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.
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