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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Story Behind the Story: The Storm by Dan Jolley

So if you’re looking for a tense mystery-thriller… if you’re interested in a formidable female protagonist described as “a tall glass of Serena Williams”… if you’re intrigued by just how vile and deviant some aspects of human nature can get… and if you want it all wrapped up in a bow that smells like fried chicken and apple sauce? Then I invite you to check out The Storm. 

I’ve been writing books with fantastical elements, but which take place in the real world, for a while now. The Five Elements trilogy was set mostly in San Francisco, and the Gray Widow trilogy took place almost exclusively in Atlanta. But my new novel The Storm differs from those in a couple of significant ways.

First, this is my first book without any fantastical elements. No fantasy, no sci-fi – it’s a dark, sometimes nasty mystery thriller, and relies on nothing but good old-fashioned human awfulness for most of its conflicts. (A beta reader described it as Silence of the Lambs meets Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.)

Second, The Storm takes place in a tiny, fictional northwest Georgia town called Red Springs, inspired by a location that’s far more personal to me than San Francisco or Atlanta. I grew up in a tiny northwest Georgia town called Ringgold, and a lot of the features of Red Springs had direct inspirations from Ringgold itself.

This is not to say that Red Springs is a literal stand-in. Big chunks of the fictional town came from my imagination and nowhere else.

But there are a few bits, here and there, that I can point to and say, “Yup, that’s where that came from.”

The whole project began in my head in 2011.

I left Ringgold when I went to college, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and in the intervening twenty-odd years, lived in a few different places around the country. But in 2009 I came back to Ringgold, married a girl I had known literally all my life, and settled down here.

Then, a couple of years later, one fateful afternoon in April, a massive tornado hit Ringgold and essentially tore the town in half. Eight people died, including one retired school administrator and one entire family. The town suffered millions of dollars in property damage. Most visibly, about ninety percent of the trees throughout the town got knocked over, or uprooted completely or, in many cases, snapped off about ten feet above the ground.

This used to be a Shell gas station:

I took that photo this year. Eight years later. It’s taken that long to rebuild on the site.

One of the places the tornado hit the hardest was Cherokee Valley Road, the direct inspiration for Fox Valley Road in The Storm. Most of the houses there have been rebuilt now, but this is one that wasn’t:
That’s a driveway that used to have a house at the end of it. A lot of the houses along that road were reduced to driveways that just led out to bare concrete slabs.

There’s a cemetery right in the middle of town — Anderson Cemetery — and it used to have a lot of beautiful old trees that provided welcome shade for visitors on summer days. The tornado took almost all of them. The trees are still gone, but the town was quick to replace one of the two flags that fly over the graves. You might recognize it from the cover of the book.
By the grace of God, my house was spared completely.

It took a while for the roads to get cleared. Once I was able to drive through town again, I barely recognized the place. There were fields of rubble where once there had been houses and businesses. Vehicles lay upside down, cast about carelessly, some of them lodged in the branches of surviving trees. The steeple of my parents’ church lay in the middle of the main street.

My brother-in-law’s house took a little damage, mainly to one end of the roof, but the most unusual thing he found in the wake of the storm was the mangled, crumpled-up trampoline in his backyard. My brother-in-law did not own a trampoline.

Pretty soon, I started thinking about that. How something from some other household, something that belonged to someone else, just showed up in the wake of the tornado. And I thought about a house, a couple of miles from my own house, that had been abandoned for as long as I could remember.

This is that house:
I started wondering, what if the tornado destroyed that place, and scattered bits of whatever was left inside it all over the county? That idea eventually refined itself into, what if the tornado ripped that house off its foundation, and revealed something horrible underneath?

What if the thing that got revealed was a torture dungeon? A recently-used torture dungeon? What if the storm revealed that a predator had been dwelling among the townsfolk, undetected, for years, and that it took the tornado to expose this monster?

The rest of the book took shape pretty quickly after that. The question of who was using that torture dungeon, and for what, and who was going to be the one to try to stop that person, all fell into place, one after the other.

I soon realized that the protagonist was the first Black female sheriff the town had ever had. I realized that the story needed to be set in mid-2017 when Trump and all his supporters were still in their relatively-unblemished honeymoon phase. And I realized that the antagonist — a creation I’m pretty damn proud of, if I do say so myself — would be inextricably linked to the kind of systemic, baked-in, Deep Southern racism that still lives and breathes and thrives in ugly little corners of the country. The kind I’ve witnessed first-hand way too often.

So if you’re looking for a tense mystery-thriller… if you’re interested in a formidable female protagonist described as “a tall glass of Serena Williams”… if you’re intrigued by just how vile and deviant some aspects of human nature can get… and if you want it all wrapped up in a bow that smells like fried chicken and apple sauce?

Then I invite you to check out The Storm.
Dan Jolley
February 16, 2019

by Dan Jolley
December 13, 2018
292 pages
A tiny town in Georgia’s northwest corner — ninety-five percent white. Five percent black. Utterly unprepared for the devastating tornado that rips and smashes through it one dark August day. 

SHERIFF ZANDRA SEAGRAVES already faced an uphill battle. Elected by a fluke, Red Springs’ first-ever black, female sheriff leads the recovery efforts, despite knowing how much the townspeople–and her own department–loathe her. But Zandra has no idea just how hellish things are about to get. 

Because one of the relief workers stumbles across a ghastly secret: the tornado tore a long-abandoned house off its foundations, revealing a grisly, recently-used torture dungeon below it. 

A monster has been dwelling in Red Springs. Undetected for years. Preying on the unsuspecting populace. His atrocities only brought to light because of the storm. 

Now, amid the tornado’s wreckage and surrounded by people who want her gone, Zandra has to hunt this monster down before he disappears again. 
And to do it, she’ll have to peel back all of Red Springs’ dark, corrupted layers. One vile secret at a time. 

About the author:
Dan Jolley began writing professionally at age 19. Starting out in comic books, Dan has worked for major publishers such as DC (Firestorm), Marvel (Dr. Strange), Dark Horse (Aliens), and Image (G.I. Joe), and soon branched out into licensed-property novels (Star Trek), film novelizations (Iron Man), and original novels, including the Middle Grade Urban Fantasy series Five Elements and the Urban Sci-Fi Gray Widow Trilogy.

Dan began writing for video games in 2007 and has contributed storylines, characters, and dialogue to titles such as Transformers: War for Cybertron, Prototype 2, and Dying Light, among others. Dan lives with his wife Tracy and a handful of largely inert felines in northwest Georgia, and enjoys connecting with readers via his website

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