New Orleans is one of those cities that has a special place in the imagination of a traveler, even if you haven’t been there. It’s famous for loving life — for Mardi Gras parades, a vibrant music scene, drinking and eating and gorgeous architecture in the French Quarter — but it’s also known as the City of the Dead, with cemeteries, Voodoo, ghost stories, vampires, and of course, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
In today’s episode, native New Orleanian Laura Martone and her husband, Dan, talk about the history of the French Quarter and some of the haunted buildings there, the best cemeteries to visit, vampires, voodoo and Creole cuisine.
Laura and Daniel Martone write fiction in multiple genres including space opera, post-apocalyptic and urban fantasy. They lived in the French Quarter of New Orleans for many years and produced several audio walking guides. Laura has also written a guidebook to the city and they now live in their RV, Serenity, and travel between New Orleans and Michigan, USA.
- The various pronunciations of New Orleans
- Why the French Quarter has mostly Spanish influenced architecture
- Interesting cemeteries in the city
- Why vampires are associated with New Orleans
- How and why Catholicism and voodoo are so entwined
- The importance of music and its influence on the culture in New Orleans
- The different parades at Mardi Gras
- Seafood boils as social occasions
- The beautiful natural ecosystems that surround the city
You can find Dan and Laura Martone at TheMartones.com
Transcript of the interview
Joanna: Laura and Daniel Martone write fiction in multiple genres including space opera, post-apocalyptic and urban fantasy. They lived in the French Quarter of New Orleans for many years and produced several audio walking guides. Laura has also written a guidebook to the city and they now live in their RV, Serenity, and travel between New Orleans and Michigan.
Welcome, Laura and Dan.
Daniel: Hey Jo.
Laura: Hey, it’s so good to be here.
Joanna: It’s great to have you on the show. Before we get into the questions, I have to ask about the pronunciation of New Orleans because I think I got it from the song, House of the Rising Sun. But when I was there with you guys people pronounce it differently.
So let’s start with pronunciation.
Laura: Okay. The funny thing is Dan always makes fun of me that I don’t have a New Orleans accent, and I don’t, but my whole family does. But I definitely have been there long enough to know New Orleans is how I think most people pronounce it. That’s how I say it.
But people do say New Orleans. The thing that I think a lot of natives hate is n’awlins because n’awlins is like this sort of a hybrid. It’s definitely more of a manufactured thing. You know, some people say it jokingly, but I think New Orleans is pretty standard.
Start by telling us a bit more about your links to the city and how you both came to live and work there.
Laura: I was born and raised there. So it’s my hometown and it’s my favorite American city. It always has been.
We’ve both traveled a lot throughout the US and other countries. So, we’ve had a lot to compare it to and there’s no place like New Orleans. I left for college when I was 17 and ended up at Northwestern University in the Chicago area.
Dan’s a little older than me, but we met in a job and we stayed in Chicago for a little bit and then hit the road the first time in another RV and ended up settling in Los Angeles because we both interested in being in the film industry as screenwriters and filmmakers and so we were there for several years.
Then Hurricane Katrina hit and it destroyed all but one of my childhood homes. And I just felt this pull, that it was time to go back. So we went there and we started a film festival to bring some awareness to what was happening to the city and try to be a part of the rebirth of the city and Dan just fell in love with New Orleans. It suddenly became his favorite place and definitely his home.
He’s an incredible cook. So as you would imagine New Orleans is an amazing place for a cook to be and he has completely embraced the cuisine of the region and everything. So that’s how we ended up being there and then we ended up having an apartment and staying in the city on and off for a good decade before we hit the road again and you know our second RV.
Daniel: The funny thing is most New Orleanians don’t think of anybody that’s been there for only ten years as a true New Orleanian, but for the most part, I get to blend right in with the natives. They don’t really realize that I haven’t been there a long time.
Laura: He married a New Orleanian so it kind of counts! But also he loves the city and he often jokes that he knows it better than I do at this point, which to a certain degree might be true.
That’s how we came to be there and now it’s just it’s pulling us back like it’s definitely home. So even with Serenity, our RV, we always find ourselves back there.
Daniel: We lived in various apartments in the French Quarter. And the Quarter is the center of the city. I mean, it’s Vieux Carré means old square. The city was built around that so a lot of that history starts in the French Quarter and it’s one of those older places, especially in America because unlike Europe most of America is so new. There are cities that are only 50 years old, a hundred years old.
New Orleans is one of the oldest cities and you can just feel the history walking through the quarter. Even after various disasters have hit, it’s still inspiring.
So we lived in various apartments where we would hear the carriages go by with the tourists. You hear the clip-clop of the horses going by. And pretty much everything about it was inspiring for us. I just fell in love with the city
Laura: I loved the Quarter as a kid. My mom had lived in the Quarter when she was a young woman and so I never got to live there. So it was fun coming back as an adult and being able to actually live there with Dan who appreciates it so much. So that was incredible for me to even though you know, I was a native.
Daniel: Every building in the French Quarter is haunted.
There is a ghost story for almost every building.
Joanna: Maybe that’s because of the European history. When I came to the city, I felt very at home there as well and that probably is the European influence. I felt the same way in San Francisco and New York. I absolutely feel at home there as well.
I started to research more about the history of the city for my novel Valley of Dry Bones and of course, the French Quarter is mostly Spanish.
Can you explain more about the history between the French and the Spanish?
Laura: Right. It’s an occupation thing. The French did establish New Orleans there but then Spain bought it and took it over for a time.
There were horrible fires in the late 1700s in New Orleans that really decimated a lot of the French Quarter. There are some buildings like old Ursuline Convent and Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop that predate the fires and that managed to survive, but for the most part, it was pretty devastated.
So because the Spanish were in control at the time they rebuilt it and they rebuilt it with their influence which is the wrought-iron grillwork and just the way that the buildings look. It was the French Quarter and I think people obviously still call it that because that’s what it was. That’s historically what we called it.
We do have such French influence, you know, in Cajun and Creole Cuisine. The French definitely have influenced our culture. So it makes sense that it’s still called that but yes, it’s a little odd that the architecture is more Spanish.
Joanna: Some of the Spanish history is incredible. When you go into the place next to St Louis Cathedral, The Cabildo, there’s this picture of a Spanish Friar and he was the head of the Inquisition there. I just had no idea about that side of the place before I got there.
But you mentioned some hauntings.
Tell us about one of the more famous hauntings or one of the more interesting ones that you like.
Daniel: We did an audio ghost tour that you can listen to as you walk. There are a lot of places that are haunted. Laura and I lived in this building and we discovered that there was a story about an old woman who would show up in the upper window with a light, so we did some research.
When Texas was trying to form its own country, the organization was done in our building. The founders of Texas met in our building and the light was supposed to be a signal to them that they can come and it was safe to enter the building and that they weren’t being watched. That’s a story that’s really not that well-known. There are so many well-known stories.
Laura: Obviously the LaLaurie Mansion would be probably one of the most famous ones in that area. There are conflicting stories about what happened, but basically it was a horror show; Madame LaLaurie lived there, had slaves and apparently abused them.
There was a fire that broke out and some of the slaves were killed and then afterward it was discovered that they had been mutilated and horrible things had happened to them. Now whether that’s all true or not, there are questions — but it’s still considered one of the more haunted places and definitely there is something creepy about it, for sure.
But as far as hauntings go, I think Dan and I are both hopeful skeptics. Nothing has ever really happened to us but it’s like we want it to and we can believe in the feeling. And the history and the creepiness are definitely palpable, especially late at night if you’re walking around in the Quarter in the wee hours and it’s foggy, it’s really easy to think that you’re back 300 years ago. There’s just something about it that feels perpetually old and historic and filled with spirits.
Daniel: One of the other aspects is that a lot of the buildings have had multiple uses throughout the centuries. You might find out that one of them was a hospital during the Civil War and then realize how many people died in those buildings. A lot of the ghost stories are based around that or like the Jackson Hotel where it used to be an orphanage.
Back then a lot of kids died, so people talk about hearing children giggling through the hallways and creepy stuff like that.
Laura: Because of its history, there were pirates and it’s a port city, so there were hurricanes and yellow fever epidemics and fires. So all of those disasters killed a lot of people and that’s part of why it’s considered so haunted.
But the thing that I also love about New Orleans is that it’s a very resilient city.
One of its nicknames is ‘the city that care forgot.’ It’s a city that always seems to rise from the ashes, again even after Katrina. So I love that too.
And I think we are very resilient people. Dan and I and have been through our own adversity and gotten through it. So I think that we really connect to the spirit of the city.
Joanna: And again, in Europe, we just take it for granted that lots of people have died everywhere that we live. Where I live right now in Bath in the southwest of England, this was a Roman Spa town, so there have been people here for thousands of years.
You have this great book Zombie Chaos, and I love zombie books and it’s based in the city. And in fact, some people are even commented that it’s got quite a tour aspect to it, which is very cool.
When you took me on a tour of the city, we visited some of the famous graveyards.
What are the best graveyards to visit and are there any unusual things to watch out for?
Laura: One of the oldest ones is St. Louis Cemetery Number 1 and that is just outside the Quarter. It’s in an area called the Tremé. You used to be able to take a tour on your own, which is why we were developing a cemetery tour, but there was a bit of vandalism, so now you need to go with an official guide.
There is a tomb that is considered to be Marie Laveau’s. Now there again is a question as to whether her bones actually are in the tomb or if it’s just sort of representative of her. She was known as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans and a very big part of the city. A lot of people go to the tomb and they will leave little favors for her and they will mark three X’s on the tomb and then ask for something in return. The idea is that if you knock three times, you write three X’s, you leave little trinket, she will grant your wish.
There was a lot of markings on the tomb and I think someone in the middle of the night decided to refurbish it by repainting it. I guess thought they were doing a good thing but because of that the city kind of panicked and now you have to go on a tour from through the Catholic archdiocese in order to see it. So it’s changed it a little bit and we abandoned our tour because of it, because the whole idea of our tours is that they are self-guided. You listen to them and you can go on your own pace, but it’s a fascinating place. The tomb is great to see and then.
Because our sister city is Cairo, Egypt, the actor, Nicolas Cage, in his infinite wisdom, decided to build a tomb in the shape of a pyramid. It kind of sticks out like a sore thumb in a very old cemetery, but it is worth seeing because it’s kind of amusing.
Joanna: And, as we record this, he is not dead. That’s just for the future!
Laura: I’m sorry. Yes, he is not dead! He loves New Orleans. There are a lot of famous people that love New Orleans; Brad Pitt, Nicolas Cage. They have done a lot for the city. Brad Pitt did a lot after Hurricane Katrina in terms of rebuilding houses.
So the city is very important to a lot of people who aren’t even from the city. Nicholas Cage who once owned the LaLaurie Mansion, the haunted one that I spoke of a little while ago, and he decided he wanted to live in the city forever. So that’s why he bought the tomb, but yes, he is still alive and well (at the moment.)
I would say that one is a good one to start but our favorite is actually Lafayette Cemetery, which is in the Garden District of Uptown so you can take the streetcar to get there. It’s very influential. It actually inspired Anne Rice who obviously is a big author from the city who’s written Interview with the Vampire and other books that have been heavily influenced by New Orleans.
It’s a great place to go for inspiration and you can walk around on your own. So it’s not the same as other cemeteries and there’s a really great little area in it called The Secret Garden, these four tombs where these four philanthropists that were friends and in life did a lot of anonymous philanthropy, decided they wanted to live forever together.
They built these four little tombs in this secret garden that’s off in a corner and it’s just a lovely peaceful place. I think a lot of people think of cemeteries as creepy but there’s just something very peaceful about it. And it happens to be right across the street from Commander’s Palace, which is one of the most famous restaurants in the city, which is kind of funny.
Daniel: I love Lafayette and I think we took you there Jo. I think the great thing about it is like Laura said it’s so peaceful. You can go find a bench and get a little work done if you want. It’s very inspiring.
And it actually is in the movie Interview with the Vampire. Anne Rice lived in the neighborhood at the time. That’s why she was so heavily influenced by the cemetery. I think you can do a little research online and find where she actually used to live.
Joanna: Didn’t she launch one of her books by getting in a hearse pretending to be dead and then riding through the city to the graveyard?
Laura: I’ve heard that. I never saw it, unfortunately.
Daniel: Every Halloween she has a vampire party, the Lestat. There’s a Vampire Party and they’re still going on now, but she actually doesn’t run them. I think that was the first one and I think she did a little tour with the rolling hearse. I think it was actually carriage drawn, which is so cool.
Joanna: Since we just touched on vampires there, coming back to the French Quarter isn’t there some a legend about the convent? There’s a reason why vampires are associated with New Orleans.
