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.

zombieswordpress_edited-1

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.

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Johnny Is Available at Common Good Books

This is just a heads up for Twin Cities Johnny Graphic fans–the paperback edition of Johnny Graphic and the Etheric Bomb is available at Common Good Books in St. Paul. Located at the busy corner of Snelling and Grand, CGB is one of the classiest and smartest of Twin Cities bookstores. Even if you’re not in the market for a copy of Johnny, it’s well worth a stop and a browse.

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Johnny Graphic’s New Adventure: Out Later This Summer

Those of you who read Johnny Graphic and the Etheric Bomb may have wondered what happened next to our 12-year-old news photographer. Well, you won’t have to wait much longer.

Johnny Graphic and the Attack of the Zombies, the second book in the trilogy, will be out later this summer. And it’s packed with action as Johnny, Mel, and Nina head off to Dame Honoria’s homeland for yet another deadly encounter with that devious, demented ghost, Percy Rathbone.

I’ll be posting more updates about the new book on this website. But for now, here’s what the back cover blurb for the book will say:

Fresh from saving the lives of millions of people, Johnny Graphic 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 home town. 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 have to 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.

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If Johnny Was In the Movies

The odds of Johnny Graphic being made into a movie are probably about the same as my winning the Power Ball. But an author can dream, can’t he?

If Johnny’s story is made into a movie, I don’t see it as a live-action film with digital effects. I would think the cost of doing all those ghosts with computers would be hugely expensive. That’s why I figure Johnny would be perfect for an anime-type film. Those great Japanese animators can do ghosts like gangbusters.

And as long as I’m dreaming out loud on this blog, why not have Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli do it?

I’m a huge fan of their films. There are timeless classics like Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro, which are great even for young kids. Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away are a little darker, a little scarier–but fantastic in their own ways. Porco Rosso is a terrific fantasy/romance set in a 1930s Mediterranean, complete with flying boats and air pirates; a world similar to Johnny’s. If you haven’t seen these movies, starting watching them tonight!

And the voices for the anime Johnny? Well, for Johnny and Nina I don’t know. Just good kid actors. For some of the grownup characters: as Mel, Zoe Kazan; Pam Ferris for Dame Honoria; John C. Reilly for Uncle Louie; Sam Elliott for Colonel MacFarlane; J.K. Simmons for Mr. Cargill. You get the idea.

If this miracle ever happens, I’ll post it here and you’ll be the first to know.

FYI, the sequel to Johnny Graphic and the Etheric Bomb is rapidly taking shape. In fact, I’m about ready to send off the newest draft to the editor whom I work with. Johnny Graphic and the Attack of the Zombies should be out later this summer.

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The Last Bluecoat

If you’ve read Johnny Graphic and the Etheric Bomb, you know that Johnny’s #1 ghost sidekick is a dead cavalry officer from the First Border War, Colonel MacFarlane. In Johnny’s world, that war was the equivalent of the U.S.’s Civil War. Of course, in our Civil War, the north won and the south remained part of the union. In the fictional First Border War, the south won and the formerly united country broke up into four different countries.

When I was a kid I was such a Civil War nerd that I had Civil War wallpaper in my bedroom–a reproduction of the Vicksburg, Mississippi, newspaper from the town’s famous 1863 siege. One reason I was fascinated with the war was because of man who had lived in my hometown, Duluth, Minnesota. He died there in 1956 at the age of 109 and was one of the most highly honored men in America. Why?

Albert Woolson had been the very last living Union (northern) veteran of the Civil War, the last Bluecoat. By some accounts, he was the last verifiable living veteran of the Civil War on either side. Here are a couple photos of his grave and memorial plaque.

WoolsonPlaque WoolsonGrave

While his father died from wounds sustained at the Battle of Shiloh, Woolson himself never saw actual action during the war. But as a teenager he had been a drummer boy in the First Minnesota Heavy Artillery. He wouldn’t have been much older than Johnny Graphic is during the course of his adventures.

