Writer Kathryn (Kate) Miles’ latest book, “Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake,” shook the Wall Street Journal’s reviewer enough that he stocked up on bottled water. We called up the Portland-area writer to ask what draws her to natural disasters (her last book was about superstorms) and to find out more about how humans trigger earthquakes. The big surprise? Learning about her past as a sous chef to one of Maine’s best known chefs.

Kate Miles

“Quakeland” looks at earthquakes from multiple perspectives, including man’s role in creating them, sometimes as a result of fracking for fossil fuels. “That is just one tiny way in which we are setting off earthquakes in this country.” Others are mining, building dams (“in the decade it took to fill Lake Mead, there were 10,000 earthquakes”) and quite possibly, building tall buildings. “They think it is the pressure from the weight of the building.” Given that none of these human activities is likely to cease any time soon, the book paints a picture of an apocalyptic future. “The joke is, ‘Nobody invites me to dinner parties anymore.’ ”

ON THE SHELF: “Quakeland” is Miles’ fourth book. She’s written about her relationship with a challenging rescue dog (“Adventures with Ari”), about Irish immigrants crossing the sea during the famine (“All Standing”) and in “Superstorm,” about Hurricane Sandy. “What unifies all of my writing is that I am just really keenly interested in the relationships that we all form with the natural world.” “Superstorm” led directly to “Quakeland.” “What Sandy really showed us is just how fragile our infrastructure really is. That raised the question for me, how prepared are we for other natural disasters?” Like earthquakes, “arguably the strongest natural disaster our planet is capable of and also the least understood. To me that was a particularly deadly and compelling combination.”

LEARNING CURVE: When she started researching “Quakeland,” she knew next to nothing about seismology. “It was a really steep learning curve.” Like an introductory geology class, she said. “Let me really understand how tectonic plates work. Let me understand how rocks work.” And then she road-tripped to meet experts, safety managers at dams, people mapping the faults under New York City (there are some!). She knew about the faults under California and the Northwest and the New Madrid Fault that caused enormous earthquakes in Missouri back in 1811-1812. “But I was surprised to see what degree there really is seismicity east of the Rockies.”

DID YOU FEEL THAT? Speaking of earthquakes in unexpected places, what was Miles doing during the Cape Elizabeth quake on August 23? It was just a small one, 2.0 on the Richter scale, but Mainers in the Cape Elizabeth area felt it. “I was not in town when that happened, and I was so mad.” She has yet to experience a big earthquake. They are, after all, expected, particularly along big faults, but impossible to predict with any precision. “It seems like I am fated to be nowhere near an earthquake.”

TITLE CHECK: Miles also is a frequent contributor to New England publications, like Down East Magazine (her story about Gary Allen and the Millinocket Marathon from December 2016 landed in Best American Sports Writing anthology) and the Boston Globe. She writes for Outside magazine, and this year had a special contract as the long trails correspondent. What does that mean, precisely? It means she keeps up with what’s happening on the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail during the hiking season. “Pretty much the greatest job of all time.”

MIDWESTERN ROOTS: Miles grew up in the Midwest but came east for school and didn’t want to leave. “I really just fell in love with the landscape.” She did her doctoral work at the University of Delaware and came to Maine in 2001 to take a teaching job at Unity College. “I was directing their environmental writing program.” She found that her new home suited her. “One of the things I love about Maine is this idea of Yankee thrift.” As a newcomer to the state, she’d buy Uncle Henry’s “and sit and read it in bed, like it was a novel.” Between the lines were indications of the Maine ethic, “which I think is my ethic.” In work as well as life: “I have to cobble things together sometimes.”

LOST KITCHEN TIME: One of those cobbling ventures included sous chefing for Erin French at the Lost Kitchen, back when it was in Belfast. “We were neighbors. I would sous chef for her on Fridays and Saturdays.” Cooking had always been one of Miles’ hobbies, but French helped her take it to a whole new level. Like how not to ever lose your cool in the kitchen. “She has got this Zen. It is like watching someone do Tai Chi. She never breaks stride, she never raises her voice.”

LEAP OF FAITH: In 2012 when Miles was working on “Superstorm” (it came out in 2014), she left Unity to focus full time on writing, and moved to the Portland area. She has an honorary position at Green Mountain College in Vermont teaching in the school’s low-residency masters programs, but sometimes misses being in the physical classroom. “There is that really special bond that only happens in the physical classroom. But I felt, career-wise, it was a really good time to take a leap of faith.”

DISASTER LOOMS? Now that she’s done storms and earthquakes, what’s next? “Everybody keeps saying, ‘Is it tornadoes?’ I am certainly intrigued by the subject.” But she feels that territory has already been covered by Kim Cross in 2015’s “What Stands in a Storm.” “I am going to let that stand as the definitive text.” Instead, she’s working on a book proposal about overlooked women in aviation history. Sounds like Hidden Flyers.

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MaryPols

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