Thursday, December 20, 2012

Too Much of A Good Thing?

An Unexpected(ly long) Journey

I watched the movie THE HOBBIT this weekend.  I’m not as big a fan of Tolkien as some, but I have read the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, THE HOBBIT a couple of times, and watched these stories on the big screen. 

I say I’ve watched THE HOBBIT, but I’ve actually only watched about a third of what is that relatively short story.  And it took almost three hours.  That means I probably have about another six hours ahead of me to get the full story presented in all of its 48 fps glory.  (Not sure if that’s how I actually saw it, it just looked like a movie to me).

So here’s my rant.  Did Peter Jackson do this classic story a service or an injustice by stretching it out, puff it up, and possibly making it a bit bloated in his efforts to create another trilogy? 

Bottom line, yeah, just a little.

The book THE HOBBIT is very unique.  In so many ways, it’s a rough draft for the three-book saga that is THE LORD OF THE RINGS.  You can see him trying things out, playing with themes, and taking a first swipe at what would be expansive world building in his trilogy.  And I find a charm in that.  I don’t go so far as to say it’s a children’s book, but there is a fairy tale quality to it and Bilbo, I think, would be very relatable to younger adults and even preteens who feel like they are setting off on a journey into a larger world filled with Giants, Goblins, and Dragons every time they step out their front door.

In my opinion, Jackson has tried to turn THE HOBBIT into a sequel to LOTR’s, without recognizing that the story is distinctly a prequel, and is in many ways more like an extended prologue.  By adding plots, weight, and melodrama to what is a more straightforward story, he burdens it a bit.

My point is this (maybe):  When you take a beloved story, even though you are staying very true to the author’s source material, if you ignore the essence of what that story is, you may lose something in the process.  I think LOTR fans will love this movie and so will most other moviegoers. 

I don’t think anyone who ends up seeing all three movies of this new trilogy will have experienced much of what people who read the book THE HOBBIT felt in reading it, and that’s ok.  Movies are movies and books are books.  Sometimes a movie can’t accomplish what a book does, and that’s part of the magic of books.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ensconced in YA: Curmudgeon's Corner: Marketing or False Advertisin...

Slide by Ensconced in YA for a rant on False Adversting.  I did a guess post there and the site is full of other fun giveaways, reviews, and all around juicy book reading goodness.  See you there!

Ensconced in YA: Curmudgeon's Corner: Marketing or False Advertisin...: Welcome back Shawn Keenan , the author of both The Intern's Tale and The Buried Covenant. If you haven't read these books, you should. He...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Start at the Beginning

Even dead, he was still the most interesting character

I was interested to watch a new show premiering on ABC this season called 666 Park Ave.  It looked creepy and had the guy, Terry O’Quinn, from Lost in it.  Entertainment Weekly was also good enough to tell me exactly when it was coming on at the exact moment that I was sitting on my couch with a remote control next to my hand, so the stars aligned and I set it up to record.

When my wife and I sat down to watch the show, it looked like the DVR had recorded for about a half hour.  It’s not unusual for the DVR to miss a minute or two of the beginning of a show, so when it came on mid-scene I wasn’t too surprised.  As the show progressed and I had absolutely no idea what was going on, I became a little more surprised.  And then frustrated.  And then mad.  And then just disappointed.  I was experiencing the five stages of new show rejection. 

When it was over I was like, WTF?  (That's not 'What Terrific Fiction!')  The elements of a cool show were there, but I felt like I’d been thrown into the middle of it with no explanation as to why anything was happening, who anybody was, or why I was supposed to care about any of it.  I don’t like to be made to feel stupid.  I also don’t like to spend thirty minutes working at something to be left unsatisfied (That’s what she said – Michael Scott).

Now there are stories that can throw you into the middle of everything and give you enough context clues that you don’t fall behind.  I’ll use an easy example – the original Star Wars.  There’s space ships, there’s fighting, there’s some caped dude in outer-space scuba gear.  He wants some plans.  To what?  Why?  Is this what a contractor looks like in the future?  And there’s this girl in a bathrobe who’s stuck something in a beeping garbage can and shot it out into space with a golden, metallic butler. 

Obviously, we weren’t spoon fed the back-story, so being thrown into the middle of things in a story can work.  In fact, when we are finally given the back-story, in a series of three prequels, most of us kind of wish we could get the taste out of our mouths.

The good news is, this blog has a happy ending.  We found 666 Park Ave. On Demand, which is a little different than just DVRing it (another post), and it was a full hour.  We had watched the second half of a well-formed, properly set up story.  It all made sense now!  I understood why things were happening.  I knew who the characters were and why they were where they were doing what they were doing.  Clarity – but still plenty of mystery!  It was a great show, and a great story.  I cared about what was happening and was anxious to see more. 

This experience taught me a lesson about throwing a viewer, or a reader, into the middle of a story.  Star Wars is essentially an adventure story, based on classic, timeless themes.  The subconscious mind will understand things without having them spelled out just based on the visuals and how the images are presented.  Other stories require a more methodical roll out. 

In general, to have a payoff in the end, you have to be willing to invest time in the beginning.  That’s usually the best place to start.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Goodreads Review - Delirium

Delirium (Delirium, #1)Delirium by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm such a Lauren Oliver fan. I was interested in reading this book even before I knew how much I loved this author. This book has many strengths. The first, big, important strength is the premise. What would the world be like without love? I think I can say without spoiling anything that the main plot device of the book is that people have love lobotomized out of themselves at age eighteen in this dystopian future. Like the book THE GIVER, which I read recently, the idea of living without emotional pain sounds appealing when presented in a clinical way. Of course, the book explores why that wouldn't be such a good thing. The main problem with it seems obvious, but the story hits a lot of nuances that weren't apparent to me when I first thought about it. The main character is well developed and has a good growth arc. There’s a best friend character who keeps things interesting and a love interest. The love interest was possibly a weak spot in the story, but I do understand why this was done. This was Lena's story, not Alex's. The language is very descriptive and the book is actually pretty light on dialogue. The ending left it extremely open for a sequel and that tactic is probably my only complaint about the way the story was presented. Of course, the solution to that is to just go buy the sequel. It's available now!

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Weird Al and Witness

Ready to party like it's 1699.
The title of this post reflects the two most influential sources of information I have been exposed to about the culture of a subset of Americans known as the Amish.  As I’ve learned recently, one of these sources is a better representation than the other.  No offense, Weird Al.  Your song Amish Paradise is completely hilarious and will probably receive more attention from me over my lifetime than the well-crafted Harrison Ford movie.

I did finally watch the movie Witness.  No, this article isn’t being typed on my word processor while I do radical tricks on my boogie board.  I had just never gotten around to watching the movie since it came out in the mid 80’s.  The inspiration for finally doing so was twofold – Harrison Ford just turned seventy and I saw an Amish family at a go cart track.  Yes, it took these two strangely disparate events to get me to watch this classic movie, but that’s how it goes sometimes. 

The reason I want to talk about the movie in my blog is because I really enjoyed the way the story was plotted.  I also admired how many times the writers of this movie avoided opportunities to apply expected and clichéd outcomes to major moments in the story.  I’ll discuss two examples without concern about spoiling the story for the four remaining people on the planet that haven’t seen the movie yet.  

The big one was the love story.  Tough and city-fied cop Booker meets widowed Amish Top Gun instructor lookalike Rachel.  She starts out having little more than disdain for him which morphs into fascination which morphs into lust.  Booker doesn’t seem too interested in her until he sees her topless, then he can’t stop raising his barn and thinking about churning her butter.  So other than a wonderfully filmed kiss in a field, the two never hook up.  And the writers give Booker this to say about that: “If we’d made love last night, I would have to stay or you’d have to leave.”  Brilliantly put, I think.  The story wasn’t about him becoming Amish or her becoming a what-ever-everybody-else-is.  It was about the passion between them during an intense, dramatic event in each of their lives.  Hopping into bed wasn’t the logical or even most satisfying conclusion to their momentary entwinement. 

Here’s one more: the final showdown between Booker and the crooked cop, Paul.  Paul killed Booker's partner and has come to the Amish community looking to kill Booker as well.  There’s great suspense, a shootout, and even a death by corn (famous Amish mob tactic).  At the end, there’s Paul with gun drawn and Booker with little more than a posse of Amish behind him, not with pitchforks, not with clinched fists, just a sea of determined, stern, and judgmental faces.  There were plenty of opportunities for any number of the Amish characters to get hold of a gun, turn their backs on everything they believe in, and take out the bad guy.  Instead, Booker actually talks the bad guy out of shooting anyone!  He makes Paul think through to the outcome of shooting more people, and because Paul is a human being, he comes to a logical conclusion that it’s over.  Harrison Ford shouts, “Enough!”  And it is.  So again, not the expected ending to such a dramatic moment, but much more satisfying than the clichéd, over the top, unrealistic hero stunt that usually ends this kind of standoff.

I think Witness is a good movie to watch for writers who want to see classy ways of avoiding stale writing.  The pacing is also very measured.  I came away feeling a great sense of education about storylines, barn building, and the moral superiority of turning the other cheek, even when that cheek has been smeared with ice cream by ignorant teenage hooligans trying to pick a fight.    


Friday, August 31, 2012

Feature and Follow

Here's my second blog hop. 

Q: Best Cover? What is the best cover of a book that you’ve read and didn’t like?

I know a lot of people really fell for this cover.  It's got great style, a unifying color theme, and a girl in a pretty dress.  (Ok, actually, why was I attracted to this cover anyway?) 

Not to offend anyone who enjoyed the book, because I know there are plenty of you, it just wasn't my cup of cappuccino.  I felt like there was not enough happening in this book.  Too many chapters went by where I felt like nothing was progressing.  I also didn't feel like the main character was very well developed.  And it was a blatant rip off of Twilight.  Ok, other than that, it wasn't too bad.  But not as good as its cover suggested.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Goodreads Review - Ender's Game

