Do writers cause disasters? Predict them?


Creation isn't causation, but sometimes it feels that way when a novel's plot becomes the day's leading news story.

In Disorderly Conduct a wildfire threatens to overtake my characters' home in the foothills above Silicon Valley. Fire season is a significant a part of California's climate calendar, so what could be more appropriate than forcing Maggie, Max and the kids into the path of a campfire run amok?

My own experiences with wildfire are limited to detours and coping with smoke and soot blown from distant blazes. But stories of others' closer encounters abound, and I was confident in creating a realistic but imaginary scenario for the McDonald's and their neighbors. To create the dramatic opening, I relied on a mash-up of stories from the Oakland Hills Fire Storm in 1990.

It must have worked. My Kensington editor decreed "it's a bit eerie" when, within a month of typing "The End," a terrifying fire scenario erupted in Santa Rosa and became national news. Dry conditions and high winds turned sparking electrical wires into an inferno that plowed straight through my nephew's school, burning it to the ground.

My sister awoke in the middle of the night to a glow on the horizon and asthma-inducing clouds of smoke clogging the air. Her husband dashed to help out at the winery operations he manages. She packed emergency bags while her offspring slept.

It was the start of an ongoing nightmare that left friends, family, coworkers, and the school with no place to call home. Horror stories were endless, as were uplifting tales of neighbors helping neighbors. Fundraisers followed, helping the newly homeless and giving purpose to those who'd lost their sense of security. My nephew's school missed only a few days and was temporarily rehoused in neighboring schools.

Statewide, those of us who believed it couldn't happen to us were forced to accept we're all at risk. The Santa Rosa fire jumped a freeway, burned irrigated fields, and left charred swathes of suburban homes and businesses. Previously, we'd known that hillsides were vulnerable to conditions that create firestorms, which in turn generate their own weather and confound all predictive models. Naively, those of us who live and work on the flat portions of Silicon Valley told ourselves that concrete pavement, fire retardant roofing shingles, and local fast-responding firefighters protected us. We believed that wide roadways gave us quick exit routes that would serve us well.

We were wrong. Recent fires have erupted so quickly that only the well-prepared have time to escape.

The answer? Assume it can happen to you. Have an escape plan for yourself and your animals. Adapt your strategy as the mobility of youngsters and the elderly change. Make sure everyone in the family knows your emergency protocol and their roles in it.

While it’s unlikely that an imaginative author is to blame for any disasters that befall you, your region undoubtedly has natural disasters and emergency situations of its own. It's never too early to start planning. The chapter headings in my most recent cozy mystery, Disorderly Conduct, offer emergency planning tips and resources.

Thank you for visiting my blog. When I'm not blogging, I'm writing the Maggie McDonald Mystery series about a Professional Organizer and her Golden Retriever. Learn more about me and my cozy mystery series, including upcoming sales, appearances, and books here.
This blog originally appeared on the Mysteristas blog page. Check out the other mystery writers they have on tap. 
Mary Feliz