...I've been debating ways to express my gratitude over achieving my 100th follower last weekend. Contests appear to be the norm, but with a busy calendar, I fear the results would be disappointing, if not prolonged. Then I had a thought, and rolled with it. Kind of spreading the love, announcing the new title of my upcoming novel, and...well, you'll see.
...the air tasted moist, salty from the Gulf's shores, tendrils of endless water slapping sand just around the block.
With evening's approach, the temperature managed to flutter below triple digits for the first time all day, yet the humidity remained unforgiving, like crawling through a sauna. From their expressions, the locals seemed oblivious to the heat, as was I. For nothing could've dampened my spirits on this day.
An orange moon celebrating the year's harvest was rising above distant rooftops as I enjoyed the cobbled streets outlining the Riverwalk along the southern tip of New Orleans. Neon lights twinkling from shop windows, and children dashing through a nearby fountain, their proud parents hovering nearby, sipping iced teas and conversing like relatives.
Following Katrina's wrath, this area had been looted to a pile of rubble and broken glass, but along with the drowned city, her people rallied behind a spirit unwielding, and the outdoor shopping complex was resurrected.
Stepping at a leisurely pace, enjoying the evening, I rounded Canal Street, skipped over to Bourbon, and heard the jazz before spying the nightclub in the distance. A moment later and the neon sign for the Bourbon Street Blues Company rose like a beacon through humidity's mist. I grinned like a child, and made haste.
The air inside the elderly structure smelled of cigars and whiskey, sweat and the lure of sirloin from the kitchen. I considered the dim lighting, tables scattered about, a bar supporting numerous patrons, and a table in the back, the silhouette of a friend relaxing in seclusion. My smile broadened.
I passed by the stage, offering a nod to the rhythm guitarist, an old acquaintance, who smiled in return, his fingers strumming soul.
At the table I stopped, considering the shadow hunched over his nearly empty glass. "What, couldn't wait for me to get here?" I asked.
"Long day, my friend. Thirst and fatigue demanded respite."
The figure rose and extended his hand, which I accepted. "Long day, I agree," I said. "But not without reward. This idea of yours was a revelation."
Roland Yeomans grinned despite himself. "I'm so glad you could attend. Your presence capped off the festivities."
"Wouldn't have missed it for anything. My hand aches from signing."
"It's a pleasurable pain, my friend. Remember the old days, the struggles."
"Don't think for a minute you'all can start without me!"
Roland and I turned as a true southern belle approached, toting an armload of novels under one arm, balancing a drink with the other.
"Wouldn't have dreamed of it," Roland said. "How's Olivia this evening?"
Olivia J. Herrell dropped the books on the table, released a sigh, and said, "Boys, that was the best damn book signing I've ever been a part of. I've no idea how many covers I sold, but it was worth the drive, I can promise you that!"
I motioned toward the pile of literature. "You were supposed to sell the goods, not bring anything back with you," I teased.
"Oh these...well, there were just too many writers here today that I wanted to read, so I made a few rounds as well."
"As did I," Roland said. He then turned as a hand clamped onto his shoulder.
"Roland, this event of yours was a marvel," Anne Gallagher said, offering Roland a hug. "I haven't sold this many copies since my debut."
"Glad you could make it," Roland said. "This was indeed memorable."
"Anne, my dear," Olivia said. "Couldn't help but notice that you were quite chummy with Charlene Harris today. You guys wouldn't be teaming up for a power novel anytime soon, would you?"
"What?" I chimed in. "Genna suddenly grows fangs and starts chewing on Pete in all the wrong ways?"
Anne placed her hands on her hips. "Well, Elliot, you never can tell."
"I'm headed to the bar," I said, spotting another group of colleagues planted on stools and conversing with the server. "Anyone in need of a refill?"
I took the order and approached the bar, placing a hand on Karen G's shoulder along the way. "So, was it worth coming down from Utah?" I asked.
