An Even Darker Friday

This is a sequel to 2016’s THE DARKEST FRIDAY.

 

They frigging got me again.

I wake up in the dark, in what feels like a cramped space. I’ve got a headache, my mouth feels like cotton, and something sting-burns on my neck where a needle pricked me. I haven’t been in this exact situation before, but I’m not an idiot: I’ve been drugged and thrown into what’s probably trunk of a car. I can tell I’m moving.

A phone buzzes in my pocket. Strange, because I threw my phone away a week ago. Some idiot kept trying to recruit me for another Black Friday. Nobody seems to get it that I don’t do that anymore. I’m able to fish the phone out. The screen blinds me in the confined darkness, and I squint at it as I fiddle with the controls to dim the light.

A video call comes through. It’s from a dipstick in a Halloween mask. Generically grotesque, like a mummy-zombie-goblin that melted against the radiator a few times.

“Hello, Jim,” he says through a voice scrambler.

“Up yours. Jim was my father. I’m James.” Just speaking sends a wave of dizziness over me and I have to squeeze my eyes shut. “The hell’d you drug me with?”

“A fancy new cocktail called Cooperation Sauce. I could tell you needed it. You weren’t cooperating.”

“I’m retired, jackhole!”

Mr. Mummy-Goblin-Zombie shakes his head. “I’m muting you on this end. Listen closely: remember your sick uncle? We have completely erased his medical debt, and approved a new cure through the FDA that will eliminate his condition in a week’s time. He’ll live a long and happy life.”

That got my attention. I don’t speak Doctor, but Uncle Craig has something akin to Super Cancer in his brain. He was supposed to be dead before Christmas. The FDA was sitting on a cure for that? And these guys got it through?

I’m still retired. But I’m paying attention now.

“In return for our services, you’ve agreed to sit in a cargo crate en route to a floating warehouse off the coast of Oregon. It’s a secured aerial facility owned and operated by the Buybazon Corporation. No humans are allowed on these W-AirHouses, and each one is loaded with security drones that are trained to kill on sight.”

I groan, loud, not caring that he couldn’t hear it.

Cyber Monday.

They want me to do to Cyber Monday what I normally do to Black Friday.

Buybazon is the biggest retailer in the world, online or otherwise. They move more merchandise than anyone in history. During this weekend, they move their floating W-AirHouses out over the water, because they’ve had issues with people trying to get to them on the ground. They’re packed with goods ten decks deep, everything from books to clothes to personal automobiles and more. Treasure troves, undoubtedly.

YouTube is full of videos of morons with homemade rockets strapped to their backs, or repurposed hot air balloons, and in one case, a DIY helicopter, that managed to land on top of the facility before the drones inside blew it to hell.

Whoever this twit is on the phone, he had knocked me out and thrown me into a cargo crate. I’m not moving in a car; I’m flying under a cargo drone. Some items are still coming into the flying facility in preparation for the online orgy of consumption. That’s how the guy sneaks me in. Once Cyber Monday is in full swing, the W-AirHouse will float inland again and start deploying delivery drones to send people their overpriced crap.

This is the thing that really ticks me off. This year Cyber Monday starts on Friday, because Black Friday starts on Wednesday. There was some beef after last year that people felt guilty about expressing such blind greed right after Thanksgiving, so the robber barons solved that problem by allowing people to indulge in that greed early on. If you never stop to be thankful, you’re less likely to feel bad for clubbing a random stranger so you can buy a cheap computer.

Friday on Wednesday. Monday on Friday. It’s like these morons in charge never look at a calendar and realize that two different days don’t happen at the same time.

No, wait, that’s not it. I know why they do it: they think they’re all-powerful, and the fact that they bilk so much money and violence out of people kind of vindicates them. I give it a decade before Halloween becomes the new Black Friday, regardless of what day it lands on.

Mr. Mummy-Goblin-Zombie is still talking. I realize I’ve tuned out. He gives me a crate number that I’m supposed to look up once I’m in the W-AirHouse.

“This is your primary target. There are secondary and tertiary targets that will earn you a bonus, but only if you have the first box. And hey, if you want to shop for yourself while you’re there,  you’re more than welcome! Just make sure the full list is complete first. Oh, and stop by sector 4 on Deck 6; the manifest shows a lot of hunting and sporting equipment there. Might come in handy for the, you know…” he makes finger pistols and shoots at me.

The call ends. I memorize the location of the primary target. This twit is going to get it, hard. Best way to ensure that is to get the loot for a handoff in person.

My crate docks with the W-AirHouse and stops moving. A drone whirrs outside, and I hear it come up to the crate, where it unlocks the lid and opens it up. It takes about two seconds to process what I am, and in that time I’m up and fighting. My hand covers its camera lens—not that I can do anything about its sonar vision or infrared scanner—as I climb to my feet. The little drone switches to combat mode and takes a swing at me. Its claw-hands are ridiculously strong, but its shoulders and elbows aren’t. Too heavy. I grab the wrist, wrench it back, and snap the arm off the drone.

