Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 professional year in review

I published:

Gray, Part III - January
Storm - February
Saber Tooth - March
Terror Crane - April
Hell Pig - June
41 Days: Apocalypse Underground - September
Killer Pack - December

I also wrote two that will be published next year:

Dawn of Mammals 5
Crow Vector, a pandemic thriller

I finished my give-away novelette Crawl and put it up as my "free mailing list gift" at instafreebie. I wrote two short stories, one of which is here on this blog.

An average month for me entailed 120 hours at the computer, and additional time reading, researching, and thinking up bad things that might happen to imaginary people.

Also, I did a whole lot of other stuff that would put you asleep if I described it at length, including matters related to mailing list, social media, proofreading, covers, audio books, and paperback books. I've nurtured my connections with a small group of indie authors who give me advice, solace, and companionship on my path. I read a few dozen books on entrepreneurship and five or six on the writing craft. I paid my taxes five times and completed other boring accounting tasks. :-)

My first full calendar year as a full-time author, and it was hard but, looking back, I can say I loved living it.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Holidays

Whether you celebrate Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or simply the gift of having family around, I wish you the happiest holidays ever this year. Stay safe. Please, don't drink and drive.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Movie Review: Pompeii

I'm impressed.

As those of you who have been reading my books for two years know, I'm a stickler for researching the scientific understanding of whatever I write about. Cenozoic mammals, earthquakes, epidemic diseases, crush injuries, whatever: I read a lot about them before I draft a novel. I often read too much--that is, more than I need. I bore my friends with "Did you know" type of monologues as I am researching. I wedge as much of that information into my novels as I can without stopping the action and boring you.

And I wish that Hollywood films, which reach a hundred thousand times as many people as my novels do, about these topics were also accurate.

They usually aren't.

But I can applaud the filmmakers of Pompeii. They did a number of things right. Pyroclastics -- bombs and ash and a nuee ardente -- are what this volcano produces and are what killed people (and will again. It's an active, dangerous volcano). They showed that you can't outrun a pyroclastic cloud pouring down a mountain. While making the eruption Hollywood exciting, they also made this fan of science happy.

The love story is perfectly adequate for such a movie. It's difficult to entirely avoid cheesiness in writing such a story. (a-hem) And Kit Harington's abs--man, that took some work. Fist-bump, dude. The disaster is really the star of the movie. A- from me.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Dawn of Mammals 4 on Kindle

Killer Pack, Dawn of Mammals 4, went "live" a couple days ago. In Amazon terms, this means if you pre-ordered it, it was delivered to your device. If you didn't pre-order, now is the time to grab it!

Click here for page.

Laina is missing, Bob is ailing, and there are big changes in the group. Who will be torn up by the Killer Pack of early canids? Not dogs, not wolves, but something much more ferocious, they make life in the Miocene fraught with danger.

The time travel science fiction adventure series continues!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A month or so ago, when I had my writing work done for the day, I looked at email and there was a notice from I did an hour of work immediately and made a minor contribution to science. Not bad for a slow afternoon.

If you don’t know what Zooniverse is, it’s a coalition of scientists who have projects that they need a lot of human eyes on. Online volunteers provide the eyes. I believe the first project was “galaxy zoo,” identifying galaxies in deep-space Hubble images. I participated in that for a time, when I had internet and spare time. Along the way, I’ve also taken part in:

Snapshot Serengeti: Wild animals (and a rare human) trigger still cameras, and you pick out what animals were caught in the shot, how many, and what they were doing. 

Whale Song: There is a classification system for whale songs (who knew?) and I listened to several and tried to classify them within that system.

Shakespeare’s World: I turned some handwritten letters from the Elizabethan Era into computer files. The content of the letters was interesting. Parties, family, food, politics were among the topics. I assumed beforehand that the language would be quite different than our own, but it was quite similar.

Operation War Diary: WWI field notes. This was far more interesting than I thought it would be. I gravitated to the medical officers’ and ambulance teams’ notes and learned a good deal about wounds, mental illness and STDs in WWI. (Spoiler alert: soldiers get VD. A lot.) Both this and the Shakespeare era letters reminded me of how important primary documents are to historical novelists. You learn a lot of detail by reading, not necessarily what you’re looking for, but all of it adding up to the world coming alive in your mind.

Cyclone Center: Identifying satellite images of hurricanes in their various stages. Despite knowing something about this topic, I found this one tough.

Arizona Batwatch: The “Arizona” drew my eye, and I watched several ten-second clips of bats flying around the entrance to their homes, counted the critters, identified moments of hovering, of bumping into each other (they do!) and the rare landing caught on film. I found a double landing my first afternoon--and the first afternoon of crowd sourcing the project--and the scientists running the project were clearly stoked about it. A scientist who is working on that area of research will be very happy to know which clips to look at to study the landings in more detail.

Computers can pick out some meaning out of data (computers discover most comets these days by comparing images and seeing the dot that shouldn’t be there, for instance), but they can’t do what the human eye and brain can. Certain patterns are too complicated for even the best computer programs to analyze. Only our minds and eyes can do it.

In my youth I didn’t have the opportunity to study much science after high school, and yet I’ve had the chance to do some later in life through volunteer opportunities, both real life and online. At Zooniverse, you too can do real science. Don’t have a PhD in it but love astronomy or biology? You can still add to humanity’s knowledge about that field. Volunteers have discovered new types of galaxies, distant supernovae, and more. You only have a half-hour per week, or even less time? No matter. You can still help unlock Nature’s secrets. G’on over and take a gander. You might find something that calls to you.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

So you think you lost NaNoWriMo?

Didn't make 50,000 words? That’s fine. It doesn’t matter. I swear to you it does not matter one iota. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t make you a loser. It doesn’t make you a hopeless writer.

One NaNo win is not the end point of your journey--not nearly so. The month of NaNo is one tool of a million tools that might help you become a selling writer one day. Just that. Nothing more. One tool.

So what if you skip it one year? So what if you “only” wrote 37000 words this year? That’s a great total! Keep writing. NaNo, remember, is just a game. You don’t want to be a game winner more than you want to be a writer, do you? So ...  go be a writer, including on December 1 and 10 and January 14.

At its best, NaNoWriMo helps people learn for the first time that it’s possible to draft a novel in a month. And then they go on and do that again, independently of any game, on months other than November, over and over again. If you wrote over 1000 words a day on average, you still learned the lesson, whether or not you hit the arbitrary 50,000 word total or not. If you wrote six days out of seven despite having a job and kids, you still did well. Keep up those good habits--write at least 1,000 or revise at least 2,000 every day--and you’ll be able to write at least two books per year. Keep doing it, year after year, and your writing will improve over the years. Keep improving, and one day strangers will be anxious to read the next book you’ve written.

If NaNo makes you feel bad, if it doesn’t match your personal production habits, don’t do it again. You’ll get beat up enough over a lifetime of writing, and a lifetime is what a writing career entails; don’t beat yourself up by adding another burden or sense of failure that you can avoid.

If you won, hey, great! Congratulations! But if you didn’t win but learned something, or wrote a third of a novel that didn’t exist in October, congratulations to you, too. You have every reason to feel proud.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Inventing characters

I thought I’d talk a little about craft, about two of the ways I develop characters.

