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!
(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.
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 (or perhaps even one…ONE!) 90-minute cassette. 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 adapation 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 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.
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.)
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
A global pandemic. Lockdowns. Kids sent home to learn via “online instruction.” Political ineptitude and insanity, and that was just March, for fuck’s sake. If I have any takeaway from the madness that was (and still is) the COVID-19 situation, it’s that — much like professed political and other ideological leanings and the actions one is willing to take in support or defiance of same — it revealed to me glimpses if not full-on displays of the true character of a whole lotta people, for better or worse. However, after months and months of seemingly unending bad news coming from every conceivable direction, it appears we may well be turning a corner, even though many challenges remain (Did someone say, “New strain?”). I guess we’ll have to see what the new year brings on multiple fronts. Here’s hoping.
Welp. As promised, my latest attempt at an “irregularly recurring” blog feature has gone about as well as one might reasonably expect. The first installment of “Tuesday Trekkin'” was back on Tuesday, October 20th, so if we’re being kind then I guess we’re tapping “monthly” on the shoulder, but let’s reserve judgment until the next entry.
Meanwhile, here we are. What should we talk about? For this latest trip down Memory Lane, we’re going to set the clocks way back. I was in the 7th grade and one of a small group of students selected to head off from our school for half a day each week to attend a nifty program where we got to do deeper dives into the areas of science, reading, art, and so on. Most of the classes and sessions were fun, but I remember two things pretty vividly from my time attending the program.
First, it was here that I first found a copy of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend, beginning a lifelong love of Matheson in general and this book in particular. Second, it was here that I got my first exposure to computing technology, at least as it existed in 1979. It looked something like what you see to the right.
Yeah, buddy. A teleprinter, or teletype. No screen, no hard drive, no internet. Just this beast and a phone line to a data center somewhere downtown.
“Wait a second, Dayton,” I can hear someone asking. “Tuesday Trekkin’? That sure sounds like the name for yet another irregularly recurring feature on your cute little blog.”
To be fair, this is actually something of a spin-off from another irregularly recurring feature which I tend to lump into the category “Feelin’ Nostalgic.” I decided I wanted a silo just for Star Trek-related posts of this sort. As for the “Tuesday Trekkin'” moniker? For that I have to give credit to a pair of friends, Dan Davidson and Bill Smith aka “The Hosts of the TrekGeeks Podcast.” Over on Facebook, they have a fan group devoted to all things Trek and they like to push a #TrekTuesday hashtag over there where they invite members to share updates, links, and/or pictures celebrating their fandom.
So, with all that said, what am I gonna do over here? Well, I’m gonna ramble a bit about Trek things in the spirit of the #TrekTuesday tag. Might not be every Tuesday. Might not be but one Tuesday a month, depending on my schedule, my mood, and what I feel like yammering about. For this first installment, we’re revisiting a neat little bit of Star Trek merchandise from the days of yesteryear: “Collector’s Art” animation cells.
Where do these things come from? To answer that, we have to travel back in time a bit. Most fans know there was an animated Star Trek series that ran on Saturday mornings on NBC during 1973-1974. Twenty-two half-hour episodes “continued” the five-year mission of Captain Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, with (most of) the original TV series cast returning to lend their voices to their animated doppelgängers. The show’s stories were overseen by Dorothy Fontana, who’d served as a story editor on the original show as well as writing several of its more memorable episodes.
While there was a time when The Powers That Be seemed to distance themselves from the production, hardcore fans have always acknowledged it. For me, it was one of my first entry points to Star Trek fandom, as I remember watching at least some of the episodes during their original broadcast. These along with reruns of the original series and the various toys, models, games, books, comics, and so on were my gateway drug. I mean, look at what ended up happening.
In the mid 1970s, after the animated series had finished its run on NBC, Filmation began offering “sericels.” These are very similar to the actual cels created for animated feature films and television…you know, when everything was done by hand, frame by literal frame, before computer came along and dialed up the animation process to 11. Actual animation cels from these productions are popular with collectors, be they film/TV enthusiasts in general, comic and animation art aficionados, and so on. Among the offerings from Filmation’s range of “limited edition, collector’s art” sericels where pieces from several of their popular Saturday morning cartoons: The New Adventures of Batman, Tarzan – Lord of the Jungle, and Star Trek.
In most cases, the art didn’t necessarily reflect a scene from any of the actual episodes but instead resembled promotional art. An actual cel tends to be just one portion of a total scene painted on an otherwise transparent piece of acetate. Typically, this meant a person, animal, creature, or vehicle intended to move within a scene. A fully painted background would be created, over which you’d lay a series of animation cels featuring your character completing a range of motions, each of which would be filmed for a few frames. Example:
When cels of this type pop up in places like eBay, they tend to fetch a pretty decent asking price. Meanwhile, the sericels are still attractive collectibles.
I first learned of these sericels from the pages of a paperback book. Specifically, it was my copy of Planet of Judgment, a novel written by Joe Haldeman and first published in August 1977. This was actually one of the first original Star Trek novels I read, after getting my grubby little paws on a few editions of the original series episode adaptations written by James Blish. Anyway, smack in the middle of this thing was a fold-out add for “limited edition” Star Trek “collector’s art” that immediately caught my 10-year old eyes. That’s right; a few years before I would learn that other publications offered all kinds of different and very interesting things on fold-out pages, here were little slices of Awesome with cool art from one of my favorite TV shows:
Unfortunately, the $21.50 price tag ($20 plus $1.50 postage and handling) was a bit too steep for my limited means at the time, and neither could I convince my parents how even one of these jewels might end up one day being of enormous collector value. At the time, my folks didn’t understand what I saw in “that silly space show,” and as you can plainly see I completely heeded their advice so far as forgetting such things and finding something more consequential to do with my life.
:: ahem ::
So, while I never did latch on to any of those original sericels, the 1990s brought a new wave of such art offering new “scenes” inspired by the animated Star Trek series. To me, these didn’t really grab my attention the way the original 70s version did, but they were affordable. The notable exceptions from this group were the onces that replicated concept art and “model sheets” for the show’s ships and characters, including “notes” from the artists about various details to keep in mind when drawing these for different scenes. Over the years I managed to acquire the Kirk and Enterprise cels, and I suspect like so much else that takes up space in my home office, they’ll accompany me into my casket when my wife cleans house following my death.
Well, there you go. If you’re looking for something to buy for me this holiday season, now you’ve got an idea or ten. Meanwhile, I suppose this doesn’t make for too bad a start to the “Tuesday Trekkin'” feature. Stay tuned for more of this inanity, coming soon to a web browser near you.