"The Prisoner of Hell Gate" drops this month

The Hockessin Book Shelf is hosting a book launch party for Chadds Ford, Pa. author J. E. Fishman’s latest book, “The Prisoner of Hell Gate,” written under his pseudonym Dana I. Wolff.

The supernatural thriller follows a group of friends as they explore North Brother Island in New York, where the infamous “Typhoid Mary” Mallon was incarcerated at the turn of the century.

We sat down with Fishman to discuss his inspiration and the process of incorporating history into fiction.

Q What was your inspiration in writing "Prisoner of Hell Gate?”
A I spotted an article about abandoned islands and saw that one of them was North Brother Island in the East River near Manhattan. The article mentioned that Typhoid Mary once lived in forced quarantine on that island—the proverbial stone’s throw from Manhattan but a world away.

I sought out more pictures, which showed the ruins of Riverside Hospital, choked by vines, falling into dust. And I thought: This would be a pretty good place to set a horror tale. I pictured a bunch of twenty-somethings pulling up in a boat, climbing on ruins. Being watched.

Q What about this genre attracts you?
A What they now call “horror” or “supernatural thriller” used to be labeled “occult”—the origin of which means hidden or concealed. Supernatural fiction gives me an opportunity to explore that which is hidden in nature, in society, and in the life of an invented character, and to do so in a fun way.

Q How much research goes into a period drama like "Prisoner?”
A Mary Mallon—known as “Typhoid Mary”—is a novelist’s dream subject. We know some critical things about her, but a great many details are missing. So, after reading several books and articles, I was off to the races.

In any case, I think readers harbor some misconceptions about the research that goes into novels. Generally, novelists use research to ground their work in a seemingly stable world, but we’re in the business of making stuff up, so those grounding facts always serve only as points of departure. Ken Follett says the novelist uses facts from the real world to distract the reader from the preposterousness of the rest of the story.

Before I received a blurb from one novelist who read “The Prisoner of Hell Gate,” he asked whether the history it portrays is true. I told him, “Yes, it is—until it isn’t.”

IF YOU GO ‘The Prisoner of Hell Gate’ Launch Party
WHERE Hockessin Book Shelf, 7179 Lancaster Pike Hockessin
WHEN Wednesday, July 13, 6 p.m.
DETAILS Light refreshments will be served. Meet with the author and get your book signed. RSVP is appreciated but not required.