I’ve slashed the Kindle prices on four books.

Hey all,

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

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

(Engines of Liberty)

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

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

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

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.

I once resisted reading Harry Potter, and I’m glad I changed my mind.

Hi guys.

Recently the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (Yes, it has a different title in the UK. No, I don’t care.) Obviously it’s been a huge literary success and a cultural bulldozer, and for good reason.

I, like many people, resisted the craze for a number of years. The mania hit my hometown of Henderson around 1999/2000. That’s when I noticed friends and family feverishly consuming the first three books, which were out at the time.

I couldn’t go anywhere without seeing someone reading these childish books about a magic kid who flew on a broom at wizard school and went to weird places called “Azkaban” or whatever. That sounded like a fake Middle Eastern place. I was more interested in reading Michael Crichton at the time, because I was a Grown Man.

My parents tried to persuade me to read them, to no avail. This was my “rebellious” phase. If my parents and sister liked it, it must be stupid, right? Then my Mamaw tried to persuade me, and I more kindly turned her down, because what kind of savage ingrate sasses his Mamaw? She even mentioned that my super-cool tough guy Uncle Paul thought they were great. Nevertheless, I resisted.

Two more books came out before I went on my mission in 2003. Near the end of my time in Spain (where the books were still everywhere), a family gifted me a copy of Harry Potter y la Orden del Fenix, because they knew I was collecting books in Spanish to read at home. (I had already acquired a complete set of The Lord of the Rings  and Las Aventuras del Capitan Alatriste.)

As much as I wanted to hold on to my stubborn pride, I couldn’t rightly turn down this generous gift of a 900-page hardcover, so I accepted the book and didn’t tell them that I hadn’t yet read the previous four novels even in English. I went home, started reintegrating into American/English-speaking life, and dug into books again.

My then-girlfriend was, like most people, over the moon for Harry Potter, and her persuasion was the final nail in the coffin of my obstinate desire to resist this cultural wave. Like Wesley Crusher, I gave in and plugged into The Game.

After the first few chapters of Sorcerer’s Stone, I was intrigued. By the end of the book, I was quite impressed. Chamber of Secrets picked up the ball and kept running with it. Prisoner of Azkaban nuked the last shreds of my will, and I started to have dreams about being in the wizarding world, wielding a wand, casting spells and whatnot…

This was a new sensation for me. I never got into books like that. Dreams just didn’t happen, not even with books I was obsessed with. I killed the first six books in about a three-week span, and read the Spanish version of book five the following summer. Then began the long, drawn-out wait for Deathly Hallows, which would release on my 23rd birthday.

In the years since, I’ve re-read the whole series twice, and now my nephew is on his (third or fourth) trip through the books. For a kid who wasn’t even born until the seventh book had already come out, that goes to show their staying power.

But what is it about these books that makes them so magnetic? And can those parts persuade those who resist, as I once did?

Let’s examine.

  1. The Harry Potter books take something that young readers generally dislike–school–and make it impossibly cool. Any kid who hates getting up and going to school in the morning would gladly transfer to Hogwarts to learn magic. I think this is one reason why the series was so successful with an otherwise impenetrable demographic: young boys.
  2. Throughout the entire series, Rowling bowls you over with well-hidden twists. This, if nothing else, is a hallmark of the HP novels. While the villain reveal in book 1 might have been somewhat visible, the methodology of it was hidden well, and this trait continued throughout all seven books. Each of them had one huge twist–and several smaller ones along the way–that constituted a huge payoff for everything to come before it.
  3. The characters are quickly identifiable and convincingly real. If the school component makes the series accessible to young readers, the development of the adult characters is what makes it click for older readers. It’s a multi-generational series, with just as much weight for the parents and caretakers in the story as for the younger characters. While young readers identify with Harry’s displacement, Ron’s poverty, or Hermione’s nerdiness, older readers can relate to the burden on Professors Dumbeldore and McGonagle, the missed opportunities and stolen years of Sirius Black, or lifelong grudge held by Severus Snape.
  4. The world is a dangerous and heavy as it is cozy and inviting. Yes, there are dark wizards all over the place, and while the overtones of fascism, zealotry and ethnic purity can be all too real at times, they’re offset by the safe places in the book, like Hogwarts, the Burrow, Hogsmeade, and even #12 Grimmauld Place. This is why our world spends millions of dollars every year to go to Universal Studios and sit in a Harry Potter-themed restaurant, drinking butterbeer out of a keg and soaking in the ambiance. You’re transported there and it feels almost palpably real.
  5. Each new book dumps a fresh load of problems into your lap, as well as new places, new history, new conflicts, new magic, and new creatures. As a writer, I found this highly impressive, that a read-through of all seven books demonstrated Rowling’s mastery of her own world, and her ability to keep building on it in such a way that it stays clear and structured in the reader’s imagination. Over three thousand pages of fantasy fiction, and every spell, every scene, every interaction between these characters stays fresh in the mind, as if you had been there yourself to experience it.

