Friday, November 21, 2008

Interview with Kathleen Kent, author of The Heretic's Daughter

Recently I read and reviewed The HERetic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent. I liked her work immensely. When I asked to do an interview with her, she was kind enough to agree despite a busy schedule. So here I go, without much ado!


1. How much time did it take to write The Heretic's Daughter? Did you have stumbling blocks in the way? If so, what?

It took me about five years to do the research and writing of the novel. I studied every bit of historical source material on the Salem witch trials I could find as well as family genealogical records. I visited historical societies throughout New England and read quite a few letters and sermons from 17th century Massachussetts to get the rhythm and cadence of the language right. English today in the U.S. is quite a bit different than the way the colonists spoke in the 1690's, so my most difficult task was getting the narratives to sound authentic, without making it too cumbersome for the modern reader. I went through four major drafts of the original manuscript before I started sending it out to agents and publishers.

2. Do you have any favourite spot that you like to write in (i.e. sitting on the bed, in a comfortable chair or out in the open, etc.)?

I actually wrote "The Heretic's Daughter" at a little desk in my kitchen. My husband traveled for business most of the week, and my son was in school, so the house was quiet. Now my husband works from home, so I have moved my desk up to my bedroom where I can close the door, turn off the phone and write. I usually try to work from 9:00 in the morning until 1:00 in the afternoon.

3. What was the process you went through to find a publisher for you book? Was it dificult?

I had no contacts in publishing and didn't have a clue how to publish my work---so I went to the book store and bought a book, "How to find an agent." I made a list of agents in the U.S. whose clients wrote historical fiction and sent out cover letters saying, in effect, "Please read my book because. . . ." I got a lot of very nice (and some not so nice) rejection letters before getting interest from my present agent. She had done her master's thesis in college about the Salem witch trials and loved my novel. It was she who approached the publishers and, though her help, I was able to get a deal. It took about a year from the time I started looking for an agent to the time I was signed to a publisher.

4. Are you writing full-time? If yes, do you think it is a good decision?

I am writing full time, working on my second novel which is a prequel to "The Heretic's Daughter." It too is historical fiction and will explore the life of Thomas Carrier who, legend says, was one of the executioner's of King Charles I of England. I have always wanted to be a full time novelist but, because of family obligations, I worked full time in various commerical enterprises. It wasn't until I moved with my family from New York City to Texas, and after years of saving up for this purpose, that I was able to write full time. It is a dream come true to be published and I'm filled every day with gratitude that I have the opportunity to have a second book published.

5. What were you doing before you decided to be writer? Did that help in your writing career in any way?

I worked for ten years as an Operations Manager in commodity trading in New York, and then for another ten years as a defense conversion contractor, traveling to Russia for the U.S. Department of Defense--in essence turning swords into ploughshares. So my work was completely unrelated to publishing, but I always secretly wanted to be a wrtier.

6. Can you please describe you writing style and the various influences you have had or having?

My biggest influences, I believe, were from reading Charles Dickens, Edgar A. Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne as a child. I had no formal training in writing other than English classes in college, so I had to develop my own writing style over the five years I researched the novel. Many of the stories in the book were told to me by my mother and grandmother about the Carrier family and the Salem witch trials, but the actual narration was either influenced by the actual court transcripts or from the contemporary language of theologians writing about the events surrounding the witch hysteria of 1692.

7. When is your next book coming out and about what?

I am now writing the prequel to "The Heretic's Daughter" which will hopefully be finished by the spring. It will also be published by Little Brown and will explore the life of my 9 times great-grandfather, Thomas Carrier, who lived to 109 years of age, was over 7 feet tall, and was, by family accounts, a soldier for Cromwell during the English civil wars.

8. Do you have any favourite authors?

Can you tell us why you like them? I love historical fiction. Some of my favorite contemporary authors are Iain Pears and Charles Palliser because of the way they capture time and place in the details of their writing. I also love Annie Dillard for her gorgeous writing style; "Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek" takes my breath away. I also love Cormac McCarthy---his "border trilogy" is, to me, one of the most brilliant depictions of the fortitude, courage, and violence, of the American experience of the new west.

9. What are you reading now?

I just finished "The Witch's Trinity" by Erika Mailman which is about the witch hysteria in a small village in Germany in the 16th century. The similarities to the witch trials in New England are very sobering. The usual suspects were women who were brought to trial and executed because they were mentally unstable, midwives and "healers", or very outspoken and challenging to the society in which they lived.

10. Do you have any book recommendations for my readers?

I recently finished "The Good Thief" by Hannah Tinti, which is about an orphan adopted by thieves who take the child on a strange and dangerous journey towards the discovery of his parentage and family history. It is very "Dickensian"---dark and, at times, scary. Great fun.


Thanks Kathleen! It was fun doing the interview.

Check out

Kathleen's site