Friday, February 27, 2015

My Leonard Nimoy story: or, how I managed to miss interviews with both Kirk and Spock in the space of five minutes

I've been going to Star Trek conventions since they started back in the seventies. It has always been my favorite show of all time, and back then, conventions were a haven for fellow desperate and dateless geeks, a real life Big Bang Theory.

Then when I became a TV reporter, I had an excuse to meet and interview my childhood heroes anytime there was a convention in town. George Takei was my first, followed by Nichelle Nichols, Grace Lee Whitney, James Doohan, Walter Koenig... but I had never covered a convention with the big three: Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

So when the entire cast was re-united for the show's 30th anniversary in 1996, I made sure to apply for press credentials early. My photographer Russ was as big a fanboy as I was, and we were determined to score the big interviews... a "get" for lifetime trekkers.

A little investigative work told us which door Shatner and Nimoy would be using when they arrived, so we staked it out. Russ discovered that Leonard Nimoy would be sitting down for only one interview as soon as he got there, and it's an exclusive for a network. He manages to strike a deal with the photog shooting the interview to let us in as well... but the promoters would only allow one person in the room. Obviously, since this was TV and we needed video, Russ had to be the one to go. So I remained staking out the door waiting for Shatner while he took off to get the Nimoy interview.

Naturally, as luck would have it, five minutes after Russ left, here comes Captain Kirk. Oh, not just Shatner, but just about every other star of the Trek universe. It was like being on the red carpet without a camera.

By the time Russ returned all the stars had passed by, but he got a good ten minute interview with Leonard Nimoy, who Russ said was as kind and gracious as could be. After that we got to be fans, sitting in the audience as our childhood TV heroes regaled a packed house with terrific stories. You could tell the stars of the show really enjoyed being there and interacting with the fans. And that's a great memory for me, even if I didn't get my interview with Spock.

As Doctor McCoy said at the end of Wrath of Khan, "He's not really dead as long as we remember him." 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Join me at the Romance Festival, Sunday February 8


Nope, we’re not talkin’ about the movie with Kevin Hart. This is about your fictional heroes, the ones you create who will live happily ever after with your heroines. As you’re writing these imaginary guys, have you ever wondered what’s going on inside the heads of real men? (Long pause for your sarcastic comments like “Not much!” or “Beer!”)
As a guy who writes romance, I’m always amazed at the reactions I get from female authors when they discover I do so by writing my heroine in the first person. They basically ask, “How does a guy get inside the head of a woman?” as if you gals have some impenetrable force field. This is generally followed by a look of fear which says, “Oh (expletive), a man has cracked the code and figured us out! Change the combination!” Trust me, it would be easier for the average guy to decipher the Rosetta Stone.
But step back a minute. All writers create characters of both sexes. Female romance authors do whip up Mister Right from scratch all the time. Yet no one ever questions how a woman author can write from a man’s point of view. Why it surprises people that I do the opposite still amazes me.
Okay, you didn’t read this far unless you wanted a peek into the male romance playbook, which is what we’re going to discuss during this week’s festival on Sunday. I’ll answer any questions about why men act the way they do, how guys think about women, dating strategy, the dating type versus the marrying type, fear of picking up the phone, and anything else you can think of that will help you take up residence inside the head of your hero.
For example, I might discuss the different kinds of lies men tell on first dates, since they’ll pretty much agree with a woman on anything to let her think they have stuff in common. There’s the casual bending of the truth: “I’ve heard great things about Downton Abbey, I’ll be sure to watch it.” Or the say-anything-to-get-a-second-date bold faced lie: “I’d love to go with you to the Celine Dion concert.”
We might talk about things that strike fear into men, like women who talk about having children during a first date. That screeching sound you heard is one of the man leaving skid marks.
So what wheels are turning in our heads? How sentimental are we? Do we really like your cat? Are we actually listening to you or just giving you the bobblehead? Would we like it if you took the initiative in the romance department? What do we look for in a soul mate?
So drop by and let’s chat. Hopefully it will help you get inside our heads. (But you probably won’t stay long, since, let’s face it, we’re all basically sloppy.)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Rest in Peace, Steve Baker: The big brother I never had...

When you're an only child, your friends are as important as your family. Sometimes, more so.

When you lose one, it leaves a hole in your heart.

To call Steve Baker just a good friend would be doing him a disservice. He was more than that; a big brother who was always there for me, a truly unselfish person who made the world a better place and taught me how to do it.

Steve was a television photographer, one of many I worked with over the years. Photogs and reporters have a special bond; when you spend most of the day in a news car, you don't use all your time talking about your story. Instead, you get in these incredible life discussions, and when you connect it's almost like being married at work. A great newsroom is a second family; it's hard to describe the unique camaraderie that exists in the business filled with nothing but creative, sarcastic people who all have a no-holds-barred, nothing-is-sacred sense of humor. The news industry is like one big fraternity. When we lose a member, we all feel it.

His other fraternity was the band of brothers known as Vietnam Veterans. Steve was an Air Force photographer whose amazing pictures ended up in Life magazine. He put himself in harm's way to get the best shots, as most photogs do. He ended up taking shrapnel and was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

While writers have a pen, Steve's signature was written with a camera. Where writers have a voice, Steve had a style. If you spend enough time in a newsroom you can look at a story and immediately know who shot it simply by the way it was shot and edited. Steve could manipulate light and shadows, using the forces of nature to make beautiful pictures and make those of us on camera look our best. Steve was a paradox; a tough as nails military vet who showed viewers how beautiful the world can be. Several years older than our reporters, he was our newsroom dad. 

He was also part of the most fun newsroom I've ever worked in, always involved in some of the most elaborate practical jokes you could imagine. And he loved doling out payback. Once we were doing a live shot in New Orleans and another crew from New York kept getting in our shot, waving and acting unprofessional. A few months later Steve and I were in Orlando, and, lo and behold, saw the same crew. Steve wanted to write something on their car, but we didn't have any soap or shaving cream. What we did have was a bunch of jelly donuts. You can imagine what blistering Florida sun does to strawberry preserves when they're used to write on a windshield.

Best news crew ever. That's Steve on the floor, second from left. You can probably tell this group didn't take things too seriously.

Steve on the left, celebrating with the staff after a ratings win.

Teaching an NFL star to shoot.

I could go on forever with stories about the guy. The time we were doing a story in a dicey neighborhood: "There's a gun under the seat if you have to shoot someone." The time the video recording deck went out and he had me hold a paper clip to connect the battery: "Will you get electrocuted? Probably not." The time Steve flagged down a waiter in a New York restaurant because his coffee was ice cold. "Can I have a hot cup? I'm funny about my coffee that way." The time a former employee showed up for a visit along with his wife, who everyone despised, and someone sarcastically said, "He's here with his lovely wife." Steve's reply: "Did he get re-married?"

Along with a ton of fabulous memories Steve leaves behind an absolute gem of a wife, Linda, and one son, Kelly, who followed in his dad's footsteps and proudly serves his country as an Air Force Captain.

And a lot of friends who will miss him terribly. 

Steve was still taking pictures on his travels during retirement, a photog till the end. I have no doubt that when he arrived in Heaven and saw the spectacular landscape of paradise, he asked God for a camera.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Paperbacks make wonderful stocking stuffers

One of the cool things about being an author is being able to give out your own books for Christmas gifts.

Another cool thing is posting a photo of your paperbacks after so many people told me my ebooks would never be released in print.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The real life Bad Santa

Live television news is the journalistic equivalent of working without a net. All sorts of things can happen, most of them bad. And while reporters can cover all sorts of stories that put them in danger, nothing sends fear through the heart like a story involving alcohol.

At least you can prepare for those. If you're sent to do a story in a bar, you know you're going to be harassed by a few sloppy drunks. There's a routine. You stand on a chair and yell, "Okay, we're about to shoot some video in here, so if you called in sick or are here with someone other than your spouse, you might want to get out of the shot." This is generally followed by a horde moving out of the way. These assignments are particularly distasteful for female reporters because of the groping factor, as many could be dusted for prints after returning to the station.

But I never expected my worst encounter with a drunk would occur during a seemingly harmless live shot with a shopping mall Santa.

Yes, it was the annual arrival of Santa to kick off the Christmas shopping season. The mall had coordinated things so that he would arrive exactly at 6:25 near the end of our newscast. Our anchor would toss to me and I'd do a quick live interview with Kris Kringle. Simple, fun, a nice story without the usual death and destruction.