I was greeted with an embrace. "Elliot, signed more copies than I thought my fingers could handle," she said. "Roland's book fair idea was spectacular."
"And House of Diamonds is doing well?"
"It's a dream come true."
At the bar I placed the order, listened to the opening segment of the next jazz hilt, then spotted a pair of fellow writers laughing over their drinks nearby. They saw me and motioned for my presence.
"Hello ladies," I said. "I take it you both had profitable outings?"
"Unforgettable," Jemi said.
"Best sales I've ever had," Becky agreed.
"Good to hear." I motioned toward our table at the back of the bar. "Roland was the brains behind the event. Don't forget to stop by."
"On our way!"
I returned to our table and recognized yet another familiar face. "Christine Danek, all the way from P.A. Tell me, was it worth the trip?"
"Just spoke to my husband," she said. "Told him if sales remained this good down here, I may not return!"
A chorus of laughter rose the decibel.
"Roland and Elliot, leave it to you two to sweet talk a band of Yankees to play jazz in a bar in the deep south!"
"Terry!" Roland exclaimed. "So glad you could make it!"
"Wouldn't have missed it for anything," Terry Stonecrop announced, accepting hugs around the table.
"Roland and I thought those boys on stage kinda fit the bill for an event like this," I said.
"Definitely a good fit," Terry agreed.
"Don't start the party without me, you rubes!"
Everyone turned as Lola Sharp found an empty spot at the table. "Talk about a gathering of the minds!"
"Where you been, sweetheart?" I laughed, greeting the writer from across the table.
"Rendezvous," she grinned sheepishly.
I arched my brow. "Does your husband know of this?"
She answered with a blush. "He was the rendezvous."
"Ha!" I laughed. "Well done!"
"Yeah, that's what he said."
Roland nudged my shoulder. "Isn't that Anita at the bar with her husband?"
"Sure is," I said. "She wrote my first review on South of Charm. I'm forever in her debt."
"Sometimes a good review is all it takes."
A whine escaped from Olivia as a pair of gentlemen passed by and lingered.
"Oh calm yourself," I mumbled into her ear.
"Can't help it," she said. Every time I see him, I still can't believe I now keep the same company."
"Neil, how are you this evening," Roland asked, accepting a handshake from Gaiman.
"Thanks for inviting us," Neil said. "This event was invigorating. A southern book fair with waiting lines into the streets. Unforgettable."
"My only question," said the man next to him. "Is how did you two manage to get my old man down here?"
"Was nothing, Joe," I said. "Told him he'd own the stage at Bourbon Street, and he agreed immediately.
Joe Hill released a whistle. "Well played."
We all turned and enjoyed the seedy tune from the stage where The Rock Bottom Remainders played front and center. Dave Barry on lead guitar, Ridley Pearson on bass, Mitch Albom on keyboards, and of course, Joe's father, Stephen King strumming the rhythm guitar. He offered us a grin as our glasses rose in salute.
"Does your dad know that Roland just surpassed him on the best-seller list?" I asked Joe.
"Might wanna wait till he's done playing before bringing that up," Joe kidded. "About time someone knocked off the old man anyway."
"Can you'all believe this," Olivia said, looking around the table. "From Blogger buddies, to best-selling writers, and here we all are, celebrating in Nawlins!"
I dug my phone out of my pocket, sensing the vibrations. I then read the text, unable to hide the grin.
"More good news?" Roland asked.
"My wife," I said. "The adoption just went through."
"Cheers!" Anne announced. "So your headed to Africa?"
"Next week. It's a dream come true for her. Adopting a little one from across the ocean."
For a second time glasses were raised, drinks toasted.
The party lingered into the wee hours of morning, a gathering of long time starving artists who's ships had at long last sailed to port. Of lives changed overnight, friendships harbored over dreams. Dreams having come true.
It can happen, my friends. Keep pounding the keys...it can happen:)
"South of Charm"-Coming 2011