37 Steps Toward My Thirty-Seventh Year

I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t it The 39 Steps, Trig?

Yes, The 39 Steps is the title of the Alfred Hitchcock film, but this month, I’m turning thirty-seven years old, and I wanted to write something with a meaningful title. Why am I not waiting for two more years so I can more appropriately title this blog post?

Because this blog post has nothing to do with The 39 Steps, as evidenced by the title.

But here's the poster anyway.

But here’s the poster anyway.

But what it does have to do with are thirty-seven “steps” that have helped lead me to this thirty-seventh year of my life. (Or thirty-eighth –– the math makes me thirty-seven this year, but I honestly feel as though I’ve lived two years for the price of one, which would make me thirty-eight.) Things that have benefited me in the short and long run, and things which I believe might benefit others. I’ve met a lot of great folks over the years, and I continue to meet a great deal of new people everyday, and once we start hanging out and they start to see my Zen approach to everything in life as evidenced by a Facebook status here or an Instagram photo there, they each ask me the same question. It goes something like:

“So what go you like… this?”

“Like what?” I ask right back.

“Like how you are –– always positive, energetic, excited about the simplest things in life.”

There’s so much that went into getting me this way, and instead of diving into an extensive blog post about that time I took a Comparative Religions course or how I wrote my master’s thesis on the train to and from Brooklyn College (apparently I’ve gotten a ton of writing done on trains in my short life), I figured I’d save time and just list out some of the things I believe have had an impact in teaching me how to enjoy everything this life has to offer.

So here they are: The 37 steps that each got me ones step closer to me (in absolutely no particular order, ‘cause that would be way too hard):

  • I haven’t eaten fast food in over ten years.
  • I enjoy my meals, whether I’m dining by myself, with my fiancée, or with a group of friends.
  • I always enjoy the company of others.
  • I’m honest with everyone, but especially myself.
  • I always do work that I enjoy.
  • I’ve created routines, and I’ve stuck to those routines up until this day.
  • I take vitamins and supplements; I haven’t been sick since the Blizzard of ’06.
  • If I can’t find the time in my day to do the things I really want to do, I make the time, even ten minutes at a time.
  • I start my day with some stretches, a little yoga, and some pushups and a sit-up routine like this one. (Actually, it is this one.)
  • I read a verse from the Tao everyday to remind myself to not take life too seriously.

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  • I’ve read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.
  • I practice those four agreements every day.
  • When I fail at something, I still a triumph, so long as I learn something from that “failure,” which I prefer to think of as a near-success before the real success.
  • I’ve read (and re-read) Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces so that I could understand that (1) all fiction is written the exact same way, even yours and mine, and (2) our stories are just as scripted as the best and worst stories ever told.
  • I’ve watched every film by Stanley Kubrick. Every film. Even Fear and Desire, his very first feature-length film.
  • I drink a lot of water throughout my day. A lot!
  • I know what I have to offer others is valuable, so I make sure to offer it to everyone.
  • I erased the word “can’t” from my vocabulary a long, long time ago.
  • I focus on the task at hand. Or at least I try my hardest to.
  • I’ve found someone who compliments me in every way, and who “gets” me and all my qualities and quirks.
Love this lil' Lady of mine!

Marinell and I in Vienna in winter, 2013, with a “wiener” between us.

  • I cut off any negative people from my life immediately with no second thoughts about it.
  •  I never (okay, I seldom) spread myself too thin, and therefore I have learned the value of saying “no” when spreading myself too thin seems imminent.
  •  I never stopped being a kid, although I tried it once for about two years when I was seventeen, and it totally sucked.
  • I constantly listen to my “boys in the basement” and they’ve never steered me wrong yet. Thanks, Stephen King!
  • Like Dirk Gently, I trust in the interconnectedness of all things.
  • I treat myself to an affogato every now and again. And again after that.
  • I’m not afraid to ask others for help when I really need it.
  • I show support to the things that matter most to me, and which have had a part in making me who I am today.
  • If I don’t have anything nice to say to someone else, I’ll find something nice to say, ‘cause there is always something nice to say.
  • I still call people on their birthdays.
  • I eat breakfast every morning ––granola with blueberries, or sometimes a banana, with almond milk. (No more cow’s milk for me.)
  • Everyday, I strive to add a little bit of goodness into the world through social media and #IRL, too.
  • I keep my memories close, but Winnie-the-Pooh closer. (As well as The House at Pooh Corner, The Tao of Pooh, and Te of Piglet, too.)

winnie-the-pooh

  • I don’t drink soda, and I don’t add anything artificial to anything that goes into my body.
  • Whatever happens to me, positive or not-so-positive, I truly believe it’s always for the best.
  • I’m not (too) afraid to try new things –– the older I get, anyway.
  • I end every night with a poem.

And just in case I’m actually thirty-eight years old instead of thirty-seven, here’s the most important thing I do, which we should all remember to do every single day of our lives:

  • Just breathe.