Stupid. Of course they’re interconnected on a network. One of them gets “hurt” and the bigger brothers all come running. Buybazon is big and evil, not stupid. They had to figure someone would try getting in this way.

Mr. Mummy-Zombie-Goblin must think very highly of my abilities. I’m touched.

Here’s the problem: normally when I do this, I’m armored. I’ll have a helmet with a HUD, maybe a limited personal force field, a Beating Stick, a pulse rifle, and a couple of other toys, plus a generic tool belt with some caveman-level “universal keys.” Right now I’m wearing sneakers, sweat pants, a T-shirt that hasn’t been washed in a while, and my signature trench coat. Nice of them to put the coat on me.

I club the drone with its dismembered arm, then sprint into the corridor, ducking low because of how tight the fit is. This place was never designed to be occupied by people. It’s meant for drones moving crates. There’s enough space to get around, it’s all just shaped the wrong way.

The tiny little drone engines buzz behind me, getting louder as I dash through the tight network of honeycomb tubes that take me into the main cargo area. When I get out of here, Mr. Mummy-Zombie-Goblin is going to take a claw hammer to the face, I can tell you that much. For now, well, I kind of want to see what’s so damned important that they’d put me through this.

I’m not used to things going this fast. I reach the intended crate on the intended level and use the drone arm to pop the lid open. Inside there are several parcels wrapped differently, in brightly colored paper with metallic ribbons. Only one of them is in a drab cardboard box, sitting on top of the others, right in the middle. I grab it.

Then something hard hits me on the back. I stumble into the crate with a grunt, and the box flies out of my hand. By the time I’m up and around, brandishing the drone arm like a flaccid stick, my assailant is already on the move. He’s dressed in the typical garb of a power shopper: body armor, Jump Boots, various electro-ionic implements to serve as shields and weapons, and a pair of bulky techno-goggles wrapped around a neoprene balaclava.

An electronic screech stings my ear.

“James, we were warned there’d be another shopper in the W-AirHouse. Head to the sporting and hunting division for armor and weapons. Chase him down before he disembarks,” says the garbled voice of Mr. Mummy-Zombie-Goblin.

They stuck an earpiece in me. Now that’s just perverse. How’d they know I’d been attacked, though? Dumbly I reach up and…yup. This whole time I’ve been wearing video specs. I really need to wake up.

I jump down a level and rip open a few crates. The best I can come up with is a baseball bat and a can of pepper spray, before Mr. MZG warns me that the other power shopper is getting away. I hurry back to the receiving dock, taking a shortcut through the honeycombs, and I have an idea. Once I’m in the receiving area, I’m set upon by three drones, but they’re not the security kind. Three quick bashes to the dome—four for the stubborn drone at the end—renders them inert. I throw them in the only open crate and crank the lever to drop it out of the launch port, just as the power shopper comes in with the parcel. My parcel.

There’s no dialogue. This isn’t the movies. When two alpha wolves face off in real life, you just start beating the crap out of each other. We did. It hurt. My glasses went flying. I got a hand on his goggles and yanked down to fire the pepper spray, but then his balaclava came free and I found myself looking into a mirror. Well, an aged mirror.

“Dad?”

“James,” he gasped.

Jim Kotter. The greatest power shopper in the history of the militarized Black Friday. The only guy who, as far as stats go, has been more successful at it than I have. Also, he’s dead.

“You’re on my bladder,” Dad wheezes.

I roll off of him, stunned. How is he alive? Where has he been all this time? What is in that box, that somebody wants it so badly?

“Son, I…” he begins.

We don’t get the chance to talk. Security drones race into the receiving dock and turn their lasers on us. Dad pulls his goggles back on, and I toss the pepper spray aside, brandishing the floppy drone limb. What I wouldn’t give for a laser cannon…

“They’re not attacking. Not yet.” Dad pushes a button on his goggles. “Cellular signal is strong. They’re broadcasting.”

“To the client?” I ask. Well, not really clients, more like captors, but whatever.

“To everyone. This is on the Web, kiddo.”

I glare. “How much you want to bet we’re working for the same guy?”

“Someone who wanted the top two power shoppers in a mega-match?”

“Aboard a W-AirHouse?”

“Dammit,” Dad hisses.

The drones’ targeting lights come on. Dad and I jump in opposite directions, dodging the lasers before the drones can track us and correct their aim. We have to get out of the dock…and I have just sent Dad’s crate on a return trip. Crap. Gotta go the hard way.

We run and tuck and roll our way past the drones, which bump into each other in the tight quarters. A laser burns through my coat, searing the leather to a stinky crisp. Dad takes a hit square to the back, but his armor has some kind of reflective quality that bends the laser away. We leap into the open honeycomb corridor and crawl at full speed.

“What’s on Deck 5?” I ask.

“Books. No good.”

“They only told me where the sporting goods are, do you know where we can find laser cannons?” I ask.

