FAQ–The Loving Husband Trilogy

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions I receive about The Loving Husband Trilogy so I thought I’d have a go at answering them here.

1.Did you always know James and Sarah’s story would be a trilogy?

I did. From very early in the idea gathering process I knew the connection between James/Elizabeth/Sarah and I knew the ending as we find it in Her Loving Husband’s Return. The further I went into mapping out the story, the more I knew I wanted to cover several different historical periods. In order to keep the story as I saw it a manageable length, I split it into three books. I once said as a joke that I wanted to avoid writing a 900-page tome that would send readers screaming for mercy. I wasn’t too far off. The combined page count of the Loving Husband Trilogy is 818 pages.

2. How long did it take you to write the Loving Husband Trilogy?

It was four years, almost exactly to the day, from when I first pressed fingers to the keyboard typing out ideas for Her Dear & Loving Husband (in April 2009) until Her Loving Husband’s Return was published (in April 2013). It took two years for me to write Her Dear & Loving Husband since it took time for me to find the narrative thread. The plot was more complex than other novels I had written, weaving the way it does between the past and the present, and it took time for me to work it out.

I read about these authors who publish three, four, five books a year and I’m amazed by them. When all is said and done, it takes me between one and two years to write a book. Keep in mind I’m not writing the whole time. I have to live with an idea in my head for a while before I ever start writing. I have to kick the idea around, soften it up, pull it here and tug it there to see if there’s anything in those odd daydreams. I kicked the idea around about the vampire missing his long-dead human wife for about six months before I ever began writing. Once I start writing, it can take anywhere from six to eight months for me to have a draft I’m happy with, and then the revising and editing process is intensive because I’m persnickety about how the words read on the page. The revising and editing process takes me about three to four months.

3. Do you have beta readers?

Her Dear & Loving Husband wouldn’t be the story it is without the help of a critique extraordinare who became my beta reader. I saw the love story between James and Sarah so clearly in my head, but I was having trouble articulating it on the page. With the beta reader’s sharp eye and finely tuned comments, I was able to finally write the story I meant to write in the first place. Once I figured out what I was doing with Her Dear & Loving Husband, writing the next two was a much easier process.

Here’s a Loving Husband Trilogy F.Y.I: The original title of Her Dear & Loving Husband was The Vampire’s Wife. The beta reader suggested that The Vampire’s Wife was too much of a giveaway about the story, so after stumbling across Anne Bradstreet’s poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband” I changed it to Her Dear & Loving Husband. The revised title has the same idea as the original, but it takes more digging to figure out what it means. And I love that the poem was able to serve as a connection between James and Elizabeth and James and Sarah. Things like that make me happy.

4. Was Outlander or A Discovery of Witches an inspiration for Her Dear & Loving Husband?

No, which surprises even me now that I’ve finally read Outlander (now working my way through Dragonfly in Amber). I haven’t read A Discovery of Witches yet, but it’s close to the top of my TBR pile. I talked in this post about the similarities between Outlander and Her Dear & Loving Husband, so I understand why I get this question now. Any hunk named James—whether he’s from 18th century Scotland or 17th century England—is fine by me!

5. How do you come up with story ideas/characters?

For the story ideas, something—a news story, something I’ve seen in film or television, something I’ve read—captures my imagination, grabs hold of my brain cells, and won’t shake loose. I have a lot of ideas that float through my brain at any and all times of the day, but the ones that become novels are the ones that latch on and won’t let go. The Loving Husband Trilogy was born from reading Twilight, watching True Blood, and reading a number of other vampire novels. Victory Garden was inspired by a news report that said women weren’t voting in high numbers and I was reminded of a story I read about women who were arrested and force fed for fighting for the right to vote. Woman of Stones came about because I’ve always loved that story from the Bible: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” which to me is the secret to peace on earth. When It Rained at Hembry Castle was born from my love of Dickens and my fascination with Downton Abbey.

As to the characters, those are more of a mystery to me. I don’t know how to explain how I come up with characters except to say that to me, the characters are already there, inherent in the story, and it’s up to me to figure out who they are and what role they have in this tale I feel compelled to share. The characters and the story are too intertwined—I can’t separate them one from the other. When I started imagining this vampire mourning his long-dead human wife, that vampire was James, even if I didn’t always know his name.

6. How do you research the history in your fiction?

I know we live in the Internet age, but I’m still a fan of the old fashioned way of researching. I enjoy going to the library, searching the stacks, and weeding through the books to find exactly what I’m looking for. It’s no surprise to me that Sarah from The Loving Husband Trilogy is a librarian. One of the nice things about the Internet is that I can do some my library research from home. I still like to take my notes by hand. That’s a personal preference, but I feel like I absorb the information better that way. I do like that we’re able to access whole books on the Internet, and Google Books has become a strong resource. I love the Internet for on the spot research, like if I realize I need to know what might have been served at a meal in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692, though I often cross reference the information with several websites. I do my best to make sure the information I share in my fiction is accurate.

By the time I started writing Her Dear & Loving Husband in 2009, I learned that the purpose of historical fiction is for the history to illuminate the fiction, not for the fiction to illuminate the history. If you want to illuminate the history, write nonfiction. Paragraphs of facts that have nothing to do with the story, or that detract too much from the plot, slow the story down. As a result, I learned to do general research on the historical period for my own knowledge, but in my writing I’ll only use the historical bits that make sense within the story. In other words, Her Dear & Loving Husband isn’t a treatise on the Salem Witch Trials; instead, details of the witch hunts are used to help illuminate James and Sarah’s story.

7. Do you believe in paranormal elements, reincarnation, Wiccans? What do you think happens after we die?

I’ve had a lot of questions about whether or not I believe in the supernatural elements of the James and Sarah books. I don’t believe in vampires or werewolves. I don’t think it’s so much about believing in Wiccans since they’re really there. There are many all over the world who consider themselves Wiccan. Do they have magic powers like Jennifer and Olivia? I know Wiccans cast spells, and I’m not one to judge whether or not their spells work.

As for reincarnation…I certainly don’t know. I believe that human beings are composed of body, mind, and spirit. I believe we’re more than our earthly experiences and five senses show us. I believe our souls go on after our human bodies die, and I think it’s possible that those souls go on to be reincarnated into new life. That’s what my Buddhist friends believe.

The Loving Husband Trilogy is fiction, and the reason I love writing fiction above all else is because it allows me to explore the possibilities. Reincarnation may or may not happen—I certainly don’t know one way or the other—but writing these books was my way of wondering aloud what ghosts, vampires, and witches might look like if they were real.

8. Geoffrey? Really?

Geoffrey is a recurring character in The Loving Husband Trilogy, for those of you who don’t know. I’ve had this question asked a few different ways, and it always makes me smile. I can’t say too much for those of you who haven’t read Her Loving Husband’s Return, but it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for James and Sarah fans to learn that there’s more to James and Geoffrey’s relationship than meets the eye. The clues are there, mainly in Her Loving Husband’s Curse. A couple of you have written to me to say you figured the mystery out before it was revealed at the end of HLHR. Well done! I love it when readers read with an eye for detail.

9. Will there be a Book Four? Pretty please?

When readers first started asking this question after Her Loving Husband’s Return was published, my answer was “Probably not.” I felt James and Sarah’s story had been pretty well wrapped up in Her Loving Husband’s Return and I wasn’t sure there was anything left to say. Plus, I had other stories poking me in the ribs with pointed sticks until I wrote them down and set them free. After That You Are Here and When It Rained at Hembry Castle were released I started wondering if there was more to say about James and Sarah.

I realized that there had to be more to James and Elizabeth’s experiences in Salem Town in 1692. Has James really come to terms with what happened during that inexplicable madness? Thus, Down Salem Way was born. I have no publication date for you right now. I can tell you I’m researching it and writing it, and the story has finally started to click so that I can see how it’s all going to play out. If you’re dying for any new James and Sarah you can get, you can follow the progress of Down Salem Way on wattpad.com. I’m posting new pieces on Wattpad as I write them. These aren’t revised, edited chapters. These are first draft meanderings fresh off the press, so to speak. But, yes, Virginia, there will be a fourth book. After that, who knows?

10. When/why did you start writing historical fiction?

Like most things about my writing, I started writing historical fiction by accident. I knew since high school that writing of some kind was in my future, though I didn’t know myself at that time what kind of writing it would be. At first I thought I’d be a journalist, but one high school journalism class showed me the “Just the facts, Ma’am” style of news writing didn’t work for me. In college, I turned my attention to screenwriting. I took a number of screenwriting classes, and I even worked for a film production company.

