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 curve 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 not be subject to the same health insurance or financial constraints as those for whom they’re mandating those items. 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 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.
Illustrated by Joelle Jones
B&W, Hardcover Graphic Novel
Oni Press, 2009
Modern authors who attempt period private eye stories often end up turning out pale pastiche or unintentional parody. Or their stories are so heavily infused with the author's historical research that they read dry and artificial. What is often forgotten is that the private eye mystery - regardless of period - revolves around character more than plot. This is different from most other sub-genres of mystery fiction, where plot is all; a puzzle to be solved. In a P.I. story, it's all about people; their secrets, their motives, their passions.
Jamie Rich and Joelle Jones' You Have Killed Me is a private eye tale that remembers that, and is filled with deftly-drawn (in all senses of the word), richly-developed characters.
Private investigator Antonio Mercer is hired to find an old flame, a high society gal from his past, who has gone missing on the eve of her wedding to a down-on-his-luck gambler. It's no surprise that Mercer's investigation leads through smoky jazz clubs and dark back alleys, to various and sundry unsavory individuals, nor that it ultimately becomes very personal for our protagonist.
Rich's script is sharp, with terse dialogue and narrative captions that don't fall into the trap of trying to emulate Chandler's distinctive - and easily parodied - flair for simile. Instead, the first-person captions are employed sparsely and used to provide a bit of insight into Mercer's private worldview. The story treads very familiar ground, but that's okay - while familiar, it is feels fresh and is skillfully constructed.
Jones' art is clean and well-composed. Backgrounds are occasionally sketchy, but the characters are all distinctive and expressive, and her storytelling is clear and cinematic. Overall, it's beautiful stuff.
Oni Press has done a really nice job on the production of the book, with striking, attractive graphic design and high-quality paper and binding. It's a truly gorgeous book.
You Have Killed Me is an excellent period P.I. tale, extremely well told. Highly recommended.
Six Out of Six Bullets.
OAKLEY HALL – Warlock. Viking, hardcover 1958. Bantam, paperback, 1959. University of Nebraska Press, softcover, 1980. New York Review of Books Classics, softcover, 2005
WARLOCK. Fox, 1959. Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Dorothy Malone, Dolores Michaels, Wallace Ford, Tom Drake, Richard Arlen, Whit Bissel, Donald “Red” Barry and DeForest Kelley. Screenplay by Robert Alan Arthur. Directed by Edward Dmytryk.
I’ve been pleased to read a few truly great Westerns this year, and this was one of them, a Pulitzer nominee that can stand right up there with The Big Sky, The Last Hunt and The Stars in Their Courses as a great novel and a great Western.
Author Oakley Hall takes the basic elements from the Earp-in-Tombstone saga (events that have already become an American Iliad) and uses them to create his own Epic Ballad, much as John Ford did in My Darling Clementine.
But where Ford turned heroes into legends, Hall transmutes the legends into role-players, fictionalizing them to give himself the poetic license he needs. Thus Wyatt Earp becomes Clay Blaisdell, Doc Holiday is Tom Morgan, Ike Clanton turns into Abe McQuown—and Tombstone becomes Warlock.
What emerges is a complex, fast-moving and vivid drama-cum-folk-tale punctuated by shoot-outs, hold-ups, bar fights and lynch mobs, in which characters sometimes stand impressively against the tide and sometimes get swept along or even drowned by it. Hall has a nifty trick of showing how the players we admire most can be capable of cowardice and treachery, yet somehow never lose our esteem. And in all the complexity of character he never lets go of the narrative reins, keeping the tale moving nicely at all times. Hall can write actions scenes with the best of them, but it’s his feel for people and place that make the tale so memorable.
I saw the film shortly after reading the book, and I guess I’ll have to wait a couple years and see it again so I can judge Warlock the movie on its own terms. As it was, the story seemed too simple and too hurried, and the characters unconvincing or simply unappealing. Richard Widmark isn’t bad as the outclassed Deputy trying to do his duty, but I never got a feel for the character, and I’m not sure he did either. Henry Fonda, once a memorable Wyatt Earp, looks a bit podgy as Blaisdell, and Anthony Quinn plays Morgan/Holliday as a prissy mother hen — one critic called it “the most open depiction of homosexual love in the classic western.”
