1. What has been your personal experience related to weather-related disasters?
Growing up on the coast, in southeastern North Carolina, there were numerous threats by hurricanes coming off the Atlantic. Every year, I would hear grown-up discussions about how we were "due" a bad storm, and I would listen to older people talk about Hazel, a category 4 hurricane, which struck the east coast between the North and South Carolina border in 1954 after devastating Haiti. Our small community never quite recovered from that one. Our area was known for its large number of pecan trees at that time, but Hazel destroyed most of them, taking income from the locals who sold them for extra income.
Red Tide 1984
When I was sixteen, the Red Tide came to our coastline for the first time in the memory of anyone that I knew. The river, which provided fish, oysters, clams, scallops, shrimp, and various other fish, was plagued by the red algae. I remember how badly my eyes burned while standing on the shore and the red hue that came off the surface of the water. A fishing community, where everyone made their living harvesting and selling seafood from the New River, was virtually shut down for a year. People lost their homes, some people went hungry, and all of us suffered. Some small businesses that served the community had to shut their doors. It was an entire year before the river was restored and people could start working again, and for many, that year was far too long, a lot of folks never recovered.
Hurricane Hugo 1989
My mother's family lives in Charleston County, South Carolina. In 1989, her father was very ill, and we were not sure that he was going to make it. I went with her, along with my two young daughters to help out; we were all taking turns sitting with him in the VA hospital in Charleston. Hurricane Hugo was on the way, and we were keeping a close eye on the storm as it went from a category 5 to a category 4 when it crossed over Guadalupe and St. Croix and down to a category 3 when it went across Puerto Rico. As it hovered off the coast of South Carolina, it became strong again and soon regained its status as category 4. We all knew that we had to evacuate as my grandmother's home was at sea level. We received a phone call that the VA hospital was evacuating and that my grandfather was being taken by helicopter to Augusta, Georgia. I came back to North Carolina that same morning. My mother and grandmother went to my aunt's house which was a little further inland in Summerville. Other family members moved further inland to ride out the storm with friends.
After Hugo made landfall, all phone communications in and out of the area went down. I was unable to reach family members to see if they were all right. Glued to the news in the days shortly after the storm, I saw footage shot in the village where my family lived--to my amazement, I actually saw my grandparents' and uncles' houses sitting on the ground 20 feet from their foundations. The storm surge had washed them there. In Summerville, my mother and her family had no electricity, water or phone. I actually had news from their hometown before they did.
Hurricanes Bertha and Fran 1996
In 1996, Hurricane Bertha bore down on our area. Though the storm had maximum sustained winds of 90 mph, it was pushing a hefty storm surge and carried with it a lot of rain. Many piers and boats were lost between Wrightsville Beach and Topsail Island, but it was certainly not as bad in our opinion as it could have been. The ground in my area was saturated, and the temperatures were higher than usual as we were in the middle of a heat wave. We were without power for a week, but other than losing our gardens and a few shingles, we made it through.
A few weeks after Bertha, and while the ground was still completely saturated, Fran arrived. She was a much stronger, more organized storm. Following the same path as Bertha, she made landfall near the Cape Fear River, about 20 miles from Bertha's strike point. Fran was a category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph. As my home was surrounded with large oak trees, my children and I rode out the storm at my parents' home, just down the road. I remember that when the eye passed over that night, and my father and I went outside to assess what damage had occurred so far, we could hear the trees falling in the woods behind their home.
The backside of the storm was much more frightening than the front. The winds were stronger, the power was out, it was dark, and we could hear tornadoes passing overhead. We made it through the night; it was about three days before the roads were clear enough for me to return to my home to assess the damages there, and when I did, I discovered that the 200 year old oak tree that shaded my backyard had fallen on my house, splitting it in two.
Because of the storm surge and the overwhelming amount of rain on an already flooded area, the county deemed the water contaminated, and the main was shut off. We were without power for two weeks and without water for most of that time. The phones were back up in a week, and I received news that my place of employment on Topsail Island had been washed away by the storm surge. I was quite devastated to have lost my home and my job to Fran.
The beautiful Southern Pecan trees that filled our area suffered terribly; they were down everywhere. Most of them were no older than 50 years because Hazel had wiped them out in ’54 and here again, the Pecan industry for my area was lost.
Hurricane Floyd 1999
Hurricane Floyd visited us in 1999. Just as Bertha and Fran had done three years before, Floyd came ashore at the Cape Fear River Basin as a strong category 2 storm; we were quite relieved as the day before it made landfall, it hovered near the coast as a category 5. My family and I knew that we could not ride this one out and made preparations to evacuate, but when the time came to leave, Interstate 40 was so backed up and congested with evacuees that we turned around and went home. As the news that the storm was weakening reached us, we were thankful as we were stuck here with no choice but to ride it out.
Although we were fortunate this time--our power was back up and running in just a few days and damage to our homes was minimal--folks living inland from us were not so fortunate. The hurricane had produced torrential rainfall in Eastern North Carolina, adding more rain to our area as Hurricane Dennis had just come through a few weeks earlier. The rains caused widespread flooding over a period of several weeks; nearly every river basin in the eastern part of the state exceeded 500-year flood levels and thousands of people lost their homes. The communities along the Neuse River were the hardest hit. FEMA camps were set up all over to house the displaced people and that area has still not recovered today. As a lot of the area most affected by the flooding was not considered high risk flood zones, most of these people did not have flood insurance: they were never able to rebuild.
2. How have your personal experiences led you to research climate change, and what are some of books you've found especially compelling on this topic?
As a southeastern North Carolina native and having witnessed the devastation that hurricanes can cause, I became interested in the extreme weather consequences of climate change, as it would pertain to and affect the area that I call home. It has been a while since we had a major hurricane in my area, and as the old timers used to talk about Hazel, so have I and others in our hometown began to speak about Fran and Floyd: we are coming due. As water temperatures increase off our coast, the likelihood that a category 4 or 5 storm could come in and finish off the area also increases, and every hurricane season catches me holding my breath, wondering if this will be the year.
The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger in 1997 was especially compelling as it came out shortly after we had experienced Bertha and Fran. Although the non-fiction book was primarily about the crew of the Andrea Gail, the impact of that terrible storm on that community is clearly depicted. The fact is that a storm of that magnitude and strength is possible here, or on any part of the east coast if the conditions are just so.
In doing research for The Genesis Project, I stumbled across another very interesting book called Rough Winds: Extreme Weather and Climate Change by geologist James Lawrence Powell. Powell has used real science as the basis for his book, and has done a great job writing in such a way that we non-scientist types can understand it. The message is clear; he plainly writes about what we can expect in weather due to climate change. The bottom line, and what I think is the most important message in this publication is that, what we know to be normal in regard to weather, what we have come to expect to see happen, is not the way it is anymore. Climate change is changing the weather patterns, and our ability to predict them.
3. In fiction, we often see changes which seem to happen quickly, but your book addresses slower, gradual change--what were the challenges in covering this kind of scope in your novel?
I simply wanted to make this story as realistic as possible. A lot of "climate" fiction sensationalizes extreme weather for the "action" factor. I wanted to base this story on what is true, which is that these things are happening gradually, so gradually in fact that we still have people in power who say it's not happening! It is my opinion that the dangers we are facing as a result of climate change are multiplied by the fact that it is a gradual process, because it's just too easy to "not think about it." It is my goal, my hope, that this book will make people think about it, and writing about it in a way that sends a message and entertains simultaneously is quite a challenge.
4. You write fiction and poetry but read a great deal of nonfiction. Why do you think it's important for writers to read work in other genres than the genre in which they write?
I believe that we educate ourselves every time we open a book, whether it is fiction or non-fiction. I think that every author, if he is to be well rounded, should be familiar with multiple genres and the audience they reach. It is also my opinion that all good fiction has some base in fact, and research is absolutely essential to a good story. Personally, I lose interest in a fiction story very quickly if I discover that the author has not done his homework.
5. What project(s) are you currently working on, both as a writer and in other parts of your life (as a gardener, etc)?
I am working on a novel--actually been in the process for a couple of years now--that I hope to publish soon after The Genesis Project is completed and released. I really did not have plans to publish it, and was in no actual hurry to complete it even until I began this project. I don't want to give too much of it away this far in advance, but I will say that it is about the survival of mankind--and more importantly, the survival of humanity.
As always, I am dreaming up new pottery projects. I have plans in the future to build and install an underground wood fired kiln and try my hand at some of the "old" glazing and firing techniques. It will be some time before I am able to find the time to implement this project, but it is definitely a goal of mine. I am extremely fascinated by the Sea Grove Potters of North Carolina who are still using these types of kilns today.
We are expanding our garden this year and planning to experiment with some new techniques to increase production. We want to see how much food we can get out of a half acre, and how many people can be fed from that little piece of land. All irrigation will be from rain water this year, we've added a couple more barrels, and we will be planting seeds we gathered from last year's plants. New to this year's garden will be strawberries, a family favorite that in the past I have purchased locally and used to make jam that we enjoy all year, and a mushroom garden that we will have in the woods behind the house.
We have been raising chickens for a couple of years now, and our eggs, which we give away to the entire neighborhood, have become quite popular. This spring, we plan to expand our flock of layers. We very much enjoy knowing that the neighborhood kids are eating our organic eggs for breakfast before school; we just get a kick out of it. I am also trying to talk my husband into letting me get a milk goat, which will give us lots of wonderful chevre’.