The Orange Cone — Welcome Guest T. G. Herren

I’m so happy to welcome Greg Herren to The Wickeds! I saw him speak in 2016 at SinC into Great Writing in New Orleans. I was so impressed and he’s made a big impact on my life. I love his brand new book, A Streetcar Named Murder.

Greg: For me, it’s the little things that bring a place like New Orleans to life on the page.

Take, for one example, potholes.

Who likes potholes?

Nobody, that’s who.

New Orleans has more potholes than anywhere I’ve ever lived or visited.

It has something to do with the ground here and the water table, so I am told, either the water table is too high or we’re below sea level or we get too much rain or the city is sinking a fraction of an inch every year or maybe, just maybe—it’s because that’s what happens when you pave over a swamp.

If the sheer number of our potholes is legion, their depth is a mystery and every one of them is different. The one on my street has resisted all efforts of the city to fill and patch for going on eighteen years now, an ongoing war of attrition between nature and humanity. Currently humanity is winning, and my street is intact—but Nature will not be denied. The pavement has already sunk some, and cracks are beginning to appear at its lowest point.

Soon, our pothole will be active again, and a danger to strangers driving down our street during a thunderstorm, as the swirling floodwaters hide it—and its warning cone—from sight.

The inability of the city to keep the potholes filled and our streets in good repair is an ongoing commiseration for New Orleanians. We talk about the potholes and the cracks, the sinking pavement and surprise dips that wreak havoc on our shock absorbers and mufflers, while standing in line at the grocery store or the pharmacy or waiting for the streetcar. There’s no way of knowing when, or if, the city will ever send a crew out.

But they do come by, to let us know that they know there’s a problem, by planting an orange cone in the pothole. I’ve never seen the mysterious person who delivers the cone.

No one I know has.

But the cone gradually, slowly, day by day, begins to disappear into the pothole. (I’ve watched countless such cones disappear into the pothole on my street when it’s in its active state.)

New Orleanians, though, have a sense of humor about everything. We love to celebrate, we love to throw parties and go to parades, put on costumes and play dress up. We decorate our houses for every holiday, some going to incredibly elaborate lengths—and considerable expense. When the Carnival season parades were canceled for the pandemic, people decorated their houses with a theme, turning them into house floats.

And so, we also decorate the orange cones in our potholes.

Obviously, during Carnival the cones wear strings of beads, perhaps toilet sunglasses from the Tucks parade, hats and stuffed animals and other things caught at a parade. The cones are decorated for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, Bastille Day and the 4th of July, St. Patrick’s Day and Twelfth Night, every holiday you can think of and some you may have only heard of due to a cone decoration.

So, when trying to bring New Orleans to life in my new book, what better way than to give my heroine a determined pothole and a orange cone, ripe for decoration and conversation?

(One person planted corn in their pothole, but that’s a story for another time.)

So, dear readers, let me ask you: what is one small thing that makes your community different from others? Or have you ever seen something unique to its place?

Here’s the blurb:

Blackmail in the Big Easy turns to cold-blooded murder in this debut cozy mystery perfect for fans of Jane K. Cleland.

When the mysterious letter arrives by courier, Valerie Cooper doesn’t know what to make of it. She’s become the beneficiary of her late husband’s estranged uncle’s will—a man she never knew—and inherited a majority partnership in the family’s company, New Orleans Fine Antiques. Valerie knows nothing about antiques, but she decides to learn the business and become an active partner. She’s also got her hands full fending off Collette, a woman who wants to sell the huge old house in the Irish Channel neighborhood Valerie and her husband painstakingly renovated.

Valerie isn’t interested in selling—but when her best friend Lauren, drags her to a costume party for the women’s Mardi Gras club, the Krewe of Athena, she stumbles over Collette’s body, a jeweled dagger sticking out of her chest. In a rush of panic, Valerie recognizes the dagger from her shop—and before she knows it, she’s become murder suspect number one.

Egged on by Lauren, she starts digging into Collette’s business dealings, and the deeper she digs, the dirtier it gets. Now all fingers are pointing at Valerie. In a desperate bid to clear her name, Valerie frantically tries to find who could have gotten hold of the dagger. But among a cadre of guests in full costume, it could be impossible to find the thief—and unmask the real killer.

Bio: T. G. HERREN is a pen name for Greg Herren, an award-winning author and editor of numerous novels, anthologies, and short stories. Greg has lived in New Orleans for twenty-seven years in the lower Garden District. His hobbies include decorating orange cones, dropping rocks into potholes, and waiting for Carnival.

Twitter: @scottynola

Facebook: Greg Herren

Instagram: gregh121

HiveSocial: Greg Herren

24 Thoughts

  1. Welcome to the blog, Greg – I can’t wait to read this book! Also, I snickered when I read someone “planted pot in their cornhole” – wait! Reread…

    My small city had Kevin for a number of years. He was a lone, brazen turkey, who liked to stand in the middle of Main Street downtown or saunter down the yellow line on Whitehall Road, a heavily trafficked road out of town. People were always posting Kevin sightings on the town Facebook page, but nobody ever got close enough to put a costume on him. He finally got too aggressive with people and animal control relocated him.

    1. Aw, poor Kevin! There’s still a law here on the books from the 1800’s hundreds that allows people to keep chickens, so every once in a while you might encounter a chicken when you’re walking somewhere. There’s a house near my office that has about twenty of them!

  2. Probably the most common thing in our town is that from April to November every year there’s music everywhere. People with their instruments show up from every direction to play in bands or just with others they’ve never met. They play on corners, Pick “n” Park, porches and even on the courthouse lawn. Also we are probably the only town that has a festival of some sort about every 3 to 4 weeks during that same time which can bring tourist in my the thousands including the Outhouse Races that coincide with the Bean Fest. In the “off” months, we return to the quiet little town with a population of around 2,900.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Ah, music! A great thing about New Orleans is all the school marching bands have to practice and build endurance for parade season, so you never know when you’re going to hear or run into a marching band!

  3. I can’t think of any one thing that my town is known for, except maybe the big lake the town is built around. Used to be a trolley that went around the lake for tourists back in the day. Long gone. But I do love your cone decorations and how the community makes the most of a bad situation!

  4. Welcome, Greg! I don’t think my hometown has any quirks and now I live in sprawling suburbia. Someone set up a little friendship garden on one of the paths through the woods. Different things show up there all of the time from shells to toys. It’s fun to check and see what’s new.

    1. Thanks, Sherry! This was fun for me to write. Another fun thing about New Orleans is our garbage trucks pick up furniture, so all you have to do to get rid of it is drag it out to the sidewalk. You never know what you might encounter on a walk!

  5. Welcome to the Wickeds, Greg! It’s so great to have you here. I love New Orleans, at least as a tourist, so can’t wait to read A Street Car Named Murder.

    My husband and I were in Scotland over the summer and I loved a particular Scottish custom. Every male statue, equestrian or standing–and there are many–was bedecked with a traffic cone on his head, often brightly decorated. It tickled me.

  6. I love this, Greg! The spirit of the good folks of New Orleans is truly indomitable. Here in Indianapolis, we spend the month of May celebrating auto racing, which culminates with the Indy 500 Memorial Day weekend. Long live the Greatest Spectacle in Racing!

  7. I love this! Living in a place where it is considered adequate to mark pot holes with signs that read caution usually right behind faded signs that read frost heave I wish we had wonderful traffic cones to decorate!

    Our town traditions, hum….building an annual Christmas tree from potato barrels is one, as is letting children out of school for two weeks in September (usually two weeks after school begins) to participate in the potato harvest.

  8. What fun, Greg!! I love the idea of decorating the cones. During the bird migration times, Lancaster has a LOT of birds flying overhead because we are in the fly zone. Mostly we see loads of geese. But we also get more crows than the movie “The Birds”. They really are a nuisance. Personally, I don’t have that much of a problem with them, but places like the mall have a serious problem. Every know deterrent has been tried, but nothing works. So, Lancaster as a Crow Festival. Like New Orleans, make something fun out of something annoying.

    I love New Orleans and look forward to learning even more about it through your book.

    1. If you can’t beat ’em!

      I’m surprised we don’t have a Crow Festival. We have one for practically everything else!

  9. NOLA is my favorite place, and the food is fabulous. Can’t wait to read this.

  10. Toledo, Ohio is the home of Tony Packos that was made famous from M*A*S*H by Klinger. Thank you for sharing. God bless you.

  11. Enjoyed your blog! I plan on decorating some orange barrels on Hwy 98 in Gulf Breeze, Florida, for Christmas then Mardi Gras because, as you know, repairs never end.

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