There is nothing I love more than a book that surprises you. Surprises you with the plot, with the characters, with its very existence. This was that book!
I found this book at Writers on the River 2021. I had stopped by Marie Piper’s table to have her sign my WOTR tote and saw the cover and my interest was peeked. But when she told me it was a historical romance set during the Salem Witch Trials — I knew I HAD to read it.
“A Strange Affliction” is a true work of art. It balances honesty and historical accuracy with a plot of romance, intrigue, and horror as you see the world through the eyes of Nicholas Cleary and Hannah Hibbard. Nicholas is the doubtful and pessimistic male lead who is working to bring to light what is really happening in Salem. Meanwhile, Hannah is a mother trying to make sure her, her daughter, and her faith make it through the horrors that have descended upon their town.
The dual perspective of Nicholas and Hannah and being able to see through both of their eyes and mindsets really brought this story to life. It indulged your heart and mind as the two perspectives battled each other for logic, meaning, and ultimately what it would mean to fall in love. It also shows just how important perspective and meaning are in each scenario, as how Hannah saw a turn of events and how Nicholas saw a turn of events could be drastically different.
What’s more, you feel the sense of urgency and injustice in the novel, especially through Hannah’s perspective. It was truly a book that I couldn’t put down, not only because I loved it, but because it draws you in and makes you feel like you’re actually there. You couldn’t stop because you had to know if the trials would stop or if only despair would win. I cried with each broken heart and loss and rejoiced with each moment of joy and happiness.
Marie Piper is truly a craftswoman of writing. I can’t wait to dive into her other books, including “Christine” (a Phantom of the Opera inspired story). If you’re a lover of historical and historical romance, I BEG you — pick up a copy of “A Strange Affliction” as I have no doubt you will love the story, the characters, and the author.
What inspired you to write a historical romance set during the Salem Witch Trials?
I have always loved American History, and – like many – have always found the Salem Witch Trials especially fascinating. The original idea for A Strange Affliction came in a little burst of creativity back when my book club re-read The Witch of Blackbird Pond and someone said, “I want this, but a romance novel!” But, writing a story of love with some optimism and hope in such a dark time is hard, so I put my original scribbles on the back burner. When COVID hit, I was working on a 1930’s Circus-set romance, but could not focus on that story, so I pulled A Strange Affliction out of the drawer and suddenly it was all I could focus on. Maybe because it was a similarly dark time in History. Who knows? Sometimes you have to follow the muse…
There were so many AMAZING scenes in this story (cough, cough, the forest scene!), but which was your favorite scene to write?
Thank you! One of my favorite things in any book or media is the moment where a whole slew of weirdos comes together to accomplish something, so – without spoilers! – I had the most fun creating the end of the book where our heroine is in trouble and several peripheral characters set things in motion so the hero can help her.
What was the most difficult part of writing “Strange Affliction”?
Probably just being terrified of getting one of the real historical details or dates wrong. One thing I’ve learned from writing historical romance is that there are many people out there who know every single inch of a topic (like railroad history!) and will call you out on it. Salem is a time in history that is extensively written about and studied, and there are real people existing in this world even as my fictional Hannah and Nicholas weave in and out among them, and I did not want to mess it up.
You did a lot of research for your story (and I loved the references you included at the end). What was it like researching the people and stories of Salem? Did you find any interesting details you would like to share that perhaps didn’t make it into the book?
As I said, this is a time period that is extensively studied and written about. There are so many great books about Salem out there, and I read what felt like a billion of them. Like many, my original knowledge of Salem came from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, and just learning how much of that play is inaccurate and how much he twisted in order to make it a parallel to McCarthyism, was eye-opening. One wonderful book full of interesting information I could not include was Salem Witch Judge: The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall. Sewall was one of the judges, but his post-Salem life, guilt, and turn to social activism is fascinating.
What future projects can we look forward to seeing from you both in the future?
I’m thrilled to announce that I have a holiday novella forthcoming – MADAMS & MISTLETOE, which I’m describing as “Like Harlots, but in Deadwood, at Christmas.” While I’m pondering which of a few projects to work on next, the third and final book in my Gilded Brides series will be coming soon (I’m hoping for Spring 2022) and I think its going to be a lot of fun.