Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Great New Orleans Adventure, Day Three

This is a Douglas C-47. It's really big.
This is a Douglas C-47. It’s really big.

We set aside the whole day for our visit to the National WWII Museum based on our previous experience. Last time, we didn’t arrive until after noon, and barely had enough time to see the whole thing before it closed. It’s also an emotional experience, full of sensory overload, and I anticipated not wanting to do much else after we were done. So after breakfast at Mena’s Palace, we hailed a cab and were on our way.

The interactive part of the museum exhibit is so interesting. They issue you a card, called a “dog tag,” and then seat you in a mockup of a train carriage for orientation, where you’re assigned a person from the war era who you follow as you go through the exhibit. And who did I get but Ernie Pyle, who happens to be one of my favorite writers and war correspondents. He’s quoted frequently in the displays, but the interactive tour had even more information on his contribution and death. Every so often there were kiosks where you’d tap your dog tag and watch a brief video about what your person was doing at a particular time during the war. There were also artifacts you could digitally collect, which were saved to your dog tag account for access later. It was a lot of fun (though for mine, the final segment “Life after the War” was slightly depressing, as Pyle was killed just days after the invasion of Okinawa and didn’t live to see the Allies’ final victory).

We kicked around for almost an hour looking at the Merchant Marine display before heading in to see a movie called Beyond All Boundaries that was basically a history of the United States’ involvement in World War II, but touching on the personal as well as the military history. It’s advertised as “4D,” which means who knows what–there were tricks like rumbling seats and falling “snow” I was really grateful not to be under. It was interesting, but a little too melodramatic for my tastes. I prefer the more subtle drama of the exhibits, particularly the artifacts.

I forget the specific type of boat this is. I just think it looks cool.

So after the movie, we had lunch at the canteen (still haven’t had a truly bad meal) and then went on to the exhibits. The last time I was here, one of the visiting exhibits was on propaganda used by both sides, and it was fascinating. There wasn’t anything nearly so unusual this time, but the permanent exhibit is overwhelming in its content. I can see why this place is one of the highest-ranked museums in the country, because they know how to balance the mundane against the grand. And there’s just so much to see, even if (since it’s a US museum, after all) they only start with Pearl Harbor. There’s overviews of the battle and the Allied and Axis strategies, and snippets of the lives of servicemen and -women, and hundreds of artifacts, including a wall of guns my son would have appreciated. There are also contemporary film excerpts, some of which are extremely disturbing, like the liberation of the concentration camps. Piles of dead bodies in trenches, living skeletons who look even more emaciated next to their rescuers. That this was the work of human beings astounds me.

At some point, I think part of me shut down. Like I said, it’s all so much, too vast for any one person to fully comprehend. So many people were involved in this war, all of them with stories to tell, that in some respects the museum’s purpose is futile. And yet what else can we do but remember? What struck me this time–actually, I remember thinking it the last time–was how what you take away from presentations like this one is ultimately very personal. I would like to think that anyone attending the museum would come away sickened and horrified and full of desire that such a thing never happen again. But it’s impossible to talk about World War II without commenting on the millions of acts of bravery, of men and women giving their lives or freedom for the sake of others, and I think there’s potential there for someone to see only that, to forget that it was great evil that made those sacrifices necessary. I hope I’m wrong about that.

There’s also a display of the art of Tom Lea, who painted and drew many pictures of the war, a lot of which ended up in magazines or the cover of Time. Many of them were from the battle of Peleliu in the Pacific theater, and they are stunning and horrific and beautiful. My favorite is of an Army chaplain, approaching a dead soldier as his comrade covers his face. The look on the chaplain’s face is simply heartbreaking.

Eventually, we were mentally and physically exhausted, and took another cab back to the hotel. I have a feeling this driver took us by a longer route, because it felt like it took much more time to get back, but he was a nice guy and we had some interesting conversation with him. We have no plans for tomorrow, though at some point the ritual Shopping for Souvenirs must happen. Fortunately, there are a ton of stores within walking distance. Surprisingly, I haven’t gone to any bookstores. Yet.

