Sunday, May 29, 2011

Looking toward Chocolate City Justice

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.

Holli Castillo
Jambalaya Justice coming 2011


C.K.Crigger said...

Great post, Holli, especially to someone who lives where hurricanes and tornadoes aren't something we worry about. Even our floods are small potatoes up against the mighty Mississippi. Snow and ice, that's our thing. I enjoy feeling the heat and humidity of NO for a change! With the notes you keep--a very good tip, by the way--your verisimilitude must be unmatched.

beverly said...

Holli, Appreciate all the details and graphic images that you supplied. Additionally, I thank you for the reminder about note taking and how the seemingly incidental--or throw away line--may be vital. The same can be said about photos. A few years ago my mother tossed out old "bad" pictures: those blurred or with heads chopped off, etc., but I saved them because I noticed a wallpaper pattern as background in a room and certain items of furniture that would work perfectly for era details in a story.

john M. Daniel said...

That's a fine post, Holli. Poor Big Easy, Land of Dreamy Dreams has had more than its share of nightmare. It's good of you to shine a light on the city, to remember how much there is to celebrate. I imagine your books are wonderful.

Holli said...

C.K. and Beverly, I started taking notes after I quit the D.A.'s Office because I was afraid I would forget my procedure, but was glad I got into the habit when Katrina hit because so many things had changed I would never have remembered everything.

John, thanks to the tribute to my city. There's a lot of bad here, but there's so much good too. We live wondering half the time how we can stand to live here, the other half wondering how we could ever think about leaving.


WS Gager said...

Holli: It seems that the news is filled with death and destruction mostly at mother nature's hands every night and it is easy to forget and move on to the next one. Michigan has had an easy time of it this spring but a storm ripped through last night setting the sirens into gear. It is so easy to forget the stomach clenching and the smile you put on your face so your children don't see the worry. Luckily last night was only some limbs down for us but I will be writing down those details. It does give the writing a real sense of place and you are a master at that. Thanks for a great post.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I am going to eagerly wait for you next book. Wow! What a lot of material to choose from. Where we live in the foothills, the little Tule River floods from time to time, but it's a piddly little trickle of water compared to the mighty Mississippi.