Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Beauty of a Hurricane

Kathryn Casey (Guest Blogger)

I’d like to say before I go any further that I’m not advocating for hurricanes. I’ve lived through a handful over the years, and I’ve seen the flooding and destruction. I understand that people die in hurricanes, real people. I was in New Orleans as a reporter after Katrina,

and there wasn’t anything entertaining about the destruction. And I live in Houston. The bottom line is that I’m not suggesting anyone invite one home. In most instances, it’s not a recipe for a good time.

Not real hurricanes, that is, but there’s certainly a case to be made for fictional ones.

First, I have a confession to make. It’s not like this was purely a serendipitous discovery. It happened in early 2009, after I’d turned in the second book in my Sarah Armstrong mystery series. My heroine is a Texas Ranger/profiler, and in the first book, Singularity, I’d had Sarah hunt a serial killer. In the second, Blood Lines, she fought off a would-be killer stalking a pop star. The problem was what to do for book number three.

Fiction, of course, imitates life, and when I searched for my new plotline, Hurricane Ike’s march on Galveston and Houston was a very recent memory. The palm trees in my backyard were still stripped half bare from Ike’s 100 mile-per-hour winds, and the guestroom window’s shutters, the ones blown off in the storm, were yet to be replaced. So perhaps it’s not surprising that one day while walking my dog, Nelson, I thought, you know, a hurricane could be interesting.

In the end, a hurricane was exactly what I needed. It worked so well, in fact, that I named the book after my hurricane, calling it: The Killing Storm.

When the book opens, Hurricane Juanita is three days out, just entering the Gulf of Mexico, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Although I didn’t consciously plan all of this, in hindsight the approaching hurricane serves three functions. First: it imbues a sense of impending danger that fits nicely with the overall plot, the frantic hunt for a four-year-old boy
kidnapped from a Houston park. Second: Juanita is a ticking clock. Sarah and all the characters understand that the boy is in the hands of a madman, and they know that if they don’t find him before the hurricane hits, it will be too late. Third: the deadly storm adds to the forces my protagonist has to conquer in her quest to save the lost child.

For those who haven’t lived through one, I can only say a hurricane is like being surrounded by the a gigantic thunderstorm on steroids, one that seems as if it will never end. Hurricane Ike took its time going over my house. Our garage door creaked as the changing pressure sucked the metal in and forced it out, and the sound of wind was so loud at times that we had to shout to be heard. Then, about halfway through the storm, all grew quiet, and my husband and I walked outside and stood on our front porch. The storm was projected to take twelve hours to pass, and we knew we had another six to go. Assessing the damage, we saw downed branches, fallen trees, and streets that had been turned into fast-moving rivers. We didn’t yet know how badly the rest of the city had suffered. The electricity had been out for hours, so all we had was our battery-operated radio, blaring warnings to hunker down and stay inside. Yet for this brief interlude, all was eerily calm. We were, of course, in the hurricane’s eye.

Moments later, the wind kicked back in, the rain again began to fall, and the brief glimpse of sunshine waned. The dark clouds returned, and we hurried inside, eager to stay safe and wait out the storm.

Kathryn Casey is the author of three mysteries and six true crime books. An award-winning journalist, her Web site is


Julia Buckley said...

First of all, I love the cover of that book! And this is a really great post. Nature is intimidating, but that can make for great fiction.

Kathryn Casey said...

Thanks, Julia. It was fun writing about hurricanes after living through a few. And I love the cover, too! Nice to meet you, here!

Kathryn Casey said...

Thank you to everyone at Poe's Deadly Daughters! You have a great blog, and it was fun.