This week, we’re celebrating the release of Ellen’s Cajun Country debut novel, PLANTATION SHUDDERS. In honor of the new mystery series, which critics describe as a “brilliant book that takes us to Louisiana,” we’re sharing our favorite stories about the Pelican State. Don’t forget to share your own Louisiana stories in the comments section.
When I was a senior in college, I signed up to be an orientation leader. That entailed shepherding a group of incoming freshman around the campus to various events. We also took them on a tour of New Orleans’ French Quarter. My co-leader Tig and I showed our wide-eyed youngsters the usual locations: Jackson Square, The Cabildo, Bourbon Street. As day turned into night, I recommended that we end the evening at Pete’s, my favorite Quarter disco. Pete’s was a genial gay bar where you could dance without being hassled by drunk straight guys. It was unassuming and fun. We led the kids inside and stopped dead in our tracks. Over the summer, Pete’s had become hardcore. Men in diapers danced on top of the bar. People of indiscriminate sexuality, all clad in leather, gyrated together under the disco ball. Tig and I tried hurrying our charges out of there – but they didn’t want to leave! They were totally fascinated by the wild scene, and bragged about it to friends when we returned to campus. That’s when I thought to myself, Yeah… these kids were born to be Tulanians.
My first trip to Louisiana will be for Bouchercon 2016. But years ago, I met another young mom named Liz in a steamy laundromat during a Brooklyn heat wave. As we tried to corral our kids and pile hot clothes into our wheeled carts, she assured me that the killer temps were nothing—she was from New Orleans. She invited us up to her apartment above the laundromat—neither of us had air conditioning—for cool drinks (lemonade for the kids, beer for the grownups). Turned out Liz, a stylist, was married to a jazz musician. She was horrified that I knew next to nothing about jazz, not to mention much of anything south of the Mason-Dixon Line. We became close friends, and counted on each other whenever one of us was in a pinch—for baby-sitting, misplaced keys, or even (literally) a cup of sugar. Ever the gracious hostess, Liz wanted to share her love of Cajun cuisine, and insisted on authenticity. She’d brought spices and rice with her from Louisiana, but she ordered andouille sausage, shrimp, and crawfish from home to cook me and the kids a real jambalaya. One problem: we didn’t eat seafood (don’t ask!). She made the dish with chicken and spicy sausage and tried in vain to get the kids to try crawdaddies. (They wanted to bring them home to live with their 2 hermit crabs.) Eventually Liz and her family moved back to Louisiana, and we lost touch. But happy ending: We’ve just reconnected, thanks to this blog and Facebook, and you can bet we’ll share beer and jambalaya again in person during my trip to Bouchercon!
I wish my Louisiana story had to do with dancing to zydeco music or following a funeral procession led by a Dixieland jazz band, but no. I’ve only been to Louisiana once. it was a weekend trip to New Orleans, and I remember very little about it—partly because it was so long ago and partly because of all the drinking. When I got my pictures developed (this was back when you had to drop your film off and wait three days to see them), I was able to use them to piece together what had happened on Bourbon Street. There was the shot of my leaning against a police car, holding aloft my to-go cup full of Hurricane while the nice police officer smiled at me patiently. Then there was the picture of my drink splattered all over the ground; I’d spilled about half of it—which, based on the fact that I didn’t remember doing it, was probably for the best.
When I think of Louisiana, I think of the time I turned down a promotion and quit my job. Before you think I’m crazy, this was 2003! Getting a job was like an episode of Oprah’s Favorite Things. “You have a job! And you have a job! And you have a job!” There were so many jobs out there that people were practically giving them away. Plus, I quit to go to film school. Of course, I had to get to school first and that’s where Louisiana comes into the picture.
My aunt and I drove cross-country from Atlanta, where I was a part of my best friend’s wedding, to Los Angeles on Interstate 10, which literally travels the entire southern part of the United States, including—you guessed it—Louisiana. Though my time there was literally just a few hours, it was something I’ll never forget. It literally represented the start of the the next phase of my life and finally having enough balls to pursue a long-held dream. Even driving down that highway for all those hours, I never looked back.