Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Laissez les bons temps rouler

This is a really wonderful time in my home state of Louisiana. The last few weeks we’ve been in the height of Mardi Gras season, ending yesterday with Fat Tuesday. Across the state, everyone celebrated by attending Mardi Gras balls, eating King Cakes hoping to find the baby inside and fighting like children over the beads and cups thrown from the floats being paraded through the city streets. Laissez les bons temps rouler - Let the good times roll...It’s one of my favorite times of the year.

A float from our local Krewe of Highland Mardi Gras parade.

When most people hear Louisiana – they immediately think New Orleans. And while New Orleans is an amazingly fun over the top city – it’s not the only interesting destination in the state. Louisiana is filled with many small towns that ooze charm and history.

In my novel, THE RULES FOR DISAPPEARING, my main character and her family are stuck in the Witness Protection Program and are forced to move from city to city. Each new identity comes with the added pressure of “fitting in” and the town becomes as important as the people in it. The unique culture of small town Louisiana was the perfect setting for my novel and I knew I had to use it as a character in the story.

And what a character it is!

Although I had many great small towns to choose from – I picked Natchitoches, Louisiana. It’s about thirty minutes away from where I live in Shreveport and I’ve been there many times. What makes Natchitoches utterly charming is the cobblestoned streets on Front Street, the winding Cane River that runs through town and it’s laid back way of life. Everything moves at a slower speed – there’s always time to visit over a cup of café-au-lait and talk about your day.

Front Street, Natchitoches, Louisiana
Cane River

And how can you talk about Louisiana without talking about the rich, sumptuous food. Natchitoches, like any good Louisiana town, has its share of wonderful fare: Beignets (a fried doughnut covered in powdered sugar), Boudin (Cajun sausage made with pork and rice) , and Étouffée (crawfish or shrimp smothered with gravy and vegetables). But it’s known for their Natchitoches meat pies: a crescent-shaped, flaky pastry filled with savory meat, onion and garlic. Utterly delicious! And it was fun subjecting my characters to bizarre foods like Crawfish pizza and shindigs like Cochon de laits (pig roasts)!

Beignets from Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans

Natchitoches Meat Pies

So when my scared family gets dumped in the middle of this old Louisiana town, it’s quite a shock. The accents of the people there seem foreign, the food seems outrageous and the people way too nice. And when you have secrets to keep – they last thing you need is this small community trying really hard to make you feel at home.

Ashley Elston lives in Shreveport, Louisiana with her husband and three sons. Her debut YA thriller, THE RULES FOR DISAPPEARING, will be published by Disney Hyperion in Winter 2013.


  1. Oooh, sounds like a fun read and having grown up not too far down the Gulf Coast (Mobile) the food is making me hungry already!

  2. I now have sudden craving for Étouffée. Oh, la la.

  3. I want those beignets! I'm going to New Orleans for a conference in a few months. Even though it won't be small town Louisiana, I'll be thinking about your book!

  4. Louisiana is beautiful and mysterious, and it sounds like the perfect setting for your novel, Ashley! My husband and I visited the state years ago and absolutely loved our time there. The beignets were heaven!

  5. I just did a little dance when I read this. I lived in Natchitoches for a year, and I live in Shreveport off and on. I love local authors, and I'm excited to read a book set somewhere that's very familiar! I can't wait!

  6. I feel like I've just actually taken a trip there! Really looking forward to soaking up the (literal) flavor of Louisiana in THE RULES FOR DISAPPEARING.

  7. Thanks everyone for the comments! So glad some of you have been here - or have plans to come!!