Monday, December 20, 2010

Naming a character in Jambalaya Justice

Someone won the naming of one of my characters in the upcoming Jambalaya Justice in the Ebay auction by the First Amendment Project. They also won a signed copy of the book when it is available, early 2011, and either a phone call or a night drinking with me and the real life Big Who, a character from the book, at my bar in the metro New Orleans area. The price ended up being $102.50, and received three bids.

I have never participated in anything like this before, and at first I was worried that no one would bid on mine. There were some well-known writers, and the bids weren't extravagantly high for their auctions, so I was wondering if anyone would even bid on mine. Once I got the first bid, I relaxed, because at least one person was bidding. Earlier today it was still only the one bid, but I was okay with that. Then I saw that someone else bid after that, and it ended with 3 bids total.

I don't know the procedure from here, but I am assuming the First Amendment Project will put me in touch with the winning bidder so we can work out the particulars. It was pretty exciting, although I'm not sure if my nerves could take another auction. I can't wait to see who was willing to pay $102.50 to name one of my characters, and sincerely hope it wasn't my mother!

On another note, I am thinking about posting a bridge between Gumbo Justice and Jambalaya Justice, just to let everyone know what to prepare for when Jambalaya comes out.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

First Amendment Project Auction

The First Amendment Project is an organization that, among other things, provides legal representation for reporters dealing with First Amendment issues. As a writer, the First Amendment is important to me, because I don't want to be censored, I don't want my children to be told they can't read certain books, and I don't want our newspapers and t.v. news to feel they can't reveal the whole truth to us for fear of going to jail or being sued. Freedom of speech has a lot of nuances, and if we take it for granted, it is only because someone once fought for us to have the right. The fight is ongoing, though, and the FAP is one group that continues to fight it.

In one of their fundraising efforts, the FAP is hosting an Ebay auction where writers are auctioning off a name in their next book. All of the proceeds go to the FAP.

I am auctioning off the naming of a character in Jambalaya Justice, which will be out in 2011, and have provided three female characters and three male characters from which the bidder can choose.

I am also auctioning off a signed copy of the book, and either a phone call, or within a year, a night of free drinks at my bar in the metropolitan New Orleans area with me and the real-life Big Who, one of the characters from Gumbo Justice and Jambalaya Justice.

The bids are not cheap, starting at $100.00, but this is really a worthwhile cause. One writer is auctioning not only naming the character in his graphic novel, but drawing the bidder as the character. The Showtime Series "Weeds," is also auctioning off the naming of a character for the t.v. show.

The writers do not make any money off of this, but I still hope every writer makes the sale, because it is such a good cause to support for writers.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Today I have a very special guest, Barb Tarn, who lives in Italy. Her life seems so fascinating and extraordinary to me, and she mentions things like visiting the Louvre as if they happen every day. Below, she blogs about her inspiration for a historical novel she is planning on writing that may be as relevant today as in the 12th century she is setting it in.

Historical Research Frenzy
by Barbara G.Tarn

I always had a wild imagination, and when I finished high school I didn't go to university. I loved the middle ages (probably because of the illustrations of my childhood fairy tales and classics such as Robin Hood) and started writing fantasy because, well, it was FANTASY, so I didn't have to bother with research. Yeah, I know, I was very lazy (and still am today most of the time).

Then I read "The lady and the unicorn" by Tracy Chevalier. I knew the tapestries well (I go to check them every now and then when I'm in Paris), but knew nothing of their history, and I enjoyed the novel take on that part of history. Hence I started researching, and discovered the Middle Ages lasted 1000 years, with lots of changes between Charlemagne and Cristoforo Colombo (sorry, I'm Italian, I'll use his real name. The end of the Middle Ages is officially 1492, so you know who it is). I had to find a more specific time if I wanted to tell a story.

At first I started going to museums. Me, the museum-hater, went to the Louvre galleries of 12th to 15th century painters, and did the same at the National Gallery in London AND the British Museum. I'm the castle-lady (each and every medieval castle open to the public must be seen by me), I'm starting to appreciate Gothic cathedrals, but museums... Cluny was really an exception, because the unicorn is my animal, and those tapestries are gorgeous! ;-)

Anyway, I was looking for a portrait of some anonymous (or not too famous) sitter to inspire me (although I didn't read "The girl with the pearl earring" you understand why I was doing it). Unfortunately there aren't many paintings left of the early Middle Ages (read: none at all. Statues and some manuscripts only).

Then I saw "Kingdom of Heaven" after reading a book about crusades and was appalled by the historical inaccuracy of the movie (check Balian of Ibelin on Wikipedia if you don't believe me). Now, I wasn't going to rewrite that story, but my mum is also a Middle Ages lover, and knows everything on the Arthur cycle and Tristan and Iseult, etc. And all those were started by Chrétien de Troyes in the 12th century. I was already playing with the idea of the minstrels and the crusades - Christianity vs. Islam being a theme still very heartfelt today.

I even found the picture of a 12th century statue called "Return of the Crusader" with this very intriguing caption: Return of the Crusader - Hugues de VaudĂ©mont, who left in 1147, goes back to his wife - legend says he went on crusade and she waited for him faithfully for 14 or 16 years... That's the Second Crusade (1145–1149), and I'm following the third (1189–1192), but you get the point!

So I decided to write the life of a knight at the beginning of chivalry, when minstrels sang of long lost past, tournaments were melees and heraldic was barely starting. I settled for the end of the 12th century - Third Crusade, Richard Lionheart - and started researching more. I intended to close the story with the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215.

At the time I had just started writing in English, and I was writing screenplays as
the form (the prose) was simpler for me. I started writing my story and by page 120 (in screenwriting one page equals one minute on screen, new writers are not allowed to exceed 120pages) the knight had barely started off for the Holy Land. I could either make it a TV mini-series (but I don't watch TV, nor have History Channel to check how they do it), or cut it to make it more of a movie. So I "cut" the story to nine years (knighthood, crusade, return) and sent it to a coverage service.

Reading some of the objections by the poor reader, who obviously hadn't spent two years reading ancient medieval chronicles in Old French and Latin or English 19th century translations, I gave up the project and put it in a drawer - OK, I'll admit my thought was "Those Americans have no sense of history whatsoever". I apologize.

Then I gave up screenwriting altogether and tried prose in English. My main genre is still fantasy, but in these two years I've earned enough confidence that my prose will sustain an historical novel. The narrator is slightly more omniscient than in any other genre, and I can start when the hero is two and end shortly after his death like I originally intended (his son will sign the Magna Carta for him) without bothering of being misunderstood by some Hollywood reader.

So next year I'll brush up my notes and my screenplays, will do a little more research on topics such as clothes (that would be the costume designer duty on a movie set - my job if I write a novel, sigh) and write my story. Then I will send it to a few agents and see if I can publish it traditionally (the fantasy will be self-pubbed e-books).

I hope to make those years (1166-1215) come alive for readers, trying to be more historically precise than Sir Walter Scott and other 19th century "historical" novelists. I have learned to love my research when I found little gems that I could incorporate into my story when reading those old chronicles. I'll probably try to interview some reenactors as well, because even if I own two medieval costumes that I use for medieval dinners, and a sword, I never really used them, while I know there are people out there who reenact tournaments and other medieval events and are even more passionate than me about that time.

It's a story of love, friendship, faith and betrayal that hopefully will be appreciated everywhere, even if it's set between France, England and the Holy Land. I know I will write more historical novels in the future, but I still have to pick up another time period (Italian Renaissance? Mumble mumble...). I jotted down people and/or events in my "history" notebook for future use, but we'll see. I look forward to next year and my brand new adventure.

Barbara G.Tarn is a writer, artist and world-creator. She hopes to reveal the might of her world, Silvery Earth, as soon as technology allows her. Or maybe she'll turn into an historical writer, who knows. In the meantime she writes, draws, ignores her day job and blogs at

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Today I talked about promotion as a guest blogger on Creative Barbwire, my friend Barb's website. Barb is also a writer, and in a few days will guest blog here about her latest work. Until then, stop at and pick up some tips from yours truly. While I have a lot left to learn about promoting, why reinvent the wheel yourself if you can benefit from my experiences?


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Blog Jog Day Book Drawing Winner

Joylene Butler was the winner of signed copies of Gumbo Justice and Jambalaya Justice.

Joylene, if you could e-mail me at with your address, I'll put Gumbo Justice in the mail after Thanksgiving.

Thanks everyone for joining me on Blog Jog Day, and hope to hear from you again!

Holli Castillo

Sunday, November 21, 2010

BLOG JOG DAY and Gumbo Justice and Jambalaya Justice Giveaway

Thank you for stopping by my Blog! Please explore all this Blog has to offer, then jog on over to

If you would like to visit a different Blog in the jog, go to

Anyone who like to be entered in a giveaway, please leave a comment. You'll be entered in a giveaway for Gumbo Justice, the first in the Crescent City Mystery series, as well as the soon-to-be-released second in the series, Jambalaya Justice. I will do a random drawing from all comments left, and will immediately mail Gumbo Justice to the winner, and will forward Jambalaya Justice as soon as I have a copy in my hands.

Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Promotion in Increments

Like most writers, I have to do my own promotion. I am published by an independent press, Oak Tree Press, and am happy that everything worked out the way it did. When I first started out, I thought I wanted a big New York house that would put me on the Bestseller's List. When that didn't work out, I looked for an agent. I also queried publishers, not really understanding the difference between publishers and agents at the time, and lucked out by getting a contract with Oak Tree, which has worked out extremely well for me.

When I was querying big houses, I didn't realize that the big houses don't keep books in print indefinitely, and that if you don't sell big from the beginning, they may pull your books. I also didn't realize that the front shelves of the Barnes and Noble are reserved for already best-selling authors, and there was no way on earth any big New York publisher was going to spend big money putting a no-name like me at the front of the book store. I was also unaware that the big New York houses wouldn't spend their hard earned money promoting me, and I would do a lot of promotion on my own if I was published by one of them.

So it turned out I signed with an indie house and as I started exploring the murky waters of promotion, I learned a lot. I was lucky enough to have a promotion mentor, Sunny Frazier, another Oak Tree Press writer, who guided me along the way, (along with other newbies she refers to as her posse)and explained the industry to me. I was a complete novice, and although I knew enough to have a website, a blog and a Facebook account, I wasn't sure about anything else, or what to do with these now that I had them. So Sunny helped me out.

One thing she didn't explain to me, probably because she figured it was self-explanatory and I should have realized it already, is that promotion is incremental. By this, I mean you have to think of new things to do constantly.

It's easy to keep waiting for that one big hit, that one thing you just know will send hundreds of thousands of people to your website or to Amazon to purchase your book. I wonder, how do I get Brad Pitt to walk around holding a copy of Gumbo Justice? He lives in New Orleans part time, so if I really wanted to find him, I bet I could. My husband was an extra in the Green Lantern movie that shot down here, and at the end of shooting he gave the director a signed copy of my novel. I just knew that I was going to hear back from him wanting the movie rights, but so far, I'm still waiting. Or maybe I'll do an interview on a website that Oprah happens to come across... You get my drift.

The more promotion I do the more I realize that promotion is like training for a marathon that never happens. I have to come up with ways to get my name and my book out there every month, and then I have to try to do it again the next month, and the next month, and the next month. If I can book an interview this month, find a new website to either list my book, post a blog, or at least make a comment, I am taking a step in the right direction. I also try to blog on my own blog, and then post about it on Facebook and Twitter at least once a month. I try not to overdo it. After all, many of my Facebook friends and Twitter buddies already know about my book, and although they may want to read an interesting blog I've written, they don't want everything I write to be Gumbo Justice or my experiences as a writer.

I have found that when I do get my name out there, whether in an online interview, or my college alumni magazine, I make a few book sales. I don't make mega sales each time, maybe one or two a day for a few days. But if I do this a few times a month, I sell more books.

Then comes next month, and I have to find something new. This is where it comes in handy to have friends and a mentor in the field. They pass on new websites, new places to post, other writers looking for someone to guest blog. I try to get to a few of these each month.

Of course, as I've mentioned, the marathon never actually happens. All of the training doesn't culminate in one big event--my book hadn't made the Bestseller's List and hasn't been optioned for a screenplay or cable t.v. series. But I do sell a few books, I do get emails from strangers asking when the next one will be out, and I do feel like my work is being read and enjoyed, which is probably the most important thing to me.

So while my incremental promotional tactics may not result in millions of dollars of sales, more of my books do get sold, and more importantly, read, than if I wasn't self-promoting. And with my second novel, Jambalaya Justice, coming out soon, the promotion I've done for Gumbo Justice should pay off double.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

New in New Orleans

A few months ago I wrote an article about New Orleans slang for AOL. I saw the assignment on Red Room, a website for writers and readers, and there was a huge selection of New Orleans articles that needed to be written for AOL Travel. I chose the one on New Orleans slang because it fit me so well.

"New in New Orleans," provides a list of ten essential New Orleans' expressions, including a few tips to not only help you fit in like a local, but to help keep you safe when visiting the Big Easy.

You can read the article read at

Gina Misiroglu of Red Room put me in touch with the AOL people, which is one of the many ways she directs traffic to Red Room and points a spotlight on Red Room's authors.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why I don't read when I'm writing

Two weeks ago I changed a character's name in my current project, Jambalaya Justice, the second in the Crescent City Mystery Series and followup to Gumbo Justice. The character is a featured character in the novel, and I've had him named for four years, when I first started writing the book.

