Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Q&A with Kim Taylor Blakemore




Kim Taylor Blakemore is the author of the new historical novel The Deception. Her other novels include After Alice Fell. She lives in the Pacific Northwest.


Q: What inspired you to write The Deception, and how did you create your characters Maud and Clem?


A: Nineteenth-century New England brimmed with ideas and fervor, birthing the woman’s suffrage movement and abolition. Rural utopias and religious sects, such as the Shakers, bloomed and blossomed and failed here. The First and Second Great Awakenings filled the area with the fervor and fire of tent preachers and religious rebirth.


In this maelstrom, two young girls, Maggie and Kate Fox, declared they could conjure the ghost of a murdered man, and he would rap his answers back to them. This set off a new frenzy, as people came in droves to see them and later mediums and psychics call up the dead.


Suddenly, seances became an entertainment and a way to pass time with friends in the parlor. Then came the Civil War and the thousands of thousands dead–and the entertainments became needs. So many had lost someone they loved and desired one last word, one connection, one more moment. And mourners soon believed life did not end in death, and the veil to the otherworld lifted.


Newspapers all over the world–particularly in New England, filled with small advertisements for mediums, psychic, mesmerists, healers. Some were no doubt sure of their gifts; others were sure of their deceptions.


And this is where the spark came for the novel: What would happen if one of the true blue mediums lost her spirit guide?


The profession was one of the few that gave women independence. Indeed, many gained worldwide acclaim. The pressure to conjure spirits and communicate with the otherworld consistently must have been immense.


In the novel, Maud Price is one such medium. Once a famous child medium, she struggles against the flash and show of the newest psychics to join the circuit. Then her spirit guide does a runner. She needs help, and is given the name of Clementine Watkins, who promises she can help Maud regain her abilities. With a few tricks of the trade, of course.


Clem tells Maud: Whether the mediumship is authentic or conjured, the solace is the same. So Maud makes her deal with the devil.


Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I had a blast researching this topic. I love finding books from the era and these two mesmerized me: The Biography of Mrs. J.H. Conant and Confessions of a Medium. Upon reading the first, Mrs. Conant was one of the greatest psychics ever, destined for the asylum, or the most exquisite of frauds. I still can’t decide which.


A man who fell under the trance of a famous medium wrote the second book, joined him as an apprentice, and then grew disenchanted when he found out all of it was trickery. It was an excellent book for describing the methods used by the deceivers.

I also interviewed two mediums to hear their stories, and how they experienced spirits and the spirit world. (I had a reading with one, and it was incredible–truly, she talked about people and experiences that no one outside my family would have known. She also made a couple predictions for the future–I’ve got those written to watch for).


In addition, I spent time with a historical conjurer to hear how 19th century magic worked and to make sure the tricks and fancies used in the novel were accurate.


What surprised me was that the tension of authenticity and fraud were the same then as now, as is the desire and wonder about the otherworld and if we can really speak to those who’ve passed. Perhaps the trickery is more advanced, with ghost hunting devices and high-tech shows. But the age old wonder is the same.


Q: Without giving anything away, did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: Even if it is just vague images as to how, I like to know where the story is going. I want to be clear about what the last image is. I’m not a plotter, but I lay out character goals and the major turns in the story. This can change somewhat, particularly HOW they get to that ending. It gives me a destination, so if I’m aiming for Duluth, I don’t end up in Poughkeepsie!


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Maud and Clem?


A: One cannot operate without the other. Maud needs Clem to regain her reputation; Clem needs Maud to gain fame and security. The push-pull definitely comes as Maud’s eye open to her own role in the deceptions.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I just completed The Good Time Girls. It’s about two ex-dancehall girls on a road trip of vengeance in 1905 Kansas, looking to kill an old enemy before he gets to them first. But the road abounds with mishaps, blunders, bounders, con artists, and the circling noose of the law. Think Sister Brothers meets Thelma and Louise.


I’m also working with a producer and narrator on the audiobook of Bowery Girl, which will be out in time for holiday sales.


And I’m researching Lola Baldwin, one of the first female detectives in the United States and noodling around story ideas. I love those audacious women!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I love connecting with readers, both in book clubs and through my newsletter! I’d love for you to stop on by and say hello! I’m at and on Instagram @kimtaylorblakemorebooks.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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