Happy debut day to Jennifer Fawcett!
Jennifer Fawcett's debut, BENEATH THE STAIRS releases today
What’s inside this post?
Interview with Jennifer Fawcett
Details on Jennifer’s virtual release party happening later today!
Exciting updates from the current Deb class.
Interview with Jennifer Fawcett
What inspired this book?
I should probably start with a confession: I am a giant chicken when it comes to all things haunted. People keep telling me how scary they find the book, which is great and makes me seem much tougher than I am, but I feel like I should come clean. I have been in a grand total of ONE haunted house, and it made such an impression that Beneath the Stairs came out of it.
When I started writing this book, the image that came to me was four girls standing in front of a haunted house trying to decide if they could be brave enough to go in. I knew very well that mix of childish bravado and the dread of being made fun of that would get them over that threshold because the summer I was thirteen, I had done it too. My friends and I had found out about an abandoned house in the shape of an octagon. It was supposedly haunted, so of course, we dared each other to go in. What thirteen-year-old can refuse a dare? As soon as I crossed over the threshold, I felt the residue of something that had been left behind. It was like walking into a cold patch of water. I don’t know if there were ghosts or spirits in that house, but there was some kind of energy. It felt both abandoned and alive.
What was the most challenging part of writing a horror novel?
Fear is a very personal thing. What scares one person doesn’t scare another. I spent a lot of time thinking about what fear is and where it is rooted. Is it external, like in the house, and you can walk into it the way you’d walk into a patch of cold water? Or is it entirely generated by our minds? That doesn’t make it any less real, but I really wrestled with the source of the fear in this book. There are also expectations for a book like this, especially with what I’ve set up, so I had to try to meet those, or else readers would feel ripped off. Except that it’s impossible to meet everyone’s expectations, so in the end, I found the climax and dénouement that felt right to me.
Did anything change significantly in your book during the writing or editing process?
I don’t count drafts because a) I don’t work in order, so it’s hard to define precisely when one draft ends, and the next begins, and b) it would be far too depressing! This book has gone through a lot of revisions. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I’ve written the equivalent of another book’s worth of pages that have ended up being thrown out. For example, the story of the family in 1965 used to be set in 1945 and used to be one-third of the book. Now it’s a few short chapters.
This might sound arduous, but I love doing revisions. Of course, there’s always a scary point when I’ve pulled the thing apart and am staring at all the pieces wondering how (or if) I’ll ever get them together again, but for the most part, I love the process. Revision is when the connections between threads get made and the story gets tighter. Revision is when you know your characters and your world so well, you can pare down until you have just the most essential parts for the story.
What was the first piece of writing you ever published or saw in print?
It was actually not in print but was in front of an audience. The first story I wrote was an autobiographical one-person play about growing up on a goat farm. I will never forget the feeling of standing backstage the first time I performed it because it was a very different kind of fear. I’d been acting for a while by then and I was familiar with pre-show nerves, but these were words that I had written. This was my story. No one had approved it, so it might be terrible, or nonsensical, or worst of all, boring.
The performance went well— really well—and I kept performing (and revising) that show for years. I toured it in Canada and then performed it in the US when I came here for graduate school. That experience has fundamentally shifted how I teach new writers, and it marked a paradigm shift for me as a young artist because I had agency for the first time. In short, it changed everything.
Details for Jennifer’s virtual release today
Get tickets for Jennifer’s virtual book release today at 6pm EST through the NorthShire bookstore in conversation with Leslie Zemeckis.
Author & Skidmore professor Jennifer Fawcett will join us to celebrate the release of her debut novel, in conversation with actor, writer & award-winning documentarian Leslie Zemeckis. In this spine-tingling, atmospheric mystery, a woman returns to her hometown after her childhood friend attempts suicide at a local haunted house—the same place where a traumatic incident shattered their lives twenty years ago.
Praise for Beneath the Stairs
"A strong debut mystery-thriller from local author Jennifer Fawcett. The Octagon House has a long, bloody history, hidden deep within the woods of a small upstate NY town and holding many secrets, horrors, and even possibly ghosts. With a sleepy atmospheric feel reminiscent of The Haunting of Hill House, Fawcett raises the question–does childhood trauma create your ghosts, or are those ghosts from your childhood creating the trauma?" — Reviewed by Northshire Bookseller Kirstin Swartz
“An enthralling debut by a gifted storyteller!” —Wendy Walker, author of Don’t Look for Me
What We’ve Been Up To
Cleyvis Natera’s Neruda on the Park and Carolyn Huynh’s The Fortunes of Jaded Women both got a quick shout out in the Library Journal
Cleyvis Natera’s Neruda on the Park also appeared in a Today article roundup for 18 books for Latinx authors you’ll want to read in 2022
Sonya Singh’s Sari, not Sari appeared in a roundup watchlist for Canadian fiction to watch out for