Why New Orleans?

I had a question from asdfg — the person who is organizing the Queen of Swords discussion on the forum, and doing a stellar job, too — regarding the setting of that novel.

She asked why I decided to set most of Queen of Swords in New Orleans. Which is a reasonable question, with a fairly simple answer.

I knew way back when that two of the novels in the series would have to do with the War of 1812. I won’t go into my standard why don’t they teach more about this in the schools song and dance. It’s enough to say that the war interests me and it seemed a good source of stories, most of which haven’t been told in novel form in a compelling way.

But the War of 1812 raged all over the country, from the Canadian border to Florida. The British burned D.C., which strikes me as a major historic event, but if you ask the average person on the street, they will tell you that D.C. has never been invaded, much less torched.

However. I was thinking two novels at the most, and my usual squadron of characters. It strikes me as silly when an author tries to write a single novel that covers a whole war, and goes to contortions to get the characters at every major battle, no matter how geographically separated they may be. I read a novel last year which really irritated me for that very reason. It irritated me so much that while I wrote a review of it, I can’t recall the name.

So I had to be choosy about what parts of the war I used as my backdrop. I had hoped to be able to have Hannah and Jennet at the burning of Washington, but that didn’t work out. I was more interested in the New Orleans theater. Not only because of the final battles of the war, though Andrew Jackson is great material for a novel. I really wanted to explore New Orleans as it was then — because it was unusual, to an extreme, in the way different races constructed social structures for themselves. The relationship between the various peoples of color was particularly interesting, too. There are a lot of storytellers’ myths about New Orleans in the early 19th century, and I wanted to try to tell a story that avoided most if not all of them.

On top of all that, you’ve got pirates and smugglers and voudou mambos and faux-French aristocrats, an influx of rude Americans and lots of Creole outrage, and swamps. Swamps were a challenge to write about.

And I really love New Orleans. I’ve been there six or seven times, and I love walking through the city. I’m not talking about the French Quarter — although I can gladly spend hours examining the architecture — but the whole city. I still wish I had found a way to get down there after Katrina to help out for a few days or a week. Not that I had anything special to offer beyond willing hands and a fairly strong back, but it seemed awful to just sit here and watch all that unecessary suffering. We did what we could long distance, and we should still be doing that. Every single one of us. Things are pretty dire down there, still. Not that you’d ever know from watching the television news.

So that’s it: that’s why I set the novel in New Orleans.

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5 Replies to “Why New Orleans?”

  1. Oh me, oh my, thankee, thankee, tugging my forelock.

    My knowledge of Wof1812 WAS a kid’s biography series of books with orange covers and black silhouettes. I knew Madison was president because it was about Dolly, and she saved stuff from the White House when the British invaded DC.

    Now with your exposition I have learned enough to entertain 2 people so far with the Battle of NO. You made it make sense to me. I hated and ignored history in public schools – taught by boys’ coaches picking up classes to make a full schedule.

    I’d already thought, but not sure, the reasons you gave above were why you chose NO. And, yes, you succeeded. I’d actually considered a speculation question of “Why did Rosina choose NO for QofS.”

  2. Good to know and I’ve learned more history from novels then I ever had in school, but maybe that’s because my attention span at the time wasn’t anything to brag about :( I had more important stuff to deal with like boys and clothes lol!

  3. Whenever I read about the batter of Tippecanoe I remembered the campaign slogan, Tippecanoe and Tyler too. I enjoyed learning more about the war of 1812. I agree the schools don’t teach much about the war.

  4. There is an IMAX movie “Hurricane on the Bayou” which is a fantastic look at New Orleans and the wetlands surrounding them. Filming had begun 4 months before Katrina hit, so there are before and after pictures. It makes it all hit home. It reminded me that even though I’m sick of hearing about all the screw-ups surrounding Katrina, there are real people affected by it, and it is those real people we should continue to help.

  5. I believe “Shadowbrook”, by Beverly Swerling, is the book you are referring to. I vaguely remember you saying something about her jumping all over the place. BTW, I just finished her most recent novel, “City of Glory”, and it’s even worse.

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