Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Authors to Watch: Beth M. Caruso, author of 'One of Windsor: The Untold Story of America's First Witch Hanging'

Beth M. Caruso grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and spent her childhood writing puppet shows and witches’ cookbooks. She became interested in French Literature and Hispanic Studies, receiving a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Cincinnati. She later obtained Masters degrees in Nursing and Public Health.

Working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, she helped to improve the public health of local Karen hill tribes. She also had the privilege to care for hundreds of babies and their mothers as a labor and delivery nurse.

Largely influenced by an apprenticeship with herbalist and wildcrafter, Will Endres, in North Carolina, she surrounds herself with plants through gardening and native species conservation.
Her latest passion is to discover and convey important stories of women in American history. One of Windsor is her debut novel. She lives in New England with her awesome husband, amazing children, loyal puppy, and cuddly cats.


About the Book:

Title: One of Windsor: The Untold Story of America’s First Witch Hanging
Author:  Beth M. Caruso
Publisher: Ladyslipper Press
Pages: 358
Genre:  Historical Fiction

Alice, a young woman prone to intuitive insights and loyalty to the only family she has ever known, leaves England for the rigid colony of the Massachusetts Bay in 1635 in hopes of reuniting with them again. Finally settling in Windsor, Connecticut, she encounters the rich American wilderness and its inhabitants, her own healing abilities, and the blinding fears of Puritan leaders which collide and set the stage for America’s first witch hanging, her own, on May 26, 1647.

This event and Alice’s ties to her beloved family are catalysts that influence Connecticut’s Governor John Winthrop Jr. to halt witchcraft hangings in much later years. Paradoxically, these same ties and the memory of the incidents that led to her accusation become a secret and destructive force behind Cotton Mather’s written commentary on the Salem witch trials of 1692, provoking further witchcraft hysteria in Massachusetts forty-five years after her death.

The author uses extensive historical research combined with literary inventions, to bring forth a shocking and passionate narrative theory explaining this tragic and important episode in American history.

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Tell us a little about yourself.  

Creativity and nature feed my soul. So does chocolate and my family of humans and animals.

When did you begin writing? 

I started writing puppet shows and witches’ cookbooks as a child. I majored in French literature in my undergraduate studies and had many opportunities to write then. However, I stopped for a long time after receiving graduate degrees in both Public Health and Nursing. I think writing too many boring term papers left a bad taste. I worked as a nurse for fifteen years, but then I learned about Alice (Alse) Young. Her story inspired me to write again.

Describe your writing process. Do you plot or write by the seat of your pants? 

I like to have a rough outline to guide me to completion, but it’s always subject to tweaking.  It’s more difficult to fly by the seat of your pants when what you’re writing about has to fit into a specific historical timeline and framework. Of course, there were several parts to the storyline that came unexpectedly from nothing more than creative juices flowing. That’s the part I love the most.

When and where do you write? 

I write in a room off my bedroom surrounded by photographs of loved ones. The room overlooks a beautiful natural scene. Sometimes, I sit down and write on my deck that has the same view. Writing sessions come at any time, day or night, when I feel the urge to create.

Can you tell us about your most recent release?

One of Windsor: The Untold Story of America’s First Witch Hanging is the story of a intuitive young woman initially separated from her family and forced to adjust to life in the vast American wilderness during Puritan times. She eventually settles in Windsor, Connecticut where she meets her family again. Along the way, she becomes a talented herbalist and healer. Unfortunately, Alice’s secrets, coupled with tremendous fears of the times and recent tragedies in her town, collide and set the stage for her witchcraft accusation. 

How did you get the idea for the book? 

It all started when my neighbor told me that the first witch-hanging victim in the American colonies (forty-five years before the Salem witch trials) was from our town, Windsor, Connecticut. Shocked and amazed that most people had never heard of Alice Young, I was determined to find out more and possibly put it into a story. I wasn’t sure that there would be enough information for a book, but as the research unfolded, it was truly one of the most fascinating stories that I’d ever come across. It had connections to both the Salem witch trials as well as later Connecticut witchcraft accusations. I had to write it at that point. There was no turning back!

Of all your characters, which one is your favorite? Why? 

Alice Young, the main protagonist, is absolutely my favorite!   She was knowledgeable in herbs and healing, dedicated, curious, loving, and compassionate. Her struggles brought me to tears several times as I was writing. The strength and courage that she mustered from within herself up to the moment of her hanging is hard to fathom in this modern age. The thought of being accused for crimes you did not commit and then killed by your own community is heartbreaking and shocking.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book? 

Lack of direct information about Alice Young was the real challenge. Until I figured out a research approach that yielded results, I did not have a story to present. The plot and characters did not take shape and writing did not commence until I was able to find the information that brought Alice Young to life. It was important to me that the novel was based in some reality and not completely made up.

Which authors have inspired your writing? 

I really wasn’t thinking about other authors when I started to write but I’m sure that others have inspired me subconsciously in different ways. I like all writers that can explore the human psyche in an in-depth and compassionate way. Certainly, John Irving does this. My favorite Irving book is A Prayer For Owen Meany. I also love authors whose literary works have a seamless flow and an almost magical quality to them.

What projects are you currently working on? 

I’m working on my second novel that is set in Hartford, Connecticut and New Amsterdam in the middle of the 1600s. More witch trials, secret codes, a rowdy tavern, alchemy, and treason all fit into this new novel. I’m still in the research stages but hope to be writing full-throttle very soon. There are some repeat characters from One of Windsor that gives it a familiar quality and evokes deeper understanding of what was really going on behind the scenes by exposing more layers of that era.

What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors? 

Keep writing without criticism until you have a rough draft. You can always craft or shape your work after it’s written down. That’s the fun part! The hardest part is getting it all out. So trust that process.
Thank you for letting me share information about Alice Young and my book One of Windsor: The Untold Story of America’s first Witch Hanging.  It was my pleasure to be here at My Bookish Pleasures.

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