When Anne Rice died back in the winter, I posted a memoriam to her here in which I talked about a very generous thing she did for me and Paul back in the days after he was attacked. It was something deep and personal–one of the reasons why I won’t abide criticism of Mrs. Rice in my presence–and while I did tell some people about it, I kept it quiet for the most part. It was an odd little personal connection I had with one of the most successful writers of my lifetime, and as it had to do with Paul and what happened to him, I also thought it was kind of untoward to write or talk about it publicly. But when she passed, I wanted to let people know a human side of a public figure who could be divisive; I never listened to criticisms of her after the spring of 2004 or could be bothered to read them. There was little, if anything, she could have ever done to change my opinion of her or to forget the grace and kindness she showed to me when I was in a very low place in my life, so I wasn’t interested in listening to or reading anything negative about her. The Witching Hour was also one of the reasons I was drawn to New Orleans in the first place; so overall I would say she had a very positive influence on me and my life, and I will always be grateful to her for that.
Last year, an editor reached out to me (maybe it was two years ago; I really have no concept or sense of time anymore) to write a story an anthology called Unburied; the editor was Rebecca Rowland. I gave her one of the stories I’d written but never found a home for–“Night Follows Night”–which she liked and used and that was very cool. In the wake of Mrs. Rice’s death, she contacted me again to see if I would write a story for a tribute anthology to Mrs. Rice that would also be a fundraiser for a charity she supported.
It was, I thought, the least I could do, so I pulled out “The Rosary of Broken Promises” and finished the first draft before revising umpteen times and turning in.
“Someone was murdered in this house.” Susan Norris said.
Her tone was idle and matter of fact, like she was making small talk at a cocktail party with women she didn’t know and what she was saying didn’t matter in the long run. She was already redecorating the place in her head, picking out color combinations to paint the walls and trim, what furniture she already had could be used or discarded and where it would go. For this front upstairs bedroom, for example, she pictured long curtains of shimmering bright colors in gauze, which would look dramatic billowing out into the room when the windows were open. This would be the room, she decided, where she would have readings or hold seances for her clientele. Those long billowing curtains on nights when thunderstorms raged would be the perfect setting to make even the most cynical skeptic into a true believer. She ran a hand along the beige wall slightly yellowed from nicotine. She could feel layers of paint under her fingertips. The walls hadn’t been stripped in years, which she would need to rectify. It would be a crime to slake another layer on top of what was already there.
The realtor—whatever her name was, Collette or Colleen or Doreen or something like that—paused in her sales patter when Susan’s words finally penetrated her professional façade, a frown furrowing creases into her forehead as she stumbled over a few words and finally stopped speaking. She was a beautiful woman in her late forties, maybe early fifties; one benefit of the Botox she clearly used was a blurring of her actual age. Her long red hair cascaded down over the shoulder pads inside her blouse, which also showed a lot of decolletage. A golden cross with a diamond set in the center glittered against her white bosom. An expensive watch decorated her wrist, her freckled hands were bare other than a wedding band and a diamond engagement ring. “I’m sorry, what did you say?” the realtor asked, surprise giving way to concern that what she hoped would be an easy sale—this place was exactly what Susan had described as wanting to her, when they first spoke—might actually be turning into something else.
Inwardly, Susan cursed at herself. She’d done it again, said something to a stranger that she should have not said aloud. She didn’t want to explain herself to Collette/Colleen/Doreen any more than she wanted to stick a fork into an outlet, so she turned back to the redheaded realtor with a charming smile and said, “I said someone was murdered in this house.” She exhaled. “I did some research on-line when you gave me the addresses of the places you suggested I look at. It was a long time ago, and I shouldn’t have said it out loud, my apologies. I do think this house is perfect for me.”
I was originally using this title for a different story (which has since been renamed “Solace in a Dying Hour”), and so when I started writing this story it was called “The Oracle of Orange Street” (the house she is buying is on Orange Street, one of those mysterious hidden streets in New Orleans whose blocks have slowly vanished over the years until all that is left is a single block between Coliseum and Prytania; it’s very near where I live so I see the Orange Street sign all the time…I think there may be a continuation of it on the other side of Magazine Street; a quick look at a map indicates that it does, indeed, continue on the other side of Magazine to Tchoupitoulas–but if you asked most New Orleanians were Orange Street is, they’d give you a blank look); I’d even already started another story with the character of Susan Norris in it (“Parlor Tricks,” which I tried to finish again recently for yet another last minute submission and wasn’t able to). I like the character of Susan Norris, psychic detective; her mother is actually Madame Xena, who Scotty aficionados might recognize as the woman who originally told Scotty’s family that he “has the Gift!”
So yes, all of my work is connected in some way besides just being by me.
I’ve always loved the idea of a psychic detective (and yes, I watched Psych for years before tiring of it), which is part of the reason why I made Scotty one, but my inspiration for this kind of character goes back to my teens, when I was enjoying Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax series so much that one day at the bookstore I picked up two of her non-Pollifax books, A Nun in the Closet and The Clairvoyant Countess…the latter of whom was, indeed, a psychic and an amateur detective. The book was really a series of connected short stories, each detailing a case that the Countess became involved in helping to solve; gradually the police detective began actually consulting her. I don’t remember how limited her powers were, but to work in a crime story the psychic cannot be all-knowing and all-seeing, obviously; otherwise there would be no mystery to solve. But I enjoyed the book and reread it many times, and always wanted to write about a psychic detective. Scotty’s powers have always been incredibly vague; he usually can channel it through reading tarot cards (which doesn’t always work) and sometimes he goes into a fugue state while he actually talks to the Divine Feminine (She comes in many forms to him) and she gives him hints and clues to the future and what is going on–but he has to figure it out for himself.
One day when I was walking home from the gym I took a different route home than I usually do–I do this to mix things up a bit when I have the time to leisurely stroll, and it’s been helping me reconnect with my neighborhood as well as find many secrets and hidden treasures–and one day the different route took me up Felicity Street from Camp. One of the houses I passed–a lovely old Victorian–actually had an orange tree in the front yard and oranges were littering the ground and sidewalk; some of them rotting (there’s nothing quite like the smell of oranges rotting in the sun) and it reminded me that, oh, yes, indeed, Orange Street was originally named that because there was an orange grove here–whether it was indigenous and imported I cannot say, but I suspect imported–and then I thought, oh, that story you’re writing about the psychic (at that time, it was “Parlor Tricks”) could easily be titled “The Oracle of Orange Street” and I quite liked that title…so when I couldn’t get that story to work for this anthology, I decided to write another story about Susan Norris, reluctant psychic detective, and the opening line just kind of jumped out at me the day I picked the house on Orange Street which would be hers–and it also just happened to be for sale when I picked it; and as I stood there snapping pictures of the house with my phone I thought, yes, what would it be like for a psychic to buy a home in New Orleans? And I quite liked the idea of her just absent-mindedly blurting out to the realtor, “Someone was murdered in this house” and then I was off and running.
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