Going Postal in the News

Audible

Postmarked for Death now at Audible. A postal clerk in Tucson targets government offices and mail processing equipment supporting food stamps and Mexican immigrants near the border fence/wall. He is hunted by a rookie postal inspector while police search for the wrong man. (Calvin continues to work and mail letter bombs, with a patsy/fellow postal worker framed and tied up in an abandoned Titan missile base in the desert just north of Nogales.) A psychological suspense told from two viewpoints, with a look into the mind of the bomber (who realizes that shooters are committing suicide!) Based on actual postal shootings, like the one in Edmond Oklahoma that killed 14, and the Unabomber. New to audio, read by Len Cassamas. “A class performance, powerful and accomplished. Mystery at its best.” –Clive Cussler  

USA Today

Ready Player One

Ready Player One is a visually intensive “blast.” Stephen Spielberg pulled off many amazing stunts and scenes, utilizing the latest special effects technology. The look of the film, which seems to have an unlimited budget, is designed to capture gamers and video game lovers attention. Lots of virtual reality weapons, car and truck racing, explosions, and many movies playing a part like a Disney theme park come to life. (The Shining was particularly effective and fun.) My favorite scene was when Chucky and a emoji attack players. Their real world is broken, and depressing. Slum trailer parks and mansions, little in between. Based on the novel by Ernest Cline (narrated on audio by Wil Wheaton of Star Trek fame), it features a USPS van driven at the climax by the heroes, who are being attacked by corporate killers. The message of the film is that “VR is not reality, only reality is real.” So in a way it takes the path of Avatar, drama and romance and war, ending with food for thought. The switch from first person shooters to adventure games with puzzles may get some fans to switch from thinking “Reality is Broken” as an escape to thinking “Reality can be fixed. Let’s do it.” 

Lottery Island or Jackpot Island?

Union Island

You decide the title: Lottery Island or Jackpot Island? Titles of books cannot be copyrighted, but the word “Powerball” is a registered trademark, and should not be used in the title (or so I’m told by Powerball legal, a different employee there whom I can’t name saying, “sounds like a great book!” And there is a 2014 novel at Amazon titled “Powerball.”) Anyway, there is a disclaimer at the end of the novel, partly based on a true story, reading, “This is a work of fiction. No connection to MUSL is intended or implied. Please play responsibly. Unlike Howard.” Howard Rosen is a dweeb solo Powerball winner whose first winning ticket is photographed but lost…so he is made the brunt of jokes on late night TV. (You can’t cash in a photograph, even if no one comes forward and you can prove you bought it at the place identified as selling it. They are very strict, and forbidden from endorsing anything. (LEGAL NOTE: No endorsement is implied.)  There is a woman who sued to remain anonymous, losing many thousands of dollars in interest, because she was unaware that signing her winning ticket legally allowed them to publish her name. In Howard’s fictional case, he wins again ($553 Million after taxes), and doesn’t sign, but erases all traces of him via a hacker so no one can track him….with a plan to reemerge a hero, famous for more than just 15 minutes of shame by financing a coup against a corrupt Caribbean island dictator. Lottery Island is at Amazon for Kindle, Jackpot Island is at iTunes iBooks and BN.com for Nook and iPad. Same book, different title. If you have Kobo or just want PDF, it is at Smashwords.com. Choose your pleasure. Currently in preorder for March 1 release, sales in April will also determine your vote for which title ultimately wins, and goes to audio. My novel Postmarked for Death, endorsed by Clive Cussler and John Lutz, will be going to audio in March at Audible and iTunes, as well. Think postal shootings and a serial bomber like the Unabomber, hunted by a rookie postal inspector. The USPS TV series The Inspectors is just starting up again. Good timing? We shall see. (Am told the new episodes was financed by seized property.) Again, the novel is partly based on true stories of shootings, like the one at Royal Oak, Michigan that killed 14. For the lottery novel above, based on the true story of John Caldwell, he and his sons once fired Enfield rifles over the heads of invading renegades that had taken Union Island, and came for his: Palm Island. He let the Marines park helicopters on his island (leased from St. Vincent’s government for 99 years at $1 year plus 12% of future profits) during the Grenada invasion. I was there writing an article on him for a sailing magazine, but his true story inspired mine. Add Powerball, and off we go…

Island Life

 

 

The Quest for the Deepest Place on Earth

Caving

Don Leslie reads BLIND DESCENT by James M. Tabor, a fascinating true story about a team of adventurers who race to find the deepest place on Earth, in a cave in the Republic of Georgia. The expedition took weeks and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the author.  Tabor is author of FOREVER ON THE MOUNTAIN, narrated by Scott Brick, and also FROZEN SOLID. Here’s my interview with him:

Tower Review)  After being an Army brat and having so many unusual jobs, before and after grad school at Johns Hopkins, what brought you to writing about caving?

