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Tuesday, October 11, 2016


THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF THE INTERVIEW of my prior post about The Tattooed Queen and The Tattooed Witch trilogy, which I began with my editor, Lorina Stephens, of Five Rivers Publishing. The Tattooed Queen will be released December 1st, 2016.

Lorina (LJS): You deal with the horrors of the slave trade in this novel. What was the reasoning for exploring that dark stain on history?

Susan (SJM): In 1550, slavery in the New World was big business and a horrific fact of life. There is no ‘story’ during this time, that doesn’t include this part of New World history. The slavery was encompassing. Not only were black people from Western Africa captured and imprisoned, but the indigenous tribes were forced to work, only to be wiped out by smallpox, syphilis, or other terrible diseases. Indigent whites who populated the jails of Europe, or those who roamed (gypsies), were also caught, shipped, and forced into servitude. It’s important to remember the sins of the past so we fight them as they occur today, and to thwart them in the future.

LJS: Was there an element of this particular story you found a challenge? Or did the story unfold relatively organically?

SJM: Mostly organically, but there were challenges. I think the biggest one I had to deal with, mainly in The Tattooed Seer and The Tattooed Queen, was plot. I had The Tattooed Witch’s story line mostly decided upon, and I knew some of the highlights I wanted to cover in the second two books. I also knew how the trilogy would arch and end, but as for actually getting to points a, b, c, and d, there was a lot of ‘fill’ I hadn’t worked out. For The Tattooed Seer, the geography and remnant cultures in Spain after the racial cleansing in 1492 offered ideas – Jews in hiding (the Olivares), Moslems appearing to embrace the state faith (the al-Ma’din’s), etc. Both the history and the geography led to some interesting research and helped fill those gaps.

The other challenge was the research, especially for The Tattooed Queen. I’m a prairie girl. When I started The Tattooed Queen, I knew next to nothing about sailing, about historical ships – galleys, naos, and what have you, how they were constructed, manned, how long a trip to the New World took from Spain, where the likely ports of call would be along the way, how they were victualed, where poor women passengers might have to sleep – all that. The same goes for piracy and voodoo. I had to learn these things, and go over a number of aspects several times to make sure I had the details right. (Next time, I’ll keep much better notes!) This meant a great deal of reading in order to prepare, as well as checking and double-checking things as they came up along the way. But that’s what a historical writer does, and I enjoyed doing it. I don’t think after researching and writing The Tattooed Queen, that any attempt at a historical novel will daunt me.

LJS: You’ve based the cultural construct of The Tribe on the Roma people. What is it about that culture that attracted you?

SJM: This trilogy had its earliest beginnings in my own family history. My relatives on my mother’s side used to tell a story about how the family was kicked out of Spain. Supposedly, we were nobility and didn’t get along with the king. I questioned the story which started me on this path – who were the people who were forced out of Spain? Of course, that’s pretty obvious to anyone who has a basic understanding of European history. In 1492, Isabel and Ferdinand ousted the Moors from their last stronghold in Granada, unifying the country under a Catholic monarchy. In that same year, all Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism or to leave. Anyone caught practising the Jewish faith after that was termed a heretic and dealt with by the Church. Moslems were treated a little better, allowed to stay for some time afterwards, but eventually, they were also forced to leave or convert. Even as conversos or moriscos (converted Jews or Moslems), these groups were looked upon with suspicion. As for the gypsies, they were disparaged because they roamed. The first wave is mentioned to have appeared in Barcelona in 1492 - not the best year for them to arrive. It’s more than likely my family were Jews forced to convert, because we were also – according to the family mythos – well off. (If you were accused of heresy, the Church could confiscate your property without recourse. Many people chose to leave before such charges arose.) We eventually left Spain for Eastern Europe, where we settled in Austria, near the Ukrainian border. One of my relatives, Ivan Franko (Franco, in Spanish, which happens to be a converso surname), became a poet-laureate of the Ukraine. As well as his books, he wrote many supportive essays about the Roma people – a strange thing for him to do considering how maligned they were. It’s hard to say what my family’s original roots actually were. I’ve always felt an affinity for both Jewish and gypsy (Roma in eastern Europe/Caló in southern Spain - Andalucía) cultures.

