ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

Monday, 13 May 2013

LOCALE AS CHARACTER IN YOUR STORIES (1) - NEW ORLEANS - ROLAND YEOMANS

Hello there! 

For those who visited last week, I posted about Travel and Writing, and also about using our local area as settings for our stories. This led to some interesting comments and emails on the topic. Chances are better than extremely high that you've heard of voracious author, Roland Yeomans, who has manipulated his local area, New Orleans, to tremendous effect in his urban fantasies. I've asked him to share with us today...

   
Locale as Character.

Denise has allowed me to talk about why I chose New Orleans as the setting for so many of my urban fantasies.

How could I not?  New Orleans is called the most haunted city in America.  One of the first serial killers lived among the social elite in the 1830's.  Voodoo was big business.  Slavery even more so.

{Image courtesy of the talented Leonora Roy}
And criminals flourished here thanks to pirates like Jean Lafitte.  Did you know the term FENCING ITEMS was born here ... behind St. Louis Cathedral in its beautiful garden?
When my young hero, Victor Standish, and his ghoul friend, Alice Wentworth find themselves transported to the New Orleans of 1834 ...
to say it is a culture shock is an understatement!

The old French Market, New Orleans. Late 19th century street scene with cotton and other wagons rolling down cobblestone street; shops including hardware store, clothing store, seen in background.

{This image (and the four following) are in the public domain because their copyright has expired.This applies to Australia and the European Union }



Doing the research for UNDER A VOODOO MOON and THE RIVAL (where the bulk of Victor's 1834 adventures take place) was almost as much fun as the writing of the fantasies.


To say "Old" New Orleans was exotic is to understate the reality:



And the personalities living there were equally as colorful ... and dangerous:

1.) Madame Lalaurie:

      A Louisiana-born socialite and serial killer known for her involvement in the torture and murder of black slaves -- with the gleeful assistance of her equally sociopathic physician husband.

Victor and Alice provide the truth behind their mysterious disappearances.

2.) Annie Christmas:

     Sometimes a madam -- Annie Christmas was also a keelboat pilot on the lower Mississippi, a strong women and bully killer.

She was six feet eight inches tall, and weighed 250 pounds. Her mustache was blonde and curled, the finest and widest on the river.

Just let her hear a man say," I'm the bully of the town!" and he never said it again.

Annie takes the diminutive Alice under her not so tiny wing!

3.) James Bowie:

     His family settled on farms in present-day Catahoula Parish, where he and his brothers matured into adults.

The Bowies were active community people, and James is said to have been the largest local slaveholder, supposedly having at least twenty slaves. James often traded slaves with the pirate Jean Lafitte.

Alice provides the explanation why Jim Bowie went to the Alamo with only nine fingers.  Outraged at the source of his wealth, Alice had a "finger sandwich!"

Then, there was the culture:

Duels: 



{Listen to Victor speak of it on his way to duel President Andrew Jackson}

The most identifying trait of humanity was our ability to be inhumane to one another.  

In New Orleans, during the days of the French and Spanish rule, duels were often fought in St. Anthony’s Square, a garden that was located directly behind St. Louis Cathedral.  In 2005, I raced the Soyoko, evolved raptors, across that garden. 

Sheltered from prying eyes by the garden’s bushes and shrubs, sword fights continued until first blood was drawn.  But New Orleans was now American … with the American obsession with fighting to the death.

Some duels were now fought in a place on the Metarie Road called Les Trios Capelines, because of the three ancient Spanish moss-draped trees that grew there. 

The most celebrated of dueling grounds, however, was a giant grove of trees simply called The Oaks.
 
The spot was located on the plantation of Louis Allard which in 1834 was some distance from the city.  In the year 2005, it was part of the grounds of the city park. 


Victor's duel on horseback with drawn sabers against President Jackson is based on the very real duel between Col. Schaumberg of the U.S. Army and Alexander Cuvilier who fought on horseback with broadswords.  The only casualty was Schaumberg's horse.

