Since my debut novel, Other Girls, will be officially released tomorrow, I thought I would take a few minutes to mention why I chose to set the book in New Orleans and what that city means to me. (In case the title of this blog post didn’t tip you off, I’m a fan.)
Back in 2010, I was fairly fresh from completing my PhD in evolutionary biology (just in time for the economic crisis to hit) when the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill happened off the coast of New Orleans. A friend of mine was living down there at the time, so I decided to go down and try to volunteer with efforts to save oiled birds. Despite the need for help, it can be quite hard to get access to such positions, so I was grateful when I found a position with a rescue team. Though most of the birds at the rescue facility were in fairly good shape because this was a few months after the spill, there were some that needed more help than others. It was a sad, infuriating, and heartbreaking situation, but in those circumstances, there’s also always hope and some amazing people trying to help.
I ended up staying down there for a bit and doing some post-doctoral research on the effects of the oil spill on the brown pelican population, which had been eradicated from Louisiana decades earlier by the use of pesticides.
Though I only lived in New Orleans for just over a year, my experiences there and the love I developed for the city have stayed with me. It’s a place unlike any other, and I’ve been fortunate to live in some pretty amazing places. I could go on about the cuisine, architecture, music, and culture, but if you read my book, you’ll find it there. What I wanted to write about today is the spirit and soul of the city.
New Orleans has been through its share of disasters. Though it was before my time living in the city, I remember the horror I felt at how the U.S. government handled the relief efforts during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. When I was doing research on the pelicans five years later, traveling across the state and out to the barrier islands where the pelicans nest, the effects of the oil spill were prevalent. The families that made a living from shrimp, crabs, and fish took the hardest hit. It still breaks my heart to remember the feeling of seeing people done wrong, again, and then left behind to deal with it on their own. Not to mention what the animals went through.
But the people of New Orleans are some of the most resilient I’ve ever known. It’s a city that doesn’t give up.
If I had to create a character to be the champion of New Orleans, to lead it through its hard times, I don’t think I could have done any better than Drew Brees. Drew became the quarterback of the Saints (the NFL team in New Orleans) the year after Hurricane Katrina. And a few short years later, he led the team to victory in the Super Bowl. And despite his many records and achievements, he seems to always be underestimated, much like New Orleans.
Though I’ve always been a sports fan, I became a die-hard Saints fan after living in New Orleans. I remember one Sunday when Magazine Street, where I lived, seemed like a ghost town. I could almost see the lone tumbleweed blowing across the road. I asked where everyone was and my friend told me the Saints were playing. That was my first clue.
During my time in New Orleans, I realized how much Drew Brees and his family have done for the city. Things that most people will never hear about. He’s much more than a quarterback. And New Orleans is much more than a city.
I’ve lived in Colorado for nearly a decade, and the Saints will always be my team. New Orleans will always hold a special place in my heart. Because to me, they are synonymous with the strength of the human spirit and the courage to never give up. And since that is really the essence of my debut novel, I couldn’t think of a better place for it to be set. I hope you read the book and enjoy it. And if you’ve never been to New Orleans, I hope you visit one day. It’s a place that stays with you.