LJS: What’s next for Susan MacGregor?

SJM: A new book, potentially a brand new series. I’m already doing the research and getting excited about it. I don’t want to say too much because I believe in jinxes, having jinxed myself before with talking about projects prematurely. But I will say this. It will likely be a historical fantasy set in England around 1910. In tone, it will be much lighter than the trilogy. I’m hoping it’ll be a lot of fun. We’ll see. It may be that my dark side will win out and the book won’t be the amusing jaunt I've planned after all.

Either way, it’s bound to be a challenge. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 

- Susan.

Monday, October 10, 2016


I WAS ASKED THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS by Lorina Stephens of Five Rivers Books, regarding The Tattooed Queen and the trilogy in general. It's great to have an opportunity to do this, not only to promote the final book and the trilogy itself, but to be able to address some of those things which may not be as evident simply from reading the books. As the interview is fairly lengthy, I've divided it into two posts. If any of you have questions, please feel free to ask or comment:

Lorina (LJS): The third and final novel in The Tattooed Witch trilogy, The Tattooed Queen, releases December 1, 2016. It’s a vastly different novel than the first, having transported Miriam, Joachín, and the Tribe across the ocean to the New World. Was that a metaphor for not only the evolution of The Tribe, but for Miriam herself? New World=New Understanding.

Susan (SJM): I want to address the first part of that statement, that The Tattooed Queen is vastly different from The Tattooed Witch and The Tattooed Seer. Yes, it’s different in that the settings are different. The first two books take place in Spain, and the last one covers Miriam and her Tribe’s adventures on the Great Ocean Sea (the Atlantic), then sets them in Xaymaca (Jamaica) in the Caribbean. The Tattooed Queen is different because the new settings are different. There is also a shift in the balance between fantasy and romance. Books one and two explore relationships – Miriam’s love affair with both Joachín and Alonso, her becoming the matriarch of her Tribe, etc., set within a magical world. In The Tattooed Queen however, the fantasy element takes precedence, outweighing the romantic elements, which are still there, but which step back somewhat. Which is also why I consider the trilogy more of a historical fantasy than a historical romance. All that said, The Tattooed Queen remains similar to the prior two books because the characters develop and grow, and because of the themes I initially introduced.

Was Miriam’s journey to the New World a metaphor for her own evolution? All good characters should evolve, and evolve she does. Like most of us, life knocks off our edges, makes us see things in grey, rather than in black and white. I think that’s an apt description for the changes Miriam goes through. She starts out with some fairly fixed ideas about morality and faith. Her morals, initially rigid, become less so – much like Joachín’s approach to life, where he is forced to become more conscious of right and wrong. (Personally, I enjoyed exploring that switch). As for her faith, or her lack thereof, Miriam realises the world is a much bigger place than what only five senses and logic can show you. I suppose you could say that the journey to the New World mirrors her growth, which is a metaphor, although I didn’t plan it to be so.

LJS: You flirt with and explore Voodoo culture in The Tattooed Queen. What was the reasoning behind introducing a new magical construct?

SJM: The original religion in The Tattooed Witch reflects an antagonism between a patriarchal and repressive institution and that of a personal faith. That I chose to make Miriam’s introduction to the Diaphani religion as one augmented by magic, is actually beside the point. We each need to find our own way, our own spiritual approach (or lack thereof) without the dictates of a repressive and controlling body that may not have our best interests at heart. For the Diaphani faith, I incorporate a lot of pagan elements – faith in a goddess and a god. Voodoo or voudou (depending on where it’s based), is also a religion of many gods or lwa. Knowing that I was moving the plot into the New World, I had to do the research – see what African religions were brought there through the slave trade. What excited me were the similarities – a belief in multiple gods or spirits, similar to what I had already established in the first two books. In the trilogy, Lys is a goddess, represented by the sea, her elements being water and air. She is personal, more intimately involved with her followers than Sul, the god. I was delighted to find counterparts in voodoo – Damballa, the universal serpent, is similar to Sul as the creator of the universe. La Sirene, goddess of the ocean, is similar to Lys. Discovering these similarities was serendipitous.

