Stan Morris is an Indie author of many books who has enjoyed dabbling in many writing genres. He has claimed to me to be a relic of a past age who is still trying to adapt to the customs of our techno tribe (he didn’t quite put it to me that way, but I know that is what he is saying=)) and I think he’s doing a bang-up job. I forgot to tell him the caveat to teaching him the comment portion of Google Docs was he has to teach me Time Travel. You never get anything for free these days, Stan!
Indie Word Slinger: Stan Morris
I remember it being a cold, windy day on the beach at Half Moon Bay. We were coming home from camp where I had been a counselor for sixth graders. The sky was overcast, but because we had been camping in the California coastal mountains we had on warm clothing and good sturdy shoes, so other than keeping my hands in my pockets, I was semi-enjoying the beach.
The commotion began in the parking lot where the yellow school buses were stationed. Looking back, I think one of the bus drivers must have been informed over her radio and she passed the dreadful news to counselors and kids standing nearby. The information quickly spread. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
Around me people began crying. I was stunned, but not so much by the news, since from 1963 the United States had been experiencing a wave of assassinations, especially in the ranks of civil rights workers. I was stunned by the reaction of the crowd. At seventeen I learned that my generation was ready to move on, to leave the racist past behind us and to live like free men and women regardless of ethnicity. I thought it was only me.
As a writer I look back to that moment sometimes, and I think about how important it is to remember that most teenagers do have a moral compass, and when it counts, clothes, sex, school, social media, and other distractions will be put aside and our common humanity will be embraced. I never forget that, for the most part, our children will be better men and women than we are.
I’m Stan Morris. I was born in Linwood, California, and was raised in Norwalk and Concord, California. In 1972, I moved to New Mexico. I met a girl at college in 1975, set out to score, and have been married to her since 1977. We lived in Texas for five years and then moved to Maui. We have two grown boys, both gainfully employed, thank goodness. My wife had the career and I had the job, so I worked at a variety of those before developing a computer business in the late 1980’s. Now we are retired and living on a farm. I garden, watch sports, listen to music, read, and write. I don’t make much money at it, so occasionally I have to ask my wife for my allowance. I like science fiction (Heinlein, Asimov, Weber, Flint), romance (Krentz, Roberts, Morisi, Chesney), mystery (JD Robb, MC Beaton), historical fiction (Lindsey, Stewart), and history books (Shelby Foote, David McCullough, William J. Bernstein.)
Why I write?
On the Moody Blues album, In Search of the Lost Chord, is the lyric, “thinking is the best way to travel.” My inspiration for becoming a writer comes from thinking and reading like that. As a boy I was watching a new show called Star Trek. Its five year mission; to boldly go where no man had gone before. Zane Grey opened a window into the past of western America. Louisa May Alcott provided glimpses into the feminist thinking of the nineteenth century. William Campbell Gault was exploring racism in teen books about sports, and Jim Kjelgaard was describing how animals and humans interacted in the wild. I was inspired by all of these writers and by many more.
This Word Slinger’s Thoughts:
Your novel, Surviving the Fog, has a very intriguing atmosphere to it. Despite being a Science Fiction title I often had the feel of classic horror movie set-up and suspense. Often in movies like Friday the 13th and other slasher franchises there was the polarized teen sexuality aspect with the added spotlight on sexual activity, the remote setting, abandonment or isolation from the outside world and then the fight for survival against some suspect evil that was larger than life with something or someone with extraordinary abilities. Was there any influence there either consciously or subconsciously when you were writing this novel?
This book was influenced by two previously published books. The first was Lord of the Flies and the second was Tunnel in the Sky. Both have, as their basis, the isolation of a group of children although the children in Tunnel in the Sky are much older. They philosophy of the books are one hundred eighty degrees apart. In Lord of the Flies a group of boys degenerates into a murderous ritualistic tribe. In Tunnel in the Sky the teens coalesce into a community. In my view, all the archaeological evidence demonstrates that in isolation, human primates create stable communities, even if those communities are dictatorships or oligarchies. I strongly believe that this communal structure is in our DNA. Bees create hives. Ants create mounds. Humans create communities. Surviving the Fog was written on that basis. Many people might not be familiar with the Sierra Nevadas but they are one the most unblemished parts of California that one could find. Is there a special significance in choosing them above say Klamath Mountains or the Lower Cascades? (two other Northern California mountain ranges) The difference is the temperature. The southern Sierra Nevada Mountains have a more moderate temperature. This translates to a more survivable winter. Less energy is needed. A more dilapidated structure can be utilized. There is a longer growing season.
I lived in NorCal and it is very easy to find inspiration many of the regional locales. What was it about the Sierra Nevadas that prompted you to come up with Surviving the Fog?
As a boy I attended a youth camp almost every year that is set in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In my early years I attended the camp at Hume Lake which is in Kings National Park and Forest. Later, I attended a camp closer to Tuolumne. So I am familiar with the conditions in the Sierras, and that made it easier to write the story. In addition I am more familiar with Central California than with any other region, although I have lived in or visited most of California.
I find the hierarchy of the youths in the camp at the start of the novel curious. You gave Mike, one of the younger boys, the role of leadership and problem solver–provided him with a posse of peers: all male. However, at the start of the book, as far as females featured in the book–with the exception of Yuie, there are no truly empowered figures. Some would think this is a very old fashioned stereotype and that the dynamic might be weakened by the extreme imbalance of identifiably respectable main female characters. Desi isn’t truly a strong and independent female representative so I don’t believe falls into the same category as Yuie. Why is it that there aren’t more powerful feminine characters?
To be blunt, the reason that I focused on the boys versus the girls is that I was not a very good writer when I first wrote Surviving the Fog in 2008. Several women and girls have made this complaint, and it is a valid one. In 2012, as a result of a similar conversation with a woman at the Goodreads website, I began writing Surviving the Fog-Kathy’s Recollections, which chronicles the events before and after the events in Surviving the Fog. This book was written from the viewpoint of Kathy, one of the minor characters in Surviving the Fog. It focuses on the girls. As Kathy related her story to me, I was amazed at how different was her view of the same events. This has been my most satisfying write to date, and I believe that most readers will agree that Surviving the Fog-Kathy’s Recollections is a much better book that Surviving the Fog.
Right from the start I wanted the leader to be a boy who would not be a leader in normal times. He assumes the leadership role by default. While the other kids are in denial, Mike faces up to the reality that something catastrophic has happened to the world, and he begins to act in a manner and plan in a manner that accepts that reality. The older kids seem as if they are acting normally, but in reality they are paralyzed by fear and indecision. I went into more detail in Surviving the Fog-Kathy’s Recollections, and a book I have in mind, Surviving the Fog-Howard the Red, will examine the events from the viewpoint of the oldest teenager, Howard. It will explain why Howard went along with Mike’s leadership. Surviving the Fog is a book that chronicles the evolution of this tiny society. First a leader, next, a group of boys coalesce around his leadership. Then the girls and the rest of the boys join with Mike’s gang to form a tribe, and in the end they become a community in which every person contributes to the survival of the group. As Kathy says, “It doesn’t take a village to raise a child, but it’s a heck of a lot easier on the parents.”
As far as Science Fiction goes this intergalactic infestation is one that I find refreshingly provoking. The one thing that did give me pause was the social aspects regarding the relationships that form in the book between the younger people with the newly adult and early to mid-twenty something crowd that shows up later in the story. I know this is something that would make many readers uncomfortable. Was there a particular reason that you chose to make the members at the camp so young? Did you ever consider making them any older to defer some of the distaste many people might have at what they could perceive as relationships with those unacceptable too young or too immature?
Of all the criticisms, this is the most interesting to me, because it demonstrates how far our society has evolved in the course of a single lifetime (mine.) When I was a boy, this criticism would have been unheard of. Right from the start I wanted these teenagers to range from ages 12 to 17, and I planned from the beginning to have relationships between these teens and young adults. (Please understand that in my mind the term young adult refers to people ages 18 to 24.) The reason I did this is to argue that rules about vice and morality are usually the result of high civilization and that after an apocalypse these rules will be the first casualties. I am always amazed that people are not more aware of just how recent is the concept that young teens should not be in relationships with young adults. (As an aside:my mother was 18 when she married my father, 31. This was completely acceptable in the 1950’s. Her sister was 16 when she married.) It disturbs me that young women don’t know these facts, and it disturbs me that they don’t understand that their rights as citizens continue to hang by civilization’s thread. It might be of interest to note that feminists in the 1880’s managed to get US states to raise the age of consent to at least 12 year old. In Delaware it had been 7 years old. There is one more point I want to make about this subject as it relates to the book. No one has mentioned the fact that Hector was forced to be sexually abstinent for an extended period of time due to his relationship with Kathy. Clearly, I failed to make the point about self control in Surviving the Fog. I hope I did a better job in Surviving the Fog-Kathy’s Recollections.
What do you think might have been an alternate ending had you chosen to take the road of a collapsing community? What would have happened if after so much time passed under conditions as rough as those in your book the survivors had become victims who suffered hardships just barely. This trauma and crisis then causing tensions to rise and the isolation of those in the camps and Petersburg becoming aggressive and brutal?
The book refers to another community, Eagle’s Nest, where something like this took place. It was a brutal existence and in the end most were dead. I could have taken the book in the direction of what happened to the Donner Party or in the direction of Lord of the Flies, but I wanted to speak about the creation of a community, and I thought that young readers, especially, would be interested in people their age doing this.
I think the greatest moral of your story is about survival in the face of a truly hopeless future. It’s commented a few time throughout the book that the followers of the camp and Petersburg follow Chief because they needed someone to lead them and he was the one that stepped up first. But one of the last parts about surviving is set in the second to last chapter and it’s a thought Mike is having about Petersburg. The setting is alarmingly reminiscent of Chapter 1, when he and John are sitting in the cave looking out over the green grassy slope before the river and wondering why no one is returning to the camp.
“Mike hoped that his community is safe. That they survive and grow, and that one day when the fog is gone, and when someone from the outside makes contact with them, they would find a thriving and vibrant town.”
It feels like the ultimate coming home moment. It’s not even the end of the book but it’s actually a moment of full circle when the Mike of the first chapter and the one who has carried the weight of all those lives on his shoulders and has given the gift of survival to those he cared for, is now wishing that they can live on without his guidance. Why was it that you made such a young man the symbol of survival, hope and renewal? What was it about Mike that you liked so much as a character and a leader?
Mike is the symbol of their intent of survive, but the book makes clear that their survival depended on the teens ability to create a community. The first thing communities establish are rules of conduct. I said that moral rules would be the casualty of an apocalypse, but the first thing people will do after an apocalypse is to make new rules; rules that apply to their situation. So it’s not just about Mike, it’s about people’s reactions to Mike. One of the first things Mike does is to make rules to preserve their food supply and the supply of their propane. Consider what he might have done. Since they had the weapons, he might have kept the food for him and his companions. He might have given extra portions to those he favored, or he might have given less to those he disliked. Instead everyone got the same amount, regardless of whether they were helping or not helping. The teens understand this and accept this, even those who don’t acknowledge his leadership. Once everyone acknowledged his leadership Mike made two rules about sex. When he was challenged, the Spears (mostly boys older than him) backed him. They didn’t have to do so, but his rules were legitimate. Most of the teens readily accepted his rules. They set an age of consent (an age 12 to 17 year olds are likely to deem appropriate), and they proclaimed a punishment for the crime of rape. Right from the beginning, morality is the bedrock of their community. It may not be the morality of our world, but they recognized the necessity of moral conduct. Why is Mike such a good leader? Because they needed a leader and Mike did the kinds of things they needed done, and he made rules they could live with. Imagine an older boy who was a bully trying to be the leader. Would the group of boys who owned spears have followed him? Would the rest of the kids cooperated to the extent they did?
Many Science Fiction stories have a conflicted ending, yours is not so conflicted. I’d go so far as to say it is rather simplistic at best. Are you someone who generally feels that good stories end with happy endings or surprising twists? Or happy endings with surprising twists?
I like happy endings. If I want sad ones I only have to pick up the newspaper or check Google news to read about the latest school shooting. And I wanted to leave some room for imagining the future. Some people have complained that I did not explain the Fog. But in this kind of apocalypse people are not going to know what happened and what caused this phenomenon. There are not many science institutes in the mountains. I wanted to leave some ambiguity about the Fog. I don’t really care for surprise twists toward the end of a book, unless its a mystery.
If you were to do a book review for your own novel what would you have to say about it? What were the strong and weak points about it? What would you change about it now that you have some time since you have worked on it?
I would say that it’s a feel good book. If you are into that kind of book I would probably give it 3.75 stars. The strong point is the flow of events, but there are weaknesses in characterization. I made Jackie 20 years old. I think it would have been more realistic if she was 22. In Surviving the Fog, I did not fully examine the reasons for the relationship between Hector and Kathy. I did this in Surviving the Fog-Kathy’s Recollections. And in Surviving the Fog, I did not put much emphasis on the teens’ religious upbring. That was a major mistake, because not being religious myself, I did not understand how examining their religious upbringings would add to the depth of their characters.
As a self-publishing author how do you feel about book pirating? Do you think that indie authors are more strongly impacted by illegal book downloading than publishing companies? Would you be willing to make your books free and request donations if you found that was a better earning model as a self-publisher?
I don’t like those who sell other people’s work, but I’m not bothered a bit by those just download the pirated copy. My view is that it’s just someone getting something because it’s free. I’ll bet most pirated copies never get read. And most of it is done by young teens who are improving their computer skills by doing this, so in the long run, society will benefit to some extent. I am more worried about malware.
Once I found a site that had links to unauthorized copies of Surviving the Fog. When I followed the link I found myself at a site that installed malware with the book. I went back to the original site, made a post that warned people about the malware, noted that my book was free all the time, and left a link to the Smashwords copy. In the 1980’s we all copied software. I had illegitimate copies of Wordstar and Wordperfect and Lotus 123. But I ended up buying many legitimate versions of those programs because I needed the expertise of the creators. It use to be “buyer beware” but now it’s also “creator beware” because if you create crap it will be harder to sell your other stuff. I’m not in favor of a “name your own price approach.” I think most people like the simplicity of a price structure. No one has to feel guilty that they did not pay enough, and no one has to feel like a sucker for paying too much. Imagine going to Walmart and trying to figure out what to pay for each item.
What does being an indie author mean to you? What would you wish to change about it?
From the viewpoint of an old hippie it means not having to deal with the old system of publishing. There is a sense of freedom. I can publish when and where I want. If I want to hire an editor and a proofreader I can. If I want to do my own editing I can. The only change I would make is to the rating system. I would require 5 star and 1 star ratings to be examined by a human who could delete either.
Are there an opportunities that you would like to find out about or network with that you don’t have available to you currently that would help you become a more accomplished writer, increase your fanbase or help establish your work publicly that you would be interested in having someone contact you about? (Writing workshops, online writing jobs, printing press companies, beta readers, reviewers, editors, illustrators, photographers, web designers, etc.)
To be honest, that is a good question to which I don’t know the answer. I’ve been gradually learning how to gain exposure, how to market, and how to buy ads. Each incidence is a learning experience. I recently purchased an ad on an Australian website, and I’m starting to get downloads at Amazon.au. But I would love to turn Surviving the Fog into a graphic novel. I love comics and manga. Read my Tongue Wagger review of Stan Morris’s Surviving The Fog, the first book in the Surviving The Fog Series. Read below to see a peek at book two in the series, Surviving The Fog – Kathy’s Recollections.
Would you look into publishing as a digital Indie novel or a website extra? Have you considered posting a regularly scheduled “comic” (I’m old school too, I remember the funnies) of stories from Surviving The Fog? I’m speaking of course if you were to get in touch with an illustrator you could work with.
Yes, and I have made tentative searches for an illustrator. My real dream is for Surviving the Fog to be made into a television show that would be exclusively streamed online.
This Word Slinger’s Book:
Surviving The Fog – Kathy’s Recollections
Kathy’s Recollections is about a group of teenagers attending a camp in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The camp was designed to preach abstinence and teach methods of birth control. After a week, the cell phones are not connecting, and the mail has not been delivered, so the camp administrator and most of the counselors leave for a short visit to a nearby convenience store. They never return. After another week it become clear to one boy that something has gone seriously wrong in the world. Then the campers discover that they are surrounded by a mysterious brown fog that appears to cover the earth below 6,700 feet. The story is narrated by fourteen year old Kathy. She focuses on their efforts to survive the elements, outsiders, and each other.
Book Trailer: Surviving The Fog – Kathy’s Recollections
This Word Slinger’s Books:
Surviving the Fog
Surviving the Fog-Kathy’s Recollections
Sarah’s Spaceship Adventure
The Colors of Passion and Love
Kate’s Movie Star
What’s In My Shorts
*Almost Like a Dad
*The President’s Custodian
*The Governor of Arslan
*Jara Mackenzie Versus the Planet Marl
*Julee Mackenzie and the First Officer
*Captain Mackenzie and the Last Chance Spaceship.
Books marked with and asterisk (*) are books that Stan Morris is currently in the process of writing.
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