Sunday, 25 July 2010

DEATH IN SALEM

The Hoydens are delighted to welcome Diana Foulds, author of DEATH IN SALEM, as a guest blogger this week.

DIANA FOULDS - DEATH IN SALEM

My new book, Death in Salem, is something of a fluke. I had spent a decade researching 17th-century Massachusetts in an effort to make sense of the 1692 execution of my 10th-generation ancestor, Martha Carrier, for witchcraft. What had she done to provoke such a fate? Why had colonial authorities jailed four of her five children and tortured her two teenage sons, while placing no onus at all on her Welsh husband?

The answers to these questions led me back to Oliver Cromwell, the regicides, and King Philip’s War. Since few resources offered anything but the briefest biographical sketches of Martha and Thomas Carrier, I delved deeper, sifting through birth records, passenger lists, local histories, land titles, and marriage certificates. At last I had the broad outlines of their strange and dissonant lives, though nothing of their inner thoughts. For that, I realized, I would have to write a novel.

To get a sense of place, I traveled to East Anglia and explored the Massachusetts pastures the Carriers had farmed. By 2008, my manuscript was complete, if unwieldy. I wanted it to be as historically accurate as I could make it, since I knew that many American readers would recognize their own ancestors in the secondary characters. The trials themselves ended up playing a relatively minor role in the narrative, yet continually tripped me up. Despite reading numerous scholarly tomes on the infamous events, I couldn’t get it straight. Who was related to whom, exactly, and what set it off? I longed for a simple “who’s who” to the main players, from the afflicted girls to the Boston elite. Alas, nothing like that existed. Then it dawned on me: I had already done most of the research. Why not write it myself? Granted, it would distract me from the novel. But I was logjammed anyway. An exercise like this could pull me out. It might also spare other family historians years of research.

A few of the sixty-eight biographies came easy. Numerous books have been written about Cotton and Increase Mather, for example, and both left detailed diaries. For most, however, there was little to go by but sketchy trial testimony and family genealogies. Some, particularly the teenage accusers, posed a challenge. I found so few substantive references to Sarah Vibber, for instance, that it seemed wisest to just leave her out.

When the manuscript was nearing completion, a picture started to emerge. I realized that the majority of these New World settlers had suffered hardships every bit as traumatic as the witch hunt itself; no wonder they were haunted. Each of them had a story, and in a way, each was a microcosm of 17th-century Massachusetts, a fragment of the greater social mosaic. Viewed under a microscope, their response to the witchcraft accusations began to make sense. Suddenly the broader explanations -- the political, economic, and religious upheaval so often cited as contributing factors to the witchcraft frenzy – lost relevance. It wasn’t so much the legal paralysis or the religious indoctrination that caused the trouble, as it was the scythe that went missing from the barn, the milk that curdled, or the mysterious house burning.

More and more, I’m convinced that this human dimension might be the closest we can get to understanding how the participants themselves experienced this seminal event.

For a glimpse inside the book, search Death in Salem at Amazon.com.

Diane Foulds, who lives in Vermont, has worked in Vienna as a UPI reporter, in Hamburg and Washington, D.C. as a correspondent for the German news agency DPA, and in Prague chronicling the Bohemian glass industry for a 1994 book. Death in Salem is her fourth. Work on her novel continues.

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