So if you’ve seen my posts on social media or spoken to me in real life, you’ll know I am drafting my third novel. Because I’m obsessed and it’s pretty much all I can talk about.
This book is really interesting but challenging adventure for me. First off, I’ve genre hopped from women’s fiction to YA/NA fantasy. And fantasy is an entirely different and complicated beast! It’s also the first book in a series which takes a lot of extra planning. I’m even outlining differently, going one act at a time instead of doing it all at once.
But I’m in love with this story and really happy with how it’s turned out so far. Earlier this week, I finished drafting Act One and hit 30K, so in celebration, I thought I’d share a sneak peek with you all.
Jessa Dubray has recently moved to New Orleans after receiving a mysterious postcard hinting at what really happened to cause her mother’s death. During a second line jazz funeral for the most recent Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, a cloaking spell hiding Jessa’s unknown magic breaks. She is then tracked down by the city’s most powerful priestesses and told she is next in line for the throne.
Problem is? She wants nothing to do with the magic that killed her mother. Convinced she can control the power on her own, she endeavors to teach herself the secrets of voodoo. But after accidentally causing a deadly fire, Jessa must decide whether she will accept the legacy her mother left behind or risk the consequences of resisting.
Intrigue. Magic. Romance. Jazz. This book has got it all. It even has a couple of violent deaths which will make my father happy.
Do you guys have a few cities that you just fall in love with? For me, it’s Austin, Paris, St. Thomas, Lake Tahoe, and New Orleans.
I love New Orleans. It’s full of culture, music, and darkly mysterious magic. So it was a natural choice for the setting of my newest book. In fact, I picked the setting before I even had an idea for this book and built the plot around it. Last November, I was even able to take a trip back to New Orleans for the sole purpose of research. You can read about my adventures here, and it was fabulous.
Conveying the atmosphere and history of New Orleans is one of my main goals with this novel, and it’s been so much fun.
Did you know fantasy novels have eighteen million different characters?
Actually I think the average count is 35-50, but that’s still WAY more than my last women’s fiction novel which I think had maybe twelve.
I can’t introduce all of them here because duh. But let’s get to know my main character a little better.
Who is she?
Jessa is the missing heir to the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. She is also a biracial orphan who returns to NOLA to seek answers, becomes a fortune teller at a local voodooo shop and owns her own herbal Etsy shop.
What is her contradiction?
She is obsessively and enthusiastically drawn to her magical powers but feels as if she is betraying her mother’s sacrifice.
Where does she see herself 10 years?
She want to finally have learned about her mom so she can pursue her own simple life. But she doesn’t realize that answers always cause more questions.
I set out to make Jessa different than any other main character I’ve written. To make her 100% different than me. She’s bold but reckless, observant but insensitive. Smart as shit but sometimes acts against her instincts because of pride. You guys are gonna love her.
That’s all I can reveal about Jessa for now but here’s a sneak peek of the cast of characters:
Still unknown. Something to do with blood. I am the worst with titles, especially now that I have a trilogy to consider! Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.
The First Chapter
Now your interest is peaked right? So voila – the first chapter for your reading pleasure:
“Please, let me see your hand.”
The girl who sat before me hesitated, raising both palms in front of her and regarding them with furrowed brows. “Which hand?”
She was nervous. That was good. She’d be an easy read.
“I can’t make that decision for you.”
A sharp intake of breath, and I smirked internally. It was mean to toy with her, I knew that. But she was just another Bourbon Street Bachelorette, and my patience had already been wasted on the long list of names on the appointment sheet before hers.
She bit her lip, pink gloss staining her two front teeth, and thrust her right hand toward me. It wasn’t a surprise. Most automatically surrendered their dominant hand. There was an explanation as to which hand was best for this type of practice – the left hand shows your potential while the right shows what you’ve done with it – but this woman was voluntarily giving up money for a chance to know her future. She didn’t deserve an explanation, nor did she probably want one. People were funny that way, especially in a city like New Orleans where the mystical lurked in every dark corner.
I took her palm, her fair skin and long fingers in direct contrast with mine – bronze and short. The shape of her hands told me much about her in an instant: emotional, idealistic, sensitive and cautious. Water hands, again in opposition of my fire.
