On “The Wrath of Khan” and “The Search for Spock”

Over the past year or so, my husband and I have been taking advantage of seeing old movies on the big screen, hosted by TMC and Ben Mankiewicz. Usually they are classics, like “The African Queen.” Or musicals that are a delight on the big screen, such as “An American in Paris.” We recently saw “Cabaret,” which is still a stunner. I believe next month it’s “In the Heat of the Night,” with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger tearing up the screen. There are also anecdotes before and after.

The 40th anniversary director’s cut of “The Wrath of Khan” was like putting on a pair of cozy fuzzy socks and sweatpants for me. I started smiling the moment the excellent James Horner soundtrack began, and the theatre darkened. More about the movie in a moment.

 I got to work for a few years within the Star Trek universe on both Voyager and Deep Space Nine as a writer’s assistant. The adventure and honor of it was not lost on me, I promise you. I also met a friend for life in the process*, so double good things came from it.

The original Star Trek series, along with “Wild Wild West” are among the very first television shows I remember watching on our little black and white television when I was five or six years old. The way the characters related to each other, had adventures, and told stories has stuck with me for a lifetime. Remember when Capt. James West had his hands handcuffed behind his back, and then jumped over them to get free? The actor loved doing stunts, so they got him to do all sorts of crazy escapes. Curious to know how many remember that exact moment. The show pioneered the steampunk genre. We will not speak of the terrible movie remake.

I always related to the sidekicks. Mr. Spock, Artemis Gordon, Chekov and Mr. Scott were among my favorites. I got to meet James Doohan once. He was a delightful man, charming as could be. I think I almost fainted. In later years, I watched “In Search Of,” just so I could see more Leonard Nimoy. I always wanted to be a Vulcan.

That “The Wrath of Kahn” got made at all is a miracle. The first movie was dreadful, there’s no denying it. Thankfully, it’s also quite forgettable. Among Trek fans, it has a similar reputation to Season Eight of the Show That Shall Not Be Named (dracarys). Now that said, I’m glad the first movie existed. At one point, I was gifted a silk jacket that belonged to the special effects crew of that movie. Possessing anything Star Trek is cool to me. It got burned up in The Fire.

The movie holds up pretty well, even at 40 years old. The gravitas and pure spite Ricardo Montalban embodies as Khan holds the whole thing together, and extra points for bringing an old episode from the original series to the fore. He stops just this side of chewing scenery and is utterly mesmerizing. I love his final lines quoting Captain Ahab. “From hell’s heart, I stab at thee. For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.” He really sells it. Side note: I had to laugh when I learned that most of his crew were working Chippendale dancers at the time of the shoot. They had to cast them to keep up with Ricardo’s I-do-a-lot-of-pushups chest.

 I still squirmed when the bug thing was put in Chekov’s ear. It’s a memorable moment. The interplay between the main characters is a little strained, the dialogue a little too on-point for parts of it. True to 40-year-old movie making, the pauses are excruciatingly long, and well, special effects were still in their infancy. However, the “I have been, and always shall be, your friend” scene STILL makes me cry, although I know what happens later. I remember seeing this thing when it came out in the theatres and SOBBING, and then Mr. Scot piping “Amazing Grace” as the pod is jettisoned into space…. Oy.

As we came out of the theatre, I realized I just HAD to see “The Search for Spock” right away. My husband indulged me. This one also held up. Made only a couple years later, in 1984, and kind of on the cheap compared to the other movies, you can see the jumps forward in technology and creating special effects. DeForest Kelley finally gets his moment in the sun as an almost-main character and has some very fun moments as Spock takes over his body. Leonard Nimoy directed it and did a good job. You know he knows his audience. This one doesn’t make me cry, although Spock’s last line, “Jim. Your name is Jim,” got me. I also love that they got Dame Judith Anderson to step in and use her incredible voice. Good casting.

This one also has the benefit of an unrecognizable John Larroquette as Maltz, a Klingon second in command, and Christopher Lloyd (Doc in “Back to the Future”) as the main evil Klingon. He looks like he had a great time with it, shouting his Klingon lines with a zesty fury. It has a quick appearance of Tribbles, too. You really can’t go wrong with that.

All in all, a nice double feature.

*Looking at you, Sandra Sena.

