#MyFavoriteCharacter: Optimus Prime

“What’s your favorite book?” “What’s your favorite movie?” “Who’s your favorite music artist?” These are tough questions, and I can never give a single answer to any of them. But how about this one: “Who is your most favorite character in any story medium — book, movie, folk story, whatever?” Although that sounds like it should be a far more difficult question, I can answer it definitively and without hesitation.

optimusprimeMy favorite character ever is Optimus Prime.

Transformers wasn’t my first fandom. That distinction goes to Bozo the Clown or even Mr. Fred Rogers. But when I saw Transformers for the first time, I was immediately enthralled. Eight-year-old me was very much into giant robots from outer space waging their war of good vs. evil on our world. (Spoiler: so is forty-year-old me.)

I adored Wheeljack, the Autobot scientist. I loved imitating the distinct voices of Jazz and Ironhide. Who doesn’t love scrappy little Bumblebee? And even the bad guys were cool, like Megatron, Soundwave, and Shockwave — especially Shockwave. But they were all overshadowed by the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime.

I’ve thought a lot about it, and there are three qualities about Prime that sharply define him. And what makes him so special to me isn’t any one of these qualities, it’s the whole that emerges when all three come together.

Determination
There’s a line in “The Touch” by Stan Bush, the theme song of the 1986 animated Transformers film, that epitomizes Prime: “And you never give in when your back’s to the wall.” Prime never, ever gives up. If at first he fails miserably, he gets right back up and tries again. The best example of this is in the final minutes of “More Than Meets the Eye,” the original three-part pilot story of the Transformers cartoon. The Decepticons are leaving Earth victorious. They’ve secured a shipload of Earth’s resources, and they’re heading back home to Cybertron. But is Prime ready to give up? No, he is not!

Strength
Lots of characters are determined and don’t give up easily. But Prime pairs that determination with strength, both physical and mental. Take a look at his specifications card from the box of his original action figure:

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Source: TF Archive

Strength: 10! Endurance: 10! Courage: 10! Skill: 10! Intelligence: 10!

To be fair, I think his skill and intelligence scores are a bit high. He’s extraordinarily skilled at what he does best — leadership, destroying Decepticons — but he’s not a medic like Ratchet or a scientist like Wheeljack or Perceptor. But his strength, endurance, and courage numbers are right on. Very few Transformers are stronger than Optimus Prime, and most of those that are — Devastator, Unicron — are stronger purely because physically they’re much larger.

Protector
If determination were enough, Batman or Luke Skywalker would be my favorite character. If strength were enough, it would be the Hulk or Voltron. But what truly makes Prime superior is his never-ending determination, backed by his ultimate strength, all at the service of protecting the weakest among us.

“Freedom is the right of all sentient beings” is Prime’s motto, and he lives it. As a child who wasn’t very physically tough, I looked at Prime as if he were the biggest, strongest kid in my class, but one who used his power to protect the weak, not to torment them.

Watch this scene from Transformers: Dark of the Moon in which Prime, in just one minute, single-handedly fights through 11 Decepticons — including Shockwave — to defend the people of Chicago. There is simply no better moment that summarizes how Prime’s determination, strength, and protection of the weak all come together to make him into my all-time favorite fictional character.


I can’t say I’m the world’s greatest Optimus Prime fan. That honor would probably have to go to the guy who had his name legally changed to “Optimus Prime.” But nevertheless, Autobot leader Optimus Prime gets my vote for the greatest character ever created.

What if you had to pick your all-time favorite character? Guess what — you do have to!* Write about it on your blog or on Facebook or Twitter or here in the comments or wherever. Hashtag it #MyFavoriteCharacter and let me know who you like best.

* Actually, you don’t have to. But it would be pretty great if you did.

February 2017 Status Update

carsland
Ka-chow!

I spent two weeks of last month in the best possible way: at Disneyland! My beautiful bride, our children, and I had a great trip to my favorite place in the world. It had been two years since we’d been there, and SoCal was calling to me. I love the drive across I-10 from Texas to California, through the beauty of New Mexico and Arizona, and right past the splendor of Joshua Tree National Park. While there, we stayed at our favorite vacation rental home, and besides Disneyland, we managed to get in a day at Huntington Beach. Overall, it was fantastic. I still wouldn’t want to live anywhere but Texas, but no matter how many times I go, California remains near the very top of my list of places I want to visit.

Oh, and this trip was the first time I’ve ever been able to experience that tiny slice of paradise called It’s a Small World Holiday. I have always loved It’s a Small World. I didn’t think it could get any better. But every December and early January, when the attraction is decorated for Christmas, and the dolls sing “Jingle Bells,” it does.

And then we got home, and I got back to work.

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I’ve begun work on the second draft of Tomorrow’s Shepherd. I mentioned in my previous update how excited I am about that book and that excitement hasn’t ebbed.

