December will be my 42nd month self-publishing.

The world’s changed a lot since summer, 2011. Gone are the euphoric days where bright new names were selling millions of .99 books, seemingly with ease. Gone too are the heady times where you could run a free Select promo and sell 10K novels at $4 a pop in the afterglow. It was an incredible period, and I feel fortunate I got to participate on the second half of it.

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My buddy D.D. VanDyke has released his new mystery novel, Loose Ends, and is running a giveaway everyone should sign up for. Just do it unless you want that Ebola that’s going around. And if you act now, you can get it for only .99!

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That golden era lasted about two years. Kindles were the new shiny plaything and everyone wanted one. And they needed content. Enter indie authors, who could sell a novel for less than a fast food meal.

Fast forward to today. 2014 marked a big change in many authors’ fortunes. The marketing gimmick of running Select free days on Amazon and seeing a big spike in sales afterward are over. Likewise, the effectiveness of putting your first book perma-free has diminished – either because of Amazon monkeying with their algos (free books don’t show up in also boughts any more, as one example of how visibility has been reduced) or due to a glut of free content.

Since summer, selling indie books has gotten even tougher. Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited, which enables customers to pay $10 a month and borrow as many books as they like – with the caveat that only some titles are in the program, which pays $1.33 for a borrow instead of the royalty an author would normally see (except for Amazon imprints and trad pubs, which see their full royalty on a borrow); a windfall for those writing 10K short stories or serials, but not so great for those with novels, hence limited participation. I have some of my stuff in the program, and those are doing okay, for the ones selected for Amazon promos. The others can’t get arrested. So for me, net neutral, as over 20 of my novels aren’t participating.

But the effect it’s had on a lot of indie authors’s sales has been devastating, because apparently many of those who might have bought a book are now no longer buyers, they’re borrowers. I’m hearing stories of 60, 70, 80% drops in sales from authors who are recognized names and who shift tonnage of books. Some genres have been hit harder than others, which makes sense – for instance, NA and romance, which are well known for having voracious readerships, have seen the biggest drops in sales. My action thriller genre, not nearly as bad, however it’s still down.

So what’s an author to do? My strategy is to continue writing books I’d want to read, and hope that my readership grows over time, and feels that my stories and prose are a fair value at their $5 or so price point. I’ve had an amazing three and a half year trajectory, culminating with the release of my co-authored novel with Clive Cussler, The Eye of Heaven, in September. I can’t bitch. I mean, I can and do, but I really have no grounds for it.

My thinking is that this is a business of peaks and valleys, as is all retail, and while the valleys suck, they’re necessary if you’re going to have peaks at all. My philosophy is that if you can have higher lows and higher highs, that’s awesome. If not, change it up, look hard at what you’re doing, and ask yourself what you can do better – then do it. Aside from that, I know of no magic bullet, but after three and a half years of writing for a living, I can think of worse ways to spend my time, and I’m always extremely grateful to my readership, because there are any number of great books out there, and I’m fortunate they’re reading mine.

Now go buy my crap so I can continue punishing my liver. Because it’s evil and deserves it. Trust me. I would know. Bad dirty organs. Bad bad bad.

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Why would I say such a thing? Why, you ask?

Because everywhere I look, there’s blatant evidence that there’s no rule of law anywhere, and that the bad guys do whatever they like, with total impunity, telling the world to suck it.

The latest example: A year or so ago, Germany told the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (a privately owned bank, mind you) that it wanted to repatriate 300 tons of the 1700 tons of gold it had stored in its vaults (back during the cold war, when Russia looked like it might invade Germany at any moment, it seemed prudent to keep it in NY).

The Federal Reserve responded that it would take seven years to return that fraction of Germany’s gold, but not to worry, because it, like, had it. It just didn’t HAVE it, have it, to where it could actually return it, or show it to them to prove it. You know. Because of stuff, and, well, things.

Fast forward. A year later, instead of delivering what it was supposed to (three hundred divided by seven), it managed to scrape up 5 and deliver that. None of which was actually Germany’s gold, which is stamped with their proprietary logo, serialized, etc. It was different gold. The excuse for why it wasn’t actually the German gold was ludicrous, as have been all the Fed’s excuses, so I won’t even bother repeating it here (something about the original pure gold German bars being “obsolete” – I shit you not – which ignores that gold is gold is gold). The point is that the bank that is holding something like 1700+ tons of Germany’s wealth couldn’t even return a fraction of that.

Fast forward to this summer, when after failing to get any gold in 2014, the politicians in Germany announced that they had decided to keep their gold in NY, because it was a good idea.

The easy translation is that they can’t get any of the gold back, because it’s all been stolen by the private bank, leased out or outright sold to banks like GS and JP Morgan so they can manipulate the gold market down, making the dollar appear stronger in relationship to gold (all markets theoretically, if they function correctly – read are honest – are based on supply and demand. Increase supply by selling 1700 tons of someone else’s gold you don’t own, and you can distort the supply curve pretty drastically. Of course that’s theft, but hey, details, right?), likely at the request of the U.S. government, which wants to continue running the printing presses around the clock, massively inflating the amount of U.S. currency, but having the dollar appear to be retaining its value compared to gold and silver, which have traditionally been money until the U.S. declared them to be obsolete (right after they got caught lying in 1971, and couldn’t give France the gold it owed that country when France wanted to exchange its dollars for gold, as was its right) and abruptly stopped backing the dollar with gold.

So, basically, a group of private bankers has stolen the German peoples’ gold, and the politicians the Germans elected have been bought off or threatened by the U.S., and have declared that they trust the NY Fed, ending the matter. As if by declaration the German politicians can make it all O.K.

In the old days this was called fraud and theft. Now, it’s never that, but always something else. I was going to write a fiction novel surrounding this, but the circumstances are so weird, so implausible, nobody would believe it: Germany was refused the ability to audit their gold and verify it was actually in the vaults the Fed claimed it was stored. “We have it. But you can’t see it.” “Why?” “Because of stuff.” “Oh.”

I couldn’t make this up.

Obviously, the Germans have decided that short of going to war, they’re never going to get their peoples’ wealth returned, so better to not rock the boat and tell anyone asking that the matter is ended and they’re satisfied, and hope there isn’t a revolution where they’re burned at the stake.

The disheartening part is that this sort of rampant criminality by the NY bankers reappears throughout history (the European bankers as well – they own the Fed, as well as Bank of England, every central bank in the world, including the central bank of the central banks – the Bank of International Settlements in Switzerland), and nothing happens. They confiscate the wealth of entire nations via outright theft, and because they control the money and therefore who gets elected, they have complete impunity for their behavior.

That’s the real world. And it’s a cheat. Hence my title: The World Is A Cheat.

Now go buy my crap. BLACK is on sale for $1.99. Unlike Germany’s gold, if you hand Amazon $1.99, you’ll actually get delivery of the book. At least we’ve all got that going for us…

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Just a quick note to alert everyone that my four BLACK novels are all featured Kindle deals, specially priced for a limited time for only…$1.99 a pop!

I know. Crazy talk.

But it’s true.

So come on, cheapskates. Now’s your big chance. Read all four for less than eight bucks. That’s fractions of pennies per word. And I put in a lot of them. Some long. So more value.

 

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For now, anyway. The whole thing’s exhausting. There is an endless stream of articles in the mainstream media that misstate, twist, obfuscate, and flat out lie about many key aspects of the disease, and keeping up with them is a full time job I don’t have the time for.

In order to clarify the elements that are oft ignored in these articles, as well as by those vocal pundits whose total knowledge of the disease appears to be a cursory read of Wiki, here are some points to chew on that are factual, and which virtually all mainstream media articles simply ignore.

Which should have you legitimately asking, what field of science ignores data that shows its core hypothesis to be wrong? The answer is, none. Because at that point it’s not science. Science immediately modifies the hypothesis to include the new data and be consistent with it, or rejects the hypothesis as incorrect.

Ideologies, on the other hand, routinely ignore niggling facts that show them to be flawed. They make loud pronouncements, argue from authority, point to august groups who repeat the same ideology as though by sheer numbers of supporters they can convert the outcome of 2+2=4 to be whatever they wish.

So point #1 you won’t see on Yahoo news or any of the other mainstream outlets:

1) 13% of all Ebola cases will be asymptomatic, as in won’t ever present with a fever, even when contagious. Those carriers will not be caught by temperature screening. They are also likely to, as the NY doctor who romped around for two days after feeling fatigued and out of sorts, dismiss their other symptoms as something benign. But their viral load will be sufficient to spread the disease. The mainstream articles dislike this statistic because if they acknowledge it, most of the ideological posturing they are trying to prop up would fail on its face. If they admitted that 13 out of every 100 people who contract Ebola won’t be easily diagnosed by presenting with a fever, they would be forced to conclude that allowing those folks into the country and rejecting quarantines is tantamount to inviting the spread of a virulent, deadly plague. And that’s not on the agenda.

2) 5% of Ebola cases will present with the disease after the 21 day period being tossed around as if it was gospel. 5% will present from days 22-41. Again, you won’t read about that, because the mainstream media doesn’t want you to understand that even after being “cleared” of disease at 21 days, there’s that niggling 5% who aren’t clear at all. Because that makes it seem like a particularly bad idea to allow those who have been in Ebola hot zones into your borders, even with a 21 day monitoring period.

3) Although unlikely, Ebola can be spread by aerosolized droplets. Which is why BSL-4 handling procedures require a closed loop ventilation system and a closed, positive pressure breathing apparatus for those coming in contact with a BSL-4 pathogen. You won’t see that in the mainstream most of the time because understanding that, it would appear that the official position of allowing health care workers to not be quarantined after being in contact with Ebola is a really bad idea. It also introduces the difficult topic of what to do with those who treat Ebola patients in the US – science dictates they too should be quarantined until it is certain they haven’t been infected. But that would make it costly, as well as difficult to get anyone to treat them. So it’s simply ignored. Likewise, the CDC ignores BSL-4 handling precautions in favor of protocols that are not 100% safe for handling BSL-4 pathogens, which will guarantee additional spread among health care workers who are treating Ebola patients using the CDC recommended protocols.

It seems like most of the articles I see that distort do so with two agendas in mind: First, they are anti-travel ban and anti-quarantine because that would make it difficult to get doctors and nurses to go to Ebola hot zones. Which might be true, but they are utterly unconcerned with how to ensure the returning medicos don’t spread the disease in their home countries. Second, there are articles that both prepare the public for more cases of Ebola in the near future, while assuring everyone that it’s really no big deal and science will protect them. These ignore that mortality rates run 50-70% once you have a large enough sampling of cases, not the 10-15% we’ve seen in North America, for one simple reason: Not everyone once it starts spreading is going to be young, healthy, and have a great immune system. Older folks will get it, as will children. And they’ll die like flies. So that 10-15% will quickly regress to the mean once there are more cases with a broader cross-section of humanity, and it will be a death sentence at least half the time in North America, as well.

