Margaret McMullan SIQs
1.Aftermath Lounge honors the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Can you tell us about your experience during those days when the storm hit?
Shortly after the storm hit, my husband and I drove down from Evansville, Indiana to Pass Christian, Mississippi. We saw aerial footage of the town and we could see that the roof on my parents’ house was mostly intact – that’s all we could see. We brought water and a lot of supplies to donate. There was a gas shortage then, and limited cell phone coverage. The closer we came to the town, the more it became like a war zone. The National Guard was there to keep people away, but we got through, thanks to a relative.
The night before we left, my mother told us to forget about everything else — all she really wanted was the painting of her mother, which had been smuggled out of Vienna during WWII. We had house keys but there were no doors. When we got there, the house was gutted – the storm surge had essentially ripped through the house.
We put on rubber gloves and spent the day sifting through the debris, dragging out any salvageable pieces of furniture. The water had shoved through the closed shutters, plowed up under the foundation and tore open the back walls, bashing around the furniture, sinks, toilets, stoves, washers, driers.
We never did find the painting.
Elizabeth Bishop wrote a wonderful villanelle called “One Art.” She wrote about losing small items like keys and an hour badly spent, then she progresses to the greater losses — her mother’s watch, a house, cities, rivers, a continent, and finally, a loved one. “The art of losing isn’t hard to master,” she starts. “So many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.” I thought of that poem a lot.
2.Your family played a key role, helping Pass Christian rebuild. What were a few moments that influenced you during that time?
We saw so many people from all walks of life and they were suddenly homeless. My father organized financial donations. There were no fire trucks left after the storm, so he made sure Pass Christian got a fire truck. We were always big supporters of the library too. The Pass Christian Policemen had stayed during the storm to make sure everyone was safe. They had tried to stay safe in the library, but then when the water rose, they had to shoot out the windows to swim away to safety. I used that information in the title story of Aftermath Lounge. These men were real heroes.
3.Did you know from the moment the storm hit that someday you would write a novel about it? Or did a later experience give you the idea? If so, what was it?
At first I just witnessed. I think that’s what writers do mostly. We witness. Then the material lets us know what it wants to become. I just took notes. Later stories started taking shape and they were all in different voices. It was the only way I could work at this material.
4.Part of your inspiration for the novel came from your family’s beautiful mansion. How did your own experiences in that house shape each of the stories you wrote?
Well, it’s hardly a mansion, but I was surprised to discover just how much a house could mean. Everyone always says it’s just stuff, but there were so many collective memories there. When we stood and looked at everything so undone, it felt like our times spent there were gone too.
Katrina had such a huge impact on the coast, on my family, and on me. I am always telling my students to write what they most care about, to write what keeps them up at night. I had to write about Katrina. I had written about the Civil War, Reconstruction and WWII, so I saw Katrina as an historical event. I treated the hurricane more as setting. It’s in the background. The human drama is in the forefront. I’m always interested in what people do or don’t do in the face of real catastrophe. I didn’t want to write from one point of view either. I wanted to give voice to a variety of people because Katrina affected everyone.
5.What was your writing process like for this novel? Did you know from the start it would be a novel in stories? Or did that become apparent only after you began writing?
There were so many news stories coming out at the time. I write nonfiction, but I couldn’t get my thoughts together. I couldn’t make sense of anything. Out of habit, I took a lot of notes. I could only deal with writing about all that was happening a little bit at a time. And my own personal story just wasn’t that interesting.
I personally witnessed and experienced the best in human nature. People and communities came together and helped one another in the most meaningful way. They endured with a great deal of kindness and grace. So I chipped away at the material. I wanted to tell a community’s story.
Ten years post-Katrina, aftermath stories live on!
Acclaimed author and NEA recipient Margaret McMullan explores how people struggle with the ghost of Hurricane Katrina in new story collection!
Calypso Editions April 2015 Literary Fiction Paperback, 146 pages
Aftermath Lounge by Margaret McMullan!
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed 95% of the small coastal town of Pass Christian, Mississippi. With a 28-foot storm surge, the highest recorded in U.S. history, 55-foot waves, and winds reaching 120 mph, the town was wiped off the map—temporarily.
Award-winning author Margaret McMullan saw the destruction firsthand. Her family’s historic Gulf Coast home—her father’s beloved southern jewel—was one of the houses in Pass Christian devastated by Katrina. Despite the chaos immediately following the storm, McMullan’s family was among the first to rebuild and donated to the Red Cross, the Pass Christian fire station, and the Pass Christian library.
During this time, McMullan witnessed small acts of heroism that inspired her to write about the community and its people, and how tragedy shapes our character. In 2010, she was awarded a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship to complete the project.
