I’ve long been fascinated by 19th century boarding schools for young ladies, particularly how they evolved from simple “finishing” schools to become institutions of higher learning. During a summer gathering in Tahlequah, OK, one of my critique buddies pointed out Seminary Hall (now part of Northeastern State University), explaining that it once was a Cherokee boarding school. I hadn’t known the Cherokee Nation built such a sophisticated school for their girls, and I had to know more. With its imposing clock tower and turrets, Seminary Hall seemed the perfect setting for a Gothic mystery.
2. Did you have to do a lot of research before you started writing?
I did. That’s one of my favorite parts about writing historical fiction – immersing myself in the everyday details of a particular time and place. I started with a nonfiction book about the history of the Cherokee Female Seminary entitled Cultivating the Rosebuds. In addition, I read historical accounts of the Cherokee and spent a considerable amount of time looking at primary sources (photographs, school catalogs, newspaper articles) at the Oklahoma Historical Society Archives and the Northeastern State University Archives.
3. Do you relate to Willie in any way?
Willie is very brave and open to change; at the same time, she thinks nothing of abandoning her family and lying to get what she wants. In those ways she’s not like me. But I strongly relate to her love of drama and performing, as well as to her struggles (& occasional triumphs) with teaching.
4. How did you tie in a ghost story along with keeping it historically accurate?
According to local lore, the spirit of Florence Wilson, Seminary principal from 1875 to 1901, has been seen, heard, and even smelled within and around Seminary Hall. Cherokee artist Virginia Stroud claims to have encountered spirits and even to have photographed their “orbs” in the building. Thus, ghosts were already part of the landscape – you can even become a fan of “Haunted Seminary Hall” on Facebook and MySpace! For my own ghost story I wanted a sexy haunting, so I fashioned it around a love triangle, complete with shocking betrayals and murder.
5. You mentioned liking to travel, what has been your favorite destination?
Eastern Oklahoma, the setting of The Revenant, is a very pretty place to visit! But my favorite destination is Great Britain. London is an amazing city – brimming with history and beauty – and I’ve also enjoyed hiking in Cornwall, Wales, Yorkshire and Oxfordshire. I never tire of going back, and my current work-in-progress is a paranormal mystery set in Cambridge, England.