Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hats off to intrepid journalists.

I've had my head down in the first draft of Maggie in Moonlight all weekend (which is at just about 22,000 words right now, thanks for asking), while most of the United States has been watching the progress of Hurricane Irma, our second major hurricane this year. Irma follows Harvey, which caused massive damage to southeast Texas just a couple of weeks ago. Still mostly offstage is Hurricane Jose, which forecasters now say will probably meander off the East Coast for most of this week.

At the same time as these storms are drawing a bead on the southeastern United States, much of the West is either battling wildfires or coughing from their smoke.

As often happens, many folks are fighting their anxiety with gallows humor, liberally laced with references to the End Times. I spoke to a friend in Michigan the other day. She was saying how her state looks like a pretty good place to live right now, and I said, "Don't get complacent. You guys are on deck for the boils."

Among those who employ gallows humor are journalists, because they're so often in the thick of things, and sometimes humor is the only thing that will get you through a horrific event. I remembered earlier today that I wrote about a news network's hurricane coverage in Undertow, the middle book in the Land, Sea, Sky trilogy. This book is one of my favorites. So in lieu of a post, I'm presenting to you the planning meeting where Tess Showalter, investigative reporter for the New America News Network, volunteers to help cover Hurricane Hubert in 2023.

The air in the newsroom felt even more frantic than usual. More people than just the standard weekend crew were bustling around. Every so often, someone would stop and stare at the monitors at the producer’s desk; then they would walk away, shaking their heads.

Tess made her way around the desk to see the monitor. One look, and she knew exactly what was making everyone pop-eyed.

“Is that the hurricane?” she asked, even though she knew the answer.

“Oh, hi, Tess!” said Schuyler, who had stopped next to her. “Yep, that’s Hurricane Hubert.”

“Somebody drew that thing, right?” she said. “It can’t be real.” The ring of clouds was very nearly a perfect circle, with what appeared to be a small, round hole in the center.

“Oh, it’s real, all right,” the producer on duty said. “It’s the biggest storm to hit the U.S. since Katrina in ‘05. Or will be, if it makes landfall here.”

“Do we know where it’s headed yet?” Schuyler asked.

One of the writers popped her head up over the console. “It’s still pretty far out to sea. NOAA says it looks like it’s heading for the Caribbean right now. But it could always turn and make a run up the coast.”

The producer punched up a graphic from the NOAA website. “Here’s one scenario.”

Tess gasped. “We’re right in its path.”

“Nah,” Schuyler said. “If it makes landfall south of here, it’ll break up a lot before it gets to D.C. We’d get a ton of wind and rain, but nothing like the lashing those poor suckers at landfall will get.” He glanced at the producer. “Have we sent any crews out yet?”

The man hooked a thumb down the hall. “Ash and Antonia are setting it up now.”

Tess and Schuyler traded a look, and took off together for Antonia’s office.

“Tess!” Antonia called as soon as she spied them through her open door. “I’m glad you’re here. I was just about to call you at home. Hello, Schuyler.”

“Hiya, boss lady,” Schuyler said, perching on an end table. Seats were at a premium; Gil, Antonia’s producer, and Ashton, the newsroom manager, had commandeered the guest chairs, and all the unit producers were crowded onto the couch. Tess took a seat on the arm of the couch next to her producer, Tracie.

Ashton was running down a list of personnel on his tablet. “As far as stringers are concerned, I’ve contacted Boz Jaegers in Houston and Ebony Jackson in New Orleans.” At Antonia’s nod, he went on, “And on the Atlantic side, we’ve lined up somebody in Charleston.”

“The same one we had last time?” Gil asked. “Fred Michaels? He was good.”

“He was,” Ashton agreed. “We need to think about bringing him on board permanently, if he’s as good this time.” He looked at Antonia.

“Noted,” she said. “Let’s see how he does, and then I’ll see if there’s room in the budget. What about Florida?”

“I want to send Heela Shahin to Miami and Stu Levinson to Jacksonville,” Ashton said. He nodded to their respective producers. “That should cover the Atlantic side of the state, if Hubert takes a right turn. And if not, they can both get across to the gulf side pretty quickly.”

“So Heela in Miami, Stu in Jacksonville, Fred Michaels in Charleston….” Antonia was ticking them off on her fingers. “We need somebody at Hatteras.”

“Jeff Donohoe,” Ashton said, as if it were obvious. His suggestion met with groans of approval. The joke was that if there was a street sign in the path of a hurricane anywhere on the East Coast, you could count on Jeff to do a live shot hanging from it sideways.

Antonia’s lips twitched. “Of course,” she said dryly. “I don’t know what possessed me to ask. And in Virginia Beach?”

“We’ll go,” Tess said. In response, Morrigan’s crows raised a ruckus in her head. Ashton simply shrugged and typed her name in.

Antonia shot her a what the hell? look. Tess gave her what she hoped was an I’ll tell you later look.

A few minutes later, the meeting broke up. “I’ll go and see about travel arrangements for us,” Tracie said. “Hotel rooms ought to be easy to get. They’ll have a bunch of cancellations as soon as people get a load of the weather forecast.”

“I hope you guys aren’t mad that I volunteered us,” Tess said.

“Are you kidding?” Schuyler crowed. “You picked the best possible place. Hurricanes almost never come ashore at Virginia Beach. If they get that far north, they do a right turn at Cape Hatteras and head out to sea. We’re getting a vacation on the network’s dime.”

“Yeah, well, don’t pack your boogie board,” Tess said. “I have an ulterior motive for picking Virginia Beach.”

“Oh?” asked Tracie.

“Darrell called last night,” she said. “Quinn is in Virginia Beach. And something is definitely going down.”

“Spectacular!” Schuyler said with a happy grin. “We get a big story either way!”

“That sounds promising,” Antonia said as she came up behind them.

“Wait’ll you hear!” Schuyler said.

Tess rolled her eyes. “Come on in,” she said to her boss, and led the way into their office.

Antonia’s reaction was more muted than Schuyler’s, but just as enthusiastic. “Go get ‘em,” she said, grinning from ear to ear.

Tess grinned back. Don’t worry, Darrell. The cavalry’s coming.

Tess, Schuyler, and Tracie end up getting more hurricane than they bargained for -- although Tess never actually gets to cover the storm's landfall, because... 

Ohhh no. I'm not going to give away the story. You can buy it and read it yourself here. Or buy the whole series here

These moments of stormy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

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