Monday, February 24, 2020

Ever closer to the cliff
   I have a good friend who believes climate change is a clever insidious hoax for vague and shadowy conspiratorial motives, and he arms himself with various arguments in support of that belief. No amount of logic or evidence can convince him otherwise.

   This much is undeniably true: A hundred thousand daily global flights stitch contrails across the atmosphere, burning so much jet fuel it runs through pipelines to major airports like Atlanta and Raleigh in the southeast where I live. That’s a million flights every ten days. Two million plus coal-fired power plants everywhere belch their waste gasses, double the number that existed in 2000. There are now one point two billion internal combustion vehicles adding their exhausts to the noxious mix. That’s one point two thousand million vehicles. Electric vehicles are only making an insignificant scratch on that vast problem and even they depend on those coal-fired plants for recharging. Fifty thousand huge ships ply the global seas daily with their copious diesel exhausts. There are thirty-five hundred oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico alone, each constantly flaring off unrefined natural gas. Thousands of other wells and refineries worldwide add their pollutants. Seven point eight billion people are inhaling oxygen and exhaling CO2 constantly while slash and burn agriculture eats into the planet’s lungs. These are not conjectures, not conspiracy theories, not political rhetoric in support of this agenda or that, not skewed statistics, but are hard, unarguable facts, absolutely unprecedented in all human history. Add to this such events as gaseous volcanic eruptions and voluminous smoke from raging wildfires.

   Dozens of harmful happenings, many of them obviously mankind-caused, are combining to create a dire threat to human life, yet there are many who choose to think our fragile atmosphere can just go on absorbing this vast punishment with no consequences and that our dwindling finite natural resources will somehow never run out.

   We’ve been witnessing those consequences looming ever larger over the past several decades and they’re becoming too numerous and threatening to deny or ignore any longer. Are we crowding ever closer to the lip of a high cliff we won’t be able to back away from? If so, our children and their children will suffer for it.

   Cities like Beijing and New Delhi and Los Angeles are choking on their own smog while oceans choke on plastic wastes emitting more pollutants as they slowly degrade over years and generations. Ugly durable trash litters our roadsides everywhere. Recycling is only making a faint scratch on the surface of the throwaway habit. (My county has considered dropping recycling altogether because it’s so costly and inefficient.) Summers are scorching, and there are widespread persistent extreme droughts and more numerous monster killer storms every year.

   There are tragic global declines in wildlife. The World Wildlife Fund estimates 4,000 wild species have declined by 60 percent since 1970 for preventable reasons including climate change. The record-breaking Australian wildfires, some say exacerbated by global warming, have alone killed millions of creatures. Some are estimating half a billion to a billion.

   What will it take to fully wake us up to this unprecedented calamity, this largely self-caused threat to our very existence on our only shared home in the vastness of the Universe, and to take serious and adequate major actions to fight it?

   Look at it this way:

   If my friend is right that global warming is a mere hoax, then no harm will be done. It will simply pass into odd memory as the Y2K warnings did.

   But if the global warming alarm-sounders are correct, then we’re all facing a major threat to our very existence, and somewhere ahead there is likely a tipping point beyond which it will be too late.


p.s. One of the worst pressures on wildlife is ongoing poaching, and that’s why I wrote the novel Killing Ground. Please check it out on my website. A portion of proceeds will go toward elephant protection.

Monday, February 17, 2020

What will the future hold?  

     It’s always tempting for a writer to extrapolate some current trend to explore where it might lead us. Horror wizard Stephen King did it to chilling effect in his 2006 novel Cell, for a good example, in which a mysterious pulse signal over the global cell phone network turns people into murderous monsters, a deft and often wry extrapolation built on our current global addiction to the devices—an addiction that is killing Americans at the rate of four or five thousand a year when we insist on using our ubiquitous phones while driving, even though we ought to know better. The story became a video on demand movie in 2016 starring John Cusak and Samuel L. Jackson.

     Plastics have been a boon in many ways, but they’re beginning to choke our oceans and harm sea life and bits of them have even lodged in most of our bodies. Plastics can be thoughtlessly discarded but they won’t go away. As our landfills bloat and our environment blooms with ugly and dangerous durable litter, what dark fate awaits our throw-away society? Recycling is only making an insignificant dent in the problem.

     Nations spend billions on armies and arms that could be far better spent eliminating plagues like cancer and heart disease and poverty and ignorance. Will our warrior instincts eventually turn to devour us in yet another global conflict that is far more devastating than ever?

     Will ignoring the human-caused warming of our only home in the vast universe and failing to take sufficient steps to halt and reverse it before it reaches an irreversible tipping point doom us to premature extinction?

     Will exploding world population outpace our ability to feed and care for and sufficiently educate the exponentially millions more humans being born every year on this finite planet with its dwindling resources, or will we finally take aggressive and effective measures that begin to control it? The city of Tokyo already has thirty-seven million inhabitants crammed together (including the entire metro area). Shanghai 25 million. Mexico City 21 million. Beijing 20 million. New York City with its 8.6 million is only 36th on the list of the planet’s most populous cities. India has one and a third billion people and that figure is rising at an alarming rate. Birth control in impoverished Africa is a rarity. China has another billion and a half people and in some of their cities they’re choking on their own smog, but they’ve at least managed to slow down the growth rate somewhat.

     Any of these subjects are worthy of imaginative treatment by futuristic writers.


Monday, February 10, 2020

Where did the great authors of the past write?

   My mother was a 1940s reporter for a western Massachusetts newspaper when newsrooms were raucous and chaotic, filled with the machine gun clatter of hulking upright mechanical typewriters, punctuated by shouts of editors and cries of writers for copy boys, and the background thunder of the massive press nearby. Always pressured by deadlines, and with only dial phones, cultivated contacts, libraries, and the newspaper’s own morgue for research resources, they somehow managed to put out a packed edition every day and sometimes even extra editions if breaking news demanded.

   Years after quitting that job Mom wrote articles and short stories for magazines at a small desk set up in a corner of my parents’ bedroom. She could bang out over a hundred words a minute, composing on her heavy upright Smith monster, and I remember hearing her rip pages out of the carriage and crumple them to start over or to rewrite a page. Only when she was surrounded by those crumpled sheets and random notes and opened books and magazines spread on the floor—a mini-chaos resembling her old reporting days—did she seem able to begin composing solid copy. I know she always longed for a better place to write, but it wasn’t to be.

   Not that long ago, a writer's only tool was a quill pen, and paper was scarce and costly. Can you imagine? And just a generation or so ago there were only typewriters with carbon paper and mimeographs for copies. No Internet. No computers. Again, can you imagine how much more work writing demanded then?

   But one thing has not changed all that much. Each writer has always had their own favored surroundings in which to work. It’s interesting to know where some of the most successful authors of decades past composed their enduring works. Their special writing spaces.

   Some, like my mother, apparently craved chaos. Ray Bradbury wrote amid an incredible profusion of art, photos, books, strewn stacks of papers. His space resembled a college dorm room. William F. Buckley’s space was even worse, like the home of a hoarder. Einstein’s office was also cluttered. One thing I liked about his space, though, was a large chalkboard on the wall behind him, which still seems like a great organizational idea for any writer; I’d have one if space permitted. Winston Churchill’s office was busy but ordered, as you might expect.

   Many wrote in their libraries, of course, often at roll top desks. Andrew Carnegie’s library was surprisingly modest but comfortable, with wood-paneled walls and a small fireplace. Frederick Douglas’s was large, ornate, high-ceilinged, with many loaded shelves and baroque furniture.

   Some preferred Spartan spaces. Ernest Hemingway’s room was full of light with a plain uncluttered table, a tiled floor, and a few simple bookshelves—as spare as his prose. Virginia Woolf’s was also austere, with a plain table and straight chair and unadorned walls. Frail Anne Frank needed only a tiny desk and wrote longhand in journals, a pencil held between her right index and middle finger, with her thumb affording a strong three-point grip, which is quite comfortable really. Raymond Carver also liked plain surroundings. Jackie Kennedy worked in simple elegant surroundings, often at a modest antique desk with a vase of flowers on it.

   E. B. White worked with a mechanical portable typewriter in an utterly barren rustic space, sitting on a hard pew-like bench at a table by a large swing-in window overlooking a body of water. Anne Morrow Lindbergh also had a plain rustic cabin with a simple desk near swing-out windows. George Bernard Shaw took this preference to an extreme with a detached rustic windowed shed only about ten feet square.

   Some spaces were strange. Roald Dahl worked in an overstuffed wing chair with a laptop desk, writing longhand in a journal. Dalton Trombo liked to sit naked in a warm bathtub with a side table nearby, writing longhand in a journal on a swing-in desktop. J. D. Salinger was known to write naked in nature, seated on an upended suitcase and typing on a mechanical portable on the tailgate of his station wagon, a pipe wreathing his head in aromatic smoke.

   A majority liked to write near windows or swing-out patio doors, both for a view and the light, and that’s the environment I’ve chosen. I sit at my computer beneath a skylight by sliding glass doors that lead out into my multi-windowed sunroom, with a wide view beyond of cypress and tupelo and pecan trees and the broad Neuse River. It’s always changing with the seasons and the time of day and the weather. I often use an angled music stand beside me to temporarily hold reference materials, notes, or a printed and marked-up novel draft I’m polishing.

   I can’t imagine writing anywhere else.


(Source: “100 Famous Authors and Their writing Spaces,” by Jared A. Brock.)

There's a description and easy buy button for the new stand-alone novel Killing Ground at 
A portion of proceeds will go toward protecting Africa's remaining elephants.

Monday, February 3, 2020

The state of reading today

    I’m continually surprised and dismayed by the number of people who do not read anything other than their personal text messages and a few shallow news snippets on their electronic devices. I’m afraid the percentage of non-readers is increasing. Many of our young people do not read and have no idea what they’re missing. I was recently watching a YouTube talk given by Stephen King and John Grisham who both said sales numbers have been declining, and Grisham said it’s frustrating to be a writer in a nation wherein so many aren’t reading.

    I think it’s curious, though, that many people who refuse to crack a novel or even a short story will go to a fictional movie in a heartbeat and take great enjoyment in it. Ironically, many of these movies were born as novels, nonfiction books, or short stories.

    As writers, what can we do to help reverse the readership decline?

    In my county we have a Literacy Council. Working on donations, they offer free confidential tutoring services to students and adults, and train new volunteer tutors through workshops. They’ve been improving lives one person at a time since 1986. If you have such an organization in your area, consider making an annual contribution.

    We can offer to speak to local school classes about the benefits and joys of reading and writing, and we can encourage our kids and grandkids to read. Years ago, I taught creative writing at a community college and it was fun. I keep in touch with some of the students, and one went on to become a paid writer and tabloid publisher.

    We can support our local libraries. We can read to groups of kids there—as my mother did in our tiny stone village library decades ago—revealing to them the wonders of their own imaginations.
    And we can carry on writing engaging fiction and nonfiction that those readers we do have, bless them, will continue to crave and share.