Category Archives: reporting

New Mexico’s Supervolcano

The Valles Caldera is Only Dormant

By G G Collins (Copyright 2021)

Excerpt from Anasazi Medium, Chapter 8

Yellowstone isn’t the only supervolcano in the United States. The Valles Caldera is located in northern New Mexico in close proximity to the Los Alamos National Labs (LANL) and the Rio Grande. An eruption from the dormant, but not extinct, volcano could cause significant interruptions to life or extinguish life depending on the force of the eruption. Some of you will recognize the Valles Caldera as the location of the Longmire sheriff’s ranch.

Images, except the above, are from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science.

We pick up with an interview which journalist Rachel Blackstone is having with character Professor Axel Saxon at the University of New Mexico, Earth and Planetary Science. We join them with the interview already in progress.

“How dangerous is the Valles Caldera?” Rachel asked.

“It is considered a young supervolcano in that it erupted 1.25 million years ago. It’s geothermal and responsible for the hot springs that populate the area. We also know it is dormant, not extinct. The caldera is about 20 kilometres or 13 miles wide. A supervolcano isn’t one eruption, but multiple eruptions occurring at once. When the volcanic pressure cooker just can’t take anymore and it releases pent up energy in many places.”

He showed Rachel another map showing the resurgent lava dome, called Redondo Peak, and the smaller domes around it.

“If it were to erupt again,” Rachel asked. “What force are we talking about?”

“Supervolcanoes have an eruption of magnitude eight,” Saxon paused. “That’s the largest on the VEI or Volcanic Explosivity Index.”

“So this type of eruption really isn’t within our experience in the near past?” Rachel asked.

“No. You’ve heard of Pinatubo, Krakatau and a U.S. volcano called Mount St. Helens?”

Rachel nodded.

“These are inconsequential by comparison to the Valles Caldera. Even Crater Lake and Tambora are smaller. Only the Yellowstone supervolcano is larger.”

“Are you aware that the last time the Yellowstone erupted that ash and dead animal bones were found as far away as Nebraska? The three Yellowstone eruptions we know about produced enough ash to fill the Grand Canyon and were 2500 times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Today, if Yellowstone went off it would immediately kill 90,000 people. Those not dead would be standing calf-deep in ash. The nuclear winter to follow could cause famine as the great breadbasket of the world, the States, would likely not be able to grow much.”

“What would the results be of a Valles Caldera eruption?” Rachel asked.

“First there would be the ash fallout to consider. Not only would any planes in the area be at risk of losing engine performance and therefore crash, but water contamination could result and rooftop collapse. That is especially a problem for flat roofs that can be found all over our area, but especially prominent in Santa Fe due to the Pueblo architecture.

Tent Rocks (Kasha-Katuwe) was created with volcanic ash fallout, perhaps 1/4 mile thick. Enough to have cooked a moderate-sized city.

“Agriculture would be adversely affected, maybe not even possible. Livestock would become ill and die from breathing the ash and gases.

“People would also experience health issues and some, maybe many, would die. It would depend on the size of the eruption.

Notice the proximity of Los Alamos (LANL) to the Valles Caldera.

“We don’t even know how it would affect power-producing plants. And yes, we don’t know if the damage to the LANL would be sufficient to release plutonium and other nuclear materials into the air. If so, that could be cataclysmic in terms of loss of life.

“As to the influence on the country and the world; again, depending on the size of eruption, it could bring about the nuclear winter where ash would block the sun and make agriculture impossible. And this brings me to the most lasting product of supervolcanoes: worldwide famine, millions—maybe billions—of refugees, satellite disruption and the crash of world financial markets.”

“Good god,” Rachel said. “All because a New Mexico volcano wakes up.”

Buy Anasazi Medium at: https://amzn.to/3cHlUEA

Thanks for reading.

2020 Pandemic Living in America

The Year of Living Dangerously

By G G Collins          Copyright 2021

What Went Wrong?

Wikimedia Public Domain US Capitol 1-6-21

As I watched the events unfolding yesterday at the US Capitol, I am reminded that the past year has been one of tumult, chaos and fear.

The year began fairly normally, although there were already reports in late 2019 of a pneumonia in China that wasn’t responding to protocol treatments. By February, it was apparent that we would need to find ways to cope with an impending pandemic. We could see it coming from the horrible losses in China, Italy and other European countries.

