Today I'd like to extend a warm welcome to author Clare B. Dunkle. Clare has a new book that recently released, The House of Dead Maids, a prequel to Wuthering Heights. Clare stopped by to talk about her novel and to share with us some information about a special giveaway to enter. (details below).
Clare B. Dunkle is the author of the acclaimed Hollow Kingdom trilogy, as well as By These Ten Bones and The Sky Inside. She lives with her family in San Antonio, Texas.Visit the author's website at www.claredunkle.com
THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS BY CLARE B. DUNKLEHenry Holt and Co. (BYR) (September 14, 2010)Young Tabby Aykroyd has been brought to the dusty mansion of Seldom House to be nursemaid to a foundling boy. He is a savage little creature, but the Yorkshire moors harbor far worse, as Tabby soon discovers. Why do scores of dead maids and masters haunt Seldom House with a jealous devotion that extends beyond the grave?
As Tabby struggles to escape the evil forces rising out of the land, she watches her young charge choose a different path. Long before he reaches the old farmhouse of Wuthering Heights, the boy who will become Heathcliff has doomed himself and any who try to befriend him.
1. The House of Dead Maids centers on Tabby, a young maid who becomes immersed in a world of ghosts and dark superstition when she takes a job caring for a young boy (one who will grow up to become Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights). Can you tell us a little more about the book and share with us a favorite line, scene or passage?
When I was a child, my life was chaotic and lonely. I was very much an outsider, very much a freaky little kid. So when I read Wuthering Heights at about the age of nine, I sympathized completely with Heathcliff, the little boy who is forced to live in a household that doesn’t want or like him.
In those days, whenever I read a book, I would turn that world into a laboratory and tinker with the plot and characters to see how I could affect the outcome. I tried that with Wuthering Heights, but no matter how quickly I changed things around, I couldn’t make Heathcliff’s life turn out happy. He couldn’t trust anyone. He seemed to be damaged beyond repair by some trauma that had happened before the beginning of the book.
Not long ago, I started thinking again about Heathcliff and what might have happened to him before Wuthering Heights. I studied the book as if it were a cold case, combing it for clues, and then I wrote The House of Dead Maids. In my book, Heathcliff is already a victim of abuse and neglect, but he hasn’t yet become hardened and suspicious.
So my favorite scenes in The House of Dead Maids are those where Heathcliff can still play and be a little boy. I love the warmth of his interactions with Tabby. I love the fact that, at least for a little while, someone kind takes care of him and that he can respond to that care with trust and happiness. It doesn’t happen again—by the time Heathcliff enters Wuthering Heights, he’s looking out for himself.
2. What three words would you say best describe The House of Dead Maids?
windswept, grim, and haunting
3. If you had to attach a musical score to your novel, what songs do you imagine playing during prominent scenes?
I don’t think I could score the novel. I don’t have that gift. But my mind does tie certain songs to certain characters, so I can think of some songs I associate with characters in The House of Dead Maids, and I think that the songs themselves match the bleakness and beauty of the book.
Vienna Teng’s “My Medea” I associate with Miss Winter and the torment of guilt she goes through concerning children. Sarah McLachlan’s “Ben’s Song” I associate with Izzy and the dead children, who seem terribly sad to me. And Breaking Benjamin’s “So Cold” matches in my mind the menace, evil, and despair of the manipulative Old Masters, who lose their humanity through greed and ambition.
The last song I associate with this book was important to me while I was writing the first draft. I knew the song, and then a family incident made it personal, and that same family incident spurred me to write The House of Dead Maids. It’s a German song: “Nur zu Besuch” by Toten Hosen. Throughout the song, the singer speaks to his mother, who has recently died; he is visiting her grave, bringing her flowers and telling her how he’s doing, how her garden is, and other bits of news. During the chorus, he tells her, “I talk with you just like always, just like before, as if we had all the time in the world. I sense you right beside me, I hear your voice in the wind, and when it rains, I know you sometimes cry.”
There’s nothing dark or creepy about this song; there’s just the simple, unavoidable fact of death separating loved ones. It reminded me while I was writing the book that everyone who matters to Heathcliff sooner or later abandons him by dying. That’s such a painful thing to bear.
4. What do you think Emily Bronte would say if she was alive today and read your novel?
You know, I think she’d enjoy it. To the end of Emily Brontë’s life, the world of imagination mattered as much to her as the real world did; in her diary letters, she mentions real-world and fictional-world developments in the same sentence. Then, too, Emily was accustomed to sharing her imaginary world with her sister Anne. They looked forward to reading one another’s new twists on the characters they shared. So I think Emily would consider a elaboration of her story to be a perfectly natural development. Then, too, Emily Brontë loved ghost stories. That’s one of the few things we know about her. So I like to think that Emily would relish all the hauntings in my book.
5. What can we look forward to from you next? Any new series or other upcoming projects in the works?
My daughter Elena and I cowrote a manuscript called Vanishing Girl about her eight-year battle with anorexia. We’re about to start working with an editor on revising it, but there’s no timeline yet on when it might be released.
I’ve also started a book that uses water lore and superstition. Across Europe, there are certain bodies of water or locations along rivers that have developed a reputation as “drowning pools”—places that seem to lure in and kill human victims. I’ve started writing about such a pool, and I’m enjoying it; the scenes are lovely and eerie. But who knows what will happen with that project? I’m just playing with it so far.
Other Books by Clare B. Dunkle
Special Brontë-themed giveaway!
One Grand Prize winner will receive The House of Dead Maids, a gorgeous Brontë sisters pocket mirror, and the HarperTeen edition of Wuthering Heights! Two lucky runners-up will receive the two books. To enter, send an email to DeadMaidsBook@gmail.com with your name, email address, and shipping address (if you're under 13, submit a parent's name and email address). One entry per person and prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses. Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on October 31. Winners will be selected in a random drawing on November 1 and notified via email.