How far would you go to protect someone you love?
Nothing is black or white in the murky town of Alderman, North Carolina, no matter how much the human and ghostly residents of Idyllic Grove Rice Plantation would like it to be. In 1949, fourteen-year-old Lillian Green witnesses the unthinkable. Her choice to remain silent about what she saw ripples into the swamps surrounding her family’s home, awakening the ghost of Roberta du Bois, former rice plantation mistress, who had drowned herself in those waters in 1859. Roberta and Lillian forge a bond based on shame, silence, and an impenetrable loneliness. When Hannah, Lillian’s daughter, is born into the maze of haunted hallways, Lillian has no interest in raising her. Left alone, Hannah discovers Roberta as well as her own exceptional singing voice.
The tangled storylines of the three women rooted to this Southern landscape pull the reader into the layers of racism, family loyalties, and hidden relationships that intertwine as naturally as the kudzu that covers the trees where the Swamp Sirens sing. When the truth about what Lillian saw surfaces, no one, living or dead, can prevent what must come next.
“The first line in Ghost Swamp Blues will suck you in like a swampland – and you’ll want to go into a dark water of a book that seems to have been written with ink that is equal parts honeysuckle nectar and cottonmouth venom. Laraine Herring is a consummate craftswoman and a down-home boogie beat story-teller. She’s a credit to an old and demanding lineage.”
—Mary Sojourner, author of Going Through Ghosts
“Ghost Swamp Blues is a marvel. With gorgeous, incantatory language, incandescent with detail, Laraine Herring will show you the South as you’ve never seen it before.”
—Gayle Brandeis, author of Delta Girls
I began thinking about Ghost Swamp Blues through the voice of Lillian, loosely modeled on my grandmother, in an attempt to understand her and find some way to connect with her. I invented the situation which became Lillian’s inciting incident – witnessing her brother Tommy lynch Gabriel. I followed that thread – what would happen if a young girl saw that? How would she be affected? What secrets would she keep? What detachments would be necessary? From that initial question, that first attempt to reconcile myself with my now deceased family, the novel took form.
Growing up in the south, I witnessed many deeply divisive belief systems. I saw Klan rallies, nice church going women throwing rocks at the buses that brought the black children into our schools in the 1970s, and watched as our “friendly” neighborhood stopped speaking to us and literally built fences between our home and theirs when we sold our house to an African-American family.
As I became engulfed by the melody of Ghost Swamp Blues, I asked deeper questions. What price is paid by the dominant culture in an environment of dominance? In other words, what is the soul price for an individual who owns another? What songs and shadows still cling to the land? This novel is my journey to understand the shadow of my family, my homeland, and the shadow within myself.
In my writing process, I usually begin with a place and a voice. I’ve never yet begun with a story or plot. It’s always been a place and a sound. Someone will speak to me or make some sort of noise, whether it’s dragging a shoe across a wooden pier, or an actual line of dialogue. For Ghost Swamp Blues, the first thing I got was a woman in a pink feathered hat walking into a swamp. She turned out to be Roberta Du Bois. The rest of the book unfolded from that image and that place. From there, I got Lillian’s voice. “I stopped speaking when…” I was curious. I wanted to know why she stopped speaking. What happened? And the desire to answer those questions brought me the story.
First printing 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0-9852607-7-4 (print)
ISBN-13: 978-0-9852607-8-1 (e-book)