Goodbye, Starlog

01Starlog Magazine is no more — at least not in print. This is very sad news for me because I put myself through school writing for the magazine (among others) and it had an enormous impact on my life that I am still feeling today. 

On assignment for Starlog, I visited hundreds of movie and TV sets and interviewed so many actors, screenwriters, directors…people like Tom Cruise, Robert Zemeckis, Roy Scheider, Paul Verhoeven, Roger Moore, Michael J. Fox, Michael Crichton, William Friedkin, Sigourney Weaver, Richard Donner, Timothy Hutton, Gene Roddenberry, Richard Maibaum, Dan O'Bannon, Tom Selleck, Wes Craven, Kurt Russell, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Marquand, Tobe Hooper, Johnny Depp, George Lucas, and Lorenzo Semple Jr., to name just a few. And I learned a lot about the movie and TV business along the way.

I collected some of those interviews, along with articles by my friends (and fellow Starlog writers) William Rabkin and Randy & Jean-Marc Lofficier,  in two books — Science Fiction Film-Making in the 1980s and Dreamweavers: Fantasy Film-making in the 1980s.

Perhaps the highlight of my time as a reporter for Starlog was when they flew me to London to cover the premiere of THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, the first James Bond film starring Timothy Dalton. 

All the journalists were invited by the studio to the premiere, which Prince Charles and Lady Diana were attending as well. We had to wear tuxedos and were driven to the event in limos. There were huge crowds being held back behind barracades in front of the Odeon Theatre as we pulled up. I got out of the limo just as a short young lady was emerging from the limo in front of me, so we walked in together. People were going nuts, taking pictures of us and waving. I leaned over and whispered to her: "Makes you wish you were famous, doesn't it?"X10799

She laughed, patted my arm, and we parted in the lobby. Almost immediately I was swarmed by my fellow reporters. One of them asked "Do you know who you were walking with?"

I had no idea. I figured she was another reporter. He told me it was Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders. I still had no idea who she was. So either she thought my remark was clever or that I was a complete dolt for not knowing who she was. But I like to think that somewhere out there is a photo from that event with a caption like "Chrissie Hynde with unidentified lover."

But, most of all, I am thankful to Starlog for my family. If not for the magazine, I might never have met the charming Lofficiers, which would have been a terrible thing…since they introduced me to my wife Valerie. We've been married for 19 years and have a 13-year-old daughter, Madison.

So for me, Starlog was more than a magazine that covered science fiction and fantasy movies, books and TV shows. It changed my life.

Good-bye, Starlog. I will miss you.

UPDATE: Starlog is gathering some of the reactions to the bad news. My good friend Dave McDonnell, long-time editor of the magazine, posted this:

"Lee Goldberg is an old friend of mine. His unsolicited interview "The Man who Killed Spock" (WRATH OF KHAN writer Jack Sowards) was on my desk the day I started. I lobbied to buy it and he wrote countless pieces for us."

It was my first national magazine sale and I was totally thrilled. That sale, along with tearsheets from some of my subsequent Starlog articles, led to me writing for Newsweek, United Press International, American Film, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Los Angeles Times syndicate, among many others. But you never forget your "first."

UPDATE 4-15-2009: More reactions to the news from Entertainment WeeklySFSignalBob Greenberger, Mark Evanier, John Kenneth Muir and my cousin Danny Barer.

An Unpleasant Word

The Winepress Group's print-on-demand vanity press Pleasant Word, which calls itself  "a leading light in Christian self-publishing," is threatening to sue author Mark Levine for criticizing their business practices and proclaiming them "a publisher to avoid" in his book "The Fine Print of Self-Publishing" (which I favorably reviewed).  Winepress/Pleasant Word sent out a press release through the Christian Communications Network that reads, in part:

His review of Pleasant Word closes with the statement that "there are plenty of honest Christian publishers. Find one."

In the book, Mr. Levine asserts that he holds publishers "who cloak their services around religion to a higher standard." However, he ranks another Christian publisher as "Outstanding," despite comparing poorly on many of the same criteria he used to judge Pleasant Word.

The Winepress Group has been a leading light in Christian self-publishing since 1991 and enjoys a reputation for integrity and quality within the industry. The company is also a member of the Better Business Bureau with an excellent record.

