It lurks in the shadowy recesses of the French Quarter, among the flickering gas lanterns and Creole courtyards. In the humid, teeming swamps of Barataria. A dark secret. An ancient force. The will to remake one’s history. James Beauregard finds himself at the center of an insidious conspiracy, two hundred years in the making. From the backstreets of New Orleans to the once pirate-infested waters of the Gulf Coast, the race begins to unravel the mystery of The Barataria Key.
I was absolutely elated when the author reached out to me to promote his new book. Just the cover itself had me captivated! Then, when I learned that it takes place in New Orleans (one of the top places on my bucket list to visit), I was automatically hooked!
On this guest post, the author has provided a special look into his book. Be sure to pick up your copy today!
Eight Things You Need to Know About The Barataria Key
On December 21, my fourth novel was released, the second in a continuing anthology I refer to as the James Beauregard novels. Already, it is getting great reviews, and I can’t wait to hear what further readers have to say about it. I’ve compiled a list of things you’ll need to know about The Barataria Key before reading.
- The primary setting is New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. James Beauregard, the main character in my series, was born and raised in New Orleans. His home is in the French Quarter, which is the original 1718 French colonial settlement. The home was passed down through the generations, going back to his ancestor, an American Civil War general. The city is umbilically connected to the Caribbean. With a gumbo mixture of French, Spanish, African, Haitian, and American cultural influences, the patchwork of culture and traditions resonate in the cuisine and the unique architecture. Spanish wrought iron galleries adorn Greek Revival-style buildings once owned by merchant aristocrats. Lazy, soothing, and almost sensual jazz melodies echo from the walls. One can feel the spirits of long dead inhabitants fixed to the driftwood beams and reddish brown bricks. Palm trees mingle with giant live oaks along Esplanade Avenue. Antique shops and art studios keep company with gay bars and night clubs. New Orleans is the United States’ original “sin city”, long before Las Vegas ever came into being. You’ll find yourself transported here as you follow Beauregard’s adventures.
- Jean Lafitte was a real person. Lafitte was probably born in France toward the end of the eighteenth century. Like many of the residents of southeast Louisiana at the time, he immigrated to the largely French-speaking area with his brother, Pierre. No one is quite sure about his beginnings or his life, but what we do know is that he was a privateer. A privateer was a sort of quasi-legal pirate. Privateers were given letters of marque from some country’s government. It was permission to raid the ships of competing or rival colonial or governmental powers in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. As all these powers were vying for control over American resources, anything that would harm rivals was sanctioned. Lafitte had letters of marque from Spain, and thus attacked mostly British and United States shipping vessels. To the Spanish, Lafitte was an asset. To everyone else he was a pirate. The Barataria Key begins in 1814, just before the Battle of New Orleans. Lafitte, knowing the waters of the Gulf, the swamps of Barataria, and having a black market operation in New Orleans, could have helped the British conquer the city. The recruitment was attempted, but ultimately, he and his men fought alongside Andrew Jackson and defended New Orleans from invasion.
- James Beauregard is a mess. My main character is highly dysfunctional. The first chapter of the first book, The Apocalypse Mechanism, has Beauregard drunk and suicidal. I didn’t want him to be perfect and admirable. I wanted readers to struggle with supporting and liking him. As I created him, I kept thinking of how disappointed I was in Dan Brown’s character, Robert Landon. He was so squeaky clean and likable. His one flaw was being a claustrophobic. I didn’t find him believable. Perhaps I overcorrected in Beauregard. When the first book was in editing, my editors and I disagreed quite a bit with regard to his personality and his actions. They thought he was too unlikable, and that readers would be turned off by it. So we actually had to tone him down. James is an anxiety-ridden alcoholic with multiple phobias and disorders. His life had been punctuated by family dysfunction and personal loss. His anxiety and poor coping skills fuel his alcoholism. I pour a lot of my own demons into him, I think. I always say that writing is therapy for me. My own darkness can be offloaded onto the page. I get to see some of my own flaws and faults from an outsider’s perspective, which is a unique form of introspection.
- New Orleans really is sinking. A key moment in the story occurs when the famous statue of Andrew Jackson sinks into the ground. The statue, made from a melted-down cannon from the Battle of New Orleans is located in the central square in the French Quarter, just in front of the historic St. Louis Cathedral. It suddenly sinks into the ground, which triggers the adventure to follow. Subsidence is a very real problem in New Orleans. The city is surrounded by water on all sides—swamps to the west, marsh to the east, the lake to the north, and the river to the south. So as one can imagine, this is a very wet place. If you’ll remember, Hurricane Katrina caused flooding in 80% of the city. Part of the challenge with such flooding in New Orleans is that the ground is already quite saturated, thus making it harder for the waters to leave. New Orleans has a series of pumps that help with this in case of such a disaster. It rains all the time in South Louisiana. That makes it muddy. The first buildings erected on the colonial site in 1718 sunk into the ground. In order to build permanent buildings, settlers had to cut down cypress trees and place them beneath the foundations. Still, to this day, many of the buildings in the French Quarter have foundation problems. If you walk into the foyer of the cathedral, you’ll see that the front end of the building is a little bit lower than the rest.
- Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop exists and is an excellent place to get a drink. Lafitte’s Blacksmith shop is a key setting in my book. It’s almost a character in its own right. If you were to visit this place, you might agree with me that the structure itself feels as if it is alive. Its age is disputed. Many feel it was built in the 1770s, but other experts believe it was built around 1732, making it easily the oldest structure in New Orleans. In its appearance, with stucco crumbling from the bricks that form its façade, it looks like a small farmhouse from the French countryside. A flickering gas light lures you in like a moth, and you find yourself in a dark room with lit candles on the tables. It’s the kind of place that inspires mystery and danger. It really was a blacksmith shop, and the original hearth and chimney remain in the center of the room. Lafitte is said to have run his New Orleans black market from there, selling all the booty stolen from ships along the coast.
- Expect some alternative history. Tinkering with commonly accepted historical account is the most enjoyable aspect of writing this series. To my mind, what we know about most of our history on earth is largely speculative. We might have documents, artifacts, art, or remaining structures to give us an idea of how our ancestors lived. But beyond that, there is a lot of guesswork involved in understanding those societies. We might be able to fill in the gaps with what we know about human behavior, but cultural variations in those times may have made for some distinct differences. With that said, it is fun to take what we know to be fact and alter the narrative a bit. I like to make connections no one thought of, concoct conspiracy theories, and offer an alternative to what we think we know; to challenge it.
- Maison Rouge was a real place. Lafitte once had a fortified outpost on Galveston Island, which is now part of the state of Texas. It didn’t last long between hurricanes and American gunboats, but one can visit the raised foundations of Lafitte’s home on the island today.
- Mayan culture and way of life is still very much alive in Central America. The Mayan civilization, once comparable to ancient Greek city-states, had long declined by the time the Spanish claimed the territory for the crown. But even today, many people from southern Mexico to Guatemala still speak the language. Visit the region today and you will see that people resemble Native Americans, rather than Spanish Europeans. In towns like Xul-ha, Tekax, and Oxkutzcab, they still build Mayan-style huts with thatched rooves in the rural villages. Shaman still gather sacred plants, perform blessings, and treat sickness as they had done centuries ago. On the days of solstice and equinox, people dress in lavish Mayan costumes and perform sacred rites as they would have at the height of the civilization.
I hope this list offers some insight into my story. It was a blast, as always, to write it, and of course I want to know what people think of it. I hope you have as much fun reading The Barataria Key as I did writing it. Happy reading.
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