Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wordcraft -- Kent stays true to historical fiction

It’s always a pleasure to listen to Kathleen Kent, author of The Traitor’s Wife, the prequel to her bestselling novel The Heretic’s Daughter. She stopped by a Real Bookstore in Fairview last week to discuss her latest book -- and what she’s working on next.

I first heard her speak at the Dallas Writers Garret in early 2009, soon after the release of The Heretic’s Daughter. The hardback first edition with her autograph must have been printed before the novel hit the New York Times bestseller list, because there’s no cover blurb announcing its status.

Although The Traitor’s Wife was Ms. Kent’s first choice of a title for the prequel, it was initially published last fall as The Wolves of Andover. The title change occurred, she told her audience, because the publisher believed there were too many books already out with the word “wife” in their titles. The United Kingdom edition, however, retained the original title and its sales encouraged a recent trade paperback version in the U.S. with the restored title.

The Heretic’s Daughter tells the story of Martha Carrier, one of nineteen women and men hanged during the seventeenth century witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts. The tale of the hysteria that swept the colony had been told several times, but never from the standpoint of a family member of the accused, until Ms. Kent wrote her historical fiction based on reminiscences of her mother’s family -- a descendant of Martha Carrier.

If Martha’s story sounds stranger than fiction, that of her husband, Thomas Carrier, told in The Traitor’s Wife, is even more fantastic. Family tradition insists that he was one of the executioners of Charles I who escaped from the Tower of London to the American colonies to elude assassins sent by the dead king’s son, Charles II and marry Martha Allen, later to be accused of witchcraft.

Although Ms. Kent at first believed her family’s stories about Thomas Carrier -- that besides being a regicide, he was seven feet tall and lived to be 109 -- were exaggerated, research turned up justification for the claims. The story in The Traitor’s Wife, she said laughingly, “is based on fact and the rest is the product of my fevered imagination.”

She was amazed to find at a reunion of the Carrier family after publication of The Heretic’s Daughter, that “so many of them had heard the same stories about Thomas.”

The man also known as Thomas Morgan the Welshman entered the new world “with two known regicides -- two of the judges of Charles I. He was gossiped about. There were rumors that followed him all over New England.” Carrier’s height was also attested to by contemporary news accounts of his death that stated two coffins had to be fitted together to contain his body.

Are there more books about the Carrier family in the offing? Maybe, Ms. Kent said. Although she is currently writing a book dealing with the post-Civil War Reconstruction era in Texas, she is interested in the story of one of Martha Carrier’s nieces who was kidnapped by Indians during the colonial period. For more about Ms. Kent and her books, see


If you want to recite your own family’s stories with the art they deserve, check out the Youth Storytelling Festival this Saturday, November 5. Members of the Dallas Storytellers Guild last weekend assured the audience that the festival, with workshops and performances, isn’t just for kids. Registration starts at 9:30 a.m. at the Zula B. Wylie Public Library, 225 Cedar St., Cedar Hill, Texas. See or call 972-291-7323 ext. 1312.


More interested in writing than speaking? Writer’s Digest editor Chuck Sambuchino teaches a one-day writing seminar, also November 5, at the Trinity Writers’ Workshop in Hurst, Texas. See for details.


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