The Hoodoo of Peckerwood Finch
by Jerome Mark Antil
Mamma's Moon gives the reader a dramatic and insightful glimpse into the very special world of today's Louisiana French Acadians, whose early tragic history was immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his classic poem, Evangeline, even before the heartless bayou's more contemporary history was buried deep and forgotten." Tom Hyman (LA Times bestselling author: writer for LIFEmagazine, The Saturday Evening Post, Argosy, Washington Post Book World and New York Magazine.)
This novel, Mamma's Moon, is a sequel to the novel, One More Last Dance. It stands alone as an entirely self-contained story, but for those of you who may not have read the earlier novel, I include here a brief description of the main characters and of the events that preceded this story.
A bond that can only happen on a dance floor happened in a cafe off Frenchman Street among four unlikely characters: a man who was about to die; his friend, an illiterate Cajun French yardman; and two of the most successful women in New Orleans.
Aging Captain Gabriel Jordan, retired, was given two months to live, three months before he met "Peck"--Boudreau Clemont Finch--a groundskeeper on the back lawn of his hospice on Bayou Carencro, Louisiana. It was at the hospice that Gabe told Peck his dream of seeing the Newport Jazz Festival before he died. They became friends, and Peck offered to help grant his wish by taking him there.
And they began their journey.
It quickly became a journey with complications and setbacks. They saved each other many times, but they were in turn saved by two extraordinary women: Sasha (Michelle Lissette), a real estate agent in New Orleans's posh Garden District, and her best friend, Lily Cup (Lily Cup Lorelei Tarleton), a criminal attorney.
Less than a year before the events in Mamma's Moon, Gabe and Peck wandered into Charlie's Blue Note, a small jazz bar in a side alley just off Frenchman Street, where the music was live and mellow and the dancing warm and sensual.
Here they encountered Sasha and Lily Cup, and amid the music, the dancing, the food, the flirting, and the cigar smoke, the four formed an unusual and lasting friendship that would see them each through a series of crises, disappointments, life-threatening situations, and moments of great joy and satisfaction.
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Good Morning, Murder
Did you murder the kid, Gabe?” Lily Cup asked. The aging army captain, veteran of Korea and Vietnam, lowered his newspaper just enough to see over the entertainment page.
“Close the door, honey, AC’s on,” Gabe said.
In a tight, black skirt with a tailored matching waistcoat and white Nike walking shoes, she leaned and propped a black leather briefcase against the wall by the door. She stood like an exasperated tomboy, adjusting and refastening the diamond brooch on her lapel.
“I heard you’ve been walking with a cane, dancing man. What’s that all about? You’ve never carried a cane. You jazz dance for hours a couple of nights a week and Sasha tells me you started carrying one everywhere you go when you don’t need one. It’s smelling pretty premeditated to me, Gabe. What’s up with the cane thing?”
“Does Sasha know about this morning?”
“I haven’t told her anything. She’d have a canary.”
Gabe lifted the paper again to read.
“I need to know if it was murder,” Lily Cup said.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Gabe said.
He closed the paper, folded it in half, and in half again. Dropping it on the arm of the chair, he stood and left the room.
“Define murder,” he said from the kitchen.
She tossed a handbag and white driving gloves onto the other chair, lifted Chanel sunglasses to the top of her head.
“Gee, I’ll have to think on this one. Hmmm…Oh, I know. How about the police have a cane with blood on it and there’s a dead man.”
“It’s a walking stick. My cane is over by the door.”
“Well now it’s a goddamned murder weapon. They checked for prints, and yours are the only prints on it, and their guess is the lab will say the blood has his DNA.”
Gabe came out with a coffee urn in one hand and his finger and thumb through two empty cup handles. He held the cups out for her to take one.
“No more,” Gabe said.
“You’re rather nonchalant for the spot you’re in. Why’d you clam up on me like that at the precinct? It didn’t set well with any of them. The DA entered a charge of second-degree murder. The police chief put out a warrant for you from lunch at Brennan’s.”
He held the empty cups closer to her.
“Just made it. Chicory and cinnamon.”
