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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Where on Earth Do You Get Your Ideas?--Part Ocho

Part Ocho of my book ideas series brings me right up to the current release,Floodgates.  And I can't actually remember what I've told you people about Floodgates.  Hmmm...I've looked back and I can't see that I've told this story yet.  If I have, I apologize deeply and plead senility.  Or overwork.  Or overworked senility.  Onward...

I decided early on that I wanted to set a book in New Orleans, so I started the process of getting the benevolent approval of my editor, Barbara.  Imagine my consternation when she said she didn't want me to write about New Orleans, because it has "been done." 

I must confess now that I used to be afraid of Barbara.  I know now that she is a warm and completely wonderful person, but she's also an extremely competent woman who doesn't brook any nonsense.  This is cool.  I respect that.  I'd like to tolerate less of it myself, so she's a role model.  Anyway, I don't argue with her just for the heck of it, so I respectfully said I thought there was a story or two left in the Crescent City.

She suggested Baton Rouge.  Now don't get me wrong.  I've spent a lot of great time in Baton Rouge, because my sister lived there for years.  Love the people.  Love the food.  But Baton Rouge inspires me to write an archaeological mystery about as much as a government city ringed by oil refineries does...because that's what it is.  (I can absolutely see myself writing a legal thriller or an environmental suspense novel in Baton Rouge, but Faye tells me she doesn't want to go there.)

Sensing my reluctance--even through the internet, since we were working by email--Barbara suggested Vicksburg.  Again, my response was, "Great town.  Maybe for another book."  Hearing my desire to deal with the aftermath of Katrina, she suggested the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  (Also a possible future book.  I grew up an hour away and am heartsick at its slow recovery from Katrina.  But it still was not the story I wanted to tell.)   

I pointed out to her that New Orleans handed me American history on a silver platter--Andrew Jackson, Jean Lafitte, the Mississippi River, Native Americans, African-Americans, the Spanish, the English, the French, the Americans...  And I pointed out to her that New Orleans' suffering since Katrina was different than anything else our country had seen.  It suffered a flood, a total deluge, which is not the same thing as a hurricane.  An archaeologist digging in New Orleans will, forever more, go through a layer of history that was laid down in 2005.  Just because we remember it doesn't mean that it's not history.

Barbara liked this.  She was listening.  I could tell, even through the buffer of the Internet.  So I continued to push my luck.  I told her that New Orleans might have "been done," but I didn't believe it had been done by someone with family in the area and a personal history there and a work history there.  And I was reasonably sure that what I was proposing had not been done by a licensed engineer who just might have something to say about the levee failures.

Success!  She liked it.  She hated the title, but I figured I could come up with a better one later.  I asked what she wanted by way of a proposal--outline, synopsis, sample chapters?  She said, "Oh, what you wrote in your last email was fine.  Just send me a hundred pages when you have them."

Score!  I'd just sold a book with less text than I've crammed into this blog post.

Later, I sent her the hundred pages, and she said, "I see where you going with this.  I like the title now."

See how wonderful it is to work with someone smart and competent and logical who doesn't brook any nonsense?

Mary Anna

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