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...