Freehold Friday: It’s moving day!

Howdy Muchachos!

I am grinning like a ‘possum eatin’ a sweet potato.  Why, you ask?  Because I’m here to announce the launch of my new domain, the permanent home of Marcus Richardson on the internet.  Click on the new site banner below to have a look at my new digs.

slider-homeGo on–check it out, I’ll wait.

Okay, you back?  Good.  Pretty cool, huh?  Keep in mind that it’s a work in progress, so over the coming weeks and months I’m sure I’ll tweaking things, adding or subtracting graphics, etc…but you get the idea of what the thing is going to look like.

I’ve got everything set up now so the new website will be the hub of all things Marcus going forward.  From there I’ll post my blogs (based on the spiffy urbane WordPress.org engine, not the plebeian WordPress.com  engine you’re enjoying now), have links to all my books and all that stuff you’ve been seeing on my old Wix website (which now does nothing but point people to the new site).  But now it’ll all be in one place–making it way easier for me to manage, meaning I’ll be able to get more content to you.

Speaking of that–most of you are reading this because you’ve subscribed to my blog on WordPress.com.  Well, now that I have a self-hosted WordPress.org site, I won’t be using this blog anymore.   It sounds kind of complicated–actually, kind of silly now that I look at all the .com and .org nonsense, but that’s how they chose to run it.  Anyway…

Don’t worry–I’m going to transfer you all over to the new site over the next few days.  You won’t have to do a thing.  You’ll still get email alerts (if you do now) when I post new stuff.  From now on, you’ll be directed to the new site (fingers crossed).

The only caveat goes out to those folks who only follow me on their WordPress reader accounts.  You don’t get emails about new posts, but you should still be able to follow me in your reader, you’ll just have to check from time to time and see if I’m active.

The easiest way to fix that is to mosey on over to the new site and sign up for email updates!  It’s easy–hey, all the cool kids are doing it!  Here’s the link. Just go to the blog on the new site and fill in your email to get updates.  Easy.

So when all the new books and such start coming out, now you know where to go to hear about it.  Of course, if you want to know even sooner, sign up for my mailing list, The Freeholder Update.  If you haven’t already signed up, then welcome!  Come on over and get your free book!

Okay, that’s it for now.  I just uploaded a book (Dux Bellorum, sequel to Sic Semper Tyrannis) to Amazon for pre-order (my first!).  I now have a deadline to beat!!  This is a first–I’ve always gone by my schedule when publishing.  So, we’ll see how this turns out.  Wish me luck!  I have a little over 3 weeks to get a 170,000 word book edited and polished.

Gulp.

Okay.  I’ll let y’all know when Amazon puts the pre-order up so’s you can check it out.  Till then, Ill catch you over at the new site.  In the meantime, I got some serious editing to do.  Time to break out the tea and get serious.

Have a good ‘un and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!

Marcus

 

Advertisements

Freehold Friday: A record setting day!

Howdy Muchachos! Welcome back to another edition of Freehold Friday.

Got some really exciting news today! It’s been 12 days now since I’ve released Firestorm on Amazon and I’m pleased to announce that the paperback has been finalized and should be ready for purchase any day now. As an added little surprise for you here’s what the paperback cover looks like!

Firestorm CS final (sm)I have to say, I think this is my favorite so far!

In other news, to celebrate the release of Firestorm and the completion of the opening trilogy of the Wildfire series, I am placing False Prey, the first novella of the series (set between Apache Dawn and The Shift) on free promotion between now and Tuesday, the 10th.

So here’s a chance for all you readers out there who haven’t join the mailing list to get this book for free!

Looks like there’s a lot of folks out there that wanted it, too—as of 6:23 PM today, I’ve given away 1803 copies of False Prey! Not only that, but we hit #1 on Amazon’s bestseller list in the free Kindle store in not one, not two, but three different categories:

FP #1 espionage 6 May 2016 espionage,

FP #1 medical 6 May 2016medical,

FP #1 Terrorism 6 May 2016and terrorism thriller.

Overall, False Prey hit a high point of #82 in the general Kindle (Free) store, beating hundreds of thousands other free books!

#82 FP 6 May 2016

I couldn’t be more thankful for the support that you have given me over the past couple years.

My marketing director and I recently sat down to plan out the rest of the year as far as writing and promotion is concerned and I have to say I’m pretty damn excited. Very soon, I’m going to have some exciting announcements about a trio of upcoming releases. I won’t say any more now, other than this summer is going to be exciting.

On top of all this, I’ve been busting my butt to wrap up writing on AJE 3, which I’m calling Dux Bellorum. Fingers crossed, I’m hoping to have that book published by the end of next month! I don’t hold me to that, this is just a rough estimate, but it’s a goal, and I’m going to do my best to make sure I reach it! So far, I’ve been writing every day in May, treating this month like my own personal NANOWRIMO contest. I’m only a few chapters away from wrapping up Erik’s plotline, which will be approximately 2/3 of the book. This one has been a lot of fun to write, and I haven’t even gotten to the antagonist, to Malcolm, or the military points of view!

I also wanted to let you know to look for one more new change. Very soon I’ll be migrating the Freehold to my own domain, so sometime next month everything should change. I’ll keep this blog with WordPress, so things will look different, but the blog will remain stable. I’ll keep you all updated on the progress and make announcements about any changes in addresses or anything like that.

Thanks once again for your continued support—I can’t wait to share with you the new stories I’ve got planned for the rest of this year and next. There’s going to be Coronal Mass Ejections, volcanoes, more Wildfire and who knows what else! With all three kids going to school in the fall, I am planning on ramping up my production about 500%!

Until next time, keep your heads down and your powder dry!

Freehold Friday: Firestorm released!

Wow—it’s been a while. Well, I apologize for that muchachos but I had good reason (I like to think).

I wrote a new book!

I was finishing up the final touches on my latest book, Firestorm. Which, is now finally available for download from Amazon! I’ve shifted gears now to the paperback version so that’ll be ready soon.

firestorm final smThis book is the closing act in the opening trilogy that encompasses the Wildfire universe. If you’ve read Apache Dawn and The Shift, a lot of loose ends are going to be tied up in Firestorm.

