Monday, August 27, 2012

Karen Vorbeck Williams - My Enemy’s Tears: The Witch of Northampton - Author Interview

Author Interview

1. How did you come up with the title?
My Enemy’s Tears: The Witch of Northampton came to me very late. My book required a great deal of research and it was while reading some Puritan poetry that I found the words: “the enemy’s tears.” It just jumped out at me because that is exactly what the book is about, having an enemy, someone who blames you for their misfortunes, hating and fearing you so much that they want you dead. Unfortunately I don’t remember the book I was reading at the time.

2. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Readers have mentioned a number of messages they have taken away. The book is about an ancestor of mine (my 11th great grandmother) who was accused of witchcraft in 17th century New England—fertile soil for messages, don’t you think. The very first message goal I had while writing the book was to help people understand that time and that culture. Why did early modern people believe so strongly in the power of the devil and witchcraft?

3. How much of the book is realistic?
The book is as factual as I could possibly make it nearly 400 years after the story happened. Actually, my intention from the start was to be as true to the real story as I could, to do my best to understand these characters and their world.

4. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
I’d have to think long and hard about that. Nothing comes to mind.

5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Believing that I could write this book.

6. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned a world of things, a universe full of things. Do you have another 450 pages for me to fill? For our purposes here I’ll pick one thing: hire a good editor and edit until you drop.

7. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
It was when my high school freshman English teacher Esther Conway asked her class to write a short story. I really loved making up the story and writing it. When I turned it in she gave it a low mark and as she handed it back to me announced to the whole class, “This is too well written. I don’t believe Karen wrote it herself.” My mother told me that Miss Conway had given me a “backhanded compliment.”

8. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I love so many that the question is impossible to answer but I can say that I want a lot from a book and writers like Jane Austen, John Steinbeck, Charles Dickens, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Strout, Dorothy L. Sayers have what I want—great stories, brilliant words. Right now I’m reading East of Eden again. I also enjoy non-fiction. No surprise, Erik Larson is my favorite.

9. Tell us your latest news.
That would be the book I’m deep into writing now and the book I want to write next. The first is my version of a mystery. My editor says it is NOT a genre mystery, but that’s okay with me. The second is a non-fiction I’m working on with a researcher—a book about an historic house where I used to live, where I raised my children. 

10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I would want to thank them for being so very generous with their praise for the book, their openness about how much the book meant to them and how they were moved by Mary’s incredible story.

About the Book

My Enemy’s Tears: The Witch of Northampton is based on the historical record of Mary Bliss Parsons and Sarah Lyman Bridgeman, whose lives trace the journey of English Separatists to the New World, the growth of the first settlements along the Connecticut River from Hartford to Northampton, the lives of women in 17th century New England, and the conflict of faith and reason that gave rise to American democracy.

The Puritans in Hartford, which is at first little more than a campsite, find the wilderness a terrifying place full of warring natives, pestilences and floods destroying their crops, blazing comets, earthquakes and hurricanes—all portents of God’s anger or a witch’s meddling curse. Mary Bliss and Sarah Lyman grow up amid Puritan superstition and piety, busy with their household chores, one imagining a life different from her mother’s and the other eager to marry and bear sons.

Mary Parsons and Sarah Bridgeman spend their married lives in the villages of Springfield and Northampton, where a youthful disagreement festers into a reason to hate and then to fear. As the years pass, one accuses the other of murder by witchcraft, prompting a trial before the Court of Assistants in Boston—17 years before the infamous Salem Witch Trials.

My Enemy’s Tears looks at two lives—one blessed and one cursed—and the transcendent power of forgiveness.

Price: $20.95
Pages: 450
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Wheatmark
Release date: October 2011
Buy links: Amazon

About the Author

It all started at her grandmother's knee.

Karen Vorbeck Williams grew up hearing stories about her ancestor who was accused of witchcraft in New England: Mary Bliss Parsons who lived in Northampton, Massachusetts and was indicted, imprisoned and stood trial for witchcraft in 1675, 17 years before the Salem witch trials.

Although Karen believed her grandmother, she didn’t necessarily believe in witches – until she saw one for herself.

One evening just after sunset when Karen was a child, a dark figure looked in through the living room window of her family’s home. The old woman cupped her hands around her face and fixed her eyes on the 3 Vorbeck sisters who were gathered in a frightened knot whispering, “A witch.” The stranger stared a moment, then fled into the mounting dusk.

What Karen didn’t know then was that her childhood reaction to the dark figure in the window was as old as time itself, that thousands upon thousands of innocent people had died in flames or at the end of a rope because of the accusations of young girls, fearful clergy or farmers whose crops had failed.

The stories she heard about Mary instilled a lifelong fascination in Karen. She wanted to know the truth about this woman. Who was she? Legend said this witch of Northampton was young and a great beauty—if haughty and outspoken. But many of the people who knew Goodwife Parsons as a flesh and blood woman were quite certain that she had made friends with the Devil, that her incantations made their cows die, their spinning go awry and sickened their newborn babies. They believed she could murder with her spells.

Karen spent 20 years researching and writing the story of her ancestors’ adventures settling the New World. Though it took many years to write her novel My Enemy’s Tears, she could not resist sharing it with others. Now an amateur historian, she looks forward to finishing another book of historical fiction and a novel set in the 1940–50s. Previously, Williams has been an editor, a prize-winning photographer and a garden designer. In her free time, she designs websites for friends and enjoys her garden. She lives in Rumford, Rhode Island.

Links to connect with Karen:
Web site (book)

Web site (author)

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