The Irish Channel

Writing a cozy set in New Orleans seemed, at first, to be a little daunting.

One of the key tenets of a cozy is the sense of community one gets while reading it (see Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series for the perfect example; I love Caerphilly, Virginia, and enjoy revisiting twice a year to see how everyone is doing), and it took me a moment to readjust my thinking from “community means a small town” to “no, you moron, anything can be a community; and you can certainly find community in New Orleans.” And then I remembered Leslie Budewitz’ superlative Spice Shop series, which is set in Pike’s Market in Seattle. Seattle is a city, just as New Orleans is; and sure, it might be easier to just invent an entire new fictional small town to set a cozy series in, but if anything, there’s more sense of community in New Orleans than I’ve ever felt in other cities…and it was really about creating a community around my character, Valerie, and picking a neighborhood for her in which to live took me a while as I weighed pros and cons; the only thing that was definite was she was NOT going to live in the French Quarter (there’s a throwaway line where she thinks about how long it’s been since she’s been to the Quarter, and maybe she and her two best friends should arrange to have dinner at Galatoire’s or Antoine’s–yes, I used two of the better known restaurants in the city and the Quarter for the examples, but I also knew I could mention them without needing to explain them to the reader). I did go back and forth about the Marigny or Bywater, but finally decided to put her into a neighborhood that did not flood during Katrina, which narrowed the choices dramatically.

New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods, and those neighborhoods used to be so distinct that knowing what part of the city someone lived would automatically create some assumptions–just as how the ever-popular question of where’d you go to high school used to be another way to connect with someone you’ve just met–there are any number of differences between those who went to Newman or Jesuit or Holy Cross or Ursulines or Ben Franklin or Warren Easton or McMain Magnet. New Orleans is a small enough city that chances were, you’d also know (or ar related to )someone else who’d gone to that high school at the same time, or you also knew other people who lived in their neighborhood. Obviously, the French Quarter is perhaps the most famous neighborhood in New Orleans, followed by the Garden District, working down through the Marigny, the Bywater, Mid-city, Gentilly, Lakeview, Broadmoor, etc. (With the gentrification of the city over the past sixteen or so years, realtors have also started creating new neighborhoods–which can be confusing. For example, they are trying to rebrand the Central Business District–the CBD–into SoMa, South of Market, which makes no fucking sense whatsoever as there is no market for the area to be south of; I often will have someone mention one of these new neighborhoods by name to me and I have no idea what they are talking about. They are also trying to rebrand the 7th Ward as the “new Marigny”…good luck with that.)

Scotty lives in the Quarter, and Chanse lives in the Lower Garden District–I’ve also written a lot of stories set in that neighborhood, which is also where I’ve always lived, and is quite distinct from the actual Garden District–I used to joke that we lived four blocks and three decimal points from the Garden District. So having done those neighborhoods already extensively, I wanted to pick a new place for Valerie to live and for me to write about.

I’ve always kind of been partial to the Irish Channel, although we’ve always lived in the Lower Garden District (distinct from the Garden District). I wrote one book about the Irish Channel already (aptly titled Murder in the Irish Channel), and of course, when I needed a place for Valerie to live, I decided the Channel would be the perfect place for her. Twenty years or so ago there will still blighted and crumbling houses in that neighborhood just waiting to be purchased, renovated and gentrified. The stretch of Magazine she lives near used to be one of my favorite parts of the city–I met any number of people for coffee at the Rue de la Course that used to be there, I used to really enjoy the Semolina’s restaurant as well as the Middle Eastern place whose name I can’t remember now (Byblos? it was the last restaurant meal in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina), and of course I sometimes shopped at the A&P or the Walgreens–before I realized Prytania and Tchoupitoulas were the easiest and quickest ways to get uptown; I wasted a lot of time stuck in Magazine Street traffic back in the day. Our friends Carrie and Lisa used to rent half of an enormous Victorian house near Third and Constance; I loved that enormous, drafty and dusty old house (it’s actually where my main character in my in-progress novella Never Kiss a Stranger lives), and was very sorry when they moved further uptown. Paul and I used to have a lot of fun looking for costumes and other home decor in the numerous thrift shops on Magazine; the one for St. Vincent de Paul (at the corner of Robert and Magazine, which eventually closed and became a Vitamin Shoppe; I don’t think the space is currently in use) was amazing. They used to sell handmade wooden tables and bookcases, made by monks in a monastery somewhere in northern Louisiana, and this furniture was not only solid, but it was inexpensive. We still have the bookcases and tables–one of them is my desk, the other is Paul’s–and I don’t think we spent much more than a hundred dollars on the two tables and the four bookcases. We must have bought that all after we moved back here after the year that should be forgotten; we didn’t move much furniture there or back.

But oh, how I would love to get some more of those bookcases. They are sooooo solid…

Plus, putting Valerie in the Irish Channel gives me the opportunity to write about St. Patrick’s Day–which I’ve never done with either of my other series–at some point in the future.

The Irish Channel obviously takes its name from the fact that many Irish immigrants settled there when they came to New Orleans. The Historic Landmarks Commission defines its boundaries as Jackson Avenue to Delachaise Street and Magazine Street to Tchoupitoulas. However, the New Orleans City Planning Commission defines the boundaries of the Irish Channel as these streets: Tchoupitoulas Street, Toledano Street, Magazine Street, First Street, the Mississippi River and Napoleon Avenue.

See what I mean about how confusing the city can be? We can even properly define the boundaries of our neighborhoods. I’ve always considered the Channel to start at Jackson (as does the Garden District proper) and end at Louisiana; with the other boundaries Magazine and Tchoupitoulas.

But I did think having her live so close to Louisiana Avenue–between Seventh and Harmony–would put her right smack dab into the heart of that neighborhood and in walking distance of practically anything she might need. I wanted her to be able to be able to do her errands most of the time on foot, because that also (in my mind) cemented the sense that it was a neighborhood and a community, if that makes sense? And once I’d picked where she lived, I was able to start building her community around her.

But that is a tale for another time.

I love these kinds of double houses!

Your Wonderful, Sweet Sweet Love

Well, last night was a bit intense there for a while.

Yes, we had really horrific weather events down here last evening. I was sitting in my easy chair, relaxing and watching episodes of Young Justice when my phone started blaring the emergency alert. I knew there was a chance of tornadoes because we were having high winds all day (another emergency alert) and thunderstorms would be moving in during the early night. Sure enough, the wind was howling and the rain was coming down in torrents and lightning was flashing–and then my phone emergency alert started going off. I immediately paused the show and switched over to Margaret Orr on WDSU (since Nash Roberts retired, Ms. Orr has been my go-to local weatherperson, and saw that the “tornadic” (a new word to me) storm was on the West Bank–and there was another, separate one entirely, on the North Shore. The location of this tornadic storm placed it pretty much directly across the river from my neighborhood–needless to say, a bit terrifying knowing it was literally that close–but the path the storm was following indicated it would probably jump the river just below the French Quarter, into either the Marigny, Bywater or lower 9th ward neighborhoods. (Even more scary–I know a lot of people in those neighborhoods, so of course I was scrolling through social media rapidly making sure my friends were all okay and worrying.) Then came the visual confirmation there was actually a tornado on the ground over there–and yes, know and love people over on the West Bank as well–and then it jumped the river into the lower 9th.

I grew up with tornadoes–they weren’t common but did happen in Chicago; but of course, five years in Kansas. My first thought was great there are no basements in southeastern Louisiana and second was fuck there’s really not even an interior place for me to huddle in this apartment if it comes here and third was acceptance: oh well, if it comes this way hope for the best.

Seriously, y’all. Major major yikes.

I know at least one person died in St. Bernard Parish (Chalmette/Arabi), and I’m not seeing any estimates on damage yet (haven’t done a deep dive) but I do remember I drove through the East on a trip out of town after the tornado there a few years ago and being horrified by what I was seeing (not on the level of the ‘disaster drives’ I took around the city when I returned after Katrina, but still pretty fucking horrible; Katrina’s a very high bar, after all). I know thousands are still without power this morning, and I’m not sure how this is going to affect my work day–I don’t know if there’s power at the building, for example, but I think I would have heard something by now–but I wouldn’t be surprised if my appointments have a rather high percentage of no-shows today.

The new book’s cover reveal was graciously hosted by none other than Dru Ann Love this morning; you can find it right here! I love this cover–the look on the cat’s face, based on Scooter, is absolutely perfect–and I am very excited about the new book. I am hopeful it will become a series–it was a one-book only deal, so hopefully it will continue. Huzzah!

