The Rocheport Saga-Part 2

Last week I talked a bit about my post-apocalyptic series The Rocheport Saga. I said it was part philosophy, part family saga, part satire, part libertarian thought, part action/adventure novel, and all post-apocalyptic speculation. I also noted that the series is written in epistolary form; that is, as diary entries. I’m very fond of the epistolary format because of the intimate picture it can give us of the main character’s thoughts. Provided of course he or she is a reliable narrator. If not, then we enter a mystery world of trying to figure what is real and what is not. Either way, the epistolary novel is an ideal vehicle.

The Saga is written in story arcs, not unlike television writing, and the first seven novels form the first arc. The arc itself is divided into three parts.

Part I comprises the first two books: The Morning Star and The Shining City. And might be called “Beginnings”. This is where the story begins. Where we learn about Bill Arthur’s dream and how he intends to go about it. His dream of creating a libertarian utopia and of returning to the 21st Century’s technology.

Love Is Little, The Troubled City, and By Leaps and Bounds form Part II. The little community of Rocheport faces enemies from without and within. Our hero, Bill Arthur, is struggling to hold it all together and to do so faces the ugly reality that he will have to betray a few of his most cherished beliefs.

Nevertheless, in By Leaps and Bounds we begin to see that it does indeed look as though the community has turned a corner and will in fact survive.

Part III comprises Freedom’s Freehold and the soon to be published Take to the Sky. Whereas Part II might be titled “Conflict”, Part III could be called “Hope”. The corner has been turned and Bill Arthur feels confident the people of Rocheport will usher in a new era of peace, freedom, and technological advancement.

While The Rocheport Saga is many things, it is all post-apocalyptic speculation. The series is a realistic attempt, I think, at speculating how civilization might come back from a massive catastrophic event — and come back better than it was before the disaster. Therefore there are no zombies or other monsters in the story. Nor are there aliens from space. This is a human story of human dreams and aspirations.

The Marquis de Sade wrote philosophy in the form of pornography. And pornography was a suitable format for him to present his philosophy.

The post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophe, I found, was the most suitable format for me to express my philosophy and social views. Because, at base, the cozy catastrophe is about building a better world.

Which makes it a vehicle by which the author can criticize the current world in which he or she lives and present a model of how the problems can be solved.

S. Fowler Wright used Deluge and Dawn to portray the legal injustices against the labor class and to challenge certain social assumptions. John Wyndham used The Day of the Triffids to hint at the dangers associated with bio-engineering and to point out the dangers of military weapons orbiting the planet. In Earth Abides, George R Stewart points out how a poor black rural working family would be much more capable of surviving, than a white urban couple in New York City. Pointing out how fragile our urban worlds are. Stewart also pointed out that when push comes to shove, we are all equal by having his white protagonist marry a woman who wasn’t white. All that in a book written in the late ‘40s.

The cozy catastrophe is the perfect vehicle for world building. For creating our utopias. I’m surprised that few writers see this and utilize this form. For in the end, all writers are philosophers. Our books are either our ideal worlds or a graphic picture of what we think is wrong with the current world.

And so, in The Rocheport Saga, I present my version of what utopia would be like. No government. Sovereign and self-responsible individuals. Family centered. Social and intellectual freedom. A place where people follow the Golden Rule, respect each other, and help each other. I think it’s a vision that is very appealing and attainable.

As always, comments are welcome! Let me know your thoughts. And until next time, happy reading!

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The Rocheport Saga


The Rocheport Saga is part philosophy, part family saga, part satire, part libertarian thought, part action/adventure novel, and all post-apocalyptic speculation. It is my contribution to the cozy catastrophe sub-genre of post-apocalyptic fiction.

The story structure is that of one of my favorite forms: the epistolary novel. The story is told by means of diary entries from a man named Bill Arthur, with occasional diary entries from other characters.

Bill’s diary begins eight months after the cataclysm that kills off most of humanity, the event he simply calls “That Day”. The first sentence he writes is “Today I killed a man and a woman.” He follows that sentence with a brief explanation of what life is like in the new world where everyone is faced with a daily struggle to survive and where some do not make it.

Today I killed a man and a woman. I didn’t want to, but I had no choice. It was me or them. This is how it is now. How it has been for not quite eight months. Everyone on his or her own. The quick or the dead. It wasn’t how it used to be, though. We complained about the old days. Now anyone who remains would do anything to return to even the worst of the old days. But they are gone and will not return for a very long time. Maybe never.

The focus in the cozy catastrophe is on building a better world out of the ashes of the old one. And The Rocheport Saga is no different.

There is no focus on and very little discussion of the disaster. It happened. It was horrible. And now we must move on. The milk is spilt. No sense crying over it.

And Bill Arthur doesn’t. His quest is to preserve as much knowledge as possible and bring the Twenty-first Century back on line as soon as possible.

Of course no story, even one that is essentially “plotless”, can survive without conflict, and Bill has plenty of conflict in Rocheport. All the way from the silly and inane to the deadly serious and life threatening.

Next week we’ll take a look at the books published thus far in the series and provide a synopsis of each.

Until then, happy reading!

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Cozy Catastrophe Review: The Rocheport Saga


The Rocheport Saga is my contribution to the cozy catastrophe subgenre. Freedom’s Freehold, the sixth book in the series, is available for pre-order, and the entire series is on sale for 99¢ per book until the 13th of June. Do get your copies now, if you haven’t already. They are available at the retailer of your choice.

Without even knowing what a cozy catastrophe was, I wrote about Bill Arthur’s attempt to preserve the accumulated knowledge of the human race in the wake of an overnight virtual annihilation of humanity. Taking as a general guide Stewart’s Earth Abides. And so it was quite by accident I incorporated all the features that make a cozy a cozy.

The Rocheport Saga is a sprawling work. It covers one man’s lifetime: from his late 50s to his death at 103. It is the second “novel” I wrote and the first after I came to the realization I was a pantser who had a liking for the “plotless” novel. By which I mean to say, The Rocheport Saga is very much like most of our lives: we have story arcs, picaresque adventures, but very little in the way of plot. Most of us, myself included, live from day to day. We don’t plot out our lives. Sure we have our plans. Most of those end up as merely wishes.

Kazuo Ishiguro, in his novel An Artist of the Floating World, summed it up quite well, I think. Most of us, at the end of the day, find ourselves to be, for all our dreams and efforts, ordinary people in extraordinary times. We give it our best to be great and usually fall far short.

That is why virtual life is so popular. Whether that virtual life be novels, games, TV, movies, social media, or a façade carefully maintained as though we were actors and actresses on a stage. Virtual life allows us to be great. It gives us the chance to be winners.

All literature, in my opinion, is ultimately fantasy. It is wish fulfillment. We want to be the hero who succeeds at the quest. Or to be the man or woman who finds true love. Or perhaps that one person to succeed where others can’t and thereby receive the recognition and adulation we know we are all entitled to.

The Rocheport Saga is no different. It is fantasy masquerading as science fiction. Because, let’s face it, what are the odds of a Bill Arthur surviving such a cataclysm and being able to guide and hold together such a rag tag group as that in Rocheport? Probably nil. And yet, we all would like to be Bill Arthur. I know I would.

Why? Because he is not like us. He is underneath it all an extraordinary man who gets to live in extraordinary times. He is the quintessential nobody who rises to the occasion when the occasion presents itself. Which is a key feature of the cozy catastrophe. He and he alone is capable of leading the people of Rocheport and ultimately of Missouri. The stuff of which dreams are made.

In The Morning Star, we meet Bill Arthur. He is searching for a home. The urban areas are too dangerous for his liking. Along the way, he meets Mert, Mel, and Sally. They are the beginning of his blended family through which his dream eventually comes to fruition.

Book 2, The Shining City, finds the inhabitants of Rocheport doing what it seems people do best: fighting. There is war and Bill’s group eventually wins, but not without loss. For war only comes with loss.

