Saturday, December 24, 2011

Weekend Mishmash: Happy End-of-the-Year!

Despite the fact that my husband, Dan, and I are lifelong atheists, we admit to being fond of the Christmas season – if only because it gives us a reason to shower each other with gifts and eat yummy food. While the commercialistic aspects of the season can be disheartening at times – not to mention having to brave traffic jams and frenzied shoppers at the mall – I've always found other aspects, like Christmas carols and holiday lights, to be downright uplifting. Even in the French Quarter – where snow is a rarity – it's hard not to embrace the spirit of the season.

There's also something indescribably joyous and magical about the holiday. After all, as a child, I fully believed that Santa Claus would visit my house on Christmas Eve, eat his ration of homemade cookies, and, in exchange, leave behind a present or two. Anticipation of the next morning's surprises always made it tough for me to fall asleep – in fact, writing my wish list for Santa and imagining all the possibilities was almost more exciting than opening the gifts themselves. Now that I'm an adult, I can't believe the crazy things for which I sometimes asked – from ponies to sorceress outfits. Needless to say, I didn't get everything I wanted, but just the act of asking was a lot of fun.

Imagine, though, if Santa Claus wasn't age-limited. Imagine if, as an adult, you could get anything you desired from Santa. If that were the case, what would you want? Feel free to answer here or on the Come In Character site, where I posed the same question to authors and characters alike.

In the meantime, I hope that you all have a wonderful holiday season, no matter what you choose to celebrate, and if my end-of-the-line work on Moon New Orleans, my current travel guide project, keeps me away longer than I'd like, then I wish you all a happy New Year, too. See you in 2012!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Monday Munchies: Dunces and Lucky Dogs

Although you might already know this about me, I was born and raised in New Orleans, a city celebrated around the world for its cuisine, among other attributes. While working on the third edition of Moon New Orleans, a guidebook published by Avalon Travel, I've had the privilege of reliving a lot of my fondest memories about this one-of-a-kind place – many of which, not surprisingly, revolve around food. Here's just one example, a callout from my as-yet-unpublished guide:

As a child of New Orleans, I found it hard to avoid reading John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Confederacy of Dunces (1980). Posthumously published by LSU Press more than a decade after the author's tragic suicide, this zany depiction of life in the Big Easy during the early 1960s (not to mention a skillful exploration of the city's unique dialects) has since become a cult classic – and a canonical work of modern Southern literature. This picaresque novel centers on Ignatius J. Reilly – a lazy, overweight, quixotic, yet well-educated 30-year-old man who, while living with his mother and searching for gainful employment, meets a host of colorful French Quarter denizens, from kind-hearted strippers to belligerent lesbians.

Though some of the New Orleans landmarks referenced in this madcap novel, such as the old D. H. Holmes department store on Canal Street, no longer exist, some, like the Prytania Theatre, still do. Perhaps the most famous references, though, are the “Paradise Hot Dogs” vending carts that figure prominently into Reilly's angst-filled search for a permanent job. Clearly, Toole was influenced by the ubiquitous, red-and-yellow, wiener-shaped Lucky Dogs vending carts that have prowled the streets of New Orleans, particularly the French Quarter, for more than five decades. Especially popular among late-night partygoers, these street-corner hot dogs may just be mouth-watering to some, but for me, they'll always be a reminder of the first time I read – and fell in love with – A Confederacy of Dunces, a book that, as many writers and scholars believe, aptly captures the indomitable spirit of New Orleans.

True, hot dogs aren't exactly a New Orleans staple on par with gumbo and jambalaya, but for those, like me, who live in the French Quarter, the Lucky Dogs carts can be a welcoming sight, especially after a long night of partying on Bourbon Street.

So, are there any novels that make you think of specific foods?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Weekend Mishmash: Music for Traveling

It's hard to believe that I'm still working on the third edition of Moon New Orleans. After all, it's been over a year since the process began, and I've never taken so long to complete a travel guide. For a combination of reasons – including the fact that, as a native of the Big Easy, I'm even more concerned about this book than I've been about my other ones – it just hasn't been the smoothest of projects. Whenever I feel like running for the hills, however, three things stop me: pride in my work, the possibility of disappointing my editors as well as my hubby, and my lifelong passion for this one-of-a-kind city. Taking a stroll through my beloved French Quarter – where Dan and I live for much of the year – certainly helps, too, as does listening to one of my favorite New Orleans albums, from Dr. John's Goin' Back to New Orleans (1992) to Tab Benoit's Best of the Bayou Blues (2006) to Lucky Devil (2010), the debut album of local favorite Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns (pictured above). These and seven other albums always have the power to transport me to New Orleans (if, of course, I'm not already here) and inspire me to share a few stories about this amazing town. If you're curious about my other album picks, check out the latest entry on my American Nomad blog.

In the meantime, though, I have two questions: How do you deal with troublesome writing projects, and what kind of music has the power to transport you to other places?