The Novel I’m Not Going to Write
Sitting at home, aged 70 and quarantined to avoid the dangers of the pandemic, one would think I’d have a wonderful opportunity to write more novels.
Well, I am writing. I churn out novels, novellas and short stories in quantity, but most of these will never see the commercial market. I’m compelled to write, but with public events on hold, I’ve lost the urge to produce fascinating tales that I can wave in front of my fans and entice them to buy.
Instead I write experimental and casual fiction, destined to sit forever encrypted on my computer.
One of the victims of this change in focus is a disaster novel that had tempted me. But… I just can’t bring myself to put out yet another disaster novel. Not now.
And truthfully, I’ll never get around to it.
So, instead, I’m writing this blog, laying out what I would have written. If any of you feel the urge, take what’s here and make it your own.
Here’s the situation:
At the northern tip of Gulf of California sits the deposits of the Colorado River, and north of that the city of Mexicali and still northward is Imperial Valley and the Salton Sea.
Interestingly, the high point, near Mexicali is only a few feet above sea level, and the whole of the Imperial Valley is below sea level (-260 feet). Should the sea level rise much due to global warming, which it will, there’s a chance that this land bridge will be breached and the entirety of the Imperial Valley will be flooded, wiping out the significant agricultural region.
However, sea level rise is happening slowly and someone with vested interest in keeping the valley dry and productive might well build a dam to protect it.
That’s not what I would have written. A disaster comes quickly, and without much warning. It’s not that hard to imagine one.
In fact, flooding this basin has happened before, and in recent history.
Stop right now and go to the website Life of the Salton Sea and read the history https://www.lifeofthesaltonsea.org/flood-timeline/ At the very least, bookmark it because you’ll need it later.
So back at the very first of the 20th Century, the Colorado flooded the valley and created the modern Salton Sea. The takeaway for constructing our own disaster is this: The land of the Colorado River delta is soft and rapidly flowing water can cut an big channel in a hurry.
In writing a disaster novel, we have to set the stage, and maybe have a Cassandra to warn the people that catastrophe is coming. Of course, no one will believe the prophet.
Since in this novel we need an initial surge of water to start the flood, what can we use?
Back in 1905, it was caused by a heavy flood year on the Colorado River. We can’t use that, because back then the Colorado River was untamed. Hoover Dam was built in the 1930’s as was Parker Dam downstream from it. (Unless we want our catastrophe to start with the destruction of Hoover Dam. Not my first choice.)
I’d prefer a natural catastrophe over something man made. So if I were writing the story, I’d look for something in the Gulf of California. What’s something that could abruptly cause the water of the gulf to surge?
Sometimes hurricanes in the Pacific crawl up the waterway and dump heavy rain in the area. Storm surge can cause flooding, especially in confined waterways like the gulf.
There’s something else that can cause rapid flooding, tsunami, triggered by a geological event.
Here’s how I can imagine it playing out: Let’s choose a volcano on Baja California. There’s a dozen or so candidates, so if I were going to write the novel for real, I’d do my research to choose the most likely candidate, but for now let’s just choose Tres Virgenes. https://www.volcanodiscovery.com/tres_virgenes.html
So, we have a massive hurricane churning up the Gulf of California and dumping tons or rain on the slopes of one of the volcanos. The ground sags and shifts, perhaps there’s a big landslide. It’s enough to change the weight of the ground over a magma pocket and the volcano erupts, much like Mt. St. Helen, blowing out the side. The huge blast and the massive landslide it caused dumps into the gulf, triggering a tsunami.
Bound by the narrow channel of the Gulf of California, it races northward without any loss of power. It hits the mouth of the Colorado River and strips open a deeper channel as it goes northward, reaching Mexicali and beyond.
At that point, the ground slopes rapidly downward and that initial tsunami surge makes it all the way to the Salton Sea.
But, then, the second surge of the tsunami arrives, and it has a deepened channel available for it. Sea water starts racing to the Salton Sea, and now the channel is cut down to sea level and below. There’s nothing to stop the waters of the Gulf from continuing up the stream and cutting the channel still deeper.
The Imperial Valley is doomed.
That’s the disaster.
If I were writing it, I’d need to choose my characters and I suppose I’d have a dozen main viewpoints.
I’d need the volcano expert. Perhaps our Cassandra. Will he or she survive the volcano?
The most hard hit would be people living in the valley. We’ll need someone who watches as their farmlands are destroyed by the rising water. Someone we can empathize and bleed with.
We need city dwellers in Mexicali, Calexico and El Centro who are the eyewitnesses as the surge of seawater cuts through their towns and becomes an awe-inspiring torrent.
Perhaps we have governmental officials who attempt to get their slowmoving organizations to help.
And we need someone who can stop it. Someone who has the skills needed to block the flood, if they can only just make it happen. Whether they succeed or now depends on the storyteller.
If I were writing the tale, I’d interleave details from the historical 1905 flood with the ongoing disaster, showing similarities between them and making the possibility of it all more real.
The end of the story depends on the writer. One way is to save the valley, changed of course, by damming the flood. Another is to fail in that attempt, leaving the landscape changed. Imperial Valley as an agricultural area is drowned, but there is now a new bay at the tip of the Gulf of California that opens up new opportunities.
I’d kind of like to read how it comes out.