Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror

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Southern gothic horror is uniquely (under-appreciated!) American literature, and too often written by white men. Imagine my surprise when stumbling across Eden Royce’s self-published anthology collection on GoodReads. A  black horror author with roots in Hoodoo/Conjure. Yasssss. I downloaded her book without hesitation and read it while listening to my old delta blues records. The proper way to enjoy a southern gothic is on a porch swing while the sweet, idle songs from grasshoppers rise up from the brush. Unfortunately, congested, downtown Chicago makes that impossible. So listening to Skip James was the next best thang, y’all. I’m also a little homesick and I miss my Gulf side of Texas. Reading “Spook Lights” was the perfect escapism for this reluctant city gal.

Connect with the author on

@edenroyce on Twitter  or her website, edenroyce.com, or blog

Or better, just buy her book on Amazon  or Lulu

There are 12 short stories in all, but my three favorites were “Doc Buzzard’s Coffin,” “Hag Ride,” and “The Choking Kind.” Royce’s melodic writing is full of texture, atmosphere, and characters that invoke the South. I felt the swelter and stale, human sweat rise through each word. Descriptive language meets Black folklore to create a leisurely atmosphere. Think ghost stories told around the campfire. Think of the fairytales your grandmother read to you when you were a child. Reading Spook Lights is more of an experience best enjoyed when not rushed. The horror element is subtle, often ironic, and I found myself able to predict most of the stories’ conclusions, however, the author’s charm and folksy delivery kept me squirming in my seat until the end of them. Most of the short stories are cautionary tales, where the main character often does something stupid, only to be punished or chastised by a vengeful spirit or magical spell later. There’s Hoodoo, Voodoo, murders driven by passion, and quests for revenge.

There’s also strong thread of female (often motherly) wisdom and jilted love in this collection. I appreciated the strong female protagonists of color. The women were often victims of their own making, but learned along the way how to find themselves. You don’t have to be from the south, Black, or a woman to understand the overall concept of this book, which I love. The author does a lovely job blending mythology for contemporary tastes. This is a book to kick back with and savor, bit by bit. It’s down-to-earth, like crackling bacon grease in a hot pan or like cold, tap water from the kitchen sink. Let the stories do the heavy lifting for you–Royce’s subtlety is masterful.

I enjoyed Spook Lights for its storytelling, not necessarily for innovation, horror, or plots. That said, I’m giving this anthology collection a solid 5/5. I heartily recommend Spook Lights to those looking for an enjoyable read rich with Southern atmosphere and non-traditional folktales told from Native American, Black, and a Caribbean perspective. Eden Royce’s ability to entertain is a dream. I will be reading more of her work.

 

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Jonathan Strage & Mr. Norrell

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Catch Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell on Saturdays on BBC!

I am not an anglophile like Damsel Bruja. I find most popular British television marketed to American audiences incomprehensible, but Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is refreshing, compelling, and dare I say, exciting? The first two episodes aired on BBCAmerica so you can catch up if you start now. I think English viewers are already on episode six?

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is an alternate historical story set during the Napoleonic Wars. The main characters, Jonathan and Norrell are two very different magicians destined to make magic respectable in England again. No longer the stuff of parlor tricks, magic can be applied to aid the war effort. Norrell is nervous, introverted, and socially awkward where Jonathan is a likable idiot whose failed attempts to win over his lady friend are used for comic relief. I’ve never seen anything like this! (No, it’s nothing like Harry Potter–thank god) There’s necromancy, supernatural deities, prophecies, and an unusual wit about the whole thing.

Not a fan of BBC? That’s OK. Apparently Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is based on the bestselling book of the same title by British fantasy/specfic author, Susanna Clark. I’ve only watched the first episode, but my fondness for female sf/f/h/specfic authors will probably lead me to the library this week. Fun fact: it took Susaana Clark TEN YEARS to finish the novel and several failed attempts to get it published. She was told her book was “unmarketable.” Ha. Showed them, right? I love author success stories like these and I can’t wait to read the book.

It’s rare I come across a series with original, refreshing material, but THIS is it. And I’m excited to sink my teeth into Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Set your DVRs, run to your library and watch/read with me. Trailer below.

The Inheritance (2011)

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“What black family holds a family reunion in the middle of winter? Do they ski?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Will they barbecue?”

“Probably.”

From that point on, I was sold. And shortly after that the white characters died. Written and directed by Robert O’Hara, this ancestral haunting stars Golden Brooks (Girlfriends, remember?), Rochelle Aytes, Keith David, Shawn Michael Howard, and Darrin Dewitt Henson. It’s a typical black  family reunion movie…until, of course, the ghost of Chakabazz rises from the slave fields to slay the next generation.

