When I met with the Extra History crew this summer, I could talk about one thing and one thing only:
It was time to greenlight Cheng I Sao.
The moment was perfect. I had access to resources via the Hong Kong library system. There was an exhibit on Cheung Po Tsai at the Maritime Museum. I had even been to many of the locations where the action took place—all I needed was a go order.
And they gave me one. So may I present Extra History: Cheng I Sao, one of the first EH episodes to be researched entirely on-the-ground where the events took place, using local resources.
Incredibly, it seems that work paid off—this episode did 222,000 views in the first 24 hours, and made it to #5 on YouTube’s list of Trending Videos.
Thanks for making that happen, everyone!
A linguistic note: since this episode took place on the South China coast and involved Cantonese characters, we’ve used their Cantonese names. Cheng I Sao is often known as Ching Shih in western sources.
Yet another post-December catch-up post!
Freelance writers often slow down in December. Budgets run dry at your usual outlets, and everyone’s more interested in wrapping up admin projects. Publications close for the holidays.
On a normal December I might, might have one piece of work go up, and that’s if it was contracted well in advance.
This year I had not one, but three major projects publish before Christmas. I’ve already posted about the Christmas Truce episodes, but I also did this one-off on the Berlin Airlift.
Check it out:
I have a tendency to only update this blog when new work goes up—and when work goes up over the holidays, it can be double-slow to update!
This Christmas I wrote two Extra History episodes on the 1914 Christmas Truce. The first dealt with the truce itself, while the second was a compilation of soldier’s Christmas letters from the front line, stretching from 1914 to 1916.
And when I say that they came out over Christmas, I really mean it. You might’ve missed the second episode because it posted on Christmas Eve.
Happy New Year, and enjoy!
My hometown of Kāneʻohe sits below the Ko’olau mountains—a ridge of sheer cliffs that are the remnant of an ancient volcano.
And the most famous site in the Ko’olaus is the Nuʻuanu Pali. It’s a jagged split that—before we could blast tunnels with dynamite—was the only path through the range. It’s historic. Kids take field trips there. It’s one of the most beautiful vistas on the island.
But the wind is fierce. On a blustery day you can open a jacket like wings and lean 45 degrees into the wind, supported only by air. And that’s only part of why it holds a reputation for ghosts and otherworldly events. Most locals refuse to go there at night.
In 1795 Kamehameha’s armies invaded Oʻahu, driving the army of his enemy Kalanikūpule up the valley, and over the thousand-foot cliffs of the Pali. The event was captured by local artist Herb Kane in his famous painting.
Even as a child, I knew that I would tell this story someday. The image of those warriors, driven off the cliff, was too haunting to shake. I have to thank Extra History for letting me finally do that, and for both the narrator Dan and artist Lil for being responsive to my constant (often nitpick-y) feedback. I wanted to tell the story as best as I could, and I think we did that.
Hey! I’ve been moving and knocking around the US for a bit so I neglected to put my latest up on the blog.
But just in case you missed them, I wanted to post the conclusion of Extra History: Hunting the Bismarck.
I’m deeply proud of these episodes. They’re some of the best work I’ve ever produced. And so much of that is due to Scott’s art and Dan’s narration. They’re fantastic team members and were a pleasure to work with.
What makes me most proud, though, is that we’ve included many events that documentaries on the Bismarck tend to cut out, like the role of Bletchley Park and the friendly-fire incidents in Episode 3.
I’m about a week late announcing this, but I wrote a series for Extra History!
Hunting the Bismarck is a four-part series about one of the most exciting episodes of World War II. Written as an hour-by-hour intelligence procedural rather than a traditional documentary, it follows British sailors, pilots, and intelligence analysts as they try to find—and sink—what was (at that time) the largest battleship on Earth.
My goal with these scripts was to focus on neglected aspects of the hunt, like the role of resistance fighters, radar operators and signals experts. Telling the story from the British side also portrays the chaos and uncertainty the British faced as they tried to determine where Bismarck was headed and how badly they had damaged it.
I’m extremely pleased with the first two episodes. Scott DeWitt knocked it out of the park on the visuals (seriously, watch it full screen) and it’s among the best narration Dan has ever done.
I’ll also be creating a LIES comment to post beneath the final video, so if you have specific questions, feel free to ask them in the comments here!
Hunting the Bismarck – I: The Pride of Germany
Hunting the Bismarck II – The Mighty HMS Hood
AND THERE’S MORE!
It’s been a very World War II week! My column at Waypoint on Thursday also dealt with how we represent the war in media—specifically, how WWII movies and games continue to be dominated by the visual style Spielberg created for Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers.
Well, it’s been quite a year, hasn’t it? Here’s one good thing at least — my column Critical Intel has moved from Zam to Waypoint, the new gaming vertical by Vice.
I’m grateful for my time at Zam, but am excited to transition to Waypoint and the many exciting things happening there. We’ve got wonderful stuff in store, from deep-dive investigations of games and politics, to crime stories, to dispatches from around the world.
In fact, this Waypoint team is so good that my first thought was: Man, I’m really going to have to up my game to fit in here.
The first Critical Intel column is already up — it’s on the interactive Ghostbusters haunted house at Hong Kong’s Ocean Park, and what it says about Asia’s adoption of Halloween.
This is only the beginning! In the coming weeks and months you’ll get to see some of the best work I’ve ever done, that dives into the hidden subcultures and politics behind games. The columns will be less frequent, but more in-depth.
Thanks for following me on yet another publishing adventure!