Monday, May 12, 2014

Interview with Peni Jo Renner, author of Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Peni Jo Renner to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her latest release, Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Peni. Great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames.  
Puritan Witch is the fictionalized account of one woman’s story of endurance during the 1692 Salem Witchcraft Hysteria. She was one of over 140 unfortunate souls who was accused and imprisoned because of a year-long reign of madness that swept over three counties in colonial Massachusetts.

With so many victims, why did you choose to focus on Rebecca Eames? 
Two reasons; 1, because her story has never been told before, and 2, she is my ninth great-grandmother! Since its release in September of 2013, I have come into contact with at least seven very distant cousins, all claiming to be descendants of Rebecca Eames. In fact, it was a third cousin who told me about Rebecca in the first place. Apparently a lot of Eames descendants are interested in their family history!

Trial records can only tell us so much about Rebecca. How did you approach characterizing her for your novel and what sort of impression do you hope she leaves on your readers?  
I of course read everything I could find about her for my research—there are even examples of her own handwriting still in existence today! One historian, Sidney Pearley, mentions Rebecca in his book, History of Boxford. In one instance, he mentions Rebecca being “not as good as she could have been,” which opened up a lot of questions for me. What did he mean by that? She doesn’t come across as very well-liked in his writings and apparently he wasn’t a fan of hers, but this being my ancestress, I had to make her a character the reader would feel for. At the same time, I didn’t want her to appear as some tortured saint, or a spineless, “woe is me” type.

Nearly four hundred years separate us from the series of hearings and prosecutions that immortalized Salem Village. Where did you start in terms of recreating colonial Massachusetts and the Puritan society in which the story unfolds? 
I live in Maryland, but grew up on the plains of North Dakota, so in my imagination, the setting kept being imagined as a prairie town. I knew this wasn’t at all correct, so in 2012 I visited Boxford, to get a feel for the area. I also did research in Salem, but the most rewarding part of the trip was visiting Rebecca’s grave! After seeing her final resting place, I scrapped everything I’d written and started over, describing the wooden, hilly terrain that I couldn’t have otherwise written about had I not seen the area firsthand. In fact, after visiting the gravesite, it was like I was really channeling Rebecca and the writing began to flow effortlessly. 

Several readers have commented on your brutally realistic description of punishments suffered by the accused. Why did you feel it necessary to recreate their suffering with such authenticity? 
It was a nasty, brutal situation and I didn’t want to sugarcoat anything. I wanted the reader to feel the misery of the incarcerated, experience the despair of the families, and even smell the suffocating stink of the witch’s dungeon.

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing? 
Oddly, the dungeon scenes were the easiest to write. I just tried to imagine the filthiest, nastiest, more horrendous conditions I could—and that required some creativity because I’ve lived a rather sheltered life! lol

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it?  
The trial scenes, because what I knew about 17th century legal proceedings was very limited. For that reason, I contemplated strongly on how best to handle them, and chose to go pretty light in details. 

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time with or expanded on? 
While keeping Rebecca the central character, I wanted to give time to each of her family members. In real life, Rebecca was the mother of eight children, and I narrowed the number down to four, to keep the story’s population down and prevent the reader from getting confused about who was who. I also kept the story relatively short and fast-paced because I wrote it for readers like myself who have short attention spans. That said I would have liked to have given more attention to some of the more minor characters. 

Historical novelists frequently have to adjustment facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames and if so, what did you alter and why?  
After I finished the manuscript, I had Carol Majahad, the archivist at the North Andover Historical Society, fact-check my work.  Some things I let slide for the sake of the book’s readability. For example, Sheriff Corwin didn’t interrogate the accused witches, but since he and the jailer, William Dounton, were the two heavies in the story, I gave Corwin that duty. Also, in real life, a mother and daughter were both accused of witchcraft. They were distinguished by “Mary Lacy Sr. and Mary Lacy Jr”, which I thought would only confuse the reader, so I cast aside the mother and made the daughter a minor character.

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?  
Definitely Rebecca! I’d give her a loving, appreciative hug and ask her, how did she find the strength to survive that ordeal? How did it affect her faith? Oh, I’d have SO many questions to ask Rebecca!

What do you hope readers take from Rebecca’s story? Is there a particular theme you hope resonates your audience?  
I hope the reader acknowledges the danger in religious fanaticism, and realizes that greed and corruption flourished even in those days. Hopefully the reader will come away with a little more knowledge of the 1692 witchcraft hysteria and some insight into the human psyche. 

Okay, we've talked a lot about your book. Let's switch gears and talk a little bit about you. How would describe your writing process?  
Undisciplined. Sporadic. Spontaneous. I will go for weeks at a time without writing one syllable. Then, in the middle of the night, a great scene or even a single phrase will come to me and I’ll have to jot it down. Other times, I can’t type out the words fast enough! I admire writers who can write every day at scheduled times. I don’t work like that.

