My new short story went live yesterday, and, per usual, I’m doing the mandatory promotional essay. This one, however, will be different. No attempt at a pithy title or clever introduction, no jokes, no ironic, self-aware peppering a post with links for purchase as I did last time.
Hard to attempt funny when our nation’s fourth-largest city is underwater.
If you’re like me, you’ve spent hours glued to the television, watching in horror at the widespread suffering, cheering along the heroes involved in the rescue efforts, feeling a swell of pity with each report of a first responder or three generations of a family drowning. Fiction seems like a frivolous diversion when there are thousands suffering.
I started writing “Baptized in Dirty Water” in early July, an attempt at a bildungsroman laced with the Southern Gothic. Set on the Louisiana bayou in late June of 1989, five teenage boys embark on a journey to the carnival during its annual visit. The rides, games, corndogs, and atmosphere appeal to them less than a certain performer: The Indomitable Biloxi Bertha, Alligator ‘Rassler. For the right amount of money, she will perform a private show in her trailer, one that doesn’t involve aquatic reptiles but would entice a hormone-addled pubescent. The boys are so intrigued, they don’t consider the encroaching Tropical Storm Allison, which will wash over the town before nightfall.
Without giving anything else away, suffice to say flooding becomes a major plot point. The word “deluge” is used, a word I’ve seen and heard in nearly every piece of coverage of Harvey.
Obviously, I couldn’t have known at the time of writing what brewed in the Gulf. Harvey was just the second-creepiest film about a guy who talks to a giant rabbit. I set the release date weeks ahead of time; I couldn’t have had the foresight to know what would transpire.
Sunday, as the storm neared and predictions grew dire, I faced a dilemma. Do I delay the release? Would it be crass to follow through? I consulted a swath of people whose opinions I valued and got varied answers.
Before I go any further, allow me to pause and say that in no way am I implying that my silly internal struggle compares to what the people of Texas are facing. I’m not wrangling for sympathy. My quandary doesn’t even register as a minor inconvenience.
Nonetheless, I care about those folks. The last thing I want to do is appear heartless, oblivious to the pain they feel.
Funny thing is, the people I asked who are in Texas and Louisiana all said go for it. Admittedly, I don’t know anyone who lives in Houston, but some are from areas that were, albeit to a lesser degree, affected. “We’re a resilient bunch,” one told me before wondering why I would think a short story would be a blip on the radar of those in shelters or stripping the drywall from their homes after the water’s recession.
That solidified my resolve. I had been more worried about how I would be perceived than anything else, and, again, this ain’t about me.
The story is up. If you are so moved, I’d love for you to read it.
A genuine love for teaching composition and literature to college students isn’t the only reason I’m a professor. I don’t currently have a large readership, and the royalties I make are a mere pittance. Nonetheless, I am pledging to donate 100% of the haul to the American Red Cross relief efforts.
I know it’s not much, but I feel like it’s the least I can do.
For those who don’t want to purchase the story, that’s fine. I would ask, however, that you contribute as you are able. If you’re unsure how, I’ll close by providing the same information I do at the end of the short story:
- American Red Cross: 1-800-RED-CROSS, online here, or text “HARVEY” to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
- Salvation Army: 1-800-SAL-ARMY or online here.
- Houston Food Bank: 1-832-369-9390 or online here.
- And for those concerned about our four-legged, furry friends affected by the disaster, you can also donate to the Animal Defense League of Texas.
Much love to Houston, Port Arthur, Lake Charles, and every other city who sustained damage. We know you’re strong. We stand beside you.