Author tells survival stories in Edwards
July 2, 2010
EDWARDS, Colorado – It is hard to imagine an author like Jenna Blum sitting still. Visit her website or her blog and you can feel the energy buzzing through the ether like a thunderstorm coming over the horizon. But she manages to sit still when stricken with the urge to write a novel.
“My writer’s life is like crop rotation: when I’m working, I’m really working, in total lockdown. Fiction, when it’s hot, demands absolutely all my time, energy, attention, and love,” said Blum.
Blum’s first novel, “Those Who Save Us,” a work of historical fiction set in WWII Germany, jumped onto the New York Times bestseller list two years after it was released in paperback and has been favorite here in the Vail Valley ever since.
Blum is hoping that her new novel, “The Stormchasers,” will see that same kind of fan-driven success.
“At every book club I went to I said, ‘If you liked this novel, please pass it on to just one other person,'” Blum said. “And bless my readers, they did. Readers can change the world, which is just how it should be.”
In “The Stormchasers” Blum turns her sights to a more contemporary exploration of family relationships. She tackles the mystery and power of the love and loyalty between twins and examines the psychological and emotional impact of bipolar disorder, all within the swirling backdrop of tornado alley as the characters set off to chase down death-defying storms.
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Fresh off the storm trail, Blum will be at The Bookworm Tuesday evening to talk about her latest book and her writing life, but she answered a few questions for us in advance of her appearance.
1. Vail Daily: Your previous novel “Those Who Save Us” has been a huge favorite here in the Vail Valley. What made you go in such different direction for your new book “The Stormchasers”?
Jenna Blum: Thank you, Vail Valley! I’m thrilled and honored by your readership! I’m hoping Vail Valley readers will love “The Stormchasers” as much as they do “Those Who Save Us,” and I’m always a little surprised when people say they are such different books. Both novels are variations on a theme: how people survive when their lives have been devastated by huge forces beyond their control. How do people cope in the aftermath of destruction? How do they struggle forward in their lives after enduring trauma? How do they protect the people in their lives they love the most? “Those Who Save Us” asks the question, “What would you do to protect your child?” and “Stormchasers” asks ‘How far would you go to protect your beloved brother, even though he is a danger to himself and others, including you?’ The novels are about secrecy, survivor guilt, shame – and how people keep trying to right their lives despite the pain of their pasts. So the books are also about love and hope.
2. VD: “The Stormchasers” explores the powerful bond between twins. Have you always been interested in the psychology of family relationships?
JB: Yes, I consider myself a writer about people first and foremost. Both of my novels are stories about people, how they interact, how they damage each other and how they keep reaching out nonetheless.
3. VD: Stormchasing plays a central role in the plot of your new novel. Did you have to undergo much research, and what was it like?
JB: I researched “The Stormchasers” by chasing tornadoes for five years with the professional stormchase group Tempest Tours, out of Arlington, Texas – although I have been fascinated with severe weather since I was four, when I saw a tornado at night in my grandmother’s southeast Minnesota hometown. Both experiences are woven into “The Stormchasers.” After seeing that first tornado I spent much of my subsequent life trying to see another, and when I lived in Minneapolis in the late 1990s, I used to take my mom stormchasing with me, with predictably disastrous results. We’d end up in an abandoned barn with a tornadic storm coming toward us and all the animals running like heck in the other direction, my mom using language I rarely heard her use otherwise. Eventually I figured out it would be safer, not to mention more effective, to chase with people who knew what they were doing and who had radar.
4. VD: How did you research the psychological aspects of the book?
JB: I spent at least 10 years researching bipolar disorder. I’ve read everything from Kay Jameson’s excellent books on the subject, “An Unquiet Mind” and “Touched By Fire,” to the physicians’ diagnostic manual DMS-IV. Like many of my readers, I have beloved people in my family who are bipolar, and I know what it’s like to stand by and watch them struggle with their changing and severe moods; to be scared and to walk on eggshells around them; to want so badly to help and to be helpless. There is no easy fix for bipolar disorder, and that’s one thing I wanted to explore and present in “The Stormchasers,” to share with my readers so – as all good fiction does – they will feel less alone through reading it. In order to do this right, I had to get my facts straight, so I interviewed therapists and psychiatrists and read everything I can get my hands on, as well as drawing on my personal experience.
5. VD: Which came first, the twins or the stormchasing?
JB: Oh, goodness. I think writers often carry their ideas with them so long it’s almost impossible to parse their sources. I have always wanted to write a novel with tornadoes and stormchasing, since I’ve been entranced by severe weather since childhood. But I also had an imaginary twin when I was a little girl, too, so who knows?
6. VD: How many tornadoes have you witnessed?
JB: Yikes, it’s hard to count – but not because I have seen so many. Stormchasing is not like the movie “Twister;” you don’t just hit the road and watch tornadoes drop one after the other. Instead, you play chess with the atmosphere: you analyze the weather models, and then you position yourself to be in a place where the storms might go up. This can happen anywhere in Tornado Alley, from North Dakota to Texas, so as you can imagine, there’s a ton of driving, and a lot of hurry-up-and-wait! This is one of the things I love about stormchasing, actually: you get to see the interior of our beautiful country, the grand, lonesome, majestic landscape that you can access only by driving.
I would say that in the past five years of chasing with Tempest guides, I’ve seen about 10 tornadoes.
7. VD: Are you working on anything new?
JB: I do have an idea for a third book! It will be set again in New Heidelburg, the fictional Minnesota town that figures so largely in both “Those Who Save Us” and “The Stormchasers,” and I suspect it will be historical fiction.