To celebrate the release of Firestorm, I’m going to put Apache Dawn on promotion starting tomorrow—so if you haven’t yet picked up a copy, now’s your chance. They’ll be going for 99 cents for a few days, then increasing to $1.99 for a few days before sliding to $2.99 and back to its full price of $3.99 by the end of next week. This will coincide with a promotional event I’m trying out this weekend, so fingers crossed!

We interrupt this program for a crass commercial break.

I would like to take this opportunity to ask—no beg—any of you out there who’ve read my books to take a moment and leave a review—it doesn’t have to be long, it doesn’t even have to be positive (although that’s what I’m hoping for!)…every review counts to an indie author like myself. We live and die by these things. The more reviews (especially good ones!) a book has, the better it sells—duh. That’s only partly the reason I’m asking…the main part is the better a book does, the more financial pressure it eases, which means the more time I can spend creating new books….and you see where this goes. More books for you to read, more books for me to write—everyone’s happy!

And now back to the show…

The future looks bright from here, folks. We’re working on the audio book for The Shift and hopefully Firestorm. I’m planning on releasing a box set of the Wildfire trilogy this summer. I’ve got 1/3 of the final book in the AJE series written, so look for that late summer/early fall. Then I’ve got a Kindle World’s story I’m kicking around and the first of the spin-off adventures for Cooper.
Speaking of Cooper and Wildfire, I have a sci-fi book (well, one and a half if you count the sequel that’s not finished yet) that is set in the future—about a hundred years or so after the events in Firestorm. Then there’s going to be narrow-focus books that deal with smaller events around single characters, like Cooper Braaten and the infamous 13.

Thank you all for being so patient with my lack of posts this month—things will get back to normal (if you can call it that) now that the book is finished. I haven’t been completely ignoring the blog though, I’ve been saving up some stuff for when I had time to post. Should prove to be interesting to at least a few of you!

Until next time, muchachos, keep your heads down and your powder dry!

As always, if you want to know before everyone else (even the readers of this blog!) when the next book will be released, any promotions or other cool news, sign up to get the monthly Freeholder Update today!

 

Freehold Friday: Book Updates

Howdy muchachos,

This will just be a quick update to assure you I’m still alive. Been rather busy around the Freehold lately. Between school winding down for Spring Break (three kids in the house all week! Yaaaaay!) and Easter and birthdays and sickness (school is a disease factory, there’s no doubt about it) there hasn’t been a lot of time to crack open the ol’ blog.

But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been up to anything—as a matter of fact, the beginning of March I’ve logged some 75,000 words on the third book in the AJE series, which I’m going to name Dux Bellorum. Fans of my doorstopper books rejoice! Those 75,000 words are only in the Erik and Ted and Brin plotline. I’m thinking their story alone will be as big as Apache Dawn (about 120,000 words or 250–300 pages). I still need to write the antagonist plot, the Brotherhood plot (Malcolm will be up to things too) and the General/Admiral plot line. This book is looking to be the biggest I’ve ever written (possibly necessitating being split into two…we’ll see).

All that and there’s more—my editor and I are finally back on track with the final read through of Wildfire (it’s going a LOT faster than the other books…the process is getting really streamlined now, or maybe I’m getting better at writing, who knows) now that the kids are healthy and the pressures of real life have backed the hell off for a few days in a row.

Oh, and I know today is April 1st, but I assure you the above post is no joke. No, really!

Preparedness Skills: The Crayon Candle

Howdy muchachos!

Got something little different for you today!

I figured I’d try something more useful than just posting a blog about preparedness. So today, I’m happy to introduce a new category of posts—it’s still about being prepared, but now I’ll actually be explaining practical real-world skills along the way.

I by no means am what you would call an expert—in just about any field you care to pick—and so I figured it would be handy to have sort of an everyman’s guide to being prepared. That’s right, yours truly has officially announced that he is an Average Joe!

So what’s first on the agenda?

Let’s take a look at some of the priorities for when the power goes out or there’s an emergency situation or even—God forbid!—the grid is down or there’s some other large-scale catastrophe. You’re going to need food, water (most importantly), shelter, and a source of heat and light.

I’m sure I’ll get to the other topics at some point, but today I wanted to focus on light and/or heat. What’s the most economical source of heat and light? Fire. Now, in a relatively benign situation—like a temporary power outage caused by a thunderstorm—I would first go for an LED flashlight, or even regular flashlight for that matter. However, sometimes that’s just not possible.

When my wife and I endured the 2004 season of never-ending hurricanes on Florida’s Gold Coast, we quickly ran out of batteries and over the course of the first couple storms somehow never got around to getting more. I know, I know, rookie mistake. However we did have plenty of candles. She likes all the foo-foo scented ones, so the house smelled like lavender and vanilla for a week, but we had light—at least the few times the power flickered out for an hour or so before coming back on.

In this post I want to explore different expedient forms of light in the form of ready-made survival candles. First up is one that I’ve read about, but never decided to test until now: the crayon candle!

First time I heard this I thought to myself, that can’t be right. So here’s how I tested it.

Materials

image

  1. One can of tuna fish (after lunch, cleaned and dried).
  2. Three different crayons (a broken large generic crayon, a skinny regular Crayola crayon, and a jumbo Crayola—snapped in half courtesy of my youngest son).
  3. A trigger-style lighter.

The Test

First up I tried the generic half-crayon. I needed a way to attach the candle to the bottom of the tuna can. Since this crayon was a broken half with the point mostly intact, I use the lighter to melt the entire tip of the candle, making sure to pool a nice blob of melted wax in the center of the of the can. I immediately turned the crayon over and stuck the base into the melted wax. In a few seconds, the wax hardened and the crayon was secured.

image

Next I said about lighting the top of the crayon. The melted wax from the tip made a nice little lake of molten wax, concealed by the wrapper. It took about 15 seconds of continuous fire on the crayon to get the paper wrapper to ignite, soaked as it was in the melted wax.

image

Finally, it did, and the flame grew quickly to match the length of the crayon and then some!

image

This completely surprised me. As you can see in the picture, the fire put out by the crayon was impressive. It lasted for a few minutes and then snuffed itself out as the wax level dropped too far for the fire to catch up.

image

Next I tried the skinny Crayola candle. This time, vowing to be prepared for the large flame, I had my stopwatch handy. I followed the same procedure, melting the bottom of the crayon until I had a puddle of wax in the middle of the can and then securing the crayon in place.

image

This crayon had a rounded top instead of a pointed tip, as it was well used by my kids. I lit this one and it only took about 10 seconds to catch the paper on fire. However, once this crayon caught, I noticed an interesting effect: little bits of wax popped out of the central column of the crayon leaving tiny smoke trails as they fell down inside the tuna can. They didn’t go more than about an inch away from the crayon, but it made an interesting visual effect.
I also heard a little pop every time one of these little pustules jumped off the crayon. I’m not sure if it’s something with this particular crayon—did it roll around with the other crayons and get something stuck to the outside?—or maybe it’s some chemical reaction from the interior of the crayon itself. Either way, it was kind of neat to watch. Once the candle had been going for a few minutes, this popping stopped.

