So here I am back at the coffee shop, and I figure it’s about time I told you about Kareena Boudreaux. Now, for anybody who hasn’t read it, SINNERS AND SAINTS is where you’ll find my lovely Kareena, one of my favorite second-bananas I’ve ever gotten to write. SINNERS takes place mostly in New Orleans. I wanted to do a fish out of water book, in which my heroine, Chastity Byrnes, has to leave one of the premiere forensic communities, here in St. Louis, to wade through the much different forensic community in New Orleans. I think if I say “Good old boy” network, you’ll get it. If I mention it might be a weensy bit inefficient, you might be able to see evidence of that, too, especially since Katrina.
Anyway, to set up Chastity’s foray through a completely new community, I needed a guide. I knew that the male protagonist would be an ex-firefighter-turned-cab-driver, James Guidry(I really didn’t want to fall into that “her boyfriend’s a cop” cliche of discovering what was going on in the case). But James didn’t have the contacts Chastity needed. But then, Chastity is a forensic nurse,one of the newest breed of forensic scientists. She is an ED liaison, who collects evidence, evaluates and testifies in abuse cases, and works with the police in a myriad of ways. And the thing about forensic nurses, is that because it’s still such a new profession, they tend to know each other.
Which is how I came across Kareena. I was at a forensic nurse conference(I am trained, but do not call myself a forensic nurse, because I do not practice) in 2003, when I ran across the Forensic Nurse Liaison for the Charity Hospital ER in New Orleans. Her name is Karen Chabert, and she is not just funny, beautiful, interesting and edgy, she is a brilliant forensic nurse and an even better teacher. And she had every contact I needed for research.
“Please,” I begged her. “I’m coming down to New Orleans for some forensic research. Help me.”
“On one condition,” she said.”You have to have a character named Kareena Boudreaux from Cut-Off Louisiana, and she has to be sexy.”
Well, when somebody makes a suggestion like that–that is pure gold–I gave them three good chances to change their mind. I gave her those three chances. She insisted. I wrote Kareena Boudreax.
Kareena is kind of my voice of New Orleans in the book. She knows the not-so-good stuff that happens down there, but she knows the really good stuff and good people, too. She knows how hard most of them work to do the right thing. And she knows that they’re all doing it in New Orleans, which has rules and traditions all its own. Okay, and she knows the ways to circumvent them all to get the information she needs.
Karen Chabert took me through Charity, even to the morgue, which was built in the 1800s, and looked like it. She introduced me to people and drove me through the city with a forensic nurse’s eye(we went back again after the hurricane, and she took me through the Lower Ninth Ward, where she pointed to one destroyed house after another saying, “One of my patients lived there…one of my patients lived there…that’s where the chaplain lived. They still haven’t found his sister. We sat in a warm April sun in the middle of desolation the likes of which I had only seen in photoes of Hiroshima, and prayed for all those patients she’d lost that day. I’m still not sure whether they found the chaplain’s sister).
But as much a consummate professional as she is, she’s also one of the funniest, most wonderful people I know. She’s a member of the Zulu krew for Mardi Gras, and has taken her comments about medicine to live stand-up comedy clubs. She’s taught forensic courses and raised money for the police, and made friend with every one of them. And when Charity was lost to the hurricane, she lost not only her job, but her beloved dog, and was homeless for months.
Karen is back now. Just as I considered Kareena my voice of New Orleans, I consider Karen the face of it. Because like the city, she suffered, but she’s fighting back. And she’s doing it in the most amazing style. If I get her permission, I’ll find my picture of her on the Zulu krew and post it. Til then, when you read Kareena, think of her. And remember that although Karen was my inspiration, Kareena is only a shadow of her inspiration.
eileenkathleen, the evil twins