Author Archives: Bob Mayer

The Story Grid: A Writer’s Tool

Every book is an adventure in writing, but there is one tool I have consistently used from my very first book and with every single one of the next 60 some odd that followed: The Story Grid.

After a couple of decades together, my wife has learned my few and far between foibles. One of them is a lack of attention to detail. I’m a big picture guy. If my wife wants to hide something from me in the fridge all she has to do is put it behind something. If she needs me to get something for her, she knows to give me very detailed instructions down to exactly what drawer, where in the drawer it is, and exactly what it is. Or I’m like Cool Gus: I’ll come back with the first ball I find.

I have the same problem writing. I can “see” the big picture of the book in my brain. But once I start writing, I tend to forget what I’ve written. So I use a physical, external device, to help me: the Story Grid.

It goes to the left of my keyboard (I’m left-handed) for every book as I’m writing. I fill it in as I’m writing. I use a red ink pen. Then I update the Excel sheet and print it out every day.

Every row is a scene in the book.

The columns depend on the type of story (do I need a countdown? Greenwich Mean Time?) but generally go thusly:

Chapter #; start page; end page; time/date; location; a brief summary of the action.

Here is an example from a work in progress, Nightstalkers: The Time Patrol which will be published on 25 Nov this year. In this case, instead of time/date, I use a 48 hour countdown because a clock is started leading to the end of the world as we know it in 48 hours.  Most of it makes no sense to you, but since I’ve written the scenes, it reminds me immediately of what’s been done.  It’s also a good way to see the flow of the book.


Note that what has been written ends at the beginning of Chapter 8. Everything below that is notes and future scenes that I put there as they occur to me. At the bottom are some notes from previous books in the series with terms I need, but can’t remember. Some of the terms near the bottom in bold are story loops I need to close out for various characters.  I also can add in a word count each day, to keep me on task.

Being able to put everything on one page makes it much easier for me to keep track. So if you’re not a good detail person, consider something like this. If you are a good detail person, but not a good big picture person, consider something like Jennifer Crusie’s collages, where she puts together a diorama that physically represents the entire story and can have it in her office where she can see it all the time.

On entirely different matter, we’d like feedback on these covers. We’re putting together a library sampler of all my books, consisting of one downloadable book that has every cover, author note on every book, brief description and opening chapter. We think this is a way readers can ‘browse’ my books for free. We’ll announce the launch of the sampler with links for download in a week or so here at Write It Forward. If you sign up for my newsletter (only sent out a couple times a year) you’ll have access to exclusive content from works in project I’ll be posting on-line soon, looking for reader feedback. Parts of the book from the story grid above will be the first to be posted. Sign up is to the left.

Just number them 1 thru 5, left to write, for your comments.


Survival Friday: The Keys for Organizing Your Survival Team

Survival Friday: Excerpt from The Green Beret Survival Guide SurvivalFinal

Organizing Your Neighborhood/Work Place

This is particularly key in moderate emergencies.  During natural disasters such as hurricane, flood, extreme weather, wild fire, etc. an organized neighborhood can be essential to survival.  When I say neighborhood, I also mean your work place. During 9-11, offices that were well organized and had emergency evacuation plans with designated personnel acting in key positions had much higher survival rates.  Does your place of business have an emergency plan?  Is it practiced?  Remember in school when you had fire drills?  Does your place of business have the same?

One thing to ask yourself is what are the boundaries of a neighborhood?  Realistically, you’re looking at around fifteen to twenty households.  Larger than that and it can become unwieldy.

Your neighborhood might already have such a team.  If so, join it and find out how well organized and prepared they are.  If not, then take it on yourself to start one.  Usually your larger community will have resources to help you do this.  Check emergency services and the Red Cross.

Check out the resources in your neighborhood.  Do you know who your neighbors are and what they do for a living?  What special skills they have?  That person you think is a nurse going off to work in her scrubs might actually be someone who works at a kennel washing dogs. Don’t make assumptions.

