SLEEPLESS HOLLOW Free Chapters

Front Cover

Hi gang,

If you haven’t been following on Twitter or Insta, I’ve recorded the first 3 chapters of SLEEPLESS HOLLOW, which launches next week! They’re on the Brother Trucker Book Club Podcast. Individual episode links below:

Chapter 1: A Distant Relation

Chapter 2: Endless Watch

Chapter 3: The Book in the Box 

And for some icing on the cake, check out my page on Inktale! You can buy all kinds of sweet merch with the Headless Horseman on it! Everything from throw pillows to towels, mugs, shirts, hoodies, and more.

Thanks for tuning in!

States of Dread: Production Update

Hey there, DreadHeads. Here’s an update on my various projects, and when you can expect various things over the next year.

SLEEPLESS HOLLOW:

I’m 95% done with the cover. Illustrator Greg Newbold (check out his wonderful work here) has graciously weighed in on my in-progress shots on Facebook, and his feedback has really helped to clean it up. Here’s what it looks like right now, cover not final.

I still don’t feel comfortable announcing a release date for it. I have a few more things to write into the manuscript, which came in at 60k words. Right now my editor has it and her initial opinion is highly encouraging. I’m sooooo excited to share this book with you guys.

THANKSGIVING EPIC FANTASY:

A few years ago I jokingly drew a picture of some Pilgrims and Indians riding giant turkeys into battle together, and I lamented the lack of fun Thanksgiving books. We have tons for Halloween and Christmas, why not round out the trifecta?

So I’m working on a book that will come out next year in November, which coincidentally is the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower arriving in North America. Right now I’m in the research phase, and I just finished reading this great book by Caleb Johnson.

I want to use as many real historical figures as possible, and in order to do it well, I needed to know more about everyone on the boat. In November I’ll read another book for research, written by William Bradford himself:

Of Plymouth Plantation by [Bradford, William]

I’m not revealing the title of my book yet, but you can bet it will be fully illustrated. This continues the streak of my best story ideas starting out as sarcasm.

BRIMSTONE, or “Blast Crew Goes to Mordor”:

This book needs a lot of work. Major thanks to my friend Madeline for an extremely thorough reading of it, she gave me a lot of feedback that will make the story tons better if I apply it right. Unfortunately there is nothing about that process that I can rush, and when I do get around to this book it will have a TON of artwork in it, so I wouldn’t expect it out before 2021 at the absolute earliest. Trust me that it will be quite the ride when it is there. In the meantime I’ll work on smaller projects for annual releases, and pick at this one slowly so I don’t rush it.

THE PODCAST:

I’m so happy about how well the podcast is doing! Big thanks to everyone who’s tuning in. Look up the BROTHER TRUCKER BOOK CLUB wherever you listen to podcasts. I do three episodes a week–two for book reviews, one for trucking stories, usually around 15 minutes.

READING:

At the time of this posting I have read 98 books in 2019, 35 in print and 63 on audio. This doesn’t include 12 books that I elected not to finish after getting about a quarter of the way through. 2019 has been a great year for discovering new good books. And the best time of year hasn’t even landed yet!

THE FUTURE:

This is hard to predict, and is mostly guided by things that I would like to do. I just have to be selective with my time. I want to release at least one book per year. Sometimes that will mean a short book, but I’ll always have something in the queue.

This fall I’m going to practice more with digital drawing, because I’ve got a major itch to get into cartooning. We’ll see how it works with my writing, because novels are my first true love. It just might be time to start having some little art kidlets, if I can swing it.

The important thing is to not spread myself too thin and burn out, as I often do. My real kids are getting older and I really want to dedicate more time to adventures with them. I just have to balance my craft with the more important things.

That’s all. Stay tuned to my Twitter and Instagram (@DreadPennies) for other updates. Thanks everyone.

