I ended 2020 with a thump like a human heart under the floorboards with a piece of Poe-inspired flash at Love Letters to Poe.
In low tones he explained his process did not involve nerves at all. Years ago, while working with saw and tourniquet in a blood-soaked Union tent, Coffman formed a notion that amputation only removed the physical extremity. What remained, he believed, was an ethereal limb that couldn’t be sliced away with steel.
“An Incident on Mulberry Street” is set in New Haven but you won’t find the address on any modern map. When North Frontage Street was built (the westbound side of Route 34) over what was Fayette Street, Mulberry Street was truncated into a dead end and, somewhat inexplicably, renamed Scranton Street. Meanwhile the streets around it kept their original names. You can see Mulberry Street on this 1893 map of the city, located just above the words “2nd Ward.”
After the story, editor Sara Crocoll Smith posted a short interview with me, which IIRC is my first published interview as a fiction author. There’s also an audio version of the story.
Over at Goodreads I’ve posted some free bonus content for A Season of Whispers.
I did an extensive amount of historical research for the book, and while writing it I left a trail of breadcrumbs for myself in the margins. If you’re curious about the context of a certain passage or phrase, now you can read those breadcrumbs for yourself.
Goodreads has a feature in which you can share the notes and highlights made on your Kindle with others. You need to link your Kindle and Goodreads accounts to create the notes but once they’re made public, anyone can read them.
I’ve made a bunch of annotations to A Season of Whispers that explain many of the historical and literary references in the story, which you can read here. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the book yet — spoilers are hidden unless you want to see them.
The notes can also be accessed by scrolling down on the book’s Goodreads page to the section labeled Featured Notes & Highlights.
I don’t believe the notes pop up unannounced on your Kindle. You can only read them through Goodreads. They’re free to access and you don’t need a Goodreads account.
And if you have a question that isn’t answered by the current notes, feel free to reach out. I’ll be adding more notes over time.
Connecticut is a geologic hodgepodge. Only the northwestern corner, shown in blue and brown and yellow on the map above, is original to North America. The pink zone on the eastern border and southeastern coast was once part of Africa, while most of the state — the green and ocher areas — was the mud and sediment on the ocean floor between the two continents that was thrown to the surface as the tectonic plates pulled apart. The yellow zone down the middle was a failed rift in Pangaea.
To complicate things, the glaciers of the last ice age stretched from Canada all the way to Long Island Sound, completely blanketing Connecticut and terminating in the berm of rocks we now call Long Island. As they receded, the glaciers left the boulders and stones they had pushed before them, which makes Connecticut soil so notoriously difficult to farm.
The yellow division on the map, called the Newark terrane, is chock full of fossils and dinosaur tracks. At the Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, you can see hundreds of three-toed footprints left by Dilophosaurus, pictured here, or at least a theropod dinosaur very similar to her.
The tracks — which crisscross each other, running hither and yon — were discovered on the site in 1968 during construction of a building. Those plans were scrapped and a geodesic dome was built over the spot, where visitors today can admire the tracks from raised walkways. Amazingly, what’s visible is a fraction of the total as scientists left several thousand more tracks buried for preservation’s sake.
I’ve always associated dinosaurs and fossils with the southwest and the northern plains, so I was surprised when I discovered Dinosaur State Park less than an hour from our house. I haven’t been there in years but once upon a time it was a perfect day trip for our pair of dinosaur-obsessed boys, and our visits left, well, an impression on me.
This geologic history is a gold mine for a writer of Gothic fiction. After all, the overriding conceit of the genre is that the past haunts the present — and who’s to say if something from antediluvian epochs, thought long dead and gone, might not whisper in our ears tonight?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tour through some of the settings and places that influenced my novel A Season of Whispers, which is now available in various ebook formats and as a trade paperback. Thanks for reading!
A Season of Whispers is now available from Aurelio Leo.
You can order it on Kindle, Nook, or in print from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or direct from the publisher Aurelia Leo with a choice of file formats, including trade paperback.
Still unsure whether it’s your cup of tea? Check out some of the nice reviews on Goodreads.
Or you can consider the appraisals of these upstanding writers and editors:
“With a heart of mystery, a temperament of horror, and a persuasion of literary splendor, Jackson Kuhl’s A Season of Whispers will lead you though slowly darkening twists until you’ve sunk inescapably into the sinister depths of Bonaventure Farm.”
— Eric J. Guignard, award-winning author and editor, including That Which Grows Wild and Doorways to the Deadeye
“Channeling past masters of the Gothic — namely Hawthorne, Lovecraft, and Poe — Jackson Kuhl has fashioned a pitch-perfect narrative for which those scriveners would be proud.”
— C.M. Muller, editor and publisher of Nightscript
“The monstrous forces that manipulate the Bonaventure commune are surpassed only by the evil that lingers at the heart of humanity: greed, power, and madness. By reaching into America’s transcendentalist history, Kuhl has authored a novel that is strangely reflective of our modern world.”
— Marc E. Fitch, author of Boy in the Box and Paradise Burns
“A Season of Whispers is as much a fascinating tour of an obscure Emersonian outpost in New England as it is a chilling tale of the darkness of a man’s soul.”
