Tag Archives: writing

Fifty Years of the Final Frontier

Is there a Klingon word for “idiot”?

Back in September, Star Trek celebrated the 50th anniversary of its premiere on NBC.  I made a small contribution to this auspicious occasion with this article from The Villages Daily Sun.

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I meant to post this on Sept. 8 or thereabouts, but apparently my calculations to reach Ceti Alpha V weren’t quite right. I’ll let Mr. Scott know immediately to get it right next time.

I hope you enjoy the article, and may Star Trek continue to live long and prosper.

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A Harry Education

Recently, one of my former journalism professors posted something about a new biography on the late Harry Crews. Like magic, my mind cued up my experiences with the author.

While studying journalism at the University of Florida during the mid-late 1990s, I figured I should take a creative writing class for one of my electives. Looking in the course catalog, I found one and proceeded to sign up. Turned out I needed a writing sample to turn in to be considered, so on the last day, I happened to have a copy of a short story I had done. Turned it in, went home.

Blood Bone and Marrow BookI received my class schedule a few days later (I think; memory’s foggy about that) and saw that I was enrolled. Thought nothing of it. Figured everyone would’ve gotten in.

Until I discovered that only a small number of students were admitted. And it was being taught by THE Harry Crews, although I was still a bit fuzzy about how big this guy was.

Turns out my grandfather was a fan of Crews’ work, owning quite a few of his novels. Right under my nose! He wanted me to have Crews autograph one of he books, but I felt too weird to ask, only to have another student thrust a book in front of him to sign. He gladly did it, but class was starting by this point, so I failed in my mission.

I wonder if I was the only one in the class who wasn’t aware of Crews’ backstory. Maybe that was a blessing in disguise; I just wanted to learn more about writing fiction, not revel in Crews’ past shenanigans.

The syllabus said the stories we’d be writing about wouldn’t include “talking cats.” So: literary fiction. Thank God I turned in a high-schooler-in-turmoil story and not my usual science fiction fare.

We had to turn in two stories that semester, so I went with more adventures from the high school universe.

I wish I could remember some piece of advice Crews imparted to the class. Half the time, it seemed like he was too sick to teach. I do remember the workshop setting. We all printed out our stories, then handed out copies to everyone to critique the following week. That was a strange feeling to hear people tear apart your work. The kicker for me was when just about everyone said that teenagers going to the mall just to hang out wasn’t “real enough.”

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I still have Crews’ graded copies of my stories. The first story had just three handwritten words from Crews: “Reads well. Credible.”

The second story was filled with red and black ink marks, starting at the top with: “Problem: There is nothing of significance that can happen in a mall.” Throughout the tale, Crews could not fathom high schoolers hanging out at the mall when they could be sneaking away to have sex. I’m sure that might be true in some instances, but that wasn’t how I saw it for the characters at the time.

Looking back at his remarks all these years later, I could see his points. I probably should’ve tightened up certain passages or jettisoned them all together. But back then, I was mortified and angry. I could hear that guy from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: “You lost today, kid. But that doesn’t mean you have to like it.”

(Actually, I was so ticked off by what they said about the story, I rewrote it to make it a bit more “realistic,” changed the narrator from the main character to a third person limited, etc.)

At some point he had told the class this would be his final semester teaching. My journalism brain immediately said, “Hey! You could do a story on him for your reporting class! Maybe even get it published!” So I asked him if I could interview him. He seemed hesitant but agreed to it.

We met in his office in Turlington Hall, which, if memory serves, didn’t have much of anything in it. Just his briefcase. With the help of my friend, Najah, I came up with a few questions to ask.

I was a bit nervous interviewing him. Even though his body wasn’t running at one hundred percent, he still looked like he could kick my ass.

The interview lasted about 30 minutes, although he tried to cut off the interview about five minutes sooner. Luckily I convinced him to keep going.

I wrote the story, edited it heavily with the help of my friend, Sheri, then gave it to my teacher’s assistant for my Reporting class.

