We are thrilled to welcome back Steven Konkoly, author of the runaway apocalyptic thriller The Jakarta Pandemic, to discuss the first book of his new project, The Perseid Collapse series. You may remember that we interviewed Steve last year about The Jakarta Pandemic and when we learned that there was a sequel in the works we were very excited and finally the wait is over.
The Fletchers are back in The Perseid Collapse and, I’ve got to say, we’ve missed them. Six years after the the Jakarta pandemic ravaged the life they had known Alex and Kate are pushing ahead into the new reality and are even sending their son Ryan off to college. How about you take it from there and tell us a little bit about the Fletchers and sort of set the stage for what’s going on in The Perseid Collapse?
The Fletchers are trying as much as they can to maintain a normal life. They live in the same home as they did in the first book. I struggled with whether they should stay in that house, whether there was too much bad juju in that neighborhood, a lot went down. They learned that bugging in like they did in The Jakarta Pandemic, although Maine is not as populated as some areas, in a relatively crowded neighborhood in a suburb was not a good idea then and it won’t be a good idea next time because the next time it’s going to be worse. Even if it’s the same or a lesser disaster, it’s going to end up being worse because the memories are fresh. The Fletchers made some money, or retained more money than everyone else, when everything was more or less wiped out after the Jakarta pandemic. So that’s kind of where the novel starts. Their son is on to college, they’re out on their sailboat, which is part of that normal life. They’re not afraid to go out, but they’re cautious. They have preparations. They have BOLT kits. They don’t live like most Americans, but they maintain the appearance that they do.
The Perseid Collapse opens up in China (something I certainly was not expecting) and once again it seems the Red Dragon is impacting the Fletchers world. Can you offer us a little insight into your motivation here?
I think it reflects more of my techno-thriller background that I’ve developed over the last four books in the Black Flagged series. I wanted to give readers a little more. Often times reading other books where you see an America that has been impacted by an EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse), there was never an explanation for what happened or even a hint of it….For me, I like to know a little more. So, I set up this international conspiracy based on the Chinese to get them back on the international scene and level things.
One of the things I noticed very early in the book is even though they’re the same people, no one that survived the Jakarta Pandemic escaped without being changed in some way. I noticed it in Kate first, but as the story moved along I saw the same thing in each of core characters and especially in Alex. Everyone seems to have a bit more edge to them and felt a bit grittier. Not in a bad way, but in a real way, and it seems like our group of survivors are more comfortable with themselves and with each other in their reality following the pandemic. Was this intentional and do you want to walk us through your thought process on how each member of the Durham Road group has come through their last six years?
In the first book of the Perseid, everyone has changed. They’ve retained a lot of their characteristics and their core values, but I think realism has really settled in. I thought it was most obvious in Alex, but I agree with you…and a number of other readers have said that they really liked seeing Kate and learning more about her and her mindset. Like you said, early on she establishes herself…not necessarily forcefully…but you know she’s a force to be reckoned with. She was always like that in the beginning. She was always the one that recommended doing the early shooting. She was kind of the more hard core proponent of violence in the first book. Now that’s kind of transferred over to Alex, but you can definitely see that shift.
This story gets downhill in a hurry and just picks up speed from there. A pandemic virus shook things up for the Fletchers last time around, so what is the disaster catalyst that kicks things off in The Perseid Collapse?
When I finally embraced the idea of bringing the Fletcher family (and friends) back for a follow-on series, I knew I had to GO BIG and construct a believable, yet overwhelmingly catastrophic event. The first part of the “event” is natural, something that would have wreaked havoc as a standalone event. Of course, that wasn’t good enough. An opportunistic foe seizes the opportunity to boost the effects of the disaster on the United States.
I’ve got to admit, I love Ed and Charlie. Several times throughout the story, I caught myself laughing out loud in my office in the wee hours of the morning and hoping I hadn’t woken my wife Alice up on the other side of the house. As the story gets started, what can you tell us about how the Walkers and Thorntons are doing?
Ed Walker and Charlie Thornton are like dueling banjos, providing a much needed comedy break at times. Of course, they also play a critical role in the story arch. Both families weathered the years following The Jakarta Pandemic, thanks to the confederation formed by the three families: Walkers, Thorntons and Fletchers. Charlie is his usual self, a little brash, full of conspiracy theories and bristling with gadget laden firearms. His loyalty to Ed and Alex has multiplied exponentially and really plays a major role in The Perseid Collapse. The Walkers remain the cautious and skeptical members of the group, but readers will see that Ed’s changed. With his daughter in the same predicament as Alex’s son…trapped in Boston…he starts to adopt Alex’s “come hell or high water” approach to solving problems.
Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the scenes immediately following the catalyst event were intensely powerful on every level. The stresses of survival just keep coming and we begin to see how once again the Fletcher’s world has changed in a matter of hours. This is also where we begin to see the layers of preparedness that Alex has made sure to build into every aspect of the Fletcher’s lives in the years following the pandemic. There’s so much to discuss here between the gear and their experiences, where would you like to begin?
Alex has definitely shaped their lives on nearly every level, while “trying” to maintain a mostly normal suburban life. Lake property serves the dual purpose of a Bug Out Location (BOL) and pleasant family getaway. BOLT bags (72 hours) taken on trips are modified for outings, in this case, sailing. He’s made some changes to their home situation, staging “grab and go” gear: 72-hour bags, equipment, ammo and food/water, in a room near their garage. This is a nod to some sage prepper advice and a frightening scenario. What if you had to leave your house in five minutes, for an indefinite period of time? Most of us would spend most of those five minutes trying to find a suitable bag to carry the gear you won’t have time to load up. Alex has some other surprises, but we’ll let readers discover these.
Unlike the scenario that played out in The Jakarta Pandemic, this time the Fletchers will not be able to ride out the crisis in the relative comfort and safety of their own home. They, along with their Durham Road cohorts, will be forced to move in The Perseid Collapse. Could you talk about your thought processes in this portion of the story?
The Jakarta Pandemic explored the concept of Bugging In, which if you’re prepared (like the Fletcher’s), can be a comfortable experience—minus all of the neighbors trying to break in to get your stuff and drifters from out of town breaking into houses. For Perseid, I wanted to put the Fletchers on the road. Granted, they have a “bug out location,” and a pretty nice one at that. Once they reach that compound, they’re back to a comfortable living. That wouldn’t be a lot of fun for either of us. There’s only so much trouble you can get into on a 35 mile trip. I knew it had to be harder, and reflect a realistic dilemma. With kids in college, the group would be forced to split up (due to circumstances explained in book) and multitask. Alex leads Ed and Charlie to Boston to recover the kids, while Kate takes the wives and teenage kids on a “bike trip” to their BOL. As a writer, this gives me two storylines to work with, and an opportunity to develop previously sidelined characters.
Obviously, the Fletchers have practiced a lifestyle of preparedness for years and they have been joined by most of the neighborhood in the years since the Jakarta Pandemic. However, the most often overlooked aspect to preparedness is the planning and training, or the “software”, of preparedness that must be in place ahead of the disaster. Without it all of those preparedness goodies that are locked away in the basement won’t do you any good. Ryan (Fletcher) and Chloe (Walker) were both in Boston, albeit different locations, when the disaster strikes. This fact is the reason behind the Durham Road Task Force’s plan to split the group. Without giving too much away too soon, what can you tell us about their situation? Did they have a plan to find each other? If so, did they develop the plans or did their parents figure it all out for them?
Book 2 starts out with a flashback scene that shows the reader Ryan’s experience at the very outset of the “event.” I don’t want to spoil it. You get a teaser in Book 1, but I don’t want to talk about that either, for fear of spoiling Book 1’s end. Sorry. I will say that Alex’s son, Ryan, has definitely paid attention to Alex’s “software” training over the past years.
The gear of preparedness and survival, or the “hardware”, plays a key role in this story. Part of that has to be a result of the lessons learned during the Jakarta Pandemic. Without getting too deep in the weeds, could you talk a little about how you crafted the Durham Clan’s load outs? How and why they chose the items they have chosen for their home stockpiles and for their personal “battle rattle”.
Like the load outs described in your Practical Tactical Handbook, you see a tiered development of their packs. For the Boston rescue strike team, you see two layers. First, they each bring a 72 hour pack, which stays in their vehicle. This is a last ditch, “the car isn’t an option anymore” preparation. They’re travelling over 150 miles away from the family BOL, so the 72 hour BOLT (see Practical Tactical Handbook) kit represents the supplies they need to make it back safely. For the trip into Boston, Alex takes a page from his Marine experience and has them all design an Assault Pack, which is modeled after the Practical Tactical Handbook’s Get Home Bag (GHB). A smaller, off the shelf commercial backpack, this pack is loaded with 24 hours of food and essential gear. For Alex’s group, ammunition and tactical gear replaces some of the items you would find in a civilian Get Home Bag. In Perseid 2, Alex modifies his layer one more time, stripping down to ammunition and communications gear, but you’ll have to dig into the story to learn what kind of a situation might dictate giving up everything but your personal defense and communications equipment.
I found Chapter 17 to be very powerful, a re-setting of the playing board, in a way. We see the Durham Clan as a hardened and determined group that’s forced to make tough decisions and is making them. We also learn that the Walkers and the Thorntons will be joining the Fletchers at the farmhouse, and that brings up an interesting topic. Retreat locations are just that, so how do you decide who you can trust to invite along when the SHTF? In this scenario these families have a history, but we have to imagine that would not be the norm. Do you have any thoughts on how a family that is preparedness minded might approach operational security with regards to a retreat location and who might be considered for invitation?
I’ll keep this one brief. The Fletcher’s have chosen to employ a simple Operational Security tenet to protect their retreat location. Limit knowledge to the few they implicitly trust. The Fletchers trust the Walkers and Thorntons based on previous experience. Their trust has been forged by the fires of conflict, but this can be easily substituted in the real world by common goals and a common commitment to working together…‘A loose federation of like minded families or friends that have demonstrated a willingness to be a part of an equal team.’
Now, we don’t have to spend too much time on it, but let’s get to one of the points I’m most excited about in this story. I know we will learn more about it in the second book in The Perseid Collapse series, but could you talk a little bit about the Fletcher family stronghold that Alex built in the aftermath of the Jakarta Pandemic?
Ah. I have nice map and a bunch of related schematics to help me visualize their compound. (I know Randy is chomping at the bit to learn more about the compound!) Twenty two acres (with about 2.4 acres cleared) on a sizeable pond with no neighbors to the left or right, but a full host of neighbors on the other side of the lake. The land was sold to them after the Jakarta Pandemic, by a family that had intended to preserve the land, but had been financially devastated in the wake of the pandemic. If you remember, the Fletchers invested heavily in gold prior to the pandemic and made out like bandits. They have a main house, barn, and ample garden space. The compound was designed for privacy, even in the winter months. The cleared space sits far enough back from the road to keep passers-by from spotting the house. Of course, they have an entrance road, but that’s constructed too with a minimalist approach. Alex has some surprises installed for security, but those won’t come into play until book 2. Two banks of solar panels (one on the barn, the other on the house) can power the house and barn if the electric is cut. One of the banks of panels is disconnected at all times, to prevent EMP damage, along with a second set of solar inverter/power generation equipment. Alex isn’t messing around.
The most important aspect of the compound, well beyond the gadgets (which are nice), is that the family has spent their time at the retreat divided between enjoyment and making it a livable, SHTF survival location. They all have significant work and effort invested in running the place during the “bearable months,” working in the vast garden and constantly improving the property. Alex’s parents live there year round, which is another significant advantage. The BOL stands ready to receive them 365 days a year.
Speaking of the retreat, the Fletchers built it for a couple of reasons. Clearly it’s called a retreat for a reason, but the location also serves as the new home for Alex parents and his brother’s children, who eventually moved to Maine. Alex parents now care for the children since their parents were both lost to the Jakarta Pandemic. So, someone is living at the location year round. If the Fletchers had to leave their home for some reason, the plan was to go to the Limerick location. That means there had to be a BOLT plan in place. My question regards this plan. There had to be a plan before the disaster, but I’m quite certain it was not for the family to split up or for them to be biking out to Limerick? What was going on in your head as you considered all the possibilities once the story tells us Plan A was out the window?
Even the Fletcher’s aren’t perfect. Like most of us, they’re just as guilty of the “we’ll get to it” mentality. They just dropped their son off at college, so a formal plan had not been developed…though you’ll catch snippets throughout the story that would lead you to believe that this has been rattling around Alex’s head for quite a while.
I mentioned before that we see an evolution to a grittier group of characters in Perseid. I found the interaction between the members of the two travel groups to be fascinating and real. Can you give us a little insight into how you put yourself inside the minds of our travelers and developed the back and forth between the group members during their journeys, including the emergence of some characters we might not expect?
In my experience, hardship forges the deepest bonds of friendship. The Marines (and I’m sure many other military units) had a saying, “the hotter the fire, the tougher the steel,” which captures the essence of this phenomenon. In The Perseid Collapse, Alex’s group has worked together before, well outside of the comfort zones, so they share a strong bond. They have vastly different personalities, which cause friction, but overall they know what to expect from each other…until now. The stakes are higher and the danger is more immediate in PC, so this dynamic is challenged right from the beginning. Alex and Ed have the exact same goals, reach Boston and rescue their children, but they approach the trek differently, based on their personalities and experiences. Alex is confident about his skills and cautious about the bigger picture. Meanwhile, Ed is impatient to reach Boston, but resistant to Alex’s more immediate solutions to their problems. I set out to show how these conflicts and differences can wear on the best of friends in a stressful situation. You’ll feel the tension between them as the challenges mount, almost to a painful level.
Kate’s group is a different story. The friendship between the women and teenagers is less defined in the beginning, but starts to solidify as their separate journey unfolds. Book One in the series spends more time following Alex, but the building blocks for the women’s tale are assembled, and the reader will see how their friendship grows tighter as the fires of the forge grow hotter. Book Two will showcase their newly forged bonds as they work together to defend their families from a sudden, unexpected threat.
Like much of the population that they will encounter along the way, the Durham Road families learned hard lessons during The Jakarta Pandemic. Gritty is a perfect description. You don’t want to get in their way…with bad intentions. In The Perseid Collapse’s post-apocalyptic world, any of the characters can fill the role of “Judge, jury and executioner” within the blink of an eye. Despite Alex’s more “Road Warrior” like tendencies in TPC, you’ll catch glimpses of the old Alex in the series. I just wrote a scene in book two that defines Alex. It’s a snap situation leaving him seconds to make a difficult choice. I had goose bumps writing it. It’s the ultimate, “What would you do?” situation.
With our groups being forced to relocate from Durham Road, it is clear they will be coming into contact with more people than the random refugees (even though they were a threat) encountered during the Jakarta Pandemic and that increases the opportunity for danger. These threats can come from individuals or from groups that band together like wolves after a disaster. If you can, give us your view of the civil unrest and the change in threat assessment that would certainly follow the catalyst event in Perseid?
I don’t believe it’s going to be the mutant, biker zombie gangs you see in some of the literature. Although, it’s not that crazy because you have the large groups out there and I’m not just talking about bikers. What’s to say that any kind of group that gathers and is close like an Eagles Organization, and some groups are closer than others, would not come together in a situation like this. I belong to Scarborough Fish and Game. It’s a shooting range where you shoot skeet and do all sorts things like archery. It’s a really nice place. I’ve always sort of envisioned that if something like this happened, I would imagine there’s a pretty tight group over there. Come something like this that clubhouse is going to start filling up with people with the same mindset and, for good or for bad, they would work together (probably for good because everyone over there is really awesome and really down to earth). But I’m thinking, where is the opposite group? Where are the people who are close that aren’t so good? Those people are the ones you’re going to have to watch out for because they’ll form gangs, they’ll form organized groups and it’s kind of like that ‘reign of terror’ thing.
There has been a lot of talk about militia groups in the preparedness world for years. We see both sides of the militia movement in this book, the good and the bad. What should we look out for as we discover how they fit into this story after the disaster?
My wife told me at the very beginning, “Whatever you do, don’t piss off the militia groups. There will be no bug out location we can hide because they’re already hiding in them.” In all fairness, the one militia group is kind of more of a gang. It doesn’t fit the standard definition. So, that’s what you’ll see. This guy that’s in charge of that, he’s clearly demonstrates himself to be psychotic and to have an agenda. He’s going to be a very charismatic character in book two and he already is kind of now, very good at manipulating a situation right on the spot. He’s got half of southern Maine believing that there is a special forces unit running amuck and he’s got a plan.
There are a number of militias here and I contacted one of the more, well established ones…and I tried to interview this guy and he clearly wasn’t biting. He’s an older gent, extremely suspicious. I tried explaining what I was doing and it was going nowhere. So I sent them an email and read a couple of articles describing their philosophies, and he described them as being kind of a back up to the National Guard. Informally, that’s how they view themselves. I liked that idea and I liked the concept and wanted to make it something a little more organized in the book. There’s a history. They used to fit the mold of what most American’s think of when you think of militia groups and I kind of wanted to show that that’s not the case, because it really isn’t. There are groups that are taking down abandoned buildings every weekend, they do that. That’s what there doing. They’re training themselves as a counter government force or whatever it is, but I think a lot of them, that’s not where their core and heart lies. So, I kind of want to mimic what I learned from him, but like I said they never got back in touch with me. They probably think I’m going to write a nasty, horrible book about them. Little do they know that I made the leader and the group a good group, they’re good guys and they’re out to help and diffuse the situation with that other group and that’s going to be coming into big play in book two and three.
Alex is going to learn a lot in book two from his interactions in Boston, his eyes are going to be opened to some wrongs and rights that are being done by the Marines, by these other groups. I allude to these criminal elements that are running amuck. Just to give you a hint, they’re not criminal elements. The criminal elements were there and they’re gone now and there’s a reason they’re gone. There’s a lot of misunderstanding, one group shooting at the other. The Marines are holding the bridges and no one knows how they got there within 24 hours. So, things that he sees in there will be shaped and that will help him in a major task and endeavor when he’s back in Maine. So, there’s a little foreshadowing while staying about as nebulous as I can get without giving anything away. I wanted to give the duality. Not to say that there are some horrible militia groups that are just murderous, that’s not the goal. I didn’t want that impression (that all militia are bad).
The finish to book one is thrilling to say the least and the final sentence is absolutely chilling. I know you’re currently working on book two in The Perseid Collapse series, so what can we look forward to in the next book? Do you have any teasers for us?
It will pick up with a flashback and then the story will pick right back up with Alex after he makes that statement and there’s more interaction with the students. He’s not just sliding out of the window on his way out of there. More occurs there. More stuff that kind of shapes how he’s thinking and shows his character. Kind of that character that he’s developed where he’s just not going to put up with the little guys being beat up. Like when he discovers the people being dragged off into the woods and all that. He’s kind of a little bit on a retribution…he’s a lot more about proactively doing the right thing as in taking it into his own hands and you’ll definitely see that in his interaction with the kids. I tell you, I’m having a blast writing it.
My goal is the story always. It’s kind of my worst case scenario, having a child away at college. It was hard to write that. When I’m writing I’m kind of in like a ‘just get the story down’ mind set. It’s when I stop and kind of really ruminate and think about the scenario that they’re in…I’m doing that, but…like that line, like you said, the ending line…it was just so natural to write that because it literally just hit me.
There’s no one coming.
I looked at the numbers and the incoming freshman class at Boston University is 20,000. You’ve got to figure maybe 5% of them, maybe, live within a reasonable walking, as in days, walking distance. You’ve got Maine, Massachusetts…New England is compact which is good…maybe give it 10% that could throw a couple water bottles together, grab a couple packs of Doritos and set out on their own and they may or may not make it back. They have that option, but there’s a lot that don’t. They don’t have an option even close to that. Like I said, I think the default would be to sit and wait. To think about parents, it’s powerful stuff. It really made me think. It kind of stopped me in my tracks reading it, you know writing it and reading it, I didn’t know it was coming.
I kind of in my mind, I had Alex going in there in a very business like manner. Shoot the door down, kick it in…son’s not here…I’m out of here. But I’m like, I can’t do that. These kids are all here. These are ALL HIS kids. He’s all amped up coming up, but when it all settles he looks at the picture (of Ryan) and it kind of all hits him. It just kind of came. That’s how writing works, stuff like that. I didn’t have a yellow sticky that said ‘Alex feels sorry for the students’ it just kind of happens. Stuff happens like that, I think, in writing. I would almost guarantee that 90% of the best parts I would consider being in the book are things that I did not write down or have planned ahead. They just kind of, they’re just part of the story.
Well Steve, you’ve certainly managed to pull us right to the edge of our seats with this book and have left us there as we wait for Book 2 in the series, The Perseid Collapse: Event Horizon. It sounds like we’re in for a wild ride the rest of the way and you’re right, I absolutely can’t wait to hear more about the Fletcher Compound!
On a personal note, I would like to thank you for giving us a chance to work with you and consult on this project. This past year has proven to be educational, exhilarating and a ton of fun and we look forward to an exciting ride as The Perseid Collapse series unfolds.
Remember everyone, you can reach Steve Konkoly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to check out his blog, http://www.stevenkonkoly.com, where you can get a window into his world, find book reviews (apocalyptic, thriller, horror and some sci-fi) and keep up to date about his future projects. There’s something for everyone.
