Few writers have impacted me as much–both personally and creatively–as Gary Paulsen. The authenticity behind his stories is what makes them so real to me. He’s gone out and LIVED a lot of the things that he writes.
A recurring theme that I’ve noticed in his fiction is the idea of “the grind.” A part of the story where the main character has to just put up, shut up, and work until he gets what he needs, or die, because that’s the only alternative. It’s also happened in three of his nonfics that I’ve read, namely Guts, Woodsong, and Winterdance.
After thinking about it over the last several months, it shouldn’t surprise me that reading his books in my youth really affected the way I view life, namely that you can achieve anything if you grind, and that even though we in the First World are comfortable, we are still subject to the forces of nature that will do us in at any turn.
In Hatchet, Brian Robeson had to learn this lesson the hard way. Stranded in the Canadian wilderness, he sobbed and cried and bawled his eyes out, feeling sorry for himself, until he realized that it flat-out didn’t work, wouldn’t do anything to change his situation. He had to change the way he thought, acted, lived, and breathed, in order to survive. Nature didn’t operate on forty hours a week of work, eight hours of sleep a night, and Saturdays or Sundays off.
Everything was food, everything was shelter, everything was survival.
And sometimes–often–survival depended on him running himself into the ground until he succeeded or died.
The River showed this beautifully when Brian had to care for a grown man who had fallen into a coma. Brian had only a few days before Derek died of thirst unless he could get him to civilization. So he built a raft and ran it a hundred miles downriver to a trading post, trying to keep himself awake for two days straight.
This mirrored an experience that Paulsen wrote about in Winterdance, when he had to cross long and dangerous stretches of Alaska on little sleep, fighting the elements, moving at the speed and rhythm of his dogsled team. In fact, the long arc of that book was really about him learning to think, act, move, and live like the dogs, not as a human steering the dogs.
Again this theme popped up in Guts, when a teenaged Paulsen was hunting for rabbits and managed to–accidentally–kill a deer. He then had to drag it home and field-dress it in the garage of his apartment complex, or else the meat–and his effort–would have gone to waste.
In Brian’s Winter, Brian similarly killed a moose cow, more by luck than by skill, and had to preserve the meat and the hide lest it get picked off by predators. He was awake for almost 24 hours straight, working to do what survival demanded.
It happened over and over again in Paulsen’s works, and I think about that a lot as a trucker. Sometimes you just have to buckle down, suck it up, and finish the job. There’s what you want, and then there’s what needs to be done.
If you have young readers in your home, boys or girls, get them started on Paulsen. It will serve them well throughout their lives to read about his experiences.
Hey gang! Sorry this one is a week late, that has been life in a nutshell. Lots going on!
The biggest news of it all: the Brother Trucker Book Club has wrapped up for now (I haven’t ruled out future episodes, but it’s not on the docket for the foreseeable future.) Schaara and I batted cleanup last week and the final episode went live with much success.
And of course, the DREADPENNIES ADVENTURE HOUR is up and running! With an audio performance of SLEEPLESS HOLLOW by yours truly! You can now get the entire audiobook for free by subscribing to the podcast. Tell your friends about it, and please consider backing the Patreon! Behind-the-scenes episodes will post on Fridays.
This has taken a backseat what with having to record audio for the podcast, but since I just finished the final episode of SLEEPLESS, the next three weeks are focused on finishing the script for WITH ANSWERABLE COURAGE, which will launch in November.
Once again, I am participating in Inktober! Check out instagram.com/dreadpennies for my daily entries. I’m behind by a day, but I’ll catch up.
I want to address the so-called controversy surrounding Inktober this year. Apparently someone has beef with Jake Parker, the founder, and tried to get his forthcoming book canceled over it. I don’t know the details of this beef, and I’m not going to dig it up. The beef has entered the legal arena and I assume will be settled there. For the time being I continue to support Jake Parker as I have for years, given my familiarity with his good work and the work of his good colleagues, such as Will Terry.
It concerns me that this trend of accusing, dividing, and taking sides based on Internet Hype has reached this specific realm of public creativity, especially seeing as how it coincides with an attempt to hijack Inktober and replace it with a very similar idea controlled by someone else. (There’s a new hashtag circulating, I’m not going to say what it is, but it’s a clear attempt to steal the success Jake has had, and it’s annoying to say the least.)
I’ve seen this play out in a number of other areas over the last several years; somebody makes something, it becomes a success, somebody else hijacks it and turns it into a shadow of its former greatness, and we’re left muttering over how “X used to be cool.”
