• Random House

Curtis Sittenfeld is a relative newcomer to Saint Louis, so it took a native to teach her about some local lore, specifically the time back in 1990 when a climatologist named Iben Browning predicted a big shakeup along the New Madrid fault line sometime in early December. In 1812, New Madrid was the site of the most massive earthquake ever to hit North America. Entire towns disappeared. The shocks were felt in Saint Louis, 150 miles to the north. So it made some sort of sense that when Browning predicted a sequel, everybody freaked out.

There was a run on earthquake insurance and bottled water. People kept their kids home from school. Even though scientists doubted the psychic’s credibility, the whole town was nervous.

If you never heard of the 1990 New Madrid quake, don’t feel bad. It never happened. But the story did give Sittenfeld a major plotline for the book she had recently started writing, now finished and published and called Sisterland.