My novel word count is 94,000 words. My editor returned a large chuck of part II just after Hurricane Irma. So there is a lot to do. She asked me if I learned anything from the storm and I had already been thinking about this, so the answer was a resounding yes. My novel actually begins with an evacuation from a disaster.
Most readers know that I moved to Florida a few years ago. I landed on Cocoa Beach, just below Cape Canaveral, and a place where hurricanes rarely strike. We felt immune to hurricanes, after all, the government was very selective in choosing the site for rocket launches (love those things!). The reality is that the Cocoa Beach and nearby islands below the Cape are barrier islands.
Last year, Hurricane Matthew came right up the east coast of Florida and had path leading right to Cape Canaveral and environs. So we evacuated to a hotel and watched hurricane coverage the night the storm hit, until the lights went out. Fortunately, our hotel was right near Brevard county’s disaster center and we got power back quickly after the storm. The thing is, as the storm bore down on our homes we had the distinct sense that there would be severe destruction and flooding. It was a lesson well learned.
This year, when Hurricane Irma burst on the scene at 185mph sustained winds and 220mph gust it hadn’t even swept through the main Caribbean islands. It’s winds were historic and barometric pressure dropped as low as 914 millibars. The magnitude of the storm was unmistakable and frightening. It was being called one of the greatest Atlantic/Gulf storms in history. So we tried to make hotel reservations like last year but people who had realized the danger had already booked every room in the state of Florida. There were even news reports that Georgia was quickly booking up and a few days later reports came out that people were booking in Tennessee.
I will never forget feeling that THERE WAS NOWHERE TO RUN.
We joked that we could run to Saint Louis didn’t want to get swept way in the freeway system and end up in Kansas. But everyone who had any sense was afraid of this hurricane. Key West was generally safer than other islands but anyone with a television who saw the size and fury of this storm evacuated. Of course, there were fools down in the Lower Keys who felt they could just ride it out. We heard stories of several families equipping their kids with life jackets if the storm surge was too great; the stupidity of this… who knows. Maybe they survived and are smug about their decision.
I was genuinely afraid, but I was afraid but more than that I became numb to the fact that our options were running out as the storm changed it’s course. As Irma turned of the west coast instead we felt like we’d been saved from serious damage. Storm surge in our region was predicted to be 2-4 feet, well within our tolerance. We also assumed that we’d get lesser winds because Tampa, 150 miles away, was going to take the biggest hit.
I remembered that last year, Matthew took a last minute wiggle in its course and that wiggle saved our homes from serious damage. And even though there was general agreement among all the storm models, this was on my mind. But by the time this storm did a wiggle that saved Tampa, it’s course change walloped Orlando. We felt we’d be safe enough though and were glad we didn’t evacuate to Orlando, but when the storm finally hit it was vicious. We got hit with winds of 90-100 mph and the damage was more severe than what we suffered last year.
The feeling I’m trying to convey is the sense of being trapped. We were calm and our decision was well thought out. Seriously, we could have fled to Arkansas or Missouri or Kentucky or even Ohio, but we feared there might not have been enough gasoline. I think there would be gasoline on the Interstates, but this was one of many considerations. We felt it would be safe to flee west because of all the displaced people from Texas.
Getting Back to Normal
The situation here is getting back to normal. Well, the Sykes Creek bridge might collapse and cut water supplies for months. This includes everyone on Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island, etc. Hope the Disaster guys figure this one out. I mean, put some f’ing stuff under the damned bridge. Geezus.
Anyway, there’s a lot of repairs that need to be made, everywhere. But I’m also rethinking my evacuation plans if another one of these storms comes along I have decided to take clothes necessary to rebuild my life. I’ll take some life sustaining stuff, computers and valuables but everything else of value (books, paintings, dishes, kitchen stuff, televisions, sofas, chairs, desks, beds, the bedroom wicker furniture I love, et al) is now just stuff to be replaced. If my house is destroyed, I’ll find a new one. It’s like that. Seriously.
I assume that a lot of people who face the destruction of their homes begin to think this way. This hurricane provided a lot of time for me to decide on things to pack and load into my car. I think I can do this again with relative ease.
People who face by disasters that hit without warning, like the Mexico City earthquake, must adopt a different attitude. You need a different type of preparation. When I lived in Seattle I had a ‘Go Bag’ at home and a smaller Go Bag at work. The bags had enough stuff for me to survive under harsh conditions.
There was one funny incident. My iPad had a full battery when the storm hit, so I did some writing on the novel, even when the lights went out. I mentioned this to my editor and she thought it showed some kind of determination, but really, I was just looking for something to do.
Working on Novel Delayed
The storm cause a type of writer’s block, but with the newly edited material I’m able to focus on fixing things. I’m trying to work on the complex historic scenes of the last chapters. So, the novel is a lot of pieces that need to be connected and a lot of holes that need filling. It now looks like the novel will be 120,000 words when it’s done.
Before completing the novel I’ll try to arrange a tour at SwiftShips in Louisiana. I want to make their 35m Patrol Boat one of the ships in my story. Also I want to visit the Coast Guard station at Port Canaveral. They have a class of ships that also will be part of the story. I need some physical reality–all the senses–on these ships.
I’m increasingly serious about offering Part I (~40,000 words) for free and selling part II (80,000) to those who want to continue the reading the story.