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fascinating book. I was going to give it four stars during the middle part of the book then it pulled itself back into five-star territory with a wonderful ending. This is one of those books that gets stronger in the last quarter which can be so important. I was able to overlook some of my gripes with it when it gave me a surprising twist and then a thought-provoking ending. This book is a little preachy, pretty political, and definitely a morality play. There are times when you want the scenery to change or the characters to do something unexpected. The biggest headscratcher for me is the author’s complete disregard for age appropriate voice. It’s like he said, I want the characters in this to be kids, but I want to be able to tell this story through the eyes and voice of adults. How can I do both? Oh, I know, I just will. In my mind, the protagonist could have started out his training at about age eleven and the climax could have come with him at age seventeen or eighteen and the voice could have been more believable. So basically, that’s just how I imagined the characters as I was reading. But it was always clear that there was a point and a purpose to the use of voice, and, as I said, a meaningful ending allows me to forgive some of the heavy-handedness of the way the story was presented. I understand why this is a classic. I was left thinking about the story after it was over, and that’s kind of the whole point.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Enough is Enough

I’ve probably mentioned it before – THE DARK KNIGHT is one of my all time favorite movies.  Beyond the incredible coolness factor, as a storyteller, I’m in awe of the deft pacing and character development.  As the middle movie in a trilogy, it’s perfectly situated.  So much groundwork was laid by a solid first movie.  The second movie introduces a brilliant villain without really introducing him at all.  There’s really no back-story or effort to show the villain before he was a villain.  The Joker tells a few different stories to explain his mania, and you have no idea which, if any, of them are true.  Brilliant in my opinion.  It doesn’t matter which one is true, he’s here, he’s a big problem, and he’s ready to tangle with our protagonist (a grown man wearing a bat costume with issues of his own).  So the story is protagonist vs. villain, with a sub-story about a hero who becomes a villain.  But that’s basically it.  The rest of it is window dressing and pretty much everything that happens in the movie is in service to these two story lines, which wonderfully wind together by the end.  Again, brilliant.

So now, we have a third movie.  I’m not here to bash it, because it’s a well-done movie and has a lot going for it.  In fact, breaking it down into its various components, I liked all the parts very much.  It’s just when you put them all together.  ALL of them.  So many of them.  THE DARK KNIGHT RISES slipped into that dangerous territory of trying to do too much.  There was a real sense of “this is our last one, we have to get it all done.”  Now, again, please don’t start typing up your hate mail.  If you loved the movie, I’m thrilled for you and a bit envious.  And I have every intention of watching it again at home in the near future and seeing if a second viewing clears up some of issues I had with the movie.  We must also remember, expectations were off the chart for this one, so it really started out at a disadvantage to begin with.

                                ***************Spoiler Warning Begins***************

Firstly, there wasn’t much Batman.  Just because it’s the third one and the groundwork has been laid twice now for this character doesn’t mean the audience doesn’t need to spend time reconnecting with the main character.  I loved the idea that he’d been retired for years and had become a hermit.  I think the movie should have focused on Batman’s reemergence and it did for a while, but then he was waylaid again and taken out of the story for a second reemergence.  That diluted the first one for me.  Then it turns out the main villain wasn’t the main villain at all.  We spent a lot of time learning about Bane to find out in the end he wasn’t very important at all.  Not only was he not the driving force behind what was happening, his apparent motivation for acting the way he did was little more than a cover story – the whole class warfare, Robin Hood thing.  Villains need either deeply rooted motivation (like Ra’s al Ghul) or none at all (like the Joker).  Bain’s motivation was too weak to keep him interesting.  We were also secretly given Robin, which was very clever, but it was almost like he was staring in his own movie inside the movie.  And he didn’t have any of the gadgets or mystique that makes Batman so cool.  Catwoman, again, on her own was great, but there just wasn’t enough room in the jumble for her to mark her territory (just imagine how she would do that).  When she made big decisions in the film, I didn’t feel like I understood her motivation well enough to judge if she was taking a big risk or just serving as a plot device.

So, what’s my point?  Motivation.  Motivation is so important to drawing a viewer (or reader) into the story.  It gives resonance to the actions these fictional characters take.  It gives weight to the consequences of those actions.  It requires some space to develop.  Ultimately, it results in the emotional response that every director and author is striving to invoke in his or her audience.  For me, the expanded cast of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES didn’t have the space they needed to demonstrate that all-important motivation to a degree that would set the emotional dominoes falling.  Maybe a second viewing will get me there.  Looking forward to finding out.          

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Practice Call

There is so much wisdom to be gleaned from the show The Office.  I remember one episode where we found out that Pam screens not Michael’s incoming calls, but his outgoing calls.  For the uninitiated, Michael is the manager of a paper supply company (no longer on the series) and Pam is the office’s receptionist (not in that position anymore on the series).  When Pam announces to Michael that she has someone on the line for him, she makes him think she’s put the caller through, but actually she just stays on the line.  Michael inevitably says something wrong, unfunny, inappropriate, or generally unflattering in an attempt to be clever.  Pam then feigns a mistake and tells Michael she is now putting the call through.   Typically, having used up whatever comic bit he had planned, he just says hello on the second try in a reasonable, professional way.

This is a service I want in my life.  I need someone to screen my outgoing (fill in the blank with just about anything I produce - calls, emails, reports, chapters), but the first thing that comes to mind is query letters.  Boy, have I sent out a few of those puppies.  And my first batch for a novel is always cringe-worthy.  Of course, at the time I send them, I think they’re brilliant.  A quick movie reference here.  Remember A Christmas Story?  It plays 24 hours on Christmas Day, or Eve, or both.  It’s our generation’s It’s Wonderful Life, which is a sad commentary all its own.  Anyway, remember when Ralphie imagines his teacher reading his poorly written theme about his wish for a Red Ryder B.B. gun?  She’s patting her side and writing A + + + + all across the chalkboard and then beyond onto the walls.

