Monday, December 24, 2012

Appreciating Christ, Our Christmas Present

Heads up, this has nothing to do with writing, but what I consider to be the real reason for the Christmas Season: Our Lord Jesus Christ. And, yes, I do get preachy. You've been warned.

I've been reflecting on the spirit of Christmas gift giving. I'm horrified as I remember an experience as a teenager many years ago. One Christmas there was something I wanted. I have no recollection what it was, but my parents were not well off and it would have been a huge sacrifice for them. If they could have, they would have, but they were not in a position to make it happen. By Christmas morning I knew I wasn't going to get whatever gift I felt entitled to.

So what did I do? I disrespected my parents every time I opened a present they gave me. I would chafe, scoff, or make a snide remark with every unwrapping I did. "Yeah, gee, thanks," I would comment full of angst before tossing a present to the side like I was just handed their credit card bill. 

I think that year, I ruined Christmas for my entire family with my attitude of ingratitude and self-importance. It is something I look back on in shame. It hurts to even type this. I think the Grinch himself would have been appalled BEFORE his heart grew. I wish I could time travel to that teenager and kick him in the butt!
Now for the opposite side of the spectrum. About eight years ago I bought my son a dog. It was a gift that he had been wanting for a long time and I was finally in a position to get one for him. 

What has he done with this gift? Everything! He baths him. He feeds him. He showers him with attention -- sometimes, too much attention. He pets him. He takes him on walks. He gives him treats, but not too many to make him sick. He taught him to sit. And stay. And not eat food is isn't supposed to. When he has ran off, my son would be the first out looking for him. Without a doubt, he appreciates this gift, and he shows it continually. And it warms my heart when I see him taking care of his dog like he is my son's own child.

Over 2,000 years ago, the world received a gift. In a little town outside Jerusalem called Bethlehem, the Savior of the world was born. This was a gift from God. THE Gift from God. A gift of comfort, peace, love, and hope. The gift of promise that we can overcome spiritual and temporal death and live with God again some day. The gift of forgiveness and grace. The gift that truly keeps on giving. The first Christmas gift ever given.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." - John 3: 16
Which raises the question, how have we received this gift? Have we cast it aside in disgust, or have we treated it like the precious gift it is? Have we wrinkled our nose at it or have we embraced it and showered it with eternal appreciation?
How can we show appreciation for this gift? In a word, love. Show love and compassion toward God, your family, your neighbors, and yourself. Jesus is a perfect personification of love as everything he did showed the love he held for all of mankind. He cared for and healed the poor. He constantly had and showed compassion for everybody around him. He sacrificed himself so the atonement could be active in our lives. He suffered more than any man, but did not shrink from drinking the cup that was given him. While we can never express love as deeply as the Lord, it shouldn't hold us back from showing love as much as we can.
"Jesus said unto them, Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all they heart, and with all they soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." - Matthew 22: 37-40
And how do we show love and appreciation for this gift from God?
"If ye love me, keep my commandments." -John 14: 15
I hope everybody has a safe and merry Christmas. If you are travelling, get to and from your destinations in safety. If you see loved ones, embrace them and enjoy the time you have around them. And, above all else, keep love in your heart, for love is the spirit of Christ and Christ is the true reason for the Christmas season.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

End of the World?

Okay, here we go, a mere hour away from the end of the world and what am I doing? I'm blogging. After all, what else am I supposed to do? Save it?  Rewrite/correct the Mayan Calendar? Get a better view?

Actually, by my count, this is roughly the fifth time I'll be surviving the end of the world. I remember all the hubbub that was my first end of the world experience. No, I missed the Beatles breaking up, I'm talking about the Y2K "virus". For those of you who weren't around for that, let me tell you what you missed. NOTHING! And I'm thinking that this is just another Y2K waiting to happen. Why? Several reasons.

1) Nothing cool has happened to me lately. Oh, wait, I've finished my first book that will most likely get published, but I'm not counting that. With my Karma, it would happen the day BEFORE it was to be released. My book is not being released tomorrow, so you can all rest assured that we will live to see another day. Seriously. If you ever want a business to fail just talk me into investing into them. A couple of shares of Apple and, poof, their company will fold within weeks.

2) What did the Mayans know anyway? You are talking about a culture celebrated for predicting the end of the world, yet didn't have the premonition to see the Spaniards coming and nearly wiping them off the face of the planet. Because somebody ran out of room on a tablet doesn't mean it is the end of the world. Chances are they just took a smoke break and then went on to another project. I wonder if somebody thought , "Hey, if I stop here I bet somebody will freak out some day." Personally, I think the whole calendar creation was just a union job. Or government. However, I do need to give the Mayans some credit here. Microsoft, the biggest software company in the world, has trouble making their electronic computers figure out dates within a hundred years of each other. At least the Mayan calendar was Y2K compatible.

3) Or was it? Truth is, it doesn't align with the Gregorian calendar (the one you and I use). The Mayans did not account for leap year, which means every four years (roughly) they lost a day. Are you sitting down? The Mayans Calendar actually ended about eight months ago. So, we're good!

With that said, I think this is a great opportunity for a practical joker to have some fun. I saw a video of some kid talking on his cell phone telling people he just heard that New York just went underwater with a tsunami and they had half an hour before it hit them in Florida. I'm not going to post it because of the language but the link is here. Think along these lines. Only turn New York into Jerusalem and you've got the makings for a riot.

I was thinking of hitting the local thrift store, buying some clothes, and just leave them on park benches around town like the rapture just happened. Who wants to join me on that?

If I owned a power station, I would probably turn the lights on and off just to freak people out. Too bad I don't own one. But, rest assured, if I did I would call it Greyskull.

If the end of the world does happen I'm seriously going to be bummed. Right before the weekend? Come on, Mayans, if you are going to blink us out couldn't you have the decency to schedule it on a Monday?

Truth be told, I have a big fear that the end will not come. Because, this will happen:

Scary, isn't it? More scary than the world getting snuffed out by the zombie apocalypse. So, a few last thoughts on December 21, 2012:

What is your take on the situation? And, for the record, I'm heading to Vegas so if the end of the world comes I intend to go out partying!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Silver Lining of Adversity and The First Draft

A few years ago I tweaked by back and every now and then it likes to remind me of this fact. About two weeks ago, my back felt it was time for a reminder call. Long story short, I hit the ground in my back yard and couldn't get back up.

Thank goodness I had my cell phone this time. The first time this happened, ironically in the exact same place, I was without communication and a real miracle occurred to get me into the house. A story for another day, maybe.

After freezing for twenty minutes I figured I wasn't getting back up anytime soon, so I called my boss and told him I wasn't going to get in to work. After hanging up I posted a plea for help on Facebook. Within five minutes I had two people over helping me into my house, giving me pain killers, and getting me back on the road to recovery.

I took two days off work to get back on my feet, literally. This left me time to read. Yes, the silver linings promised in the title! I got to sit around and read. A lot. Oh, I miss being able to do that. I loved it.

I was challenged to read 100 books in the year 2013 and it got me a little curious as to how many I've read this year. The count as of this morning? 73!! And laying around more than usual over the last two weeks certainly helped boost that number.

One topic I've read plenty on is on writing. I've had something drilled into me from several of these books: the need to get that first draft on paper. Let me back up a little bit.

I have a friend, Jessica Foster, who I've gotten to know better at the last two LDStoryMaker Conferences. At the last one I told her how I struggled with my writing because I would write something and then fix it. When I wanted to write a little more, my mind would say, "No wait. I think you could do better." Then I'd edit some more. Progress was very, very slow.

Jessica is pretty amazing because she really knows how to write. And write fast. So she shared her secret: when she writes she turns off her monitor so she doesn't see her mistakes, which allows her write nonstop. I primarily write on a laptop so turning off the screen is not an option, but throwing a towel over the screen should accomplish the same thing.

Three books I've recently read have hammered that idea home even more for me. Stephen King's writing memoir, On Writing, said he write in two modes. He first writes with the door closed, then he edits with the door open. In other words, he first writes for himself without a care of what others might think when they read it. I imagine that he does this very fast. Then he opens his door and edits, making changes that he thinks his readers -- and primarily his ideal reader -- would like.

