Before the Solstice

Sunrise in the Couturie Forest, November 18, 2018

So, winter officially begins this Friday at 4:23 pm local NOLA time. According to an article I found on mentalfloss.com, this specific time corresponds to the moment the North Pole is pointed furthest away from the sun. It’s also the specific moment when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.

I’m not a huge fan of winter. I’ve probably stated that here before. It doesn’t get super-cold in New Orleans, and we rarely have to deal with the problematic logistics of trying to get to places dealing with snow and ice, so I understand that there are worse places to winter. But it does get cold here. . .a windy and damp cold. And it still gets dark early.

But that leads me to the thing I love to celebrate about the solstice—it’s the turning point. After Friday at 4:34 pm, the nights will start getting shorter. Ever so gradually, until we all find ourselves at 10:54 am on Friday, June 21, 2019. (That’s the next summer solstice, when we’ll have the longest day and the shortest night).

The impending change of season has me reflecting on the one just past. Speaking for myself, the Fall of 2018 was a good one! I was blessed with the opportunity to reconnect with distant, long-time friends (Tamara, Stacey, Carol, and Christine); I traveled to Houston and Amsterdam; the Saints are having a phenomenal football season. And, oh yeah, MY SECOND NOVEL RELEASED.

Again, personally speaking, getting #2 out into the world was a huge boost to my confidence as a writer. Now, I’m sure I will still get in my own way, writing-wise, on a daily basis. But I also know what I can do—and continue to do— if I simply persevere.

Those feel like nice words to conclude my 2018 posts. . .I’m taking a break next week for the holiday, and will resume in the New Year. Happy Holidays, everyone, and thanks for reading!

In this post, I’ve shared some pictures from Fall 2018, that never made it to any social media outlet. . .

Superdome, November 18, 6:42 am
Red berries near City Park, November 18
Black and Gold carpet in the Couturie Forest, December 1
Sunrise in City Park, December 12
Everblooming Azaleas, December 12
Near Popp Fountain, December 16

Going to the Space Station

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Almost two months ago, I wrote about the failed mission to send new crew members to the International Space Station (link to the post, titled Uncertainty, here). At the time, people who watch these types of things were wondering how long the current Expedition 57 crew would need to prolong their stay. Or would they need to eventually abandon the Station altogether?

It turns out, they won’t need to worry about that. Expedition 58 launched earlier this week, carrying three crew members up to the orbiting platform, 250 miles up in the sky.

And one of those crew members is me!

Okay, not really me. But NASA Astronaut Anne McClain is now settling into her new home for the next six months. Along with David Saint-Jacques (Canadian Space Agency) and Oleg Konenenko (Roscosmos), they will share quarters with the Expedition 57 crew until December 20. That’s when Alexander Gerst (European Space Agency), Serena Auñón-Chancellor (NASA), and Sergey Prokopyev (Roscosmos) return to Earth.

I have to note a few things about Anne McClain. Talk about an inspirational human being! West Point graduate, Colonel in the U.S. Army, test pilot, rugby player, mother. She first announced her intention to become an astronaut when she was three years old. She became an astronaut in 2013, and Monday’s trip to the International Space Station was her first spaceflight.

When you’re a writer in this current digital / Amazon age, you pay attention to search results. So I’ve known for years that there was an astronaut named Anne McClain, and have always been thrilled by the name similarity. And now I’m delighted by this recent convergence.

Next time I watch the Space Station track across the sky, I will know that Anne McClain is up there, doing her astronaut thing. I can think of no better inspiration to keep doing my Anne McClane thing (that’s writing, to be clear) down here on terra firma.

You Are A Tourist

And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born
Then, it’s time to go
And you find your destination with so many different places to call home

Those are lyrics from “You Are A Tourist,” a song from alternative rock band Death Cab for Cutie. It’s from their 2011 album Codes and Keys, and it’s quite possibly one of my favorite songs of this decade. Easily in the top ten.

The song has been in my head since this past weekend. My friend Stacey (featured in Greece 1 and Greece 2) was in town from Los Angeles. We spent the weekend dining, browsing (and shopping) in local spots, taking a French Quarter ghost tour, and marveling at New Orleans’ holiday decorations. That last part—the holiday part—is something I almost never do. More than anything, that might be what had me feeling like a tourist. It was fun!

