Drones are pretty fun.

I’ve been on hiatus for a few reasons that are mostly boring: computer problems through most of June and a new job that’s taken a lot of attention through most of July. Now I’ve got my feet under me again. Thanks for understanding.

A few days ago, I got a package in the mail from Amazon. My ex-wife had ordered a surprise unbirthday present for me: a Cheerwing CW4 drone. The little device has occupied much of my free time since, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

In recent years, the word “drone” has had its military UAV association superseded by images of kids’ toys. I think of filmmaking when I see drones, in large part because I subscribe to YouTube channels like Sam and Niko, the guys behind Corridor Digital, who have used drones to make videos like Drone Star Wars. It’s one thing to know that movies like Skyfall and the Harry Potter series have used drone footage; it’s another to watch the ins and outs of drone filmmaking behind the scenes. Really lays it into the brain.

So I’m over the moon that the CW4 has an onboard 720p camera. It’s not the gimbal-mounted 4K camera of the DJI Phantom 4, but that’s fine by me. The CW4 is a beginner’s drone, something well-built on which to learn the ropes.

And I’ve been learning the ropes pretty well. Two days ago, every landing was a crash landing. (It’s a testament to the CW4 that I haven’t had to use any of the included replacement propellers.) Today, I gently, if not smoothly, backed the drone into an Adirondack chair and set it down without a hitch. I’m getting the hang of using the trim controls to keep it steady. The CW4 has a headless mode (where the operator’s orientation is used for the controls, not the drone’s, so holding right on the stick will make the drone move to my right regardless of the drone’s facing), but I’ve abstained from using it, and as a result I’m good at keeping track of the drone’s heading.

Hopefully I’ll get good with that camera soon. This blog could use some high landscape shots.

Writing While Under Siege

Some writers can practice their craft in just about any environment. A Prarie Home Companion’s Garrison Keillor said, “I can write anywhere. I write in airports. I write on airplanes. I’ve written in the back seats of taxis. I write in hotel rooms. I love hotel rooms. I just write wherever I am whenever I need to write.” Award-winner Jamaica Kincaid echoed, “I can write anywhere. I actually wrote more than I ever did when I had small children.” It doesn’t take much to dig up more accounts of authors who write irrespective of environment and condition.

We’re often advised to create a space exclusively for writing, a nest of comfort where we can put the rest of the world away and focus entirely on our craft, yet those who write in discomfort and distraction are elevated as examples. I suppose it shouldn’t seem odd. Humans are a contrary bunch, and writers particularly so.

Myself, I’ve always seen myself as firmly in the nest-of-comfort camp. I thought my best writing – at least when it comes to fiction and poetry – happened when I was tucked away from the world. Noise and interruption make me feel under siege when I’m trying to create. However, my circumstances are fluid, and I’m also a parent of elementary-aged children. I don’t have the luxury of carving out a time and place fully insulated from the outside world. My only option is to become a writer who can write anywhere.

To that end, I’ve spent the past month focusing on writing while under siege. Every location and every moment must be a potential arena for writing. The list of limits on where and when I write has become scant indeed. I won’t write if:

  • it would be unforgivably rude to those around me (e.g. in a theater or with friends or family at a restaurant),
  • my primary focus must be on my surroundings for safety or for my own edification (e.g. I’m watching over kids at a party or I’m attending a seminar), or
  • I completely lack the materials to write (including my phone, which can record both written text and audio).

My assumption was that I would struggle most with external factors, clawing out every word in defiance of the cacophony of the mad world around me. In reality, the greatest obstacle has been myself. Writing under siege has uncovered the vanities I’ve unconsciously cultured about my writing. The voices that interfere with my productivity can no longer whisper to me soundlessly. They must shout to be heard, and suddenly it’s no problem at all to recognize their presence.

“You’re not writing anything worthwhile. What do you have to say? Nothing.”

“This kind of drivel might interest you, but anyone else would be bored to tears.”

“Buddy! Hey, buddy! Put down your phone and get out of the road, numskull!”

“What is this unreadable mess? Edit it right now before you write another word.”

“This story has become a chore. You should put it on hold and start something new.”

Another piece of advice writers often get is to just write and worry about the edits later. Easier said than done. But writing under siege is teaching me how to treat editing like a luxury that I can’t afford in the moment. My job right now is to write. Those perfect spaces and times I used to reserve for writing are better spent on editing what I churn out while I’m in the waiting room with a laptop, or in my car with my audio recorder running, or in stolen moments at the Star Trek studio.

The greatest benefit is that, in the space of three weeks, my daily wordcount has tripled, and I know I can push that higher. An hour’s worth of work goes a lot farther now. That gives me more confidence about my future in this game. The decision to write under siege has resulted in the biggest breakthrough I’ve had in my development as a writer.