“Home & Garden, Deck 9. We’ll never make it. Sporting goods!” The corridor curves up ahead, and we follow it until it opens right back where we came from.

“Go get something, I’ll close off the access,” I say. Dad runs off. I step aside and raise the floppy arm above my head. Just as a security drone flies out of the honeycomb corridor, I smash the heavy end of the limb down on it, wrestling it to the ground. It’s big, about the size of a man, but the shape of a wasp. Grabbing its wings, I pick it back up and swing it into the next incoming drone, plugging the hole. The lasers fire at random, cutting into each other, shredding the drones until their inner workings fail. I take a few more burns to the jacket and one more that cuts through my funky T-shirt, stinging my flesh and making me scream.

I’m not dead, so the laser is on a low setting. It should have gone right through me. Whoever’s at the controls is trying to make a show of this. Growling to myself, I drop the wrecked drones and go after Dad. More drones are coming, but I’ve bought a few seconds at least.

“We’ve got to get out of here. They’re toying for now, but eventually the audience will want something worse. You know how people are,” Dad says as he yanks a bulky, backpack-size object out of a crate and slings the straps over his shoulders.

“People suck,” I agree, pulling on another backpack. “Dad, where have you—”

“Later, kiddo. When we survive. Control room is on Deck 3.”

As a kid, people told me I was exactly like my dad. Not that I looked like him, but I was like him. I take after Mom’s side in terms of looks. Dad, though…he never did anything halfway. It’s what makes him the best at whatever he tries. So when he goes for the control room, I know exactly what he’s doing.

“Dad, give me the box,” I say, jogging behind him, looking over my shoulder as the security drones buzz over us.

“It’s not a weapon, Jamie. It’s not even valuable on the open market. It’s a trinket for trillionaires,” he says. “Useless here.”

“I have a point to make,” I say. We speed-crawl through the honeycombs to Deck 3. Dad gives me a quick look, loaded with depth and meaning, and I can tell he’s making the same assessment of me that I had just made of him. We are, after all, the same.

He gives me the box.

The drones swarm the room in great numbers, moving as only a hive can. Hot laser fire rains down all around us—they aren’t messing around now. We take cover under a shelf of crates, but that won’t protect us for long. I reach into my coat and grab one of the two laser cannons I had taken from the drones on the previous deck.

“Shoot back, Dad.” I shove the pistol into his hands, taking the other for myself. Again, sparing the dramatics, we carve a path to the control room. Dad melts the lock off and tugs the door open, covering me as I go in. His laser-reflective armor protects the doorway as I use the last of my cannon to melt through the computer core at the center of the W-AirHouse.

The power cuts out instantly all throughout the ship. But for the glaring red lights on the security drones, the whole deck falls into darkness. Dad grabs my backpack and pulls me out of the control room. He still has his HUD goggles, so I keep a hand on his shoulder and sprint after him, even as the angle of the floor tilts in an odd direction. The W-AirHouse is going down.

“To the honeycomb?” I ask.

“Closed off. I didn’t want to do this, but…close your eyes!”

I do. A few seconds later, a searing blast of heat eats through the wall of the W-AirHouse, and a shock of cold, wintery sea air cuts into the gaps of my clothes, stinging my laser burns.

Scorch grenade. Hardcore.

Dad leaps headfirst out the hole. We’re at an elevation of about two thousand feet. Not drastic, but you don’t want to hit the water from this height. Fortunately, the sporting goods section had recreational jump jets. I turn and hold up the box so the drones can see me. They stop firing. Whatever it is, they want it and know not to compromise it. So I throw it on the metal grating, crush it with my shoe, and fall out of the hole in the side of the flying building.

Grabbing the hand control off of the backpack strap, I slip it over my knuckles and go after Dad. The ignition switch fires the engine right up. I’ve never used one of these before, and while the strap around my torso feels fine, I realize I had forgotten to put a pair of straps around my thighs. The jet stays on, but I feel like most of me is dead weight as it spirits me away from the now-falling W-AirHouse.

Sight is out of the question. Wind speed and the cold cut at my eyes, so I have to squint and blink a lot until Dad comes up to me again and takes me by the arm again, flying me to shore.

“We just porked Cyber Monday,” I say to him, shouting over the roaring wind.

“Yup.”

“They’re gonna be mad.”

“Yup.”

The W-AirHouse belly-flops against the cold, gray ocean. Coast Guard ships are already racing there from the nearest port, no doubt commandeered by the all-powerful Office of Economic Control and Societal Assurances. They will have to salvage as much of it as they can. The flotsam and jetsam will only get more expensive on Buybazon, because the supply is so much lower now. Whatever. They should have let me stay retired.

Our jet packs have enough ionic power to make it to shore, but we’re still about a mile off the coast when an airborne Merecedes-Benz Z-series flies up beside us, belly-open. A trio of neckless thugs in suits drags us onboard with—I kid you not—a fishing net. We try to fight free, but we have nothing left. Once we’re inside, they close the belly, cut us out of the net, and restrain us as we kneel on the floor.

