The Apocalypse and After

September 2000, Muslyumovo, 40 km from the Mayak nuclear complex, Ural mountains, Russia: Former main street in Muslyumovo, near the Techa River, which has been severely contaminated with radioactive waste. © 2000 - Greenpeace/Robert Knoth GREENPEACE HANDOUT-NO RESALE-NO ARCHIVE
September 2000, Muslyumovo, 40 km from the Mayak nuclear complex, Ural mountains, Russia: Former main street in Muslyumovo, near the Techa River, which has been severely contaminated with radioactive waste.
© 2000 – Greenpeace/Robert Knoth
This was one of the worst nuclear disasters in history, occuring in 1957, and the region around the Mayak plant is still the most polluted on the planet today.

The Apocalypse and After

The Conspiracy Game (Justinia Wright, PI #4) is available on a pre-publication sale this week only for 99¢. That makes for 7 Justinia Wright mysteries I’ve published. Three novels, a collection of 3 novellas, and 3 short stories. I love Tina and Harry and find their stories the easiest to write. However if all I wrote were mysteries, I think I’d become bored with writing. As the old adage goes: variety is the spice of life.

And so now I switch gears and turn my attention to one of my other loves: the post-apocalyptic tale. The Rocheport Saga currently has 5 volumes in the series and I’m working on number 6. It is the story of one man’s attempt to create paradise out of the disaster that has almost totally wiped out the human race.

The original manuscript for The Rocheport Saga is a monster over 2200 pages long. Normally I do not rewrite. I follow the practice of writers such as Lester Dent, Isaac Asimov, Robert E Howard, Robert Heinlein, and Dean Wesley Smith — get the story written and move on to the next one. Unfortunately with The Rocheport Saga my technical knowledge of surviving such a holocaust and what is possible has increased a hundred fold since I first wrote the manuscript. Therefore, rewrite I must.

The Rocheport Saga is a cozy catastrophe and I’ve written previously on the cozy catastrophe. You can find those posts here, here, and here. Over the next few weeks I’m going to present more detailed thoughts on and examples of this sub-subgenre of speculative fiction.

Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories are very popular and their popularity shows no sign of abating. The current spate of zombie apocalypse tales is proof this subgenre isn’t going away anytime soon. We are fascinated by what it takes to survive. Will we survive?

I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s when the threat of nuclear war was very, very real. I still have those old civil defense pamphlets they handed out in grade school. To this day, I can’t figure out what hiding under a desk will do. But, hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. Right? For me the possible end of the world as I knew it was something I lived with every day. Sure it wasn’t in the forefront of my mind. After all I was a kid. But it was there, subtly, in front of me everyday implied in the newspaper, on TV, in books, and in those civil defense drills. One day, most of us might be wiped off the face of the earth.

The apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic tale is nostalgia for me, at least in part. Probably why I’m not keen on the flood of zombie apocalypse stories hitting the market. That stuff is pure fantasy. If it is fantasy I want, then I prefer the original zombie of Haitian folklore: an undead being created by the evil magic of a bokor. A supernatural being. The mindless slave of the evil wizard or witch. Robert E Howard was a master of this kind of zombie tale. “Black Canaan” being a classic zombie horror story. In fact, I class the zombie apocalypse as a horror tale and not a true apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic story. And, for me, I find the modern zombie story a laughable joke compared to the likes of “Black Canaan”.

The apocalyptic tale and the post-apocalyptic tale are different things, even though they are usually lumped together. The apocalyptic story deals mostly with the cataclysm and the events leading up to it. A classic example is the novel When Worlds Collide and the movie 2012. The emphasis there is on preparation to survive what is coming. The story can be plot or character-driven.

The post-apocalyptic story takes place after the cataclysm. Often the disaster comes upon us suddenly and we have no time to prepare for it. As in the BBC TV series Survivors and the classic sci-fi novel Earth Abides. The focus is not on the disaster, but on the survivors of the disaster. How they cope and what they do to survive in a sometimes radically altered world, such as we find in the Mad Max series, The Road, I Am Legend, and The Book of Eli. In other post-apocalyptic settings the world the survivors face is not radically different. We see this in Earth Abides, Survivors, and After Worlds Collide (where the survivors are on a very earth-like planet). Here, the story is usually character-driven and perhaps that is why I prefer it over the apocalyptic tale.

There are many apocalyptic scenarios, each one affecting the possible direction humanity and civilization might take. My favorite is the cozy catastrophe because the catastrophe is often environmental or the result of scientific interference with nature. The term was coined by Brian Aldiss to pejoratively describe a style of post-apocalyptic literature popular in post-World War Two Britain, made famous by John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids. On the American side of the pond, the most famous example is probably Earth Abides by George R Stewart.

