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December 18, 2014

Pulling Yesterday into Today --- Guest Post by Jennifer Murgia

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As FOREST OF WHISPERS author Jennifer Murgia explains in her blog post below, history can be boring sometimes. If you're listening to a teacher with a monotone voice talk about a period in time that feels completely irrelevant to your life? Probably not your favorite way to spend an hour. 

But if you're interested in the topic, that's a whole other story. Below, Jennifer talks about her research process for her newest YA novel --- which focuses on Southwestern Bavaria in the 17th century, a time ripe with fear, suspicion and witch hunts --- and shares why delving into the past while preparing to write a historical fiction novel can actually be one of the most fascinating things you ever do. 


Tell me you haven’t yawned during History class.

Come on.

You have.

We all have. Even me.

But I have to admit there’s something positively thrilling about DIGGING through the past and retelling it. I tend to think of historical fiction as “Literary Archaeology” --- uncovering and bringing to light information for new eyes and ears to make sense of it, interpret it, to pass it on.

I was drawn to the topic of my latest book, FOREST OF WHISPERS, for a plethora of reasons: my own family tree sprouted in Germany, I’m a sucker for witch tales, I love a good mystery, and I realized (*Cough. Don’t tell my high school history teacher*) that I really, honestly, truly enjoy RESEARCH.

Like any project, I opened my laptop and began to Google, taking notes, aiming for the areas of interest I had in my mind: Southwestern Bavaria, 1600’s, witch hunts. What I didn’t expect was to become so completely immersed in the horror of that time period. Mind you, I knew my book would be dark --- haunting, even. But as I unraveled the past, intent on providing authenticity to the story I knew I would tell, I never quite expected to be drawn in so deeply.

What I uncovered was a world that was so incredibly DIFFERENT than our own yet mirrored our current society to such a degree that it made me realize the past oftentimes comes full circle. Did you know German witch hunts started the original frenzied wave of persecution? Did you realize hundreds upon hundreds of women and children, even men in high standing, were condemned? That in one city alone, 60,000 people were convicted of witchcraft? It’s mind-blowing and it began with pointing fingers and placing blame, and grew very ugly very quickly. Does this sound like modern-day bullying? I think so.

Beyond the staggering numbers, my story required much more if it were to accurately retell what life had been like in 1627. So, I researched the area extensively, noting the plants that grew in the Black Forest, the construction of the buildings, the maps and rivers and towns, and calculated how long it would take to reach one from the other . . . on foot and on horseback.

Notes upon notes upon notes . . . and never once did I yawn J. (My teachers would be proud.)

My advice on retelling the past? Become the past. Absorb it. Read and research. Print pictures and leave images around to help pull that time into NOW. Imagine your life as it would have been back then and add your voice. You’ll find, I’m certain, that the past isn’t so different from today. 


FOREST OF WHISPERS is a 17th century Bavarian witch mystery published by Spencer Hill Press. It was chosen as a FALL 2014 HOT TITLE by School Library Journal and is a 2014 Moonbeam Children’s Award Winner. It is available in print and eBook through booksellers nationwide.