Thanks Joe for allowing me to publish this article, with more insights as to who you are & why.
Rania M M Watts, EIC CCIQ Press
When I was in high school, not to date myself or anything, but a substantial amount of years ago, is when my obsession – LITERAL obsession with America’s south – began.
My family and I had taken my then-next door neighbors up on their offer to vacation at their condominium on Kiawah Island. We lived in Ridgewood, New Jersey at the time, and had only vacationed in Florida up until that point. We’d taken the quintessential family trips to see Mickey Mouse and live fantastically but for weeks at a time.
Other family trips included, but weren’t limited to taking weeks off during the summer and living on our now-semi estate in Margaretville, New York. But, the times I had up there, the wild freedom I’d come to love and appreciate later in life, must be saved for another story.
We had rented a van – aqua green, I believe – mom made a shit load of chicken cutlets, and we packed up and left in the middle of the night. I vaguely recall the lead up to this because I had been hanging out at one of my friend’s houses in a neighboring town, drinking like a rebellious teen. Also, back then, my metabolism was SMOKING, so I could’ve been drinking one minute, then driving to the southland the next without skipping a beat.
The absolute most memorable parts of that road trip, obviously, were mom’s homemade cutlets… and it was one of my first times driving on a highway, so that was fun. I was cruising down I-95 to “The Dark Side of the Moon” which was pretty bad-ass at the time.
And then, as we hit the deep south, I had just awoken from a dreary nap… we hit a back road and I suddenly perked up for some reason. Old oaks were lined on both sides of the streets with the most fascinating Spanish moss. I had only seen it on the covers of old, rotting books or in horror movies, but shit, I’ll never forget that sight. It was the early afternoon and the moss-covered trees cast the most curious shadows between the beating sun’s rays.
And, just because it’s hilarious, I recall passing my first Piggly Wiggly. That Porky Pig-esque head smiled down, welcoming me to a place that no longer resembled Kansas anymore.
Nothing particularly extraordinary happened that week in Kiawah, except my own personal realization awaking in me saying that I had a thing for beautiful young men – blue eyes and blond hair with perfectly tanned skin – a “phase” I’d not soon outgrow. But really, though, I fell in love with the south – namely Charleston.
It wouldn’t be until years later, that my parents would decide to invest in a timeshare at Ocean Creek Plantation and Resort in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The first few years, they ventured down there with my sister. I’d be home from college and didn’t want any part of that place. You’d catch me, instead, hosting Tiki parties and playing host to (not so wild) soirees. Besides, I thought my job at the town pool, flipping burgers, was like, the absolute shit, and I had to “earn money” for the upcoming semester. Yeah, I regret not spending more time in my beloved south in retrospect, a place I’d like to move to much sooner than later.
I started dating my now-boyfriend and future husband. We’d only been dating, oh, five months, and in hindsight, we were crazy for planning such an extensive trip so early on in our relationship. I remember it like it was yesterday; we studied articles out of then-Details magazine that offered up tips and advice on how to survive a road trip with a significant other, and he and I discussed our likes and dislikes when it came to music and vacation musts, etc. Yes, we drove down that year and only used to stay one full week. We grew wise and now, we go down south in class – we fly – and stay two weeks.
That year, though, I was released… something in my soul clicked and I was hooked. I was hooked on Spanish moss, southern cooking, affordable real estate and just the literal “Southern charm” of it all. The obsession grew year after year.
Then, in 2012, that’s the year the south – the charm, the history, the ritualistic undertones – crept into my writing, Folklore and religion were what I was after, so my man and I went on local ghost tours, attended local plays at Brookgreen Gardens – ones held under spooky live oaks – and I’d grab local authors’ books just before returning to the northeast.
I’d try to emulate the southern dialect at home and attempted to scare myself by writing short fiction with southern gothic undertones. Actually, one of my first short stories actually would wind up being the grandfather to my soon-to-be breakout novella, VOUDOU JUICE.
So, right, summer of 2012… that was the summer I started to write VOUDOU JUICE. Oy, the time I spent speculating and mapping out plot and characters’ names… and yes, the book, in fact, was named after one of the drinks from the beach club at the plantation.
The book originally was set in South Carolina, based around a hot, young southern boy I’d met at Ghosts and Legends Theatre at Barefoot Landing that summer. You know the type – a little pudgy but not fat by any means… with frosted man bangs and a southern drawl you could listen to all day and allowed your mind to wander in the most glorious ways. Yeah, he was the basis for my main character.
VOUDOU JUICE would be a summer-specific project for the next two years; I’d only bring the handwritten manuscript out at the beach or by the pool if I had a couple of adult beverages bubbling through my system. That all changed, though, in 2014… I finally made it down to New Orleans with my best friend, Melinda.
One night, completely blitzed at Oz nightclub, the gay watering hole, I received an otherworldly vision that would change the course of writing VOUDOU JUICE forever. The inner courtyard, flashing lights, gay thumpa and wrought iron balconies called out to me. And, as a person who believes in signs, I wasn’t one to ignore the message.
The night I came home, after literally spending hours sadly bellowing over the fact I was no longer on Bourbon Street and obsessively reviewing the minute details of my trip, I got to writing, changing scenes and creating newfound characters that begged me to make an appearance in the new and improved VOUDOU JUICE.
The manuscript came out more frequently than a mere few weeks during the summer, and the story began to take shape – something big was brewing. Something was happening on the pages I wrote but also to me, the author; my literal blood, sweat and tears were being weaved together.
A year later, in Myrtle Beach, I had taken more of my recent memories and fun surroundings, i.e. the view of the gorgeous southern lifeguards that patrolled the beaches, with their tight asses and million dollar smiles, and weaved them into the story, too. A book doesn’t write itself overnight, and this one in particular, my first novella, took time to speak to me.
Finally, at the beginning of 2017, I made a conscientious decision that it would be the year the public would get to meet Riley Clarke, Cody Shrine, III, and my Voodoo priestess, the infamous Mama Julia Brown. Their stories were almost completed, but, night after night, they’d visit me. With some help from Spotify playlists and one Mr. Christopher Rice’s words of wisdom, I managed to get through it.
Mid-April of 2017 was when I received my first copies of VOUDOU JUICE and I was floored. My fantastical journey through South Carolina, several mixed drinks, nightclubs, New Orleans and well, the 18th century, was finally sitting in my greasy little palms. I was a proud papa, wanting to share the news with the world. And, the rest, they say, is history.
I’m still promoting the book and, thanks to my trusty assistant, am working on preparing VOUDOU JUICE for its second printing as well as taking it on the road to New Orleans in October 2018.
It truly was a labor of love that all started with a small obsession with my now-favorite place, America’s south.