The losers of the civil war in Rocheport are very poor sports and in the next two books, Love is Little and The Troubled City, our hero has no end of grief in his attempt to ensure the group’s survival and accomplish his dream of a return to high technology and for everyone to live by the Golden Rule.

By Leaps and Bounds, Book 5, sees a turn. On his way to a libertarian republic and living by the Golden Rule, Bill disbands Rocheport’s communal way of life and makes everyone responsible for his or her success or failure.

In Book 6, Freedom’s Freehold, Bill, in the face of dangerous external and internal forces, as well as personal crises, continues his technological advance and his desire to implement a libertarian republic — that best form of government which governs not at all, as Thoreau wrote.

Just as Europe emerged from the Dark Ages to realize the world was a very large place, so too does Rocheport emerge from its isolation to find there are many little communities like itself.

Bill embarks on building a telegraph network to link together likeminded cities. He builds steam-powered cars and trucks for travel and trade. And for long distance exploration and trade, he builds a steam-powered airship.

The forthcoming books will chronicle the ever growing world in which Rocheport finds itself. The question always being will Bill and his dream remain in the center of that world and will Rocheport truly become the shining city set upon the hill.

The Rocheport Saga is the cozy catastrophe on a grand scale. I hope you enjoy it.

Comments are welcome, as always. Until next time, happy reading!

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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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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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The Rocheport Saga

The Troubled City (The Rocheport Saga #4) is now LIVE!!! Check out My Novels page for the links to the vendors who carry it.

In addition to The Troubled City joining the ongoing saga of Bill Arthur and the Rocheport crew, I’m running a sale on the first three books of the series. Now is the time to get a copy if you haven’t previously.

The Morning Star (Book 1) is 99¢.

The Shining City (Book 2) is $1.99.

Love Is Little (Book 3) is $2.99.

The sale prices are good through October 4th. Check out My Novels page to see the vendors who carry the books.

If you want to know about the series, I blogged a bit about it in my September 22nd post.

I hope you enjoy reading the series as much as I did writing it!

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The Troubled City (The Rocheport Saga #4)

The Troubled City (The Rocheport Saga #4) is coming in a few days to an ebook vendor near you!

Below is the cover and first half-dozen pages to pique your interest.

The Rocheport Saga was the first “book” I wrote after learning about the “plotless” novel. That is important, because I can’t plot the story out before hand. Try as a I might, I just can’t do it. Plotting for me is not unlike the old woman who sang a folksong to a song collector back around the beginning of the Twentieth Century. When she was finished singing and he recording, she said the song was now dead. Plotting kills the story for me.

Hence The Rocheport Saga is a massive, sprawling manuscript (over 2200 handwritten pages) and has no real plot. It is the fictional autobiography of a man after the world as we know it has come to an end. There are story arcs, but no real plot per se. Just the plot we all live out every day of our lives over the course of our lives.

Each book in the Saga, is edited from the original manuscript. I clean up the text, sometimes add new elements from things I’ve learned since writing the original, and work the manuscript into a conveniently sized novel. I’m guessing there could be up to 10 books in the series.

I’m considering putting in a cast of characters, because if you pick up a volume other than the first and start reading you will probably not understand who is who and what is what for at least some of the book. Other parts will become obvious after some reading. That is one advantage of self-publishing, I can tweak things to make the book better whenever I want.

The novel is in the form of diary entries. In The Troubled City, we start with the hero, Bill Arthur, the leader of Rocheport, going on a month long exploration to see what is out to the west of the little town of Rocheport, Missouri. What becomes quickly apparent is that there are three factions: one opposed to Bill, one supporting Bill, and those in the middle. When Bill returns to the city, he finds it slowly sinking into chaos and discovers no matter what he tries he seems incapable of stopping Rocheport from imploding. That is until he finds help from a person who will dominate the central books of the series.

The cover art is done by my wife. Enjoy the sample and look for the novel later this week!

