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Former Marblehead author discusses her new novel at Abbot Public Library

MARBLEHEAD – Best-selling author Katherine Howe still cares about Marblehead.She drove all the way from Ithaca, N.Y. Tuesday to discuss her new novel, “The House of Velvet and Glass,” and she and her husband, Cornell University Professor Louis Hyman, still own the Marblehead home they lived in when she burst on the literary scene with her first novel, “The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane,” a novel about witchcraft and the Salem witch trials.”We want to come back some day,” she said after an hour-long reading and question-and-answer session. Judging by the friendly nature of the questions, she hasn’t really gone away – and Abbot Public Library Director Patricia Rogers actually let her event go on past the usual 9 p.m. library closing to accommodate the audience, the author and the Spirit of ’76 Bookstore, the co-sponsor.Howe is about a month away from completing her doctoral dissertation on primary sources on witchcraft for the American and New England Studies Department at Boston University. Her dissertation mentions Salem, but also covers other areas where witchcraft became a legal or cultural issue, including New York and Virginia.She told the audience she began writing at the age of 9. Her early influences include the surreal “Eloise” children’s books, Esther Forbes’ children’s historical novel “Johnny Tremain” and the historical novels of Edith Wharton – and today she tries to write 1,000 words a day, despite the temptations of dogs to play with and poker games to be played. She hinted that her next novel may be about New York.”The House of Velvet and Glass” follows three dark story lines simultaneously: a mother and daughter’s voyage aboard the Titanic in 1912, a teenage sailor’s adventures in Shanghai in 1868 and a young woman’s attempts to contact dead relatives at séances in Cambridge and Boston in 1915. All are members of the same family, and they meet real historic figures as well as fictional characters along the way.She had to admit, “You’re probably tired of hearing about the Titanic,” but Howe, a self-confessed “history nerd,” told her audience her book is not about the doomed luxury liner but its place in history.”The Titanic changed the way we think about the world,” she said. “It represents our loss of faith in technology. It ushers in the 20th Century for good or for ill.”In contrast, the young sailor of 1868 is experiencing the end of the Clipper Ship era and the young woman in 1915 is experiencing the birth of modern-day Boston and the issues facing 20th Century women. Howe was drawn to this period because, unlike the Victorian Era and the Roaring Twenties, it is relatively undefined and unvisited by writers, a time filled with people that interest her.”I like to give every character their own point of view,” she said, “to see what kind of people they would be and how they would respond to situations.”

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