The flame was easily as long as the crayon itself for the first few minutes.

image

Then it shrunk down to about half the size of the crayon. You can see the rate at which this sucker burned in the time lapse pictures below. All said, it took 15 minutes for this skinny crayon to burn itself out in a puddle of melted wax at the bottom of the tuna can.

5 minutes…
image

7 minutes…
image

12 minutes…
image

13 minutes…
image

15 minutes…
image

16 minutes…
image

The paper wrapper did not disintegrate and stood up all the way until the very end as a charred husk. As the flame extinguished, the husk fell over and cooled.

image

I then repeated the process with the half jumbo Crayola crayon. Once secured in the middle of the can, I lit the top of this one on fire, which took at least 20 seconds to get going. Definitely something to keep in mind. You’ll want to have a decent flame source to light these things on fire. A lighter, or a long burning stick or something. I don’t know if a match will last long enough to get one to catch. That’ll be the next experiment.

The flame on this crayon was quite impressive! It was at least 4 to 5” high throughout the entire test.

image

I also decided to try something new and used a bamboo skewer to knock down the pillar of ash and charred paper as the wax melted in the central part of the crayon.

image

Doing this seemed to keep the flame at a constant height instead of wavering up and down like it did when I let the charred paper remain. It was pretty simple—every few minutes I just knocked down the charred paper, keeping it at a uniform height.

1 minute…
image

6 minutes…
image

8 minutes 30 seconds…
image

This one really burned hot—I could easily feel the heat from it about a foot and a half above the top of the flame.

image

In a power outage or grid-down situation, this thing would put out quite a bit of light.

The interesting thing happened toward the end: the residue from the other candles began to heat up as the flame from the final candle reached the bottom of the can. The remains of the first two candles then caught on fire, creating a flame that spanned the width of the tuna can.

image

It wasn’t a very high flame, but the can began to heat significantly and got hot enough I decided to get it off the surface of my oven and put it on a trivet. This continued past the 16 minute mark.

Lesson Learned

Here’s where my Average Joe experience comes in! I have learned something about candles and fire—when you have a lot of wax, you don’t pour water onto it! I grabbed a pair of kitchen tongs and carried the flaming tuna can over to the sink. Every time I jostled it, that flame shot up about a foot high. Finally I grabbed the faucet on the sink, turned on the water and doused the flames. I expected a cloud of smoke, instead I got a cloud of fire.

The tuna can erupted and created a small ball of fire about the size of a basketball that quickly dispersed, after it singed the hair off my hand (about 10 inches away at the end of a pair of kitchen tongs!). No harm no foul, but the kitchen smelled like burnt hair!

I had quite a bit of melted wax on the sink and floor to clean up. No problem there either, a dish rag soaked in hot water did the trick and cleaned up the mess. Pretty funny all around, but I learned a valuable lesson: wax, fire, and water don’t mix.

And hopefully now that you’ve read this post you have too—crayons can be used in an emergency situation as a fire source. Does this mean that I think you should give up buying emergency candles? No. However it’s good to know that should you run out of those, or should you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have candles or LED flashlights or anything else, if you can scrounge around and find some crayons, you have some candles. Remember, a full crayon will last about 20 minutes. Half crayons will last about 10 minutes. Half of a jumbo crayon, will last about 15 minutes, so I’m willing to bet that a full jumbo crayon may last anywhere between 20 and 25 minutes. Also it doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s Crayola or some name brand—they all seem to burn about the same, except for the jumbo sizes.

Considering a box of these things only cost a couple bucks, you’re looking at potentially hours of emergency illumination and heat should the need arise. I don’t know about you, but I think I’m going to add a box of crayons to my emergency kit. Not only does it serve the purpose for providing entertainment for the children, but should the power go out and we get desperate, you can have a candle and draw with it too!

Freehold Friday: News and Cover Reveal!

Howdy muchachos!

I don’t really have the energy to post much today—the little one was up all night (and I mean all night) being sick, which left me with about 3 hours worth of sleep. Despite that, I got up and did my dictation session on the treadmill before getting the older ones off to school so bonus points for me I guess.

Although, now that I look at it, I just gave away part of the surprise I was going to mention. Whatever—I’m tired. I’m working on the sequel to Sic Semper Tyrannis! I know—hot damn, right? Only three chapters into it, but I just finished reading Libby Hawker’s excellent guide to plotting called Take Off Your Pants: Outline your books for faster, better writing (you should have seen the look on Mrs. Richardson’s face when I announced “I took off my pants and plotted”). Y’see, every book I’ve written, I’ve set up the plot in different ways. I keep seeing how others do it and I think, oh, that’s cool, I’ll try that. Then I do, and it turns out to be more work than I thought. Then I lose interest in getting the plot worked and end up pantsing (writing by the seat of my pants a la Stephen King, who just lets the story comet to him). From the reviews of my work, this doesn’t seem to do half bad for me.

That said, I want something repeatable. I couldn’t tell you how I plotted AJE or Apache Dawn—I just know I did it different with each and wasn’t fully satisfied by either method. The last time, with my latest book (more on that in a bit) I tried writing things out on the ol’ whiteboard in my office. This was cool at first, but then I needed to take it with me, which necessitated writing it in notebooks and in my Scrivener file…which got tedious (why didn’t I just do it in Scrivener to begin with?).

