Sunday, December 27, 2015

Update on Gray III

I'm a day or two away from handing over a revised, edited, and proofread Gray III to the first of my team of proofreaders. I've somehow managed to finish it on schedule despite moving to a new place this week. (Ouch--did I just strain myself patting my own back?)

My mailing list will get the news the instant Gray III goes live at Amazon...and I will give them a discount price for 24 hours (or a few hours more) because they are such enthusiastic, loyal fans. I'm guessing January 12 will be the date, but it could be a few days either way. A few days later, Amazon sends out their email about the release, for followers through Amazon.


I'm excited to have received books for research into the next series (I'll write three novels in 2016 and release them starting in September or October) I'll reveal more about the topic later...but not much until September. Keeping it a secret pushes my energy for writing to the highest peak. This next series is going to be great fun to write, and the setting is so cool. I know most of the characters. I know some of the events. I'm rarin' to go. What joy to dive daily all year into the imaginary world. (Sticking my head up from there only to release already-written books in April and July.)

Happy New Year to all!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Hurricane forecasting: musings on accuracy, science and politics

Those of us who watched Atlantic hurricanes closely in 2015 saw a number of spaghetti models, predicting the course of the storm, that looked like this:
Weather Underground November 2016

Clear as mud where that thing is headed, isn't it? In other words, there was little consensus among models about where this storm would head, how bad it would get, and who should prepare. I had selective remembered a number of models like this and guessed that I could write a post about how it was a tough year for models. To prepare for writing this, I first went and studied predictions versus outcome.

As it turns out, despite a few spaghetti models that looked like a four year old's scrawls, models were no less accurate this year than in the past four years. (At least not as far as I can determine by studying the charts. It will take another year to hear a detailed number-crunchy analysis from NOAA.)

Every decade, the modeling of hurricanes improves, but we don't have 100% accuracy at even 24 hours out. 120 hours out? We're not anywhere close to predicting that. It might be wise to check out your storm supplies at 120 hours from a predicted landfall in your region, just in case you need to buy more sandbags, plywood, or gas for your generator, but there's no reason to panic or evacuate that far ahead of a predicted landfall. The storm could come ashore 500 miles from where it was first predicted, or it could turn back into mid-ocean, or it could dissipate altogether in five days (as did Invest 93L, the storm in the graphic above.)

Forecasting is not perfect yet. It may never be. Many variables determine the course and strength of a hurricane. Airborne dust, steering winds, sheer, humidity, ocean temperature, ocean depth, and terrain passed over are among the variables that can alter the course and intensity of a tropical storm. Unusual changes occasionally defy the most rational predictions.

The European model (usually labeled ECMWF on spaghetti plots) continues to outperform any other hurricane forecast model for the coming 12 to 108 hours. The reasons for this are, you may be surprised to know, not primarily scientific ones but political. Knowledge about the physics of atmosphere is widely held and not proprietary. The ECMWF is funded better, and steadily, and more computer power is allocated to running that model. More detail can be entered, more calculations performed, and a more accurate model results.

There is nothing new in the influence of politics on weather safety. Weather forecasting has, in the US, always been subject to political whims of Congress who vote funding one year and take it away the next. In one horrible moment in the 1980's, barely averted, weather forecasting was going to be privatized. (Imagine a pre-Internet world where only people rich enough to afford a subscription service could receive the warning of a hurricane or tornado. That would have been the likely result of the proposal.)

The history of the US official weather services is not an entirely lovely one in any case. Arrogance, ego, greed, narrow-mindedness, and even nationalism have cost many lives of citizens over the years. Erik Larson recounts some of this history in his excellent book on the Galveston hurricane, Isaac's Storm. Caribbean Island forecasters understood hurricanes better than anyone else in the early 20th Century--which makes sense, as they saw more of them--but the US weather service refused to accept what those people knew and ignored their warnings of coming storms, refusing to pass along the information to its own citizens.

Other problems in the bureaucracy have caused deaths from tornadoes. The weather service kept local news outlets--who might have had access to on-the-ground storm spotters or purchased new technology (such as Doppler radar) more quickly than the government--from reporting on a coming tornado. It wasn't until 1950 that the official ban on using the word "tornado" in forecasts was lifted. It is rather difficult to hide in your storm cellar from a specific EF5 tornado bearing down on you when all you're being told is that "Bad weather is forecast this evening."

Like so much in politics, not dedicating sufficient, regular funds to modeling hurricanes in the US doesn't even make cold financial sense. Forecasting a hurricane's landfall wrong by 200 miles can cost millions in lost wages, unnecessary preparations, and a hit to tourism. The billions in property damage where a big storm does hit might be unavoidable no matter how precise the models, but loss of life could be averted by issuing evacuations based on better models. (One would think that even short-sighted politicians might understand that, apart from the moral considerations, dead people are notoriously bad at paying income taxes.)

Luckily for Gulf and Atlantic coast residents in the USA, the less short-sighted Europeans are sharing their superior forecasts and should continue to do so for many seasons to come.

Sources include:
Erik Larson, Isaac's Storm, 2000
Nancy Mathis, Storm Warning: The Story of a Killer Tornado, 2007

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Too busy to blog

My apologies, but I'm deep into edits of Gray III, and so I've no time to blog intelligently today.

Fans of my novels will be happy to know it's going well and that I'm ahead of schedule.

Those who follow my blog for natural disaster news and history will be relieved to know I'll be back next week with a post on that topic.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Readers' questions answered

Some readers have asked me questions that I thought might be worth answering for everyone to see.

When is Gray III coming out? 

January, and I'm 99.99% certain of that now. When I pass it to my final proofreader, I'll put a notice up here and pin a tweet on Twitter with a more specific date. The day of its release, I email my mailing list. Three days later, Amazon mails anyone who "follows" me there after asking for a message from me to include in that mail.

You're a wonderful writer. Where have you been hiding before now? 

First, thank you!

I have been writing for years, but for the few years before I began self-publishing at Amazon in 2014, I was definitely feeling hidden while being given the run-around by agents. The more I read about indie publishing versus traditional, the less I was interested in traditional anyway, so I put myself on this path. (In hindsight, I should have done it three years earlier!). I focused on short stories and poetry for many years, and I only began writing novels in 2005.

Why didn't you answer my question on You're rude! 

I'm sorry I missed it. But, to be honest, I'm sure to miss more such questions as time goes on.

I appreciate your interest in my books, but if I spent two hours every day hunting every possible book discussion page or site in the fifteen countries where I currently sell books, hoping for questions directed to me (or at another pen name I use), I wouldn't be able to write new novels. There are only so many hours in my writing day, and if you like my books, then you really do want me to spend those hours writing more books, not on social media and ego-Googling.

There are two reliable ways to contact me. Here, on the contact form (or figure out my not-mysterious gmail address--(myname) or via twitter @loucadle. Anywhere else? I am not likely to stumble over anything you ask me.

Do you have paperback books?  I have a friend who only reads physical books.

Soon I will. Learning the two required pieces of software and the interface at CreateSpace takes time, and I've been spending my writing time on writing and required business tasks. The next few months, I've carved out time every day to peck away at learning this. If I can't gain the skills in that period, I'll pay someone to do it all. By June 2016, at the very latest, I'll have six paperback books for sale through Amazon.

I'd also like to produce audiobooks next year if I can carve out the time.

Why don't you write faster?

I appreciate the implied compliment.

If I did write faster, the books might not be as good. A typical traditionally published author puts out one book per year. I'm putting out three to four right now. It's not entirely impossible that after I work at this rate for another year, I'll be able to streamline the process and squeeze in a fifth, but it's equally possible that I'll burn out creatively, drain that mysterious well that writing comes from, and need to slow down to one a year by 2018.

Will you sell a combined bundle of the Gray series?

Yes, but not soon. I have it on my publication schedule for 2017. Often, if an author does not do this, Amazon bundles them on its own initiative.

Why did you stop selling your books at B&N?

They do nothing to promote indie books. When I switched to exclusively Amazon, I made more money in 12 hours on Kindle Unlimited borrows than I'd made on any other site in a year. More income = more freedom to write books = more books for you to read, even if you do have to download the Kindle reader app on another device.

Do you have a Kindle yourself?

I have a Fire, and I love it. Though once, early in our time together, I fell asleep on it and woke up with a black eye; but I can hardly blame the Fire for that.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Gray I news and thanks

First of all, I want to thank everyone who read and liked the Gray series. For those of you who recommended it to a friend or reviewed it, an extra helping of thanks for helping it find more readers!

Gray III is drafted, I begin revisions tomorrow, it should be for sale in January (exact date depending on proofreader availability.)

This month, Gray I crested 10,000 sales and rentals at Amazon, and the only reason it did that was because of you, my wonderful readers. I firmly believe I have the smartest readers around, too--and not just because you like my writing! (grin) As I add people to the mailing list, I often see a little something about them, and you all are fascinating, with many of you being professionals, business owners, academics, world travelers. I'd love to have a party for you all. (Though all the airline tickets from Australia would break the bank, so I won't…)

Not as a direct result of reaching that number, but I'm going to be raising the price for Gray I from 99 cents tomorrow, December 1. (Tell a friend to grab it today!)

Even writers' eyes will glaze over at this rationale, but I'll explain the reason anyway. It has to do with using the most effective ad sites for books, which require a book be discounted, in addition to Amazon's requirements for when that can be discounted relative to the last price change, in addition to my planned release date for Gray III. Or, to be more concise, the price has to go up so it can go down for sales.

My tentative publishing schedule for 2016:
  • January - Gray III
  • April - Storm (a stand-alone disaster novel)
  • July - Crawl+ (2 novelettes bundled together)
  • Summer - Paperbacks of all novels
  • October - New Series Book I
  • December or January - New Series Book II

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Writers: whose craft do you admire?

Writers--no matter how skilled and successful they are now--are always trying to improve. They also love reading and, if you get them onto the topic, they can talk for hours about whose technique they admire. I asked a handful of my fellow authors this question:

What's a specific piece of the fiction-writing craft at which you can see another author doing well, and that you would like to imitate or perfect for your own writing?

Lynda Wilcox, writer of mysteries and children's books, said:

Writing traditional British whodunits, I yearn for the day when I can emulate my heroine, the great Agatha Christie, at writing pithy character description. While I would struggle with eye and hair colour, height, weight, and apparel, Mrs Christie disdains them all and gives us a vivid picture of the Countess Vera Rossakoff in one wonderful sentence:

"Without the least warning the door flew open and a whirlwind in human form invaded our privacy, bringing with her a swirl of sables (it was as cold as only an English June day can be) and a hat rampant with slaughtered ospreys." 

Amelia Smith, fantasy and historical fiction writer, cites complexity of plot as something she admires.
The example that jumped out at me was Connie Willis's two-book series, Blackout and All Clear. The books are about history students from the future who go back to WW II London and try to do their research without disrupting the time line... mostly. She weaves together multiple narratives and story lines so well, complete with jumps in time. I wish I could put together such a complex story so effectively.

Amy Corwin, author of historical romances and mysteries says,
Most of my novels include a mystery of some sort, even if it is a simplistic one. Author Christopher Fowler has really perfected mysteries with unusual events, strange historic details, and complex plots that seem to take crazy, unrelated clues and make them all mesh into a brilliant conclusion. I’m always working to make my mysteries richer and more complex, and I don’t know if I’ll ever reach the pinnacle Fowler has reached with his Bryant and May mysteries, but I certainly hope to give him a run for his money!" 

Writer of gay shifter romances Shelley Grayson says:
I struggle with setting and trying to create the right atmosphere for a scene, because it's easier for me to focus on dialogue and what's in a character's head. Both Stephen King and Robert McCammon are masters at grounding a scene in ordinary but specific details, so when the werewolves or killer clowns show up, the readers are hooked and willing to go along with it. I often reread passages from their books to absorb how they've done it and try to find a better balance in my own stories.

Romance writer Jessa Jacobs told me:
The areas I feel I could most improve at the moment would be humor and poetry of language. Selecting just the right combination of words to evoke an exact emotion in the reader is an exercise in patience, but I'm always working on it. Thinking back to the last book that absolutely shattered me, not only for the story but because I utterly despair of writing that well, I came up with author Jodi Picoult as someone to study. 

Fantasy writer Daniel Marvello has been impressed with a recent read:
Chasing Arizona by Ken Lamberton is similar in some ways to Bill Bryson's work (although not quite as humorous), and chronicles Lamberton's "year-long joyride through Arizona." Lamberton's book captivated me immediately due to the author's skilled use of language and, in particular, his powerful command of verbs. As a result, his words paint incredibly vivid images on the canvas of your mind. I'm not exaggerating when I say that some passages nearly brought tears to my eyes because they were so skillfully rendered.

Lamberton has already started influencing my own writing. I'm consciously trying to do better about using verbs in place of nouns and adjectives coupled with forms of "to be." The technique increases the sense of immediacy and movement and should improve the pace and clarity of my writing.

New writer of comedies and romances Victoria Leybourne says:
My heart belongs to the humorous writing styles of Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and PG Wodehouse. With those guys, every paragraph - if not every sentence - is a neat, unpretentious little parcel of joy. They're consistently laugh-out-loud funny without appearing to really work at it. That's the dream for me!

Thank you to all of them for participating in this, the last of my posts this year on the writing craft, honoring NaNoWriMo.

Support indie authors and check out these writers' books at Amazon or your favorite e-book retailer. And jump in below, in comments, with your own answer to my question.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Revising and Editing: my process

Gustave Flaubert - Un Cœur simple (2001). Paris: Le livre de Poche (foto: Roger-Viollet)

I don’t mind editing so very much, but revision can be a chore. What's the difference between those two? I think of revision as "big stuff" and editing as "little stuff."

In revision, I might cross off pages and pages, rewrite scenes, rewrite the ending, decide a subplot went nowhere and expunge it, or radically change a secondary character's personality. I might spend three days looks at scene endings to search for the impetus for a reader to read the next scene, and if there isn't one, rewrite three or four paragraphs. These sorts of tasks can take several passes through a manuscript to fix, and sometimes require a month off between versions, so I can come back with a fresh eye to find and fix anachronistic remnants of the old version.

