Today I have a review of Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebeckah Eames, by Peni Jo Renner, as well as an interview with her about her writing. Check it out if you are a fan of Colonial History, Salem Witch Trails, or novels based on family history. And in the black circle on the cover….that is really her ancestor’s signature!
I just finished a short novel called Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebeckah Eames, by Peni Jo Renner, which was a true-life account of the authors ninth great grandmother. I enjoy colonial-era literature quite a bit, though most traditional publishers won’t yet publish them, so anytime I see a book come along from this era I am more than happy to take a read. Generally, though most of self-published, they are well-researched and well-written as this one was also.
Taking place in 1692 Massachussetts during the Salem Witchcraft Trials, Renner’s debut novel follows Eames’ life and struggles in this tumultuous time period of history. As Eames is wrongly imprisoned during the trials, what she and her fellow captives had to endure was enough to make you feel nauseous, let alone those women who were actually killed. The portion of the book dealing with the imprisonment and death sentences were emotional, especially as Rebecca lived through the dreadful day.
The novel is authentic in feel, the history fairly accurate, and as I already noted, the research was obviously done. With it being based on the author’s ancestral line, it makes it feel even more real. The dialogue was realistic for the time period and yet still easy to read and you felt connected to most of the characters and their feelings. I did appreciate how Renner gave us an account of how all family members and other felt during this time, not just those sentenced.
It’s a very quick read, at just over 200 pages. With such depth of history, I felt that she could have easily added more intrigue or background information and details in order to not only tell her family member’s tale but to educate reader on the Salem Witch Trails. I hope she considers giving her novel more room to grow the next time around and adding more character developments and historical information. However, if you are looking for a fast read you can breeze through in a night due to length and subject matter, this novel would allow for that.
Renner’s writing style flows well and is easy to read. It’s absorbing and harrowing. It isn’t like reading Katherine Howe (one of my fave authors who wrote The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane), but it is a definite addition you’ll want for your book library if you enjoy colonial history. I enjoy family history and genealogy myself, tracing my ancestors back to 1600s early America as well, and think it was amazing of her to put her family’s history into words. I look forward to checking out Renner’s next book.
Interview, Peni Jo Renner~
Hi Peni! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I am pleased to have you here with us to chat about your book and life as a writer. It seems your book, The Puritan Witch, has been well-received in the indie book world. What has this been like for you, as you sit back and take it all in?
Peni: Thanks, Erin. I’m happy to be here! This is just a dream come true for me, having my book published.
Erin: I look forward to talking about it with you more. Let’s have a seat. May I offer you a drink? I’ve been offering so many hot drinks in Ohio as we had that horribly cold winter, but suddenly it is 80 degrees, so I’m having peach iced tea myself. What can I get for you?
Peni: I’ll take blackberry merlot if you’ve got it. 🙂
Erin: I’ll pour a glass! Let’s get started with some questions!
Q: The Puritan Witch is your first novel, I believe, and based on a family story. What was the inspiration behind your novel? Can you tell us about the family history behind it?
A: I have always been interested in genealogy, and I took advantage of a free 2-week trial offered by www.ancestry.com . I met some cousins online I didn’t know I had, and one of them—her name is Sandi—and I really hit it off. We started emailing and chatting often, and she told me how she has come across some very interesting ancestors. One of them was Rebecca Blake Eames, who happened to be one of the over 140 accused and/or imprisoned during the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria of 1692. It had been over 20 years since I tried to write anything, so I commented to Sandi, “It’s a shame I don’t write anymore; that’d make a great historical novel!” To which Sandi replied, “So write one,” or something to that effect. In any case, it was all that I needed to rekindle my passion for writing and—here we are!
Q: There also seems to be a resurgence of interest into the Salem Witch Trials. The question is raised if magic truly was being performed or if the acts were innocent traditional rituals and apothecary treatments. What do you believe? What types of things did you uncover in your research?
A: Personally, I don’t think there was any actual witchcraft involved in colonial Massachusetts. I think some bored girls were afraid of getting into trouble and so accused their slave woman of bewitching them. Then other girls followed suit to get the attention of adults. This followed to the adults accusing one another, until it got dangerously ridiculous. Some of the court documents and testimonies do leave me scratching my head because they’re so bizarre, like witnesses claiming the “afflicted girls” could contort their bodies in ways that weren’t humanly possible; maybe one of them was double-jointed? There was also the ergotism theory I considered exploring. It’s been suggested that the local crops had been infected by the fungus, ergot, and if ergot is consumed, it can produce hallucinations. For a time I considered using this angle to explain the hysteria, until I spoke to a very helpful archivist in North Andover, Massachusetts. She gave very compelling reasons why the ergotism theory couldn’t have been the reason.
Q: How did you conduct your research? Where did you find information? Did you use books, Internet, travel, or all of the above? Any techniques you found that you might share?
A: I used all of the above! It had been a long time since I’d studied the witchcraft trials so I had to brush up on my facts. I scoured the Internet and read every book I could find. I was fortunate to travel to Boxford, Massachusetts (Rebecca’s hometown) in August 2012. I spoke to the librarian and town archivist and—most exciting of all—I got to visit Rebecca’s grave! It was really important to me to visit the area so I could get a feel for the place.
Q: What do you hope that readers will take away after they read your novel? What issues do you raise, social warnings, or emotional concerns? In other words, do readers learn something about history from your book on an emotional level or is it strictly historical education?
