Thankful for November

From my childhood on into young adulthood, I did not much like November. I considered it a rather boring month. The political campaigning, which drew to a fever pitch in the first days of the month, did not impress me, and the weather, typically dreary and too often promising snow without delivering enough for skiing, depressed me. Veterans’ Day provided a little light break, typically involving me calling or giving a hug to the vets in my family. And then there was Thanksgiving- fun but a bit stressful at the same time, involving as it did a gathering of my large, loving, loud, and at times deafeningly dysfunctional family.

It seems strange to me that the Thanksgiving holidays from those years that I found most memorable were the ones in which something went wrong. The Thanksgiving we spent in Reno, Nevada, partaking of the buffet at Circus Circus is one example. Meaning no offense to any of the staff there, but that was the driest, most tasteless Thanksgiving dinner I ever had. Another was the year when I had Thanksgiving dinner with just my siblings and our pets. Since we were all broke, our church provided a turkey and a box full of trimmings. I baked up my first pumpkin pie, which turned out surprisingly well. My sister set it out to cool. Then my dog Blue discovered it, and by the time I caught her, she’d eaten half of it. That day, I learned courtesy of the veterinary emergency hotline how to pump a dog’s stomach.

The Thanksgiving dinner we had literally the night before my husband and I got married had all the ingredients for the worst Thanksgiving dinner ever. This time, we had my husband’s family contributing some decibels of dysfunction to our family gathering, and rather than cooking for the whole mob when we had a wedding the next day, we settled for another hotel buffet. Furthermore, both Barry and I had come down hard with colds. But the buffet at the Doubletree Inn by the Boise River was surprisingly good. Everyone got along great. We didn’t have any veterinary emergencies. And for the first time, Thanksgiving stood out in my mind not because of what went wrong, but simply because of what it was. For Barry and me, it was a celebration of what togetherness really means.

I love November now, and everything that comes with it.
I’m thankful for Election Day. I’ve stepped up my observances of Veterans’ Day. And I don’t even mind the weather any more.

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Spoilerific: A Review of Amazing X-Men 1

It’s all in the title of this post. If you want to avoid spoilers for the long-awaited inaugural issue of Amazing X-Men, read no further. And yes, you might want to continue avoiding the comic book forums. You likely already have been if you don’t already know the biggest spoiler.

Here goes.

Nightcrawler is back in action, and not just as a meager mutant superhero. He’s on to bigger and better things as a defender of Heaven itself.

Ever since April of 2010, when I decided I’d had it up to here with the Major Character Death used as a gimmick, I knew that- no matter what Tom Brevoort insisted- Nightcrawler would inevitably return. That’s just the way things are with licensed intellectual properties. I just was not sure if I should look forward to his return with eagerness or dread.

Would he come back full of religious angst over being yanked out of Heaven? Would he have been written as having experienced no afterlife, and return as a traumatized atheist? Would he go back to being fuzzy, blue, religiously themed wallpaper, or become just another one of a long, boring line of bitter antiheroes?

I almost hoped that he’d just show up, and someone, preferably Kitty Pryde, would say, “Kurt! You’re back!”

He’d reply, “Of course I’m back. I’m Catholic. I believe in that sort of thing. Furthermore, you’ve seen far too much of people returning from the dead to ever doubt I’d return.” He’d have words with Wolverine and Cyclops, go off and reform Excalibur or do something even more awesome, and nothing more would be said about it.

Jason Aaron so far has opted to do something completely different from- and probably better than- any of the aforementioned scenarios, making sure to at the very least deliver on the promise of keeping Kurt fun and adventurous.
This issue answered some questions, like about the bamfs- which, by the way, when drawn by Ed McGuinness are the cutest I’ve seen since Dave Cockrum pencilled the original alternate-dimension mini-crawlers. It also left me with more questions. How did the bamfs get to the Jean Grey School in the first place? How has Nightcrawler been able to enjoy a heavenly brewski if he’s done nothing but hang around the edge of Paradise pining for the life he left behind? And how did Firestar change clothes so quickly?

I’m sure we’ll get answers to all these questions except for the one about Firestar’s quick-change in the next four issues. And I’m happily looking forward to them all.

Maj. Gen. Frederick “Boots” Blesse, USAF

Maj. Gen. Blesse, drawn here by Clayton Murwin, talked about one of his most daring adventures for the Korean War project we’re Kickstarting. Sadly, he passed away before the book could go into print, but you can help make his legacy better known by contributing.

Kickstart This! How I Helped Commemorate the “Forgotten War.”

Ever since Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan hit the shelves in 2010, I found it more and more common for veterans to open up and sometimes even approach me directly with stories from their time in the armed forces.  I’d hear all kinds of stories from a wide variety of people- from a young soldier just back from Iraq whose friend was blown to pieces right before his eyes, to a World War II prisoner of war who escaped and was hidden and cared for by a German couple until he could return home. I’ve heard everything in between. I’ve laughed at the goofiest and most sardonic of military humor, and I’ve wept with blue star or gold star parents who wished they could have traded places with their wounded or fallen children.

The stories from those who served in the Korean War captivated me the most mainly because of the very real danger that they’d be lost- and at a time when we most need to learn from them. I felt that the Korean War was like a neglected middle child constantly overshadowed by the bigger, more popular brother World War II and the volatile, misunderstood little sister in Vietnam. Yet one of the most important things I learned about the Korean War that I learned from our veterans rather than from M.A.S.H. reruns is that what we choose to overlook or forget can hurt us later on.

But I’m not posting to wax political about North Korea. Rather, I just wish to provide some insights as to why I jumped at the chance to help write the stories of four Korean War veterans, how informative and transformative I found the experience, and why it’s important to help get the books into print.

Even with a proven and documented track record of listening and learning without judging, I had a few obstacles. The sad reality is that it is not easy for older veterans to open up and share their stories with a relatively young stranger- especially after they’ve gotten used to decades of silence. My civilian status didn’t help matters. That’s where the indispensable Scott Lee came in. As a veteran dealing with his own combat-related PTSD, he came better equipped to make the veterans he spoke to for this project comfortable talking about their experiences.

Even with Scott conducting the interviews, not all the veterans were willing to discuss their experiences. Medal of Honor recipient Rudy Hernandez did not wish to be interviewed for this, and given what I was able to learn about all he’d endured, I don’t blame him. The citation for his “indomitable fighting spirit, outstanding courage, and tenacious devotion to duty,” is a matter of public record and says enough about him. I was grateful enough to be allowed to reference that and share his story without making him rehash anything.

Fellow Medal of Honor recipient Ronald Rosser proved to be much more talkative, and I found myself sorting through an overabundance of information to include in an unfortunately limited number of pages. What touched me most was the modesty and the sense of humor I saw, but especially his keen memory for the heroic contributions he saw others make.

I had the greatest difficulty scripting David Mills’ accounts. It was of utmost importance to him that I include how his faith sustained him emotionally and perhaps even played a role in his physical survival as a prisoner of war. That was the easy part. Recounting the triumphs and tribulations of some of his fellow POW’s from the US, England, and Australia was also relatively easy. It was the simple fact that I was writing about a seventeen year old prisoner of war that prompted me to hug my own adolescent children a little tighter.

The difficulties I had with scripting one of Frederick “Boots” Blesse’s many dogfights were of a much more technical nature and were much more fun to resolve. I wanted to do justice to a story about the man who literally wrote the book on air combat tactics, but since all the flight hours I’ve logged were strictly as a commercial airline passenger, I needed help. Thankfully, I had all the help I needed with everything from aviation jargon to how a pilot would perform various maneuvers thanks to my daughter and to the Eagle Rock Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol. It broke my heart that Maj. Gen. Blesse passed away before he could see our book, but I suspect he would have appreciated that some of this generation’s young cadet airmen would learn and get involved in helping share his story.

I also should give credit to local Korean War vets Don Saville and Gary Lewis, who shared with me their own experiences in Korea and taught me everything they knew about what happened where. Mr. Saville almost literally kept a map in his head of the Korean peninsula from Pusan up to the Yalu River. Thanks also to the folks at Ross’ Guns, who answered all the questions I had about M1 carbines. And especially thanks to all who will help this project go to print by supporting this Kickstarter campaign.

Fanfilm Double Feature: The Promised Post about Jim Butcher

Warning! This post is full of an evening’s worth of fannish contemporary fantasy entertainment! You might want to set aside an evening for this- preferably tonight.

I’ve been feeling particularly lucky these past several days. One of them was that I had just finished reading Cold Days, the seventh book of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. Normally, I would not consider that much of an accomplishment, except that I never just read one book at a time. In this case, I was also reading Journey of Heroes while also trying to keep up with the FUBAR books, The Shadow, The Dresden Files comics, Wolverine and the X-Men, and The Walking Dead.

Then I found out that I had pulled that off in time for Jim Butcher’s birthday, which also happens to be the birthday of my brother Kreg and my friend Robert. (Happy birthday you guys. Stay out of trouble!) So here’s a little present. I’m not actually writing a book review, though I did indeed like Cold Days and eagerly look forward to the next installment, Skin Game. Rather I will share how some people I suppose we could call Dresden-philes have chosen to pay tribute.

We “officially” premiered this movie at Missoula, Montana’s MisCon back in May, and Jim Butcher just so happened to be a guest. I also say “we,” because it’s not just another crazy coincidence that all the people listed in the credits have the last name of Finnigan. Like a lot of fanfilms, this was a family affair. Rather than just waste an entire panel talking about how awesome our movie was, however, we showed a preview for another fanfilm that was, at the time, still a work in progress.

What did Jim Butcher think? After he saw our movie and the trailer, he had this to say to Tower of Turtles Productions, the people who made this next movie.

jim butcher

Because you’ve put up with my rambling so far, I won’t just show the preview. I’ll reward you with the whole thing. Just another warning – This movie is not for the little ones.

Review – Journey of Heroes: The Story of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team

A little while ago, I stumbled over an article in Stars and Stripes that made me immediately make room in my comic book budget for another purchase. Writer Stacey Hayashi and artist Damon Wong, along with a legion of supporters, gave some of the lesser known stories of World War II a manga-style treatment- using chibis.

My tastes for comic books and military history as well as a desire to see the US Army’s “Most Decorated and Decimated” 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team get more of the recognition they deserve prompted me to consider buying the book. Curiosity dictated that I obtain the book as soon as possible. While I thought a manga would be interesting, I just had to know how chibis, which I regarded as little two-dimensional embodiments of everything cutesy, could possibly appropriately depict some of our bravest and most overlooked soldiers as they faced the bloodiest fighting on the European front.

The 100th and the 442nd, for those who don’t already know, were made up entirely of Nisei- second generation Americans of Japanese ancestry. Buddhaheads came from Hawaii, spoke pidgin, and were much better off than the kotonks, a lot of whom came from the internment camps on the mainland. They had a tough time getting along at first- the kotonks getting their nickname from the sound of their heads hitting the floor during brawls. The book touches on how these soldiers from such different backgrounds came to understand each other. Eventually, they found commonalities besides being American and Japanese. Their ideals were a quintessentially American blend of Old World and New, and they fought and sacrificed to prove it.

The book follows our average Buddhahead from Hawaii, on a trip to an internment camp to gain some perspective, and off to battle in Italy and France, with a flash forward showing what was to come for those who survived. The language is plain and concise, accented with just enough pidgen to make it seem authentic without compromising the ability of a mainlander like me with only a smattering of Japanese to fully understand. The matter-of-fact manner in which some lines are written also emphasizes by stark contrast the physically and emotionally harrowing nature of the journey.

As for the chibis, they’re cute, but not inappropriately so. They seem to better express the emotions the soldiers experienced- from fun and camaraderie, to grief, horror, exhaustion, and courage- without going comically overboard. Drawing everyone in the book in such a manner or even daring to give such treatment to such serious topics like war and racism was a huge gamble. I suppose, however, that it would only be appropriate for a book about a combat team with the motto of “Go for broke.”

The gamble paid off. I did not regret having purchased an extra copy to give to someone I know who’s more than deserving, and the copy I’m keeping for myself already has a place among my favorite comics. If you want to similarly add this to your collection of favorites, you can order it at http://www.442comicbook.com.

Why I Worked on “Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan”

soldier marine and me

It was a few years and several haircuts ago when I first got involved with Heroes Fallen Studios and scripted a couple of accounts for Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan. While the marine pictured here showed his appreciation by planting a great big smack on my cheek, that was only icing on the cake.

Ben and me

I did this for people like Ben,  a soldier I met at an Idaho State University Veterans’ Sanctuary gathering. Ben had a lot of stories to share and simply needed someone to listen.

Nick Clayton Collette and me

I did this for Nick, Clayton and Collette, as well as others among the many wonderful people I met at Chicago Comic Con. Nick is a marine. Clayton and Collette are civilians, but they’ve taken it upon themselves to establish Heroes Fallen Studios and get the ball rolling, creating comic books as a forum for our veterans to share their stories. They couldn’t do all that on their own, so I became one of many who signed on to help.