Mr. Mummy-Zombie-Goblin gets out of the passenger seat and faces us, now without his mask. I know him: Senator Bernard Stewart. The Man of the People. Elected on a wave of populism and standing up for the mythical Little Guy.

Spoiler alert, there is no Little Guy, unless we’re all the Little Guy. Except for guys like Stewart. He’s on top, and he knows it. He just doesn’t want you to know it.

“That was a stupid thing you did, James,” Senator Stewart says in his signature smarmy twang.

“I’m not sure which of us you mean,” Dad says.

“Me either.” Stewart nods to the men holding Dad. One of them draws a pistol from an underarm holster.

“No!” I shout.

A deafening explosion rings out in the enclosed car. Everyone is wearing earplugs except for me and Dad…who isn’t dead. The shot had compromised his jet back. Still tangled in the remains of the net, he can’t move his legs. So when the thugs open the belly of the Mercededs again and shove him out over the surf…you can imagine how I feel.

I try to fight them. It doesn’t work. End of that story.

“I am a man who serves society, James Kotter Jr,” Stewart sneers. “And society is built on order. When I place an order, I expect it to be filled. When I give an order, I expect it to be obeyed. If I can’t get what I expect, how can you expect any different? Would this make us equal?”

“Are we still on camera?” I spit.

Stewart chuckles. “Facts are facts, regardless of who’s watching. You just dealt serious economic damage to your fellow man. It’s bad enough that you don’t participate in Black Friday and Cyber Monday like everyone else. Why, those two holidays do so much to fuel our economy! The cut prices help the poor, and the taxes help the needy. Your refusal to be a part of that is akin to theft. Have you ever thought of that?”

“I’ve thought of a lot of things. I’m thinking about what I’m going to do to you when your thugs aren’t around,” I say.

“Oh? Why would you say that?”

“Because if you were going to kill me, you never would have brought me aboard. You still think you can get me to do this again. You don’t seem to get it that I’m retired.” I glare, eyes burning with tears. “And you just killed my dad, who I thought was dead. That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.”

“I admire your boldness, James. I can see I underestimated you.” He looks out the rear window. I can’t see, but I imagine the W-AirHouse is mostly sunk by now. Stewart continues. “But when I want something, I will get it. You still owe me a Christmas present.”

I rise to my feet, despite the no-necks on me. “Oh, you’ll get it, Stewart. Signed and delivered, you can count on that. You’ve made two big mistakes already today. The hat trick would be letting me out of this rig alive.”

Stewart just grins that million-dollar grin, which had gotten him elected to a third term. “You may go home now. Enjoy the holidays. Next year, I will hire you again, and I will make sure you do as you’re told. Merry Christmas.”

The thugs open the door and kick me out over the beach. I use the last of the jump jet fuel to land without breaking a leg. The sky is gray, and the ocean is grayer. A few people walk across the stretch of sand, but most of them are indoors like sane people. I stare out over the water.

Dad. They killed him. Gone and back and gone again in half an hour. My heart sags with anger and loss. Someone will answer for this pain.

I walk home and slept off the shock of the day, not knowing what else to do.

I’m a simple man. I hurt people, I break things, and I sleep.

 

Two days later, on the real Cyber Monday, a package comes for me in the mail. The drone drops it off on my doorstep and doesn’t even wait for a signature. The box is big, like a doghouse, and has a handwritten label on it. Curiousity beats me, and I bring inside to open it up.

It’s a recreational jump jet with a punctured ionic reactor, the hole about the size of a bullet. Attached to it is a laserproof vest with an inflatable inner lining that has been deployed.

I must be grinning like an idiot.

There’s a note. I unfold it and read the handwriting, the same handwriting I’d seen on all my childhood birthday cards.

Happy Monday, Son. We’ll talk soon.

16 Lessons in 25 Years: My turning points as a writer.

Author Shot

 

#1: Age 8. I want to write stories.

My 3rd grade teacher got me started on it and I have never stopped.

#2: Age 11: Ditch the ever-evolving daydream.

I kept starting and restarting the same story idea with whatever I was daydreaming about at the time. This went on for years. It was a really long time before I finished a book.

#3 Age 14: I’m only writing fanfic. That’s not how I get where I want.

From Power Rangers in elementary school to Beast Wars in middle school, I was only putting twists on other peoples’ stuff. I needed to write my own. So I quit doing fan fiction.

#4 Age 15: This is how the great ones steal stuff. I shall do the same.

“Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Let’s pretend I said that. More to the point, I figured out how to start making my own stuff, even if it was based originally off of other things I liked. (Writers start this way all the time.)

#5 Age 18: I finished! And people like it! Feelsgoodman

I finished a teenaged cyborg story (based entirely-too-closely on my senior year of high school). A friend-of-a-friend read it, and heaped praise on it. That was…really really cool.

#6 Age 21: There is a such thing as over-writing.

One of the first stories I wrote after my mission was about 25,000 words long, consisting entirely of a dude fighting robots on a train. This is…not necessary. But I got it out of my system. Mostly.

#7 Age 24: I can edit patiently.

For the first time, I ponied up the cash to print off a book I wrote, then bought a red pen and made the whole thing bleed. This was where I realized I liked to edit much better than I liked drafting.

#8 Age 25: I am prolific, and I suck at it!

I tried writing a sci-fi one month, a fantasy the next month, and a paranormal the month after. Each one was garbage because I didn’t get the necessary genre bits right. I was just trying to prove I could “write anything.” I wasn’t ready.

#9 Age 26: I know how to get rejected a lot.

And sooooo many agents helped me learn. Then I finally landed one.

#10 Age 27: Dangle the right carrot, and I can do anything.

My agent was close to getting one of my books placed with a Big5 publisher. I just needed to rewrite the entire damn thing in a month. That month was December. And I was a production manager at a website business. Caffeine became my surname and I worked myself into a bedwetting stupor. But I finished the book on time! The publisher rejected it.

#11 Age 28: Message fic sucks no matter who is writing it.

The book that lost me my agent was a “message fiction” book, or a social message thinly masked by a story and characters. Right wing, left wing, or anywhere in between, these kinds of books suck. Even if the message is good, message fic is not.

#12 Age 29: It’s possible to reboot an idea successfully.

And I did, by combining a few scrapped projects, wrapped around the right concept. That’s where Engines of Liberty came from, staring with REBEL HEART.

#13 Age 30: Sequels are hard.

Until I wrote SUICIDE RUN, I had never finished writing a sequel. Holy cow, it’s a different animal. But now I know how!

#14 Age 31: It’s easy to kill yourself at this.

I was working 50-60 hours a week at my day job, then coming home and getting revved up on caffeine so I could draw for several hours each night to illustrate PATRIOT’S GAME. I’m not proud of this. Caffeine might not be a hard drug, but I was very much addicted and it affected my health both physically and mentally. This made me a hazard to myself and others while I was at work. After a few hard crashes on weekends, my wife helped me realize what I was doing to myself, and I dialed it back. Not worth it.

#15 Age 32: Now that I’ve done this three times, I can streamline my process.

Once I was done with the Engines trilogy, I knew what I was doing. I knocked out KILL THE BEAST in a whole 3 months.

#16 Age 33: It’s not supposed to get easier.

In many ways, THE HERO NEXT DOOR was the hardest book I’ve ever written, and the artwork didn’t go any faster than it did for the other books. In fact it went a lot slower. That’s the price you pay for quality work–it takes time. I’m still working on getting faster at that. Maybe that will be my lesson at age 34.

Thanks for reading 🙂

The One We Didn’t Thwart: A Halloween Treat

We had more than two hundred fifty adventures together. We crammed them all into a hundred and four days—give or take.

Things always got crazy. We changed the world. We changed the galaxy. At the end of every afternoon, it changed back, and that was fine.

Same old us. Same mad scientist in town. Same harmless pet platypus.

Then, one day, The Doctor made a “zombie-inator” without a self-destruct button…one that did its job.

He pulled the trigger. The -inator was somehow aimed straight at our yard.

My brother was Patient Zero.

He got our mom. She turned our dad. Then our sister, and her boyfriend, and soon our whole block.

The Tri-State area fell. We tried to save it. We fought it as long as we could, but you can’t fight the sunset.

My brother fled. At first it didn’t matter—taking him down wouldn’t have changed what he did.

Friends. Family. Loved ones. Lives destroyed…oh, what might have been.

This morning, though, I woke up, and I knew things were different. He’d returned. You can’t spend all that time with someone without knowing when they’re about to be breathing down your neck.

So to speak.

I wanted to be angry at him. In the end, it’s not his fault. It’s Doof’s. And he’s long gone.

If anything, I will be grateful. Before I have to finish him, I get to say the words.

One.

Last.

Time.

“Well, Ferb. I know what we’re gonna do today.”

“Where do you get your ideas?” [shrug emoji]

Where do writers get their ideas?

I’ve heard this question a lot, not always directed toward me, and there are a couple of good answers to it. I’ll save the best one for a second.

My friend Aprilynne has always replied to that with “I go to the Idea Store and if they’re having a sale, I get two.”
(I’ve always understood that as her way of saying “It just happens.”)

The real answer is actually a lot simpler than that: daydream, and ask yourself “what if?”

Kind of like when Stephen King cleaned high school locker rooms during his summers as a teen, and when he saw the girls’ room, he was confused at the feminine hygiene product dispenser on the wall. It was explained to him, and he filed that knowledge away. Later in life when he was reading an article on human telekinesis, he learned that it allegedly manifested during times of heightened emotional duress, for example, a teen girl’s first menstrual cycle.
Those two things together formed the beginning of his first big best-seller, Carrie.

For a less graphic idea, take Leigh Statham’s “Not-So-Innocuous-Girl” books. Statham was studying some family history, chanced upon the tale of a transatlantic ancestor, and decided to retell it in a steampunk vein. My wife devoured those books.

Or when Stephenie Meyer wrote Twilight, she was probably thinking “What if I did vampires, but to be really meta about it, the book ITSELF sucked?”

(Yeah, she made a billion dollars off the series and I read them all, don’t @ me)

The point is, you play with things. Change it up. Ask yourself questions about how to make it work, and then you keep doing that. Soon you’ve built a whole world, and you can drop some characters into it for a rip-roaring good time.

Like an American Revolution, only where the British use magic, so the Americans use tech.

Or Beauty and the Beast, with Gaston as the hero.

Or a superhero cheerleader Amazon warrior adventure.

It’s about that easy. The idea isn’t the hard part. It’s sticking it out to the end that really wrecks your head.

So get to work.

Plans for Fall 2017, plus I’m considering Patreon.

Hi gang,

Things have been busy as always, but here’s an update on what I’ve been doing this summer, plus a look at the next few months:

  1. I have three more drawings to finish for The Hero Next Door, which many of you helped me fund via Kickstarter. The week of Labor Day, I expect I will finish the final one.
  2. After that, it’s a bunch of technical stuff that remains in order to finish the book.
  3. While that’s going on, I’ve finished a manuscript for a different book, a middle grade fantasy called The Korbadell Job. I have high hopes for this one. Imagine a Tolkien quest/adventure, only with trucks and explosives in addition to monsters. I should be sending that to my publisher of choice around mid-October.
Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, sky, cloud, outdoor and nature
From the work trip where I got the idea…

After that? Well, the slate’s already full:

  1. In October (I’ll post dates when it’s official) I’m contributing at the League of Utah Writers conference, having been invited to speak about explosions and the like. I’m very excited for that. In two weeks I get to test-drive my presentation in front of a small group.
  2. I’m also taking some online training courses so that I can make a bit of a career change, but that’s far enough out that I won’t bother with any details. The important thing is that once I’m done with the above manuscripts, I won’t be delving into anything new for a few months. I’ll have published 2 books this year, in spite of moving out of state and buying a house. I need a break.
  3. All the same, I’m picking at an idea I had two years ago, where I would write my first-ever nonfiction intended for publication. It’s a summary of my career as a truck driver, including some of the deeper life lessons I’ve learned in the industry. I expect it will be more interesting than it sounds. It won’t be overly long, as I intend to publish it one chapter at a time here on my website, then put the final edition out on eBook.
  4. I know what I’m doing after that, but that’s enough for now.

Which brings us to the final part of the update:

For a while now I’ve considered whether or not to do a Patreon account. If you don’t know what that is, Patreon is a service where people can subscribe to your content, usually for dirt cheap–like, $1 a month cheap. My goal to start out would be getting about $100 a month in support, just for things like art supplies, shipping materials, ISBNs, and more.

My only hang-up is that I’m not entirely sure what to offer. I’ve seen other artists (who post their content regularly) that give their content to subscribers a few days before it’s normally scheduled to go live. I’d want to generate content that’s exclusive to supporters, but still geared toward my ultimate work of publishing.

If you’re keen to weigh in on this, let me know in the comments. If I were to set up support levels between $1 and $5 a month, what kind of stuff would you be looking for? Unique illustrations? Your name as a character in a future book? Maybe a comic that can only be accessed by supporters? Let’s hear it.

Thanks guys and gals.

Now get back to work.

I promise there’s a good reason for this.

CENT

I was perusing old drawings in my folder and found this one from several years ago–maybe 2012, I unfortunately didn’t put a date on it–and realized I had forgotten about it.

It was one of my first attempts at combing a few regular images I’d traced in CorelDRAW, which was the poor Canadian attempt at re-creating Adobe Illustrator at a lower price and higher bug count. For reasons I cannot feign to recall, I attempted a fusion of Clint Eastwood and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, called (wait for it) “Clint Eastwood Ninja Turtle.”

But Graham! Why did you do this? You monster!

The manuscript I was working on at the time was, I think, called RESOLUTE. It was about high school football in Oklahoma…with gargoyles. (I have scrapped this idea and occasionally think of ways to salvage it, but I am not hopeful.) Anyway, I kept coming to certain scenes that got wildly distant from the story I was trying to tell, and I had no idea how to corral them back together. So I drew for a while to clear my head.

C.E.N.T. was the eventual product of one of these brain-clearing sessions, and suddenly I had a thought: I knew where I wanted the story to go, I just didn’t always know how to get there. When I reached those junctions on the story-map, Clint Eastwood Ninja Turtle would arrive on the page, take my main characters by the hand, and escort them through that scene or chapter (with a brief paragraph, highlighted in red so I could find it) and tell them where to go from there.

This is a terrible thing to do in final drafts, but a very nifty trick for early drafts. Good Old Clint hasn’t shown up in any of my early drafts for a while now, but he was there in spirit when I worked on THE KORBADELL JOB a few months ago.

