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  Humorous 'fake astronaut' book, disrespectful?

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Author Topic:   Humorous 'fake astronaut' book, disrespectful?
p51
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posted 07-16-2013 07:59 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I had a conversation with a publisher in the other day and I think I might have a good idea that might go the distance.

Years ago I had this idea for fake history book about a US fighter unit in WW2 where the pilots were all goof-ups. I went over all the funny concepts I had and regretted I didn’t write it and push for a publisher back when more vets were still around and didn't have the (well deserved) exalted status they do today. The publisher agreed such a book would probably be taken in the wrong context and people might be insulted by it now.

I immediately got to thinking, what about a book about an astronaut in the Apollo days, who was such a screw-up, he was the real reason the Apollo 18-20 got cancelled? I won’t go into some of the ideas I discussed (only that the guy would be someone pushed on NASA without them wanting him, to keep the agency from looking incapable of recognizing said screwup) but we were both laughing out loud at the ideas I came up with right there. Having read so many autobiographies of astronauts in the past couple of years the early stories especially blend together so closely there’s some real potential for satire there.

So, I’ll ask the question here, if such a book was written and well ID’d as a work of fiction, would any of you be offended at that? And what do you think real Apollo-era astronauts would think of it?

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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posted 07-16-2013 08:21 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I enjoy a good parody. Take a look at Bimbos of the Death Sun. I loved that book. For some who do the science-fiction convention rounds, they're insulted by the novel with its stereotypes (but well known and true to life stereotypes.). So write what you want and write it well.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 07-16-2013 08:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think there can be a fine line between comedic satire and being disrespectful to those you are parodying.

In this case, it is not just about the astronauts, but the thousands who were working to make Apollos 18 through 20 possible and whose work was pulled out from under them.

There are a good number of stories about astronauts being pushed onto NASA. "Deep Space Homer" on "The Simpsons" was very well done; Disney's "Rocketman," not so much. "Armageddon" was about astronauts being forced upon NASA, as was "Space Cowboys."

Bill Dana's "Jose Jimenez" was very funny in its day. Today, it doesn't strike the same chord with the audience-at-large.

With that last point in mind, I would be mindful of writing too "inside baseball." Though not a comedy, I'd suggest looking at Michael Cassutt's "Missing Man" for an example of where real life details are expertly blended with fiction, such that if you are a layman you can enjoy the story just as much as if you are clued in to every reference.

I'd also recommend "Redshirts" by John Scalzi as an example of a very respectful satire that also advanced the genre in a new direction.

GoesTo11
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posted 07-16-2013 09:04 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for GoesTo11   Click Here to Email GoesTo11     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I also appreciate good parody/satire, and the myth-making and "Right Stuff" aura that surrounded the early astronauts would definitely be a ripe target for lampooning.

No matter how thoroughly you might disclaim such a book, I imagine someone somewhere will find it offensive. I wouldn't, but then I don't offend easily. My only concern would be about how large the potential audience for such a work would be. If I understand your intent correctly, there would be a lot of "in-jokey" stuff involved...I'd assume this would be pitched to a narrowly-focused publisher like maybe Apogee Books?

EDIT: Robert replied before I did; his comment about writing too "inside baseball" speaks to what I was getting at. This would be a tough thing to pull off both entertainingly and respectfully at the same time, and even if that balance were struck well, this strikes me as a very "niche" idea.

moorouge
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posted 07-17-2013 01:33 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Methinks it might be a very short book. The first screw-up either in training or on a flight in the dangerous field of spaceflight would surely be the last the astronaut made.

Tykeanaut
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posted 07-17-2013 02:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tykeanaut   Click Here to Email Tykeanaut     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If you feel you've got a good idea, then go for it. I'm sure it would be written in the right way and would hopefully be appreciated by those within and outside of NASA. However, if anyone were offended then they don't have to buy it.

cspg
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posted 07-17-2013 04:17 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I could easily imagine a Apollo 13-type parody. If you go into too much details about characters, maybe some will think you're making fun at them. On the other hand, if you're trying to please everybody (or not offend someone), then don't bother. You'll always find someone who'll think your book is bad. I understand Robert's concern about those who worked on Apollo, but the ones who might be offended are the ones who take (took) their job too seriously (you could then argue that we're all glad they did otherwise things could have turned bad) but everyone should be able to take a step backward and laugh at what they do or what could have happened. And I wrote "should". Not easy.

Also who would be your target audience? Apollo (or space in general) is already a niche market that I'm not sure the general public knows about Apollo 18-20...

As for the WW2 goof-ups, an example exists in comics form in French (there are other similar titles but it's not really my thing when it comes to aviation comics and to make me have a good laugh).

(Title is derived from Luftwaffe, "gaffe" meaning blunder in French). Not hilarious but funny.

jimsz
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posted 07-17-2013 06:49 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jimsz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Go for it. Don't worry about "offending" anyone or being disrespectful. There will always be someone who is offended or thinks they are disrespected.

Push it as far as you can and if some are offended or find it disrespectful, they don't have to pay for it. If a publisher thinks it is worthwhile but needs to be reigned in they will tell you.

Gonzo
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posted 07-17-2013 07:57 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gonzo   Click Here to Email Gonzo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I agree. Go for it. If it is written with the INTENT of it being a parody, I'm sure most will see it for what it is.

YankeeClipper
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posted 07-17-2013 09:45 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for YankeeClipper   Click Here to Email YankeeClipper     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There's certainly a lot of comic potential at the Cape. From Patrick AFB starting out as NAS Banana River, Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM) becoming Into-Banana River Missiles (IBRM), alcohol-fueled Mercury-Redstone rockets and astros, to John Llewellyn (controller) 'parking' his car in a canal and Geno 'parking' his helo in the Indian River.

The Navy used to have Lt. Will Riskit (a prototypical cigar-chewing "kick-the-tyres-and-light-the-fires-I'll-fly-anything" pilot) so I'd say go for it. The world has got too straight-laced and po-faced - a health & safety walking disaster would be the perfect antidote!

Pete Conrad said it best - "If you can't be good, be colorful!"

randy
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posted 07-17-2013 12:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for randy   Click Here to Email randy     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I wouldn't be offended at all. In fact, it sounds like a good idea.

saturn1b
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posted 07-17-2013 02:44 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for saturn1b   Click Here to Email saturn1b     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hmm... Don Knotts come to mind in the Reluctant Astronaut.

rgarner
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posted 07-17-2013 03:22 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for rgarner   Click Here to Email rgarner     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If done correctly, it will be funny. If not, it can be disrespectful. Personally I would write away and then have a few people go over it for opinions. There is a website that I use for such reviews from professional writers called Zoetrope. You may want to look there.

P.S. Rocketman was the funniest film ever.

Ronpur
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posted 07-17-2013 03:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ronpur   Click Here to Email Ronpur     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by saturn1b:
Don Knotts come to mind in the Reluctant Astronaut.
Exactly what I was thinking as I was reading the thread. Parodies can be done on almost anything. WW2 had them with McHale's Navy of even Hogan's Heroes. In their day, they were funny and not disrespectful. I look forward to what you write!

star61
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posted 07-17-2013 04:40 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for star61   Click Here to Email star61     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Must be somethining in the air!

Just a few weeks ago I penned the first few pages of a similar idea. What if the USA was not interested and it was the UK that went to the Moon?

Written in a completely comedic way with parodies in abundance, it started to feel more like Monty Python. imagine sat on the pad in rocket built by the lowest bidder... from Coventry!

As an aside, I would recommend a book by Peter Smalley called "A Warm Gun". It's a Vietnam war parody and is the only book to ever cause me stomach cramps from laughing so hard. A classic.

Blackarrow
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posted 07-17-2013 05:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by YankeeClipper:
Pete Conrad said it best - "If you can't be good, be colorful!"
It helped to be both!

YankeeClipper
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posted 07-17-2013 05:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for YankeeClipper   Click Here to Email YankeeClipper     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That makes me imagine John Cleese as an astronaut in the style of Basil Fawlty. Now that would be absolutely hysterical!

Just picture it, with the Germans and the Russians - "Don't mention the War!"

UK cS members will know exactly what I'm talking about - one of the all-time British comedic classics

Gonzo
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posted 07-17-2013 06:47 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gonzo   Click Here to Email Gonzo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
"Manuel!"

