Trucker Man Reads Girly Books: P.S. I LIKE YOU by Kasie West

TMRGB is a blog series wherein I, a bearded HazMat trucker and blast crewman, recommend effeminate fiction to the masses.

 

‘Twas mere days ago that I was amongst my Brotherhood of the Blast, working on a local construction site, having a testosterone-fueled conversation with fellow Blastards Scott and Case, discussing manly things like chest hair, hockey fights, and Kasie West’s P.S. I LIKE YOU.

“Graham, what are you reading right now?”

“Dude, it’s so chicky. I can feel my fingernails getting manicured as the plot progresses.”

Fortunately we were working with dirt and explosives, so the manicure didn’t hold. But Kasie’s book definitely did. It plucked right at my greasy heartstrings (directly adjacent to the valve that turns barbecued prime rib into blood and muscle) and played me like a heavy metal guitar.

It’s the tale of a pale, wan, homely young lass who comes from a slightly broke and somewhat eccentric family in Arizona. Lily, our protagonist, is of course a guitarist and aspiring musician who is only interested in the most independent and unknown music that speaks to her profoundly complex soul. Nobody understands her. Except, of course, for the Mysterious Guy Who Is Most Likely Hot, who somehow fills in the blanks on her desk when she idly scribbles indie lyrics on it in class.

Soon she’s secretly swapping notes with Mister Mystery, and they become ever more flirty and personal in nature. Before long she’s baring her soul to a complete stranger and gobbling up the replies as if she’ll die without them.

This seems like a really good idea.

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But that’s not all! There is, naturally a Twisty Complication to this fly-by-night Romance-Not-A-Romance: Lily has to figure out Mister Mystery’s identity! Could it be Dave, the Nice Guy her friends tried to set her up with? Or is it Lucas, introverted and brooding, always listening to music on his headphones, too cool to talk to people (and supes hot?) Wait a minute…there’s no way that…you guys don’t think it could be the evil Cade, a rich, hot jerk who always picks on Lily, do you?

I mean, Mister Mystery doesn’t know Lily is writing to him. It’s completely anonymous, painfully honest stuff, so if it ends up in the hands of an enemy, it could be embarrassingly compromising. But he’s just so sincere, and sweet, and he gets her! Because they listen to the same music! CONFLIIIIIICT!

I really felt Lily’s pain as I listened to the audiobook from behind the wheel of a beat-to-crap GMC TopKick, which is clearly on its last legs and needs to be run through a trash compactor. When Lily discovered Mister Mystery’s identity, and all of the staggering complications it presented, I was…well I wasn’t shocked, but come on, you kind of see it coming. (It’s no less earth-shattering for this, mind you. In fact, you kind of want it to go that way. I did, because I’m sadistic.)

Then Lily had to confront Mister Mystery when he showed up on her doorstep for Thanksgiving, all the while trying to keep the secret contained within herself, I was dancing on my tippy-toes and belting out SQUEEEEE at the top of my lungs, even as I chained an Everdigm T-450 to the back of a lowboy trailer, five points of securement, thank you very much Officer.

The revelations! The betrayal! The I-want-to-smack-the-socialite-wench-who-tried-to-destroy-our-beloved-protagonist feeling! The geyser of unabated emotion at the end!

That damned rabbit, too! (No context provided, go read the book!)

It tickles all the right spots for a good clean contemporary romance. This is the first of Kasie West’s books that I’ve read, but I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another one, just as soon as I scrape the grit out from under my fingernails and find my hard hat. You should too. Read it, I mean. Well and maybe the grit thing too. And a hard hat, if your jobsite requires full PPE.

Back to work with the lot o’ ye.