Born in part out of her family’s deep connection to the community, Aftermath Lounge: A Novel in Stories (April 2015, Calypso Editions) releases at the 10-year anniversary of Katrina and comprises fictional vignettes about the people of Pass Christian in the storm’s wake. The stories are connected by a setting near to the author’s heart—the McMullans’ home, which was originally constructed in 1845 and restored by her father numerous times over the years.
Aftermath Lounge is a compelling tribute to the Gulf Coast and resurrects the place and its people alongside their heartaches and triumphs. It is a riveting mosaic that feeds our desire to understand what it means to be alive in this day and age.
About the Author!
Margaret McMullan is the author of six award-winning novels including In My Mother’s House (St. Martin’s Press), Sources of Light (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Cashay (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), When I Crossed No-Bob (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and How I Found the Strong (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Her writing has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Ploughshares, Southern Accents, TriQuarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Sun, and many other publications. She received an NEA Fellowship in literature for Aftermath Lounge and a Fulbright award to teach at the University of Pécs in Pécs, Hungary, for her upcoming non-fiction work, Where the Angels Live. Her anthology of essays by 25 well-known female authors writing about their fathers, Every Father’s Daughter (McPherson & Company), is also available in Spring 2015. She currently holds the Melvin Peterson Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at the University of Evansville in Indiana.
Praise for Aftermath Lounge!
“I love these stories. They’re so smart, beautiful, true—and so real—that they seemed like part of my own history. I felt homesick in the best way, flooded with a kind of saddened joy. They snuffed the gimlet-eyed adult and brought to life again, for a while, the wondrous child.” —Brad Watson, Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives
“I like these new stories so much it’s hard to know where to start. But a good place to begin would be…well, Place. She brings it to life like few writers can. You can almost feel the heavy air on your skin. As for her characters, they’re three- dimensional people who are so real, you feel like they’re in the room with you. She’s got a great ear, a fine eye, and something else that you can’t buy—namely, a very large heart.” —Steve Yarbrough, The Realm of Last Chances
“Aftermath Lounge is a beautiful, compelling collection, the emotions as powerfully charged as the winds of a hurricane. Margaret McMullan writes movingly about those living in and pulling themselves out of destruction and chaos and loss to salvage all they can of love and redemption. From the voices of orphaned children to the least likely man to don a Santa Claus suit, there are moments of devastation, comic relief and grace.” —Jill McCorkle, Life After Life
“In Aftermath Lounge each short story, like a homing pigeon, returns to the Gulf Coast to explore how its people struggle with the ghost of Hurricane Katrina. With riveting prose, Margaret McMullan tracks the weblike connections of family and friends haunted by the storm from Pass Christian, Mississippi, to Chicago.” —William Ferris, The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists
“How strange, that the best apocalyptic fiction of the year should come to us, not borne on the maelstrom of nuclear fire or horrific epidemic, but rather in this series of beautifully crafted and masterfully interwoven literary stories. In Aftermath, our humanity is not simply swept away by the fury and chaos of Katrina; rather, it is tested, sometimes broken, sometimes intensified, and ultimately renewed by the deluge. A hopeful Book of Revelation.” —Pinckney Benedict, Miracle Boy and Other Stories!
April 9, 7pm – Honey Lounge , Minneapolis, MN April 16, 4pm – Melvin Peterson Gallery, Evansville, IN April 18, 2pm – B&N, Evansville, IN April 24, 5pm – Pass Christian Books, MS April 25, 1pm – Lemuria Books, Jackson, MS April 30 – May 2 – Kentucky Book Festival May 1 – Blue Marble Books, Ft. Thomas, KY M!ay 3 – WordTheatre, Burbank , CA
May 7, 5pm – Planters Coffeehouse, Henderson, KY May 13, 7pm – Malaprops Bookstore, Ashville, NC May 15-17 – South Carolina Book Festival May 23 – Indy Reads Books, Indianapolis, IN
June 5, 5pm – Lake Forest Book Store, Lake Forest, IL June 5-8 – Printer’s Row Book Festival, Chicago, IL June 3, 6pm – Chicago Public Library, Chicago, IL June 15, 6:30pm – Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN
Media Contact: Stephanie Ridge, 512.481.7681, email@example.com
Honored by Chicago Public Library, 2013 Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner
National Author Winner, 2011 Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award
2010 Fulbright Fellowship to teach and research book in Hungary
2010 National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship for Aftermath Lounge
2005 Artist of the Year, Southwestern Indiana Arts Council, Sept. 2005
Aftermath Lounge: Margaret McMullan
Hurricane Katrina was fierce, deadly and the damage caused can still be seen even today. On August 29, 2005, she unleashed her wrath that the devastation and the misfortune faced by so many can still be felt. Aftermath can be defined as the result of an event of disastrous or unfortunate event such as this hurricane leading to consequences beholds human control. The place is Pass Christian, Mississippi and the story begins with Sam and Norma who find themselves trying to cope with several loses. Losing her best friend Donna and her own child Norma becomes despondent, sad and unable to deal with her own realities. Story one takes place right before the hurricane hits and the despair faced by Norma becomes so great but when they decide to wait out the storm in their apartment and pray they survive a little hope flickers as she realizes that not only Sam needs her but someone else too. A story of despair and a storm that might bring them some hope as we meet her ex-husband Catch in story two, Teddy and his mother Diane and a relationship with people called the Zimmers who you can’t help put love. As we learn more about their lives, the Catch’s relationship with them and how he attaches himself to Teddy, you can’t help but think that within all of this horror there just might be some good. The stories focus on the rebuilding, the BP oil spill causing the death of dolphins and other animals and the lives of so many that were touched, taken and destroy because of Katrina’s anger and wrath. Hurricane Season is story one where we meet Norma and Sam and because of his injury falling off a roof his life changed. But, his final words will remain in the mind and hearts of readers as he tells his wife: You’re strong enough for what’s ahead. Then the storm arrives.
