The phrase “witch hunt” is used a lot these days, often by people who don’t understand that it only applies if the people being hunted aren’t actually witches (or, in the case of the current mis-users, actually criminals, bigots, or just generally bad people). But what if the Salem Witch Trials actually did involve real witches? Such is the idea behind Brom’s new illustrated horror-infused fantasy novel Slewfoot (hardcover, Kindle), which he both wrote and drew. In the following email interview, Brom explains what inspired and influenced this story, as well as why it comes fully visualized.
To start, what is Slewfoot about, and what kind of a world is it set in?
Slewfoot is a historical horror novel set in 1666, colonial America. Essentially, it’s about what happens when a spirited young English woman with a pagan upbringing is sold off to a Puritan colony to be married. It follows her journey as she struggles to navigate a treacherous and unforgiving society bent on finding devils and witches under every rock. Enter into the fray, the devil, or in this case a confused forest spirit trying to find his role in this new world and you have the set up for Slewfoot.
And this may seem like a silly question, but is there a reason it’s set in Connecticut and in 1666 as opposed to New Jersey in 1968 or Massachusetts in 2021 or Paris in 2112?
I flirted with the idea of a modern connection, someone thrust backwards in time to give it a modern perspective, a relatable point of experience, but in the end, the challenge of a historical perspective won out.
Like your novels The Plucker and The Devil’s Rose, Slewfoot pairs your story with original drawings you did for this book. Did you start with the images or the text? And is this how you usually do things?
I’ve always had a love of illustrated novels. I really enjoyed the classics done by the early American illustrators such as Pyle, and NC Wyeth. So I tend to feel all novels should come with illustrations.
Early on it was all about what I wanted to paint, but as I’ve grown as a novelist, the uniqueness of an idea or plot tends to lead the creative process, once that is established, I then set the illustrator in me loose to add my twisted dark visuals. But for the most part the two disciplines work together, a creative back and forth, each feeding on the other. At times it is almost like two separate people collaborating on one project. It is the most enjoyable element of the process and it keeps the project fresh for me.
“Slewfoot” by Brom
Where did you get the idea for this story?
It was while watching a documentary on the Salem witch trials, then shortly after reading Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, that I became obsessed with how it would’ve been if those accused of witchcraft had actually been witches, and more, if they had a powerful spirit as an ally, how things might have gone.
And how much of the story did you have done before you started working on the illustrations?
I usually like to do a bit of light sketching as I write, taking time in the evenings to sketch out some of the characters. It helps me to visualize them, to discover the details.
It sounds like Slewfoot is a horror-infused fantasy novel. Is that how you’d describe it?
Yes, most of my work fall into a horror / fantasy category. I really enjoy digging into old myths and legends, especially those of monsters and demons and exploring them from another perspective.
“Scream” by Brom
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that you think had a big influence on Slewfoot but not on anything else you’ve written?
Again, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
And how about non-literary influences; was Slewfoot influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
I really loved the dark grittiness of Robert Eggers’ movie The Witch, and tried to get a bit of that atmosphere in the book.
On the flipside of that, do you think Slewfoot could work as a movie?
Being an illustrator, I tend to think in highly visualized terms, to see the story like a film as I write it, so yes, I see this story as being easily translated into film.
And if someone like Eggers wanted to make a Slewfoot movie, who would you want them to cast as Abitha and the other main characters?
Well, since The Witch was part of the inspiration for this novel, Anya Taylor-Joy would be amazing, but then she tends to be amazing in any role I’ve seen her in.
Finally, if someone enjoys Slewfoot, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next?
All of them! [grins] But, if I had to pick just one, perhaps, Krampus: The Yule Lord. As, like Slewfoot, it is a very character driven book.