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Archive for October, 2012

True Story

There are two people I credit with encouraging me — through thick, thin, good times, nervous breakdowns, and countless walks through the French Quarter — to be the writer I am. One is Anne Rice and the other is Nia. Or Adonia, Lady of the Lion’s Gate, my Minion Mom. Sometimes C.G. Davis, or simply Gail Davis as she’s known in this anthology, Poisoned Graves. Nia and Gail are interchangeable to me depending on the subject, so I know it can get confusing when I bring her up.

I invited her to tell the story of our encounter with Julie because it’s her story more than anyone else’s, though I was there and can give testimony that what she says is absolutely true. It was brought up in the comments of this post, so here we go. My friend, my long-time partner in literary crime, and my many times over Nola sidekick, Nia.

~

Several years ago, in New Orleans, myself and several friends were making our way through the French Quarter while avoiding the noise and crowd that is Bourbon Street late on a Friday night. It was quiet where we were; that special kind of quiet that only haunted places can produce. Silence for the ears, but with a sense of presence so strong, so soul-stirring, the feel of it is nearly deafening.

We wandered along, laughing and talking quietly, as if we might somehow disturb the spirits lurking in the darkened businesses along the street if we spoke any louder, and eventually passed an area which was in the midst of a serious re-landscaping. There were no trees, no shrubs, not even a blade of grass to be seen. Yet, as we walked, we were suddenly all very aware of the scent of magnolias. It was late October. Magnolia trees don’t bloom in late October, not even down here. Nevertheless, we looked all around for a tree and found none. You might think it was carried upon a breeze, we did, except that the wind was just as still as everything else. It was shortly after that, moments later, with the scent still wafting around us, that we passed the Bottom of the Cup Tea Shop.

For those of you who don’t know the story, there’s a ghost there. Her name is Julie. In her living years, she dwelled within a townhouse off Royal Street, the bottom floor of which became a tea shop that eventually moved to Chartres. A Mulatto beauty of great renown, she was the mistress of a French nobleman. She wanted to marry him but he would continually put her off. Finally, one night, the coldest night of the year, he made a deal with her. He would marry her… if she could spend the night, nude, upon the roof of the house. He was sure, you see, that she would never do it. For one thing, a lady would never disrobe in public and, for another, there was simply no way she, such a delicate flower, could stand the cold.

He was wrong. In the early hours of the following morning, she was found naked upon that roof, having frozen to death. He never forgave himself and, in time, drank himself into oblivion.

Julie, apparently enamored of the owners of the tea stop, followed when The Bottom of the Cup moved and is known to be a bit mischievous with patrons. Especially men. She doesn’t like them much and tends to pick on them. She does, however, love women. She likes to play with their hair and skirts and there are a number of tales to be heard about her doing those things. This story, my story, is one of them.

We passed the shop, the scent of magnolias – did I mention that Julie was known to wear perfume made from the flowers? – filling the air around us, and someone up ahead (we were spread out along the sidewalk, walking in singles and pairs, several feet between us) pointed out that that was, indeed, the Bottom of the Cup. Someone behind me commented about Julie’s love of magnolias and, with a smile, I said aloud, “Hello, Julie!”

No sooner had the words left my mouth, the sound of them barely faded, than I was struck by the sensation of what I can only describe as a hand trailing through my hair and down the back of my neck. At that same moment, the scent became nearly overwhelming. I was left shivering, goose pimples running over my body from head to toe, and laughing softly, incredulously, that she had chosen me, of all the people there, to make herself known to. I suppose she liked that I had acknowledged her. In fact, I think she liked it so much that she may have accompanied us back to our hotel that night.

After a trolley ride, we disembarked at a bank on St. Charles and walked a few blocks over to St. Vincent’s hotel.  We’d gone perhaps two blocks when we were, once again, in spite of the absence of trees and wind, surrounded by the scent of magnolias. It remained with us for the rest of the walk and faded only when we were within a few feet of the door. I was so excited by the notion that she’d stayed with us, I couldn’t resist saying goodnight to our unseen escort. That is, without doubt, my favorite memory of New Orleans and, to this day, even at home, I occasionally catch the scent of magnolias. I can honestly say there are absolutely zero magnolia trees anywhere near my home.

I’ve checked.

~

Believe it.

Here’s how I remember it:

I was a tab perturbed *cough* with one of our traveling companions and was walking ahead of everyone else — as in way ahead and on the other side of the street. I’m not paying attention to what they’re doing; I’m walking alone, stewing, and trying to get to the trolley before it left and we’d have to sit on the corner of Canal for an hour and wait on the next one.

