As anyone who’s read any non-fiction books about it, Vodou in the real world isn’t like it is in the movies. It’s this stark difference — as well as other things — that prompted author Veronica G. Henry to write a more authentic work of Vodou-related fiction with her new urban fantasy / noir mystery novel The Quarter Storm (paperback, Kindle, audiobook). In the following email interview, Henry explains why this was important to her, and what else inspired and influenced this story.
To begin, what is The Quarter Storm about, and when and where does it take place?
The Quarter Storm takes place in a slightly alternate New Orleans, ten years after Hurricane Katrina. The story is about a Vodou practitioner (a Mambo) who must step out of her role as spiritual and physical healer in order to solve a murder in the French Quarter staged to look like a ritualistic killing.
Where did you get the original idea for The Quarter Storm?
Like many stories, The Quarter Storm began with a ”what if” question. In this case though, it was actually a series of questions. I’m a huge fan of traditional crime / mystery novels. But in those books, the detective is for lack of a better term, a regular person. As a writer of speculative fiction, it’s hard to turn that part of my brain off, so my first question was: What if someone could use traditional folk magic to solve crimes?
An art exhibit showcasing Vodou led me to the next question: Could I craft a protagonist that incorporates that tradition into the narrative, respectfully?
And finally, I asked myself: Where would such a story take place?
Vodou is a big part of The Quarter Storm. But how it’s practiced in real life is different from how it’s portrayed in the movies. When it came to how you’d portray Vodou in The Quarter Storm, did you strive for realism, go a more fantastical route, or some combination of the two, and why did you feel this was the best approach for this story?
It was in part because I was dissatisfied with movie portrayal of the religious practices that I was determined to portray the tradition with as much realism as I could. During my research, I spoke to a Vodou priestess, read books, and interviewed academics and scholars. It’s amazing how willing they all were to share what they knew. That information is out there for anyone who is interested. It was critically important to me to go for a more accurate portrayal with a sprinkle of the fantastical. It’s a combination I think worked very well.
The Quarter Storm sounds like it’s both a mystery novel and an urban fantasy tale. Is that how you’d describe it?
You nailed it. My intent from the beginning was to blend the noir mystery and fantasy. I also think that at certain junctures, the pacing leans toward thriller.
And how mysterious do things get? Like is this the kind of book where readers can follow the clues and figure out who done it?
One thing I learned while writing this book is that mysteries are really hard. Clue placement is a delicate art. You need enough so that the reader can follow along, but not so much so that they figure everything out before the end. From the beginning, I wanted The Quarter Storm to be a true noir-type mystery, something in the vein of Walter Mosley and Tana French. In their novels, I’m always delighted that while I can see the puzzle coming together, I’m always surprised. And that’s what I tried to mirror.
Speaking of Mosley and French, are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on The Quarter Storm but not on your previous novel, Bacchanal?
I fit my influences into two categories: those writers whose work I just love and those whose work in a particular genre help draw me to it. In terms of a general influence, Toni Morrison, Neil Gaiman. P. Djeli Clark, and Helen Oyeyemi.
For The Quarter Storm, the mystery writers I mentioned earlier were big influences, along with authors like Edwidge Danticat and Roxanne Gay for their work centering on the Haitian experience.
What about non-literary influences; do you think The Quarter Storm was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Mystery novels and urban fantasy stories are sometimes stand-alone tales and sometimes they’re part of a larger saga. What is The Quarter Storm?
There are mystery and fantasy series that I’ve followed for years. I really love the way certain authors are able to help us grow along with the character, adding depth and little tidbits of who they are with every book. That’s the way I thought about The Quarter Storm. It is the first in a series; the second, The Foreign Exchange, is already available for pre-order [it’s out February 28, 2023]. I love these characters and this world, so as long as people are interested, I’m happy to come back to it time and again.
A moment ago you said The Quarter Storm hadn’t been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think The Quarter Storm could work as a movie, show, or game?
I think The Quarter Storm would be perfect for a television series. First, the setting, New Orleans. I can’t think of another city more rich with history and culture. A fair number of filming is done in the city already. Fun fact, when I visited, I took a bus tour that visited the sites where several television shows and movies were filmed.
And if someone wanted to make a show out of The Quarter Storm, who would you want them to cast as Reina, Roman, and the other main characters?
Casting is so much fun. And in my case, I wrote the novel with several actors in mind: Teyonah Parris [WandaVision] for Reina; Michael Ealy [Stumptown] for Roman; Amandla Stenberg [The Hate U Give] for Tyka: Amandla Sternberg; Wendell Pierce [Selma] for Sweet Belly; and Delroy Lindo [The Harder They Fall] or Idris Elba [The Suicide Squad] for Lucien.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about The Quarter Storm?
I’d like to caution people against taking any of the healing spells or potions seriously. Those are part research, part my imagination, and part intentional skewing. I’m not an ordained priestess and out of respect for the tradition, I want to make sure that people understand that.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Quarter Storm, what mysterious urban fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?