On Pasta Salad and Dogs

I’m going to start with the pasta salad, because the Dog bit of this blog might make you sad. I’ll give you a spoiler alert, so you can stop reading, and just use this week’s entry to go make yourself a tasty side-dish or wowza contribution to your next potluck gathering.

The Facebook algorithm delivered this recipe to me. Now I will say, I often find the algorithm spooky on a good day, obnoxious on a bad one. For instance, the algo decided I must have gone to Camp Lejeune and gotten horrible diseases. I blocked about fifteen variants of that particular ad, and I am still getting it in my spam email.

Other times, it can be amusing. As in, I’m thinking about doing a SwimTrek trip to Indonesia. On this one, along with swimming in gorgeous waters with sea turtles and colorful fish and sharks (I know, I just don’t have a big fear of them, not like I do, say, going to the car mechanic on my own), you visit an island Komodo dragons live on. I did zero research online about the reptiles, other than going to the site and checking out the trip. Next day, Komodo Dragons littered my feed. Everything from where to see them to movies about them to pictures of them. Totally obscure, although I did learn the government has recently hiked the price to step foot on the island from $65 to $250, so all the folks who make their living preventing people from being eaten showing people the Komodo dragons are mad.

Another friend looked at one bra and then had to weed through bra commercials for weeks. I’ll let you know if that happens to me after I publish this.

I do like to try the occasional recipe that the algorithm serves up. This one was very easy. I only watched the video once. A few little notes before I give it to you:

1. Dice instead of chop. It all melds better with smaller pieces. As one of my sons says, that shows the love. He likes chopping though.

2. Amounts of each ingredient are really up to you, except with the dressing. If you love black olives, put more in. Hate green pepper? Don’t add it. I don’t care for spicy things, much to the chagrin of my children (although I remind them, I liked spicy/hot things before I was pregnant with them, so they only have themselves to blame for my pallid palate), so I keep my red onion to a half one, instead of a whole one. You do you.

3. This is best made ahead of time. Just seal it up in Tupperware and let it sit in the fridge.

4. This is just as delicious with regular pasta. I just use brown rice pasta because we are trying to be better about gluten.

5. I know we can’t all get organic food, or care to. I would try to get organic tomatoes for this, though.

PASTA SALAD (This makes enough to serve 10-12 as a side dish.)

1 bag brown rice pasta. Cook and rinse and cool. Tip: Heavily salting your water really makes it taste better.

Green onion, red onion, green pepper, black olives, cherry tomatoes—chop up and add to cooked pasta.

Toss in dressing: 4 cloves of garlic minced, 1 T Dijon mustard, equal parts red wine vinegar and olive oil, 1 T oregano, 2 T parm cheese. Whisk until it melds. You’ll know you have your proportions right if the color turns creamy. Taste it and see if you want it tangier (add more vinegar), or if it needs be more mellow (add more olive oil).

When getting ready to serve, add a bunch of tiny fresh mozzarella balls… or go crazy and add chopped meat too. It’s your pasta salad. Enjoy!

Now, if you’d like to just be happy with a recipe this week, I bid you adieu… the next bit about Dogs makes me awfully emotional, and I wouldn’t want to ruin your coffee time.

*

*

*

*

*

So, a few days ago was National Dog Day, and FB had oodles of cute pictures of pups. Don’t get me wrong, or think I’m ready to sit on the porch and wave my cane at people. I wasn’t resentful at all. I LOVED seeing everyone’s pictures of their doggos. It stabbed me in the heart at the same time, because after over a year, a month, and a handful of days, I still miss our beloved rescue dog. Like, I still cry weekly that we had to let her go.

Yes, it was the right thing to do, yes it was time. Yes, she let us know she was ready.

I wasn’t ready. None of us were.

I’m still not ready.

Most of you know our story of Keisha, who was a rescue who rescued us, or you can read about it in this blog, or in the book I wrote about her and us. My husband has nearly convinced me she was a Beauceron.

So now we are on all these Beauceron websites looking at them, getting to know where to find the breed. We will 100% do a rescue again. We are not puppy people anymore. We are NOT READY for another dog yet, mind you. But we are super wistful for the one that is gone. I also torture myself by having friends who rescue animals (I donate proceeds from the book) so really, I should be used to seeing all the cute noses and perky ears and that soulful way dogs gaze at their person.

Whew, howdy. After about the tenth picture, I had to close the website. I know, I know. I AM grateful we had her. I’m relatively sure my heart is mending from the loss, and very sure that I’d like to have a dog or two again.

I like the walks too, amiable pup by my side, or just ahead, sniffing things. I love the way dogs’ tails wag when they walk. Letting you know they are happy.

That’s the other thing. Where I walk in the mornings is the same route we used to walk with our dog. It got shorter as she got older. And then recently, when I was back visiting where we lived when she had lots of energy, I walked in those spaces as well. It was very emotional.

I have to believe that loving something that much is good for me. It better be, because this broken feeling is hard to take some days.

Please give your pup an extra snuggle from me, and a biscuit. Our dog loved biscuits. She was a such a good girl.

On My New Release and Medieval Research

Book 4 of my Darkwood series publishes Sept 29th! I am super excited about this one, “Starcrossed of Darkwood.” As with all the Darkwood books, a fairy tale is twisted. This one is a favorite of mine, Rapunzel. I always felt a little bad for the witch in the story. After all, the husband stole lettuce from her garden… although I suppose demanding a first-born child was excessive for the transgression. Then there’s the part where the witch pushes the prince out of the tower, blinding him on the thorns below… okay, maybe she isn’t that sympathetic after all. But the girl in the tower is, and I thought (as I am wont to do) … what if… she decided going back to the tower was the better choice for her?

This outing in the series follows three women as their fates intertwine. You need to at least read “The Traveller’s Tale” before you read this one. While I do a good job of reminding my wonderful readers about certain plot points, you will miss a lot if you don’t know the backstory of the Travellers and the curse that’s been placed upon them. All my books are only $4.99 in kindle, so you won’t break the bank.

In celebration of this book, which was a bit of a bear to write, I’ve put “The Twins of Darkwood” on sale for .99 cents for the first five days of publication.

I also added a fun bit in this book as an homage to the book series that began my love of fantasy. I specifically placed two references to “The Lord of the Rings” in the book. If you find them, email me at my author address: staceyuptonbracey@eatwriteplay.com I’ll have a little gift for you until supplies run out.

I mentioned this one was a bit of a struggle to write. Not particularly with content, but I was interrupted a lot (by choice) directing back-to-back plays, new play rewrites, and a bit of teaching. I’ve discovered I cannot serve two creative masters. If you’re in my cast, or in my class, you’re getting 100% of me. Same goes for writing when I’m in that groove. I try to put the very best of myself into my books. Starcrossed is also longer than the previous books, coming in at about 109K words as opposed to about 75-80k words (words are writer talk, I know… in pages, 1k words = 4 pages of book.) At the end of my process to get it done on time and out to my Beta readers for their always insightful notes, I was averaging 8k words a day, or 32 pages of book per day, and then still doing the rest of my life. It was a lot. But as I said, I am super happy with the result. My Beta readers said things like, “I couldn’t put it down,” and “Best one yet!” Makes my heart happy. I promise I am a good writer, so if you haven’t ventured into the Darkwood, give “The Traveller’s Tale” a try.

I started book 5 this week. The main part of this series will have been completed and published in 15 months, from the first “what if” to the finish. Five full books and a 30k novella. Not bad for my first foray into series writing.

Book 5 will be my most intensive (by far) for research, as a chunk of it takes place on a medieval Caravel, which was a marvel of a ship created by the Portuguese in 1450, just in time for my novel. It was fast, could tack against the wind, and allowed the Spice Trade to flourish.

I know nothing about ships or sailing (although I watched the entirety of “Black Sails,” which I wholeheartedly recommend.) You just need to get through the gratuitous smut of the first few episodes and let the characters settle. I might watch it again. It takes place a little later than my books, but the basic sailing things are there. Avast mates!

I started writing book five three days ago. Here is a partial list of my look-up history:

Saint who walled herself in on purpose (an anchorite)

Vlad the Impaler

How did letters travel without messengers?

Were messenger birds used in Medieval Times (sources say mostly yes)

Can ships carry a trebuchet (which is by far my favorite Medieval weapon)

Carrack Ships (too big, I went with the smaller Caravel)

Where did sailors sleep on the ship?