I earned the highest grade out of all the stories I had written, and it was the last one of the semester. I did good.

When I tried to get the Independent Florida Alligator, the campus newspaper, to publish it, they refused. I tried to explain to the editor that he was a Pretty Big Deal and it was his last semester teaching, it didn’t matter. So it never saw the light of day.

In 2010, I went back to UF to participate in a Storytellers’ Summit. The keynote speaker was bestselling author Michael Connelly. During his talk, he mentioned taking Crews’ class back in the ’70s, but he didn’t take away any big revelations from the class, either. At least I wasn’t alone. But maybe I did internalize some fiction advice he gave during the class, letting it seep into my brain.

Two years later, I felt an appropriate punch to the gut when I read that Crews had passed away. I wished I had read a few more of his books (I’ve only read one of Crews’ novels, Scar Lover), wished I had given him that book to sign for my grandfather.

While one is impossible now, another I can rectify easily.

Comic contest cavalcade

I was gonna do it. I wasn’t gonna do it.

Late last summer, I read about a talent search the comic book company Top Cow was running. What interested me was they were accepting entries from unpublished writers as well as artists. So I uploaded the rules. Seemed OK. All I had to do was choose from a plethora of characters from the Top Cow universe.

I eventually decided on the futuristic world of the green-haired assassin Aphrodite IX. I picked up several issues featuring the character. I came up with a couple of possible story ideas.

Then I got cold feet.

I closed the comic script file and dillydallied on other writing projects. All the while, I’d get some idea spark, jot it down in the file, then forget about it.

This went on for several months. I eventually resigned to the fact I wasn’t going to enter the contest.

But the character kept nagging at me to write a story. All right, I told myself. I’ll give it a try.

Four days before the deadline in March, I fired up the laptop and got to typing. I came up with a quick outline for the story, typed Page One, Panel One, gulped, and dove right into the tale.

It was done within a couple of days. I read through it to make sure it didn’t have any glaring plot holes, then nervously sent it off to contest land.

Sadly, I did not win. Otherwise, I would have written a blog post that simply read, “OH MY GOD I WON THE CONTEST!1!!1!” It would have been cool to have my name printed on the cover of a comic book saying that I wrote this story, but alas, it wasn’t my time.

Am I burning with rage that I didn’t win? Absolutely not. I’ve got more than 30 rejections from my short story submissions. This is part of the process. I have to tell myself the story wasn’t right for the editors at that particular time. Otherwise, it’ll eat you alive and you may not get back to writing, which is what I should be doing anyway. Trying to get better.

And hey, I entered the contest, so that’s half the battle. The other half: I finished a comic book script.

Should Top Cow do another talent contest, I may give it another shot. Unless I get published elsewhere before that time. Which could happen. Maybe.

The story itself, “Lessons Learned,” was born from Aphrodite IX: The Hidden Files. That comic sports a lengthy timeline of the Aphrodite project. I noticed there was a wide gap from the time the character is put in stasis to when she is awakened in the first issue. I thought, I wonder what one does while in stasis.

The answer is in the script, found below the fold.

Continue reading Comic contest cavalcade

Gotta get back in time

Growing up, I was fascinated with cars.

But not just any cars. These had to be the most sophisticated pieces of machinery ever assembled. Like a talking car that could jump over chasms and banter with David Hasselhoff (Knight Rider). Or robots that could turn into vehicles (The Transformers). Or vehicles that could make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs (the Millennium Falcon).

So in 1985 (or maybe it was a year or two later, the memory is fluctuating), I discovered a little movie called Back to the Future. I think our family had first watched the movie when it came out on VHS. Being 9-10 years old, a lot of the plot probably flew past my head, but I was intrigued by Doctor Emmett Brown’s time machine: a DeLorean.

It had gull-wing doors! It could travel through the space-time continuum by reaching 88 mph, thus activating the flux capacitor! It got cold whenever it got back from its time trip! It sounded like Luke’s landspeeder from Star Wars! It had a clicking sound like the turn signal from my parents’ car!

Anyway, I had found my new favorite cool car.

