Interview with Patricia Earnest Author of The Face of a Monster: America’s Frankenstein
Where are you from originally and where do you reside now?
I was born in Denver, Colorado but if I’d been on time, I would have been born in Kingman, Arizona. I now live in Delaware, which has a piece of my heart but it has to share with New Mexico.
If you currently reside somewhere besides where you were born, what’s the story that lead from there to here?
Dad was with the Department of the Interior. We moved a lot when I was young. Moving was such an important part of my life that I even married a member of the USAF. The transfers continued until Tom decided to retire. Although Delaware has been good to us, I still suffer wanderlust.
What made you decide to write and publish your first book?
My first book was actually published in the 1990’s. “Kids and Kin: The Family Research Vacation that Involves Kids.” I had just had my son and wanted to develop his interest in family and history. In 2008, my parents and I were considering writing about the Susanna Cox broadsides (papers printed on one side only). In 1809, Cox was found guilty of infanticide and hanged for that crime. Many felt she was railroaded and her legend permeates the Pennsylvania German culture. Stackpole Books was interested in the entire story. We contracted with them to write “The Hanging of Susanna Cox: The True Story of Pennsylvania’s Most Notorious Infanticide and the Legend That’s Kept It Alive.” I developed the framework and the timeline, while mom and dad wrote about the Pennsylvania German printing and broadsides. As I researched Susanna Cox, I found references to the horrific Dearing family murders committed by Anton Probst. I saved every article intending to do a book about Probst and the Dearing family. “The Face Of A Monster: America’s Frankenstein” (FOAM) was born from Susanna Cox.
How would you describe your books to first time readers?
History made interesting. People often equate history with scholarly but it is anything but boring. Consider most fiction, even sci-fi, is often based on real events.
Who do you feel is most likely to connect with the topics you write about?
It depends. Both “The Hanging of Susanna Cox” and “The Face of a Monster: America’s Frankenstein” would appeal to those interested in true crime. They would also appeal to those interested in Pennsylvania history, American development, immigration, and crime and punishment in 18th and 19th century America. Elements of women’s issues are gingerly touched upon in both books, understanding that these were different times with disparate standards. Core to the “The Hanging of Susanna Cox” is Pennsylvania German history. Anyone with an interest in early American printing would also be interested. As a comparison piece between Mary Shelley, her fictional monster, and Anton Probst a real monster, “The Face of a Monster: America’s Frankenstein” has, perhaps, a broader market appeal. Those interested in Mary Shelley, psychology, phrenology (both Probst and Shelley were “read”), galvanization, the printing and publishing history of Frankenstein, the printing and publishing history of chapbooks, early science and forensics, anatomical museums, mass murderers, Irish immigration, New York and Pennsylvania, and the poor Dearing family of Pennsylvania should read this book. Some elements of the H.H. Holmes story are even woven throughout.
What unexpected or surprising thing did you learn during the process of writing and publishing?
I love research. I adore it, actually. But it never fails to amaze me that no matter how thorough I am, some bit of information surfaces later. During Susanna Cox, we cataloged over 82 editions of the Susanna Cox broadside. Most were printed in Pennsylvania. A couple of years after the book went to press, a friend found one printed in Canada. This broadside significantly extended the range of Cox’ story. A librarian at the New York Public Library found that reports of Anton Probst’s body parts had surfaced in Kentucky. Luckily, I was able to add that information. Maybe not so surprising but certainly uninvited are the 2:00 am visits by a book’s subjects. They always came bearing great ideas. I just wish they would learn to come when I’m not sound asleep. In speaking with other authors, this is not uncommon.
If you could, what advice would you give to your past self before embarking on this journey?
Don’t waste time. I have so many ideas, stories, and unfortunately, I will never be able to finish them–unless the brain-freezing thing works. Seriously, even with an earlier start, I might not have finished but I would have written more.
How many people would you ideally like to reach with your books?
Lol, (b)millions? Any and all who are interested.
What has been the biggest challenge and frustration during the process to date?
Time. There isn’t enough of it. Marketing, writing, researching, working, and occasionally wanting to spend moments with friends and family keeps me busy from sunrise to sunset. Meh, who needs sleep?
What’s your biggest strengths when it comes to book a) writing, b) publishing and c) marketing?
Writing: This will sound funny but my age and this stage of life. I know stuff, some of it useful, and I do not have the distraction of small children. My focus has always been strong but I no longer have the after-school-activities, noise, and interruptions. Additionally, I truly enjoy the research as much as I do the writing. I believe that gives me a well-balanced approach. Publishing: My mom. She already had an established platform and she was a born teacher. She loved sharing knowledge, so I grew up hearing the highs and lows of publishing. Through her trials and successes, I was well-prepared for rejection and have a thick skin. Marketing: Uh,next question? I don’t know that I have strength here. I’m still learning. And I’m really kind of terrible tooting my horn. Do I think my books are good? Absolutely but, I’ll enthusiastically tell you how great someone else’s book is.
What’s your biggest weakness when it comes to book a) writing, b) publishing and c) marketing?
Writing: My focus. I spend a lot of time in my head and it can prove difficult to orient myself. For instance, when I was writing FOAM a neighbor visited. I was lost in 1866 Pennsylvania and have no idea what we talked about. Hopefully, most of my family and friends are used to it. Publishing: Right now, the publishing world exists in a state of flux between independent publishing, hybrid, and traditional publishing. I have to confess that I feel unsettled. Especially in that such flexible situations opens the door for scam and fraud. Marketing: I lean towards professional marketing, if possible. Time marketing is not time spent writing but funding is a huge issue, of course.
When do you think you will write your next book?
Now, always, and forever. Or until my mind goes, LOL. Dad and I are finishing mom’s last book for her, since she could not. That should be out December 2019. I have a Sci-fi/Dystopian novel in the works and hope to begin querying in January or February of 2019. If successful, it could easily become a multi-volume project. A narrative nonfiction book about William and Elisabeth Stoy and their patent for the bite of a mad dog will be finished soon. I thought I had it near completion but when I picked it up again, after working on mom’s book, I was unhappy with it.
Are you self published or did you use a hybrid publisher, or a traditional publisher?
Yes. Most of my books are self-published. “The Hanging of Susanna Cox” is with a traditional publisher. After I’d self-published “The Face of a Monster,” a hybrid publisher approached me. I am honored in that they thought of me but I was so thrilled with my cover design (by the super-talented Dave Provolo of Manos Design), the wacky frontispiece, the title, and etc. that I decided to hold my course.