4) The cost of treating someone with Ebola can easily run $500K to a million just for the patient. The further costs of tracking all their contacts, and monitoring them for 21 or 42 days (you by now know which I favor), and sanitizing exposed areas, runs into the millions. In some cases, the many millions. And the soft costs that are associated with justified trepidation, like wanting to avoid flying since anyone sitting next to you could be a carrier given the current immigration rules and lack of quarantines, run into the tens of millions or more for each patient. So the cost to keeping the borders open and processing expedited visas at a clip of 150+ per day for travelers from Ebola hot zones is massive for each patient.

Now I shall return to writing, as the whole mess is really becoming depressing. I see the inevitable outcome of the misguided agendas, and it’s not pretty. Some disagree with me (ironically, 80% of the US favors travel bans, so it’s a small minority that disagrees), but their disagreement doesn’t make any of my four points above less true or applicable. Their disagreement inevitably stems from ideological grounds, not scientific.

They are entitled to their opinion, even if I find it naive and misguided, and frankly, alarmingly dangerous. Too many experts have admitted that we just don’t know enough about the disease to take chances with it. Those that disagree are doing so with the mistaken assurance that we do know enough not to endanger our fellow man, or alternatively, to contain it. That’s simply unfounded.

We will no doubt see more countries taking the stance of Canada, Australia, Colombia, Venezuela, etc. etc. and banning travelers from Ebola hot zones. As the disease progresses and we are in January and February, if the WHO estimates of 1.4 million cases are even close to correct, the ideology will break down as the US becomes the #1 Ebola carrier’s preferred destination (because the taxpayer will cover the expensive medical treatment and because the survival rate is higher there) and the health system is forced to acknowledge that perhaps its proclamations of being “ready” were driven more by hubris and ideology than by fact. By then it will be too late to care that the 20% who disagreed were badly wrong, because the disease will be spreading in North America, which will endanger not only the U.S., but the less developed countries to the south, who will be ill prepared for the spread and unable to contain it. The glib, facile assurances that more have married Kim Kardashian or die of bee stings than died of Ebola in the US will lose their humor value when it becomes obvious those were quips from the beginning of the outbreak that no longer apply. There will be no smug confidence in the face of a virus with no cure that kills the majority of those it infects.

And please. I know the flu kills 250K-500K a year. I also know that it has an extremely low mortality rate and is far more contagious, so comparisons are specious. I’m not saying that the whole planet is going to expire of Ebola. I am saying that there will be a significant number of cases in the US, that the system will overload far earlier than anyone imagines possible, and that the cost of being so casual about introducing it into North America will be mind-boggling before this is over.

Time will tell whether I’m out of my mind, or eerily prescient. Either way it won’t matter. And please. As always. No wagering.

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My recent blog posts have generated a lot of controversy. On the one hand, there are those who agree that there should be a ban on issuing visas to Ebola hot zone nations, as well as mandatory quarantines for returning medical workers. On the other there’s a vocal contingent that feels that science doesn’t support that.

My position is clear. We have a deadly, virulent pathogen with 70% mortality rate, for which there’s no cure. It doesn’t present with any fever 13% of the time, so that marker, for screening, or for quarantine purposes, is meaningless as a protective measure. And 5% of those who will fall prey to Ebola do so after the 21 day incubation period is over – up to 42 days after, so the 21 day quarantine is guaranteed to fail to catch one in twenty of those who will go on to have it, infecting plenty as they go.

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing and arguing by the vocal contingent that feels that quarantines are part of the “hysteria” that folks who don’t understand the issue with their keen insight fall prey to.

That’s badly mistaken. But that’s what they believe, generally without having done much, or any, research beyond watching the news and reading an occasional Yahoo article. Of course, they also feel they shouldn’t have to know anything besides what their heart tells them. Research? That’s for crazies. Who’s got time to research?

The arguments are always politically motivated, with no basis in science. But they’re strident arguments. Usually peppered with pejoratives. “Hysteria.” “Scare-mongering.” “Panic.” “Loons.” That sort of thing.

The problem is they lack any merit.

As an example, they will argue till blue in the face that they know Ebola can’t be transmitted via a cough or a sneeze. Which is patently false, as this recent segment shows. My only addition to the doctor interviewed’s comments is that in that 13% of Ebola victims who never develop a fever, their viral loads can easily get to critical levels without the fever marker signalling they’re a public health risk, so the answer is, “Yes, it can spread that way, but it’s unlikely unless they’re one of the 13 in 100 who are asymptomatic.”

I tend to be skeptical of all claims, and use logic, science, and research, to arrive at conclusions. And I listen to acknowledged experts. For instance, a premier heart surgeon’s opinion carries significantly greater gravitas than someone who’s read two articles about the functioning of the heart on Web MD.

Enter a man, a doctor who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology in 2011. He knows a thing or two about Ebola, and about epidemiology. One could argue he knows more than most living on the planet. Certainly more than politicians or clueless media hacks. He’s about as big as it gets on the topic, and he has spoken.