You'll shoot your eye out!  And not get published!

Well, that’s how I imagine an agent's response to that first query.  Until I get a little distance and an actual response.  Then I should be so lucky to get a C + from a witch and a jester taunting me from the corner of my Warren G. Harding Elementary School classroom (please watch the movie if I’ve lost you here).  That first attempt at a query somehow manages to capture every insecurity, every self-doubt, and every misconception I have about my own story and condense it down into ten or so beautiful sentences of self-destructive prose.

Where’s Pam to intercept my emails and tell me to try again?  I've concluded that when you write a query, the best thing to do is put it away, wait a while, and then write a better one.  It will always be better.  I’ve been helped enormously by reading other people’s successful queries and having impartial fellow authors read my query and give me constructive feedback.  Queries are always better the second time around.  And the third.  And the fourth.  And the …        

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sated Faery: Giveaway & Review of The Intern's Tale by Shawn Ke...

Busy, busy, busy.  The Sated Faery has gotten her little pixie-sized hands on a free copy of THE INTERN'S TALE.  Click on the link below to check out the review then sign up for the giveaway.  Plus, check out the site for lots of great reviews and news about all the best books out there!

Sated Faery: Giveaway & Review of The Intern's Tale by Shawn Ke...: Here's another great opportunity to win a very unique & entertaining book from the talented Shawn Keenan!  (Author of one of my favorites -...

Writing Belle: Indie Monday: NA Author Shawn Keenan

Here's the same interview as NA Alley on Summer's great site, Writing Belle.  Be sure to check out this site.  Summer has some great giveaways and plenty of insight on popular reads as well as breakout Indie authors.  Show some love!

Writing Belle: Indie Monday: NA Author Shawn Keenan: Hello, Monday! Today I'm featuring Shawn Keenan here on my blog and  on NA Alley. He is an NA/YA author, and his 2 books, Th...

NA Alley: The Intern's Tale: NA Author Shawn Keenan

Thanks to the great crew over at NA Alley for posting my interview.  Head on over to their site and check it out.  NA is for "New Adult", a genre in fiction between Young Adult and full-on, Adult (you know, with wrinkles and sagging and stuff).  It's an emerging genre and something to keep an eye on. 

Click below for a link to the article.

NA Alley: The Intern's Tale: NA Author Shawn Keenan

Friday, July 13, 2012

Goodreads Review - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine #1)Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I went into this book expecting gimmicky pictures and some weird characters that might be difficult to relate to. What I got was a very fun read with characters you connected to very easily and lots of fun pictures that enhanced the story and didn’t distract from it. This book felt like a hybrid of X-men meets Little Orphan Annie, in a good way. The flow from ordinary to peculiar was very well handled and felt natural and believable to me. The pacing moved along in such a way that I was ready for several more chapters at the end, but the story did end in a satisfying way. The author has a wonderful way with words and describes the story’s environment in a way that gives those delicious details without boring you with minutia. I expect a sequel based on the ending, and I think there’s plenty of story left to be told about those peculiar children and the Bird.

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ensconced in YA: International Giveaway of The Intern's Tale by Sha...

Listen up, imaginary followers!  Christina at Ensconced in YA is holding a mega-giveaway.  She's got a copy of Veronica Roth's sequel to Divergent, the much anticipated Insurgent.  This is the must-read book of the summer.  My YA novel, The Intern's Tale is also included in the drawing, so with either one, you're going to be up all night reading.  That's two chances to win with just one entry.  Where else can you get these kinds of results just by clicking a mouse button a few times?  So get on over to Ensconced in YA, check out the amazing site, and get in on all the book giveaway goodness.  Then come back here and say "Hey, thanks, Shawn.  That was awesome sauce.  You're the man."

                                                   Click Below 

Goodreads Review - Anna Dressed In Blood

Anna Dressed in Blood (Anna, #1)Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story started out strong and finished only a little less than strong. This happens sometimes when I read a book that has me so hooked at the beginning. My complaints about the last third of the book are minor in most respects. They have mostly to do with me trying to impose my own ideas about how things should have gone. That's only because I got very invested in the story. I'd give this 4 1/2 stars if that was an option.

Spoilers may follow. I don't usually talk about details, but some are still fresh in my mind.

This is a ghost hunter story first and foremost. The romantic element put on top of that wasn't as strong. I think it could have been stronger if it had maintained an element of mystery and greater tragedy. Cas is a cool character and he carries the book. Anna had more potential, but to develop that would have taken the book in another direction. I really wanted there to be a great twist about why she was killing people for fifty years. I wanted something really clever that could have absolved her of all her crimes. I thought maybe the mother had killed and cursed the fiance later and somehow melded he and Anna together, that way he was the murderer and Anna wasn't responsible. Cas could have somehow separated them and then Anna would truly be free from her murderous past. I think dragging the dad's murderous ghost into the story could have been put off until a second book. I also wanted there to be a bigger twist there. Something about Cas' dad revealed toward the end that turned everything on its head.

