Monday, May 22, 2017

Tornado Warning: The Extraordinary Women of Joplin

Today may seem like an ordinary Monday to most, but for people of Joplin, MO, it’s an anniversary and a celebration. It’s been six years since that town was struck by a deadly tornado. It’s an anniversary of their loss and a celebration of the lives that go on.

Today I’m delighted to welcome author Tamara Hart Heiner to Thoughts in Progress to talk about her experience while researching and writing TORNADO WARNING: THE EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN OF JOPLIN.

The true story about seven ordinary women and one extraordinary event... Summer is coming, and the residents in Joplin, Missouri anticipate the rush of freedom and activities that will follow: graduation, summer classes, vacations, overflowing gardens, family time, and plenty of photo opportunities.
What they don't anticipate is the mile-wide tornado that will devastate the town on May 22, 2011, in the middle of dinner preparations, visits to friends and family, and graduation ceremonies. The tornado kills over a hundred in the deadliest tornado disaster in Missouri in a century and leaves thousands more homeless.
In the face of this tragedy, seven women must gather their courage and hold their families together. Each will make different choices to protect loved ones and strangers and recover from the winds of destruction

Join me now in giving a warm welcome to Tamara. Welcome, Tamara.

In May 2011, more than a hundred people died in the deadliest tornado outbreak this century.

In fact, it was the deadliest tornado outbreak in the modern era. In this day of forecasts and tornado sirens and weather alarms, most people can get to safety before a tornado hits. 
Last night, May 18, 2017, my city was once again under a tornado warning. I was reminded of that night six years ago when we were under a tornado warning the same time as Joplin. Joplin was the perfect recipe for disaster, and when the mile-wide tornado struck, the city wasn't ready.
The night of that tornado, my little city forty minutes away was also under a tornado warning. I spent the night in the bathtub downstairs with my little babies, completely unaware that less than an hour away a city was being decimated. When I learned of the disaster, I wondered what on earth I could do to help. My husband was deployed, I had three children under the age of six, and I'm a small-framed 100-pound woman.
It came to me one morning as I drove to a book signing that took me through Joplin. I was listening to the radio, and the deejay said, “We have your help and your support now, but remember us in six months. We will still need you. Remember us in five years. In ten years.” I realized how true that was. Joplin’s recovery would take a decade, but in the face of the next national disaster, no one would give Joplin a second thought.
And I knew what I could do. I could write a book. I could memorialize what happened, permanently etch the survivors' words into history, and donate all the proceeds to Joplin.
And that's exactly what I did.
I’m not a meteorologist; I’m not even a journalist. I’m a fiction writer. So the first thing I did was contact the National Weather Service and ask them if they could direct me. They did. They put me in contact with Steve Runnels from the Springfield, MO weather center. He kindly sent me official documents and reports of the incident, accountability reports they had to make explain the disaster, to show what they did to prevent it and what could be done in the future. He also patiently answered all my questions as I stumbled through the weather jargon and attempted to translate the legalese to layman terms. Next, I contacted various professors and meteorologists to have them read over my interpretation of the data and make sure I got it right (the hardest part was that they sometimes contradicted each other on what they thought was correct). It was painstaking and I frequently broke out in a cold sweat when I worried about getting something wrong. But with their help, we got it together. The first third of the book is a technical explanation of what happened but written so that the average person can read it and understand.
The last third of the book is a treatise on emergency preparedness, and again I had many kind professors to thank for conducting interviews with me and helping come up with a concise plan any citizen can follow.
The meat of the book, however, is where the heart is. Rather than just have a piecemeal of several different people talking about what happened to them during the ten minutes the tornado ravaged its way through Joplin, I wanted to give an intimate picture into the lives of a few people. I need a snapshot of their day from beginning to end, and then the reconstruction afterward. I conducted dozens of interviews and found women were much more willing to talk than guys. Not only that, but they could usually remember the kinds of details that give an experience flavor. Being a fiction writer, I wrote in the narrative nonfiction style so that the interviews read like a story rather than a documentary.
Thus the book became about the women who held their families and neighbors together during and after the tornado. I wanted to show more than just the sensational, dramatic event. I wanted to show how such an event affects the entire community. I also wanted the book to be inspirational, to focus more on the tender, nurturing, hopeful side of humanity rather than the dark, pillaging side that often emerges in a crisis. The book was picked up by Dancing Lemur Press, a press that often publishes inspirational nonfiction.
This book holds a special place in my heart. It was by far the hardest book I’ve ever written, and I doubt I will ever tackle a project like it again. 100% of the royalties go straight back into helping Joplin rebuild, and when Joplin doesn't need it anymore, I'll pick another city that does.
I hope that if you read it, you will feel some of that thriving, irrepressible human spirit, that fire that refuses to give up. The book is available here  through all major online retailers and is also available on audio!
Don't forget. Whether it's Joplin or Baton Rouge or somewhere else, help where you can. When you can't, thank the Lord that you have what you do and pray for those that don't.

Tamara, thanks for joining us today and sharing this insight into her story. It’s a fascinating story and I can’t begin to image what they experienced that day.

Now for those who aren’t familiar with Tamara, here’s a bit of background on her in her own words.

Author Tamara Hart Heiner
I live in Arkansas with my husband and four children, two crazy boys and two pretty little princesses.

I am the author of the young adult suspense PERILOUS series (DELIVERER, PERILOUS, ALTERCATION, and PRICELESS), INEVITABLE, LAY ME DOWN, and the Cassandra Jones saga. My non-fiction book about the Joplin tornado came out in May 2014. You can find out more about what I'm writing and catch deleted scenes from my books on my blog.

For more on Tamara and her writing, visit her website and blog then connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by today during Tamara’s visit. Be sure to check back later this week when I share my thoughts on this inspirational story. I hope you haven’t, but have you ever experienced a tornado?


  1. Thank you Tamara. Actions like yours restore my sometimes damaged faith in our species.

  2. Tamara, thanks for sharing your experience and this story. I agree with E.C., your actions do help restore one's faith in mankind. Wishing you much success.

    Hi, all. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. That's cool she donates the money back to Joplin.

  4. What a great story! It's heartening to be reminded of the goodness that there is in people. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Thank you for featuring Tamara's book. It's so moving what those seven women went through.

  6. Oh my, I have to get this book. Joplin is (nearly) in my backyard. I drove by Joplin, on I44, the next summer after the tornado and of course it was still in recovery mode. I remember the trees looking like giant toothpicks.

  7. Tornadoes are horrible to go through. The worst one we had was in 2000 when the whole of downtown Fort Worth was closed down. I barely missed the path on my way home from work.

  8. A great book to feature, and the author's giving back to that city! Very generous.

  9. Thank you for reading and for your kind words! This book is obviously close to my heart. I hope it inspires you also!


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.