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Journey into the Lives of Women, One Story at a Time

Fiction Friday: Mardi Gras Here We Come

I’ve spent the last two weeks revising one of my very first novels,The Unmasking.  The novel came out from Harlequin Superromance in, gulp, 19. . .

A long time ago.

As I read The Unmasking again,  I loved the story, but my writing has improved, well, enormously.  What took me twelve words to say now takes six.  I rarely use adjectives or adverbs and I make certain never to overuse them.  I also write “different” love scenes these days because expectations are different and so am I.

With that in mind, I decided to edit and revise the book, to tighten the story and prose, remove the adjectives, change the love scenes and some of the dialogue, even to sharpen the characters.  But did I change the dates?  This is a pre-Katrina novel, and had I revised it to take place after the devastating hurricane that destroyed so much of the Gulf Coast, I would have needed to change too many things. I liked this story the way it was, set in a simpler New Orleans, but one that seemed real enough for its time.

Despite the real changes so many things are still the same in the city, including most of the physical setting of The Unmasking.  The French Quarter and St. Charles Avenue, where Justin’s mother lives, survived Katrina with far less damage than some of the outlying areas, including Gentilly, where our house was located.  We were gone by the time Katrina arrived, but if you’ve ever lived in New Orleans, you understand that you never truly leave it.

Do you know what it means, to miss New Orleans? To miss it each night and day? I know I’m not wrong, the feelings’s getting stronger, the longer I stay away. . .

One of the things I missed and still miss after moving away is carnival, particularly Mardi Gras day. Carnival begins on Twelfth Night and ends on Mardi Gras day (Fat Tuesday), and the excitement builds through the season.

In the following scene Justin and Bethany, with their daughter Abby, experience carnival season and their first parade together.Justin,  New Orleans native, has never enjoyed carnival.  Bethany, a transplant, has to convince him that he’s been missing something fabulous.

I hope you get a taste of the celebration, too.  The illustration here is the one my daughter-in-law has adapted for the new cover which I’ll unveil next week, but I thought you would enjoy seeing the art work first.

The newly revised The Unmasking should be at online bookstores by Mardi Gras day.  Please remember it will only be available as an ebook, so fire up your Nook or Kindle because right now that’s the only way I’m allowed to publish it.

If you need a little Mardi Gras spirit, a chance to celebrate before the long days of Lent, come join in the fun. But for now, enjoy this excerpt.

***

The parade was several blocks away, and they could see the first float in the distance. After they found a place to watch Abby was so excited she couldn’t stand still. Bethany gave her a handmade drawstring bag of purple cotton, with “Mardi Gras” in gold-and-green appliqué.  New Orleans parades were invariably accompanied by the throwing of favors from the floats. Most of the time the throws were beads and specially manufactured collectible doubloons. But some parades also threw stuffed toys, plastic tumblers with emblems of the krewe sponsoring the parade, candy, plastic spears, even bikini panties. On St. Patrick’s Day, the New Orleans parades threw cabbages to the waiting crowds. Nobody in New Orleans went to a parade just to watch.

Bethany cautioned Abby, just as other mothers up and down the parade route were cautioning their children. “Remember, kiddo, don’t reach down to pick up anything on the ground. Cover it with your foot first, then reach for it.”

“I know!”

“And don’t run out in the street.”

“I know!”

They could hear the music from the first marching band, and the truck that checked for overhead clearance rolled by. Although some parades closer to Mardi Gras day had spectators lined up ten or more deep, this parade was less crowded, and their view was unimpeded as the small floats carrying the maids and finally the queen of the court came by. The women were dressed in costumes of gold and silver sequins, with white ostrich plumes on elaborate headdresses. The court in this parade wore thin sequined masks, not to hide their identity from their friends but to add a touch of mystery.

With royal dignity the court didn’t throw anything, and by the time the first large float filled with a dozen women dressed as mermaids rolled by, Abby was at fever pitch. “Justin, pick me up!”

With an expression that made Bethany chuckle, Justin put the little girl on his shoulders. In a minute the air around them was raining doubloons and beads. Bethany scooped throws off the ground that Abby had missed. Sneaking a look at Justin’s face, she began to laugh. He looked like a survivor of a major battle.

“They loved you, Justin. I’m not sure I’ve seen so many doubloons thrown at one person before.”

He shot her an irritated glance as Abby began to bounce on his shoulders. “Throw me something, throw me something,” the little girl shouted.

After three new storms of doubloons, Abby begged to get down. Although she couldn’t see as well on the ground, she was able to pick up more throws that came her way, and after watching a little boy make off with a cup that had been tossed in her direction, she was ready to join the skirmish.

The bands marching in between the elaborately decorated floats added an audibly cheerful note, and the bright colors and holiday atmosphere of the crowd couldn’t help but work their magic on Justin. Bethany noticed the change when she saw his foot was tapping in time to the music. The band passing by at that moment was playing “Maniac” from the movie Flashdance, and a crowd of young teenagers across the street were break dancing in response.

Although Justin still wasn’t actively catching throws, he didn’t protest when Bethany slipped several beaded necklaces over his head. “You look more festive now,” she said. And he looked even more festive when the next float came by and threw a cup directly at him. Justin, with all his money, couldn’t resist the lure of the plastic tumbler, and before Bethany knew what was happening—and probably before he did, too—he was out in the street, diving for it.

After that it was every man, woman and child for himself. Justin, Abby and Bethany scrambled for every throw. Doubloons were covered by dancing feet; beads were snatched from the reach of other bystanders. And the special prize of a stuffed unicorn, which was presented to Abby by a rider on a temporarily halted float, was gloated over as if it were pirate booty.

When the last float had passed by with its traditional blitz of throws, the three weary parade-goers headed back to the car. “I don’t know, Justin,” Bethany said with tongue in cheek, “you didn’t look like you hated that parade.”

***

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