Friday, April 26, 2013

Flashback Friday: Lady Starbuck for new 'Galactica'

(I interviewed Katee Sackoff by phone just prior to the premiere of the original mini-series pilot for 'Battlestar Galactica.' Syfy was still 'Sci-Fi Channel' back then. Here's the story that ran in The Entertainer on Friday, November 28, 2003:)

Strong females dominate new 'Galactica'
If there's still life in the Battlestar Galactica franchise, as the Sci-Fi Channel hopes there is, then actress Katee Sackhoff can claim a lioness' share of the credit.

Sackhoff, 23, gives life to a new take on the legendary space pilot and scoundrel, Starbuck - portrayed in the original 1978 Galactica TV series by actor Dirk Benedict. Starbuck's still something of a maverick and a hot head, even though he's no longer a he, she said.

"From the beginning, I loved the character," Sackhoff said in a telephone interview from her home in California. "I thought, for a young woman, she was written so well - a strong, independent woman. She's also very much a loose cannon. You never really know what Starbuck's gonna do. I think that comes across on screen."

Battlestar Galactica, a four-hour miniseries, premieres on The Sci-Fi Channel Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. It's a new take on the original concept, which told the story of human refugees fleeing their robot enemies across the depths of space, seeking sanctuary on a mythical planet called "Earth."

This time around, the robots are beautiful people, there's no barking "daggit" or annoying tykes, and the battles owe more to Blackhawk Down than Star Wars. The changes - Sackhoff's female Starbuck, in particular - sent fans of the original into hysterics and set Internet bulletin boards aflame.

"At first it upset me because I took it personally," she said. "You just can't read it and can't take it personally.   I would like them to give it a chance. I think it's a great mini-series."

Many of the major roles are about female empowerment, including the new Colonial President (Mary McDonnell) and a devious and sexy Cylon humanoid (Tricia Helfer). Sackhoff said Sci-Fi Channel is after a different audience than the old-school Galactica fans - one of whom is Sackhoff's father.

"I was raised on Star Trek, and my father is a huge sci-fi fan," she said. "He remembers loving (Galactica) as a young man."

However, Sackhoff took the role without having seen the old series. To prepare, she watched as many episodes as she could find and was surprised by what she saw.

"I watched it with a friend, and they kept talking about Starbuck, but I'm like, 'She's not in the room,' and my friend said, 'Dude, I think he's that guy,'" she said. "We were like, 'Oh ****.'"

Beyond some physical training, there wasn't much more she could do to prepare for the part. She wasn't about to try hitching a ride in a jet fighter, for instance.

"I'm terrified of heights," she said. "Me flying a plane would be the funniest thing ever. I hate flying."

She did work out - which paid off. An opening sequence in Galactica is a single, uncut tracking shot that follows various characters through the corridors of the ship - often crossing paths with Starbuck, who is jogging in the hallways.

"I was really disappointed that it doesn't show the heartache, sweat and tears on my part," she said. "It took about three-fourths of a day to shoot that scene, and I was constantly running. The tunnels open and close (to allow cameras access to a variety of angles), and they would have to close off sections, so I would have to sprint outside all around to get back in the shot.

"I was so exhausted, I slept like a baby that night and my ass hurt all the next day. This was the hardest thing ever. I'm very proud of it."

Sackhoff grew up in Portland, Ore., and moved to Los Angeles after high school. She had a lead role in the MTV pilot Locust Valley, costarred in the Fox Family Channel series The Fearing Mind, had a recurring role on MTV's Undressed and guest spots on ER and other shows.

Later, she co-starred with Richard Dreyfuss in the CBS series, The Education of Max Bickford, and appeared in the movies My First Mister, The Glass House and Halloween: Resurrection.

"Halloween was a crazy movie to shoot," she said. "It was a case of the campier you can be, the better. You know you're not going to win an Oscar for this, so I was out of control that whole movie. I was the character people wanted to see die."

With all that behind her, Sackhoff approached Galactica as "just another job."

"I was really excited about it, but I had no idea what I was I was getting myself into," she said. "That was kind of the general consensus on the set."

She described the script as "character driven," with sci-fi trappings as "frosting on the cake." She said the director took an "almost documentary" approach to shooting, using steady-cams and other low-tech techniques.

If ratings are good, the miniseries could turn into an ongoing job. Sackhoff's already signed on for an extended tour of duty.

"I would love to do a series," she said. "There are so many different places to go with it. And it's science fiction: Anything is possible, which is really fun."

(NOTE: I followed this up with a review of the mini-series pilot that was published Friday, December 5, 2003:)

A modern spin on classic camp

From Wikipedia
One of the themes of the new Sci-Fi Channel mini-series Battlestar Galactica is that we will be held responsible for the things we do wrong.

This updated Galactica is a socalled "re-imagining" of the 1978-79 ABC TV series. The original told of desperate space voyage of a group of humans who had survived a genocidal sneak attack by a relentless robot army, the Cylons. It was referred to at the time as a "Pearl Harbor in space." The story takes on new meaning in a post 9/11 world.

The original series starred Lorne Greene as Cmdr. Adama, Richard Hatch as Capt. Apollo, and Dirk Benedict as Lt. Starbuck. It won an Emmy for its costumes and broke records for viewership and production costs in its early episodes. Ratings were still good when ABC cancelled the show, citing its cost.

A kiddy sequel, Galactica 1980, died after a handful of episodes. The storyline resurfaced in recent years as a comic book series and in novels co-written by Hatch. When XMen director Brian Singer bowed out of a proposed sequel movie a few years ago, Sci-Fi Channel tapped ex-Star Trek writer Ronald Moore to pen an all-new take on the concept.

Old-school fans were incensed by his version (leaked to the Internet), which recast "Starbuck" as a woman, made the Cylons into God-obsessed and sex-starved humanoids, and jettisoned much of the original mythology.

They howled too soon.

Disclaimer I: The preview copy of the new mini-series, provided by Universal Studios, was far from TV-ready: special effects were incomplete, the video was murky, music and sound effects were place-holders rather than actual broadcast sounds, and the edit was subject to change.

That having been said, Moore's tale leans heavily on human relationships rather than sci-fi; exchanges between characters are low-key rather than melodramatic; the director takes a cinema verite approach that makes events seem to happen in real time - complete with uncomfortable quiet moments and sudden violence - often captured by hand-held cameras that intensify the immediacy and lend a documentary edge to some scenes.

This new Galactica isn't for all ages, and parents should be advised. The language is raw, sometimes crude - which might be the way sailors talk, but is not usually heard on prime time TV.

The characters also are over-sexed: Cylon No. Six (former Victoria's Secret model Tricia Helfer) can't keep her hands off of men's private parts, and there's more kissing going on in the Galactica's corridors than would seem prudent on a ship of war.

However, Edward James Olmos brings a quiet strength and dignity to the role of Adama, a man who thought his time was past, who has lost his family to a career that is ending, and who has resigned himself to obsolescence - only to find that his people need him. He's a tough leader, he makes hard decisions, and he's not afraid to be brutal, as seen in a hand-to-hand scrap on the second night. He knows how to get the most out of his crew and when to back off from a fight. He knows he will be called to answer for the consequences of his actions.

The standout role, as in the original, belongs to "Starbuck," which is now the call-sign of Katee Sackhoff's character, Lt. Kara Thrace. Sackhoff (see her exclusive interview in last Friday's Out & About section) channels Benedict's spirit in a climactic space dogfight, but otherwise, she plays Starbuck as a hotheaded rogue who picks fights because she harbors a terrible secret. There's that theme again.

Old-school fans universally reviled Sackhoff before the first preview copies of the show were distributed, both personally and for the part she plays. But reading their remarks online, I imagined the wailing and gnashing of teeth that would have resulted in the mid-1980s if the Internet had existed as a major media outlet and Trekkies had heard about a proposed "next generation" Trek with a bald, French captain.

Star Trek: The Next Generation had some rough spots at its launch as well, but it went on to universal acclaim in its seven seasons. Perhaps the Galactica crew will have a similar opportunity. They deserve it.

Disclaimer II: I came to the new Galactica having interviewed Sackhoff by telephone and having been (at age 14) a fan of the original. Some of my enjoyment was thus influenced by trivia: Listen for the original show's theme played as the national anthem of the new 12 Colonies; look for glimpses of 1978-version Cylon ships and robots in a museum sequence.

(NOTE: Finally, as Galactica returned to the airwaves as a full-fledged series, I had another chance to talk with Sackhoff.  The following saw print on Friday, January 14, 2005:)

A new face for Starbuck
Katee Sackhoff has earned her sea legs. As the hotshot pilot "Starbuck" on Battlestar Galactica, the Sci-Fi Channel's edgy new version of the 1978 space opera, Sackhoff took a fan-favorite male character with cartoonish overtones and transformed him into a living, breathing female - wreck.

Just the kind of person heroes are made of.

Sackhoff spoke to The News Herald before the 2003 miniseries aired and described her role at that time as both physically demanding and well developed.

"From the beginning, I loved the character," she said back then. "I thought, for a young woman, she was written so well - a strong, independent woman. She's also very much a loose cannon. You never really know what Starbuck's gonna do."

More than a year later - having completed another 13 hours of episodes and countless days of rehearsals and physical training - her enthusiasm for the role has only grown. She spoke with the paper again by telephone from her California home just before Christmas, as she and her mother prepared for a family trip to Australia.

"There are a lot of things as an actor that have been hard for me in this series," Sackhoff said. "Always before, the roles I've done have kind of been extensions of who I am. Starbuck, she's kind of everything. She gets to do everything - sharpshooter, pilot, teacher, lover."

The series premieres tonight with two back-to-back episodes that pick up only days after the humanoid-robot Cylons have wiped out most of the human race. About 50,000 survivors have fled in a fleet of spaceships led by an aging battleship, the Galactica, and its dwindling warriors and supplies.

The emotional side of Starbuck has surprised Sackhoff, as she has had to suppress the character's natural physicality because of her story line. A few episodes into the season, Starbuck is injured in a fiery crash; her recovery carries over throughout the remainder of the season.

"That's hard as an actor because I couldn't do anything," she said. "I had scenes I had to maneuver around with this huge brace on, and couldn't get around - so it's very hard on Starbuck too, as a character, emotionally, and it has to do with her injury."

This leads the pilot to sparring in other arenas. In one intense episode, still leaning on a cane, she interrogates a Cylon prisoner.

"That's just me and another actor - talking. Very interesting," Sackhoff said. "Again, it's tough for Starbuck because she has to bring other people in to do her dirty work because she can't do it herself."

Sackhoff said Starbuck's emotional strength is tested more than her physical strength - and that's harder to play. She points to an episode in which she confesses to Commander Adama (the formidable Edward James Olmos) that her bad decisions contributed to the death of his son - her lover - Zach.

"Even in the moments when she's telling him she believes she's responsible for Zach, there's a lot of emotion there, and I'm trying so hard as a person not to cry," she said. "As actors, we embellish that. We think tears are what the audience wants to see. And then, Eddie's got this amazing presence - he's terrifying, and I'm convinced he was going to hit me. It's emotional stuff. It drains you, and you feel it for days after."

As the season progresses, a relationship of sorts develops between Starbuck and Baltar, the mentally unstable genius whose sexual indiscretions with a Cylon femme fatale led to the downfall of the human race. They first become poker opponents, then dance partners.

"I think what happens is that Baltar and Starbuck seem to be outcasts in a sense - not understood by people, and they find that comfortable and kind of nice together," Sackhoff said. "As an actor, when I'm in a scene with James, I know that the scene's gonna be fun 'cause we're both crazy and the sky's the limit and that's kind of why (the writers have) put them together. They're kind of lost souls."

(NOTE: The following was a separate story that ran on the Out & About page as a "What We're Watching" entry. I believe it ran a few days before the interview above, but I don't have the date handy. Or the headline.)
They are shell-shocked survivors of a sneak attack by an implacable enemy who thinks God is on its side. They struggle with issues of personal freedom in a state of constant warfare, dwindling resources and raging paranoia.

This is Battlestar Galactica, the disco-era sci-fi franchise, reincarnated as a modern military adventure with sociopolitical commentary for a post-9/11 world.

A new TV series premieres Jan. 14 on the Sci-Fi Channel, after NBC broadcasts a trimmed-down version of the 2003 miniseries Saturday that "re-imagined" the Galactica concept for a new millennium. Sci-Fi and NBC are part of the NBC-Universal media group, which is producing the new series.

"It will bring a whole different range of viewers to the show," said Katee Sackhoff, the actress who plays hotshot star pilot Lt. Kara Thrace (call sign "Starbuck") in a recent interview. "There are people who never go past those first three or four channels on the TV, who don't even know there is a Sci-Fi Channel, and this is really great for us, and really smart for NBC-Universal."

Sci-Fi Channel also plans to rebroadcast the entire miniseries, as well as appease fans of the original source material by showing the 1978 Battlestar Galactica and its far inferior spin-off, Galactica 1980, in the week leading up to the series premiere.

The early episodes pick up only days after the Cylons attacked the 12 colonies and killed every human being they could find. None of the survivors is sleeping. A ragtag fleet of human ships is on the run, jumping to random coordinates in deep space, and somehow the enemy is finding them every 33 minutes. People suspect there's a traitor among them.

Then Capt. Lee "Apollo" Adama (Jamie Bamber) has center stage in a claustrophobic episode aboard a ship of convicts who take hostages. He's pitted against a man who calls himself a political prisoner -- others call him a terrorist -- portrayed by none other than Richard Hatch, who originated the role of Apollo in the 1978 Galactica.

A favorite episode for its emotion and nonlinear structure delves into the haunted memories of Starbuck as she struggles to survive in a crippled star fighter. We see the death of her lover (Apollo's younger brother), for which she blames herself; training new pilots after an accident kills several experienced hands on the landing deck; admitting her failures to her commander; fighting for her recruits' lives.

Throughout are standout performances by high-caliber actors including Edward James Olmos as Commander Adama, Mary McDonnell as President Laura Roslin and James Callis as Dr. Gaius Baltar.

The new series premiered several weeks ago in Great Britain, where it has received rave reviews.

"It makes the release date here easier," Sackhoff said of the good buzz overseas. "It's nice to be able to say that people like it. Trust me, it's good."

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Finding the Spark of Happiness in the Night

Photo by astrophotographer Jeff Berkes, April 14, 2013
PANAMA CITY BEACH — I was lying on my back in the middle of the street outside my house on Monday night and thinking about happiness as a state of being.

I had been searching the sky for fireballs, as it was supposed to be the day of the Lyrid meteor shower (but it seems the peak had been sometime before dawn on Monday, so I was late). The day had been cloudy, but as the night settled in, the clouds parted. A slight haze caught the lights of nearby businesses, however, obscuring most of the stars — and with them, any laggard meteors.

But I wasn’t disappointed, and here’s why:

I wasn’t alone out there in the dark. My wife and daughter also were reclining on the pavement, with couch pillows under their heads. We talked about our day and our upcoming vacation, and we joked about being discovered by a passing possum that might wonder what sort of roadkill we were.

(I will admit to a moment of panic when, after my eyes had adjusted to the dark, I glanced aside and saw bright lights on the street intersecting the one where we lay, and I thought a car was approaching; it was only the lights from our living room casting a golden glow on the street.)

As we stared into the heavens, waiting for a glorious revelation that never presented itself, I was glad to be aware of that moment, fully engaged and recognizing the sanctity of the experience.

It seemed all the more important, in that the day this occurred marked one week since the Boston Marathon bombings. So much negativity, sadness and anger had filled the week prior, that releasing all of those emotions for the simple act of being still and enjoying the stars seemed like the only revelation I actually required.

The next day, I sat in St. Andrews Coffee House eating my regular order and eavesdropping on an elderly gentleman’s loud conversation with his lady companion. The arrival of our sandwiches had precipitated a lull in conversation with my own luncheon companion, so the talk at the neighboring table invaded the silence.

The gentleman was talking politics, calling people “idiots” and shifting in his chair, while I was watching foot traffic on the sidewalks, the light clouds skimming through a blue sky, and enjoying the gentle breeze coming through the open door. I thought, he needs to hush and listen to the breeze. He might not live longer, but he’d be happier about it.

Later that same day, I received an email promoting the Amazon best seller “A Short Course in Happiness: Practical Steps to a Happier Life,” by certified psychology coach Lynda Wallace. According to her, research shows that the happiest people do four basic things that make the difference in their lives: They focus on what is good and positive in their lives, cope effectively with life’s inevitable challenges, develop strong relationships and pursue meaningful goals.

Now, I don’t know how effectively I cope with life’s challenges, but I have made a concerted effort to focus on the positive. I have goals I believe are meaningful, but most importantly I’ve been trying to develop meaningful relationships with creative, positive, compassionate thinkers and doers, both in my family and my circles of friends and acquaintances.

There are so many good people who share this region with us — artists, writers, philosophers, musicians, readers, actors, scientists, theologians, environmentalists, teachers, students and so many others. People doing good, striving to be better, and hoping for the best.

People who happily stare into the heavens and seek enlightenment, though our vision is clouded and our understanding limited — if only to wish upon a falling star.


(This is my Undercurrents column for this week.)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Flashback Friday: There Can Be Only One

Once upon a time, I got to talk with Adrian Paul, who was at the time filming the second season of Highlander: The Series. A publicist provided me with a mobile number to call at a specific time, and I did, but we were barely past greetings when he told me the phone battery was dying. Then it died. About 10 minutes later, my phone rang; he had located another phone with service in the remote area where they were shooting, and called me back. We kept it short, but I was always impressed by his effort to make the connection. The following ran in The News Herald's Entertainer section on Nov. 19,1993:

 TV's 'Highlander: The Series' fights for viewers

"I am Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod. I was born 400 years ago in the Highlands of Scotland. I am immortal, and I am not alone. For centuries we have waited for the time of the Gathering, when the stroke of a sword and the fall of a head will release the power of the Quickening. In the end, there can be only one..."

So begins each episode of Highlander: The Series, a syndicated hour of action, swordplay and immortal magic based on the movies of the same name. On the big screen, Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery played deathless warriors battling for the future of the world.

On the small screen, that responsibility has fallen to Adrian Paul as Duncan MacLeod. A native of London, Paul divides his time between Los Angeles, Vancouver and Paris. Paul won't give his age, but said it is less than 400.

"I traveled Europe for many years, doing choreography, dance, modeling. I did a lot of different things,'" Paul said. "I studied a little bit in England, a little bit in New York, until I decided that Los Angeles was a lot easier being poor in."

Paul was interviewed by cellular phone from the "highlands" of Canada. He was on location at the top of a mountain in Vancouver, filming an episode involving MacLeod's struggle to protect an Indian woman and her baby.

The series goes on production hiatus in December, then moves to Paris for shooting the second half of the season. The show is co-produced by American, Canadian, French and Italian investors.

"It's doing very well in Europe (where the films were also hits)," Paul said. "It's actually on in prime time there on major networks. In the United States it's a syndicated market, therefore it's shown at odd times of the night. Most of the time, when people finally see the show, they say, 'Oh, I didn't know this show existed.'"


Paul previously starred in War of the Worlds, another syndicated action-adventure TV series based loosely on the 1953 movie, and he has guest-starred on shows like Murder She Wrote, Beauty and the Beast, and others.

"On War of the Worlds I was taking over somebody else's part, and that's very hard — to come in and replace somebody who has a certain amount of fans," Paul said. "People are used to a certain format on the show. If you change it drastically, then the changes have to be very good or they can be disastrous.

"In a way, there's a similarity (between the two series) because again I'm taking over a role that's already been pre-formed in peoples' minds. (Fans) have a larger vision of the Highlander from the huge production values and larger effects (of the movies). So coming into this, people really look at me and say, 'Is he the Highlander? Do we really like him?'"

Highlander's power rests on creative editing and camera work, the interweaving of past and present plotlines, the sense of history inherent in the drama, the dark humor and deep emotion balancing the violence, and Paul's obvious comfort in the character.

"I think you have to portray part of your own belief, otherwise you can't portray a character correctly. I think that there is part of Duncan in me," Paul said. "It's hard not to have a part of you in the character if you're doing 44 to 66 shows."

Paul handles a sword like he's actually used one for a few lifetimes. He said his choreography experience helped him in that aspect of the series.

"Also, I started picking up the sword before I did the series. I've had some martial arts training, and I did swordwork with the katana, which is the sword I use (in the series)."

(NOTE: The file I have breaks off here, though the interview continued. I will try to find a hard copy and post the remainder of the interview.)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

'Century' novel now available on Kindle

My first published novel, "Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century," which debuted in late 2004, is now available for Kindle devices and other mobile devices that run the Kindle app.

>>Click here to check it out<<

Going through it to format it, I got the chance to revisit it like I haven't done for many years, and I'm relieved to say I still like it. If you have ever had the chance to re-read something you wrote many years ago, you may know how it feels - kind of like reading something that's familiar, but that you don't recall writing?  Often, I cringe when I read old work.  I did run across a few passages that I think I would have done differently if I had them to do over, but for the most part I'm pleased with this still.

If that's not a lukewarm endorsement, I don't know what is.  That's not how I meant it.  What I meant is, I liked this book and was very proud of it, and I still do and I still am.  Please check it out (you can read about 2.5 chapters in the preview).

If you've read it, please write a review. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Getting in the groove

PANAMA CITY BEACH — My haul at last Saturday’s Vintage Market in downtown Panama City included four albums featuring old-time radio shows of “Superman,” “The Green Hornet,” “The Shadow” and “The Lone Ranger.”

My friend Brady has said he once tried to listen to an old radio show, but it was too strange — apparently stranger than an audio book or whatever the closest modern approximation might be. I replied that “The Shadow” was “The Walking Dead” of its time — appointment radio; no doubt future generations will look at “The Walking Dead” and not understand our fascination with the quaint technology called “television.”

Other than the treasures I find in thrift shops and yard sales, my album collection has swelled in part because family or friends no longer played theirs, so they gave them to me. It’s how I accumulated everything from Broadway musicals to the Dead Kennedys, from chamber music to King Crimson, and from Boots Randolph to Souxsie and the Banshees. It also has helped me develop as broad a range of favorites, which I often display in a changing rotation.

One wall in my writing space at home features albums exhibited in frames; I trade them out when the mood strikes. Recently the collection has focused on portrait covers and included the likes of Kate Bush, Johnny Cash, Todd Rundgren and Nat King Cole. Before that, it was a group of movie soundtracks. During the season, it features old Christmas records. I suspect it’s about to be filled by radio shows.

And it’s not just nostalgia, either. Vinyl lives.

That’s more than simply a statement about the “warmth” you might hear someone describe when comparing the sound of a vinyl record to a CD or mp3. It’s also a truism about the record industry in an age of digital downloads.

Indeed, if you buy an album on vinyl these days, the price usually includes a code to download the entire album for your mobile listening pleasure.

Vinyl will be celebrated Saturday with international “Record Store Day,” which is also a way to recognize local music shops. Both objects of attention may seem like dinosaurs (and this is a guy who still works in print media talking, so I’m not calling names), but they still have life in them — and maybe even a bright future.

Central Square Records in Seaside is the nearest participating store, marking its fifth year as part of the event. The shop will have most of the limited-edition records being offered for the day and lots of giveaways (record totes, label samplers, T-shirts). There will be live performances in the store by Chris Alvarado (releasing his new album “Home"), Cody Copeland (supporting his new release "Two States"), and Gileah & The Ghost Train.

Central Square will also have a drawing for a test pressing of J.J. Grey’s new album, "The River." The store opens early for the event — 8 a.m. — and there will be a crowd, so be prepared.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Two Writers: A Video

Thanks to Lou Columbus for shooting and editing this chat between me and Michael Lister. It's a bit long, but if you have the time, we both read from our work in the second half; Michael reads from his newly released novel, The Big Beyond, and I read from a work-in-progress, Giants in the Earth.

Thanks again, Lou!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Defiance premieres tonight

Defiance premieres tonight on Syfy. I got the chance to watch the premiere with family and friends a few weeks ago, and we all agreed it has potential. Obviously, it has its work cut out for it, because it's an ambitious storyline, filled with strange alien creatures all coexisting on Earth after a fleet of alien arks crashed and burned all over the planet; their ecosystem is mixing with ours, and apparently the intervening years have included massive geological and environmental disasters as well as wars between the various races.

