May 31, 2012

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Guest Post from Ellie James: New Orleans, Strange But True

Hello to my lovely readers! Today Ellie James, author of The Midnight Dragonfly series, is here to talk about one of my favorite cities, New Orleans, where her awesome series takes place. icon smile Guest Post from Ellie James: New Orleans, Strange But True This is one of my favorite guest posts so I hope you enjoy it, too!

Mardi Gras. Bourbon Street. Voodoo. Jazz. Food.  Sin. The Vampire Lestat…

Chances are, I need not say anymore, and you’re thinking New Orleans. People often ask me why I chose the Crescent City as the setting for the Midnight Dragonfly books. In truth, there wasn’t any choice involved. I dreamed the opening scene: a group of teenagers sneaking into an abandoned Garden District mansion, once the site of extravagant parties but now rotting in squalor, each with their own agenda. By the time the last runs screaming from the house, a nightmare they never imagined has begun….

Why did I set the books in New Orleans? Simple. The city is as much a character in the story as Trinity, Chase, Jessica, and Dylan!

A Louisiana native, I grew up visiting New Orleans several times a year. I crept through houses believed to be haunted, skipped along streets once lined by the dead, and played in cemeteries. It was no big deal: that was just New Orleans. It wasn’t until I graduated college and moved away that I realized how unique The Big Easy is…..

Here are just a few reasons why:

•    Situated along the Mississippi River and nestled among thousands of centuries-old oaks, New Orleans is frequently called America’s Most European city. The architecture is a unique blend of Spanish and French, the French Quarter is almost three hundred years old, horse-drawn carriages still trot down cobblestone streets, the food is unbelievably fantastic, music throbs twenty-four hours a day, and art flourishes. Of course, there’s also that whole below sea level thing. Probably not the greatest idea.
•    The food. OMG, the food!
•    In New Orleans, no one blinks if you mention seeing a ghost. In fact, people are more likely to look at you funny if you state that there’s no such thing as ghosts!  That’s one of the reasons why New Orleans is called America’s Most Haunted City.  Over the years, disease, war, and natural disasters have claimed many New Orleanians before their time, leaving their souls restless and confused, trapped between two worlds.
•    That’s how Jazz Funerals got their start, mourners wandering aimlessly through the streets with a drummer or horn player in front, in order to confuse the spirit of the departed, so they are so disoriented they don’t know how to get back home.
•    It is said that in New Orleans, the dead outnumber the living 10:1 (4,000,000:400,000)
•    Some of those dead are Irish immigrants who succumbed to Yellow Fever in the 1800s while working to build the New Basin Canal. For simplicity,  most of those workers were buried where they fell. The canal served the city until the 1950s, when it was filled and turned into an expressway. Yep. People now drive over what amounts to a massive cemetery…
•    Malaria is another culprit for all those poor restless souls. In 1853, for almost 2 months, up to 200 people a day died. During the summer, the bodies were placed on the sidewalks of the extremely wealthy who left the city to avoid the unbearable (and disease). Carts would make their way through the neighborhoods to collect the bodies. At least, that was the plan. Sometimes the carts never showed. Um…yeah.
•    But it wasn’t just disease. A port city, New Orleans had (and has!) its fair share of crime. No visit to the View Carre is complete without visiting the quaint Jackson Square, with its manicured lawns and graceful old oaks beneath which artists and psychics gather, the fence of wrought iron, the pigeons, and of course, the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral. Of course, few realize that this same place was one the site for public hangings…

•    But while in the French Quarter, you quickly discover that anything can be purchased–ANYTHING. Especially stuff you didn’t know existed. I mean, where else can you be strolling along and stumble across Reverand Zombie’s Voodoo Shop?
•    Yep, the Disney folks behind The Princess and the Frog weren’t exaggerating or being all that creative. Voodoo is still practiced in Big Easy. Talking about spells, curses or gris gris doesn’t make anyone blink, not even the devoutly Catholic, of whom there are many.
•    With all the craziness going on, it’s not surprising that New Orleans holds the distinction of having the highest number of missing persons cases since those statistics began being tracked.
•    Museums are a tourist attraction in almost every city, but in New Orleans, many of the most popular museums are…cemeteries. Because of that whole below sea level thing, New Orleans entombs its dead in elaborate, hauntingly beautiful, above-ground crypts, referred to as Cities of the Dead.

•    Speaking of cemeteries, on All Saints Day, picnics are held for the dead—IN cemeteries, including wine, music, and dancing.
•    Still speaking of cemeteries, in St. Louis #1 you’ll find the crypt of New Orleans’ most famous and celebrated voodoo queen: Marie Leveau. It is said that even from The Beyond, she still grants favors, which is why her tomb is always adorned with dried flowers and votives. Legend has it you should knock three times when asking for a favor, and once the favor has been granted, return to the crypt and either mark an X or chip the brick.

•    STILL speaking of cemeteries, a few rows over you’ll find a glowing white pyramid of concrete, ready and waiting for its future inhabitant: (the still very much alive) Nicholas Cage. Yep.

•    Speaking of Nicholas Cage, he once purchased New Orleans most haunted residence, that of the former socialite Delphine LaLaurie.  Some Very Bad Things happened there: Google it and see!
(For the record, Nic no longer owns the property. No one does for long. Over the years it’s been a high school, a music conservatory , a tenement, a refuge for young delinquents, a bar, a furniture store, and a luxury apartment building!)
•    Speaking of Hollywood….there really was a street car named Desire. The line folded in 1948, giving way to a much less evocative bus line. But streetcars do still run in New Orleans including one named…Cemeteries!
•    Perhaps no other city in America could have adapted so quickly following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. In addition to over a thousand dead, the city lost 30% of its population, people who fled the storm only to realize they had nothing to go back to. Walk the streets of the French Quarter and the Garden District and little has changed since Before The Storm (that’s how locals refer to it), but venture out a little further, and even now, the post-apocalyptic feel lingers. Much of the city stands vacant and waiting, from rotting houses to vacant strip center, shopping malls, movie theaters, a huge and beautiful Art-Décor style hospital, even an amusement park.

Given all this, it’s easy to see why all the nicknames are true: The Big Easy. The Crescent City.  The City that Care Forgot. City of Mystery. Paris of the South. The Birthplace of Jazz. America’s Most European City. America’s Most Haunted City.
It’s also easy to see why no other city could have played such a vital and spooky role in Trinity’s story, the story of a teenage psychic who sees horrible things before they happen…

Ellie Guest Post from Ellie James: New Orleans, Strange But TrueAbout Ellie James
Most people who know Ellie think she’s your nice, ordinary average wife and mom of two little kids. They see someone who does all that normal stuff, like grocery shopping, walking the dogs, going to baseball games, and somehow always forgetting to get the house cleaned and laundry done.
What they don’t know is that more often than not, this LSU J-School alum is somewhere far, far away, in an extraordinary world, deeply embroiled in solving a riddle or puzzle or crime, testing the limits of possibility, exploring the unexplained, and holding her breath while two people fall in love.
Regardless of which world Ellie’s in, she loves rain and wind and thunder and lightning; the first warm kiss of spring and the first cool whisper of fall; family, friends, and animals; dreams and happy endings; Lost and Fringe; Arcade Fire and Dave Matthews, and last but not least…warm gooey chocolate chip cookies.

You can follow Ellie on Facebook at:

SD Guest Post from Ellie James: New Orleans, Strange But TrueAbout the Midnight Dragonfly Series
Glimpses. That’s all they are. Shadowy premonitions flickering through sixteen year old psychic Trinity Monsour’s dreams. Some terrify: a girl screaming, a knife lifting, a body in the grass. But others–the dark, tortured eyes and the shattering kiss, the promise of forever–whisper to her soul.

They come without warning. They come without detail.

But they always mean the same thing: The clock is ticking, and only Trinity can stop it.

Find out how in Broken Illusions (St. Martin’s Press), available now from Griffin Teen!

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  1. I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans and I love your pictures! So pretty! Idk about visiting cemeteries though bc that’s just so depressing, lol.

    • Teehee! :) The cemeteries are way cool though, as long as you aren’t viewing them at night. Scary!!!

    • Hi, Vivian! New Orleans is an awesome city! It’s an incredible mix of modern and old-fashioned, the people are fascinating, friendly, and at times funny, the food is OMG, and there’s tons to do! Bourbon Street is a trip. It’s not just about partying. I kid you not about the voodoo shops. And the cemeteries…it is kinda creepy at first, but you’re quickly swept away by the haunting beauty. The gorgeous old and crumbling statues, the sprawling oaks with the Spanish moss….oiy. Gorgeous! I’ve got a few pics from my last trip up at the Midnight Dragonfly Books Facebook page! I’m headed back in about four weeks and can’t wait to do some more walking around. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d be a photographer. I LOVE taking pictures!

  2. tiffany falick says:

    Oh my heart! One of my dreams is to visit New Orleans!!!! Lobe the history. And those Cemeteries!!!! I absolutely LOVE CEMETERIES! I live next to a really old one, I am weird and hang out there quite often. Lots of reading gets done there (: Thank you for this post!!! Really enjoyed reading it!!!! I am starting book 1 tonight!!!!

    • Thanks, Tiffany! I love NOLA, too, and I hear you about the cemeteries. There’s a small one in our community dating back to the 1850s. Rumor has it that it’s haunted, but I don’t have any personal accounts. Allegedly an outlaw is buried there :) A few weeks ago my daughter (8) and I rode our bikes there at dusk and tromped around, taking pictures. I got some awesome shots with the light streaking through the trees just so :) Then….we freaked ourselves out and decided we should leave!!

