51 years ago today…

On March 27, 1964, at 5:35 pm,residents of Alaska were heading home from work, making dinner for their families, getting ready to attend services (it was Good Friday).  At 5:36 pm, a 9.2 megathrust earthquake violently shook the state. All over Southcentral Alaska, buildings collapsed, man-sized fissured appeared in the earth. Some houses literally slid into the sea. Fuel containers caught fire. Trains derailed.

Within an hour, tsunamis struck coastal regions and small islands that were home to dozens of canneries and small fishing towns. Local tsunamis caused by calving ice walls hit almost immediately; tectonic tsunamis from father out in the ocean shortly afterward reached as high as 50 feet when they slammed into the island of Kodiak. One wave completely wiped out the village of Chenega, killing a third of its residents.

My novel-in-progress, THE VOLUME OF WATER, is set in Kodiak and the surrounding islands in 1964, and I’ve done a lot research into the devastation caused by the quake and tsunamis. It’s terrifying to think that something could happen so unexpectedly and literally wipe out your way of life forever, but that’s exactly what happened.Some villages were so badly devastated that the residents chose to move elsewhere rather than try to rebuild. The town of Port Lions, on Kodiak Island, got its name when villagers from the decimated island village of Afognak relocated there – with the help of the Lions Club.

Here’s an old photo of the town of Kodiak before the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis:

11080348_10153199688298588_8128959915429678759_oAnd after.

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11096488_10153199688293588_504800570514641664_oAlaska’s governor Bill Walker has declared a day of remembrance, with state flags lowered to half-staff in honor of the more than 130 Alaskans who lost their lives because of the quake and tsunamis. Today is officially “1964 Alaska Earthquake Remembrance Day.”

For those who lived through it, and those who lost loved ones, every day is remembrance day.

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Underneath it all

Today’s post is a short and simple snapshot of one of my favorite characters in my novel-in-progress, THE VOLUME OF WATER.

Her name is Nadine.

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If she looks familiar, that’s because this photo is of Norma Jean Baker, aka Marilym Monroe.

Nadine is very much – to my mind – like Norma Jean. At 24, she’s had a rather rough life, and yet she still has a somewhat childlike innocence and beauty in spite of that – at least in the early part of the book, before things get really rough. Nadine is voluptuous, and so people make assumptions about her. Even as a young teenager, people assume she’s promiscuous … a “bad” girl. Ironically. inside she’s a rather hopeless romantic, insecure, and surprisingly smart.

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Marilyn Monroe had a sad childhood too. I didn’t know this until I began researching my book, but the young Norma Jean’s mother was mentally unstable, and sent her to live with foster parents until she was 7 years old. She was then placed in a home for orphans and might have been adopted by several willing families but her mother refused to sign paperwork that would allow it. Then her mother’s best friend took over as Norma Jean’s guardian, and everything seemed great. At least, until that woman’s husband repeatedly sexually assault her. When Norma Jean moved to California to live with her great-aunt, it happened again: one of Olive’s sons attacked her as well.

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There has been a lot of talk lately about “rape culture,” and part of my book deals with rape and its aftereffects. But I wonder if we shouldn’t go deeper and question the assumptions we make about people in the first place – all people. Marilyn Monroe, for example, became famous as a sex symbol (phychologists have questioned whether her hypersexuality, substance abuse and relationship troubles in later years were perhaps a reaction to those early sexual assualts). Very few people remember Marilyn as a student of literature and art appreciation at UCLA, but she was. Underneath it all, Norma Jean was sensitive, intelligent and often painfully shy (when filming “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” Marilyn’s co-star Jane Russel sometimes had to escort her from her dressing room because she was overcome with stage fright!).

Like Norma jean, or Marilyn if you prefer, my character Nadine is not who she comes across as. Underneath it all, she’s quite the opposite.

Are you like that? Do you know people who are on the inside completely different from how they appear? What do you think are some good ways that we as a society can teach ourselves to take a better look at the people around us? Please let me know in the comments section!