East Bound and Down: 45 years of truckin’ with Smokey and the Bandit!

What we’re dealin’ with here is a complete lack of respect for the law.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

May 1977 is a landmark month in movie history, what with bringing to us the first Star Wars film and with it the birth of the “Star Wars franchise.”

However, this same month also brought to us another cinematic gem; an underrated, oft-overlooked entry in the vast film oeuvre of actor Burt Reynolds which actually was the second highest-grossing flick of 1977. We’re talking about a movie that showcases the definitive battle between good and evil, rendering into sharp relief the intrinsic struggle between liberty and oppression, and offering hope that one man – along with a woman, another man and that man’s dog – can make a difference.

That’s right; we’re talking about Smokey and the Bandit.

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This was one of the few movies I can remember going to see with my entire family. We ventured to a drive-in theater one balmy summer evening in Tampa, and my mother and father were in the front seats while my sister and I did our best to catch all of the action from the back seat. As I recall, my sister grew bored with the goings-on at some point, curling up on her side of the seat and going to sleep. I’m pretty sure my mother wished she could be anywhere but in that car, watching what I’m certain she thought had to be the stupidest movie ever committed to celluloid.

Meanwhile, my father and I were laughing our asses off.

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Yes, we can admit that Smokey and the Bandit is really just an excuse to film cars driving fast, jumping over things, and getting the crap beaten out of them. In between all of those stunts is woven a plot with all the complexity of the ingredients on a bottle of water: Bo “Bandit” Darville (Reynolds) and his partner, Cletus Snow (aka “The Snowman,” played by Jerry Reed), accept a wager from a couple of rich assholes to drive from Atlanta to Texarkana, Texas where they’ll secure 400 cases of Coors beer – which at the time was not allowed to be sold east of the Mississippi River – and drive back in 28 hours. Waiting for them at the finish line are bragging rights and $80,000.

Sounds simple right? Of course it is, but Bandit and the Snowman find trouble in the form of Texas sheriff Buford T. Justice. With the lawman and his idiot son/deputy in manic pursuit, the Bandit and his shiny black T-top Trans Am stops just long enough to pick up a runaway bride (Carrie, aka “Frog,” played by Sally Field), who just happens to be fleeing the scene after leaving Justice’s son at the altar. Meanwhile, Snowman, driving the rig with all the beer, is just hoping to get back in time to collect the cash. In and around all this heavy angst and intense character introspection (or lack thereof) is a series of high-speed chases, jumps and crashes, and trash-talking on the finest communications tool ever bestowed upon the civilized world, the Citizen’s Band Radio.

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Hot damn, but do I love this movie.

It’s not high art by any stretch, but it ain’t boring. Reynolds, at the height of his career in the 1970s by this point, is immediately likable as the Bandit, and Jerry Reed is the ideal sidekick and partner in mischief and/or crime. Sally Field is both funny and adorable as “Frog,” the unwitting passenger on this crazy journey, and Sheriff Justice—the hilarious parody of every backwater redneck hick law dog in the history of backwater redneck hick law dogs—is played to utter, outrageous perfection by the late, great Jackie Gleason.

Written and directed by famed Hollywood stuntman Hal Needham, Smokey and the Bandit was the first of several collaborations with Reynolds (Hooper, The Cannonball Run). It spawned two theatrical sequels and a handful of TV movies, all of which are best forgotten, but this first battle between a Smokey and a Bandit is sheer, goofy fun.

So, keep your pedal to the metal, good buddy. I’m 10-10 on the side, east bound and down.

Happy 45th Birthday, Star Wars!

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A long time ago, in a theater far, far away….

I was just shy of my 10th birthday in the summer of 1977, when some friends and I went to see Star Wars because out of the movies playing at my neighborhood 4-screen theater, it looked the most interesting. Typical boy stuff, right? Just hang out in a darkened theater for a couple of hours on a hot Florida day, and then on to something else, right?

Yeah.