I started writing Jambalaya Justice while I waited to find a publisher for Gumbo Justice. Then Katrina hit, and I stopped writing Jambalaya briefly and began working on Chocolate City Justice, a novel that would take my protag through the hurricane. At that time I didn't have a contract for Gumbo Justice, and my thought was to make Chocolate City the first in the series, and then rewrite Gumbo to be the second, figuring it might be easier to sell. Before I got too far into Chocolate City, Oak Tree Press offered me a contract for Gumbo Justice, so I went back to the original plan, and decided to make Chocolate City the third book. But I digress- the point is, I named one of my detectives years ago, but changed his name because I read a novel that had a character, another cop, with the same name.

If the name had been John or Mark or something ordinary, I wouldn't have worried about it, but it was a nickname a bit off the beaten path. The other problem was the book was written by a writer with my publisher, so I'm pretty sure a lot of the same people who read his book would read mine, and it would look like I stole his character's name. It may seem like it shouldn't matter, but it does to me, so I changed it. Fortunately, my husband is good with helping me name characters, so I ended up with something just as good if not better.

I also had an occasion where I read a blog where comments centered around a new cop show, Rookie Blue, and how some people thought one of the undercover operations the police were doing was unrealistic. I had some concern, because my characters were doing a similar undercover operation. I ended up watching the show they were discussing, catching the episode on my computer, and as it turned out, the undercover work in the show was different than what I had written. I also ended up loving the show, and it's now my favorite. But I did have that moment of worry.

I like to read other novels set in New Orleans for comparison purposes. Some I've read are terrible, and it's clear the writer doesn't live here or know that much about the city--small things like not knowing we have interstates instead of freeways, or that our police department handles criminal cases while our sheriff's department works in the jail. . I've also read some really good novels set here. Recently I downloaded a sample of a James Lee Burke novel on my Kindle, because he seems to be the big one people always bring up when they find out I write about New Orleans.

I only wanted to read a few pages, to get a feel for his writing. Within a page or two I discovered the novel seems to be about murdered hookers. Alarms went off in my head, because Jambalaya Justice is about murdered hookers. Now I feel like buying the book to make sure what I'm writing isn't too similar to what he already wrote, but I don't really have time to read right now. Also, while he is definitely authentic, his style is not one that I would ordinarily choose to read. I like to get to the story fast, I like action, a setting designed to move the plot along, not as a separate entity. His writing is more poetic, and extremely descriptive, designed more to create mood and ambiance than to quickly get to the meat and potatoes. It's a difference in style choice, I'm certainly not criticizing his writing.

So my new decision is just to quit reading when I'm writing. I can't keep changing things because someone else may have written about it, and if I don't know about what other people wrote, I really shouldn't have to worry about the novels being too similar to each other.

Of course, some new worry will just replace the old, but hopefully it will be something that doesn't have me rewriting.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Book drawing winner

Margaret from Illinois won the book drawing for Gumbo Justice in a random drawing of everyone who left comments on the Katrina blogs. Thanks everyone for reading!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hurricane Katrina Anniversary- Part 3

This is the last segment of the Hurricane Katrina Anniversary. If you post a comment on any of my Katrina blogs, you will be entered in a drawing for a signed copy of Gumbo Justice. I will be doing the drawing over the weekend, and will post the winner then.

Katrina Anniversary Bog- Part 3

Two close friends of mine stayed in New Orleans for the hurricane, coincidentally, each the Godfather of one of my daughters. Both had very different experiences.

Danny stayed at his house in mid-city. His house was raised, and didn’t flood. After a few days without electricity, he would have left, but an elderly neighbor who lived around the corner from him refused to leave, and he wouldn’t leave her behind. The police and National Guard tried to strong arm him into leaving, but he had provisions and was happy to stay and watch over his belongings and his neighbor. He ventured out frequently. With no electricity, it was the darkest dark he had ever seen. Gunshots were frequent. Occasionally, bodies floated by, including one in a police uniform. There was little to be done with no phone service, no way for police to retrieve the bodies, and no place to put the bodies until they could be carted away for autopsy.

Robbie also stayed behind, in his house in Lakeview, on Canal Boulevard, a street name that would prove to be appropriate after the 17th Street Canal failed. Robby, like Danny, had the means to leave. Unlike Danny, Robbie didn’t have a neighbor to look out for, but did have a cat, and cats weren’t welcomed at shelters or most motels. When Robbie’s house began filling with water, the first thing he did was grab his cat and put her in a cat carrier. He ended up swimming back and forth in his driveway with the cat carrier over his head, until he finally made it to a set of raised railroad tracks.

From the tracks, he tried to retrieve his furniture, now floating past him. He managed to save a few pieces and put them on the tracks, but it was pointless. He ended up leaving it all behind anyway. He also saw people floating by, screaming for help, beginning to drown. He tried to help them, but they were too far away from the tracks, and there was nothing he could do. He ended up making a very long trek to the Superdome, through water up to his chest, holding his cat above his head.

Outside the Superdome, he was greeted by an eerie sight- a line of cats and dogs, sitting and staring, confused, waiting to be retrieved by their hopeless owners who felt forced to leave them behind. When he tried to enter the dome, he was told he could not bring his cat in, nor would he be allowed to bring her with him when the buses showed up to evacuate people. So he left, and went to Danny’s, not prepared to relegate his Fluffy to that line of sad, abandoned cats and dogs waiting for masters who would never come back for them.

Danny’s elderly neighbor eventually agreed to leave, and when she did, Danny left as well. The safety issues were less important to him than the comfort issues, and he was ready for civilization again. He managed to contact someone by text message to meet him on the interstate, and he walked. Robby also eventually met up with his family in Baton Rouge, where he spent some time in the hospital, covered with boils from a staph infection he caught from the flood waters. He was one of many treated for what they were terming Katrina rash.

I returned home exactly 2 weeks after the hurricane to minor roof damage, with working electricity and water service. Phone service and cable took a little longer, but we got them back pretty quickly. I was more isolated back home with no t.v. or cable for a few days than I had been in Houston, and it was an uneasy time. Only a few men in our neighborhood had returned, and had not brought their families back yet, and my two girls and I were pretty much alone all day while my husband, a contractor, supervised a team from Texas repairing roofs. There was a silence like I had never experienced. Ours was the only air-conditioner running, and then when the cable service was restored, the only t.v.. We had to drive two hours to Thibodeaux to find a grocery that was stocked with meat and other freezer foods, and where we didn’t have to wait in line an hour just to get in the door.

The smell was sometimes overwhelming, whether from moldy refrigerators, the rotten food everyone had to bury in their backyards, the stagnant water that had yet to drain from some neighborhoods, or the corpses that had yet to be removed from the flood. Flies the size of small birds came from nowhere, but were particularly nasty at the gas stations for some reason. Gas was another thing we had to wait in line for, and it was a good idea not to go anywhere if you couldn’t gas up near home, because you never knew if gas would be available at the next station. Debris was still a danger, clogging the streets and puncturing tires, and power lines were still down in many areas.