But Ms. Hawker’s method…I’m hooked. I’ve been struggling to finish chapter 3 for almost a week now. After reading her book, I sat down, plotted the story from Erik’s perspective (I’ll need to do the same with each major POV character) and within about 10 minutes, I had a layout for his story and a guideline for what to dictate for the next chapter (which I’d been agonizing over for a few days as well!). Outstanding!

So—now you know that while my beta readers pour over Firestorm (the name I’ve settled on for Book 3 of the Wildfire Saga), I’m plowing ahead with AJE 3.

But wait, that’s not all! Before I pass out for a much-needed mid-afternoon nap, I wanted to share with you the other really exciting news: I’ve finalized the cover for Firestorm. Let me know what you think!

firestorm final sm

 

Freehold Friday: Uh…Monday.

Okay, so it’s not Friday, but here’s a little something I just had to get out there.

I wanted to point out that Hollywood has confirmed what I said about how typically left-leaning folks see us preparedness-minded individuals (you could make the argument that it’s really statist vs. individual but that’s for another time). If you don’t remember, check out this post.

To sum up, I basically said that those who don’t prepare tend to label us as fringe elements, survivalists, or worse (gun nuts). Why? Because the fear the strength and freedom that personal responsibility and individualism grants someone. Being prepared means you’re relying on yourself and neighbors, rather than the state to take care of you in a crisis or emergency (whether immediate like a home invasion, or extended like the aftermath of a hurricane). That gives you power and lessens the power the state holds over you.

Those that worship the state fear the individual.

Case in point—the Oscars. There were a number of decent movies (so I’m told—I proudly admit right now, I haven’t seen any of them except the new Star Wars flick) and one especially that deserved mention: The Martian.

This may be a stretch—even for me—but hear me out. Feel free to laugh at me at the end!

But did this most excellent movie win big? No. Why? Because the Oscars, being an award ceremony for elitists to congratulate themselves in front of us plebes, is a political event. Just go look up the Straight Outta Compton mess and the racism charges and all that nonsense swirling around for the past month or two.

Everyone knows Hollywood stands closer to the left than the right, and I would be willing to bet most preppers stand closer to the right than the left. That immediately puts us at odds.

So why focus on The Martian? Well, two reasons: 1) it’s a story written by an independent author (like me!) that made it to the big leagues. That’s every author’s dream—create something you enjoy, find happiness in the fact that many other people enjoy it, and make some (or a lot) money while you’re at it.

2) The Martian is a survival tale. On Mars. It doesn’t get much cooler than that. It’s all about an individual’s quest to survive in the the worst place known to man, using nothing but his wits and his gear to continue his existence. What more could a prepper ask for?

It was nominated for all kinds of categories but won absolutely nothing. Oh sure, they’ll try and tell you that’s because other movies (or soundtracks or editing—really, they have an award for editing? Come on…) were just better.

Maybe.

But you have to admit, it sure does seem to fit with what I was saying.

Just to compare: Spotlight (winner, Best Picture, released Nov 6, 2015) brought in $59 million since its release.

The Martian (released Oct 2, 2015): $632.8 million.

See? The free market (another target for those anti-prepper types) chose the The Martian hands down. But they (the Academy) know which one is better. Obviously us unwashed masses can’t tell a good movie from trite if it bit us in the ass.

Whatever.

My next step is to buy the book version of The Martian, then buy the movie.

Then I’ll flip Hollyweird the bird and get back to prepping.

Freehold Friday: Ooops. And good news!

Howdy muchachos!

I have to apologize to you—I had worked up a post for today, prepped it, made it all nice and shiny for you, and then promptly screwed it up. I went to copy and past it into my master blog file and this is what I saw at the top of the screen when I opened the word processor:

image

Really?   Yeah.

It’s all still there on my recorder (I dictated today’s entry) but now I have to go re-transcribe it and fix the mistakes Dragon invariably makes (though they aren’t that many anymore). Annnnnd I’m out of time for today.

Awesome.

So I’ll just do the update I had planned for today anyway, and get you the rest of the post at some point this weekend when I get a chance. Sorry!!!

But now for some good news! I printed the book I’m working on (Book 3 in the Wildfire series for those who don’t know) today, so the last few steps are in sight. I just need to read through it now on paper, make any last corrections, while at the same time letting my beta readers tackle a copy, then I can integrate the final changes/corrections and it’s ready for publishing!

image

Now it’s time to work on a cover….

Freehold Friday: Situational Awareness

Howdy muchachos!

Welcome back for another edition of Freehold Friday.

The past several weeks, I’ve been posting information on preparedness and such topics as Going Gray, why be prepared, and the different labels that people justifiably or unjustifiably apply to those who are prepared and take personal responsibility for their own safety and security.

Along those lines, today I thought I’d talk about something that has popped up a lot recently as more and more reports of crime both here and abroad tend to surface in the news. Situational Awareness.

This is one aspect of being prepared that deals specifically with personal safety and security. Situational awareness can get you out of more tight spots than just about anything else out there, including a gun. With situational awareness—or a heightened sense of what’s going on around you—you can avoid trouble itself and not even have to pull your gun if you’re carrying.

I guess I should start my post what situational awareness is. It’s a fancy tactical like term simply means being aware of your surroundings. It does not mean you’re paranoid. It does not mean you constantly suspect the worst of every human being. It does not mean you walk around town brandishing a shotgun and an M4 carbine.

Situational awareness is a skill that can be used in everyday life—in fact I do all the time. I used it at the grocery store this morning to avoid an accident. Let me explain.

I was walking down the aisle, searching for the rice and chili mix I know my family likes. My particular supermarket carries them both at the end of one aisle that’s right at the corner of the store where people naturally flow from the produce department into the deli before they are shunted down the backside the store toward dairy. I’ve seen people ram carts together at this spot more than once. Since people are moving at a fast walk at best, the damage is obviously minor—we’re not talking about a tractor-trailer at highway speeds here, muchachos.

However, when I go shopping I typically have my 2-year-old with me, so I’m naturally on high alert lest he does some damage to the store or something happens to him. Having an old lady blindside me going around the corner could potentially harm a child. If nothing else, he likes to wrap his little fingers on the edge of the cart and pretend it’s an actual car. Where he keeps his hands is right where the front of another cart would smash into my card should I get hit.

So how did I avoid an accident today using the preparedness skill of situational awareness?

