Sunday, October 15, 2017

Habits that help you prepare for a disaster

Disasters might give you warning, as with hurricanes, but usually they do not. You're sitting there reading a book, and the power goes out. Or the earth starts to shake and your glass figurines fall off the shelf. Or the tornado siren comes. Or your phone buzzes, and it's your local emergency management office telling you there has been a train wreck and toxic chemicals are spilling into your neighborhood. Or you look up from pulling weeds in the vegetable garden, and the sky has gone dark and the sun is turning pink, and the hair on the back of your neck lets you know it's a wildfire blowing your way.

Of course you have your emergency supplies ready for "sheltering in place," don't you? And an emergency contact plan with your family, including someone out of town who will coordinate your locations and safety check-ins? You know that when cell towers get overloaded, texts will get through when calls won't, right?

You already own a generator if you're in a cold climate, or hurricane country, or dependent upon an electric breathing device to stay alive, and you won't be one of those people running out to buy one 10 minutes before a hurricane hits, will you? And you have your car filled up to at least half, because letting it go below half a tank is a bad thing. If you have a hybrid or electric, you top it up every night, right?

Your shelves have plenty of canned food, including soups, and you have bags of rice and beans and canned tomatoes to flavor them.  And you have a camp stove or gas stove or propane grill outside so you can cook them, right?

You're not short on kitty litter or pet food, I hope!

You know your neighbors, and who among them is elderly or disabled and might need your help, don't you? The single parents that might be away when the disaster strikes, leaving frightened children alone?

No? Then don't wait until it's too late. Make sure all that is in place by the end of next weekend. Get into good habits, and then you won't be caught off-guard when a disaster does happen.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Emergency Supplies

It's a good time to revisit the concept of having an emergency supply kit that you can grab and take with you if you are evacuated because of flood, fire, hurricane, or toxic waste spill. You might build a three-day or a five-day kit. Some of what you might want to include:

  • Water - one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food - at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery
  • Prescription medications
  • Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives
  • Spare glasses 
  • Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet, plus their crate and leash
  • Cash or traveler's checks (ATMs don't work in power outages)
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Complete change of clothing appropriate for your climate and sturdy shoes
  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper to disinfect waterMatches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
  • Duct tape, which is often useful
  • A tarp for picnics or makeshift tent

Think through where you might end up: at a shelter, a friend's house, or stuck camping out of your car. 

Do this before you think you might need to. Dedicate a corner of your garage to it. If you have no garage, pick the closet closest to your front door and make sure everything is packed neatly into cheap duffle bags so the family can throw everything in the car within 15 minutes if they need to. Change the water and medications every year (your birthday is a good time to do that) and recharge the spare phone battery.

I also put a water filter in my supplies and parachute cord. Think through your locale, your situation, and add whatever you want.

And NEVER let your gas tank go under 50% full. Because you really never know.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Puerto Rico in Crisis

3 Days after Maria passed

A humanitarian crisis is ongoing in Puerto Rico, and its national government has been far too slow to respond. Some highlights, as I write this:

  • Power is out throughout the island
  • Safe water is a problem
  • The death toll is not yet known
  • It took five days for the territory’s governor to get in touch with the mayors of all towns large enough to have them
  • Children’s hospital has been out of fuel for their generators for days
  • Lines for limited gas create panic
  • Agriculture is decimated for the year--no new crops of any kind for many months
  • The infrastructure is damaged--power lines, water lines, roads, and more
  • People desperate for food and medicine have looted closed drugs stores
  • Opportunistic looters are making the streets unsafe
  • Dangerous prisoners have escaped a storm-damaged prison
  • People rushing home to loved ones are being price gouged by airlines
  • For nearly a week hospitals did not have running water

And I hate to be a doomsayer on this, but I know there could be more to come. For instance, what if one dead body in a stream was a person with a communicable disease? An epidemic disease is possible. I'm not wishing for it. I'm dreading it.

Because of a lack of leadership from the White House, people finally went around that roadblock to help. The Mayor of New York organized shipments of supplies. Individuals begged FEMA and Health Corps workers to act anyway, even without orders from the top. And many did.

Most of my readers live in a safe place, a place where they can rely on police or fire coming to help. Certainly if there were a disaster, they’d see evidence of rescue workers right away. Puerto Rico residents waited five days before much happened at all. Five days without stores open. Five days without hot food. Five days without communication, not knowing if the water coming from the tap was safe to bathe in or not. It’s hot and muggy there as well, which must make everything seem so much worse.

I write disaster novels as entertainment, but I never want to see a disaster happen. And my heart goes out to my fellow Americans. I’ve donated money--including money to the American Library Association, to help rebuild and restock libraries there and in the USVI, when the immediate crisis is over. Donate to safe, known places: UNICEF, Save the Children, The Red Cross all have funds for Maria.

I’m ashamed of how late my federal government acted to save its own citizens. And poor towns in Texas still have terrible problems and dangerous pollution from Harvey. I guess this is the future we have to look forward to unless we are filthy rich. Very sad indeed.

It also serves as a warning to us all. We cannot necessarily rely on our governments, which may be in a crisis of whatever nature themselves. We have to take care of ourselves.

So I’m thinking “three days of food and water” may no longer be enough to keep on hand. Have a five-day supply on hand at all times for those disasters we can’t anticipate, like tornadoes, earthquakes, and power outages. If you are in the way of a hurricane, if one seems remotely likely to hit you in ten days, start buying extra supplies for ten or fourteen days that far in advance. If you can afford a hybrid car, that would help evacuate you when gasoline runs out. (You can still get 100 miles away from a dangerous coastal area on your electric charge, and as all-electric cars continue to improve, one day, they’ll take you over 500 miles on one charge). And a spare, portable solar panel and battery pack might see you through many days of power outages--not to live a comfy suburban life with TV and cold drinks, but to have the necessities and communication capability you’ll so desperately want.

lines for gas were 4-5 miles long

My heart goes out to the people of Puerto Rico. I wish I could do more to help them.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Apologies. Too busy to write an article

While my blog is, most Sundays, a researched non-fiction article, this week, I'm too busy to write another. My apologies. The good news is, I'm putting the finishing touches on Oil Apocalypse 3. I have only to proofread it and, depending on when my cover artist is free, it should be up for pre-order in mid to late November. Oil Apocalypse 2 is up for pre-order now. So I'm well ahead of my original schedule, and you'll have a complete story in hand by the end of the year.

However, the series won't be entirely done at that point. While books 1-2-3 will complete a tale, I'll return to the neighborhood nine years later (in their time) to take up the story again in a book 4 with whoever has survived the first nine years of the end of oil. New problems, new enemies, and new opportunities will abound. I hope to complete the rest of the series over the course of 2018.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Oil Apocalypse 2: Bleeding is on pre-order

Bleeding, the second installment in the Oil Apocalypse series is available at Amazon now for pre-order.


I'm working hard on Book 3, and it should be out in November.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Electricity: we have some problems

I want to talk today about electricity.

It isn’t a big part of my Oil Apocalypse novel series yet. But it will be in book #4.

In the U.S. and Canada, we’re close to being in big trouble with electricity. We’ve relied on it our entire lives. It has always been there with the flick of a switch, as much of it as we want, whenever we want it. Less and less is that likely to be so in the future.

Right now, fossil fuels produce most of the U.S. electricity, with nuclear and renewables of all sorts producing about 20% each. Fossil fuels will run out. Also, they are horrible for our health in the short and long term, burning them drives climate change, and yet we’re stuck with them for now.

Our entire electrical infrastructure is based on them, and nukes work pretty well with that system. As we move to renewables, this old system becomes a problem. The short explanation is this: electricity is quite hard to store. Nuclear power and fossil fuel power cannot be ramped up or shut off quickly. Those plants were designed to run all the time. Wind and solar (which by the way are not as eco-friendly as we might hope) can--and do--start up and shut off in seconds. The problem is with the shutting off.  The wind quits blowing. Clouds roll in. No electricity! But if the coal plants are all shut off when that happens, or the nuclear plant is at rest, you can’t exactly turn them on like a light switch. It can take hours or days to make those plants start generating electricity again.

So imagine a future in which we rely 100% on renewable electricity. The wind quits blowing and the sun goes down, both at the same time. Oops.

Choice A: live without electricity until the wind blows again or the sun shines again, or until another form can be generated or transported across a long distance. (As someone who lives in a hot desert right now, I can promise you, this is not really an option on 120-degree days!) Or choice B: find a way to store it in massive amounts so there is electricity saved up for times when sun or wind or water isn’t generating it.

Storage of electricity is a big challenge. Batteries go bad. Big batteries--enough to run a whole city during the peak evening hours--aren’t part of our infrastructure. There are other ways to store electricity, like using excess when you have it to pump a whole lot of water up really high, and then letting the water fall in a controlled manner, via gravity, to spin turbines when you need it, but is there such a device in your neighborhood? I’m guessing not. So we need to build these sorts of storage devices. Or invent new ways to store it. We’re not nearly there yet. Indeed, we’ve barely begun.

Worse, if you are on wind, and the wind starts to blow hard, there can be too much electricity and that can burn out transformers, fry lines, and otherwise result in damage to the grid so there is no electricity at all. Right now, you could ask a wind farm to shut off their delivery to the grid at such times, but they won’t. Why? Because that’s how they get paid, by delivering electricity. As we switch to more renewables but don’t update the delivery system--the wires and so on--expect more outages from this sort of event.

You like solar better? Here’s a chart I whipped up that compares electricity generated to electricity used by a typical family on a weekday. You can see the problem at a glance. You need some way to store it (my characters use batteries, as I have myself in the past) if you want to do anything after sunset that requires power.

There’s a lifestyle solution to this, which I lived for many, many years. You do a lot of electrical things from 10-2, when the sun is highest, including charging your computer, portable DVD player, phone, and Kindle. You run your fan all you want during those hours. You use your vacuum cleaner. But then at 2:00, you start to live a different lifestyle. You conserve. When the sun falls, you use up all the charge in one device, then in the next, then in the next to entertain yourself, and if you run them all down, you don’t get to used them again until 10 a.m. the next day. You rise with the sun and sleep soon after dark. Prime-time TV is the enemy of this lifestyle. You turn on only one low-voltage LED light. This works pretty well in spring and fall and in summers in temperate locations. Forget about heating in winter if it’s cold because in the dead of night, that's when you’re down to very little stored electricity indeed. You pile on another blanket and slip on another pair of socks. You use a hot water bottle to be warm enough to get to sleep. And, like me, you eat a baked potato for breakfast every morning because the oven working for 45 minutes helps take the chill off the kitchen.

I think I’m a rare person who is willing to live like this forever, having first experienced unlimited electricity at my command. And even I’m only willing to live like that forever if I can inhabit a temperate place! Unfortunately, not everyone in the USA can fit into coastal California, where you could live like that indefinitely. (In my case, I moved twice a year, using elevation control as my substitute for heat/air conditioning. Up high in the mountains in summer, it was pleasant in the days. Down in the low desert in winters, it was warm enough at night to need no heat. And by warm enough, I mean it was around freezing on the worst nights. Again, not a choice many people would embrace. But you do get used to that.)

Back to problems with the grid. Because of deregulation in the late 80’s, trees don’t get trimmed as often today, and trees growing into lines can bring the electrical grid down for millions of people. So can ice storms. So can a computer glitch or an inattentive employee at the power company. We live right now with a cobbled-together system that is aging, that isn't meant for renewable generation, and is really something of a mess.

Collectively, we are in deep trouble. Right now, right here, in the world we inhabit, our electricity delivery system is like that old car you kept running despite the hole in the floorboard and the non-functioning heater when you were 22 and poor. It’s a wonder it got you anywhere at all.

As for my characters in my novel series Oil Apocalypse? They were smart. They didn’t trust the aging grid, so they stayed off it when they built their homes. They generated their own electricity. One family had both solar and wind, so if the sun wasn’t shining, the wind might still be blowing. Thus, they could afford to have a smaller battery bank. The other families with only one form of power generation had lots of batteries.

And, spoiler alert, here comes a new problem. Batteries, unfortunately, don’t last forever. At some point after batteries are no longer manufactured in my fictional world, and the batteries hold very little charge, these off-the-grid systems will only be useful during sunny days (for the solar powered home) or windy moments (for the wind powered home). Extremes of weather will have to be dealt with the way people always have and still do in poor countries: Bundle up when it’s cold, and don’t work hard and live in the shade when it’s hot.

If you thought this is going to be a problem in the future, you would probably own some labor-saving devices that weren’t electrical. I can barely remember helping my grandmother run a hand-crank wringer-washer. This is far easier than banging your clothes on a rock, and all it requires is human power, the turning of a simple crank several times. Even at age 5, I could turn the crank.
you needn't dress like this to use it

One power-saving device I loved in my solar-only lifestyle was this, a solar shower. Basically, a black plastic bag (I’ve tried several brands, and this is definitely the good one), it allows you to take a shower or to do your dishes with a minimal wait period and passive solar heating of the water. Passive-solar water heaters are another useful item for the post-apocalyptic survivor to own, and I’ve given both of these to my characters in Oil Apocalypse.

The toughest challenge with electricity and for living a lifestyle with little or none is food preservation. That’s going to be a serious problem for my characters in book 4. And if you’ve ever lost electricity for five days because of a storm, you know that, right? It was a problem for you as well. I’ve owned two-way refrigerators that can run on either propane or electricity. But if you don’t have electricity and you don’t have fossil fuels, that isn’t much of a help. So what do you do? Eat meat as soon as you kill it, or smoke it, or salt it. I hope you know of a good salt source nearby.

I’ve rambled, I see, and don’t have the time to un-ramble this blog post. (I’m finishing Oil Apocalypse #3 as I write this.) But I hope I’ve given you more to be afraid of think about.

For more on this topic, I suggest reading The Grid by Gretchen Bakke.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Hurricane Harvey

I blog often about hurricanes during the season, and you can click on the word "hurricanes" at the tail end of the post to see more, but I wanted to talk about Harvey a bit. image

First of all, I am not without sympathy for the people who lost everything during the storm. Many of them were poor to begin with, and now they have nothing, and nothing to rebuild with. It's tragic.

However...there are a couple of howevers in all this.

1) The City of Houston has been making stupid zoning decisions for a long, long time. I've seen interviews with their own emergency managers on The Weather Channel dating back years, angry and desperate at this. They all KNEW this was coming. But instead of managing development, or requiring developers to deal with storm drainage, they let people build willy-nilly with no regard for the nature of their city, the problems they already have, or the fact that hurricanes hit that area of Texas every 10-20 years. They knew this was coming and apparently did not give a damn. And someone was lining their pockets. Developers, definitely. Elected city officials? Well, there are kickbacks that are traceable and those that are not, the "we golf at the same place and give each other's kids jobs" sort of glad-handing ways of politics everywhere.

So before you commit too much money to relief efforts, and before you cheerfully watch a billion dollars of federal tax money go to relief and think that's 100% okay, understand: they knew it was going to happen and they let it. They could have prevented a lot of the damage. If I ran the world (and I'd be a nasty fascist dictator, I suspect, so good thing I don't), I'd strip the wealth of every Houston developer and every Houston city council member. I'd leave them in nothing but their underwear, huddled on the sidewalk, all their accounts frozen, and see how they like it. And that money would go to poor people the city did not care about. Unfortunately, I don't rule the world. Rich people rule it, and you can be sure they have each other's backs on this. There won't even be a condition to the bail-out money that they change their zoning. There will be no justice, and the next hurricane will be as horrible for them and require another billion to bail them out again. I thought it was important you knew about this.

2) Be careful where you send your donations. The Red Cross, though administration-heavy, does get money and services to victims. Catholic Charities is another vetted organization. There is a Houston Food Bank, and there is a Houston Humane Society. Don't send money through GoFundMe or the like. There are as many scam artists as true victims there. I know it's appealing to think that if you avoid big agencies that no money will go to pay staff or for rent or so on, but better 70% of your money get to the victims than 100% go to a scammer.

3) Instead of only wringing your hands at the horrors you've seen on TV, think about your own locale, its natural disasters or the nearby chemical plants or nuke plants and rails on which dangerous chemicals are shipped, or a week-long power outage during extreme weather, and imagine the worst possible scenarios for you and your loved ones, turn off the TV, and make a plan:
A) In the first case, you have to grab and go. You have 10 minutes to do it. Most of us would spend that 10 minutes grabbing a child's favorite toy, the pets, the cell phone, and our old photo albums. Have a go-bag ready for every family member so you don't have to stop and pack clothes and shoes as well. Put a couple of pop-top cans of food or MREs in each bag and a few bottles of water. Help your kids pack their own bags. That will get you through a day where you're fleeing. And don't ever let your gas tank go under 1/2 a tank, because you really never know

B) In the second case, you are going to shelter in place and ride out a hurricane or ice storm or earthquake aftermath--either because you choose to or you haven't any choice. Don't wait until the last minute to gear up for this. Always have a five-day supply of emergency lighting, bottled water, canned food, some emergency cash, and other supplies you'll need. Go check out for more specifics. You only need do this once, leave the food most accessible, and switch it out once a year. (I'm a big fan of wheeled trash cans for this purpose--then if you need to walk a mile to a shelter or friend's house, you can push the thing along.) If you keep this up, you won't have to fight crowds or arm-wrestle over the last AA batteries on the shelf.

fill me with emergency supplies

Again, I'm sorry for the people who were hurt by the hurricane, those who are homeless, those who lost everything or, worst of all, a loved one. I'm not callous. But I am a realist, and I don't want your tender emotions to lead you to bad decisions.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Fun ways to prepare for collapse

Though I’m very skeptical about a rapid, catastrophic collapse of civilization, I do think things will be changing over the rest of the century. Perhaps you have children, and you’d like to help them be positioned best for a shift over their lifetimes.

home canned food Library of Congress image

First of all, I think these shifts will probably be slow enough that they’ll have time to adjust on their own. But a few skills learned young can serve for a lifetime. You can easily imagine a forty-five year old kid of yours saying, “Yeah, we had hens for a couple of years when I was a kid. What was that Mom said...?”

Hunter-gatherer skills. Teach your kids or grandkids to fish, hunt, shoot a bow, throw a spear, or identify and collect edible plants of your region, or all of these.

Farming skills. If you have a farm, great. (And I’m jealous.) If not, have as big a farm as you can manage, even if that means ten potted plants on the patio, which is what I have right now. You’ll learn about your region, the insects that will be a problem, the growing season, the local soil and what it needs. Involving your children and grandchildren will help them learn how to grow their own food.

If you can have hens where you live, think about doing that for at least a year or two. A dairy cow a possibility? Cool, though few of us could do that. Again, just a couple of years of doing this with your kids can teach lessons that will last many years.
Home skills: The more cooking, woodworking, basic mechanicals, plumbing, food preserving that you can learn and teach, the better. Have angora rabbits and spin your own yarn, then knit or crochet it into clothing? Make the family's old t-shirts into braided rugs and jackets? You get a gold star from me! You say you brew your own beer? Wonderful! Know blacksmithing? Wow, that one's really impressive.

All of this can be fun. It’s not much extra effort than what you likely do already around home and yard, it’s far healthier of a family activity than staring at a game console or TV all the time, and you might meet your next dear friend by getting out and learning some of these skills.

I can imagine a future where we live an agrarian lifestyle again--or our descendants will--but if I'm wrong, you've had some fun, so you haven't even wasted time.

You can hoard supplies for the end time, but supplies can be stolen or go bad or be lost in a flood. Knowledge is yours forever. Hoard knowledge.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The lure of apocalyptic thinking

The truth is, after all that reading (see prior week's post) about how civilizations collapse (or contract and re-form in another way), I don’t really believe entirely in a quick apocalyptic crash like those I write about. Yes, I feel the draw of that sort of thinking. Who doesn’t? Most of us love exploring this idea, at least in the novels we read and the movies we watch. Some people take it even further and actually prepare for “the end times,” stockpiling food, ammunition, drugs, and gold.

really silly stuff
We are not as logical as we’d like to believe we are. We are not logical in the face of powerful animal emotions and drives that steer us more often than our complex thinking brains do.
Every generation--or quite large chunks of it--has thought it will be the last generation, that civilization is on the brink. That seems to be part and parcel of being a human being. It’s a form of egotism, say the experts, the unconscious belief that we are at the center of everything, that this, our lifetime, is the pivotal moment, that the world has never been going to hell in a handbasket faster and that the end is surely nigh.

And yet, what statistics show us is that the world has never been safer, not in the places most of my readers live. Safer how? From disease, from war, from roaming bands pillaging and raping. Over my lifetime the murder rate in my nation has dropped a lot.

The experts say, the psychology is: if the world is ending in my lifetime, then I’m pretty darned special, aren’t I? But if the world is safer now, if I’m just one of billions of people in a world that will continue without a hiccup when I die of some ignoble old-age disease, the same as tens of billions who came before me and billions more who will come after...then who am I? Sort of nobody. This kind of knowledge can set off an existential crisis.

This meshes with my experience and the cynical, skeptical view I've gained. I’ve lived through Y2K (the computers will all be so confused we won’t be able to eat, eeek! It’s the END), 2012, and Hale-Bopp hysteria and much more. I’m even old enough to have done the “duck and cover” drills for nuclear war (which, to be fair, seems remotely possible--I’ll allow you nuclear war as a semi-rational fear). When I was a kid and went somewhere like summer camp or a weekend rock music festival, and I met kids from other places, I realized everyone thought their own small town, no matter how truly inconsequential, would be high on the Russian’s list of targets for nuclear strikes. Sorry, people from (for example) Bloomington Indiana or Marion Illinois, but you were never ever on that list.

Even as a teenager, I saw that believing you were on that list elevated your sense of your own importance. If we were all right about being in the top 10 targets list in our goofy little Midwestern towns, then the Russians wouldn’t have had any bombs left for Washington DC or New York or bomber factories or missile silos. Surely they weren’t that stupid!

Most people who were rabid about Y2K or 2012 now would deny ever believing in it...much the way if you once got drunk at a wedding and made a fool of yourself, you push that out of your mind and might eventually come to deny that. (Perhaps we all need a wife to remind us of these moments. “Oh yes you did say that!” lol)

When we talk about the “collapse” of civilizations, or when scientists do, I often think we should use a different world. Collapse implies catastrophe. But when civilizations fall, they generally do something closer to “contract” (in drought-stricken deserts, as with the Anasazi, the people simply move, to literally greener pastures). Imperial Rome fell. It collapsed! We all know that. But, hey, you know, Rome is still there. You can go visit it, even! It’s in a place called Italy, and some of the people who live there are direct descendants of imperial Romans of 2000 years ago and even some of their buildings are still there. When Italy collapses as a nation--and it will, as all nations will--there will probably still be a Rome. It’s a good site to build a city, so it’ll probably still be a town after oil is long gone or after a pandemic hits or after climate change makes where I live uninhabitable.

If you’re interested in the psychology of end-time thinking, this article is interesting (written just after the world did not end in 2012): apocalypse psychology. A trip to google would get you a number more.

I’m not saying everything is hunky-dory and always will be. Read the last two month’s blog posts, and you’ll see how pessimistic I am. Oil will end. Potable water is going to be a real issue one day. The salinization of California's soil is likely going to create a worldwide food crisis before too long. Our electrical infrastructure (which I’ll write about in a future post) in the US and Canada is in bad shape and bizarrely enough, renewable energy sources are stressing it more than ever. So expect blackouts to increase until we get that sorted. And if you’re in a city, expect some rioting and looting during blackouts. Don’t go sightseeing when that happens because looters can be dangerous. Hunker down, conserve resources, don’t suffocate yourself with generator exhaust, and it will pass, the lights and fridge will come back on, the cleaning crews will be out sweeping up the broken glass, and all will be well again.

Even a big collapse, as with climate change or oil depletion, will not happen overnight. Adjustments will be made. People will move from Florida or Arizona, new technologies will ease the slide, and much of life in first world nations will be enjoyable as ever.

Longtime followers of my blog also know I say if you live in Oklahoma, be prepared for a tornado, in Toronto, for a bad ice storm, and in Florida, for a hurricane, in Japan...well, everything but tornadoes. You guys get the disasters in Japan! Those could happen, and while it is statistically unlikely you'd die from a weather event, you could be very uncomfortable for weeks because of it. Lightning is the biggest weather killer, and I'll bet that you have gone outside in a thunderstorm or gotten in the tub or shower. I know I have!

This post is my way of saying, though I am writing a novel series about a catastrophic end of oil scenario, I hope that you know it’s just fiction. Don’t let it push you over the edge into extremist thinking or behavior or for heaven's sake, make yourself sick over it. Look around you. Go for a walk in your own town. See? Everything is fine right now.

If you are worried for your children or grandchildren (even if they are not yet born), and what might happen to them thirty or fifty years down the road, I will talk about a couple of simple solutions to position them best for a contraction of civilization. I might be wrong in my suggestions, but they are largely fun suggestions, so you'll have lost nothing by trying one or two of them.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Oil Apocalypse: the Germ

Not just the germ for the Oil Apocalypse series of novels, but for my thinking about the collapse of civilization, sprouted decades ago, at university. There, I read various Club of Rome publications and Limits to Growth (which is entirely right in general, though people slam it for being wrong in a few specifics). Political science professors introduced to me to some fascinating principles that I absorbed. I didn’t think of this often as a young adult--I was busy getting laid and establishing a career like most people in their 20s--but it was percolating in the back of my mind. I wasn't yet a writer and didn't think people like me could be writers.

If you want to know more about Limits to Growth, an easy way to learn is to read this recent article.

I became interested in the topic of collapse--why and how civilizations fall--long before the Jared Diamond book on it. I should start with the 1988 book Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy, a seminal political science work that focuses largely on military power and how it first builds empires and then contributes to the collapse of them. I took some archeology courses in the 1990s and learned more about ancient civilizations that are naught but ruins now and why they may have ended. The Diamond book Collapse was released, and I read that. He speaks a lot of resource depletion due to overpopulation as a core cause of collapse. I’ve since read Joseph Tainter’s Collapse of Complex Societies, which talks about complexity of systems being the cause of collapse, a sort of weight that accumulates until it breaks a society into smaller, more manageable pieces. I’m currently working my way through mathematician Peter Turchin’s writing on the topic which analyzes the matter in a slightly different way. I suspect none has THE answer, but I suspect each has a piece of an answer to the question “what makes complex societies collapse?”

If you wander over to youtube, you’ll find interviews and lectures by all these men, or you can go read the Wikipedia pages on each of the mentioned books and get this gist.

If you’re not in the mood to read or listen to lectures, the most important thing to know is this: because of various causes, civilizations always collapse. It’s an inescapable rule, just like “you will die” is a rule. Whatever nation-state you inhabit is not immune to ending, as you are not immune to death. Wave your flag harder in response to this statement all you want, but it won’t stop the inevitable collapse. Rome’s empire fell. Alexander the Great conquered a huge swath of land but you’ll notice most of those conquered people don’t speak Greek any longer. Persia fell. The Mongols became something less than Genghis might have hoped. The sun sets pretty quickly on the British Empire nowadays. Collapse happens.

Often, collapse is more like "contraction." Rome fell, but you know, there is still a Rome in Italy, and some of the people there are descended from Imperial Romans.

Here's something to ponder: because we are in part a global society now, quite intertwined, trading goods across vast distances, is it more likely that if, say, the United States collapses will it take Canada, Australia, Britain, Japan, and Saudi Arabia with it? In the not-too-remote past, this was not so. Portugal used to be an empire of great power. When it collapsed from that position and because a much less powerful nation, it was good for the rest of Europe, not bad. It probably would be a real problem if that happened today--and not just because of the EU.

Another interesting question is: what does collapse look like in the modern age? Does it happen boom, overnight? Preppers obviously think so and most post-apocalyptic novels, including mine, cater to that belief/fear/desire. Or does it happen slowly, in a stair-step fashion, and in such a way that only a few people understand that they are living in the midst of a collapse as it occurs?

Part of the problem with how the human mind works is that we want simple answers and we think better when contemplating the short term. Trying to think about the collapse of vast civilizations, including how our own will collapse, takes a disinterested perspective, and a broad view.

While my other post-apocalyptic novels are about a specific triggering event, the Oil Apocalypse series depended on my inventing imaginary answers to these more complicated questions of how and how quickly collapse occurs. There is no way to write an exciting novel while including all of this information I’ve learned. I tried to hint at some of the complexities of the slow collapse leading up to the catastrophic event of the destruction of the Ras Tanura port in book 1 of my series, and I hope I was neither too subtle about that, nor too dull and academic. Spoiler alert: there's a second series planned for a long, long time after this series. That's because I think people will survive collapse, and I make this belief into fictional reality in series 2.

So in books 2-4 of the first series, and in the second series, I’ll let the slow collapse continue....

Sunday, August 6, 2017

I have good news about Oil Apocalypse!

Because my imagination and fingers have been working overtime the past six weeks, the third book will be ready much sooner than I'd planned. I still must coordinate with cover artist and proofreader for this surprise change, but if Book 2 drops into your Kindle on October 6, it's quite possible Book 3 will appear in late November, which is fully six weeks earlier than I had originally thought I could do it. Yay for all of us!

And those three books will comprise a sort of sub-series, a complete tale that comes to a resting point. After that, there will be a time gap (for the characters, not for me and you) and we'll come back to them in Book 4 several years later, when relationships, resources, and troubles will have changed.

I originally thought this first section would be one book, but that wasn't so. And then I thought it would be two books, but I got so many interesting ideas, I realized I couldn't fit them into a single volume. So three books it is for this sub-series.

There is every possibility that there will be six or seven books in the series. I know the final scenes of the series as clearly as if I witnessed them happening in real life, and I can tell that they aren't coming up in any book soon. So if you like the Oil Apocalypse series, this is good news indeed. It won't be a short series!

Next Sunday I'll return to my posts on the end of oil, the collapse of civilizations, and related matters.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Oil Apocalypse Blogs: 5

As you thought about all this over the past two years of research, what was the most troubling single fact you ran across?

Perhaps this: in the United States, a majority of lettuce is grown in Yuma, AZ. (A good deal of the other fertile green land of the US has either suburbs built over it or grows grains for cows to eat and to sweeten Coke--and no, that isn’t the troubling thing! Or, yes, it is troubling, but...) A popular food all over America is iceberg lettuce, which contains 63 calories per pound. A liter of diesel fuel represents 9 million calories. (Calories = heat = energy to do work, whether the work gets done by human power or internal combustion engines.) From Yuma to, say, the outskirts of Boston is 4500 km/2800 miles. Long-haul trucks get about 6 miles per gallon of diesel (for my international readers, I believe that’s 39 litres per 100 km--correct me if my maths failed me). One common size of truck carries 40,000 pounds of lettuce or 250,000 calories of food per truck load. Multiply all that out and you see we’re using 250 million calories of diesel to transport 250 thousand calories. (And half of that lettuce will end up thrown out, so really, only 125 thousand calories will be put back into the human energy system.) When our great-great-great-great grandchildren are spreading the manure with a rake and think of this insane waste, they are going to curse our names and go spit on our graves. (which they'll have probably raided for bones to grind into fertilizer, if they're smart.)

I have a really crazy idea to solve this: grow lettuce near Boston for the 220 growing days it has, and just don’t eat it the other 140 days of the year. I know, I’m mad, MAD, I tell you. [Insert evil laugh.]

Um, Lou? Should I panic?

Definitely not. It’s not nearly the time to panic, and even when it is time, what use is panic?

Should I conserve gas?

Nah. I've quit thinking this way. I do out of habit, and I use solar power, and a low-flow toilet because I’m in the desert where water is going to run out one day soon, but I do all this knowing it won’t help. You use a gallon of gasoline today, or some guy in China uses it in five years, doesn’t really matter, does it? Petroleum will run out either way. (And all my using a low-flow toilet does is to allow developers to justify building another golf course or mall in the desert, so that’s downright idiotic of me, a person could argue.)

What should I do?

Right now? Be prepared not for the end of the world but for minor natural disasters--you know which are likely to strike you--and even more importantly for power outages. Because those will become more frequent before oil depletion is an issue.

Can’t we work to switch over to a radically different way of living and make the transition bearable? Something like urban gardening might help ameliorate some of the food issues you've talked about.

Urban gardening without petrochemicals is a smart idea but probably not enough to save us, even putting aside for a moment human nature (including greed, laziness, unwillingness to change, short-term thinking, unwillingness to believe the facts smacking us right in the face, aversion to physical labor, the urge to steal ripe tomatoes out of someone’s yard if they aren't looking, and so on). Maybe back when Jimmy Carter realized what was what and got the US to drive 55 (remember that gas-saving idea, fellow oldsters? Lasted for an eyeblink), there was still a remote chance of doing that if we rapidly added other measures like nationwide electric trains (totally doable with today’s tech, and totally nowhere on any infrastructure plan), different sorts of farm subsidies that punish petrochemical use, monoculture farming, and reward growing edible foods to sell locally, a move to 50 mpg cars within five years, and so on. We didn’t do it then, and we know more now and are closer to the end of oil now, and we’re still not doing it! Admit it: we suck at this kind of thing.

Former President Carter
Conversions to a sustainable way of managing energy reserves require not just putting on a sweater in the winter and driving 55 but decades of innovation, engineering, and manufacturing (which will require petroleum to drive until the new way is profitable and probably it will require significant tax increases on gasoline in the US, which very few of us are willing to accept), and I think we’ve missed the window where we could have done that, and missed it by quite a few decades. Not only the end of gas, but an ugly end to gas has become inevitable, I fear.

Some people think the last possible time to act was the beginning of the industrial revolution. Thinking along those lines, I’d counter that perhaps the last moment to call a halt and reconsider would have even been the invention of grain agriculture, which put us on the road to here. But back then, they didn’t know diddly-squat about...well, anything they’d have needed to know that might have stopped them from taking that step onto the slippery slope. They thought the world was flat and ended 100 miles away, and I’m sure they saw some tar pits, but sensibly they thought those were things to avoid, not exploit. Having more of their children survive to adulthood via farming seemed a good thing (and why shouldn’t it have?) and not also the first step on the road to runaway overpopulation that would lead to population growth, the discovery of oil, and very bad results of the end of oil in the long term.

Do you have no hope about a sane, rapid transition away from oil that doesn’t involve eventual cannibalism and billions starving and so on?

Sure. Mother Nature could unleash a pandemic on us that kills 95% of the population and renders 95% of the remainder infertile. That would help quite a bit. But I’m not sure that’s exactly “optimistic” or hopeful in the way you might wish, though it might be a little better to die of a viral respiratory disease than to be eaten by cannibals. (Never having experienced either, I’m only guessing at their relative merits, of course.) And, even if that pandemic happened, gas would still run out in several centuries--but in that case we might have been given the time to create a more gentle transition to the post-oil world. Are humans capable of becoming anything but short-sighted and greedy so that after the pandemic the ones left would use that time wisely and in that way? History doesn’t make me an optimist, but we’ve done great things before (like democracy and the internet and getting to the moon) so who knows?

Ack! You’re a horrible person, Lou! Can’t you say one positive thing about anything?

Sure. I’m really quite a cheerful person. It’s a nice day, I’m healthy and in no physical pain, and I hope you can say that too. Pour yourself a margarita if you drink alcohol, and re-watch your favorite comedy movie, and if someone close at hand loves you, enjoy laughing with him or her. Kiss your dog or cat or parakeet. Any day we’re not being buried or cremated is a fine day. Be grateful, as I am, that your life is being lived in this amazing, brief window when petroleum drove all this technology and easy living. “Alexa? Give me a recipe for margaritas.”

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Oil Apocalypse Blogs: 4

Don’t you think prepping and having a bunker full of powdered butter and a case of Amoxicillin and seeds and lots of ammunition will save you in case of a total collapse and food riots and all that?

I honestly don’t, sorry. I know it's a big business, prepper products, and that people are passionate about this (and some only pretend to be passionate to make money off the true believers), but I don’t think prepping will work. Again, I really don’t believe that a violent collapse will happen in my or your lifetime, but let’s say against all odds that a SHTF scenario is coming in ten years. I think if you’re anywhere near a city, living in a normal home with a normal number of occupants who go to the shooting range, responsibly, twice a month to keep up their skills, you’ll die quickly if the hungry hordes arrive and see you have a garden and food stores. Maybe if you had a compound with 250 trained soldiers who kept in training daily, in a remote mountain site surrounded by barbed wire, you could make it...but then compounds like that, well off the beaten path, tend to quickly devolve into bizarre paranoid cult dictatorships where the teenage girls don’t fare so well, and that occurs long before the crisis comes (which it probably won’t in the lifetime of any cult out there today, so you're risking a lot for no gain). So personally? I’m not moving to one of those compounds and would suggest you keep your daughters away from them.

Isn’t it possible we’ll figure out a way to use something common as fuel? Like air or salt water?

No, because again of the pesky laws of physics. But let’s say we could magically turn regular old air into fuel--into energy as amazing and cheap as petroleum was in 1930, plus some form of waste product (aka pollution). Fast forward. This could not possibly turn out well. (“Honey, you want to drive the air-car to the store while I suffocate to death, or vice versa?”)  Petroleum was probably our one chance, and ... well ... we kinda blew it. I’m not excepting myself from the blame, nor am I excepting myself from the evolutionary psychology truth about people that drives us to behave like this. We are short-term thinkers, and we weigh present benefits as many times more important than future ones. Our New Year’s resolutions about food and exercise mostly fail because a chocolate bar and resting after work appeal more than the long-term benefit. And we use up a finite gift like petroleum now rather than doling it out at a more responsible rate.

Can’t we colonize the galaxy and find new energy sources?

No. We can’t even begin to repair the damage we’ve done to this planet, much less terraform Mars to be habitable for humans, a place that has zero biomass, no protective magnetosphere, dead soil, and no oil to drill for anyway. Rocket fuel, which is not petroleum-based, nevertheless requires petroleum to manufacture. So that’s how you want to spent the last 2% of it? Going to a planet that can’t possibly support human life? (sigh.) We’ve never found any sign of so much as algae on another planet. Oil may be unique in the galaxy, even if intelligent life is not.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Oil Apocalypse Blogs: 3

Can solar power, hybrid cars, turbines, biodiesel, and nuclear power save our easy suburban life?

Not a chance. Solar, wind, and even nukes will provide electricity after coal and natural gas run out. And I’ve been reading up on how fragile the US grid for electricity is, and there’s horrible news there too. A lot of expensive infrastructure has to change fast for renewables to provide all our electricity.

But in any case, electricity isn’t food. It isn’t delivery of goods across oceans. Electricity isn’t putting tires on a vehicle that will rush your kid to the hospital in an ambulance (where, without plastics, I have not a clue what kind of equipment the doctors will be using anyway). Electricity is nice, mind you. It lets Siri and Alexa tell you knock-knock jokes, and it helps me write my novels and get them to your device. It keeps people in Yellow Knife from freezing to death and people in Adelaide from dying of heat stroke. I like electricity a good deal, though I’ve lived without hardly any myself over many years (one 85-watt solar panel, two batteries, DC power, and no other electricity served me fine for a decade, though that was in no way a typical suburban lifestyle).

Oil does so much more than drive us around; an astonishing amount of stuff we rely on is petroleum-based. (Glancing around... My eyeglasses, computer, shoes, carpet, electrical cords, Kindle, some clothing, some furniture bits. The driveway surface outside my front door. The tires on my car, and at least half the stuff under its hood that keeps it running. And I didn’t even have to stretch my neck to see all that!)

Renewables alone won’t give us the electricity we (think we) need. One day, I suspect, electricity will have to be coming mostly from nuke plants, many more plants than now exist, built (because oil is required to do that too) before oil runs entirely out. I will jump on the nutcase forecasting bandwagon to say this much. When/if that happens, no matter what assurances there are, expect a Chernobyl or Fukashima every three to five years or so. So, you know, buy property UPwind, not downwind of your local nuke plant. (I’m downwind of one. Do as I say and not as I do!) Um, also? We’re at peak uranium already. So unless the technology of nuclear reactors takes a massive leap forward in a shockingly short time, that phase won’t last long either. Then our descendants might be part of a great human migration away from extreme climates, the locations of which will likely be different than today’s, because while we can live without electricity for most things (as I found out when living without more than one 85-watt solar panel gave me), we can’t survive 130 degree days and 100 degree nights without it, which is where Phoenix is headed, and soon. Whoever is around after oil can live in temperate climes and with little to no electricity. We hominids did that for hundreds of thousands of years; we will again.

Some people will say we humans are great inventors and we’ll invent our way out of the inevitable end of oil. Perhaps, but I don’t believe we will because you cannot invent your way out of the rules of physics and biology, and nothing on the horizon looks able to replace most uses of oil. Minor new technologies will create minor improvements (as when electric car batteries can be manufactured more cheaply or to weigh much less, or when solar panels may one day not require almost as much electricity to manufacture as they’ll put out over their lives, which is the current state of affairs).

Of course and on the other hand...people used to living life one way will resist change. Look up all the brouhaha about smart electric meters. To keep the electrical grid going and to avoid blackouts, in many communities (mine is one of them), they remotely control things like your thermostat temp, no matter what you'd like. This way, everyone has some cooling or heating, and they avoid week-long blackouts that would literally kill people. But people are very against this! So, invent all you like, but you can't invent around greed and a sense of entitlement. (Entitlement to air conditioning? What a bizarre concept.)

I believe the great-great-great-(maybe another great or two)-grandchildren of people now being born may be living something like an 18th century agrarian life again (though surrounded by plastic trash from the petroleum age). Instead of spraying petrochemicals on their crops to increase the yield, they’ll once again spread manure. Yes, manure smells bad, but compared to death by starvation, guiding the manure-spreader around the farm once a year doesn’t sound like a terrible future.

So I’m an optimist about the distant future.

It’s just getting from this point to that point, particularly in how that excess 15 billion humans gets culled, that I’m afraid will be ugly and scary.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Oil Apocalypse Blogs: 2

What is the scariest aspect of the end of oil?

In my opinion? Food. Our just-in-time food delivery system depends entirely on petroleum. Starving people may not remain pleasant people, especially not when they live in the concentrations of today’s urban centers. England’s little glitch back 10 years ago that resulted in the “nine meals from anarchy” talk gave us a hint of what may well happen at the start of such an event.

Daniel Chase photo via Wikimedia. Before Hurricane Sandy

But food delivery isn’t the only facet of the food system that requires petroleum. Tractors and other farm machinery, tractor tires, insecticides, fertilizers...all require petroleum. Indeed, it was the industrial revolution and petroleum products as applied to farming that resulted in crop yields that caused the world population to explode from 500 million to over 7 billion in just a couple hundred years.

We need to pause from time to time and think about that. 500 million people is probably the carrying capacity of the earth sans oil. That is, this lovely, diverse, rare planet can support/feed only a half a billion homo sapiens. So when oil is gone, there will be at least 7 billion extra starving people (probably 15 billion or more by the time it happens, though drought or disease may have killed several billion first because we have other problems that stem from overpopulation).

So imagine: Fertile land and deer and fish for half a billion, with 15 billion clamoring for food. You can see what’s going to happen. People are going to starve to death...but a few will not do it quietly and politely, darn them. They will kill you to get your food, and if your food is gone, some will kill you to use you as food.

(I’m glad I won’t live to see it.)

Don’t Iran and Saudi Arabia get along really well?

Not according to what I read. I read several policy papers (rather boring research for me, I confess), and of all the local neighbors who might attack Saudi Arabia for its oil in the future, Iran seemed the most likely. Again, I can’t guess at a date, but one day, surely current tensions will come to that. Its impact on oil exports? That I would not begin to try and predict. Worst case scenario for the reader more than likely, is Russia backing Iran (as they likely would) and winning and gaining control over the Saudi Arabian oil fields. The British/US invasion of Iraq was ill-considered and wasteful and got us almost no oil. Our entering this hypothetical Iran-Saudi war, if Russia is a major player, to protect our access to Saudi oil? Absolutely necessary. It’ll probably be couched in some typical lie to appease the masses--WMDs or religion or “evil” leaders or whatever--but it will be entirely about oil and, if we want to keep living as we do, if we want to keep eating, not so much a choice as an imperative.

more next week

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Oil Apocalypse Blogs: 1

As I begin to blog about the topics that I’ve researched and that led me to situate this novel series at the end of petroleum, I hardly know where to begin.

I’ll start with answering general questions friends and readers have already asked me and imaginary questions that other people might ask in the future.

Do you believe that oil is coming to an end?

Without a doubt.

It’s a finite resource. The world population increases daily by almost a quarter of a million people, India and China, the most populous nations, become bigger users of fossil fuels every day, and it takes tens of millions of years for new oil to be made via geological processes. So yes, absolutely, it’s coming to an end. I don’t need to “believe” it, no more than I need to “believe” in gravity or molybdenum or the planet Mercury. Oil will run out.

But I’ve read in the newspaper there is plenty. Don’t you believe the official measures of available oil and predictions of how long it will last?

Not for a second. These figures come from the oil industry itself (remember, the folks you brought you Deep Horizon and the Exxon Valdez?), which is fixated on short-term profit, not the long-term health of civilization, and from the same governments who have lied about everything they can lie about for my entire life. Obviously none is to be trusted and all have their own vested economic interests that make lying advantageous to them. They aren’t wholly on my side and have plenty of incentive to lie, so I don’t believe them.

So who do you believe?

Sorry, but I have no one reliable to offer you in exchange for those liars. I’ve read every peak oil/post oil book there is out there, watched all the documentaries, read hundreds of blog posts by everyone from social scientists to actuaries to economists to “recovering oil executives,” to the Grand Archdruid, to back-to-the-earth small organic farmers who use horses and hoes instead of tractors, and there is so much panic-mongering and so many unlikely claims, so many crazy cults that don’t allow dissent or questions if you wish to clarify the source of their claims, it’s hard to know whom to believe. So I don’t believe any of them either.

Sure, that’s because some are clearly nutty, but also because the most rational and well-read of them are predicting details about a future that is unpredictable. I don’t know the future, and they don’t know. Some (not much) new oil could be discovered. New technologies might emerge to get oil out of tar sands more efficiently. Nobody knows the shape of the future, and while someone out there (probably a few gas executives and intelligence agencies) is certain how much gasoline is truly left, they aren’t sharing that info.

We do all know this: oil is a finite resource and more than half that ever was has already been burned.

Wikimedia. Oil production and use. Hubbert's Peak in action to 2003

When will oil entirely run out?

Not a clue. After I’m dead and gone, no doubt, and probably before 100 years has passed, but other than that, without someone first telling us the truth about how much there is, I would not hazard a guess. (Okay, I did hazard a guess in writing this novel series, but Slashed is set about a generation from now, and that seems far too soon for us living in the real, non-fictional world. I didn’t want the world unrecognizable, so I chose that time frame and a world political arrangement that had the US dependent on one foreign source that gets shut off in an instant. Artistic license.)

more to come next week

Sunday, June 25, 2017

What I've been reading to write Oil Apocalypse

A brief bibliography for the new series:

1) Anything I could find on small ground-unit tactics, including parts of the US Army field manuals and after-action reports from Australian, US, and British ground troops going back to the 1950s. In a few cases, the reports had a few lines about what it felt like to be there and vivid descriptions that helped me imagine (though I’ve never been in combat myself) what that might be like. Many thanks to those authors.

2) I admit that I’m no expert on weapons (I’ve fired a half-dozen, but that’s about it), so online manuals and discussions have helped me appear (I hope) something other than a fool on the topic. Writer Eric T. Knight read Slashed to make sure I hadn’t said something utterly stupid about the topic, and I’ll continue to use my friends for just that purpose as I write the rest of the series. A big thank you goes out to them for this help.

3) Though it’s a subtle part of the setting, there is a warming trend in the deserts of the southwest US right now and I’ve extrapolated worse in the near future setting of my novels so that the snow level is higher, the mid-altitudes hotter, and the animal populations are shifting. I’ve read paleoclimatology edited for the non-professional reader, including The West Without Water, Ingram and Malamud-Roan. I’ve read climate change books that focus specifically on Arizona and New Mexico, including the beautifully written A Great Aridness by William DeBuys. I revisited some of the ruins of Sinagua and Hohokam people in Arizona where drought and heat drove them away from their home (and which also drove other cultural changes that led to the abandonment of many Indian cities in the 1400s in the southwestern US.) Brian Fagan’s books on water and climate and the history of human civilization provided some additional help.

4) Over the past three years, I’ve read probably everything written on peak oil since 1990, including many blogs and debates in comments, ones from the wackdoodle to the sober. I’ve interviewed a petroleum engineer, viewed every movie on the topic, and if I’ve missed a single popular book, I’d be shocked. (Thanks to the public library and the concept of free inter-library loans for much of this.) For a quick overview, I might suggest (though it is not without its problems) the film A Crude Awakening.

5) Wikipedia has become a sine qua non for most authors. I probably look at some page there five times a day. WokFI is just one page I looked at one day (for a scene that lasts barely 25 words), but hardly an hour passes that I don’t look up something like that. I remember the days when you had to drive to the library and look in books and Periodical Indexes and ask reference librarians (who are terrific people) and call around to find friends of friends of friends in order to find such facts. I donate every year to Wikimedia Foundation because they save me a lot of time and effort.

People tell me I spend too much time and effort on research, but as a reader of novels, I like to think the author is telling me truth about the real world rather than nonsense, and so to me it's a worthwhile use of my time. Besides, I like learning, so it's no chore.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

On vacation

I wish it was going to be all fun! I'm completing a big home repair project in early June and taking some time to visit with relatives I've too long neglected.

In any case, I am/will be away from the computer a lot between June 1 and June 19, the date I will upload my new novel to Amazon, change all my social media and website banners, and otherwise reveal the topic, summary and look of the novel series that will be coming the next year.

Planned release dates for that series:

July 9, 2017
October 6
January 5, 2018
April 6

I know that this seems "slow" in indie publishing these days, but I'd rather do it right than do it fast. If you don't want to wait three months between books, might I suggest you wait until April of 2018 and buy them all at once?

I have another series in the same world in mind, but I'm not 100% sure I'll immediately jump over to it in 2018. I still have a pen name book I'd like to revise and publish, and by April of 2018, I'll have enough stories for a collection of short speculative fiction (which I'll likely put at free from time to time, and which will have Dawn of Mammals and Gray short stories in it, and very likely one from the new series too.) So I might get those up on Amazon and do the work required to bundle Dawn and this new series before I start releasing another series.

Other releases to keep an eye out for this (northern hemisphere) summer are: Gray omnibus edition in late July and the audiobook of that from Podium Publishing in August on and Amazon.

So, back to the original topic (I did drift!), you may not see a blog post next week from me and the one I'd typically do on the 18th might be a day late.

If you email me from June 1 to 19, I also probably won't respond within hours as I usually do.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Mid-year report

No, it isn't yet the middle of the year yet, I know! I'm a rebel like that.

I'm a full-time novelist, earning a living that way, paying all my bills and maxing out my retirement contribution via novel sales. I know many, many writers out there would like to be this. Because I actually track my hours and tasks each day (I once worked for a management consulting firm, so tracking "billable" hours is like falling off a log for me), I thought I'd tell you what I've done so far this year, so you can see what one full-time writer's life looks like.

  • new words of fiction written: 186,000
  • words revised and proofread: 384,000
  • research: 169 hours 
  • administrative tasks: 215 hours
  • social media: 30 hours
  • socializing with other writers: a lot! But sometimes I learn something, so it is business time as much as social time
  • volunteerism: didn't track my hours, but I do help other writers
  • days off: 11 
  • blog posts written: 29 (I have some queued up for after the next novel release)
Not that the days off were usually off, exactly. That's when I run around and catch up on major-hassle errands, do repair projects, wrestle with government agencies, and so on.

My work days usually last 5.5 hours, and I work seven days per week, though there are moments outside those hours when I'm probably thinking about if this or that plot twist would work. ETA in response to an email: I'm a morning person, so I'm usually up before 5:00 a.m. and often done by noon.

I expect the second half of the year to be pretty much a duplication of the first half. (350K words, 300 hours of research, and so on.)

As you can see, I don't get as much as a one-day weekend most weeks (I tend to take time off in 3-4 day chunks). The time I work is close to that of any full-time job, 40 hours per week, and while a lot of what I do is fun, it certainly isn't all fun. Other benefits to this work: I get to write in the oldest, most comfortable clothes I own and not commute and not put up with horrible coworkers. So I'm not complaining, you see. But it is a job, aspiring novelists should know, not some endless happy dance in the land of frou-frou bunnies where ice cream drips from the trees. (which would be a real mess, come to think of it.) It's hard work.

I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to live this life. It was a long-held dream and Amazon, the Kindle, and my fans have made it come true. To all of them, many thanks.

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?