ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Suzy Witten’s career spans more than twenty years in the entertainment industry: as a filmmaker, screenwriter, story analyst, and an editor for both film and television. She has also taught meditation. Currently, she works as a writer and researcher during disasters for FEMA (United States Federal Emergency Management Agency) Public Affairs. She resides in Los Angeles, California. The Afflicted Girls is her first novel.
RECENT REVIEWS of THE AFFLICTED GIRLS:
4.0 out of 5 stars *A new author fortunate to have such a compelling story of which to write.*, December 27, 2009
By Mahlers2nd "Mommy of Many Interests"
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)
I've always been fascinated by the Salem Witch Trials so when I was offered the opportunity to read this book, I thought it would be a great read. I must confess that Suzy Witten -- the author provided me with a copy of the book to review which is how I obtained the book.
This appears to be Ms Witten's first novel but she has picked a fascinating subject for it. For the most part, the prose and the writing and dialogue are very well done and not plagued with overly-pretentious wordiness that some authors feel the need to engage in. The language and the voice of the story is readable but sometimes the mixture of more modern colloquialisms combined with the puritanical period were a bit jarring and made it difficult to follow the continuity of the story.
The set up to the "famous events" surrounding the Salem Trials is very extensive in this book -- some might say a bit plodding. At points, I found myself thinking 'get on with it already'. However, overall, the author is excruciatingly thorough in her character development and setting the place and tone. Plus, in order to set up for the main events, I think most of that development is necessary and I would be hard-pressed to give advice as to what to eliminate.
The overwhelming thought was that it was a miracle that our country survived its early days given all the requirements for physical survival combined with the constant political and mind-games that the villagers employed with each other.
There are definitely surprises in the book that will keep you wanting to read more. It isn't just a story of "mean girls gone awry" as Miller and the Crucible would have you believe. As with all good historical fiction -- and this qualifies! -- you are left wanting to learn more about what which parts were historical versus fiction... you wind up learning more about the subject. This is what Ms. Witten has accomplished and therefore, deserves a great deal of praise for bringing her readers to that point!
Overall, I really enjoyed the story despite the flow and organization being a bit distracting. The author does a great job building suspense and developing the "backstory" (how I despise that word) for how the Salem Witch debacle comes together. There is so much more insight into the period of events than you would get from your regulation Arthur Miller "The Crucible". You definitely come away after reading the book feeling like you were much more part of the action rather than just an observer. And you also wind up feeling like you understand what took place much much better.
This is a solid first effort from Ms. Witten and would highly recommend to anyone who has an interest in early American Historical Fiction or the Salem Witch Trials.
5.0 out of 5 stars *A believable retelling of an old story - with a new twist*, December 26, 2009
By Bobbie - "Andromeda's Gramma" (United States) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)
My first introduction to the Salem Witch Trials was in High School when we read Arthur Miller's The Crucible (Penguin Classics). Even at that time I wondered, what could have made people act in that fashion.
We discussed many theories (including ergot) that could have caused the hysteria and consequent behavior.
In reading through "The Afflicted Girls," I found myself looking at this time in our history in a whole new light. Suzy Witten has done incredible research - not only into the trials but also into the history of that era. As I read the story, I found myself seeing each of the characters in a new light and believing the possibility that Witten proposes through the story.
While the book is historical fiction - based on an actual event - it is also a wonderful story in its own right. From the first page to the last, the story pulls you in, demanding your attention and belief in the characters.
The presentation of facts (and conjecture) in the novel left me with enough questions that I couldn't resist revisiting some of the internet-based information and ended up agreeing that Witten's conclusions concerning the source are well-conceived. Both social and physical events contributed to the hysteria that would blight Salem for more than 300 years.
I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone who enjoys colonial history and novels. You will not be disappointed.
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 2 Jan 2010
By E. Kutlug Ataman
5 Stars. Although I read mostly non-fiction, I was asked by the author to read and review her recently published novel about the Salem Village witch-hunt: THE AFFLICTED GIRLS. I expected to read a well-researched, well-written book. Instead, I read the most provocative, insightful and engaging historical novel about what occurred in colonial Salem in 1692.
Suzy Witten has dived deep into the historical record of Salem and brought back the elusive pearl: the only satisfactory explanation in 300 years for those mysterious afflictions at the heart of the Salem Village witch hunt, and for its cruel aftermath.
This book is powerful--a complex story written from numerous points of view of many of the famous characters, who all intersect dramatically, but not in typical ways. This is a suspenseful retelling, well-structured, cinematic, and authentic in its period voice, but at the same time curiously modern, and relevant. With exposure this book, I believe, could garner as much praise for its reconstruction of Salem, as Arthur Miller reaped for his.
NAN HAWTHORNE INTERVIEW with SUZY WITTEN, Author of
THE AFFLICTED GIRLS A Novel of Salem
November 15, 2009
Nan: What got you interested in the Salem Witch Trials in the first place?
Suzy Witten: Initially I viewed the Salem events as a naturally dramatic story that begged to be told. I was a screenwriter at the time and saw Salem’s “afflicted girls” (a famous term from that history) as ideal characters to set at the center of a story. So I pitched this idea to a producer, got a positive response, and then began extensively researching and writing my screenplay for “The Afflicted Girls.” Then a funny thing happened in the course of my immersion into Salem, it became a mystery for me to solve also. No historians that I was reading--and I was reading every book on Salem available in the Los Angeles library at that time--could say definitively what had happened in Salem in 1692.
Nan: Your handling of the language is superb. How did you develop your knowledge of how they expressed themselves in 17th century New England?
Suzy Witten: A portion of my research centered on the vernacular and commonplace details of 17th century New England life. And something unusual happened here, too, in the midst of writing both the screenplay and then the novel: my characters began speaking from their own points of view, incorporating their own thoughts, emotions, needs and psychologies into that very vernacular as I wrote. It was almost as if I became their amanuensis. That’s why I categorize “The Afflicted Girls” as an “intuitive human history.” (Because as someone who has done a lot of meditation through the years, I may have developed an enhanced intuition.)
Nan: You clearly followed the transcripts and reports from the trials. Where does fiction come in in your writing?
Suzy Witten: It’s true. I have incorporated hundreds of established facts from the historical record into this story. As a writer of fiction, alongside being a researcher, while my aim was to fully develop my characters into flesh and blood people who live on the pages of a story, while each of my characters in “The Afflicted Girls” has a relatively factual back-story (a past) and a fully developed psychological profile and direction in the present, what happened when they interacted with each other in this story was utterly unforeseen and surprised even me. This story evolved from its characters.
Nan: How much of what you say happened to the characters afterwards is factual? How much is a further point you make? Why?
Suzy Witten: Most of the outcomes I describe have factual bases. Reverend Parris’ future is as stated. He was outcast and did become a glove peddler. Cotton Mather’s is also. Thomas Putnam never got his inheritance and continued in financial decline. Ann Putnam did lose many children in infancy. Abigail Williams’ fall from grace into prostitution is a conjecture by historians. (And Arthur Miller also incorporated this hint in his screenplay of the movie “The Crucible.”) The romance between Mercy Lewis and Joseph Putnam here is purely fictional, but many of the details of their individual lives are facts. Mercy’s future is fictional. But his marriage to Elizabeth Porter is a fact. And though Ben Nurse is fictional, the Nurse family clearly must have propagated and prospered, because only a few weeks ago I received a phone call from the Gallup Organization conducting a poll—a political survey about the current health insurance bill—and the woman who interviewed me was married to a man who was a direct Nurse descendent.
Nan: There aren't many sympathetic characters in this book. Why is that?
Suzy Witten: I think these are all flawed characters, but not truly unsympathetic ones when you incorporate an understanding of their range of mental illness, abuses and brutalities which have been suffered, not to mention having hopes, dreams and ambitions thwarted. These are people in families living side-by-side inside one divided village amid hard and confusing times. They’ve suffered and are still suffering afflictions. But I have tried to plant inside each villager at least some underlying explanation for the cause of their affliction—what has made them who they are in this story—to generate sympathy in the reader. The only characters I find unsympathetic are Rev. George Burroughs, of course, and Chief Justice William Stoughton.
Nan: There are numerous theories as to what started the witch hysteria. You appear to ascribe, at least in the novel, to more than one. Why did you do that?
