Review — Ultimate Wilderness Gear by Craig Caudill (and a contest!)

I was, and am, a big fan of Craig Caudill’s first book, Extreme Wilderness Survival. You can find my full review of that book here. When I learned Craig was working on a follow up book, it got my attention.

I’ll admit, Ultimate Wilderness Gear wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be. Instead, it was so much more! I was expecting a category by category examination of the gear Craig uses in the field. While we he does mention that throughout the book, Craig knows that there is no one size fits all solution for any type of gear. So, rather than just tell us what he prefers for himself, he goes through each topic and discusses what to look for, and what to avoid, when selecting your gear.

One type of gear I always make sure I carry is cordage. Sure, we can make rope or twine from plant fibers and such. Mankind has been doing that for ages, right? But, doing so takes time and patience, neither of which are in great supply during a true crisis. Craig goes into great detail on three common types of cordage (paracord, twisted rope, braided rope), discussing the pros and cons of each.

Craig devotes about 25 pages of the book to clothing. This is our first line of defense against the elements and yet it is one of the most often overlooked parts of our overall survival planning. Craig takes a three tier approach to clothing. Tier 1 is your base layer that sits directly on your skin, such as socks and undergarments. Tier 2 is pants/shorts and shirt. Tier 3 is essentially what we often call outerwear, such as vest or windbreaker. For each of these tiers, Craig really gets into the nitty-gritty of what is important to remember and why. Tell you what, I’ll be adding a good vest to my gear very soon, based on my reading here.

In the Packs chapter, Craig goes through how to choose a pack that will suit your needs as well as what all the different accessories are for and how to use them properly. He even includes his top 10 uses for a trash bag (a couple of which were new to me).

In the Specialty Gear chapter, Craig covers a wide range of great stuff, including paddling sports (kayak, canoe, etc.), mountain biking, and even hygiene. This last one is an area I see neglected all too often in survival literature. Perhaps some authors or instructors don’t think it is sexy enough? Tell you what, there’s nothing sexy about the body odor wafting off a person who hasn’t bothered to clean themselves after several days on the trail.

In each section, Craig does recommend certain brands or products and is careful to explain why he chooses them over others. It is obvious Craig has done his homework every step of the way and chooses gear that works, not just grabbing items based on price or notoriety.

In the Appendix, Craig has listed numerous companies he recommends that provide the gear he discussed in the book. This is very valuable information and you’ll spend hours going through the different websites.

All in all, Craig has put together the most comprehensive guide to wilderness and survival gear that I have ever seen. The book is jam packed with excellent photos (provided by Craig’s talented wife, Jennifer). I love the layout of the book, too. It is very easy to navigate and find exactly what you need. Scattered throughout the book are numerous anecdotes from Craig’s years of experience in the field, including some stories about his own family and raising children who learned to love the outdoors.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The reader comes away with a great understanding of what is needed to survive and thrive in the outdoors. Craig has poured several decades’ worth of experience into this book and it shows.

Ultimate Wilderness Gear is available here on Amazon.

Want a copy for yourself? Craig and Page Street Publishing have been kind enough to provide a copy of Ultimate Wilderness Gear for me to use as a giveaway prize. To enter, simply drop me an email to Giveaway@survivalweekly.com with the message “I’m in.” Entry deadline is Sunday, July 8th. One winner will be chosen at random from all qualifying entries. Winner will be contacted by email and will have 24 hours to respond or prize may be forfeit. Winner will be announced in the next issue of the Survival Weekly Dispatch. Good luck!

Camp Zero by Sean Ellis

Like many of you, I spent many hours back in the day reading the various exploits of John Thomas Rourke and his family and friends. THE SURVIVALIST, created and written by Jerry and Sharon Ahern, inspired countless imitators as well as influenced many preppers and survivalists still at it today. Even now, some 35+ years after the first book was published, Sharon has kept the series alive, writing several new volumes in the last few years with author Bob Anderson.

If you’ll recall, originally John Rourke and his wife Sarah had two kids – Michael and Annie. Early on, we also met Paul Rubenstein, who would become John’s closest friend, and Natalia Tiemerovna, a Russian spy who was also very close to John. Toward the end of the original series, John placed everyone, including himself, into cryogenic sleep for a few hundred years to allow the planet to heal from all the ravages from war and such. He deliberately woke himself and his children earlier than the others. John spent several years teaching Michael and Annie survival skills, weapons, and combat tactics as they grew into adults. He then went back into cryogenic sleep until everyone else woke. Sarah, mother of Michael and Annie, was less than pleased about having missed their childhoods and eventually divorced John. Biologically, all involved were now approximately the same age. Paul and Annie got together, as did Michael and Natalia. John remarried as well. As a result we have:

Paula – daughter of John Thomas Rourke
Tim – son of John Thomas Rourke
Natalie – daughter of Paul Rubenstein and Annie Rourke
Jack – son of Paul Rubenstein and Annie Rourke
Sarah – daughter of Michael Rourke and Natalia Tiemerovna
John Paul – son of Michael Rourke and Natalia Tiemerovna

The world has moved on and has more or less fully recovered from the nuclear war that started the series. Society is much like we enjoy today, with schools, businesses, and the like. Basically, a rather normal world. Of course, it isn’t an actual Utopia and there are bad people as well as good. A few of the former abduct Paula and Natalie, along with Tim and Jack. They are rescued (all of which essentially happens off-screen, though we are given a flashback of sorts from Paula) but the incident led to a realization that these kids need training and education on how to best protect themselves. All of them are sent off to Camp Zero, a training facility established by John Thomas Rourke to teach people survival skills.

Author Sean Ellis explains Camp Zero as Harry Potter’s Hogwarts but with survival training instead of magic. After reading CAMP ZERO, I’m inclined to agree. For ease and convenience, I’m going to refer to the children in that list above collectively as the Rourke Kids. They are among about two dozen students at Camp Zero, which is located in the Texas Panhandle. The Rourke Kids are there kind of undercover. While at least some the instructors are aware of the lineage of the Rourke Kids, the other students are not.

Upon arrival to the camp, the students are given a basic orientation and introduction. They’re told they will receive training in a wide range of subjects, from wilderness survival to wild edibles, navigation to weapons. Students who successfully complete the curriculum will receive the John Thomas Rourke Fighting Bowie (a real knife, which I reviewed here a while back).

Early on, the students are placed into teams. Not so much as competitors but so the instructors can deliver more personalized training. Sandy “Ma” Tempest serves as the primary training coordinator, something akin to a drill instructor but perhaps not quite as gruff. We’re introduced to several other students, too. Clayton tends to run his mouth a lot and rarely has anything good to say. Matthew is confident and handsome. Alma and Kevin are nice though they seem a bit older than most of the students. Friendships are formed and while the work is hard, the students are learning important lessons.

As the book progresses, some of the Rourke Kids become convinced something is afoot at Camp Zero and that all is not as it seems. When a tragic accident occurs, they decide enough is enough and hatch a plan to uncover the truth. As one might suspect, things don’t go quite as planned. There is more than one twist and turn along the way and I really truly didn’t see them all coming but it all made sense in the end.

Each character is fully developed. Their actions remain true to their motivations and the only things that appear to come out of left field are those related to the aforementioned twists and turns. The dialogue rings true as well. While there is some violence and bloodshed, there is little in the way of harsh language and no adult content. This book would appeal to anyone from teens on up.

Ellis is an excellent and talented author. He pulls along and keeps us interested at each step of the journey. That he is fairly knowledgeable in wilderness survival is evident by the tidbits of information scattered throughout the book. The reader learns right along with the students. This is not a survival manual disguised as a novel but a novel that contains quite a bit of real world survival information. The action sequences are compelling and easy to follow. Of course, Ellis has written 20+ action-adventure novels to date so he’s had plenty of practice to hone those skills.

I really enjoyed CAMP ZERO. My understanding is that it is the first in a series and that Ellis is currently working on the second volume. He and I spoke at length about the book in a recent episode of my podcast, the Library at the End of the World. I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series.

You can find CAMP ZERO here at Amazon.

Extreme Wilderness Survival by Craig Caudill

I don’t review very many books these days. There are a few different reasons for that. Honestly, I don’t have much time lately to do read a whole lot, recreational or otherwise. On top of that, I’ve gotten to know so many authors and instructors in the last several years that I fear a good review will just be seen as nepotism and a bad review seen as me trying to bad mouth a competitor. Neither are ever the case, whether we’re talking about books or gear. I like what I like and I dislike what doesn’t work for me, simple as that.

Extreme Wilderness Survival by Craig Caudill works. It works really, really well.

Here’s what I can tell you about Craig. He’s been there and done that. He knows what works and what doesn’t, having learned from practical experience. He is the founder of Nature Reliance School as well as its chief instructor. Craig has taught survival and tracking to members of the military as well as law enforcement officers from federal, state, and local agencies. On top of all that, he’s a damn fine human being. Simply put, he’ll do to ride the river with.

One thing I really appreciate about Craig is his intelligence and that really comes through in this book. He is able to take very complex subjects and break them down in a way that is easy to comprehend, which is a sign of a truly gifted instructor.

The title, Extreme Wilderness Survival, is actually sort of misleading. Don’t get me wrong, there is a ton of wilderness survival information here. But, there’s far more here than just how to build a fire and keep warm.

The book really gets started at page 11, with the previous pages being used for the Table of Contents and such. From page 11 through page 43 is absolutely essential reading on the survival mindset. Seriously folks, those 32 pages alone are worth the price of admission. This is an area that is often either glossed over or missed entirely in many survival manuals.

In this part of the book, Craig discusses a few training aids to help with situational awareness, memory, and observation skills, all of which are important for survival. Personally, I love the “Sit Spot” exercise and highly recommend it. Basically, this involves choosing a location out in the field and visiting it as often as possible over the course of a month or so. Just sit and observe the world around you. Write down things you notice and make sketches. The drawings don’t need to be art studio quality. The idea is that sketching will help you remember details better. Over time, you’ll start to learn patterns to things, such as when certain critters are most active. Plus, there is something peaceful and centering about just sitting out in nature for a while.

From there, he goes into personal safety. In this section, Craig covers everything from basic first aid to map reading to self-defense. While these topics are obviously very complex, he breaks them down into manageable chunks. Naturally, this single volume isn’t going to cover everything you’d ever need to know on any of those subjects but there is quite a bit of practical, actionable information shared in just a few pages.

Craig then uses the next several chapters to go into detail on the survival basics – shelter, fire, water, and food. In each chapter, he goes into detail on what works and what doesn’t. Again, practicality reigns throughout. Craig will show you how to make and use a bow drill but he’s also the first to tell you that if Daniel Boone could have carried a lighter with him, he’d have done so.

In the chapter on shelter, Craig goes into great detail on how to maintain your core temperature, sharing excellent information on layering, building shelters, and using tarps. Again, he goes a step beyond the standard survival manuals by suggesting you actually get outside and test out your skills by doing an overnight.

For food and water, he explains different methods for locating and procuring what you need. I love the table he includes in the water chapter, showing the effectiveness of various water filtration methods compared to one another. Very valuable information to have when deciding what to invest in when you’re putting together your own survival gear.

In the food chapter, Craig mentions another little tidbit that is often overlooked. The mere process of eating and digesting food will burn calories. Many people don’t realize that it takes far more calories to consume meat than it does to consume plants. When you are running a calorie deficit, this is important information to know.

The third section of the book is focused on tactics. This is a broad section that includes topics such as forming a group, deciding to hunker down or bug out, patrolling and movement with weapons, and tracking. That last one is probably my favorite chapter in the book. See, among Craig’s varied talents and skills is that he is an extremely capable tracker. This is an area I hope to learn much more soon and this chapter is an excellent primer on the subject.

The last section is on gear. It covers selection, methods of carry, weapons, and concludes with a reality check. Again, that last is something frequently missing from most survival manuals. As with the rest of the book, there is little to no fluff here. Just practical information on each and every page.

There are a ton of survival manuals on the market today. I can and do recommend Extreme Wilderness Survival without reservation. Find it here on Amazon. The book is scheduled for release on March 21, 2017.

The Fireman by Joe Hill

Reviewing novels is always kind of tricky. You want to fill the reader in on what the story is about but at the same time you don’t want to spoil any surprises, large or small. Let me start, though, by saying that I’m a huge fan of Joe Hill. He’s a tremendously talented writer, the kind of author you read and enjoy, but then you get kind of pissed because you’re just not quite that good yourself. At least, not yet.

