Cassandra King was in a little place she likes to call “book tour hell” recently — a place sandwiched somewhere between the 14th speaking engagement in nearly as many cities and the more than 30 left to go.
But the tempo of her voice still swells into an excited drawl when the topic turns to her latest book, Moonrise. Despite the inconveniences of book tours — the lack of wifi and cell service, endless hours in the car, the discomforts of hotel rooms — she’s happy to be back on the road behind her latest novel, which is her first book in six years. It hit stands early this month.And though King says the book was long overdue, when inspiration did eventually strike it came with an all-consuming force. What drove King’s writing in Moonrise is evident from the first few chapters of the novel: the eerie allure of the Appalachian Mountains.
“I decided I wanted to set the book in Highlands [North Carolina]. The setting came first. Normally it’s the story idea, the characters, that sort of thing,” she says. “But I really thought the story evolved from the setting.”
One house in particular serves as the connecting theme, an ancient Victorian manor aptly titled Moonrise. It is a place beloved and formerly owned by Rosalyn Justice, the seemingly perfect deceased wife of Emmet, who quickly remarried a younger bride, Helen Honeycutt. Emmet seems burdened by the decaying mansion, which he inherited upon Rosalyn’s sudden death.
But after Helen finds a photo album of happy photos of her husband and his friends who summer in the town of Highlands, she is convinced they should leave their Fort Lauderdale home and take residence at Moonrise for a few months. Their happy vacation soon turns sour, and the house quickly becomes a place of torment rather than refuge.
If the plot line sounds familiar, that’s because it likely is. King picked up a copy of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier while she was staying and writing in Highlands. “If you are thinking the book is a retelling of Rebecca, I think if you expect that you’ll be disappointed,” King says, though Helen’s plight closely resembles that of Mrs. de Winter. The gothic elements of du Maurier’s classic also translate, although at its core, the story is more of an exploration of what happens when one is not accepted.
“I have felt that is one of the things I’ve explored, the close bonds we form with other people and how that helps through life’s difficult moments,” King says. Moonrise is a bit of a departure for me to explore a little of our darker natures.”
And Moonrise, just like the house the book is named for, has a magnetically ominous pull. It’s a pleasant surprise from a best-selling author who’s not typically focused on the shadows.