Monday, September 1, 2008

Hurricane Gustav

My heart is breaking. Two million people are fleeing from he path of Hurricane Gustav. The NY Times headline and photos are frightening.

In 2005, VOODOO SEASON, the first in my contemporary voodoo mystery series, was published the day the levees broke in New Orleans. YELLOW MOON has just been released and I feel like its déjà vu.

Coming home from the Dallas Tuliasoma Bookfair yesterday, I saw the weather charts--all red, blue, and searing white and yellow. This morning, I literally work up to the newspaper--my husband brought the paper into bed (since it a lovely holiday morning--our little Jack Russell, Leia, is sleeping between us and Griffen, out baby cat, is sunning in the window). But as soon as I saw the front page of the NY Times, I got sick. It is not a lovely day for the citizens in the Gulf Coast area.

Hurricane Katrina changed my entire assumptions about my mystery trilogy. Most of you know me as an historical fiction novelist, and so you know how I weave history into my stories. VOODOO SEASON has history--of the New Orleans quadroon balls, the inherent racism and sexism inherited from the slave trade, and the legacy of Marie Laveau. But, it was fundamentally a "paranormal mystery"--or some say, a "police procedural."

YELLOW MOON, the second in the trilogy, published August 19, is being labeled by some as a "mystery horror" novel. You know why? Because I wrote YELLOW MOON knowing that in the third book, HURRICANE LEVEE BLUES, Katrina was coming. I just didn't expect Hurricane Gustav, too.

Life-real events-have changed my art. But those events are rooted in the history of Louisiana which I've been studying since I started my historical novel, VOODOO DREAMS.

YELLOW MOON doesn't simply follow mystery writing conventions; it isn't all plotting, but, it, especially, embraces more history, explores the nature of evil, for it is the bridge to my condemnation in HURRICANE LEVEE BLUES for all that happened in 2005 and that may be happening again now to fellow citizens in New Orleans.

Yes, there are natural disasters but unnatural responses.

I don't know why I started writing about the descendent of Marie Laveau, a nineteenth century voodoo queen now. Publishers have been asking for a sequel for fifteen years. Finally, one day, I thought I could jump ahead to the twenty-first century and write about a smart, sexy woman who is an ER doctor, discovering her ancestral heritage from Marie Laveau and voodoo. Have a little fun with the book, a little sass. Did I tell you my protagonist was a doctor in Charity Hospital? I'm sure you all know that Charity wasn't evacuated for days--and became a hell for some of our weakest and sickest citizens.

Real events have intruded on my writing and I feel as though Laveau is laughing--saying--"un-hunh, you thought you were writing a simple mystery tale." I should have known that there is nothing simple about New Orleans and its history. Yes, HURRICANE LEVEE BLUES will be a mystery, with spirits, voodoo-gods....but it'll also be historical, demonstrating how choices, centuries ago, led to the disproportionate devastation of the African American community in New Orleans. HURRICANE LEVEE BLUES will take all my skills to show the pain of so many social injustices...and the after-effects of environmental racism.

Once again, my writing, I feel, is breaking and crossing genres. Once again, I'm scared that I might not be able to tell the story right. I'm proud of VOODOO SEASON and YELLOW MOON. YELLOW MOON, in particular, just like my character, Dr. Levant, grew, becoming more complex as fiction/history blended and bled into the present-day. Yet, HURRICANE LEVEE BLUES is a bigger, super horrifying book, because of the aftermath of Katrina. I hope that I get it right. Already, it is demanding all that I can give.

Hearing about Hurricane Gustav, I feel helpless. I'm hoping the damage won't be great--that no one will die--or be hurt. The Gulf is NOT recovered and I feel it is so sad that people are being traumatized again.

As citizens, I know each of us is committed to helping fellow citizens. I've seen it--and I know there will be a similar outpouring of love for a post-response to Gustav.

But, I'm also a story-teller. A story-teller writes. My voodoo series is becoming its' own hurricane. With words, imagery, plotting and character, I'm trying my best to remind us all that environmental justice is a right deserving of us all.

With hope,

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