Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Books: Dancing Barefoot by Wil Wheaton

Like alot of his readers, I remembered Wil from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He was the geeky deus ex machina of the Starship Enterprise, the creative brain behind so many Montgomery Scott-like fixes to problems - and the game (literally) to work it with Ensign Lefler. I was reading up on Star Trek not long before 9/11 and came across his website, Wil Wheaton dot Net.

After clicking through his archive a bit, I came to learn alot more about the actor behind the role. Married, with step-kids, and struggling to make it in a Hollywood that was clearly trying to forget him. But most of all, I came to know him as a fellow geek, a purveyor of all things D&D and Comics and SciFi and Fantasy. It was those connections that kept me, like so many others, reading day after day, checking our RSS feeds for anything new from the former Enterprise helmsman.

The thing that kept us all coming back was Wil's almost-inborn ability to weave a very good story with nothing more than his keyboard and his memories. His posts would range from his motherfucking of the Hollywood Machine that was constantly telling him he wasn't quite "it" to stories about his mission to connect with his stepsons and carve out a family life for them all, and he drew you into each one with his own special blend of humor and vivid description. A good writer, it's said, paints a very detailed picture for the reader, bringing them along on a guided tour of what's going on through the author's mind.

It was clear to the WWdN community that Wil was, in fact, a very gifted writer, and the comments on his posts began to suggest the possibility of a book. That book became reality in 2003 in two forms: the manuscript for what would become Just a Geek, and a small collection of stories cut from that manuscript, but still begged for a home. The collection would become Dancing Barefoot, the subject of this, my first book review.

Wil's opening story, Houses in Motion, is a brilliant first card to play as far as books go. It's a real tear-jerker of a story, as Wil makes his last rounds around the house of his beloved great Aunt, who had recently passed on. The walk through the property becomes a walk through his childhood, remembering happier times when going to his aunt's house always meant fun. The depth of emotion the story evokes from the reader sets the tone for the rest of the stories in DB; Whatever the feeling Wil wants to convey, he gets you there in style, and the feeling is always genuine.

The shortest tale in DB is We Close Our Eyes, but it's meaning is no less than any other story herein. In this brief moment Wil shares with his wife Anne, you get a real taste of what it's like to be a geek hopelessly in love. We're always thought of as stereotypically "not too good" with the ladies, so it comes as a bit of a surprise to folks when they find out just how romantic we really can be once you get past the dice and pocket protectors.

Of course, no reviewer could go without the obligatory mention of what could be considered the "central" story of the book, The Saga of Spongebob Vegas Pants, where Wil recounts his first meeting with Captain Jerk... I mean Kirk, WILLIAM FUCKING SHATNER, as well as coming to grips with the fact that Star Trek will forever be a part of his life, for better or for worse. After WFS makes Wil feel about |-| that big, he returns to the TNG set, only to be met with the love and support of his fellow castmates, including an offer from an in-full-Worf-makeup Michael Dorn to kick Shatner's ass and a crack at Shatner's receding hairline from resident cast funny man Brent Spiner.

Dancing Barefoot is one of those books you just can't put down, and as such, you tend to finish it rather quickly, given it's short length. At the time, it left me wanting more, which was satisfied once I got my mitts on Just a Geek. But DB is a book you can pick up and read again and again, and you'll still get the same gamut of emotions that you get the first time. It established Wil as a brilliant up and coming writer, and spawned his change from actor/writer to writer/actor. It's the begining of his journey to becoming a Writer with a capital W, a journey that I'm sure he'll accomplish with gusto.

Dancing Barefoot was originally published independantly by Wil himself through his own Monolith Press, the home of his current book, The Happiest Days of our Lives. It was re-released by O'Reilly, who also published DB's companion, Just a Geek.

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