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.

Trucker Man Reads Girly Books: TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE, by Jenny Han

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TMRGB is a series of posts wherein I, a bearded truck driver in the mining industry, recommend effeminate fiction to the masses. 

Today I posted one of my worst drive times ever between Clark County, Nevada and Salt Lake County, Utah. Partly this was due to me being in a convoy including another truck and two cars, and partly this was because our trucks were governed, heavy, and somewhat underpowered.

We moved my Mom up to Utah with us (oh yeah, by the way, I moved to Utah, hence the lack of posting…been busy) so today’s Girly Book was literally read/listened to whilst driving a truck. Even with the long drive time, I had to amp up the playback speed so I could finish it as we rolled into my neighborhood.

This book has come across my radar a handful of times, given its NYT bestseller status. One of Han’s other audiobooks is in my TBR pile but I grabbed this one after hearing the recent announcement of a movie adaptation. It’s about Lara Jean, a high school junior, who has had crushes on five different boys in the past, and overcame her crushes by writing letters to them and then hiding them in her room.

Then one fateful day, all of the letters somehow get…delivered.

This obviously sets off a chain reaction of events that throw Lara Jean’s life into a state of emotional chaos. One of these boys is the School Hottie! Another one is her Sister’s Ex-Boyfriend! The rest are…

…well admittedly the rest are pretty inconsequential, at least at first. There are two other books in the series and this first one seems to focus mostly on Peter and Josh. And that’s fine, because there’s enough going on between just a few characters to keep the whole thing moving without bogging it down in a car crash of conflicting wills.

As this book wrapped up, I had definitely enjoyed it, but there was a snag I couldn’t put my finger on at first. I think what it came down to was that it seemed to be less plot-oriented and more an exploration of the numerous characters involved, and the things they did to each other as the story progressed.

Obviously the story had some important things to say and show–about love, loyalty, honesty, and bravery–and it showed them very well. It was just a lot of cause-and-effect and maybe my brain was dialed in to expecting something else. I’m glad there are more to come, because I’d like to spend more time with these characters and see how they grow.

Han has taken an authentic approach to writing modern teenage relationships, walking a line between authenticity and propriety with respectable skill. Issues like teen sex came up (especially in the third act of the book, as it were) but not in a cavalier or flippant way. Likewise there was a bit of PG-13 language throughout, including a brace of F-bombs, both times used to express anger and disgust. As I said–authentic, yet she managed not to overdo it.

At the end of the book, Han’s talent was clearly on display, and I will definitely read another one of her books. I look forward to seeing where she goes from here.

Over and out.

Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ranked

Marvel’s been putting out movies and TV shows in its connected universe for almost a decade now, to generally high acclaim. They’ve had a few misses here and there, but their worst movies are still better than half of DC’s offerings, so let’s not get too worked up about it.

For the purposes of this list, I’ve put some parameters in place. First of all, I’m only ranking the theatrically-released Avengers movies, and the full Netflix series of the Defenders characters. I’ve watched 3 seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., with varied enthusiasm, but ultimately decided against ranking those seasons. Likewise, I only watched a handful of episodes of Agent Carter and didn’t care for it, so I didn’t finish it. Inhumans and Cloak & Dagger both look interesting but I’m going to put them in the same camp. I think the level of their production quality (the TV shows) is beneath the threshold of the Netflix properties or the big screen films.

If you’re still reading, here’s my ranking.

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The more I think about it, the less of a contest it is. So far, TWS is the best Marvel movie. No plot is airtight, and the idea that half of S.H.I.E.L.D. is composed of Hydra soldiers presents some logistical problems, but the delivery and reveal of that twist blew me away on the big screen, and was executed to perfection. On top of that, we see Cap realize that he’s not exactly allied with the good guys, and he had the courage to go after both factions when they were wrong. A timely lesson indeed.
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2. Just wow. Marvel took a barrel full of lesser-known characters and gave them more heart than almost any other roster in the MCU. The graphics, the humor, the music, and the ultimate story centering on the meaning of fatherhood and love…I’m sorry but I’ve never seen that in a space opera before, and had it hit me so hard. Superb.
  3. Captain America: Civil War. My post-theatrical impression was AHHH, THE PERFECT MOVIE! I’ve felt this way before about other Marvel films, which speaks to the skilled execution by the cast and directors. Once the high wore off, I would figure out some of the flaws. I think the plot was tighter than a lot of critics claim, and made a lot of sense. It just gets bumped down on the list because it’s slightly less of a Cap film and slightly more of a broad-roster Avengers film wherein Cap just gets the most screen time. Still immensely epic.
  4. Iron Man. With The Dark Knight still looming on the summer schedule, I didn’t expect this one to seize my attention as much as it did. It was our first taste of a well-rounded character with a healthy serving of humor, mixed in with the elements that would eventually make the hallmarks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The guys at Marvel probably didn’t even know what they’d unleashed at this point, but 9 years later, this film still holds up.
  5. The Avengers. Like Iron Man, it holds up even five years later, with its mix of all the right elements. To top it off, it pulled off a highly ambitious achievement with soaring colors, and solidified crushes on Tom Hiddleston the world over.
  6. Captain America: The First Avenger. An excellent period piece that introduced one of the lesser-liked (if still better-known) comic characters, and turned him into a widely emulated icon for his traditional patriotic values. Despite following the initial Marvel movie mold (good guy and bad guy have the same powers, but different values) it still found its footing and made a name for itself quickly, setting up the best trilogy (so far) in the entire MCU.
  7. Guardians of the Galaxy. There is nobody who expected this movie to be as good as it was. An entire generation discovered a mixed tape of rock hits from the 1970s, and even though the zealot villain and MacGuffin plot were nothing super original, the characters and execution definitely were.
  8. Daredevil (Season 1). Honestly, the bar wasn’t very high after the Affleck debacle from 2003. Still, the present-day MCU operators took this property and breathed new life into it with vigor, to the point where a large portion of its viewers were almost disappointed when Matt Murdock shed his DIY costume for the more iconic armor of the comics. Add in Vincent D’Onofrio as the villainous Kingpin, and you have an on-screen powerhouse. My only knock was that it went overboard on the violence several times in the first half of the season.
  9. Spider-Man: Homecoming. Finally! It only took 13 years, but we got another great Spider-Man film, and with a villain we’ve never seen before! Not only was the teenaged Peter Parker highly believable, the Vulture was an excellent, grounded, blue-collar villain with whom I could actually sympathize…right up to the part where he decided he didn’t give a crap about killing people. And come on…the state-mandated Cap videos at school stole the show.
  10. Doctor Strange. This was among Marvel’s more ambitious attempts, and without Cumberbatch, I think it would have fallen flat. That said, he played the character to near perfection, and even though the plot followed the formula of bad-guy-has-same-powers-but-is-evil, Kaecilious’s motivation was more profound than other cookie-cutter villains in the franchise.
  11. Luke Cage. This one worked on a lot of levels, as an insight into both a location and a demographic of which I have never been part. One of the other parts that worked well was the fact that I didn’t know much about it going into the pilot, beyond Luke’s appearance in the first season of Jessica Jones. If I have any complaints, it’s that it moved slow, and while that worked often, it really needed to pick it up in a few parts. The jazz music was rich and used well, much like the rock music in Guardians. Diamondback was another unique villain, even if his costume at the end was a little bit…weird.
  12. Daredevil (Season 2). I was really revved up for this after season 1, and while I still liked it, I think it bit off more than it could chew. It was almost two seasons in one, with the Punisher arc and the Elektra arc, even though they intersected a few times here and there. While the ninja stuff was cool, I felt like later in the season it struggled to find its identity, and the decay of the hero’s personal life is never a fun journey to watch, even when it’s credible. Still, the characters shined, especially the Punisher. Much like the first season, the violence went overboard more often than I would have liked.
  13. Ant-Man. Like Guardians, this is among the more humorous entries in the MCU, even if the plot is really pedestrian, and the villain was little more than a beardless Obadiah Stane who lived farther up the California coast. But it set up a lot of really good stuff, including the WASP in a future volume.
  14. Avengers: Age of Ultron. This was another film that I thought was wonderful after I left the theater, only to spot its flaws later. It still works as an awesome spectacle, but falls victim to corporate control as Disney forced Joss Whedon to shoehorn a ton of stuff into it that distracted from the central story. I admit to being a little confused and even annoyed when Vision showed up. He was almost the hardest part of this to accept, but the Russo brothers put him to good use in Civil War. I liked it, but it had problems.
  15. Iron Man 2. Another one that I liked because it was fun and cool, despite getting a little big for its britches. Whiplash was a bad villain, but Mickey O’Rourke did a good job with him, and of course Sam Rockwell plays an excellent corporate tool. It worked a little bit as a sequel to its great predecessor, though its function was clearly to help segue the franchise into a future Avengers conglomeration.
  16. The Incredible Hulk. I liked this one better than a lot of people gave it credit for, and Edward Norton was far better in the Bruce Banner role than Mark Ruffalo. What started as a cerebral story later devolved into a smashfest, which was fine and fun to watch, but did very little to advance Banner’s personal arc.
  17. Iron Man 3. I feel like Tony Stark’s story here was a little bit of a rehash from the first two, as well as what he did in Avengers. We get it Tony, you’re a mess. This is a story about a guy you were mean to coming back for revenge. Like the HISHE video points out, it’s pretty much an MCU version of The Incredibles, with slightly less hard than its predecessors. The change of directors really showed.
  18. Thor. What a perfectly average installment whose only purpose was to get one of the three pinnacle members of the Avengers on the big screen, so that they’d have an excuse for him to be in the real movie next summer, along with that movie’s villain.
  19. Jessica Jones. This one had flashes in the pan, real moments of greatness from a good number of its characters (like Jessica, Kilgrave, Trisha, and Luke Cage). Then it went off the rails, focusing on Jeri Hogarth’s pointless affair and divorce arc, or giving far too much screentime to the incestuous ginger twins who lived in Jessica’s building. Kilgrave was a top five Marvel villain, and Jessica definitely had her hands full dealing with him. That part of her story was great. The rest of it (seriously, how many scenes to we need of her and Luke power-boinking her bed into splinters?) was trying too hard to be edgy or dark, and lost its purpose. Where Daredevil was often over-violent, Jessica Jones was in equal measure over-sexual.
  20. Thor: The Dark World. Wow. This movie only got made because it had to. And about the only relevant part of it for the MCU at large was the fact that the villain was using an Infinity Stone, which won’t be relevant on screen for a few more years. Boring story, boring acting, and only a few laugh-out-loud moments…all of which were sparked by side characters whose main career work is on TV sitcoms. To date, this is the only MCU movie I didn’t bother to see in the theaters, because it just didn’t look like it was worth it from the trailers…and I was right.
  21. Iron Fist. If Thor 2 was boring and pointless, Iron Fist stands alone on an island of awful. It was mooning-the-crowd-at-a-preschool-graduation bad. This thing had no idea what it was trying to be, trying to accomplish, or trying to go. I can’t give you a solid breakdown as to why, without outright parroting Larry Correia’s shakedown of it, which is pretty detailed. They really dropped the ball with this one.

 

So that’s my rankings so far. In a few more months, we’ll get another Thor movie, which so far looks like it’s carved from the same stuff as the Guardians flicks. Then we get another Avengers movie next year, plus Black Panther and Ant-Man and the Wasp. I’m revved up. I’ll update this as they come out.