"I like quiet horror. I love the Gothic horror genre." -Erin A. Craig @penchant4words #yahorror #amreading #horrorstories
When you’re splashing around in the water, do images from Jaws flash through your brain? Does talk of camp bring to mind slasher flicks featuring murder and mayhem in the woods? For all its sunshine and fun, summer can be a scary season. And this one just got a little creepier with the release of YA novel, House of Salt and Sorrows, a tale inspired by the Edgar Allen Poe poem, “Annabel Lee.”
The poem describes the relationship between the narrator and his dead lover—a devotion that extends beyond death. As if that wasn’t macabre enough, “Annabel Lee” was published two days after Poe’s own demise. Craig’s version centers around twelve sisters who once made their home in a manor by the sea. At the opening of the book, four of the girls are dead, and the eight living sisters may not stay that way for long. Annaleigh knows her siblings steal away to attend mysterious balls, but are these forbidden nights of intrigue linked to their abrupt deaths? There’s only one way to find out…
Author of House of Salt and Sorrows, Erin A. Craig, has long been fascinated and terrified by the things that go bump in the night or—worse still—the silent things that give no warning of their approach. “I’ve always liked ghost stories,” she confessed. “When I was a kid, I remember coming across Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in the school library. My mom wouldn’t have let me check it out if I’d gone to the regular library—there was no way. So, I kept it in my desk; I’d read it in-between classes or on the playground, and that was my first foray into scary stories.”
“I like quiet horror. I didn’t watch scary movies until later in high school, maybe even college, but one of the plays my grandparents took me to see was called The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill. The whole thing is driven by sound effects. It’s the ‘what if'. Your imagination is always so much worse. What I tried to do with House of Salt and Sorrows is, when there are the ghost moments, a lot of it is suggested. It could be what [Annaleigh] thinks; it could also be explained away by 10,000 other logical reasons.”
“I love the Gothic horror genre,” said Craig. “The Others is my absolute favorite movie.” Released in 2001, Alejandro Amenábar’s haunted house movie hooked in horror lovers. “If it’s got a haunted house in it, I’ll totally watch it; I’ll read it. If it’s done right, it can be so spooky.” Craig is also a fan of The Castle of Otranto, an 18th century novel that Horace Walpole wrote, essentially launching the Gothic genre. Craig freely concedes it’s a terrible book, but that hasn’t lessened the novel’s appeal for her. “I love all of the Gothic horror tropes: the girl in the white night gown, and of course she’s got a candle, and something’s chasing her.”
“I wanted to have the quiet, shy, dreamy girl as the main character and show that that can be a strength if it’s used in the right way.” -Erin A. Craig @penchant4words #horrornovel #amreadingya #youngadultfiction
You’ll have to read House of Salt and Sorrows to see where Craig sticks to conventions and the spots where she steers the plot in an unpredictable direction. But she’s upfront about how her protagonist deviates from expectations. “I wanted to have the quiet, shy, dreamy girl as the main character and show that that can be a strength if it’s used in the right way,” she explained. “You don’t have to have the answers all of the time. I think Annaleigh is naïve, and sometimes she’s too trusting—that was very much who I was as a teenager. It was important for her to have a quiet strength.”
“I love books like The Hunger Games with these tough, heroic women, but I’m not that person. I’ll totally stand up for injustice, but I’m not going to get out a bow and arrow. I wanted to show that you can fight for what you believe, and still want to wear a pretty dress. You can have a flamethrower and makeup!”
Although fire is one of the first things that humans weaponized, flamethrowers aren’t exactly a hot accessory in Craig’s novel, since it’s inspired by the Victorian era, but you will find some unexpected additions. “I wanted it to be a Victorian setting but I really liked the Greek gods system,” said Craig. “I was like, ‘What if the Greek gods never left? What if they’re real? And, if they’re real, then they’re actually walking around interacting with the world, and what does that look like?’”
“For all intents and purposes, we’re in Victorian England, with semi-modern sensibilities. Obviously, it’s fantasy, but part of the challenge was making it difficult for myself because they’re a god; they can do whatever they want.” Still, the motivations of Craig’s characters had to feel authentic. “If a magic door opened up in front of you, you probably wouldn’t go through it; that’s a bad idea. There had to be something that would entice [my characters] into this weird portal. Trying to impose these magical, fairy-tale tropes into a real world was a big challenge for me.”
The Victorian setting presented its own complications. “Language was my biggest hold back. [The characters are] not going to be saying a lot of the words we say now.” In terms of content, Craig didn’t feel the need to make concessions for a YA audience. “I don’t look at reviews often, but someone said, ‘Oh they were bandying sexual terms around.’ And I was like, ‘They were talking about kissing. What teenager doesn’t talk about kissing with their friends? It’s what they’re interested in.’”
"The nature of a lot of entertainment right now is for shock value, but I think if you’re going to shock, there needs to be a reason for it.” -Erin A. Craig @penchant4words #HouseofSaltandSorrows #yahorror #ireadya
Craig always read up and she recalls being introduced to adult horror, like Stephen King, in junior high. “I don’t think we have to dumb down anything for teenagers,” she said. “Kids get scared, especially in the world we’re in today; they’re seeing horrible things on television. So, there’s a childbirth scene [in my novel] that goes very wrong. I didn’t want to spare the reader any gruesome details, because birth is a part of life. But the scary parts all serve the greater plot narrative. The nature of a lot of entertainment right now is for shock value, but I think if you’re going to shock, there needs to be a reason for it.”