In the beginning it was met with uplifting song, improvised music and appreciative applause for healthcare workers. But in the US, it has been reported that desperately sick people are cursing hospital staff as they try to treat them, yelling “It’s only the flu!”

A New Reality

The early months of the pandemic dissolved into physical scraps in grocery stores over toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Empty shelves mocked hopeful shoppers. It was nearly impossible to buy or steal a mask. Fortunately Etsy and other indie platforms stepped up. Restaurants, bars, churches, offices closed. Instead of “working from home offices” it became “remote working.”

Although we’ve have always considered firefighters, police, EMTs and hospital staff to be frontline workers, the designation took on new meaning. Grocery store, pharmacy and meat packing plant employees were drafted into duty as frontline workers.

Suddenly, going to the grocer or picking up a prescription became a red line to step over; a threat to be weighed. Do I really need that loaf of bread? Do I risk my life for a carton of milk? Should I keep my yearly physical or dental appointment? Is it safe?

Is Anything Right With the World?

PublicDomainPictures.net

I’m lucky. I can work remotely; have for years. But that doesn’t make me immune from stress and COVID-19. Unable to do anything about the pandemic, but report on it, I began looking for small things to uplift my spirit and remind me that some things were still going along as expected.

My neighbor has the old-fashioned idea that laundry should be hung outside to dry. She enjoys the crunchy feel of a sunshine-drenched sheet. I began looking for her hanging laundry, because it was a normal occurrence BP (Before Pandemic). Having a garden has been a lifesaver. Not only can I get outside, but watching things grow is therapeutic.

It’s not over, in fact, the worst of the pandemic may still await us, even as the vaccine parade forms. We have to get through it; there isn’t a way around it. We can’t beg or bribe our way out of a pandemic; but must abide.

There is no choice but to continue the year of living dangerously.

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Month

The Power of Photos

by G G Collins                                              Copyright 2020

For regular readers of my blog, you know a friend was diagnosed with early onset dementia. She wanted to cope with this as best she could on her own terms, and that’s how it should always be. Even if you can’t see your family member or friend, you can still keep in touch through letters, however one-sided the communication is.

Public Domain Image

It’s one of those things where simple is better. Use a larger font to facilitate reading and tell straightforward stories. As dementia progresses, a patient’s interest in reading lags and eventually letters have to be read aloud by a family member or nursing staff. Photos are extremely useful. It’s best if you move in close and concentrate on one object or person.

Laurence Aëgerter, a French visual artist in Amsterdam developed the “Photographic Treatment.” She discovered that images could evoke memories that may go back as far as the teenage years. Earlier memories seem to be easier to recall. She made the photos available without charge so that everyone could use them. Here is an example.

These vertical black and white photos with similar images can lead to memories and invite conversation.

In one encounter, Aëgerter showed a patient a photo of a cat and kitten. Up until this time, he had been silent, but something about this picture elicited a response. For five minutes it was as if he didn’t have dementia. For more reading on this:

A photographic treatment for people with dementia

https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/20/health/photographic-treatment-dementia-photos/index.html

With this in mind, choose photos of your loved one, places you’ve been together. As time goes on the photos need to grow larger and more focused on the subject as having other objects in the picture can be confusing. An album of the patient’s life can also provide for stimulation of memories.

Perhaps the most important observation Aëgerter discovered in her research and interaction with patients: “I realized we should never underestimate people who are sick.” That’s important. We should resist infantilization. While someone may not be able to speak, they may understand more than we realize.

For other ways to use photos:

10 Ways to Use the Power of Photos for Dementia Care

http://www.alzheimersweekly.com/2015/08/10-ways-to-use-power-of-photos-for.html

Supernatural Retrospective

Because I’ve always mentioned Sam and Dean in my Rachel Blackstone Paranormal Mysteries, I’m publishing this piece on both blogs.

 

The End of the Road

By G G Collins          Copyright 2020

From the beginning, Supernatural has been about more than two brothers slaying monsters. The series has been researched; a satisfying recipe of biblical, lore and fabrication. Drawn by good storytelling, humor and a bit—okay more than a bit—of stage blood thrown around, it caught the attention of several generations. The two stars (Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki) were barely known when the series began 15 years ago, but soon the characters of Sam and Dean became household words. Supernatural took us places we’ve never been before.

The boys have been thoroughly tested. They’ve had visits to the “cage” and been resurrected. They gone black and white and they’ve been on almost every night of the week. And still fans followed. Dean with his testosterone-laden personality and Sam who—except when he lost his soul—was the more sensitive of the two have created a good hunter/maniacal hunter amalgamation. And through all the ups and downs of their relationship and their passion for their work, they have remained family despite a few dissonant separations.

It is the humor and the asides of this horror series that has kept audiences tuning in for more than a decade. Remember Dean on the airplane in Season One? Screaming like a girl! Ackles recreated that scream again in “Yellow Fever” when he was infected with ghost sickness. It’s a classic; the rugged character showing unreasonable fear. And fun.

In their more poignant moments they have showed compassion. Even Dean has that ability on occasion. In “Roadkill” Molly (Tricia Helfer) doesn’t know she is dead and every year she endures her death once again. When they finally convince her, and she walks into the light they become reflective.

Dean says: “…you think she’s really going to a better place?”

Sam replies: “I hope so.”

Dean adds: “I guess we’ll never know. Not until we take the plunge ourselves, huh?”

Sam says: “Doesn’t really matter, Dean. Hope’s kind of the whole point.” (This is my favorite line of the show.)

As the storyline evolved, other characters were introduced. Jim Beaver (Bobby Singer not to be confused with the producer/director of the series, or maybe?) became a father figure for the boys and their go-to guy for lore. “Weekend at Bobby’s” was Beaver’s moment to shine and we weren’t disappointed.

Misha Collins’ Castiel could make a righteous entrance and became the boys’ “wing man.” Collins played both giggling social media addict (“The French Mistake”) and vengeful angel with equal aplomb. Who knows how many tan trench coats he went through. But bloody or not, Collins is always good.

Then came along Mark A. Sheppard as the king of hell. Sheppard milked every scene and we loved it. He’s bad and that ain’t good. He’s that friend you can never trust. Sheppard played him with a sly absurdity that was a pleasure to watch.

In a bit of inspiration, Kim Rhodes was cast as Sheriff Jody Mills. Usually women played reapers, demons and angels, with the exception of their mother (Samantha Smith). But Rhodes was given a meatier role. She had to carefully enforce the law while becoming one of the guys. In the “Time After Time” episode where Dean traveled backward and met Eliot Ness, she was trying to get Sam to rest and said, “Do I have to use my mom voice.” It was the perfect combination of authority figure and mother.

Early on, it was reported that Eric Kripke (creator) wanted to use a classic Mustang as “Baby,” but was informed there wasn’t enough room in the trunk for a body. So chosen instead was the 1967 Chevy Impala. They did get that Mustang in there during the apocalypse Season 5 when the red horseman drove into town in a red classic pony car. Baby is such an inherent part of the show it had its own episode appropriately titled “Baby.”

Throughout the series, we’ve been treated to a plethora of rock ‘n roll music that the boys’ father (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) introduced to Dean. It has made for a rousing soundtrack. And don’t forget all those gaudy motel rooms; absolutely inspired! The person in charge of the wallpaper needs an Emmy please.

And so we find ourselves near the end of the road. It’s been a great ride and while we don’t want it to end, that was always implied; they are hunters after all.

How do I want it to end?

Sam looks up from laptop.

Sam: “There’s a report of an Ōkami in Kansas City.”

Dean: “Hey, aren’t they’re mostly found in Japan?”

Sam: “What do you want to do?”

Dean: “What we always do.”

Boys leave the bunker.

(“Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas plays)

Fade to black.

As we say goodbye to old friends I can’t help but think of what Chuck/God (Rob Benedict) said about writing the books to be known as the Winchester Gospel.

Endings are hard.

 

Watch on The CW, TNT and Netflix

Interviewing for the Fiction Writer

So You Have to do an Interview!

By G G Collins          (Copyright 2017)

Nonfiction writers are accustomed to conducting interviews, but what about the fiction writer? It’s fiction; don’t I just make it up? Some writers may be able to, but the vast majority of us will have to do some research, including the dreaded interview.

Here’s how.

The Interview: Who You Gonna Call?

By Cogiati (own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Cogiati (own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Maybe you need location information. Yes, you can Google photos and descriptions, but what if you need specific information about a festival for a scene in your book? How a rescue is performed in a national park? Background on a historical event that occurred in the 1940s? Is there seismic activity in the locale you’re using? I’ve answered all these questions for my books by doing interviews: some in person, others via phone or email. Note: If you do an email interview, be sure to tell your source if you need detailed information and ask if follow-up questions are okay.

