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  • Ellen Byron

The real-life NOLA places that inspired fictional locales

Some of the places I describe in my Cajun Country Mystery series totally spring from my imagination, but others are inspired by real locations that I take the liberty of fictionalizing. In A CAJUN CHRISTMAS KILLING, the third book in the series, protagonist Maggie Crozat, her boyfriend Bo Durand, and her grand-mere finally have a reason to visit New Orleans. I thought I'd share the real locales behind their fictional counterparts.

1. HOTEL MAZARIN. In the book, Maggie learns that a high school friend of hers works at Reveille Orleans Hotel in the French Quarter. My family and I discovered the fantastic New Orleans Hotel Collection and stayed at two of their wonderful hostelries, Hotel Le Marais and Hotel Mazarin. I used the latter as a prototype for the Reveille Orleans in my book. I was also thrilled to learn there's a company that actually does what Maggie's Uncle Tig does in the book - buy historic properties and turn them into beautiful lodgings.

2. GUMBO SHOP. I've been going to Gumbo Shop since I was in college. I love its ambiance and food. I introduced my husband and daughter to it, and my daughter fell in love with their jambalaya. Now whenever I go to New Orleans without her, I have to stop at Gumbo Shop to pick up a takeout order to bring home. The restaurant finds it amusing that the jambalaya is traveling to Los Angeles, and wraps it up for easy transport in my carry-on luggage. In the book, the restaurant Gumbo Ya Ya is based on this eatery. Spoiler alert: the rainstorm that soaks Maggie and Bo when they're having dinner in the courtyard was based on a storm I watched drench Gumbo Shop's real courtyard one night as we waited for dinner.

3. LUCULLUS ANTIQUES. In the book, Maggie needs to do some Christmas shopping. She wanders into a culinary antique store, where she buys her mother a nineteenth-century copper saucepan. During a visit to the Crescent City, artist Jan Gilbert, one of my NOLA besties, told me about this magical shop on Chartres Street called Lucullus Antiques. I wandered in myself, and never wanted to leave. Eventually I had to, but I took a bunch of photos to remind me of the treasures. What better store for Maggie to find a unique gift for Ninette, a noted cook?

4. FAULKNER HOUSE BOOKS. This extraordinary bookstore on Pirate's Alley is actually located in a French Quarter home where author William Faulkner once lived. I took some liberties with their stock in my story - they sell fine literature and "rare" books, not used - but it inspired the bookstore where Maggie buys presents for most of her family and friends.

5. THE MANSION IN THE GARDEN DISTRICT. Maggie, Bo, and Gran' travel south from Pelican, Louisiana, to investigate the storied New Orleans family that a murder victim married into. I needed the family to occupy a grand nineteenth-century Garden District mansion, and searched for images of one I remembered in particular. In A CAJUN CHRISTMAS KILLING, the wrought iron fence is topped with pineapples, not ears of corn. Why? I'm afraid you'll have to read the book to find out. ;-)

I hope you've enjoyed this brief backstage tour, and that someday you get to see these fascinating sights for yourselves.

If you've been to New Orleans or Louisiana, do you have a favorite restaurant, shop, or historical site?

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