In revision, I look hard at issues of narrative voice, particularly if I have multiple narrators. Every narrator (and every frequent speaker of dialog, for that matter) needs to sound different from the others. Does this matter to readers? Possibly not consciously. But it matters to me. I want to get it right. So every narrator might have a pet phrase, sentence length, and diction that is discernibly different. I might give one "yes" and another "yup" and a third "sure" to say as affirmative answer to questions.

Toward the end of revision, I make a concerted effort to add a few smells and tastes, as I tend to rely in drafting too much on visual and auditory images. If I can, I take a few-week break after revision before digging in to the edits.

I begin editing with a series of 25 runs through "find" in my word processor. In drafting, when I'm typing lickety-split, I tend to use "just" and "only" too often. In editing, I erase 90% of them. I tend to make characters shrug and nod an awful lot. (I joke my first drafts all read as if I'm writing Bobblehead novels, the characters nod so much.) 90% of those must go. I look for uses of "there were" "there was" and "it was" to start independent clauses, and I try to find a more vivid way of saying that. ("There were clouds building in the west" might better be said, "A line of thunderstorms stretched across the western horizon, blocking out the last rays of the failing light.")

I manipulate sentence length and paragraph breaks to subtly alter pace. I print the novel out and mark it up. I enter changes, proofread twice more, and the novel gets proofed by two or three other people and then a pro proofreader. (And maddeningly, a few typos inevitably remain. They do in traditional novels, too.) And then I can turn it over to my Loyal Readers.

The goal of revision it to make it a page-turner of a tale, with believable characters you care about. The goal of editing is to make that tale go down easily as chocolate mousse. A writer once praised my work by saying, "It's like the words disappear into the page, and all I'm left with is the story." I hope that's still true, and I put a lot of effort into making it true. Too much effort? A lot of writers trying to make a living at writing indie genre fiction would say yes, I do. They advise me to crank out the book and let the first draft plus proofing stand. But I have to live with myself first of all, and I can't bear to do that.

On average, the work it takes me to write a natural disaster thriller assays out to about a 1:1:1:1:1 ratio--that's research to planning to drafting to revising to editing.  It might take 100 hours to research and 100 to plan a novel, 100 to draft, 100 to revise, and 100 to edit. Non-writers might only think about the 100 hours of drafting, and wonder why all writers don't put out a book each month. If I were the sort of writer who could work eight hours a day on writing alone, I might produce a novel every three months. As it is, with the necessary break between draft and revision, it takes me, in the best case scenario, six months from initial idea to final draft.

If I wrote contemporary, non-science-based novels, I could cut the research hours down by 2/3 or better. If I wrote historical fiction, I'd need to double the research time. Also, I'm the sort of writer who is burned out after two to four hours' creative work, which I do six to seven days each week. After that, I must turn to business matters, to connecting with writer friends on-line, or to tasks in the real world. (Writers, believe it or not, need to clean out their gutters and fix meals and phone their elderly aunts and do all sorts of chores every week, just like non-writers!) Or I might spend the rest of the day writing a blog post.

…like this one, which is now written. I hope you enjoyed it.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Gray III is drafted

I'm still on track for a January release of Gray III. I'll be revising it in December and if all goes well, several proofreaders will look at it sequentially in January. Deranged Doctor Design has the cover finished for me:

If you want to be emailed at its release, just sign up in the form on this page (on most browsers/apps, it should be to your right.) You can also "follow" me at Amazon if you'd prefer and they will notify you about three days after its release.

Thanks so much for reading!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Is NaNoWriMo for you?

This post, of my series honoring NaNoWriMo, will talk (oddly enough) about risks to the writer of NaNo. I hope to encourage people who are just now starting to think that NaNo might not be working out for them that it's perfectly okay to think that. It doesn't make you a bad person or a bad writer to realize it's not for you. This won't, in other words, be the typical rah-rah, get-back-to-it blog post you might read elsewhere this week.
Wikimedia commons image + modification

National Novel Writing Month was a creation of Chris Baty, by all accounts a nice guy, from the San Francisco area. The goal is, commit to writing 50,000 first-draft words between November 1 and November 30. If you do that, you "win."

Tens of thousands of amateurs from around the world try to write their first novel and discover how difficult that is and give up, which to me seems an excellent result, even if it doesn't feel excellent to those people at the time. Learning something new about the world and yourself is never a bad thing, and learning how difficult writing a novel is might make you a more appreciative reader. It might not be a NaNo "win," but it's a personal win.

Other drafts from NaNo novels go on to be darned good books. Water for Elephants was a NaNo novel, as well as The Forest of Hands and Teeth, The Night Circus, and probably hundreds of good indie novels that I can't name.

But let's be clear: it is not a wonderful experience for everyone who tries it. There are problems and pitfalls for both the amateur and professional writer.

For some first-timers, they cannot meet the goals and end up with confidence shaken, feeling miserable, depressed, and convinced they aren't and never will be writers. I wish they wouldn't feel that way (for all the good that wishing will do them). 500 words a day, on average, still will get you a novel draft in five months. Some people simply write best at that slower pace. Others have three kids and a full-time job, gutters to clean and snow to shovel, and the 40 minutes they carve out of every day to write 500 words is all they can spare. There's no shame in this (or shouldn't be), yet trying and failing to keep up with the NaNo pace does sometimes make people feel ashamed. It may even lose us some writers who would have gone on to write lovely books at a slower pace. That makes me sad. 1667 words per day is an arbitrary number. If you discover it's not your magical number, that's perfectly fine.

The NaNo system assumes that every writer would do best by quick-drafting, not editing or researching as he goes, and cleaning up a mess of a short draft only through multiple revisions later. But that's not every writer's ideal process. Some people do rewrite as they go. Some edit yesterday's words to start every new writing day. Back in the days of typewriters, several authors claimed not to take a page out of the machine until it was correct and final. Personally, I need to research as I go, in order for the scenes to form clearly in my mind's eye, and you may need to as well.

A newer writer, not yet knowing her own best patterns and habits, seeing that some people on the NaNo forums are claiming to write 250,000 words this month and 50,000 on day one, feeling peer pressure, might see anything less than 50,000 words in a month as a failure. And that's just silly. 35,000 words in a month is great! Do it again next month, and you have a complete novel draft--and possibly one closer to finished than the one you might have written by pushing for 50,000 in one month.

I suspect that most of the first novels written during NaNo are pretty far from done. If what is produced in a month of writing isn't at all good, if in fact it needs to be scrapped entirely, is there still any value to having written it? Yes. It teaches the value of self-discipline. For people who stick to the routine and write nearly every one of the 30 days, even the ones where they felt like doing anything else instead, they've learned what they'll need to be doing to become a professional writer. They've begun to establish good habits, and if they keep up those good habits, they've solidly placed themselves on the road to success.

