Sunday, January 31, 2016

A new novel and series begins...

I have finished drafting the first novel of my new series, and if all goes well, it may be for sale as early as April 1. I have to get in line with my cover artist, who might have to subcontract for some original art, and that will probably be the most difficult part to coordinate and most likely to delay it. Still, I think it's safe to say you'll see it sometime in April.

It's a science fiction survival adventure series. While it is aimed at adults, I tried to write it in such a way that mature, intelligent teenagers might also enjoy it.

The novels are full-length novels, but not super-long. Gray III was nearly 100,000 words in first draft, and it took a lot longer than I wanted it to. People like seeing the next novels in a series quickly, so I can't indulge myself in long novels again. The first one comes in right at 60,000 words, and the paperback should be 220 pages or so. I hope to stick to that length for the whole series.

I'm ordering covers and have plotted three novels. If people like the books, I'll write more, possibly seven or eight. If they don't, I'll write the three and move on to something readers enjoy more. I have hundreds more ideas--it's always difficult picking which to write next.

Specifics of content, and the cover I'm going to reveal just before release. For now, all I'll say is I think it's a pretty cool idea!

There is generally an eight-week delay between my saying "I finished writing a novel!" and it being for sale on Amazon. Why? I ignore it for three weeks, and then I revise, and then I run it through four proofreaders. (It was three. Now it's four. And there are always a few errors anyway! And believe me, no one likes that fact less than the author.) I check everything one last time, upload it to Amazon, wait for it to appear "live" on the site, mail my fans who have signed up here for those notices, and it's done. I try to take a day to relax and celebrate and get back to writing or revising the next thing. (I haven't had a whole day off since November, though. I need to work on carving out a day off now and then!)

I'm very close--just a few days--from having paperbacks of the Gray series for sale through Amazon and elsewhere. A few weeks after that, my natural disaster novels will be out in paperback. And in March, I'll release my final (I think) stand-alone natural disaster thriller, Storm, with a striking cover by Deranged Doctor Design:

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Disasters and emotional fallout

In my disaster novels, I wrap things up pretty well at the end. People (the ones who make it, at least), are safe, healing, and things are looking up. The disaster is safely in the past. Real life is never as tidy as fiction, alas. PTSD symptoms from a disaster can linger for years. I want to acknowledge that in this blog, lest you think I'm an insensitive twit on the topic.

I was jumpy after my major earthquake experience for weeks. There's a horrible thought you have for many days--worse in a way when you're familiar with earthquake science--that maybe that wasn't the big one, it was a pre-tremor to a Really Big One. Big earthquakes have a lot of aftershocks, any one of which could escalate into a 8.0 quake. That made for some restless nights for me. My adrenal gland must have been about ready to scream "uncle!" after two weeks, as often as it was called on. But a year later, I was okay. I knew people who were not, including one woman who was stuck in her bathroom for eight hours when the walls tilted just enough to make the windows and doors impossible to open.

A natural disaster can be a life-altering event. Depending on the person, the experience, and on psychological health at the time of the disaster, a month later a person can be completely back to normal, or five years later he may not be. Sometimes, they are fine for six months, and then they fall apart, in a delayed stress reaction.

From the W.H.O.

Some common reactions to a disaster are:
  • physical symptoms: headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite, aches and pains;
  • crying, sadness, grief;
  • anxiety, fear;
  • being on guard, or jumpy;
  • insomnia, nightmares;
  • irritability, anger;
  • guilt, shame (survivors’ guilt);
  • confused, in a daze;
  • withdrawn, or very still (not moving);
  • disorientation (not knowing their name or where they are from);
  • not being able to care for themselves or their children.

It helps most people to talk about it, but it helps others to not talk about it, to talk about anything else, in fact, but the disaster experience. In my FEMA CERT (Citizens Emergency Response Teams) training, I learned to let the traumatized person decide what is needed and follow his or her lead. He wants to show you pictures of the grandkids at the lake last summer? Great, look at the pictures and don't mention the disaster. She wants to repeat three or six times the story about the noise of the roof falling? Listen to that, as many times as she needs to tell it.

Most people are pretty good at independently fumbling their way to psychological recovery. A few may need counseling or a support group. Those who lost a family member will live with a wound that will never entirely heal. In interviews decades after disasters, survivors still shed tears or express their guilt at not being able to somehow save that person, even when there is clearly nothing they could have done. It’s heartbreaking to listen to them.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Why do I write gay characters?

A friend asked me this. She knows that my book starring a gay male couple (zero sex--they do hug, as I recall, but they're too busy staying alive to have sex) takes a hit: on sales, on reviews, on my averages at Amazon. I’ve told her I have received hate mail about it. And other mail that isn’t hateful but asks why I would do something so “bad” when my other books are so “good.”

The answer is really quite simple. Because I write about all kinds of people and like all kinds of people (not every person, mind you, but many diverse ones). I would no more go back and edit that book to make it about a heterosexual couple than I’d erase my lesbian great aunt or cousin or my gay friends out of my personal history.

If you want a more complex answer, when I started writing natural disaster thrillers, all set in the US, I thought it would be fun to celebrate one of the great things about America: its diverse population.  So I jotted down a list of disasters, the different states where I’d set them, and many sorts of people I wanted to pretend to be for the course of writing the novel and thought I could fake being believably. (For that is a great joy of writing, to imagine being in someone else’s shoes for a few months.)

It isn't just pride about my nation's diversity that makes me write about people who reflect the reality of life here. I sometimes think about homophobia. I knew there were pockets of anti-gay sentiment out there, bizarre as I find that, and I wanted to explore how that might be exaggerated in the face of a natural disaster in one of my books. I didn't know which novel at first, but it was on my list of interesting events to put into a novel.

Most writers who feel as I feel put a gay character into the background of a novel. Some don’t even mention in the text he’s gay but feel pride that they know he is in their heart of hearts. And good for them. I now suspect they’re smarter businesspeople than I.

As I began outlining Quake, I had just binged-listened to the movie-review podcast Linoleum Knife, and hearing Alonso and his husband Dave bickering made me laugh--and occasionally cringe--and when I sat down to type “Chapter 1” of that novel's outline, I started with a bickering married male couple. (In no other ways are those characters the two film reviewers, though, whom I've never met and likely never will. Not even the topic of the bickering is the same.)  And beyond that, I just wrote the book. I didn't realize that it would be a problem for people smart enough to read novels, particularly science-based thrillers. (Seems naive of me, in retrospect.)

Don't want to read it? That's fine. I read what I like, and you read what you like. And hooray for the differences between us and our tastes. But will I change the novel or avoid writing another gay character in the future because I'd make more money or have better overall ratings at Amazon or never have to open another hateful ranting email if I did avoid it? No. No. A thousand times no.

Because there are some costs that are far greater to me than these.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” -- Dr. Martin Luther King
 Ending homophobia matters.

Friday, January 8, 2016

did you not get the email about Gray III's release?

I'm so sorry if this happened. There are two possibilities: one, the mail bounced. I copy the address you give me with right mouse click, to keep myself from introducing typing errors, but if you were a letter off, it didn't go to the right place. Second possibility: your mail service shunted it into spam. As I have more followers, that will probably happen more. So look in your spam folder, mark it "not spam," and I hope the next one comes through in a timely manner.

You could also follow my twitter feed or sign up at Amazon by hitting the "+follow" button, and then you'd have a backup way of knowing a new book was for sale. Thanks for your patience. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


Gray III has been uploaded to Amazon as of this moment. It usually takes 8 hours for it to go live at UK, and up to 14 hours at .au. If you're on my mailing list, you'll get an email the instant it's live (meaning, you can buy it.)

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Research gems

From time to time I tweet about a fact I found in researching a novel or a blog post that I think is interesting:


  • If you’re caught in a pyroclastic cloud, the heat is so extreme, your blood comes to an immediate boil and your head can explode from that. I recently saw pictures from Mount Pelee where people’s organs had also exploded, forcing the abdomen to burst open like a dropped melon.
  • The most powerful volcanic eruptions in the US the past century were in Alaska, not the Cascades.
  • The deadliest earthquake of my lifetime: Tangshan, 1976. 
  • The volcano Krakatoa erupting in 1883 helped meteorologists begin to understand the jet stream.
  • The superheating of the atmosphere as a giant asteroid came through could be so severe that steel would spontaneously ignite. (Though a recent paper suggests that instead of the heating being worse near the point of impact, it's actually worse on the other side of the world.)
  • One major arm of the evangelical religious movement in the US expanded partly in response to fear about the San Francisco earthquake of a century ago, with effects still felt here today.