Gary and the Grind

Hatchet | Book by Gary Paulsen | Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster

Few writers have impacted me as much–both personally and creatively–as Gary Paulsen. The authenticity behind his stories is what makes them so real to me. He’s gone out and LIVED a lot of the things that he writes.

A recurring theme that I’ve noticed in his fiction is the idea of “the grind.” A part of the story where the main character has to just put up, shut up, and work until he gets what he needs, or die, because that’s the only alternative. It’s also happened in three of his nonfics that I’ve read, namely Guts, Woodsong, and Winterdance.

After thinking about it over the last several months, it shouldn’t surprise me that reading his books in my youth really affected the way I view life, namely that you can achieve anything if you grind, and that even though we in the First World are comfortable, we are still subject to the forces of nature that will do us in at any turn.

In Hatchet, Brian Robeson had to learn this lesson the hard way. Stranded in the Canadian wilderness, he sobbed and cried and bawled his eyes out, feeling sorry for himself, until he realized that it flat-out didn’t work, wouldn’t do anything to change his situation. He had to change the way he thought, acted, lived, and breathed, in order to survive. Nature didn’t operate on forty hours a week of work, eight hours of sleep a night, and Saturdays or Sundays off.

Everything was food, everything was shelter, everything was survival.

And sometimes–often–survival depended on him running himself into the ground until he succeeded or died.

The River showed this beautifully when Brian had to care for a grown man who had fallen into a coma. Brian had only a few days before Derek died of thirst unless he could get him to civilization. So he built a raft and ran it a hundred miles downriver to a trading post, trying to keep himself awake for two days straight.

This mirrored an experience that Paulsen wrote about in Winterdance, when he had to cross long and dangerous stretches of Alaska on little sleep, fighting the elements, moving at the speed and rhythm of his dogsled team. In fact, the long arc of that book was really about him learning to think, act, move, and live like the dogs, not as a human steering the dogs.

Again this theme popped up in Guts, when a teenaged Paulsen was hunting for rabbits and managed to–accidentally–kill a deer. He then had to drag it home and field-dress it in the garage of his apartment complex, or else the meat–and his effort–would have gone to waste.

In Brian’s Winter, Brian similarly killed a moose cow, more by luck than by skill, and had to preserve the meat and the hide lest it get picked off by predators. He was awake for almost 24 hours straight, working to do what survival demanded.

It happened over and over again in Paulsen’s works, and I think about that a lot as a trucker. Sometimes you just have to buckle down, suck it up, and finish the job. There’s what you want, and then there’s what needs to be done.

If you have young readers in your home, boys or girls, get them started on Paulsen. It will serve them well throughout their lives to read about his experiences.

The Unbeatable Equation

Teaching Introductory Statistics using the tidyverse via bookdown

Time, you guys. The one thing we can never get back. We’re always getting more of it (until we aren’t) and we’re always running out of it.

The new position at work is superior to that last one in all measurable areas, outside of the time I spend listening to books. I have to be a lot more involved in my work now and when I have another driver with me in the rig I try to just talk instead of goofing around on the phone.

So my reading has dropped off heavily this month. I’ve also got a commission I’m working on for a client, and I’m remaking the cover for SLEEPLESS HOLLOW. I haven’t finished the writing on WITH ANSWERABLE COURAGE and I may have to punt that to October, because I need to get the first Adventure Hour show all recorded.

I’m about due for another bout of Shiny New Idea syndrome as well. All this coupled with the fact that I have to get enough sleep in order to be effective at my job, and I want to spend time with my kids when I get home in the afternoons…time management has become huge.

I can handle the current workload I’ve put on myself, it just gets complicated when I try to do more than I’m doing at the moment. Which I always want to do.

My co-worker sleeps about 4 hours a night. He just turned 30 though, so he’s gonna learn real quick that the bill comes due for that. I used to do the same thing when I was 31, and it not only messed with my memory, it buggered up my sense of reality a few times. Sleep dep is no joke.

So I just have to…figure out the right balance. Keep grinding. Set aside anything that doesn’t get me closer to my actual goal.

You’re getting a SLEEPLESS HOLLOW audiobook for free next month.

Please consider backing me on Patreon! http://www.patreon.com/dreadpennies

And stay tuned for my mailing list, I’m gonna get that rolling too. Social media throttles links, and I need to be able to reach people more directly.

Love you guys, have a good week, and get to work! But not today, it’s the Sabbath.

Why does “Twilight” work?

53287484

On last week’s episode of the Brother Trucker Book Club, my friend Case dropped in on the mailbag to ask what I thought of Stephenie Meyer going back to the well on Twilight.

Short version of my answer: if she wants to, great. It sells. Clearly people still want to read it, more power to her. You can like it or hate it, it doesn’t matter if either way if in the end she’s blowing her nose with Benjamins.

We should all be so lucky.

https://anchor.fm/brotruckbooks/embed/episodes/Ep-117-Give-the-People-What-They-Want-ei03dq/a-a2ttgan

(Listen to the episode above, or subscribe on Apple/Spotify/Castbox/wherever.)

I wasn’t going to read this one, until one of my favorite book club podcasts announced it as their next selection, so I’m reading along now. I originally read the series in 07-08, and got pretty into it, much to my surprise.

I mean, the writing is pretty bad and the characters are just…let me put it this way, Hallmark would tell them to dial the soap opera levels down a little bit.

And yet, clearly, it works, because the movies alone have made over three BILLION dollars, and Meyer’s cut of the books are in excess of the GDP of many island nations.

So yeah, we can hate on it all we want, but those of us who have dreams of professional creations for a living need to figure out WHY it works. If it’s “so damn bad,” why can’t we stay away from it?

Why are women who read it at age 14 now reading it again at age 29?

I think the simplest answer is that it satisfies a deep, almost forbidden emotional fantasy–the kind people might be embarrassed to admit they have, but still enjoy seeing played out in front of them.

Apparently a ton of girls want to fancy themselves as mature-for-their-age, scholarly, well-read empaths who have an emotional intelligence beyond that of their peers. And naturally they’d want two hot guys fighting over them, one rakish, the other rugged.

And as a cherry on top, they’d want to see every one of their decisions validated, none of their flaws exposed, and every action taken by every named character in the known world would revolve around THEM.

Yes, it would be completely inane to admit to having those desires for yourself.

That’s why Bella is a projection. The reader can project herself onto Bella and pretend she’s walking around in that world, almost like a literary version of an RPG, but if/when it ever becomes “too much,” well then, it’s just a book, and any faults in it have to do with Bella, right?

That’s really what it comes down to. The books are the romance version of a roleplaying game, and within that game, there is only reward, no criticism.

Kind of a refreshing break from real life, I imagine.

I’m not sure this principle will ever really apply to my own writing, as I don’t write characters like Bella Swan. I’ve also read THE HOST by Meyer, and it was…not good either. So I’m going to guess that my stuff will never be successful for the same reason hers is, and I’m okay with that. I’m not setting out to tell the same stories she is (though I wouldn’t say no to the kind of money she’s made, hey-oh.)

Just some things I’ve been chewing on as I reflect on 15 years of this cultural phenomenon that I still don’t fully understand. More power to her, though.

The 1619 Project is a bad joke.

90 minutes well-spent, put together by the Claremont Institute in California.

Short version, the 1619 Project is a political tool disguised as a history project that is trying to establish institutional racism in America–the thing they claim to be fighting against.

This is the kind of thing that happens when people mistake “Hamilton” for actual history. We’re better than this, don’t fall for it.

April 2020: State of the Dread

The Podcast

I put out 4 episodes last month, despite everything. Look up the Brother Trucker Book Club Podcast wherever you subscribe to those!

YouTube!

To contribute to home entertainment during COVID-19, I’ve been reading chapters from REBEL HEART on YouTube. So far the first 4 are up, and number 5 drops Friday. The whole playlist is here.

The Artwork

Yup, still drawing every day. Caption this one with a lie Pinocchio might tell in order to make his nose grow on purpose!

What Else?

This pandemic will end. We should all figure out how we will use this rare downtime to better ourselves. We can do it.

