Keeping an eye on the hurricane
June 9, 2008 · Updated 5:29 PM
Catastrophic storms are Randy de Armond Dildays inspiration.
For Randy De Armond Dilday, this season of back-to-back hurricanes could hardly be called an ill wind.
The islanders debut novel Cat 5, a thriller about a severe hurricane, hit bookstore shelves just as Ivan roared into Alabama last week. Its his good fortune that this storm season resembles his book about increased storms from climate change, a volume five years in the making.
For years I was hearing people saying the weathers changing, the weathers changing, Dilday said. I began to sort of marinate on that and I wondered, what if the weather did fundamentally change? What signs would we see?
Were looking at some storms right now that are very unique in terms of frequency and intensity.
It was Hurricane Linda a Category 5 storm, defined by sustained winds of at least 155 miles per hour that first inspired Dilday.
In 1997, Hurricane Linda, the largest storm ever reported in the Pacific, pummeled the California coast.
The event catalyzed Dildays desire to pen the book about the fascinating, deadly storms that he calls hurricanes on steroids.
While Category 5 hurricanes reach the United States on average once very 100 years, Dilday points out that the last 70 years have seen three make landfall: the 1935 Florida Keys/Labor Day Hurricane, Camille in 1969, and Andrew in 1992.
Even storms clocked at the lesser Category 4 or 3 pack more of a wallop than anything man can devise.
A single hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center, releases more energy than all the atomic weapons on earth, Dilday said. So were talking about a lot of power.
Dilday has studied his subject in some depth, even learning about the science of paleoclimatology, the study of the climatic past through signs of weather in core samples of ice and earth laid down like dinosaur bones.
The storms have a universal fascination for people, Dilday says, because they are an archetype of life, motion, yin-yang, a vortex of opposing forces, a point of origin.
The storms come to life as small whirlwinds spinning off the Sahara Desert that begin to gather moisture when they get over the ocean.
They begin to pick up moisture, he said. As the water evaporates up into this vortex, water droplets condense and at that point of condensation they release latent energy in the form of heat. As the heat draws more air up through the wall, rotation increases. Its nothing more than an enormous engine.
Although Dilday is interested in the natural world, he is not a nature writer. The storm he concocts is more a catalyst to reveal character than an isolated phenomena.
It wasnt enough to write about a hurricane because hurricanes are benign, he said. They dont have a personality, they dont have an agenda. Im not just interested in writing about disasters, I want to write about people, how they respond to these things.
To learn to develop fictional characters, Dilday practiced his craft for 15 years before tackling Cat 5.
Dilday polished his craft with screenwriter friends, took seminars and joined a writers group.
But, he says, most helpful in honing his art is the habit he developed of taking up the pen every day.
Im up at 4 a.m. to do so, he said. Religiously: today, yesterday, the day before. Writing is a real time vampire, so I had to make time for it. (The early morning) was the only time that I could cannibalize to hone my craft.
Dilday may work out a loose outline of a plot, but he stays flexible as the plot emerges. Instead of rushing through a rough draft and going back to edit, he edits as he writes, turning over the finished manuscript to a professional editor.
Writing, when he is on, is, for Dilday, like entering the fictive dream psychologists term the altered state of the rapt reader.
I think theres a similar place that you get to when youre writing, when youre on and youre in touch with your characters, he said. Im not saying Im there. But there are definitely forces at work that you tap into.
One piece of hurricane research Dilday hasnt yet accomplished is the experience of a real storm, but hes on a short list to fly with the 53rd, the hurricane hunters that operate out of Biloxi, Miss.
The hunters take authors, screenwriters, journalists and others with a professional interest up with them to puncture the eye wall of a hurricane.
I know its a little ironic that Ive written this book about a hurricane without having been in one, he said. Im actually looking forward to it.
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Cat 5 by Bainbridge Island author Randy De Armond Dilday is available at Eagle Harbor Books. See www.stormpublishing.com for more information.