The supporting players come off a bit better, including DeForest Kelley in the Curly Bill part, and Frank Gorshin (!) as Widmark’s hot-head kid brother, but again the film simplifies them into non-existence. Or at least it did to me, seeing it when I did. The film has its fans, and perhaps I’ll like it better a few years hence. Meanwhile, let me say again that the book is one that Western fans should treat themselves to.
DANA CAMERON – A Fugitive Truth. Avon, paperback original, May 2004.
Though an archaeologist by profession, Emma Fielding somehow manages to run into an abundance of cases of murder on her many and varied field trips, this being the fourth in a series, and unfortunately only the first that I’ve read.
Based on the example at hand, it’s a lapse I’d like to remedy as soon as I can. This one’s an impressive outing, beginning as if it were a gothic romance novel from the 1970s, as Emma travels through a dark and overcast night to the Victorian mansion where the Shrewsbury Library is located, and where her latest project has taken her.
After helping to excavate the 18th century home of one Margaret Chandler and putting the life of the woman in the proper context, Emma plans on reading the young bride’s diary, written while she was still trying to adjust to life in the American “wilderness” as a new arrival from England. Here’s a quote that will help describe how Emma’s philosophy of life (and career) put her on my side, immediately and forever. From page 56:
When one of her fellow resident scholars is found drowned under mysterious circumstances, Emma is asked by the local police lady to use her academic insight and help with the investigation from the inside. As in the best of detective novels, there are a number of suspects, all with differing motivations, and all must be scrutinized with care, since – if Emma is not careful – she may become the killer’s next victim.
In parallel with the present day crimes, Emma also discovers that Margaret, the lady of the diary, was abruptly accused of the death of a clergyman in her day, but the comments she wrote about her criminal trial are written in code, which requires deciphering on the part of Emma.
When Margaret’s problems are over and she was absolved of the crime she was accused of, her comments were, “The truth is more than a sum of the facts,” an observation that does not explain the circumstances of her acquittal – the crucial pages are inscrutably missing – but it gives Emma the shove she needs, and at the right moment, in her own investigation.
Besides the good, no, excellent characterization and a better than average detective story – and somehow it manages to slip my mind and I have to realize this over and over again, don’t the two go hand-in-hand? – there is an epilogue that is absolutely outstanding. Moralizing after the fact is not all that common in detective fiction, and moralizing on the level of Spider-Man? Now that’s unique.
PostScript: Besides being a mystery writer, Dana Cameron is by primary occupation a professional archaeologist, which comes as no surprise at all.
The Emma Fielding series –
1. Site Unseen (2002)
2. Grave Consequences (2002)
3. Past Malice (2003)
4. A Fugitive Truth (2004)
5. More Bitter Than Death (2005)
6. Ashes and Bones (2006)
And as a sign of the times, perhaps, given the end of this Emma Fielding series, beginning in 2013 Dana Cameron has written five novels in a fantasy-paranormal “Fangborn” series. Here’s a description:
“Archaeologist Zoe Miller has been running from a haunting secret her whole life. But when her cousin is abducted by a vicious Russian kidnapper, Zoe is left with only one option: to reveal herself.
“Unknown to even her closest friends, Zoe is not entirely human. She’s a werewolf and a daughter of the ‘Fangborn,’ a secretive race of werewolves, vampires, and oracles embroiled in an ancient war against evil.”
‘F*ck your ginseng!’ San Francisco tour guide’s racist Chinatown rant
School board chief won’t resign over racist videos: ‘Nothing illegal
about having bad taste’
Fox host tells supermodel to shut up about gun control: You have a
‘lovely bottom… stick to that’
Gamergate’s anti-woman agenda made clear: Actor Felicia Day threatened
for speaking up
Top VA GOP adviser unhinged on Facebook: Gay sex leaves men in diapers,
‘pooping their pants’
Idaho voters favor Republican plagiarist who lied about education and
Pat Robertson finds ‘atheist’ who says God cancelled her abortion
'Highly troubling': Justice Dept. slams local officials over Michael
Brown autopsy leak
California cop stole DUI suspect’s racy photos from her cell phone:
Meth witch? Arrested Oklahoma ‘Wiccan’ claims religious right to use
North Carolina judge resigns in protest after Supreme Court shoots down
same-sex marriage ban
What happens if the GOP takes control of the Senate?
