Saturday, November 5, 2011

Creeping Woo-Woo: a guest post by Vicki Lane

Vicki Lane is an author you keep trying to compare to other writers. Like Sharyn McCrumb, Vicki sets her Elizabeth Goodweather novels in the magic-ridden Great Smokey Mountains. Like Margaret Maron, she explores the places where the South's past and its present come together. Like Jocelyn Jackson, she gives us a clear-eyed view of southern women and their relationships with each other. Like - but of course, none of them is exactly like Vicki Lane, who sets edgy stories in a deceptively cozy rural setting and who combines the criminal mystery with the mysteries of the human heart. Today, she's here to talk to us about another influence creeping into her Elizabeth Goodweather books: the venerable (and modern!) southern tradition of "woo-woo."


Maybe it’s because I live near Asheville, NC – aka the Sedona of the East, the Lily Dale of the South, the Appalachian New Age Vortex – that I have found paranormal elements (woo-woo) invading my books. Ah, Asheville, where, when fundamentalist Christians’ cars began sporting bumper stickers reading WE STILL PRAY, the local Wiccans/Pagans/Buddhists countered with similar stickers proclaiming WE STILL CHANT.

Really, there seems to be something in the air. And I’m not the only one who’s affected. I offer a quick perusal of a calendar of upcoming events and offerings in the area to prove my point.

Find your bliss in Vipassana, Shambala or Goddess Devotional Meditation; Answer questions with Pendulum Divination.

Try I Ching, Do-Hai, Ro Hun, Za Zen, Deeksha; Hear The Abraham Tapes; watch Consciousness Cinema, Play the Digeridoo!

What about Trance Dance or Traditional Sufi Dancing? Or you can Dance Your Prayers, Understand Your Dreams.

You’ll want to attend the Osho Indrahana Mystery School for the Awakening of the Coming New Man -- Bring a veggie brunch dish to share afterwards (no desserts).

Then there’s the Aleister Crowley Discussion or the Oneness Blessing,
And you might be ready for the
Ho'Oponpono Hawaiian Healing Circle.

But wait! There’s more! You mustn’t miss the Wisdom of the Plant Devas, Egyptian Temple Science, or Toning for Peace.

And last, but surely not least --

Experience Soul Sounds --Sacred sound soul activation with gemstone alchemy crystal bowls, powerful sonic instruments producing harmonic vibrations that resonate the fluids in our bodies, bloodstream, organs and bone structure.

Whew! This is just a tiny selection of the offerings for the next few weeks. An embarrassment of spiritual riches.

I have two personal favorites from the calendar-- Truth on Tap: Join in spiritual conversation at a pub. "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." -- Benjamin Franklin

And Spud Patrol Day: Join us in a selfless feeding of anyone in Asheville who would like a freshly baked potato with all the trimmings. No religion, no dogma, no anything but giving someone a hot baked potato.

Who doesn’t like a baked potato? But bigger things than baked potatoes are afoot in my neck of the woods. Come 11-11-11, there’s to be a Gathering. Starseeds and lightworkers are invited to the mega-crystalline vortex of Asheville, North Carolina. They say the vortex portals of Western North Carolina are emerging as the powerful energies on the planet.

So what’s a non-believer to do? (‘Vicki’s so conservative,’ as one of my New Age friends once said.)

Give in and let the fictional woo-woo roll is what I appear to have done.

It started innocently enough -- in my first book my protagonist sees a girl standing in the middle of the living room, dressed in the clothes of the early

1900’s and holding a hoe. The most rational of women, Elizabeth dismisses this ‘vision’ as a kind of waking dream. Only later does she learn the story of Little Sylvie who lived in a nearby cabin and tended the fields on which Elizabeth’s house was built.

I tried to hold to this formula in the books that followed: paranormal elements that could have a rational (if rather far-fetched) explanation. Is it faith-healing or placebo effect, Cherokee magic or coincidence? Let the reader decide.

But the lure of woo-woo (or the power of the vortex) became too strong for me. By my fifth book, a standalone, I’d succumbed to a strong combination of Appalachian witchy-woman lore and Cherokee magic, wielded by a fierce old woman. And things happen that can’t be explained away.

In my current release, Under the Skin, Elizabeth finds herself accompanying her sister to a weekend of séances. As she puts it -- “Now I was being challenged to absorb a mass of spiritualist information of the sort that my nephew Ben terms New Age Shit. But I had promised myself to approach this weekend with an open mind for my sister’s sake. Okay, then, I’d make an effort to understand this New Age . . . Stuff.”

She does and the results are . . . unexpected.

I’m told that in this Halloween (or Samhain in the Wiccan/Pagan tradition) week, the veil between the worlds of living and dead is at its thinnest. Spirits may walk; those who have passed over may speak to those still living . . . and the woo-woo may again ooze its way into my work in progress.