“If you had television you’d have seen it—‘Daylight killing on St. Charles Avenue.’ It’s all over the news, freaking out the DA and the Visitors Bureau. No telling how many videos from streetcars going by will wind up on You Tube.”
“That’s enough,” Gabe said.
“People can live with violence after dark. That’s expected in any city, but when it’s in broad daylight, forget it. The DA pushed for an early docket with a magistrate and it’s Tulane and Broad for you at nine a.m. tomorrow.”
“What’s Tulane and Broad?”
“Magistrate Court. Congratulations, Gabe, you made the big time. You have to appear before a magistrate to hear the second-degree murder charge against you.”
She took an empty cup in one hand, pinched his arm with the other.
“Look me in the eye and swear it wasn’t murder,” Lily Cup said.
“This some kind of technique they teach at Harvard Law, Miss Tarleton?”
She rolled her eyes and turned to the other chair.
“The only reason they haven’t busted down your door and you’re not behind bars is you’re a decorated veteran, and I’m your attorney, and I promised you’ll show up in the morning. Sasha warned me about you. I should have listened. You’re an ornery, stubborn old coot when you have a mind to.”
She sat down.
“I’m never ornery,” Gabe said. “But that’s enough.”
He leaned and poured coffee.
“You’re lucky we have Magistrate Judge Fontenot tomorrow. I heard her dad was killed in Vietnam. She’s been pretty fair to me in the past. A new school gal, tough on the letter of the law, but she’ll listen to reason if it solves a case. She hates red tape with a passion, and seldom lets the DA or the defense use the system for delays. She doesn’t get hung up on tradition.”
“Have you heard?” Gabe said. “Our Sasha has asked me to give her away. How about them apples?”
“Gabe, like she’s been my best friend since kindergarten, she tells me everything,” Lily Cup said. “It’s sweet.”
“I’m thinking Peck and I might throw a party,” Gabe said. “Something she’ll remember—commemorate their engagement Mardi Gras style. Lots of pictures; close friends.”
“Will you print invitations, like a formal do?” Lily Cup asked.
“But of course,” Gabe said. “Maybe costumes?”
“It’s party time! She would flip over a costume party, all our friends would,” Lily Cup said. “You and Peck celebrating her engagement will mean a lot to her.”
“Should we do it here or over at Charlie’s Blue Note with the live jazz?”
“Gabe, you’ve got one picture on the mantle, two chairs, and a cardboard box in the living room. This isn’t exactly what I’d call a Commander’s Palace party room.”
“I was thinking a streetcar day pass in the invite if we do it here at the house,” Gabe said.
“That’s a nice idea—parking sucks on this street. When are you going to buy some furniture?”
“I’m too old to impose furniture on Peck. Peck would only feel obligated to keep it after I’m gone. I’ll let him and Millie pick out the furniture doodads, curtains, and the dishes when they play house. There’s time.”
“How’s your stomach with what happened today? Were you hurt?” Lily Cup said.
“What stomach? They removed it.”
“I meant how’ve you been since the operation?”
“I’m a hospice survivor with some time left in me, hopefully. At least enough time to plan a party.”
“You might be partying in Angola if the DA pushes this to a grand jury,” Lily Cup said.
Gabe stood, got the coffee urn again and brought it into the living room.
“Warm your coffee?”
“Do you two at least have beds?” Lily Cup asked.
“Of course we have beds,” Gabe said. “Peck thinks he’s a prince— a mattress with sheets after sleeping on a canvas cot most of his life.”
“This must be a new world for him,” Lily Cup said.
“For fifteen years he slept in an unheated shed at a wood mill,” Gabe said. “Saw blades hanging over him like Macy’s parade balloons. It took him weeks getting used to sleeping on a bed. I’d find him curled on the floor with his window wide open.”
“Peck and Millie,” Lily Cup said. “They do seem like a good fit, don’t they?”
“She’s loved the boy with a passion since the day he made the Greyhound bus stop so he could jump off just to give her the baby doll she left on her seat,” Gabe said.
“Her baby doll, Charlie. Sasha told me about the doll. Hell, I had my Teddy bear all through Harvard. I still have it,” Lily Cup said.