Finally, there were a few small details that really pulled me out of the story. It started when Cas let Will take his asthme. Really? Cas lost a lot of cool points with me there. Then Anna got into a car and sat in the backseat. Again, Anna lost mystique for me there. I wanted her to pop in and out of existence wherever she wanted to be or something more ghost like. I didn't like that Cas passed out during the first fight with his father's killer. It took me, as the reader, out of the action. These are all minor things, but they are the little details that pulled at my connection with the story and characters.

It's so hard to keep the story fresh and building speed in the last third. I still recommend the book. It's one of the better ones I've read lately and has a lot going for it.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Feature and Follow

I'm going to stumble my way through my first Blog hop.  I will be stepping on toes, I guarantee.  I think I'm supposed to answer the question below and then go make friends on blogs on the Hop list.  If you find this and see some major wrongness with it, please give me some tips. 

Q: Jumping Genres: Ever pick up a book from a genre you usually don’t like and LOVE it? Tell us about it and why you picked it up in the first place.

I read Water For Elephants after my wife recommended it, having read it for a book club.  I was knee-deep in YA titles at the time, as that's what I write, and I really fell for this story set in the Great Depression about circus folk and a big, gray, pachyderm.  The back and forth between present day and the past was handled well, and the ending of the story was actually revealed in the first few pages, though done in a clever way that left me going back and reading that opening scene again with new eyes. 

I think it's great to get out of our genre of choice.  It's like putting on a different pair of shoes.  You can't play soccer in high heels, and you can't dance the tango in cleats.

Water for Elephants is a great example of me putting on cleats.  Wait, that would mean I'm usually in heels.  Whatever.  A great read that opened me up to other books in the process. 

The Spider-man Rewrite ... Er, Reboot

Perpetual wedgie leads to bad decisions.

The new Spider-man movie is out, and they’re calling it a reboot.  I think that is a cinema term for rewrite, and as I writer, I seem to be more willing to embrace that than some of the movie critics who have reviewed the movie. 

Writers understand rewrites.  You take a story, one you know inside and out, and you focus like a laser beam on the weak points.  You pluck details out and drop a whole lot more in.  You delete a line and replace it with a line that looks so similar, but because of a word change and one less prepositional phrase, the new line sings.  And most importantly, you find any excuse, any reason, and any way to add motivation to your characters. 

One of the things I admired most about the movie The Amazing Spider-man (and I loved the whole thing) was the careful consideration the screenwriters and director gave to freshening up the main character’s motivation for becoming a superhero.  That’s really what’s at the heart of the story, and while considered sacred by fanboys, the original origin was designed for a twenty page comic book written fifty years ago.  It’s timeless, but still requires work to keep it that way, especially when being translated to a new medium.

Here’s a brief Spidey 101 for the newbies.  Peter Parker, high school science nerd, gets bitten by a spider and develops the proportional strength and agility of the arachnid.  The new power goes straight to his head and his first and fatal mistake is letting a robber slip past him because he doesn’t want to be bothered to stop him.  The robber ends up shooting his uncle at his home and Peter is super guilty.  Of course, the coincidence factor of the robber racing to Peter’s home after getting past him a few hours earlier is rather farfetched.  In the first trilogy of Spider-man movies (the Tobey Maguire saga we’ll call it) the coincidence part was addressed in the first installment and the connection made more sense.  Of course, in the third installment they altered the story even further in a cheap ploy to mine more emotional drama from that movie’s villain, the Sandman.  That third movie was really a big, hot mess.  We’ll talk about that one when we want some examples of how to overdo a story.  But I digress.

In the new movie, they focused on the motivation, and they really layered it, pouring the guilt of Uncle Ben’s murder on Peter’s shoulder with a nice, oversized ladle.  Here’s how they did it. 

Peter uses his newfound power to humiliate a bully at school.  He gives into his instinct for revenge and humiliates the guy, breaking some school property in the process and landing himself in the hot seat.  Uncle Ben has to change shifts at work to come up and see the principal about the incident.  Ding!  First bad choice for Peter.  He succumbs to revenge.  Ben tells Peter he’ll have to pick up his Aunt since he’ll be working the night shift now.

Peter forgets about Aunt May.  She has to walk the mean streets of New York and when Peter finally drags his butt home, he gets it handed back to him by Uncle Ben.  Peter’s irresponsibility put a loved one at risk.  Ding!  Mistake numero dos.

Peter has a teenage hissy fit.  Understandable, but he takes off in a huff.  Ben takes off after him, back out onto the mean streets.  Peter’s immature behavior leads Ben into danger.  Strike three, Mr. Parker.

And finally, a rework of the “burglar” moment for the current century.  Peter’s in a store trying to buy chocolate milk (hey, don’t laugh.  It’s high in protein and low in fat!  That spandex don’t lie.)  The clerk gives him the runaround about being two cents short.  Peter steps aside and the next customer distracts the clerk and cleans out the register.  He tosses Peter his milk as a thanks for looking the other way then takes off into the … yes, mean streets of New York.  You know who’s out there don’t you?

Why don't you need me for all three movies?

BAM!  Ben’s shot (trying to do the right thing, of course) after Peter has stepped aside, allowing a crime to occur that he could have stopped, all because he didn’t sympathize with who he perceived the victim of the crime to be.  That’s strike four, and more than you even need to be out in a baseball game.

