If you’ve never been in a hurricane….

I’ve seen a lot of comments and tweets from people in the New York area about Hurricane Irene and their plans – or lack thereof. I’d like to offer some advice. First, I’ll mention my experiences with hurricanes. If you just want the advice, scroll down.

My Experiences
From 2002-2009 I lived in New Orleans, training and then working at a hospital in town. Yes, that means I was there for Katrina.
I’ll get to that in a second.
In the three hurricane seasons I was there for before the Big K, there wasn’t a season that went by that we weren’t targeted by a hurricane. Some of them veered off into Mississippi or Alabama. Some of them powered down into tropical storms. The first year I stayed at the hospital for the night (a tropical storm). The next one that came through, I drove to the hospital for my shift in the midst of a Cat1 hurricane landing.
The summer of ’05 kinda sucked for us (the Mrs. and I). We’d evacuated for storms twice, once with me staying behind to man the hospital while my wife flew off. Both times the government officials and weathermen prophesied disaster. Both times, nada happened. A few branches down, the occasional power line, but mostly nothing.
I think that’s why Katrina was so bad. Yes, it was more powerful, but it was the exact same doom and gloom forecasts as the previous two times. So, a lot of people blew it off. I’d worked the night shift that Friday night. By noon Saturday, my wife woke me up to say the track hadn’t changed. I was off on Monday, so we packed up three days worth of clothing, our photos, computer, guns, etc. We debated on taking the cat, since the last time he was a royal pain in the butt driving to Houston. Ultimately, we shoved him in the Jeep too and took off.
Imagine our shock when Katrina devastated New Orleans. Ultimately, our apartment had rainwater in it, and abundant mold. The house we were buying was outside the city and unharmed. Still, it was a month before things got back to normal.
We also went through Gustav several years later. My wife was evacuated for two weeks with that one. I slept in my office at the hospital for a week before I could meet up with her. Our house was without power for two weeks but unharmed.

The Tips

  • If you can leave the area, just do it.  You’re not going to be better off in the path of a hurricane.   You are more important than your stuff.  And don’t stay to protect your things – you aren’t going to keep the couch from getting sucked out a window if things get that bad.  Looters?  Do you really want to be there when some guy tries to cart off your TV, the phone circuits to  911 are jammed, and your cell phone is dead?
  • Duct tape on a window is pretty useless.  It doesn’t add strength, and is a pain in the butt to get off when things are done.
  • Everything depends on power.  The greater the length of time a community is without power, the longer the recovery process.
  • Fill your fridge and freezer.  More stuff in there that’s cold means it stay the right temperature longer with the power out.  Longer than 36 hours, though, and it’s time to start grillin’ all the meat you’ve got in the freezer.  You can fill the fridge with water.
  • Don’t forget to dump out your ice tray if things are starting to melt
  • Minimize how often you open the fridge.
  • Fill your bathtub with water.  Not for drinking, but for using to flush the toilet.  And the occasional sponge bath.
  • If you’ve evacuated and you’re coming back, buy groceries wherever you are.  Most likely, the grocery store owners / workers evacuated as well.  Plus, the supply chains have been disrupted.  The shelves will be bare at the store until everything gets back in swing.  Bring enough for a week.
  • Better to clean out the perishables in the fridge and freezer early.  Wait more than 3 days and you’ll regret it.
  • If the place you go to is in a different area code, buy a disposable cell phone.  Circuits in New Orleans were busy for a few days around most hurricanes, and impossible in New Orleans for two weeks after Katrina.  Calling out is easy.  No one will be able to get through to you, though.
  • If you stay in town for the hurricane, keep in mind that 911 will be flooded with calls.  If you need help, it might take a significant amount of time to call for it, much less for it to arrive.
  • You should have an alternative way to charge your cell phone.  Your best friend for information will be a battery powered radio, until power’s back on.
  • Beware of rushing water.  Contrary to what the movies show, it only takes a few inches of swiftly moving water to knock you off your feet.  Those images of people stuck in trees following a storm?  Yeah, they started off in shallow water.  Same thing for cars.  Yes, your car’s engine will run as long as the air intake and exhaust are above the water.  But here’s the thing – cars are relatively buoyant.  It doesn’t take much water before you’re manly SUV is floating.  And if it’s floating, it might float into water that’s too deep and dangerous to swim through when it decides to sink.
  • Generators can be a wonderful thing.  But you’ve got to maintain them, keep an eye on them, and watch out for that gasoline.  Buddy of mine in high school had his neighborhood flood.  His house was above the water.  It burned to the ground from a generator fire.

Anyway, I hope those help.  Above all, be safe and smart.  Keep your wits about you, and a healthy dose of caution.


I’ve got an idea

So, I’ve been barreling along with my current books and stories with a particular character. I’m fairly nervous about the landscape of the publishing world, so I’m adopting a wait-and-see attitude before I jump in either direction (self pub vs getting an agent).

(Of course, I’ve writing short stories, and now that I have a small stack, I’ve got to decide whether to get them published in some short story forum – i.e. magazine / website – or put them up in a variety of collections for sale, to build a bit of name recognition out there. That’s a topic for another post, thought.)

Anyway, I’ve got several novels plotted out for this character, some cool stuff that happens to him and great adventures to whack him in the face. Peril, a damsel or two, and subplots galore.

Then it happens. I have an idea, and it’s for a different character. Different circumstances, different kind of guy, different things he’d deal with from my other character. I’m thinking it’d be the same world, even the same city. Having short stories where the two’d interact would have some potential, plus introduce people to both of them. One of the series would be first person POV, the other third.

I’m even adopting a different process of writing for this one. The first series has detailed plots and subplots, spanning several novels and is third person POV. I write it out longhand first, then revise as I type it up. The new series has no outline. I’ve got an idea of where I want the novel to go, how the next few scenes will play out. I’m typing it, not writing it. First person POV. It’ll be interesting to see how such a switch works for changing voice and crafting an interesting story.

There is some research out there that demonstrates typing out a story versus writing it longhand engages separate parts of the brain, beyond those needed to type versus write. So, this should be an intriguing experiment. It’ll also be my first foray into including a bit of romance – my first series has a main character who’s a widower, hasn’t dealt with that and so can’t handle a relationship.

I’ll update occasionally on how the experiment’s going, or if I write myself into a dark corner with a serial killer nearby.


When I was a boy, my father ran a collectibles shop in New Orleans.  Not like you think of these days; this’s back in the 40’s.  Back then that meant stamps, pocket watches, high end men’s accessories – cufflinks, diamond tie pins, mother of pearl clad shaving sets – and coins.  Mostly coins.  I remember the sound of the currency clinking together as he sorted it into stacks.

The shop wasn’t big, tucked into a crevasse between a burlesque club and a by-reservation-only restaurant in the French Quarter.  Tall display shelves stood along the walls, sentinels glaring down at the lone horizontal counter.  I’d do my homework in the back room, kept company by a radio and the sound of Father counting coins at the front desk behind the counter.  I remember how I used to stare at the massive safe in that cramped room, where Father kept gold coins, silver bars, and loose diamonds.  The cash box went in there every night, next to the Colt .45 Peacemaker that’d been my grandfather’s.  It was probably the only thing in the shop that was plain – unadorned steel, unvarnished rosewood handles, and unmistakable intent.  

That day, that horrendous day, I’d huddled under the back room desk to reenact D-Day with my tin soldiers.  The bell on the front door jingled, an event that’d been less common in the weeks before.  Thing that perked my attention was my Father’s voice as he addressed the entrant.  Father had a strong voice, deep and mighty.  Yet that day his voice quavered when he spoke.

“Mr. Malucci, I’m honored by your-”

“Stow it,” the other man growled.  “I’m here for my money.”

There was a pause.  “I don’t have it.”

“What?” Menace lurked behind the question.

“Business – it’s been slow the last few months.”

I could hear the sound of Malucci’s shoes as they came around the counter.  “Now, how am I supposed to protect you if you don’ pay?  This’s three months inna row.”

“P-p-please, I’ll get it for you somehow.  Or I could pay in merchandise?”

“You’re makin’ me look bad,” Malucci said.  “Maybe my other clients’ll get the same idea, thinkin’ they don’ need to pay neither.  Bad for business, that.”

I’d moved far back under the desk, pressing my back against the wall that divided the store.  When the shots came, I squeezed my eyes closed but didn’t make a peep.  I heard the dull thump as Father hit the desk.  The coins he’d been stacking hit the floor, mixing with the noise of spent cartridges doing the same.  

I forget how many times that 1911 barked.   Malucci’d brought it back with him after his tour of duty.  It’d killed untold numbers of the Germans, only to be turned against Americans stateside.

Tears streaked down my cheeks.  I imagined Father on the other side of the wall.  I imagined what I’d have to tell Mother.  I imagined the Peacemaker not five feet away.  

My hands slipped around the handle of my grandfather’s iron.  It took both hands to hold it.  As I came around the door frame, a singular sob escaped.  Malucci looked down at me, at the Colt in my grasp.  He didn’t try to take it; he didn’t lift his weapon.  Instead, the mob enforcer pulled out a Lucky Strike pack, popped a cigarette between his lips, and fired it with the silver lighter Father kept on the counter.  

Smoked ringed his head.  “Well?  You gonna shoot, or just stand there?”

I reached up with a thumb for the hammer.  I envisioned using the Peacemaker to send Malucci into the afterlife with Father, though headed in the other direction from him.  But my seven year old hands betrayed me.  I couldn’t cock the hammer.  I’d failed my father – they’d find my body next to his, I was sure.

Malucci harrumphed, a note of derision.  “Listen, kid.  You tell anyone I was here, I’ll have to rub ya out.  But I can appreciate if ya want to try your hand at revenge later in life.  Someday, when you’re big enough, you come find me and we’ll settle things.”  And with that, he left.

Forty years passed before I saw him again.  He’d risen in power, becoming head of the New Orleans mob before the Feds busted him.  He spent fifteen years in prison.

When I caught up to him, he was a wasted man.  Old, withered, hunkered down in a battered recliner with his oxygen tank.  I’d brought the Peacemaker, a heavy weight in its holster at the small of my back.  I’d also brought my father’s favorite pearl handled straight razor.  But in the end, I decided to go my own route.

“Who’re you?” Malucci rasped.

“Does it matter?” 

“No,” he admitted, sucking on a cigarette.  “I always thought the old ways would catch me.”

I tell him about my father, remind him of the little boy with the revolver, and his parting words to me decades before.

He shakes a bald head.  “Doesn’t ring a bell.  But whatever.  You’re here to collect a debt.  Stop yammerin’ and get done with it.”

Opening the case at my feet, I pull out my favorite. The smooth wood of the Tommy gun’s stock and foregrip caress my hands.  I thumb the safety, pull the trigger, and don’t stop until the drum magazine’s empty.  The cartridges eject to ring against the tiles, the coin of vengeance spilling across the den’s floor.

When it’s done, I hear a snuffling behind me.  I whirl, the Peacemaker jumping into my hand with practiced ease.  A girl huddles in the corner, no more than ten or eleven.  Letting the hammer down on the revolver, I can see the fire in her eyes.  

I nod at her. “Someday, when you’re big enough, you come find me and we’ll settle things,” I say, repeating the words I’d heard in my head for four decades.  Vanishing into the cool New Orleans night, I go to wait for my own coin to come due.

Book Review – Night Shift by Lilith Saintcrow

I have to admit that this book has sat on my Kindle (app) for awhile now. It was one of those we-also-recommend purchases. The description on Amazon was interesting so I gave her a shot.

For those who haven’t read it, this is the first in an urban fantasy series. It’s told in first person, following the adventures of Jill Kismet. She’s a Hunter, one involved in policing the darker side of a big city. Most of the trouble centers around demonic entities – hellbreeds, and those that interact with them. She’s roughly aligned with the police, FBI, and the shapeshifting ‘Weres.

This novel deals with a series of bizarre murders and Jill’s effort to apprehend who – or what – is behind them.

I think that one of the more challenging aspects of the first book in a series is telling a compelling story while world building in a way that it introduces and integrates seamlessly. Saintcrow manages this well.

The Good – Compelling main plot line, great world building. Found myself eager to find time to read more.
The Bad – some of the plot points get buried in the descriptive process. Dwells excessively on description, and trends to use longer run-on sentences to convey action. I find myself skimming portions and missing something that I then have to go back and search for. Also, this falls into a lot of the tropes of the genre I’ve read lately. First person, leather clad female protagonist, taboo love interest. I kept having to remind myself who I was reading – so many are blending together for me.
The Ugly – Next two books in the series? Priced at $7.99 each for Kindle

On the whole, I finished this book and was pleased enough with it that I immediately purchased the next one.

P – O – V What’s with point of view and fantasy?

So, for the uninitiated, just a quick primer on point of view in writing.
First person – the work is written from the perspective of the narrator.
I closed my eyes, grabbed the hilt, and tugged.

Second person – the work is written from the reader’s perspective
You closed your eyes, grabbed the hilt, and tugged.

Third person – the work is written from over the shoulder of the characters
Billy Bob closed his eyes, grabbed the hilt, and tugged.

Okay, so I’m noticing more and more that epic fantasy is almost always written in third person. There’re some reasons why, I think. It allows for a lot more hopping between perspectives and the evolution of plots that hinge on being able to see events outside the view of the protagonist. I mean, can you imagine what GRR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series would look like from only one character’s view? I mean, which character would you follow? (Though I’d like to suggest a few less characters to follow.)

On the other hand, every urban fantasy I pick up lately is in first person. I often forget exactly who I’m reading or who the protagonist is, since the name hardly ever comes up. I’ll admit, as someone who writes urban fantasy, it makes me a bit nervous, seeing as I write in third person.

Maybe I should branch out. I think I’ll work on my second person high fantasy. Wish me luck.