So, new magical constructs? Not really. They were reflective of the ones I had already established. Which theme-wise was also important. I think it’s better to look for similarities, what we have in common with people who are not like us, rather than to focus on the differences. Jamaica (Xaymaca in the book) is a nice metaphor for that. There, the tribes mix, become heterogeneous. In terms of basic hopes and dreams, most of us are not so different from one another. We need a place to belong, to feel safe. We want to take care of our families and contribute to our communities, no matter what colour or sexual orientation we happen to be.

LJS: Having achieved recognition as Matriarch, and a considerable power, Miriam’s ascendancy takes place without a tattoo imbued with the power of her people, but rather through bonding with the spirit-god of a snake. Why have Miriam make this break with tradition and a magic she already knows so well?

SJM: I think my response, above, explains that somewhat. A new tattoo wasn’t necessary for Miriam. Alonso, as a disembodied spirit, is also part of her original tattoo magic, and it is he who helps her handle the snake situation. I wouldn’t say Miriam bonds with Damballa, the spirit-god of the snake, at all. In fact, she worries she may have misrepresented herself in that very aspect. As for tattoo magic, Joachín’s sub-plot deals more directly with his tattoos, and how they combine and evolve, making his requirement to tell the truth into a serious talent for determining what is real and what isn’t. Rana, one of Miriam’s rivals, also continues exploring her own version of blood magic, through scrying. So, no breaks, or switching from one magical tradition to another, but the evolution of those original abilities.

(Part Two, to be continued next post...) - Susan.

Saturday, October 08, 2016


I HAVE BEEN SOMEWHAT REMISS in my posts these past couple of weeks. Here is the new cover for The Tattooed Queen by Jeff Minkevics. I love how it's in keeping with the theme for both The Tattooed Witch and The Tattooed Seer. I've been very lucky to have been allowed input with all three covers, one of the perks of publishing with Five Rivers Books. I've also completed an interview with my editor, Lorina Stephens, about The Tattooed Queen which I will post here, this coming  Monday (Thanksgiving, here in Canada), so if you're interested, check it out.

As for Thanksgiving, I feel I have so much to be grateful for. The Tattooed Queen is set to be released December 1st (I expect there will be opportunity for pre-orders through Five Rivers and Amazon, etc., although they haven't been posted yet.) I also have a date for my first Edmonton launch at Audrey's Books for December 7th. It will be a joint launch, which I'm sharing with the amazing and talented Ann Marston. Her book, A Still and Bitter Grave, is also through Five Rivers.

Wherever you are, and whenever you celebrate it, have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, August 25, 2016


INSTEAD OF PENNING A LETTER to writers who shall remain anonymous, I thought I'd create a list of some of the things I've seen in the On Spec slush pile that make me reluctant to support publication. These flaws don't necessarily mean a rejection. If the story is good and the problem fixable, I'm as likely to suggest a rewrite. I should also point out that these are my particular pet peeves. At On Specwe don't always agree on what's good and what's not (which is a good thing.) So, in no particular order:

Ten Things That Make Me Less Than Enthusiastic About Publishing a Short Story:

1).  An unsympathetic protagonist. I'm especially not keen on protagonists who prey on children, even if they get their comeuppance. An unsympathetic protagonist is a hard sell. There needs to be something I like about him. If I don't, why should I care?
2). A Mary Sue protagonist, in no matter what guise she might appear. If she's always good, she's dull. For me, innocence and naivety also tend to be boring. This character isn't so shallow, as she lacks depth. (There is a difference.) Victimisation is also a turn-off, unless there's some kind of gain to be made.
3). Sexual stereotypes, particularly of women. Prostitutes are a hard sell unless I get a glimpse of their interior life, their humanity, and even then I might question, 'Why does she have to be a prostitute? Is the writer trying to be provocative or titillating?' (Don't try to be glib, worldly, or sensational. We editors are a jaded lot.)
4). Openings that introduce the main character(s) as 'he', 'she', or some other undefined term. Give them a name from the get-go. For me, this is almost always a give-away that the writer is still working on their craft. Usually, the rest of the story proves me right.
5). Details in the opening that have little (or nothing) to do with the plot later on. It's important to flesh out a story, but everything needs to be there for a reason - details should be pertinent to plot or character.
6). Anachronisms - in particular, modern slang in an historical story (unless time travel is involved). If you're not sure, don't use it.
7). Lack of a definitive ending. If the story doesn't go anywhere, what's the point? Day-in-the-life stories often have this problem. It takes solid writing to pull these off, and in good ones, there is always a point to be made.
8). Conflicting mythos - when a story fails to explain why it differs from the traditionally held ideas about setting or character. For example, fairies who tolerate iron. The common myth is - they don't.
9). Too much exposition. This usually involves back story - how characters met, their history, etc. Sometimes, the back story is more interesting than the plot. It's the story you wish the writer would have told.
10). Not SF Enough: sometimes, we get stories that are well written, but the science fiction or fantastic elements aren't strong enough. I always feel bad about turning these down, but On Spec is a science fiction and fantasy magazine, after all.