2.) GAMBLING ON THE RIVER BOATS  -

The New Orleans, or Orleans, was the first Mississippi steamboat.

Launched in 1811 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a company organized by Robert Livingston and Robert Fulton, her designer, she was a large, heavy side-wheeler with a deep draft.  

Her low-pressure Boulton and Watt steam engine operated a complex power train that was also heavy and inefficient.

Gambling took many forms on riverboats. Gambling with one's life with the boilers aside, there were sharks around willing to fleece the unsuspecting rube.

As cities passed ordinances against gaming houses in town, the cheats moved to the unregulated waters of the Mississippi aboard river steamers.

{Saloon of Mississippi River Steamboat "Princess" 1861 gauche and collage painting by M Adrien Persac - Public Domain}

Let Victor Standish tell you of the most exotic, fine
riverboats in New Orleans:

Gambling on the Mississippi River had become an established institution.  Steamboats were the floating palaces for the elite of gamblers.  THE AEGEAN QUEEN all agreed was the Xanadu of them all.
When we walked into the saloon of THE AEGEAN QUEEN, Alice hushed in a breath.  I couldn’t fault her.  The ceiling had to arch forty feet above us. 

Crystal chandeliers slowly rotated, shedding rainbows of light down upon us.  The elite of New Orleans aristocracy ambled among themselves. 
There was a buzz whenever we passed a cluster of them.  Whispers poorly kept secret the fact that we were expected to die on board in some spectacular way.
 The way the women tittered in anticipation made me antsy.  The men laying bets on which of us would die first made me want to bust some heads.  I rubbed the inside of my right jacket arm, smiling mean. 
Waste not.  Want not.  I didn’t think the dead riverboat gambler, John Powell, would mind me taking his derringer.

{This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code. See Copyright.}

Her jade mask gleaming creepily under the shifting lights of the chandeliers, Meilori seemed to glide up to us. 
“Let me show you to the main gambling room, dear guests.”
I smiled, “My, what big eyes you have Grandmother.”
Her eyes sharpened.  “I have read that Brothers Grimm tale, Standish.”
I tried to put that same edge to my smile.  “Then, you know how the wolf ended up.”
Meilori laughed without one trace of humanity.  “This is not a fairy tale, Victor Standish.”
Sam took her gloved hand, kissing it lightly and straightening said, “Threats only cheapen your loveliness, Your Majesty.”
“You have not seen my face, Sergeant McCord.”
“Ah, but the night is young.”
The look in both of their eyes was making me feel older by the second.  “Can we get this showboat on the road?”
Meilori turned to me and bubbled a laugh.  “When I shall have killed you, Standish, I will miss your strange sayings.”
Alice murmured, “Over my dead body, Empress.”
Meilori shrugged, “If you insist.”
Bowie snapped, “I hear a lot of threats.  But I do not see the kidnapped President Jackson.”
Meilori laughed brittle.  “All in good time, gentlemen and ghoul.”

So there you have why and how I used New Orleans as the setting for my 1834 New Orleans tale of time travel and the supernatural -- it even has a young Edgar Allan Poe in it!

 Your novel has to occur someplace -- make that place live for your reader -- and your tale will live for her/him as well.

Thanks for sharing with us Roland. I loved learninbg more of the history of this amazing city. It makes your stories even more real. 

If you'd like to purchase any of Roland's titles, here is the link to his blog


  • How about you? Do you research the history/culture of your locale as a background to your stories?




20 comments:

  1. I love New Orleans. It's a place with so much character, so much atmosphere. I'd love to visit it again one day.

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    1. I've not been, but it would be amazing to visit and see these places so well described in so many works of literature and art.

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    2. Lynda:
      I think you would enjoy New Orleans even with the air you can wear much of the year. Do not stray its streets alone though -- and mind your surroundings. Sam McCord can't be everywhere. :-)

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  2. Hi Denise - great that you've got Roland here - telling us about his approach to his books. I have always wanted to read Roland's books and I can quite see how authentic his settings will be - ghoulish, but I'm going to enjoy reading them.

