Talking about writing Star Trek novels with David R. George III and Trek.fm!

For reasons which continue to surpass my level of understanding, people want to talk to me. About writing.

Further, they want to record what I have to say on the subject and make it available for other people to hear. Like it’s some kind of punishment or humiliating task they need to accomplish before they can pledge to a fraternity or sorority or something.

I don’t get it, but here we are. Again.

Sandwiched between the normal news updates and reviews from the world of Star Trek publishing in all its various forms, the latest episode of Trek.fm‘s Literary Treks podcast brings me together with friend and fellow Trek wordsmith David R. George III so the show’s hosts, Bruce Gibson and Dan Gunther, can grill us about the crazy world of writing Star Trek novels.

Let’s face it, calling it “crazy” barely scratches the surface.

Over more than an hour, Bruce and Dan hit us with a pretty wide range of questions about this rather odd niche of writing. We discuss our secret origin stories and how we got into the game, the wickets a Star Trek story must go through from concept to finished novel, the differences between writing media tie-in fiction and original fiction, what “rules” exist when working with someone else’s characters and settings, collaborating with CBS, editors, and other writers to maintain something resembling consistency when working on larger efforts like ongoing series or “event series,” and the challenge a new writer faces when attempting to break into the realm. We even find a moment or two to lament the gone but not forgotten Star Trek: Strange New Worlds writing contest, which we all know holds a special place for me.

Have a listen, if you’re of a mind to do so:

Literary Treks 276: There’s A Line We Can’t Cross

lt-276-th-sq-1440

Many thanks to Bruce and Dan for having me on the show once again, and also to David for inviting me to be his wingman for this outing. I hope we didn’t crush too many dreams, but if we did know it was done out of love.

Wait……what?

Tales of the Strange and Unusual: A very special anthology with a super cool origin story.

A few years ago during the annual StarFest Convention in Denver, Kevin and I found ourselves “neighbors” in the Author’s Alley area with Shelly Goodman Wright, a writer local to that area. Over the course of the weekend, the three of us got to chatting and sharing “war stories” as our writing backgrounds were rather dissimilar. After the con was over we stayed in touch thanks to the wonder that is social media and in the years since our first meeting, we always make sure to get neighboring tables at each successive StarFest and even participate in con programming when such opportunities present themselves.

TalesStrangeUnusual-CoverOne of the things we learned along the way was that Shelly is a creative writing teacher for the Writers of High Country, a group of high school-age kids who are working to learn the craft of writing fiction and poetry. With Shelly and other volunteers guiding the way, the students have just recently published their first collection of short stories and poetry, Tales of the Strange & Unusual.

Indeed, last weekend while the con was still in full swing, Shelly was preparing for the students’ first over book signing. To hear her describe it, it went down in much the same fashion as I’ve come to expect from such venues as the Shore Leave convention, where fans wielding copies of a favorite anthology are able to run a gauntlet of authors who have a story in that particular book and are therefore able to get multiple autographs in rapid succession.

It was very cool to listen to her stories of how hard the students worked, writing and polishing their stories and poetry in preparation for publication. All were excited at the prospect of taking this bold step, knowing it could be the first of many if they continued to bring the same drive and determination which had seen them travel this far.

As part of our conversation last weekend, I learned something I didn’t know before: As part of her writing instruction, Shelly had occasionally shared with her students various anecdotes, writing exercises, and other bits of so-called wisdom that she had taken from other writers, including me and Kevin. According to her, some of these tips, nuggets of advice and encouragement, and other insights into the craft (and business!) of writing for publication proved informative and even inspiring to the kids. That was nice to hear, though I admit I often have a rough time accepting such comments or similar praise.

Then Shelly presented me and Kevin with copies of the finished book, fresh off the presses and autographed by all of the students, who requested we receive them as gifts.

Right in the feels, y’all.

Although I managed to keep my game face in place while we were on the floor, I have to admit to being more than bit choked up. In my mind, I didn’t think I’d done anything unique or special while talking to Shelly, but to hear that a young writer found value in something I said and that it helped with their own writing is flattering, and even a little humbling as the first thing I think is, “What did I say?” followed by variations of “Was it stupid?” “Did I cuss?” and/or “Did it violate an NDA?” along with assorted other panicked responses. Only one chance to make a first impression, and all that, amirite?

Many thanks to Shelly and the Writers of High Country for including me and Kevin in their celebration of this wonderful achievement. Tales of the Strange & Unusual is published by Many Hands Publishing. Go and give it a look-see, whydontcha?

The Veterans’ Voices Writing Project.

Among the various additional benefits of volunteering at the National World War I Museum and Memorial is engaging with veterans. Many of our visitors are either active or former/retired service members, and it’s easy to strike up a conversation as I’m wandering through the galleries or working out on the courtyard and taking folks up into Liberty Tower.

Our corps of volunteers range in age from late teens to late eighties and early nineties, and veterans make up a large portion of that group, from career officers to those who did just a single enlistment term. Several of these volunteers have penned books, including historical tomes or guidebooks about the Great War as well as the odd novel here and there. I’ve picked up a few of these, either to add in my ongoing study of the war or because it just sounded interesting and I wanted to support a friend and fellow writer.

When I started volunteering at the museum last year, I became reacquainted with the Veterans’ Voices Writing Project. I’d heard of the program here and there over the years but never really looked into it, so when I finally had cause to do so after finding an issue of their magazine in the museum’s volunteer lounge back in the spring, I was intrigued by what I found.

Based right here in Kansas City, the project has acted as an outreach program for veterans since the end of World War II. Veterans have been sharing their stories with the project since 1946, when the project began as the Hospitalized Veterans Writing Project working in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Volunteers went into V.A. hospitals and other facilities and encouraged service members to write down their stories as a form of therapy while recovering from their wounds. In 2015 and recognizing that not all veterans seek or are afforded easy access to this or other programs, the project expanded its scope in an effort to reach veterans outside the V.A. system.

As the VVWP website puts it:

Today, it serves all veterans with therapeutic writing programs to heal their unseen emotional and moral wounds. Veterans write about personal experiences and innermost thoughts to help manage the effects of PTSD and to reduce the risk of suicide. They also write for creative expression. It offers the opportunity for community in writing groups and to have their work published. The program continues its important work for those serving in the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf Wars. Now, with the return of injured veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan and other recent conflicts, the project is more important than ever.

Mental well-being is an important component in the health of returning military veterans. Veterans Voices Writing Project, Inc. (VVWP) a 501(c)(3) organization helps veterans heal from the physical and psychological trauma associated with military service, whether from actual combat, war training or emotional trauma. The project helps military personnel transitioning to civilian life to heal from emotional scars by encouraging them to write down their thoughts, concerns and reflections.

Using writing and other forms of creativity to help deal with all manner of personal issues is not new, of course, and neither is it even a recent development in veterans’ circles. What does seem to be a relatively recent development, however, is widespread acknowledgment of the benefits derived from such activities. The VVWP is just one group working to raise awareness about the benefits of therapeutic writing. You can read more about the program’s history by clicking here.

The magazine and the project are non-profit ventures and funded via donations. Volunteers comprise their editorial staff, each of them committed to helping veterans share their stories. Volunteers help out with everything from organizing fundraisers and other awareness campaigns to serving as writing aides to veterans and even transcribing submissions received in longhand or as audio.

I started paying attention to the effort thanks to copies of their magazine I found at the museum. Any veteran is eligible to submit their writing for consideration, and each issue presents a broad selection of personal stories, anecdotes, and poetry submitted by men and women representing all branches of the service across multiple generations. The most current issue I have on hand features pieces written by veterans of World War II all the way up through current conflicts.

If you’re a veteran (or know someone who served) and are looking for an outlet to share stories like those showcased in Veteran’s Voices, you might consider reviewing past issues as well as their submission guidelines and why the project is important:

Veterans’ Voices – Back Issues

Submission Guidelines (pdf)

Writing as Therapy

Allowing a veteran to connect in the privacy of his or her own space and tell the nation what is going on in their world – the world that lives inside themselves – the world they served and the country they came from is awesome.”
— Rich Wangard – Neena, Wisconsin
(as quoted on the VVWP website)

My 2019 convention calendar begins to take shape.

