Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Monster Sightings That Inspired ODD & TRUE

Evening Star (Washington, DC), January 24, 1909 (Library of Congress)

A real-life monster hunt in early-1900s New Jersey inspired the creation of my newest novel, Odd & True.

During one bizarre week in January 1909, terrified witnesses throughout the Delaware Valley claimed to have seen a creature rumored to have haunted the Pine Barrens of New Jersey since the 1700s. They called this strange beast the "Leeds Devil," or the "Jersey Devil," and the newspapers from the era referred to the thing as the "Flying Hoof," the "Flying Death," the "New Jersey What-Is-It," and a "monstrosity."

The Sun (New York), January 21, 1909 (Library of Congress)

A museum owner in Philadelphia offered a $500 award for the Devil's capture. Huntsmen in New Jersey formed posses to conquer the creature.

And then, as quickly as the Leeds Devil had arrived, he disappeared.

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, 1909
What happened to the monster? What was it that the residents of New Jersey and Philadelphia actually saw? Were the January 1909 Devil sightings a case of mass hysteria? Or did something sinister genuinely run loose across the Delaware Valley that cold and snowy winter?

My imagination craved answers.

In September 2014, I visited my sister down in San Diego to celebrate her birthday. I told her some of my newest book ideas, and I mentioned the Leeds Devil as a possible topic for a novel.

Me and my sister, Old Town San Diego, 2014.
Oddly enough, my sister said that she happened to have a friend who was descended from the Leeds family that had inspired the centuries-old legend of the Jersey Devil! She promised to one day introduce me to her.

That conversation, as well as the rest of my time spent with my sister in Old Town San Diego—during which we searched for spirits on a ghost tour, drank tea in a haunted Victorian house, and chatted about other intriguing tales from history—led to my sitting down on my couch in November 2014 and suddenly knowing how to write my Leeds Devil novel . . . which is how Odd & True came to be.

Manchester Township, NJ
Another peculiar twist in this story-behind-the-story: 

One year after my visit with my sister, a high school English teacher from none other than the Pine Barrens of New Jersey invited me to come speak at her school. Eager to travel to Leeds Devil territory, I accepted, and while there, I learned from the students just how much the legend of the Devil is alive and well to this day. Perhaps the Leeds Devil himself played a role in bringing me to his home. 😲

In future posts, I'll discuss other legends, historical sites, and personal experiences that inspired the creation of Odd & True. 

Odd & True is coming 
Sept. 12, 2017, from Abrams.


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