Monday, June 17, 2013


Today I am welcoming the delightful and brilliant Dianne Salerni, whose new historical and spooky YA CAGED GRAVES came out on May 14th, the same day as THE SWEET DEAD LIFE! 

As you will see in our interview, Dianne and I have known each other since we were both debut authors in the inaugural Sourcebooks Fire YA imprint. We met at the Sourcebooks Fire launch party at Books of Wonder in NYC, where we were treated to the musical renderings of Tiger Beat, the only all YA author band, with our then editor Daniel Ehrenhaft on guitar and Libba Bray singing vocals. I know, right?!

Here’s the summary of CAGED GRAVES:
The year is 1867, and seventeen-year-old Verity Boone is excited to return from Worcester, Massachusetts, to Catawissa, Pennsylvania, the hometown she left when she was just a baby. Now she will finally meet the fiancé she knows only through letters! Soon, however, she discovers two strangely caged graves . . . and learns that one of them is her own mother’s. Verity swears she’ll get to the bottom of why her mother was buried in “unhallowed ground” in this suspenseful teen mystery that swirls with rumors of witchcraft, buried gold from the days of the War of Independence, and even more shocking family secrets.

You had me at Verity’s name and at ‘rumors of witchcraft,’ Dianne!!

Dianne at Sarah Ann's caged grave
And here’s Dianne’s bio:

Dianne K. Salerni is an elementary school teacher living in Chester County, Pennsylvania with her husband and two daughters. Dianne's first novel, We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks 2010), recounts the true story of Maggie Fox, a teenaged girl credited with the invention of the "séance" in 1848 and the founding of spiritualism as a nineteenth century phenomenon. A short film based on We Hear the Dead and titled The Spirit Game premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Her second novel, The Caged Graves, out now with Clarion Books, is inspired by a real historical mystery in the mountains of Pennsylvania. She is currently working on a middle grade fantasy series for Harper Collins, with the first book, The Eighth Day, due to be released in the Summer of 2014.

And now for a little conversation with Dianne. Read to the end (of course you will!) because Dianne is also doing a giveaway for a CAGED GRAVES t-shirt. Pretty awesome!

Dianne and me at Books of Wonder
Joy: You and I met when we were both part of the inaugural list of Sourcebooks Fire—me with DREAMING ANASTASIA and you with WE HEAR THE DEAD. Tell us what’s been going on since 2010!

Dianne: I spent a big chunk of 2010 writing THE CAGED GRAVES, revising another historical/paranormal novel, and looking for an agent. I signed WE HEAR THE DEAD in 2009 un-agented, but I realized I had no negotiation skills and really needed professional advice. It took several months and many revisions of my new manuscript, but I was lucky to land with Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc. Her first sale for me was actually the second book I sent her, THE CAGED GRAVES. Since then, I’ve written another historical and then ventured into a contemporary fantasy which Sara sold in a 3-book, pre-empt deal with HarperCollins, putting all my other projects on hold.

Joy: Both WE HEAR THE DEAD and THE CAGED GRAVES can be categorized as historical fiction. What draws you to this genre?

Dianne: I find history fascinating. There is so much (in our self-centered technological hubris) that we’ve forgotten about our past. For instance, did you know that the railway and public transport system in our country used to be far superior to what we have now? When my grandfather was 10 years old, he could travel by trolley from his rural town to a larger town fifteen miles away for mandolin lessons (yes, mandolin). Today, there is NO way to travel between those towns except by car.  A small boy could not do it alone, like my grandfather did in the 1920s. In some respects, we’ve gone backwards!

When you add a little bit of spooky alongside our forgotten past, you have an irresistible combination (for me).

Joy: I know there’s this great story behind the idea for THE CAGED GRAVES, and in fact you just wrote about it for Huffington Post.   Can you tell us the brief version of the real life graves that inspired your new novel?

Dianne: These two caged graves are located in an abandoned cemetery near Catawissa, Pennsylvania. They are maintained by the local historical society, which has been unable to uncover a satisfactory explanation for them. The graves belong to two women who were sisters-in-law. They died within a couple days of each other in 1852. Suggested explanations for the cages include protection from grave robbers or animals, pure decoration, and other, weirder, and more paranormal reasons. No one alive today knows the real answer.

Joy: How would you describe Verity Boone?

Dianne: Verity is an outspoken and strong-minded 17-year old girl (by 1867 standards) who returns to her hometown after being raised by distant relatives for 15 years. She is coming home to take part in an arranged marriage to a young man she knows only through letters. She expects that everything will go her way: Her homecoming will be joyous and romantic, her fiancé will be charming, her father will be welcoming, and she will impress the rural townspeople with her sophisticated city ways. Of course, nothing goes as planned, especially when she discovers her mother is the subject of malicious rumor and buried in a caged grave outside the cemetery grounds.

Joy: Give us the down and dirty elevator pitch for THE CAGED GRAVES. Why should we read it?