How did caravels steer (hint, not a wheel)

Best dates to curse someone

Poisons made from natural things

Can drinking blood prolong life (jury is out)

Various iterations of “Beauty and the Beast” (the retelling I am using for this book)

Medieval healing and surgery

What do nuns eat in Medieval times (mostly vegetarian)

Could Medieval nuns marry (yes)

Legends of the Three Fates

Legends of Sirens and Mermaids

What was Chania harbor like in medieval times

The Spice Route–Land and Sea

As you can tell, lots of exciting things to write about in this next one. It’s mostly outlined, as I’ve known for quite some time where this one was headed and how things end up. For my loose ends, I have 2-3 more novellas I’ll pack into a single collection of a book, and then a duology with my wonderful characters Aisha and Malik in the spring of next year.

So, come on and visit the Darkwood with me. You’ll be glad you did! You can find all the books on Amazon, in both paperback and ebook, and I am in KU as well. Go here to check out the 5-star series–> https://www.amazon.com/Stacey-Upton-Bracey/e/B07NZDGRPJ

On Drive-Thru Carwashes and Completion Blues

White soap suds streaming down the side of the windows, preventing any view of the outside world. The sinister slap of long cloths sliding over the hood of the car like a giant squid trying to devour it. Brushes attacking the sides of the car. Jets of water streaming all around, your car turned into a submersible. Gusts of air blasting down onto your vehicle, and then finally, daylight ahead.

Ah, the drive-thru car wash.

While it is fun being driven through a car wash as a passenger, I discovered this week that it’s like a visit to the tower of terror when I’m the one trying to line up my car wheels with the track that will pull me through. Sullen men wave you forward (honestly, I don’t blame them, it looks like a steamy, horrible job) and then their hand flies up for you to stop. Then you have to put your car in neutral.

I didn’t know how to get to neutral right away, so I nearly killed the guy guiding me in. I completely deserved the nasty look he gave me. Then, at the end of it, I wasn’t sure when to put the car in drive again, so the car tracking behind me came perilously close to ripping off the back bumper of my car.

Is a clean car really worth all the aggravation?

I used to enjoy going to the car dealership (Sewell in Dallas) where they offer free car washes for as long as you own a car purchased from them. They have a nice waiting area with one of those coffee machines that can produce hot chocolate as well, and if you time it right, fresh cookies. I got out of the habit during Covid lockdown, and it’s a bit of a drive.

So I gird my courage to the sticking point* and brave the dreaded drive-thru thing, instead. It’s a part of adulting I could do without.

In other news, after four 12-hour days in a row of final edits, I finished the 4th book in my “Tales of Darkwood” dark fantasy/twisted fairy tale series yesterday, on schedule thank you very much, and passed it off to my wonderful proofreader. It’s a chonky book, clocking in at 109,000 words, give or take. My other books have been around 80,000. These characters (it’s a spin on Rapunzel) had a lot to say. I am happy with the book, and love my cover. It’s taken a lot longer to write this one than the others in the series, as I directed two plays, resumed my role as a theatre critic, saw Mom and Dad through a long hospital stay, and published a fun little Mermaid Paranormal Romance short as well as did a polish on my play during the space of writing it. So instead of my normal two to three month writing process, this one took me four and a half months. That’s a long time to be immersed in another world, even one as interesting as 1450s Stuttgart, Germany, where magic still floats on the edge of reality.

Rather than elation at completing another book, which you’d expect, I felt glum. I missed my quirky, difficult characters this morning. I’d planned to start straightaway on book 5 today.. instead, I walked around the mall for exercise and people watching (too hot for a long walk outside), talked to friends, checked in on others, and ate a giant bowl of popcorn while watching a silly movie. That sent me into a carb coma, from which I awoke on the couch two hours later, with the movie long finished, with creases on the side of my face.

It’s my form of going on a bender, I suppose. It might have been self-care, but my choice of food was a little… not in the self-care category. The popcorn was loaded with salt, paprika, and parmesan cheese.

Not so bad, all told, I suppose. Right?

I’ll start the next book tomorrow. Lord knows what carb-laden mourning I’ll do when I finish that one, which should wrap up the entire series. Pasta Carbonara, perhaps, with a side of fresh Italian bread, slathered in butter… well, now that I’m writing that down, it sounds pretty good. Motivating, even.

What is your go-to when you need a break from your work?

*bonus points for anyone who knows what this quote is from.