The Great New Orleans Adventure, Day Two

Marie Laveau's tomb. There are still triple-Xs on its face, remnants of pilgrims looking for her blessing.
Marie Laveau’s tomb. There are still triple-Xs on its face, remnants of pilgrims looking for her blessing.

Day Two began with hunting for breakfast, then wandering the streets until ten, when our cemetery tour began. Our tour guide, Renee, was outgoing and loud and very amusing. She was also very knowledgeable, and talked about several cemeteries aside from the one we visited, St. Louis #1. You can only get into this one with a tour guide.

One of the oldest tombs in the cemetery. There aren't many of these stepped ones around.
One of the oldest tombs in the cemetery. There aren’t many of these stepped ones around.

It’s quiet, and surprisingly non-scary; I doubt it would be frightening after dark unless you’d just watched a terrifying movie. There are tombs missing their marble façades so you don’t know who’s buried there, though according to Renee they have plenty of records. I was fascinated by the wall graves, or ovens (they do look like pizza ovens), some of which have dozens of remains interred within. Then there’s the Protestant section, which by comparison to the Catholic side (what we usually think of as the St. Louis Cemetery) is weedy and empty. It was more unnerving than the lot full of tombs was.

There are other famous people interred here, like Homer Plessy (of Plessy v. Ferguson fame, and Renee told us an interesting story about the descendants of Homer Plessy and John Ferguson meeting). But, of course, no visit to this cemetery would be complete without a stop at the most famous tomb of all: that’s right, the pyramidal monument of Nicolas Cage.

Nicolas Cage's eventual resting place. It looks seriously out of place here.
Nicolas Cage’s eventual resting place. It looks seriously out of place here.

After the tour, we stopped for lunch at a sandwich shop on Bourbon Street, where I had the messiest, most drippy po’boy I have ever eaten. It was delicious, but I think I left half of it on the plate, the half that fell out with every bite. The place also serves po’boy ice cream sandwiches, which looked good, but we were too full to appreciate them. Maybe next time.


This beautiful, fragile slab is a memorial to the 18-year-old son of some landowners. It's just lying flat on the ground where anyone could step on it.
This beautiful, fragile slab is a memorial to the 18-year-old son of some landowners. It’s just lying flat on the ground where anyone could step on it.

After lunch was more museum time. The Presbytère and the Cabildo, flanking the cathedral, are both home to some of the state museum exhibits. The Presbytère was originally built as a religious residence, though it was never actually used as such. It’s been part of the Louisiana State Museum for over a hundred years. The ground floor exhibit is about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath; the second floor hosts an exhibit on Mardi Gras that I think is a permanent exhibit, because I remember seeing it on my last trip here. It’s the closest I ever want to get to Mardi Gras, but it’s fascinating–there’s a huge bin full of examples of the kinds of things they throw from the floats during the parades, not just beads but collectible plastic cups and trinkets and coins. And the costumes are beautiful.

They sometimes used playing cards as currency. These have notes on the back indicating they're good for two loaves of bread--about 12 1/2 cents.
They sometimes used playing cards as currency. These have notes on the back indicating they’re good for two loaves of bread–about 12 1/2 cents.

The Cabildo, or town hall, is on the other side of the cathedral. By the time we got there, I was getting tired, and the exhibit is really big and full of interesting stuff, so the details all blur together. It basically showcases the history of New Orleans from its earliest explorers in the seventeenth century down to the early twentieth century. Some highlights: the playing card currency (shown left), the giant hamster wheel that’s actually the wheel for the big state lottery, a Civil War doctor’s chest complete with tools for post-mortem dissection, and a Baker rifle taken from the British 95th regiment (fans of Sharpe’s Rifles will recognize this). We were hurried along by a museum employee, who told us they were closing up soon–the state museum sites close at 4:30, so we were lucky to get through both in an afternoon.

The St. Louis Cathedral, seen from Jackson Square.
The St. Louis Cathedral, seen from Jackson Square.

We thought about going to Muriel’s for dinner, but they weren’t open yet, so we crossed the street to Stanley, where we had some very fine gumbo with a really dark roux. Still no bad meals; even the messy po’boy was delicious. Then we went to the market to pick up snacks and more Coke. We stopped in at the vampire store (I don’t know its actual name, but “vampire” is in there somewhere) and I picked up a new Tarot deck and chatted with the guy running the store. It’s surprisingly non-campy despite the vials of fake blood and the wine bottles labeled with the “spirits” (get it?) of dead people. Then, home again for a long soak in the tub. Neither of us brought our best shoes for walking, though it was standing in front of the exhibits that really got me.

