Today I am really excited to feature a new book by middle grade author DIANNE SALERNI. THE CARREFOUR CURSE (Holiday House) is one of the most uniquely entertaining books I’ve read in awhile. I couldn’t put it down, and I had to ask Dianne how she came up with the idea for the story.
Here’s my review:
This middle grade story is a clever and engaging page-turner that had me hooked from the first sentence: “You’ld think spitting up frogs would be a lot like the worst stomach flu you’ve ever had, but it’s surprisingly different.” Who wouldn’t want to read on after that hook?
There is so much that is fresh and original in this ghostly tale of power, charm, curses, and magic.The use of gemstones and their properties as chapter titles adds another layer of intrigue and originality to this kid-friendly and delightful story. Will there be a sequel? Sure hope so.
I asked Dianne a few questions about the novel. Here is the interview:
What do you want readers to know about the story?
The Carrefour Curse is my homage to all things gothic, but especially Dark Shadows, the supernatural soap opera from the 1960s and 70s. I used to watch this show as a preschooler—from behind a sofa—while I was supposed to be napping. I thought I was being sneaky, but my mother now tells me that she knew I was there and simply gave up trying to put me back to bed. One can probably pinpoint this show as the reason I have always loved creepy mansions, family secrets, ghosts, and time travel.
How did you decide on the plot/storyline using the gemstones as chapter headings?
As is typical for me, I outlined the first half of the plot and pantstered the rest of it. This resulted in a rather important character inventing herself in Chapter 23, inserting herself into the climax in Chapter 27, and forcing me—in later drafts—to weave her very existence into the first half of the book.
As for the chapter headings, they were a rather late addition. I wanted to provide more background into the kind of magic Garnet, my main character, performs with gemstones in a way that didn’t bog down the story. The chapter headings felt like the best way to do that because readers can skim them, read them closely, or ignore them at will. So far, early readers have reported enjoying both the glimpse into the mystical properties of gemstones and the hints that these headings provide on what might be coming up in the chapters.
That’s one of the things I enjoyed! What kind of research was involved in the story?
Well, first and most extensive was the research into the mystical properties associated with certain stones and gems. There’s a lot online, and I have a couple books on the subject. I also visited a local metaphysical shop called Find Your Harmony. In most cases, the properties attributed to various stones are so broad, I could pick and choose what best suited the story.
Additionally, I wanted a model for the crumbling Carrefour family mansion and eventually found what I was looking for in the abandoned Summerwind Mansion in Wisconsin. You can find photos of the dilapidated mansion at this website. The house burned down in 1988, so I had no idea what the interior was like and spent a great deal of time trying to track down floor plans or photographs. I gave up when a man in a discussion group claimed to have the floor plans and offered to show them to me if I met up with him in person. That sounded like a recipe for getting murdered, so I used the exterior of Summerwind as my model for Crossroad House and created my own interior design.
Encountering a spooky character while researching the story certainly added another layer of intrigue. Tell us a bit about the background/setting and how you developed that.
I was deliberately vague about the geographic location when I wrote the book, only mentioning New England once and having a character use the slang word wicked to mean extremely. But I definitely had Dark Shadows in mind, which was set in Maine.
Action centers on the crumbling, semi-sentient family mansion, Crossroad House. Garnet’s relatives tell her repeatedly that the house is not alive, but she overhears them saying things like, “The house is always listening,” and she herself feels as if she’s being watched.
Just like in the soap opera, there are also nearby ruins of an older family house, the original Carrefour manor that mysteriously burned down in the 1890s. On Dark Shadows, the Collins family referred to “the old house,” and I borrowed that language when I had the Carrefours call their ruins Old House.
Bad things happen at Old House, events I modeled after the eerie happenings in Ambrose Bierce’s 1889 vignette, The Spook House, in which two men stumble upon a house on a rainy night and discover a room full of dead people.
The Carrefour Curse was hard to put down, and it was also hard to say goodbye to the characters you created (every author’s dream!) Do you envision a sequel?
Until a couple months ago, I would have said that this is a standalone mystery. But several early readers have mentioned that there’s ample material for a sequel, so now I’m considering the idea. The time-traveling element means I can delve into the family’s past as well as their future. If the original book is successful, I might start poking around in the Carrefour family tree for a new conflict and a new villain.
What theme/message do you want readers to take away from this book?
Although my books tend toward speculative genres—fantasy for the Eighth Day series, ghosts for Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts, and science fiction for Jadie in Five Dimensions—my themes always seem to revolve around the same realistic one: families that rally together despite differences and estrangement. In The Carrefour Curse, I explore intergenerational trauma. The generations preceding Garnet have lived with the “curse” inflicted on them by an ancestor’s mistake, accepting dire consequences as unavoidable. Not so Garnet, who, along with her cousin Ash and others in her young, get-it-done generation, sets out to break the curse and make things right.
Diane has agreed to give away a signed copy of THE CARREFOUR CURSE to one lucky reader. To enter, leave a comment on this post and share it on your social media. A winner will be drawn at random from those entered and announced later this month.
DIANNE K. SALERNI is the author of eight YA and middle grade novels, including Junior Library Guild Selections Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts, Jadie in Five Dimensions, and The Carrefour Curse, as well as the state award nominated Eighth Day series. Dianne was a Pennsylvania public school teacher for 25 years before leaving the profession to spend time hanging around creepy cemeteries, attending ghost hunting classes, and climbing 2000 year-old pyramids in the name of book research. In her spare time, she volunteers at her local animal rescue shelter, walking dogs and serving the needs of the feline overlords.