It’s a great life. I’m my own boss. I wear shorts and t-shirts in the summer and sweats in the winter to work, which is in my house. I sit at my desk with a great view of the TN River with a blank stare, drool running down the side of my mouth, and I’m working. Well, not really. Because no one’s paying me for my great thoughts. They’re paying for my writing.

I’ve been doing it for over a quarter of a century and here are some harsh truths I’ve learned about making a living as a writer.

1. No one owes you a reading. You have to earn it.

2.  The minute you think you have it made, your career is over.

3.  You have to be ahead of innovation, not following it. I get rather bored lately reading blog posts and tweets and comments from all the gurus making predictions, comments, yada, yada, because I’ve had the bisque. That doesn’t mean there isn’t much to learn. I do read them. Now I focus more on the subtext. But other than that, a lot of it is the same old, same old. But I also have to accept for many writers, it’s new. Still, I also remember what some of these same ‘gurus’ were saying 3 or 4 years ago. Uh-huh. Nevertheless, it’s incumbent on a writer to pay attention to the business side.

4. Listen to those who have skin in the game. I make my living selling stories to readers. If you want to make a living selling stories to readers focus on those people. Those who make their money in ancillary ways off of the book business? Listen to them but also understand their motives are different than yours. Many of them want to make their money off you. Caveat emptor.

5. Trust no one. From the classic I, ClaudiusHerod [to Claudius]: Trust no one, my friend, no one. Not your most grateful freedman. Not your most intimate friend. Not your dearest child. Not the wife of your bosom. Trust no one.  Okay, that’s extreme but essentially, no writer should count on anyone else professionally. Your agent, your editor, your publisher: they are not your friends inside the business. They are not your business manager. They are people who you work with as a self-employed part of the publishing machine. They might love you, but when the numbers don’t add up—later, gator.

6. Publicity doesn’t equal sales. You can be on the front page of the NY Times and unless the story is specifically about your book, it doesn’t lead to sales. I’ve actually BEEN quoted in an article on the front page of the NY Times, one of my books was mentioned, and I got a whopping bump of about four sales because the article wasn’t about the book. I interviewed for a NY Times article that came out this past weekend and didn’t make the final editorial cut. Whatever.

7.  You can be as ‘right’ as you want to be but still fail. I only have to be right for my business. Not anyone else’s. What works for me will not work for anyone else. Stop trying to prove you’re right to others. They don’t care.

8. People lie. Writers are professional liars. I’ve listened to keynotes from writers and known they weren’t telling the truth. I’ve seen ‘deals’ posted in Publishers Marketplace and known the agent was grossly exaggerating the sale. No one blogs about “my career has gone down the crapper”. Nope. People talk about good things. So don’t let it discourage you when everyone seems to be doing better than you. Often they’re hanging on by their fingernails.

9.  No matter how good your writing is, someone will not like it. In fact, the better it is, the bigger the pushback. The more successful you become, the more people will try to take you down. Don’t let them. Also remember, you need haters to succeed. Like a relationship– we’d rather have hate than apathy.

10.  Math wins. Always. The Content eBook Blob is eating up a lot of midlist self-pubbers. Remember the movie The Blob? 1958? Steve McQueen? Every book that is digitized is on the shelf forever. No one is walking the aisles with computer printouts removing those that are beginning to ooze. And every day more and more titles are added.

11.  Nobody knows everything. When we go to industry events, I constantly remind my business partner, Jen, that no one there knows everything. Of course, she sometimes reminds me I don’t know everything. Despite having my wife call me a contrarian, I’m afraid I have to disagree with both of them. Anyway, most people in the business know only a niche. In fact, the larger the organization they are part of, the less they know. People pretend to know a lot, but that’s because they’re . . .

2cfa3f55dc70babbda2b8dad9e18b36212.  Afraid. Fear rules many things in life. Fear is insidious. Repeat the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear from Frank Herbert’s brilliant Dune:

13.  It always comes back to content. Bundles, Bookbub, sacrificing goats; they all have their place. But it always comes back to content. Write good stories. Then more good stories. And you will succeed.