My novels are realistic books about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. (Time travel is not so realistic, I admit, but the rest of what I write is.) And so most of my characters come from watching and listening to ordinary people.

Here’s an excerpt from my journal:
“As I left the grocery store this morning, a white couple, obviously working poor folks, walked up to the door. I had emptied my cart and left it just in front of the jammed-together stack, and the guy was going to yank one of the entangled carts out instead. His girlfriend said, “Hon, there’s one right there that person just left.” And the guy says, petulant, “I don’t want that one.”

And in a moment, I knew how awful that relationship was, how abusive he likely is--perhaps not physically, but a moral, spiritual drain, a critical jerk, like a black hole in her life that drains out all her happiness and peace. Her tone of voice and cringing posture told me that too. And I wondered ... why be with him? What sex, no matter how great, what help with the chores, what brief comfort of waking up next to a breathing body is worth that cost? It’s a puzzle.”

And it is, in the working out of that puzzle over some time, that I might come up with a character. Or, I might challenge myself about my assumptions, and turn that guy into a nice guy who is having a bad morning because _________ (brainstorm a list of why). Or maybe they weren’t a couple, maybe they were brother and sister, tending to a dying parent, and his refusal to accept the easier and available cart that didn’t require a wrestling match to free was a sort of symbolic act of frustration at the vagaries of disease, a rail against the inevitable march of the parent toward death. Maybe I'd focus on her and try to sincerely answer my why question. Give her a rational reason to stay with a draining man.

As I think about them today, I can see the woman--who I caught but a glimpse of--literally wringing her hands, not a thing done often in real life, but I think she might. I wonder if I can get away with that gesture in a book set today, and think, possibly, if I lampshade it.

I make up stories about strangers all the time, and a moment like that might spin off a dozen characters. They might fade from my conscious mind, or I might be in the midst of plotting a novel in two years, and there is that character, right when I need her. I don’t describe the person I saw that started the thinking--any looks will do, I probably don't remember the trigger person's looks, and I seldom describe my story people in detail anyway, trusting that my readers are smart enough to imagine characters on their own.

In other situations, I sit down and quiz people. People love to talk about themselves. Example: I was sitting with a group of a half-dozen elderly women, and they had all been happily (or at least contentedly) married for decades, and it struck me to ask this question. “Was he the first real love you had, or was there one who got away?” And they all had one who got away, and the stories they told were fascinating, and filled with nostalgia, bittersweet longing, and humor.

Few of the stories people tell me get used exactly as told to me. They all go onto the character compost heap, fertilizing my fiction. The more I ask people about themselves, the more I learn about people in their infinite variety.

So those are two of the ways I invent and develop characters: by outright quizzing people, and by inventing imaginary lives for the folks I see in passing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"Why aren't my indie books selling?"

We're nearing the end of NaNoWriMo month, when I write about writing (craft and business) rather than about science, emergency preparation, and disasters.

My bad first cover for my give-away story. Don't do this in public!

I see this question asked often around the web. I'm speaking to fiction writers here, as I'm no expert on non-fiction books. None of the following answers is original to me, and most selling indie writers would offer you a list in answer that I suspect would 90% match this one.
  • you don’t have enough books out yet. Get six out there before you worry. Bonus: you’ll be a better writer by the time you’ve written your sixth
  • you’ve picked a genre that almost no one reads. Traditional publishing, with its higher profile, can afford to try to break out a new genre or promote a cross-genre book. Indies do better by sticking to established winning genres
  • you’ve picked the right genre but failed to meet its conventions. Romance, for instance, requires a happily every after; if you fail to deliver that, your books won’t sell. Or perhaps you’re trying to sell short stories in a genre that expects 100,000-word novels
  • you’re writing stand-alone books. In most genres, series sell more copies
  • your cover looks amateur (though I admit this didn’t stop me from selling books at first). Buy a pre-made cover to begin with. You can find them on sale for $15. I like because he’s prolific and reasonably priced. 41 Days' cover I got from you've made your first few thousand dollars, put that back into better covers if you wish
  • your product description isn't a good, grabby selling tool
  • your “read inside” section is full of editing errors
  • you can’t write very well (yet)
  • you can write well enough, but your books are slow and bogged down with description. I know your eleventh grade teacher praised your description of a sunset, but novel readers already know what a sunset is. Type “Night fell,” and move on to action or dialog
  • you overpriced your books. No one knows who you are, so they will not pay 6.99 for your novel. Try .99 for a while
  • you aren’t releasing books quickly enough to develop a following
  • you are doing all that above right but are having rotten luck (but this is only true for 1-5% of you, so look earlier in the list for the real answer before you cling to this thought). Hang in there, keep writing, and your luck should eventually turn
In order to fix whatever is wrong, you need time and effort and a willingness to learn better. A significant percentage of people slapping books up on Amazon are doing just that--slapping up a half-baked book. That won’t result in success. First, learn to write well. (Hint: if it’s your first book ever, you probably haven’t yet.) Second, pay or barter for proofreading.

Third, look at the best sellers in your subgenre and see what those authors are doing with covers and product descriptions. Then buy a similar pre-made cover and write your blurb in a similar style.

Fourth, now that the problem is fixed, ignore that book and write your next book and your next. A writing career spans a lifetime, so get on with yours.

I guarantee you that here is NOT what’s wrong: you don’t have enough reviews/you haven’t run enough ads. Forget about that stuff until you have a completed series out or your first six books. By then, reviews will have likely taken care of themselves anyway. And by then, you’ll have likely read sufficient articles and forum posts by successful indies to know the very few sites where it’s worth advertising.

I wish you the best in your journey as an author-publisher.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Dawn of Mammals 4 available for pre-order!

Time-travel adventure series Dawn of Mammals continues with Killer Pack. CLICK HERE to order for December 9 delivery to your Kindle or other device.

A time gate...
A team of teen scientists...
A desperate fight to survive....

A rock slide at a fossil site uncovers a portal through time. Park Ranger Hannah and a team of fossil hunters are caught in it and whisked back to an era when giant predator mammals roamed the earth. Before they can find their way home, they must survive the Dawn of Mammals.

In book 4's adventure, The Miocene epoch places them nearer to home, but can they make it back home without a lost team member's knowledge about the timegate? After Hannah abdicates as leader, relationships shift. Ancient canids hunting in a pack bring down another human. Who will survive this epoch, and who will fall?

Gray 1, post apocalyptic e-book, on sale for .99 in US

The exciting post-apocalyptic novel series begins.

A dense black cloud boiled up in the southeastern sky. It rose high and fast, like a time-lapse movie of the birth of a thunderhead. But it was no rain cloud. Wholly black, it reached up and loomed over her, blocking out the sun. Somehow she knew it was Death coming at her.

Pre-med student Coral is on a vacation in Idaho when something terrible happens. The black cloud is followed by a wildfire and searing heat that lasts for days. She survives deep in a cave but emerges days later to find the world transformed, a world of blackened trees, an ash-filled sky, and no living creatures except her.

So begins her desperate journey: to find water, and food, and other survivors...and the answer to the mystery of what happened.

Post apocalyptic three-book series, exclusive to Amazon. Sale for US (.com) only.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

I do believe in luck

During National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I post about writing issues, craft and business, rather than my typical posting on science, natural disasters, and emergency preparation.

