So…. even though I’m a writer, I am not a visual person AT ALL. Words are my bread and butter, but when I read, I completely skip over character and setting description. (I consider this my most major reading flaw. What’s yours?)
“Why do you participate in such a bad habit?” you may ask. Why, thank you for asking!
I do this because A.) No matter what, I will insert who I want into the place of a character, i.e. some actor with black hair, blue eyes, and a killer smirk. (Like every time, people! Even if the character is supposedly “blonde.” And see how I didn’t even address female leads.) B.) I thrive on dialogue. I don’t like excessively descriptive dialogue either. The classic “says” or “said” does more for me than “‘Go away now, you hoodlum! I will not buy your cookies!’ Susan cried vehemently.'” That’s too much, wayyy too much. Let me feel it out, fill in the blanks. (‘Cause I’m a talker. If you can’t figure out how to say it, I WILL. I consider it a challenge!)
Obviously, this poses a giant problem when writing. When I sat down to write On the Other Side, I couldn’t figure out how to describe a lot of what I “saw” in my head… because I didn’t really see anything AT ALL. I heard it in my characters’ voices, in the swish of water against a dock, in the chirping of crickets in trees overhead, and more sounds that I associate with New Orleans. Here’s how I solved the problem: I turned to photography.
I moonlight as a photographer, and New Orleans is my second home and sweetest muse. When crafting particular scenes or elements of the city, I needed a source for the language I chose–my own photography. Of course, the Orleans in OTOS is dystopic. A Wall divides the city into the Ward and the Quarter–where Flood waters from the River reach near the second story on every building. This I created from scratch, but all of the little details Hilaria, my protag, sees and hears sometimes, too, are pulled from my second favorite form of expression.
A huge part of NoLa is the dark underworld of voodoo. Personally, I think it’s all rather beautiful… how there are museums dedicated to this Haitian contribution to the city and how people sincerely embrace it not only as a religion but as an art. Likewise, set up around the St. Louis Cathedral are dozens of palm and tarot readers; one I met inspired the character of Hilaria’s mom, a tarot card reader named Cleo. The top right picture is Cleo’s own view from where she sets up her table on a little dry platform, right in the midst of the flood water.
In Hilaria’s present, the French Quarter is in a state of decay. I think the decay, like the voodoo, has its own richness and beauty, and this is a trait of mine Hilaria embraces. For description of the cast iron and wrought iron she sees, broken-off piers, ivy, and the color of the water at night, I turned to these photos. New Orleans is filled with jewels of detail if you only look hard enough.
Unfortunately, Hilaria doesn’t know jazz; she imagines what it sounds like because all she understands of the art is what she’s read in books. Music oozes out of the bricks in her NoLa (at least in her imagination), and much of what I heard in my head is from my friend, Ms. Doreen here. I snapped these during one of her many street performances I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. She’s great, by the way!
CEMETERY, THE QUARTER, AND THE CATHEDRAL:
Two pivotal scenes in the novel occur within the Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans. I love the sublime quality of walking through the cemetery in the middle of a hot, humid day, and suffering the sensation of someone looking over your shoulder. That eerie quality is what Hilaria loves the most about her city, and what better way to show it than to have her life change among those who can’t grow older. That’s Marie Laveau’s tomb in bottom right picture.
Hilaria also spends a great deal of time in old Jackson Square. Mr. Andrew Jackson looks down upon many of her adventures with her best friend, Anthony, and who wouldn’t feel up to a little mischief with a beautiful boy if that sky was above them? Tujague’s doesn’t make an appearance in the novel, but Cafe du Monde and Galatoire’s do.
Finally, the opening scene of the OTOS and the final scene of the last novel in the series take place in this beautiful cathedral. Religion isn’t a necessity in Hilaria’s world, but her entire life revolves around her comings and goings from this landmark. Her love for the Cathedral and its place in history will be used against her in ways she can never imagine. I call this my “dreamy” edit of the photo, and so much of Hilaria’s life could be mistaken for a dream (You’ll have to read OTOS to find out why!), why not apply that thought to a photo?
………….Well, friends! I hope you enjoyed this tiny tour through my imagination. Something special is coming tomorrow in regard to my little novel, so stick around for that! Until then, let me know what you think of the photos. Do they match your version of NoLa? I’d love to know! It’s my home away from home.
Until next time,