The Troubled City copy

The Third Year After That Day

March 23rd

From the diary of Melanie Hanks:

Dad and Mert said goodbye early in the morning (Merty even gave me a hug and a kiss) and rode out of town on their horses through the north gate, with Andy and Kayla. Most everyone was there to say their goodbyes. Mom, Helena, Ash, George, and I waved until they disappeared from view. That’s when the dogs started whining, especially Asta. Mermaid nuzzled Helena’s hand to get her to pet her.

Just two days ago we were all standing in the same place, saying our goodbyes, and waving until they disappeared from view. Only to have them all return yesterday with two dozen people from Boonville, who decided they wanted to move to Rocheport for a better life. Now, Dad, Mert, Andy, and Kayla have left us again and I have a feeling this time we won’t be seeing them so soon.

There were lots of tears, today. I think others were thinking the same thing. Mom and I wiped our eyes and cheeks. Rain and Raine were crying. Emma, too. Cassie tried to hide it, but I saw her wiping her eyes. Reverend Rhonda’s cheeks were wet. We might never see them again and that scares me. Dad tried to make light of that fact, but it is true. The world is a dangerous place. Merty has always been there and now he’s my only family. Well, my only real family. I love Bill and Sally and call them “Dad” and “Mom”, but they aren’t my real parents. If Bill and Mert don’t come back, I guess I’ll have to love Sally, Helena, Ash, and George all the more. They’ll be all I have.

Not everyone was sad. I noticed Billy-Rae Thornpot was smiling and Reverend Powers didn’t have that mean look on his face. Steven Crane was even laughing. I think Harry Wirtz is going to have his hands full.

Our friends made sure we knew they’re here for us. Rhonda, Harry, Jerry, Jocelyn, Ralph, Cheryl, James, and Mary are good people, as my real dad would have said. I think they really will be there, if we need the help.

The Wrodkowskis walked home with us and Mom said they could stay, if they wanted, we have plenty of room. Rain and Raine were very happy and accepted the offer.

We and the Wrodkowskis went to Reverend Rhonda’s church service and afterwards, at the community dinner, that’s when the crap hit the fan. Reverend Powers found out there are a bunch of Catholics in the Boonville group and even a priest. He like totally lost it. Even Rachel, his wife, had a tough time getting him to calm down. And Steven Crane had to be right there all totally psyched out. It was Billy-Rae Thornpot who finally got them quieted down.

I felt so embarrassed. I mean like what are all these new people going to think? We’re all a bunch of psychos? Sometimes adults act so dumb.

After dinner, everyone helped the people from Boonville get settled. Billy-Rae even got Reverend Powers to help. He didn’t help the Catholics, though. Just the Baptists. I heard Harry Wirtz grumbling about “selective treatment”. “People are people,” he said. Apparently Reverend Powers doesn’t think so.

Most of the new people are older. There are a couple kids and three teens. There’s Zibby. Kinda hard to forget a name like that! She’s tall, like five-ten, and pretty too. She has long, kinda frizzy red hair and a few freckles. She acts like she totally knows what she’s doing. Her full name is Zibby Pandora White. She’s eighteen. Grace and Blair are the other teens. Grace is nineteen, about my height, with brown hair and eyes. Blair is eighteen. He’s kinda cute. Tall and broad shouldered. Blond hair and blue eyes. I’d like to get to know him.

From the diary of Bill Arthur:

We rode west and instead of going to Boonville, turned north to New Franklin. There are somewhere between twenty and thirty people living there. Mostly along the river. They greeted us warily and we decided it would be best if we moved on.

North of New Franklin is Fayette. Home of Central Methodist University and Morrison Observatory. The town itself is pretty much abandoned. The survivors having moved to the east shore of Rogers Lake and built a small village of shacks and tents surrounded by a palisade. There are around eighty survivors: fifty former students, the remaining being townsfolk.

They were quite friendly and eager to learn about the world beyond their doorstep. We ended up sleeping in the city park because things are very crowded within the palisade.

