I’m delighted to have author Jean Roberts as our guest today. I met Jean via Twitter, as part of the writing community.
Devon Ellington: The premise of WEAVE A WEB OF WITCHCRAFT is so interesting, because so often, the woman is the partner accused of witchcraft. In this case, it’s the man. And then she admits to being a witch. How did you find them?
Jean Roberts: Mary and Hugh Parsons are a fascinating couple who I first encountered while doing genealogy work on my family. Something about their tragic story resonated with me and I dropped the research on my ancestors in favor of delving into their history. I was excited to find that the testimony taken at Hugh’s deposition in 1651 is still available. The testimony paints a vivid picture of Hugh and Mary and from there I tried to recreate the circumstances that led to the accusations of witchcraft against him. I believe Mary suffered from a mental breakdown which led to her own confession of witchcraft. It’s hard to believe that intelligent people could find such accusations credible, and I tried to show how innocent actions could and were misinterpreted or misrepresented, much to the detriment of poor Hugh. What a scary world they inhabited.
DE: I have to ask the same question about BLOOD IN THE VALLEY. Do you come across these wonderful characters as part of your genealogical research and they inspire you? Or are you looking to tell a particular story and search for people who’ve lived it?
JR: When I was a young girl, I read a family history book, owned by my Grandfather, about my ancestors, the Thorntons. The book mostly dealt with the male members of the family, especially the Hon. Matthew Thornton, Esq., who signed the Declaration of Independence for the Colony/State of New Hampshire. I was flipping through the book, now mine, several years ago and came across the brief story of Catherine Wasson Clyde, niece of my ancestor and his brother Matthew Thornton. The story of the Cherry Valley Massacre and her survival really caught my attention. Questions immediately popped into in my head. What was her experience of the American Revolution? How did the average woman survive without her husband for months at a time? Were her feelings taken into consideration, valued, ignored? I felt like she came to me and begged me to write her story. I hope I did her justice.
DE: What is your process, once you settle on the characters? How much time do you devote to research for each of your books? How do you vet your sources?
JR: Historical accuracy is very important to me and hopefully to my readers. I want to paint a vivid picture of life as it was, from the clothing, to the food, to attitudes and social customs. I spent an inordinate amount of time on research, which is fine as I love it, but I generally end up with way more material than I need. One thing I learned while doing genealogy is the importance of sources. For my research I look for good primary source material which comes from as close to the time period as possible. Luckily for me, the depositions and some trial information exist and I was able to get a significant amount of information for those documents, for Weave a Web of Witchcraft. I have quite a few ancestors who arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1630s, so I was already very familiar with many sources for life in early New England.
For Blood in the Valley, I combed through countless online archives included the papers of George Clinton, Governor of New York, the papers of George Washington and many others. I read at least a dozen histories of the American Revolution and of New York. I also travelled from my home in Texas to the beautiful Mohawk Valley in New York and stood on the hilltop homesite of Catherine and Samuel Clyde in Cherry Valley. It was inspiring to stand where she stood and see what she saw. It was an amazing and emotional moment for me.
DE: How much do you have to cut out from your research, because it doesn’t drive the plot?
JR: A lot! Not every reader is going to share my passion for historical details and I have to fight my temptation to overload the book with historical minutia. I want there to be enough to make the reader feel immersed in my characters world without the book reading like an encyclopedia.
DE: What are you working on now?
JR: I am really excited about my next book, The Heron. Once again, I have tapped a few of my ancestors to help me tell my story, but this time they are only bit players. This book tells the dark tale of Mary, a woman who lived in New Hampshire in the late 1600s and Abigail a modern-day college professor. Their lives intersect in a house/ B&B called Pine Tree House, once Mary’s home. There is a bit of mind/time travel, a ghost and a love story. The timeline is split about 50/50 in the dangerous period of the late 1600s and in the current time. Historical accuracy is again very important, so I’ve included a lot of details of life along the Indian frontier of New Hampshire. The central themes are abuse survival, and the enduring nature of love.
Blood in the Valley onAmazon.
Weave a Web of Witchcraft on Amazon.
Jeanie Roberts, a proud mixture of English Puritan Great Migration Ancestors and Irish Immigrants, makes her home outside of Houston, Texas. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas, Houston with a BSN. Following in her father’s footsteps, Jeanie served in the United States Air Force and married an Air Force pilot. After touring around the world, her family settled in Texas, where she worked as a Nurse Administrator for a non-profit. She has one son, a soldier in the U.S. Army.
Jeanie divides her time between writing, family history/genealogy and traveling. She is currently working on her third novel. When not writing novels, Jeanie reviews books on her blog,The Book Delight, researches and posts about her ancestors on her blog, The Family Connection, and investigates mythical Native American Ancestry on her blog, Indian Reservations.