Sunday, August 31, 2014

How I Spent My Summer Stay-cation

(A typical day writing on the sun porch)
I've learned that in this part of the globe, summer usually means three short, hot months bookended by two warmish months, while the rest of the year belongs to winter.  It seems to me that we just came out of a very long, very cold winter when -30 degrees wasn't uncommon, and most of the time the thermometer hovered close to 0, and that the lovely, lush green realm that surrounds our house only just arrived. But the truth according to the calendar is that today is the last day of August. I blinked, and summer was gone.

The one big thing I have to show for the time is a lot of completed writing.  Finished first drafts in desperate need of filing have piled up atop one of my two big lateral drawer cabinets, and with summer unofficially over in a few short hours, my plan for the first week of unofficial autumn is to get those stories filed.  Back in June (was it really that long ago?), on the first hot day I remember, I started a wonderful week of free writing, something I've done too little of, and the results were tremendous.  Several of the stories I produced during that time have since found homes.  The same week, an interview I gave to the fine folks at Grey Matter Press came out -- it can be read in its entirely here.  I also learned that my ghostly historical short story "Drowning" is set to appear in their forthcoming anthology Death's Realm, one of only seventeen accepted from over 2,000 submissions!

Many of my summer days started in my Writing Room, a place I love, and ended on the old sofa on our sun porch, with its beautiful views out six tall windows.  I am seated there as I write this, looking out two at the fiery red maple leaves of a tree in the neighbor's backyard, already showing the first color before September's arrival.  Out here, while penning westerns, mysteries, a long detective story, M/M romance, writing about robots and things that go bump in the night, I sipped copious amounts of iced coffee from tall, sweating plastic cups, as well as a brand of blueberry bubble water I discovered at the local grocery store in July.  I submitted to numerous markets, and a lot of my babies came home with contracts in hand.  In the thick of so many completed projects, I also wrote a screenplay, my second for the indie Hollywood filmmaker who filmed the first bearing my byline in June.  That first feature film is presently being color-corrected and edited for sound out in Tinseltown, and there are rumors of an autumn screening in the not-too-distant future.

As stated, Robots were a big part of my summer.  They have, in fact, been a prevalent theme since my boyhood, when iconic mechanical men like the Robinson Robot from Lost in Space and other
favorite TV shows forever influenced both my life and my pen. The release of my collection of three novellas, Tales From the Robot Graveyard, is another event I look forward to in the fall.  In my book, which boasts an amazing cover by Eric Chu, conceptual artist on the new Battlestar Galactica:
               
·                Two brothers—one human, the other manufactured—test the limits of family loyalty in a dead city that harbors diabolical secrets in “Ghosts and Robots”.
·                 Mad technology decimated the Earth.  Could an even madder one save it when mechanical emissaries arrive bearing gifts in “Robot Kind”?
·                 And in “The Long Frost”, on a planet of ice, somewhere between man and machine, lies one last desperate hope for survival.

In addition to the bling from Eric Chu, the book will feature a blurb from Amy Howard Wilson of Star Blazers fame, and an inaugural poem from my good friend, poet Esther M. Leiper-Estabrooks.  I'm beyond excited to see the book's release and have had so much fun writing the tales, one of which ("The Long Frost") dates back almost to the beginning of my writing dreams.

August was a delightful month, with not one but two Sunday writers' group parties/cookouts, and numerous weekend guests (in part to enjoy Yard Sale, the newest play written, directed, and produced by my friend and fellow writers' group member, Jonathan Dubey).  On the 1st, we spent a day beyond the notches in the town of North Conway, eating Chinese buffet for lunch, shopping for office supplies -- I picked up some great composition notebooks, which I've since used voraciously for my summer literary adventures -- and taking in the first showing of Guardians of the Galaxy, which we all loved.  

(Summer drafts done, edited, and submitted to be filed)
For the second summer in a row, we made due without the need for air conditioning.  Our house boasts lots of windows and four ceiling fans (one in my Writing Room), and the two box fans more than made up for days and nights when the temperature soared into the upper 80s (not once did we pass into the 90s). The smells of summer -- roses from the giant Lovecraftian menace in the backyard, newly mowed lawn, the green veldt that surrounds Xanadu, our home on the hill -- were welcome, and in abundance. There was even a bear sighting in late June, when a curious hulkster moseyed down from the woods behind our home in search of picnic baskets and, sensing we keep our garbage in the small shed attached to the back of the house, just beyond the far wall of my Writing Room,  employed brutish strength to snap off the latch.  It was all very exciting and, no doubt, fodder for my future stories.

(Our very own black bear, seen crossing the neighbor's yard)
I'm sad to see the summer end. Forget the insane cost of heating oil that looms not far down the road, the oppressive cold that is surely coming, the short, gray days that define winters in the North Country.  I'm going to miss sitting out in the cozy, sunlit warmth of my other office, where so many of the season's stories were composed -- the short, long, and screenplay alike.  I loved the heat, what there was of it, and the green, and the occasional Sunday afternoon writing with the Red Sox game playing on the flat-screen. But winter has its own charm, too, and I look forward to the work I'll be doing nestled in my beautiful Writing Room with the cube heater on.  And first, there's autumn to enjoy, brief as it surely will be, with all those crisp days, falling leaves, and the mysteries of Halloween to enjoy and write about!                 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Behold -- ACTIVE DUTY!

My short stories have been appearing in anthologies by editor Neil S. Plakcy for almost a decade now.  Neil constantly comes up with fantastic themes and subjects for his releases for the fine folks at Cleis Press -- surfers, blue collar handymen, and the military among them. His books are thoughtful and literary as well as hot reads, and I'm always inspired when one of his fresh calls for submissions goes out. So was the case when the policy preventing gays from openly serving in the United States Military, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, was repealed and, in early 2013, Neil put forth a call for stories where love between military servicemen was not only no longer forbidden, but celebrated.  I was thrilled and had the perfect story idea floating around unwritten called "Candy Man", and quickly set about penning a first draft.

The idea came to me years before, during the early days of the Iraq War.  A news report about a soldier trying to win hearts by giving out candy to the families he met on the streets of Baghdad while on patrol had imprinted upon my psyche.  It was one of those rare feel-good stories during a very dark time -- you couldn't help but fall in love with the man, and I did.  So I dashed the story's first draft off in short time, about a similar soldier who also wins another's heart through his good actions, and readied to edit it on my laptop.  Only during that same time, I and my small family bought a house.  As we lined up ducks and set about for a monumental move from our apartment to our new home, the folder containing my first draft accidentally got packed up into a box and stacked in a corner of my soon-to-be-former Writing Room, lost until the move was complete.  The deadline passed. We moved in.  My new Writing Room emerged from the mountain range of boxes, and the folder for "Candy Man" went into the file cabinet. I figured I'd be able to place it when another appropriate call for manuscripts presented itself. And then in early June, Neil emailed me -- he needed one more story to round out Active Duty, and did I have anything already written that fit the theme?  Did I ever!

Several of my Active Duty co-contributors were kind enough to share the back-stories behind their wonderful stories.

Neil S. Plakcy on "Marine Guard": "As soon as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, I began to read all kinds of personal stories online -- from soldiers coming out to families to sailors marching in pride parades. I realized, in a way I hadn’t before, how this decision affected so many people on a very individual level. That’s when I decided that I wanted to put together an anthology for Cleis, exploring what it would be like for military members to be open about their sexuality. I know what it’s like to long for someone, and I used that experience in writing my story ‘Marine Guard', which is included in the anthology under my nom-de-porn, Dirk Strong. I wanted a location where a military member and a civilian would come in regular contact, and in my research I discovered that Marines guard our embassies around the world. When Adam Burr, the narrator of the story, shows up for work at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, his first encounter is with Lucas Roemer, the Marine at the gate, and right away there’s sexual tension between them. But they can’t act on that because of DADT. It was a fun story to write, and I hope to read."

Logan Zachary on "Ready Reserve": "My dad was a Marine, and he had saved his pup tent and camping stuff.  In the summer, I loved setting up the tent in the backyard and playing in it, no matter how hot and humid it was.  I’d even sleep in the backyard with my dog, or my best friend.  Dad had two heavy sleeping bags that would zipper together and make one big one and that was perfect to use.  Most nights it was so hot, I’d sleep on top of it, but some nights it would cool off and I’d crawl inside.  Sleeping in my underwear was another rare treat, and I didn’t understand the excitement I got from seeing my friend in his briefs.  Those cold mornings when I awoke, snuggled next to him were magic. As we grew up, the sleepovers became fewer and fewer, and he found beer and girls. I stayed home with my books and my studies.  But now I know why I enjoyed that so much.  That memory inspired me to write ‘Ready Reserve’."

Michael Bracken on "Soaring": "My contribution to Active Duty is the story of an Air Force captain near the end of his career who turns his back on the love of his life rather than risk losing his military pension. Then the repeal of DADT turns his life upside down, and the story begins and ends on the most important day of his life."

Emily Moreton on "So, Then": "‘So, Then’ is actually a sequel to another story, published in the Sexy Sailors anthology (‘Home Is The Sailor’). So, picks up where ‘Home Is The Sailor’ left off, pretty much, and it mostly takes place during a Pride festival, because I love gay pride, even though my city celebrates the same weekend as my sister's birthday, so I never make it these days. In the story, Mike and Danny are old friends who hook up whenever Mike, a navy officer, is in town. This visit, Mike brings his shipmate Freddie along, for more than just a trip to the parade. Sadly, hot women never invite me into their beds at pride (more's the pity, though I'm not a naval officer, so maybe that's why!) -- but I did once get a kiss from a stranger when I was marshalling a parade, so maybe there's still hope for me."

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Radio Nights

For the eighth time in my career, I recently took to the airwaves, this time as the special guest on the fantastic Ghostman and Demon Hunter show. Ghostman and Demon Hunter broadcast across a platform that includes 102.7 FM (live) and various venues after the fact.  I went on at just after 8 p.m. EST on Sunday, July 13, a night renown for some fairly bad weather between New York City and New Hampshire.

Ghostman and Demon Hunter (aka the brilliant Shaun Burris and Nathan Drake Schoonover) welcomed me on board to talk about the writing life and my latest literary adventures on a night that grew so humid, it was like walking through neck-deep water.  By afternoon, the sky had darkened to the consistency of dusk, and an apocalyptic rain hammered our fair mountain town.  By eight, I'd closed the windows and turned off the ceiling fan in my Writing Room, so as not to create any noisy feedback when the hosts dialed me in (as stated, I'm old hat at this whole radio coolness!).  Sans fan, the temperature in my home office skyrocketed, and sweat poured. Unseen, mercifully, to listeners, I looked like a refugee from a sauna!

At the other end of the line, massive thunderheads did their best to unleash havoc on the hosts, who put on an impressive weekly broadcast -- my predecessor the previous Sunday was none other than Svengoolie, whose monster movie fest on MeTV is beloved and required Saturday night viewing in our home. With lightning bolts attempting to deafen and frazzle, we discussed the skill of pitching ideas to TV, my work on Star Trek: Voyager, my books like the forthcoming Bugs!The Q Guide to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse, among others.

(at 94.7 FM's studios in January 2013)
We talked the new feature film I wrote, Brutal Colors (presently in post-production), and my love of creature features -- those wonderful classic monster movies I grew up on, and still often play in the background when I write. And robots, another beloved theme getting plenty of play in my career these past few months. Then, which is always the case when I've taken to the airwaves, I blinked and it was over, the thirty minutes passing with the speed of what felt like seconds. Ghostman and Demon Hunter were gracious hosts and thanked me for my time, promising we'd do it all again somewhere down the road.

When I was a teenager and had freshly discovered this whole writing thing, I listened to the radio at night on a boxy cube console with a record player on top located at the side of my bed. While waiting for my favorite songs to come on, I also looked forward to hearing my favorite radio hosts, who fed my imagination and helped me dream some of the biggest story lines of my life as a result of those nightly soundtracks.  So being on the radio -- three times in 2013 on the stellar 94.7 show hosted by Rob Azevedo, Granite State of Mind, once so far in '14 -- is always a treat, and a reminder of my humble beginnings.  I can't wait for Number Nine!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Freedom!

I've been writing full-time since 1996. Throughout, I've done long stints as feature writer and columnist (fifteen years writing sports/adventure and celebrity articles for the late, great Heartland USA Magazine, among others), notched TV writing gigs, and I've sold novels, short story collections, novellas, and a plethora of short stories, both here and abroad.  After waking up each morning, I quickly mosey to the coffee pot, then vanish into my Writing Room, where I court the Muse.  I live a literary lifestyle that isn't second nature so much as first. Involuntary, like breathing.  I'm prolific. But while deep in a couple of projects that include a new contracted feature film screenplay and a collection of novellas all centered around robots, I started feeling the fatigue that sometimes dogs me.  I needed to catch my breath.

So I woke on a humid June Monday and decided that instead of 'working', I needed to play a little. The previous Sunday, I'd read an enjoyable article on Free Writing, the act of putting pen to page or fingers to keyboard and giving yourself permission to just compose, knowing the results are usually fairly bad and unusable.  The goal is to write without worrying about grammar or making corrections, to get out all the sludge that's in the writer's head so he can move on to the work that matters.  It's a time-honored tradition lauded by such notables as Natalie Goldberg and, after a fashion, Julia Cameron, who extols the writing of 'morning pages'.  The article I'd read suggested a few different approaches to Free Writing, like making word lists and jotting down disparate story prompts, and creating a story from the puzzle pieces.

What I decided to do instead was point my finger at my list of as-yet-unwritten story ideas -- which a few new concepts had been added to, not really fully-formed ideas, not yet -- and dive in, no pressure, no expectations. Within the first two hours, I'd written an entire draft for "Crucifix", based upon one of those concepts without an actual story that had dogged me for months.  After a short break and a walk around our yard, I again put pen to blank page and wrote, in one sitting, "Skylight", another of those concepts, based upon the big skylights in the elegant conference room where my Tuesday Night Writers' group meets.  From the first gathering, I'd wanted to pen a story about the skylight directly over where I sit, and I knew I wanted it to end with the main character gazing up, aware something up there was staring down.  The next day, a Tuesday, I started work on a third quietly creepy concept, and soon had nearly 3,000 words of "Vera's New Teeth".  On Wednesday, the first draft was done.  After that, my science fiction parable "Third World" followed.  A Western, "The Cowboy and the Dandy", was completed by Sunday.  Over the course of six days in June, I penned five short stories, totaling some 11,000 words.  One of the stories has already sold.  The others were read aloud to group in their raw drafts, and garnered plenty of positive feedback and love.  They'll all eventually make their way onto the computer for submission as markets appear and time permits. I'm beyond pleased with the results.

So don't be afraid to give Free Writing a try.  Above all else, my week of Free Writing was fun -- a reminder that sometimes writers need to clock out from a set schedule and just play.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Bold and the Beautiful

I've always been a diehard Alphabet Network soap viewer (until those schmucks went ahead and cancelled All My Children and my favorite, the superb One Life to Live), so forgive the title of this post.  It seemed appropriate for a shout out for the latest release from Firbolg PublishingEnter at Your Own Risk: The End is the Beginning, which contains my short story "Every Seven Years, Give or Take." I was honored to be part of this anthology, which boasts a veritable 'Who's Who' of gothic literature, present and past.  Notable names include the Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, H.P. Lovecraft, M. R. James, K. Trap Jones, B. E. Scully, Sydney Leigh, Norman Partridge and, nestled among the Table of Contents, yours truly.

