Shusterman’s waterless disaster novel is anything but dry

Neal Shusterman is in my top 10 of all authors, and it will be hard for anyone to edge him out for a long time.

Between the 4 Unwind books, the Skinjacker trilogy, the current Arc of a Scythe books, and such standalones as CHALLENGER DEEP and BRUISER, he’s proven himself competent and capable at delivering on the promises of his big ideas.

DRY is another standalone, co-authored with his son Jarrod, which I admit gave me a moment’s pause when I first heard about it. Was it mostly Jarrod? Was I in for an entirely different treatment from the eleven other Neal books I had loved?

I needn’t have worried, as DRY lands just as well as anything else the elder Shusterman has done. I would very much like to hear from both of them about their process and how they worked together to tell this story.

The premise is that Nevada and Arizona suddenly pull out of an arrangement with California that supplies most of their water.

Immediately society goes to hell, and people go feral, an idea that Shusterman explored back in Unwind, but this is a more grounded treatment.

DRY doesn’t depend on future tech or massive changes to the legal landscape of America. It’s not a “after [crazy thing X] comes [crazy thing Y], which parallels our reality.” Instead, it’s “we are very much on the cusp of this, because California has a water problem that they aren’t addressing.”

I don’t want to give anything away, because you should read it. I will only say these things about it:

1) The characters are great. Well-rounded, distinct in tone, and even though it’s mostly written in first person, the alternating viewpoints are clear.

2) The audiobook had six or seven narrators, which helped to expand the focus of the instant drought, and show how it affected so many people.

3) The book works well as a commentary on our society, in terms of emergency preparation, entitlement, self-interest, and the things people will do to each other when law and order go out the window.

I will say, in the end, that it was kind of a hard book to read, because it was so devastating, and so many people suffered. The Shustermans don’t cushion the blow with this story; if California were to lose its water supply in real life, millions of people would suffer, and the book allows us to safely examine that without the massive toll.

Final note, there is a content warning: numerous S-bombs and blasphemous exclamations litter the text. Convincingly so, but there. It would be a PG-13 movie.

Read on.

Ichabod Crane was not a sexy dude.

I wrote about this back in 2013 on my old blog, and it’s a good time to revisit this subject.

Washington Irving’s best-known tale is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, featuring lanky Connecticut schoolmaster Ichabod Crane versus the ghost of the Headless Horseman.

Everyone has heard of the story, due to its staying power over the centuries (Irving wrote it in the early 1800s) but Hollywood tends to butcher the important parts.

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The two most recent adaptations were Sleepy Hollow from 1999, wherein Ichabod Crane is a sexy supernatural detective played by Johnny Depp, in his pre-Jack Sparrow days.

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Later he was played by Tom Mison in the TV show “Sleepy Hollow,” which was a wild, wild departure from just about anything having to do with Irving’s classic (other than Ichabod, Katrina, and the Horseman.)

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Apparently Jeff Goldblum portrayed Ichabod in a for-TV version of the movie back in the early 1980s. This version of the character was closer to accurate, even if the story wasn’t.

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To date, the most correct portrayal I’ve seen is the animated Disney version from many many decades ago. Both the character and the story are directly adapted from what Irving crafted.

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I bring this up because I usually read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in October, and have for the past five or six years. Yesterday I plugged in the audio (I have the version narrated by Tom Mison, funnily enough) and as always, it’s a striking feat of language and emotion and storytelling.

This story always draws me in, and not just because Irving was a fantastic writer; I found out back in 2015 that I actually have a ancestors buried in the Old Dutch Church Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York. (Their names were Dirke Storm and Gregoris Storm.)

Naturally this has fueled my imagination for some time, and I’ve poured that fuel into a story idea that I’ve been kicking around since my twenties. I’ve tried tackling it before, only to fail, but this is the year that I can make it happen.

So my NaNoWriMo novel is called SLEEPLESS HOLLOW. It’s a modern-day follow-up to Irving’s original story, one that treats it all as historical fact, and accurately portrays the characters he created.

I won’t get into too many details for now, just know that SLEEPLESS HOLLOW is going to be my big release of 2019. It will be about a year before you guys get to read it, but check back here for updates and snippets as I write and illustrate it.

And if you need something to hold you over in the meantime, head over to http://www.gutenberg.org and grab a free ebook copy of Irving’s Legend. Fall in love with it like I do every time I read it.

There is more to be discovered in that sleepy little villa…

Recent Reads

Here’s what I have read lately, what I’m reading now, and what I’ll read soon.

