Saturday, September 13, 2014

Book Review: Living Intentionally by Bonnie Aaron (And a contest!)

An Apology

I feel bad, because I promised to do an interview with Dr. Bonnie Aaron to discuss her upcoming book, Living Intentionally. I should have posted the interview today, but I only got halfway through the book and didn't have the time to get my questions over to her. Not that I didn't like the book--I was completely intrigued--I just didn't have the free time I thought I would, and I'm a fairly slow reader.

I'm on a self-help reading kick right now, so I didn't hesitate volunteering when I had the opportunity to get an advanced reader copy. Hopefully, when the smoke settles and I finish the book, I can get Dr. Aaron to return and answer some questions.

Why This Resonated With me

I coasted along in life, just doing what I thought others expected of me, until I was in my early 20's. I'd been this way since birth, so I'd never even considered an alternative existed. When I read "7 Habits of Highly Successful People" by Stephen R. Covey, I realized for the first time that I could actually determine my path in life.

If this book existed back then, it is probably what I would have picked up next (instead, I devoured a lot of Dale Carnegie). Don't get me wrong, this isn't a rehash of 7 Habits, but the principles within the 6 steps from "Living Intentionally" compliment and resonate with Covey's masterpiece.

Here is the back cover, explaining in the author's voice what is to be found within it's pages:

Living Intentionally is the result of implementing the six step transformation process outlined in this book. Following the steps outlined will motivate readers to take responsibility for their lives, stop blaming others, and stop making excuses for their present circumstances. The goal of this book is to help readers experience the joy of living intentionally. 
Here are six simple steps to your transformation:
1. Discover your purpose
2. Identify what is not working
3. Elevate your consciousness
4. Be your own change agent
5. A call to action
6. Assess your progress 
Transforming your life is an ongoing process and this book is designed to be your companion as you embark on a continual process of transformation and breakthrough. This book is designed to empower you with the tools needed to discover your purpose and live intentionally. The tools are only potential power and will become powerful when action is applied. Each chapter offers practical application steps followed-up with call to action. The steps outlined in this book will help you establish a foundation for your transformation and breakthrough. 
My transformational journey arose from the ashes of personal tragedy and failure to a life of clarity and intention. I hope that as you read my story you will be inspired to implement the steps and transform your life. The steps in this book will challenge you to ask questions that only you have the answers to. By the time you have finished the book, you will appreciate all of the failures in your life that can be used to your advantage. You are about to discover what it means to be unstoppable.
I love that last word: unstoppable. It is so apt! In the book, she quoted one of my favorite sayings:
If you believe you can do a think, or if you believe you cannot, in either case, you are right. -Henry Ford
It's true, you can't stop somebody who knows what they intend to do with their lives. It is so liberating to know that the best path to success and happiness isn't the one somebody else paved, but it is the one you determine and create for yourself.

A Contest

Yay, prizes!! I get the privilege of hosting a rafflecopter in anticipation of the book's release. If you're interested in winning an eBook copy for yourself, just enter here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, September 12, 2014

It's Okay, You Can Perform These Two Grammatical Faux Pas

I'm starting this blog entry while listening to Tristi Pinkston, editor-extraordinaire, give a presentation on editing. There are two rules that every writer has been commanded to follow, or be forced into eternal mockery from the entire writing community. Those two rules are:

1) Never, ever use the word "was"
2) Never, ever use adverbs, i.e., words ending in "-ly"

I must admit, while I understand the need to follow these rules, I've never believed that they should be crossed out of every manuscript written. When she taught that exceptions can be made for both, I mentally cheered.

Two Even More Important Rules

I'm a big believer in two other rules, and both trump the two written above:

1) Never, ever bore your readers
2) Never, ever confuse your readers

Giving credit where it is due, Hugo-nominated Larry Correia originally bestowed these two cardinal rules upon me.

If you have to choose between using "was" or making what you wrote confusing or long-winded, then don't hesitate to throw a "was" into your story.

Is Using "Was" or "-ly" Truly Evil?

It's like donuts. I love donuts! However, health nuts will equate donuts to poison the same way grammar nuts will equate "was" and "-ly" to literary poison. Despite this, many physically fit individuals will enjoy the occasional donut--or other treat/poison of choice. Likewise, I doubt you could find a best seller that eradicates all uses of the word "was" or an adverb.

