Sunday, June 28, 2009

Of Hopping Vampires, Witches, and a New Series

I'd like to welcome Hailey Lind aka Juliet Blackwell aka Julie, President of NorCal Sisters in Crime as our guest today! This intro should have gone up with the post, but my computer started making ghastly noises yesterday, so I backed everything up and hastily shut it off. As a result, no intro this morning when the post went up! I'm happy to say the noises were caused by cat hair in the MacBook's fan - the Genius at the Apple Store shot compressed air through it and POOF! Out came a big old wad of fur. I am shocked, I tells ya! Anyway, please welcome the lovely and talented Julie/Hailey/Juliet!

I was at a book reading the other day listening to two author friends, Eric Stone and Tim Maleeny. Eric was talking about his series set in China and Hong Kong, based upon true stories that he gathered while there as a journalist. Fascinating stuff. But then, as an aside, he happened to mention that Chinese vampires hold their arms out stiffly in front of them, and hop.


What? They hold their arms out like mummies, and hop? That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard! I know that there’s a Mexican type of vampire that is sort of a cross between werewolf and vampire, the terrifying chupacabras. The Chinese version sounds like a cross between a ghoul and a vampire. I can just see a new blockbuster movie trilogy: The Ethnic Vampire Wars.

But it’s really the hopping I find most enthralling. Plus, upon further inquiry one learns that the Chinese vampire fighter’s arsenal does not include stakes. Instead, you can zap the fearsome creature by writing a symbol on a piece of yellow paper and sticking it to his forehead. And, if you throw uncooked rice at it, or –why stop there?-- set a whole bag by the door, your average Chinese vampire feels compelled to pause in its ghastly pursuit of blood, and count each and every grain of rice.

This got me thinking about how folkloric traditions vary from culture to culture, even when they start out with a lot in common (this is the way my mind works -- I used to be an anthropologist). When I set about writing my new Witchcraft mysteries (Secondhand Spirits, the first in the series, will be released from Obsidian July 7), I was determined to take the Witchcraft seriously, and for the idea of witches to make sense historically and culturally.

What do I mean by that? When I set out to write a Witchcraft book, I decided, first and foremost, not to allow anyone to think that I was revisiting “Bewitched”. I’ll confess it was one of my favorite shows when I was a child…but it truly butchered the real history and cultural traditions of witches, whether European or otherwise.

My protagonist, Lily Ivory, comes from a small town in Texas. She inherits a witchcraft tradition based on her adoptive grandmother, who is a curandera, a Mexican “curer”. Curanderas do exist in much of Latin America, and they often are a village’s only source of health care. But people being what they are, a powerful curandera might also be feared and despised, and re-labeled a bruja, or witch. They are often believed to have a Nagual, a type of nocturnal familiar that sneaks around town while they are asleep, keeping an eye on people, for good or for ill.

I may not be a practicing witch myself, but I respect the tradition(s). I revere the weight of history; the strength of folklore as a manifestation of communal angst and desire; and the awe-inspiring power of nature. And when it comes right down to it, I’m open to the idea that there is much more unknown than known in our world.

There are witch traditions all over the world –just as there are vampire traditions. The majority of us in the U.S. are most familiar with the European concept of witchcraft, but in other countries there is a strong and continuing tradition associating witches with healing and medicine, as in the traditional “witch doctor.” I hope Secondhand Spirits delivers an entertaining cast of characters (including a shape-shifting miniature Vietnamese pot-bellied pig), an engrossing mystery, and plenty of compelling urban fantasy; but most importantly, I hope it respects the ancient, universal, and fascinating tradition of witchcraft in its myriad forms.

Now, if I could just come up with a way to include hopping vampires in the storyline, I’d be all set. Or would that be too over the top?

Juliet Blackwell, aka Hailey Lind, is the pseudonym for a mystery author who, together with her sister, wrote the Art Lover's Mystery Series—including the Agatha-nominated Feint of Art and the IMBA bestsellers Shooting Gallery and Brush with Death. The fourth in the series, Arsenic and Old Paint, will be released in fall, 2010. Juliet's new paranormal Witchcraft Mystery series begins with Secondhand Spirits (July, 2009), about a witch with a vintage clothing store in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. Cast-off Coven will be the second in the series. If These Walls Could Talk, to be released in 2010, is the first in the Sophie Tanner Historic Home Renovation series about a failed anthropologist running her father's high-end construction company.

A former anthropologist and social worker, Juliet has worked in Mexico, Spain, Cuba, Italy, the Philippines, and France. She currently resides in a happily haunted house in Oakland, California, where she is a muralist, portrait painter, and recipient of the overly zealous attentions of her neighbor's black cat, who seems to imagine himself her new familiar. Juliet/Hailey is two-term president of Northern California Sisters in Crime. Visit her at her website.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Which witch is which? I love your posts, Dana, because they're so imaginative.

Dana Fredsti said...

Actually, Jean, Hailey wrote this! I meant to do an intro, but my computer started making really awful noises yesterday, so I backed everything up and shut it down. Turns out after a visit to the computer store, it hair in the fan. So...I'm gonna write a quick intro to this post now!

F. M. Meredith, author said...

I loved this post--most insightful into beliefs many of us know little if anything about.

The book sounds fascinating.

Marilyn a.k.a. F.M.Meredith

Morgan Mandel said...

Bewitched was one of my favorite series also. Fascinating to read about witches and things outside our realm. Takes a great imagination to create such novels.

Morgan Mandel

Other Lisa said...

And it seems to me that in European tradition, witches are associated with healing as well - that's what got a lot of women into trouble, their knowledge of herbs and such.

i love the hopping corpses. I like that they can be defeated with yellow spell paper!