There is a wealth of experts out there who are willing to talk with you. Yeah, their boss may make them, but most of them are happy to share their knowledge. I’ve spoken to festival organizers, park rangers, historians, museum curators and university professors. Their enthusiasm for their subject or specialty is contagious. You’ll go back to your computer with lots of ideas because of what you have learned.

Decide what it is you need to know and call the city’s tourism office or chamber of commerce for referrals. Universities are great places to learn about almost anything and don’t forget area historical societies. If you have a question, there is someone who can answer it.

You may need to give them your credentials. If you haven’t published as yet tell them about your debut project, why you’re qualified to tell the story and how far along you are in writing the book. But if you aren’t published, don’t assume no one will talk with you.

The Tools: Reporter’s Notebook, Recording Device, Pens

A reporter’s notebook is thinner than other notebooks. It’s 4 inches wide which makes it faster than an old-fashioned steno pad.

Use a recording device. I still use a small cassette recorder, but there are other options now with smart phones and tablets. Use what you’re comfortable with.

A combination of notes and recording is best. What if air conditioning, nearby conversation or airplane traffic drowns out the recording? I’ve had all these happen. It’s a sinking feeling when you can’t understand the interview. You’ve got to have the notes as backup.

Which Pen Would You Choose?

Which Pen Would You Choose?

When taking notes during an interview or at a press conference, the type of pen you choose can make all the difference. Look at the pens in the photo. Which would you select? The best one for taking notes while someone is talking about 110 words a minute; the round colorful one. Reason? It has a medium ball point.

The other two pens are both fine points, one is a gel tip. Fine points slow down note taking. I’ve found the gel tip to be even slower, dragging and pulling. The medium tip slides almost effortlessly. The rounded shape is more comfortable to the hand. And the rubber strip around the tip assists the fingers in grasping the pen without gripping, reducing strain. Some pens even come with built-in lights. Just be careful where you use them. You don’t want to disturb others. When I review performance art, I take notes in the dark. Yes really.

If you take shorthand or speedwriting, great, but most of us don’t. They are dying skills. If not, you can quickly develop your own with a little practice. Some words like “people” are used a lot. I shorten it to “ppl.” Leave out the vowels. To add “ent” I use a hyphen at the end of the base word: “cont-” for “content.” For “ing” I underline the last letter of the base word: “end” for “ending.” You’ll find your own way.

Questions: The Basic Six 

Wikipedia/Tobias Klenze/CC BY-SA 3.0

Wikipedia/Tobias Klenze/CC BY-SA 3.0

Go to an interview with a minimum of six questions. Let’s say your protagonist is going to get lost in that national park. You’ll want to know the best way for your character to alert someone she needs help. Of course, her cell phone won’t work. Does the park require hikers to sign in and out? If so, how long does the park wait before searching? Would your character need a signal fire or other SOS? How are rescues done? By helicopter? By foot? Another way? You don’t want to say they used a vehicle if there are no autos allowed in the park at any time. Is there a famous person who was rescued at the park? What was the most difficult rescue? Anecdotes add interest.

That’s your six questions.

I add a seventh question: Is there anything I haven’t thought to ask that you think would be important for my readers to know?

What if I’m Anxious?

You probably will be the first few times you talk with someone, that’s why you should be prepared. Readiness makes for less nervousness. Writers are often life-long learners and your need to learn will likely help you relax. Greet the person as you would anyone with a handshake and a smile. Then get to business. They are making time for you and you should take only 20 to 30 minutes of the valuable time for your interview.

A Reporter Notebook is only 4 inches Wide.

A Reporter Notebook is only 4 Inches Wide.

When you get to your final question, tell them it’s the last question. That way they understand you’re wrapping up.

Then thank them for taking the time to talk with you. Say goodbye and leave. Don’t linger. Your work is done. Let them get back to theirs.

It’s always nice to follow the interview with a thank you: mail, email or text. You judge which is appropriate by the age and rank of the interview. Get a business card before you leave their office so you have the contact information.

How to Use What You’ve Learned

Now that you have soaked up the knowledge of your expert, it’s time to write it down, right now, while it’s still fresh. Rough out how you want to use it. It can be blended into location description, insider information to make your prose more realistic or dialogue that adds depth and interest to your story.

You just did an interview!

Copyscape Do Not Copy

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