Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things

Escape to Salem

House of the Seven Gables

For our second anniversary, Daniel and I took a fun weekend trip to Salem, Massachusetts. I’d like to tell you that it was all about romance … but what kind of  scholar-author team would that make us?

While we did enjoy a fancy dinner and a quaint bed-and-breakfast (complete with a wine and cheese hour!), the main focus of our trip was research. Daniel is studying the Salem Witch Trials for a class project, and I’ve always been fascinated with the event … and just may have a book idea brewing. If you’ve ever thought about a trip to Salem, I highly recommend all the attractions in this blog post (and going in fall – such gorgeous weather!). In the interest of brevity, I’ll just hit the highlights:

Salem Burying Point
A lovely little spot that holds the graves of important townspeople, including several of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ancestors (including Judge Hathorne, who presided over the Witch Trials). While the bodies are not buried there, it does include a  set of beautiful stone benches engraved with the Witch Trial victims’ names. (My header image shows a few tombstones – visible on the main blog page.)

witch-house-deskHouse of the Seven Gables & Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Birth House
Probably my favorite part of the trip. The original home that inspired the famous novel still stands. It’s filled with era-appropriate recreations and there’s even a secret staircase visitors can climb! Hawthorne’s birth home was moved to the property in the 1950s, and it holds several of his letters and books, as well as the desk on which he wrote The Scarlet Letter. As you can imagine, this author geeked out.

The Witch House
Home to Witch Trial Judge Jonathan Corwin, this is the only house in Salem with direct ties to the Witch Trials. History buffs: this is your jam. Authentic household items and writings from the 1600s (only a few things were recreations), with knowledgeable and friendly tour guides on both floors. If you want to know what life was like as Puritan, this is your stop.

Danvers, MA – aka Salem Village
What many people don’t realize is that modern-day Salem is actually “Salem Town.” The hangings and some trial activity happened here, but the accusations and most trials actually happened in Salem Village, which is modern-day Danvers. Unlike modern Salem, Danvers has tried to separate itself from the Witch Trials. While important monuments remain, they’re mixed right in with neighborhoods.

salem-village-parsonageWhile Hawthorne holds the most special place in my heart, this was by far the coolest part of the trip. We saw the official Witch Trials monument, the site of the meeting house (where the accusations happened), and toured the homestead of Rebecca Nurse (one of the victims). But the highlight for me? Walking in the parsonage foundations, the exact place where Reverend Samuel Parris’ daughter and niece made the first accusation and started the entire spectacle. I couldn’t stop the goosebumps!

Now that I’ve gushed about the amazing things we saw, I want to take a moment to impart my biggest lesson from the weekend. So many people depict the Witch Trial victims as A) actual witches or B) vengeful spirits. After learning about these individuals, those impressions couldn’t be farther from the truth. The victims went to the gallows (not the stake) pitying their misinformed community members and trusting completely that they would be absolved in Heaven. Throughout my entire trip, I didn’t hear a single account of revenge or hatred from the victims (their families, a bit).

Being in the victims’ town and standing where they stood gave me an appreciation for their faith and a new perspective on their stories. If I do include Salem and the Witch Trials in a future novel, you can bet those themes will feature in my work. There’s no substitute for in-person interaction, and I’m so grateful Daniel and I were able to take this trip. I can’t wait to travel to more inspiring places and share my experiences with you on this blog … and in my books!

Book Reviews, Fiction Blog

Book Review: Ariel by Fia Essen

arielAriel by Fia Essen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this novel without the expectation of a review. However, I have chosen to review the novel, because of how much I enjoyed it.

In Ariel by Fia Essen, the reader meets the title character well and truly at rock bottom. Three years after an abrupt break up, employment termination, and building up a pile of credit card debt, Ariel still finds herself trapped in a web of lies (not to mention apathy). However, as the novel progresses, Ariel is able to begin rebuilding her life, with the help of her friends and the mysterious Muse Agency, who are known in the expat community for helping down-and-out individuals turn their lives around and even become wildly successful in their fields.

The best way to describe Ariel is a “feel good” novel. Despite the rut that Ariel is in, she remains an engaging and funny narrator, and the reader is easily charmed by her. While at times I found her monologues a bit repetitive, they were still entertaining, and I actually began to accept them as a quirk of the character rather than just narration. Likewise, Essen has given Ariel realistic flaws – she often is blind to the truth around her, judges herself and others too harshly, and has a habit for lying. Watching Ariel recognize these traits in herself and grow out of them is an incredibly satisfying experience.

Moreover, the other characters in the novel are very well-written and have plenty of complexity. Their relationships with Ariel are believable and elicit emotional reactions within the reader. It is easy to envision these characters existing in their own worlds, and several of them would make for interesting protagonists in their own right. Perhaps the only character that I would have liked to have learned more about is “her Colin” (the love interest). Yes, he is handsome and charming and clearly a wonderful human being. However, I did feel like he lacked depth in comparison with the other characters.

Setting sets Ariel apart from other “chick lit” novels. The novel is set in Singapore, and perhaps it is my American background, but I have not read many novels set in Asia, so the new surrounding was a welcome change. Similarly, the fact that Ariel and her family are expatriates ads another interesting (and educational) component for the reader. Seeing how her experience as an expat and world traveler affected Ariel’s perspective was one of my favorite aspects of the novel.

Overall, Ariel has everything you want in a “chick lit” novel. There’s a spunky female protagonist with a great growth arc, funny and lovable sidekicks, a bit of adventure (in the recollections of Ariel’s travels and her unique lifestyle), and of course, a satisfying (and tasteful) romance.

On a personal note, as I finished Ariel, I couldn’t help but think that this is the most fun I’ve had with a novel in a long time. Perhaps it’s that I, too, feel a bit stuck in a rut right now (though, luckily nothing so dramatic!), or perhaps it’s that Ariel exhibits a similar theme to my own novel (rock bottom female protagonist coming into her own and finding potential for love along the way), just in an entirely different genre. Either way, I’m very pleased that I read Ariel when I did, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a quick, fun and charming read.

View all my reviews


arielIf you are interested in reading Ariel and would like to help sponsor my writing and research, you can purchase it through my Amazon Associates Store. By doing this, you will not pay a cent extra, nor will the author receive a cent less, but I will receive a small commission on the sale. Simply click the book’s title or the book’s image.

Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things

Starting Life in New Haven

movingFor those of you who missed the memo, my husband, Daniel, and I moved to New Haven, CT, last week. I’ve never lived anywhere other than Kansas before. I’ve traveled — quite a lot for someone my age — but until last week, I had never actually packed up all my stuff and left my home. Because of this, being in New Haven feels a bit like being on vacation. That and the fact that we are only here for two years while Daniel does his Masters (maybe seven, if he sticks with Yale Divinity School for his PhD, too). But so far, it all still feels temporary.

I like New Haven  well enough so far. We’re living downtown, so there are dozens of restaurants, shops, and plenty of “touristy” landmarks within walking distance. Our building is old, but full of that colonial city charm. The city is gorgeous, especially Yale’s campus and the areas near the beach. I can already feel the architectural inspiration seeping into my writerly pores and begging to go into a story one day.

yaleWhile living in the city is convenient, after living in somewhat rural areas my entire life, the city is definitely an adjustment. Seeing people everywhere and hearing constant noise (not loud noise, mind you, just general city buzz in the background) is incredibly strange to me. I never thought I would say this, but I miss the sound of cicadas.

Also, everyone in Connecticut (and every state I’ve encountered in New England) drives like a complete idiot. Kansans – imagine Missouri drivers only 10,000x worse. My motto while driving has become, “You better have insurance, asshole.”

We’ve met a few members of Daniel’s cohort, and they are all lovely people. Two of them were nice enough to help us move in (in other words, they are saints), one gave us a wonderful campus tour, and two more hosted us for dessert (How did they know the way to my heart is through chocolate?). Knowing that we have them around has been a big help and makes the city feel a bit less lonely.

tommy windowPerhaps the best part of our new living arrangement is that Thomas has officially graduated to being an inside kitty. He has embraced this role, spending his days lazing around and demanding his belly rubbed. His favorite spots are the windowsills, and I hope this is because he enjoys the breeze and not because he misses being outside. But as I type this, he’s giving himself a bath on our futon and perching on a pillow like it’s a throne — so he must not be too upset.

All in all, New Haven is proving to be an eclectic and fun city. There are so many places we want to explore, and I cannot wait to share this adventure with Daniel and with all of you. If I didn’t already have an established blog, I would probably start one to write about all the shenanigans this “country girl” gets up to in “the big city.” Something about Dorothy and The New Haven Green, maybe.

Anyway, I better get back to Desertera before my characters completely forget who I am. Have a magnificent Monday and share your moving stories and all the feels below!

Guest Posts, Writing & Publishing Articles

Guest Post: Write What You Know by Fia Essen, Author of ARIEL and ANNA

Hello, everyone! Today I am thrilled to bring you a guest post from Fia Essen, a fellow author and blogger. I first encountered Fia through her blog, but I have also been lucky enough to host her on The 2K International Writers’ Blog Tour. Today, Fia is back to share with you all the best piece of writing advice she has: write what you know. Enjoy!


Hello friends, fans, and followers of Kate!

My name is Fia Essen and I’m an author. Two of my novels have been published this year and now I’m making the rounds on the internet, spreading the words about my books, and doing blog interviews. One question that keeps coming up is “What is the best piece of writing advice you have ever received?” And I can honestly say that the answer to the question is write what you know.

That’s exactly what I do. I write what I know. I take my own experiences and events from my life and pour them into my writing.

Ariel is a lifelong expat. I’ve been an expat for twenty-five years. Anna booked a last minute ticket to Greece in a moment of uncharacteristic spontaneity and left her old life behind. I did that too.

My move from Singapore to Crete is what inspired me to write Anna. Not only did I find myself adjusting to living in a different country, I was inundated by an entirely different culture, too. After two decades of living in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, Europe was utterly alien and downright esoteric to me.

I had visited the Greek islands as a tourist before I impulsively packed up my life in Singapore and headed to Crete, which is the largest of the Greek islands. Like most tourists, I took the romanticized and perfectly idyllic version of the Mediterranean home with me in my mind when my vacation ended. The reality of daily life on a Greek island came as a huge culture shock. Singapore and Crete are both islands but that’s where their similarities begin and end. One is a bustling metropolis of the highest modern mode. The other often operates on medieval morals. Crete has one foot firmly and proudly planted in its illustrious past while the other foot tentatively treads on present ground.

Ariel is perhaps even more personal than Anna. This woman is stuck in a rut, she’s at rock bottom and can’t see a way out. She has lost sight of who she is and what she wants. Not long ago, I felt the same way. Writing the book helped me get out of my own rut. It reminded me that nothing is ever set in stone. As I sorted out Ariel’s fictional problems on the page, I began sorting out my own. When I gave Ariel the courage to chase her dreams, I rediscovered my own confidence.

Yes, the best piece of writing advice I ever received is write what you know.

If you’d like to find out what happens to Anna and Ariel, both books are available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback format. Ariel is here: http://mybook.to/ariel and Anna here: http://mybook.to/anna

And if you’d like to get social with me, you can…

Visit my Website – http://www.fiaessen.com/

Follow me on Twitter – @FiaEssen https://twitter.com/FiaEssen

Join me on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/fiaessen

Thank you!


Leave your questions and comments for Fia below! Thanks again, Fia!

Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things

My Kansas Bucket List

As my regular peeps will know, my husband, Daniel, and I are moving to New Haven, Connecticut, where he will pursue a Masters degree at Yale. I’ve been thinking about our move a lot, both logistically and emotionally. One thought that slipped across my mind is that I may never live in Kansas again.

Full disclosure: Daniel and I have every intention of setting up a home in the Midwest one day. However, first and foremost, we have to go where he can get a tenure-tracked professorship. We’ll be in New Haven for two years, an unknown location (definitely not anywhere near home) for five years for his PhD, and then we’ll be chasing that professorship. Luckily for us, if all goes according to plan, I can be a full time writer from anywhere.

Anyway, point is: I do not know when I’ll be back to Kansas to live. Therefore, I’ve decided to make a Kansas Bucket List to hit my old haunts one last time and maybe see some things I’ve been postponing my entire life. I’ve got four months to do it. Let’s see how many I can cross off!

Places to Go (Ran out of time for all of these. A good excuse to come back home!)

  • Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
  • Stull Cemetery
  • Lebanon, Kansas (geographical center of the U.S.)
  • World’s largest ball of twine (Cawker City, KS)

Things to Do

  • Host a going away party
  • Graffiti session at Java Break (Closed for construction on the day I went. Boo.) 
  • Make a Kansas shirt at ACME
  • Have an amaretto sour at the Record Bar
  • Have a drink at the Hillsdale Tavern
  • Star Wars marathon with our friends, Devin and Caleb
  • Miami County Wine Trolley Tour (Ran out of time for this, too!)
  • Ride Verruckt (world’s tallest water slide) (And this…at least I made time for my novel!)
  • Buy/make something “Kansas” for our apartment

Photos to Take

  • Childhood home/property
  • Our walking route
  • Baker University
  • A few favorite spots in Lawrence
  • Sunflower fields (The ones near me haven’t bloomed in time.)
  • Sunset (ours are the best in the country)
  • Midwest imagery (grain silos, barns, hay bales, etc.)
  • Make copies of old family photos

If you were moving away from your hometown, what would you make sure to see and do? If any of my Kansas people are reading this, what did I miss from my list?