Cusp of Night Takes Readers from Circus, to Tea Room, to Séance
Sue, many thanks for having me on your blog today. I’m delighted to be here to share my newest release, Cusp of Night. The first book in my Hodes Hill series, Cusp is a mystery/suspense novel that can be enjoyed as a standalone. I have two timelines in this book, one set in the past and one in the present. Both ultimately converge at the end in a tidy bow. 😊
When the reader first meets Lucinda Glass—my lead character in the past—she’s eking out an existence as a trapeze artist in Oliver’s Emporium and Traveling Show. The year is 1897 and Lucinda is known by the name she was born with—Lucy Strick. She’s an attractive twenty-year-old with a flowing black hair, blue-white eyes, and a lithe body. Gorgeous, right?
Men are more than willing to look. Most even think the entrance fee to her aerial act entitles them to a free grope on the side. But as attracted as they are, they’re also repulsed. Women are blunter, making the sign of the cross and calling her a devil.
It’s a life Lucy knows well. She’s been ostracized by her family, shunned and ridiculed all her life because of a recessive blood disorder. In the late 1800s, no one knew of methemoglobin, a rare blood disorder that, in excessive amounts, caused the bearer’s skin to turn blue.
Sound far-fetched? It’s believed Martin Fugate, a French orphan who settled in a rural area of Kentucky in 1820, introduced the blue-skinned gene when he married Elizabeth Smith. Against all odds, she carried the same recessive trait. Four of their seven children were reportedly blue. In an isolated area, with no railroads or other means of connecting with the outside world, cousins and families intermarried, keeping the gene alive.
I’m not sure how I initially stumbled over the story of the “blue skinned people of Troublesome Creek,” but it was several years ago, long before I started publishing professionally. I tucked the reference away in an “ideas folder” as possible story fodder. I knew someday I’d have to revisit the history.
Cusp of Night gave me that opportunity. The working title for my draft was The Blue Lady of Hode’s Hill. In the past, my main character is groomed to become a celebrated medium of her day. Below is a brief excerpt showing the start of Lucy Strick’s transformation to Lucinda Glass:
August 9, 1897
“I thought you wanted me to behave in a ladylike manner.” Lucy Strick challenged her betrothed with an imperious glance. Her right leg was stretched before her, the skirt of her gown hitched modestly above her ankle. Her foot was bare, elevated on an ottoman wedged between Simon’s knees. Yet another hotel where they stayed secreted inside, hidden from the eyes of the townspeople.
Simon rubbed her toes. “A lady you must always be—to the world.” His fingers were long and warm, calloused like the palms of his hands, his touch magic.
“But not to you?”
“You are to be my wife. Surely, that gives me license to gaze upon your naked foot.”
She laughed. “That’s not what I meant.”
“I thought not.” His grin was languorous, much like the kneading play of his fingers. “Are you ready to try again?”
Drawing a breath, she nodded. Simon’s hands fell away and she stared down at her big toe, flexing it as he had taught her. Nothing happened. “I’m never going to be able to do this.”
He didn’t hesitate. “You will.” His voice was firm, not harsh. “You were a skilled aerialist. You understand the body and how it can be manipulated.”
“This is different.”
“Nothing you can’t achieve, my lovely.”
When he spoke like that, treating her to one of his endearments, thoughts of failure fled. “Cracking my toes is hardly lovely. Hardly ladylike. Are you sure it’s necessary?”
Simon shifted on the ottoman and reached for her tea. He’d poured them each a cup earlier, the ever-present china set on a side table. “Producing rapping sounds is a key component of the Spiritualist Movement.” He passed her the cup and saucer, then picked up his own. “Any medium worth her trade is able to communicate with the departed through rapping sounds. We have the Fox sisters to thank for that.”
“Yes, I remember.” Lucy sipped her tea. “Margaret and Kate. You said they used to draw crowds in the thousands.” There was so much about Spiritualism she didn’t understand, so much to learn. “If they were as famous as you say, what makes you think they were frauds?”
“Many learned men—doctors, professors, clergymen—have investigated the sisters.” Simon spoke patiently, a sign they’d discussed this before and she should have remembered. “Most agree Maggie and Kate produced their spiritual rapping sounds by cracking their toe joints, particularly the largest toe.”
Confused, Lucy set her tea aside. Maybe she should have stayed with the circus. “Then why would anyone believe I’m able to produce rapping without trickery?”
“Because those of society hunger for a true psychic medium. The Spiritualist Movement may have diminished from its heyday, but the pendulum swings back. People have a desire—even a need—to communicate with their loved ones in Summerland.”
“And we profit from their grief?”
“No. We give them comfort. Hope.” Leaning forward, Simon claimed her hand in his. “I will teach you tricks others will not unmask, and your lovely blue skin will mark you as genuine in the eyes of the elite. That ethereal color will stand as testament that you have been chosen by the spirits. Did I not promise to make you famous, my dear?”
A fleeting smile touched her lips. “What if I only wish to be with you? Poor, rich, or unknown?”
Releasing her hand, Simon dropped his gaze to her foot. His long fingers manipulated her toes. “I promised we will be together, and we shall.” Sitting straighter, he cleared his throat. “Are you ready to try again? As a spiritualist, it is paramount that you know how to produce rapping sounds. Relax and flex your toes.”
Lucy breathed deeply and tried to do as instructed. Simon had agreed to marry her but had yet to do more than give her a chaste kiss. If she was to be a medium, he must become an attentive husband.
She bent her big toe and the joint popped, producing a distinctive rap.
Cusp of Night by Mae Claire
Recently settled in Hode’s Hill, Pennsylvania, Maya Sinclair is enthralled by the town’s folklore, especially the legend about a centuries-old monster. A devil-like creature with uncanny abilities responsible for several horrific murders, the Fiend has evolved into the stuff of urban myth. But the past lives again when Maya witnesses an assault during the annual “Fiend Fest.” The victim is developer Leland Hode, patriarch of the town’s most powerful family, and he was attacked by someone dressed like the Fiend.
Compelled to discover who is behind the attack and why, Maya uncovers a shortlist of enemies of the Hode clan. The mystery deepens when she finds the journal of a late nineteenth-century spiritualist who once lived in Maya’s house–a woman whose ghost may still linger.
Known as the Blue Lady of Hode’s Hill due to a genetic condition, Lucinda Glass vanished without a trace and was believed to be one of the Fiend’s tragic victims. The disappearance of a young couple, combined with more sightings of the monster, trigger Maya to join forces with Leland’s son Collin. But the closer she gets to unearthing the truth, the closer she comes to a hidden world of twisted secrets, insanity, and evil that refuses to die . . .
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