This Madness of the Heart by Blair Yeatts – Guest Post + Giveaway

MediaKit_BookCover_ThisMadnessOfTheHeartThis Madness of the Heart by Blair Yeatts

Bad religion can be deadly. So Miranda Lamden, small-town religion professor, discovers in This Madness of the Heart. The dark hollers of Eastern Kentucky offer fertile soil for shady evangelist Jasper Jarboe, new president of Grace and Glory Bible College, as he beguiles the small mining town of Canaan Wells with his snake-oil charm.

When Miranda isn’t teaching at Obadiah Durham College, she’s investigating paranormal phenomena—or enjoying a turbulent romantic relationship with backwoods artist Jack Crispen. JJ’s inquisition-style gospel has alienated her long since, but when he announces his plan to transform her forest home into an evangelical Mecca, complete with neon cross and 40-foot Jesus, Miranda girds her loins for war. But JJ isn’t finished: he goes on to launch an attack on her friend and fellow professor Djinn Baude with an avalanche of vicious rumors. Not only does he accuse Djinn of demonic communion with the old Voudon witch whose curse killed the college’s founding family, but he also smears her with insinuations of lechery and vice.

With JJ’s urging, hate boils over into violence and tragedy, sweeping Miranda up in its flood. One death follows another as a miasma of evil overwhelms the tiny community, and only Miranda can see clearly enough to halt its spread.

This Madness of the Heart is the first in a new series of Gothic mystery-thrillers featuring Professor Miranda Lamden, whose spiritual gifts have drawn her beyond university walls to explore the mysteries of other world beliefs. Her unique vision brings her into repeated confrontations with evil, where too often she finds herself standing alone between oblivious onlookers and impending disaster.

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Creating a fictional world

For me, creating a fictional world always begins with research—or at least research comes close on the heels of the original germ of inspiration. Before I knew anything else about This Madness of the Heart, I knew I wanted to write a book about a sleazy preacher-man in a small college town deep in the old coal fields of Kentucky. Right there I had several general research subjects:

• the history of coal mining in Kentucky
• small towns in Appalachia, layout and architecture
• small colleges in Kentucky, size, administration, issues, architecture
• different types of religious groups and pastors in Appalachia

And that was just the setting for the story. When I started considering the characters, research subjects literally popped out of the trees. For instance, Miranda:

• She lived in an Appalachian old-growth forest: what would it have been like?
• What was involved in gutting and remodeling a 100-year-old chapel for a home?
• Her hobby was quilting: I needed details of Appalachian quilting patterns and techniques
• She was researching Appalachian superstition: I needed to find reliable examples.

Jack Crispen was a military vet with PTSD, who worked as a carpenter and stained glass artist. In his spare time he was a caver and a binging drinker, so:

• What PTSD symptoms did military vets often experience?
• How would a single artist in a small studio make stained glass windows?
• I needed details on Kentucky caving
• What exactly was involved in making moonshine, and were there different kinds?

Viola Ricketts was the last living descendant of coal baron Obadiah Durham, whose entire family, except for himself, had died in a fire caused by a vodun curse that still haunted the family, so:

• I needed to know more about vodun among Southern plantation slaves
• What kind of home would a wealthy coal baron build in the mid-late 19th C?

And that doesn’t take into account things like the violent death of various sorts that I needed to study, or the characters’ names. To make sure that the names were authentic I spent a couple of days wandering through old graveyards, copying names off tombstones.

Of course, if I hadn’t had a fairly good grasp of much of my subject matter, I couldn’t have written the book at all. For instance, I needed no research in any of these areas:

• College faculties, departments, and their personal and political relationships
• Appalachian ecosystems and hiking trails
• Living with cats
• Teaching religion and doing first-hand research using a phenomenological model
• Religious charlatans
• Southern and/or Appalachian society
• Southern/Appalachian worship practices
• World religions
• Spiritual/paranormal phenomena
• Women’s support groups

And then there are the maps. I always make maps to help orient myself geographically in the broad area where the story takes place. Madness has one of my maps inserted just before the first chapter. I often make interior plans of the buildings as well, especially if they’re very large.

Once I’ve mastered what I see as the essential research topics, I soon start feeling the need to write, whether the plot is complete or not. Having the broad strokes of my new world laid down allows me to begin weaving imaginary details freely. I know the practical limits and essential imagery involved in every aspect of the story. It’s kind of like understanding the basic skills, proportions of ingredients, and appliances involved in baking a cake before deciding to create new recipe. Some things you can change as you will, other changes will result in a ridiculous mess!

Excerpt Three:

I had to stop him! Now, before the damage was done!

I never even got to try.

Like a sullen current of arctic air pouring through a cracked door, cold snaked down over us, coiling around my senses, freezing my anger, congealing my blood: an implacable sister to the malevolence in the garden. I ground my teeth to stifle the scream begging to be born. Even so, a small voice spoke from outside my fear, detached and curious.

“This cold is not the same,” the voice observed. “There’s a difference. It’s not threatening so much as warning, ‘Keep off! Stand clear! Don’t interfere!’”

Immobilized by fear, I was incapable of interfering.

At first I thought my teeth were chattering. A split second later I realized the wind had dropped without warning, the riot of sound had ceased, and a clicking sound had filled the darkness. “Tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch,” the sound ran on and on—no more than a field of insects, of snakes, singing in the night.

The light from JJ’s lantern brightened, bloomed, and died, shooting soft rainbows into the night. Cold weighed even more cruelly upon my breast, pressing me against the rough wall at my back, blotting all light from my eyes. Then the clicking stopped, and in the utterly empty dark, I heard the sound of stone rasping on stone, of crumbling brickwork tearing loose from rotten mortar, and the hollow thunk of heavy masonry falling ponderously onto yielding clay.

A soft sigh whispered through the grove. Then there was silence.

About the Author

MediaKit_AuthorPhoto_ThisMadnessOfTheHeartBlair Yeatts grew up in the midst of a large, old southern Virginia family, much like the family of her main character. She followed her parents into a career in academia and taught religion at the college level in Kentucky for many years. Her special areas of expertise are psychology and Earth-based religions, in which she has done considerable research.

From childhood, Ms. Yeatts has been a fan of mystery fiction, starting with Nancy Drew and moving through Agatha Christie to twentieth century giants like Dorothy L. Sayers, P.D. James, and Nevada Barr. She is fulfilling a life’s dream in writing her own mysteries.

Ms. Yeatts shares her home with her photographer husband, two cats, and a dog. She has a lifelong love of wild nature, and prefers to set her stories in rural areas, where threads of old spiritual realities still make themselves felt. Her first three books take place in different parts of Kentucky and Tennessee.

Twitter: @blair-yeatts
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29 comments / Add your comment below

  1. My poor hubby went to a Catholic school as a boy and witnessed a nun tearing a red bow off a girl’s hair because “red was the color of Satan”. Did you have such a negative experience?

    1. Fortunately I went to public school, Cindy, but my home life was full of such absurdities (no dancing, no movies, no alcohol, only “constructive” reading, etc. I won’t even go into my mother’s idea of “appropriate” clothing!

  2. Great post, I love reading about how authors create the characters and worlds in the stories I read. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. It’s all out there in the internet! No, actually, I went to Berea College to do research on the more obscure hill-country subjects. I might be a native, but some things don’t bear on-site investigations!

      1. Here in Ireland we have our own variety of moonshine called ‘poitín’, pronounced ‘potcheen’. It’s distilled from potatoes and can be very strong. It was banned for years (but still available if you knew the ‘right’ people!). It can now be produced under license.

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