The key is balance and moderation. A couple of donuts will not destroy your physique, but a lot of donuts can. Using "was" in a sentence will not destroy your book, but a lot of them can.

The truth is, "was" and "-ly" are not evil by themselves, but are symptoms of larger problems. "Was" is a symptom of passive writing, while adverbs are symptoms of lazy writing. If you look over your writing and see an overuse of either or both of these infractions, banishing the symptoms alone may only mask the larger issues.

It would be like a doctor saying, "Cut donuts from your diet, and you'll be looking like Captain America by Monday." No, no, no... it takes more than that. Cutting donuts is a start, but there is also the need for physical exercise accompanied with a well-balanced diet. The problem may also be that you are living a passive or lazy lifestyle.

(See what I did there?)

When to Use "Was"

Tristi gave a wonderful example of when it's okay to throw in the evil W-word: when describing something in its existing state. Analyze these two sentences:

Amy stood as Mary walked into the room.
Amy was standing as Mary walked into the room.

The first showed the action of Amy standing up when Mary walked in, but the second shows that Amy was already standing as Mary walked in the room. The sentence can be rewritten without the word "was", but it doesn't afford any benefits and you may end up breaking the two Correian rules from above. (Correian rules! Haha, I crack myself up!)

Consider the context, and decide if rewriting it makes the story better or not.

Another exception is dialogue. People often and naturally speak in the passive voice, even writers who don't get the opportunity to edit their words before they fly out of their mouths. Dialogue should be short and sweet, and if "was" accomplishes that, then go for it, especially if it matches the character's voice.

The dialogue of, "When I left the room, Julie stood in the middle of this circle with a mischievous smile on her face," sounds a lot more stilted and forced than the same person pointing and saying, "She was right here!"

Fixing "Was"

As stated above, the word "was" is a symptom of passive writing. Sometimes you want to use the passive voice, but stories get more compelling when told in the active voice.

An example of passive writing:

I was taught to never bore or confuse my readers.

What's wrong here? Simple: nobody is actively doing anything. I didn't do anything but sit and listen, which doesn't require any activity. Somebody else is doing the action. One trick is to mention the noun performing the action first. Here is the same sentence, tweaked only slightly to produce an active sentence:

Larry Correia taught me to never bore or confuse my readers.

There, now the sentence is less boring and more descriptive, thus fulfilling the wisdom shared by Larry Correia.

When to Use Adverbs

Use adverbs when doing otherwise will make the sentence structure awkward, drawn out, or confusing. If there is nothing more to include in the sentence than what the adverb gives you, go with the adverb. Just remember: Moderation. Balance. Donuts!

As an example, if you're writing an action scene, you don't want to overdo description. Action scenes use short sentences, and nothing gets drawn out because it will only slow down the story. It might be better if a bank robber greedily grabs some cash, instead of waxing eloquently for three paragraphs describing the madness in his eyes and the smile of satisfaction in holding a wad a cash. Consider the context of your story, and use whatever word works best, even if it ends in an L and a Y.

Fixing "-ly"

If you overuse adverbs, you can fix it. Writers are admonished to show their story, not just tell it. Adverbs make some writers feel like they are showing, but it only describe a verb and doesn't show anything. An example:

Josh barely caught the basketball, dribbled, and speedily faked left. He quickly reversed direction, cleverly faking out number 27. He suddenly noticed the clear shot to the basket, and behind it the clock ominously stated that only two seconds remained in the game. Josh instantly came to a stop, briefly took a second to square up, and quickly released the shot. As the ball quietly flew through the air, the time clock menacingly blared to obviously mark the end of the game. Swish! Josh laughingly cheered as the scoreboard slowly added the three points, giving his team a badly needed one point lead so they could deservedly win the state championship.

Ouch! Did you cringe as much as I did? The problem isn't the overuse of adverb, it's the lost opportunity to show something to the reader so they identify with Josh. This lacked feeling and emotion. In the end, I wouldn't care if he made the shot or a runaway bus crashed through the wall like the Cool-Aid Man and ran him over.

To fix this, get into Josh's head. Show the reader the basketball game in ways that adverbs never can.

Josh backed up, hoping to pull number 27 from his other four teammates. If 27 followed, it could give Kevin a more open court to work his way in and tie the game. Only ten seconds remained on the clock, this was going to be a close one. The referee's whistle pierced the shouts from the crowd as he handed the ball to Mark to throw into the game.

Number 27 had followed Josh a little out of the box, but decided to leave Josh alone to double press Kevin. Great, if Mark gets called on a delay of game, that would be the end of it. If Josh could get near Kevin, set up a screen, and let him--

"Josh!"

Josh turned to see who called his name. He startled, as the basketball sped to smacked him in the face. Josh raised his hands, more out of protective reflex than a desire to catch the ball. As the ball stopped in his hands, Josh's felt every eye in the auditorium watching him. Judging. Expecting. Most likely, like Josh, doubting. Oh, no, why me? Was nobody else open? Who in their right mind would pass to me?

Number 27 rushed him, trying to bat the ball out of his hands like a cat pawing at a ball of yarn. Josh closed his eyes, afraid of the backlash that would come when the ball flew out of his arms and the Vikings would lose this game.

"I believe in you." Josh still didn't know why Kathy said this. Sure, he could act as decoy or set up a screen, but Josh could not shoot under pressure. All his life, he did nothing but freeze when put in the spotlight. Why could Kathy believe in more than that.

The shot clock. Ten seconds.

He hadn't lost the ball yet, so he turned his back to number 27 and dribbled left, like Dad had shown him. Number 27 stayed with him, aggressive enough to keep Josh worried, but not aggressive enough to pull the fowl.

Josh spun, while number 27 had kept going. A glance at the basket confirmed the open shot available to him. The shouts of "Shoot!" from the stage only made him more nervous. No, Josh couldn't shoot, he'd never make it, but neither Mark or Kevin had shook their guards. A glance at the game clock confirmed the lack of time. Two second left, there was no time to pass the ball and give the attention to somebody else. Better to run the clock out than embarrass himself more with the most awkward airball in basketball history.

"Shoot!"

"I believe in you."

Josh squared up with the basket, jumped, and released the ball. The game clock buzzed, signifying the end of the game. Josh watched the ball, wondering how far off it would miss its mark. Wondering how much the kids in school would tease him for the rest of his life.

All sound stopped. The cries of the audience disappeared and only the buzzer rang in his ears. That buzz seemed to last forever, like the person in charge of buzz duty fell asleep on it.

The basketball flew through the air, headed in the right general direction. With luck, it might hit he rim. He could live with that, more than if he had just let the clock run out.

Swish!

Did he just see that right? No, the swishing sound meant he went under the rim instead of hitting it. The crowd went wild, Josh imagined the Tiger fans elated that Josh had taken the shot. 

Josh glanced at the score board. Under the Vikings score, it remained the same, 68 points. The Tiger's score of 70 confirmed that Josh had lost the game and everybody from school witnessed it.

69.

What?

The numbers shuffled for the Viking, and turned to 70.

WHAT??

The zero disappeared, and a one appeared in its place. The Vikings defeated the Tigers, 71 to 70.

WHAAAT??!!? 

As a sea of blue-wearing fans crashed into him like a tidal wave, he felt himself hoisted into the air, like a crowd surfer at a heavy metal concert. Josh laughed. Was this a dream? Would he wake up, having slept through the game?

The crowd lowered him, and a blur of blue clothing with wild, red hair slammed into him hard enough to knock his breath out. 

"Oof!"

Not a dream.

He looked down, and Kathy looked up with the most beautiful smile he had ever seen in his entire life. The only sight more incredible than watching the score turn from 70 to 71.

"I told you I believed in you!"

Okay, I was only going to start this little story and let you finish, but after getting into it I wanted to see and experience how Josh won the game. Unlike the adverb-riddled edition, I like Josh in this one. I mentally cheered for him. I identified with the stage fright that accompanies a large audience of your peers holding on to lofty expectations. Most of all, I actually enjoyed writing this.



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How I Scared Robin Williams

Getting The Bad News


It seems like a celebrity dies every day. I'm rarely shocked by that, because... well, it's a part of life, and there are more celebrities than days. I usually just think, "Ahhh... that's too bad," and take a moment or two to reflect on how this person might have inspired or entertained me.

Not last night, when I received a text from my mother, "Did you hear about Robin Williams?"

My mother lives in Vegas, so she'll sometimes let me know when somebody I like is performing. That was my first guess, but the tone of her text seemed off, and I replied, "No, is he okay?" I wondered if he was in a car accident, got hurt filming a movie, or maybe had a heart attack. He is, after all, getting up there in years.

Impatience set in and I hit the web. Not performing in Vegas. No car accident. He was dead. And I did something for this celebrity that I've not done for any others... 

I wept.

My Fascination for Robin Williams


My fascination with Robin reached its climax in 1993. It was my senior year in high school, and two friends of mine and I would watch a movie every day. Cody was a huge Jean-Claude Van-Dam fan, so when he picked a movie, it came from that collection. For Jason and I, it was Robin Williams.

Mrs. Doubtfire had just come out. What a brilliant movie. Normally, the idea of some middle-aged guy dressing up like an old woman to stalk kids would be the makings of a horror movie. Robin Williams' portrayal of Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire left me convinced that he was the most talented actor in history.

Was it his humor that made him talented? No, lot of people made me laugh. It was his dynamic range of acting; I am convinced he could do it all. I mean, here was a guy who had become famous playing an alien in Mork and Mindy, but was now playing an old lady. And that's not all; his versatility was unending!

He played (well, voiced) a genie in Aladdin, with jokes coming so fast you have to watch it a dozen times to catch them all. Also, you can tell that those jokes are mostly Robin Williams' humor. I'm quite sure he didn't even read the script and just improvised everything in front of the mic.

He played Popeye. Okay, not exactly the highlight of his career, grant you, but I think his execution was perfect. Seriously, Popeye is not the easiest guy to act.

In The Survivors, he played Donald Quinelle, an insane gun-nut. I don't remember the plot at all, but I do remember one scene that just slayed me when I saw it. He's in a shootout with somebody when he realizes he brought the wrong bullets for his gun. So, he hides behind a tree and starts calling for a time out. A time out!!! In the middle of a gun fight! I half expected him to say, "Hey, can we reschedule this whole shooting at each other thing? Right now doesn't work for me. How about my people contact your people..."

And then there is "Good Morning, Vietnam." I grew up as a military brat, so this movie resonated with me on multiple levels. Again, I doubt any of his on-air parts were scripted, they were just sooooo Robin Williams. There are so many lines to quote from Adrian Cronauer, but the one that always stands out is, "Excuse me, sir. Seeing as how the V.P. is such a V.I.P., shouldn't we keep the P.C. on the Q.T.? 'Cause if it leaks to the V.C. he could end up M.I.A., and then we'd all be put out in K.P." Also, the perfect answer to the question, "What does three up and three down mean to you, airman?"

Let's not forget Dead Poets Society. As a youth, this movie had a lot of influence on how I chose to live my life. I just watched it a few months ago, and so much of it still rings true to me to this day. To John Keating I say, "Oh Captain, my Captain." To everybody else, I say, "Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary." Okay, I'm not saying that, I'm whispering it like somebody from the grave. I almost feel like Robin is whispering it to me now.

Several of my favorite movies were his lesser known movies. He only had a few scenes in Dead Again. I love that movie on the surface, but having Robin in those few scenes made it that much better. Again, a stretch from everything else he had done. As Doctor Cozy Carlisle, his only role seemed to be providing exposition, but he inserted his own dark humor into the role, which was perfect for his part in this movie.

I'm surprised how few people have watched, "The Fisher King." Again, such versatility in acting! This movie took him through every emotion one can experience in a lifetime... love, revulsion, horror, fear, joy... everything!, and he did it in one two-hour long movie. Amazing. Brilliant. Entertaining. Thought provoking. It's one of my all-time favorite movies, but I doubt it would have been without the casting of Robin. On a side note: I like New York in June, how about you? 

And then there is Hook, which is such an intriguing movie to me. When I watched it as a high school student I thought this was a movie about Peter Pan trying to reclaim his youth. It wasn't until I was a parent that I realized this was about Peter Pan trying to reclaim his children. Not just physically, since they were kidnapped, but emotionally as well. As a family.

There were other movies, of course. Fern Gully. Baron Munchausen. Moscow on the Hudson (again, versatile role as a defecting Russian). The World According to Garp. All of the characters were the roles that demanded to be played with just the right mixture of Robin to keep it flavorful.