For the already professional writer

Not every participant in NaNo in November has professional aspirations--at least not that they'll admit to. If they do, though, let's be frank: one month per year of work isn't going to do much for them. The exhaustion that most "winners" feel at the end of November is the exhaustion I have felt for the 17 of the 18 months I've been self-published, and most of my self-published friends feel the same--there's a steady, tough workload of writing/revising/proofing plus a list of non-writing chores that has the magical ability to grow by two every time you check off one.

A writing career is not one book, and one book published a year creates enough income to pay all the bills for only a few hundred lucky writers. In the world of indie writing, the common belief (and there is strong evidence that this is true) is that we must have four releases per year, most of those new novels, in order to earn a living wage. One rough draft in November is perhaps 1/24th of the work you'd need to hit this ideal self-publishing number. 50K in 30 days is good...but it may not be enough.

The professional might also find a problem with the rigidity of the attitudes at NaNo. You must begin on November 1. You must wait until then. Look, a writer is lucky if he has 25 good novels in him. Over a lifetime, you might lose some of those. A life crisis in the middle of one can derail it forever. Another may never come together as you'd like, no matter how many revisions you give it, eating up a couple years of effort for no measurable return. A third and fourth might be lost to a bad situation--loss of editor or merger or bankruptcy--in traditional publishing. A fifth you might throw away by stopping in the middle to do something else and never being able to regain the right mental state. So you're going to write only 20 of these good novels to completion. I recently saw a NaNo official tell someone who was excited to begin his novel the last week of October not to, because it was "against the rules." He wasn't looking to report the words as November words. He was just excited to start. I wanted to tear my hair out at this terrible, terrible advice. Worst advice ever!

Do you have professional aspirations? Then if you are desperate to begin on October 20, start the damned novel! Please! Inspiration and excitement are like free money lying on the street for a writer. If you don't grab it now, a brisk wind will come and snatch it away. Much of writing is hard. Not every day is a happy day. Pros show up and pound out their minimum words despite bad moods and the urge to do something--anything!--other than write. (Upon revision, you can't tell the good days' from the bad days' words, so you learn that "write anyway" is a most valuable lesson.) On those days when you are burning to write and can pound out 5,000 words without breaking a sweat? Do. Not. Give. Those. Up. Certainly don't give them up because it's freakin' October the 20th! Ack!

The point of NaNo for pros (or those aspiring to be professionals) is that it is--or should be--used in service of your writing career. Use NaNo if you like, but don't let it use you, or limit you, or toss you off your game. Get a solid eight hours sleep October 31. Get up and write (as you always do) your best number of words, whether that is 1000 or 3000 or 5000. If you already know you need one day each week away from your writing to feel your best, continue to take it off during November. If you're finishing a project you started in October and only have 40,000 words to finish, just finish the damned novel and forget about "winning" NaNo. If your outline is only half-baked on November 1, fully bake the thing and start the novel on November 15 instead.

For the professional writer, a NaNo win is a little like your award for perfect attendance in fourth grade that you threw away long before you went to university. Sure, it gave you a glow of pride for a moment when you were nine years old, but as an adult you realize that it has zero actual value.

A finished novel has value. But for some people, NaNo doesn't make getting to one easier.

Do understand: I like NaNo. It works for me this year. But I keep it in perspective. I was a traditionally-published writer before Chris Baty has his interesting idea in 1999. You could be a happy writer or a best-seller without ever having heard of it. It's just ... one thing. A game. A diversion. A chance to hang out with other writers. If it's painful or damaging for you, take care of your writer self and drop out without a gram of guilt or shame.

May my fellow writers out there all write novels to be proud of, this year and every year, any time they feel the urge.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

My favorite books on the craft of writing

(In November, in honor of National Novel Writing Month, I blog about the craft of writing, as I seldom do the rest of the year. I hope you enjoy these posts.)

There are a number of books that, over the years, helped me learn to be a better fiction writer. Here are some of them.

Gary Provost, Make Every Word Count. There is perhaps no better book for the new fiction writer than this, and it applies to narrative non-fiction and article writing, too! Provost corrects many of the most common line-level errors that new writers make. He explains why to avoid said bookisms. He explains why active verbs are better than passive. He tells you to "Avoid cliches like the plague." All of this is done in a friendly, humorous style in short chapters. Sadly, Provost died young, but his advice is timeless.

Because many high school and college teachers assigned it, there are many copies used for a penny plus shipping at Amazon. If you're writing your first novel or series of short stories, get it!

Jack Bickham. Writing Novels That Sell. Bickham repeated much of the information in this book in several others, but I will always be fond of this one for its first chapter that demythologizes writing and always pumps me up to read. (To summarize. It's work. If you want to make a living at it, get down to work and quit yer whining.)

The best bits of it are Bickham's summary of his mentor, Dwight Swain's, concept of scene and sequel and motivation-reaction units. Surely some people are naturals at this sort of thing, but the analytical approach could make any writer understand how to make the scenes flow well and logically and to draw the reader inexorably forward.

Much of the information on the business end--typed manuscripts and so on--is well out of date, and who is left alive who remembers QB Slingin' Sammy Baugh on the field?, but the content is golden.

Dwight Swain. Techniques of the Selling Writer. After reading Bickham, I wanted to read the original, and I began my hunt for this book. At that time, it was out of print, and I finally happened upon it at a used book store while I was on the road. Yay!

If the Bickham is dated, this one is positively antediluvian. Confession magazines, action pulps, Colliers--all are fading now in the memories of the last elderly people to have seen them. And he has a charming belief that only women write confessions and romance and only men write action, but of course he was a product of his time (and there's not a drop of viciousness in him about this. Pretend he's your kindly grandpa and listen to his wisdom).

Here it all is in the original, MRUs, scene and sequel, in many more words. I prefer Bickham's briefer approach, but you have to give credit where it is due, and Swain is the originator. It's back in print now and easy to find.

My only living author in this list (and he's no spring chicken) is Robert McKee, the screenwriting instructor, for his Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting. To me, structure is both the most important part of a novel and the hardest to learn to craft. Someone led me to this not many years ago and I was shocked to find that it's screenwriters who really understand story structure, and yet in a way novelists can adapt and use.

Blake Snyder's Save the Cat is a rung on the ladder less than Story, I think, but it still had some useful advice for me and it influenced the structure of Gray II. Snyder also died young.

I've read two hundred more craft books than these over many years, and most had one bit in them I found useful. I am not one for "you go, girl!" type books or books that have you find your mystical inner child writer or half-autobiographical books. I prefer specific advice that you can immediately take action on to improve your novels and stories, and these five books are, imo, top examples of those sorts of books.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Hurricane Patricia

It's going to have to be a short blog post this week, as I'm nearing the end of the first draft of Gray III and need to focus on that.

This week, a storm came out of nowhere and became a record-breaker in 48 hours. I look at the tropical storm page at Weather Underground every morning during the Northern Hemisphere season and often look back a second time each day. I play through the various satellite loops at NOAA and watch windmaps spin. I looked at this invest on Wednesday and it was three random blobs. I doubted it would start spinning and come together. Olaf looked much prettier.

We all know now--I was wrong!

