Veronica G. Henry was born in Brooklyn, New York, and has been a bit of a rolling stone ever since. She is a graduate of the Viable Paradise Workshop, a member of SFWA, and an Author Spotlight interviewer for Fantasy Magazine. Her work has appeared in various online publications. The author of the novel Bacchanal, she now writes from North Carolina, where she eschews rollerballs for fountain pens and fine paper. Other untreated addictions include chocolate and cupcakes. Her latest novel is The Quarter Storm and she recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.
What was your inspiration for The Quarter Storm?
My stories begin with a ‘what if’ question. Having read lots of mysteries, I asked myself, What if the detective were a woman, and what if her power lay not in a traditional sort of magic, but something based on African spirituality? How could she make use of traditional folk magic to solve crimes?
Are Reina, Roman, Tyka, Darryl, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?
Here’s the unspoken truth: writers are shameless, relentless sponges. We observe, we note, we scribble little bits and pieces of the world in our notebooks and apps. All of this has the potential to find its way into your work.
With that said while none of my characters are based on specific individuals, you will find a gesture here, a quirk or saying there, that comes from people and places I’ve interacted with.
How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?
From outline, to first draft to what ended up being the final product, the novel and its characters grew. More of their personalities and individual motivations emerged and all those things impacted the overall story. In earlier drafts, there was more background information on Reina’s mother and because this was the first in the series, some of that had to be cut and tucked away for the next book. So, not lost, just saved for the sake of pacing and suspense.
How familiar were you with Vodou and its practices and customs? Did you have to do a bit of research? How long did it take you to do the necessary research and then write The Quarter Storm?
I didn’t know much about Vodou and Voodoo but always suspected that the depiction I’d seen in other media outlets was lacking in verisimilitude. So once I decided that my protagonist would be a Vodou priestess, I was thrilled to dive into my research. The process included a ton of reading, video clip viewing, and interviews with both academics and a practitioner. It wasn’t a linear process though. The initial research was a few months and it continued throughout drafting.
What was the most interesting or surprising thing that you learned during your research?
There was so much I learned about the Vodou tradition, it’s history and origins but one of the more fascinating things I learned was that there was a black woman owned detective agency in New Orleans (Sly Fox Investigations). And she was gracious enough to grant me an interview. That inside view of her experiences and what it’s like to run a detective agency were pure gold.
Do you prefer dark or milk chocolate?
This is a tough question. Really tough. If I were to be completely truthful, I would have to say I prefer milk chocolate. But I know dark is better for me, so with herculean effort, I’ve honed and developed an appreciation, no, a love, for dark chocolate.
If someone were coming to you to ask you for a favor or information, what kind of candy would ensure your cooperation?
Chocolate is a no-brainer, as you know. Other favorites are smarties, jolly ranchers, saltwater taffy, and in a pinch, a blow-pop (cherry or grape) will suffice.
Do you enjoy cooking? How would you say your cooking skills compare to Reina’s?
Enjoy? Haha! Let’s just say Reina and I share a certain lack of concentration when it comes to cooking. Unlike her though, I have mastered a handful of dishes but cook only (and not often) because I enjoy eating.
You live in North Carolina, but your descriptions of New Orleans, specifically Tremé neighborhood, seem like those of a resident. Have you ever lived in New Orleans? Do you have any favorite places in the city? A hidden gem that someone visiting should not miss, but would only learn about from a resident?
That is such a huge compliment. I have never lived in New Orleans. I’ve visited exactly once and though I didn’t get to stay very long, let’s just say, the place left an impression. I really hope to return this year. I don’t imagine your typical tourist would think of visiting cemeteries but in New Orleans, they’re unique and worth a look. Because the city is below sea level, the tombs are above ground. Some are pretty ornate. St. Louis No. 2 cemetery became the setting for a major scene in the novel.
The Quarter Storm ends with Reina beginning another investigation. Are you considering another novel, or a series, that will allow readers to join her?
Glad you asked. I’m currently polishing up the draft of the next book in the series entitled, The Foreign Exchange. It is already available for pre-order and is tentatively scheduled for an early 2023 release.
What’s currently on your nightstand?
I tend to juggle two books at a time: one for research and the other for fun. Currently reading African Spirituality (Forms, Meanings, and Expressions) by Jacob K. Olupona and The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles.
Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?
I remember reading Flowers in The Attic in middle school, lent to me by a friend. My parents actively encouraged and demanded we read but instinctively I knew they might think this one was a bit risqué for me at the time.
Is there a book you've faked reading?
Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?
Perusing libraries and bookstores all my life, covers are what draws me to a book. Thanks to all the libraries and bookstores that recognize this and do such an awesome job of building and rotating displays to highlight different books. I think I Robot by Isaac Asimov was the first book (my parents bought for me) because of the cover. Another I bought for myself was Patternmaster by Octavia Butler. I believe it was the second iteration book cover.
Is there a book that changed your life?
The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo. It gave me permission to dream a different dream. For as long as I could remember, I wanted a career in technology. This book let me know that I didn’t have to stop my dreaming there and I like to believe it’s part of the reason why I gave myself permission to become a writer.
Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?
Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?
What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?
I hate to admit it, but I recently saw an opera for the first time, Aida. The only word I can use to describe it was stunning, maybe moving. The sets, the performance, the music were all beautiful. Let’s just say it won’t be my last opera.
What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?
The first version of my perfect day would be simple. Rise without aid of an alarm, head out for a stroll by the lake, come back and write for 3–4 hours, lunch, reading and a nice short nap. The version where I could go anywhere would start much the same, but lunch would be with director extraordinaire, Dee Rees, at Sylvia’s in Harlem, where we sit down over soul food and glasses of sweet tea, to talk about the television adaptation of The Mambo Reina Mystery series.
What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?
The question would be on behalf of all writers, if not all artists. And it would be: How can we, as a society, better support the arts financially? I love writing more than anything I’ve ever done. But what I didn’t realize is how mentally, even physically exhausting it can be. There’s research, drafting, editing, more research, travel, marketing, appearances. Yet almost every other writer I know also juggles a full-time job. What about time for family and friends? Self-care? There are only so many hours in the day. Do the math.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently polishing up a draft of The Foreign Exchange, next in the Mambo Reina Mystery series. I’m also noodling on a short story idea for an incredible secret project. And finally, gathering and stashing away bits and pieces of research for my next novel. Thanks for having me.