I believe that luck plays a part in commercial writing success. Many other writers--some making a good living and others with brilliant plans laid out which they are certain will catapult them to fame any day now--do not, and I understand why. So let me explain why I do.
my guess at what contributes to writers' success
I don’t think writing success is only about luck, mind you, nor primarily about luck. And today is perhaps the first time in history that you can succeed without connections; sales and ranking are no longer about whether or not some New Yorker wearing shoes more expensive than your entire wardrobe bopped you on the head with the fairy godmother wand or not, thank the great demigod Jeff Bezos.

So there is good news: what you do alone at the keyboard matters much more today than it has ever mattered before. With self-publishing, the relationship between hard work and success is getting cozier, and that’s one hell of a comfort to those of us who work hard.

I also know this: wishing won’t manufacture luck. Only hard work will. There’s a famous quote out there ( tried to figure out who said it first and that’s so complicated, I won’t even try to attribute it): “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” Believe it.

Still... I have witnessed three writers, just as skilled as one another, working just as hard in the same genre, coming up with varied incomes. One is making $250K/year, and one $72K and a third not quite $20K. Even with the same number of books out, about the same number of years in the business, and the same number of releases this year, their results vary. So, to my mind, this suggests that there must be some luck involved. Start comparing writers across genres, and you can find even more wildly disparate results. Hard work in writing (or in sculpting, acting, or playing in a rock band) does not necessarily win you a living wage. Chances are, because of how many people are vying for the top spots, you won’t grab one.

Nor does success last year mean you are guaranteed it again next year. A lot of skilled, hardworking people in the arts have a five- or ten-year reign at their top level, and then it slips away despite their best efforts. They were good, yes, and they still are...but their luck turns. The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on.

Without hard work, you can’t position yourself to get lucky. Don’t do the work, and you’ll certainly fail. Do the work and get a dose of luck, and you might soon be paying the bills with your writing.

So do I believe that hard work is required to succeed? Absolutely. But do I also believe there’s such a thing as luck for writers? I do. This does not excuse me or you from doing our work. If we want to make a living as novelists, we can’t do it by dawdling around online during our writing hours or practicing the award acceptance speech in the mirror or making excuses or feeling jealous and resentful of people who work harder than we do. As I have often reminded myself: Quit yer daydreaming, quit yer whining, and write today’s words.

Then do it tomorrow and for all the tomorrows to come. If you don’t, you’ll never get lucky.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Dawn of Mammals 4 update

This book is in the hands of a pro proofreader right now, and I'm planning to release it on or before December 15. If I can get it up before then, I will!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

I don't believe in talent

During National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I post about writing issues, rather than my typical posting on science, natural disasters, and emergency preparation.

“You're so talented as a writer.”

I hear this from time to time in emails, and before you think this is just bragging and quit reading this article before this sentence ends, let me assure you, I am NOT talented.

And neither is any other novelist.

That's because writing isn't a talent. Language is learned. Writing skill is learned. No two-year-old child sits down and pens a perfectly structured screenplay or novel, proving to me it’s not an innate skill. In the past five years there have been a number of articles and books written on the concept of how much work it takes to get to achieve competence in a field. There's the 10,000 rule, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell . There's Ericsson’s concept of deliberate practice and his book, Peak, which also debunks the concept of “innate talent.” Before that, SF writer David Gerrold reminded us that it takes a million words of practicing fiction writing before we'll write a novel anyone will want to read.

A lot of people think they want to write a book, but they don't understand that they'll probably have to write three to five bad ones (or a hundred bad short stories) before they can write a decent one, and three decent ones before they write a good one. It takes years of work to achieve skill, and some of those years are frustrating. Few people seem to be able to stick through them.

I don't know why I was, why I was willing to sink 25,000 hours into learning the craft and the business when it rewarded me hardly at all, before indie publishing and my lovely readers gave me the chance to be a full-time writer. Beyond having parents who worked hard at jobs and community service and provided excellent role models without ever lecturing us on the topic, I believe that people like me are congenitally stubborn. We don't quit because we're a little mad. We bang our heads against the brick wall until we see cracks in the mortar. Or we just bang our heads until we die.

Before 10,000 hours was a catchphrase and before Ericsson’s research, in 1989 western novelist Jack Bickham wrote, “Talent is something people attribute to a successful person after years of hard, hidden, agonizing work.” Amen to that.

So thank you for the “talent” compliment, and I'm not a complete ingrate; I did take it how you intended it. But I hope you forgive me if I correct you: if you like my novels: I’m not talented. Talent would be a fairy godmother hitting me on the head with a wand. Skill is earned. I put in my hours, and if I have any skill to speak of, effort built it.

And this is good news to beginning writers struggling to figure out how to make it all come together. It means with enough effort, you can become skilled, too.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Writers, consider the source

A vast community of online writers now exists, with many people giving advice to other writers for free, sometimes when asked, sometimes just blurting it out on forum or blog. ;)  Some of the advice-givers have even written how-to books about craft or business and put them on Amazon for 2.99, and despite all the good free advice out there, lots of people buy those books.

Whenever you read advice from a writer, before you begin to believe it, do this for yourself: CHECK THE AUTHOR'S BOOK RANKINGS AT AMAZON. If you are published, indie or traditionally, and they have a book or two ranked higher than you, sure, give the advice some consideration and decide if it sounds like a fit for you. If they are ranked lower than you, or if they are ranked (as is shockingly common), lower than 300,000 at Amazon's book store, you can safely ignore that advice. To be blunt, if the advice was good, they'd have more readers.

Subject me to this test, too. Either my proof is in my pudding, or it ain't. (This year, I'm mostly talking about me rather than giving direct advice, but if you see implied advice in my posts, it counts.) My newest book's link is always next to the top "gadget" in the right-hand column of my blog. Usually, though not always, an author's newest book is his top ranked book.

And for heaven's sake, don't buy some book or service from the advice-giver unless he's a top seller! That's being the "sucker born every minute." And none of us wants to be that.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Writing a million words of fiction in 2016

During National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I post about writing issues, rather than my typical posting on science, natural disasters, and emergency preparation.

One million new words of fiction per year?

I know there are a few people out there who write a million new words of fiction a year, but I worked my hardest in 2016 and discovered that I’m not going to be one of them.

