Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Lights in the Darkness

September is National Disaster Preparedness Month. Are you ready for a natural, or manmade, disaster?

When the power goes out, the first thing you'll probably notice is the darkness. Maybe your computer screen is dark, or your TV. Or maybe all those electric lights we take for granted have switched off. Whichever it was, darkness is something we just aren't used to in the modern era, spoiled as we are by the power grid. 

Thankfully, when the power does go out, it's not something you're probably familiar with, since storms can routinely knock out the power. You've probably got flashlights and candles in your home already for those emergencies. But what about when the power is going to be out for days, or weeks, or even months? What are you going to do to bring back the light to reassure your family that everything is okay?

Long before Edison, people relied on candles for illumination at night. Today, candles are often scent-makers, coming in decorative jars and festooned with fancy bows or ribbons. But what about candles for emergencies?

The best option for an emergency is the tea candle. 

Being short, there's little danger of a tea candle tipping over and starting a fire. Tea candles also come in a handy metal tin, meaning you don't need a fancy holder for it. Best of all, tea candles are very inexpensive. You can get a hundred or more for under $20.00.

If you want to be able to carry these tiny candles around, there are a variety of lamps and lanterns made to fit them. 

The one drawback with a candle is the need for an igniter--matches, or maybe a butane lighter. It won't do much good to have a few hundred tea candles stockpiled if your matches get wet, or you've misplaced them. 

Propane lanterns are considerably more dangerous than candles--they can put out fumes that in an enclosed space (like your fallout shelter) could prove fatal--but they put out a lot more light, and a bit of comforting heat. Growing up, my family all loved kerosene lamps. 

Of course, kerosene fumes can build up over time, or just lain stink you out. There are alternative, cleaner burning fuels you can use, but like candles, but wick-and-fuel lamps do require igniters.

A modern convenience for illumination is the chemstick, or glowstick, once known as cyalumes. Simple plastic tubes, you just bend and shake and a chemical reaction produces light for hours. 

We tend to order these in bulk, buying a box of ten each spring to restock our storm closet. I'm not sure what the shelf life is, but we tend to rarely use them--although they are great to amuse kids with for late night events like trick or treating or trips to the drive in. 

The safest bet for disaster preparedness is an electric lantern. And not just the kind that use batteries. There are now lanterns with handcranks built in, so you can recharge them without use of a generator. 

The best bet for any disaster preparation is to combine all of the above light sources--giving yourself a variety of choices in the event one of the technologies above fails. 

Know of another emergency lighting choice not mentioned above? Add it with a link in the comments below...

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Keeping Your Cool When Disaster Strikes

When the power goes out, so does most Americans' way to cook and preserve foods. You may have a gas stove, but very few people have gas refrigerators. 

Fortunately, most power outages are short-term, and in the interim, your fridges and freezers effectively become giant coolers. The insulation found in these miracles of modern convenience can give you a day to keep cool food cool. Just remember not to open the fridge often. And a fuly stocked fridge and freezer will stay colder, longer.

On day one of a powerless period, it's time to cook all that frozen food. And while your electric oven might be down, maybe you've got a propane or charcoal grill? Or a portable camp stove? Any of these options will allow you to keep eating even during a short term power outage. But it's not just meat and vegetables you need to keep in your fridge--there's also bread. 

While modern bread might not taste so good once frozen, if you keep a loaf or two in your freezer, it will significantly extend the shelf life. Once the power fails, bread in the freezer can thaw out safely. Then it can be moved to a bread box or used. By keeping bread in the freezer, you've given yourself the ability to make sandwiches without heading to market for a while. Or you can break out a batch of biscuits, dinner rolls, or even some french toast. 

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Disaster Water

As soon as disaster strikes, many folks would say you need to rush to the taps and start filling buckets, bottles, and even your bathtub with water--because you may not have pressure in the lines for long. 

But what if it's too late? What if the water is no longer being pumped? What if you didn't have the forethought to stock water for you and your family ahead of time? What are you going to drink?

Fortunately, there's already a lot of drinkable water in your home, right now. It's in your water heater (unless you have a tankless heater). 

The average home has a 40, 50 or even 75 gallon water heater in it. That's ten or more days of potable (drinkable) water for a family of four. And conveniently, your water heater has a drain at the bottom. And that drain spigot is threaded for a standard water hose. 

