Adriana Mather on “How to Hang a Witch”
HOW TO HANG A WITCH is your first book—what inspired you to start writing, and what was the process like for you?
AM: Ever since I was tiny, I’ve made a habit of poking around in family history. I stare at the serious portraits, read the letters written in the 1800s, and ask so many questions. One day, I was feeling all romantical about the family poems and worn leather books I had discovered. And the idea for HOW TO HANG A WITCH just drifted past me like the delicious scent of hot apple cider. I followed it and found myself sitting in front of a computer composing a modern story involving the ghost of my long-dead relative Cotton Mather, who instigated the Salem Witch Trials.
Writing this story was thrilling and totally without structure. I wrote my book. I threw my hands in the air and cheered. Then I rewrote the ENTIRE thing. My favorite part about the process was the creative daydreaming and the fact that I had every right to talk about the made-up people in my head. My least favorite part was that I actually scared myself writing about ghosts and will forever raise a questioning eyebrow at suspicious-looking shadows.
What is HOW TO HANG A WITCH about?
AM: HOW TO HANG A WITCH is about Samantha Mather, who moves to Salem three hundred years after her ancestor hanged witches there. Sam is targeted by the witches’ descendants at school, confronted by an enigmatic ghost, and forced to accept that her family is cursed as she unravels the lost secrets of the hangings.
The narrative has mystery, Salem atmosphere, and a handsome boy ghost with Puritan eyebrows. And below the surface, it draws parallels between modern bullying and the historical hanging of a witch. It’s meant to entertain as well as raise questions.
Tell us about your family connection to Salem and the Witch Trials.
AM: My family is firmly rooted in American history. We came over on the Mayflower, instigated the Salem Witch Trials, survived the Titanic, and lived in Sleepy Hollow. I’ve been hearing stories about forbidden love and adventures since I was little. Salem is the just the first of many family stories I hope to write about.
Tell us about Samantha Mather and the Descendants.
AM: Sam’s tough and funny in a dry, sarcastic way. She wears ripped jeans, has messy hair, and attracts disaster. She’s descended from Cotton Mather, who instigated the Salem Witch Trials, and is pretty positive her family is cursed. The thing I love most about her is that she’s brave and she stands up for people. And her awkwardness gets her into hilarious situations.
The Descendants are a group of four girls and one guy at Salem High; they’re descended from the original accused witches (the ones Sam’s family hanged). They wear fashionable gothic-chic clothes and have that whole powerful and mysterious vibe. They blame Sam for the terrible things happening in Salem ever since she arrived.
In addition to writing for a young adult audience, you work in film. Tell us about Zombot Pictures and how/when you started acting.
AM: I’ve been memorizing stories since I was in diapers. My mom used to hear me reciting lines from my picture books while I was playing. Acting and writing were in my life on and off, but were never my focus. I wanted to travel and have adventures. And somewhere along the way, acting and writing became my adventure. My very first scene in a film was opposite Danny Glover and I had to cry! I was beyond terrified. And it was on that particular set that my (now) business partners and I decided to start our production company, Zombot Pictures. Our current film Honeyglue is in theaters June 2016. The tagline is “No labels. Just love.”
I think the best way to describe what I do and have done so far in my life is that I dive in with reckless abandon. The more impossible a project is, the more I want to do it. My poor mother attributes many of her gray hairs to me.
What is your elevator pitch for HOW TO HANG A WITCH?
AM: Mean Girls meets Practical Magic. Ghosts from the Salem Witch Trials, a mystery, a romance, and lots of delicious fall-themed pastries. Oh, and my actual ancestors hanged witches in Salem, so there’s that.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
AM: I think I could research the Salem Witch Trials for the next twenty years and still learn new and creepy things. There is so much richness and complexity there! The best part, though, was going to Salem. That town is like living, breathing history and I (not surprisingly) got myself into all sorts of haunted situations that had me sleeping with the lights on.
I know so much of that history now that I could have a backup career as a Salem tour guide. I may have already been spotted poking my head into a couple of tours and offering my two cents.
Does the name Mather still raise eyebrows in modern-day Salem?
AM: Yes, and in more ways than one. Some people are fascinated and want stories. Others act as though I might be a villain, despite the three-hundred-year gap between me and Cotton Mather. I’ve never been a villain before, but have always wanted to play one in a movie, so it was all very thrilling.
What connection do you see between the Salem Witch Trials and modern-day bullying? What lessons are to be learned?
AM: I used the psychology behind the historical Trials to draw a parallel to modern-day bullying. Bullying and community silence can be a death sentence. We look at the Salem Witch Trials and think, ‘How could they ever let something horrible like that happen?’ But it’s not that different for the people who suffer from bullying now.
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