Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Feliz quinceañera, Star Trek Vanguard

Fifteen years ago saw the premiere of Harbinger, the first book in the Star Trek Vanguard series, which I co-created with Pocket Books senior editor Marco Palmieri.

What was Star Trek Vanguard? Dayton Ward sums it up thusly:

Vanguard as created by editor Marco Palmieri and author David Mack is a series of books that served as a “literary spin-off” of the original Star Trek television series. Running in parallel with the original show, Vanguard was set aboard a space station in a hotly contested area of space called “the Taurus Reach.”

In the years that followed, I wound up alternating writing privileges on the series with Dayton and his hetero life-mate and frequent writing partner Kevin Dilmore. This, among other things, led to them becoming two of my closest friends, with whom I shared the most artistically satisfying creative endeavor of my career to date.

Photo of Dayton Ward, Marco Palmieri, Kevin Dilmore, and David Mack
The Vanguardians of the Galaxy: from left, Dayton Ward, Marco Palmieri, Kevin Dilmore, David Mack. Taken at Shore Leave Convention, July 2011.

Marco, who left Simon & Schuster after editing the fourth Vanguard novel, subsequently returned to the saga as an author, contributing the novella “The Ruins of Noble Men” to the Vanguard anthology volume Declassified. And acclaimed international best-selling thriller author James Swallow took Vanguard into the Mirror Universe with his short story “The Black Flag,” in the anthology Shards and Shadows.

Furthermore, we had the amazing good fortune that all of our series’ cover art was created by the brilliantly talented Doug Drexler. Every single one of his covers is worthy of being enlarged to billboard size and plastered onto the side of a skyscraper.

Dayton has done an amazing write-up about Vanguard — what it is, how it came to be, and what it has meant to all of us who were fortunate enough to work on it. I doubt I could improve upon it; I would only end up paraphrasing it. So I’ll just say, go read his excellent tribute to this series we built with love, sweat, and imagination.

If you’ve never read the Star Trek Vanguard saga, here is your guide:

Star Trek Vanguard Bibliography

Harbinger – David Mack
Summon the Thunder – Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore
Reap the Whirlwind – David Mack
Open Secrets – Dayton Ward (story by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore)
Precipice – David Mack
Declassified – four novellas by: Dayton Ward; Kevin Dilmore; Marco Palmieri; and David Mack
What Judgments Come – Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore (story by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore and David Mack)
Storming Heaven – David Mack (story by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore and David Mack)

There also are a few additional stories that, while not essential to enjoying the main “saga,” might be of interest:

Distant Early Warning – Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore (a Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers story and Vanguard prequel)

In Tempest’s Wake – Dayton Ward (sort of a coda to the Vanguard series)

The Black Flag” – James Swallow
(Included in the anthology Star Trek: Mirror Universe – Shards & Shadows)

You can also load up on SPOILER-FILLED, behind-the-scenes goodness with my Vanguard Finale page.

Dayton, Kevin, and I have agreed that we have no intention of ever re-opening the toy box that was Star Trek Vanguard. From the outset, the saga had been planned with a clear beginning, middle, and ending, and ultimately we hewed fairly closely to that original plan. What’s more, we ended the saga on our own terms, by design rather than by necessity, a privilege one is rarely afforded in the world of media tie-in writing.

Sometimes I daydream of seeing Vanguard as a new Star Trek TV series. But then I remember that it likely would never be as good on the screen as it is in the theater of my imagination, and I’m content to leave it where it is.

As Pennington wrote at the saga’s end, “Let the world forget; I’ll remember.”

I’m begging you: Please buy THE IRON CODEX

Some of you folks might have seen other authors posting about the crushing effect the pandemic has had on book sales.

Everyone thought people stuck at home would buy MORE books, but that isn’t what’s happened.

Truth is, most people lost their incomes. Many people in the publishing industry have been laid off or let go outright, resulting in many titles being delayed for months or longer.

Worse, the supply chain for book production and sales has all but collapsed. Printing companies are running out of paper; trucking companies that move paper and books are losing drivers; many retailers, both virtual and brick-and-mortar, who used to sell books are now closed.

