October Spotlight ~ Week 4 ~ A Guest Post by Erika Mailman

October 23, 2008 at 9:46 am | Posted in Books | 6 Comments
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It doesn’t truly seem possible, but October is almost coming to a close. Just a little over a week and we’re saying hello to November.  The good news is that in the October Spotlight, I’ve saved the best for last.

This week, I am pleased to present the following guest post written by Erika Mailman, the author of The Witch’s Trinity.  At the end of this week, I’ll be posting the entries in the “What’s Witchcraft Have To Do With It” contest to win a copy of the new paperback edition.  What?  You didn’t know about this contest or you haven’t entered yet?  There’s still time to enter!  Click here for the details.  Voting will begin tomorrow.

Next week, I’ll be publishing the exclusive interview I had with Erika over the weekend.  I had a wonderful time speaking with her and I hope that you’ll enjoy the interview just as much.  That is also the week at the entries for the “Not On My Watch” contest will be posted for voting.  I’m really looking forward to that contest as well.  Once again, click here for more details.  There’s still plenty of time to enter this contest.  Be creative and show us what you’ve got!

Without further interruption, here is Erika’s guest post.  Enjoy!

Why Germany?

When I talk with people, they often ask me why I set my novel The Witch’s Trinity in Germany. After all, my ancestor Mary Bliss Parsons was accused of witchcraft in Massachusetts; that would be a more logical place to set it. I remember one literary agent who was interested enough in the book to talk to me on the phone said, “You’ll never publish it set in Germany. Germany doesn’t sell. Set it in England.” I declined to switch the setting, and she declined to represent me. Thankfully, my current agent saw no such problem.

Germany just made sense to me. I’m of German descent (my name Mailman is a bastardization of Mehlman). I loved the Brothers Grimm fairy tales set in the forests of Germany. I felt that the Old World feel of a village deep in snow, with people speaking in clipped, guttural accents, would best convey the claustrophobic atmosphere I was looking for.

And lo and behold, Germany provided the staging ground for the most vicious and prolific witch hunts.

Author Lyndal Roper writes,

“The themes of the witch trials recur with monotonous regularity across Western Europe, featuring sex with the Devil, harm to women in childbed, and threats to fertility, all issues which touch centrally on women’s experience. It was in Germany that these fears found their most terrifying expression and resulted in the largest number of deaths.”

Ropal blames Germany’s scattered power systems (religious and secular) for allowing these panics to rampage uncurbed, as well as the friction created by the Reformation and Counter-Reformation pitted against each other. She also posits that Germany’s culture and landscape played a direct role in permitting the witch craze to reach such a height. She talks of the morbid artwork, the Gothic cathedrals that illustrated how wicked and sin-filled mortal men were. This created a fear of hellfire that made it seem possible that witches were walking in their midst, bringing a little flame of that very fire with them.

German villages suffered the most losses through witchcraft executions. One terrible statistic: two different towns so diligently pursued their witches that in both, only one woman remained alive. You can bet those women kept their mouths firmly shut.

To further strengthen the choice to set my novel in Germany, it was German friars who penned the infamous witch hunting bible the Malleus Maleficarum. This is the book that permitted magistrates in far-flung places to properly stage a witchcraft trial. Gutenberg’s newish invention, the printing press, made its dissemination in large numbers possible. The book, in fact, was a bestseller of its day, going into multiple editions over hundreds of years. And you can still find it at many bookstores today, as a historical artifact reprinted in the 1970s.

One has to wonder, if the Malleus Maleficarum hadn’t existed, would so many people have died? Without its legalistic guidance, would magistrates have bumbled through questioning a witch and concluded that there was no substance to the accusation? Since the Malleus mentions all the things witches are capable of, many surmise that the inquisitions consisted of magistrates asking leading questions—which, along with torture which the Malleus recommended, would make anyone confess—about deeds that wouldn’t have even been thought of if not suggested.

With all these arrows pointing to Germany, I couldn’t help but create Güde’s world there. The village is fictional, but based on many hours of research and consideration. I’d be curious to hear from anyone who struggled with where to set their novel, or faced opposition about where they did.

* * * * *

Erika Mailman is the author of the novel The Witch’s Trinity. Lyndal Roper is the author of the nonfiction book Witch Craze.

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6 Comments »

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  1. Wow, and she said Germany wouldn’t sell?! That is crazy. I would love to check out your book. I’m 1/8 German, which isn’t much, but I’ve been fascinated with the nation and its troubled past. From WWII and the holocaust to its various incarnations under other rulers. Germany has such a dark and rich past…how could it not sell?

  2. I can’t wait to read your interview.

  3. Serena, yes, I was kind of flabberghasted that the agent said that. An entire country, in her mind, could never see itself in print? And I agree, this country has a very “dark and rich past”–well put.

    Kathy, thank you. Literate Housewife is a great interviewer, and we had a wonderful time talking!

  4. Fascinating guest post Erika. I didn’t realize that so many German villages suffered such losses due to witchcraft executions. By the sounds of it, Germany was the perfect setting. I agree with Serena, I’ve read other novels set in Germany and they’re great-I too don’t understand how someone would think that it wouldn’t sell. I think a book speaks for itself-if it’s good material, the setting enhances it. I am really anxious to read your book since I won a copy right here.

  5. It’s interesting you were told Germany wouldn’t see because that is actually one thing that appealed to me when I first read about this book. I love books set in England, but I guess I’ve read so many that I was excited to get to learn a little more about a less-written-about country.

  6. Darlene,
    I see you are reading Little Women for the Classics Challenge this month. Oh, I love that book. I am from a family of four girls so it especially meant something to me (I’m the “Amy”). LH gave me your address so the book will be winging its way to you soon!

    Shana, I’m so glad to hear that the setting was one of the things that appealed to you about my book. I think it’s a nice trend in literature that people seem more willing to read books set in other countries. It’s good armchair tourism!


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