Observe your surroundings.

The 1st step in becoming situationally aware, is to observe your surroundings. You can’t react to anything if you don’t know what’s going on. As I approached the corner, I slowed down. Typically the cart I pick is the one that makes the most noise and has squeaky wheels. I’m talkin’ this thing is so loud I can hardly hear myself think, let alone hear someone else approaching in the other aisle.

So out of habit, I slow down—as most people do—when I approached the corner. I pause for a second, listening to see if I could hear someone walking around the other side. I did not, and so concluded it was safe for me to make my turn and head into the aisle. However, because I don’t rely on only one sense when it comes to the safety of my children, I also glanced down at the floor and noticed a shadow.

The shadow was connected to a little old lady who was paying absolutely no attention where she was going. She was moving slow enough that I didn’t hear her footsteps or the shopping cart on the other side of the aisle, but she was back-lit by one of the large lights hanging from ceiling and her shadow was cast directly into my path. I saw the movement, stopped my cart just in time, and instead of jarring my son as our carts collided, I was able to smile as she shuffled past—oblivious that someone was even standing there.

Granted, a shopping cart collision is not exactly what you’re expecting from this blog, but the point remains—situational awareness can be applied to just about every situation life.

Imagine you’re at the gas station. It’s a cold, wet night, and you just want to get enough gas to get home. It’s been a long day at work and you’re tired. The average person would think nothing of stepping outside and pumping the gas. If you are in a nice neighborhood, you might hum and idly tap the roof of your car along to the music being pumped out of the speakers near the pumps. You might have no care in the world other than what you’re going to reheat when you get home for a late dinner.

If however, you’re in a large inner-city or in a certain part of town you know to be on the rougher side of the law, you would naturally be more alert. Without knowing it, you’re taking stock of your surroundings and looking for threats. Whether you do it or not intentionally, that’s the way your mind is wired.

Some people allow themselves to be so wrapped up in their own thoughts or concerns that they don’t pay attention to what’s going on around them…on purpose. Case in point—walk down the street of any major city and see how many people are looking down at their cell phones instead of where they’re going.

But you’re someone who is prepared. Someone who practices situational awareness is very hard to surprise. You could be standing at the gas pump drumming your fingers on top of your car, yet your ears are still attuned to any noise that’s out of the ordinary. At the gas station, you expect to hear crappy music blared over loudspeakers. You expect to hear people talking on their cell phones—despite the big signs that say shut off all electronic devices and engines. Hell, you even expect to see the occasional fool who sits there with his engine running while pumping gas.

What you* don’t* expect is the shuffling feet of the hooligan up to no good who approaches the gas station in the dark of night. Your ears can hear these noises, but your mind must be able to sort them out and filter them to be able to act on the information your body is providing you. Don’t just rely on your hearing, though. Take a glance at the windows of your car while you’re pumping your gas. You may have your back facing whoever is sneaking up behind you, but if you look at the reflection in the mirror or the window, you might give yourself a few seconds notice that there is someone approaching you.

Granted, the person who’s approaching you might just be at the other bay and he or she might just be stepping up to grab the little squeegee to clean their window.

They might also be a criminal up to no good.

The point is, the person who is situationally aware will be able to have the information they need to make the best decision on how to react at any given moment. Do they ignore the person who is approaching them from behind? Do they recognize that the figure behind them as a middle-aged woman just moving past the adjoining pump to put gas in her car? Do they recognize the hooded figure of the young teenager with pants hanging down around his ankles is not exactly someone you want to have your back turned to at night?

It all depends on the…wait for it…situation!

Whatever you decide the person is—friend or foe—you now have an advantage. They are—if they’re up to no good—counting on you being oblivious until the moment they strike. You have gained a few seconds’ advantage. Now it’s up to you to act. Turn and face them or run for help or scream, the choice is up to you—but at least you have a choice, because you were paying attention.

If you are not aware, you are at the mercy of those who may wish you harm.

Placing ourselves at the mercy of someone else is not one of the basic tenets of being prepared. Personal responsibility means not only taking responsibility for your actions and safety, but for protecting yourself from the actions of others.

To be situationally aware, you need to trust all of your senses. Use your ears to listen for footsteps were they shouldn’t be—sometimes silence itself is more telling. For instance, when you’re taking a stroll through the park or the woods and suddenly you realize you don’t hear any birds chirping or squirrels parking. Many animals, especially those that are considered prey for others, will go silent when something unusual or dangerous approaches their location. That in itself is a huge tell and now you can be a little more prepared for danger.

Use your eyes to see when something is amiss, whether it be a shadow on the floor moving toward your around the aisle in a grocery store, or the reflection of somebody approaching you from behind at the gas station. Your eyes provide some of the most valuable information possible to make decisions in any situation. Use them.

Touch is often overlooked but shouldn’t be. In many cases such as when there’s smoke in a house, your sense of touch should be something utilized before exiting any room. Safety experts and firefighters always talk about testing the doorknob or door with your hand before grabbing it. If you can feel heat radiating from the metal doorknob or through the wooden door, that’s a pretty good indication there’s a fire right of the other side of that door and opening it will be a very bad decision.

Hearing is right up there with vision. As just mentioned, the sudden appearance of dead silence is unnerving for reason. Your body is used to hearing sounds. When you hear nothing, that tingling you feel between your shoulder blades or that uneasiness in your stomach is your body telling you, “Hey, wake the hell up! Something bad is about to go down.”

When you use all your senses in concert, it provides you a wealth of information in any given circumstance to make every decision that you need.

How many times have we heard stories on the news were someone who is the victim of a crime reported to the police that the suspect ‘came out of nowhere’?

People don’t just come out of nowhere. The bad guy was waiting for you in the shadows, he was walking behind you, or he was approaching you from the other side of the car. You just didn’t notice him. You either had your head down because you were staring at a cell phone, you had your head up because you are talking on a cell phone, or your head was in the clouds because you were thinking about something—maybe talking on the cell phone—or some other myriad distractions that plague modern humans took your attention away from your immediate surroundings and left you vulnerable.

If there are two people walking down the street, one chatting away on their cell phone or occupied by some other distraction and the other confidently walking down the street secure in their surroundings, listening for anything out of the ordinary, looking for anything out of the ordinary and making sure to every now and then glance behind them or use reflective surfaces they pass to look behind them—who do you think is going to be seen as a better target for someone up to no good?