Daniel: The casket girls. Yes. I’m not really sure how the vampire aspect of it got created because the casket girls are these young girls that came to New Orleans I think it was in 1760 or 1770 and they brought cases with them that resembled coffins where they had all of their possessions. So the whole tale is that there were vampires in each one of those.
Some stories say the casket girls were the caretakers of the vampires. Some say they had brought them to actually rid New Orleans of all the crime. So basically let the vampires loose and go kill all the criminals and bad people and then come back to their coffins.
Laura: Again, it’s all part of the charm of the city. In a lot of places, they play up the haunted aspect and the vampire aspects and stuff like that.
Joanna: And of course we have to mention zombies because you have your Zombie Chaos book, and, of course, I’ve written about Voodoo and I did fantastic voodoo tour and learned more about Marie Laveau.
What is the association with Voodoo? Why is it such a big part of New Orleans?
Daniel: I think a lot of that has to do with Marie Laveau. She was such a central figure. I think she was born in the early eighteen hundreds. She came to prominence in the 1830s as someone that people could go to for advice or if you were a woman in the city, you could go to her and she would help solve your love problems.
She was really entwined with everything that was going on in the city, but I think Voodoo itself goes back to also Congo Square.
Laura: And the Caribbean influence. That’s another thing we didn’t mention, one of many things that makes New Orleans so special is the combination of the European and the Caribbean influence. You even see that in the architecture with a lot of the little Caribbean-style Bungalows and stuff like that. For instance in the Faubourg Marigny.
I think that voodoo actually came from Haiti when Haitians came here as slaves. Catholicism is very important, and Haiti as well, and so in New Orleans, that combination of Catholicism and Voodoo is a rich part of our heritage.
Joanna: And another thing that struck me, again because I come from a multi-racial society. In different places in the US, like different places in England, some are more multi-racial and others are not. New Orleans is multiracial and multicultural, and it does seem very integrated compared to other places that I’ve traveled to in the US.
How does that multi-culturalism affect the city and its energy?
Laura: I think that’s part of the Cajun and Creole influence. Cajun is more, I guess you’d say, white folks from Canada. French Canadians. And then the Creole influence is more of a mixture of European and Caribbean and I think that’s a big part of it.
The African-American neighborhoods are a very big part of the history of New Orleans. Congo Square, that’s now in Louis Armstrong Park in the Tremé, was the site of a lot of celebrations. It’s where, supposedly, Jazz got its start.
That’s the other thing; music is a huge part of New Orleans and Jazz and Blues a lot of the musical styles in the country came from New Orleans. That’s something that we love, because we love music and live music, especially. You definitely feel that cultural influence and Jazz and Blues obviously is a big part of the African American culture.
There’s a lot of soul food restaurants and stuff like that and you really get a sense of the multicultural aspects. Mardi Gras Indians are traditionally African-Americans from the African-American neighborhoods and they are so much fun. That’s a big part of Mardi Gras.
You see it every day. You see it everywhere you eat it. You hear it. You definitely feel the mix of cultures. I think that’s what makes New Orleans very special.
Joanna: I really enjoyed that aspect of it. You mentioned the music there and Mardi Gras so we’ve got to talk about that because of course the graveyards and the city of death and everything is one side, but other people associate the city with booze and beads and it does have this over-the-top party atmosphere.
But you mentioned the Indians there, and I just had no clue that they were, as you say, African-American and it’s taken very seriously. It’s a lot more than just tourist stuff.
So tell us about Mardi Gras and Carnival.
Daniel: As far as the Mardi Gras Indians go, I don’t even know how many tribes there are but these guys are a big part of the celebration of Mardi Gras. They work on these really intricate feathered costumes the entire year and they have a chief and they’re very, very serious. During Mardi Gras, if you’re in the right place, you could see two tribes face off.
There are rumors that the Mardi Gras Indian tradition all started in order to avoid violence way back when, but now when you see them face-off, they start to dance and they sing at each other and it is an amazing sight to see these guys in 80-pound feathered costumes dancing, saying I’m the Big Chief and then the other one would be like, I’m the Big Chief.
Laura: It’s a lot of music and dance and color and revelry and the song Iko Iko, if you listen to the song that would explain some of it. You would hear some of the catchphrases and the words that are associated with Mardi Gras Indians.
They’re sort of a unique version of American Indians. They’re the native culture of New Orleans. So that’s how that relates to Indians.
