Friday, March 3, 2017

LEMME SEE THAT BOOK!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: One of my favorite author memories. It was…I forget what year. But I think PRIME TIME had just come out. I was at…I forget what event. (Are your memories like this?)  Anyway, several authors were there, talking to booksellers and librarians about our new books. There was this woman in the booth next to me, so you can imagine I heard her pitch over and over.  I had no idea who she was--I couldn’t even see her.

Finally, I couldn’t stand it.

I went around the barrier between us and said something along the lines of  “Whoever you are, LEMME SEE THAT BOOK!

Turned out it was Brunonia Barry, and the book that sounded so irresistible was THE LACE READER.

That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and I am jumping up and down that she's here today to tell us about her newest blockbuster!
And wow. You’re going to say: LEMME SEE THAT BOOK!


HANK: So tell all. What was your inspiration for THE FIFTH PETAL?

BRUNONIA BARRY:  As someone whose family has been living here since 1628, and who has both accused and accusers hanging from her family tree, I suffer the same generational guilt that many Salemites are reminded of every day by the tourists from all over the world who visit our city to explore its dark history.

We have a love/hate relationship with the tourists, our economy wouldn’t be possible without them, but they serve as a constant reminder of our guilt. Walking through town, especially at Halloween, when our population grows from 40,000 to 300,000, and seeing some of the strange goings-on, I sometimes wonder if the whole thing could happen again. People are still accused and demonized in many parts of the world, and fear of the “other,” has seldom been as rampant even in our own country. I tried to consider what a modern day witch hunt might look like in Salem. 

HANK: Is this novel connected to your other Salem novels, The Lace Reader and The Map of True Places? 

BRUNONIA: Though they stand alone, all of my novels are linked in some way. "The Fifth Petal" has characters who appeared in my previous novels. They grow and change with time as we all do, but they remain in place. And Salem, as well, changes as if it were a character; it’s not the same place it was five years ago, or even last year, which fascinates me. There are so many more stories to tell, so much more history to explore that I find myself wishing I could either write faster or live long enough to tell them all. Both characters and place reveal themselves more fully as I go. They say we write in an effort to understand. That’s very true for me. 


HANK: Strong female characters are at the core of your books. Certainly the history of Salem lends itself to an exploration of female relationships and stories! 

BRUNONIA: I don’t know if I believe "the world breaks everyone” (to quote Hemingway), but I truly believe that people become "strong at the broken places." Stronger in fact. All of my best characters are strong, and all have been broken in some way.

Rose, though demonized, is probably the strongest. She believes her own perceptions, though it has cost her dearly. And, with all that has happened to her, she is still able to love. Abused as a child, Towner suffered a psychotic break in "The Lace Reader,” but has healed herself though years of therapy, and by giving back to those who were victimized in the same way. Callie is in the process of healing by coming back to Salem to help Rose, and by discovering who killed her mother and the other two young women nicknamed the “Goddesses.” As is the case with many strong women, the bond between them is unbreakable; they help and rely on each other as a source of their strength.

Historically, Salem has always been a center of feminine power: from the women who refused to confess to witchcraft (though a confession would have saved their lives), to those who helped win American independence, to the abolitionists, suffragists, and the early champions of public education, strong women have played a huge role. Even the sewing circles, who still meet in secret, are fiercely dedicated to today’s most important social issues. 

HANK: Sewing circles?

BRUNONIA: After the Salem Witch Trials in 1692, women in Massachusetts were forbidden to gather in groups. That “law” remained in effect for a number of years, and, as a result, Salem’s secret sewing circles began, with three of them still in existence today. No one knows the identity of the groups' members, as all are sworn to secrecy. Mostly, they are known only by their charitable work. But, because of their secrecy, there is still some uneasiness about the circles. 

HANK: You did so much research!

BRUNONIA:  I’ve been obsessed by Celtic Mythology since I lived in Ireland when I was in college. The connection to the modern day Salem Wiccans and witches, many of whom worship the Celtic pantheon, made this an easy fit for me. I knew a bit about modern witchcraft, but not enough. With hundreds of practicing Pagans in Salem, I have many consultants who help me with my research. But for this book, I needed more, so I took a course put on by one of our local covens called "Witchcraft 101." I’m not a practicing witch by anyone’s standards, but the course helped me understand their nature-based beliefs and practices far better than I did before. 

HANK: I was fascinated by the sacred tree…tell me about that. 

BRUNONIA: Again, Celtic mythology was a big part of this, but sacred trees are part of almost every religion, going back to the World-tree Yggdrasil and 3,000 BC Babylonia, as well as to Mayan mythology, and even the tree of life in our Old Testament. I read everything I could find on the subject, from scholarly articles to Yeats’ studies of Irish mythology. A favorite source was a book called “Trees of Inspiration, Sacred Trees and Bushes of Ireland," by Christine Zucchelli. It’s a great guide with wonderful photos.

Somewhere in my studies, I came across the idea that wounds and imperfections on a tree’s bark are somehow sacred, and I loved that idea. Also, while I was writing the novel, Suzanne Simard’s research revealed that trees have developed a communication system through their roots via their symbiotic relationship with fungi. In this way, they are able to pass nutrients from one tree to another, and to essentially help each other survive. The idea of trees communicating fascinated me, and it immediately became a key part of the novel. 


HANK: And music? 

BRUNONIA: Music has always been an important part of my life and my writing. I have been suffering from asthma since I was a child, and have explored many healing modalities including acupuncture and massage along with traditional medicine. Both therapists have used singing bowls in their practice, and I have found them very helpful. I now use them every day for meditation and to begin and end my writing day. I think sound has a profound effect on the body. And music takes that to an even higher level. 


HANK:  One last question--Have you always been so connected to the...supernatural?

Well, I was born in Salem and lived next to the woods in a neighboring town, where our favorite pastime was telling ghost stories and scaring each other. And I’m half Irish, with a family that claims to have a banshee, so I think it’s a given. 

How about you, Reds? Salem? Witchcraft? Celtic mythology? SO fascinating! 
Let us know your thoughts!  I am on a plane to California today...so I’ll pop in whenever I get wifi!   

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Brunonia Barry is the New York Times and international best selling author of The Lace Reader and The Map of True Places. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She was the first American author to win the International Women’s Fiction Festival’s Baccante Award and was a past recipient of Ragdale Artists’ Colony’s Strnad Fellowship as well as the winner of New England Book Festival’s award for Best Fiction and Amazon’s Best of the Month. Her reviews and articles on writing have appeared in The London Times and The Washington Post. Brunonia co-chairs the Salem Athenaeum’s Writers’ Committee. She lives in Salem with her husband Gary Ward and their dog, Angel. 

73 comments:

  1. Brunonia, I’m not surprised that you say Salem has a love/hate relationship with tourists . . . those who live at the shore tend to have that same sentiment when summer weather brings the tourists to the beach.
    Trees communicating through their roots . . . is that anything like the giant redwood trees supporting each other with their intertwined roots?

    I’m looking forward to reading “The Fifth Petal” and finding out about the Goddesses . . . .

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    1. Oh, it's such a good book, Joan!

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    2. Hi Joan. I know. We need the tourist trade to survive, but it's also lovely when tourist season is finally over. It's an interesting dynamic. Regarding tree communication: yes, it's very much like the redwood trees. There's a great new book called THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES that details much of the same research. In THE FIFTH PETAL, the trees really represent the best of society, and Rose, of course, with her belief in Celtic mythology, takes the theory even further.

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  2. I can see the love/hate relationship with tourists. I'm sure any touristy area probably does. Especially those of us who say, "I'd love to move here."

    But I'm not sure why you'd have guilt. You didn't do anything. And as you said, you have ancestors on both sides of the historical events. Nothing for you to feel guilty about at all.

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    1. Well, Boston, you know? And Cape Cod?i Love-hate!

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    2. Mark, I think it's that the presence of the tourists reminds us of the story we'd rather forget, a cautionary tale we all need to remember though maybe not every day. I think that's the issue. It's odd to think of how fast it happened (the whole thing lasted only about six months). And it's kind of odd to celebrate it in any way, which is the feeling you sometimes get, especially at Halloween. So I think that's where the generational guilt comes from. But thanks, it's also good to remember it wasn't me.

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    3. I can see that - especially the guilt over making money off a truly horrible event in history. That is certainly ghoulish.

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  3. Waving hi from Amesbury, Brunonia! I avoid Salem at all costs in October, but enjoy going there at other times of the year. I've been talking to trees since I was in college. Seriously. Last year I read an article about all kinds of plants, not just trees, communicating underground with plenty of science to back it up - they share nutrients, and share toxins when a predator approaches. It was fascinating. I'm essentially half Irish and half Scottish, and have always felt a connection to the music and culture. Can't wait to read the new book!

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    1. And think about it--the plants have trained us to care for them and feed them!

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  4. Welcome, Brunonia! I'm from Marblehead and have vivid memories of school field trips to the Witch Museum. The model of Giles Corey insisting on "more weight" has haunted me and my sisters into adulthood!

    When writing "The Fifth Petal" were you initially inspired by a character or did the ideas of witchcraft and the sacred tree serve as the jumping off point for the book?

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    1. Isn't it funny how those specific moments burrow into your brain? Yeesh.

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    2. It is funny how those moments haunt you. I'm also originally from Marblehead, and we always took field trips to Salem. The character of Rose first inspired me, that and the idea of what a modern witch hunt might look like in Salem. Once a respected historian, Rose suffered complex trauma when her friends were murdered and was ultimately blamed for the crime. The town is divided on whether she is innocent or guilty. I knew I had to tie Rose's story into Salem's history, and doing research on the subject, I found out that Gallows Hill wasn't the original hanging spot of 1692, and that the victims were probably hanged from a hardwood tree at Proctor's Ledge, which brought Rose's tree mythology into the story. Shortly after I turned in the book, the research was confirmed by a group of historians and scientists, and, as you probably know, a memorial is planned, which is what Rose wanted in the book.

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  5. While I was still working at the library, we discussed THE LACE READER in a book group that I moderated. It was a great favorite. Looking forward to reading THE FIFTH PETAL! Such an interesting area and such a wealth of potential stories. As to the trees communicating, reminds me of the Ents and Fangorn Forest in Lord of the Rings. LOL

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    1. I cannot see an interesting tree without thinking of the Ents, Kay!

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    2. The Ents! A perfect example! I'm so glad you discussed THE LACE READER, Kay. THE FIFTH PETAL has some of the same characters, though it takes place fifteen years later, so they've changed a bit. No need to read one with the other, the stories do stand alone, but you'll see some familiar faces from the previous two books. I'd love to hear your thoughts once you've read the new one.

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  6. What a timely post, Brunonia. I plan to pick up Fifth Petal as soon as possible. The book I'm working on now, which will be the 8th in my Biscuit McKee mystery series, alternates between scenes set in 2000 and ones going back as far as the 1690s. There are a couple of refugees from Salem who show up in town, surrounded by mystery. Luckily, I discovered that "refugee" entered the English language in the late 17th century. Have you had any people fleeing Salem in your books? Or did many even leave in the first place? After all, that was a time when people tended to stay put where they were born. I obviously have more research to do!

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    1. Hi Fran. I can't wait to read your new one. There were many lucky refugees from Salem, and some who came back to reclaim property after the witch trials ended, which was quite a challenge. I haven't put that into a book yet, but I love the idea. Part of my family left town, heading for Rhode Island about that time, but the remainder are still here, which is lucky for me, because Salem seems to inspire all of my stories. Very interesting that the word "refugee" appeared when it did. Thank you for pointing that out. It is timely.

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  7. Hi, Brunonia (waving!) - I've been a huge fan since Lace Reader. And Salem is so one of those places with which one has a love/hate/fascination relationship. ...tourists ...traffic ...funky 'museums' AND YET the streets and architecture, the past that infuses the present. Irresistible. Not to mention a world class museum in the Peabody Essex. I'll definitely be reading THE FIFTH PETAL.

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    1. Thanks, Hallie. I'm a huge fan of your writing as well. Funny you mentioned the traffic, I think that's what bothers people the most. That and a lack of parking spaces. But culturally, this is a great city, thanks in great part to PEM's decision to stay. The Film Festival (which starts tonight, btw), the Mass Poetry Festival, Lit Fest, etc. all make for a great little city. And then, in February, there are ice sculptures and chocolate. That's fun, too!

