The Casquette Girls

According to journalist and author Chris Rose, “You can live in any city in America, but New Orleans is the only city that lives in you.” The statement certainly feels true for me. Although I’ve spent less than two weeks in New Orleans over the last two years, I feel like it’s become a part of me. Between the history, music, and greenery there’s an indelible life and spirit that has remained with me long after I’ve left and I look forward to my next visit. It’s even more poignant on this tenth anniversary after Hurricane Katrina. Tragic as that event was, the city’s recovery and forward march inspires me.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00037]

During my last visit to New Orleans, I was surprised and honored when Alys Arden, author of The Casquette Girls came to the shop and bought one of my novels. I had been considering buying a copy of her book and had the presence of mind of to grab one and have her sign it for me while she was there. Now falling back into my work routine, I’ve just had a chance to read the novel and was pleased to find the New Orleans I’ve fallen in love with well represented in the novel’s pages.

Well, that’s not exactly true. The New Orleans of the novel is a wasteland that has barely survived the worst storm in the city’s history. The storm is unnamed, but clearly inspired by Katrina. What we see in the novel is the weaving of a magical, mystical, and sometimes horrific tale around the courageous tale of those New Orleanians who returned to the city to rebuild. Alys Arden creates a wonderful sense of place from Cafe Orleans to the mysterious Ursuline Convent, whose locked, top-story shutters suddenly blow open over the head of the novel’s protagonist, Adele Le Moyne, soon after she’s returned to the city with her father.

Ursuline-Convent-Day

Underlying the harsh realities of rebuilding a city and a life, Arden weaves in a story inspired by the three legends I heard about during my recent vampire tour of New Orleans. Adele’s journey starts at the Ursuline convent of the present, but takes her on a journey through her family’s past and its connections to Voodoo and witchcraft.

My only real disappointment was that the novel’s vampires, once revealed, lacked a certain gravitas worthy of the history and lore weaved so deftly into the intricate plot. I’m willing to chalk that up to a minor matter of taste, given how much the novel otherwise satisfied me. The Casquette Girls took me back to New Orleans, reintroduced me to many of the colorful people I met, carried me back in time to the city’s early days, and also to the days post-Katrina. In that trip, I felt I got to know the city, it’s history, lore, and diverse cultures just a little better. You can order copies of the novel from Boutique du Vampyre. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Advertisements

Signing at Boutique du Vampyre

On Saturday, August 22, I signed my novels Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order and Vampires of the Scarlet Order at Boutique du Vampyre in the French Quarter of New Orleans. As it turns out, I started the day by making a pilgrimage to the site of Lafcadio Hearn’s house in Downtown New Orleans.

Hearn-house

I have mentioned Hearn in my post about the movie Kwaidan. Before he moved to Japan, he was a newspaper reporter in New Orleans and, among other things, wrote the obituary of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. He also compiled two of the earliest cookbooks of Creole cuisine.

About half an hour before the signing was scheduled to start, the skies opened up in a fierce downpour. My wife and I entered the shop dripping wet, but we soon dried off. I decided to kick off the signing by consulting the Boutique’s one-of-a-kind Jacques St. Germaine Fortune Telling Machine.

Jacques

He told me shrunken vampire heads from the boutique will bring me luck and wisdom. The ticket he ejected at the end said that staying late in bed is good every now and again, but it’s a habit one should not cultivate. With my fortune read, I took my place at my table near the back of the shop. The rain continued for a time, meaning the first hour of the signing was quiet. The shop’s owner, Marita Crandle, did take the time present me with a lovely gift.

Those familiar with the novel Dracula know that vampires can turn themselves into mist. There is an old legend that says that vampires in mist form can be lured into wine bottles and trapped. bottled vampire Marita gave me a bottle with the trapped vampire “David Summers.” According to the bottle, I was visiting New Orleans when I flew into a rage at readers who wanted to be turned into real vampires. They saw the life of a vampire as luxurious and magical, but I knew the truth because I was plagued by my own eternal existence! I then flew off the handle and granted the customers their wish. I was bottled so I’d have time to calm down! Now that I’m back home, the bottle has a place of honor along with my books in my office.

The rain storm eventually cleared and people started coming into the shop. I had the opportunity to chat with several people about my books. One of the things that great about a city like New Orleans is that I got to meet a lot of people from all around the country. It turns out the popular title of the day was Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. I was honored to have Alys Arden, author of The Casquette Girls come in and chat for a while.

My signing was originally scheduled to run from 3-6pm, but given the rain, we extended that to 7pm and I even stayed a little past that. At the end of the night, Marita recorded her Vampire Business and International Topics of Entertainment (or VBITE) news update. She invited me to join in and discuss my novels.

Thanks to everyone who came out for the signing. I had a great time and hope we’ll get to do another signing in New Orleans soon! Even if you missed the signing, there are exclusive signed copies of the novel at Boutique du Vampyre. Click the link to order your copies today!

Vampire Tour

I just spent a wonderful weekend in New Orleans. On Friday night, my wife and I booked a Vampire Adventure through Boutique du Vampyre to cap off our celebration of our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. I highly recommend the experience.

We started in the courtyard of Boutique du Vampire tasting a delightful sampling of wines from Vampire Vineyards. We tried the Cabernet Sauvignon, the Chardonnay, and the Pinot Noir. All three were lovely, but the Cabernet in particular had an interesting peppery bite I don’t recall experiencing in another wine.

Boutique-Courtyard

We moved on to a wonderful dinner at Muriel’s Jackson Square Restaurant in New Orleans, where our hostess, Marita Crandle, told us several stories of ghosts and vampires in New Orleans.

After dinner, we moved on to a tour of the French Quarter at night. We saw the apartment where a woman escaped with deep cuts. She was held captive by two brothers named Carter, who drank her blood. When they police investigated, they found over a dozen bodies drained of blood. The Carter Brothers were tried and executed. Their bodies were interred in the St. Louis Cemetery, but a year later, when the crypt was opened, supposedly no evidence of the bodies were found.

We moved on to the Ursuline Convent, which is New Orleans’s oldest building. It’s said that in the 1700s, the French sent a group of young ladies to New Orleans to find husbands. These ladies were noted for carrying casket-shaped cases. Unfortunately, the young ladies were abused and forced into prostitution. Afterwards, the cases were placed in storage in the convent’s top floors, which are sealed off to this day, even in the sweltering New Orleans summer. Were the caskets more than simply suitcases? Some have speculated the women were, in fact vampires.

Ursuline-Convent

We finally moved on to the home of Jacques St. Germaine, who I described in detail in a post last year at the Scarlet Order Journal. It was fascinating to finally stand face to face with the actual place.

We finished our adventure back in the courtyard of Boutique du Vampyre, where Marita Crandle read tarot cards for my wife and I. Whether your a skeptic or a believer, I was impressed by the insight revealed by each of our readings.

Marita promises that each adventure is unique, so even if you book an adventure, it may be very different from the one we had and you can request changes if you’d like. She also promises that if we take another tour, it’ll be different from this one. She was a wonderful hostess and I encourage any vampire fans in New Orleans to call the Boutique and schedule an adventure of their own.

One final footnote to our adventure, when my wife woke up the morning afterward, she found these puncture marks on her arm.

Bite-marks

Did our vampire adventure perhaps get just a little too real?

Vampire Games

I discovered the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer through a rather unusual route. I remember watching the original two-part episode when it debuted and it just failed to grab me. For good or bad, I think I was expecting the tone to be more like the Kristy Swanson movie and somehow I felt that new series was taking itself too seriously.

Flash forward about four years and I was walking through a toy store’s game aisle when I saw the Buffy the Vampire Slayer board game. By this point, I’d seen a few more episodes, and though I’d warmed up to the series, I wouldn’t call myself a fan. Still, something about the description of the game sounded interesting, so I brought it home and we tried it out. The game offered four different starting points, with a different set of villains based loosely on the premise of each of the first four seasons.

Buffy Game

We found the game play well thought out. It seemed heroes and villains had a roughly equal chance of winning. The game scenarios were also interesting and made me wonder about the actual stories as they were told in the series. The upshot is that I finally went out and gave the series a fresh chance and the second time around I was hooked right from the start. I watched the series from the beginning to the end practically non-stop.

Last night, we had friends over and introduced them to the game. One of them was not a Buffy fan, but I think the game play engaged her as it once did me. It’ll be interesting to see if she follows up to watch more of the series.

In addition to the game scenarios, the game allows heroes to explore different avenues to win the game. The heroes almost always need teamwork to win. That said, heroes can attempt to win through fighting, magic, or just outsmarting the vampires. Different strategies are useful each session.

When I write, I often feel like I’m in the middle of the best movie in the world. The movie’s playing all around me and I can turn my head and see all the sights my characters are seeing. I can hear what they hear and I can smell what they smell. Sometimes my subconscious surprises me and things happen in the story I didn’t expect. A good game is like that, except instead of your subconscious, it’s the dice roll that creates surprises. Also, if you’re with friends, the team can be more or less effective depending on how well they work with or against each other.

After we finished the Buffy game, we moved on to another horror-themed game. This one was Unspeakable Words which effectively is a mix of Scrabble and the Cthulhu Mythos. I’m not sure those two concepts are all that far separated at the best of times!

Unspeakable Words

So, are there some horror or vampire-themed games you like? I’d love to hear about them in the comments. If it’s one I haven’t tried, I may unleash it on my friends to see what the group thinks!

Finally, I’d like to remind you that I’ll be signing my Scarlet Order novels at Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans, Louisiana this Saturday from 3 to 6pm. Be there if you can. It is an awesome store full of amazing vampire-themed merchandise, including a few games. If you can’t make the signing, please tell any friends who might be interested. Like a good gaming night, I see a book signing as a chance both to make new friends and to get to know old friends even better.

