Saturday, January 22, 2011

How I Became a Daughter of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

How I Became a Daughter of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

In bleak midwinter 2002, I moved to rural Lancashire, in northern England, an incongruous place for an American expat. The first months were so oppressively dark, I felt I was trapped inside some claustrophobic gothic novel. But then came spring in a tide of bluebells and hawthorn. The wild Pennine landscape cast its spell on me.
            I live at the foot of Pendle Hill, famous throughout the world as the place where George Fox received his vision that moved him to found the Quaker religion in 1652. But Pendle is also steeped in its legends of the Lancashire Witches.
In 1612, seven women and two men from Pendle Forest were hanged for witchcraft. The most notorious of the accused, Bess Southerns, aka Old Demdike, cheated the hangman by dying in prison. This is how Thomas Potts describes her in The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster:

She was a very old woman, about the age of Foure-score yeares, and had
been a Witch for fiftie yeares. Shee dwelt in the Forrest of Pendle, a vast
place, fitte for her profession: What shee committed in her time, no man
knowes. . . . Shee was a generall agent for the Devill in all these partes: no
man escaped her, or her Furies.

Once I read this, I fell in love. I had to write a book about this amazing woman. Bess became the guiding voice and power behind my new novel, Daughters of the Witching Hill.
Reading the trial transcripts against the grain, I was astounded how her strength of character blazed forth in the document written to vilify her. She freely admitted to being a healer and a cunning woman, and she instructed her daughter and granddaughter in the ways of magic. Her neighbors called on her to cure their children and their cattle. What fascinated me was not that Bess was arrested on witchcraft charges but that the authorities turned on her only near the end of her long, productive career. She practiced her craft for decades before anybody dared to interfere with her.
Bess’s life unfolded almost literally in my backyard. To do justice to her story, I had to go out onto the land—walk in her footsteps. Using the Ordinance Survey Map, I located the site of Malkin Tower, once her home. Now only the foundations remain. I board my beautiful Welsh mare at a stable near Read Hall, once home to Roger Nowell, the witchfinder and prosecuting magistrate responsible for sending Bess and the other Pendle Witches to their deaths. Every weekend, I walked or rode my mare down the tracks of Pendle Forest. Quietening myself, I learned to listen, to allow Bess’s voice to well up from the land. Her passion, her tale enveloped me.
History is a fluid thing that continually shapes the present. As a writer, I am obsessed with how the true stories of our ancestors haunt the land. Long after their demise, Bess and her fellow witches endure. This is their home, their seat of power, and they shall never be banished. By delving into their story, I have become an adopted daughter of their living landscape, one of many tellers who spin their unending tale.   

Mary Sharratt’s critically acclaimed novel Daughters of the Witching Hill is now available in paperback by Mariner. To learn more about Mary and the true history of the Pendle Witches, visit her online: . Also, check out this wonderful docu-drama:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Enter to win one of 30 Copies of The Bird Sisters

Good morning everyone! I have great news. My publisher is offering up 30 copies of The Bird Sisters on Goodreads. I wish you, all of my friends, could have a copy (I wish I could have a copy!), but this is the next best thing...

Here's the link if you want to enter:

Love & Hugs!

Monday, January 17, 2011

It's DEBUT DAY for Heather Newton's Novel!!!

*** Please join me in celebrating Heather Newton's debut day for her novel Under the Mercy Trees. Heather is an incredible woman, an incredible writer, and a dear dear heart. If you can afford it, I hope you'll support her by buying her novel. Or asking your local library to order a copy. Or anything else you can think of. I am brimming with happiness for Heather today. And clapping with true vigor and my whole heart! xoxox, everyone. ---Rebecca

                                   Thoughts For Publication Day by Heather Newton

My mother, Suzanne Newton, is a writer, author of nine novels for young adults published by Westminster Press and Viking.  Her first book, Purro and The Prattleberries (about a cat who discovers magic berries in his yard that enable him to speak) came out in 1971 when I was in the first grade.  What I remember most about the publication of that book is how thrilled my school librarian, Mrs. Mullins, was to have the children of a real live author attending her school.  For my remaining five years at A. B. Combs Elementary I could do no wrong in Mrs. Mullins’ eyes–she let me check out as many books as I wanted, whenever I wanted, for as long as I wanted.  It was awesome.

On the eve of the release of my own first novel, Under The Mercy Trees, I decided to ask my mom what she remembered about getting her first book published.  In many ways her experience was similar to mine, but in others the Information Age has made my publication experience radically different from hers.

My mom wrote her first book on a manual Hermes typewriter, using carbon paper to make herself a copy.  Back then writers could actually send their manuscripts directly to publishers without having an agent (gasp!) and that’s what my mom did.  Over a two-year period she sent it out to one publisher at a time via snail mail (simultaneous submissions were a no-no) until finally she got back a thin envelope instead of the fat “we’re-not-interested-here’s-your-book-back” envelope.  She told me that when the mailman delivered the thin envelope she went inside the house, locked the doors and took the phone off the hook so no one would interrupt her while she opened it.  When she read the acceptance she was over the moon, just as I was when my agent called to tell me HarperCollins wanted to publish my novel. 

You can imagine what the editing process was like before the age of the personal computer.  My mom had to make revisions on her Hermes.  The galleys arrived as long unwieldy reams of paper.  Once the book came out, her publisher clipped copies of reviews and mailed them to her–her only indication of how readers were receiving her book.

In contrast, I had a computer to make the many revisions necessary to get my novel into publishable form.  When my agent sent it out, most editors wanted an electronic file they could read on their e-readers.  And during this past year, thanks to the Internet and Google Alerts, I have been able to read every review and reference to my book the minute any mention hits cyberspace. 

One downside of the Internet is of course that it can rob you of writing time if you let it.  It can also make a debut author horribly self-centered–the temptation to constantly see who is talking about you and your book is powerful.  The benefits, however, far outweigh the negatives, and I don’t just mean the opportunity to get the word out about your work via blogging, Facebook and the many other social media sites now available to authors. 

For me, the most wonderful aspect of coming of age as a writer in the Information Age has been getting to know other authors on line this past year.  These writers–mostly women and mostly debut novelists like me–are wonderful, interesting, talented people whose support and encouragement has really changed how I view my writing life.   I no longer see myself as standing alone waist-deep in surf as waves buffet me and I struggle to remain on my feet.  The community of writers I’ve found has allowed me to change that metaphor.  I now feel like I’m nearing the end of a marathon with a lovely crowd of supporters cheering me on as I approach the finish line.  In turn, I get the privilege of cheering for them and celebrating their successes.  I’m so grateful.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Introducing Jessica McCann: Debut Novelist

What's Missing from My Writing
by Jessica McCann

The first book I wrote was a murder mystery. The Missing Clock features murder, suspense, a smooth-talking private eye and a surprise plot-twist at the end, Scooby Doo-style. I was eight when I wrote it.  The book was neatly bound with two staples. It also included a color illustration of the clock in question, a priceless heirloom encased in gold and sparkling gems.

My mom, a voracious reader, was my first fan and my first critic.

"I like it," she said. "But you should describe the clock instead of just drawing a picture."

It was my first lesson in the importance of revision, though I didn't know it at the time. My second lesson came years later from my high school English teacher, Mr. Churbuck, senior year. Revision, he said, was vital because it gives you a chance to add what's missing.  And there's always something missing. The only way to earn an A in his class was to turn in a minimum of three drafts with every assignment -- one handwritten, complete with scratch marks, scribbles and arrows; one typed and littered with red-inked edits; and a typed final draft, which he would inevitably litter with red-inked edits of his own. By the end of the year, I was turning in four or five drafts, stacks of edits so thick they were barely harnessed by my second-hand stapler, and reveling in the fact that the only red mark on the final draft from Mr. C was an A+.

