As a Green Beret, I was focused on two main reasons for catastrophe planning and preparation. As a writer, I learned about a third, more subtle benefit of catastrophe planning, in order to have a successful career in a field where 99% of those entering eventually fail.
You Catastrophe Plan for 3 reasons:
- To avoid the catastrophe. Since at least one of the six cascade events is human error, if we plan and prepare adequately, we can delete the human error cascade event from the situation, thus avoiding the final event.
- To have a plan, equipment, training etc. in place in case the catastrophe strikes. If we project out possible final events, we can prepare for their eventuality. I am adamant that preparation is critical, even more so than actual actions during the final event. It is too late when we reach a final event to prepare for it. Even the best-trained individual will be overwhelmed by a final event if they have not prepared for it. In the last catastrophe we cover in this book, you’ll see how the fact someone planned for possible catastrophes helped avert a terrible final event.
- To give you peace of mind in day-to-day living so you don’t constantly have to worry about potential catastrophes because you are prepared for them. This allows you to experience a higher quality of life. You’ve done your best to avoid the catastrophe, making the likelihood that much less. And you’ve done your best to prepare for the catastrophe, so you can focus on other things. Too many people worry about potential catastrophes without preparing; this is a fundamental failure and fuels fear. Fear feeds on itself and is debilitating. Often, extreme fear can bring about an event that would have never occurred otherwise. Confident people are prepared people.
Why the book and title? I had to get your attention, just like engineers, soldiers, pilots, astronauts, passengers, policemen, firemen, etc. need to get someone’s attention just before a catastrophe occurs in order to either prevent the event or save lives. And engineers, systems analysts, workers, and managers have to get the attention of others in order to point out cascade events that, if unchecked, will lead to a catastrophe.
Consider the meaning of the phrase shit happens. Saying “shit happens” indicates events are random, have no meaning and there is no accountability or responsibility. It indicates such events could just as easily happen again and there’s nothing we can do about them.
This series, with the first book coming out 9 September, is about catastrophes and disasters and tragedies and how to avoid them, mitigate their effects and learn from them. As you will see studying seven significant events in each book, they didn’t just happen, and the people and organizations involved weren’t completely helpless victims. Taking the attitude shit happens is potentially fatal for the future. It ignores painful and tragic lessons from the past. If we’re going to make the deaths and suffering of victims to mean anything, we must learn from them.
The bottom line is we can predict and prevent many catastrophes because almost every one has a man made factor, a cascade event, involved. In other words, we have control over whether shit happens. But it means changing a complacent mindset, getting rid of delusional thinking, and viewing the world around us in a different way. Because shit doesn’t just happen.
Why write this book? Because I’ve made mistakes.
We all have. And some of us have made mistakes that contributed, either completely or in whatever percentage, to a no-do-over. This is an event where you can’t go back and change the result. There has been an irrevocable event. Often these involve death or permanent injury/wounding. You can’t undo those.
Soldiers understand this because the environment in which we operate is full of no-do-overs. I discuss why Special Forces are called Masters of Chaos in the book, but even as Masters, we only control what we control. The best-trained, best equipped, soldier in the world is still only one piece of the entire picture.
That’s the part we have to focus on; what we have control over. Our lives play out with many events and tragedies that are beyond our control, but in which we have some input, some effect. That’s what this book highlights, showing you catastrophes step by step, and how each step teaches us something.
There aren’t bad people in these catastrophes (mostly). They might have made some wrong decisions, but we all have, and the value we can place on them is to learn from them. Sometimes, many of the victims were innocent and not responsible, but we must focus on those who are responsible and in charge and made the key decisions. Or didn’t make a key decision.
I can look back and have to examine where my part was; where my human error, my lack of focus, my wrong thinking, poor decision-making and ignorance, entered into things. There are things I might not have been able to prevent, but if I don’t examine my role, I’ll never become better at what I do and a better person. And deep inside, I wonder what I could have prevented.
That is why this book exists.
Book One covers:
Titanic: Systematic Failure
Kegworth Plane Crash: The Danger of Deferring to Authority and Experts
Little Big Horn: Leadership Failure
New London Schoolhouse Explosion: Lack of Focus
The Donner Party: Social Disintegration
From Tulips to the Housing Bubble: Greed Overwhelms Reality
Apollo 13: Success Snatched from the Jaws of Catastrophe
Each week I’ll bring a new blog post with information from and about the book, along with lessons learned in my Survival Guide and Who Dares Wins.
Right now, the lineup for Book 2, due out 23 September, is: The Challenger Explosion; The Fall of the Czar; The Kursk Sinking; The BP Deepwater Horizon Explosion; the Sultana explosion; Pearl Harbor; the Andes Plane Crash
I’m also open to suggestions about catastrophes you’d like to see me cover in subsequent books.
25 years, over 60 books, and I still screw things up. Here are six things I’ve done “wrong” according to most accepted practices for a successful writing career and a note on whether I’ve corrected each, will correct each one, or screw it, it’s just the way I am.
- Not networked enough.
This is a people business, just like any other. Early in my career I really believed I could just sit at home, write books, and everything would go fine. Not. I should have made more of an effort to get to know agents, editors, publishers and especially other writers.
Fixed? This is something I’ve worked hard to correct, especially since forming Cool Gus. I try to make it to Seattle once a year to meet with Amazon; in New York to meet with Barnes & Noble. Been to Toronto to sit down with Kobo. Go to BEA to meet industry people. Go to various writers conferences to meet writers. Perhaps the one thing I could do more of is attend science fiction events, since I have had several bestselling series in the genre, but I also have seen too many scifi authors get caught up in the con thing to the detriment of their writing. A balance has to be struck. I’ve noticed that I don’t have a single conference scheduled for 2015, which is a first. I’ll be going to BEA for business networking, and probably stop by RWA Nationals and Thrillerfest for author networking. But beyond that—the slate is wide open for the year. Maybe I’ll do something science fictiony?
- Not taken charge of my career.
I thought my agent was in charge of my career for a long time. Wrong. An agent can help shape your career, but it’s up to the writer to determine goals and actions. I received a lot of good advice from agents over the years, but didn’t focus enough on implementing a business plan that I originated.
Fixed? Once more, since forming Cool Gus, I’ve had to take complete responsibility for my career. There are two sides to this. On one hand it’s a lot of work, but on the other hand it’s tremendously liberating. I determine what I’m writing, how long I take, when I publish, what I publish, etc. etc. I think a trad author (having been one for 20 years and 42 books) really has little idea how great it is to be indie. Yes, you lose a lot of the support of agent/publisher, but the freedom is worth it. As well as the much higher profit margin. I think a lot of authors are seeing sales go down—the best way to offset that is to make more per sale.
- Not stuck to one genre and focused on one series.
I’ve had bestsellers in science fiction, thriller and romance. Not a formula for success. I recommend to authors that if they want commercial success, they pick a specific niche and become known for it. Which means do what I didn’t do. I’ve got books that don’t even technically fall into a genre. I tried starting a new genre, technomyth, where I mixed technology and mythology. My Atlantis series was in the vein. My Area 51 series was pitched as an X-Files type story. The Rock, one of my favorite books, was reviewed by Publishers Weekly as the “best combination of science fiction and thriller this year.” Which means it didn’t fit in either.
Fixed? Nope and not really going to be. I just turned in the 4th book in a new series, Nightstalkers: The Time Patrol. I’ve start a new nonfiction series: Shit Doesn’t Just Happen: The Gift of Failure. I’ve got to write book 5 in the Nightstalker series, then book 8 in my Green Beret series, but after that, who knows? I write what I care about and what interests me. My Shit Doesn’t Just Happen books might turn some people off with the title but I strongly believe the subject matter is so important, it’s worth it. If we don’t learn from past catastrophes it leaves us vulnerable to future ones.
- Not accepted others and gotten in feuds.
This is connected to not networking. In fact it’s the opposite. My wife says I’m a contrarian and I tend to disagree with her on that. Enough said. I think it’s a guy thing. I have noticed that most of those speaking out in publishing and ranting are male. The women are quietly working and making the big bucks.
Fixed? I work hard on this every day. I don’t post comments on blogs like I used to. My own blog rarely gets into the business of publishing these days– I’ve discussed pretty much everything and its in the archives here. I’ve decided trying to talk about publishing is like eating soup with a fork because, as we say at Cool Gus, there are many roads to Oz and Oz means different things to each person. I work hard to respect everyone’s path, even if I don’t agree with it. I simply don’t have to take that particular path.
- Not enjoyed the gifts of a writing career.
Seriously, it’s a great job. I forget that I don’t have to commute, technically don’t answer to a boss (other than the reader!). That my work of 25 years all earns me income now. In essence, becoming an indie author and the ability to sell to readers through various platforms has completely changed the business model for authors. What would have been 50 out of print books gathering dust on my shelves, now earns me a very nice revenue. It’s not backlist if you haven’t read it! I get to work at home, with my two yellow labs snoring underneath my desk. Get up and go for a bike ride whenever I feel like it. Can’t beat it.
- Not taking enough time off from writing.
The flip side of being my own boss, is that I’m not a very good boss at times. I work all the time. I always feel under pressure to deliver. Under deadlines that I impose on myself. It is rather stressful.
Fixed? Nope, but I’m aware of it. I actually penciled in three days of ‘vacation’ near the end of October, right after a conference. I already know I won’t take those three days off because I have a manuscript due at the end of October. Unless, I work really, really hard and have it done before that conference. Sigh. Catch-22.
What mistakes have you made in your writing career, and what have you done to fix them? Or do you not care about fixing them?
I debated a long time whether to keep that title or go with others, such as Seven By Seven: The Anatomy of Catastrophe. But I’m going to be up front. I feel so strongly about this book, that I believe the more controversial title is needed.
I’m not a fan of profanity, but I didn’t invent the phrase shit happens. It’s part of our lexicon. Apparently Forrest Gump even helped invent it.
Years ago, I remember getting a letter (remember those?) from a kid liking my Area 51 books. And I realized I didn’t need profanity in those books. So I tried to refrain. Of course, in my military thrillers and other books, it has a place. But much like a sex scene, it has to serve a purpose or it’s extraneous. In my few early sex scenes before collaborating with Jennifer Crusie, the scene always ended with someone dying (usually the woman) so the hero could swear vengeance and thus we have the rest of the book (plus he doesn’t have to talk). Kind of misogynistic, I admit. In Chasing The Lost, my hero is seduced and there’s definitely a reason for it. And not what he thinks.
Going back to the anger thing: Jen Talty says a brand needs ‘haters’ to succeed. Sort of like relationships: you’d rather have someone hate you than be apathetic. So the pushback is actually a bit encouraging.
So, yes. I want a bit of controversy. Because I do believe that the book is important. It’s the first in a series. Each one covers seven catastrophes. And lists the seven cascade events leading up to each disaster. This is based on my Rule of Seven. My wife and I developed the Rule of Seven after watching Seconds From Disaster and we saw a pattern to plane crashes—they all required at least seven things to go wrong. The bottom line is that many catastrophes can be avoided. But we have to study ones that happened in order to learn for the future. It gives meaning to the sacrifices of the victims.
In the first book, due out 9 September, I cover events as wide ranging as the Titanic (easy one) to Tulips (not so easy). Then there is the Donner Party where my focus isn’t on the cannibalism, but the homicides. And I discuss a fellow West Pointer, George A. Custer and his date with destiny on the Greasy Grass River, aka Little Big Horn. There’s also the plane crash where the pilot mistakenly turned off his only working engine. And the worst school disaster in US History, which led to a law that has saved many lives since then. And finally how the sacrifice of Apollo 1 saved the lives of the men on Apollo 13.
I’ll blog more about all this. And for those whose sensibilities I’ve offended, I would apologize, but as George Costanza says, end on a high note.
And, oh yeah. The real reason I’m keeping the title is my wife told me to keep it. And I’ve learned to always say yes, which is the secret to a successful marriage.