Spellbound is the prequel to my 2015 novel Spinsterella. While Spinsterella is the Goth N’ Lovely romance of the 40-year-old Matilda Crowley, Spellbound details the reasons why 16-year old Matilda Crowley became a part of the Goth Subculture.
After I published Spinsterella, I got inspired write Spellbound after watching numerous Goth Videos and listening to Goths talk about their Baby Bat days when they started being a part of the Subculture.
Structure wise, I wanted the story to be similar to a novel I wrote about Black Sororities, The Thetas. The Thetas was one of my more popular books and I wanted to write a similar story for tweens and teens and their parents so they could understand what the Goth subculture was about, and show readers of Spinsterella Matilda’s early days in the Goth subculture.
In some ways Spellbound is like a comic book character’s origin story. I draw a lot of influences from comic books in my stories and one of the influences for this one is a comic heroine’s transformation from ordinary Jane into superheorine.
I discussed writing Spellbound in a November 20l5 blog where I wrote a rough outline detailing plans to write a story about Matilda’s baby bat years. When I saw Black Goths promoting the novel on their Tumblrs, and discussing it on their blogs, I put the Book on the fast track for development.
The title Spellbound comes from the Siouxsie and the Banshees song Spellbound. Spellbound is the first song on their 1981 album Juju. When I heard the song, I immediately thought about the way Black people are taught Black culture. And the way many are conditioned from birth is to believe that there is only one way to be Black: And that is to be the Black that is acceptable to White people.
Another concept I explore in Spellbound is the myth of The Tragic Mulatto. The Tragic Mulatto was one of the darkest racial caraicatures from the Jim Crow period. Tragic Mulattos were biracial people who believe that they don’t fit in the White world or the Black world. And because they long to be accepted in the White world they are “born to hurt.” Many were filled with self-loathing like Peola in Imitation of Life and in most tragic Mulatto stories featured depressed women who wound up dying due to a series of tragic circumstances because they just couldn’t fit in the White world they longed to be a part of or have a relationship with the White man they wanted to marry.
Most White media literature like Passing and films like Imitation of Life and Pinky always showed how the biracial person always wanted to be accepted by Whites, but in Spellbound I wanted to show how Matilda wanted to be accepted by Blacks. And I wanted to show how Blacks discriminated against her in the same way Tragic Mulattoes were discriminated by Whites. It’s a story that rarely gets told in media, because the mainstream media tells Black people that they are eager to accept biracial people in their social circles due to their light skin and “good” hair. Howerver, that’s not the case. Many Black women are extremely jealous of biracial women and openly express their contempt for them, and many Black males see biracial women as sex objects.
Looking at the Tragic Mulatto myth from a different perspective, I saw the dark side of being light skinned. From that view I saw the vantage point between the worlds of Black and White many biracial people don’t take a longer look at. And from that perspective I saw how both Black people were Spellbound by the idea of White being better than Black.
The reason why Matilda starts to see the world from that point is because only an outsider like a Goth could see the world from that perspective. Since they weren’t participating in mainstream society they could observe the world from the view between the Black world and the White world and see all the insane behaviors people Black participate in just to fit themselves into a box to be the kind of “Black” person that will be accepted by Whites.
Like Spinsterella, Spellbound is actually a comedy. A dark comedy that makes a commentary on intra-racism, Black culture, and examines what Black people believe a true “Black” identity is. As Matilda makes her journey into the Goth subculture I take jabs at numerous dysfunctional and insane behaviors many Black people participate in trying to fit themselves into the box to be the kind of “Black” person that will be accepted by Whites.
The teenage Matilda Crowley in Spellbound is inspired by Denise Huxtable, Lydia Deetz from 1988’s Beetlejuice and the Marvel Comics Supervillian Typhoid Mary from Daredevil Comics. Since the story is set in 1989, I wanted to use 1980s influences in her design. For many Black boys in the 1980s Denise Huxtable was the Girl Next door many dreamed of dating, and the girl many aspired to be like. And Lydia was the Goth everybody related to. Throw in a touch of Typhoid and Matilda has the dark presence to become the later Mad Matilda.
If I had to describe what Pre-Goth Matilda looks like, I’d say she looks like Denise Huxtable with Lydia Deetz’s hairstyle and preppy late 1980s Gap clothes. If I had to describe Goth Matilda she’d look like Denise Huxtable with Lydia Deetz’s hair and clothes.
The nickname Shantelle calls Matilda Flashdance is the title of a 1983 movie called Flashdance. The star of Flashdance Jennifer Beals, is a biracial Black woman like Matilda.
The reason why Matilda is a big fan of the Daredevil Comic book is because many kids often personally identify with superheroes. Matilda likes Typhoid Mary because she’s assertive and tough, but she really identifies and relates to Daredevil because his powers enable him to see the world from a different perspective. In some ways she wants to be fearless like him. Yeah, the issue of Daredevil I mention actually was published in 1988, but I was finding old back issues of some comics at Midtown newsstands in 1989.
As a kid I used to identify with Iron Man because Tony Stark was a guy with damaged heart. As a kid recovering from a brain aneyursm, I could relate to him overcoming his physical limitations to be a hero. Plus it didn’t hurt that he had a Black friend Jim Rhodes who was the coolest character I ever saw in a comic at 10 years old.
Matilda’s brother Brody Crowley is inspired by actor Dondre T. Whitfeld. Dondre Portrayed Vanessa’s first boyfriend Robert on The Cosby Show and Terrence Frye on the soap opera All My Children. I drew a lot of Brody from Dondre’s portrayal of Terrence on All My Children. Whenever I wrote Brody’s dialogue I always heard Dondre T. Whitfield’s voice as Brody.
The relationship between Matilda and Brody is heavily inspired by the brother-sister relationship between Theo and Denise Huxtable. In early episodes of The Cosby Show they seemed to be very close. However, as the seasons passed Theo and Denise grew more distant similar to the way Brody and Matilda grew apart.
Matilda lives in Sugar Hill, a Harlem neighborhood. I chose Sugar Hill for one of the settings in Spellbound because it’s a historic Harlem neighborhood where rich and middle class Blacks lived during Jim Crow. During the 1970s the neighborhood fell into decline due to the second generation of Blacks becoming Spellbound after integration believing living in a White person’s neighborhood was better than maintaining their own. With all the crumbling brownstones, abandoned buildings and abandoned lots, and crackheads lumbering down the streets like zombies, I thought the neighborood looked like a horror movie come to life when I was a kid.
I used to visit Sugar Hill when my father would take me for haircuts back in the early to mid 1980s. And sometimes he’d take me to McDonald’s afterwards. Back then, seeing all the abandoned buildings with cinder blocks in the windows, I had no idea that it was a historic neigborhood and its significance to Black culture. Knowing about it, I had to write about it and share that history with everyone.
The Kentucky Fried Chicken Matilda works at in Spellbound is actually based on a real Kentucky Fried Chicken at the bottom of Sugar hill on Lenox Avenue on 145th Street. If you are driving on the 145th Street Bridge here from the Bronx into Manhattan You’ll see it. And yes, there is a MTA NewYork City Bus Terminal right there next to that Kentucky Fried Chicken.
The Crowley home is inspired by The Huxtable’s brownstone featured in The Cosby Show. However, I decided to darken things up in contrast from the TV show and make it fit in with the dark time period. While the Huxtables live in a well-maintained middle class brownstone in neatly manicured Brooklyn Heights, the Crowleys live in an aging brownstone in a neighborhood that’s a war zone filled with abandoned buildings, drug dealers and crackheads. During the 1980s, New York City was a hellhole filled with drugs, crime, and violence. And for a good kid like Matilda, being in that kind of neighborhood is like living in a Horror movie. Give or take a scene.
The school Matilda attends, Park West High School is the same one I attended from 1987-1990. And it was just as anarchistic as I depict in Spellbound. Drug dealers and hood rats ran the place. Students roamed the halls, and there was a sense of apathy in the air. Park West dangerous; students carried boxcutters, knives and razor blades, and many kids including myself were victims of violence and violent crime.
