If you ask me why I became a writer, and more specifically, why I wrote DOLLBABY, I can answer with two words: Hurricane Katrina.
Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans in August of 2005, leaving over eighty percent of the city underwater for weeks, stranding our extended family for months. When we were finally able to return to a still dark neighborhood, I struggled to put our life back together. It would take two years, rebuilding not only our home, but a way of life. There were nagging accusations from politicians in far-flung places who argued that a city that was below sea level should never be rebuilt. As much as it angered me to hear this, it gave me a renewed determination to do two things: to embark on the writing career I had put off for so many years, and to write about the New Orleans that was and never would be again.
DOLLBABY is the culmination of these goals, a story of a way of life that no longer exists but needs to be told, an enduring story of love, hate, family and redemption. It is the story of New Orleans, where you learn to dance, even when there is no music.
New Orleans is the kind of place that lives within you – when you go away it follows, when you return it embraces you, but one thing it never does is leave you. One of the enduring things about New Orleans that makes it such a distinct city is that there is no 'other side of the railroad tracks' or 'south side of the city.' New Orleans has always been a place where people from all walks of life live in close proximity, creating a shared culture that is unique to the city. This is one of the things I tried to portray in the novel, a sort of commonality that exists regardless of race or background, a diversity that goes beyond skin color or place of birth. The novel lends a glimpse of what it was like to live in such a culture, one that I felt needed brought to life after the flooding and devastation brought on by Hurricane Katrina. And it is for the people of New Orleans that I told the story of DOLLBABY.
I felt DOLLBABY needed to be told from dual perspectives – from a native of the city where the culture was ingrained, and from a newcomer where everything was new and different. Enter Ibby Bell, a young girl from the Pacific Northwest who is thrust into the middle of a peculiar Southern household filled with eccentrics. The novel begins in 1964, a few days before Liberty Bell (Ibby) is to celebrate her twelfth birthday on July 4. As it happens, this was the same week President LBJ signed into law the Civil Rights Act. It would have been imprudent not to address this issue, given that the novel entails three generations of women with differing views of what it meant to be black in the Segregated South. In the end, it is Dollbaby Trout's outwardly simple yet deeply complex voice that tells the bittersweet story of what happens when the lives of these two families irrevocably and unmercifully collide.