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A Yankee in King Cotton’s Court

Guest post by New Orleans DAT books author and Northern native Michael Murphy. 

HearDatI was born in Detroit and grew up in Cleveland, not that I’m bragging. As a child, my only passion for anything to do with the South was that I preferred the plastic Confederate soldiers in my Civil War play sets over their Yankee counterparts, because the rebels had cooler positions as little men being shot or slumped in three-inch poses of plastic agony.

Years later, while living in New York, my publisher sent me to New Orleans to work with an author. I didn’t want to come. I believed the myth that New Orleans was all girls-gone-wild and frat-boy drunkenness. Arriving, I understood the quote by Sunpie Barnes: “It takes 30 seconds to fall into New Orleans and realize youre in a different place.” By day two I was completely seduced, and like so many before me, I knew I was home.

Tennessee Williams, arriving from St. Louis, said, “In New Orleans, I found the type of freedom I had always needed.Brad Pitt came here for the first time in 1994 to film “Interview with the Vampire.” He noted, “I fell in love with the city. It got under my skin. Everything was sexy and sultry. Id return to New Orleans every chance I could.”

Following my first taste, I too came as often as I could until I finally moved to New Orleans. I’d set up my own literary agency with authors all over and could have lived anywhere. My wife and I made our list. Paris came in second place.

We moved to New Orleans in 2009. By 2012, I shuttered my agency because I’d grown weary of struggling to sell manuscripts I loved while publishers fought each other to give a quarter million dollars to Snooki from The Jersey Shore and 7 million dollars to Keith Richards for his memoir. I’m convinced Richards couldn’t remember all The Rolling Stones if you spotted him Ron Woods and Charlie Watts.

After 30-plus years in the book business, I no longer had any books to package nor promote. Then, I received “The Call.” Rather than a burning bush or a voice in the middle of the night, it was an afternoon e-mail from an editor who used to work for me. She wanted me to update their New Orleans’ restaurant guide.

I convinced them that with UrbanSpoon, TripAdvisor and Yelp, there’s no need for restaurant guides. But in New Orleans, we have stories.

EatDatThe hard part of writing EAT DAT was deciding which stories and which of our 1,400 restaurants to include.  The story from the 100-year-old Galatoire’s, which took no reservations until 1996, had to be in there. Charles DeGaulle was enraged waiting in line, so he went up to the maître d’ to complain. “Do you know WHO I am?” The maître d’ replied, “Why yes, Mr. President. Do you know WHERE you are?” and motioned for him to get back in line.

The harder part was convincing myself I was the person to write this book. I grew up in the Midwest, feasting on Chicken in a Biscuit and my mother’s “famous” green bean casserole (Green Giant canned beans mixed with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup and topped with French’s French Fried Onions).

Overcoming doubts, I finished EAT DAT in just over two months, having gained 12 pounds. The book went on to be the No. 1 bestselling travel book on Amazon … well, for an hour. The Huffington Post tabbed it as the No. 1 “essential” book to read before coming to New Orleans.

The success of EAT DAT allowed me to convince my publisher to do additional books. FEAR DAT, about voodoo, vampires, graveyards and ghosts, came out Halloween 2015. Anne Rice contributed to the “Fore-Warned.” HEAR DAT, with a Q&A introduction with the late Allen Toussaint, gets published this year in time for Jazz Fest.

FearDatIn the acknowledgements, I wrote that I don’t care if they sell three copies or 30,000. The writing has been my richest reward. Before writing EAT DAT, I had never heard of Gerard Maras, a chef who is our Yoda or Zen Master, teaching others. FEAR DAT brought me into contact with Cari Roy, the No. 1 rated psychic in America, and Arthur Raymond Smith, an eccentric who decorates graves with his collected carpet remnants and assorted bric-a-brac. Writing HEAR DAT introduced me to the Dew Drop Jazz Hall, established across the lake in Old Mandeville in 1895. My wife and I were in tears as Cajun couples executed perfect waltzes down the aisles while Helen Gillet performed French chansons on her cello.

The most recent Muses parade had a float that displayed an enlarged cover of my book along with other “dat” references. In addition to the New Orleans Saints’ Who Dat, dats are plastered all over. After the Saints finally won a Super Bowl, t-shirts cropped up stating “Repeat Dat” or “Two Dat.” The city’s anti-litter campaign is “Don’t Trash DAT.” There are signs warning dog walkers to “Scoop DAT.” The Muses float theme was “Enough of DAT.” I fully agree. My next will be the last of my DAT books.

Maybe I should move to Cincinnati and write EAT DEY. Not a chance. Having grown up largely ignoring the South, I now embrace the quote: The South is a Place. East, North, and West are mere directions.” 

Tru’ DAT.

MichaelMurphyMichael Murphy‘s HEAR DAT comes out April 18 and is his third book in the DAT series about all the things that draw 9-10 million visitors to New Orleans each year. ALL DAT, a massive 200,000-word doorstop of a book about all things New Orleans, will go on sale for the city’s 300th anniversary in 2018.

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