Guess what? He favors strict quarantines. For the exact reasons I have been arguing.

Surprised? Why would you be? I talk to a lot of doctors. They universally think the political BS that’s driving policy decisions on Ebola are likely to result in a lot of people dying who could have avoided it, because the measures that are in place have very little value.

And the NY doctor who lied about his self-quarantine? The nurse in Maine who refuses to comply with her quarantine? They are either complete dolts willing to endanger everyone as tribute to their narcissism, or they are deliberately trying to endanger their fellow man. Those are the two possibilities. I frankly don’t know which it is, and don’t much care.

I do know that the debate about quarantines is misguided foolishness. Of course you need to quarantine anyone who could spread the plague, especially given that 13% won’t have a fever even when their viral loads are through the roof.

But don’t take it from me. Take it from the 2011 Nobel Medicine prizewinner in medicine. I think we can all agree that makes him more up on the topic than anyone reading this blog. If you still feel your opinion is superior to his, I invite you to share your Nobel prize in medicine with us so we can grasp what the good doctor missed.

Of course, the vocal denier contingent, like Holocaust deniers or those who are convinced the earth is flat, won’t be swayed by one of the world’s foremost experts in the subject telling them they’re sadly mistaken. Because they have a unique grasp of the truth.

Normally I wouldn’t care. But this is the future of the U.S., and the entire continent, we’re talking. Isn’t it about time to start listening to the adults, and not those with foolish political agendas?

We are staring a full blown epidemic full in the face, and the politicians and CDC are inviting potential carriers into the country at a rate of 150+ per day, in spite of the fact that most hospitals are not equipped to deal with a BSL-4 pathogen, ensuring it will spread when the infected show up at their local medical center. The CDC, the President, and a bunch of idiot health care providers are arguing against quarantines – which the Nobel prizewinner says is a recipe for epidemiology disaster. Guess how many arguing against quarantines are experts on epidemiology? None. They’re political creatures advancing a political, ideological agenda, not good science.

Which should scare the crap out of every thinking person. It’s akin to giving the sixteen year old the keys to the liquor cabinet and the car, and asking him to voluntarily behave while you’re out of town for the week.

It won’t end well.

For those who are convinced they “know” that Ebola can’t survive very long on something like a subway poll or an airline armrest, I’d invite you to read this summary of a 2010 study that shows that knowledge to be completely wrong, as well.

See, that’s the problem with researching things to the point you actually understand all the aspects, versus spouting off whatever uninformed opinion you developed from watching the news or reading Wikipedia. These things are knowable. Most just won’t spend the modicum of effort to be informed. Usually because it runs counter to their agenda.

Which places us all at tremendous risk.

Here is commentary from an ER physician that was published today in the Minneapolis StarTribune. It says precisely what I’ve been saying:

Statements stating that quarantine of Ebola-exposed healthcare workers is not supported by medical science are misguided.

It would be true to say that quarantine takes into account best current medical knowledge and considers the vagaries of disease presentation, difficulties with protocols,  the unpredictability of human behavior and the incredible risks involved.

Repeatedly it is stated that individuals are not infectious until they are symptomatic. Where is the large scale data supporting this? At what point is someone deemed symptomatic? There is considerable uncertainty here. Sources citing “symptomatic’ doctrine invariably cite fever – suggesting that if no fever there is no risk.

An elevated temperature is a “sign”. It is an objective manifestation of a disease process that can be seen, felt or heard by an examiner (e.g. rash, mass, heart murmur, abnormal reflex, etc)

Feeling “feverish” (hot, chills, fatigued, etc) is a symptom. Symptoms are sensations perceived by a patient (e.g. pain, nausea, weakness, muscle aches, etc). Multiple times I have seen patients for an unrelated injury (e.g.laceration) and they are incidentally found to have a temperature but do not “feel” feverish or suspect their temperature is elevated (i.e. are not symptomatic).

Additionally confounding is the fact that disease presentations are variable. Every experienced clinician has seen atypical presentations of disease – it is commonplace.

The clinical upshot of these realities is that it is difficult to identify when symptoms begin, and sometimes symptoms are not present in spite of a sign suggesting illness (e.g. fever/infection).

One could make the case that the NYC physician (fingers crossed for this caring man’s recovery) was symptomatic on Tuesday (noted he felt weak) but did not develop temperature and seek attention until Thursday. Do we really know with certainty at what point exactly he was capable of passing on the disease (a kiss, a nosebleed, severe trauma and ambulance transport to the ER, other?)

The fact is that we really don’t know as much as press releases suggest we do. The biologic and medical manifestations/consequences of disease are not as cut and dried as reports suggest. The art and science of medicine involves consideration of what is not known. Experience warns against hubris and false assuredness. Signs and symptoms are inexact.  Each person reacts differently to illness and our experience with Ebola is limited. Basing major public health decisions on individuals’ ability to make such determinations is a risk.

Given the uncertainty of signs and symptoms, the inability to determine the exact moment of infectious potential, the human element and the tragedy of infecting even one person with Ebola, I believe that it is reasonable to quarantine those with significant exposure to the disease. Quarantine is supported by sound medical judgment – it differs in that it includes a greater margin of safety than lesser recommendations. This difference in opinions also applies to flight restrictions and quarantine options for W. Africa.

The need for healthcare providers is real and tremendously important. West Africa needs the world’s utmost humanitarian, medical and economic support. Though quarantine of risk individuals may make recruitment of medical personnel more difficult, it is not a reason to reject our commitment to protecting others.