Want more good stuff? Sign up for my newsletter. Click here! If you sign up, you get a free book. And, like those late night commercials, get the book and we throw in a wonder-roller to remove dog hair. Okay, that was one step too far. NOTHING removes dog hair, as Cool Gus consistently proves– I just had depot repair on my Macbook Air and they found dog hair inside it.

You get a free book for signing up. That’s pretty cool. And Ides of March is up for pre-order.

And remember. It actually is the best time ever to be a writer. Because the only one who can stop you. Is you.

SurvivalFinal_KindleBoardsEvery survival site will give you a list of stuff you need in this bag.  But that’s putting the cart before the horse.  The first issue is how much “bag” can you carry?  This and more in The Green Beret Survival Guide.

In Special Forces, the only time I had to remove someone from my A-Team, the reason was simple:  he could not carry the heavy weight of an operational rucksack while on a deployment.  Our rucks averaged 125-150 pounds.  And that’s just the ruck.  Add in body armor, and load bearing equipment, now known at MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment– I love the ‘light-weight’ part– a joke in the army is:  Man portable isn’t) which was bursting with ammunition, grenades, radio, and other stuff.  Just because you can lift it off the ground for a second doesn’t mean you can carry it for dozens of kilometers.  Often was the time when we needed someone’s help to pull us up off the ground once we put our arms through the straps of our rucks.

We were required by SOP to have our gear packed and ready in the team room for immediate deployment.  We tested this concept during the Gut Check by alerting teams, then supervising them as they loaded out, making sure they took their rucksacks as they were, not allowing any repacking or adding of gear or supplies.  This made everyone take the SOP very, very seriously as they had to live with that ruck for a couple of weeks while on the Gut Check, or on an operation where their lives depended on it.

Optimally, you’d want to take everything with you.  But you can’t.  Sitting in isolation, we’d cut down our rations, removing such unnecessary weight as plastic spoons.  When it came down to deciding between a ration and bullets, the decision leaned toward the latter.  So there is no one right bag.  You have to configure your G&G bag to your situation and your surrounding environment.  Prioritize depending on what you envision your survival needs to be.

As an aside, I am not a fan of the ‘survival bunker’ mentality. I know there are many people who have fortified their facilities and stocked them full of supplies. That’s great, until someone comes to take it. Yes, I know the first dozen or so will be stopped, but eventually a static position in an extreme survival situation (total collapse of society) is not tenable. It is fine for a short term survival situation where you’re better off staying in place.

In fact, for the Lazy Man’s Survival Guide there’s Rule #1: find the closest survivalist and take their stuff. I know it won’t be easy, and most will fail—

Anywho. I recommend having several G&G bags. One in your home. One in your car.  One at your place of work.  And one in your hide site.  Not only does this keep one handy, it gives you redundancy in key survival supplies in case of an extreme emergency.

Again, like almost everything else, you can buy a pre-packed G&G bag on line.  These are generic.  For a car, I think a pre-packed bag is a good idea if you’re not going to take the time to do it personally. Throughout the Green Beret Survival Guide, I give you a good idea of equipment that is useful. I prefer to pack my own as much of the gear in the packaged ones is either not particularly useful or the cheapest made in order to keep the overall price down. You get what you pay for. How much is your life worth? As we used to say in the Army: remember, your weapon was made by the lowest bidder. So was that pre-packaged survival pack.

IMG_2504At home, I’ve got two bags ready; a large and a smaller one. Each are self-sustaining for varying amounts of time. In an extreme my wife would take the small and I’d have the large. If we were going to bug out in my Jeep, we’d put both in the back, plus a waterproof container with food, ammo, and more. And, in the Jeep, of course, is a lot of survival gear which I have with me all the time when I drive it. To the right is just one of the waterproof containers in/on my Jeep. Note the nifty book about survival? Inside a zip lock bag? Emergency water filtration system? Hand crank/solar radio-flashlight?