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  8. Ladies and gentleman above - you have a treat coming! I just read The Fifth Petal and it is a great as the rest of her books!

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    1. Thank you so much, Gram! You made my day!

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  9. Brunonia, welcome to the Jungle Reds! Your books sound intriguing! I am happy that women had secret societies too. If men could have secret societies like ? Knights of Templar or ? Masons, then why cannot women have secret societies too?

    Did you know that Sarah Jessica Parket, who played the role of a witch in Hocus Pocus movie, is actually descended from Esther (Dutch) Elwell, who was accused of witchcraft during Salem Witch Trials, but she was acquitted ? She survived to marry and have children.

    I think one of my ancestors was Lt. John Moulton, who was born in Newbury, MA then he and his family moved to New Hampshire. I am still learning how to research my family tree.

    I read the Witch of Blackbird Pond in high school.

    When I was a kid, I loved to watch the re-runs of Bewitched about a witch who married a mortal. It is funny that I knew more about witches than religion, even if I went to a Catholic school. I did not really know that my school was a religious school.

    Wish I knew about your books earlier! I want to read them all! Look forward to reading the Lace Reader!

    Hank, you get to meet many authors! Did you meet authors through your work as a reporter or through book conferences or both?

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    1. Oh, you are so right… I am lucky! Rushing to board a plane, but more to come! XO XO

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    2. I did know about Sarah Jessica Parker. So interesting that she played that part before knowing her ancestral connection. I find Salem's secret societies fascinating. They play a small part in this book and an even larger part in the next. Regarding John Moulton, I wonder if he has any connection to Ossipee, New Hampshire. We have a camp up there, and there are a number of Moultons in the area.

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  10. Rushing to board a plane to California! Back to answer questions ASAP… Love to you all.

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    1. Thanks for this interview, Hank. What a great group! Hope you have a smooth flight.

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  11. I love the title and the cover - and the premise. I've always found Celtic mythology so interesting.

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    1. Thank you, Mary. One of the bits of Celtic mythology that appears in the book is the banshee legend, which was oral tradition, of course, and varies greatly from region to region. That made it more interesting to write about because it gave me freedom to combine and be a bit more creative than I might have been otherwise. And the reason for using Celtic mythology (as well as Rose's Irish background) was that many of Salem's neo-witches worship the Celtic pantheon, so it seemed appropriate for a story set in Salem.

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  12. Welcome Brunonia. I'm very excited to see that the Lace Reader is back in the new book! It's been a long time, and I look forward to adding another of your great tales to my Brunonia Collection.

    I used to be Ann in Rochester before Hallie changed the rules , so now I am Finta. In drag.

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    1. Hi Finta (alias Ann in Rochester). I'm thrilled that you're excited about the new book. Please let me know what you think.

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  13. Said with a smile that got deleted. Pftt.

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  14. The Lace Reader is such a brilliant book, and made me a dedicated fan, Brunonia. Very happy to know about this new book, which Reine Carter has already raved about.

    I'm fascinated with witchcraft, from both sides of the white/black, benign/dark aspects. I think we all possess the ability to do at least a little magic, we just need to learn how to tap into that energy. Or maybe that's just wishful thinking!

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    1. Thank you Karen (and thank you, Reine)! I'm fascinated with magic and with the ability of tapping into something that I believe is accessible to all. I think of it as some, as yet, unmapped part of the brain. This book plays a great deal with linear time and its connection between science and magic.

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    2. If I hadn't experienced the magic of tapping into that unknown presence, that so wisely keeps a safe distance from us, I would likely see it only as entertainment. But no. It is there and has wisdom and experience that it cautiously shares because, I believe, we so often lack the understanding and strength we need to communicate well.

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  15. Congratulations on the new book, Brunonia!

    I loved The Lace Reader and will look for The Fifth Petal. I admire your diligent research and your ability to weave together so many elements (character, place, history). That skill makes your stories so rich and pleasurable.

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    1. Thank you so much, Brenda! This new book took five years to write, mostly because I was so fascinated by the research that I kind of got lost in it for a while. Which is one of the things that makes the job of writing fun, I think. But eventually, you have to stop researching and actually write the book. Luckily, it finally happened.

