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.