I’ve navel-gazed about the question of whether or not I was just being whiny (something 99% of writers are tremendously skilled at, so I try to monitor myself for this), but I don’t think I am this time. People who write a million a year generally:

  1. Write every day or nearly so
  2. Sometimes dictate into Dragon Naturally Speaking
  3. Often write in a genre where there’s a formula, and they stick to it with each book
  4. Hire out all editing and proofreading
  5. Are capable of revising Book A in the afternoons while writing the first draft of Book B in the mornings
  1. I do write every day or nearly so, though I have a limit of three hours of creative work. After that, my creative brain just shuts off, and I seem capable of writing only the equivalent of “uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” If I push it past four hours, I get a headache and might lose the following day to that. After this many years at it, periodically pushing myself for more production, I’m fairly certain this is a real limit of my imperfect brain.
  2. I’ve tried dictation, and even after training the VR program for weeks, it still introduced 70 new typos into every 1000 words, and about once every 1000 words I couldn’t even discern what I had meant, it had typed something so far away from what I’d said. As proofreading is difficult to trade for and/or expensive from a pro, I had to say “no, thanks,” as it seemed to me that I’d only bought myself more unpleasant hours of proofreading work later on.
  3. Every one of my stand-alone novels is a new creature altogether, and even the three novels of the Gray series are very much different from one another. I’ve tried coming up with a reusable outline, but it’s impossible for me and my genres. The best I can do for myself is a twelve point plan, but it’s vague and it doesn’t get me very far. (One bullet point is “a reversal,” as an example. Not a whole lot of help.) 
  4. I have proofreaders lined up, some volunteer and some paid, but I would feel bad about turning it over to them without doing any revision or proofing myself first. I have tried to talk myself into a lazier mindset, but I. Just. Can’t. It’s a mental quirk, I suppose, wanting to do the best work I can manage on my own, and I’m stuck with it. The most I’ve been able to do in this realm is write an editing macro for myself to speed up revision and trade in my former three revisions for the macro plus one this year. (Mumbling “the perfect is the enemy of the good” the whole while to force myself to not obsessively rewrite.)
  5. The eight-hour work day, divided into new words in the morning and revising/proofing a different novel in the afternoon, is something I tried, but it didn’t work for me. Seven days a week, eight hours a day of writing/revising work is exhausting, and then there’s a business to run, too. It’s also confusing to me to jump back and forth between projects every day.

And so I now work for my three hours every morning, but it is either new words or revision or proofreading, not all three. I also do an hour or two of business work daily: mailing list, blog, emails, social media, accounting, etc. And every day includes a couple hours of research/non-fiction reading for the next book in line. Seven hours a day, seven days a week, and very few days off: 49 hours of work per week. It’ll just have to do.

Because the other thing I fear million-word writers must do can be seen by looking at it through the lens of David Sedaris’s “four burners theory.” A friend of his says there are four burners in a life: work, friends, family, and health. Unlike on a stove, where you can crank them all up to high for a long while, in real life, you cannot. If you turn work up to high, friends, family, and health will suffer. To be really successful, she said, you have to turn off two burners.

I think she has a point. For any one person, there is no such thing as infinite time. Or infinite energy. Or an infinite number of days functioning on three hours sleep. We have limits, and if we don’t respect them--if we don’t keep an eye on all four burners--we might find ourselves with fifteen novels written this year, but have no friends, high blood pressure, and are being served with divorce papers or bailing a kid out of jail because he acted out just to get our attention for a few minutes.

I tried as hard as I can, and I turned friend and health burners down too low, but I don’t think I’ll quite crest a half-million new words by December 31. (If I get to count blog posts, yes, I will). Other people can write a million, and my hat is off to them. I did my best, yet I found I am not in that group.

Next year, I’ll aim for about 333,000 new words...and I will reconnect with some friends whose invitations I turned down too often in 2016.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

2/3 of the way through revising Dawn of Mammals 4

Here's a word cloud from an action scene in the novel coming out in December. (mild spoiler alert!)

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Planning to participate in NaNoWriMo?

I have a totally unscientific WAG based on thirty years of watching people be writers, want to be writers, and fail to be writers about attrition and success in writing. Here it is, expressed graphically.

Be one of the rare ones! Finish a novel this November.

Friday, October 28, 2016

A book you want to read

I'm talking today as a reader, not a writer. I read a really cool SF book this week, Landfall by Jerry Aubin.

It's available here: on Amazon and for Prime members, it is currently free through the Prime Reading program. I've been trying various books on the program since it launched this month and this one is the real standout for me so far.

It's SF with spaceships, battles,  aliens, a generational ship, and a cadre of military cadets in training. One reviewer calls it Enders Game meets Battlestar, and it is, while also being original. As a writer, I can see into the craft of this, and he's doing a whole lot of things right--as in how he gives you the complex worldbuilding while he's characterizing and creating tension, so it never feels like infodumping. The man knows his craft.

As a writer I can admire his talents, but it's as a reader I responded to it. It's pure geeky pleasure, intelligent SF, plausible future, science-based, with an incipient romance and a mystery all wrapped into the tale. Seriously, go get it, and if you have Prime, there is no reason not to! It's free, dude!

I sometimes mention my friends' books, but I feel compelled to mention that Jerry and I aren't friends (yet--life is long). I'm simply geeking out as a reader on this one.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


I live not too far from a cemetery and about once a week, I can hear the distant sounds of bagpipers playing. It's just the right distance for bagpipers. Mournful, but somehow uplifting. Thanks, pipers.

From Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Shake out drill

Tomorrow is the GREAT SHAKE OUT earthquake drill, worldwide, at 10:20 local time. Drop. Cover. Hold On. If everyone did these simple things when the ground under their feet began to shake, many lives would be saved every year.

Bonus instruction: don't run outside in a city street to get killed by falling glass and gargoyles.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Books I have read for researching novels and recommend

Here are some non-fiction books that I've used in my researches and can recommend.

Tornado Alley: Monster Storms of the Great Plains Technically complex, but if you've learned everything The Weather Channel can teach you, you might move on to this! Dr. Bluestein is tops in his field.

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why. Amazing, a page-turner of a book that might also help you survive a disaster. Which type are you? A leader? Someone who freezes? Read this and find out.

Storm Warning: The Story of a Killer Tornado The personal stories in here were ones I found very touching. It influenced my novel Storm, helping me understand more about what it feels like to be right there when the thing is screaming right over your head.

The New Madrid Earthquakes, Revised Edition The book on the 1811-12 New Madrid quakes. To some people, the reviews tell me, it was dull reading, consisting as it does of a lot of primary sources quoted at length, but it's meticulously researched and probably has every important primary source included, everything important that anyone wrote at the time of the earthquakes (which was, of course, before photography could record it). And I was fascinated by every word.

The Next Pandemic: On the Front Lines Against Humankind's Gravest Dangers. Dr Ali Khan, formerly of the CDC. Fascinating look into the life of a real life disease researcher who responded to infection disease outbreaks all over the world for many decades.Witty and dramatic and informative. My favorite of all the pandemic books I read.

National Geographic Prehistoric Mammals. Beautiful illustrations, minimal text, but really worth it for the drawings by Mauricio Anton.

Sunday, October 9, 2016


I'm working at finishing my fourth Dawn of Mammals book, hoping to be able to revise and release it by early December. So no significant blogging this week, I'm afraid, nor probably the next! I'll be back with more on science, preparing for disasters, and, in November, four posts about writing and writers to coincide with NaNo -- National Novel Writing Month.

I hope all my fans who were in the path of Hurricane Matthew made it without any loss of property! Hurricane season should be over in a month.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Hurricane Matthew

If you live on the east coast of the US or the Bahamas, do not take your eyes off this! 

I've been following this hurricane closely and studying the maps at sites I referred you to in Advanced Hurricane Links last month. (In fact, I've let my fascination with it cut into my writing time, which must stop!)

Friday morning I saw it had intensified overnight and was not going to stop. I tweeted that it was scary and predicted to a friend IRL it'd be Cat 5 before bedtime. It was. I began worrying about my Florida fans and all the Floridians I didn't know, and everyone in Kingston Jamaica, who looked like they were in for terrible times.

