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!