Hurricanes and Walker Percy


Walker Percy

There’s an article going around the internet among many of my friends, especially the fans of Walker Percy, concerning Walker Percy’s Theory of Hurricanes. “It was his impression that not only he but other people felt better during hurricanes,” Percy wrote in The Last Gentleman, and the article argues that this was Percy’s own opinion. “Midge and the counterman were very happy. The hurricane blew away the sad, noxious particles which befoul the sorrowful old Eastern sky and Midge no longer felt obligated to keep her face stiff…. Everything was yellow and still charged up with value.”

Percy’s theory holds that dangerous situations afford us the opportunity to be better than our everyday selves, to become “action heroes or saints.” But he goes further: “I knew a married couple once who were bored with life, disliked each other, hated their own lives, and were generally miserable—except during hurricanes. They sat in their house at Pass Christian, put a bottle of whiskey between them, felt a surge of happiness, were able to speak frankly and cheerfully to each other, laugh and joke, drink, even make love.” (From his story, “Lancelot.”) Percy goes on to say that once the crisis has past and the everydayness of life creeps back in, our hurricane-happiness fades. “After the hurricane they took a good hard look at each other on a sunny Monday morning and got a divorce.”

Walker Percy lived in Louisiana, and no doubt weathered his fair share of hurricanes. I’ve lived in Louisiana almost all my life, and there was a time when I might have agreed with him. That time was before Hurricane Katrina, which happened 15 years after Percy died.

Hurricanes have always been a part of life in Louisiana, and I’ve lived through so many that I’ve lost count. When I was a kid in Baton Rouge, they were actually fun. We always got two days off of school: one to let the storm blow through, one to clean up the tree limbs and get the power back on. Hurricanes were an adventure, sometimes sparking phenomena like green lightning, or turning on lamps in the house all by themselves, both of which happened during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. As long as you didn’t get a tree through the roof, the odds of suffering major damage were low. When this was my experience of hurricanes, I might have thought Percy was on to something.

In the days leading up to the landfall of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I was twenty-six, single, and I had just bought my first house. I was working two jobs, which between them totaled seven days a week. The prospect the hurricane posed for me was simple: finally, a few days off. My roommate and I invited a friend to come stay with us, and we stocked up on hurricane essentials, namely hurricane cocktail mix and rum. We were not unlike Percy’s couple, except that we liked each other on regular days, too.

And then…

There is no reason to rehash the horrors of Hurricane Katrina here. Suffice it to say that everyone in Louisiana—and Mississippi and  Alabama, and all along the Gulf Coast—experienced a shift in paradigm. Katrina broke the rules. There were no couples happily drinking whiskey in Pass Christian, because Pass Christian basically ceased to exist. It’s true that Katrina turned an awful lot of people into “action heroes and saints,” but the cost of that turn was unprecedented, not only in terms of human suffering, but in the emotional toll it took on our society. There was a weariness that set in with Katrina, a weariness magnified by the equally powerful Hurricane Rita that hit just a few weeks later—a weariness that has only festered and grown over the last twelve years as “once in a thousand years” disasters have continued to plague the Gulf South with frightening regularity. It used to be that the ones who had lost everything in a storm were few, easily aided by the many. Now, it seems the ones who have lost everything—some of them more than once—are the many, and I, with my dry house in Baton Rouge, count myself among the few. It’s not the same house where I camped out for Katrina, thank God. That one flooded last year.

“Action hero” has become for many people just another setting on the dial of life—like father, mother, banker, store clerk, little league coach—as the development of volunteer organizations like the now-famous Cajun Navy can attest. Or the countless groups of volunteers who have become frighteningly adept at gutting flooded houses. Philanthropy isn’t philanthropy anymore. My church parish took up a collection for Hurricane Harvey relief last weekend. It was the largest single collection we’ve ever had. Why? Because it’s the money people gave to all of us last year, and we fully expect that they will send it our way again when the occasion inevitably comes. We shuffle food and water and diapers around from disaster site to disaster site, dreading the day when the ubiquitous Red Cross trucks will tow them our way yet again.

Walker Percy’s return to the “everydayness” of life never really comes.