The average criminal is smart, despite what you may think about people who get caught. If they see a man walking down the street who looks in reasonable health and he’s walking with his back straight, his eyes open, and glancing to the left and right every now and then making sure there’s no one standing right behind him, the criminal’s likely going to look elsewhere.

Perhaps to the person right behind our situationally aware example, who’s staring down at his cell phone—hey, is that Billy?—is oblivious to the world around him. This person makes the perfect target. The criminal can walk up, smack him in the back of the head, take all his stuff, and be gone by the time the body hits the floor.

Situational Awareness can be applied to a larger scale.

Think of your neighborhood. What are the normal traffic patterns? Does everybody tend to leave at the same time in the morning for work or school? Do most people tend to return around the same time in the evening from work or school? Are there more cars in the street in front of your house or apartment on the weekends? On Friday a night? What about on Wednesday nights?

As I said before, criminals are not stupid. Most home invasions occur during the day when people are at work. Why would a criminal want to break into someone’s house in the middle of the night knowing there might be a shotgun waiting for him on the other side of that door? Why take the chance? Wait for people to leave for work and then break in.

There are TV shows devoted to this, where they hire criminals to break into people’s houses to test security systems. They show you the tricks of the criminal trade and the homeowners can then take appropriate countermeasures after the show is over. Things like that are great for people who want to be more situationally aware of their surroundings.

For example, burglars often times case the house they plan on ransacking. They’ll drive by your neighborhood in an attempt to see if anyone is home during the day. They might do it a couple days in a row just to check patterns. Maybe they’ll show up in a uniform and pretend to be roofing contractors (especially after a bad storm), just seeing if anyone is home on a weekday. How many times have you seen guys with clipboards walking through neighborhoods signing people up for lawn care? I’m not saying open the door with a shotgun, but don’t trust implicitly every single person who shows up at your doorstep 100%.

If you leave the curtains open, all the better for them to see exactly what you have in your living room and dining room—they might even see it from the street. They don’t even have to leave their car, how thoughtful of you. Likewise, at night if you’re sitting in your front room, watching TV on your big screen, sitting back in your expensive recliner with the curtains open, likely you’re not even going to notice the headlights that drive by your house.

Shoot, it’s nighttime, you can’t tell that’s the same car that drove by 5 minutes ago, can you? But the burglar out in the street who drove and got a good look inside your house can say, “Hey, he’s got a flat screen TV I might want.”

Under threats such as these, what’s the prepared person to do? How can you utilize situationally awareness to protect yourself?

Like I said, know the patterns of your neighborhood. If after 5 or 6 o’clock there aren’t that many cars in the neighborhood, then when a car does drive by, it should get your attention. As the sun goes down, pull the shades closed in your front rooms. Make it difficult for someone casually walking or driving down the street to see exactly what you have inside your house. (I will go in to more detail about this later, because we’re crossing over into another post for the future about home security.)

Suffice it to say if you take the time to actually be aware of your surroundings, or the surroundings of your home, or the surroundings of your state or even country depending on what potential threat you’re preparing for, you will make it that much more difficult for you to be considered a victim, prey, or a target.

Instead of things happening to you, you might just give yourself enough of a head start to avoid things happening altogether. In the case of a mugging, simply turning around to let the person following you know they’ve been made might be enough for them to change their mind about attacking. Knowing that a hurricane is coming and preparing in advance might give you enough time to beat the rush when the evacuation order is given, or have your house prepared for possible looting and rioting in the aftermath.

Situational awareness is something we can practice every day without drawing attention to ourselves–if you’re wearing sunglasses, constantly let your eyes roam. No one will know you’re looking if you don’t turn your head. But you’ll know what’s around you. And it doesn’t require a license, training courses, ammunition, or special training. All you have to do is look, listen, hear, smell, and touch.

Even if you only give yourself a few seconds notice before someone attacks you or tries to rob you, those few seconds could mean the difference between you getting a few bruises and scaring off the attacker, or being knocked unconscious and left completely at the mercy of someone who obviously didn’t care about your well-being to begin with.

Situational awareness. Learn it, love it, use it, do it. Another skill in the peppers tool chest.

You can apply it to driving. Situational awareness behind the wheel is technically called defensive driving. When coming to a stop light, a defensive driver typically leaves at least a car length between the car in front of them and their own vehicle. A good rule of thumb is watch the tires of the vehicle in front of you as you stop. At the point where you no longer see the the tires of the car in front of you touch the road, stop. The space that is now left between you and the car in front of you is enough for you to turn your wheel, hit the gas, and get out of harms way should something necessitate such a maneuver.

Perhaps it’s winter and there’s snow on the road, so you give yourself a slight gap between your car and the car in front of you. Then you notice in your rear view mirror–you are checking your mirrors even when stopped, right? –you see a car sliding out of control behind you. Because you left that gap in front, you now have enough time to get your car out of danger without smashing into the car in front of you, trapping you and letting you become the target.

You can use situational awareness at night at home, in bed. Get your mind out of the gutter, I’m not talking about that kind of awareness.

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, perhaps dreaming that you heard a loud noise, or perhaps hearing an ongoing noise from somewhere in your house? The second you noticed that noise doesn’t belong—the smashing of a window in an otherwise quiet house for instance—and you choose to take action, whether it be to call the cops, grab your gun and flashlight, or get out of bed with a baseball bat—you are putting situational awareness to use.

So what’s the 1st step? Situational awareness can be finely honed—just look at what the military and special forces do. These guys can walk into places and in a heartbeat know who’s where, what they’re doing, how to get themselves out of the building, what the target is, and what to do next. But they had years of training and that’s their job.

What is the average Joe to do? You can begin as simply as paying attention to what’s around you. Don’t ignore things.

Start with your vision. Try to take in as much of your surroundings at all times for fun. Make it a game—try to see behind you and figure out ways try to figure out ways to see behind you without letting the people back there know you’re watching them. The more you begin looking for reflective surfaces—say at the supermarket or at the gas station—the more you look for shadows that don’t belong, the more it will become second nature.

