Welcome to the end of Week 1 of the Red Planet Noir blog book tour. A huge thank you to Candace for inviting me to write here today. She asked that I write about anything Louisiana, which is a delicious subject. I was born and raised here, and love my city (Baton Rouge) and the state, with all its ups, downs, and eccentricities.
But first, a topical Louisiana aside: how I long for high speed rail between Baton Rouge and New Orleans! Only a resident can really appreciate this. It’s a straight shot from one city to the other, but Louisiana’s hopeless, hapless, ineffective, and generally (universally?) incompetent Department of Transportation has been meddling with Interstate 10 between the two cities for my entire life. (Literally.) The same two miles of highway leading into New Orleans have been under construction for at least a decade, and now they’re attempting some sort of elevated extension that guarantees another lifetime of setbacks, funding issues, potholes, car accidents, redesigns, land disputes, orange cones, and gridlock. Simply put, automobiles are the worst way to commute between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, eliminating a mutually beneficial job market, labor force, tourism source, and real estate investment opportunity. (Yes, people do make the commute. But what should be an hour’s drive takes double that on bad days. Not many are up for it, with fuel prices alone.)
But high speed rail — just consider it! Existing lines, upgraded, would connect downtown Baton Rouge and the Superdome. (With stops, presumably, along the way — Gonzales, La Place.) No traffic. No headaches. No car accidents. A smooth, relaxing, productive trip. Add wi-fi (ubiquitous by the rail’s implementation) and you’ve got an extra hour to get work done, return emails, do homework (let us not forget the benefits to education!) and update Facebook. Downtown Baton Rouge, already engaged in a revitalization plan, could double its efforts. New Orleans — one need not even mention its needs — stands only to gain by every conceivable measure. A successful implementation, indeed, would bring to the forefront Baton Rouge’s abject failure of public transportation, and rejuvenate the system in New Orleans. A successful high speed railway station in the capital would surely spur calls to revive the streetcar system, and modernize the bus lines. (C.A.T.S. is a failure. Everybody knows it. But it is essential to the thousands of people who cannot afford automobiles. And therein lies the problem: people see it as being for “the poor,” and thus avoid it. [That is putting it gently on multiple fronts.] Only a substantial renovation can change that. Public transit for all! Perhaps someone could fly to Portland, take careful notes, and come back with a bus system that is safe, reliable, economical, and used by the majority. Baton Rouge isn’t so large that one should have to climb into an SUV to go to the mall.)
Mostly, though, I want to take my little girl to Audubon Zoo and be home by lunchtime. High speed rail can make that happen. The technology is ready. Louisiana has largely avoided the worst of the recession. New Orleans is ripe for far-reaching and meaningful urban development of the first order. Nothing should be off the table. I’m sure a clever politician could even make a disaster preparedness and security argument. How might a hurricane or terrorist attack evacuation look without I-10 gridlock and with a major railway running at full speed and full capacity?
(My little aside, it seems, has run to six-hundred words.) This is a virtual book tour, as I mentioned, so perhaps I should get to the book. Red Planet Noir takes place in the very distant future. Our hero, the down-and-out private eye Mike Sheppard lives in New Orleans, a city that has largely survived a nuclear apocalypse. As Mike observes, “bombs couldn’t do anything to us that we hadn’t already done to ourselves.” Mike’s dilapidated office is in the Hurwitz-Mintz building on Royal, across from Hotel Monteleone. Dolores Yu, the Watson to his Sherlock, works at the K&B drugstore.
On that point: long before the novel’s publication, I’d submitted the manuscript to a regional contest. It did quite well, though one of the judges took points from the final score. K&B, she carved in red, was no longer in business, and I clearly needed to research such details if I intended to write them. Fair enough, but everyone knows K&B is no longer. Indeed, one’s citizenship would be revoked for not knowing such a basic fact. My defense: the author crafts his or her Ideal World. And in my Ideal World, K&B is still around, still open on Christmas, still stocked with purple sacks, purple pencils, and that gorgeous purple oval sign. A little piece of Louisiana’s soul died when we lost K&B. A little piece of me died. But at least it lives in my book.
Mike Sheppard’s New Orleans is very real, and I tried to keep it geographically accurate. Here is Mike’s office:
Check out the gorgeous terrazzo on its stoop out front — I’d love to know how far this dates back:
From his office, through a broken pane of glass, Mike observes the Hotel Monteleone. Red Planet Noir isn’t the first novel to feature the landmark. Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty, among many, many others, all give mention to the Monteleone in their literature.
The gorgeous neon sign outside its garage:
K&B was bought by the execrable and utterly generic Rite Aid in the 90s. Nonetheless, in the book, this Walgreens is where K&B would stand (as opposed to Canal — or perhaps in addition to Canal, where it really was).
From the novel: I hoisted the plastic bag with one hand and donned my hat with the other. Outside, wind swept through the rain-slicked streets. A reflection of the violet K&B sign shimmered in puddles along the sidewalk. Pulling my coat tight, I leaned into the door. The wind pushed back.
In my world, K&B still shimmers. And the wind will always push back.
Sincere thanks again to Candace for kindly lending me her slice of the web. On Monday, the blog book tour returns at the blog of author Mindy Blanchard. I’ll describe the business of publishing from my small vantage point. A look into the sausage factory, if you will, at what happens when an author types THE END. I hope to see you there.