The author and Houston native Katherine Howe has been coming to Murder by the Book since the ‘90s, when she confesses to having “badly spaced earrings” and shopping for too many Agatha Christie mysteries.
This week she returns for a signing of her new book, The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs, released on June 25.
When it comes to writing, Howe’s no slouch. Her first novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, was published in 2009 and became a runaway hit, debuting on the New York Times Bestseller List at No. 2. She followed it up with The House of Velvet and Glass, and would go on to write two young adult novels, a series of articles, and edit The Penguin Book of Witches.
Witches—and the supernatural—feature prominently in Howe’s work. The Physick Book is the twin story of a woman accused of witchcraft in 17th century Salem, Massachusetts, and a modern-day graduate student named Connie Goodwin, who winds up searching for Deliverance’s “physick book,” which contains recipes for healing arts and other lost knowledge. In Howe's latest, Temperance Hobbs, readers encounter a 10-years-older Connie, now up for tenure, who must uncover a family secret to keep her fiancé alive.
Like its predecessor, the action moves between the present and past “interludes” that illustrate how witchcraft might have faded from view since the notorious Salem Witch Trials, but belief in it lived on. The ways that belief shapes the lives of the characters in their respective eras is the foundation upon which Temperance Hobbs is built.
“Every book has its own procedure,” says Howe about writing this one. “I spent a long time on research for The Physick Book; I started in 2005, and it didn’t come out till 2009. I spent a lot of time steeping myself in the backstory of those characters. For Temperance Hobbes, I’d already built the universe.”
In The Physick Book, she’d given her main character several traits that she, herself has: They have the same job, for example, even the same car; when Howe was writing that book, she, like Connie was in her mid-20s.
“Then our lives went in wildly different directions,” she says. One of the themes of Temperance Hobbes is where Connie finds herself within herself and her community as a woman in her 30s, trying to anchor her career, and having to confront whether she’s ready to start a family. One of the biggest challenges of writing the book, explains Howe, was that while she was working on it, she was also trying to start a family herself, something that started to look like it might not happen.
“The biggest shock was after the whole book was written and it was all edited, and the dedication and the acknowledgements and everything was all done, I was finally successful, and I am about to go on a book tour six months pregnant,” she says. “It’s definitely weird. I just finished an entire book about a woman whose pregnancy upends her sense of self and her career, and I’m about to do this while pregnancy upends my sense of self and my career.”
Her due date? So close to Halloween, she half-jokingly notes, that with enough Kegel exercise, she can hit it on the nose.
As to whether she believes in witches herself, she deftly sidesteps the question.
“What I think is more interesting is to hear what others think.”
Katherine Howe with Lauren Willig at Murder by the Book, 6:30 p.m., July 1. More info at murderbooks.com.