She also had a thin tan line where her engagement ring must usually rest. Had the taken it off before her reading in an effort to trick me? She’d have to work a little harder than that.
“This line,” I began, tracing my finger from the base of her middle ringer and to the right, “is your heart line. It shows you fall in love easily, and see here? Where it touches your life line? That means your heart breaks easily too. But I don’t see that happening to you.”
“Really?” she asked breathlessly with a small hopeful smile.
I nodded and kept my face as serious as I could. I’d lied. In reality, her heart line was crisscrossed, showing multiple heartbreaks to come. But hope was a powerful thing. Especially when it came to my tip.
“Your getting married this year?”
She nodded enthusiastically, the strands of plastic beads rattling against her chest, and finally relaxed her clenched fists and laid them flat on the table. I had her hooked.
“Well, you’ve made a good choice,” I acknowledged. “A long and happy life.”
I indicated her life line which was longer than most. It didn’t actually have anything to do with how long she’d live… But again, she didn’t need to know that.
“Is it going to rain?” she asked suddenly with a pained expression. “On the wedding day… That’s my biggest fear.”
I couldn’t help myself from cocking one eyebrow. That was her biggest fear? Must be nice, I thought to myself, before closing my eyes and humming under my breath. A few flourishes made for a better reading – and a better Yelp review.
“No,” I finally said, noticing how her palm and turned within mine to grip my hand. “But beware of the cawing raven. He could bring misfortune beyond the weather.”
Her eyes widened, and I choked down a laugh. Too easy.
I spouted a few more general observations, paying close attention to her physical responses and letting them guide my answers. When I made it to the last step of the reading, I exhaled gratefully. She barely had a fate line, I could avoid that one. It would get this over with more quickly, and I wouldn’t have too think too much of my own. Deep and broken. The sign of a life outside my own control.
“Do you have any final questions?”
She withdrew her hand but cast her eyes downward and bit her lip again, a nervous tic I assumed. “I know it isn’t included… And I am happy to pay extra. But would you be willing to do the tarot cards too?”
She’d pronounced it like ‘carrot,’ and I fought the urge to roll my eyes and check my watch. The stalls at the market would start shutting down soon, and I wanted to get there before they closed. But I needed the extra money more. A quick and simple reading, that would be enough.
I sighed and pulled the faded deck of cards from a pocket in my skirt. The woman wiggled in her chair – from nerves or excitement I couldn’t tell nor cared – as I shuffled the cards a few times.
“Do you know how this works?”
She shook her head.
“Focus on a question in your mind.”
She closed her eyes and squinted slightly.
“Here’s the current situation,” I began, slapping one of the cards face down to my right and following with two more. “Then the obstacle, then the solution. Got it?”
I didn’t wait for her to nod before I flipped the first card up. “The Knight of Cups,” I said, tracing my finger along the form of the mounted soldier with the golden goblet in his grip. “You’re following your heart, you’re optimistic. He’s the most feminine of the knights, meaning you’re in touch with your emotions. You’re undertaking some sort of project with a significant emotional value for you, but you’re making each decision with your heart.”
She probably didn’t mean to, but I saw her incline her head toward the card and took it as my signal to move on.
“Temperance. But it’s upside down,” I noted, seeing the angel peering at me instead of her. “That means there’s a lack of balance. If you thinking too much with your heart, you’re missing something. You must bring logic into the equation, too.”
That seemed like obvious enough advice, but the confusion in her eyes made it seem like it was a novel idea to her. But if you let your life be ruled by emotion, then I guessed intelligent thinking also escaped you. I flexed my fingers before turning over the last card. My patience was wearing thin. I wanted to get out of here.
“The three of wand,” I said with fake cheerfulness. “As long as you can balance the two, you can expect a future full of growth and prosperity.”
A broad smile stretched across the woman’s face, and her eyes widened in wonder. “That’s such perfect advice. And so reassuring. I am starting my own business,” she said with pride.
I forced a nod. “Well, good luck with that. Come on, I’ll show you back to the front.”
