Monday, September 29, 2014

Excerpt #2 of VOODOO QUEEN

I'm posting a few excerpts of VOODOO QUEEN for my Kickstarter campaign that will launch October 1st. There's a link on the project page that will lead people here.

The section below is from the fourth chapter of the book. Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you enjoy it!


Catherine and Marie walked several city blocks before they  approached a two-story house in the wealthy part of town. Catherine barely knocked on the door before it was flung open by a slim white woman. She was in a surprisingly formal green dress with a ruffled skirt and off-the-shoulder sleeves. Her hair was in perfect ringlets, but her face was tear-streaked. The woman quivered and wrung her hands. She made Marie think of a wounded butterfly: so delicate, so tragic, so in need of help.
Merci mille fois – thank you so much for coming,” she said to Marie, ignoring Catherine completely. This didn’t surprise either of them. People quite often treated Marie like she was in charge regardless of the circumstances. She had a magnetic presence that drew others to her.
“We were going to leave today,” she explained to Marie as she guided them through the rooms. “We have a home in Buluxy that we stay in during the summer. But then last night, he got sick. Why didn’t I leave sooner?” She held her face in her hands. Marie knew that if they couldn’t save the boy, those words – “we were going to leave today, why didn’t I leave sooner?” – would echo in her mind for the rest of her life.
Marie had never been in a house so fine, though she supposed Catherine had been in many during her days as a slave and a nurse. It was unfortunates she couldn’t see it in the daylight. The candlelight barely teased the leg of a pricey piece of furniture, the edge of a richly embroidered rug, the outline of a fine painting, the ledge above the courtyard, before it ran away and cast the images back into darkness.
“I heard colored women could work miracles with yellow fever,” said the mother, breathless with nervousness. “We need a miracle. I know it.” She guided them into a bedroom and pointed. “Just look at him.”
Marie could smell that this was a sickroom the moment she walked in. It had an unnatural stuffy heat and the acidic odor of sick. The orange light from the fireplace shone on a little boy shivering under a pile of blankets. She could only see his face, which was bright red with fever. The boy had long, dark eyelashes that touched his cheek. His abnormally long lashes were so sweet that Marie’s heart pulled toward him. She wanted to wrap her arms around him and absorb the sickness into her chest until he was clean and whole.
Catherine approached the bed and put an expert hand on the child’s forehead. The mother hovered over her, intent on her every move. His shivering was so strong, the pile of blankets shook and his black eyelashes quivered.
“Why is he so cold?” asked Marie. She tried not to sound alarmed for the mother’s sake.
“The fever steals all his warmth and makes him cold. That’s why it’s so hard to get him to sweat, even though it feels like he’s on fire. Here.” She took Marie’s hand and put it on the boy’s forehead. Marie was shocked that a human could produce such heat. Catherine kneeled by the bed and whispered to the child. “Open your eyes, mawn shou.[1] Come on.” His eye lashes lifted slowly. “There you go.” Catherine gently pulled his eye lid up and peered at him, then motioned for Marie to come do the same. Her eyes met with the child’s for a long moment. He was so innocent, so trusting.
Catherine leaned toward Marie and spoke softly so the mother couldn’t hear. “Do you see how his eyes are yellow? That’s one of the advanced stages of the disease. Only half of the people who reach this point survive. We have to act quickly.”
The mother was racked with sobs. She pleaded with Marie, “How bad is he? Will he be alright?”
Catherine, who was used to being overlooked whenever she was with Marie, asked her, “When was the last time he urinated?” The mother seemed confused, so she asked again, “When was the last time he urinated?”
“I don’t know. Today. Yes, today.”
Catherine looked relieved. The mother asked Marie, “Is that important?”
“Have you seen any blood?” Catherine continued. “From his vomit, nose, mouth, or eyes?”
The mention of such bleeding made the mother physically ill and she swayed as if she were about to faint. Catherine stood and calmly took the white woman’s hands. The mother was surprised by the sudden contact, but she didn’t flinch away. “I have treated many people before,” said Catherine. “We’ll do everything we can to heal him.”
The mother’s lips whimpered. Marie had never seen anyone so vulnerable and she wanted to soothe her like she would a child.
The mother looked back to Marie, still viewing her as the person in charge. “Do whatever it takes. I don’t care. Just heal him.” The words “whatever it takes” obviously meant “even if you have to use voodoo.”
“Sit down there and we’ll get to work.” The mother sat in a chair obediently, her eyes never leaving her boy. Catherine motioned for Marie to stand and they both crossed themselves and started to pray.
Marie suddenly felt a sense of dread and her eyes impulsively flashed to the door. Catherine asked, “What’s wrong? Is someone coming?”
Heavy footsteps thundered up the stairs. The sound itself was hostile and Marie braced herself to run, though there was nowhere to go. The door flung open and two men entered, one of them carrying a doctor’s briefcase. The other took in the two colored women and demanded, “What is this?”
The mother leaped from her chair and pleaded. “I know you wanted him to see a doctor, but everyone says colored women are better at nursing than doctors. I thought we could let them try.”
The doctor pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes. The husband scoffed. “That’s superstitious nonsense. He is trained in medicine. These women are only going to chant incantations and charge you a fortune for it.” He waved Marie and Catherine away like two pesky flies.
The doctor was already unloading his case and rolling up his sleeves. Marie looked back to the boy with the burning face and the long lashes and planted her feet. Unless they let her treat the boy, they would have to carry her out.
Catherine gently placed her aging hand on Marie’s shoulder. “We need to go.”
Marie’s resolve crumbled. Her eyes begged Catherine to let her stay, but her grandmere very firmly guided her out of the room. Marie took one last look at the bed – the shivering boy, the mother holding his hand while the doctor examined him – before the father slammed the door closed.
From inside, they could hear the mother ask, “What are you going to do?”
“First, we must bathe him in cold water. Then we’ll purge him with a laxative and use leeches to draw out the bad blood.”
“No!” cried Marie. She spun around to run back into the room, but Catherine stood in her way. “Didn’t you hear what they’re going to do?” Marie asked incredulously. Blood was life giving; that’s why the spirits required blood sacrifices. Loss of blood brought death.
“I heard,” said Catherine calmly. “And the shock from the cold water will probably kill him.” Most people would have mistaken Catherine’s lack of passion for flippancy. Marie recognized it as resignation.
Catherine made for the stairway, assuming Marie would follow. In a back room, buckets of water were dumped into a tub. Marie saw in her mind the boy being lifted into the tub, his body covered in leeches, and she shut off the rest of the image because she didn’t want to see what it would put him through. Instead, her mind’s eye went to heads stuck on spikes, too high for her to reach.
Catherine realized Marie wasn’t coming with her and she turned around.