Tomorrow, we will probably head out to the World War II museum. The last time we were there, we didn’t allow nearly enough time for the exhibits. We hope to get an earlier start tomorrow.

The Great New Orleans Adventure, Day One

This house is just a couple of streets over from our hotel. There are several of these much-decorated houses throughout the French Quarter.

This year is my 25th wedding anniversary, which stuns me. To celebrate, my husband and I are in one of my favorite cities, New Orleans, for a week. The last time we were both here, it was June, which is a crazy time to go, and our anniversary is actually two days after Christmas, so we settled on October as a good not-too-hot time of year. It’s beautiful here, actually, particularly when it gets a little overcast and the breeze picks up.

Getting to our hotel was not at all a given. Our taxi driver was going 80 on the freeway, in and out of traffic, and his little minivan (note: most of the taxis serving the airport are minivans) had no working seatbelts. So I pretended we were at Disneyworld and the driver was just a disgruntled dwarf working the Mine Cart ride. He did get us there in one piece, deposited us right at the door of the Inn on St. Ann. The Inn on St. Ann is near the edge of the French Quarter, within spitting distance of Louis Armstrong Park (which has a big ol’ arch over the entrance) and is in two parts: the Inn, and the Marie Laveau Annex. We’re staying in the Annex.

The view from the door into our living area. There’s a refrigerator in the cupboard where I store Coca-Cola, one of Nature’s essentials when you’re out walking all day.

Unfortunately, the Inn was locked up tight. Ringing the bell did nothing. The instructions said to go to their sister hotel, the Inn on St. Peter, if no one answered. So we picked up our bags and, after a short wrong turn, ended up at St. Peter, where they told us we were in the wrong place and of course there was someone at St. Ann. We trekked back in the company of a lovely Sherpa assistant, and they got us straightened right out.

The garden tub. This was definitely not part of the original slave quarters, or whatever this building used to be.
The garden tub. This was definitely not part of the original slave quarters, or whatever this building used to be.

Our room is up two flights of stairs, but it’s worth it. Bedroom, marble-floored bathroom, and a living area…just what I need for unwinding after a day of sightseeing. (I’m also supposed to be working on this vacation, so the computer came along.) There is a robust air conditioner right above the couch, so it’s downright chilly–very welcome after the heat of the day. It’s not terribly hot, but I was dressed for the weather in Salt Lake City and that was just a little too warm for trekking back and forth, dragging my little wheeled suitcase, carry-on bag, and purse. I worked up a sweat and was extremely grateful for the air conditioner.

We made a quick expedition to the corner market, which also sells sandwiches and po’boys, to get some Coke (ah, sweet elixir of life!) and scope out the neighborhood. The last time we were here, for the Plot Whisperer’s business conference, we stayed at the Marriott, which is on the other side of the French Quarter, and we rarely got out this way. St. Ann (the street the hotel is on, naturally) is home to a lot of bars, and it wasn’t until we went out a second time, for dinner, that we got far enough to find restaurants. You have to go most of the way toward Jackson Square, past Bourbon Street, to get a place to eat. We chose Pere Antoine’s mainly because we were hungry and it was the first non-Chinese restaurant we came to. (Of course there are Chinese restaurants in the French Quarter. There are Chinese restaurants on Mars.)

The bedroom. We've got a tangle of wires behind the headboard because we are hopelessly attached to our electronics.
The bedroom. We’ve got a tangle of wires behind the headboard because we are hopelessly attached to our electronics.

One of the things I observed on my last trip was that it’s impossible to find a truly bad meal in the French Quarter. This time I intend to see if that’s true. With Pere Antoine’s, it certainly was. I ordered red beans and rice with sausage–stick to the basics, I say–and the first bite nearly killed me, it was so good. I love how it’s served with the rice on the side so you can sop up the beans with as much or as little as you want. And the flavor…just the right amount of burn. The sausage might as well have been lagniappe–a charming custom of giving some little thing for free on top of your purchase. The Plot Whisperer, who is a creature of habit, ordered an omelet. But it came with the cousins of the sausage I had, and he said it was incredible–ten times as good as a regular omelet.

