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1 Dead in Attic: After Katrinaby Chris Rose
Writing an introduction for a book like this is tricky business.
Intros I have read over the years are generally composed of personal anecdotes and references to the body of work that follows. But, in this case, what follows is the personal work, the veil pulled away, the soul of a city — and a writer — laid bare.
Newspaper reporters are used to covering death and disaster — it's our bread and butter — but nothing prepares you to do it in your own town. Usually, we parachute into trouble, fill our notebooks, and then hightail it back to the comfort of our homes and offices.
Katrina changed all that.
Our comfort zones disappeared, turned into rubble, wastelands, and ghost towns. I went from being a detached entertainment columnist to a soldier on the front line of a battle to save a city, a culture, a newspaper, my job, my home.
Whether we won or lost the war remains to be seen. New Orleans is still a work in progress. The observations, lamentations, and ruminations that follow are the story so far, as it unfolded to me in the first sixteen months after the flood.
It's probably too emotional for conventional newspaper work. Too sentimental. Too angry. And way too self-absorbed, particularly for someone who weathered the storm remarkably well — in a material sense, at least (I suffered a broken screen door and a loose gutter) — and whose career not only survived the storm, but actually thrived in the aftermath.
I got a book deal, a movie deal, a Pulitzer Prize, dinner with Ted Koppel, and a mention in the social column of The Washington Times. If that ain't Making The Grade, then I don't know what is.
Natural disasters are a good career move for a man in my line of work.
But you didn't have to lose your house, your car, your dog, your job, your marriage, or your grandparents in an attic to suffer the impact of this storm. Unfortunately, most folks around south Louisiana and Mississippi did lose some or all of this.
Others lost less tangible assets: their peace of mind, security, serenity, ability to concentrate, notions of romance, sobriety, sanity, and hope.
The toll it took on me is in the book; I'll not belabor it here other than to say Katrina beat the shit out of me. It beat the shit out of everyone I know. This is our story.
In the winter of 2006, I self-published a collection of my post-Katrina columns from The Times-Picayune, a slim volume of love letters to New Orleans, howls of protest, cries for help, and general musings on the surrealistic absurdities of life in a post-Apocalyptic landscape.
I called it 1 Dead in Attic, a phrase I saw painted on the front of a house in the city's 8th Ward; words that haunted me then, and haunt me still.
Within six months, I ran through five printings of the book, collected great reviews from publications large and small, and sold 65,000 copies. I'm a neophyte in the world of independent publishing, but I'm told that's a real good number for a self-published volume. In fact, it's a good number for any volume.
And that's how the book came to attention of Simon and Schuster. I was preparing a follow-up to Dead in Attic, another collection of stories that I was going to call The Purple Upside-Down Car, a declarative observation my four-year-old son made from our car during a tour of the Lower 9th Ward that I clung to as the perfect metaphor for the whole of New Orleans and not just some wasted, toppled vehicle lying in a field of debris down on — get this — Flood Street.
The irony in this place could kill you.
Simon and Schuster bought the rights to Dead in Attic and the as-yet-unpublished Purple Upside-Down Car and we put them together and that's what you're holding in your hands. Faced with two titles but only one book, we went with the former because it already has brand recognition and because, well... the other one kind of sounds precariously like a Dr. Suess book.
This book takes the reader up to New Year's Day, 2007. A lot has happened since then, to the city, to me. On the eve of publication, I split with my wife of eleven years and went to rehab for an addiction to prescription painkillers, which I turned to in my ongoing struggles with anxiety and depression.
It would be easy to lay this blood on the hands of Katrina, though there is more, much more, to the story.
There always is.
But I guess that's the next chapter, the next story. The next book.
— Chris Rose
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