Previously, on the Fog of Ward:

Yeah, yeah. I know. I’ve been neglecting this space in recent days, but the honest answer for that is I just didn’t have anything to say that I felt was worth polluting the blogosphere over.

However, as we head into the last turn of the track that is 2018, I’m starting to look ahead to the new year with respect to the work I hope to be doing and projects that excite me. Part of that is figuring out which conventions I’ll attend in my role as “Guy Who Writes Things.”

On that front, a couple of events are pretty much locked in as they are every year. First, there’s the Starfest Convention held annually in Denver. Kevin and I make a point never to miss this one, and 2019 will mark our 16th consecutive appearance as guests of the show. This year it’s set for the weekend of April 26-28, and of course Kevin and I are already keen to start that drive west.

Later in the year is Shore Leave, the other con I try to never miss. This year it’s the weekend of July 12-14, which means it’s once again right in the thick of things so far as competing for space on Kevin’s work schedule with Comic-Con International and the big Star Trek con in Las Vegas. This means I’ll likely be attending this one stag again.

Closer to home, Planet Comicon is celebrating its 20th anniversary with what is shaping up to be their biggest and best show yet. It’s going on the weekend of March 29-31, and they’ve graciously invited Kevin and me to come join the party.

New for this year is a smaller show that’s popped up on our radar: the Neosho Art Council’s first-ever ArtCon, will take place on Saturday, February 9th and spend the day celebrating all the coolness and awesomesauce that is pop culture. Several creators from the region have been invited to attend, including Kevin and moi. Readers with sharp, long memories may think Neosho rings a bell, that’s because a significant chunk of The Last World War takes place there. How ’bout them apples?

Meanwhile, Kevin’s work at Hallmark sees to it that he attends several shows I likely won’t get to, such as the aforementioned Comic-Con and Vegas Trek con as well as New York Comic Con. Circumstances may see to it that I end up at a couple of these, and I’ve also been invited to attend a couple of new shows later in the year. More on those as details firm up.

As is always the case, you can keep tabs on our con schedule by visiting my Appearances page. Stay tuned for more updates!

Today is “National Day On Writing!”

Wait, isn’t that supposed to be every day? Did I get a different memo from everybody else? Hmph.

Launched ten years ago by the National Council of Teachers of English, the “National Day On Writing” seeks to increase awareness about writing and its critical connection to literacy in our everyday lives. As posted on the NCTE’s website devoted to this day:

“You see, people tend to think of writing in terms of pencil-and-paper assignments, but no matter who you are, writing is part of your life. It’s part of how you work, how you learn, how you remember, and how you communicate. It gives voice to who you are and enables you to give voice to the things that matter to you.”

My wife and I are very fortunate in that both our daughters seem to have taken an interest in writing, whether it’s keeping a personal journal or writing stories and other papers for school. They’re also big readers, so you can bet I’m knocking on every piece of wood within reach.

Instilling an appreciation of writing as a necessary skill to navigating life is essential. For kids, this means both in school and at home, and includes challenging perceptions that some writing is somehow “better” or “more valuable” than others.

When you consider how much “casual writing” we all do every day (texting, e-Mail, Tweeting, Facebook, blogs, notes to self or others, etc.), and how much of it is dismissed for one reason or another, it starts to put things into perspective. Learning to appreciate all of that along with more traditional or “accepted” forms of writing as having its place when it comes to developing strong writing skills is important. Connecting it to the ability to read and research and to think and convey one’s thoughts is vital, especially when it comes to teaching our kids the value of writing not just as something “writers do” but what we all do in order to better communicate with others and even ourselves.

For more information about the National Day On Writing initiative and its goals, along with resources such as writing tips and other references and how to get involved furthering the message, be sure to visit their website:

Why I Write.

Oh, and check out the #WhyIWrite hashtag on Twitter to read inspiring (and sometimes humorous) insights from various folks about….well, why they write. Example:

So, you know, that’s me. Your mileage may vary. Tell me why! 🙂

Write on.

“Oh, man,” they say. “He’s talking again,” they say.

Yep. Babbling. Again.

Actually, I babbled back in July, but the results of said babbling have only been just recently been made available. The incident occurred at this past summer’s Shore Leave convention, held as it is each year in Hunt Valley, Maryland and at which I was one of many writer guests in attendance.

