How Authors Can Help After a Disaster


by Debbie Burke


NASA Goddard Photo of the Camp Fire, Paradise, CA

The Camp Fire in Paradise, California killed scores of people and destroyed 13,972 homes, 528 commercial structures and 4,293 other buildings (according to NPR, 11/27/18).

Our nephew and his wife were among those who lost their homes, barely escaping with old family photos and two pairs of pants—the size 36 jeans he was wearing, and the size 28 US Navy trousers that had belonged to his grandfather (my father-in-law) when “Pop” served on the USS Enterprise during World War II.

The fire destroyed countless memories, mementoes, and relics of history—the foundations upon which people build their lives, identities, society, and culture.

Amid the devastation, the Paradise Library remained standing, although damaged.

Beth Zimmerman, a national expert on disaster recovery says, “The library will be a key to providing [survivors] a known place to gather and take time to commune with their neighbors. Libraries can soothe children’s fears and help them cope, especially if they are used to going there.”

When everything familiar and comforting is lost, books can help recreate a sense of safety and security.

Melanie Lightbody, head of the Butte County Library System says, “The library is one of the few buildings which survived and therefore will be even more crucial to the community as it rebuilds. A symbol of possibility and hope.”

Efforts are underway to rehabilitate the structure and contents. Author Phil Padgett is spearheading a pledge drive for books to repopulate the library’s shelves. A former FEMA reservist who deployed to New York after Hurricane Sandy, Phil understands the complex, long-term logistics of rebuilding.

Unlike immediate necessities, such as bottled water, food, clothing, and construction materials, books fall into the category of way-down-the-road work. Yes, they are needed but what do you do with them in the mean time when there is no place to put them?

For now, Phil is compiling a list of authors who have pledged to donate their books. In coming months, he will coordinate collection, cataloguing, and storage. Later, when the library is ready to receive the books, he will arrange for shipping.

Books can be solace in time of tragedy, taking people’s minds off their troubles.

One of the best compliments I ever received came from a reader in Florida. My thriller Instrument of the Devil was released at the same time Hurricane Irma hit. The woman said my book had helped her pass the long, difficult week when she (and millions of others) had no electricity.

As authors, we don’t necessarily run bulldozers or nail up plywood but we can help rebuild lost culture.

If you’re an author who would like to donate to the Paradise Library, Phil’s email is: 




Does your Amazon holiday gift card have spare change left on it? Catch the January sale of Debbie Burke’s award-winning thriller Instrument of the Devil  for only 99 cents. Or read for free on Amazon Prime. Click here.

Leaving a Legacy

Nancy J. Cohen

I had the weirdest dream, wherein my family moved into a multi-room apartment. Along came a man and his wife who claimed they had the legal right to occupy a room in any one of a multitude of properties in the city. We had no choice except to allow his presence. But when he began to redecorate, I got angry. He replaced my pictures on the walls, changed the furniture around, and put out his own knickknacks. But what fueled my fury the most was when he covered up my bookshelves. I could no longer see my collection of books—in particular, the hardcover mystery novels I’d written.

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The man had no idea I was a writer, so he didn’t understand when I desperately began moving his belongings out of the way to search the shelves. I became frantic to find the books with my name on them.

When I awoke, I realized how much those shelves of books meant to me. These are my legacy, more so than anything I can leave my children. The books I’ve written will hopefully stay around in libraries and used bookstores and people’s minds long after I’m gone. Perhaps I am arrogant in this belief, and I will be forgotten after my demise. But unless there’s a big bonfire like in the science fiction tales or folks stop reading altogether, the books will still be around somewhere.

So where does that leave e-pubbed only authors? With a digital file? And why does hardcover seem more durable than mass market paperbacks? Will trade editions stand the test of time?

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When you see pictures of those big manor houses in England, they all have the most sumptuous libraries. Is this tradition to be lost forever in the digital age? Will no one care to have home libraries anymore, regarding books as dust collectors rather than cherished tomes of knowledge, adventure and imagination?

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This legacy is something to think about when you make your choice about where and how to publish your work. Holding a print book with my name on it still means a lot to me.

This post does not address other parts of leaving a creative legacy, such as donating your literary materials to a library collection. Those provisions should be included in your will along with instructions for ongoing management of your creative literary estate.

Here are some more shelves with some writing references plus more of my books in different formats.

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How do you feel about leaving your books in print formats versus digital for posterity?