I admit I was befuddled about the models, which had it turning north, and I continued to be befuddled Saturday morning, when I pulled this 700hPa wind map off

I could see the cyclonic and anticyclonic areas over the Ohio Valley and Atlantic, respectively, and the likely path north between them is obvious, a channel right up the coast as of that moment.  But my question--and I couldn't find an answer for it anywhere--was what made forecasters think the storm was going to turn north within minutes of when I took this screen cap? I couldn't see any path north for it to get to the northward channel. It was obviously being steered west.

Leaving the mystery alone, I forced myself away from researching the question to write, did my daily words, and by nightfall my time on Saturday, it was moving NW. One strange thing about this storm (and it's a weird one!) is that on satellite, you can see a big area of convection, bigger than the core of the hurricane, to its east. This happened because that side of the storm was, for a long time, over high mountains in South America, which changed the storm's dynamics. When it moves entirely away from SA, that huge batch of thunderstorms may be wrapped into the main circulation, or it might stay just like that (looks like eyes, doesn't it?)...until it hits Haiti.

Infrared view of Matthew 1140 UT, 2 October

Deforested, poor, and still not recovered from the big earthquake, Haiti will not fare well under that powerful bunch of storms. Mudslides and flooding will kill, and if the death toll is in the hundreds, I won't be surprised.

As to where it's going after it's done with Haiti and Cuba? Too much about the future is uncertain. How far north will a low pressure system now in Ohio move? How strong will the high ridge now building in the Atlantic become? My feeling all day yesterday was that the official track was a little too far east, that Florida and the Carolinas are still in danger. One model (and a good model, not one of the weird ones that is never right) has a major hurricane slamming into Maine in a week! So everyone on the East Coast of the continental US needs to watch this thing.

And remember, if you see a forecast for four days down the road and it isn't aimed at you, that's no guarantee you are safe. On average, that far in advance, they're wrong by 200 miles, which the NHC itself mentions in some of its updates. Weather is complicated, which makes long-range forecasting difficult. Get your supplies today, just in case. If the hurricane curves out to sea, you can be thankful, and the supplies will serve you well for the next storm, power outage, or earthquake, too.

ETA, Tuesday 3 Oct. I answered my own questions about the steering.

1) The turn north did not happen for 30 hours beyond when I looked at steering maps. By then, it made sense to me from looking at the maps. So some forecasts promised the turn too quickly.
2) I've read--but haven't thoroughly investigated--that which steering level to look at depends on the storm itself, barometric pressure, cloud heights, etc. I'll have to dig into that one and see....
3) The blog moderator at WU pointed out that all Northern Hemisphere storms want to "visit the North Pole." I thought about it for five seconds and realized why. I did a thought experiment of the sort that we did physically in junior high physics, imagining a drop of colored fluid on a spinning top, just "north" of the top's equator, and I could see it. This is, of course, another part of the Coriolis effect. If nothing else is steering a hurricane--or if all the forces that are trying to do so balance out, it'll move north. If it's caught in trade winds (as from Africa to the Caribbean), those will steer it. If there are high or low pressure areas, those can steer it. Otherwise, it does indeed want to "visit the North Pole."

..and the models and forecast tracks are inching west today, so that part of my guess did come true. If you're in Florida or the Carolinas, it's time to do early prep: take in the lawn furniture, clean out the freezer, put a bunch of bottles of water in there to freeze solid by Wednesday and keep it colder longer, fill up the spare gas cans on your way to/from work tomorrow, buy or charge batteries. As the forecasts narrow it down, you may need to do more. If they tell  you to evacuate, please, evacuate.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pandemic movie reviews

After I drafted my own novel about a pandemic, I re-watched some movies about pandemics.

Outbreak (1995). I always liked this one, but after reading another 3000+ pages on the topic in researching my own novel, I was impressed at how much they got right. (The worst inaccuracy was how the time frame was compressed. You don’t isolate a new virus or come up with a treatment or vaccine that quickly, sorry to say.)

If you don’t know the plot, it’s this: The US Army has saved a killer virus and developed a treatment for it and is hiding it for use as a bioweapon some day. But it re-emerges from nature, as such diseases will, and it enters the human population, and now we’re in trouble, particularly the residents of a small California town. Bad guy general, good guy military doctors working for USAMRIID, conflict as they work at cross-purposes, and a love story provides the B plot. It stars some big-name actors.

There was a maudlin and unlikely scene with a little girl and monkey that should have been edited out, but the helicopter chase in this one is so freakin’ cool! (And I’m not the world’s biggest fan of chase scenes, but when someone does it well, I say so.) I was engaged, rooting for the heroes, and not troubled by the inaccuracies, which I understood were necessary to make it a fast-paced thriller.

For me, an A- grade.

Contagion (2011)

I sympathize with the screenwriter and filmmaker. It’s darned hard to tell any disaster story from a single point of view. So much happens, and not any one person can experience all of it. As a writer, I’m always torn between following one character (which I think appeals most to readers) and following several (which tells a more accurate story). This film jumps from a sick family to an EIS worker on the ground to her boss embroiled in politics to an irresponsible blogger, to China where the disease originated, to runs on the stores and riots and roadblocks, and because of all of this, it ends up being something of a mess. In offering too many people to root for, they leave us no one person to root for.

Again, the accuracy is impressive. They clearly had consultants from the CDC helping them through this one, and they made no factual mistakes I noticed. (They based the start of the epidemic largely on the emergence of SARS.)

But despite this, the multiple points of view and lack of a story through-line didn’t thrill me. Still, if you want to get scared about the inevitable coming pandemic, watch it for its accuracy. It should scare you.

Grade: C

Plague City: SARS in Toronto. (2005) A Canadian made-for-TV movie, historical, about SARS. Again, very accurate research here.

This movie does better than Contagion at picking a point of view character. We get to know a nurse in a big hospital and stay largely with her. It does move to other scenes where she couldn’t possibly have been; to tell the full story it must. Our emotional connection is mostly with the nurse, and if you don’t yet appreciate the risks health care workers take in an epidemic, watching this should help you get there.

It also does a good job of touching on economics and politics, and how priorities in those areas are totally opposed to the priorities of actually containing an epidemic. Greed will end up killing more people than it should when the day arrives, and I think it’s good to think about it in advance, so that we might perhaps make more rational decisions when the day comes. (And the day will come.)

It’s a made-for-TV movie, with no superstar actors and low production values, but it’s quite good. Free for now at Amazon Prime Video, if you have that. B+

I do a good deal of complaining about inaccuracy and lack of scientific research in big-budget disaster movies, but it seems that people making pandemic movies do a far better job than people making earthquake or volcano movies. But being accurate and telling a good story is a challenge, as well I know, and we’re lucky there are a couple movies that do both.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

What’s wrong with MFA programs in writing

Admittedly, I don’t know what’s wrong with all of them. I do know what’s wrong with the one where I earned my MFA. But I’ve asked other people with MFAs, and many of the residential ones sound similar. I’ve probably missed what’s wrong with other programs, but surely the following is enough, don’t you think?