Driving around the un-flooded sections of town was odd. Very few cars on the roads, curfew at dark, and near the area of the breach, the streets were gone, the houses either destroyed or moved by the wall of water. Where streets once sat was nothing but sand. An occasional street sign had not been destroyed, and provided a vague landmark. Houses were crushed, others sat in the middle of what had once been the street.

Stories of shootings and rapes were still prevalent. Some of these were certainly tall tales, or exaggerated versions of true stories, but some of the stories were true, and were covered up, or at least denied to the media. One particularly sad and chilling story was of local icon, Charmaine Neville. She ended up commandeering a bus and driving a busload of people out of the city after the flood, but not before saving herself and a neighbor from the rising waters only to be raped by a stranger trying to get to higher ground. She is certainly not alone in her tragedy.

It should come as no big surprise that mental health issues increased, exacerbated by the fact that most of the mental health facilities either did not reopen, or were closed down after they did because of lack of funding. Murder/suicides also increased, especially domestic.

I definitely didn’t have it as bad as some people, although my way of life was affected. I relied upon public assistance for the first time in my life, receiving food stamps for a two month period as well as a check from Red Cross, something I never would have thought I would need to do. While my credit card companies would wait for payment, the bank for my mortgage and car note expected any shortage to be made up in the next three months, as opposed to tacking the missing payment on at the end of the loan. Why they thought any of us would be in a position to pay extra in the coming months, when many people were out of jobs, is beyond me, but it wasn’t worth not paying it now if I could, instead of having to find extra money a month from now. Not knowing what the future was going to hold, I didn’t want to take the chance. So my Red Cross check went to bills and the groceries were paid for, so until my husband actually got paid– some people needed to wait for insurance claims to pay him– we made due. Unlike most of Louisiana, for some reason FEMA denied me payment. I must have filled out the forms wrong on the internet, but I helped my mother fill hers out and she received her money without a problem, so I’m not sure what happened.

Katrina was definitely a shock to all of us, but we tend to focus on all the bad things that happened– the lack of government reaction, the way some of our police turned into murderers, the way some of our citizens stole big screen t.v.’s on National Television. As a city, we have a lot to be ashamed of.

On the other hand, the good stories don’t make the papers. For every thug who looted a store for a gun, there is a decent person who pulled a stranger from raging flood waters. For every cop who shot an unarmed person in error, there is one who saved a baby from a roof. And for every doctor who overdosed a terminal patient on morphine, there is a guy who refused to leave until he made sure his neighbor was safe.

Ultimately, if you view the lowest point in the life of any person or any city as a tragedy unfolds, you’re going to see a lot of ugly. Hopefully, those who actually experienced it will be able to show the good as well. And God forbid if such a scenario repeats itself, we will all know what to do next time.

Holli Castillo

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hurricane Katrina Anniversary- Part 2

August 29, 2005

The television in our hotel room never went off the day Katrina made landfall. I knew it was probably not good for my two girls, but it was the only news we could get. We watched the tracking on the national news channels and the weather channel, as Katrina stealthily approached. She wobbled every so often, but we were experienced enough with tracking storms that we recognized it for what it was, and knew by the next hourly update, she would be back on course. And she was.

The day before, my kids had been bored. We hadn’t brought toys, because we left sort of on the fly, not believing we would be gone for that long, but after only one day, the girls wanted to play. I took them to the hotel lobby, which had a small pond with two swans in it, and to the hotel restaurant, which had a creepy balloon man I still think was a pedophile. The girls sensed something was wrong with him and my youngest hid his substandard balloon animal in the closet until she decided to pop it. I warned them he might be the bad man we've talked about, and to stay away from him. I didn't have to tell them twice.

We also went to the Galleria. I felt blessed when the Disney store had 40 percent off of everything for Katrina evacuees with an I.D.. Not knowing how long we would be gone, I didn’t how far my bank account was going to stretch, something I hadn’t considered before we evacuated. The room wasn’t cheap, anywhere from $99 to $179 per night, depending upon what day of the week, and I was putting it all on my American Express card. I didn’t know then that a little thing on my insurance policy called “loss of use,” would reimburse me, although not in time to pay the bill.

My husband was a contractor, if he didn’t work, he didn’t make money. I have a contract through the state to do criminal appeals, but I had no idea if I would get paid if I wasn’t actually working, and I couldn’t work from Houston. I didn’t worry a whole lot yet, though. Something inside kept me believing it wasn’t going to be as bad as the newscasters were making it out to be.
My husband arrived from New Orleans early Monday morning, in the wee hours, before Katrina hit land. He brought my laptop, and it became my lifeline to the world back home. I connected with, our local newspaper’s website. They have excellent forums for people to communicate with each other and post news, and eventually to post requests for news about missing people, but at first there was nothing to report. My husband and family slept while I watched the news and surfed the internet looking for information.

Early in the morning, we saw the first images from the French Quarter. The worst we saw was a few bricks from the top of an older building had fallen on a car. There was not a lot of flooding, and the wind damage was not as bad as it could have been. New Orleans East had been hit the hardest in the metropolitan New Orleans area, as the storm had made landfall further east than tracked. Slidell, Louisiana, took a huge hit, as did Bay St. Louis and the coast of Mississippi. We felt somewhat relieved.

My husband called one of our neighbors, who was a police officer and had stayed in town. The neighbor, Mike, said we had a little flooding, he and a few other men who had stayed behind pulled debris from the drainage system and the flooding went down. Part of one of my trees had been destroyed, and all of our roofs had damage, but it didn’t sound too bad.

About an hour later, new reports began coming in. Water was rising in the French Quarter from an unknown source. People began arriving at the Superdome, the “shelter of last resort,” with stories of massive tidal wave type flooding, people trapped on roofs of houses, screaming for help, others drowning, swept up in the water.

The first levee that I heard had failed was at the 17th Street canal. My daughter’s school was two blocks away from this canal. Many of her new friends lived in this neighborhood. Through, I learned the school was okay, but only because our sheriff’s department sandbagged right along the canal, keeping a lot of the water from going into Old Metairie. New Orleans, particularly Lakeview, and the less affluent areas of Metairie, were flooding.

The time line actually was something like this:

At 4:30 a.m., the Industrial Canal leaked through drainage gates into neighborhoods on both sides of the I-10, creating a minor flood compared to what was to come.

At 6:10, Katrina made landfall at Buras, Louisiana, and a wall of water 21 feet high crossed the Mississippi river levees, flooding Plaquemines Parish.

At 6:30 a.m., the tidal surge built in the Intercoastal waterway and the levees were overtopped, sending St. Bernard under water.

At 9:00 a.m., the surge in the London Avenue Canal rose, the levee panels began bending, and water began leaking into yards, creating a minor flood.