“Millie does love her Charlie,” Gabe said.
“Does she like the house?”
“That girl loves New Orleans. It’s a completely different world for her from the strict Baptist home life in Tennessee and Baylor University. But hell, the girl would love Milwaukee if Peck were there. Her mom and dad love Peck. I’m not certain Millie’s had a good look at the house the few times she’s come on her school breaks. She hits the door, pauses just long enough to hug ole Gabe here a genuine hello and a kiss on the cheek, then she’ll grab Peck’s arm like it’s an empty egg basket handle, close his bedroom door behind them and climb his bones until he comes out peaked, steps on the porch for some air and goes back in for another round.”
“Whoa, now that takes me back,” Lily Cup said. “I can remember those wild younger days of reckless abandon.”
She sipped her coffee, smiling.
“Innocent times,” Gabe said.
“They weren’t so innocent,” Lily Cup said.
“I remember after school sometimes; Sasha and I’d be feeling randy and we’d corner us a couple of momma’s boys we thought showed promise. We’d sneak into one of those back storage rooms on Magazine Street and wear them out.”
“Lord help ’em,” Gabe said. “Impetuous youth.”
“We had perfect lures. Sasha was the first in our grade to wear a D cup bra,” Lily Cup said.
“Her girls,” Gabe said.
“They were magnets for high school bad boys dying for a peek,” Lily Cup said. “The bigger her girls, the ‘badder’ the boys.”
“Youth,” Gabe said.
“We developed our fancies,” Lily Cup said. “Hers was arousing a dude and putting his condom on him. She’d ride it like a sailor on a rowboat—the boy gawking up at her girls in her Victoria Secret bra she saved her allowance for. She’d never take it off. She’d say a boy appreciates a cleavage—why spoil the fantasy?”
“Let’s just say I developed a liking for the feel of a firm cigar.”
“Ha!” Gabe guffawed. “Is that why you smoke those short Panatelas?”
“Over the years I’ve learned to keep my expectations low.”
“Youth is uncouth,” Gabe said. “At least you’re sophisticated and couth now, little lady.”
“Too couth. I like to get mussed up on occasion.”
“You’re an attractive woman. It’ll happen.”
“She’s talking about the wedding reception maybe being at Charlie’s Blue Note,” Lily Cup said.
“If that’s true, I’m surprised James hasn’t put up a scuff,” Gabe said. “A jazz joint in an alley off Frenchmen Street isn’t what I’d call his cup of tea.”
“I think the house would be best for the engagement party, fixed up a little. I’ll help,” Lily Cup said.
“It would be more personal here,” Gabe said.
“I think so,” Lily Cup said. “This is like home to her.”
“I’ll have Peck paint the porch ceiling,” Gabe said.
Lily Cup stood, coffee cup in hand. She walked to the door looking out at the porch’s ceiling.
“Why?” she asked.
“I’m changing the sky–blue to another color, maybe a white.”
“It looks freshly painted.”
“It’s a tradition thing,” Gabe said.
“A lady at the library told me a sky–blue ceiling on a front porch signals an available woman–of–age living in the house.”
“That’s phooey,” Lily Cup said. “I heard that one and three others like it. Like sky–blue wards off spiders and attracts bees away from people sitting on porch swings. I wouldn’t bother painting it.”
“I’m a Chicago boy—what would I know from superstitions?”
“It’s an old wives’ tale,” Lily Cup said. “Those are different than superstition. Sasha and I still sit on a roof in the Quarter under a full moon if it’s not lightning—it’s bad gris–gris if there are thunderstorms under a full moon. We light candles and talk through the night.
Foreword’s Book of the Year Finalist for The Book of Charlie – historical fiction and The Long Stem is in the Lobby – nonfiction humor. Library Journal selected Hemingway, Three Angels and Me for best reads during Black History Month.
Before picking up the pen, Antil spent his professional career writing and marketing for the business world. In this role, he lectured at universities - Cornell, St. Edward’s, and Southern Methodist. His inspirations have been John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, and Ernest Hemingway.
