Jennifer's Journal


Wednesday, August 31, 2005


Here in northern Louisiana, in the wake of Katrina, we have power, we have a/c, we have food, water and all the other necessities and luxuries of life--and we have evacuees from points south.  The woods are literally full of people, since many from South Louisiana have deer hunting or fishing camps in this area to which they fled for refuge.  The state parks are allowing people to use the rental cabins free and are providing free hook-ups for RVs.  Local Civic Centers have taken in thousands.  And of course a huge number of residents are sheltering relatives.  Then there are the critically ill patients from New Orleans medical centers that are being air-lifted to hospitals large and small all over Northern Louisiana.  Prisoners are being distributed to other facilities here, there and yonder.  Every nook and cranny is being filled. 
But all is not well.  Bottled water is scarce.  Food is in short supply at the temporary shelters or is unsuitable for those with medical problems, such as diabetics.  Many of the people who are here simply got into their cars and drove off in a panic as the mandatory evacuation order went out on Sunday.  They have little money and no way to obtain a line of credit since the banking system in the New Orleans area is nonfunctional--and using credit cards is difficult because of severe overloading on the three-state phone system.  They came without extra clothing or sleeping bags or any kind of emergency supplies.  Many people with chronic illnesses, such as asthma and diabetes, left home without their medications or with only a limited supply; very few people brought their insurance or Medicare cards.  High blood pressure from stress is epidemic.  Some families who are just now arriving have managed to ingest contaminated food or water and are extremely ill.  Stomach viruses were brought by some and are spreading through the centers.  Among the three to four hundred evacuees at the center nearest my house, two have died of complications from their illnesses, and I can't imagine the same thing isn't happening elsewhere.  Then, many of these people know full well that they have lost everything or else that it will be three to four months before they can return to what's left.  They don't know what to do or where to go, have no jobs, no purpose so sit staring vacantly.  Yet disaster counseling is not in place and may be a long time coming. 
And that's not all.  Grocery and convenience stores in this area are, many of them, supplied by distribution centers in Jackson, MS.  As of yesterday afternoon, there was still no phone service there so no automatic reordering.  The delivery person for several local convenience stores had to physically drive to Jackson to put in his orders for normal food and bottled water deliveries, but doesn't know when, or if, they can be filled given that so many commodities are being sent to the Gulf coast.  Bottled water may be a particularly crucial problem since it is so desperately needed in New Orleans and the coastal areas.
Yet people are responding.  Doctors are treating patients without charge.  Hospitals are admitting people without red tape.  Pharmaceutical companies are rushing masses of free samples of their medications to the medical community.  Off-duty nurses are volunteering at the evacuation centers, checking blood pressure and temps and acting as triage consultants to decide who can be treated in place and who needs hospital care.  Some few restaurants have donated cooked food.  Churches are gearing up to supply meals and other aid.  Still, the problems are huge and they are compounding with every hot, muggy day that passes.  More than that, they aren't going away any time soon.       
Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Katrina has come and gone, and while many have had catastrophic losses, we were virtually untouched here in what you might call the "cuff" of the boot that is Louisiana.  Two days of gray, roiling skies with gusting wind, a few scattered leaves and sprinkles of rain, and that's it.  To say we're grateful would be an understatement, since we know many who are without power or water, or else can't get home to find out if they have a house left.  And the flooding in New Orleans is simply stunning in its tragedy.  We're also waiting to hear what happened on the Louisiana barrier island of Grand Isle which caught the edge of the hurricane's eye.
Previous hurricane's were mentioned over and over on the weather channel during the past few days.  One of these was Hurricane Camille which came ashore at Biloxi in 1969.  A friend of mine was a newspaper reporter covering the story at the time.  She asked me to collaborate with her on a fiction tale about it, a mystery-suspense tale.  I took her research and basic story outline and wrote a novel that was published by Ace Books in 1973 as Storm at Midnight.  Since the editor wanted to preserve the impression, peculiar to books of this sort, that the story was a personal experience (as if!), we were asked to supply a pen-name rather than use the double byline that had been on the manuscript.  The book came out then as being by Elizabeth Trehearne.  Still, it featured a storm surge which washed through the bottom floors of beach front houses, stranding people on the upper floors, much as Katrina did this weekend.
Another book I wrote featuring a hurricane was Midnight Waltz, a large portion of which was set on Isle Derniere, or Last Island.  This place was once a barrier island off the southwest coast of the state, one famous in the 1850s for its huge resort hotel and the many summer cottages of those seeking ocean breezes as an escape from the heat and pestilence of New Orleans.  A playground of Louisiana and Mississippi plantation society as well, it was known as "Little Deauville" for it's round of parties, dancing and gaming.  On August 10, 1856, at the height of the summer season with thousands in residence, a hurricane struck the island, including a storm surge which completely washed over it, destroying everything in its path and turning it into the forlorn sand spit that it is today.  Only a few people survived, and these only because of the heroic action of a steamboat captain who grounded his vessel on the island (being unable to dock normally) and took survivors on board.  Though this hurricane had no name, it was long known as one of the most destructive ever to hit the Louisiana coastline.  Until now.     
Sunday, August 28, 2005

