While every story is influenced by other stories, in the following email interview about her newest — the Gothic fairy tale House Of Salt And Sorrows (hardcover, Kindle) — writer Erin A. Craig explains that it actually started out as a retelling of someone else’s story.
To start, what is House Of Salt And Sorrows about?
Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters and their father and stepmother. Once there were twelve Thaumas girls, but loneliness fills the halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last — the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge — and there are whispers throughout in the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.
Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that her sisters’ deaths were no accidents. The girls have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who — or what — are they really dancing with?
When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family — before it claims her next. House Of Salt And Sorrows is a spellbinding novel filled with magic and the rustle of gossamer skirts down long, dark hallways.
Where did you get the initial idea for House Of Salt And Sorrows, and how did it evolve, if at all, as you wrote it?
House Of Salt And Sorrows started out as a very different concept — I’d intended to write a retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee.” I wrote a variety of opening chapters for it but could never seem to make the concept work as a full book. When I stumbled across some old photos from my sister’s Girl Scout troop’s production of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” a bigger and better idea started to form. Memories of helping make glitter-covered trees and my mom sewing all those tulle skirts came rushing back to me, and I suddenly knew what my story needed. I wanted to keep the dark, Gothic twists I had set out to write, but also infuse a delicious, shimmering fairy tale into the horror.
House Of Salt And Sorrows has been called a Gothic fairy tale. Is that how you see it?
I love the term Gothic fairy tale. It makes me think of some of my favorite Guillermo del Toro or M. Night Shyamalan films. I’ve also been calling it dark fantasy or Gothic horror, and have seen some reviews label it a mystery. There are so many different facets to the book: the retelling, the mythology, the romance, the atmosphere, the murders mystery. I think Gothic fairy tale wraps them all together like a beautiful black bombazine bow.
Speaking of Guillermo del Toro and M. Night Shyamalan, was House Of Salt And Sorrows influenced by any movies?
I love horror movies, and so many of my favorites helped shape the brooding atmosphere of Highmoor and the Salann Islands. Whenever I felt like I was beginning to lose my spooky mojo, I’d rewatch scenes from The Others. I’d imagine myself in those dimly lit corridors and work my way through whatever plot problems I was struggling with.
Your bio says you have a BFA in theater design and production, and that you’ve stage-managed operas. Did your studies and your work in the theater influence House Of Salt And Sorrows at all?
One of my favorite parts of drafting is writing scenes that are heavy with dialogue. I’ve got a good ear for the cadence a conversation needs to have, and I think much of that comes from spending so many years at the tech table in rehearsals. Being immersed in the words of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Tom Stoppard, and Lillian Hellman will do wonders for your sense of timing.
As you know, some fantasy stories are stand-alone tales, while others are part of larger sagas. What is House Of Salt And Sorrows?
House Of Salt And Sorrows is a stand-alone book. There are certainly more areas of Arcannia I’d love to explore someday, but Annaleigh’s story is all wrapped up, and I think she’s earned her ending.
You mentioned your love of horror movies earlier. If House Of Salt And Sorrows was going to be made into a movie, who would you like to see cast in the main roles?
I’m always terrible with answering casting questions because the actors I pick are never the right age for the characters — or alive in some instances. I’d love to see a teenage Rebecca Hall [The BFG] as Annaleigh, and if we could somehow bring back Alan Rickman [Harry Potter], I’d cast him as Ortun in a heartbeat. I would absolutely love to see Doug Jones [The Shape Of Water] as Viscardi — I think it would be so fun to see him play both man and monster, and you know he’d just own those dragon prosthetics. I’d be over the moon to see either Guillermo del Toro or Mike Flanagan direct, Colleen Atwood as costume designer, and James Howard as composer.
Lastly, if someone enjoys House Of Salt And Sorrows, what similar fairy tale–esque fantasy novel would you suggest they check out next?
Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood has a really fun and spooky take on fairy-tale tropes, and its sequel, The Night Country, is out next January. Anna Bright’s The Beholder is chockful of beautiful dresses and swoony romance. And Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions is a fog-shrouded, creaking-corridor, Gothic masterpiece that had even me shivering as I read it under my covers.