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Water Witch

Title: Water Witch
Published by: Leisure Books
Release Date: November 22, 2010
Pages: 290
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Synopsis

Dunny knew from an early age what it meant to be an outsider. Her special abilities earned her many names, like freak and water witch. So she vowed to keep her powers a secret.

Now, though, her talents may be the only hope for two missing children. A young boy and girl have vanished, feared lost in the mysterious bayous of Louisiana. But they didn’t just disappear; they were taken. By something far more dangerous than the ghosts and spirits living in the swamp. Something with very special plans for the children—and for anyone who dares to interfere . . .

Backstory

I was attending a writers’ conference in west Texas a few years ago and during one of the breaks, a woman came over to chat, asking about my experiences with paranormal investigations. We chatted for a while and during our conversation she mentioned that her eighty-three-year-old grandfather was a water witch. Although I’d never heard that term before, I instinctively knew she meant a dowser. She confirmed my hunch almost immediately by telling me he was renowned in some parts of Texas for finding water when no one else could.

As much as I hate to admit it, I didn’t hear much of what that kind lady said after that because my brain had locked onto ‘water witch.’ The moment she said those words, it was like an alarm went off in my head, alerting me to the fact that I’d just heard the title of my next book. Within seconds the entire plot unfolded in my mind’s eye. What a rush that was!

Water Witch had two unique elements in the story that required a good bit of research. One was that the protagonist, Dunny, the dowser in the story, didn’t dowse with a diving rod or willow branch like other dowsers. Her instrument of choice was the sixth finger on her left hand, something she was born with and never had removed.

That said, I did research on extra appendages, especially those on people who kept them through adulthood, as well as dowsing in general. I wanted to understand the flexibility and usefulness of the extra digits, how people who had them felt about it, used it, hid it, etc., as well as dowsing in general. I was surprised to discover during that research that many people who are/were born with extra fingers that weren’t removed at birth, (They either still had them or had the extra digit removed when they became adults) also had a heightened sixth sense and make great dowsers!

The second unique situation I had was that in the story I needed to dig a pit in the Atchafalaya Basin. Now being from south Louisiana, I knew that almost everything below Interstate 10 is at or below sea level, so I had to find out if it was possible to dig a hole in the middle of the swamp without hitting water after digging only two inches deep. In order to find that out, I had to study the topography of the Atchafalaya and travel by skiff to some remote areas of the Basin. Fortunately, I discovered that it was possible, which was great. Otherwise I would have had to send Dunny to some remote island in Bermuda…..which might have been pretty cool, too.

Praise

“LeBlanc’s characters live and breathe, and so does the atmospheric, fast paced horror of Water Witch!”
Creature Feature

“The bayou reigns supreme in the realms of atmosphere. A reader or moviegoer would be hard-pressed to name a locale that invigorates and swallows the senses as deeply as the alien-down-home feeling of southern Louisiana. In the midst of that beautiful, swampy place rife with creatures of all sorts, a new queen sits on the throne who captures its essence in every story, every line, every person.

When you meet Leblanc’s characters, you sink deep into their lives, their feelings, just as if you had stepped in quicksand or the ancient silt which lies beneath the mysteries of her settings.

Ritual and tradition are essential to every one of her novels. Water Witch is no different, with its supernatural command of the spirit world by Olm, an odd character who wishes not only to follow in his ancestor’s brutal ceremonies of the Pawnee tribe. Rituals, just like recipes, are seldom followed to the “T” – improvisation keeps things fresh and fun. However, the kidnapping of a young boy and girl bring out more problems than solutions. Some might say Olm is a simple-minded character, but look deeper for a strong parallel to modern religious leaders. The insertion of such “natural” phenomena in the bayou as the feux fo lais and affects of the wildlife bring an “is it or isn’t it?” conflict which again, brings home the mystery of a land foreign to most readers.

Characters in Leblanc’s novels never fail to mutate away from the standard formula, shown to perfection in Family Inheritance and Morbid Curiosity. Those who populate Water Witch don’t disappoint. Besides the enigmatic Olm and grandmotherly Poochie, who feel as tangible as an alligator hide, the main character shines in a manner not seen before by this author.

Dunny ranks high on the list of memorable heroines as she holds a special power – due to an extra finger. Rather than compare her to King’s Johnny Smith or Koontz’ Odd Thomas, Dunny deserves her own categorization. Also reluctant, she pulls herself into a world of seclusion, wary of the social implications that would accompany a finger that helps locate objects and people. Leblanc pulls her out into the real world, albeit the strange one detailed here, but also manages to pull in the reader.”
Very highly recommended.
The Horror Fiction Review

Excerpt

After soaking his father with three gallons of gasoline, Olm lit a match and tossed it onto the old man’s body. With a loud WHOOSH, blinding orange heat towered towards the night sky. Olm took a few steps back, watching in fascination as clothes and hair disintegrated instantly. Soon the pop and sizzle of burning flesh out sang the chorus of nocturnal swamp life that had deafened him for the last two hours—clicks, whines, buzzes from insects too vast in species and number to count, the croaks and whomp from frogs and alligators, snakes with bodies wider than the circumference of a man’s arm. All of them raising their voices to Brother Moon, to one another.

Skin and thin layers of fat slipped away from bone, the flames licking across the scaffolding that held his father’s body, and Olm hoped the wooden beams would hold until the ritual was completed. So much work had gone into making this happen. He’d cut thick cypress branches to just the right length, soaked them in water, hoisted the weighted logs by himself into a wobbly skiff, then transported them through the dead of too many nights. Through sloughs and flats clotted with water lilies that eventually led to a u-shaped, ten-acre knoll in the farthest corner of the Atchafalaya swamp, far away from prying eyes. Although it had been difficult to lift, hammer, and construct the burial shelf without any help, Olm’s greatest challenge had been to steal his father’s body from Sasaint’s Funeral Home before it was embalmed, and to do it without getting caught. The struggle and hard work had been worth it, though, for now that everything was in place, Olms life could truly begin.

Although this wasn’t the traditional Pawnee burial his father had requested before he died, it was the fastest way for Olm to be rid of the body, which he needed to do if he was to follow through with a crucial, albeit extinct, Pawnee custom. One his father never embraced

As legend had it, in order for a son to acquire the knowledge of all the leaders in his ancestral line, he had to offer his father’s body to the elements at the time of his passing. When only bleached bones remained, the father’s spirit would then be released, and all a son had to do was call upon what was rightfully his. To Olm, acquiring that knowledge meant ultimate power. For surely in the roll call of his ancestors, there had to have been medicine men, chiefs, warriors, and mighty hunters, those whose dance offerings and sacrifices, human and animal, changed weather patterns, and produced bountiful harvests. Olm had no intention of planting anything. He figured the same wisdom that created abundance in fields and swamps throughout past generations would adapt and supply the needs of a leader in the twenty-first century. Waiting for his father’s bones to bleach might take weeks, though, even in the ruthless Louisiana heat.

He’d already spent thirty-seven years waiting for this moment, and Olm didn’t want to wait a second longer than was necessary. Since his father was only one-third Pawnee, and from the Skidi tribe, Olm didn’t think the alterations he’d made in the burial custom would make a difference. As far as he was concerned, he’d followed more than half the custom by bringing his father’s body to the swamp and building the burial shelf. How the bones were exposed shouldn’t matter.

Copyright 2008 Deborah LeBlanc

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