I did not intend to take a three-and-a-half-month spring-and-summer break from Cornfield Meet, but it’s been an inspiring and energizing “vacation.”
And it’s not like I haven’t been writing at all: I did a couple book reviews at GeekDad, and an 11,000-word travelogue on a cross-country adventure my daughter and I undertook – some of which will wind up here eventually – and I write regularly in the course of my job.
Still, the list of “Stuff I Want to Write” (an actual handwritten document here on my desk, I swear) has reached an alarming length, so it’s time to just sit down and start hammering away at these things, even if they’re mostly just for fun.
From a recent exercise in storytelling. Assignment: In roughly 100 words, describe a time when your life changed.
At the last minute, I threw out my first, more serious draft, switched topics entirely, and wrote on the fly –
When we got home, I couldn’t get to my crayons fast enough.
I couldn’t find the black one, so I skipped Darth Vader and drew my stormtroopers in blue-green.
That’s how I remember the first time I saw Star Wars. I was six.
Since then, I have seen better movies. I have read better stories.
But this was more than spaceships and lasers and robots:
Star Wars is what got me interested in science and writing and history and mythology; in authors, characters, symbols, and archetypes; in storytelling and classically-inspired music and film-making.
This was a Big Bang. This was my world blowing up.
Also: spaceships and lasers and robots.
I liked the way it turned out, and it got a good reception. I saved it because I enjoyed looking deeper than nostalgia and remembering the first time someone else’s art really inspired me.
The first batch of pre-orders and sales that summer and fall of 2008 were mostly to family, friends, and the supportive Star Wars fans of the Ohio Star Wars Collectors Club and the vintage forums at Rebelscum.com. They really jump-started this whole thing with their responses to my 2007 online series of Star Wars recollections.
In early 2009, right around the time my last full-time newsroom job was eliminated and I found myself out of work, Rob Wainfur posted one of the earliest completely-neutral-party reviews of Collect All 21! on his Retro Finds site, which was a more-than-welcome bit of nice news, and especially neat because Rob’s from Wales.
Around the same time, Adam, my Collect All 21! editor, launched Deus Ex Comica, and suddenly I was like, “Hey: I want a cool, professional cover and a foreword, too!” And that’s where Kirk Demarais and David Morgan-Mar came in, generously contributing their talents to the revised version of Collect All 21!, providing me with some amazing front cover art and a kick-ass introduction.
Working with a great digital publishing team, I expanded the book for a Kindle edition in July 2011, adding some new personal material as well as interviews and my magazine-length feature on Lorne Peterson.
Some of the other neat stuff that’s happened along the way:
- In spring 2009, I got an incredibly kind and supportive email from George Krstic, another Northeast Ohio first-generation Star Wars fan who grew up to write neat stuff like MTV’s Downtown, Megas XLR, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Motorcity. We’ve hung out a few times since, and recorded a few Star Wars nostalgia podcasts, and it’s always a blast. (George also introduced me to Josh Ling, who’s also a first-generation Rust Belt kid that came of age addicted to Kenner toys, and, I think it’s also fair to say, deals with the same old-school v. new-era Star Wars internal conflicts that twist so many of us in geek knots.)
- Jenny Williams and Curtis Silver both said really nice things about Collect All 21! on the GeekMom and GeekDad blogs, respectively.
- At PAX East in 2010, thanks to the GeekDad crew, I met Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks author Ethan Gilsdorf, who bought a copy of the book on the spot while we were all hanging out, and later provided me with a superlative blurb.
- CNN interviewed me for a 30th anniversary story about The Empire Strikes Back.
- Sharing Star Wars memories became kind of a thing: My friend Jonathan Liu sent me an advance copy of Tony Pacitti‘s My Best Friend is a Wookiee (2010), and I wound up meeting Tony at Star Wars Celebration V to exchange books and stories. A couple years later, in 2012, Gib van Ert released A Long Time Ago: Growing Up With And Out Of Star Wars, which I read and enjoyed on the way to Star Wars Celebration VI. And, of course, earlier this year, Fanboys director Kyle Newman (who also encouraged me regarding Collect All 21! in 2010) put together The Return of Return of the Jedi.
- Geek A Week artist Len Peralta and I recorded a Star Wars and 1980s conversation/podcast.
- I got invited as a guest to a couple JediCon WV events, which were tons of fun, and got my name on a spectacular poster by Kenner toy photographer Kim Simmons.
- Hugo Award-winning author and good guy Jim C. Hines read Collect All 21! and blogged about it.
- Then there was that time in 2012 when the fantastic Renita Jablonski called me and said, “So, we were thinking of doing a piece on the 35th anniversary of Star Wars, and I said ‘I know a guy,'” and we talked on the phone, and then BOOM! I’m driving to work a day or two later, and right there in the middle of National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” is me. (And five years before that, when Renita was at WKSU, she produced a piece I wrote about not remembering the first time I saw Star Wars, which, again, is pretty much where all this started.)
- Topless Robot put Collect All 21! on its list of The 10 Greatest Non-Fiction Star Wars Books, which includes the line, “Celebrate the love, yub yub.” Yes!
- Somehow my book caught the attention of filmmaker Brian Stillman, who visited our house a couple summers back and interviewed me for Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys, which should be coming out later this summer.
Crunching some numbers from Lulu and Amazon to figure out about how many copies of Collect All 21! are out there – counting print and electronic versions – I come up with a number somewhere close to 2,500. (I’m always looking to make that number bigger, of course, but hey – that’s not a bad run for a completely independent, word-of-mouth effort.)
I will never be able to say thanks enough for all the encouragement and support from my friends and family and everyone who’s ever bought, borrowed, read, or shared Collect All 21! among fellow Star Wars fans and 1980s-era nostalgia loons (which I can say since I’m one of them).
The Force Will Be With You. Always.
Growing up, I had a bedroom with a walk-in closet. Nothing huge – easy enough to touch any two walls at the same time – but big enough that for awhile, I turned it into my writing sanctuary.
I put a folding TV tray table in there, mom’s typewriter, my boom box (the acoustics did wonders for the Top Gun anthem), and loaded the wall-mounted particle-board shelves with inspiration in the form of my Kenner action figures, Matchbox cars, and other assorted stuff. On the walls, I hung paintings from the Star Wars portfolio Mike had given me, some pages torn from Marvel comic books, postcards, and news clippings.
In the mid/late 1980s, as teenagers, this is where my friend Aaron and I wrote and storyboarded our vision for Star Wars: Episode VII.
Cleaning out an old desk this past weekend, I found one of the magazine scraps we had hanging in there:
Adam Besenyodi will be sharing the table and selling Deus ex Comica: The Rebirth of a Comic Book Fan. He may even have some copies of Exo-1 and the Rock Solid Steelbots on hand. (And if he won’t, I’m sure he’ll let me know soon enough.)
I believe I speak for
all both of us at booth A12 when I say it would be excellent for you to come by and nerd out for a few minutes.
I’m off to cover Star Wars Celebration VI – keep an eye on GeekDad – , but look: As promised, from now through Sunday, Aug. 26, the expanded Kindle edition of Collect All 21! has a pretty attractive price tag:
Along with a few other fans, I’ll be heading to Orlando this week for Star Wars Celebration VI. And since I do enjoy sharing a wee bit of nostalgia for the saga, I’m running an Amazon promotion starting on Wednesday, Aug. 22 – the day before the convention opens – through Sunday, Aug. 26, when everyone packs up their big Corellian ships for the jump home.
Over those five days, the expanded electronic edition of Collect All 21! Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek will be available for Kindle readers and apps for zero dollars. ($0.00).
As in, “Hey – Over here! Free book!”
As in, “You mean if I have an Amazon Kindle or even just the reader installed on my phone or tablet or other we-live-in-the-future-and-it-sort-of-rocks device, I can read one of The 10 Greatest Non-Fiction Star Wars Books for NOTHING?”
But not quite yet: You need to wait until Aug. 22-26, when the Amazon promotion is running. (And no, this doesn’t include the original paperback The First 30 Years edition of Collect All 21! Although if you enjoy the electronic edition, I highly recommend picking up a physical copy: It’s a bit shorter, but the sweet Kirk Demarais‘ cover really pulls a room together.)
During the promotion, I’ll take some time out from my Celebration nerding to share reminders and some nice things people have said about the book.
A fun week lies ahead!
I interviewed Hugo Award-nominated author and friendly guy Jim C. Hines about his new book, Libriomancer, over at GeekDad. I also posted my thoughts on the book there, too. You want bullet points? Fine.
- GeekDad interview with Jim C. Hines
- GeekDad review of Libromancer
- A panoramic view of Gale Crater on Mars taken by NASA rover Curiosity (Because MARS, that’s why.)
I got a lot of encouraging feedback in July of 2011 when I expanded Collect All 21! for a digital edition. Unfortunately, while the folks at my digital publishing company were great to work with and did a bang-up job converting the book and pushing it through various channels, they had to make the difficult decision to close their virtual doors earlier this year, ending the availability of the Expanded Edition.
After thinking things over for a bit and pestering some very patient and understanding friends for advice, I decided to go ahead and tweak a couple small glitches and make the Expanded Edition available again myself through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.
Opening that first Darth Vader figure and putting him in a Landspeeder. Imagining a snowy elementary school playground as the wastes of Hoth. Seeing Return of the Jedi on opening night.
Moments like these – and a galaxy more – make up more than three decades of “Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek.” Author and first-generation saga fan John Booth takes the reader from a childhood packed with Star Wars guys (never “action figures”) and Christmas wishes both fulfilled and unrealized, through the years when the trilogy lay dormant to the mainstream public’s eye, and into an age of seeing George Lucas’ universe as an adult while exploring it again as a parent.
Collect All 21! revisits the late 1970s and early ’80s, in all their bad-haircuts-and-Atari glory, then moves beyond those decades and nostalgia to explore the evolution of the Star Wars saga and its fandom.
This expanded electronic edition also includes interviews with Star Wars cast and crew members reflecting on the saga’s impact from both first-generation-fan standpoints and a career spent bringing the universe to life on-screen.
Named by Topless Robot as one of The Ten Greatest Non-Fiction Star Wars Books, Collect All 21! is a love letter from a self-aware geek written under the sometimes harsh light of hindsight, softened with understanding. It captures the innocence and wonder and infinite possibilities of what it meant to an eight-year-old to Collect All 21!
“Like a nostalgic walk through your childhood and growing up geek.”
– WIRED magazine’s GeekDad
“The feeling of childhood magic that pours from its pages will have you reflecting on how much of an impact the Wars have had on you.”
– Topless Robot
“I never thought I’d actually get that Time-Travel Belt, but reading this book is almost better.”
– George Krstic, writer, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Motorcity, and Megas XLR
I’ve also decided to keep the Kindle edition at it’s three-dollar price – which means, yes: More book than the print edition, for less money.
Additionally, it’s available through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, so if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow it for FREE.
And hey – Star Wars Celebration VI is coming up fast, so why not start getting psyched up now?
The lump in my throat has snuck up on me several times since I heard about Ray Bradbury’s death this week.
Thinking about how his name first meant something to me when I was a little kid and I watched (but didn’t understand) the TV adaptation of The Martian Chronicles, but it was 1979, and I ate up anything science fiction because I was still drowning in the wake of Star Wars. Thinking about being older, then, and recognizing his name when I found Fahrenheit 451 at a library’s used book sale. It scarred me in the best ways possible, and I wanted more.
Thinking about being at Bowling Green State University in 1990 and 1991, which is when I really started scarfing down Bradbury stories by the handful, sitting in the stacks on the first floor of the library. This is where I met those bratty kids from “The Veldt” and the time-traveling hunters in “A Sound of Thunder” and the inventor of “The Toynbee Convector.” (It was also in this period when I read a review of Bradbury’s collections that featured a description of “The October Game” as the most chilling story that Ray had ever written. It would take me a long time to track down a copy, but I still remember finding it in the Upper Sandusky library on a visit to my grandmother’s, and feeling icy water down my back when I read the story alone in a quiet den.)
Thinking of “The Lake,” one of my favorite Bradbury stories ever.
Thinking over and over again of a train and a bridge and a poem and a story and, finally, the time Ray Bradbury sent me a letter.
In December of 1990, my friend Tobi took me to Five Mile Bridge, west of Bryan, Ohio, to watch a train thunder past. Years later, I wrote the following in Crossing Decembers – and though my novel is fiction, this part is pretty close to reality as I remember it:
I wrote about the [train] in that green spiral notebook, but that was a two a.m., hurry-God-please-don’t-let-me-forget-a-nanosecond rush of howl and sigh and adrenaline.
The next night, I fell asleep trying to recreate the train, the bridge, and her eyes in my mind.
After I soaked it into my blood for a week or so, one night while my roommate was out, I shut off the lights and sat down at my desk by the window, where a bright pink-orange glow came in from the floodlight on the outside of the building.
Tree branches clicked in the wind, and over an hour or two, I wrote a poem I called “For Kallie: A Night at Five Mile Bridge.”
The next morning, on my way to the cafeteria, I stopped by her room. I was pretty sure she’d be at class already, so I slid the poem in an envelope with her name on it under the door.
Late that afternoon, I was alone in my room again and there was a quick, soft knock at the door.
When I opened it, Kallie was standing there, shaking, and her eyes were wet.
Before I could even say hello, her arms were around my neck, her sweet hair like spring, her body quaking, and in one of her hands was single sheet of paper, folded in thirds, with my poem typed on it.
Jump forward a few years to late summer, 1995. I have just sold my first piece of fiction, “Heading Home,” to Florida magazine for $100. Having practically memorized large chunks of Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, I found myself thinking about the part where Ray wrote that the greatest reward a writer gets is when someone “rushes up to you, his face bursting with honesty, his eyes afire” at how your work connected with him. And I thought about Tobi, and then, since it was well past midnight, I wrote Ray what I’m certain was a rambling, barely coherent letter about these thoughts bouncing around in my head.
I mailed it the next day and forgot all about it.
Two weeks later, his response landed in my mailbox, and I remember that my hands just started shaking when I saw the return address. Inside was a one-page typewritten letter, with a few errors and one ballpoint spelling correction.
At the top of the page were these images:
And below, a short note, reading in part:
These celebratory cats are Bradbury cats and they are celebrating John Booth and his first story sale and the night his girl friend flung her arms around him and wept because of the beauty of his poem!
Much luck in the coming years from Win-Win, Ditzi, Dingo and Jack, the Bradbury cats, and from
(Oh, how I love this part – )
Over the years, I’ve opened that envelope time and again, always carefully unfolding the letter and imagining that maybe the tiniest remnants of typewriter dust from Bradbury’s fingernails are still settled in the weave of the paper, quietly crackling with static electricity and magic.