SSGT Lamm

I did this for Marine Staff Sergeant Lamm at the Magic Valley Air Show in Twin Falls, Idaho…

The boss and me

…and for Blue Angels boss Captain Greg McWherter, because F18 Hornets and the pilots who fly them are awesome!

bob jani and fam

I did this for Bob and Jani, pictured with my family at the first Climb for the Heroes. Their son, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, was captured in Afghanistan in 2009 and is still being held by the Haqqani network.

harris and me 2

Harris is another reason. I met him while doing a book signing at Storyteller Comics and Games in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Image

The next day, at our second Climb for the Heroes event, my daughter and I met Ted, a veteran who had recently returned from Afghanistan. He was quite glad to take this picture of us at the summit of South Dakota’s Harney Peak.

Sherri Chris and Me

I did it for Sherri and Chris, soldiers who just happened to come to Idaho Falls, Idaho’s Outland Comics for Free Comic Book Day.

CJ and me

I got involved for CJ, pictured with me, and for Scott, Victor, Louis, Brian, Mike, Jose, the Roberts, and everyone else who shared an account or two for the book- especially Kyle and Sudsy, on whose stories I was privileged to work.

slcc airmen and me

I got involved and chose to stay heavily involved for these airmen that I met at the inaugural Salt Lake Comic Con- and for “Feet” Jensen, for Dad, Ed, Zach, Kevin, Michael, the Baldwins, Sarge Marge, Tammy, Dirk, Doug, Gabe, John, Fr. Worster, and everyone who serves or has served in the armed forces, as soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, or- yes- coasties.

“I get it,” some readers might think. “You’re doing this because you support the troops.” Well, anyone can “support the troops.” Anyone can send money to some faceless entity. Anyone can slap a yellow ribbon on their bumper. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do something more personal and meaningful, something more likely to have a direct impact on the troops and the general reading public.

I also wanted to take part in setting a precedent, hoping we could continue to share the stories of veterans from other conflicts, like the Korean War, before their stories are lost to history.

And I also wanted to set an example.

Elly and Hero

Shortly after Untold Stories… hit the shelves, my daughter was presented a unique school assignment. She had the opportunity to interview Hero Shiosake, who, during World War II, went from an internment camp to fighting on the Italian front as one of the 442nd Infantry.

She didn’t just listen and take notes because her teacher required it. She recognized the importance of getting these stories not just from some history book, but directly from someone who was there.

I think she did me proud.

Wan-Abi: The Making of a Fan Film

2002 was a good year to be a Star Wars fan. It was an even better time to make a fan film, with Lucasfilm and the Sci-Fi Channel (before anybody thought to pronounce it “Siffy”) sponsoring a Star Wars fan film competition- with George Lucas himself as one of the judges.

I had the honor (yes, I consider it an honor) of serving as an uncredited extra. My husband- who had a bigger role- and I accompanied some of the other folks involved in the film to the awards ceremony at Star Wars Celebration that year.

This film garnered an honorable mention.

Eleven years later, a lot has happened to the group that made this film. Folks went off in different directions. Jawa-sized kids grew up. I met other creators who are happy to let fans play in their universes (more about Jim Butcher later). Most importantly, I discovered that it’s still a good time to make a fan film.

Hello, everybody!

Hello, everybody!.

Valerie Finnigan was born in Glendale, California, where she quickly developed a ravenous appetite for adventure, a taste for science fiction, fantasy, horror, and suspense, and a mind buzzing with big dreams. Some of those dreams led her to make her home in the wilds of Idaho. Some led to her through a variety of careers including firefighting and emergency services. But other dreams (and nightmares) gradually found their way into print. She has been privileged to work on Why Not?, Tiger on the Storm, Korean War, Untold Stories from Iraq and AfghanistanWorst Case Scenario: OutbreakHero by Force, and other projects currently in development.

Treycen Fluckiger is an avid gamer, writer, and human thesaurus. He loves long walks (to Metallica), driving pony cars (also to Metallica), and watching Disney movies. He has been writing stories for five years in many prestigious formats (bathroom stalls, etc.,) and at one point had a dream of selling snake oil out of the back of stagecoach until he found out what horses are. He currently resides in Idaho Falls and enjoys the fact that he can finally write in the third person without sounding pompous or insane. (Eat your heart out Derek Landy. Call me!)

Jon Funes- proud husband, gamer, and overall imaginative sort- when not fighting pirates in his mind, writes while wearing a sock monkey hat to keep in touch with his spirit creature.

Mystie Young’s awesomeness cannot be contained in a single biographical paragraph. She speaks Japanese, knows Ving Tsu Kung Fu, and when her service in the US Army doesn’t keep her too busy, she draws manga.