Pink Fire Pointer ORLEANS Blog Tour


I'm so happy to welcome Sherri L. Smith! When I first heard about ORLEANS I immediately thought about Katrina and then I opened my advance readers copy and I saw a letter. Most copies come with a press release, but ORLEANS also came with a letter from Sherri about her inspiration. I reached out to her publicist and asked if I could share it as part of her blog tour. There are a number of blog post out there but I hope you stop and read this one today. Please help me welcome Sherri L. Smith.

ORLEANS Author Letter from Sherri L. Smith 11/23/12

   When they tell you an evacuation is mandatory, they don't say that you are on your own. The assumption is you have a car, money, fuel and somewhere to go. You are able-bodied and the roads are clear, the airports open. But the fact is, the airports closed the day before. You live alone. You are diabetic and nearly seventy years old. The highways are packed and you are faced with a choice: weather a Category 3 hurricane in a your old truck in a traffic jam, or in the house you grew up in, the one on high ground that has withstood hurricanes for close to one hundred years. That was the decision my mother made when we spoke on the evening before Katrina made landfall. As the day continued, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin announced "they" would be going door-to-door to help the elderly and infirm. I convinced my mother to go with them when they came knocking. She packed her bags and waited by the door.

   No one ever came.

   When Katrina hit, a wooden beam punched through the roof of my mother's house and sent her running into the living room. Moments later, her bedroom ceiling came crashing down on top of her bed. It was more damage than the house had ever experienced, but she was okay. It was just another storm. We called her insurance company that morning. The phone rang and rang, but no one answered. And then the levees broke.

   My mother tried to leave New Orleans. Her truck was swamped by flood waters and she had to be rescued by a passing swamp boat. The next day, she walked a mile and half to the nearest drugstore in the hopes of finding more insulin and drinking water. The stores were closed but the looters were open for business, having done what the city, what FEMA, and what the Red Cross had failed to do. They had torn open the front of a Walgreens and set up an aid station. There were no meds available, but looters gave my mother enough drinking water to last the week.

   She was trapped in the city of her birth for four days while I scoured the internet looking for ways to rescue her. Terrified police officers were shooting people on bridges out of town. Gangs were patrolling their neighborhoods, protecting their turf when the law would not. Entering New Orleans seemed a fool's errand. Then, on the fifth day, with one dose of insulin left in her cooler, I made a desperate call to the Coast Guard. An hour later, my mother was picked up in an ambulance and driven to the airport. She was loaded onto a plane with a hundred other evacuees and flown to points unknown. At a Red Cross shelter, they gave her a debit card for $300. She flagged down a cab and returned to the airport. She had to ask the driver what city they were in: Charlotte, North Carolina.

   It took the rest of the day for her to reach me in Los Angeles. A week later, she was in the hospital with an infection caught from the flood waters, a fever that left her delirious and near death for a day and a night. But she survived that too.

   At some point during this time, I was driving home from work when I heard a voice in my head, the voice of another survivor. A girl who said, "O-Neg Davis, he beautiful." This was Fen. She was from New Orleans, but the city was no longer new. And bad things had happened—storms, violence, fever. There were no neighborhoods, only tribes, and they were segregated, not by race or poverty, but by blood. I dictated her words into my voicemail and Orleans was born.

   It was months before my mother and I were allowed back into the city. The Army Corp of Engineers had been through by then, covering wind-torn roofs with the ubiquitous blue tarps. But not my mother's house. Afraid of "damaging the roof," they left it uncovered and the house mildewed from the inside out. My mother passed away in New Orleans a week after the second anniversary of Katrina. She had just finished remodeling her home. As I tell people time and again, as they are now learning on the East Coast in the wake of Sandy, sometimes the aftermath is as deadly as the storm.

   Orleans is dedicated to my mother, Joan Marie Mack Smith. She was a grandmother, teacher and friend. A fighter, like Fen, and a caregiver, like Lydia. She and her city will live on.

Sherri L. Smith

Sherri L. Smith has written several award-winning novels for young adults. Flygirl (2010) won the California Book Award, was a YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, and has received fourteen State Award nominations. She lives near Los Angeles. For more information, visit her website at or her blog, The Middle Hundred, at She can be found on Twitter @Sherri_L_Smith.

One lucky winner will receive a Delta Relief Kit, complete with a signed ARC, a blood type ID dog tag, a glow stick, and the ever-crucial Snickers bar—everything you need to navigate ORLEANS, at least from the comfort of your armchair! (U.S. only)

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