The Sloppy Art of Survival

Note: This post comes from John’s weekly newsletter, The Daly Grind:

Last week, a ‘Daly Grind’ reader suggested that I include a “current reading list” in my newsletter, to let you all know which books I’ve been reading, along with offering some recommendations.

I told him it was a great idea. The problem is that I haven’t been reading many books lately. While summer’s traditionally been a perfect time for people to catch up on their reading (while on vacation or sitting on a porch at home), I’ve been pretty busy with a number of projects (including some finalizing of Restitution).

This is certainly to my loss, being that reading books — especially ones rich in content — is always helpful to writers. It stokes inspiration and motivation in their own work.

With that in mind, I figured that I’d talk this week about an old book that served as some very early inspiration for the Sean Coleman Thrillers… though it wasn’t recognized as such when I read it way back in 1984: Deathwatch by Robb White.

I was in junior-high at the time, and just between you and me, I hated books. I really did. In fact, the entire concept of pleasure reading was lost on me. A full-length book felt like too much of a time sink, and as far as I was concerned, all the good ones had already been turned into movies. With that being the case, why not just watch the movie?

I was completely wrong, of course (about all of that), but what can I say? I was a kid.

Anyway, the only times I’d read a book (in its entirety) was when a school teacher would assign one in class… for which I’d later be quizzed on, or have to write a report.

One day, my Language Arts teacher instructed us students to choose a novel from a large classroom bookcase. It was filled with thin, age-appropriate paperbacks. When it was my turn to thumb through the selection (which I remember doing with great disinterest), a particular cover stood out to me. It featured the image of an old Jeep, seemingly abandoned along a cracked desert floor. In the foreground was a canteen and hunting rifle. It screamed intrigue, even down to the title’s red military-style font.

Of course, you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but that’s exactly what I did that day. And for that act of shallowness, I am forever grateful. The 1972 novel by author Robb White drew me into a gritty tale of survival that I’ve never forgotten.

The story revolves around a timid, financially broke college student named Ben, who is hired as a hunting guide by a wealthy lawyer named Madec. Madec has received a special permit to hunt bighorn sheep in the Mojave Desert, and Ben (who has some desert experience as a geology major) is there to assist him.

Things go south pretty quickly when Madec shoots and kills an old prospector, mistaking him — at a distance — for a sheep. Ben is adamant that they report the shooting, but Madec, fearful over the legal trouble, decides otherwise. When he realizes that Ben won’t be deterred, Madec concocts a story that Ben went crazy, shot the prospector himself, and then ran off. And to make the story stick, Madec forces Ben (at gunpoint) to strip down to his shorts, and walk out into the desert, without water, where he is sure to die of exposure. Madec keeps an eye on him through the scope of his rifle to make sure he doesn’t return.

Robb White did an excellent job of telling the story through the eyes of Ben — a character whose innocence, ill-preparedness, and raw desperation are easily identified with by the reader. We’re right there beside Ben, making the same mistakes under terrible circumstances, as he clumsily and savagely fights to stay alive. It’s what I call the sloppy art of survival.

There was something about reading the book, as opposed to watching a film version, that served as a bit of an instruction guide on how to convincingly construct such elements in the written word.

I’ve found myself drawn to lots of stories of survival over the years (both fiction and non-fiction). And as a thriller author, I try hard to develop that same organic sense of edge-of-your-seat “sloppiness” in my writing. To me, a protagonist who is in control and comes into situations with an edge over his or her adversaries isn’t quite as interesting… or quite as real.

While Sean Coleman is by no means the innocent kid that Ben is (or any kind of kid for that matter), he’s often out of his element in the situations he finds himself in. The plans he concocts in his mind aren’t always bad ones, but they’re prone to being swallowed up by quickly changing conditions and a lack of expertise.

In real life, impulsiveness is a more genuine reaction to adversity than calm, rational thinking. I think it’s also a crucial component in good storytelling.

