Monday, March 25, 2013

Necessary Research for Writing Chapter One

How long have we been naming snow storms? Did the naming of snow storms just start or did I just begin to notice this year? I find the naming of snow storms annoying and I'll tell you why. I can barely remember and retain the names of hurricanes and tropical storms I discovered during the research for my historical novel-length manuscript, A Decent Woman. Too many names!

Hurricane San Felipe, Ciriaco, Cirilo, Isabel, Ana, Betsy, George, Irene, the winds of Santa Ana and the Mistral, Snowmageddon and now, Snow Storm Virgil. I think that's where we are today - Virgil - which leads me to believe that I don't know the names of the snow storms that preceded Virgil if in fact, they (who names them, anyway?) are keeping to the alphabet I know.

When I was a kid it just snowed. No name, no saint's name, it just snowed! 

However, since the first decades of the 15th century, hurricanes and tropical storms have had names. Hard to believe, isn't it? I found it fascinating to learn about the hurricanes and tropical storms that either were direct hits or came within a few miles of Puerto Rico in the early 1900's. Research was paramount for my first novel which begins in 1901 in Ponce on the southwestern coast of Puerto Rico, and Ponce took many direct and indirect hits from hurricanes and tropical storms.

Christopher Columbus discovered Puerto Rico on November 19, 1493 and the first Spanish settlement was established years later by Juan Ponce de Leon. The first recorded tropical cyclone (hurricane) to hit the southwest part of the island in 1508 was recorded by Juan Ponce de Leon - Hurricane San Roque. From the 15th century until 1961, the naming system of storms was based on the Catholic tradition of naming cyclones after Catholic saints, the saint of the day in which the hurricane hit. San is the masculine word for saint in Spanish and Santa is the feminine word and there are more names with San than Santa in the history of recording hurricane statistics. No comment, just an observation :)

Many times, I had to remind myself to keep moving my story along and leave the Internet behind, but I couldn't very well write a novel about life in Puerto Rico without adding description, detail and dialogue about hurricanes and tropical storms. Every year, from June to November, hurricanes were/are a constant threat and in the months where the island is relatively safe, people are cleaning up, recovering and rebuilding in the aftermath. Hurricanes were and are a fact of life on the island and no one was/is spared. Nearly everyone on an island is affected by nature in one way or another.

I discovered 67 hurricanes and one major earthquake that I had to think about in the years that my novel takes place! So, I decided that the opening scene of my novel would introduce my main character Ana, an Afro-Cuban midwife, who is assisting seventeen-year old Isabel in the birth of her first child during Hurricane San Cirilo, the first tropical storm of the 20th century. I never hesitated that this was how my book would open. As you can imagine, it's a dramatic scene. I loved writing it and still see it in my mind's eye when I think of the first chapter.

In Chapter One, Puerto Rico is still recovering from the devastating loss of life, crops and livelihood from Hurricane San Ciriaco the previous year, the most dangerous recorded hurricane on the island that claimed nearly 3,400 lives and had the damage estimates at nearly $36 million dollars. The Americans had invaded the island two years prior, food is relatively scarce, many buildings have been destroyed, and it seems that the life the islanders have known has been turned upside down. Many believe that God has turned His back on the island and wonder what sins they are being punished for. Some like Ana know what sins they might be punished for.

It's a story of survival, courage, loss, redemption and love...and white squalls, damaging gale-force winds, white-capped waves battering the coast, ten foot storm surges, flooding, sideways rain, and ominous black skies. There are, of course, days of azure skies with no clouds, calm seas, lush tropical vistas and heat...body and otherwise :)

Snow Storm Virgil dropped four inches of snow in my town this morning and we're expecting three more inches by tonight. I'm hoping that the next snow storm that will begin with the letter 'W' doesn't show its face until next winter!

Peace and love,


  1. Hi Ellie -- Stopped by to catch up with you. I always gain so much insight from your writings. Hugs - Jasmine

    p.s. You might find the following article interesting.

  2. Hi Jasmine! It was an interesting article, thanks! Happy Easter to you!