Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Harbor, and Me

Vicki here.

As Hurricane Irene whirls its way up the coast to Maine, I find myself hunkering down and pondering how these powerful storms have influenced literature throughout the years, from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, to Longfellow’s The Wreck of the Hesperus, to post-Katrina novels such as Wading Home, by Rosalyn Story, and right down to little old me and my mystery series.

Why is it that writers find these storms inspirational?

I can’t speak for those other guys, but I know that experiencing a hurricane’s awesome power can be life changing. One of the most destructive forces in nature, one need only see the damage incurred as the storm hits — uprooted trees, flooded streets, boats torn from their moorings — to be irrevocably altered.

As a girl growing up in New England, I recall some destructive storms, but it was Hurricane Gloria, a strong Category 1 which hit in September of 1985, that first made an impression. This hurricane held special significance for me and my husband Ed (then my fiancé,) as both of our mothers shared the hurricane’s name. You can bet we made some jokes about that coincidence, but the storm itself was

Great NE Hurricane of 1938

no laughing matter. Damage to New England was the worst since 1938, when, in the Great New England Hurricane, more than 600 people perished in a September storm.
 
Once in Maine, we faced the wrath of Hurricane Bob. It seems like just yesterday, but it was twenty years ago that this one hit our new town of Camden hard. Boats escaped from their moorings and flew through the harbor, smashing vessels and rocks indiscriminately.  It was August, and I was a young mom and a new sailor, running an inn with Ed. The storm made me realize what it meant to live on the coast where dinghies must be hauled, bigger boats taken to safe harbors, rip tides and rogue waves avoided.
 
In recent memory, we’ve all endured the vestiges of Katrina and last year’s soaking Earl. And now? Irene.

Storm surges create floods during Earl.Just why do hurricanes factor in fiction? I think it is their power, their unpredictability, and the suspense they engender while gathering strength to attack. In my mystery series, I created a rugged Maine island as my sleuth Darby Farr’s hometown, and named it Hurricane Harbor.  I wanted my heroine to be from a place that was self-sufficient, hardy, and suggestive of danger. Would this town be a place of shelter — what we call a hurricane hole — or of peril?

In Darby’s first mystery, A House to Die For, I used a surging tropical storm – not quite a hurricane – to heighten the suspense surrounding the book’s climax. Book four of the series is taking shape now, and, because it takes place in February, will feature one of our powerful snow-dumping Nor’easters.

Hurricane Carol, 1954.

There is something about severe weather that intrigues me, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t in some way looking forward to witnessing Hurricane Irene’s power. I do hope that wherever you are, you’ll be safe and sheltered from the storm, preferably with a good book and a candle by your side.

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8 Responses to Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Harbor, and Me

  1. Pj Schott says:

    The power of a good storm is the stuff of myth. An indicator of the Gods’ moods. Powerful energy at play. I remember the electrical storms in Florida and how I felt I would vibrate right out of my own skin. On Thursday, with the low pressure front moving closer, I was so weak and dizzy I made a fool of myself in my salsa class. You have to admire something as powerful as an extreme storm.

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  2. Nancy says:

    Draw on that storm inspiration and keep the creative writing juices flowing!

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  3. Lea Wait says:

    I understand Vicki! I wrote my book SEAWARD BORN around a hurricane that (similar to Katrina) destroyed most of Charleston, SC in 1804 … and, to my delight, was actually doing research in Charleston when a category 1 hurricane roared through and I was able to experience a taste of what I was writing about. Unfortunately, my editors cut the actual hurricane scenes out of my book — it starts in post-hurricane Charleston. But the storm, and its destruction, has stayed with me, as have other hurricanes (in New England) that I’ve experienced. Fill your bathtubs with water, friends, and hope that this storm, too, will be one leaving experiences and inspirations …. and not tears. Lea

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  4. Dee says:

    We have brought everything inside. Now to fill the tub -I have already filled a couple of big buckets – and some jugs for drinking and washing!
    Stay safe everyone….Dee

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  5. Here I sent comfortably in Newport Coast, CA and hearing from family and friends all enduring the hype of soon to be devastation of the eastern seaboard! Why do writers find it so inspiring to scare people to the point they start to scramble about doing more harm to themselves than good. Writers should be using the time to help calm the masses not get them all fired up and scared to death of ‘what might be’!

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  6. PJ, I would have love to have seen that low pressure salsa dancing! Nance — hope you have got yourself and M&M battened down by now… Lea, that must have been fascinating (but also sobering) research on that Charleston hurricane. And Dee…we have just finished bringing everything inside — what a job!

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  7. Dianne Herlihy says:

    So glad you’ve admitted to looking forward to the power of Irene! The people I’ve admitted this think I’m a sicko!

    ~ Dianne

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  8. I’m Rosalyn Story, author of Wading Home, the novel of Hurricane Katrina you mentioned early in your post. (Thanks for the plug!) I enjoyed reading this post, and have often thought about the power of storms in literature. I’m thinking of the storms in The Wizard of Oz, Shakespeare’s King Lear, Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, and my personal favorite, the amazing hurricane scene in Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. Yes, it’s true, storms make for great stories. Storms come along, and the world is altered. Landscapes are unrecognizable, people are changed, and slates are wiped clean. There is an immediate kind of evolution, a literal sea change, that happens and allows one to view everything in new light. In a novel, a storm is the perfect device for affecting change. And there is the obvious effect of cleansing; things are washed clean and a kind of clarity results..I’m glad Irene failed to live up to her advance press, but like you, I can’t deny that in every storm there is something almost magical, compelling, and humbling. We have no choice but to watch nature have its way with us, and inevitably we learn something about ourselves, if nothing more than how truly human we are..
    Thanks again for your post.
    Rosalyn Story

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