Reality Informs Fiction: Trails in the Sand

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I published Trails in the Sand in 2013, three years after the disastrous oil spill after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. From the first moment I heard about the explosion nine years ago and through my job as a public relations director with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, I was glued to the news on the struggle to contain the tar balls and greasy water approaching the Panhandle beaches of Florida.

When not working at my day job, I was also starting a novel about a dysfunctional family struggling to change generations of heartbreak.  April 20, 2019 marks the nine year anniversary of this event. Each year on the anniversary, I offer a special on Trails in the Sand, normally priced at $5.99 on Kindle. April 21-28, 2019, the book may be downloaded for $0.99. Click here to grab your copy.

Four years ago, I wrote about the disaster and how the book Trails in the Sand was born. Here is that post to commemorate both the oil spill and Earth Day and to remind us all the importance and fragility of our natural world.

Published originally on April 20, 2015 – Five years ago today, the oil rig Deepwater Horizon caught on fire.  Even though the newscasters downplayed its significance at first, I felt a black cloud deepen. I’d just moved to southwestern Pennsylvania where news of the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster a few hours away in West Virginia still dominated local news. Twenty-nine men died in that explosion on April 5, 2010, just ten days earlier.

We soon learned that BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico had blown its cap, which allowed gushing oil and killed eleven workers on the rig. As I’ve done for the past two decades, when something bothers me, I start to write. The result from my sorrow and unease with both disasters resulted in the novel, Trails in the Sand.  The novel serves as a reminder of two preventable disasters that occurred within two weeks of one another in 2010. Forty men died and countless wildlife and their habitats were injured or destroyed. Both events touched my life in some way and both made their way into the writing of Trails in the Sand.

When the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia exploded, twenty-nine miners, doing their job in the bowels of the earth, lost their lives. Subsequent reports showed the company ignored safety regulations, which played an important role in the explosion. At the time, I was in the process of moving from Florida to western Pennsylvania. The mine is located several hours from my new home, so the local media covered the disaster continually for the next few weeks. The national news also kept its eye turned toward a small town in West Virginia where families mourned their husbands, sons, fathers, brothers, and cousins. After April 20, the lens of the cameras shifted to the southwest.

The news began as a whimper before erupting into cries of outrage. An oil rig somewhere off the coast of Louisiana caught on fire on April 20, 2010. Soon the whole rig collapsed, and eleven men never made it out alive. Oil gushed from a well several miles below the Gulf’s surface.

As I made the transition to Pennsylvania, I still held my job in Florida, although I was in the process of leaving. I was a public relations director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I made the trip back and forth sixteen times in 2010. I conducted meetings from a cell phone in airports, highway rest areas, and at a dining room table from our small temporary apartment in Pittsburgh.

Every time I started to give my two-week notice to my supervisors, something happened, and my wildlife biologist bosses pleaded with me to stay. During a crisis, the spokesperson for a company or agency suddenly becomes a very important part of the team. Scientists become speechless when looking in the face of a microphone.

Nothing much happened in those early days of the oil spill for the wildlife community, although as a communications specialist I prepared for worst-case scenarios, while hoping for the best. Partnerships between national and state agencies formed to manage information flowing to the media. By May, some of the sea turtle experts began worrying about the nesting turtles on Florida’s Panhandle beaches, right where the still gushing oil might land. In particular, the scientists worried that approximately 50,000 hatchlings might be walking into oil-infested waters if allowed to enter the Gulf of Mexico after hatching from the nests on the Gulf beaches.

seaturtle4An extraordinary and unprecedented plan became reality, and as the scientists wrote the protocols, the plan was “in direct response to an unprecedented human-caused disaster.”

When the nests neared the end the incubation period, plans were made to dig up the nests and transport the eggs across the state to Cape Canaveral, where they would be stored until the hatchlings emerged from the eggs. Then they would receive a royal walk to the sea away from the oil-drenched waters of the Gulf.

aptopix-gulf-oil-spill-1fee0422a0df6673The whole project reeked with the scent of drama, ripe for the media to descend on Florida for reports to a public hooked on the images of oiled wildlife. Since I was in transition in my job, they appointed me to handle all media requests that came to the national and state agencies regarding the plan. From my new office in Raccoon Township, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, I began coordinating media events and setting up interviews with the biologists.

As the project began in June 2010, I began writing Trails in the Sand. At first, I created the characters and their situations. Then slowly I began writing about the oil crisis and made the main character, Caroline, an environmental reporter who covered the sea turtle relocation project. Then suddenly I was writing about her husband, Simon, who mourned the loss of his cousin in the coal mine disaster in West Virginia. I didn’t make a conscious effort to tie together the environmental theme with the family saga unfolding, but before too long, I realized they all dealt with restoration and redemption of things destroyed. As a result, the oil spill and the sea turtles became a metaphor for the destruction caused by Caroline and her family.

I’m a firm believer in the subject choosing the author. When that happens, it’s best to let the muse lead me to the keyboard and allow the words to find their way to the story. Trails in the Sand stands as my testament to the process.

3-D1Trails in the Sand synopsis

When environmental writer Caroline Carlisle sets off to report on endangered sea turtles during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the last thing she expects is to uncover secrets – secrets that threaten to destroy her family, unless she can heal the hurts from a lifetime of lies. To make matters worse, Caroline’s love for her late sister’s husband, Simon, creates an uproar in a southern family already set on a collision course with its past.

Using real-life events as the backdrop, Trails in the Sand explores the fight to restore balance and peace, in nature and in a family, as both spiral toward disaster. Through it all, the ancient sea turtle serves a reminder that life moves forward despite the best efforts to destroy it.

April 21-28 – Only $0.99

 

 

 

ANNIVERSARY AND CELEBRATION #oilspill

DSC03075.JPGSometimes an anniversary involves a celebration of some sort. The events marked today are separate, yet inexplicably connected through virtue of their messages.

Six years ago today, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven men working on the rig and doing untold damage to the environment and wildlife as a result of an uncontrollable spew of petroleum into the fragile and precious habitat off the coast of Louisiana. And just two weeks prior to that, twenty-nine men lost their lives in the Massey coal mine in West Virginia when gases and coal dust ignited.

These two events have several things in common. The disasters could have been prevented if proper safety standards had been followed by the companies, and if the government who created those standards had actually enforced them. And in both cases, the workers toiling away at bringing fossil fuels to the surface for us and for the profits they garnered for Massey and BP.

As a writer, I felt drawn to both stories because of how they touched my life. But that book, Trails in the Sand, also addresses several personal issues about family and finding a way to heal the wounds that stretch back generations. All the while the oil spills and the West Virginia community deals with the shock of losing so many lives.

Both tragedies continue. BP is being held accountable but that doesn’t help the wildlife that swallowed all the oil. We may see the impacts of that for years to come. The CEO of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, was recently sentenced to one year in prison for his blatant disregard of safety standards at the Upper Big Branch mine (New York Times editorial). Some are surprised he received any punishment at all. The families of those killed feel it was merely a slap on the wrist as they believe the blood of their loved ones stains his hands.

Now to the celebration part. It’s Earth Day, which began forty years ago as a way to celebrate the Earth and the start of the environmental movement in this country. Let’s all take a moment to think about how we can be a part of the solution by doing something positive for the environment this year.

To mark all of these books, Trails in the Sand, can be downloaded for free on Amazon. While a work of fiction, the novel follows the real-life tragedies in the Gulf of Mexico and West Virginia. Please grab your copy today and tomorrow (April 20 and 21), if you haven’t done so already.

 

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Click cover to download on Amazon.

 

 

 

 

Reality Creeps Into Fiction – #DeepwaterHorizon

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Oil spread to the beaches where sea turtle hatchlings would soon make their way into the oil-laden waters in 2010.

 

Five years ago today, the oil rig Deepwater Horizon caught on fire.  Even though the newscasters downplayed its significance that morning, I felt a black cloud deepen. I’d just moved to southwestern Pennsylvania where news of the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster a few hours away in West Virginia still dominated local news. Twenty-nine men died in that explosion on April 5.

We soon learned that BP’s project in the Gulf of Project gushed uncappable oil and eleven men lost their lives. As I’ve done for the past two decades, when something bothers me, I start to write. The result from my sorrow and unease with both disasters resulted in the novel, Trails in the Sand.  The novel serves as a reminder of two preventable disasters that occurred within two weeks of one another in 2010. Forty men died and countless wildlife and their habitats were injured or destroyed. Both events touched my life in some way and both made their way into the writing of Trails in the Sand.

When the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia exploded, twenty-nine miners, doing their job in the bowels of the earth, lost their lives. Subsequent reports showed the company ignored safety regulations, which played an important role in the explosion. At the time, I was in the process of moving from Florida to western Pennsylvania. The mine is located several hours from my new home, so the local media covered the disaster continually for the next few weeks. The national news also kept its eye turned toward a small town in West Virginia where families mourned their husbands, sons, fathers, brothers, and cousins. After April 20, the lens of the cameras shifted to the southwest.

The news began as a whimper before erupting into cries of outrage. An oil rig somewhere off the coast of Louisiana caught on fire on April 20, 2010. Soon the whole rig collapsed, and eleven men never made it out alive. Oil gushed from a well several miles below the Gulf’s surface.

As I made the transition to Pennsylvania, I still held my job in Florida, although I was in the process of leaving. I was a public relations director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I made the trip back and forth sixteen times in 2010. I conducted meetings from a cell phone in airports, highway rest areas, and at a dining room table from our small temporary apartment in Pittsburgh.

Every time I started to give my two-week notice to my supervisors, something happened, and my wildlife biologist bosses pleaded with me to stay. During a crisis, the spokesperson for a company or agency suddenly becomes a very important part of the team. Scientists become speechless when looking in the face of a microphone.

Nothing much happened in those early days of the oil spill for the wildlife community, although as a communications specialist I prepared for worst-case scenarios, while hoping for the best. Partnerships between national and state agencies formed to manage information flowing to the media. By May, some of the sea turtle experts began worrying about the nesting turtles on Florida’s Panhandle beaches, right where the still gushing oil might land. In particular, the scientists worried that approximately 50,000 hatchlings might be walking into oil-infested waters if allowed to enter the Gulf of Mexico after hatching from the nests on the Gulf beaches.

seaturtle4An extraordinary and unprecedented plan became reality, and as the scientists wrote the protocols, the plan was “in direct response to an unprecedented human-caused disaster.”

When the nests neared the end the incubation period, plans were made to dig up the nests and transport the eggs across the state to Cape Canaveral, where they would be stored until the hatchlings emerged from the eggs. Then they would receive a royal walk to the sea away from the oil-drenched waters of the Gulf.

aptopix-gulf-oil-spill-1fee0422a0df6673The whole project reeked with the scent of drama, ripe for the media to descend on Florida for reports to a public hooked on the images of oiled wildlife. Since I was in transition in my job, they appointed me to handle all media requests that came to the national and state agencies regarding the plan. From my new office in Raccoon Township, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, I began coordinating media events and setting up interviews with the biologists.

As the project began in June 2010, I began writing Trails in the Sand. At first, I created the characters and their situations. Then slowly I began writing about the oil crisis and made the main character, Caroline, an environmental reporter who covered the sea turtle relocation project. Then suddenly I was writing about her husband, Simon, who mourned the loss of his cousin in the coal mine disaster in West Virginia. I didn’t make a conscious effort to tie together the environmental theme with the family saga unfolding, but before too long, I realized they all dealt with restoration and redemption of things destroyed. As a result, the oil spill and the sea turtles became a metaphor for the destruction caused by Caroline and her family.

I’m a firm believer in the subject choosing the author. When that happens, it’s best to let the muse lead me to the keyboard and let it the words find their way to the story. Trails in the Sand stands as my testament to the process.

3-D1Trails in the Sand synopsis

When environmental writer Caroline Carlisle sets off to report on endangered sea turtles during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the last thing she expects is to uncover secrets – secrets that threaten to destroy her family, unless she can heal the hurts from a lifetime of lies. To make matters worse, Caroline’s love for her late sister’s husband, Simon, creates an uproar in a southern family already set on a collision course with its past.

