Beyond the one-line description of Supercell being “a fast-moving thriller set against tornado chasing on the Great Plains,” what the heck is the novel about?
Here’s the “elevator pitch” for it (an “elevator pitch” means the author’s got only the duration of an elevator ride to pitch his/her book to an agent or publisher):
Chuck Rittenburg, a former professional storm chaser, has lost it all: his business, his home, his family. But he’s offered a chance at redemption—-and a million bucks—-by a Hollywood film company if he can lead its cinematographers to a violent EF-4 or -5 tornado.
The catch: he has only two weeks in which to do it. And given the extreme rarity of his quarry, he knows the odds are overwhelmingly against him.
He quickly discovers, however, the short time frame and elusiveness of his prey are perhaps the least of his adversaries. He’s hurled headlong into a maelstrom of self-doubt, familial conflict, a deadly manhunt, love and betrayal.
He finds himself plagued by a bitter, estranged son; an old friend who remains haunted by the Vietnam War; a female FBI agent working undercover; a rebellious film-crew manager; a pair of murderous brothers; and a mysterious and dangerous guardian of what may or may not be a mythical fortune hidden away on the Oklahoma prairie.
The hunt culminates with a storm encounter so unique it’s virtually the stuff of legend.
All-in-all, Chuck’s two-week quest is filled with dark twists and turns that lead to surprises no one, not even a veteran storm chaser, could ever have imagined.
Supercell sweeps onto bookshelves in November.
PHOTO: courtesy Roger Hill.ROLL OUT THE BERYL(S)?
Tropical storms and hurricanes don’t often threaten the Georgia coast. Just recently, however, pre-season Tropical Storm Alberto did some saber rattling along the Georgia and Carolina shores. Admittedly, it was more of a cardboard saber than a real sword, but at least the action lured The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore to Charleston.
Now—-and remember, it’s still May and the Atlantic Hurricane season hasn’t even celebrated Opening Day—-the weather models are pretty much unanimous in suggesting yet another tropical or subtropical storm will make an appearance off the Southeast Coast within the next couple of days.
Two in May? How bizarre would that be? And when was the last time there was a storm threat, tropical style, over the Memorial Day Holiday? That’s supposed to be Labor Day stuff (a la Eyewall, getting in a plug for my novel), not Memorial Day.
So, maybe it’ll be Roll Out the Beryl(s) for the upcoming holiday weekend.
Never a dull moment in the weather business. (Except when I go on a tornado chase.)
-May 24, 2012-
IMAGE: Sunrise on St. Simons Island, Georgia.AFTER THE CHASE, INDELIBLE MEMORIES
Was it fun? people ask, knowing I’ve just returned from a tornado chase on the Great Plains.
Sure it was fun. If your idea of fun is sitting in a van for 10 hours a day, reeling in the miles (3500 of them in seven days); or waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen (thank God for Walmarts, great places to hang out); or falling in a ditch in the dark (next time I’ll bring a flashlight); or clogging your arteries with fast food (I had to double my statin drug dosage).
Oh, don’t take me seriously. It wasn’t fun in the sense of an Alaskan cruise or Caribbean vacation, but it was a memorable adventure. One I wouldn’t have missed for the world.
I went on the chase knowing there was no guarantee of seeing a tornado. And I didn’t. But I learned how chasers operate, which was the real purpose of going, and I learned more than I thought I would about the monster thunderstorms that prowl middle America. My work-in-progress, Supercell, will be a better novel for it.
PHOTO: A Nebraska supercell, May 2, 2012.
To ease the pain of long hours sitting on my butt, the chasers I traveled with were a good group: two doctors, a retired dentist (our driver), a lawyer, an arborist from Australia and a grocery store manager from London. Two of them, it turned out, were at least casual writers, so beyond big honkin’ storms, we a had another mutual interest.
Roger Hill, our tour leader, was an absolute joy to be around. Personable and articulate, he harbors the knowledge of a college professor and the enthusiasm of a college cheerleader.
Thanks, Roger, for a trunkful of indelible memories: witnessing the birth of a monster West Texas supercell; listening to coyotes chant in tandem with rumbling thunder; dogging a supercell through a lightning-filled Nebraska night; and chasing a hail beast along the Red River.
Ya know, I think I’ll be back. Still gotta notch a tornado on my belt.
-May 8, 2012-BIRTH OF A HIGH PLAINS MONSTER
With other members of my chase group, I’m standing on the high plains of the Texas Panhandle, west of Lubbock. A stiff wind, inflow to a supercell aborning, slams into my back as I snap pictures of the strengthening storm. I struggle to stay upright; to hold the camera steady. Daggers of lightning lance into the field in front of us.
Our tour guide, Roger Hill, raising his voice to be heard over the galloping wind, says, “This thing could turn into a real monster.”
Minutes later, a wisp of dark scud appears beneath the underbelly of the storm. “Watch,” Roger says, “this may be the beginning of a wall cloud.” What? That dinky little misty thing? (See photo below.)
More and more scud appears, dipping, darting, circling. It happens fast. Within minutes the base of the storm is seething with rotating black clouds almost touching the ground
To our right, a plume of dust streams across the road, riding the inflow. The storm is even stronger now, advancing on us. It’s not more than a couple of hundred yards away. Then it’s over us.
The dust expands rapidly, spurred on by 60- or 70-mph winds. Dirt and grit fill the air as we scramble back into the van. We flee south and watch the flat landscape to our rear disappear in wind-driven blackness as Roger’s monster crosses the road. Cars and trucks heading toward it pull off to the side and stop, giving the now-classic supercell due respect as it barrels toward Lubbock.
We monitor the storm from a safe distance, paralleling it as it churns eastward. Radar indicates it harbors a rotating mesocyclone, a precursor to a tornado. But it doesn’t drop one. Lucky for Lubbock.
So, no tornado. But I don’t care. How many weather geeks get to witness in real life, up close and personal, what most only read about in textbooks—-the birth of a High Plains monster, a classic supercell thunderstorm?
-April 30, 2012-