Born and raised in Wisconsin, Daphne du Maurier and Christy Award-winning author Jaime Jo Wright is known for crafting suspenseful mystery thrillers inspired by her love of the gothic genre. As a homeschooled child, Wright had ample time and opportunity to fall in love with reading and quickly became enthralled with works that centered around macabre mysteries from literary masters like Edgar Allen Poe. Her admiration for these darker, spookier tales are reflected in the novels she began writing as an adult that impressively weave together elements of historical fiction, suspense and paranormal mystery.
Her newest upcoming release, The Lost Boys of Barlowe Theatre, jumps back and forth from the present day to the early 1900s and exposes two separate mysteries centered around the strange and dangerous Barlowe Theatre. When two people, one from the past and one from the present, go missing while visiting the ominous location, our protagonists must try to unveil the theatre’s curse and save their loved ones from the ghoulish apparitions wreaking havoc and destroying the peace of their quiet town.
We had the honor of speaking with the author about how writing about real historical places adds an extra layer of meaning to her work, what her fascinating connection to Peter Pan is and her thoughts on the well-known saying “write what you know.” Enjoy reading about this acclaimed author's life and writing journey!
The Lost Boys of Barlowe Theater
I would love to have you introduce yourself and share anything that you feel is relevant for our audience and for your readers and for potential readers?
Well, I'm Jaime Jo Wright, and I live in the woods in Wisconsin, and I've been a country girl all my life as far as that's concerned. The woods provide the best backdrop for writing because I love that Gothic, a shadowy, you know, hike through the woods at night and I've always been an Edgar Allan Poe and Christina Otto fan—and I love Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables. And I've just always loved that element of literary Gothic thriller mystery, with elements that could maybe creep over into horror a little bit, not necessarily the jumpscares slasher. So that's kind of what I strive to do with my fiction. And yeah, I just love exploring all the little dark sides of life and the sparks of hope at the end.
Have you always lived in Wisconsin in the country? Or?
Yeah, I've always lived in Wisconsin, I swore that I would leave you know, I'm one of those kids that was raised country and was like, I'm not doing this. I'm gonna move to New York City or something cool and be cultured. And I've yet to find the culture. I'm still country. So yeah.
I also really like the woods.
They're my security blanket. I like going out in my backyard and having the coyotes run away and raccoons off in the corner. And so that's just who I am, I guess.
Did you grow up reading Edgar Allan Poe and spooky gothic literature or was that something you found later? Talk a bit about your vibe.
Yeah. Growing up was fun. I was actually homeschooled, which back when I was young, you know, nobody was homeschooled. So that was a really new thing at that time. But one of the things that it really enabled me to do was read all the time because that was my favorite pastime. So I read pretty voraciously. I loved you know, the Nancy Drew's the Trixie Belden when I was younger. And then as I grew older, I started reading other mysteries, but really started delving into the classics, probably in middle school in high school, and fell in love with Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe and Hawthorne. And then of course, you know, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and it was always, you know, I tried reading Jane Austen, and it was okay. I mean, she's, she's a fabulous author. Obviously, she's made a mark in history. But I was always drawn to the darker mysteries. Who's the woman in the attic type of story? Is there a ghost? Is there not, is someone gonna die? Are they not? And, you know, I guess mayhem was a little bit in my blood.
Echoes Among the Stones
Yeah, definitely. So, I know you have this strong connection with Peter Pan. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Peter Pan's always been one of those stories that I've gravitated to, even as a child. You have your Disney version of Peter Pan. And then you have the actual version of Peter Pan where he's more mischievous and a little bit up to no good. And I really kind of like that darker side of Peter Pan.
Then when I had my son, it was just one of those things. You've got that Mother Son bond, and you never want him to grow up. And so I used to tell him stories about being Peter Pan and I started calling him Peter Pan—even though those aren’t his names. We always talk about how we're gonna go to Neverland forever and never grow up, and he's my mischief maker. So that’s just always been fun to just have Peter Pan kind of go through my life.
Then the guy I ended up marrying, was the guy that I swore I would never be with. If you have that prayer to God, like, don't let me end up with this person—he was that one. I literally remember praying that God would not have me marry this dude, because he was awful.
And now you know, 23 years, two kids, and four cats later, I'm still with him. But I call him Captain Hook. He's kind of like a pirate, and I say he wouldn't give my heart back if I asked for it. He's kind of The Hook in my life and then I have my daughter who's my Tinkerbell. We've just adopted the whole Peter Pan persona with our family.
I love that so much. It's such a good story. And even though the story isn’t exactly in the mystery realm, it's got some of those elements you bring into your writing. Infusing your writing with the darker side of the original fairytale, that little bit of “otherworldly” mystery. So I'm wondering, from this young girl growing up as a voracious reader, at what age did you know you wanted to be a writer?
That's a great question. I think I wrote my first story when I was eight—and it was really bad. Everybody says that, right? But it was about an oak tree and some field mice and their relationship. They wanted to save the oak tree from being cut down by the lumber mill. That was my first foray into trauma as a child, save the trees.
