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Friday, May 16, 2014

Researching the Big Easy: Voodoo and Swamp Tours

I had one full day before the RT Booklovers Convention to jam in as much research as I could for Books 4 and 5 of the Teen Wytche Saga. My handwritten list of questions in hand, I decided to first head back to Baronne Street to see if the technical support teams for Terminator 5 were still in place. They weren’t. Thus transpired what could have been a deadly mistake…

Day 2

A smart person, upon discovering the movie crew had moved on, would have turned around and headed back to Canal Street and taken a safe route to the Voodoo Spiritual Temple and Cultural Center on N. Rampart St. Unfortunately, I am

1.     linear to a fault.
2.     And I realized too late that I had ventured into an unsafe part of town.

I had reached a rather exposed point of no return when I realized the error of my ways. My shamanic tracking warned me there could be trouble, but that there wouldn’t be trouble. Reasons I wasn’t too alarmed:

1.     The element of surprise. People gawked at me, a tiny silver-haired woman of uncertain age, striding in high heels as if she owned the place.
2.     I threw a massive protective spell around myself.
3.     And my dragon probably showed up about the time I turned onto N. Rampart.

The Voodoo Spiritual Temple

I had learned of the Voodoo Spiritual Temple and Cultural Center through Kenaz Filan’s book, The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook, an interesting resource on the history of New Orleans and voodoo.

Priestess Miriam Chamani, Founder and Queen Mother of the temple, did not appear at first, but I sensed she was in ear shot. The clerk working the front was quite helpful, despite her initial slightly disparaging remark about a proposed plot point in book 4. (Something about real life being far less dramatic than what I had written.) Nevertheless, she warmed too me, and I left with helpful knowledge, the mambo queen’s email address, a bag of Evil Away incense (handy for the walk back to my hotel), and an unexpected treasure. I have been searching for years for the perfect shaman’s rattle. Who knew I would find it in a voodoo temple, and it would be from Ghana?

The Evil Away incense safely ushered me and my blistered feet back to the hotel in time for the second part of my research.

Captain Brent and the Swamp Tour

High on my research list was a trip to the bayou, the setting for my next book in the Teen Wytche Saga.  So I exchanged my high heels for ballet flats and headed for the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Swamp; Preserve. Good thing I hadn’t booked an airboat tour, because it rained. Hard. Where I live in the desert, if the weather report says 20% chance of rain, that means zero chance of rain. In Louisiana, 20% chance of rain means Get Your Umbrella.

For someone used to the unrelenting beige of the desert, the bayou’s lushness was a welcome revelation. High tide swelled the canal. Greenery: Cypress trees dripping with gray Spanish moss, dwarf palmettos, saw grass, water hyacinths, and more, lined the waterway, often scraping loudly against the metal roof of the boat. 

Alligators, especially active and visible because of mating season, swam alongside us. I prayed my camera batteries wouldn’t die, and my note taking would keep up with the wealth of information Captain Brent conveyed. Afterward, he and I exchanged emails, and he gifted me with a terrific article on the swamp in winter (the bayou scene in book 4 takes place around Christmas). 

Fun facts:
1.     15% of ranched alligators in Louisiana must be released into the wild.
2.     Marshland is land on top of water. Swampland is water on top of land.
3.     Alligators are cold-blooded. When it gets too cold, they will burrow into mud for warmth where the grasses afford cover, with only their snouts exposed.
4.     There are no crocodiles in Louisiana.
5. Alligators love marshmallows.

Next up: The RT Booklovers Convention begins.
~Ariella Moon

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