It led to one of those afternoons disaster freaks like me so enjoy. On Friday, I sat in front of The Weather Channel (down the street--I don't have a TV) with my laptop and simultaneously watched live beach webcams, blog posts from storm chasers, and anything else I could find. I wasted four hours at it and had a fine time.

I didn't even have to suffer the guilt about deaths and serious injuries that comes after a disaster-watching binge, for there have been none reported so far. People who could little afford to lose anything lost everything, though, and I am sad for that.

There may be a stand-alone novel about a hurricane one day. I've drafted one on a tornado (a year ago! yikes!) and plan to have it out in the spring, but after that I'll turn to writing a new series and stand-alone disaster novels will have to take a back seat for a year.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

How to write a short Amazon/Goodreads review

Every indie author depends on the good will of fans/readers to give honest reviews of our books. As there is not a vast publicity machine behind the typical self-published book, word of mouth and reviews can allow it to find its audience. For those of you who have reviewed my books, or who have told a friend about one, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. It does matter.

Wikimedia Commons, public domain image

Unfortunately, some people have a bad anxiety hangover from school days when they think of writing a book review. Or they think of a 1000-word analysis from a major newspaper as the only sort of review there is.

As I told my good friend S who reads nothing but indie e-books (four a week, usually) but has never once reviewed, rest assured, you needn't write a four-page article. And you won't even be graded on your review. I wrote the following for her:

A review need only be two sentences and, at Amazon, a one-word title. Here's one formula for the two-sentence review.

Sentence 1: A summary of the book. A summary can be purely factual, or you can throw in a judgment word, or compare it to another book. Facts about a book you might mention:
  • What genre it is
  • Who the main character is
  • The setting
  • What other book it reminded you of
Example. "Till There was You is a sweet YA romance about the relationship between Priz, a tomboy, and Burt, her best friend's older brother."
Sentence 2: Your evaluation of it. It's not a school assignment, so you don't have to worry about avoiding the use of the word "I" or any other such rule. In this sentence, you might answer questions such as:
  • What did you like about it?
  • What stuck with you?
  • What did it do better or worse than other books in that genre you've read?
Example. "I liked how realistic it was--no instalove, no unbelievable coincidences, just a sweet story of first love."
And post it. That simple! Feel like doing more? Write another sentence, or post it on another site.

Still not convinced you want to review? Then take a moment to check "helpful" or "like" on a few of the other reader reviews that said something close to what you might have said.

I--and all the other indie writers out there--will be grateful you did.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Great Shakeout: earthquake drill

15 October, 10:15 in the morning, your local time is the time to practice for an earthquake.

Your instructions are simple: Drop. Cover. Hold On.

Your kids will love it. (Grandma may have to be coaxed down and helped up.)

From the Great Shakeout website, but edited to my taste:
  1. Drop, Cover, and Hold On: Drop to the ground, take Cover under a table or desk, and Hold On to it as if a major earthquake were happening (stay down for at least 60 seconds). Practice now so you will immediately protect yourself during earthquakes!

  2. While still under the table, or wherever you are, look around and imagine what would happen in a major earthquake. What would fall on you or others?

  3. Text First. Talk Second. logo
  4. A great extra step is to practice how to communicate with family, friends, and co-workers. Texts go through more quickly and do not overload the system, which is being used by people with dire medical emergencies and by first responders.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Why did the El Faro steer into a hurricane?

Ship (not a container ship) in rough seas, Wikimedia Commons
People all over the world are asking the question posed in the post title. The container ship El Faro steered directly into Hurricane Joaquin, which was nearly stationary at that time. This means there was no rapid overtaking of an unaware ship by the storm, and the captain would have had a good idea for many hours before engine failure of where the storm was and where it was heading. The three-day forecasts for the hurricane when the ship left port were correct. The storm did not take a bizarre turn. It was just where every dependable model said it would be. It was coming nowhere near the departure point of the ship. The ship could have delayed its voyage. Or steered more to the south. Or turned around at the halfway point and been well out of danger.

Yet the captain kept heading into the heart of the storm. When the engines failed, the ship sank. As of this writing, no living crew member has been spotted and only one body was found, which was left where it was so as not to delay the search for survivors. Thirty-three people have most certainly died.

I searched the major news media outlets looking for answers, but the news was (as it too often is these days) repetitive and unhelpful, largely an uncritical quoting of press releases, and then I found a forum of merchant seamen at and a few similar sites and read their comments with growing interest. Some had worked on that ship, others on identical vessels for that company. One had loaded the ship. They were more helpful by far than the news media in helping me understand what might have happened and how it might have felt to be there.

These people posed interesting questions and helped me understand why you might lose a boiler in those seas, why you couldn't get it restarted even if the equipment was in good order, and how difficult it might be to deploy a life raft with physical conditions as they were, and otherwise made possible scenarios come alive in my head. They referred to both the company's interests and any captain's need to consider financial/employment issues in ways that made my heart sink. Could it be that captains are directed into dangerous seas for purely financial reasons or feel they can't say "no" lest they be blackballed from working ever again?

Ye gods, I hope not. It was a hurricane, for pity's sake, not a minor gale or tropical depression. And if they were directed into it, you'd think the lawsuits alone would erase any profit made from a hundred such successful voyages. So this seems unlikely. Nor is it possible it's like one of those murder/suicide deals with airline pilots smashing planes into mountainsides. Too many people had to cooperate with the captain for that to be the explanation.

In an aside, I found that those working on these ships are quite critical about the Coast Guard, which surprised me, as the posters must potentially rely on the Coast Guard to save their lives. They did not say that anyone could have been saved in this case, however, with any other approach than that the USCG took. Probably by the time it was safe enough to fly in and look for survivors, all hands were lost.

There will be an investigation of the sinking of the El Faro. Still, it could be a year or two before there's a report issued on the findings. And the answers might not be as disinterested as we would hope. All sorts of pressures, including political and economic ones, are brought to bear in such an investigation.

My heart goes out to those families, and to the seamen themselves. You read those expert discussions, and you start to imagine those last moments, perhaps not being to get off the ship at all, the list, the roll, the containers breaking loose... or gaining the water in your survival suit and yet drowning in the spray and crashing waves, or being battered to death by debris...and it's impossible not to get a lump in your throat.

RIP, crew of the El Faro.

For more, go to youtube and type in "container ship high seas" and get a small taste of what the start of the experience may have been. For further reading about an important disaster at sea, try Robert Frump's Until the Sea Shall Free Them.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Update on Gray III

I know my readers want to know when the final installment of the Gray series is coming out. In brief, I'm on track for a January 2016 release.

I've written over half of the draft, and I have an outline for the rest of the novel (which I may or may not stick closely to, but it's still a good thing to have.) I work on it every day. My hope is that I'll be done with the draft on October 20.

My process thereafter is this:

  • Forget about it for three or four weeks while I work on something else
  • Revise on screen
  • Edit on screen (revision is "big stuff" and editing is "little stuff," the way I use the terms)
  • Printout and another edit on paper
  • Enter those changes and send it off to three amateur proofreaders, in sequence
  • After those people are done, send it to my pro proofreader
  • Enter those changes
  • Upload to Amazon
  • Email my mailing list

The pro proofreading may fall right around Christmas, so I'm not sure yet about availability/timing. Best case: nothing goes wrong, and a January 1 release. Worst case, I have a revision brainstorm which pushes this all back nearly a month, as happened with Gray II.

