Thursday, August 29, 2013

THE HURRICANE LOVER tells the story behind the history of #HurricaneKatrina

I rarely talk up my own books in this space, so I'm hoping you'll indulge me for a moment.

Eight years ago today, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, bringing flood waters that destroyed most of New Orleans and caused a mass migration of evacuees into Houston. While I was helping with relief efforts, carrying water to evacuees who waited in the 100+ heat to be processed into the Reliant Center, a New Orleans police officer told me, "This is great for con artists and media people."

That offhand comment was the initial inspiration for my novel, The Hurricane Lover. My prime directive is always to tell a good story, but this book was a soul project. I wanted readers to really feel what happened here that summer, to see the human faces and be reminded that, while both government and mainstream news media failed us spectacularly, We the People came together with strength and compassion.



As part of my research for The Hurricane Lover, I slogged through thousands of emails to and from Michael Brown, who was head of FEMA at the time. (Remember GW saying, "Heck of a job, Brownie!" Yeah. That guy.) A prominent figure in those pages is Craig Fugate, who was appointed by President Obama to take over FEMA in 2009. Fugate, director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management at the time, was one of the unsung heroes of Katrina. It wasn't his responsibility, but he understood the magnitude of what was happening, and more important, he cared, and he seriously stepped up. Brownie... not so much. The fact is, he'd already quit the job, but was prevailed upon to wait with his official resignation until after the holiday weekend. (The irony makes one's teeth hurt.)

The day after Katrina, while Fugate frantically scrambled to mobilize ice and body bags, Brown and his secretary exchanged the following email, which was later made public through the Freedom of Information Act. This was one of many exchanges that literally brought tears to my eyes. My goal in this particular chapter was to place it in a more personal context. The character Ms. Martineau was inspired by an elderly lady I sat and talked with at a shelter in Houston.

From The Hurricane Lover:
..................................
Tuesday afternoon August 30
From: James, Tillie
To: Brown, Michael D
Sent: Tue Aug 30 22:43:17 2005
Subject: U ok?
..................................
From: Brown, Michael D
To: James, Tillie
Sent: Tue Aug 30 22:52:18 2005
Subject: Re: U ok?

I’m not answering that question, but do have a question. Do you know of anyone who dog-sits? Bethany has backed out and Tamara is looking. If you know of any responsible kids, let me know. They can have the house to themselves Th-Su.
..................................
From: James, Tillie
To: Brown, Michael D
Sent: Wed Aug 31 05:49:23 2005
Subject: Re: U ok?

No I don’t know anyone. Want me to see if my son is in town and can do it? D---- was looking for someone recently too. Maybe he knows someone.

Don’t answer my question then. Still working on project today from home. It’s crazy I hear in the office.
..............................................
From: Brown, Michael D
To: James, Tillie
Sent: Tue Aug 30 22:52:18 2005
Subject: Re: U ok?

Sure, if he likes dogs. Check with David, too.

I should have done my announcement a week early.
..............................................
“I know folks think I’m outside my mind, but I won’t ever leave the house for a hurricane. I can’t leave my babies.” The old woman in Shay’s viewfinder thoughtfully stroked the little French bulldog in her lap. “If the Lord wants me home, he calls me home, and I’ll be glad to see him. I never got afraid. Not when I was a child and not last night. Was it last night?”

“Yesterday morning, Ms. Martineau,” said Shay.

“Oh, yes. Yes, the darkness makes it like black night.” The old woman nodded with her whole body. “Like a great wild animal swallowed up the sun.”

Shay was afraid to breathe, the shot was so perfect, the old woman so unbearably beautiful. From the little balcony outside the second floor bedroom, she was able to frame Ms. Martineau with a trace of wrought iron railing behind her and the massive river of slow-moving trash and branches traveling past in the shady street below. It was only ten or twelve inches deep, but in the shade of the broken oaks, it appeared as dense and unknowable as the Mississippi.

“You were saying…you weren’t afraid…” Shay prompted gently.

“Oh, no. I don’t get afraid. I always know that my mama is praying for me.”

Shay blinked back the sting that came up behind her eyes. “Me too.”

“If you see my granddaughter,” said the old woman, “you tell her I’m all right. This house is a good house. Never takes water above that third step right down there.”

“How long have you lived here?” asked Shay.

“Oh, longer than I been alive. I baked my bread and had my babies in this house. My nephew—he’s passed now—he put in the new water heater…oh, three years ago. Was it three years? Maybe it was seven. I wasn’t driving anymore. I know that. We enjoy sitting out here when the mosquitoes aren’t too bad. My great-grandchildren have a sandbox down there.”

She pointed a knobby finger toward the surface of the water that had crawled from the curb to the porch steps in the short time Shay had been sitting with her.

“I’ll stop talking now,” said Ms Martineau. “I get dry and these new teeth, they rub.”

“Thank you so much for visiting with me, ma’am. Do you have water set aside in the house, Ms. Martineau? It’s hot. You have to drink lots of water.”

“Yes, my nephew put in the new water heater last year.”

“Here, drink this.” Shay handed the old lady a water bottle she’d been hoarding all day, along with the last MRE. “I want you to stay up here and eat this tonight. Don’t go downstairs to your kitchen.”

“Well, you’re too sweet,” said Ms. Martineau. “Did you bake this yourself?”

Shay packed her camera in her tote bag, then took off the white shirt from Corbin’s closet and tied one sleeve to a scrolled frou-frou at the corner of the balcony rail.

“I’m putting this here so they’ll know someone needs help, all right, Ms. Martineau? Don’t take this down. Somebody will come along in a boat and see it. The National Guard or the police.” Shay tried not to think about the possibility that the white flag might be under water by morning. “If someone comes for you with a boat, you go with them. They’ll take you somewhere safe. Your granddaughter will know to look for you there.”

“Oh, no, honey child, I have the dogs. I can’t leave my babies.”

“Ms. Martineau…” Shay bit her bottom lip. “I’ll come back and check on the dogs.”

“Oh, would you, dear? And feed them?”

“Sure. Of course,” Shay lied, caught in one of those horrible Chinese finger puzzles where anything you say is wrong. “You stay upstairs until the boat comes. Promise?”

“All right, dear. So long as I know my babies are in good hands. If you see my granddaughter, you tell her I’m all right.”

The two exchanged a warm embrace, and as Shay made her way down through an angled stairway tiled with family photos to the front parlor that was everyone’s grandmother’s parlor in some respect, she made the conscious decision to take this sort of story with her when she left the sunshine gig. The intensely beautiful faces and voices of folks who were no one in that they were everyone. The hard core news was only a fraction of the story without Ms. Martineau’s face, soft as onion paper, alive with history.

Shay made another slow, deliberate trip up and down the stairs, with the camera on this time, knowing this history in faces, in button shoes, in old timey clothes and funeral portraits would be lost to the water within a matter of hours. The voices would last only as long as Ms. Martineau’s memory, and that was fading with the light.

Read the rest: The Hurricane Lover 

Mrs. Martineau's babies (a moment from The Hurricane Lover)

Eight years ago today, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, bringing flood waters that destroyed most of New Orleans and caused a mass migration of evacuees into Houston. While I was helping with relief efforts, carrying water to evacuees who waited in the 100+ heat to be processed into the Reliant Center, a New Orleans police officer told me, "This is great for con artists and media people."

That offhand comment was the initial inspiration for my novel, The Hurricane Lover. My prime directive is always to tell a good story, but this book was a soul project. I wanted readers to really feel what happened here that summer, to see the human faces and be reminded that, while both government and mainstream news media failed us spectacularly, We the People came together with strength and compassion.

As part of my research for The Hurricane Lover, I slogged through thousands of emails to and from Michael Brown, who was head of FEMA at the time. (Remember GW saying, "Heck of a job, Brownie!" Yeah. That guy.) A prominent figure in those pages is Craig Fugate, who was appointed by President Obama to take over FEMA in 2009. Fugate, director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management at the time, was one of the unsung heroes of Katrina. It wasn't his responsibility, but he understood the magnitude of what was happening, and more important, he cared, and he seriously stepped up. Brownie... not so much. The fact is, he'd already quit the job, but was prevailed upon to wait with his official resignation until after the holiday weekend. (The irony makes one's teeth hurt.)

The day after Katrina, while Fugate frantically scrambled to mobilize ice and body bags, Brown and his secretary exchanged the following email, which was later made public through the Freedom of Information Act. This was one of many exchanges that literally brought tears to my eyes. My goal in this particular chapter was to place it in a more personal context. The character Ms. Martineau was inspired by an elderly lady I sat and talked with at a shelter in Houston.