Finally, I want to encourage everyone to join in and keep the conversation going by asking your own questions of Steve (or me) in the comment section below and by sharing this talk on Facebook and Twitter (or your preferred social media platform) with everyone you know. Works like The Perseid Collapse force us to think and ask ourselves the pressing question, “Am I prepared for a major disaster or emergency situation?” The more people we can reach and hopefully help along their journey towards personal preparedness the better off we’ll all be in the long run.
One of the offerings I have wanted to establish here on the blog that I am personally most excited about is the feature interview. It is my goal to bring you enlightening and enthralling interviews with some of the most interesting people out there from all corners of the preparedness world, providing in-depth conversations that I hope you will find to be both practical and personal.
For our first installment, we are very fortunate to be joined by the highly acclaimed Steven Konkoly, author of apocalyptic thrillers including the Black Flagged series and, the focus of this interview, The Jakarta Pandemic. Mr. Konkoly is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science in English Literature and a veteran, having served seven years with various Navy and Marine Corps units.
Welcome, Steve. First and foremost, thank you for your service.
Thank you, Randy. I really appreciate the opportunity to dig below the surface of my writing and expose some of the core ideas and concepts that help shape the stories. Regardless of what other authors may claim, writing is a personal endeavor, no matter how far fetched the plot or action may seem to the reader. There is always something deeply personal embedded in the writing, and the threads that wrap around these aspects often define the story’s core essence.
In your writings, there is no such thing as black and white. You deal in personal confliction and there are no easy answers. You have also said that your military experience figures heavily into your writings. With all that said, TJP brings all that together in a complex character and gives us Alex Fletcher.
Ten years out of the Marines, Alex has fully transitioned back into the private sector and seems to be doing quite well. Putting aside what I assume would be Alex’s tendency to be prepared due to his military experience, I would like to talk a little about what motivated Alex to focus on the threat of a pandemic and make preparations for his family. At the end of Chapter 5, we learn about a presentation that Alex did for his company Biosphere and the research that went into it. We learned that process “changed his life” in apparently more ways than just professionally. Can you talk about how this process impacted Alex and his decisions when it comes to his family’s preparedness?
When I started to conceptualize The Jakarta Pandemic, I wanted to highlight the difficulties of surviving a catastrophic level event in a suburban setting. The leading difficulty in my opinion would be dealing with everyone else’s varying degree of unpreparedness in the face of a complete lack of essential services. With that in mind, I wanted to start Alex in a position of self-sufficiency, and I chose this “presentation” as his catalyst to start preparing for a worst-case scenario. The conclusion Alex draws from his research reflects the culmination of my own examination of the scenario. In a nutshell, it’s not a matter of IF something like this will happen, it’s a matter of WHEN, and WHEN it happens, survival will depend on your basic level of preparedness and planning.
I’ve read that you raised your personal level of preparedness AFTER writing TJP. I was a bit shocked by that fact. One of my favorite parts of the book is when we get a first look at the Fletcher’s supplies as we join Alex for an inventory “the Frito supply” for the first time. You describe the Fletcher’s well rounded stockpile in some detail and even lay out a good plan for rotating food stores as if you had been doing it yourself for a long time. I particularly appreciated how you pointed out throughout the book that building a stockpile like the Fletcher’s is something that anyone can do if they make a plan and execute it in a practical way. Was family preparedness and establishing an emergency survival kit a chicken and egg type thing for you as you wrote the book? And, without divulging too much, how much did Alex teach you about being more prepared and what steps have you taken in your personal life to be better prepared for any future emergency?
Most people are shocked to learn that I never visited a prepper or survivalist website prior to finishing The Jakarta Pandemic. In many ways, I’m glad that I didn’t. I’m a details oriented writer, and despite the fact that the scene you described is exhaustively detailed, I would have driven myself insane trying to get the Fletcher’s “bunker” perfect. I put a considerable amount of thought into the contents of their survival stockpile, starting with the basics: Food, Water, and Medical Supplies…and expanding from there. And I certainly expanded far beyond the basics. Solar panels connected to battery storage, two oil tanks for storing fuel (this is a New England phenomena…most of you have natural gas or propane), wood burning stove (which I don’t think they ever used), generator, antibiotics (unethically obtained through Alex’s employer) and many other items that might come in handy if the shelves at your local Home Depot and grocery store emptied overnight. Imagine going cold turkey off Fritos…devastating. :0)
So to answer your question, I created this incredible stockpile or “bunker” in my novel, and didn’t have so much as three extra cans of vegetables in my own house to back up one of the main themes in my book. A few months after publishing the novel, I took Alex Fletcher’s advice and started to slowly build up a reserve of food and supplies, one shopping trip at a time. It’s truly amazing what you can amass in two years, when you take a systematic, consistent approach to stockpiling supplies. Does my basement now resemble Alex’s? Not even close, but I feel confident that my family could ride out a major disaster, without resorting to desperate measures. Of course, the same question always remains, regardless of how much you prepare…what is your neighbor doing to avoid resorting to desperate measures, and what is your plan to deal their desperation. This becomes a pinnacle issue for Alex, and his plan is woefully lacking in this author’s opinion…on purpose.
Most folks living a preparedness lifestyle understand that planning is paramount to the success of any emergency plan. This usually means having a plan to ride out an emergency situation at home, also known as sheltering in place or bugging in, and also having a plan to evacuate if the situation dictates, commonly referred to as bugging out. If the plan is to shelter in place, neighbors can become a real problem like we see in TJP. We don’t want to give the story away, but what are your thoughts on working with neighbors or building a survival team, given that the necessities of dealing with a pandemic primarily call for isolation? Makeshift alliances develop in TJP, but should Alex have developed relationships and built his team within the neighborhood well ahead of the pandemic since he viewed it as such a real threat?
This is hard to say. Unfortunately for Alex, his plan from the start was isolation, but he quickly learned that this wasn’t going to be a viable option. Without recognizing the need for a diplomacy based “crowd control” plan prior to the arrival of the pandemic virus, he really shortchanged himself and put his family in danger. With that said, none of us want to view our neighborhood as an episode of Survivor, where shifting alliances and secret plots undermine the ease of living and sense of relaxation we come to expect when we pull into the driveway. Alex had some core friends in the neighborhood, which came in handy as the conflict escalated, and he found a few surprise allies along the way. If anything, Alex could have been more open to dispelling a few stereotypes that hindered him in the beginning. I don’t write big moral lessons into my novels, but Alex’s character gave me the opportunity to point out a few negative behaviors that most of us can find in ourselves from time to time.
I believe I have read that your favorite scene in TJP is the neighborhood meeting. The part of this gathering that stood out to me was, with the exception of a small few, the neighbor’s almost outright denial that anything really bad or prolonged could ever actually happen. Their cognitive dissonance would not let them believe that the grid could go down or that there would be more than a short term disruption in food deliveries, even with a viable threat staring them in the face. What are your thoughts on this phenomena and just how prevalent it is within American society today?
Don’t get me started, Randy. Just take one look around and you can start to see the extent of the problem. We’ve become a society of instant information…everyone connected to smartphones, tablets, computers, blogs, websites…all downloading the latest opinions, news, and “facts” in real time. Few people put any discernable time into researching topics, simply accepting the latest New York Times or Wall Street Journal article as gospel, whichever suits their purpose. Conservative? Fox News will steer you in the right direction. Liberal? MSNBC never gets it wrong. We’ve polarized ourselves to think along the lines of convenience and convention, staying well within our comfort zones and dismissing information that doesn’t conform. This is not a new phenomena, but I think it’s compounded in our society today. I’m just as guilty as anyone (I use all of these newfangled technologies), but I’ve set some ground rules for myself, and the first rule is to dig deeper. I can find ten articles that say the next pandemic will be manageable, all of them one page summaries of the latest CDC or WHO assessment, but I’m far more interested in the twenty page, multi-source researched essay explaining the why the CDC and WHO pandemic models are based on unlikely scenarios and how they vastly underestimate the impact of the next deadly pandemic.
Complexity is a trademark of the characters in your works. To pay homage to that fact, I would like to look into what I call “the dichotomy of Kate”. Alex’s wife Kate doesn’t seem to like guns or Alex “playing commando”, but on the other hand she seems to constantly want him to shoot any threat to the family dead first and ask questions later. I know you have stated in the past that looking back on it, you can now see the need for characters like Kate’s to be rounded out a little more in TJP, so I would like to ask you to take all the space you need to help us understand where she’s coming from.
Like any woman, she’s complex and I can’t explain what she does or says with any regularity. Sound familiar? Just kidding, sort of. Kate’s gun dichotomy represents what I consider to be a prevalent attitude in society, which can be expanded far beyond guns. She’s not a big fan of firearms, but this isn’t a moral stand or some kind of a political statement. In my mind, it was more related to a general apathy toward firearms, which we see everywhere in society, even within firearms friendly families (I just made that term up by the way-FFF). It’s easier to lock them up and hide them, than it is to teach responsible firearms safety and respect. With young children in the house, Kate chose the easy path, instead of embracing the fact that firearms were intrinsically linked to her husband’s past and would always be a part of their life together. Of course, when her family was threatened, she was one of the first to encourage her husband to put them to use. Here is the dichotomy I was trying to expose in our society. In general, we don’t want to deal with the hassle and responsibility of guns (substitute “guns” for any number of other words), but when the SHTF, we have a sudden need for them. Rarely does this sudden need come with responsible or tempered use. I liked Kate’s character overall, and wished I could have explained her thought process more fully, but I had chosen to stick to a first person, single point of view for the story (Alex’s), and this made it extremely difficult round out any of the characters beyond Alex. The sequel to The Jakarta Pandemic will be written from multiple points of view, similar to my Black Flagged series, giving the reader a much deeper understanding of the key characters.
In Chapter 16, Alex and Kate have a discussion about what could happen if a sick friend or family member came to them looking for help. They also discussed the decisions they (the Fletchers) had made that would lead to such a dilemma. Those same decisions run counter to the original Fletcher survival plan and there is a real possibility that their real fears could become reality of their own making. This speaks directly to a couple of our main teaching points: 1) Craft a survival plan for your situation 2) OPSEC (operational security) cannot be overstated. In my mind, this powerful conversation could be a story by itself or at least a complete chapter. Although you make the point pretty well in the book, I was hoping you might expand your thoughts on never-ending web of problems that could arise in a scenario like the Fletchers explore in their conversation.
I chickened out writing TJP. I’ll admit this here for the first time. I had set the stage for a possible visit from any of several family members within striking distance, with the full intention of putting the Fletchers in the position of having to either refuse to take in a sick relative or subject them to quarantine procedures. This is a difficult topic for most of us to comprehend, and I decided to steer clear of it ultimately, leaving the discussion to stand on its own merits. I couldn’t imagine writing a scene turning “Grandpa” away because he was running a fever and coughing and the response I’d get from readers. The book is controversial enough, and I felt that I accomplished the goal of raising awareness by introducing the concept as an important part of a any survival plan, especially in the face of a contagious virus.
As for Operational Security? I’d say the Fletchers failed miserably, letting too many people know that they were stocked up and prepared. He may not have walked around with a banner announcing it, but the neighbors quickly put it together and he made matters worse by disclosing certain information and offering to share some very critical and hard to find supplies. In a limited disaster scenario like an earthquake, hurricane or tidal wave, this wouldn’t be such a problem, but Alex knew for a fact from his own research that a massive pandemic was different. The effects of deadly flu virus had the potential to crash the “system,” forcing the neighborhood to endure severe food shortages and limited access to essential services.
Given Alex’s military background and the fact that the Fletchers had been planning for a disaster like the Jakarta Pandemic for years, I was surprised that they had not ran a “practice weekend” disaster scenario to work out the kinks before actually having to implement their survival plan. Did I just miss that in the book because it was not specifically mentioned or is that something that was purposely omitted from the story line for impact?
You didn’t miss anything. Frankly, I didn’t think about it. If I had, I would likely have modeled my own family for the Fletcher’s “drill weekend,” and had it perpetually postponed. I have two emergency escape ladders on my second floor that have not been opened. I bought them with the full intention of running a drill out of one of the first floor windows, just so my kids could figure out how to attach them to the windowsill. We’ve been too busy. We’ve watched over two thousand hours of TV as a family since acquiring the ladders, but can’t find thirty minutes for a drill that could save lives. We always talk about a home invasion plan…how to react as a family, but we’ve never gone through the motions. You make a great point, Randy, and I think this could have been another opportunity to highlight an important aspect to any preparedness plan.
Let’s turn our focus to real world current events for a moment. The Jakarta Pandemic is set in 2013 and oddly enough, the world has already seen a couple of rather scary viral outbreaks this year with the novel coronavirus in the middle east that has shown an alarming death rate among those infected and the H7N9 avian flu that is currently spreading across, you guessed it, China. It seems you may have been onto something when you wrote TJP by setting it to take place in 2013! What are your thoughts on these ongoing situations and what should we be looking for as these stories develop?
I may be the only person on earth hoping that this avian flu thing takes off…book sales will be off the charts! Just kidding, sort of, until I get my basement squared away. As you can imagine, I like to track this kind of stuff, but I’d be lying if I told your readers that I predicted 2013 for the next deadly pandemic. Unfortunately, we don’t have the organization that I created for The Jakarta Pandemic to warn us when a pandemic is imminent. The International Scientific Pandemic Awareness Collaborative (ISPAC) was an entirely fictional entity, based on the needs identified by my research. Namely, an independent, nonpolitical agency focused on the early detection of potential pandemic threats and the relevant public education needed to prepare individuals and civil groups. Readers can set Google alerts or other news alerts to receive articles related to pandemic events or topics, using key phrases or words. You can also frequently review our own nation’s CDC website and navigate toward the bottom left corner to “OUTBREAKS.” I check this section every week or two to see what’s new in the world of infectious diseases. The WHO website (home page) contains a link at the top right, “Disease Outbreak News,” which accomplishes the same goal, but leads to a wide variety of articles and disease topics which can expand your knowledge of pandemic viruses. If you find a link to an emerging disease on one of these sites, you can add the name of the disease to your list of news alert subscriptions. By keeping a loose eye on these sites and your alerts, you’ll be in a strong position to detect an emerging threat before it “hits the news.” I don’t go crazy with this stuff, but if something catches my eye, I like to get the news first.
Like our name suggests, we believe in those things that provide the practical, tactical solutions for the everyday emergencies that can impact any of us like a bolt from the blue. TJP provides us with a practical outline for how to tackle the threat of a flu pandemic, but I was wondering if you had any other advice or information that you would like to leave our readers with before we go?
Practical is the key. Alex Fletcher’s set up in TJP was not a practical solution for most families. I did the math at one point and calculated that the cost of their home modifications and supplies ran well into the six-figure range. The supplies can be accrued slowly over time, but the big-ticket items will not be practical or reasonable for 99% of people. You can drive by my house and you won’t see solar panels on my roof. I spent that money on a sailboat so I can enjoy the Maine summers on Casco Bay. Priorities. My key advice is to develop and execute a basic plan for building a modest stockpile of food, medical supplies and water. Get your security situation in order and start expanding your preparedness knowledge. The rest will follow. There is no “one size” fits all solution to preparedness, because our needs vary, however, the themes are the same, and Randy’s blog is a great place to start. His focus on combining PRACTICAL advice with a TACTICAL outlook defines the survival mindset.
So, you’ve mentioned a sequel to TJP a couple of times during this interview and that is certainly welcome and exciting news for fans of the work like us. Is there anything you can tell us about what lies ahead for the Fletchers?
I’m looking at a sequel, but not in the traditional sense. The story will take place several years after the first and present the Fletchers with a unique set of challenges. TJP focused on the human challenges (even if you are uber-stockpiled) of hunkering down “in place.” For the sequel, I have created a unique set of circumstances that will force the Fletchers and likely send them in two different directions. Alex Fletcher has learned a lot during the five or six years since The Jakarta Pandemic, but what I have in store for the Fletchers will force him to improvise nearly every skill he has developed, and once again band together with friends. This will not be your typical “bug out” story, though some of the key aspects of “bugging out” will be explored and expanded…really expanded. In order to avoid treading well-worn ground in this genre, I plan to leverage the techno-thriller writing style/skills of my Black Flagged series with an apocalyptic event. The scenario I have in mind will leave the story open to a series. The initiating disaster scenario will be what I like to call a “realistic stretch,” but it sets the stage for a wild ride.
At Practical Tactical we’ve adopted the slogan, Semper Paratus. We are proponents of firearm ownership and believe in having the ability to exercise the “force option” if necessary. We are absolutely of the opinion that a well thought out and rigorously trained defense strategy be a part of any emergency plan. With that said, we also believe that you must be willing to take on the necessary level of responsibility that accompanies which ever method of self-defense you choose to employ. While we offer Barney-basic firearms training through Practical Tactical, we understand that may not be the choice for everyone and we absolutely respect that position. Each person or family must come to terms with what level of self-defense is appropriate for themselves and their situation. We only suggest that whatever method of defense is chosen, it must include the appropriate exposure and training to be effectively deployed when/if the time comes to use it. Do you have any thoughts on this topic, Steve?
This is sage advice, especially talking about what each person or family finds “appropriate for themselves and their situation,” followed by a commitment to effectively deploying the method. In terms of home defense, a good house alarm or dog would better serve some families than a firearm, especially if they are unwilling to regularly practice with the firearm. “One size fits all” does not apply to self-defense or preparedness.
I’m just as comfortable walking up to a firearms counter and handling weapons as I am picking out a loaf of bread for dinner. Actually, the bread gives me more stress, because everyone in my house likes different types of bread and I can never win. :0) Have you ever handed a “safed” firearm (slide back, chamber examined by both parties) to someone unfamiliar with firearms? They hold it like you just handed them your soiled underwear. You (Randy) have shared Practical Tactical’s approach to beginners, and it is all about demystifying and developing comfort with a method (in this case firearms). This applies across the board to every aspect of a solid, executable preparedness/survival plan.
One of the biggest criticisms (in reviews and emails) of TJP and Alex Fletcher’s character, is that he didn’t simply shoot first and ask questions in a pivotal scene. This decision clearly leads to a cascade of problems that not only affect Alex’s family, but the entire neighborhood. I’m being as vague as possible so I don’t spoil the story for potential readers. Everyone will know when this scene takes place, and most of you will be screaming at Alex…especially in light of what you know is coming later. Some reviewers have decried Alex’s behavior as “non-Marine,” and others claiming that his hesitancy to kill was out of character with his background. While his decision only delayed the inevitable lethal confrontation with these clearly “bad intentioned” people, it served a greater purpose, which I didn’t make immediately clear in the book…for a reason.
In my view, the most critical aspect of a preparedness/self-defense plan is never losing sight of the big picture and the ultimate goal. I love the controversy surrounding this scene, because it really drives this point home. Emotionally, even I wanted Alex to open fire on the crazies that had descended on his neighborhood. He knew they were bad news across the board. Was shooting them in the middle of the street really an option, like his wife and neighbor suggested? Sure. It would have immediately neutralized a likely threat to their safety, but what next? The police were still responding to calls (barely) and Alex had been questioned by the police for another incident involving firearms. Three men dead in the middle of the street. They hadn’t overtly threatened him or tried to break into his house. Clearly, they were up to no good, but how would the police react? Maybe the police would turn a blind eye, but what if they didn’t? Alex incarcerated during a deadly pandemic, leaving Kate to fend off the next group of lunatics that decide to prey on the neighborhood OR angry neighbors that know they are well stocked with food and supplies? House searched and all firearms confiscated, leaving Kate with nothing but kitchen knives for self-defense. This was one of the toughest decisions Alex had to make, but it wasn’t due to a lack of conviction or guts. His character served as a company commander in Iraq, where rules of engagement defined the big picture. I felt that his reaction to the situation was the best survival decision for his family, even if it did put off the inevitable.
Well at the end of the day, I believe that making “the best survival decision” for our families is all any of us can hope to do, Steve. Friends, I highly recommend The Jakarta Pandemic for anyone in the preparedness community looking for an exciting read that also provides some common sense steps anyone can take to be better prepared for an emergency. So pick a copy up soon, download the audio book from your favorite provider to listen to during a long commute or follow my lead and do both! I’m confident you will find it a fun, interesting and useful read. Steve, where else can our readers find you and your other works?
I’m pretty accessible, and unlike Stephen King, I still answer reader emails. Of course, I’m about 400 million readers away from matching Mr. King’s level of “busy,” so I can still take the time to respond and enjoy the best part of writing…interacting with readers. You can email me at email@example.com and if I’m not in the throes of writing my latest work in progress, you’ll probably hear back from me the same day. I’d love to invite everyone to visit my blog, www.stevenkonkoly.com, where you can go behind the scenes of my writing, catch some book reviews (apocalyptic, thriller, horror and some sci-fi), enjoy some humor and get updates about my work in progress or future projects. There’s something for everyone.
Sounds great, Steve. I would like to thank you for taking the time to discuss The Jakarta Pandemic in depth with us! It has certainly been a pleasure.
Finally, I want to encourage everyone to join in and keep the conversation going by asking your own questions of Steve (or me) in the comment section below and by sharing this talk on Facebook and Twitter (or your preferred social media platform) with everyone you know. The more people we can reach and hopefully help along their journey towards personal preparedness the better off we’ll all be in the long run.