There are so many actors who never mix it up and just play the same role again and again. Especially action stars. Van-Dame played the same guy with just a different name in every one of his movies. Some of the biggest names in Hollywood are just actors playing the same character movie after movie. Some try to branch out, and the results can get laughable (for the wrong reasons), but Robin always pulled it off.

Only a few actors have branched out as much as him, like Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, Gary Oldman, and Daniel Day Lewis. In '93, I put Robin on a pedestal and I've kept him there. He has been, and always will be, my favorite actor.

He's done much since that year when Jason, Cody, and I watched every movie he did in my living room while we raided my parent's food pantry. We practically memorized all of his lines, and we'd often be found in high school quoting them to each other and performing the lines verbatim and on demand. Since that year, he's made other great movies like Jumanji, Jack, Good Will Hunting (where he finally won a much-deserved Academy Award), Patch Adams, RV, August Rush, Night at the Museum, and so many more.

Scaring Robin Williams

Okay, here it is. One of my many lame claims to fame is this one: I once scared Robin Williams. I've told people I've done it, and I've always promised to tell the story someday. Why not now? Spoiler alert: this isn't as exciting as you might imagine.

I was at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas about fifteen years ago with my brother, Dave. We were watching some tech presentations when Dave says, "Did you hear that? Somebody said that Robin Williams is walking by."

Ummm... what? Screw this possibility of winning a Sound Blaster from Creative Labs, I was going to check this out! Sure enough, we looked around for a bit and there he was. At this point, I pretty much lost control of my humanity as I dashed over. Here he was, my favorite actor, right in front of me!!! Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, OHMYGOSH!!!

A bomb could have gone off a few feet from me and I wouldn't have noticed. When I had the opening, I stuck my hand out, shook his hand, and pronounced, "Hi, Robin! I'm your biggest fan!"

"Oh, yeah? I'm glad to hear that," he said. 

Something told me he doubted that a little bit. Okay, challenge accepted. I'll prove it to him? "Yes. I can quote any movie. Hit me with a line, and I'll continue it."

Robin laughed. He briefly glanced over his left shoulder before turning back to me and saying, "I believe you. Thank you. Do you want me to sign something?"

I rummaged through the collected crap in my swag bag until I found a sticky-note pad and a pen. He quickly scribbled his name and then talked with my brother while I stared at his signature in shock and reverence. I mentally vowed to never wash my right hand again. I was thinking a lot of insane things... my mind was closer to Ork than Earth at the moment.

However, as I replayed it in my head afterward, and got more of Dave's side of the story, this is what really happened.

I ran up to Robin Williams, wild eyed, starting to sweat, panting, and probably drooling a bit. I'm sure these are the types of people that Robin loves meeting on a regular basis. After shaking hands hard enough to dislocate his shoulder, I practically shouted, "I'm your biggest fan and will lick the carpet everywhere you walk and quote back all of your lines and we can be best friends and I can hang out at your house or you can hang out at mine and have sleepovers and play World of Warcraft together and level our characters together and slip in a little bit of cooperative Zelda game play and I'm just like you so why wouldn't you want to hang out with somebody that totally gets everything you do and worships the very ground you walk upon."

I know, I know... I was one of THOSE fans, like I was entitled to three wishes from him. I bet he thought, "Oh, to be free! Not to have to go, 'Poof! What do you need?' Poof! 'What do you need?' Poof! 'What do you need?' To be my own master. Such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the treasure in the world."

His laughter wasn't of the, "Oh, good, I finally found my biggest fan" variety, but more of the ""Ummm.... keep an eye on this one. I'm worried" variety. See, I told you he was a great actor. He had me fooled!

The short glance over his shoulder was actually directed toward the two burly men flanking him throughout the convention. With that one glance, they stepped a few inches closer and put on glares that stated, "Step away kid, we're not afraid to hurt you. In fact, we're hoping for an excuse to gut you right here."

At which point, Robin promised to sign something in hopes I'd be placated and just go away. A brilliant maneuver as he escaped just before I completed my transformation into Annie Wilkes. Something tells me I wasn't the first person to lose all self control in his presence.

Final Thoughts

He inspired me, helped me see the world in a different light, made me laugh, and didn't order his bodyguards to beat me to a bloody pulp. He was a true diamond in the rough. He is my favorite actor and I will miss him. RIP Robin! Your table's ready.