Using real-life events as the backdrop, Trails in the Sand explores the fight to restore balance and peace, in nature and in a family, as both spiral toward disaster. Through it all, the ancient sea turtle serves a reminder that life moves forward despite the best efforts to destroy it.

3-D2

 

 

A Writing Gift to Myself

Suwanee River - Florida's only whitewater

Suwanee River – Florida’s only whitewater

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

In the past few weeks, I resurrected the first draft of a novel I began in 2006 and then left when I accepted a job with the state in Tallahassee, Florida, in 2007. It’s tentatively titled Safe Harbor. The protagonist, Emily Booth, and the antagonist, Julia Curry, are names from another novel I started thirteen years ago, but forgot about until I started working on Safe Harbor. I thought I’d taken most of the stuff from the older work, The Learning Curve, and melded into Safe Harbor.

But all last week, scenes kept popping into my mind about a house on the Suwannee River where an artist comes to live and soon enough is embroiled in the town politics when he starts teaching art at the local high school. I remember spending many lovely afternoons sitting on the banks of the Suwannee River writing scenes for the novel. Then as happens, life intervened and the novel was put aside . . .until this week. I wasn’t even certain if a manuscript existed from that first draft or if I had a word processing program that could read it. I wrote most of it in 2000 on an old Mac computer. Yesterday, I begin searching and on the external hard drive, attached to a newer but still old Mac that I keep around for its graphic capabilities, I found twenty chapters and 27,000 words in a file titled The Learning Curve. My new PC with Word 2010 opened the file with lots of silly little marks, but in between those funny squiggles lay the text.

Today I glanced through the pages, and there were the scenes I’d been thinking of this week. My writing is a little immature – particularly with the dialogue – but it’s a still a workable manuscript waiting for my return.

I consider it a wonderful gift. It’s ironic that now I write in Pittsburgh, the home of Stephen Foster who penned the song that made the Suwannee River a known quantity in the world. Stephen Foster never saw the river he made famous, but I’ve visited many times and crossed it even more times in my travels throughout north Florida. I’ve swam in its waters and paddled down its flow that leads to the Gulf of Mexico and I’ve sat on its high banks and breathed in the beauty of my beloved north Florida.shoals1

Here’s an excerpt, I particularly like, and which I discovered needed very little editing before I felt it ready to share. It’s also an excerpt without dialogue. How wonderful to see how much I’ve learned as a writer throughout the years.

I present to you the readers of my blog, the first ever reveal of The Learning Curve:

Most folks imagine the Atlantic Ocean when they think about Florida’s sandy beaches. However, except for a song by Stephen Foster, very few know that the Suwannee River, which flows from the Okefenokkee Swamp in Georgia down to the Gulf of Mexico in north Florida, boasts some of the sandiest beaches anywhere. From the high sloping hills down to the beaches caressing the wide expanse of river, the shores of the Suwannee contain some of the finest sand in the state.

Paul looked out at the sparkling river and the bare branches of the cypress trees hugging the shore. The house sat on a bend in the river, so in either direction he looked, the river disappeared around a bend. To the south lay the Gulf of Mexico and to the north lay much of the same as the river traversed through secluded rural Florida, an undiscovered jewel in this sunshine state. He sat on the porch and remembered all the times he tried to paint this scene from memory. He hadn’t been able to do it, not even from a photograph.

He moved to his truck as if propelled by some outside force. He pulled out his case of paints, canvas, and easel. Without stopping, he moved to the yard that sat on a high bluff above the river and began to set up his equipment. He thought of nothing but capturing the essence of what lay before him. He wanted to preserve the sparkles of the winter sun as it began its slow descent over the river. He wanted to capture the dullness of trees, which in a few short months would overpower everything around it, even the river. He felt the current of life flowing through his veins and the power of nature attacking his hands. This moment was why he had come, and he knew he couldn’t leave it for so long ever again. He painted until the sun began to dip behind the trees on the western bank of the Suwannee and gave its last gasps on the water.

P.C. Zick books set in Florida

Florida's sea turtles saved from oil spill in Trails in the Sand

Florida’s sea turtles saved from oil spill in Trails in the Sand

wild and crazy world of Florida politics in Tortoise Stew

wild and crazy world of Florida politics in Tortoise Stew