(Laura Axelrod's note: If you are a fan of Pat Gabridge's work, then there's no doubt you will find the next part of interest. Pat touches on his personal life, background, race, and needing a break from theater at one point. Oh yes, there's more coming from this eight-part interview)
So, let's talk about your book, "Tornado Siren." Can you tell us what it is about and how you came up with the idea for the story?
Tornado Siren is about a woman meteorologist who studies tornadoes and who, through some persistent detective work on her part, meets a man who claims to have an odd, mystical connection to tornadoes. Basically, he claims to have been wandering the earth for centuries, from tornado to tornado. Naturally, she thinks his story is full crap, but she's intensely drawn to him, partly because of some very strange things she's seen. She ends up walking across Kansas with him, to prove whether his story is really true. Along the way, they fall for each other. Their relationship is tested by some very serious forces of nature.
It's a fun love story set on the Great Plains, with a paranormal twist thrown in. It's about a lot of things, I think--it's a book that looks at the conflict between science and the mystical, and the urge to understand things that are very hard to explain. It's also about two people with very different experiences and history, but who are both outsiders in their own ways, coming together. It's also about race (Victoria is bi-racial).
I grew up in the Midwest, in Central Illinois, so tornadoes were part of our regular summer experience, and they always fascinated me. My father was a scientist, and I went to MIT (I started in science before switching to writing and filmmaking) and married an engineer--so I totally understand and embrace the scientific mindset, but I'm also fascinated by events like tornadoes, which are part of nature, but also very hard to explain. They carry with them such power and beauty and devastation, that it's easy to feel there's something more to them than mere rational facts. I both like and squirm at the idea of events and occurrences beyond my comprehension.
At the time I started writing Tornado Siren, I was taking a bit of a break from writing plays--I'd been running a theatre company in Denver for a while and had been very busy with theatre for years, but we'd moved to Kansas City for my wife's job. This gave me a very quiet period to work on a novel--I was in a new city and didn't know a soul (and I was close to tornado country). I chose to write a first person narrative because I felt that, as a playwright, I was better suited to something where there was a definite voice involved. Race was becoming more important to me as a subject, because my wife and I had adopted our daughter a few years earlier, and she's African American. I wanted to create a character who was a strong woman of color who was also a scientist (there didn't seem to be many such stories out there). As a white guy, I was wary of venturing into that territory, but as the father of someone who would grow up to be a black woman, I felt it was imperative to try.
“Tornado Siren” is a unique book. At first, readers may think it’s a mysterious stranger story. And it is, but then it’s also a road and love story. I thought its structure was interesting. Did you conceive it that way or did that happen in the writing process?
I had a sense of how the story would play out, but I think you're right that it has a couple different personalities, with one leading into the other. That wasn't planned--it just sort of developed that way. Hopefully it feels natural to the reader.