Of the four novels I’ve had published so far, my first, Eyewall, remains by far the best seller. That’s been a little difficult for me to come to grips with, since I don’t think the book necessarily reflects my best writing. It’s not that it’s bad writing—or it would never have sold as many copies as it has—it’s just that I like to think I grow (get better) as a writer with each new effort.
That thought, that I get a little better each time out, is essentially validated by the ratings readers post for my books on Amazon and Goodreads. If you average everything out, my most recent work, Blizzard, comes out on top by a small margin. Yet, examining the relative rankings of my Kindle sales—which represent the majority of my transactions—over the past six months, Eyewall remains the leader.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about this. I’m not certain I have the right answers, but at least I’ve developed some theories.
Perhaps the most obvious difference between Eyewall and the other novels, is that in Eyewall I’m dealing with something powerful, slow-moving, and relentless—a hurricane. It’s almost like having self-generating suspense.
A blizzard can be powerful and relentless, too, but perhaps without the ominous, deadly undertones of a Cat 5 tropical cyclone.
My novel Supercell is set against a background of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Again, these phenomena can by violent and awesome but are generally short-lived. Thus, they offer a significant challenge when it comes to crafting ever-mounting suspense.
(I’m going to leave my novel Plague out of this discussion, since it’s a more traditional thriller and doesn’t deal with geo- or atmospheric events.)
Another difference between Eyewall and my other works is that Eyewall contains three distinct story lines (the main plot and two subplots) that merge at the end of the book. Also, there are no fictional settings in Eyewall. The focus of the drama is St. Simons Island, Georgia, a place that’s real and well-known.
And finally, given that the suspense in Eyewall is essentially inherent in the storm, there’s no need to enhance the tension by introducing bad guys, as I did in Blizzard and Supercell.
So where does this analysis lead me? Well, back to attempting to do in my newest novel, Cascadia, what I did in Eyewall.
In Cascadia, like in Eyewall, there are three different story lines all converging on the same point. The setting of Cascadia, as in Eyewall, is real: the beautiful and rugged Oregon coast, specifically the small town of Manzanita.
There are no “bad guys” in the new novel except for the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a sleeping geological giant that threatens to unleash a thunderous earthquake and massive tsunami on the Pacific Northwest—nothing like living on a fault line to automatically ratchet up tension. The story isn’t all plot-driven, however; it boasts an abundance of human conflict and mystery, the chief ingredients of any well-crafted drama.
In the end, both novels deal with a catastrophic event, a powerful natural phenomenon, that has happened in the past and will happen again. If anything, the tragedy depicted in Cascadia is several orders of magnitude more horrific than that which haunts the pages of Eyewall.
What makes these events so damn dangerous is that they are extremely rare. Novels aside, it’s been over a century since a major hurricane has slammed into the south Georgia coast. (Two struck during the 1890s.) It’s been over three centuries since a megaquake and big tsunami pummeled the PacNW.
Yes, both novels are first and foremost entertainment. But just as important, both are cautionary tales.
Our natural world is mostly tranquil. Infrequently, however, it can spawn something cataclysmic.