Behind the Photo: Garden District

April 6, 2019, 2:38 pm

This may (or may not) be the start of a new blog feature: “behind the photo.” My thought is to give some context to the impulse that compelled me to snap a photo.

Truthfully, I do this very thing in this space all the time. Look for any of my “City Park” posts. So I guess the only thing that’s new is that I’m attempting to brand the effort. The marketer in me dies hard.

A quick Google search tells me that both National Geographic and Time use the phrase “behind the photo” for sections of their publications. But I don’t think anyone who stumbles across this post will confuse it for either one of those esteemed periodicals.

Anyway, on Saturday, I paid a quick visit to the Garden District of New Orleans, to run into the Garden District Book Shop. (If you’re curious to read more about this great independent bookstore, click here.) What captured my attention at this corner was not so much the sign, but the wall in the background, and in particular, the people there.

That wall encloses Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, one of New Orleans’s oldest cemeteries. As I drove past the entrance, I saw a large group of folks milling about. My guess was that they were sightseers, either about to embark on or just finishing up a tour.

My first thought: Only in New Orleans, do you see large crowds gathered around a graveyard.

But then I remembered a time in Paris, just two years ago now, where I wandered about with friends around Père Lachaise Cemetery.

My second thought: Maybe it’s a French thing.

One final observation to finish this up. Both the name of the cemetery, and the reference on the sign to the “City of Lafayette,” can be a bit confounding to the modern-day Southern-Louisiana dweller. To me, Lafayette is the city about 140 miles west of New Orleans, that one can reach via I-10. The Internet says it’s the 4th largest city in Louisiana, which sounds about right to me.

But apparently, a different city with the name Lafayette was once also a suburb of New Orleans. Back in those days, I think the name was pretty popular, given that the Marquis de Lafayette, or General Lafayette here, was “USA all the way” during the American Revolutionary War. By a very quick and non-official count, it looks like 15 of our 50 states have towns named Lafayette, or some close variation.

Back when Lafayette became part of New Orleans, what I know as Lafayette today was called Vermilionville. It didn’t get the name “Lafayette” until 1884.

So there’s your “behind the photo” scoop, and, bonus, a random Louisiana fact.

Laborde Mountain

The Climb

On a quick jaunt into New Orleans City Park’s Couturie Forest, I thought of a term I remember hearing in my youth: riprap. Riprap is “loose stone used to form a foundation for a breakwater or other structure.” That’s what my dad called the broken concrete that lines the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. The levee that rings the south shore of this brackish lake was just a two-block walk from the house where I grew up, so I spent much of my childhood around riprap.

I think the word is still in use, I just don’t hear it much anymore. Perhaps because my day-to-day life does not involve constructing shoreline structures. (More’s the pity.) And the purpose of this post is not to share any deep observation about figurative, or metaphoric, riprap. I’m coming up empty, there. So instead, I thought I might share a few details about Laborde Mountain.

Laborde Mountain sits within City Park’s Couturie Forest, and the Internet tells me it was made from riprap derived from the construction of nearby Interstate 610. (Which, coincidentally, is the Interstate that is overpassing in the title of my novel, The Incident Under the Overpass.) The peak of Laborde Mountain is 43 feet above sea level, and is the highest point in the city of New Orleans.

Here are some pictures, where you can see the interesting composition of riprap around here. That’s it for today!

The Summit
The View from the Top
The visible riprap: oyster shells

Lucky 13

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Portentous. That’s the word that comes to mind when thinking of this past Sunday, January 20. The Saints played the NFC Championship game in the Superdome, there was a lunar eclipse, or “blood moon,” later that evening, AND Husband Tim and I celebrated our thirteenth wedding anniversary.

First thing that comes to mind, honestly, is that I can’t believe I’ve been blogging for more than three years. I wrote about our tenth anniversary in this post: Notching a Decade. And, the second thing, is that thirteen has never been a big deal to me. Not to make light of it — I get that triskaidekaphobia is a very real thing. Every time I get on an airplane with no row 13, or in an elevator in a building with no apparent 13th floor, I understand that the number inspires a real enough fear in enough people that such decisions get made.

It’s just never been a big deal to me. My feelings are akin to Jim Lovell’s, in one of my favorite movies, Apollo 13. His wife, Marilyn, expresses concern over the number of his mission: “Naturally, it’s 13. Why 13?” she asks. Jim Lovell’s reply: “It comes after 12, hon.”

The same thing goes for eclipses. I’m fascinated by the synchronized timing and alignment of these giant celestial bodies, and the tricks they play on us earth dwellers (click here for my observations of fireflies during a solar eclipse). But I don’t think they herald any particular play of luck: good, bad, or otherwise.

So, I did not feel any particular foreboding ahead of that NFC Championship game. Tim and I were there together, as part of our anniversary celebration. Our spirits, and optimism, were high. Yet, the Saints lost, in a particularly painful fashion. (A missed call by game officials in the last minutes of regulation play turned the tide against us.) For those not in New Orleans, let’s just say, to qualify the loss as heartbreaking is a grand understatement.

In retrospect, do I think the number of years we’ve been married, or the red moon, had any impact on the unfortunate turn of events for the Saints? No. I didn’t pre-game, and I still don’t. But as a fiction writer, these are the types of noteworthy details that add compelling dimension to any conflict.

And for the record, if I was writing this story, the Saints would have won. 😦

The Epiphany

Sunrise on January 6, 2019. Three kings in the foreground?

This past Sunday was the Epiphany, or King Cake Day as it’s known to some around these parts. January 6 marks the date the three wise kings visited the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. In New Orleans, it marks the start of the Mardi Gras season, and also the date when king cakes become available.

If you’re not familiar with king cakes, I wrote about them a few years back, in a post titled, appropriately enough, King Cakes. For the next two months, these sweet treats will be purveyed at bakeries all around town.

There were also parades and parties on Sunday, of which I did not partake (I’ve been fighting a cold for the past week and a half). The weather was perfect, however, so I did get out for a nice long walk right after sunrise. A good opportunity to clear the lungs and nasal passages, (not a pretty picture) and, more suitable for this blog, capture a few photos (hopefully prettier pictures).

It’s a long Carnival season this year — Fat Tuesday isn’t until March 5 — so I’m confident I’ll have ample time to join in the festivities. In the meantime, here’s my own, simple, gentle epiphany: I’m happy to be part of a place that elevates food, music and frivolity to royal levels, but still allows me to escape into its sylvan expanses when needed.

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

Community Book Center Read-A-Thon

Vera Warren Williams opening the Read-A-Thon

I had the good fortune to participate in Community Book Center’s inaugural Read-A-Thon this past weekend. A little bit about this remarkable spot: Community Book Center’s Facebook page states it’s “more than a book store,” but that’s really an understatement.

This gathering place has been a part of New Orleans’s landscape for thirty-five years. I first entered its doors on Bayou Road, in the Gentilly neighborhood, about two years ago, and I’m always astounded by how enlightened I feel upon exiting. Earlier this year, I was there for Jan Miles’s presentation of her book, The Post-Racial Negro Green Book. The book is “based on the Jim Crow-era Negro Motorist Green Books, and chronicles contemporary racism in ‘post-racial’ America.”

Here’s what I wrote about it back in March, in a post titled The Writing Spectrum: the book “documents acts of racial bias against African Americans in the U.S., from 2013 to 2016. Jan Miles read from a list of incidents—some from the recent years captured in the book, and some from the Civil Rights era—and had the audience guess the century they occurred. We got many wrong; it was an amazingly eye-opening exercise. She compiled this archive ‘for the sake of review, consideration, discussion, and action.’ ”

Just a few months ago, I picked up a signed copy of Bernice L. McFadden’s Praise Song for the Butterflies at Community Book Center. It’s currently #2 on my TBR list. (I had thought of going off on a tangent, about how slowly I read, about why I read slowly, what I’m currently reading. . .but it all felt awfully excuse-y. So suffice it to say I’m very excited to read this book.)

And then the readings on Friday night! I was enraptured by the selections from Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf. (This extraordinary playwright died very recently, at the end of October. I have to share this quote I found about her passing, from her sister, the playwright Ifa Bayeza: “It’s a huge loss for the world. I don’t think there’s a day on the planet when there’s not a young woman who discovers herself through the words of my sister.”)

The heart and soul at the center of Community Book Center is Vera Warren Williams. She read from Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls. . ., along with sisters Christine Jordan and JoAnn Minor. Their voices, along with others like Rose Bratcher, Sunni Patterson, and Christopher Williams, will resonate with me for a long while.

Thank you, Vera, for organizing this event!

 

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

Garden District Book Shop (and Chapter 1, Part 2)

I am thrilled to announce the local launch of The Trouble on Highway One at the Garden District Book Shop, on Tuesday, November 20, at 6pm! If you are in town, please stop by.

Garden District Book Shop has some very positive associations for me. Shortly after I moved back to New Orleans, in the early 2000’s, I went there to meet Greg Iles. I had just read The Footprints of God, and saw that he would be in town, signing copies of Blood Memory at Garden District Book Shop. It was such a great opportunity to meet an author I had just discovered, and pick up a signed copy of his next book.