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The Johnny Graphic Discussion Guide Is Now Available

Many of you have suggested that I create a guide for readers who want to get the most from Johnny Graphic’s adventures. The result is this new Reader’s Guide, which is full of thought-provoking discussion questions, challenging new vocabulary, and entertaining activity ideas–all to extend the book’s experience. The Guide is suitable for classroom use or for individual readers at home. You can download the free PDF by clicking on “Reader’s Guide” in the menu above.

I welcome any comments or questions about the Guide. I hope you find it enjoyable and useful.

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Another Young Photographer

As a news photographer, Johnny Graphic can only be called a prodigy. He does something on a professional level at a young age. In the real world, of course, this sort of thing doesn’t happen very often. But since the world of Johnny Graphic and the Etheric Bomb is my world, I can do just about anything there that I want–so long as I’m consistent. And I say that Johnny is a crack news lensman. So there.

Also, there’s a bit of envy involved. I was very impressed by the photographers at the newspaper where my grandfather was a sports writer. I vividly remember when I hung out in the photo department as a teenager. It was the first time I really remember smelling those unmistakable darkroom chemicals. And it was one of the things that gave me the photo bug. I knew I wanted to be a photographer. But they weren’t hiring kids, unlike the Zenith Clarion. So I undertook my own assignments as a street photographer. That means I simply photographed life on the street–people coming and going and living their lives.

Here’s one of the early shots that I took, of a mother and her sons at a downtown parade. Nobody looks too excited, but they do look real.

Mother and Sons

My particular inspiration for pursuing this kind of photography was the Frenchman Henri Cartier-Bresson. I tried really hard to imitate his style of street photography. I was never as good as him, but I’d like to think I did a decent job for someone so young. Here’s where you can see some of his famous pictures.

From time to time, I’ll post more of these shots from my youth.

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Imagining Old Number One

One of the key action sequences in Johnny Graphic and the Etheric Bomb takes place on a small island in the Greater Ocean (Pacific), near the country of Rotonesia (Indonesia). This remote island is called Old Number One and it is an abandoned cassava plantation that had been owned by Dame Honoria’s father. (Cassava is the root crop used to make tapioca pudding.) Needless to say, Johnny and his friends have an exciting and dangerous sojourn on Old Number One.

Someone who read the book recently asked me how I thought up Old Number One. All of the locations in the book are based, in part, on places that I’ve visited. Zenith, for example, is modeled on the town I grew up in–Duluth, Minnesota. Old Number One is based on a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean. But what’s my connection to it?

I used to be a travel writer. And perhaps the biggest trip I took was out to Micronesia, in the western Pacific. I visited the island nations of Yap and Palau. And while I was there I had the chance to spend a weekend on the little island of Peleliu, a part of Palau. This was a particularly meaningful visit for me.

During World War II there had been a terrible battle on Peleliu between Japanese forces and the U. S. Marines and Army. My dad was an Army medic there during the battle and he would never talk to me about it. I think it must have been a horrible experience that he wanted to forget. But I was always curious about the place.

Peleliu is a hot, humid, tropical backwater full of jungle undergrowth. There is a little village and a small population living around the island. What struck me most about Peleliu, though, was its geology. The island is made of ancient sea-bottom formations that heaved up out of the ocean and created Peleliu and its ridges of coral. These “coral mountains” form the spine of the island. The caves in them provided tenacious defensive positions for the Japanese during the battle. Here’s my photo of one of the coral hills, called “Radio Hill,” as it looks now.

PeleliuRadioHill

Here’s an old Army photo from my dad’s scrapbook of one of the coral hills after the 1944 battle, with all its vegetation stripped away by artillery bombardment. Can you see the man in front and the two Sherman tanks on the top of the hill?

Peleliu1

I wanted these coral hills to play a part in Johnny Graphic, and they are central to Johnny’s trek across Old Number One. I wanted to convey how sharp and nasty the coral rock was. You didn’t want to fall on it, or it could cut you up.

