There are some folks who seem to think my writing contributes to natural calamities. There may be some truth to that. The evidence keeps piling up.
As I look out my office window, there is a foot of snow in my back yard and on the golf course just beyond the hedge. Kids on sleds are having great fun barreling down the twelfth fairway while some of their parents are slipping and sliding along the roadways in our area. It’s the biggest snowfall in North Carolina in a decade. For those who consider anything more than an inch of snow a calamity, I’m afraid they may start blaming Cooper Lanier.
Cooper is the heroine of my latest novel, The Governor’s Lady, newly-elected governor of her southern state. On the second day she’s in office, the state is hit by a blizzard which paralyzes everything, and the snow serves as a backdrop against which a test of wills plays out between Cooper and her husband Pickett (former governor and now presidential candidate). Will Cooper be a figurehead, a stand-in for Pickett, or will she be a dynamic decision-maker in her own right? How she deals with the blizzard sets the stage for what comes after.
When ill-prepared Atlanta got flummoxed by snow a couple of weeks ago, several readers suggested that the honchos there should have read The Governor’s Lady to see how to handle things. So far, no one has suggested that my inclusion of the blizzard in the story was a portent of Atlanta’s calamity. But with a foot of snow in my back yard today, and folks slipping and sliding, I’m a tad concerned that rumblings will begin and Cooper and I will get the evil eye.
Nonsense, you say. But it has happened before. I grew up in a river town in Alabama, and during my youth the local lore was rife with stories of the Great Flood of 1929, when the river got out of its banks and inundated the town. My grandmother and her four kids had to escape their home in a rowboat. While I was growing up, the river behaved itself. Then in 1991, I published Old Dogs and Children, set in a southern town much like my own. One of the major events is a flood. My heroine, Bright Birdsong, escapes with her small child in a rowboat.
The novel had barely made it into print when – you guessed it – my hometown flooded. The river, calm all those years, went nuts. Local folks are invariably nice people, and no one said to my face that the book was to blame for the calamity, but for years after, I got jaundiced looks whenever I visited, even in church on Sunday. I think most folks have finally forgotten and forgiven.
I would like to share the blame for any natural disaster with my fellow storytellers. We may all be complicit in this sort of thing, whether we write of calamities or not. The computer age has a lot to do with it. I sit at my keyboard typing away and constantly mashing the backspace key or even highlighting and deleting entire sentences – nay, paragraphs – of slovenly prose. By definition, it is bad stuff, not worthy of human consumption. Where does all that bad stuff go when I zap it from my computer? I wonder if it may be floating around out there in the ether, roiling the atmosphere and contributing to floods, hurricanes, forest fires, sun spots, and other assorted natural maladies. Who knows, it may even be contributing to the dysfunction in Congress.
But if any of this is the case, my fellow storytellers and I will just have to live with it. We scribble on, employing imagined disasters as grist for our tales. All we ask is, the next time a blizzard hits your locality, don’t run over your local author with your sled.