— Daniel Altiere, screenwriter of Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins and Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster
“This rich look at man, Nature, and man’s nature reveals the dark side of those who buy and sell utopia.”
— Baylen Linnekin, author of Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable
Though Emerson may have preached self-reliance, he was both a good friend and neighbor; and while Thoreau is often mischaracterized as a hermit, he likewise credited friends and family for his successes. A Season of Whispers wouldn’t be here without the support of the blurbers above, my publisher Olivia Raymond at Aurelia Leo, editor Lesley Sabga, and my family, especially Kristie. Thank you.
Very often, an intentional community that no longer exists is referred to as a failed utopia. You usually see those two words together: failed and utopia. Brook Farm is sometimes described as having failed because it disbanded after the Phalanstery burned down; but had you visited one or two years after its founding, you would have encountered a thriving, successful venture.
Labeling a community as having failed just because it’s no longer around assumes permanence was its primary goal. A better gauge, I think, is whether it fulfilled its objectives during its lifetime, no matter how fleeting its span might have been.
And yet even by that metric, it’s hard to argue that Fruitlands was anything but a disaster.
Like Brook Farm, Fruitlands was founded by members of the transcendentalist movement. In May 1843, Charles Lane, an eccentric Englishman who found America more fertile for his utopian dreams, bought a 90-acre farm about 16 miles west of Concord, Massachusetts. There, he and his bestie Amos Bronson Alcott founded the Fruitlands commune. Several other members, as well as Alcott’s family — which included a young Louisa May Alcott — joined them.
Lane and Alcott were much more rigid than the Ripleys at Brook Farm. The Fruitlands ethos preached strict self-sufficiency, with Lane writing that the “Exchange of Commodities, useful & useless” was bad for human nature, which complicated their acquisition of those things they couldn’t produce themselves (Lane even went so far as to not recognize the farm as being his property). The Fruitlanders were abolitionists, so no cotton was allowed because it was picked by slaves; but neither was wool, as they were vegans. They were also raw foodies, so most cooking was out, and they shunned root foods as being unhealthy. Even candles were forbidden as the wax appropriated the labor of bees, so everyone went to bed as soon as it was dark.
It’s not an easy thing to survive a New England winter with only linen clothes and no potatoes, onions, or beets in the cellar. While Lane and Alcott did relent on some things — they bought an ox to plow and a cow for milk — by December the Fruitlanders were starving and deserted the project. Amos sank into a deep depression. His wife Abby took the reins and brought the family to a friend’s house where they could again wear warm clothes and eat a decent meal, and gradually she nursed her husband back to health. If there’s a moral to be learned from the Fruitlands experiment, it’s a feminist one.
Louis May Alcott wrote a barely fictionalized satire of the experience called “Transcendental Wild Oats,” which is available in her collection Silver Pitchers. By all means, read it — if not for its depiction of her father’s folly, then for its sympathetic portrait of her long-suffering mother.
Another interesting character at Fruitlands was Joseph Palmer, who prior to joining spent 15 months in prison after defending himself from an attack by hooligans trying to shave his beard. After Fruitlands, well, failed, Palmer bought the farm and lived there for 20 years, which suggests it wasn’t the land or climate so much as the ideology that ruined Lane and Alcott’s dream.
You can visit Fruitlands where, unlike Brook Farm, you’ll find some of the original buildings intact. Fruitlands also served as an inspiration for Bonaventure, the fictional transcendentalist farm that’s the setting for my novel, A Season of Whispers, which is out tomorrow.
My novel A Season of Whispers is available this Thursday, and all week I’m touring the places that influenced its setting.
Machimoodus State Park, located in East Haddam, Connecticut, is a 300-acre park full of crumbled stone walls, trap rock, and towering white pines located along the Salmon River.
It’s also the source — or, at least, is one of the sources — of the Moodus Noises.
Back during my archaeology days, I encountered the noises firsthand while working a cultural-resource management gig in the woods near Old Saybrook. I’d arrived early in the morning before the rest of the crew, and while setting up, heard a series of low echoing rumbles coming from the north. They were very different than thunder — more like sonic booms. I assumed they were some kind of explosion but when my coworkers showed up, they told me there was nothing on the news. It was only afterward that I realized I’d heard the Moodus Noises.
Connecticut is very geologically active — we had two earthquakes alone back in July — but the good news is most of the quakes are below 2.0 Richter. Geologists have determined the Moodus Noises are generated by microquakes occurring deep underground, the sound of which then reverberates to the surface.
Local Native American tribes venerated the area around Machimoodus — which translates to “the place of bad noises” — as the home of a spirit they called Hobbamock or Hobomoko, who was a sort of Plutonic underworld figure. Later, the Puritans regarded the area as haunted and associated it with the devil (but then again, the Puritans regarded everything as Satanic — there’s another state park nearby called Devil’s Hopyard). It’s interesting to me that the tribes correctly pinpointed the origin of the noises as being underground.
The fictional town of Saltonstall, which is where A Season of Whispers takes place, is set a little south of Machimoodus State Park. It’s worth visiting for an easy hike.