And just two years ago, my friend Kristen’s publishing company released a book of poetry, I Am One of You, by Nicole Eiden. (That’s Kristen at the podium in the picture above.) The event she held there was a real success. I’m so excited New Orleans readers will get to pick up their copy of The Trouble on Highway One at Garden District Book Shop!

I plan to read an excerpt during the event. Last week, I mentioned that I would publish the second part of Chapter 1, so here you go:

1

. . .

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.

She swerved to the right, the opposite side from the bayou. In less than an instant, the steep embankment rose up, and her truck ended its collision course against a tree.

Her eyes opened, and her face felt wet. Something obscured her vision. She thought she’d gone into the bayou.

She drew the back of her hand across her forehead. Holding it out to the dim light of the dashboard, it was coated in a thick redness.

Help.

She would need to get help. It was too far to walk back to Galliano, and too far to walk forward home to Larose.

Home. Morris. He’d be angry about the truck. But he’d be more worried about her, she knew.

None of it would matter if she couldn’t get out of the truck and flag down help from the road.

She turned toward her driver’s side door, and focused her effort on the door handle. The front end of the truck was crumpled, and it kept her door from opening.

Looking through that window, a familiar figure appeared.

Help is coming to me, she thought.

As the figure grew larger in her view, she saw him. It was a man dressed all in white. Why did he look familiar?

That was the man in the road. What was he doing walking in the middle of the road? Can he help?

As the man came closer, her blood ran cold. He had a man’s face, but there was something unnatural about it. Birdie thought of a picture book she had when she was a child. A picture book of Bible tales. One page showed the devil’s face, when he appeared to Jesus during his forty days in the desert. He had bloodshot eyes, and a rapacious mouth.

That picture terrified her. And that’s what the man’s face looked like.

Now, he stood right outside the truck. Her limbs felt heavy. He held his palm up to the glass of her driver’s side window. All she wanted was to turn away. But she couldn’t.

She was transfixed.

She saw his palm pressed against the glass, but felt an invisible, icy pressure just above her heart.

Terror enveloped her. The pressure escalating to an inexorable conclusion.

In an instant, she was released. No more horror, no more pain above her heart. She could finally turn her gaze. She looked at the passenger seat, and Momma was there. The light of her smile made the devil disappear from Birdie’s thoughts.

Birdie couldn’t feel her own body anymore, but she could feel Momma take her by the hand. They left the truck through the passenger’s side, and someone was waiting there for them. A warm, distant memory made concrete. It was Birdie’s father.

The three of them made their way to the woods.

Like in a dream, Birdie could see her form in the truck, the blood on her face. The devil was nowhere to be seen.

Her heart ached a little for the Becnel children, and more so for Ronnie and young Cecil. Morris made her stop in her tracks. He couldn’t live without her. She tried to turn around. To go back.

Birdie felt herself shrinking. She looked up, and her parents were on each side of her, towering above her. Gently, they each put an arm around her and carried her until she was whole again.

The woods never looked more peaceful. The cicadas sounded otherworldly, heavenly. The smell of eucalyptus enveloped them as they crossed the threshold.

Figure of Speech

Last Saturday, I went to the studios of WRBH and read from my soon-to-be released novel, The Trouble on Highway One. It was a trip! Sitting in sound proof booth, filling up twenty-seven minutes with a soliloquy of my own making. In my marketing past, I’ve done some fill-in voiceover work, and recorded a few 30-second and 60-second radio spots. But this was an entirely different experience. Like the difference between a daily commute and a cross-country road trip.

This segment will air on an upcoming episode of WRBH’s “Figure of Speech.” Here’s the description of the program, from the WRBH website: “Local authors and poets share and discuss their own work, as well as work from the artists who influence and inspire them.” Local meaning New Orleans.

Here in New Orleans, (and in the U.S.), WRBH is the only full-time FM reading radio service. And much of their original content, including “Figure of Speech,” “New Orleans By Mouth,” and “The Writer’s Forum” is available on Soundcloud.

For my segment, I read the first chapters of The Trouble on Highway One, and The Incident Under the Overpass. In between, I talked a little bit about traiteurs, and their healing tradition here in Southern Louisiana. At the end, jumping to artists who’ve inspired me, I mentioned Walker Percy for how he evoked the spirit of New Orleans in his writing, and I read from Jane Austen’s Persuasion (my favorite Jane Austen novel!) Funny how I found my own work easier to read aloud than Jane’s. 😉

My “Figure of Speech” episode should be available sometime in the next month, but in the meantime, don’t hesitate to check out the WRBH programs on Soundcloud. I listened to some really compelling stories as I prepared for my session!

 

 

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!