Say “Cheese,” Mr. Churchill!

There’s a scene in the first Johnny Graphic book, Johnny Graphic and the Etheric Bomb, in which Johnny—in his capacity as a newspaper photographer—is shooting the Minister of War as she testifies in a parliamentary committee. She is one of the villains in the book and Johnny, a thorn in her side, waits until she sets eyes on him:

Patterson didn’t budge from her chair, waiting for the questioning to resume. She surveyed the standing photographers with an expression about as friendly as a rattlesnake’s. Her hooded eyes suddenly moved down and locked on Johnny. A look of volcanic hatred erupted across her face as she recognized him. Her blubbery lips formed a distorted scowl. Her eyes widened. Her nostrils flared. Her brow furrowed.

But only for a few seconds.

Long enough.

In a single, smooth motion, Johnny lifted his camera, framed the shot, and pressed the shutter. The flashbulb dazzled the whole room.

Instantly Mabel Patterson’s face shriveled up, like a deflated balloon.

For the next few days Johnny’s picture of the furious ex-minister of war appeared on front pages around the world. No one else had gotten the shot.

I was reminded what inspired this scene when I recently came across the catalog of a long-ago photo show devoted to the work of the portrait photographer Josef Karsh. In our era, Annie Leibowitz is probably the most famous portraitist. Well, in the mid-20th century, if you were anybody important, you were photographed by Karsh.

His most famous picture, the shot that inspired Johnny’s little gambit, is of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill when he was visiting the Canadian Parliament in the midst of World War II.

Churchill was smoking a cigar and refused to relinquish it for Karsh’s shots. The photographer approached Churchill and pretended to take a new light reading. Suddenly, he snatched the cigar from the Prime Minister’s mouth, hopped back to his camera, and snapped the shutter. This is the iconic result.

index2

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Return of the Flying Boats?

download (1)

The 1930s and ’40s were the age of the flying boat, when glorious old aircraft such as the Pan Am Clipper carried glamorous travelers all over the world—using the oceans as their airports. Flying boats are also a big part of the Johnny Graphic Adventures, flying Johnny and his friends across continents and oceans.

Might flying boats be in for a big revival? According to a recent article in the Daily Mail, British engineers and scientists are studying the possibilities for giant flying boats in the future of air travel. Considering the burgeoning demand for air routes around the world, they believe it makes sense to use bodies of water near transport hubs in lieu of new airports, which are fantastically expensive to build.

Unlike the Boeing flying boat seen here, the flying boat design they advocate is a huge mono-hull airframe—a kind of a flying wing with a hull-shaped bottom. (FYI, the Boeing 314 Clipper was the inspiration for the Como Eagle in which Johnny flies in Johnny Graphic and the Etheric Bomb.)

Is it likely to happen? Not any time soon. But if the world’s appetite for air travel keeps growing at the present rate, the flying boat might just be the answer.

To read the Daily Mail article, click here. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tardigrades – Superheroes of Nature

TV is swarming with superheroes these days, from the Flash and Arrow to the Agents of Shield and Daredevil. They’re everywhere, and even more are on the way.

It so happens that your house, your backyard, the little lake down in the park, almost any place, in fact, is also swarming with a very different kind of superhero…who is smaller than a poppy seed and able to perform incredible feats.

It is the nearly indestructible tardigrade, a tiny, cute little guy with eight pudgy little legs and some very sharp teeth. The tardigrade has made it through all the great extinctions of history and will probably outlive humans.

27F8FCAC-1DD8-B71C-072A34F95D976798

Tardigrades can survive at close to absolute zero. They can survive near volcanic ducts under the sea. They can survive in the vacuum and cosmic rays of outer space. They can spend years in dehydration and come back to life. True, they only live about a year, but when they’re alive, they can’t be licked.

They are truly superheros of nature, the toughest critters on earth.

The BBC recently had a great article about them on its website. Check it out here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Great Review for Johnny/Zombies at Reading with Cats

Chris Hooker at the Reading with Cats blog just posted a very nice review of Johnny Graphic and the Attack of the Zombies.

She wrote that I did “an excellent job continuing the adventures of young boy photographer, Johnny Graphic and his friends.” And “The classic style of the writing reminds me of Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mysteries. It is a great throwback with a modern twist.”

You can read the entire review—and check out the rest of Chris’s excellent book review blog—by clicking here.

thumbnail_edited-2

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Building Worlds with Frank Herbert—The Conception of Dune

FrankHerbert 275copyThe Johnny Graphic series of ghost adventures belongs to a genre of fantasy/science fiction called “Alternative History.” And in order to tell these stories, I needed to create a world of 1935 somewhat like our own world in 1935, but different in important ways—most notably the scientific, factual existence of ghosts and zombies. It isn’t world-building from scratch, but it is world-building nonetheless. It’s this fictional framework that makes the story credible and real-seeming.

Recently, the first Johnny book, Johnny Graphic and the Etheric Bomb, received a very thoughtful and positive review on Amazon—the kind of review that warms the cockles of an author’s heart. But it’s the part of the review that compares my “Eight Laws of Etheristics” to Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics” that makes me proudest. You can read the complete review here. 

The review and the notion of world-building got me thinking about the great world-builders of science fiction and fantasy, from Edgar Rice Burroughs and J. R. R. Tolkien to J. K. Rowling and Paolo Bacigalupi and Neal Stephenson. Most especially, it reminded me of the afternoon I spent with one of the greatest world-builders—Frank Herbert, the creator of Dune.

During my interview with him, Herbert told me he had wanted to write a novel on the desire in Western societies for messiahs—someone on a white horse who comes to fix the sorry mess we’re in. He spent two or three years researching the topic.

Then he wrote a magazine story on how the USDA was controlling sand dunes in Oregon. And he had a eureka moment.

He realized that a world of dunes and its harsh environment would be the perfect place for a messiah to rise and surge out among the vast entirety of human civilization. Thus, Herbert’s amazing world-building.

Messiah + dunes = an incredible, alien future for humanity.

Herbert and I had lunch together that day, did the interview in his hotel room, then went for a long walk in the late-winter rain. In addition to being a great world-builder, he was just a really  nice guy. He wasn’t around long enough. But his world of dunes and messiahs and giant sand worms is as close to immortal as any science fiction can be.

You can find my interview with him in my Kindle e-book, Four Science Fiction Masters. For the Epub version, click here. The book also contains my interviews with Fred Pohl, Cliff Simak, and Gordon Dickson.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Theodore Roosevelt on Daring Greatly

TRportrait“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” –Theodore Roosevelt

Let’s face it. To achieve any kind of big success, you have to grind it out and endure failure and rejection. If that failure and rejection stops you in your tracks… Well then, no big success. There are very few Power Ball winners in real life.

The famous quote above, from the 26th president of the U.S., sums it up pretty succinctly. And he knew whereof he spoke.

TR was a sickly child who forced himself to get fit and stay fit. He was bound and determined to achieve greatness, but endured tragedy along the way. Consider this: His mother died two days after his first child was born. That very same day, in the same house, his wife died, as well.

TR’s quote, from a speech he gave in Paris after he left the White House, has been with me since I was a kid. I picked up this copy in a Duluth cafeteria when I was in high school.

Scan 2

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Great New Review for Johnny Graphic

My middle-grade ghost adventure, Johnny Graphic and the Etheric Bomb, has been out a while now. But it’s still collecting great reviews. Just this week, Jessica Kosinski of A Book a Day Reviews posted her impressions of my 1930s pulp-style yarn, awarding it five stars! Here’s some of what she had to say:

There are a few things that I like about this book. One of them is the idea of ghosts co-existing with, and even being able to interact with, human beings. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, you have to admit that the idea is intriguing. I also enjoyed the fact that the author went out of his way to give each ghost in the story his or her own unique personality…

Another thing I enjoyed about the book is that it takes place in an alternate 1935. The locations all have different names than you might expect. There was a Civil War of sorts that ended differently from the Civil War we all know, causing a different division of countries, and a different governmental system. Granted, that also meant that I, as the reader, had to just accept certain things as fact and didn’t have a lot of familiar reference points, but I liked the imagination behind the concept.

I give Johnny Graphic and the Etheric Bomb 5 out of 5 stars. It was well-written, entertaining, and featured well-rounded characters. I felt like the writing was appropriate for the intended age group as well. Most importantly, it left me wanting more, as book one in a series always should.

To read Jessica’s full review, and check out the rest of A Book a Day Reviews, just click here.

FYI, the e-book version of my first Johnny Graphic book is on sale in June for only 99 cents.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment