Writers in the Big Easy

by Sheila Connolly, who’s still reeling from a week in NOLA

At last I get to dither on about the glories of New Orleans and Bouchercon, where most of the Wickeds were gathered a couple of weeks ago. If you don’t know of it, Bouchercon is an amazing writers conference by any standard, raised to another level by its location in NOLA this year.

While it is always a joy to gather with other writers—our tribe!—I also wanted to treat myself to some sightseeing, so I stayed an extra day. Way back in 1970 I visited New Orleans with a group of college friends, and I wanted to see how my memories compared with today’s reality.

I was shocked to find that I had absolutely no memory of where we had been, or at least how one place connected to another. I remember vaguely where we stayed (with the parents of one friend, in the Garden District), and that we rode a streetcar, and we visited the zoo, but the French Quarter was kind of a blank to me, with brief flashes of recognition. On this trip I found myself standing in front of Preservation Hall, where I know I went to hear the music, but I couldn’t remember the façade facing the street. (I do remember being very hot, though!)

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So I decided to reset my memory files and enjoy the New Orleans of today. Despite the 90-degree heat and the 80% humidity, I did. I walked almost everywhere in the French Quarter. I ate lots of things (beignets!). I took pictures. I visited a church, a cemetery, a convent; I waved at the mighty Mississippi. I loved every minute of it.

Once again it drove home how different places can be, and how much that matters to a writer. I’ve visited many major cities in this country and abroad, but New Orleans has its own strong character (at least in the French Quarter—I didn’t venture beyond that). Certainly most cities have their own identity, but few seemed to me so “in your face” as New Orleans, where the sights and sounds and smells and even the air itself assault you from all sides.

tennessee-williams

One thing I noticed was the plaques on many buildings—celebrating authors. Tennessee Williams wrote here, William Faulkner lived there. The tour guide I was following around counted off more names: Anne Rice, of course, plus O. Henry, Truman Capote, Sherwood Anderson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and more. Standing where they stood, looking at their views, the streets where they walked (and most likely the bars they visited), it made perfect sense that they would have been drawn to the place. Even if you write about the Arctic Circle, you cannot walk away from New Orleans unaffected.

My books are set in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ireland—all places where I’ve spent time and know fairly well. I wouldn’t even try to write about New Orleans without spending some serious time there soaking it all in. Five days was not enough. Now, how do I get back again?

bananas

My next Orchard Mystery is due out tomorrow, October 4th. It’s set in western Massachusetts, in February. That’s about as far from New Orleans as I can get. Massachusetts has its apples, but New Orleans has—bananas in Jackson Square? It’s another world.

seedsofdeception

Coming tomorrow! Seeds of Deception (Orchard Mystery #10). Yes, that’s snow on the cover–a nice change from NOLA.