The confrontation between Matilda, Shantelle and her girls is based on actual incidents that went on in the bathrooms at Park West. One of the most dangerous places in an inner-city public high school or a Junior High school is a bathroom. Many girls go in there and don’t come out in one piece.
The confrontation Matilda has outside of school between Shantelle and her girls is actually based on actual confrontations between kids afterschool at Park West. Oftentimes girls would get jumped afterschool by other girls who didn’t like them. Public schools were very dangerous back in the late 1980s. There was a two to four block walk cross-town between Park West and the train station, and oftentimes due to gangs like the Decepticons and crazy kids like Shantelle it was a dangerous trek.
Shantelle, Toya, Keisha, Cherise, and Latanya are based on many girls I knew during my days at Park West. Like these characters, the girls at Park West were major hoodrats and were just plain dysfunctional. What you read in Spellbound regarding these Black women is based on real life!
Omar is actually based on many of the dope dealers I went to class with. Omar was actually the name of an actual dope boy was a lot of the girls were pining for in one of my Global studies classes in freshman year. Most Dope boys were easy to identify back then, they were the ones who wore a different pair of new sneakers every day, Troop Jackets, baggy jeans, gold chains and two-finger rings. And yes, there were Pro-Black dope dealers who were delusional enough to believe they could build their communities with dope money!
The scene of Matilda on the train reading comics and in the cafeteria is actually based on what I actually did on the way to and from school. I used to get a lot of my comics from newsstands in Times Square on the 1 line and 59th Street on the D line back in the late 1980s and I’d read them on the way home from school or in the lunchroom. For me, a comics were the thing that would make a hard day that much easier. And pizza. Pizza just makes everything better.
Matilda is a in the Computer Science program at Park West because Computer science was actually one of the actual vocational technical programs at Park West in the 1980s. In addition they also trained students in Culinary Arts, (my major) Aviation, and I think Automotive as well. If I decide to do another Mad Matilda story I’ll explore her IT background a little further. Matilda knows her way around a computer!
Mrs. Purvis, the Crowley’s next-door neighbor appeared in Spinsterella as an elderly woman. In Spellbound, she’s about 30 years younger, working, and is supposed to represent a girl raised in during the Harlem Renaissance. She’s someone who grew up with traditional Black values and raised in oldschool Black culture, and remembers when Sugar Hill was a neighborhood of working class families that worked together to form a village that raised children. This is why she has no problem opening up her home to Matilda; this is something Black women did in the community for the kids when everyone on the block looked out for everyone elses’ kids.
Mrs Purvis is an old sage; the advice she gives Matilda is her way of helping her understand how her neighborhood turned into a ghetto.
The Picture of Dorothy Dandridge on Matilda’s desk is actually supposed to be a Mirror. It’s supposed to symbolize how she sees herself; as a Black woman who doesn’t fit into the world of Black culture. In the 1950s Dorothy Dandridge played many Tragic Mulatto roles in films, and because she felt she didn’t fit into Black or White culture she fell into depression and drug additicion dying tragically at the age of 42.
The show YO! MTV Raps Shelley is watching when Matilda came home was required viewing for any teen or tween in the late 1980s. However in New York, only people in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and Queens could only get cable in the late 1980s. Due to the high crime, people like myself who lived in the Bronx couldn’t get cable and were forced to watch music videos on PBS shows like Video Music Box on Channel 31 here in New York and Video Trax on Channel 25. Before that we’d watch them on U68, but that channel got turned into the Home Shopping Network in 1986.
Damn. Just Damn.
And yes, MTV used to only play music videos in the 1980s. So that’s why Shelley was so eager to watch her MTV!
Many millenials who read Spellbound will probably wonder what a Walkman is. Basically a Walkman was a portable radio and cassette player. Walkmans were like Smartphones in the 1980s. Most kids practically took them everywhere, and having one was like social currency. In most cases, kids had a boombox (Radio and Tape player) at home and a Walkman they’d take with them to school. And they’d make mixtapes to record their favorite songs on the boombox and then listen to them on the way to school. CD’s weren’t that big in 1989, only rich people had them.
The reason why Matilda aspires to own a VCR because VCRs were a major staple of 1980s life like Walkmans and boomboxes. Many families owned one, but having one in your room meant a kid could watch movies in the privacy of their own bedroom. Unfortunately, back in 1989 a VCR could cost $300-$500, so they weren’t cheap. Mattie had to work a LOT of hours at KFC in her quest to get one!
Andre Williams is also based on many drug dealers I knew who went to Park West back in the 1980s. Many of them had serious power issues due to the fact that they were making so much money and so many women were paying attention to them.
Many drug dealers like Andre and Omar were also SIMPS looking to win a woman’s attention and favor through their wallets. Because they were SIMPS they had a hard time navigating through their emotions. Combine their emotional insecurities with their power issues and this is why these guys would explode in anger over the slightest rejection. Many drug dealers were dangerous not just because they carried guns, but because they would act impulsively on their emotions. A person could get killed looking at these guys the wrong way.
The party scene at the Projects is based on many accounts of House Parties I read about in the newspaper, what I heard from kids in Junior high and high school and many news reports I read about violence at house parties. Oftentimes people would be having a good time, and in many cases a SIMP would ruin the night by getting emptional over a female back in the day.
The party scene in The Projects is also based on what I knew about The Projects in the South Bronx and Harlem. When I’d walk down pathways around them sometimes I’d see the malt liquor cans, cigarette butts, and smell the weed in the air. And yeah, people used to piss in the elevators.
The first fight between Matilda and Shantelle is based on many fights that went on at Park West. And the trip to the Dean’s Office is also based on many fights that went on at Park West.
Principal Richard Riley is inspired by Park West’s real principal at the time Richard Ross. When I was in the SOAR program, I worked in the Principal’s office for a semester making copies. And I became familiar with the office.
Matilda’s father Jason Crowley is inspired by actor Tommy Lee Jones. Every time I wrote a piece of dialogue featuring Professor Crowley, his was the voice I heard. In Spellbound Jason’s voice is the contrasting narrative to Matilda’s.
The reason why Matilda’s Dad works at Columbia University is because I have a family member who went to college there from 1993-1997. And she told me all about the University on her visits home. When I’d visit her there I was in a sense of awe about being on the campus. It’s literally like a city within a city!
One of the courses Jason Crowley teaches, LitHum which stands for Literature and Humanities is a part of Columbia’s core cirriculum and every freshman has to take it. I heard a ton of stories from my family member about Columbia and I got inspired to tell my own based on them!
Olivia Cherry, a.k.a Lady Diabolique is actually inspired by Sabrina Lebouf, the actress who played Sondra Huxtable on The Cosby Show and several Goth YouTubers I watched like The Gobilin Queen, Morella Reborn, and Toxic Tears. Whenever I imagined Olivia, I always pictured her as Sondra Huxtable dressed in black with teased out hair and makeup like Siouxisie Sioux. Denise and Sondra were sisters in the Cosby Show, and Olivia is like a big sister to Matilda.
The dining area Mattie visists with Lady Diabolique is based on the dining area that was in John Jay Hall in the early 1990’s. And the Dorms at Carman Hall Matilda visits are also based on my visits to see my family member at Columbia in the mid 1990’s.
The trip Matilda and Lady Diabolique take to Forbidden Planet comic book store was an actual one I used to do in the summers to pick up my comics in 1989. With Mattie living in Harlem, I thought it’d be something she’d do on a weekly basis.
The world of the Goth Subculture often interconnects with the world of comic fans and science fiction fans, and Manga/Otaku fans. Many Goths travel in the same social circles. It’s not common to see Goths at a comicon, haning out with comic fans or a Sci-fi/fantasy movie premiere with sci-fi and fantasy fans or even at a wrestling or computer trade show. Goths aren’t just into dark stuff and have many hobbies and interests outside of the subculture.
