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The Waterways of Hurricane Katrina

I have a lousy sense of direction.

No, that’s not it.

I have difficulty translating directional information into an understanding in my head. This failure is pervasive in my life. Driving—hell, walking. I am totally missing a directional chip in my head.

Yet, here I am, writing a novel that demands I understand the incursion of water into New Orleans as a result of the surge from Hurricane Katrina into Lake Borgne and up Mr. Go. into the Intracoastal Waterway and the Industrial Canal that flooded the Lower Ninth Ward.

All the waterways look alike to me. They crisscross the edges of New Orleans like veins and arteries. Multitudinous. Pervasive unto the point of swiss cheese. Rendering the land into a lacy valentine. But not as benign.

The waterways are impossible to understand at ground level. Difficult to translate from bird’s-eye view into the drawn lines of maps. All of it, hard to interpret when I don’t know east from west, lakeside from riverside, up river from down river.

We went on an excursion today, and I learned much. About the damming of Mr. Go and the erecting of the Lake Borgne Surge Barrier, both post-Katrina actions taken to, in the future, protect New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish from the surge into the funnel that assaulted the city when Hurricane Katrina dealt its death-filled blow against New Orleans.

I brought that learning home and researched. I will take the research and go out again, replacing web images with live images. Sooner or later, I will understand it enough to include it in the plot of my novel.

No one ever said writing was easy. Or that pursuing this profession would spare us from tasks that do not come easily.

So I will ask my brain to move in directions that cause it to creak. I will keep at it until it penetrates my genetic blockage and spreads, taking hold in maybe a Gestalt way. And I get it.

Really get it.

Until then, I will research on.

Fort Macomb
Fort Macomb

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Comments (8)

  • Most folks do not realize the amount of research that must be done by writers to make realistic fiction come to life and not have those “oh $h!#%” moments when some reader points out, “He couldn’t have shot the villain with a Colt .45 automatic because they weren’t yet invented then.” I believe that’s why a great many young writers; today opt to genres such as Science Fiction, where they can mix space ships and cyborgs with Chevys and hackers and no one will care. Hopefully, you’re hard work will pay off. Are you going to go down and walk the Ninth Ward? I drove through there in daylight last year. A lot of vacant lots and houseless slabs interspersed with some old and some new buildings. You should go. It will be interesting. But, best take company, and tary not after sundown. :). http://www.rick.destefanis.com

    • You are so right. I can’t tell you how many of times I’ve Googled “when was x invented?” or researched whether something was in NOLA BEFORE Katrina. All the elements of this novel—Katrina, the War of 1812, and pirates—are basically foreign to me, and I want the fantasy element to be layered on top of a very real foundation, or the fantasy will float into the sky, losing the reader. We’re in the Lower 9th a lot—it’s just over the Industrial Canal from our apartment—but I haven’t walked it, not the parts where the damage is still so evident. Researching the hurricane has really made me understand why it was so devastated—a long history of bad decisions.
      🙁

  • We took a tour of the flood damage I. NOLA some years ago. Led by a Dutch engineer who had been hired as a consultant, we learned a lot.He was very critical of the whole set up before the flood and was soon let go. I am sorry I don’t have a name, but maybe you could track him down..

    • We haven’t taken a tour, only driven around on our own, so that may be an idea. I really didn’t know the tour guides were so professional. When you hear about the pre-Katrina “protections,” it is very depressing, isn’t it?

  • Your focus on creating a “true” story with all the relevant details is what will make your novel come alive. I think there’s an element of fearlessness in being able to keep moving and bringing all the pieces together, of not being afraid of details. Bravo!

    Out of curiosity I googled fiction written about Katrina and note that James Lee Burke wrote 2. I’ll have to get onto those one. The only one I read was an incredible book by Jesmyn Ward called Salvage the Bones. I look forward to yours, Ellen.

    • Thank you, thank you. Sometimes I feel like I’m getting hopelessly lost, but I have to hope I come out on the other side.

      I’ve read 1? of the James Lee Burke’s Katrina novels, I don’t think 2 of them. And I have Salvage the Bones beside my bed. But I haven’t read it yet. This will give me impetus to get at it. And you will be the first to know when mine is “readable!”

  • I’m direction-challenged too, Ellen. I think any time we can get out there and actually see, smell, hear and experience things for ourselves, it’s worth the effort. As writers its the little details, the personal impressions, that bring our work to life. Those things that can’t be found in online or book research.

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