What is it about old houses? It goes beyond the charm. When I walk through my neighborhood of Victorian homes, I’m sure they’re calling out to me: “Listen . . . Come learn my story . . .”
They pique my curiosity. Who has lived there throughout the years? What secrets do they hold?
Old houses are fodder for stories, whether a ghost tale or a generational saga.
This past year, I’ve featured several novels about old homes:
- Unfortunate Homecoming—Sherri Wilson Johnson—a family home in need of renovation and the target of treasure seekers
- Dangerous Inheritance—Sherri Wilson Johnson—home as an inheritance and a target for danger
- Roots of Wood and Stone—Amanda Wen—home as a place of belonging
- The Red Door Inn—Liz Johnson—a home renovated as an inn for a place of healing
- Where Grace Appears—Heidi Chiavaroli—a family home renovated as a bed and breakfast for hospitality
- The Orchard House—Heidi Chiavaroli—the family home of Louisa May Alcott. This title, by the way, has since won a Carol Award.
I also featured Chris Fabry’s A Piece of the Moon—not about a house, but about the folks at a radio station who in many ways were family to each other. It, too, recently won a Carol Award.
Today I’m featuring another novel based on a family home: The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright. It’s nothing like the others. This one is dark and creepy while also tackling difficult themes.
Though I’m not drawn to ominous murder mysteries, the blurb and dual timeline intrigued me, even more so with its Wisconsin small town setting (not far from where I live). Despite the creepy elements, I enjoyed the story of unraveling a multi-generational mystery.
However, it made me question whether or not I really want to know more about the folks who used to inhabit the big old house I live in. Maybe some secrets are best left buried.
Since The House of Foster Hill (2017), Jaime has penned eight (soon to be nine) novels of romantic suspense and contributed to three romance collections. The Premonition at Withers Farm released October 11 (2022), and The Vanishing at Castle Moreau releases in April, 2023.
Jaime’s debut novel, The House of Foster Hill, earned the following:
- Winner of the 2018 Christy Award
- Winner of the 2018 Daphne du Maurier Award
- Inspy Award Short-List Finalist
- Carol Award Finalist – ACFW
And that was just the beginning.
Kaine Prescott is no stranger to death. When her husband died two years ago, her pleas for further investigation into his suspicious death fell on deaf ears. In desperate need of a fresh start, Kaine purchases an old house sight unseen in her grandfather’s Wisconsin hometown. But one look at the eerie, abandoned house immediately leaves her questioning her rash decision. And when the house’s dark history comes back with a vengeance, Kaine is forced to face the terrifying realization she has nowhere left to hide.
A century earlier, the house on Foster Hill holds nothing but painful memories for Ivy Thorpe. When an unidentified woman is found dead on the property, Ivy is compelled to discover her identity. Ivy’s search leads her into dangerous waters and, even as she works together with a man from her past, can she unravel the mystery before any other lives–including her own–are lost?
This dual timeline story alternates between present day and 1906, yet the main characters in each era have something in common. They’re each dealing with guilt or grief—or, as the story develops, both. Kaine is still grieving the loss of her husband from two years prior. Over a hundred years earlier, Ivy still grieves her brother Andrew’s death, and blames Joel. Joel feels guilty for not being able to save Andrew.
Additionally, Ivy grieves the death of strangers. Every life matters to her. Each person deserves to have her story known. So she’s obsessed with discovering what happened to the woman found in the tree by the Foster Hill house.
In present day, Kaine uproots from San Diego and heads to Wisconsin to start over. She purchases the house on Foster Hill to honor her deceased husband’s wishes. The house has ties to her great-great-great-grandmother Ivy and constitutes a mystery spread over 100 years. The abandoned house is the point of connection and a keeper of secrets.
But the purchase of the house is plagued by fear. Kaine is constantly looking over her shoulder, certain she’s being followed. A local man, Grant Jessie, tries to protect her with his gentle strength. Other community members join in to either help or hinder the unraveling of the house’s tightly-held secrets.
For the most part, these characters were relatable, easy to empathize with. They had depth, complexity, flaws, and real struggles. Sometimes, though, I was frustrated with Ivy. Why didn’t she just once ask Joel for his side of the story? Many a roadblock and bitterness can be averted with straightforward communication. She has many opportunities to ask him, but chooses to harbor her assumptions. That gets old.
I love split-time novels, and the author deftly intertwines the past and present.The only downside of such a novel is waiting longer to find out what happens. I found myself at the end of a chapter cliff hanger in 1906, only to turn the page and find myself back in the present day. Fortunately, I overcame the temptation to jump ahead for sneak peaks—which would have totally spoiled the story at both ends.
Tough, dark issues arose but were handled delicately. Though sometimes I didn’t remember who knew what, details were revealed along the way at just the right times, with unpredictable outcomes. Though faith elements were not heavy-handed, enough hope and light shines through to compensate for all the previous fear and dread.
Join me for some Q & A with Jaime Jo Wright.
Questions about The House on Foster Hill:
What was your inspiration for writing The House on Foster Hill? What’s your personal connection to the story?
Jaime: I’ve always loved abandoned houses and unsolved historical crimes. So much of my reading and podcast listening habits came to play when I wrote the story. Personally, I experienced quite a bit of loss growing up and was a bit like Ivy, in that I felt–and still do!–it’s important to remember and carry on the stories and the legacies of those who have gone before.
What are the main challenges of writing spit-time fiction? How do you make two separate stories dovetail so seamlessly?
Jaime: I get asked this question often, and I’m not sure I have a succinct answer. The easiest way to explain how I do it is that the stories are like a full on movie in my mind that I’ve watched on replay over and over. The timing of switching stories and the way it flows comes from hours of “watching the movie” in my head and then refining it.
How did you create your heroines Kaine and Ivy and their particular situations? Did your characters hijack the story or did you have full rein?
Jaime: Kaine and Ivy were created with lots of conversations and brainstorming between myself and another writer friend of mine. I did a lot of study of personalities mostly because Ivy, especially, was quite different from me and how I process life. As for hijacking, I pretty much take control of my characters, but there are times they sneak in their own thoughts and actions.
What would Kaine or Ivy have to say about you?
Jaime: They’d probably say I’m a mix of them both, and that I have WAY too much time on my hands to think up murderous literary schemes. LOL!
What did you have to research to make this story authentic? What’s the strangest thing you had to do or look up to create this story? (Or any story.)
Jamie: I had to research how they performed autopsies in the early 20th century. That was quite fascinating. Especially as it related to crimes, simply because they didn’t have crime labs and scientists looking for evidence. Instead, it was often just the local doctor and quite frequently, they had no idea what to keep an eye out for in regards to clues.
Of all the books you’ve published, do you have a favorite? Which one and why?
Jaime: The Curse of Misty Wayfair is probably my least fanfared novel but it is my favorite. Mostly because so much of me is in the main character of Heidi, her struggle with anxiety and her struggle to let people in. But I also found the research for the story fascinating as I delved into post-mortem photography and also asylums for those that were deemed “unwell”.
Questions about writing
Which books and/or authors have most inspired you in your writing journey?
Jaime: Oh, there are so many! From the classics to current day authors, there’s much to learn. I love Edgar Allan Poe and the Bronte sisters, Dickens and Nathaniel Hawthorne. But then I also read quite a lot of Christian fiction from Natalie Waters to Erica Vetsch to Colleen Coble to Abigail C. Wilson.
And then I have my general fiction authors that I relate to because of their gothic and haunting tales: Simone St. James, Hester Fox, Wendy Webb, Darcy Coates . . . see? There’s a bunch!
You’ve written numerous split-time suspense novels. Where do your story ideas usually originate from—character, plot, setting, theme, or a combination? Share an example of how a story grew from an initial idea.
Jaime: I’m a skeletor. At least that’s what I call it. My stories have the general skeleton of framework when I start, but it’s not heavily outlined and like I mentioned earlier, a lot of the scenes are in my head. As for inspiration, typically it’s a story/historical event that inspires my imagination.
Please share something about a current project or the direction you want to go as an author.
Jaime: Well, I’m very excited for my April release, The Vanishing at Castle Moreau. While it holds true to my dual time story, the creepy elements, and the mystery, there’s also some very unique twists and perspectives in this story that I believe will set it apart from many of my other books. I can’t say too much, because–spoilers.
I’m also working on edits for my October 2023 release, The Lost Boys of Barlowe Theater, and I’m super excited about how that one is developing!
Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?
Jaime: Write. So much time is invested in education–which is good–but writers need to write. Practice. Mess up. Let your imagination have free rein and forget the rules so you can just enjoy the craft! There’s a time and place for “rules” and formatting and specific skills, but writing will go nowhere if you don’t just write.
Just for fun, since I live in Wisconsin, too—what’s your favorite thing about living in Wisconsin?
Jaime: You live in Wisconsin!? Hey! I love Wisconsin Autumns, and the crisp cool air. I’m a snowbird that refuses to go south in winter. I love the snow and the cold and North Woods and the frozen lakes. I love that Wisconsin can often be far colder than Alaska! I love the wildlife and country life. And I love cats. (I just had to sneak that in even though it has nothing to do with Wisconsin).
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you enjoy dual timeline fiction set in small towns spotlighting how the past impacts the present—like The House on Foster Hill—you might enjoy my novel, Fifteen Minutes with Mr. Baum. Set in Holland, Michigan, this novel alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s and offers its own mysteries while highlighting The Wonderful Wizard of Oz author, L. Frank Baum. Read more and watch the book trailer here.
If you like stories about family secrets, you might enjoy my recently re-launched novel All That Is Hidden, Set near North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1968, the story spotlights the bond of family and the connections of a tight-knit community. Northern exploitation threatens as a father’s hidden past catches up to him and tests family ties. Learn more and watch the trailer here.
In June, I was named a semifinalist in Serious Writer’s Book of the Decade contest for All That Is Hidden. In August, I won the Artisan Book Reviews Book Excellence Award.
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Jaime Jo Wright Bio
Jaime Jo Wright loves to read—and write—fiction with elements of mystery, faith, and romance from her home in Wisconsin. She’s a coffee drinker by day and night, lives in dreamland, and exists in reality. Learn more on her website.
Join me next time for a visit with author Rachel Hauck.
Meanwhile, have you read The House on Foster Hill or other books by Jaime Jo Wright? Answer in the comments below.