Sample Saturday: Cajun Country Christmas

It Happened in MemphisToday’s snippet is from my current work in progress, It Happened in Memphis and Other Stories.  As is always the case with early drafts, the final product may look significantly different.

I’ll write more about the tradition of Christmas eve bonfires along the Mississippi in a post tomorrow.  In the meanwhile, enjoy the latest entry in this year’s Blogmas event.


After a delicious dinner of gumbo, buttermilk biscuits, Pauline’s favorite boudins from the market in Mowata, and chess pie for dessert, everyone gathered up jackets and sweaters to go watch the bonfire lighting along the river. Those who weren’t already wearing jeans and sneakers changed to more casual attire.

“No need to take everyone’s cars,” Riley said. “I’ve got room for Miss Laurie and her boy with me.”

“I was hoping to ride with Evie and her folks,” Harv said.

“Well, that’s all right then. I guess it’ll be just us old folks together.”

“Billy and I will take Miss Pauline, Jimmy, and Cindy in the van,” Annie said.

As other family members made their arrangements, Riley helped Laurie into her jacket.

“I hope you don’t think I’m being too forward,” he said. “It’s just that, well, you’re about the prettiest gal I’ve seen in a long time. I’m divorced myself, but my ex and I were never blessed with children. You’ve got a fine boy there. ‘Course, if he messes around with my niece, I’ll clean up what’s left after Amos beats him to a pulp … but he’s a fine boy.”

Laurie couldn’t help laughing. “I don’t think Evie really knows he’s alive, to tell you the truth. They go to school together, and they’re friends … but he says someone else gave her her first kiss. She won’t say who … but whoever he is, Harv hates his guts.”

“Yep, that’s high school love for you. I remember it well.”

It didn’t take long before they all gathered at a boat slip, which confused Laurie.

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“You will,” Riley said, as he unlocked the gate at the end of the pier. “This is where I live.”
The whole family piled onto the biggest yacht Laurie had ever seen. All the children were helped into life vests as Riley let Laurie into the wheelhouse. “I have been lucky enough to work all over the world, helping people in need of medical care. I’m a doctor. Seemed to make the most sense to have a boat large enough to live on wherever I might go … and to bring my friends and family out on the river for Christmas Eve. How else are we going see all the bonfires? Have a seat.”


Sample Saturday: Music, Mayhem, and Bad Decisions

In keeping with yesterday’s post about John Lennon, it seemed appropriate to share this sample from my music business memoir, Music, Mayhem & Bad Decisions, with you today. At the end, in keeping with Blogmas, I’ll share a song by the late Billy Rancher, “Happy Santa Claus.”

M&M frt Verson 1My first exposure to the Portland music scene came when I did something completely out of character for me. It was December 1980, and I skipped school to go downtown for a John Lennon memorial in the aftermath of his murder. A local band called The Malchicks was playing and, honest to God, I thought the lead singer was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. His name was Billy Rancher, and I am sure that my parents grew mightily sick of hearing about him. Of course, I was in huge trouble for ditching school, but I didn’t care. I was a senior with very good grades, knew I would graduate — and had just gotten a tiny taste of the world I hoped to inhabit.

At about the same time, along came something new: MTV. (Yep, I’m old enough to remember when MTV played music videos and nothing else.) Suddenly, I was hearing a whole different sound. Consider that the most popular bands among my classmates were Van Halen and Blue Oyster Cult. Now, suddenly I was listening to The Yachts, Bram Tchaikovsky, Human League. It was like a whole new world opened up to me.

As I said, I went to a semi-rural high school. We lived across the street from a dairy farm. I don’t remember more than a handful of people of color among my classmates — including the exchange students from places like Japan and Iran. Being “different” was strongly discouraged, to say the least.

There was this tiny enclave of people, primarily in speech/debate and/or theatre, and we embraced this new music. Devo and The B-52s were requested at school dances and we would pogo merrily away. We were the “punk” crowd, according to the Van Halen fans. It must be said that this does not mean we were the proverbial “cool kids.” Quite the opposite, in fact. However, we didn’t let that stop us.

