Fall is upon us and me, being a mood reader, my reading tends to look very specific during it. I want darker, atmospheric stories and anything that feels like Halloween. For this reason, I love when I’m perusing my local used bookstore or browsing Ebay and come across the old, gothic romances. They are perfect for this time of year and they’re a subgenre of romance I have secretly been hoping would make a resurgence.
Then I read The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox when it released in October of 2018 and became excited. It was this dark, atmospheric historical romance that took me completely by surprise. I was so engrossed in the story and felt a sense of escape I hadn’t felt in a long time. Well, Hester has a new release out, The Widow of Pale Harbor. I’m sure your fall to be read list is already out of control, but this new release needs to be added to it. Here is my Q&A with Author Hester Fox.
Bree: Thank you Hester for taking time out of your day to chat with me. Your second release, The Widow of Pale Harbor released the 17th of September, so first, congratulations on that! Can you chat with us a bit about what we can expect from The Widow of Pale Harbor?
Hester Fox: Thank you! Like The Witch of Willow Hall, my new book draws heavily on all those delicious 19th century Gothic tropes- a brooding hero, a feisty heroine with agency, and of course a sinister atmosphere that is dripping with foreboding. Add in some mystery, romance, and a hefty dose of Edgar Allan Poe references, and I think it’s a perfect read for a chilly autumn evening!
Bree: I am a collector and lover of old gothic romances! I’m really rooting for you because your writing and way of storytelling, I feel is what we need to hopefully start the resurgence of a subgenre that I think is well overdue for a comeback! I have to know: do you remember your journey into reading romance, and were there any specific authors/titles who have inspired your writing?
Hester Fox: Oh that’s so cool! I love the vintage Gothic covers. I didn’t get turned on to romance (no pun intended) until I was in my 20s. All the stereotypes and negative connotations kept me away: it was frivolous, smutty, and something to be ashamed of liking. All I knew was that in every book I read, it was the love story and the relationship dynamics between the characters that had me flipping the pages as fast as I could. Growing up I read a lot of Hardy, Dickens, the Brontes, and other heavy hitters, as I have always loved the 18th and 19th centuries. I think it was when I read Outlander that it really clicked for me that I could read about a time period I loved and get those juicy relationships. I started exploring the romance section of the bookstore, looking up lists of historical romance authors on Goodreads, and finally making the plunge into the genre that I had been so conditioned to snub. Today, my favorite romance authors include Tessa Dare, Julia Quinn, Alyssa Cole, and Lisa Kleypas. I especially love authors like Susanna Kearsley and Simone St. James whose writings expertly weave together history, romance, and a touch of the supernatural.
Bree: You have the coolest professional and academic background ever. I’m currently pursuing a degree in History so I fangirled so hard when I read about your degree in historical archaeology and work as a museum collections maintenance technician. How did/do you juggle your profession with writing? Were you always writing on the side, or do you remember when the shift started to happen where you wanted to pursue writing more?
Hester Fox: Right now I’m writing full time, but before that I was working and writing on the side. I had a job at a historic house museum on the other side of the city that didn’t leave me any time after commuting, eating, and showering to write. On my (very long, very depressing) train commute, I would write as much as I could on my ancient iPad. It wasn’t sustainable though, and when I signed with my agent, I realized that if I really wanted to continue writing books, something was going to have to change. I am extremely privileged in that my partner can support us both with his income, so after switching to a part-time job at a museum closer to me, I was eventually able to quit to focus on writing and raising a family. I am so grateful that I was able to work as much as I did, as it gave me invaluable experiences and absolutely enriched my writing.
Bree: What does a day of writing look like for you?
Hester Fox: Since I just had a baby, my writing routine has kind of gone out the window! Now it’s just grabbing chunks of time to write when I can. A lot of my “writing” takes place in my head, so that when I do finally have a chance to sit down, I can just spill everything out that I’ve been thinking about.
Bree: Was it the time periods that intrigued you first, and the characters and plots for both of your novels came after? Or was it the characters and plots, and then you decided upon a time period to set them in?
Hester Fox: Usually I start with a time period/ setting in which I know I want to set a story. From there I imagine the people who might have lived in such a place, and the characters naturally evolve as the story shapes them.
Bree: I have two friends who have also already read the book and I reached out to them to see if they had any questions: First, my friend Mara who creates bookish content on Youtube at Books Like Whoa asked, after reading The Widow of Pale Harbor, do you have any interest in using other religious movements of that time period moving forward?
Hester Fox: That’s a good question! I would say that I don’t have any plans to, but that it could certainly happen organically as a story evolves. Transcendentalism found its way into The Widow Of Pale Harbor because I live near Concord and went to Unitarian church as a child, so I’ve always been aware of it and how it shaped local history. There were so many interesting religious movements and cultural phenomena as the industrial revolution unfolded in the 19th century, and I like my writing to reflect that. The book I’m currently working on is set in Boston in the 1850s at the height of the spiritualist movement, so lots of ghosts and seances!
Bree: My next few questions come from my friend Nel, who is BookishNel on Instagram: she wants to know If while working in museum collections has there been a certain object that inspired your stories? And, with your museum work, how has storytelling through objects, affected your storytelling through literature?
Hester Fox: There are so many intriguing objects that just beg to have a story written about them, but its mostly the historic houses themselves that inspire me. I guess that is kind of a cop-out, because I get to say that every object in a house inspires me! It’s so powerful to walk through a space that someone over two hundred years ago walked through, see what they saw, and experience the environment the way they would have. It’s just about as close to time-travel as you can get.
Bree: What is a book you’ve read this year that you want more people to read?
Hester Fox: The Lost History of Dreams by Kris Waldherr…it’s so wonderfully Gothic and reads like a classic 19th century novel.
Bree: What is a misconception about romance you’d like to lay to rest?
Hester Fox: I think there’s this misconception that romance doesn’t address “important” issues, but what’s more important than healthy relationships, happiness, and smashing the patriarchy? I love that you get these wonderfully political stories that all contain a Happily Ever After.
Bree: Last but not least, what book are you currently reading?
Hester Fox: I’m reading RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE by Casey McQuiston and it’s sooo good!
I’m so grateful Hester took time out of her day to chat with me. The Widow of Pale Harbor is out and will make a perfect addition to your fall reading. I can’t recommend Hester’s books enough. They will truly feel unlike anything else in the realm of historical romance we have seen in a while.
About the Author:
Hester Fox is a full-time writer and mother, with a background in museum work and historical archaeology. Most weekends you can find Hester exploring one of the many historic cemeteries in the area, browsing bookshops, or enjoying a seasonal latte while writing at a café. She lives outside of Boston with her husband and their son.
Connect with Hester:
Maine, 1846. Gabriel Stone is desperate to escape the ghosts that haunt him in Massachusetts after his wife’s death, so he moves to Maine, taking a position as a minister in the remote village of Pale Harbor.
But not all is as it seems in the sleepy town. Strange, unsettling things have been happening, and the townspeople claim that only one person can be responsible: Sophronia Carver, a reclusive widow who lives with a spinster maid in the eerie Castle Carver. Sophronia must be a witch, and she almost certainly killed her husband.
As the incidents escalate, one thing becomes clear: they are the work of a twisted person inspired by the wildly popular stories of Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. And Gabriel must find answers, or Pale Harbor will suffer a fate worthy of Poe’s darkest tales.