You know what else I’m excited about? I recently hit a milestone with this blog. This is the 101st article I’ve published.Considering that at times I’ve struggled with what to do with this blog, that’s a big deal to me. I’m not a very social person, so it’s just not in my nature to step up to a microphone and start speaking to the world, which is basically what you do every time you publish a blog article. There’s also the simple facts that I’m a writer with a day job, and writing is a zero sum game — any time I spend writing blog articles is time I’m not spending writing my next book.

But one of my goals for 2017 is to get better at this. I’ve said it before, but it’s still very early in my career, so if you’re reading this shortly after it’s published, you’re one of My First Fans. And that means I want to stay in touch with you. I’m committed to checking in via this blog at least once a week, even if it is just to give the blog equivalent of a wave hello. Only after I do that will I allow myself to crawl back into my writing hole and get to work on my next story. Deal?

Deus vobiscum.

Three favorites: superheroes

Jerry Seinfeld once said, “But when men are growing up and are reading about Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, these aren’t fantasies. These are options.” This was definitely true of me. One of my earliest favorite TV shows was Batman (1966). I have a picture of myself at four or five years old proudly wearing a Spider-Man mask. And my grandmother had hundreds of books at her farm, but I usually only read one: a paperback containing reprints of several Batman comic book stories.

Choosing my three favorite superheroes out of all the great ones out there just might be a job for Superman, but watch me try. Up, up, and away!

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Credit: DC Comics

The Flash
Growing up, I knew of The Flash, I enjoyed the 1990 TV series starring John Wesley Shipp, and I owned a handful of Flash comic books, but he was never one of my favorite superheroes. About ten years ago, that changed. Barry Allen has a single superpower — he’s really fast — but over the years, his writers have been enormously creative with the possible applications of that power. He can run up buildings or on water. He can vibrate so quickly the molecules of his body move faster than those that make up bricks and concrete, allowing him to walk through walls. And just like the starship Enterprise, he’s so fast he can travel backward and forward in time. The ultimate irony is Barry Allen is so scatterbrained, even his super-speed can’t prevent him from always being late. Brilliant!

It doesn’t hurt that The Flash has a rogues’ gallery second only to Batman’s, one loaded with colorful, fun villains like Captain Cold, Mirror Master, and the Trickster. And sometime in the 1990s, a mystical element was added to the Flash mythos: the Speed Force.

I didn’t own my first Flash t-shirt until I was 35 or 36, so I’m as late to the party as Barry Allen is to everything. But arrived, I have — The Flash is my number one superhero.

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Credit: DC Comics

Batman
When The Flash became my favorite superhero, he dethroned Batman, but I still have a deep love for the Caped Crusader. As a little boy, I wanted to be Batman. My local comic book store sold the novelization of the 1989 Batman movie about two weeks before the film arrived in theaters, and I read that sucker faster than any novel I’ve read before or since.

I don’t need to justify Batman’s inclusion in this list. If he’s not the most popular superhero in the world, he’s in the top three. For me, his appeal comes down to his intelligence and his preparedness. Batman isn’t the strongest superhero, but he’s definitely one of the smartest, and he is constantly prepared for anything. There’s always something in his utility belt to help him out of a jam — or even better, he can always come up with a plan to outwit or outsmart his adversaries.

So many of his stories rank among the classics of sequential art: The Dark Knight ReturnsYear OneThe Killing JokeThe Long HalloweenHush. Television has given us Batman: The Animated Series and film has given us Christopher Nolan’s three Batman films. We can’t get enough Batman. To the Batcave!

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Credit: Wild Cards Wikia

The Great and Powerful Turtle
George R. R. Martin is best known for A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones, but I know him best as the editor of the shared-world anthology book series Wild Cards. In Wild Cards, an alien virus was released on Earth in the 1930s. Those whom the virus left physically deformed are called Jokers. But some of the virus’s victims drew an Ace and received super powers.

Lots of great writers have contributed to Wild Cards throughout the years, and the series contains some great characters, but my favorite of them is one created by Martin himself. Thomas Tudbury is a gentle, quiet, comic book-loving man who is also the world’s most powerful telekinetic. However, he’s so timid and so scared, his powers become nearly useless unless he feels completely secure. He makes a “shell” out of an old VW beetle and flies around New York City inside it, fighting crime. When asked who he is, Tom turns on the shell’s external speakers and says, “I am the Turtle.” Then, thinking better, he cranks the speakers to maximum and declares, “I AM THE GREAT AND POWERFUL TURTLE!”

Though it has been many years since I’ve kept up-to-date with the Wild Cards series, I’ve never forgotten The Great and Powerful Turtle. He is such a cleverly designed and fun character. Don’t kill him off, George!


Observant readers will note I didn’t include any Marvel Comics heroes in this list. I have nothing but love for Marvel’s heroes, especially the X-Men. I’ve just always loved the DC heroes a bit more. Put me in Team Justice League.

So those are my three favorite superheroes. Who are yours? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

Yesterday’s Demons Giveaway

Yesterdays Demons Cover Final (Small) Want to win a free paperback copy of Yesterday’s Demons? I’m giving away five copies via a Goodreads.com giveaway.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Yesterday's Demons by Michael Ripplinger

Yesterday’s Demons

by Michael Ripplinger

Giveaway ends February 15, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

It is proving to be a more popular giveaway than I’d expected. If you already own the book, but you know someone who’d be interested in receiving a free copy, please let them know about the giveaway and ask them to enter. I can’t wait to send out these free books.

The giveaway ends on February 15.

Toasters of Tomorrow

In chapter two of Yesterday’s Demons, Fritz describes the ludicrous amount of technology planet Verde once had before the cataclysmic Blackout tossed the world into the Dark Ages:

Well having chips inside everything was great for when you just had to turn on the toaster with your mobile, which I guess people must have needed to do back then. … [But the] excessiveness of it all is really a bit embarrassing.

toast-1077984_1280
Photo by Frank Oschatz

Pre-Blackout Verde is not too far from where we are today. We have smartphones, smart homes, and smart appliances. When I wrote the lines above, I tried to think of the most absurd “smart device” I could imagine. To succinctly describe a complete technological overdose, what’s something that, at least in our world, would almost certainly never be “smart”?

I thought toasters were a pretty safe bet, because how is your phone ever going to put a piece of bread into one? But it turns out I was oh so wrong.

A “smart” toaster, complete with an app for your phone that communicates with the toaster over Bluetooth, is on its way. It is a nifty solution to the problem of burning your bread to a crisp because you toasted it without realizing the previous hungry person to use the device had set it to 11. But… it’s a toaster! Are we really so lazy we now have a toasting app?

The point: I clearly stink at trying to dream up the ridiculous.

2016 in Review: Reading

Last year I read 52 books, a very DC Comics-esque number that averages to one book a week. This year I didn’t read nearly that many, but I’ll go into why after the list.

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Photo by Alejandro Escamilla

Books (listed in the order in which I read them)

  1. The Fairy’s Return and Other Princess Tales by Gail Carson Levine
  2. Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
  3. Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas
  4. Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George
  5. Thursdays with the Crown by Jessica Day George
  6. Calamity by Brandon Sanderson
  7. Fridays with the Wizards by Jessica Day George
  8. Bluescreen by Dan Wells
  9. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (DNF)
  10. Kingdom Keepers: The Return, Book 2 by Ridley Pearson
  11. A Fighting Man of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  12. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  13. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  14. The INFJ Writer by Lauren Sapala
  15. Ever by Gail Carson Levine
  16. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling
  17. The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

As is standard for me, most of my reading is fiction. The only non-fiction title on the list is the highly-recommended The INFJ Writer by Lauren Sapala. I recommend it not just to INFJ writers, but to all writers and all introverts.

The book I liked best was Tuesdays at the Castle and the rest of the Castle Glower series by Jessica Day George. It’s kind of surprising that I only first read those books less than a year ago. The tales of Princess Celie and her magical castle already feel like classics to me.

The runner-up has to be Bluescreen by Dan Wells. I also liked the heck out of Calamity by Brandon Sanderson, and it was the book I read the fastest this year (two days), but the finale of the Reckoners series just wasn’t as satisfying to me as the freshman offering in the Mirador series. Bluescreen was just awesome — cool tech, great characters, and lots of question arcs to keep me turning pages.

52 to 17 books is a pretty steep year-to-year drop, and there are a few reasons for the plunge:

  • I spent nearly two months trying my hardest to enjoy The Blue Sword but I just couldn’t. I like Robin McKinley’s work, and I wanted to read The Blue Sword because I enjoyed its prequel The Hero and the Crown. But I eventually had to throw in the towel. (Though it bears noting that The Blue Sword was the only dead tree book I picked up last year. The media may have been part of the problem, as I exclusively read ebooks these days.)
  • In early August I started The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks. I’m enjoying it, but it’s long (especially for me), and it’s not on this list because I haven’t finished it yet.
  • I spent the second half of the year catching up on some TV shows I’d always wanted to try but long neglected.

That last item is a good transition to a new category in my 2016 Year in Reading Review:

TV shows (listed in the order in which I watched them)

  1. Voltron: Legendary Defender
  2. Stranger Things
  3. The Flash (Season 1)
  4. Supergirl (Season 1)
  5. The Flash (Season 2)

I loved all of these shows, but there’s no question about it: The Flash (season 1) was the best TV I watched all year and one of my favorite television stories ever. The Flash has been my favorite super-hero for a while now due to all of the amazing and creative applications of his lone super power. Season 1 of his TV show was masterful. The way the show’s mysteries (who is the Reverse Flash? what happened the night Barry’s mother died?) played out over the course of the season kept me glued to my TV, tablet, phone, or whatever device I could watch Netflix on.

The Flash (season 2) might have been my second favorite if not for its ending. Zoom was a frightening villain, a total monster heel who was genuinely scary, especially after he broke Barry’s back and after it had become apparent Barry simply was not faster than him. But that ending. Oh gosh… season 1’s ending brought all the feels. Season 2’s ending just made me want to slap Barry upside the head.

Because of The Flash season 2’s stumble at the finish line, my second favorite show of the year was season 1 of Supergirl. I didn’t think I’d like it nearly as much as I did, but a story mix that was equal parts the story of Supergirl and the story of Kara Danvers won me over. Cat Grant and her dialogue were also highlights.


So that was my 2015 in media consumption. There’s lots of good stuff coming in 2016. I’m especially looking forward to the conclusion of the latest Kingdom Keepers series, the finale of the Castle Glower series, and the next book in the Mirador series. I also want to get to Robert Hewitt Wolfe’s new novel and the first book in Veronica Roth’s new series. Yes, in some ways, I am Henry Bemis. May I never break my glasses.

2016 Year-End Status Update

At this time last year, I posted a 2015 recap of the progress I’d made on that “become a published author” project I’d been working on. With the new year now upon us, it’s a good time for me to reflect back on 2016 and see how similar Plan and Reality ended up. Here’s what I had planned for 2016, followed by when I checked the item off my list… or when I didn’t.

Complete the final draft of Yesterday’s Demons
Done on March 5.

Publish Yesterday’s Demons in ebook
The pre-order went live on March 10, and the book was released on April 12. There’s really nothing else that I can consider my professional highlight of the year. This was a dream come true. If you haven’t bought it yet, check out the shopping links in the sidebar or on this page.

Publish Yesterday’s Demons in paperback
On April 22, newsletter subscribers were the first to learn this was now available. At this point, I exclusively read ebooks. But I learned that plenty of folks still prefer books made out of atoms instead of bits. And as my friend William Munn recently put it, he’s come to see a dead tree copy of a book as a collectible. So this was also a big milestone, and a true highlight of the year. For purchasing links, again see the sidebar or this page.

Complete the first draft of Tomorrow’s Shepherd
After releasing Yesterday’s Demons in ebook and paperback, I spent the remainder of 2016 head down writing its sequel. I had hoped to have a near-final draft of that book in the hands of my editor by the end the year, but life got in the way. I transitioned to a new day job, which was great for my mental health but bad (for a while) for my productivity. But the biggest problem I had in finishing by my self-imposed due date was that I struggled with the book for a while. I don’t know if I’d call it “writer’s block” so much as I’d call it “writer’s doubt.” For a while, I just wasn’t certain I was writing something that was Not Crap.

In the end, everything came together into something I’m proud of and excited about. This is the news that newsletter subscribers got earlier this week: on December 31, I completed the first draft of The Verdant Revival, Book 2: Tomorrow’s Shepherd.

As is my tradition whenever I finish a novel draft, I celebrated with a bowl of cereal:

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This time I chose a bowl of Frosted Flakes with some fresh strawberries and blueberries and, because it was Christmas and because my wife is an amazing Italian, I garnished it with some struffoli on top.

SPOILER ALERT: The final word of the book is “ours”! (Gah! Why did I give it away?)

Complete the second draft (with beta reader feedback) of Tomorrow’s Shepherd
and
Submit Tomorrow’s Shepherd to my editor
These are the two items that were on my 2016 checklist that I did not accomplish. At some point last year, I opened my 2016 annual plan notes, found the “finish the first draft” item, and added in red ink: “This seems wildly unrealistic.” Sadly that turned out to be true. But though I didn’t get as far as I hoped, I ended up with a work I’m wildly enthusiastic about. I’m an artist; I’ll take quality over deadlines any day.


So what’s next? I’m still formulating my complete 2017 plan, but I can say my number one goal for the year is to have Tomorrow’s Shepherd on sale by the end of the year. I’m going to work hard on that one, because I can’t wait for you to read it.

I’ve mentioned that each of the three books in The Verdant Revival will feature a different main character: first Siv, then Fritz, and finally Cassie. What I haven’t mentioned before is that each book also has a different theological virtue at its core. Yesterday’s Demons was about love, the opposite of fear. The finale will be about faith. And Tomorrow’s Shepherd is about hope. So while I wish I would have finished the book’s first draft sooner, there was something special about completing it during the Christmas season — the ultimate season of hope.

Thank you to all of you who helped make my 2016 so wonderful. A lot went wrong in the world last year, but I’ll always remember 2016 fondly as the year I became a published author. And as the year the Cubs finally won the World Series. #FlyTheW