Pictured at the top of this post is something that caught my eye at the Roosevelt Hotel in the French Quarter. This hotel always does an amazing holiday array, and the lights really set off this statue. It’s called the “Mystery Lady Timepiece,” and its nameplate indicates it was displayed at the Paris Exhibitions of 1867 and 1878.

Concluding with those opening lyrics, for a few days, I did feel like a tourist in the city where I was born. And at earlier times in my life, I definitely felt (and answered) the call to “go,” finding different destinations to call home. But I realize now, writing is the journey that calls to me. The different destinations exist only in my mind’s eye, and it’s up to me to bring them to fruition.

Who knows. . .the “Mystery Lady” seems like she might have an interesting story. What has she witnessed between Paris in 1867 and New Orleans in 2018? Enquiring minds want to know. . .

Thanks for reading!

Celebration in the Oaks, New Orleans City Park

More photos from the Roosevelt

Gratitude

I have a heckuva lot to be grateful for. I try to remain mindful of that fact every day of the year, not just when I’m staring down the barrel of Thanksgiving.

Perusing my post history in this space, to see what I’ve written for the other three Thanksgiving Eves I’ve passed while writing this blog, I was a bit disappointed in myself. While I remembered my first: I’m Thankful for Godzilla, I could not recall the other two. That’s because I didn’t mark the approach of Thanksgiving in the past two years. Shame on me.

Last year, I wrote about attending the Texas Renaissance Festival; and the year before that, it was George Gershwin. Hopefully, my gratitude for spending time with family in Texas; and my appreciation of the contributions George and Ira Gershwin made to the world of music, were apparent, and sufficed as an expression of my thankfulness.

Now, into my third year of being published, and closing in on nine years since I first decided to give this fiction writing thing a go, it seems its high time to express some gratitude.

Especially for last night. I held a launch event for my second novel, The Trouble on Highway One, at the Garden District Book Shop on Prytania Street in New Orleans. I don’t think I can express sufficient appreciation—for everyone who came, for the good folks at the Garden District Book Shop, for all the kind words I received.

Becoming a published fiction writer—and the effort to reach out to new readers, in the hopes of offering something of value (entertainment, escape, anything)—has meant a personal stretch outside my comfort zone. In a big way. I am profoundly grateful for the reception I’ve received as I’ve entered this brave new world.

Happy Thanksgiving.

First Chapter on Soundcloud! (And here, too)

So, a few weeks ago, I wrote about my appearance on WRBH Reading Radio (link here). That appearance is now up on Soundcloud (link here). Two disclaimers:

  • It opens with a reading of the first chapter of The Trouble on Highway One, which contains a bit of singing. Yes, sorry, I do sing for a bit. It’s warbly, but honest.
  • The full recording is close to 30 minutes. After Chapter 1 of TOHO, which takes less than ten minutes, I read the first chapter of The Incident Under the Overpass, and then a bit from Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

And since The Trouble on Highway One is now available on Amazon (link here) and Barnes & Noble.com (link here), I’m not giving anything away by publishing Chapter 1, Part 1 below. It opens with a decades-old mystery that our heroine, Lacey Becnel, gets drawn into.

I’ll publish Chapter 1, Part 2 next week at this time!

1 

South of Cut Off, Louisiana

One summer in the mid-twentieth century

Ga-dunk.

Birdie drove down Louisiana Highway One, the same stretch of highway she’d driven a thousand times before, it seemed. Galliano to Larose in the evening. Larose to Galliano in the morning.

Ga-dunk. She passed over a crosspiece for a bridge over Bayou Lafourche. Ga-dunk, over the other side of the bridge.

The night was complete darkness, no moon, the sky swathed in an inky haze. She’d left the Becnels late, waiting for Mr. Becnel to return home from a business trip.

She imagined the lights from her truck’s headlights were the only lights for miles around.

You are a light for the world. Light your lamp where it shines for everyone.

The actual Bible verse was a little different, she knew. But that was how Momma used to say it to her. When she talked about her gift.

Birdie smiled wistfully. She still missed her mother. But she still felt her with her.