Since Clint Eastwood is a real person and the Ninja Turtles are a copyrighted property, there’s no way in hell I can lay any sort of legal claim to either of these figures, nor do I really care to. I’m just putting him out there for my fellow writers to use as needed. If you’re bogged down in an early draft, let Clint Eastwood Ninja Turtle save the day! Write him into that paragraph!

Fade in. “And then C.E.N.T. showed up to grab Bella by the hand and said ‘You’re gonna keep trying to hook up with that sparkly, wimpy vampire, even though that hot shirtless wolf-dude isn’t trying to kill you, punk.’ And he led her to Edward, for…reasons. ‘We’ll come back to that. Cowabunga.'” Fade out.

Or, more likely, you’re a better writer than I am and this doesn’t happen to you in draft one. So leave him here and go enjoy your uncomplicated, unfrustrating writing life, you terrible demon you.

Carry on.

Wednesdays and the Work-in-Progress: 7 June 2017

kickstart cover

Hey gang.

I notified the KS backers last week that the manuscript went to my editor, who will be tinkering with it for the next month. In that time I have two big responsibilities to juggle:

  1. Getting the artwork done for those who paid for it
  2. Moving my family 400 miles away to start a new job and buy a house

“But Graham! But Graham! Why would you do this all at the same time?!”

Because I make poor life decisions many times a year, and this time I made two of them at once. (Or rather they are both great life decisions, and doing them at once was the poor decision, and I just cut my poor decision rate by 50%. Woo-hoo, #adulting.)

Anyway, that’s where I’m at. Waiting on edits, working on art. I did a drawing of The Spartan for the bookmarks, and didn’t like how it came out. I will re-do it so that it does not suck.

I anticipate that by this time next week, I will have some more art to show you. Just know that all of the personalized stuff for the Kickstarter will have to be seen by each individual backer, first.

6 Things Writers Get Wrong About Trucks (and you won’t believe #6!) 

They say “write what you know.” I know a couple of things about truck driving, so if you decide to write about it in one of your books, maybe these details will help.
1- Blowouts don’t automatically make you crash. Your average tractor trailer has 18 wheels (10 on the truck, 8 on the trailer.) the five axles are called the steer, the drives, and the tandems. The steer axle is the only one with just two tires on it.

If you lose a drive or a tandem tire, you will most likely hear it, but it won’t destabilize the truck because you have three more tires across the same axle, plus more tires in front or behind. However if you blow a steer tire, that can cause you to lose control and steer abruptly to one side. Hold the steering wheel steady and don’t hit the brakes if this happens–come to a controlled and gradual stop if you can.
2- You can’t drop a trailer while driving. The trailer has a metal pin on it called the kingpin. It locks into the 5th wheel plate on the truck and is held there by super strong locking jaws. Even when you’re parked, you can’t pull the handle to release the jaws of their is any pressure on them, which there definitely is when the truck is in motion. Even trucks with buttons in the cab that release the locking jaws will not do so if the truck is driving. And even if you somehow bypassed that control, you still couldn’t do it while the truck is no if and the kingpin is jammed against the locking jaws.
3- There are two ways you can jacknife a truck. Both ways involve locking up the brakes. If the brakes on the tractor lock up, the trailer will keep pushing it, causing the tractor to turn left or right. If the brakes on the trailer lock up, the tail end of the trailer will swing out to the left or right. It depends on where the brakes lock up.
4- Trucks are more worried about stopping than going. You have three ways to brake in a tractor-trailer: the pedal, the knobs, and the trolley handle. The brake pedal engages whenever it’s pushed. Pulling the knobs (yellow for truck, red for trailer) is like hitting the e-brake in your car, it will lock them up (so this is for dire emergencies only.) The trolley handle (a.k.a. the Johnson bar or trailer brake) only engages the brakes on the trailer. Use this if the tractor brakes get too hot (from overuse, which is a form of bad driving…). But be careful because too much pressure on trailer brakes can cause a jacknife.
5- “Waaaah! Two trucks are going uphill and one is barely fast enough to pass the other one! Waaaah! Truckers are jerks!” Surprise: YOU’RE the jerk. Long distance truckers are paid by the mile, not the hour, and their daily driving hours are limited. If they have a long way to go, and mountains to climb in the process, they are worried about keeping their average speed high. This means momentum. If a truck slows down while climbing, he is never getting that momentum back. So if a heavy guy can go 50 and a heavier guy can only go 45, it doesn’t matter if you want to go 75. Mister 50 is going to get around Mister 45 to maintain his 50, or else he will cost himself money. It’s either 5 minutes of inconveniencing a motorist who can go faster and drive longer, or 1/2 hour of lost drive time because he touched the brakes–and lost money for it. Granted, there are guys who are irresponsible with this, but they are the exception.
6- AIR LINES! CUT THEM, AND YOUR BRAKES LOCK UP. This is the biggest mistake in Hollywood!!! License to Kill, Terminator Genisys, The Flash, and Pete’s Dragon are just a few off the top of my head that get this wrong.

With cars, yes, you lose brake pressure if you cut the brake line. That’s because car brakes use liquid pressure to close the brake pads on a disc, or open them against a drum. Without that liquid pressure, the pads won’t press.

But air brakes are the exact opposite. The default position for air brakes is the locked position, where brake pads are pressed against brake drums and will not let the wheels turn. Once you start the truck and let the air compressor fill up, it pushes those brake pads off of the drum so that the wheels can move. If you cut the air line, all the air bleeds out and the brakes engage within seconds, and there is NOTHING you can do about it while in motion.

Trucks are built this way for a reason: if the air system fails (how or why are irrelevant), it’s better for the truck to stop than to be a runaway. A 40-ton missile does more damage than a 40-ton roadblock around which you can drive.
This is my biggest pet peeve about trucks on tv and in movies, because it is so basic to truck engineering. Trucks are not cars. Don’t ever write it this way or I will find you and bludgeon you with my textbook from trucking school.
That’s all, folks. Happy writing!

Wednesdays and the Work-in-Progress: 4/12/2017

Hey gang! This week’s update is twofold: I decided to take a break from THE KORBADELL JOB (“Blast crew goes to Mordor”) so I could get my bearings. I was just too bogged down in it, I couldn’t make any headway without looking back and knowing I would have to delete or change 80% of the night’s work, every night that I worked on it.
One thing that helped was reading DRAGONWATCH by Brandon Mull. He’s a champion of middle grade and writing. I realized most of his writing is dialogue, not narration or blocking, and that’s what makes it read so well. I want that same flow for TKJ so it was good that I reset my head at this stage.
The other part of this week’s update is something I mentioned on Facebook, namely that I launched a Kickstarter for a paranormal superhero romance, THE HERO NEXT DOOR. My wife helped me make a video to explain it.
Thank you to those who have backed it so far! We’re almost halfway there and it’s only a few hours old! That doesn’t mean I won’t still be nervous until it actually funds (the goal is low, just $550). It’s my first venture into crowdsourcing so I want it to do well. We shall see.
That’s it for this week. Y’all take care.

Wednesday and the Work-in-Progress: 3/8/17

At least once a week, I’d like to take a minute to update you guys on the story I’m working on for the time being. One of my struggles as a writer has been to focus on just one thing at a time, and give it the attention it needed. (In the summer of 2009, I tried to write three books in as many months. They each turned out about as well as you’d expect.)

So if you’ve been following me on Twitter or Instagram, you know that the book I’m doing right now is called THE KORBADELL JOB. I haven’t yet settled on a name for its intended series, but the working name is Brimstone’s Boomers. It’s about a drilling-and-blasting company in a fantasy setting, and they’re hired to do a stealth incursion into an enemy nation and blow up their headquarters.

I got the idea from the place where I work. Back in October, I was dispatched up to Northern Nevada, where my brother-in-law and I were to do an ANFO shot at a gypsum mine. I’m not allowed to post videos of our shots online, but here’s one I found on YouTube that demonstrates what our shots look like:

My BIL, Austin, slept for most of the drive, and I was listening to Harry Potter on my headset, having fantastic little daydreams about books and whatnot, when the idea struck me: what if, in the standard-issue Fantasy Quest Novel, instead of sending a team of ragtag farmers and non-fighters into the heart of the Evil Empire to destroy a Super Powerful Artifact…someone hired a blast crew to do it instead?

The fact that I was driving through the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation at the time probably helped to feed this fantasy.

(photo courtesy of Davemeistermoab)

Anyway, it was just a sarcastic little idea that I had. I still had plenty of book ideas to tackle…but a conversation with an author friend of mine steered me back to this idea. Adapting it as a middle-grade fantasy seemed like the smartest take, and since I hadn’t yet developed it too far in my mind, I wasn’t resistant to the idea of making it a kids’ novel.

Thus, here we are.

In November, I got the chance to worldbuild the whole thing while I was pulling a late night at work. (This is pretty meta, actually.) The company I work for had loaded a shot in the ground, stemmed it, all that–essentially it was ready to fire, but it couldn’t be set off for some reason, and the law dictates that we can’t leave explosives unattended or unsecured, so I volunteered to do it, knowing that I had writing to do.

No automatic alt text available.

There I was, figuring out my fantasy blasting novel, whilst doing real blasting work.

Right now I’ve almost got the outline dialed in. I tried writing the first chapter last night but I was tired, and it came out poorly, so I didn’t push it too far.

The ultimate goal is to send it to Shadow Mountain, my publisher of choice for youth fantasy. (Other than, yanno, DreadPenniesUSA.) I’d really like to get it in the mail to them by May, but I won’t force it if it’s not ready. I want them to love it as much as I do, and I think it’s got a much better chance than the work I’ve sent them in the past (mostly old versions of SIDEWINDER.) I mean come on, middle-grade fantasy with STEM and a colorful spread of multispecial characters? I just…might…make it.

I’ll keep you posted 🙂