RETRO REVIEW: The Wraith

Netflix is a goldmine of old 80’s direct to video films, many forgotten (and justly so). In this installment of Retro Reviews I wanted to re-examine one such film that I just re-watched on Netflix last night, the 1986 Charlie Sheen flick The Wraith, a weird amalgam of The Last Starfighter and The Crow by way of Mad Max.

In an otherwise quiet Arizona town Packard Walsh (Nick Cassavetes) runs a gang of car thieves who trick people into racing for pinks and then cheats to win and get their cars. But he’s also a murderer. One year earlier he killed a guy named Jamie Henkins for being with his girl Keri (played by the lovely Sherrilyn Fenn).

But now it’s payback time when a suped up Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor shows up, driven by a mysterious figure in futuristic armor and a black helmet. One by one he entices Walsh’s gang bangers to race and then kills them by speeding ahead and stopping in the middle of the road, letting them hit his car at hundreds of miles per hour. The Wraith-mobile reappears in a flash of light moments later, factory mint, while the other car is reduced to a burning wreck. There’s no marks on the bodies either, but their eyes have been sucked out.

Meanwhile, a new kid named Jake (Charlie Sheen) shows up on an eerily quiet dirt bike. Keri is attracted to him immediately, though she can’t put her finger on why (she puts her fingers everywhere else during a naked make-out session with Jake in the local watering hole).

This enrages Walsh, of course, and he goes from prototypical 80’s douchebag to jealous psycho in under a minute. Too bad he has his hands full with the mysterious driver killing off his gang. Cassavetes gives an air of real menace to what is on the surface a stock 80’s bad guy. You can almost smell the crazy coming off this guy.

Eventually Packard gets his, and Jake/Jamie gives the Interceptor to Jamie’s brother before taking off with Keri on his bike for parts unknown.

In the end, this conundrum of a movie raises more questions than it answers, least of all is, where the hell are the parents?! The only adult authority figure we see in this movie is tough-talking Sheriff Loomis (played by the always fun to watch Randy Quaid), who wants to catch the Wraith, but is also happy the deaths he’s causing are confined to Walsh’s gang of dirtbags.

We also never learn how Jamie was able to come back in a new body, with an indestructible car, or why Walsh and his buddies didn’t have a mark on them after their cars burned to a crisp. It all adds up to a weird, fuel-injected romp that could only have come from the 1980’s.

If you’re looking for a guy who comes back from the dead to kill the people who murdered him, watch The Crow (also currently streaming on Netflix). It’s so dark and goth its pee is bats, but you’ll get much more character development and a protagonist you’ll have sympathy for. If you want to see Charlie Sheen before all the winning and tiger blood, and you like to watch fast cars blow up real good, then check out The Wraith.

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Getting Back to Writing After Vacation

It’s that time time of year again when those of us fortunate enough to have a disposable income and a job that gives us paid time off blow off work for at least a week and travel or head to the mountains or the beach.

I just got back from Walt Disney World, and while it wasn’t the most relaxing vacation (my idea of vacation is not going to the day job, sleeping late, and binge-watching Netflix), it was a fun and much-needed respite from the proverbial grind. It also put me in mind of what I as a writer need to do to not only successfully unplug, but to get back up to speed and start writing again once I returned. Hence this blog post.

Here then, are my Vacation Tips for Writers. As always, your mileage may vary.

If you can, finish your big project before you leave for vacation. This was key for me to not only actually enjoy my vacation, but to not have to regain lost momentum on a project I stopped in the middle of. I finished the edits on my latest novel, Ix Incursion, two weeks before leaving for Disney. This gave me a lot of time to decompress and work on the planning stages for something I planned on starting once I got back.

Rest. Don’t even think about writing while you’re gone.
This is very hard to do. I know, as this was one of the few times I’ve been able to do it. For me, unplugging creatively means having your last project finished and your next project existing as little more than an outline.

No laptops allowed.

Don’t bring your work with you. Trust, me, you won’t have time to work on anything anyway, and if you do you won’t feel like it. Leave that stuff at home. Really unplug. It’s the only way to refill the creative well. You’ll also get to focus on the really important stuff, like your family. During my vacation I got to hold my daughter’s hand in the ocean and see her react to all the wonderful things around us, and nothing is more important than that.

Create a to-do list for when you get back

This is key for getting back up to speed quickly and easily. When I got back, I was tired and still in vacation mode. I needed to rest some more, but I also knew I had some business-related things to attend to. Having a to-do list helped me remember exactly what those things were. I created a Scrivener file with a running weekly to-do list. This helps me stay focused on the business side of my various creative projects, and I updated it before we left.

Have a project ready to go for when you get back.

And last but not least, have something else you’re eager and ready to get started on once you return. In my case, a 30,000 word novella I’m contracted to write for a publisher. I’ve been planning it for over a month, and planned to start on it when we got back. Next week I start the actual writing, and I’m stoked. And recharged now that I’ve had a nice break away from everything.

Bottom line: your body needs rest, even from the creative work we all love. But a vacation doesn’t have to make you get behind. By following these simple tips, you can not only unplug and have a relaxing time with your family, you can come back refreshed and ready to get started on your next project.

What other vacation tips for writers do you have? Share in the comments.

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My AnachroCon 2017 Literature Track Schedule

AnachroCon

Here is the literary programming I’ll be taking part in at this year’s AnachroCon convention at the end of February. (M stands for moderator.)

Saturday

1:00—Truth Is Stranger than Fiction
In which our panelists draw literary inspiration from history.
Panelists: James Palmer (M), Beth Dolgner, Bethany Kesler, Dacre Stoker, Leanna Renee Hieber

3:00—It’s a Cold, Cold War
In which our panelists expound on the literature of the Cold War era, from espionage novels to superhero comics.
Panelists: James Palmer (M), Bethany Kesler, Stephanie Osborn

8:00-10:00—The AnachroCon Salon
In which many of our author guests read from, sell, and sign their works.
Panelists: Leanna Renee Hieber, Lee Martindale, Christopher Stasheff, James Moore, Lev Butts, Charlotte Henley Babb, James Palmer, Stephanie Osborn, Jannaea Adams, Charles Rutledge, and More!

Sunday

12:00—Build-a-Character Workshop
In which our panelists and audience create a new steampunk hero—or villain!—and build a world around her or him.
Panelists: Arthur Hinds (M), Jannaea Adams, Lev Butts, Amanda DeWees, James Palmer, Cecilia Dominic

That’s probably not all, so stay tuned for more!

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Sample Comic Script: ROM Spaceknight

A couple of years back I sat down one afternoon and wrote a comic book script, mostly to see if I could do it. I’ve been wanting to write a comic script for a few years now, and I thought I should have something to show an editor should a script writing gig actually turn up. The result is this one you are about to read. I was a big ROM fan when I was a kid, and this was my attempt at bringing him back into the Marvel universe. I hope you will agree. Enjoy!

Rom Spaceknight

Issue #1

“The Return” part 1

by James Palmer

Draft 1.0-10/25/14
Draft 1.2 10/29/14

James Palmer
6025 Bethel Road
Murrayville, GA 30534
palmerwriter@yahoo.com

PAGE 1

SPLASH PANEL 1

In the center of a star field, a golden planet hangs, wreathed in clouds.

CAPTION

The planet Galador.

CAPTION

A forgotten world, it was once decimated by fearsome, shape-shifting entities known as the Dire Wraiths.

CAPTION

These creatures were eventually destroyed by a group of brave Galadorians and their leader, who gave up their humanity to become a powerful protective force known as…

PANEL 2

Zoom in a little closer to reveal the outlines of magnificent buildings and spindly skyscrapers.

CAPTION

The Spaceknights!

PAGE 2

PANEL 1

Zoom in on one city to show the buildings in more detail, gleaming metal, sky bridges, and people, men, women and children, going about their day in bright, colorful clothing. They are talking, laughing, playing.

CAPTION

But now it has been reborn!

PANEL 2

Exterior of a large golden building, with a wide walkway leading up to it. On the edges of the walkway, spaced at intervals, are tall, stone statues of the Spaceknights, standing as if they are still protecting the people of Galador. The last of the statues, standing taller than the rest and near the entrance to the golden building, is a statue of Rom.

CAPTION

The Palace of Galador, home to their leader Rom and his bride, the human Brandy Clark.

PANEL 3

Cut to interior of the palace, in a vast room with a large window and balcony overlooking the Galadorian capital city. Two figures stand close to each other, looking out the window.

BRANDY: Oh Rom, it’s so beautiful. So peaceful. To think we built it up from practically nothing.

PANEL 4

Rom places his hand on Brandy’s shoulder. He is smiling.

ROM: Yes, darling. It was an amazing feat. Of course, we had a little help from Galadorian science. But everything is now as it was before the Dire Wraiths came.

