When Lisa Maxwell was searching for inspiration for a new novel, she found it in a very unlikely place: her wedding album. A smear on a picture prompted Maxwell to think about ghost stories, New Orleans, and ultimately, Louis-Jaques-Mandé Daguerre.
Daguerreotypes, introduced by Louis-Jaques-Mandé Daguerre in 1839, were the first pieces of photography available to the general public. Due to their eerie, reflective quality, many people felt that the daguerreotype would steal your soul. They were the perfect mechanism for Sweet Unrest.
Sweet Unrest takes place in present day New Orleans. Lucy experiences vivid dreams about drowning and feels a strong sense of familiarity with the people she meets during her family’s move to La Ciel Doux, an old sugar plantation her father was hired to restore. Trying to make the best of the move, she meets Alex, a dreamy Frenchman with whom she feels an uncanny pull.
Surprise: Lucy and Alex were lovers in a past life.
Lucy’s former self, Armantine Lyon, was actually a real person who lived with daguerreotypist Jules Lyon in New Orleans 1840.
Maxwell put heavy research into both the popular and academic history of the area and time period, as well as the names she chose for her characters. Some, like Thisbe and Armantine, were actual people from the area. Others drew inspiration from American and Igbo culture.
“I used a variety of sources. I’m lucky to have access to some great college and university libraries, so it makes it pretty easy to access historical information. I really wanted to make sure that I got the history right, even if I was playing a bit with the magic. I read a ton of information about the differences between slavery in the delta region than in other parts of the country and also the different ways that race was understood in New Orleans in the 18th and 19th centuries. For Voodoo, I relied pretty heavily on Zora Neale Hurston’s two ethnographic studies: Tell My Horse and Mules and Men.”
In addition to dedicated research, Maxwell’s books feature motifs popular to New Orleans. Voodoo is the most prevalent piece, but Maxwell focuses on water, fate, and strong women. Although Louisiana’s laws were heavily Napoleonic, her research showed that women in New Orleans were able to get what they wanted through contracts and networking.
“But historically accurate or not, the powerful women — both good and evil — in my stories are probably more an effect of my own interest in telling women’s stories. And the women in these books have different types of strength. In some ways, both Lucy and Armantine struggle to figure out how to grab hold of their inner strength. I wanted to show that vulnerability doesn’t mean weakness.”