That’s what I call a successful rewrite.  Now I really get Peter’s need to put on tights and swing around the city, busting criminals and trying to right the wrongs of the world.  I’m taking a lesson from this rewrite … reboot.  Layer on the guilt.  Layer on the mistakes.  Layer on the chances to have done the right thing.  All of the mistakes Peter made individually were relatable, understandable, and in isolation, maybe even forgivable. 

Your life is defined by the sum of all your actions and all your decisions, though, not just any one action.  It’s true in the real world, and we have to remember to make it true for the characters in our stories.  That’s how we see a little of ourselves in them, and when we do that, we care about them.              

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Your Brain On...

Anybody remember this PSA?
Your Brain On the Business of Writing:

You need to always be writing.  Write, write, write.  But also read everything that’s out there, especially in your genre, but also everything else.  Write something that you can compare to marketable works in your field, but break new ground, but also have an established audience.  Where’s your platform, your website?  Why haven’t you twittered in the past hour, how’s your blog doing?  What the hell is your page hit count! 

And don’t forget to know everything about the agents you’re querying.  Appeal to their personal tastes, but don’t be stalker-ish, like you know them too well.   Use your own voice in your query letter, but keep it professional and short and memorable, but not gimmicky.  Also, don’t quit your day job.  So slave away all day then do all this other stuff at night.  Don’t neglect your family! 

Geez, why can’t you just invent more time?

Your Brain On Drugs:


Your Brain While Actually Writing:

Wow, I didn’t know that about myself.    This part really reflects me.  A me I don’t let the world always see. 

I’d love to go there, maybe I’ll plan a trip.  Until I can, I’ll just populate it with all of my creativity and imagination.  I haven’t used those things since I was a kid. 

I really feel for this character.  This person is real to me now, like a literary velveteen rabbit.  What I do in this next chapter really matters.  Maybe someone will be moved by it, or inspired.

This is what I’m supposed to be doing.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Goodreads Review - The Hobbit

The HobbitThe Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I gave this book four stars based on when I read it as a teenager. Now that I've read it again, it gets to keep its stars, but some of that is through nostalgia. There's no question this is a classic in the way it is written. Of course, having read the Lord of The Rings Trilogy, some of the story lacks the novelty it had upon a first reading. In fact, I was amazed to see how much this story is a trial run for many of the adventures Tolkien chronicles in greater detail in the trilogy. One thing that struck me is how the ring of power (you know, precious) is treated almost as a gimmick and used primarily as a plot device that allows a small and weak character like a Hobbit to accomplish amazing things. The other striking thing from the book is the almost complete lack of emotional relationships. Tolkien's attention to geographic details is almost neurotic and seemingly at the expense of much emotional character interaction. I was also surprised to find how completely useless and unkind the thirteen dwarfs are portrayed until the very end of the story. For those interested in the movie coming out next year, I recommend a read or re-read. If you're excited about the movie, you have doubtless read this story already, and probably several times.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Goodreads Review - Before I Fall

Before I FallBefore I Fall by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazing, amazing. A truly moving story, beautifully written. The teenage experience and psyche are so realistically explored in this book. Wonderful and authentic voice. It's not meant to be a thriller, but one of the big takeaways of this story is that I really, really wanted to know where it was going. I was so anxious to see the character development, to see the MC learn from what was happening around her, and she did in a very natural and satisfying way. Not forced, not rushed, and not cliched. And the ending was exactly what it needed to be, though it was never obvious how it was all going to end. The book avoided being preachy about the main issue running through the subtext of the story. This manages to be an influential book without sacrificing any of its entertainment value. Looking forward to my next Lauren Oliver novel.

View all my reviews

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Liebster Blog Award

I was nominated for the Liebster Blog Award by Christina from Ensconced in YA.  I'm going to try and not screw this up too much.
Ensconced in YA

The Rules (as I understand them):

1.  Never talk about Liebster Blog Award (scratch that, wrong rule list)
2.  Post 11 facts about yourself.
3.  Answer the 11 questions that the bloggers give you.
4.  Tag 11 other bloggers that have under 200 followers.
5.  Tell these bloggers that you tagged them.

11 Facts About Myself

1.    I am a YA author who has written two books, The Buried Covenant and The Intern’s Tale.
2.    I am the husband of one, father of two, and whatever you call being the manservant of two dogs.
3.    I’ve owned five Ford Mustangs in a row, all different colors.
4.    I co-owned a teacher supply and toy store with my wife for five years.
5.    I forcefully borrowed (permanently) a frog made out of shells from a kid when I was about seven (this is turning into confessional).
6.    I buy dying plants on clearance at Lowes and nurse them back to health, so yeah, I’m kind of a hero.
7.    My third book is about sexting and I’m not sure my wife is up to the research that’s going to have to go into that.
8.    I’ve never chewed gum.
9.    I fell down running really fast as a kid and now I don’t run that hard anymore.
10.  I forgot that running lesson once as a teen and fell down with a girl on my back.  Sufficiently emotionally scarred, now I really don’t do that.
11.  I consider eleven item lists to be one item too long.

