A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail with the following request:
If you aren't too busy, would you post on the blog or just to me if you like, how much science research went into LAWKI and td&tg? I'm sorry if you discussed this somewhere else and I missed it. I'm just wondering how you arrived at how you wanted the environment to react to the moon shift.
Things are calm now, at least for the moment, so the time is right to try and answer those questions.
My favorite themes to write about are Family and Consequences. Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone provided me with ample opportunity to explore both.
All the science in LAWKI/d&g is consequence based. I don't know if the moon could ever be pushed closer to earth, but I wanted a catastrophe that would be worldwide, long lasting, not the fault of humans and not fixable. I've always been intrigued by the fact that the moon causes tides, and that tides are higher during full moons. So I gave the moon a little nudge. You are never more powerful than when you're writing fiction.
Obviously the first disaster would be tidal waves. I think I called them tsunamis in LAWKI, although I'm not sure they really are. When I was researching earthquakes for d&g, I learned that tsunamis are caused by oceanic earthquakes, and are not just gigantic moon caused tidal waves. But certainly the waves would be enormous. I remember seeing on a New York City newscast a house in Queens being demolished by tidal flooding. Water can do massive damage.
My brother was the one who pointed out that communication satellites would go down because of the changed gravitational pull. I knew I wanted phone service and cable out. Neither book works if Miranda or Alex knows just what's going on, since they're the eyes and ears of the readers. I've lived through enough blizzards and blackouts to know how fragile communications can be. One of the things I guessed at was that pay phones would work even if cell phones didn't. so Matt calls home from a pay phone. During Hurricane Katrina, I saw TV reporters doing the same, so I learned I'd guessed right about that.
To me, gravity is like a giant magnet, so it made sense that the moon's increased gravitational pull would cause the tectonic plates to shift around, causing earthquakes. I knew there had been an enormous earthquake in Missouri in the 19th century, and of course everyone knows about earthquakes and inconveniently located nuclear power plants in California. The earthquakes were needed to disrupt highway travel. Meanwhile I also raised the price of gasoline, which always happens during a disaster. Once again, my brother helped by suggesting that offshore oil rigs would be demolished by the waves.
But what I was really aiming for were the volcanoes. I'd read a book called Catastrophe by David Keys a while back, and in it, he examines a whole series of historical events (including the plague) that he maintains were the rolling consequence of a volcanic explosion. So I used my moon as magnet theory to get even dormant volcanoes erupting. I knew in the early nineteenth century there was a horrific cold spell that destroyed crops in the U.S. and that was the situation I wanted to create.
I've taken to watching all kinds of How Awful It Would Be shows on various cable stations, since I wrote LAWKI, and frankly, I was kind to humanity. With the volcanic activity I created, I don't see how anyone could survive. But I set LAWKI/d&g in the northeast, since there aren't any volcanoes around.
I chose relatively commonplace illnesses, rather than plague, because they're easier to picture. I don't think the moon's gravitational pull would cause a flu epidemic, but I knew from twentieth century history how devastating a flu epidemic can be. Since by the time the flu starts spreading around in LAWKI (caused by the Christmas carolers), everyone is weakened from lack of food and sunlight, the flu would be that much worse. I started the epidemic a little earlier in d&g, because I figured even in a mostly deserted New York City, there are more people around, and therefore earlier exposure to viruses.
Finally, there are the social and psychological disturbances. Now when I think about the LAWKI family, I realize they're suffering from depression. It's certainly understandable, since they're in an awful and terrifying situation. But they don't hunt or fish or do anything with wind power. I didn't want to write a book about highly competent people who know how to handle the wilderness. I wanted to write about people like me, who know how to use a microwave.
There's one suicide in LAWKI that I can think of, but there are several in d&g. Alex and Julie see a man jump out a window, and Julie gets upset about hearing of a mass suicide in a church. The window jumping was inspired by suicides following the 1929 Stock Market crash. The church suicide has a bit of Jonestown to it, but mostly I just wanted something awful. I have no idea if suicide rates rise after natural disasters. My guess is not right away, both because of the powers of denial and curiosity. But I don't think mass suicides are implausible under the circumstances.
Then there's sexual exploitation. I think that's a constant in times of unrest.
I'm not sure any of this answers the original question. Most of what I wrote about, I just knew, from an interest in history or simply from life. When I had questions (can Pennsylvania have earthquakes), Google led me to answers (yes, but not necessarily in northeastern PA). I didn't do serious research because it never occurred to me I ought to. I wrote LAWKI for fun. I didn't even realize it was science fiction until it got shortlisted for the Andre Norton Award. Up until then, I thought of it as a disaster novel or a family problem novel, and the science I knew seemed adequate for the story I intended to tell.
ETA: Speaking of science, the Sci Fi Wire was kind enough to interview me. Here's the link: