Back in May, I had the opportunity to read A White Room
by Stephanie Carroll. It wasn't at all what I was expecting. When Stephanie Carroll offered me the opportunity to be part of a blog hop celebrating the book's release, I jumped at the chance, especially since it meant I was able to get my questions about the book answered!
Did you know about the Doyle-Mounce House before you started writing the book, or did you look for a real house to match your plot?
I looked for a real house to match. I knew I wanted the house to come to life, and I wanted it to almost be a character in itself, so it was going to need to be unique. I also wanted it to be creepy and kind of gothic, but I also wanted it to be white because the entire story was inspired by this free write I did about a woman trapped in a white room. I tried to make a house up, but I didn’t know enough about Victorian architecture to create a house that would be historically accurate.
I started searching online for a real one. It turns out finding a white, unique, creepy, goth, Victorian house is really hard! Queen Anne’s are pretty cute, and there’s a whole deco aesthetic of flowery cottage type Victorian houses. I was worried I’d have to settle when I stumbled onto the Doyle-Mounce house and I knew – that was it!
Scroll through Dave’s Victorian House Site
to find a photo of it or do what I do and press Control F and search “Doyle-Mounce” to go directly to it.
“How could a white house seem so dark?” – Emeline Dorr in A White Room
The Doyle-Mounce house is a gothic revival from the 1880s. It gets its name from the original builder and the second builder who altered it. I did some research and there was a formula to Victorian houses that the Doyle-Mounce house does not follow. The front doors were usually located at the front center, so they would open up to the massive staircase, a status symbol. Porches were popular and usually wraparounds. Symmetry was also a defining characteristic.
The Doyle-Mounce House, however, has doors located on the far right side and has two porches that are interrupted by bay windows. It appears from the photos that the porch on the left side is inaccessible. Nothing about the house is really symmetrical either. That and the gothic attributes and red brick seeping out from beneath the white paint – it looks like something a Vampire would live in.
The inside of the house is all my creation. I couldn’t find a layout or any photos of the interior of the Doyle-Mounce House online. I tried to make it both historically accurate and strange. I hid the staircase at the back around the corner and put the kitchen in the basement. Basement kitchens were common in the cities, which makes it strange because my story is based in the country. The fact that each room is set off a hallway and accessible by doors was commonplace in most Victorian homes at the time. Open space layouts came later.
The Doyle-Mounce house is located in Hannibal, Missouri, which is Mark Twain’s hometown. It is small and isolated, so I based my fictional town off of it, but I re-named it Labellum, which means white orchid, because none of what occurs in my story actually occurred in Hannibal.
Where did you find out about that furniture?
I was researching Victorian furniture to make sure I would describe it properly and discovered these pieces that were really creepy and interesting. They were all from the Art Nouveau style.
This type of furniture is where we get claw-footed tubs and children’s faces carved into wood. The pieces I was drawn to all seemed to have human or animal life forms incorporated into the design, or the piece would have lifelike features. If it didn’t, it would have some type of decoration that suggested movement like winding and curling designs or an effect of melting or dripping. It’s all really weird, dark, and awesome!
There is a chapter in the novel where my main character, Emeline Dorr, goes into a lot of detail describing the house and furniture. Some people are going to like it and some people are going to hate it, but I did it for a reason. Every piece of furniture or decoration is based on a real piece of Art Nouveau from the Victorian Era.
I completely decorated each of the fictional rooms with real pieces. Even though there are a lot of in-depth descriptions, it’s not everything that I chose. I couldn’t include all of it in the book. I had scanned and saved photos of all the pieces. I had hoped to put them on my website, but they were all lost when my computer got wiped a few years ago. It was a sad day for research.
Did you know that such things existed when you decided to create a house that would drive your heroine mad?
No, I didn’t. I discovered things as I researched the book and with each new discovery the story evolved more and more. Initially, I was just going to have the house come to life, but when I found that furniture I had to use it – it already looks like it’s coming to life even if you aren’t going insane.
What can you tell us about your next book?
My next book is titled The Binding of Saint Barbara and revolves around the first death by electrocution in 1890. The history of the first death by electrocution in New York’s Auburn Prison is extremely interesting. The fight in the courts over the legality and morality of it, along with Thomas Edison’s involvement and the fate of the prisoner are all interesting enough, but it was the prison warden and his wife that really intrigued me. They lived in the prison and interacted with the condemned prisoner on a daily basis. I followed the history very closely when it came to their story, but I wanted to do more, and that’s where the fiction comes in.
The main plotline focuses on Charlotte, the warden’s daughter who has the patron saint of lightning trapped inside her body. After witnessing a tree struck by lightning as a child, Charlotte has always had a presence trapped inside her for reasons she’s never understood for her saint can only communicate with her through feelings not words. While her parents are wrapped up in issues of death, Charlotte learns lessons about life after meeting a strange boy outside the prison walls, a boy her saint will not let Charlotte soon forget.
If anyone is interested in being notified when The Binding of Saint Barbara comes out, join my mailing list.
The history of the warden, his wife, the prisoner, the guards, Edison, are all extremely well documented in news articles, but the existence of the warden’s daughter is only mentioned in the record briefly. I found one photograph of a little girl in the prison courtyard with the warden’s wife. The mystery of her existence makes it so much more intriguing to create this story about her.
One of the best things about this book is that there is so much history documented. During my research I actually re-discovered a lost piece of history. You can read about it online in the Auburn Citizen.
How did you go from hysteria to electrocution?
I didn’t go looking for the story of A White Room
– it found me and wouldn’t let me go. When I first came up with the idea for it, I was actually six chapters in to writing a science fiction novel. But then I got the idea, and I couldn’t get it out of my head.
I was introduced to the history of the first death by electrocution after hearing a tiny blurb about it during a “Modern Marvels” episode on the History Channel. I’m drawn to darker themes so I looked into it, and found that the history itself is one of the most interesting I’ve ever heard. Just like what happened with A White Room
– once I had the idea, I couldn’t get it out of my head
Advanced Praise for A White Room
“A novel of grit, independence, and determination ... An intelligent story, well told.”
—Renée Thompson, author of The Plume Hunter and The Bridge at Valentine
“The best historical fiction makes you forget it’s fiction and forget it’s historical. Reminiscent of The Yellow Wallpaper … the thoughtful, intricate story Carroll relates is absolutely mesmerizing.”
—Eileen Walsh, Ph.D. U.S. Women’s History, University of San Diego
At the close of the Victorian Era, society still expected middle-class women to be “the angels of the house,” even as a select few strived to become something more. In this time of change, Emeline Evans dreamed of becoming a nurse. But when her father dies unexpectedly, Emeline sacrifices her ambitions and rescues her family from destitution by marrying John Dorr, a reserved lawyer who can provide for her family.
John moves Emeline to the remote Missouri town of Labellum and into an unusual house where her sorrow and uneasiness edge toward madness. Furniture twists and turns before her eyes, people stare out at her from empty rooms, and the house itself conspires against her. The doctor diagnoses hysteria, but the treatment merely reinforces the house’s grip on her mind.
Emeline only finds solace after pursuing an opportunity to serve the poor as an unlicensed nurse. Yet in order to bring comfort to the needy she must secretly defy her husband, whose employer viciously hunts down and prosecutes unlicensed practitioners. Although women are no longer burned at the stake in 1900, disobedience is a symptom of psychological defect, and hysterical women must be controlled.
A novel of madness and secrets, A White Room presents a fantastical glimpse into the forgotten cult of domesticity, where one’s own home could become a prison and a woman has to be willing to risk everything to be free.
Available in Print $14.99 and
eBook $3.99 (Kindle, Nook, Sony, e-pub)
As a reporter and community editor, Stephanie Carroll earned first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and from the Nevada Press Association. Stephanie holds degrees in history and social science. She graduated summa cum laude
from California State University, Fresno.
Her dark and magical writing is inspired by the classic authors Charlotte Perkins Gilman (The Yellow Wallpaper), Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden), and Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights).
Stephanie blogs and writes fiction in California, where her husband is stationed with the U.S. Navy.
Her website is www.stephaniecarroll.net
A White Room is her debut novel.