Now, if you haven't flushed your water heater in a while, there may be a lot of silt in the bottom of the water heater--all the calcium and minerals that are in city water at any given moment, but which accumulate in a water heater over time. 

There's also water in your house's pipes. Just turn off the water at the main valve, then open a spigot at the lowest point in the house and drain your pipes. That's quite a few gallons of potable tap water there as well. 

The point is, when disaster strikes, you need water to survive--most people can't go more than three days without. But for short-term disaster scenarios, there is water in your home already, so don't panic. 

Friday, September 01, 2017

Are you Prepared?

That means it's time to take stock of what you have and what you might need when a natural or man-made disaster strikes. 

This means more than fresh batteries for your flashlight or an evacuation plan for your family in the event of a fire. It means being ready for when the comforts of civilization are stripped away by Mother Nature or other forces beyond your control. 

Over the next 30 days, I'll be posting about Disaster preparation to coincide with a new Youtube Channel I'm launching with my kids next week that's all about inexpensive, practical disaster preparation: Chowmageddon. 

Food and Water are your greatest need, both before and after natural disaster. But you don't have to break the bank stocking up on MREs or buckets of Prepper food. You can order reasonably priced food from the comfort of your home, or run down to the local grocer and stock up on simple foods that you might already have in your house. 

Check back daily for recipes, reviews, and suggestions for what you should socked away for rainy day. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

THOR'S DAY RANT: What being a Veteran feels like

One of my favorite things to see on the internet is veterans succeeding. That’s probably because I’m a veteran.

I enlisted in the USAF back in 1990. At the time, it was an alternative to going back to college—I had dropped out several years earlier, and simply couldn’t afford to go back. I had always wanted to join the military. I took JROTC for four years in high school, and was taking Army ROTC in college—before I dropped out my first semester. In fact, I had dreamed of enlisting ever since before I was a teenager. Life just derailed me somewhere along the way, and it took a while to get back on track.

My time in the USAF wasn’t particularly hard, or eventful. I spent two years in Germany during Desert Storm. I finished up my first four years in California at a repair depot, McClellan AFB, in Sacramento. I never got shot at, or entered a combat zone. I worked law enforcement on base (Security Police we were called). 

When I did leave he USAF, I decided to continue my career in law enforcement—I was an SP in the USAF, a law enforcement specialist. In California, a job in law enforcement was pretty much a guarantee, but I wanted to return to my home town in Southern Indiana and serve my local community.

First up, I decided to apply with the Bloomington Police Department. I even took a few days of leave and flew back to take the written test. At the test, I found out that physicals would be in two weeks. I asked if there was any way to do mine in the next couple of days, since I was still on active duty and had taken leave time to fly back for the test. Nope. No assistance for a soon-to-be veteran there.

I tried the Indiana State Police, too. Back then, they had a requirement for 62 credit hours. I had 35 or so. I asked if my military service counted for any hours, like it did with Federal jobs. Nope. Oh, but during the interview process it might come in handy.

By 1997, I finally landed a job in law enforcement: I was hired as an investigator for the local Prosecuting Attorney. I stayed in that thankless job for seventeen-and-a-half years, starting a family, buying a house and settling down. My dreams of Federal service or even a job with local departments faded. I either couldn’t move the family, or local departments just weren’t interested in a veteran.

Neither was the (Clinton-era) Federal Government. I learned that when I tried for a Veterans’ Readjustment Appointments. Those are appointments with Federal agencies that are non-competitive for veterans for two years. Basically, you get hired (assuming you meet qualifications), do the job for a couple of years, then compete for it. Kind of like an internship, I guess.

Well, the local Marshall’s office in Louisville, Kentucky needed some people, so I applied. Unfortunately, no one at the Washington D.C. Office of Personnel Management seemed to know what a VRA was, and I was forced to take the written test, competing against other candidates. I had to drive three hours to take that test, and apparently didn’t score high enough.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t enlist to get anything. But I appreciate there are programs out there that recognize the sacrifices of veterans—whether they be of life, limb, or just the personal freedoms we protected during our time in uniform. I just wish I had the same kind of access to these programs so many of my fellow veterans seem to have. 