At 9:30 a.m., the east side of the same levee failed, putting parts of Gentilly under water.

At 9:45, the 17th Street canal levee wall panels failed, filling mid-city, Lakeview, and parts of Metairie with water.

At 10:30, the west side panels of the London Canal failed, adding 8 feet of water to the already flooded Gentilly.

Then we heard the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, or MRGO as we call it, a shipping channel, had levee failure, flooding more of New Orleans. The MRGO crosses the Industrial Canal or Intercoastal waterway, and goes through St. Bernard. The Industrial canal connects the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain, separates New Orleans East from the rest of the city, and divides the lower 9th Ward from the Upper 9th Ward. The failure of the levees of MRGO and the Industrial Canal caused the bulk of the flooding portrayed on t.v. and movies, but the 17th Street Canal caused the Lakeview and mid-city flood, while the little known London Avenue Canal caused the decimation of Gentilly.

These canals lead from the river to the lake. Because of the levee failures, Lake Pontchartrain would continue filling the city until the amount of water outside the lake leveled off with the amount of water inside the lake. That's a whole lot of water.

The day Katrina hit, I spent the entire day back and forth between the computer and the front desk of the hotel. I had only booked the room until Monday, that day, and the hotel said they were overbooked and didn’t know if they were going to be able to let us stay. I had to continuously check with them, while frantically trying to book another room elsewhere in Houston. Unfortunately, Houston was pretty full up with New Orleans people right then.

My mother and I got in a tiff because she complained I spent too much time on the computer and not enough taking care of my children, which I guess she kind of failed to realize was part of the reason she was there. I wanted to yell at her to do something, anything, to help us out. Take the kids for lunch or find us another room or something, but I guess she was so used to having everything done for her she couldn’t even contemplate taking the lead. It was driving me crazy. We were all worried about the condition of our homes, our neighborhoods, wondering if our lives would ever go back to normal, but I was also worried about where we would be spending that night, and the only way I had of checking that out was on the computer. She snipped ALMOST under her breath that she was just going to leave and go rent a car (because of course she rode with me instead of taking her own car), and book her own room and stay somewhere else. I wanted to ask how she was getting to the rental car place, and how was she going to book a room, particularly since there were none available, but I dismissed her bitterness as her own nerves. (I was almost tempted to ask her for half of the money for the room she had already stayed in before she left, at least until I received my insurance check, but that was me being ugly and my frustrations coming to a head.)

The hotel would never commit to more than one day at a time the whole two weeks we were there. Before Katrina, during a category 1 hurricane called Cindy in July, I had decided to start looking for an evacuation house, something no more than 5 or 6 hours away from home, so we could travel to it when necessary, but far enough away to be safe from hurricanes. I had looked in parts of Louisiana after Cindy, but had kind of let it slip my mind until now. I vowed during that hotel stay that no matter what else I did that year, I was going to get an evacuation house, and would never go through that again. I did end up buying an evacuation house the following February, in the hills of rural Northern Alabama, and have never regretted it.

Eventually, we got the room worked out, and the day after Katrina, my husband, his father, and his brother decided they were going to be cavemen and go home and brave it, with no electricity or running water. No one was allowed back in town yet, but my husband is a deputy constable, and badged his way in to town. They all lasted a single night without a/c, but my husband did manage to clean out the two maggot-infested refrigerators at my house as well as my mother’s. Cell phones were still not working in the area, but text messaging was, so we were able to communicate while he was gone.

Our house had roof damage, in my daughters’ playroom and my office, but only a few toys, children’s books and small appliances were ruined. My husband and his entourage came back a day later, and we remained in Houston for nearly two weeks.

My husband went home a day before we did, but I was extremely apprehensive. We were still hearing stories of looting and gunshots, although a lot of that had stopped with the national guard in town, but that brought a series of other problems, such as a curfew at dark. It was particularly scary because police from all over Louisiana, as well as the rest of the country, were in town, in uniforms, trying to keep the peace. But that also meant any impostor could don a police uniform and pretend to be an officer.

My daughter’s Godfathers stayed for the storm, both with different experiences of what happened during Katrina, and will be highlighted in part three, as well as how our life changed after Katrina.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hurricane Katrina Anniversary- Part 1

On this date five years ago, I was living in a state of blissful ignorance. It was a Friday, and there was a hurricane called Katrina that we were sort of keeping an eye on. I say sort of, because forecasters had it going to Florida. We figured it would hit Florida and weaken as it traveled inland, as hurricanes do, and we might get a few showers, maybe a little wind. We had already thought, as this time, that we had missed the big one.

I sent my daughter to school that day, the first Friday of the first week of first grade, in a new school no less. She had attended a Catholic school for Pre-K and Kindergarten, but the first of several magnet schools to come had opened in our parish, and although it meant a half-hour drive every morning and afternoon, when my daughter tested in there was no doubt we would try it out.
My younger daughter, a little over a month away from turning four, stayed home with me every day, having just missed the cut off for Pre-K by three days.

In any event, that day started the same as every other day that week, nothing special. There was no talk of a hurricane, and no provisions had been discussed at the school. Just as we were not busy securing our houses or packing our belongings, the school system was not taking the time to secure the buildings for a big storm, nor send home the plethora of school supplies we had just purchased.

Sometime Friday night, well after school and work hours, the newscasters started to get a little jumpy. One in particular who tends to be a Chicken Little had the sky falling, and soon the other weathermen joined her.

I alternated between calling my mother, who had been living alone for the past six months since my father died, and lived about fifteen minutes away from me, and calling my sister, who had a four-month old baby and a nine-year old. We vacillated, unable to decide if we should evacuate. Many times in the past we had contemplated, sometimes going so far as making reservations, and then deciding to stay put and not leave.

By late Friday night, we still believed everyone was overreacting. My mother tried to talk me out of evacuating. It was assumed if we left, my mother would come with me, and she really didn’t want to leave. My sister’s husband worked for some internet tech company, and if an evacuation was officially ordered, he would be relocated to continue working to keep websites up, and my sister and her children would go with him.

Late Friday night I made reservations. I assumed, as did so many of us, that we would be gone for the weekend, and by Monday when the storm didn’t hit us or didn’t turn out to be as bad as we thought, we would be going back home. We were going to Houston, mainly because it was the New Orleans thing to do. I had been to Houston so many times I knew exactly where I wanted to stay, and what areas I wanted to avoid. I ended up reserving a room with two queen beds and a sofa bed for me, my mother and my two girls, because my husband had decided he was going to brave it out. Our hotel was something like 67 steps from the Macy’s entrance to the Galleria, and had swans in the lobby. I figured if we were going to be stuck out of town for the weekend, we might as well be comfortable.

