I started trucking in 2013. One of the worst days I had that year was in May, when I got stuck in the dirt in California, just over the border from Arizona. Can’t remember the town, I think it was Blythe.
The guy who loaded me told me to drive into the field, but I got stuck in soft soil and ended up needing a tow. He also rammed into the back of my trailer with his forklift, damaging the doors so I couldn’t close them properly. Then when I went to refuel the truck in Ehrenburg, I spilled diesel all over my good gym shorts.
I’ve definitely had worse days in trucking, but that one was still pretty bad. Nevertheless, I set it aside and did what had to be done in order to finish the job, because that was the only way to get away from all the BS that happened to me. Sometimes that’s all there is to it.
Humans are emotional creatures. That can be a delight, and it can also be a hindrance. You’ve got to know when to just…be a computer and not care, because you can’t feel better until you’re away from what’s making you feel worse.
Simple and plain, yet we lose sight of that. Because we’re emotional.
Everyone is dying to know (in my mind) so here’s the list. No real order, and it may surprise you that there’s only one superhero flick, but it’s there to represent the genre at large.
In WW2, before there was a US Air Force, you had the Army Air Corps, along with the Army draft. But if you flew 25 successful bombing missions, you got honorably discharged and could go home.
This ought to tell you something about the mortality rate on bomber missions.
The crew of the Memphis Belle flew 24 successful missions. This is the story of their 25th. It’s perfection.
Solid cast, too. Sean Astin, Billy Zane, DB Sweeney, and John Lithgow, just to name a few. Incredible flick.
A GOOD YEAR
Shoot, I remember renting A Good Year from Blockbuster in 2007. Why? Because back then I’d make a list of all the movies I wanted to see in a given year, and it was on my list from 2006, but that was a rough year for me and I didn’t make it to the theater. I like Russell Crowe so I grabbed it and WOW.
The story, the setting, the scenery…all of it is a blaring, glaring question that demands to be answered: WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR TIME? What is most valuable to you? What matters most, and are you doing anything to secure it?
The book is wildly different from the movie–and fine on its own, but inferior by comparison. I love Max’s arc in this one. It’s too bad the Lance Armstrong jokes aged like a fine milk though.
“You’re the man now, dawg” was made famous by this movie from 2001, about two literary writers who are both missing things in their souls. They come from distinct backgrounds but are united in their drive as well as their suffering. One has experience and the other has vision, and together they build a friendship that fills the gaps in each other’s lives.
This is a story about mentorship, but on its plainest level, it’s a story about friendship, and a damn fine one at that.
This was the movie that concluded a cancelled TV show back when cancelled TV shows were doomed to the ashbin of cinematic history. Firefly should have never gotten the axe, but it was a Western on FOX, so it was doomed from the start.
(Brisco County Jr. looks on and nods knowingly.)
The writing is tight, the pacing is fast, the dialogue twists are abundant, and the script is infinitely quotable. This movie is a clinic in characters and story, riddled with pain and loss as well as triumph against incredible odds. Just awesome.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
Why this one, and not Endgame? Well, because Endgame HAD to be good. And it succeeded. It also did so on the shoulders of nearly two dozen movies before it, only two of which really sucked.
TWS could have been a vanilla stepping stone between Avengers and Age of Ultron, but the Russo brothers decided to swing for the freaking fence by blowing up S.H.I.E.L.D. and putting Cap front and center, having him shake off the confusion of 70+ years in the ice. Here’s a man who had every excuse in the world to quit, and instead he put it all on his back and stood even taller.
The chemistry between the actors, the thrilling action scenes and combat sequences, as well as Cap’s example of undying friendship and loyalty to his own principles…I could go on and on. This movie changed the superhero genre and raised our expectations for it all going forward.
Anyway, that’s it, that’s my five. What are yours?
My friend Dennis posted this the other day, and it’s pretty awesome. This kid in Alicante, Spain, dug himself a literal man cave. (Article here.)
When I was writing THE HERO NEXT DOOR, I had a thought from Nick’s perspective that may not have made it into the text, but definitely shaped his character: he was incredibly empowered by having a secret purpose, a secret mission that he didn’t tell anyone about (except his Grandma, and only because he had to.)
Whenever I read about NEETs or young men who are adrift in life and have no drive or ambition, I want to show them things like this in the hope that it gives them a spark of defiance, a purpose, a mission to go against even their own innermost basic instinct to do nothing, to be nothing, to accomplish nothing.
Rise above it. Conquer. Do something nobody can talk you into or out of. Even if it’s as complex as becoming a small town superhero, or as simple as digging a huge hole in the ground.
2019 didn’t end for me, it just evolved into its next, more terrible form. That being the case I’m not pretending to be revved up about 2021, because it’s built upon the bones and ashes of two bad years, and I don’t expect things to magically change for the better just because the calendar flipped.
That said, I’m glad I was able to adapt to some things this year. I’m glad I did these monthly posts and the daily drawings. Just three dozen to go and I’ll have created 366 new pieces in a year. Some of them were even good enough to keep.
Anyway, here’s the skinny for December:
WITH ANSWERABLE COURAGE is finished. I’m glad that it’s finished. I’m glad that I took it on. TBH I don’t think it’s my best work, and that means I missed the mark somewhere along the way. The final episode didn’t get a whole lot of listens which means people lost interest, because frankly my version of the story isn’t better than what the Pilgrims actually went through at Plymouth 400 years ago. I completely accept that.
My main takeaway is that the research I did in order to write that book helped me to have a greater appreciation for what was required to build this country. Those people–and I include the Wampanoags in that, both groups benefitted from their treaty and alliance–were already greater than I’ll be in this life in terms of what they accomplished.
Now I’m on to my next story, WELCOME TO TIMBERVILLE. It’s another short one (though the word count is higher than I remembered). A few years ago I started joking about writing a Hallmark Christmas romance and this was the result.
The new episode won’t be up for a few days, I’m admittedly behind schedule because of how Thanksgiving shook out, and so on. I didn’t want to spend the whole break stuffed up in my office while my kids terrorized my wife. This is a hobby, after all.
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I had to write a few thousand words to finish ANSWERABLE COURAGE and man that was harder than I expected. Now I’m on edits for TIMBERVILLE and once those are knocked out, I’m doing edits on the next two stories. Trying to stay ahead of the curve.
Last month I read another “best of the year” book, bringing the total up to 9. Hopefully I can round it out to 10 before the end of this month. I’m six books into the Longmire series, my library has them all on audio and I can usually finish one in a shift at work. The individual mysteries aren’t all that great but I love the characters. I’m also rereading the Bartimaeus trilogy by Stroud. Excellent piece of fantasy.
Got a few commissions in the pipe so I’m working on those, along with covers for upcoming adventures. Next year I’m definitely scaling back from “one drawing per day” to “one drawing per week.” That way I make 52 really good pieces instead of 365 mediocre-to-bad ones.
Let’s finish this year strong. It hasn’t been all bad, and even if 2021 promises to be bumpy, we deserve to kill this one and leave it well behind us. We’ve got this, folks. Get back to work.
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.