You wrote Why New Orleans Matters in the months following Katrina, and the second half deals with the aftermath of the storm. Had you already conceptualized the first half, a memoir of how you fell in love with New Orleans?
Oh, no. In fact, before Katrina people would periodically ask me if I were thinking of writing anything about New Orleans, and I’d say no. I had been in New Orleans for 11 years when Katrina happened, but I still didn’t feel that I knew enough. There are so many layers to the place.
Right after the disaster my better half, Mary, and I were in Missouri, where she grew up. It was extremely traumatic being stuck there and watching what was happening down here and not being able to do anything about it. I talked to my editor at Harper Collins, Cal Morgan, and he asked if there were anything they could do to help. We started talking and very quickly evolved the idea for a very short book that would make the case for why New Orleans has to survive, because at that time there were a number of voices out there, including some high-profile ones, who were saying, ‘Hey, yeah, the place should be just be bulldozed.’ The book was my response to that.
Reading City of Refuge, which you wrote afterwards, I got the sense that Why New Orleans Matters served as a blueprint for the novel. Did you purposefully use it as a roadmap or did experience subconsciously bleed in?
One is non-fiction and the other is a novel. Those are two different modes. Some people assumed that Craig’s character was based on myself, his experiences on mine, but that is really not the case. The problem that Craig faces in the novel is that he is a family man and has divided loyalties, to his family and to the city he loves. I have a friend who moved to Chicago with his wife and children from New Orleans after the disaster, as Craig and his family do, and I got a lot of insight into the choices, and the anguish, involved from long conversations with this friend, as well as from other friends who were in similar situations. His experience is very different from my own, although I and, obviously, everyone else had to make hard decisions about whether to come back or not.
When you write a novel, [Read more…]