Two words: writer's block. How do you deal with it? 
I get frustrated and pouty. I eat chocolate and drink coffee excessively. Then, I take my patient, easy-going husband’s advice and just ride it out until I am inspired again. 

Who are your favorite authors?  
All-time favorite is Margaret Mitchell. If I could write anything close to Gone with the Wind, I’d die happy for sure.  I also like James Alexander Thom, Dan Brown and Ken Follett. 

What are you currently reading? 
Consider the Dragonfly by Malcolm Ivey. A writer friend of mine recommended it after I told her I was struggling with making a hardened character likeable. This book’s main character is a pretty troubled kid, and you do kind of root for him although he’s no angel. It’s a good read and I am enjoying it.

What do you like to do when you're not writing? Any hobbies? 
I love to read. I also spin yarn, crochet, knook (a hybrid of crochet and knit!), and I am always looking to learn new things.   I also enjoy flower- and herb-gardening and making homemade gifts.

Where do you stand on the coffee or tea debate? 
COFFEE, all the way! After a 20-ounce café’ mocha hits my system, I feel like every cell in my body turns into a big happy smiley face!

And finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? 
Yes, I am currently working on a sequel to Puritan Witch, since many of my early readers expressed an interest in what happened to Rebecca’s son, Daniel. 

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Peni Renner is the author of “Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames”, an award-winning historical novel based on the true-life account of Peni’s 9th great 03_Peni Jo Rennergrandmother. The book is Renner’s first published work, and follows Eames’ life and struggles in 1692 Massachussetts during the Salem Witchcraft Trials.

Writing historical fiction has always been a lifelong dream of mine. I was discouraged for many years after receiving multiple rejection slips, and turned to other creative outlets like crocheting, quilting and cross-stitch for many years. Then I met a 3rd cousin of mine online who is also into geneology and history. She told me we shared a common ancestor who was involved in the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria of 1692, and her story had never been told. My love of writing was rekindled and I began to research this ancestor, Rebecca Blake Eames. In August of 2012 I had the privilege of visiting her grave in Boxford, Massachusetts.

After months and months of research, writing, rewriting and revising, Puritan Witch came into being, featuring a lovely sketch done by my sister-in-law, Jane Sisk.

I have several other story ideas I am working on at the moment, all pertaining to interesting ancestors my 3rd cousin has introduced me to.

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Format: Print & eBook
Publication Date: September 17, 2013
Released by: iUniverse
ISBN-10: 1491705930
Length: 242 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Check out all the stops on Peni Jo Renner's Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca EamesVirtual Tour & Book Blast Schedule

Monday, April 28
Book Blast at Broken Teepee
Book Blast at Our Wolves Den
Tuesday, April 29
Book Blast at The Lit Bitch
Book Blast at A Book Geek
Book Blast at The Musings of ALMYBNENR
Book Blast at Literary Chanteuse
Wednesday, April 30
Review & Giveaway at Closed the Cover
Thursday, May 1
Book Blast at Historical Fiction Obsession
Friday, May 2
Book Blast at Caroline Wilson Writes
Saturday, May 3
Book Blast at Griperang’s Bookmarks
Sunday, May 4
Book Blast at I’d Rather Be Reading
Monday, May 5
Book Blast at Kincavel Korner
Tuesday, May 6
Review at Just One More Chapter
Wednesday, May 7
Review at Books in the Burbs
Book Blast at Kelsey’s Book Corner
Thursday, May 8
Book Blast at Curling Up with a Good Book
Friday, May 9
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Book Blast at Carpe Librum
Monday, May 12
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Book Blast at West Metro Mommy
Tuesday, May 13
Review & Interview at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Book Blast at Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, May 14
Book Blast at Historical Tapestry
Thursday, May 15
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews
Review at Impressions in Ink
Friday, May 16
Book Blast at Historical Fiction Connection
Monday, May 19
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Tuesday, May 20
Review at 100 Pages a Day
Book Blast at The Maiden’s Court
Wednesday, May 21
Book Blast at So Many Books, So Little Time
Thursday, May 22
Guest Post at Bibliophilic Book Blog
Friday, May 23
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Book Blast at The Mad Reviewer
Book Blast at Reviews by Molly
Saturday, May 24
Book Blast at Book Nerd
Monday, May 26
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective
Tuesday, May 27
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
Guest Post at Layered Pages
Wednesday, May 28
Book Blast at CelticLady’s Reviews
Friday, May 30
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Monday, June 2
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Book Blast at To Read or Not to Read

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