Previously…

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RED QUEEN by Victoria Aveyard. Verdict? It was a good book and deserves its fanbase. Did I get into it? Not really, but not through any fault of the novel; it’s a well-done assemblage of tropes for the young adult “fight the power” genre, and I already have favorites in that sub-category. The apex characters for me are Katniss Everdeen and Darrow of Lykos, and any new character would have to surpass them for me to go crazy over the book.

So check if out if you’re into that, it works pretty well on its own.

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DREAM OF THE IRON DRAGON by Robert Kroese. I’m Twitter-friends with Rob, but if I hadn’t really liked this book, I wouldn’t plug it here. Solid 5 stars, really cool story that starts in space in the future, and ends up with a spaceship crashing in Viking times. Stoked to read the next one.

Content note: fair amount of profanity including F-bombs, normal combat violence, no sensuality.

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THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, BBC full-cast audio rendition. It’s taken me about 15 or 16 years to admit it, but it turns out that I actually don’t like reading these books in their fully-caffeinated iterations, nor do I enjoy listening to them. I like the movies! And these condensed-but-complete radio readings are also pretty enjoyable.

Fun fact, this was recorded in 1981, and Frodo was voiced by Ian Holm, who later went on to play Bilbo in Peter Jackson’s film adaptations. Sam was voiced by Bill Nighy, a.k.a. Davy Jones from the Pirates flicks.

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POWERS OF THE EARTH by Travis J.I. Corcoran. Lamentably I gave it three stars, only because so many of the characters were just caricatures of one form of idealism or another, and the author’s favorites were always heavily presented as the smart ones (though a lot of them were jerks.)

To its credit, the book boasts high-stakes conflict and tension, and a wealth of imagination on the tech-and-science side of things. I can see why it won a Prometheus award for hard sci-fi. But if it lives up to the moniker of “Atlas Shrugged in space” (and it does), then it takes the strengths of Ayn Rand’s classic novel as well as its flaws.

 

And at present I am reading…

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One is a sci-fi about drillers that fight an evil dragon, and one is about how to write sci-fi about drillers fighting evil dragons.

Also:

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In the mornings I toggle back and forth between some Church history books, about the early members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Man, we easily forget how comfortable our lives are in the modern age…

 

And coming up…

Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds audiobook cover art

The final installment in a Sanderson trilogy, and

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A hike down the Appalachians.

 

Stay tuned, fans.

Reading Roundup, July 2018

What up. It’s the second week of July and I’m almost at 60 books read for the year. Some stats:

Average pace: 2.2 books per week, slightly inflated because:

Did not finish: 14

Print/ebooks: 17

Audiobooks: 42

Best-of-year candidates: 7

As you can see, I’m much more openly embracing the “bore me and die” mantra when it comes to not finishing a book. I’ve learned more about my own writing by reading so much, and ditching a book I don’t care for.

Basically I like to read books that move, and have energy. And I need to write the same way.

Two months of summer left 🙂

Giveaway: SHATTER, by Aprilynne Pike.

Hi. You might be new to DreadPennies, so here is the skinny: Aprilynne Pike is a friend of mine and I like her books. I usually preorder them when I can.

SHATTER came out in February, sequel to GLITTER, which was a fearless genre masher wherein a future corporatcracy purchases the Palace of Versailles, and a young woman in the palace gets caught up in court intrigue.

When Danica’s mom blackmails the young king into marrying Danica, our intrepid heroine cooks up a dastardly plan to buy her freedom by becoming a drug dealer. Only instead of smoking or shooting this drug, you wear it as makeup.

It all pretty much goes sideways from there.

When my copy of the sequel finally arrived, it had been beaten up in the mail due to poor packaging. Amazon came in clutch and sent me a free replacement, telling me to keep this one, so I had an idea:

I would draw the characters in the front and back flaps, then do a giveaway.

Admittedly I’m not thrilled with how Saber came out (bottom right) but it was hard to find any Mongolian actors to model him after. As for the models I used on Justin and Danica, well, you’ll have to read Aprilynne’s afterword 🙂

Anyway, if you would like to win this copy of SHATTER–and heck, I’ll throw in a copy of THE HERO NEXT DOOR while I’m at it–send me an email. Dreadpennies [at] the ol’ gmail dot com.

The contest will run until May 14th, 2018, 6PM MDT. Only one email, one entry. I won’t sign you up for a list or sell your address or anything, I’m just trying to spread the fandom here.

Have fun, see you out there!

Summer Reading List: ELANTRIS by Brandon Sanderson

ELANTRIS is set in a fantasy world, where residents of a kingdom would randomly wake up and find themselves ascended to a higher state of divinity, capable of magic and eternal life. They would then get to move to Elantris, the perfect city.

However, ten years ago, the blessing became a curse, and now Elantrians live in a constant state of hunger and pain, confined to the fallen paradise like lepers. The surrounding kingdoms jockey for power, and a sinister plot is underway to rule them all.

