I remember where I was seven years ago this week. Bouchercon was unusually early that year--September 1-4 in Chicago, Illinois. And normally when Bouchercon is happening, the eyes of the mystery community are on the convention, with everybody either there or wishing they were.
Except in 2005, as we were all converging on Chicago, Hurricane Katrina was heading for New Orleans. It was a curiously schizophrenic weekend. We all paneled and networked and promoted, making new friends and catching up with old ones--and then drifted back to the television to watch in stunned disbelief what was happening in the Big Easy. And worrying about our friends there.
I knew my life was going to change when I got published. One of the best changes--and perhaps the one I least expected--was how my social circle would expand. Yes, writing is a solitary business, but for that reason we writers appreciate all the more those occasions when our tribe can gather. It's really cool the first time you look around the audience at a convention and recognize all the faces that correspond to the books on your shelves. And even cooler when many of them become your friends.
But having so many friends spread across the country--for that matter, across the world--has a downside. Whenever any crisis or natural disaster happens, I find myself thinking of the friends who may be affected by it. I first realized this on 9/11 when, like everyone else in the writing community, I knew a lot of people in New York and worried for days before some of them checked in. I have friends who have survived earthquakes and mudslides in California. Wildfires in Colorado and New Mexico. Tornadoes in Nebraska. I've worried through them all. And been worried about, of course, most recently when the derecho ripped through the Washington area. I've become familiar with that curious mixture of relief, when you hear that a friend is safe, and guilt because others weren't so fortunate.
I knew a few people in New Orleans back in 2005, but as it happened, immediately after Bouchercon--and while the horrible aftermath of Katrina was playing out--I was traveling around for a short signing tour with fellow Femme Dana Cameron and two of our writer friends, Jessica Speart and Eileen Dreyer. Eileen had a new book out for Bouchercon: Sinners and Saints, released September 1, 2005. It doesn't just take place in New Orleans--it takes place in a New Orleans in which a category 5 hurricane is heading for the city.
Eileen spent months in New Orleans, researching her book. Researching the kind of worst-case scenarios that make for taut, gripping suspense in fiction--and disaster in real life. More than any of us, Eileen knew exactly what could happen in New Orleans and why. I'll never forget how white-faced Eileen was when she heard of yet another real-life event that paralleled the events in her book--or how elated she was when she finally heard from one of her friends, an ER room nurse who had been her guide to New Orleans and particularly the Charity Hospital ER. (For more about Karen Chabert, aka Kareena Boudreaux, check, out Eileen's blog. And read the book, for heaven's sake. Sinners and Saints. There will be a quiz later. Okay, there won't but it's fabulous.)
Thank goodness Isaac has been less catastrophic. Although I feel guilty saying that, because obviously for some people it has been catastrophic. I find it particularly heart-wrenching when I see a news story about someone who was still rebuilding from Katrina and is now looking at starting all over again.
Why, yes, I am watching the news. Mostly the Weather Channel, because it comes the closest to satisfying my craving to know what's happening on the gulf coast. It's the new ritual for dealing with disasters. You turn on the TV. You monitor Facebook and your email for signs that your friends and family are okay. Maybe you make a donation to someplace or other.
I'm trying to add another thing to my own ritual. Next time I find myself staring at the screen watching someone else's hurricane, tornado, blizzard, police emergency, or whatever, I'm going to make a point of doing something toward making myself a little more prepared for the next emergency to come my way.
There are a lot of good checklists out there--for example:
I'm going to work those lists. Some of it I already have done. But after my own experiences in the derecho, I'm also making my own, somewhat eccentric list. The things I've got on it so far:
• Get all my important phone numbers, addresses, and passwords down on paper, not just in the computer and the iPhone.
• Make it a part of each day's routine to back up the WIP not just to the cloud but also to a flash drive, so I can work from wherever I can find power.
• Find a battery powered fan. It won't make up for missing AC, but it sure will help.
• Get a new manual can opener. The current one is better at provoking primal screams than opening cans.
• Make sure there's a working flashlight or LED headlamp in every room. And that I know where the spare batteries are. And that the nephews haven't used up all the batteries on their Wii controllers.
And maybe I'll get started on some of that stuff tonight. It's high hurricane season here, and they're predicting a snowier than usual winter for my part of the county. Anyone else obsessively watching the Isaac coverage and thinking emergency preparedness?