If you live on the coast, and especially if you’ve ever experienced a hurricane before (Florida, 2004: Charley, Frances, and Jeanne) you pay attention to Hurricane season (June through November) keeping an eye out on the NOAA National Hurricane Center website for what’s brewing in the Atlantic. This is similar to how stories brew. Lots of ideas form, just like a lot of lows, depressions, tropical storms, and even hurricanes form, but never make it to the US, those ideas never make it within striking distance of becoming a novel.
Oh, they may actually become a hurricane of intent, like a solid partial, but turn or simply fade away before posing a threat of becoming a real novel that will disturb my life for the foreseeable future.
A tropical wave began with potential to become a depression, like when a vague idea for a plot, or for me, I imagine a specific character I need to explore. Soon Matthew passed through typical stages of development and Floridians began taking note. A novel may pass through similar stages, and just like each hurricane is unique, my budding novel may evolve differently: the villain might appear before my hero; the setting may play a key part in the plot, or my heroine decides the story is all about her.
Once Matthew gained strength and the NHC began posting potential paths that included the east coast of Florida, my checks of their website became a little obsessive.
Just as my stories begin to take over my life (my husband has caught on and is rarely confused when I begin telling him what happened to “Joe” or “Lis” that day--my current hero and heroine in Point of Failure, book three of my Gulf Coast Rescue series).
Things were heating up in the Atlantic and the very real possibility of a hurricane striking Florida meant plans needed to kick in.
This is that threshold between the possibility of a novel (when a nice strong outline and maybe even a pretty decent partial becomes a very viable novel—wow, this looks like it could be real!) Just as research kicks up and plot twists percolate, real plans for boarding up my house and plans for evacuation are put into place. Now it’s not so much a matter of if, but when and how bad.
For my budding novel, I need to decide how big of a story do I have? Is this a novella, an 80,000 word romantic suspense, or a 100,000 word mainstream thriller?
Putting up the shutters is concrete action that mirrors my growing first draft. With this clear action, there are still a lot of unknowns and variables. Will a mandatory evacuation be called? (While this was true in 2004 for both Frances and Jeanne, both times we opted to stay on our island and tough it out—but neither of those hurricanes were considered “major” (category 3 or higher) Matthew was predicted to maintain major hurricane status as it traveled up the eastern coast of Florida, at times with a dead aim at the island I call home).
Once the mandatory evacuation is given, more concrete plans are put into place: the bottom shelves of my bookcases are emptied. Clothes in the bottom drawers are packed and placed on the bed (assuming minor flooding might occur: even though our island is not on the ocean, it is between two rivers that routinely leave their banks when pushed by hurricane-strength winds)—but if the roof goes, you can pretty much kiss your belongs goodbye! This I would equate to a finished rough draft. Things can and will change, but I have a solid direction and timeline to work in.
Packing up the truck, not knowing if I will have a house standing when I return is another great analogy—if I’ve sold my novel I’ve made a commitment to produce a specific work by a specific time. Even if I self-publish, I need to make that promise to myself—but there are unknown pitfalls all along the way.
My stories continue to evolve between drafts with surprises and serendipity (so that’s why my heroine is afraid of dogs!) when we found the last room at a motel in Ringgold, Georgia (where we ended up buying a trailer that we can use to not only haul our two motorcycles in, we can live in comfort when the next hurricane comes calling). The return trip and subsequent clean-up
Either way, it’s just another adventure for a novelist living on the coast—one I’m very willing to face, because you just never know what’s going to happen with hurricanes or novels!
So, how did you weather Matthew’s passing or your latest draft? Did you pass the storm reading a good book, or two? Editing or starting over with a storm of new ideas?