Aine: First off, Dianne, can you tell us about your book, We Hear the Dead?
Dianne: We Hear the Dead is a fictional retelling of the story of Maggie Fox, one of two girls credited with starting the spiritualist movement in the 19th century. Maggie was a fun-loving and mischievous girl who became caught up in the 1800’s equivalent of a “viral video.” The clever prank that she and her sister Kate pulled on family and neighbors snowballed into a phenomenon, a social pastime, and even a religion. Pretending to be spirit mediums lifted Maggie and her family out of poverty, but she was never fully comfortable with the deception. When she fell in love with a famous Arctic explorer from a higher social class, Maggie was forced into a crisis of conscience, deciding between the man she loved and her family duties.
Aine: I absolutely loved We Hear the Dead. There were so many good scenes. Which scene was your favorite to write?
Dianne: I loved writing the romantic scenes between Maggie and her beau, Elisha Kane. As part of my research, I read many of the actual love letters between these historical people. They were both very playful and enjoyed using clever words to needle each other. Elisha called Maggie a fraud, and Maggie punctured holes in Elisha’s (rather large) ego. While I was writing, I became totally caught up in weaving the real words exchanged between these lovers 150 years ago into their conversations on the page.
Aine: Were there any events that happened in Maggie’s life that you wanted to include, but had to cut for length or storyline purposes? Can you tell us about one of them?
Dianne: One event that had to be cut involved a narrow escape from exposure. A sister-in-law of their sister-in-law (if you follow that) overheard Maggie and Kate discussing the manner in which they really produced the ghostly knocking sounds. This woman spilled the beans to a gentleman named C. Chauncy Burr who was trying to discredit the Fox sisters. Burr went around the state denouncing the girls and demonstrating how they faked the knocking sounds. Maggie and Kate’s older sister Leah salvaged the situation through good marketing! Leah reduced the prices for the séances and made sure clients were happy, while Burr insulted believers and made more enemies than friends.
Aine: I know you originally self published a few years ago. How much editing/rewriting happened between High Spirits and We Hear the Dead?
Dianne: 30,000 words worth of editing happened! I cut that much out of the original version. Events lost along the way included the Burr episode, various small things that happened to Kate, and a long story about Elisha Kane’s Arctic adventures.
Aine: How is the We Hear the Dead screenplay coming along? Any movie news you can share?
Dianne: I am working on another draft of the screenplay this fall – it’s the 8th draft by my count. This draft will mostly stick to the previous version, but add one layer of depth over top of what I already have. I am really excited about the proposed changes, because I think it will give the whole movie a better sense of purpose. The producer, Amy Green of One Eye Open Studio, plans to roll out the screenplay to financial backers this fall. She would like to see filming start in late 2011!
Aine: What do your students (or past students) think about having a teacher who is also a published author? Have any of them read We Hear the Dead and if so what kind of feedback have you gotten?
Dianne: My students (and their parents) have been some of my best supporters. I know the students were excited to see the book on the shelves of stores last spring, and I can’t wait to see their reaction when they spot it in the Scholastic TAB Book Club flyer this September! We Hear the Dead is geared toward older readers, but some of my fifth graders have read the book anyway. One of last year’s students even read the original (longer) version and wrote a wonderful review of it on our classroom blog! I can also credit my students with naming the book. When Sourcebooks decided to change my original title (High Spirits), it was one of my students who suggested “We Can Hear the Dead.”
Aine: What can you tell us about the book you’re working on?
Dianne: I have two projects I’m working on right now. I’m working on the first draft of a historical mystery surrounding two caged graves in a lonely mountain town in Pennsylvania. The graves really do exist, and the story behind the cages is shrouded in mystery. I also have a manuscript set in the Victorian age about a girl orphaned under mysterious circumstances who confounds a group of scientists investigating psychics. This story is also based on true events, and I am working on revisions to plot structure and pacing.
Aine: How much of your summer vacation did you spend writing? And do you prefer to write your first drafts long hand or on the computer?
Dianne: I spent ALL of my summer vacation writing -- first the screenplay, and then the caged graves manuscript, with periodic revisions on the other piece as I collected feedback. I write completely on the computer. The only time you’ll catch me working long hand is during a faculty meeting, when I’m pretending to take notes.
Aine: Any chance we’ll see more from you about the Fox sisters? I, personally, have my fingers crossed for a Kate story.
Dianne: Well, there are eight drafts of a screenplay about the Fox sisters! LOL! I’ll never say never regarding a follow-up novel, but Kate is a tricky subject. Unlike Maggie, she never confessed to fraud, nor did she commit her inner thoughts and personal dilemmas to paper. I can historically justify what I wrote about Maggie based on her letters, but Kate … is an enigma.
Aine: How did you celebrate the release of We Hear the Dead?
Dianne: Coincidentally, the same day We Hear the Dead was released, my husband and I were scheduled to attend a Sweetheart’s Ball at the local Rotary Club. It was originally a Valentine’s Day event that was postponed to May because of a blizzard. So, on my release day, I had my hair done, dressed up in a fancy gown, and had a night on the town with my husband.
Aine: And some random questions, because those are sometimes the most fun… What book are you most looking forward to that is released this fall?
Dianne: In the YA genre, I am looking forward to Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. In adult fiction, I’ve preordered a copy of a novel called Cryoburn, by one of my favorite science fiction authors, Lois McMaster Bujold.
Aine: What is your favorite sweet treat?
Dianne: Cheesecake – or my husband’s homemade vanilla ice cream.
Aine: What toppings do you like on your pizza?
Dianne: Black olives, spinach, and feta cheese.
Aine: What is the one place you want to visit most in the world?
Dianne: I’d like to visit Greece someday and possibly take a cruise around the Greek islands. I’m especially interested in visiting Minoan ruins.
Aine: And… what does the K in Dianne K Salerni stand for?
Dianne: The K stands for Katherine, my middle name. I get some ribbing because I have a Facebook account under Dianne Marenco Salerni – so high school and college friends can locate me by my maiden name. But then people want to know if I think Marenco starts with a K! I probably ought to fix that.