Monday, July 29, 2019

Chuck E Con 2019: Bigger, Better, More Emotional

Like any good sequel, Chuck E Con 2019, a convention focused on Chuck E. Cheese, the pizza-loving mouse, and his pals was bigger, better, and more emotional.

In 2018, Matt Rivera, a longtime Chuck E. Cheese (CEC) fan since he was a boy, saw a gap in the CEC fandom. There hadn't been a convention since 2013. Seeking to fill that void, Rivera created Chuck E Con, an event where memorabilia could be on display, live shows performed in costume, and fans of the franchise could mingle, meet, and just talk all things CEC. My boy and I attended last year's convention, so when this year's gathering was announced, it was inked on our calendar for months.

If you read my review from the 2018 edition, you'll see how much everyone involved enjoyed the experience. But this year's con was much better. And it starts with the venue.

Old Town Keller and the Keller Roundhouse


I'm not sure how Matt and his friends decided to move across the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex to the suburb town of Keller, but it was a fantastic idea. Old Town Keller is an updated area running along the railroad tracks. Likely it was the original downtown of Keller itself, and, like many small towns, it had fallen on hard times. Now, as its website mentions, it has rejuvenated the small town feel and updated it to a pedestrian-friendly shopping area with small shops and wonderful restaurants. In the mix was the Keller Roundhouse, a rentable venue for any sort of activity.

The entire area was awesome! When we all arrived and found a place to park, there was zero need to drive anywhere else. Right outside the Roundhouse was an open-air seating area where folks who were attending the convention could sit and talk. Everyone seemed to walk to the various restaurants and have a meal or two. We had great BBQ in Roscoe's Smokehouse on Friday night and a good chicken sandwich at The Station Patio Icehouse right next door to the Roundhouse. Starbucks was a mere three-blocks away. Heck, there was even Empire Toys, a new and vintage toy store that actually sold original trading cards from the 1989 Batman movie. Yeah, I bought a pack. No, I didn't chew the gum.

All this is to say that Chuck E Con 2019 was made even better by its location.

The Convention Itself


The events of the convention lasted two days, Friday and Saturday. After a meet-up at a CEC location in White Settlement, Texas, the convention kicked off in the Roundhouse. The same group of friends ran the 2019 version, including Matt, Emily Sullivan, Brandon McMillan, and Jacob Goldberg, and they upped their game this year. The interior was laid out very nicely, with all the memorabilia along the two side walls with the stage up front. Rows of chairs lined the main area, enabling fans and parents to while away the time chatting when there wasn't a live show up front.



Being Recognized


Attending the second con was like old-home week. It was great seeing again the parents and kids whom my boy and I saw last year. And for my son, who served at a cameraman, recording all the events, being recognized was a thrill. Almost as soon as we came in the door, fellow fans came up to him and said hello. I got to say hi to the parents and other folks I recognized from last year. It was a warm and welcoming environment.

The Fraternity/Sorority of Parents


Speaking of the parents, it's a special parent willing to attend Chuck E Con with their kids. Some fans live in the Metroplex, but we drove up from Houston. That wasn't the farthest trek by far. A trio drove over from Birmingham, Alabama, while an entire family flew in from New York. I met a young man who flew from Florida and another from Georgia. Another family drove two days south from Colorado. Safe to say that fans of CEC came from everywhere, and there were still some my son knew who could not make it.

I got to meet and chat with a dad who was also fan. He and his family are from Colorado and he's actually purchased a complete vintage animatronic show that he plans to install in his basement. Speaking of the animatronics, I met a young man who enjoys buying old robots that do not work and restoring them. He brought one to the con to show. According to his mom, she thought it might have been a scam, but when the giant box arrived at their house, she knew it was real. It was this young man's birthday on Saturday, so he got feted by Chuck and his pals with the birthday song. Pretty darn special.

The Guests Were Amazing


Speaking of special, Matt secured some VIPs to the con this year. Matt Daniel works in CEC Entertainment. He focuses on the videos you see in the stores as well as some voice-over work. He arrived on Friday and sat for an interview session and meet-and-greet.



Saturday brought out the big names. Jeremy Blaido is the voice of Jasper T. Jowls, Chuck's canine pal. Jeremy caused a stir among the folks in the room when he arrived, but it was nothing like that of Duncan Brannan. You see Duncan was the long-time voice of Chuck E. himself. If you were a fan or went to the stores during the 1990s and into the 2000s, Duncan's voice was the one you heard. Heck, my boy does an imitation of him. When he arrived, it was fun to hear the ripple of recognition associated with "Duncan's here" filter around the room. His Q & A with Jeremy was the highlight of the entire con for me because every question I had as a casual CEC fan--mostly about the voice-over work in particular--they addressed. I nearly--and should have--walked up and got a picture with them. Missed opportunity.

Emotional Moments


There were a few emotional moments at the con I wasn't expecting. One of Duncan's answers revolved around favorite moments while being the voice of Chuck (and a certain purple dinosaur). He talked about visiting hospitals with sick kids as being one of the more humbling experiences he's done. If he and his work can bring joy to folks in their darkest of times, he said, then his work is well done. As a parent, just imagining my own kid sick and having someone like Duncan lighting up their day, well, it got to me.

But nothing like later on Saturday evening. During one song, the dedication went out to the members of the fandom who are no longer with us. There was a couple who showed up in the evening and even my boy didn't know who they were. Turns out they were the parents of a special fan who lost his battle to cancer. After the special song, each of the characters walked up to these parents and gave them a hug. It got to me, big time. I cannot imagine the loss of a child, but I hope they know that their son will live on in the CEC fandom for years to come.

A Wonderful Experience


I'm far from a die-hard CEC fan although I do pick up bits of detail along the way. I'm just a parent accompanying his kid, but I enjoyed the convention quite a bit. I loved seeing these fans and parents again. I enjoyed walking around Old Town Keller, just killing time between shows with my boy. I liked the familial vibe of the entire weekend.

Every property has its fandom. I'm a comic book, Star Wars, super-hero movie geek, so I certainly get the CEC fandom. I'm just so glad that the fandom, and especially Matt and the rest of the folks who run Chuck E Con are working so hard to create such a great convention.

Looking forward to 2020.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 30

Prolific writer Dean Wesley Smith calls summer the Time of the Great Forgetting. It’s that part of the year in which all those New Year’s Resolutions authors made to write more content slowly fades away. Come Labor Day, they’ll wake up, realize they blew a 97-day time to progress on their work, and likely feel depressed. Smith has a cure for that here.

For me, it’s not so much a great forgetting as a dividing of focus. There’s a project I’m working on—the same one I mentioned last week, the one about a filmmaker’s work—that’ll go live the first full week of August. It’s grown more than a bit, but it’s a blast to do. Looking forward, the bulk of the work on this project will be done by mid August, and from then on, it’ll just be rolling out on a weekly basis.

And there might be a video component. Stay tuned.

But said filmmaker’s body of work has also inspired to write a novel that is completely different than anything I’ve ever written. I’m making slow but steady progress on it, with an aim for publication this fall. I’m not forgetting.  Are you?

One Name to Rule Them All


Back in 2015 when I started publishing my mystery novels, I used my full name. When I came around and started publishing Westerns, I kept full name. Over time, as I listened and learned how other writers conducted their businesses, I decided to segment my books with a separate pen name for the Westerns, S. D. Parker. The idea was Also-Boughts and the algorithms churning underneath the facades of all the various online bookstores. Made sense at the time.

But over time, my thinking has evolved. When I ask veteran writers the question about pen names, almost all of them suggest using a single name, no matter then genre. As long as the covers are genre-specific with genre-specific SEO and blurbs, it’ll ultimately be better to have a single name and put everything under it.

I was leaning that direction, but over the summer, I have decided to bring the Westerns under the Scott Dennis Parker name. It’s not a big deal, really. All it means is that I’ll have to de-list the S. D. Parker books, slightly change the covers and internal front matter, and then republish.

If someone finds my work via Westerns and they like mysteries, they’ll have an easy transition. The reverse is also true.

More importantly, however, is the idea that a business can change as trends and new ideas emerge. Nothing wrong with that.

Having everything under one name will make all grunt work of file management much more streamlined.  I’m even contemplating bringing all my stories under the Draft2Digital universe. I’ve got most of them there now and they truly make it a no-brainer. just this week, I’ve been sending them questions about the procedures for changing my author name. They get back to me with personalized answers within a day. Customer service goes a long way.

Anyone else use Draft2Digital? If not, I certainly recommend them.

Interview of the Week: Paul Levitz


Dan Greenfield, over at the wonderful 13th Dimension website, re-posted his 2015 interviews with Levitz in honor of the longtime editor/writer’s induction into the Eisner Hall of Fame at Comicon this year.

They talk about his tenure as the sole Batman editor starting in 1978. Great behind-the-scenes stuff.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

American Ninja Warrior: Your Weekly Dose of Exciting Positivity

If you want to kick off your week with some fist-pumping joy complete with inspirational backstories, there is no better place than American Ninja Warrior on NBC.

My Path to ANW


I'll admit something here that'll give a bit of insight into why I enjoy this show so much: back in the day, I dug American Gladiator. In that old show, amateur athletes would compete against professional ones on the obstacle course.

But ANW is actually a better show, for one reason: each individual amateur ninja who competes is competing against himself or herself. Yes, it's a competition show in which the top finishers move on and a winner is crowned, but fundamentally, it's about one person against a series of obstacles. Will he or won't he? Can she do it or can't she? And that's what separates this show apart from most every reality/competition show I know. It's now appointment television for me. Heck, I've even got my wife watching it with me.

Camaraderie Among the Contestants


We are now in season 11. Over the years, certain competitors have returned year after year, gaining a following and their own fan base. But here's the irony: I only know the names of a few of them. The rest I can recognize, but I'm always searching for their names.

Drew Dreschel is one I know by name and sight. Dude makes it look so easy. On Monday's city finals in Atlanta, he finished the course in a little over three minutes. Some folks don't get halfway in three minutes. There's Jesse Graff, a stunt woman who has worked on the Wonder Woman movie and who used to wear super-hero themed outfits during her runs. A few weeks ago, a forty-two year old mom, Sandy Zimmerman, became the first mother to complete an ANW course. And Julian Gil, a local guy, who always does well.

The major contestants travel to the various cities and cheer on their friends and newcomers.

And therein lies the magic of this show.

The Cheering Makes You Smile


You'll never hear a 'boo' in this show. You'll never see one competitor who has finished with a certain time root against another contestant to lose. Even the hosts--Matt Iseman and the every excitable Akbar Gbaja-Biamila*--cheer on the contestants. There are chants of "Beat that wall!" as the athletes face either a 15-foot or an 18-foot wall. Often a competitor's family and friends will don special t-shirts featuring the competitor's tagline or nickname.


And yes, there are the feel-good backstory vignettes that talk about a sick parent or ill wife or a child who needs a kidney. That's what I love about this show. It makes you feel good. It gets your blood pumping when they overcome an obstacle or wince if they face-plant into a pad.

Because for most of these athletes, just getting to the starting line is the victory. Whatever they do on the course is gravy. You get to see triumph on their faces no matter the outcome.

There's a spirit about this show that I look forward to every week and every summer. It is the perfect way to spend a couple hours ever week of the summer filling your bucket with rays of hope and excitement.

And boy do I want to give it a try!

*Gbaja-Biamila has written a inspirational book and I've already started reading. Here's the Amazon link.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Apollo 11 (2019 documentary)

It really is just like you were there.

On Saturday, CNN broadcast the 2019 documentary "Apollo 11" by Todd Douglas Miller. This was the film I had heard about earlier this year, but never got around to seeing in the theater or on IMAX.

Big mistake.

Miller uses recently discovered archival footage, much of which is in color and 70 mm, and creates an immersive experience. With no modern voice over, the only dialogue comes from Walter Cronkite, but only when the astronauts on readying for their flight. Other than that, all the voices are contemporary to 1969.

One of the best things was the footage of all the folks who lined the roads and parking lots in Florida that July day to watch the Saturn V rocket blast off. Families eating and playing together, couples lying on the beach, folks crowding the balconies of a motel, all angling to get a good look. You really get the vibe of a day-in-the-life of the summer of 1969. The clothes, the cars. One of my favorite things during my graduate research via microfilm--and the thing that always sidetracked me--was the newspaper ads. You get a good glimpse into what people bought and sold. Same thing here. I especially loved all the folks watching the launch through their own individual camera lenses. Just like modern concerts and smart phones.

The space flight itself was also cool. There's the moment after Apollo 11 has left Earth orbit where the crew have to maneuver the command module around, dock with the lunar lander, then rotate again, and fire the rockets. The camera follows in real time as Michael Collins pilots the command module in the docking. Look, it happened fifty years ago. I know it was successful. But I still found myself breathless, hoping nothing would go wrong.

Yeah, it's that kind of film.

The actual walking on the moon footage is something special, too. It's not the typical black-and-white image from the side of the Eagle lander. It's from Buzz Aldrin's point of view. You get a top-down view of Neil Armstrong as he descends the ladder and steps foot on the moon.

Also exciting is the liftoff of the lander from the moon to re-dock with the command module. The filmmaker does a repeat of the docking sequence. What surprised me was NASA talking to Collins who orbited the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin walked the moon. Collins didn't see it live. He was on the far side when it happened.

The film started at 8 pm on Saturday. I watched it in a different room while my wife watched another program for an hour. She would then pick up Apollo 11 at 9 pm, watch to the end, then catch the first hour on the re-broadcast. I ended up watching the whole thing all the way through again.

Loved it.

If you haven't seen Apollo 11, the 2019 documentary, I highly recommend it. Now, I'm going on the hunt for Miller's other documentary about Apollo 17 called The Last Steps.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 29

Another really slow week for me, creatively. Finished reviewing the new novel's opening chapters and planned for the next few scenes. After writing into the dark for the previous six novels, I'm doing a hybrid for this new one. Yes, writing into the dark, but there are scenes and guideposts I intend to hit.

There is another new project going on that I've been working on for about a month now, but I don't want to reveal what it is just yet. Why? Because what I'm doing is something I want to do without any or much feedback. Well, that's a bit crappy of a....what's the term when creatives say a thing but never reveal said thing? Can't remember, so let me a bit more direct.

There is a series of movies many in the world have watched and I've never seen. Just last month, I decided to watch them all in order and write reviews about them. I've now watched and reviewed six of the films. My reviews have added up to over 10,000 words so far, and I've still got a few movies left to go. The reason for my comment above about feedback is that these movies have passionate fans and I don't want to get some feedback before I actually watch the movies on my own.

Anyone care to guess?

The Moon Landing at 50


Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing! It's been great living in Houston this week and just about every TV station has a special or two. Even the networks are getting in on it. On Tuesday, CBS moved Blood and Treasure up to 8 pm, making me miss it when I tuned in at nine. But there was an Apollo show so I was assuaged.

I finished AMERICAN MOONSHOT by Douglas Brinkley this week. It's a political history of the moon landing through the prism of John Kennedy's evolving philosophy about the validity of the moon shot. Good book. Here's my review.

For those of y'all old enough to remember, what was it like living through that momentous time? What was it like going through your daily life knowing Apollo 11 was flying to the moon? I'd love to hear your reminiscences.

Oh, and if you've not already discovered it, you can follow everything that transpired fifty years ago at https://apolloinrealtime.org/11/. It is exactly what you think it is. Everything that was said back and forth, photos, elapsed time, all in one great website. I joked with a co-worker earlier this week that if you were a space junkie and had some sort of recuperation that involved you laying in bed for days, this would have been a neat way to pass the time.

The actual landing was 20:17 UTC. You'll have to do the math to figure out what you're local time is. For us in Houston and the Central Time Zone, that will be 1:17 pm today. I've already set my alarm on my phone so I can return to the website listed above and scan some TV channels to see if anyone is doing a "live" broadcast. Hope so.

Enjoy the week, and enjoy the moon landing fifty years on.

Friday, July 19, 2019

American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race by Douglas Brinkley

I am a degreed historian with a knack for remembering dates of historical events. As 2019 dawned, I knew we'd hit the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing this summer. Tomorrow. I also knew there'd be a slew of new historical accounts published to commemorate that momentous giant leap for mankind. Which one to read? When I saw noted historian Douglas Brinkley's name among the list, I made my decision.

American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race isn't necessarily a play-by-play of all the steps the United States took to land Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon fifty years ago. Instead, it is more a political biography of two men--John Kennedy and German Wernher von Braun--as they both came of age in Depression and war. Most of us know the basics of Kennedy's life history, but Brinkely zeroes in on space and the filter through which he described Kennedy's life. What did he think about Sputnik? Where was he when Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space? What did Kennedy really think about space?

Which made for a fascinating way to examine Kennedy's experiences and how he came around to seeing the moonshot as a Cold War technique to use against the Soviet Union. Late in the book, Brinkley wrote one of Kennedy's defenses of the massive amount of money spent to land men on the moon was worth it considering the alternative--a shooting war against the Soviets, if not nuclear war itself--was too horrible to contemplate.

Von Braun, on the other hand, was more of a mystery to me. I first read about him in James Michener's novel, Space (1982), and again earlier this year when I read Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluge. His story was a troubled one. With eyes on the skies and dreams of sending rockets and men to the moon, von Braun, in Brinkley's words, made the Faustian bargain in World War II, to build the V-2 rockets with slave labor, the end results of which were the deaths of civilians when those rockets were launched against England. Sure, von Braun was a crucial member of the NASA team in the 1960s to engineer the Saturn V rocket and an constant cheerleader for the importance of the moonshot, but at what cost? Did it even out his activities in the war? Should it? Still, it was interesting to learn more about him and the relationship he and Kennedy formed.

Speaking of relationships, what I most enjoyed was the descriptions of the camaraderie Kennedy formed with the Mercury 7 astronauts. I had always seen photos of him with them, but never knew how close some of them became with the president. Which made his assassination much more personal. Brinkley described where each of the astronauts were when they learned of Kennedy's death. For most of them, it was the radio.

As a native of Space City, USA, I have always been keenly aware of the role Houston played in the history of NASA and space exploration. Some of my favorite parts of Brinkley's book was the discussion of Houston and the surrounding areas during the 1960s. If Armstrong took the one giant leap for mankind, then the manned space program was Houston's leap forward.

Brinkley went on to write the great irony of Kennedy's death helped NASA get the funding it needed to land Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon in 1969. President Lyndon Johnson felt no problem with using Kennedy's vision, as set forth in a pair of 1961 speeches, to get the money. Was it worth it? Johnson himself, as vice president, delivered a report which laid out all the ancillary benefits humankind could reap as a result of doing what it took to put men on the moon.

Think about this: the device you're using to read this review is likely a cell phone. That computer-in-your-palm is exponentially more powerful than the computers used to shepherd Apollo 11 to the moon. The GPS system we all use to get us to where we want to go is a result of the space race. Might we have eventually got to the moon and invented all this technology without the great race? Most likely, but the pace would have been much slower.

There are lots of books that discuss the engineering feats needed to land the Eagle in the Sea of Tranquility fifty years ago tomorrow, including all the intricate details of all the various Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions. But if you want the political version of that story centered on one man who saw the potential of a victorious moon landing for us here on Earth, then American Moonshot by Douglas Brinkley is a good recommendation.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Privy to a Secret: The Exquisite Playing of Ludovico Einaudi

(A year ago today, I posted this on my main author site. Today, I post it here on its one year anniversary.)

“Privy to a secret.” Those were the words my wife said to me after we walked out of Houston’s Jones Hall last night and got in our car. We each took turns pointing out things we liked and enjoyed from “An Evening With Lucovico Einaudi,” but it was her words that summed it up best.

And we have Radio Paradise to thank.

Radio Paradise is an online streaming music service curated by husband-and-wife team Bill and Rebecca Goldsmith. Operated out of California, the music from Radio Paradise varies widely. You can easily go from “Lady Grinning Soul,” an album cut by David Bowie, to John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” with stopovers featuring Talking Heads, Tears for Fears, Cat Stevens, and The Black Keys. It is one of the few listening experiences nowadays where you truly have no idea what song is coming next.

We heard Einaudi’s music a few times on the station. My wife loved it enough to seek out his music. In the course of her online research, she discovered he was coming to Houston. With zero hesitation, we bought tickets. They were a pair of rear balcony seats, but it didn’t matter. We were in the hall. Ominously, when we walked up to the front doors yesterday, we read signs stating balcony seat ticket holders must go to the box office. The balcony, it seemed, was closed. The looks of worry were etched on more than one face, but I suggested it was likely because the orchestra level wasn’t sold out and they were consolidating everyone down there. Turns out, I spoke the truth. We ended up on row R, a definite upgrade.

Literally, I know Einaudi’s music by the three or four tracks I’ve heard on Radio Paradise. In each of those, it was solo piano, so that’s what I was expecting. The setup on stage was for six musicians with a grand piano in the middle. Interesting, the piano keys faced the audience. That meant we would get to see Eunaudi’s hands while he played but his back would be to us. I hadn’t seen that before, but it turned out perfectly fine because not only was Eunaudi the composer of the music we heard, he acted more as a conductor to his band.

Band. That’s not quite the correct word to use, but orchestra doesn’t fit, either. This collection of musicians consisted of a cellist (who played both acoustic and electric cello), bass (doubled as an extra synth player), percussionist (not a drummer), guitar (who also played some percussion), and a violinist (who picked up acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and played a small organ). Projected on a large screen behind the group were various images, hypnotic in their complexity and which worked so well with the music. Most of the time, the accompanying musicians were in shadow, so you’d only see them in silhouette against the screen.

It’s a little difficult to figure out words to describe the music of Einaudi, but exquisite is up there. Wikipedia lists “minimalist” first. No, this doesn’t mean fewer instruments. It is, according to Richard Rodda, “…the repetition of slowly changing common chords in steady rhythms, often overlaid with a lyrical melody in long, arching phrases…[It] utilizes repetitive melodic patterns, consonant harmonies, motoric rhythms, and a deliberate striving for aural beauty.” It’s the last phrase that is key. “Aural beauty.” What is remarkable about Einaudi’s music in all of its aural wonders is the personification of the music. When you listen to a symphony, a rock song, a jazz piece, or a Broadway tune, there is a common understanding of the music. Beethoven’s 5th Symphony or Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out” all have those familiar melodies we can sing on our own. With Einaudi’s music, you can’t. Instead, what you are treated to is a unique musical experience that won’t or can’t be repeated ever again. It’s like being in the presence of a great artist and his musician friends as they paint with sound. There is a meditative quality to Einaudi’s music that gets inside your mind as your ears take in these sounds and chords.

One fun thing was to take note of a couple of particular instruments. One was a sort of crystal piece, held by one hand while the other used a violin bow across the surface. The resulting sound was akin to rubbing your wet finger around the rim of a wine glass. The conical-shaped instrument—smaller at top and much wider on the bottom—changed pitch depending on the location of the bowing. The other unique thing was a metal rectangular sheet, suspended by a wire. The percussionist held it by the wire, lowered the sheet into a clear container of water, and used a mallet to strike the plate. He would raise and lower the sheet, creating different tonalities. Lastly, the electric cellist would rub his entire open palm up and down the strings. The aural effect was of a person breathing. Watching these performers last night was itself a work of art.

It’s a rare concert I attend where I know basically nothing about the music I’m there to hear. The experience was utterly mesmerizing. In other settings at other concerts, the performers do their thing for you. If you’re there to watch your favorite rock band, you jam with them and sing along. Einaudi’s concert is a personal journey, communal with all the other folks in the crowd. You all hear the same notes but you take away something entirely personal. The audience knew Eunaudi and his music, as evidenced by the cheers as he walked out, and the loud, boisterous, and prolonged exaltation at the end.

Like my wife said, it was like we got a peek into a man and his music unknown to a large part of the world. Or maybe it was just unknown to me. Don’t’ know. By all indications online, the Houston date was the last in North America after only a handful of dates across the continent. I’m again so happy to live in a city like Houston that can attract an artist such as Ludovico Einaudi, and I’m quite happy to be in on the secret of his exquisite music.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 28

Another slow week from the offices of Quadrant Fiction Studio but there was a great highlight of the work week.

Making a Connection


I've known Paul Bishop digitally a few years now. I contributed to the brand-new 52 Weeks - 52 TV Westerns, out just this month. Here's a link to the paperback copy.

This week, I got to have a Skype chat with him. It was over my lunch hour at the day job. I found an empty conference room, fired up my iPhone, and he and I talked for almost the entire hour. It was wonderful to actually see and speak with a fellow author. I don't know about y'all but if I hear an interview with an author and I can hear their voice, then I can "play" it in my head when I read an email or a comment said author makes.

But Skyping is so much better! We had a good conversation about the writing business, what he's doing, what I'm doing. I left that particular lunch hour on a high. Thanks, Paul.

The New Project


The new book is going well. I didn't make as much progress and I'd have liked to this week, but that's okay. I'm not rushing it. I want to take my time with it and make sure it is the best it can be before I start talking about it in earnest.

Out of the Blue Reading Choices


I started two new things this week, both out of what I typically choose to read. First is the latest Sandra Brown paperback TAILSPIN. Why? Well, the cover caught my eye at the grocery store last Sunday. Curious, I read the back cover blurb. Sounded good. But I've never read a Brown novel.

Still not quite sure, I ended up returning home and downloading the preview on my Kobo ereader. By the time I reached the end of the free content, I was hooked. I ended up buying the book. And dang if I'm not enjoying it. Who knew?

The other interesting reading choice is a trade paperback of ARCHIE: 1941. While the Archie comics started in 1941, they often took a pass on the important issues of the day, according to the introduction. With this modern comic, Archie and his companions actually face World War II. I've only read chapter/issue one so far, but I'm hooked.

Apollo 11


Starting this Tuesday, 16 July, the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing begins. Think about this while you go through your week. Apollo 11 launches on Tuesday. It doesn't land until 20 July, which is Saturday this year (it was Sunday in 1969). Imagine being in that space ship from Tuesday until Saturday. Three full days plus. Could you do that? I think it would be, um, difficult.

Anyway, enjoy this anniversary this week. I know I will.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home

I enjoyed most of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies. I saw neither of the Andrew Garfield ones. But I love Tom Holland's two movies not for the super-heroics--which are, nonetheless, awesome!--but for the Peter Parker parts.

Homecoming was basically a John Hughes film if Hughes did a high school super-hero movie. Far From Home is like when your favorite sitcom blows up in the ratings and they take a trip to Europe. I'm looking at you Family Ties Goes to London (or whatever it was called).

Far From Home is a hilarious romp of a film with super-hero stuff thrown in. All the razzle dazzle stuff is what you'd expect. But its the Parker stuff that really counts and has meaning. I went with my teenager and he really enjoyed it. I suspect he sees his own high school in the scenes because I certainly saw mine.

Mysterio Walked Out of the Comics


While I'm more knowledgeable about Batman Rogues' Gallery, Spider-Man has some great ones. Most look pretty cool, but Mysterio always stood out on a large part because of the helmet. Or fish tank. Or Apollo helmet. Whatever you call that thing that serves as a mask. You knew back in the Maguire days they'd likely never attempt Mysterio for the sheer technical factor of making it look good and real.

Which is why this modern-day Marvel cinematic universe is so good. With CGI, anything is possible. And Jake Gyllenhaal as Owen Beck (AKA Mysterio) does a fantastic job. Going in, I knew Mysterio's origins, but the trailer made it appear like something else. When all is revealed, it is a great twist (although it kind of was a riff off the Vulture's origins from Homecoming).

High School Life


Coincidentally, I watched Far From Home the same weekend as I started to watch Stranger Things 3. Both deal with high school and teenagers in such an honest way, both were joys to watch. (I'm not done with Stranger Things so zero spoilers. Got it?) In Far From Home, I love how the entire movie is built around Peter's one plan for the trip to Europe: buy a gift for MJ, give it to her, and tell her how he feels. That's all a teenaged boy should have to worry about.

Spoilers....

And bravo for the writers having MJ figure out Peter's secret. C'mon. It's in the trailer. But it's great to have these major co-stars figure out heroes' secret identity. As cute as it was in the 1950s and 1960s to have Lois Lane concoct all sorts of schemes to reveal Clark Kent was Superman, it's refreshing to have them in on the secret and be a part of the team.

Stellar Cast


As with every Marvel film, the cast is fantastic. It is the secret sauce that makes this more than just your friendly neighborhood Marvel movie.

Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds, Peter's best friend, steals every scene he's in. I first saw Angourie Rice in Shane Black's 2016 film, The Nice Guys. Man, is she a talented actress, and so good as Ned's girlfriend. The two teachers, played by Martin Starr and J. B. Smoove, also chew the scenery as both an inept teacher (Starr) and one who doesn't want to take credit or blame when things go south (Smoove). And I called it in the theater (and confirmed later) that Peter Billingsley played one of Mysterio's henchmen. Yup. The kid from A Christmas Story is in a Marvel film. Granted, he was also in Iron Man, but I forgot.

I also appreciated how Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders realized they were in a funnier film than any of their earlier ones and adjusted. They were still Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but they played the characters with a wink and a smile.

Mid-Credits and Post-Credits Scenes


Whoa! So often, these scenes serve as in-jokes (Howard the Duck) or setups to future films (Iron Man and just about all the others). Rarely have end credits scenes basically shook the titular character's world to the core. Especially since the next Spider-Man movie isn't even on the map. Are you kidding me?

Spider-Man: Far From Home Gets It


Character, character, character. It goes a long way to grounding a film and keeping the audience invested. All the folks involved with the Tom Holland Spider-Man films understand what makes this character tick. Holland gets it, too. I know there another actor will someday play the web-slinger, but he'll have big web-shooters to fill.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is a wonderful film and a great way to end Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Bring on Phase 4!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 27

A short week at the day job proves timely for the writing job.  It a lot happened this week so this’ll be short.

The new book goes well. I started on Monday, 1 July, and I’ve written every day so far. Up to 8,553 so far. With this book not being a western or mystery/Thriller—it’s a slice-of-life tale—I’m having to rely on different muscles, namely the writing kind. When you’re writing a mystery, sometimes you can skate through the story as long as you have a Crime and a detective. Doesn’t mean it’s easier or that it can’t have character. It just means there’s a given narrative thread to follow.

Not necessarily so with this book. So far. I’ve already realized there is some tension between my lead characters and it’s already reared it’s head. Good. A little tension isn’t a bad thing.

Best thing is the excitement. It’s always fun starting a book. Just got to maintain the excitement through the rest of the month as the story progresses.

New Book, New Technique


For as many writers there are, there’s are that many ways to write. Many authors I’ve read about use the following method. Write a set number of words, the go back and review what’s been written, fixing words and things along the way. Then, when they reach the place where they stopped, they keep going from there. Repeat as needed. The theory is you keep going over your words in your Creative voice, and, by the end, you’ve got a pretty clean first draft. You’ll still have to edit it, but all the nit picky work will have been done.

I’m trying that way this time. It’s new for me. We’ll see how it goes.

I also read my chapter aloud and pick up a lot that way, especially with dialogue.

Fishing and Gunfire


The wife loves to fish but we don’t do it very often. Yesterday, we did. Out in west Houston, there are some stocked ponds. We went out there yesterday afternoon and spent the day fishing. Well, she fished and caught fish. I think she caught something like ten little fish. I fed worms to the fish.

Funny thing is the spot is within earshot if the gun range. So the “fireworks” continued on into yesterday afternoon.

Kinda funny.

Spider-Man: Far From Home Gets It


I enjoyed most of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies. I saw neither of the Andrew Garfield ones. But I love Tom Holland's two movies not for the super-heroics--which are, nonetheless, awesome!--but for the Peter Parker parts.

Homecoming was basically a John Hughes film if Hughes did a high school super-hero movie. Far From Home is like when your favorite sitcom blows up in the ratings and they take a trip to Europe. I'm looking at you Family Ties Goes to London (or whatever it was called).

Far From Home is a hilarious romp of a film with super-hero stuff thrown in. All the razzle dazzle stuff is what you'd expect. But its the Parker stuff that really counts and has meaning. I went with my teenager and he really enjoyed it. I suspect he sees his own high school in the scenes because I certainly saw mine.

Character, character, character. It goes a long way to grounding a film and keeping the audience invested.



Well, like I said, this was going to be a short post. In the next few posts, I will discuss new marketing ideas I plan to try, and a new outlook for the second half of 2019.