Lister’s latest tackles Hurricane Michael

By TONY SIMMONS 
News Herald Writer 

Murder mystery explores the storm’s aftermath in Northwest Florida

Hurricane Michael’s effect on the Panhandle was always going to feature in author Michael Lister’s work.

His latest novel, “The Blood-Dimmed Tide,” finds protagonist John Jordan on trial for his life while on the trail of a serial killer in the wake of the storm.

“Hurricane Michael and its aftermath is a character,” Lister said. “This book is really like three books in one — one about John Jordan’s trial for wrongful death, one about the impact of Hurricane Michael on the region, and one about a killer taking advantage of the chaos and confusion of the post-storm landscape to commit his wicked acts.”

The title comes from W.B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming,” which Lister worked into the book because “its imagery was perfect for the post-apocalyptic world we found ourselves in following the storm.”

“The Blood-Dimmed Tide,” the 23rd book in the Jordan series, is the second of Lister’s novels to deal with Hurricane Michael. It’s a direct sequel to “And The Sea Became Blood,” released in May, in which Jordan was caught in what Lister described as “an existential superstorm of apocalyptic proportions” — while seeking to solve the murder of a kindly old priest. Writing about the hurricane was difficult in some ways, but ultimately cathartic.

“At this point in the series, I’m almost writing in real time which affords me the opportunity to explore the experiences of something like Michael,” he said. “I started formulating the idea for (both novels) as soon as the storm hit. I knew I wanted to write about it. I started doing research and making notes through the experiences we were having. It wasn’t until probably a month after the storm that I started the writing process. It brought to mind a lot of the recent suffering we were going through. We are still going through it seven and eight months after the hurricane. It was also very helpful to process it.”

Lister grew up in in Wewahitchka, a small town world famous for tupelo honey. He holds degrees in theology with an emphasis on myth and narrative. In the early 1990s, he became the youngest chaplain within the Florida Department of Corrections, serving nearly a decade as a chaplain at three different facilities in the Panhandle. The unique experience led to his first novel, 1997′s critically acclaimed “Power in the Blood,” which started his John Jordan series.

There will be other stories set in the storm and its aftermath, he said, because it was such a catastrophic event in the lives of Northwest Florida residents. It’s inevitable, because he writes about this area and its people.

“The truth is, there’s so much to deal with in this storm ... and we will be for not months but years to come,” he said. “Something as significant as Hurricane Michael makes it into the stories and has a huge impact.”

New book starts where Hurricane Michael ended

By TONY SIMMONS 
News Herald Writer 

Hurricane Michael has passed, and while the region’s residents struggle to put together their lives, writers and other creatives have risen from the wreckage.

Best-selling author Michael Lister, who rode out the storm in his native Wewahitchka, incorporated the hurricane into the latest novel in his John Jordan Mysteries series. “And the Sea Became Blood” will debut at a pair of events on Saturday, Feb. 9, and will benefit hurricane relief efforts.

‘AND THE SEA BECAME BLOOD’

Lister will have a book launch party at the Panama City Center for the Arts, 19 E. Fourth St., from 1-3 p.m. Saturday. The event will include a benefit concert by Atlanta singer-songwriter Lexi Street, as well as readings, interviews, signings, a video presentation by The Public Eye, and a silent auction. Other local musicians, authors and artists will participate, including singer-songwriter Aaron Bearden, artist Jayson Kretzer, and this reporter presenting “Survivors,” the anthology of local poetry, prose, photos and artwork created immediately after the hurricane.

“And the Sea Became Blood,” the 21st John Jordan thriller, centers on an investigation into the murder of a retired Catholic priest that is interrupted by Hurricane Michael. Lister said writing “And the Sea Became Blood” was like reliving the hurricane over and over again.

“My last few John Jordan novels have been pretty topical,” Lister said. “But nothing is more topical for those of us in the Panhandle at the moment than Hurricane Michael and its aftermath. ... I was actually working on this novel before Hurricane Michael hit, but the moment it made landfall and I realized the scope of its devastation, I knew it had to be a big part of this book. In the same way, the hurricane has interrupted and disrupted our lives here, the storm interrupts and disrupts John’s case and makes solving it all the more problematic.”

In addition to the Center for the Arts event, Lister will also host a debut party at the Lister Family Dairy Farm in Wewahichka from 6-9 p.m. (EST). Both events are free and open to the public. Donations for hurricane disaster relief will be accepted.

“I can’t wait to share this book with everyone and to introduce people in this area to Lexi Street’s music. She’s such a great singer and songwriter,” Lister said. He added that the next three John Jordan novels will address the hurricane’s aftermath. “I really tried to write a novel that places people right in the middle of the storm — but then also lets them experience what the aftermath is like and how much life here in the Panhandle has been altered by the storm.”

For instance, after the storm tragedy continued to strike. Lister lost a good friend one week and one day after Hurricane Michael made landfall when Brad Price, firefighter and emergency services coordinator, was killed when a tree fell on him while clearing debris. The launch party will include a special tribute to the fallen firefighter.

“Brad was in my band in high school and was a very dear friend,” Lister said. “He meant a lot to me and to this community. I do my best to honor him in the book, and I have dedicated this novel to him.”

All of the proceeds from the launch event and benefit concert are going to hurricane disaster relief, and a quarter of all profits from the book are going to the same cause. The author’s charity has been busy since the storm, providing generators, food, water, clothes, tarps, and supplies to those in need.

“We are all in this together and nothing feels better than being able to help a neighbor whose desperate need you get to see firsthand,” Lister said. “I have been so moved and impressed — and at times overwhelmed — by the service and generosity of people who do not live here but care about us in this area. Many of my readers from all over the world have sent in contributions to help with the recovery, and best-selling author Michael Connelly has been particularly generous. We have such a long way to go. We’re really just getting started in terms of recovery.”

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