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Returns to Character's Roots

Putting on the Ritz - The white marble facade of the condominium used as the model for the Circle Ritz displays the same quirky triangular balconies featured in the Midnight Louie series.

For bestselling writer Carole Nelson Douglas, a late October trip to Corpus Christi, Texas, for the 26th World Fantasy Convention meant a trip in time as well as space.

Thirteen years ago, while searching for a home close to the ocean, Douglas and her husband viewed an unusual Corpus Christi condominium. Shaped like a six-storied pillbox, the marble-faced building boasted triangular balconies and arched ceilings that Book: Carole Nelson Douglas,  Cat in a Kiwi Conreflected light off Corpus Christi Bay.

"Because the building is round, every unit has a little hallway coming down to it and a door bell with a real door of very heavy coffered wood," Douglas said. "The rooms were pie-shaped with two bedrooms and two little baths with tiny little tiles all over them. They were tiny baths -- highly impractical, but beautifully tiled. Of all the places we saw, it had character."

But the units also came with a price tag too steep for the Douglas budget. So Douglas did what she usually does when circumstances prevent her from acquiring something she really wants. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, she gave the condominium to Temple Barr, a character in the Midnight Louie mystery series begun not long after Douglas's househunting trip to Corpus Christi.

Ritzy garden - Carole Nelson Douglas reflects on the differences between the Circle Ritz and its model.

Of course, giving Temple -- and by extension a big, black, sleuthing tomcat named Midnight Louie -- an apartment in this particular building entailed changing the building's name and moving it lock, stock and swimming pool to Las Vegas. "I called my building 'Circle Ritz,' because 'Ritz' is a little gaudier name for Las Vegas," Douglas said. "And I added a penthouse for the landlady [Electra Lark]."

The Las Vegas milieu fit the building's eccentric mid-century architecture and beachfront vegetation perfectly. "Oddly enough, readers have said, 'Oh, I know a building like that. It is so Las Vegas!'" Douglas said.

The quirky charm of the building's architectural features also provides an effective Book: Carole Nelson Douglas, Cat in a Jeweled Jumpsuitcounterpoint to the personalities and conflicts of series regulars. For example, the polished black slate tiles of the building's entry area act as a multi-leveled mirror to the personal struggle of one of the fans' favorite characters, former priest Matt Devine.

But the time elapsed between the house-hunting visit and the start of the Midnight Louie series worked a little Mystifying Max-style hocus pocus on Douglas's memories of the condominium. "I had it covered in black marble, and it's covered in white -- white with a gray stone in it," Douglas said. Douglas also forgot the spidery, Fifties-style, pierced metal chandelier in the lobby, an omission she hopes to rectify in an upcoming book.

Sunbathing special - The deck of the Corpus Christi "Ritz" offers just enough space for Tai Chi exercises.

In addition, Douglas noted, "The building is much bigger and roomier than I remember. I thought it was much smaller. I was seeing it at the wrong end of the telescope of memory. Maybe that's what memory is: the wrong end of the telescope."

Memory also played Douglas false in one other key area. Despite the palm rees angled so invitingly against several sides of the building, despite the building's pricey exclusivity (so attractive to the discerning feline) and the tanks of goldfish and koi positioned so close to the pool deck, Louie could never live in the "original" Circle Ritz.

The building doesn't allow pets.

Jean Marie Ward

Jean Marie Ward's story, "Embraceable Death," can be found in the October 2000 issue of Fantasy, Folklore & Fairytales.

Readers seeking more information about Carole Nelson Douglas and her work in mystery, science fiction, fantasy and romance can check out her Web site and her Crescent Blues interview.