Tag Archive for: New Orleans

Gay Yellen: Back to the Big Easy


I am writing this from my hotel room in New Orleans, under the spell of memories from the past. In this city, where I spent three of my four college years, my visit has filled me with nostalgia and a sudden sharp awareness of unintended consequences.

Barely a month into my freshman year, I happened to notice a call for auditions for The Fantasticks, a musical I adored, on an obscure bulletin board. Luckily, there was still time for me to try out, so I screwed my courage to the sticking place, took my shot, and got the part. And from that moment, my future was sealed. I changed my major from English to Theater and never looked back.

I’m here today to attend the wedding of a child of a college friend, the one who had played my father in The Fantasticks those many years ago. As my friend prepares to hand over his son’s welfare to the lovely bride, I hark back to that play, in which the fathers of two young lovers fret over their children’s future.

After the marriage ceremony, in a toast to the bride and groom, my friend spoke about how unintended consequences had brought the young couple and all of us together for the joyous occasion. In essence, he said that, if he and I had never met, and if I had not subsequently married a man who, at his own alma mater, had wholeheartedly supported the campus club where the young couple met, their knowing one another—and thus their wedding—might never have happened.

Later, when my goosebumps subsided, as we gaily marched down the street behind the happy couple in a jazz band “second line,” I harked back even further, to the what if’s of the past. How do any of us end up to be the people we are, circumscribed by the mates and friends and places that define our lives? And who would we have become if the path had shifted even slightly?

As my mind slides from the sublime celebration that took place only hours ago to my everyday task at hand—finishing the third book in the Samantha Newman Mystery Series—I’m still feeling the impact of my friend’s comment about unintended consequences. As an author, I face fateful choices every day for my main character. Will she? Won’t she? Should she? Would she? It’s a constant inner dialogue as I decide Samantha’s future.

And yet, in real life, do we ever give those unintended consequences a second thought?

Gay Yellen writes the award-winning

Samantha Newman Mysteries including
The Body Business,
The Body Next Door
(available on Amazon)

Coming in 2022,

The Body in the News! 

Gay Yellen: The Fortuneteller’s Prophesy

Ever had and unexplainable, eerily paranormal experience? In honor of Halloween and El Dia de Los Muertos, I offer my spooky, true story.
It began in the other-worldly parlor of a New Orleans psychic, the summer after college. I was making a movie there. As we finished the day’s shoot, the cinematographer invited me and another friend to join him and his wife, Donna, for an unusual get-together.

His mother-in-law had recently died. Deeply grieved, Donna had found a spiritual psychic who promised to put her in contact with her Mom beyond the grave. My friend and I were to provide emotional support during the session.

That evening, we parked in front of an old brick two-story in a poorly lit neighborhood near the French Quarter. We rang the bell. Madame, the psychic, opened the door. Round and elderly, with unnaturally black curls framing her pudgy, wrinkled face and a huge antique cameo at her bosom, she wobbled ahead, leading us into a stuffy parlor.

Blood red walls flickered with candlelight from dozens of votives scattered around the room. An altar-sized crucifix of Jesus, eyes rolled back in ecstasy, hung above the mantel. Statuettes of saints populated almost every flat surface.

The cinematographer and his wife sat on a fraying black satin sofa, holding hands. Heavy burgundy curtains blocked the windows behind them. Madame pointed us to two side chairs and settled herself into a gold brocade wing-back.

She asked Donna if she’d made contact with her mother since their last session. Donna shook her head, teary-eyed. Madame said not to worry, because she had indeed reached Mom, and all was well. Donna simply needed more practice.

Madame instructed us to shut our eyes and concentrate on Donna’s goal. I tried my best to conjure her mother, sitting beside her, whispering in her ear. But after a minute or so, Madame stopped the exercise. Mom hadn’t shown. We all had failed.

Then Madame turned to me. “I am seeing a very strong image over you. Might we pursue it?” Since the woman knew nothing about me, it felt safe to play along. I nodded.

“Are you a writer?” she asked. Was this about Donna, or me? I hesitated. Barely twenty-one, I was focused on an acting career. 

The actress, that summer.

The only things I’d written back then were class assignments, my honors thesis, and a little poetry. I shook my head.

“Hmm,” she muttered. “The image is remarkably clear. Someone is writing, always writing—a story perhaps, or a book. Are you sure you don’t relate to that?”

I shrugged.

Madame shut her eyes. “The image is too strong. Perhaps someone close to you is a writer?”

“No one.”

Madame seemed baffled. She went quiet for a moment. “I also see a dog, a little white dog, running up to you. A beloved pet. The image is very clear.”
The white pup.
Totally wrong. I’d never had a white dog. Besides, if I ever got one, white would be my last choice. I shook my head again.

Madame was a fake, for sure. I never gave the incident a second thought. Until

A decade later, I was playing with the puppy that had unexpectedly entered my life. Out of the blue—as my very white, very beloved pooch ran toward me to return the ball I’d tossed in our regular game of fetch—Madame’s vision popped into my brain, like a crazy mind-meld across the years. Goosebumps. Was this the little dog she’d “seen” years before?

Spookier yet, we fast-forward to today. I don’t know if Donna ever made contact with her mother, but as I write this post, and I work to complete my third book, I can’t escape the memory of that strange night at Madame’s. Because now, I am writing, always writing.

Madame was right. I am a writer.

Have you experienced a spooky event like this?

Gay Yellen is a former magazine editor and the award-winning author of the Samantha Newman Mystery Series, including The Body Business and The Body Next Door (Amazon.) Book #3 in the series is slated for 2021. She’d love to hear from you, here, on Facebook or her website.

The Celebrations Linger On

SinC Workshop

than transition (our monthly theme) to a new subject matter, I’m going to
continue with the topic Linda Rodriguez so ably introduced on Friday:
Bouchercon 2016, which took place over the last five days in New Orleans. Linda
was very much a part of this special event with her participation in the
Sisters on Crime SinC into Great Writing workshop, Doing Diversity Right. She
and other experts analyzed how writers can make their work more accessible and
meaningful to readers by respecting cultures and disabilities through choice of
words, plots, and character depictions and reactions.

Edith Maxwell, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Ramona DeFlice Long at Sinc Breakfast

and champagne (served at the Sisters in Crime breakfast, with founder Sara
Paretsky in attendance, and during at least two panels) were in evidence during
the conference. The following anniversaries were recognized: the 75th
year of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine,
the 30th year of Sisters in Crime, and the 6th year of a
writing critique group including Donna Andrews, Ellen Crosby, John Gilstrap,
Allan Orloff, and Art Taylor.

The audience very much enjoyed sampling a liquid recipe
featured in Ellen’s upcoming novel, The
Champagne Conspiracy

Eleanor Cawood Jones, Alan Orloff, Donna Andrews, Art Taylor, John Gilstrap, and Ellen Crosby

Ace Atkins interviewing Julie Smith

major topic of discussion, in both formal and informal settings, was
transitions in the publishing industry. Ace Atkins conducted an inspiring
interview with Julie Smith, whose Skip Langdon novels were my introduction to
New Orleans. Julie mentioned that she has found a new passion working in
publishing. When asked how that work could be a passion, she explained that she
had helped writers whose series had not been published in a number of years
come out with new work for readers to enjoy.

Edith Maxwell, Debra Goldstein, Terrie Farley Moran, PGB, and Lori Rader-Day

Having the
opportunity to revel in the company of authors and reconnect with dear friends
in a city that truly knows how to party was a fabulously memorable experience.
If you ask me what kind of shoes I’ve been wearing, I’ll have to answer
truthfully, comfortable ones. It takes a lot of walking to navigate Bouchercon
and New Orleans. Many thanks to all the organizers and participants. Now that I’ve
returned home, I can’t help but feel a bit of a glass slipper complex. Midnight
approaches and it’s time to return to normal life. Yet, in my heart, the party
lingers on. Let the good times roll!