When picking items, choose those that can have multiple uses instead of one.  I have a hand crank survival radio that also has a built in flashlight and an adapter for charging my cell phone and a solar charger.  Three items in one with two non-electric power sources. Do NOT count on either the power grid or even batteries for long term power.

Use a bag that is at least water repellent, if not waterproof.  If it isn’t waterproof, pack your items in waterproof bags (garbage bags are too flimsy).  A key lesson of surviving in nature is to keep things waterproofed. I tend to redundant waterproof key items, especially clothing and sleeping gear. And dry socks. Did I say dry socks?

Your environment and likely emergencies are going to be the determining factors in what you put in your G&G bags. In the Green Beret Survival Guide I describe the Special Forces Area Study which you must do in preparation. This will help determine what you pack.

IMG_2688Also, remember there are items that do not go in the bag, but must be carried on your body. I keep a vest for that; there is more than just ammunition on my vest, although that is the priority; there is also key survival items such as a compass, lighters (critical), 550 cord, water purification, and more.

Here are items to consider:

1)         The bag itself.  This goes back to how much you can carry, at the very least until your first rally point (you do have a rally point for your family, right? No? Read the book.).  Also, remember, the bigger the bag, the more obvious it is.  And the more someone might want to steal it from you.  If you have no experience with backpacks, go to your local sporting good store (REI always has knowledgeable personnel working) and ask.  Do you want just a regular backpack like kids take to school?  An internal frame ruck?  External frame?  Built in hydrating system?  The choices are limitless.  What you should do is go down this list, write out what exactly you want in the bag, get the stuff, then find a bag that fits the stuff.  You might find you’re trying to carry too much stuff (did you see the movie Wild?).  Also, consider the color of the bag.  I’d go with, if not camouflage, something that is dark in color, or that matches your surrounding terrain. This is key because a lot of civilian gear is colored so you ARE seen. Tents, packs, etc. For short term survival you want to be seen. For long term? Uh, no. Because remember the Lazy Man’s Survival Guide rule #1?

2)         Water.  Either a built in water supply such as a camelbak or pockets/clips for water carriers. Most packs have external loops on which you can secure canteens and water carriers.  Remember, though, that water sloshing about and things on the outside of your bag banging about, violate noise discipline. Do the old “hop up and down” drill that was used before every patrol. Anything that makes a noise, tape it down. An integral part of any G&G bag is a way to purify water. In fact, I keep something to purify water on my vest. There are a lot of things we can live without. Water isn’t one. And as I note in the book, most water in nature isn’t safe to drink. Also, I do have to say this, in cold weather environment, water freezes in a canteen strapped on the outside of your pack.

3)         Fire.  Have lighters and matches.  I used to carry a half-dozen cheap plastic lighters on me when I deployed (I’ve upgraded to storm proof ones).  If matches, make sure they are storm-proof and carried in a waterproof container.  You need a small stove with a fuel supply for at least a few days.  Go with the stove for cooking initially instead of a fire because of smoke and light discipline.  Also, you might add in a magnesium fire starter.  Make sure you practice with it before trying it for the first time in the midst of a downpour and hurricane force winds. Indeed– practice with all of it. Spend a night with it out in the woods, or desert, or at least your back yard. Your neighbors will laugh until they come looking for you under Lazy Man’s Survival Guide rule #1.

4)         Shelter.  At least a poncho if not a tube tent.  Something to keep the water and wind off you.

5)         First aid.  You can buy complete kits.  Or pack you own.  More on this in another post (or in the book).  I’d recommend a medical mask in case of contagion. I’ve got med kits in all G&G bags, in my Jeep, in my wife’s car, in the bathroom, etc. Also bought those fast clot bandages; I have them stuffed everywhere, including one on my mountain bike. Worth it. I make a note to check expiration dates on medical gear.

