As the book is released in stores today, we’re very pleased to kick off the official blog tour. Since the story is based in a small seaside town whose setting is very important, we asked the author to share her photographs with us from a special trip she took to New England to research her story.
There’s also a giveaway for a beautiful finished hardcover copy at the bottom of the post, so be sure to enter if you’re in the U.S. or Canada!
We invite you to delve deeper into Syrenka’s and Hester’s world.
Elizabeth Fama Guest Post
I’m so excited that my first blog stop is with Wendy and K. on The Midnight Garden–a blog I adore–and especially happy that they asked me to share my photographic research on the setting of Monstrous Beauty.
I decided to set the book entirely in Plymouth, MA not only because the location is uniquely suited to the plot, but because I knew the town well: we vacationed for many years along a nearby pond when our children were small. Plymouth has the perfect combination of rich local history (back to the prehistory of native peoples), a living history museum, and a fantastic old church next to a gorgeous graveyard walking distance from the ocean. The only thing the town is missing is an ocean-side cave (and so, with my apologies to local geologists, I had to invent that). As I was writing the first draft, some newer parts of the plot grew organically from the choice of Plymouth as the setting: Peter’s dad’s whale-watch operation, for instance, and Peter’s love of marine biology because of the boat’s naturalist program.
If you’ve read an advance copy of the book, these pictures should feel familiar to you. If you haven’t read the book yet, I hope they whet your appetite.
A Photographic Tour of the Monstrous Beauty World
The physical church in the book is based on First Parish Church in Plymouth, which did in fact burn down in 1892. I changed the name of the church in the book because otherwise the religion would have been wrong: First Parish is Universalist Unitarian, while Hester’s congregation is of a different, unidentified Protestant faith.
Ezra first meets Syrenka on a rocky outcropping jutting from the shore. While I made up the particular outcropping in the book, that sort of breakwater is common along waterfronts. My own home of Chicago has used piled limestone boulders as breakwaters, for instance. This photo shows a baby version of a rocky outcropping, taken in Manomet, south of Plymouth.
Oh, my, how I love Burial Hill. It’s a gorgeous, historic graveyard–well worth a long stroll if you ever get to Plymouth. This particular spot is where Hester and Linnie watch boats criss-cross each other’s wakes from the hill.
This is the tomb in which Linnie hid her copy of the Bible. By the way, Stephens is an old name in Plymouth, and it makes a cameo appearance in the book and in the short story “Men Who Wish to Drown.”
My favorite tombstone art is the earnest, almost primitive, hand-fashioned style of the earliest headstones.
Sometimes tiny discoveries in my research land up directly in the book. Hester sees two striped snails like this little guy when Linnie parts the ivy to reveal the fifth tomb door.
Plimoth Plantation is a living history museum, where the role-players stay strictly “in period” while they’re at work. Here, Rebecca Gross plays Fear Allerton. Notice that her current chore is “airing the bedding,” as Hester does in one scene.
This is the Howland Cottage (recreated by the museum), a one-room hut that Hester works in at Plimoth Plantation. At one end (not pictured in this shot) there’s a hearth and cooking pot, and at the other end there is in fact a bed with a makeshift wool curtain, which is the source of some of Hester’s teenage musings on the logistics of 1627 sex.
Plimoth Plantation’s dirt-road version of the street that would become Leyden Street.
Leyden Street as it appears today. There is a relatively straight walking route down Leyden Street from Burial Hill and First Parish Church to the ocean, which is a key scene (and a heartwrenching one) in the book.
Pilgrim Hall Museum. This is where Peter’s family doll is on display. That’s my adorable teenage daughter in the window on the right, giving us some sort of…gang sign?
Inside Pilgrim Hall: the painting of Elizabeth Paddy Wensley, and the person-sized chest underneath. (Spoilers!)
Yes, there is a genealogy room in the Plymouth Public Library, and the librarians there are lovely.
Nerd that I am, I took a lot of photos of the actual records in the genealogy room, to familiarize myself with their conventions and use of language. In this example, poor Anna Kirk died at age 26 of “phthisis,” which is interchangeable with the term “consumption,” which is the same as tuberculosis.
This is where the Floy sisters live in the book. It’s the pond that my family vacationed on for years. (Photo by Miles Chapin)
The cottage that partially inspired the Floy sisters’ home. (Photo by Miles Chapin)
Hester’s younger brother Sam eats fried clams at Squant’s Treasure, so this photo isn’t just a gratuitous food shot from a seafood lover. Well…yes it is.
Hester’s friend Peter helps his dad run Captain Dave’s whale-watching tours. Don’t miss the opportunity to go on a whale watch if you’re ever in the Cape! You think it will be a cheesy tourist trap, and then it will turn out to be one of the most moving experiences of your life. This photo shows the back of a mother, and the white underside of her calf, glowing a glorious green because of the phosphorescent organisms in the water.
These are an example of the stone steps leading to the ocean that Hester descends several times in the book. I love it that they often have ancient iron gates at the top (zoom in to see the example in this photo).
Ezra hauls himself onto a very old bell buoy in the ocean, but this photo of Bug Lighthouse inspired me regarding how remote it feels to be out on the water alone.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this photographic tour of the town in which Monstrous Beauty is set. Thanks so much to Elizabeth for sharing photos of this beautiful seaside location.
And don’t forget, Monstrous Beauty is in stores today! Read an excerpt from the novel here or read the free short story set in this world on Tor.com. Follow author Elizabeth Fama’s latest news and updates on her website and Twitter, or meet her in person on the Fierce Reads tour.
Photographs appear courtesy of the author.
Monstrous Beauty Giveaway
Thanks to our friends at Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, we’re excited to offer our readers a chance to win a finished copy of the book!
Simply fill out the Rafflecopter form and leave a blog comment for your chance to win. Open to U.S. and Canadian residents aged 13 and up.