When Melanie Jacobson started writing her eighth fiction novel, she decided to set the cheery love story in her hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. However, after finishing the novel, massive flooding caused widespread devastation in Baton Rouge and many other parts of southern Louisiana.
Facing publicity events for her new novel, Southern Charmed, Jacobson felt uneasy about promoting her book with its cheery Southern characters and lighthearted romantic plotline, while so many friends, family members, and neighbors in Louisiana were suffering from devastating floods.
"I was kind of torn up when all this flooding happened, and then I realized . . . I’m supposed to be planning a book launch," Jacobson said.
Instead of focusing purely on promoting her new novel, Jacobson saw an opportunity to shed some light on the needs of the flood victims. When she notified her editiors that everyone in her acknowledgements had been impacted by the flooding, they immediately agreed to help out.
Initially asking for a case of books to start her book launch, Jacobson planned to cook up some Cajun food, charge a $20 rate, and donate every cent to flood victims. Her editors at Covenant stepped it up a notch, teaming up with Seagull Book to donate a portion of the proceeds of every copy of Southern Charmed sold through them to the charity of her choice, Bethany Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Jacobson said, "These [people in Louisiana] are very resilient people, and it’s an extremely strong community where strangers help strangers without a thought, but despite all that, most of these people are starting over literally with just the walls and roof of their house—schools were destroyed, homes were destroyed, churches were destroyed. They are going to need help for a long time—long after the light has faded. Sending thoughts and prayers their way is of course helpful—prayers for their encouragement and uplifting—but every cent goes so far."
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Having grown up in Baton Rouge, the floods affected many of Jacobson's close family and friends. Jacobson's husband flew out to Louisiana to help rip out flooring and drywall that had been damaged by the flood water.
Water damaged possessions, furniture, and flooring line the streets of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Photo courtesy Melanie Jacobson.
"Every home has been gutted and the majority of people lost their possessions inside the homes," Jacobson said. "The houses kind of look the same. Most of them are built of brick, so they look fine outside, and then you walk in, and it’s just a disaster. The only exterior evidence is there are just mounds and mounds and mounds of drywall and cabinetry and people’s belongings just heaped on the curb."
Some of those possessions heaped on the curb include furniture, clothing, and even the wedding dresses of Jacobson's aunt and cousin. Since the flood water is toxic, any drywall or insulation that is within 18 inches above the floods absorbs toxic water, and has to be removed.
"The other thing people don’t realize is because Louisiana is so humid, they can’t start rebuilding right away," Jacobson said. "Everybody has to just wait for it to all dry out. The humidity and the walls have to be below 15 percent, or you’re at greater risk for mold, which, right now is the biggest problem everybody’s fighting. There’s just mold growing everywhere."
Flooring, drywall, and insulation that soaked up toxic flood water had to be removed. Photo courtesy Melanie Jacobson.
Included in the flood damage was the Denim Springs Stake Center, which flooded with three to four feet of water, and many Church members' homes have been affected. More than 5,000 Mormon Helping Hands volunteers, including Jacobson's husband, rushed to the scene to help rip out flooring, drywall, and insulation and serve where they're needed.
The mayor of Baton Rouge and the governor of Louisiana even visited the LDS Baton Rouge Stake Center to present a proclamation, declaring August 28 as Mormon Helping Hands Day in Baton Rouge.
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Apart from Mormon Helping Hands, Jacobson lists many other ways that people are helping. Whether someone hands out food to volunteers or sends a spa day package to a Young Women's group, Jacobson praises those who find a way to serve.
"I know if I’m personally witnessing all of this," Jacobson said, "[then] that’s happening on an even wider scale."
However, you don't have to go to Louisiana to rip up floorboards or donate a huge sum of money to help. "[There’s] not just one way to serve," Jacobson said. "Giving money will always help, but . . . figure out how to fill a specific need."
Volunteers helped flood victims clear out their destroyed possessions. Photo courtesy Melanie Jacobson.
Jacobson also hopes that her new book will shed light on the experience of being a young single adult in the South. According to her, people in Louisiana "grow up there, they want to raise their families there, they want to retire and die there, it’s just—they love it. It’s not something they’re trying to leave behind."
Her new novel follows Lila, who is a young high school teacher in Baton Rouge, Lousiana. Although she's always wanted to get married and have a family, Lila is not willing to leave her beloved hometown. However, when love comes around, Lila has to decide how to work out her hopes for the future and her strong hometown loyalty.
Preorder Southern Charmed at Seagull Book, who will donate a portion of the proceeds to flood victims in Louisiana.
Lead image courtesy of Melanie Jacobson.
Lila Mae Guidry is a Southern girl through and through. As a fourth-generation Latter-day Saint in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, she's proud of her heritage as both a Southerner and a Saint—and she doesn't take kindly to people who disparage either. Ten years ago, Max Archer was just that kind of jerk. As the mission president's son, Max spent his entire three years mocking the South . . . and teenage Lila. After Max's family moved away, Lila forgot about her sworn enemy. Almost.
When a new job brings a grown-up Max back to Baton Rouge, Lila is less than thrilled with his reappearance, especially since everyone seems intent on throwing her together with this old adversary. Yet fight as she may, Lila soon realizes resistance is futile—their connection is undeniable. Max embodies everything she wants in a man—except perhaps the most important thing—her life is rooted in the city she loves, but his dreams are bigger than Baton Rouge. With such mismatched visions of the future, Max and Lila are faced with a life-altering decision: jeopardize their aspirations or risk losing love.