Tied Up With Tie-Ins: Introductory post!

For those of you who are tuning in late or just passing by because you’ve heard the rumors, I have a confession to make: I write tie-in novels. To help folks who don’t know what that means, we’re talking about books springing from an existing entertainment property, such as a movie, television series, video game, and so on.

Specifically, I’ve written a cartload of Star Trek novels. It wasn’t a career aspiration or anything like that. I just sort of fell into it after following what is admittedly a very unlikely path to regular, paid publication. I’ll be the first to tell you that what ended up happening is damned screwy. Why do this kind of writing? Because it’s damned fun, for one thing, but also because they pay me, which when you say it out loud is definitely kind of weird.

In addition to Star Trek, I’ve also dabbled in a few other properties: The 4400, 24, Mars Attacks, Planet of the Apes, and Predator. Given the opportunity, there are other franchises I’d love to play around in. Every so often, a movie comes along and I wish I was the guy they’d called to write the novelization – adapting the film’s script for novel form. That sort of thing is something of a dying art these days, but when I was a kid and young(er) adult? Such books were everywhere. Now when I look back at older tie-ins – be they adaptations or spin-off novels based on a particular property – I start to wonder if I was born a decade or two too late and missed the heyday of this often overlooked, misunderstood, and underappreciated corner of the publishing world.

Which brings me the point of this post: Before I started writing tie-ins, I read them. A lot of them. Heck, I still read them. Of course, these days such reading tends to be divided between different points of focus:

  1. Enjoyment. Such books are still fun, particularly when written by someone I now am able to call friend thanks to my own writing experiences.
  2. “Keeping an eye on the state of the industry.” Seeing what’s working (and not working), and how the business of publishing such works continues to evolve in a world increasingly cluttered with alternative modes of entertainment.
  3. Petty jealousy, as in “Oh maaaannnn! I wish I’d gotten to do this.”

Books based on favorite TV series and movies were a huge chunk of my leisure reading in the 1970s and 80s. Star Trek was there, of course, but also other shows: Planet of the Apes. The Six Million Dollar Man. Space: 1999. Battlestar Galactica. Oh my.

And films? Holy crap, people. That list is huuuuuge. As a collector, I still have a whole bunch of those books, along with a healthy selection of pulp/action-adventure novels published during that same period. You know, stuff like Mack Bolan/The Executioner, Remo Williams/The Destroyer, MIA Hunter, etc. Yeah, that’s another niche of publishing I largely missed out on. As it happens, these qualify as being “tie-ins,” too, because they’re almost always written as work-for-hire projects where the contributing writer doesn’t own the parent brand/series/property/etc.

Where was I? Oh, right. Tie-ins.

Anyway, I decided the other day that I want to revisit some of these older books/book series. Not to review them, though I won’t be able to help pointing out charms and flaws here and there, but instead just as a nostalgic jog down Memory Lane. The world of tie-ins has been good to me, both as a reader and a writer, and I figure it’d be fun to go back and take a fresh look at some of these books, many of which have been in my collection for decades.

So, what does this mean for you? Well, it means that every so often, you’ll find a new installment of “Tied Up With Tie-Ins,” filled to overflowing with reminiscing and whatnot popping up here. Since tie-ins are still so very prevalent, I don’t plan to confine my musings to tales of old. Nope, I’ll use this space as an excuse to yammer a bit about more current offerings from worlds seen on TV or the silver screen (and maybe the odd video game, here and there), including some odd and even occasionally flat out bizarre selections from my library or elsewhere. After all, many of these books are/were written by friends and professional colleagues, so this is also a way to give proper shout-outs when the situation calls for it.

(So, if there’s something you want to talk about, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.)

Star Trek already gets a lot of love here, so I’ll likely steer clear of those books, most of the time. I don’t have a schedule or a real “plan” about which books I’ll tackle, or in what order. Probably something expected, like Planet of the Apes, but then what? I mean, we could go in several different directions, from the novelization of both Smokey and the Bandit *AND* Smokey and the Bandit, Part II to Lethal Weapon, Midnight Run, or Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (okay, maybe not that last one), and those are just off the top of my head. Then there are the odder selections, like a book of recipes “written” by the cook at the 4077th M*A*S*H. Yep. Not even kidding.

I guess we’ll see what we see.

Let’s tie this on, or up, or in. Whatever.

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The Veterans Voices Writing Project.

Among the various additional benefits of volunteering at the National World War I Museum and Memorial is engaging with veterans. Many of our visitors are either active or former/retired service members, and it’s easy to strike up a conversation as I’m wandering through the galleries or working out on the courtyard and taking folks up into Liberty Tower.

Our corps of volunteers range in age from late teens to late eighties and early nineties, and veterans make up a large portion of that group, from career officers to those who did just a single enlistment term. Several of these volunteers have penned books, including historical tomes or guidebooks about the Great War as well as the odd novel here and there. I’ve picked up a few of these, either to add in my ongoing study of the war or because it just sounded interesting and I wanted to support a friend and fellow writer.

When I started volunteering at the museum last year, I became reacquainted with the Veterans’ Voices Writing Project. I’d heard of the program here and there over the years but never really looked into it, so when I finally had cause to do so after finding an issue of their magazine in the museum’s volunteer lounge back in the spring, I was intrigued by what I found.

Based right here in Kansas City, the project has acted as an outreach program for veterans since the end of World War II. Veterans have been sharing their stories with the project since 1946, when the project began as the Hospitalized Veterans Writing Project working in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Volunteers went into V.A. hospitals and other facilities and encouraged service members to write down their stories as a form of therapy while recovering from their wounds. In 2015 and recognizing that not all veterans seek or are afforded easy access to this or other programs, the project expanded its scope in an effort to reach veterans outside the V.A. system.

As the VVWP website puts it:

Today, it serves all veterans with therapeutic writing programs to heal their unseen emotional and moral wounds. Veterans write about personal experiences and innermost thoughts to help manage the effects of PTSD and to reduce the risk of suicide. They also write for creative expression. It offers the opportunity for community in writing groups and to have their work published. The program continues its important work for those serving in the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf Wars. Now, with the return of injured veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan and other recent conflicts, the project is more important than ever.

Mental well-being is an important component in the health of returning military veterans. Veterans Voices Writing Project, Inc. (VVWP) a 501(c)(3) organization helps veterans heal from the physical and psychological trauma associated with military service, whether from actual combat, war training or emotional trauma. The project helps military personnel transitioning to civilian life to heal from emotional scars by encouraging them to write down their thoughts, concerns and reflections.

Using writing and other forms of creativity to help deal with all manner of personal issues is not new, of course, and neither is it even a recent development in veterans’ circles. What does seem to be a relatively recent development, however, is widespread acknowledgment of the benefits derived from such activities. The VVWP is just one group working to raise awareness about the benefits of therapeutic writing. You can read more about the program’s history by clicking here.

The magazine and the project are non-profit ventures and funded via donations. Volunteers comprise their editorial staff, each of them committed to helping veterans share their stories. Volunteers help out with everything from organizing fundraisers and other awareness campaigns to serving as writing aides to veterans and even transcribing submissions received in longhand or as audio.

I started paying attention to the effort thanks to copies of their magazine I found at the museum. Any veteran is eligible to submit their writing for consideration, and each issue presents a broad selection of personal stories, anecdotes, and poetry submitted by men and women representing all branches of the service across multiple generations. The most current issue I have on hand features pieces written by veterans of World War II all the way up through current conflicts.

If you’re a veteran (or know someone who served) and are looking for an outlet to share stories like those showcased in Veteran’s Voices’, you might consider reviewing past issues as well as their submission guidelines and why the project is important:

Veterans’ Voices – Back Issues

Submission Guidelines (pdf)

Writing as Therapy

Allowing a veteran to connect in the privacy of his or her own space and tell the nation what is going on in their world – the world that lives inside themselves – the world they served and the country they came from is awesome.”
— Rich Wangard – Neena, Wisconsin
(as quoted on the VVWP website)

Happy Birthday, Gene Coon.

Today would’ve marked the 95th birthday of writer, producer, and novelist Gene L. Coon.

Serving as a Marine during World War II and the Korean War, Coon would later channel his experiences into a pair of novels, Meanwhile, Back at the Front, and The Short End (later retitled The Short End of the Stick). Both are books you might shelve next to such irreverent tomes as Richard Hooker’s MASH, Dean Koontz’s Hanging On (written before he was *Dean Koontz*) and even Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.

Eventually making his way to Hollywood, Coon wrote scripts for a number of popular shows of the 1950s and 1960s such as Dragnet, Maverick, Bonanza, Have Gun, Will Travel, The Wild Wild West, and Wagon Train, and is also acknowledged for pitching the idea for what would become The Munsters. In the early 1970s, he wrote for shows like Kung Fu and The Streets of San Francisco, and produced the Robert Wagner series It Takes a Thief.

Somewhere in the middle of all of that, between 1966 and 1968, Coon was also one of the creative forces behind the original Star Trek.

GeneCoonWorking alongside series creator Gene Roddenberry as well as producers Herb Solow and Bob Justman and writer Dorothy Fontana, Coon was one of the show’s great influential voices. In addition to being a prolific writer who could turn out scripts in machine-like fashion (Bob Justman once called him “the fastest typewriter in the West”), he’s also credited with introducing concepts to the series such as the Klingons and the Federation’s Prime Directive, the genetically enhanced Khan Noonien Singh, and warp drive pioneer Zefram Cochrane to name some prominent examples, all of which continue to inform and guide Star Trek storytelling to this day. Some of my favorite Trek scripts, like “Space Seed,” “A Taste of Armageddon,” “The Devil In the Dark,” and (of course!) “Arena” sprang from Gene Coon’s imagination. Hell, I even have a soft spot for “Spock’s Brain.”

After Star Trek, he would partner again with Roddenberry as a co-writer for the TV film The Questor Tapes, and also was a co-writer for another Roddenberry concept that never went to series, Genesis II.

Coon died in 1973, never getting the chance to see what became of the show he helped shape and nurture. It’s unfortunate that his contributions seem to go overlooked except for the show’s most devoted fans, because there can be no denying Gene Coon’s impact not just on the original series but also the massive entertainment franchise Star Trek eventually became.

December writing wrap-up.

Aaaaaaaaaand just like that? 2018 is in the books.

Yep. 2019 is here. Lots of people are making every sort of Blade Runner joke. I’ve made one or two, myself, but for my money I think we’re closer to the imagined world of The Running Man (either Stephen King’s original novel or the “loose” Arnold Schwarzenegger film adaptation. Your pick.).

Anyway….

December 2018 brought to a close a writing year that was a bit slower than I’m used to. The lags and delays that were the order of the day in 2017 carried far enough into the subsequent year that I couldn’t quite find the higher gear without popping the clutch. I’m hoping 2019 proves to be a year of “new things” on various fronts, including writing outside what’s become my comfort zone and getting on with pursuing projects that aren’t necessarily tie-ins. We shall see, I guess.

For the moment, I continue to keep on keepin’ on while waiting for some things to shake free. With that in mind, here’s the December rundown:

Continue reading “December writing wrap-up.”

“Ten for Ward” #20 at StarTrek.com: 10 Holiday Gifts from Inside the Trek Universe!

As happens on occasion, the fine folks over at StarTrek.com have once again invited me into their little slice of ethereal space for my own patented brand of inane babbling. With the holiday shopping season in full swing, I found a way to wrap up 2018 with a new installment of my irregularly recurring series for them, “Ten for Ward.”

For those of you just tuning into the program in progress, it’s like this:  Every so often, I’m invited to provide a list of ten favorite (and hopefully interesting) Trek-related whatevers based on…well…whatever I can come up with at the time my editor reminds me of those embarrassing photos he has of me.

For this latest outing, I once again took to my Facebook page and posed a question to my followers there: “What one thing from anywhere within the Star Trek universe would you want as a gift?” Meaning, if they could receive a particular piece of technology or an alien artifact, or perhaps the opportunity to travel to a specific destination or meet an individual, and so on, what would they pick?

You probably can guess some of the answers….

 (That’s a Universal Translator in the middle, for those wondering.)

Likewise, a few of the ideas were outside of the box and even thought-provoking; just what you want from a group of fun and passionate Star Trek fans, amirite?

For the whole list, check out my full article:

Ten for Ward #20: 10 Holiday Gifts from Inside the Trek Universe

As always, these columns aren’t intended to be anything resembling a “definitive list” for anything, so feel free to offer up your own suggestions in the comments, either here or at the main article.

You can also check out all of my “Ten for Ward” columns just by clicking on this logo-ish looking thing right here:

Happy 40th Anniversary, Superman: The Movie!

Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed, but always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage.

They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all–their capacity for good–I have sent them you, my only son.

December, 1978: I was eleven, and my perception of Superman was as a guy from comic books, Saturday morning cartoons, and reruns of a 25-year old television show.

Then the lights in the theater dimmed, and I got schooled.

Superman-poster

Opening nationwide on December 15th, 1978, Superman (marketed as Superman: The Movie) was the first time a comic book character was given a serious, big-budget treatment for film or television. Until that point and beyond the comics which had featured Superman for four decades, the public’s perception of the Man of Steel largely was limited to Super Friends cartoons and the 1950s Adventures of Superman television show.

While the first two seasons of the George Reeves series attempted to tell stories aimed as much at adults as children, that faded as the show grew more popular with younger kids. Still, there are some who would argue that Superman had it better than his comics colleague, Batman, who also was a fixture of Saturday morning cartoons as well as the classic 1960s campy TV series starring Adam West.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the cartoons and TV shows as a kid, and in some ways George Reeves is still “the” Superman of my youth, but all of that got knocked down a notch with the arrival of this new retelling of his classic origin story, which continues to influence Superman tales in comics, television and film 40 years after its premiere. Further, it remains a benchmark by which most other superhero films are judged.

Directed by Richard Donner (The Omen, and who later would help to refine the whole “renegade cop on the ragged edge” trope with the Lethal Weapon films) and working from a story by the great Mario Puzo (The Godfather) and a screenplay by Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Robert Benton and Tom Mankiewicz, Superman is a sweeping coming of age tale in the true sense. The film takes its damned sweet time unspooling its version of how baby Kal-El, son of Jor-El and Lara, is launched in a spaceship from the doomed planet Krypton and sent to Earth.

There, he is found and adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent. Growing up in Smallville, Kansas, it is this upbringing which will provide him with his moral and ethical foundation as he learns of his true heritage and the immense power he possesses, until one fateful night in the great city of Metropolis when he reveals himself to the world and becomes known as Superman.

(And yes, if you think you’re noticing any Christ-like parallels, go with that feeling. Dialogue spoken by Jor-El might have you reaching for your Bible. And if you think it’s overt here, try 2006’s Superman Returns or 2013’s Man of Steel. Boy, howdy.)

Superman‘s cast is big and filled to overflowing with all sorts of names you know or should have at least heard of at some point if you’re any sort of movie fan, starting with Marlon Brando as Jor-El and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, and including solid supporting turns from the likes of Glenn Ford, Phyllis Thaxter, Jackie Cooper, Ned Beatty, Valerie Perrine and Marc McClure just to name the first bunch. Margot Kidder is the sassy, self-made reporter Lois Lane, but the whole smash would rest on the shoulders of the man cast to portray Kal-El and his Earth alter-ego, Clark Kent. It was the selection of a relatively unknown actor that would provide future movie and comics fans the Superman against which all others are still measured: Christopher Reeve.

superman-reeve

Simply put, Reeve is Superman. More importantly, he also is Clark Kent, a wholly separate character acting as a counterbalance to the larger than life hero who is his “true identity.” Reeve infuses the perfect blend of humanity, compassion, determination and even anger into his portrayal of the Man of Steel, then offsets it with the gentler, more humble and more than slightly bumbling facade of the “mild-mannered reporter.” It is this dual performance that grounds the entire film and gives it just the right amount of realism to help the viewer “believe a man can fly.”

Costing more than $50 million dollars–an enormous sum in those days–Superman spared little expense when it came to bringing its story to life. Extravagant sets, gorgeous location shooting, all manner of model and miniature effects and, of course, the numerous flying sequences which (for the most part) really do hold up rather well when compared to modern-day CGI-stuffed FX techniques. Legendary film composer John Williams provides a wondrous score, including a main theme which I’m fairly certain just about anyone can name in three notes.

Superman would be followed by three sequels: 1981’s Superman II, Superman III in 1983, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace in 1987. The production of the first sequel is a tale known to many a movie buff, as the film was shot largely in tandem with Superman, and that director Richard Donner was fired before the second film could be completed. A large portion of the sequel was reshot by another director, Richard Lester, who changed the film’s overall tone away from what Donner had intended. A version of the film which attempted to showcase Donner’s original vision, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, was released on home video in 2006.

Elsewhere, Superman also paved the way for other projects tying into at least some aspects of its mythos: 1984’s Supergirl starring Helen Slater, and the syndicated Superboy television series which ran from 1988-1992. Superman Returns, released in 2006, is a sequel as well as something of a tribute to the 1978 film and–to a much lesser degree–Superman II while discarding the events of Superman III and IV. Personally, while I think the “tribute” aspects of the film ended up working against it, there was a lot of potential in this updated version of what Donner gave us. I would’ve liked to see another film (or two) showcasing the best of what the setting had to offer without getting bogged down in sending too many valentines to the original movie. However, the Superman franchise has since been rebooted (again) with the aforementioned Man of Steel. It and the “DC Universe” movies which have followed it have charted a completely different direction for the character while leaving us to wonder what might’ve been.

Meanwhile, the family and I attended a screening of Superman here in Kansas City a couple of weeks ago, and I have to tell you: 40 years after that awesome December afternoon in 1978, I still got goosebumps when John Williams’ music blew through the speakers and that big red “S” warped onto the screen. Movies like this exist to be seen this way. All things considered, the film holds up remarkably well and remains one of my very favorite movies.

40 years old, and still looking good. Happy Anniversary, Superman.

My 2019 convention calendar begins to take shape.

Previously, on the Fog of Ward:

Yeah, yeah. I know. I’ve been neglecting this space in recent days, but the honest answer for that is I just didn’t have anything to say that I felt was worth polluting the blogosphere over.

However, as we head into the last turn of the track that is 2018, I’m starting to look ahead to the new year with respect to the work I hope to be doing and projects that excite me. Part of that is figuring out which conventions I’ll attend in my role as “Guy Who Writes Things.”

On that front, a couple of events are pretty much locked in as they are every year. First, there’s the Starfest Convention held annually in Denver. Kevin and I make a point never to miss this one, and 2019 will mark our 16th consecutive appearance as guests of the show. This year it’s set for the weekend of April 26-28, and of course Kevin and I are already keen to start that drive west.

Later in the year is Shore Leave, the other con I try to never miss. This year it’s the weekend of July 12-14, which means it’s once again right in the thick of things so far as competing for space on Kevin’s work schedule with Comic-Con International and the big Star Trek con in Las Vegas. This means I’ll likely be attending this one stag again.

Closer to home, Planet Comicon is celebrating its 20th anniversary with what is shaping up to be their biggest and best show yet. It’s going on the weekend of March 29-31, and they’ve graciously invited Kevin and me to come join the party.

New for this year is a smaller show that’s popped up on our radar: the Neosho Art Council’s first-ever ArtCon, will take place on Saturday, February 9th and spend the day celebrating all the coolness and awesomesauce that is pop culture. Several creators from the region have been invited to attend, including Kevin and moi. Readers with sharp, long memories may think Neosho rings a bell, that’s because a significant chunk of The Last World War takes place there. How ’bout them apples?

Meanwhile, Kevin’s work at Hallmark sees to it that he attends several shows I likely won’t get to, such as the aforementioned Comic-Con and Vegas Trek con as well as New York Comic Con. Circumstances may see to it that I end up at a couple of these, and I’ve also been invited to attend a couple of new shows later in the year. More on those as details firm up.

As is always the case, you can keep tabs on our con schedule by visiting my Appearances page. Stay tuned for more updates!

November writing wrap-up.

And here we are: December 2018.

I honestly don’t know where the rest of the year went. The first half was a blur, and the next few months after that also moved pretty fast, but now we’re here and while there are still some things going on, they’re proceeding at something resembling a sane pace for the first time all year. Weird.

While there’s (unfortunately) not very many changes to report on the writing front, I may have some interesting news to share as we get closer to the new year. Right now, it’s a case of my shuffling pieces around the game board and waiting for the okay to talk about certain things. All I can do until some of that shakes loose is just keep on keepin’ on. So, here’s the November rundown:

Continue reading “November writing wrap-up.”