The people of Fayette seemed to be a harmonious group. At least they didn’t admit to any infighting and I didn’t sense any. They were growing their own food, hunting, and fishing. It’s nice to know there are people who can get along.

What I found disheartening was that while the former students might have been on their way to being prepared for life in the world before That Day, they were totally unprepared for life in the world after That Day. The ones enabling the community to survive are the older folks. The ones who grew up in the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. The ones who have some idea of how things work. Practical knowledge learned on the job or from their parents.

I suggested they glean what they can out of the college library. Preserve any books which tell how things work. They are the key to the future. The leaders of Fayette appreciated the suggestion.

March 24th

From the diary of Bill Arthur:

In the morning we bid farewell to the people of Fayette and rode west to Glasgow, a small town on the Missouri River. We found the people very friendly and eager to learn any news we had to share. They use bicycles to get around and have a couple horses which they use for farming.

Thirty-one people call Glasgow home and appear to be doing okay for themselves. Unlike us, they seem to have avoided large scale turmoil and strife. Makes me wonder how effective a leader I am. The people of both Fayette and Glasgow working together for everyone’s mutual benefit, while we are constantly fighting and bickering.

The surrounding countryside was farmland which is now reverting to grassland and forest. What was once covered in crops, is now giving birth to stands of saplings. We’ve seen no one in the open countryside. My guess is the solitaries have either died, been killed, or joined with some group.

We’re two and a half years into our new age and the survivors are clustering together, forming new communities out of the old. Doesn’t mean renegades and bandits aren’t about. There’ve always been Vandals, Huns, Vikings, you name them — the ones who’d rather take the fruits others have planted instead of planting their own. Today is no different. Mostly because people are people. That Day didn’t change who we are.

March 25th

From the diary of Melanie Hanks:

At the town hall meeting tonight, Reverend Powers, as usual, was a pain. We sang our anthem and even sang “Love is Little”, but when the time for new business came up Reverend Powers stood and demanded to know why the community wasn’t consulted concerning the Boonville people.

Harry Wirtz, who’s the leader while Dad is gone, looked really mad, although you couldn’t tell it from his voice. “Bill made the decision based on what he saw and what those people needed.”

Powers didn’t give up. “He should have discussed their situation with the community first.”

“Well, he didn’t. And since Bill isn’t here, we’re going to sit on this until he gets back,” Harry said.

Steven Crane jumped up. “What if he doesn’t come back?”

“We’ll deal with the issue then,” Harry answered.

From the look on their faces, Reverend Powers and Steven Crane didn’t like Harry’s answer but they didn’t say anymore about it. Good thing the Boonville people weren’t at the meeting.

March 26th

From the diary of Melanie Hanks:

At breakfast this morning, the Wood family and four others were sitting with Reverend Powers’ group. That doesn’t look good. The last thing we need is for more people to join Reverend Powers.

Zibby asked if she could sit with me. I said sure.

“I hear your dad is Bill Arthur, the guy who invited us to come here.”

“Yes. He’s my adopted dad.”

“Oh, sure. Lucky for you. No one took me in. I’m by myself. Some of the people back in Boonville helped me. Mostly, I just help myself.”

“I’m sorry. I mean not having anyone and all.”

“Thanks, but I’m okay. Your dad’s the one in charge, right?”

“He’s the leader.”

“Cool. I like you, Mel. We’re going to do alright.”

We talked about stuff and then went to school.

At dinner, Zibby, Blair Novak, and Grace Parchette sat with our family and the Wrodkowskis. The four of us were at one end of the table. I found out Zibby and Grace are Catholic, although Zibby doesn’t really believe it anymore.

Zibby said, “Blair, Grace, and Michael — he’s over there — and I kinda hung out together back in Boonville. We got a house together here.”

“You all live together?” I asked.

“Yeah, now we’re going to,” Zibby said.

Grace added, “We aren’t boyfriend or girlfriend. Just friends. No sex.”

“Oh, I see,” I said.

