Laissez les bons temps rouler! And we certainly did at Words and Music 2010 in New Orleans in spite of the fact that the theme was “The Literature of War and Collateral Damage,” or maybe because of it and because “When faced with disaster, the best medicine is laughter” … yes, that’s a direct quote from moi. Believe me, I’ve had experience with this, though the humor is always a dark hilarity and the laughter tends to sound more like a cackle.
I followed exactly that prescription when I returned to New Orleans for my first trip post-Katrina to participate in the festivities celebrating the winners of the 2010 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, a near twenty-year New Orleans literary tradition. The competition and the annual fete are hosted by the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society, co-founded by Faulkner scholar W. Kenneth Holditch, attorney Joseph J. DeSalvo, Jr., and author Rosemary James, the woman with whom I credit the revivification of Dead Love. If it weren’t for a place on the shortlist of finalists in a prior year’s competition and Rosemary’s support, it’s very possible the novel, like my poor near-zombie protagonist Erin, would have been consigned to a premature burial.
You see, I had reasons dark and otherwise to be celebrating rather immodestly upon my return to the city.
I was staying on Canal and Bourbon Streets in the French Quarter at the Astor Crowne Plaza right around the corner from the Monteleone, a hotel full of fond personal memories, purported ghosts, and the ever-so-popular revolving Carousel Bar. Happily for the merchants and other businesses, between the conventions and conferences and weekend Saints-Seahawks home game showdown, the Quarter was mobbed. Nowhere was it noisier and noisome-er than Bourbon Street. The French Quarter is high ground, not holy ground, which gives it two reasons for its popularity, and Bourbon Street is one of those seamy tourist arteries—like Broadway in San Francisco—that serves up a crowd-pleasing cocktail of food, music, and liquor with a generous T&A garnish.
So it was packed and I don’t know about the other conferences and conventions but the heavy literary hitters were in town for ours: Tim O’Brien (The Things They Carried), Simon Mawer (The Glass Room), and Rebecca Wells (Little Altars Everywhere and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) to name a few.
Even with all that talent shuffling around the only thing I could think of was to hightail it over to the Voodoo Museum for a look at Voudou New Orleans-style, which I did. And there, in those spooky attic-like rooms, the real adventure began—one that involved voudou historians and practitioners, graveyards, injuries, and wishes fulfilled. For that story, you’ll have to wait for the upcoming article.