Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Gift: How I came to Publish Blood Cries

David Brasfield publishes fiction under the pseudonym Christamar Varicella. His nonfiction piece, "The Voodoo Preacher" is featured in The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns, edited by Mitzi Szereto.


The story literally arrived on my doorstep. There was a knock at my door. I opened up. A young woman stood on the welcome mat. She was wrapped in a trench coat. London Fog, I think. A fedora was pulled down over her eyes.

"Honey," I called to my wife upstairs. "Some dame from the 1940s is here."

The woman's lips curled into a frown. No one ever gets my humor. I persisted.

"What'll it be, toots?" I said in my best Humphry Bogart. I whipped a washcloth over my shoulder. (I had been doing the dishes.) 

Instead of answering, she brushed past me and headed for the kitchen. Along the way, she reached into a large red leather handbag and pulled out a manuscript, which she slapped down on the breakfast table in the most dramatic way possible.

"Oh no," I thought. "She's going to want me to read that."

"Read this," she said.

"Or maybe you could just tell me your name and state your business." Bogey again.

She stood with her arms crossed. Her wavy brown hair was starting to pull loose from her ponytail. I put her age at between twenty-eight and thirty-two, but her face had a weathered look, as if she'd been beaten up by years of worry. 

"I know who you are," she said. "I know you know the story of the Reverend and you know about his connection to [FAMOUS AUTHOR'S NAME REDACTED]."

Sure I did. The Reverend she referred to was the so-called voodoo preacher, alleged to have killed off at least five members of his own family. I wrote a book about it. My name is mentioned in the definitive work on the subject, written by a staff writer for the New Yorker. Another well-known magazine writer used my research as the basis for a long article published online. 

"Okay," I said

"And you have experience in publishing?"

"It's not very hard these days. I'm sure you'll have no trouble self-publishing your manuscript."

"It can't be me that does it," she said, "and it's not my manuscript."

I stood there looking confused.

"Here's my offer. You keep half of any profits. The other half goes to charity. It's stipulated in the contract."

"What profits?" I asked. "And what contract? Lady, I don't know what you're talking about."

"I can talk a little about the contract, but I can't say who it's with." She rolled her eyes in exasperation. "You'll figure it out if you start reading."  

I picked up the manuscript and started thumbing through pages. Some of it was clearly written by the woman, whose name appeared as Chris Hope, but I also noticed a book-within-a-book that was written by someone named Louella Harper. I had never heard that name before, but I did recognize the title and the copyright date as belonging to a very famous writer. Surely not, I thought. I read the first few pages. Could it be?

I looked at the woman, this stranger who had turned up at my home unannounced. "How did you get this?"

"I own the rights fair and square," she said.

"But how?" 

"Read it," she said, gesturing to the manuscript. "It's all in there."

I didn't want to believe it, but I couldn't stop myself from reading, and the more I read the more convinced I became that she was telling the truth. I was then faced with a simple choice: to help her, or not. To do something, or nothing. I suppose you've already figured out which one I picked.