As regulars here know, and new visitors could probably suss out fairly quickly, I’m also a big fan of post-apocalyptic fiction. Whether we’re talking war, natural disasters, or man-made calamities, I’m interested in how people fare in the aftermath. So, when I heard Joe Hill was doing a post-apocalyptic novel, it caught my attention.

In THE FIREMAN, the disaster du jour is a pandemic, but unlike any we’ve seen before. Draco incendia trychophyton, often referred to as Dragonscale, is a communicable disease that can and usually does set people on fire. It first manifests as a gold and black marking, not unlike a tattoo, on the body. The location and shape are different for everyone. What matters is that once you’ve been infected, you’re likely going to go up in flames sooner or later. There is no known cure and entire cities have been destroyed by the infected. It has been found that when the infected are in groups and one of them goes up, it causes a chain reaction among them all. Yeah, AA meetings were never like this, I reckon.

Harper Grayson is a nurse in her 20s. Dragonscale is spreading nonstop and she finds herself spending more and more time at the hospital, trying to provide some measure of care for the infected. Harper’s husband, Jakob, seems a decent enough bloke until he becomes convinced that Harper has infected the two of them with Dragonscale. She barely escapes with her life…and with the baby growing inside of her.

One of the patients Harper had treated while at the hospital was a child brought in by the titular Fireman. He [Fireman] is infected but has been working tirelessly to help other folks, so it seems. As it turns out, the Fireman has managed to do something seemingly no one else has – control the Dragonscale and master the flame.

As one might imagine, due to the inherent danger they bring to the table, the infected aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms by the rest of society. In fact, more and more often there are reports of infected people being hunted down and killed by vigilante groups. One of the loudest proponents of these groups is a talk radio host who goes by the moniker The Marlboro Man. I’ll admit I was a little disappointed in this naming choice, given that one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies is Harley Davidson & the Marlboro Man.

As a result of the hatred and abuse, hidden colonies of infected crop up and it is to one of these locations Harper ends up going, taken there by the Fireman. There, Harper learns that the Fireman isn’t the only one who has the Dragonscale infection under control. It is also at this camp, for lack of a better term, that we’re introduced to a whole litany of characters. I’ll be honest in that I felt like I had to keep a scorecard nearby as I went along so I could keep track of who’s who.

As it turns out, the Dragonscale infection reacts to the person’s emotional state. The more angry or anxious they get, the more their temperature rises, both figuratively and literally. The community manages to counteract this tendency by having daily singalongs.

Now, here’s the thing, dear readers. If you’re a regular here, you know we talk a fair amount about survival communities and what not. While group singing isn’t a bad idea as a way to pass the time and keep spirits up, getting to the point where it is a daily activity, so much so that if you miss a session people start to look crossways at you, that’s a sign that the community isn’t healthy.

This is also where I felt THE FIREMAN worked well on two levels. First, obviously, an engaging novel. Second, though, is that this part of the story serves as an excellent illustration of how a group of people, even one with nothing but good intentions, can slip sideways rather quickly. It doesn’t take much before the leader of the band, so to speak, starts to sing a slightly different tune.

Through it all, Harper is not just caring for those around her but for the life growing inside her ever-expanding belly. She’s rather certain the baby won’t be born infected, based on some research she’d done. But, what will happen with the baby? Who will take care of it if she has to give it up so it remains uninfected?

Harper and the Fireman might be the heroes of the story but neither of them are as pure as the driven snow. That’s one of the story’s strengths. The characters are first and foremost human. They come across as real. They act and react in ways that seem normal and expected. When the Fireman first realizes the extent of his abilities, there’s no “With great power comes great responsibility” epiphany. He feels and acts like a guy who’s been in a bar band for years and now has just landed the mother of all recording deals, complete with a tour bus filled with groupies and a never-ending supply of booze.

For her part, Harper quotes Mary Poppins from time to time but isn’t afraid to let loose with the cussing as the situation warrants. And as the story progresses, she finds this necessary more and more often. On top of that, she’s keeping secrets and isn’t sure who she can really trust.

Throughout THE FIREMAN, there are dozens of references to pop culture, from the fates of celebrities like George Clooney to the final plan of finding a safe haven with original MTV VJ Martha Quinn on an island off the coast of Maine. Hill also brings the funny from time to time, with several truly laugh-out-loud one-liners. Being able to elicit both laughter and tears from a reader through the course of a book shows talent and Hill has this in spades.

There’s a lot going on in THE FIREMAN. That stands to reason, given that the book tops out at 770 pages or so. While the ending is a little…soft…it is satisfying. This isn’t a typical post-apocalyptic novel, either. While there’s some detail here and there about how society has fared with the spread of the Dragonscale, most of the story concentrates on the characters. That’s not a bad thing but by the end of the book I was wanting to hear more about the world at large. That shouldn’t be surprising, given my background. I wanted to know how people were surviving. Was anyone still actually going to work? Were stores still operating? What were people eating or doing for water? I mean, I could surmise my own answers to those questions but I’d have loved to hear how it played out in the author’s head. [Joe, if you read this, I’m available to consult on such matters ;)]

All in all, I enjoyed THE FIREMAN, as I’ve enjoyed Hill’s other novels. My personal favorite is still HEART-SHAPED BOX but you’ll have a good time with any of his stuff.

Pandemic – Interview and Giveaway

I reviewed Pandemic by Yvonne Ventresca back when it first came out in hardcover. The paperback edition just came out so I thought this was a great time to sit down and chat with the author about this amazing book. You can read my original review of the book here. Details on the giveaway follow the interview.

Did the idea for this book come from news reports and such at the time or something else? The hardcover edition came out in 2014. Two years later, the subject matter is still very much top of mind in the world.

The Swine Flu/H1N1 pandemic of 2009-2010 was a definite inspiration. That particular flu only turned out to be as lethal as seasonal flu, but we obviously didn’t know the mortality rate at first. It was a highly contagious new influenza, and the more I researched flu pandemics and the potential for a contagious avian flu, the more the idea stuck with me for a story.

How much research went into this book? Many elements seem very fact-based, such as how the Blue Flu spreads and which age groups are affected the most.

I read about historical diseases as well as emerging infectious diseases in order to create my fictional flu, using books like The Great Influenza by John M. Barry, Influenza 1918 by Lynette Iezzoni, Spillover by David Quammen (one of my favorites) and Secret Agents: Emerging Epidemics by Madeline Drexler. The H1N1 (Swine Flu) pandemic is well-documented on the www.flu.gov website, so I started with that timeline as an approximation for my fictional disease and its rapid spread. I modelled the mortality pattern after the Spanish influenza, since that fit with my plot (the very young and old are spared, leaving teens and their parents at risk), and because it was such a devastating illness.

Pandemic is set in New Jersey, so another source of information was state preparedness documents. I was surprised to find some plans online, like NJ’s “Antiviral Distribution Plan.” I also found a 2005 Homeland Security Document, “National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza.”

Based on their planning assumptions, I tried to imagine complications. For example, many people think it’s most likely that a pandemic would start someplace else, like Asia, and as a result the U.S. would have a warning period. What if that turned out to be untrue and we had little or no time to prepare?

One of my best resources was an interview I did with a local health officer in 2011. He spoke frankly about the H1N1 experience and gave me insight into what problems could potentially occur if a deadly pandemic struck. It was educational and also inspired some ideas, like the news story Lil (the main character) sees about who should receive the antiviral first if supplies were limited.

I do have to be careful about over-researching. For example, I spent a lot of time checking the spring migratory flyways of waterfowl, relating to my fictional transmission of bird flu to people directly. I have a whole folder on bird research which I didn’t use. (Fun fact: Wild waterfowl are carriers of all influenza A viruses. The World Health Organization calls them “natural reservoirs.”)

Something I really enjoyed as a reader was the dialogue in Pandemic. Many authors, myself included, struggle with this and often it sounds forced. You absolutely nailed it, though. Any tips or pointers?

Thank you! A few tips that I’ve found helpful:
I mostly stick to simple dialogue tags like “said” and “asked.” If a person sounds angry in the dialogue, for example, I don’t need to say, “she vented in an irate voice” at the end of the sentence, which can be a distraction to the reader. I try to work in some action between the spoken bits. This helps show the character’s emotion and can improve the rhythm of a sentence/paragraph. I also find reading everything aloud helps enormously.

Another aspect to the story I liked was how some of the characters eventually teamed up to not just help one another but to reach out to other survivors. This is something I’ve often stressed on this site and elsewhere – the idea of building a community rather than going it alone. Was this an element you’d planned ahead of time for the story or did it just develop organically?

