With that intriguing tag line, Wild Women Authors is pleased to welcome back author Susan Coryell with her new release from The Wild Rose Press, Beneath The Stones. Susan brought with her heroine Ashby Overton.
Where are you from, Ashby? I grew up in New Jersey with my parents but left for Southern Virginia the summer of five years ago to act as an au pair to my then seven-year-old cousin. By the end of that momentous summer, chronicled in A Red, Red Rose, I had inherited Overhome Estate, my family’s historic plantation, a working horse farm on the shore of beautiful Moore Mountain Lake.
Tell us a bit about Beneath the Stones. The story picked up my life at Overhome five years after I inherited the family estate. I had earned my writing degree and was working for a local magazine—writing about arts and artists around here. Best news ever? I was getting married at summer’s end! Luke, my fiance, was winding up his veterinary degree and my parents were retiring and moving down South to help with the wedding. Oh, all my orbs were in orbit. Except for one thing: Overhome Estate was in financial peril and it was up to me to get us out of the red. To do this, I planned to sell off fifty back acres for a housing project. It broke my heart to compromise the integrity of a 200-year-old estate, but what other choice did I have?
So—how does this economic plan work? Oh, Lord. There’s so much opposition to my real estate deal—and I don’t mean from the family. You see, there was this spirit—yeah—a ghost—who was DEAD set (pun intended) on thwarting my plan. He was one mean and ornery devil. At times, I feared for my life. I had to uncover a lot of the Overton family’s past to sort out the motives behind this unpredictable entity.
What was your biggest fear? When every step I took seemed to lead to danger, the thing I most feared was that Luke and I would have to put off our wedding. We’d waited five years for this; I could not bear to think of waiting one day, one hour, one minute longer.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received? When I tried to find answers to the who and why of the threatening spirit, I spoke to Miss Emma Coleville, our faithful former housekeeper and archivist of all things pertaining to Overhome. Miss Emma said, “The past is always with us. We cannot escape it, even if we desperately want to. Especially at Overhome.” It took me all summer to understand the meaning of those words.
This has been fascinating, Ashby. Now it's time to speak with Susan because we'd like to know which writers, from either books or movies, have had a major impact on your writing? I am in awe of mystery/gothic writers like Daphne DuMaurier, who wrote Rebecca—also, Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart. And by the way, Veronica, thanks for hosting my protagonist and me on your amazing blog!
You're very welcome. It's always fun to have you with us. With regard to research, where did you start for Beneath The Stones? I did so much research for this book. I scoured the Museum of the Confederacy several times, looking for the Virginia history I needed for background. I visited battle fields from the Civil War and toured an authentic “fort” structure built in the Valley of Virginia in the 1700’s, which became the prototype for the overseer’s cottage on Overhome Estate. I also interviewed a bluegrass champion mandolin player, spent a day on a lake horse farm, took in a winery tour and corresponded with an Olympic equestrian about the training of hunter-jumper horses and their riders.
Did that lead you down different paths, thereby changing the original concept? A serendipitous discovery wove its way into my novel—not changing the course, but certainly enriching the theme. The Civil War letters included in Beneath the Stones are based on actual letters written from battle fronts by family ancestors, Joseph Franklin Stover and John William Stover. After my mother-in-law’s death, the family found a nondescript box in her file cabinet. Inside we were amazed to find fifteen letters hand-written in beautiful, flowing script—all from these Confederate soldiers in the family. Since this occurred as I was in the midst of writing Beneath the Stones, I immediately seized on the idea of using excerpts from the letters in the novel. Though, for practical reasons, I omitted many details, overall the letters reveal a haunting picture of life for the Confederate soldier. A final note: The flute mentioned in one of the letters is very likely the same flute on display at the Museum of the Confederacy in Appomattox, Virginia.
Is there something more you'd like blog visitors to know about your writing or this book in particular? I always work with multiple themes. Southern Gothics are especially rich thematically—there’s just so much strife and conflict in the history of the South. Beneath the Stones touches on family and bloodlines, war and loyalty, layers of history, unrest in the spirit realm and the richness of cultural diversity—among others.
As a result, my books work well for book club discussions.
Tell us a bit about your publisher. How did you hear about them; what influenced you to submit to them; how is the submission process; what is the turn-around time from date of query to date of release? The Wild Rose Press published both A Red, Red Rose and Beneath the Stones. I was referred to TWRP by a former publisher and I must say they are wonderful to work with—every one! I love my editor, Alicia Dean (aka Alice Robertson), who has been super helpful with both books. I’d say turn-around time is “reasonable.”
Beneath the Stones is my first go at sequel writing; I learned, by trial and error, how much of A Red, Red Rose to include without spoilers while maintaining a stand-alone novel in Beneath the Stones. Quite a task!
What are you reading right now? The Rent Collector, The Girls of Atomic City, The Garden of Evening Mists. (I always have three books going at once and I belong to two book clubs).
What's next for you? I am working on the third book in the Overhome series. Five years later, of course.
Susan also brought an excerpt with her from Beneath the Stones:
Luke climbed down cautiously, the old boards of the steps groaning and creaking under his weight. When he reached the bottom, he turned, held out his arms and said, “Come on down, Ashby. Just go slow.”
“Not to worry. I’ve done this before,” I told him, reaching for the first step with my foot. Carefully, I moved toward the bottom, one step at a time, leaning against the wall for support. I was half-way there when it happened—so suddenly that I had no time to react. Frigid air swooshed down on me from behind, freezing my face so that I screwed my eyes tight shut at the same time something strong and determined pushed against my back violently—so violently that I stumbled, then tumbled forward, to be caught in Luke’s outstretched arms from several stairs below.
“Whoa!” Luke exhaled from the impact of my body on his. “My God, Ashby. What happened?”
I slumped against him, unable to utter a single word, my breathing shallow and rapid. At last I found my voice. “Something pushed me, Luke. I don’t know what—or who—but it was powerful and deliberate.”
Luke glanced up to the top of the stairs. “Nothing there. I’m going back to the loft to look.”
I stopped him. “I doubt you’ll find anything.” I sniffed the air, expecting a new infusion of foul odor. “And what would you do if you did find anything?”
Just then we both heard it. Hollow, chilling, trailing away from us with every syllable: “Go away. He’s dead. He’s dead. He’s dead....”
To learn more about Susan Coryell and the stories she creates go to: www.susancoryellauthor.com or contact her at: