Following the Mystery Muse

We asked Wise Ink author Amy Pendino to talk about the inspiration behind her incredible mystery novel, The Witness Tree. She didn’t disappoint! Dive in this fall and get inspired.

I've always chosen mysteries first. I like solving the puzzles; I like observing how people interact when they're trying to hide secrets. I like how the sleuth or the solver always has some flaw or tic that runs a current underneath the main story. I like women as the main characters in these stories, though they're often called witches.

My great-X8 grandmother, Mary Perkins Bradbury, was accused of being a witch in Salem in 1692. One hundred and eighteen of her acquaintances testified in her case after she was accused of bewitching a neighbor so that he became crazed and died. She also supposedly turned herself into a blue boar. She was convicted with four other women who were executed that September, but somehow she escaped punishment and lived until 1700. I wonder how her life finished, after that trial? What kind of things might her contemporaries have said, as they passed her in the street? "Oh, there's that Mary, she's a witch, you know--better not piss her off!" In sincerity, she was described by most of the witnesses as being a good woman and a strong Christian. Might she have been attempting good works through that heavenly avenue, instead? The dead man's brother did admit that the deceased had tendencies toward melancholy and despair. There's also the consideration of Mary's age, which tends to parallel accusations of witchery and haggishness: she was over eighty years old when her trial began.

Old women know things: their intuition, accepted and honed through a lifetime of experience, help them to avoid traps and temptations that younger women fall prey to. Old women have a self-preservation that doesn't back away. They nourish their creative lives and aren't afraid to love or forgive. Or rage.

Some women are born old. Their wise souls instinctively guide them past bad dates, inappropriate occupations, thoughtless comments and win-less situations. They listen, consider, and choose carefully. I'm not a member of that group, though I've been trying to get my application looked at again.

So, back to spells and mysteries: I've learned to listen to my inner voice, though I don't always have the confidence to follow her. I am curious, though, and wonder about other women who have had the courage to follow their muses, to speak their words loudly, to admit their mistakes without shame. Are these sisters blessed with these gifts as they writhe through the birthing veil? Were the secrets whispered to them as they dozed with the angels? To me, a spell is nothing but hidden words finally shared out loud, phrases that swell with the ability to inject their revealed wisdom into a communion of shared understanding--not agreement, but acknowledgement of truth that is or truth that should be.

Mystery is finding the truth hidden between the different shades of why. I read and write stories to satisfy the curiosity that pushes me forward to this place, and for the gratification of placing the pieces that don’t fit back into the box and shutting it tight. Because the years of this life continue to provide instances of many-headed monsters that won’t be tamed, solved or sealed away, I follow the muse of “what if” that hides under the words and phrases of my stories, and wait for the day that the hags and witches, spell-breakers and crones welcome me into their sitting rooms to share.

To order Amy’s book, The Witness Tree, visit amypendino.com!

witnesscover.jpg