The idea of a community and comparing people’s differing reactions was always something I wanted to include in Pandemic, because dire circumstances can bring out a range of behaviors, from charity to self-preservation. There’s a scene in Susan Beth Pfeffer’s novel, Life As We Knew It, where the mother reprimands her teen daughter for leaving to tell a friend when the town gives out free bags of much-needed food. The mom is furious because the supplies could have run out before the she returned. But her daughter naturally wants to help someone else she cares about. That small scene was memorable to me because it showed the conflict between our survival instincts and the desire to help people and I wanted to explore that in Pandemic. Should we help others even if doing so puts us at risk? It’s not an easy question, but the moral dilemma fascinated me.

Given the nature of my own blog and books, I have to ask – would you consider yourself any sort of prepper or survivalist, either before or after writing Pandemic?

The research I did caused me to think more seriously about emergency preparedness. I had the chance to test our preparations during an October ice storm which caused unexpected, widespread power outages in our suburban town and surrounding areas. We were still woefully unprepared. I’ve learned from that lesson and tried to improve, but it is definitely an ongoing process. As a result of my research for Pandemic, I do tend to wash my hands more than the average person, if that counts for anything.

Every author has one or two questions in their head that they would love to get asked in an interview. Go for it, the floor is yours 😉

One thing I’d like to share is how the Pandemic paperback differs from the hardcover. The editor and I worked to add some bonus materials, including some of my research that didn’t make it directly into the story, and a fun pandemic-inspired recipe called “pantry cuisine.” There’s also an educator’s guide to make it easy for teachers to use the book with students (ages 12+).

If your readers like survival fiction, I’d like to give a shout-out to a dystopian anthology I contributed to called Prep for Doom. It’s an integrated collection of twenty short stories that tell the tale of a single catastrophe (airborne Ebola) as experienced by many characters, some of whom cross paths. I wrote chapter thirteen, “Escape to Orange Blossom,” about a girl who tries to find safety for her autistic brother and herself during the disaster. There’s more about the project at www.prepfordoom.com.

What’s next for you? Any plans to do a follow up to Pandemic?

Pandemic was always intended to be a standalone novel, so no sequel! I’m thrilled that it’s available in paperback, so that it can reach even more readers.

My next young adult novel, Black Flowers, White Lies, comes out in October. It’s a psychological thriller about how fragile our perception of reality is. Here’s a blurb:

Her father died before she was born, but Ella Benton knows they have a mysterious connection. When an eerie handprint appears on her mirror, Ella wonders if Dad’s warning her of danger as he did once before. Could her new too-good-to-be-true boyfriend be responsible? Or the grieving building superintendent? As the unexplained events become more frequent and more sinister, Ella becomes terrified about who—or what—might harm her. Soon the evidence points to Ella herself. What if, like her father, she’s suffering from a breakdown? Ella desperately needs to find answers, no matter how disturbing the truth might be.

Visit Yvonne’s website to learn more about her and her books.

I’d like to thank Yvonne for taking the time to participate in the interview as well as donating a book for the giveaway below. Pandemic is a great book, one of my favorites.

Giveaway

One lucky person will win a copy of the paperback edition of Pandemic! To enter, post in the comments below your answer to this question – What one luxury item would you hope to have access to if you were forced to shelter in place for several weeks or longer due to a pandemic? Assume food, water, and other necessities are under control. Please keep your answers family-friendly. In order to keep spam to a minimum, comments are moderated. If yours doesn’t show up immediately, don’t panic.

When posting your answer, be sure to use a legit email address as that is how we will contact the winner. Entry deadline is 11:59PM (Central), Tuesday, July 5th, 2016. One winner will be chosen at random from all qualifying entries. Good luck!

Goodbye, Harris Publications

I was a fan of Harris Publications long before I began writing for them. I’d been a subscriber to New Pioneer and also snatched up American Frontiersman whenever it hit the stands. My introduction to the staff, though, came through my involvement with Panteao Productions. I’m one of the instructors for their Make Ready to Survive DVD series. While we were in Florida filming my segments, Panteao’s owner, Fernando Coelho, and I spent some time talking about the survival/prepper industry as a whole. He mentioned that Harris Publications, a company with whom he had a longstanding relationship, was planning a new magazine devoted to emergency preparedness. He gave me some contact info and suggested I reach out to them once we returned to civilization.