#Gritpunk, or What I Did After Being Fired

Four years ago today, my brother and sister-in-law had me stay after work so they could inform me that they were letting me go.
It hit me kind of hard, considering my son was only two weeks old, and my wife was no longer working, but I dare say it was necessary.
Despite me being the production manager for their (worldwide) business, elements of the brother-brother/owner-employee dynamic were at loggerheads, and ultimately they had to consider what was best for their own livelihood.
As tough a pill as that was to swallow, they made the right call, and I told my brother that the next day when we met up at the gym for our typical morning workout. No man in his late 20s wants to admit that ending up in such a pickle is his own fault, but it was–partially because I had butted heads too often with my brother/boss at work, and partially because I had neglected my own career paths in the nebulous pursuit of Someday Making It As A Writer.
There are things that I believe in that are immutable parts of my conscience and my soul. I can’t rank them, but they’re there, and one of them is that when you own something, you have a right to control it, and in most cases, everyone else ought to butt out. This is true of my brother’s business; it had to be hard for him to make that call, because it was right, but also because we were family. I wasn’t going to hold it against him. If I hadn’t been family, I’d have been gone long before they finally cut me, no matter how well I did my job. No owner would let a manager get into shouting matches with him in front of the whole crew more than once or twice, but I did it, and the result was the result.
I went home that night, broke the news to my wife, and cried like I hadn’t in a long, long time. I was mad. Ashamed. Embarrassed. Desperate. I can’t remember ever having asked God for help as hard as I did that night. I never finished college, and my previous work experience wasn’t going to land me something that would replace the lost income. Worst of all, that happened at a time when my wife and new son needed me the most.
So I considered my options. I did some research. I went to trucking school. And then I went to work.
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I hit the highway and took whatever crappy job came my way. For 8 months I drove over the road for Knight Transportation, crossing this great country border to border, coast to coast. I saw the Pacific and the Atlantic in the same week. I must have gone up and down Mount Shasta in Northern California two dozen times in that span. Hell, I’ve driven every inch of the I-5, from the Otay Mesa to the Canadian Border Crossing in Blaine, Washington.
Some drops were at noon. Some were at 8PM. Some were at 2 in the morning. (Damn you, IKEA.) I had to go into Canada several times to make extra cash, because–surprise!–guys with a CDL and a clean criminal history aren’t that common, and international commerce can keep a small company afloat. (Knight was relatively small, next to companies like Swift and Werner.)
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I was usually gone for weeks at a time. My son grew like a weed while I was out. The wife and I bought smartphones for the first time, so that we could FaceTime each other on a regular basis. We called every night. She was supportive beyond all comparison, despite how hard it was. I did it because I had to, because doing it meant that my wife didn’t have to work, that she could be home with our son and take care of him. It was never going to be permanent.
And fortunately, I was able to get out of it, and quickly. A local crane company hired me on as a support driver, despite me knowing nothing about the industry. I sucked it up and worked that job for 21 months, putting up with long nights, horrible co-workers (not all of them, just the ones who had power), and a highly unstable schedule where I was sometimes lucky to work 30 hours in a week. (Other times I’d work 20 hours in a shift.)
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I did it, because I had to, and it meant my wife wouldn’t have to work.
Then an even better job opened up closer to my side of town, at a higher rate of pay, in a more exciting industry: blasting. And I was able to take the skills I had learned in the previous two and a half years, and apply them in a way that made me feel like I really knew what I was doing. Lately I’ve been thinking about training a new driver to learn the things I know about the different trucks at this company, and I’ve come to realize…there’s a lot to process, and most of it is stuff you can only really learn with experience, and somewhere along the line, dare I say it, I became a really good truck driver.
I did it because I had to.
(Granted, I still make plenty of mistakes. One of my nicknames around the shop is “Tank.” It sounds cool, but they call me that because I punctured a fuel tank on a truck by driving over a rock. Twice.)
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Tons of times in the last four years, I have thought to myself “Man, I wish I’d gotten into this sooner.” It’s not hard to crack $40k a year with a CDL. That’s more than we made when the wife and I both worked for my brother. And no matter how you do the job, it keeps you on your toes, you learn new things, and go to exciting places. Sure, the work sucks often, as it does with any job. Lots can go wrong, and most of it can (and will) be your fault. I think that’s a good thing, though. It keeps me responsible, keeps me aware of how I should never be too confident, never assume that I’m bulletproof, because I can botch it pretty easily if I’m not careful.
But I’ve made it this far. Because I had to.
Because the cost of learning this skill and succeeding in this line of work is less than the burden of letting my family go without things they need.
That right there is probably the most obvious lesson. I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week in the wake of LTUE, and my writing career (which is still definitely happening), and how they’re related. I’m trying to figure out my mission statement.
I’ve never been 100% sure what I wanted my purpose to be as a writer. Generally I wanted to “write the books I wish I could’ve read as a boy.” But that doesn’t hit my point hard enough. And as I look back on my driving career, and consider how I might go about teaching the things I know to a new driver (backing, trailering, securing a load, managing hours, getting around tight spots on job sites), it all keeps boiling down to the same simple, salient point:
Do it. Because you have to.
I don’t remember exactly when this came to mind, but it was sometime last Saturday, possibly after the panel on Steampunk Aesthetics at LTUE, where I was a participant (and it went great! Thanks to all of you!). A single word popped into my head, courtesy of Charles Portis, Chuck Pagano, and my overactive wordsmith brain.
GRITPUNK.
That’s my mission statement as a writer. That’s what I want to do. I want to write books that inspire young readers to look inside themselves, dig deep, and find the inner grit to do things that they thing are difficult, to humble themselves into being willing to learn, and then mustering up the guts to get the job done.
Everyone is going to face a trial like the one I faced four years ago, where they fall hard and have to pick themselves up, and won’t be able to do it without admitting hard truths to themselves. If I’m serious about being a writer, and having my work matter to the people who read it, then that’s the feeling I want to put into my books. GRITPUNK. Find your grit. Find the grit my characters find. Learn from their failures, celebrate their successes, then look at yourself and do the same thing.
Life is all about doing hard things. Each of them will probably be harder than the last, in their own due course and time. That’s fine.
You can do it. Because you must.
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SNAPSHOT by Brandon Sanderson

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It doesn’t shock me that the king of fantasy is also a daft hand at science fiction; it’s not his genre that makes his writing great, but rather his great writing that puts him at the top of his genre. He applies that same level of skill to a different arena and voila, he still blows minds with high-gauge buckshot at every turn.

SNAPSHOT is a short story (available as an eBook or audiobook) about two future cops who can enter a simulated recreation of any single day in the past, and explore it to find evidence that will help solve a crime in the real world.

On one of their routine cases, they stumble across evidence of a serial killer and, despite orders from the brass, they start to chase the clues, to a devastating result.

That’s really all I’m going to tell you, because A) it’s a short story, and B) the less you know, the more you can be amazed by how much Sanderson can cram into a hundred pages.

Other than that, I can only heap praise on the man himself, and how he constantly challenges his own methods to keep giving you something you can’t predict. This story reminds me a lot of his fantasy novella SIXTH OF THE DUSK, wherein I thought I knew what was happening, only to get 90% of the way in and realize I’d been whacked in the face with a verbal tree branch for having ignored certain things that he plainly laid out before me. It’s just uncanny. Whether he’s writing a self-published novella or carpet-bombing you with a 1,000-page paving stone from Tor, Sanderson knows his craft, and knows how to take you apart.

Give it a shot.

A Stealth Affirmation at LTUE

Something happened at LTUE this weekend that I wanted to share with y’all. It’s hard to quantify it because–unlike the ethereal fantasy run-in with a Big Cheese Editor-it’s unlikely to lead to a huge publishing deal or anything like that. It might not even lead to name recognition down the road. It doesn’t give me an “in” with a future submission. It was just something affirming, something great for its own sake, and aside from my wife, nobody else saw it happen.
Friday night, I had just set up the signing table (along with maybe thirty other authors) and put my books out, comprising the entire Engines trilogy plus KILL THE BEAST. Before things had really gotten underway, a bearded gentleman who was probably in his fifties came over and started flipping through a copy of REBEL HEART.
He asked what DreadPennies was, I told him it was just the name of my operation. The books were printed by CreateSpace but I did the layouts myself. He said he was impressed by the quality, not just of the materials but of the work–margins, gutters, stuff a publisher would recognize, stuff that a lot of indies get wrong. It makes the finished product look bad when it’s overlooked.
I thanked him and asked him if he had anything at the show, if he was a writer or artist, he said no, he was an editor (and I initially couldn’t hear the name of the publisher.) He’d worked at Tor and Del Rey for long stretches, but had been at his current spot for over a decade.
He left, and I looked up his name tag in the program, because it kind of sounded familiar. Then I found myself dumbstruck; it was Jim Minz, head editor of Baen books, a publisher for with whom I would shed human blood to be published.
(Small amounts, and my own, from like, my nose or something, but still.)
Again, here’s the thing: this happenstance encounter didn’t net me a huge publishing deal, or a get-out-of-slush-hell-free card, or even a recommendation to submit to them later. It didn’t give me a tangible perk of any kind.
It was just extremely affirming to be a low-totem-pole guy with a whopping four books to my name, and receive an approving fist pump from the best of the pros.
I still have to sweat and grind and crank out books. This changes nothing. But it tells me I’m at least doing it right on the “quality” side of things. And that’s huge.
This is not the last time I will present my work to that man. Baen is one of two publishers I want to work with. I hope the next time impresses him even more. We shall see. 
Back to work.

Trucker Man Reads Girly Books: MY FAIRLY DANGEROUS GODMOTHER, by Janette Rallison

TMRGB is a blog series wherein I, a bearded HazMat trucker and blast crewman, recommend effeminate fiction to the masses.

My Fairly Dangerous Godmother by [Rallison, Janette]

Let’s hop in the way-back-when machine (maybe it’s a phone booth, maybe it’s a crappy car from the 80s, whatevs) and set the clock to 1997. I’m just starting the 8th grade. I don’t know what I’m going to do for a career, beyond writing killer awesome books with like, aliens and explosions and sweet car chases and stuff. And everyone will love my work.

While I daydream about this, sitting at the drawing table in my bedroom and listening to Smash Mouth (WHOOOO 1997) a grown man with a gnarly beard and a plaid wardrobe bursts into my room and tells me that he’s me, 20 years from now.

“Sweet!” Little Graham says. “What do you do for a living?”

Big Graham takes off his shiny Aviator sunglasses and, in a booming voice replies, “I blow things up. And people pay me for it.

“Awesome! Is there anything else I should know? Are you an artist?”

“Yes to the second. As to the first, I read girl books sometimes.”

*Record scratch*. “Wait, what? Why?”

“Peace out, Little Graham. And don’t date any girls named –”

I disappeared before I could tell me who not to date, a typical jerk move on my part.

Back to the present: two weeks ago I had to take a trip up to Northern Nevada to help some blasters blow up part of a gypsum mine. It was pretty sweet. I had, like, two whole days of driving, so I burned through a few audiobooks. One of them was Janette Rallison’s MY FAIRLY DANGEROUS GODMOTHER.

Look, when you play with explosives in exchange for money, you tend not to care about little details, like jumping into a series by reading Book #3 first. Which is what I did here. And fortunately, that panned out okay, because Rallison wrote these in such a way that you can do that. From what I gather, there’s a recurring character in all three books (Chrissie, the titular fairy godmother) who helps out a different girl in each book.

In this instance, we’re dealing with Sadie Ramirez, a girl who botches an America’s Got Talent-esque audition on TV, in front of her celebrity crush. Then she pukes on stage and becomes a viral sensation. Her fairy godmother intervenes to offer her a chance to fix this…by being a conniving little self-serving witch and forcing Sadie into a fairy tale deathmatch that could ruin her life.

(Also, I guess there are hot guys involved. I assume so, from Sadie’s perspective. I myself am wired the other way.)

I frequently found myself smirking at the clever twists and turns, as well as the projection-worthy moments in the story that would totally land with the target audience of teenaged girls who have secret crushes on celebrity guys. They are plentiful, and amusing. On top of that, the life lessons learned by Sadie are good things for young girls to learn as well, namely that of having confidence in one’s self and choosing not to place too much value on what others think of you.

Plus, Sadie’s audition snafu reminded me of Lindsey Stirling, whose entire career since then has been a giant middle finger to Piers Morgan, and I’m a big fan of that. (And her music.)

This book is plenty of good clean fun. I know I enjoyed it from behind the wheel of a Peterbilt with a lowboy Cozad and a bulk truck on the back, despite blowing an inner trailer tire somewhere near Hawthorne, a minor issue that took two freaking hours to resolve. Not that I am bitter; not when I have a book.

Carry on.

KILL THE BEAST is available now!

Out in paperback and on the Kindle.

Kill The Beast by [Bradley, Graham]

Yay! It’s finally here! I had this idea less than a year ago, and after I finished the Engines books I decided to get it out of my system. It was nice to tackle it in a 4-month window, draw a few pieces, edit it half a dozen times, and have it done. This book marks my first effort at designing my own cover, too.

The short pitch, in case you haven’t heard: it’s a different take on Beauty and the Beast, wherein the Beauty character was duped, the Village Hunk was right, and the townsfolk had better get their butts up the mountain to kill the monster in the castle or they’re all gonna be in deep doo-doo.

This book is a classic example of one of the great uses of self-publishing on a cost-effective platform, like Amazon’s CreateSpace. The YA market is drowning in tons, tons of fairy tale retellings and the like. No agent/editor was going to want to hear this pitch, and at only 100 pages long, I didn’t see the point in stretching the story out just to get it to full novel-length.

I was able to solve both of those issues by publishing it myself. It’s as long as it needs to be, it’s what I want it to be, and I had a great time putting it all together. I hope you’ll consider buying a copy and telling me whether you liked it. I intend to get more of my stories out this way, the ones that work anyway.

Thanks again for your support, guys. Every brick makes my foundation stronger. See you out there!

Truck Man Reads Girly Books: THE HOURGLASS DOOR, by Lisa Mangum

TMRGB is a blog series wherein I, a bearded HazMat trucker and blast crewman, recommend effeminate fiction to the masses.

 

Hourglass Door (Hourglass Door Trilogy) by [Mangum, Lisa]The Golden Spiral: 2 (Hourglass Door Trilogy) by [Mangum, Lisa]The Forgotten Locket (Hourglass Door Trilogy) by [Mangum, Lisa]

 

February continues with recommended romantic reads. This week’s selection features sexy Italian time travelers who play the guitar. Here we go!

