“Beginning to write, you discover what you have to write about.”
Kit Reed

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

it's a very nice rabbit hole, its bookshelves are well-stocked
Wed 2014-09-03 23:46:17 (in context)
  • 4,400 words (if poetry, lines) long

Today has been a surprisingly exhausting day for not having actual physical roller derby in it. There was a lot of not knowing the shape of my day because I was waiting for the next phone call to tell me what shape it would be. Just for starters, I brought the car to the shop at eight in the morning, so I was waiting to hear back from the mechanics all day. I had errands to run that I couldn't run until I had the car back. And because of various circumstances, the location and time of roller derby practice was TBD right up until less than an hour before I'd have had to leave for it. (The combination of these factors were a large part of me not going to practice at all, but that's neither here nor there.)

Turns out, I don't function very well when part of my brain is On Call. My brain translates On Call into On Hold. The tendency is to fly a holding pattern, unable to exert real effort while uncertain of what my immediate future holds.

So I'm quite pleased with myself for actually getting some work done on the short story.

Granted, it was mostly down the rabbit hole of research. But I was finally persistent enough to get the answers I needed to the questions I'd scribbled on the first couple pages.

Example 1: My main character laments that there are no suitable books in the house to distract her little brother from Peter Pan, because the roof leaked during the storm right onto their bookshelves. And they couldn't just go to the library because the libraries weren't open yet. True or false?

As it turns out, false. While the Jefferson Parish Library system was deeply crippled, and some branches were entirely destroyed along with all of their books, there was library service in Jefferson Parish as early as October 3. At least, that's what I understand to be the case from what library director Lon R. Dickerson writes in "Building Even Better Libraries, Post-Katrina" (American Libraries, Nov. 2005, Vol. 36, Issue 10):

With a service population of 455,466 residents, Jefferson Parish Library was already the largest library in Louisiana. Before Katrina hit, we had an operating budget of $15 million. By default, we're now the only large library in metropolitan New Orleans that can serve people as they return to Orleans, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines parishes.

JPL has dropped its nonresident fees and is issuing "Katrina library cards" to anyone in the area. Staff and library users alike say that having libraries open is part of their need for normalcy. We expected the rush of people on October 3 who wanted to use our computers, but we also had long lines of people waiting to check out books. We expect to have at least 10 branches open by November. Schools are more dependent on us than ever before, and our library is essential lo the rebuilding of this community's economy. A stronger and more vibrant library will help us attract new businesses and residents.

Now, the last time this story was workshopped, the critique hive mind basically side-stepped the question of veracity. They informed me that most readers wouldn't need an explanation for the dearth of books in the narrator's house. "A lot of people just don't read much. Certainly not as much as us writers do," they said. "You're spendig a lot of energy trying to explain a situation that most creaders won't even question in the first place."

It made sense at the time--at least, once I got past my initial "Huh? Houses without books? That is un-possible!" reaction. But today I'm not so sure. Seems to me, the readership of the types of market I'd try to get this submitted to, they're readers. Right? I mean, someone who reads commercial science fiction and fantasy short fiction... is a reader. I think it's not unreasonable to expect that the target audience of, say, F&SF or Shimmer, is someone who sees unoccupied walls as an opportunity for more bookshelves, then stacks those shelves double-deep with paperbacks. (Also, a not insignificant portion of that reading population comprises writers.)

In the end, though, that's not what matters. What matters is, the family in my story used to have a lot of books before Katrina hit. Now, they do not. This is notable enough for the main character to mention it, even though she herself is not the huge reader that her brother and mother are (or so I've decided for this draft). Revision should result is these facts being plausible character notes and part of a larger important story theme.

(Of course it's an important theme. The main character's little brother is literally getting lost in a book. Of course books are important.)

Example 2: The main character notes that her father used to take the kids fishing in Lake Pontchartrain, despite there being nothing much to catch. True or false?

Again, false. In this case, I was going off my memory of being a kid in the late '70s and early '80s watching Dad catch nothing but the odd croaker--which he'd throw back--and then getting his bait stolen by a needle-noser. That's not a particularly reliable memory to go from. It lacks perspective. It's not accurate to infer the fishing viability of the entire lake from vague memories of Dad casting a line next to the Bonnabel pumping station.

Also, those forays were some 20 years before my story takes place. The lake had benefited from a concerted clean-up effort in the years since my single digits. Heck, in 2000 some parts of the lake were actually declared safe for swimming. That still blows my mind.

Anyway, not only was there plenty of successful fishing in Lake Pontchartrain just before Katrina hit, but it turns out that the environmental impact of Hurricane Katrina on Lake Pontchartrain was surprisingly benign, and in some respects actually beneficial. No reason to think the narrator wouldn't have seen any fish caught on those family expeditions.

In summary: Research is fun! And it is useful. It might even keep the author from looking shamefully uninformed about her own hometown. Yay research!

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