Last week I talked with Jade Woodridge about the significance of why she writes about children in her dark speculative fiction, and she share an excerpt from her story, “The Sweeper Man.”
This week, Girl Meets Monster welcomes horror writer Denise N. Tapscott.
Denise N. Tapscott was born and raised in California. She left her heart in San Francisco, but somehow managed to leave her soul in New Orleans. When she’s not creating and cultivating her characters, she enjoys dining on spicy tuna rolls, sharing a bottle of red wine with friends and watching the latest flick (especially scary films). From time to time this radiant left-handed pirate will even challenge others to a fencing match or two. But, watch out. This Gemini is determined to win!
As a member of the HWA, one of her greatest joys is publishing her first novel Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes as well as the short story The Price of Salvation. She’s currently working on a collection of short stories called The Friends and Foes of Grandmother Zenobia as well as a sequel novel, Enlightening of the Damned.
GMM: Welcome to Girl Meets Monster, Denise. When did you first become interested in Voodoo? What about Voodoo makes you want to include it as a recurring theme in your fiction? What kind of research did you do for your novel, Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes?
DNT: Great questions! Voodoo first caught my attention when I watched the movie Angel Heart. It was awesome and freaked me out! Then a few years later I saw The Skeleton Key and all kinds of story ideas popped in my head. I eventually came up with an idea that it would be neat to read about Voodoo battling Romany magic. I traveled to New Orleans several times to research Voodoo and Marie LaVeau. The more information I came across I realized my perception of Voodoo was way wrong. I was mixing and matching Voodoo with Hoodoo. There’s a lot more to both of these African Traditional religions than dancing to drums and poking dolls. I came across an awesome Rootworker, The Broken Prophet in Atlanta who explained there are several kinds of Voodoo from Africa and Haiti, and New Orleans being the melting pot it is, also has it’s own Voodoo! Hoodoo is a whole different ball game as well. I hope Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes (as well as my future stories) honors some of the things I learned and show that it’s not the evil religion people think it might be.
GMM: My debut novel, Invisible Chains, is an historical horror novel set in Antebellum New Orleans, told form the POV of a young female slave. What drew you to set your novel and other stories in New Orleans? How does the setting shape the narrative of your novel and other stories? Do you treat the city like a backdrop, or like a character in the story itself?
DNT: There are cities that have a certain flavor, but something about New Orleans feels magical. Considering Louisiana’s dark and lively history, I think it’s the perfect setting for my novels and short stories. One of my main characters, Grandmother Zenobia, is also dark and lively so it’s the perfect place for her to exist. I created a fictional area in New Orleans and named it Carrefour Parish (Carrefour means crossroads in French). I treat it like a living backdrop, similar to the zombies in the earlier episodes of the tv show The Walking Dead. In some episodes, you know the zombies are there, but the characters have other life problems to deal with. I hope the reader is aware of how it feels to be in the south, with hints of magic and how the characters move around in its environment without overshadowing what they go through.
GMM: I grew up in Central Pennsylvania and spent sixteen years of my life living in Pittsburgh. I consider Pittsburgh more of a home than the town I grew up in, but like you, New Orleans is in my soul. Each time I visit, I see something new, learn something about its history, and always have a good time. Tell me your best New Orleans story, or your fondest memory of the Crescent City.
DNT: I love New Orleans so much that people think I’m from there! My favorite memory is visiting a small bar on Bourbon Street for my birthday a few years ago. I went to New Orleans by myself and wanted to listen to some live Jazz. Walking past a place called Maison Bourbon, I noticed they had a small band playing so I found a seat at the bar. The band leader asked if anyone was celebrating something special like an anniversary, wedding, or birthday. No one spoke up, which is odd because there’s always someone celebrating something in New Orleans. So I sheepishly raised my hand and said I was celebrating my birthday. They asked my name and I said Sunny, which is one of my favorite nicknames. The entire bar sang Happy Birthday to me and then played “When the Saints Go Marching In”. It was such a treat. The next night some of my girlfriends flew in and I told them my birthday story. We went back to Maison Bourbon and when I walked through the door, the band recognized me. They said, “Hey, Sunny’s back!” They played “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and “When the Saints Go Marching In” for me. I will always cherish that moment, the feeling that I belong there and in New Orleans.
Thanks for letting me spend time on Girl Meets Monster.