In my upcoming book, Restitution, survival impulsivity takes center stage. And just between you and me, I’d been wanting to write a desert survival story for a while — in part because of my nostalgic affection for Deathwatch.

Four books into the series, I decided it was finally time.


Do you have a favorite survival story (fiction or non-fiction)? Tell me about it in the comment section below, or by sending me an email.

Fun with Marketing Tools

I’ve touched on this before, but something a lot of readers don’t realize is that most authors take on most of the marketing responsibilities for their own books. As such, I’m always on the lookout for new ideas and tools to help get my novels in front of more eyes.

I recently signed up with a website that lets customers superimpose their branding images over a large library of stock photos (which is perfect for social media marketing). And the results, in my opinion, look pretty good:

The available mockup images go well beyond just book covers, so I had a little fun the other day, producing the below silliness and sharing it on social media along with the “announcement” that I had begun employing “yoga street teams” to help get the word out about my Sean Coleman Thrillers.

I figured it would be good for a laugh, but as it turned out, a number of people didn’t realize I was joking. 😂

So, to set the record straight, I am in fact not using yoga street teams (nor mat teams) to promote the Sean Coleman thrillers, nor is there any officially-licensed Sean Coleman attire out there… at least at this point.

But hey, if anyone wants to pass along their enjoyment of my books at their local gym, that would be great. I’d appreciate it. And if any of you are interested in Sean Coleman merchandise (besides the books), let me know. I suppose it’s possible there’s a market for such a thing.

Please Get Vaccinated

In recent newsletters, I’ve been referring to the pandemic in past-tense, but COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are on the rise again in the United States (after months of decline). About 97% of COVID hospitalizations and over 99% of the deaths are happening to people who have not been fully vaccinated.

I try to avoid getting into politics in the newsletter, but I will say this: the politicians and media figures who’ve been stoking doubt in the effectiveness of the vaccines, and hyping exceptionally rare side-effects (that are experienced by an extraordinarily small number of people), are not doing the rest of us any favors. And frankly, almost all (if not all) of those high-profile supposed skeptics have already been vaccinated themselves… even if they’re not publicly admitting it.

I don’t want anyone else to suffer or pass away from this disease (including the comment-section trolls who frequent my political columns 😉), especially when such good protection from it is widely available.

If you’ve avoided getting vaccinated up until now, I ask that you please — for you and your family — look at the objective numbers, and think about reconsidering. Together we can stomp this pandemic out.

Upcoming Event

Mark your calendars, local folks. My first in-person author event since before the pandemic will be on October 25th at the Riverside Library and Cultural Center in Evans, CO. I’m looking forward to getting back out there and talking to people about books and writing.

Click here for details.

Random Thought

Obligatory Dog Shot

Like a system of tree roots.

Featured Vinyl

When I was a kid in the mid 1980s, just about everyone my age owned an LP or cassette of Phil Collins’ hugely successful album, No Jacket Required. I think it’s fair to call that record iconic, from the well-recognized cover shot of a red-faced Collins to the number of mainstream hits it spawned.

That may be one of the reasons why his prior album, 1982’s “Hello, I Must Be Going!” isn’t widely remembered. That’s a shame because the drum-heavy “I Don’t Care Anymore” is a freakin’ great song, incorporating the same tone and feel as “In the Air Tonight,” but with a coolness all its own.

“No more, no more. No more, no more. No more, no more.”

But that wasn’t even the album’s biggest hit. Collins’ cover of The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” boasted that title. As a kid, I wasn’t quite as sold on that tune, but I came to appreciate it more with age.

Anyway, it’s a solid album and definitely worth revisiting.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.

Want to drop me a line? You can email me at, and also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you haven’t subscribed to this newsletter yet, please click on the “Subscribe now” button below. Doing so will get these posts emailed directly to you.

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Also, if you’re not caught up on my Sean Coleman Thrillers, you can pick the entire series up at a great price on Amazon. And if you’re interested in signed, personalized copies of my books, you can order them directly from my website.

Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!

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