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Doomed or Damned?

When I began researching the California Missions for my first mystery, Communion of Sinners, I discovered the system was problematic from the earliest days. The often inhumane treatment of the Indians by the Franciscan padres and Spanish soldiers (the subject of two previous blogs), made me wonder how much wretchedness the Missions brought on themselves. The question of karma arose when I learned how much Mother Nature heaped atop the man-made misery. The very first Mission, San Diego del Alcalá, founded on its present site in 1794, was around barely fifteen months when the Indians avenged their people’s abuse. Some six hundred warriors attacked the compound and burned it to the ground in a blaze intense enough to melt the communion chalice. Father Luis Jayme was...

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Yellow Fever

Historical fiction authors spend about as much time researching as writing the actual book, always on the lookout for something to give our stories that special spin. Because the four real-life principals in my upcoming novel, Goat Castle Murder, were all wildly eccentric, I figured there had to be more where they came from, i.e., Natchez, Mississippi. Now the quintessential sleepy Southern town, Natchez once boasted more millionaires per capita than any place but New York, and I quickly discovered my quirky quartet was just the tip of a picturesque iceberg. Consider Jake and Jim Surget, brothers who so despised each other that their house, Cherry Grove, had a chalk line dividing it in two with neither allowed access to the other’s half.  Three spinster sisters...

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Revel with a Cause

As a New Orleans expat, my favorite Louisiana holiday is January 6 or Twelfth Night, the first day of carnival season. It’s also the Feast of the Epiphany when the magi found the baby Jesus, and it’s celebrated with everything from small jambalaya suppers to lavish masked balls. Costumed guests bask in the purplish glow of Mardi Gras trees while feasting on Creole and Cajun dishes, and the evening’s crescendo is always the appearance of the gateau de roi, or king cake. Gaudily festooned with icing of purple, green and gold, the colors of carnival, it hides a tiny baby Jesus and is sliced and served with much ceremony. Whoever finds the baby is crowned king or queen for the evening and given a special gift. When I fell in love with a Californian and left the...

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