Voodoo, bayous and lost souls haunt The Witch of Bourbon Street, the latest novel by Suzanne Palmieri. This, her third novel, follows the Sorrow family as they reconcile their losses and gains at summer solstice with a storm coming in. I spoke with Palmieri about making mistakes, witchcraft and what it means to love.
I'd love to know more about your inspiration not only for this book, but your entire series. What drew you to witch craft? How do you pick the settings for your novels?
The inspiration for my novels always begins with a deep need to work something out that is happening in my own life. It has very little (if anything) to do with broomstick magic, and everything to do with the need to add a little magic into the lives of my characters. Witchcraft, as a way of life, or... the way many people perceive it, isn't what I'm drawn to. Okay, fine... I do love books and movies and plays and everything witchy... but as for my writing, the magical elements really just appeared as I was writing. It's the family dynamics, the ghosts and the settings themselves that draw me back into a similar narrative. I believe magic lives inside instinct and our ability to love and forget. I see miraculous things go unnoticed every single day. Those are the types of magical things my books tackle. Besides, who wouldn't want a little extra power with their coffee?? As for the settings, they choose me. Literally! I find myself visualizing a porch somewhere, or a vista... some sort of view. And then I have to write it down, and then there it is.
Frances Sorrow is probably a poster child for being her own worst enemy with Millie Bliss coming in a close second. Why do you think people are so driven to destruct themselves?
This is a fascinating bit of human-ness, isn't it? And it's something I struggle with all the time. Sometimes I think the answer hides deep inside what we have decided we deserve. And most of that comes from our families or those who raised us. In The Witch of Bourbon Street it was my goal to make Honesty the main theme. Not so much being an honest person in the world, but more an honest person with ourselves. My theory was that maybe it's the lies we tell ourselves that lead to self destruction. I don't know if I've worked that out yet or not... but I do think my characters began that hard work in the book.
Sippie asks: "You think mistakes are lesson or just mistakes, Frances?" Frances offers that it depends. Where do you fall in this continuum? How does this reflect on your own practice as a writer?
I'm so happy you picked up on that little exchange! Because I put a lot of thought into it. I think that all mistakes are lessons, usually. I mean, we can't learn anything unless we make a mistake first. Doing something right without any type of preparation is luck. Doing something right and feeling like you already know what the hell is going on would be innate ability. That leaves the rest of us needing to try and fail and try again in order to learn. I full on believe that. Now, when Frances states "it depends" I think she's trying to get to that core of self truth. Because if you refuse to learn from that mistake and repeat it again, it stays a mistake. I hope that makes sense!
There is a lot of discussion in the book about whether or not love is worth it. What do you hope the Sorrow family's story says about love?
I hope the Sorrow Story reminds us to love ourselves for who we are. To stay strong and grounded so that true connections are not clouded by regret and expectation. I hope they can teach us to blame less and hold each other more. We are the safe harbor from the storm. I've often told my daughters to look at the person they intend to marry someday and ask themselves "When you are your weakest, worst self, are they there holding you up? Or are they tearing you down? Because life will do all that terrible work, find someone who can shelter you, and who you can shelter."
Where will you find your next witch to enchant us with?
The next book (Summer 2016) is a generational family saga that ties in a lot of this not-a-series families and names and histories. So, you get MANY witches in the next book! I'm writing it like a mad woman now, and I'm enjoying each of these characters so very much.