I had a fabulous trip with my writer friends, Louisa George and Elizabeth King, through Louisiana and Houston this year and wanted to share some of that with you. We started our trip in New York, for the Romance Writers of America conference, where Elizabeth King was a finalist in their Golden Heart awards competition. She’d won it before, but just missed out this time. We love her anyway!
While at the conference, I met up with some fabulous writers and picked up a load of signed books that I gave away during the Houston reader event. I also got to spend a day with the FBI in their offices on Federal Plaza. I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the agents who spoke to me, or of the inside of the building, but here’s the view from the thirtieth floor conference room.
Some of the topics we covered were – counter terrorism practices, violent crime responses, dealing with bomb threats, sex trafficking issues and how the national database works. Keep an eye open for all of these things in future books! I can’t tell you how much I LOVED my day with the FBI. They were so generous with the information they gave out and so much fun to hang around with too! Louisa and I also visited the Spyscape, the spy museum, where I picked up a whole load of books on industrial espionage – I’ll leave you to guess where I’ll be using those!
After New York, we flew to New Orleans where we did a tour of the city, a night swamp tour and a ghost tour of the French Quarter. We weren’t too impressed with the ghost tour, because we reckoned we could all tell better stories than our guide! But we had a blast on the other two tours. Well, Elizabeth and I did, Louisa was mainly terrified of the Alligators. We also discovered Pralines, ate so much good food that I can’t even begin to describe it all, and listened to some awesome music. I’m already planning a return trip to the city!
Our time in New Orleans was far too short, but we were eager to get on the road and explore a little more of Louisiana – which mean visiting plantation houses. We chose three to visit – Oak Alley because of all the movies that have been made there, Nottoway because it’s the biggest and most recently built, and Whitney because that plantation focuses on the lives of the slaves in the region. I can’t express how deeply moved I was by my visit to Whitney plantation. The memorials to the lives lost during the time of slavery in America was heartbreaking, especially the one built to remember the children who died. The experience gave us a much deeper appreciation of the complexity around race issues in the US, something we don’t often understand coming from countries which don’t have that the recent history of slavery and segregation. There is no denying that the plantation houses we saw were beautiful, but it was important to acknowledge the lives that were sacrificed in building those homes, and the lifestyles that went with them. It was a sobering experience and one I would highly recommend.
From the plantations, we headed to Lafayette where we had the best swamp tour ever! Shawn from Cajun Country Swamp Tours was amazing and really knew his stuff. If you’re going on a tour, go with this company. They might not look like much but they’re awesome! I learned a lot about the swamp, the ecosystem and the diversity of the region from Shawn. I also expect him to turn up in some future books!
We also had some great food in Lafayette, especially at Prejeans and The Blue Dog – see video – where I also bought a book of the brilliant paintings and Louisa asked me, yet again, how I was going to get all my books back to New Zealand.
After Lafayette, it was on to Houston and our readers’ brunch, which Debra kindly hosted in her home. We had a blast! The food was great, the company was perfect and we even had a podium! It was so amazing to meet everyone in person. My only regret is that I didn’t get a photo of everyone there, the photos I have were taken once people had already started heading home. Still, you can see we got on great. Next time I’m in America I plan to hold a whole lot more get-togethers. You have been warned! As well as the brunch, some of us met up in the Cheesecake factory for dinner that night and laughed until it hurt. And then we helped Cheryl find her car – or I should say Alicia and Chris helped her find her car… Do we know how to party or what? (Oh! And Chris is training to become a military pilot…I feel a book coming on…)
Louisa and Elizabeth’s last day in Houston was spent dragging me around NASA.
Turns out I’m not that interested in space. Plus, we had a very strange tour where we rode around, in four million degree heat, in a train of linked golf carts, while a guy with adenoid problems pointed at random office buildings and told us that astronauts did things in them…random things…like eating lunch!
After NASA, Louisa and Elizabeth abandoned me to spend the rest of my trip alone. Which wasn’t a good idea because they were the only reason I hadn’t gotten lost up to that point! It turns out that I don’t have a great sense of direction. Or any sense of direction at all! As soon as they were gone, I got lost INSIDE the Galleria and had to message them to ask how to get out and back to my hotel. In my defense, the galleria mall is massive…
My last few days in Houston were jam packed with research trips though. I had a great time with Fort Bend’s Constable’s department, learning all about the ways they function and the types of crime they dealt with. I can’t thank Constable Thompson enough for his time. Then I spoke with a couple of private investigators. One was Kathy Griffin who ran one of the most successful agencies in Texas for many years – she was a hoot! I ended my trip with a tour of the tunnels under downtown, and with watching two hundred thousand bats emerge from under Waugh bridge. Oh, and visiting a few art museums...because, former art teacher!
So that’s a little taste of our trip. Now you can spend the next year or so spotting where all these experiences pop up in my books. And, keep your eyes peeled for a trio of books I’m writing with Louisa George, those should really surprise you!