Just in Time for Halloween, Book on the Salem Witch Hysteria is Named Finalist in “Best Books 2006 Awards” Competition

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A new release by Stephen Hawley Martin, the winner of several national awards for his novels, has been named a finalist in the national book award competition sponsored by USABookNews.com.

A book by noted author Stephen Hawley Martin, has been named a finalist in the United States History category of the 2006 best book award competition hosted by USABookNews.com.

The contest’s judges made the following statement: “Stephen Hawley Martin takes you back when witches were feared and executed. It is easy to forget that this hysteria actually happened in the United States. 'A Witch in the Family' is well-written and eye-opening.”

This is not the first time a book by Martin has been honored nationally. His novel, "In My Father’s House," won first prize for fiction from Independent Publisher magazine, and it won the Writer’s Digest Book Award for Fiction. A whodunit by Martin, "Death in Advertising," also won the Writer’s Digest Book Award for Fiction, making him the only two-time winner of that award.

Martin’s new book is nonfiction and focuses on his ancestor, Susannah North Martin and the Salem witch hysteria. Susannah, his seven-times-great grandmother, was convicted of witchcraft and hanged on July 19, 1692. The book is available at Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Amazon.com.

“What happened in New England long ago was tragic and horrific,” Martin said. “And if someone you are directly descended from was caught up in it and actually killed by it, you might say it makes you look at things differently. For one thing, you don't automatically assume people in authority know what they're talking about. It’s given me the tendency to keep my own counsel and to hold off on accepting conventional wisdom until some evidence or pattern causes it to click into place in my gut.”

It has also led Martin to dismiss the usual explanations for the witch hysteria of 1692. “It definitely wasn’t ergot of rye, and I have a hard time believing all the accusers were faking their symptoms,” Martin said. “One vomited blood in court in front of the judges and a whole courtroom full of spectators. Others had deep skin lesions that appeared to have been made by human teeth. Some coughed up pins.”

What does Martin think led to the witch hysteria that left two dozen dead?

“Like most things, a combination of factors brought it about,” Martin said. “But the most powerful single element was belief. Just about everyone in Massachusetts at that time believed witchcraft was real. And you know what? In a society that fully believes in witchcraft, witchcraft has power –– it is real. In primitive societies, for example, it’s been documented that people have dropped dead after being cursed by a shaman.”

Does that mean there really were witches in Massachusetts?

“Oh, there were witches in New England all right,” Martin said. “But that doesn’t mean the people who were hanged were witches, or that the accusers were actually bewitched.” Martin smiled. “To find out what really happened, you’re going to have to read my book.”

To learn more about Stephen Hawley Martin, and to read an excerpt of his book, visit http://www.shmartin.com.

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