It was never legitimate to romanticize disaster, though it was common practice in a pre-Katrina world. But to continue, even now, to circulate the idea that hurricanes make us “feel better”… I beg you not to say that to the mother trying to rock her baby to sleep in borrowed blankets on the floor of an overcrowded shelter. I beg you not to say it to the elderly man who lives on social security, who sold his house at a third of its pre-flood value because he could not afford to rebuild. I beg you not to say it to me while I held my sobbing six-year-old in my arms on the day he got out of school to let Harvey pass overhead. He remembered that the last time school was cancelled, it was also gone. It’s sad when we can’t look to our heroes, like Walker Percy, to give us perspective that helps to smooth the rough edges of life. But it’s even sadder when we cling to our heroes’ errors long after the evidence has piled up to prove them wrong.

Karen Ullo is the author of two novels, Jennifer the Damned and Cinder Allia. She is also the managing editor of Dappled Things literary journal and a regular Meatless Friday chef for She lives in Baton Rouge, LA with her husband and two young sons. Find out more at


Where to Find Catholic Fiction


Good Books

There’s been an awful lot of ink spilled about the rebirth, revitalization, and re-enchanting of Catholic literature in the last several years, complete with the proliferation of journals, publishing houses, and conferences. But did you know there has also been a similar effort to revitalize the marketing and availability of Catholic fiction? Several new ventures have emerged to help readers—as well as parents, teachers, and librarians—connect to all the good work being done in the name of Catholic fiction. Below are the ones I know about. If you know of any others, please spread the word in the comments!

Virtue Works Media

Cathy Gilmore is in the process of building a platform to connect media consumers of all ages to books, movies, and other media that promote one simple thing: virtue. Her vision is comprehensive, looking to serve all ages and genres, including everything from boutique small press fiction to Hollywood blockbusters. Virtue Works Media will eventually bring its catalog directly into parishes, Catholic schools, parish schools of religion, conferences, and anywhere else Catholics gather. Cathy is on a mission to make sure Catholics know they can get their entertainment from a Catholic source and still find works of the very highest quality.

As a start, she’s put together Five Fave Top Ten Lists of books and a few movies for ages preschool through adult. I’ve read enough of the books to know, these are good lists.

Good News! Book Fair

Lizette Lantigua is determined to oust Scholastic from Catholic schools by creating Good News! Book Fair. She offers fairs at every level, from elementary through college, as well as fairs for Catholic parishes or organizations. The books cover every possible genre, fiction and non-fiction alike, hopefully replacing some of the vapid secular offerings with something better, in every sense of the word.

Catholic Reads

Catholic Reads is a brand-spanking-new program launched in 2017, designed to be the Catholic equivalent of BookBub. Every book they review must be offered at a significant discount to receive promotion through the site. Alyssa Watson and her team are a bunch of unabashed sci-fi/ fantasy/ horror nerds—in other words, my kind of people—but the site offers every kind of fiction, from picture books on up.

Catholic Teen Books

Catholic Teen Books is a co-op of about ten Catholic YA authors who write in a variety of genres. They also have a Facebook Page with a slightly broader membership, dedicated to promoting Catholic-themed fiction for middle and high school students.

Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval

The Catholic writers Guild Seal of Approval is designed to help Catholic bookstores find good work to fill their shelves, so it is geared toward retailers rather than readers. Some of the venues mentioned above use it as a shortcut to approving books for their own catalogs. You can find a list of books that have received it on Goodreads.

Happy Reading!

Karen Ullo is the author of two novels, Jennifer the Damned and Cinder Allia. She is also the managing editor of Dappled Things literary journal and a regular Meatless Friday chef for She lives in Baton Rouge, LA with her husband and two young sons. Find out more at

Marian Hymns from the Orthodox Tradition


Mary icon

Today, August 15, is the day when we Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, when the Mother of God was assumed body and soul into heaven to become the queen of heaven and earth. Most of us will go to Mass today and sing “Hail, Holy Queen” and perhaps a setting of the Magnificat or Salve Regina. We have a rich tradition of music with which to honor our mother.

But our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox Christian churches also have a rich devotion to the Blessed Mother, complete with their own set of really beautiful hymns written in a different musical idiom than we usually hear in Catholic churches, and very well worth listening to. So, here to put you in mind of our mother on this blessed day is sampling of Marian hymns borrowed from our brothers and sisters of the Orthodox faith.