My respect for Dr. Anthony Fauci, the CDC and others who have commented and wrestle with this issue is high. Support for quarantine of exposed individuals is consistent with medical knowledge.  The differences in opinion involve what constitutes an “abundance of caution”.

 

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I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be a big buzz kill. But the unfolding Ebola story fascinates me in the way that driving by a car crash fascinates rubberneckers. I know that says nothing good about me, but hey, I yam what I yam.

In this latest from the NY Post, the CDC admits for the first time that Ebola can indeed be spread from droplets…like from a sneeze. My suspicion is that the story is changing from the CDC because it knows fairly soon it’s not going to be able to explain away the rash of new cases headed our way within the next month, and it wants to be on record for having covered all bases on warnings.

For those following along at home, we’ve gone from “the risk of Ebola coming to the U.S. is extremely low” from the CDC and the President (when they had both been advised it was 25% within 3-6 weeks at the beginning of Sept), to “Ebola is nothing to worry about, we’ll beat this” from the mainstream media (which abruptly went silent with that BS when the New Yorker printed its expose yesterday featuring statements from some of the foremost experts in the country on the disease who make it clear that it’s the farthest thing from easily beaten or nothing to worry about that you could imagine), to “It’s not that contagious,” to…”It could be spread via a sneeze or contact with sweat.”

Does anyone see the progression here? No? Just me?

Now, before we get started with the witticisms, a la “More people have married Kim Kardashian than died of Ebola in the U.S.,” which while a knee slapper and arguably a worse fate, will likely only hold true for a little while longer, stop and consider the nature of the U.S. response to a deadly BSL-4 pathogen that’s raging out of control in West Africa.

It has been purely politically-driven, and even at that flies in the face of what the majority of Americans say they want (in the latest polls, nearly 70% want a travel ban), and that most U.S. doctors deem prudent (75% favor a travel ban). In other words, continuing to issue visas to hot zone countries flies in the face of the will of the people, as well as what people with medical training recommend.

Does that seem like a smart way to handle a disease that is deadly, contagious, and for which there’s no cure?

Fatal Exchange has a countdown deal right now, and is .99 for a day or so. Get it while it’s hot. My first published novel. You could do worse. Like being sneezed on by a symptomatic doctor who’s just returned from Liberia and isn’t feeling tip top as he rides the subway or bounces next to you in the rock concert.

Just saying.

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I was sent a letter to the editor from a veterinarian which perfectly expresses my thoughts on the voluntary quarantines that are being proposed to “beat” Ebola, along with the screening at airports that uses temperature as the gating item which is the U.S.’ first line of defense against the disease.

Remember that 13% of Ebola sufferers never present with a fever.

Also recall that the 21 days is an average across a slew of cases where it’s 95% sure the subject doesn’t have the disease. Which leaves the 5% that present between day 21 and day 40. Oh. Them.

The U.S. is acting as though neither of these important data points exists. One has to ask why that is. To what good purpose?

I stated on Facebook that I view the public health question as very straightforward: A deadly, virulent plague with no cure is spreading exponentially through X, Y, and Z countries. Do you: A) Stop issuing visas to those countries so no potential carriers arrive within your borders to infect your population, or, B) Keep giving them out and do voluntary quarantines for a period understood to be inadequate in 5% of the cases, and screen passengers using a metric that doesn’t present in 13% of the cases?

How is this a difficult decision for anyone with a working brain?

Australia, as I predicted, has now taken the single most important possible step in protecting its citizenry from a modern plague: Don’t let the plague carriers in. Duh. But not the U.S.

Here’s an excellent article in the New Yorker that every person who says Ebola is no big deal and can be beaten by western medicine would be well advised to read.

Pay particular attention to where the article says that sweat is one of the fluids that is riddled with virus and highly contagious once the carrier is symptomatic. But don’t anyone worry. Because few people sweat or anything.

Anyway, now for the letter to the editor. It speaks for itself and requires no additional commentary from me:

Editor, Lewiston Morning Tribune:

If I wish to import a horse into the United States from Liberia or any African country other than Morocco , the horse needs to undergo a 60 day quarantine period at a USDA approved quarantine facility prior to mingling with the general population of horses in this country. Africa has a disease called African Horse Sickness that does not exist in the US ; this is the way we have kept it out of this country. African Horse Sickness does not cause disease in people, only horses; our government has determined that it would be devastating to the US horse industry if it were to come here.

The United States (and virtually all other countries) require a myriad of tests and often quarantine prior to bringing in a foreign animal.

I can’t legally cross state lines in the United States with a horse or cow without a health certificate signed by a USDA accredited veterinarian stating that the animal has been inspected and found free of infectious disease. In most cases blood tests are also required. In fact I can’t legally cross the Snake River and ride my horse in Idaho without a health certificate and a negative blood test for Equine Infectious Anemia.

I’m not complaining; the United States of America , the States of Idaho and Washington as well as the other 48 states take the health of our livestock very seriously, and we have a very good record at keeping foreign animal diseases out of our country. I am happy to do my part to maintain bio-security in our animal population.

If I am a resident of Liberia incubating Ebola, to enter the United States all I need to do is present a valid visa, and lie when asked if I have been exposed to Ebola. Within hours (no quarantine required) I can be walking the streets of any city in the United States .

