November writing-wrap-up.

And just like that, here we are in December, the last lap of 2022.

November was an active month, y’all. Kevin and I spent the bulk of that time marching toward a deadline on a project we’re doing together, which hasn’t yet been formally announced (see “details,” such as they are, below). A few other things also took up time here and there, and there’s also been some prep work for stories I’m planning to write in the next couple of months. I also have a few “Man, I’d love to write _____” ideas for which I scribbled hasty notes and then set aside to deal with the deadlines right in front of me.

Writer’s life, yo.

Anyway, before I plunge headlong into December, here’s what went down last month:

Continue reading “November writing-wrap-up.”

Your Moment of TrekZen* – Classic Thanksgiving Edition!

We shall all sing songs of the Great Turkey Leg, on our way to the Stove O’ Kor.

Klingon Turkeys

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Here’s hoping you enjoy a restful holiday in the company of family and friends. For those unable to do so – servicemembers, first responders, doctors and nurses, and lots of other fine people answering a higher calling or simply having to work a job that precludes them from taking the day off – we thank you for your service and commitments and wish you a safe return home. And let’s not forget those who for whatever reason might be alone today, or who might need a helping hand.

(* = inspired by the “Your Moment of Zen” segments from The Daily Show)

Veterans Day.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

– Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, December 8th, 1915

Erin-PoppyField
(Artwork: Erin Ward)

Happy 247th Birthday, Marines!

On November 1st, 1921, John A. Lejeune, 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, directed that a reminder of the honorable service of the Corps be published by every command, to all Marines throughout the globe, on the birthday of the Corps. Since that day, Marines have continued to distinguish themselves on many battlefields and foreign shores, in war and peace. On this birthday of the Corps, therefore, in compliance with the will of the 13th Commandant, Article 38, United States Marine Corps Manual, Edition of 1921, is republished as follows:

On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of the Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name Marine. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our Corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

The record of our Corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long era of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres, and in every corner of the seven seas that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our Corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term “Marine” has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the Corps. With it we also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our Corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish, Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as ‘Soldiers of the Sea’ since the founding of the Corps.

— from The Marine Officer’s Guide

———

Each year, General Lejeune’s original birthday message is read aloud at Marine Corps birthday celebrations around the globe. I’ve even had the privilege of doing this myself, at a birthday ball or two.

Happy Birthday, Marines. Semper Fi!

October writing wrap-up.

November! Where the hell did you come from?

We’re just totally into that downhill slide of 2022, aren’t we?

It’s was a busy October. Deadlines looming, that sort of thing. Lots of things read, reviewed, discussed, and/or commented on for the consulting gig. Other things written, and discussions about what’s next, writing-wise – on both the consulting and freelance fronts – have occurred. Ideas for new stories are percolating, with notes hastily jotted and stored for future reference. I have to get past the current projects and their deadlines, you know.

Wanna see what’s what? Here’s the October rundown:

Continue reading “October writing wrap-up.”

NaNoWriMo: Upon us once again!

Hey.

It’s November.

Didn’t we just do this a year or so ago?

That’s right, kids: It’s the month many a writer circles on their calendar, often with some form of the question, “Do I or Don’t I?”

What are we yammering about? November, of course, is National Novel Writing Month, a 30-day odyssey of word pushing, key stabbing, stress inducing, existence questioning fun in which writer hopefuls block out most if not all distractions with the singular goal of racking up 50,000 (or more!) words toward the writing of a novel.

To be honest, I’ve had a mixed bag of success with this thing. That said, I still tend to be a cheerleader for the program because I do believe it has merit, particularly for the beginning writer. Figuring out how to hit a daily writing quota regardless of other commitments, demands, or distractions just during this one month period is a great learning aid as well as a valuable peek into the real world of a working writer. Even if you don’t hit that magical 50,000-word mark, embrace the opportunity here and all it can teach you.

On a few occasions over the years, I’ve written pieces for my blog and other venues where I’ve been asked to dispense “wisdom” to those attempting NaNoWriMo for the first time. Every writer’s mileage varies when it comes to their individual process and finding time to write in and around other commitments. With that in mind, I’ve always tried to keep my advice general enough so it can be applied no matter the specific situation. In that same spirit, I offer a few nuggets of hopefully helpful advice:

Manage your pace. You’ve got so many words to write, and so many days to write ‘em. Don’t over-think this. Figure out a words-per-day rate, and shoot for that. Take this in chunks, rather than concentrating on the 50k mark. It’ll start adding up pretty quickly. 50,000 divided by 30 days is 1,667 words a day. Sounds like a lot, right?

Now, break that down further. 250 words an hour is a figure I like to use, because that’s an old school measure for a page—give or take a dozen words or so—when you’re using Courier 12-pt font and double-spacing your manuscript. 250 words an hour isn’t a terribly stress-inducing pace, and doing that for seven hours gets you your daily quota and some extra padding, and you can do it in easy to manage chunks that you spread throughout the day. You know, one or two before work, one at lunch, one after work, and the rest in the evening. If you need or want to adjust that number up or down or how you spread it across the day, knock yourself out. The point is to find a pace that works for you on a consistent basis, but doesn’t stress you out while you’re trying to hit it.

Don’t kill yourself. Quit for the day if you hit your quota. If, on the other hand, you get froggy and write way beyond that, then give yourself a break the next day. If you miss a day, then work a bit harder over a few days to get back on pace, rather than trying to gain it all back in one chunk. Or, just recalculate a new per-day rate to absorb the words from the missed day. Again: Chunks. Pace. Consistency. Repeat.

Write now. Edit later. Your goal is to keep pushing forward, every day, all the way to the finish line, and you can’t do that if you keep going back over the stuff you already wrote. We all have an inner editor, wanting us to revise that paragraph or page we just finished, or who keeps telling us that chapter we wrote yesterday needs a rewrite. Ignore that skeevy bastard. This exercise isn’t about having a perfect, polished, ready to rock manuscript at the end of November. That’s what December’s for. So, tell that inner editor to sit down and shut his suck hole until the writing part is over.

My personal take on NaNoWriMo is that it’s a mechanism for instilling some structure and discipline into your writing routine and finding a way to integrate it with all the other demands on your life. As with anything else, it can be as useful or useless as the effort you put into it. This sort of thing’s not for everybody, so if you give it an honest try and discover it’s not for you, then screw it. Find a method that better suits you.

For those choosing to accept the challenge of National Novel Writing Month, I wish you the best of luck!

Tuesday Trekkin’: Star Trek Halloween costumes!

Been a minute, huh?

Things have been busy here at the manor, forcing me to let idle things like this “irregularly recurring” feature that’s little more than an thin excuse for me to babble on a bit about some nugget of Star Trek fandom. Most of the time, this means me babbling about some fondly remembered bit of goofy merchandise or collectible, anniversaries and “milestones” or important dates in franchise history, convention memories, or whatever else tickles my brain on any given day.

The “Tuesday Trekkin’” moniker is also a tip of the hat to Dan Davidson and Bill Smith, aka “The Hosts of the TrekGeeks Podcast.” Their fan group over on Facebook, Camp Khitomer, is devoted to all things Trek where all are welcome to join in their positive vibes and community. Sometimes, 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.

I’d actually been thinking about this one for a bit, given the season. We’re less than a week away from Halloween, so naturally my thoughts turned to the very oddball assortment of costumes that have come along specifically for engaging in trick-or-treat landing parties (or, “away teams” if that’s your kink). If we’re being brutally honest, Star Trek Halloween costumes have always been sort of a mixed bag. Not counting the really higher-end costumes that run into the hundreds of dollars, companies like Rubies II, which has been making affordable Halloween costumes and accessories since the 1950s, including various iterations of Star Trek. Their selection is, I imagine, decent for the price-range, though I suspect very few of us can make them look as good as the actors on any of the shows.

Are you more the do it yourself type? For years, the Simplicity Pattern Company offered back in the 1980s sewing patterns for both the original series and Star Trek: The Next Generation. They updated and rereleased those patterns in 2016 as part of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, accompanied by new patterns from TNG and the Star Trek films. Somewhere in my archives I have a set of the 80s patterns, though I never tried to make them, myself. I have a sneaky suspicions the final result would not look even as good as the photos on the original packaging.

Don’t feel like going all in with the whole costume? I suppose you could just get by with a mask. Trick or Treat Studios carries among their sizable inventory a few Star Trek masks that are bit pricey, but maaaaaaaaaan do they look cool.

Star Trek masks, L-R: The Gorn, the Balok puppet, and the Mugato.

On the other hand, the less said about this one, the better.

The infamous Michael Myers mask as seen in the Halloween movies, and the William Shatner mask which served as inspiration and point of departure.

However — HOW. EVER. — no discussion about Star Trek Halloween costumes is complete without the king of them all: the Ben Cooper jobs based very loosely on the original Star Trek series. Now this was my Halloween experience as a young, single-digit proto-human in the 1970s. Look at the stunning on-screen accuracy, the near-total lack of ability to breathe let alone see, and if you’re thinking the entire thing is one stray match away from total walking miniature inferno, well….you’re not wrong.


Trick or treat, yo.

