Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Author Jessica Arden

Jessica is a member of my writing group, and I'm so happy to feature her this week.  She is very tenacious when it comes to writing and reading, and it shows in the quality of her work.  If you want a well thought out story, check out her book.

Exploring new places is one of my favorite things to do. I first visited New Orleans in college with a group of girlfriends, and on that trip, I held a baby alligator in the bayou, collected a lot of beads (no flashing involved), and indulged myself on cocktails, fresh crawfish, and beignets. Despite never having been there before, New Orleans felt familiar somehow, like it was a place I could make a home. The city nestled along the Mississippi River shares the laid back “you do you” ethos of my hometown of Las Vegas. Walking around the French Quarter, just like on the Strip, you’re likely to find a similar mix of business, casual, clubwear and someone dressed as a sequined-up Sailor Moon, regardless of whether it’s 2pm or 2am. But unlike Las Vegas where everything is shiny and constantly being updated, you can feel the storied history in the bones of New Orleans. It’s there in the centuries old magnolias and live oaks, in the sprawling plantation houses, and the Spanish-style buildings in the Quarter with the ironwork galleries and hanging plants that shroud its shops, bars, restaurants and courtyards in mysteries.

When I first started working on a Halloween-themed novella for the Under Your Spell boxed set, my mind immediately went to New Orleans as a setting for what eventually became The Skeptics’ Guide to the Mysteries of the Universe. I love stories with settings that pulse with life and become a character in their own right. And this city with its rich history and fair share of ghostly legends seemed like a perfect place to begin. I also happened to have a NOLA trip planned the following month for my husband’s college reunion. He went to Tulane and lived in New Orleans along with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law for several years. That gave me the perfect opportunity to take in the sights and sounds for some story research.

I wanted my heroine Julie to be a ghost tour operator and my hero Griffin to be skeptical of all things supernatural. So in addition to catching up with old friends and having beignets (fried donut-like confections dusted with powdered sugar--you must try these if you’re in town) and chicory coffee at Cafe Du Monde and having some killer chocolate pralines, I scheduled us on a ghost tour. Along the way we stopped at historical sights from the days of French and Spanish occupation of New Orleans and places of purported ghost sightings. Some were fun and spooky like the alley near the Saint Louis Cathedral where people report hearing echos of a priest singing when it rains. And some were downright horrifying, like the gruesome goings on in the LaLaurie mansion. There socialite Delphine LaLaurie and her husband did some unspeakable things to their slaves. Following a kitchen fire in the house, fire fighters discovered a torture chamber behind a hidden attic wall with dozens of slaves chained to tables and in cages. The LaLauries fled the scene never to be seen again, but there have been reports of strange sounds and furniture inexplicably covered in foul smelling liquids ever since. If you want to read more, check out this article, but fair warning, it’s not for the faint of heart (or stomach). The rest of the tour was far less gruesome, and we also visited Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, owned by famed privateer Jean Lafitte, and the oldest surviving structure to be used as a bar. If you’re in New Orleans, even if you’re more on the skeptical side, I still recommend checking out a ghost tour. The walking tour helps you get your bearings in the French Quarter, and it was much more about history and scandals than actual supernatural beings.

Our ghost tour guide also inspired Julie’s course of study for her graduate project when she shared that she was studying Folklore and Pop Culture at City College. How cool is that?  Several of the tour stops made it into the novella and helped contribute to my very own imagined ghostly scandal in The Skeptics’ Guide to the Mysteries of the Universe and book 2 in the series, Ghosts of Midnights Past, coming later this year.

Thanks for following along on a New Orleans journey with me. Happy travels and happy reading.



Title: The Skeptics’ Guide to the Mysteries of the Universe
Series and Book #): Skeptics’ Guide Book 1
Author: Jessica Arden

Genre:  New Adult romance

Publisher: Wayfarer

Date of Publication:  January 1, 2017


Number of pages: 137
Word Count:  30,000


Haunted pasts. History Nerds. Hot New Orleans Nights.

Grad student and New Orleans ghost tour operator Julie Deveaux is used to believing in things she cannot see. Although with her family history, spirits lurking beyond French Quarter galleries seem more plausible than true love or soul mates. 

With romantic entanglements the last thing on her mind, Julie would do anything to complete her thesis research and exonerate infamous murderess Sophia Durocher in the process. Anything, that is, except further harass Sophia’s already spotlight-weary family. 

However, when a collision in Jackson Square puts her in the path of infuriatingly handsome fellow history-buff Griffin, Julie is unable to ignore her attraction. When they accidentally exchange copies of a rare book, Julie gets insights into Griffin, revealing someone who grapples with the same big questions as she does. As the two grow closer, this man (whose weird internet search history might just rival her own) begins breaking down her walls one by one. 

But when Griffin turns out to be the grandson of her thesis subject, Julie walks a dangerous line. He could be the key to all of the answers she seeks. But solving Sophie Durocher's mystery could mean losing the one man who makes her rethink her belief in soul mates.

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Chapter 1

Nothing calmed Julie Deveaux's nerves like showing chaos it was not the boss of her.
With that in mind, Julie grabbed her research notes and set out early for the big meeting with her graduate advisor. There was too much riding on this and Julie hadn't been able to hit a breakthrough on her thesis research as she'd hoped. That could very well spell the end of her project unless she could convince Miranda to give her more time.
She strode with purpose along her well-worn path through the French Market and down into the heart of New Orleans's French Quarter. Leading hundreds of ghost tours had armed her with an intimate knowledge of every street and haunt of the historic neighborhood, and impressive calf muscles to boot. She navigated past over-crowded streets and a seedy alley until she found what she was looking for.
Julie breathed in the scents of boiled crawfish, red beans and rice, and a hint of magnolia. They almost masked the funk of the standing water and the gutter punks feeding their dog on the curb. Locals and tourists alike bustled through, bobbing their heads to the notes from energetic trumpets wafting over from nearby. A feeling of homecoming stirred in her chest. Beneath the greenery that dripped from ironwork balconies lurked nearly three hundred years of history. Three hundred years of stories and scandals and lives. Testaments to a city—and its people—who'd survived fires and floods, hurricanes and yellow fever, and remade itself every time.
Some of the tension leaked from Julie's shoulders as she emerged into the heart of Jackson Square. Still fifteen minutes to kill before the meeting.
"Reading?" one of the street psychics called out to her. They were lined up two-deep with their camping chairs and velvet-covered milk crate reading tables between the St. Louis Cathedral and the park. Julie swerved to give them all a wide berth.
It wasn't that she didn't believe in psychics, just that when it came to the future, she had it under control. First, she'd write the most glorious and provocative thesis on the Madame Sophia murders and graduate with honors. Then she'd get a history professorship and continue to help run the family ghost tour business. Well, provided that her thesis wasn't red-lighted at the meeting this afternoon with the recent impasse.
Her stomach turned over at the thought, but she had a mind like a stubborn puppy that wouldn't let go of a toy until it broke open, all secrets revealed. She'd sort it out. Somehow. There was enough tumult in life without a cryptic message from the "other side" throwing things off. Besides, the future was something you created and busted your ass for, not something you sat around waiting for after an enigmatic message about the river and the number three.
"You look like a girl who wants to hear about her true love," a psychic draped in ethereal yellow robes called out to Julie. "Only sixty bucks."
With an eye roll, Julie picked up her pace. That was problem number two with psychics. Even if she weren't on a student budget, she wouldn't buy what they were selling: namely true love and destiny and soulmates.
Before she'd made it out of the psychic gauntlet, a third medium called out to her. "You're right, you know." The woman's voice rang through the air, low and rich and filled with long southern vowels. "About Sophia. She didn't do it."
The hair on the back of Julie's neck prickled. "I beg your pardon?"
"That's what you're studying, isn't it?"
Julie eyed the older woman warily. The hand-painted sandwich board in front of her setup advertised: Readings from the Beyond by Francine. The name didn't ring a bell, and Julie would definitely remember this woman if she'd seen her before. In her elegant suit and mink stole, which she wore despite the sweltering heat, she didn't look like the other street psychics in gauzy costumes.
"Sorry, do I know you?"
"No, but I believe I know a thing or two that might be of interest to you."

Author bio:

Jessica Arden writes sweet, quirky New Adult romance. She's stomped grapes in her native California, hiked 350 miles on an ancient pilgrimage route in Spain, had breakfast with a coatimundi in Costa Rica, and spent the night in a monastery. But no matter where life takes her, her true north will always be with her husband and two energetic boys in Las Vegas.

When she's not writing, you can find Jessica teaching college English classes, haunting coffee shops, knitting, collecting jewelry supplies (which she may or may not ever use), planning her next trip, or obsessing over The Walking Dead or Gilmore Girls.

Check out The Skeptics’ Guide to the Mysteries of the Universe, available now and look for Ghosts of Midnights Past, book two in the Skeptics’ Guide Series coming later this year.

Author website and social media links:

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