      Thank you for picking up Shattered! I had so much fun with that book and exploring Trinity’s abilities. I’m a HUGE fan of the unexplained (yes, big Lost fangirl here!)

  3. Mariam Jones says:

    I looooove New Orleans, i make it my duty to go there at least twice a year. I wish i could go more than that, but my favorite part is visiting the cemetaries !!! They’re so old and creepy and filled with so much history, i adore them !!The tours they have for them are the best. I like to go to them in October around Halloween, adds a little spook to it !!

  4. Mariam Jones says:

    * cemeteries. oops on my typo

  5. I had never heard of this book before reading this post…but I can just feel the love of NOLA as I read. I’ve only been there once but I had a fun time there. I loved the architecture of the French Quarter and the food and the mystery that just seemed to permeate from every nook and cranny….and did I mention the food? Then in reading the comments I see a mention of Lost Girl which is one of my favorite shows….well…yeah….I’m sold. I’m gonna have to grab myself a copy of this one. Thanks Baily for posting this guest post!

    • I’ve been to one, maybe two that felt spooky. The one that comes rdaeily to mind was a cemetery in Chicago, I think, but I’d have to ask the person I was with the name. It just had a vibe and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a ghost. Like you, I don’t find cemeteries spooky. This was definitely an exception.

  6. Kim Mathwig says:

    I’ve never been to New Orleans but man do I want to go. Mariam and Bailey, I think Starbooks needs to have a New Orleans trip in our future so we can check out Reverand Zombie’s Voodoo Shop. Thanks for the fun post and exciting new book.

    • Mariam Jones says:

      Kim i think that’s a fabulous idea !!! There’s so many great places to go see there ! It would be a blast ! They have ghost and vampire tours of the cemeteries too !

  7. I’ve never been to New Orleans, either… Boooo! surprise, I don’t even live in the US, but my dear friend lives there.
    Great post! I loved the idea of the Jazz Funerals. And also, I love cemeteries!

  8. Mariam, yes!!! It’s odd trying to explain how beautiful the cemeteries are, but they really are :) I have to watch myself in writing, not to linger too long in describing something, you know? I just want everyone to see exactly what I see!

    We just did a tour with Strange But True Tours, with Jeffrey. The guy knows his stuff. I highly recommend him next time you’re back. And…Frenchmen Street. That’s where the locals hang out. Tres, tres fun!


    • Mariam Jones says:

      Nice !! Thanks for the suggestion, i’m hoping to make it back down there this October ! People think i’m morbid when i say i love to walk around the cemeteries and take pictures, but they just don’t see how beautiful it can be i guess. Their loss !!

      • Good question. I think in a lot of cases you’re problbay right. The bag lady at the corner of Canal and Broad was back early, before they were even officially letting residents back in. I can only assume that she found a leeward cranny somewhere and hunkered down under her huge pile of stuff.A lot of the Uptown crazies appear to actually be relatively well off (you know, the “eccentric” uncle of some old family who simply refuses to take his meds). Hopefully, their families made arrangements for them.But you know there’s at least one born-and-raised-New-Orleans schizophrenic out there who wound up in Houston, or Topeka, or Cape Cod and used every hook and crazy crook in his or her posession to get back to the old stomping grounds.

  9. Hi, Irish….another Lostie? I swear I’m so Lost without that show! I’m doing Fringe, and I like Fringe, but it’s just not the same!!

    Thanks for stopping by!!!

    Ellie :)

  10. Kim, yes! You need to go. Any chance you get :) Mardi Gras is super amazing, but incredibly chaotic, too. One thing I learned from a former boyfriend who was/is a native New Orleanian, is that New Orleanians typically vacate the city for Mardi Gras. They prefer the parades leading up to the big event, and the suburb parades, but since they LIVE there, by and large, they don’t really want to make total crazy then have to face everyone the next day at work. Sure, some New Orleanians partake in the crazy, but the MOST crazy is usually the folks from out of town.

    NOLA is awesome to visit in Spring or Fall. Summer is a bit…steamy :) And you know, so far the books have fallen in October, February, and March. I’m really finding myself itching to write about hot, sticky weather, shorts, tank tops and flip-flops :)


  11. Thanks for stopping by, Liz. Where *do* you live?


  12. Jenny V says:

    Great post! I’ve never been to New Orleans, but this definitely makes me want to check it out. I love historical places, and it sounds like New Orleans is just that. Along with jazz and good food, which I also like. The book also sounds really exciting. Thanks!

  13. Wonderful blog….I really enjoy it. One of my dream to visit new Orleans.

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