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Chris Bohjalian talks with me about HOUR OF THE WITCH, how far–and yet so short–we’ve come in leveling the playing field of men & women, secondary characters, rescue dogs, more


By Leslie Lindsay

A young Puritan woman caught in the crosshairs of religion, justice, and sexism in Boston during the 17th century.

HOUR OF THE WITCH 3D

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

WeekEND Reading: Historical Fiction Spotlight

An Indie Next Pick for May 2021

A Read It Forward Most Anticipated Book of 2021

A Lit Hub Most Anticipated Book of 2021

A CrimeReads Most Anticipated Book of 2021


I’ve been a longtime fan of Chris Bohjalian, ever since I read and loved MIDWIVES, so when HOUR OF THE WITCH (Doubleday, May 4 2021) came to my attention, I knew I couldn’t pass it by.

A young Puritan woman caught in the crosshairs of religion, justice, and sexism in Boston during the 17th century.

Mary Deerfield left England years ago with her parents, Priscilla and James, embarking on a new world, one in which religious and mercantile freedom were promised. Mary soon marries Thomas, a second marriage for him, her first. They have a stable home, his work at a sawmill provides most comforts of the day, including a servant girl. All is well–except for the physical and emotional abuse Mary endures at the hands of Thomas. Not only that, but Mary is unable to ‘fall pregnant;’ rumors circulate that she is ‘barren.’ When her daughter-in-law’s pregnancy is spontaneously aborted, her servant girl’s brother (an indentured servant in another household) falls ill and dies (perhaps after ingesting Mary’s ‘simples’ from the garden), speculation arises that she is a witch. What’s more–three-pronged forks appear in her garden, and other marks on the doorframe…a true mark of a witch.

But Thomas is a brute, slamming Mary into things around the house, spending hours at the pub, coming home ‘drink-drunk,’ and more. She’s fed up and wants a divorce. But divorce is largely unheard of in New England during the seventeenth century. The case goes to court. It’s denied. And still, there’s so much going on in HOUR OF THE WITCH, things that ring true to today’s world of justice, religion, feminism, and more.

Mary is a fabulous character I couldn’t help but love. She’s resourceful, sharp, faithful, and like all good characters: flawed. But she’s no witch. 

Bohjalian has mined the 17th century with a fine-toothed comb, bringing fabulous details–from language to visual and visceral–to life. HOUR OF THE WITCH is propulsive, spell-binding, and masterful. I was absolutely in awe with his courtroom scenes, the way he handled the twisty ending. This is Bohjalian at the top of his game.

Please join me in welcoming the fabulous Chris Bohjalian back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Chris, this book! Oh goodness. It’s fabulous. I’ve loved all of your work, but this one is definitely in a class all its own. HOUR OF THE WITCH is historical fiction at heart, but it’s also a courtroom thriller. To combine both genres is truly a master feat. I know the idea for this story has percolated for the better part of twenty years. Why now? And what more can you tell us about your inspirations?

Chris Bohjalian:

First of all, thank you.  I’m so glad you liked it.

Yes, I actually started writing the novel in 2001.  I had it with me on my laptop on the Trans-Sister Radio book tour on 9/11.  I would remain in Denver from September 11 through September 18.  When I returned to Vermont, where I live, I felt the need to write something different and embarked upon the novel that would become Before You Know Kindness. 

In 2018, I decided to return to that book I had been writing years earlier set in the seventeenth-century.  The current political climate was beckoning.  One thing many of the women executed as witches had in common was that they were smart, opinionated, and viewed as outsiders: sometimes, they saw through the patriarchal hypocrisy that marked a lot of New England Puritanism.

When a magistrate on Boston’s all-male Court of Assistants calls my heroine, Mary Deerfield, “a nasty woman,” the reference won’t be lost on contemporary readers.

As for the original inspiration: I have been fascinated with Puritan theology since college.  Imagine living in a world where Satan is as real as your neighbor, and you just have no idea whether you are saved or damned.

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Photo by Adonyi Gu00e1bor on Pexels.com


“A rich and terrifying story… HOUR OF THE WITCH by Chris Bohjalian is a grab-you-by-the-throat suspense read that both historical fiction fans and thriller lovers will devour.”

—Kristyn Kusek Lewis, Real Simple


Leslie Lindsay:

A huge amount of research goes into writing—all books, any book—but particularly this one. Can you walk us through your process? Do you research ahead of time? Research-as-you-write? Any tips for keeping things organized?

Chris Bohjalian:

I usually do a little research before I begin writing to be sure that the subject is viable.  Then I research as I write.  I always know I haven’t done sufficient homework when a scene is stalling or I have writer’s block.  To solve it, I learn something new. 

I had an extensive Puritan library before starting to write, but it grew a lot while I was working on the novel – especially books about witchcraft and articles about the Puritan legal and court system.  My guide through Puritan law was a wonderful emeritus law professor and former dean and president at Vermont Law School named L. Kinvin Wroth.  We had our first lunch together in the summer of 2001, and as late as 2020 he was still graciously suggesting articles I should read or pointing out to me scholarly journals where I might find glimpses of what civil and criminal trials in the 1660s would look like.  He was patient with all my questions.

holy bible on the table

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I found so much of Mary’s plight to resonate even with today’s world, nearly four hundred years in the future. Even now, there are still discussion and controversy about ‘woman’s place,’ whether at home or in the workforce (or both!), the idea that women cannot possibly think for themselves. Plus, the roles of religion and justice, institutional sexism. Can you comment on that, please?

Chris Bohjalian:

That was indeed the plan.  There was a cigarette aimed at women in the early 1970s called Virginia Slims.  (My mother smoked them and the brand has a cameo in the Emma Stone/Steve Carell movie, “Battle of the Sexes.”)  Their slogan was, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Well, women may have come a long way from 1662, but still have a very long way to go when it comes to equality.  Women are still diminished by men in numerous ways – ways that are all toxic and include lower wages, domestic violence, sexual assault, and the myriad petty degradations they face every day.  Good Lord, the fact that we need an #IBelieveHer movement says it all.

crop black female in bright sweater holding blooming branch

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Which character(s) were the most challenging for you to write, and why? How do you feel about them now that you’ve had some distance?

Chris Bohjalian:

How do you make minor characters authentic and memorable and interesting – without slowing the narrative? Book after book, that remains a challenge.  I want every character to feel real, but how much detail do we need about the next-door neighbor or a brother who dies early or an acquaintance who happens to have one or two important scenes? 

Sometimes I find my most evil characters difficult to write, because their motivations are harder for me to fathom.  How do you really understand the mind of a murderer?  How do you get inside that brain?

Leslie Lindsay:

What gets you out of bed in the morning? It doesn’t have to be literary….but if it is, that’s okay, too!

Chris Bohjalian:

My beloved dog, Jesse.  Nothing better than having 43 pounds of rescue dog jump on you and your wife and lick your face.  Prior to getting Jesse, my goal was to be at my desk writing by five-thirty or six in the morning.  Now if I’m at my desk by seven-thirty, after walking Jesse in the woods or the nearby dirt roads or meadows, I’m fine. 

And whether I am at my desk at five-thirty or seven-thirty, I have to be excited about whatever book I’m writing. If I’m not into it, my readers sure as heck won’t be.

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Chris, this has been so fascinating. Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Chris Bohjalian:

Goodness, your questions were great. I thank you so much for your faith in my work – and in what stories can mean to the soul.

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Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #bookstagram

For more information, to connect with Chris Bohjalian, or to purchase a copy of HOUR OF THE WITCH, please visit: 

ORDER LINKS: 

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~BOOK CONCIERGE~

As I read HOUR OF THE WITCH, I was reminded, in part, of THE SCARLET LETTER (Nathaniel Hawthorne), THE HANDMAID’S TALE (Margaret Atwood), but also Christina Baker Kline’s THE EXILES with a touch of Laura Purcell (THE SILENT COMPANIONS, THE POISON THREAD, BONE CHINA).

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2689ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

CHRIS BOHJALIAN is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of twenty-two books, including The Red Lotus, Midwives, and The Flight Attendant, which is an HBO Max limited series starring Kaley Cuoco. His other books include The Guest Room; Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands; The Sandcastle Girls; Skeletons at the Feast; and The Double Bind. His novels Secrets of Eden, Midwives, and Past the Bleachers were made into movies, and his work has been translated into more than thirty-five languages. He is also a playwright (Wingspan and Midwives). He lives in Vermont and can be found at chrisbohjalian.com or on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Litsy, and Goodreads, @chrisbohjalian. Author photo cred: Victoria Blewer. 

IMG_1175ABOUT YOUR HOST: 

Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series,“Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Mary Kubica to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, which will soon be an audio book from Penguin Random House (July 6, 2021). A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.

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#alwayswithabook #amreading #TBR #HouroftheWitch #Puritan #historicalfiction #salemwitches #Salem #Boston #NewEngland #womeninhistory #divorce #writinglife #characterdevelopment #courtroomdrama #sexism #witches

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Doubleday and used with permission. Author photo: Victoria Blewer. Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #bookstagram]

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