During technical school, back in 1990, I came down with pneumonia, and ended up with a scarred lung, an increased risk of developing asthma, and an ability to come down with bronchitis every year or so. Staying in shape became difficult, and by the time I did complete my enlistment, I was dangerously close to being “overweight” by USAF standards.

Around 2000, years after my Honorable discharge, I found out I actually could have gotten a disability rating because of my lung. No one told me that all during my convalescence period, or when I out-processed. I wish they had, as in my part of the country it has proven impossible to get that status now, despite my damaged lung continuing to be a problem year after year. First, the VA told me that there was no record of my illness. When I later found some hard copies, they claimed there was no indication of it causing a continued problem… despite my local doctor’s records of all the times I got bronchitis. It is abnormal to get it year after year, right?

No one seems to really care about vets at all here. I’ve since said goodbye to law enforcement, retiring from it to pursue writing. I thought for sure being a veteran and a retired law enforcement officer might help me attract readers. On the contrary, it has sure seemed like the kiss of death. In particular, one local event at a public library, where I was one of many local authors, but the only veteran, I actually got sneered at by people passing my military-themed books and display. One woman even stepped out, away from the table, as though I were contagious or something.

I see lots of veterans as authors online. Or producing movies, or serving in police departments or public offices in their communities. Their service is applauded by their communities. That leaves me a bit befuddled. I don't think I've ever been applauded for my service—other than on Veterans Day assemblies at my kids schools, when all the veteran parents are asked to stand. Did I imagine serving? Am I really a veteran?

All the young kids coming back from the Middle East get much-deserved respect and acknowledgement these days. People seem to revere and support them as much as they can. But I have to wonder, where’s my appreciation? I don’t go around proclaiming everywhere I am a veteran, but when it has come up, it’s more often than not met with shrugs, blank stares, or outright ambivalence. I sure as Hell hope none of my fellow veterans are experiencing this. But I’m sure there are many of them living in the same region as me, surrounded by communities of ingrates, underappreciated, ignored, or outright hated. 

I'm glad some veterans out there get appreciation for their service. I just wonder what it feels like...

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Book Blogger or Pirate?

The world of self-publishing is a complicated and difficult one. Not that it's difficult to write a novel. It's not. Finding the time to write one, that's difficult. Getting the word out that your novel exists, that's difficult--or expensive. 

In order to buy ads with the big advertisers of Indie Books, like Book Bub, you need reviews. Which is funny, because you generally have to have the book out, and being purchased, in order to get reviews. 

You can cheat the system a little, by directly begging for reviews--emailing Reviewers directly and asking them to read your work. This is a little like the dinosaurian system of traditional publishing, where you Query the gatekeepers, I mean, agents, and beg them to read your work and represent you. It sucks, and it's time consuming. 

I recently tried something new: a service that, for a fee, posts your book on a list for book bloggers/reviewers to see. If someone is interested, they can ask for an ARC--an Advanced Reader Copy. But you can't obligate them to read it. That goes against Amazon's review policy. 

I have hesitated to spend money on something like this before. It's like an ad to give away product. But, for my latest work, I decided, what the heck--it's only $25.00.

I was surprised to get results within a couple days: eighteen potential reviewers who were interested. I emailed them all out a PDF copy, marked "REVIEW COPY" on the title page. Within eight hours, one super-reader had already posted a review on Goodreads! Amazing. I waited for more results to roll in. 

Today, while conducting a Google search for potential book reviews, I came across my title: posted for free on a piracy site, "Hotebookdownload.com". 

Oh, and two of the downloaders from the pirate site gave glowing micro-reviews:

"Thank you sooo much!!!!"--Blanchard

"This is one of those books that is enjoyed from beginning to end. 
"Thanks for sharing!"--Steel

Yeah, thanks a whole f*cking lot, Bookmyheart. I didn't really want to sell copies of the book. I'm like one of those graffiti artists that just makes art for art's sake. No, wait--no, I'm not. I write to make money.

This is completely unacceptable. I write a very niche subgenre, and don't sell many of these. I take time away from my family to write them, and seeing my work pirated is beyond infuriating. Piracy after a book goes live is unavoidable, but before?! And from a "reviewer"?