We waited until the following day, Saturday, and threw together a few bags of our belongings, and hit the road prior to the mandatory evacuation being called. Traffic was fine until we hit Lake Charles, Louisiana, right before the Louisiana/Texas border. There was a wreck, and with all of the people fleeing the state, it put us off schedule by several hours. The normal 5 ½ hour trip took 9 hours. We arrived late that night, but we arrived, checked in, and started watching CNN.

After staying up all night and watching the various news channels, I called my husband and convinced him to get on the road and join us. Katrina had been upgraded to an expected category 5, with a track of a direct hit on our city. He left Sunday evening, and the rain began as he was still making his way out of Louisiana. He ended up at the hotel early Monday morning, mere hours before the hurricane made landfall.

And then we watched the cable news channels and waited.

I’ll post part 2, Katrina’s landfall, on the August 29, the fifth year anniversary.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I have finally learned how to put a photo inside the blog pages today, so if this works out, you will be looking at a photo of my dog and Deaf Kitty, my poor deaf kitten that escaped this weekend and had a hell of a Saturday morning after sleeping under a car in the rain, being attacked by a pit bull, and was finally saved by the pit bull's owner who put Deaf Kitty in a cat carrier, i.e. prison cell for cats. But here goes nothing.

I am thinking of writing a short story or collaborating with my 8-year-old daughter on a book called, The Adventures of Deaf Kitty.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Back from Vegas

I am back from the PSWA conference in Las Vegas and came home to New Orleans to hear the oil spill had been capped, the cap was knocked off by a robot, and they were trying to get it recapped last I watched the news. That's what I get for putting on the news instead of the soaps.

My weather man doesn't love me anymore- he says there is a "system" that will probably be a named storm soon. Early in the year to be watching for hurricanes. The Princeton model, which is supposed to be somewhat accurate, had it developing into a hurricane and hitting New Orleans. Not the time, I tell you.

But back to Vegas. I actually learned a few things that I wrote down this time that I think will help my writing. Small things about pacing to build suspense, voice, and putting characters in the most uncomfortable and difficult places or situations possible. The info came at a great time, as I'm trying to get Jambalaya Justice finished to send it off to my publisher. I actually rewrote the beginning in Vegas, after being inspired by one of the speakers.

Speaking of inspiration, thriller/horror writer Simon Wood was the keynote speaker and spoke about writing a thriller. While Gumbo Justice falls more into mystery, I incorporate a lot of thriller elements to build up suspense, and his talk was quite helpful. Of course, with his British accent I could listen to him recite the dictionary or the phone book and be enthralled, so maybe I'm not the best judge. He was quite charming and approachable, not to mention funny.

That's one thing I have to say about the PSWA conference--nearly everyone has a great sense of humor, and nobody gets bent out of shape if you poke a little fun at their expense. For the most part, the writers who show up are from every level, from the unpublished to those with tens of books, but it's a small enough function with a single track so everyone gets to know everyone else somewhat, and for the most part, everyone checks their egos at the door.

The hotel was also nice, off the Vegas strip but just barely. We could see the strip from our window. More than the hotel, the food at the conference was top notch. Living in New Orleans I hardly ever find food elsewhere that satisfies me emotionally, and I have to say this was one of the first times away from home that I was able to find food I actually consider good.

All in all, the conference and Vegas were quite a treat. Now I just have to worry about what may be coming to New Orleans in the next few months weather-wise and oil-wise. If it gets bad, maybe I can go back to Vegas.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

We have so much going on in New Orleans right now I am trying to figure out what to write about.

First and foremost, we have just started hurricane season June 1, and already they are watching something that has a 60 percent chance of becoming a storm in the next 2 days. This doesn't worry me so much in and of itself, because historically there is little chance of a big one hitting us this early in the season. The gulf isn't warm enough and the conditions would never be appropriate.

It does cause me pause, however, because early storms could mean a bad season, which has already been predicted. It also causes me concern because we're not sure of what effect even a small storm could have on the oil situation. How much destruction will oil being pushed into other waterways or entering the tidal surge have on our coast, our farming, our houses?

Second, five police officers, three current and two former, have just been indicted in a Katrina case where the police are accused of gunning down a man, then putting his body in a car and setting it on fire.

The story is bad; what is worse is that I know two of the current officers, and consider one a friend. In fact, he is married to a former co-worker of mine. They met at the D.A.'s Office, while she and I were both assistant district attorneys and he was an officer. He and the other officer I know are both lieutenants, and I find it extremely difficult to believe my friend would violate the law.

Not just because he's my friend and I support him, but because he is a square, a rule follower, a by the book player. He arrested my brother in law years ago for being in possession of marijuana, and I knew better than to even ask him for any kind of a break on my B-I-L's behalf, because this guy is an i-dotter and t-crosser.

I feel more bad for his wife, my co-worker and friend. She actually went to middle school with my husband, years before I knew either one of them, just to show you how small a city of a half a million people can actually be.

So I'm torn between wanting to see justice served if somehow this friend did do something he wasn't supposed to, and not believing he did it, or if he did have some part in it, there had to be a good reason.

Then the writer in me keeps thinking this needs to be made into a book or a movie, or at least included in one of my Crescent City Mystery Series novels. I am working on Jambalaya and it is all laid out so this particular scenario wouldn't fit in, but the third novel takes place during Katrina, and something of this nature was going to be included, so I could just add this in.

Then again, the entire story would make a compelling movie. I can picture it starting with the trial, and hearing each individual person's testimony, and then flashing back to what actually happened until you get the true story. Except right now I don't know the whole story. I may at some point in the future, when the legal issues have been resolved, visit my friend and see if he is interested in opening up and telling me his version of events.

Finally, I am looking forward to the PSWA writer's conference in Vegas this month, seeing familiar faces and making new friends.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Helping Children Write

I frequently volunteer at my girls' school and know most of the teachers. In fact, the principal was my fifth grade English teacher, way back in the 70's. So when one of the teachers who I also consider a friend asked me to come speak to her enrichment cluster, I immediately agreed.

Enrichment clusters in the Jefferson Parish Public magnet school system are the equivalent of electives. This particular elective was for the purpose of writing the school newsletter, and included students in third through fifth grade.

I spoke briefly about the things involved in getting published- writing the book, finding an agent or publisher, and then promotion. I explained that writers do not generally get rich, and unless they were one of the few who make it big, they would probably need to keep a day job. I told them the three most important things they could do to was to read as much as possible, write as much as they could, every day if they were able, and to continue to educate themselves, even after they graduate college. I told them I take online courses and buy reference books all the time to hone my craft.

One fifth grader, who happens to be best friends with my daughter, asked the winning question- how do you get your books into book stores to sell and who gets to decide that.

At the end of the class, I received a treat from the teacher. Ms. Bourgeois put the Jefferson Parish Public Library website up on her high-tech Promethean Board and showed me all of the local libraries my book was in, including the regional library where it is in the Popular Section and can not be reserved or renewed. The website also showed me all the libraries the book was checked out of, the ones that the book was in transit to another local library, and the libraries where my book was on the shelf. I had no idea my book was even in the library, so I think we all learned something that day.

Next year, I am trying to assistant teach an enrichment cluster where the kids can work on a book, do some fundraising, and then self publish it through one of the self-publishing companies. I think if I had seen my name in print when I was 8 instead of when I was 40ish, (enough information here), my whole life might have been different.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

When is a Mystery a Thriller?

I've recently run across two instances of individuals saying a particular novel wasn't a thriller, but was a mystery. While I realize not all mysteries would fall into the category of thriller, I am wondering what constitutes a mystery that is also a thriller.

The first time I came across this, it was from a reviewer who stated my novel wasn't a thriller, and that most people not as well read as he claimed to be would not know the difference. I tended to categorize the book as a mystery/thriller, just to differentiate it from a whodunnit, a cozy, or any other number of sub-genres I don't think it fits into.

When I think thriller, I think of chases, scenes that are full of suspense, maybe an explosion or shooting or two. Well, first I think of Michael Jackson's zombie video, then I think of these other things. But now I'm thinking there may be an entirely different definition of thriller of which I am unaware, being not as well-read as the person who reviewed my book and all.

So I went to one of my favorite sites,, to see what a dictionary definition of thriller might be. The definitions were pretty basic: (1) a person or thing that thrills; and (2) an exciting, suspenseful play or story, esp. a mystery story.

So now I'm left with the conclusion that apparently my book didn't thrill the reviewer, and/or apparently was not exciting or suspenseful.

More recently, I saw on Lesa Holstine's website, a guest blog by author Gerrie Ferris Finger, rebutting a comment Lesa had previously made about something unrelated to my problem. Ms. Finger mentioned that while her novel The End Game was a mystery, it was not a thriller, but had thriller aspects. Although I shamefully admit I have not yet read her book, which won St. Martin's /Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, her description of it certainly sounded like a thriller to me.

But it did start me on a new train of thought. Aha, I'm thinking now. Perhaps my novel was also not a thriller, but had thriller aspects. I can picture that. But what, then, is necessary for a book to be categorized as a thriller, and who decides these classifications anyway?

I have perused websites discussing the differences, and am not convinced, as some suggest, that a mystery involving something that has already happened can not also be a suspense thriller, where the reader is in fact on the edge of his or her seat waiting for the killer to be stopped. Or waiting to see who the killer is going to kill next.

I don't like the analogy often provided that trying to figure out who put the bomb on the bus is a mystery, but watching while someone puts the bomb on the bus and waiting to see if the bus is going to blow up before the hero gets there is a thriller. Wouldn't it be a mystery/thriller if you combined the two?

Ultimately I guess it doesn't matter whether a book is a thriller, a cozy, hardboiled, or even, (gasp) un-label-able, as long as the people who read it like it. My only problem is trying to describe a book accurately enough to make sure the audience who will probably enjoy it will know it's something they will probably enjoy.

So what is a thriller?

Monday, May 10, 2010


Barbara from the creative barbwire blog was the winner of my book, Gumbo Justice, in a random drawing. I entered the names of everyone who left a comment and/or an email.

Thank everyone for visiting my blog and making Blog Jog Day such a success. I found several new blogs of interest myself-- and not just writing or promotion blogs, a few new writers, and even ordered a book. All in all, I think I got out of it as much as if not more than what I put in.

Congrats to Barbara!

Holli Castillo

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Thank you for stopping by my Blog. Please explore all this Blog has to offer and then jog over to , a great site for all kinds of puzzles. If you would like to visit a different Blog in the jog, go to

Anyone who leaves a comment today on this blog will be entered in a drawing to win a signed copy of Gumbo Justice. Leave your email address with your comment if you would like to be entered, or email me at to be entered.

Promotion Styles

Among most writers, especially with the smaller and independent publishing houses, the hot topic always seems to be promotion. And as many different ways as there are to promote a book, there are just as many promotion styles.

I've seen writers who join social networking sites and make everything they do about their current work. Someone posts congratulations to a mutual friend about their new grandchild, these aggressive promoters will post back, "Congrats! Oh, I just had a baby of my own, my new novel, blah blah blah. You can buy it from my website or at Amazon."

Now I'm not against blatant self-promotion. Often, you need to promote yourself or you won't sell books. I guess my objection is to that handful of individuals who feel that EVERYTHING is about their novel. Maybe to them it is, but to the rest of the world, not so much.

It would help if those types of promoters would occasionally post about something different. For instance, if they posted a status update on Facebook about something else interesting they were doing, maybe I would also become interested enough in them to think about checking out their book. If every post they do, however, just talks about the latest novel, it's not going to entice me to buy it.

The second type of promoters are my favorite. They'll post when they're working on a chapter, or even ask for an opinion on something. They'll post when their book first comes out, when there's a promotion, sale, contest, signing, etc., in other words, when there is a reason for posting, but the rest of the time they post about parts of their lives that are interesting and that fans might actually want to read about. For example, when they've gotten a new pet. Or visited some place exotic. Or even planted a garden. Posts that tell us something about the writer are a lot more likely to make me want to buy their book than posts that constantly tell me about their book.

The third type of book promoters are the overly humble and meek, the type who are afraid to mention they even have a book, listing it in their information section, posting about normal life things, but never posting when they do book signings, promotions, contests, or blogs. While this may make them feel better about using social networks to promote their work, it also doesn't do very much to promote. I completely understand not wanting to appear like a showoff or braggart, but there's little point in using social networks or even writer sites for promotion if you're too shy to promote.

Social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, even Linked in, are good sites to post information about your works, and to give your potential audience a chance to know those things you want them to know about you, and maybe get a few more people interested in your work. It's a tedious process, and I'm guilty about not staying as on top of things as I should in this area, but in the end it can make a big difference to book sales.

That's not to say that on writer's/reader sites it isn't acceptable to post mostly about what you're working on, because the people who visit these sites tend to do so looking for information about books to read, or looking for others' perspectives on issues related to writing. I still think it's important to allow a small glimpse into your personal life if your goal is to get people interested in you as a writer.

In my opinion, a happy balance among the promotion types yields the best results. While the public doesn't need to know every time the writer uses the bathroom, the public may be interested in knowing the writer's favorite food, vacation spot, or television show, and revealing little tidbits of information may help increase sales, as long as the information is limited to those things that won't become a safety concern.

Friday, May 7, 2010

BlogJog Day is Coming

Blog Jog day is coming Mother's Day, May 9th. That day this blog will be part of a line of blogs you might be interested in. It's an excellent opportunity to see a wide array of interesting blogs and maybe bookmark some that you may want to visit again.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Just Another Day in New Orleans

Tragedy is common in New Orleans. Murders, hurricanes, poverty, indictments, you name it, we've got it. But the most recent tragedy, the oil spill in the gulf, is in a class of its own.

