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

Yike! Vike Bike!


Last Saturday I was out enjoying a cup of coffee near West River Parkway in Minneapolis, when this vision of bicyclistic inspiration rolled into my field of view. Just thought I would share it with readers of this blog. Note the decorations at either bow: bicycle sprockets!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Johnny and the Zombies Free Kindle Giveaway in December

Here’s a heads-up for folks who’ve read the first Johnny Graphic book…

On December 5 through 9 I’ll be giving away the Kindle version of Johnny Graphic and the Attack of the Zombies on Amazon. This is your chance to catch up on Johnny’s adventures in the Royal Kingdom. Hope you enjoy it!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Johnny Graphic Giveaways

To celebrate the upcoming publication of Johnny Graphic and the Attack of the Zombies, I’ve set up a giveaway on Goodreads. The giveaway offers three paperback copies and runs through October 22. For your chance to win a copy of the new Johnny Graphic adventure, just click here.

Also, the first book in the series, Johnny Graphic and the Etheric Bomb, will be given away as a Kindle e-book on Amazon, from October 4 through 6. You can download the book for free on those dates by clicking right here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Here’s the New Johnny Graphic Cover!

This is a special preview for all you Johnny Graphic fans. Here’s the cover of the new book, Johnny Graphic and the Attack of the Zombies. Just as he did a year ago, artist Steve Thomas did a terrific job this time around.


Johnny Graphic and the Attack of the Zombies will be available in mid-September. Fresh from saving the lives of millions of people, Johnny and his friends are drawn into another rip-roaring ghost adventure.

This time an army of monstrous bog zombies has appeared out of nowhere to ravage the northern counties of the Royal Kingdom. They’re rampaging, burning, and smashing everything in sight. And they’re capturing kids for reasons too horrible to even contemplate. Johnny, his best friend Nina Bain, and his sister Mel are summoned to help defeat the evil genius thought to be behind this nefarious plot–Percy Rathbone! The very same ghost who created the etheric bomb. Who nearly destroyed Johnny’s hometown. And who was the last person to see Johnny’s parents before they disappeared.

Cut off from all help in the grim, foggy northern wilderness, the young news photographer and his companions must fight for their very survival while they try to rescue the kids who have been taken. But Percy has something much more dangerous in mind. And Johnny has to stop him before it’s too late.

The fate of the Royal Kingdom depends on it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment