Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (Howe)

Author Bio 
Birth—ca. 1977-78
 Where—Houston, Texas, USA 
Education—B.A., Columbia University; M.A., Boston   
  University (completing Ph.D. at Boston U.)
Currently—lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts

Katherine Howe's ancestors settled Essex County, Massachusetts, in the 1620s and stayed there through the 20th century. Family members included Elizabeth Proctor, who survived the Salem witch trials, and Elizabeth Howe, who did not.

Katherine is completing a Ph.D. in American and New England Studies at Boston University, which included teaching a research seminar on New England witchcraft. The idea for her debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, developed while she was studying for her doctoral qualifying exams, walking her dog through the woods between Marblehead and Salem. She lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts with her husband and assorted animals.

From a 2009 Barnes & Noble interview:

• I had a diverse array of pre-academia jobs, including late-night experimental music disc jockey, teaching assistant at a science museum, Madison Avenue shop girl, and researcher at the Museum of Modern Art. This means that at various moments in time I have, for professional reasons, fed dead mice to a corn snake, have handled world class artwork, have been asked to please stop playing so much Captain Beefheart, and have tried to fit fragile silk chiffon over too-perky breast implants. It also means that I have learned that children love corn snakes, that art museums do a vital service to our culture, that sale shopping is terrifying for everyone involved, and that the hour from three to four AM is the hardest.

• I often play a game with myself that I have started to call "time travel tourism." I will be walking along in Boston or Cambridge, and I will imagine what would happen if, all of a sudden, I stepped through some kind of time fabric rip and found myself on the exact spot where I was standing—but in, say, 1877. How would people react to seeing a woman suddenly appear in blue jeans and a pea coat? Would anyone accept the cash I was carrying? Where could I go for help? Would the hologram on my driver's license prove that I was from the future? If I couldn't get back, how would I support myself? A lot of my writing grows out of these kinds of thought experiments.

• A few years ago my husband and I adopted a shaggy orange mutt, who is the rather transparent inspiration for Arlo in Physick Book. Like Arlo, he is of indeterminate size and color, depending on his mood, and like Arlo, he is both brave and noble while also being kind of a wimp. He also tends to show up unexpectedly under my desk or in the armchair that I have just left to get something to eat. I take him walking in the woods with me, and when I sit on my favorite rock to think, he will sit with his back to mine, keeping watch.

• A few years ago Douglas Coupland wrote an essay called "Harolding in West Vancouver," about his habit of poking around in graveyards ("Harolding" comes from the cult film Harold and Maude, in which the morbid title character likes to hang out in graveyards). I also enjoy Harolding, especially in the very old graveyards and burying grounds scattered around New England. The iconography on colonial headstones has been the subject of a good amount of scholarship—weeping willows, cherubic angel faces, skulls and crossbones. I enjoy the quiet in graveyards, and in wondering about the back stories of the people who are buried there.

• This past summer my husband and I bought our first house, and so, whether I want to or not, I have discovered gardening. We planted a few tomato plants, just to see what would happen, and to our surprise the tomatoes entirely took over one whole wall of the kitchen. We had so many tomatoes that we started bringing plastic bags of them, unsolicited, whenever we went to friends' houses for dinner. Big tomatoes, small tomatoes, pink tomatoes, yellow tomatoes—and the passage describing the tomato plants in Physick Book had been written a year earlier! Physick Book also features a character who is a steeplejack, or someone who restores antique church steeples. We live across the street from a meeting house, and one afternoon I was working in the garden and heard scraping coming from some indeterminate place. I looked up and saw a man on a scaffold around the steeple, scraping off all the old paint: a steeplejack at work. I think living here is going to make me superstitious.

When asked what book most influenced her career as a writer here is her response:

When I was about 13, a friend of my parents gave me a copy of he Writing Life by Annie Dillard. It was, quite frankly, way over my head at the time, but I already thought of myself as a writer by then, had already learned that writing was an activity on which I absolutely depended, and so I was determined to absorb from it what I could. What struck me first was the spareness of Dillard's language; like a lot of people I have to force myself not to use too many adjectives or adverbs, and as a teenager that problem was especially acute. Dillard writes with a clarity and precision that astonishes me, and I still spend time with her sentences to see how she is able to accomplish so much in such an efficient space.

Of course, the book itself is also a meditation on the act of being a writer, or on writing as an activity in everyday life. She captures the fear that undergirds the practice of writing, which is something I did not fully understand until recently. Revision, Dillard says, is the rebuilding of a house; at times, a supporting wall must come down, and there is nothing that you can do about it but grab a sledgehammer, swing, and duck. It takes courage to throw out bad work, she is saying, and seeing another writer name and confront that fear helps me to confront my own. Bio and interview from Barnes & Noble.)

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