The first chapter of my historical novel, A Decent Woman, opens in 1901 as Hurricane San Cirilo bears down on the southwestern coast of the island of Puerto Rico as my main character Ana, an Afro-Cuban midwife, ponders whether the souls of those lost to hurricanes return to claim the lives of sinners...and boy, has she sinned.
Many agents encourage writers NOT to open a novel with weather, so why did I choose to open my story during a hurricane? I chose that beginning because hurricanes are a fact of life living in the Caribbean as are childbirth and death. I was born in Puerto Rico and it made perfect sense to me.
This coming Saturday, the first of June, marks and opens the beginning of hurricane season 2013. NOAA predicts an "extremely active hurricane season for 2013." If you live on the coast, most probably, you will already know this. If you live near the ocean, you are already making preparations. If you live in a historically high impact area, you've probably already purchased batteries, water, canned food and for sure you know where your can opener and flash lights are. Perhaps you've bought a generator this year and you definitely have a battery-powered radio to keep up abreast of the inclement weather reports and alerts for your area. You might have purchased wood to board your windows and doors should you be in harm's way to protect your family, your home and its contents. If things get ugly, you have a family evacuation plan, an emergency plan and kit, and your car should be gassed up until November 30, 2013 when hurricane season ends.
I have a friend who lives on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. She has two cars. One car sits in her garage, packed 365 days of the year with photo albums, family heirlooms, paintings, anything she deems precious, ready for evacuation. Her other car is her run-around town car. When I commented on how wonderful it must be to live in Hilton Head, she said, "You want to live in fear?" Hmmm...all is not perfect in paradise, but my friend remains. She has lived in Hilton Head for nearly ten years now and there is an evacuation route off the island to the mainland. There is no such bridge off the island of Puerto Rico nor neighboring islands. You're pretty much stuck and SOL--shit out of luck--so, you ride it out the best way you know how.
As a child and teenager, I spent practically every summer in paradise aka Puerto Rico with my grandparents and relatives. My sister and I would get out of school in the US in late May and fly TWA to San Juan with our mother where our relatives picked us up. We spent June, July and August in the southwestern city of Ponce where my family is from. As kids, we never thought about hurricane season, we just went to visit our grandparents and family for the summer, but I'm sure that my grandparents and my mother sure thought about it as our summer vacations always coincided with hurricane season. I certainly thought about it when I traveled to Puerto Rico with my own children during the summer months, but we went anyway. It's life.
My grandparent's house is situated near the city center of Ponce and we can drive to the beach, la Playa de Ponce, in ten minutes. My grandmother, Meme, grew on right on that beach and I always loved to hear her stories of life in the Playa. Meme's stories of living through tropical storms and hurricanes and even a devastating earthquake in Ponce always mesmerized me. I was the kid who sat her feet, listening and eating up every last word and description.
I've always been in awe of nature, Mother Nature and my grandmother. Meme, was the epitome of a storyteller. I took up the storyteller baton from Meme and still love a good storm. My sister and I share a love of inclement weather and we're not frightened by thunder and lightning. When we hear one of our areas is due a good thunder storm, we text each other and add a big smiley face and when it's a bust or blows around our area, we're bummed out. I don't really know where that comes from, but I have an inkling that it began with the adrenaline rush we didn't realize we grew up with by spending our summers in PR during hurricane season.
All I know is that as a kid, I was a handful. I constantly whined to my mother, "I'm bored!" I craved adventure, stimulation and couldn't wait to step off the airplane in San Juan. Maybe that's why my mother took us to PR for the summer. I was never bored there!
Writers write what they know, have lived and experienced. No surprises there.
Peace and love,