Jennifer Lee Carrell stood on a hill in Scotland one radiant morning and watched darkness roll in and the sun vanish before her very eyes.
It was there on Dunsinnan Hill that Carrell conjured a scene found in her second novel "Haunt Me Still," which features her Shakespearean scholar/sleuth, Kate Stanley. The book was released two weeks ago.
"I was standing up there in one of the eerie moments and I had a vision of Kate waking up at the top of this hill - having gone to sleep when it was beautiful and sunny - in mist and finding a body nearby and beyond that, what looks like an ancient Scottish knife," she said.
Since Carrell didn't have to start from scratch developing her lead - Kate was introduced in her first novel, "Interred With Their Bones" - she set off on trips to distant lands and immersed herself in intense research to get out "Haunt Me Still," which is already a bestseller in London.
She traveled to Scotland, twice, where she marveled at landscape both idyllic and mystic.
She wandered with a Catholic nun through secret passages in a castle built in the 19th century by Shakespearean actor Edwin Forrest for his wife. Forrest's Fonthill Castle is now the offices of admission and financial aid at the College of Mount St. Vincent in Riverdale, N.Y.
Carrell headed to London to further familiarize herself with the British Museum, which she visited often as a grad student studying at the University of Oxford in England. She earned her bachelor's degree from Stanford University.
She kept a journal as she traveled to refer back to when she holed herself up in her Tucson home to write "Haunt Me Still," a thriller packed with Scottish history, a famous theatrical curse, witchcraft, magic, a murderous search for a lost version of "Macbeth" and romance.
"I want these books to be fun, entertaining and totally understandable to people who don't know anything about Shakespeare," said Carrell, who graduated from Rincon High School and has a doctorate in English literature with a focus on Shakespeare from Harvard University.
Writing and promoting her second novel was nothing like it was the first time around.
Shortly after "Interred with Their Bones" was published in late 2007, Carrell and her husband, John Helenbolt, welcomed their son, Will, into their lives.
Carrell found it hard on many levels to write with a bouncing baby boy by her side.
"Before Will, I could take four hours to get myself going in the morning and then I could work 14 hours at a stretch if I wanted to," she said. "It took me a while to learn how to write during every single hour I had when I had child care."
But even with Will out of sight, it didn't always come easy to sit at her desk while taking pleasure in motherhood and then have to describe in words how a character in her novel finds an old woman's body hanging from a branch with her abdomen slashed.
"This book is dark. It's eerie," she said. "I found it at times quite hard to go to that really dark place and be able to write that kind of story."
Carrell didn't find it hard to return, at least in her mind, to the places she visited during her research as she wrote the book from her office with a window overlooking the William Shakespeare roses in her garden.
Her two trips to Scotland were memorable ones she traces in her novel through her protagonist's words.
Visits to Dunsinnan Hill, Birnam Wood and Loch Bruiach (or Loch Bruicheach) were some of her more inspiring treks through Scotland.
At Dunsinnan Hill, where the real Macbeth is said to have built a castle, Carrell experienced Scotland's wandering weather.
"You're up there on a beautiful sunny morning. There's butterflies in the grass. Everything is green. You can hear the sound of tractors coming up from the valley below," she said.
Then the weather just shifts, Carrell said.
"The mist comes down and it becomes gray. It's raining and cold," she said. "The wind whips up over that summit with a moaning sound that almost sounds human. It can be very, very eerie."
Carrell found it necessary to travel to Scotland while researching the novel because place and atmosphere matter to the author.
"I wanted to see the places that historically were connected to the real King Macbeth and the places Shakespeare connected with," she said.
Carrell has at least one more Shakespearean thriller in store for fans, which she'll try to get to after she's done promoting her current book.
Since its release, she's held book talks and signing events in Houston, Scottsdale, San Diego and Flagstaff.
Carrell, 48, enjoys being an ambassador for her books but said it's nothing like writing, which she describes as very solitary.
"You have to put yourself out there - publicly, online, in person at stores and at author luncheons to get people interested in your book in two sentences or less," she said.
She turned to Facebook to help promote "Haunt Me Still."
Carrell regularly posts updates about everything from book signings to finding two king snakes mating in her garden for her nearly 200 Facebook friends to read.
She's staying away from Twitter.
"One of the reasons I'm a novelist and not a poet or a songwriter is because I don't think in 140 characters," she said. "I think in 140 pages or 440 pages."
Meet the author
Book talk and signing events
• When: 7 p.m. tonight.
• Where: Antigone Books, 411 N. Fourth Ave.
• Cost: Free.
• Information: 792-3715.
• When: 11 a.m. May 15.
• Where: Douglas Public Library, 560 10th St. in Douglas.
• Cost: Free.
• Information: 1-520-417-7357.
DOING THE RESEARCH
Jennifer Lee Carrell traveled to some far-off places as she researched her second novel, but she stayed right here in Tucson to learn all she could about witchcraft.
Carrell already was familiar with historical witchcraft and witch hunts, but knew little about modern witchcraft.
"I was uncertain about how to proceed with modern witchcraft and Wicca, but it turns out Tucson has a very strong and active pagan community," she said.
Wiccan priestesses Ashleen O'Gaea and Carol Garr shared their considerable knowledge with Carrell as she researched "Haunt Me Still."
The two invited Carrell to witness Wiccan rituals.
"I found them to be generous, warm and wonderful people," she said.
"I wanted to see the places that historically were connected to the real King Macbeth and the places Shakespeare connected with."
Jennifer Lee Carrell, author of "Haunt Me Still"
Contact reporter Andrea Rivera at firstname.lastname@example.org or 807-8430. Andrea Rivera