Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

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People in New Orleans love to talk about New Orleans. The city is a love letter to itself in the most beautiful way, a celebration of the things that set it apart from everywhere else. Though I was there a few weeks post-Mardi Gras, it’s decorated for it all year round, and for other holidays, regardless of season:

Decorated for Halloween and mardigras all year round

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As I mentioned, this was my tenth trip down there and it was every bit as inspiring and magical as any visit I’ve made. I spent the week researching, writing, seeing friends and meeting strangers … and, since the writing component was the original impetus, I am happy to report that I met my goal. On to Draft Three!

That city is my muse.

In New Orleans you have to be okay with things not necessarily going as planned, but going, instead as they’re meant to. It’s a city of happenstance, of making a wrong turn and winding up just where you should  be, of sitting next to a stranger at a bar who knows the answer to a question you’ve had for years.

I have some cool stories of happenstance from this trip, stories that I will share here soon.

While I was there I had to fulfill a short creative assignment and I came up with this; pardon the repetition:

It’s said that once you drink the water here you’ve no choice but to return; it becomes a part of you. It seeps into your soul, this magical corner of the world where the streets are paved with music and the trees drip Spanish moss, wind chimes, and Mardi Gras beads.

It’s voodoo and gumbo and Zydeco, shotgun shacks and Creole cottages in purple, gold, and green, and every color in between.

Street corner musicians dance among black cats and Indians and the tarot card readers of Jackson Square.

It’s a beautiful love letter to itself, this town, to its past and its present, to Louis Armstrong and Storyville, the Fleur de Lys and Marie Laveau.

Here the dead have joie de vivre, and the local spirits are as much a part of the fabric of life as brass bands, second lines, Dr. John, and crawfish.

Once you’ve been here, indeed, you can never forget what it means to miss New Orleans.

 

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Arm-in-arm down Burgundy

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That’s a line from Tom Waits’ “I Wish I Was in New Orleans” … I’m posting this from my writer’s bungalow on Burgundy Street (pronounced burGUNdy). There are so many songs, great ones, written about this town. And so many wind chimes in this neighborhood; that’s the soundtrack to my writing, wind chimes and ceiling fans.

My local breakfast joint (as my dad would say) is in a former bank that was allegedly robbed by Bonnie and Clyde back when Bonnie and Clyde were robbing banks.

I love the history of this town, the good, the bad, the macabre. I lunched at Muriel’s on Jackson Square, which plays a role in my book through the suspension of disbelief that fiction requires; my book is set in 1999 and Muriel’s wasn’t Muriel’s until 2001. I need to get past that … can’t be a perfectionist in fiction. Right? Right.

Muriel’s is haunted. The building was a grand mansion that was partially destroyed in the Good Friday Fire of 1788. After that it was a private residence owned by Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan, who now goes by Antoine. In 1814 Antoine wagered his house in a poker game … and lost. Before he was to move out, he hung himself in one of the upstairs lounges—now Muriel’s séance lounge:

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The restaurant keeps a table set for Antoine and a guest:

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I spoke with bartenders and diners who’ve had experiences here. Glasses hurled across the room, glowing orbs, that cold feeling that shoots up the back of your neck when you are in the presence of a ghost. Disembodied voices.

You feel something when you’re standing at Antoine’s table. And the room where he died is colder than the rest, though that may very well be the restaurant’s doing. If owned a restaurant with a resident ghost, I’d probably make his room a bit colder to toy with the nonbelievers.

I wasn’t sure how traveling alone would be for me … as you know, I don’t like to do many things alone … but this has been wonderful. With the exception of the plans I’ve made with friends here, my agenda has been entirely my own. Traveling this way has also given me the opportunity to talk to people I’d probably not meet otherwise, like the theremin player with the Louisiana Philharmonic who was at the breakfast roundtable I joined on Monday. I resisted the urge to regale him with this gem: I’m thinking of selling my theremin; I haven’t touched it in years. 

Thank you folks, I’ll be here all week.

 

Spanish moss for my bed

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I’ve taken myself on another writing retreat, this time to New Orleans—what better place to buckle down and get things done?

This is my tenth visit to this magical city and a few chapters of Book take place here. Cool, creepy chapters, if I may be so bold.

My goal is to finish Second Draft and based on the work I did today, I think I will be able to. Right now I’m just revising my way toward the Nola chapters, which I hope to get to by Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Tuesday. Or Wednesday.

Second drafts are quirky beasts, it turns out. In some ways less daunting than the first, for obvious enough reasons, and in some ways more so—because in the second draft you’ve no choice but to “kill your darlings”, as either Allen Ginsberg or William Faulkner offered as writing advice. In other words, you have to delete some of what you wrote long ago and grew attached to. Some of the self-indulgent stuff (TJ – this is good advice for OGTAY) that you needed to write in the first place to exercise and exorcise your memories and experiences. As mine is a ghost story, I’m killing off my darlings both literally and metaphorically.

I have been up since 5AM—4AM Nola time—and I am fading. Will get a second wind because tonight I’m taking my dear friend/host to dinner for his birthday. Belatedly. But I tell you this because I don’t think I’m writing as well as I could be right now. Which is why I stopped revising Draft and decided to write in blahhhhhhhhgggggggg.

I asked my writing coach to give me the logline/elevator pitch/other-term-for-it for my project and she said, “It’s a literary ghost story set in a restaurant in New York in 1999.” The good news is, that’s fairly close to the loglinelevatorpitch I’d been offering. The good good false-sense-of-security news is that she called it “literary”. I’m not sure how literary it is. It’s character-driven, which is allegedly a mark of literary fiction, but so are long, elaborate descriptions of places and works with minimal dialogue and other things that this is not.

The second draft is weird because, while you’re not necessarily close to the finish line, you’re aware of it. When I worked at Random House and wrote for Bold Type, our literary magazine at the time, I interviewed authors. One of the questions I asked frequently was, “How did you know when your novel was done?” Turns out you can’t know. You have to decide. And you have to accept the fact that, should you ever re-read your work, you will find much room for improvement.

Earlier I heard some scuttling in the walls. At first I thought, “Mice?” Then I remembered where I am and realized, “Gators.”

Laissez les bons temps rouler, friends.