Have you ever seen the episode “Jess-Belle” on the old Twilight Zone (the one from the 1960s)? Wendy Webb’s The Tale of Halcyon Crane reminded me a bit of that mixed with Mary Stewart’s Thornyhold. It was Gothic, full of atmosphere in a rural setting, flavored with love, and hypnotizing.
I’m really grateful I didn’t delete the email from the marketing representative at Ms. Webb’s publishing company when they contacted me about receiving a complimentary copy of The Tale of Halcyon Crane. (I almost did. I thought it was just some kind of spam scam at first. But something told me to check it out. Glad I listened to myself for a change. I would’ve missed out reviewing a really neat debut novel.)
And I also would’ve missed out on the opportunity to interview Ms. Webb. Here’s the brief chat we had about her and The Tale of Halcyon Crane.
Your writing reminded me so much of Mary Stewart’s. (Who I happen to adore, by the way. That was part of why I found your book so appealing.) Which authors would you say you drew your influences from?
I love Mary Stewart, too, so that’s a great compliment! My work is influenced by all of the deliciously creepy, gothic novels I’ve read over the years. Some of my favorites are Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman, The Spiritualist by Megan Chance, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, The House at Midnight by Lucie Whitehouse and The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. I’m always looking for the next great story that involves a big, eerie mansion where otherworldly things are lurking, a fortune is won or lost, suspense that builds on every page and a heroine trying to navigate through it all. These are the kinds of books I like to read, and write.
Ah ha! So that explains it. The Tale of Halcyon Crane most definitely had all of those elements! I read in the “etc.” portion of your book that it took a little learning transitioning from the kind of writing you had been doing to fiction. As a reporter do you think that’s why you had Iris tell so much of the story like she did? (More as if she was being interviewed or someone was reporting back the details.)
That’s a very interesting question. I hadn’t thought of that particular angle. I knew I wanted Hallie to learn the stories of her ancestors, and I thought for awhile about how best to make that happen. Would she find an old diary? Have dreams? But when she got to the house and started exploring, it hit me — of course, a house this big needs a housekeeper who has seen it all! And suddenly I had the linchpin for the story.
Ooo, I like that word “linchpin.” I totally understand what you mean. You have an idea but you just need that one perfect aspect to make it complete. Iris was it! Now let me ask you about the setting. You set your story on a fictional island in Michigan called Grand Manitou, which was modeled on the real life Mackinac Island. What made you want to set a story in such a place?
I took a trip to Mackinac Island a few years back. I had wanted to go ever since I first saw the movie “Somewhere in Time,” a story about time travel which was filmed there. When I got to the island, I found that it really is like going back in time — no cars, only horses and carriages. It’s a lovely, beautiful place but it’s also got a very haunted vibe. It’s as though the past really is still alive there, hovering just out of sight. It seems to me it hasn’t changed much since the 1800s — the old, Victorian mansions, the horses’ hooves clopping on the cobblestone. The island itself inspired me to write a story set there, and we’ve been back several times since then.
Well, your book has now made me want to go there? Were the ghosts in your book based on any ghost stories circulating on Mackinac Island?
The ghosts in the book were all from my own imagination, but Mackinac Island is full of ghosts. It’s the most haunted place I’ve ever been, and I’ve read that it is considered to be the most haunted city in Michigan. There’s a nightly ghost tour that takes you to places where regular ghost sightings occur — and it’s a long tour covering many of the most popular inns, hotels and restaurants. I learned that the very hotel where I was staying, Mission Point Resort, is haunted by the ghosts of children who died there when it was a hospital treating kids for TB in the 1930s. Apparently the standard of care wasn’t quite what it should have been. One active ghost is a little boy carrying a red ball, and when we heard that story, my husband whispered to me that he saw the boy running through the lobby earlier in the day.
Oh wow! This is my kind of Haunt Jaunt! I hope I have the chance to make it there some day. Are there any other places in Michigan that might inspire you to write another ghostly novel based on their ghost legends and lore?
Not Michigan specifically, but I’m very interested in the Great Lakes area, and all the legends and lore associated with it. I have a feeling all of my books will be inspired by places around the Great Lakes.
Speaking of other novels, what’s next for Wendy Webb? Are you working on any other books?
I’ve got another novel in the pipeline right now. It’s set in a tourist town on Lake Superior and includes a haunted old inn, a murder mystery, secrets from the past and a heroine trying to make sense of it all. Also, so many people have asked if I’m going to set another novel on Grand Manitou Island that I’ve started working out some possible stories in my mind. Please stay tuned! I’ll keep you posted.
Excellent news! Yes, please do keep us posted. We’ll be excited for the next book. Wendy, it has been absolutely delightful to interview you. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. (And for being patient with me until I could get my act in gear and get them to you!)