighted that you found it to be effective. I think, I have learned at this point that I get interested in a period of time first. In this instance, and there tend to be periods of time where there is a dramatic flux that's happening. So, in the 1690s, we're moving, we're really on the cusp of a kind of early modern worldview, we're just about to enter an Enlightenment worldview. The, the difference in worldview between adults in the 1690s and adults only 20 years later is actually pretty stark. And so I, I've learned that I become interested in a particular period of time. And then I do my best to fill in people who authentically belong in that period of time. And to constitute those individuals, I spend some time thinking about all the questions a historian would think about. The role of gender, the role of race, the role of class. the role of material world, the role of labor. and, and trying to kind of build a character who I think is going to be an authentic artifact, as near as I can come, to that time period. and in Physick Book, I even spent some time thinking about uses of language. this is something that, that I'm still kind of on the fence about. But, I felt like the English language has changed from the 17th century to the present. elements of humor, elements of slang, even verb constructions have changed some degree. So, I spent some time thinking about that. And then once I've figured out who my people are, I then put them in a story together and see what makes sense. But that means that I have a tendency and this maybe I can blame on being a elapsed art historian, I have a tendency to privilege the setting and the details. I really kind of immerse myself in those kinds of details. And so for me the story has to flow directly from the context, the intellectual ideas I'm trying to engage with. And and the people that I think truly belong there. And so, that's how I tried to do it anyway. >> On the topic of intellectual ideas that you were engaging with, I was really fascinated by the way that the world of Christianity and witchcraft sort of merge together in this book. So, if it was like a venn diagram, you'd have like, [INAUDIBLE] on one side, and witchcraft on the other. And this, grey area, that, I think is, the physic [INAUDIBLE]. But that's really up for, for debate. But I was interested in seeing how, [INAUDIBLE] the world of the novel. How, spiritual practice in healing, interact with each other, and how they interact with the way the story is presented. Because, one of the things that we see in the novel, is that these witches are doing their work, in their own minds in the name of God. Which I find very interesting, because it lies completely in the face of both puritan theology. But, even, I think you can take it into a modern context with modern Christian theology, as broad as that might be. So, I was wondering how does, how, how do you reconcile that, I guess within the context of your novel? But also looking at, the spiritual beliefs that existed in that day. Like how do they reconcile, I guess sort of, extra theological practices, you know? >> Nondoctrinarian? >> Not exactly. Nondoctri-, yeah.Religious practices in this world. >> That's a fantastic question. And, and it's a slightly, has a slightly complex answer. one of it is that, it, it's tricky. Because I think a lot of people today imagine that witchcraft, as a set of beliefs and practices has existed, unchanged, as a sort of alternative religion from pre-Christian times to the present. And that is, a lot of people hold that belief, and, and, and I respect it, but it is not true. contemporary practices of witchcraft are actually, can be traced to the 1930s. It's a, Wicca is a 20th century religion. Which isn't to say that, that they're respect and affection and solidarity with witches in the past is not meaningful, because it is. but to answer your question, I was thinking a lot about, there's a historian named Owen Davies who's done a lot of work on cunning folk. And a cunning person was someone who in the early modern English village served an important extra-religious function. So, one of the tricky parts about the Protestant Reformation is that it took a lot of the kind of pseudo-magical ritual that the Catholic church had owned kind of took it away. And so, if you were an individual living in a village, in, a rural English village in, 1585. And you felt like your sheep, was, under an evil eye. What were you going to do about it? You might go to your local cunning person. The cunning person would offer occult services for a fee. And those services include under witching, that was their probably most notorious skill. charms for good health, sometimes dowsing for water. sometimes conjuring to find the lost property. I mean, this is a time, this is a time too, before you could just phone up the local constable and say so and so has stolen my poridger. You know, this, this was a time when, when a lot of social laws were enforced purely by community pressure and observation rather than by institutions. And so, the cunning person served, in some degree, it served that kind of role. And so, I was interested by the fact that there is this social function and there is evidence that that social function persisted in early modern North America as well. And in fact, if you look at some writers at the time. the cunning folk occupied a really hazy moral gray area, because they served an important role. But at