Today I have the honour of interviewing Jennifer Murgia, Author of Forest of Whispers.
So lets get this thing started, shall we?
Hello Jennifer, and Welcome! Could you tell us a bit about your novel?
I’m happy to! FOREST OF WHISPERS is a 17th century Bavarian witch mystery detailing a horrifying inquisition that centers around the life of a sixteen year old girl, Rune. Rune has been raised in the Black Forest just outside a village that, years before, had burned a witch at the stake for a murderous crime. What Rune discovers is that this witch was her mother and she begins to hear her whispers of intent to exact vengeance upon the village.
Wow. Sounds interesting. (I have this book on my TBR list) So, What inspired you to write FOREST OF WHISPERS?
I love witch novels—always have, always will. I also love researching and found it beyond interesting that the largest (and original) sweep of witch trials began in Europe, mainly in and around the area of the Black Forest. My mother, who is a HUGE genealogy buff, had traced our family back to pre-Germania and later discovered our ancestors had settled in Southwestern Germany, and I couldn’t help wonder if they had lived through those horrible years and what they could have endured. Not only that, but it has long been rumored that a great, great, great grandmother of mine was accused of witchcraft. Incredible fodder for a story, wouldn’t you say?
Did you write an outline before writing the novel?
No. I’m not really an outline person. I tend to begin with a prologue to keep me focused, but the prologue doesn’t always become part of the story. It wasn’t until I was about ¾ through that I wrote a small outline to keep the timeline on track. I just always need a good chunk of the main story under my belt before I know if I’m headed in the right direction.
What was the hardest part of writing Forest of Whispers?
During my research I read several accounts of those who had been accused of witchcraft, and suffered deeply as a result. What a dark and hideous time it must have been to live in. There was no hope as neighbor turned against neighbor for the silliest of reasons—famine, plague, jealousy. It had catastrophic results and even the most respected or wealthy could not be spared of the accusations.
In Bamberg alone, 60k innocent people were condemned. This was so hard to stomach as I tried to create a world around fact for my novel. If you were accused, denying your involvement only prolonged your sentence. Many eventually admitted they had cavorted with Satan or cast spells just to get it over with, as the torture they had endured was so excruciating it was better to admit you were a witch and welcome death.
What is one way you relate to your main character(s)?
Rune learns she is a solitary witch, which is often called a Hedge Witch. She doesn’t belong to a coven, nor does she follow any strict rules, other than honoring the Sacred Mother. I’m a very private person. My beliefs are my own yet I do follow a simple structure. I feel connected to Rune’s character in the sense that life is a gift, we should give thanks for what helps you along the way, and always stay true to your soul.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
If you are to judge someone, prepare to be judged yourself – for things come around threefold.
Did you learn anything from writing FOREST OF WHISPERS and what was it?
I love history and weaving it into a work of fiction gives me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. You know when you hear of a tragedy and it’s almost TOO BIG to process? Like the Titanic sinking and picturing what the passengers went through on that fateful night—how they felt, what they saw, what they KNEW was about to happen . . . Researching and writing FOREST OF WHISPERS had that same effect on me. The backstory was so intricate, so horrifying it was nearly mind-numbing to accept. When you take the general history and break it down into individual stories and records—when you realize it’s not just a page from a book, or an idea, or a tale passed down, but a REAL event that happened to REAL people, it’s devastating.
I guess I can say I learned how much my heart can hold when I read about how people treated one another, and it breaks when I question if hundreds of years later, have we really become a society that treats people any differently? We may not have village burnings but we have other ways of pointing fingers and ruining.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
When I was in High School the Young Adult section in bookstores was very limited—consisting of either very young, very sweet, or topics written anonymously and whispered about at school. I found my way to the works of Milan Kundera and devoured his titles. They spoke to me. They were emotional and gripping and begged me to dig deep and find myself. I grew up wanting to write like him.
What is one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members?
God. I can’t tell you how many prayers were sent to steer me in the right direction and to help me through the rollercoaster moments.
Do you have any advice for other writers out there who are looking into publishing or just writing a story in general?
It’s a two-step process, really. Write the story first. Lock yourself away if you have to so you can pull the best possible story out of yourself, then revise, revise, revise. Have a few trusted individuals beta read it for you. Take their suggestions, plug them into your story. Oftentimes we’re too close to what we create to see the flaws, find the correct flow. But the more open you are to accepting suggestions, rejection, ideas on how to make what you have even more polished, the story will shine.
Where can we as readers stalk you on social media? (Pinterest, Goodread, FB, Blog etc etc.)