Suzy Witten: I’ve only told the story that the history tells. But what I’ve done that no one else has done before me is that I’ve identified the triggering event, and it isn’t what any historian has ever suggested. Mine is a new theory of the Salem Witch Hunt, but which finally explains it. It’s sure to be controversial. I have long thought that the reason Salem has been so clouded for 300 years is that there are too many strands to try to make sense of. I am the first writer to weave most of these strands into a cohesive picture—creating that tapestry of Salem Village in 1692 in which the picture is clear.
Nan: I have to ask this. It looks like Cotton Mather was fully aware of what were outright lies. If you agree, why do you think he overlooked the truth?
Suzy Witten: I don’t think this is in the book, Nan. It might be a slight misreading. I know there’s a lot to take in here. The way I’ve presented Cotton Mather, who is only an ancillary character, is that he believes what everyone in Reverend Parris’ faction believes and what Judge Stoughton, his parishioner, believes: that the afflictions of the Salem Village girls were the result of curses, sent out by witches residing and doing the devil’s business in Salem Village. In the book it is actually Governor Phips who learns the accusations are allegedly “lies,” and puts an immediate end to the trials. This is a historical fact.
Nan: You told me you are a screenwriter. Can you share more about that?
Suzy Witten: I’ve worn many hats in the entertainment industry. I was a filmmaker, screenwriter and an editor in the past, but I also have marketing, advertising and publicity experience. In recent years, I’ve been working exclusively on this novel. Which, by the way, I’ve written cinematically (i.e., anyone reading the book is also watching a movie) and I hope to get a miniseries made based on my book. That will be my next push.
Nan: Is this your first novel? You are publishing it independently. Why did you make that choice?
Suzy Witten: Yes, this is my first novel. I did try at first working through an agent, but then decided that since her time was limited and as I already had a production company for my film work, also the skills, and an exceptional product to produce, that I might as well form a publishing company myself. I have always enjoyed opening new doors. So this was a very practical solution to generate a revenue stream in these challenging economic times. It doesn’t hurt that this was also perfect timing, because the means to do this sort of endeavor are now here for any individual to take hold of. Yes, I’d say I was in the right place at the right time with the right product.
Nan: More than once in the novel, you write that Salem Village was more prone to lawsuits, resentments and ill will towards other residents. Is that taken from history?
Suzy Witten: Absolutely true. Salem Village, in year 1692, was the most litigious community in the Massachusetts Commonwealth, and had that reputation then. Everything I write about politically and economically in my book was taking place inside that bubbling cauldron of rancor between neighbors.
Nan: This story is one of the most appalling tales in American history. Do you agree?
Suzy Witten: Oh, I agree, Nan. But, of course, I’m the only one to solve the mystery of how it happened.
Nan: How did you research the novel?
Suzy Witten: The novel “THE AFFLICTED GIRLS A Novel of Salem” grew out of my original screenplay, which was a finalist in the Walt Disney Studios Screenwriting Fellowship competition in the mid-1990s (It had been chosen as one of 8 finalists out of 1000 submissions). And “The Afflicted Girls” screenplay was originally researched by reading every book available in our two Los Angeles library systems. At that time there wasn’t any Salem material available yet through the Internet. So I read everything I could find in the library. Now, though, there’s so much available. So more recently in writing the novel, I was able to authenticate additional facts online, which was a fabulous tool, because my goal was always to maintain historical authenticity and integrity. I’m very pleased with the result.
Nan: What is your philosophy of the purpose of historical fiction as opposed to historical narrative?
Suzy Witten: I guess I see the same difference as between a feature film about an event and a documentary film about that same event; and there many examples of this. But they’re just different mediums of storytelling. In any creative work, there will always be uniqueness of the voice. Thus, in fiction no two voices writing about the same event will ever be the same nor will they be the same in historical narrative. That’s why each writer, researcher or historian proposes his/her own theory of certain episodes in a selected form . . . like I have done here.
Nan: What have you taken from what you learned about the people involved in this event? What do you hope readers take from your novel about it?
Suzy Witten: I am hoping my book and these characters will finally settle for all readers that 300-year-old mystery of what really happened in Salem in 1692.
Thanks for considering this book, Nan. And thanks, again, for helping me get the word out.