Dianne: THE CAGED GRAVES is a mystery and a romance in a historical setting. Verity’s arranged marriage is the 19th century equivalent of meeting somebody online and then discovering they aren’t what you expected. And when Verity digs into her family’s history to vindicate her mother, she uncovers ugly secrets – jealousy, greed, and murder.

Joy: You and I chatted some about the balancing act of teaching, family, and writing. How do you do it?

Dianne: Sometimes, I do it badly. I get my teaching, grading, and planning done, and I get my writing done, and my family is very patient with me when they have to pick up the slack. I absolutely couldn’t do this without the full support of my husband – who cooks dinner and cleans and chauffeurs the children so I can write. And when my husband travels for work, my daughters pitch in. They are my pit crew and my biggest advocates.

Joy: Your previous novel WE HEAR THE DEAD has had some thrilling film developments. Can you talk about that? Can we all come to Cannes with you?  If we ask nicely?

Dianne: Ha! I wish I could have gone to Cannes myself! WE HEAR THE DEAD was adapted into a 10 minute short film called THE SPIRIT GAME. It premiered at Cannes in May of this year, and the producers will be pitching the premise of the film as a potential television program about the three Fox sisters who ran a séance business in the 1850s. They are, supposedly, frauds, but one sister’s uncanny ability to envision the darkest secrets of their clients reveals a true supernatural power. The movie trailer is available HERE

Joy: What’s coming next for Dianne Salerni?

Dianne: Next up is a departure from ghosts, historicals, and teens. I am working on a Middle Grade contemporary fantasy series for HarperCollins.  The first book, THE EIGHTH DAY, is about a 13 year-old boy who discovers an extra 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday – and a mysterious girl hiding in the house next door who exists only on that secret day.

THE EIGHTH DAY is expected to release in the Summer of 2014. A synopsis can be found HERE – and I’d like to note that my husband whipped up a last minute trip to Mexico last summer, just so I could climb the Sun Pyramid of Teotihuacan as research for the conclusion of this book.

Lightning round:

  • Twizzlers or M&Ms?     ~M&Ms without a doubt. I have no interest in Twizzlers.
  • Ghosts or witches?    ~Ghosts every time.

  • Favorite guilty pleasure TV?   ~SUPERNATURAL. I love to ogle, um, watch those Winchester boys.
*Joy’s note: Oh the Winchester brothers. Austin author Cynthia Leitich Smith has a similar opinion. Just ask her. It took me awhile to stop seeing the one as Dean from Gilmore Girls. But once I did…

  • Perfect summer day?   ~Sitting by my goldfish pond, with the pool nearby in case it gets too hot, writing on my laptop
  • Book(s) you’d take to the desert island?    ~Oh crap. Can I bring my Kindle? Please don’t make me choose!!!
  • Wine or whiskey?  ~Whiskey for sure.
  • Favorite ghost story/movie?     ~ This is going to seem weird, but I’ve got to pick THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN, with Don Knotts (1966). It’s got a haunted mansion with a murder/suicide story, a painting of a beautiful woman pierced in the throat with gardening shears (the painting bleeds!), a secret passage behind the fireplace, a tower room, and an organ that plays by itself. What’s not to love?!

*OMG, Dianne—My brother and I loved that movie! Also Don Knotts in The Amazing Mr. Limpett, which is not a ghost story but is right up there with Finding Nemo in our book!  Also, let me add here that another movie, without Don Knotts, that I love is THE GHOST and MRS. MUIR, which as a kid I found to be deliciously romantic. (I didn’t use that phrase as a kid. But if I did, I might have said that.)

Want to know more about Dianne? Check out her website:

Want to win a CAGED GRAVE t-shirt? Enter here!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Hannah J said...

Oh my gosh! I ADORE the paranormal! I so have to read CAGED GRAVES and WE HEAR THE DEAD. Gah. Must finish The Perks of Being a Wallflower faster! And THE EIGHTH DAY sounds super cool too. So much reading. My favourite horror film has to be THE WOMAN IN BLACK. Not just because it has Daniel Radcliffe in it. And favourite paranormal TV show was Ghost Whisperer, but they're not making any more of that :( it was about a woman who saw ghosts and had to help them cross over into "the light".

And on another note, I love Pennaylvania! Practically my whole family lives there (I'm in England). I must go see these caged graves...

Sean M. said...

Such an awesome post! As someone who loves a good ghost story, historical fiction, and lives in PA I absolutely fell in love with The Caged Graves. Definitely planning to drive to the Mt. Zion cemetery where the real ones are located since it's only two and a half hours from me!

I'd have to say my personal favorite ghost story at the moment is Susan Hill's . Though it was written in the 1980's, it feels more like it was written by Dickens with a dash of Bronte influence. It's the first book that genuinely frightened me, but I was completely absorbed by it and read it in two days because I couldn't put it down!