It’s great to have Mason Ball here today talking about his new novel that crowdfunding publisher, Unbound, have picked up. I love the sound of it and can’t wait to get my copy delivered to my Kindle once he reaches his funding target. Thanks for coming, Mason, and over to you…
Let me open by thanking Amanda for giving me this avenue with which to hawk my wares, so to speak, no one knows more than another writer just how difficult reaching an audience or getting published can be!
My latest book, The Dutch Wives, or The Thirty Five Timely & Untimely Deaths Of Cumberland County, is set in the dying years of America’s great depression, specifically Cumberland County in the state of Maine, and taking the real life medical record entries of a Doctor John M. Bischoffberger as its inspiration (examples of which are reproduced throughout the book) it weaves them into a fictional, strange and unsettling narrative of faith versus reason, of the pitfalls of magical thinking, and how we deal with life in the shadow of mortality.
It’s 1934, John Bischoffberger has moved to the relative wilds of Naples, Maine, has married and set up medical practise. Part of his role is as medical examiner is to document all the deaths he deals with, to note the date, the name of the deceased and the circumstances under which they died. However, still somewhat shaken by his experiences during the first world war, John has lost his religious faith and struggles with the mundanity and common-or-garden tragedy of the deaths he comes into contact with.
The years go by, and against his better judgement, and despite all evidence to the contrary, he becomes convinced that every death he deals with is in fact murder; a series of impossible murders committed by three strange characters living in the woods. He becomes convinced that an uneasy alliance of three itinerants is going about the county, killing. A stoic and hard-edged old woman, a vicious and spiteful little girl and a timorous thin man with bandaged hands and feet are fulfilling some strange and unspoken duty, drowning, suffocating, hanging and the like, men, women and children; each of the three harbouring a profound distrust of the other two, yet still this queer confederacy press on with their murderous work.
As the storm clouds of a new world war gather in Europe, and John’s rationality slowly unravels, he must find a way to disprove what he has reluctantly come to believe, or to confirm his worst fears and take steps to end the killing spree of the three in the woods, whatever the cost.
The book itself has been in my head in one form or another literally for decades, in configurations both too abstract and too literal, swinging wildly between horror and fantasy, different approaches, tones and styles coming and going, false starts faltering on blank pages; until that is I read the medical records of Doctor Bischoffberger. But allow me to explain how I came to do so…
Some years ago, on my thirtieth birthday, my then girlfriend (now wife) decided that I should collect something and knowing me as she did, she decided that what I should collect was antique medical equipment. Yeah, I know. To this day I have a lovely cabinet of wonderful and grotesque… things, of varying archaic medical use and brutal if utilitarian aesthetic.
However, one day while searching the internet for something to add to my collection, she came across Bischoffberger’s Medical Examiner’s Record. A large hardcover book, a ledger of deaths stretching from 1934 to 1954, the record instantly drew me in. As I read, my previous disparate ideas and abortive attempts at the story coalesced into a whole (albeit a strange one) and the novel began to take shape in my mind.
So The Dutch Wives is not so much a historical novel as a novel based on real events and featuring some real people but which takes those incidents and characters and imposes a fictional, even fantastical, framework upon them. Other writers will know that when you say you’ve written a book, people always ask you that one fatal question: what’s it about? As you can imagine, when I’m asked this about The Dutch Wives, I take a big deep breath before starting in on an explanation. A so-called “elevator pitch” for the book is tricky, as I think it sits between genres somewhat. I’d say the novel’s biggest influences are probably Cormac McCarthy and David Lynch, though I’m not sure it’s that much like either of them; but I suppose every writer’s work is a conglomeration of their own influences, visible or not.
This is the first piece I’ve written that is even close to being historical in setting and so, beyond the reading of the medical record itself, I had to embark on more research than ever before. While daunting (and often a little laborious) the joy of research is that, no matter what, you will find incredible and unexpected things, many of which seem almost tailor made to fit into your narrative.
I found local history books online, sourced period maps of the area (I also used Google Earth a lot!) and even managed to find a book of historical photographs of the region; I cannot deny a slight shiver running through me upon finding within this book a picture of Doctor Bischoffberger himself looking back at me.
I hope I’ve managed to tempt you into taking a little peek at my Unbound page, where readers can pre-order a special hardback (or digital) copy of the book, get their name listed in the back, and with enough pre-orders, Unbound will publish it! There are lots of bundles to choose from, with many very special items as extras, from vintage bookmarks, tickets to a cabaret show and unique art pieces incorporating genuine antique medical equipment; hopefully everyone will find something that fits their budget.
If I’ve piqued your interest at all, why not pledge your support and find out what mysteries await you in the woods…
Thanks again, Mason. My interest is piqued and my pledge made! Good luck with it.
You can pledge here if you’d like to help get this novel published; and you can keep up to date with Mason’s Unbound progress and other stuff on his Twitter page.