New Orleans

Culture in a Cup: An Ode to Coffee

Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter, New Orleans. Circa 2003. I took this picture at dawn with my flashy 35mm camera. This establishment is dear to the hearts of both tourists and locals.

My father-in-law has never drank a solitary drop of coffee in his whole life. It wasn’t because of any dietary restriction or doctor’s advice. It was a personal decision concerning self-reliance, based on the observation that so many people become dependent on it for simply functioning. I would say that sheer will kept him abstinent from coffee, but it is not. He’s never felt the slightest desire or even curiosity to even try it. He still gets up early in the morning without being grouchy. He’s still motivated and productive. He has a successful career as a lawyer and is very involved in his community.

Perhaps, he’s an anomaly. Perhaps there are only a select few who are born without the insatiable need for that “click” between the temples. The rest of us seem to be born without our own spark plug for ignition, needing a hard pull or two to fire the engines. At times, I am envious of him, especially when there’s no coffee available. However, other times I am not. To him, coffee is just a liquid that he has to work around. For the rest of us, it’s sublime.

Coffee was one of the first things that I equated with adulthood. My parents drank coffee in the mornings and at cafes. Family and friends would drink it before Mardi Gras morning parades. My father and an old farmer, Mr. Veltin, would have coffee just before we would go hunting on his 90 forested acres in Folsom, Louisiana. Once my parents began allowing me to have coffee once I was older, I usually embraced the opportunity to sit at the table among adults. Of course, I say that now. Back then, it was probably all about the sugar. I’d dump so much that it never fully dissolved: brown and grainy like a sandy river bed in my cup.

I later scaled back on the sugar, eventually switching to honey at the recommendation of a friend, and then gradually eliminating it all together. Full disclosure: I did sweeten it sometimes with spiced rum (Old New Orleans Rum or Bayou Rum preferably) as any self-respecting New Orleans bartender would do. The milk or cream still remains a mainstay for me, though. I can drink it black when needed, but I didn’t enjoy it as much. I used to justify my cream addition to hardcore purists and say it was because the milk helped cut the acid. But, in the end, I just liked it better that way. The powdered creamer; however, is no viable substitute for me. Not after I read the first ingredient of the coffee “creamer:” Corn Syrup Solids. Since then, I have not allowed that chemical powder to corrupt my joe.

One thing my dad always told me is that I am a “doer,” as opposed to people that talk about accomplishing or experiencing things but never do so. I’m just now realizing how right he was because I continue to find myself overwhelmed with projects and responsibilities. And it’s not letting up, even if I have the power to stop it. I published Sinking Dixie in November and on the second round of prints (available for sale here!), and I plan on start actively promoting it this year. I just started writing for LA Metro Magazine to add to my freelancing hustle at Maine Brew & Beverage Guide and Activities of Maine Magazine. I taught an adult-ed virtual creative writing class. That was on top of swim coaching, teaching high school English, and raising a toddler during the pandemic, and I still am looking for more things to do.

So, I guess I never really needed coffee in the first place either. I was always an early riser, except for the periods when I worked late hours as a bartender and brewer, of course. I did actually need coffee to function in the daytime in those days. I do not miss that. Coffee was also necessary to stay awake when I worked nights at the Abita and Shipyard breweries. Drinking coffee at midnight can be discombobulating at best. 

For most self-proclaimed coffee drinkers that I’ve met, the brewed beverage is like a lifelong companion to encourage you when you’re tired, hungover, or listless. It is also there among friends when you gather for brunch or when you’re a house guest. It can be a mutual friend that crossovers effortlessly the social roadblocks and boundaries we arbitrarily set for ourselves. It’s a common denominator among economic, racial, regional, or whatever boundaries. Coffee also can be there to help rekindle a friendship and even help atone or apologize to save a friendship.

Granted, it is a drug. Anything with an addictive nature is. Don’t most “drugs” start as medicines? Like any medicine, too much can be harsh one the body, if not detrimental. Regardless, it has a healing effect, which might be completely mental or socially constructed. But, hell, what isn’t for us at this point?