Love Letters

Love at first sight. It happens. It happened to me. I fell
in love with New Orleans almost as soon as the plane landed at Louis Armstrong
Airport. I fell in love the moment I spotted someone walking through the
terminal with a hurricane.
Laissez les bons temps
Then came Jackson Square and Royal Street and the food and
the Garden District and Audubon Park. Then came beignets at Café du Monde and
shopping on Magazine Street. Then came the busker, who upon learning I was from
Kansas City, effortlessly shifted the style of jazz he played to make me feel
at home. Anyone would be head over heels…
New Orleans charmed me. It’s good at that. But even I, in
the throes of falling in love, could see there were problems. New Orleans is a
southern lady of a certain age, still lovely, but her slip is showing, and
there’s a run in her stocking, and it’s possible she’s had one too many Pimm’s
cups. She’s a character.
Perhaps that’s why I wrote two books about her.
The second book, Bayou Nights released this July. I had the
opportunity to research everything from Jean Lafitte’s pirate crew to Absinthe
House. Obviously, first-hand research is the best! I penned lines at the Hotel
Monteleone, tasted beignets at Café du Monde (because what’s a trip to NOLA
without them?), meandered down Pirates Alley, and studied the altar at St.
Louis Cathedral.
One reviewer noted, “I absolutely love how Mulhern brings
the richly atmospheric world of 1903 New Orleans to life in this tale. The
world draws you in from the start and you feel like you’re walking alongside
Christine and Drake as they encounter the most incredibly vibrant spirits, both
living and dead.” I’ll cherish those words because I want everyone who reads
Bayou Nights to fall as in love with New Orleans as I am.
That said, a city is not a plot. I needed one. One filled with mystery and atmosphere. I also needed characters.
I created Drake, a man who does not fall in love with New Orleans on sight. Drake
sees the city’s slip showing, the run in the stocking…he complains about the humidity
and life’s languid pace. Yet, slowly, he is seduced. As he comes to understand
New Orleans, he falls in love with the heroine, Christine Lambert, a woman as
complicated as the city where she lives.
Because I’d researched pirates, I needed a swashbuckling
plot—one filled with lost treasure, voodoo, and danger.
The result is my love letter to New Orleans. Even if you’ve
not yet been to the Crescent City, I hope you fall in love too!

Julie Mulhern is the USA Today bestselling author of The Country Club Murders. 

She is a Kansas City native who grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie. She spends her spare time whipping up gourmet meals for her family, working out at the gym and finding new ways to keep her house spotlessly clean–and she’s got an active imagination. Truth is–she’s an expert at calling for take-out, she grumbles about walking the dog and the dust bunnies under the bed have grown into dust lions. 

Who Dat? Dat the Indian Chief! – Where Does a Story Idea Come From? – Part One

Who Dat? Dat the Indian Chief! – Where Does a Story Idea Come From? – Part One by Debra H. Goldstein 
 (Part Two will appear on Wednesday, January 21)

Ideas?  Where do your story ideas come from?  After people ask me whether I miss my former job (https://debrahgoldstein.wordpress.com – December 22, 2014 – “It’s Not Always a Mystery”), they invariably ask me how I come up with the ideas for the stories and books I write.  My answer is simple:  I pull them out of the air, dreams, contest or submission prompts, sentences that stick in my mind, observing a moment of human behavior that results in brainstorming, or finding an interesting fact when researching.  The key is to find the twist that distinguishes my story idea from those of other writers.

Who Dat? Dat the Indian Chief! is a short story that grew out of research connected to a submission call for New Orleans related stories to be published in the February 2014 Mardi Gras Murder anthology.  Having visited New Orleans, I knew I could write about food, parades, and Hurricane Katrina, but so could everyone else.  To find a new twist, I researched different possible topics, but nothing struck my fancy.  Then, in the middle of reading about scheduled Krewe events, I saw a reference to secret Mardi Gras Indian parades. More research revealed traditions and elaborate costumes tied to these below the radar African-American Indian parades that fascinated me.

I immediately knew my story would involve characters participating in a Mardi Gras Indian parade in

New Orleans, but when?  At the historic time the parades began or in a more modern time period?  I also had to find a way to make my tale more than a recitation about parades and beads.

As I strove to find a different angle, two thoughts or themes kept running through my mind, Hurricane Katrina and the idea of redemption.  The problem was that they didn’t seem to go together.
It wasn’t until I discovered the human spirit that brought all parades and celebrations back into existence after their suspension because of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina that I realized how to link the two.  From that moment, the story flowed out of me. The result is one of my very favorite and most meaningful short stories – Who Dat? Dat the Indian Chief! 

