View Full Version : Post-Katrina Fiction

William Haskins
08-15-2007, 11:09 PM
the blog post (http://www.conversationalreading.com/2007/08/post-katrina-fi.html)addresses (or at least raises) some good points about the role of fiction in making sense of contemporary tragedies and events.

I wonder if we're beginning to peg fiction too much to current events. First there was post-9/11 fiction, now there's post-Katrina fiction (and, probably soon, Iraq War II fiction and Bush II fiction). I don't doubt the need for writers to try their hand at making sense of major events, but it strikes me as a little strange to start forming fiction subgenres around disasters and such. It also strikes me as a little troubling the way fiction is being increasingly marketed around events (usually tragedies), as if novels and story collections were some kind of literary op-eds. (Note the Esquire editor asking specifically for Katrina-based fiction, no doubt in order to sell more magazines.)

Of course, there's also the point that much of the best fiction on any given historical moment comes decades afterward. Perhaps we shouldn't be goading our authors by implying that they should be fictionalizing major current events. Maybe we should just let them write.

the referenced article is here (http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/08/after_the_deluge_postkatrina_l.html).

anyway, seems like good grist for the mill.

08-15-2007, 11:40 PM
Even in books I least expect it, I read the 9/11 day story of the main character. In the last month, I think I've read two novels that incorporated something about that day. I suppose Katrina wasn't going to be too far behind.
Common experience binds people. It is accessible trauma for a reading audience to understand because likely, they witnessed, knew someone who witnessed or saw images on the news of the events. Instead of describing the devastation in great detail and making up a horrific event that will shape the lives of your characters and put them on their plotted path, one has already happened; it has been witnessed, it already conjures images of devastation. Perhaps they believe if they can't top it, they will just use it?

dolores haze
08-16-2007, 12:46 AM
Interesting article, and has really got me thinking. I look forward to fictional accounts of historical events. Can't wait to read DeLillo's "Falling Man". Is that grotesque of me? Or am I just a victim of marketing? I think it's neither. It often takes a work of fiction to help me understand the deeper ramifications of a disaster or historical event. That said, it can go too far, can be too gratuitous - do we need more books about the death of Princess Diana? Or fewer, but better, books. Dunno really - still thinking this one through.

08-16-2007, 02:25 PM
I don't think it's too surprising for the industry to exploit (perhaps too strong a word) situations such as the hurricane or Sep 11th. Look at how quickly the music industry reacts to deaths - how long does it take for the average Best Of to be released when someone famous snuffs it? Or to use the anniversary of their death to issue another Greatest Hits...cough...Elvis...cough...
If there's money to be made, it seems anything goes.

08-16-2007, 04:22 PM
It's a very delicate thing to spit your story on a high profile disaster. It can easily come off manipulative and I'd have to say that I would likely avoid anything slotted as '9/11 fiction' or 'post-Katrina fiction'.

Disaster, in general, is an excellent place to find a compelling story, but I have to care about protagonist/antagonist above all. If there's even a whiff of utilitarian treatment of a famous tragedy, it drains motivation for me to invest, because I won't trust it at the outset.

A recent example, although cinematic, not literary, is the trailer I saw for the upcoming film The Kingdom (http://www.thekingdommovie.com/). It actually pissed me off. I couldn't help but feel that a group of bankers sat down and said, "Well, you can't even turn around without seeing something about danger in the Middle East. Let's make a movie about that."


08-16-2007, 09:18 PM
What about authors who started to write a book set in New Orleans before Katrina hit? Many of those authors have gone ahead and written the novels they originally planned and included a dedication to New Orleans. I suppose other authors have tried to set the book in the post-Katrina world. Also, what are authors who live in the area supposed to do? Many of them regularly set their books there, so they would have to start writing post-Katrina books, stick to writing books set before the disaster and include a dedication or other explanation, or chose another setting. (And who wants to chose another setting if the setting is important to them? That might seem like giving up.)

If an attack, a war, or a disaster affects your genre directly, you might have to address it, even if you wish it had never happened. Most suspense and thriller authors had to address 9/11, in some way or another. Does that make it post-9/11 fiction?

How it's done varies. Sometimes it will come across as commercial or tacky, even if the author was sincere. On the other hand, pretending it never happened will come across as weird.

08-16-2007, 09:26 PM
Would it make characters less real if they behave as if a major event, that had a huge impact on the country where they supposedly live, didn't happen? To use the 9/11 example, doesn't everyone in the US know where they were when they first learned of the attacks? If your characters are in the US and exist post-9/11, shouldn't they know where they were and what they were doing, too?

08-16-2007, 09:53 PM
Of course events like these will effect characters in modern stories. And they should. If the locale or the time frame or the events are important to our hero or our villain, it would be bizarre not to work that into the narrative.

But when the event itself is a character (unless handled by the the most agile) and especially in the relatively short time following a disaster, it risks coming off as a cheap manipulation.

If I saw a shelf in a bookstore tagged '9/11 fiction' or 'tsunami novels' or the like, the only second glance I'd give it would be a sneering huff.

Celia Cyanide
08-17-2007, 12:55 AM
Would it make characters less real if they behave as if a major event, that had a huge impact on the country where they supposedly live, didn't happen?

I think so.

This is an odd comparison, but to me, it would be like setting a novel in 2007 and not have any of the characters carry cell phones, or even acknowledge that they exist.

08-17-2007, 12:00 PM
I think so.

This is an odd comparison, but to me, it would be like setting a novel in 2007 and not have any of the characters carry cell phones, or even acknowledge that they exist.

Sounds like a good world to me ;)

08-17-2007, 06:01 PM
And here I thought this was the whole point of writing mainstream fiction. Guess writers have been doing it all wrong for the last couple of hundred years. They shouldn't have been writing about current events such as the Revolution, the Civil War, Lincoln's assassination, etc.