Fat and happy, we rolled out of Pere Antoine’s and decided we might as well go as far as the Café du Monde, though when we got there, we were too full for beignets–delicious puffy pastries dunked in about a gallon of powdered sugar. So we walked back, passing the cathedral and the buildings flanking it, the Cabildo and the Presbytere, both of whose facades are under construction. Fortunately, the museums themselves are open, so we’ll be going back. It was past twilight at this point, but the Tarot readers and palmists and Reiki experts were still at it around Jackson Square. I had to wonder how the palm reader could manage her craft in the near-dark, but she seemed content to simply enjoy the quiet evening.

We returned to our room, tired and ready to call it a day even though it wasn’t much past 8 local time. Tomorrow we have a cemetery tour scheduled, and maybe a few more museums. Right now, I’m in the relaxed state I think most visitors to the French Quarter end up in, relaxed and content even if I’m not in a beignet coma. That day will come.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 150

9 Nevrine

It worked this time. It feels really strange. I’ve been thinking of this pouvra as a single thing, but with this new…technique, maybe? I’ve realized it’s three separate pouvrin: turning myself insubstantial, turning that on someone else I’m touching, and extending that to work on something I’m not connected to. And they look…I’ve been thinking about it all day, and all I can say is it’s like they’re made of the same fabric, but assembled differently. Like a pile of twigs used to make a bird’s nest and then a woven mat. I don’t know what it means yet, but it feels important. If I could find more related pouvrin, or find another way to

It took me about twenty minutes, and I don’t know if that’s fast or if I’m slow, but I’ve confirmed that the fire pouvra as a mass of fire and as a rope of fire are different, and concealing myself and turning it out on someone else are different. Not as different as the walk-through-walls pouvrin, so I’m not surprised I didn’t see it, but I’m still shocked.

So I’ve created four new pouvrin without the help of books—or maybe they exist somewhere and I just discovered them independently. No way to tell. I still don’t know what it means, though! And it’s hard to analyze the pouvrin while we’re walking, so the only time I have is in the evening, and then I’m usually so tired I have trouble bending my will to the pouvrin.

I feel even more urgency, now, to get to Venetry, deliver my message, and then…would I really want to stay there for a few days just to study? I would. I’d apologize to Cederic, but I know he’d do the same. We’re both infected with that disease that drives us to learn. He might even be annoyed I let my desire to rejoin him interfere with my becoming a better mage. He’s going to laugh when I tell him about this.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 149

8 Nevrine

Jeddan was back to normal today, or at least he was able to talk about normal things as we walked. We discussed pouvrin, mostly our mutual unexpected discoveries. Jeddan showed enthusiasm when he told me, in more detail, how he’d mastered the concealment pouvra. “You’re right,” he said, “it’s not the same as the others. It felt sharp, somehow, like a dull knife blade pressing against my skin.”

“Yes, to me it feels more angular than the Balaenic ones,” I said. “I wish I could talk to the mage who invented it. I wonder what he thought he’d discovered. He put everything in terms of th’an, even though Cederic said there was no way it would have done anything if someone tried to write it. But he knew something about pouvrin. Not the way we both do, but even so, maybe his knowledge would help us.”

“You said he was insane,” Jeddan said. “I’m not sure how useful that would be.”

“True,” I said, and sighed. “What I’d like to know is how I managed to do that with the walk-through-walls pouvra. It happened so quickly I’m not sure I can do it again.”

“I think you should practice as we go,” Jeddan said. He took a few steps off the road and wrenched a thick branch from a tree; it was dry, and snapped off easily. “I’ll hold it, and you make it fall.”

“I guess it’s something to do,” I said. So we did that for a couple of hours, with no success. I feel like I’m groping for something I’ve only heard about, even though I can remember a little of how it felt. It was I don’t want to lie. After hearing what Jeddan did to that guard, I was feeling uncertain about using the walk-through-walls pouvra in any way. We haven’t discussed it, but neither of us has any idea why, after all the times Jeddan has dived through people, this one died of it. So my heart wasn’t in my efforts. I’ll try again tomorrow.

