For the release of Hunted Fate, I was asked to write some blog posts for bloggers to use during the release tour. (So you may have seen these somewhere already.) However, I thought it would be useful to put them on my own blog, as well, so readers could see some of the inspirations behind the books.
If you look at the cover for Hunted Fate, you’ll notice the flaming pit behind the water drop. When it was time to design the cover, I told Marya Heidel, the cover designer for Clean Teen Publishing, that I wanted something hellish. A big part of the book takes place in the Underworld, after all, so it seemed fitting.
I showed her some sample images I’d found around the internet. She looked at one of a flaming pit and said, “That’s a real place, you know.”
I asked where it was. I figured it had to be a volcano in Hawaii, or maybe a lava pool in a national park somewhere.
Nope. Turns out it’s in Turkmenistan and there’s a whole story behind this place which the locals now call, “The Gates of Hell.” Well, with a name like that, the image had to go on the cover, but I wanted to know the story. It’s one of humor, colossal stupidity, and turning (however accidentally) something bad into something kind of good. (Well, unless you’re a spider. Read on for why the spiders get the short end of this story.)
In 1971, Soviet petroleum geologists headed into the desert of Turkmenistan to look for oil. I’m sure there were dreams of big money floating in their heads. The scientists found a likely spot and a drilling rig was brought in. Unfortunately, they erected the rig over a huge underground pool of methane gas, not oil. If the story ended here, it wouldn’t have been so bad; there’s no shame in making a mistake like that, after all. What happened next, though, brings this tale into epic territory.
The Earth’s crust wasn’t strong enough to support the drilling operation. Oil, gas, didn’t matter. No matter what they were drilling for, the whole thing was doomed. When the engineers began drilling and further weakened the surface, everything collapsed, sending the drilling rig into the pit of methane gas.
So now not only is no one getting any oil, they’ve also lost the rig. Any dreams of making big money were shot to, well, hell, at this point. But worse, now there was a huge open hole leaking methane gas into the air. Methane is deadly if inhaled in large quantities, plus it’s highly explosive. Not the kind of thing you want just wafting around.
So what did these geniuses do to dispose of the huge pool of highly explosive gas? They set it on fire. Absolutely brilliant idea. (Not. Do not try this at home. Please.)
The thought process behind this stupidity was that the pool of gas would burn itself out rather quickly and everything would go back to normal. Well, it’s been burning for over forty years and shows no signs of burning out anytime soon.
The locals call it, “The Gates of Hell,” and in the only positive to come out of this whole sorry story, it has become a tourist attraction. People flock to see the flaming hole in the ground. The government occasionally raises the idea of capping the pit, but the Minister of Tourism shoots that down because, frankly, Turkmenistan doesn’t have much else to draw in tourists. Nobody’s making money from oil in this pit, so might as well make some money somehow, right?
Weirdly, the burning pit also attracts spiders. Lots and lots of spiders. They are drawn to the light and then fling themselves over the edge to be consumed by the flames. While I personally agree that spiders belong in hell (arachnophobia is a thing, people), the idea of mass spider suicide is almost funny in a twisted way.
So that’s the story of the Gates of Hell. A drilling operation gone wrong becomes a tourist attraction (and the site of mass spider suicides). And now it’s on a book cover.