Waiting for Katrina

It's cloudy, gray and still here on the lake at mid-day on Sunday, August 28, with hardly a ripple on the water and little movement in the trees--the quiet before the storm since Katrina, a Category 6 hurricane with 175 mph winds is heading toward us.  Not that we expect much in the way of excitement here, being at least 190 miles from the coast.  Still, we may get remnants of the wind and rain, and tornadoes are a strong possibility.  Since a power outage can occur from downed trees--and most of the trucks from our local power company will no doubt be in South Louisiana--I made a run to Wal-Mart this morning to stock up on water, milk, bread, lamp oil and so on.  Several family groups I saw there had New Orleans/South Louisiana accents and were piling their grocery carts with the kinds of things that would let them ride out the storm in a motel or relative's home--obvious refugees from the storm.  Last time around, when evacuation of New Orleans was also mandatory, not a vacant motel room was to be had anywhere from 50 miles out of the city to the northern Arkansas line.  So now we wait to see exactly where landfall will be made, supposing the storm takes its expected northern jog, to see if my younger daughter from southern Mississippi will head for the lake here with her family and in-laws, to see what tomorrow may bring.  And all the while, I can't get the historic buildings of New Orleans out of my mind.  They have survived so much.  What a terrible thing it will be if Katrina takes them apart or high water ruins their venerable and soft brick walls.  Some things are replaceable and some are just--not.  But this, too, is something which we'll have to wait and see.
Thursday, August 25, 2005


Some months back, I did an email interview with fellow author and non-fiction writer, Deborah Bouziden, for what I expected to be a Writer's Digest article.  This week I received a copy of the finished piece.  Instead of appearing in the magazine, however, the interview was published as a feature in the 2006 Novel & Short Story Writer's Market, the 25th Anniversary Edition of this "Bible" of the freelance author published by Writer's Digest.  The title?  "Jennifer Blake: Living Legend of Romance Reflects on Her Career and Offers Insight into Craft"
Wow.  What a grand--not to mention highly flattering--accolade.  Still, the greatest thing about it to me is the indication of how far I've come.
Writer's Market was the first book for writers I ever bought--until that purchase, everything I'd read on the art and craft had come from the library since I could barely afford typewriter ribbons and paper back then.(Writer's Market was originally a single volume with markets for every kind of writing in the world within its pages instead of being divided into different categories as it is now.) But I had written a novel and was ready to start sending it to publishers.  From this 1969 Writer's Market (You thought I wouldn't admit the date, didn't you?), I chose five publishing houses which were listed as seeking Gothic novels, the type I'd written.  I shipped it to the first publisher on my list, but it came back, unopened, because I had not sent a query letter, a device that was just coming into use.  Since I was unsure of how to go about writing such a letter, I simply shipped the book to the next of my chosen publishers in alpha order, Fawcett Gold Medal.  Two months later, I had a letter from the editor, Joseph Elder, who had plucked my manuscript from Fawcett's slush pile.  He said the book was short for Fawcett's list but he would buy it if I could add 30 pages according to his suggestions.  I added the pages, and the book was purchased (for the magnificent advance of $2500, the equivalent of approximately $25,000 today) and published in 1970 as The Secret of Mirror House.
From using Writer's Market to launch my career to being showcased in it--that's quite a journey.  And I wouldn't take anything for the honor and joy of it.   
Thursday, August 04, 2005

Work & Such

You've heard of Murphy's Laws, which generally say that anything which can go wrong, will?  I have my own which apply to writing.  One of Blake's Laws says: Any time you're in deadline mode for your next book, the page proofs for your last book will arrive.  Another one is: Any time a writer leaves home, FedEx will deliver a package from your editor containing something that must be okayed and returned immediately.  These things have been obvious to me for years, so you'd think I'd have my life organized so they wouldn't matter, wouldn't you?  Wrong.
The above is to explain why I haven't posted here recently.  First, I was away in the cool Rocky Mountain air for a couple of weeks.  On my return, I found page proofs for my January title, Dawn Encounter, which needed reading, correcting and revising immediately, since they were overdue.  Then I had an Aug. 1 deadline for the proposal for my next book, #4 in the Masters at Arms series, but couldn't make it because of deep concentration on the page proofs.  But now the work has been done and is off my desk.  Maybe life can get back to normal--where all I have to do is start the next book while decorating the new guest apartment we're making in what had been our downstairs storerooms and planning another trip.
Guarded Heart is the working title for the next Masters at Arms story.  This one has a heroine who is bound and determined to kill the hero--who can't for the life of him figure out why.  Sounds like fun to me!