You Can't Go Home Again

"Make your mistakes, take your chances, look silly, but keep on going. Don't freeze up." Thomas Wolfe

Road trips bring perspective.
 After a number of months of reading and taking notes I felt like it was time to start writing Chapter One. But first, there was some business to attend to. In the spring of 2015 I had taken on a part-time job working for an organization that produces an international classical music festival in the summer. Musicians were flown in from all over the world to participate in concerts throughout Southern California. My job was to assist the director and help market the events.

At first, it sounded like it might be a ideal fit for me but there were problems: the pay was terrible, the commute was hellish and it was also getting in the way of running my online business. As much as I wanted it to work, it just wasn't. I tried to quit a few times but each time I did, the director would plead for me to see it through. So I thought, I'd just have to postpone starting my book until after I had finished the job. It would only be a few months, after all. But deep down inside I knew it was the wrong job for me.

I needed an out. 

Luckily, one was provided. My husband had been offered some film work back in our home town, New Orleans. We had been discussing the possibility of moving back and we were interested in finding out first hand whether what we had heard about the amount of film work really was all it was cracked up to be. Shannon, my husband, has worked in special effects field for many years but back then, the film market in Los Angeles was particularly slow. Meanwhile, the Louisiana tax incentive had brought in lots of productions and after feeling the effects of the dry spell in Los Angeles we thought, Sure, let's give this a chance. 

We could safely dip our toes in the water and see if we could actually go home again. I mean, what did Thomas Wolfe really know? Maybe his data was flawed. Going there would provide me with a legitimate excuse to leave the musical festival job. More importantly, in New Orleans I would have the time and the freedom to get down to work on my novel. I imagined drinking mint juleps in a picturesque French Quarter courtyard garden while I wrote the next great American novel, walking the streets where Tennessee Williams roamed, enjoying Jazz brunches and then heading over to the Old Absinthe House to hallucinate about the luminaries such as Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain and the pirate, Jean Lafitte who has passed through the establishment's doors. Yes, a road trip was in order.


Nothing like ditching your day job, packing up the car and making a cross-country road trip. As we drove away from Los Angeles, we left our cares behind us as the road stretched out ahead, stopping along the way whenever a roadside amusement presented itself. We had a schedule to keep, but we had to fuel ourselves and the car to get where we needed to go.

The Thing, Roadside America, Arizona

Lots of charm at the Po Po Restaurant in Texas. 2,346 plates adorn the walls. 

On the third day of driving we arrived in Louisiana. Anyone who has made this trip will tell you. There is always a sense of relief once you finally reach Louisiana. Texas takes forever. I was looking forward to a good meal, seeing some family and old friends and getting some work done. In New Orleans, the first two are easy. When you're staying with family, the third is a little more complicated. I had to find a place that was quiet, away from distractions. Slurping mint juleps and sipping absinthe and writing the great American novel sounds good in theory and it's quite romantic. But I didn't think it was the best method for success for me. So I drove around scoping out my new digs.

Eventually, I found a nice place to continue researching and planning my first chapter. I brought my copy of The Soul of the White Ant by Eugene Marais to the Milton H. Latter Memorial Library on St. Charles Avenue, sat in that beautiful old building under the fresco ceilings imported from Paris, surrounded by the Flemish-style woodwork, the Czechoslovakian mirrors and chandeliers and the South American mahogany that made up the staircase and paneling. 

A peaceful nook at the Latter Memorial Library, New Orleans

Front Patio of the library
One of former owners of the home converted into the library was silent film star, Marguerite Clark. She moved into the home in 1918 after she had given up her career for marriage saying, "I knew enough to go home when the party was over and the guests were gone." I understood what she was saying. Maybe it was time to go back home.

Marguerite Clark, silent film actress.
 In my mind, the library seemed the sort of environment that Maurice Maeterlinck might approve. I wanted to open my novel in Maeterlinck's study in his home in Nice and this space put me right into the correct atmosphere, giving me lots of visuals to draw from. However, the writing just wasn't happening. I still had questions I needed to answer for myself. I had been thinking that I wanted to write the novel in the 1st person but the question that nagged me was, from whose point of view do I write? Writing from either Marais' or Maeterlinck's point of view would suggest that I was taking sides in their dispute. I didn't know what to do so I called a very talented writer friend of mine. And as luck would have it, she lived in New Orleans.

Taking a selfie/reading Narcissism

Katheryn Krotzer Laborde was a friend of mine from the old days. She dated my brother-in-law while they were in college. Now she is a prolific writer and a writing professor. Who better to ask for help?  We met for lunch at a Chili's located in a shopping outlet in Gonzales, Louisiana, about 50 miles outside of New Orleans. Shannon was on location near there and since I had the car, I needed to be able to pick him up once he was finished. Kathy wanted to buy some shoes from the Crocs store. That's how the Tanger Outlet became our destination.

Over a plate of shrimp tacos, I described my novel to Kathy. After listening very carefully she gave me this advice:

"Do not tell anyone else what you are doing. Keep this top secret."

She felt the idea was good and cautioned me that if I went all over town talking it up, the idea would begin to dissipate and lose its integrity. Whatever energy the idea had would be diminished. Nothing like talking a thing to death before you get down to writing it (or doing it.) Then, she reminded me that F. Scott Fitzgerald had utilized a peripheral narrator in The Great Gatsby. Nick Carraway was the narrator and a participant in the novel but he was also a character on the outside looking in. As soon as Kathy said this to me, I understood what I had to do. She had made things very clear to me.

About the third week of our trip, Shannon and I both realized that as much as we loved New Orleans, we knew we had to return to Los Angeles. The job he was doing there wasn't exactly what he had been promised and the logistics just were not working out for us. We were having fun but we just weren't feeling like we belonged there anymore. We felt like visitors in our hometown. On one of the last days of our stay, some of the locals happened to mention that that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were selling their French Quarter home. Without thinking, I rather bluntly replied, "Oh, so the party's over, huh?" They scoffed at my assessment but about two weeks after we had returned to home, it was announced the governor had made big changes to tax incentive. In no time, productions began pulling out of New Orleans.

We drove back to Los Angels in record time, making it in two days. And meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, the Music Festival called and asked if I would like to work from home. It would only take a few hours each day.  A little work and a little writing each day. That made perfect sense.
Thomas Wolfe

Deep down inside I knew that Thomas Wolfe had been correct. I couldn't relive an adventure. I had to find the next one. The next big adventure was in Los Angeles, sitting at my dining room table surrounded by books, notebooks and pictures and somehow, writing a novel. Like Thomas Wolfe suggested, I had made some mistakes, taken some chances and looked silly. But I would keep on going. And hopefully, I wouldn't freeze up. I had crossed the Mississippi River enough times in my life to know that Ol' Man River just  keeps rolling along.  I would just have to trust that everything would all work out.


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