A war is hinted at, and a disaster that caused the arks to fall to the earth; these things will no doubt be explained further as the show commences.This is from the Defiance wiki entry: "The series takes place sixteen years later in 2046, and largely revolves around the character of Joshua Nolan. Nolan was only ten years old when the Votans arrived in 2013 and he served in the military during the war. With the war now over, he returns to his hometown of St. Louis to find that it is no longer the city he left; it is little more than a border town renamed "Defiance". Deciding that his services are needed, Nolan takes up a position as the Chief Lawkeeper in Defiance, so he can protect the town from dangerous clashes between humans and aliens, military scavengers and other dangerous visitors who occasionally enter the town."

>>Watch the first 14 minutes of the pilot<<

The series is being produced in conjunction with what is called a "massive multiplayer online game," in which the outcome of missions will have repercussions on the TV show, apparently. Like I said, it's ambitious.

Stephanie Leonidas as my favorite character so far, Irisa.
The actors include several genre favorites: Julie Benz (from Buffy, Angel and Dexter); Jamie Murray (from Dexter and Warehouse 13); Stephanie Leonidas (from Mirrormask); Tony Curran (from Underworld, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and — as Vincent Van Gogh — Doctor Who); and Academy Award winning actor Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves).

The show's creators include Rockne S. O'Bannon (who created Farscape, another ambitious series with dozens of alien races); Kevin Murphy (lyricist for Reefer Madness, also worked on Caprica); Michael Taylor (a writer for Deep Space Nine, Voyager and The Dead Zone).

I'll be following this one.

Now available on Kindle!

The Book of Gabriel: An Endtimes Fable by Tony Simmons is now available for download to Kindle devices, or via Kindle readers on most other mobile devices.

>>Click here to check it out<<

If you've read it, please leave a review. If you haven't, then now is your chance.

>>Here's what Jan Waddy at The News Herald wrote about it<<


Friday, April 12, 2013

Flashback Friday: The Ladybird of the Galaxy

(The following is a segment from a memoir writing project I'm playing with. Hope you like it. Share your own recollections of 1970s Sci-Fi TV shows in the comments. — And yes, I know Trek was a 1960s era show, but Roddenberry did quite a few 1970s TV pilots, all of which Majel appeared in.)

My work with The News Herald in Panama City, Florida, has allowed me opportunities to speak with many of the actors that brought sci-fi TV to life over the years.  In February 1994, and appropo of our subject, I interviewed an interplanetary dignitary when Majel Barrett-Roddenberry — actress and wife of the late Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek — beamed into town for a small sci-fi convention.

Barrett was perhaps best known to fans of the Trek television and movie series.  Not only was she married to Gene (called by his fans "The Great Bird of the Galaxy"), but she was personally involved with every incarnation of the show as an actress and she appeared in each of his subsequent attempts to launch TV series.

She told me that, even though they had hoped (with Trek) to create something new and different for television, “We never dreamed it would be such a cult.  You don’t just get up in the morning and say, ‘Today I’m going to make a legend.’  We just had a job, and we hoped people would like what we were doing.”

Barrett was cast as the starship Enterprise’s female first officer, “Number One” in the original pilot, which starred Jeffrey Hunter as Capt. Christopher Pike.  The role was written for her, and she was the first actor cast, she said.  Unfortunately, the network thought the pilot was “too cerebral for those slobs in TV-Land,” she said.  (It was a curse that would haunt all of Roddenberry’s future TV pilots.)

“They liked the idea and wanted to see another pilot, but they wanted some changes.  First, they wanted Gene to get rid of the woman second in command, because they said no one would believe a woman in that position.  And second, get rid of the pointy-eared Spock character because he was too devilish and would upset women viewers,” she said.

“As much as he knew it was going to break my heart, Gene desperately wanted to keep the Spock character.  He thought he could keep some things he wanted if he gave in to some of their requests,” she said.  “So he decided to marry the woman and keep Spock on the show.  Besides, Leonard (Nimoy, who played Spock) wouldn’t have had it the other way around.”

NBC also deflated Gene’s concept of gender equality, Barrett said.  He had originally wanted the crew complement to be half male and half female.  Instead, the female complement was reduced to about 10 percent.   “But that was okay, because Gene figured 30 good women could handle a crew of 300,” she said.

With a bleached-blond hairstyle, the naturally brunette Barrett rejoined the cast as Nurse Christine Chapel during the entire run of the series, which starred William Shatner as Capt. James T. Kirk.

“I really wanted to be a part of Star Trek, and when this one script (“What Are Little Girls Made Of?” which introduced the Chapel character) came in, I knew it was my opportunity,” she said.

She cut her hair and bleached it blonde, then waited in Gene’s office for him to come in.  He passed by her twice, even spoke to her once, before finally recognizing her.  She told him, “If I can fool you, I can fool the network.”