“I can’t move,” Marie explained. It was literally the truth. She couldn’t go into the room again because it would do more harm than good, and she couldn’t leave the boy when it meant allowing him to die. Her feet wouldn’t move one way or the other.
Catherine seemed to understand because she didn’t get angry and she didn’t ask any questions. She drew near to Marie and said, “A weaker person could be ripped apart by all that’s wrong in this world. But you and I are strong. We can walk out that door and not be destroyed by things we can’t change.”
Can’t change. There it was again. She was a poor little colored girl who couldn’t stop a white doctor from killing a boy. The only thing she could do was survive it. Marie realized something about herself that night; Catherine was a survivor, but she wasn’t. She was a fighter.
Marie might have stood there indefinitely if she hadn’t heard the slosh of water followed by the ear-piercing scream of the little boy. Within the screams were the mother’s comforting whispers telling the boy she was sorry, she knew it was cold, but it was to make him better and it would be over soon. Marie flew out of that house so quickly, she wasn’t even conscious of her feet. She stopped at the sidewalk, heaving heavy breaths. Part of her remained in that house with that boy, though. Marie wondered if she would ever have that part of herself back or if it would always be with him.

Catherine handed Marie the healing kit – it was her turn to carry it, Marie supposed – and guided her to their next house call.

Thanks for reading! Only one more day before the launch!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Excerpt #1 of VOODOO QUEEN

This is the prologue to my novel VOODOO QUEEN, a paranormal historical fiction about Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen of 19th century New Orleans. Enjoy!


Catherine washed her hands in a blue porcelain bowl as her daughter groaned on the mahogany four-poster bed. The effort of the childbirth coupled with the stuffy night made sweat soak through the armpits of Marguerite’s nightgown. Catherine used a paper fan to give her face a little relief.
“Shouldn’t I send someone for Henri?” Catherine asked impatiently. Marguerite’s white lover and the father of her other two children only lived a few blocks away. It would take no time at all to bring him to her.
Marguerite snorted. “I told you, he doesn’t want anything to do with this. I’m getting tired of telling you.” A strong contraction took hold and she clenched her teeth against it, despite Catherine’s insistence that she needed to focus on breathing.
Catherine wanted to shake her daughter, but it wouldn’t do any good. This was not the first time Catherine was unhappy about Marguerite’s relationship with the rich white man who was twice her age. For Marguerite’s last two births Henri had paced in another room for hours, anxiously awaiting news of her progress. But those had been his children, and this child had no father.
Catherine glanced at how Marguerite’s fingers gripped the white sheets as another contraction took hold. This day ought to have been exciting for both of them, but Catherine could not muster up enthusiasm. Henri forgave his mistress’s infidelity, which wasn’t surprising, since her beauty made her one of the most desired mulattos in New Orleans. He could not forgive the baby for its mysterious origins. Marguerite spent most of her pregnancy at her mother’s house, and when the pregnancy was over, Catherine would have to raise the child herself.
So instead of being ecstatic about this birth, Catherine’s emotions were torn. She adored her grandchildren, but she was tired. Her forty-seven years had been strenuous. After decades of slavery, three masters, three children, and years working in the market selling calas and coffee until she was able to buy her freedom and finally a house, Catherine’s life was finally winding down. Her children were grown up and happy. All the money she earned, she got to keep instead of sharing with an owner. She answered to no one. It was not a good time in her life to raise another child.
A baby is coming into this world tonight, Catherine reminded herself, and that deserves celebration regardless of the circumstances.
Lightning flashed outside and cast sharp shadows in the room. It was followed a few seconds later by the dull rumble of thunder. Catherine brushed sticky strands of hair out of Marguerite’s face and dabbed at her forehead with a wet rag – an intimate gesture that was uncomfortable because they rarely touched. Even though Catherine had tried to ignore it all these years, the difference between her daughter’s coffee-with-milk-colored skin and the stark blackness of her own still made her sad. Despite their different colored skin, they had the same high cheekbones, narrow face, prominent lips, and thin eyes. Marguerite was undeniably her daughter.
For some reason, Catherine’s mind went back to a vision her mother had had in her behalf, one that she hadn’t thought about in years. In the vision, Catherine – a pure-bred African – raised a half-white child. That child became a woman teeming with power. The spirits did anything she asked. She could heal any ailment. Everyone she met rushed to do her bidding. Police ran from her, politicians trembled around her, and the weather changed for her.
They assumed the prophecy was about her daughter Marguerite, and this made the circumstances of her conception somewhat easier. But after years of disappointment and heartbreak from Marguerite, Catherine accepted that the vision meant nothing.
She felt Marguerite’s stomach to guess at the child’s weight – a trick her own mother had taught her. As soon as her fingertips touched Marguerite’s stomach, a shock like the lightning outside shot through her arm, jarring the joint in her shoulder. Static charge made the hair on her arms stick up straight.
Marguerite was breathing with such concentrated effort that she didn’t seem to notice Catherine’s gasp and abrupt withdrawal from the bed. Catherine stared in awed confusion at her fingers, her skin appearing yellow in the lamplight, then white-blue in the illuminating flash of lightning. She could taste a buzz in her mouth.
There was only one explanation for what had happened. This child had ashé.
The gift of ashé ran in their blood; her own grandmere was a voodoo priestess in Africa, and her mother taught Catherine much about serving the spirits. But the power emanating from Marguerite’s womb was exceptional.
 “I just want this to be over!” Marguerite screamed. Catherine flinched. Seeing her daughter struggle through this pain never got easier.
 “Tell me when you feel the need to push,” Catherine reminded her.
“I think it’ll be soon,” said Marguerite, hope shining through her frustration.
Outside a powerful gush of wind hit against the house, rattling window panes and throwing the front door open. It brought with it a wave of rain that shattered against the house and filled Catherine’s nostrils with the smell of warm water. In the backyard the chickens shrieked and madly flapped their wings as if a cat had attacked their pen. This was hurricane weather. Catherine ran to shut the front door to stop the rain and wind assaulting the hallway, though the wood floor was already soaked. The next crack of thunder was right on top of them as if it were hunting them down. The foundation of the house trembled under its force. A scream from Marguerite made Catherine run back into the bedroom and take her daughter’s hand. Her knuckles ground against each other under Marguerite’s desperate grip. The roar of rain and a new boom of thunder overpowered her daughter’s cry, but Catherine could see it in her face as light again burst into the room.
“Do you feel like it’s time?” Catherine asked.
Unable to speak, Marguerite bit her lip and nodded. Catherine lifted the gown up over her daughter’s knees to check. After five long hours of hard labor, Marguerite was finally ready to deliver.
Mother and daughter didn’t need to exchange words as Catherine helped her roll over to her hands and knees. Her body was weak from the long labor and Catherine had to use her full strength to push against her daughter’s naked, sweat-soaked back. Marguerite rested on her elbows and gripped a sheet tied to the headboard while Catherine situated herself on a stool at the foot of the bed.
Lightning struck again, illuminating Catherine’s view of the birth canal. Rays of electric power emanated from the child inside. Movement in the corner of Catherine’s eye distracted her just long enough to look up. In the feeble light of the lamp Catherine could see nothing but motion in the shadows near the ceiling. Catherine ignored it – she had to focus on her daughter – though she couldn’t ignore the feeling she was being watched.
“Push, honey, push!” she encouraged. Marguerite heaved out a guttural growl and her muscles contracted. Catherine moved the lamp so she could better see the edge of the baby’s head still wrapped in its mother’s flesh.
Another flash of lightning lit up the room and illuminated the source of the motion; on top of the armoire sat an enormous snake. The flash of light reflected in his round, black eyes. His head hung over the edge as he looked down on Marguerite’s labor. Thunder muffled Catherine’s shriek.
“Damballah!” Catherine cried. There was no mistaking this for an ordinary spotted black snake; this was Damballah, the ancient father of all life who arches across the sky like a snake. He was the greatest of all spirits, and he felt he needed to be present at this birth.
Marguerite’s cry overpowered even the thunder. Again, the lightning – which had increased in frequency – shed light on the emerging baby’s head as well as the flexing coils of the watchful snake.
“Keep pushing!” Catherine shouted. She had to focus – she couldn’t worry about Damballah just yet.

One last soul-clenching scream and Marguerite pushed a slick, dark little girl into Catherine’s arms. The moment she touched the child, the unmistakable zing of ashé filled her from arms to core with white heat. It felt as though she was touching a spiritual eternity her soul had always longed to enter. Then, just as quickly as it came, it was gone. Catherine felt nothing but the chunky-white and slick-red birth slime coating the baby’s swollen skin. The baby clenched her hands, scrunched her furious face, and pierced the room with her cry.

That's it for now... thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

"Cover Reveal" for Kickstarter

So, this isn't a real cover reveal -- you have to have a book published before you can reveal its cover -- but I needed something to use for my Kickstarter campaign, so voila! Here's my finished cover. 

I couldn't love it more!

Thank you to everyone who voted on their favorite image. I had no idea which one to pick, so your advice was very helpful.

Not only will I use this as a cover photo for the campaign; I'm also going to put it on swag as rewards for donating. Backers can get this image on a t-shirt, tote bag, mug, or poster. 

Only five days left before launch...

Monday, September 22, 2014

Why I Decided to Start a Kickstarter Campaign

I had a hard decision to make, but after a lot of thought, I've decided to start a Kickstarter campaign to help me write VOODOO QUEEN (my novel about Marie Laveau). It's going live October 1. I am nervous, but also incredibly excited!

What is Kickstarter? is a website dedicated to assisting creative projects: comics, films, games, designs, technology, or in my case, books. People post what their project is and how much money they need to get the project off the ground, and in exchange offer the backers various goodies. The backers then follow the progress of the creation until its completion. 

You might wonder why people would just donate their money out of the goodness of their hearts. I wondered that too, until I got on the site and looked around. Surprisingly, I got really excited about a lot of the projects and was eager to support the creators. It's fun to be a part of other people's work. 

Also, you get some pretty awesome goodies if you donate, so it's a great place to go on a shopping spree.

Why Kickstarter is Right For Me

Writing a historical fiction novel is expensive. I'd love to spend a week in New Orleans doing research and to buy all the books I need, and my inability to do so is hindering my work. 

For example, the architecture in New Orleans is completely different from what I'm used to, and it's hard to visualize just by reading about it. It's hard to understand voodoo ceremonies without going to at least a few of them. Interviewing priestesses and historians on the phone is not nearly as good as meeting them in person. Etc.

Why it was a Hard Decision

When I first had the idea to start a Kickstarter campaign, I hesitated. So many authors finish and publish their books without any financial help. Would people look down on me when I ask for money instead of doing it by myself? 

Eventually, I reasoned that every author is different, and every book is different. Raising funds through Kickstarter might not be right for everyone, but it's right for me.

How You Can Help

I need as much help as I can get! You can tell others about my project through Twitter, Facebook, email, Pinterest, Instagram, StumbleUpon, or by hosting me on your blog. Plus, if you donate only one dollar, you can get on a newsletter that will give you updates on my book's progress, so when it's available to buy, you'll be the first to know. 

Like I said, my campaign is going live October 1st. If you are interested in helping out (and I'd be eternally grateful if you are), let me know what you'd like to do either by commenting or via email. My email is teralynpilgrim at yahoo dot com.

Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Does anyone know how to get rid of spam comments?

I have had it up to here with spam comments on my blog! Does anyone know how to keep from getting them? I thought I had set it up so you have to type in a code to leave a comment, but it doesn't seem to be working. 

Another thing I hate is spam hits where you click on the link to see where a bunch of hits are coming from and it ends up being advertisements. Do other blogging sites have these problems?
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