Around this time, I watched Ken Burns’ PBS documentary about the American Civil War, and I had an inkling of a story I wanted to tell about how brothers, brought up in the same family, could come to fight on opposing sides in a war. When I sat down to write the screenplay, I realized, at about page twenty, that the screenplay format was too small for what I wanted to write. Screenplays are blueprints for directors, actors, set designers, costume designers, directors of photography, and the many others necessary to make a film. There were times when I worked in “The Industry” when I felt like the screenwriter was the least important person there. I didn’t want to write a blueprint. I wanted to describe exactly what the characters were wearing. I wanted to go into detail about the room they were sitting in. I wanted to get into the characters’ heads and wonder why they made the choices they did. In order to do that, I needed to write a novel. Thus, my journey into historical fiction had begun.

11. What other books have you written?

My other books can be found on the My Books page.

The only common denominator in my books is they’re all written by me. Other than that, each book is completely different from the ones that came before (except for the Loving Husband Trilogy, of course). I write about whatever I’m fascinated with at the time, which is why my subjects are so varied. After I’ve finished Down Salem Way, I’m writing a memoir about what writing has meant to me. Then I’m writing the last installment of Hembry Castle, and after that will come an historical novel set around the Oregon Trail, an idea I’ve been kicking around for some time.

I love hearing from my readers. Keep the comments and questions coming to meredith(at)meredithallard(dot)com or contact me through my social media networks. You can find the links on the right sidebar. You guys are the best!

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Salem Before, During, and After the Witch Trials

James’s House (Sorry…the John Ward House)

I loved visiting Salem, Massachusetts while I was writing Her Loving Husband’s Curse, the second book in the Loving Husband Trilogy. Imagine my surprise when, behind the Peabody-Essex Museum, I encountered the John Ward House, which was built in 1684. Long, brown wooden slats. Diamond-paned casement windows. Steep, pitched gabled roof. Is anyone else thinking what I’m thinking?

This is James’s house!

I felt like Sarah when she sees James’s house for the first time: I knew this house though I had never seen it before except in my dreams. This was one of those strange life-imitating-fiction moments I encountered a number of times while visiting Salem. And, like Sarah, I had to touch the scratchy wood for it to sink in that the house was really there. I took picture after picture so I could prove to myself later that James’s house was real and I had stood in front of it. I half-expected to see Sarah walk through the front door.

Pickering Wharf

From there I walked to Pickering Wharf, which also plays an important role in Her Dear & Loving Husband since that’s where Olivia’s shop, The Witches Lair, is located. The Witches Lair is the type of shop you see occasionally with psychic readings, tarot cards, amulets, crystals, and books of spells. While Olivia and her shop are fictional, there are many psychic shops in Salem, and there is at least one psychic with her own shop in Pickering Wharf alongside the boutiques and restaurants. Located at the edge of the bay, the gray-blue and beige-toned buildings look out into the stretch of water, and there’s the Friendship, the three-masted ship—just the way I described it, thank goodness. I ate lunch at Capn’s, wandered around the shops, watched others eating at the tables outside taking advantage of the sunny summer day, took pictures of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Pickering Wharf is peaceful, calm, and beautiful.

The garden at the House of the Seven Gables

I hung around Pickering Wharf for a while, then walked down the block (everything in Salem seems to be down the block from everything else) to the House of the Seven Gables, made famous by the novel from Salem’s favorite son, Nathaniel Hawthorne. From his cousin, Hawthorne learned the story of the old house, and from there came the inspiration for his story. The house is every bit as grand as you would expect. Larger than James’s house (excuse me, the John Ward House), the house has seen a lot of history since it’s one of the oldest buildings in the Salem area. Passed from one family to another, made bigger, rooms and gables added, along with that secret passage made famous in the novel, the house was turned from a personal residence into a museum. I felt myself pulled back in time as I toured the rooms and looked at the furniture, the wall hangings, and the clothing. Outside the house is the garden, a burst of pinks and purples, and as I admired the flowers I saw the sea stretching out to the horizon, one of the most scenic sights in Salem. I even met two friendly cats wandering about greeting visitors. There are other buildings on the grounds, too, including the red house where Hawthorne was born. Hawthorne was born a few blocks away, and the house was moved to its current location in the 1950s. It’s a humble house since the Hathornes (the original spelling) were not a wealthy family.

