Monday marks the fourth anniversary of a massive tornado outbreak where 62 tornados raked across Alabama in a single day. More than 250 people died from those storms on April 27, 2011. Writer Kim Cross chronicles that time through several personal stories in her book What Stands in a Storm. It grew out of an article she wrote for Southern Living magazine. She spoke with WBHM’s Andrew Yeager.
An extended interview:
Developing the book:
I really started by looking at children’s books about meteorology to understand the basics of tornados. And then from there I graduated to textbooks and a lot of interviews with meteorologists. I wanted to wrap my head around the magnitude of the storm…That one day was part of a three day outbreak that affected 21 states from Texas to Canada. It was just massive.
I wanted to understand the event and then I wanted to tell it through the people who lived it. I really wanted it to be literary nonfiction where it reads like a novel but it’s all based on reported fact.
How technology helped her reporting:
The families of several victims friended me from from their victims’ Facebook page and they also shared with me text conversations recovered from their phones. And between these two things I felt like I was able to really get verbatim dialogue that was timestamped and that reflected what they were thinking at a very specific moment in time. So whenever I say that someone is thinking something or express their inner thoughts like a novelist would, that comes from either a social media post or a text or something that they said they were thinking to a primary source that was able to recount it to me.
Reaction from victims’ families:
One of the things that I did to fact check this that I don’t think a lot of journalists do is I sat down with each of the families and had a private reading where I read aloud every chapter in which their loved one appeared…I wanted to make sure the first time they experienced it was with me and not alone in a room and we cried together. We cried the ugly cry. And it was really good for both of us. And it was closure I think in this big long really difficult process.