ShadowSpinners Press is excited to announce the release of Bayou’s Lament by Cheryl Owen-Wilson, the ninth novella in the Labyrinth of Souls series! Inspired by the theme of the labyrinth, Bayou’s Lament takes us deep into the swamps of Louisiana, where superstition and strange creatures lurk in the undergrowth. Cover art is “Elderwood” from the Dungeon Solitaire tarot card deck, illustrated by Joseph Vandel.
I caught up with the multi-talented Cheryl Owen-Wilson and asked her a few questions about Bayou’s Lament, Southern Gothic, and her writing and artistic life in general.
What about the Labyrinth of Souls project did you find most compelling?
The concept of placing my protagonist—Veya—in an underworld was intriguing. But the hook that caught me by its challenge was the creation of a mystical labyrinth through which she’d traverse ending in either success, or failure. The labyrinth took me some time, because my writing group—The Inklings—will tell you, and I will concede, I need work on staging in my stories.
What was your personal inspiration for Bayou’s Lament?
Several factors inspired this novel.
I’ll start first with—The other worldly beings in Bayou’s Lament had already made an appearance in one of my many short stories featuring mother/daughter relationships. They say write what you know. I have seven daughters so I might know a bit about those dynamics. Writer’s also say the characters in our novels write themselves if we, the writer, will listen and get out of the way. Well, that’s exactly what happened—while toying with the idea of said beings making an appearance in Bayou’s Lament—they began to tell me their origin story. Like magic they turned from slightly amorphous beings to a full-fledged species. Their story inspired me and it certainly helped when their evolution fit like the proverbial glove with Veya’s own journey.
Second would be the fact that Southern culture is a plethora of inspiration waiting to be mined from my memories. I grew up from age two to eighteen in Southern Louisiana where my mother and sisters still reside. Thus, I go back home frequently. The rich culture of my upbringing appears in many of my short stories set on illusive islands buried deep in gator-filled swamplands. Bayou had to be in the title so my readers would know where they were being taken.
Lament is both a key character in the book, as well as being a part of my own personal journey. Its duel definitions resonate throughout the novel:
Noun: A passionate expression of grief or sorrow.
Verb: to mourn.
What about the Labyrinth of Souls card, Elderwood, appealed to you?
In my first glimpse of the card I immediately saw the canopied trees and marshy land of an island set in the swamps of Louisiana. Also a particular tree is central in the novel. Add those factors to the card’s meaning—family, ancestry, biological life & constructs—and it was the only card I could have chosen.
Your genre has been called “Southern Gothic”. Can you tell us about what that is and why you enjoy writing it?
It was a writing mentor who first linked my fiction to this genre. In researching it on my own I’ve come across several definitions. From those studies I have chosen the characteristics of Southern Gothic you will find in Bayou’s Lament: Common themes in Southern Gothic literature include deeply flawed, disturbing or eccentric characters who may be involved in ritualistic practices such as voodoo or hoodoo, decayed and derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, or alienation.
You’re also a visual artist. How do you think that influences your writing.
I can’t seem to separate the two. Quite often while writing, a painting comes to mind, or vice versa, while painting a story forms. For Bayou’s Lament I have several paintings in mind, unfortunately time has not allowed their creation, but I know they will be realized at some point.
What’s up next for you? Any more books on the horizon?
As mentioned above writing is not my only creative outlet. To paint, or to write (with time carved from family/work) that is the question. Each continually compete with one another which is why Bayou’s Lament was two years in the making. That said, there is another book in process. Set on yet another Island out in the swamps of Louisiana. I’m very much enjoying the research on this one since it is steeped in voodoo mysticism and practices.
The writing bug first snagged Cheryl Owen-Wilson through the penning of a personal essay, for which she received an award and publication. Today what drives her writing life is Southern Gothic fiction. Since her biological roots are buried not only in Oregon, but also deep in the bayous of Southern Louisiana the genre is a natural fit.
When not writing she can be found at an easel covered in oil paint. “When I write I usually have painting in mind to go with the story. The same holds true when a painting forms, a story generally follows.” It that vein one of her paintings is featured on the ShadowSpinners: A Collection of Dark Tales, book jacket. You can find her short story: Swamp Symphony, in the book’s collection. This is Cheryl’s first published novella.
Cheryl’s artist website: https://mecovisions.com
Bayou’s Lament ~ A Labyrinth of Souls novel Available now on Amazon
Veya Marie St. James has vowed to never again set foot on the Island of her birth—a strip of land buried deep in the swamps of southern Louisiana. Her childhood memories are rampant with ancient superstitions and the bizarre rituals of her estranged mother. Veya long ago rejected that life and those beliefs, but when a mysterious illness threatens her daughter’s life, it all leads to the Island. Veya swore she would never go back, but the Island calls to her, and now it’s calling with her daughter’s voice.