I based Herbadale Farmington, the retired slaver, on Captain Theodore Canot. The book is his memoir of trading in Africa. It is a weirdly exuberant book. Canot didn’t have any sense that what he was doing was wrong. Absent that shame, the book reads like a travelogue of Africa and a series of adventures. He relates the customs and personalities of tribes without a missionary’s condescension. Tribal chiefs selling their war hostages as slaves considered Canot a business colleague and treated him as an honored guest.
Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect by Lorenzo Dow Turner
Gullah is a term referring to descendents of West African slaves who’ve lived for generations in coastal South Carolina and some of coastal North Carolina and Georgia. Isolated for centuries, they retained their unique culture which includes a language. In the early 20th century, Lorenzo Dow Turner interviewed Gullahs and studied the language. He traced words and speech patterns back to several African languages. His book enabled me to incorporate the Gullah language and snippets of African languages into dialogue in The Bad Death.
Apollo’s Angels: A History of Balletby Jennifer Homans
This comprehensive and entertaining trip through time helped me contrast Anika’s modern ballet (as performed by her possessing spirit) and the ballet as it was recognized by the other characters in The Bad Death trilogy.
Elizabeth Allston Pringle was a remarkable woman. A native of Charleston from one of South Carolina’s leading families, she came of age during the Civil War. In the early 20th century she decided to plant rice as a cash crop, something that hadn’t been done profitably since the South lost the War. Her relatives thought she was nuts to try it, not the least of which because she was a woman. She not only did that, but she kept a journal of her experience. The journal was serialized in a northern newspaper and later became this book. Ms. Pringle wrote lyrically of the beauty of the South Carolina Lowcountry. She writes in detail of rice growing cycles and she tells of her daily interchange with the Gullah people who worked for her. This book was a great help in setting The Bad Death’s environment and plotlines.
Black Aprilby Julia Peterkin
Black April is a novel entirely peopled by Gullahs. Julia Peterkin was the wife of a white landowner when she wrote it in the 20s. She captures the Gullah language and culture beautifully. The characters speak Gullah and are so real. The story’s unannounced character is the landscape itself. The novel’s atmosphere is so rich it practically drips on your head. You can smell it and taste it. I wound up using Black April as research for the atmosphere in The Bad Death.
Blue Roots helped me realistically understand Gullah root medicine and magic.
Charleston Houses and GardensPhotos by N. Jane Iseley, Text by Evangeline Davis
This was great research for the grand houses and interiors in The Bad Death.
Charleston Receiptscollected by The Junior League of Charleston
These recipes go back to the 19th century (called receipts back then) and are unique to the region. This cookbook set Eugénie’s dinner party table with pine bark stew, partridge pie, and rice wine.
Chronicles of Chicora Wood by Elizabeth Allston Pringle
Elizabeth Allston Pringle, writer of A Woman Rice Planter, wrote Chronicles of Chicora Wood as a memoir of her childhood and homage to her mother. Chronicles gave me ideas for fleshing out Miss Elisabeth, Julian’s mother.
Cooking the Gullah Way, Morning, Noon, and Nightby Sallie Ann Robinson
Ms. Robinson’s cookbook includes folk remedies and stories of her days growing up on Daufuskie Island (one of the sea islands Gullahs have called home for centuries). Her cookbook gave Marcus and Anika crabmeat-stuffed flounder and Julian roasted oysters. It gave the nurse Risa mullein to make a compress for Chloe’s sore muscles. This book also taught me the method for corning fish used by Anika’s friends and neighbors.
Down by the Riverside, A South Carolina Slave Communityby Charles Joyner
Joyner wrote a comprehensive account of the way Lowcountry rice plantations worked, right down to the daily allotment of food given to field hands. It was invaluable research for being able to give The Bad Death’s environment an authentic feel.
Historic Charlestonphotos by Peter Vitalé and Steven Mays, written by Shirley Abbott
Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cookingby John Martin Taylor
The Lowcountry is coastal South Carolina, where the rice plantations made folks rich for centuries. Well, not only did the land produce rice, it was so full of fish and fowl that the Lowcountry became known for unique cuisine. John Taylor’s cookbook set Julian’s table with benne crackers, okra soup, and hoppin’ John.
This book recounts the complex and contradictory world of the plantation mistress. Legally powerless, she often managed all aspects of plantation business during her husband’s absence. She acknowledged that white men slept with slave women, while somehow remaining blind to the practice if it occurred in her own home. She worked very hard, but all colluded in the illusion that she was dainty and sheltered. I found The Plantation Mistress instrumental in writing the white women characters in The Bad Death trilogy.
The Swamp Fox, Francis Marionby Noel Gerson
Francis Marion was a rich plantation owner in the Lowcountry who became a Revolutionary War hero. His strength was his ability to track and skulk through the vast grassy, swampy landscape in order to spy on and jump British soldiers. Gerson’s book is a novelization of his life. I always thought Julian would have had similar experiences in the war and probably knew Francis Marion. I wrote The Bad Death with that back story in mind.
Thomas Jefferson, an Intimate Historyby Fawn M. Brodie
This bio was controversial at the time because of Ms. Brodie’s treatment of Sally Hemings as a legitimate figure in Jefferson’s life (a slave long rumored to have been his mistress). The book humanized Jefferson by discussing the challenges and conflicts of his personal life. I based a lot of Julian’s character on Jefferson’s strengths and supposed shortcomings.