Barrett’s voice was also used for the voice of the ship’s computer.  She later contributed her voice to the animated Trek series which ran on Saturday mornings in the early 1970s.  She appeared as Chapel in two of the Trek films, including her favorite of the series, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

In the 1980s, after Gene launched the syndicated television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Barrett took on the character Llwaxana Troi, the hyper-sensual mother of one of the command staff.  She also continued to provide the voice of the ship’s computer, and she played Lwaxana again in the third Trek series, Deep Space Nine, in the 1990s.

“Gene came in one day and said, ‘I have a great part for you. You won’t have to act.’  He described Llwaxana as ‘the Auntie Mame of the Galaxy,’” she said.  “The way the first script was written, she was very shallow, but by the third and fourth appearance, she started to blossom.  I’ve been very fortunate that the writing has been superb.”

Barrett died Dec. 18, 2008, as a result of leukemia. (Her birthday was Feb. 23, a date that has some importance to me. It happened in the year 1932.) Her cremains are expected to be launched into space in 2014 alongside her husband's.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Live with an expectation of inspiration

PANAMA CITY — Remember those 3D puzzle posters that were so popular in the 1990s? Life can be like that, especially for an artist.

A flower never is just a flower. A sunset is more than celestial mathematics. A poem is greater than the sum of its rhymes.

Beneath the surface, there always is a hidden meaning. Behind the noise, there’s a pure tone, a carrier wave of truth.

The artist seeks the mystery, the writer poses the question, the musician unleashes emotions — though in each case, the answer will be different for each viewer, reader or listener.

I got the opportunity to reflect on these concepts in public last Sunday, as I made myself available at the Bay County Public Library, where I joined local mystery author Michael Lister for a discussion, reading and book launch. Michael was debuting his latest 1940s noir novel, “The Big Beyond,” and invited me for an open-ended talk about writing, creativity and life.

I read from my current project, which I'm calling "Giants in the Earth."

Michael referred to the moment when everything comes together as a “lightning bolt.” He wasn’t referencing some “eureka” instant of inspiration, but rather the experience when all the pieces you have gathered — all the myriad of facts, feelings and ideas you have explored — suddenly fit into a greater whole.

It doesn’t happen by accident. You must prepare the way by steadily working, and open yourself to the moment. The secret is to look deeper, to listen closer — not just being aware, but also making yourself available for the universe.

And as you seek, feed the furnace of your brain, exercise your creative muscles, tilt at windmills — so that when the connections begin to reveal themselves and that elusive lightning bolt is looking for a place to manifest, you are prepared.

The day following our talk, I interviewed artist and longtime friend John Russo, who also mentioned how inspiration is something one has to pursue. If you wait for it, you could find yourself waiting all your life, he said.

The lightning can find you, sure, even huddled indoors. But if you want to improve your chances, you have to chase the storm, and then stand on the hill and hold a metal rod toward the heavens. Sometimes it helps if you challenge the wind, rage against the night.

You have to court it. You have to, at the very least, live in a state of availability to the muse. To seek.

(And you must acknowledge that the lightning, when it comes, could destroy you. Don’t be fooled: We live in a constant state of being and becoming, one heartbeat shy of nothingness. It’s the same in life as in art.)

The burst of inspiration can be a dangerous thing. It can change our lives, especially when we actively fall into synch with the universe.


(This was my Undercurrents column for and The News Herald this week.)

Monday, April 08, 2013

A Writers' Chat

Got to sit down and chat with my friend Michael Lister on Sunday at the Bay County Public Library. It was an event to launch his new novel, and we talked about the writing life: seeking inspiration, struggling with story, moments when everything comes together, that kind of thing.  I read from Chapter 2 of "Giants in the Earth," my current fiction project in my "Caliban" series.

I'll be writing more about the talk later this week.

For now, here's a photo by our mutual friend, Lou Columbus, who recorded the event (I'll post the video when he makes it available).


Friday, April 05, 2013

Beyond the Big Beyond

I'm going to be sharing a book event with Michael Lister on Sunday, 2-4 p.m. at the Bay County Public Library. We'll be discussing our latest projects and doing some reading, and there will be books to sign and sell if you're interested in that sort of thing. Here's a column I did about Michael's new novel:

Soldier reups for second noir adventure

PANAMA CITY — Private eye Jimmy “Soldier” Riley seems dead set on discovering what lies beyond that final farewell in local author Michael Lister’s latest novel.

“The Big Beyond” is a sequel to Lister’s “The Big Goodbye,” which introduced Riley, a hardnosed detective living and working in 1940s Panama City. Rich in historical details, the story is gritty and tragic, as good noir tends to be.

“Beyond” picks up immediately after the events of “Goodbye,” with Riley recovering from injuries both physical and emotional. It hits the ground running, too, as Riley is almost immediately kidnapped and horribly tortured. It seems the trouble he stirred up in his previous outing had much deeper roots than he suspected.

Riley hovers near death, but can’t let go while he still has a score to settle and more than a few injustices to square — all while searching wartime Panama City for a dangerous serial killer who combines art and murder.

“I love Panama City, and I’ve enjoyed writing about the way it was in the 1940s far more than I ever would’ve imagined,” Lister said. “So much was going on here at the time, and it’s just such an interesting and cool era. And this time I got to explore what was happening to Japanese-Americans and what was going on in the art scene at the time. I foresee coming back to Soldier and his friends over and over again.”

A Wewahitchka native, Lister has had 12 novels, three short-story collections and three nonfiction books published. The John Jordan mysteries, also known as Lister’s “Blood Series,” are the author’s most popular and most acclaimed works, with kudos from “Publisher’s Weekly” and “Ellery Queen Magazine,” among others.

“The Big Beyond” will be followed by a third Soldier Riley adventure to complete an initial trilogy; Lister said Riley has other stories still to tell. He’s currently offering a Soldier short story prequel in ebook format and is hard at work on the third book in the series.

“I’ve always loved both film noir and the classic hardboiled detective genre,” Lister said. “ ‘The Big Beyond’ has given me another opportunity to explore and pay homage to them both.”

CityArts Cooperative will step back in time for a ’40s Night release party celebrating the era and the release of the new novel at 6 p.m. today. The public is invited to come in costume or as you are, and enjoy live 1940s music, a costume contest, book signing and reading, film noir, dancing and much more.

Then, from 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Lister will discuss “The Big Beyond,” writing, North Florida and many other topics with this writer in a dual interview format: We will interview each other about recent and upcoming projects, read from our latest work and sign books.


    When: 6-10 p.m. Friday, April 5
    Where: CityArts Cooperative, 318 Luverne Ave., Panama City
    What: Step back in time and experience Panama City in the 1940s with friends and fans of Jimmy “Soldier” Riley, the private eye protagonist of the new novel from Michael Lister, “The Big Beyond.” Come in costume or as you are. Featuring live ’40s music, games, prizes, book signing and reading, and film noir.


    When: 2-4 p.m., Sunday, April 7
    Where: Bay County Public Library, 898 W. 11th St., Panama City
    What: Presentation by Michael Lister with Tony Simmons, discussing writing approaches and more; with books available for signing and purchase

Hope to see you there.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Sometimes you have to punt

I write a weekly column for the print edition of that appears in The News Herald every Friday.  Sometimes I write a column weakly. This is one of those times. I had two potential stories and no ability to make more of them, so I included both. When I do something like this, I call it "punting." Here's the result:

Mindlessly kickstarting springtime

PANAMA CITY — My mind has been all over the place this week. I suspect I misplaced it while hiding Easter eggs, and it’s just been wandering around unsupervised ever since. If you see it, please send it home.
Meanwhile, since I’m having trouble focusing, here are a couple of things to kickstart springtime:

  • Kickstarter Hero
Local artist and graphic designer Jayson Kretzer has a Kickstarter project under way to bring his “Wannabe Heroes” web comic out of the virtual world and into your hands as an actual printed product. With just about two weeks remaining to fund the project, he’s less than $900 short of his goal. Check it out; you could receive some sweet rewards for pledging.

“Wannabe Heroes is a modern superhero action comedy which follows the adventures of six people entrenched in the geek community,” Jayson said. “Each character represents a different faction, if you will. There’s a gamer, a cosplayer, a wannabe comic creator, a collector, an elitist and, of course, a ninja bear — and as seen in the ‘Wannabe Heroes’ web comic, each have developed their own interesting powers.”

Jayson describes the Wannabe Heroes story (suitable for all ages) as “New Mutants” meets “Calvin and Hobbes.” (I think it also has elements of “Big Bang Theory.”)

 Jayson has been the driving force behind the Bay County Public Library’s annual “Creative Con,” which spotlights comic artists and writers, as well as educational and literary guests. This year’s event (Aug. 24) will feature writer Chuck Dixon, who has written hundreds of titles featuring Batman, Punisher, The Simpsons, Conan, Green Arrow and more.

>>Link to Jayson’s Kickstarter page and the Creative Con homepage<<

  • Intrepid Explorers
My wife and I spent part of last weekend following my brother-in-law and his family around the neighborhood, tromping through the woods and along the bay shore as he tried out his new metal detector. He would swing it slowly, then zero in on the spots that made it beep, and finally scratch the ground with a trowel in search of treasures.

He uncovered several aluminum can pieces, bits of rusted steel or iron, and a weathered penny.

We might not have struck it rich, but we did get to feel like explorers for the day. Besides the buried trinkets, we discovered evidence of previous habitation in our neighborhood, such as old tree houses — some rotted boards in a twisted oak limb, some rusted nails on a tree trunk — and piles of rusted poles where a fence once cut through the trees.

On the shore of St. Andrew Bay, my nieces collected shells and watched shorebirds. An osprey skimmed the water, caught a large fish and struggled back into the sky right over our heads.
The only other thing we found was a tick on one of the girls’ shoes, which ran us out of the woods for the rest of the day.

But that’s the danger of exploring: You never know what you’ll find, or what will find you.