But as I went along, I wrote a novel when I was 13. As far as writing stories, I definitely wanted to be a writer when I was in my early years, but I never really considered much of that publication until I was a teenager. So I started exploring it. And then of course, you go through life, you get married and everything, so it got put on the back burner until about 2009. That’s when I was like, why am I waiting around with this? Let’s just see if this will turn into something. That's when I started really exploring the depths of the mystery and the Gothic and got sucked into it.
The House on Foster Hill
Did you start off writing similar types of stories to what you're telling now?
No, actually. I always love the historical elements. So I would write historical and obviously, as a teenage girl I added romance and heartbreak—all that stuff. As I got older, I started asking, Oh, what if we did historical suspense? So I started leaning more toward suspenseful murder mysteries. It was just an evolution, right? Throw in a ghost or somebody who’s not dead? Or are they dead? Adding the creepier elements to the story. Like I said, it was an evolution. I didn't start writing it, but I definitely was on my way.
At this point in your career, you have many books under your belt, you’ve established yourself in your unique niche. Your book coming out is The Lost Boys of Barlowe Theater. Before we go into the story, I am curious because it does have the Lost Boys title. Is this book at all influenced by Peter Pan?
It is a little bit influenced by that. Mostly, I pulled on the relationship between that sisterly-motherly figure and the relationship to the boys. But the “Lost Boys” idea was also a pull off of a local ghost story from our town. It was kind of a merge of the concept of boys needing to grow up to take care of family and then not necessarily taking the right route. They get in trouble and then the sister-mother figure needs to kind of swoop in. Other than that, it's pretty much not a Peter Pan story and more of a ghost legend story.
I love that. So talk about how this book came to be.
We have a local theater in our town that was built by A.L. Ringling, who is one of the Ringling Brothers from the circus. He modeled this theater after some of the European theaters. It's an absolutely gorgeous theater with French architecture, hand-painted ceilings, reds, gold—everything that you would imagine in a beautiful European theater.
After it was built, there were quite a few accidents when they were building it in real life. And then there’s always been some legends and ghost stories around it. There's the story of the woman who came to one of the operas. Her baby fell over the banister and died. To this day, people who are throwing on plays a lot of times won't even turn their on ear monitors on until it's time—because they'll hear a baby crying over the airwaves. Or they'll see the woman in white in the hallway. So that's one legend.
Then there's the Legend of the Lost Boys where there's a lot of rumor that there's tunnels underground to the theater. Nobody has proven whether there actually are or not—and I think they like it that way. There's just so much ductwork and stuff in the architecture. So back in the early 1900s, some boys actually went into the theater and got lost in the architecture and the walls—and supposedly they were never found. They’re believed to still haunt the theater because they've never been able to get out. And you'll hear them banging on the walls and the pipes and things like that.
When I heard those stories, I was like, Oh, this is just too good to be true.
The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus
It's like, go ahead and hand me story fodder.
Right? Exactly. So I worked with that and obviously put my own spin on things. I also brought in my work at our local food pantry. In our community, you have kind of a sticky economy of the wealthy as resembled in the theater, as well as the not-so-wealthy—the more “social outcast” of the stigma between caste systems. I wanted to pull that dynamic into the story also. I've got two time periods in the story—the early 1900s and the present day. And what we have is the mystery of the Lost Boys and the woman in white, along with the local poor house in the 1900s. And now that’s a local food shelter in the current day. All of that just kind of mishmashes in a cold case that's never been solved and is still pretty much haunting everyone.
So wonderful. I'm wondering, too, if you found that the added layer of historical “truth” added a meaningful dimension to your writing process? Because you’re writing about things and places you care about, but you've also created this mystery and this fictionalized story around it. But at the same time, you’re able to write about issues you care about.
Absolutely. You know, there's that cliché where they say, “write what you know.” I think taking that to a deeper level is write what you're passionate and convicted about. Because what happens is the story becomes more than a story and your heart as a writer comes through. And people who have equal passion about those things, or are maybe searching for those things, connect with that. They can see that there's a realness to the story. It's not just entertainment, that there's also something thought-provoking. And so yeah, definitely.
Every book that I've written, I've tried to grab something near and dear to my heart—or I inadvertently fall into it. I did that with one of my last books, The Souls of Lost Lake. I had inadvertently thought you know what, a lot of people out there have family suffering from cancer or have lost loved ones from cancer. So I decided to write about a mom who has breast cancer and is terminal as one of my side characters. I didn't realize that by the time I got the edits back, I was going to find out that my mom had cancer. I was editing scenes as she was on her struggle, about to pass away—and it just became extremely real.
Those types of stories, when you can infuse them with your own emotion, take on an entirely different light.
The Souls of Lost Lake
First of all, I'm so sorry about your mom. I can imagine how challenging that was. What was your reaction when you realized, you had to keep writing this book as you were actually going through that?
Yeah, it was crazy, because we found out that she had cancer—she literally died within a week of finding out. And my edits were due the weekend that she passed away. So we expected a lot more time. I was actually editing the scene in the book where the mother was struggling with some of her last breaths, about 10 minutes after my mom actually passed away. It was a very surreal moment.