James M. Tabor)  I had visited touristic caves, such as Luray Caverns, in Virginia as a very young child.  My parents liked caves and my father grew up down there.  Some about them grabbed me hard right off the bat.  I’m still not sure how that capture happens, but I’ve heard many serious cavers say the same thing: first time they went into a cave, bam, they were hooked. After Hopkins, I ended up writing nonfiction features for a number of national magazines such as TIME, Smithsonian, Outside, and Readers Digest on a wide variety of subjects. When one gave me an assignment to profile an internationally famous caver, I jumped at it.  Then a subsequent assignment took me on an extreme cave expedition. I did it actively for awhile but, to do anything like that at a high level is expensive, dangerous, and time consuming.  Starting a second family eased me out of active caving.  I never lost the fascination with caves, though, and ended up co-creating and executive-producing a History Channel Special about caving—the one you saw.  During the production, I learned about Bill Stone and Alexander Klimchouk and their race to find the deepest cave, and that produced Blind Descent.

Q)   There are quite a few touristy caves like Carlsbad, Mammoth, and Colossal.  Kartchner Caverns in southern Arizona is oppressively paranoid about preservation, which makes visiting it an ordeal, like having a nanny hold your hand.   What caving experience was most fun for you, and how accessible are the wild caves for teams like those you wrote about?

A)  The most fun I had was accompanying a team into a wild cave in TAG–Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia–called Run To The Mill.  RTTM is now closed because of its hazards.  It had all the challenges that make caving exciting: exhalation squeezes, chin-deep sumps, 250-foot vertical drops, and a tunnel, called a borehole because it was bored by an underground watercourse, a mile long, 65 feet wide, and 35 feet high.  You could have driven two freight trains side by side down that borehole.  The purpose of this particular penetration was to put a diver into a sump at the cave’s then-terminus, to extend the cave’s length.  I was basically a Sherpa, hauling gear to support the dive.  It was grueling work, but the cave was ample reward.  Accessibility of wild caves varies, well, wildly.  Many are on privately owned land, and access is entirely dependent on owners’ good will.  A great challenge for all cavers is creating and maintaining positive relationships with landowners.  Access to caves on public land–in national parks and forests–also varies, but at least the entry requirements are standardized, whereas every cave on private land presents a unique challenge.

Q)  What most surprised you in research for this book?

A)  Unquestionably the scale of supercave expeditions. As a climber, I was very familiar with the immense logistics of big Himalayan expeditions.  But supercave expeditions dwarfed even those. I learned that they involved scores of people who remain on-site in base camps for months.  They cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And the most extreme teams can stay underground, working on dangerous, technical terrain, for three weeks and more.

Q)  What is the most beautiful cave in the world, the deepest, and the most dangerous?

A)  The deepest cave on earth is Krubera, located in Abkhazia in the Republic of Georgia.  Roughly 7,200 feet.  I didn’t do in-depth research on the great European supercaves in my book, but I think that, all things considered, Krubera would also qualify as the most dangerous.  That’s a highly subjective judgment, of course, but here are some number.  The cave is easily the deepest on earth, and 90% of its terrain is vertical. Air temperature in summer varies from 35-40F.  Water temperature is just above freezing, around 32F so that frigid water, plus the air that’s always moving through caves, makes lethal hypothermia a constant threat.  After a point, judging beauty of supercaves is like trying to figure out whether Sophia Loren or Elizabeth Taylor was more beautiful.  Each one is fantastically beautiful in its own ways.  So that’s the best sidestep I can do on that one!

Q)  You produced a History channel special, which I just saw on video.  What surprised me is hearing that drill bits melt at a certain depth due to heat.  The frozen methane pocket that the Deepwater Horizon supposedly met…can oil drilling accidents really be prevented with current technology?

A)  Honestly, I’m not an expert on oil drilling but I will say this. Several decades ago, an engineer named Charles Perrow wrote a book, which has since become a classic, called NORMAL ACCIDENTS: Living with High Risk Technologies.  Its central thesis is that once any technology achieves a certain degree of complexity, accidents become not less likely but more so—inevitable, in fact.  He supports that theory convincingly by examining in great detail Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, the Bhopal Chemical Plant accident, and the Challenger space shuttle explosion.  The Deepwater Horizon debacle is only the most recent example.  So I think the answer, from my perspective, is that accidents like that will never be entirely preventable.  The question then becomes what level of frequency we are willing to accept and live with.

Q)   Do you listen to audiobooks?

A)  Constantly!  Where I live in Vermont, it’s a good long drive to get anywhere.  I love NPR, but one needs variety, and audiobooks save my sanity on long trips.  I’ve just finished listening to Simon Winchester’s book on Krakatoa, The Day the World Exploded.  Charles Frazier’s Civil War novel, Cold Mountain, is next in the player.  I’ve listened to it once already, but Frazier’s writing is so miraculous that I’ll probably listen five or six times.

Q)  What’s next for you?

A)  I was originally trained as a fiction writer in the MFA program at Johns Hopkins.  My first published short story won an O. Henry Award.  I quickly learned that it was much easier to make a living writing nonfiction, however, so did that for along time, but that’s another story.  Anyway, I decided to go back to fiction after Blind Descent.  The Deep Zone was published in early 2012.  You probably aren’t surprised to learn that a supercave figures prominently in the action.  A follow-up novel featuring the same heroine, Hallie Leland, was called Frozen Solid.  It takes place at the South Pole, an environment equally fascinating for its many extremities.