Playing in different sandboxes.

So, things have been eventful here at stately Ward Manor in recent days.

On the writing front, was it only a few short weeks ago that I finished revisions to my latest novel manuscript before getting on a plane to the Star Trek Mission Chicago convention? For the first time, I was attending a show not as a guest or exhibitor, but as part of Paramount Global’s franchise team. Basically, the same people for whom I perform the various duties that make up my rather eclectic consulting portfolio. In this capacity, I was an extra pair of hands and feet, helping out with various setup and teardown tasks before and after the show, and whatever else needed doing where I could help. Despite being there “for work,” I still managed to squeeze in participating on a discussion panel and conducted three book signings. I also got to reconnect with many familiar faces I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic started, put faces to names previously seen only in the virtual realm, and make a bunch of new friends. It was a fun show all around, and I’m glad I was able to pitch in and contribute in some small way to the show’s success.

“What does this have to do with the post title, Dayton?” I can hear someone asking. Patience, grasshopper. I have to work up to it.

Continue reading “Playing in different sandboxes.”

Planet Comicon 2022 is here!

Today’s the big day, y’all! The largest pop culture convention in the Kansas City region is launching today, promising three epic days of comics, games, cosplay, creators and stars from TV and film, authors and artists, and just about anything you can think of that’s geeky and cool. For more than 20 years, Planet Comicon has been the place to be.

As it has for the past several years, the convention is at Bartle Hall in downtown KC, just up the street from the city’s popular Power & Light District. There will be activitites and events on and off site all through the weekend, so for those of you planning to attend? Be sure to stretch, hydrate, wear comfortable shoes, and pace yourselves.

Kevin and I are thrilled and honored to once again be invited back to the con as author guests. You’ll be able to find us all throughout the con’s three days of shenanigans at tables/booths 1639 and 1641 on the main exhibitor floor. We’ll have copies of various titles from our backlists for purchase and signing, but please do bring anything you might already have with you, and we’ll happily sign such items free of charge. New for this year’s show? I’ll have on hand a limited number of copies of Star Trek: Coda, Book I – Moments Asunder and (I hope!) Jurassic World: The Official Cookbook.

We’ll also be participating in programming during the weekend. You can find both of us at the following panels:

What Makes A Great Science Fiction Book? – Room 2505A – Friday, 2:30pm – 3:20pm

Galactic wars in a galaxy far far away, dystopian machine futures, space exploration? Planet Comicon special guest authors Claudia Gray (Star Wars: The High Republic), Kevin Dilmore (Star Trek), Dayton Ward (Star Trek) and Stephanie Hansen (Altered Helix) as they discuss the genre and give advice for aspiring writers.

Star Trek: Page and Screen – Room 2505B – Saturday, 1:00pm – 1:50pm

Hosted by Best Selling Star Trek authors Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore and moderated by former Star Trek: Deep Space Nine TV series writer Robert J. Bolivar. Star Trek has transitioned from screen to printed page and back again many times. Each iteration of the franchise is unique unto itself. What works in a script or teleplay may not cut it as a novel, and vice-versa. Hear how the the dynamics differ from the folks who have penned Star Trek across multiple mediums, and find out how these stories were approached.

In addition to all of that, there’s rarely one of these shows that goes down where we’re not pulled into something extra on an ad hoc basis, so who knows what this weekend will bring? Kevin and I will both be posting to Twitter and Facebook throughout the con as circumstances warrant or even if we just feel like screwing with people or the lines for the food trucks are too long. Stay tuned, and we hope to see you there!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaand we’re back.

Previously on The Fog of Ward:

Yes, it has indeed been mighty quiet around these parts for quite some time. I promise it has nothing to do with anything bad, but rather just my being busy on various fronts. My consulting work comes in fits and starts, with tasks arriving from multiple sources and often with competing deadlines or at least competing time frames in which action is required. It’s nothing that isn’t manageable, at least in and of itself. However, couple that with a major writing project with which I must admit I struggled in a way I haven’t experienced in a rather long time, and the time crunch starts to assert itself.

Then there were the usual sorts of other tasks demanding attention such as my regular volunteering stints at the museum plus some fun things like a school trip for our oldest child to Florida. Their orchestra, band, and choir were afforded a tremendous opportunity to participate in a workshop with musicians from Disney down at Disney Studios, and the school built a pretty fun mini-vacation into the mix. We spent four full days at the Magic Kingdom, Disney Studios, and Universal Studios taking in all the attractions and other fun, and yes, I even snuck away when the Starship Enterprise wasn’t looking in order to visit space vessels from another galaxy. You know….the one far, far away.

What a piece of junk, amirite?

With the weather warming up, that means more time spent outside, either working in the yard or tending to other things around the house, or enjoying extended walks around the lakes in our neighborhood. It also means convention season, with the first of those coming up later this week when I venture northward for Star Trek: Mission Chicago. I’m actually leaving for that event later today, and it promises to be a busy next several days. Later this month, Kevin and I will be guests at Planet Comicon here in KC, and a few weeks after that we’ll be on our way to Denver for what has only been recently announced as the final Starfest Convention. After missing in-person conventions for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m truly going to miss our annual pilgrimage to Colorado. We’ve been attending that show as guests since 2003 and have made so many friends with whom we enjoy reconnecting each year. This will be a tough one, especially when considering friends who’ve left us during the past two years, but we’re bound and determined to have a blow-out party for the ages as we gather one last time.

So far as summer conventions go, Shore Leave is of course a big one. As it did with Starfest, the pandemic kept me from traveling to Baltimore to hang out with friends and colleagues I might only see at this show, and there also will be some folks whose absences will be keenly felt. Perhaps for that reason above so many others, I’m grateful to reconnect with my East Coast extended fam and enjoy each other’s company while remembering absent friends.

Summer also brings with it the summer swim league for our neighborhood kids, and our youngest is still keen to participate. That means lots of practices during the league’s six-week season and six (hopefully not too hot) Wednesday evenings when we get to hang out with neighborhood friends. There’s also the museum, at which I’m still regularly volunteering, and hopefully a family vacation somewhere in the midst of all that…even better if it ends up being with my sister and her family, which is the current plan we’re hatching.

And yes, I plan to get back to littering this space with my usual brand of…well, whatever it we want to call what I do here. Writing and book release announcements and related musings, of course, but I also have a few ideas for the “Tuesday Trekkin'” and “Tied Up With Tie-Ins” recurring features, and a few other ideas percolating. If there’s something you’d like to me to spend a bit of time babbling about, drop your suggestions in the comments.

But first? On to Chicago!

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 terrifying 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 unresolved 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. There’s also the regrets about lost or wasted time, but choices were made, and so on.

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.

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.” 🤟😎

Gone writin’.

Rather than just do my usual thing in which nothing appears in this space for days on end with no explanation, I figure I’ll post this bit of advisory info.

I’m racing toward the finish line on the current novel-in-progress, and I don’t know that I’ll have time to ponder anything new – let alone interesting* – to put here during that time. It’d likely serve only to distract me from my primary mission, anyway, and that probably won’t endear me to my editor. So, I’m taking preemptive action. Unless a cool announcement or other bit of “Breaking News” happens, it’ll likely be very quiet here the next couple of weeks.

Barring any of that? See you on the other side. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves while I’m gone.

*= Make whatever joke you feel is appropriate. I left it wide open for you. Knock yourself out.

Goodbye, 2020…and good riddance.

So, 2020.

Damn. What a century.

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.

Continue reading “Goodbye, 2020…and good riddance.”

Audiobooks and your writing.

Note: I wrote a version of this on my Facebook page a week or so ago. I realize that not everyone who reads me here reads my yammerings over there, and perhaps someone here might glean a bit of useful info from what follows. Or, you just want to chime in with favorite audiobooks or audiobook readers. Whatever. It’s all good. We’re pretty chill here in the Fog.

I’ve tweaked this one a bit, using comments I made in response to others posting their own thoughts on the Facebook post. Having let this one linger in the back of my little monkey brain for a week, I think this is a nice little nugget of advice for those of you who just be starting out with your own writing. We can talk about that down in the comments, too.

Now, without further ado….


Icon made by Good Ware from www.flaticon.com

Some of you know that I take regular walks around the lakes in our neighborhood. I usually have a route that’s four miles and change, though on days where I have a light schedule I might opt to stretch that if I’m in the mood. I almost always listen to an audiobook during these walks, and if I’m really into the story that might well play into how long or how far I extend said walks.

During a few walks over the course of the past week, I was listening to Killing Floor, Lee Child’s first “Jack Reacher” novel, which was not meeting the above criteria. 😁

It had nothing to do with the book itself, you understand. I’ve read a handful of Reacher books over the years so I generally know what I’m getting, but I’d never read the first one and I try to mix up the audiobooks I listen to on these walks so I don’t fall into a rut. Sometimes, I just want a snappy little thriller and Mr. Child has delivered for me in the past. Let’s face it: There’s a reason the Reacher books are a best-selling, award-winning series and spawned a couple of movies. They’re fun and Killing Floor delivered an entertaining listen, at least for the most part. This post is not at all intended as a review — good or bad — of the book itself.

(Aside: You can tell I’m at best a casual fan of these books, because until I started listening to Killing Floor I had no idea it was written in the first person. The previous Reacher novels I’d picked up at airports or other leisure reading destinations were written in third person. I find this infonugget rather fascinating, at least so far as within the framework of an ongoing novel series.)

One of the things I noticed as I listened to the bulk of Killing Floor over a handful of days is how it almost certainly was not written with an audio adaptation in mind. In fact, I’d need to check to see whether an audiobook edition was even released at the same time the novel was originally published. As for this audio edition, the narrator does a decent job giving personalities to the various characters, but the prose is pretty straightforward and almost regimented in its delivery, especially with the dialogue:

“__ <insert dialogue> __,” I said.

“__ <insert reply> __,” other character said.

“__ <dialogue> __,” I said. “__ <more dialogue> __.”

“__ <even more dialogue> __,” other character said.

And so on.

Now to be fair, when you’re reading this sort of thing in a regular print edition, you might not notice such things, and if you do there’s an even chance you won’t care. However, to your ears it can come off in a completely different way.

If audiobooks were around in the 1950s, he’d have been listening to one. Prove me wrong.

In the last few years, I’ve become very conscious of how my novels may and will sound when read aloud. There’s an old writer’s trick that suggests you read your manuscript aloud while editing, because your ears can and will pick up things your eyes miss. I absolutely believe that’s true and this tactic has helped me on more than one occasion. With the resurgence of audiobook popularity and now that my own novels are getting audio editions, I’ve been trying to pay even greater attention to such things.

My big example is how I’ve been teaching myself to structure things to rely less and less on dialogue tags like “said,” “asked,” “replied,” and so on. Fewer of these, used in the right spots, work to tighten the narrative. I’m also more conscious of eliminating unnecessary descriptors while varying sentence length and complexity, creating a cadence I hope won’t leave the narrator fumbling for a rhythm or gasping for breath because I just tossed them sixteen 75-word sentences in a row, or whatever.

(Another aside: The right narrator can make even a so-so story a cracking listen. The wrong narrator can utterly torpedo what should be an engrossing story. That shit is hard, and bless those who do it well.)

I have to believe considering and employing such new knowledge can only help me improve as a writer. I haven’t read (or listened to) any of the more recent Reacher novels, but I’m willing to bet Mr. Child has applied similar “lessons learned” as his writing has evolved over the years. I don’t think you get to the level he’s attained and attracted the loyal readership he possesses by failing to examine yourself and your craft or never taking the opportunity to improve your skill set. I’ve certainly noticed it in the works of other writers I’ve read on a more regular basis over a period of many years. I’ve already made a note to conduct an informal experiment about this the next time I opt for another Jack Reacher audiobook to accompany me on some future walk.

If there’s a constructive takeaway I can offer from this bit of rambling, it’s this: If you want to be a writer and enjoy any sort of long-term success, keep in mind that you never stop being a student. There’s always something new to learn, and there’s always homework, even when you least expect it.

Until you die.

#AmWriting
#WritingLife

Thoughts? Hit me up in the comments.

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

So, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zoom-Trek-TAS-Starfield

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

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

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

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

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

Zoom-Matrix

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

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

Zoom-JohnWick01

Uh huh.

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

Pocket-lint.com

CNET.com

GoodHousekeeping.com

Star Trek via DailyStarTrekNews.com

Nerdist.com

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

Zoom-Dayton