The Freedman and the Pharaoh’s Staff set in Reconstruction-era Louisiana, and blends the boundaries between science fiction, fantasy, and as you can imagine, American history.
In 1871, the United States government has nearly eradicated the Ku Klux Klan, afraid their fanaticism will inspire other Southern whites to rise up against the Union. A very real threat.
The Klan’s remaining forces have retreated to Louisiana – as Deep South as you can get – in order to escape justice and regroup.
Jeb, a former slave, rescues his brother-in-law Crispus from the Ku Klux Klan, pulling him into a world of Creole Voodoo, hatred, time travel, and redemption. The two brothers-in-law set out to stop Verdiss and his Klan followers from using the Pharaoh’s Staff, a magical artifact from ancient Egypt. Soon, Jeb and Crispus learn Verdiss’ diabolical plan and discover that he serves an evil far more insidious than himself. In the end, Jeb and Crispus must stop an entire people from eradication and each find redemption for his own past sins.
2) What inspired this book?
It originally began as a short story I wrote for an African-American literature class I took in undergrad. During the class, I fell in love with the slave narratives, so I expanded the short story. Ironically, I ended up switching the two main protagonists’ roles.
About the same time I was reading about Nazi occultism, in particular, Hitler and the Occult by Ken Anderson. It detailed Hitler’s bizarre obsession with the supernatural. He was convinced he could conquer the world by possessing all these magical/religious items. The Spear of Longinus, the Holy Grail, and spent considerable resources on discovering time travel, super soldiers, Atlantis, and Norse runes.
The two ideas – slave narratives and Hitler’s twisted desires – blended together and The Freedman and the Pharaoh’s Staff was born.
3) Tell us about your main characters.
There are several main characters – I like stories where you experience the same events through a wide spectrum of perspectives.
Jebidiah Johnson, a former slave and now freedman, is a hardened soldier who fought during the Civil War. He’s haunted by the horrific violence he witnessed, and is determined to live a life with his family. He’s the perfect soldier, but doesn’t want to cause any trouble, or get dragged into any.
Crispus Moorfield, Jeb’s brother-in-law, is as opposite as they come. A naïve activist, he has never truly experienced any horrors that come with racism. This has led to a complete lack of fear of repercussions for his actions. He’s reckless, and more dangerous to his beliefs than he thinks.
There are two other main characters: Verdiss, and Fallon, but their journeys change who they are, so I’ll leave that for reader to discover.
4) What primary themes does your book explore?
The power of unity, the depth of damage racism can cause, and redemption.
5) Though your story touches on some very powerful and real historical injustices, you have a heavy fantasy/paranormal component. How does the use of such elements enhance historical narratives? Did it even make the process of writing the book and the thematic work more difficult?
Great question. I think using fantasy elements in historical settings is such a great experience, both to write and read. If we stop to think – at most points in history various cultures already considered what we call fantasy facts of life. Humankind pursued witches, mythical sea beasts, and up until Europeans fully explored Africa, gorillas were considered mythical creatures – half man, half monkey.
Weaving fantasy and science fiction elements into The Freedman and the Pharaoh’s Staff, a story set in Reconstruction Louisiana, had its difficult moments. I really had to follow a set of laws governing what fantasy elements I would allow, what science fiction would be entertained, and how normal people of the time would react to those events.
Voodoo was, and is, still very much alive in Louisiana. Especially in the bayous. So, that flowed smoothly through the story. Also, I did not want fireballs and lightning bolts shooting through the skies like some Lord of the Rings movie. Voodoo magic is subdued, as magic goes, and having real practices to base mine on, proved that much easier.
What I found most difficult it was intertwining the science fiction aspects of the story in a way that felt believable. We don’t ever see a time machine or hear science jargon or even learn the logic behind it. The focus is on how our modern, aka 1870’s, characters would respond to any technology they witness.
6) Your academic background is partially in history. Were the eras of your books eras you've previously spent a lot of time studying?
Yes and no. I was always more of a medieval, poetry/philosophy person. Being Jewish, I have a deep and painful connection to World War II. Also, my grandfather oversaw the largest Jewish DP camp in Europe after the war – horror stories…and photos frequented my youth.
I did have an interest in the Civil War, because it was, and still is, such a powerful moment in our history. Almost a domestic holocaust. Just as World War II was a conflict for the soul of us as a race, the Civil War was a battle for the soul of our country. It defined who we are as Americans – would we choose tyranny over freedom? Righteousness over sadism?
If either war had been lost to evil…humanity would have fallen.
7) Please tell us about your general research process and resources.
At the time I was writing The Freedman and the Pharaoh’s Staff I was in school full-time for my undergraduate degree. I spent every minute in between classes at the school library, doing research. There, I used a lot of online resources – the most difficult part was sifting through crummy information sites and finding the real, great ones.
Researching Voodoo was a lot of fun. Several of my friends are from Haiti, or their parents are, so I got to interview them. Besides having great conversations with great people, the subtle nuance in the information they gave was amazing.
At home, stacks of books surrounded my computer. There’s too many to count, but some included:
· Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Freedom
· Hitler’s Occult War by Michael Fitzgerald
· Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 by Eric Foner
· Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon
· Degrees of Freedom: Louisiana and Cuba after Slavery by Rebecca J. Scott
8) What other projects do you have planned for the future?
Right now I’m working on a screenplay with my writing partner Michael Klein of The MAK Company out in L.A., which is exciting! I also have a few books on the side burner. So, stay tuned!
9) Where can readers find out more about you?
You can find me on Twitter (@LaneHeymont), on Facebook, Goodreads, and on my website http://laneheymont.com.