After a hiatus of three years, I’ve started writing the third and final Johnny adventure—tentatively titled Johnny Graphic and the Last Ghost. I’d been thinking about the story for a long time, but one can brainstorm and outline only so much.
This story takes Johnny and his friends to Okkatek Island to search for the ancient wizard Morbrec—from whom Percy Rathbone has taken dangerous knowledge. But Johnny, it turns out, has other ideas. Ideas that lead him into great danger.
To refresh your memory (and mine) about how ghosts work in Johnny’s world, here are the Eight Laws of Etheristics:
Ghosts—also known as specters, wraiths, sprites, spirits, phantoms, phantasms, and spooks—are the sentient remains of deceased humans and animals.
Ghosts exist non-corporeally in the forms and with the perquisites in which and with which they died, in a non-material universe parallel but contingent to our own, called “The Ether.”
Ghosts are creatures of free will.
Ghosts may exercise their free will by serving living humans and—and thus endowed by living “effectuators”—assume a degree of corporeality required to perform the tasks requested of them in our material universe.
Ghosts’ corporeality—including use of implements they may have utilized when alive—finds expression as it is needed and vanishes when it is not, often in the blink of an eye. The duration and efficacy of this phenomenon can vary, however, for reasons not yet understood.
Ghosts who are engaged corporeally in any activity that may harm living humans or animals are subject to the same injuries as the living—though they cannot be killed a second time.
Ghosts are free at any time to withdraw from their arrangements in service to practicing etherists, and others with the capacity to see and hear them, but thereby lose the benefits of corporeality.
Practicing etherists and others with the capacity to see and hear etherians are free to end arrangements with them, thereby terminating the ghosts’ benefits of corporeality.
A while ago I was rooting through a dresser drawer and found my dad’s old Silvana watch. The story was that he wore it when he was out in the Pacific as an Army corpsman in WWII. He stormed ashore one time and the “Waterproof” watch proved not to be. The rust on the hands is from that salty Pacific water. Amazingly, when I wound the watch, it still worked.
Johnny Graphic, the 12-year-old hero in my two middle-grade adventures, is a real camera nerd. He loves them and makes good use of them in his job as a news photographer. Johnny begins with a big Zoom press camera. In the second book he shoots with a Ritterflex twin-lens reflex. In the final book, he’ll be using a 35mm camera not unlike a 1930s-era Leica.
Recently I ran across a terrific website devoted to historical cameras—Virginia’s Camera Heritage Museum. Their gallery of cameras includes just about every important film camera type and brand you can think of, with great images of the old cameras. Each camera depicted also has it own history briefly described. Just click here to go the gallery.
The cameras shown here are from the museum’s collection and most closely reflect the cameras that Johnny uses as he tries to save the world from ghostly catastrophe, one picture at a time. In fact, in the first book he discovers that his big Zoom camera makes a swell weapon, much to the dismay of one very nasty wraith.
After I got through with animal stories and tramp steamer adventures as a kid, I moved into sci fi and fantasy, and stayed there for something like thirty years. It’s an incredibly rich, thought-provoking vein of reading pleasure. And if you haven’t dipped into it, there’s no time like the present.
Wired just published a great list of sci fi and fantasy classics that will get any new fan started—books and movies both. There are classic novels like Dune, The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Foundation Trilogy, and newer faves such as Neal Stephenson, Hugh Howey, and J.K. Rowling. Movies/TV shows include Blade Runner, Alien, Total Recall, Dark City, and Firefly. There are some authors new to me, too, that I’ll have to check out, including Lev Grossman, Ernest Cline, and Ann Leckie.
Just click here to go to the Wired list.
One of the things I loved doing when I was writing the first two Johnny Graphic novels was my research about the age of the flying boat. That was in the 1920s and ’30s, when the big international airline routes were being flown by aircraft that landed and took off in water—planes like the great Pan Am Clipper, the Boeing 314. Johnny and his chums spent a lot of time flying around the globe in the Como Eagle (my version of the 314) and the tri-motor Gianelli float plane (that was a copy of an Italian aircraft).