To read much more about these little packages of insanity, check out these articles from Trekker Scrapbook and Plaid Stallions, which is where I found the above Ben Cooper costume photos. Ben Cooper has recently gotten back into the costume game, offering “nostalgic” costumes for grown-ups modeled after the original designs. So far, they’ve released costumes based on Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and superheroes like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Flash. Can Star Trek be too far behind? Let’s hope not.

All right, friends! Armed with newfound vital knowledge on this #TrekTuesday, which of these are you planning to wear for Halloween?

Pics or it didn’t happen.

First Blood at 40.

You don’t seem to want to accept the fact you’re dealing with an expert in guerrilla warfare; with a man who’s the best…with guns, with knives, with his bare hands. A man who’s been trained to ignore pain…ignore weather; to live off the land…to eat things that would make a billy goat puke. In Vietnam his job was to dispose of enemy personnel. To kill! Period! Win by attrition. Well Rambo was the best.

Earlier this year, David Morrell’s debut novel, First Blood, celebrated its 50th birthday. Like many authors who go on to write other books they consider better (or at least, better written) than their inaugural outings, it’s doubtful Mr. Morrell ever envisioned this relatively “small” story about a single man attempting to navigate a world he no longer understands or in which he feels welcome would go on to become – arguably – his signature work.

And while he perhaps hoped it might one day be adapted for film, he likely didn’t anticipate what would happen with that.

Released 40 years ago today on October 22nd, 1982, First Blood – the movie – introduced theater audiences to distraught Vietnam combat veteran John Rambo.

The first of what would become (so far?) five films focusing on Rambo hits several of the same notes as the novel, at least in the beginning. Rambo (given a first name of John for the film), a drifter, finds his way to a small mountain town and is harassed by the local law in the form of Sheriff Wilfred Teasle. Concerned this long-haired unwashed hippie might attract others of his kind to his quiet, tranquil little enclave, Teasle at first tries to “help” Rambo with a lift to the edge of town. When Rambo, hoping to stop somewhere for something to eat, decides to wander back, Teasle is none too happy and arrests him. That’s when things start to take a turn toward shit as Rambo is less than cooperative while being processed at the sheriff’s station.

Suffering from a PTSD-induced flashback to his time as a tortured prisoner of war in Vietnam, Rambo attacks Teasle and his men and makes his escape, commandeering a motorcycle and heading for the nearby mountains. Teasle and his men give chase, but that doesn’t turn out so well, does it? Things only get crazier when they find out Rambo is not only a former Green Beret with seriously mad ass-kicking skillz, but he’s also a Medal of Honor winner. Then, his former commanding officer, Colonel Sam Trautman, shows up looking for his boy, and by then we’re off to the races.

First Blood, for my money, anyway, is far and away the best of the Rambo films. Sylvester Stallone does a fine job embodying the tormented soul of John Rambo, shifting with aplomb between brooding loner, ruthless warrior, and broken man. He also served as a co-writer for the film’s script, and he would take on increasingly greater control of the character and storylines with each new sequel.

As for this first outing, it does differ in several respects from David Morrell’s novel, most notably with the ending, of course (No spoilers. You’re just gonna have to suss out that info on your own). The Rambo of the novel is a much darker, disturbed, and violent character than his film incarnation, and Teasle is presented in somewhat less sympathetic fashion in the movie, but he’s still pretty much a dick in both versions even though his motivations are at least a bit more understandable in the book. The setting is changed from a small town in Kentucky to the Pacific Northwest, and the film adds the extra bit about Rambo seeking out one of his old Army buddies and discovering the man has died due to cancer, perhaps the result of exposure to Agent Orange.

One big change I’ve never really understood is why the filmmakers chose not to keep more elements from what ends up being a very personal battle of wills between Rambo and Teasle. There are shades of it in the movie, sure, but the setup and payoff in the book are much stronger and more visceral, thanks in large part to Morrell’s decision to alternate the story between the two men’s points of view from chapter to chapter. If you only know Rambo from the movies, Morrell’s book is absolutely and without equivocation well worth the read.

Stallone’s initial outing as John Rambo was successful enough to warrant four sequels: Rambo: First Blood, Part II in 1985, 1988’s Rambo III, the surprisingly solid Rambo in 2008, and 2019’s Rambo: Last Blood. The first two follow-ups suffer from featuring stock, almost cartoonish villians and action, while the fourth movie pulled no punches in its depictions of war-torn Burma. For whatever the hell my opinion’s worth, Rambo as depicted here is closest to what Morrell originally envisioned for the character.

Rambo: The Force of Freedom. Yeah, that happened.