I'm only half-way through reading the slush, so there could well be another list forthcoming. As I said earlier, if you think you're even the slightest bit guilty of these, don't worry too much. There might be enough good stuff in your work for us to ask for a revision.

- Susan.

Sunday, August 21, 2016


Dear ----------

Re: Memo #3

I just want to start off by way of an apology. I was hard on you in Memo #3, and that wasn't fair. We all start out by writing what we think is pretty good stuff, and it takes a while to develop an eye to see the flaws. I think back to some of the earliest stuff I sent out, and I either cringe or laugh.

That said, I thought it might be much more helpful if I told you why I was so put off by your story.

You opened with telling me your protagonist had just lost a limb - her hand - to a monster. You didn't elaborate on what kind of monster, and quickly reassured me that your protagonist was all right, if a little inconvenienced by the loss of her hand.

You realise this could have made a pretty gripping opening? Setting it aside so quickly turns it into back story - never a good way to start a short story, or a novel for that matter. But even more to the point is the fact that your protagonist shrugs off losing her hand as if it's no biggie. She even goes so far as to clean herself up and hide her missing part beneath a fold in her skirt so her boyfriend won't notice.

Okay - a few issues here. Either she's a superhero or you're taking us into comic territory reminiscent of the Black Knight in Monty Python's The Holy Grail. I'm pretty sure this isn't what you intended. Even if your protagonist is a superhero, the loss of a limb should cost her something. When our protagonists suffer, we empathise with them, we see their struggles and how they deal with them as a kind of character depth. Think about it - if you were to lose an arm, how would you feel about it? I doubt very much you'd shrug it off as your protagonist did. We want your interior story, we want to see your struggle, gain an insight from your pain. You gave me none of that.

Then we head into some sexual territory with your protagonist planning on obtaining semen from her boyfriend to create a magical spell. I suspect you've done some research and found some old superstitions involving semen, menstrual blood, etc. If you want to use these old techniques, you really need to think about how you present the scene. As you've written it, your protagonist comes across not only as shallow (because the loss of a hand hardly makes her blink), but also as manipulative because she intends to obtain the necessary ingredients under false pretences. Furthermore, if she's strong enough to suck it up over losing a hand, why would you objectify her with planning a hand job? Sorry, but this just raises my feminist ire. It also fills my head with some weird visuals. So far, there is nothing about your protagonist that appeals to me. Maybe if I understood her reasoning, why she needs to do such things, I would like her better, but as she is, you've made her unsympathetic, a role better played by your antagonist.

I hope this clears things up a bit. I also wish you all the best with your future writing.

- Susan.

Friday, August 19, 2016


To: ---------------

Re: ---------------

When your protagonist loses a limb to a monster, she doesn't go home, clean herself up, and put on a pretty dress AS IF NOTHING HAPPENED, EVEN WHEN IT DOESN'T HURT. And she certainly doesn't plan on JERKING OFF HER BOYFRIEND later.

God help me. Why am I even reading this?

- S.


Dear -------,

In your opening first paragraph, you were off to a great start. Your premise and description were dark and foreboding and they grabbed me. I found myself looking forward to reading the rest of your story with anticipation. Which is why I found paragraph two a bit of a disappointment (yes, I know - I'm already coming off as being annoyingly picky. 'Wow - she got stopped in paragraph two?'You're a good writer. I know this because we've published you before. So what stopped me in my tracks in paragraph two?

You start out with your first sentence describing your protagonist's action - a very specific one that draws my attention to an important object in the setting. The second sentence pulls my attention (and your protagonist's) from that to a description of the sky. The third sentence shows what a group is doing near the important object. The fourth sentence covers more action by a secondary character. The fifth sentence has the secondary character moving the group along. Then we come to the end of the paragraph.

It was a little confusing to keep track of all that was happening. Your sentences were short, and I felt jerked around, like I was being forced to dance a literary version of the polka. A little fleshing out would help, with a stronger focus on your protagonist's point of view. I also suspect you write as I do - the ideas flow from your imagination onto the page, but as they come, they aren't necessarily arriving in a smooth or logical order. You need to take a little more time to rearrange things so they hang together better. Let setting sentences support each other. Let action bits do the same. When you mix them as you've done, it's harder for the reader to keep things straight. I suspect you already know this. (I'm sure you do.) So often, we're blind to our own work. I'm already imagining you smacking your forehead and saying to yourself, 'yeah, damn it, she's right.'

I'm returning to read the rest of your story, now. If On Spec decides to buy it, I'll be making these suggestions to whomever works with you as your editor. (Who knows? That might even be me.)

All the best --------. I hope you found this letter helpful.

- Susan.

P.S. Okay, I finished reading the entire story. I liked it, but your opening has little to do with what happens. I get the feeling this piece is from a much larger work. You need to tailor this so that it reads like a self-contained short story. - S.

Thursday, August 04, 2016


Datura Stramonium
THERE ARE A LOT OF ZOMBIE STORIES OUT THERE. In the past ten years (give or take), they've resurfaced and recaptured the public's attention as brain-eating, mindless (or not so mindless) monsters. In previous decades, movies such as I Walked With A Zombie (1943) and Night of the Living Dead (1968) contributed to the popular culture; character origins might have been as early as the 1800's. Theories abound as to why zombie stories are so popular today - anything from a general belief in an inevitable and future dystopia, to a common need for more control in a society where people don't feel they have any. (What better way to experience a sense of control, than to vicariously kill something?)

Truth be told, I don't particularly enjoy zombie-themed stories unless they're well written, and even then, I insist on seeing something authentic (Nalo Hopkinson's Brown Girl in the Ring), or funny (as in Shaun of the Dead). I'll also give a shout-out here to Kristi Charish's Voodoo Killings: A Kincaid Strange Novel, a contemporary fantasy/detective tale, which I also enjoyed. But as for the 'we gotta kill them before they kill us' theme, I can do without the mindless violence that has little in the way of depth. In the minds of many writers and readers, it's become a given that 'zombies eating brains' are what zombies do. It's become a cliché, unless handled with a twist.

So what are zombies really about? An excellent resource is Wade Davis's, The Serpent and the Rainbow, a book to which I referred (among others) to properly depict zombification in The Tattooed Queen. The word zombie (in French, zombi) comes from the Kongo term nzambi, which means 'spirit of the dead'. The process involves a bokor (a sorcerer - one who practices 'with the left hand' or who is willing to commit an evil deed, 'evil' depending upon one's point of view. Many of those who are zombified are actually malefactors themselves, having committed wrongs against members of their own community). To create a zombi, a bokor composes and administers a combination of powdered poisons (coupe poudre) to his victim. Every bokor has his particular recipe, but generally, these powders originate from toxic sources, including the bufo marinus or marine toad, several varieties of puffer or blowfish, millipedes, tarantulas, and noxious plants. The toad and puffers, in particular, are loaded with tetrodotoxins that contribute to paralysis, cyanosis, and, if the victim ingests too much, death. There are several ways to administer the coupe poudre; generally, the poison is rubbed into a wound or inhaled with the target unaware. If the bokor has administered a proper dose, his victim will be pronounced dead, then awaken in his coffin days later, where he'll be given a psychoactive antidote which renders him submissive. He becomes enslaved to the bokor's will.

One incident of synchronicity (that pleased me to no end) while doing this research, was discovering that the antidote to the coupe poudre is Datura (also known as Devil's Snare, Hell's Bells, Jimson Weed, etc. I've depicted it in the upper left-hand corner of this post.) In Haiti, a variety of it (Datura Stramonium) is called the Zombi Cucumber. It causes delirium and counteracts some of the effects caused by the coupe poudre. In the first book of my trilogy, The Tattooed Witch, I introduce Datura as Dartura, a goddess herb which, in small doses heals, but in larger ones causes paralysis. Dartura also plays a role in the second book, The Tattooed Seer, and an even greater one in The Tattooed Queen. I had no idea it would become so important, but sometimes, that's just how the writing goes. (If you're wondering when The Tattooed Queen is going to be released, I've been told by Five Rivers that it will be out this December. Right now, I'm awaiting the galleys.)

I hope you've found these posts about voodoo and zombies interesting. For those of you who are attending the When Words Collide Festival in Calgary, this August 12-14, I'll be reading from The Tattooed Queen on Saturday, 1:00 p.m. in Kananaskis 1, Atrium Building. I'll also be discussing similar topics of interest to the audience (more on zombies, gypsy culture, psychic abilities, etc.), some of which I've covered on this blog. Hope to see you there!

- Susan.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


DEAR REVIEWER, I HAPPENED TO COME BY YOUR luke-warm review today. Your comments came as somewhat of a surprise. In terms of your tastes (or tropes, which was one of your quibbles), you're entitled to your opinion. I'm also entitled to mine.

I was curious about you, so I looked you up - thanks for leaving your name and making it easy for me to do that. The thing is, I may not agree with your assessment, but I do like to know with whom I'm dealing. Let's be clear - I wanted to see if you had any 'cred'. I see you're also a writer, and you have several of your books for sale. I took a look at the first few pages of Chapter One of one of your novels. I've been an SF & F editor for over twenty years, so I can tell pretty quickly if a writer knows her stuff.

I felt somewhat better after reading your work. You see, I debated writing this post. I know it will make me look like I have this huge ego and that I can't take a little criticism (actually, I can. My editor can attest to that, as I've just been through a lengthy revision of the last book in my trilogy. It took months, but the book is so much better as a result). I have to admit, your comment did annoy me initially. And damn it, it's just too tempting not to respond to you, so I will! I hope you find the following comments helpful.

Your opening in ------------ doesn't work. It's clunky. You need to smooth out your prose and not be so obvious. As for tropes, the slick guy with pointy teeth is one. Don't even get me started on eyes 'boring into your soul'. In your first two pages, you  point out his curling lips twice. His hands also seem to wander - to the desk, to the book, he takes off his gloves, etc. Think about your own logic - if you're confronted with someone who seems dangerous, do you close your eyes to try to remember where you've seen them before? (No, you don't. Not even for a 'brief' second, and a second is already pretty brief.) Then we get into a big swath of exposition and back story where you 'tell' us who your protagonist is. Telling is so much easier than showing, isn't it?

I'll stop now, because I'm well into passive aggressive territory (a uniquely Canadian trait). Might I point you to my ABC's of How NOT to Write Speculative Fiction, which I feature here on my blog? It's just chock-a-block full of helpful hints from A to Zee. If you read and apply them, your writing will improve tremendously.

YOU'RE WELCOME. Happy writing. (No need to thank me.)

- Susan.

Monday, July 25, 2016


Vévé for La Sirene and Agwe
I ENDED MY LAST POST ON VOODOO with a mention of Damballa, the great serpent vodouisants consider to be the creator of the universe. I also said that the lwa/orisha (also orixa) are Voodoo gods, but I should clarify that. Today, most vodouisants have faith in only one god and creator - Bondye (from the French Bon Dieu or Good God). Bondye is Damballa (or Damballah Wedo); all the other lwa/orisha are considered his servants in the same way angels and saints are servants of God in the Catholic church. I don't make this 'only one god' distinction in The Tattooed Queen, because in doing so, I would have had to slip into exposition. It's always a judgement call about how much to explain. There's a point where too much exposition will take the reader out of the story. My wild girl, Ekua, simply refers to the lwa as 'gods'. If any vodouisants come across this once the book is released, I beg their indulgence.

Voodoo is a syncretized religion. Due in a large part to the Atlantic slave trade, those slaves from west and central Africa came into forced contact. An amalgamated faith was the result, where gods from different nations (nachons) were honoured. Forced yet again to embrace their owners' religion (Roman Catholicism), it was safer to find similarities between their own African gods and the Catholic saints. Therefore, when a vodouisant honours Damballa (the universal serpent), he might also show his devotion by honouring St. Patrick who emptied Ireland of snakes (a metaphor for stamping out the so-called evil of pagan religion).

In general, the lwa/orisha fall into a number of groups. The Rada lwa are the Fon/Ewe spirits of the Dahomey and are considered 'cool' or sweet tempered. The Nago lwa stem from the Yoruba of Nagoland. The Petwo lwa (more hot tempered) come from war-torn Kongo, although some claim they rose from those slaves who died under harsh conditions in Haiti. The Ghede lwa are servants of Bawon and Brigitte, the king and queen of the graveyard. The Ghede are also ancestral spirits and 'the dead'. In The Tattooed Queen, Papa Kodjo refers to Alonso, Miriam's ghostly love, as Ghede. There are also djabs, or personal working spirits that assist their hosts. Djab stems from the French term diable or devil. Some djabs are benevolent while others are not. It depends on whether or not the houngoun or bokor (priest or sorcerer) works with the right or left hand, the right meaning good works and the left referring to evil ones (like zombification). Even a houngoun worth his ashe (the power to make things happen) will know how to work with the left hand, even if he never does.

There are many lwa/orisha. What follows are the few I mention in The Tattooed Queen. I delineate their names as follows - first, the Haitian name (because in Queen, Papa Kodjo, my vodou priest originates from Esbañiola/Hispaniola - modern-day Haiti and the D.R.), second, by the Obeah/Jamaican name or the name of a similar orisha, followed by one of their affiliated Catholic saints:

1). Damballa/Obatala/St. Patrick: the universal serpent, the Sky God, the Creator of All. In The Tattooed Queen, Miriam is put to the test with Damballa in his guise as a Jamaican yellow boa constrictor. (I'm hoping the cover art will feature this scene.) Yellow boas are endemic to Jamaica and found (in the wild) nowhere else in the world.

2). Ayida Wedo/Oya/St. Patrick: lwa of the rainbow and fertility, Ayido Wedo is peaceful and serene and rules the skies with her husband Damballa. She is also associated with St. Patrick.

3).  La Sirene/Yemaya/St. Martha, Our Lady, Star of the Sea: depicted as a siren or a mermaid who can bring both good luck and bad. La Sirene is comparable to Miriam's own goddess, Lys. When I started writing The Tattooed Witch years ago, I based the Diaphani religion on the pagan idea of both male and female aspects of diety. I decided to represent the female aspect with symbols of water and air (the male aspect being earth and fire, symbolic of male dominated religions and the Inquisition, in particular). Discovering La Sirene as a strong vodou counterpart for Lys was a nice moment of synchronicity. The vévé, above left, depicts La Sirene as a mermaid, along with the vévé for her husband, Agwe, king of the ocean.

4). Ogou/Ogun/St James: lwa of war, blood, iron, and machines, Ogou is hot tempered and ready to fight. He is also a great protector and loyal. In Queen, Ekua, my wild girl character, honours Ogun, claiming he 'rules her head'. She hates all whites and would use her machete to kill every last one them. (She doesn't.)

5). Gran Bwa/St. Sebastian/St. Isadore: ruler of the forests, plants and animals, Taciturn yet benevolent, Gran Bwa is the lwa of herbal medicine and charms. Represented by St. Sebastian, the Christian martyr who was pierced through with arrows while tied to a tree, Gran Bwa also suffers the loss of his forests throughout the world. In Queen, Papa Kodjo tells Miriam he will appeal to Gran Bwa for a herbal cure.

I've only depicted a few of the lwa/orisha here. If you're interested in further reading, I recommend The Haitian Vodou Handbook, Protocols for Riding with the Lwa by Kenaz Filan, Mysteries and Secrets of Voodoo, Santeria, and Obeah, by Lionel and Patricia Fanthorpe, and Haitian Voudou, by Mambo Chita Tann.