She followed me out of the narrow room and down the dark hallway until we emerged into the well-lit but only slightly less cramped shop front. Trinkets and candles lined the walls alongside fake fabric voodoo dolls and even faker alligator heads. But tourists still lined up like anchovies in a can.
After swiping the woman’s credit card and watching hungrily as she placed an extra twenty-dollar bill on top of the receipt, I bowed – as fortune tellers do – and let my eyes linger for a moment on her back as she rejoined her groups, took a long chug from the Hurricane they handed her and stepped out into the street, already gushing about all the good fortune that awaited her.
“Jessamine?” barked a wizened voice from behind me, and I turned to face Madame Sigourney while ripping the ridiculous headscarf from my hair. “Another happy customer?”
“Another gullible one, at least,” I replied, slipping the draped shawl from my shoulders and skirt down my legs to reveal a white t-shirt and skinny jeans. “And I go by Jessa, remember?”
It had to at least been the tenth time I’d told her, but Madame said my full name coupled with the costume made me more authentic. I told her that if our customers were actually looking for authenticity, then we were both out of a job.
But she insisted, and so we both looked the part although hers came a bit more naturally. The draping shawls and glass beads looked at home on her, the orange skirt matching her bright, box-dyed hair. She had the fine wrinkles and the thick glasses you would expect of someone educated in the mystical arts, and the air nearly crackled with life around her despite her age.
“You taking off?” she asked, her harsh smoker’s voice personifying the long silver cigarette holder in her fingers. But tobacco had never been her smoke of choice, instead opting for an herbal mixture that supposedly helped her rheumatism and added to the ambience of the shop. I didn’t think the slight psychedelic side effects of the blue lotus she included hurt either.
I pulled my long curls into a knot on top of my head, shrugged on my green cargo jacket and grabbed my sling bag from under the counter, answering her question with a quick nod before checking my watch again.
“You’ll make it,” she assured me, taking a long puff and blowing smoke in my direction.
I waved my hand in front of my face to brush it away. “Is that an official prediction?”
She raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips. “Impertinent child. If it was, would you believe me?”
I winked at her. “Only because I know how long it takes to walk to Peters Street.”
The moment I stepped down from the curb and onto Bourbon Street, the sickly sweet scent of Madame Sigourney’s incense was replaced with the stench of spilled alcohol, crawfish shells and bodily fluids I didn’t want to identify. It was early February, so the temperatures hadn’t yet reached their full strength nor had the rotten stench. In fact, if I breathed deeply enough, I could almost smell the Mississippi river, wafting in on a breeze from the East.
I shook my head at already packed street, dodging the tourists who wandered aimlessly, their first, second or maybe even third drink in their hand. It wasn’t even dark yet, and The Cat’s Meow had already started karaoke, an off-tune and obviously inebriated voice floating down to the street. If New York was the city that never sleeps, New Orleans was the city that never stopped partying. Except for the respectable hours of the morning when the streets were hosed down and the tourists were nursing their hangovers.
I usually would’ve gone straight for the river and enjoyed my walk from there, but I knew Jackson Square would be busy at this time of the day. So I took Bourbon all the way to Ursulines Avenue, passing hecklers handing out flyers for drink specials or strip clubs, sticking my tongue out at the other popular voodoo shop, and resisting temptation to stop at NOLA Po’boys for a snack. I crossed the street at Lafitte’s – the oldest and least obnoxious of the tourist bars – and headed down Ursulines Avenue. It was a quieter street, marked by the old 18thcentury convent where a tour group currently stood, pointing to the shutters of the attic where vampires were supposedly trapped.
That didn’t say much. Every building in New Orleans has a story. Often a creepy one.
But still no one could ever explain why it took three hundred Pope-blessed nail per shutter.
When I reached the Crescent City Farmer’s Market, I headed straight for the back, passing the stalls selling colorful shawls like the ones I’d just shed and the produce stands filled with waxy fruits and vegetables.
At the spice booth – where flavors from around the world lay in red, orange, brown and green heaps – I turned left and picked up the pace. The lesser known stalls had already began to pick up, and if I hadn’t made it in time, I would have to wait another week until the market returned.