This is the kind of thing that makes me want to throw in the towel and quit writing. I enjoy writing, telling stories, but I enjoy the company of my kids more. The whole reason I write is to earn a little extra money to spend on them. I've been doing this for five years now. I haven't sold a lot of books--at least, not since 2014. That was my best year, when book sales were high enough to buy my kids each a new laptop, take them on vacation and generally lavish them with gifts left and right. 2015, 2016, and 2017 have not been so kind. Every pirate download takes money out of my pocket. And the b*st*rds using the pirate sites don't even leave reviews on sites like Goodreads!

I've reached out to the books available-for-review site, asking for their help. I've got 18 email addresses--one of them is guilty. And, since they've posted other books, it should be easy enough to figure out who "Bookmyheart" is. If they don't cooperate, I'll have no choice but to post all eighteen names as a warning to other authors--and to post the Books available-for-review site name. 

If you hate pirates as much as me, consider buying one of my books to balance the cosmic scales. I mean, my writing cant be all bad, since I am regularly pirated, right?
Ghostwalker, Spectral Ops 2, is available on Kobo, Kindle, iTunes, and Smashwords on August 7th. Or now, through virus-filled pirate sites, if you're a scumbag.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Stranger than Fiction: Do you believe in ghosts?

I like to write about ghosts. Not because I believe in them, but because they make for good stories. That’s a historical fact, since ghost stories have been around for centuries.

What makes a good ghost story? Unseen forces moving all around us? Things levitating, seemingly on their own? Ominous visits that turn out to be premonitions of doom? I don’t know, but I do know that the best ghost stories are like lies—they have a nugget of truth in them. Or rather, what someone has claimed is the truth.

For my latest novel, Ghostwalker, releasing Monday, August 7th, I decided to knuckle down on my inclusion of the strange and unusual in my writing. Rather than drawing from modern folklore or internet accounts of the strange, I would instead draw from personal experience: a ghost tale related to me when I was in the USAF.

This story forms the basis for the opening scene of Ghostwalker, and it was sworn to me to be true…

I served as a law enforcement specialist in the USAF from 1990 to 1994, assigned to what was then called the Security Police. A lot of the guys I served with had also worked as Security Specialists, assigned to guard sites like missile silos. It was from these guys I heard the best stories, like this one.

As the story goes, one particular missile silo was built near an old cemetery. I would guess that makes it a Minuteman site, like those seen in the cheesy, propaganda-filled 80s movie The Day After. These sites were scattered across the West, some on farmer’s properties. Most were remotely-controlled from a central bunker site, where crews worked underground.

One day, this particular site had some alarm problems. Until a crew could fix the alarms, a team of four SPs were sent to the site, manning a “camper truck”. This was explained to me as a miniature guard shack. The idea was hey would guard the site until the alarm guys could come out the next morning to fix things.

When the guys did come out, they found the camper truck abandoned, and the four SPs nowhere to be found. That’s a pretty serious happening.

When the missing security guys were found, they spun a terrifying tale of Spooktacular proportions. In that cemetery, just outside the fence, there was a huge grave marker—my friend telling the story swore to have seen the marker, and the man-sized statue atop it. But he didn’t see the statue come alive, step down and walk toward the fenced in silo. He didn’t see it tear open the fence and calmly walk inside the perimeter.

But the camper team did. They screamed and yelled and ran away in a panic—two of them leaving their rifles behind. One was reportedly located in a hospital, in a kind of catatonic state of shock. Another was found passed out in a field or something, his feet raw from running away barefoot. And the statue? It was back in the cemetery, atop its grave marker, none the worse for wear. 

Now obviously, this is the condensed story. My pal told it better. And, when he told it, we were on night shift, in a quiet, abandoned corner of the base where no other man nor beast could be seen or heard. Third shift was spooky like that sometimes—especially when I was in Germany. It’s why we enjoyed trading ghost stories so much when on boring patrols. 

For Ghostwalker I embellished this tale a bit, moving the action to an old Titan II site. That was primarily because there’s this neat museum in Tucson, where a Titan II site has been restored and maintained as a museum, with tons of photos and videos online, and even a book all about the Titan program and sites.

Ghostwalker isn’t the first story I’ve incorporated “real world” tales of the strange and mysterious in. It won’t be the last—I have several more tucked away. But if you served, and heard a good ghost tale, add it in the comments below. I’d love to use some more of these.