the same they, they were, certainly the church thought that they were dangerous. And in fact, some of the best-known writers both pro- and anti-witchcraft at the time, including James the First. And I'm thinking in particular of Reginald Scott, who was a noted skeptic writing at the time, felt that cunning folk were actually more dangerous than witches, because they encouraged people to put their faith in folk magic rather than in God, where it belonged. And so, so there's that part of the story for me, which I felt was a part of the historiography, that was not all that widely discussed, especially in the context of Salem. And if you look at the time gra-, time the timeline of the Salem crisis. One of the first things that happens when the young girls are behaving strangely and the days of fasting and prayer haven't worked, a, the, have this happen in the story as well. Mary Sibley, a villager, this really happened. This is from the historical record. Mary Sibley had Tituba, who was the slave in the Paris household, had her make a witch cake. and that's where you take some rye meal and you take urine from the girls and you bake it and you feed it to a dog. Mary Sibley was a Puritan Christian woman who was resorting to a folk, a widespread and common, folk magic practice to try to address a Christian, spiritual problem. And I was struck by the fact that, these individuals lived in a Christian world. They were all Christian people. And yet, there was this sort of broad array of different beliefs, folk beliefs, that were currents of thought informing that Christianity. And so, one thing that you find if you read the historiography is that what the, what the common people thought of witches and what magistrates and higher-ranking people, legal people, thought about witches, often wasn't the same. And in fact, if you talk to common people, they would look to maleficium to identify a witch. It would be you know so and so went away muttering from me and then later, my baby was scalded. You know that would be an example of maleficium. And it had to do with kind of personal wrong doing through magical means. And yet, the crime of witch craft was an ecclesiastical crime. And so, the, the definition of a witch differed the higher up you went on a social scale. And so, I was, I was interested to explore some of these threads or at least to try to un-weave some of these threads a little bit, and complicate the narrative a bit. And the interest thing is, I've had a lot of really great correspondences with people who feel that their own kind of, spiritual identification is articulated in the book in a way that they haven't necessarily seen in other stories. Or in other approaches to the material. Which is wonderful. It makes me feel very good. >> Along -- kind of along those lines, I was just wondering, is, does religion play a role at all in the 1991 setting? Were you're trying to display a certain message about that? Or is it something that just kind of, because it exists so strongly in the Salem setting, and I was wondering, and a lot of themes, transcend, and I was wondering if that was one of them. >> Well, I think that it's part of the story in the 1991 part of the story too, but the language we use to describe it is different. you know, it's, some historians have argued that we are currently living through the third Great Awakening, which started in the 1960's and 1970's and that we're still living through it. That this was a time when American religious life changed very drastically. one example I've used with my students to define that is you can now take yoga at the YMCA. And that is not, that seems totally normal, and yet in 1950 it would've been unheard of. And so, American religious life has changed over the last generation. but the difference is that it has changed in a slightly different direction. You know in the 1990s, at least in the realm in which Connie is living, It's not discussed in the same explicit terms that it would've been in Deliverance's time. And so one of the things I was trying to explore with Connie as a character was, she, it's, she's in some res, respect on a journey of credulity. I mean, she begins as a thoroughly intellectual creature, as someone who lives for the archive. Who is only able to believe in what she can see and touch. And one of the important roles that Sam plays for her is to have her question her assumptions to a greater degree. To approach her own belief system with the same critical eye that she would approach a historical text. And and so, I, I would say that the question of religion and its, its relationship to, to reality and to our lives and to the way we understand the world to work is very much a part of the story in 1991. But is maybe not articulated in quite the same language as it is in the historical part. Yes. >> You briefly touched on it a little bit earlier you know these cards of thoughts around folk magic. And I think one of the most interesting things about this book is magic sort of comes to life in ways that we don't always think of it in Salem Witch Trials. And one thing that I found most fascinating is the way that magic sort of manifests itself in form of pain, which is really like, you know, is something that I have never seen before. Why, why, why was it, why was it painful to in your opinion, why did you choose to go about it or display in that way? >> To be honest with you, I think part of it was that, maybe this is an example of my own puritan world view, that you, that, that you have to pay for a special privilege. I mean, I think in some respect, respect I was informed by having read folktales, older folktales from Europe. which, when sanitized, by Disney and by popular culture, just show magical, wonderful things happening without loss. But if you look at the old, original version, for instance, of "The Little Mermaid," she gets to have human legs, and every step she takes feels like she's stepping on a thousand knives. and, and Yeah. It's, it's kind of painful and sorted. And so, one thought that I had was that I wanted Connie, and Deliverance, and their family to have this skill. But I wanted to kind of make explicit that it would cost them. And it cost them socially. It cost them legally. And it cost them spiritually. And it cost them physically. And to an extent, to extend that idea, there is a strongly implied relationship between being a woman in this family, and losing your loved one, your husband, at a young age. Now on the one hand, I leave it kind of ambiguous as to whether that is a causal thing or not. on the one hand, it could just be that living in the past was dangerous business if you were a laboring man. Even if you weren't, that, you know, accidents were one of the things that you'd run into. And the effected life expectancy. So that's a possibility. But I'm also building on the fact that, generally speaking. In fact, I can only think of one exception to this rule. If a man was accused as a witch in the early modern period in North America, it was because he was married to a woman who was already accused, generally speaking. that there was this sense that witchcraft as a practice almost had a contagion aspect to it, that it could originate in a women and then touch her husband and her children. and in fact, one of the I'm forgetting who it was now, of course, now that I've mentioned it, but one of the people who was accused during Salem was actually the granddaughter of a woman who had been tried as a witch in Lynn, Massachusetts a generation earlier. >> It sort of ties in to things we touched on earlier in your introduction, about the parallel structures between the 1991 narrative and the 17th-century narrative, >> M-hm. >> where you have these two generations of three women who are living separated by this huge gap in time but we get to read it in the novel. It's happening almost simultaneously. but [INAUDIBLE] studies, but also as we are sort of following along and trying to piece together the bits of the story >> Mm hmm. >> As well. It's a bit that stuck out to me in these novels, the way that Dact seems to be a catalyst for the events that, that end up taking place. >> Mm-hm. >> Connie's story at least in the confides of the book, really takes off when her grandmother, Sophia died. >> Mm-hm. >> So when Sophia dies, she has to go to the house in the first place. >> Mm-hm. >> and had Deliverance day and not died in the story. >> Right. >> and so I'm interested in how, how does that I guess frame the context of the novel when the end of a life sort of begins to start of another kind of story and is that something that's cyclical in the context of these families or I don't want to look at it as just sort of like a means to an end. Or we wouldn't want to write about it unless we know somebody has died. But I think if there's something interesting there to kind of exacerbate a little bit further. >> Um-hm. I think that's a fabulous question that nobody, by the way, has ever asked me before. So, I will have to come up with something very clever, off the cuff, just to answer it. But I, I was definitely thinking about the question of legacy in the course of this story. And the way that history kind of can inflect our experiences of the present in ways that perhaps we don't necessarily anticipate or don't really understand. and so I think, an answer to your question, for instance. We see Deliverance's death is a catalyst for the entire story. but it also, the nature of her death, determines the way that her family lives for generations afterwards. So and that's actually based on, facts from the historical record been around 1710, a lot of family members of people who had been put to death at Salem petitioned the state for restitution, because they were impoverished because of the way that the legal system worked at that time. They, they, the experience of having their loved ones in prison, for which you had to pay, by the way, and as well as the social constraint. The social difficulty around a largely barter economy. And an economy that was dependent on having a good reputation. that it stained families for generations. That's one of the reasons that in 19th century Salem it was actually very impolite to talk about the witch crisis. Because it was just, it was tacky [LAUGH] to bring it up, precisely because, because for so many families, the economic fallout, and to some degree, the social fallout, was so stark. And we see this in Nathaniel Hawthorne in his writing. his most explicit address of the shame that he felt from being associated with one of the hanging judges, as it were, of the Salem witch crisis, is explicitly addressed in The House of The Seven Gables. And if I remember correctly in his essay on the Custom House as well. that there was this social taint that he felt very keenly, and he was writing in 1850 which is, you know, not close [LAUGH] to that time period.