But of course, it’s a New Orleans style even though yes, they have feathers and big headdresses like American Indians, it’s all very New Orleans, the colors. A lot of Mardi Gras colors, you’ll see purple, gold and green but lots of other stuff too. They’re fascinating but you have to be in the right place because they take it very seriously.
It’s not quite like the Mardi Gras parades. They’re not as commercial as a lot of Mardi Gras, so it’s off the beaten path to see it happen, but it is amazing. It’s amazing to see.
And then Mardi Gras in general, I remember when I went to Northwestern as a freshman and I was 17. I remember when I told people I was from New Orleans immediately everyone I met was like, oh Mardi Gras. They always associated immediately and it annoyed me.
Dan and I aren’t like completely fond of huge crowds and especially drunken crowds, but it’s fun to see the revelry. People have so much fun and really let loose at Mardi Gras and we definitely have our favorite parades. There are so many parades. It’s not just Mardi Gras day and Fat Tuesday, which is the day before Ash Wednesday. Again, very Catholic influence. It goes for weeks before that.
You see all these different parades and our favorite ones are the Krewe of Chewbacca, which is a sci-fi/fantasy one, which is awesome. And then the Krewe of Barkus. That is a play on the Krewe of Bacchus, which is one of our super-Krewes. That’s one of the oldest parades.
Usually, the grand marshals are celebrities and people you’d recognize; actors and singers and so on. The Krewe of Chewbacca is obviously a play on that. It’s a Star Wars reference and the Krewe of Barkus is pets. It’s all dogs dressed up and stuff. It used to go right past our apartment on St. Anne and that was awesome. We would just walk right outside with a bowl of water for the passing puppies and just watch them. That was great.
There’s another one called the Krewe du Vieux which happens usually in the early part of the season. It goes through the French Quarter, one of the few parades that do go through the French Quarter, and it usually very irreverent. It’s usually making fun of President Trump or whatever is going on, usually in a political sphere and it’s pretty raunchy, but it’s pretty hilarious and it’s very New Orleans.
Joanna: Talking of partying, are there any particular things to eat or drink while in the city?
Daniel: If you remember in Forrest Gump when Bubba is going through his list of shrimp recipes, I could quite literally do the same thing for everything that I love about New Orleans cuisines. The drinks are one thing. You can find some interesting cocktails.
Laura: A hurricane, which will knock you under the table. Or a hand grenade.
Daniel: As far as food goes, as Laura said, I love to cook. Gumbo. Jambalaya.
Laura: Shrimp po-boy. Creole crawfish etouffee.
Daniel: The city is really tied to seafood because we’re on the Mississippi and we’re close to the ocean. So we get fresh shrimp, we get crawfish, which is a very big deal in New Orleans. Crawfish boils are a social occasion.
Laura: Every summer up here, when we’re in northern Michigan, where we sometimes spend part of our summers, Dan always does a seafood boil for the family and it’s become a yearly tradition now. They love it because it’s our way of bringing a little bit of Louisiana up here. And it is just so much fun.
The way that it works is, you boil whatever seafood you’re going to boil and a bunch of vegetables and then you just dump it on a table like a picnic bench and people just attack it and it’s just awesome. It’s very social, part of the revelry, so New Orleans.
I was going to add that even though we have a lot of favorite restaurants, we love getting raw oysters at Oceana in the French Quarter.
Joanna: We’re all coming to your place! I know it’s very touristy but we have to talk about the beignets.
What is a beignet and where do people get them?
Laura: Oh my gosh, Beignets. They’re very simple. Basically, they’re just French donuts, fried donuts with powdered sugar on them. It’s like they are as basic as you can get but they’re delicious and they’re served throughout the city.
The most famous place would be Café Du Monde, which is the original place in the French Quarter and is part of the French market. It has this lovely old building, a beautiful green and white awning that everybody recognizes in the city and it’s open every day of the year except from 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve and into Christmas day. That’s it. Otherwise, it is literally 365 days, 24 hours a day.
They have an indoor part and an outdoor part and late at night, they’ll move everybody to one or the other and then just spray down the sidewalk and the patio of all the powdered sugar because of course that goes everywhere. It’s great.
As a teenager growing up in New Orleans, that was the place that kids went to after school. We go to our high school prom and then go to Cafe Du Monde late at night and stuff ourselves with beignet. So it’s definitely a huge part of growing up in New Orleans.
