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Guest Blogger – Tommie Lyn

Writing Research: New Madrid Earthquakes

Writing novels has been educational for me. Every book I’ve written has required lots of research to ensure that my facts about some facet of the story are correct. It’s been quite enlightening.

The research for my historical novels has opened whole new windows on the past for me. But even my contemporary novels have provided opportunities for learning. For instance, did you know some box jellyfish are among the most venomous, deadly creatures on the planet? And do you know what the EPA requires of you if you buy land they deem is polluted?

But while I was writing my latest novel, research about the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-13 absorbed me for weeks. I’ve experienced earthquakes and lived a few miles from the San Andreas Fault for several years. I’d heard a little about the New Madrid earthquakes . . . that they caused the Mississippi River to flow upstream for a short time, and that they formed Reelfoot Lake.

But some information was new to me. While my lack of writing expertise may have kept me from being as accurate as I wanted in describing events in Windows of the Soul, I found that what I’d written didn’t tell the half of it.

An online site has a number of eyewitness accounts from the 1811-13 earthquakes, and what those people described was horrendous: rifts in the earth; places where the earth was pushed up; creation of new lakes and islands where the earth sank. The inhabitants of an Indian village drowned when the land sank and water rushed in to submerge their village.

Fissures opened, up to seven hundred feet long and twenty feet wide. Trees split, leaving half of the tree rooted on one side of the rift, half on the other. Some said the surface of the earth rippled like waves on water. Some people disappeared, presumably swallowed by the earth. And one man claimed the equipment stored in the cellar of a house simply vanished.

Sand spouts shot warm water and sand up to forty feet in the air, both on land and in the Mississippi River. One such sand spout blew the skull of an extinct musk ox from the earth.

About 10,000 earthquakes took place in the New Madrid Seismic Zone during those two years, of which the strongest was felt as far away as Charleston, South Carolina and Boston, Massachusetts. One report said that the intensity of the shaking in the Memphis, Tennessee area was so great that a quake of a similar magnitude today would totally destroy the city.

The information mesmerized me, as I tried to absorb and understand what that fearful experience must have been like for the people who lived through it. If you’re interested in reading some of those eyewitness accounts, you can find them at: http://www.ceri.memphis.edu/compendium/eyewitness/index.html

Who knew that writing novels could be so educational?


Tommie Lyn is the featured author this week for our Ereader Extravaganza.  The New Madrid earthquakes influenced her new novel, Windows of the Soul. You can find out more about her novels and research at Tommie Lyn Writes.


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This entry was posted on March 15, 2012 by in Guest Bloggers and tagged , .

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