Coffee is a staple in many places as a cultural commodity. Sure, I’ve been to places where people view coffee as a mode to get here or there, but a community’s coffee culture can tell a lot about its identity and what it values. For New Orleanians, it’s not just a cup to get them up after a fun night. It’s a representation of local pride. New Orleans has always been inherently resistent to being fully “Americanized.” It even has its own style that is unique to the city such as chicory coffee, which is much more rich and strong (flavorwise) then most coffee. Most folks eventually get their grinds-water ratio down to a science. Well, as with just about everything, New Orleans marches (or should I say second lines) to the beat of their own tune. Once when I returned home from New Mexico, I made a pot at my parents’ house with the ratio I would do with whatever generic coffee a poor grad student could afford. What resulted was a potion so potent and acril that it could have been born from the alchemist mania in days of yore, not in a small kitchen in Metairie. 

Coffee became engrained into the city’s culture, being one of the first ports to receive coffee beans from the Carribean or South America. Chicory coffee took hold out of necessity, however. According to K. Annabelle Smith of Smithsonian Magazine, “During the American Civil War, Louisianians looked to adding chicory root to their coffee when Union naval blockades cut off the port of New Orleans. With shipments coming to a halt, desperate New Orleanians looking for their coffee fix began mixing things with coffee to stretch out the supply.” In Sinking Dixie, coffee is very limited too for locals returning to the blighted areas. Huey tries to stretch the supply by mixing tree bark in the grounds just as New Orleanians turned to chicory in the first place. I don’t imagine that the characters would voluntarily drink tree-bark coffee, much less make it a tradition. I did want to show the creative flexibility that the city’s residents possess to continue enjoying the finer things in life.

Cafe au lait which is half chicory coffee and half piping HOT milk. When you think coffee couldn’t get any hotter, cafe au lait is like java lava. I remember once scolding my tongue and the roof of my mouth so that I couldn’t taste anything until the next morning. But, cafe au lait is not just a drink, it’s an experience. Anyone who’s been to New Orleans knows that beignets are the thing to get, especially at the iconic Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter where patrons sit in a covered patio catty corner from Jackson Square, viewing the city bustling along N. Peters and Decatur. Well at least, they should. In reality, the line gets so long by midmorning, the eating patrons see a wall of impatient, aspiring patrons. It wasn’t always like that. When I was much younger, a table was usually available with little wait, if at all. It never fails to amaze me that a place, which has (well, at least it did then) only one food item (beignets) and four beverages (cafe au lait, water, orange juice, and milk) on the menu, could draw such a large crowd willing to wait in the hot sun for quite possibly the most limited menu in a city that prides itself on diverse cuisine. It is an authentic New Orleans experience; however, I can’t help but think it is ironic.

Morning Call, when it was in City Park, was one of my favorite spots for beignets. Spacious outside seating, live oaks and the Peristyle nearby, and much easier parking options. It is actually a Cafe Du Monde now, and it is still on my list when we travel back to the city.

The coffee culture in New Orleans goes deeper than just chicory, since not every coffee shop exclusively sells chicory coffee or cafe au lait. Regardless, the coffee scene there is a representation of how much the city wants to remain local and funky. There are a few of the big national chains scattered about the cityscape, but eclectic local shops make up the caffeinated bloodstream fueling that beat on the street: Cafe Envie, Rue De La Course, Cafe Rose Nicaud, Mojo, Neutral Ground Coffee House, Fair Grinds, and Lakeview Brew to name a few. Even the local chains such as PJ’s and CC’s may not be as funky, but still exude a homey, local feel. Other notable shops just outside of the city limits include Royal Blend (Old Metairie, though sadly the one in the French Quarter closed down), Common Grounds (Gretna, where actually the character of Huey was created), Kona Coffee (Mandeville), Abita Roasting Company (Madisonville and Covington), and St. John’s Coffeehouse (Downtown Covington).

This coffee identity was worth capturing in Sinking Dixie. How could I not? Heck, I spent time writing the book in all of the places that I listed above at some point. The focus on coffee as cultural identity is emphasized, however, in Mira’s narrative, as it shows the vicious competition in where big corporations have tried (and are always trying) to squash the local folks. In the book, a Boston-based corporate giant, Greylock’s, seeks to capitalize on the city’s “Refounding” and establish dominance early in the recovery. Mira eventually learns that Greylock’s buys out her favorite quirky coffeehouse, Toddy’s BuzzBar, and plan to bulldoze the building to establish an employee parking lot. Mira even meets with the regional manager in hopes to circumnavigate the infuriatingly bureaucratic  city permitting process for her St. Joseph’s Altar event. As she waits for her meeting with the executive, she buys a coffee, but the menu is confusing because the word “coffee” is only in the item “coffee cake.” Furthermore, she must pay extra for black coffee since everything is already pre-made and flavored. Mira overhears a conversation between two men talking about the importance of the local community. One man says, “I mean, the only way to save this city is to buy local, support local businesses. If we don’t we lose everything” (249). Thinking it ironic that they would say that in a corporate chain coffee house and not a local one, she interjects and suggests that they go to Toddy’s BuzzBar instead of Greylock’s. The men seem annoyed and mildly offended at her request, saying that his oddly orange cup of joe is still his “ol’ standby.” I had a very similar interaction with two men at a Starbucks in Santa Fe, NM. At this particular location, you can see two other Starbuck’s in the distance. I recommended my “ol’ standby” local coffee shop, Tribes, and they dismissed me immediately. How dare I suggest keeping it local, when they, in fact, weren’t. To be clear, the times when I find myself in a corporate coffee chain, I don’t give unsolicited advice about going to a local competitor. However, I thought that maybe they didn’t know about it, and they repaid me not in kind. That’s fair, I guess. I don’t take unsolicited advice kindly either, especially for something mundane like coffee choices. To be further clear, I’m not saying patronage to large corporate chains should be avoided at all costs, but maybe don’t gush publicly about how you “keep it local” when you’re not sitting in a locally-owned cafe. Chances are, there’s probably a more local option up the street.This development in the novel was also born from many failed attempts by corporations to change the coffee paradigm. I remember at some point in the late 90s or early 2000s that businesses attempted to establish themselves in prominent spaces like Jackson Square, presumably to starve out the iconic Cafe Du Monde. This, I thought, could mark the beginning of the end of New Orleans culture if that happened. I said to myself that I would protest outside with a sign saying, “drink local.” They never really established themselves, but you now see the fumes of the fire that led me to write the novel in the first place. 

If coffee is a feature that marks the end of a culture, it can also mark the beginning. As Ridge writes in the prologue of Sinking Dixie, “There is little difference between the ‘beginning’ and the ‘end’ of anything. It’s just perspective. You can tell a lot about people by whether they think something has either begun or ended” (3). I think that’s true with coffee culture as well. Granted, coffee is everywhere, so a new eclectic coffee shop doesn’t introduce coffee to a town. But, it does provide an excellent place for conversation, for productivity, for growth. I find one of the first things that edges a struggling historic district toward revitalization is a quality coffee shop. A quality coffee shop exudes an organic experience and connection within the town. The coffeehouse can almost be the initial draw. Forage Market (Lewiston, ME), Cafe Nomad (Norway, ME), The Little Dog (Brunswick, ME), St. John’s Coffeehouse (Covington, LA), and Traveler’s Cafe (Las Vegas, NM—yes, New Mexico. It existed long before Las Vegas, Nevada, y’all). For smaller towns or neighborhoods, these places are more than just a place to buy a cup of joe. They are symbols of who they are or who they want to be. Symbols of what they value, from the pictures on the wall to the source of their ingredients. Symbols of how discourse can change the course of history. Modern-day Saxon mead halls if you will, minus the mead (and the blood and guts) of course. Humans since have concocted other elixirs like coffee to fuel our “dream state,” resulting in someone writing a chapter of a novel or creating a business plan or collaborating on a community initiative as opposed to swinging swords and exchanging appendages for honor.  Hyperbole? Absolutely. Maybe the caffeine is kicking in. But, what better place to help people make sense of themselves and who they are, then a neighborhood coffee house. 

But, why spend so much time writing a blog about coffee? It’s because, to my dismay, drinking coffee is not agreeing with my body anymore. It’s not an allergy, but perhaps an intolerance. I can probably drink one or two cups per week without discomfort, but dear god not daily anymore. As a result I am embracing the tea culture that seems to be under the radar for many red-blooded Americans. Luckily, the world of tea is endless and eternal, and I am enjoying it immensely. So, perhaps this is the time when my heavenly affliction to the roasted bean ends and when my embrace of the fermented leaf begins? If so, then I’ll be weaning myself off of the sublime enhancement of coffee. In grad school at New Mexico Highlands University, I realized that my excessive coffee consumption might have a correlation with my increasing blood pressure. I hadn’t yet developed stomach discomfort, but I understood that my coffee days were limited. I wrote in a class that “a world without coffee is cold and sleepy.” I stand by that. Even hot tea doesn’t give me that “click” between the temples sometimes.

So, I must reside myself to writing this blog post as if a lifelong friend has either passed away or become estranged. The next time you sit down and savor a hot cup of coffee, regardless of where you do it, say hello for me.