It sounds kind of creepy to say, but with gothic fiction, there's this touching dance with death that we do in the darkness. How does that dance become something beautiful, instead of something dark and horrific? And I think we have to go through the horror to get to the beauty. But that's one of the things I like to try and do with my stories, too—is not leave you with horror at the end. I want to leave that spark of—oh, there may be a way out or there's some beauty within this. That’s the richness of Gothic literature, too.
Yeah, weaving in that wonder more. Was there some catharsis in that process?
It was a lot, I’m not gonna lie. I do think it was cathartic. I really thought it was healing. When my editor found out about my mom they had actually built in time because they figured I'd need a deadline extension. And I didn't ask for one. It might have been a little bit masochistic, but I kind of wanted to push myself through it. Because I knew that everybody who picks up a book about a loved one passing is going to relate to a loved one passing. And I really wanted that rawness to come out on the page. Being a person of deep faith, I wanted to show that element of hope and faith that can come from a passing versus living in that just deep sorrow that has no hope. So I kind of pushed myself through it. And then yeah, I found it was really healing, because I was processing my own emotions as I wrote.
Yeah. That's really beautiful. Do you want to talk a little bit about how your faith informs your writing?
Yeah, absolutely. I'm a person of faith. And I've always been really passionate about that, and passionate about my relationship with God and all of that. On the flip side, I'm also one of those individuals who believe that a relationship with God needs to grow organically, and not be an “in your face,” preachy soapbox on the corner type of thing. So my type of story is a real niche within the Christian market, so to speak, because it doesn't necessarily fit within the overall stereotype of what people consider Christian fiction.
Most of the time when I write my stories, I try to have it be very organic, very real people with real struggles. I don't want to shy away from the reality of life and paint in some over-glorified picture that nobody can relate to. Even with the faith process that I put in my stories, it's not overtly Jesus, Jesus, Jesus—even though I firmly believe strongly in him. It's more that quest to find out, why was I here? Why was I created? What is the purpose of life? Is there a greater purpose for me? And is there a God who actually cares? Where's salvation within all of that? And that's what I like to put in the story, but I have it built in an organic thing, where if you're not a person of faith, you can pick up the book and go, Oh, this was a good book. But not feel like you've been slapped in the face with some sort of faith story either.
Yeah. More like just weaving it into the human experience.
Right, which I think just makes it more real—because it is.
Yeah, it is. It's more what people actually go through. That's really beautiful.
Faith is a journey and finding truth and finding your purpose and who God is in your life is a journey. I think people need to be introduced to those concepts in a way where it's positive and engaging. It can touch your soul and your spirit without being overwhelming or without feeling like somebody's trying to convince you of something.
The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond
Yeah. Faith journeys are so unique to individuals, so personal. That’s a really cool way of looking at it.
Yeah. I think God can speak to people where they're at, and he doesn't need me to do it. So if he uses my words to, like, you know, meet someone where they're at, I think that's awesome. And my prayer with every book I write is that his message can get through to people where they're at and touch their hearts, but not necessarily try and convince anybody of some deep doctrine.
I love that. So, is there anything else you want to share about your forthcoming book or your writing?
With The Lost Boys, one of the things that has always been fun is going on ghost tours—I’ve never seen a ghost just to clarify. I've looked but never have seen one. But they’re still fun, whether it's for entertainment, or you really believe that there's a paranormal side. I love to bring that into my writing.
In The Lost Boys, there’s a scene where they're actually on a ghost tour in the present-day of this theater. And they have brought in all those television ghost hunters, who they go in. The person might be connecting with the Spirit and they're talking about it et cetera. So these people have been invited into the theater to film a ghost tour. And while they're on this tour, in the opening scene, the primary individual who organized the tour just suddenly vanishes like they're in the room, and she disappears. They have no idea what happened to her. And so the whole crux of the story of the contemporary line, then, is trying to figure out what happened to her. Where did she go? What's the secret around the theater? It's really fun and ghostly, because there's all sorts of like, is this theater good? Is it bad? Is it sucking people?
I love the ghost tour angle because it's so much fun to mess around with fingers coming and poking you on the back of the neck and not knowing who it was.
It sounds like it's got something for everybody! Historical, mystery, gothic, a little bit of the spookiness. That will be really fun for people to read, whether it's in October or whenever. Okay, a final question: if somebody went to Wisconsin, do you have a suggestion for a favorite spooky location they should go visit?
Well, definitely. In my own hometown, which is, you know, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, we've got the rich history of the Ringling Brothers Circus, because this is where they originated. Obviously, you have to visit the Theater, and there are downtown ghost tours you can take because there's so many historical buildings in the area that are supposedly haunted. And then there's the A. L. Ringley Mansion itself where you can actually spend the night and sometimes you’ll see him standing at the foot of your bed or his wife wandering through the halls. Plus, it's a gorgeous mansion. They have a brewery attached to it and it's just some real cultural things of the Wisconsin area. They do ghost tours there too, as well at night. So, you can go in and see if you see the Ringleys or other people that might haunt the hallways. It's a lot of fun.