Then I read Ken Rand's short book called The 10% Solution. He explained that writing is very right brained and editing is very left brained, and when you try to do both at the same time they often conflict with each other, slowing down the writing process. When he writes, he puts on his "writing hat" and does exactly that. Write. And only that. No editing. Afterwards, he puts on his "editing hat" and fixed it to where he needs it to be.

Now I'm in the middle of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She says that she always writes a -- to paraphrase and keep this PG rated -- crappy first draft. She assures that 1) almost every writer does this and 2) nobody is obligated to share this draft with anybody. Amazingly, both these statements are something I needed to hear. Well, read.

When I wrote my last book I followed the writing without editing philosophy. In less than a week I had written THE END. It was horrendous!!! I wrote 70% of it in present tense when it should have been primarily in past tense. I had misspellings. Some things I couldn't even figure out what I was trying to say. There were several parts where I just wrote something like, "Write about this topic here" because it involved research and I didn't want the research to slow me down.

And, you know what, I don't care.

I've gone through a few more drafts and I think it is very close to my final draft now. I've finished the research I needed to do. As Anne Lamott said, nobody has seen my first draft, thank goodness. The hardest part of writing, for me anyway, is getting that first draft written and that actually got done in a short amount of time. Yes, I spent a long of time editing, but I'm still further along than if I continued trying to make my first draft perfect. I'd still be working on that first draft now.

I'm not perfect with this. I think I'm going to continue to struggle, but I must admit that I'm doing better. So, with that, I challenge you all to get out there and don't be afraid to write those crappy first drafts!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Confession on Lying


I consider myself to be an honest person. However, I must admit to some "youthful indiscretions" where I might have told a fib or two. This instance occurred during the summer right before my senior year in high school.

One night, my parents were out of town and we had the house to ourselves. What did this mean? Of course, we were going to make the most of it. 

While joyriding in a friend's blue truck, reminiscing about an adventure we had earlier that month involving a Red Jetta (I'll save that story for another time), we discovered that the truck had some road flares in the back. We resisted the temptation to light them up and throw them from the truck, but did mentally take note of them for the right opportunity. (This is what we writers like to call "foretelling.")

Later, we found our way back to my house. At the time, I lived in Pleasant Grove in Northern Utah. In the nice, cool evening my friends and I would often sleep in the backyard on our trampoline. With my parents gone, we decided to move the Duckett trampoline from the back of the house to the front yard so we could sleep in the front for a change. Just to add to the visuals, here is a picture of the front of that house (thank you, Google Street Maps):

My parents disallowed the trampoline in the front of the house, because the back of my house it is actually two stories high. My Mom knew if we moved it to the front, we'd be tempted to break her unpardonable rule to never jump from the roof onto the trampoline. Even I wasn't stupid enough to jump from the roof two stories in the back yard, but in the front... my Mom had an awesome sounding idea (see how I'm blaming my Mom for making me do this?). We grabbed a ladder and took turns jumping off the roof onto the trampoline.

That summer, I was trying to get into film making and most of my little adventures that summer were videotaped. I had to get this rare event on tape, so I ran in and grabbed the video camera. After videotaping everybody jumping off several times shouting ridiculous phrases like, "Go Dodgers!", "PG Football!", "I can see my house from here!", and "Geronimo!" I wanted to do something new. Something fresh. Something not seen before. Maybe even something that would be worth talking about for a few days. Then I remembered the road flares.

"Here." I handed the video camera to my sister. She, at first, refused because she didn't know how to work it. But I reassured her with, "Just point it at me, you don't want to miss this." I don't drink, but this might have been the closest I've come to one of those stories that start with, "Here, hold my beer." After she relented, I grabbed two road flares out of my friend's truck and climbed the ladder to my roof.

This seemed to grab everybody's attention. It was time to go big. So, as I lit up the road flares, I started singing the Star Spangled Banner. As I sang, I waved the road flares around and gave it my all. Of course, the small crowd went wild. You love me! You really, really love me! As I reached the climax of the song, I gave a resounding, "And the home of the brave," and jumped off the roof.

For two minutes of singing, the road flares had worked up an ample amount of ash. When I hit the trampoline and my trajectory was rapidly and suddenly reversed, the ash broke off into little red balls of flame.