Who Dat? Dat the Indian Chief was featured in the Mardi Gras Murder short story anthology in February 2014.

Back From New Orleans and Epicon

We left at 3:30 a.m. to go to the closest airport to us, a small regional airport in Bakersfield. At 6:15 a.m. we left and arrived in Phoenix where we not only had to change planes–but also airlines. Which meant leaving the terminal, catching an airport bus to go to a different terminal, and going through security again. None of this was easy. We’d chosen to take two personal items apiece rather than sending anything on through for fear of it not getting to our destination, so we had to haul these bags with us everywhere.

From there we flew to Houston, where we changed planes once again. We had very little time in-between any of these transfers. Finally we arrived in New Orleans and we took a taxi to the hotel. (Set fee of $33 one way for two people.)

The hotel was lovely and no sooner did we get out of the cab when we ran into a couple we knew. However, by this time, all we could think of was getting to our room, unpacking and finding someplace to have dinner and going to bed.

The next day we spent sightseeing (or eating our way through the French Quarter) until the first Epicon event began that evening. Of course we ran into many people we knew.

Though the con was well-planned with lots of good presentations, not many people took advantage of what was going on because the draw of the nearby French Quarter was too much.

I gave two presentations, “How to Write A Mystery” for the adults and more or less the same thing for the New Voices students the following day. That was truly a highlight of the trip. I had so much fun with the two kids who attended. Together we planned a mystery and what great ideas they had.

On Friday night, many of us went on a dinner cruise in a steam boat up and down the Mississippi River. After eating, hubby and I sat out on the deck and watched with amazement the many freighters and tug boats lined up one after another. We walked there and back–on the way back, hubby was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find our way. No fear–it was easy.

Of course Saturday was the big banquet and awards ceremony–this was well-attended. We sat at the table with two of the other authors up for the same award as I was–best mystery-thriller e-book. I knew in my heart who was going to win and I was right, Michael Orenduff for his wonderful mystery, The Pot Thief. The first in his series.

The next a.m. we were up at 4 a.m. so we could catch our flight home at 6. We almost went through the wrong security line–realized it before we got too far. Finally got to the right spot for our plane in enough time to breathe–then the same wild trip back, only this time we flew to Georgia first then to Phoenix where again, we had to exit the terminal, catch a bus, got through security again and then we had a long, long walk to find the place leaving for Bakersfield and just go there in the nick of time. Phew!

Were we ever glad to get back into California and climb into our car and head for home.

We’ve made up our minds we’ll never take such a complicated trip again. We’re too old for all that running all through the airport loaded down with luggage to get from one airplane to another.

Despite all that, we did have a great time and the French Quarter looks just like it does in the movies.


Growing Old Gracefully

How does one grow old gracefully?

I know that I don’t really feel old inside–of course it’s always a shock when I look in the mirror and this older person looks back at me that resembles a cross between my grandmother and mother.

I can tell my husband is getting older because he just doesn’t get much done anymore and he used to be a dynamo. When he watches TV he spends more time asleep than not. He stays up much later than I do, but he’s sleeping in his chair while I’m in the bed.

If you’d seen him this past weekend though, he worked as hard if not harder than most of the younger men when we were visiting down in Dana Point at the ill-fated book launch with no books.

He knew how to and helped so many younger people put up and take down their tents who didn’t have a clue how to do it. He hauled tables and put tables away. He helped in anyway he could and worked right alongside our host who is thirteen years younger.

I’ve always had friends who were older than I am, now most of my friends are younger. My older friends have retired to places where older people go and they’ve taken up leisure activities.

I can’t imagine spending my days doing “leisure” activities.

If I’m not writing a book I’m planning a new one. Right now my efforts are all geared toward promoting Dispel the Mist.

Hubby and I have a lot of places to go planned for the next month, places where I’ll be promoting but we’ll also have fun and visit with some of our younger friends.

Our calendar for next year is filling up too–we’re headed for New Orleans for Epicon–New Orleans is some place we’ve never been before so we’re definitely going to do some sightseeing.

We don’t plan to stop until we have to–not sure that fits the bill of growing old gracefully, but it will have to do.