Craig’s debut is a murder mystery, Gothic ghost story, and fairy tale retelling in one, a brine-soaked take on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” set against a moody coastal backdrop where gods walk and a family of twelve sisters are dying, one by one. Here’s author Craig on the books that made her, the stories that inspired her to tell her own, and what she was like as a teen.
Please pitch your debut in one sentence.
House of Salt and Sorrows is a YA Gothic reimagining of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” set on an isolated island estate where Annaleigh Thaumas must discover who—or what—her sisters are dancing with every night before a curse can claim another of them.
What was the spark that became this book?
I have always been drawn to Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” and wanted to know so much more about her than the poem’s stanzas offer up. I tried drafting out a retelling of it, but always got stuck trying to turn it into a full novel.
Then I came across some old photos of my sister’s Girl Scout troop’s production of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” My mother was the troop leader, and they toured the show at libraries and retirement centers. As the older (and taller) sister, I was roped into playing the soldier. When I saw those pictures, the missing parts of Annaleigh’s story came together, and I wrote the first three chapters that day!
What were the books you had to read throughout your life in order to write House of Salt and Sorrows?
Obviously Poe and the Brothers Grimm contributed greatly to House of Salt and Sorrows, but also Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, Robin McKinley’s Beauty, Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark, R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, and so much Stephen King— almost all of which my mother deemed too creepy for me so I had to very sneakily bring home from the library!
What were you like as a teenager?
Annaleigh Thaumas turns eighteen shortly before House of Salt and Sorrows begins. At eighteen, I was in my senior year of high school, getting ready to attend the University of Michigan. I loved theater—I stage-managed the play and musical that year—and also played the trumpet in band. I took a lot of AP classes—English and US history were my favorites—and I loved French Club. I was pretty quiet in high school. I liked being involved in a lot of stuff, but always felt I was kind of observing everything from the outside. I spent a lot of time with my family and loved having my nose in a book—the scarier the better!
Recommendation time! What forthcoming YA book are you super-excited about?
I’m currently reading Katharine McGee’s American Royals and can’t put it down! I love anything with a royal romance, and this is such a fun take on an alternative history!
How did you celebrate when you sold your first book?
The Thaumas sisters would be so proud of me—I bought a pair of shoes! I’m nuts about Tieks ballet flats, and wanted to get a color that summed up my journey with House of Salt and Sorrows, so I picked emerald. They remind me of the book’s ever-present ocean and Annaleigh’s eyes. Every time I pull them out, I remember how exciting that moment was, and it always puts an extra little pep in my step!
House of Salt and Sorrows is on shelves now.