Witze and Kanipe: Island on Fire

Island on Fire cover

ISLAND ON FIRE:
THE EXTRAORDINARY STORY OF A FORGOTTEN VOLCANO
THAT CHANGED THE WORLD

Alexandra Witze (NASW member) and Jeff Kanipe
Pegasus Books, January 14, 2015, $26.95
ISBN: 978-1-60598-674-6

Witze reports:

I got the idea for this book, my first, while rattling around on the back roads of Iceland with a couple of graduate students from Reykjavik in the summer of 2010. I had flown to Iceland in the wake of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption to report for Science News on why ice-covered volcanoes produced so much ash. Near the end of a long day servicing GPS stations to monitor future eruptions, one of the students waved causally toward the lava-encrusted landscape to the east. Over there, he said, was the site of the 18th-century Laki eruption, which killed one-fifth of Icelanders and sent toxic gases rolling across Europe for months.

Hold it, I thought. How come I’ve never heard of Laki?

Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe

Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe

When I got back home to Colorado, I started reading more about this intriguing and devastating eruption. Within months, I decided it was ripe for a book treatment. I joined forces with my husband, an astronomy writer who has published several popular science books.

We used my husband’s agent, who had a hard time finding a U.S. publisher. Eventually, we landed a contract with Profile Books in London, which in turn sold both a U.S. and an Estonian edition.

We had several things going for us in writing the Laki book, and not only that the volcano’s name was a lot easier to pronounce than Eyjafjallajökull. Many of the key documents were recently translated from Icelandic into English. There is also a renewed scientific interest in the eruption: a recent series of papers laid out how the eruption progressed, and how its cloud of sulfur particles poisoned people across Europe, ultimately shutting down the African monsoon. Millions of people may have died from crop failures, famine, and other climate change linked to Laki's eruption.

Although not in our marketing plan, Iceland cooperated by having another volcano erupt in August 2014. That eruption, called Bardarbunga, is like Laki in miniature. It is spewing out high levels of sulfur gas, and has spurred comparisons with Laki that we have been able to capitalize on in promoting the book.

Contact info:

Buy this book now in the ScienceWriters bookstore.

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NASW members: Will your book be published soon? Take advantage of this opportunity for shameless self-promotion.

Tell your fellow NASW members how you came up with the idea for your book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. Include what you wish you had known before you started this project, or had done differently.

See https://www.nasw.org/advance-copy-submission-guidelines.

Send info and images to Lynne Lamberg, NASW book editor, llamberg@nasw.org.

Mar. 4, 2015

Advance Copy

For this column, NASW book editor Lynne Lamberg asks NASW authors to tell how they came up with the idea for their book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. She also asks what they wish they had known before they began working on their book, what they might do differently the next time, and what tips they can offer aspiring authors. She then edits the A part of that Q&A to produce the author reports you see here.

Publication of NASW members' reports in Advance Copy does not constitute NASW's endorsement of their books. NASW welcomes your comments and hopes this column stimulates productive discussions.

Leon Levy Center for Biography fellows

Drexel University Online