She missed Momma, but she didn’t feel empty. Just like she’d never felt empty about Daddy. Her father—the source of her gift—had died when she was very young. Barely old enough to remember him. But he had passed on his traiteur ability to his little daughter, just learning to move in the world. It was Momma, and her brother, Ronnie, who had taught her the lengths, and the limits, of her ability. But Daddy always seemed present, especially in Momma’s and Bubba’s memories.

Now it was her mother who seemed present. Right now. She thought of Ronnie, and was glad she had just seen him recently. She thought of young Cecil, his precious son. A young man, now. Several years older than she was when Daddy passed the gift to her.

She reached for the radio dial. She’d reached the spot on the highway where she could pick up the radio station in New Orleans. And she was in luck, they were playing one of her favorites. “Amazing Grace.”

She looked to her empty passenger seat and imagined Momma sitting right there. They would sing together.

Birdie hummed along, until the last passage. Then she sang aloud, her voice like salted honey. A warm, earthy, resonant note.

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, than when we first begun.”

Birdie didn’t see the man standing in the road until it was too late. Too late for her.

 

 

October Surprise

So, October 30 snuck up on me. October 30, yesterday, was the release day for my second novel, The Trouble on Highway One. I had intended to do more pre-promotion than I did. Send out an email blast. Take out more Facebook ads. Update the front page of this website. Alas, the best laid plans…

However, while my publicity efforts may be a tad lacking, or, at the very least, a tad behind; I feel the opposite way about the story itself. I’m very excited to get it out there, I feel it’s absolutely ready for the world. I had in my head that I did not want to push its release past October; and all my writing, editing and re-writing efforts were aimed toward that goal. So it made it on the last Tuesday in October.

Kind of like how I wanted to finish the last marathon I ran in under four and a half hours. I ran it in 4:29:29.

And speaking of running, I’m compelled to bring up Haruki Murakami. I just read an article that quoted the famed novelist (and avid runner). At an event in New York, just a few weeks ago, he shared his thoughts on what he could do—what he could offer—in light of all the suffering constantly around us.

He concluded that he could write good stories:

“…I thought, ‘What I can do is to write good fiction.’ After all, when I write a good story, good fiction, we can understand each other if you are a reader and I’m a writer. There is a special secret passage between us, and we can send a message to each other.”

I am by no means comparing myself, or my stories, to Murakami. Or even claiming that my fiction is “good” by his measure. But I am eager to share this latest story I’ve written. If for no other reason than the chance to provide some entertainment or diversion to those in need of it.

Happy Halloween, y’all!

Anne McClane and the 1,000 Likes

A little over three years into this blog, and having written 168 posts, WordPress told me I’ve garnered 1,000 likes. I feel pretty good about that! Here’s why:

  • I don’t have a ton of followers on WordPress (less than 250). All those likes aren’t necessarily from followers, but if they were, it would mean followers have read and liked what I’ve written multiple times.
  • I only post once a week, on fairly random topics. I’m playing the long game here, and I’m thrilled to have reached this milestone at this early-ish stage of the game.
  • Links to these posts also appear on my Facebook page. But unlike Facebook, most of my WordPress likes are from people I don’t know personally. Same thing for the followers–most of those follows are from people I’ve encountered through the WordPress platform.

That last point underscores one of my favorite things about WordPress. I love having the freedom to write as much as I want about the topic at hand, in a user-friendly format. But more than that, I love following the posts of my favorite bloggers. There is such a wide range of voices I’ve been introduced to, just by being part of WordPress. Some of these folks feel like friends, even though we’ve never met.

Just like One Thousand and One Nights, the ancient collection of Middle Eastern stories that inspired the title of this post, the blogs I’ve found on WordPress are a treasure trove of different styles, themes, and fantastical ideas. I’m very grateful to be included in this vibrant community.

So long, and thanks for all the likes!!

 

The Writing Fall

Funny how life follows the seasons. Right now, it feels like the harvest for me. Several seeds, some sown years ago, are coming to fruition.

First: my novel, The Trouble on Highway One, is available for pre-sale on Amazon. Release date is October 30. This is the second story in the Traiteur Trilogy, featuring the protagonist Lacey Becnel as she struggles to understand and utilize her supernatural healing powers.

