· In my first published novel, the heroine faces a major crisis—a malfunctioning hot water heater that floods her apartment and threatens explosion.
· In my second novel (really a novella), the heroine and her family are caught in an extreme winter blizzard with no heat or lights.
· In my third novel, a massive wildfire threatens not only the heroine but also the entire forest.
· Now, in my work-in-progress, the heroine, hero, and coworkers on a corporate retreat must escape a flash flood.
As the writer, I have to ask myself why I’m obsessed with disasters. I didn’t realize I relied heavily on terrible events occurring in my books until the fourth manuscript. That’s when I began wondering if something deeper than simply action for the plot underlay my manuscripts.
Two reasons occur to me. The first was writing itself. A disaster allows me, the writer, to compress action into a short time to keep the story moving. It encourages characters to act their best, or worst, to reveal their personalities. The manner in which they occur–random and uncontrolled crises–provide challenges readers can relate to as well as experiences characters learn from. And like humans, fictional characters learn waaaay more from struggles and failures than they do easy successes.
Still in many novels, characters don’t struggle to meet physical challenges. They may fall in or out of love, seek jobs or get fired, have misunderstandings with families or boyfriends. But they don’t walk a tightrope over death. What does my obsession with disaster reveal about me?
That I’m a fraidy-cat. Anything and everything scares me. Example: in the middle of the night yesterday, I woke when the furnace turned on. A strange new noise accompanied the forced air. I immediately thought the equipment was going to explode.
When I take road trips, I worry not only about the car breaking down but also over the possible appearance of a murderer. (By the way, this scene appears in my third book along with the wildfire.) A rash on my kid’s arm is probably Lyme disease. A recently discovered error on my taxes means the IRS will charge me with fraud.
So I have a whole load of fears. What do I do about them? I write about people who take steps to control their anxiety. I’ve learned that doing something, almost anything, positive enables me to restrain real as well as imaginary fears. Witness the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Thousands, millions around the globe helped settle their souls by carrying “Je suis Charlie” signs, a positive action in the face of terrible possibilities.
Including disasters in my work also provides an excuse for me to burrow for information on fascinating topics. What other reason could justify spending hours delving into transcripts from people who have battled fires or floods? Or calling up total strangers to ask personal questions?
I don’t carry a list of disasters to wrap into forthcoming books. I’ve never been near a hurricane, a tsunami, or a bank holdup. So I don’t know how long I’ll be including crises like these in my work. But for now, they enable me to grow as a person as well as a writer.
Bonnie McCune’s most recent novel is Falling Like a Rock, Prism Book Group, 2014, in which a mountain town and its rugged mayor captivate a woman in search of a new life and love. Learn more about her and her work at www.BonnieMcCune.com
Bonnie McCune has been writing since age ten, when she submitted a poem to the Saturday Evening Post (it was immediately rejected). This interest facilitated her career in public relations and freelance writing. But her true passion is fiction, and her pieces have won several awards.