My mom's fierce love of books fueled my early desire to write; and Mr. Churbuck's fierce devotion to the art and craft of revision is what made me a writer.

Fortunately, those influences led to the creation of my second book, a historical novel. All Different Kinds of Free reveals one woman's courageous fight for freedom during the dark period of slavery in America. I was 38 when I finished writing it. The book went through countless drafts and revisions. It received a couple semi-finalist nods as a work-in-progress and a major literary award as a completed manuscript. I had landed an agent and was on submission to publishers when I gave my mom a printout to read.

"I like it," she said, handing it back to me roughly two weeks later. "I want to read a sequel."

Jessica McCann, a professional freelance writer and novelist, lives with her family in Phoenix, Arizona. Her nonfiction work has been published in Business Week, The Writer and Phoenix magazines, among others. All Different Kinds of Free (Bell Bridge Books, April 2011) is her debut novel. She welcomes interaction with readers and writers at her website ( and on Twitter (@JMcCannWriter).

Sunday, January 9, 2011

That's What Friends -And Books - Are For by Malena Lott

I'd hate to think of a world without friends. In an age when friendships can be made without meeting face-to-face thanks to the shrinking world made possible by the Internet, it's easier than times past to reach out and help someone or reach out and get help. At least that's what I'd like to think.

In 2008, I joined Twitter, after my good friend, the funny Wichita photographer and detective, Ken Davis (@davis1862), told me how much fun it was. (Okay, not a direct quote, but something like that.) Back then, Twitter was a much smaller social club. Now it might be harder to get a response to a tweet because people are so busy and perhaps following so many people, but it has led to some great friendships for me and some great personal and professional growth. Facebook has grown even more intimate for me because I've reconnected with old friends that led to real-life coffees and martinis and I love getting to stay connected in my busy mommy world.

My favorite aspect of social networking is the "pass-it-on and pay-it-forward" qualities. Of course one can choose not to do these things, but RTs (retweets), sharing on FB and commenting on blogs and links helps spread the word about worthy causes, breaking news and niche interests. My niche interest, of course, is books and my blog Book End Babes has grown to include a dozen book bloggers (called bookettes), nearly a hundred guest authors, more than two hundred book give-aways and loads of connections between readers and authors and readers to great books.

In my third novel, FIXER UPPER, the politician's wife, Macy Baxter, figures out the life she really wants after the one she has is no longer working. Her ambitious husband is more concerned with getting elected to the U.S. Senate than saving their marriage and she has never worked outside the home, held a tool or really stood up for herself. All that changes when she heads home to evaluate her own broken home and see what it will take to renovate her life. Find out more about Fixer Upper, new contests, excerpt and more at or on Amazon or

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Of Attics and Inheritance by Mara Buck

     My mother was an only child, a careful girl preceded by an only-child mother, equally docile and precise, so their toys and books were in remarkably pristine states when I came along.  I was also an only child and there any similarity ended.  I was not destructive, not wanton; I merely was interested in how things were made; their components.  I did in fact write on pages of books --- I had taught myself to read at a rather precocious age since I heartily disliked the laboriously slow process of being read to --- and I created my own versions of new books from the old, a pastiche of childish chaos, and a truly unfortunate choice for any potential collectible resale. 
(Whatever was I thinking?) 
     Left to my own devices in the attic, rummaging through boxes of books, old magazines, any printed matter I could find, I devoured, gobbled, gorged.  By inheriting so-called children’s books from another age, I inherited the stilted vocabulary of those authors as well.  Unfortunately, my family’s storage was heavily slanted in the direction of the “moral” tales of Pollyanna, Elsie Dinsmore and the Bobbsey Twins, all loathsome for myriad reasons.  I was temporarily rescued by Alcott (whom I still found insipid despite Jo’s gumption), was distressed by the cruelty in Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe, and thoroughly enjoyed Jack London and Frank Buck, and the nature-adventure life they portrayed, although I suspect if I revisited them today I would find the tales seeped in prejudice. 