Excerpt from “Price of Salvation”
I dragged myself through the open doorway and when I entered the humidity vanished. Cool air caressed my face. I stood up straight and sighed. When was the last time I took an honest deep breath, without coughing or puking? The aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls filled the air. My escape from the southern heat was glorious.
“Settle down,” I heard from the darkness.
“Close the door, and have a seat, Mrs. Jurel.”
The voice of the Voodoo woman was clear and melodic, only slightly tainted with a New Orleans drawl.
After blinking a few times, I saw a small metal folding chair. My eyes still hadn’t adjusted to the darkness so I fumbled around until I could sit obediently. The chair was more comfortable than I expected. Resting in the darkness was wonderful. Once I regained my focus, I noticed I sat at a small table covered in soft black velvet. I wanted to brush my fingers across it, but my hands were dirty, accented with ragged nails, so I opted to fold my hands in my lap.
Sitting on a large purple and gold throne across from me was a pleasant-looking-dark skinned woman. Her hair was covered with a purple turban, matching the royal purple on her front door. She wore a black gauze tunic blouse. Around her neck, a shiny copper Ankh glowed against her skin. She didn’t wear any other jewelry, except a large black and gold fleur-de-lis ring that adorned well-manicured fingers. Was she wearing a skirt or pants? Why did I care about her outfit? She was not the toothless, gray-haired woman I expected. She looked like she was in her 40s? My assistant Tasha joked “Black don’t crack”. I could never say that, but she’s right. This woman didn’t look old enough to be a grandmother. She reminded me of that lady with the popular television talk show. Everyone in her studio audience went home with expensive vacations and new cars.
Three fresh, tapered candles, one black, one blue and one white, formed a triangle on the table on my right. A thicker, taller, purple candle sat close to the Voodoo Woman. From my research, I knew the black one warded off negative energies and promoted healing. Royal blue was for seeking wisdom and truth. White was for protection, and purification. Lastly, the purple one was for spiritual protection. All the candles on this table represented protection but the purple one supposedly canceled negative effects of bad karma. The Voodoo woman made interesting choices.
I lifted my head to take in my surroundings. My neck was sore from my head being tossed back and forth every time I vomited. There were shelves of books, crosses, various kinds of statues and other religious-looking artifacts. If I was not mistaken, there was a shrunken head in the corner. To my left, there was a jade dragon perched on a shiny black surface. Was that a human skull staring down at me? Heavy red velvet curtains with gold trim covered windows, presumably protecting us from the sun. In another corner there were large, dusty trunks. Simply being in this spooky room was worth my $500 dollars.
“Mrs. Jurel, you look like you could use some water.”
Grandmother Zenobia handed me a chilled, plastic bottle of water. I was scared to drink it; when I vomited all over the luxurious black velvet table, I would be mortified.
“Go on, drink.”
I swirled the cool water in my mouth a few times before swallowing. I braced for the burn. Instead the liquid was sweet and went down smoothly. It was an ordinary bottle of water, but it felt like I drank tears from heaven. I paused, waiting for my stomach to betray me. It rumbled for a moment but then, silence. Carelessly, I chugged the water as fast as I could. Panicked, I look around for a trash can, for when my body-double crossed me and the water forced its way back out.
There was no trash can. There was no vomit. There was peace, while sitting in a cool room. I was so grateful that I cried.
“Do you need a moment to collect yourself?” She asked, while passing me a soft tissue. Wiping my tears away, I noticed my eyes didn’t sting when I blinked. I cried even more. It would take centuries to stop sobbing and catch my breath.
Attempting to compose myself, I noticed that I sat taller. My fever faded away.
“Thank you, Zenobia.”
“Feeling better?” she asked.
“Yes,” I can’t believe that I do feel better. Thank you for seeing me.”
“I prefer to be called Grandmother Zenobia.”
The black candle, the one for healing, flared brighter than the others. The voodoo woman mumbled to herself; the flame obeyed her muttered commands and returned to its regular state. I re-adjusted in my seat and for the first time in months, I was almost my old self. I took in another deep breath and appreciated the smell of cinnamon again. Aware I was on the clock, I got down to business.
Do you have a fiction fragment? How about your friends? Would you like to recommend someone to me aside from yourself? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next week!
Guidelines: Submit 500-1000 words of fiction, up to 5 poems, a short bio, and a recent author photo to the e-mail above.