October 27, 2015

Memphis Bleak: an interview with Kathryn Rogers, author of "Memphis Hoodoo Murders"

About Memphis Hoodoo Murders by Kathryn RogersAddie Jackson has witnessed people trying to kill her family her entire life, and now her grandparents’ attackers are hunting her. The Memphis police are never able to catch these crooks since the cops have been bewitched to stay away. Her grandparents, Pop and Grandma, habitually lie to Addie, but she is attentive enough to overhear the secrets they keep from her. In her predictive dreams, Addie regularly sees future events, which disturb her, but to her dismay, she has never been able to stop them from coming true. She often dreams of a dark character, who she is later shocked to discover is the Man, a devil from hoodoo legend. 

Addie is disturbed to discover she is being stalked by a witch doctor named Hoodoo Helen. To make matters worse, the more secrets Addie uncovers, the more danger she finds. Addie presses Grandma for answers about the power behind the ring and pocket watch she often toys with, but Grandma remains tight-lipped. Knowing their deaths are imminent, Grandma makes a deal with the hoodoo devil to take care of Addie, and Addie is later horrified to discover that her beloved family has been murdered. John, a family friend, steps in to help Addie, and she soon realizes he knows more about her family’s tainted past than she ever has. Addie begins receiving cryptic letters from her deceased grandmother, which reveal a shocking family history revolving around slavery, time travel, and magic. 

If Addie can survive jail, her cousin’s abduction, threats from a menacing gang, corrupt law enforcement, and hoodooed attacks, maybe she can finally dream of a future where she will be safe and free.

Gef: What was the inspiration behind Memphis Hoodoo Murders?

Kathryn: The idea for Memphis Hoodoo Murders hit me like a lightning bolt at 5AM in the summer of 2008. I was in a fishing boat with my husband on the Ross Barnett Reservoir in Brandon, Mississippi; he’s the fisherman – not me, so I always have a book or two with me since I like to read while the boat rocks. It’s a running joke that when we go fishing, I doze in the boat until at least 8AM since I am certainly not the morning person in our relationship. However, this day was different, because I sat straight up in the boat and announced to him that I was going to write a book. He raised an eyebrow and said, “That’s great. You should do that sometime,” as he tried to figure out why his wife was alert at this ungodly hour. However, he didn’t understand that I intended to start immediately. I grabbed a flashlight, a legal pad, and a pen and began writing in the dark, because the story was calling to me, and it was too loud to ignore. I had always wanted to write a book, but I had not received an idea I felt was worth reading until then. This was seven years ago, and I have been writing about that story and those characters ever since.

Gef: How much emphasis do you place on setting as character?

Kathryn: I am currently centering all of my stories around the Southern region of the United States, and the culture within the setting of the Bible Belt is pivotal to these tales. In Memphis Hoodoo Murders I would say that the city of Memphis is one of the main characters. This occult mystery carries a distinctively Southern flavor specific to the Bluff City, and the essence of this permeates every page of the book. In all of my stories, I try to help readers feel like they are part of the setting and culture so that they get a tour of the place where it all unfolds without ever having to leave their seats.

Gef: Do you find it much of a balancing act when introducing supernatural or paranormal elements into a mystery novel?

Kathryn: Yes, because while I always want the characters and storyline to be relatable enough for readers to connect with them, I also want the tale to be an escape from reality in such a way that within the context of the story the alternative reality feels believable. I like the idea of having different worlds and dropping ordinary people into them to observe how they handle themselves in strange situations. To make sure I am maintaining this delicate balance, I ask a lot of my helpful reader associates to review my stories to obtain their opinions before I ever submit them to my editor.

Gef: How much of a rabbit hole was the research phase of this novel? Any juicy bits of info you learned yet had to cut from the novel or couldn't find a proper place to fit?

Kathryn: Since I am from the South as a Memphis native, the setting and culture required no research to write. However, hoodoo was a completely foreign topic for me, so I spent countless hours reading about old Southern legends and history related to this strange subject. The history behind hoodoo was often more interesting than anything I came up with, so I took pieces and parts from old hoodoo legends to weave the story together. Since hoodoo was developed to help slaves protect themselves from their abusive masters, I wanted to tie hoodoo in to the modern day civil rights struggle, but there wasn't enough time to develop that train of thought. I hope to cover a lot more of the interesting pieces of hoodoo history in a future story.

Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?

Kathryn: I have so many writers who have influenced me. J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer inspire me since they were both mothers who wrote their stories down and “made it” in the literary world. Stories like theirs gave me hope and encouragement to press on when I got discouraged at times and considered giving up. Growing up, C.S. Lewis's Narnia series inspired me to be more imaginative, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a classic story which left a lifelong impression on me. Also, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck is one of the best novels I have had the privilege of reading. Additionally, Stephen King, Anne Rice, and Charlaine Harris are all authors whose work I admire.

Gef: What do you consider to be the saving grace of the mystery genre?

Kathryn: The saving grace of the mystery genre is probably its ability to continue to reinvent itself year after year.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Kathryn: Honestly, almost all of the writing advice I get comes from my editor who has had over thirty of his own books published. Since he is the main perspective I listen to outside of my own, I don't think I have had the misfortune of absorbing a lot of bad advice like many other novice writers have had to. I think the fact that I tend to be extremely private and secretive about my work until there is something significant enough to announce probably helps a lot, too. People won't give me advice if they don't know I am working on something they could have an opinion about. However, whenever I do get feedback, I consider whether there is anything of value to me in the message, and if there is, I make changes. Whenever I receive bad advice from inexperienced individuals, the overall message is generally this: “Don't do it, because we wouldn't do it. We don't put ourselves out there, because it's scary. So, because we are short-sighted, we think you should be like us.” In response, I generally smile and say “Thanks for the advice” before I walk off, roll my eyes, and do whatever I am brave enough to do. People who try to put perimeters around me are reflecting their limitations – not mine. Just because they can't do it doesn't mean I can't.

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Kathryn: I am a sucker for vampire books and films. Don't ask me why – I don't know. My husband teases me about it a lot, but he's a good sport and watches the films with me even if he doesn't always read the books. Also, I shop on Amazon way too much. The appeal of sitting in my pajamas and drinking coffee while I get most of my Christmas shopping done without ever leaving the recliner is so appealing – especially when it's cold outside. Because of this, there are a lot of packages at my door in November and December. Additionally, any time I'm in the Memphis, Tennessee area, I never leave before eating a big plate of barbequed nachos. I won't eat them anywhere else in the world, but they are so good around the Bluff City. I swear most days I could give up meat altogether if it weren't for their barbeque. If you ever make it up that way, you will have to try some.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Kathryn: I have another story I am working on now, but it's top secret at the moment. However, I am on Twitter @KARogers27, and my book page is on Facebook under Memphis Hoodoo Murders by Kathryn Rogers. I am quite active on both Twitter and Facebook and am very responsive to messages with both sites. As soon as I have other novel news I can make public, I promise to share it with everyone.

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