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  16. Book suggestion for Brunonia -- "Lab Girl" by Hope Jahren. Hope is a tree scientist. The book is structured with alternating chapters, one set about trees and their history/science/challenges and the other a memoir.

    I have only been to Salem once, but it is imprinted in me through literature. And I think this book will broaden my contemporary view of the town!

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    1. Denise Ann, thank you so much for this suggestion. I'm heading out on the road again next week and was looking for a new book. LAB GIRL sounds like just the thing.

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  17. Oh - I love this! Waving from the corner over here. I am a huge Brunonia fan. I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of The Fifth Petal through librarything.com. And proceeded to read it straight through i one sitting. You can always tell when an author has taken the time to really do their research and there is no doubt that Brunonia has done this with each of her books. The characters are perfectly written and ring so very true to their own situations. I fell in love with Rose and became completely fascinated with the trees. SO glad to see you here and I thank you for writing such wonderful stories.

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    1. Hi Kaye. I'm so glad you liked the book. Rose was my favorite character to write, partly because of her outspoken nature. She says the kinds of things many might think about but would never dare express, and it certainly costs her dearly. But I do think the trees take care of Rose.

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  18. Brunonia, I have long been interested in Salem and its history of witchcraft. I hope you don't mind me sharing a quote from your Web site, but I think it is such a great statement, such an ironical twist. "I think the most interesting thing about modern-day Salem, and the reason I write about it, is the irony that the place that once accused and executed suspected witches has now become a safe haven for thousands of neo-witches from all over the world, not in spite of its history but because of it. It’s fascinating on a number of levels." I have a visual of some of those horrid Puritan leaders spinning in their graves.

    Oh, since I just mentioned your Web site, Brunonia, I'd like to encourage others here to visit it. I am finding it so interesting and informative. https://brunonia-barry.squarespace.com/

    I am looking forward to reading The Fifth Petal, which is on my wish list and TBR list. Thank you for sharing all this background material with us today. It will make reading The Fifth Petal even more exciting.

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    1. Thanks for sharing that quote, Kathy. Contemporary Salem is such an interesting place, both to live in and to write about. I think the witches who live here now find it a safe haven because this is probably the one place it wouldn't happen again, at least not in the same way. I believe they're right about that, but I also think what happened here in 1692 is a cautionary tale we'd all do well to remember. That's probably the reason it remains so fascinating.

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  19. Yet another writer whom I've missed so far, and whose work sounds fascinating! Thanks, Reds (I think) for introducing them and making sure my list never shrinks. By coincidence, my local group is reading Michael Pollan this month; I'll have to see if there are any connections.

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    1. Hi Jim. I'd love to know if there are connections. I'll have to check back in to find out. Or to read Michael Pollan. That would be good, too.

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  20. Oh, the joy of Jungle Red's! I am introduced to wonderful writers, who openly share their craft. I now would like to live to be 117 years old so I can finish my current TBR list.

    Brunonia (what a fascinating first name), your novel is beckoning with a total come hither look. Tourism I can relate, living in FL. In fact the snow birds should be migrating north in a few weeks. Trees also, when I was a teen, I used to tell folks I was a Druid. I don't have a Sacred tree on my property, but I do have a Grand Tree, designated by the City of Tampa. It is an eastern live oak with a diameter of 43 inches. It is estimated to be 70 - 90 years old. In live oak years, it is still a baby.

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    1. A live oak! That sounds beautiful, Coralee. The sacred oak plays a large role in Celtic mythology, and, as a result, a large part in this story. My first name is a long story. I was named after a summer house that was named after a university (Brown), which, in latin, was translated as brunonia. It's a long and very silly story, and there was promised money involved. My dear mother, fearing nicknames, had the good sense to make Brunonia my middle name. My real first name is Sandra. But you can call me Bru, if you like. It's easier to pronounce and Bru seems appropriate living in Salem.

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  21. Wow. Just wow. History, Celtic legends, witchcraft, murder, you've got it all. And secret sewing circles? How cool is that? Putting your name down on my authors TBR list.

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    1. Thanks, Pat. Hope you enjoy the book.

