On Stands Now! Rise of the Superhero: From the Golden Age to the Silver Screen

When I began working on my essay, “World War II & Nationalism” (one of several I wrote for LIFE: Rise of the Superhero), the 2016 election was just kicking into high gear and Nazis were primarily relegated to the past. Sure, we all knew pockets of white supremacists/neo-Nazis/alt-whatever-the-f*ck-else-these-guys-call-themselves, existed around the world. But a full-on Nazi rally? On American soil? In 2017? I never would have believed it. Nor that the President of the United States would then tap-dance around denouncing Nazis, or even publicly validate them by trying to create some sort of equivalence between the actions of actual self-identifying, muthereffing Nazis and the actions of the brave Americans protesting the rally.

And yet, here we are, America 2017. Rallies like the one in Charlottesville are on the rise, at home and abroad; seething losers emboldened and encouraged by 45’s victory. It’s a shameful affront against Holocaust survivors and their families, Japanese Internment Camp survivors and their families, and World War II veterans and their families–especially relatives of the murdered, lost, and fallen–that they must now watch the horrific resurgence of these monsters in their own backyards. It’s extra offensive that these alt-holes then hide behind a faux nationalism that reveals an agenda having nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with hate. How else does one flip from getting one’s Dixie-print briefs all bunched up over athletes “disrespecting” America, veterans, the U.S. military, and idk, maybe golden-lab-puppies-with-bandanas, to being A-OKAY with marching as the very anti-American, anti-freedom groups that their grandparents and great-grandparents risked their lives to fight? Who’s really disrespecting America here? Hint: It’s not the athletes.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for how to end hate or hate groups (though it would be very on-brand for 2017 if I suddenly solved one of humanity’s biggest issues in the void of my deserted blogscape). But I’ll say this: Leading up to WWII, comic publishers created many (many, many) all-American superheroes in part to unify Americans under our country’s best qualities, even if those qualities were, and still are, mainly aspirational. But in this round against the rising tide of hate groups–and here’s where I get a little corny, please bear with me–I don’t think we need to look outside ourselves for inspiration. For those of us who think the country can do better than what hate mongers offer, this is an opportunity to fashion ourselves into our own superheroes.*
*Star-spangled spandex completely optional, but encouraged.

We have the tools, the platforms, and the connections we need to motivate and activate each other, and as of now, we still have the freedom to utilize them. But we’ve all seen how quickly the status-quo can change, abroad and at home, so it’s important that we exercise those freedoms. Because, as much as we still love them (or huh? them), it wasn’t Captain America (or Spy Smasher) that defeated the Nazis in World War II, it was the real-life people that inspired those superheroes to be created in the first place. To that end, I encourage you to find an anti-hate organization in your community, or online, and put your voice, your time, and if possible, your money into supporting them.

LIFE Rise of the Superhero: From the Golden Age to the Silver Screen features an exclusive introduction by the legendary Stan Lee. In addition to “WWII & Nationalism,” I wrote a couple of other pieces for this special issue, including “Super Spoofs and Satire.” If you’d like to read more, LIFE Rise of the Superhero is available at magazine stands, in bookstores, and online.

On Stands Now! TIME-LIFE The Mob: Inside the Brutal World of the Mafia

I mainly write spec fiction and fantasy; and when I write nonfiction, it’s usually about spec fiction and fantasy. Or comics. Or pop culture. Or children’s books. So while I’ve written about plenty of fictional villains, I’ve never had an opportunity to cover any real life ones…until now. My most recent project for Time, Inc., TIME-LIFE The Mob: Inside the Brutal World of the Mafia, allowed me explore a cast of real-life good guys, bad guys, and even-worse guys.

Most people are familiar with the idea of the Mafia. There are the fictional versions, of course–the myriad of movies, shows, and books which seem to inspire an odd sort of cult worship in some circles. But then there’s the harsh reality behind those stories: The brutal violence. The drugs. The sites of gruesome hits we unwittingly pass every day en route to work.  The ways in which the Mafia shaped local and national crime, and influenced local and national politics, with long-reaching effects that still persist today.

So while most folks know about the  Mob in a vague, background, make-him-an-offer-he-can’t-gabagool-the-cannoli way, they don’t know many details about the real Mafia, its origins, or its major players. The Mob: Inside the Brutal World of the Mafia will help in bridging that gap.

For this book, I wrote about a dozen bios for some of the Mafia’s major players. I also wrote about the Mob’s Cosa Nostra connections, the Five Families (then and now), and the most prevalent Mafia Myths. Even I learned a thing or two beyond my perception of the Mob as just another violent, misogynistic branch of the patriarchy. I mean, it is definitely all of those things, but in working on these pieces, I was fascinated and somewhat surprised to discover how (in most cases) these men and women catapulted from relatively benign beginnings into a violent, unpredictable world of organized crime; and, how once “in,” they quickly sacrificed so much of their humanity to keep their rackets going, to stay in the game, to stay alive. The human stories beneath the flashy media Mob mythology are captivating and tragic arcs of aspiration, greed, and hubris, worthy of Shakespeare. It’s understandable why–even while grim as f-ck–these stories inspire retelling after retelling.

If you’d like to read more, The Mob: Inside the Brutal World of the Mafia is available at magazine stands, in bookstores, and online.


A quick note: Though he’s quoted aplenty in the Mafia Myths piece, I’d like to take a moment here to thank Geoff Schumacher of The Mob Museum in Las Vegas for being so generous with his time and expertise.

While we’re talking Las Vegas, people there are living a nightmare right now, so please consider donating to the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund and/or Everytown for Gun Safety. (And if you disagree, please consider examining your soul.)

 

What I Did This Summer, Part 2: Writing for the Educational Market Workshop

[Read Part 1: The Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop]
A big (big, BIG) part of freelance life is the hustle, and a hearty chunk of that hustle is exploring new opportunities in your chosen field (or fields). For example, the educational writing market has always intrigued me–a distant glow shimmering on the horizon at dusk, calling me forth into the wilderness, but… I’m getting carried away with this metaphor. Suffice it to say, I’ve long been interested in expanding my freelance and work-for-hire writing to include educational publishing. But even after researching the market online, I wasn’t really sure where and how to begin. Which markets were legit? Which ones used freelancers? Which ones paid those freelancers in a timely manner? Which ones forced their freelancers to hire a flashy (but free!) legal team to chase down overdue invoices? There are hundreds of educational publishers and companies out there, which is great–lots of opportunities. But trial-and-error exploration of those opportunities could be costly both in money and time (which is money, so in money-money and time-money).

Flash-forward to early 2017, when I saw that Paula Morrow  and Jan Fields would again be offering their popular “Writing for the Educational Market” workshop in June. Reader, I jumped on board and I’m so glad I did. Not only did I gain loads of valuable advice and information on breaking into and succeeding in this market, I also discovered I’d found an additional outlet for utilizing and applying what I’d learned during my recent Launch Pad experience.

Paula and Jan were engaging and knowledgeable as they shared their experience, expertise, and advice across a wide range of interests and specialties in the educational market. They, along with their teaching assistants, Sandra Athans and Julia Garstecki, and guest editors Cindy Kane (Six Red Marbles) and Karl Jones (Penguin Workshop) were extremely generous with their time, both in and out of the workshop sessions. We also laughed as much as we learned—which is a rare but wonderful way to impart knowledge and speaks volume to the faculty’s collective gift for teaching.

Julia, Jan, Paula, and Sandra.

My fellow attendees came from a variety of backgrounds and brought a wealth of experience to the workshop, further deepening and enriching the program. (One of the side benefits of attending this workshop is that I also gained a wonderful and supportive network of impressive professionals that continues to guide me long after our last class session ended.)

An exceptionally smart (and fun) group of humans.

I’ve been writing on the trade side for many years, but prior to attending this workshop I felt lost regarding the ins and outs of approaching the educational market. After spending the week with Jan, Paula, and my talented fellow attendees, I walked away with a real, concrete, and actionable plan for breaking into, and (hopefully) finding success in, educational writing.

If this is an area that interests you, I can’t recommend Paula and Jan’s workshop enough. It doesn’t look like a 2018 “Writing for the Educational Market” workshop has been scheduled yet, but you can sign up for updates on the Highlights website. (I’ll also update with a link if/when I see it.)

What I Did This Summer, Part 1: The Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop

This summer I had the pleasure and honor of attending the 2017 Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop. Organized by University of Wyoming professor (and SFF author) Michael S. Brotherton, PhD. (who founded the program) and astronomer Christian Ready, Launch Pad is hosted at University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyoming.

Mike and Christian at WIRO.

The Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop’s tagline is “Improving science literacy through words and media.” As Mike and Christian explained on the first day of the workshop, many people obtain their science through fiction and media. If the science is wrong in the fiction they’re reading (or watching), they won’t know and will walk away at best misinformed, at worst with a radically incorrect view of how the universe operates.

Creators have a responsibility to the story, absolutely, but they also have a responsibility to their audience. If creators do their best to keep the science accurate and plausible in their works, the audience gets a little bit of knowledge along with their rollicking space battle scene and may be inspired to learn more, or even apply what they’ve learned to their own creations, thus spreading knowledge instead of misinformation. The Launch Pad site sums this up nicely:

“Our primary goal is to teach writers, editors, and creative professionals about modern science, specifically astronomy, and in turn reach their large and diverse audiences. We hope to both educate the public and inspire the next generation of scientists.”

