Halloween Reads: A NIGHT OF BLACKER DARKNESS

A Night of Blacker Darkness: : Being the Memoir of Frederick Whithers As Edited by Cecil G. Bagsworth III by [Wells, Dan]

I should definitely have plugged another Halloween-ish book by now, so here’s an oldie-goodie.

A NIGHT OF BLACKER DARKNESS is about a guy who is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, but desperately wants to get out of prison so that he can actually commit the crime in question (financial fraud.)

It takes place in England sometime in the 1800s, and it’s a hilariously ghoulish tale. At one point our hero even crosses paths with some of the weakest vampires imaginable, who automatically worship him by mistake. John Keats, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen also make appearances, whether in person, name, or reputation.

It might be among Dan Wells’ lesser-known works, but that’s certainly not for its quality. It’s a really fun read and captures the bewitched autumnal atmosphere with great skill. It’s available in ebook and audiobook.

Get back to work.

Trucker Man Reads Girly Books: SPELL CHECK by Julie Wright

Spell Check by [Wright, Julie]

TMRGB is a series of blog posts wherein I, a rugged truck driver with security clearances from multiple federal entities, recommend effeminate fiction to the masses.

 

Art is a transmission for my mind. It helps me shift gears when conditions change around me, and that’s especially true when a new season rolls into town. It’s raining, it’s cool outside, and Friday was the first day of autumn. It’s time to fully embrace the Halloween spirit, and that means Halloween books.

Enter SPELL CHECK, by Julie Wright. And speaking of check, it does that. Teen girl protagonist? Check. Evil cheerleader villain? Check. Totally hot guy figure? Check. Parents at home that Just Don’t Understand? Check. Last of all, beloved grandparent figure who fills the role of a Gandalf archetype? Super check.

Our heroine, Allyson, accidentally discovers she has witching powers when a practical joke goes awry and she curses her worst enemy at school. Her dear sweet grandmother, Farmor (that’s a title, not a name–there’s a Swedish flavor to this family) is there to guide her in the development of her abilities, and explain the ramifications of abusing them.

But of course it’s oh-so-tempting to use those powers to continually humiliate Queen Bee Cheerleader Wench, especially because it gives Allyson a shot at Totally Hot Dreamboat Dude. It’s been a while since I read this so I forget their names. I should probably read it again because hey, October!

When I first bought the eBook, it had the old cover on it, which you can see here:

Image result for spell check julie wright

I kind of liked that one more, but I realize why the change works: the new version captures the whimsical spirit of the book (seriously–at one point Allyson accidentally sends some loved ones to the Amazon, and she has to teleport there to intervene.) The old version, while more complex, also promises something darker, perhaps more Gothic, and much more fantastical.

SPELL CHECK hearkens back to the Halloween movies of the 90s that we loved so much. It’s a little bit Hocus Pocus, a little bit Halloweentown, and a whole lot of fun. The link at the top of this post takes you to Amazon. (Heh.) Do the meta thing and buy a copy!

 

I’ve slashed the Kindle prices on four books.

Hey all,

For $6 you can own the Kindle versions of the four books I have out right now. Each of them is fully illustrated.

KILL THE BEAST: a spoof on the classic love story with the arrogant woodsman as the protagonist.

(Engines of Liberty)

REBEL HEART: Calvin Adler trains to become a technomancer so he can fight British magicians.

SUICIDE RUN: After ticking off both sides, Calvin literally runs for his life and accidentally empowers his most dangerous enemy.

PATRIOT’S GAME: It all comes down to this…mages and monsters versus men and machines. 
Enjoy! I hope you’ll leave a review on Amazon, those are a huge help to me. Thanks all!

“Where do you get your ideas?” [shrug emoji]

Where do writers get their ideas?

I’ve heard this question a lot, not always directed toward me, and there are a couple of good answers to it. I’ll save the best one for a second.

My friend Aprilynne has always replied to that with “I go to the Idea Store and if they’re having a sale, I get two.”
(I’ve always understood that as her way of saying “It just happens.”)

The real answer is actually a lot simpler than that: daydream, and ask yourself “what if?”

Kind of like when Stephen King cleaned high school locker rooms during his summers as a teen, and when he saw the girls’ room, he was confused at the feminine hygiene product dispenser on the wall. It was explained to him, and he filed that knowledge away. Later in life when he was reading an article on human telekinesis, he learned that it allegedly manifested during times of heightened emotional duress, for example, a teen girl’s first menstrual cycle.
Those two things together formed the beginning of his first big best-seller, Carrie.

For a less graphic idea, take Leigh Statham’s “Not-So-Innocuous-Girl” books. Statham was studying some family history, chanced upon the tale of a transatlantic ancestor, and decided to retell it in a steampunk vein. My wife devoured those books.

Or when Stephenie Meyer wrote Twilight, she was probably thinking “What if I did vampires, but to be really meta about it, the book ITSELF sucked?”

(Yeah, she made a billion dollars off the series and I read them all, don’t @ me)

The point is, you play with things. Change it up. Ask yourself questions about how to make it work, and then you keep doing that. Soon you’ve built a whole world, and you can drop some characters into it for a rip-roaring good time.

Like an American Revolution, only where the British use magic, so the Americans use tech.

Or Beauty and the Beast, with Gaston as the hero.

Or a superhero cheerleader Amazon warrior adventure.

It’s about that easy. The idea isn’t the hard part. It’s sticking it out to the end that really wrecks your head.

So get to work.

Plans for Fall 2017, plus I’m considering Patreon.

Hi gang,

Things have been busy as always, but here’s an update on what I’ve been doing this summer, plus a look at the next few months:

  1. I have three more drawings to finish for The Hero Next Door, which many of you helped me fund via Kickstarter. The week of Labor Day, I expect I will finish the final one.
  2. After that, it’s a bunch of technical stuff that remains in order to finish the book.
  3. While that’s going on, I’ve finished a manuscript for a different book, a middle grade fantasy called The Korbadell Job. I have high hopes for this one. Imagine a Tolkien quest/adventure, only with trucks and explosives in addition to monsters. I should be sending that to my publisher of choice around mid-October.
Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, sky, cloud, outdoor and nature
From the work trip where I got the idea…

After that? Well, the slate’s already full:

  1. In October (I’ll post dates when it’s official) I’m contributing at the League of Utah Writers conference, having been invited to speak about explosions and the like. I’m very excited for that. In two weeks I get to test-drive my presentation in front of a small group.
  2. I’m also taking some online training courses so that I can make a bit of a career change, but that’s far enough out that I won’t bother with any details. The important thing is that once I’m done with the above manuscripts, I won’t be delving into anything new for a few months. I’ll have published 2 books this year, in spite of moving out of state and buying a house. I need a break.
  3. All the same, I’m picking at an idea I had two years ago, where I would write my first-ever nonfiction intended for publication. It’s a summary of my career as a truck driver, including some of the deeper life lessons I’ve learned in the industry. I expect it will be more interesting than it sounds. It won’t be overly long, as I intend to publish it one chapter at a time here on my website, then put the final edition out on eBook.
  4. I know what I’m doing after that, but that’s enough for now.

Which brings us to the final part of the update:

For a while now I’ve considered whether or not to do a Patreon account. If you don’t know what that is, Patreon is a service where people can subscribe to your content, usually for dirt cheap–like, $1 a month cheap. My goal to start out would be getting about $100 a month in support, just for things like art supplies, shipping materials, ISBNs, and more.

My only hang-up is that I’m not entirely sure what to offer. I’ve seen other artists (who post their content regularly) that give their content to subscribers a few days before it’s normally scheduled to go live. I’d want to generate content that’s exclusive to supporters, but still geared toward my ultimate work of publishing.

If you’re keen to weigh in on this, let me know in the comments. If I were to set up support levels between $1 and $5 a month, what kind of stuff would you be looking for? Unique illustrations? Your name as a character in a future book? Maybe a comic that can only be accessed by supporters? Let’s hear it.

