Editors’ note: Alexandrea Weis is the author of dozens of novels that span the genres of mystery, suspense, thrillers, horror, crime fiction and romance, including the St. Benedict and Magnus Blackwell series. Her forthcoming YA thriller, Have You Seen Me? (Vesuvian Books, August 3, 2021) was recently named one of Apple Books’ most anticipated mystery/thrillers of the summer.
New Orleans taught me the importance of paying attention. Every person, building, and street corner had a story, an incredible history that fascinated and somehow hinted at a long-lost mystery. There were good stories and sad ones, sometimes violent, and then there were those undeniably gloomy anecdotes of death that always drew me in.
Is it any wonder the St. Benedict series is steeped in unhinged individuals struggling to stay afloat in a sea of inhumanity? Or that the senseless disregard for life drips from the pages of Have You Seen Me? like Spanish moss? In a place where so many become influenced by the sorrowful adventures of the living and the dead, it is hard not to have such eloquent accounts influence your work.
Raised amid the romantic wrought-iron balconies and Creole cottages of the French Quarter, I became immersed in the elements that make up the Southern Gothic genre. Surrounding me were deeply flawed, disturbed, eccentric characters who delved in hoodoo, practiced alternative ways of thinking and used lots of alcohol. But that is the lure of New Orleans; like any Southern Gothic character, she’s a troubled woman with an indescribable perfume, a vibrant hum, and a witty charm that constantly draws people back into her arms.
ECLECTIC AND ENTRANCING
A city of contradiction, various eclectic cultures drench the city’s cracked sidewalks and drip from the towering oaks on Esplanade Avenue. There’s a rhythm to the city and, slow but defiant, it rumbles through your soul and becomes one with your heartbeat. Everything you do harkens back to the jangle of those carriages through the streets of The Quarter, the thump of the music from Bourbon, the cayenne-laden air wafting by as you pass the doors of Arnaud’s, or the constant reminder of those mausoleum-packed cemeteries.
The characters cluttering the sidewalks ooze with that Southern Gothic charm that makes a writer’s fingers itch with possibilities. Then there are the tragedies of the dead, so much a part of the city, that haunt every building, whispering their sad songs in the wee hours of the morning to anyone who will listen.
All these elements created my attraction to the Southern Gothic style. Macabre settings and dark characters filled my childhood, while suspense and the use of magical elements, not fantastical ones, helped to tell my twisted tales of bent characters who pushed the bounds of societal norms. It is a challenging genre, but it runs through the fabric of my being because it is, in essence, everything that is New Orleans.
WRITERS IN SPIRIT
Tennessee Williams would visit my house when I was a little girl. I grew up listening to him talk about his life, his work, and how he created characters. I was young and had no idea of his influence on literature, only that he taught me to cheat at gin rummy and he was always kind.
His dear friend, and a well-known painter, Gerard de Rose, was also part of the group of Bohemian artists who graced my formative years. Gerry taught me how to interpret the world by using my mind and not my eyes.
Then there was the hoodoo priestess who lived next door, practicing her religion, an intriguing blend of Catholic and African beliefs. The drumbeat of her rituals set my imagination on fire. From her, I learned to appreciate all things outside the realm of possibility and embrace the unknown.
Their influence, along with the sultry, spooky, and sometimes sinister atmosphere in The Quarter, stayed with me. It was in that little cottage on Dumaine Street where the first stirrings of the unworldly and wicked in the Magnus Blackwell series took hold.
If ever there was a place that represented the Southern Gothic genre, it is New Orleans. I was lucky to grow up in the heart of the city, and in a time before the din and distraction of a Disney-like atmosphere took over the quiet streets. For anyone who wants to understand why I write what I do, travel to my hometown, and stroll the shady streets, listen to the longing melody of the wind running through the oaks in Jackson Square, stare into the churning waters of the Mississippi or take a ghost tour.
Then you will get a feel for what runs through my veins.
Alexandrea’s latest novel, Have You Seen Me? is available for preorder.
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