My first two decades as an alleged novelist.

How’s that song go? “It’s been a long road…..”

Yeah. Twenty years in the rearview mirror, just like that.

It was on this date in 2002 that my first novel was “officially” published. As it happens, it was a Star Trek novel, In the Name of Honor, and as is often the case with mass-market paperbacks, it had been showing up in stores in the days running up to its scheduled release date. Today, however, is the day I circled on the calendar way back when.

Little did I know what might come next.

Those of you familiar with my secret origin story know that this first novel came about after I sold short stories to each of the first three Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthologies. I still recall the afternoon that John Ordover, at the time the editor overseeing the bulk of Pocket Books’ Star Trek fiction output, called me at my office in the fall of 1999 to tell me that he was buying my story “The Aliens Are Coming!” for the third edition of the annual contest and its resulting anthology. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something along the lines of, “Okay, I’m buying your story. This is your third sale, so you can’t enter the contest anymore. I think it’s time you wrote a Star Trek novel for me.” The rest…as they say…is a frappin’ mystery.

(Takeaway: All of this is John’s fault.)

Is it a stretch to say that phone call changed the course of my life? I don’t think so. Until then, I was rather happy with my career as a software developer. Writing fiction was something I’d taken to doing as a creative outlet, with no real thoughts – serious or otherwise – about ever being professionally published. That was something “real writers” did. I was just writing goofy stories to make my friends laugh, or the occasional bit of Star Trek fan fiction just because it was fun. Only after a dear friend, Deb Simpson, basically dared me to enter a story in that first SNW contest did I ever write something with the idea someone might consider buying it, and I was as stunned as anyone else when my name was announced as one of that first contest’s winners.

At the time I considered it a fluke, but there was no denying the utter rush of seeing my name in a table of contents in an actual book you bought at an actual bookstore. There’s nothing quite like it, I think; that sense of accomplishment, indelibly recorded for all the world to see. Even then, In the Name of Honor was different. This was the first time my name was on the front cover, and that was its own level of “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” Holy hell. How did this happen?

(Again, blame John.)

They should find a way to capture that sensation so you can drink or smoke it, because it’s an incredible feeling, and even after all this time, the experience is the same every time I get my first look at a new cover with my name on it. If that excitement ever fades, I’ll know it’s time to get out of this game and go do something else.

Since then, I’ve been afforded some amazing opportunities – things I can’t imagine ever doing if not for those SNW contests and this first novel. For one thing, I met the dude who would become my frequent writing partner to say nothing of my best friend, Kevin Dilmore, but I’ve also befriended so many other people – writers, fans and fellow Star Trek enthusiasts, people involved with the various Star Trek television series and films (and a few non-Trek, productions, as well), and even a couple of honest-to-goodness astronauts.

Eventually, the writing and everything that came with it expanded to influence so much of what I was doing that I cast off my corporate shackles and took up the challenge of writing full-time. I don’t mind saying that was an exciting and yet petrifying period, but I have absolutely no regrets.

Over the years, I’ve written and published original fiction, and even had the chance to write stories in other favorite “universes” like 24, Planet of the Apes, and Predator, but Star Trek has been and continues to be very, very good to me. Without a doubt, Star Trek opened all of those other doors but if you’d told me back in 2002 I’d still be writing and publishing anything – let alone Star Trek stories – twenty years later, I’d have thought you were high. If you told me back then I might eventually find myself in a position where Star Trek pretty much dominates my every waking and working moment, I’d have asked for your dealer’s contact info.

But, here we are. It’s been a long road, all right, but I’m honestly having the time of my life.

Every day, I’m privileged to work with talented and dedicated people who love this thing as much as I do and who want to do right by it. Any list of people to thank is pretty damned long at this point and I know I’d accidentally leave off someone, but I’d like to think they know who they are. They have – each and every one of them – elevated my game, and I can only hope I’ve somehow found a way to return that favor at some point along the way.

With that said, the opportunities and success I’ve enjoyed these past twenty years all track back to In the Name of Honor and – even more so – that first Strange New Worlds contest. For that, I am and will forever remain grateful to John Ordover along with writer and SNW editor Dean Wesley Smith and Paula Block for making it all possible in the first place.

Here’s to the next twenty years, or however many the Fates decide I have in me.

So, 2021….or is it “2020 won?”

2021: Because apparently there was just too much 2020 to stuff into a single year.

It’s a year later than the last time I did this sort of post, and where are we? COVID is still a thing, albeit in something resembling an “evolved fashion.” Just like 2020 and despite the protestations of YouTube and TikTok mouth holes everywhere, I did what I’ve always done when it comes to health stuff: Trusted the advice of people who actually went to school to learn about this shit, and did what they suggested I do. Because that’s really all there was to it. It appears we may all well be turning a corner, even though many challenges remain (Did someone say, “Omicron?”). I guess we’ll have to see what the new year brings on multiple fronts. Here’s hoping.

On the home front, we’ve done our bit to keep on keeping on. Our daughters, now in 9th and 8th grades, were able to return to in-person learning at their respective schools. It occurs to me that these next few months mark the last time they will be on different school schedules, as they’ll both be at the same high school starting in the fall. How all of that time flew past remains a mystery. Our oldest daughter continues to pursue her interest in music. She’s playing or learning to play three different instruments: viola, piano, and guitar, and she plays the former for her school orchestra. She’s also got a thing for arts and crafts, namely painting and pottery, and she reads a lot. I mean a lot.

Meanwhile, our younger daughter continues to play volleyball, both for her school team as well as a private club out in town. She’s also into her own hobbies like puzzles and reading. Indeed, we got her a lavishly illustrated, leatherbound edition of The Princess Bride as a Christmas present. Oh, and a new laptop. Both girls continue to make the principal’s honor roll at school, so all is well on that front.

My wife is enjoying a bit of a well-earned work sabbatical. Taking advantage of this time, she’s picked up her own violin and resumed playing (she originally went to college on a music scholarship, you know) and is even attending lessons with our viola-playing daughter. She’s also taking guitar lessons. I get to listen to her and our daughter playing upstairs, which is kinda neat, I must say.

Then there’s me.

Work at home is a whole mood forever, now.

One personal item I haven’t mentioned – either at the time or since then – is that it’s coming up on a year since my father passed away. Outside of immediate family, it was news I shared only with a very small, very close circle of people (if you counted on one hand you’d have fingers left over). I didn’t have a lot to offer about it at the time and still don’t. To say that my relationship with him was “strained” — especially the last 15 years or so — is a pretty big understatement. His passing brought forth a lot of anger I’d been holding in for a long time, and while I think I’ve let most of it go I can’t deny there’s still a bit of it lurking around the fringes. I know there’s nothing to be done about it now, but I’m still working to a point where I can shove whatever’s left into a box and be done with it.

In happier news, 2021 saw me continuing in my role as a consultant to ViacomCBS Global Franchise Management, and that arrangement has been renewed for 2022. What does this mean? Basically, I consult on various projects such as novels, comics, games, and other initiatives that help expand “the Star Trek brand” beyond just TV and film. To that end, I read a lot of proposals, outlines, scripts, manuscripts, and whatever else they want me to review and comment on so far as making sure everything stays consistent with what’s been established on screen. This primarily means efforts based on the newer Star Trek series, and we’ve had a bunch of those made available for your viewing pleasure since 2017.

It should surprise no one that this train is definitely continuing to roll. New seasons of existing shows in development? Yep. New series on the drawing board? Ayup. Other things here and there? You just never know. There’s also no shortage of material tying into the classic/”legacy” series, and I get pulled into some of that action, too. So, yeah….they’re finding all sorts of ways to keep me busy, which is good because there are standing orders that I’m not to be left unsupervised for any great length of time.

On the writing front, most of the buzz around my 2021 output has circled around the Star Trek: Coda trilogy, the project on which I worked with friends and fellow wordsmiths James Swallow and David Mack. The culmination of two years’ worth of on-again/off-again brainstorming, plotting, planning, and writing is now out there in the wild, bringing down the curtain on 20 years’ worth of storytelling and interconnected continuity spanning dozens of tales across multiple Star Trek series. It was a tremendous undertaking unlike anything I’ve ever attempted since starting this odd writing journey of mine. How we carried it off is ultimately up to each individual reader to decide, but — at least according to some of the email I received — anyone who thinks we didn’t take the job seriously or (worse) we approached it callously, cynically, or disdainfully is simply mistaken.

Elsewhere in the Star Trek universe, I was privileged once again to join a very talented team of writers for the Shackleton Expanse Campaign Guide, a comprehensive sourcebook for the Star Trek Adventures roleplaying game.

Under the guidance of the game’s project manager, Jim Johnson, I got to work alongside friends and fellow writers Derek Tyler Attico, Kelli Fitzpatrick, and Scott Pearson as we put together a pretty fat portion of the book’s contents. This does not even include the material provided by other writers including Patrick Goodman, Rich Handley, John Kennedy, Ian Lemke, Fred Love, and Aaron Pollyea, to say nothing of the game designers, artists, and other creators Modiphius brought to the table. It is by far the most work for a single project on which I’ve worked for the game. I have no idea what the future holds for me and Star Trek Adventures, but I’ve learned to never say, “Never,” when it comes to this kind of thing.

Outside the Star Trek realm, Kevin and I got back together to write a few short stories. One of those, “Protocol 23,” was published in 2021 as just one of the tales comprising Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2021. Edited by Bob Greenberger and published by the band at Crazy 8 Press, it was a bit of a departures from the usual sorts of things Kevin and I write together. What can I say…we made ourselves laugh, and it’s always a treat to work with Bob for any reason. I don’t know if we’ll dip our toes into a pond quite like that again, but I think the premise we came up with for this story lends itself to additional tales. I guess we’ll see.

We wrote two other stories during 2021, both for anthologies which will be out sometime in the coming year. The first is for The Four ???? of the Apocalypse, edited by Keith R.A. DeCandido and Wrenn Sims through their small-press publishing house, Whysper Wude. A publication date hasn’t yet been set, but I’m sure Keith and Wrenn will let us know in due course.

The other story is another departure for us: a space western! It’s for a publisher with whom we haven’t previously worked, and for an editor who’s a friend but this is their first time inviting us to a project they’re shepherding. We had a lot of fun with it and it’s another concept we think lends itself to additional stories. Whether that happens depends on time, availability, and other factors, but we’re certainly keen to revisit the premise if the planets align.

Which brings us to 2022’s writing! Kevin and I are planning a pitch or two for anthologies we know will be opening to submissions in the near future. We’re also still yakking about things like revisiting the aforementioned space western setting as well as the Vogue Theater we created for our 2020 story “Helluloid” for the anthology It Came from the Multiplex from Hex Publishers. We’ll see how things shake out.

Elsewhere, the coming year will see publication of Jurassic World: The Official Cookbook from Insight Editions. This was another step outside my normal wheelhouse, but my editors at Insight were confident I could pull it off. I had a lot of fun with this one, especially working with food stylist Elena Craig, who created 50 recipes that evoke the fictional island of Isla Nublar and the cuisine of the equally fictitious Jurassic World resort and indeed the very real Costa Rica region where the island is supposedly located. That will be out in April.

Meanwhile, I’m toiling away on a new (as yet unannounced) project, with a due date in late February. I’m also considering what might be next after that and I have a few ideas I’d like to pursue. Of course, if someone comes knocking with another job offer, that’ll change my priorities, so I guess we’ll just have to see what we see.

I may even get to sleep a little this year.

Nah. Probably not.

Star Trek: Coda – interview round-up!

It’s been pretty quiet around here, lately. My only excuse is that I’ve been busy on the writing and consulting fronts, as well as the usual sorts of family and home things along with my volunteer stints at the museum. Between all of that and just trying to find small chunks of time to decompress if not outright relax, I haven’t devoted much in the way of effort to this space (so the thought of running something like a Patreon or Substack page where I’d ask people to throw money my way for new “content” and other online interaction seems pretty ludicrous, yeah?). I’d like to say things will be better in the new year, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, all right?

For those of you tuning in to our program already in progress, you may or not be aware that over the past few months, the three books comprising the Star Trek: Coda trilogy were released. You may have heard about it, as word started spreading way back in February. Up to that point, I along with my literary co-conspirators, James Swallow and David Mack, had toiled in secrecy dating back to the summer of 2019. Over the next two years in on-again/off-again fashion, we developed a storyline to drive the books we each contributed to the effort.

I kicked things off with Book I: Moments Asunder, which hit shelves back on September 28th. Jim picked up the action a month later on October 26th with his Book II: The Ashes of Tomorrow, and on November 30th Dave brought it all home with the concluding Book III: Oblivion’s Gate.

It’s fair to say the books have generated a broad spectrum of reactions. There are reviews aplenty littering the lawless hellscape that is the internet, from personal posts on individual social media platforms to message boards and Facebook groups all the way to full-blown critiques from all manner of websites. Beyond simply thanking them for the time and effort they expended, I tend to refrain from engaging those who post such reviews be they postive, negative, apathetic, whatever. I never want folks thinking I’m lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce should they somehow cross whatever imaginary line they feel I’ve drawn for such things. For one thing, it’s a dick move for an author to make, and there are plenty of examples of authors being justifiably roasted for going after readers who’ve posted something less than a glowing review of their latest pet project.

So yeah, we’re not doing that here.

In conjunction with each book’s publication, the three of us have all participated in various interviews. Most of these consist of one of us flying solo, as the thrust of said interview was our individual entry in the trilogy. However, the three of us have also had the opportunity to get together and discuss the entire project, its evolution, and so on. I’ve done my best to keep track of them as well as hunt for those one or two I missed, and collected links to them here. For those of you who’ve been holding off on listening to such interviews until you’ve had a chance to read the books or for some other reason you’re only now getting around to searching out such things, I’ve attempted to compile a one-stop shopping list.

First up? Me, talking about the trilogy in general and Moments Asunder in particular:
Trekcore.com (print interview)
Daily Star Trek News (print interview)
Beyond Trek Podcast
Go Trek Yourself Podcast
Literary Treks Podcast
Positively Trek Podcast
Trek Geeks Podcast
Mission Log Podcast

Next, we’ve got Jim with his take on our collaboration, highlighted by his own contribution, The Ashes of Tomorrow:
Trekcore.com (print interview)
Beyond Trek Podcast
Literary Treks Podcast
Positively Trek Podcast

Last but certainly not least, we’ve got Dave with his own thoughts on the joint effort, anchored by his senses-shattering* conclusion, Oblivion’s Gate:
Trekcore.com (print interview)
Beyond Trek Podcast
Literary Treks Podcast
Positively Trek Podcast
PaulSemel.com (print interview)
Traversing the Stars Podcast

And as if that’s not enough, we also have interviews with all three of us! Together! Noses pressed against our webcams as we stare out from our respective pillow forts into the webosphere:
Infinite Diversity Podcast

Is that all of them? I feel like there should be more. Either way, methinks that’s a lot of yakking.

Anyway, reading and listening to all of that should keep you busy. I want to say we have at least one or two more joint interviews coming up after the holidays, so stay tuned for updates. And as always, thanks so much for reading and supporting our wordy efforts.

* = Yeah, I read a lot of Marvel Comics when I was a kid. Deal with it.

The writer’s life and the “Freelance Dance.”

I’m often asked – either in interviews or by folks just starting out as writers and still learning “the ropes” – how I’m able to balance so many work-related tasks with personal and family time and other obligations and not go insane…or, at least no more insane than I already am. A flavor of this question came up in an interview I’m in the process of answering.

To be honest, for me it’s an ongoing process, and finding that “sweet spot” can sometimes be difficult.

By its very nature, a freelance career of any sort means that typical work schedules are usually out the window. You can apply a sort of structure, but deadlines are deadlines and sometimes they’re at odds with each other despite your best efforts. Then there’s the rest of your life, which rears its head in frequent and myriad ways. Some of that’s predictable – kid activities, appointments, house and lawn chores, etc – but then there are sick kids, sick spouse, car problems, appliance problems, etc. All of this means that as often as not, you’re working long, weird hours well after friends have reached out and wondered where the hell you are because it’s cocktail time!

Star Trek work means Star Trek cocktails, and you’re damned right I wish I’d thought of writing this.

(And I do loves me my cocktail time, you know.)

Two key traits any successful freelancer simply must cultivate are flexibility and adaptability. You need to be ready to deal with schedule changes, last-minute meetings or other requests, stressed out clients, and any number of other things…often all on the same day. “Roll with the punches,” as they say, while resisting the often and near overwhelming urge to punch back.

There’s another key aspect of navigating this existence that I admit I struggle with: making sure I find ways to counter all of the above with time for me. This includes family time, time with friends, time spent doing fun things away from my desk, my laptop, my email, and my phone. Yes, this may well include friends and cocktails.

The Big Reason for this is that I honestly enjoy what I do. It is in many respects a literal “dream job” and I want to do it well. Further, I want to keep doing it…at least so long as my brain and fingers continue to work. There’s also the element of uncertainty that comes with being a freelancer and not always knowing where the next job is coming from (aka “the Freelance Dance”). So, I’m almost always on the hunt for The Next Thing, and what happens? I sometimes get too caught up in the rush of it all and end up working stupid hours.

Anyway, as I said up top, this is an evolving process, filled with experimentation and refinement, successes and failures, lessons learned and wisdom applied. Your mileage may vary; what works for me or another freelancer might not work for you, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you face similar challenges. Sooner or later, you’ll find your rhythm.

Then somebody will change the song – usually to something that sucks – and you have to start over.

That’s the “Freelance Dance.” 🤟😎

Did you know June is “Audiobook Month?”

“Audio Book Vectors” graphic created by Vecteezy.

I mean, I didn’t. Not until this weekend, I mean. But, I’m told such things by – for example – the good folks at the Audiobook Publishers Association, and who am I to argue with them? After all, they’re advocates for the various entities who publish audio editions of the books we want to read but for which we maybe don’t always have time to settle back with a paperback (or eBook, if that’s your thing).

Me, personally? I’ve been listening to audiobooks for decades, going back to versions offered on cassette tapes – sometimes unabridged but more often savagely edited to fit on two 90-minute cassettes (or perhaps even one…ONE!). The advent of CDs seemed to allow for an expansion of titles and the ability to offer unabridged versions, but even then a complete audiobook adaptation could still run into a dozen or more CDs. Now with digital downloads and physical media storage no longer being a primary consideration, unabridged audiobooks are all the rage.

For me, audiobooks are fantastic for long road trips, but I’m just as liable to have one in my car’s player (or on my phone) so I can listen to one in chunks whenever I’m driving around town. I also use an app on my phone that lets me check out audiobooks from my public library system and download the file(s) for a set time to my device. These are great whenever I’m taking my walks around the lakes in our neighborhood.

Listening to audiobooks is just one more weapon I can deploy in my seemingly neverending quest to conquer my ever-growing “To Be Read” pile. They’ve even helped me discover authors. The first time I “read” a book by Nelson DeMille, for example, was listening to the audiobook version of his novel The General’s Daughter. The reading on that early 1990s cassette edition was performed by actor Ken Howard, who for my money was bang-on perfect giving voice to the book’s first-person narrator, Army criminal investigator Paul Brenner. Howard returned to read DeMille’s sequel to the novel, Up Country, and again I thought he nailed Brenner perfectly, the same way noted audiobook reader Scott Brick has become The Voice for one of DeMille’s other popular characters, Detective John Corey, who stars in a series of novels involving him first as a police officer and later a member of a joint terrorism task force.

Other times, an audiobook is a means to revisit a novel I’ve already read but want to experience it in an a different manner than simply picking up the print edition. This has been the case for more titles and authors than I can easily list here, but some examples are Tom Clancy (The Hunt for Red October), Clive Cussler (Raise the Titanic, Vixen 03), Joseph R. Garber (Vertical Run), Andy Weir (The Martian, Artemis), and Ernest Cline (Ready Player One) to name just a handful.

Non-Fiction is in the mix, too. Motivated as I was by the previous presidential administration, I found myself listening to audio adaptations of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s All the President’s Men as well as Woodward’s Fear. Other recent listens include Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, about the last voyage of the Lusitania, Chris Nashaway’s Caddyshack: The Making of A Hollywood Cinderella Story, and even Kevin Smith’s Tough Sh*t.

And yes, there are more than a few Star Trek audiobooks I’ve stuck in my ears. Occupational hazard, you know, but it also provides me with a nice little segue, as audiobooks have served as yet another intersection point between my reading hobby as well as my professional world. The first such audiobooks came out in in the late 1980s and continued with new releases into the early 2000s, focusing primarily on adaptations of hardcover Star Trek novels as well as the novelizations of the four movies featuring the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast. They went into limbo for a few years before experiencing a brief resurgence with audio versions of the novelizations for the first two “reboot” films, 2009’s Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness from 2013.

As part of Simon & Schuster’s celebration of Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary in 2016, the publisher tapped writers Greg Cox and David Mack along with Kevin Dilmore and myself to write the Star Trek: Legacies trilogy. As icing on the cake, we were informed that these books would be adapted as audiobooks, perhaps kickstarting a renewed interest in adapting various Star Trek novels for the format.

