- by Marianna Jameson
So, you might ask, just how do I know that God reads my books? Because He’s taking my plots and turning them into headlines, that’s how. I know, I know, it’s supposed to be the other way around, but try telling Him that. And with my latest novel, He not only read it, He got His hands on an Advance Reader Copy.
Of course, there might be a bigger issue at hand. He might just want me to lay off writing eco-thrillers.
My first thriller was sitting on my agent’s desk ready to go out to editors for consideration when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast with horrifying power in August 2005. Katrina’s devastation was mind-boggling, and the decision was made to sit on the proposal for about six weeks out of a mixture of respect for the situation and, frankly, the fact that we were completely disconcerted. Did I mention that my first thriller, Category 7, was about a man-made super-hurricane being directed at a major American city for political gain (and spite)?
I’d presumed that when I was writing the disaster scenes for that book, I’d have to rely on my memories of driving through Homestead, FL ten days after Hurricane Andrew struck in August of 1992. But I didn’t. I had a new and improved fresh Hell to consider. Writing instructors always say to write what you know, but I didn’t “know” from that sort of devastation. I drove through it once; I didn’t live through it. And I could only watch in horror and despair as New Orleans and the Gulf Coast foundered in Katrina’s muddy, bloody aftermath. There were plenty of times while I was writing that book when I was significantly creeped out by the coincidence.
Not wanting to face those feelings again, I came up with a premise for my next book, Frozen Fire, that was so far out there that there wouldn’t, there couldn’t possibly be any danger of reality encroaching on our plot line: The disaster in that book is a deep-sea mining accident. Yes, mining. Underwater.
The anti-hero in Frozen Fire is a flamboyant, irreverent gazillionaire with a God complex (think a less-adorable Richard Branson with a serious blind spot and global political ambitions) who has devised a way to bring methane hydrate (the “frozen fire” of the title) from its undersea beds in the Caribbean to the surface as a source of ostensibly clean fuel. Methane-hydrate mining, by the way, has been discussed in the energy industry for years, but is still spoken of in the future tense because no one has yet devised a feasible, cost-effective way of bringing it from the seafloor to the surface. It was perfect for the plot because the mining isn’t actually being done yet (or wasn’t then). I just made up a bunch of stuff about the process; although it hewed close enough to a probable reality to sound scary as hell, it was fiction.
Or so I thought.
When the book had been completed and was in production, I read that sub-surface methane hydrate was “melting” and bubbling up from beneath the seafloor off the coast of Siberia and from the bottom of Arctic lakes, turning the water column to foam as the gas vented upward toward the atmosphere. Just as I had written in the book…in one of the parts I made up. So, okay, it was a bit spooky. You can read more about that here.
Not long after that, the book was released and I thought that, perhaps, using this Siberian data as a marketing angle might be interesting, but I just couldn’t bring myself to exploit it. Trust me, this destruction of the world thing is only fun when it’s fiction. So I didn’t use it. But I did receive some interesting fan mail about the bad accident in Frozen Fire—okay, some seriously bad-ass sabotage involving lots of errant bubbles of methane gas escaping from a destroyed pipeline—that puts the Caribbean and southern East Coast at risk. People wanted to know just how close to reality that situation was.
Don’t worry, I told my darling fanlets. Yes, the methane hydrate is down there, but no one is going after it, so it’s not going to release in the concentrations described in my book; at the concentrations that would allow it to explode. I explained that, yes, some of it is already coming up in Arctic circles (sorry, couldn’t resist), and, why, yes, it will accumulate in the atmosphere and function as a high-level greenhouse gas twenty times more destructive than carbon dioxide. And, yes, after about eight years of lingering in its original state, the methane will become carbon dioxide and hang around destroying the atmosphere for 150 years. Okay, so we were good with the
methane: It’s down there and most of it will remain there for the near-term.
Or so I thought.
Bubbles of methane gas coming up from the sea floor at speed via a damaged pipeline? At an explosive concentration? Due to a drilling accident? With catastrophic results? Yes, you’ve heard that somewhere before. It’s the plot line for that deadly, non-fiction, human-caused eco-disaster called the explosion of the Deep Water Horizon oil-drilling platform, which happened less than a year after Frozen Fire was released and a few weeks before it came out in paperback last summer.
Though seriously shaken, I was willing to tick off those two marks against my imagination as being simply flukes. Until the time drew nearer to the date my third eco-thriller was due to hit the shelves this summer. In Dry Ice, which was released last week, the disasters are not limited to just a small part of one continent, as they were
in my first two thrillers. No. This time, the devastation is distributed around the globe. Not equally, but widely. One of the disasters is an intense heat wave that engulfs Dallas, wreaking all kinds of havoc on a spoiled population dependent upon air conditioning to make life livable. Oh, did I mention that I happen to live in the DFW Metroplex at the moment?
As this summer grew longer and drier and hotter, and the book’s release date drew nearer, I remembered that last December, after Dry Ice was written and in production, I saw physicist Dr. Michio Kaku, whose books I devour and whose intelligence I find awe-inspiring, on a morning talk show. He was discussing five major cities that have a high probability of being destroyed by a devastating earthquake in our lifetime. Mind you, he wasn’t giving timelines or anything, he was just discussing probabilities. High probabilities. And two of the five cities he mentioned are cities I destroy in Dry Ice. Once again, I experienced the same uncomfortable sensation of déjà vu that I felt when Hurricane Katrina happened, and when the Deep Water Horizon rig caught fire.
Now, I didn’t choose to trash these two cities on a whim; I chose them very deliberately because they’re seismically vulnerable, but also because they’re strategic, they’re critical, and they’re huge. Their infrastructure, their populations, the sheer number of square miles they encompass—everything about them is huge.
For the record, if those cities get smacked any time soon, well, it won’t be my fault. But let me say that I’m starting to get a bit leery of the plot line of my next thriller, which I’m working on now. I think I may have to seriously consider switching back to writing romance novels or find a new genre to call home. Hmmm. The thing is, I like writing about environmental devastation, and then saving millions of lives at the very last minute. Surely, there has to be another solution than giving up my career….
Maybe I just need to give up a reader. One Reader. Seriously. While I hate to lose any reader, I think I need to state it bluntly:
Please just knock it off. Stop reading my books. Go pick on someone else. Maybe give Christopher Buckley a try. He’s hilarious, and it would be way more entertaining on a global scale if his story lines came true.