In which there is much writerly news

So many things have happened recently, I don’t know where to start. Chronologically makes sense, I suppose, so–

*BURNING BRIGHT is going to be an audiobook! This is probably the news that excites me most, because I have a daughter with a reading disability who consumes books almost entirely as either manga or audiobook. This means she’s never read any of my books, and I’m so happy to be able to share this one with her. (Okay, yes, I could read them aloud to her, but as she does all her reading late at night, I’m reluctant to do so.) It will be available November 15.

*For fans of Tremontane, the next novel is actually a trilogy taking us back in time to the days of Willow North, first of the North queens. PRETENDER TO THE CROWN won first place in the League of Utah Writers First Chapter contest, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone. But I’ve decided, since it’s a true trilogy and not a set of linked stories, not to start releasing it until the trilogy is complete–which means writing the third book. I’m sorry about the delay.

* I’ve sold two new books to Curiosity Quills! One is the sequel to BURNING BRIGHT titled WONDERING SIGHT (the rhyming is completely coincidental). It features a whole new cast of characters and is about Sophia Westlake, the Extraordinary Seer who figured out the pirates’ secret in BURNING BRIGHT. It’s a very different story from the first; there are counterfeiters and madmen and revenge and obsession, and I hope readers will like it, too.

*The second book is the first in a new series called The Last Oracle, titled THE BOOK OF SECRETS (I’m not satisfied with this title and it may change). The book is about Helena, who takes a job at a strange used book store only to discover it’s hiding some powerful secrets. Caught up in a centuries-long war between humanity and alien monsters from another reality, Helena must take on a new role: that of custodian to the world’s only living oracle. I’m very excited about this series, which is five books long so far and still growing.

*Speaking of sequels, the sequel to THE SMOKE-SCENTED GIRL will be available for preorder on October 5! THE GOD-TOUCHED MAN is the story of Evon’s best friend Piercy, man about town and secret government agent. When he’s assigned to chaperone a princess of a foreign country, Piercy thinks he’s in for a very dull time. But an encounter with a rogue magician catapults Piercy and the princess two hundred years into the past, forcing the two of them to work together to return to their own time and prevent a catastrophe that could destroy Dalanine–even if it costs them their lives. Release date November 15.

I’ll be posting more news as things progress, but until then, thanks for reading!


Sesskia’s Diary, part 148

7 Nevrine, continued (continued)

I went to find Jeddan, who’d managed to subdue four of the guards. I told him I was impressed and he rolled his eyes. “Somebody really did believe these Castavirans were too weak and afraid to fight back,” he said. “I hardly needed the concealment pouvra to get close enough to choke them unconscious. Are you ready for your part?”

“Are you sure it’s safe, with three guards still out there?” I said.

“There’s nothing more I can do,” he said. “The last one made some noise, and when the next sentry went past, he looked a lot more alert. They’ll have to take their chances.”

I nodded and went to find Liskesstis. She was waiting at the door of her tent, peering out into the snow. “This is not the best weather,” she said, “but it’s not snowing heavily anymore and I think in a few hours it will be clear.”

“Are you sure you want to do this?” I said. “If you can’t find that town, you’ll wander until you freeze to death.”

“Better than die in captivity,” she said, “and we’ll have a guide.” She moved her fingers, stiffly, and did it again, and then a globe of red light about an inch across hovered level with her nose. “It should lead us to our destination,” she said, “if those who know this area are capable of using it. I’m not entirely certain it will work, but it’s a better chance than we had before.”

“Did you teach Cederic that?” I asked on a whim. “The writing on air?”

She laughed. “He taught me,” she said, “some eight years ago, in exchange for some knowledge I gave him. The key to certain kathanas he needed to master to become Kilios. Why are you not with him?”

“We were separated during the convergence,” I said, “but I’ll find him, or he’ll find me. I’m certain of it.”

“I wish I could tell you where he is,” she said, “but the location kathanas no longer work, no doubt because of how the convergence brought the physical worlds together; the magic…you could say a location kathana recognizes the world around it and identifies a person within that landscape, and of course much has changed now. But don’t worry about it. Cederic Aleynten is stubborn and has never given up on a problem before he’s solved it.”