It was with tremendous delight that I graduated and began looking for work. I’d done the part-time food service gig, like every other high schooler at the time, but now I needed something that would buy my freedom. My folks had bought a house, so there was no question of attending college; they couldn’t afford to send me, and they made too much for me to get financial aid. I would eventually attend part-time on my own, majoring first in journalism and later in forensic anthropology.

In the mean while, I listened to music, read music and fashion magazines, dreamed of visiting London, and wrote more lousy fan fiction. Laurence Juber, my favorite guitarist, was a big star in those stories. He’s brilliantly talented, and one heck of a nice man. I’ve had occasion to meet him in person, and have seen him perform live several times.

LJ, please consider this my apology for those stories.

I had a couple of short-term office jobs that allowed me to put aside more money, buy clothes and attend concerts.

One of those shows was at a huge venue called Lung Fung’s Dragon Room. The Dragon Room was this cavernous dance hall attached to a moderately good Chinese restaurant. The owner booked live music at least a couple of nights a week, often with an early “all age” show. This suited both my age and my “need to be up early for work” schedule.
The Dragon Room played host to what they called a Battle of the Bands, with local favorites Billy Rancher and the Unreal Gods (that same Billy Rancher …) and a band from Seattle called The Cowboys.

Sample Saturday: “It Happened in Memphis”

Hi, everyone.  It’s day two of Blogmas.  I decided to share one of the short tales from It Happened in Memphis and Other Stories.  This is still a work-in-progress, so the final draft may look a little different.

Fans of Bayou Fire will, of course, remember Amos and Diana … and Amos’ nephew, Jimmy.  This tale takes place several years after the events of the original novel.  Enjoy this little holiday snippet!

Winter Nights

“Are you sure you’ll be warm enough,” Amos asked as Diana stepped up into the carriage on Decatur Street.

“Amos, I am wearing so many layers I’m surprised I can put my arms down. I promise, I’ll be warm enough. If you’re that worried about me, you can put your arm around me. I think you know by now that I won’t bite.”

The rest of the group piled into the carriage behind them, snuggling close against the damp cold. At least it wasn’t raining … yet. Winter weather in New Orleans could be awfully fickle, ranging from thirty to seventy degrees, sometimes in the same day, and the chill was bone-deep when it came.

Laurie took the far back row, with Jimmy and Cindy in front of her. Evangeline and Harvard sat behind Amos and Diana, who were right behind the driver.

The open carriage was decorated with evergreens and red bows for the holidays, and the pretty appaloosa mule had a Santa Claus hat over one long ear.

“I’m Joe, and my partner up front is Mister Bojangles,” the driver announced as he took up the reins. “I’ll point out some of the sights as we go, and maybe even lead a holiday song or two if you all are so inclined. Walk on, Bo!”

With that, the carriage pulled away from the sidewalk. Joe kept a running commentary about the city’s history, talking about some of the more important historical sites. When they passed the three-story mansion at the corner of Royal and Governor Nichols, he told the story of the LaLaurie mansion fire … which made Amos and Diana shiver. They knew the history all too well.

The carriage route seemed to meander a little bit, but Mister Bojangles obviously knew the way. Joe led the group in a rousing chorus of “Jingle Bells,” and seemed a little surprised when full harmonies came from behind him.

“Oh, you’re all a musical bunch, are you? Well, let’s do a couple more before we get back to Decatur Street.”

A couple of the vampire walking tour guides gave the stink-eye to the group as they drove by, but Joe, his passengers, and Mister Bojangles paid them no mind. They were enjoying themselves far too much to care about naysayers.

When the ride was over, all too soon, everyone piled out of the carriage. Amos had to help Diana down, but even as cold and stiff as the ride had left her, she insisted on going to thank Mister Bojangles after she’d expressed her appreciation to Joe.

“You can give him some apple if you like, ma’am. Just keep your hand flat.”

Joe gave her an apple slice, which she offered to the mule. Bojangles took his goodie gently and then pushed his forehead into her.

“I think he wants more,” she laughed, after she got her balance.

“No, ma’am. He’s saying thank you, and Merry Christmas. And I say the same. You all have a good evening, now.”