I liked this movie. Think “Cabin in the Woods” but with black people. The elder family members lure their cousins into a remote house. Some of the cousins are there to beg them for money. Others are genuinely there to pay their respects. The stoned and hapless cousins find a drum and a cursed book in the living room. They chant what the book says,  unwittingly unleashing the spirit of their slave-ancestor, Chakabazz into the house. However the elders are in on the haunting from the beginning, and actively help the spirit to murder their nieces and nephews. They believe that by sacrificing one generation, they will grant everlasting prosperity to the next. What starts as an innocent family gathering quickly turns into an amusing gore-fest. I don’t usually like slasher films, but this one was unique and reminded me very much of “The Skeleton Key.” The forest scenes are unsettling. Scariest highlights: when the elders write “the flesh is the strength!” on the windows in blood and dismember a person.

All in all I recommend this movie. It’s watchable and has an unconventional premise. I’d give it a B. Great to watch with family! Har har har…

African American Tarot

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I have several tarot decks but I haven’t reviewed any of them. Today I’m pulling out my newest  set, African American Tarot by Lo Scarabeo. Lord knows, I searched low and high for a tarot deck that didn’t have the generic white, European characters on them! I saw a few decks that depicted “ethnic” characters/themes, but the artwork was hideous and I don’t accept that having brown characters means I have to compromise on quality. No, honey, not this one. White folks have been whitewashing the trade since…well…colonialism. But that’s another rant for another post. Just walk into your local occult shop or hoodoo shop (haha, don’t get me started!) and count how many people of color you see. Chances are, not many.

So I searched for a beautiful tarot deck with lush, detailed pictures like the Euro-centric ones in my collection. It wasn’t easy. There were a few that caught my eye, but I’ll only review  the deck my boyfriend surprised me with. I like obscure and or rare tarot decks, and I was not disappointed by African American Tarot. Illustrations are by Thomas Davis and Jamal R. is the writer.

The African American Tarot has nothing to do with “African Americans,” like advertised.  It’s more like generic tribal with afro-centric imagery. Lots of zebras, elephants, lions, and muscle-y men in loincloths and elaborate headdresses. I don’t mind all this, but there’s nothing “American” about what I just described, either. I was hoping for a more…um…”modern” approach, but whatevs. At least I have a deck with characters that (sorta) look like me! Historical black figures grace the foreground on some of the cards. 2 of Chalices has Jean Baptiste Du Sable and 5 of Pentacles features Sojourner Truth.

The minor and major arcana are based on traditional Rider-Waite themes. Like most tarot decks, there’s a booklet included with notes from the author. He infuses African-based folklore and deities into the descriptions and does not limit his scope to just one African religion/region. But I appreciate his broad approach. I don’t know what Sojourner Truth has to do with the 5 of Pentacles, but I’m happy she’s there, haha. Disjointed? Yes. But I’m willing to forget all that because the artwork is so well-done! The images are interpretive and I feel a visceral connection to them. Some of the images are odd, like the 2 of Wands, which depict a ghostlike man screaming in agony while a man rides on a bull above a baby in a crib. Um…yeah.

My favorite card (in any deck) is the Queen of Swords and so I always look to her first before making up my mind about the rest of the deck. In the African American Tarot, she is personified by Yemaja, who also just  happens to be my favorite Goddess. All in all, I like this deck. It’s not my favorite of all time, but I do look forward to using it when I am in the mood for an intuitive and less structured experience.

New Orleans Ghost Tour

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So I went to New Orleans for New Years Eve. It was a magical trip, with gothic cemeteries and cathedrals, public intoxication on Bourbon Street, and eccentric Voodoo shops and boutiques. I had a blast and visited many tourist attractions, which included the New Orleans Ghost Tour. Spoiler alert: I did not see any ghosts. But I did see the infamous Lalaurie Manson where Delphine LaLaurie slaughtered and tortured dozens of African slaves.

Those who watch American Horror Story are well-familiar with the Delphine’s historical bloodlust. When I stood outside that house I felt a terrible shiver. I wanted to get away from it as fast as I could. I didn’t feel an evil presence or anything like that, but as our tour guide spouted off all the gruesome events that happened there, I got more and more creeped out! The Lalaurie Mansion was the scariest part of the tour. I also visited the oldest and most haunted bar in America, Lafitte’s Bar. I heartily recommend the Hurricane: a pleasant cocktail made with fruit juice and rum. Very tasty! I got to sip on that while I walked through the French Quarter.

New Orleans is supposed to be a hot spot for vampires, ghosts, Voodoo, and other paranormal activity. I didn’t see any of that–but I think I did meet a white man who wanted to mug me! I knew he meant me harm, and yet I was very much attracted to his lazy, Louisiana drawl and the predatory glint in his eye. He said as we walked by, “Hey, can I have that bag?” But I knew he meant it, and had I  been alone, he would have tried to take it. He might’ve been a vampire, I don’t know, haha! Anyway, I was disappointed by the weak selection of “magical items” in the Voodoo shops. Most of it just looked like fare for tourists, however I did buy a figure of St. Teresa de Avila. Mostly because she’s an important element in my novel. At any rate, the ghost tour was fun and I would recommend everyone try it at least once. Who knows…you might just snap a photo of a ghost!