Current Events Creep into Fiction

Fellow blogger and author Annamaria Bazzi hosted me for a guest post on her blog Annamaria’s Corner. Since it’s the third anniversary of the oil spill and Earth Week, I thought it appropriate to repost on my blog. Please stop by Annamaria’s Corner where she posts about writing and promotes her fellow authors.

By P.C. Zick

My new novel, Trails in the Sand, serves as a reminder of two preventable disasters that occurred within two weeks of one another in 2010. Forty men died and countless wildlife and their habitats were injured or destroyed. Both events touched my life in some way and both made their way into the writing of Trails in the Sand.

The first one occurred on April 5 when the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia exploded, killing twenty-nine miners doing their job in the bowels of the earth. Subsequent reports showed the company ignored safety regulations, which played an important role in the explosion. At the time, I was in the process of moving from Florida to western Pennsylvania. The mine is located several hours from my new home, so the local media covered the disaster continually for the next few weeks. The national news also kept its eye turned toward a small town in West Virginia where families mourned their husbands, sons, fathers, brothers, and cousins. After April 20, the lens of the cameras shifted to the southwest.

The news began as a whimper before erupting into cries of outrage. An oil rig somewhere off the coast of Louisiana caught on fire on April 20, 2010. Soon the whole rig collapsed and eleven men never made it out alive. Oil gushed from a well several miles below the Gulf’s surface.

As I made the transition to Pennsylvania, I still held my job in Florida, although I was in the process of leaving. I was a public relations director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I made the trip back and forth sixteen times in 2010. I conducted meetings from a cell phone in airports, highway rest areas, and at a dining room table from our small temporary apartment in Pittsburgh.

Every time I started to give my two-week notice to my supervisors, something happened, and my wildlife biologist bosses pleaded with me to stay. During a crisis, the spokesperson for a company or agency suddenly becomes a very important part of the team. Scientists become speechless when looking in the face of a microphone.

Nothing much happened in those early days of the oil spill for the wildlife community, although as a communications specialist I prepared for worst-case scenarios, while hoping for the best. Partnerships between national and state agencies formed to manage information flowing to the media. By May, some of the sea turtle experts began worrying about the nesting turtles on Florida’s Panhandle beaches, right where the still gushing oil might land. In particular, the scientists worried that approximately 50,000 hatchlings might be walking into oil-infested waters if allowed to enter the Gulf of Mexico after hatching from the nests on the Gulf beaches.

An extraordinary and unprecedented plan became reality, and as the scientists wrote the protocols, the plan was “in direct response to an unprecedented human-caused disaster.”

When the nests neared the end the incubation period, plans were made to dig up the nests and transport the eggs across the state to Cape Canaveral, where they would be stored until the hatchlings emerged from the eggs. Then they would receive a royal walk to the sea away from the oil-drenched waters of the Gulf.

The whole project reeked with the scent of drama, ripe for the media to descend on Florida for reports to a public hooked on the images of oiled wildlife. Since I was in transition in my job, they appointed me to handle all media requests that came to the national and state agencies regarding the plan. From my new office in Raccoon Township, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, I began coordinating media events and setting up interviews with the biologists.

As the project began in June 2010, I began writing Trails in the Sand. At first, I created the characters and their situations. Then slowly I began writing about the oil crisis and made the main character, Caroline, an environmental reporter who covered the sea turtle relocation project. Then suddenly I was writing about her husband, Simon, who mourned the loss of his cousin in the coal mine disaster in West Virginia. I didn’t make a conscious effort to tie together the environmental theme with the family saga unfolding, but before too long, I realized they all dealt with restoration and redemption of things destroyed. As a result, the oil spill and the sea turtles became a metaphor for the destruction caused by Caroline and her family.

I’m a firm believer in the subject choosing the author. When that happens, it’s best to let go and enjoy the gift.

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I’m on a Virtual Book Tour this week with Trails in the Sand  – Visit tour stops to enter giveaway

I’m on “tour” April 22-29 to celebrate the forty-third anniversary of Earth Day and to celebrate the publication of Trails in the Sand. At each stop, you’ll be able to enter a raffle for an exciting giveaway at the end of the tour. I’m giving away a package of autographed copies of both Live from the Road and Trails in the Sand, along with a Route 66 baseball cap, a Trails in the Sand magnet, all wrapped in a “green” grocery bag donated by fellow blogger Betsy Wild at What’s Green with Betsy. The bags were designed by Where Designs.???????????????????????????????

The Tour Schedule for April 25 – Check out this blog today and enter to win the tour giveaway.

April 25

I Read Indie blog features my guest post “Why I love sea turtles” about my first interaction with the ancient creatures and how they became a central part of the plot in Trails in the Sand. I Read Indie blog reviews and features Indie Authors.

Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers features Trails in the Sand and my guest post “Subject Chooses the Writer.” Stop by Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers to “feed your need to read.” Gina’s love of books led her to create a site for her readers.

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