In the cozy catastrophe, the disaster is not dwelt on. It happens rather rapidly and wipes out most of the human race; leaving the world essentially as is, minus the human population. The focus is not on survival so much as it is on re-building civilization and doing a better job of it this time around.

Of course what I just wrote is a broad overview and exceptions abound. But in general, I find the cozy catastrophe on the whole positive — emphasizing the hope we hold on to that we can make the world a better place in which to live.

Over the course of the next several weeks, I’ll delve into more detail as to what is and what isn’t a cozy catastrophe.

As always, your comments are welcome!

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Still More on the Cozy Catastrophe

I’m shifting gears. Moving from private eye fiction to, once again, the cozy catastrophe as I’m getting ready to send the fifth book of The Rocheport Saga out into the world.

I’ve written about the cozy catastrophe before back in May 2015. You can find those posts here and here. Just click on the links. Today, I’d like to take another look at this venerable sub-genre that focuses on people and the natural course of events and not monsters or the supernatural.

The cozy catastrophe, by force, focuses on people. The genre is character-driven and perhaps that is what draws me as a reader. The story deals with the inner mind of the protagonist, how he or she copes with the aftermath of the apocalyptic cataclysm.

Some cozy catastrophes are set in the future. A future significantly altered from the logical course of events due to the cataclysm having thrown humankind into a re-creation of some ancient era. We see this, for example, in the quasi-medieval setting of England in Richard Jefferies’ After London Or, Wild England.

In this form of the cozy catastrophe, we often see the protagonist as being out of step with the world in which he or she finds himself or herself. A person marginalized, on the rim of society. Which, by the way, is a characteristic of cyberpunk.

Whether set immediately after the cataclysm or at some distance in the future, the protagonist is usually nobody special. Just an ordinary person thrown into extraordinary circumstances. There, in those circumstances, the person’s hidden wisdom and strength shine. And often as not, the protagonist was not aware he or she possessed such wisdom or strength. But freed from the restraints of society, the protagonist blossoms and becomes the savior of the world. Or at least makes a valiant effort.

Of course the above is a generalization and not all cozy catastrophes end happily. On the Beach being a notable example and also Terry Nation’s Survivors. Earth Abides by George R Stewart, is another example where at least for the protagonist all he worked for he watches come to a bittersweet end. Nevertheless, life goes on. Save for those unfortunates in On the Beach.

My own cozy catastrophe series, The Rocheport Saga, follows the same pattern as its predecessors. Very ordinary and very unassuming Bill Arthur suddenly finds himself the leader of a band of contentious survivors. His personal mission is to stop civilization from regressing to a hunter-gatherer society and to return “home” to the 21st century technologically. However, on the social front, Bill hopes to create a society that is free and open, tolerant and accepting. A society that values liberty and personal responsibility and eschews control of others. A society very unlike the one destroyed on “That Day”, which Bill saw as sliding down the slippery slope of totalitarianism through the wielding of excessive presidential authority and the repression of freedom due to the “war” on drugs and terror. A society where group think was valued more highly than individual thought and the tyranny of social and political correctness was smothering freedom of expression. And the valuing security over liberty was eroding the Bill of Rights.

What Bill Arthur quickly discovers is that you can take people out of 21st century America, but you can’t take the 21st century out of the people. Bill becomes embroiled in a never-ending battle with those who wish to force their opinions and strictures on others in the name of some greater good, people who value control over freedom, people who have little tolerance for independent thought.

One of the things I find so appealing in the cozy catastrophe is that it gets me to think about what I value, what truly makes life worth living, and what are unproductive constructs which hinder me from living life to the fullest. For me, the cozy catastrophe is an opportunity to explore the maxim of Marcus Aurelius: Life is what you make it.

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Favorites

Agatha Christie came to loathe Poirot and finally killed him off. Doyle grew to hate Sherlock Holmes, killed him off, brought him back to life, and finally retired him.

Personally, I find it difficult to hate my children. Perhaps, though, they haven’t been with me long enough. I haven’t chronicled adventure after adventure to the point where I’m sick of the chronicling. To the point where I feel them to be too intrusive or where they’ve moved in and taken over. Hopefully, though, that day of loathing will never come.

However, even though parents aren’t supposed to have favorites amongst their children, I admit that I do. And the two who are my favorites have lived in my imagination the longest. They are Justinia and Harry Wright. That intrepid sister and brother team of private investigators doing their best to make sure the most exciting thing in Minneapolis and St. Paul is vanilla ice cream.

Why are Tina and Harry my favorites? I’m not sure I can say exactly. For I am certainly very fond of Lady Dru Drummond. My spunky, very modern journalist, who knows what she wants and does her best to get it. I very much like her 1950s alternative history world, with all those retro-futuristic gadgets and, of course, airships.

And what about Bill Arthur? My anti-hero turned superhero (well, almost) of The Rocheport Saga, who, after the apocalypse, does his best to stop at least a portion of humankind from descending into a new dark ages. Bill is very likable. He’s unassuming, makes mistakes and owns up to them, is devoted to his adopted and natural family. He is human, all too human. An ordinary guy in very unordinary circumstances. I like Bill and his world very much.

One of my newest children is Rand Hart. Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch was an enjoyable tale for me to write and I enjoyed reading it as well. Who can’t love this slightly roguish professional gambler with the touch of ennui searching for the antidote to his loneliness? And there be airships here, too.

Or George? Poor George, in Do One Thing For Me, slowly realizing he’s descending into old age dementia, beset by the unending grief over the death of his wife and taunted by the promise Beth offers him. Or is Beth just a figure of his dementia?

I love all my children. I just love Tina and Harry more. Is it because I enjoy most writing up their adventures? Recording the sibling banter between them? Dreaming of what it would be like to live their somewhat dreamy lifestyle or to enjoy one of Harry’s fabulous meals? Perhaps.

Tina grew out Raleigh Bond’s Athalia Goode, with a dollop of my sister, and pinches of Modesty Blaise, Lara Croft, Nero Wolfe, and a sprinkle of myself to round out her creation. Harry is the faithful Watson and wise-cracking Archie Goodwin all rolled into one, with perhaps too much of myself included for good or bad measure.

Perhaps that’s it. I’m personally invested in these characters. There’s something of me in them that isn’t in my other children. Maybe that’s the reason that drives me on to write about their lives and their campaign to fight crime.

Book 3 in the Justinia Wright series, But Jesus Never Wept, should be out in time for your Christmas shopping pleasure. And if the Muse is kind I may also have a freebie story available for Christmas.

I’m 15,000 words into Book 4 and have 645 words written to start Book 5, which follows Book 4 immediately in the Justinia Wright timeline. Both should make their appearance in 2016.

Now that I’ve let the cat out of the bag, I’m hoping Bill, Dru, and Rand don’t get too sulky about it. After all, I do love them. They, too, are my children. Tina and Harry, though, are my firstborn. Hm. I’m a firstborn…

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #38

Two Sundays ago I concluded Chapter One of Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch. The chapter has gone through a few edits since its revelation in all of those 8 sentence snippets. The novella will come out the 9th or 16th of October and will have had the benefit of several pairs of eyes and an out loud read.

For today, I thought I’d continue on with Chapter Two. And so without further ado, here are the first 8 sentences from “Chapter Two: Milly” of Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch.

When Hart checked at the ticket counter in Miami, he discovered the Pan Am flight he wanted didn’t take off until eight the next morning. He bought a ticket for one of the five remaining seats and then left the terminal to find a cab. Two were waiting. He picked one and, after the cabbie put his suitcase in the trunk, told the fellow to take him to the nearest hotel by the Pan Am seaplane terminal. The cabbie informed him he could do that and off they went.

Within minutes, Hart found himself, suitcase in hand, standing before the entrance to The Mango House Hotel. The place was a three story stucco building painted a hideous shade of pink. Hart thought a moment and decided he’d never seen a mango that color and wondered why the owners hadn’t called the place the Flamingo Palace.

To be continued!

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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Moving Into Autumn

It’s mid-September, which means autumn is underway in Minnesota. The summer heat and humidity has pretty much left us. Temps have cooled down and we’re waiting for the leaves to change.

My summer has been very busy. My pencil and keyboard are never quiet. I thought I’d give you all a peek into what I’ve been up to and what will be coming out in virtual and actual print in the coming months.

The Rocheport Saga

My post-apocalyptic steam-powered future series, The Rocheport Saga, is moving right along. The Troubled City, Book #4, is in the final proofread. I should publish it by the end of September. Once it’s published, I’ll begin editing Book #5.

Love is Little (The Rocheport Saga #3) and The Troubled City should be out in paperback by the end of the year.

Justinia Wright and Cozies

I love mysteries, but I’m fussy at the same time. I like private eye mysteries, preferably told by the ‘Watson’ character. I’m currently reading the Bertha Cool/Donald Lam series by Earl Stanley Gardner, written under the pen name of AA Fair, and the Sharon McCone series by Marsha Muller. Both are very good.

What I like most about mysteries, isn’t the puzzle — it’s the characters. So my mysteries are heavy on the lives of the characters and what I call puzzle lite.

My own private detective, Justinia Wright, has new cases cooking. The novel, But Jesus Never Wept, will hopefully see publication in October. I’m in the middle of typing it and doing the initial edit. I’ve also written two short stories which feature cases predating Festival of Death, the first Justinia Wright novel. These I’ll publish in October. And I’ve started on Justinia Wright #4.

I’m hoping to have the Justinia Wright series available in paperback early next year.

I don’t like cozies. At least generally speaking. Clerical sleuths, like Father Brown, are an exception. Having written that, the Muse gave me a cozy character and setting. Now what on earth am I going to do with that? Write the story, of course.

So in addition to working on the fourth Justinia Wright novel, I’m working on a cozy. I’m not sure how the cozy will turn out. So I’m not saying much about it at this point.

Rand Hart

On this blog and on 8 Sentence Sunday on dieselpunks.org, I’ve been serializing the first chapter of my dieselpunk adventure novella featuring a new character, Rand Hart. Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch is with the beta readers and I’m looking to publish it in October.

I’m always puzzled when people ask me where do my ideas come from. Where do I find things to write about. I’m puzzled by these questions because stories are everywhere. One just needs to look. Everyone’s day to day interactions are stories waiting to be told.

Rand Hart is actually a take off of another character I created years ago and who is still in the drawer. I like dieselpunk and thought a gambler set in a dieselpunk world would be interesting. And so Rand Hart came into being. A retro version of my original character.

So where’s the story? The year is 1938 in the story. I started looking online for interesting events that happened in 1938 and stumbled on the May Pajama Putsch in Brazil where the Integralists tried to topple the government of Getúlio Vargas. Add the fact that a beautiful Brazilian movie star was involved and this was a perfect setting for a story.

Finding a story isn’t hard. What’s hard is finding the time to write all the stories.

Forget the Zombie Apocalypse

I’m not a fan of zombies. I think them ridiculous. I do, however, like post-apocalyptic novels; in particular, the cozy catastrophe kind. Okay, so the world as we knew it came to an end. Now what? It’s the ‘now what’ that I’m interested in. What happens after?

The sci-fi classic Earth Abides by George R Stewart was my first foray into the cozy catastrophe. I didn’t even know they were called that until recently. Other classics are When Worlds Collide and After Worlds Collide by Wylie and Balmer, The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, and the TV series Survivors created by Terry Nation. There are more, of course, and many are worth reading.

The Rocheport Saga is a cozy catastrophe. And who can write just one? A year ago I wrote a novella with some thought of it being the initial installment in a series. The series hasn’t yet materialized. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to go ahead and publish the novella. Look for Magdalena’s Tale sometime in November or December.

Lady Dru

Lady Dru fans needn’t despair. I haven’t forgotten you. Our intrepid reporter has some new adventures cooking. I’m thinking next year we’ll see at least two new tales From the Files of Lady Dru Drummond. We’ll also see more retro-futurism appear in the stories.

I was born in the ‘50s and I remember some of the wonderful things predicted for us back then. And, yes, I’m still waiting for my flying car.

Odds and Ends

Also coming down the publishing pipeline will be a vampire short story and a Cthulhu mythos story. Maybe December for those. As well as a couple other short stories of the macabre.

In addition, I’m trying to get all of my books uploaded to Draft 2 Digital which will make them available on Kobo, iTunes, Nook, Oyster, and Scribd, as well as the 17 vendors for those who have Tolino, Germany’s answer to the Kindle.

My psychological/supernatural horror novella, Do One Thing For Me, is now live on iTunes, Kobo, Nook, and Oyster.

I’m loving retirement. At long last I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. We spend so much time doing things that are not important to obtaining our heart’s desire. We live sidetracked lives.

Simple living naturalist guru John Burroughs wrote we need to live lives that matter. The question is matter to whom? I think our lives must matter to ourselves first and foremost. If my life doesn’t matter to me, it sure as heck isn’t going to matter to anyone else.

I think writing is fun. But it isn’t all play. Every writer, whether he or she realizes it, is presenting his or her view of life, his or her world view. Writing is philosophy, whether we realize it or not. At base, my books are about people who must deal with life and who come away with some sense of how they are going to continue living so that, at the very least, their lives matter to them. And hopefully others.

Is that any different than what we should be doing?

May your autumn or your spring, for those of you on the other side of our wonderful world, be a fabulous one. Make the most of your day. For each one only comes once.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #37

Last week we stopped in the middle of Rand Hart’s rumination over von Osler’s offer of a sweet pile of deutsche marks to make a simple delivery. Today we continue his ruminations and finish the chapter. It’s quite a bit over 8 sentences, however I just couldn’t see dragging out the scene for one more Sunday and post a mere 6 sentences next week. I hope y’all don’t mind. 🙂

He pursed his lips. If he was lucky, he might be able to get in some poker or backgammon on the Miami to Rio flight and sweeten the job even more. There were usually at least a few high rollers making the trip. It wasn’t every day he got the chance to make this much money from a simple delivery. Once he got back to the States, there’d be plenty of time to enjoy his great big pile of cash.

Hart turned his attention back to the German. “Five thousand for tickets and expenses.”

Von Osler considered for a moment and then agreed. “Fifty-five thousand to ‘run my errand’ I believe you Americans say.”

“We say that.”

Hart looked out the window of the giant airship. The sky was blue with a big old cumulus cloud drifting along. The ocean was calm, placid even.

“Okay, Mr von Osler. I’ll do it.”

This brings chapter one of Rand Hart to an end. I’ve finished the story and am now in the process of editing and at present it is with the beta readers. The tale is a 21,000 word novella. At present. I’m hoping to publish in October.

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #36

Von Osler wants Hart very badly to be his deliveryman, as we saw last week:

“I have a person who will make the delivery. But…” Von Osler shrugged. “He is not as skilled, creative, or lucky as you are. With you…? Let us say it is like having four jacks instead of four eights.”

Are 53,000 deutsche marks going to change his mind from spending some time at home? Hart turns the offer over in his mind:

Hart turned his gaze towards the window and the ocean beyond. He’d been hoping to spend some time at home. Enjoying his money. Now, however, fifty-three thousand deutsche marks were staring him in the face. And just to deliver a little box. By noon on the eleventh. He wouldn’t have much time. Probably have to catch a red eye out of La Guardia or Floyd Bennett tonight for Miami and then a three day flight on a Pan Am clipper.

To be continued!

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #35

Last week we found von Osler telling Rand Hart why he was so interested in the professional poker player. This was part of the conversation:

“I have no notoriety, if that is what you mean.”

Von Osler looked at Hart. “Precisely. That is what I mean. And you are skilled, creative, and lucky. You are exactly the person I was looking for. In point of fact, we’ve been watching you for some time.”

“Really?” The question dripped of sarcasm.

The question is, of course, why has von Osler invested so much time into learning about Hart. Was it all for just this one mission? Perhaps. Von Osler, though, has other things on his mind. Here is today’s snippet:

Von Osler nodded. “So, Herr Hart, if the airfare is going to be an issue, I will add another three thousand deutsche marks to cover tickets and expenses. Will you accept my little delivery job?”

“If I don’t?”

“I have a person who will make the delivery. But…” Von Osler shrugged. “He is not as skilled, creative, or lucky as you are. With you…? Let us say it is like having four jacks instead of four eights.”

To be continued!

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #34

Last week we learned Rand Hart was exactly who von Osler was looking for in a courier. This week we find out why. We begin this week’s snippet with the tail end of last week’s:

It was von Osler’s turn to look out the window. “Herr Hart, you are a simple man. Even, let us say, an invisible man. Yes?”

“I have no notoriety, if that is what you mean.”

Von Osler looked at Hart. “Precisely. That is what I mean. And you are skilled, creative, and lucky. You are exactly the person I was looking for. In point of fact, we’ve been watching you for some time.”

“Really?” The question dripped of sarcasm.

To be continued!

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #33

While the offer is tempting, Rand Hart is still unsure about the situation. In last week’s portion of the conversation, we had:

“Must be something pretty big in that little box,” Hart said.

Von Osler picked up the small brown package and turned it in his hand. A smile touched his lips. “Let us say history is in this little box.”

Hart looked at von Osler. “History, huh? I suppose I have to pay my own airfare.”

“You will agree to deliver my tiny package?”

“Why don’t you just deliver it yourself? Or have some errand boy from your company drop it off?”

That is the question: why doesn’t von Osler simply have someone from his company deliver the darn box. Why go through all this folderol? Today, Hart gets the answer to that question. Here is today’s snippet:

“It is best if my company is not involved in the transaction. Nor do we want the German government implicated in any direct involvement.”

Hart’s eyes bored into the German. “So this isn’t as innocuous as you make it sound.”

It was von Osler’s turn to look out the window. “Herr Hart, you are a simple man. Even, let us say, an invisible man. Yes?”

“I have no notoriety, if that is what you mean.”

To be continued!

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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