After that, I have another standalone disaster novel nearly ready, and I will put it up for sale in April. I have a short story/novelette to release in summer 2016.  I hope to get to releasing paperbacks in early 2016, too. I have a new series that I'm already researching and jotting notes here and there, and I hope to have two of those done before I release the first in late September 2016. The further into the future we go, the less certain I am the plan will work out precisely, but if the crick don't rise, it'll be close to that schedule.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Preparedness Month: Outages

This week's focus in Preparation month is power outages, which I've pointed out before in this blog is a common disaster and potentially deadly. It is likely to become more common, so we all need to prepare for it.

From the US government's preparathon website, here are some tips:
  • Fill plastic containers with water and place them in the refrigerator and freezer if there's room. Leave about an inch of space inside each one, because water expands as it freezes. These blocks of cold will help keep food cold longer during a temporary power outage.
  • Most medication that requires refrigeration can be kept in a closed refrigerator for several hours without a problem.
  • Because gas stations rely on electricity to power their pumps, keep your car tank at least half full at all times. (This is a good emergency preparation practice for all emergencies.)
  • Know where the manual release lever of your electric garage door opener is located and how to operate it.
I'm sure you already know not to open the refrigerator or freezer doors unnecessarily during a power outage. Make a plan of what you'll need from the fridge, keep a list, and only open it two or three times a day, keeping the door half-open, for as briefly as possible. A two person food brigade can help the unloading go more quickly and get that door shut again.

Have plenty of canned food on hand, as a matter of course. If you don't have room in your kitchen, a box of canned food can be tucked into the back of closet or kept in a garage. Every year or two, rotate those cans into your pantry or donate them to a food drive, and re-fill the emergency supply with new cans.

Somewhere in your emergency supplies, you should have a hundred dollars in cash tucked away. When the electricity goes down, grocery stores may stay open, but they won't be accepting checks or credit cards. ATMs won't be working, either. So you'll need cash.

Stay safe. Stay prepared.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Preparedness Month: for children

Most kids will become enthusiastic about the topic of emergency preparedness, and involving them in your plans will help the whole family stay safe, and it will give you a chance to educate your children about natural disasters, weather, and geology.

The kids' site here has good information, presented attractively. It tells us to:
  • Make a plan
  • Build a kit
  • Know the facts
  • Get involved 
The site also has a comic-book adventure through several disasters that tests knowledge and was fun for me to play. I even learned something new: that in a wildfire, you should leave your home lights on to help firefighters see the building through thick smoke.

Building an emergency kit can be a fun activity for the whole family. Here's a link to one pdf checklist for suggested supplies. So involve your children and be prepared for the a family.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Major Chilean Earthquake

Tsunamis locally and probably more to come. 3 a.m local Hawaii time. For more:

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Preparedness Month: 30 Days, 30 Ways

There's a pretty cool preparation game with blog and Facebook page to help people prepare for natural disaster emergencies: 30 Days 30 Ways. Every day, there is a paragraph or two to read and a task to complete. Some tasks are about raising awareness and self-educating, and some are practical about building your emergency kit. I can imagine turning this into a great scouting activity, too.  Again, while this is a site associated with the US government's Preparedness Month, anyone in any nation can take part. Enjoy!

(And to reassure my fans, #amwriting on Gray III, and my stand-alone tornado novel will be revised and published soon after that.)

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Preparedness Month: Floods

In the US, it's National Preparedness month, but my Australian, Canadian, and UK readers, and all, are invited to join us!
Mark Arvette, via Wikimedia Commons
Week 1's focus is floods. I am familiar with these both from growing up along a big river (where I volunteer sandbagged more than once) and from living now in a desert where washes fill very quickly with monsoon-season rainwater. Six inches of moving water can knock down an average-sized person, and children are more vulnerable. Two feet of water can sweep away a car.

Don't risk drowning. Stay out of moving water and wait patiently for it to subside--or turn around and find another route.

While camping next to a stream in a mountain environment might look inviting, during the rainy season or when there are rain clouds in the vicinity, walk up hill to higher ground and camp there.

If you are evacuated from your home for a major flood, please, heed the evacuation order and don't return until the official all-clear has come.

Be safe. Be prepared.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My new covers are coming in!

Right now, the banner on this site and the two top links on the right have the new covers on them. I'm quite happy with them and hope they bring my novels to a wider audience.

I thank my thousands of readers of Gray who found the novel and gave it a chance despite my cheap homemade covers. You guys are terrific and wonderfully open-minded. I am grateful for each one of you.

Covers (and soon formatting and more) by

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Why does the U.S. have more tornadoes than any other country?

FEMA image in the public domain

In brief, the answer to this is a three-parter:

1) Geology + temperature.
2) It doesn't. England has more per square kilometer.
3) Some details are still unknown, and that might change the answer

What is widely accepted:
  • Low elevation moisture comes from the Gulf, sweeping across Texas and into Tornado Alley (the red parts of the map, above).
  • High, hot dry air from the SW desert creates a high cap.
  • Cold air swoops down from the Rocky Mountains. It's crucial that the mountains run North-South for storm formation. A country split by east-west mountains would not have this ingredient.
  • All of this gets stirred together, and a new front can send that moist air up and up. Clouds form. Add circulation, and you get supercell thunderstorms.

Supercell, by NOAA, seen from the south

You'll notice I slid right past that "add circulation" bit. Here is where scientists are still trying to untangle the knot that is tornadogenesis and tease out those facts. Why will some storms rotate quickly and others hardly at all? Bit by bit, the scientists are closing in on an answer, but they aren't quite there yet.

30-50 degrees latitude is currently the sweet spot for tornadoes. If the weather continues to steadily heat up worldwide, that will shift northward, and Canada may one day rival the US for tornadoes.

If the US were three countries--west of the Rockies, middle third, and east-coast states--the two coastal thirds would have a more typical number of tornadoes. It's that middle third that gets slammed with the EF4 and EF5 tornadoes that turns the US into tornado central. England may have more tornadoes for its area, but they tend to be EF1 storms.

If you meet people from Oklahoma, which has the majority of the worst tornadoes, ask them about twisters and you'll discover this: most have never seen a tornado in person. Like the rest of us, they mostly see video of them on TV, over in the next county. I've seen one in Illinois, IRL, from a distance, which I think we can all agree is the ideal way to see one.

I have a tornado novel written, by the way, with major revisions done, but I need to get the last Gray novel out before I return to it and finish the final edits of it. It'll be out in early 2016, I think.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Natural Disaster History: Krakatoa, 1883

August is the anniversary of the most famous of volcanic eruptions, the Krakatoa eruption in Indonesia. In the last week of August, 132 years ago, the volcano entered its final phase of eruption, an event that had been building for six months. With a force much more powerful than any nuclear weapon ever detonated, its final eruption sent an ash plume 50 miles into the air and burst the eardrums of people 40 miles away. It was heard clearly in Australia, Manilla, and in islands just west of Madagascar, and the shock wave was recorded on barographs as it swept around the world seven times.

