The Ordeal


Season 3, Episode 21 The Ordeal



Well, the house seems to have survived the quake alright.  


Well, yeah, Mr. Clarke, so far it has. But you know it might not be over yet.


Oh you mean aftershocks?  


That's right.  They can be almost as big as the first quake sometimes.


What are you trying to tell me, Kevin?  Do you know something I should know?


Well, I don't think I'm supposed to tell you this, Mr. Clarke, but... 


True to form, Season 2 left us with quite a cliffhanger. (Season 1 had left us hanging, too!) This time, we ended the previous season with an earthquake, and we pick up right where we left off— dealing with aftershocks.

Two real-life stories formed the background for this storyline. First, I lived in Los Angeles during its last major earthquake. Harrowing as the original quake was, hitting just before dawn and leaving the city without power for several days, the aftershocks were just as bad. Ultimately, the seismic sensors recorded about 5,000 of them, none as large as the original event, but enough to keep everyone on edge, unable to return to work, or even return to many of the freeways that then formed the primary method of transportation.

Several years later, when I began writing the Milford-Haven Novels, I needed much more detailed information. Knowing firsthand how it felt to be in the City for a quake worked well for 30-minute radio episodes focused primarily on my characters, but wasn’t enough when it came to writing in depth about a seismic event in the Central Coast.

That required a huge amount of research. I began by reading some texts about earthquakes, then interviewed Randolph “Stick” Ware, who had founded UCAR–University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. After reading some of the papers he’d written, I drove to Boulder, Colorado to meet with him. He and his colleagues make high accuracy measurements of crustal motion using the GPS satellites, so he literally gave me an “overview.” Next, I interviewed geologist Lou Blanck, a geologist from Cambria, and co-founder of Earth Design, Inc. His detailed knowledge of the region was indispensable.

Next, I called Cal Tech—California Institute of Technology’s Seismological Laboratory. Any L.A. resident would have seen Dr. Kate Hutton—aka “The Earthquake Lady” on television following any kind of quake. I had questions about what a potential shaker in the Central Coast might look like, and I figured she’d be the one to ask. I called the Caltech PR office and requested an interview. After I was vetted, Dr. Hutton agreed to meet with me for ten minutes. Wow, I needed to be ready and extremely focused. When I met with Earthquake Kate, I asked her which faultline would be involved if a temblor happened near Milford-Haven (aka Cambria and San Simeon), she didn’t have the answer on the tip of her tongue. She wouldn’t let me leave until she had a good answer for me, so the “ten minutes” turned into a little more than an hour. “It’s the Hosgri!” she pronounced proudly, discovery made. “And it’s offshore!” Oh, my, what a difference this made.

Because here’s what happened next. My husband, step-daughter and son-in-law decided to spend Christmas in Cambria, shortly after my novel Nobody’s Fault was published. We went hiking at the San Simeon Cove, a favorite spot of locals that’s fictionalized in my series. While there, I heard a “seismic” sound that I recognized from the L.A. earthquake, and from all the research.

“Yeah, right,” my husband said. “You’re so wrapped up in your story that you’re hearing things.” A few second later, the earth began to move under our feet. As we were on a narrow path that fell away to the sandy beach floor a hundred feet below, this wasn’t a safe place to be. My husband had a slo-mo “why are my knees unstable?” moment; my step-daughter hunkered down wisely; my son-in-law, an architect, seemed fascinated by how the surrounding trees and earth structures were moving. For me, this was both an “in-body” experience, as I quickly looked to make sure the tide wasn’t suddenly being sucked away from the shore; and an “out-of-body” experience as I “saw” exactly what had happened to my characters was now happening to us! The cherry on top of this tale is that the local Geological Society asked me to give a presentation as to how I had come up with such an accurate prediction of a local earthquake in my novel!

Sound effects in this episode were again fun for foley master David L. Krebs who had pieces of hard foam banging against one another, and for Engineer Bill Berkuta who layered the recorded sounds until listeners felt they themselves were experiencing the aftershocks in the story.

By the way, if you missed Season 1, or Season 2, they are available at So now . . join us for Season 3 by downloading the episode or subscribing to Season 3, tune in to your favorite device, and join us in . . . Milford-Haven!