And then Santa arrived. Well, actually the brewery emanating from his mouth got there shortly before he did. The guy started staggering through the crowd of parents and small children, dragging his sack on the floor.

You know that "things get worse" rule authors follow to keep readers on the edge of their seats? This was the real life version.

The anchor tossed to me and I had a feeling this wasn't going to go well. And then the interview with a guy who was in no condition to drive a sleigh headed down a ski slope:

Me: "Merry Christmas, Santa, I know you've got a lot of great stuff in that sack for all these children."

Santa (surrounded by parents & children): "Kids have been bad this year. They aint gettin' nuthin."


The smiles of parents who were close enough to hear disappeared. The children looked as though someone had run over their dog.

I needed damage control, quick.

Me: "Oh, Santa, you're such a kidder. I know you've got some great presents you're going to be leaving under the tree."

Santa: "Nope. I aint kiddin'. Kids aint gettin' nuthin."

I hear a quick "wrap" in my earpiece from the producer and ended the live shot. My photographer said, "We're outta here" and we quickly left the carnage behind.

Upon arriving back at the station we were greeted by the sound of holiday bells. Actually, they were the newsroom phones ringing off the hook. My boss told us we needed to stay to help answer the phone calls from angry parents. Almost every apology I made that night included, "Please don't shoot the messenger" but the damage had been done.

Now you know why it's important to put milk and cookies near the fireplace.



Monday, November 24, 2014

The hell with climate change, there's a chocolate shortage: will this be the end of enjoyable books?

The news sent chills up my spine; the kind you get when any mail from the IRS shows up in your mailbox. The kind when your doctor says, "You may feel a slight bit of discomfort," when you know it really means, "This is gonna hurt like a sonofabitch."

The planet might run out of chocolate in six years.

So when the Times Square ball drops and announces the year 2020, you may as well just shoot me.

Look, I'm all for that "save stuff for future generations" concept. I recycle, I walk rather than drive when I can, I mentor young people in journalism. But when it comes to chocolate, it's everyone for himself.

If you're a writer, you know chocolate is on the top of the food pyramid. (Propped up by wine.) If you're a reader, you need to understand that writers must take top priority in this chocolate crisis. Like women and children first off the Titanic, authors need chocolate to satisfy their muses. Otherwise, the result will be nothing but depressing books and you'll channel Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook saying WTF and throwing Hemingway through the window.

The writer's food pyramid

Let me explain how the chocolate/writer relationship works.

A few years ago I decided to give up chocolate for Lent. By dinner time on Ash Wednesday I knew this was a bad idea. But the real indicators were the words I wrote over the next two days. My rom-com had become devoid of com. My voice took a major hit. My heroine got cranky. My muse was ticked off. So I demolished a Ghirardelli bar for dinner and went to confession. My normal voice returned, my muse fat and happy.

Flash forward six years into the future. If writers are not federally subsidized with chocolate, if we're not first in line, the muses of enjoyable authors will go into vapor lock. Happily ever after will turn into divorce court. Thrillers will end up with the bad guy winning. Books will be written without any characters to root for. And, horror of horrors, I might end up writing literary fiction. (My theory is that current authors of said genre avoid chocolate and think kale is a major food group.)

The 2020 Chocolate version of Y2K

That scene with Bradley Cooper might end up playing out all over the world, like people in the movie Network opening their windows and yelling, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore."

While the concept of climate change is still up for debate (since, ya know, it's too damn cold for experts to call it "global warming" anymore), this chocolate shortage is real and could be the biggest global crisis to ever hit the planet. Imagine a world without anything enjoyable to read, with bookstores only having one section (Deep, Meaningful Literary Books That Won Awards But Will Depress The Hell Out Of You), with Halloween being a contact sport as writers forage for anything with cocoa.

So here's the solution: writers, keep eating your regular amount of chocolate. 

Readers, cut back. 

Because if you don't, the resulting literary global armageddon will make the zombie apocalypse look like a Tupperware party.

You have been warned.

As for the "future generations" thing, you're probably wondering how I can justify my stance, how I can avoid the incredible Catholic guilt when looking into the sweet, innocent face of my seven year old niece. How could I ever live with myself knowing I would deprive a child of a lifetime of chocolate?

Here's how. I told her, "Kid, you're gonna be a writer."