Monday, September 8, 2014

Dealing in disaster

There is nothing like a disaster as a backdrop for a book or a film. Disasters are, by definition, dramatic. They bring out the heroes, cowards, lovers, and fighters in delightfully equal numbers. They make the ordinary extraordinary and bring a story into focus.

Take the movie Titanic. Without the iceberg and the sinking ship, it is Downton Abbey. With them, it is Downton Abbey on steroids. Every act in the story becomes significant because of the high stakes and the price of failure. In the 1970s, one man, Irwin Allen, became a household name making movies about things that sank, burned, or crashed. He knew what creators have known for centuries: disasters grab our attention and hold it.

For this reason, I used disasters as backdrops for two Northwest Passage books. The Journey ends with the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, The Fire with the Big Burn of 1910. In two other novels, characters are motivated by the specter of disasters to come.

In September Sky, the first novel of the new American Journey series, my time travelers, a San Francisco reporter and his college-age son, confront a hurricane in Galveston, Texas. The storm, which struck 114 years ago today, killed 6,000 people and nearly wiped a modern city off the map. (See photo.)

Like the Northwest Passage books, September Sky will focus on characters with knowledge of a coming disaster and the choices they make in the face of that disaster. Like the other novels, it will feature history, romance, humor, and multiple points of view.

I hope to have it out by Christmas.