A deceptively tough task is choosing the right title for a book. During the publishing process, novels shed titles like rejected outfits before a party, leaving behind mounds of cast-off monikers. House of Salt and Sorrows is actually the manuscript’s fourth title. “It started out as The Kingdom by the Sea because it was based on ‘Annabel Lee,’” revealed Craig. “The original title that I subbed to my agent was Of Salt and Starlight because that’s a line in the book, ‘We’re born of salt and starlight.’ I absolutely loved it and thought it summed up everything. Then we realized there are 10,000 books with stars in their title coming out or that had come out recently.”
“I’m a big fan of alliteration,” she continued, “and I wanted something with an ‘s'. It's very sorrowful, so we tried Of Salt and Sorrows. My editor was like, ‘This isn’t working for me.’ I went back to Edgar Allen Poe and I saw The Fall of the House of Usher.” Craig wasn’t sure if adding “house” to the title would enough of a change for her editor.
“I pitched it to her on a Friday, so I had to wait all weekend on pins and needles. Then Monday morning she was like, “We love it, we talked to the marketing people and they love it, everyone loves it, and immediately you know it’s going to be Gothic and spooky. It still captures all of what the original title meant for me but just oomphed it a little.”
“As far as characters’ [names], I was doing an ode to Edgar Allen Poe. I think almost all of the sisters are named after his characters. Annabel Lee is shortened to Annaleigh. Morella, Octavia, Helen, Madeline… nearly all of the female characters are Poe characters. I had to name 12 sisters and he’s got 12 very likeable heroines. Rosalie and the Graces are the only sisters who aren’t named after Poe characters, but one of his cousins was named Rose, and the Graces are their own little thing.”
For subsequent manuscripts, Craig sometimes uses a random name generator to fuel her creativity. Otherwise, “if I can extract meaning out of the name, I like to do that. The islands in House of Salt and Sorrows are all named after famous shipwrecks. I like drawing from historical things if I can, or famous literary things. Usually they’re for myself—it gives me a little fun.”
Given the amount of thought behind Craig’s writing choices, it comes as no surprise that she prefers to outline her novels rather than winging it. “I’m a hyper plotter,” she said. “I’m trying to embrace the three-act narrative. I’ll go through and say, in each chapter, ‘This beat needs to be hit.’ But I never get to the point where I take the Harry Potter sorting hat quizzes for my characters! I like to leave them their mysteries because you want to be surprised, too, when you’re writing.”
“My first book took me a decade before I actually got to the end!" -Erin A. Craig @penchant4words #bookcommunity #youngadulthorror #yafiction
“My main focus is on trying to build a complete world for my characters to inhabit. It’s easier for me to see what they are going to do once I know their world.” Craig’s process can be painstaking. “My first book took me a decade before I actually got to the end! I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t be a writer. There’s no payoff in writing a book a decade.’ When I came across the idea for House of Salt and Sorrows, I wrote a chapter and was like, ‘There’s something missing.’ So, I put it aside for awhile. But, once I realized I wanted to pair my ‘Annabel Lee’ idea with a fairytale retelling, I wrote the first draft in three months. I’d never written anything that fast before. I got my agent three weeks after I finished! It was a whirlwind.”
Craig’s been building up buzz for House of Salt and Sorrows, which was the most anticipated YA release in August on Goodreads. “I’ve been on Twitter for a couple of years,” she said. “There’s a #Novel19s group. We’ve been doing monthly chats—the normal social media gauntlet. We’ve got some book trailers coming up as the publication date gets closer.” Craig recently attended YALLWEST. “That’s been so much fun. I know that I’m writing for teenagers but getting to see [them] holding the book? It’s so cool because it’s until now, it’s only been read by critique partners—and we’re all in our 20s and 30s—the editors, and all the team at Delacorte.”
However, Craig also values her interests that take her beyond the literary world. “I’m very much a workaholic. It’s easy to get consumed by an idea or a project, and people absolutely need breaks to refill their creativity. Sometimes when I’m having a problem with a chapter and I keep picking at it and picking at it, it’s only in the moments where I step away [that help]. I think that unlocks something in the back of your head. It’s good to have diversity in your life. I always hate when you see interviews where it’s like, ‘I love books, and I love writing.’ Well, we all love reading and writing, otherwise we wouldn’t be in this business. Who else are you, as a person? What else do you like?”
“Most of my hobbies are creative. I like to knit and quilt.” Other interests include basketball—Craig has season tickets to the Memphis Grizzlies. That appeals because “I don’t have to create anything; I can just consume it. It lets my brain go on autopilot, where I’m not having to think about, ‘Oh, if I had written this movie, how would I have done it differently?’ It’s basketball. Having aspects of your life where you [don’t have] to think about characters and what’s motivating them [is important]. Sometimes it’s as simple as wanting the shot to go in. We won, yay!”
House of Salt and Sorrows was released on August 6. Grab your copy here. And, if you need to sleep with the lights on for a few nights, we won’t judge.
What is the next horror read on your TBR? Tell us in the comments!
This article was originally printed in the Fall 2019 issue of Curiositales. If you would like to receive a free digital copy of the magazine, sign up for our newsletter at the top of this page! Then, confirm your email address (be sure to check your spam folder). Once you click the link in your welcome email, you'll get regular news from Curiositales, including notifications when the latest magazine is published. You can unsubscribe whenever you like. Or, you can read it for free here.
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An in-depth interview with YA Horror author Erin A. Craig of House of Salt and Sorrows. @penchant4words #horror #ya #ireadya