I exhaled in relief when I made it to the last row of booths, and a few of my regular suppliers waved in greeting. Piles of fresh herbs lined the tables, and whatever ghostly remnants of the Bourbon Street stink were long gone. Peppermint, thyme, lavender… Much better.
“Ya almost missed us,” a large woman with a purple bandana tied over her dreads yelled, beckoning me over. “But don’t worry, I saved the best for ya.”
She pulled a bundle from below the counter and unrolled it for me to peruse the leaves inside.
“Thanks, Sylvie,” I replied, taking one sprig of yerba mate and spinning it between my fingers. “But you know I’d never a miss a chance to see you.”
She waved away my flirting with one thick hand and looked down at the lemon balm I’d picked up to smell. “Looking to make you a love potion?”
I scoffed and flicked my long dark curls over my shoulder ostentatiously. “That’s the last I thing I need. Plus, I don’t need the help of some silly little plant to get me a man.”
Sylvie cackled while I handed over cash for the herbs I’d chosen. “We’ll get you over to the dark side one of these days, sweetie. You’re not using these ‘silly little plants’ to their full ability now.”
I shook my head and slipped the package into my bag. “Just soaps and perfumes for me. Not into all that mumbo jumbo.”
“Mumbo jumbo,” she replied under her breath with an exasperated sigh before waving me off again.
I stopped at each of my favorite stalls, picking out the herbs I knew they specialized in. I could have bought herbs from Madame Sigourney’s, but I knew they were fake. Ground up grass or some random flower, “spelled” with the promise of riches or love. But here, I could get what I really needed to run the small Internet shop out of my apartment. Medicinal teas, scented lotions, even aromatherapy oils. It was enough to supplement the meager wages I got as a fortune teller in the French Quarter.
At each stop they teased me with the herbs more magical uses. Calamus root to protect against hunger. Ginger to enhance my spell casting. Magnolia to keep your lover faithful. Even pennyroyal to ward off the evil eye.
I ignored each and every one of them, teasing and brushing them off as I went. I wouldn’t buy into their drivel… Couldn’t.
I ran through my list in my head. One last thing, and this one was for me. I approached the last stall of the row with caution, careful not to startle its owner. But as usual saw me coming, even if it wasn’t with his eyes.
“Jessamine, Jessamine,” he crooned, his voice soft. “I could recognize that perfume of yours anywhere.”
“Mister Guidry,” I acknowledged, offering him my wrist to smell, albeit reluctantly. His skin felt like paper against mine, and the milky white cataracts in his eyes sent shivers up my spine.
“I have it all ready for you,” he said with a whistle through the gap of missing front teeth. I unwrapped the brown paper package and lifted the small green and white flowers up to my nose to inhale their intoxicating, otherworldly scent.
I’d already bought jasmine in bulk from another table, but this was different. The night-blooming jessamine I’d been named for was more expensive and harder to find. But Mister Guidry kept a small stash for regular customers like me. It smelled just like jasmine but stronger and even more sultry, and since he always clipped it after the sun had set, the flowers were trapped in their blooming state. I didn’t make the jessamine perfume for anyone but myself, didn’t sell it either. It was the one luxury I afforded myself. The only sentimental thing, too.
I handed over the money I owed – thankful for that extra twenty-dollar tip – and left Mister Guidry in his own world, happily bobbing along to music I couldn’t hear, watching some kind of scene only he could see.
Leaving the market with my supplies, it was a quick walk to my apartment in Bywater, the colorful neighborhood adjoining the French Quarter that was quickly become the new hip part of the city. I could barely afford it – and it barely constituted as an apartment, more like an oversized closet – but it had been my home for the past three months since I’d moved from Charlotte.
I climbed the four flights of stairs and shoved my shoulder against the door to get it to open against it’s humidity swollen frame. Throwing my keys on the unmade and clothes-covered bed, I felt the distinct urge to just lay down and sleep until tomorrow. But I had work to do, so instead I pulled the packaged plants from my bag and went over to the tiny makeshift desk I’d made from used crates in the corner.
