dianne salerni author
dianne salerni author
home office

My home office in the basement.

To everyone who weighed in on my “Ending” dilemma last week, thank you! I decided my character had to be herself (and she is certainly not perfect). I think she discovered her own worth over the course of the story, but she also made a crucial mistake that prevented her from getting what she wanted. I found a way to give her the help she needs going forward, without making it seem like they “saved her.” She decides what she has to do. The two people closest to her throw in their support. I hit the dreaded “send” button on that manuscript yesterday.

In other news, the Delaware County Community College invited me back to teach the course I did in the fall, Writing for the Children’s Market. I start tomorrow night! They’ve also contracted me to teach a writing course for 10-12 year olds on Saturdays in April, so it will be fun to work with kids again.

I’ve had a home office space in my basement for months, but I’ve had trouble forcing myself to work down there instead of on the family room sofa or at the kitchen table. This month, I’ve been a little better at disciplining myself to “go to the office.” The only problem is my “office assistant.” Usually, she spends her time upstairs, but when she gets into a super-ornery mood, the family tosses her in the basement with me and shuts the door. Yeah, thanks a bunch, family.

Luna in the bookshelves

Luna rearranges the books on my shelf.

In final news that’s kind of cool, I was contacted via Pinterest by a woman from the Netherlands whose research on Ancestry.com revealed that Asenath Thomas – one of the women buried in the caged graves – was her husband’s great-great-aunt. We exchanged some information, and then she posted about it on Facebook and linked me. One of her FB friends then chimed in to say, “Hey, that author was the teacher of two of my kids!” That’s right. A parent of some former students is friends with someone who lives in the Netherlands who is married to someone related to someone whose grave I wrote about. I’m pretty sure Kevin Bacon is in there, too.

Asenath

Asenath Thomas grave

 

HBT14 - banner

 

Welcome! You are following the Cemetery Path, and if you’ve never visited me before, feel free to look around. I’m the author of two YA historical novels, We Hear the Dead and The Caged Graves, and a MG fantasy series about a boy who discovers a secret day of the week hidden between Wednesday and Thursday.

HBT14-The-CemeteryIf you’re one of my regular blog visitors wondering what the heck the Cemetery Path is, you can check out the Halloween Book Trail (and its multiple paths) HERE.

And now, for the Cemetery Path questions:

1. If your MC went trick or treating, what would they dress up as and why?

The main characters of We Hear the Dead (Maggie) and The Caged Graves (Verity) lived in the mid-1800’s, before the era of trick-or-treating. So, I’ll pick Jax, the main character of The Eighth Day.

Jax has recently discovered that his ability to experience the secret day of the week comes from his lineage. He’s a descendant of one of the Knights of the Round Table. Clearly, Jax would dress up as a knight for Halloween! Jax might even choose King Arthur himself – which would annoy Jax’s 18-year-old guardian, Riley Pendare. (A plus for Jax! Annoying Riley is one of his favorite things to do.)

2. What is the most haunted place you’ve ever been to?

I don’t know if it’s haunted or not, but the creepiest place I’ve ever been is the abandoned cemetery in Catawissa, Pennsylvania where the caged graves of Sarah Ann Boone and Asenath Thomas are located. I’ll let the photographs speak for themselves.

 Asenath Thomas grave

 Sarah Ann medium size

I knew as soon as I set foot in this cemetery that I would write a novel about these graves. You can find more pictures of these graves on my Pinterest Board.

3. Please share a photo of your favorite Halloween costume you’ve worn.

This is my husband and I dressed in steampunk attire, at Dorian’s Parlor in Philadelphia, a semi-regular steampunk ball held at the DoubleTree Hotel in Center City.

 ready for Dorians

4. If the zombie apocalypse happened (and it will), what would be your weapon of choice?

A long distance weapon, please – to keep them as far away from me as possible! Daryl Dixon’s crossbow is pretty cool, but probably too heavy for me to lift. So I would like a high-powered rifle that fires lots and lots of rounds!

5. What is your favorite sentence/paragraph from your novel?

I’m going to choose the passage from The Eighth Day where Jax discovers the secret day for the first time. He’s riding his bike through a deserted town, wondering what happened to all the people …

He thought about zombies.

He thought about alien abduction.

He thought about Spongebob Squarepants and the episode where everybody took a bus out of town to get away from Spongebob for a day.

He thought about the old movie where Will Smith and his dog were the last creatures left on earth.

“Oh, crap!” Jax yelled, braking.

Will Smith and his dog had not been alone in that movie. There’d been other creatures that lurked in dark places and came out at night to kill …

***

I hope you enjoyed this stop on the Cemetery Path of the Halloween Book Trail. Please continue your journey at the blog site of Sarvenaz Tash, author of The Mapmaker and the Ghost, by clicking HERE.

 

kggiarratanoThis  is the world of the “2010s”:

You write a book. It gets a starred review from School Library Journal. Later, you run across the writer of the review on Twitter. You follow each other. Later still, you find out she wrote a book, and it’s also got a graveyard in it. You read it. You love it.

That’s how I met Kimberly Garnick Giarratano, ended up reading Grunge Gods and Graveyards and asking her for an interview. Social media — it’s made the world so much smaller.

Grunge Gods and Graveyards

Parted by death. Tethered by love. Lainey Bloom’s high school senior year is a complete disaster. The popular clique, led by mean girl Wynter Woods, bullies her constantly. The principal threatens not to let her graduate with the class of 1997 unless she completes a major research project. And everyone blames her for the death of Wynter’s boyfriend, Danny Obregon. Danny, a gorgeous musician, stole Lainey’s heart when he stole a kiss at a concert. But a week later, he was run down on a dangerous stretch of road. When he dies in her arms, she fears she’ll never know if he really would have broken up with Wynter to be with her. Then his ghost shows up, begging her to solve his murder. Horrified by the dismal fate that awaits him if he never crosses over, Lainey seeks the dark truth amidst small town secrets, family strife, and divided loyalties. But every step she takes toward discovering what really happened the night Danny died pulls her further away from the beautiful boy she can never touch again.

 

1. Thanks for visiting my blog today, Kimberly! What was the original inspiration behind Grunge Gods and Graveyards?

When I was a teenager, I used to rent classic movies (on VHS) from the library and I had seen this movie called The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. It was about a ghost who falls in love with the young widow who moves into his seaside house. I had thought it was incredibly romantic – not because there was this mushy overture of sentiment but because they really couldn’t be together until the widow died an old lady. And yet they spent decades together – he a ghost and she living in his house. She never remarried because she was in love with this ghost that she couldn’t be with. So several years ago, I decided I wanted to write a YA version of this movie, but with 90s pop cultural references.

GrungeGodscover2.Even asking this question makes me feel old, but since your book is set in the 1990’s, is it considered historical fiction? Why did you choose the ‘90’s as the setting for your story?

I have no idea if the book is technically historical fiction – that’s an excellent question. Although, I would think it is. The 1990s were a very different time, especially regarding technology. I mean, kids had beepers in high school! And then they had to use a pay phone to call the person who beeped them. Also we listened to music on cassettes and CDs. I used to order my music from a BMG catalog. My mom would mail it in and then I’d get my CDs weeks later. All that stuff seems as archaic as the 1890s. I chose to set my novel in the 90s because I was a teen in the 90s and I desperately wanted to incorporate 90s alternative music into the story. (I still listen to my favorite 90s bands. Radiohead has new albums out but I rarely listen to anything past OK Computer.) Going back to the technology aspect, the 90s setting also allowed me to bypass certain plot pitfalls. For example, without cell phones and texting, one character couldn’t warn another character about impending doom. This sets up conflict and heightens tension. I don’t have to worry about a reader rolling their eyes and saying, “Duh. She could’ve just texted her a warning.”

3. Tell us about your path to publication.

My path to publication was fairly simple in that I wrote a book, revised it a bazillion times, and queried it. I sent the manuscript to some agents, got two full requests and the rest were rejections. I then started looking at small presses. The more I researched them, the more I realized they might be the better avenue for me. Small presses have the advantage in that they can work more closely with the author throughout the creative process (I had a say in my cover design!). Also, since Grunge Gods was my first novel, I really wanted more individual attention. I researched a bunch of small presses on Absolute Write. I checked out their titles and most importantly, I critiqued their cover art. I found out about Red Adept Publishing (their covers are gorgeous) on Absolute Write’s forum and then I googled the hell out of them. I couldn’t find anything negative about them anywhere. I submitted Grunge Gods to RAP and a month later, I received a phone call that they had selected it for publication. Even then, I asked my publisher for references. And she gave me the names and phone numbers of two authors that had published with RAP. I called them and spoke to them for an hour. I felt good about signing a contract with RAP and a year later, I am still happy with my publisher. I had terrific editors who made the book better than I ever thought it could be and my cover is the bomb. Publishing through a small press was definitely the best decision I could’ve made.

4. One of the things I enjoyed about the book was the rich cast of characters – all of whom had complicated back stories which were revealed bit by bit. How did you figure out where, when, and in what order to include these back stories?

First, thank you. Characterization is my favorite part of writing. I like making up people. I like having a cast of complex characters. No one in real life is all good or all bad. As for their backstories, I’m not sure if I consciously decide where I want to insert their histories. Maybe it’s the mystery writer in me that I like to leave a lot to be discovered about my characters as the story unfolds. I guess my strategy is I take the most interesting part of their personalities and reveal that aspect at the end.

5. Ditto with the complexity of the mystery. I know from writing The Caged Graves that it took several tries (and the help of an editor) to get all the various clues inserted in the right places and in the right order. Did you have a specific strategy for outlining your mystery?

I didn’t have a specific strategy, but I should have. It took a lot of revisions (and hair pulling) to get the clues right. Like you, my editor helped me tighten the plot. I was inserting last minute clues into the manuscript on my second and third passes of content editing. Now, I have a better outlining process. I write scene lists and I figure out where the clues should go before I draft. That said, I’ll still have to insert clues into the manuscript during revisions. Writing mysteries are hard. They’re so awesome to read, but man, are they a struggle to plot.

6. Did any of the characters surprise you while you were writing the story? Turn out different than you expected or planned? Who’s your secret favorite?

Scott turned out differently than I expected, but I don’t want to elaborate on why for fear of spoiling the book. I have to say, one of my favorite characters is Nutley. When I wrote him, I pictured Jordan Catalano from My So-Called Life. Quiet, brooding, hot.

7. What’s next for you?

More writing. I’m working on another YA ghost story/mystery, this one set in present-day Key West. It’s dual POV, which has its own set of challenges. I have some truly unique characters in this story and I am so excited about them. I’m also outlining a YA historical mystery set in 1955 in which an Argentine immigrant stumbles upon the dead body of her soon-to-be stepfather and she has to piece together the mystery surrounding his death. I have an idea for a middle grade adventure series starring my grandparents as children. My brain is swirling with story ideas. But I also have three small kids, including one newborn, so there’s that.

Thanks again, Kimberly! You can find Kimberly (and her blog — I just found out she has one and have to add it to my list) at her website. And you can find Grunge Gods and Graveyards at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, just for starters!

I was in Alexandria, Virginia this past weekend for a book event and a visit with my brother, who loves to take visitors on the walking Ghost Tour of Old Town. Probably the most fascinating story on the tour was that of the Mysterious Female Stranger. Afterward, I was on the internet until midnight, reading everything I could about this subject, and in the morning before we left for home, I talked my family into visiting her grave.

My family’s used to visiting strange graves by now. At least this one was in a pleasant cemetery! The morning was bright and cheerful, and the popularity of the grave is attested to by the fact that we found a bouquet of flowers lying in tribute to the mysterious young woman when we arrived.

The story of the Female Stranger begins in September 1816, when a ship from the West Indies made an unscheduled stop in Alexandria long enough to put off two passengers: a man and a woman. They were, by appearance and clothing, well-to-do, and the young woman was said to be beautiful. But she was also very ill. The gentleman carried her to the City Hotel, now known as Gadsby’s Tavern, where she was placed in Room 8. The frantic gentleman then called for the best doctor in town, as well as two nurses. Before letting them into the room he made each of them swear an oath on their sacred honor that if — while delirious — his wife revealed her identity, they would take that secret to their graves.

Despite everyone’s valiant efforts, the woman died on October 14, 1816. Her husband paid for an elaborate funeral and a lavish headstone where she was identified as “a Female Stranger.” The epitaph read:

To the memory of a
FEMALE STRANGER
whose mortal sufferings terminated
on the 14th day of October 1816
Aged 23 years and 8 months

This stone was placed here by her disconsolate
Husband in whose arms she sighed out her
latest breath and who under God
did his utmost even to soothe the cold
dead ear of death.

How loved how valued once avails thee not
To Whom related or by whom begot
A heap of dust alone remains of thee
Tis all though art and all the proud shall be

To him gave all the Prophets witness that
through his name whosoever believeth in
him shall receive remission of sins
Acts. 10th Chap. 43rd verse

By this time, the man had built up an enormous bill at the hotel — as well as gambling debts in the tavern. Rather than press him to pay up immediately, the hotel owner granted him the night after his wife’s funeral to grieve in peace. When morning came however, the man had vanished, leaving all his debts unpaid.

Who was she? One popular theory (though discounted by most historians) is that she was Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of disgraced vice-president Aaron Burr. Theodosia had vanished at sea four years earlier and was presumed dead, but some stories say she really ran off with a lover and the lost-at-sea tale was concocted to spare her reputation (or more importantly, her husband’s). Other people speculate that the Female Stranger was a European princess who had eloped or possibly been kidnapped — or that the couple was wanted for murder abroad. It’s also been suggested that the whole thing was a con, and that both the Male and Female Strangers left town alive after swindling a lot of people out of their money.

The most outrageous theory I read? That the lady was Naploeon Bonaparte in drag.

Yeah, I’m not buying that one. But the story of the Female Stranger has some intriguing possibilities, doesn’t it?