Once you feel comfortable you’re able to spot things that don’t belong in any given situation, try focusing on hearing things. Or try focusing on smelling things. What does the gas station typically smell like? Gas, diesel, oil. If you smell something acrid like smoke, or something vile like the stench of marijuana, you can immediately decide something isn’t right and move on to another gas station or at least raise your own level of awareness.

The point is, practice. Make a game out of it. The more you practice, the more you hone your ability to be aware of your surroundings. The more you are aware of your surroundings, the more prepared you are, and the less of a target you become. The less you’re a target, the better chances you have of surviving any given situation.

After all, that’s the point of being situationally aware, right?

Freehold Friday: Going Gray

Welcome back, muchachos.

Continuing my Prepper theme of posts, I decided to touch on a prepper concept popularized as “Going Gray”.

No, I’m most definitely not talking about turning any shades (50 or otherwise) of gray. In the world of preparedness, “going gray” or becoming a “gray man” (or woman!) means to be invisible.

Think about it. When you walk down the street (if you don’t have your nose buried in a smart phone like just about everyone else) you’re probably not paying all that much attention to people around you. If you’re a prepper, you’re most likely in possession of a keener than normal sense of situational awareness (that’ll be another post!), which means you’re aware of who’s near you, any threats that may approach you, and a general sense of your surroundings. This can get pretty detailed—hence a separate post. Suffice it to say, a prepper probably knows there’s a woman and her child ten steps behind, a guy on his cell phone to the left, a shop with an open door and music blaring on the right and a car crossing the intersection a dozen paces in front. The prepper, therefore, is aware of the situation he/she finds himself/herself in.

Now let’s look at what the Average Joe might see. Where’s Billy? Oh, there you are. Did you make it out of D.C. okay?

“Um,” says Billy, staring at his Twitter feed. “Yeah. I almost died but I made it.”

Ah, excellent. That’s the great thing about being a construct of my imagination—I can kill poor Billy as many times as I want and he still keeps coming back for more.

“Thanks.”

No prob—hey, at least I gave you that cell phone back.

“Thanks again,” Billy says, rolling his eyes.

Right then. Let’s throw Billy on a semi-crowded street in Anytown, USA. He’s finished some shopping and heading home, staring at his ever present cell phone, like everyone else who isn’t actually talking on their cell phone. Billy’s wearing his most expensive shoes and jeans, fashionably dressed for Milan, sporting his $300 designer sunglasses. He proudly flaunts the labels on the bags he carries—he wants everyone to know he only shops at the best stores, recession be damned.

Next to him walks Adam Gray. Adam also shopped at some high end stores (electronics, not clothes), but instead of dressing to the nines, Adam is wearing jeans and a plan blue sweatshirt. He put all his items in one bag and turned it so the garish label faced him. To the outside world, his bag is plain white and could be full of dirty laundry. In short, it’s unremarkable, just like Adam. He looks like he just stepped off the local college campus without a dime to his name. Adam, in his worn in sneakers, picks up the pace a bit and pulls away from the walking advertisement, Billy.

Presently Adam passes a young man in a puffy winter coat and baggie pants, dressed for weather that’s about 30 degrees cooler. Adam, using his finely attuned sense of situational awareness, recognizes the warning flags. Something isn’t right here. The young man dressed for a ski trip is sweating profusely and looks nervous, his eyes darting back and forth, never settling on anything for long. As he looks toward Adam, Adam makes sure to look straight ahead, while keeping the suspicious fellow well in his peripheral vision. Adam passes by quickly—but not so quick as to make it look like he’s running from someone—and continues on his way, conscious of the fact that he feels like he just dodged a bullet.

Meanwhile, Billy, flaunting his loot and expensive clothes, soon meets the suspicious young man, who pulls a revolver from his voluminous jacket and robs Billy of everything except his coiffure.

Adam, you see, was a Gray Man. He was invisible to the predator. Billy, showing off his fashion sense and wealth, had a flashing target on his chest saying “Rob me!”.

You know the old saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”? How about “the nail that sticks up gets hammered”?

Those adages were about going gray. Blend in, become faceless, become completely non-threatening or interesting. In a world of vibrant colors, become gray. Fade into the background. Predators, be they of the criminal element or something more nefarious (I’ll let you decide what that is for you…for me it’s aliens from Mars).

How does this tactic fit into the prepping mentality?

Imagine if you will, a disaster has struck. Pick your poison—hurricane, terror attack, bio-weapon, invasion, volcanic eruption, what have you—when that thin veneer of civility starts to collapse and the darker side of the human experience rears its head (look up the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina if you don’t believe it can happen in America), trust me, you want to be invisible.

The police—if they’re still around, probably won’t care who’s head they bash in order to maintain order. If you don’t stand out, if you’re…gray…you stand a better chance to slip through undetected and unabashed.

And if it’s the bad guys who are out and about, going gray definitely makes you look like less of an appealing target. Not so much so that you appear to be a threat to them (that’s a whole other thing), but if they see someone like Billy, they’re going to rob him first, just because Adam might be carrying dirty clothes in that bag and who the hell wants to steal that?

Depending on your physical stature, going gray may be easier or harder for you. Those people over 6 feet tall are naturally going to be larger and therefore easier to attract the eye of undesirables (whoever that may be). So rely on your dress and your gear. Don’t wear flashy clothes like Billy. Don’t wear the latest tacti-cool digital camo backpack that looks like a Navy SEAL might go into Afghanistan with it on his back. Carry your gear in a simple backpack suitable for a student. Plain colors, nothing fancy, nothing that screams “I’ve got really expensive survival gear in here!”

Think about it as if you had a concealed carry permit (maybe you do—and if so, good for you!). The law just about everywhere states you have to make sure no one knows you’re carrying a gun, right? Well, that’s sort of like going gray. You look like everyone else—nothing to see here, move along.

So whether you you’re 6’5“ man or a 5’2” woman, don’t wear bright colored or revealing clothes in a survival situation—people will take notice and look at you. Wear something nondescript. Carry your gear in a backpack designed for a college campus. Now you look like a student—everyone knows they only have one thing: debt.