The Star Trek: Legacies trilogy, published from July to September, 2016

By all accounts, sales of the Legacies audiobooks – now offered primarily as unabridged digital downloads and with each book narrated by actor Robert Petkoff – were very strong, prompting Simon & Schuster to keep the party going with audiobook adaptations of other Star Trek novels in the production pipeline. To date, nearly every Star Trek novel published after the Legacies books has received the audio treatment, including the five I’ve written since Kevin and I teamed up for Purgatory’s Key. Though I haven’t seen an official announcement, I suspect this will also be the case for the Star Trek: Coda trilogy coming later this year, for which I wrote the first book, Moments Asunder.

(Yes, this it the part where I go into shameless marketing mode.)

Star Trek: Legacies – Purgatory’s Key
Star Trek: The Next Generation – Headlong Flight
Star Trek: The Next Generation – Hearts and Minds
Star Trek: Discovery – Drastic Measures
Star Trek: The Next Generation – Available Light
Star Trek: The Original Series – Agents of Influence

In addition to these, Mr. Petkoff lent his voice to most of the new offerings to date. Actress January LaVoy has also offered her own considerable talents for a few titles, and author Kirsten Beyer narrated the audio version of her most recent Star Trek: Voyager novel, To Lose the Earth.

While there don’t seem to be any plans to dig into Simon & Schuster’s rather massive backlist and adapt older Star Trek novels for audio, I was very pleased back in 2019 when they opted to republish Gene Roddenberry’s novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the book’s publication but also their publishing of Star Trek books dating back to 1979. For the first time, the book received an unabridged audio adaptation (read by Mr. Petkoff), which for me provided an easy means of revisiting the novel…something I’d not done in many, many years and which I’d been planning to do that year in observance of the anniversary. It was quite the treat to “relive the story” in this manner.

Away from Star Trek, I’ve been fortunate to have a few other tales of mine ported to audiobook format. First, there was my short story “Day to Day,” my contribution to one of my very favorite projects in recent years, 2113: Stories Inspired By the Music of Rush. Edited by Kevin J. Anderson and John McFetridge, all of the anthology’s stories is read by actor Paul Boehmer, whose commanding voice breathes vivid life into each of the tales. It was a privilege to be invited to write for the anthology in the first place, but to have it given such a wonderful audio adaptation was quite the bonus.

Then came the audio version of the Predator anthology If It Bleeds, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. Included among the collection’s 16 stories is my tale “Recon.” This time around, Editor Bryan and publisher Titan Books saw to it each story received its own narrator; an impressive feat of logistics and cat herding if I’ve ever heard one. For “Recon,” I benefitted from the vouce talents of actor Peter Berkrot. The strategy of recruiting an entire cast to narrate the book looks to have been pretty smart, as the audiobook edition of If It Bleeds ended up winning the 2018 Best Narration – Short Story Anthology award from the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences. How ’bout them apples?

So, yeah…audiobooks are pretty dang cool.

Trying to compile a list of favorites or even a roster of candidates for anyone looking to try a few (more) of their own would keep us here all day. Suffice it to say there’s something out there for anyone looking to put some storytelling between their ears. But, don’t let that or me stop you from offering your favorites down in the comments.

Happy listening, and “Happy Audiobook Month!”

Tuesday Trekkin’: the original AMT Star Trek models.

Me as a kid in the 1970s:

  1. Acquire brand new U.S.S. Enterprise model
  2. Build brand new U.S.S. Enterprise model, to include shoddy paint and poorly placed decals
  3. Take model outside and run around, holding it up to simulate its flight through space
  4. Drop the model onto the sidewalk or parking lot
  5. Cry over all the broken pieces
  6. Try (and fail) to repair the model
  7. GOTO 1

Yup. That was a thing that happened. A few times.

Continue reading “Tuesday Trekkin’: the original AMT Star Trek models.”

Tuesday Trekkin’: the Star Trek Giant Poster Books.

Okay, so at least this time it’s been less than a month since the previous installment of this “irregularly recurring” blog feature. Not too bad, when considering all the other things on my various plates. I originally thought “monthly” might be a good schedule for this sort of thing, but if I’m feeling froggy and I’m unexpectedly inundated with free time*, who knows?

(* = Yeah, that’s not really a thing, is it?)

For those joining the program already in progress, “Tuesday Trekkin'” is pretty much just an excuse for me to wax nostalgic about some facet of old-school Star Trek fandom, be it a fondly remembered bit of funky merchandise, “milestones” or convention memories or whatever else tickles my fancy on any given day. For this latest entry, I’m digging into my archives and pulling out some truly 1970s pop culture goodness: the Star Trek “Giant Poster Books.”

Continue reading “Tuesday Trekkin’: the Star Trek Giant Poster Books.”

Tuesday Trekkin’: the Star Trek “Fotonovels.”

To the surprise of perhaps no one, my most recent attempt at an “irregularly recurring” blog feature has unfolded pretty much in keeping with my master plan. It’s been four months since the last installment of “Tuesday Trekkin’,” which at the time I was thinking could be a monthly thing. Sounds like government, amirite?

So, what’s the point of “Tuesday Trekkin’?” It’s basically an excuse for me to wax nostalgic about some facet of old-school Star Trek fandom, merchandise, fond memories of various “milestones” or convention memories or whatever else tickles my fancy on any given day. For this latest entry, I’m reaching up to the top shelf of older books and focusing on twelve little jewels; ambassadors for Star Trek from a truly bygone era.

Covers for Star Trek Fotonovels 1-4.

Published in 1977 and 1978, each of these “Fotonovels” takes an episode of the original Star Trek series and retells it in a neat little hybrid of paperback book, comic book, and film strips (anybody remember film strips from school?). Each installment boasted “300 Full Color Action Scenes” from the selected episode, with dialogue and exposition presented in “comic book style,” with word and thought balloons and so on.

A 2-page spread from Star Trek Fotonovel #1, “City On the Edge of Forever”

The selection of episodes to adapt into Fotonovel form – as well as the order in which each book was released – appears to have been largely random. The 12 installments include six episodes from Star Trek‘s first season, four from its second year, and two from the final season. While most of these rank among my favorite episodes from across the series, prominent installments such as “Arena,” “The Doomsday Machine,” “Mirror, Mirror,” and “The Tholian Web” among others are conspicous in their absence. I mean…an “Arena” Fotonovel? Shut up and take my money.

Perhaps the selected episodes represented favorites of writer Thomas Warkentin, who was tasked with crafting scripts adapting the episodes for the books’ format. Fans of Star Trek comics may recognize Warkentin as one of the writers who later worked on the Star Trek comic strip which appeared in newspapers via the Los Angeles Times Syndicate between 1979 and 1983. For his work on the Fotonovels, he chose the images from each episode and also added captions, thought balloons, and other bits which weren’t present in the episodes themselves or even their original scripts.

The first one of these I remember buying was #4, “A Taste of Armageddon,” sometime in 1978 or 79, when I happened across it in a local department store’s book section. I don’t remember, but I’m sure at least one or two of the Bantam Star Trek novels were also occupying space somewhere on those shelves, along with other popular science fiction and fantasy novels of the day. So, for $1.95 I was able to revisit this particular episode over and over, and of course the hunt began to find the other books in the series…a quest which would not be completed for several years, as I recall. Over the years, the Fotonovel copies I had as a kid deteriorated to the point that a few of them were coming apart, but being an adult generally means having more disposable income, so as circumstances presented themselves I eventually replaced all twelve books with pristine copies lovingly sealed in mylar bags.

“Photo novels,” from what I’ve learned over the years, were fairly popular in other countries as far back as the 1950s (including editions of American TV shows and films), but it seems as though no one attempted the concept in the U.S. until the 1970s. So far as Star Trek is concerned, the Fotonovel was indeed a neat concept, particularly for me as a kid, in the days before home video let alone on-demand streaming.

Other shows and films got the Fotonovel treatment during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Among the “cooler” ones I own are Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, the first telemovie for The Incredible Hulk, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as well as large trade paperback versions for the original Alien film and the movie Outland. However, as VCRs became more common in the 1980s and the costs of printing entire books of slick, glossy, full-color pictures became increasingly ginormous, the concept faded into near-obsolescence.

With the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, Pocket Books revisited the concept with a “Photostory” book, adapting the film in much the same manner as the original Fotonovels. A similar tome was released in conjunction with the second movie, 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but this time black and white photos on regular paper replaced the glorious full-color glossy pages of Fotonovels past, and the comic-style dialogue and thought balloons were swapped out for captions beneath each photo. As one might imagine, this edition wasn’t quite as well received as its predecessors, but it remains a collector’s item to this day. Both “Photostory” editions were written by Richard J. Anobile, who also was behind several of the other film and TV Fotonovel/”Video Novels” of the time.

I know of a few attempts to resurrect the format in recent years (the Charlie’s Angels film, The Blair Witch Project, and the first Fantastic Four movie), but they didn’t catch on. Why bother with something like this, when the movie’s available for home viewing a few months after it leaves theaters. That’s even more true now, as we’ve moved into the realm of simultaneous releases of films to theaters as well as on-demand streaming.

That said, Star Trek wasn’t quite done with the idea.

In late 2013, IDW Publishing – who currently holds the license to create Star Trek comics – tried an experiment. Legendary comics writer and artist John Byrne, a self-professed fan of the original series, employed photo manipulation and other techniques as he selected images from various episodes of the show to create “Strange New Worlds,” an all-new Star Trek story using these edited and enhanced photos instead of comics. Images from the show, so familiar to so many fans, were inserted into all-new backgrounds and environments generated by Mr. Byrne’s imagination and computer. The story, a sequel to the series’ second pilot episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (and which was – coincedentally – adapted as one of the original Fotonovels), was popular enough and sold enough copies that it spawned its own series of follow-ups.

Published under the umbrella title Star Trek: New Visions, 22 all-new stories were presented by Mr. Byrne in this format between May 2014 and June 2018, along with a special issue adapting the original pilot, “The Cage” released in 2016 as part of celebrating Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary. While several of the issues were sequels to episodes from the series, there also were wholly original tales, each one lovingly constructed using what had to be an intense process of image selection and manipulation to achieve the desired effect. As this usually meant selecting a character with a pose appropriate for the new scene and inserting them into a new panel of Byrne’s creation, part of the fun for readers was trying to guess from which episode a particular character or pose was drawn.

(Okay, maybe it was only fun for me.)

EDIT: Friend and comics guru Rich Handley reminded me that in addition to the 24 “Photonovel” comics, Mr. Byrne also created three special shorter stories. One of these, “Eye of the Beholder,” was included as bonus content to the second Star Trek: New Visions trade paperback collection. The second story, “More of the Serpent Than the Dove,” supported a special online sale of Star Trek digital comics a few years ago. It was later included in the fifth New Visions trade paperback collection. The final short, “Dream A Little Dream,” was included as a bonus in the eighth collection.

There’s no denying the “Fotonovel” is well and truly a relic of Yesteryear, likely appealing only to the older or hardcore collector, but those 12 little gems carry with them many fond memories from my childhood.

That said, if anyone wants to make that “Arena” one…..I’m still here and I’ve still got cash, all right?

Why am I “still” a Bucs fan?

So, those of you who follow football – and at least some of you who don’t – are probably aware that the Super Bowl is this weekend, with a match-up I’ve been anticipating for close to 30 years, now….ever since I, a native Floridian born and raised in Tampa, found myself relocated as a consequence of Uncle Sam’s whims to Kansas City, Missouri.

Photo credit: ESPN

Despite my Tampa heritage, the first seven years or so of my life were defined by frequent moves thanks to my father’s military service. Tampa to North Carolina, then on to Honolulu, Hawai’i (where my sister was born), and from there to Long Island, New York, before finally making our way back to Tampa. All of that happened before I completed the second grade, but Florida was where the family would remain. I would finish high school there before beginning my next little trek around the country and the world with my own time in the service, which eventually landed me here in KC.

Continue reading “Why am I “still” a Bucs fan?”

Star Trek books I wish I’d written.

Wow. New year. New me. New attitude. And yet, I keep forgetting I have this blog thing here, huh?

Nah, not really. It’s definitely more me than the machine.

I promise it’s not due to a lack of interest. It’s more that I’ve just been busy juggling various work things, and I’ve still got about a month to go before the craziness dials back to any significant degree. By the end of the day, I’m generally too fried to come up with something to write about here. When I do get an idea for a topic, I end up tabling it, then forgetting about it until it seems to lose its freshness. Rinse. Repeat.

Then there are times when a weird topic just sort of pops in, knocks crap off the table, and decides it wants attention. You know, like this one.

It began the other night, when I innocently answered a question posed by someone on Facebook: “Does anybody know what the best-selling Star Trek paperback novel of all time is?” They weren’t posing a trivia question. They really wanted to know.

Heck. Now I wanna know, too.

Continue reading “Star Trek books I wish I’d written.”