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  22. The Lace Reader has been on my radar for quite a while. I have heard such fantastic things about it. And now I have to move it to the top of my list. I love the history, the secret sewing circles, Salem (I'm a CT girl), so this is absolutely my cup of tea. Looking forward to reading your work, Brunonia. Thanks so much for visiting JRW today.

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    1. Thanks, Jenn. I'm thrilled you're going read my work!

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  23. So excited that there's a new book from Brunonia! Anyone who has not read the two earlier ones needs to add them to your TBR pile!

    When I reached the end of The Lace Reader I immediately returned to Page 1 and reread the book. Twice!

    Looking forward to The Fifth Petal!

    Deb Romano

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    1. Thanks, Deborah. I'm glad to finally have The Fifth Petal finished, and am very excited that you're going to read it. Especially since you reread The Lace Reader. Wow!

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    2. I was so excited to hear recently that it was coming!

      Deb

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  24. In Phoenix! Just arrived at the gate for my next flight--SO pleased to see you all here today! YAY! Waving to everyone in PHoenix...and off to Santa Barbara! More to come.. xoox

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    1. Thanks for a great time here today, Hank. Santa Barbara is one of my favorite spots. Have a good trip!

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  25. In Phoenix! Just arrived at the gate for my next flight--SO pleased to see you all here today! YAY! Waving to everyone in PHoenix...and off to Santa Barbara! More to come.. xoox

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    1. Hank! Wave in the direction of Tucson on your way back!

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  26. A new-to-me author, but your book sounds fascinating.

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  27. Wonderful book and one that, as a college prof. designated books, is "worth reading again." The sewing circle was the perfect cover for gathering. I recently read Patricia McKissack's history of the Pullman Porters strike, and the wives held "sewing circle" meetings because men organizing unions would be fired. Strong women! . . . needed now more than ever.

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    1. Hi Mary. Thank you so much! I'm starting a new book that has a great deal to do with the Salem sewing circles and their secrets. I'm fascinated to think of the things they could do, and yes, they are needed now more than ever. I'll look for Patricia McKissack's book. It sounds fascinating.

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  28. Fascinating.
    I would point out that Pagan worship and Wiccan are two different types of earth "religion". Pagan does not equal Wiccan.
    Libby DOdd

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    1. Thanks for pointing out that distinction, Libby. There are different Pagan religions practiced here, but Wiccan is one of the most common. And not all who are Pagans are witches, either.

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  29. "The Fifth Petal" is an incredible book! NO! Brunonia Barry makes it VERY credible. I was caught up, swept away, and whatever other sense of 'immersion' suits - in the worlds of magic and science, spells and therapies. Fascinating historically and as the "now" witch hunt as well. I'm always glad when I think I have it figured out...and I'm wrong! Loved the conversation with Hank and Brunonia.

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    1. Oh, thank you Ed! SO great to hear from you!

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    2. Thanks so much, Ed! I love it when magic and science come together, if only for a moment. And I love that you didn't figure it out, since that is quite unusual. And a bit thanks to Hank for this interview!

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  30. Plane delay. 2 and a half hours?Behind! LOVE you!

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  31. Brunonia, The Fifth Petal is brilliant. It is so rich and multi-layered, I've read it twice already and will probably read it again soon. What engages me so much with this book is first of all the terrific story then, personally, the living connection to the past that those of us from Salem feel every day. I keep in touch with high school friends from Marblehead and last year a few of us who "chat" regularly were somewhat startled when we realized that, while we were related through common ancestry, other of our ancestors were neighbors. So sorry I missed this blog post earlier!

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    1. So glad to see you here, Reine, and I hope to see you next week in Tucson as well! Our Salem/Marblehead connection has led to some fascinating conversations, and it's amazing how much history we share, and that it goes back generations! Which makes the fact that you enjoyed the book so much sweeter. Thank you!

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    2. Thank you, Brunonia! Glad you saw my post here and so sorry I didn't catch that you were here earlier. I'll check your schedule at the book festival and see you there.

      [Thanks to Karen Maslowski for reminding me you were here on JRW! xo]

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  32. What a fascinating novel. This interview is extremely interesting and amazing. I look forward to this intriguing novel.

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  33. I look forward to reading this novel. The setting, characters, and story sound fascinating

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