Over 36,000 people died. Pyroclastic flow killed islanders nearby, and a hot rain of ash and stone killed more people 30 miles off. The following tsunami resulted in most of the deaths, and some argue that it caused well over 50,000 deaths not included in the 36,000 figure.

For months afterwards, there were spectacular sunsets from the particulates in the air, as well as changes to weather that lasted five years.

If you had been hanging out on the planet Mars at the time, you would have seen the Earth get--and remain for years--considerably brighter as the particulates increased the albedo of the planet's atmosphere.

Westerners living in the area or sailing nearby took notes that reached newspapers on the other side of the globe quickly. It was the first natural disaster that was reported so quickly, and widely. We take this for granted today, but the technologies for communication were new then.

While not the biggest volcanic eruption in the past 1000 years, it happened when communication and science technologies had progressed to such a point that its importance to the science of volcanology could hardly be overstated. It also revealed to meteorologists new information about high-level winds.

In 2003, Simon Winchester wrote a terrific non-fiction book about it, well worth reading if you're as into natural disasters as I am. Also, you could mosey on over to youtube and look for uploaded TV specials on the topic, like this one:

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Half of Americans at risk of earthquakes

A new study in Earthquake Spectra that reminds us of the truth of the seismic hazards map in the US is getting a lot of press coverage, and that's a good thing, in my opinion. Here's one link, and there's another good article at National Geographic.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Things are a-changing around here...

I'm very excited about my current project: revamping of my books. I'm finishing up on pro copyediting this month, getting all new covers next month, upgrading the interior designs, and I will have paperback versions up before the end of the year.

I thank my terrific readers for enjoying my books; without your buying the books, I could never have afforded to do this. So I'm pouring the income back into the business and will give you a better product as a result.

Remember, keep your "automatic updates" on for kindle books, and when authors do this sort of thing, you'll be able to have the best version of the books in your collection.

(And, for fans of the Gray series, I'm still working on Gray III. There's a horrifying opening scene....)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Prepared vs. Prepper

When I talk to people these days about the importance of being prepared for a disaster, they sometimes edge away and say "I'm not one of those extremist prepper people!"

You don't have to be. Personally, I think if there's an entire collapse of civilization, I'm doomed anyway, and I'm not sure I'd want to be the last one standing after a nuclear holocaust or asteroid hit. Furthermore, the likelihood of those is remote, so I don't worry about them. (If you do worry, and go the whole prepper route, and can afford to spend the time and money on it, good on you.)

What I would like you to think about, though, are the disasters that actually do kill people and are likely in your area. You needn't prepare for The End of The World. But do prepare to avoid the possible end of your world.
Red Cross Emergency Kit. Image FEMA

Number one on your list of preparations to make should be not for a natural disaster but the common house fire. 2,650 deaths per year in the US are due to these, and you'll see proportional numbers in other countries. Make sure your smoke detectors are working, check the expiration date on any fire extinguishers you own, and run a fire drill for your family once a year. Choose an annual date: your birthday is good, or use ShakeOut Day (October 15), a good day to think about disasters beyond earthquakes, too. Have your plan in place, and practice. The more that people practice what to do in such a situation, the more likely they will survive.

If you take care of no other preparations, please, take care of that.

Anyone can lose electricity due to weather extremes or brown-out. I'd rank this area of preparation next, particularly if you live somewhere it gets well below freezing or above 90F/30C. If you have insulin in the refrigerator, you need to think through what you'll do with it if the power is out for a week. If your continued existence depends on a breathing device that runs off electricity, you need a plan for producing electricity. While it's true that homo sapiens existed for hundreds of thousands of years without electricity, and most of us could probably survive a week without if we had some canned food and crackers, being prepared for the loss of power is a good idea.

Still with me and have more energy for preparing? Next on your list should be preparing for the one most common natural disaster in your area. If you live in northern Minnesota or most of Canada, that's going to be cold weather and blizzards, and I bet if you do live there, you're prepared for it, with extra clothes in your car, road flares, chains, and possibly a generator at home. If you live in Oklahoma or northern Texas or Kansas, you're going to know what to do in the case of a tornado. Coastal Californians think often about earthquakes. (And people in Memphis and St. Louis and Seattle need to think about them more--they're rare but can be terrible there when they do arrive.) The Gulf Coast is prepared for hurricanes. Hawai'ians know the tsunami evacuation routes. My readers in Australia know a good deal about wildfires.

I happen to live in a place with almost no chance of any natural disaster, but there are nuclear plants upwind, so I'm prepared for that sort of disaster. I have a bug-out kit in my car trunk, and I never let the petrol get below a half a tank in my car. In most disasters, sheltering in place is the smartest option, but with hurricanes/typhoons and nuclear plant disasters, evacuating is the preferred response. Preparing for it took me a few hours of buying and packing supplies over a week's time, but it only takes me a few minutes a year to make sure they're all still in place. I could be on the road in less than five minutes.

To summarize, please prepare for these: 1) Home fire. 2) Loss of electricity. 3) The number 1 likely natural disaster for your region. It's not extremist to do so--it's smart.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

If there were a repeat of the 1811 New Madrid Earthquake

USGS, from a previous study

A new paper in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America addresses what would happen today if there were a repeat of the historical New Madrid quakes (as occurs in my novel, Quake.) "More than eight million people living and working near the NMSZ would experience potentially damaging ground motion and modified Mercalli intensities ranging from VI to VIII if a repeat of the 1811–1812 earthquakes occurred today. Moreover, the duration of strong ground shaking in the greater Memphis metropolitan area could last from 30 to more than 60 s, depending on the magnitude and epicenter."

If you don't have access to scientific journals, a short article summarizing the paper is here

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Natural Disaster History: Tangshan Quake, 1976

In Natural Disaster History this month, the Tangshan earthquake

In the wee hours of July 28, 1976, the deadliest earthquake of last century occurred in Hebei province, China. The death toll, while still uncertain, may have been as much as a half million.

As with many earthquakes, the destruction was caused a pair of shakes, the big aftershock coming sixteen hours after the main shock. With magnitudes of 7.5 (revised) and 7.1, the earthquakes lasted no more than fifteen seconds each. Despite what might look like moderate magnitude numbers, the shaking intensity for the central 47 square kilometer affected area was 11 (on a scale of 12).

The weakness of home construction combined with the nature of the soil beneath them was responsible for much of the death; the hour of the quake was also a factor, as nearly everyone was in bed, sleeping. In that fifteen seconds of shaking, few had the time even to dive under a piece of heavy furniture for protection as the roofs came crashing down on them. Of those awake and working, some were coal miners who are assumed to have perished underground.

According to some reports, the destruction in the city of Tangshan (population 1.6 million at the time) was so complete, not a single hospital remained standing. In addition, water, electricity, and sewage infrastructures were destroyed. Highway overpasses and bridges collapsed and rail lines were so bent that travel on them was impossible. Food delivery was therefore nearly impossible to effect. Near the sea, sand volcanoes erupted from the layers of saturated silt underground. Because news reports did not flow readily out of China at the time, we were then--and still are--uncertain about many details.

The death toll is difficult to nail down because of political issues, and it may have been exacerbated by politics as China refused international aid, trying to prove that the Revolution meant they could handle such matters entirely on their own. Volunteer efforts to immediately dig neighbors from the ruble did save lives, as it would today, in your town, were an earthquake like this to strike there.

Sources: Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, USGS. If you are interested in more, there are a couple of short videos in Mandarin on youtube, which provide images.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Links to hurricane articles

I read a couple good articles on hurricanes the past two days and wanted to share them with you.

First, why the Atlantic hurricane season is unlikely to be very bad (again) from scientist Angela Fritz.

The City of New Orleans recently updated its hurricane preparedness information. Cool graphic design makes it an appealing site to use.

Results of a Yale study suggest Connecticut residents are surprisingly reluctant to evacuate in case of a hurricane.

NOAA's Response and Restoration blog gives an interesting perspective on hurricanes and recovery.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Edits on Gray II

My edits on Gray II are going better than I'd hoped. Depending on the availability of my proofreaders, I could have this up for sale before August 1! (If not, the first week of August for sure.)

I'll email my mailing list fans so they can catch the days it'll be 99 cents. If you haven't signed up for the mailing list, please do so.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Still Revising Gray II

A neighbor came over this morning and said, "I'm so excited that you said the next book will be out in a couple days. I haven't read anything good lately!"

I said, "Oh, dear, you weren't listening to that lying ***** about release dates, were you?"

I didn't mean to fib, but late in the first revision of Gray II, I had a nifty new idea, and it has left the novel in much more of a mess than was curable with a quick edit.

So I'm working on it, struggling a bit to untangle the knots those changes left. It will be a better book for it, no doubt about that. I hesitate to give a new date, in case I don't accurately guess. The first half is a proofread away from publishing. The second half...not so much.

Hang in, fans. It is coming!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tornado season in the US

It is tornado season in the USA, the country with the most tornadoes every year. This past week has seen some major storms, including many that have provided dramatic pictures of mammatus clouds, like these from some years ago:

by Brian0918, Wikipedia Commons
These cloud formations often come with anvil clouds and big thunderstorms. Try google image for some recent uploads of these impressive cloud photos. Or visit Dr. Masters' always interesting weather blog

(Still revising Gray II, by the way. I do have a tornado novel drafted, but it's going to be awhile before I can get back to revising that one! And I have the coolest idea for a new series...but that's going to have to wait until 2016.)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Gray II

I've been revising Gray II, and I was nearly done, when a brainstorm hit me. I think the new idea will make it a better novel, so for those of you I've told it will be out in June, I'm sorry! I still think it will be out before the end of summer, and a better book than it would have been had I not had this new idea. Hang tight, and it will come...!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Earthquake safety revisited

Watching the amateur and CCTV footage from the Nepal earthquake, I thought it was a good idea to revisit some safety concepts:

NZ, Wikimedia Commons

If you live or travel in an earthquake-prone area, don't be in a brick building if you can possibly help it. California legislates against building with brick, and its historical brick buildings are retrofitted, but in places like Memphis and St. Louis and Seattle, which could experience a terrible earthquake, there are unreinforced brick buildings that will kill thousands in a bad quake.

If an earthquake hits, the correct behavior is: STOP. DROP. COVER. HOLD ON. This will give you the best chance of surviving without injury.

Immediately drop and crawl under the heaviest piece of furniture you are near, hang on with one hand, and keep your head protected with the other arm. Again and again, in videos of every earthquake, I see people running toward glass doors and walls. That's the very stupidest thing you could do and results in many serious cuts. One of these days, you'll see someone beheaded that way on film--please don't be that person. In Nepal, people were running for doors in such a panic, there were surely more injuries from the crush there than there would have been had they dropped under a table, or even just stayed where they were. Outside, windows, bricks, and gargoyles from buildings can rain down on you, so in a city, outside is less safe than inside.

Even in a brick home, unless you're right at the door, you likely won't have time to get out. If you grab your kid or your purse and head out, by the time you're on the lawn, the shaking will likely have stopped. It's still better to crawl under the desk or dining room table and wait out the seconds of the quake.

This is worth practicing with your family or office, too. Set aside a time for a drill, or use the worldwide Shakeout  ( on October 15. Drop, cover, and hold on. If you're practiced, you'll be less likely to panic.

I like my readers! Please, all of you, stay safe.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Tornado emergency preparation

In North America, it's tornado season, and it will be for six more months.

Wikipedia Commons

Some reminders on preparation for these killer storms:
  • Make your emergency plan now and discuss it with your family
  • Find your "safe room," the best place in your home to survive a tornado
  • Know where the designated shelter is at work or school
  • Have a contact person and meeting place for your family at least a few miles away from home, should your home be destroyed and the cell phone towers taken down, too, preventing phone calls
  • Prepare your emergency kit: a gallon of water per person and per pet, a battery-operated radio (a NOAA weather radio is ideal), canned food with pop tops and crackers and peanut butter (or equivalent), life-saving medicines, plastic bags for waste, work gloves, and a flashlight. This is the very minimum you should have, and you can google for more information on tornado emergency kits
  • Keep photocopies of driver's licenses, insurance information, birth certificates, and other important information either at a relative's house, in a safety deposit box, or scanned and in the cloud
  • Listen to the broadcast warnings and obey them
  • Don't risk your life getting a video for youtube of a funnel cloud bearing down on you
  • Obey police and fire when they tell you not to enter an area or structure, no matter how panicked you are about loved ones or how curious
  • Don't be a tornado tourist if there's destruction near you. It's rude at best, dangerous to you and others, and places unnecessary strain on first responders who might be saving lives instead of trying to police you
  • If you loot tornado victims, expect to be shot, and prosecuted, and shunned by decent people thereafter

Stay safe!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Natural Disaster History: Mt. Tambora

Mt. Tambora, Gialiang Gao, from Wikipedia Commons

The largest volcanic event in recorded history happened 200 years ago April 10, at Mt. Tambora, in Indonesia. 11,000 died directly as a result of the eruption, and over 100,000 eventually died from effects of the eruption.

175 cubic kilometers of volcanic debris spewed out of the mountain, mostly over just 3 days. The ash plume was, at its most impressive, 33-43 km tall. The energy released was 2.2 million times that of the Hiroshima atom bomb. The eruption was similar in force to the one that created Crater Lake

By Arcataroger from Wikipedia Commons
The mountain was about the size of Mt. Rainier before the eruption.

Cullen328 from Wikipedia Commons
The aerosols stayed around for two years, causing lower global temperatures, creating famine that killed many thousands of people, and creating spectacular sunsets, some of which have been preserved in paintings like this:

Will Tamboro erupt again? You can bank on that. Will there be another volcano as powerful, another VEI-7 eruption? You can bank on that, too, and one may well happen within your lifetime, though probably with another mountain.

You can read much more about this eruption in Gillen D'Arcy Wood, Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014