The result has been a calamity for publishers and authors. Some folks thought readers would embrace eBooks and bypass the paper/shipping problem. But that hasn’t happened. For all the talk of eBooks supplanting print, the dead-tree format remains the dominant format for sales.

What has all this meant to me? My sales have been slammed, just as many others’ have. I’d like to say “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine,” but that’s not really true anymore. Truth is, my sales could use a bit of help, too.

Tuesday, May 12, is my birthday. I would be grateful if, on that day, anyone reading this who hasn’t already bought a copy of my fantasy-thriller The Iron Codex would please buy a copy in any format from the retailer of your choice.

If you already have The Iron Codex, then I’d be grateful if, on May 12, you’d pre-order a copy (in any format, from any retailer) of my upcoming Dark Arts series finale, The Shadow Commission (coming Aug. 11 from

Not to be too melodramatic about it, but my future as an author of original fiction might well depend on this. So any support you can find it in your heart (and finances) to provide at this time would be potentially career-saving. Thanks in advance for your support.

Art is a Kind of Magic, Magic a Kind of Art

Making good art is hard.

That turned out to be a key concept in my new epic fantasy novel about a secret war between Allied and Nazi sorcerers during World War II, but I didn’t know that until after I had started writing it.

When I began working on The Midnight Front, my goal was to tell a secret-history adventure that transplanted Renaissance-era ceremonial magic into a 20th-century setting. For those who are unfamiliar with the precepts of ceremonial magic from the Christian tradition, its central idea is that all true magic (as opposed to stage magic), from the smallest trick to the grandest miracle, is predicated upon the conjuring and control of demons. The terminology of this style of magic is highly technical and antiseptic, and its practitioners treated the exercise of magic like a form of science (possibly because magic during that period was connected closely with the practices of alchemy, the forerunner of modern chemistry).

To make my novels’ system of magic more cinematic (and therefore better suited to a fast-paced action narrative), I grafted onto it the concept of “yoking,” in which a magician binds one or more demons to his or her mind and body and, for as long as he or she is able to maintain control over the spirits, wields the demons’ powers as if they were his or her own.

In the interest of limiting my characters’ ability to wield such powers I imposed certain consequences upon this practice. My characters soon learn that yoking demons is a miserable experience, one that comes with such side effects as headaches, nosebleeds, intestinal distress, obsessive-compulsive habits, self-harm such as cutting and hair-pulling, nightmares, and other such unpleasantness.

Consequently, my characters swiftly take to self-medication to mitigate the side effects that come with yoking demons. Alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, opium—whatever dulls the pain and quiets the voices, my characters make use of it so that they can yoke more spirits, gain more power, and try to win the war. So far it seemed to be shaping up into a well-balanced and narratively workable system of magic.

Then, one night a few years ago, I was describing the magic system to a friend at a party, and I experienced a revelation: the system of magic I had concocted, and the manner in which my characters coped with its deleterious consequences, mirrored my own creative process.

When I stepped back from my story and examined its moving parts, I realized that magic, which my characters sometimes call simply “the Art,” was a metaphor for all types of creative art. The notion of having to perform exhaustive research and preparation, and to master the fundamentals of the process before being able to use magic professionally was no different from the learning curve experienced by any artist. Writers, painters, musicians, actors, sculptors — any artistic discipline that I could think of fit this paradigm.

Then I thought about what demons represented beyond the context of my story, and I saw that they were metaphors for those forces that drive artists to create, to reshape reality. Some of those forces are benign, but others are not. How many artists have spoken of grappling with their “personal demons” during the act of creation? How many of us find the inspirations for our art in the darker corners of our psyches?

Even my characters’ coping mechanisms are hauntingly familiar to anyone who knows people who make their living in the arts. The creative professions sometimes seem almost synonymous with substance abuse. Opiates and music have a long shared history, as do writing and alcohol. I’ve never made any secret of my own proclivity for drinking; I have long practiced the edict “write drunk, edit sober” (a saying often attributed, possibly in error, to Ernest Hemingway).

The most vital parallel between my perception of artistic expression and the depiction of magic in my Dark Arts series lies in my main character’s moral conundrum: How can he do good in the world when his power is derived from a source considered to be the ultimate incarnation of evil?

The answer, both for my character and myself, is that what matters most is not the source from which one derives power, but what one ultimately does with that power. That’s as true for artists as it is for magicians. Even when our inspirations are drawn from the darkest places, what’s important is that we use our gifts to shed new light — and that we do our best to burn brightly.


The Midnight Front: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


This blog post originally ran on the Unbound Worlds blog in January 2018. That site no longer exists, so I have reposted my essay here.

On Creative Burnout (#SFWApro)

I don’t know who needs to hear this right now, but I’d like to take a moment to talk about creative burnout and self-care. Because I think sometimes we all push ourselves too hard, and we all deserve a break.

There’s nothing wrong with stepping back from our work once in a while. Digging into one’s soul to tell stories, craft images, or to create anything, can be an exhausting process.

But life takes its toll on all of us. Health concerns, financial worries, family obligations, other full-time work … they all put stress on us. Mentally, physically, and emotionally.

I sometimes feel as if our field puts too much emphasis on the need to make measurable progress every day. Write “X” words every day. Post a certain number of tweets. Produce, produce, produce.

Artists are not machines. We need to recharge. To rest. To think. To dream. Sometimes, what we think is “writer’s block” is more than just a sign of a problem with our project: in some cases, it’s a warning of burnout.

Too many of us have been conditioned to stigmatize the idea of stepping away from our work, not just for a day, but maybe for weeks, or months, or longer. There are those who make us feel like failures if we do.

I’ve been my own worst critic in such situations. Beat myself up emotionally for not working when what I really needed was to embrace the downtime. I needed time this past year to process bad news on multiple fronts.

What I’m trying to say is, cut yourself some slack. If you can afford to do so, be willing to walk away from a blank page. Self-care — whether physical or psychological — is not sloth. Downtime is not a sin.

When you’ve healed, when you’ve regained your strength, your focus, your time … you’ll know it. Your muse will return. Ideas will flow again. But first you need to care for yourself and those around you.

There’s no sure-fire, one-size-fits-all formula for recovering from burnout. Maybe you need medical care, or talk therapy. Or the right chat with a friend. Maybe you just need time and solitude.

But when it comes to survival, you owe it to yourself to be a little bit selfish. As they say on airplanes, put your own mask on first before you try to help others. Catch your breath.

Remember: the creative life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Pace yourselves, my friends.

#SFWApro

Neil Peart, Sept. 12, 1952–Jan. 7, 2020 #RIP

I was standing in a pharmacy this afternoon when my phone rang. It was my dear friend Randy Giudice calling from Los Angeles. I hadn’t heard from Randy in some time, so I picked up right away.

He was the one who broke the news to me that my hero, Neil Peart of Rush, had died:

Shattered. Gutted. Bereft. That’s where I am right now.

I never had the honor of meeting Neil, (as I did with his Rush band-mates Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee, in 2007), but Neil once sent me a brief but friendly email, as thanks for naming a character in his honor in my first pair of published Star Trek novels, A Time to Kill and A Time to Heal.

I wish I could have known the man behind the drum kit; I wish I could have had the chance someday to call the Professor a friend. Now that hope is forever quashed, and a measure of my joy in this life departs with him.

Neil Peart was more to me than a musician and an author in a band that I’ve loved most of my life. He was an inspiration to me, a guiding star, a talent who gave words and form to ideas that helped me find my own way as an artist and as a person.

Almost every work of prose I’ve ever published has contained some form of homage, either subtle or overt (usually overt), to Neil Peart’s lyrics. He was my idol — which, given his aversion to the notion of idolatry, is somewhat ironic.

I will always treasure the body of work that he and Rush created and shared with the world, and my grieving heart goes out to his family, his friends, and his colleagues.

All the world’s a stage, but the Professor has just made his exit, stage left.

Goodbye, Neil.

#RIPNeilPeart

15 Years and Cold Pizza

Today is my and Kara’s 15th wedding anniversary. Our tradition, since our first anniversary, has been to mark the occasion with cold pizza and good red wine.

Why, you ask?

Our wedding day, like most, was one of joyful chaos. We didn’t get to eat much at our reception, which we were told is typical. Consequently, when we got home that night, we were ravenous. But because we were planning to leave soon for a honeymoon, there was not much to eat in the fridge.

