A spooky book recommendation!

A Guest Blog contribution from author Alisa Libby.

Alisa M. Libby has been writing stories since she first learned how to properly grip a crayon. Growing up in Natick, Massachusetts, she dabbled in other potential careers in her formative years (trumpet player, actress, astronomer, unicorn) but instead attended Emerson College for a degree in creative writing. While at Emerson she wrote numerous short stories about the “blood countess” of Hungarian legend, which years later evolved into The Blood Confession, her first novel. Fascinated by history, Alisa’s second novel, The King’s Rose, follows Catherine Howard and her brief marriage to King Henry VIII. Currently working on a new book, Alisa has recently moved to Attleboro with her husband and daughter.
Eek! A great Halloween read!

In honor of Halloween, I’m happy to share with you the origin of my first published novel, The Blood Confession. It’s appropriate for the time of year as it is, indeed, very bloody.

Growing up I had a tense relationship with horror novels and movies—my wild imagination and tendency toward insomnia could not match my intrigue. Often my bedroom light stayed on all night, while I was plagued by images from movies that seemed a great idea during daylight hours. Carrie, by Stephen King—Brian DePalma’s movie even more so than the book—traumatized me for a while at age 13. But I couldn’t help myself. Why was that prom queen covered in blood? I needed to see it, even if I would later regret it.

When I was around 15, I read a story of Countess Bathory, a 16th century Hungarian countess. That part is true, the next is legend: Bathory murdered virgin girls and then bathed in their blood, believing it would keep her young and beautiful for eternity. I was riveted by the story, couldn’t tear my eyes away, and then…oh, crap. The blood! The horror! What had I done? What horrible images had I just put into my head to later torment me, all courtesy of the seemingly-innocent Morse Institute Public Library?

The story haunted me for years. But sometimes it isn’t such a bad thing, to be haunted. If a story sticks to your bones like that, then it has staying power. It has captured your imagination in a way that can serve you, once you find your own way to tell it—or retell it.

While at Emerson College pursuing a degree in writing, I thought again about that crazy Countess. I wrote her story as a fairy tale. Then I wrote a contemporary story with references to Bathory. Next I put it back in the 16th century and wrote about the sister of one of Bathory’s victims. Eventually I wrote a story in the point of view of Bathory’s best friend—that story was a piece of flash fiction about six pages long.

With each new draft I felt a rush of accomplishment—yes, I’ve figured it out! I’ve told this story! Hurrah for me! But I hadn’t, not yet. Each draft was an experiment, trying to answer the questions that still haunted me, that all of my reading about the Countess (both fiction and non-fiction) didn’t answer in any satisfactory way: “What was she thinking? Why did she do it?” Finally it occurred to me that this was Bathory’s story to tell, in her own words, her point of view. What would she say, were she to confess her crimes? The final result was The Blood Confession.

This is the fun of fiction, both writing and reading it: you can slip into someone else’s voice and tell your own version of their story, creating a sense of logic to explain their morally corrupt actions. And I had no intention of painting Bathory—or, I should say, Erzebet Bizecka, my fictionalized version of her—as a victim of false accusations. That isn’t what had fascinated me about the story. If I was going to write about this character, then I would have to deliver the blood. So much blood! Bloody bloody bloodbath time! My readers deserve nothing less.

Admittedly, Erzebet did wear on me at times. She’s not a character I would invite over for tea. Days spent in the mind of an unremorseful serial killer often left me drained and feeling like a horrible person. Why am I writing this? And why do I want teenagers to read it? Why must I seek to corrupt innocent minds?!?!? But I was writing it for the same reason I wanted to read scary things—even challenging myself to read things a little bit too scary—because it is thrilling, and also very safe. As the Countess, I could be bold, daring, reckless, and imagine what that would be like.

I still love horror, and I’m happy to report that I am less wimpy about it now. Horror movies, television, and books provide my most effective escape from stress. I prefer when the horror is removed from anything resembling my reality, either by magic or by focusing on events in (long ago) history. It is still my favorite escape. And when a story or an idea haunts me, I know I’ll have the urge to write about it someday.

[Note from Mary: I read Alisa’s book when it came out and loved it! To add an air of Halloween scariness the hardcover looks like the book has been dipped in blood, with red on the bottom of every page! If you like this book, or historical fiction, or just reading good things – also check out Alisa’s second book: The King’s Rose. It is scary in a different way; it is about Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife. You read from her perspective as a young girl, and you know it isn’t going to turn out well for her – but getting there is an exciting journey!]

Spoiler alert: Not a happy ending