Sunday, May 21, 2017

What I'm up to these days

An update to my fans and readers. I'm in the polishing and proofreading stage of the first in my new post-apocalyptic series. Yay! My pro proofreader will have it in early June as well as one of my friends who is expert on something I've put in there but am not an expert on, and I'll put it up for preorder around the 20th of June at Amazon, mention that here, on Facebook, Twitter, and to my mailing list. Right now, I'm planning for a July 10 publication date.

Some minor spoilers. It's set in Arizona, at mid-altitudes, close to here (yes, Virginia, there is water in Arizona):

Wikimedia commons


And it has some of these in it:

Wikimedia Commons

And a character sees something like this:


Wikimedia. by Sgt. MJ MacLeod
Can't wait to see what you think of it!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Fan Appreciation Day!

I just made up this holiday. But let's all celebrate it anyway!



While I often say how much I appreciate my fans and readers to those in my mailing list, I know I have tens of thousands of other readers who aren't on the list, so I want to say to you, if you happen upon this, I am at least as much a fan of yours as you are of mine.

I write for you guys. I want to entertain to, to scare you, to get your heart beating fast, to make you shed a tear, to believe in my characters and care for them. I love when I hear you stayed up until 3 a.m. reading my books. If my entertaining you also distracts you from some physical or emotional pain in your life, that's the best news of all to me.

For the first time in a writing life that spans almost thirty years, I'm making a living writing fiction, and I could not possibly do this without your support. It's not just that you buy my books or read them on Kindle Unlimited. It's that you tell your friends about them too. It's that you rate them or review them on Amazon or Goodreads. This all helps keep me in T-shirts and toner. (Hmm, not saying I wear toner. That'd just be odd.) And if I'm paying my bills, all I need to do every morning is write! I can put out more books as a result. So you're helping me write more of the books you enjoy. A win-win.

If you want to hear more often that I appreciate you, sign up for my mailing list at the right hand side of this page. Rest assured, I do not send newsy emails with pix of my cute cat or grandkids. I only send out a mailing if there's a new release or a big sale that you might want to know of. If you don't want to sign up, I completely understand. Our email inboxes are crammed as it is. Just bookmark this site and check back every couple months, and you'll see the newest release under the sign-up form. Or you can +follow me on any book's page at Amazon, or at Bookbub, and they'll send you an email when I release a new book.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Scary Disease of the Week: Influenza

And so we’ve arrived at the final disease, my choice of the #1 scariest infectious disease out there.

Avian flu, via Wikimedia Commons

#1 is Influenza. We haven’t seen a pandemic flu in North America in a while--long enough to have lost our collective fear of one. The 1950’s saw the last. There are many different influenza viruses, and some have a low fatality rate, less than 2%, and some have a much higher rate, 70%. In most cases, the elderly and children are most vulnerable.

I chose this disease for the pandemic in my thriller in part because most of us hardly think twice about it. The word “flu” doesn’t send us into a tizzy the way “Ebola” does. Some of us get the vaccine, but many do not. We’ve grown used to the annual talk about flu and vaccines and tend to tune it out, despite that this virus kills thousands or tens of thousands times the people as Ebola does every year.

The flu type I chose for my novel Crow Vector, HPAI (Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, H5N1), is frightening--not just to me, but to the experts. With a 69% fatality rate right now, even with treatment, and almost no capacity at all to create vaccines for it, if it explodes out of China and starts moving from person to person (rather than only bird to person, as it stands), we are all in deep trouble.

The flu generally kills via filling the lungs with fluid. While it has no brain damage beyond the usually temporary confusion we feel when we have a high fever, going from having to cough several times a day to gasping for air to needing a breathing tube before you die is something I’ve don’t want anyone to have to experience.

Because the killer version of the H5N1 virus has already been manipulated in the lab to make it able to pass easily from person to person, in the 2014 Rotterdam experiments and elsewhere, we know with 100% certainty that it’s weaponizable. Not only is it, those experiments made it clear to anyone with the will and technique exactly how to turn it into a human pandemic. So... yeah. Scary disease indeed.



1950's flu epidemic; patients overwhelming medical system
Obviously, that I thought it most frightening--most realistically frightening--is why I picked it for the novel.

And this concludes my six-part series on scary infectious diseases. Return to Part I to see some runners-up. For me these are the scariest five:
  1. Influenza
  2. Rabies
  3. Hemorrhagic fevers
  4. Botulism
  5. Cruetzfeldt-Jakobs
Which disease scares you the most? Tell me in comments.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Scary Disease of the Week: Rabies

#2 Rabies. 100% fatal, and it’s a terrible way to die.
Rabies patient, 1959. CDC

Is there a vaccine? Yes. (I’ve had it twice myself.) Does it work? They really don’t know. (It’s not as if they’re going to ask a bunch of people to volunteer to take the vaccine and then infect them with rabies on purpose to make sure it worked. Not with that 100% fatality rate.)

And it certainly scores a full 10 points on my “symptoms involve the brain” scale. Terror, paranoia, and hallucinations are likely to plague you on the way to your inevitable death.

The one saving grace with this disease is its R nought, about 1.2. That is, if you have it, you’ll likely only infect one person, who will perhaps weeks later only infect one, and so on. Therefore, it’s unlikely to burst into pandemic status the way measles or MERS or the flu could. On the other hand, the infection of a group of animals could spread it locally to humans more rapidly. If every squirrel in Ontario, for instance, had it, and if they could pass it to pet cats allowed to run loose, there would be many more human cases as a result.

A diabolical person could manipulate it in the lab to become more pathogenic and then capture, infect, and release those squirrels. Because of the 100% fatality rate (exactly one person has recovered with treatment--though she still has serious and apparently permanent problems with balance--so it’s shy of that by the tiniest fraction of a percent), it’s on most biodefense programs’ list of potential weaponized diseases.


Rabies. Wikimedia Commons


And so we’re down to the final disease next week, my choice of the #1 scariest infectious disease out there.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Scary Disease of the Week: Hemorrhagic Fevers

#3 Viral hemorraghic fevers. Ebola, Marburg, Machupo, RVF, lassa, and a dozen more emerging diseases. If you’re only in your 20’s, expect to see many more discovered in your lifetime. 

Ebola outbreaks. Zach Orecchio via wikimedia commons

These diseases get a lot of press, and they seem to be #1 on most people's list of scary disease, despite the infections being rare. I suspect it’s the image of bleeding profusely (which doesn’t often happen, and not exactly the way it’s often fictionally presented), particularly from the eyes, that hits our “fear button.” The horrible part of the disease to me is the pain. As the organs are attacked and become spongy, there is reportedly terrible abdominal pain associated with that. You have a fever, you’re weak and sick, the whites of your eyes may get a few red streaks, but the pain in your gut is what pins you to the bed.

The fatality rates on these diseases range from a low of less than 5% to a high of 70%--similar to the range of flu fatality rates. Zaire Ebola (EBOV) has one of the highest mortality rates. The R nought--how many people get infected by one sick person--isn’t that bad, actually, particularly not in the countries where my readers live. The infections spreading more than that in Africa is related to funeral practices there. Nearly half the people who have died of it are health care workers, and of the rest, half are the women family members who traditionally prepare bodies for burial. If scientists can convince people to forgo their typical burial practices with the dead bodies, the R nought for Ebola drops to near 1. Viral hemorrhagic fevers can also be passed sexually, after recovery, for three to five months.

To be weaponized, you’d want to increase that aspect of the disease, making is pass more easily from person to person. Currently, with Ebola, sneezing pigs can infect people easily but sneezing people cannot. It wouldn't take much time in a lab to change that fact. Everything else about any one of these diseases is bad enough, but were you a terrorist, you’d want it to move easily through the air so that one sick person infected many. If you could change the most deadly hemorrhagic fever virus so that it had measles’s skill at jumping from person to person, you’d have a terrible weapon indeed.  

Lassa virus


Stay tuned for scary diseases of the week #2 and #1. Can you guess what they are?