From The Hurricane Lover:
..................................
Tuesday afternoon August 30
From: James, Tillie
To: Brown, Michael D
Sent: Tue Aug 30 22:43:17 2005
Subject: U ok?
..................................
From: Brown, Michael D
To: James, Tillie
Sent: Tue Aug 30 22:52:18 2005
Subject: Re: U ok?

I’m not answering that question, but do have a question. Do you know of anyone who dog-sits? Bethany has backed out and Tamara is looking. If you know of any responsible kids, let me know. They can have the house to themselves Th-Su.
..................................
From: James, Tillie
To: Brown, Michael D
Sent: Wed Aug 31 05:49:23 2005
Subject: Re: U ok?

No I don’t know anyone. Want me to see if my son is in town and can do it? D---- was looking for someone recently too. Maybe he knows someone.

Don’t answer my question then. Still working on project today from home. It’s crazy I hear in the office.
..............................................
From: Brown, Michael D
To: James, Tillie
Sent: Tue Aug 30 22:52:18 2005
Subject: Re: U ok?

Sure, if he likes dogs. Check with David, too.

I should have done my announcement a week early.
..............................................
“I know folks think I’m outside my mind, but I won’t ever leave the house for a hurricane. I can’t leave my babies.” The old woman in Shay’s viewfinder thoughtfully stroked the little French bulldog in her lap. “If the Lord wants me home, he calls me home, and I’ll be glad to see him. I never got afraid. Not when I was a child and not last night. Was it last night?”

“Yesterday morning, Ms. Martineau,” said Shay.

“Oh, yes. Yes, the darkness makes it like black night.” The old woman nodded with her whole body. “Like a great wild animal swallowed up the sun.”

Shay was afraid to breathe, the shot was so perfect, the old woman so unbearably beautiful. From the little balcony outside the second floor bedroom, she was able to frame Ms. Martineau with a trace of wrought iron railing behind her and the massive river of slow-moving trash and branches traveling past in the shady street below. It was only ten or twelve inches deep, but in the shade of the broken oaks, it appeared as dense and unknowable as the Mississippi.

“You were saying…you weren’t afraid…” Shay prompted gently.

“Oh, no. I don’t get afraid. I always know that my mama is praying for me.”

Shay blinked back the sting that came up behind her eyes. “Me too.”

“If you see my granddaughter,” said the old woman, “you tell her I’m all right. This house is a good house. Never takes water above that third step right down there.”

“How long have you lived here?” asked Shay.

“Oh, longer than I been alive. I baked my bread and had my babies in this house. My nephew—he’s passed now—he put in the new water heater…oh, three years ago. Was it three years? Maybe it was seven. I wasn’t driving anymore. I know that. We enjoy sitting out here when the mosquitoes aren’t too bad. My great-grandchildren have a sandbox down there.”

She pointed a knobby finger toward the surface of the water that had crawled from the curb to the porch steps in the short time Shay had been sitting with her.

“I’ll stop talking now,” said Ms Martineau. “I get dry and these new teeth, they rub.”

“Thank you so much for visiting with me, ma’am. Do you have water set aside in the house, Ms. Martineau? It’s hot. You have to drink lots of water.”

“Yes, my nephew put in the new water heater last year.”

“Here, drink this.” Shay handed the old lady a water bottle she’d been hoarding all day, along with the last MRE. “I want you to stay up here and eat this tonight. Don’t go downstairs to your kitchen.”

“Well, you’re too sweet,” said Ms. Martineau. “Did you bake this yourself?”

Shay packed her camera in her tote bag, then took off the white shirt from Corbin’s closet and tied one sleeve to a scrolled frou-frou at the corner of the balcony rail.

“I’m putting this here so they’ll know someone needs help, all right, Ms. Martineau? Don’t take this down. Somebody will come along in a boat and see it. The National Guard or the police.” Shay tried not to think about the possibility that the white flag might be under water by morning. “If someone comes for you with a boat, you go with them. They’ll take you somewhere safe. Your granddaughter will know to look for you there.”

“Oh, no, honey child, I have the dogs. I can’t leave my babies.”

“Ms. Martineau…” Shay bit her bottom lip. “I’ll come back and check on the dogs.”

“Oh, would you, dear? And feed them?”

“Sure. Of course,” Shay lied, caught in one of those horrible Chinese finger puzzles where anything you say is wrong. “You stay upstairs until the boat comes. Promise?”

“All right, dear. So long as I know my babies are in good hands. If you see my granddaughter, you tell her I’m all right.”

The two exchanged a warm embrace, and as Shay made her way down through an angled stairway tiled with family photos to the front parlor that was everyone’s grandmother’s parlor in some respect, she made the conscious decision to take this sort of story with her when she left the sunshine gig. The intensely beautiful faces and voices of folks who were no one in that they were everyone. The hard core news was only a fraction of the story without Ms. Martineau’s face, soft as onion paper, alive with history.

Shay made another slow, deliberate trip up and down the stairs, with the camera on this time, knowing this history in faces, in button shoes, in old timey clothes and funeral portraits would be lost to the water within a matter of hours. The voices would last only as long as Ms. Martineau’s memory, and that was fading with the light.

The Hurricane Lover will be available on Kindle and Nook 11/11/11.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

#TBR Joyce Maynard talks about the chilling inspiration for her new novel AFTER HER

There's always room for Joyce Maynard on my TBR pile. She's one of those authors whose books are a writing workshop. Read her if you want to be a better writer. Or a well-fed reader.

In bookstores this week, Maynard's new novel After Her: A Novel. Here Maynard shares the chilling backstory...


Friday, August 16, 2013

Coming in November:THE COLTON HEIR

Twenty-mumble (yes, I've lost track for the moment) books after my first published novel came out in 1999, I still get that pulse-pounding burst of excitement whenever I'm sent the link to a new cover. This one's my very favorite of all my Harlequin books. Their art department has really outdone itself depicting drop-dead gorgeous horse whisperer Dylan Frick of The Colton Heir!

Here's a sneak peek of the cover copy:

Terror rises at Dead River Ranch in this intriguing Coltons of Wyoming romance

Wrangler Dylan Frick thought he knew his past—until a suspicion surfaces that he's the secret Colton heir who vanished from Dead River Ranch as a baby. Now his identity's in question, and his mother's murder is still unsolved. And he's thrown off course by the ranch's mysterious new maid, Hope Woods. The gun-wielding knockout has fear in her eyes and seems desperate to escape her own private danger. Defending Hope—and keeping her deadly secret—leaves them both open to unexpected passion. But will protecting her mean walking out of her life for good?
The Colton Heir does stand alone, but you'll enjoy it even more if you read it in its place, as Book 5 of the six-book Coltons of Wyoming mini-series from Harlequin Romantic Suspense. The books and authors involved are as follows:

The books of The Coltons of Wyoming miniseries:
Book 1: THE COLTON RANSOM by Marie Ferrarella    July 2013.
Book 2: Colton by Blood by Melissa Cutler   August 2013
Book 5: The Colton Heir by Colleen Thompson  November 2013
Participating in a multi-author series of this link was both an enormous challenge and an enormous load of fun! I feel so fortunate to have gotten to know some wonderful writers this way. Besides, when the editor who called to offer the project told my agent she envisioned this as "Downton Abbey meets Dallas," I was completely *there.* And so far (I've just finished reading the second title, Melissa Cutler's wonderful Colton by Blood) it's really living up to its promise. I can only hope that readers will agree!



Monday, August 05, 2013

I don't always kill characters, but when I do...

Today, I received some gorgeous new Montlake paperback editions of my classic romantic suspense titles, and decided I would love to share some autographed copies with readers! So I've set up a contest on my Facebook Author Page, where you can stop by, give me a like, and leave a comment telling me which title you'd most enjoy receiving, either for yourself or a friend. Your choices are Fatal Error, The Deadliest Denial, Head On, The Salt Maiden, and Fade the Heat.

Aren't on Facebook? Then feel free to leave your comment here, and I'll add your name and book preference to my raffle. For an additional entry, let me know if you've recommended this contest to friends with a linkback to this or my Facebook entry page via Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media. I absolutely love it when my friends and readers get involved in helping me to get the word out!

Also, this winter, be on the lookout for my first single title romance in several years. The Best Victim will be released first in serial form, exclusively from Montlake Romance (published by Amazon.com in e-book format), to be followed by print, full-length e-book, and an audio edition. I'm working on it right now, and hope you'll enjoy this wild ride.

Finally, I leave you with a fun new meme I was surprised with by my friend and fellow writer, Julie Pitzel. Made me laugh anyway, because, yes, I certainly do put my characters through the mill (and sometimes six feet under) on the path to my heroes' and heroines' happily ever afters!


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