Works Cited:

Breerwood, J.G. Sinking Dixie. Maine Authors Publishing: Thomaston, ME. 2020.

Smith, K. Annabelle. “The History of the Chicory Coffee Mix that New Orleans Made Its Own.” Smithsonian Magazine. March 5, 2014.

 

Novel Published!

And, for some positive news to cap off this tumultuous year of 2020, my novel, Sinking Dixie, is finally published! If you have read previous posts on this blog, you may notice that I have replaced the working title (“Pro Bono Publico”) in order to avoid any copyright issues. It worked out for the best because the current title fits both the literal (coastal erosion and subsidence) and metaphorical (modernization vs. cultural survival) situation of New Orleans.

It’s been quite a wild ride over the last decade, since the first image sparked in my head after an evening meeting at Stein’s Deli on Magazine Street in New Orleans, where the deli owner, the owners of the then-newly opened NOLA Brewing, a beer blogger, and other craft beer advocates discussed how they could bring in more craft beer to the city. It’s hard to imagine that they even had to do that, the brewing industry being the way it is today. I was writing an article about NOLA Brewing for Where Y’At Magazine at the time, and the owner invited me to the meeting at Stein’s Deli so that I could better understand the state of the city’s brew scene. I was glad to be there; however, I didn’t have much to contribute unlike the other attendees who were business owners either selling craft beer or brewing it. I liked the clandestine communal feel about the meeting. Afterwards, something sparked in my head: a small scene of two groups meeting in the woods exchanging firearms and ammunition. The meeting at the deli did not even mention guns or ammunition, but somehow my head filled that part in. Even though that scene never made it into the final manuscript, it set things in motion. Since then, I wouldn’t allow myself to let it stop.

I tell my creative writing students that the hardest things to do in writing are: 1) to begin a story, and 2) to finish the story. However, there’s the fog of publication that surrounds all aspiring writers in a cloud of anxiety and uncertainty. In actuality, the writing process is the fun part despite its snags, blocks, heartburn, and coffee jitters. The publishing process is enjoyable as well as I had the opportunity to make most of the decisions on both content and cover art with Maine Authors Publishing. It’s that part in the middle that’s torture. Querying agents, submitting to university presses, and entering literary contests without much response (if any at all) is what you do in Hell. It’s much like submitting resume after resume without even a rejection, but this is different. It’s your lifeblood. Your contribution to the ongoing human discourse. In “O Me! O Life!,” Walt Whitman ends his poem with an indirect call to action. He says:

That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

For fans of the film Dead Poets Society, this excerpt may sound familiar. As Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) recites this passage to his students, he even takes it a step further: he asks “What will your verse be?” As an aspiring novelist, I felt that my “verse” was being blocked from this “powerful play” we call life. What could I do? At least when I was drafting my novel, I was in control. Then, I happened upon Maine Authors Publishing, an independent publisher located in Thomaston, Maine. They provide professional editing, layout and design, printing services, and marketing assistance. For Maine writers jonesing to contribute their verses, I recommend checking them out. It has been great working with the staff during the process, and the final product is of high quality. For aspiring writers elsewhere in the U.S., I would recommend looking into any independent publishers in your region if you’re not getting anywhere with agents or traditional publishers. If you are tired of telling people that you wrote a novel but it’s not published (like I was), you may want to go the independent publishing route. However, be careful about contacting predatory vanity publishers because they sense our desperation like sharks searching for maimed prey.

To clarify, independent publishing is NOT self publishing. With the former, you get most of the professional services you would with a big publisher. You do have to pay for it; however, you keep control and ownership of your work, which is important to me. So, you get the quality of traditional publishing and the control and ownership of self-publishing. To me, it’s a win-win. You do have to pay for the services, unlike with traditional publishers. But, like any worthwhile venture, an initial investment is necessary.

If you are interested in learning more about Sinking Dixie (or to purchase it online), click HERE. If you live in Maine and would like to support a local bookstore, Gulf of Maine Books (Brunswick) and The Book Review (Falmouth) have it on the shelves; however, I’m hoping to add more to this list soon. If you live in New Orleans, I’m working on getting them on the shelves there too, just stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, you’ll have to order it online.

So, for you aspiring writers out there, just keep writing and keep trying. As Ray Bradbury asserts in the preface of Zen in the Art of Writing, “Writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that. Not to write, for many of us, is to die” (xii).

Never Cease to Love: an ode to New Orleans

It’s practically the end of 2018, and I’m just now writing about New Orleans during its highly anticipated tricentennial year. The original goal this year was to publish Pro Bono Publico. What better way to celebrate the founding of the Crescent City than by releasing a novel that talks of its undoing, or “Refounding” as they call it in the book? Next year is the year for self-publication, but I’ll keep everyone posted about that later. For now, however, I can’t help but reflect how the iconic city shaped me as a writer.

Where do you start writing about a place that hemorrhages creative energy in every form imaginable? I don’t write much about the Crescent City these days, so this blog post is long overdue. Funny how leaving a place gives you a different perspective. But, I’ll leave you with this blog for now, describing how New Orleans shaped me as a writer in the three following ways: 1) an influential teacher, 2) Hurricane Katrina, 3) and living in an Uptown neighborhood for two years.

 

The Switch

I always had stories brewing in my gut as early as I can remember, and those stories looked for ways to escape into the world. At first, I drew my characters and their stories on paper. It wasn’t until mid-high school when I started expressing myself through poetry to deal with those teenage years of heartache and insecurity. Eventually, I began to connect those inner stories with the mighty pen. There was one problem, however. I didn’t see the value in reading. That’s problematic even if you’re not aspiring to be a writer as a life goal. It’s like someone wishing to be a brewmaster but refusing to drink a beer.

Junior year of high school, my English teacher (who was an aspiring writer himself) said that if I wanted to write, then I had to read. Considering that I had been weaseling out of reading assignments my whole life, I probably wasn’t one of his favorite students. Though this answer was not the one I wanted, it was certainly the one that I needed. Great teachers have a knack for that. I begrudgingly took Mr. Loehfelm’s advice and began to attempt to read for…fun. Yuck, right? Can you even imagine?

Turns out, that was all it took: imagination, which was not in short supply. Just maybe misguided a bit. Simply visualizing the story in my head, instead of eyeing the words and dismissing them as strangers in the hallway, was enough to make me hangry for knowledge. I even took Mr. Loehfelm’s creative writing class my senior year where he helped me stretch my creative boundaries. Bill Loehfelm later won the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and became one of the city’s most successful novelists.

It wasn’t New Orleans, per se that helped me pull the trigger on my writing prowess, but an expatriate from New York. He made me realize that if I wanted to sing, I first needed to inhale.

 

The Bitch

It’s hard to convey how much Hurricane Katrina (or the “K-Bitch” as I called it in many Where Y’At articles) formed the backbone of Pro Bono Publico. During the event and the immediate aftermath, my mind wanted nothing to do with it. It wasn’t until a few years later when the characters and premises began popping up. The horror, fright, and uncertainty just needed time to digest, I guess. The military presence, the feeling of abandonment, the resilient reinforcement that followed, the witness of nature’s destruction, the witness of man’s destructive nature in the wake of fear, and the unforgettable smell of mold and maggots may make for great storytelling; however, I wish that I had none of it whatsoever. I still meet people whose eyes light up with envy when I say that I “was there” for Katrina. Stop, people. Seriously, stop. And, saying that you “were there” to someone from/living in New Orleans is entirely different than telling someone from away the same thing. To New Orleanians, being there meant being stuck and abandoned in the wake of the storm. To the everyone else, just simply experiencing Katrina firsthand (which includes evacuation) quantifies as being there. My uncle spent 7 days on his roof in a tent before he was airlifted out. My sister worked in a hospital, mostly without power. They were there for Katrina. Despite my own struggles, I evacuated before the levees broke, so I “wasn’t there.” But, if I say that to someone from away, they think that I wasn’t even living anywhere near the storm at the time. Hell, maybe I should just let people think that.

The recovery period (circa 2006 to 2009) set the stage for the zealous restructuring of identity of self and city. People who left the city then hated themselves, whereas those people who stayed hated themselves for sticking with a wasteland that the nation didn’t care about anymore. You think I lie. You’d be surprised what vile things people said to our faces or wrote in the newspapers about us and the city while knowing full well of our situation. Residents put their city before themselves. Escape or departure, unlike in iconic New Orleans novels such as A Confederacy of Dunces and The Moviegoer, was now nothing short of a tragedy. The ship needed retrieval from dark waters and its breached hull needed patchwork. And, if you weren’t all in, then jump ship, bub, because you’re dead weight. That’s why New Orleans is where it is today. That Spartan-like commitment.

Along with this unrelenting social contract, cultures clashed since everyone has their own epitome of New Orleans. “Local” became interpretive. Expats living in Orleans Parish and multi-generational families in the suburbs saw (probably still see) each other as a false representation of the city. The contentious relationship between Joshua and Huey shows this. Back then, gas station owners, neighborhood grocers, and bartenders (I know from experience) suddenly found themselves in positions of power. This development gave rise to characters like Fitzmorris, Ridge, and Renny Rooney.

 

The Itch

In the summer of 2008, my brother asked me if I wanted to move Uptown (Irish Channel/Lower Garden District section) because he was buying into a bar on Prytania Street. I then felt an itch for what New Orleans had to offer me. I had experienced New Orleans in many ways, but I hadn’t lived in an iconic neighborhood as that.

There was something about that time that was quite transcendental. Those two years paved the way for my life in two ways: 1) I met my wonderful wife; 2) I generated the creative foundation for what became Pro Bono Publico. If I hadn’t lived Uptown right then, who knows where I would be. Those two years really set the course. It’s really easy to ingratiate ourselves in thinking that we control our own futures and destinies, but sometimes it seems like an organic development with our retroactive consent. Or, I guess, regret for some people.

My brother and I moved into an apartment on Magazine and Washington, at the seam of the Lower Garden District and the Irish Channel. I shed my suburban shell and really embraced the city lifestyle. I walked as much as I could. Hopped on a bike or the streetcar for longer trips. Excellent coffeehouses for random conversation and productive writing (particularly the former Magazine location of Rue De La Course). Restaurants and po-boy shops galore. Superb taverns for buffoonery and…attempts at productive writing. I settled on Choppy’s name in the middle of a cold pint and a smooth cigar at Dos Jefes Cigar Bar upon sighting the Tchoupitoulas sign on the wall. Just about everyone you met on the street was a creative mind feeding off that energy vibrating off everywhere and everything. On several occasions, I saw Bill Loehfelm at the coffee shops. I ended up bartending with one of the band members of The Revivalists. I met fire dancers, musicians, filmmakers, brewers, chefs, painters, and anything else you can think of. The ample opportunities to live life made it difficult to stop and write of course. Carpe diem: great for living, bad for writing.

I worked as the only instructor at a GED center across the river from New Orleans then. I could take my bike across the Jackson Street Ferry (no longer operating). A young black man worked on the ferry, and I sort of imagined him as a young Choppy, which is where Choppy’s backstory and profession originated. Sometimes, I’d stop at Common Grounds Cafe (on Huey P. Long Street in Gretna)  to jot down some initial novel ideas. I became acquainted with a cranky regular, who was the inspiration for Huey. His background as a tattooed war veteran comes from a friend who I would bartend with later.

The experience of teaching at the Youth Career Center and at Dillard University (much later) drove much of Mira’s narrative. And, how Mira developed rapports with her students as best she could.

The spark for Pro Bono Publico came at an evening meeting about beer at Stein’s Deli. It wasn’t really a secret meeting, but it felt like it. I was moonlighting as a beer writer for Where Y’at Magazine, and the owner of the newly opened NOLA Brewing company invited me. I walked a few blocks to Stein’s where a small group of people discussed how they can get better craft beer into New Orleans by educating distributors in hopes to improve the beer culture. Looking back, I was a little out of my league at the meeting. Retailers and brewers with heavy stake in the game were there, and then you had me: a newbie writer who liked beer. However, that communal commitment to the city stuck with me. New Orleans residents had to take care of each other and fix things themselves because no one else was up to task.

A scene entered my head: two groups moving through the woods towards each other, one lugging backpacks full of ammunition and the other carrying unloaded guns. Eventually they met in the middle and exchanged commodities, so they all were at the ready for some kind of conflict. That scene was centric to Ridge’s narrative for earlier versions of the story. I even wrote an elaborate battle sequence between the residents and the Manchac Pirates. That sounds awesome, sure, but it posed several developmental hurdles and probably delayed the novel’s progress for a few years because I just couldn’t let it go. If anyone is interested in reading that novella version, you can read it at the New Mexico Highlands University’s library as my master’s thesis.

In most places, people are socially conditioned, but New Orleanians are more unconditionally social. That quality has shaped me not only as a writer but also as a man. So, happy 300th birthday New Orleans! I thank you for all you’ve given me. Hopefully, I can give something back to you via Pro Bono Publico, when it is published of course. And, even though I don’t live there anymore, I still love and miss you.