Flash, Ahahaha!

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Let me tell you what’s new with Flash Gordon.

First off, when I was growing up we had these things called local TV stations. They didn’t have a lot of money to buy children’s programming and, to be frank, there wasn’t much worth buying back then if they did (it was a dark time the 1970s). So when I came home from school and wanted to veg out in front of the tube, there was Flash Gordon on Chanel 19…in all it’s 1930s glory.

Flash Gordon was an outer space pulp hero played by Buster Crabbe (a former Olympic gold medal winner). To be frank, Buster didn’t have a wide range as an actor. But he looked every bit the hero and spoke his lines clearly and with gusto. From 1936 to 1940 he appeared in weekly installments that played at movie houses across America. With his trusty companions, the beautiful Dale Arden and the brilliant Hans Zarkov, Flash battled the brutal Emperor Ming the Merciless to save the Earth. Each episode ended with a cliffhanger to leave the audience wanting more.

Was it tacky? YES! Were the special effects crap? YOU BET! But a young George Lucas apparently loved the show as a kid too. In fact, when that boy grew up he wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie himself. Get this…since he COULD NOT AFFORD THE RIGHTS he decided to write his own space opera and call it Star Wars. That’s right, there was a time when the name Flash Gordon meant bigger bucks in science fiction than Star Wars!

Seeing the error of their ways, the people behind Flash Gordon made their own major motion picture starring Sam J. Jones (Buster was getting old by then).The 1980 movie was a minor hit and became a cult favorite. The dialog of this movie was deliberately corny, and Brian Blessed’s performance of Vaultan King of The Hawkmen was a master class in overacting done right. The film had its charm but–like it’s black and white movie heritage–it’s characters lacked depth.

Enter Dynamite Comics’s latest incarnation of Flash. I recently discovered this volume in my local comic book shop…and it’s wonderful. Creators Jeff Parker, Evan Shaner and Jordie Bellaire understand and respect the source material but aren’t afraid to add something to it.

In Dynamite’s incarnation, Flash is an Olympic athlete (nod to Buster) with the attention span of a teenager. A true adrenaline junkie, Flash gets bored easily lives for the chance to jump in and do something physical. However, he’s also a generally good human being, and his boyish understanding of right and wrong serves as the moral compass of his group.

For the Dynamite authors, Dale Arden is the brains of the operation. She is a science journalist who gets roped into the interplanetary adventure. Not one to back down from a challenge, she is the cool head that comes up with the plans that Flash follows. Frankly, this Dale is much more than a girlfriend character and she is certainly no damsel in distress.

Hans Zarkov, as always, is the brilliant scientist of the group. However, he is also a braggart, a horn-dog and an alcoholic. Far from the modest background boffin of the 1930s movies, this Doctor Zarkov is a brash egotist who’s boisterous personality must be tempered by Dale and Flash from time to time. But, to be sure, he’s an awful lot of fun at parties.

If you can’t find this excellent comic in stores I recommend Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Flash-Gordon-Omnibus-Tp/dp/1606905996/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476767848&sr=1-1&keywords=flash+gordon+comics

It’s a big, bold and brash reincarnation of an old science fiction standby, and is sure to bring out the kid in any old fart who remembers what fun Flash Gordon used to be.

 

 

An Oldie And A Goodie Merchanter’s Luck by CJ Cherryh

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I recently rediscovered and old favorite, Merchanter’s Luck by CJ Cherryh. I first discovered this book in the public library back in my high school days (yes, I was that kid). The edition I found had a pretty gal on the cover so, naturally, I scarfed it up.

To be clear, Merchanter’s Luck is one of the best science fiction novels I’ve ever read. It’s a straightforward and compact story set in a richly detailed and very realistic universe with characters that I found extremely relatable.  I can’t say how many times I read and re-read it in my youth, and I even remember loaning a copy to a shipmate I  was in the navy.

The story concern’s a traumatized young man named Sandor who’s doing his best to keep the family business going, that being merchant spacefaring. This is especially hard because his family were killed by pirates years ago and he is the last survivor of the crew. Valiantly, Sandor struggles to keep himself sane, and his ship flying, in a war-torn universe that does not care if he lives or dies.

The story also concerns an ambitious young woman named Allison. She was lucky enough to be born to the richest starfaring family in the galaxy. Her only problem being that on a ship so large and prosperous, there is no room to promote. So, she jumps ship for Sandor’s little craft not knowing it’s history or what ghosts haunt her new captain/lover.

If you are familiar with CJ Cherryh, you probably know of Downbelow Station, a Hugo Award-winning novel. Merchanter’s Luck can be seen as a kind of sequel or spin-off of that acclaimed work. And personally, I  prefer it to the spin-off. I’ll make no bones about it–I like straightforward and compact stories set in richly detailed and very realistic universes with characters that are extremely relatable.

I will even go as far to say that CJ Cherryh herself is extremely relatable. I met her when I was seventeen at a science fiction convention called Rivercon in Louisville, Kentucky. She sang folk songs late into the night for a gaggle of enthusiastic fans and when it was over, I helped her carry her guitar to her room. My brush with greatness was brief, but I can attest that she is a very empathetic person, and that comes across in her writing as well.

So, there you have it. If you run across this little gem in the library, be quick to scarf it up. After all, luck doesn’t always last.

Crazy Lucky-A Space Romance, Now An Actual Book (with paper)

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So, my sequel to The Adventures of Crazy Liddy is now available in paperback. As you may recall, Liddy often spent her spare time reading cheap romance novels with titles like Starpilot’s Mistress. This prompted my “friend,” Seka Heartly to write Passion Pirates of The Lost Galaxy (which is now also available on Amazon).

So, I figured, “what the hell?” Dosen’t Liddy deserve a romance of her own? And then I wrote Crazy Lucky-A Space Romance. Of course, this being Liddy, it had to take place in space, involve crime, adventure, alien races and a secret mission to save a world. It being a romance novel, it also had to involve a handsome, suave, dude with roguish charm and a sordid past.

Fun for one and all!

If you’re like me, e-books are not quite “real” to you yet. Real books are made of paper and you can hold them in your hand as you smell the ink off the pages. A real physical thing that you can cherish on your bookshelf forever. And, unlike e-books, you can throw ’em at people who annoy you. 🙂

Feel free to check out the real Crazy Lucky-A Space Romance at…

https://www.amazon.com/Crazy-Lucky-Clayton-J-Callahan/dp/1539363813/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1476154646&sr=1-1

 

Let Me Tell You A Story

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Once upon a time, I was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. It’s a medieval reenactment club with membership worldwide. I was first drawn to it for the sword fighting…and the women in renaissance boosters. And I stayed for the feasting, the dancing, the music, and the friendship. The SCA was my life from about age seventeen to about thirty-five when I started work in law enforcement and there went my weekends. Good times.

It is no small stretch to say that the SCA changed my life. It was there that I met my wife, and it was there that I discovered the art of the story. Now, I’m an author, and my tales are published on the page. Then, I was a storyteller, and I stood before many a campfire spinning legends and folklore. I got pretty good at it too and am proud to say that the highest award I ever got for any story was received at Pennsic War.

Pennsic War is an annual event held by the SCA where thousands of folks in medieval costume descend upon Cooper’s Lake, Pennsylvania to do battle over Pittsburg (the loser gets it).

According to the HERSTAĐR-SAGA: An Incomplete History of Pennsic,

One day, almost 30 years ago, Cariadoc of the Bow, the King of the Middle, got bored with peace and declared war upon the East, loser to take Pittsburgh. The King of the East read the declaration of war, filed it away and forgot about it. Time passed. Cariadoc moved to New York and subsequently became King of the East, whereupon he retrieved the declaration from the file cabinet and said, “Let’s fight.” The Middle won, and Cariadoc has the distinction of being the only king who declared war upon himself and lost.

Now, in the time I was active in the SCA, Duke Sir Cariadoc was no longer anyone’s king. Instead, he contented himself to hold court at the “Enchanted Ground” during Pennsic War. As the SCA is made up of many casual hobbyists, the Enchanted Ground was created as a secure refuge for the more seriously inclined. No flashlights, coolers or plastic tent stakes are allowed within these enchanted bounds, and I swear to God, the folks who choose to camp there wore either medieval underwear or none at all.

One night, my lovely wife, the Lady Aoife,  led me to this magical place, and I had the privilege of sitting amongst the Vikings and Sericins who dwelt there. None other than Duke Sir Cariadoc sat within our fireside circle, and tales were told and songs were sung. I heard minstrels sing in the original French, poets recite in the tongue of Chaucer, and stories told verbatim from the Arabian Nights. Man…it was COOL!

Now, I am no introvert by nature and it didn’t take much for my wife to nudge me into telling one of my own tales. But which one to tell? This was a unique challenge (as it was certainly not the place for me to tell my famous three-legged chicken joke). Standards were high, and the eyes of the great were truly upon me. Besides, if I embarrassed my wife here I’d never hear the end of it!

Now, at the time, I was dressed as an Irish sailor of the early renaissance. I even affected an Irish accent (that would probably make a true Irishman cringe). So, to fit the part with the whole, I needed to tell a tale as such a seaman would. I also was keenly aware that my host, Sir Cariadoc, was dressed as a Muslim warrior and was playing his part to the hilt. Lucky for me, I had taken a class in Islamic studies at Miami of Ohio just a few months before.

In that class, I read a story from ancient Baghdad wherein a tailor climbed a minaret to shout the call to prayer at the wrong hour of the night. The tailor did this to draw the Calif’s attention to a Turkish brigand who was attempting to rape a married woman. The Calif heard the call, and when he discovered the taylor’s  reason, he sent his soldiers to rescue the woman. After the Turk was thrown into the river with stones tied about his feet, the Calif charged the tailor that should he witness any future crime, he should to do as he had done before in the sure knowledge that the Calif would come.

I thought it was a pretty good story and an appropriate one for my host. But how would an Irish sailor tell it? Well, I know Morocco is the closest Muslim country to Ireland and that the medieval Irish trades with Spain–which is just a hop skip and a splash away. So, I crafted a tale of an Irish merchant ship who’s crew was hired by a Spanish Muslim to help his family escape the Inquisition. The Irish merchantmen were to transport the Muslim household to Morocco where they were to be paid by a sultan who was a relative of the fleeing family. In my story, the Irish sailors fulfilled their contract, but the sultan refused to pay. The sailors went to an Islamic lawyer, but he could not help them. The sailors then went to the captain of the Moroccan guard, who was also turned away by the sultan. Then the sailors stumbled upon a strange old tailor…who was treated with much respect, and soon the Irishmen were walking away with gold in their pockets.

I put myself in this story and had my character ask the tailor why he was treated with such respect when the lawyer and the captain were turned away. This gave me the chance to tell two stories for the price of one at Sir Cariadoc’s campfire. All the while, I made sure to add every inaccuracy a 15th Century Irish Catholic could make in the telling of such a tale. Minarets were called steeples, Islamic prayer services were called Muslim Mass, and Sultans were called Chieftains.

When I finished, Cariadoc smiled. He said to me, “I’ve heard a story like that before. I thought it was in Bagdad…but no matter.” He then asked me if silver was spent in my country of Ireland. I answered. “Aye.” So he reached into his sleeve and produced a woven bracelet of finest silver and presented it to me as a gift.

I have it still.

I later discovered that the good Duke hand made only a very few of those bracelets for each Pennsic War. He only gave them to performers who had especially impressed him in the Enchanted Ground and others had spent years trying to earn one. It is an honor I will never again equal, and the ring is one of my most treasured possessions twenty years later.

So now I write novels. People ask me where I get my ideas and the answer is the same today as it was then. I comb through old stories and tease out the best parts for my inspiration. However, I know that using the bare bones of some old tale is not enough. If you’re going to tell a good story, you must make it your own. It is that element of perspective that only you can give that makes a story not merely good but great. I honestly believe that everyone has it in them to create great stories out of the whole cloth of research and their own perspective. And in my case, I have some silver to prove it.

Thank you, Duke Sir Cariadoc

 

 

 

 

 

We’re All About To Get Crazy Lucky!

crazy-lucky-cover

So, I just got word from my publisher, Double Dragon Books, that Crazy Lucky: A Space Romance is now available wherever books are sold online. That’s right, I wrote a romance novel.

This book picks up where The Adventures of Crazy Liddy left off: Crazy Liddy Schmidt is out of prison and ready to get her ship (the Sundancer), and her life back. Unfortunately, during the three years, she spent in the joint, somebody else bought the Sundancer. The good news is, she heard that same somebody also got busted and the ship is once again up for grabs. So she’s off to the customs auction to stake her claim.

This book also picks up where my short story, Beer Today Gone Tomorrow left off: Lucky Jack Galloway has just gotten out of jail and is intent on reclaiming his ship (the Sundancer). He heard it’s up for auction and hopes he can nab it before anybody else can…to include that pretty blond who keeps outbidding him.

Naturally, when Liddy and Jack meet it is not love at first sight. So the question becomes, “Can these two willful star-pilots share a one man ship without somebody getting shoved out an airlock?” And if they manage to do that…will they fall in love before the giant alien ship they discover on the frontier eats them for breakfast?

Find out in Crazy Lucky, available on Amazon and wherever else books are sold online.

 

Violence Done Well

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This post is about good violence, and to be clear–the only good violence is fictional violence. Now that we got that out of the way, what does good fictional violence do that bad fictional violence doesn’t? Answer: It delivers the message the author intends, strengthens the story, and advances the plot.

In the past couple of years, two films have stood out to me for their unique portrayals of violence: Dredd and Deadpool. Bothe were relatively low budget films that did far better than expected, and I believe the reason is that they each did a great job of communicating their very different messages. They are both extremely violent movies, but each takes a very different approach to the killing and gore that’s worth note.

Will start with Dredd. This movie is based on the 1980s comic book series Judge Dredd that since has obtained cult status. The comic books were a response to the over the top action films being made in America at that time. The hero, Judge Dredd is grim, but he is somehow the only answer to the crime and disorder that run rampant in the future streets of Mega City One. The film Dredd takes us into that world of Mega City One with all its over the top violence and chaos but does not glamorize the violence in any way. In fact, the film suggests that violence just begets more violence, and if you really want to solve a problem you have to look elsewhere.

In Dredd, the violent actions of the heroes do not make the world a safer place. Sure, they shut down one drug ring. But the audience knows there are other criminal enterprises loose in the city and there aren’t enough judges to stop them all. The only thing Judge Dredd and his fellows can do is stick their fingers in the dike and hope the city doesn’t drown in blood. The villains are evil–sure. We see MaMa heartlessly kill innocents time and again to preserve her position in society. However, we also see the Judges perform summary executions of criminals who we later learn were family men. In each case, the violence is tragic, and the movie’s great photography and practical effects serve to emphasize, not glamorize, that fact.

Deadpool is another kettle of kittens altogether. In Deadpool the violence is FUN. With the exception of one particular victim of the villain’s (ironically, a family man again), we feel nothing for the corpses Deadpool strews in his wake. Frankly, I was reluctant to see the film at first because, in general, I don’t find violence funny. However, the acting, timing, and effects work perfectly to paint a kind of Looney Toon’s reality wherein we can relax and enjoy the mayhem. Face it we’ve all had fantasies of bashing in the face of somebody who’s wronged us. We almost never do it, because we don’t want to go to jail–but oh…we do fantasize. In this film, we get to vicariously live out that fantasy, and by doing so we leave the theater relaxed and happy now that we got that off out chest.

So there you have it…good fictional violence.

Dredd explores the evils of violence and how it can never truly solve our problems. Deadpool, allows us to indulge in the fantasy that it can and are thus relieved of the desire to actually punch our boss in the face (at least until Monday). In each case, the violence serves to strengthen the story and deliver a message. Conversely, bad violence (other than the real kind) is just shoved into a story for shock or to fill a lull in the plot. I have read far too many novels and seen far too many movies that do violence badly. It’s nice to appreciate when they get it right.

What Leadership Means To An American Warrior: A Writer’s And Voter’s Guide

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Recently, I published a non-fiction book titled, Armed Professions: A Writer’s Guide. In that little gem, I knocked my socks off to cover everything I could think a fiction writer could possibly want to know about military, police and intelligence professions. I included historical references, culture, customs, and tactics. I wrote pages on rank structures and interservice rivalry. I gave anecdotes about my life experiences in the military, law enforcement, and intelligence community. All of this information came with a list of references for further reading so that every nook and cranny a writer would need to be filled could be saturated.

But I forgot one thing…leadership.

So here it is, for free, from me to you. Hear’s what leadership means to an American military person. Are you ready? Good, cause here it comes…

The first sergeant eats last!

So, who’s the first sergeant, and who cares when he or she eats? The first sergeant, or “Top” as they’re often called by troops, is the most senior non-commissioned officer in a company. That means that some one-hundred soldiers ask, “How high?” whenever Top says, “Jump!” Oh, to be sure the first sergeant is not the commander of the unit–that would usually be a captain, who’s job is to focus on the company’s mission. The first sergeant is more important in some ways because he or she is responsible for looking out for the soldier’s needs. And the first sergeants always eat last.

Unlike more the brutish armies of the world, where the leader gets the first pick  the vittles, American leaders are expected to ensure that the troops are taken care of before they take care of themselves. So, if you’re the company’s cook, you’d better make damn sure there’s enough food for everyone because Top don’t like skipping meals!

In the American military, leaders get less sleep and work longer hours than anybody under their command. They are expected to put the good of the unit ahead of their own interests at all times, and woe be to the leader who can’t at least fake it.

As we are now in the presidential election season, I find that after twenty years in uniform this type of person has become my model candidate. You see, the leader who eats last is the one I’ll happily follow into battle. No matter what danger is ahead, I know such a leader will not put me in harm’s way unless it’s for the good of the unit and there is no other choice. And, once engaged with the enemy, I know such a leader will do everything possible to ensure my survival.

The US Army’s textbook definition of military leadership reads:

“Military leadership is the art of leading and directing soldiers in such a way as to obtain their willing obedience, loyal cooperation, and respect while accomplishing a mission.”

Fiction writers, if you want to create a character that leads others effectively, I recommend you include a scene where that character eats last. And voters, when you seek a candidate to support, I recommend you use the same criteria.

Good luck!

top-loftis

And a heartfelt thank you to, First Sergeant Donny Loftis, HHC, 505th Eng, Bn, who led my unit in Iraq back in 2005. Diesel and Dirt, Top!