An interesting Agents of Influence observation.

AgentsOfInfluence-CoverI originally posted a version of this on my Facebook page, but upon further reflection I decided to have a bit more fun with it. So, bear with me. I’m writing this to avoid doing actual work for a little while longer.

Anyway, it’s like this: An intrepid fan over on the TrekBBS has made an intriguing observation regarding my upcoming Star Trek original series novel Agents of Influence.

According to his observations, this title will be the 100th novel released by Simon & Schuster since it began publishing Star Trek novels in 1979 which is explicitly set during the period chronicled by the original television series, “the five-year mission.” It’s an interesting milestone, if a bit of a confusing one to anyone not mired in this stuff.

(Another term for such individuals is “normal people.”)

HoratiusThere have been hundreds of Trek novels published over the years and featuring Kirk and the gang (or some subset of those characters), dating back to 1968 while the original show was still in production. With the advent of the feature films, many early S&S novels (published at that time by their imprint, Pocket Books) were set in an around the various movies, mixed in with those set during the TV series timeframe. This doesn’t even take into consideration those based on the spin-off series, or “original” book spin-offs like Star Trek Vanguard, Star Trek: New Frontier, etc. It gets really confusing when you consider that at the time Pocket Books was publishing Star Trek novels, the films featuring the original series characters were in regular production and even though a novel might be set during the time of the TV show, as often as not it might sport cover art reflecting the most recent movie at that time. Examples:

TrekNovels-Sample(Click to Enlarge)

And yes, that’s also including the times the art took liberties and gave us TV-movie hybrids of existing uniforms, which was a common thing when legendary artist Boris Vallejo was painting the Star Trek book covers in the 1980s. They may not have been the most screen accurate, but daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn did they have style. I want a book of nothing but Star Trek book cover art, with a subsection devoted to Boris, because…again: daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn.

Anyway, our intrepid fan pushed through all the obstacles and distractions, keeping his eye on the prize while doing the work to arrive at a list of “just five-year mission stories” published by Simon & Schuster and what do you know? According to him, Agents of Influence will be #100.

I never really gave too much thought to how many books were set in which particular timeframe. Indeed, the other day a friend on Facebook asked me how many “original series” stories I’ve written over the years, and I had to stop and think for a minute. To be honest, I had to come back here and review my own backlist to get a correct count, and this is what I came up with this list of short stories and novels:

“Reflections” – Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, June 1998
“The Aliens are Coming!” – Star Trek: Strange New Worlds III, June 2000
In the Name of Honor – January 2002
“First, Do No Harm” – Star Trek: Constellations, September 2006*
Things Fall Apart – Star Trek: Mere Anarchy, September 2006*
That Which Divides – March 2012
From History’s Shadow – August 2013
Elusive Salvation – May 2016
Purgatory’s Key – September 2016*
Agents of Influence – June 2020

And that doesn’t even count “original series-adjacent” stories featuring original characters and situations yet taking place in that same time frame like these:

Star Trek Vanguard:
Summon the Thunder – July 2006*
Open Secrets – May 2009
Almost TomorrowStar Trek Vanguard: Declassified, July 2011
What Judgments Come – October 2011*
In Tempest’s Wake – October 2012

Star Trek: Seekers:
Point of Divergence – August 2014*
All That’s Left – November 2015*

Star Trek: S.C.E./Corps of Engineers:
Foundations – 3-part story, June-August 2002*
Where Time Stands Still – September 2004*
Distant Early Warning – June 2006*

Other:
The First PeerStar Trek: Seven Deadly Sins, March 2010*
“The Menace of the Mechanitrons!” – Star Trek: Waypoint (comic), November 2016*

* = written with Kevin

Of everything listed, all but three take place during the period of time covered by the five-year mission. So, you know…that’s a lot of stuff in that window, and that’s just me/me & Kevin. Yikes, amirite?

StarTrek-JamesBama ArtI know there are those who feel the five-year mission era is pretty crowded at this point. Over the course of nearly 54 years as I write this, two television series along with novels, comics, video games, role-playing games and such have mined the territory pretty well. One could make the argument there have been enough such stories and it’s time to leave that period alone.

I give such people side-eye.

For me, this era of Trek “history” is a setting; a point of departure. Just as Superman or Batman or Nancy Drew or Mack Bolan or James Bond never age and remain in their prime even with the passage of decades since their first stories were told, I view Kirk and company in the same light. I can always find a new tale to tell with these characters. If I have my way, I’ll be reading a good original series-era tale while being wheeled into the dining facility at the retirement home.

With luck, they may even still let me write a few. 🖖😎

Trek-5YM-Negativity

Tied Up With Tie-Ins: The “No-Frills” Books!

Last year, I started an irregular feature here on the blog: offering a nostalgic look at a favorite series of movie or TV tie-in books. So far, we’ve revisited novels based on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Planet of the Apes, V, and Space: 1999. The feature ended up being far more irregular than I’d originally envisioned and as you can see with a simple glance at the calendar I’m not doing all that well with it this year, either. However, I figured it was time to give it another go.

This time I have a brief look back at a very quirky collection of tomes: the “No-Frills Books.”

GenericBeerPublished in 1981, this series of four “books” (each really not much more than a very long short story or perhaps a lean novella) were exactly what they purported to be: a generic, no-frills tale written for the specified genre. I only vaguely remember seeing them here and there in places like Waldenbooks or the book/magazine section of the local grocery store, which made sense because at that time such stores were really leaning into the idea of cheaper “generic” products for store shelves. I recall entire sections of aisles and coolers in the frozen food section devoted to this stuff, just as I remember my father opting to try out a six-pack of generic beer and lamenting it tasted like diluted monkey piss.

(How he might know what undiluted, full-strength monkey piss could taste like was one of those questions I opted to let go unasked.)

Anyway, books. “No-Frills Books,” as it were.

Continue reading “Tied Up With Tie-Ins: The “No-Frills” Books!”

I’m having way too much fun with Zoom backgrounds.

So, yeah.

The new normal is that those of us fortunate enough not to be furloughed or laid off during the current insanity communicate with our co-workers using email, texting, Skype, and…of course, Zoom.

Indeed, more and more of us are diving into the app and using it as a sort of virtual conference room, despite stories of hackers and other ne’er do wells crashing such environments for their own amusement as well as the numerous warnings that Zoom’s security features are about as helpful as a fishnet condom. Some of the warnings are legit and – at least as they’re telling it – the folks behind Zoom are doing their best to address and improve the various security concerns.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are just Zooming away, thrilled with the ability to project a professional image from the waist up while everything below the camera level is an unfiltered party zone filled with chicks and guns and fire trucks and hookers and drugs and booze!

Okay, so maybe that sort of thing isn’t happening with everyone. Your mileage may vary.

In and around all of this, I’ve been having a bit of fun with one of Zoom’s personalization features, the “virtual background.” Rather than broadcast a video feed of me sitting at my desk with my whiteboard on the wall behind me – which may or not contain various sensitive scribblings about projects in progress and so on and so forth – I can just insert myself into any real or imagined place in the universe. I hinted a bit about this the other day in a piece I wrote about working from home, but since then? Yeah, it’s gotten worse.

I mean, sure. At first it was the usual sort of thing you’d probably expect from me:

Zoom-Enterprise Bridge(Taken during our 2017 trip to the Star Trek Original Series Set Tour in Ticonderoga, NY)

And why have just any starfield as a backdrop when you can have one from the animated Star Trek series?

Zoom-Trek-TAS-Starfield

NOTE: Click any of these to biggie size, by the way.

From there, I started playing. It was innocent enough, at first going from the Best Care Anywhere…
Zoom-Mash-Compound

…to a place where there’s no air anywhere.

Zoom-Moon
But before I knew it I was offering fellow Zoomers sneak peeks into other, heretofore unseen areas of stately Ward Manor….

ZoomBackground-HallOfJustice
Zoom-Batcave
Then I decided a virtual background deserved a window into an actual…you know…virtual world. So, I took the red pill and freed my mind.

Zoom-Matrix

That was before I decided I needed something a little more retro, which led me to my current favorite. It’s one that should be immediately recognizable to anyone with at least one foot standing deep in 1980s nostalgia:

Zoom-MaxHeadroom
Of course, no sooner did I sit down to write this piece and find a few sites boasting nice collections of backgrounds so you too can add a little extra zip to your Zoom sessions than I found this:

Zoom-JohnWick01

Uh huh.

Now, I’m by no means revolutionary in this regard. Indeed, there are a number of sites which have already posted collections of backgrounds you can use to spruce up your own little virtual presence. Check out the offerings at these sites to list just a few:

Pocket-lint.com

CNET.com

GoodHousekeeping.com

Star Trek via DailyStarTrekNews.com

Nerdist.com

That should be enough to get you started, right? Have at it, fellow Zoomers.

Zoom-Dayton

This whole “working at home” thing.

In recent weeks as we’ve settled with varying degrees of comfort and success into our “stay at home” protocols, I’ve been asked a few times about how I handle working at home. Mostly these are folks who were used to “home life” and “work life” being two very dissimilar things, separated by at least some distance and at a minimum defined by two markedly different physical locations. Now their worlds have been thrown into a blender and mixed together and they’ve been working these past weeks to establish a new paradigm, set of habits, expectations, and so on.

“You’ve been doing this forever,” they say. “You’re used to having to remain productive even in the face of frequent distractions,” they say. “How do you manage it all?” they ask.

Granted, my work really hasn’t been disrupted by the current situation to any significant degree. I’m still employed, for which I am immensely grateful as that lessens the stress I’d otherwise be feeling on any number of fronts. Yes, this has been a transition — in large part due to the kids — but we’re making the best of it with assistance from their wonderful teachers and school support staff, who also are doing their best to push forward despite the challenges they face.

Between the last few years of my corporate life and my switching over to be a full-time writer (aside from one brief stint where I took a contract writing job that required commuting to an office), I’ve been working out of my house for well over a decade. It started not long after my first daughter was born, which was helpful as I was in a position to get her (and, later, her sister) to and from daycare/pre-school and ultimately to and from “regular” school. Then we moved into the current Ward Manor in 2014 and they started taking the bus to school.

In the early going, establishing a routine was easy. Kids and my corporate job required I come up with a schedule and stick to it. Without going into specifics, my job involved a series of deliverables which had to hit their marks every month in order to keep the larger process moving. Most of those deliverables were due on specific dates each month, regardless of when those dates fell on a calendar. So, weekend or holiday? That’s the way it went. Hit the mark. If I screwed up, it affected the people waiting on me and so on, to a point where my company could be financially liable for violating service level agreements. So, not much room for dicking around.

Anyway, between work and getting the kids to school, it didn’t take long to establish a routine whereby I was up, clean, groomed and presentable, and ready to go on a regular daily basis. This continued to serve me as I left Corporate America and moved to freelancing full-time. Even as the kids have grown older and become more self-sufficient, I still use their schedule as a guideline for keeping my own routine on track. It works more than it doesn’t, even when you don’t factor in extended stay-at-home orders in the face of a pandemic.

Though I admit to moving the goalposts here and there with respect to start and stop times, I try to stick to something resembling a schedule and routine, especially during the week. First and foremost, I get up and get cleaned up. I know we all joke about staying in our jammies all day or maybe just going completely smokeless as we dance through our abodes, but for me getting dressed and all that is a mental button I push that tells me it’s time to be productive. Granted, during the cooler months that might very well mean sweats, but it’s something other than what I wear to bed.

Once all that’s done – including fixing breakfast if I’m hungry — I’ll finally make my way to my office. The basement in our house was completely finished by the previous owners, and the layout is a sort of “L” shape that divides the level into two main areas along with a full bathroom and closets. It’s basically a small apartment, for all intents and purposes, and the way our house is built and landscaped means the basement level is a walkout to the garage and ultimately our driveway. I even have decent windows so it doesn’t feel as though I’m toiling in a dungeon. It’s also far enough from the kitchen that I’m not as tempted to go fridge forraging.

My office area is separate from the part of the room that has a TV and couch, and the layout is such that I can’t see the TV from my desk. Still, the nature of my writing work does mean I’m on the couch with my laptop from time to time, watching something for research at some point during a project. Otherwise, I tend to work at my desk. That’s where the library is, and I’ve usually got music on for background noise.

The first part of the morning is usually spent going through email and seeing if there’s anything pressing I need to do for this or that client. This transitions into my writing up a brief “To Do List” for the day’s activities. My rule of thumb is to organize what I perceive as the day’s tasks in ascending order of time needed to complete each action item. So, I knock out the quick stuff before moving on to progressively meatier tasks. This approach provides a little series of warm fuzzies as I get to cross items off the list, for which I confess a weakness because it tells me I’m getting shit done.

More often than not, the meatiest item on my daily menu involves the major writing project on my plate. The novel-in-progress, for example. Depending on various factors, things come along during the day that get added to my list and I adjust as necessary. If it’s a hot item then I may move it to the top of the day’s pile and proceed from there, otherwise it gets set aside for adding to tomorrow’s list.

I make sure to take breaks throughout the day, whether it’s for lunch or hanging out with the kids for a bit. With the current situation, they have school during the week via “virtual learning.” It’s not nearly as structured as a regular school day so we have to make sure they’re doing okay with their assignments and other activities like practicing with their instruments (one daughter plays the viola, the other the cello) and doing the challenges put forth by — for example — their P.E. teachers. They’re old enough now they have their own preferred ways of keeping busy and they can fend for themselves if they’re hungry. They’ve even been pitching in with meal prep. As needed or just because I’m feeling antsy, I get outside to work in the yard at some point during the middle part of the day. I also make sure to hold up my end of things like cooking and cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, and so on.

(This is probably a good time to admit some of these practices long predate working at home and even my stint as a cog in the private sector wheel. Military life instills routines and habits for pretty much every aspect of your existence at some point, including figuring out how best to allot time and attention spent on mundane tasks like laundry and housekeeping. Despite being a civilian for more years than I care to say out loud, a few of those ingrained habits and approaches to accomplishing such tasks linger to this day.)

Work interactions, as they’ve always done, continue to involve email and phone conferences. Phone calls factor into a daily task list, and it’s only recently that video chats have been added to the mix. I’ve done a couple, but even those were enough for me to up my Zoom game with a few different virtual backgrounds. For example:

There almost certainly will be others.

Anyway, the routine I’ve established takes up most of the daylight working hours. Pretty much every “sucessful work at home strategies” article you’re going to read will tell you making and sticking to a schedule is essential to that success. It’s a good guideline but let’s face it: If we’re on the jazz then schedules go out the window. There are more days when I keep working into the evening than not. Sometimes it’s because I’m on a roll, but others it’s due to my being behind on a project and a deadline is looming and I feel like I need to put in the extra effort. Work comes in waves where I’ll be at it for days on end with long hours, broken up by periods of little or no pressing deadlines or other tasks. That’s when I get to do things such as catch up on leisure activities like reading or plowing through the TV backlog.

As with anything of this sort, what works for me may or may not work for others. You have to find an approach that best fits with all the various things and people going on in your life. It takes time for a schedule to become a routine before solidifying itself into a habit, so don’t be too hard on yourself in the early going. Look for the rhythm that’s right for you, and dance to it.

Just don’t dance too close to the fridge. Or the windows, if you’ve opted to go without pants. Or, maybe you want to give the neighbors a thrill. Whatever tickles your…whatever.

2019 in review: “My job is weird.”

Dayton-BeatYep. I think the headline says it all.

2019 was definitely a year of new and exciting things, on several fronts. There was much change here at Ward Manor, but in reality the more things changed the more they stayed the same. This is a good thing.

First, I’m happy to report that Clan Ward is doing well. Our daughters, now in 7th and 6th grades, continue to amaze me. They’re both excellent students, involved in extracurricular activities in and outside of school, and generally just awesome kids in every way worth measuring. I’d like to think my wife and I had something to do with that, but one can’t discount the value of the teachers from whom they’ve learned as well as the friends they’ve made along the way.

We’re fortunate to live in a neighborhood that is rather close knit in many respects, and the friends we’ve made since moving here have been amazing. I don’t make new friends all that easily and for far too long I was pretty okay with that, so there are times when I’ve had to take a pause and reflect on just how big my social circle has grown in the past few years. That’s thanks in large part to meeting and hanging out with the parents of the kids our daughters call friends. Now we’re to a point where our family vacations with a few of these other families. If you’d told me even five years ago that would be a thing, I’d have given you severe side-eye.

Yet here we are, and I’m pretty damned cool with that.

Continue reading “2019 in review: “My job is weird.””

Tied Up With Tie-Ins: Space: 1999!

This irregular blog feature I proposed back at the start of the year has become more infrequent and irregular than I originally envisioned, but I guess I have decent excuses for at least some of those lags. You know, work, deadlines, etc. It’s been a busy year on a number of fronts, but I still try to squeeze in some fun, nostalgic stuff like this as opportunities present themselves.

“Shush, blog monkey,” I can hear someone shouting from the cheap seats. “Give us the bookie bookie talk!”

For those wondering what you’ve stumbled into, back at the beginning of the year I announced I’d offer an occasional look at a favorite series of movie or TV tie-in books. So far, we’ve revisited novels based on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Planet of the Apes, and V.

Next up? We turn our attention to the men and women of Moonbase Alpha and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day they had on September 13th, 1999.

Space: 1999 TV series title card.

Continue reading “Tied Up With Tie-Ins: Space: 1999!”

“Hey, Dayton! Why don’t you have a podcast?”

No, the headline isn’t some oh-so clever way of announcing my new podcast. Far from it, actually.

So, yeah. Podcasts.

Lots of people have podcasts. I mean…a lot of people have podcasts. I should know, because I’ve been a guest on my share of them over the years. It’s too bad it’s not a paying gig, because that sort of thing totally beats donating blood or other body fluids for money, or being one of those guys who stand on the Strip in Las Vegas handing out cards with hooker phone numbers on them.

solicitorsYep. It’s totally a real thing. Totally.

Alas, I do such things for the glory and the fun…oh, and to talk about my writing or promote a new book or some such thing. I occasionally show up on a podcast for reasons other than self-promotion, and those are their own special brand of fun. Indeed, I tend to enjoy those situations more than the “Let’s talk about my new book,” shows, as I’m not the focus of the episode and instead we’re just talking about something we all love. For example, I “guest co-hosted” several episodes of Cyborgs: A Bionic Podcast for just this reason, and I’ve popped into other shows like UnderDiscussion and the Sci-Fi Diner to talk about various geeky subjects. Then there are the podcasts I listen to just for my own entertainment. There are quite a few of those, actually, and I know I’m certainly not an outlier when it comes to this kind of thing.

BREAKING NEWS: Podcasts are pretty darned popular, by golly.

Continue reading ““Hey, Dayton! Why don’t you have a podcast?””

Tied Up With Tie-Ins: V!

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. I know I said it would be an irregularly recurring series of self-indulgent babbling, but it’s been a little more irregular than I originally planned or would’ve preferred. So, let me try to get back on the horse here and see what happens.

V-SeriesLogoA short while back on Facebook, I made a post mentioning the 1983 miniseries V. This four-hour “limited” or “event series” (as it’d likely be called today) depicted the arrival of aliens on Earth with seemingly benign motives. They show up in massive, saucer-like spaceships that hover over every major city around the world and proceed to make all sorts of awesome, too-good-to-be-true promises while asking for a comparatively minor favor in return: help with engineering a special compound for use fighting environmental contamination on their home planet.

Continue reading “Tied Up With Tie-Ins: V!”

2019 Edition! Marvel Movie Tip: Stay for the credits, yo.

It seems like just a few short months ago that we were all running to the movie theater to see Avengers: Endgame, and now here we are with this week’s release of Spider-Man: Far From Home. We’ve been doing this in fits and starts since 2008 with Iron Man, the first movie in what was to become “the Marvel Cinematic Universe.”

