Thrill Me With Evil!
Welcome to April's spotlight of Indie in My Kindle. I must admit I was fascinated when Eric Wilder accepted my request to interview him. He’s the author of several novels, one of them being The Big Easy, which is currently listed on Amazon’s bestsellers list. After reading this novel I had to have him for this week’s spotlight. Born near Black Bayou in Louisiana, Eric grew up listening to his grandmothers' tales of ghosts, voodoo, and political corruption. If you’re a lover of suspense-thrillers, mystery or crime fiction with the right amount of romance thrown in, Eric is an author you’ll definitely want to check out. Here is what others have said about him.
“Wilder has created an eclectic cast of characters befitting the city of New Orleans. His quick, snappy dialogue matches perfectly against a plot filled with twists and turns. . . it all culminates with an event that ties the characters together and will leave readers breathless.” -U.S. Review of Books
"This book is rich in Nawlins-specific content which informs the plot and stimulates the senses. Place descriptions are authentic, the dialogue often witty. When the characters go to dinner the readers will get hungry." -Foreword Reviews
“The Big Easy has everything that could translate into a good movie. I could see this book easily being adapted to film.” - Fan
“Mr Wider writes in a style that lets me keep up easily with the characters he has created and makes you want to sit down and have a Dixie beer with them.”
Now on to the interview…
SHELLEY: How did you come to choose New Orleans as the backdrop of your novel?
ERIC: I grew up in North Louisiana – my Aunt Carmol is a schoolteacher in New Orleans. My brother and I spent a wonderful summer with her when we were both very young. Not only did she take us to every museum and cultural exhibit, she made sure we tasted the beignets and pralines, rode the streetcars and Canal Street Ferry, and got a feel for the city’s ambience that is unlike any place on earth. I met my first wife while attending college. She was from Chalmette and had a large, wonderful family. Although my first marriage ended, my love for New Orleans, its people, stories and culture has continued to grow.
SHELLEY: New Orleans is most definitely a unique city and rich with culture. Like you, I have family in North Louisiana all the way down to New Orleans. Being you were born near Black Bayou, I’m sure you were told more than once that one of the religions practiced in the city is what most refer to as Voodoo. You including voodoo in the Big Easy, to me, truly brought the novel to life. Tell us what your intent behind this was.
ERIC: Vodoun is a West African religion brought to America with slavery. It morphed into voodoo in Jamaica, Haiti, and the West Indies with the addition of elements of Catholicism, Caribbean Indian beliefs, and more. Malaria and yellow fever plagued sub-tropical New Orleans, its people often turning to powerful voodoo practitioners for potions and gris gris to survive. The religion has shaped the culture and history of New Orleans and I found it too hard to ignore in my writing.
SHELLEY: I’m laughing at the mention of gris gris, as I’m sure most people don’t know what it is. It's pronounced ‘gree-gree,’ and gris gris can be found all over Louisiana, even in the homes of people who don’t practice Voodoo. I had an aunt that lived just outside the Quarters, and when I was perhaps 5, I’m not exactly sure how old I was at the time, but I visited her home and noticed above the front door what looked like a quarter-size piece of aluminum foil that had something inside it. Inside the house, the same thing was above the dining room door that led to the kitchen. It was a form of gris gris. My aunt believed that these little ‘packets’ protected her and her home from evil spirits. She told me stories she believed would convince me that gris gris worked! Eric, I know that your grandmother told you many tales of ghosts. Were any of her tales specific to New Orleans?
ERIC: I don’t know if my Mississippi grandmother ever visited New Orleans.
SHELLEY: Oh, Okay!
ERIC: She was slight of frame and had a subdued voice. In the days before air conditioning, we would sit out in her backyard at night—faint light reflecting from the house and the moon. I would hang on her every fantastic tale of ghosts, haunts and voodoo drums on the bayou. She was definitely my muse and remains so to this day.
SHELLEY: Eric, you and I have a lot in common. One of tales I’ve heard on many occasions is the Laurie house inside the Quarters. Are you familiar with it?
ERIC: You bet I have! City of Spirits, my second French Quarter mystery, features the house, its ghosts, and a curse that’s likely still in play.
SHELLEY: After hearing this, you know I’m buying that book next! The Lauries had a plantation there in the Quarters, and without going into their story too much, the story goes that they bound, abused and nearly starved their slaves in the upper level of their mansion. The abuse was supposed to have been so horrific that the other plantation owners in the city got together to run the Luaries out of town. Like you said, many believe this house is still haunted.