The trip Matilda takes to the thrift store to look for Goth clothes is something many Goths do around Union Square and in The Village and some still do today. I drew inspiration for the thrift store scene from memories of the tirips my brother and I used to go doing comic and toy runs at vintage stores when we first started collecting superhero toys back in the late 1980s, and I on these runs I became quite familiar with the vintage and thrift stores. The hat find Matilda gets at Forman’s is the kind of bargains Goths used to get on the regular back in the 1980s!
The Song So Alive from Love And Rockets that plays on Matilda’s Boom box is actually one of the first New Wave/Goth songs I heard on the radio back in 1989 on Z100. In addition to Love And Rockets, I’ve also listened to The Cure and many other bands on U68 before I knew they were actually Goth Bands. In Spellbound, The Song So Alive is supposed to symbolize Matilda’s return to the land of the living.
I learned a lot about Goth Music watching Amy Nekrotique’s videos and thanks to her, I learned more about Goth music than just the traditional 80s Goth bands like The Cure, Sisters of Mercy and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Watching her videos I learned about industrial, Synthwave, EBM and Futurepop. If do decide to write a Legend of Mad Matilda novel to round out the trilogy, I definitely will be using what I learned from her to make the rave and club scenes pop!
The scene at the video store is based on many trips my sister and I would take to get videos on the weekend back in the late 1980s. And yeah, on the weekends many of the good movies were out!
Videotape rentals were the only way many could watch movies back in the 1980s. Back then some new release videotapes started with an $89.95 price tag. So renting at a local shop was your only option for entertainment on Saturday Night. And yeah, you had to rewind the tape or they’d charge you extra.
Matilda is a fan of Beetlejuice because it Most Goths at the time practically LIVED for that movie. Lydia Deetz was the first major Goth character to be shown in a major feature film and her impact on the subculture can be felt to this day. Lydia is considered one of the icons in the Goth subculture along with Elvira, Christina Ricci’s version of Wendesday Addams, and Nancy from The Craft.
Beetlejuice was the first Tim Burton film I ever saw in 1988 and since then I’ve been a fan of his work. The way he tells a story in pictures makes them unique and timeless. His visuals in Batman and Beetlejuice stand the test of time and look just as great as they did over 25 years ago.
The Shows Matilda mentions 227, and The Golden Girls were actual shows that ran on Saturday night as part of NBC’s lineup in 1989. Due to all the crime in the city, I spent many a Saturday night watching that lineup back in the day so I know it like the back of my hand!
The scene before Matilda makes her first appearance as The Black Widow is meant to contrast a scene in Spinsterella when Matilda left her room in regular make up to go on a date. In both scenes she has the same fears about what impression she’ll make on people when she goes out in the world.
The entrance Matilda makes down the stairs when she makes her debut as The Black Widow is based on the entrance of WWE’s The Undertaker. I always imagined the entrance music of The Undertaker playing as Matilda made her way down the stairs with smoke and fog following behind her. I thought it’d make it all the scarier when she announced that the lady had returned to the manor.
The scene at the entrance with the ID Cards causing the flashing alarm is based on experiences I had at Park West. That alarm meant that student was in trouble or on suspension.
The scene where Matilda is searched by the principal is actually something that happened at Park West as well, but was actually inspired by something YouTuber Drac Makens said happened to her in one of her videos. Many people like Principal Riley fear the Goths being violent and dangerous due to their appearance. However, they’ll overlook normal looking kids like Shantelle who carry boxcutters and knives and associate with dope dealers and gang members.
The scene between Black Widow Matilda and Omar in the cafeteria is inspired by the scene 1989’s Batman where Vicki Vale is confronted by the Joker in the Museum dining room. However, In Spellbound, I reverse the roles where the psychopath is the normal looking Omar and the sane person is the Gothed up Matilda.
The scene after she humiliates Omar is inspired what Goth Youtuber Isaki Tahashi said in one of her videos about becoming a Goth being liberating. Matilda finds her self-confidence when she becomes The Black Widow and that’s what enables her to finally start using her voice.
The scene at Sardsky’s is what Matilda talks about the Goths she met at the diner in Spinsterella. In that chapter I wanted to show the context for Matilda being at that diner and her feelings about being alone.
When Madame Macabre references ABC Afterschool Specials at Sardsky’s it’s meant to take a jab at ABC Afterschol Specials, a program that’d come on once a month back in the 1980s. In these cheesetacular programs, kids were supposed to learn a moral lesson or something from a poorly written poorly acted over the top shows presenting some sort of issue like drugs, alcholism or teen sex. ABC Afterschool Specials were absolutely ridiculous and if you were a teenager during the 1980s you practically laughed your ass off at them.
The only thing worse than ABC Afterschool specials was CBS Schoolbreaks. Man, those were shit on a plate with whipped cream and a cherry on top.
The scene inside the Club where Esmerelda confronts Matilda is based on what YouTuber Angela Benedict discussed in a video about Elitist Goths in the Goth Subculture. I’ve had my own run-ins with Goth Elitists on YouTube and yeah, they are the kind of bullies who try to discourage BabyBats from wanting to be a part of the subculture with all their silly rules, unrealistic standards and efforts to tell people what “Goth” really is.
The best thing to do with an elitist Goth is to ignore them. What is Goth is based on an individual, and there are rules set in stone to what can be considered Goth.
I also learned about Propoganda Magazine from watching one of Angela Benedict’s videos as well. After doing my own research on the history of the magazine, I found out it was the only Goth Publication available in the late 1980s. So Esmerelda would think she was hot shit for modeling in it.
The scene of Matilda in the Catholic school uniform is in by one of the scenes in the conclusion of Beetlejuice where Lydia is coming home from school. That uniform is also the basis for the Gothed up outfit she Shows Shawn in a picture of her early days at Amalgamated Consolidated in Spinsterella.
The scene where a crackhead tells Matilda to give her life to Jesus is inspired by something YouTuber Rachel Shade said in one of her videos about being confronted by people who saw her on the street. When many people see Goths, they automatically assume they worship the devil. I thought it’d be comical to see the Crackhead making an observation about Matilda’s religion when she herself needed to take her own advice.
I did more research for Spellbound than I ever did during the creation of a novel. To write Spellbound I did over three years of research on The Goth Subculture, Black history, and Black culture, and the decade of the 1980s. While I grew up in the 1980s, and had a bunch of memories of it, I really needed to check dates and facts to make sure they lined up. The way I viewed the world as a child is very different than the way I saw it as an adult and I wanted Spellbound to present events from an objective perspective, not a nostalgic one.
As part of my reasarch writing both Spinsterella and Spellbound I watched thousands of hours of Goth YouTube videos and learned about the subculture directly from the people who participated in it. Thanks to all those Goth YouTubers, I’ve learned so much about makeup, clothes, and the music, that I know the lingo of the subculture and what things are considered essential to the subculture.
To my surprise, I wrote the first draft of Spellbound in less than 90 days! While I struggled in the beginning with the first plot point, once I found a groove, the book just came together quickly. I was writing two to three chapters a day on Spellbound, and I was feeling really inspired. There’s something about Matilda that brings out the best in me when I’m writing. I just love working with the character!
Revisions on Spellbound took another 90 days, and I was able to have the book ready for publication on Halloween, the biggest holiday in the Goth Subculture.
Reception to Spellbound has been extremely positive so far. Many who have read the book enjoy it, and say that the storyline is extremely compelling and the premise is very original. I made every effort to make sure that Spellbound presented a balanced picture of Black life and The Goth Subculture in the 1980s.
On the Promotion side, Some Goths have gone out of their way to help me promote the novel on YouTube and social media, and I’ve gotten a few brothers and sisters in the Black and Black Goth communities to help get the word out this time. I really appreciate the support, and I thank everyone for helping me get the word out about the book.
With all the fun I had writing both Spinsterella and Spellbound, I’d love to round out Matilda’s story with a third book detailing her days in the Goth Subculture in the 1990s. The tentative title for the book would be The Legend of Mad Matilda. I’m just trying to iron out what I want that book to be about.
You can pick up Spellbound today in paperback and eBook at amazon or your favorite online bookseller!