Friday, May 17, 2013

Interview with author Dianne Salerni

The year is 1867, and seventeen-year-old Verity Boone is excited to return from Worcester, Massachusetts, to Catawissa, Pennsylvania, the hometown she left when she was just a baby. Now she will finally meet the fiancé she knows only through letters! Soon, however, she discovers two strangely caged graves . . . and learns that one of them is her own mother’s. Verity swears she’ll get to the bottom of why her mother was buried in “unhallowed ground” in this suspenseful teen mystery that swirls with rumors of witchcraft, buried gold from the days of the War of Independence, and even more shocking family secrets.

Today I am very happy to have Dianne Salerni, the author of said book, here to answer a few questions. I read The Caged Graves way back when it was a baby wip, and the first thing that struck me was the main character, Verity Boone, a character I liked from page one. 

So my first question for you, Dianne, is where did you find Verity? And did you find the name first, or the character? 

I started planning this book after writing a manuscript with a main character who lied all the time. In THE CAGED GRAVES I wanted to create someone completely different, so I conceived of a girl who always told the truth -- even when it was uncomfortable to do so -- because her name was Verity and she was determined to live up to her name.

Unfortunately, in 1867, a 17 year old girl who is outspoken, forthright, and truthful can rub people the wrong way -- including the fiance who wooed her through letters and now finds her difficult to get along with in person.

Hmm, I wonder if I might know that character who lies all the time…but nevermind. We’re here to talk about Verity and Nate, the fiancé in question. I loved the scenes where they keep saying the wrong things to each other. I especially loved those scenes because they didn’t seem at all contrived. Nate particularly struck me as such a real character. Did you model him after anyone?

Not only was Nate McClure NOT based on anyone real, he didn’t match the character in my outline. Nate asserted himself the first time he appeared on the page, rejecting everything I had planned for him. The Nate who showed up for this story is the long-awaited and much adored male heir of a wealthy family after three older sisters. In spite of this, he’s not conceited – just very serious and very sure of himself. Verity challenges him in ways he’s not accustomed to.

Their bumbling conversations, where each one misunderstands the other, unfolded before me, unplanned. It was as if I were eavesdropping on this young couple, promised to each other in spite of being almost total strangers. And I actually felt bad for Nate when a more glib and upbeat, charming young man makes a play for his intended … as if I were an observer and not the person writing this story at all.

Ah yes, Hadley Jones, who isn’t mentioned in the blurb…tell us about Hadley. Was he a planned character? Did he behave as expected? 

Hadley Jones was planned to be the doctor’s apprentice and a rival love interest. But he did not behave as expected! He was supposed to be the serious one, but Nate nabbed that role, and Hadley showed up as a playful and lively character who took a liking to Verity and didn’t want to see her given away as a bride in a “land deal.”

Hadley was fun to write, because I never knew what he was going to say next. His unconventional doctoring made me laugh even while writing them. “Bite me and I’ll bite you back,” he promised a particularly recalcitrant child. Like Nate, he took charge of his own personality. I was just along for the ride.

Were there any other characters who surprised you in The Caged Graves?

Yes, there’s Asenath Thomas, who was not much older than Verity when she died and was buried in a caged grave. We don’t get to know Asenath in person because she’s dead when the story opens, but we learn about her through the diary of Verity’s mother. I didn’t have much about Asenath planned out when I started writing the first draft. (Well, there’s hardly a point when the characters don’t follow the plan anyway, is there?) But when I came to the part of the story where Verity finds her mother’s diaries and begins to read about the events of 1852 – the year the two women died – Asenath revealed herself to me.

Asenath Thomas, by the way, is one of the names on the real caged graves, as is Sarah Ann Boone. I kept the names of the women buried in the Catawissa caged graves – and the names of their husbands – but made everything else up.

Which leads me to ask if you know anything about the real women and the real graves? Is it true it remains a mystery why these graves were caged?

The two women were sisters-in-law. Asenath was married to Sarah Ann’s brother. They died within a couple days of each other, although there is no record of the cause of death. The local historical society postulates a few theories – such as the cages were meant to deter grave robbers (medical students needing bodies to practice on), or the cages were decorations meant to show off the family’s affluence. But none of the theories are completely satisfying. Why would these two bodies attract grave robbers? It was a remote mountain town nowhere near a medical school. And while the cages are decorative in their own way, they are also creepy. Why would anyone think a CAGE was an appropriate grave decoration?

I agree, those answers are not even a tiny bit satisfying nor do they make sense. After all, if there were any truth to those theories then surely there’d be more caged graves and these are the first I’ve heard of! I guess it’s a mystery that will remain one – for now.

Speaking of mysteries, lets see if we can’t dispel the mystery of publishing for anyone who might be curious. I know The Caged Graves has only been out a few days now but I’m curious about how it got from your agent, to where it is today – available for purchase. Can you tell us about that process?

I was agent-less when my first book, We Hear the Dead, was published in 2010 – and very naïve about how the publishing business worked. I realized I needed representation because I was terrible at negotiating for myself. I queried my second novel (the one with the lying MC) while I was writing The Caged Graves, and in December of 2010 I received an offer of representation from Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger Inc. The first book went on submission while I revised The Caged Graves with Sara’s input. Eventually, that book also went on submission in the summer of 2011. Dinah Stevenson of Clarion Books expressed an interest in TCG, but had reservations about certain aspects of it. She asked if I’d be willing to revise three chapters for her and address some of those issues. I revised six chapters, to prove I was a hard worker! A few days later, Dinah offered for the book.

Just to highlight the timeline on that – I wrote The Caged Graves in 2010, sold it in 2011, revised it for Clarion in 2012, and it was published in 2013.

So, three years from start to finish. That’s a long time! I think as writers one of the hardest lessons we have to learn is patience. I also know that the waiting doesn’t end once we have an agent or a book deal. What are some of the things you wait for and what do you do to distract yourself in the meantime?

My agent is so wonderful, I never have to wait long for her feedback. But once a manuscript goes on submission, a nerve-wracking waiting game starts. After a book is sold, the timeline between offer and publication is generally eighteen months, so there’s a lot of waiting along the way. The way I distract myself? Always the same. I keep writing.

I hear you there; that’s what I do, too :) Okay, now it’s time for some easy questions – about you! First up, if you could live anywhere else for a year where would it be and why?

Easy! London. I lived in London for a month during a Winter Session in college. I loved the city – the historical places – and the easy access by bus and train to the neighboring countryside. But I was horribly lonely. As long as I could take my husband with me this time, I’d love to spend a year in London.

*sigh* I’d love to live in London for a year and explore some of the countryside – especially some of those country houses…

As you know, I’m always interested in what other people are reading, but here’s a bit of a twist on that question for you: What was the last book you read that you wish you wrote? Why?

Code Name Verity. It was so unbelievably twisty. And talk about your unreliable narrator! The main character lied and lied and lied – and I knew she was lying, but I still couldn’t figure out where and when and to what end. Of course, the book was heart-breaking as well. I sobbed at the end. Even though my first book, We Hear the Dead, has a sad ending, I can’t take responsibility for it.  That’s how the true story of Maggie Fox really ended. But Code Name Verity broke my heart. I even forgive the author for using my MC’s name, LOL. After all, it was just a code word.

Ooh, I’ve heard of that book and was intrigued by the story, and, of course, the name. Now I know I need to ask my library for it. Thanks! Last question: Guilty pleasure?

Vodka martini, straight up, with olives.
And potato chips.
Not together, necessarily.

Heheh. Thank-you Dianne so much for coming by and congratulations on The Caged Graves; I couldn’t be more thrilled for you :)


  1. I definitely think there is more to those caged graves than the explanations offered.
    I lived in London for a while and agree it's an awesome place.
    Congratulations, Dianne!

  2. Wonderful! London is great. Going back for a vacay in October. Your books sound really cool.

    Tweeted and shared.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  3. lovely interview, girls!
    Congrats to Dianne on her book!

  4. Love the idea of a character named Verity who always tells the truth. And I adore London. I could easily live there. So much history.

  5. Great interview. Interesting about the 'caged graves'. Something to wonder about.

  6. REally enjoyed the interview. Caged Graves is on my TBR list.

  7. misunderstandings make great twists!
    very nice interview! love the character, Verity!

    have a wonderful weekend!

  8. This sounds like such a great book! I'm looking forward to getting my hands on it.

  9. I loved the interview and all the details about characters asserting themselves and thieving med students! I wish you huge success and I'm so happy for you - Congrats! :-D

  10. Thanks for having me, Marcy -- and thanks to all the comment-writers! I have to say, Marcy's conversational style of interviewing was a lot of fun.

    And I enjoyed revisiting how Nate and Hadley wouldn't follow my plan. It's been three years since they staged their little mutiny, and I can see now that their way was the best!

  11. This sounds like an amazing book. Can't wait to read it.

  12. @Dianne - loved having you, and thank you everyone else for stopping by and saying hi :)

  13. This book sounds like a really great read! Thanks for this interview & intro to the book. :)

  14. I learned of this book the other day on a different blog and it's now on my Amazon list. Looking forward to reading it.

  15. CAGED graves--now that is fascinating and creepy all at the same time! Wow, just wow. Sounds like a great read. :)

  16. Its great to meet Diane and best wishes to her and her book Caged Graves!

  17. What an incredible interview! It has such a conversational tone. This book is definitely a part of my TBR list! Congrats to Dianne. She's awesome. So are you, Marcy!

  18. Awesome interview! Loved finding out more about Diane and you handled the Q & A so well! :)


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