RIVER RISING -- Background & Further Reading

If you’re a fan of my novel, River Rising, you might be interested in learning a little more about the background for the story. The setting I chose, way down past the end of the road on the Mississippi delta, was based on one of America's strangest places. Read about Pilottown, Louisiana in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and see some photos of the town and the river pilots in action by visiting Nat Stone’s excellent photographic account of his amazing kayak trip. Surf Nat’s site a little. Admire his beautiful shots of Cajun country. I went to most of those same spots by car and by boat while I was researching River Rising. What a fascinating part of the world! While you’re looking ot over, notice how nice the houses are in the picture of Pilottown, and how sturdy the raised walkway appears to be.

They say Pilottown has electric lights these days instead of kerosene lanterns, and fresh paint, and even ice cream. Hale Poser would be amazed.

It’s a lot more civilized than the town Hale visited in River Rising, but then, that story takes place 80 years ago. As the Times-Picayune article says, things have changed. Nowadays almost everyone in Pilottown is a non-resident pilot, waiting half a day (or two at most) until they are called to take command of a ship out on the Gulf or along the Mississippi. Back in the day, there were 200 full time residents, a school, grocery store and a couple of bars. Photos I have in my private library show no paint on the buildings, and certainly no steel handrails on the walkways. But one thing remains the same. Look closely at the photo at Nat’s site and you'll see buildings standing high on stilts. Time may pass, but the Mississippi will be respected, one way or another.

You might also be interested to know that the Papa DeGroot character in River Rising was (very) loosely based on a real person. His name was Leander Perez, and my, oh my was he something. Perez ran Plaquemines Parish with an iron fist for many years. You can read about him in a Time magazine article from 1960, and if you really want the nitty-gritty, check out the FBI’s official file on him.

South Louisiana always has been a world unto itself, with a different culture, different history, different ethnicity, even a different language. It’s a great place to set a novel. If River Rising left you hungry for more swamp stories, I strongly recommend The Clearing, by Tim Gautreaux. It’s extremely well written, one of the best novels I read last year, and bound to please a River Rising fan.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Posted byAthol Dickson at 9:28 AM  

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