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.