    Thanks for asking Roland over to guest post - good choice .. and character setting so important to keep the book honest ... cheers Hilary

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    1. Hilary:
      Good seeing you here. Sandra, my best friend, calls me the Stephen King of New Orleans. I think it's praise. :-) I hope you enjoy walking the pages and locales of my novels. Have a beautiful day, Roland

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  3. Hi Roland and Denise! I have several of Roland's books already and have become a fan of his fantasy New Orleans. I have my faves: Sam McCord, Alice, Victor, and of course the classic elite like Hemingway who populate the famous Meilori's.

    New Orleans is a fantastic city for a setting. Thanks for higlighting 'WHY New Orleans?'. btw - that second photo sure reminds me of some of the older buildings in Paris with its wrought iron railings.

    Thanks for featuring Roland and his writing, Denise!

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    Replies
    1. Yes I always thought there was a Paris influence there. Beauriful old buildings...D

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    2. I am honored that Denise asked me! Yes, New Orleans' wrought iron designs certainly add a sense of Old Paris to the city. What better city to have a haunted jazz club, right? :-) McCord tips his Stetson to you, D.G.

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  4. roland is amazing talent, period... this just furthers my thoughts... and denise, snazzy job! thank you both!!

    Jeremy [Retro]
    Oh No, Let's Go... Crazy

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    1. Thanks for visiting Jeremy. Snazzy...D

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    2. Jeremy, thanks for the nice words. And you're right -- Denise is snazzy as is her blog! :-)

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  5. Hi Denise, Hi Roland
    I begin my fantasy in Boulder Colorado, where the University of Colorado is located. We aren't there for long and the difference between Gil-Lael and Colorado is striking. I've lived in Nebraska as a child and in Minnesota for ten years. Since there's not much room in a comment I can tell you that the difference between a semi-arid climate, (Colorado) and the bread basket of America, (Nebraska and Minnesota) is water. If you go barefoot in Colorado the grass is scratchy. There are no fireflies. Autumn doesn't come every year. But in Minnesota the grass is moist and spongy and smells wonderful and fireflies dance along the river. Every season is outlined with magnificent change. All be it you freeze your tush in winter.

    This is the difference in parts of Gil-Lael. In the Elfin land of Anora you might have anything happen.

    I'm currently researching Druids for a book idea I have that will travel through time.
    Nancy

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    1. Nancy, wonderful to see you here. Fancy you using your locales for your fantasy world. No wonder Gil-lael seems so real.

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  6. Thank you, Roland and Denise, for this gorgeous post and a nostalgic visit to my city of birth. My mother and her family are buried in the cemetery pictured. And my great aunt was a can-can dancer on a riverboat that plied the waters between NO and Memphis. When we were in Memphis last year, we learned that one of those steamboats is being renovated and will become a restaurant near the dock there.

    But, Oh, I know what it means to miss New Orleanz!

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    1. Wow Kittie I didn't know you were born in N O. Such memories! Those steamboats must be gorgeous. What a story they could tell.

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  7. Roland; you make New Orleans more interesting than Ann Rice managed :) Your settings are dramatic and intriguing.

    *waves to Denise*

    And intriguing, informative post. Thanks Denise and Roland.

    .......dhole

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  8. That was quite a trip, Roland. I feel like I've been on a sightseeing tour. You certainly had some fascinating characters in Louisiana way back when. Can't imagine what Annie would have looked like with that massive mustache.

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  9. Fascinating stuff, Roland! I've gone as far south as Mobile, but still haven't visited New Orleans. Your stories make the city sound all the more intriguing.

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  10. May 19th, 2013
    Dear Denise and Roland,
    Nice post, Roland. Thought provoking. I have some locales that I might be able to do something with, even if they are quieter places than New Orleans.
    I have never been to New Oleans, but I would love to take a trip there some time. My children enjoyed the Disney movie The Frog Prince and I am curious about Victor Standish; it's on my reading list. But I need to finish my teaching degree first before I return to reading and writing for fun.
    Take care!
    Best wishes,
    Anna

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