 

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The Ninjas We Know (And Those We Don’t See)

Let’s face it –– ninjas are awesome.

I hadn’t thought about this fact for a while, honestly, but the majority of kids, men-children and adults are fascinated by these fully masked assassins who stalk in stealth and kill with a quiet katana-swipe to the throat, and vanish in a cloud of smoke. This is only one kind of ninja that the 1980s and ‘90s passed down to my generation, and I thought I’d take a little trip down memory lane outlining the ninjas I know, and a few of those I don’t.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Yes, Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo were an immensely important part of my childhood. If I looked long and hard at these heroes in a half shell today, I still might not be able to pinpoint exactly what it was about them that shell-shocked me to the point that I absolutely had to own every piece of TMNT merchandise I could get my allowance money on.

It wasn’t just the super successful cartoon that started in 1987 and signed off in 1996 after ten amazing seasons of Splinter, Shredder, Krang and the gang; it wasn’t just the Playmates toy line that complemented the series so well that I had to own every single figure, including Usagi Yojimbo and (gulp!) Panda Khan; and despite a pretty terrible first attempt at a NES game, I was in it for the win because I was a fan of the original Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird comic book series by Mirage Studios that started it all off in 1984 –– and in bold black & white glory.

The first appearance of Leo, Don, Raph and Mike.

The first appearance of Leo, Don, Raph and Mike.

Ninja Kid. In 1986, Bandai released this NES title. I can’t recall how I got a copy, though it may have been a gift from my Dad or my siblings. All I remember is playing it nonstop once I got it. From throwing shuriken to getting stuck on some purple ooze dripping from a ceiling as you rode on a kite, Ninja Kid had to survive so he could defeat the evil forces of Demon Island. I’m not sure if I ever beat the game, but I’ve got a copy coming soon from Ebay, so I’ll let you know how it goes.

Ninja Kid "flying a kite" –– one of the coolest things about this game.

Ninja Kid “flying a kite” –– one of the most awesome things about this NES classic.

Ninjak. For those of you who remember Valiant Comics, you’ll remember Mark Moretti and Joe Quesada’s Ninjak, which will be brought back to comic shop shelves in his own series once again in this year. Much like Valiant Entertainment, Ninjak has gone through a renaissance from his initial appears in X-O Manowar and into the Unity story arc. But there was something about Quesada’s artwork that defined not only Valiant Comics, but the comic book art of the time. The Ninjak of the 1990s represents an entire zeitgeist of action-packed comic books. The Age of Image. The Valiant Era. It was all so meta it was scary, and we didn’t even have a word for it back then.

From Ninjak #1 (1994)

From the opening pages of Ninjak #1 (1994)

Jinx. Now if you were to guess who my favorite G.I. Joe action figure was as a kid and you guessed the obvious –– Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow –– you’d be wrong. I never even owned those two, especially since I wasn’t much a fan of G.I. Joe outside of the cartoon. But I did own Jinx, a crimson-clad ninja lady, who came with a hefty Reese Witherspoon/Wild-style backpack that held who knows what besides her twin katana blades. The wannabe Jinx from G.I. Joe: Retaliation? A far cry from the original Rawhide, that’s for sure!

The original Jinx in all her crimson glory.

The original Jinx in all her crimson G.I. glory.

Black Dragon & White Dragon. Do any of you remember the ridiculously short-lived 1986 cartoon Rambo: Force of Freedom from First Blood author David Morrell? If so, you’ll remember these twin ninja brothers: White Dragon, who uses his skills to aid John Rambo in the fight against S.A.V.A.G.E., and Black Dragon, who sells his skills as the world’s greatest assassin to the highest bidder.

Lady Shiva. While Batman Begins gave us a glimpse into the hidden world of the League of Assassins and Arrow plays around in this sandbox as well. I always go back to the original gangsta –– Lady Shiva. And I’m not talking about the latest incarnations, I’m talking about the Lady Shiva of the 1980s. To this day I have every panel etched in my brain of the fight scene between her and the Dark Knight in Batman #427, which still holds up in my mind as one of the best fight sequences every penciled by the Bat-master Jim Aparo.

Ah, the good ol' days when comics used sound effects.

Ah, the good ol’ days when comics used sound effects.

Now, there were some ninjas I didn’t have the luxury of knowing much about back in my younger days. I’ve already mentioned the most well-known ninjas of any toy line, but while I know Ninja Kid for the NES, I did not know about the more popular 1989 game Ninja Gaiden, released by Tecmo, which spawned two successful sequels each with some pretty rad subtitles –– The Dark Sword of Chaos and The Ancient Ship of Doom. And while we’re talking about NES, I think it only fair to mention Kid Niki: Radical Ninja, which was released by Data East in 1987.

Kid Niki Famicom box art. 'Cause everything's cooler in Japanese.

