I’m thrilled to have my friend and amazing suspense author Erica Spindler back to Murder She Writes. Enjoy! And while you’re enjoying her blog, check out her latest book FALLEN FIVE.
A Good Gumbo
The first time I heard of gumbo, I was twenty-years-old. I grew up in the midwest, in a blue collar, factory town. We ate things like beef stew, pot roast, and goulash. And a lot of noodles and potatoes. A salad was iceburg lettuce and tomatoes, drowned in French or Thousand Island dressing. Nothing wrong with any of those things, but they’re not gumbo.
This was before the whole Cajun food craze hit, before Paul Prudhomme became a celebrity chef, and way before Emeril Lagasse exclaimed the now famous “Bam!” How did I hear about this exotic dish? My boyfriend—now husband—had lived in Louisiana for a few years, and during their stint there, his mother, learned how to make it. By the way, she also introduced me to okra around the same time and I’m still not a fan.
My knowledge about, and appreciation for, gumbo has grown since that first introduction, all those years ago. I now live in the New Orleans area and am exposed to some of the best in the world—including my husband’s.
The origins of gumbo are disputed, but many give the nod to the influence of Louisiana’s French Acadians. These people were hunters and fishermen and they tossed whatever they had on hand into their pot—and the resulting creation was rich and delicious.
I’ve come to think of my writing and my books this way. I add a little of this, a little of that—whatever I have on hand—to make what I hope is something that’s like a good gumbo. Something hearty, with depth of flavor, unexpected additions, and enough spice to provide my own brand of “Bam!”
Where do I get these ‘on hand’ ingredients? And what are they? I believe they’re the sum of who I am, of my experiences and how they’ve shaped me—the good, the bad and the ugly. They’re my belief system and my world view; they’re the things I gravitate to—and the ones I abhor. They’re things I’ve read, watched, and filtered. They’re the people I’ve met—and the ones I wish I’d met. The ones I’ve admired, and the ones I’ve despised. Sometimes, they’re the one I wished I was.
This is the well I believe every author draws from. It’s an author’s “voice,” unique to them, and the place original and authentic stories come from. I look at my body of work—I’ve been at this a heck of a lot of years—and I see the threads of my life that became an ingredient to that season’s gumbo.
My writing career started in contemporary romance. I see the origins of those ingredients now. I was always a girlie girl. I loved romance and believed in true love. My life moved on, and so did my writing. My ingredient list grew. The strained relationship between siblings, the death of a parent, a betrayal that rocked my foundation. Motherhood. Aging. Man’s inhumanity to man. The whys, and hope for the future.
With The Lightkeepers, including this third book in the series, FALLEN FIVE, I relied on ingredients I hadn’t used before. My belief in angels. And demons. I grew up hearing stories from the Old Testament—my mother was a guilt-riddled, disenfranchised Catholic, my dad an atheist—of seas parting and a giant arc and women turned to stone. And New Testament, as well. Demons being expelled, of the dead being raised to life, and the power of the Evil One. (A typical Midwest family? Hmm, maybe not.). And finally, I turned to the deep, personal faith I developed later in life. A belief that although a battle rages between the forces of light and darkness, ultimately the light will win out—because nothing, no power on earth or beyond, is more powerful than love.
So, did all those ingredients work together to make a good gumbo? I hope so, but I’ll leave that for you to decide.