Norma’s ex is the center of the next story and he lives with Paul and Mary Zimmer in Pass Christian and it is there we meet Diane. Diane is the mother of Teddy but seems more focused on her men friends and her career and often leaves for long periods of time fixated on the devastation caused by the hurricane and bringing back artifacts to show her family, pictures and stories of what she has seen. Paul and Mary came from Chicago and Teddy hates the dark. His mother leaves so often you begin to wonder why. But, relationships are at the heart of these stories and as the years pass and the stories progress Diane’s relationship with Paul and Teddy changes in many different ways. Holiday World is story three and we learn about a boy named Billy and his father. Separated from his parents at a water park the end will surprise you and his words quite revealing. Place Value brings back the Zimmers even though we learn in the story just what their fate is and how they are riding out the storm with Teddy and Diane. But, Diane’s personality is sullen when she returns from her parent’s home and sees the devastation. She cannot seem to handle it. Giving her father a gun and his grandmother’s keys her eyes fill up with tears and her ability to cope with the situation would frighten any young child. Her statement about nothing there and nothing to open and no one to shoot is quite thought provoking. But, Diane once again leaves and they learn to exist and live without her. Teddy is a positive young boy and his smile, desire for life comes through throughout the book.
This book recreates and reminds readers of what happens when a severe storm or hurricane hits and the impact it has on so many lives. The author lived this first hand and through her stories she shares her experiences in two very compelling stories Aftermath Lounge the title story and Elevation where she brings back Catch a character that I really like, the changes within him are quite remarkable and the way he helps the young girl living in her car is touching. Taking care of the Zimmer property wanting to rebuild what meant so much to them and him, we find him picking up pieces of broken china on the beach hoping to fit them together as he does his life. Cups, saucers and stray pieces of bowls and plates hoping that somehow something will be whole. Hoping to make sense of his life you wonder if living where he does and helping people is what makes him feel he can go on and survive.
The last story is Elevation is quite telling as we understand the relationship more fully between Diane and her father Paul and his with his grandson Teddy. Throughout this last story the reader waits for some more of a connection between Diane and Paul but it never comes. Insurance woes, paperwork and the fact that Paul’s wife hired someone to look into the damage done to their home from the Hurricane sends readers along with Paul on a journey most would prefer missing. As Catch rescues the young girl named Nancy who was being attacked by a dog they decide to go to Kafe Katrina and the Aftermath Lounge for dinner. But, most residents have left, moved on and what is left is a group of builders, volunteers and those from out of town. As Paul Zimmer tries to find his way to rebuild and find some semblance in his life a BP oil spill will send him to a bookstore to learn more about dolphins and the affect oil has on them and why we need to protect them. The ending is quite powerful as Diane practically sets up a shrine to the Hurricane of pictures on easels all over the Pass Christian’s House Walk. Other issues come to light such as family loyalty, racism, death, loss of children, the holocaust and how each character within each story is not only flawed and in need of finding a place for himself or herself but uses the devastation at times as an excuse to deny life, leave, or hide from their own realities. Author Margaret McMullan shows not only the vulnerable side of each character but gives hints of their individual strengths.
The wrath of Katrina will never fade and the devastation can still be seen in some places today but those that survived and can tell their stories are the ones that lived in The Aftermath of Katrina’s Glory.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews