Interview with Jeanne Stanton
TSM: When did you first decide to be a writer?
JS: Writing is something I’ve done since childhood. I had a poem published in Scholastic magazine when I was in eighth grade and in college I wrote poetry and stories and contributed to the campus literary magazine. I became a writer of non-fiction when I was hired to develop case studies at Harvard Business School.
AFG: Are you an outliner or do you have an idea and then see how far you can go with it?
JS: Structure is definitely my friend. My poetry was inspired by Shakespeare and I was awarded the Poetry Prize at graduation for my Satire in the Style of Alexander Pope. Once I decide upon a subject, the first thing I do is make a detailed outline.
AFG: Tell us about your most recent book?
JS: The Hairbrush and the Shoe is the story of my attempt to find out if a ghost inhabits our century-old Boston townhouse, and if so, who our ghost might be. Personal items had vanished, furniture was moved, and a workman was pushed and hissed at by something invisible. I begin my research at the library and on the internet and soon discover the world of the paranormal, where a flourishing subculture of mediums, psychics, ghost hunters, and amateur sleuths seek contact with spirits of the dead. Determined to be thorough, I also consult relevant areas of science, chiefly neurology and physics. In the course of my investigation I waver between skepticism and belief, pulled one way and then another by a range of notables, including William James, Arthur Conan Doyle, Oliver Sacks, and Henry Houdini.
AFG: Have you always been interested in ghost stories?
JS: I have never been interested in ghost stories, save those written by one of my favorite authors, Henry James. My interest was in finding out the truth about what was going on in our house, and as a Catholic I am open to the supernatural.
AFG: Who are some of your favorites—the usual suspects M.R. James, E.F. Benson, Henry James etc?
JS: E.F. Benson is definitely a favorite, and certainly Henry James.
AFG: What are you reading at the moment?
JS: I am reading The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George; Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman; Hannah’s War by Jan Eliasberg.
AFG: How long did it take you to write the book?
JS: I began the research almost ten years ago.
AFG: What advice do you have for beginning authors?
JS: For writers of non-fiction, dig deep. As Robert Caro advises, when doing research, read every page, and when interviewing, shut up and listen. Every single person has a story
AFG: When you approach something like a ghost story, do you feel that you need to balance the skeptical person (about ghosts) with agnostic?
JS: Absolutely. I am totally open to the possibility of ghosts but felt it was essential that I take a skeptic’s point of view. There is no certainty other than that sooner or later there will be new information and new questions.
AFG: What are some of the things that surprised you about yourself or the process when you were working on this book?
JS: What most surprised me was how many people are involved in the paranormal. As one woman said to me about consulting a psychic, “I don’t know why it isn’t more mainstream, everybody does it.” And many have their own ghost stories, a personal experience of some bizarre, inexplicable event. On the other hand, I was both surprised and dismayed to learn that most scientists will not acknowledge or investigate paranormal activity.
AFG: What are you working on now?
JS: I am working on “Zita in Royalston,” an account of the years the former Empress of Austria spent summering in a small New England village. Zita and her husband succeeded Franz Joseph and ruled for two years, from 1916-1918, when they were deposed and exiled. After her husband’s death, the penniless empress and her nine children eventually found their way to America, sponsored by a wealthy family who spent their summers in Royalston.
AFG: What inspires you to write?
JS: Curiosity and an intense need to know the truth, or to better understand, or just to know more about a person or situation.
AFG: Have you visited haunted places?
JS: I have visited places I felt were occupied by spirits, but not places advertised as being haunted, as I am leery of being influenced by special effects.
AFG: Do you believe in ghosts?
JS: Yes, I believe in ghosts, but as I write in my book, I am open to revision of this belief pending new information!