PAGE 3

PANEL 1

Close-up of Brandy Clark. Her curly brown hair is now long, and she wears a diaphanous golden gown.

BRANDY: It was worth it. All the sacrifices…

PANEL 2

Her face takes on a sad look, and we see a panel of her fighting alongside Rom Spaceknight as Starshine, killing Dire Wraiths that lunge for them.

BRANDY: All the lives lost…

PANEL 4

Rom takes his hand off her shoulder.

ROM: Some brave souls lost their lives, all so we could live on Galador in peace once again.

PANEL 5

Rom walks away from her.

ROM: (thinking) But this peace may have come at a price. Once shrouded in little more than legend, Galador is starting to attract undue attention.

PANEL 6

A robed attendant comes in, a tablet-like device in his hands.

VOREX: Rom, my liege. We have just received another communication from a race of beings calling themselves Skrulls. They want to enter trade agreements.

PAGE 4

PANEL 1

Rom waves his hand at the attendant, his face looking grim.

VOREX: Sire, what are Skrulls?

ROM: Just ignore them. As usual.

ROM: (thinking) I am afraid we cannot remain unnoticed forever.

PANEL 2

Rom continues walking, followed close by the attendant, who hurries to catch up.

VOREX: Rom, the Watchers report no sign of Dire Wraith activity.

ROM: Good. Thank you, Vorex. That will be all.

PANEL 3

Frontal view of Rom as he pushes open a set of double doors.

ROM: (thinking) My fear is not the Dire Wraiths…

PANEL 4

Space. A close shot of stars with the curve of Galador in the bottom left corner.

PANEL 5

Identical view to the one before, only this time there is a flash of bright white light.

PANEL 6

Close-up showing the source of the flash, a wispy being with oddly bent legs and a long frill atop its head that goes down its back.

CAPTION

“…My fear is that there are worse things out there than the Dire Wraiths.”

PAGE 5

PANEL 1

Shows the glowing being in more detail.

CAPTION

Stardust, current herald of the world-eater Galactus.

PANEL 2

Stardust looks down at the planet turning beneath its feet.

STARDUST: Another world ripe for the picking. The Master hungers. He will be pleased.

PANEL 3

Stardust extends his right hand toward deep space and sends out a beam of white energy.

CAPTION

Stardust alerts his master that another suitable world has been found.

PANEL 4

Pull back to show whole planet, and Stardust as a white streak that falls toward the golden orb of Galador like a comet.

PAGE 6

PANEL 1

Groups of people looking into the sky and pointing.

CAPTION

Several hours later: From all over Galador, reports of strange lights in the sky come flooding in.

PANEL 2

Rom is sitting at the end of a long table, at which sit his many attendants, scientists, and advisors.

CAPTION

The brightest minds on Galador convene to discuss how to best deal with this strange new threat.

VARIOUS ADVISORS SPEAK: …like a white flame.

It destroyed a Watcher lookout post!

…perhaps the Wraiths have returned.

PANEL 3

Close-up of Rom, raising his hand for silence.

ROM: Enough. I will have order in these proceedings. Vorex, have we attempted to communicate with the…phenomena?

PANEL 4

Close-up of Vorex.

VOREX: Yes, Rom. All attempts to contact the entity have been met with violence.

PANEL 5

A dark-haired man sitting across from Vorex.

TELDAR: Liege, the people are scared. They don’t know what to think. What should we tell them?

PANEL 6

Shot from other end of the table, facing down the length of it to Rom. Every head is turned toward him.

ROM: Tell them not to panic. Remain indoors until further notice. That is all.

PAGE 7

PANEL 1

Stardust lands in a central square near the palace, people running away from him. He points to the sky.

STARDUST: behold, people of Galador. Your doom approaches.

PANEL 2

Every head turns to the sky, where a large shape enters the atmosphere. It is a giant sphere, the size of a small moon. The sky turns dark.

CAPTION

The world-ship of Galactus!

Close-up of the sphere, where we see a door open in the side, and a dark shape emerge, casting a shadow covering miles of buildings.

PANEL 3

Galactus emerges, standing on a platform extended from his world-ship. Pieces of impossibly huge and intricate machinery hover in the air around him, enveloped in energy.

GALACTUS: I hunger!

PANEL 4

Shot from overhead and just behind Galactus. We see from his point of view as the people of Galador run and scurry like ants.