The cat at the House of the Seven Gables

I described the museum in Her Dear & Loving Husband. It’s an important moment for James and Sarah. They’re still tentative in their relationship at this point though they want to know each other better. On Halloween, James takes Sarah to see the house, and they see the gables, the garden, the Hawthorne House. He shares his knowledge (and James knows a lot about Salem in days gone by). They become more attracted and attached as they stand there together. I am glad I was able to stand there as well. Of all the sights I saw in Salem, I think the House of the Seven Gables was my favorite.

Salem State University

In Her Dear & Loving Husband, James Wentworth has inserted himself into the human world as much as he can. If he wants to seem human, I decided, then he would have a job. What job? English literature is the only subject I can discuss with any intelligence, so James became an English professor. An odd job for someone of James’s paranormal disposition, but, as James himself says, any job besides Grim Reaper would seem odd for him. I wanted his love interest, Sarah, to work at the college, too, since it’s easy for them to run into each other if they work together. She became a college librarian. I did a search for colleges in the area, and there was Salem State College.

While on the campus I stood in front of Meier Hall, the School of Arts and Sciences, where Sarah spies on James while he’s teaching his Romantic Poets class. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the novel. The university is larger than I imagined, or at least more spread out. It’s a beautiful campus, fresh-looking, clean, and the green of the grass and the new trees make it an inviting place to be. Of course, I wasn’t taking or teaching any classes, which may have led to the fact that I found the campus peaceful. The summer school students may not have found it as inviting as I did.

A settler’s house from 1630s Salem (then Naumkeag) in Pioneer Village

Right across Lafayette and down the block, in the state park near the bay, is Pioneer Village. More than any place in Salem, walking onto the grounds of Pioneer Village is like falling into a time warp to the 17th century. The Salem Witch Museum and the Witch Dungeon Museum were interesting, but I didn’t feel the pull of the 1600s in the museums. I felt like a 21st century tourist looking at scenes from the 17th century. At Pioneer Village, you walk into meadow-like grounds of overgrown grass, weeds, trees, front yard gardens, and historically accurate replicas of the homes of the earliest settlers to the area. The costumed docents walk you around, explaining everything, answering questions. Pioneer Village was the closest to a complete immersion into the past I found in Salem.

I visited Boston too. I didn’t have a lot of time there, but I walked the Freedom Trail, led by a knowledgeable, costumed guide with a great sense of humor and more than a passing resemblance to George Washington. I ate lunch at Faneuil Hall and saw what was perhaps the highlight of my trip—the hotel where Charles Dickens stayed during his trip to Boston in 1842. I also snapped a picture of the building that housed Dickens’s U.S. publisher. Maybe not as exciting to non-Dickens fans, but I thought it was pretty cool.

How much did visiting Salem add to the Loving Husband Trilogy? Everything. It wasn’t necessary for me to visit since I wrote Her Dear & Loving Husband without setting foot in Massachusetts, but there was so much more depth in the descriptions of Salem in the last two books in the series because of my visit there.

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Historical Fiction Inspiration–The Salem Witch Trials

A book on witchcraft from the Jonathan Corwin home in Salem, Massachusetts. Corwin was one of the magistrates during the witch trials.

Understanding the basic premise of Her Dear & Loving Husband was the easy part, and I thought this novel would be a simple love story between a vampire and the human woman he loved. I didn’t have any expectations for the book beyond that, but then things grew complicated, as they tend to do. I had my characters’ names –James Wentworth and Sarah Alexander–and I had a basic premise of who they were. But I still needed a setting. While wondering where to place the story, I stumbled onto an historical background that surprised even me.

I was looking over a map of the United States trying to decide where to set the story, and nothing was popping out at me. I deliberately stayed away from the Pacific Northwest and Louisiana since other well-known literary vampires live there. Transylvania–probably not going to work for me. I thought of my hometown Los Angeles, and then I thought of where I live now in Las Vegas, but neither of those felt right. Too bright, I think. Yes, Las Vegas is the nightlife capital of the world, perhaps a good thing for a vampire, but the Vegas nightlife scene would have added an extra element to the story that didn’t feel right to me. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right? Then I decided that if I wasn’t going to set the story in the Northwestern United States, how about the Northeast? I pulled my U.S. map a little closer, looked at the Northeastern seaboard states, saw Massachusetts, and I thought hmmm… I love American history, and there is plenty of that in Massachusetts. Could there be some history in this love story? James has lived over three centuries, after all. While I was looking at the map I saw that there, in a little dot near Boston, was Salem. My history-loving brain immediately thought of the Salem Witch Trials, and I was sold to both the setting and the historical background.

