Excerpt: Chapter 1, Her Dear and Loving Husband

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Sarah Alexander didn’t know what was waiting for her in Salem, Massachusetts. She had moved there to escape the smog and the smugness of Los Angeles, craving the dulcet tones of a small town, seeking a less complicated life. Her first hint of the supernatural world came the day she moved into her rented brick house near the historic part of town, close to the museums about the witch trial days, not far from the easy, wind-blown bay. As the heavy-set men hauled her furniture inside, her landlady leaned close and told her to beware.

“If you hear sounds in the night it’s ghosts,” the landlady whispered, glancing around to be sure no one, human or shadow, could hear. “The spirits of the innocent victims of the witch hunts still haunt us. I can feel them stirring now. God rest them.”

Sarah didn’t know what to say. She had never been warned about ghosts before. The landlady peered at her, squinting to see her better.

“You’re a pretty girl,” the old woman said. “Such dark curls you have.” She still spoke as if she were telling a secret, and Sarah had to strain to hear. “You’re from California?”

“I moved there after I got married,” Sarah said.

“Where’s your husband?”

“I’m divorced now.”

“And your family is here?”

“In Boston. I wanted to live close to my family, but I didn’t want to move back to the city. I’ve always wanted to visit Salem, so I thought I’d live here awhile.”

The landlady nodded. “Boston,” she said. “Some victims of the witch trials were jailed in Boston.”

The landlady was so bent and weak looking, her fragile face lined like tree rings, that Sarah thought the old woman had experienced the hysteria in Salem during the seventeenth century. But that was silly, Sarah reminded herself. The Salem Witch Trials happened over three hundred years ago. There was no one alive now who had experienced that terror first hand. Sarah wanted to tell the landlady how she believed she had an ancestor who died as a victim of the witch hunts, but she didn’t say anything then.

“Yes, they’re here,” the landlady said, staring with time-faded eyes at the air above their heads, as if she saw something no one else could see. “Beware, Sarah. The ghosts are here. And they always come out at night.”

The landlady shook as if she were cold, though it was early autumn and summer humidity still flushed the air. When Sarah put her arm around the old woman to comfort her, she felt her skin spark like static. She rubbed her hands together, feeling the numbness even after the old woman pulled away.

“It’s all right,” Sarah said. “I won’t be frightened by paranormal beings. I don’t believe in ghosts.”

The landlady laughed. “Salem may cure you of that.”

For a moment Sarah wondered if she made a mistake moving there, but she decided she wouldn’t let a superstitious old woman scare her away. She thought about her new job in the library at Salem State College—Humanities I liaison, go-to person for English studies, well worth the move across the country. She saw the tree-lined, old-fashioned neighborhood and the comforting sky. She heard the lull of bird songs and the distant whisper of the sea kissing the shore. She felt a rising tranquility, like the tide of the ocean waves at noon, wash over her. It was a contentment she had never known before, not in Boston, never in Los Angeles. She was fascinated by Salem, looking forward to knowing it better, certain she was exactly where she needed to be, whatever may come.

 

Sarah’s first days in the library were hectic since it was the start of an autumn term. She spent her shifts on the main floor, an open, industrial-style space of bright lights, overhead beams, and windows that let in white from the sun and green from the trees abundant everywhere on campus. Across from the librarians’ desk, a combined circulation and reference area, was a lounge of comfortable chairs in soothing grays and blues where some students socialized using their inside voices while others stalked like eagle-eyed hunters, searching the stacks or the databases.

By Wednesday afternoon, as she saw the short-tempered rain clouds march across the Salem sky, Sarah thought she would have to buy a car soon. After driving and dodging in nail-biting Los Angeles traffic for ten years, she liked the freedom of walking the quiet roads from home to work, watching in wonder as the leaves turned from summer green to an autumn fade of red, rust, and gold. But she had been living in the sunshine on the west coast for ten years, and she had forgotten about the sudden anger of New England thunderstorms. They could appear just like that, a crack of noise overhead, then a gray flannel blanket covered the sky as fast as you could blink your eyes, water splashing all around, wetting you when you did not want to be wet, and she was caught unprepared. She held out her hand and shook her head when she felt the drops splash her palm. Jennifer Mandel’s voice sang out behind her.

“Need a lift?”

“Please.”

Sarah wiped her palm on her skirt, grateful once again for Jennifer’s assistance. Jennifer had been the head librarian at the college for five years, and she had taken Sarah under her wing, showing her where everything was, introducing her to the rest of the staff, answering her questions. There was something almost odd about Jennifer’s intuition—she always seemed to know when Sarah needed her, like a clairvoyant magic trick. They sprinted to the parking lot, trying to avoid the sudden splats of rain soaking their thin blouses through, and they clambered into Jennifer’s white Toyota, laughing like schoolgirls jumping in puddles. Jennifer drove the curve around Loring Avenue to Lafayette Street, the main road to and from the college.

“Where were you before you came here?” Jennifer asked. “You’re obviously not used to the rain.”

“I worked at UCLA.”

“A small town like Salem must seem dreary after living in the big city.”

Sarah looked at Jennifer, saw the compassion in her eyes, the understanding smile, so she said just enough to make herself understood. “I’m recently divorced.”

Jennifer held up her hand. “You don’t need to explain. I have two ex-husbands myself.”

They drove quietly, letting the sound of the car’s accelerator and the rain tapping the windshield fill the space. As Sarah watched the small-town scene drift past, she thought it might not be so bad to drive in Salem. Everything back east, the roads, the shops, the homes, was built on an old-time scale, narrower and smaller than they were out west. But here people slowed when you wanted to merge into their lane and they stopped at stop signs, so different from L.A. where they’d run you over sooner than let you pass.

“Why don’t you come over tomorrow night?” Jennifer asked. “We’re having a get-together at my mother’s shop.” She leaned closer to Sarah and whispered though they were alone in the car. “I should probably tell you, and I’ll understand if you think this is too weird, but my mother and I are witches.”

Sarah studied Jennifer, her hazel eyes, her long auburn hair, her friendly smile. “You don’t look like a witch,” she said.

“You mean the kind with black hair and a nose wart that fly around on broomsticks? We’re not that kind of witch.”

“You’re Wiccan?”

“Yes, I practice the Wiccan religion, among other things. I’m the high priestess of my coven. I’m also licensed to perform weddings here in Massachusetts, in case you ever need someone to preside over a wedding for you.”

Sarah laughed. “I just got divorced. I won’t be getting married again any time soon.” She paused to watch the drizzle slip and slide on the windows. “I’m surprised there really are witches in Salem.”

“Ironic, isn’t it? The city known for hanging witches is now a haven for mystics.” Jennifer shook her head, her expression tight. “Is this too much information? I don’t usually tell someone a few days after I’ve met her that I’m Wiccan, but you have a positive energy. You don’t seem like someone who’s going to assume I’m a Satanist who loves human sacrifices.”

“I don’t mind. I’m just surprised. I’ve never known a witch before.”

“There are all sorts of interesting people you could meet around here.” Jennifer nudged Sarah with her elbow. “So will you come tomorrow night?”

“I don’t know, Jennifer.”

“You don’t need to participate in the rituals. Come make some friends. I think you’ll like the other witches in my coven. They’re good people.”

A Wiccan ceremony did sound odd, Sarah thought, but she had always been fascinated by different religions and cultures. Librarians had to keep learning—a healthy curiosity was a job necessity. And it would be nice to know some people in Salem, even if they were witches.

As they continued down Lafayette Street, Sarah saw the sign for Pioneer Village and she added it to her mental to-do list. “I haven’t had a chance to see much of this part of town since I’ve been here,” she said.

“How about a quick tour then?”

“What about the rain?”

Jennifer turned right down Derby Street. “I’ve lived here my whole life. A little water doesn’t bother me.”

Jennifer drove down one tree-lined street, then down another street, and another until Sarah didn’t know where she was. Though Witch City was small, Sarah was still learning her way around. She tried to gauge her surroundings and saw the tall, white lines of the Peabody-Essex Museum close to the brick, colonial-looking Salem Maritime National Historic Site. As she watched the history flip past, like a stack of photographs from time gone by, she noticed a house she thought she knew though she was sure she hadn’t been down that way before. The house had wooden clapboards, diamond-paned casement windows, and two gables on the roof. It was old, though it didn’t seem to be a museum as the other old buildings were.

“What is that house?” she asked. “It looks familiar.”

“James Wentworth lives there.”

“Do you know him?”

Jennifer’s answer was stilted, as if she considered each word, weighed it, measured it, decided yes or no about it, before she let it drop from her lips. “He teaches at the college. He—his family—has owned this house for generations. It’s over three hundred years old, one of the oldest standing homes in Salem.”

Jennifer slowed the car so they could get a better look as she drove past. “Does it still look familiar?”

“Yes. Even that crooked oak tree in front seems right. I can picture the man I dream about standing in front there kissing me.”

“What dreams?” Jennifer gripped the steering wheel more tightly and her eyes brightened. “My mother’s friend Martha is great at dream interpretation. She’s done a world of good for me.” She winked at Sarah. “And you dream about a man? Is he a good looking man?”

Sarah pulled her arms around her chest, wishing she could take back her casual reference, afraid she had already said too much.

“Do you have a lot of dreams?”

“Yes,” Sarah said. But that was all she could manage. When Jennifer had waited long enough and Sarah had to offer something more, all she could say was, “It’s not a big deal. I just thought I knew the house from somewhere.”

“A lot of houses around here look the same,” Jennifer said.

Sarah looked at the houses, the tall, Federal-style ones, the Victorian ones, the brick ones, the modern-looking ones. Suddenly, as they drove around the green of Salem Common, the rain cleared, the sun brightened, and the clouds flittered away across the bay.

“That must be it,” she said.

She lowered the car window so she could smell the wet air. Though she missed the rain when she lived in Los Angeles, at that moment she was glad to see the serene blue reflection of the northeastern sky again.

They drove the rest of the way in silence.

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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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Excerpt: Prologue, Her Dear and Loving Husband

I am looking lovingly into the eyes of a man, though I cannot see his face because it is featureless, like a blank slate. We are standing in front of a wooden house with narrow clapboards, and there are diamond-paned casement windows and a steep pitched roof with two gables pointing at the laughing, hidden moon. I am certain I hear someone singing sweet nothings to us from the sky. From the light of the few jewel stars I can see the halo of his hair, like the halo of an angel, and even if I cannot see his eyes I know they look at me, into me. I stand on my toes, he is much taller than me, and I point up my face and he kisses me. As the warmth of his lips melts into mine, making me weak from the inside out, I feel my knees give from the thrilling lightness his touch brings. I know the face I cannot see is beautiful, like the lips I feel. His hands press me into him, clutching me closer, closer, unwilling to let me go. I grip him with equal strength, wishing he would carry me inside, yet I cannot bring myself to break our embrace.

“I shall never leave you ever,” he whispers in my ear. I promise him the same.

I do not know how I have been so fortunate to have this man in my life, but here he is, before me, wanting me. I am overcome with the joy of him.

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