I also wanted the heat and the bugs to play roles. When I was on Peleliu, my legs got bitten all over by black flies. The bites became infected–dozens of red dots all over my legs. I had to take two courses of antibiotics. Here’s how I put Johnny through something similar:

“Leaves and branches and thorns grabbed at the three kids at every step. Johnny took the lead and had to slash the undergrowth with a machete. Clouds of insects swarmed around, pestering and biting.”

It all comes down to the fact that we draw on the encyclopedias that are our brains when we write any kind of fiction or poetry–taking what we need from an experience here and a memory there. My visit to Peleliu was so vivid, so memorable, that I’ve always wanted to create a fictional island just like it. And the result is Old Number One.

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Tricky Names

If you happen to have an unusual first or last name, you’ve probably run into people who mispronounce it. In place of a first name I use my initials, D. R. (A lot of writers do.) When I’m talking to a stranger on the phone I have an especially hard time communicating my name. I have to slowly say, “D period R period.” Because otherwise they sometimes think my first name is “Dear.” Or people will call me “Doctor”–because my name has the same letters as the title “Dr.” (Because of that I often get junk mail addressed to Mr. Dr. Martin.)

In Johnny Graphic there are a few names that folks might pronounce in different ways. Here’s a list of some of them and how I pronounce them.

First, there’s Nina Bain. Though some people might pronounce her name as NEEN-ah, I pronounce it NINE-ah–rhyming with China.

Dame Honoria’s name is pronounced: Ah-NOR-ee-ah. The H is silent.

The Steppe Warrior Burilgi’s name is pronounced with a hard g sound, Burr-ILL-gee.

The female Steppe Warrior Checheg’s name is pronounced CHE-chig.

Bao, the little girl ghost, is simply Bow…as in, “The rock star took a bow.”

Of course, if you want to pronounce these names differently, it’s fine with me. The important thing is that you enjoy these characters and their adventures.

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Writing Book 2: Sometimes You Need a Road Map

When I first started writing Johnny Graphic and the Etheric Bomb, I knew that telling Johnny’s story would take at least three books. And now that JGEB is out in the world as an e-book and a print-on-demand book (just click on the sidebar to check it out), it’s time to move on to Book 2.

Even when I was writing JGEB, I knew in a general sense what kind of adventures Johnny would have in the second book. It would involve a terrible outbreak of zombie attacks in the Royal Kingdom, almost certainly due to the main villain of JGEB. (I won’t mention his name, to avoid a major spoiler here.) Johnny, Nina, and the rest would be called to help deal with this infestation of zombies. After all, they had a great deal of experience fighting our bad guy in the first book. Of course, they face many obstacles and dangers along the way. I knew what some of the major incidents in the book would be, and approximately where Johnny would end up.

But unlike some writers who create their books with no written plan, improvising as they go along, I like to have an outline—a road map, you might say. So I wrote down brief descriptions of chapters, from the beginning of Book 2 to the end. Then I used it as a step-by-step guide, writing chapters based on this road map. But the funny thing is that as you write the book, your ideas change and the road shifts directions. So the road map has to change.

For instance, I wrote a couple of chapters from the point of view of Johnny’s sister, Mel. But Mel–a kind of serious personality, as readers of JGEB will know–wasn’t very interesting. So I had to reassign those chapters to the little girl ghost Bao, who’s a lot more fun.

Right now I’ve written 30,000 words of the first draft of Book 2. I’m almost halfway through, and I expect my road map to shift a few more times before I’m done. And there will be much more rewriting after the first draft is finished. (Remember, unless you’re very good, your first draft is just a place to begin.)

So I guess my advice to anyone who’s writing a novel or thinking of writing one is this: Be sure to lay out a road map for your book. It will make writing it much easier. But don’t be afraid to shift course when some new scenery beckons.

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