Publisher Alex Scully has done a fine job assembling a thick and gorgeous book.  Or books, as is the case. I was thrilled when a fat package arrived in the mail on Monday, May 20  It contained my copy of the special edition World Horror Con 2014 hardcover release of the anthology, gorgeously enhanced by four vibrant color interior illustrations. There's something extra-special about reading your work in hardcover. The book (officially considered 'textbook-size') is so big, so beautiful, it doesn't stand upright in any of the glass-front bookcases that contain my archives of published work.

End is filled, cover to cover, with stories of environmental horror in which mankind's hubris comes back to haunt us. My particular contribution to the book owes to a dream I had twenty years ago, in which I was trapped in a house located somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.  Olfactory authorities claim we don't 'smell' in our dreams, but I remember vividly the thick fragrance of sap from the Douglas firs that surrounded the house, as well as the steady drip of rain.  Beyond the house, among those trees, terrible danger lurked.  Within the house, an equally deadly threat brewed.  Both were the result of our disposable society's shortsightedness.  We recycle almost everything here in our fair mountain town, and we compost year-round.  Still, having a tale in this book has made me feel like our small family is making a difference in helping to heal our wounded planet.

And then there's that Table of Contents. Who wouldn't love to have their original short story published alongside a reprint by the author who wrote Frankenstein?  Or the stellar Mister Poe, my favorite wordsmith of all time? The autumn my first book, Ghost Kisses, was released, I spent Thursday afternoons on the college campus where my then-writers' group met, reading his stories and mine and reciting "Lenore" -- that elegant elegy is still tattooed upon my grey matter, able to be invoked start to finish at a moment's notice.  As for Mister Hawthorne...

When I was in grade school, I boarded a bus for a memorable field trip to the House of the Seven Gables. I was blown away at the time to find myself standing in the setting of a book I had read and loved. In the gift shop, I purchased a postcard of the house in a green mat, which hung on my bedroom wall, unframed, from a thumbtack. Somewhere along the way, the postcard got lost.  Last year, my fabulous writing pal Judi Calhoun (a talented name to watch for), upon hearing the story, found the very postcard online -- and framed this one for me as part of my Christmas presents.  It now sits proudly in my Writing Room, atop the archives of my published work.  A week or so after Christmas, I learned that "Every Seven Years, Give or Take" would appear alongside a reprint of Hawthorne's classic, "Rappaccini's Daughter".  Bold stuff.  And quite beautiful.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Interview with STAR BLAZERS' Amy Howard Wilson Part II

(Amy Howard Wilson and new husband David, a
Star Blazers devotee!)
It has been a thrill over the years to interview and meet nearly all of my childhood -- and adulthood -- icons. My favorite actor, Martin Landau, graciously gave me over an hour of his time, one on one, during the summer he was doing press junkets for the first X-Files movie. Kate Mulgrew was always available during my stint writing for the Sci Fi Channel's magazine -- and was even so kind as to pen a stunning blurb for the cover of The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse: Twenty-six Tales From the Terrifying Mind of Gregory L. Norris two years ago.  The late, great director Robert Wise -- he of such classics as The Day the Earth Stood Still, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, and the first big screen Star Trek movie -- shared with me special effect stories about the famous 'breathing door' scene in the classic The Haunting for my article in Cinescape Magazine (the door was made of styrofoam, and all that wonderful crackling of wood the result of a man pushing against it from the other side). While flying from Boston to L.A. and the set of Star Trek: Voyager, I happened to glance over at the man sitting next to me. Who was he? None other than seaQuest DSV star John D'Aquino -- my favorite actor from what was, at that time, one of my favorite TV shows.  I introduced myself, and John and I spent that five-hour flight getting to know one another, mostly via anecdotes about his seaQuest experience. Two days after landing, John and I were enjoying breakfast at the Roosevelt Hotel with my best friend and oft writing partner, Laura A. Van Vleet. After breakfast, he took us for a spin around the Hollywood Hills in his convertible, showing us some of the must-see sights of beauty hidden above Tinseltown.

Imagine my elation when, after the phone call went through, the voice from the other end of a new connection transported me back in time to so many afternoons spent cross-legged on the floor, my focus glued to the TV and the latest Star Blazers episode.  I was speaking with "Nova", one of the most beloved heroines in all of Science Fiction, as voiced by actress Amy Howard Wilson.  Ms. Wilson is not only a delight who instantly made me feel like an honorary member of the Star Force, but earned super-duper extra points among the most celebrated of celebrities for her generosity -- our first chat, taped on the flip-side of the cassette containing the Robert Wise interview, was lost to a series of warps.  She graciously gave me a second interview.  "We'll just refer to the first as a table read," she said.  Truly, a superstar burning brightly among the galaxy it has been my pleasure to meet and write about.

You didn't know if viewers would tune in to Star Blazers?
AHW: It was on for about a year, but they kept switching the air times.  It came on at three in the afternoon, and then 6:30 in the morning.  I didn't even see any of the completed episodes during the production.  What happened was that we came into the studio, we'd do our chunk of dialogue, and once that was done, we'd go on to the next episode.  We might knock out four or five shows in a day. Ken Meseroll, who played "Derek Wildstar" or Tom Tweedy -- "Mark Venture" -- would do their stuff, and then they'd mix it all together.  We didn't see the whole series until it started to air.  And then they changed the air times!

(Argo, make us proud!  Me, with my six original Star Blazers fan fic novels and
ten short stories)
I was out auditioning for other stuff.  That's the nature of the business -- you go on to your next set of auditions.  The only people we really knew were watching the show were mom and dad and our family, our friends, our cousins. We didn't know if it was going to last, to continue in reruns. After a year or so, it was gone.  I couldn't find it anywhere.  At the time, a VCR cost about a thousand dollars.  There were no Blockbuster Video stores, no Suncoast.

Fast forward several years --
In 1995, I got a call from my brother-in-law.  My nieces at that time were huge Pokemon fans, and they'd gotten to talking one day about how their Aunty had done this show called Star Blazers.  They went on line to see what they could find about the show.  He said, 'You're not going to believe what we found!' So I logged on and started looking and found website after website designed by fans who absolutely loved the show.  The one that caught my eye was The Wave Motion Webpage [named after the Argo's engine system and also its mother-of-all-weaponry, the Wave Motion Gun].  I clicked on a link to send an email to the webmaster and introduced myself, telling him how glad I was to find the page.  I got a reply: "Hi, are you SERIOUS?!" He started asking me questions and had forwarded my message on to other people, who started sending me emails -- asking me serious technical questions like how the ship was designed, who drew this specific character. They were diehard fans!  We did the show in 1979, it aired in 1980 through '81.  Fifteen years after, I found the website and then got an email from one of those fans who wanted to put me in touch with a guy named Dave Merrill.  Dave ran a fan convention called Anime Weekend Atlanta.  And then I found myself there, at this convention. The following year at the same con, I met my lovely husband Dave.  So you could say that Star Blazers brought us together.