After all these years, you’d think some of the basic protocols would be all but ingrained into our collective consciousness, but we all know someone who’s going to drop the ball on this. Because of this, it’s a warning we need to repeat often:

“Stay through the credits.”

It’s been a while since we last visited this topic…all the way back to 2016 and Captain America: Civil War, so we’re definitely due for a look at the updated picture. Since 2008, we’ve been treated to:

Iron Man
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Thor
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Ant-Man
Deadpool
(yes, not an official MCU film but still here because fucking Deadpool, people)
Captain America: Civil War
Doctor Strange
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Spider-Man: Homecoming

Thor: Ragnarok
Black Panther
Avengers: Infinity War
Deadpool 2
(Again…fucking Deadpool)
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Captain Marvel
Avengers: Endgame*
Spider-Man: Far From Home

What’s the one rule that applies for each of these movies? Say it with me:

“Stay for the credits.”

(* = Endgame didn’t have such scenes until…you know, it suddenly did.)

And yet, there I was today with Clan Ward, watching people leaving the theater just as the credits began to roll at the conclusion of Spider-Man: Far From Home, even though there’s not one but two–count ’em…two–extra scenes: One during the credits, and one just after.

OH, THE HUMANITY!

Forgive them, Stan Lee, for they know not what they do.

marvel_truefan

Now, it’s arguable that several of these little add-ons aren’t essential to enjoying either their respective movie or the larger story arcs laid down over the course of these films, but some of them are. Besides, dang it! They’re part of the fun, amirite?

You stay for the credits, people.

Always.

Friends don’t let friends leave a Marvel movie early.

If you’re catching these flicks for the first time at home with disc or digital download, then you fast forward if you have to, but the rule is the same: “Stay for the credits.”

With that in mind, I’ve instituted a checklist of tips to help Marvel moviegoers avoid missing out on the important stuff lurking in and around a given film’s end credits. Consider this a public service, movie nerds:

1. You stay for the credits.

2. You stay after the credits.

3. You stay until the lights come up.

4. You stay until they start the slide show between screenings, and you make sure you sit through the entire slide reel at least once.

5. And look on the back of your ticket and the underside of your popcorn. Just in case. (via Bernie Kopsho on Facebook)

6. Then run across the hall and sit through the credits of the non-Marvel movie. LEAVE NOTHING TO CHANCE.

7. Then run outside and look for skywriting, because who knows? (via Bernie)

IT’S THE ONLY WAY TO BE SURE.

In summation: “Stay for the credits.”

Goose-Tesseract

Okay, now we’re done. You can go home.

A Superman “mystery?”

I don’t typically advertise when I’m away on vacation, preferring instead to surprise readers after I’m back and let you know that HEY! I was on vacation last week.

So, HEY! I was on vacation last week.

It was an epic road trip in which Clan Ward joined forces with two other families with whom we’ve become good friends since our move to Ward Manor 2.0 in 2014. Our kids all go to the same schools, participate in the neighborhood swim team and other local activities, and my wife along with one of the other wives actually works for the third wife, so we find ourselves together in all sorts of weather and circumstances. 😀

This time, it was a 2,100-or so mile excursion: first to Nashville, Tennessee, where we spent mine and Michi’s 28th anniversary and St. Patrick’s Day. We followed that with a jaunt to Destin, Florida for a few days lounging on the beach, checking out local sites, and eating all manner of things plundered from the ocean that was RIGHT THERE. The last couple of days were spent in Hot Springs, Arkansas at the historic Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa, located right in the heart of the action directly across the street from Hot Springs National Park, Bathhouse Row, and all sorts of local coolness.

It was this past Saturday afternoon, as Michi and the girls were availing themselves of the hotel’s embedded Starbucks cafe when the barista started making small talk, which brings us to the reason for this latest blog posting and its title. As she prepared the girls’ triple latte double caff whatevers, the barista pointed to a building across the street and casually mentioned, “They used it for the Daily Planet building in the old Superman TV series.”

Continue reading “A Superman “mystery?””