Thanks guys and gals.

Now get back to work.

Should-Reads: Dublin Murder Squad, by Tana French

Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad came across my radar earlier this year, via a recommendation from my brother. I’m 3 books in (there are 6 as of this writing) and every one of them has been a gale-force tornado of thrills. 
Tana French knows just what buttons to push. She drops these characters into your life and makes you either want to be them, hang out with them, or just ask them questions about life. She writes them with such a degree of reality that even when they aren’t admirable, they are highly readable. No pulled punches, just solid humanity. 
The premise is thus: An Garda Siochana, the Irish Police, do not actually have a Murder Squad, nor do they carry firearms, but French has written a world wherein both of these things are non factors.


From there, we start with Detective Rob Ryan, a somewhat experienced guy on the force, who was traumatized by something in his childhood village. He now has to solve a case in that same village while keeping his past hidden from his seniors. Throughout the case, Rob’s weaknesses and faults are revealed, sometimes with humor, sometimes with painful honesty, but always in a relatable way. I can’t say I have frequently read such a well developed character that wasn’t also insanely boring. 


After Rob’s case ends, the next book follows his former Murder partner, Cassie Maddox, who used to work Undercover. When a girl shows up dead–a girl who looks just like Cassie, and living under a fake name that was one of Cassie’s aliases–Cassie has to go back undercover and find out which of her four “friends” likely killed her. Once again, rich, full characters filled out the roster, and French showed herself to be adept at handling a crazy complex and layered plot at the same time. So far, this was my favorite of the series.


In the third book we move on to Cassie’s former handler, Frank

Mackey, your garden variety tough guy who breaks rules to solve cases–partly because it works, and partly because he likes to. He once planned to elope to England at age 19, but on the night he and his girl meant to meet up, she ditched him and he went off alone. 22 years later, he finds out why…and he has a score to settle. 
I could praise so many elements of these books all day, from the anecdotal asides that reveal the depth of these characters, to the complex twists that have so far thrown me, to the unique voices of these gritty Irish law enforcers…but the best thing I can tell you, honestly, is to just read them. 
Now, as always, I warn about language, and between these books being about Ireland and them being about cops, they are very much not sanitized. Just be aware of that. 
But Tana French is a heck of a writer, and I plan to keep up–I have a lot to learn from her.

Should-Reads: THE END OF NIGHT by Paul Bogard


“The End of Night” is a great piece of nonfiction detailing the technological changes in artificial light, and how we’ve introduced some pretty severe changes to our surroundings in just the last century.
I found it as informative as I did moving, even poetic at times, as Bogard makes his case for a reduction in the amount of artificial light we project into the dark. There are environmental concerns as well as an impact on our own physiology.
It’s a book that merits discussion and I would encourage you all to take a look at it.

Sounding Off as a Former Resident of Spain

This is a bit out of the norm for me. I generally try to avoid politics online these days, mainly because here in the States, nobody is solving anything. Social media can generally be boiled down to

  1. The “ZOMFG THIS IS JUST LIKE HARRY POTTER ONLY THE BAD PARTS AND WE’RE IN THE #RESISTANCE BECAUSE WE’RE TOTES HEROES” camp
  2. The “THIS IS WHY TRUMP WON #MAGA #MAGA #MAGA” camp
  3. And finally, the “STFU THEY BOTH SUCKED” camp.

I more or less belong to the third one. We have the government we deserve because we keep falling for stupid, divisive garbage and patting ourselves on the back for being better than the other guy.

The problem is, when you’re the biggest gun on the block, and everyone else is kind of counting on you to keep that thing in working order, and then you neglect or abuse that gun and let it fall out of working order, suddenly a gang of renegades moves into the neighborhood and starts doing whatever they want.

For those of you not following the metaphor, the gang is ISIS.

For the umpteenth time in a few short years, some ISIS a–hole committed a terrorist attack because of his backwards, Stone Age beliefs, that people of his kind are better and people not of his kind are not even people, and should be slain for it.

A sensible response would involve hunting these clowns down, along with everyone who ever financed, aided, or abetted them, and permanently removing their ability to organize and harm other people. Maybe that means seizing their assets. Maybe that means destroying their infrastructure. Maybe that means catching and executing them. The point is, we’d do it.

But we’re not. We keep allowing things like this to happen. Somehow, the status quo wherein peaceful citizens in peaceful cities get killed all the time is preferable to hunkering down and actually solving the problem.

We have two ruling political parties who don’t want to solve that problem. They want the problem blamed on the other side, in exchange for power, so that they can…keep the problem going. A cultural and media behemoth works at the beck and call of these parties to keep them in their frenzied state of pride, contention, and mistrust.

The lives of our military don’t matter to them. The lives of civilians don’t matter to them. All that matters is power, and capital, and whatever they can generate from ongoing news coverage of the carnage.

We’ve had these attacks stateside, we’ve had them all over the world. For the first time, I’m seeing the aftermath of an attack in a city where I lived, if briefly. I served an LDS mission in Barcelona, Spain. While I was only in Barce proper for a month, I visited frequently for numerous reasons. I’ve walked that Rambla. I’ve shopped at those stores, eaten at those restaurants, mingled with those tourists, tossed coins to those street performers. I’ve sung in a plaza not five minutes from there, surrounded by other missionaries from all over the world.

The Spanish people are my people. I’ve been among them as they’ve dealt with this before. In March of 2004, terrorists attacked a train station in Madrid, roughly 200 miles from where I was living (Zaragoza.) It was 9/11 all over again, with some cultural differences.

Later, while we were weathering a recession in the USA–and then slowly coming out of it–Spain was hit with one twice as hard. In fact, if you were under 30, you had a 50% chance of being flat-out unemployed. To this day, it’s still close to that bad. One of my friends just moved back to the States (dual citizen) to find work here because of how hard it is over there.

My point is, Spain is like my backyard, or the next neighborhood over. They’re not just foreign names on a map on the news. This particular attack…it hits me in a way that the others haven’t. Part of that is the fact that it’s about the fifteenth attack since 2014, when ISIS came into power.

And there’s no end in sight.

We’ve become comfortable with this. Somehow we’ve reached a point where this is better than solving the problem.

I’m used to that from the government. I wish we here on the ground were better, though. I thought we were. Thought I was.

I hope we can, as a nation, as a species, as a planet, get our crap together before anyone else has to suffer like this.

Or, we can go back to our stupid hashtags and backpatting, and watch some other insane whackjob do this in another country.

Guardians Vol. 2 gets a HISHE

The embedder sucks on my page, sorry. Click HERE for the video. 

The ineffable folks at HISHE worked their magic on what is so far my favorite movie of 2017, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
No movie is bulletproof, and I suppose you can always find a hole in a plot. Still, none of this stuff occurred to me as I was watching it, because the writers and actors did such an ace job of pulling me into the story. The characters really drove this tale, which was ultimately about fatherhood and family. 
I could go on all day about the brilliance of James Gunn’s artistic choices, or how much heart he brought to a bottom-of-the-barrel roster of characters. I learned a lot as a writer by watching this movie, mainly that I really need to focus more on my characters, their wills, and their interconnected conflicts.
Quill had a competition with Rocket, a resentment with Yondu, a skeptical approach to Ego, and a romantic entanglement (with obstacles) with Gamora. Gamora had a slight power struggle with Rocket, a familial conflict with Nebula, and a different brand of contention with her own father. Yondu stole the show with his own story, showing that he was more than just a hired thief, and had made decisions in the past he was not comfortable with–decisions that revealed his own complex humanity. 
It’s easy to put that stuff on paper, but the actors brought it to life with great skill. Three months later I am still jamming out to the soundtrack because it evokes so much feeling. 
These Marvel movies might never have been intended to be as good as they’ve been–and we’re lucky the directors and creators decided to go for broke, because by and large they’ve succeeded.
Except for you, Thor Movies. You suck.