Roots in Gothic Fiction
Posted by Literary Titan
The Spirit of Grace is a murder mystery story set in the 1940’s against the backdrop of WWII-era California. I thought the detail in this story did a great job in capturing that era. What research did you do to understand the backdrop for your story?
My father fought in World War II, and he and my mother moved to the San Francisco Bay Area when he mustered out of the Navy. As a child, I was regaled with stories of my father’s time in the war, and of their time as a newly married couple in San Francisco. Those stories inspired me set the series in this era and location. As for research, once I decide exactly when my story will take place (Grace takes place in October 1942), I read the newspapers from that time, along with magazines (such as Life and The New Yorker), I read novels on the best seller lists at that time, and have discovered a passion for old time radio shows, which I listen to as well. When I am writing a novel, I don’t read anything that is not period appropriate. I really try to capture what it felt like to live during that time period. The beauty of setting a story in San Francisco is that it is easy for me to be in a certain place (Ocean Beach, the Legion of Honor, The Cliff House, to name a few) and really conjure up the past. I hope my readers will be transported to 1940s San Francisco, and love it there as much as I do.
Sarah is the only witness to her mother’s murder and is under suspicion, but has amnesia. What was your inspiration for Sarah’s character and the situation that she was in?
I knew when I wrote this book that Sarah needed to have some flaw that isolated her from her family, while at the same time casting suspicion on her. I wasn’t sure how to capture that exact scenario, so I stepped away from the story for a few days, and viola, this situation presented itself. I am also seeding the backstory so the reader knows that Sarah has issues, and these issues become apparent to the reader as the story unfolds.
I enjoyed the romantic relationship between the handsome writing assistance Zeke and Sarah. How did their relationship develop while you were writing it? Did you have an idea of where you wanted to take it or was it organic?
A little bit of both, actually. I don’t write romance per se, but Sarah needed someone to help her, a partner, if you will, who had his own issues. I especially wanted her to have a man around who was interested in her and who ignored her gorgeous mother in law. But Zeke and Sarah’s relationship unfolded organically, and it is still unfolding now, as I write book three. Zeke is a man who is way ahead of his time. You have to remember that during this time period, women couldn’t open a bank account, or rent an apartment (to name two examples) without the help of a man, be it a husband, father, or brother. Zeke—as the reader will discover—gives Sarah her freedom. He believes in her, and helps her grow by giving her freedom and honoring her as a person.
I think that the story has roots in the Gothic romance tradition. Do you read books from that genre? What were some books that you think influenced The Spirit of Grace?
Grace does have its roots in Gothic fiction. Most of the books I read are British, and are written before 1960. I love Dorothy Eden, Mary Stewart, Daphne Du Maurier, Patricia Wentworth, and—of course—Agatha Christie. I think that I pull from the vast reading I’ve done in this genre, especially because it is my intention to write in the style of these old-time Gothics. It’s interesting because I know these books are not terribly popular right now, but I have connected with so many readers who remember these books, and love these stories. It’s also a pleasure to write during a time when there wasn’t Internet or cell phones. While I embrace our modern way of communicating, I do think technology disconnects us from each other. I like to remember what it was like before we were so connected, and I hope that my stories are able to help my readers remember that, too. I have a secret passion for Gothic mysteries from the 1940s through the early 1970s, such as those published by ACE Gothics. The covers are fabulous, and I find those stories to be so beautifully written, but often disregarded as women’s pulp fiction. When I created the Sarah Bennett Series, I intended on paying homage to those old stories, and to that particular style of writing. Hopefully modern readers will relate to my heroine, who doesn’t wait for someone (her romantic interest, for example) to save her. She saves herself, and becomes strong in the process.
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Sarah Bennett doesn’t remember the night her mother tumbled down the stairs at Bennett House, despite allegedly witnessing the fatal fall. There was talk of foul play, dark whispers, and sidelong glances, all aimed at Sarah, prompting her family to send her to The Laurels, an exclusive asylum in San Francisco, under a cloud of suspicion. Now, on the one-year anniversary of her mother’s murder, Sarah has been summoned home. Convinced of her innocence, she returns to Bennett House, hoping to put the broken pieces of her life back together. But when another murder occurs shortly after her arrival, Sarah once again finds herself a suspect, as she is drawn into a web of suspicion and lies. In order to clear her name, Sarah must remember what happened the fateful night her mother died. But as she works to regain her memory, the real murderer watches, ready to kill again to protect a dark family secret.
Posted in Interviews
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