Kathleen Kent revisits the Salem witch trials through the lives of her ancestors in The Heretic's Daughter.

You're descended from Martha Carrier, one of 19 people hanged for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials. Have you always known about your famous ancestor?

I grew up hearing stories about Martha Carrier and the fact that she was the only woman that directly confronted her accusers and the judges. My grandmother took almost gleeful pride that Martha was so outspoken and contentious. She always used to say Martha Carrier was not a witch, just a ferocious woman.

How did you go about researching Martha's life?

My family had done very detailed genealogical research, so I had the lineage back nine generations. I was able to draw on the transcripts for the trial, which are held at the Peabody Essex Museum in Boston. And I went to Salem and to Andover and to Marlborough, Connecticut, which is where the Carrier family settled after Martha's death. I wanted to make the day-to-day life as authentic as possible, as well as give accurate names, dates and places. That said, I did make a few changes for dramatic purchase—for example, I made Sarah Carrier [Martha's daughter, who narrates the book] slightly older because I thought it would be more believable to have a nine- or 10-year-old tell a firsthand account.

What made you decide to use Sarah to tell the story of Martha Carrier?

I felt that there would be an emotional urgency to the voice of a child, especially when that child is experiencing impending danger. I had never read a firsthand account of children's experiences during the witch trials, yet more than half of the 200 people arrested and accused in and around Salem were children under the age of 17.

As a first-time novelist, how did you find the experience of writing historical fiction?

I loved it! I found the challenge of writing it with the nuances and authenticity of the language to be a wonderful challenge. My next book is a prequel, in a sense, to The Heretic's Daughter and explores more fully the life of Thomas Carrier [Martha's husband] during the English Civil War—another family history.

The book leaves open to question whether or not Martha was really a witch. What are you hoping that people will take away about her from the book?

In the conventional sense of a witch being a confederate of Satan, I don't believe that she was. I think she was a very strong, opinionated woman who went against the precepts of the time and what a woman should be. But I also believe that there are ways and means of communing through the invisible world, and I like to think that Martha Carrier had that.