Why don’t Millennials vote? Cartoonist Matt Bors has the answer
Millennials have the power to shape the Senate — if they would only vote
Relax, Democrats: We figured out how to get Millennials to vote
Election Night, hour by hour: A handy guide to Democratic disaster (or
This scientist thinks cancer can be prevented— and even cured — through
Why Oregon is about to be the poster child for how to legalize and
Bristol Palin claims family's drunken brawl never happened, even after
audio proof released
Cornel West shoots down Sean Hannity: Republicans play the ‘race card,’
Sam Harris and Cenk Uygur debate whether Islam is a religion of violence
GOPer Don Young doubles down: Suicide is an ‘illness’ lazy people get
from government handouts
Colorado man admits to killing Montana teacher in cocaine frenzy
Washington soldier accused of gunning down wife because another man
bought her liquor
Border militia’s ‘commanding officer’ turns out to be a felon, arrested
on gun charge
Christian Klaver has been a close friend of mine for many years, and he's one of those guys it's impossible not to like. He's friendly and gregarious and always has something interesting to say. He's also a terrific writer (you can find some of his work here) and a formidable martial artist.
I sent him a message asking about katanas and samurai swords: "Hey, you know how in Walking Dead, Michonne is always chopping zombie's heads off with one swipe of her katana? Is that actually possible in real life? It seems like cutting someone's head clean off would be harder than that. I need answers!!"
His answer was so fantastic I had to share it here on the blog. Hope you get as much out of it as I did. Thanks, Christian!
Yesterday and today we held the sales conferences here at Llewellyn Worldwide. Midnight Ink and Flux, our mystery and young adult imprints went yesterday. Today was the Llewellyn line and the companies we distribute for. But what happens at sales conference?
First we all gather in the conference room. Attending departments - sales, publicity, marketing, acquisitions, production, and art. Aren't we an attractive bunch? I stunned them into silence by telling them to shut it (my boys have rubbed off on me...)
Sales conference is basically me giving everyone else a sales pitch. Each editor has his or her own style. My style comes straight from being a bookseller. I give a short synopsis, but almost never any spoilers, and then some interesting facts about the author, the series, or the plot. Then the fun begins... anyone in the room can then chime in or ask me any random question connected to the author or the book. And let me tell you, the questions are often off the wall. I can talk about the Midnight Ink books or authors all day long - but the question time is the most nerve-wracking since I may, gasp, not know the answer!
Ok, that rarely happens. Mostly because I over prepare so I am not in that position. The week leading up to sales conference, I create, with the help of Kelly (who does our contracts and a million other things we need to keep the machine running), a one-sheet. The one-sheet is all the information the sales department needs to sell the book:
- physical description of the book (page count, trim size, price)
- rights we have retained
- author bio
- setting or location
- comparable titles (complete with ISBNs and bookscan numbers)
- silver bullet (one line that sums up the plot)
- series status (book 2 of three contracted, for example)
Usually while I am creating the one-sheets, I also create my powerpoint presentation. The powerpoint focuses mainly on the book cover, as well as key critical reviews or endorsements.
No rest for me though. I have six more launch meetings - three on Monday and three on Tuesday - and then the Fall 2016 catalog will be closed. Of course I still need to acquire a few titles for Winter 2016. Better get on that soon.
Tomorrow is one of the best things I get to do as an acquiring editor. I am road tripping down to Madison, WI with one of my authors for a signing. What makes this extra special - it's at the mystery bookstore I used to own. I haven't been there since I sold it and moved up to Minnesota. It has changed hands and names since I sold it, but nevertheless I am very excited. The following week is Halloween at Llewellyn, and let me tell you, that is a big deal! More on that next week. After Halloween I am heading down to Milwaukee for a little Murder and Mayhem with the Jordans (Crimespree magazine, frequent Bouchercon organizers and all around fabulous people). Bouchercon is just around the corner as well. Yep, this editor has a pretty full dance card. Just the way it is supposed to be.
Have a great week y'all! Happy reading.