Issue 033 Author Interview: Diana Hurlburt and “The Palm Bride”

We’re excited to bring you another Issue 033 author interview today, this time with Diana Hurlburt as she talks about the haunting history of her story “The Palm Bride“.

LSQ: Is the Palm Bride based on existing folklore? Or something similar?

Diana: Archaeological sites in the region of Florida where I grew up (including Windover) suggest that Native groups in the area might have had water mortuary cults, a concept seen further in Central America that I’ve always found fascinating. There’s also a custom in Ireland and in some modern pagan groups of a doll created on the feast day of Brigid, a goddess/saint fusion associated with holy wells. These are a few of the pieces of folklore that were in my mind when I was drafting this story.

LSQ: Reconstruction and the growing spiritualism movement is such a fantastic era in US history to set a story. What was it about this time period in the US that made you pick it compared to other historical time periods?

Diana: Oddly, my school education in the Civil War and Reconstruction didn’t center Florida as having much part in the conflict, and I grew up with the popular but erroneous attitude that Florida isn’t “part of the South.” As an adult, I’ve tried to catch up on reading about Reconstruction-era Florida and how the civil rights movements in particular affected the state. As far as spiritualism goes, this story came about because I tried and failed to write an 1800s AU Ghostbusters fanfic about seances and suffragettes! (If anyone out there writes this, please link me.)

LSQ: Were you already familiar with the spiritualism movement in the mid to late 1800s or did this story require research?

Diana: I knew a bit about the broad spiritualism movement and other religious movements that arose chiefly in the Northeast in the 1800s, but wasn’t sure how much reach the most popular movements had, or whether they would’ve had adherents in the South–how Southern Christian influence and the diasporic religions which came to the US with enslaved peoples might have shaped those movements. St. Augustine is a haunted city, so it seemed reasonable that people in the area might have an interest in seances and the otherworld. This article made me think specifically about the effects of the Civil War on those who remained, how their views of death changed.

LSQ: You’ve created a very interesting relationship between Mrs. Cobb and Miss Butler — not only in race at the time of the story, but also as suggested lovers. Can you comment on their relationship?

Diana: Mrs. Cobb and Miss Butler are involved, as Miss Randolph observes. It’s important to me to include LQBTQIAP+ relationships in historical fiction and speculative writing, because we have always existed. The complicated status of Mrs. Cobb after the Civil War, as a freed black woman in the South, is discussed somewhat in that the house the women live in is assumed to be owned by Miss Butler, who is white. She is also a former Bostonian, a hat-tip to “Boston marriages.” A white Northern woman living in a formerly glamorous estate with a black servant would have drawn less attention than a black free woman owning a house like Villa Reina.

LSQ: This story speaks in many ways of roles of women: “What was any woman but coarse matter fit only for fueling another’s flame?” and “I can’t recall a time when women were not left to clean up a mess.” Do you consider this a story firstly about a seance with the background of women or firstly a story about women with the background of a seance?

Diana: Most of my stories are about women, generally and specifically, and then the secondary purpose is whatever circumstances and time those women find themselves in. “The Palm Bride” in particular is about women because of the extreme and majority-male death toll of the Civil War, because of that time period in which abolition and suffragist movements were gaining traction, and because spiritualism carved out a space for women prophets and practitioners and had a lot of overlap with progressive political and social movements.

LSQ: Seeing as you live in Florida, can you describe some ways in which it, as a location and a character itself, fits into your story? Does the region surface in other works of yours?

Diana: Florida is my favorite place to write about! I love stories where the setting is its own character and try to create those as often as possible. “The Palm Bride” inhabits a Florida almost like ours, a space where I’ve been building a regional mythology that takes into account the state’s singular geographic features, its patchwork history, and its diverse populations. As a kid I loved a lot of European-inspired fantasy, but when it came time to create my own speculative world, I balked at including established otherworldly elements like elves and fairies. Instead I tried to take concepts like kelpies and mermaids and grow them in Florida. Ada Nuit, the mischievous spirit at the center of “The Palm Bride,” derives her name from a corruption of “as da nuite,” the ghost procession featured in some Spanish myths. As a white writer, it’s not my place to rewrite Florida prehistory or co-opt the myths of the state’s extant Native groups; however, I hope the stories I create illuminate some of what is so spectacular and unique about Florida’s culture and natural beauty.

You can find other Florida stories (including more Ada Nuit!) here, here, here, and here.

LSQ: What was the biggest challenge in writing this story? What did you enjoy the most about writing it?

Diana: Plot is not my strong point as a writer, so crafting a compelling conflict for the women to deal with was first on the to-do list. Atmosphere and character come more naturally to me, so writing about a place I love and find evocative (visit St. Augustine if you get a chance!) was appealing, and differentiating the three women in the story was a pleasant challenge. Miss Randolph’s dry internal superiority-complex was especially fun.


One thought

  1. As a character-driven reader, I was enchanted (ha!) by the characters in this story, as well as the content. As one of the pagans who is familiar with poppets, restless spirits and created servitors I think you handled the embodiment of Ada Nuit so adroitly, I’m surprised to hear that you’re not one of us!

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