You would think a city that got pummeled by a hurricane and nearly destroyed by levee failures would be immune to worrying about an oil spill. We nearly drowned in Katrina, but we didn't. We survived, and will continue to do so. So what's a little oil in the gulf?

To southeast Louisiana, it's big. And eventually, it will be to the rest of the country, if not the world. Like Katrina, the damage was preventable. If the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had not had designed flaws in the levee protection system, New Orleans would not have flooded. This is no longer speculation but has been proven. Likewise, had BP paid the extra half a billion dollars for the automatic shut off for their rig, the oil flow would have shut off prior to the entire rig sinking. As it stands, oil is still continuously pumping out into the Gulf of Mexico.

And the Gulf of Mexico is by no means a Louisiana problem. The entire southern coast of the United States, as well as the east coast of Mexico, will be greatly affected by massive amounts of oil washing up on shore. This has ramifications so huge it's hard to put into words.

The people down here are standing in line to buy up seafood, as clearly, we won't be having fresh shrimp, crawfish, or other types of seafood for quite some time. But it's not just this year we have to worry about. The entire ecosystem is going to be disrupted, likely for years. Shrimp and crawfish will not be back, much less suitable for consumption, for years to come. Animals and plants that live in or near the gulf are going to be poisoned, and those that do survive will not have a suitable environment for a long time coming. Species of animal and plant life may disappear forever.

And how long will it take to rid the water of this oil, particularly when it is still flowing? Will this oil evaporate and fall down in the rain, contaminating water supplies, poisoning crops, lowering the quality of our atmosphere? Will we breathe in oil the way we breathed in mold, seeing another spike in asthma and upper respiratory diseases and illnesses like we did after Katrina?

What happens if another big storm hits, whether it's Louisiana, Texas or Florida? The gulf water will get tossed around and tidal surge can send this oily water onto even more land than it is already invading.

Not to mention the number of people in southeast Louisiana, as well as the entire coast, who make their living in the gulf. Fishing is a huge industry in coastal areas. What will happen to these people who can no longer make a living because of the oil spill?

We have had oil spills before. This one is unique in that they have still not cut off the spill. The rig has sunk, apparently too deep into the gulf to send human beings down to figure out a way to turn it off. Maybe it will run out before they get it turned off. Either way, gas prices will end up going up, and if BP is the only gas station in your neck of the woods, you'll be feeling it.

But New Orleans will keep on dancing on Bourbon Street, hosting Jazz Fest, spending every last penny on Saints season tickets. We've always been the red-headed stepchild of the United States, so whatever happens, it's just another day for us. Whether our fishermen have to survive on welfare and food stamps or our children end up in emergency rooms from breathing problems, we will endure. We always do.

Monday, March 8, 2010


My publisher, Billie Johnson, was in town for the Epicon conference, which is an e-publishing conference. Oak Tree Press has books on Kindle as well as in print, and with the e-market expanding, it was a good conference to attend. Oak Tree also had two writers up for awards, Mike Orenduff and Marilyn Meredith, so there was more than one reason to attend. (Mike Orenduff won for his Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras. Go Mike!)

While Billie was here in town, I gave her the Gumbo Justice New Orleans Tour. Julio (my husband) and I showed her around the locations that are in the novel, including the courthouse, the district attorney's office and The Hole, the bar owned by Ryan's brother where Ryan drowns her sorrows. I also showed her a few spots that are going to be featured in Jambalaya Justice, coming out this summer.

We did the traditional down town French Quarter jaunt, but because Billie is the adventurous type who knows very little fear, we took her to the ninth ward. For those who don't know, the ninth ward is the area of New Orleans the most decimated by Katrina, the place where Brad Pitt is building houses and where the Musician's Village is located.

The ninth ward is showing some progress, but it's amazing how little work has actually been done since the storm. As you leave downtown and head toward the ninth ward, the damage to the buildings becomes more prevalent and the neighborhood becomes questionable. Some of the buildings have not yet been gutted. And then you cross the canal and see grass and dirt, an area that was once a thriving suburban neighborhood now dotted with only an occasional new construction.

This goes on for miles. There's a small section with a handful of new houses, all raised on platforms, and all brightly colored as if to make up for the depressing landscape. It's clear that a lot has been lost here, and it takes gumption for the people who stayed to rebuild to do it. The isolation, going on five years later, is haunting.

Some houses still have "X" spray painted on them, with numbers in each segment. The numbers tell a story, how many people were found in the house dead, if the workers who investigated saw pets that needed rescuing, the date the house was checked, all a constant reminder to the people who have returned that many still will not.

And on top of everything, crime has returned full force, murders and robberies easier to commit with fewer witnesses around and the National Guard gone.

But Billie Johnson braved the tour with us, and while out there, we saw other groups touring the ruins, the canal, taking pictures of the new construction. Perhaps next time she comes in town, we'll have more progress to show.

Friday, January 22, 2010

New Orleans Saints and Gumbo Justice

I had to take a few minutes away from working on my manuscript for the follow up to Gumbo Justice, Jambalaya Justice, to make a quick note about our boys in black and gold. There is actually a Gumbo Justice connection- Big Mike, Ryan's junior prosecutor, is a former Saints player. But aside from that, our team is proving to be a source of pride for our troubled city.

New Orleans is the most wonderful and the most terrible city in the United States. The architecture is beautiful, the people are friendly, and the food is beyond compare. When I travel, the one thing that universally disappoints me is the food. None of it comes close to New Orleans.

And then we have the undeniable bad. We have a high murder rate, the most crooked politicians in the country, the huge disparity between the rich and the poor, and one of the worst education systems in the country. We have a lot to be ashamed of.

But not our football team. Not this year. Most of us have followed the Saints come rain or shine, hell or high water, good or bad. And there has been a lot of bad. We wore paper bags on our faces, but we still went to the games and cheered. We paid for tickets when we were the worst team in the league. And now, we just might be the best.

And that makes a big difference in a city struggling to come back. During Saints' games, the crime temporarily ceases. Even murderers somehow respect the black and gold enough to put off their killings until after game time. They might kill someone during the Martin Luther King parade, but the Saints game is sacred.

There are many in this city barely making ends meet. Some people are not back in their homes, some have lost loved ones, some have families still spread out all over the country, displaced from Katrina. Some have lost jobs in companies that have left the city forever, some formerly good neighborhoods are on the decline. Surviving here is not an automatic for anyone, individual or business, and some people here have very little to look forward to.

But for two or three hours on a Sunday, for sixteen regular weeks and three weeks of playoffs, and, of course, if God really is still watching, the Superbowl, they can forget their own problems, and cheer for something going right in New Orleans. And just maybe be inspired. If the Saints can do what they're doing, with their track record, anything is possible.

And so on Monday, we persevere.