**This is the back cover blurb and opening chapter to my new novel, The Neon God. Available for pre-sale now.**
From the back cover:
In the suffocating bosom of August, Dionysus arrives in New Orleans. For too long, the Greek God of Revelry and Wine has endured the incessant bickering atop Mt. Olympus, and so he descends to be with the mortals and indulge himself in the city’s reputed decadence and vice.
When Dionysus is parched and aching for even a drop of the vine, he mistakenly stumbles into a bookstore and begs an employee who reminds him of the last pharaoh of Egypt — Cleopatra — to point him in the direction of wine. Zibby Dufossat, on the cusp of her first year of law school and desperate for a distraction, sets aside her anxieties to peel back the layers of the esoteric, anachronistic, and often offensive beautiful stranger, only to find heartache and pain. But before she can decipher this enigma, he disappears into the French Quarter fray of sweaty, gyrating lovers.
With grapevines sprouting from the path he walks and an unexplainable, addictive libido placing the city under his spell, the god deflects his retinue of Olympians and fantastical creatures attempting to deliver him back home. But it soon becomes clear that Dionysus alone can determine his fate, and the fates of Zibby and New Orleans with it.
In the corner of New Orleans where South Carrollton connects with St. Charles Avenue, the Greek God of Revelry and Wine, Dionysus, appeared in front of a classic daiquiri shop. Trudging through New Orleans this deep in August was like trying to swim through a cream-based soup. But Dionysus had not left his home on Mt. Olympus for quite some time and was so excited to embark on a new adventure that he pushed onward through the thick air and forgot to thank Hermes for delivering him safely to Louisiana.
His siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, and any other godly offspring Zeus had hauled up to Mt. Olympus had pestered him and bickered amongst each other over where he should go, and whether the God of Thunder would even permit his son to travel to such a backwater cesspool as New Orleans.
“When Zeus gets back from Stockholm and finds out that Dionysus is in New Orleans, he’ll throw a fit!” shouted Athena. “It will make that storm in Indonesia look like a drizzle!”
“When Zeus gets back,” mocked Ares. “Zeus has been in Scandinavia for years. We should start calling him Odin!”
“Shouldn’t you be in Syria? Or Yemen?”
“Oh, I’m bored with it now. They don’t need me anymore to cause destruction and chaos,” said the God of War, resting his arm on a column and letting out a sigh.
“Hermes, please, you can’t take him,” Athena insisted. “Just bring him back to Amsterdam. He loves it there.”
“He refused Amsterdam. He has frequented that aquatic city too many times.”
“What about Copenhagen? Christiana is supposed to be a nice anarchy, not like what they’re doing down there in Athens, ruining my own city… And that way he can be close to Zeus.”
“He brought up Dubai,” said Hermes.
“Oh, he can’t go to Dubai!” cried Narcissus as he pushed along a lily pad that had drifted over his face in the reflecting pool. “It will dry out his beautiful skin.”
“I can bring him to Nigeria with me. I have some work to do there,” said Ares.
“Yes, how about Nigeria? Can you ask him, Hermes? Please. Anywhere, anywhere but New Orleans.”
“Oh, just let him go,” said Apollo, revealing himself from the darkness, glowing gold from hair to sandal. “It will be good for him.”
“Oh, yes, sure you would say that, Apollo. This is all your doing after all,” Athena snapped.
“Listen, if Dionysus desires to go to that blighted, infested excuse for a city,” started Hermes, “and Zeus is not here to tell me otherwise, I have to take him.”
Dionysus dodged the waves of lime green and tan anoles, some as tiny as olives, that seemed to wait until the last possible moment to dart across the sidewalk along South Carrollton Avenue. Giant oak trees, like guardians of the city, provided pools of shade on an otherwise merciless afternoon. Dionysus, unaccustomed to tropical humidity atop Mt. Olympus, sought refuge before making it a single block.
Up ahead, the familiar ivory of Doric columns supported the façade of a building that appeared out of place nestled on the American sidewalk. A sign for the Camellia Grill, lit up in neon-pink cursive, greeted the flocking entrants that moved as if summoned by a magnetic pull spooling out from the restaurant. So as not to get trampled, Dionysus followed through the pair of doors and was greeted by a skinny Nubian behind the counter who proffered a most thought-provoking inquiry: “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleeeeeanz?”
“Pardon?” the god responded.
“How ’bout chu have a seat right chyea?” asked a broad, similarly dressed Nubian in a matching white shirt covered in stains of browns and yellows as if it were a pattern.
Dionysus sat down on a stool at the counter and stared back at the slender man on the other side, whose arm and fist had remained extended and taut since his initial inquiry, as if waiting for reciprocation. In fact, the entire establishment appeared to be operated by Nubians. Perhaps attracted to the banks of the Mississippi River, similar to their ancestors’ attraction to the Nile, Dionysus thought.
He reminisced about a spontaneous trip he took to that once-flourishing civilization, where he and the Queen of Sheba spent their days listening to the greatest musicians in Africa and drinking carafes of succulent honeywine — a delicious potable, sure, but after three weeks of merriment and mirth, Dionysus longed for his ruby agiorgitiko. Actually, it was not far from the sable queen’s palace that Dionysus had learned the mysteries of the vine as a child.
It was the first time Zeus had Hermes whisk Dionysus away from Olympus to hide him from Hera, Zeus’s third wife — chronologically, not polygamously. Hermes brought the young god to Mt. Nysa, where he would be raised by the Nymphs until it was safe to return home to Olympus. It was there that Dionysus fermented his first batch of grape juice. He had yet to go a day without a couple stiff liters of the elixir since — except for that stint with the Queen of Sheba, of course.
Dionysus looked at the extended fist and then back up at the toothy grin, which had yet to lose its luster, and made his own fist, lining up his knuckles to fit like cogs of a gear, but the Nubian jumped the gun and gave the god’s fist a stern tap.
“O-kay, all right, chyeah. Oh, I think I felt a something sorta special wit’chu. What’d you like to drink?”
Befuddled — and accustomed to beautiful young boys and girls simply bringing him the tastiest beverages available — Dionysus was unsure of how to answer. He had heard the rumors of the wanton revelry spilling out onto the streets in New Orleans, everyone drunk off spirits and wine, and wearing colorful beads and crowns as if all were kings and kings were all; a city perpetually serenaded in song as if his dear friend Orpheus sat on the balcony of every bar strumming his lyre.
Finally, after remembering his observance of a fine Englishman ordering in a Parisian bar, he pronounced, “I shall enjoy a liter of your finest local vintage, my Nubian brother.” The thin server and the rotund server, the cook dunking the fries, the cook cracking the eggs, the busser running back the dirty glassware, and even the only white server, all stopped and looked at each other as if Dionysus had spoken in a foreign language. “Of course, I would not hesitate to indulge in something Peloponnesian. Oh, my mouth waters just thinking about the fruit!”
“We, ah…” started the thin server. “We don’t sell alcohol here, mah brother.”
“Don’t sell… I’m not asking for alcohol, I’m asking for wine!”
“Ey, baby,” started a large white woman, whose ass enveloped the diner stool like quicksand, “why you dressed like dat? You look like you ready for the Bacchus festival. Dat ain’t til Febrary.”
“Bacchus! That misappropriated Roman fabrication. The ‘Roman Embezzlers,’ as they should be remembered. Roman Gods, what a jape! Who would believe such a thing? And to think, this city celebrates such fraudulence. I am the vine!”
“I’ll bring ya ova a glass o’ wahda.”
“I had been told wine flowed from the fountains…”
“There’s a wine bar up der on Oak Street, darlin’. A little snooty for my likin’, but you’ll get your fill.”
Dionysus swiveled on his stool, flung around his toga, and darted out the door, heading up South Carrollton in the direction the fat diner had pointed — the servers, cooks, and other customers watching him ramble up the avenue.
His sandals clacked on the crackling sidewalk, which was pushed up here and there by oak tree roots like waves on the Aegean.
As he approached Oak Street, a car with shining silver rims hovered from the ground and practically jumped up and down as deep bass and a deeper voice emanated from the speakers. “Ha ha, bitch, pleeeaaasseeee, I bleeeeed Louis Thirteeeeeen!” rounded out the chorus.
Dionysus fell back and took refuge behind one of the oak trees as the car sped through the intersection; the singer repeated the chorus in a sonorous voice as if it were Zeus himself. He peeked out from around the tree trunk and read “Tchoupitoulas is my safe word” from the car’s bumper.
“I see. Nothing more than a loud public service announcement,” the god said to himself, continuing on to Oak Street.
He turned left — a complete guess — and trotted with his head on a swivel until he found a bar named Oak. But unlike the brightly lit grill teaming with diners and Nubians, the bar was dark, without a soul in sight.
Dionysus peeked in the window and pushed and pulled at the door in frantic, spastic motions as if there were a fire and a child were locked inside. Through the window, the god could see bottles resting on their sides, lining the back wall in a mountainous symmetry. Dionysus dropped to his knees, emitting a cry so beautiful and so mellifluous that an onlooker in the distance took off his hat and placed it over his heart, and a woman put down her iced coffee and wiped away a tear.
The Neon God is Ben D’Alessio’s third novel. His other two books, Binge Until Tragedy and Lunchmeat, are available in paperback and e-book formats. He lives in Ocean City, New Jersey, where he is also a lawyer, amateur film critic, and personal throne for his cat, Kennedy.
15% of profits from all sales will be donated to The Kitty Krusade, a non-profit dedicated to supporting cats who are the victims of abuse.
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