Pardon My Poetry: Dies the Summer

It shouldn’t have been what it was in the end

In summers now passed, such adventures, such friends

One tries to find magic where shadows reside

But life will determine, life will decide

Whether this year you’ll feel eighteen once more

Or wonder if you will know joy like before

The gut punches came each after the other

Said farewell to a sister, I and my brothers

Farewell to a boss, farewell to my money

Farewell to my time with my kids and my honey

Farewell to Luck, the Stanford Sensation

Will football still be fun to watch in this nation?

Shackled to work, to sleep and pay bills

Redundancy dwells where once lived many thrills

When half it was over I found myself thinking

The Good Ship Summer’s not sailing, it’s sinking

So we waited it out and endured each invasion

That Misery Monster would hear no persuasion

Come August I found myself longing for fall

This son of July has cold blood after all

Now I sit in my office, feeling my feelings

Adding the totals, half-drowning, half-reeling

Counting my blessings, striving for calm

Praying and borrowing Gilead’s balm

For the seasons yet turn and turn as they will

August gives way to September, yes, still

In spring I awaited the summer’s prompt coming

And now I await fall’s arrival, heart thrumming

There’s a chance that it’s better than summer this year

I choose to lock step with my hope, not my fear

If nothing else I can take this away:

No wicked season forever will stay.

Captain America and The Hero’s Journey

Now that Avengers: Endgame has destroyed the entire worldwide box office, it’s time to complete an analysis that I’ve been looking forward to for a while.

Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, called The Hero’s Journey, is a storytelling pattern that is found all over the world, in all time periods. The story of Captain America follows it with admirable fidelity throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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An Oversimplified Version of the Journey

Granted there are a few deviations–the story was handled by numerous writers and directors, as well as the creative director–but the steps are there, some of them more prominent than others. There were also some clever turns where the steps were presented out of order, or with roles reversed, as you’ll see. 

Here is a link to the Wikipedia article for the Journey, with details of each step. I will present them here out of order with regard to Campbell’s monomyth, but the steps will follow the order of Steve Rogers’ experiences in the films.

Here we go!

1: Call to Adventure

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In this case the adventure is World War II. More to the point, the call hits Steve head-on when his best friend, Bucky, gets deployed, and Steve can’t follow him.

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2: Refusal of the Call

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Steve of course didn’t refuse the call, but we can say that it refused him. Physically he couldn’t hack it, no matter how many times he applied. He had too many health issues. His persistence is a demonstration of his inner values, which is what land the attention of a certain scientist…

 

3: Meeting the Mentor

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The mentor in this case was Dr. Abraham Erskine. He cleared Steve for Army training, giving him a 1A status, despite all his previous failures. Erskine later gave Steve his superpowers, but more importantly, he gave him a guiding philosophy: be good, and do good.

 

4: Crossing the First Threshold

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Getting his powers was only one part of this step. He showed he could do the job when he ran down a Hydra agent and tore him out of a submarine with his bare hands. The real challenge was being taken seriously by the Army. The program didn’t go as planned, so the brass immediately discarded him. Steve had to show them why they should let him fight. So he went out to rescue Bucky and the others. He led the Howling Commandos into battle across the world. He fought Red Skull. All of these were stepping stones of increasing difficulty, proving to himself and to others that he could be The Captain.

 

5: The Woman as Temptress

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In Campbell’s monomyth, this step on the journey is often a symbol of the hero being tempted by his baser instincts, instead of holding to a higher moral code. Steve’s responses to temptation are largely played for comic relief, especially in the first movie with this throwaway scene featuring Natalie Dormer–who, by the way, would have made a much better Captain Marvel than Brie Larson.

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Despite all the women willing to leap into his arms, we’ll see in the end that Cap is a good man with a loyal heart. Even with Black Widow trying to set him up on a ton of dates, or have him engage in performative PDA for a mission, he’s reluctant.

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Steve’s temptation isn’t something as simple as getting hot and bothered over a pretty woman. His real weakness, his real “baser instinct,” is a small shred of selfishness–if you can even call it that–that makes him miss his own time and his own people.

It’s the pending revelations about Bucky that blow that wide open, later on.

6: Meeting with the Goddess

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Obviously his one-and-only is Peggy, with the exception of a single kiss to her niece shortly after Steve attends Peggy’s funeral. Later, when he has the chance to take the life that he always wanted with her–to give her that one dance–his loyalty comes full circle.

Just like a compass.

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And of course, at this juncture he meets a few more helpers along the way.

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7: Belly of the Whale/Death and Rebirth

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This is one of the steps that is broken up across a couple of the movies. Obviously he enters the “belly of the whale” when he has to crash Red Skull’s bomber at the end of The First Avenger. Here, he receives a symbolic death.

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Likewise he gets a symbolic rebirth in Avengers, but the process isn’t entirely complete. Not yet. Still a few kinks to work out…

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8: Road of Trials

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In Avengers, the trial is coming to grips with the fact that he is 70 years removed from his own time, and most of the people he has ever known are probably dead. He figures out how to keep fighting evil in the present, and just as soon as he gets a grip on that, the past comes back to attack him with a vengeance. This will factor heavily into future temptations…

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That said, he isn’t without sexy new helpers on the way!

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9: Atonement/Abyss/Completes the rebirth

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It would take too many GIFs to illustrate this phase, but most of the “Abyss/Rebirth” happens in The Winter Soldier, where Steve realizes he is fighting a war on two fronts, against an enemy that is far too close to home. His rebirth is completed when SHIELD is in ruins, the director had to fake his death, and the only people Steve can trust are Falcon, Black Widow, Maria Hill, and Nick Fury. This is the moment when he truly becomes The Captain.

 

10: Apotheosis

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Predictably, leadership isn’t without its burdens, and one of the first signs of a rift between Steve and Tony comes in Age of Ultron, when Steve disagrees with Tony’s plan to protect the whole world. This ends with Ultron dropping a city out of orbit, killing countless people, something Tony will probably have on his conscience for a while. As a result, Tony semi-retires from the Avengers, leaving Steve in charge of it all.

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11: Ultimate Boon

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What’s the ultimate boon for a man out of time, whose only remaining friend is still out there, and can probably be rescued?

It’s a question that answers itself. But it’s not without a whole boatload of problems, especially when Bucky was just framed for a terrorist attack that killed the king of Wakanda. Yes, Bucky is Steve’s boon, his only remaining link to the era he is truly from. Really, Bucky is Steve’s inspiration for going on this journey to begin with, as Steve pursued it aggressively once Bucky shipped out. He had to go save his friend.

No matter the cost…?

12: Refusal of the Return

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Now the small cracks start to widen into fissures. Steve has ascended to the level of Captain America, leader of the Avengers, Earth’s mightiest heroes…and wouldn’t you know it, the governments of the world want to put a leash on him. Reduce him to the status of a simple–albeit effective–soldier like he was back in World War II.

There was a time when he would have wanted that.

But now, with everything that’s on the table–not the least of which is the truth about Bucky–he can’t go back to the way things were.

“The safest hands are still our own.”

 

13: Magic Flight

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Once again, Bucky factors heavily into this step of the Journey, though we get a healthy dose of “fight” with our “flight.” In the end they get some help from another kind of ‘magic,’ this time from T’Challa.

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14: Rescue from Without

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Hoo boy. How many times does he need help from other people? It does happen plenty. Maria Hill rescues him from Hydra in The Winter Soldier. Agent 13 brings him his gear in Civil War. T’Challa takes him to Wakanda.

And of course, in Endgame, Dr. Strange and Falcon come to his rescue, just as a broken Captain America is facing Thanos and his entire army.

 

15: Crossing the Return Threshold

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The fact that Steve is not a product of our time never truly escapes his attention, or that of the audience. Thus his return can never really be to a physical place, but rather a chronological one. “Old Man Steve” had been drawn a number of times in the comics, and I tell you what, seeing it on screen was a real treat.

Yes. In a way, he goes back.

 

16: Master of Two Worlds

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More important than just returning to his time, he ends up living the life he wanted, the life he fought so long and hard to have. He mastered the role of Captain America, leader of the Avengers, just as surely as he mastered the life of a married man to Peggy Carter.

17: Freedom to Live

He took this one for himself at the very end of Endgame. It was a conscious choice as he time-traveled through the Quantum Realm, deciding not to hit his target mark and instead return as a 100 year-old man. He had the freedom to do so. His mission was complete. His work was done. The most powerful evil in the universe was defeated.

And he could rest.

 

FIN

 

Post-script: a personal theory about Cap’s worthiness to wield Mjolnir.

We’re not given exact specs on what makes some worthy to pick up Thor’s hammer. I get the impression Thor’s worthiness has a little to do with his bloodline, because he really lets himself go in Endgame and is still able to carry Mjolnir.

And of course, in the comics Cap was able to use it a couple of times, but in the movies they established that he couldn’t.

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Here’s my theory, as I posted on Instagram last month:

I don’t expect this was what Marvel/Whedon intended with showing this, it is more my own interpretation of events.

We know Cap has unassailable character. He fought SHIELD and Hydra at the same time in order to stand up for what was right.

So why couldn’t he lift Thor’s hammer? By what metric was he less worthy than Thor? Obviously perfection wasn’t the standard–Cap and Thor both had mistakes in their past to some degree. What was it, then?

Go back to “The Winter Soldier.” Go to the bunker at Camp Lehigh, where Steve and Natasha find the digital consciousness of Dr. Zola, who tells them the long and sordid history of SHIELD and Hydra.

One of the flashing headlines in the newsreel is that Howard Stark was killed. The fact that Zola showed this to Cap is not insignificant. Hydra was taking credit for it.

Later in “Civil War”, Tony would see the video of Bucky executing the Starks. Tony would ask Cap if he knew about it.

Cap’s silence all but confirmed it, along with the asterisk of “I didn’t know it was him.”

But somewhere along the line, I think Steve put it all together.

And he didn’t tell Tony.

Given the events of Civil War and Endgame, which were dripping with themes about atonement, I think it’s safe to say that Steve finally cleared the air with Tony over what he knew about Bucky. Tony forgave him. They moved past it. And once that was done, once he could truly be open and honest with someone he had come to rely on as a friend and comrade-at-arms, he became worthy to use Mjolnir.

And lo, it was awesome to behold.

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Thanks for reading to the end, everyone. Let me know your thoughts on this, and tell me if I missed anything.

Poetic Harassment

The powerful bloggers say “Post every day,”

But that’s a rate I can’t sustain

Still it sits in my head and I think I should say

Whatever pops into my brain.

That turns a blog into Twitter though,

And we have enough of that crap

The goal of my writing should be to spread joy

Not spout garbage takes in all caps.

Since I was a kid I have written these rhymes

For purpose of whimsy and humor

You can hate on these lyrics and call them a crime

I care ’bout as much as a tumor.

Buy all of my books and share with your homies

The wit of your boi Graham Bradley

I’ll be too busy with sequels to rap for you normies

If not, I’ll keep dropping this madly.

End of January Report

Sup homies

January was productive. Fell short of a few goals, started some habits, failed to start others, February is a reset button.

I did 10 episodes of the Brother Trucker Book Club Podcast, to which you should subscribe. Only great things in the future there.

Several old Engines of Liberty drawings are on my Instagram page, you can see them there along with new works in progress.

I am still writing SLEEPLESS HOLLOW, my intended release for October.

There are other work-based considerations taking up my time, but forward movement is still happening, stay tuned here for details.

Peace out.

80 years ago this Christmas, Karel Čapek died. So what?

Think about what sci-fi would look like without the term “robot” in it. Think of all the properties that would be vastly different, or gone altogether.

No C-3PO, and maybe no R2-D2 either.

Image result for c3po and r2d2 No Terminators, which probably means no breakthrough role for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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No Optimus Prime, no Autobots. No new Bumblebee movie this weekend.

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Nope.

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Sorry, childhood.

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Will Robinson died because nobody was there to warn him of danger.

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Virtually no career track for Isaac Asimov, as presently constituted. The dude wrote an entire library of robot stories.