Okay now get back to work.

January 2020: State of the Dread

Happy New Year, here’s how things are going at DreadPennies:

1) The podcast was a great success last year! Here’s the New Year’s Eve episode if you haven’t listened already: https://anchor.fm/brotruckbooks/episodes/Ep-100-We-Made-It-e9tch0

2) One of my 2020 goals is to draw something new every day. I really want to level up this year. Follow along at instagram.com/dreadpennies.

3) I’m also back to burning off weight. I will get down to at least 180, maybe less. That’s 30 pounds for now. Follow that voyage at instagram.com/batteringraham

4) Publishing? My only firm release date this year is for WITH ANSWERABLE COURAGE, due out early November 2020. If I get anything print-ready, I’ll notify you here.

5) Gear up for a big year, Dreads. Stuff is happening. See you out there!

It’s good that seasons change because eventually they suck.

I’ve been stuck at home for the last month and just went back to work a week ago. Winter is finally over so that is cool.

Spring is when things start to turn around. No more shoveling the driveway. Holidays happen again. There are good movies coming out.

I still get revved up for summer even though summer vacations stopped happening for me years ago. The end of August + early September are usually when I burn out though.

Then we get autumn, and the best holidays of the year, and it all starts over again.

It is nice to have something to look forward to. Onward and upward.

Reading Update! October Edition.

As per usual, I am burning through audiobooks at work (thanks largely to my library’s OverDrive selection–they don’t have everything I look for, but they have so many things I end up wanting to read and it is good to branch out.)

Obviously the October theme is the spooky stuff, whether horrific or whimsical. I am interspersing these reads with other stuff. Here is what I have been into:

SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT by Derek Landy. Heard about this years ago, finally got around to it, truly a delight. Middle-grade fantasy about a girl, Stephanie, in Ireland who inherits her rich uncle’s estate, only to end up in a sorcerer war. The eponymous Skulduggery Pleasant is a skeleton of a wizard who died a long time ago and is now a detective. He and Stephanie team up for an adventure. Hilarious wit and dialogue, great characters, and the story itself was plain but fun. I will read another.

A WALK IN THE WOODS by Bill Bryson. If you expect this saga of an Appalachian Trail hike to be insightful, fulfilling, or remotely of substance, you should set that expectation aside and brace yourself for accounts of annoying people with bad decision making processes who ultimately bail on the trail without completing even half of it. The only redeeming parts were the historical and scientific tidbits about the Trail, which you can probably read on Wikipedia. This book sucked, read Gary Paulsen instead.

CALL OF CTHULHU by H.P. Lovecraft. I have never read HPL and decided to correct that this year. Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it, it’s a forerunner to the modern horror genre and I see why. Glad I read it, won’t really prioritize other stuff over it. I see why people dig his writing though.

UNDER A GRAVEYARD SKY by John Ringo. Lifted my ban on zombie books to read this. 70 pages in, liking it so far.

And then…

DRY by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman.

Not going to say anything until I finish and write a full review, other than there is a reason why I have read 11 of Shusterman’s books and he is #$%@ing BRILLIANT.

More to come! Stay dreadful.

9/11 at 17 and 34

Not too much to say here, only that it’s been 17 years since 9/11, and I was 17 when it happened. I am now working with a group of youths at my church who weren’t born when it happened.

In the years since, we have constantly been in a hyper-politicized war in the Middle East, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq. We wanted to crush the terrorist groups responsible. We wanted to remove their ability to ever do this to us or anyone ever again.

Clearly we haven’t achieved this and I don’t know what the answer is. We have a ton of veterans, dead soldiers, and monetary debt, and what to show for it? We keep crushing terrorists and their cells and their leaders and their offshoots in an endless game of Whack-a-Mole. One goes down, another pops up.

If we pull back, they surge and kill civilians. If we keep going, then…I don’t know.

I have spent half my life now in a country funding a war effort. I want to win, and have done with it.

I’m just one person. I don’t know what I can do.

I just want to remember the lessons of that day, remember what the world was like before it, and hope my kids can get a taste of it in the future.

Let’s be better.