Ultimately, I can’t twist anyone’s arm and make them read something they don’t want to. That’s not my aim. There are plenty of authors out there who are widely successful and enjoy the admiration of my peers, but I don’t particularly like their work or understand the hype. (Full confession: I don’t think Neil Gaiman’s books are all that great. I’ve started 6, finished 4, and liked 2. Granted, those two were brilliant, but the rest…I don’t get it.)

But, if any of the people who proudly celebrated #HP20 by announcing their longstanding resistance to it–and their decision to maintain that resistance–read this and finally decide to take a crack at it, well…hopefully they like it as much as I did. I’m glad I finally caved in the end.

That Thing Where You Openly Declare War On Your Bad Health

Image may contain: 5 people, people standing

5 years ago today I was celebrating on Facebook that I’d lost 25 pounds and was trying to lose 15 more, to get back down to about 180. I’d been training for my first mud run, so losing all that extra bulk was a necessity.

I kept it off for a few years, then got into trucking, then started working all kinds of insane and unaccommodating hours, and that took its toll on my body. The increase was gradual and steady. I’ve lost token amounts of weight here and there, but always gained it back quickly because of how I live and work.

This is neither healthy nor affordable, and I’ve decided to put the kabosh on it. I’m scared to go back and add up how much my “just a few bucks” trips to gas stations and truck stops has costed me. Something tells me it wouldn’t be hard to crack a hundred bucks a month, especially if I add in the recently-frequent fast food runs at work.

I can’t keep doing this, but I have been because it’s convenient and tastes good. And then I sit around wondering why I can’t get back into mudding shape. I peaked at 230 pounds this year, the heaviest I’ve ever been. Not good. If I had Andrew Luck’s BMI, that would be one thing, but I don’t.

So here goes:

I officially declare that I am no longer drinking soda, be it diet or otherwise. If I really want something bubbly, a case of La Croix is cheap and harmless. If I want something tasty, a case of electrolyte drinks is affordable.

I am no longer buying fast food, or buying lunch even if I’m out with the guys at work. I don’t care if I get weird sideways looks from the employees at Arby’s as my co-workers order their $11 combos and I’m eating leftovers out of a Tupperware. Fight me, bro.

I’m not getting candy, even occasionally. Beef jerky is overpriced at corner stores. Protein bars? Buy ’em in bulk and ration ’em out. I’m getting hosed on expensive good food, but shooting myself in the foot by eating cheap bad food. Then I come home at night, stay up late working, and grab a bowl of cereal while I draw or edit.

Gee Graham, I can’t imagine why you’re heavy, or why you often get short of breath after a fit of exertion at your oh-so-physical job.

So hold me to this, guys. This starts now and runs *at least* through four weeks, which gets me past my birthday. I won’t be so naive as to think I’ll be able to avoid every ounce of this stuff but I have to make the drastic change now, because weeks and months and maybe even years of saying “Okay, this time I’ll do it, and quietly…” hasn’t worked.

Cat’s out of the bag. I’m back in hardware mode. Let’s GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

 

10 Ways Writing and Trucking are the Same Job

10– Technically anyone can do it, but if you don’t get some training you’ll make a huge mess.

9– If you hammer down but don’t know where you’re going, you’ll cover a lot of ground for no reason.
8– You can do it without planning the route. Just be prepared to take the long way and burn a ton of fuel…
7– …unless you’ve gone there before, in which case you probably know the way.
6– It will be a few days before you shower again.
5– If you keep a bottle handy, you can save time on bathroom breaks.
4– Don’t slow down unless you have to.
3– At this point you haven’t quit because you actually like the work, you weirdo.
2– “Woohoo, I made six dollars today!”
1– If you caffeinate yourself to the moon you can get TONS more done. 

Should-Reads: CODE NAME VERITY, by Elizabeth Wein

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Amazon link here

Given that Elizabeth Wein just released the third novel in this series (a prequel to VERITY and ROSE UNDER FIRE) I thought I’d plug this book for y’all.

It’s written in a journal format, containing entries from two women at separate times, one of whom was a POW, and the other was a pilot. It’s a book that hinges on twists, reveals, and deception, so I don’t want to give away too much more than that.

What I loved about it was the richness of the two main characters, Verity and Maddie, who find a profound friendship as they serve behind the scenes in World War 2. I say “behind the scenes” because WW2 often conjures up images of island-hopping or D-Day, but even for the women in the war who were kept out of combat, peril abounded, and this book shows just how hard and fast it found these two.

It’s aided by Wein’s own chops as an airplane pilot, so those details give it weight without feeling forced. Ultimately it’s a tale of friendship and loyalty, and what shape those things take in wartime.

So far as I recall there was one F-bomb and a few sensual references, but nothing overt beyond that. Great book overall, and its sequel as well (though I confess I didn’t find as much optimism out of it as I did with the first one.)

 

Graham Re-Watches Pirates, part 1: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)

There’s always a best-movie-of-the-summer, and whatever it was supposed to be in 2003, Jack Sparrow (sorry, Captain) came along and sank it.

Naturally, with studios and shareholders being what they are, this created a demand for sequels on all sides, and I for one was thrilled at the prospect. I loved Jack’s antics, Will & Elizabeth’s chemistry, Barbossa’s craftiness, and the dogged determination of Commodore Norrington.

I’m trying to examine what went right in the first three, and contrast it with what went wrong in the last two, because…well, when something you enjoy becomes unenjoyable, you (I) want to figure out why. As a content creator I need to know things like this, so that I avoid the same pitfalls.

(I am, after all, going to write sequels to the Engines novels…but that’s another post.)

So in no particular order, here’s what worked for The Curse of the Black Pearl.

  1. Gore Verbinski. As I researched the background of these films, I noticed that Verbinski directed the first three, while others have handled the last two. This is not a coincidence. Verbinski’s vision is not only delightful on its own, but the fact that it’s the consistent form across the trilogy is a boon. That helps bind them tonally and thematically.
  2. Jack was not the main character. You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise (I certainly did) because of the marketing, and the fact that he was everyone’s favorite character. But make no mistake, this is a story about Will and Elizabeth, through and through. Jack is just the wild card, the anti-hero, and he has the effect of revealing aspects of the main characters based on his interactions with them.
  3. The main characters had an intriguing entanglement. There’s a reason this film starts with Will and Elizabeth meeting as children, then finally having some mouth-whoopie at the end. She finds him as a shipwrecked survivor and steals treasure from him to protect him from being thought a pirate. He needs that treasure because it connects him to his father, without whom he is now an orphan. These facets bind them together and keep them coming together as the story unfolds. (And it’s noteworthy that the writers of Dead Men Tell No Tales tried to remake this connection with Henry and Carina…and it could have worked, if the delivery hadn’t fallen flat.)
  4. The villain was formidable and respectable. Captain Barbossa was AMAZING in this film, as well as subsequent installments. He was frightening, serious, and capable. A worthy foe for Will, Elizabeth, and Jack, against all of whom he squares off at different times and in different ways. Ultimately it takes all three of them to bring him down. He earns it.
  5. The naval foil character also had depth and resonance on an emotional level. Commodore Norrington fills this role primarily in the first film, while Lord Beckett takes over for 2 and 3. “The Spaniard” is this guy in 4, and “Leftenant Faramir” (I swear they never say the character’s actual name, but it’s David Fenham) is the guy in 5, but they’re both so forgettable and one-dimensional as to make them pointless additions to the story. Norrington, though, is romantically linked to Elizabeth, and this fuels his motivation in the story, while simultaneously complicating Elizabeth’s decision process.
  6. The cinematography was not rushed, and had great focus. Again this goes back to Verbinski, but I noticed a stark difference in the first film and the fifth one. Sweeping camera angles, wide shots, big rotations, whatever the terms are, Verbinski steps far enough back for you to really get the big picture, and he doesn’t rush you through the scene with hard, choppy edits. (This happened so many times in 5 that it hurts.)
  7. The dialogue was crisp, sharp, and said so much with so little. Anyone who has seen Black Pearl can quote no less than 10 lines from it, from any of the characters. Dialogue is hard, and the writers put serious effort into it. This may have dwindled in the sequels, but it dropped straight off in the last two.
  8. The pirate cast was not hokey or B-movie reel. While we get to enjoy Gibbs across all five films, and Little Marty comes back for Dead Men, I really missed Pintel and Raghetti after World’s End. I felt like the good, rough pirate extras were replaced by pointless clowns. Even after rewatching Black Pearl last night I didn’t get that impression.
  9. The nods to the ride at Disneyland were great Easter eggs. I rode the ride in spring of 2003 and saw the movie a few months later, so the little bits taken from the ride were fresh in my mind. Gibbs sleeping with the pigs, the pirates chasing silhouetted damsels in backlit windows, prisoners trying to lure the dog with the keys, and many more. This movie was, after all, a big gamble after being based on a ride (which hadn’t been done before and has not been successfully done since) and those cues helped the audience feel like they were riding through Port Royal and Tortuga just like they rode through the ride.
  10. The moonlight fights! HOLY CRAP everyone was talking about the fight in the cave at the end, between Barbossa and Jack, not only because of the fancy fencing, but because of the effects that challenged the eye and tickled the mind with the moonlight tricks. It must have been hell for the SFX folks to nail that, but they did, and it’s held up.
  11. The choice of pirate lore/fantasy monster was excellently done. There are a lot of things to draw on from pirate lore, like sea monsters and buried treasure. I think not only the visual aspect of skeletal pirates, but also the way they were used, was ace work. This was a move that others would try to replicate down the line, with mixed success.

That’s my take right now, off the top of my head. Next up I shall re-watch Dead Man’s Chest and break it down in similar fashion. Sound off if I missed anything here.

Should-Reads: ON STRANGER TIDES, by Tim Powers


2011’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was based on a 1988 novel by Tim Powers. However, similarities between Powers’ novel and the 4th Pirates film are scant, while elements of the prior 3 movies can be found in the story. I’m of the suspicion that bits of the book were borrowed somehow, until they decided to finally do “the whole thing,” only to realize that they had very little left. 
Regardless of my mixed emotions over the Pirates franchise, this book is superb. I recommend the audio, because Bronson Pinchot does AMAZING voices.
Premise: Jean Chandagnac is en route to Haiti from France to settle family business with his uncle. Benjamin Hurwood is in the New World experimenting with voodoo, so he can resurrect his dead wife. Elizabeth Hurwood, his daughter, is meant to be voodoo fuel for this act, but she doesn’t know. Leo Friend intends to steal Elizabeth and use her to resurrect his dead mother, with whom he has an Oedopian infatuation. And Edward Thatch–aka Captain Blackbeard–means to outwit them all, to achieve immortality. As Jean Chandagnac is pressed into service with the pirates, he soon develops a plan of his own to save Elizabeth. 

And it all goes sideways from there.
Setting: Jamaica, Florida, Haiti, and everywhere in between, in the early 1700s.
Genre: Historical fantasy
Lesson: Oh jeez…play the hand you’re dealt, I suppose. Jean–later named Jack Shandy–doesn’t ask for any of this, but he takes it head-on.
My favorite character: Jack Shandy was great, but I think I will go with pirate Captain Phil Davies. He’s wily, and I like that. A daring gamble to save his own neck from the British Navy really brings him alive in the book.
Content warning: This is a violent book, and the battles and action are portrayed with tooth-cracking realistic detail. Also, Leo Friend’s Oedipus complex is pretty gross. You’re given no reason to like the dude. It doesn’t feel egregious, but it’s definitely cringeworthy. My only real knock on the story.