Despite an initial wave of mixed reviews, the original First Blood enjoyed box office success which lead to the aforementioned sequels (which in turn inspired comics, video games, and – believe it or not – an animated series complete with toys). Over time, First Blood has come to be recognized as an influential entry in the action-adventure and military film genres.

While it seemed like John Rambo’s story might have reached a logical conclusion at the end of the fourth film, with him having “come full circle” as Trautman told him he one day would have to do, we neverthless (and perhaps inevitably) got one more sequel with Last Blood. It’s not a story that needed to be told, particularly given how the previous film ended on what I thought was just the right note. That feeling was only reinforced with the movie’s return to the more one-dimensional antagonists and what is essentially a build-up to a single violent confrontation with a Mexican drug gang. To be fair, the version I along with the rest of U.S. audiences originally got to see in theaters is a disappointment. The “extended cut” seen overseas and currently available for digital rental/purchase on Amazon Prime adds 12 minutes inexplicably left out of the U.S. release. Those 12 minutes don’t make Last Blood a great film, but for damned sure they make it a better film.

Have we seen the last of John Rambo? Recent rumors have whispered about a possible sixth film and even a TV series which might reboot the character, and I long ago learned to never say never when it comes to this kind of thing.

Meanwhile, there’s the original film, as good in its own way as the novel from which it sprang. Tip your glass to one of the iconic action movies of the 1980s. Draw First Blood.

Kevin and I are heading into the Unioverse!

So, it seems Kevin and I are at it again.

In my monthly “writing wrap-up” posts, I’ve been hinting about a couple of projects I — or Kevin and I — have been working on during these past several months. With NDAs in place and timing being everything so far as effectively rolling out announcements for new projects, we’ve had to wait (im)patiently for the respective Powers That Be to greenlight promotion efforts. One of those things Kevin and I have been working on together has been described in this space over the past few months thusly:

Unidentified Shared Universe Project – As mentioned in a previous blog post, Kevin and I received an invitation to participate in this effort. The editorial team loved our ideas and after incorporating the few notes they had for us, we got the go ahead to start writing our short story. We delivered our our manuscript on October 1st and we’re presently awaiting editorial feedback. We’re also standing by for an official announcement about the project and our involvement. Hopefully soon!”

So, what’s this for? I’m so glad you asked.

What is “the Unioverse?” The short version is it’s a new science fiction game setting being developed by a team of seriously top-shelf creators. They’re laying the groundwork for a truly massive setting which will allow stories to be experienced not just in a gaming space but across multiple media platforms.

And rather than just keeping it all to themselves, not only are they recruiting established creator talent from the realms of gaming, comics, novels, and film, but they also have plans to open things up to new voices and creators looking to get their foot in the door within those arenas. That alone is its own topic that could keep us talking for hours and rather than me stealing all their thunder, I’d really rather direct you to the Unioverse website to get a full deep dive on what they’ve accomplished so far as well as what they’re planning.

Which brings us to this:

BusinessWire.com: Hex Publishers to Expand the Unioverse with Tie-In Anthology and Comic Book Series

Josh Viola and Hex Publishers, with whom Kevin and I previously worked for the anthology It Came from the Multiplex: 80s Midnight Chillers back in 2020, have been tapped to shepherd this new collection of short tales set in the ever-expanding Unioverse. I don’t know what possessed Josh to invite us to join in this new venture, but I’m grateful as it’s been an absolute blast getting to know this knew universe. Sorry. Unioverse!

Ours is just one of 27 Stories of the Reconvergence, which brings together writers representing various corners of genre fiction. This includes friends and colleagues Mario Acevedo, Kevin J. Anderson, and Tim Waggoner as well as Jane Yolen and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, both of whom I’m fortunate to know thanks to mutual friendships within the writing community. Meanwhile, I’ve read and enjoyed the writings of several other participants, and I’m as excited as anyone else to be introduced to those word-pushers who are new to me. It’s a pretty impressive line-up, so here’s hoping Kevin and I manage to pull our weight accordingly.

As I write this, Kevin and I are awaiting feedback from editor and his co-editor, Angie Hoddap, both of whom bring their own rather impressive street cred to the fray. Stories from the Reconvergence is currently slated for publication in the summer of 2023. More details as they’re made known, but for now you can read the read the official press release with all of the details by clicking on this linky-type thing right here.

And while we’re all waiting for the book to wind its way through the production life cycle, if this sounds like something you want to get in, either as a player of the forthcoming game or as a possible future contributor in some manner, be sure to check out any or all of the following:

Twitter | Unioverse Blog | Discord | Hex Publishers Antho Page
Hex Publishers Comics Page | Facebook | YouTube

Many thanks to Josh, Angie, and the rest of the Unioverse team for inviting us to play in their swank new sandbox!