We turned the corner off Chartres onto St. Louis and the scent of magnolias creeps in around me. Then it got thicker, almost suffocating in strength. I looked around and the grounds of what I believe is a court house — don’t hold me to it — was being ripped up and re-landscaped, so there was only the older palms and such, that they wouldn’t dare destroy, remaining in one corner behind the iron fence. No grass on the ground, just dirt piles, and everywhere else was concrete and buildings, even the balconies above didn’t have any blooming flowers that could be mistaken for magnolias. All the businesses were closed, so where the hell was it coming from? I remember exactly where we were because the building I’ve come to call Luce wasn’t far ahead. I turned around and called back, “Do you smell that?”

I never heard Nia say hello to Julie, I only saw her laughing and brushing at the back of her head, almost like a spider had crawled into her hair. I saw her shake and bounce her shoulders. The scent finally stopped trying to choke the breath out of me, but it didn’t go away completely. I did hear someone say something about The Cup, so I looked at the torn up landscaping, and looked back the way we came. We had passed Julie’s townhouse on the way, so I’ve always wondered if she followed us from the townhouse where we paused for pictures — because it was known she traveled back and forth between there and the new Cup — or what? Did the scent linger with me back to the hotel as well? That part, I unfortunately don’t remember. I do remember saying to Nia something along the lines of, “That really just happened. Right?”

So, it’s a very true story, from a very quiet side-street of the French Quarter. Thanks so much to Nia for sharing it with us and bringing back an awesome memory.

Happy Halloween.

Julie’s Townhouse that night, courtesy of Nia.

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The Waiting Game

August McLaughlin said the title first in this great article, but there’s no better way for me to express the situation. August asks questions at the end of her blogs — which I’m sure I should do, but we’ve had that conversation — so allow me to answer them here.

Are you patient?

No.

How do you deal with the meantime?

Badly. Even worse than I do when waiting on feedback.

*staring in anticipation in their general direction and getting nothing done*

What’s the toughest wait-time you’ve had to endure? 

This one. I keep getting recorded phone calls trying to sell me something in spite of being on the do-not-call list. Having to answer every unknown number is making me nuts. I even had a nightmare that my cell rang and it was “The Call”. It was a guy. He was breaking up. The hubs turned the tv down for me and I lost the call. I woke up in a cold sweat. It’s been sixteen days since I hit send and my storyboard still looks exactly like it did that day. I have a bit of paper with a scene on it that hasn’t made it to a card on the board, so that doesn’t count.

Do something creative and unrelated to get the juices flowing and distract my attention? Sure. Right after I spend the morning at the laundromat with a week’s worth of clothes because my dryer took a dive. This guy had the nerve to suggest it would be good for story material. Jerk. Brady was right. When was the last time you wandered around a mostly empty laundromat? Do I want to know what caused the spattered and dripping stains that they tried unsuccessfully to wash off the unisex bathroom walls? I collected the bones of a horror short and intended to get it down, but it had to stay in my head because I no longer see the ‘review’ tab in Word and I got to obsessing about why and *ARG* — *POOF*, motivation blownAnd then Lily pointed me at a steampunk anthology (I suck at steampunk, but trying would’ve been fun), so I do not lack for things to do, I simply find it hard to work on anything outside the Luce universe because I have it in my head that’s where I need to be — and yet you don’t see me typing away on that, either. I have a one-track mind on some things.

I got so bored I signed up for Twitter. You can find all that stuff on the right side of the blog now. There was a Q&A with my dream agency the other day that I wanted in on, so that was my excuse to join. I’ll admit that Twitter confuses me and I don’t really need another distraction, but some of the few people I follow are hilarious.

I have five-ish hours before the hubs gets off work, so I’m going to try and make the most of the meantime, circling Writer’s Hell. In case anyone doesn’t know, writers are all nuts. I have to wonder, does the nuts get easier the further along you move in your career? I know in this post I mentioned Leigh Evans and how she says that she still makes herself as crazy as I make myself, but I’m wondering now about people who have five, ten, fifteen books under their belt. Do they make themselves nuts over book number gods-know-what? Wear themselves out sprinting to the finish? If this post by John Scalzi is any indication, the answer would be yes.

So, I guess I don’t have anything to complain about. Carry on.

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I was up past midnight last night, which is highly unusual for me these days. The result of the husband’s new job – yay him – at an old textile mill downtown that now only operates as a hydropower station. Built in 1882, it occupies the former site of the Confederate Power Works, built in 1861, and most of the bricks from the CPW were reclaimed and used to build the mill. Wikipedia tells me the CPW is the only permanent structure ever built by the Confederate States of America. I guess Wiki is right, all I know is that I’ve always heard the site is haunted. Particularly the area around the obelisk chimney, which is the last remaining structure from the CPW.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Last night was his first midnight shift — he rotates shifts and never really knows when he’ll be there until they make out the schedule. He makes sure the canal is running smooth and, among other things, gets to walk around in the mill on security details. The day he told me he got the job, I was ecstatic. One, he got a good job, and two it’s a cool-ass building and did I mention HAUNTED? Don’t bring up politics or religion around the hubs and I, but bring up ghosts and we’re on the same page. To cross platforms and steal a hashtag …  #sofuckingstoked.