I feel very fortunate to live in a country that values our animals so highly.

David A. Rus#########, DVM

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This guy walks into a bar.

Something happens, and then he walks out.

If there’s a character arc, he walks out different than when he walked in. The difference could be substantial, or subtle, but at the end of the vignette, he’s change in some way.

That’s the essence of all stories. The character’s transformation. The arc.

When you ask yourself, “What’s the point?” to your entire book, the answer should be the character arc. I’ll give you some examples from films that are easily recognizable. In The Matrix, Neo reluctantly discovers he is “the one,” and with that discovery, evolves into something different. That transformation into a new state of awareness is his arc. It’s the classic hero’s journey. It’s a story about a whole bunch of shit, but at its core, it’s that the world’s an illusion, and as the hero discovers that, the discovery changes him forever, and us with him. In the Karate Kid, it’s more obvious. The MC transforms into his altered, transformed self to win the bout. Same thing in Rocky. Same thing in every major film of the last twenty years. Slumdog Millionaire? MC evolves over the course of the contest to learn what’s really important in his life, and his awareness is forever changed because of it. Pick a movie or a book, that’s the underlying arc. An MC who changes over the course of the story.

This is the same character arc as in most classic fiction. The hero must endure adversity and emerges transformed, enlightened, changed. It’s a metaphor for life. We’re constantly evolving in the face of new information and uncertainty. What makes a character’s arc interesting is the way it mirrors our own experience – how it resonates with us as real when we see it. Not real as plausible, but real as in how we recognize the journey as similar to our own.

It’s the same story, regardless of genre, over and over. In a romance, the main character meets the love interest, and by the time it’s over he or she is changed, and his/her awareness is forever different than when he started. In a thriller, the MC is altered by the experience, the adventure/challenge. In a dramatic work, ditto. Books can be about a lot of things, but at their essence they’re about the change in awareness of the characters that takes place as a result of their having traveled through the story. I maintain that when they work, they work because we as readers are along for the ride, and we feel that afterglow, that satisfaction, of having had our awareness changed as well for having read the stories.

If you know your character arc, that is to say, the point of your story, you can summarize your story in one sentence. Sometimes in a few words. Invariably, the summary that works best is a summary of the character arc. I can do it with mine. It’s essential to writing a compelling blurb. If you can’t do it with your book, you don’t have a clear picture of the arc, and if you don’t, how the hell are you going to write it? You can hope the point comes to you as you go along, but that’s like setting off for New York from Los Angeles and hoping you find your way there, rather than knowing where it is and having a map.

Get the map. It’s way easier.

That’s all I have for you on character arc. Books have been written on how to create one. But I just told you the basics. The character should emerge from the experience that is the basis of the book changed in some fundamental way, and that change forever alters the way they understand reality – and ideally, brings that understanding back to ordinary reality with them, to share. The rest is how that happened. There are a million ways to tell it, which is what we all try to do every day.

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Five days ago, on October 18th, I posted a controversial blog that expressed my alarm at the way the U.S. was approaching Ebola. This was right after the contagion in Dallas was really hitting its stride. I resisted as long as I was able, because I try to avoid discussing religious or politically charged topics – they never go anywhere good.

I got a lot of comments on Facebook along the lines that a travel ban for travelers from West Africa could never work, well, you know, because the President, who lied about the likelihood of Ebola hitting American shores, said it would never work. Because, well, it just wouldn’t, you know?

Tonight, a physician who was treating Ebola patients in West Africa and who returned to the U.S. about the mid-point of the average incubation period was diagnosed with the disease in New York, after presenting with a 103 fever this morning. Two days ago he began feeling sluggish and unwell, but not so much that he didn’t go to restaurants, use the subways, go bowling (bowling?!?), take taxis, etc.

Now, let me be the first to commend him for his altruism in going to unfortunate places and devoting his time, and yes, risking his life, to treat others suffering from a modern plague with a 70% mortality rate in those countries.

Let me also be the first to condemn his idiotic behavior in putting his fellow citizens at risk by traveling around more than I do on a three day binge, after returning to New York from Africa, knowing with his medical training that he was well within the incubation period of the disease, and could not only have it, but spread it. To call it irresponsible is to be charitable.

If I wrote this in a novel I’d get terrible reviews, because nobody would believe that a doctor could willfully expose people as this one did. Three people have been immediately quarantined. How many more come down with Ebola from this exposure is anyone’s guess at this moment.

But it highlights one glaring fact. Actually, two. First is that if this is what a well-trained healthcare professional would do after returning from a plague area where an incurable disease is spreading like wildfire, what can we honestly expect from laymen? And yet the US’ approach has been to allow West African travelers to enter its borders, and relied on “screening” and “self-monitoring.” How’s that going so far? That looks like 0 for 2 to me. And now the most important city in the US (the financial system is situated there) is an Ebola hot zone. But we “shouldn’t worry” per the authorities. You know, because Science! And we’re ready for this! And if we stop consuming the terrorists, er, the virus, wins!

Um, really? We won’t know how much more spread we have from Dallas for another couple of weeks, in spite of the hyperbole from the media. And we’re just getting started on this one. Tomorrow there’s nothing preventing another one of these horror stories. And another, and another, and another. Because the administration thinks it’s a good idea to bring potential carriers of this nightmare plague into the nation’s borders. You know, because otherwise the sky will fall, or people will think we’re racist hatemongers.