Kid Niki: Radical Ninja Famicom box art. ‘Cause everything’s better in Japanese.

And I think I owe it to my Taoist sensibilities to mention Zen, Intergalactic Ninja, which I was never much a fan of the comic series from the late ‘80s, and I never played the NES or Game Boy cartridges, either. But I did get to meet creators Steve Stern and Dan Cote at New York Comic-Con in 2013, where I picked up a 3-D issue that came complete with old anaglyph red/cyan glasses, and every image in that black and white book jumped to life beautifully, making me wish I’d taken this particular ninja a bit more seriously when I was a kid. I mean, looking back, the action figure wasn’t all that bad.

The action figure looks so much more serious than the comics.

The Zen action figure looks so much cooler than he does in the comics.

Why am I writing about Ninjas as my first post of 2015, you ask? Well, no reason, really, except that I just started writing a ninja assassin into my third novel, Sebastian Holden, P.I. in An Unlikely Liaison with the Living Dead. (Tentative title.) And I did so simply because late in December, I took a little trip to Video Games New York to browse around their amazing selection of NES, SNES, Genesis –– heck, just about every game you’ve ever seen on every system –– that no one seems to want. Well, I stumbled on Ninja Kid hidden in between Top Gun and Top Secret Episode. And when once my memories of this game had been completely taken from me like a ninja after hitting its mark, in that moment, all those lost memories came splashing back into me on seeing that cover.

That’s when it hit me.

I wanna write a ninja assassin into one of my novels, I thought to myself. Then I said it to myself out loud, ‘cause I have a tendency to talk to myself. A lot. I said to myself, “I wanna write a ninja assassin into one of my novels.”

So I did. ‘Cause you never know just where the right inspiration will strike. And you have to be prepared at all times to take it.

*         *         *

These are my ninjas of yesterday, climbing the walls of my subconscious and slashing open the vaults they hid themselves behind without my knowledge. What are some of your ninjas? Jot them down in the comments below –– I’d love to read about them!

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TEDx 2014: Living Up to My Middle Name

“Storyteller. Nostalgist. TED talker, too.”

That’s what I changed all of my bios on social media to ever since I had the privilege of speaking at TEDxJerseyCity on Saturday, November 8th, 2014.

Now I think we all know that TED is a big deal, but I didn’t put that into my head until after I got off the stage at PS4 on Bright Street in Downtown Jersey City because I knew I would have panicked. I consider myself so fortunate to have spoken at most of the top film festivals all over the world –– household names like Sundance, SXSW, and TIFF –– but a TEDx talk is a TED talk, and it’s an honor granted to a few people all over the world.

And for the first time in a long time, I had to work for it.

Here's the original outline. Very bare bones.

Here’s the original outline. Very bare bones.

I wanted to dive into what the process of preparing for a TEDx talk was like for me because it was very different than anything else I’ve ever had to prepare for. First of all, I had to audition for the part, and that brought me back to when I used to perform Shakespeare in the parks. I haven’t auditioned for anything since then, and the organizers of TEDxJerseyCity took this part of the process very seriously.

In fact, I almost didn’t make the cut.

When I did my first audition, I was trying not to focus so much on crowdfunding and instead veer that subject I could talk about in my sleep more towards the power of the crowd. My four-minute audition piece was quite honestly a mess. But one of the organizers, Alicia, believed that I had something truly important to say, and so she met up with me at The Warehouse Café and helped me shift the focus of the talk back to what I’m really meant to talk about –– crowdfunding –– and through that, reveal the power of the crowd through personal stories, examples, and a quick lesson on how ordinary people like us have the power to create positive change in the world because money is no longer an obstacle now that we finally have the tools to overcome the problem of lack of funding.

Initial draft of my first audition piece.

Initial draft of my first audition piece.

Freshly armed with that as my focus, and a couple days of hardcore rehearsals, I ended up wowing the judges during the callbacks that I almost didn’t get invited to, and I made it onto the roster along with sixteen other proud Jersey City speakers who would take the stage and talk about a “Brave New World” of their choosing at TEDxJerseyCity 2014.

The other part that was most difficult for me personally was the actual writing of the talk. See, whenever I speak at an event, I never write down what I’m going to say. It’s all very beatnik (I am a poet, after all) –– “straight from the mind to the voice,” as ol’ Jack would say. The only other time I felt I had to write out my talk was during my SXSW Future15 talk about being a face in the crowd of crowdfunding, where I talked about crowdfunding through the lens of the 1957 film A Face in the Crowd, starring Andy Griffith.

The first slide from my SXSW Future15 talk, 2014.

The first slide from my SXSW Future15 talk, 2014.

But I basically did the same thing with the written out version of my TED talk that I did with that SXSW one. I tossed it in the trash and winged it.

The thing about “winging” something is simple: You have to be confident that there’s a wind beneath those wings to hold you up, and that wind is the intention behind what you want to say. How you say it, that’ll always be secondary.

Before we bust into a chorus of Bette Midler’s famous tune, let’s get back to TEDx. Aside from the rough outlines/four-minute audition pieces, I wrote a full outline and a first and second draft of the talk. What I noticed was each time I wrote it, I would add more to it. Always more. Never less. And ultimately when I had a week left and was about to start rehearsing my talk, I let my fiancée Marinell read it.

And she liked it.

Sort of.

“I can’t picture you saying it like this,” Marinell kept on saying, and no matter how many times I reassured her that “the talk that I give on stage will most likely sound nothing like what’s written,” she still wasn’t convinced until I took her to my apartment and performed it for her for the first time. No notes. No cheat sheet. Nothing.

And she loved it.

And this is the last draft, complete with the notes that helped create the final draft.

And this is the last draft, complete with the notes that helped create the final draft.

Did the writing out of the entire talk help me keep the intention behind those words in the forefront of my mind? Sure. But knowing myself the way I do, I should’ve simply sketched out a quick outline onto a couple of napkins and worked off of that. When you know your subject matter, it makes no sense to spend all that time writing it out; just know what you need to say and practice getting it out in the order you need it to be presented, and all will be well.

I spent the next entire week practicing every night after work –– again, something I’m not accustomed to doing. I recorded each rendition of my talk into my iPhone, all the while timing it more old school on an old Breitling stopwatch I permanently borrowed from a high school science class. From my first time of twenty-six minutes to just barely cutting it down to the eighteen-minute TED maximum, the more I practiced, the more I knew what I needed to get across to my audience.

Screen shot 2014-11-15 at 12.24.25 PM

I was so happy when I snapped this photo for Instagram –– got that talk down to just under seventeen minutes.

On the day of the talk itself, I practiced one last time in the morning, and I was pleased to get it down to fifteen minutes. That meant, I now had precious time to infuse into the talk the spontaneity that makes all of my talks all the more memorable. The quick asides and off-the-cuff additions, but most importantly, working with the crowd in the moment to create with them the best talk possible. To give to them the speech they want to hear. And I think I accomplished that with my TED talk.

But man, it was a lot of work!

SONY DSC

It’s been a week since my TEDxJerseyCity talk, and I’ve been thinking of my Dad a bit more lately. It always happens during this time –– he passed away eight years ago on December 16th –– but this time feels a little different. I find myself wishing I could take a minute and tell him all about my talk, and to hear him in that silent whisper of a voice he left this world with say that he’s proud of the man I’ve become.

I know he is, of course. But sometimes you just need to hear it.

But it’s funny –– We all know that “TED” stands for “Technology, Entertainment, and Design,” but it’s also short for “Teddy,” a nickname for “Theodore” and what the “T.” in “John T. Trigonis” stands for.

And it was also my father’s name, too.

My TEDx talk marks a huge milestone for me, and I have no idea where it will take me next. Perhaps nowhere. Perhaps it will afford me further opportunities to talk about the power that crowdfunding gives to mild mannered men and women all around the world. Time will tell, and I want to thank you all ahead of time for helping me get here.

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#TypeOctober: Re-Discovering the Genius of Type O Negative

My good pal Timo Voruensola Tweeted something the other day that made me smile big:

That’s right –– #TypeOctober –– an entire month to listen to and appreciate one of my favorite bands back during my longhaired leather-jacketed days, circa 1993 – 1998. It wasn’t until 1996 that I’d heard of this Goth metal band that had a flair for the dreary, dark, and depressing, and a penchant for All Hallow’s Eve, which is why I’m writing this during my favorite month of the year.

I had just become a senior in high school, and my headbanger friends Brian, Joey, and Tommy were introducing me to some heavier music than the Meat Loaf, Guns N’ Roses, and (gulp!) Debbie Gibson I was listening to for most of my high school years. It was through them I discovered the not-so-soothing sounds of Danzig, Biohazard, and The Misfits.

And Type O Negative.

typeonegative-bloodykisses

Bloody Kisses (1993) was the first album I listened to. Of course, I was drawn in by the two women moaning in some kind of sexual discord in the opening track “Machine Screw” –– y’see, each album features literal “sound tracks” mixed in between the music –– and then I heard frontman Peter Steele’s voice toll its way into the song like a death knell: “Forgive her, for she knows not what she does.”

What a voice! I thought to myself. Deep, powerful, unafraid of the boogiemen and all the things that go bump in the dark because, as far as I was concerned that voice was the dark. By the time I got through the near nine minutes of “Christian Woman” and its three devilishly diverse parts, I was sold. From the gothic opening act, to the soft, guitar-plucked second, and the metal-centric egomaniacal conclusion, I realized that so many folks would simply pass these fellas off as a bunch of metal-heads singing satanic music with no substance to it whatsoever.

But not me. Nope, I could feel the composition beneath the heaviness of their music, and it was no different to me than a symphony by Mozart or an award-winning film score.

Unfortunately, there won’t be any new Type O Negative songs anytime soon. But I am proud to say that during my first trip out to Los Angeles, I got to see them perform live in hospital gowns at The House of Blues while they were on tour with their latest album Life is Killing Me (2003). It was in LA that I also stumbled on a Type O Negative “Brothers in Blood” button at a souvenir shop off Hollywood Boulevard, which I still own to this day, and always will.

So for this month of October, I’ll be listening to a ton of Type O Negative, including albums I’ve never heard, like Life is Killing Me, which I’m really enjoying, to classics like World Coming Down (1999). If any of you would like to join Timo and I this month in listening to The Least Worst Of (I’m not being messed up –– that’s the title of the “Best Of” album they put out in 2000) Type O Negative, here’s a few songs I recommend starting with:

  • “Christian Woman” and “Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All) off of Bloody Kisses
  • My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend” from October Rust (1996)
  • The entire World Coming Down, especially “Everyone I Love is Dead,” “Everything Dies,” and “Pyretta Blaze”
  • “I Don’t Wanna Be Me” and the title track off of Life is Killing Me

Enjoy those, and hey, if you wanna go way back with Type O and you’re all good with “Explicit Lyrics,” give “I Know You’re Fucking Someone Else” from The Origin of the Feces (1992). It has got to be the lewdest song I’ve ever heard with more expletives than I can count on two hands, but composition-wise, I place it right up there with “Christian Woman” and Beethoven’s 9th.

And although Mr. Steele is gone, he may just end up as a character in my third “Hipster Noir” novel, which I hope will be the ultimate homage to a talent who fell into a winter chill long before his autumn was over.

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This is What a “Hipster Noir” Novel Will Look Like

So I’ve written a novel. So what?

The question that perturbs me day and night is this: Can I actually be writing a novel without being an avid reader of novels?

Well, the answer I’ve come up with is yes.

And so what?

As you’ve recently read, the inspiration for my Muddled Mystery of the Murdered Muse stems from diverse source materials ranging from novels like Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently series and comics like Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT to classic Hollywood and international films and the music of the 1930s to 1950s –– we’re talking Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, that sorta big band sound you hear in most film noir pictures.

Don’t get me wrong, though –– I’ve read enough fiction to last me a lifetime between college prep high school English to majoring in two writing degrees, each requiring an onslaught of the written word be conquered before etching the first letters of one’s own onto the pages of a master’s thesis.

But today, I’m unveiling the very first image for Hipster Noir. No, this isn’t a comic book –– for that, be sure to check out Siren’s Calling over on Facebook –– and it’s certainly not a children’s book. It’s simply a book with pictures.

I want The Muddled Mystery to be words and images. Think back to those times you read A. A. Milne’s Winnie-The-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. A few pages of words go by, and there’s a nice little image by E. H. Shepard and Exupéry to aid in your imagination a bit –– an image that adds a little something extra to the standard storytelling and plot.

And yes, although those are children’s books, technically (you know you still pick up Winnie-The-Pooh from time to time more than J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan), I want to give readers of my Muddled Mystery to enjoy a sense of harkening back to their childhood while reading a very adult supernatural murder mystery, and also get them to see the world of Sebastian Holden how I see it.

“Holden Onto Heartbreak” is Coming Soon

In the next month or so, I plan to release to you all the first short story introduction into the world of Sebastian Holden, P.I. in “Holden Onto Heartbreak,” one of this hipster detective’s earliest adventures. And it will feature a more fleshed-out version of the following image, sketched by my friend and very talented artist Narciso Espiritu, Jr.:

Hipster Noir

Again, this is just a simple sketch from Narciso to get you all excited about what’s to come. The story itself will be a draft that is in need of your feedback, because what’s the point of writing a novel (or series of novels at this point –– I’m nearly done with book two!) if the audience doesn’t care to read it, right?

The bigger question for now is will I need to write my name as “J. T. Trigonis” once all’s said and published…?

 

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What is a Hipster Noir? Inspirations, Part One

When I first started writing my first hipster noir, now called The Muddled Mystery of the Murdered Muse, it began as a bunch of weird character sketches. Some of them were based loosely on folks I know in real life, while others were complete fabrications. And there were a few I pulled in from other ideas I’d initially drafted as screenplays or other kinds of creative writing.

But you may be wondering how this all began.

MindMGMT

Well, aside from being bored during my morning and evening commutes from Jersey City to NYC and back, what initially started me writing what back then was only a character sketch a day is Mind MGMT, a creator-owned comic book series by Matt Kind, published by Dark Horse Comics. The plot centers on a mysterious organization of super spies known as Mind Management and one man’s quest to take it down once and for all while another faction fights to recreate a new, more powerful management. Hand down, Mind MGMT has to be the best read in comics right now.

Something Matt includes in each issue is a character sketch to a new character in an opening and closing segment, one on the flipside of the front cover called “The Second Floor” and the other called “Mind MGMT Case Files” that takes up the last two pages. It’s here where Matt introduce his readers to characters that are now starting to play a more prominent role in the story –– characters like “The Futurist” Duncan Jones, “The Ad Man” Karl Box, and “The Hulk” (not to be confused with Marvel’s green giant). “The Second Floor” also occasionally delves into side stories that help us piece together what Mind Management is all about.

Two Sisters

What I really love about these is how they start to connect to the larger world and story arc of Mind MGMT, creating a more holistic continuity in the universe that Matt seems to be expanding on with each monthly issue. In many ways, this exactly what happened with my character sketches; at one point about ten characters in, I create Sebastian Holden, the hipster detective protagonist of my story, and from that point on, a plot started to take hold of the writing.

I probably haven’t told you all that much about Mind MGMT, Matt Kind’s greatest series since Super Spy and Revolver, but I cannot recommend this series enough, which is available in three hardcover graphic novel editions as the monthly series stories boldly on with a movie on the way.

MindMGMT10rev

As for my hipster noir, I’m still writing them both a little bit every day. Instead of character sketches, the ones I’m writing now are chapters in the second novel while I revise and edit my Muddled Mystery and get it ready for the road ahead.

Stay tuned…

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Star Wars: Three “Lost” Episodes

With all the hype(rspace) lately about Star Wars: Episode VII, the inner child in me who once ran around his apartment holding onto the built-in handle of his Millennium Falcon has had his lightsaber reignited, especially by the news a few weeks back that the original cast will be joining the ranks of the Rebellion once more.

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At one point, I stumbled on this article from io9 about some of the best Star Wars Expanded Universe stories every told, and while there were some solid contenders like Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy of novels and Dark Horse Comics’ Dark Empire, but I was a bit surprised that none of the novels by Kevin J. Anderson made the list.

Anderson’s Jedi Academy Trilogy was my re-introduction to the joy of Star Wars, which I sort of left behind during that one time I decided that maybe I should grow up. I picked up the first book because of the cover itself: a crash-landed Millennium Falcon and a female Imperial Admiral, all flanked by the familiar faces of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Leia Organa. Were it not for that evocative cover shining forth in the small confines of Bergenfield Bookstore back in 1994, I’d never have picked up with Bantam paperback; clocking in at a staggering 368 pages with no pictures, it was decidedly more than my sixteen-year old attention span could ever handle.

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But it was Star Wars, and this was the novel that launched me back into that galaxy far, far away, that reignited the lightsaber of my mind with a snap-hiss of a newfound excitement for the original (and only) trilogy.

I was able to get through Jedi Search, even though it took quite a while, as I’m a very slow reader, but I enjoyed every chapter. And once I was done, I went out and picked up the second book, Dark Apprentice, and devoured that, as well, and ended it all with the finale, Champions of the Force.

I supposed what I enjoyed most about this particular trilogy of books is the nostalgia factor, as so much of what’s in these books harkens back to the original trilogy. The opening scene pits Han Solo and Chewbacca crash-landing on the planet Kessel, where our one-time scoundrel “made the Kessel run in twelve parsecs.” The Jedi Academy is housed on the planet Yavin IV. Even Darksaber, Anderson’s follow-up novel to these three books, is loaded with references to A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, from the “Banthas plodding single-file” on Tatooine to a rematch between Luke Skywalker and the wampa that lost its arm to his father’s lightsabre.

The cover artwork for Darksaber.

The cover artwork for Darksaber.

 Earlier this month, I went to the weekly book sale at Grace Church in Jersey City, and lo and behold, I saw the entire Jedi Academy Trilogy on the shelves beside classic science-fiction stories, and the Star Wars fan inside of me couldn’t help but smile. I don’t have my copies any longer, because I sold them to a woman from Vancouver who wanted to surprise her son with some Star Wars criteria reading. I certainly place these four books right up there with X-Wing: Rogue Squadron, the Thrawn Trilogy, and the greatness that will ultimately be Star Wars: Episode VII, though little to none of the Expanded Universe will be the same.

 

But these books will be with me, always.

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What are some of your favorite Star Wars books, graphic novels, or other stories, and why?

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Still a GAME BOY at Heart: 25 Years in Eight Games

The other day browsing through my Instagram feed I discovered that April is not only National Poetry Month (I’d known this for decades, of course, being a poet since the age of thirteen), but that this year marks the 25th birthday of one of the most pleasurable aspects of my childhood: The Original Nintendo Game Boy.

 

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In all it’s bulky, black & white compactness, this paradigm of the portable game playing device absorbed hours of my life into mere minutes as I immersed myself in worlds both familiar and foreign, all the while migrating with the sun and stars through the day so I could play until the wee hours of the night.

At my game-playing fighting weight, I must’ve owned around twenty or so of the iconic Game Boy game cartridges, and kept them all in a black vinyl case until I gave it all to an ex-girlfriend when I prematurely decided that it was time to grow up. One of three times I’d told that to myself in my life –– thankfully, the growing up never quite takes.

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I still remember the thrill in my heart when I unwrapped this baby at Christmas time, 1989.

But I did have a few favorites, which I not only played time and time again, but which also inspired me to get creative with telling my own stories.

Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters

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It must have been the Greek or the geek in me (or a little of both, perhaps), or maybe just the fact that I needed to know the origins of the strange Eggplant Wizard in the old Captain N: The Game Master series, that I picked up this version of the original 8-bit Kid Icarus game for the NES, which I never owned.

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 Double Dragon

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I’m a lot less violent now than I guess I was back in the ’90s, but I enjoyed kicking arse as Billy Lee and punching, side-kicking, and knifing my way through the scum-lined city streets, for which this black & white version shadowed a nice little noir aspect to it, especially when the contrast was adjusted just right.

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Super Mario Land

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Ever since playing the original Mario Bros with my dad, to elevating to Super Mario Bros., eventually falling in love with Super Mario Bros. 2, and having the Mushroom Kingdom culminate with SNES’s Super Mario World, there’s still a soft spot in my soul for Super Mario Land. It has a charm that the others lack. Perhaps it’s the fact that Mario flies in a plane and dives deep in a submarine and battles an all-new villain –– the evil alien Tatanga –– and rescues a different lovely princess named Daisy. I always wondered what Princess Toadstool thought about that. And where the heck’s Paula in all of this?!

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Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge

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With much better gameplay than the original Castlevania: The Adventure for Game Boy and the ability to whip while climbing up a rope, Belmont’s Revenge was a whip-cracking good time as I battled familiar monsters and a few gruesome new faces in four really interesting realms for Christopher Belmont to wander through before his final bout with Dracula ensues.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan

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By far, this is my all-time favorite Game Boy game. I could play a ton of others, but being an ardent fan of the heroes on the half-shell, owning all of the original action figures and loving the TV series more than any other cartoon series that came before it, I always slipped this cartridge into the back of my Game Boy and played for another hour or two. Even after beating The Shredder and Krang, I would simply restart and do it again, marveling at the graphics as I played each time as if it was the first time.

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Now, there were also a few games that, no matter how much I played them and how hard I tried to master them, I just couldn’t do much to get past a certain level on each one of these. But I still tried, and (most of the time) I still had a blast playing them.

 

RoboCop

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Playing this straight forward side scrolling shoot-‘em-up, and I could never get past the level where it became first person, and Murphy has to save a screaming woman from a thug holding her at gunpoint by positioning the crosshairs and shooting him to save her. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I never become a cop.

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The Final Fantasy Legend

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One of my favorite posters I ever hung up in my room was one for the NES Final Fantasy game. Final Fantasy II for SNES quickly became one of my most played games ever, partly for the role-play factor (the Dungeons & Dragons geek in me), but also for offering an mesmerizing storyline that took a Dark Knight turned Paladin from terrestrial worlds and airships all the way to the moon itself! The Final Fantasy Legend for Game Boy, however, with its much slower pace, nameless characters, and lack of a solid storyline, didn’t make as lasting an impression on me, though I did keep playing it, but would oftentimes get bored by the wandering around and battling lame monsters.

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T2: Terminator 2: Judgment Day

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I never made it past level two in this game, in which players have to rewire the terminator into Schwarzenegger with shades. End of story. Before it ever begins.

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What are some of YOUR favorite (and/or least favorite) Game Boy games? Fill ‘em in the comments below.

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The “Word” in Jersey City Last Wednesday was Crowdfunding for Filmmakers

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Last Wednesday, I presented my seminar on “The Keys to Successful Crowdfunding for Filmmakers” at Word Bookstore in Jersey City, NJ. Here are some photos of the event, which went exceptionally well, according to members of the highly engaged crowd of future film funders:

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And yes, I am this animated!

Special thanks to my lovely fiancée Marinell Montales for snapping these awesome shots during the event. I’d also like to thank Word Bookstores for welcoming my words into their shop and for heping to promote, as well as Inside Jersey City (@iJerseyCity on Twitter), The Jersey City Life (@jerseycitylife), and everyone who RTed and “Shared” this event.

And, of course, I’d like to thank the amazing crowd that attended –– after all, without the crowd, where would I be?

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Robots I Can Recall and the Robo Force I Can’t

I’ll be the first to admit it –– I had an amazing childhood.

Being the baby of the family, my Mom, Dad, and siblings always wanted me to have the best. In fact, some of my fondest childhood memories are of family trips to the Toys R Us in the neighboring town of Union City (or is it North Bergen? –– There’s some weird border issues around those two towns) and picking up the latest Transformers or M.A.S.K. toys.

Other times, I’d go with my Dad to the dollar shop across from the Pathmark in Weehawken where my sister worked part-time as a cashier, and I’d spend some of the hard-earned money I made bagging groceries at the back of her aisle on Saturdays.   Spoiled? Perhaps just a little.

But last month while I was searching for some images for one of my upcoming blog posts, I stumbled on this poster:

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I was propelled into my past. I remember sitting Indian-style in my playroom (formerly my brother’s bedroom) at the apartment where I grew twenty-six years tall and strong surrounded by cardboard boxes that once held Löenbräu and Carlo Rossi burgundies and instead held my Masters of the Universe, Star Wars, and Secret Wars action figures, and fumbling around with these awkward-looking suction-cupped robots, with accordion-style arms, stickers on their chests, and ridiculous names like “Coptor” and “Vulgar.” My favorite was Hundred the Conqueror because of his evil slotted red eyes and the hidden guns that lay beneath his visor. I never really liked Maxx Steele the Leader simply because he was the one of the lot who just couldn’t hang upside down –– his suction cup was a bit “sucky” compared to all the rest (I had to…)

I don’t quite recall these bots being my favorite toys; they were a bit effeminate, with Hundred the Conqueror, in particular, looking very much like a bustier version of Rosie from The Jetsons; back then, this would’ve been reason enough to steer clear of the toy line –– during a time when boys were not interested in playing with girl toys; that is girl action figures like April O’Neil from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Playmates toy line or Wonder Woman from the Super Powers figures by Kenner. However, I did own Teela from Mattel’s Masters of the Universe, which was the closest to owning a Princess Leia figure I ever got back in those days.

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Good ol’ Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons, one of my favorite cartoons growing up.

But the interesting thing is this: I can tell you to this day where I got most of my action figures and vehicles, and oftentimes from whom, too, but I can’t, for the life of me, recall where the heck all of these Robo Force protagonists and antagonists came from! I remember clearly my sister Renee buying me the original first generation Optimus Prime Transformers figure and my Uncle Chris getting me the Millennium Falcon one Christmas in the early ’80s; and I can still see my brother and sister-in-law bribing me down the aisle on their wedding day with a brand new Whiplash figure and unwrapping He-Man’s Talon Fighter at another family gathering around 1885. But these Robo Force figures? I can’t even remember the packaging these things came in, and certainly not the family member who bought them for me.

What’s the deal with robots, you ask? Although I’m a fairly rabid science-fiction fan, robots were something that took me a while to fully appreciate. I mean, I only saw The Day the Earth Stood Still last week. To this day, I’ve yet to watch an episode of Battlestar Galactica even though thanks to some good friends on Facebook I realized that a figurine I’d held onto for years was actually from the original TV series. As a matter of fact, the only TV show I ever watched show that featured a robot was Small Wonder. No Six Million Dollar Man. No Bionic Woman. No Star Trek: The Next Generation until I was much older.

But I am intrigued by the idea of robots, cyborgs, androids, and other forms of artificial intelligence, and even more so now than ever before since our own world is inching closer and closer to making these once staples of science-fiction storytelling an everyday reality. Drones are one thing, but other things like Google Glass and Oculus Rift, which allow the Internet to have an up close and personal seat in our psyches to control at the blink of an eye, is simply one step away from putting that Internet inside of us? Borg, anyone? For me, it’s a little too RoboCop for my comfort.

The only robot I had any remote liking to back in my younger days was C-3PO, and I think it was because, besides Transformers and even the GoBots, Threepio was all-too human deep beneath his golden shell. Then you have robots like the nameless one from Lost in Space, Robby from Forbidden Planet, and the Daleks from Doctor Who, which are not humanoid in any way, but intriguing in shape, function, or even its purpose for existence.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forbidden Planet (1956)

So it doesn’t surprise me that I really can’t remember where these Robo Force figures from my younger years had come from. But I do remember playing with them on a somewhat regular basis whenever I tired of my SilverHawks flight laps around the apartment and the Ghostbusters adventures during my weekend visits to my brother’s house in Bergenfield.

And just as I don’t remember where I originally got this particular line of toys from, I also don’t remember how they left me, either. It’s as though they appeared when I needed some robotic buddies most, then exited through the gift shop just as mysteriously as they came.

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So remember that figurine I mentioned earlier? This it is: the small figurine that partially spawned this blog post. Thanks to my friends Ian Dangerfield, Geoff Mosher, and Patrick Boyle, we discovered that it’s an original 2-inch Cylon Centurion figure from Mattel’s Cylon Raider vehicle from 1978 –– the very year I was born.

Here's my Cylon Centurion, which has been with me for as long as I can remember.

Here’s my Cylon Centurion, which has been with me for as long as I can remember.

What vintage toy robots did you grow up with, that you either remember fully or vaguely. I’d love to know!

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