6)         Food.  Enough for a week.  At least one pot/kit to cook the food in. Utensils. I have learned to check expiration dates on food after eating that yummy, surprisingly hard, Power Bar that expired three years previously. Hey, it was food. You’d be surprised what you’ll start eating when you have to.

7)         Light.  I have a rechargeable flashlight.  It’s heavy, but that is balanced against carrying batteries.  Also have smaller, LED type lights.  I also like to have a headlamp.  Often, in the dark, doing survival activities, you’ll need both hands, so this helps.  Also, consider having a red lens cover or red option for all lights so you can use them at night and not give out a large signature.  Candles are also an option and they have the added benefit of allowing you to start a fire. However, be careful with them, especially inside your home or tent or wigwam. They are useful, though, inside your snow cave to glaze the inside. Ah, good old Winter Warfare. Lying there in the snow cave, watching the candle flicker, then go out from lack of oxygen, and not really caring.

8)         Chem lights.

9)         Sleeping bag.  This is dependent on your locale.  If the weather doesn’t get too extreme, consider a bivy sack. I often just used a waterproof, Goretex bivy sack with the extra clothes I carried instead of a fart sack, aka a sleeping bag.

10)      Clothing.  Socks.  Socks.  And some socks.  Beyond that, it depends on your environment. I love 5-11 Tactical Pants. More on that in the clothing section of the book.

11)      Tools:

a)     At the very least a Leatherman type tool.  I carry one with me all the time on my belt. I have one on the side of my seat in the Jeep. I have one on my vest. I have one in all my G&G bags. I like the common one, but I also have the vice grip type in my Jeep and it’s proved quite useful. Jen sent me the hammer one and it’s also in the Jeep.

b)    A fixed blade knife.  We used to argue about knives all the time in our team room.  Which type was best, where to carry it, etc. etc. You don’t need a Rambo type knife, in fact, it’s too big and too heavy.  I like a six to eight inch blade with a serrated edge on the back side for sawing. If you’re down to slitting throats, then you ran out of ammo and were probably sitting in your survival bunker.

c)     If snow is likely, a snow shovel that backpackers or back country skiers use.

d)    A machete could be useful.  I’d go with a folding saw over a machete.  Unless you live on the edge of a place where you will have to be cutting your way through.  Or have to chop off Zombie heads. Then again, depends on zombie type. Walking Dead? Run. World War Z? Run faster that the person next to you.

e)     Tools is where you really start thinking about weight.

f)     Rope.  At the very least a roll of light, powerful cord. Parachute cord or 550 cord as we called it in the army.  This is very strong, very light and narrow cord that again, will have more uses than you can imagine.

g)     A pocket chain wire saw.  Light weight, small, but can be very useful in a variety of situations.  Such as amputating your own arm if its pinned to a canyon wall by a boulder.  Joking.  Not.

h)    A signal mirror.

i)      A signal panel, such as a VS-17.  This is why everything else is muted or camouflaged.  You keep this packed away until you actually want to signal someone.

j)      If you plan on having to travel at night, in the dark, each member of the team should have headgear with reflective strips on the back.  You can then follow your point person.  Until they suddenly drop out of sight, which means they’ve walked off a cliff.  Don’t follow them at that point.

12)      Optics.  A small pair of binoculars or a small telescope could be very valuable.  You can double up the use by having a scope on your long or assault rifle. Some say night vision goggles but now you’re crossing the line into the Apocalypse and Zombies and we’ll discuss this later.  I don’t see NVGs being in your G&G bag unless you live in Nome, Alaska where it’s dark 24 hours a day and vampires can come and have a buffet as they did in 30 Days of Night.  Then get a set so you can at least see the vampire that kills you.

13)      Fishing.  Line, hooks, sinkers and some lures.  Do you even know how to fish? The Donner Party starved to death and ate each other next to a lake with trout in it.

14)      Snare wire.  Indispensable.  You’ll be amazed how many different uses you’ll find for this beyond setting snares.  Traps are a much more efficient and secure way to catch game over hunting.  Hunting also leaves a noise signature that might attract unwanted guests.

15)      Sewing kit.  If you know how to sew. You know, sewing up that wound like Rambo.

16)      Ziplock bags.  Light, don’t take up much space, but can be invaluable.

17)      At least one roll of electrical tape.  Lighter than duct tape.

18)      Gloves. For weather but also a light set for working.  Something that gives you a good grip while also protecting your skin.  When I was in the field, I wore gloves pretty much all the time.  They allowed me to handle my weapon but also protected my hands from all sorts of nasties, including Zombie mucus and blood.

19)      Cash.  ATMs won’t work if the power is out.  As you see in Panic in the Year Zero, the head of the family has to quickly buy supplies when he realizes there’s been a nuclear strike (he WASN’T ready with a G&G bag in his car or his trailer!).  How much is up to you. How much is your life worth? Long term survival, money will be worth little pretty quick. Then your G&G bag contents are priceless.

20)      Gold or other precious metals for barter.  This will be the initial barter material until it gets real bad when food, first aid and weapons will take priority. Gold will get worthless pretty quickly. So will cash.

21)      Toilet paper.  A comfort item.  But if you’ve ever wiped your rear with poison ivy—enough said.

22)      A map of the area.  A physical, geographic map.  You can order these.  I’d go with 1:25,000 scale at least. Can you read a topo map?

23)      Pen/pencil and paper. So you can record your last thoughts before the Zombies get you– like, I wish I’d packed my G&G bag better.

24)      Insect repellent if applicable.

25)      Survival radio.  A hand crank powered one is preferred.  Make sure it tunes into the emergency frequencies.  This might be your only way to find out what is going on.

26)      Identification.  Driver’s license, passport.

27)      Weapons.  Will be discussed elsewhere.

Lay out everything you want to put in your various G&G bags.  Will it all fit?  If not, prioritize what doesn’t go.

When you pack the bag, pack it backwards:  what is least important goes in first.  What you might need right away is last in, or in outside pockets. I like to have the med kit and ammo readily available.

Can you carry it?  Put it on.  Go for a walk.  A long walk.  In your survival boots.

Get the various bags in place: home, car, work, hide site.  In the latter three places actually HIDE them.  So even if someone stumbles across your hide site, they won’t find the G&G bag.  I lightly cover caching in the book, which is actually quite an art form that we spent a long time on in Special Forces.

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Watch out for that–!

Yeah. Good old George, my fellow West Point alumni, last in the class of 1861 (there were only 34 graduates that year, but still).

What is our fascination with Last Stands?

LittleBigHorn LittleBigHornThe thing is, it should have never gotten to that. FREE today, is my short non-fiction title, Little Big Horn: Leadership Failure. It examines Custer from his time at West Point until his demise on Lakota Victory Day at the Battle of the Greasy Grass River (history belongs to the winners, at least for the battle.)

By the way, the image we used for the cover is all wrong. They left their sabers behind. And I have a theory, from walking the terrain and studying many books, reports, etc about the battle, that Custer was wounded when he tried leading his column across the river toward the encampment. And, because he had several family members in his command, things fell apart fast. Also remember, that while the Native Americans had rifles, they also had bows and arrows, and in that terrain (you really have to go there to understand; it was the first trip my wife and I ever took together and that tells you a lot about the two of us!) indirect fire was much more effective than direct fire from rifles. Plus, the rifles the 7th Cav had were, well, made by the lowest bidder, as we always groused about in the Army.

Custer followed an interesting path to disaster, with both successes and failures along the way. Studying his path, we can see warning signs for leaders in all occupations. Where various character traits, some of which we want in leaders, have the potential for disaster. The book examines the six Cascade Events leading to the seventh event, the Disaster.

After this period of free, we’re removing this short, because we’ve wrapped seven of each in Shit Doesn’t Happen: The Gift of Failure I. Custer goes in Book One along with Titanic, Kegworth, New London Schoolhouse, the Tulip bubble, Apollo 13, and my favorite: The Donner Party. That’s Donner Party, not Dinner Party. Okay, that was bad.