GALACTUS: (thinking) This world is rich with life energies. Unfortunately for its inhabitants, but they are no concern of mine. I shall feast like never before.

PANEL 5

We pull back. Galactus’s hands are outstretched, glowing with the power cosmic as he assembles the machine he uses to suck planets dry. Tiny dots of people are running for their lives far below.

GALACTUS: (thinking) They will flee their world or die. The choice is theirs.

CAPTION

Unbeknownst to Galactus, a third option is in the offing.

PAGE 8

PANEL 1

Back in the palace, we see Rom and Brandy, huddled together, watching the scene
outside their window fearfully.

BRANDY: What is that thing?

ROM: Something I had hoped existed only in legend. Something I learned about from my days as a spaceknight. Galactus, destroyer of worlds.

BRANDY: What are we going to do?

PANEL 2

We see Rom walking away from Brandy.

ROM: Something I should have done long ago.

BRANDY: No, Husband. You can’t.

PANEL 3

Overhead view. Rom is entering a long, dimly lit corridor, with Brandy close behind. There are clusters of barely discernable machinery cluttering each wall.

ROM: I have to. There is no other choice.

PANEL 4

We see Rom and Brandy from behind. In front of them is a gleaming metal figure of Rom in his Spaceknight form, standing in front of a bulky machine.

BRANDY: No. You gave up all that you are to save this planet once, and almost lost it. I won’t watch you do it again!

ROM: No one is asking you to.

PANEL 5

Above and behind Rom as he pulls a sheet from a large console.

ROM: Improvements will have to be made, of course. I just hope this equipment still works.

CAPTION

The long dormant machines hum to life.

PANEL 6

Looking at Brandy’s face, washed in golden light. Her mouth is open, her eyes wide.

BRANDY: Please, Rom, no. Not again.

PAGE 9

SPLASH PANEL 1

We pull back behind Brandy, Rom stepping into the large blocky machine, which has split down the middle and spread open, golden light pouring out of it. Rom is naked now, his clothes piled on the floor. But his profile is black, shadowed by the enormous glow of light pouring out of the machine, Kirby dots coalescing around the machine’s opening.

ROM: What I do, Brandy Clark, I do for the good of Galador.

CAPTION

Forgotten for decades, the mighty machines of Galador hum to life once more, their single purpose to transform the planet’s bravest warriors into living weapons!

PAGE 10

PANEL 1

We’re looking down from above, as Stardust hovers over Galactus as he finishes his energy-siphon.

GALACTUS: You have done well, Stardust. The energies of this planet are like nothing I have yet encountered.

STARDUST: Thank you, Master. I live only to serve.

PANEL 2

A beam of energy strikes Stardust, sending him spinning.

PANEL 3

Stardust recovers, floating prone in the air, white trails of smoke or residual energy come off of him.

STARDUST: Who dares attack a herald of Galactus?!

PANEL 4

Full body shot of Rom Spaceknight, hovering in the air, his right arm outstretched, the hand flat and shimmering with yellow energy. His hand coverings have fingers now, no more mittens.

ROM: I, Rom Spaceknight.

PANEL 5

We pull back to see Galactus, Stardust and Rom, facing off in a semicircle. Galactus is turning a knob on his energy-siphon.

GALACTUS: So, the stories of the fabled Spaceknights are true. This must be your world.

ROM: It is. I command you to leave it at once.

GALACTUS: This planet has energies I require to function. I mean you or your people no harm, but this world must die so that I continue to live. Leave your world at once, or die with it.

PANEL 6

Front shot of Rom, his arms at his sides.

ROM: I know who you are, Galactus. I don’t wish to fight you, but I will do whatever is necessary to protect Galador and its people.

PAGE 11

SPLASH PANEL

We see over Rom’s shoulder looking up at Galactus, as missiles zoom toward him from multiple sources. Some of them strike, hitting the worldship, the energy-siphon, and Galactus himself, as blossoms of fire and smoke erupt at each impact point.

CAPTION

The planetary defenses of Galador go into action.

GALACTUS: Very well. But I warned you what happens next…you die!

PAGE 12

PANEL 1

Back inside the Hall of the Spaceknights, we see Brandy Clark sitting at the console, her head down on it, crying.

CAPTION

Inside she can hear the concussions of missile blasts, and the drone of the palace’s warning system. Outside, she knows a fierce battle is taking place.