"That little twit!"

One of my favorite comedies (and I'm on the other side of the pond!). Too bad John Cleese only made 13 episodes.

Anyway, having him play the astronut, would be hilarious indeed! Imagine him getting out for an EVA and proceeding to beat the crap out of his capsule with a passing piece of space junk (roasted duck episode). ROFLMAO is what it would be!

Ronpur
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posted 07-17-2013 07:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ronpur   Click Here to Email Ronpur     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Imagine his wife calling him from the ground "Basil!...Basil!!...Basil!!!" Poor guy could never get away from her.

And I hope O'Reilly doesn't build the spacecraft...

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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posted 07-17-2013 08:47 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I picture for your book an astronaut that nobody wants - s/he failed the physical for some obscure reason that no one remembers - but everybody has to take because they work for the sole company that builds the frammazat for the space shuttle. And since payload specialists accompanied their payload into orbit, by extension (and they're grandfathered in under some obscure clause that no one also remembers) they have to fly on the shuttle every single time. Or at least they have the right to.

Rob Joyner
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posted 07-17-2013 10:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rob Joyner   Click Here to Email Rob Joyner     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
"Okay, go for lunch."
(BLAST OFF!!)
"LUNCH! LUNCH! I said 'Lunch', you idiot! Not LAUNCH!"

If you use this, I want credit!! Go for it!!

DavidH
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posted 07-18-2013 11:05 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for DavidH   Click Here to Email DavidH     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by star61:
Just a few weeks ago I penned the first few pages of a similar idea. What if the USA was not interested and it was the UK that went to the Moon?

Warren Ellis wrote a graphic novel based on this concept, "Ministry of Space." His, though, ended up, rather than comic, basically assuming Britain would have done a better job with it.

------------------
Homesteading Space | davidhitt.net

onesmallstep
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posted 07-18-2013 01:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for onesmallstep   Click Here to Email onesmallstep     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well, parody and satire have been around since ancient Greece so there is no crime in offending people some of the time - we live in America, after all and not in Putin's Russia (witness the women of a band being held for singing protest songs in a church). Although not as extreme, I don't think writing a piece of historical, comedic fiction would raise many hackles unless it disparages SPECIFIC people, by name. You can have fictional heroes/dufuses interact with real people from history and tell a good story, if your research on that era is good but you don't overload it with facts and figures.

As far as Robert's comment on the thousands of Apollo workers and contractors being slighted; well if you expand it to include the astronauts and flight controllers they will probably tell you that humor is the best antidote to a stressful and dangerous job. Witness the gags and comments made by Schirra and Co. from the earliest days of Mercury to the present. And if you write about a fictional Apollo 18, I'm sure Capt. Gordon will not mind it one bit, as long as he has some good lines to say!

As other posters have commented, your possible work of fiction all depends on the tone it takes, the length and characters you introduce -all your choices- and the vagaries of the publishing industry and marketing -not yours. Maybe you can also explore a graphic novel or even self-publish. Online formats are even a possibility. Good luck with your idea and future book!

p51
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posted 07-18-2013 02:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't want to give details out for fear someone would steal some of the ideas I've had. But I was thinking of a "Forrest Gump" style manner of the character ambling through the history of the Apollo program, in a wake of angry astronauts who keep asking Deke Slayton why he's still around. Some of the goofups in the program could be attributed to him, such as him pushing a comm interrupt button of some kind, deleting Armstrong's "A" from his famous "big step" speech, and dropping the color TV camera before it's loaded onto Apollo 12 and not telling anyone about. Stuff like that.

I'm primarily thinking of writing it in the past tense like a fake history, and the subject dropping out of public sight and nobody knows where he is today...

quote:
Originally posted by onesmallstep:
Maybe you can also explore a graphic novel or even self-publish. Online formats are even a possibility.
Funny you'd mention this, as I am a reasonably accomplished artist and cartoonist and several years back was offered a shot at a WW2 graphic novel through a legit comic book publisher (ironically, the same month I became an Army officer so naturally I had to decline for lack of time to do anything else). That thought crossed my mind as well but to do it proper justice, it'd take a really long time to do the drawings to the standard I'd have to have. But it's always an option. Here's an example of some of the stuff I dabble in.

I really need to scan some of the comic book test stories I've done in the past for people to look at, someday...

Robert Pearlman
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posted 07-18-2013 03:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by onesmallstep:
As far as Robert's comment on the thousands of Apollo workers and contractors being slighted...
To clarify, what I clumsily suggested was in response to Lee's original example of one guy screwing up so badly that he was the "real reason the Apollo 18-20 got cancelled."

Now that a few other examples have been given and Lee has likened his idea to a Forrest Gump-like character, my comment no longer applies.

(Nor was I ever intending to discourage Lee from writing his story, just in case that wasn't clear.)

p51
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posted 07-19-2013 01:26 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Robert, I understand what you meant from the start, no offense taken at all.

Does anyone know of any Apollo astronauts I could bounce this idea off of via email? I'd just like to get the feel for anyone from the Apollo program to see if they'd be offended by this (Sy, if you're reading this, what would someone who'd been in the trench at Houston feel about it?)

I know of a couple of shuttle astronauts I could probably e-mail with a simple opinion, but I'd rather know from an Apollo crewman. It was never any intent of mine to do something like this for the shuttle program (even though I'd be able to write something from that era easier as I'm more familiar with the inner workings of the shuttle program than I am with Apollo) as there were two fatal accidents, something the Apollo program didn't have after Apollo 1 (which I'd be clear to say said character came into the office after the fire)...

onesmallstep
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posted 07-19-2013 02:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for onesmallstep   Click Here to Email onesmallstep     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Don't worry about offending somebody; remember, you're writing for a general audience who may know very little to none about Apollo (to some, this is already ancient history!). Besides, self-censorship can seriously handicap one's creativity. Two Apollo astronauts who come to mind to consult with are the aforementioned Capt. Dick Gordon and his fellow crew member Capt. Alan Bean. In interviews and in person, they appear to be affable, down-to-earth men who are sure to be OK with a parody-style fictional work (Pete Conrad would probably have approved too).

And they already have experience with one media, comics: a book was produced on their Apollo 12 mission in that format, and of course Bean is an artist and can bring a different perspective to depicting the Apollo era. I would bounce any ideas or gain some information from them. If you saw the episode of 'From the Earth to the Moon' on their flight, Is That All There Is?, you can clearly see that they have an excellent sense of humor!

carl walker
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posted 07-20-2013 06:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for carl walker     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Sounds like he's a bit like the RAF's Pilot Officer Prune...

Grounded!
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posted 07-22-2013 09:46 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Grounded!   Click Here to Email Grounded!     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Basil Fawlty and Forrest Gump-type characters could provide plenty of ideas for your astronaut.

Another who comes to mind is Jacques Clouseau (Pink Panther films) who wreaks havoc wherever he goes, always manages to avoid responsibility for his misdeeds, and comes out smelling like a rose.

I agree that Alan Bean and Dick Gordon would be good guys to contact.

mjanovec
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posted 07-23-2013 12:02 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
One possible option is to set the book in the Space Shuttle era, where there were indeed members of the flight crew (certain payload specialists and politicians come to mind) who were thrust upon the program and weren't necessarily popular with flight crews...or weren't ready for the realities of spaceflight. You could easily parody a politician who thinks he's going to be a vital member of the crew, but feels the need to get into every televised crew footage (i.e. Bill Nelson), but ends up barfing his way through the mission (i.e. Jake Garn). You wouldn't offend anyone if you parodied a politician.

And, of course, there are even more recent events in the shuttle program which would be ripe for parody...but only if handled tactfully and with some originality.

However, truth is sometime funnier than fiction. I have trouble thinking up many fictional scenarios that would rival some of the tales in Mike Mullane's book "Riding Rockets."

p51
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posted 07-23-2013 01:39 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by mjanovec:
One possible option is to set the book in the Space Shuttle era...
I thought about exactly this for a while, but I was looking for one person who could be blamed for almost everything that went wrong in an entire program (sort of a Forrest Gump but one who screws up everything). Then there's the inevitable losses of two orbiters and crews in the middle of the entire program. Trust me, it'd be easier with the shuttle (and being a former Army officer, I know that Mullane's book has to be dead-on for a group like that, it's my favorite first-person historical book of all time), but with the Apollo era, we weren't so jaded and 'ho hum' about space travel as we were in the shuttle era. I want a character who such a goofup yet nobody in authority to remove him either can or even wants to boot him out. In the shuttle era, the public wasn't as impressed with the title of 'astronaut' as they were in the Apollo era.

One gag I have been thinking of is people like us. I'd like to add near the end that he went on the autograph and lecture circuit, only to be the only astronaut who's autograph NEVER sells on eBay and nobody ever comes to his presentations...

p51
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posted 10-25-2013 06:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'm currently reading "NASA's Scientist-Astronauts" by David Shayler and Colin Burgess and I'm taking notes.

You won't hear much about this for a while but I plan on writing this as a fake history book, and I have it nailed down to one of the scientist-astonauts whose forms got stuck to some much better candidate and he gets accepted and shown to the press before NASA finds out and keeps him because they don't want to admit they screwed up that badly.

p51
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posted 11-17-2013 09:02 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I wrote Al Bean as suggested and thought maybe I might get an email from him...

Less than 3 days later, this afternoon, the phone rang and my wife picked up. Imagine my shock when when she held the phone and said, "Do you want to talk to an Al Bean?"

It was a short but nice call. He said he didn't think my concept was disrespectful at all, and even said he thought it's make a good movie or TV project. I told him I didn't have anything quite as ambitious at this time and was thinking of either self-publishing or submitting to some niche market.

I'd also sent some scans of my drawings, thinking as an artist he might appreciate the ink drawing of a MIG-29 and a couple of other things. He commented that he really liked my work, especially my logo design.

He asked me how old I was, and said that as you get older, you find yourself forgetting details, and that he had been experiencing that in his own art in recent times. He said, "Just write it before 40 years go by".

A real class act, that man. I haven't used the word "Sir" in a phone call that many times since I was in the Army. I normally don't impress easily or get tongue tied with anyone, but I was totally blown away by the call...

So, I guess I need ot get cracking, huh?

Teacher in space
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posted 11-17-2013 11:16 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Teacher in space     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I would smile a month after that kind of phone call! Wow!

Ronpur
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posted 11-18-2013 05:11 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ronpur   Click Here to Email Ronpur     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Yes! Get cracking! If Al Bean approves, go for it! I love that he took the time to actually call you and give you encouragement!

minipci
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posted 11-18-2013 08:56 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for minipci     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by star61:
imagine sat on the pad in rocket built by the lowest bidder... from Coventry!
Apparently, the RZ2 rocket engine from Rolls-Royce at Ansty, Coventry never failed! Although I imagine you might have had to move the nuclear warhead from the Blue Streak missile if you actually wanted to sit in the rocket.

Peter downunder
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posted 11-21-2013 03:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Peter downunder   Click Here to Email Peter downunder     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Those from the UK, NZ and Australia might be familiar with Warrick Todd; a character who (so the story's told) played test cricket for Australia in the '80's. Now that guy has no respect for the great game... but is pants-wettingly funny.

Yes, definitely get to work! Don't worry about respect... make sure it's funny!!

p51
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posted 11-21-2013 03:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have a project this month, but after the first of the year I intend to get writing on this. Once it's done, I'll be looking for a publisher but probably will just self-publish as it's not something a man could be rich off of anyway.
quote:
Originally posted by Peter downunder:
Those from the UK, NZ and Australia might be familiar with Warrick Todd...
I had to look that up. Sounds like a clever concept, but I think I'd be lost on the humor, though.
quote:

Don't worry about respect... make sure it's funny!!
We have a odd sense of hero worship here in the US, there are people simply CAN'T make fun of. For example, you couldn't write a fictional and humorous book on Martin Luther King. Mocking WW2 vets would be a horrible idea as well.

Peter downunder
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posted 11-22-2013 10:23 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Peter downunder   Click Here to Email Peter downunder     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks. Yes, humour can be very hit or miss, depending on where it comes from and who it is aimed at. my younger son has a T shirt with the Titanic's Swim Team emblem on it. He often gets looks of disdain about that. "Too soon?" he sometimes asks.

But to see or read something supposed to be funny and it just... isn't. That's just sad.

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Ultimate Bulletin Board 5.47a





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