In much the same way that Harry Potter spawned a biblical flood of middle-grade fantasy fiction, Twilight had a similar impact on a then-unpopular genre: YA paranormal romance. We may not want to acknowledge Twilight’s cultural impact, or the hunger it created in its market, but it’s there, and we can’t ignore it. Yes, my friends: we finally understand how our parents really feel about disco.

I worked at a Deseret Book in Utah for two years in college, and one of the employee perks that we got to read ARCs of new books before they hit the shelves. THE HOURGLASS DOOR came along, billed as a contender to fill the void in the market, since Twilight had wrapped the previous summer. The premise sounded interesting, so I picked up our store’s copy, and I burned through it in about two days, going back to it whenever I could catch a break between my two jobs and my own writing. What stood out to me then, and remains praiseworthy now, is that in a time when the most iconic book series of its genre featured a shockingly bland protagonist who did nothing but stand by and describe how hot a guy was as he rescued her over and over and over and over, THE HOURGLASS DOOR dared to give us a female lead who actually, yanno, did stuff. 

Sure, there was a mysterious and alluring male lead who had A Dangerous Secret, and an alluring male antagonist who Also Had A Secret, and it was Abby’s job to figure out the secret because of how alluring Boy A was. But don’t let that underlying staple turn you away from the appeal; Dante, our male hero, was a man out of time, catapulted into his future from an Italy 500 years gone, trying his best to blend in and keep a low profile. Nevertheless, his anachronisms surface, and he of course catches Abby’s eye, and things accelerate from there.

And Abby gets involved! She learns Dante’s secret, and she starts to help him! She fights the villain with him! She takes the reins when Dante is sidelined and helps to advance the plot! This was quite a refreshing turn of events. It was also one of the things I liked about Wings, which I rec’d last week.

(Don’t worry, ladies: there’s plenty of face-touching and mouth-whoopie and Deep, Longing Gazes into each others’ eyes.)

So I pitch these books to you if you’re looking for a good fun read that moves well and keeps you interested. Lisa’s a clean writer, making these a safe buy for the young reader in your life as well. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Trucker Man Reads Girly Books: WINGS, by Aprilynne Pike

TMRGB is a blog series wherein I, a bearded HazMat trucker and blast crewman, recommend effeminate fiction to the masses. Note to hipsters: this is what real irony looks like. Note to young male readers: don’t feel bad for liking girl books. A good book is a good book.

 

It’s February, so it’s fitting that you’d read romance this month. Let me recommend to you the debut paranormal romance series by Aprilynne Pike, a NYT best-seller.

The Wings series is about a girl named Laurel who finds out that she’s a faerie. Whoops! Spoiler? Well no, it’s on just about every description of the book, including the jacket flap, but it’s a revelation to Laurel, who finds out a few chapters in.

The story develops well over the course of the first three books, which span multiple years of Laurel’s high school life. The fourth book takes place in the span of a single day, and justifiably so, as there’s a lot going on. The fifth book, ARABESQUE, happens several years after the conclusion of the original series. I have not finished reading it yet; Pike was posting chapters weekly online, and I read several of them while sitting in a CAT skidsteer on a construction site in Nevada, waiting for clearance from the city to blow up part of the hillside. But that’s neither here nor there.

Now, I won’t regale you with tales of the manly exploits I undertook as I read each novel. I won’t bore you with how I had a fierce cold on a road trip in 2010, and while I was trying to burn it out of my body with the heater on full blast, driving in my AWD wagon across the desert at 80 mph in the dark, I listened to WINGS on audio, and was swept away to the Redwood forests of California, where Laurel lived with her adoptive parents. Nor will I emphasize the fact that I burned through DESTINED whilst camping in a tent on a manly campout with other dudes. My bonafides neither augment nor detract from the merits of these series. It’s worth the read, no matter who you are.

I recommend you read it because it’s good fun. It tickles the love-bone we all have. It’ll fly you back to your teenaged years with no small degree of fondness, and the added benefit of a fun fantasy plot involving Avalon, faeries, trolls, and magic makes it even more enjoyable. As much as I like these books, they’re not even Pike’s best (those reviews are to come later.)

So if you need a good romantic plot to pick at this month, start with WINGS and see where it takes you.

In matters of content warning, be advised that there’s an S-bomb in book one, but this doesn’t happen again in the rest of the series. Other than that, you’ve got teenagers making out in bedrooms and stuff, that’s about as far as it goes.

‘Til next time! Keep on truckin’.