Author J.C. Geiger’s newest book is set in the fictional Oregon coastal town of Clade City located on the edge of the very real Cascadia Subduction Zone fault line. It’s a place where experts warn a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami loom.
“One kind of frightening thing I learned doing this research is that it’s almost certainly going to happen,” says Geiger.
For the teenage characters in “The Great Big One,” prepping for that natural disaster is part of their way of life.
“And part of their job in preparing for this is they help run this radio station on the coast that plays music but also would serve as this alert central if something were to happen,” says Geiger. “These friends are really into music and when they’re not doing their disaster preparedness work, of course, they surf the radio waves.”
The book about friendship and the thrilling obsession associated with discovering new music on the radio is a finalist for an Oregon Book Award for Young Adult Literature. The winners will be announced on Monday in Portland.
But Geiger’s text is only part of the story.
“I wanted to take this project a step further and try to replicate that experience,” he says. “What if I could simulate the experience my characters have for readers of this book?”
Last year, Geiger began work on a mixtape designed to sound like someone listening to a radio broadcast in “The Great Big One.” The audio companion piece will be mailed to readers who purchase the book at independent bookstores.
In a curious twist partly influenced by events in the novel, Geiger chose to only make the mixtape available on cassette.
“Part of the joy is overcoming obstacles,” he explains. “People ask me ‘Why don’t you put it online? Why don’t you just make a playlist?’ Well, I kind of want it to be challenging. The challenge of finding a functional cassette player is kind of exciting to me… You can still order them. I’ve got one in my ‘93 Buick that still works pretty well. Ask parents, aunts, uncles, go to thrift shops.”
The cassette mixtape includes contributions from over a dozen musicians including Grammy-award winner Rhiannon Giddens, The Hold Steady and Portland’s Pink Martini.
David Wimbish is the lead singer of the band The Collection. Like many of the artists involved in the mixtape, he felt an immediate connection with the book.
“I grew up in a world where I was mostly just listening to what my parents were listening to, which I think is true of a lot of people,” says Wimbish. “I remember the first time that I really turned on the radio and heard something that clicked with me. It was like ‘Oh my gosh! There’s this whole world that I didn’t even know existed.’ I hear that and feel that in the book. So much of it feels viscerally true to my own experience as a teenager.”
While Wimbish realizes those specific feelings of analog-induced nostalgia may not resonate with younger people, he believes kids who use streaming services and phone apps like Shazam to find new music are doing the exact same thing.
“I’m on tour right now with my band. We just played a show in Seattle. Our manager was at the show and she was telling us that people were Shazaming the songs while we were playing it,” says Wimbish. “A lot of these people probably didn’t even know who we were. So the medium is different, but I think that air of discovery is still very true, and people can still identify with it.”
Geiger couldn’t agree more. In fact, he says the thrill of the chase is the whole point of the mixtape and the book he wrote.
“I think what I hope to accomplish — [which] is what I would hope with any book I write or any piece of art that I would make—is that I want people to have an excuse to go on an adventure.”