It was just a short walk back to the house on Saint Ann, but no one dawdled in the cold.
“I hope you’ll all excuse me for a moment,” Diana said. She went into the bedroom and changed into her warmest flannel nightgown.

When she came back out, Amos had hot chocolate going on the stove for everyone to share. He’d already put a warm quilt on Diana’s favorite chaise longue so that she could stretch out in warmth and still keep company with everyone. He arranged a couple of pillows behind her back and kissed her forehead.

That, thought Harvard, is how I want to be with my wife someday. He stole a glance at Evie, hoping his thoughts didn’t show on his face.

“Let me help you serve,” Laurie said as Amos poured the chocolate into cups.

“Not a chance. You do enough of that at the café. I’m sure that between Harv, Jimmy and me, we can manage a few mugs of cocoa without incident.”

“Well, if you insist.”

“I do indeed. I also insist that you and Harv come to Lafayette for Christmas with us. No arguments allowed.”

“Well, if you insist,” Laurie repeated, a broad smile crossing her face.
The rain started outside just then.

“To being safe and warm for the holidays,” Jimmy said, raising his mug.

“Hear, hear” came the response from all around. It seemed the perfect toast for the evening.

Sample Saturday: Cajun Country Christmas

Hi, everyone.  Here’s a snippet from the first draft of “Cajun Country Christmas,” one of the stories in It Happened in Memphis and Other Stories.  Enjoy!

Laurie came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a borrowed apron, just as the front door opened again.

“Lord have mercy, a Christmas angel! Ain’t I the lucky one!” The man who walked in was tall, with wavy brown hair, grey-green eyes, and a smile that promised mischief.

“Riley Boudreaux, wipe your feet before you walk any further into this house,” Pauline called. “And don’t you be pestering Miss Laurie; she’s a guest here for the first time and we don’t want to scare her off.”

Far from being scared off, Laurie stared at Amos’ next-older brother like he was the second coming of Jesus. She couldn’t remember when she’d seen a more handsome man. A little thicker-set than his brother, Riley Boudreaux also had a dimple in one cheek. He also clearly knew how to turn on the charm.

Sample Saturday: “The Devil’s Music”

This is a snippet from one of the short pieces that will appear in It Happened in Memphis and Other Stories.  It’s a first draft, but I’m pleased with how it’s coming along.  Enjoy!

The Devil’s Music

That’s what a lot of folks call what I did: the devil’s music. But the way I figure it, they were wrong. I come up in church, and I believe in Jesus with all my heart and soul. I figure I wasn’t doing nothing but trying to make people feel good for a few minutes.

I was just a kid, for cryin’ out loud. I was scared silly half the time; even at those shows at Eagle’s Nest back in Memphis, where I knew practically everyone. I barely knew how to put two words together to talk to somebody, but after that school talent show, why, suddenly everybody knew me. I think they did it as a joke, to tell you the truth. I was always that weird kid who dressed too loud, and my hair was longer’n everyone else’s. My girl Dixie’s daddy offered me two dollars so I could get a haircut, like the reason I wore my hair that way was that I couldn’t afford the barbershop.

Truth was, I was lookin’ at them sharp-dressed colored guys on Beale Street and wishing I could dress like that. I remember the day I bought a four-dollar shirt at Lansky Brothers; I told them fellas that one day they’d be the only place I bought my clothes, because they never chased me away from lookin’ in the windows.

My mama bought my guitar down to the hardware store in the town where I lived as a little kid. I wanted a rifle, but Mama wanted me to have a bicycle. Still, that guitar that Floyd Bobo sold my mama was the thing that changed my life more than any rifle or bike would have done. Brother Frank Smith, our preacher man, and my uncle Vester taught me how to play a few chords. And boy, that Brother Frank could play. He’d get the whole little church to singin’ along with them songs. “Just a Little Talk With Jesus,” “Blessed Jesus, Take My Hand,“ “I Shall Not Be Moved,” all them old songs.

See, that’s where my music really comes from. It weren’t no different from church. Way I saw it, Saturday night was when you sang a song about your baby … and Sunday you sang the same kind of song about Jesus.