Ensconced in YA Questions:

1.  What is your favorite movie?  I signed something when I was four that requires me to always answer “Star Wars”.  It hooked me young and made a huge impression on me.  If I could get around the contract (close your ears, George), I think The Dark Knight is just about the most perfect movie made. 
2.  What is your favorite genre within YA?  I’ll throw dystopian out there.  It’s a good format for asking big questions.  You can also have elements of the other genres tucked into a good dystopian.
3.  Do you have any dogs?  What kinds?  Two dogs.  One is a dachshund.  The other one is result of a love orgy between a dachshund, a chihuahua, and maybe a terrier.  Whatever you want, he’s got it.
4.  What book are you currently reading?   I’m stuck under the shadow of the Lonely Mountain with thirteen worthless dwarfs and one overly accommodating Hobbit. 
5.  What is your current obsession?  I’m really excited about the new Spider-man movie coming out.  I’m as giddy as a school boy (what, school boys can’t get excited about stuff?)
6.  What is your favorite food?  I’m always up for Mexican, but you can actually lure me into a blacked-out van with sweet potato casserole.  I didn’t discover it until I was an adult and I’m making up for lost time!
7.  Who is your favorite Harry Potter Character?  I’ll go with Dumbledore.  I love it when characters have more information than the readers do.  I thought Dumbledore always played it so cool.  He also got to go to work in a robe.
8.  If you could have a superpower what would it be and why?  I want all of Spider-man’s powers.  How’s that for greedy?  I’ve already done all the heavy lifting of imagining I was Spider-man as a kid.  Just give me the powers, I’ll figure out the web-shooters and the costume on my own.  I’m ready!
9.  Who wins: Twilight vs. Hunger Games?  I imagine this would be a pretty dull fight, two stacks of books just sitting in a field, people waiting for something to happen.
10.   What do you like the most about blogging?  So far, I’m really entertained when I start a blog entry thinking it will be about one thing and then it totally goes another way.  I usually learn a lesson about myself from writing my own blog posts.
11.  Who is your favorite evil character?  The Wicked Witch of the West.  She struck fear into my heart at an impressionable age, so she gets the top billing.  “A little fire, scarecrow?”  What was she thinking?  He was made of straw!

Blogs I have tagged:

Bookerella Reviews
Now Is Gone
Mallory Heart Reviews
Wrathsqueen's Books
Sated Faery
Tsk, Tsk, What to Read?
Oh, For the Love of Books
Spirit of Books
Teeny Reader
Bound to Astound
Tracy Rozzlynn's Blog

Questions for the Tagged Blogs:

11 Questions

1.  What was the first book that made a lasting impression on you?
2.  What was the most recent book that made a lasting impression on you?
3.  Have you ever slammed a book closed and thrown it across the room like in The Never Ending Story?
4.  Do you think trees are secretly behind the growing popularity of e-books?
5.  What’s in my pocket?
6.  What author do you suspect is in the business just for the groupies?
7.  If Edward were tragically the Creature from the Black Lagoon instead of a vampire, do you think Jacob would have had a shot?
8.  Are you past the point of having to look words up in the dictionary when you’re reading a book?
9.  Why do bookmarks have tassels on them? 
10.  I have a really mean looking cat with your address here who wants to know “Are you a cat or dog person?”  Answer carefully.
11.  What’s your favorite time of day for curling up with a good book?

I really enjoyed participating in this little contest.  Hope my tagged blogsters get in on the fun!

Friday, June 22, 2012

How Authors Are Like Lord Voldemort

The fresh-baked bread is ready, he just doesn't know it.

When you’re writing, do you know that part of the process where things start to feel like a chore?  You’re editing and checking for inconsistencies, and you know these characters better than most real people.  You’re closing plot holes and falling into new ones, and you feel like you haven’t created anything new in fourteen hundred years.

Of course you know this part, it takes up a majority of the time that you spend writing.  It’s called ‘The Rewrite’ or, more appropriately ‘The Rewrites’, because they are self-multiplying and one always begets another.  Eventually you just pull the plug and accept that rewriting is a never ending process, and you basically just have to stop when you’re only changing things for the sake of changing them, or worse still, you’re changing them back to the way they were seven rewrites ago (been there).

Well, guess what.  I’m not in that phase right now.  I’m in ‘Creation’!  Yes, that perfect place in the life of a book where you’ve gotten off the starting line (also a miserable place) and you’ve taken the first, strong, confident strides down the glorious track of writing that eventually becomes an exhausting loop of rewriting. 

But right now, it’s new!  There are characters to create.  There are places to describe.  There are worlds to imagine.  There are plots to ravel (your readers do the unraveling, I guess).  You can do no wrong!  (Please refer back to a previous post about beer-goggled writing).

I’ve brought four new friends into my world this week.  Mila, Rup, Blake, and Maggie.   These are their names today, perhaps not tomorrow.  These friends are so flexible and understanding, they will let me find and replace their names with a key stroke if it tickles my fancy.

I really like this phase.  My favorite part of a story is discovering who these characters are.  Ultimately, I learn these characters are me.  Some of them are who I think I am, others who I hope I’m not.  Some have a little piece of me here, some have another piece there. 

They are my horocruxes.  Once created, I don’t think I could survive without them.

What other endeavor allows you split off a piece of your soul and share it with the world and still keep it for yourself at the same time?

Not dark wizarding.  Just ask Voldemort.

I think this picture is just going to confuse people.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Glass Cases: The Test

Glass Cases: The Test: After a writing contest gave him a prompt of "giving something up," today's featured author, Shawn Keenan, produced The Test . Shawn is a writer from Florida who's also written two YA novels, The Intern's Tale and The Buried Covenant. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Whose Side Is Time On Anyway?

This picture is bad for my blood pressure.

So I’m stuck in traffic getting nowhere fast.  This happens on occasion, even though I don’t live in a big metropolis.  Along comes this guy running on the sidewalk next to the road where I’m stuck, getting nowhere fast.  This guy has his shirt off and is running along at a good clip.  His silver hair is shining in the sun and so is his incredibly toned and muscular chest.  If I had to estimate, I’d put him in his late fifties.  He was at a spot in the city where it was clear he must have been running for a while.  It’s not like he just started a few minutes ago, so I’m guessing he’s already run multiple miles.

Where is this story going, you ask?  What does it have to do with writing, or books, or much of anything?  Well, here’s what it got me thinking.  I’ve been exercising and running and working out for twenty years now.  I started around age seventeen and have been mostly consistent about it.  This guy (who knows how long he’s been at, maybe started last week) is twenty years my senior and has gotten the kind of results I’m about twenty (impossible) pounds away from even beginning to achieve.  I wonder sometimes if my chances of achieving my fitness goals are slipping away with time, but then I see this guy who hasn’t let age or anything else get in his way of doing what he wants to do and has gotten great results. 

So does this mean I should never make excuses, always press forward toward my goals, fight back discouragement with this stranger’s unwitting example of excellence?

No, it means, even in twenty years, there’s always going to be some jerk doing it better than I am.  Is that inspirational?  Maybe not to you, but for me, it was a little.  It reminds me that I can’t measure my success by the yardstick of other peoples’ accomplishments.  I can succeed even if I’m not succeeding in the same way others are. 

If you’re writing and feeling like every other writer in the world is running past you on the sidewalk with their tanned, muscular chest heaving with pride, just remember - that’s never going to change.  Even at the pinnacle of your own personal success, someone else is going to be doing better. 

The key is to just turn away from the sidewalk and keep your eyes on your own road.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Movie in a Bottle

A Nicholas Sparks Production

My wife and I watched the movie The Vow last night. It stars Channing Tatum (or Tatum Channing as I always think of him, just seems to make more sense) from Dear John, a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, and Rachel McAdams, from The Notebook, a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel.

I went through the whole movie thinking I was watching an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks book. I was so happy.

I’ve wanted to read something by Sparks for a while but haven’t gotten around to it. I thought this would be a nice little test. If I enjoyed the movie, the logic went, I would probably enjoy his books and would pick one up soon. I know, I know, they take liberties with movies and they are rarely as good as the books. But this is how I was turned onto the Twilight series, which I quite enjoyed reading. And Harry Potter, as well.

Let’s get the suspense out of the way. I liked the movie. More confounding, I liked Tatum Channing in it (sorry, that’s just what his name is to me). I’ve now seen him in G.I. Joe, 21 Jump St., and this. And the second and third times I saw him were enough to make me forget about the first time. He’s now done funny and he’s done sweet. What can’t this guy do? (I will not be seeing Magic Mike. Whatever he’s going to do in that movie, I’m not too interested in seeing actually. And even more uninterested in having my wife see.)

But back to books. As I watched the movie, I couldn’t help but think of it in terms of a written story. I wondered if certain parts were in the book. I wondered if the actors were being true to the characters in the book. How was that scene written? Was that look actually written out, or was that added for the movie? How did Leo say “fiercely” with so much passion in print? More points to Tatum.

After the movie finished, I decided I liked Nicholas Sparks books and I would choose one to read next. As it turns out, upon further research, I like movies that star people who have starred in other Nicholas Spark book adaptations.

So now I must reach out to my imaginary blog followers and ask for your input. Who’s read Nicholas Sparks? Would you recommend his works, and if so, which one first?

I will recommend The Vow as a sweet movie that avoids certain obvious plot twists in favor of more realistic outcomes. It got me thinking, about writing and about life, and that’s always a good thing. If you have someone you’re deeply in love with that you can watch it with like I did, all the better.

If you happen to have forgotten who you’re deeply in love with, don’t worry, you will totally get this movie!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


MALLORY HEART REVIEWS: THE BURIED COVENANT by Shawn Keenan_Review: The Buried Covenant by Shawn Keenan 25 Stars! How I loved this novel! I was enraptured with the lyricism from the first page, then captivated by the characterizations. The author has a special perspective, a divergent point of view, such that we see deeper into his characters than is often the case-this type of deeper characterization is found only in the best YA books-and I just kept wishing the story could go on and on and on, neverending! Jayke Wolff, the protagonist, hero, and narrator, is the kind of individual we all ought to befriend, or better yet, to be. I am reminded of the protagonists of two of Michael Marshall Smith’s novels (“Bad Things” and “The Intruders”). It’s unfortunately too seldom that readers encounter characters with this much depth, this much integrity, this much “righteousness.” I am just amazed at Jayke-and I reveled in this novel. If you haven’t read it, DO NOT WAIT!