You need to identify people who have the following skills and experience:

  • medical
  • law enforcement and military
  • electrical
  • leadership
  • survival
  • child care
  • communications
  • engineering
  • weapons

Inventory equipment in the neighborhood:

  • chain saws
  • winches
  • four wheel drive vehicles
  • CB and other radios
  • water purifying systems

Inventory the neighborhood:

  • where are all the natural gas meters and propane tanks?
  • who needs special help?  Focus on the handicapped, the elderly, and children who might be home alone at periods of the day.
  • each household should have large placards made up with OKAY on one side and HELP on the other.  Use fluorescent colored poster board available at your local supermarket.  Have this stored near a front window under a rug.  Display as needed.
  • determine where the neighborhood gathering site will be.  People should go here before trying to run around and rescue others.  Organization saves time and lives.
  • have a contact list tree.  In the military we always had alert systems.  This is a way of communicating so each person knows who they are responsible for contacting.


Survival Friday: Open Wounds First Aid

Survival Friday: excerpt from The Green Beret Survival Guide SurvivalFinal

Open wounds are serious in a survival situation, not only because of tissue damage and blood loss, but also because they may become infected. Bacteria on the object that made the wound, on the individual’s skin and clothing, or on other foreign material or dirt that touches the wound may cause infection.

By taking proper care of the wound you can reduce further contamination and promote healing.

Clean the wound as soon as possible after it occurs by:

  • Removing or cutting clothing away from the wound.
  • Always looking for an exit wound if a sharp object, gun shot, or projectile caused a wound.
  • Thoroughly cleaning the skin around the wound.
  • Rinsing (not scrubbing) the wound with large amounts of water under pressure. You can use fresh urine if water is not available.
  • The “open treatment” method is the safest way to manage wounds in survival situations. Do not try to close any wound by suturing or similar procedures. Leave the wound open to allow the drainage of any pus resulting from infection. As long as the wound can drain, it generally will not become life-threatening, regardless of how unpleasant it looks or smells.
  • Cover the wound with a clean dressing. Place a bandage on the dressing to hold it in place. Change the dressing daily to check for infection.
  • If a wound is gaping, you can bring the edges together with adhesive tape cut in the form of a “butterfly” or “dumbbell” bandage.

In a survival situation, some degree of wound infection is almost inevitable. Pain, swelling, and redness around the wound, increased temperature, and pus in the wound or on the dressing indicate infection is present.

To treat an infected wound:

  • Place a warm, moist compress directly on the infected wound. Change the compress when it cools, keeping a warm compress on the wound for a total of 30 minutes. Apply the compresses three or four times daily.
  • Drain the wound. Open and gently probe the infected wound with a sterile instrument.
  • Dress and bandage the wound. Drink a lot of water.
  • Continue this treatment daily until all signs of infection have disappeared.
  • If you do not have antibiotics and the wound has become severely in- fected, does not heal, and ordinary debridement is impossible, consider maggot therapy, despite its hazards:
  • Expose the wound to flies for one day and then cover it.
  • Check daily for maggots.  Maggots are not necessarily bad.
  • Once maggots develop, keep wound covered but check daily. Remove all maggots when they have cleaned out all dead tissue and before they start on healthy tissue. Increased pain and bright red blood in the wound indicate that the maggots have reached healthy tissue.
  • Flush the wound repeatedly with sterile water or fresh urine to remove the maggots.
  • Check the wound every four hours for several days to ensure all maggots have been removed.
  • Bandage the wound and treat it as any other wound. It should heal normally.


Special Edition Survival Friday– The Area Study, reference WA state landslide

The Green Beret Area Study

Once the landslide started in WA state, it was too late to do anything about it.  The speed and ferocity of such an event cannot be under-estimated and the results are horrifying.  However, in the location in WA where this happened, there had been previous events:


Landslides had occurred in 1951, 1967, 1988 and 2006, he said; though none resulted in deaths, at least one of them — the 2006 event — damaged houses. “I would not have had a house in that location,” he said.  His report study may have simply been shelved, he said.

Miller said the fault lies, in part, with the county and, in part, with the people who decided to live in a place with a history of landslides.

Though a state ordinance asks counties to map landslide hazard zones, it has not been translated into zoning restrictions, he said.

And, though no one may have told landowners in the landslide zone about the risk, that wouldn’t absolve them of responsibility, he said. “As landowners, we have some responsibility to be aware of our surroundings and their risks,” he said.

It comes down to how much risk a person, or a community, is comfortable with, he said. “Ultimately, there was no way to know when a landslide would occur,” he said.  “We had indications that it could be very large. But we didn’t know it would be very large. We didn’t know when it would occur … but we did know it could occur.”

He personally would not have stomached the risk accepted by residents, he said. After a landslide in 2006, he saw new buildings being raised in the neighborhood. “My reaction was to shake my head and say, ‘This is nuts.’”

I am not blaming the people and have sympathy for those who lost loved ones, but this is a pattern of a failure to observe our environment.  In New Orleans people lived, and continue to live, in houses next to the sea, that are below sea level.  With no preparation for a disaster in place, even given Katrina.

karma-dogWe lived on Whidbey Island, due west of that location, and would often walk on the beach.  We’d look up at what they call “high bluff” and there would be houses built up there, pretty close to the edge.  But looking underneath the houses, you would see no rock foundation, but rather dirt and sand.  And this is on top of the most active earthquake site in the United States.  People are just trusting to providence and karma.

In Special Forces, prior to deploying to an Area of Operations, we conducted an Area Study of that location. You must conduct an Area Study of your Area of Operations (AO). Both your home, your work, and any other locales where you spend a significant amount of time. When taking a trip, you should conduct a travel area study, examining the route you will take, your destination, and your route back.

There are so many cases where a thoughtful Area Study followed up by the appropriate preparations would have saved lives. Prevention is more efficient than avoidance. Preparation is so much better than reacting.

IMG_1238Think about it. You live in a tsunami zone. Have you actually driven your evacuation route? How long does it take? Have you figured out the quickest escape route on foot, when an accident caused by terrified people blocks the road or everyone in your neighborhood fleeing on the same route creates a traffic jam? You work on the 90th floor of a skyscraper. Do you ever look around and ask yourself: how do I get out of here if the normal means of egress are blocked?  I’m still rather stunned no one in the two towers thought of stashing a parachute at work.  Sounds far-fetched?  I was watching Robert Redford in All Is Lost and kept looking at my wife and saying:  “I’ve got more survival stuff on my Jeep than he has crossing the ocean.”  Seriously.  No handheld, battery powered GPS?  I understand the point the movie-makers were trying to establish, but still?  To the left is just the back seats of Big Orange, never mind what’s elsewhere.  Hell, I’ve even got flat black spray paint in sufficient quantity to turn Big Orange into Big Flat Black in case it’s time to evade.

How close are you to the nearest military base? Nearest police station? Firehouse? Hospital? Even in day-to-day living, do you know where the closest emergency room is? How long it will take to get there? How quickly can an ambulance respond to your location?

You want to examine your environment for a lot of things. What can harm you? What can help you? What can hide you? What are your enabling factors? What are your disabling factors? What effect does your environment have on you? What effect will you have on it? In essence, an Area Study requires you to invest the time and energy on research.

For an A-Team, we conducted the Area Study in Isolation where we were locked up 24/7 in a secure compound. We’d bring in area experts (CIA agents, State Department personnel, people who’d traveled there, locals, academics, etc.) to tell us about the environment we were heading into.

Do a HALO study of your environment.

HALO isn’t the video game: It stands for High Altitude Low Opening parachuting. We jump at 25,000 feet or above and fall. A long way. Then open the parachute at a low altitude.

This is the term I use when I consult for a business I know little about, like IT. When I walk in to an IT company I know pretty much nothing about how they do things. But that actually gives me an advantage because I have no pre-conceived notions about how things should be done. I am not going to reinvent the wheel, the way most organizations periodically do. I am thinking outside the box because I was never in the box to begin with. This is what I mean when I say step back from your environment and look at it with a completely different perspective: that of survival.

I’m going to use a partial template of the Special Forces Area study now to walk you through how you need to do your own Area Studies (home, work, common locales) along with my own notes.

You must assess all the following (I’ve cut the list from The Green Beret Survival Guide back considerably for the sake of space):

Potential Natural Disasters:

  • Earthquake, extreme heat, fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, tidal surge, landslide, etc.

Potential Human Disasters, Accidents:

  • Nuclear, biological, chemical, power outage, terrorism, criminals, etc.

Primary Shelter Preparedness

Work Area Preparedness

Hide Site Preparedness

Evacuation Site Preparedness

Cache Preparedness

Personnel Preparedness

The Area Study: When my A-Team traveled, my engineers would always be looking at things they saw with a different perspective that most people. When they saw a bridge, they were mentally calculating how to blow it up. When they saw a stream, they were thinking how to dam it and provide a water supply to villagers. My weapons men would look at terrain for fields of fire for direct and indirect fire weapons. As a survivor, you have to look at your environment in terms of what you can use and what can be a threat, which requires you to assume a different mindset for a while.

Here is the template:

1)    Purpose and Limiting Factors.

  1. Purpose. Delineate the area being studied—this applies to your home, your work, and any other locations you will likely be.
  2. Mission. State the mission the area study supports. Initially survival. If an extreme emergency, your goal should be survival and then sustainment.
  3. Limiting Factors. Identify factors that limit the completeness or accuracy of the area study.

2)    Geography, Hydrography, and Climate. Divide the operational area into its various definable subdivisions and analyze each subdivision using the subdivisions shown below.

3)    Areas and Dimensions.

4)    Strategic Locations.

a)     Neighboring countries and boundaries. If you have to evacuate, where will you go? Do you have your passport ready? If you need to evacuate due to hurricane, flood, fire, etc. then do you know where you will go?

b)    Natural defenses. When I lived on Whidbey Island, WA, I already had decided where would be the best places to set up defensive points to isolate the island: take out the ferry, and then destroy the bridge on the northern end. If the island had to be defended internally, there were natural choke points along the length of it. Also consider national parks, Bureau of Land Management land, and other areas where you can find isolated spots for your hide site.

c)     Points of entry and strategic routes. What is your evacuation route? Will it be clogged up by other evacuees? Do you have alternate routes? Do you have routes planned for auto, for cycling, for walking? For pushing a shopping cart? No on the last one please, please Cormac.

5)    Climate. Note variations from the norm and the months in which they occur. Note any extremes in climate that would affect operations.

a)     Temperature. Know the extremes and norms. If you’ve lived somewhere for several years, you probably have a good feel for this. However, if you are new to an area, take some time to study up.

b)    Rainfall and snow. This is a good news, bad news area. The good news is rainfall and snow provide water. The bad news is they can make shelter difficult. They can also lead to hypothermia.

c)     Wind and visibility. We’ll discuss prevailing winds under extreme water survival in Sustainability, but visibility is key for both defense and if you have to move.

d)    Light data. Include begin morning nautical twilight (BMNT), end of evening nautical twilight (EENT), sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset. BMNT and EENT is the time between dawn and sunrise and sunset and night, where the atmosphere is neither completely lit nor completely dark. The sun has not risen, or it has just set, so it is no longer visible. In the military BMNT is the time to Stand To, as it is the best time to attack. It, along with EENT, are the most dangerous times to drive.

e)     Seasonal effect of the weather on terrain and visibility. There are places where weather can change drastically in just a day. When I lived in Colorado there was a saying: If you don’t like the weather, just wait. It will be different in a couple of days. It’s not just seasonal, also consider altitude. It’s a rule of thumb that you lose six degrees Celsius (3.5 F) every thousand feet in elevation you ascend. Every year several hikers die on Mount Washington in the summer because they start out in short and t-shirts with no cold weather gear and freeze to death before they reach the summit after getting caught in a storm that also reduces visibility to almost nothing and they lose the trail. Do you see how various elements of nature can combine together in this case: altitude, weather, visibility and terrain?

f)     Relief. General direction of mountain ranges or ridgelines, and if hills and ridges are dissected. In the case of the Uruguayan survivors of the plane crash, a better understanding of the Andes would have helped. Which brings up the point that if you are traveling, have an idea of the terrain you are going through, especially if it is different from what you are used to. A Case Study further in this book will be of a family that got trapped in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon trying to get from the interior to the coast. They did not expect to be caught in a snowstorm, at night, at altitude, and it cost one of them their life.

g)     General degree of slope. Considering your physical condition, and that of members of your team, what can you climb and descend?

h)    Characteristics of valleys and plains.

i)      Natural routes for and natural obstacles to cross-country movement. When I lived on Whidbey Island, it fascinated me how isolated the city of Seattle is by land. There are only a handful of roads into the Seattle area, particularly from the east through the Cascades. And even to the south, coming up from Oregon, your routes are limited. Look at where you live and check your area for your choke points. Remember the movie Tremors? Where they were trapped in the valley with only one way in or out?

j)       Location of area suitable for guerrilla bases, units, and other installations. For you, this is where you consider your rally points, your cache locations, and your hide site.

k)     Potential landing zones (LZs), DZs, and other reception sites. If we’re getting invaded by the aliens, this is something to consider. You don’t want to be those people standing on top of that building in LA holding up your welcome sign with the alien aircraft directly overhead getting ready to blast you. Seriously, though, you need to consider this in terms of rescuers. Can they land aircraft? Fixed wing and rotary? Can they bring help in via a beach? When the military gets involved in rescue operations, these are factors they consider. Since the National Guard is often involved in disaster relief, get an idea how they operate.

  1. Geological Basics. Identify types of soil and rock formations. This particular section is something those of you who live in earthquake zones should take notice of. Where are the fault lines in your area? When was the last earthquake? When I lived on the south end of Whidbey Island, I researched the earthquake history of the area, since Seattle is right on top of the Ring of Fire that surrounds the Pacific. I found out that the tip of Camano Island, which I could see right outside my window, fell into Puget Sound during an earthquake many years ago. That, by itself, was not a major problem but it caused a mini-tsunami that wiped out a number of Native Americans who were in the tidal flat on Hat Island, not far away. Go to Homefacts ( and find out what the probability of earthquake is in your area. For Langley, WA, where I lived, there is a 85.64% of a major earthquake (5.0 or above) in the next 50 years. Vegas wouldn’t bet on Langley and the house always wins. I’ve moved to an area where the chance of 5.0 or greater is 6.31%. Vegas would give me good odds.
  2. Forests and Other Vegetation.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed? Here’s the easy way to do it. Start from your house. Then work outwards. Do the same with your work. And your hide site. A lot of the information will overlap.

Check one thing at a time. Write down your observations. You’ll be surprised at the amount of information you’ll end up with and how much wiser and mentally prepared you will be than you were. Make sure you “disseminate the information”. Actually, what’s best is if you break down the Area Study and have different members of the team do different parts based on their fields of expertise. On an A-Team, for example, the medics did the health portion; the engineers did the infrastructure; etc. Then we all briefed each other.

Bottom line, for some disasters, preparedness can save your life.  In fact, it might be the only way you can be saved.


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