When I was in high school, I read a book about a woman who was believed to be a witch but was actually just a misunderstood, transplanted girl from Barbados who ended up living with a Puritan family. The book, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, won the Newbury Medal, but I was deeply disappointed that no one in it was an actual witch.
So disappointed, in fact, that I was inspired to create the character of Alondra DeCourval. I picked her names out of a program from the local variety theater, where I worked as an usher.
I had a friend named Carla who had the most glorious red hair. She wore it in a braid as thick as her wrist that hung down her spine to her waist. All my life I’ve aspired to have hair as beautiful and thick, so I gave it to Alondra. I was aware even then that red-haired witches were trite, but I decided I would twist the trope enough to make it original.
Shortly thereafter, I encountered the John the Balladeer stories by Manly Wade Wellman. In Who Fears the Devil, Silver John played a guitar with silver strings and sang old folk songs as he faced down monsters in the hollows of North Carolina.
John sometimes bit off more than he could chew, but he was rarely frightened. Other people in the stories took him for simple, not realizing his depths. The stories made a huge impression on me: not only were they rooted in the real world with real-world solutions to supernatural problems, but the author managed to make them scary without John turning into a gibbering mess. I wanted to be able to achieve that affect, but with a young woman at the heart of the story.
The Silver John stories — those I’d read and others I hadn’t — were collected up by Night Shade Books in 2001 and republished as Owls Hoot in the Daytime. It’s for sale on Amazon in hardcover, but it’s not cheap. Pity, because it’s a great collection and you really should read it. Here’s the link: https://amzn.to/2vvjMMN
The final major influence on my Alondra stories was Dion Fortune’s The Secrets of Doctor Taverner (much more reasonably priced on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2vtYj73). Dion Fortune was a ritual magician in the real world who led mass meditations against the Nazis during World War II, combatting them on the astral plane as they attempted to invade Britain. She wrote several novels and this collection of short stories, which used the sort of magic that she practiced. I loved the Holmesian character of Doctor Taverner, who combined 20th century psychology with magic in order to help people who had no other defenses.
Most of all, I loved the idea of a champion who defended normal people from supernatural or elemental creatures that they couldn’t even recognize, let alone fight. In the Alondra stories, she just as often protects supernatural creatures from humans who would persecute or vivisect them, but I wanted her challenges — and her magic — to be rooted in our familiar world.
Alondra’s Experiments, the first short collection of Alondra stories is for sale for the kindle now: https://amzn.to/2JdR6dj.
The second volume — Alondra’s Investigations — will be available early next week. Stay tuned!