Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Release Order is Best…Or Is it?

Over here in America, PBS just dropped the eighth season of Endeavour, the prequel series to Inspector Morse and its spin-off, Lewis. My wife and I have enjoyed this series quite a bit, especially the interactions between the two lead actors. Shaun Evans plays a young Endeavour Morse while Roger Allam plays his superior officer, Fred Thursday. Their chemistry is fantastic, really serving as the backbone of the entire show and cast. That the show is a period piece—1971 in this current season—just adds to my love of the show.

But we’ve never seen either of the original shows.

Which is completely fine. For whatever reason, we only arrived at these characters via this prequel a couple of years ago. But it wasn’t until this week that we both agreed that we’d like to circle back and give the original show a look.

I was the one who voiced what we were both thinking: which characters, if any, appeared in the original Morse show? It was actually in relation to the Fred Thursday character. I wondered if any of the 33 original shows ever had the older Morse visiting with an even more elderly Fred Thursday. A brief glance at the Wikipedia page for Endeavour likely proves the answer. No, Fred Thursday does not appear in the original program.

That’s too bad, but it gives me hope that with the upcoming ninth and final season, the writers will tidy everything up and explain why Thursday isn’t in the original series. There’s the obvious answer. Maybe that’s the arc of Morse’s character. In this current season, he’s drinking more and becoming more aloof, telltale signs that is probably how the older Morse acts in the original.

This got me to thinking about someone in my situation, coming into an existing universe of stories during a prequel. Most of the time, the creators have to invent some new characters and not just have younger versions of the older/original ones. Star Wars did that—a lot—and many of those prequel characters get their own spin-offs.

Star Wars is a special case, of course, but if anyone ever came up to me and asked me where to start, I’d say follow the release order of the films. In that way, there are Easter eggs and shades of what’s to come sprinkled throughout the prequels. I suspect there are more than a few Easter eggs in Endeavour that longtime fans of Morse and Lewis pick up on that we don’t. That’s just good fan service. I wonder if a Morse fan from the jump—the first season aired in 1987—would have told us to start there just like I how I would introduce Star Wars to someone.

Be that as it may, my wife and I finally arrived in the Morse Universe—that’s a thing, right?—and we’re glad we’re here, no matter the route we took.

Monday, June 27, 2022

All the Feels or All the Logic?

Why do you consume a story?

I use the word ‘consume’ because you could watch a movie or TV show, read a book, or listen to an audiobook or podcast.

My wife watches quite a bit of the true crime shows on TV and various streaming services. She likes to learn the intricate details of how the investigators discovered the culprit and, in most cases, land the perp in jail. She’s way more logical than I am and these shows give her a sense of order and justice. That drive for order is a large reason why she and I both enjoy BBC TV shows and other crime and mystery programs as well as books and movies.

But when it comes to established stories that have more than a twinge of nostalgia, I really enjoy the feels. How does the story make me feel?

I ran across this twice this week. The smaller version is my re-watch of the 1996 Mission: Impossible movie. My twenty-year-old son hadn’t seen it so we all watched it together. The way the movie is constructed—with its descriptions of how they’re going to break into various places and the spy stuff—is something I really dig. In fact, I found myself grinning like a goofball throughout the entire movie. Well, except for the vault sequence. Watching it again, I was in rapt silence.

By the end, I was buoyed by the story and ready to, I don’t know, hang by a wire from the ceiling. The story works, but the feels are fantastic.

The same is true for the Obi-Wan Kenobi finale this week. And spoilers are coming.

I’ve said it before but I think my favorite time of being a Star Wars fan is that initial era from 1977-1980. In those years, the galaxy was wide open and not some family drama. And I associate that feeling most with the first half of Star Wars, while the action centered on Tatooine. As such, I really enjoyed the Obi-Wan show.

From a logical point of view, the writers delicately threaded  this series through established canon and I think they did a great job. It’s a testament to how much I enjoyed the show that even though I knew who lived, I found myself constantly on the edge of my seat. Will young Leia survive? Will Obi-Wan be killed by Vader?

But the finale proved to be one of my favorite Star Wars things. We got an epic lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan and Vader, complete with Hayden Christensen looking out from a seared-open Vader mask. We go a neat and tidy button on Obi-Wan’s infamous phrase to Luke: Vader betrayed and murdered your father.

And we got some fantastic character moments, a feat especially impressive considering the action. In fact, it was the character beats in the final ten minutes that really struck me and brought the tears. Oh, and the inclusion of Princess Leia’s theme from Star Wars? Icing on the cake. That piece of music ranks as one of my all-time favorite themes in the entire franchise and it was used so well.

That last shot? [won’t spoil this one] Perfection.

So, with Obi-Wan, in my mind, I got the logic of the storytelling but I also got the feels. That’s what often sends a story over the top for me. It’s why I enjoyed Jurassic World: Dominion so much. It’s why I dig La La Land, Toy Story 3, any random episode of New Amsterdam, and John Scalzi’s book, Redshirts.

I want the feels, and any story that delivers is a winner in my book.

How about you? Do you want the feels or is logic more your speed?

by
Scott D. Parker

Why do you consume a story?

I use the word ‘consume’ because you could watch a movie or TV show, read a book, or listen to an audiobook or podcast.

My wife watches quite a bit of the true crime shows on TV and various streaming services. She likes to learn the intricate details of how the investigators discovered the culprit and, in most cases, land the perp in jail. She’s way more logical than I am and these shows give her a sense of order and justice. That drive for order is a large reason why she and I both enjoy BBC TV shows and other crime and mystery programs as well as books and movies.

But when it comes to established stories that have more than a twinge of nostalgia, I really enjoy the feels. How does the story make me feel?

I ran across this twice this week. The smaller version is my re-watch of the 1996 Mission: Impossible movie. My twenty-year-old son hadn’t seen it so we all watched it together. The way the movie is constructed—with its descriptions of how they’re going to break into various places and the spy stuff—is something I really dig. In fact, I found myself grinning like a goofball throughout the entire movie. Well, except for the vault sequence. Watching it again, I was in rapt silence.

By the end, I was buoyed by the story and ready to, I don’t know, hang by a wire from the ceiling. The story works, but the feels are fantastic.

The same is true for the Obi-Wan Kenobi finale this week. And spoilers are coming.

I’ve said it before but I think my favorite time of being a Star Wars fan is that initial era from 1977-1980. In those years, the galaxy was wide open and not some family drama. And I associate that feeling most with the first half of Star Wars, while the action centered on Tatooine. As such, I really enjoyed the Obi-Wan show.

From a logical point of view, the writers delicately threaded  this series through established canon and I think they did a great job. It’s a testament to how much I enjoyed the show that even though I knew who lived, I found myself constantly on the edge of my seat. Will young Leia survive? Will Obi-Wan be killed by Vader?

But the finale proved to be one of my favorite Star Wars things. We got an epic lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan and Vader, complete with Hayden Christensen looking out from a seared-open Vader mask. We go a neat and tidy button on Obi-Wan’s infamous phrase to Luke: Vader betrayed and murdered your father.

And we got some fantastic character moments, a feat especially impressive considering the action. In fact, it was the character beats in the final ten minutes that really struck me and brought the tears. Oh, and the inclusion of Princess Leia’s theme from Star Wars? Icing on the cake. That piece of music ranks as one of my all-time favorite themes in the entire franchise and it was used so well.

That last shot? [won’t spoil this one] Perfection.

So, with Obi-Wan, in my mind, I got the logic of the storytelling but I also got the feels. That’s what often sends a story over the top for me. It’s why I enjoyed Jurassic World: Dominion so much. It’s why I dig La La Land, Toy Story 3, any random episode of New Amsterdam, and John Scalzi’s book, Redshirts.

I want the feels, and any story that delivers is a winner in my book.

How about you? Do you want the feels or is logic more your speed?

P.S. I wrote this piece late afternoon on Friday. Later that day, I watched the new Baz Luhrmann "Elvis" movie. Add one more to the feels list. Except this one was tragic. My wife and I just sat there for a few minutes while the main credits rolled. We both had teared up at the end. So we just sat and listened and thought about the creative spirit of Elvis Presley. 

I don't know about you, but when I take in a story in which a creative person is tamped down or abused or taken advantage of, I feel my own creative spirit wanting to burst out and soar.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Jurassic World: Dominion: A Wonderful Summer Blockbuster

I’m not sure what movie some folks watched but it sure wasn’t the one I saw.

When it comes to movies, I make it point not to read any reviews ahead of seeing a movie I want to see. If the trailer hasn’t grabbed my attention and compelled me to watch—or the pedigree of the actors, writers, and director—then I don’t seek out the Rotten Tomato score to sway me. This is not the same with books in which I will happily read and take into consideration the opinions of dozens of fellow writers when they recommend books.

But once I’ve seen a movie, I am curious to know the general consensus and see if it lines up with my experience. When I saw the 2.5 hours of Jurassic World: Dominion (AKA Jurassic World 3 AKA Jurassic Park 6), I was enthralled, entertained, and emitted more than a few utterances of “Yeah!” and “Cool!” It ended the 6-movie franchise quite well, introducing the original Park actors with the new World actors in a way that felt organic. The music was nicely used throughout, including the elegant main theme from John Williams—both the orchestral as well as the softer piano version. There were dino-on-dino fights, a kick-ass motorcycle/dinosaur chase through a European city, and a dino/airplane chase. There were dinos in the water, dinos in caves, and dinos in snow. All things we’ve not seen before.

Well, I’m pretty sure we haven’t. I’ve pretty much got the first movie memorized. The Lost World and Jurassic Park III, a little. Jurassic World I remember decently and I all but forgot World 2: Fallen Kingdom.

But I remember the closing show of Fallen Kingdom well, accompanied by Jeff Goldblum’s voiceover. Dinosaurs now live among humans and we’re going to have to learn to co-exist as best as possible. And that’s how Dominion starts. It shows us a world like that. Granted, it’s not one I’d prefer to live in—don’t need the possibility of my plane flight being overtaken by a pterodactyl—but it is one original author Michael Crichton envisioned and that Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm keeps talking about in every movie he’s in. So in that respect, Dominion gets it correct.

So imagine my surprise when I hop on over to Rotten Tomatoes on Monday night—after eagerly relating all the fun and cool stuff in the movie to my wife who didn’t go—that the critical consensus was so poor. Again, what movie did these folks watch?

Okay, the plot. There are two threads. The World Plot has Owen and Claire trying to protect Maisie from the rest of the world because she’s a clone. Blue the velociraptor lives nearby and has unexpectedly produced a young raptor called Beta. (It shouldn’t be unexpected because “Life always finds a way.”) Bad guys kidnap both younglings and Owen and Claire follow.

The Park Plot involves our three original cast members and boils down to Laura Dern’s Ellie Sadler researching why formerly extinct massive locusts are eating some crops but not others. If they’re not stopped, there will be a global famine, yet the locusts don’t seem to be eating crops grown from seeds provided by Biosyn, the new bad-guy company a la InGen from the Park movies. She makes the assumption—with an assist from Malcolm—that Biosyn is behind both the seeds and the locusts. She enlists the help of Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and they set off in search of proof at Biosyn’s giant lab/breeding ground/dinosaur habitat in Europe.

Which is exactly where the kidnappers are taking Maisie and Beta. Naturally, the World characters and the Park characters will meet—the selling point of the film—and they’ll battle enemies both dino and human. Along the way, there are wonderful set pieces that are the definition of a summer blockbuster. In fact, as Owen is racing through the streets on his motorcycle, trained raptors on his tail, you see the aforementioned plane start to warm up. I leaned over to my son and said, “I bet he jumps into the open plane in midair.” Viola! That’s exactly what happened.

Yes, that entire sequence felt like an espionage film (Bond, Bourne, Mission Impossible) but who cares? It was thrilling. There were lots of other thrilling moments as our heroes fight to stay alive, but not without some humor along the way.

But there are also some great character moments. Goldblum is having a field day as Malcolm, just chewing scenery left and right and I loved every second of it. The quiet moments are also good, like when it’s just Ellie and Alan seeing each other for the first time in decades, subtly lamenting lost time. Yes, their story line got a little bumbly as they tried to escape from the locust lair but it was minor.

I also liked how certain scenes were set up so that you *think* you know what’s going to happen but then your expectations are subverted. Case in point: Goldblum’s Malcolm is stuck holding a flaming piece of a spear-like metal pole and there’s a dino looking at him. In Park 1, he doesn’t know to throw the light source and freeze. Well, I said to my son, I bet he’s learned now. Nope. Not what happens. But it’s way cooler.

Scott Campbell, as the bad guy, plays Lewis Dodgson oddly. He is all bad at one moment and then weirdly like an absent-minded professor the next. I liked that they used him as a character although in the movie, it isn’t explicitly stated that he was the character in the original Jurassic Park who pays Wayne Knight’s Dennis Nedry to steal embryos in the Barbasol shaving cream can. But said can is a trinket in Dodgson’s office as he tries to escape. And I won’t even tell you what happens to him, but if you’ve seen Park 1, you have an idea.

Speaking of that, I like the little subtle Easter eggs like when Ellie takes off her sunglasses in a manner almost identically to Alan from Park 1. Nice touch.

The nostalgic part of me would have liked one last shot of all the Park characters together. Sadly we don’t get that, but we do get some resolution for everyone. And character growth. And bad guys getting what’s coming to them. And dinosaurs. Lots of dinosaurs.

Again, I’m just not understanding why the dislike for the film. The audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is 79% so clearly it’s resonating with folks. It resonated with me quite well and I thoroughly enjoyed the film.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Is There Too Much?

Ever get the feeling you’ve jumped off the high dive, you splashed wonderfully in the deep end, but you can barely make it back to the surface?

There is a lot—A LOT—of stuff that comes our way in 2022, and it’s probably the internet’s fault. For every random piece of knowledge we can look up with the computer that fits in our pockets—stop and think about that for a moment—that same device and service blasts us with data and images and sounds and games and everything.

It can become overwhelming.

So I decided to see just how much stuff comes my way in a week. I didn’t count my emails (although I probably should have) and kept it to the articles via my Feedly app. It’s an aggregator where content comes to me rather that me having to visit a buncha sites to get the stuff I want.

I have maybe 75 sites that I have put in my Feedly. Some of those publish once a week (like Peter King’s football column). Others publish dozens of articles a day (Gizmodo and Slash Film). Have to keep up with the geek news. Ultimate Classic Rock posts about a dozen or so articles a day, too.

There are quite a few writers I follow. Some of them post daily (Dean Wesley Smith, John Scalzi) while others are also weekly (Kristine Kathryn Rusch) and still others are whenever.  

Then there are the food blogs, Lifehacker, health and fitness blogs, the comic blogs, and the art and photography blogs. Yeah, it’s a lot.

But I don’t read them all. Far from it. I’ll scan the headlines and make an instant decision. If I’m reading on my iPad, I swipe and mark them as ‘read’ without even opening the article. Sometimes, I forward myself articles if I don’t have time right then and there to read them.

It’s a lot, but how much?

This is not an exact science. I tried to get through some and then note that I cleared, say, 38 on Monday morning. And the workday kept me off the app later in the week so the articles backed up.

But here are some numbers over a 5-day span from Monday until Friday.

By 1:30pm on Monday, I had received and cleared 135 articles.
By the time I went to be on Tuesday, I had received more or less 140 more. I didn’t log how many I cleared. My Wednesday number was approximately 363. Thursday morning I had 259 in the queue at 5:40 am. I cleared almost none. By Friday morning, the number was up to 468. I cleared some here and there so I don’t have a good number.

But you can see how it all adds up. So a rough guess is around 125 a day, making for approximately 625 individual articles in five days. This does not account for FaceBook or Twitter. That’s a whole other thing.

So is 625+ things to process per week worth it? I don’t really have FOMO at this stage of my life so I don’t care if I’m first. I just want to know. I could probably cull some of the articles and feeds I rarely read and ease up the deluge. But I do appreciate an app like Feedly where things come to me. And I like having it all in once place, even if it adds up to over 600 things to process per week.

How do you process news feeds? How do you get your news?

Monday, June 6, 2022

A Few Recommendations for Summer 2022

Every now and then when it comes time for me to write a Saturday post, a large, overarching one about a single topic, I realize I don’t have one. So I’m going to provide a few recommendations of things I’m listening to, watching, or reading.

Top Gun: Maverick


Now THIS is how to do a legacy sequel. Age up the characters in real time, address the passage of time, and provide a wonderful piece of closure with a legacy co-star. Oh, and incredible action sequences. Holy cow was this a great movie. I took my wife who didn’t necessarily want to see it but she emerged very entertained. Not as entertained as I was: now I want to see this film in IMAX.

And please tell me I’m not the only one who saw the movie and kept having to slow down the car while driving home.

Def Leppard: Diamond Star Halos


Taking a page from the legacy artist idea I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, Def Leppard released their newest album last Friday. Fifteen tracks (17 if you buy from Target) of classic rock goodness. Much like the modern band, The Struts, the Joe Elliott-led five piece band wear their influences on their sleeves, and it starts with the album title.

There’s a whimsical vibe to these songs from the opening chord progression of “Take What You Want” to open the album to the last few notes of “From Here to Eternity.” Allison Krauss lends her vocals to a pair of tunes but make no mistake: this is a rock/pop/metal album just like the band used to make in their heyday.

Lyrically, the guys know their age and acknowledge it throughout the entire record. This was an album I looked forward to ever since it was announced and boy did they deliver.

And yes, we listened to Def Leppard on the way to and from seeing Top Gun: Maverick.

Obi-Wan Kenobi


The third thing released last Friday, this is a Star Wars series I’ve been eagerly anticipating since it was announced as well. In fact, I even held off reading the old Extended Universe novel.

We knew what we were going to get from the trailers: an older, wiser(?) Obi-Wan, living on Tatooine, watching over a ten-year-old Luke Skywalker. What I didn’t expect was his sister, Leia. In fact, it is her plight that propels the series.

I appreciate the slower roll, just like I did for the Mandalorian. I have zero issues with the actors on the show either (so a certain segment of the Star Wars fandom can just go home).

As big a Star Wars fan as I am, I didn’t watch the animated shows so everything in Obi-Wan Kenobi is new to me.

Oh, and so great to see Darth Vader back to being the feared force he is. But I’ll say something that might make a few of y’all look at me askance. I’m fine with James Earl Jones voicing Vader, but how about some more intense inflection, huh? I mean Vader/Anakin finally lays eyes on Kenobi after ten years and it’s like their talking over tea. The last thing Anakin yelled at Kenobi in Episode III was pure hatred. Where’s that emotion in Vader’s inflection?

No Time to Spy by Max Allan Collins and Matthew V. Clemens


If you like James Bond, might I point you in the direction of this trilogy of book by Collins and Clemens. The premise is pure fun: the main character is John Sand, a real spy who worked with Ian Fleming and the latter author based James Bond on John Sand. Sand, now outed as a spy, marries a rich Texas oil heiress. Despite his retirement, action and adventure follow Mr. and Mrs. Sand.

While I’ve not read all three books—Come Spy With Me; Live Fast, Spy Hard; To Live and Spy in Berlin—a compilation ebook is on sale *this weekend* for only $0.99. You read that correctly: for a dollar(!), you get three novels. Seriously, it’s an impulse buy at that point.

Here’s the Amazon link.

Roll With It by Jay Stringer


Jay Stringer broke the news that his latest novel is now available as an audiobook on Audible. As a person who primarily consumes books in that manner, this was great news.

But Jay went above and beyond and made available a few promo codes. These are US only—UK codes will be forthcoming—so if you haven’t had a chance to read his post from yesterday, head on over and see if any of those codes are still available.

Even if they’re not, the book is only 1 credit ($13.96 if you just want to buy it) so get on over to Audible and get a copy. Also, for you library folks out there, be sure to request your library to buy the book and help spread the word.

Monday, May 30, 2022

The Great Summer Writing Season

Here in the United States, summer officially begins today, Memorial Day. It ends 97 days later on Labor Day, 5 September.  I know it is a great time to travel, watch summer blockbuster movies (by the time this is posted, I’ll have already seen Top Gun: Maverick), catch up on some TV, sit on the patio or beach or dock and sip something cold, and just enjoy the summer vibe.

But it can also be used to write.

Think of it: perfect bookends. There is a beginning and an end. There are 97 days of summer if you don’t include either holiday but do count weekends. If you were to write up to 1,000 words per day, more or less an hour, you’d have a novel.

Okay, you say, what about weekends? There are 28 Saturdays and Sundays this summer. Doing the math, that is 69 weekdays. At 1,000 words a day, that 69,000 words, still a novel.

But let’s say you don’t reach 1,000 words a day. What if you only spend 30 minutes a day and produce 500 words? That’s 48,500 words, a nice short novel. If you take out the weekends, that brings you down to 34,500 words, still very respectable.

And I’m only thinking novels here. Imagine if you wrote a short story per week. That’s 14 new short stories.

This is just to get you thinking about continuing your writing during what Dean Wesley Smith calls the Time of Great Forgetting, when your New Year’s Day resolutions to write more are ignored. You can do this. Just start on Monday and keep going.

I’ll be finishing up a novel rather than starting a new one. And I’ll also be preparing for the Great Departure: my son will be moving out and continuing his college coursework. Sigh. It is time. It is supposed to happen, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

The writing part is, however, pretty straightforward. Just sit and write. Keep at it long enough and you’ll reach those magical words: The End. And summer is a great time to keep that habit going.  

Side Note: Namedropped


It’s not every day when a famous author reads a post and responds.

I always read Max Allan Collins’s blog so imagine my surprise when I saw my own name. It seems he read and responded to my post from last week regarding Legacy Authors and That Last Book. I nearly swallowed my coffee down the wrong pipe when I saw it. He provided some extra examples to address the question I posed. How cool is that?

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Star Wars Through the Decades

Today marks 45 years since Star Wars debuted. While I didn’t see the movie opening day in 1977, by the time I did, I was hopelessly immersed in a galaxy far, far away. Not only that, but it opened up the broader world of science fiction for me, a world I’ve loved and appreciated these past decades.

I got to thinking about Star Wars and what it meant throughout the years so I did a fun little exercise: how did I perceive Star Wars every five years for the past forty-five years. 

Star Wars at 5 Years (1982)

This was a year from Return of the Jedi—was the title already announced in 1982 as Revenge of the Jedi? This was the spring of my 7th grade year. I had many, many Star Wars toys, the bulk being from the Empire Strikes Back collection. Legos were still a thing as was other science fiction properties, especially Star Trek. I was gearing up for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan debuting in June 1982. Star Wars was always on the radar but with the last movie a year out, it was probably not front and center.

Still, I was and remain a charter member of the Star Wars Generation. It changed me and helped to shape the things I enjoy watching and reading and listening to.

Star Wars at 10 (1987)

I was a senior in high school thirty-five (!) years ago this month. I was heading up to The University of Texas at Austin in August. Music, including high school band, often took center stage of my life, so much so that I tried out for and joined the Longhorn Band.

I actually have no conscious memory of Star Wars from May 1987. The Marvel Comics run had been cancelled in 1986. I still own most of that run, but can’t barely remember any of the storylines. An interesting sidenote to 1983, the year Jedi was released. I was all in on seeing the movie—even paying extra to see it the day before its premiere—and saw it multiple times throughout the summer. But I never bought any Jedi toys. I was moving on from eighth grade to high school. Things were changing for me, just like they were in May 1987. Star Wars, for all intents and purposes, was done. It was wonderful and great and a vital part of my formative years, but that was in the past.

Star Wars at 15 (1992)

Star Wars was back…at least in print. May 1992 saw the publication of Dark Force Rising, the middle book of a new trilogy by Timothy Zahn. 1991’s Heir to the Empire reignited my love of Star Wars, bringing back wondering memories of the franchise and that time of my life. I started talking about Star Wars with college friends and reminiscing.

But, after I’d read Dark Force Rising, that was about it. Batman Returns was a month away and I was eagerly anticipating it. Interestingly, my other childhood favorite thing—KISS—had released their new album, Revenge, in May 1992 and I was spinning that CD constantly. 

Star Wars at 20 (1997)

Star Wars was back…on the big screen. I owned the movies on VHS (still have them) but hadn’t seen them on a theater screen since the early 80s. Now, new special effects were being added to all three movies with the biggest expectation being the Han Solo-meets-Jabba scenes in Mos Eisley. This was awesome stuff. And I really wanted the Biggs/Luke scenes from early in the film to be in there as well. Alas, it wasn’t, and now Han shot second?

But here’s the thing: I loved seeing the old movies again, relishing in my past life, and shrugged off the weird nesses. I knew the movies backward and forward so instantly knew when changes had been made. And I realized during these viewings that this franchise, especially the first two movies, were time capsules. If I let myself just sit and watch, I could be transported back to my younger self. It was magical. 

Star Wars at 25 (2002) 

Yay, a new movie—Attack of the Clones—in the Prequel trilogy. Surely it was going to be better than The Phantom Menace, right? I mean, there’s Anakin as a teenager. Obi-Wan as a badass Jedi. Jango Fett. Samuel L. Jackson and his purple lightsaber. And Yoda as CGI?

Well, AOTC had its moments, but was it better than Phantom Menace? Not really. Looking back to 1999, it is difficult to overstate how excited I was about a new Star Wars movie. That first trailer was so good, but it didn’t live up to expectations. Could it have? Probably not, but at least we were getting new Star Wars movies, right?

I did not follow through and watch the animated series however. Not sure why. I had long since stopped trying to keep up with the novels as well. I read the big ones—especially the novelizations of the movies because they went into additional detail and made for a better story—but that was about it. Star Wars was still important, but it had become one of many things I loved.

Star Wars at 30 (2007)

Honestly, when I think of this year, no Star Wars thing pops into my mind. 2005’s Revenge of the Sith was the best of the Prequel movies. This movie’s novelization was itself the middle book of a little trilogy and I listened to all of them. A nice tidy little story, but then I didn’t read another Star Wars book until 2013’s Scoundrels.

I had finally started reading the Harry Potter books, and in May 2007, I was reading all six then-existing books leading up to the publication of the seventh book in July. Star Wars just wasn’t on my pop culture radar. It was Pixar movies (Ratatouille was in 2007) and things my young son enjoyed.

Star Wars at 35 (2012)

More of the same, to be honest. I’d pull out the soundtracks from time to time and give them a listen. The novels of the Extended Universe were still being published at a rapid rate and I was reading none of them.

I can’t remember exactly when I showed Star Wars to my son. Maybe it was in 2012. But in May 2012, The Avengers had been out a month and I was enjoying the new Marvel cinematic universe. And there was a new Batman movie coming out in July. Star Wars was just one of the things I enjoyed, and mostly not on a day-to-day basis. 

Star Wars at 40 (2017)

In May 2017, we were seven months away from the next movie in the sequel series, The Last Jedi, a movie I enjoyed immensely. The trailer had dropped in April and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker was back (and speaking!). We were about six months after Rogue One, one of the four most original Star Wars movies made to date. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was the brand-new Marvel movie and Wonder Woman would debut in June.

Had Star Wars been the only major franchise to vie for my attention, it would have earned more attention. But it was just one of many. Perhaps that was one of its lasting legacies.

Star Wars at 45 (2022)

Forty-five years ago today, it started. Ironically, just this past weekend, Colin Cantwell, the guy who designed the X-Wings, TIE Fighters, and the Death Star passed away. We’re getting a hotly anticipated new TV show, Obi-Wan Kenobi, something I’m really looking forward to, not the least of which being a new theme by John Williams.

Television seems to be the place where Star Wars shines nowadays. You have the chance to see new characters, allow them to grow, and not always show the vast galaxy only from the perspective of a single family. I’m happy to follow along with every new Star Wars TV show, watching all the live-action ones (still haven’t started any of the animated series). And I might pick up a book or two along the way. But, like in the heyday of the Extended Universe, I just can’t keep up. It’s a good thing (?) that there is so much because you can drop in here and there, picking up things that interest you and letting other things rest. I know that there are folks out there who memorize every little detail like I did back in the day, but it’s so much more difficult.

Conclusion

Star Wars is special. It’s one of the pop culture cornerstones of my life. It’s a joke in my family that I can’t remember to call a plumber but can still (!) remember random facts from the first movie (like the trash compactor number). Star Wars just is. And it always will be. My interest may ebb and flow, but it never disappears. It’s a part of me, just like it’s probably a part of you, too.

So let’s celebrate Star Wars for what it *is* and not necessarily what you want it to be. It is a multimedia franchise that started forty-five years ago today. It was and remains a story about a boy, a girl, a pair of robots, an old man, a scoundrel and his best friend, and an evil dark lord who welds a mysterious force and a laser sword. It is good vs. evil, the call to adventure, the hero’s journey with a sublimely wonderful soundtrack, and the willingness to stand up to the bad guys, even when all hope is lost. Because one person can make a difference, be it a pilot in an x-wing who can guide a proton torpedo through a 2-meter-wide exhaust port or a film director who has an idea about a movie he’d like to make to recapture the spirit of the movies he himself loved as a younger boy.

It’s that spirit that is at the essence of Star Wars. May that spirit always have a spark of creativity and keep the story going, yet always remembering where it started: in movie theaters forty-five years ago today.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Legacy Authors and That Last Book

One of my favorite sub-genres of music is when legacy artists create new music in the 21st Century. I’m not talking about bands like Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, or Def Leppard who never stopped putting out new music. I’m referring to bands like The Beach Boys (That's Why God Made the Radio), Eagles (Long Road Out of Eden), or David Bowie (Blackstar) who go into the studio basically knowing that the soon-to-be-recorded album will be the swan song. The songs can sometimes acknowledge the passing of time, the artists’ ages, and their long careers.

Yesterday, one of my favorite bands joined the ranks of legacy artists creating new music that fits into this mold. Chicago released “If This Is Goodbye,” from their forthcoming album (not sure if they’ll use XXXVIII or a more streamlined 38). From the title alone, you get the vibe of the song. It is a wistful song with a typical surface meaning of two lovers looking back over their lives but we all know what it’s really saying: This band, through triumphs and tragedies and reinventions, has persevered but the end is nigh. Here’s the link.

It is a sobering thought to have yet another band that have been there my entire life reach the end of the road. KISS, my other favorite band, is literally on their End of the Road Tour. But those founding members of Chicago have been working musicians for nearly 60 years, 55 as Chicago. That’s a good, long run, and they deserve to do whatever they way to do, be it touring or just kicking up their heels and marveling at their accomplishments.

Authors, however, are different. At least I think they are.

I don’t presume to know if every single series character ages. I can’t say if Agatha Christie wrote her last Hercule Poirot novel knowing it would be the end or not.

I’ve only recently started reading the novels and blog posts of Max Allan Collins but in his posts, he talks about slowing down. Now, his output is still pretty prolific, but he acknowledges that some of the aspects of writing—namely the research he needs for his historical mysteries—is more challenging that it used to be. Again, I’m not as well versed with his bibliography as others are, but I wonder if he’s going to start writing that final Heller novel knowing it’s the last one.

Didn’t Michael Connelly age Harry Bosch along the way? Ian Fleming died while writing his final James Bond novel so I suspect that he didn’t approach The Man With the Golden Gun in that way. I don’t know about Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone either.

What about authors who, say, haven’t written a book in twenty years and suddenly come out with a new one? I’m not talking about a found manuscript, a la Erle Stanley Gardner’s 2016 novel The Knife Slipped (written in 1939), that is then republished.

Maybe I’m zeroing in on series characters that actually age along with their creators. How many of them got their last book with an eye to the author knowing it was the last book?

Monday, May 16, 2022

Moderation Can Be a Good Thing

by

Scott D. Parker

I’ll admit something: it’s been harder than I expected to get back into the writing routine after it laid dormant for a couple of months. Which is odd considering I like this book (why else would I be up to chapter 31 of it) and want to get to the end—I’ve mapped out the scenes up through chapter 39 so it’s not like I don’t have a road map.

Part of the reason I’ll admit is health. I’m healthy, eat well, and walk about two miles every day per week except Fridays and Saturdays. But it’s the lack of sleep that’s actually started to get to me.

There are more things I want to do on any given day and there’s just not enough time to do them. That includes writing, living, working, being with the family, and doing my own thing (usually reading or watching a show). As a result, I recently found myself staying up later in the evenings (a little past 11pm) but still waking up at 5am. After starting off as an evening writer, I’ve become a morning writer.

Every time the alarm went off this past week, however, the body was having none of it. Usually I all but jump out of bed, but this week was a struggle. I actually felt myself dragging throughout the day, including when I’m in the office three days a week. I even resorted to a 15-minute power nap in my office, doors closed, reclined in my office chair, the legs up on one of those padded-top short filing cabinets. After those power naps, I’m good, but its necessity cut into my lunch hour writing time.

And that irritated me. I would have to do something about that.

Late last year as I was enduring some harsh times at the day job, I found myself drinking more. I never got drunk, but I’d have the five o’clock cocktail and then wine at nine almost every day. It wasn’t a good habit to keep, so when Lent rolled around, I gave up alcohol. First couple of days were not hard, but I certainly wanted to keep the muscle memory of drinking alive.

But on Easter, I didn’t rush to the liquor cabinet and make a cocktail. Instead, I reminded myself that it’s perfectly fine to have a glass of wine or a martini but I didn’t need to have both every day. Heck, I could have a day or two per week in which I don’t have any alcohol and let that become the new normal.

Couple the lack of enough sleep with the more limited alcohol intake since Easter and both things got me to thinking that a little bit of moderation can go a long way to a healthy lifestyle. The alcohol consumption is pretty easy: Just limit to one glass of wine on the days I drink and save the martini for Fridays and savor the heck out of it. That’s working well and it’s made the martini preparation something more special.

The sleep thing take more of a challenge. I literally have to cut out something I want to do in favor of making sure I get my six hours. That one’s tougher because there’s just so much I want to read and do and write and watch. But how much do I actually enjoy watching a show or reading a book when I'm nodding off?

What the heck does this have to do with writing? Well, moderation.

I’m fortunate to have a day job that takes care of all the bills and insurance and makes sure we have enough money and peace of mind to get us through the days. Granted, it also curtails my writing/watching/family/myself time, but that’s the trade off.

Where the writing part comes in is this: Moderation.

Right now in my writing career, I have no external deadlines. I have internal deadlines for writing and publishing stories well into 2023, but they are well enough in advance that I can write—wait for it—at a moderate pace and achieve my deadlines. The moderate pace will also enable me to do some moderate marketing and not interfere too much into the day-to-day life.

Because that’s the key, right? Sure, I could have kept drinking at last fall's pace, but sooner or later, I’d have hit the wall and the physical health would have suffered so much that the doctor would advise me to stop drinking. That’s no fun. Neither is constantly being tired during the days because I didn’t get enough sleep the night before.

And neither is writing when you’re under the gun. Yes, the old pulp guys using to do that to pay the rent, but guys like Walter Gibson and Lester Dent ultimately suffered physical ailments because of their constant demands.

I’d rather enjoy the writing process in the time I have rather than be sweating a deadline. I sweat deadlines at the day job and of course I’d sweat a fiction deadline if it ever presented itself.

But for now, I’m just enjoying the ride…moderately.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Alone on the Beach - Now Published

I have a new short story now available. It's a little bit different thing for me. I actively wrote a love scene...but with a twist. 

DESCRIPTION:

Bob Kirk is a federal agent, on desk duty and ordered to see a psychiatrist after he killed a man while protecting his team. Carol Marcus is his doctor, prescribing Bob some pills to help ease his pain.

They’ve been secretly seeing each other and want to take their relationship to the next level, more out in the open, as his department-mandated time with her comes to an end.

What better place to start than a crowded beach?

Excerpt:

Bob’s stomach flipped as he took in Carol’s beauty. She wore a green bikini, modest for the doctor’s forty-two years, but revealing enough to make Bob’s mind think about later. He wished there might be a later. Her blonde hair, always coiffed in a professional manner in the office, now hung loose around her shoulders. The sea breeze caught it and blew the strands around her face. She carried a beach bag over her shoulder. Dark sunglasses hid her eyes, but he knew from the angle of her head she was checking him out.


In a fit of self-consciousness that morning, Bob had done a hundred push-ups and sit-ups. He wanted all his muscles to stand out for her. He even purchased new swim trunks, not the oversized surfer kind yet not a speedo either. His light blue swimsuit hugged his hips and showed off his ass. When he had tried it on at the store, he had asked one of the attendants if the suit fit well. The narrowing of her eyes and the parting of her lips told him all he needed to know. She had lightly touched his arm as checked out. She also gave him her number. He had even groomed his body hair a bit. Brown hair still coated his chest and stomach, but in other places, it was cleaned and well groomed. He just didn’t know how the day would play out.


Carol stopped at the foot of Bob’s large beach blanket. A coy smile emerged. With delicate fingers, she lowered her sunglasses and looked at him over the top of them. “Mind if I join you?”


Bookstores

Here is the link to the story's main page on my website. It is widely available in all the usual places.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Writer’s New Year: 2022

It was now nine years ago today that I made a renewed decision to write more stories. I had an idea that began with an image—a man, wearing a fedora, knocking on a door, and bullets ripping through the wood—and that idea became my first published novel, WADING INTO WAR.

Every May First, I commemorate that decision and take stock of my writing life. Some years are good ones. Others not so much. But on 1 May, I allow myself a chance to reset and forge ahead.

In past years, I laid out my plans for the new Writer’s Year. Again, in re-reading those past entries, I cringe at missed opportunities and goals not fulfilled. Now, I used to really beat myself up about missing those milestones but I don’t do that anymore. It’s not constructive and obscures a more positive outlook on my writing life.

I have big plans for Writer’s Year 2022, and this time, taking a cue from Kristine Kathryn Rusch, I am actually scheduling my books and stories on a calendar. That is, in effect, making a business plan for my writing. I have to tell you, the amount of relief that washed over me as I actually mapped out the rest of the year—and especially the summer months leading to Labor Day 2022–made me smile and got me excited for my next projects.

And those projects are not merely new stories to write. I have also planned on a publishing schedule as well. I’ll admit I’ve fallen behind on where I wanted to be in terms of publishing stories for the public to read. As such, my name has fallen by the wayside in the minds of future readers, including folks in my own newsletter group.

That’s on me. I have recently begun to realize, with a huge assist by Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art book, that I’ve been treating my fiction and publication more as a hobby than a business. I’ve had an amateur’s mindset. Which is weird because from Day One, back in 2015 when I published my first book, I created my own company.

But the amateur’s mindset kept being dominant. I’m not sure why, but if Pressfield were sitting across the table from me, he’d tell me it was Resistance. Veteran writer Dean Wesley Smith would concur and throw in fear. Smith would also toss in the variable of “fun.” He’d tell me I’m not having any fun with my writing.

Both of them are correct. I need to conquer Resistance and become more professional with my fiction and have fun along the way. After all, I’m the first reader of my stories and I’m supposed to have fun writing them for myself. That I get to share them with others is a bonus.

So that’s where my head is at on this Writer’s New Year’s Day 2022. Each day this year, I will strive to overcome Resistance and Fear in my writing. I will strive to have fun with the stories I tell. And I will strive to make them available on a more regular schedule.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Daring to Dream with Marc Bernardin

A cool thing happened this week: a writer lived out a dream.

Marc Bernardin—writer, TV producer, journalist, co-host of the Fatman Beyond podcast with Kevin Smith—was a guest on the Late Night with Seth Meyers. Marc was there to talk about and promote his graphic novel, Adora and the Distance. As the father of an autistic daughter, he was encouraged to write about his experiences of raising an autistic child but, as Marc says in the interview, he was the least interesting person in the story.

So he created a version of a story in which there was a young woman of color who was on a quest and what she discovered about the world and herself at the end of the quest. Naturally, he edged toward the comic book format and bided his time. Finally, last year, the graphic novel was published on Comixology featuring the whimsical illustrations of Ariela Kristantina. Now, the book is in hard copy to buy at your local comic book store.

I’ve listened to Marc talk about this story for a long time so I was simply happy for him to get the book out into the world. But then he started to dream. What would it be like to go on a late night talk show and and talk about the book. Seth Meyers is a comic book fan so Marc set his sights on landing a spot on Seth’s show.

To make the dream possible, he encouraged a social media campaign, and, lo and behold, it worked. Marc was on the 19 April 2022 episode of Late Night. Here’s the link of the full interview.

An avid communicator through Twitter, Marc thanked his fans in a very Marc way.

 

In his deep dives into story and story structure on his podcast, I am often pausing long enough to transcribe things he said into my very own “Marc on Writing” file. Well, here’s another one to add to the list.

Five seemingly simple phrases that can take you far in life. But looks at the first: Don’t be afraid to dream the impossible dream. If you have a dream, go for it.

This brings me back to a quote of Goethe’s as cited in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art which I reviewed last week: “I [Steven] have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.”

Dreams come true. We witnessed one this week, and it was exhilarating. I grinned from ear to ear watching Marc on Seth’s show. I enjoyed seeing him live his dream. 

And I also turned my attention to my own. I’m dreaming my dreams and I’ve already begun to put them on the map of my life. Why is that important? Well, let’s let Marc Bernardin have the last word today.



Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The Epiphany of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Where has this book been all my writing life? Well, right in front of me, the entire time.

I’ve known about Steven Pressfield for a good number of years. In fact, I have his blog feed in my Feedly app and I am a subscriber to his email. But in all that time, I had never sat down and read his most famous non-fiction book: The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.

I guess I just wasn’t ready for it. I believe that there is always a time and place for certain things to occur, and the first quarter of 2022 proved to be especially difficult for my writing life. So difficult, in fact, that I stopped and questioned whether or not I should keep going. Somewhere in that miasma of thoughts and feelings and doubt this book popped in front of my eyes. I had already started back on the upswing via my own journaling but I shrugged and thought why not.

Wow. This book opened my eyes, wide, to see that not only was I not alone in my struggles (we all struggle), but Pressfield laid out a definition of my challenges and a roadmap through them.

Most importantly, perhaps, was this: Pressfield gave the challenge, the obstacle we all face, a name: Resistance. That is the focus of Book 1 of this short but powerful book. Resistance: Defining the Enemy. Pressfield then goes on to list all the things that Resistance is, such as Internal, Universal, and Insidious. He points out that Resistance is strongest right near the finish list, it often makes you unhappy, and carves a place in your mind for self-doubt and self-rationalization.

Very quickly as I started reading the print version of this book I grabbed a pencil and started underlining key passages. I kept underlining all through Book 1, seeing myself in the words.

Book 2: Combating Resistance: Turning Pro serves as the antithesis. It is the writer/artist as hero. Key to this section is in the sub-title: Turning Pro. It is the light bulb moment when a writer decides he is no longer just going to write for fun, but to be a professional writer. Pressfield lists many traits of the professional mindset. Personally, I found I already do many of them—is prepared; we show up every day; we are patient; we demystify the writing process—so it made me question why I was in such a state as to even think about quitting.

But, as Pressfield states, “The battle is inside our own head.” It always is. Always. It can be frustrating to be in a profession where dwell-doubt is constant, but there you go. The mountaintop experience of a writer/artist is also very high.

The last book, Beyond Resistance: The Higher Realm, makes the case for the power of an artist’s way of life. He lays out the evidence that there exists for artist a sometimes magical place where our imaginations and our physical efforts to find our dreams connect. He divides artist into two camps: those that think hierarchically and those that think territorially, using the animal kingdom as an example. By the time I reached the end of the book, pencil tip well worn for underlining so many thing, I smiled. So many of Pressfield’s comments seemed self-evident, and yet I struggled. We all struggle. It is part of the artist’s way of life.

But a book like The War of Art clears out the cobwebs of doubt and shows us a way forward.

I ended up dictating all the underlined passages into my phone and created a 14-page file. It is my own outline of this important book. I know that I’ll encounter Resistance again. It is inevitable. But I also know a means to overcome it. And I’ve got my own printed set of pages to remind me how.

If you are struggling—and even if you’re not—I encourage you to read this book and see if you can turn yourself around.

I want to leave you with one of my favorite passages of the entire book. It explains why it is important to create and maintain a writing habit.

Someone asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on his schedule for only when struck my inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,“ he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at 9 o’clock sharp.”
That’s a pro.
In terms of resistance, Maugham was saying, “I despise resistance; I will not let it phase me; I will sit down and do my work. “
Maugham reckoned another, deeper truth: that my performing the Monday and physical active sitting down and starting to work, he set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration, as surely as if the goddess had synchronized her watch with his. He knew if he built it, she would come.


Tuesday, April 12, 2022

End of an Era: The Final Print Issue of Entertainment Weekly

It arrived every Friday, and boy, I could not wait.

I can’t say with any certainty if I purchased the debut issue of Entertainment Weekly in February 1989, but I know I began reading the magazine that year. In those pre-internet days, Entertainment Weekly featured writing like my friends and I talked. The stories were encyclopedic, the authors were folks like me (geeks if you will), and the sections became go-to sources of information.

It wasn’t long before I started subscribing as a means to avoid the vicissitudes of magazine stands and delayed delivery. I needed my entertainment fix every week.

The interviews were always in depth and interviewers mostly asked the same questions I would have asked were it me in front of a celebrity with a notepad and pen. It wasn’t long before I grew accustomed to the Top 10 Must List of the week, always cheering when a thing I loved landed on the list.

In those pre-internet days, Entertainment Weekly pretty much kept up with the times. The periodical evolved as the 1990s evolved and shaped and reshaped popular culture. I always looked forward to the big issue showcasing the fall TV shows (although those usually were double issues and I’d have a week without a new issue) or the summer blockbusters or the big music issues. When mega events like the relaunch of James Bond with Pierce Brosnan or the release of the first new Star Wars movie, I could not wait to read the content. The issues were mostly devoured in one sitting, maybe two. It was a rare weekend that ended when I hadn’t read Entertainment Weekly from cover to cover.

I moved from Austin to Denton, Texas, to Kent, Ohio, back to Denton and then back to my hometown of Houston. I carried the subscription with me everywhere I went. When my wife and I married, we discovered we both subscribed and we joined our subscriptions into one. When we moved to the Houston suburbs, Fridays were still a wonderful day when EW would arrive in the mailbox. I would usually consume the Must List between the mailbox and the front door, and, if the cover was particularly important, show my wife as I walked in the door.

A particularly great time to subscribe to EW was during the time when “Lost” was on TV. Every Wednesday, we’d get a new episode. Every Thursday, the folks at the office would hang out in the hallway and talk over what happened. But come Friday, I’d get the latest issue of EW. In it, Jeff Jenson, senior writer and “Lost” guru would recap the episode and deliver in-depth analysis of all the things in any particular scene, be it a book on a shelf or whatever might’ve been in the background. It was essential reading and I always enjoyed Mondays when I could bring Jeff’s wisdom back to the office.

Needless to say, Entertainment Weekly has been with me most of my adult life. I’ll admit I was sad when EW went from being published weekly to only coming out monthly. I’ll also admit I never understood why they didn’t just change the name to Entertainment Monthly. Why not?

But now, in April 2022, the 1,630th issue of Entertainment Weekly arrived in my mailbox, and it is the last one. The last print issue. EW.com has been a thing for I don’t know how many years, but now it’ll be the only thing. If EW could read the writing on the wall, realizing that just about everything is fast and digital and on the web, and shift to a monthly rate, then the shift to an all-digital format was also easily predicted.

Yeah, I’ll keep going to EW.com because the same content by the same writers is there. There’s even the same font for the various sections. And while I’m fully aware that my next statement will make me sound old, I’ll miss holding the printed magazine in my hands, getting the ink smeared on my fingers if I’m enjoying a cold drink while reading, and circling things with a pen to go and buy later.

The older one gets, the more one values things that have just always been there. And for 33 years, the printed version of Entertainment Weekly has been there with me, chronicling the pop culture events of my life, from my time as a college student to the middle-aged man I am today.

So long, old friend. Thanks for making the journey with me.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

What are Some Book Examples of the AC/DC Rule?

Quick: What’s the most famous album by AC/DC?

If you, like me, instantly thought of the 1980 album Back in Black, you are not alone. It’s the band’s top-selling album and one of the best-selling albums of all time. But that seminal album never reached Number 1 on the Billboard charts. That was the next album, For Those About To Rock.

A year ago on the Hit Parade podcast, an episode dropped entitled “The AC/DC Rule.” This podcast discusses music history and quirky things about the chart performances of various songs and bands. It spent two episodes discussing what they dubbed The AC/DC Rule. Put simply, it’s this: there are famous albums by major musicians, ones we all know and love, with our favorite songs on them, but those albums are not always the ones that topped the album chart. It was the next album, the album that rode the coattails of the more-famous album to the top of the charts but may not be as fondly remembered or sold as many copies.

The episode details how Cat Stevens, Boston, Billy Joel, and others all experienced the AC/DC Rule. It happens for movies as well. The second Austin Powers movie, The Spy Who Shagged Me, scored more money in its opening weekend than the debut film did in its entire run.

The pattern exists for the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the second Hangover movie, and others. I can’t remember all the other albums the host, Chris Molanphy, discusses, but it’s a curious thing.

Which naturally got me to thinking about this rule for books. A few instantly jump to mind. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown was a massive success, but that was Brown’s fourth book. As well as Da Vinci Code sold, his follow-up, The Lost Symbol, sold a million copies on the first day. Yes, you read that correctly. Now, Lost Symbol ultimately didn’t outperform Da Vinci Code, but you can see the pattern.

I think it’s safe to say this kind of thing applies to debut authors as well. Be it music or books, it’s the dreaded sophomore slump. The debut album by Hootie and the Blowfish, Cracked Rear Window, sold more than 21 million copies. Their second album, Fairweather Johnson, sold only 3 million. Kinda funny to write "only" in that sentence. On the book side of the ledger, The Martian by Andy Weir and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline both took the world by storm but their next books did not meet with the same success.

I’ve been trying to determine if there are other books that fall into this category so that’s what I’ve been pondering this week. Can y’all help me?

Thursday, March 31, 2022

The Specialness of Firsts: Human Touch and Lucky Town at 30

You never forget your firsts. First day of school, first kiss, first breakup, first job, first child. You also never forget the first time you bought a new album by a new-to-you musician. Human Touch and Lucky Town are those albums for me, and it was when I officially joined the ranks of Bruce Springsteen's fans.

Background


In 1984, at the height of the Born in the USA frenzy, I flat out didn't like Springsteen. That was the only album I knew of him, and then, only the radio songs. But those tunes were everywhere, yet I hadn't figured out Bruce, who he was or what he was trying to say. Dancing in the Dark was okay, but that title track, with the bizarre decision to overlay the studio song on the music video from his live performances (thus, making them out of sync), was a song I enjoyed hating and mocking. Yet I never bothered to read the lyrics.

Cut to 1987 when I discovered Stephen King, starting with Pet Semetary. This was the spring, my senior year in high school, and college life beckoned. Many times, King quoted Springsteen's lyrics. Seeing the words in text without Bruce's singing, I took a new interest in them. Not the music, mind you, but the lyrics.

When Bruce's 1987 album Tunnel of Love came out, lead single "Brilliant Disguise" turned out to be...not bad. In fact, I kind of liked it. Then, a friend gave me a cassette copy of that album (it was one of those 12-albums-for-a-penny things from Columbia House). I listened, and I liked. With open eyes and a more mature sense of music, I circled back to Born in the USA.

Whoa. This is actually pretty good, lyrics and music combined. Sure, Born in the USA was still a fun song to mock, but I slowly worked my way through the back catalog, mostly in reverse order. I quite liked The River, especially the live version with that extended introductory story Bruce relates on the box set. Took some time to get used to Nebraska, and I think I stopped at Born to Run, letting those first two Springsteen albums be that last old ones I discovered. And just like that, I was a Springsteen fan.

The Spring of 1992


It took me five years to get through college (by choice; double major) so by the spring of 1992, my eyes were focused on grad school, ideally at a university in close proximity to where my then-girlfriend would be attending medical school. I had already dipped my toe in the wonder of all those non-album tracks. I stumbled onto his song from the We Are the World album because I had already bought it for the non-album song by Chicago. My one and only time I ever called a radio station and asked about a song was when KLBJ, the local rock station in Austin, Texas, played "Roulette" and I simply had to know the song title and then go buy the CD single of the then-current song "One Step Up" to get it.

When you're graduating from college, one phase of your life is ending. Granted, I'd spend the next six years in grad school but I didn't know that in the spring of 1992. I was growing up. I was in my early twenties. My entire life was before me and I was ready for it.

Turned out, Springsteen himself was entering a new phase of his life as well. After the much-publicized marriage and divorce to Julianne Phillips, Bruce had fallen in love with Patti Scailfa, a singer in his band. I barely knew about this having never seen him live at that point and, well, no internet. Be that as it may, his new love and new status as a father permeated all the new songs he wrote during the time after Tunnel of Love. Finally, when the news broke that there was going to be new Springsteen music released, imagine my overwhelming joy to learn there would be not one album, but two.

The Albums


Two albums of material. Twenty-four songs: fourteen on Human Touch and ten on Lucky Town. On that bright spring morning thirty years ago, I woke, drove to the record store, bought the CDs, and quickly returned to my apartment. I saw in front of the stereo and just listened.


The cool sounds of Human Touch washed over me. Frankly, the title track sounded like he had not missed a beat from the sonic tapestry of Tunnel of Love. The second track, "Soul Driver," seemed to be a kindred spirit from "Cover Me." "57 Channels" was interesting, to be sure, and has reached ironic status in the age of multiple streaming channels here in 2022. "With Every Wish," with it's muted, soaring trumpet, and evocative, storytelling lyrics, has always been a favorite, and the theme of the song-With every wish, there comes a curse-is always good to keep in mind. "Roll of the Dice" and its glockenspiel is the first old-school Springsteen song of the entire record. And "I Wish I Were Blind" is a gorgeous ballad tinged with the anguish we all feel when we see an ex with someone else. If Springsteen ever records an album with an orchestra, I hope this one is in the setlist.

Human Touch is not without its weak songs. I rarely listen to album closer "Pony Boy." While "Real Man" may not be his best song, the pure joy in his words and voice is palpable. I appreciated it at the time, and very much appreciate it now.

If you assume that "Born to Run" is the best song Springsteen ever wrote, then Lucky Town opens with what has become my favorite song: "Better Days." Its exuberant optimism in where he finds himself is tempered only by the scars it took to get there. This song is one I have never forgotten, and turned to its lyrics over the years as my own life has gone through its ups and downs. In fact, verse 3 contains some of my favorite poetry Springsteen has ever penned, especially that last couplet.

Now a life of leisure and a pirate's treasure
Don't make much for tragedy
But it's a sad man, my friend, who's livin' in his own skin
And can't stand the company
Every fool's got a reason for feelin' sorry for himself
And turning his heart to stone
Tonight this fool's halfway to heaven and just a mile outta hell
And I feel like I'm comin' home

The words of "If I Should Fall Behind" resonate constantly, especially in the shows from this century when all band members take a turn at singing various lines. "Leap of Faith" is a great song anyone pondering big life decisions when dealing with a potential spouse and those wondering thoughts of whether or not you're making the right decision ring in your head. Ditto for parenthood in the lyrics of "Living Proof" and the realization that so many of the things that hold us back are self-inflicted.

You do some sad sad things, baby
When it's you you're tryin' to lose
You do some sad and hurtful things
I've seen living proof

But he returns in the very next verse to show a way out:

You shot through my anger and rage
To show me my prison was just an open cage
There were no keys, no guards
Just one frightened man and some old shadows for bars

What also runs through both of these albums is the redemptive power of love and music. I'm no deep Springsteen scholar but I think it's with these two albums that the spiritual language Springsteen now uses to great effect started. "The Rising" carries it forward (that's my third favorite song of his) and it keeps going through the Pete Seeger album, Western Stars, and Letter to You.

What the Albums and Era Mean to Me


I listened to those albums constantly back in 1992 and the years after. While I was driving by myself on the highways of central Texas, visiting potential schools to start my graduate studies in history, it was these twenty-four songs I blasted from my car, windows down, hair blowing in the wind. These songs had me constantly looking to a bright future, but they also foretold the inevitable: life is never straight with zero potholes. It is a jagged road, with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It is fraught with everything you might imagine-and some you couldn't.

In the past thirty years, these albums have fallen out of favor by Springsteen fans and Springsteen himself. Famously, he lamented that when he tried to write happy songs, it didn't go over well, which always struck me as odd. Don't we want our musical heroes to be happy and write songs in that vein? In fact, "Happy," a song from the Lucky Town sessions that didn't make the album, has also become one of my favorites, even making its way onto the playlist of songs at my wedding reception.

But Human Touch and Lucky Town have never lost their luster with me. I'll admit that had Springsteen whittled down the twenty-four songs to a single, albeit long, album, the result might've been stronger. But I didn't care then and, frankly, don't really care now. I gravitate to Lucky Town a tad more, but I always bring in more than half of Human Touch's songs into various playlists over the years.

It's not lost on me the place Human Touch and Lucky Town have in my Springsteen fandom. I'm the oddball. When I witnessed my first Springsteen show in December 1992 in Dallas with a couple of fellow grad students, they told tall tales about the 1984 and 1987 concerts. All those stories sounded great-and I've since discovered them and have come to enjoy those shows-but the Human Touch/Lucky Town Era is special. It's where I officially joined the entourage of Bruce's loyal fanbase. I've stayed with him ever since.

Sure, there are albums I rarely listen to-The Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils and Dust-but I bought them on day one and spun them. I was ecstatic when 1998's Tracks came out and I had four new-to-me Springsteen albums to hear. And I finally got what it was like to have the E Street Band backing him with all the hoopla surrounding The Rising when Bruce was everywhere on TV. We got the sublime Western Stars and the poignant Letter to You and, with Springsteen, you know there will likely be a new album, maybe even this year.

But on the thirtieth anniversary of Human Touch and Lucky Town, I think back to the young man I used to be, hearing these songs for the first time, and the middle-aged man I am today, when these songs have embedded themselves in the fabric of my being. Both versions of myself love and appreciate these two albums, but for different reasons. The younger me found himself inundated with joyous songs of love and redemption, with his life unfolding before him, little knowing it was about to change. The middle-aged me, the me who is about a decade older than Springsteen was when he wrote these songs, the me who is a father and husband, feels these songs differently. He's lived them, through thick and thin, and come out okay.

With lifespans being what they are, I'm more than halfway to heaven. But the music of Bruce Springsteen, and specifically Human Touch and Lucky Town, have been with me for thirty years now, and I'm so thankful for their companionship.