Panic and pandemonium broke out. Everybody ran over, smacking the trampoline, trying to put out all the little fires. Somebody grabbed a hose, but by the time he came over, everything was under control. I put the road flares out and threw them in the trash. Whew, close call!

We went inside the house to watch the recording. I think the best part was my sister recording the entire event. She didn't know how to zoom so what you saw was my horrible singing (I really should not be singing in public, no matter how patriotic), my jump, and then everybody freaking out like the cops just showed up to break up the fun. We broke into hysterics while watching my sister film her hand stamping out the little flares on the trampoline. We all watched it until we our sides ached from laughing so much.

Later, as we were setting up our sleeping bags, we noticed that the trampoline now had dozens of nickle-sized holes speckled throughout the mat. Oh, great; crisis not averted. My parents were going to kill me! 

The next day, my parents arrived home and they instantly noticed all the holes in the trampoline. They became very upset and asked what happened. My sister looked at me to explain, she wasn't taking the fall for this. I was suddenly overcome with visions of a violent demise at the hands of my parents.

I panicked. And then I lied.

"We were sleeping on the trampoline and some kids in a blue truck drove by and threw fireworks at us. That was when we noticed the holes." Well, that was mostly true. I just didn't mention that the fireworks were actually road flares (a type of firework, right?) and that the kid from the blue truck was actually yours truly. 

My Mom shook her head in disbelief. "Kids these days. No respect for other people's property." They were still angry, but their ire was directed towards some anonymous teenager. I got to live another day! My sister never ratted me out and I thought I got away with it. Until a few years later.

My family moved to Europe a year later for my Dad's third military tour in Germany. I stayed in the States since I had graduated high school and didn't want to live in Germany again.

Imagine my surprise when my Mom called me a year later. "Hey, I've got a little story to tell you. We recorded a show on one of our VHS tapes and when the show ended, your Dad and I were too lazy to turn off the tape and it turned into what was recorded previously on the tape. Do you know what was on there?"

International phone calls were something like three dollars a minute, and I couldn't understand why she was wasting money on such idle talk. I told her I had no idea, wondering where the story was going. "Well, we saw a certain teenager on our roof."

I still hadn't made the connection. "Huh?"

"He was singing the national anthem and waving a road flare."


I stammered. I tried regaining my composure. I couldn't even talk anymore. I had no recourse for redemption. My stupidity had been revealed. "Just consider yourself lucky you live on a different continent right now, son."

Luckily, time heals all wounds and by the time they moved back to the States all was forgiven and I didn't have to follow through on my plans of faking my death, changing my name, and moving to an obscure town in North Dakota. Well, mostly forgiven. I'm still reminded about this on a regular basis.

The moral: Don't lie to your parents. They *WILL* figure it out. It isn't a matter of if, but when. Just make sure you kick your family out of the country before they do.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

November 2012 Update

On Writing

A couple months ago I blogged on my latest project. I took November off of NaNoWriMo to make sure I could get some editing done. I'm happy to say that I've just finished off another round of edits and hope to get one more in over this weekend. The book is pushing over 25,000 words, a surprise to me, but I think I can cut about 10%. I'm excited, though I really do need to do a blog or two (or twenty) on the editing process, since I've not been indulging everybody on this part of my writing journey. No promises, but hopefully soon.

One change to report: when I had announced this project I said I hoped to self-publish it this spring. I'm going to try and publish it by traditional means first and not hop right into the self-publishing market. Several people who has read the rougher drafts of this WIP have suggested it, and I've let it go to my head. Anybody know a good agent or publisher looking for memoirs?

On Reading

I've heard from several writers that good writers need to also be avid reader. I think I'm on course to having read about a book a week throughout 2012. Quite the feat, if I may say so, considering I'm a pretty slow reader. But I thought I would like to start blogging on some of the books I've read. In fact, I think I'll start keeping yearly lists of books and rank them.

Recently, I've gone on author streaks. For instance, I just caught up on my reading with Eoin Colfer. If I made a list of favorite authors, I'm sure he would be in the top ten list. Not long ago he came out with Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian, the 8th book in the Artemis Fowl saga. If you've enjoyed the Artemis Fowl series like I have, I have no hesitation in suggesting this book to you. Artemis Fowl is one of the rare series that gets better with each book. Most series tend to go fowl (sorry, couldn't resist) after a handful, but Colfer knows how to keep things fresh.