Jump ahead in time to 2004. At my job, I spent a few years writing about classic cars and their owners. One day, when looking at a list of potential cars to write about, I spotted a familiar name. DeLorean.

Could it be?

It was!

After all these years, I finally got to be next to a real DeLorean. This was heavy.

Jump ahead once more to 2009, when lightning struck the clock tower twice. Someone else had a DeLorean! I could dust off my cheesy Back to the Future references once more.

In honor of the movie’s 30th anniversary (30 years? it is a nice round number), after the time jump (ahem), you can read those articles from the recent past. Feel free to cue up some Huey Lewis and the News or Marvin Berry.

Continue reading Gotta get back in time

It’s melody time

I’ve babbled a lot about my love of books, comics, and writing, but I haven’t delved too much into my other big love: music. It’s about as important as writing. If I was forced onto a deserted island and was given access to a few things, I would have to have something from both disciplines.

The seeds were planted from the time I came into the world, thanks to my musical parents. My mom teaches elementary music, my dad was a high school band director. They had all kinds of music playing in the house from pop to rock to jazz to classical. Heck, I heard “St. Thomas” as a marching band arrangement before I heard the Sonny Rollins version and thought, “Where have I heard this before?”

In middle school, students had a choice: PE or band. Being the not-so-athletic type, I decided to go with band, but which instrument to choose? What happens next may astound you.

My dad suggested I play the drums.

No, that’s not an error. I know the cliché, kid wants to play the drums, parents try every way to dissuade them. But that didn’t happen. They WANTED me to play the drums. How could I refuse?

I started out on the snare drum, and eventually made my way to the drum set. I felt like the king of the world when I could play a simple rock beat.

This lead me to listening to music in a different light. Instead of soaking in the entire song, I found myself drawn to what the drummer was doing. One of the first groups I latched onto was Genesis, featuring the amazing drumming of Phil Collins (and Chester Thompson on the live albums). Thanks to Modern Drummer magazine, I soaked in as much information through all those profiles and columns.

In the 10th grade, I transferred to an arts school in Jacksonville, where I was amongst my people. I had one class period devoted to percussion. I was learning music theory. Soon I got the crazy idea of becoming a professional musician. I thought I could be one of those session drummers I read about in Modern Drummer. I joined all the school bands from marching to concert. I participated in solo and ensemble contests.

And then, one day in my junior or senior year back in my old high school, something clicked.

I didn’t want to be a professional musician anymore.

A while back, someone on the Internet showed a graph tracking the path one takes when learning a craft. I’m paraphrasing here, but you climb and fall and climb and fall, and then you hit a wall. If you scale over the wall and keep going, things will get a little better. Most people hit the wall and turn around.

At the time, I thought there was something wrong with me. I was supposed to be a drummer! I had found my calling! My destiny!

Part of me now thinks I hit a wall with my drumming, and I didn’t want to keep going. So I scaled back the serious-o-meter, making drumming more of a hobby.

Thankfully, I discovered another career path — writing. But I haven’t abandoned music completely. When I went to the University of Florida, I got to play in some of the bands, including one of the jazz bands. I played the drums in local churches. And when I get a spare moment, I put on the headphones and play along with Phil and Chester.

And on occasion, I’ve found a way to marry both of these loves through my day job. But there are times when I wonder what would have happened if I had stuck with music.

But I don’t dwell on it too much.

Saluting Satchmo

Through a strange set of circumstances and serendipity, I discovered that July 31-Aug. 3 is the Satchmo SummerFest in New Orleans’ French Quarter. This festival celebrates the genius of jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong through numerous live performances, seminars, and food.

Louis Armstrong banner at the 2002 Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans.
Louis Armstrong banner at the 2002 Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans. (photo by Michael Fortuna)

I had gone to the 2002 edition to write some stories for the Daily Sun (there is a big club in The Villages devoted to jazz, so I figured they’d get a kick out of it). Not only was this my first attempt at covering an event like this on deadline (writing and taking photos), but it was my first opportunity to fly in an airplane. I said quite a few prayers from Jacksonville to Atlanta to New Orleans (yeah, that flight plan didn’t make sense to me either). Thankfully, all flights went off without a hitch.

I’ve been a fan of jazz for years, and the opportunity to go to the birthplace of the genre was too good to pass up. Throughout the three-day event, I heard some amazing local performers, tried some jambalaya, and walked around the French Quarter to soak in the atmosphere.

I came back with a few souvenirs: I bought Armstrong’s autobiography, as well as the massive anthology “Reading Jazz.” From the CD department, I picked up one of drummer Jason Marsalis’ albums. Drummers gotta represent.

Anywho, I had a great time. One of these days I need to go back.

Below the jump, you can read the three articles I wrote, as well as see some photos I took (please excuse the graininess; I took pictures of the pictures). I think the articles still hold up OK. Enjoy!

Continue reading Saluting Satchmo

Writer’s gonna write, right?

As you may have surmised from looking around this website, I’m a writer, whether it’s for local metropolitan newspaper or creating new worlds out of my brain and turning them into fiction.

My earliest recollection of writing a story was when I got a school-bus-yellow Sears typewriter from my grandfather. I typed out this one page, single-spaced story featuring the Transformers (for those continuity freaks, it took place some time after Transformers: The Movie, maybe the third or fourth season of the show). I still have that sheet of paper somewhere, but I’m sure if I read it now, I would cringe.

But that’s OK. You learn to write by writing.

The calendar pages flip past. I’m a senior in high school, and everyone wants to know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. At this point, I was writing a few things here and there, English teachers were positive about my work. So I thought, hey! I’ll be a professional writer! My first inclination was to write fiction, but I told myself that I couldn’t make a living doing that. I wasn’t Stephen King or John Grisham. (That was probably a dumb thing to think, but I did) So I went with the option of writing and getting a steady paycheck: journalism!

I went to the University of Florida in 1996 to learn the ins and outs of journalism, thinking I could write about music, another love of mine. After graduating, I wrote for The Gainesville Sun and the Lake City Reporter before landing my first full-time job at The Villages Daily Sun, where I’ve been writing away to this day. While I didn’t quite land a gig at Rolling Stone, I have written a bit of everything, which is always a good thing. I’ve also learned to write on deadline and have the story make sense, another good quality.

All the while, I wrote short stories. I sent them out to magazines and contests and got kind rejections. During high school, I had created this science fiction/fantasy universe and had written this epic novel (maybe it was a novella, who knows). I even started up a contemporary story featuring two star-crossed high school kids who fall in love. The latter story got me into Harry Crews’ creative writing class at UF, which turned out to be the last semester he taught. It was there that the story got ripped to shreds by the other students (They had said high school kids don’t hang out at the mall. REALLY?!?). It forced myself to scrap it and rewrite what turned out to be a better version.

Jump ahead to when my first daughter was born (around 2008), and I decided I was going to write my first novel, which featured the star-crossed high school kids. I wrote it in about half a year, then put it away.

That science fiction world from high school wanted a new (read: better) novel, so in 2011 (when daughter No. 2 had arrived) I started that tome. Two years later, I finished it, then put it away.

Last November, I started another science fiction novel, with about 20,000 words added so far. As with the first two stories, some days the words fly out of my brain like water out of a fire hydrant. Other days, the water is dripping every three seconds. But I try to get something down.

I hope to get these novels polished enough to see if a publisher might want to bring them to the masses. Or I may go the self-published route. Or I could just BEAM THEM DIRECTLY TO YOUR BRAINS. (is handed a piece of paper) Oh. They don’t have that technology yet. Ahem.

Oh. I forgot that I’m also trying my hand at writing comic books, a medium that’s near and dear to my heart. It’s just like writing novels, in that you’re putting words together to make a sentence. Other than that, it’s completely different.

Needless to say that I love writing. And I hope that whenever the novels do make it to the public, they will be received positively, although it would be neat to read a really bad one-star Amazon review.