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Friday, March 30, 2012

TV Memories 09 | Thomas Reed aka Treed
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I grew up watching Make Room for Daddy, The Donna Reed Show, Dennis the Menace, Leave It To Beaver, My Three Sons, Father Knows Best, The Andy Griffith Show, Red Skelton, Lawrence Welk, Milton Berle, Ozzie and Harriet, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Lost in Space, the Flintstones (when it was a prime time show, not a Saturday morning cartoon),Star Trek, reruns of McHale’s Navy, I Love Lucy, Hogans Heroes, Rat Patrol, Combat!, Saturday cartoons when Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry (the original, not the crappy later ones) and Woody Woodpecker ruled. Johnny Carson ruled the night and games shows and soap operas ruled the day. After school viewing was dominated by Popeye and Olive Oyl (in my viewing area, Capt. Gus). My mornings were all about Captain Kangaroo and bunny rabbit before I headed off to school.

Is it any wonder I have a twisted view of the world?

I used to believe the family life depicted on TV was how every household in America behaved, except for mine. I used to think we were the oddballs. I used to think family members where always helpful and loving, although a bit screwy. I grew out of that through simple exposure to other families.

I loved seeing the mess the Hero/Heroine of the show had to deal with. What predicament did they get themselves into this week? What are they going do to get themselves out of it? How will they draft their friends, family members, strangers into helping them get out of it? Then by the end of the show the Husband/Daddy/Lead Male gets them out of the predicament and has words of wisdom mercy and love to bestow on the worrisome child/spouse/neighbor.

Life was a comedy with life lessons. Isn’t that your experience? It wasn’t mine, but I thought everyone had the “Ozzie and Harriet” parents to take care of them and that I was the unlucky one. Don’t get me wrong, I had a good childhood with loving parents and bratty brothers. My family just wasn’t what I saw on TV.

The Twilight Zone, Saturday Matinee, Shock Theater. Enough Sci Fi and horror to give you nightmares and for mom to forbid us from watching them (we did anyway). I loved these, scary Saturday afternoon movies, the mummy, Frankenstein, Dracula, Tales from the Crypt, all good wholesome fun.

Long about 3rd grade I came to the realization the TV families weren’t real and my family was the norm. So TV became not a template of life but something to enjoy. Comedies, cop shows, cartoons.

Monte Python was being imported and I could not get enough, “Spam Spam Spam…”.Then came George Carlin and other comedians like him. Later came Saturday Night Live (original cast) and my sense of what was funny was confirmed and justified. TV for me then was for laughter. If it didn’t make me laugh, then I had no interest.

As I moved into college and married life, I still wanted my TV to entertain me. But now I was expanding my viewing interest. M*A*S*H became my favorite show (of all the years it was on the air, I only missed one episode). Cannon, Barreta, Perry Mason, Police Woman, Magnum PI, Hill Street Blues, St Elsewhere, Greatest American Hero, Taxi, Cheers, Dallas. The shows became more varied, less “Family” sitcom, more drama and cop shows.

I still watched cartoons, we had 3 kids. We watched more PBS series and movies. My TV viewing had turned from “Entertain me and make me laugh” to make me think, make me cry, make me laugh (laughter is a major priority in my life, so my shows HAVE to give me some laughter no matter the premise).

Picket Fences and Northern Exposure showed me that the networks can and do enjoy quirky oddball shows that make you laugh, make you cry, make you think.

My current TV pleasures deal mostly with fantasy, Being Human (BBC), Lost Girl, Grimm and Once Upon a Time, along with other more main stream shows like Law and Order, CSI, NCIS and PBS Masterpiece Theater. I still watch sitcoms, but not many. One sitcom both wifey and I find extremely funny is Big Bang Theory. If you have never seen a full episode, do it, just one episode. You’ll laugh, I guarantee it.

I used to plan my days based on what was on TV that evening. Nowadays, my TV viewing is governed by my schedule. If I miss an episode of Castle, oh well, I’ll just catch it in reruns, or if I had the forethought, I would have recorded it for later viewing.

I have not even talked about the talk shows I used to view, Michael Douglas, Merv Griffin, The Tonight Show, Ellen, and I hate to admit it, EARLY Oprah. Then there were the variety shows, Ed Sullivan, Carol Burnett, Sonny & Cher, The Smothers Brothers, Don Ho (yes, I watched Don Ho) and more recently, Dave Letterman , Craig Ferguson and Graham Norton.

As I write this, I remember more and more shows I used to watch and care about. I have added some of them into the lists I have already mentioned.

As you can tell, I spent most of my time at home in front of the TV. Over the years it has moved from the main focal point of the evening to that of background noise while I do work/play on my laptop or interact with my family.

I used to watch a lot of TV. All the time.

Now, I still watch a lot of TV, but not near as much and my life rules my viewing habits, not the other way around.

I have enjoyed reminiscing about the shows I watched. I had enjoyed talking about how my viewing habits have changed and not changed and some of the effects it has had on my life.

I thank Dan for inviting me to write for this blog.

Enjoy, Be Safe and be nice to one another, because “WE” is all we got.

“You are about to enter … The Twilight Zone”, “Book’em Dano”, “One to Beam Up”, “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger”, “Good Night and God Bless”, “Say Goodnight, Gracie“, “and Remember, Let’s Be Careful Out There”

Goodbye, So long, and Farewell.

Thomas Reed (A.K.A. TREED!

Thomas Reed is a Podcast and Bitstrip addict and Math Teacher hailing from Texas. He creates bitstrips, online comic strips, about many things including podcast fiction authors and their work. You can find these colorful cartoon images he conjures up at http://www.bitstrips.com/user/1222 and visit his blog at http://thomasjreed.blogspot.com/.

Friday, March 23, 2012

TV Memories 08 | Justin Macumber
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Like most Gen-Xers, I grew up on a steady diet of television. Some of my first memories are of watching SUPERMAN in grainy black and white, later graduating to shows like V and KNIGHT RIDER. Really it's no wonder that I became the sci-fi geek I am today. I doubt I had a chance of being anything else.

That said, for a long time I never considered television a medium for truly transcendent storytelling. Sure, there were the occasional episodes that rose to the level of true art (STAR TREK TNG's "Inner Light" and BABYLON 5's "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars"), but it wasn't until I watched Joss Whedon's FIREFLY that a TV show was able to get into my heart and soul and become part of me. Because FIREFLY was so good I knew I had to see if the rest of Whedon's shows could do the same, and thus began a long, wonderful journey into the glory that is BUFFY and ANGEL. Now I look back and wish I'd tried them sooner. Whedon is a master storyteller, and his characters are some of the most realized fictional people I've ever had the pleasure to watch. If you haven't watched his shows, I implore you, do so.

But, no other show in the history of television has affected, inspired, thrilled, and intrigued me as much as LOST. For six seasons I watched as a show about a group of plane crash survivors turned into a sprawling epic that was part science fiction, part fantasy, part horror, and part mystery. It's a mean feat to surprise me, but LOST did it at every turn. Just when I thought I knew what the show was about, it turned on its head and went in a direction I never saw coming. And the mysteries! First we wanted to know where they were, then what those strange sounds were in the jungle. Then we moved on to the smoke monster and the hatch buried in the ground. We wondered, "What do the numbers mean?" which led to The Others and Desmond. Then suddenly we had the Dharma Initiative, the Black Rock, and the freighter. And then, at the end, the greatest mysteries of all -- the Man In Black and Jacob. Every episode held secrets and clues, which I and thousands of others flocked to the internet to try and solve. I was hooked. In an age of DVR and time-shifted viewing, my wife and I watched LOST as soon as it hit the air every week, our eyes locked on the screen and our breath held in anticipation of what new wonder it would bring. And never, ever, were we disappointed.

But the show went beyond the TV set. The producers of the show created fake websites that interested viewers could go to and try to decipher. They also put out a book, a game, viral videos, and more, all of it in service of creating a show with a deep and intriguing mythology. You could enjoy the show without going after any of that, but true fans were compelled to explore every aspect of LOST that they could.

Now, much has been made of the finale, a lot of it negative, but to them I say, "Poop on you." I loved it. By the time the last shot faded out, I was in tears, as was my wife. For a show that covered so much ground and so many genres, that offered up so many mysteries, no one could have ended all that in a way that would please everyone, or even most. Luckily I was one of those who thought it was perfect. LOST was always about its characters, and it ended the same way. Some mysteries were solved, but a lot of answers were left undiscovered, and that's okay. In fact, I'm glad. Part of me will always be on that island, and so long as there are questions to ponder, my heart will be ready to trek into the jungle one more time.

To all the people involved in the creation of LOST, let me say thank you. You've already given me untold hours of pleasure, and with my Blu-Ray series collection clutched in my greedy hands, I know I'll get hours more. Namaste.


Justin is the author of HAYWIRE and the forthcoming A MINOR MAGIC. When not hard at work on his next story he hosts the popular Dead Robots' Society podcast. He and his lovely wife live in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex along with their motley pack of dogs and cats that they think of as their children. He's also a co-host on The Hollywood Outsider, a weekly podcast about movies and television, and Fit-2-Write, a show for writers concerned with health and fitness.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Teacher is a Zombie | eBook Cover

Click on Cover to get your copy - you name the price!

I had a blast making this cover. It's part 3D, part photo manipulation, part digital painting. I constructed and rendered out the background and chair in 3D, then spiced up the apple with a photo of one blurred out. Adding the text was a fun challenge and proved to need the help of a few filters and some distortion to make it in the same perspective as the chalk board. After I added all the things J.R. had asked for I thought it was looking pretty good, but it still needed a little something more. That's when I decided to put a piece of chalk on the chalk board rail. I did so and thought it helped, but it still needed a little more - so I painted blood on it. Once I did that, I loved it and thought I was done. I put J.R. Murdock at the bottom in white, but it was hard to read so I tried it in black as well and sent them both off to the author letting him know I wasn't sure about the text of his name. He suggested red and once I made that change I knew we had an awesome cover. Do you need cover work done for your book or short story? I need editors! I'll trade you. Just message me on a social media site or send me an email (buttons to sites & email on the upper right of website). Thanks for stopping by my site and come on back tomorrow for a "TV Memories" guest blog post by the indefatigable Justin Macumber.

Friday, March 16, 2012

TV Memories 07 | Zach Ricks
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I'll admit up front this may be a bit of a cheat, but I'm going to defend it because it is about TV. Just… Foreign TV. That I may have watched over the internet. Which brings up an interesting question. What is TV anymore? Does netflix count? How about Hulu? iTunes downloads? DVR? Huh. Anyway...

I grew up watching Saturday Morning Cartoons, which meant that on any given Saturday I would wake up before 6:00 AM to catch Super Friends or Alvin and the Chipmunks. It was a perfect time of day - the sun wasn't up yet, no one else in the family was up, it was just me, maybe a bowl of cereal, and our giant old Zenith console television that I'd cracked my head on doing flips into a bean bag chair. We lived in a very small farming community in rural Idaho, USA, and we didn't have cable. We didn't even have FOX. (But I did have an uncle who lived in Alaska who would tape the Simpsons and mail us the tapes a season at a time because he felt bad that we couldn't get it where we were at. That's how I grew up.) And Saturday morning cartoons were fine… but I kept getting hints - little hints - that there was something really interesting out there.

I saw a little bit one time when my Dad got a satellite dish on a trial basis. (It came on a trailer and sat in our driveway for a few days. I saw First Blood SO MANY TIMES that week…). But I caught this crazy thing on some network that was a cartoon, that was… rescue… and had crazy vehicles… Thunderbirds 2086. So I watched as much as I could, and eventually the dish went away.

And then this one time we were on vacation in California - went to Disneyland. I'd tripped the night before getting into the RV. I had a straw in my mouth, and it cut the roof of my mouth - just peeled a layer of skin off it. Hurt like heck. So I was laying in the back of the RV, trying to tune this tiny little television into something we could watch while we were driving around.. and I found something about people living underground because the Earth had been destroyed by radiation, and they were worried about whether they could survive or not, and this crazy scene where they were trying to launch a starship but there was a meteor that was going to hit them, so they had to fire their main cannon, which killed their engines and they fell back down to Earth… It was crazy! It was wonderful! I had never seen anything like it. And I had no way of seeing what happened next because we went home to Idaho and I just couldn't get my hands on it. I just knew the name: Star Blazers.

But it wasn't until I went to college that I really started to find stuff. Because that's when I was able to get things like the SciFi channel's Saturday Anime, and Cartoon Network started running anime on Toonami. And that was pretty good. I saw all kinds of interesting shows. Cowboy Bebop.

Eventually I got married - and my wife Did Not Get It. She saw me watching my crazy shows, and thought "It's all kid stuff."

Then, one night, she sat down with me and watched a very early episode of Gundam Wing. And suddenly she was hooked. This was different! It was interesting! And it definitely was not kid stuff. It was moral choices about war, and who you can trust, and what you do in hard times, and though we still joke about some of the crazy lines to this day, it's something we shared and loved together.

But the best memory I have of "TV" isn't really TV. At least it wasn't for us at the time.

We had just moved to Portland, OR, where I was attending law school. It was me, my wife, and our (at the time) three-year-old daughter, the Queso Kid. I worked part-time for the law school and I had a little office in one of the buildings - a dark little bunker. One day, I had a little time on my hands and I found a site where you could read fan-translated manga. (At the time, fan subs were something of a gray area, because the instant something became licensed in the States, the translation stopped, the files came down, and everyone waited for the official release.) The site isn't there anymore, but I remember sitting there and reading the first chapter of Naruto. Something about the story was really interesting to me. Here was a kid who was a bit of a screwup, but had big dreams. People didn't treat him very well. But there was one guy who believed in him, and because of that belief, this kid stood up and did something incredible. Loved it. So I immediately started looking to see if there was an anime.

And there was. Barely. Maybe three or four episodes out at the time. So we got into a routine. We would download the latest fan-translated episode every week, and drag the couch over in front of the computer. We'd pop some popcorn, and my wife and my daughter and I would sit down and watch this silly little show about kid ninjas. Queso couldn't read, of course, so we'd take turns reading the subtitles for her. I look back on that now as some of my favorite times ever, sitting on the couch watching and reading this show to my little girl. And while I still claim that Trigun episode 5 - Hard Puncher - is the single greatest episode of anime ever, there are a couple of Naruto episodes that are very close. In particular, there's a pretty insane three-episode run from about episode 60-62 that's a single fight, but it becomes this riff on destiny and fate vs. free-will and the ability to succeed no matter the obstacle. The end of that fight is something that occasionally just pops up in my head again and again - it had a big impact on me.

We still watch quite a bit of anime in the house. I fell away from watching Naruto when they started in with all the filler episodes, though the wife and kiddo have been keeping up with it. Queso and I have started watching Bleach, Ouran Host Club, and some others, but nothing beats those Sunday nights, pulling the couch over to watch a silly Japanese show about ninja kids.

I'm Zach Ricks. I'm an attorney, a writer, and an editor - currently the managing editor of FlagShip at flyingislandpress.com. You can find my own writing at madpoetfiles.com, and some other things I'm working on with Scott Roche at AethelianAge.com.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

11/22/63 by Stephen King | Book Review

Oh man! This book has heart man, it has heart! I loved it! There was one spot where it slowed down a little more than my liking, but for the tone and style of the book, it did a surprising job of pulling me through most of it. It's told in first person, which is pretty rare these days - and I thought it worked brilliantly. It has such a personal feel because the protagonist is the narrator. I bet first person is going to come back. Don't believe me? Ever heard of a novel called The Hunger Games? Yeah I thought so :) I really cared about these characters. I think King's biggest strength is writing good characters. I didn't know how he was going to end this huge story leaving me satisfied, but he did - and he did it in a way I wasn't expecting. I liked this book so much, I know it is one that will join the few books I will most certainly go back and read again someday. If you've never read King because you're not a horror fan like me - you owe it to yourself to give this one a try. I think you'll find that there's a reason Stephen is the King when it comes to speculative fiction. I read this book via audio book and I wasn't too sure about the narrator Craig Wasson at first. As the story came alive through his voice, however, it grew on me to the point where I can't imagine another voice telling this story. He has the perfect voice for the main character, and his accents were great too! I really enjoyed his read of this amazing novel.

Check it out on Amazon
Check out the cool website for the book.

Friday, March 9, 2012

TV Memories 06 | Scott Roche
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I watched a metric butt ton of TV as a kid. I could have given Mike Teavee a run for his money. As a “latchkey” kid who had cable TV when that was something of a rarity, I watched quite the variety of shows. Possibly the best TV memory I have though, from a life full of them, would be weekday afternoon TV from my Elementary School days. I’d get home, sling my books onto the couch, fire up the snack foods, and get my watching on.

Far and away, the biggest standout had to be the one-two punch of G-Force/Star Blazers. I know, I know, the anime purists out there are cringing. These where the chopped up, re-mixed, over dubbed versions of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman and Space Battleship Yamato respectively. I cared not a whit then, blissful ignorance my only excuse. All I knew was, the cartoons were awesome, and my classmates and I zipped around the playground pretending to be Jason or Derek Wildstar. As much of a science fiction geek as I was then, and am now, the optimism and butt-kicking heroics are what shine brightest in my minds eye.

As I got older, the offerings changed. Fast forwarding to my Middle School and High School years, I would have to say that Nickelodeon dominated the idiot box. Two real super stars ate up most of my time. The first was a Canadian live action kids show called You Can’t Do That On Television. This really was like “Saturday Night Live” for kids. The hilarious skits usually included a bunch of gross out humor (they were the source of the green slime that became synonymous with the network), and it even had some eye candy in the form of Christine “Moose” McGlade. I had a crush on her anyway,

The other Nickelodeon offering was Danger Mouse. James Bond done as a large white mouse, essentially. He had everything from a stuffy boss to a cat petting uber villain. Well, okay the pet was a caterpillar, but close enough. Explosions, silly situations, and heroics were the rule of the day. The catchy opening credits had me singing along, and I never missed an episode. It’s funny, so far all of my memorable shows were from other countries. We did have Looney Tunes and the Saturday morning shows of my youth were mostly American in origin, but not so for the afternoons.

This was rectified in college. Yeah, I still watched afternoon cartoons well into my twenties, where I could. Again, there are two vying for the top spot. Animaniacs is clearly number one. The adventures of Wako, Yakko, and Dot as well as Pinkie and the Brain were consistently hilarious. The animation was crisp and the writing was smart. Much of the humor was aimed squarely at adults, or so it seemed to me at the time, but they never left the younger set out. The other entry has to be Batman: The Animated Series. It’s the comic book cartoon that proves those things can be just as adult as live action. The style was perfect and the voice actors nailed their performances.

These days I don’t really get to watch cartoons or afternoon TV of any kind. I know that there are shows that my kids will treasure as much as I do these. I’ll admit to knowing the names of a few. I catch Phineas and Ferb whenever I can. The boys are hilarious and the amount of imagination it takes to put out that show is tremendous. I also watched my fair share of The Wonder Pets and The Wiggles when my kids were younger. What strikes me is these days there seem to be more live action offerings. Kid’s sitcoms and even soap operas, of a sort, dominate the air. Who knows which will resonate in the memories of my three? Regardless of the answer, I make sure, as did my folks, that they get more fresh air, sunshine, and good books than they do TV time. That makes picking their favorites even more special.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a tree to climb.

A military brat, fan of horror and occult fiction at an embarrassingly (for his parents anyway) young age, and a seeker of the true reality beyond that which we see every day, Scott tries to include as much life experience in his writing as he can. Every story he writes combines these elements into something that he hopes you will not only enjoy, but tell all of your friends about. He is active in the podcast fiction sphere and is a contributing editor at Flying Island Press. You can also find Scott's work on his website http://www.scottroche.com/ and many of your favorite online hard copy and eBook retailers. Also look for Scott’s new series Invasion From the Hidden Planet, dropping serially in audio and eBook formats at www.ActionPackPodcast.com.

Friday, March 2, 2012

TV Memories 05 | J.R. Murdock
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I remember being very young and sitting quite close to the television to watch. It was around that time that my parents realized that I needed glasses. What a difference that made in my television watching experience.

But beyond that, I grew up way back in the woods. When I say way back, I mean it. We got four television stations and one was on two of those channels (10 and 13). We also had 3, 6, and 8 (PBS). That was pretty much it. Changing channels on the one television set in the living room wasn’t as easy as clicking a button.

I’m going to show my age here. We had to get up, walk over to the massive console television, and turn a knob. After the knob had been turned, there was the matter of adjusting the antenna outside. This normally became a two person task. One person would stay inside and look at the set while the other person went outside and turned the antenna until the set became clearer. Needless to say we didn’t change channels much during the winter or in the rain. Whatever was on you either watched it, or found a book, or went to your room to play.

Needless to say, I did do a lot of reading and playing, though I did get exposed to a wide variety of television available in the ties. We couldn’t afford to go to the movie theater often and the first movie I saw in the theaters was The Empire Strikes Back and I didn’t see many after that. I think that’s why I’m so content to wait and watch a movie on television. Instead we’d watch whatever movie might be on that night of the week.

Annually we’d watch the classics. The Wizard of Oz came on once per year and we always watched. There were also the annual Christmas classics and we planned out night accordingly so we could sit and watch from beginning to end and get ideas for our Christmas lists. Even the Charlie Brown movies came out the same time each year.

What I really remember was getting up early on Saturday morning to watch cartoons. I would watch as long as I was allowed so in order to watch as much as possible, I’d get up early. Cartoons usually started around 5am with the kiddie shows and went into shows intended for older kids.

My favorite of this era had to be Star Blazers. Sure I’d been watching cartoons for years, but when this show started it was different. This wasn’t the same animation style as Looney Toons, or Popeye, or any of the Disney classics. This looked more real. It had things happen and people might die. Sadly this show came on late in the day and I would often miss episodes to go out and do chores, so it wasn’t until I was an adult and acquired the DVDs was I able to watch the entire series from beginning to end.

I try to impress upon my daughter how things were back in my day. Today she can DVR her shows and watch pretty much whatever she wants whenever she wants. Sure I benefit from this as I don’t have to suffer through her shows, but it makes me wonder if children’s imaginations aren’t stunted by watching the same shows over and over with no real variation.

For this, I force my daughter to watch one of my shows from time to time. I don’t make her watch things I know she won’t like, but it’s neat to watch a show with her and get her reaction rather than watch her just gaze mindlessly at whatever Nickelodeon or Disney has to offer.

J.R. Murdock is an avid reader of almost anything he can get his hands on. That being said, he also writes with near reckless abandon in any and every genre. His style is intended for pure entertainment. Over the years he’s written nine novels and over one hundred short stories. Only a few short stories have seen print (in actual print and on the web) so he’s decided to throw his hat into the podcasting arena with his novel V & A Shipping. Since then he has also podcast his novel Billy Barbarian and released his YA novel Astel: Chosen, not to mention the great short stories he's podcast in his Murdockian Tales series. Find out more at http://www.jrmurdock.com/. Also from J.R. Murdock look for the Action Pack Podcast at http://www.actionpackpodcast.com/. There he'll be spinning a serial western steampunk tale. The podcast and eBook formats drop once a month starting this February. When not writing like a mad-man, J.R. Murdock does have a day job as a computer programmer and loves to spend time with his lovely wife and beautiful daughter.