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The Author’s Perspective

Today marks the third year of operation for Joseph’s Reviews!   One of the things that I hope to do this year is to conduct more interviews with published authors, and so today we’re kicking off a new column, The Author’s Perspective.   This interview is with Jenna Blum, the author of The Stormchasers: A Novel, which we rated as highly recommended.

1.   Do you view the novel as a “life’s lesson” transmitter?   In other words, it took me years to learn this, so in my book I’m trying to impart that to others in the form of a story.

Both of my novels are about emotional questions that I began asking long ago, to which there are no easy answers.   Those Who Save Us, my first novel, about a German woman who became an SS officer’s mistress to protect herself and her little daughter, was written in part to answer the question I started asking when I first learned, at age 4, about the Holocaust:  “How can people be so  mean to each other?”   What causes people’s inhumanity to their fellow man — or woman?   We sometimes like to think we know a simple answer — we can lay blame on a person’s nationality, race religion — but what I wanted to do with Those Who Save Us was put the reader in some very unpopular shoes (a German woman during WWII) and show that the answers are not always so black and white.

My second novel, The Stormchasers, which is about twins, one of whom is bipolar, was written in response to my having beloved family members who are bipolar; the question this novel asks is, “What can you do to help someone you love?   How far can you go before you erase yourself and your life completely?”   There is no easy answer to the “problem” of bipolar disorder, and that’s what the book addresses.   My hope is that it will help readers who are bipolar, or who love people who are, feel less alone.   That’s what all good fiction does: it reaches a hand across the void that exists between all human beings and says, “Hey, you’re not the only one who feels this way.”

I don’t think my novels transmit lessons; I think they ask questions without ready answers.

2.   Living one’s life as research for a novel…  Did you just happen to storm-chase and write a book about it, or did you deliberately get engaged in the activity in order to do the proper background work?

One of the great things about being a writer is that you get to do all the crazy things you’ve always wanted to do and call it research, thereby writing it off on your taxes.   I’m kidding, of course.   Well, half.   In fact, both of my novels did require extensive research, and my third novel will too — I seem to be incapable of writing a novel that doesn’t necessitate at least 3 years’ worth of research!

For Those Who Save Us, I went to Germany 4 times with my mom, which was arguably scarier than the 5 years of stormchasing I did to research The Stormchasers.   For Those Who Save Us, I also interviewed Holocaust survivors for the Steven Spielberg Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, an unbelievable privilege that I did not spin into the novel but that helped inform the emotional spectrum along which the characters live.   I write about the things I’m interested in, fascinated with, consumed by — so the research is part of my life, and my life becomes the research.

I did chase storms for several years as an amateur before I started chasing with professional stormchase company Tempest Tours (I’m hosting my own tours with Tempest this year, so please come along!).   During the past 5 years with Tempest, while chasing tornadoes I took notes, carried a reporter’s recorder, wrote nonfiction about the tour company and stormchasing, took photos and video (all up on my website).   That was all a very deliberate and specific research campaign.

3.   What is the hardest part of publicizing a novel?   Is it answering personal questions, the time spent traveling, trying to write the next book as you travel, missing friends and family, etc.?

I actually love publicizing my novels, so I don’t find anything about it difficult!   I do admit that I’m something of an extremist.   I travel a lot more than many writers do, 300 days of the year…  (To be continued.)

This concludes part one of a two-part interview with Jenna Blum.   For more information on Jenna, visit her website:  

http://www.jennablum.com

For more information on Tempest Tours, go to:

http://www.tempesttours.com 

Joseph Arellano  

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What Is Life

The Stormchasers: A Novel by Jenna Blum (Plume; $15.00; 369 pages)

“…while they are crossing the grass their movement startles a flock of birds in the vacant lot next to the motel, and she stops to watch them rise as one and circle the sky.   It seems an omen of something.   Karena just doesn’t know what.”

With The Stormchasers, Jenna Blum has delivered a stunning and magical story about the price of family.   Karena Jorge is a twin whose brother Charles suffers from bipolar disorder.   The condition causes Charles to act out in ways, both verbal and physical, that are harmful to both himself and those around him.   It seems that medications don’t work to alleviate his symptoms, they simply replace his anxieties with new physical maladies.   The only thing that appears to help the erratic, high-IQ Charles calm down is to move around the center of the U.S. chasing active storms.

“Charles is, after all, a genius…  But trying to make sense of what he’s saying now is like hearing a piece of music with one wrong note played over and over…”

We join the Jorges in 1988, as Karena is about to depart for college and experience a respite from being her brother’s keeper.   But then Charles disappears and Karena is aware that at some point she will need to do her best to find him.   It takes her 20 years, 1 month and 6 days to do so, and only when she has assumed the identity of a reporter writing a story on stormchasers.   This is not, however, the point at which the story ends, it is, rather, where it actually begins…

The Charles of 2008 is a very troubled character – in fact, he’s mentally disturbed, if not fully insane.   Karena believes, to her dismay, that she loves her brother more than she will ever love anyone who will enter her life.   This means that she will either destroy her own life as his caretaker, or let Charles – who is jealous of anyone receiving Karena’s attentions – do it for her.   There seems to be no way out until, incredibly, the recklessness of the Jorges places them in trouble with the law.   It’s then that both Karena and Charles must locate their moral centers and the path to a better life.

“…sometimes when you throw yourself upon the world, it will hold you up.”

Jenna Blum does a masterful job of instructing the reader on the beauty of storms created by nature:  “She never would have known about this wild and violent beauty, (had she) not experienced it firsthand.   She stands in the road, watching, for a long, long time.”   By analogy, she teaches us that the storms in our lives must sometimes be approached directly – literally finding the eye of the storm – rather than avoided.   For, once an active storm breaks, we’re gifted with a new ability to appreciate the quiet serenity of life.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.


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