This is the seed that was planted a long time ago. I began writing it after the first story, The Incident Under the Overpass, was drafted, but not yet published. So it’s been a long road. (A long highway?) I had to mention it first, lest Husband Tim accuse me of “burying the lead.” (Which he does from time to time).

Second: I have an installment in OUTSIDE IN TAKES A STAB: 139 New Perspectives on 139 Buffy Stories by 139 Writers. This is an anthology on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and my essay covers “The Dark Age” episode. My piece begins with the sentence, “I hate vampires.” I know certain members of my family will read that, and immediately follow it up with Anakin Skywalker’s whiny soliloquy on sand from Attack of the Clones. (A not-so-inside joke for anyone familiar with the “I hate sand” meme.) OUTSIDE IN TAKES A STAB is available for pre-order, currently scheduled to release November 2.

And finally: an excerpt from my short story, “Lucky Eight,” will appear in the upcoming Louisiana’s Emerging Writers publication. It’s set to publish October 23, and should be available for pre-order from Z Publishing within the next week or so.

Emerging, indeed! Feels pretty good, I have to admit. 🙂

Cover Reveal!

I’m very excited to reveal the cover of my second novel, The Trouble on Highway One! I’m working to make it available for pre-sale on Amazon, and I hope to accomplish this in the next few days. Once I do this, I’ll announce its release date (I’m aiming for October 30).

Here’s what I have for the blurb, so far:

Things are looking up for recent widow Lacey Becnel. A short-term job assignment on California’s beautiful Central Coast, and a new love interest fill her days after a tumultuous summer. But as she discovers more about the mysterious traiteur power bestowed upon her, she will learn that she is not the only one with potent, supernatural abilities.

I’ll have more details next week!

Writers Roundup

All the authors had the opportunity to participate in a book signing. Heather Graham signed her books in front of my banner for a spell!

An overdue shout-out and THANK YOU to Heather Graham’s Writers for New Orleans. I was excited to attend this writers conference, held in the French Quarter over Labor Day weekend. Here’s a bit more detail, from the “thank you” email sent to the participants:

“We’re a unique little group, which came into being because of the devastation created in NOLA when the levees broke after Katrina. . . We’re warm, we’re small, we’re intimate. And, my biggest hope each year, is that we manage one task for you–and that’s to send you home happy and inspired.”

In my case, they definitely succeeded!

I was happy to meet and spend time with so many writers; and share thoughts and ideas on researching, publishing, and balancing all the demands of life with writing time.

Just a few of the writers there:

Heather Graham—the best-selling author is a native of Florida, but has a long-standing love for New Orleans. Indeed, several of her more than 200(!) romance, suspense, and paranormal novels are set here. I am so very grateful to Heather for her generosity, her time, and her dedication to great stories!

David Morrell—“Rambo’s Daddy,” David Morrell hit the scene in 1972 with his debut novel, First Blood. He is the author of over thirty books, thrillers set in different times and locales. His latest series explores Victorian-era London. And he has such thoughtful advice on writing. Here is something I heard him say in a session (that I later looked up and pulled  from his website): “Before beginning each project, I write a letter to myself that asks the question: ‘Why is this book worth a year of my life?’ There needs to be something about a book’s theme, its research, and the way it is written that grabs me and won’t let go.”

And I was really thrilled to chat with my fellow, local, New Orleans writers; this was my first opportunity to meet most of them face-to-face. I’ve included links to their websites below:

Stella Barcelona – author of the Black Raven romantic thriller series

Colleen Mooney – author of the New Orleans Go Cup Chronicles

Liah Penn – mystery/suspense writer, and author of four novels, including the award-winning Pure Death

Alexandrea Weis – author of multiple paranormal, horror, and romance series, including the Magnus Blackwell series

My apologies to everyone I missed—I’m sure I’m leaving some folks out. I could fill pages and pages more about this event. But I have to stop somewhere.

So, to conclude, I’ll give an update on my own writing: the weekend of the conference, I juggled the sessions with running home and dedicating time to my second novel, The Trouble on Highway One. I was combing through some final edits, and hoped to be complete before the conference began, but, alas, it didn’t happen. I can now report that last Tuesday, September 4, I submitted a (hopefully, nearly,) final draft to my editor for one last review.

Happy and inspired, indeed!