And yes, if you visit you absolutely have to have to try it and then I personally like having it with a cup of café au lait, which is coffee that has a lot of milk and sugar in it.
Daniel: If you visit Café Du Monde late at night and there are police officers in their full dress uniforms you’ll notice that they’re not getting powdered sugar on their beignets, because I’m quite sure they’re not supposed to be in Café Du Monde.
Laura: And they’re wearing black. It’s hilarious. So they don’t want it all over. It would be obvious that they had stopped for beignets because it’s impossible, no matter how hard you try you will get it on you. It’s just sugar everywhere.
Joanna: I must say I did enjoy my beignets at Café Du Monde. It was very good.
I want to come back to the water. You’ve mentioned Hurricane Katrina. You mentioned the Mississippi and the seafood. I went checking out the Bayou there and went on an alligator tour as well as kayaking.
Explain a bit more about how water plays such a central part in the city.
Laura: I think there are both positive and negative aspects of it. Obviously, it was settled long ago, 300 plus years ago, because of its location. It is a swampy area so you’ll see throughout the city to a lot of broken sidewalks and stuff. That’s just the nature of it. That’s why it’s also a very hot, sultry place.
I think that it being a port city is obviously one main reason that water is so important. We’re right on the Mississippi River, very close to the gulf. Seafood is a big part of it.
As a kid, fishing was an incredibly important activity for me and my dad. My dad actually owned a fishing camp at one time that was out in the water. You could only get to it via a boat and it was incredible. But Hurricane Katrina came along and took out a lot of stuff, including the fishing camp. And if you go out there now, it’s just a bunch of pilings and part of the dock.
It’s really sad because I have so many memories of that place and it’s just gone. And a lot of places are like that.
Obviously after Katrina, because the tidal surge was just so powerful. That’s the negative aspect, that we’re so close and we don’t have as many barrier islands anymore and barrier wetlands.
Daniel: A lot of people will say in New Orleans you live in a bowl because it’s below sea level, but the fact is we used to have barrier islands and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of miles of wetlands protected the city. They’ve gone away, not just because of Katrina and not just because of hurricanes all along the Mississippi River during the 20th century.
They built levees to keep the water from flooding. What used to be the flood plains of the Mississippi used to flood every single year and they were great floods, just enormous. In order to prevent that, they built levees and it changed how the water flowed into the Gulf. The sediment was needed to rebuild our barrier islands so eventually, the barrier islands started to disappear.
We still had all of the bayous and all of the wetlands to protect us, but those started vanishing to because we gave the oil companies the right to build canals through all of the bayous. I mean there is MRGO, or what we call the Mr. Go Canal, that the oil companies dug. It started off at a hundred yards wide and it’s like 75 miles long. Right now it’s a mile wide and all that does is bring the saltwater up into what is sometimes no longer even brackish. It’s just become saltwater and it kills the plants and erodes.
Laura: And the fish. There are fish that are more freshwater versus saltwater. So that’s not necessarily great, combining the waters like that and so that’s kind of a negative aspect.
I will say when Hurricane Katrina happened, I was fiercely defending my city because you saw a lot of stuff on the news about how it was a very poor black town. And why are we rebuilding it?
First of all, the entire city was affected. My mom lived in a neighborhood that was predominantly white, although there were black families there as well. But it was a mix and all those houses were ruined, either outright destroyed or flooded so badly that they had to be reconstructed and everything and so it wasn’t just the poor black neighborhoods. It was everyone that got affected. But yes, the African American neighborhoods that were affected, it was really bad and in a lot of cases because they didn’t have insurance or insurance companies cheated them. So it was hard for people to rebuild to come back to the city.
So it definitely had an effect and I was so angry listening to the national media and just them talking about why are we rebuilding New Orleans? It’s in a bowl, but when it was established, it was established upriver and it had all these wetlands to protect it. It’s not like they picked a vulnerable place. They established a place that was protected. It’s just because of things that the country has done that’s affected down there.
It’s hard to hear people ask why are you going to rebuild that place when it’s our entire nation that affected it, including the Army Corps of Engineers that constructed levees that were not strong enough to withstand the hurricane waters. They knew they weren’t and Katrina really proved that.
There’s definitely a negative aspect but only, in a way, because of humanity. I think it’s a wonderful place to establish a city and it is such an important port town in the country.
Daniel: There’s nothing like being out on the bayous if you’re fishing or just touring or kayaking like you did. It’s an amazing place. The ecosystem is amazing. If I remember right there’s a picture of you holding a little baby alligator. I just want to let you know that that alligator is probably now big enough to kill you!
Joanna: I really love the history of the city, but I think I enjoyed kayaking in the bayou the most. It was a great tour and I highly recommend it.
Get out the city when you visit because I learned so much about the Louisiana ecosystem through the kayak trip. And also what people are doing to try and bring back the eco-system and change the way the water flows. It was really interesting.
So many people just think New Orleans is just about the parties, but actually there’s this very rich natural habitat as well.
Now we could talk forever about this stuff, but we’re running out of time. You guys have lived all over the place and you talk about New Orleans as being home, but you travel a lot in your RV.
What does travel mean to you and how does it help your writing?
Daniel: Captain Jack Sparrow said it best. It’s the freedom to go and experience different cultures around the country. It’s inspirational to us. When we travel with Serenity we try to stay in a place and do what the locals do. And see what the locals see. What’s important to them?
I think a big part of our writing. Not just all over the country but in New Orleans as well.
In fact, that’s always my advice anybody going to New Orleans. It’s do what the locals do, go where they go, get off Bourbon Street, because that’s not New Orleans, and you’ll find that all around the country do what the locals do.
Laura: That’s definitely what we do when we encourage people to explore the city. We tell them, as you just said, to get out of the city and go do swamp tours and plantation tours and really get to know the history of the region, but also in the city itself.
We encourage people to go on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny. The Spotted Cat Music Club is our favorite place. It’s got live jazz and blue. It’s awesome. We want people to experience more of the culture than just Bourbon Street has to offer. Dan’s right. When we travel, we try to do the same. We try to do what the locals do and really get to know a place.
We don’t tend to move around a lot. We will move to a place and stay there for a couple weeks and try to get to know it and then move on. I think that helps us to appreciate places a little better. We try to get to know what people do and respect it from the point of view of the residents.
Joanna: Apart from Zombie Chaos and your guidebook to the city, what are some other books that you recommend reading that are either about New Orleans or set in the city?
Daniel: My favorite author — which is kind of funny because I write zombies, I write sci-fi and I write fantasy — but my favorite author is James Lee Burke, who grew up in Southern Louisiana, New Iberia, which is in Cajun Country.
He wrote a book called The Tin Roof Blowdown, which is his story taking place just after Katrina hits. It follows a character that he’s written over 20 books about, Dave Robicheaux, who’s a detective. He starts off as a New Orleans detective and eventually moves to New Iberia and gets involved in a lot of different mysteries.
But his writing is so beautiful, how he describes Southern Louisiana, how he describes New Orleans. In fact, one of his main characters lives on the same street, just a couple of doors down, from where Laura and I lived
Laura: I love James Lee Burke too, and definitely I feel that he captures the city and the region very well and The Tin Roof Blowdown is highly recommended. If you want to get a native’s point of view of what happened after Katrina and everything immediately after, it’s very interesting, but remember it is fiction.
Other novels that I love are Interview with a Vampire, of course. I feel like you have to read A Confederacy of Dunces. It is a great book. It’s a classic. John Kennedy Toole wrote it and he actually killed himself and his mother found the book and had it published with the help of Walker Percy, the author of The Movie Goer. It won the Pulitzer Prize and it’s so sad because it’s all posthumous but it’s a wonderful book. It really captures the dialect and a lot of the landmarks of the city.
I have to mention my favorite children’s book of all time is The Cajun Night Before Christmas. It is awesome, so funny and I highly recommend it to anyone, children and adults alike.
There are so many we could go on and on. I think even reading the cookbooks of New Orleans teaches a lot about the history and the city.
Joanna: I love that. The Cajun children’s book sounds a little different, but it’s fantastic.
Where can people find you and your books online?
Laura: We have a website called TheMartones.com because yes, we’d pretty much do everything together. And then also our books are on Amazon. We have Space Opera and other things out there, but if you want to get a taste of New Orleans, read the first book in the Zombie Chaos series. It’s our love letter to the city — with zombies!
Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time.
Laura: Thank you. This was so much fun.
If you want to try a thriller that opens in New Orleans, check out Valley of Dry Bones by J.F.Penn.