Today Ciji Ware gives readers an insider look at how she creates the disasters in her novels. And don't miss your chance to win your own copy of her newest novel, the historical fiction tale, A Race to Splendor!
“…Blindly Amelia inched along a floor pitching as violently as the deck of a boat in a midwinter storm. Her hands touched the threshold opening onto the ninth floor foyer at the instant the glass transom over her head exploded into a thousand pieces…She crumpled beneath the doorframe, curling into a ball…and screamed again as a twenty-five foot expanse of wood paneling and masonry pitched outward and plunged nine stories to Montgomery Street below. She knew that no structure on landfill, no matter how well built, could withstand much more shaking without collapsing. Then, just as suddenly, the convulsions subsided.”
A number of reviewers of my first novel published in a decade have remarked (kindly, I’m grateful to say) about the “you are there” aspect of my descriptions of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and firestorm, along with its devastating aftermath, that constitute the setting for A Race to Splendor.
In this story about the amazing feat of the first licensed woman architect in California-- Julia Morgan of Hearst Castle fame--restoring the legendary Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill within ten months of the disaster, I brought not only my twenty-five years’ experience as a print and broadcasting reporter in Los Angeles, but also my memories of having actually lived through the frightening 1971 San Fernando and 1994 Northridge earthquakes.
However much I researched the telling details of the 1906 disaster that obliterated 400 city blocks and left some 250,000 of 410,000 San Franciscans homeless for up to two-and-a-half years, I honestly don’t think I could have written A Race to Splendor without having witnessed the terrifying and destructive power of such an uncontrollable force of nature.
I have chosen to cast the “real” Julia Morgan as a secondary character, and tell the story of the City by the Bay’s initial response to the devastating quake and fire, along with its subsequent “race to splendor,” through the lens of a composite fictional heroine, Amelia Hunter Bradshaw, drawn from the lives of the people who worked for or knew the extraordinarily talented trailblazer Julia Morgan.
And what historical novelist could resist the saga of the city’s grand hotels competing against each other for the honor of clearing away the rubble and throwing their doors open by the first anniversary of the disaster to prove to the world that San Francisco (unlike Pompeii to whom it had been contemporaneously compared) would, indeed, rise from the ashes?
I began the novel more than a decade ago, and could never have predicted that its debut this April, on the 105th anniversary of the cataclysmic San Francisco quake would be “timed” to coincide with our very recent understanding of the long range and longstanding impact that events like Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Indonesia, the BP oil spill, and the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan have not only on the landscape, but also on the psyche of a community?
I hope readers will find this story full of excitement, derring-do, and the swashbuckling romance of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, as well as offer an accurate glimpse into such natural disasters, for it is truly a tale about recovery and our human capacity to rise above the wreckage and courageously carry on with a more profound sense of what is truly important in life.
Now that’s a tale worth telling….
- Ciji Ware
GIVEAWAY ALERT: Three lucky winners will receive their own copy of A Race to Splendor. To enter tell us what historical disaster has always fascinated you. Or you can email your comment here with your US mailing address and the subject line "Ciji Ware's A Race to Splendor Giveaway." The winners will be announced on June 3!