Thursday, February 25, 2021

Confessions of a Closet Prepper

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I know we’ve talked here about the stuff we stashed during the pandemic: light bulbs, and aluminum foil, and canned tuna. Canned tomatoes, and nail polish and toothpaste. Etc.

 But preparation is a lifetime thing, not always as a result of panic—but more a moment of reality. Or—coping with it.

Debut author (yay!) Shelley Nolden has some true insight about that.

Coming up, secrets of the zombie apocalypse. I am not kidding.

But first, a tiny bit about her incredibly chilling and astonishingly timely new book THE VINES. (There's more below.) But read this, and tell me how long it takes you to say “Ooooh!”

In the shadows of New York City lies North Brother Island, the remains of a shuttered hospital hide the haunting memories of century-old quarantines and human experiments. The ruins conceal the scarred and beautiful Cora, imprisoned there by contagions and the doctors who torment her. When Finn, a young urban explorer, arrives on the island and glimpses this enigmatic woman through the foliage, intrigue turns to obsession as he seeks to uncover her past—and his own family's dark secrets. By unraveling these mysteries, will he be able to save Cora? Or will she meet the same tragic ending as the thousands who have already perished on the island?

Okay. Told you. And now: preparing for the zombie (or whatever) apocalypse. (And a copy of THE VINES to one lucky commenter!*)



of a Closet Prepper

by Shelley Nolden

Some preppers are born into the lifestyle, perhaps even drawing their first breaths within a remote, self-sustaining compound. Others find inspiration later in life. My amateur prepping began with a book entitled Prepper’s Long-Term Survival Guide: Food, Shelter, Security, Off-the-Grid Power and More Life-Saving Strategies for Self Sufficient Living.


The main character in my debut novel, The Vines, carves out a solitary existence on the abandoned, forbidden North Brother Island in New York City’s East River.

To make that feat believable, I researched survival techniques, and in doing so, learned all the possible ways those skills might suddenly become critical.


Natural disasters, a superflare from the sun, EMPs or other acts of terrorism, revolution, a pandemic. For a writer with a big imagination, the eventual occurrence of at least one of these threats, ominously outlined by the preppers who’d authored the books I consumed, seemed all but certain.


After all, I knew firsthand that low probability events do occur. At the age of 31, I was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia, which, admittedly, has left me with a tinge of PTSD.


So, I ordered more guides, including one focused on surviving a Zombie apocalypse, and took comfort in knowing that if I ever needed to devise a rainwater collection system or kill a chicken, I had illustrated instructions. I also procured a package of 40,000 heirloom garden seeds and hid them in my basement. And we now have a German shepherd dog named Storm.


 While I mostly kept my new obsession secret, I could talk openly with my father. Two years ago, after deciding that more should be done, we compiled a “Zombie Apocalypse Survival Kit” as a Christmas present for my mother. My parents were big fans of The Walking Dead; I’d thought she’d love it. She didn’t. Later I learned that she’d been hoping for diamond earrings.


When COVID-19 first gripped Wuhan in January 2020, my recently acquired knowledge of doomsday scenarios, coupled with the fact that The Vines deals with contagious diseases, spurred me to step up my prepping game. I convinced my mother to accompany me to Costco so she could push my second cart.

My immediate family then humored me by helping carry the goods down to what became known as our “Emergency Supply Closet.”








During the lockdown last spring, my closet gained their respect. Between donations to the local “giving table” and our own needs, we burned through most of the goods.

Except for the Chili Mac.

That remains.

When our elementary school holds its next food drive, we’ll donate it, even though a part of me thinks it would come in handy during an alien invasion or zombie uprising. 


Has COVID-19 changed your view on prepping? Which would you rather receive: diamond earrings or a Zombie Apocalypse Survival Kit?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Ohhh. Sadly, that’s not even a choice. I cannot wait until it is.  But in the meantime, #keepthechilimac.

How about you, Reds and readers? What if someone, out of love, gave you that gift?

*And a copy of THE VINES to one lucky commenter! (US and Canada only, please.)

A graduate of the University of Minnesota, Shelley Nolden is an entrepreneur and writer, now residing in Wisconsin. Previously, she lived in the New York City area, where she first learned of North Brother Island. At the age of 31, Shelley was diagnosed with leukemia and completed treatment three years later. The sense of isolation and fear she experienced during her cancer ordeal influenced her debut novel, THE VINES.


THE VINES by Shelley Nolden (Freiling Publishing Hardcover; March 23, 2021) is historical fiction and suspense at its best. It’s both a breathtaking novel that explores a long-forgotten place and an ominous thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat as the story unravels. In this debut—the first book in a planned series—Nolden skillfully weaves together a page turner, spanning over a hundred years, that’s set on New York City’s abandoned North Brother Island.

“It took me over four years to write THE VINES, and I’m excited for its debut,” said Nolden. “I’m not a full-time author, though I’d like to move in that direction. My writing career initially began with my cancer blog after I was diagnosed with leukemia. It focused on the themes of disease, fear of death, isolation, loss of a child, and infertility, but also of survival, courage, healing, and hope. Through that process, the heroine of THE VINES—and her foil—were born. And shortly after reading Christopher Payne’s photography book, North Brother Island: The Last Unknown Place in New York City, I had the perfect setting for my epic tale.”

In the shadows of New York City lies North Brother Island, where the remains of a shuttered hospital hide the haunting memories of century-old quarantines and human experiments. The ruins conceal the scarred and beautiful Cora, imprisoned there by contagions and the doctors who torment her. When Finn, a young urban explorer, arrives on the island and glimpses this enigmatic woman through the foliage, intrigue turns to obsession as he seeks to uncover her past—and his own family's dark secrets. By unraveling these mysteries, will he be able to save Cora? Or will she meet the same tragic ending as the thousands who have already perished on the island?

THE VINES intertwines North Brother Island's horrific and elusive history with a captivating tale of love, betrayal, survival, and loss.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Truth Behind DO NO HARM

Whoa. Big big day on Jungle Red—the USA Today bestselling Christina McDonald is here!  You know her, right? Her first book, The Night Olivia Fell, has been optioned for television by a major Hollywood studio. Her next blockbuster, Behind Every Lie, was another huge hit.


And ta- dah! Her brand shiny new Do No Harm came out this week, and wow, go right now (well, not right now right now, but after you read this) and snap it up!


It is one of the most thought-provoking books I have ever read. I got an early copy months ago, and I am still contemplating the decisions the main character makes. What would I have done, I wonder? Would I have…well, you’ll have to read and decide for yourself.


And there’s no way not to wonder, when you are devouring the pages, how much of the book comes from real life.  And that’s exactly what I asked her.



How Much of Real Life Do Authors Put Into Their Work?

By Christina McDonald


As an author, a big part of my writing process is distilling things from my life into the fictional worlds I create. All of my books include these little peaks into my life; my characters are built from what I see and hear, things people do, unique characteristics I notice, like a flick of the hair or a love of Bocelli or a loathing for the grate of a nail file.


Do No Harm, however, is my most personal book yet. While the plot and the characters are entirely from my imagination, much of the story is emotionally authentic to me as its author.


The most strikingly personal aspect of Do No Harm is the central theme around the opioid epidemic. Dr. Emma Sweeney, my protagonist, has a brother who’s struggled with addiction most of her life, and this is true for me as well. I’ve spent most of my life watching my brother’s addiction to opioids, and this is why I’ve known for a while that I wanted to set a book against the backdrop of the opioid epidemic.


But there are other moments in Do No Harm that emotionally connect me to the story as well. Some are funny, some horrifying, some sad. Whatever the emotion, I’ve mined it to bring Do No Harm to life.


Fun and personal facts about Do No Harm

1. Bit-O-Honey – One day while I was writing, I randomly started craving Bit-O-Honey, the old-fashioned honey-flavored taffy. My mom used to buy it for my sisters and me as a treat when we went on road trips. So I had one of my characters eating it thinking about his childhood, as I was thinking about mine.


2. Skamania - The town of Skamania, where Do No Harm is set, is based on the Cascades Chinook Native American word sk'm├íniak, which means ‘swift waters’. Since a lot of the book is centered around a warehouse that’s perched on the edge of a waterfall, I thought it fit nicely.


3. Snoqualmie Falls - Skamania is loosely based around the real-life town of Snoqualmie, which is located about 45 minutes from Seattle, which is where I’m from. Like Skamania, the town is named after its real-life waterfall, Snoqualmie Falls.


4. Pimple squish – one of the cute things Josh, who’s just five, says in the early chapters of the book, is he calls cuddles ‘pimple squishes’. It’s when Emma, his mommy, cuddles up tight on one side and Nate, his daddy, cuddles up tight on the other, and they scootch in with the Josh in between. My oldest son, who’s now 12, coined the term. He loved pimple squishes and used to beg for them every night.


5. Josh’s dreams – After Josh finds out he has leukemia, has starts crying because he’s afraid of being buried. In the way children think, he believes he’ll be buried alive, and he won’t be able to breathe. I wrote this scene the very morning after my youngest son, who was about Josh’s age when I was writing this book, had this exact dream. He dreamt he’d died and been buried beneath the Eiffel Tower in Paris and he couldn’t breathe because mud covered him. All he could do was lie there and look up and see ev

eryone walking over him like he didn’t exist. It broke my heart, so I wrote that scene for Josh because I imagined how scary it would be for a child getting a diagnosis like his.


