Usually, finishing a first draft is cause for celebration: Weeks/months of hard work have paid off, and even though there's still plenty of revision to do before sending in the manuscript (soon, Shannon, I promise!), there's a sense of accomplishment, of completing something that began as the germ of an idea and grew to over 80,000 words of text.
Not so much celebration this time.
The Haunted Guesthouse series, which as everyone (sort of everyone) knows is written by E.J. Copperman, takes place on the Jersey Shore. The fictional--and I'm thanking myself for making it fictional now especially--town of Harbor Haven is placed somewhere on the coastline, but Copperman has never been particularly clear about its actual geographical location. What we know for sure is that it is a quiet little beach town that doesn't have its own amusement pier but does make a good deal of its living off the tourist trade.
And then a week and a half before I finished that draft (and literally three days before the original deadline for the manuscript), the New Jersey coast and much of the Eastern Seaboard met a girl named Sandy, and the world went crazy.
Most of us have our power back on now. The downed tree limbs (and whole trees) are largely off the streets. The library may open tomorrow or Wednesday. I'll have someone come up this week to see about the roof shingles we lost to the wind. Schools start a regular schedule again today. Supermarkets just recently started getting perishables back on the shelves. Gasoline is still rationed by the date and the last number on one's licence plate.
And I live 30-40 miles inland from where Harbor Haven might be.
Down the shore, which is how we natives refer to our beach towns, has been devastated in ways that will literally take years to assess. As I said last week, whole houses were taken off their foundations and left in the middle of one of the larger highways in Ocean and Monmouth Counties. Many of those streets and larger roads are literally overrun with sand. We have friends whose brand new co-op apartment was luckily spared the flooding because it was on the second floor, but the first floor was submerged.
Many of the attractions on the amusement piers in Seaside Heights and Wildwood Crest, among other places, simply aren't there anymore.
So now, I have to go back over the 80,000 words I just finished typing (88,000 if you want to be technical, but I have a lot to cut) and figure out--a year in advance--what it'll be like down the shore when the new book comes out late in 2013 or early in 2014.
It would be weird to set a book on the shore and not mention Sandy's appalling damage; that would be the equivalent of writing a book that takes place in New Orleans in 2006 and never mentioning the name "Katrina." People will still be reeling from the effects of that awful storm, and quite frankly if there are future installments in the series, I think it will be hard to ignore Sandy for many books to come.
But at this point, I don't even know whether people will refer to it as "Sandy," or as I tend to think, "the storm." I have no idea what will or won't be salvageable in Belmar or Long Branch or Manasquan or Lavalette or Avon-by-the-Sea or a dozen other communities that would be near Harbor Haven. I don't know if (after the really unnecessary snow storm we had a week after Sandy) there will be other storms that make the situation--and this is hard to imagine--worse.
It would be unlikely that Alison Kerby's guesthouse, so near the beach, would have been completely unscathed by that enormous storm. But I already have a huge plot in place; there are characters and story points and travels she must make in the area to solve the mysteries in the book. I can't have the damage to 123 Seafront Avenue be too severe, or it'll overshadow all that other stuff.
The past couple of weeks in New Jersey and elsewhere on the East Coast have been--and there is no other word for it--devastating. And many, many people have it far, far worse than I do. I am not at all complaining.
But should Alison?
I'm not asking for suggestions or advice; I believe it's the writer's job to imagine effectively and realistically and to turn that imagination into a believable story. So I'll handle this problem in turn. But it is nothing like anything I've ever had to do before.
Of course, rebuilding an entire coastline is something we here in New Jersey have never had to do before. We'll be up to the task.