  • Mostly, they teach sneering and elitism. They teach nothing about business, and the one I went to taught nothing about craft. But they did sneer often at commercial fiction and genre fiction. I had one prof, whose total publications as a fiction writer were two stories bought by buddies of his, literally sneer at one of my stories. “Isn’t this...(sniff)...rather commercial?” He couldn’t have wrinkled his nose more had I just farted. I smiled brightly and said, “Thank you!” Because he had given me a compliment, even if he didn’t have the wit to know that. What commercial means, just in case you don’t understand the word in this context, is that several strangers would be willing to part with their hard-earned money to have the chance to read what you’ve written. And yet, in the MFA program, this was seen as a bad thing, a low thing, beneath us. It didn’t take me long to see the classism that underpinned all this sneering. The classism assumed you’d be living off a trust fund or a rich hubby, and dabbling at writing “real art” that you needn’t be paid for. I grew up working class. I continue to be working class. I pay all my own bills. I relate as much to this privileged attitude as I do to being in the royal line of Monaco or a Martian bacterium.
  • At the program I attended, they also sneered at all the ways I had taught myself how to be a regularly-published writer before I arrived. Close analysis of published novels, for instance: was not done there, and when I pointed out in a discussion that it was a way for a fellow student to understand why so-and-so’s books worked so well for her, the professor merely laughed at me. Another professor, when I suggested during a critique circle a possible technique to apply to a problem spot, said, “Right. Did you read that in a book somewhere?” “Book” was said again with lip-curling and a sarcastic tone. I thought, but did not say, “Gee, I never thought I’d be in graduate school and the professors would sneer at the thought of reading a book!” But they do, and certainly if it’s a book on fiction craft. (I probably had read it in a book, in fact, and the worst craft book I ever read taught me a hundred times as much as any of those professors did.)
  • Instead of actually teaching the craft, they expect you to intuit it. And maybe some brilliant people can. I think of Truman Capote, writing wonderful short stories at age 17. But then, if you’re that much of a natural, getting published in national magazines at 17, why on earth would you need an MFA program? I spent two years in that program, and there was one fellow there, a nice bloke, who still didn’t have a clue what point of view was when he was awarded his degree, much less how to control it in service to the story.
  • The We Are Special Artistes And Better than Everyone Else belief. In my program, we were encouraged to be licentious and end up in jail. Literally. Seriously. It was stated the first week: they looked forward to bailing us out of jail. I have news for you, artistes, this is ten kinds of nonsense. Writing is work. It’s another kind of work people do, nothing more, nothing less. It is no more noble than drawing blueprints or planting shrubbery or being a civil servant or running a Subway franchise or any other work. It is, in fact, somewhat more self-indulgent than most sorts of work. You do the work by plopping your arse down in the chair every day and typing, not by slapping your hand to your forehead and moaning, “alas, poor me! I’m so special!” Typing scenes isn’t particularly romantic. It’s thinking and imagining and typing and backspacing and typing some more. And being a writer doesn’t excuse indulging yourself in untreated alcoholism, cheating on your spouse, or anything of the sort. “Writer” is not an excuse not to mow the lawn or pay the taxes. Everybody who doesn’t write also has special thoughts and deep feelings. Writers aren’t special and they aren’t above anyone else and they aren’t above the law. Seriously, get over yourselves.
  • Forget the university’s rules about sexual harassment. Because some of my professors demanded their students get naked in conference [you think I’m making this up, don’t you? Alas, I am not.], and others screwed whoever they wanted to (always going for the youngest or most mentally unstable). As there was usually thirty or more years’ age difference between screwer and screwee, it was creepy, to say the least. Requesting sex of someone you hold grading power over is coercive, which is why there are rules against it. But because they are special artistes and all, those rules don’t apply to them.
  • What they are steering you toward, in their half-assed way, is writing the sort of story that appears in the Paris Review or Glimmer Train. Those two magazines pay for stories, but the ones in the tier just under them do not. All you get with publication there is bragging rights. I’ve yet to meet a utility company that takes publication in the Sewanee Review in lieu of cash payment. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy reading these sorts of stories. I do. I’ve written them. I’ve been published in those places. But pretty soon (or not so soon, in my rather slow-on-the-uptake way), a smart writer has had sufficient ego-boosting from it and realizes that it’s not getting her anywhere else but dropped at the corner of Pleased and Proud without bus fare home, and she moves on.
  • Where other graduate programs have an aim of getting you actual work that pays your bills or setting you up for a Ph.D. that will pay you well, MFA in fiction programs have no such goal. One of the people I attended with has a small-press published book which sold about what small-press books of literary fiction do (It’s ranked at 2 million at Amazon today). Otherwise, I’m the only one regularly publishing or making any money at fiction-writing. (And I was regularly published before I attended.)
  • Their combination of nonsense--no craft study, no acknowledgement of the business, Special Artistes, literary fiction only--will push you further away from being a writer who earns a living at writing fiction, not draw you closer. If you believe all the above nonsense while you’re there, it may take you years of slapping yourself out of it to fix your attitude. Life is short, people. You can’t waste two years at an MFA and five years detoxing from it.

So my advice if you’re even thinking a little about doing this is:
  • Don’t go to an MFA or BFA in writing program unless they pay you to go, as with a fellowship. (I was paid to attend mine and chose the best financial offer.) Why? Because you’ll never earn a dime from anything you learned there, and you don’t want loans dogging your steps for the next decade. With an MFA, you can then teach composition in community colleges all across this great land and experience the joy of explaining the comma splice and that, no, that word that means “absolutely” is not spelled “defiantly” a thousand times every year. It’s not fun, but it’s a least for a while, until you can’t bear it one more day. Community colleges with 80 adjunct English faculty who have no health insurance and only 10 full-time instructors will welcome you and your fresh MFA in fiction with open arms.
  • Instead of grad school, go get a real job, or a series of jobs. Work on a fishing boat. Stock shelves at Walmart in the wee hours. Be a crisis counselor on a hotline. Be an orderly in a nursing home. Anything that puts you in contact with lots of different characters is good, as that’s all fodder for your writing. Work for pay, and write early in the morning and on weekends. This is what most writers do. It’s what you’d have to do after an MFA, so why not skip the MFA and get straight to work?
  • Or get a degree in something that will simultaneously lead you to a job that pays the bills (as writing doesn’t for most people who work hard at it, and it’s often unreliable income even when it does pay) and make you an expert in something you can use in your fiction. Fantasy writers, perhaps you can get a degree in folklore or anthropology. (Though jobs in those areas are hard to come by and low-paying.) Science fiction writers, what’s wrong with a degree in computer science that allows you to earn a good living and also give you ideas for your futuristic fiction? Mystery writers, attend the police academy and hit the streets in uniform for a few years, why don’t you? Then you’ll know something real that will serve your writing.
  • If you must get a master’s degree in writing, go for technical writing. You’re more likely to get a job with that.
  • If you insist on an MFA and do get a fellowship, go, but don’t, as I did, arrive there revealing you have more publications than your professors or, if you get a great publication while you are there, mention it. (It’s hard to bite your tongue at such times, but bite it, hard.) The professors are insecure, foolish little people, and it will upset them. 
  • If you get several offers of fellowships, okay. Now go the websites and look at who they brag about as MFA alumni. Have you heard of any of those people without googling them? If the answer is no, then that’s not the program to attend, is it? If none of them can list a alum name you recognize, then why go at all, even with a fellowship? Be smart; ask yourself, “Then what does this place actually DO for its students?” If, after twenty-five years of handing out MFAs, not a single student went on to pen a best-seller or win a Pulitzer, then they are not doing their jobs right.
  • If you have your fellowship and go, and you’ve learned to keep your head down in class and ignore the nonsense values, do volunteer for a job editing the literary magazine there. You’ll learn a lot about what editors see when you’re an editor yourself, and it’s enlightening. It was the one useful thing regarding writing that I took out of the experience, but of course it was not part of the coursework.
  • So, you have your fellowship, to a program that can brag about several famous authors graduating in years past, and there’s a lit magazine to work on. You’re moving in to your apartment in August, checking out the town. Do check it out! Do not make the MFA students and professors your main source of social connection. If you have a family, great: do things with other families and spend quality time with your kids. If you’re single, join a group that appeals to you, join a church or temple or ashram or atheist meet-up. Find an equestrian group or a group of people who build model trains, or a quilt circle, or volunteer to mentor teenagers playing chess, or get a membership to a yoga studio, and build your social connections out from there. This will keep you saner and make it less likely you’ll absorb all the nonsense values promoted by the program.
Take it from one who knows. The MFA in fiction writing is a nonsense degree, and it won’t get you any closer to being a writer making money from writing fiction; indeed, it will probably push you away from achieving that goal. If you must do it for whatever reasons drive you to, heed my advice about minimizing its damage to you. Like a good parent, I really am saying it for your own good.

