Welcome to Wednesday Confidential! Each week, I’ll talk about…something. And it won’t be confidential, or I couldn’t exactly post it on the Internet, so this whole idea is sort of misleading. Oh well.
Today, I thought I’d talk a little about book settings and how I approach them, especially for my Sentinels of New Orleans series, which is so detail-specific.
For each book in the series, I pick out two or three places I want to use for key settings, the ones where major scenes will take place. Sometimes it has to do with the time of year the book is set in, but since all but the first Sentinels book follows a very tight timeline, that’s usually not a huge factor. RIVER ROAD takes place about a month before ELYSIAN FIELDS, and PIRATE’S ALLEY takes place three weeks after the end of ELYSIAN FIELDS. BELLE CHASSE, book five, starts a week after PIRATE’S ALLEY and spans about two or three weeks. So those are really crunched-up, continuing storylines.
ROYAL STREET was, of course, scattered all over New Orleans because it was so Katrina-centered and travel around the city was very limited during the period it covered. Still, the key settings there were, in addition to establishing DJ’s house and Jake Warin’s bar, the neighborhood of Lakeview and, in the French Quarter, the Napoleon House. If your Katrina knowledge comes primarily from the media, you’d think the Lower Ninth Ward was the worst-damaged part of New Orleans, but that wasn’t true. It was one of many. Lakeview, where I lived when I first moved to the city, got hammered, so I gave Gerry the house as the house I lived in on Bellaire Drive. It was about three blocks from the primary levee failure that ended up dumping Lake Pontchartrain into the city. I wanted DJ to live in an unflooded area so she could do her thing, but wanted to get across how badly other parts of the city were damaged.
The Napoleon House, one of my favorite spots in the French Quarter, was the key setting for DJ’s important meeting with Jean Lafitte in ROYAL STREET, where the tenor of their future relationship is set and where she learns much about what’s been going on around her. (Because the pirate is always very well informed, you know.) I chose this spot because it was a building that was very much in use when the real Jean Lafitte roamed the city. At that time, it was the residence of the mayor of New Orleans, Nicholas Girod, and while I haven’t read any accounts of their dealings with each other, it’s very likely that Jean would have been in that building at some time.
In RIVER ROAD, the plot revolves around the merpeople and the Mississippi River, so for the key settings in that book, I headed east from the city into Plaquemines Parish. I chose a restaurant in the town of Buras, the Black Velvet, for one scene, and also set a scene around the Orchard community south of Venice, where the Delachaise clan lives. I picked the Black Velvet strictly because I loved the name, and knew DJ and Jean Lafitte could get some play from it. (I also had a chance to have lunch there, as “research,” of course, and it was a fine meal.) I picked Orchard for Rene’s house because it’s one of the last places in the parish one can reach without a boat and I needed DJ, who can’t swim, to be able to get there.
The other key settings in RIVER ROAD, in addition to the river and wetlands themselves, was to introduce the Hotel Monteleone, specifically the Eudora Welty Suite, as the real-world home of the undead Jean Lafitte. I picked the Monteleone because of its prestige and its history—where else would Jean Laffite stay? And I picked the Eudora Welty suite from among its numerous author-named suites, because I thought it would be a funny place for him to stay. Yeah, I’m not above choosing settings for their one-liner potential! And finally, Rene’s boat, the Dieu de la Mer, was a key setting. You can’t even imagine how much time I spent studying the layout of shrimp boats!
In ELYSIAN FIELDS, I introduced a few new regular imaginary settings—the vampire bar L’Amour Sauvage in the French Quarter; Plantasy Island, Quince Randolph’s nursery across Magazine Street from DJ and Eugenie; and Jean Lafitte’s house in Old Barataria in the Beyond. But the key real-world setting in this book was the ruins of Six Flags New Orleans. I was so taken with this creepy setting, the overgrown, rusted, abandoned, graffiti’d amusement park, that I used it for multiple scenes. If there was a “star” setting in EF, it was Six Flags.
In PIRATE’S ALLEY, I knew from plotting the book that I’d need three major settings to use, and that they needed to be real places within the city that were accessible for “secret” preternatural meetings of the Interspecies Council. Since the book takes place between December 15 and Christmas, I first chose a spot on the Tulane University campus since the university would be closed for the holidays at the time I needed it. I picked the third floor of the history building, Hebert Hall, because that’s where my office was located when I first started working at Tulane and I knew the building layout well. (I had offices in four different spots over the years, so I’ll have more to draw on if I need them!)
The second spot I chose was the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court building, known locally as “Tulane and Broad” because it’s located at the intersection of Tulane Avenue and Broad Street. It’s a behemoth of a building, and since the Interspecies Council meeting took place at night, I thought it would be a funny place for them all to meet. I also know that building fairly well, unfortunately, because it seemed like I got picked for criminal court jury duty at least twice a year.
Finally, I chose New Orleans’ City Park for the big culminating scene in the book. From Thanksgiving until Christmas, the park has a “Celebration in the Oaks” light show that people drive and walk through at night—a fairyland of lights that are just gorgeous. Since in PIRATE’S ALLEY New Orleans is experiencing a fierce, unheard-of blizzard, the light show has been canceled, which leaves the New Orleans Museum of Art—a beautiful neoclassical building in the middle of the park—empty and available for a preternatural meeting. Of course when everything goes to hell, as it must, that light show makes a great setting, even in the snow.
And there you have it! Settings! I’m working on book five, BELLE CHASSE, now, but it will have a different type of setting. Let’s just say a lot of the book—a whole lot—takes place in the Beyond. Hm….
What’s a unique or interesting setting you can recall from a book you’ve enjoyed? Share for a chance at a $5 Amazon gift card (or equivalent from Book Depository).