Thursday, February 28, 2019

Len Wein’s Batman: Batman 308

Writer Len Wein’s second issue of Batman, ‘There’ll Be a Cold Time in the Old Town Tonight,” brings back an old foe: Mr. Freeze. But this isn’t your TV’s Freeze. No, this is an odd hybrid of what came before and what Paul Dini did so masterfully with Freeze in Batman: The Animated Series.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Based on the splash page, Jacob Riker sees Batman swinging near his balcony window and pines for the Dark Knight Detective’s help. Because Mr. Freeze is at Riker’s door. The criminal is very unhappy and decides to make an example of Riker. As Wein writes, “And Jacob Riker’s final scream is mercifully brief!”

The Bat and the Cat

The next day, Bruce Wayne is working in his office when he receives an interesting visitor: Selina Kyle, AKA The Catwoman. She doesn’t know Bruce and Batman are one in the same. She’s done her time and now wants to invest some money in Wayne Enterprises. Bruce initially balks, but then relents. Not before pissing off the former criminal and allowing her a cagey smile.

No sooner does Bruce lament his predicament—even ordering Lucius Fox to check out Selina’s story—than the Bat Signal graces the Gotham sky. Batman’s on the case. When he meets up with Commissioner Gordon, the Caped Crusader sees Jacob Riker frozen to death in a block of ice.

Meanwhile…on the 13th Floor

An older man named McVee enters another office building across town. A young woman--who turns out to be his girlfriend, Hildy--greets him and hands him a parka. Inside his special lair, Mr. Freeze awaits. Unlike Riker who refused Freeze’s request, McVee is all in. In a bid to make himself immortal, McVee lays down in a clear coffin. Cryogenic gases fill the chamber. When the doors open, McVee is no longer himself. He is now an ice zombie.

Hey. It’s 1978.

That's yet another failure. Freeze wants to find a way to convert Hildy into something like himself so they can live happily ever after. She, however, isn't buying it. She's already planning on double-crossing the criminal.


In S.T.A.R. Labs, there's a figure on an operating room, shrouded with a sheet. The scientists chat about how the Wayne Foundation made it possible for the body to be delivered. One scientist utters the words "Yea, this new radiation treatment will either cure him--or kill him."

No sooner are the words out of his mouth than the figure rises up, breaks the bonds holding him on the table, and proceeds to lay waste to the lab.

Until he falls dead.

What? Fear not. All will be explained.

Tracking Down Freeze

Through a contact--in the 1970s, it seemed every issue had Batman talk to some street man to get information; this time, it's "Benny the Buzz"--Batman sneaks into a building owned by Mr. Freeze. Benny was right. Batman walks into a trap. It seemed Benny telephoned Freeze before Bats even arrived.

The Caped Crusader leaps into action against the ice zombies which Mr. Freeze calls...wait for it...his ice pack. Yup. If you've ever fallen while ice skating, you'll know ice is hard. Batman finds out the hard way after socking one of the zombies in the jaw...and nearly shattering his knuckles.

The fight is short and Bats is thrown in the same cryo-tank as the unfortunate Mr. McVee. (Think he was named after the husband-and-wife team in Fleetwood Mac?) Freeze doesn't want to make the same mistake he did with McVee on his lady love. Despite our hero's attempts to get out, he nonetheless is rendered into an ice zombie!

The Twist

Now, we know Batman has something up his sleeve. He's already revealed to the reader he applied insulating salve to protect him against the cold air of Freeze's hideout. That's the answer, right? Well, partially.

In a small soliloquy, Hildy talks about her plans. She also marvels at how handsome Batman is. She goes so far as to kiss him.

And knows the truth at the exact moment Freeze confronts her for her double-dealing. But she can't get a word in edgewise because Freeze won't let her. Batman comes to her rescue. Freeze is dumbfounded. How could Batman not be a zombie. Well, our hero disabled muct of the cryogenic hoses before he even stepped foot in the hideout!

A fight quickly ensues. Batman can't beat the zombies so he turns his attention to Freeze. As you can see from the cover image, this version of Freeze has a costume and a glass helmet. Batman shatters the glass, the only means of communication Freeze has to his ice pack. They stop moving. Batman leaps to action. Hildy picks up the damaged Freeze Gun and aims it at both men. She pulls the trigger.

The freeze ray backfires. She's frozen solid. "Your Hildy wanted to stay young and beautiful forever," Batman says to Mr. Freeze as they leave. "And it looks like she's finally gotten her way!"

The Tag Ending

Remember that sheet-shrouded figure? Well, the same pair of scientists now stand over a freshly dug grave. They name the dead man: Mark Desmond. They lament not being able to help poor Desmond, but now he at least has peace. They depart.

Then, the earth begins to rumble. Dirt shakes. And a thick pair of hands emerges from the ground. Mark Desmond is alive!


I don't know about you, but having what is basically a prelude to the next issue buried (natch) in this issue is pretty nifty. It's good storytelling, but it's also good marketing. What kid in December 1978 is not going to search for that next issue?

Wein's writing really shines in the sidebars. With the comic medium, you've got pictures. The writer doesn't need to say a lot, at least as it appears on the page. But Wein does more. He adds depth to these panels, whether it be descriptions of the city or the inner thinking of Bruce Wayne and Batman. When Wein came over to DC from Marvel, Batman was the character for which he wanted to write. He adds more than simply a comic adventure. He helps to reveal the man behind the hero.

The art is by the combo team of John Calnan and Dick Giordano. They make a good pair. Their illustrations of both women are very good and, oddly, quite sensual. How they stage certain sequences is also well done, almost like a movie. All in all, Wein, Calnan, and Giordano produced a good issue.

See Also

Batman 307

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Top 5 TV Theme Songs

This week on The Ralph Report with Ralph Garman and Eddie Pence, the pair revealed their Top 3 Favorite Prime Time TV Theme Songs. Ralph's picks were Mission: Impossible, Batman, and The Rockford Files. Eddie, a few years younger, skewed to the 1980s with The A-Team, The Dukes of Hazzard, and The Fall Guy. While Ralph gave Eddie a hard time over The Fall Guy, I always enjoyed the tune, but then again, I enjoyed all six of their picks.

So what about mine? Well, I gave it some thought and here are my Top 5, in no particular order.

Gilligan's Island

I'm a big fan of old-fashioned theme songs that tell any new viewer what the show's about. Think also: The Brady Bunch, all three of Eddie's picks above,

The X-Files

With a show about weird things happening in a decade where conspiracy theories became mainstream, composer Mark Snow captured it all in this eerie theme.


Why Dallas? I'm not sure. I was not an avid watcher. I latched onto the series when J.R. was shot, correctly guessed the culprit, and then slowly stopped watching soon there after. But that theme is one I catch myself singing frequently. Weird. But this song manages to snag both the modern west (guitar licks) and the classic western (those french horns) in one song.

The Greatest American Hero

There was a time when Mike Post was the go-to guy for TV theme songs. This is my favorite. It's a time-capsule song that not only tells you what year the show debuted but also the wistfully happy spirit of the show.

The Love Boat

Another song I catch myself singing. How can you not when "Love" is the first word? I'm a pretty dorky guy and sometimes, I'll speak the lyrics to my wife if it's been a few days since I've seen her roll her eyes.

As a kid in the late 1970s, when new programs were actually shown on TV, Saturday nights were The Love Boat and Fantasy Island.

To bring it back to story, The Love Boat was one of the first shows (not a Scooby-Doo cartoon or a TV sitcom) where I recognized a pattern. And that pattern was almost always by the clock.

First ten minutes: all characters introduced and on-board crew subplot presented.
Next twenty minutes (30-minute mark): antics of crew and new characters.
Next ten minutes (to 40-min mark): breaks-ups and trouble
Next ten minutes (to 50-min mark) make-ups
Final ten minutes: disembark the ship, arm in arm.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Starlog and Batman 1989

That first glimpse was everything.

Starlog: The first source of news

It beggars belief nowadays, but there was a time when if you wanted to know anything about an upcoming genre movie, Starlog the magazine was your best source.

Starting in 1976 with an issue devoted primarily to Star Trek, Starlog was the go-to magazine for interviews, SF news, and behind-the-scenes reports of upcoming movies. I never subscribed, but I always remembered seeing it on newsstands in bookstores, grocery stores, and convenience stores. Every time I saw it, I flipped through the pages. If it was a property I enjoyed, I bought it.

Which brings me to February 1989. I can't recall which came first, the magazine or the trailer, but in tandem, both provided the first glimpse of the new Batman feature. What made the magazine special, however, were the pictures.

There, on the front cover, was Mr. Mom, er, Beetlejuice, er, Michael Keaton as Batman. Count me as one of the initial people skeptical about Keaton in the title role, but when I laid eyes on Starlog issue 142, all doubt vanished. There, on the cover, was Keaton in full Batman gear, staring into your soul, standing in front of the new Batmobile.

Mind. Blown.

I was in college at the time, but I could have easily been twelve for all the excitement coursing through my veins. I wasn't alone. Many of my buddies in Longhorn Band were SF geeks and we all geeked out over the issue. Interior pages were quickly turned until we landed on the main story. More pictures of the Caped Crusader. Another image of the Batmobile and explosions!

And Jack Nicholson's Joker. Sure, it was in profile initially, but there was also a shot of him with half-and-half makeup. What was that about?

We wouldn't know until what I consider the real Batman Day: June 23. For thirty years, literally ever June 23, I think of this movie. By then, I was working in a movie theater in 1989, one of the best summers ever for movies.

And the first true glimpse of it--complete with behind-the-scenes details--came in Starlog. Such was the power of a single issue of a long-treasured magazine.

You can read every issue of Starlog online, including this one, at

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 8

Are you prepared to talk about writing?


I had jury duty this week, and a couple of things struck me. One is that you probably already rolled your eyes. “Jury duty. Ugh.” Believe me, I understand. We all understand. It’s one of those things that we have to endure, right?

But have you ever thought about the alternative? What if we didn’t have to go to jury duty because we didn’t have trial by jury? Not sure I’d want to live in a society like that, would you? So I’ll take the occasional jury duty as the easy payment for the freedoms we have in this country.

Besides, it really isn’t bad as long as you brought a good dose of patience with you to the court house. Oh, and a book. I brought my Chromebook and knocked out a few hundred words on the latest story before we all got called into the courtroom.

Now, as a writer, I’m all for new experiences. When we got into the courtroom—all eighty of us or so—we saw the defendants. Seven of them by my count. Two panels were seated. Yeah, I was selected. Sixteen out of eighteen in panel 1. My group consisted of 8 men and 10 women, all a nice cross-section of citizens in my precinct in Houston, the largest in the state. One by one, the defendants were called to the back room, their cases settled. As the judge told us, often when a person asking for a jury trial actually sees us ready to render judgement, it becomes very real and they settle.

The potential jurors who didn’t get selected were excused. Then panel 2. Lastly we eighteen in panel 1 were released. It was a painless experience. Heck, I even stayed late to chat with the bailiff, the judge, and the clerk. It was very nice.

You know what else was nice? Talking about my writing.

Okay, so I’m a nerd and I pulled out a steno pad and started making observations. When the judge started telling us facts about our precinct, I jotted those notes down as well. As you can imagine, my actions were noticed. The nice lady sitting next to me and I started talking. Turns out she’s a medical professional. She mentioned she enjoys spy novels and name-dropped Daniel Silva and Vince Flynn among others. Right as she was leaving, she asked for my name and a recommendation of one of my books. To date, my favorite book remains ULTERIOR OBJECTIVES. When I mentioned it was a World War II thriller, she got excited. Based on my Amazon sales report, a copy of that book was sold on 20 February, jury duty day.

Can I be sure it was she who purchased the book? No, but there is strong circumstantial evidence. I didn’t catch her name, but I thank her, no matter if she bought the book or not.

But you know what made the entire event not 100% professional? I didn’t have any business cards on me. I had to write my name on a piece of paper.

Sigh. I now have extra cards in my wallet.

If you are a pro writer, always carry business cards.


Chalk writing a Lenten devotional as something more difficult that you'd imagine.

I was assigned a passage from Mark by one of the pastors at my church. By way of guidelines, she told us contributors to aim for a word count from 250 to 350.

Listen: I can bust out a consistent 1200-1300 words per hour when I'm firing on all cylinders writing a novel. Initially, I thought it would be easy to get up to 350 words.


Five drafts later, I managed 366. Hopefully they'll make the cut--or my pastor will edit it down or ask for a re-write--but those were some difficult words. Go figure.


The more I write and the more I study the habits of writers, the more I realize writing is really a blue-collar job. Sure, we're not digging ditches or laying brick, but the process of writing has little magic to it. Other than the imagination, you sit in a chair or stand at a counter and pound your fingers on a keyboard. There really is no other alternative to getting a story out of your head and onto paper or a screen.

Which brings me to the words of Daniel Roebuck. He was the guest interview subject on The Ralph Report by Ralph Garman. On Monday, when the first part of the interview dropped, I was like "Who's this Roebuck guy?" Only when I pulled up his photo on Google did I realize "Oh, he's that guy. Wow. He's been in a lot of things." Yeah. Thirty-five years worth of consistent acting jobs. Quite the successful tenure. And he's got a great quote on his Twitter page.

How, might you ask, did a boy from Pennsylvania who drove out to Los Angeles with no connections become have the career he's had? By a simple realization.

"I knew I'd be a supporting guy. I'll be the James Whitmore or the William Windom and I set my sights on just being someone who worked. And so I'm completely satisfied." "I never had a false sense of my destiny. My destiny was never standing on stage giving a speech, getting an award. My destiny was being turned into a [movie] monster. That, in itself, makes me happy." "I never take a moment of it [acting work] for granted. I still audition…I go in there and try to win. Every day I wake up, bring it on, man. Give it to me. Give me a chance to do what I do."

When I heard those words, I knew I’d found a guy with a philosophy I could understand and admire. Because I try to be the writer version of Roebuck every day. I sit at my Chromebook twice a day (4:45am and 12:00pm) and write new words. I craft stories as best as I can. The yarns entertain me. I hope they entertain others. For me, the large majority of the joy I get from writing is that part, the part I can control. Control the Controlables. In the professional writing world, there are few things better than those hours spent writing.

BTW, if you read yesterday’s column at Do Some Damage by founding member Jay Stringer, you’ll remember he said much the same thing.

How about y'all? How'd your week go?

The Scarcity Mentality in 1970s SF Fandom

I was listening to the “70s Trek” podcast the other day when one of the hosts made an interesting comment.

The podcast is a celebration of the Star Trek franchise in the 1970s which, according to their tagline, was “The decade that built a franchise.” In episode 118, host Bob Turner and Kelly Casto talk about the decade itself. In their discussion of consumer technology, Turner mentions the personal tape recorder. He described the very one my parents purchased from Radio Shack: a black plastic device, about five inches by seven inches, mono, with all the requisite buttons.

Turner went on to describe how he was record the *audio* of Star Trek episodes off the TV…because he never knew if one of his favorite TV shows would simply go away and not be aired. He would at least record the audio because that was the only option available to him. He followed up that mentality with the advent of VHS recorders and the debut of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987, actually recording all the shows.

But his comment about the audio really struck me. Back in the 1970s, we lovers of SF had few options. We had Trek on TV (on Houston’s UHF channel 39 for me), Star Wars by 1977, and Buck Rogers by 1979. Comics and books were out only other options. With the pool of things to digest so small, naturally we scooped up all we could, in any manner we could.

It is one of the reasons I think we geeks in 1977 onward can still name you things like the trash compactor number from Star Wars*. Since we didn’t have a lot, we engorged ourselves in what we had. If you missed the Star Trek episode on Saturday afternoon, you had to wait an entire week for the next one. And given a 79-episode catalog and assuming the station manager ran all the episode in order and then repeated the run, you’d have to wait quite a while before you even had the chance to see that missed episode.

Naturally Turner’s option to record the audio became one of the only ways we could experience Trek at our leisure. I’m surprised I never tried it.

Is it cool to have all the content at our disposal, able to consume it any time and almost any way we want? Sure. It’s basically what the characters in Trek had. But having grown up with a scarcity mentality regarding beloved content, there is still a special fondness for those times when we didn’t have much, but we loved that stuff dearly.

*Okay, so you’ve had time to think about that number, right? I had “The Story of Star Wars” album with all the dialogue and sound effects. I played it constantly. Thus I can still remember: 3263827

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 7

It can be the little things that help you along.


Remember a week ago when I wrote about how WADING INTO WAR was getting purchased but the subsequent books in the series were not? My quick solution was to place links to the other books immediately after "The End," explaining the next book and where it fit in the chronology. I republished both the Kobo and Kindle versions of the ebook.

I checked the data yesterday morning and imagine what I saw? A sale of ALL CHICKENS MUST DIE, the second Ben Wade mystery?

Coincidence? Possibly, but I prefer to chalk up my small tweak as a win. If I got one new reader based on a small restructuring at the end of the book, then I'll follow through with all the other versions of the ebook published by Draft2Digital.

As a reader myself, I would immediately wanted to know what the next book of a series is. The Audible app does that with audiobooks. Why not ebooks? No reason. If the reader didn't like the story, they'd just close the electronic cover and never look back. But a road map? I'd want one as a reader, so I'm providing one as an author.

Interesting but unprovable observation: I made a sale of WADING and CHICKENS both on Lincoln's birthday. That's 12 February. WADING is more of a novella. I can't help but wonder if both of those sales were the same person. How cool would that be?


On a corollary note, ULTERIOR OBJECTIVES is the first book to feature Sergeant Lillian Saxton, US Army. It's a thrill-ride of a book (probably my favorite to date) that was a joy to write and tell people about. It takes place in May 1940 so it qualifies as a World War II novel.

I own a Kindle and there's always an ad on the lock screen. I never gloss over what's on display because sometimes, you can find something you can use.

There is a book titled THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS by Pam Jenoff. It showed up on the lock screen and its great cover caught my eye. I read the description. Not only did it draw me, but it had a World War II connection. I downloaded the sample and am reading through it.

But as an author, I took note of the authors featured in the Also Boughts as well as the Sponsored Links. Seeing an opening, I quickly wrote down all those names and created a new Amazon ad with those author names as keywords. I let the ad go into the world. I think that was about ten days ago.

Well, something happened. The KENP pages read for OBJECTIVES went from 63 on 6 February to 493 the following day. This after weeks of nothing on the KENP chart. It seemed some eyes finally noticed my book, its cover and description, and took a chance. Now, there were no actual sales of the book on those days which might have showed the story was good enough for someone to buy and finish the book. Can't do anything about that, but it is certainly worth noting. There was one sale, on the eleventh so perhaps...

By the way, if you're not using author names as keywords, start now.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK #1: Practice, Practice, Practice

Dean Wesley Smith was at it again this week. On Tuesday, he dropped a video "Tip of the Week #57...I'm too young." Basically, it's his discussion about yet another myth, the myth of being 'too young' in the business. That is, too little time in the chair writing. His basic response is "Yeah, I might be better than other writers...but that's only because I put in the time practicing the craft." By his own admission, he writes north of a million words a year. James Reasoner does this, too, and has for over a decade.

Just imagine how good any of us would be at ANYthing if we practiced the equivalent of a million words a year. Imagine how much better our writing would be if we put in that kind of time.


A few years ago, I read a quote that got me off my butt and in front of the computer:

"A year from now, you will have wished you started today."


When you look at successful authors ahead of you in this long game, you might feel yourself getting frustrated or depressed that you are not at their level. You might also think they've solved all the writerly problems.


In this week's "The Creative Penn" podcast, author Joanna Penn talked about her own self-doubt. Specifically, Joanna talked about her self-doubt in the process. Like she said in the intro, it doesn't go away the more successful you get. You just have to trust the process and move forward.

And try to avoid Comparisonitis as much as possible.


I'm in the middle of my own self-doubt on the current novel. It's not moving forward as briskly as I would have liked. In fact, ever since that health issue I had, I've barely touched the novel.

So I segued to a short story. It was the opening of a story I sent to Dean when I took his Depth in Writing workshop. The short story features...Detective Ben Wade. This one is different, however, because I'm writing it in third person. The three Wade novels are written in first person. The style doesn't matter. What matters most to me is getting back on the horse and writing.

And wouldn't you know it, the more I'm writing this short story, certain lines of creativity have opened in my brain. Not only is the story coming along swimmingly, but I'm starting to think about the novel and what the logjam in my brain is. So, when I get Wade's little tale done, I'll likely jump back onto the novel.

Trust the process. Trust what I've done before, knowing I can do it again. Same for you. There are always struggles. Heck, I sometimes struggle in the day job writing. Happened this week, but I worked my way through it.

For more on this topic, check out some of the comments on Dean's Tip of the Week.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK #2: Jason Bateman's Speech

In case you didn't see Bateman's acceptance speech at the recent SAG awards, it's well worth your 2-3 minutes. What he says about work and the next job is priceless. Apply it to your writing.

JOY OF THE WEEK: Alan Alda's Clear and Vivid podcast

Growing up, M.A.S.H. was that show my dad watched in reruns when he got home from work and watched live on CBS. I didn't understand all the humor and war conditions, but by the end, I was old enough not only to tape the final episode and watch it more than once, but I cried just about every single time. It is a powerful piece of TV that stands the test of time.

Alan Alda hosts a podcast called Clear and Vivid. It's about good conversation and how we can better communicate with each other. A couple of episodes ago, he brought together the surviving members of the MASH cast, including Loretta Swit, Mike Ferrell, Jamie Farr, and Gary Burghoff.

Let me tell you: within moments, they were laughing. They reminisced, told stories about their time on the show, the cast who have passed away, and generally what the show meant to them.

The warmth, the humor, the camaraderie are all on display for your ears. It is so good to hear them talk with each other and be the fly on the wall. It was the best thing I heard all week.

How was your week?

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 6

Not sure what it means, but I have the opportunity to address it.


I downloaded the most recent sales spreadsheet from Amazon the other day and it revealed an interesting thing. Of all the books I've sold the past month, WADING INTO WAR leads the pack. That's the first book I ever published and the first book in Benjamin Wade / Gordon Gardner / Lillian Saxton series of stories. [Note: I'm gonna need a better name.] What I didn't see was sales for the second Wade novel, ALL CHICKENS MUST DIE. Same for the first Gardner novel, THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES. The Saxton book, ULTERIOR OBJECTIVES, has a smattering. 


Well, one obvious answer is that readers never finished the book. For those readers who found "The End," they didn't like it enough to keep on going. The way these ebooks are formatted, there's an end-of-chapter break after the last line of the book. Next in the ebook is the Author Afterward, then some Acknowledgements, and finally the samples of the other books.

So I wondered something: why not have links right there on the last page of the book that explained the next steps, the next books, all with live links?

I wondered if that would make a difference. I'm not sure, but I changed the Amazon and Kobo files yesterday. I guess I'll see if WADING is a good first book or if I should find a different on ramp.

Big corporate giants talk about agility in their internal processes. Well, when it comes to being a small-business owner--that's what we are--this kind of agility can prove invaluable. Only time will tell.


If you are a writer, you simply must read every post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. With decades in the business and multiple genres in her portfolio, her work ethic alone is worth studying. Yet every Thursday, she writes about the business of writing. Every week, there are golden nuggets of information to ponder and determine how it fits into your own business model. It is appointment reading every Thursday. I subscribe to her blog via Feedly, and I read it every Thursday. And all the links she includes will send you down multiple rabbit holes, but it’s all good. It’s like a graduate level course in college. Seriously.

This past week, she concluded her “Planning for 2019” series with a post entitled “Shifting Attitudes.” She focuses on two aspects of us as indie writers: as micro-influencers and as prolific producers of content. The entire post is important, but one quote slammed into the mental brick wall that I had somehow erected last month: “Consumers are already ahead of us on all of this. So let’s just go with it and enjoy this part of the future. We can relax and have fun telling our stories to the people who want to read that type of tale.”

Have fun.

Yes, we have to sell our work and strive to do it as best we can, but the key fact remains: when you sit down as a writer to craft a story, leave your business side in the next room. Don’t sit and wonder “Will this sell?” If you are excited about the story, write it. Chances are good there are other readers out there who will like it, too.


Houston's own Murder by the Book made a major announcement on the Facebook page this week: James Patterson is coming to the city's oldest--and only--mystery-centric bookstore. This is big. Patterson is the world's bestselling author. It's a major get. Congrats to McKenna Jordan and all the good folks at the store.

Fingers crossed I get one of the 500 slots.


On the 5th or 6th episode, there's a scene between the two main stars, Michael Douglas and Adam Arkin. They're talking on the phone. Douglas is in an Uber going to a bar. Arkin's at home watching the movie "Cocoon." When Arkin declines Douglas's invitation, he comments about the experience watching the thirty-year-old movie about senior citizens while actually being in the demographic.

That what I feel like watching this show. Granted, I'm certainly not Douglas's 74 or Arkin's 84, but the humor of older men is something I really dig. Jokes about getting older, being old, prostate health, forgetfulness, and the like are scattered throughout the episodes. And creator Chuck Lorre and the writers don't shy away from real life. There is death and how the characters react to it is poignant and heart-wrenching.

But most of all, it's hilarious and really well done. I recommend the show. And since Douglas won a Golden Globe for his role and the show itself won Best Comedy Series, there's even more proof it's a special show. Glad it's been renewed.

Oh, and don't read about the show on the internet. It's much more fun to see the guest stars when you're actually watching the show.


The Super Bowl has become the annual gathering of my wife's former co-workers. The game is shown on every screen in the house, including the garage with a giant screen. We all chat, catch up, and watch the game and commercials. Most of the ads were easily forgotten, but two stood out. The one with Jason Bateman as the elevator operator and the one with the old football players.

What were your favorite ads?

That wraps things up for the week. How did your week go?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

History in the Present Tense: THE FIRST CONSPIRACY by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

Never forget: We know what happened. We know how the story ends. We’re living in the story today. Yet there are stretches in THE FIRST CONSPIRACY: THE SECRET PLOT TO KILL GEORGE WASHINGTON when you breathlessly await the next chapter, wondering if the general of the American army in the Revolution will live or suffer a more dire fate.

That’s the beauty of this book by thriller and comic book writer, Brad Meltzer, and his co-author, Josh Mensch. Meltzer and Mensch weave together the various plot threads in such a way you are sucked in from the first page and the story never lets go. It is paced and structured like a thriller, with short chapters, but there is one crucial thing they did that brought this story to life.

The words, the entire book, were written in the present tense.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by the brilliant Scott Brick, and it took me a minute or so before I realized the prose was not changing. As a historian, I’m used to reading and writing about history all in the past tense because, well, it all happened in the past. It’s over. It’s done. But with this one stylistic choice, Meltzer and Mensch take you on a journey into a little-know pocket of American history. I hold two degrees in history and even I barely knew this tale.

In the spring and summer of 1776, the Revolution is still not quite that. The Declaration of Independence isn’t even written yet. Its author, Thomas Jefferson, doesn’t even step foot onto the stage of this book until close to the end. The person on the main stage is the man in the sub-title, America’s first president, George Washington. But when we see him at first, he’s still only a general of the Continental Army, the literal ragtag group of soldiers from far and wide, who were poorly trained, poorly equipped, poorly paid, and poorly fed. It was Washington’s job to lead them, to bring them together into a semblance of a fighting force, to stand toe-to-toe with the largest and best trained military force in the world at that time, the British Army.

We stood no chance.

And thus is one of Meltzer and Mensch’s gifts. They reveal the ground level nature of what it was like to be Washington, some of his officers, and the various people in and around New York City who were involved in this conspiracy. The authors describe the smell, the food, the paranoia about who was a Loyalist and who was a Patriot. All the while, there is a great presence approaching: the British navy. Everyone knows the British are coming to New York. The only question is when are they going to get there.

Like any good story, the hero needs a villain. Here, it is Royal Governor William Tryon. The historical record seems to show it is Tryon, who flees the city and takes up residence on a British warship anchored on the river who hatches the plot to kill Washington. Not only that, the governor recruits spies to recruit additional colonists to turn on their fellows and fight on the side of the crown. Some of those recruits are part of the Continental Army.

In addition, Tryon’s plan is scheduled to launch just as the masts of the British Navy appear on the horizon.

You see? Sometimes history really is just as good as an action/adventure novel by Clive Cussler or the latest summer popcorn movie.

That, my friends, is exactly the point of THE FIRST CONSPIRACY. Meltzer loves stories. His thrillers like last year’s THE ESCAPE ARTIST proves it. So does his series featuring the Culper Ring. But sometimes, the truth is more exciting than fiction, especially when it comes to our own American story.

I was in graduate school when David McCullough’s TRUMAN biography was published. It was a bestseller. I read it and it’s utterly engrossing. But that book read like a novel, and some students and faculty seemed to dismiss the book as popular history.

What’s the problem with that? You want Americans to learn about history, why not make it more accessible? Why not write a book detailing something so extraordinary like this conspiracy to kidnap or kill George Washington in a manner folks will actually enjoy reading?

For that’s what Meltzer and Mensch have done. They have taken a small fragment of the life of one man and put it under the microscope and examined it from every angle. Along the way, you learn just how tenuous America’s struggle for independence truly was. It wasn’t the foregone conclusion we think of it today. It was harder than we could possibly imagine. And if it wasn’t for George Washington and what he did back in 1776 when he discovered the truth about the conspiracy against his life, then the world would be a very different place.

THE FIRST CONSPIRACY does all of that in a remarkable book that has my highest recommendation.

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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 5

Sometimes life throws a curveball.


Ideally, when we write, we writers would like nothing more than to isolate ourselves in a room and have little of the outside world invade our minds. That never happens. In fact, most of the time, outside things are banging around in my head, even when I’m in the zone. True, when I’m in that writing flow state, very little of the outside world invades my imagination, but it’s not an impenetrable wall.

In the mornings when I write, one rule I adhere to is never to check the news before I’ve got my daily writing accomplished. I’ve done it before, and nothing will kill your creativity—to say nothing of a valuable chunk of writing time—than to “just check the headlines” only to get sucked in. That part is mostly easy.

What isn’t easy is when life intrudes.

I had a physical a little over a week ago. When I left the doctor’s office, her words echoed in my head: “You’re in really good health.” Works for me. She ordered an EKG and, since I’d never had one, it would be the baseline for the future. Even then, the worse was having the nurse rip off the monitors from my chest. Remind me again why waxing is a good idea?

Well, imagine my surprise when the EKG was returned as abnormal. Say what? Well, that put an initial damper on my mood. Natch. But I did a remarkable mental feat: I didn’t worry. Sure, the proposed problem was listed and I looked it up, but then I stopped myself. There’s nothing worse for us non-medical professionals than to go down various rabbit holes on the internet looking up medical info. Let the professionals do it. I did.

I met the cardiologist. We talked. He listened. He shrugged. Sometimes the machines return an “abnormal” when, in fact, everything is fine. Such was my case. If you thought the grin on my face after leaving my regular doctor was big, you should have seen the one after leaving the cardiologist. I even blasted KISS all the way home.

Why do I bring this up? Because while I didn’t necessarily worry about that meeting with the cardiologist, it affected my writing.


I’m not sure where I first learned writers keep track of word count, but I’ve done it for years, dating back to 2013. I enjoy having legacy information to review and compare. Basically, I have a spreadsheet. The various pieces of information I keep are the following: Actual words per day, Actual time per day (in minutes and converted to hours), Average word count per day (and per hour), Total words per month, and a rolling Average per Week. I also have a column with a common number: 1369. That’s the number of words per day a writer would need to reach in order to write 500,000 words per year. It also adds up daily and I compare my actual numbers to what I think of as the 500K Standard.

I only count fiction. Probably should include non-fiction (or at least do a separate spreadsheet), but I don’t. [Now that I think of it, that might be interesting, too.] By the end of January, I’ve only written 16,791 new fiction words. Pitiful by standards I’ve previous set. But, and here’s the key thing for us writers who rarely have a “boss” telling us what to do, that’s okay. Those were words I didn’t have outside of my brain on New Year’s Day. Just nod and resolve to make February more productive.


I mentioned last week about the agility of being an indie writer. As such, my February publication is a pair of short stories featuring Detective Anne Chambers of the Houston Police Department. The title story, “Katrina Standoff,” appeared on David Cranmer’s Beat to a Pulp blog under another title. I paired it with a second story and published it yesterday.

During the latter half of 2018, as books and stories I’ve written but not published piled up, I debated release schedule. This was before Dean Wesley Smith’s “No One Cares,” blog post. Nevertheless, I came up with the idea of publishing something every month. With two different pen names, the proposed idea was for “S.D. Parker” to get the odd numbered months and my full name fills the even-numbered month slot. So far in 2019, that’s the plan. Thus, “Katrina Standoff” is by Scott Dennis Parker.

The light bulb moment came to me while I was uploading the files to Kobo. Thinking ahead to the Calvin Carter series, I knew I needed to prep HELL DRAGON for 1 March...and if I knew that every odd-numbered month was going to be a Carter novel, why not just pre-publish them all? The benefits are many. I wouldn’t have to stop new writing every month to upload new files. The pre-orders would be live for months. When readers read the early books, they’ll be ready to immediately jump to the next book and pre-order. But most importantly: all the URLs would be live. No more opening up an old, published book, inserting the links, and then republishing them. I’ll have to do that for EMPTY COFFINS, but I aim to get the remaining five Carter novels ready for pre-order before 1 March. Why didn’t I think of that before?


Forty years ago, Len Wein scripted a run on the Batman comic. They stand as among my favorites of all-time. So, I thought it would be fun to re-read and review them. This past Thursday, I posted the review of BATMAN 307. Here’s the link.


I have a goal to increase my mailing list by at least 60 new members in 2019. That’s only 12 a month, but it’s a goal I think I can reach. Well, imagine my thrill when I counted up the new members...and the number was 24! Twenty-four new subscribers to my newsletter. As a thank-you gift, I sent them a secret link. At that link, I gave them the entire “Katrina Standoff” story. Again, the agility of being independent enables us writers to get creative in how we interact with each other and our readers.

Want to see the secret link? No problem. All you gotta do is subscribe. You never know what secret thing I’ll be offering in February. 

Well, that’s about it for the week.

How did your week go?