I did manage to get quite a bit done yesterday, and was tired a bit when I got home last night so wasn’t able to get any reading or much else of anything done other than watching Live Justice and the second episode of Minx (I have some thoughts on this show, which I am enjoying but not sure if I should be, if that makes sense? But I will discuss that more at another time, and feel like I need to give the show a few more episodes before making up my mind one way or another; I will say that the thing I found problematic in the first episode was that the main character–whom I liked–was very much a 70’s feminist stereotype: humorless, strident, angry–not that they didn’t have every right to be, mind you, but I often find that this lazy stereotype inevitably leads to lazy character development: let’s watch as the uptight opinionated humorless feminist learns how to relax and shed the systemic misogyny training she received as a woman growing up when she did, and of course, being around a porn publisher and porn models…you see what I mean? I like the positive representation of porn and the people who work in it, but…maybe I am making more of this than I should. I don’t know) before of course the tornado alarm went off on my phone, which shifted everything for the rest of the evening.

Paul’s moving into the hotel today so I will also be home alone for until Sunday night or Monday morning. Sigh, Festival widowhood staring me in the face again.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines. Have a lovely and safe day, Constant Reader!

Santa Baby

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment, and I am a bit tired. I went to the retirement party last night (note: it was not in the Bywater, but actually in Holy Cross, on the other side of the Industrial Canal; a neighborhood I’ve not been to in years. But then again, I’ve really not spent much time in the Bywater in forever either), and it was absolutely lovely. I enjoyed spending time away from the office with my co-workers in a relaxed environment, it’s been a hot minute (and not just because of the pandemic, either) and it was nice spending time getting to know them outside of a professional environment. I laughed a lot more than I thought I would, and stayed much later than I had planned–it was almost one in the morning when I finally rolled into the Lost Apartment, but was very delighted. I had a glass or two of champagne spread out over five hours (and they were very small), so was okay to drive, but have a bit of a headache this morning.

It feels more sinus-y then anything else as well, so I think once I take a Claritin that problem will clear itself right up.

Today I have a lot to get done; I need to get back on track with the book, I need to go to the gym (but continue to baby the left shoulder, which is still a bit sore this morning; note to self: Icy Hot), I want to finish reading A Caribbean Mystery, and I also want to finish watching Chapelwaite. I only have two episodes left, and despite that really slow burn first episode, it really picks up steam and starts going full blast, the pace picking up with every episode without losing the integrity of the story or the characters. It also has inspired me to write a sort-of sequel to Bury Me in Shadows–well, that’s not quite true; I’d always intended to return to Corinth County with another book, and but watching this show gave me the inspirational story spark I needed to come up with the story. I scribbled down a lot of notes yesterday, and while I need to focus on the current book, I am itching to get to this one sooner rather than later (a constant problem with this my writing career, which never seems to change despite my advances in age) but I definitely need to get to Chlorine next.

So, next year is going to be about Chlorine, another Scotty, and this second Corinth County book, which will start tying the threads of the county spread out over many different stories, both short, novella length, and novel, together. (Which was one of the primary reasons I was dreading writing such a book; tying these threads together was going to be difficult, but now i sort of know how to do it all; there’s one novella in particular that isn’t going to be easy to tie into the others, but I think I know how to do it now)…) And the novellas. And the short story collection. And the essays. And….yikes. Just typing all this out made me very tired.

I also had a rather scary moment this morning when I saw a headline about a fatal, catastrophic tornado (or rather, series of them) devastating Kentucky; I really wish the news would be less generic in headlines or click titles for articles about such things. The vast majority of states are actually rather large in size and scale, and while obviously I feel terrible for the residents of the state affected by this disaster, at the same time I was extremely relieved to go look at a map and see it was in western Kentucky, a significant distance from my family in eastern Kentucky. I understand the need for clicks and so forth is the on-line Internet business model, but still. Nevertheless, these tornadoes devastated a vast swath of that area, including Arkansas and Tennessee and I believe Missouri, and as someone who has lived through and dealt with natural disasters myself, I have nothing but the deepest sympathy for those who have lost loved ones as well as homes and property (the gulf parishes south of New Orleans are still struggling to recover from Ida, by the way). Please donate to the relief efforts if you can.

And on that note, I have an excess of emails to clean out, a kitchen office to organize and get ready, and a book to get back to writing, amongst many other things to do and they ain’t getting done the longer I sit here writing this. Have a happy healthy Saturday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check back in with you tomorrow with a progress report.