Member Spotlight: Robin Lee Lovelace
Author of Savonne, Not Vonny
In her novel Savonne, Not Vonny, Indiana author Robin Lee Lovelace explores complex ideas about the interplay between love and loss as seen through the eyes of a young black girl named Savonne.
From her home in Indianapolis, upstairs from the whorehouse where her mother works, Savonne is taken deep into the bayous of New Orleans. Here she learns about Voodoo magic from her aged great-grandfather, Pompey, who is sure the young girl has the natural magic in her. Savonne soon learns of the dangerous Diamond John, who is out to steal her family’s powerful conjuring book. Savonne is ready to go home, but will she get there with a stolen conjuring book in her clutches and Diamond John on her trail?
With its mix of rural magic and urban realism, Savonne, Not Vonny invites readers to reimagine the cultural traditions of New Orleans, pushing the boundaries of reality and redefining home.
Interview with the Author with Etchings Press Editor, Shauna Sartoris
Shauna Sartoris: How long did it take you to write this novella?
Robin Lee Lovelace: 8 years off and on.
SS: How many drafts?
RLL: So many I didn’t keep count.
SS: Did you outline the whole novella before you wrote it or did it develop over time?
RLL: I started with the character of Pompey. I wrote his biography and combined his story with a short story I wrote years ago about a little girl growing up in the back of a brothel. I always wanted to write about Kali in America. So I decided to add Kali in the mix… I wanted a goddess that was summoned by Pompey to protect Savonne after he had to leave his life. I thought about a Voodoo Lwa, a Celtic Goddess, a Native American Diety, but I always came back to my favorite blue-skinned, many-armed, skull-wearing, wild-eyed Hindu Demon Killer – Kali.
SS: Your story begins and ends in Indianapolis, but Savonne spends most of her time in New Orleans or traveling between the two locations. Can you speak to the significance of both of these locations?
RLL: To me New Orleans and Louisiana is the older southern African American culture. More magical and mysterious. When the black migration to the north happened, a lot of that old time magic was left behind. The African Americans in the north were more prosperous, treated better (not much) and developed a different way of living. Some of the old ways did not travel well and were left behind. I wanted Savonne to bring that lost magic back with her to the north.
SS: Why did you decide to include this magic in your novella?
RLL: Because I love American magic and to me there is no other magic more purely American than New Orleans voodoo root work.
SS: What’s one piece of advice you would give a prospective writer?
RLL: Take long walks and talk to your characters or talk as your characters. Be careful though, someone might hear you and think you’re peculiar.
IWC: Were there any workshops or instructors at the Indiana Writers Center that helped guide this project or your writing in general?
RLL: Kent is the first name that comes to mind. I took two of his classes. The first one, we reviewed and critiqued parts of Savonne, Not Vonny. One tip he gave me was to make sure your characters are doing something while they are conversing, not just write he said, then she said.
Also Andrew Black. I wrote a one act play, revised it during a class with him, submitted it to a play contest in New Orleans, and won the darn contest- $500 dollars and they put on a great production of my play.
Back in the day when I first started writing, I took a couple of workshops with Alison Jester. I was new to writing and she was so supportive and encouraging. That was when the Writer’s Center was at Marian College.
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