Vampires on the Road

This past week, my steampunk novel Owl Dance was featured as part of Terri Giuliano Long’s Literary World Trip. Drop by to read an excerpt, learn a little about the novel, and a real place featured in the novel.

literary-world-trip-david-lee-summers

This particular scene is fun in that it features a possible cameo by one of the Scarlet Order vampires. In Vampires of the Scarlet Order we meet Mercy Rodriguez, a vampire created by the conquistador Rudolfo de Cordoba and who inspired the La Llorona legend. In Owl Dance Ramon Morales also meets a Mercy Rodriguez living in the same area, who is accused of being a vampire. Are they one and the same? Or, are these parallel universes in which this Mercy is just a human with a condition that causes people to accuse her of being a vampire? If you’ve read both Vampires of the Scarlet Order and Owl Dance, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject!

Also, on the subject of literary travels, you might recall last week that I mentioned discussions were in process for a possible book signing. It looks like that signing will be happening. I’ll be signing both Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order and Vampires of the Scarlet Order at Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 22 from 3-6pm.

Boutique

This is exciting because I’ve never done a book signing in New Orleans before, but I could use your help! If you’ll be in New Orleans that day, please drop by! Do you know someone who will be in New Orleans and likes a good vampire book? By all means tell them about the event. There is even a Facebook Event page for the signing, if people would like to sign up in advance. Thanks and I hope I’ll see some of you there!

Vampire Music

Some of my most interesting vampire finds come from my work at Kitt Peak National Observatory. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I was inspired to write about vampires because a co-worker referred to those of us who operate telescopes as the vampires of the mountain. This week, I was talking to a co-worker about an upcoming trip to New Orleans and a possible book signing. He asked if I knew about the song, “Moon Over Bourbon Street” by Sting. I actually hadn’t heard it, but I looked it up and found it to be a compelling slow-jazz tune about a New Orleans vampire that seems inspired by Anne Rice’s Lestat.

Listening to the song made me curious what other vampire-inspired songs were available. A quick search soon told me there are a lot! Some are fairly obvious, like Annie Lennox’s “Love Song for a Vampire” from the movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

In addition to numerous songs from the movies there were an assortment of Goth, punk, and heavy metal tunes. However, one of my favorite finds was Blue &Oumlaut;yster Cult’s “Nosferatu.” This music video featuring scenes from Werner Herzog’s film of the same name made this a real treat.

Do you have any particular favorite vampire songs? I’d love to hear about them and who knows? They may end up on my vampire play list. Also, regarding that possible book signing—things look promising and I hope to have details for you here soon!

Marie Laveau

As this week begins, Carnival season is in full swing in New Orleans with Mardi Gras happening tomorrow. MarieLaveau_(Frank_Schneider) So, it seems fitting to pay tribute to one of New Orleans’s famous citizens, the Voodoo Priestess—or mambo—Marie Laveau. Few facts are actually known about Marie Laveau. It’s believed she was born circa 1801 in New Orleans. She was a free woman of African, French, and Native American heritage.

In 1819, she married Jacques Paris, a free Haitian in St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. He died only a year later. Her only recorded profession was as a liquor importer in 1832 on Dauphine Street. Popular legend says she was also a hairdresser.

After the death of her husband, she took Christophe Dominick Duminy de Glapion as a lover, with whom she lived until his death in 1835. It’s said they had 15 children including a daughter, also named Marie Laveau. Presuming this is accurate and presuming she was faithful to her first husband, she had an average of one child a year for each year of her relationship with Glapion!

During my first visit to New Orleans, the story was told that Marie Laveau obtained much of her fame and power by circulating among the wealthy of New Orleans. She would dress her daughters like her and send them to parties all over the city, giving her the reputation of being in more than one place at a time. It also allowed her daughters to gain information about people around town.

Marie Laveau died in 1881. At that time, Malvina LaTour took over as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. To this day, Marie’s grave site is one of the most visited in the United States. People will mark three X’s on the grave and shout a wish, hoping it’ll come true. If you visit her grave in St. Louis Cemetery Number 1, please don’t vandalize it. Leave it as a place for future generations to pay tribute to this remarkable woman.

So, what exactly is Voodoo? According to my friend, Denise Dumars, it’s spelled Voodoo to differentiate it from Haitian Vodou or Mexican Vudu. It’s a magico-religious system born in Africa of traditional West African indiginous religious practices and those of secret societies and synthesized in the New World with French Catholicism, African, Western European, and Native American folk magick and herbalism, plus a smattering of magick, Kabbalism, and Masonic ritual. It seems to have come to America around the time of the Haitian slave revolt of the 19th century. However, the Haitians were too busy getting their new country going to worry about Voodoo, so it really took root in the American South and particularly in New Orleans.

Marie Laveau’s legend has grown through fiction. She’s featured in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Cherie Priest’s Ganymede. She also appears in a number of songs including Redbone’s “Witch Queen of New Orleans” and Jimmy Buffett’s “I Will Play for Gumbo.”

If you’re writing a tale of nineteenth century New Orleans, it seems clear that Marie Laveau would almost certainly make an appearance!


Painting of Marie Laveau by Frank Schneider, based on a (now lost?) painting by George Catlin. (Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons