Tag Archives: star trek

Help! I’m drowning! Or: How much detail is too much?

It’s always an honor and a pleasure to welcome Howard Weinstein, New York Times bestselling author of the new historical novel GALLOWAY’S GAMBLE (releasing September 20, 2017).Galloway's Gamble by Howard Weinstein

Howie, as we call him, has had a long and enviable writing career that includes scores of novels and comic books in the Star Trek universe, three novels from the original V television series, a bio of baseball legend Mickey Mantle, and Puppy Kisses are Good for the Soul, the true story of Howie’s journey to become a professional dog trainer inspired by his adorable Welsh Corgi known as Mail Order Annie.

Howie became a professional writer at age 19, when he sold a script called “The Pirates of Orion” episode to NBC’s Emmy-winning animated Star Trek television series in 1974—while still a college student at the University of Connecticut.

Today, he’s here to chat about research, credibility, and how to avoid being overzealous when including facts in your fiction. Take it away, Howie!


In fiction, details convey credibility—but can there be too much detail? Personally—as both a reader and writer—I say yes. Not all details are created equal.

Moby Dick PosterTake MOBY DICK (please!). Like most of us, I read “The Great American Novel” in school. Like most of us, I recall little beyond “Call me Ishmael.” What I do remember is more from the abridged but vivid 1956 movie (starring Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab). Like most of us, I never read the book again.

But my friend Ross Lally did. His impression: Herman Melville wrote two books—one about Ahab’s obsessive pursuit of the white whale, the other a 19th-century whaling text—and smooshed them together. So the plot literally sails along, until—bang!—long detours about whales and whaling. Even done seamlessly, would less have been more?

Prepping for my first historical novel, GALLOWAY’S GAMBLE (Five Star Publishing, September 2017), I did 6 months of research into the time period (1845-1875)—collecting waaay more detail than I could (or should) ever use. To whittle down that bounty, I asked 2 questions:

1) What would my characters know?

2) What does a reader need to know?

I think fiction has more impact and intimacy when readers see through the eyes of characters, not authors. It’s not the writer’s job to dazzle with vast amounts of scintillating research—just because you found it doesn’t mean you have to use it! Details should be included if they either orient a reader in time and place; or illuminate characters’ lives by affecting what they do, and how and why they do it.                                                     Captain Jean-Luc Picard

For instance: I knew very little about 19th century firearms. So I learned a lot—and discarded most of it. The risk of writing “gear porn”—lovingly-excruciating but ultimately incidental minutiae on a given topic—is that readers who already know it don’t need it, and readers who don’t know probably don’t care, especially if the digression bogs down the story. For my story, when it came to guns, I chose a few things that mattered. The typical six-shooter popular in western movies and TV wasn’t even available until after 1873. Civil War-era black-powder revolvers didn’t use the familiar, pre-made metallic-cartridge ammunition, so they were slow and finicky to load. Repeating rifles weren’t widely available until post-Civil War; the single-shot muzzle-loader muskets used by both sides required soldiers to stand up in order to reload—less than ideal in battle. And the gunpowder of the time produced a great deal of smelly smoke.

Civil War ActorI used those facts because they shaped the story. My narrator Jamey Galloway has a visceral wariness of firearms, and questions the wisdom of standing up to reload a musket when you’re being shot at by the enemy. His older brother Jake is a marksman adept with weapons. And all that musket fire could turn even a minor skirmish into smoke-blind chaos. The details I chose sculpted the characters, in turn influencing their actions (and attitudes) that forged the story.

So, what’s the lesson for writers? A selective dash of the right details can season your recipe—but a deluge can spoil the broth.

Civil War Reenactment

Book Review: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer

A lost journal by Doctor John H. Watson—discovered by Nick Meyer’s uncle in the attic of a home in Hampshire, England—tells the tale of Watson’s desperation to permanently exorcise Sherlock Holmes of the demons of cocaine addiction. In seeking advice from a fellow physician, Watson learns of the unorthodox methods of a Viennese psychiatrist.

Meanwhile, Holmes has been spending his days and nights in the dogged pursuit and general stalking of Professor James Moriarty, the “Napoleon of crime!” as the famous detective has come to consider him. Surely, the fiend is up to something and must be stopped.

For his part, Moriarty, a humble math professor, has no idea why Holmes is shadowing him and implores the assistance of Watson who believes the genteel man to be honest. Together with Sherlock’s older brother, Mycroft, Watson convinces a reluctant Moriarty to travel to Vienna hoping that Sherlock will follow.

The plan works perfectly, and Watson “guides” Holmes to the residence of Doctor Sigmund Freud where both physicians attempt to rehabilitate the master detective and cure him of his hideous addiction through hypnosis. Needless to say, Holmes’s withdrawal and convalescence are torturous to both himself and Watson.

At the same time, a young catatonic woman is brought into the local hospital and Freud is summoned to look in on her. Holmes and Watson decide to join him. Freud again employs hypnosis to discover that the woman is actually Nancy Slater, the American widow of the late Baron von Leinsdorf and had spent her honeymoon in an attic!

Holmes, as usual, applies his extraordinary powers of observation to determine, based on her physical condition, that the Baroness had been abducted, bound, and imprisoned in an attic somewhere near the river among closely constructed factories and warehouses.

From here the game is—as Holmes would say—afoot as our intrepid trio attempts to solve this nefarious crime.

I’d first read The Seven Per-Cent Solution over 15 years ago, but no longer had my copy. I was fortunate to meet Nicholas Meyer at the Farpoint convention in February 2017 wherein I purchased a newer edition and had it signed. Meyer is, of course, the directThe Seven-Per-Cent Solution Book Coveror of many excellent films including Time After Time, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. He also co-wrote those Star Trek films along with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. He also wrote the screenplay based on the novel I am currently discussing.

The Seven Per-Cent Solution is a thoroughly enjoyable read that felt like a solid Sherlock Holmes tale. Narrative, pace, and dialog were mostly faithful to Doyle’s work, and a young Sigmund Freud was represented in a way that honored his reputation and abilities.

 

Phil with Nicholas Meyer Phil with Nicholas Meyer

 

 

Book Review: LEONARD by William Shatner with David Fisher

I enjoyed this memoir from beginning to end, even though I’d already heard, seen, or read about 60% of it from other sources such as Leonard Nimoy’s own memoirs (I Am Not Spock, then later, I Am Spock), interviews with Nimoy over the years, and the recent documentary, For the Love of Spock, directed by Adam Nimoy. Much of Nimoy’s television and early film career is covered and often compared to Shatner’s own.

It was that other 40% that piqued my interest such as the depth of Nimoy’s love for the written word through his poetry and how he had come to love photography. These are parts of Nimoy’s creative career with which I was only superficially familiar. It pains me to admit that I’ve never read his poetry and have only seen a small subset of his photographs, but after reading Shatner’s memoir, I’m inspired to action and will make the time to delve more into these aspects of Nimoy’s art.

No memoir about Leonard Nimoy would be complete without mentioning his love for the stage and his brilliant performances in Fiddler on the Roof and his one man show, Vincent, about the life and work of Van Gogh. Shatner also touched on the enormous charitable donations made by Leonard and his wife Susan to theatres in New York as well as the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

To his credit, Shatner was honest about his conflicts with Nimoy and Roddenberry in the early months of Star Trek and the reasons behind that. He also expressed great disappointment and sadness that Nimoy had stopped speaking to him in the weeks before his passing. All of that, and Shatner’s brotherly love for Nimoy, shined through as truly genuine and heartfelt.

 

Leonard by William Shatner

My Schedule for Farpoint 2017

My convention season begins, as usual, with Farpoint, a con I’ve been attending since its founding in 1993 by the man would later become my publisher at Firebringer Press, Steven H. Wilson.

This year, Farpoint will be held over President’s Day weekend, February 17-19. Flip through the Program Book here with a wonderful cover by Todd Brugmans.

One of the discussion panels I’m moderating is also one that I pitched called “Avoiding Cliche in Your Writing.” My co-panelists include fantasy writer Lauren Harris, veteran speculative fiction and comic book writer Peter David, and Nicholas Meyer.

Yes, THAT Nicholas Meyer, director of such films as Time After Time, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (which he co-wrote), and writer of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In other words, three of the top-grossing Star Trek movies. He also wrote the Sherlock Holmes novel The Seven-Percent Solution.

No pressure for me there at all. Nope! Actually, it will be an honor considering Nick Meyer is a writer I’ve admired for years. Excited doesn’t describe it! Of course, con schedules are fluid, but I hope to have the opportunity to sit with Mr. Meyer for an hour. 

Below is my current schedule for Farpoint. Any updates will be posted as soon as they come in.

Farpoint Book Fair. 10PM to Midnight on Friday in Dulaney I. Mix and mingle with the author guests. Pick up some books and autographs!

Firebringer Press Presents! 11AM to Noon on Saturday in Chesapeake I. Moderator: Steven H. Wilson. Participants: Phil Giunta, Daniel Patrick Corcoran, Susanna Reilly, Diane Sahar. Firebringer Press authors discuss their current and upcoming releases and read excerpts from their stories, time permitting.

Author Reading. Noon to 1PM on Saturday with Steven H. Wilson and David Mack.

Autograph Session. 3PM to 4PM on Saturday at the Authors Autograph Table Area with Peter David and David Mack.

Avoiding Cliche in Your Writing. 6PM to 7PM on Saturday in Chesapeake I. Moderator: Phil Giunta. Participants: Nicholas Meyer, Peter David, Lauren Harris. How to describe emotions, actions, and situations in your story without resorting to tired cliches and inane metaphors like “his face fell”, “her eyes followed him around the room”, or “her heart sank into her stomach.” Panelists will discuss ways for writers to avoid these often laughable mistakes.

Social Media for Authors. 8PM to 9PM on Saturday in Chesapeake I. Participants: Pip Ballatine, Lauren Harris, Phil Giunta. There’s a skill in presenting yourself and publicizing yourself on social media–things to emphasize and things to avoid. Facebook or Twitter? Avoid politics and religion? Panelists will discuss methods for letting the world know about your work without becoming a spam machine.

Autograph Session. 1PM to 2PM on Sunday in the Main Authors Autograph Area with Steven Kozeniewski and Steven H. Wilson.

Farpoint 2017 Logo

Actor, Writer, Princess, General – Carrie Fisher (1956-2016)

Star Wars caught me at the tender age of six back in 1977 and has never let go. I remain a fan and collector to this day. I had the pleasure of meeting Carrie Fisher, for the first and only time, at a comic con in New York City about 10 years ago. While waiting in her autograph line, a lady ahead of me began a conversation with Ms. Fisher about a recent article that she had written for a travel website (or newspaper, I can’t recall) about her trip to Acapulco.

The conversation went something like this:

“So what did you think of it [the article]?” Ms. Fisher asked.

The woman shrugged. “Well, it wasn’t exactly great literature.”

Ms. Fisher, without looking up from the item she was signing for a fan, responded, “So you’re saying it was shit!”

Of course, everyone in the room broke out into laughter. Such was the acerbic, sometimes trenchant, humor of Carrie Fisher. I, for one, simply thanked her for coming and told her that it was an honor to meet her. She thanked me in return and signed my vintage 12″ boxed Princess Leia figure from Kenner (see below).

As Leia Organa, Ms. Fisher was a hero to me alongside Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford. It was Star Wars that led to me watching reruns of Star Trek when I was a kid and I became hooked on science fiction and space opera, which then inspired me to become a writer and storyteller in my own right.

2016 has been a tumultuous and tragic year, taking from us many talented artists. For me, however, the loss of Carrie Fisher cuts deeper as did the passings, within the last 20 years, of such icons as Gene Roddenberry, DeForest Kelley, Christopher Reeve, and Leonard Nimoy, just to name a few.

I cannot help but to think my own mortality as we watch the performers of my childhood exit the world stage for the final time. I only hope that I can leave behind such enduring legacies. Carrie Fisher was a marvelous, witty writer and an advocate for those suffering from mental illness. May the Force of her personality and strength be with us always.

Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back

 

Carrie Fisher as General Leia in The Force Awakens

 

Carrie Fisher Autograph
Vintage Kenner Leia and Luke figures from 1978
Star Wars Cast Members
Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew

Finally, A New STAR WARS Movie!

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of Star Wars and I jumped on the Jawa Sandcrawler from day one when I was six years old. As such, I’ve been waiting for a new Star Wars film since 1983’s Return of the Jedi and Rogue One certainly did not disappoint.

I know you want to remind me that there were three prequels between 1999 and 2005, and that last year, The Force Awakens began the much anticipated final trilogy in George Lucas’s ambitious space opera (now owned and operated by Disney).

In my humble opinion, the prequels held none of the charm and magic possessed by Episodes IV through VI. This I blame on the writing and overload of unnecessary special effects and not on the fine cast.

While The Force Awakens graced us with the return of our favorite classic heroes Han Solo, Leia Organa, and (briefly) Luke Skywalker, the film was, for me, utterly forgettable. Although, it was a better J.J. Abrams vehicle than his paltry efforts on the first two films in the Star Trek reboot, which isn’t saying much.

For me, Rogue One simply felt like Star Wars. It resurrected the spirit of the original films, something for which I’d lost all hope while slogging through the prequels. While Rogue One certainly held its own with a solid story and exciting plot—detailing the events leading right up to the Death Star plans falling into the hands of Princess Leia—its consistency with, and nods to, Episodes IV through VI were delightful. No spoilers here, just effusive praise and a hearty congrats to director Gareth Edwards and an excellent cast that includes Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn, Genevieve O’Reilly, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, James Earl Jones, and more.

Rogue One Poster

Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso

Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso

AT-AT

Stormtrooper Doll

Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera

Genevieve O'Reilly as Mon Mothma