Behind the Scenes

I grew up in western Oregon. It seemed, at least in terms of natural threats, a bucolic place in which to spend my youth. For example, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes there were about as common as the Northern Lights in Georgia.   Hurricanes were nonexistent. Such storms are born over warm oceans. If you’ve ever dipped a toe into the Pacific along the Oregon coast, you know it’s water in which Polar Bear Plungers could train even in August.

There were occasional big winter storms, but they certainly didn’t share the DNA common to the meteorological monsters that stalk other parts of the nation. I did, incidentally, experience the Northwest’s “Big Blow” in 1962 that hurled winds over 100 mph into Portland. Scary, but hardly Cat-5 hurricane stuff.

Earthquakes? I recall a decent little shake in the late ‘40s, but Northwesterners didn’t dwell on such things. After all, we didn’t live on the San Andreas Fault. Like I said, western Oregon seemed to me Nature’s Camelot.

No, we didn’t live on the San Andreas. It turned out, scientists discovered not too long ago, something much more threatening lurked beneath us: the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

After I graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle, life’s vagaries carried me away from the great Northwest. I ended up, not by design, spending my adult years on the East Coast in areas ranging from New England to the Southeast. Still, I frequently journeyed back to the Motherland.

On one of my trips to the Oregon coast a few years ago, I noticed some signs similar to those prevalent along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts that proclaim HURRICANE EVACUATION ROUTE. The signs in the Beaver State, however, said TSUNAMI EVACUATION ROUTE. Really? My interest was piqued. Not quite to the extent I thought about doing a novel, but I certainly was curious and began asking questions.

A short time after that, my brother Rick, who lives part time in the coastal town of Manzanita, put me in touch with a digital news article headlined “Massive earthquake threatens Pacific Northwest.” I read and reread the article, stunned by its dire implications.

The material I’d studied about Ebola in doing research for my novel PLAGUE was scary. But this stuff about the Cascadia Subduction Zone was even more frightening because it involved something that will happen–a huge quake and tsunami à la Japan in 2011–not something that might happen, or something that happens only in the mind of a novelist.

At any rate, Cascadia (the fault) ignited my imagination and launched me on the journey that lead to CASCADIA (the novel).