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Not to say someone else wouldn’t have eventually come up with the idea of man-shaped machine that could think for itself, and give it a name that would become universal around the world, but we’re going off of what did happen in our timeline.

The writer responsible for this massive genre cornerstone was none other than Czech author Karel Čapek, pronounced “kuh-RELL CHAP-eck,” who died on Christmas of 1938. Here is his Wikipedia article, and a picture of him.

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The term “robot” comes from a Czech word for “labor,” which was a central theme of the play he wrote, Rossum’s Universal Robots, set in a future where the robots performed manual tasks for humans, then eventually rose up and took over, and achieved sentience bit by bit.

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The play is about 60 pages long, and I meant to have read it before doing this post, but work and life have taken my focus and it fell down the list of priorities. Nevertheless, as we humans like to celebrate round numbers of anniversaries, I wanted to give his legend a boost on his 80th.

Personally I’m grateful for his work. Transformers and Terminator both came out in 1984, the year I was born, and they’ve had a massive influence on my creative work throughout my whole life. Robots have always been my thing and I’m sure I’ll write a lot of stories about them in different ways.

Between Stan Lee and Karel Čapek, I’ve been thinking a lot this fall about what kind of mark I want to leave on the creative world during my time. It will be a lot harder than it was in their day; competition is stronger and more plentiful, and it’s hard to stand out. Will I ever revolutionize sci-fi and fantasy like these men did? It is my hope, and can only happen if I work at it.

I do have the great fortune to stand on the shoulders of giants in my time. Thanks for your stories, Karel Čapek. Keep resting in peace, and Merry Christmas to you all.

Now get back to work.

December writing update

Hey, Dreads.

Last night I finished a short story for an anthology about lesser-known fairy tales. Mine’s based on a Spanish story. I sent it in and now the waiting game begins.

The other project I worked on during November was a romance novel. There’s a lot of secrecy around this one, so no details here.

The most important update for today is that I am taking another crack at my fantasy epic, Brimstone. This is my “blast crew goes to Mordor” series and I love it more than most of what I have written.

It just had some flaws in the mechanics of the story, and I think I know how to address them now. It will be a good palate cleanser from these other two stories, and it will get a considerable monkey off of my back too.

I need to rearrange some chapters, rewrite others, and cut about 20% overall. This will be Graham at his Genghis Khan-iest.

Get back to work.

Heroes get remembered, legends never die.

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While it may be premature to call Michael Crichton a legend after ten years, the man was certainly prolific, productive, and proficient. I will always heap praise on his imagination as well as his technical knowledge, his zeal for research, and his ability to take that which is “commonly known to be impossible…”

…and make me believe that it is not only possible, but about to happen.

Time travel. Cloned dinosaurs. Alien probes that give us godlike powers by accident. Gnarly aggressive gorillas that really don’t want us taking diamonds from Africa. And that’s just a small sampling of his work that I’ve read.

The man had the #1 book, movie, and TV show in America at the same time in the 1990s. He wrote novels to pay his way through medical school because oh yeah, he was a freaking doctor.

When I hit seventh grade, and was just about tired of middle grade/young adult books (keep in mind that Harry Potter wasn’t a thing yet), I made the jump to big-time sci-fi so I could read THE LOST WORLD and then JURASSIC PARK. (Oops. Order, and such.)

Then I gobbled up whatever else of his I could, partly because I was much less picky, and partly because I didn’t know why I liked what I liked, only that I liked it, and I didn’t have this idea in my head that I only had time to read the best of anything. Some of his stuff wasn’t the greatest, but most of it was, and it fueled my drive to tell my own stories.

Granted, I made up a lot of stuff that he would have researched, but hey, baby steps.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of his passing due to cancer. It was significant enough in my life that I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news.

I’m just glad that he left so much of his time and work for people to enjoy even after his death, in the form of books. The fact that they’re good, and historically significant in American culture, ensures that many future generations will have the chance to enjoy them as I have, and that makes me happy.

RIP, Mr. Crichton. And thank you for your labors.