Are you a nest writer or a writer under siege? What’s your approach to distraction? I hope you’ll continue the conversation with me in the comments.

Authors’ Day at Star Trek Original Series Set Tour

There’s a secret tucked away in Ticonderoga, New York, in the southern end of the Adirondacks. An incredibly precise and loving recreation of the set of the Enterprise, crafted by referencing blueprints of the Desilu set, screenshots, personal interviews with Matt Jeffries, and all manner of behind-the-scenes sources, has turned a former department store on the sleepy mountain town’s main thoroughfare into a fan Mecca. Siterunner James Cawley, a professional Elvis impersonator with a yen for all things Roddenberry, enlisted the help of friends both inside and outside the film industry to create the set recreation to film fan episodes for his YouTube project, Star Trek: New Voyages.

My parents-in-law were among those building the sets, learning the ins and outs of filming a TV show, and appearing in episodes. Thanks to them introducing me to the set, I’m proud to say that I’ve also thrown my hand in and helped build it when I’ve had the chance to get up there.

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The warp core’s forced perspective is more impressive when the set is lit for filming, but the illusion is solid even under normal conditions.

Now, thanks to CBS looking to legitimize some of the fan ventures surrounding the franchise, the site has been licensed – not as a closed, working set, but now as a tour destination open to the public. It’s the centerpiece of the now annual Trekonderoga festival. Portions of the set are still under construction, notably the biolab, but in large part the Enterprise is fully functional in the most minute detail, right down to switchable jumpers in a lit-up electrical access panel in the hall.

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I’d already spent a day at the studio earlier in the week, helping build a roof for a large display case and a wall for the dressing room. That’s when I heard that about a dozen writers of Star Trek novels and comics would be spending their Saturday at the set, taking a tour and then sitting at tables in the gift shop area to sign books and hang out together. This is a tight-knit group of authors who were brought together by their shared passion for Trek writing. How could I miss it?

I woke up early on Saturday and brought my eldest daughter with me to Ticonderoga, about a ninety-minute drive. By the time we got there, James was already leading the authors on their tour of the set, and they were having a blast. I could hear them ooh-ing, aah-ing, and laughing all the way from the hangar bay doors to the warp core. When they got to the bridge, I was worried that someone might need to be hauled out on a stretcher from having a faneurism*.

My daughter and I joined a general-public tour group guided by her grandmother. It’s always nice to wander through the set and remember straining my arms to hold up one of the four overhead arches in the conference room while the construction team scurried to secure the crossbeam, or to try to figure out which of the flats in McCoy’s office I had bled on. (Yeah, the construction crew folks are all part of the set in literal terms.) After that, we hit the local lunch counter. When we returned, the writers were all set up.

All of the writers were outgoing, engaging, and generally fantastic people. My daughter is shy, but they put her at ease and made her feel at home. We ended up buying seven books and got them all signed, including an anthology that now has half a dozen signatures inside.

Several authors were kind enough to talk to me about working with a licensed franchise, in particular David Mack, Dayton Ward, and Kevin Dilmore. I had a brief fanboy moment when I saw Michael J. Friedman. I know his work from his novelization of the TNG finale, “All Good Things…”. I read the book before I had an opportunity to see the episode, and when I finally watched the finale, I felt like there was something missing, because the book was so much fuller and richer. Friedman showed me that you can work new magic even if you’re telling a story that’s already been told before. Keith DeCandido was a larger-than-life presence who made sure that all the authors knew how to spell my daughter’s name when they were signing the anthology he edited, Tales of the Dominion War (my daughter has a thing for DS9, and so do I). Robert Greenberger happily talked about his Trek work, but it wasn’t until I looked him up later that I realized he was such a powerhouse in all kinds of geek culture.

In fact, that goes for most of the authors who were there. Almost all of them are major players across multiple fan streams, and many of them have editorial experience. Several of them have worked in writers’ rooms as well as writing individual episodes for TV series. Everyone was so personable that I had no idea that I was in a room full of giants. Well, except for Glenn Hauman, because that guy’s, like, eight feet tall. Very genial. Eye to eye with Darth Vader.

Finally, I also got the awesome opportunity to talk to Jordan Hoffman, who brought ENGAGE: The Official Star Trek Podcast to the studio. He was kind enough to answer some of my questions about podcasting and being licensed. Like everyone else there, Jordan was down-to-earth and affable.

It was an amazing time, and I’m grateful to all the authors and casters who showed up, supported the studio, and were willing to talk to my daughter and me.

 

*I was hoping that I’d be the first to coin that word, but a quick Google search shows that I’m just late to the party. Damn.