Like a lot of kids that summer, I watched the film (no “Episode” number! no subtitle! BAH!) with unrestrained glee. It was the first time I could remember enjoying myself so thoroughly at something I was watching on a movie screen. It was all Star Wars all the time that year as, along with all the other 9 and 10-year-olds, I devoured the action figures and other toys, read the comics, built the models, and on and on and on….

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(This photo was everywhere, that summer.)

All these years later, I still love the original Star Wars. After all, there’s  plenty there to enjoy, no matter your age. Its sequels are fun, The Empire Strikes Back being its own bit of superb, of course, though I’m not as enamored with the “prequel trilogy.” Still, the music from all of the films is in my regular rotation for when I’m writing, and I’ve continued to keep up with various books and comics and whatnot over the years.

This effort was aided in no small part by my kids, who’ve enjoyed various bits of the larger Star Wars universe. They watched the Rebels cartoon and played with Star Wars toys, and because of them I got to act a little like that 9-year old all over again. For them, it was just cool characters and space ships, which in its own way is completely, spectacularly awesome. More recently, we’ve enjoyed The Mandalorian together and Grogu/”Baby Yoda” was a predictably huge hit.

Of course, things elevated to a whole new level of cool in December 2015: I’d been waiting to take our kids to see a new Star Wars movie since the instant it was announced. Sure, we’d watched the other films together, at home, but that could never compare to watching a Star Wars movie on the big screen, the way it’s meant to be seen.

As we sat there in the theater, waiting for the lights to go down so we could watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens, my oldest kid was the same age I was on that magical summer day in 1977. So, on some level it was a moment nearly forty years in the making. Since then, we’ve seen the other new films, of course, along with all the new offerings on Disney+.

But for now? Happy Birthday to the first, original Star Wars.

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(This one was everywhere, too.)

StarFest, here we come!

Thanks to the wonder that is scheduled posting here on the blog thing, by the time you read this my hetero life mate Kevin and I will be on our way to Denver for the annual StarFest Convention!

(Be sure to click on the link and check out the guest line-up. Terry Farrel. Michelle Hurd. Brent Spiner. Nick Creegan. Eddie McClintock. Zach McGowan. Dr. Erin MacDonald and Dr. Ken Carpenter along with a big ol’ gang of science speakers. Rick Sternbach! Authors! Artists! Me and Kevin! And many more! Not to mention, StarFest is also something of an “umbrella con,” with separate tracks/”mini-cons” for ArtFest, ComicFest, GameFest, HorrorFest, KlingonFest, ModelFest, and ScienceFest!)

COVID-19 saw to it the 2020 and 2021 cons were cancelled, so while this will be our 18th trip to Denver, 2022 marks our 20th anniversary of hanging out with the StarFest family as guests of the con. Regular readers know that this show and Shore Leave are my two favorite conventions to attend, and the two I make every effort not to miss. Indeed, I make sure to lock in my availability for these shows before committing to anything else. It will be wonderful to see all the faces we’ve missed since the 2019 show, while also being bittersweet. In addition to toasting absent friends, we’ll also be commemorating this, the final StarFest. It’s gonna get blubbery, y’all.

BUT! Not before we have a full weekend of great fun.

What’ll we be up to this weekend? The usual sorts of convention shenanigans. We’ll have our tables in the author/artists alley, of course. A curated selection from our backlist (a fancy way of saying, “Whatever we can cram into Kevin’s car) will be on hand, all ready for the autographing and such. Naturally, we’re also up for signing whatever you bring with you at no charge.

We’ll also be participating in programming, including the guest meet-n-greet on Friday night, followed by introducing for the HorrorFest crowd that absolute 1985 classic, The Return of the Living Dead! We normally help out with judging the big costume contest on Saturday evening, but this year the con has asked us to emcee the event. While we cannot possibly replace our dear friend Kevin Atkins, who sadly left us last year, we will do our very best to make him proud.

Beyond that? I’m sure we’ll find some kind of trouble to get into.

If you’re reading this and planning to attend the con, be sure to swing by and say hello!

Happy 65th Anniversary to The D.I.!

“Private Owens! Was the sand flea you killed male or female?”

“Male, sir!”

“Then this ain’t it. Keep looking.”

Technical Sergeant Jim Moore is a drill instructor at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina. Every 12 weeks, he’s handed a new collection of lads (mostly) just out of high school, and he’s given a straightforward task: Mold them over the course of those 12 weeks into basically trained, Mark 1-Mod 0 United States Marines.

Every training platoon usually comes with at least one individual who proves more challenging than his fellow recruits; someone who seems unable to do anything correctly despite what may or may not be their best effort. The D.I.’s job is to push through all of that resistance and help that recruit meet their goal of earning the title, “United States Marine.”

Some days, the job seems impossible. Some days, the recruit seems like a lost cause. Some days, it just seems easier to sign the papers.

D.I.’s don’t take the easy way, even when their latest challenge is Private Owens.

Continue reading “Happy 65th Anniversary to The D.I.!”

Tuesday Trekkin’: “The Ages of Trek.”

Well, here I go…trying to resurrect yet another “irregularly recurring” blog feature that fell by the wayside while I was working on Other Things.

For those who’ve missed previous installments, “Tuesday Trekkin’” is pretty much just another excuse for me to babble about some aspect of Star Trek fandom. These evolutions often involve me yammering on about a fondly remembered bit of funky merchandise, anniversaries, “milestones,” or important dates in franchise history, convention memories, or whatever else tickles my fancy on any given day.

The “Tuesday Trekkin’” moniker is something of a salute to a pair of friends, Dan Davidson and Bill Smith aka “The Hosts of the TrekGeeks Podcast.” Over on Facebook, they have a fan group, Camp Khitomer, devoted to all things Trek where all are welcome to join in their positive vibes and community. They also like to push a #TrekTuesday hashtag over there, inviting members to share updates, links, and/or pictures celebrating their fandom, so this feature is definitely offered in that same spirit.

What’s up this time around? I can’t honestly call what follows “deep thinking,” but it is something to which I’ve given more than a few brain cells. In the beginning, it was an exercise in helping understand and bridge the gap that seems to grip different segments of Star Trek fandom from time to time. I’m old enough that I was born while the original series was still in production, but I didn’t actually watch the show until it was in reruns in the early 1970s. Despite this being my absolute favorite of the bunch, I consider myself a fan of the entire franchise. I may not love every incarnation or show or film on equal terms, but I can honestly say I’ve found something in each of them I enjoy and have no problem recommending to others.

Continue reading “Tuesday Trekkin’: “The Ages of Trek.””

April writing wrap-up.

Man. It’s been a minute since the last time I did one of these.

Let’s just say February and March were….busy. Then April came along and I got deep enough into the month that a wrap-up post for March might as well wait until May showed up, which it has! So, even though the post title says “April writing wrap-up,” I’ll do my best to update you on all the writerly happenings here at the manor over the course of the past couple of months….

Continue reading “April writing wrap-up.”

Playing in different sandboxes.

So, things have been eventful here at stately Ward Manor in recent days.

On the writing front, was it only a few short weeks ago that I finished revisions to my latest novel manuscript before getting on a plane to the Star Trek Mission Chicago convention? For the first time, I was attending a show not as a guest or exhibitor, but as part of Paramount Global’s franchise team. Basically, the same people for whom I perform the various duties that make up my rather eclectic consulting portfolio. In this capacity, I was an extra pair of hands and feet, helping out with various setup and teardown tasks before and after the show, and whatever else needed doing where I could help. Despite being there “for work,” I still managed to squeeze in participating on a discussion panel and conducted three book signings. I also got to reconnect with many familiar faces I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic started, put faces to names previously seen only in the virtual realm, and make a bunch of new friends. It was a fun show all around, and I’m glad I was able to pitch in and contribute in some small way to the show’s success.

“What does this have to do with the post title, Dayton?” I can hear someone asking. Patience, grasshopper. I have to work up to it.

Continue reading “Playing in different sandboxes.”

Planet Comicon 2022 is here!

Today’s the big day, y’all! The largest pop culture convention in the Kansas City region is launching today, promising three epic days of comics, games, cosplay, creators and stars from TV and film, authors and artists, and just about anything you can think of that’s geeky and cool. For more than 20 years, Planet Comicon has been the place to be.

As it has for the past several years, the convention is at Bartle Hall in downtown KC, just up the street from the city’s popular Power & Light District. There will be activitites and events on and off site all through the weekend, so for those of you planning to attend? Be sure to stretch, hydrate, wear comfortable shoes, and pace yourselves.

Kevin and I are thrilled and honored to once again be invited back to the con as author guests. You’ll be able to find us all throughout the con’s three days of shenanigans at tables/booths 1639 and 1641 on the main exhibitor floor. We’ll have copies of various titles from our backlists for purchase and signing, but please do bring anything you might already have with you, and we’ll happily sign such items free of charge. New for this year’s show? I’ll have on hand a limited number of copies of Star Trek: Coda, Book I – Moments Asunder and (I hope!) Jurassic World: The Official Cookbook.

We’ll also be participating in programming during the weekend. You can find both of us at the following panels:

What Makes A Great Science Fiction Book? – Room 2505A – Friday, 2:30pm – 3:20pm

Galactic wars in a galaxy far far away, dystopian machine futures, space exploration? Planet Comicon special guest authors Claudia Gray (Star Wars: The High Republic), Kevin Dilmore (Star Trek), Dayton Ward (Star Trek) and Stephanie Hansen (Altered Helix) as they discuss the genre and give advice for aspiring writers.

Star Trek: Page and Screen – Room 2505B – Saturday, 1:00pm – 1:50pm

Hosted by Best Selling Star Trek authors Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore and moderated by former Star Trek: Deep Space Nine TV series writer Robert J. Bolivar. Star Trek has transitioned from screen to printed page and back again many times. Each iteration of the franchise is unique unto itself. What works in a script or teleplay may not cut it as a novel, and vice-versa. Hear how the the dynamics differ from the folks who have penned Star Trek across multiple mediums, and find out how these stories were approached.

In addition to all of that, there’s rarely one of these shows that goes down where we’re not pulled into something extra on an ad hoc basis, so who knows what this weekend will bring? Kevin and I will both be posting to Twitter and Facebook throughout the con as circumstances warrant or even if we just feel like screwing with people or the lines for the food trucks are too long. Stay tuned, and we hope to see you there!

Jurassic World: The Official Cookbook

Return to the thrilling paradise of Jurassic World with this deluxe cookbook featuring recipes served throughout the park!

Take a taste of Isla Nublar home with you with this exclusive cookbook featuring the most popular dishes, drinks, and desserts of Jurassic World. Organized according to the park’s various regions and territories — Gyrosphere Valley, T. Rex Kingdom, Jurassic Lagoon, and more — this mouthwatering cookbook features over fifty delicious recipes, each one inspired by the flavors, environment, and culture of the island and the awe-inspiring dinosaurs that live there.

Filled with fascinating dinosaur facts, park guides, and gorgeous food photography, Jurassic World: The Official Cookbook is the ultimate souvenir for fans hoping to recreate some of the flavors of Isla Nublar in their own home.


It seems like forever ago (when considering pandemic-induced time dilation) that one of my editors at Insight Editions reached out to gauge my interest in collaborating on this project. As I was told at the time, they were looking for “an author who can write in a strong in-world voice,” and my previous work on the Vulcan and Klingon travel guides for Insight had apparently gone a long way toward demonstrating I could pull off that sort of thing.

Go me, amirite?

For this book, I was asked to create what my editor described as “flavor text.” Basically, everything that wasn’t going to be a recipe or other information related to the preparation of each of the more than 50 dishes the book would offer. In simpler terms, I was got to write about dinosaurs, Jurassic World itself along with Isla Nublar and the surrounding region, and so on.

Just as I did with the Star Trek travel guides, I presented all of that information from an “in-universe” perspective, in keeping with my editor’s original intention that the book read as if it existed in that world and as a souvenir you could purchase at one of the park’s gift shops.

To that end, my editor turned me loose, providing me a tremendous amount of latitude to mine the Jurassic Park/Jurassic World mythos. This evolved into writing about the theme park’s various areas and activities, excerpts from “field guides” about the different dinosaurs, and even bits of history about the Isla Nublar and the surrounding region as well as the backstory of John Hammond and his dream of creating the original Jurassic Park which eventually leads to the development of Jurassic World.

Holy moley, was this a lot of fun. I was already a fan of the films, but this gave me an excuse to jump back in and rewatch them as I searched for bits and nuggets of cool info to include in my notes. I even managed to sneak in a few references to Michael Crichton’s original Jurassic Park novel, which I hadn’t read since before the first movie came out in 1993. Let me know if you find any of those.

I actually completed my writing duties on this back in the late summer/early fall of 2020, with an eye toward the book being published in the summer of 2021 alongside the release of Jurassic World: Dominion to theaters. When the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc with (among many other things) film release schedules, the movie was pushed out a year, and so too was this book. So, I’ve been waiting a long, looooooooong time for folks to see this thing.

And yes, it was very much a collaboration. In addition to my editor who provided her usual expertise and guidance, a book like this just doesn’t work unless you have someone who actually knows what they’re doing when it comes to the actual food and recipes aspects of a cookbook.

Enter Elena P. Craig, veteran recipe developer and food stylist who’s been doing her thing for about as long as I’ve been doing my thing. She’d already performed similar feats for Insight’s cookbooks devoted to Deadpool and Gilmore Girls. For this one she went all-out, creating over 50 recipes for dishes, snacks, cocktails, and other goodies designed to evoke the sort of cuisine to be found by visitors to the park.

Her awesome recipes and prep notes are enhanced by eye-popping photography that really help bring Elena’s creations to life, and luscious art and photos from the films enhances my “flavor text” about the island, the park, and the dinosaurs. The book itself is a gorgeous hardcover tome, and I’m just a little giddy to see it already popping up on a few “Best of” lists for Spring 2022 releases.

Jurassic World: The Official Cookbook is now officially on sale from Insight Editions and Simon & Schuster as well as the usual book haunts:

Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
Books-A-Million
Bookshop
IndieBound

My wife and sister area already planning on trying out some of the book’s recipes. If you end up doing the same, be sure to let me know in the comments below how things turned out!

Because lunch finds a way, yo.

Tuesday Trekkin’: Old-school Star Trek computer games!

Okay, so here we go again, attempting to get back to something resembling “irregularly recurring.”

For those new to these parts, “Tuesday Trekkin’” is essentially an excuse for me to yammer on a bit about some facet of Star Trek fandom. These exercises usually involve some fondly remembered bit of funky merchandise, anniversaries or other “milestones” of important dates in franchise history, convention memories, or whatever else tickles my fancy on any given day. The “Tuesday Trekkin’” moniker is a tip of the hat to a pair of friends, Dan Davidson and Bill Smith aka “The Hosts of the TrekGeeks Podcast.” Over on Facebook, they have a fan group, Camp Khitomer, devoted to all things Trek where all are welcome to join in their positive vibes and community. They also like to push a #TrekTuesday hashtag over there where they invite members to share updates, links, and/or pictures celebrating their fandom, so this feature is definitely offered in that same spirit.

So, what’s on the docket for today? It’s time to get our Star Trek game on, old-school style.

Continue reading “Tuesday Trekkin’: Old-school Star Trek computer games!”