Thanks to The Passive Voice and its commenters for reminding me I needed to write this post one day. Kris Rusch has also spoken about the matter intelligently. Let the Truth be known.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sexual abuse by aid workers

Here’s the least pleasant topic I’ve run across in my researches on natural disasters. To think that in some terrible natural disasters, aid workers would come in and rape children who had just lost parents and home and access to food was at first unthinkable to me. But it happens, as several reports have revealed in the past fifteen years, and so we had all better think about it.

To me, this is in the same general category as looting but roughly a million times worse. And if you’ve followed this blog or read my novels, you know I’m death on looting. Scumbags, those natural disaster looters. They’ve existed since written records of disasters, too, so don’t believe it’s some new sign of a worse world. It happened in the Tri-State Tornado and I’d bet good money that it happened in Pompeii.

But this? This is so much worse. I can’t come up with a good enough insult name for the people who do it. Imagine: you're a child. Natural disaster has struck. Your home is gone. Your parents are missing and possibly dead. An aid worker comes in and seems as if he might be there to help, to provide some comfort or relief. And then comes the horror: the price of the bag of rice or the hour of listening is sex. Or, the aid worker simply rapes a child or woman once he has her alone. (I’ve seen no cases reported of adult males being raped or females being perpetrators, but there may be such incidents.)

One wonders what kind of monster could do this. Is this why they sign on to be aid workers in the first place, as a form of...what, rape tourism?  (Shudder.)

Aid organizations must educate their workers on this, test those people for signs of sociopathy, look into their criminal backgrounds, and get the information out to the public that any incident of abuse needs to be reported. And the punishment, after investigation, needs to be swift and certain. (I'm thinking something involving a blowtorch...but then, that's why they don't let me be a judge.)

What can you do about this? I can only think of two things: First, before donating money to any disaster relief agency, ask, “Do you background check your paid and volunteer work forces? How do you guarantee they won’t be molesting the children under their care?” And, of course, educate your own children. If anyone touches them inappropriately, in any situation, including after a tornado or earthquake or hurricane, when their world is in chaos, they should scream, bite, kick, run, and tell every adult they encounter ASAP.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Why I hate Facebook

Admittedly, I never wanted to go to Facebook in the first place, and more than a few unpleasant things have happened to me there from the minor (please, people, no nude pictures of your heinie at 4:30 a.m. before I have even had my coffee!) to the major (someone from there reporting all my five-star reviews as fake to Amazon)...but writing friends said I couldn’t run a business without it. While I had hit the top 1000 of all authors at Amazon for a week with no Facebook, no ads, no advance reviewers, nothing but enthusiastic readers and word of mouth, I thought, well, but these writers must all know what they’re talking about. Right? So I finally caved.

But I never loved it, and this week came the straw that broke the camel’s back. I got a notice from FB that I could not get into my account because of malware. “Here, download this program,” they said, and that’ll take care of it and we’ll let you back in.

I have my own malware/trojan/spyware program which works great, and I had just run it not twelve hours before. But I downloaded any updates that had come in overnight and ran it again. No malware. Not even one little bit. So I ran a full virus check, too. I ran a specific check via both programs on the only three files I had downloaded in the previous few days, the cover to my new book. Nada. My computer was as clean as could be.

So, I thought, I’ll return to Facebook and it’ll know I’m clean and I’ll get in. Right?


I’ll clear cookies, close the browser, and it’ll know now, right?


And so I began an internet search on tech forums. And here is what some experts say is going on...and I think they’re probably right.

When Facebook tells you there is malware on your computer, THERE IS NO MALWARE ON YOUR COMPUTER. It’s a scam. They want to force you to download this software. What that software does, the experts say, is:

1) write code to your O/S you really don’t want there
2) disable any real malware software you have installed
3) allowing FB to put whatever they wish on your computer
4) and now, because the real malware software is now disabled, you are open to actual attacks, not imaginary ones

I have never understood greedy rich people. That Zuckerbooger guy is richer than Croesus, but apparently, he needs to be richer than that. So the new forced ads, data mining of horrific, invasive sorts, and now this holding your account hostage trick. All to grab at more and more money.

As I was uploading my newest book, 41 Days, at the time, having to deal with this for four hours in the middle of the list of 22 (don’t ask) tasks required of a book release? It put in me a very bad mood. (And bad health. My blood pressure, usually normal, zoomed up 35 points.) But the mood has passed, the BP is normal again, but I'm holding a grudge. It'll be some time before I'm back, and only as an author.

Also, FYI, I never did for FB what almost every author does: upload the reader mailing list to FB. (Didn’t know writers that, did you?) Authors do this so they can pay FB to find people just like you, demographically, to try and sell more books to.

But FB encourages it because, once they have that information, they get to data mine you more. And more. And more, until, with more and more businesses giving them this information without your knowing it, they can anticipate which links you’ll chose and which products you will actually buy. They know sooner than you do which “shop” button you’ll click. As has been reported elsewhere, in many cases, they actually know women are pregnant before a woman is certain herself! Your privacy, your buying behavior, has been sold.(Seriously, who wants Facebook to know the contents of her uterus. Isn't that upsetting to anyone but me?)

Because it seemed a little slimy to me, I never gave my mailing list (of readers who signed up here) to them nor to anyone.

If you get that notice from FB about malware on your own computer, based on what I experienced personally and everything I read on line, don’t believe it. If you bite on that bait and download their “malware” program, you may end up with malware on your computer, including nasty data-mining bits of it from FB itself.

FB seems free...but there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, my friends.

Be wary. Protect your privacy.

December: Edited to make it slightly less ranty. :)

Sunday, September 4, 2016

September is Preparedness Month

Here in the US, September is the month we're supposed to review our emergency plans, restock our food and water supply, and get ready for the coming year of natural disaster and power outages that might come our way.

I’m not much of a prepper. I do have a bug-out bag in my car trunk, and I do have 25 pounds of rice in my cupboard. But the latter came from my friend Ron and the former comes from my being a proponent of being prepared for realistic emergencies.

Not just preppers but everyone needs to be prepared for the sort of disaster that is most likely to happen wherever they live. Don’t worry about the end of the world; worry about the end of your stable world! Earthquakes, wildfires, tornados, hurricanes, sub-zero temperatures with electricity loss, house fires, floods: these are the likely events that could make your life uncomfortable or hellish at some point in the future.

For any emergency, you should have a three-day supply of water, food (and pet food) for every member of your family, cash, life-saving medications, and a change of clothes. Duct tape and a couple of bandanas are good additions, too, with many possible uses. A spare leash for each pet. Even six-year-old kids can have the special emergency backpack in their closet with a favorite old toy stuffed inside, ready to go at a moment’s notice if need be. A small first aid kit, which I hope you won’t need, is a good addition to one of the adult’s backpacks.

Take photos of your insurance papers, birth certificates, family phone numbers (since cell phones store those for us, we don’t remember these any more, do we?) and other crucial papers; upload them to the cloud, in an account you won’t forget the password of when you’re panicked. Make sure there are pictures of the pets in there, too, in case you get separated in a dire emergency and need to make lost pet posters. Even if your phone runs out of charge, usually in serious emergencies, you can find somewhere to get online. (libraries, special Red Cross facilities, cafes.)

The US government has done a terrific job of putting up emergency preparation information. (And anyone can look at it, no matter your nationality.) September is a month we’re to think of this, and if you haven’t freshened the water and food in your supplies you collected last time I nagged you about this, it’s a good month to do that. (Scroll down and click "emergencypreparedness" among my blog topics for all my posts on this.)

Stay safe.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

New Post-Apocalyptic Novel

41 Days: Apocalypse Underground

After the nukes fall
In a secret biohazard facility, survival may be possible
Until a knock comes at the door...

Available exclusively at Amazon and Kindle Unlimited

Monday, August 22, 2016

Advanced Hurricane Links via Mr. Masters

After this post, I promised to give you more links on hurricanes. Here they are!

One important factor in if a tropical wave will develop into a storm with a closed circulation--and possibly into a dangerous hurricane--is the wind sheer. Here's one map with sheer. Sheer can tear apart a hurricane.

I originally found these U/WI maps through this site, which explains in brief many of the maps you can link in the above UWisc site. The first time I looked at many of them, I thought “what am I looking at?” But the more you look, and the more you go back to explanations, the clearer the maps appear. Those of you who might watch The Weather Channel but have not dug deeply into how hurricanes form will have heard many of these terms: sheer, vorticity, convergence, and divergence. So here is that information which those forecasters look at before summarizing it for the broadcast audience. 

A great map to look at when you want to become a thoughtful amateur forecaster is this one, the depth of the 26C ocean layer. The redder, the deeper. This matters because hurricanes derive energy from hot ocean water, and because as they strengthen, they churn up deeper layers of ocean. If those deeper layers are cold, hurricanes can "turn themselves off" by doing this churning. But if the heat goes deep, they can churn and churn and still get fed. Katrina is a textbook example of one that had a deep 26C isotherm to feed from.

NOAA 22 August 2016

Large-scale weather patterns help determine where hurricanes are likely to develop in any given month. Dr. Masters at Weather Underground revisits the basics of the CCKW (convectively coupled Kelvin wave), MJO (Madden-Julian oscillation), and La Nina/El Nino,  from time to time. Here is a link to his recent post on these. I was particularly happy to see this one because I’d been watching the TIW -- that wavy cold temperature thing off South America in the top image of this post--developing and getting colder, and I had no idea what it was called. I was fairly certain “wavy cold temperature thing” was not the term the pros would use. I’m relieved that now I know: Tropical Instability Wave.

Let's return to the super-cool site I'm linking you here directly to the No. Atlantic. Watch the winds blow for a moment. (Soothing, isn't it?...except maybe for Floridians.) Now hit "I" on your keyboard. And keep hitting it. What this will do is take you upward through the layers of air, all the way up to the stratosphere. The redder the lines, the faster the wind is blowing.

You’ll notice that if you hunt down more and more links that explain these images and why they're important, you’ll start seeing calculus equations...and I admit, that’s where I stop my researches. If it takes calc to unpeel the next layer of understanding, I’ve learned enough for fiction-writing purposes. This ends up being a good thing, for if I didn’t have some sort of trigger to stop me, I’d do nothing but research and write no novels!

A friend wrote me an email this morning and said, "What, are you psychic? How did you know to post these hurricane links when you did?" No, I'm not psychic! If you watch African weather and do it from year to year, you learn to see them coming a long way off. To someone living in 1888 on the Gulf Coast, your or my ability to forecast hurricanes would seem like magic, wouldn't it?

And yes, there will be a hurricane novel one day to take its place beside my tornado, earthquake, and volcano novels, Storm, Quake, and Erupt. I have many ideas, and a person can only write a handful of books every year.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Hurricane links

As the North Atlantic hurricane season is starting in earnest, I wanted to mention some of my favorite links that I, an amateur weather nerd, follow enthusiastically when a tropical depression has become a hurricane, particularly one that will hit land. Most of these will work for anywhere in the world, so you don’t have to be a North American to find your local storm information.

Image, NOAA/Wikimedia commons

NOAA National Hurricane Center advisories. The top NHC meteorologists break it down for you every three hours during an active storm.

Maps. Click through the various loops: Dvorak, satellite, funktop, and others, and you’ll learn a lot simply by comparing the images. (Read up a little, and you’ll learn more) Some show cloud height in different colors and some show wind speeds in different colors, some show water vapor. Interesting stuff.

Earthnull.net Surface winds, and a beautiful presentation. Being the nerd I am, I can spend an hour spinning the globe, magnifying, moving back out, figuring out what’s happening and how it all connects, watching the dance of the winds on this tiny planet we call home. Isn’t the internet cool?!?

capture 15:12UT, 13 August 2016, Pacific Ocean

Weather Underground’s hurricane update, , often updated 2-3 times a day when the winds are blowing. Dr. Masters and the other scientists are great (link to that blog on right side of page), and the comments on the blog run from the head-scratchingly silly to the brilliant amateur with good insights and of course with plenty of needless internet bickering.

When a hurricane develops, for video storm coverage, nothing is better for me the writer, wanting to know what it feels like on the ground to normal people, than finding a local news station that streams and is covering it full-time. I can’t give you specific links, for my crystal ball is at the shop and I can’t tell you where the next hurricane landfall will be in North America. Name a big city in the area of likely impact, google that and “live streaming television” and you should find something.

Also, there are often webcams on beaches, on boardwalks, and at resort hotels aimed out to sea. Whereas live TV coverage streamed from Mexico is nearly impossible to find, webcams are common enough at resort towns, so even Mexican landfalls can often be watched. Switching between cameras at various locations can give you that feel of being there, watching the thing come at you. Often, the weather knocks out the feed when winds are over 80 mph, but until then, it’s fascinating to check in on the images from time to time. Again, googling should find some for you. Sometimes, a city’s chamber of commerce or tourism site has links to several.

You may ask me, “Lou, so after your morning hours of writing or revising or proofreading are over, how many hours can you spend moving from one of these sites to the next when a full-scale hurricane (or something akin, like Sandy) is moving in?” And the answer to that is, 12 hours, easily.

All together now. “Weather nerd!”

Stay tuned for part two, some more advanced links.