What can I tell you? I’m helpless, here in the mega-crystalline vortex.

Intrigued? You can find out more about Vicki's books - including excerpts and readers' guides - at her website. She talks about living and writing in Appalachia in her blog, and you can talk with her on her Facebook page.


  1. Thanks so much for hosting me, Reds! It's a pleasure to be here!

  2. Hello Vicki,

    I'm just finishing up Under the Skin and enjoying all aspects of it, even (especially?) Gloria's histrionics and all the New Age Shit. It's a terrific book, but that's no surprise.

    In your books you do such a fine job conveying the power of place -Western North Carolinia's beauty, its traditions and its woo-woo parts. Kudos to you on another wonderful piece of work.


  3. Wow--I can just way--wow. Off to get ALL these!

    Vicki, if you're around--has writing these changed the way you think about the world? Or does your brain have a separate place for such possibilities?

  4. That's it, Hank -- a separate place for possibilities. I'm VERY skeptical of people who want to make money with their psychic powers. But I'm not arrogant enough to think I have the final answer on anything.

    And like my protag -- I did once briefly see a girl standing in the middle of our living room with a hoe . . .

    Brenda -- there really is something about the beauty of WNC that makes it easy to write about.

  5. I'm off to a bookstore to do a reading but will check back later this evening.

  6. this sounds like a wonderful book Vicki--and sure make Asheville sound interesting too! I lived in east Tennessee for four years in my twenties--I don't remember much woo-woo around then. Just a lot of beautiful landscape and Dolly Parton:).

  7. Thanks for a peek inside your work, Vicki. I'm delighted to hear about you and your books.

    Do you get much backlash from the conservative / religious types in the Deep South? Hate mail? Hopefully things have changed a lot since the 70s when I lived in Atlanta. It was a small island of cosmopolitan life styles surrounded by those of the Deep South.

    I'm eager to see how you've treated this in your stories too.

  8. I'm happy to say that no one has ever fussed at me about the way I handle religion except for one reviewer on Amazon who thought I was too hard on organized religion.

    My local neighbors -- most of them Free Will Baptists -- like my books because my characters remind them of their grandparents.

  9. Vicki, you know I've read and loved all of your books. I don't think Applachian witchy-woman lore and Cherokee magic really count as 'woo-woo,' which is the same as saying 'New Age' here in California. It's not because I'm half Cherokee, but because I think both the Applachian and Cherokee traditions are too grounded in hundreds (thousands in Cherokee) of years of knowledge passed down from one to another.

    But...some of the upcoming events you listed do sound a little 'New Age.' I don't think that's a bad thing, I just prefer the older traditions.

  10. Good point, Victoria. I thought of that myself, after I'd sent the piece in. But I think a lot of folks think of any sort of magic or paranormal stuff as coming under the woo-woo umbrella.

  11. I personally love woo-woo. A lot.
    Keep it up, girl!

  12. Oh, one other thing. I'm so glad that you posted on this blog - I found some new authors! I've read every word Julia Spencer-Fleming and Deborah Crombie have written, and have started on the Rhys Bowen series. Now, I'm excited to start reading the other ladies. Headed for B&N online to download samples from you all!
    And Vicki, Under the Skin was fantastic.

  13. Vicki, I had to pop over to discover more about the 'Creeping Woo-Woo', and I'm glad I did. As you know, I've recently read 'Under the Skin', and now my wife is engrossed. More 'Woo-Woo' please!

  14. Okay, even living here my mouth was a bit agape at that listing of events. Really?? And I have never heard the term "woo-woo " - I had to come over here to see what the heck "creeping woo-woo" was. Sounded a bit like a skin disease! That word cracks me up. Clearly I need to get out more.

    Sure enjoyed seeing you at Accent on Books the other night, wish I could have gotten there sooner! I have a friend that I think would love your books - I've promised her I'll keep my eye out for another local event and take her. She texted me last night that she looked for a Facebook fan page and said she couldn't find one. Said she was hesitant to send a friend request to your regular page, since you have no idea who she is. A Facebook fan page.... hmmm... maybe that could be your next project??

  15. I like the woo-woo woven into your books. Although I've never seen a ghost - the living room in our old house of many years ago would be toasty warm one minute and then for no reason would become shivering chilly, for only a brief amount of time. It made a believer of me.

    Lover ALL ofyour books!

  16. I like your books Vicki and did not know that you called this strange happenings in your books “woo-woo.” This is a new word that I will remember because the dog of my teenage years, a Boxer, in France was named woo woo although we spelled it wou wou (and pronounced vous vous.) The reason is that in France for pedigreed dogs each year has a different letter. For example the pedigreed dogs born in 2011 must have a name starting with G – so my dog was born in the year of the W. I know this is out of the subject – but as they say …. whatever…. a weird comment for a weird subject.

  17. Now that's something I didn't know, Vagabonde. Interesting!