CMU Prof discusses his new Gothic Novel: Part 2

370_Mistle_Child_cvrITOn Wednesday, we heard from Central Michigan University professor Dr. Ari Berk about his new novel, “Mistle Child.” Today, our interview continues as he discusses the inspiration behind the eerie, quirky secondary characters in his novel.

SM: Mistle Child, the second Gothic novel in your popular The Undertaken Trilogy, places the young protagonist Silas Umber up against centuries of his dead ancestors. With their vicious quarrelling and harsh personal agendas. As he takes the helm of the family, the reader meets other extremely interesting characters who also surround him. I enjoy the voice of old Jane, her voice, the spider brusher of the mansion, so full of colloquial rhythms and syntax.

AB: Jane, the spider brusher, at Arvail at the house in the second novel. She actually came from an old portrait, the idea of a spider brusher. There is I believe a 17th century, oh maybe early 18th century portrait, this wealthy household land owner in England had portraits painted of one of his servants, and there was this little poem that went along with this character, the spider brusher, and she is so dower looking, but I love the idea of this women just traveling the halls of the house with all of her little brushes, and mops, and bits and things like that.

SM: Yes, and picking up all the information.

AB: The idea that in a house hold the people below stairs hear an awful lot. So I was interested in giving voice to that person, and of course because the house itself is so enormous and encompasses so many dimensions of family in the past, I wanted someone a little homier.

SM: She’s comfortable.

AB: Yeah, everybody else is a little epic. You know? A little thousand years ago. But she is just some corky little figure. I’ve been asked before is it easy to write the dialog for your protagonist? He is the hardest actually I find, because he has to be put through all of his paces and he is the most complicated.

SM: And also three women of the sewing circle were fascinating.

AB: Those were the easiest characters for me to write. I could write another trilogy just about the three women. So my natural love of sarcasm and pettiness came right to the surface. But they embody something much bigger. There’s a bit of it hinted at in the first book, that they are three women who had been tried for practicing witchcraft against their husbands. But those actual historical women in the first story hold a place for a much larger concept. And in fact the trilogy itself is really about how people are who they are in the moment, but also embody the past moving back.

SM: The third novel in the trilogy, Lych Way, is due out in 2014. Can you give us just a hint of what Silas will have to struggle with before the trilogy can be brought to peace.

AB: In my very early ideas for this trilogy. Thinking how just loosely the world of the trilogy would play out. It was always my intention to have the first book be sort of homey and a little more insular. So the town closes in when Silas enters it. So it’s a little more Gothic in the American sense. But because I love mythology, because I’m so interested in how people over time have viewed the dead and ghosts. I knew in the second book I wanted to look more at European mythology. Which is why it has a lot of medievalness. The door doomer was an actual right where if ghosts were coming back, the men would gather around the door frame of the house and call the dead to the door. They would sit in counsel in judgment over the dead and banish it. And then usually the dead would say something like, “Well you know, the food was terrible here anyway. I never really wanted to come!” And then they would leave and then they would never be seen again. In the third book I thought, well now we have built up a sense of family obligation. A sense of a very expansive other world. Now what’s it going to be like to start to tear these things apart? So we learn a lot more about Silas’s father. Which I think in the second book, particularly now in the third, he learns that his father is not the ideal paragon that he thought him to be. That he is human, deeply, deeply flawed.

SM: Dr. Ari Berk professor of English at Central Michigan University. An expert in ancient history, American Indian studies, and comparative literature and cultures, speaking about mistle child, the second novel in his trilogy. It is a spell binding read for young adults and all readers who love a well-crafted gothic ghost story. Lych Way, the third novel in the trilogy, will be published by Simon and Schuster in 2014.

Dr. Sue Ann Martin is CMU Public Radio’s resident reviewer for “The Children’s Bookshelf.”

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