The town square in Salem, Massachusetts near the Witch Trial museum.

When I watch the news these days (or try to avoid the news, more like), I’m surprised by the constant references to witch trials or witch hunts. This is the worst witch hunt you’ve ever seen, as some people like to say. But I know better. I know what the Salem Witch Trials were. They were not a joke. When I decided to use the Salem Witch Trials as the historical background for Her Dear & Loving Husband, I felt as though I had a duty to share the witch trials as they really were, with all of the ugliness–the terror, the accusations, the madness–and real people with real families with real lives died as a result. Since I wanted the historical period of the witch trials to echo what was happening to James and Sarah in the present day, I needed to make sure that the historical background coincided with the present-day story. To a degree, you could say the history informed the story; in other words, once I decided on the historical period, that helped me shape the plot.

The Salem Witch Trial Museum.

Leave it to me to write a novel set in a New England town I had never been to. I was born in New York, but we moved to the West Coast when I was seven and I consider Los Angeles my hometown. I never visited Salem when I wrote Her Dear & Loving Husband. Thank goodness for the Internet, websites about Salem, and Google Earth. I did finally visit Salem while I was writing Book Two in the Loving Husband series, Her Loving Husband’s Curse, and I loved the town. In fact, I wanted to move there. Luckily, everything in Salem was where I thought it should be.

It was a surreal feeling when I first arrived, and it had to sink in that I was actually in Salem. Hey, I might see Sarah walking these streets! Not James, of course. It was daytime and he was sleeping. Yes, I know James and Sarah are fictional characters, but they’re my fictional characters, which makes them real to me (and hopefully to anyone who reads the novel). The first thing I did was take the red trolley car around town. Salem is an easy town to walk through,  but the red trolley is nice because the tour guides are knowledgeable and give extra insights—a Salem FYI. Did you know that Salem’s name was Naumkeag, after the original natives, when it was first settled in 1626? Or that Salem is probably a shortened version of Jerusalem, Hebrew for city of peace or dwelling of peace? City of peace is a good name for that town because I did feel peaceful there.

The Friendship in Salem Harbor

There’s a quietness, a calm in Salem that I can’t associate with any other place I’ve been. It might be a New England thing, or a Massachusetts thing. But people are different there. They smile at you. Say hello. I think the seaside has something to do with it. The coastline along the bay is beautiful, scenic, the bay stretching out into the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, the trees along the coast adding green to the blue of the water. There are the little boats chugging and bobbing in the waves, caught in the mud at low tide, and there are people wandering along, some sightseeing. The beaches are popular and families with moms and dads and children and grandparents splash in the waves and sit in the sun. I have always found something serene about the ocean, the peace of going home, if you will, and Salem has the tranquility of the bay every day, rain or shine.

After the trolley, my next stop was the Salem Witch Museum, across from Salem Commons. I looked first at the statue of Roger Conant, who helped to settle Salem (then Naumkeag) in 1626, and he looked every bit as imposing and unforgiving as I thought he would. Raised several feet off the ground in the center of the road, Roger stares across the town like a disapproving headmaster over a roomful of unruly boys. At the Salem Witch Museum, I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that it looks just as I described—a large brick building, a former church, in fact. From my research for Her Dear & Loving Husband, I was already well-versed in the details of the witch trials, but I was interested in how the Salem Witch Museum portrayed those horrible days in that very place over three hundred years before. I liked how the various scenes showed the progression of the tragedy. How does one turn against a neighbor? A friend? A wife? All these years later and we still don’t know the answer, and that’s what makes the Salem Witch Trials still a frightening time, perhaps because we realize it could happen again under the right circumstances.

The Salem Witch Trials are much on my mind these days while I’m writing Down Salem Way, which again places James and Sarah in harm’s way in 1692. I think setting Her Dear & Loving Husband during the Salem Witch Trials added a depth to James and Sarah’s love story that wouldn’t have existed without the historical background. Which is one of the many reasons I love writing historical fiction.

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