Why the Baltimore County Public Library saw fit to lavish extra attention on me remains a mystery, but I’m certainly appreciative for the opportunity to talk about my life as a professional word pusher, and in particular the very specific kind of madness that is required to do something like writing within the ever-expanding Star Trek universe.

It’s a short interview, but we managed to cover quite a bit of ground within the five minutes or so that is this bad boy’s running time. We talk about the “rules” and challenges of writing in an established universe like Star Trek as opposed to something I might make up from scratch, the “levels” of freedom we enjoy when writing for the established screen characters versus characters we’ve created, my transition from part-time to full-time writer, and even my views on “writer’s block” and “the writer’s muse.”

We also talk a bit about the con and the panel programming it offers, including workshops offered for beginning writers, and my advice for “new” writers. Not to spoil anything, but my advice pretty much boils down to “write.” Oh, and read and go live a life so you have something to inform your writing.

Wait…you just read all of that and you still want to see it? Fine. Cool. Here you go:

It was a fun interview, and I’m grateful to Carl Birkmeyer and the BCPL for giving me a few minutes to talk turkey. All of you reading this, be sure to support your local public library!

Reading about writing about war.

Huh?

Yeah, I know. Bit of a tongue twister. I’m such a stinker, ain’t I?

Reading books on various military topics was something I started when I was a teenager, thanks to my uncle and his rather voluminous library. Later, when I was wearing my own uniform, the Commandant of the Marine Corps instituted a rank-specific reading list as part of our continuing “professional military education program. Today, such lists are commonplace across all branches of the service, and individual units even have their own additional lists to foster guided discussions and other education-related activities. They typically include titles focusing on history and leadership including biographies and memoirs, and other topics relevant to the profession of arms and the challenges our military faces, such as strategic and regional studies.

Continue reading “Reading about writing about war.”

The irregularly recurring tie-in writing wish list.

It’s a question for which I often receive some variation: “What film or TV property would you want to write for?”

While this sometimes means which actual films or television series for which I might think about writing scripts, in reality this usually refers to writing some kind of tie-in project such as a novel, comic, or whatever. While I’ve given occasional thought to the other thing, the simple truth is that A) scriptwriting is a wholly different skill set than writing prose fiction, and B) I ain’t moving to Hollywood or points adjacent. I mean….ever, and since that’s usually a requirement of the job, it means I’m out, yo.

Instead, I’m sticking – in large part, at any rate – with what I know, and what I know is prose. That means tie-ins, be they adaptations/novelizations, or original stories springing out from the creative springboard that is someone else’s intellectual property. For example, you know…Star Trek…which you may have noticed shows up from time to time on my writing resume.

Beyond the rather large sphere that is The Final Frontier, there are any number of properties for which I’d welcome with great enthusiasm the opportunity to contribute something. If you’d asked me this question 40 years ago, chances are good that I’d have answered with something like Planet of the Apes, The Six Million Dollar Man, or Space: 1999.

Welcome to a peek at my bookshelf, circa 1978. Who am I kidding? I still have these.

Come to think of it, those are all still valid answers now, which is good because 40 years ago I was 11 years old and my writing back then would’ve sucked something fierce.

(Yes, there’s an argument that age has not done anything for me in this regard. Shush, you.)

Luckily for me, modern entertainment is still held in the seemingly unbreakable grip of nostalgia, so it’s entirely possible that any or all of those aforementioned properties will be remade, rebooted, reimagined, or re-something else. A couple already have.

Okay, one has (Planet of the Apes), and another is supposedly doing so as I write this (The Six Million Dollar Man). Forget it. I’m rolling. Besides, the only thing more certain than a reboot is another reboot. So, hope springs eternal, and all that.

Anyway………….

Yes, I’ve already written for Planet of the Apes, in the form of a short story in the rather kick-ass anthology Tales from the Forbidden Zone, edited by Rich Handley and Jim Beard. They let me revisit the characters and situations from the 1974 live-action TV series, of which I’ve always been a fan, and I would love to go back and pick up where I left off with that story. As for Steve Austin the Bionic Man? With a new movie coming (we think) in 2020, there’s potential for there to be tie-ins not just for the film and its updating of the basic premise, but perhaps also a renewed interest in the classic series, and hey! Writing a movie novelization is still on my Bucket List, and this one would be a hell of a way to check that box. Just sayin’.

What else? Well, let’s see….Aliens? Sure thing. I’ve done a 24 novel, and if the rumors about a new series that’s a prequel to the original show are true, then yeah, I wouldn’t mind wading back into that particular pool. I certainly wouldn’t mind a crack at something tied to the revamped Lost In Space as seen with the new Netflix show, and just for the sheer insanity of it? Galaxy Quest and The Orville.

As for really pie in the sky stuff? Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or maybe something featuring Snake Plissken from Escape from New York. The likelihood of any of those happening is pretty slim, but a guy can dream.

And though the heyday of such books arguably is pretty much behind us, I still want to do some kind of “men’s adventure” tale like Mack Bolan or Remo Williams or Mark Stone the M.I.A. Hunter, writing under a house name and just going nuts with the sort of over-the-top action and mayhem for which such books are lovingly known. Maybe I should cut out the middleman and make up something of my own in that vein. Sounds like a plan, right?

Meawhile, I’ve got enough to keep me busy…for the time being, at least.

So, thoughts? For those of you who read my stuff and/or read these types of books, which property would you like to see me take a crack at?

My 20th anniversary as a “professional writer.”

So, it was on or about this day in 1998 – give or take a day here and there, depending on your book retailer of choice – that my first ever professional piece of fiction was published.

Those of you who’ve been following this program for any length of time know how this origin tale goes, but for those of you new to the scene, that story was “Reflections,” published in the first ever snw1Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthology.

Strange New Worlds was what resulted from the first of what would end up being eleven (so far?) contests. Edited by veteran writer and editor Dean Wesley Smith along with John Ordover (at the time one of the Star Trek editors at Pocket Books) and Paula Block (at the time working for CBS Consumer Products), was a way for fans to do something cool: write a Star Trek story, have it published, get paid for it, and feel like they were contributing – even in some small way – to the ever-expanding universe of stories they loved so much.

Prior to the first contest’s announcement in 1997, I never had written anything with an eye toward professional publication. I wrote stories that were included in fanzines, or might still be buried somewhere in an online archive, but then a friend of mine, Deb Simpson, essentially dared me to submit a story to the contest. So, I took a story I’d written before, and reworked it. Then, I printed it, stuck it in an envelope, and mailed it to Pocket Books in New York, because that’s how you did this kind of thing back in those days. Once that was done, I went on with life, because I knew it would be months before any results were announced.

For the first year’s results, contest editor Dean Wesley Smith and Pocket Books Star Trek editor John Ordover revealed the winners in a chat room on America Online, back when America Online was a service to which you connected via your computer modem. Dean and John announced 18 names, and I punched the air when I saw “Dayton Ward, ‘Reflections’” pop up on the chat screen.

In the days to come, I’d receive my first-ever publishing contract in the mail. I’d get my story sent back to me with a few marks and notes intended to tighten up the thing. I still have the cover flat I received in the months before the book’s publication, and even the bound galleys of the entire book, printed up on 8.5″ x 11″ paper, landscape-style, in which we newbies got our first look at what our stories looked like in a “real book.”

Then, finally, the book started showing up in stores, and I just had to go see for myself. Though I still get a thrill from seeing a new title of mine on a store shelf, nothing has quite equaled that first time.

And of course, you know what happened after that.

Since then? What an odd, yet so very rewarding journey it’s been.

First among the many positives which have come in the wake of that first short story sale is my friendship with Kevin Dilmore. We likely never would’ve met if not for the way Fate saw fit to have him interviewing the first batch of SNW winners for the Star Trek Communicator magazine. Fate also had him decide to ask me to meet him for a beer after work so that he could conduct his interview in person because we lived within 45 minutes of each other. He could’ve just as easily eMailed the interview questions to me, as he did with the other 17 winners, and that might well have been that.

(Sometimes, I have to wonder if Kevin regrets that choice 😉 )

Anyway, Fate’s a funny lady, sometimes.

Along the way, I’ve made numerous friends, be they fans, other writers, artists, or other publishing professionals. I’ve enjoyed several very rewarding opportunities, and had more than a few “Holy shit! Did that really just happen?” moments bestowed upon me. It’s been tremendous fun — more than I likely deserve — and every day I do my best to remember and appreciate the good fortune that’s come my way.

Of course, most if not all of that good fortune can be credited to Dean, John, and Paula, who put me on this path. Then there are the people who came after them, expending time and even money to read the stories I’ve written since “Reflections.” Maybe that’s you, reader of this blog posting. To you, and all of the editors, publishers, and readers who at some point have taken a chance on me, I thank you.

Here’s to the next 20.

I think I might be addicted to writing journals.

My thinking on this started the other day, when I decided I had to have this, a ruled-paper journal published by Insight Editions and recreating the cover of the Handbook for the Recently Deceased as seen in the film Beetlejuice.

Yep. Had to have it.

I’m probably not going to actually write in it, you understand. That’d just be silly! Who does that?

(What? That’s the whole point of these things? Oh. Well, then.)

There are all kinds of writing journals out there, ranging from your ordinary, everyday, unexciting book of blank or ruled pages to those featuring writing prompts and other exercises that (supposedly) get the muse’s blood pumping when it’s acting like a whiny little shit. Then there are the ones aimed at kids, from your basic diary (complete with lock!) to stuff like Wreck This Journal, which I have to confess is a damned brilliant idea. My kids love those. I mean, where was this kind of thing when *I* was a kid?

Thinking on it, my flirtation with “writing journals” of one sort of another likely goes back to my military days, where we used these green “log books” to write down just about anything and everything. In the days before “day planners” and fancy calendars from places like Franklin Covey (which are so ridiculous and over-complicated my company literally sent us to an actual class on how to “properly” use one. Not even kidding.), there was the log book.

These green weenies were the lifeblood of a young Marine of your acquaintance. My whole life was in an ever-growing collection of these little bastards. Everything from phone numbers to notes from meetings and orders from officers to software installation and hardware configuration procedures to hand-drawn diagrams for making our own printer cables and whatnot. Hey, this was before the internet, where we had to figure out all of that crazy shit for ourselves.

Anyway, it was inevitable I’d start using the things to jot down stories and whatever. Even way back then, I was a budding writer wannabe. I still have a couple of the log books containing those oh-so very awful stories and whatever. A recent stint working on a government contract brought me back into the world of these things, which are still around and still kicking ass and taking names.

Now, as a writer and despite living in the Electronic Age, I still do a lot of scribbling, idea-spinning, and general dabbling via pen and paper. However, I’ve never really been one for needing to be seen with a fancy writing journal. Instead, I’m happy with such stalwart helpers as your general purpose legal pad, spiral notebook, or the champion of low-cost journaling: the Composition book.

I buy these things a half dozen at a time, and there’s always one in my backpack or messenger bag. They’re perfect for working out story ideas and other short-burn type writing, but I’ve been known to write entire scenes or chapters in them, depending on the situation. When I travel on vacation, I’m usually loathe to take a laptop with me, so a couple of Composition books are handy if the writing itch strikes.

However, I’m certainly not immune to the siren’s call of a fancy writer’s journal. It’s happened, and upon reflection it’s happened more times than I care to admit. After all, somebody has to be buying those “moleskin” journals that make you look all erudite and hipster when sitting at the bookstore cafe pretending to write while you’re really just reading Facebook or Twitter, or writing pithy blog posts like this one in order to avoid actual, productive writing, right? Not just me?

Then there are the journals that make me laugh when I see them in the store. Like the aforementioned Handbook for the Recently Deceased, other treasures have been encountered at various bookstores, demanding I take them home with me. For example:

These are so me, right?

Of course, I can’t be a writer of Star Trek stuff without Star Trek being represented:

And finally, not because they’re actually useful as writing journals, but rather just because they look cool sitting on the desk:

I think this might really be a sickness.

But, when it’s all said and done, my trusty Composition book remains my weapon of choice. They’re inexpensive, I don’t care if they get damaged, and they’re just the “right” size for spewing words out of a pen onto paper.

What say you? If you are the sort to write longhand for any length of time, do you have a personal preference or favorite, or dependable standby that’s always there when you need it? Fess up, writer types!