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.