Except for a few slices of cold pizza. Which we promptly scorfed.

The following year, we’d planned a nice night out for our first anniversary. That plan was scuttled when I woke up feeling under the weather. I recovered my health and my appetite later that evening, but by then it was too late to go out. So we foraged in the fridge and found … cold pizza.

Thus a tradition was born.

Because this year’s anniversary is one that ends in a five or a zero, we have something special planned. An excellent brick-oven pizza with all of our favorite toppings awaits us in our fridge, as do desserts from local bakery Gian Piero. For our wine, we have a superb 2006 Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino that we’ve been saving for this occasion. To dress the table I procured a bouquet of 15 roses — one for each year of our marriage so far.

Here’s to many more wonderful years of cold ’za and vino fina. I love you, Kara.

Fantasy casting the Dark Arts series

I have been asked, notably in two interviews by Paul Semel, about what actors I would cast in the key roles of my Dark Arts series if it were being produced today, and if money and talent availability posed no barriers. Because I tend to picture my stories as movies in my imagination before I write them, this is a matter to which I’ve given much thought over the past few years.

These days there are so many great premium long-form series running on so many different channels and services that I can’t really say I have a preference for which one I’d most like to see host a Dark Arts series. All I can say for sure is that I’d rather it be on a premium subscription service than on network television, but at the same time, several cable channels have impressed the hell out of me with their series work (including, but not limited to, AMC, FX, and BBC America).

So, who do I wish would star in this daydream blockbuster of mine?

TOM HOLLAND as Cade Martin
I feel like Tom Holland has the perfect combination of vulnerability and boyish innocence on the verge of becoming cynicism to play the lead role of book one, The Midnight Front.

SUSANNA SKAGGS as Anja Kernova
I was blown away by the subtlety and emotional depth of Susanna Skaggs’s performance in the final season of Halt and Catch Fire — so much so that I find it hard to picture anyone else as Anja Kernova, “the Saint of Stalingrad.”

TOMMY FLANAGAN as Adair Macrae
I’ve been a fan of Tommy Flanagan’s work for years. His recent work on the FX series Sons of Anarchy was especially powerful. He carries with him an aura of danger, gravitas, and loss that makes him the perfect choice to play a 357-year-old Scottish vulgarian master sorcerer.

MICHAEL FASSBENDER as Kein Engel
If you’ve seen Michael Fassbender in the recent Alien films, or as Eric Lensher/Magneto in X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, you already know that he has a knack for portraying characters of cold, ruthless power. That makes him the ideal candidate to play the series’ arch-villain.

DIEGO LUNA as Father Luis Roderigo Pérez
A key character in book two, The Iron Codex, Father Pérez starts out as a rival to our heroes. He is decent, pious, and brave. I think that Diego Luna (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) would be the perfect actor to bring this character to life on the screen.

PARKER SAWYERS as Miles Franklin
Assuming this talented and charismatic actor (Pine Gap) can muster a good London accent, he would be a superb choice to play Cade’s best friend at Oxford (and, in the sequels, his partner inside MI6).

SARAH POWER as Briet Segfrunsdóttir
Perhaps best known to SF fans as Pawter Simms on the Syfy series Killjoys, Sarah Power has a regal quality, excellent emotional range, and a knack for playing the smartest person in the room. All of these traits make her a sublime choice for a villainess in search of redemption.

VOLKER BRUCH as Dragan Dalca
The star of German hit TV series Babylon Berlin, Volker Bruch possesses great charm and intensity, as well as excellent physicality. As soon as I saw him, I was able to picture him as the villain of book two, The Iron Codex.

ODED FEHR as Khalîl el-Sahir
With a magnetic screen presence, an aura of mystery, and a rich voice, Oded Fehr has all of the qualities I would expect for an actor looking to play a wise and ancient magician — in essence, this series’ Yoda.

So that’s my wish list for the most major roles. There are some important supporting roles from book one that I have never successfully cast in my imagination (such as Stefan Van Ausdall, Nikostratos Le Beau, or Siegmar Tuomainen), but who I will recognize if I ever see actors who match my mental portraits of those characters.