Wednesday, January 8, 2014

IWSG January 2014

I'm experiencing a small hiccup in my WIP, In the Land of Pangaea.

I've completed the first and largest section of the manuscript, and that's all well and good.  That's the most important part of the story.  The section I haven't started yet is the shortest.  But it might also be the trickiest.  You see, I'm writing about Hurricane Katrina.  The main characters are black.

I am not myself black.  I've written black main characters before.  Actually, the whole cast of characters in Cloak of Shrouded Men is black, basically (it really only becomes apparent in the third section of that one, but I treat it as a complete nonissue otherwise).  I've written other ethnic characters, too, such as Yoshimi.  Katrina is a major exception to this rule, though.  It's a topic that breached a considerable amount of controversy in the halls of American racial identity.  Then-President Bush was accused of responding slowly to the devastation it caused because it affected mostly blacks.

This is something I will have to address.  For whatever reason, Katrina has stuck with me, even though I've never lived anywhere near the affected area, never had family even remotely close until last year when my brother and his wife moved to Louisiana (although far away from any relevant locations).  It was another of those epochal moments in Bush's presidency.  Don't hate me when I say I have a favorable opinion of him.  People tend to react negatively to bad situations (for some reason!), and they always look for someone to blame.  I've tended to believe that Bush got the reaction he did to that moment because of this instinct.

Be that as it may, it is something I need to address in the story.  Some of it I've drawn from the excellent movie Beasts of the Southern Wild, which doesn't really address the racial undertones of Katrina's impact even though it features a mostly black cast.  The main character in this section of Pangaea is mostly concerned with locating his missing wife after they're separated during the storm.

But he will have to address the same thing Spike Lee did in When the Levees Broke.  The government response to the disaster was found to be inadequate.  I tend to get inside the head of my characters.  This will have to factor into the main character's thinking, no matter what else he may focus on.

Am I at all qualified to address such things?  The fact that I've been thinking about Katrina since it hit in 2005 means I still have to process it for myself.  It's not surprising that it ended up in the plotting of one of my stories.  At the very least it will be one of my biggest challenges to date, to do justice to something that drastically changed so many lives and unexpectedly spoke to far more than a conversation about severely bad weather.

I hope I'm up to the task.  Sometimes it's hard just to represent my own people, if you'll allow me to talk about ethnic identity in a broader context.  I've written before about being a Franco American who feels he's a generation removed from understanding what that means.  That will play a part in the third section of Pangaea, certainly.  I've never written a manuscript, part or a whole, from this perspective.  A large part of the reason I wanted to write Pangaea at all was so I could finally do that.  Maybe writing about Katrina will help make that easier.

I don't know.  I can only try.


  1. It's something that's been with you a long time, which means you've had time to think and plan. I think you can pull it off.
    And I share your thoughts on what happened to Bush. Surprised no one has blamed him for the Artic Vortex yet.

  2. I think we all end up having characters who may be a struggle to identify with. If we wrote characters that were exactly like ourselves, it could get pretty boring. As long as you have a passion for it and do your research, you'll pull it off.

    (January IWSG Co-host)

    1. Well, a good writer is able to write different facets of themselves...and theoretically there's a small part of yourself in everyone anyway.

  3. Well the other side tries to blame Obama for every little thing so I guess we call it even. I think what turned people off was when he said the FEMA head was doing a huckuva job even as people were dying and the Superdome looked like a refugee camp from the third world. It was another of his bumbling moments like when he continued reading to kids while 9/11 was going down.

    And yes you can blame the polar vortex on him and his pro-pollution predecessors. Where's Captain Planet when you need him?

  4. Tony - You are taking on a difficult task. The depths you are willing to go to 'get into your character's head' will make for an even better story. I'm so interested to see how it will turn out. Good luck. Leanne ( )

    1. I have no idea when this story will be made public. Theoretically I'm done self-releasing material. And the material I don't already have out there is a tough sell to publishers. I've been trying.

  5. I found your post from Alex's IWSG (long-time reader but I don't do the challenge). I totally get your hesitance and insecurity, but I hope you stay encouraged and keep on toward writing what sounds like a powerful story. I also write diverse characters because I think it matters. Authors think nothing of creating entirely new worlds and alien races, but we often balk at writing a character of a different nationality or race. Authenticity is a concern, but it sounds to me like you are on the right track with the resources you're using--Spike Lee's film for example. It will be on you to do the research to hear the voices you need to in order to write the story. I think it's the same as historical research, but you are also delving into cultural norms, and also stereotypes (so you can avoid them).

    I wrote a YA set in the early '60s which involved civil rights themes and a lot of what was going on politically at the time. The balance is that the story was not ABOUT those things but those things shaped the characters and everything they did. So while you need to understand the political challenges at the time so that your characters are reacting to those factors, I don't think it means your book needs to turn political. If that is funneled through your characters, you use their voice to convey those struggles. It's not easy... but I think it's worth it for a more captivating story.

    If you can interview actual survivors of Katrina I think that is also a great way to add authenticity to your work. Good luck!

    1. I started writing this section of the book two days ago, and so officially moved past these concerns, in a way that was authentic to what I'd been doing with the last section, which is what's most important. Thanks for stopping by! And who knows? If when this book is released (in the year 3000), I will have the chance to interview actual Katrina survivors. I hadn't even thought of that, but the idea is also a little out of the scope of what I'm looking to accomplish here.


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