     From kindly neighbors I was given hand-me-down Golden Books aplenty which seldom interested me since they were so short (a five minute read at best) and also decidedly lacked drama and character development, and moreover they were “pleasant” and I’ve never been particularly good at pleasant.  Then I discovered 'Twain' as if some guilty secret under the covers:  The Prince and the Pauper, Tom Sawyer and Huck.  Here was some stuff!  Boys got to do things beyond playing with dolls and keeping their clothes neat.  What a fabulous idea!  I still have a soft spot for ol’ Sam and I did indeed once build a raft, which floats forever in my memory.  A lovely metaphor, but in actuality, it sank.        
     Perversely however, as is my penchant (that Edwardian vocabulary again), today I would award favorite childhood book status to the story of Miss Flora McFlimsey by Mariana, bought specifically for me (not inherited!) by my grandfather, who on the Christmas that he died, gave me the accompanying doll as well.  A thoroughly charming story, Flora was a forgotten doll in the attic (I could identify) that was resurrected as a Christmas gift and freshly-beloved thereafter; lovely illustrations without becoming too saccharine.  I believe there was a mouse involved ---isn’t there always?  Contrary to Tom and Huck, Flora delighted in tiny lacy handkerchiefs, buttoned shoes, and arrived complete with a trunk full of feminine foibles to tempt even the most stalwart of denim-wearers; a book and a doll that I did not destroy.  Flora was mine alone, she was instant memory, and you do not destroy memory.       
     Irrespective of their literary value, the characters in children’s books burrow deep into our subconscious, and sometimes we unwittingly parrot their personae, even into adulthood.  We are Peter and Wendy, Tom and Huck, Jo March, Dorothy, Christopher Robin, and even some of us (I say with a shudder) Pollyanna.  I myself shall always tiptoe out of that attic alongside Flora on a magical Christmas Eve to a place where there is a happily-ever-after fresh start, despite wearing the costume of a discarded century. 
     Flora, the doll, rests resplendent in tissue in my own attic, along with her book.  The photographs of my grandfather are downstairs, with me.

Mara Buck writes and paints in the Maine woods. The manuscript for her novel Highway To Oblivion was named a Short-Listed Finalist for The Faulkner-Wisdom Prize.  Recent prize-winning poems appear in Carpe Articulum and in Caper Literary Journal, with other work included in Vwa: Poems For Haiti and on Poets For Living Waters.  She is the creator of the gallery-sized installation “A Year In Oblivion” a daily art chronicle of the life of a breast cancer patient, examples from which will soon be published in Drunken Boat.
More of her writing may be seen at:
Her videos may be seen at:
And, an art/poetry/video for the World T

Monday, January 3, 2011

Publisher's Weekly Review

Here it is folks. Thank you Publisher's Weekly. I held my breath the whole time I was reading it. I can breathe again!

The Bird Sisters 
Rebecca Rasmussen, Crown, $24 (304p) ISBN 978-0-307-71796-2 
Rasmussen's debut novel begins like a typical coming-of-age story, but reveals itself to be a singular portrayal of familial sacrifice and loss. As elderly women, sisters Twiss and Milly live alone in the house where they grew up in Spring Green, Wis. They spend their days tending to injured birds and roaming their land, lost in memories. For Milly, there is the constant reminder of what could have been. Twiss spent her childhood happily trailing behind their golf-pro father, but Milly dreamed about a family and children that never happened. There was hope for a young Milly, until an accident strips their father of his golfing abilities and sets in motion a series of events that rips apart the already unstable family. Dad retreats to the barn, and mom bemoans her choice to marry for love, leaving behind her wealthy family; a cousin who was thought to be a friend becomes an unexpected rival; and the sisters are left with only each other. As young women, and as old ones, they learn that their relationship is rewarding, but not without consequence. Achingly authentic and almost completely character driven, the story of the sisters depicts the endlessly binding ties of family. (Apr.)

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."