I spend the last 3 days in New Orleans, getting my feet on the exact ground where Henry and Zavion, the two main characters in my middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane, place their feet. Both of them walk very specific streets, and I was able to navigate the same ones, replicating their journeys.
Before this week, I had certainly imagined those journeys. I researched them like crazy, pouring over maps multiple times, and talking with folks in New Orleans who could confirm that, yes, it was possible to turn this corner and walk down that street. I felt like I had done due diligence to the process. I knew, as best I could, where Henry and Zavion trekked as they went on their adventures.
But it another thing, all together, to actually walk in their footsteps.
Boy oh boy, does it matter…getting your body into the landscape you are trying to describe. It's not always possible, but when you can do it, it is amazing. And not surprisingly, the details that come from experiencing something first hand are gifts.
For instance, the wind.
|The approximate location of the Salvation Army|
|The grocery store|
I walked from where I have placed the Salvation Army in my story, to where I have placed a small grocery store.
These streets are right near the Mississippi River. The wind comes off of the river and, depending on whether you are walking perpendicular to it, or parallel, it whips harsh and sharp…or not. And even when you walk a few blocks in from the river, you can feel it there. The expanse of it. The abruptness of the land ending and this enormous body of water beginning. The cramped feeling of narrow streets.
There are details, too, that are much harder to articulate. A feeling on a street, or the sense of history that lies thick in walls and sidewalks. The energy of a place. The ways a landscape holds stories. Layers and layers of stories.
Then, of course, the idea is to translate these details to the page. To add our story to those others. We do our best, right?