THE DARK SOUTH
By David Niall Wilson, Author of Nevermore: A Novel of Love, Loss & Edgar Allan Poe
Over my years as an author (more than 25 of them since I got serious) I’ve placed my stories in a wide variety of settings. Since I spent the early years of my career in the US Navy, a lot of them in San Diego, CA, the first large, fictional city I created was San Valencez, California. Then I spread out from there, creating Lavender, California and Friendly, California, up in the mountains.
As I matured, I spread the wealth back to my origins, small town Illinois, and created the town of Random, where my novella Roll Them Bones took place. There are more stories in store for all of these places, but over the last few years, my muse has brought me south and east, to the fictional town of Old Mill, North Carolina, where I’ve now told a number of stories, and expect to tell a lot more.
The south is the perfect setting for dark fantasy. History is longer and deeper here, and old ways linger. Harvest festivals and Indian Summer gatherings spring up every fall, nodding back to the old fertility gods and goddesses. The cemeteries read like roadmaps to the roots of our country.
When we moved from Virginia, which has grown pretty urban in the Hampton Roads area, where we lived, we settled first in the tiny town of Hertford, North Carolina. You can go a few miles from Hertford in almost any direction and end up feeling as if you visited another planet. There are sprawling old Victorian and Colonial homes, shanties, farms, and everything in between. Our air conditioner broke, and the man who came to fix it pulled it all apart, eyed it, told us what was wrong, and went to get the part. Turns out – the fish were jumping. He didn’t come back for another day. He became the character Jasper in my novel The Not Quite Right Reverend Cletus J. Diggs & The Currently Accepted Habits of Nature – and a recurring part of Old Mill.
Being the sort of person that is drawn to history, I started studying the area. I studied folklore, the history of the families in the area, and found that we lived smack dab in the middle of one of the oldest colonized areas in the country. At auctions we’ve found records of Quakers, of airship captains (there is a huge US Naval Airship base here – the towers they used to moor too are still in place) – and even remnants of the days of cotton plantations and slavery. It’s a land rich with stories, and with characters willing to tell you those stories. In other words –for an author – it’s filled with magic.
In book IV of The DeChance Chronicles, Kali’s Tale, I brought Donovan DeChance and a group of his associates to Old Mill in search of an ancient vampire – who turned out to also be an alchemist. He had lived and worked for a very long time in the depths of The Great Dismal Swamp. As so often happens in my work, some of the paint got rubbed away that separated the worlds of Cletus J. Diggs and Donovan DeChance, and the two met. All of this, of course, led to more research, and more studies of southern folklore – centered on The Great Dismal Swamp. From that research, the novel I’m here promoting was born.
Nevermore – a Novel of Love, Loss & Edgar Allan Poe, is a book I found lurking in several local legends about Lake Drummond, which lies not too far into the swamp from the Intercoastal Waterway, and from accounts and journals mentioning The Lake Drummond Hotel, which stood half in Virginia, and half in North Carolina, causing all kinds of rules to be broken across state lines. With typical human forethought, they put the saloon directly on the border to facilitate the madness.
What caught my eye was that Edgar Poe had stayed there, that he was rumored to have possibly written an early draft of The Raven while staying there – that he wrote a poem titled The Lake almost certainly written about Lake Drummond. I mentioned in Kali’s Tale that Donovan had met Poe in that place, setting the stage for what I thought would be a flashback at the beginning of book V. What happened was, there was simply too much to tell.
I was able to write about the swamp, The Brothers Grimm, Edgar, his lost love Lenore, his companion – a crow named Grimm – and to bring the swamp witch, Nettie, into the tale – who also appears in both The Not Quite Right Reverend Cletus J. Diggs & the Currently Accepted Habits of Nature and Kali’s Tale, erasing yet another wall between worlds.
I’ve come to believe that my stories are actually all part of one very large tale, and that I’m uncovering them one by one in the details of those that have come before. I have written a novella, The Preacher’s Marsh, another tale carved from a novel in progress, about Old Mill just after the Civil War, and the novel that this is taken from – Gideon’s Curse, still in progress, follows the events of that story into the 1950s, when there were still cotton plantations – mostly farmed by migrant workers. The plantation house from Gideon’s Curse is the same that Donovan and his friends stay in for a time in Kali’s Tale. One big southern fantasy.
Our first outing in North Carolina was a drive deeper into the country. We wanted to see what was there to see. We found an old gas station, and the sign on the window said they had Hershey’s Ice Cream bars. Trish and the kids went inside, and I filled the tank. On my way in to pay, I passed them on the way out. No ice cream. Trish was frowning. I went in, paid, blinked a couple of times when the old woman running the place spoke to me, because I could barely make out what she was saying, and headed back to the truck.
Turns out – there was no ice cream, and Trish, who is from WAY down south in Florida, couldn’t make out the woman’s accent at all. She was seriously shaken – having had a conversation in English and understood no more than a couple of words of it. The south is filled with small worlds that have held their own against the press of time. That is where I live, and that is where – more and more often – I write.
Come on down…let me tell you a story. It starts like a joke… a poet, an artist, and a crow walk into a swamp…