Zibby laughed. “I hear you guys have some crazy arrangements over here. At least that’s what John Wood said. He got it from that Reverend dude. The nutso.”

I practically snorted my milk at Zibby’s description. “Yeah. Powers is a pain in the butt. Doesn’t like anything. He and Dad don’t agree on much and if Powers doesn’t agree with you, look out.”

Zibby didn’t say anything. The look on her face suggested she was filing the information away. Grace and Blair just shook their heads and said it sounded like their group in a lot of ways.

We went on talking. What I didn’t like was how Zibby kept wanting to get into family stuff. Like she was prying. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t have a family? I don’t know. I just didn’t like it. When dinner was over, Blair said he was glad he made the move and was looking forward to getting to know everyone. He made me feel kinda mushy inside.

From the diary of Bill Arthur:

Glasgow is thirty-six miles away. I think it a bit much to hope for regular trade and communication with them. The travel time has to be measured in days now and there is so much to do. To spare three or four people for several days is something of a luxury and yet I don’t want to not follow up on our contact. At some point we are going to have to reach out and begin trading with other communities and sharing information and technology.

Of course we don’t have to be limited to horses. We could start making steam-powered automobiles and trucks. Or expand Jerry’s still and make more alcohol. The alcohol could be directly used in modified gasoline engines; combined with soybean or sunflower oil, maybe even corn oil, to produce biodiesel; or used in external combustion engines to produce steam. Because we have plenty of solid fuel, I’m inclined towards building steam-powered vehicles fired by solid fuel, rather than liquid. To produce liquid fuel from grains, seeds, and beans requires a lot of work. That is why we didn’t have it in the old world. It wasn’t overly cost effective. But we do have plenty of internal combustion engines around and we don’t have to fuel all of them. So it is an idea. This could be a community project. The Costigan’s Needle for Rocheport.

That science fiction novel keeps sticking in my mind. Those people stranded in another dimension, stopped their infighting by focusing on building the machine that could get them back home. We can’t go back, just as it turned out they couldn’t go back. But we can focus on the future. I want cars, not horses and buggies. Maybe building our own cars and trucks could be what pulls us together.

One valuable piece of information we got from the folks in Glasgow was confirmation as to the location of two salt licks. Eleven miles south of Glasgow is the famous Boone’s Lick site and across the river is Saline County, which was so named for the numerous salt licks that were once very actively used. The only ones that are easily identifiable are those in the Blue Lick Conservation Area, south of Marshall. Although the Glasgowites thought there were a couple others not too far to the west of them. They were not aware of anyone currently processing salt.

We bade them farewell, wished them luck, and rode west. The first town we came to was Gilliam and it was abandoned. Rusting cars. Houses slowly falling into ruin. The surrounding farmland was like all the other farmland we’ve seen. Slowly returning to forest.

Riding farther west we came to Slater and like the people in Fayette the Slater survivors had relocated to the shore of Slater Lake. Forty-some people form the community. They’ve built two dozen huts and have four tents surrounded by a wall of cars and logs. Hunting, fishing, and some extensive gardens are enabling them to get by. They invited us to stay and eat with them, which we did. Afterwards, they let us pitch our tents within the compound. We exchanged news about our respective areas. They’ve had turf wars with the people in Marshall over hunting and scavenging areas. Their own community has been pretty stable. Some leadership issues early on, but they were able to get them resolved.

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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, 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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Ruminations on the Uptown Art Fair

I had intended to post Part 2 of The Wonderful Machine Age today, but my weekend adventure at Minnesota’s second largest fair spawned some thoughts I decided to share with you. Next week The Wonderful Machine Age will return.

The focus for the summer months (at least here in the northern hemisphere) has been on writing Rand Hart and the third book in the Justinia Wright, PI series and editing/rewriting The Troubled City (The Rocheport Saga #4). As a result, book sales have fallen off the chart. Then again marketing is not my strong suit. I don’t really have a clue how to go about it. Encouragement, though, came to me from a Google+ post by JazzFeathers. She linked to an article: “None of my Marketing Seems to Work”. There are some good suggestions in the comments. Knowing that most authors struggle to get traction for their work is a consolation. I’m in a big boat and lots of us are pulling at the oars.

