Spotlight: My Enemy's Tears

The Larks would like to welcome Karen Vorbeck Williams to the Nest today. We are excited to spotlight her novel, My Enemy's Tears.

About the Book:

In the 1630s two young girls fresh from England settle with their families in the Connecticut River Valley. There, on the frontier of a terrifying wilderness surrounded by warring natives, they must face the rigors of life among the Puritans -- a people steeped in superstition and piety. Based on the lives of Mary Bliss Parsons and Sarah Lyman Bridgeman and the men they loved, this fictional account of a true story transports us to a land founded on a dream, where life was uncertain, and where fear and jealousy would lead to ruin.

Q&A with Karen Vorbeck Williams
* Note - These questions were provided to us by PR by The Book and are not the creation of Reading Lark*

Q: Tell us a little bit about who your ancestors in the Northampton area are. 

 A: My 11th great grandmother, Mary Bliss Parsons actually lived in Hartford when she married Joseph Parsons 1646—he was from Springfield—and brought her home with him where they lived for 11 years before he got the idea that he’d increase his fortunes by going up-river to settle Northampton. Hartford and Springfield were both founded 1636 

Q: Give us some history of Mary Bliss Parsons and Sarah Lyman Bridgeman. What happened between the two women? 

A: Epic jealousy! After growing up in Hartford where Sarah—who came from a distinguished family--knew Mary Bliss as the daughter of a poor farmer, both women moved to Springfield. Mary Bliss-- with a husband who would make a great fortune-- and Sarah Lyman who married a carpenter. James Bridgeman was unable to match Joseph Parsons’ wealth and Sarah was unable to match Mary’s birth record. 

Q: How did Mary’s witchcraft trial compare to the Salem witch trials? Did they occur close together? 

A: No. Mary Bliss Parsons was tried 17 years before the Salem Witch Trials by a couple of the same judges (William Danforth and Thomas Stoughton) who went on to try the Salem cases. (Court of Assistants in Boston, a panel of judges) Lots of people when they hear the word witchcraft automatically jump to Salem, but the first witch hanged in New England was probably Alice Young of Windsor, CT 45 years before Salem. Before Salem over 90 people had witchcraft complaints against them. About 60 went to trail, about half were acquitted. Approximately 15 people were executed. Most significantly, only 4 confessed.

A: I understand that your book is set in Springfield, MA. What can you tell us about the early settlement? 

Q: Springfield in those days was an unusual place—almost a baronial state run by one man, William Pynchon. Everyone in town worked for him. He had a general store at the edge of the river where Indians came to trade furs and everyone in town shopped. From there he shipped barrels of furs, meats, grains back to England. He was enormously rich and appears to have been a mentor to Joseph Parsons’—Mary’s husband. 

A: As your grandmother told you stories when you were little about a witch in the family, did you believe her at the time? Or was it all in good fun? 

Q: I had to believe—she delivered her story with great sincerity and pride. She was glad to have an ancestor with such an exceptional life. 

A: The journey of writing this book began with you hearing stories about your ancestors at your grandmother’s knee. How important is it to keep the oral tradition alive? And how can parents and grandparents do this? 

A: Well, first you have to know your family stories, you have to be interested yourself or you won’t be able to interest your children. Keeping oral tradition alive is, in my opinion, a good thing. What’s the saying? If you don't know your history--you are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree. 

Q: The topic of witchcraft holds a fascination for many people. What are some misconceptions about the subject? 

A: There are many: Most common: 
- Witches were burned at stake in New England 
- Only ignorant, uneducated people believed in witches
- Only women were accused 

Q: How long have you been at work on this book? 

A: I started the first research in the 70s, wrote a non-fiction narrative back then. In the 80s –while I owned an art film theatre--I decided I’d try to make it into a screen play. Early in the 21st Century I started work on the historical fiction—by then I had the help of the Internet for research. So the answer to your question is—30 some years. 

Q: Why was writing this novel important to you? 

A: I fell in love with the story and with my characters—especially Mary Bliss Parsons. Another, less obvious reason, had to do with our times. The Puritan theocracy was very similar to radical Islam without the suicide bombers. I wanted to explore the similarities. 

Q: What do you hope people will take away from reading your book? 

A: An enormous amount of enjoyment, a sense of being on an adventure and a better knowledge of our founding fathers. These were Early Modern people with no understanding of science. They were not us and should not be judged by our standards. 

Q: What’s next for you – will you continue writing? 

A: Yes. I have a new novel in the works--literary fiction with a mystery element. Oddly, it’s based on another story my grandmother told me—about her own life.

About the Author:

It all started at her grandmother's knee. 

 Karen Vorbeck Williams grew up hearing stories about her ancestor who was accused of witchcraft in New England: Mary Bliss Parsons who lived in Northampton, Massachusetts and was indicted, imprisoned and stood trial for witchcraft in 1675, 17 years before the Salem witch trials. 

 Although Karen believed her grandmother, she didn’t necessarily believe in witches – until she saw one for herself. 

 One evening just after sunset when Karen was a child, a dark figure looked in through the living room window of her family’s home. The old woman cupped her hands around her face and fixed her eyes on the 3 Vorbeck sisters who were gathered in a frightened knot whispering, “A witch.” The stranger stared a moment, then fled into the mounting dusk. 

 What Karen didn’t know then was that her childhood reaction to the dark figure in the window was as old as time itself, that thousands upon thousands of innocent people had died in flames or at the end of a rope because of the accusations of young girls, fearful clergy or farmers whose crops had failed. 

 The stories she heard about Mary instilled a lifelong fascination in Karen. She wanted to know the truth about this woman. Who was she? Legend said this witch of Northampton was young and a great beauty—if haughty and outspoken. But many of the people who knew Goodwife Parsons as a flesh and blood woman were quite certain that she had made friends with the Devil, that her incantations made their cows die, their spinning go awry and sickened their newborn babies. They believed she could murder with her spells. 

 Karen spent 20 years researching and writing the story of her ancestors’ adventures settling the New World. Though it took many years to write her novel My Enemy’s Tears, she could not resist sharing it with others. Now an amateur historian, she looks forward to finishing another book of historical fiction and a novel set in the 1940–50s. Previously, Williams has been an editor, a prize-winning photographer and a garden designer. In her free time, she designs websites for friends and enjoys her garden. She lives in Rumford, Rhode Island. 

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