Susie Moloney won the inaugural Michael Van Rooy Award for Genre Fiction at the Manitoba Book Awards on Saturday, April 28th. Here’s our interview from the Summer 2011 issue Prairie books NOW talking about her winning work, The Thirteen.
Susie Moloney believes all women have a little bit of witchery in them.
“We have such power as mothers and lovers. We can make or break you, us girls,” she chuckles.
But Moloney’s witches in her new novel The Thirteen are by no means a benevolent troupe of new age pagans, and their home, Haven Woods, is no ordinary suburb.
These witches have been making and breaking folk for years. With the surprising suicide of one of their circle, they must fill the void, or pay the consequences. Paula Wittmore, is unknowingly a witch’s child, and the circle’s best chance to return their number to thirteen. And 12-year-old Rowan, Paula’s innocent daughter, would make a fine gift to the witches’ dark god.
The Thirteen began its life as a television project, featuring “an odd little street in a suburb, on which lived a number of odd and supernatural people,” explains Moloney. This idea spawned short stories and a novella featuring the relationships of these strange neighbours. Neighbours to Moloney are like family.
“You can’t really pick ‘em,” she says.
These stories became the foundation of a novel, her first since 2003’s The Dwelling. By turns macabre, funny and gruesome, The Thirteen is a lightning paced narrative that explores ideas of women, power, family and sisterhood.
Moloney, who grew up in the suburbs, once thought “every house, every family was the same.” And while she may have run away screaming when she was of age, like with her character Paula Wittmore, time and circumstance drew her back. As an adult she realized that “the old saw about how all happy families are the same, but unhappy families are unhappy in their own way, was very true.”
Witches and human sacrifice are not the only horror of The Thirteen. Moloney also speaks of the “close quarters” and “what you can hear when the wind is right;” of the daily grind to pay a mortgage or raise a family. It can be a life of quiet desperation. She imagines late at night “you can hear the snap of something turning bad;” and “knowing it happens and you can’t see it until it’s too late” is what’s truly unsettling.
This aura of menace lingers throughout The Thirteen, given form by the Chapman House, where the witches initiate new members and make their sacrifices. Every small town and community has a similar place, where a crime has transcended its origins to enter the local lore. It is a house Moloney would want to go inside to “imagine those last, terrible moments” but she also acknowledges that such an act would stick with her forever and keep her up at night.
Moloney doesn’t discount more tales featuring her Haven Woods witches—either short pieces about individual coven members or a tale that continues Rowan’s story. But the author warns Rowan’s story “would be particularly twisted.”
Any one of us could also inspire such a twisted tale.
“We are all the root of our own evil. We have our demons that stay with us, demons from our childhood, things we saw, heard, did. Horror is within; how it comes out depends on when we’re vulnerable.”