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Life Arts    H3'ed 6/27/10

Jenna Blum, best-selling author of "The Stormchasers"

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My guest today is author, Jenna Blum. Welcome to OpEdNews, Jenna. You spent a lot of time with storm chasers as research for your new book. Where did this fascination for extreme weather and its groupies come from?

I've always been fascinated with severe weather, ever since I was four and saw a tornado at night in my grandmother's southeast Minnesota hometown. Like my heroine Karena in The Stormchasers, I watched a black rope tornado move from left to right across the picture window. To a little girl who was obsessed with The Wizard of Oz, this was terrifying but also terribly exciting, and I spent the rest of my subsequent life trying to see another tornado. I chased for years when I lived in Minnesota in the late 1990s, often with my poor mom, getting us into predictably awful situations--like huddling in an abandoned barn with a tornadic storm coming on and all the animals running like heck in the other direction.

Eventually, when I began researching The Stormchasers in earnest, I realized it would be less dangerous and more efficient to chase with people who knew what they were doing and had radar. Enter Tempest Tours, a professional stormchase company based in Arlington, Texas. I've chased with Tempest the last five summers and will be hosting my own chase tour June 28-July 5th--I hope readers will follow me through my blog, on my website,, or on Facebook. The boys of Tempest, which is the model for Whirlwind Tours in The Stormchasers, taught me everything I know about severe weather; they're serious, responsible chasers and a lot of fun besides.

The twin themes of bipolar disorder and storm chasers are arresting topics individually- how did you decide to combine them?

Like many of my readers, I have loved people in my family who are bipolar, and I know firsthand what it's like to watch somebody struggle with the severity of the disorder's moods; to be frightened of those moods and walk on eggshells; to want so badly to be able to help and to be helpless. Because of this intensely personal and emotional connection, I always knew I wanted to write about the disorder, those who have it and those who love them. What struck me when I was researching bipolar disorder--reading everything I could get my hands on about the topic, interviewing psychiatrists and therapists--it struck me how often sufferers and professionals likened the disorder to another of my obsessions: storms.

The cover of Bipolar for Dummies features a tornadic supercell; mania is caused by a storm of electrical activity in the brain. Charles, the bipolar twin in The Stormchasers, believes he is a human storm, that because he has the rapid-cycling form of the disorder and because tornadic storms cycle rapidly, he is better able to understand and predict severe weather than anyone else. There is no scientific evidence to Charles's theory, but severe storms are the perfect metaphor for his moods, which seem to strike out of nowhere, destroy the landscape, and disappear again.

Guilt, secrecy and their legacy also figured prominently in your last novel, which otherwise is quite different. [Those Who Save Us told the story of a non-Jewish German woman during World War II and afterward.] Is this a coincidence or are these issues of major interest for you?

No coincidence--I think most writers, because they are writing about the things that compel and scare them most, often write novels that are variations on a theme. I'm actually really glad you drew the comparison between the two books, because often readers will exclaim over how different my novels are, and this perplexes me a little. True, Those Who Save Us is a historical novel, and The Stormchasers is a contemporary American novel. But they are both about people whose lives have been swiftly and terribly rearranged by huge forces beyond their control. They're about secrecy and what carrying a secret does to people. They're about how people cope with trauma, becoming protectively wary and growing sidewise emotionally, yet how they persist in reaching out to others nonetheless. In that way, Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers are also about love and hope.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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