PANEL 2

Above the city, Galactus makes adjustments to his machine, oblivious to the missiles and laser fire striking his massive body. Stardust destroys several Galadorian fighter ships as they stream towards him, while Rom is blasting at Galactus with all his newfound might.

CAPTION

The Galadorian military, spurred by the sight of their leader, press the attack.

PANEL 3

Close-up of Rom as he flies toward Galactus, yellow energy beams erupting from both hands.

ROM: (thinking) This new spaceknight body is amazing. My dematerializer is built into my armor. I just hope it’s enough.

CAPTION

And in their midst, a new, improved Rom Spaceknight, once again defending Galador and its people.

PANEL 4

Back in the Hall of the Spaceknights, Brandy looks up as we see a flash of light from behind her. Tears are streaming down her face.

BRANDY: What? Who’s there?

PANEL 5

Brandy turns to see a large being stepping from a circle of light floating in midair.

BRANDY: Who are you? Guards!

THANOS: Fear not, Brandy Clark of Earth. I am Thanos of Titan.

PANEL 6

Wide shot of the chamber. Brandy and Thanos face each other. The circle of light is fading away behind Thanos.

BRANDY: Titan? As in the moon of Saturn?

THANOS: Smart girl. I came to offer you a way out of your present predicament.

BRANDY: What do you want in return?

THANOS: Give me the machinery that transformed your husband into the greatest of all the Spaceknights, and I will expunge the planet-eater from your world forever.

CAPTION

TO BE CONTINUED!

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Star Swarm Now Available for Preorder

Star Swarm cover

My first space opera novel, STAR SWARM, is now available for preorder. It officially launches next Tuesday, but you can reserve your copy now.

About the book:

Man’s outer colonies are being destroyed one by one, leaving nothing behind. Suspecting an old enemy, Captain Henry Kuttner, of the Solar Navy rail-gun ship the Onslaught, wants to investigate.

But the Onslaught is scheduled to be decommissioned, and Captain Kuttner given mandatory retirement on one of the League’s pleasure worlds. But this old war dog isn’t going down without a fight.

Going against orders, Kuttner leads his crew in search of answers. That search leads straight into the territory of mankind’s former enemies, the deadly reptilian Draconi, whose colonies are also being destroyed, and they blame man.

Now the crew of the Onslaught must risk violating a fragile peace treaty and all out war to solve a cosmic mystery before more lives are lost. Only the ship’s maverick second in command and a disgraced Draconi scientist can unravel the secret of this enigmatic enemy and its sinister purpose before it’s too late. But there are certain factions who want the human-Draconi war to begin anew, and they’ll stop at nothing to make it happen.

And meanwhile, in the outer dark, an ancient enemy returns. An enemy known only in the songs of a long-dead alien race. An enemy that leaves chaos in its wake.

A maverick first officer, a misfit crew and an aging vessel are all that stand between humanity and total destruction.

If you like Peter F. Hamilton, David Weber, and Chris Fox’s Void Wraith series, you’ll love Star Swarm, the first volume in an exciting new space opera trilogy.

“Classic military science fiction in the vein of David Weber, with conspiracies and ancient threats throughout. I want the next book now.” –Joseph Cadotte, author of In the Land of Nod

Go and grab it here.

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FREE Book Offer!

I’m still putting the finishing touches on my debut novel Star Swarm, which will be ready very soon. To get everyone warmed up for it, I’m offering the prequel story Chaos Conspiracy, absolutely free. All you have to do is sign up for my mailing list. That way you’ll be the first to know about new releases, my appearances, and get exclusive access to more free stuff as I think of it. Plus you get a free book! What could be easier? To get your free copy of Chaos Conspiracy in your choice of formats (sorry, no papyrus scrolls or clay tablets), go here.

About Chaos Conspiracy: A Starm Swarm Prequel:

The Prequel to the exciting events in Star Swarm.

Special Operations agent Lt. Noah Hamilton thought his mission was easy enough. Go and retrieve an undercover operative Leda Niles and bring her back to home base. But things get more complicated than he’d planned. Now he’s up to his neck in seedy gem merchants, criminals, and a shadowy group targeting remote scientific outposts for some sinister purpose. Now it will take all his training, all of his resourcefulness, to get the job done. That is if Lt. Niles doesn’t get him killed first. It’s interstellar action and intrigue in this short prequel that leads directly into the forthcoming novel Star Swarm: The Chaos Wave Book One.

Go here to get it now, so you’ll be ready when Star Swarm debuts.

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