By studying these catastrophes and the six Cascade Events, we find that of the six precursors, one, if not more, are human error. Thus most catastrophes can be avoided.

IMG_0976Perhaps I’m paranoid (although black helicopters do hover over my house and Cool Gus sometimes looks at me with more than just dog cunning, there’s something else there, in the depths of his eyes, something that could be malevolent, could be– well, during the brief moments when his eyes are open, that is).

Anywho. Custer. Interesting dude. Dead dude.

BTW, my first assignment in the Army was in the First Cav Division where they still have the 7th Cav. I always liked when someone in the Cav would proclaim: “If you aint Cav, you aint Shit!” And I’d think: Well, yeah.

1st internet messageIn days of old, when men were men and the sheep ran scared, and the Internet was only something academics used (first Internet message sent on 29 Oct 1969, read all about it Black Tuesday), writers had to actually leave home to do research. Often go to a place called the library. Spend hours wandering the stacks. Quite a few of my book ideas came out of those stacks. Do you remember the Dewey Decimal System?  I still know the numbers I’d gravitate to.

dewey-662x1024We’d check out loads of books. Earning the wrath of the librarian by continuously checking out the same books, because it takes longer than the checkout period for a borrowed book to actually write a book. Ah. Those were the days. When we ate rocks for breakfast, broke ice to take baths, hunted Woolly Mammoths with our spears.

Then there was this thing where you could hook you computer (no hard drive, just floppies) to a phone line. The computer would dial a number. You’d often get kicked off. But every once in a while, you’d get that static sound and you were connected. To what? Not much. And you needed two phone landlines or else you got yelled at. And you paid hourly.

But we traded our breakfast rocks for gravel and the Internet grew wider. I anticipate Skynet soon, so I am preparing. Seriously. Back to eating rocks for breakfast. Avoid the ones with mushrooms.

Wikipedia came along. The scourge of thinking and researching.

Just “google” it.

My wife and I have a policy. We don’t google. I see people having dinner conversations and they’re googling what the other people are talking about. Uh, well. No. I’m lucky, my wife has an unbelievable wealth of utterly useless information in her head (don’t get her started on the mob), which suddenly becomes useful when needed.

While you can find a lot of details on the Internet (like how long does it take a bunch of piranha to eat a cow, for example, and yes, I looked that up; I mean I googled it) I still like using books and original documents. A search on the Internet only finds you what you’re looking for. A narrow answer.

Actually, let’s back up. Googling something means you already know enough to ask the right question. BTW, we learned that phrasing inquiries as questions yields better results than simply keyword searches, which seems intuitive, but isn’t.

As a writer, I’m more interested in what I’m not looking for. The answer to the question I don’t even know to ask. This requires reading books, long articles, watching movies, TV shows, etc. My hobby is story; fortunately my work is story. And my wife shares that passion. And she has a better memory than me. Which means I lose every argument we have. But I’m a guy, we’re supposed to lose every argument we have with our spouse. That’s called marriage. In Don’t Look Down, which Jenny Crusie and I co-wrote, my character, Wilder apologizes to her character, Lucy. I never understood why. Still don’t. I just knew her character was made at my character and he did what guys do. Say I’m sorry. I’m sure he was wrong about something.

IMG_2811Anywho. Books. I still like paper books even though most of my livelihood is via eBook. Especially for nonfiction. I’ve got this huge tome, The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II on my desk as research for my WIP, Time Patrol: Ides of March. since Nicholas II abdicated on the 15 of March 1917. And I read that book for just one of six subplots in the novel. As you can see there are some stick-ems in place.

IMG_2658Strangely, I’ve found information in there that differs somewhat from Wikipedia. And, naturally, I’ve found a lot in there that isn’t on Wikipedia and I would have never known to ask about, because I didn’t know it. There is some logic in all this musing, but it’s early Sunday morning, the dogs haven’t eaten yet, and the pack is giving me that look.

Time Patrol: Ides of March

15 March 2016

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