So, on his first night run, what did he see? *haha*

Raccoons. And two muskrats. He didn’t mention Captain and Tennille, but you can bet I’ll get miles out of that when he wakes up.

While I was up wondering if he’d run screaming out of the mill like a little girl if he actually ran into something, I was also making notes for the next book.

October 27th-ish is the anniversary of the first time I ever sat foot in New Orleans in 1996 – as crazy as I am about dates, you’d think I’d remember exactly, but I don’t. This night was also my first ghostly encounter in the city at our hotel on Prytania Street. Anne Rice wrote in Interview with the Vampire that Louis found Lestat in a house on Prytania, so choosing this hotel made me giggle at the time. You, too, can have a ghostly encounter of your own for the low-low price of $2.5 million. (It’s *so* much better tended now and has a new-ish name.) Go ahead and hit the street view on Google. Those long steps leading from the front door, down the walkway to the street? Yeah, don’t sit there. “Something” didn’t like me sitting there and seriously wanted me to leave. It nipped at me with what power it had, nudging little pushes that clearly said ‘get up’. It didn’t like me, everyone else standing or sitting around was okay. Who has two thumbs and isn’t stupid? This girl right here! I went inside and the steps were avoided for the rest of the stay.

Here’s where we get to the point of today’s blog: the next day, “something” tried to knock me off my feet outside of a fast-food restaurant (I swear it was something else back then, but last I was there it was a Krystal’s) beside a souvenir shop at the Canal end of Bourbon. In the middle of the day. Which happened again, in the same place, a few years later. You can ask Nia about the second event because she was standing right there beside me. I think Lisa Kessler and Marlena Frank were inside getting a soda or something with Marlena’s sister and a couple other friends. I know I’m Southern, so I may understand this feeling better than I can explain it, but if you’ve ever grabbed an electric fence – like an idiot – it sort of has a slow build of charge that grabs you and holds you, until it rushes up your arm, surges and zaps you out of the OMG trance you’re in so your stupid ass will finally let it go. I felt that, starting at my feet, only there was nothing for me to let go of — I had to wait for it to let me go. The first time it happened, the people I was with were all inside the store and I had no witnesses. I smoke, sue me. The second time, same situation, I vividly remember Nia looking at me wondering wtf I was smoking. I remember the exact spot on the sidewalk and have tried to make it happen again since then to no avail. #sadface

I have quite a few ghost stories from New Orleans. In one of the better ones, I’m not the main player. That’s Nia’s story, but maybe I’ll ask her to guest blog that for us on Halloween, or ask her if it’s okay that I tell you. 

All that related because I was making notes last night and the strange spot on Bourbon Street had made its way into my Luce universe in book one, so I was trying to flesh that out a little more for book two. I don’t know if it was a ghost, but it was power of some kind, so it made me look into ley lines long ago. One crosses Bourbon Street according to a diagram on this web site and the idea behind all this not only gives a boost to Luce’s mysterious power, but birthed a character introduced in An Ordinary World who will recur in the series. Her name is Seraphine and she’s the leader of what she calls (and you never argue with a character) a tribe of cats – the “ghost” cats of Jackson Square, cats that Johanna Frappier and I once spoke about. (It’s hard to Google anything on the JS cats, but I did find this.) Her tribe disguises themselves as the Gutter Punks of New Orleans, and the tribe functions as caretakers of the ley lines, and Seraphine is their queen – as in a queen cat.

So, yeah, writers do put parts of their own lives into their story, and spend way too much time doing the research to make sure you believe it. Sometimes, that research falls so perfectly into place you have to wonder if it was really research at all and not… something else.

If Bobby finds something in that mill, I’m sure I can work it in… somewhere. Cross your fingers. I am.

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And now you know!

Some of you may wonder what the hell the ‘Yoda” tab is up there. Well, okay, probably not, but this is Yoda.

Anthony Richer

We go way back to some fun times — and some really kinda screwed up Internet shit — but we’ve been buds for a long, long time. He got the nickname Yoda because of this. And this. And that tab is up there because when he set up his blog he asked me a question about categories and I’m too damned lazy to take my example down.

I mention him today because I really liked his latest blog post. Particularly this part: take a shot of rum, hit send… to the “big guys”

Read it. Follow him. Take part in his challenges because I never seem to be able to work out the time.

