All about Kirby – Part 1

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Kirby is my cat, which is to say he is A cat who lives with me and will, occasionally, come into the house when I call and if it suits his purpose.  As most cat owners know, cats do understand a few words (like “No” and “Tuna”), though they choose to ignore most of them.  Kirby recognizes his name, though I’ve often thought he just thinks the word “Kirby” means simply “All cats everywhere.” As often as not when you say his name, he just looks at one of our other cats like he’s saying, “Can you get that?  I’m busy.”

Here’s a photo of Kirby:

Kirby

Kirby

He is, I’m told, a mackerel tabby, about eight years old and weighs in around 22-23 pounds.  BIG cat.  A Chunk of a cat.  We think he has some Maine Coon mixed into his line somewhere because he has those little tuffs on his ear tips.  Despite being so large, he can move very quickly, with a peculiar tippy-toe gait reminiscent of Babe Ruth coming around third base, though his back legs tend to overtake his front legs.

We found Kirby at a PetSmart, one of those kind that has the glassed-in room with the cages.  He was scampering around on the floor while the attendant was cleaning his cage and he was busily attacking her ankles.  We decided to bring Kirby home in the misbegotten belief that Sammy, Helen’s ancient orange tabby, would enjoy having another cat around.  Or maybe that was my idea and Helen let me have it because I was so smitten with the kitten.  Looking back, that actually makes a lot more sense since Helen and Sammy had a profound understanding of each other, a co-sympathy that bordered on telepathy.  Sammy didn’t want no damned kitten underfoot, a stance which he definitively proved within minutes of meeting Kirby and never, ever relented on until the day he died (which wasn’t long afterward).  Having been surrounded his entire life only by other creatures who adored him, Kirby was, I think, profoundly confused by Sammy’s obstinance.

So that’s Kirby.  He’s a cat.  We like him.  Helen calls him “Singular,” which is true, though he’s big enough to be “Plural.” I recall a point in his growth spurt where we thought he might be attempting to reproduce via mitosis — just one morning there would be two regular-sized cats, but, no, that never happened.

And then, there’s Kirby.  He shares many characteristics with Kirby, except he’s fictional.

Here’s what happened: Like most people who have cats (or dogs or ferrets or hamsters or whatever), we have always created elaborate internal lives for our pets.  Indeed, we compose songs — terrible jingles — to narrate their complex interpersonal wheelings and dealings.  If you ever meet Helen, ask her to sing, “He’s the King of Everything,” which is Puffy’s theme (Puffy is another of our cats). It’s breathtaking.

Anyway, back in 2004 or 2005, I began scribbling down notes about Kirby and his adventures with the idea of turning it into a graphic novel. I had done a couple of stories in the anthology title Negative Burn with a British artist named Chris McLoughlin, who was interested in working on the project.  In one of my previous blog posts, I showed a piece of the artwork Chris produced and here’s another:

Kirby sample art by Chris McLoughlin

Kirby sample art by Chris McLoughlin

Neat, isn’t it?  We pitched the idea around to a few companies and though we received some interest, we couldn’t find anyone who was willing to commit to a page rate, which we needed to make it worth Chris’s while.  Also, frankly, this was in the period — around 2006-2007 — where I was beginning to feel like I wanted to try something new.  I had really enjoyed writing my licensed tie-in books, but thought it was time to take a stab at an original project.  I figured I’d do a Young Adult novel, something short and snappy.  I would do Kirby as a novel.  It would be easy, I decided, since I already had the plot worked out.

Flash forward to 2011:  I finally wrote “The End.”  Except, of course, I was only getting started…

More next time.

PS – Captain America: The Winter Soldier was pretty good.  A definite B+/A- effort.  It felt like the directors and the actors were all having a really good time, which carried them through some of the dumber plot points.  Yes, I know it’s a comic book movie, but, dammit, that isn’t an excuse for sloppy plotting.

Cover? Charge!

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The Light Fantastic

The Light Fantastic

And so we have artwork.  Actually, this has been out there for a few days now, but I’ve been busy with the final pass on the manuscript and other bits of business (including a pitch for a new Trek story).

But what about the cover?  I like it.  And I appreciate the effort the Pocket Books art & editorial teams committed to getting it right. As I’ve mentioned before, in general I’ve been happy with the covers on my books, and doubly-so since I had almost nothing to do with creating them (I may have suggested the Vitruvian Man motif for Immortal Coil, but I’m not sure). This time around, the editors asked for suggestions.  I pitched three concepts: an Ocean’s Eleven-esque highly graphic black-and-white illustration (which would have conveyed some of the “caper” aspect of the book), a “floating heads” arrangement which (the editors advised me) given away too many plot points and surprises; and something like what we got, which references back to the Immortal Coil cover.  I imagine the two of them will look quite snappy side-by-side on a store bookshelf (should I be fortunate enough to see such a thing).

Margaret Clark pitched what I thought was an excellent concept – a variation on a da Vinci drawing — specifically, this drawing:

Drawing of a Woman

The idea was that we would manipulate the art to resemble Lal.  Unfortunately, the concept was more interesting than the final result, but c’est la vie.  Or, more accurately, C’est l’art, assuming I have my articles figured out correctly (probably not).

In any case, I think the cover works very well, even though Lal doesn’t really look like that anymore.  Or, at least, not all the time.  In keeping with my concept of her being, all at once, a young woman, a child, and an adolescent, she changes her hair and clothing a lot throughout the course of the novel.  And really, why not?  Given that she started her existence as a pretty generic-looking mannequin, why wouldn’t she all forms of adornment as eminently changeable?

We had a hell of a time finding a piece of reference for Data where he wasn’t wearing a Starfleet uniform and, in the photos we did find, the clothing was horrible.  I think the costumer on TNG must have had a grudge against Brett Spiner because whenever they dressed him in civilian clothing, he looked, um, awkward.  Maybe that was the point…  In any case, we figured it out.  Up until the last-but-one revision, Data had his gold eyes and skin and I didn’t think anything of it because — I assumed — that’s how most people recognize him.  And then Ed sent the final version, saying (more or less), “Data looks human now.  The fans would have killed us if we’d put out that other version.”  So, there you go…  Editors know their business.

Last time around, I promised I’d say a little something about Kirby and how he came to be, both as a kitten and a book about a kitten.  Apologies for the postponement, but I think we can all agree that cover art takes precedence.  I’ll jump back into the blog pool very soon and say a few lines (unless I end up wanting to talk about the new Captain America movie, which I plan to see tomorrow).  Until then, ta.  Say a few words about the cover in the comments if you feel the need.

– Jeff

 

 

Content, content, content!

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From here, light and sacred draughts

From here, light and sacred draughts

I apologize for beginning another post with an apology, but such is my nature.  I apologize for the delay between the last post and this one.  I had every intention of assembling another item while I was traveling, but good intentions are usually the first thing to be jettisoned when the luggage begins to get heavy.

Thanks for the feedback on the Data posts.  Hopefully, I’ll be posting the cover in the near future.  Pocket’s art department and I went back and forth a few times last week trying to find something that was both doable and aesthetically pleasing.  I don’t think I’ll be shocking many people when I say that I’ve found a lot of the Star Trek book covers fairly unimaginative, though I appreciate the complexities the artists and licensors face.  I approve of the recent trend toward featuring the ships on the covers (the new Seekers series’ covers are particularly attractive) for the simple reason that the “floating head” school of cover composition is hard to take.  I’m sure it’s been done before, but maybe we need to have a Top Ten Trek covers discussion sometime in the future (especially since a couple of mine will be contenders).  As I recall, Boris Vallejo did a bunch of covers back in the 1980s.  Some of those were keen…

ITEM! For those of you who are attending Shore Leave this coming August, David Mack and I were tossing around the idea of doing a Trek and Wine pairing session.  Does Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir go better with TNG?  Is it better to sip a subtle Pinot Gris while watching Voyager or pound an oaky Chardonnay?  Should one even consider wine for DS9 or go just break out the bourbon?  These are questions we may want to consider.  Any interest out there?  Hands?  Drinking and nerdiness – Do they go together?  Personally, I’ve always found they do, but I’m a writer…

ITEM!  A couple folks asked me about the traveling.  Most of it is for the Day Job (which I like very much, thank kew), thought the Significant Other and I do try to get out once in a while.  Most of the business travel is to the UK and points around the US, which suits me well since I speak no languages beside English (and I’m a little shaky there a lot of the time).  The highlight of the recent trip was a two-day stay at the University of Cambridge (that’s what they call it) and the opportunity to wander around and see how the Upper Crust live.  Also as part of the Day Job, I’ve been to quite a few universities and colleges, but, my goodness, this Cambridge place lives up to its reputation.  I only took a couple of pictures (I’m not much of a photographer, honestly) and I’ll see about posting them, but I don’t know if photos would even capture the twin impressions of History and Privilege.

I like History — I was a graduate student in History — especially the History of Science, so it was a treat for me to walk around with a colleague who graduated from Cambridge and have his say, “That was Issac Newton’s office.”  and “Here’s the corner outside the pub where Watson and Crick realized that DNA must be a double-stranded molecule.”  I mean, that’s super-cool.

HOWEVER, that leads to the question about whether the kinds of minds that Cambridge has produced can only emerge when also carefully tended and coddled by a veritable army of gardeners, cooks, cleaners, and groundskeepers?  Or are these things even related?  Frankly, I’m not sure how much coddling the average undergrad receives — probably not much more than your US student — and much of the love and attention is lavished on the Institution, not the institutionalized… Still, my lower middle class soul was both shaken and stirred, gripped by both envy and an emotion I can only call pique.  “How dare so few consume so much?” or something to that effect.  It makes a boy want to get out the torches and pitchforks, except, of course, Cambridge is already equipped to handle that sort of response from the masses.

On the other hand, there’s actually a tea shop called “Auntie’s Tea Shop.”  Who could be mad at that?

Auntie's Tea Shop

Auntie’s Tea Shop

ITEM! Does anyone know where I get this ITEM! nonsense? No? Am I the only one who read Stan’s Soapbox back in the 1960s and 1970s (which is another way of saying “Am I the only one old enough to have read Stan’s Soapbox back the 1960s and 1970s?”)?  This is by way of saying that maybe next time I’ll post a few lines about my love of comics, especially Silver and Bronze Age Marvel Comics.  We’ll see what else comes up.

Next post: The Origin of Kirby (the cat, not the comic book artist) ,and the frequently asked question, “How hard is it to get a literary agent?” (The answer, kids, is, “It’s hard.”)

Kirby and the Queen Bee - original art by Chris McLoughlin, circa 2004

Kirby and the Queen Bee – original art by Chris McLoughlin, circa 2004

Data-centric, Part 2

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The view from my hotel window.  Note the giant Ferris Wheel/alien spacecraft in the distance.

The view from my hotel window. Note the giant Ferris Wheel/alien spacecraft in the distance.

Apologies for the delay in finishing this story, but it’s been a busy week.  For the Day Job, I spent the first few days venturing to the mythic land of Raleigh, NC, returned home long enough to reassure the dog I was still alive, and then immediately upsetting him by packing up and leaving again.

Right now, I’m sitting in my hotel room in bustling Islington, waiting for my jet lag to catch up with me.  While out at lunch, I began to work on fixing some problems in Light Fantastic found by the eagle-eyed proofreaders (Scotty’s dead?! Why wasn’t I told?!)  With luck, I’ll be able to post a couple items — maybe some photos — as the week unfolds.  I’ll be visiting some picturesque spots and will do my best.

But, now, back to Data…

Rewinding to early 2013, Margaret asked me if I had any ideas for a Data story.  Fortunately, I did — heldover ideas from Immortal Coil — and I was able to quickly run the basic concept past her and was given approval to proceed to the outline phase.

My original concept for the book was to do an Ocean’s Eleven-type caper story, with Data in the Danny Ocean role.  I confess I may not have delivered on the “caper” angle as much as I would have liked.  It isn’t a romp, though there are some complex plot pistons and gears in the book.  Fortunately, I received plenty of engineering advice (I’m really stretching this metaphor, aren’t I?) from pal and ace plot-master, Joshua Macy.  Josh’s mutant power is finding the weak links in plot mechanics and devising new and interesting ways to make the sloppy stuff stronger.  Maybe after the book comes out, I can do an annotated version and point out all the places where Joshua contributed.

At this juncture, I can’t (and don’t) want to say too much about the story, though I feel free to mention some of the details that Pocket Book’s marketing department has already shared.

1.) This is not a shipped-based story.  The Enterprise-E puts in a brief experience, but the majority of the zipping around the aether is aboard Noonien Soong’s Archeus, frequently piloted by the incorporeal Shakti (who quickly became one of my favorite characters).

2.) Following on point #1, Data is no longer a Starfleet officer. David Mack was already pointing him in that direction at the end of Cold Equations and I heartily endorse the idea.  Data out of a uniform is much more interesting than Data in a uniform (except you can’t find any damned pictures of him!  More about that later). I also decided to return Data (at least temporarily) to the world that his father, Noonien Soong, left him when he expired.  Data as a casino owner: Just let that idea roll over you for a bit.  If you do, you’ll understand why I had trouble following through on the Ocean’s Eleven plot structure.

3.) Lal is a major character.  The Offspring was one of my favorite episodes of Next Generation when it was first broadcast and, I’m happy to say, really stands up today.  It was a sad, smart tale and Lal was played beautifully by Hallie Todd.  Probably the most impressive thing about the episode is that they didn’t go for cheap sentimentality at the conclusion and have Data express grief.  He couldn’t express grief — that’s the point — or (as I’ll argue in the book) not in a manner that humans would understand or easily identify.

I was very happy to bring Lal back and work out some of the mechanisms (you’ll pardon the expression) of her persona.  She’s a complex character because she’s simultaneously very adult, very childlike, and very adolescent.  Probably the closest thing any of us could imagine to living with Lal would be raising a genius-level intellect who also has some moderately serious emotional difficulties.  Don’t get me wrong: Lal isn’t a basket case, but she’s fragile and needs to be managed carefully.  So, pity poor Data who not only has to learn to handle his own newly-restored emotions, but also the extremely complex emotional landscape of a simultaneously pre- and post-adolescent young woman.  That’ll turn your hair white… Or skin golden…

4.) Moriarty is back.  Now, honestly, if I’d had my druthers, I wouldn’t have mentioned this in the cover copy, as Pocket’s marketing department did, but I can’t deny it has had the desired effect.  Apparently, a lot of TNG fans have wondered whatever happened to the holographic professor and his erstwhile companion, the Countess Regina Bartholomew.  Well, now you’ll find out.  And, I’m sorry to say, it’s not a happy story.  The professor goes a little bit cray-cray (as my son would say), but once you learn some of the details, you’ll understand why and maybe even sympathize.  A little.  At first.

5.) And, because I couldn’t resist it and because it was sort of one of the hallmarks of Immortal Coil: guest stars, guest stars, guest stars!  In IC, I tried to explore some of the history and ramifications of artificial intelligences in the Trek universe; in LF, I spend a little time with the beings lighter than air.  No, not fairies (or faeries, if you’re Nancy), but holographic individuals.  There’s more than a few out there, and, boy, some of them have reasons to be pissed off.  I also find a way to insert a couple cameos for TOS characters because, why not?  As previously asserted, you couldn’t swing a dead cat back in the old days without connecting with some form of A.I. who wanted to learn to love.

We’re about three months from publication day as I write this.  Hopefully, soon, I’ll have a cover to show off.  Even more hopefully, I’ll like Light Fantastic’s cover as much as I liked Immortal Coil’s.  I guess we’ll all find out together.

Jet lag is definitely setting in, so I’d better go before I become even more incoherent than I normally am.

Thanks for reading.  Be good.

Data-centric, Part 1

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As previously mentioned, I have a new book coming out in late June/early July, depending on your locale.  The title is The Light Fantastic, or Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Light Fantastic. It’s a sequel of sorts to my 2002 book Immortal Coil and very much follows on the heels of David Mack’s excellent Cold Equations trilogy, which, among other things, brought Data back from the pitchy abyss where he was sent at the end of Nemesis, the last Next Generation movie.  

Margaret Clark, who has been working with the Star Trek franchise for the better part of a decade, contacted me in early 2013 after Cold Equations was published to report that (understandably) Immortal Coil had benefitted from David Mack’s trilogy with a bit of a bump in sales.

“Talley ho!” I exclaimed, or something very like it (In fact, I almost never say “Talley ho!” but since what I likely uttered was an indecipherable “Blargh?”-like noise, I’m going to tart this up a bit).

“Indeed,” Margaret likely said.  And then, “Maybe you’d be interested in following up on the events of Mack’s story?”  This was spoken in the Long Island lilt in Ms. Clark’s voice that, if you’ve ever spoken to her, you immediately understand to mean, “You really should write another book if you know what’s good for you.”  I don’t mean to imply that Margaret is harsh or punitive in any way, but she has a way of phrasing things that you know what she means, even if she isn’t stating it flatly.  Have you ever heard a character in any Quentin Tarantino movie?  It’s something like that.

To which I replied, “Let me think about that.”  Pause.  “Okay, sure.  How about this…?”  Because, friends, as it happened, way back in 2002, after Immortal Coil was published, but before Nemesis limped into and out of theaters (No, in fact, I didn’t like it very much), I had concocted an idea for a second Data-centric story that would have picked up some of the threads of Coil, but headed off in a somewhat different direction.  My thought, at the time, was to push Data into a less sunny, funny place.  Not necessarily “Dark Data,” but I thought it would be interesting to introduce some ambiguity into his usually Ones-and-Zeroes/Black-and-White worldview.  In retrospect, I’m not sure I could have pulled off this kind of transformation back then, but, as it worked out, I didn’t get the chance.

They blew up Data good – boom-chakalaka-crash — broken crockery everywhere.  Even though I knew it was coming, I was surprised by how sad it made me, not the least because the character’s sacrifice seemed so meaningless and undramatic.  It felt, for want of a better word, limp.  Not a noble passing and certainly nothing like the drama they had wrung out of Spock’s “death” a couple decades earlier.  Perhaps part of the reason it didn’t work for me was because it felt so impermanent and reversible.  The set-up was so obvious.

And then the Star Trek franchise holders surprised me by not taking the obvious route and reviving Data in a couple years.  A decade passed and then a little more and, man alive, it seemed like something was going to stick.

And then David Mack came along and put Humpty Dumpty back together again, but in a way that actually mattered.  There were stakes, dammit.  He didn’t take the easy path and while Data’s “death” still felt cheap, David made his resurrection count. Pipers were paid.  It was very well done.  There was the moment in Persistence of Vision where it dawned on me what was going to happen, when I figured out Soong’s plan, and I actually said, aloud, “Oh, no!”  Which, frankly, surprised me because, despite having written as much about Noonien as most of the Trek writers combined, I never really liked him that much.  It was always kind of a dick, if truth be told, even when he was trying to be a good dad.  

But, here he was doing something not only noble and self-sacrificing, but doing it in a very self-aware manner.  I don’t have the book anywhere near to hand, so I can’t quote the scene precisely, but I have a distinct memory that Soong more-or-less said, “I haven’t always been a good father.  I hope this makes up for some of that.”  Which, if you know me even a little bit (and I know some of you don’t) is precisely the kind of thing that goes to the core of my Grinchy heart.

And there, I think, I have to stop.  This post has already gone on much, much longer than I had expected.  I just added “Part 1” to the header and will return as soon as possible with, as Paul Harvey used to say, “The rest of the story…”

“Who’s Paul Harvey?” you ask.  Go look it up.  The wondernet is your friend and wants you to use it all up…

– From my hotel room in lovely Durham, NC.

Better Late than Never

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Hello.  Thanks for visiting my blog.  “A blog?” you may be thinking.  “Really?  How very… 2003 of you.”  And, if you were, you would be correct, but in this instance, I will not apologize for my tardiness (though I’m usually a bear for timeliness).  I’ve thought about taking the plunge for a long time — too long, really — and been sidetracked too often while admiring friends and colleagues who are now long-established and, sometimes, moved on to other forms of interaction: Facebook, Twitter, and other more obscure social media platforms that, honestly, I cannot pretend to understand.

There is something about the blog that has always attracted me; perhaps it’s the long-form option, the ability to ramble, and, candidly, the illusion of permanence.  I’m not sure if I really know. Maybe I’ll figure it out as we go along.

So why start now?

Thanks for asking.  I actually have a few reasons:

1.) I have a new book coming out in a few months —  a Star Trek story featuring Data called The Light Fantastic — and I thought this would be a good way to promote the work, interact with readers, and respond to comments and criticism. 

2.) I am currently attempting to find an agent to represent an original novel called Kirby and the Queen Bee and I thought this might be a good place to post some additional information about the project and perhaps garner some feedback from readers.  It is, as more than one person has commented, an odd book.  I am currently thinking very much about how much I’m willing to change it to make it more palatable to agents, who, very understandably, are looking for a “recognizable” product, something that’s neither fish nor fowl, especially in the exciting, yet frustrating current state of fiction publishing.  Discussions about that market (and the process of finding an agent) would be of great interest.

3.) To be known.  This one is the hardest to explain in many ways.  Without getting too precious about it, over the past year, I’ve been working with a therapist to better understand some issues — it would be a mistake to call them problems, so maybe a better word is “patterns” — that have plagued me since, oh, I don’t know… forever.  One of these issues is anxiety I have about — sorry, kids, I don’t have a better word — revealing myself to others. Exposing?  You see?  There’s no good way to say it, is there?  In any case, the point is, thanks to therapy, I’m feeling better.  A lot better, really.  There are things I’d like to talk about — nothing weird, don’t worry — and find out what other people think.  This forum feels like a good way to do it.  Or maybe not.  We’ll see, won’t we?

Here are some of the things I’d like to talk about:

– Writing

– (As distinct from) Publishing

– Star Trek (because, c’mon…  Star Trek)

– Books, comics, movies, TV (all media I consume with varying levels of pleasure and annoyance)

– My dog

– My cats (because, c’mon, it’s the internet)

– Cooking (I cook a lot.  In fact, I have to go make supper now)

– Travels (I spend a lot of time in airports these days, which, mostly, is good). 

– Legos (I have a serious Lego problem)

– Other things will suggest themselves, no doubt

Before I sign off, I want to thank the nice folks from Shore Leave (www.Shore-Leave.com) for inviting me to their convention this year.  I used the knowledge that they would be posting my information on their web page to motivate me to get something written here.  Apologies if you visited earlier and there was nothing here.  Wordpress is harder to navigate than I had expected.  I’ll see what I can do about getting some of the other functionality working.  I’ll take tips if anyone is willing to offer them.

Thanks for reading.

– Jeff