The doctor in New York is a white male. I’m not being racist. Death knows no color or creed, and the risk to fellow humans is the same regardless of skin color, eye shape, hair texture, etc. I’m also not a trained medical professional. But I do know that if people are traveling from the place where everyone’s dying of the incurable disease? Might be a bad idea to say, “come on in, make sure you behave responsibly, you little dickens, and if you don’t, well, you’re still not going to be blamed for the deaths you cause and the countless millions that are spent trying to clean up after you and stop the spread before the US becomes the first world version of Mad Max.” Because to me it’s a bad idea. How about, “You can’t come in until you prove you’re not Typhoid Mary?” Is that too much of a stretch?

What will the financial cost of this be? How likely are people to be to want to get on a plane when the person who sat in the seat before them could have been another altruistic physician returning from Liberia, or flying to visit someone after feeling sluggish and tired? How many of these outbreaks do we have to see before we figure it out? Let’s take Dallas as an example. The hospital there will probably go BK. Patients are canceling their surgeries, avoiding the place. This is one of the most revered hospitals in Dallas, and it’s going to likely be a casualty of Mr. Thompson’s decision to lie on his questionnaire after being exposed to Ebola and fly to Texas. And there’s the cost of tracking hundreds, or thousands, of the exposed. The cost to people when their health insurance goes through the roof as insurers back away. The cost of treating the afflicted. The cost to the airlines, Dallas hotels, restaurants, etc. It’s a big number, and that’s from only one patient slipping in. Multiply that by however many more you think likely as travelers pour in from the hot zones. It’s not pretty.

And how about the guy who touched the good doctor’s fork and knife and napkin at the restaurant? Because he or she undoubtedly is cringing right now. How about the cab driver? You know who has the highest mortality rate in Africa, after those caring for Ebola victims? Cab drivers. Because they invariably get stuck driving the victim to the hospital. I could go on and on, but then this blog would be a novella, not a blog.

For everyone who is going to say, “but he self-monitored, so that works,” I’d say, really? The professionals who are treating this are dying like flies, so they aren’t that sure their protocols are all that great (I still don’t see how a BSL-4 pathogen, which requires a closed breathing system and pretty much a full on hazmat suit, can be safely handled with some tape on gloves, some goggles, and hope – but then again, I’m not one of the 400+ who have given their lives to discover that may not be a great idea). And nobody’s sure exactly at what point in the incubation the patient becomes aggressively contagious – the viral load in his sweat, saliva, other bodily fluids builds to critical mass and he goes full blown, but at what point is he close enough to full blown to infect? One hour before he takes his temperature and goes, holy shit? Three? Six? Twelve? Twenty? Nobody’s sure. Everyone’s making educated, and in some cases, fatally incorrect, guesses.

Politicians and administration mouthpieces who aren’t doctors are saying he posed almost no risk to those he was around on the subway, but they have no idea. Just as nobody really knows whether the new CDC protocols are adequate to keep it from spreading to healthcare workers. I mean, again, politicians and people with no medical training are saying they are, but they aren’t donning their little CDC protocol suits and going in to wipe an Ebola patient’s ass, so to them it’s another, “mistakes were made” oops if they’re wrong, or another “mysterious breach of protocols” when the nurses start dropping. Anyone see the moral hazard here? It’s pretty much the same as letting Congressmen have different insurance and financial plans than those they mandate for the population. Huge moral hazard because they aren’t at personal risk. In business, you’d say they have no skin in the game. And that’s always a bad thing.

In Africa, the average Ebola carrier infects two more. And those two infect two more. And so on. The WHO estimates have the total infection at 1.5 million or so by the end of January, the number doubling every 12 days. How is that not scary as shit for a virus that is deadlier than bubonic plague (bubonic plague is 60%, Ebola 70%, although in these early cases it’s lower in the U.S. – but it’s still extremely early in the curve to be able to know what it actually will turn out to be here, because not everyone’s going to have the same immune response, the same level of care, the same overall health when it started, and, yes, the same luck)?

Now, I know this is going to be unpopular, but I’ve even seen some articles trumpeting that the Dallas carrier’s family has been cleared, with no contagion. But you know my bet? He knew he’d been exposed, lied about it, and then when he started to present with it, told his family to avoid all contact with him, because he’d seen what it does. That’s about the only explanation I can come up with that makes sense. They avoided him, so they’re alive. Good for them. But that doesn’t mean it’s not all that contagious, because about 5K dead in Africa would beg to differ, as would every doctor on the planet, as would 400+ medical workers. Of course it’s contagious enough you should worry. It’s worse than the frigging plague.

And yet we’re being told not to give in to “hysteria.” Not to panic. Okay. I’m not panicked at all. I’m 1000 miles from the U.S. Couldn’t be calmer. Here’s a truth: It’s not panic or hysteria when you do a risk calculation that says things are doomed to get far worse at this rate. It’s being realistic. Sure, there have “only” been four cases of Ebola here so far, so it’s statistically irrelevant. But it’s also only the first few minutes of the first inning. And we’re dealing with a BSL-4 pathogen for which there’s no cure. If you don’t find that worrisome, you aren’t paying attention.

I get kind of testy when I see the mainstream media trying to spin Ebola as worse than a cold, but certainly not something Americans shouldn’t expect to walk away from, based on the stats so far from a tiny sampling. There’s simply no basis for that conviction. If there are 1000 cases here, and the death toll is “only” 200, well, then we can extrapolate and say it’s “only” a 20% mortality rate in a first world country. But with eight and God knows how many more to come (the US is processing 150 expedited visas a day from West Africa, so you can expect more – a lot more), we’ll all get to find out.

The other part of this I’m offended by is that the U.S. is putting the entire continent at risk, because if and when this spreads into clusters of outbreaks, if and when it spreads to Mexico and points south, they don’t have hundreds of millions to throw at cleaning up for the administration’s decision to keep the U.S. as destination number one for Ebola-exposed carriers. So you can expect the mortality rates in those countries to be more in line with good ol 70%. And for the spread to be much more severe.

I know the flu kills 250K to 500K a year. But how many billions are exposed to it a year and contract it? Or put simply, how many Americans have to die before the U.S. figures out it might not be a good decision to refuse a travel ban? My fear is that it will soon be a moot point, because it can all turn sideways on us pretty quickly.

I’ll make some predictions. If this doesn’t get handled competently over the next few weeks the market will be a smoking crater, there will be new horror stories on a daily basis, and the U.S. will be a pariah to all its neighbors. The dollar will suffer and the government will have a difficult time borrowing to fund the debt-based lifestyle it enjoys but can’t afford, industries like tourism, airlines, restaurants, health care will go into the toilet, and the financial impact of this decision to keep the borders open will be one of the most costly in American history.

For once I’m so upset I don’t even care if you buy my crap or not. I mean, I’d hope you would to show solidarity, but if you don’t I’ll understand.

And please, save the “Ebola has only hit a few people, it’s not a big deal” comments. Just because you can’t do exponential math or predict accurately past the end of your nose, kindly don’t parade that defect with pride. I can count. I know at the start of all epidemics in history it’s been only a few cases. I get it. But let’s all agree you know about as much about how many cases there will be in the U.S. within sixty days as you know what the price of Amazon will be in sixty days, which is to say, not at all, so any argument from that position is simply your unfounded opinion. It’s okay to have those, as I’ve just expressed mine, but if you think I’m in error, go write your own blog about why I’m way off base. I can write it for you. “Don’t panic. The Titanic’s engineers assure us that it’s unsinkable. The engineers of the mortgage backed securities markets assure us that the real estate market can never crash so badly as to take the whole world right to the brink. And right now a whole bunch of non-scientist, non-doctor politicians and their mouthpieces are saying you don’t have to worry about Ebola.”

See, the problem is that’s like saying, “the odds of dying of Ebola in the U.S. are less than you being attacked by a tiger, walking out your front door!” Which I get. I also get that if  you have hundreds, or thousands, of people flying into the country with tigers every week, that glib assurance goes out the window pretty fast.

To me that always sounds like, “Don’t worry, I’ve driven for years without a safety belt – you don’t need em!”

Until you do, Sweetie, until you do.

But by then it’s always too late.

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The key to writing good dialogue is putting yourself into the character’s shoes and becoming them when they’re talking. The secret to writing better dialogue is to be a ruthless editor who uses common sense rather than some set of arbitrary rules developed for academic or journalistic writing.

As an example, people often repeat the same word when they’re talking. Listen to any conversation. They also say things like um, and uh, and you know, and kind of, and like, all the rest of the “sloppy” catalog of things you’re advised to excise from your writing. The problem is that if you follow that counsel you’ll wind up with dialogue that sounds nothing like the way people talk. So you need to own your characters and pay attention to how people actually speak in the real world, which is easier than it sounds.

Stephen King is a master of dialogue, in that his characters immediately sound genuine when we meet them. They’re fully formed and consistent. There’s no pretension. They sound like people do. That should be your benchmark.

When you’re done with a dialogue-heavy scene, read it aloud. Act it out. Be the characters. How do they sound? Like some bad version of a Mamet play, or like real people? If they sound anything but genuine and natural get out your red pen, because your job ain’t over. You gave birth to these people. You’re responsible for them being believable.

And of course, when you write dialogue, you should apply the same question you do with everything else: What’s the point? If you know the reason you have dialogue in a scene, whether to move the plot along or to offer the reader insights into some aspect of the characters’ inner workings via that verbal window, understand the objective before you write the dialogue. It’ll go way better for you and the reader if you do.

There are countless books available on how to write decent dialogue. I’d advise you to read some of them, but if you don’t, I just basically told you what’s in them.

The only other thing I’ll add is that less is more in dialogue. If you can communicate things non-verbally, such as state of mind or attitude, do so. If a guy walks onto a crowded bus and seems like he’s about ready to explode with rage, how would we know it in real life? There would be nonverbal tells. Clues. We’d see things. Maybe his coloring. Maybe the way he looks at people. Maybe his expression. Maybe he sighs, barely controlling his anger. Maybe he’s breathing differently, or grinding his teeth, or his eyes are narrowed, his nostrils flaring, jaw muscle pulsing, lips thinning, whatever. There are dozens of ways to convey his state of mind so that when he does say something, we instantly know this man’s pissed, and his words are only a small part of the powder keg that is his temperament at the moment.

Dialogue is as much about what’s said as what isn’t. If you view every bit of it as an important opportunity to inform the reader of important clues about the characters, you’ll wind up with far more interesting scenes. And if you pare the dialogue down to what’s essential to getting the point across, you’ll be ahead of the game.

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