I think most people prick up their ears when the Salem Witch Trials are mentioned. More than three centuries later the era still fascinates us. So I’m delighted to welcome Peni Jo Renner to Ascroft, eh? today to talk about her novel, Letters To Kezia.
Welcome Peni. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel.
PJR: It’s a sequel to Puritan Witch; The Redemption of Rebecca Eames, which fictionalized my own 9th great grandmother’s ordeal during the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. Her son Daniel was also accused and Letters to Kezia tells his story after the events in Puritan Witch. It’s set in 1693 Connecticut, told in a series of letters and flashbacks.
What prompted you to write about this historical event?
PJR: After the publication of Puritan Witch, a lot of people’s first question to me was, “What happened to Daniel?” Since there is very little factual information on what happened to him after 1692, my imagination had a broad field to play in!
How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?
PJR: The setting is a completely fictionalized town called Hereford, because most of the characters (except for Daniel, Mary and a handful of other characters) are my own invention. I found an unsatisfactory amount of information on colonial Hartford, CT (where Daniel actually did show up in 1693) so I created Hereford.
What research did you do for this book?
PJR: I was unable to visit the actual area, so I surveyed the land on Google Earth. I had done a lot of research on Puritan life for my first book, and since most of this story was completely fiction, I pretty much had free rein on the setting. But I did brush up on some colonial folkways.
Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel. Which is more difficult to write? Which to you prefer to write and why?
PJR: It depends. Sometimes the historic figures start to tell me their stories (with Puritan Witch, I felt as though I was channelling Rebecca after a while!). But then sometimes, like with the case of Absalom Hart, a completely fictitious character gets so fleshed out I prefer working with them because I don’t have to work around historical facts about them.
In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?
PJR: By trying to be as descriptive as possible without making the story drag. One book I tried to read began describing the main character’s ear for half a page! I try to keep the pace pretty fast (especially for the readers out there like me who have short attention spans!) and I hope I succeeded I bringing these characters to life enough that the reader could relate to them.
There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?
PJR: I must have tried 5 or 6 times to begin this novel from Daniel’s perspective, but a male perspective is just not easy for me! So eventually I decided I had to make it Mary’s story. I guess the male frame of mind is too much of a mystery to me! Absalom Hart was set to be the main character for the 3rd book in The Puritan Chronicles series. But despite being my own pure creation, I know now I can’t seem to do a male perspective, so I created a female character whose point of view will be paramount in that book.
Thanks for answering my questions, Peni. Despite the already teetering pile of books I have waiting to be read, I will have to add this one to it – and hope the whole lot doesn’t topple over on me…
About PENI JO RENNER: She is the author of the IPPY award-winning novel, Puritan Witch: the Redemption of Rebecca Eames. Originally from North Dakota, Peni now lives with her husband in Maryland where she is currently researching for the third book in the Puritan Chronicles series.