A: Oh, this certainly isn’t “strictly historical education!” I’m not writing a textbook here. I hope the reader will get emotionally attached to the characters and really feel for them. Maybe the reader will stop and consider the truth of a matter before jumping to hasty conclusions. I want to show that greed and corruption is as old as humanity itself, but so is familial love.
Q: What was your most challenging part of writing your novel? What was your biggest success to you personally?
A: The legal process. I would have liked to had more detail with the court scenes, for example, but since I didn’t have the facts, I left things a little vague.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring historical authors? If so, what would you say to them encourage them or do you have any tidbits of knowledge, you know, those that you said “I wish someone would have told me that…!”?
A: What discouraged me from writing for so long was rejection from traditional publishers, so my advice is, go the self-publishing route! I did have to pay a few bucks to get my dream realized, but it was SO worth it.
Q: What other time periods or people of history are you interested in? Will you write a book surrounding the places or people?
A: Well, the colonial period wouldn’t have been my first choice to write about, I guess. The mid- to late- nineteenth century always appealed to me (GONE WITH THE WIND is my all-time favorite novel, just FYI). I always liked to learn how people did things “back then.” Maybe colonial is “my period,” since I am currently in the process of writing a sequel to Puritan Witch, and then researching for a third book to take place in 1689 New Hampshire, I might just stick with the colonial thing for awhile.
Q: Are you interested in writing other types of fiction? If so, what would you write? Do you have any story ideas already percolating or are you writing a second book as we speak?
A: Writing historical fiction was always my dream, and I seem to have answered your second question already…:)
Q: What authors do you read yourself? Who inspires you? Who do you learn from? Who makes you feel lost in a far off land?
A: Like I mentioned earlier, Gone With The Wind is my all-time favorite novel. I have read it over twenty times and each time it’s like revisiting an old friend, so Margaret Mitchell is a big inspiration. I also like James Alexander Thom, Ken Follett and Dan Brown. I try to analyze how they work their craft and get those images so vivid in my head.
Q: If you could tell a room full of people three words that describe you, what might those be?
A: Oh gosh, I dunno. Descriptions depend so much on the observer…think I’ll pass!
Q: Great question of the day given your subject matter, have you watched the new show SALEM on WGN?? I don’t get that channel but watched online on Hulu!
A: My husband Dave and I watched the premier episode, and I gotta tell you, my expectations weren’t all that high. First of all, due to my research, I spent the whole hour finding inaccuracies in Puritan life (i.e. Men and women did not sit together during church services). I realize they gotta do what they gotta do for ratings, but it’s just so far-out I don’t plan to watch any other episodes.
Erin comments: Ah, I liked it! Regardless of inaccuracies, it was a fun show to watch.
Q: Where can readers and writers connect with you? Where can they learn more about the Salem Witch Trials?
A: They can Like my Facebook author’s page: http://www.facebook.com/PuritanWitch and email me at email@example.com. They can find out all sorts of information by just Googling “Salem Witch Trials.” I would have loved utilizing the Internet when I was younger. And hopefully someday I’ll have a website but I gotta figure out how to do that first!
Erin comments: I am sure anyone can find anything by doing an Internet search, but most authors are happy to share a few resources they’ve found that they think are great for learning about a subject.
Erin: Thank you so much, Peni, for joining us today. I wish you the best of luck with your book and upcoming work. I’d love to have you back for a guest post one day when you have the time.
Peni: Thank you, Erin. I enjoyed it very much. I’ll be happy to guest post again when my second novel is out. ‘Bye, now!
Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames, Synopsis~
On a cold night in 1692, two young girls are caught up in the divining games of a slave woman-and then begin to act very strangely when the game goes wrong. Suddenly, Salem Village is turned upside down as everyone fears that witches may be involved. Six months later, as news of the girls’ strange behavior becomes known, fear and suspicion overwhelm a nearby farming community, pitting neighbors against neighbors and turning friends into enemies. When Rebecca Eames makes one careless utterance during a verbal attack on her family, she is falsely accused of witchcraft. After her fate is decided by three magistrates, Rebecca must endure a prison sentence during which she and her fellow captives have no choice but to valiantly struggle to find humanity and camaraderie among dire conditions. In this novel based on a true story, a woman wrongly imprisoned during the seventeenth-century witchcraft trials comes full circle where she must determine if she can somehow resume her life, despite all she has endured.
Praise for Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames~
“Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames is a story of the fear, suspicion, and accusations as they permeate the surrounding communities. The narration was exquisite, really painting a picture in my head and bringing to life the language of the Puritans much better than it usually is done. I loved that it was based on a true story and that the story really expands on a piece of the darkest of American history. Such a cool read!” – Katelyn Hensel, Readers’ Favorite
“Elegantly written, meticulously researched, and historically accurate, the author’s work rings true. … Renner’s vast talent as a writer is enhanced by the fact that she’s telling the story of her own family, completely captivating from beginning to end.” – Kelly Z. Conrad, award-winning author of Shaman
“In the colonial-era tale Puritan Witch, the plight of Rebecca Eames and her family plays out against the backdrop of one of the most intriguing periods in American history.” – Julie Castillo, writer and editor
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About the Author, Peni Jo Renner~
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 grandmother. 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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Twitter: @PeniJoRenner @hfvbt