Saturday, May 15, 2010

Interview: Dianne Salerni

We Hear the Dead is inspired by a true story- how did you combine that with the fictional elements of the tale?

Everything that happens in We Hear the Dead really did happen. I invented almost nothing. In fact, I even took quotes from real letters, newspapers, and documents of the time to create some of the dialogue in the novel, as well as certain phrases in Maggie’s narrative.

However, I did have to supply the characterizations and motivations that would flesh out the historical record and explain why the major characters behaved as they did. Sometimes real people behave irrationally – or lie about their actions – but I had to find a way for it all to make sense. In order to simplify the story, I changed locations and combined characters, and to make the plot fit a standard structure, I occasionally re-arranged the order of events. And yes, I confess, sometimes I made a scene more dramatic than it was in real life. However, the most notable episodes (the riot at Corinthian Hall, the attack on Maggie in Troy) are documented historical events.

Which of the Fox sisters do you relate to the most?

Definitely Maggie. My original plan for the novel involved almost equal narration by Maggie and Kate. However, I found that Maggie’s voice was stronger, and so I decided to use Kate only sporadically, to provide a counterpoint to her older sister. Maggie was energetic and outgoing, and yet she was easily led by others because she wanted to please everyone. She was coaxed into the prank by her mischievous little sister, then manipulated into continuing the fraud by her older sister’s ambition. When she met Elisha Kane, she started deferring to his wishes, just like any good 19th century girl. It’s only toward the end of the novel that she learns to stand up for herself. I empathized with Maggie, and I understood her.

Did you have to do a lot of research before writing?

I used biographies of Maggie and Kate Fox and Elisha Kane as my major resources. They, in turn, are based on historical writing of the time – including newspapers, pamphlets, personal letters, and a book written by Maggie and Kate’s older sister Leah. I even read Elisha Kane’s own book, Arctic Explorations. Choking down the first five chapters was difficult, but after that, I found him highly entertaining. He had a good sense of humor, and reading his book helped me find his character and his voice. While drafting We Hear the Dead, I generally sat on a sofa with my laptop, surrounded by propped-open copies of biographies, historical references, and Kane’s book. My husband often told people that his wife was “busy hanging out with her dead friends.”

If you had the opportunity to communicate with one dead person (family member, celebrity, etc)- who would it be and why?

I would pick my father-in-law, who was one of the nicest men I’ve ever met. He died when my oldest daughter was only eighteen months old, and he never knew my younger daughter. He also has an additional grandson he never met. I’d like to tell him about his grandchildren. He would have been very proud of them.

Is there one time period you like writing about the most, or is the 1800s the most interesting to you?

We Hear the Dead was my first attempt at historical fiction, and it took a lot of research and effort to get the details of setting and language correct. Once I knew the period well, it seemed easy to continue writing in the same era. I’m working on other manuscripts set in the 19thcentury right now. I also have some interest in the Revolutionary War period, but I’m a little daunted at the thought of going back another hundred years. No doubt I will attempt it someday, but I expect it will be a real challenge!


Thanks so much Dianne!

Click here to visit her website!

My review for We Hear the Dead should be up soon!


  1. This looks so interesting! Great interview, and I'm definitely popping 'we hear the dead' onto my TBR list! :)

  2. Great interview! I actually haven't heard very much about We Hear the Dead, but I love historical fiction, so it definitely sounds like I should check it out. :)

  3. I bought We Hear the Dead today on a whim and now I'm super glad that I did! Great interview!


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