That is all.

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Well, it ain’t this. 

6:30 a.m. – Gator wakes me up because she has to pee.

6:45 – Drag the dog back to bed – smoke a cig because going back to sleep is a no. Hubs is off today, so I let him sleep.

7:00 – Throw the dog out of bed so she doesn’t wake the hubs, go make final adjustments to the MS. Wander nervously around the house while my stomach does flip-flips and I second guess myself.

8:00 –  Go to the gas station because not going is just against the rules. Threaten Gator’s life because she thinks mom is leaving forever and she’s clawing my bare legs to climb into my lap. Take her with me.

8:23 – Take something for a screaming headache and arthritis pain in my shoulders. Go back to the laptop.

8:48 – Force myself to stop looking at the web site for my dream agency, trying to decide between a query to them and doing what I’m about to do. Warn the dog that mom’s punchy, so lay down, please?

8:51/8:52 – Answer two messages with final suggestions for query and synopsis. Call them gold and save copies. Smile at the faith my friends have expressed. Feel blessed for that support.

8:54/9:22 – Chat with one of them and end up banging my head on my desk over the impending three months of misery spent phone and email watching.

9:23 – Let Gator out to play before something in my brain snaps because she’s getting into everything. Take a Xanax. Open submission guidelines to read one more time.

9:30 – Answer yet another call from the day job. No disaster this time. My van’s ready and the shop called my office.

9:47 – Start filling out the submission. Take a second to be proud that the first 1,000 words ends at just the right place.

9:55 – Press submit.

9:56 – Hyperventilate because 1) the web site is still thinking about taking it, and 2) OMG!

9:57 – Stare, blinking, at the screen. It’s done. It’s over, just that fast. Take a screen cap of the confirmation of submission, just for posterity.

10:00 – Screen cap the confirmation email sitting in the inbox. Stare at it.

10:05 – Start writing a blog and wonder wtf I was so nervous about.

10:30 – Stare at the blog for a few minutes and save the draft. Clean off the desk, toss scribbled notes that aren’t important and aren’t needed anymore. Find eight copies of the printed MS. Keep a stack of things on craft that were printed out to read that never got read. Find my lost earbobs so I can listen to music. Get Mountain Dew, gather up cigs, lighter, Goody Powders. Turn around and look at the sad, sad storyboard for book two while smirking about this and the memory of this. The War Room looks very different now. Take a picture.

10:58 – Push publish on the blog. Get to work on book two.

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I’ve just sent my husband off to day two of his new job while I sit here on day two of my vacation. Still without my van and relying on the goodness of my daughter’s heart to come give me a ride to the gas station. That gas station is an essential part of The Glamorous Life, dammit, and I need to go. I’m still waiting. While I’m waiting, I’m squirming in my chair. Today, I must kill my darlings.

No, not any characters, I kill plenty enough of those. Maybe not in a Martin kinda quota, but I’m good at ending the lives of some of the voices in my head. If they’d only stop coming back as ghosts – for instance, Berto… you shit – I might have some peace and quiet in there.

The version of “darlings” that I mean are my favorite words. Those bits of my writing that I really, really like. Why? Because I like them, nay, love them. Which means I can’t be objective about them.  And they need to die to make chapter one stronger. And I can’t. Freaking. Do it.

*headdesk*bam*bam*bam*

See, I knew I needed to do this weeks ago and here’s why. Chapter one, of course, was the first chapter written a year ago and it’s just not as strong as the rest of the book. The insane amount of things I’ve learned over the last year have made chapter one weak and the rest so much better. I knew it, and an online friend who beta read for me (name withheld only because I don’t have her permission this morning to mention her by name) confirmed it and told me the same thing, paraphrased, “It’s not as strong as the rest of the novel.”

*sigh*

Honestly, it tickled me shitless that she said it that way — all hail my shared belief of the Fae in the power of words — that the rest of the novel was strong… but! I sat down and started reading this thing yesterday and it hit me even harder that this is true. Chapter two, after not having read it in so long, rocked my SOCKS. Chapter one? Meh. I gotta rewrite it. Here’s the problem:

Chapter one contains some of my most loved “darlings” and those darlings are touched upon in later chapters. So, if I kill those darlings, I have to go forward and kill the baby-darlings. It’s mass murder, I tell you. MURDER.

*headdesk*bam*bam*bam*

This shit is hard, yo? And I get to stare at it all fucking day. Then finish the read-over. Then obsess about italics and internal dialog. Then….

There are five days left of my vacation. Glamorous Life… my ass.

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Happy Anniversary!

The Draconid meteor shower is tonight.

Today is my 7th wedding anniversary.

Sounds like an excuse to go skinny-dipping in the starlight.

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