So when I run across any news relating to flying boats or other aquatic aircraft, I like to share it here. And today in The Verge, I ran across this item about a new amphibious seaplane called the Icon A5.
The basic A5 will sell for $200,000, which for a new airplane is not that expensive. As the article suggests, maybe folks will buy one of these instead of that new Ferrari. It’s a simple aircraft meant to be flown during the day, at lower altitude, in clear weather, outside of any heavy traffic. You can learn to fly it in only 20 hours. It’ll break down to travel on a trailer and the engine even runs on ordinary gasoline.
I guess I’ll just have to wait to get that Ferrari. I’ll take the Icon A5 instead.
Many years ago, at Christmastime, my mother and I went to an old bookstore called the Bookpost, not too far from the house where I did most of my growing up. It operated in a former post office and it was a delightful place to browse through the shelves. I vividly remember that day, because it was one of the last times I saw my mother looking healthy—before a serious illness claimed her final year and a half. She had given me my marching orders: Find four or five books you’d really like. It was her Christmas present to me in her second-to-last holiday season.
I picked several books that I’ve totally forgotten about. But one was something special, something my mother had heard about, called An Exaltation of Larks, by James Lipton. It was a slender volume devoted almost entirely to the collective nouns that describe groups of people and animals—gaggle, flock, herd, school, host, things like that. Here are some examples.
A murder of crows…A gang of elk…A melody of harpists…A clowder of cats…A scurry of squirrels…A bouquet of pheasants…A bevy of beauties…A skulk of foxes…An odium of politicians…A failing of students…A parliament of owls…A murmuration of starlings
The book is full of hundreds of these delightful collective names. I thought of it recently, when I saw a piece by Jim Gilbert in the Star Tribune newspaper, talking about collective names of birds. He pointed out that the same bird can have several collective names. For example, geese are different depending on where they are. On dry land, they are a flock. On the water they are a gaggle. Up in the air they are a skein.
Inspired, I’ve tried to come up with a few new collective names of my own devising. A scribble of writers. A daub of painters. A shower of meteorologists. A chirp of crickets. A hatchet of butchers. A squint of readers. A trumpet of elephants. A rumble of tympanists. A docket of judges.
An Exaltation of Larks is still in print after nearly fifty years. If you love names and language, you owe it to yourself to get hold of a copy.
You’d have to live on Mars (or perhaps the ice planet Hoth) to have missed the rising crescendo of publicity for this holiday season’s biggest flick: Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
The toys and collectibles are starting to come out. (That little round rolling robot is seriously cool. He’ll be getting underfoot everywhere this winter.) But details about the film itself remain under wraps, subject to the severe legal sanctions of Disney. We only know that the original crew is back (Ford, Fisher, Hamill) and new hot actors like Oscar Isaac are making their first appearances in George Lucas’s old galaxy.
Another beloved Star Wars actor just gave a fun interview to the Guardian. Anthony Daniels, CP30, shared what little he could, given the legal embargo on any details about the film. He himself was spanked by Disney for mentioning another actor in an innocent Tweet.
He notes that the prequels of 15 years ago were a pretty dismal affair. (I couldn’t agree more.) But his report from the set this time around is encouraging:
“All the signs are that The Force Awakens will be different. ‘It became clear early on that with JJ we were getting back to the old-fashioned kind of film-making. We have walls. Actual sets! All right, so you might not have a view out of the window, but you have a window. Now, what else can I tell you?’ [Daniels] mulls something over, then says: ‘No, I can’t tell you that.'”
You can read Daniels’s interview here.
I was among the first thousands to ever see the original. I was a newspaper editor and got an invite to the screening in Minneapolis. I loved it and knew it was a game changer for the movies and science fiction. But after the first two in the series, the four follow-on films disappointed me a lot. I also feel a little foreboding, because I’m no fan of J. J. Abrams’s two Star Trek movies.
Nonetheless, sometime this holiday season Sue and I will be ponying up our sixteen bucks to once again visit that galaxy far, far away.