I’ve always been fascinated with storms. When I was a little girl, we used to visit my grandmother in southern Minnesota in the summers, and often, in the middle of the night, the tornado siren would go off and we’d have to run to the cellar. To me, a girl obsessed with The Wizard of Oz, this was terribly exciting. When I was four, I had the experience my heroine Karena has in THE STORMCHASERS: of seeing a tornado while everyone else was asleep. Like Karena, I hid beneath the living room couch and watched the black rope twister move across the picture window. I then spent much of my life trying to see another. My obsession with severe weather led me to stormchase as an adult, first as an amateur in Minnesota with my poor mom in tow, later with the professional stormchase group Tempest Tours (for description of what this was like, seeChase Diaries, below). Like my characters, I’m still trying to understand the mysterious, majestic machinery behind big weather: how something as powerful and destructive as a tornado can happen so quickly, seemingly from a clear blue sky. And as a writer I’ve always been interested in how people put their lives back together after they’ve been devastated by huge forces beyond their control.
Which leads me to the other component of THE STORMCHASERS: bipolar disorder. Like many of my readers, I have beloved people in my life who are bipolar, and for years I’ve watched them cope with the disorder’s highs and lows. One thing that has always struck me is the impossible conundrum people with bipolar disorder have to face: either take medication to comply with polite society but not feel like themselves, or don’t take medication and feel like themselves but not be able to function in polite society. Also, bipolarity is a unique disorder in that although it can be so destructive, it’s seductive too: the manias or highs, which my character Charles describes in THE STORMCHASERS as his “flying dream,” can feel magical. His twin Karena thinks of the double-edged disorder as “the gift nobody wants to get given.” And while I was researching bipolarity I was also struck by how often it is likened to storms—mania, for instance, is described as being caused by a storm of electrical energy in the brain. Byron, who was bipolar, wrote of his fellow sufferers: “Their breath is agitation, and their life/ A storm whereon they ride.” Robert Schumann, also bipolar, referred to his “storm-tossed body and soul.” On the cover of the BIPOLAR FOR DUMMIES handbook, there’s a photo of a tornadic supercell. So I was compelled to write about bipolarity in a storm context, to explore through Charles and Karena these “storms in the mind’s eye.” These mood storms and their consequences comprise the heart of the novel.
Research on the High Plains