The Angel Cried, hymn for the Paschal season

O Virgin Pure, Byzantine chant

Suplicatory Canon to the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary


Karen Ullo is the author of two novels, Jennifer the Damned and Cinder Allia. She is also the managing editor of Dappled Things literary journal and a regular Meatless Friday chef for She lives in Baton Rouge, LA with her husband and two young sons. Find out more at

The Literature You Save May Be Your Own


Wiseblood logo


Have you ever wondered what happened to good books? The kind that told good stories without worrying about whether they were “speculative” or “literary” or “mass market trade”? The kind that fearlessly followed the characters into the depths of their genre-bending darkness and the heights of their non-ironic joys? You know… the kind that I write? Wink-emoji

Wiseblood Books wondered that, too. That’s why Dr. Joshua Hren founded the company: to help bring back the kind of literature that takes chances. Literature that brings us epiphanies of beauty. Literature like my debut novel, Jennifer the Damned.

Wiseblood is a non-profit company that exists only because of private, tax-deductible donations from readers like you. They are currently holding a fundraising campaign to help them  grow their mission to “foster works of fiction and non-fiction, poetry and philosophy that find redemption in uncanny places and people; wrestle readers from the tyranny of boredom; articulate faith and doubt in their incarnate complexity; dare an unflinching gaze at human beings as “political animals”; and suffer through this world’s trials without forfeiting hope.”

If that sounds like a cause worth supporting, I hope you’ll take a moment to visit their fundraising page and make a donation, no matter how small. Generations of future readers will thank you.

Karen Ullo is the author of two novels, Jennifer the Damned and Cinder Allia. She is also the managing editor of Dappled Things literary journal and a regular Meatless Friday chef for She lives in Baton Rouge, LA with her husband and two young sons. Find out more at

The Marian Effect


Marian Effect

As I wrote about recently, I had the honor to serve on a panel called “The Marian Effect: Building Strong Women in Writing and Life” at the Trying to say ‘God’ Conference at Notre Dame in June. We now a have Facebook page established by my fellow panelist, Angela Doll Carlson, to try to keep the conversation going. We’re still trying to figure out how best to use it. So far, we’ve been sharing lots of beautiful Marian art, music, and poetry, which should be a good enough reason to come join us. I hope to “see” you in our community!


Karen Ullo is the author of two novels, Jennifer the Damned and Cinder Allia. She is also the managing editor of Dappled Things literary journal and a regular Meatless Friday chef for She lives in Baton Rouge, LA with her husband and two young sons. Find out more at

Dappled Things Gets a New Managing Editor


DT logo


The impossibly smart, but possibly crazy, people over at the best literary journal ever needed a new managing editor… and for some reason, they allowed me to say I’d do it. It has been an honor and a challenge, writing for their blog these last several years, and now I am being challenged to support the DT mission of finding beauty through the lens of faith in a new and different way. So, please pray for me, and for all the staff, as we enter this exciting new time of transition. And if you haven’t already done so, please consider subscribing. Every issue is filled with soul-stirringly beautiful things, which is why I’m so honored to be part of this truly wonderful team.

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.
                              –Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Karen Ullo is the author of two novels, Jennifer the Damned and Cinder Allia. She is also a regular Meatless Friday chef for She lives in Baton Rouge, LA with her husband and two young sons. Find out more at

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Cinder Allia



Karen Ullo’s brand new novel, Cinder Allia, is the perfect read for a rainy summer day. A Cinderella story like you’ve never heard it before, Cinder Allia fills in a grim backstory to the famous Grimm fairy tale. More Joan of Arc than typical fairy-tale heroine, Allia is a take-charge girl who knows that she’s the only one who can change her circumstances.

This novel answers the burning question every reader has about the fairy tale: why would Cinderella’s father allow her stepmother to treat her so badly? Ullo reveals Allia’s stepmother’s motives in keeping her in servitude and serves up a surprising twist in the form of a not-so-perfect Prince Charming.

cinder allia

Who knew that a reader could manage to feel sympathy for the Evil Stepmother? It turns out that she’s trapped between a rock and a hard place too–though she’s still clearly a villain in this tale. And don’t…

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