Mistakenly, I’d left the window open, and one of the many stray cats in this city – a one-eyed shorthair tabby I’d seen before – had made himself at home, curled up in the pool of sunlight on my desk.
“Shoo,” I said, waving my hand at him and then shoving it up against his back when he refused to move. “Shoo!”
But if this cat heard me, it didn’t care, shifting only slightly to the side so that I could pull an old leather bound book from underneath him.
“Don’t mind me,” I murmured when it cast me a look full of what I assumed to be hatred in his one golden eye. “Not like it’s my apartment or anything.”
He stared me down until I raised my hands in the air in defense then went back to his nap. Knowing the area, he’d had been living here longer than I had.
I checked the hand-me-down, dented and seriously out of date computer to see which orders I needed to fulfill first. I worked in terms of priority. No use wasting time or good herbs on a product that wasn’t selling.
There were also a few emails waiting from Margo, each one’s level of franticness rising. She knew where I was, I thought. What was with the anxiety? My sister’s mother hen qualities were endearing at best and downright suffocating at worst. But I made a mental note to call her the next day. I didn’t want to make her worry unnecessarily. She was, after all, the only family I had left.
Even though I had orders to fulfill, I couldn’t resist from flipping through the pages of the journal to the recipe for my jessamine perfume. I was out, having emptied the last remaining drops onto my wrist this morning, and I couldn’t stand not having it for the next day. It was the only thing I had left of my mother. That and her grimoire.
The air floating in through the window was still cool, but I felt claustrophobic and stilted in my jacket. I stripped it off – wearing only a white tank top – and my eyes went immediately to my left arm. A thick, rope-like scar stretched jaggedly from the base of my palm to the crook of my elbow. I always kept it covered in public. It invited too many questions, too many pitying glances or curious stares. And it wasn’t a story I wanted to tell.
Following instructions, I ground the jessamine plant just a bit to release the fragrance. Once bruised, I placed them inside the small jar on my desk, covered with avocado oil and sealed tightly. I’d let it infuse overnight and be ready to use in the morning.
It was a semi-automatic process, one I’d done a hundred times, but lately I’d found my mind wandering. To my mother’s handwriting, her jargon, the tiny doodle of the flower in the corner. If I placed my fingers against the page, I could almost feel her there with me. As if the last twelve years without her hadn’t existed.
I flipped through the pages, doing my best to concentrate on her presence and not the spells and potions she’d scrawled. It was like I was back in the market. Combine cinnamon, wintergreen and vanilla oils with alkanet root for all purpose but fast acting luck. To summon Saint Joseph, make an oil of balm of gilead buds, juniper berries, tonka beans, fava beans, star anise, basil – then anoint your doorway or wallet for two days.
It was page after page of voodoo nonsense. But I still couldn’t shake the feeling in the air.
I sat on one of the upturned crates but grimaced with discomfort as something dug itself into my backside. It was the tarot deck from Madame Sigourney’s. I must have accidentally pocketed it in my rush to get out of there.
On a whim, I withdrew the deck and shuffled once before laying three cards facedown before me.
I took a deep breath – forced myself to keep from sending up a prayer to whatever saints my mother had mistakenly believed in – and flipped them over.
The High Priestess. The Fool. The Hanged Man.
All reversed. The same three cards I’d gotten for the last six months.
Loss. Recklessness. Sacrifice.
I swept my hand across the desk, sending the cards and cat flying with a yowl. I slammed my mother’s grimoire shut and went to shove it into the pile of other books I kept for my work, but a note fluttered from its pages and to the ground. I didn’t want to pick it up, didn’t want to look.
I’d memorized the words, the clear yet masculine writing. It was what had brought me to New Orleans, my curiosity outweighing my judgment. The envelope hadn’t had a return address and was sealed with a wax seal shaped like a fleur de lis with an emerald green snake entwined around it, holding words that sent a shiver down my spine:
I know what happened to your mother. And what will happen to you if you resist.
Hate it? Love it? Can’t wait to read more?
Let me know in the comments below! And I’ll be posting updates on my Twitter and Facebook pages, so stay tuned.