A short time later, I met via email a woman who would become one of my all-time favorite editors, Cara Donaldson. We traded a few messages about how Harris operated with respect to freelance writers as well as discussed a few potential article topics. She sent me a sample issue of Survivor’s Edge magazine so I could get a feel for the tone of the publication. I was admittedly eager to sell an article to them and pitched several ideas. I learned early on in my writing career that the first sale is always the hardest. Once you’ve placed the first article (on time and well written), future assignments can come easy.

Over the next couple of years, I placed several articles with Survivor’s Edge. Pitching articles to Cara went from me writing up a very detailed query, complete with reference links and such, to just sending her an email saying, “Hey, how about I do a review of this new lantern?”

Survivor’s Edge was an excellent publication. It had a great mix of actionable content, solid information, and reviews of products that real people could actually afford. The content was largely written by people whom I know personally to be very knowledgeable in their fields.

It was announced on April 29, 2016, that the company was shutting down. By all accounts, this took most people, including employees, by surprise. Harris had been in business since 1977 and during that time had published somewhere around 75 different magazines. They catered to niche markets, from decorating (Storage Solutions, Flea Market Style) to tactical (Ballistic, Combat Handguns) to outdoor living (New Pioneer, American Frontiersman).

I was a big fan of both New Pioneer and American Frontiersman. NP catered to those who were genuinely interested in homesteading and related pursuits. They’d profile families who were out there doing it. Alternative energy, gardening, animal husbandry, DIY projects, all that and more were included between the front and back covers of the magazine.

American Frontiersman was just plain fun, as far as I was concerned. I’ve long been fascinated by the whole mountain man lifestyle. In AF, you could learn how to cook using a reflector oven, how to properly preserve a rabbit skin, how to use a compass, and so much more. There were often profiles of historical mountain men and long hunters, too, and I’m a sucker for history.

I was very saddened by the news of Harris closing up shop, and not just because I was writing for Survivor’s Edge. I’m admittedly rather old school when it comes to reading and much prefer actual hard copy magazines and books over electronic editions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Luddite. I love my Kindle and use it all the time. But, I favor actual pages between my fingers. I want to have the book or magazine on my shelf so I can easily reference it if needed.

My fear is that we’re going to see more and more magazines cease publication, at least in hard copy format. Back in 2014, I did a blog post called Prepper and Homesteading Magazine Round Up in which I listed several publications I felt were high quality and worth reading. Of the 10 on my list, 4 have since folded – Back Home, Self Reliance Illustrated, New Pioneer, and American Frontiersman. Here’s hoping the rest of them stick around a bit longer.

Graphic Audio

I’m a huge fan of Graphic Audio. Looking back on the blog posts here from the last few years, I can’t believe I’ve not mentioned them before.

I spend a fair amount of time in my car each week. My daily commute is about 35 minutes each way. Plus, my day job often has me driving 30-50 miles or more each day. Hell, there are days I’m in the car for six or more hours. I find much of what passes for entertainment on the radio boring so some time ago I started listening to books on CD. One thing I learned early on was that the quality of an audiobook really hinged on the narrator. I know, sounds obvious. The thing is, a narrator can make or break the audiobook. Doesn’t matter how good the story might be, if the narrator’s voice isn’t right, the book fails. At least, that’s how I feel about the whole thing.

Then, a buddy of mine introduced me to Graphic Audio. This was way different from any other audiobook I’d listened to before. These books aren’t narrated, they are performed! Each one has a full cast, with different actors and actresses playing roles. Throughout the performance you’ll hear sound effects, from gunshots to engines revving. If you’ve ever listened to any of the old radio shows from back in the day, these audiobooks are the modern equivalent.

For those interested in post-apocalyptic stuff, they have the following series:

The Survivalist by Jerry and Sharon Ahern
Deathlands by James Axler
Doomsday Warrior by Ryder Stacy

On top of those, they have a ton of science fiction, action/adventure, westerns, and comic related novels.

You can purchase the audiobooks either as downloads or CDs. The latter is a little more expensive since there is a physical product that has to be shipped out. They do have a lot of samples available on their site so you can check out the quality before buying. Or, see if your local library has any of these productions or if they can order them in through interlibrary loan.

Seriously, I can’t say enough about these audiobooks. They are very well done.