the Undead Redhead
Meet Sharon Backovic: vegan, ginger, and undead.
In “Undead Redhead,” heroine Sharon Backovic faces a lot of problems even before she dies, in a freak wedding bouquet toss incident. Her journey forces her to confront even more troubling questions, like, When I was alive, was I really living, or just going through the motions?
For Sharon Backovic, life was never easy. Yeah, I did that to her. They say, pile on the adversity and give your heroine something to overcome.
When I got the idea for UDRH, it was in part because all the killing and blood and gore in zombie TV shows and movies. Not that I have anything against a good slasher flick, but I really got to thinking: Are zombies just a convenient way for authors to kill a lot of people without any ethical or philosophical consequences? After all, you have to kill zombies, or they’re going to kill you. They can’t be saved from their own natures. They can only be stopped.
That’s an interesting story as far as it goes, but it wasn’t one I felt like telling. Instead, the zombie craze got me thinking about other, older traditions of zombie-making, like the actual origin of the word in voodoo practice. Here, zombis (without the “e”) are created by priests practicing the Petro tradition.
In order to understand what this means, you have to understand the basics of the voodoo religion, which has been portrayed on screen and in books so many times but seldom with any grounding in truth. I’m just a neophyte when it comes to understanding the long and rich traditions, but I can give you a grounding in the basics.
First of all, I’m going to use the spelling commonly associated with Haitian practice, vodou, partly to distinguish it from Louisiana voodoo, with which more people are familiar, but about which there is more misconception than knowledge!
Vodou is a 400+ year old religious practice with roots in Africa and the Caribbean, with many geographical variations. Worship is directed not toward what is considered an all-powerful and unknowable God, but instead toward the spirits who serve Him. The pantheon of vodou spirits, or loa, is complex and vast, and each of the spirits belong to a house or family that immediately tells you something about their nature.
Priests of vodou are called hongan (males) or mambo (females) and part of the rituals involve inviting the spirits into their bodies to use as they wish. Vodou rituals can be strange or exhilarating for both the participants and observers, as the priest dances or otherwise allows one of the lords of the pantheon to assume their consciousness.
Officiants of vodou rituals are often given great respect in places like Haiti, and can hold political as well as spiritual power. The affiliation of a priest with a particular vodou family can tell you something about their beliefs and philosophy. There are darker as well as lighter forms of vodou, and the Petro tradition contains some of the darkest.
One of these is the spell to make a zombi, out of the corpse of a dead person. This is where our concept of the “zombie” comes from: the misuse of a dead individual by someone practicing Petro magic to create an unwilling servant with no will of its own. Understandably, most people frown on this!
That’s about all the spoilers I’m going to give you—for the rest of the story and how it relates to Sharon’s “afterlife,” you’ll just have to read the book!
Read more about the fascinating world of Haitian vodou and the loa.