ERIC: Absolutely the house is haunted, as are so many places in New Orleans. I have often maintained the city is the most haunted place on earth. That said, there are ghosts and spirits everywhere, at least three in the house I now live in. Yes, I believe in ghosts and it would take me many hours to relate all the strange and unexplainable occurrences I have witnessed during my lifetime.
SHELLEY: I would love to do another interview on that subject in the future. And, Eric, this could be why your books are so fascinating. While reading Big Easy, I was instantly sucked into the tale you created. I found that your characters were believable, which is a skill that some authors don’t have. Without giving anything away, there’s a murder being investigated which draws two detectives, a disbarred attorney and a voodoo mambo together. Tell us how did you come up with the detectives in this book?
ERIC: Like all writers, I’m a great observer of people, especially those of us with odd mannerisms and eccentric behavior. Detective Tony Nicosia is a combination of many of these people. After four novels and several short stories with him as a character, he feels as real to me now as if I’d known him all my life. Cops have always fascinated me since they are nothing at all like normal people. That said we’d be in real trouble without peacekeepers with their particular mindset.
SHELLEY: I also liked the character Bertram Picou – the restaurant owner. What I loved about him is his vernacular. It made me feel like I was home, and to those who have never been to New Orleans, they will get a feeling of how the language is there. Did you have to study this part of the book or did you include this from the time you spent in New Orleans?
ERIC: As you know, vernacular in New Orleans can change from neighborhood to neighborhood. My first wife was of French-Acadian ancestry and grew up in Chalmette. If you didn’t know any better, you’d probably swear she was born in Brooklyn. Those of us that have lived in New Orleans, and Louisiana, can often tell by dialect if the person speaking is from Metairie, southwest Louisiana— such as Bertram Picou— or even Shreveport.
SHELLEY: You are so right! When I heard you were born near Black Bayou, I chuckled because I mention Black Bayou in my novel, Plain Dealing. Tell us a little about yourself and what it was like growing up there.
ERIC: Small town America. Nothing much to do except cruise the Tasty Freeze, or, if you got lucky, go parking with your girlfriend on an old oil lease. Lots of time to daydream and concoct stories. Bet you know exactly what I’m talking about, having grown up in a small Louisiana town yourself.
SHELLEY: Were you living in Louisiana when Katrina hit? How did you feel when you saw what was going on there at that time? I had family in the Slidell and Metarie area and what I found most disturbing was being unable to reach them by phone. It was a pretty emotional experience for anyone who has roots in Louisiana. Tell us what you went through and how you personally dealt with the devastation that happened in your home state.
ERIC: I was living in Oklahoma when Katrina hit. My mom, who had just finished a round of lymphoma treatment, and dad, were living with my wife, Marilyn, and me. After Katrina hit, we took them home to Vivian. Marilyn and I continued to New Orleans. I was a foot soldier in Vietnam and I witnessed the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing shortly after it happened. All three events brought me to tears. I worried the city wouldn’t survive. Like Nam and OKC, I underestimated the will and resilience of normal, everyday people, and I’m thrilled that NO seems more vibrant now than ever before.
SHELLEY: I do believe that New Orleans is place that our 'melting pot' couldn't do without. A lot of people think of Mardi Gras when they hear about New Orleans. Have you ever included Mardi Gras in any of your novels, and if not, do you plan to?
ERIC: I marched in the Venus and Iris parades when I was a freshman in college. My second French Quarter mystery, ‘City of Spirits,’ takes place during the madness of Mardi Gras. I did my best to capture the insanity of the event that everyone should have on their bucket list.
SHELLEY: I'll be sure to purchase that book as soon as this interview is over. What most people don’t know is, although New Orleans was purchased by the U.S. in 1806, Creole remained the language of the city regardless of who moved there. It wasn’t until the 1950s when English was instituted as the primary language in public schools, so I have to ask this next question. Can people tell that you’re from Louisiana when you speak? I can definitely tell you're from Louisiana when I look at your picture.
ERIC: Being born only seven miles from the Arkansas-Texas border, I have a distinctive southern accent, but it’s more East Texas than coon ass.
ERIC: I graduated from high school with Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. Unlike Phil, I can’t call ducks or pass a football, but I’m a lot more liberal than he is.