Going gray doesn’t just mean your outer appearance. You can go gray in a bad neighborhood by driving a car no one would want to steal—okay, you don’t have to go buy a Pinto or anything, but don’t roll around in a Bentley, right? Car choice works in everyday life though—imagine there are two cars parked next to each other, a 1996 Ford Escort and a 2016 Chevy Suburban. A thief bound and determined to steal something will go for which car (whether stealing the car itself or breaking a window to see what’s inside)? What are the chances the ’96 Ford even has a CD player? That little Escort was probably a nice car back in the day—but 20 years later? It’s something a kid might get as a first (hand-me-down) car or something someone just out of college might be able to afford. In short, it’s a car, it’ll get you from point A to B, but it ain’t nothing to write home about. It doesn’t attract attention like the glitzy shiny new latest model sparkling in the sunlight with a fresh coat of wax. Which means the criminals will probably walk right past it too—hey, everybody has to have standards, right?

OPSEC

You can apply this idea to all aspects of your life if you sit and think, what will draw attention to me if I do X? Come up with an appropriate answer (launching a mortar at the guy who looks like he might try and rob the gas station you’re at is not an appropriate response). Then do the opposite, whether its buying clothes, cars, food, even the stores you shop at or the places you visit.

This concept also extends into Opsec (a term that means Operational Security). You’re a prepper—you have a decent amount of food stored away for emergencies in your house. You have a pretty impressive amount of camping equipment (you do have gear, right?) and hunting gear. You may have a decent firearms collection. You know what all that stuff is?

Loot.

On the best of days, a burglar that randomly breaks into your house would find a treasure trove of stuff. Maybe not jewels, but you’re likely to have a lot of stuff he might want. On the worst of days, when the world around you descends into a world without the rule of law (WROL)—even if only temporary (like the aftermath of a big hurricane, where the police might not be able to get to you for a few days…you don’t have to think ‘end of the world’ every time) all that stuff in your house will be worth its weight in gold.

The UK Fuel Protests of 2000 proved that society is only 9 meals away from collapse (as we know it). Read up on this thing folks—it took a tiny number of people (relative to the general population) to blockade the refineries in England and shut down gas stations.

What am I talking about you ask? Well, those trucks (lorries) that delivered food to grocery stores required gas (petrol). When the gas stations couldn’t get deliveries, they closed. When the trucks that delivered the food to the grocery stores couldn’t get gas, they stopped driving. When the grocery stores stopped receiving food, they began rationing what they had left—after only 48 hours (that’s 6 meals).

Back home in the USA we saw how people panic just two weeks ago during Snowmageddon ’16. And that was just a snowstorm that everyone knew would come to an end in 48 hours or so—yet they still ransacked stores and bought enough milk in NYC to make the cows in Wisconsin nervous. Imagine what went through the minds of people during that fuel protest 16 years ago—there was no end in sight, the news grew bleaker every day. By luck or planning, the protest only lasted a few days, but no one in the general public could know that’s how long it would last—hence the panic buying of food and water that led to stores rationing things…like food and water.

Loose lips sink ships.

When that happens (and it will, the question is for how long—like a few days for a hurricane or snow storm or a few weeks for a terror attack) again, if you’ve been running your mouth to your neighbor or not being smart and allowed the entire neighborhood to see you transfer 10 cases of bottled water from your car in the driveway to your basement…people will quickly put 2 and 2 together and realize, hey, you’ve got a bunch of stuff I want!

Best case scenario, your neighbor shows up—there’s Billy again—asking for a little water. Or food. Or power (you do have a generator, right?). What if he then says something to a friend or neighbor. Now word spreads and you’ve got half the neighborhood at your doorstep. I’m sure we’d all like to help as many people as possible, but things will quickly come to a point where you have to weigh the safety and survival of your own family over those of people outside your family.

Which is exactly what everyone else will do when they have nothing and they realize you have everything they need.

Easy way to avoid unpleasantness in times of emergency? When you’re preparing, if you have a garage, pull your vehicle into it and shut the door when you unload your purchase of 20 cases of water and MREs. To the rest of the world, you just came home. Leave that garage door up (or worse, park in the driveway) and you announce to the world you have stuff that will be available to steal, beg, or borrow when the shit starts flying toward the fan. Knowledge like that can put your loved ones in danger.

So keep your prepping to yourself. Think of it like you’re packing to go on vacation. Security experts warn us when we’re packing the old SUV to head to the airport, to do so in our garage with the door down, so we don’t announce to the whole flippin’ world we’re loading suitcases and preparing to leave our house for an extended amount of time. Burglars case neighborhoods, folks. They keep track of when people leave for work and when they come home. They’re not stupid—in this day and age when there are so many people who own firearms, the smart criminal avoids the threat and breaks in when no one’s home—not when the homeowner and his shotgun might be waiting for him.

This could spiral into a whole ’nother post about security but I think you get the drift. Going Gray is not about losing trust or faith in your fellow man, it’s not about becoming paranoid that everyone is out to get your stuff. It’s about another method of preparing. Just train yourself to blend in, to the “silent” in the silent majority. Don’t stand out, don’t draw attention to yourself and when something happens, you’ll be able to escape to safety that much easier.

Because at the end of the day, what’s the use of being prepared if you stand there like a deer in headlights when the zombie horde* turns the corner and starts down the street toward you? If you’re like Billy, you’ll stand there in your fancy clothes, next to your fancy car and stare at your phone (or you’ll use the phone to take pictures). If you’re a gray man (or woman) you’ll quietly turn and slip away in your conservative, if utilitarian, clothes or get into your nondescript vehicle and leave the scene ASAP. Even if you decided to stay, the attention will be on Billy.

Going gray really a simple concept that you can take to whatever extremes you want. You can practice once a month or once a year or every day to the point that it’s second nature. When that happens, you can add yet another layer of preparedness to your skill set. If you go gray every day, when the zombie apocalypse strikes, you’ll simply disappear without thinking about it, which may provide you with valuable time to leave the danger area, reach loved ones, make it home or to supplies, etc.

And yes, that zombie link is the real Centers For Disease Control website. Our government spent your tax dollars on a website about surviving a zombie attack. No, I’m not mad—it’s kind of funny really—the point is they want you to think. Replace “zombie apocalypse” with “bio-weapon terror attack” and read the article again.

*–insert whatever you want here: social justice warriors, peace protesters, any protesters at all, police, National Guard, flood waters, forest fire, tornado, etc.