Guest Fest: Lea Nolan Discusses her Gullah Root Worker in her Upcoming Novel “Conjure”

Lea_NolanThanks so much for having me, Alicia it is truly a pleasure to be here for Guest Fest!

Since this post is supposed to address paranormal and color, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to introduce one of the characters in my upcoming debut, CONJURE, the first book in The Hoodoo Apprentice series.

 In CONJURE, Miss Delia Whitaker is a ninety-seven year old Gullah root worker who lives on St. Helena Island in the South Carolina low country. Miss Delia’s not just any conjurer, she’s the island’s premier hoodoo practitioner and wise woman. When my heroine, Emma Guthrie, her brother and their best friend unleash a wicked flesh-eating curse that threatens their lives, they turn to Miss Delia for help in learning the magic to break the hex.

Before I tell you much more about Miss Delia, I think I need to take a step back and talk a little bit about the Gullah. For those of you who are unfamiliar with them, the Gullah are the descendants of former enslaved people who live on the South Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands in isolated communities and have developed their own unique dialect and culture. Unfortunately, their numbers are dwindling and their culture is dissipating as young people move away from the area and the older generation passes on. You can read more about the Gullah here and here. Today the Gullah are famous for their exquisite sweetgrass baskets.

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 [IMAGE SOURCE: http://soulofamerica.com/cgi-bin/slideviewer.cgi?list=chr-shop&dir=&config=&design=soadesign&refresh=&scale=0&slide=9]

 They’re also known for their hoodoo medicine and magic which is plant-based, natural healing and charms. Here’s a great explanation of hoodoo and these are the two best books I’ve found to describe how it is practiced: Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic by Catherine Yronwode and Hoodoo Medicine by Faith Mitchell.

 The first time I remember hearing about the Gullah was in a segment on the television news program 60 Minutes. The story documented how the Gullah were being forced to sell their land and move out of the low country because extensive sea island development had driven up their property taxes. As best as I can tell, that story aired in 1989 but I still remember it vividly, and how unjust I thought it was. My next introduction to the Gullah came in 1993 when one of my undergraduate professors assigned us to watch the movie, Daughters of the Dust, a 1991 film by Julie Dash. It’s set in the early twentieth century and documents one Gullah family’s struggle to decide whether to leave the island and move to the mainland. If you haven’t seen this movie, you must watch it. Its cinematography is gorgeous and you can hear that famous Gullah dialect. I swear, nearly twenty years later, its images are still burned into my brain. Rent it on Amazon or Netflix. Really, it’s worth it.

Okay, so back to Miss Delia. First, I’ve got a confession to make. I love her. Madly. Sure, we authors love all our characters, but Miss Delia’s special. Not only is she based on two people whom I loved dearly and lost, but she’s also the mentor character who helps make a cure possible to save my main characters. Despite her advanced age she’s smart and powerful, shrewd and gifted. In short, she’s the linchpin.

As a white Northerner, I’m particularly sensitive to how I depict Miss Delia specifically and the Gullah in general. I don’t want to exploit them, their culture and their hoodoo medicine and magic. I know their history; they’ve been exploited enough. On the contrary, I want my readers to respect them as much as I do.

One of the ways to do that is through the book’s narrative structure. CONJURE is written from Emma’s first-person perspective. Training at Miss Delia’s side, Emma becomes the hoodoo apprentice. She learns to trusts Miss Delia’s abilities and defer to Miss Delia’s vast knowledge and experience. Through Emma’s eyes, the reader sees how cool Miss Delia’s magic is, how much the kids depend on her and ultimately, how much they love her.

If I’ve done it right, readers will love her, too!

Lea Nolan’s debut, CONJURE features an eighteenth-century pirate treasure, a wicked, flesh-eating curse, soul snatching and Gullah hoodoo magic. It will be released on October 9, 2012 by Entangled Publication and is available for preorder on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can learn more about Lea at her website, on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads

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