Steve Olson: Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens

Eruption cover

Cover: Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens, by Steve Olson

ERUPTION:
THE UNTOLD STORY OF MOUNT ST. HELENS

Steve Olson
W.W. Norton, March 7, 2016, $27.95
ISBN-13: 9780393242799
ISBN-10: 039324279X

Olson writes:

I grew up in Washington State, but I went east for college in 1974, and, after meeting my future wife in an English class, stayed on the East Coast for 35 years. When we moved to Seattle in 2009, I decided that I should write a book about the most dramatic thing that has ever happened in my native state. The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens was the obvious choice.

My long-time Washington, D.C., agent Rafe Sagalyn and I faced a couple of challenges in selling the proposal. We needed to show that the book could sell well everywhere, not just in the Pacific Northwest. And we had to demonstrate that this book had new and interesting things to say about the eruption. The proposal went through even more iterations than the eventual book, but finally it was ready, and I ended up signing a contract with W.W. Norton.

Steve Olson

Steve Olson

As always with book writing, the research was great fun. I drove down to the mountain more times than I can count, and talked with hundreds of people who were involved in some way with the eruption. I spent hours in libraries, archives, and, most memorably, the King County courthouse, reading the thousands of pages of court records from a wrongful death lawsuit filed by families of the victims against the Weyerhaeuser company, which owned much of the land around the mountain.

By focusing on the 57 people killed in the eruption, and on why they were so close to such a dangerous volcano, I was able to write about aspects of the eruption that have never been written about before — hence the subtitle.

A couple of times I thought I was done with the book, only to be told by my very good editor at Norton that I wasn’t. Revising book-length manuscripts can be difficult, especially when you haven’t left time in your schedule to do so. But she was right, and the book is much better than it was in its earlier versions.

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March 2, 2016

Advance Copy

The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

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