"This is not about a bad review," said Malcolm Fraser, the Executive Officer at WinePress, "Mr. Levine's research was certainly poor and his conclusions are totally inconsistent, but he's entitled to his opinion. However, he has misrepresented the facts and published statements that are blatantly untrue. His accusations of dishonesty cross the line into slander and break the law. It's potentially very damaging to our reputation and harmful to everyone connected with the company."

What Levine has done is scrutinize Pleasant Word's contract and fee structure in detail and comes to the conclusion that company is not very author friendly.  For instance, Pleasant Word claims they give their authors, excuse me customers, 100% of the net profits, which Levine says is not the case:

The author makes 100% of the profits after Pleasant Word nearly doubles the printing price and adds a handling fee

For a book priced at $17.99 and sold on Amazon, Levine calculates that the author's royalty is a mere fifty cents…while Pleasant Word pockets $3.60. Praise the Lord. Levine writes:

I believe it's a compromise of Christian values (and just about every other moral value I can think of) when a publisher leads authors to believe that its printing costs are 100% higher than they actually are.  

[…]When a publisher choose to make religion a central focus of its service and writes copy that suggests that due to strong Christian principles authors "know they can trust us," the publisher has a duty to be over-the-top honest. Being less than forthright about the real printing costs, while advertising how honest and Christian it is, instantly makes Pleasant Word a publisher to avoid. 

[…]There are simply no pleasant words to describe the business practices of this publisher. 

For the record, Levine also lists Tate, another "Christian" vanity press, among the self-publishers to avoid. But he praises Xulon Press as "hands down […] the best exclusively Christian self-publishing company out there."

Mrs. Potato Head Speaks

Lady Sybilla, the much-maligned, crack-pot author of  "Russet Noon," a self-published, fanfic sequel to TWILIGHT, has given an interview to a Brazillian website. She says, in part: 

F: So besides all the problems you are excited and proud of it? 

A: Absolutely, I know there’s been a strong reaction, and I’ve learned to take the good with the bad. 

F: So what do you see as good? Cause I know that a lot of the fans don’t want it, but a lot of them do. 

A: Yes, I have to thank the haters for the publicity. 

F: And how the release is gonna be, still September on the internet? 

A: Well, I had already bought an ISBN number for it and everything but I withdrew it, because I realized I’d never get away with selling it, so I gave refunds to all the Ebay buyers, and now I’m waiting a while to see how things turn out. But probably the release will still be September, in chapters online. 

F: Do you feel like your work its more like a regular book or a fanfic in a bigger scale? Cause some people say it is. 

A: I believe I have more training and education than the average fanfic writer, so that’s the only reason I wanted to release it as a book, but I guess it’s been turned into a huge moral issue. 

F: So about the whole publication problem and rights,did you receive any contact from Stephenie’s people? 

A: Yes, that’s definitely a legal mess, no attorney will defend me if I decide to publish. Stephenie’s rep or even herself didn’t contact me, I believe she probably has her mind made up about me already. I think she laughs at the whole situation, to be honest, it’s just hilarious, the rage, the hate, the strong emotions.

Mrs. Potato Head, although she considers herself more educated than your average fanficcer, seems to have realized too late that she has no understanding whatsoever of copyright law. I suspect this revelation came sometime after eBay shut down her account for terms of use violations and shortly before the cease-and-desist letters came from Meyer's attorney, publishers, etc. Yes, I think she's lying about not being slapped down by Meyer & Co. Her  "Russet Noon" website has been shuttered for "renovations" and the press releases touting her fanfic novel have been yanked from

I love that Mrs. Potato Head has the audacity to presume that Meyer sides with her. What an idiot. 

UPDATE 4-19-2009: It's official, Mrs.Potato Head is insane. She has issued yet another rambling, nearly incoherent press release. Her new argument for copyright infringement is that we are all part of some vast, shared mind and therefore anything that anyone claims to create really belongs to everyone. At least, I think that's what she's saying. You decide:

Writers and readers all over the net have opened their eyes to the truth: authors sell their fanfiction and get away with it. Sure, published authors play a safe game around copyright laws and change the names and circumstances of their characters around just enough to claim they've created a new character.[…]No author truly creates characters. The characters already exist in the archetypal world that Jung, Freud and Joseph Campbell have described in their books. The author is a medium who channels these characters. The origin of all characters is the Shared Mind, the only mind that truly exists. Our minds are all one single ocean of shared memories, fantasies, dreams, nightmares and visions […]Laws that attempt to privatize the ownership of characters operate based on a delusion of separateness that we all share in this matrix we call reality.

