With Jambalaya Justice just about to come out, I’ve started working again on the third in the series, Chocolate City Justice, which takes place in the midst of hurricane Katrina. Fortunately, I had started writing it right after Katrina, when everything was still fresh in my mind. I had also taken a lot of notes and jotted down things that were going on, knowing I was going to include them in the book. I hadn’t really thought I would forget them, but wanted my ideas in one central file.
Looking back on my notes, I have forgotten a whole lot about that time. Little things that don’t seem to matter or seem to be that important in the big scheme of life serve well to create authenticity in writing. I’m reading notes about a nearly daily occurrence of petty thieves who electrocuted themselves trying to steal copper from wire; everyday guys trying to clear their property accidentally killing themselves by chainsawing trees that they were in; pesky flies the size of small birds making pumping gas a nightmare; and in the areas that flooded the worst, after the water went down but the electricity was still off, cockroaches and rats like you can not even begin to imagine, just hanging out, waiting. I’ve heard you’re never more than three feet away from a spider, no matter where you are. In N.O., it was cockroaches.
Some other things I had forgotten I had read in the newspaper or had seen on t.v., such as babies crying from rooftops during the flood, parents who threw their children into the flood waters to try to save them, never to see them again, and perhaps the most common image from hurricane Katrina, the dead old woman in the wheelchair outside the Superdome, with a sign on her from her family, who couldn’t take her body with them. I can’t begin to imagine what it would feel like to have a loved one die under these circumstances, and without even being able to grieve, to be forced to leave the body behind in the street.
Of course, there were hundreds more stories like these. Women forced to leave dead babies behind. Pets that weren’t allowed in the Superdome, Convention Center, or shelters, left behind, lined up outside the Superdome, confused, waiting for owners that never returned. And families that were split up when help finally did arrive, in some cases parents being sent to different states than their children, with no money to reunite from even one state away.
Of course, a good deal of that will not make it into Chocolate City Justice. My next novel is not about Katrina. It’s a mystery novel, with an NOPD shooting, gang members, a mistaken identity, attempted murder, political corruption–you know, everyday New Orleans–but set against the backdrop of the deadliest hurricane New Orleans has ever experienced. So while a few of the real life happenings will occur in the novel, there just aren’t enough pages to include it all.
While New Orleans is still recovering from Katrina, and the oil spill, and probably soon the river rising, we’re still hanging in there. And if I can entertain a few people and take someone’s mind off of their own hardships for awhile, I think I’ve given our tragedy some small purpose.
Jambalaya Justice coming 2011