WILBRAHAM – Chrysler Szarlan, a resident and the author of “The Hawley Book of the Dead,” will speak to members of her community about writing and her National Public Radio best book of 2014, at the Wilbraham Public Library (WPL) on Oct. 21.
WPL Adult Services Librarian Mary Bell said “The Hawley Book of the Dead,” Szarlan’s debut gothic fantasy novel, has been the focus of the library’s book group. At 6 p.m. the book group will discuss Szarlan’s book with her, which will be followed by a public event and reception at 7 p.m.
“I think the library is a natural place to support local authors,” Bell noted.
Szarlan told Reminder Publications she is delighted to be speaking at her hometown library. The public reception will focus on how the book came to be and she will also answer audience questions.
The book’s setting – the town of Hawley – is a real community, however she has melded other local towns into her fictional version of Hawley. The idea to set the novel there was inspired by her horse riding trips in a nearby state forest, she explained.
“It’s kind of a spooky book,” Szarlan said. “I guess you could say its New England gothic tradition. There are some supernatural elements and also some fantasy elements.”
She explained that the title of the novel was in her head a number of years before she actually began writing it.
In 2008, Szarlan decided to take part in Nanowrimo – a worldwide challenge to write 50,000 words in November, she said.
“That’s how ‘The Hawley Book of the Dead’ started,” Szarlan explained. “I was writing in the Hawley forest and I got an image of a woman riding her horse and sort of frantically searching for her daughters. That was the very beginning of the novel.”
The book’s protagonist is a heroine in her 40s named Revelation Dyer, who is a world famous magician that is caught up in a web of supernatural and mythical elements in her family, she said.
“I think the main thing for her is to keep her children safe, to keep her children intact,” Szarlan added. “I think that’s really what it’s all about for me. And she has to go through hell to do that, but most mothers would … I think there’s an element of this being a family saga as well as a mystery and a fantasy novel.”
The synopsis of the book on Szarlan’s website reads, “An old house surrounded by acres of forest. A place of secrets, mysteries and magic. This is where Las Vegas illusionist Reve Dyer hopes to keep her children safe from the man who killed her husband. In Hawley, where the magic of her ancestors reigns, Reve must unlock the secrets of the Hawley Book of the Dead before it’s too late.”
Although, her debut novel is the only book to have been published thus far, she has also completed two separate books. Both of the unpublished works take place in the northern hill towns of Western Massachusetts and feature supernatural elements at play. One of the novels involves a librarian haunted by the spirit of a deceased librarian.
Szarlan said she plans on writing a future novel set in Wilbraham.
“The Hawley Book of the Dead’s” path to publication required numerous revisions, which is typical of the writing and editing process, she explained.
“It still – every day – is an eye opening process,” Szarlan said. “Being a writer, you’re sitting alone in a room for so long with the book and then you have to show it to some people and more people and if you’re lucky to get it published, you have readers. It’s an amazing process and one that I’m very humbled by and endlessly fascinating.”
Her editor helped her imbue the novel with a sense of mystery and suspense, which was lacking in earlier drafts of the book, she noted.
Some of Szarlan’s influences include New England gothic writers such as Stephen King, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Shirley Jackson, and Annie Proulx.
"I like scary stuff,” she noted. “I love being scared. I want people to be scared when they read my books; just a little. I’m always influenced by science fiction film and television. I love 'The X-Files.'”
Szarlan is also the director and one of the instructors for a writing class at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley called Write On! Other instructors for the course include James Heflin, editor of Preview Massachusetts, and Robert V.S. Redick, a renowned fantasy author of the Chathrand Voyage Quartet.