Unless of course Prince Raoden, recently cursed to become Elantrian, can solve the mystery of why Elantris fell…

In May of 2008, I joined a legion of readers who were discovering Brandon Sanderson for the first time. He got a fame boost when Tor hired him to complete The Wheel of Time by the late Robert Jordan, and only had a few of his own books out back then.

ELANTRIS was his first published novel, and sometimes gets overlooked in the shadow of his larger properties like Mistborn or The Stormlight Archive. It’s excellent though, and at a time when I was devouring shorter books, I killed this 500-pager in three days, ignoring homework and bills and such.

Summer reading is a favorite tradition of mine, dating back to childhood library visits, and I look forward to it every year. This year I am revisiting some of my favorite reads, rather than just glutting myself on new ones like I always do. That particular summer was a very difficult and disappointing one, and the escapism of literature helped me find joy in hardship. ELANTRIS sparked the flame for me.

Since I spend a lot of time driving for work, or drawing at night, audiobooks supplement my yearly count. I’m lucky enough to have the GraphicAudio version of ELANTRIS, which is about 75% as long as the regular audiobook, because it’s done like an old time radio soundstage production. Full cast of actors, all of that. The sound effects really bring it to life.

If you haven’t read this book, try it out! Even if you don’t like fantasy, it might be your gateway drug to the genre.

KILL THE BEAST is live on Audible!

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Less than $5 for Audible members! Link here.

Finally! After two months of production, I’m thrilled to announce that I have an audiobook out there!

I used ACX, which is like the CreateSpace of Audible. You can find narrators and let them audition, then send them offers and whatnot. I’m really fortunate that Jean-Michel George auditioned for this book, because he is a great talent and a superb voice for Gautier Lesauvage.

Monsieur George was the second man to audition for KILL THE BEAST, and the better of the two options, both in terms of production quality and characterization. It helps that he’s a native Frenchman who speaks British English, so his accent matched extremely well.

On top of that, he composed intro and outro music for the book (without me even asking), and also tacked on an afterword that I recorded in my office.

I’ve been listening to audiobooks on Audible for over 10 years, and it’s a huge thrill to have one of my own titles in their catalogue.

I hope you’ll give it a listen and leave a review. I can’t wait to hear what you guys think of it.

See you out there!

State of the Dread: So Ends January, 2018

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Well, that’s 1/12th of the year down. My only 2018 resolution was to set monthly goals instead of yearly ones. Really I have enough tasks on my plate to focus on that I don’t have to worry about “resolutions,” I just have to get stuff done.

On the List Of One Million Things To Tackle is the image above. I’ve been meaning to do a better logo for DreadPennies, and I think I’m finally carving it out. The “Dreads” are going to be grumpy little robots that I draw every now and then. I’m trying to decide between a Buzzsaw Mohawk or Cable Dreadlocks and to be honest I think I’m just going to say “Screw it” and do both. The logo can be a Dread without any metallic hair, and I’ll draw Buzzsaw or Cables when I frigging feel like it.

Speaking of drawing, if you’ve seen my Instagram, I did a lot of these Colts/Avengers mashups during January, but I kind of ran out of steam on it. Still plenty of ideas for it, but it’s not a priority, there is other stuff I can draw that will help me practice speed and coloring. But here are some of the better ones:

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So far I’ve read like eight or ten books this month but only a few of them have been good. Notable entries are CALVIN by Martine Leavitt, and IRON GOLD by Pierce Brown (which I expected to like anyway.)

It’s been a few months since I did a TMRGB post, probably because it’s been a few months since I read a good Girly Book. I’ll get around to it soon. I’m trying to find new authors to read, most of the Girly Books I pick up are by friends of mine, so it’s a good idea to cast a wider net.

Also I haven’t really been working on a writing project because I’m trying to focus on studying for a test I have in three weeks. Job-related. Pain in the butt, but there’s a hefty pay raise tied to it. Priorities.

That said, I took a breather this weekend to outline a series I’ve had in my head for about 5 years now. Tons of fun, it’s equal parts superhero/G.I. Joe, but I’m trying to take a direction that’s different from DC or Marvel, only because we’re a bit saturated by both (and only one of them is any good right now.)

My next published book is called HOMEWORLD, about an alien invasion of Earth. It’ll be art-heavy, and reads like a series of deep Web blog posts. I’m excited about this one, it’s another idea I’ve had for years. Release date pending.

Last of all, you probably heard that my “Blast Crew goes to Mordor” story got rejected by my publisher of choice, which really sucks, but it’s under review with an agent right now and I expect I’ll hear back about it in another few months. Iron is in the fire.

Thanks for reading, you guys. Sound off in the comments.