New Orleans Vampire Haunts

Two weeks ago today, I drove into New Orleans right as the solar eclipse began. It seemed particularly auspicious since I had come to town for a book signing at the amazing Boutique du Vampyre. Unfortunately, New Orleans was out of totality’s path, but my daughter and I were fortunate enough to have solar eclipse glasses on hand and we were able to share the eclipse with Lia, one of the wonderful vampire assistants who works at the Boutique. Vampire that I am, who works at night, I enjoyed the eerie dimming in the middle of the day at the French Quarter. Here I am checking out the eclipse.

Since my last visit to New Orleans, Boutique proprietor Marita Crandle, has opened a speak easy specializing in serving traditional absinthe called Potions. I found it a pleasant alternative to some of the more boisterous New Orleans night spots. I visited on two nights during my stay and enjoyed good conversation, drinks, and even some puzzles and games. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a vampire or two in attendance. If you’d like to visit, you’ll need to stop by the Boutique du Vampyre during business hours and ask.

One day while walking around the French Quarter, doing research for my novel Owl Riders, my daughter and I stopped in front of the Ursuline Convent. I told her the story of how in the 1700s, the French sent a group of young ladies to New Orleans to find husbands. These ladies were noted for carrying casket-shaped cases. Unfortunately, the young ladies were abused and forced into prostitution. Afterwards, the cases were placed in storage in the convent’s top floors, which are sealed off to this day, even in the sweltering New Orleans summer. As we stood there, the gates opened and three very large, very expensive cars rolled in. It struck me that whoever that was would know the secret of what sat in the top floor of the Ursuline Convent! By the way, if you like scary stories like this, you should know that Marita Crandle has a new book called New Orleans Vampires – History and Legend coming out on the 25th of this month. I’ve preordered my copy and know it will be fantastic! Clicking the title will take you to the order page.

The signing itself was on the afternoon of Wednesday, August 23. Unfortunately, my schedule forced me to do a mid-week signing, but even so, several people dropped into the shop early on, even a couple of people specifically to see me and have books signed. The signing hit a quiet spell during the middle as occasionally happens, but things picked up again around 5pm and more people came in and chatted with me about books. It was a good time and here’s a photo Vampire Assistant Lia took of me at the event.

If you’d like to pick up signed copies of my vampire novels, just click on the links below:

The Boutique also has copies of The Astronomer’s Crypt and Straight Outta Tombstone. Those aren’t on the website as of this posting, but I bet if you call them at the phone number at the Vampires or their assistants will be happy to help you out.


Objects in Transit

This year has been remarkable in that we’ve have two major solar transit events close together. The first was the annular eclipse of the sun by the moon on May 20, 2012. The other was the transit of Venus across the face of the sun just two weeks later on June 5, 2012. I was lucky enough to be at Kitt Peak National Observatory for both events. Despite the fact that I operate the two largest telescopes on the mountain—the 4-meter and the WIYN 3.5-meter—most of my viewing was simply by eye with “solar viewing glasses” I picked up from the Kitt Peak visitor center or through my Kodak camera, using the same glasses. The reason for this is that those large telescopes are simply not designed to handle sunlight. They would be seriously damaged looking at the sun just like your eye would be without help.

This first photo shows the annular eclipse near Maximum at Kitt Peak. It’s taken with my digital camera through the solar viewing glasses. Kitt Peak was a little too far south to see the full annular eclipse, but the moon still did cover much of the sun. Note, clicking on the images will bring up larger views.

Here’s a photo I took of the transit of Venus using the same camera. What amazed me was that using this ordinary digital camera, not only could I see Venus (the dark spot on the right), but I could see sunspots (the lighter spots to the left).

I was especially gratified to see the sunspots since a lot of my early research in astronomy was geared to something called RS Canum Venatacorum stars. These are binary stars about the size of the sun, but with observable star spots.

Being at Kitt Peak, I was able to see the sun through small amateur telescopes with solar filters. That allowed me to see a little more detail than I could just by eye or through the camera. Here’s a little better view of transiting Venus along with a clearer view of the sunspots.

One of the other telescopes that I was able to look through included a Hydrogen-alpha filter that blocked out a lot of the sun’s glare. The photo I took has a lot of ghosting in the center, but you can still see solar prominences—flame like structures— around the outer edge of the sun at about 2 o’clock and 5 o’clock. Keep in mind, those prominences are bigger than the Earth!

What really amazes me about seeing the transit of Venus is to realize that this is the same technique we’re using to discover many of the other planets around other stars. Basically we’re looking for that little bit of star light blocked out when a planet goes between us and that star. Many of those planets do this a lot. There are planets with years as short as 2 or 3 days!

Astronomer and science fiction writer Mike Brotherton pointed out something to me that’s fun to ponder. While we were watching the transit of Venus, it’s always possible that some extraterrestrial civilization was observing both Earth and Venus transit the sun and realizing there are planets here.

Just remember, if you want to go out and view the sun, make sure you do so using sufficient eye protection such as these solar viewing glasses, available from Amazon.