SHELLEY: I've actually watched that show a few times. Any show that depicts true southern roots, I'm a fan of it. Another thing that people don’t realize is that the religion majority was Catholic. It didn’t matter your ethnic background. For those who had deep roots, someone in your family was Catholic! Religion and keeping some part of the French culture has traveled down each generation through the years. What cultures can you share in regards to your family?
ERIC: You are so right about religion in Louisiana. I was raised a Methodist, but had friends in every denomination. My first wife’s family had converted to Church of God even though they had strong Catholic roots. One thing about people from Louisiana: all are superstitious and aren’t above borrowing a belief or two from another religion.
SHELLEY: I won’t even mention any of my many tales regarding the superstitions that surround the city, but I will mention this. There’s an old Creole superstition that whoever falls asleep first on their wedding night (bride or groom) will be the first to die at the end of the marriage. On my wedding night this kept coming to mind. I got married in Vegas, and even though I was sleepy as heck, I kept one eye opened until the hubby eventually fell asleep. (chuckles) In your novel, you mention potions, but more importantly, you mention a dance. Do tell us about this dance and why it was important to include it in this novel.
ERIC: Slaves and slave owners had a love-hate relationship. Both races often participated in voodoo ceremonies. The secret dance was the ‘wild bamboula’ in which slaves mocked their white owners with their moves and steps. The dance imparted power to the people that understood its significance and helped them survive perhaps the most horrific era in American history. In my book, Black Magic Woman, I have a scene in a New Orleans slave market. It was the hardest scene I’ve ever written.
SHELLEY: When most people think of New Orleans they think of Jackson Square, Café Du Monde, beignet, jazz, Bourbon Street and shot gun houses. Can you tell us something about New Orleans that other people may not know?
ERIC: You don’t need to spend big bucks to enjoy great Cajun and Creole cooking in New Orleans. Almost any hole-in-the wall café has great gumbo, etouffee, and beans and rice. The people are wonderful and you don’t have to spend lots of money. Don’t waste a lot of time on Bourbon Street. There’s so much more to see. Hey, and everyone in Louisiana loves fried food.
SHELLEY: I'm hungry now!
SHELLEY: Big Easy is book one of your New Orleans series. How difficult is it for you to come up with a new novel and make it just as riveting as Big Easy?
ERIC: As a writer, I am terribly insecure. Readers seem to love Big Easy. I was almost afraid to start my sequel. Having done so, it’s become easier. I try to write from the heart and hope and pray readers feel the time, place and conflict, and relate to it as much as I do.
SHELLEY: Please tell us which character you liked writing about best in this novel.
ERIC: I wish to think all my characters are real and complex. I like Tony Nicosia the best because he has loved, lost, lied, killed, cheated, and deceived. Doesn’t matter because he is real and you can’t help but love him along with all his faults.
SHELLEY: You have written several novels. Which was the most difficult to write and which do you consider was easy-peasy?
ERIC: I’m not a woman, but I think completing a novel is akin to birthing a baby. Some children turn out good, others go to prison, but none are easy to bring into this world. That said, I’ve never written an easy book, though I’ve written a couple that people hate.
SHELLEY: I find that hard to believe! I know that your novels are available on Amazon, and I’m hoping after reading this interview that people would go out and purchase Big Easy. Please tell us where else other than Amazon is it available?
ERIC: My books are also available at Barnes & Noble.com, iTunes, Kobo, and many other places on the web. Your favorite bookstore can also order them for you.
SHELLEY: I have so many more questions but I can’t take up too much of your time. Are you currently working on a new novel? If so, can you give us a teaser of what it’s about?
ERIC: I’m about a third completed with my fifth French Quarter mystery tentatively titled River Road. P.I. Wyatt Thomas meets his new client at a wake. His client is murdered, but not before giving him a single clue: a solid silver 1948 Krewe of Rex doubloon with a satanic symbol engraved on back.
SHELLEY: My curiosity is definitely piqued! Before we go, please tell the readers what laissez bons temps rouler means? Some people say laissez les bons temps rouler, but I’ve always heard it the first way I mention it.
ERIC: Let the good times roll. Not a bad epitaph for a Louisiana writer!
SHELLEY: Any parting words?
ERIC: Thanks so much, Shelley, for giving me the opportunity to highlight my books on your wonderful website.
I hope you enjoyed your time with author, Eric Wilder. You can click below to see all of his books on Amazon.