Uh-huh. I think Mrs. Potato Head lost touch with this "matrix we call reality" a long, long time ago.

Appreciating Garforth’s Avengers

Novelist & TV writer Stephen Gallagher (perhaps best known here for creating THE ELEVENTH HOUR) stumbed on tie-in writer John Garforth's blog:

Garforth wrote four Avengers novels for Panther Books in 1967. Two years earlier Hodder and Stoughton had put outDeadline and Dead Duck, two rather classy tie-ins written by Peter Leslie but with Patrick Macnee credited as their author… which seemed as transparent and ludicrous to my eleven-year-old self as it does now.
Both had their virtues. Leslie's books read like a literary source from which the show might have been adapted; Garforth's Panthers were shorter, racier, and had a more contemporary feel to them. All were true tie-ins as opposed to novelisations; which is to say, they were original works based on the series' characters, and not pre-existing scripts adapted into prose form.

Check out Stephen's appreciation and, of course, Garforth's blog.


I am blessed to be in Missouri. Literally. On the flight to St. Louis, the stewardess told me to have a blessed night. And today, when I had lunch in Cape Girardeau at the Everything Is Fried Buffet (okay, that wasn't the name of the place, but it should have been), the waitress told me to have a blessed day. What they really should have at the buffet is a priest on hand to perform last rites. I was the thinnest person in the place by fifty pounds, and I'm not exactly scrawny. Everything they serve is fried, breaded, or noodled. It's no wonder that every patron except me prayed before they ate.

Cape Girardeau is Rush Limbaugh's home town, which explains a lot about Rush. There's a mural of him on the levee downtown and I've got a picture of myself in front of it.  I skipped the tour to his birthplace and the soda fountain where he hung out as a kid and the alley where he was beaten up every day after school.

I'm here for the 94th Annual Missouri Writer's Guild Conference. Yesterday and today Kate Angelella, an editor at Simon & Schuster, and I critiqued manuscripts that were read to us. I kid you not. Two pages were read to us and we had to offer a critique in front of the audience. That's not really fair to the writer or to us, but we all played along anyway. Kate and I were very candid and it's a credit to Missouri writers that neither one of us was beaten up in the parking lot afterwards, though one guy did follow me into the mens room and, while I was peeing, asked me for more advice on his story.

"This isn't a good time," I said, standing at the urinal.

"Why not?"

"Because I am peeing,"

He looked over the divider at me peeing. "How many Diet Pepsis did you have today?"

I wasn't the only one who got hit up in the bathroom for editorial guidance. One of the women authors was sitting in a stall when a lady in the next one slid a manuscript under the divider for her to read.

My keynote address went all right — I only made one reference to bowel movements and three to gang rape, or so I am told. Afterwards, I was asked to assist with the awards ceremony and to hug the winners (most of whom were women). I am not exaggerating when I say that there were at least fifty awards given…a good many of them to the same woman. By the end of the night, I felt like I'd committed adultery.

Tomorrow I do a three hour TV writing seminar and then I head back to L.A…


Worst Finale Ever?

No, I'm not talking about ER…I am talking about the bland American remake of the UK series LIFE ON MARS. The show was about a cop who is hit by a car…and wakes up in the 1970s. He's not sure whether he has gone back in time, whether he's imagining the whole thing,. or whether he is dead and experiencing the afterlife…or something else altogether. Throughout the series (which only ran 16 episodes in the UK) he is trying to get back to his own time by solving crimes which he believes will eventually lead him to the solution to his own predicament… and the way out.


In the British version, the hero discovers that he was in a coma and that his experience in the 1970s was all a dream. He returns to his "real" life in 2007 but just doesn't fit in any more. He has become so emotionally and psychologically attached to the people in his his fantasy life that he ends up committed suicide to return to that make-believe world. It was a dark way to end the show but, at the same time, it actually worked.

In the far inferior American version, the hero discovers that he isn't from 2009 either…he's an astronaut in the future who has spent the last two years in suspended animation on a mission to Mars… and that his experience in 2009 and 1973 was all a dream induced by some haywire computer program. All the "characters" in his dream turn out, Oz-like, to have been his fellow astronauts in different guises. It was inane… and done so cheaply that it looks like an SNL skit. It was probably one of the worst, if not THE worst, series finale I've ever seen.