Dogs of the Drowned City began for me as a picture in my mind. I saw a dog alone on the streets of a ruined city. This fascinated me because it was so very different than the average animal story—this was not a story of a dog learning to survive in nature, but of a dog learning to survive in the ruins of a human landscape. Primal instincts would have to adapt to modern, unnatural surroundings. However, for a pet, wouldn’t this human world be more familiar than a natural one? Wouldn’t the dog, of perhaps all creatures, be best equipped to survive in such a world? (More on that Thursday!)
As I began to outline this dog’s story, I had to figure out what exactly had destroyed the city and left my dog in its ruins. This involved some pretty morbid thinking, I warn you. I quickly discarded the possibility of some kind of weapon or war—anything that ruined the city in that manner would destroy both humans and dogs. A plague would not necessarily leave my dog alone in the city. But a devastating storm—I realized that a hurricane would drive the humans out of the city, but might leave my dog and those that would form his pack in it. This was unfortunately the case for many dogs during and after Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast in 2005. Many pets were left behind in New Orleans when their owners were forced to evacuate.
The next task was to find a city that faced the risk of devastating hurricanes and faced it often. In an instant, I knew what city to use.
My parents live north of Ft. Lauderdale, which is a city in south Florida. One time, when I was visiting them, I noticed a sign in their elevator listing their designated hurricane evacuation shelter. Underneath the name of the location were the words “No Pets Allowed.” At the time, my parents had Zeus the boxer (he unfortunately passed away in 2010; my parents now have two rescued Boston terriers). I wondered what my parents would do with Zeus if a hurricane forced them out of their home and into a shelter—leave him home alone? Find some inland emergency boarding location? Try to escape the storm by car together? These questions helped pinpoint the setting of Dogs of the Drowned City.
Shep and his family do not live in Ft. Lauderdale. I set the story a little farther south, down the Florida coast, in Miami—albeit in a fictionalized version of the city. What that means is that where the map did not serve my purposes, I changed it. You can do that as a fiction writer. ☺
Why Miami? Well, first of all, Miami actually was nearly destroyed by a devastating hurricane in 1926. A fifteen-foot storm surge left much of the city under water and 125 mile-per-hour winds tore apart buildings. Miami is situated on flat land between the Everglades and Biscayne Bay. The only things separating Biscayne Bay from the Atlantic Ocean are a few thin barrier islands. On average, the land upon which the city rests is only six feet above sea level. This means that if there were a storm surge of over six feet of water, not including waves, most of the city would be flooded. The city also has a hurricane season, meaning they expect these storms. For this reason, the city has evacuation plans, so Shep’s family would not be shocked when told they would have to evacuate. The city and barrier islands are also riddled with canals and inlets and rivers and waterways. These kinds of facts provided my imagination with a vast playground of possibility.