One clearly senses that you take the excellent work you've done as Nova and, even more, your level of commitment to fans, with a level of seriousness that is, frankly, inspiring. You're never too busy to sign an autograph -- or give a second interview after the first gets planet-bombed!
In this business, you can be forgotten about tomorrow.  I don't want to be forgotten -- and I don't want Nova to be forgotten about, either.  Lucille Ball and Angela Lansbury, their careers spanned fifty and sixty years worth of awesome performances.  They did good, quality work.  Those are the people I have as my role models.  The work could last half an hour or ten years.  You never know.  So when you start getting complacent and arrogant...I've seen that happen and I don't ever, ever want anybody to regard me that way. It touches me when I hear that fans are now watching the show with their grandchildren!  I look back and think...I've been doing conventions for seventeen years now because of this one role.  After all of this time of Star Blazers not being on the air, there's no syndication, no rerunning -- except for the week or two it ran on Toonami or the SyFy Channel -- and fans are still so enthusiastic.  It's a phenomenon.  I'm extremely proud of that.

Heartfelt thanks to Ms. Wilson, who has also agreed to pen a cover blurb for my forthcoming Tales From the Robot Graveyard.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Interview with STAR BLAZERS' Amy Howard Wilson Part I

(An actual cel from one of the Yamato films of "Yuki", aka, "Nova" given to Ms. Wilson
by Meri Davis, chair of A-Kon)
I was fourteen that autumn, flipping channels in the basement TV room. Our set was hooked up to cable -- a new concept for the time. Gone was the static and snow of rabbit ears, and suddenly displayed in vibrant detail across the screen was an amazing image: that of a powerful space battleship as it readied to leave Earth's solar system on an as-yet unknown (to me) mission. Without any other fanfare or preparation, I entered the universe of Star Blazers, a timeless story of love, honor, and sacrifice that unfolds across deep space as the crew of the Earth Defense Force flagship Argo attempts to save the human race and our beloved Mother Earth from mysterious would-be alien destroyers. Over the course of the first twenty-six episodes in which the Star Force's Captain Avatar, Derek Wildstar, Nova, Mark Venture, robot IQ-9, et al battle to reach the planet Iscandar in the distant Magellanic Cloud for a machine capable of removing the deadly radioactivity unleashed by planet bombs fired by the alien Gamilons, I found myself captivated, stirred -- and desperate to know if the crew would succeed in their mission to save our planet and people from extinction.  It was fairly mature territory for an afternoon cartoon to explore (or any medium, for that matter), and I was forever changed as a result. Oh, the misery of Friday afternoons, especially when, upon her approach to Iscandar, the Argo's crew learn they're also traveling to sister world Gamilon and a trap from which no escape seems possible -- with no resolution forthcoming until the following Monday!  I routinely raced home from the bus stop to be sure I was in front of the tube by three in the afternoon.  When the fine folks at WSBK- TV 38 switched broadcast times to 7:30 weekday mornings, I routinely missed the bus.  No more so after the Star Force returned home with the radiation-removing Cosmo DNA device, only to find themselves under attack by the ruthless Prince Zordar and his mighty war machine, the Comet Empire, for the series' next run of twenty-six episodes. The emotion and gravitas of Star Blazers filled my days with thoughts of the world's bigger pictures, and still does.  There are scenes and scores from many of the episodes that conjure tears to this day. I'm listening to one now as I write this.

Star Blazers, adapted from the popular Japanese anime Space Battleship Yamato, remains one of the most powerful influences of my life.  Along with Gerry Anderson's brilliant outer space parable Space:1999 and the original Battlestar Galactica, the three series formed something of a trinity that turned my imagination -- and, soon, my pen -- in the direction of outer space.  I had Star Blazers dreams and wrote original fan fiction as a result, short stories and even novels in the Star Blazers universe, starting with Against the Legions of the Red Sun, a twenty-six chapter novel, my version of a third season, post-Comet Empire.  I eagerly awaited the real third series, which was promised but never delivered to our TV screens.  At my very first con in Boston right before I turned eighteen, I snapped up buttons in the dealer's room and attended a screening of the Arrivaderci Yamato movie in Japanese, up in the Gamilon Headquarters Suite.

I loved Star Blazers.  And I love it still.
(Season One, a beloved permanent addition to my Writing Room)

So imagine my glee when I connected with the brilliant actress Amy Howard Wilson, who provided the voice of Nova, one of the most beloved and heroic icons in all of Science Fiction. Ms. Wilson was kind and gracious enough to share with me her experiences -- and to take me back in time to the studio, on board the very Argo herself.

How did you land the role of "Nova" in Star Blazers?
AHW: In high school, I was bit by the acting bug and went to the American Academy of Arts for two years.  It was a great program.  I learned how to fence, dance, took vocal and voice classes, all that great stuff.  When I graduated, I still didn't have a real good idea of how the business side of everything worked, so I decided rather than to head for auditions off the bat I'd see if I could get work in related aspects of the industry.  I worked as a receptionist for a casting agency, and then as a sales rep for a jingle writer -- he wrote the jingle for 8 O'Clock Coffee.  When Star Blazers came around, I'd taken a clerical job working in the front office of the Weist-Barron School for TV and Commercial Acting.  I was answering phones and taking a voice-over class.  Tom Tweedy, who voiced "Mark Venture", and Eddie Allen, who voiced Gamilon Leader "Desslok", were also taking classes at the school.  A casting director named Kit Carter called the school looking for non-union talent for this new Japanese cartoon.  They didn't even have a working title at the time!  When they asked us if we were interested in auditioning, I shot my hand up. They did two days worth of auditions for the women, and I was the last one to go in. I don't remember much after that apart from a couple of days of anxiously waiting for the phone to ring.  And when it did, I was a very happy girl!  And here we are today.

What was the studio like?
The studio was called Film Sound, and was located between 41st and Lexington in New York City.  It was a tiny, tiny studio.  As I recall, it was only about fifteen by thirty feet.  In the booth, the only things we had room for were a small table and a chair.  The mic was mounted right on the table. There was a huge TV set outside the window so we could watch the time coding, the animation, the cue beats.  It was really, really interesting.  I had never experienced anything like that before.  All that technical stuff was a real learning curve.  We had to watch for the right cue, listen for the beeps in the headphones -- three beeps, and you had to start speaking where the fourth beep would have been.  You had to stay in character.  Our sound engineer, Jim Frederickson -- back then, we didn't have computers and nifty software packages to be able to fix things in post production -- had to rewind the tape every time we screwed up a line.  Jim had a tape of funny sound effects, and after having to rewind the tape thirteen or fourteen times, he'd know we were growing frustrated and would play one of these silly, crazy noises, like a duck quacking or a whistle, to break the tension.  And on the very next take, we'd get it right.  More often than not, each of us would do our section of the script, just our lines, individually.  It was particularly trying, dubbing from English to Japanese, because the two languages didn't always line up -- which made for some funny ad-libbing, depending upon how long the scene ran.  It was the most economical way of doing things.  For a big production house like
(The lovely Amy Howard Wilson, Center, with Kenneth Meseroll, " Derek
Wildstar", L and Eddie Allen,  "Desslok" R)
Disney or Warner Brothers, they can afford to have their entire cast sitting there, animating to the audio track. This was the reverse. There were quite a few rewrites that had to be done on the spot.  You could be speaking, emoting, and the little mouth on the big TV monitor would stop moving while you still had lines to record.  Or you'd finish your lines and the little mouth would still be moving.  Writers would then adjust the dialogue. To have the entire cast sitting around waiting for one of us to have our lines adjusted, they would have gone broke.  It was a very small production.

With far-reaching magic!
We were on the heels of all the big name shows that had been done before, like Speed Racer and Astro Boy.  But this was new, different.  It was a series where rather than being self-contained and episodic, where you could watch the show out of sequence, in the case of Star Blazers you had to watch every episode, which led to the one following it and referred to the one before it.  It was breaking new ground as far as Japanese imported animation.  We didn't know if anybody would be watching.

To Be Continued...