Thursday, 24 January 2013

Did the earth move for you?

I’m challenging myself to click ‘Random Article’ in Wikipedia, and write about whatever article comes up first. Today’s article is Lick Prairie Precinct, Wabash County, Illinois, but all it tells me is that it is one of the eight precincts of Wabash County, and no town exists in the precinct.
Great! How am I supposed to write something about a place with nothing? The only clue came from the 3rd (and final) sentence in the very short article which says that the 2008 Illinois earthquake was epicentred towards the middle of the precinct.
So maybe I could write something about earthquakes - except that I live in England, and any tremors we get here are very minor, mostly 2 or 3 on the Richter scale. The last one I remember was about four years ago. I was sitting here at the computer, writing an email, when my office chair (which is on wheels) suddenly jerked forward. Then I saw my computer screen shaking for a few seconds. I continued with my email and told my friend, “I think we’ve just had an earthquake!” It was confirmed by a TV report about fifteen minutes later.
Coincidentally, this earthquake was similar in intensity to the one in Lick Prairie Precinct and happened the same year. Ours was 5.2 strength in February 2008, and the Illinois one was 5.4 in April 2008. Now I can ‘show off’ (because I did some research about earthquakes on behalf of my volcanologist hero in ‘Changing the Future’) and point out that a 5.4 magnitude has a shaking effect twice as large as a 5.2. However, earthquakes between 5.0 and 5.9 are only considered to be ‘moderate’. They may cause some damage to poorly constructed buildings, but none or only slight damage to other buildings.
Since I’ve challenged myself to link the topic somehow to writing, I started to wonder how I could write about a strong earthquake when I’ve never experienced one. Yes, there are movies about earthquakes – I think the first I ever saw was the 1930’s movie ‘San Francisco’ with Clark Gable, Jeannette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy. But, while these may seem realistic they are, of course, generated by the special effects department. YouTube or other videos of ‘real’ earthquakes may help but any film will only show the sights and sounds, and not how it actually feels when the ground shakes or rocks, or a building sways. Next on my ‘research’ list would therefore be friends who live in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or other places in California.
I must admit I’ve always had a secret longing to have a ‘bedroom’ scene in one of my novels, when, after an earthquake, the hero can utter the immortal words, “Did the earth move for you, honey?”


  1. The town has nothing? Focus on disaster. Every place has disaster!

  2. The precinct doesn't even have a town, Libby! But natural disasters can be a good starting point for a story maybe?

  3. Paula, I live in Rhode Island where we never have earthquakes.

    However, several years back, we were sleeping and it was as if someone was at the end of our bed shaking it. My husband and I jumped up, he ran to collect my son while I ran in the basement because I thought our boiler blew up!

    Come to find out, Canada had an earthquake.

    Recently, I was sitting in my chair and felt it move. I went into the kitchen and told my husband, "I think there was another earthquake."

    Sure enough, it was up north, I don't remember where, but again, I felt it here.

    I can't imagine what a huge one, like those in California and other countries deal with, would feel like.

  4. Toni, the tremors you felt sound very much like ours - a slight shaking, but nothing more than that. A big one must be pretty scary though!