6. Sucking pointer and pinky fingers – Most kids suck their thumb, but my youngest, who’s now seven, sucked his pointer and pinkie fingers until he was five, the same age as Josh is in Do No Harm. I thought it was adorable and unique, so I decided to give this endearing habit to Josh.


7. Chili - At the beginning Emma returns home after a particularly challenging day at work to find her husband has prepared dinner for her. I wanted to set the scene for their life together; one where she feels loved, accepted. Something that evokes family and belonging, so I had her husband cooking chili. My mom used to make it a lot when I was a kid, so it’s always felt like one of those classic family comfort foods.


8. CAR T-cell immunotherapy - The cost of Josh’s CAR T-cell therapy, the immunotherapy treatment he needs to save his life, really does cost between $400,000-$500,000, and most insurances don’t cover it. So you can see why any parent would be so desperate in this situation. How do you put a cost on a child’s life?


Including little pieces of myself in my stories is important to me because it helps strengthen the connection between myself as the author and the written words on the page. This connection breathes life and emotion into my books, and I hope readers feel this emotion as they read Do No Harm.


HANK:  More I cannot say about this book—but if you have a bookclub, this is the one for you! You will not stop thinking about it. 

To find out more about Christina, got to the wonderful “about the author” section of her website. She interviews every author you’d ever want to meet! (And pssst…look who interviewed her!).


And now, Reds and readers, let me ask you. Which one of Christina's examples can you match? A candy bar, a childhood habit, a memorable location? A dream, or a secret to amazing chili?

(And I’m giving a copy of DO NO HARM to one lucky commenter!)

And oooh! To hear the first chapter of DO NO HARM read out loud to you on First Chapter Fun: just click here!

You may need to join the private Facebook group--but hey, you've already done that, right?

Christina McDonald is the USA Today bestselling author of Behind Every Lie and The Night Olivia Fell (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books), which has been optioned for television by a major Hollywood studio. Her third book, Do No Harm, is available February 2021.

Her writing has been featured in The Sunday Times, Dublin,, and Expedia. Originally from Seattle, WA, she has an MA in Journalism from the National University of Ireland Galway, and now lives in London, England with her husband, two sons, and their dog, Tango. She's currently working on her next novel.



From the USA Today bestselling author of Behind Every Lie and The Night Olivia Fell comes an unforgettable novel about the lengths one woman will go to save her son.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Inside Kobani

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Have you ever had one of those days, so frustrating, where you trip and hurt your toe, or the letter carrier is late, or the milk is spoiled. Yeah.  SO awful.


Now let me introduce you to Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.  She’s seen some truly bad days. And some incredible courage. Women dealing with life and death, and defending their families and homes.  In a way we can never imagine.


Instyle listed Gayle as one of their 50 “badass women of the year.” 


The magazine said:  The author and determined reporter writes real accounts of women who support their war-torn communities against all odds. Her third book, The Daughters of Kobani, about those who took on ISIS and won, has already earned praise from the likes of Angelina Jolie. Tzemach Lemmon says, “It’s a universal story about people up against a wall who rise up for something greater.”


So listen: Gayle’s the author of the New York Times bestsellers Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield and The Dressmaker of Khair Khana , about a young entrepreneur who supported her community under the Taliban. Ashley’s War is currently being developed into a major motion picture at Universal. 


Her new book,The Daughters of Kobani tells the story of what ISIS has left in its wake: the most far-reaching experiment in women’s equality in the least likely place in the world. It reveals the story of young women who have been battling ISIS town by town, street by street since 2013. 


Listen: These young women served as America’s ground force in the fight to defeat the Islamic State and The Daughters of Kobani tells for the first time the story of how they came to serve as America’s partner. 


Listen: In 2014, northeastern Syria might have been the last place you would expect to find a revolution centered on women’s rights. But that year, an all-female militia faced off against ISIS in a little town few had ever heard of: Kobani. By then, the Islamic State had swept across vast swaths of the country, taking town after town and spreading terror as the civil war burned all around it.

From that unlikely showdown in Kobani emerged a fighting force that would wage war against ISIS across northern Syria alongside the United States. In the process, these women would spread their own political vision, determined to make women’s equality a reality by fighting–house by house, street by street, city by city–the men who bought and sold women.

Based on years of on-the-ground reporting, The Daughters of Kobani is the unforgettable story of the women of the Kurdish militia that improbably became part of the world’s best hope for stopping ISIS in Syria. 


Rigorously reported and powerfully told, The Daughters of Kobani shines a light on a group of women intent on not only defeating the Islamic State on the battlefield but also changing women’s lives in their corner of the Middle East and beyond.

Gayle and I have talked on the phone, and she’s wonderful, and as I asked her more and more about this incredible story--it all come down to one question: How did this happen?


And I asked her to write her answer so we all could hear.


Inside Kobani

   By Gayle Tzemach Lemmon



Every great story starts with an unanswerable question.  The question I set out to answer with The Daughters of Kobani:  How on earth did one of the most far-reaching experiments in women’s equality anywhere in the world get created by women who fought — and crushed — ISIS?  Who were these women and how on earth did they come to fight for women’s rights and against ISIS as America’s partner?


Kobani in 2014 became the first town ever to hand ISIS a battlefield loss. And women played a big part in that.  It was like David versus Goliath, only David was also a woman.


I spent the next few years getting to know these women, who also were daughters, sisters, and friends, and coming to realize they weren’t superhuman at all. They were women who felt they had to stand up and rewrite the rules governing their lives in order to protect their towns, their home and their families. Like so many of our daughters, mothers and sisters, they simply stood up because they felt that someone had to and that a world in which women could be bought and sold should not be allowed to stand. 


One story always stayed with me when describing the women I met in this book to my friends at home: Azeema was a swashbuckling, funny, chain-smoking thirty-something who led men and women in battle against ISIS.  One day she was in the middle of planning her next move against ISIS when her phone rang. She picked it up immediately, thinking it was her commander. Only it was actually her sister, calling from a few towns over to check in on her. “Come on,” she told her sister, “stop calling me while I am working! I promised you I would call you when the battle was over.  Now stop calling!”


We all have had that moment when we are trying to finish something and our mom or our sister call to check in! This was the most extreme version of that and I wanted to show the humanity and the love of family even amid the inhumanity of war against ISIS.


These women wanted justice and they wanted equal rights and they were focused on war really only as a means to achieving a political end: a world in which Kurds governed themselves, practiced environmentally conscious, grassroots, town hall-style democracy -- to the left of Bernie Sanders -- focused on sharing of resources, and kept women’s equality right at the center of all their governing.  Every town they took over had a woman and a man as co-head. Every town had a women’s council. Women served in security forces, too.


I set out to tell the story and met women more comfortable with power and less apologetic about leading than women I have seen anywhere in the world. Honestly, it looks different when women lead. These women stopped the men who bought and sold women, and they carried that swagger and that sense of self with them.  They weren’t focused on how men felt about it. They were focused on making gains that lasted.


We have never seen stories of women as universal. A story with more than one female character gets labeled a “women’s story” and immediately becomes relevant to only half the population. We must change that. 


When I asked Rojda, one of the commanders who worked with U.S. special operations to push ISIS out of its so-called capital in Raqqa, why they started the all-women unit if they already had full equality according to their ideology, she answered me this, “We just didn’t want men taking credit for our work.”


I hope you will love The Daughters of Kobani. It is a privilege for me to share this history and an honor to bring it to your community of readers. 


HANK: And it is a privilege for us to hear it. And now, Reds and readers, will you look at YOUR life a bit differently? Gayle will try to stop by today--what would you like to tell her?


And you can get this powerful and life-changing book here. (And scroll down for the link to her amazing Ted Talk. And soon you will hear who has optioned it for film. More I cannot say.)




More about Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: She serves as an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, along with private sector leadership roles in emerging technology and national security, began writing about entrepreneurship in conflict and post-conflict zones while studying for her MBA at Harvard following a decade covering politics at the ABC News Political Unit. This work from Afghanistan, Rwanda, Liberia, Bosnia and beyond has been published by the World Bank, Harvard Business School, the Financial Times, Harvard Business Review and CNN, among others. Following MBA study, she led public policy analysis during the global financial crisis at the global investment firm PIMCO.


Lemmon is a frequent speaker on national security topics, including at the Aspen Security Forum and TED forums, and has given talks at West Point, ODNI, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the National Infantry Museum. 


Her TED Talk on Ashley’s War and the reshaping of the hero story to include women has received more than a million views worldwide.  She regularly appears on MSNBC, CNN, PBS, and National Public Radio. Along with her national security work, she has reported and written extensively on topics including child marriage in the United States for PBS NewsHour and on school choice, single moms and the power and importance of girls’ ambition for The Atlantic. Lemmon holds an MBA from Harvard and received the Dean’s Award for her work on women’s entrepreneurship. In addition to serving as a Robert Bosch Fellow in Germany, she served as a Fulbright scholar in Spain, on the board of the international aid organization Mercy Corps and is a member of the Bretton Woods Committee. She speaks Spanish, German and French and is conversant in Dari and Kurmanci.