“I know,” I said, and saluted her the Castaviran way. “You’ll know when to move. Good luck.”

I went back to join my “soldiers” and said, “Take your places around the tent. They probably won’t think to grab their weapons. And remember, don’t shoot. Unless it’s your life or theirs.” Then I took a deep breath and summoned fire in a great swoop, spiraling around the tent from the ground to its many peaks.

Shouts and screams spilled out of the door, followed by guards who came up short when they discovered how many rifles were pointed at them. “Drop to the ground,” I shouted, “or we shoot.”

A couple hit the ground immediately. One looked like he was thinking about going back into the tent, but men were still spilling out of it and tangling themselves with the ones on the ground. “On the ground!” I shouted, and poured more fire into the conflagration.

Then one of the guards, who was either less drunk or had more presence of mind than his comrades, raised his rifle, and without thinking I bent my will to the shape of the walk-through-walls pouvra and saw it fall through his hands, making him scream and fall backwards into the fire. I took a few steps forward in shock, grabbed his feet and dragged him to relative safety, then told the Castavirans, “Tie them up, securely, and let’s put them inside that tent over there.”

By the time we were finished with that, Jeddan arrived and said, “They’re moving. Your men need to come now.”

A steady trail of Castavirans was exiting by way of a new hole in the fence that had Jeddan’s work stamped on it, literally, because I could see the shape of his boot where he’d kicked the so-called wall down. I saw two soldiers wriggling in their bonds just inside the wall. “Where’s the third?” I said.

Jeddan looked grim. “He got away,” he said.

“Then they need to move more quickly,” I said, taking a few steps toward the line. Jeddan put a hand on my arm.

“He didn’t get far,” he said. “I…killed him. Accidentally. Went through him, and he just spasmed and fell down. I didn’t know it could do that.”

“Time to think about it later,” I said. “Where’s the body?”

“I hid it where no one will find it until the spring thaw,” he said. “Are we done here?”

He sounded weary, and sad, and I wished I knew what to tell him that would comfort him. I remembered what he’d said to me the night I killed the bandit, and said, “You’re not a killer. You couldn’t bear the thought of these people being left here to die and you made me see the truth of that. If you didn’t care about people, it wouldn’t matter to you what happened to that guard. Right now, that doesn’t feel like comfort, but eventually it will. You showed me that too.”

He glanced down at me in the darkness, and said, “I think we should go,” so we trudged back around the camp, leaving that line of Castaviran refugees behind. Liskesstis was right, the weather was starting to clear, but only Jeddan’s ability to find his way outdoors kept us on the track leading back to the road, and the city, and then Debressken and the Royal Road. Then we kept on walking until we found a place to camp that was well off the highway, and fell unconscious for maybe ten hours. We ate, and walked, and made camp again, and after writing all that I feel as wrung out as if I’d experienced it a second time.

I keep seeing that line of travelers, stretched out like ants following a sugar trail, their heads bent against the snow. I don’t know if we sent them off to their deaths or not. I realize it was their decision, and it was a risk they wanted to take. I know we couldn’t have just left them there without finding out if there was something we could do to help. If they don’t make it…I shouldn’t feel responsible, but I do. I guess it’s because I feel their fates are tangled up with mine now, and I wish I could go with them, to help along that journey. I think that’s what I feel guilty about—that Jeddan and I started them on that path, then couldn’t follow it to the end.

I need to sleep again. We’re about six days’ journey from Venetry now, unless something else happens to slow us down. I just want to get this over with. Talking about Cederic with Liskesstis has just made me miss him more. Venetry, report to the king—oh, damn it, he’s summoning mages, he won’t want to let us go. Report to the king, sneak away, and go east to Colosse, which Cederic’s probably already left, looking for me. We might go across this new world and back fifty times and never find each other.

I’m going to sleep now, and pray the true God everything looks better in the morning. Jeddan hasn’t said anything since we left the Castavirans but what’s necessary to set up camp. I hope he’s coming to terms with that death. I hope I’m doing the right thing by not making him talk about it. I’m so glad I’m not alone on this journey.