Friday, June 10, 2011

Books: Winnipeg writer offers up a witchy new novel

  • By Andrea Baillie

  • TORONTO — Susie Moloney experienced the thrill of fright at a very young age.
    “My mother was a huge horror fan,” explains the Winnipeg author, whose latest horror-tinged novel,The Thirteen, hit stores this week.
    “She would get scared watching scary movies late at night and she’d come wake us up to keep her company.”
    Moloney and her brother obliged.
    And although the author claims, with a laugh, to have slept with her head under the covers ever since, terror clearly titillates her.
    “It’s like anything else that gets the adrenalin going, you know? It’s like falling in love, it’s like having a damn fine laugh.”
    All of Moloney’s books have delved into otherworldliness, from her chilling 1995 debut Bastion Falls(about an ominously relentless snowstorm), to 1997’s supernatural drought story A Dry Spell and 2003’s haunted house tale The Dwelling.
    The new novel marks her first foray into the world of witches, a topic Moloney says she was drawn to after a stint when she was surrounded by women.
    “I went through a long period of time in my life where my world became very feminine,” says the author, who divides her time between Winnipeg and New York City with her partner, Governor General’s Award-winning playwright Vern Thiessen.
    “The important people in my life were my girlfriends, my sister, my neighbours — all of whom were women — and I found such solace and power and love and warmth and acceptance from my girlfriends.”
    The Thirteen tells the story of Paula Wittmore, a down-on-her-luck waitress who returns to her childhood hometown with her daughter.
    There, she visits her ailing mother, reconnects with her former best friend and encounters a strange group of women oddly anxious for her to join their circle.
    While Moloney is drawn to the supernatural and the scary, The Thirteen is hardly chock-a-block with gore.
    The witches in the book — mothers and homemakers — are afforded great domestic comfort in exchange for membership to their witchy sisterhood.
    “I . . . liked the idea of being a witch,” explains Moloney, who has two sons.
    “You have this image when you go into suburban living ... you imagine that your children are going to be perfect, brilliant, successful, talented, your house is going to be spotless and gorgeous — an absolute bastion of calm and serenity — and you’re going to be thin and beautiful,” she says.
    “The reality sinks in that you cannot do this without witchcraft!”
    The brand of witchcraft in The Thirteen, she concedes, is purely fictional.
    “I made it all up,” she says. “There’s so much wicca out there and I would get it wrong.”
    However, Moloney seems to be making few missteps these days.
    Buoyed by a public appetite for the supernatural that’s been fuelled by the Twilight and Harry Potterfranchises, her career seems to be on an upswing.
    Dry Spell was originally commissioned by Tom Cruise’s production company and is in the process of being optioned again (“Gotta love that book,” says the author, “’Cause it just keeps raking it in.”)
    And, she’s excited about the screenplay she’s written for The Dwelling, which is being produced by Eagle Vision Inc.
    The Thirteen is also written in a cinematic fashion, but Moloney — who refuses to give her age — says she didn’t write it with a film in mind, noting she’s simply a visual person because she watched so much TV growing up.
    “I always explain it as, I’m a child of television,” she says. “I think that filters in whether you want it to or not.”
    That childhood was not an easy one. Her horror film-loving mother died when Moloney was 11 and the author says her family was far from wealthy.
    She developed an interest in the supernatural from an early age, becoming fascinated with the Salem witch trials, the Loch Ness monster and the legend of the Sasquatch.
    A literary gift from her grandfather also made an impact: Pierre Berton’s whimsical children’s book The Secret World of Og. Moloney always wanted to write and remembers being struck by the fact that Berton was Canadian.
    While those fantastical early interests have given way to a career in frightful fiction, the author is careful to note that her books also touch on very contemporary human issues.
    “I’m not writing about witchcraft so much as I’m writing about how complicated and difficult it is to do a good job as a wife and a mother,” she says.
    Still, she says, there’s something cathartic about a good scare.
    “It reminds you how alive you can really be.”
    The Canadian Press

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