But I don’t think writers are the only ones struggling with how to sell what they produce. This past weekend my wife and I were at the Uptown Art Fair. It is the second largest fair in Minnesota, drawing 400,000 people over a long weekend. That’s more than live in the city of Minneapolis. Scores of artists paid big money to be there and artist after artist was trying to interest the throngs of people in his or her paintings, prints, drawings, woodwork, glass, metalwork, jewelry, fiber art, plants, and food.

I did succumb a wee bit to the cry of “Buy! Buy! Buy!”. Two tilandsias, a wooden box, a buffalo leather wallet, and a wooden serving spoon. Tilandsias are bromeliads and cousins to the orchid. They make great pets. They’re commonly called air plants.

After I got home and read the above referenced blog post, I asked myself why did I buy what I did? I like plants and the tilandsias weren’t expensive. The box appealed to my eye and contained buckeye wood. The buckeye is Ohio’s state tree and I was born in Ohio. A bit of sentimentality there. The spoon is made of cherrywood, feels good in the hand, and is pretty. I probably won’t use it as a spoon. Maybe a paperweight. The wallet, because mine was wearing out and I liked the looks of the buffalo one.

The lesson for us authors? Price is a factor. I confess, I don’t buy new books anymore from the Big 5 publishers. They are too expensive. I buy them used instead. I don’t even buy eBooks from the Big 5 because they too are way overpriced, IMO. There were many items at the fair I would have liked to buy. The price turned me off to almost all of them. Price is one reason why almost all of the new books I do buy are by indie authors.

Another lesson is eye and sense appeal. All of the items I bought at the fair looked good to me. “To me” being operative here. Not everything looks good to everyone. But our book covers have to look good to someone or no one will buy them. And ideally they should operate at an emotional level too. Also, the first few pages of our books should hook the reader by appealing to his or her emotions and senses. We have to make the reader care. I bought the box because of its emotional appeal, the spoon because it was smooth and pleasing to the touch, the plants because they looked cool, and the wallet because the leather was so soft and supple. These are basic appeals to our senses.

The only thing left to add is need. I bought what I did because at some level I wanted it but also needed it. Of course, in truth, I needed none of those things. Save for maybe the wallet. On the other hand, we all have aesthetic needs and needs for entertainment and pleasure.

Books fill the need for entertainment and pleasure. They also fill the need for knowledge and wisdom. Our books need to hook into those needs. Which means, of course, they need to be well-written and well-edited and in some way enrich the reader.

No food was purchased at the fair. Why? Because my wife and I walked over to The Tin Fish for fish and chips — knowing from past experience we were in for a treat. As it turned out we were disappointed this time around. The lesson here is that previous good experiences linger in the mind. And failure to deliver, produces disappointment. We writers need to be craftsmen and craftswomen. Delivering consistently good products to our readers so we don’t suffer the ire of their disappointment.

I’m not sure how to convert these ruminations into sales. Because ultimately even when the book is visible to the potential reader, readers don’t buy all the books before them. I set aside five other boxes to buy the one I did. I purchased only two tilandsias out of the hundred on the table. Ultimately it comes down to does my book look appealing to the reader. And ultimately that is a decision the reader makes.

Crispian Thurlborn posted a quote from Colin Firth on Google+. I re-quote it here: “I would rather five people knew my work and thought it was good work than five million knew me and were indifferent.”

We all want to make money from writing. The sad truth is the vast majority of writers throughout all time have not. And that includes us today. The vast majority of us won’t see very much money at all. So for now, I guess, while I focus on writing and producing good books, I’m going to be satisfied with those five people who know my work and like it. And if tomorrow I hit the best seller list that will be wonderful. If I don’t, I’m still having a blast writing and publishing what I write and pleasing those faithful five.

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