Kind of like how “Honest Trailers” used to be funny, before it started parroting dumb cultural talking points from the public sphere. I don’t want to see that happen with Inktober so I’m going to wait for all the fact to come out, and, like I said, continue to participate in the meantime. High school is over, you guys. Let’s act like it.
Hoooo boy, my reading took a huge kick in September, haha. Mainly because I wasn’t listening to anything, I was training for my new position at work. I think I read maybe 2 or 3 books in the whole month. Things are picking up now, though.
That’s about it. I’m adjusting to the physical nature of the new gig, mainly how I come home sore and exhausted everyday, but my pants are all a little looser and will continue to do so. Kind of awesome how I got this job right around Pie Season, I don’t have to worry about gaining 20 pounds this year.
Time, you guys. The one thing we can never get back. We’re always getting more of it (until we aren’t) and we’re always running out of it.
The new position at work is superior to that last one in all measurable areas, outside of the time I spend listening to books. I have to be a lot more involved in my work now and when I have another driver with me in the rig I try to just talk instead of goofing around on the phone.
So my reading has dropped off heavily this month. I’ve also got a commission I’m working on for a client, and I’m remaking the cover for SLEEPLESS HOLLOW. I haven’t finished the writing on WITH ANSWERABLE COURAGE and I may have to punt that to October, because I need to get the first Adventure Hour show all recorded.
I’m about due for another bout of Shiny New Idea syndrome as well. All this coupled with the fact that I have to get enough sleep in order to be effective at my job, and I want to spend time with my kids when I get home in the afternoons…time management has become huge.
I can handle the current workload I’ve put on myself, it just gets complicated when I try to do more than I’m doing at the moment. Which I always want to do.
My co-worker sleeps about 4 hours a night. He just turned 30 though, so he’s gonna learn real quick that the bill comes due for that. I used to do the same thing when I was 31, and it not only messed with my memory, it buggered up my sense of reality a few times. Sleep dep is no joke.
So I just have to…figure out the right balance. Keep grinding. Set aside anything that doesn’t get me closer to my actual goal.
You’re getting a SLEEPLESS HOLLOW audiobook for free next month.
As much as it pains me to do this, I will not be releasing a physical book in 2020. But! I will still be publishing. WITH ANSWERABLE COURAGE will be the second story on the DPAH podcast, broken into episodes all throughout November.
This has become necessary as a result of stuff in my home life and my day job. My career was affected by Big ‘Rona and that’s forced us to take on a bunch of other stuff at once. I will spare you the details.
Suffice it to say that if I tried to finish all the art that I want in that book, it wouldn’t be good, and some would be left out. So I want to take my time on it. I can still record the audiobook for the podcast, and meet the 2020 deadline.
The physical book will come out in 2021, fully illustrated. After all, the Pilgrims set sail in 1620, but the First Thanksgiving was in 1621. That way I hit both dates!
I finished my series on Presidential Puns. That actually got me a paid gig designing a logo for an old friend, so that’s cool. Exactly what I’m into. Make sure you’re following me on Instagram to see what I draw every day.
You can expect me to slow down a little on this too, as I am not going to be plugged into my phone as much, listening to books all day long.
That said, I am being more picky about my reading in general, and more nonfiction is taking the stage. Maybe I’m just getting bored with so much genre fic, very little of it transcends its peers.
I like to be blown away when I read something.
I’m still doing push ups. I’m about to get a much more physical position at work, so the burn is going to be legit. All the rust and cobwebs will be gone by the end of September. I seriously cannot wait.
Be excellent to each other. And stand up for yourself a little more. Let people know that you love them, but they don’t own you. Own yourself.
On last week’s episode of the Brother Trucker Book Club, my friend Case dropped in on the mailbag to ask what I thought of Stephenie Meyer going back to the well on Twilight.
Short version of my answer: if she wants to, great. It sells. Clearly people still want to read it, more power to her. You can like it or hate it, it doesn’t matter if either way if in the end she’s blowing her nose with Benjamins.
(Listen to the episode above, or subscribe on Apple/Spotify/Castbox/wherever.)
I wasn’t going to read this one, until one of my favorite book club podcasts announced it as their next selection, so I’m reading along now. I originally read the series in 07-08, and got pretty into it, much to my surprise.
I mean, the writing is pretty bad and the characters are just…let me put it this way, Hallmark would tell them to dial the soap opera levels down a little bit.
And yet, clearly, it works, because the movies alone have made over three BILLION dollars, and Meyer’s cut of the books are in excess of the GDP of many island nations.
So yeah, we can hate on it all we want, but those of us who have dreams of professional creations for a living need to figure out WHY it works. If it’s “so damn bad,” why can’t we stay away from it?
Why are women who read it at age 14 now reading it again at age 29?
I think the simplest answer is that it satisfies a deep, almost forbidden emotional fantasy–the kind people might be embarrassed to admit they have, but still enjoy seeing played out in front of them.
Apparently a ton of girls want to fancy themselves as mature-for-their-age, scholarly, well-read empaths who have an emotional intelligence beyond that of their peers. And naturally they’d want two hot guys fighting over them, one rakish, the other rugged.
And as a cherry on top, they’d want to see every one of their decisions validated, none of their flaws exposed, and every action taken by every named character in the known world would revolve around THEM.
Yes, it would be completely inane to admit to having those desires for yourself.
That’s why Bella is a projection. The reader can project herself onto Bella and pretend she’s walking around in that world, almost like a literary version of an RPG, but if/when it ever becomes “too much,” well then, it’s just a book, and any faults in it have to do with Bella, right?
That’s really what it comes down to. The books are the romance version of a roleplaying game, and within that game, there is only reward, no criticism.
Kind of a refreshing break from real life, I imagine.
I’m not sure this principle will ever really apply to my own writing, as I don’t write characters like Bella Swan. I’ve also read THE HOST by Meyer, and it was…not good either. So I’m going to guess that my stuff will never be successful for the same reason hers is, and I’m okay with that. I’m not setting out to tell the same stories she is (though I wouldn’t say no to the kind of money she’s made, hey-oh.)
Just some things I’ve been chewing on as I reflect on 15 years of this cultural phenomenon that I still don’t fully understand. More power to her, though.
This morning I thought about a man that I haven’t remembered in a while. Back in the days of my old blog I wrote about him once or twice and he deserves to have his story told a little more often, or at least, to have my part of his story told.
His name is Jim Heller, and he was an artist. He was also almost completely paralyzed; anything from the neck down was immobile, except for very slight movements in his right hand.
It was those movements that allowed him to become a precise artist. I got to see him work every now and then because we went to church together, and our ward would divide up service assignments to help him out.
On the 2nd of every month, my brother and I would ride our bikes down to his place and make him dinner. This was always a bit of a process because Jim was a slow eater. He would wheel his electric chair into the doorway of his kitchen and tell us what to pull out of the fridge or the cabinets, then have us nuke it in the mike.
We had to cut everything up for him and feed it to him one small bite at a time. He had to tell us every time he was ready for another bite, or a drink through the straw. It took a few hours.
Not that it was an imposition or anything; he was very easy to talk to and we had great conversations. Jim loved movies too, so we would put on a John Wayne flick, or a cheesy sci-fi, or a WW2 film. I watched Anaconda and Tora! Tora! Tora! while feeding him. The only time I’ve ever seen The Ghost In The Darkness was while I was spooning peas into Jim’s mouth. (Awesome movie, btw.)
In my teens I didn’t have a lot going on that wasn’t scheduled for me by my parents. Go to youth activities at church, go to piano lessons, go to Boy Scouts, go go go. When I had time to myself, I spent it ignoring my homework so I could sit at my drawing table while blasting KoRn or Offspring on my CD player.
The lack of a full schedule made it easy for me to visit Jim. I don’t remember seeing it as an imposition or anything, because what else was I doing with my life? Goofing off and daydreaming about girls who would never date me because I was the weird kid?
No, go take one night in thirty and feed someone. That’s a kind of service I don’t do any more. I’m too busy, too dialed in on my own stuff. Plus, obviously, I’ve got a wife and kids now, it’s just different.
But back then, I think it was really good for me to see up close the life of someone who had to rely on others for absolutely everything. Jim had a nurse come by who helped him with his medical stuff, his pill sorting, his bathing and dressing, getting in and out of bed, all that. He always had to have his remote on his tray and his LifeAlert right next to it.
One night he called his neighbor at 2AM because there was a bug chewing on the soft skin under his arm and the pain was excruciating. Jim tried to ride it out without calling and it just got to be too much.
Think about that next time you have an itch and you scratch it and it goes away. Think about a life where you couldn’t do that for yourself.
I never once, in the three or four years that I regularly visited him, heard Jim gripe about his condition, or pity himself. Dude got diagnosed with whatever had put him in a chair in his 20s. Doctors said he would probably die in his 40s. He made it to his 60s.
And to the utter extent that he was able, he worked to support himself.
Every time we came by, we wrapped up the night by setting his art supplies out on the tray on his wheelchair. Pencils and brushes with long sticks attached. Paint pallets with just a drop of this color here, a slight mixture of these two there. Throw some water droplets on to loosen up this shade here, I don’t need much.
He painted scenery, animals, westerns, faces. Indians and mountain men, cowboys and pioneers. Wolverines battling wolves for a kill. Lynxes in the wild. Temples. Christ. His friends.
A few times a year we would load his stuff into his big old van, then help him onto the ramp so he could get inside. Hook his chair to the floor with ratchet straps and drive him to convention centers so he could sell prints and originals. It was heavy and repetitive, and tiring in the Vegas heat.
Yet the whole time you’re doing it, you’re saying to yourself, what am I going to do? Cry about it to the guy who can’t walk? Can’t take a leak without help? Come on, man. Even when I was just a low-ambition punk@$$ from Henderson I could figure that part out.
There are still times that I feel bad about not being there when he died, in July of 2001. I had missed our appointment on the 2nd of that month because I finally had things on my calendar. I had a job (tire tech) and a sport to train for (cheerleading).
He called our house and asked if I was coming. It was 6:30. I apologized profusely, I can’t even remember what I was doing that night but I was busy. He said NBD, he would call his niece, she was over there all the time.
I said I would make it up to him next month. He died about two weeks later.
I made it a point to sing at his funeral. Felt I owed him that.
Often I make the mistake of assuming that everyone has had the same life experiences I have, that they’ve known the same kind of people and have shaped their expectations of life accordingly. I have to remind myself that that isn’t the case.
We’ve all had unique struggles, they just happen in the same vein sometimes. And there will always be someone who has it worse than we do–not that it’s a competition. The point is that someone else’s trials can help you realize not only your blessings, but the limitations you are putting on yourself.
Especially today, in the age of competitive victimhood, with social media being such an easy platform for you to scream your hardships into the void of the world, looking for validation.
When that temptation arises, think of men like Jim. He dealt with those demons at some point in his life, I’m sure of it. That kind of stoicism is usually a destination, not a starting point, and he got there.
I for one am very grateful that he did, and for what he taught me in our short time together. Men like that ought to be remembered.
But the real gem is the launch of the DPAH, coming next month 🙂 I’ll draw the cover art for it then.
Edits are humming along for WITH ANSWERABLE COURAGE. I am fighting distraction because I keep getting ideas for other stories. The best thing for those ideas is to just let them percolate, because they’re not ready if I’m not actively working on a story.
I’m glad that I have finally embraced the short story model. Lots of my ideas will work better that way.
Funnily enough, after I read HOMEWORLD to Schaara, she suggested I write a full-length treatment from one of the other character’s POV. That one is percolating. Dunno when it’ll happen, but it just may.
Still plugging right along. I fell back on a lot of puns and stuff in July, what I need to do is change it up and do more structured exercises. I have an anatomy book I’ve been meaning to dig through, however…
…as I get ready to homeschool my kids with my wife (she’ll be doing most of it, but I’m not going to be a bystander), I have to read some other preparatory materials, and that’s getting my attention.
Also I’m getting bored with fiction generally. That’s a weird feeling. Nonfiction is finally entertaining me more.
I’m doing over a hundred pushups a day, every day. With my schedule, that’s all I can manage. If it changes, I’ll let you know.
Please understand, from the bottom of my heart, that I do not care about anyone’s panicky opinion about what’s going on in the world. I wash my hands of it. It only serves to hold me back from conquering my own corner of this island Earth.
Y’all know Gladiator, that awesome flick from 2000 that was mostly ahistorical but still an excellent story.
Well starting in 2013 it became a Secondhand Superhero candidate, and last year it fulfilled the minimum threshold of 4 actors.
Russell Crowe as Maximus (Jor-El)
In 2013, Crowe played the father of Superman in Man of Steel.
Djimon Hounsou as Juba (Korath the Pursuer/Wizard)
Hounsou actually has a foot in each major comic universe, as he was a hunter in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)/Captain Marvel (2019) and a powerful wizard in Shazam! (2019).
Connie Nielsen as Lucilla (Hippolyta)
Nielsen was Diana’s mother in Wonder Woman (2017).
Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus (The Joker)
Phoenix earned himself an Oscar for playing Batman’s most formidable villain.
There’s one last actor who deserves a shout-out: Spencer Treat Clark, who played young Lucius. He also played Baron Von Strucker’s son on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but I felt like I was reaching with that one.
Then again, I used Lois & Clark as a qualifier, so maybe that’s ok.