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(Three people inspired One More Last Dance. After he was given his Last Rights by the priest and the doctor gave him two hours to live, I inspired a 94-year-old friend to get out of his death bed, live a year and a half longer and write his book. Another friend from the 1960s inspired my Gabe; a black man who taught me jazz. My father, the third was second generation Acadian, from Normandy, and a marvelous storyteller. Mamma’s Moon was inspired by an actual attempt on my life.)
What will fans of the first book in this series, “One More Last Dance,” enjoy about “Mamma’s Moon?”
(That the characters they love from the original novel are alive and well. They’ll like that the sequel is as strong or stronger than the first novel – which is rare.)
What can you tell us about your Acadian heritage and its influence on your writing?
(I knew our name was changed from Anctil to Antil when my grandparents (on my father’s side) moved to the U.S. from Canada at the turn of the twentieth century. I grew up in New York State, but my father would always tell me stories about the Acadians in Canada and the Cajuns of Louisiana, and he would have shrimp boils and make gumbos.)
Why are you so passionate about honoring and preserving Louisiana’s culture through writing?
(What’s happening to Louisiana both from outside sources and internal power control is criminal. Baton Rouge has literally become the rectum of America with the Mississippi splitting it in half and along with it the literacy and natural resources so mishandled the entire state is sliding into the Gulf of Mexico. Try to find a full-grown Cypress. You can’t. They been chipped and are stacked in “mulch” bags in big box home store retailers.)
What was your research process like? Specifically, how did you go about investigating the culture of Louisiana? Did you learn something you didn’t know previously?
(I had a New Orleans young man interview icon Ms. Leah Chase. He asked her several pages of my questions about life in New Orleans in her lifetime. I asked the criminal court in New Orleans to help my legal research and they assigned a criminal attorney to guide me. I spoke with libraries there and got pointed at things of interest. I was overwhelmed at the damage that has been caused to Louisiana by the indiscriminate spillway levees that destroyed entire towns and all the topsoil. A passenger plane crash that was forgotten about.)
You wrote part of “Mamma’s Moon” while staying at the Pontchartrain Hotel in uptown New Orleans where Tennessee Williams worked on “A Streetcar Named Desire” – did absorbing the atmosphere there strengthen your writing?
(I wrote much of One More Last Dance there, and some of Mamma’s Moon. It absolutely inspired me knowing that Tennessee Williams lived there, and Truman Capote frequented the bar. Hearing the streetcars going by and the jazz in the lobby certainly inspired me.)
Chef Leah Chase is known in Louisiana – and around the world – as the Queen of Creole Cuisine. How did you meet this iconic New Orleans celebrity, and how did she help shape your book?
(My wife and I ate at the famous Dooky Chase restaurant one evening after a Barnes and Noble book signing. Leah invited us to the kitchen, and we chatted, and I gave her a copy of my One More Last Dance novel. I wrote her a thank you letter. Six months later I hired a young man I had met at the Pontchartrain to visit her and see if he could interview her on my behalf. Leah welcomed him in with open arms and sat with him for more than an hour.)
You also turned to Orleans Parish Criminal Court Judge Laurie A. White for some guidance. What role did she play while you were writing “Mamma’s Moon?”
(Judge Laurie A. White played three important roles in the Peckerwood Finch novels. She asked for attorney volunteers to guide me in my court scenes. Attorney Lindsay Jay Jeffrey, at the Orleans District Criminal Court spent countless hours helping me. Judge White had me watch court in session for ideas and she also made suggestions to easing the dialect in One More Last Dance – which has since been revised. Judge White will be narrating the audio books of each novel.)
What role did your daughter play in inspiring you to become a writer?
(She asked me to write the bedtime stories I used to tell her, about growing up during WWII. She also asked me to write a booklet for fathers going through divorce. I wrote the very simple Handbook for Weekend Dads and it was a four-year Amazon bestseller in category. It’s been purchased in every state and 17 countries. My wife Pamela encouraged me to turn my stories into books.)
Your favorite writers include Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck. While we know these are some of the greatest writers in history – what draws you to their work?
(John Steinbeck for his historical integrity and sensitivity for human nature in private moments. Hemingway has taught me most, the more I write. He inspires me to ‘write what I know'
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