On Day One, Mike and Christian warned us they’d be compressing a lot of information into just one week (I believe the term “fire-hosing” was bandied about). Now, I implore you to imagine how impossible a feat it is to further compress that week into a singularity single blog post. So this will be a highlights-only post–and in a week packed with literally nothing but highlights, it will inevitably fall short of even that modest goal.

Classroom sessions were super full days–from 10 a.m. to about 5 p.m.–packed with a science-tsunami (not a real term) of engaging lectures and presentations from Mike and Christian, as well as special guest lectures and lab activities. The “Kirchhoff’s Laws and Spectra” lab with the affable Jim Verlay, PhD. seemed to especially delight the class. All the instructors, especially Mike and Christian, excelled at making the covered material accessible to a wide range of comprehension levels.

Training montage, BYO Rocky music.

After dinner, we kept going with observation sessions, a planetarium show, and several guided discussions about “Science Fiction Science,” wherein Mike walked us through examples of science and astronomy as portrayed in fiction (TV, film, and books), covering who got it right and who got it wrong (in some cases, hilariously wrong, see: Armageddon). These discussions yielded some of my favorite (and funniest) moments of the week.

On our penultimate evening, Launch Pad organized a trip to the Wyoming Infrared Observatory (WIRO), where we got to tour the facility, be jealous of the students studying there, and take in the stunning views from the top of Mt. Jelm at 9656 ft. (Much props to our T.A., Doug Farren, who navigated a rental van through some ridiculous switchbacks to get our group up the mountain. Also, for his patience while we all jammed our phones out the windows in an attempt to capture the incredible sunset that night.)

8

Phillip Jeffries. (Okay, no, it’s WIRO…probably…)

Let me pause a moment to rave about my wonderful co-attendees–what a talented, inspiring, and kind group of humans with whom to share this experience (see the full list of names under 2017 Attendees on the Launch Pad site). Between them, I think they’ve covered every genre and subgenre of science fiction and fantasy; so definitely go check out their books and stories.

2017 Attendees, all super-bleeping-awesome.

In addition to a cubic shit ton (not a real measurement) of information, Launch Pad also provides room and board–we stayed at the gorgeous Honors House, where we enjoyed private dorm rooms bigger than most NYC apartments. Also, the lucky (and hardworking) students that stay there during the school year have a huge rec room (and a laundry room!!! and a dishwasher!!!–can you tell New York has warped me?). The staff and volunteers at the University of Wyoming were equally impressive. I can’t speak for all attendees’ experiences, but everyone I interacted with seemed exceptionally warm and friendly. The campus and buildings were gorgeous, and as for Wyoming itself—wow…

Moon over Wyoming, from Mt. Jelm/WIRO.
(If you squint you can just make out Jerry Horne bashing his binoculars.)

Just. Gorgeous. Actual rolling prairies! Actual snow capped mountains! Actual pronghorns and buffalo and camels (idk, but they were there)! Blue skies for miles. Sunsets that you wouldn’t believe. Absolutely breathtaking. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit a lot of incredibly beautiful places in the world, and Wyoming ranks  up there (altitude* pun!) with the best of them.

*Speaking of altitude: As a life-long New Yorker I’ve always lived at (or, occasionally below) sea level. I didn’t really think about this until the first “Hydrate or Die” emails started zipping through my inbox in advance of our arrival. Hogwash! I thought. Surely I’d been at a similar altitude before! But no, Fake News! The startling truth was that I’d never even visited a place higher than about 2,000 ft. above sea level. So I arrived in Laramie more than a little nervous about altitude sickness, but it turned out to be just fine. Better than fine actually. There may be less oxygen in Laramie (elevation: approx 8,000 ft.) but the quality of that oxygen is apparently much, much better (no surprise) than here in NYC. Also, as advised, I hydrated like a m-er f-er. And as such, I saw just about every bathroom on the UW campus—all lovely. Five stars. Would visit again.

I am so grateful for this incredible once-in-a-lifetime** experience. Not only did I gain valuable material for a series I’m currently writing; I also walked away with a notebook filled with story ideas that will probably take me several lifetimes to complete. (But I’ll still try to get though them all in this one.) So huge thanks to Mike and Christian, my co-attendees, the sponsors (see below), and everyone at Launch Pad for providing a week of education and inspiration that I’ll never forget.

**Unless…Alumni workshop? Just saying…

NOTES:
Launch Pad is a funded workshop, generously sponsored by Space Telescope Science Institute and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). If you are an author/editor/creative professional who is interested in attending, the application period for the 2018 workshop should open sometime in Spring 2018.

If you are interested in helping support this excellent program, please donate via the Launch Pad fundraising page.

Out Today: It came from Metaphorosis…

Metaphorosis runs an innovative and fascinating regular feature called, “It came from…,” wherein they allow their authors talk a bit about the origins of their recently published stories. Today they posted “It came from N. R. Lambert,” where I discuss my near-future sci-fi story, “Business As Usual.”

Please take a look and if you’re inspired to read the story itself, you can find that on Metaphorosis as well. Please consider supporting Metaphorosis on Patreon or donating to Everytown via link at the bottom of the story page.

On Stands Now! Entertainment Weekly: The Ultimate Guide to Wonder Woman

My Princesses Were Warriors

There’s a pattern to the characters that I gravitated toward in childhood. My princesses—Leia, She-Ra, and Wonder Woman—were all warriors. (My princes were the Goblin King and Dr. Frank-N-Furter*—I liked my men in glitter and my women in charge. But that’s a post for another day.) No shade on swooning, dancing, enchanted-sleeping princesses, they had their place and time. But my princesses, the ones I idolized, the ones I pretended to be, aspired to be—they didn’t wait to be rescued, they did the rescuing. They were smart, strong, and yes, occasionally rocked some bitchin’ sparkly headwear. First among these, both in time and in my heart, is Wonder Woman. (Having grown up with the 70s television show, for me, Wonder Woman was, is, and forever shall be, Lynda Carter. Amen.)

Carter’s Wonder Woman was both kind and fierce; and often that kindness would nearly lead to her undoing. But she never let the fight break her humanity—she stayed true to herself. As a kid, especially as a girl, that was a powerful message. You can be strong, fight back, push up, and still have compassion for others, even your enemies, and especially yourself. It was a bit of a My First nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

That ain't no filter, I am as old as the brown linoleum beneath me.

These pictures capture my complete adoration of Wonder Woman. Look at my face! I’ve spent decades trying to regain this girl’s pure, fearless, unabashed confidence.

All this to say, you can imagine how quickly I jumped at the opportunity to write about Wonder Woman for Entertainment Weekly’s The Ultimate Guide to Wonder Woman. If the internet was actually a series of tubes (remember the halcyon days when that was the dumbest thing a senator might say?), my email reply would have left burning tire tracks à la Back to the Future.

Re-watching the old Wonder Woman episodes for these pieces was a trip. Let’s talk about how hour-long episodes of television in the 70s were pretty much a FULL HOUR of programming. Gather round kiddos while I boggle your mind with my tales of a time before commercials gobbled up 1/3 of any given time slot. Also, the pacing on the old episodes was so much slower than the non-stop, quick-cut action scenes we get today. Long shots lazily panning over miles of landscape, extended close-ups of characters thinking. It was jarring to jump back in to modern television pacing after spending a couple of weeks back in the 70s.

Some of the plots were completely bonkers (I got to rank a few of them in this issue). Season 1 was set in the 40s, so lots of WWII themes. But seasons 2 and 3 were polyester-packed and disco-riffic in all their 70s glory. Diana Prince’s wardrobe? Amazing. I still aspire to rock a sleek ponytail and big glasses the way she did.

Despite the many ways the show is dated, Carter’s Wonder Woman still stands up and I’m so grateful I had her as a childhood hero. I hope the new movie can bring that same inspiration to a whole new generation of kids.
 
 
*Forever bless the babysitter who let me watch RHPS when I was nine—most of it went right over my head; Tim Curry did not.

Entertainment Weekly: The Ultimate Guide to Wonder Woman is available at magazine stands, in bookstores, and online.

Up Next: My Nebula Schedule

A super quick post (that I should have published weeks ago, but deadlines, you know…) to say
how excited I am to be participating in SFWA’s Nebula Conference this weekend. My schedule is as follows:

Flash Talks
Thursday, 5/18
3:30 p.m.
Marquis A
Marvel, as I double triple my heart rate speaking in the company of Pablo Defendini, K.M. Szpara, Diane Turnshek, Shanna Swendson, Ken Chiacchia, Jessi Cole Jackson, Bishop O’Connell, Sally Wiener Grotta, and David D. Levine.

Office Hours
Friday, 5/19
11:00 a.m.
Grand Ballroom
My listed topics are “Copywriting, Freelancing, and Cats.” But someone else also listed “Cats” as a discussion topic, so be prepared for this to rapidly spiral out into a #catsofSFWA slideshow.

Panel: Work-for-Hire
Sunday, 5/21
10:00 a.m.
Marquis C
Liz Argall, Ken Chiacchia, Jody Lynn Nye and I discuss work-for-hire writing.

If you’re at the Nebula Conference this weekend, please stop by and say hello!