Since I read that, I also picked up The Wish List, a life-after-death story of a girl who dies and gets stuck in limbo. She isn't bad enough for hell, but not good enough for heaven. I didn't know what to expect when I picked this up and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also read Airman, which is a middle grade marriage of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Man in the Iron Mask, both of which I also enjoyed. Of the three, I think I enjoyed Airman the most.

I got on a James Dashner kick since he just came out with his prequel for The Maze Runner series, called Kill Order. Since the story didn't focus on Thomas or any of his crew, I didn't find the answers I hoped for. But I think this did flesh out the post-apocalyptic world that Dashner has imagined.

Back in July I blogged on how awesome I thought James Dashner did with setting up books with great beginnings. Maze Runner did it, hooked me from page one. I was also enchanted by his 13th Reality Series, something that I didn't expect to enjoy much since it is one of his first published works. Well, I didn't just like it, I loved it! And with news that more is on its way, I am all sorts of excited. After reading Kill Order I also picked up the second book of the series, The Hunt for Dark Infinity, and his new time-travelling adventure The Infinity Ring: A Mutiny In Time. I've always been a sucker for good time-travelling books and this did not disappoint.

It just occurred to me how much Dashner likes the word "Infinity" in his titles. I can't blame him, it really is a great word. Isn't it?

With the movie coming out in two weeks, I did another reading of The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. Needless to say, I enjoyed this book like I was reading it for the first time all over again. Also, needless to say, I can't wait for the movie. I even got the day off work!

Also, I re-read On Writing by Stephen King. I think I'll do a complete review on this book, but it is easily my favorite books on writing. Ever. Which is funny, because I don't necessarily agree with everything he said. But when he resonated with me by sharing a golden nugget of truth, I could feel the magic wanting to jump out of my head and onto paper. Well, the word processor.

Yes, I did catch that I began this blog post with the phrase "On Writing". It wasn't intentional when I did it, and it succinctly summed up what I was blogging on, so I'm going to leave it there.

Depending on circumstances, I'm often in the middle of multiple reading projects at once. Right now I'm reading two books by Orson Scott Card -- another author that would easily make the top ten list. The first is his writing instruction book, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Also his latest book, Ruins, which is the second book of his marvelous Pathfinder series. I'll probably read his book on Characters and Viewpoints after finishing this how-to writing book.

What have you guys been reading? What are you reading?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Happy Captcha Craptcha Day

I've been asked to blog on the perils and evilness of captchas by my good friends, Shelly and Chad. (If you don't follow their blog, shame on you, click here to repent, come on, all the cool kids are doing it)

So what is captcha? Captcha is a way for automated computer software to verify that you are not automated computer software. Basically, it is supposed to make it so that any human can verify that they do, in fact, have a pulse and a brain and aren't a virus trying to post spam. Because, do we really need to learn more about Canadian Pharmacies?

To make it even worse is they even offer a verbal method which can be listened to and then entered to verify your human identity. But, it sounds like a computer with a mouth full of marbles trying to read a foreign language.

I will say this, their heart is in the right place. But there has got to be better ways of verifying people's identities. My suggestions: something reputation based where once you've done it a few times you either get easier images or a free pass unless your account starts acting fishy. Better yet, have something self-policing where the site admin or users can flag posts and inappropriate in which the account is closed and the comment is removed. Also, smart software can often tell the difference between something legitimate and something automated, primarily because something automated occurs with quick succession, must faster than what a typical human -- or even a superhuman -- can do in a couple of seconds.

Coincidentally, last night I was watching an episode of The Middle from last season where Sue and Frankie Heck were trying to purchase Justin Bieber tickets. They got in through the system but got hung up on the captcha until they ended up timing out, unable to purchase the tickets.

Why is it funny? Because it is true. Captcha might turn away the spambots momentarily, thought they will find a way to circumvent it eventually, and it only hurts legitimate people trying to leave a comment on a blog or sign up for a newsletter. I struggle with captcha at times, but can usually get it within three attempts. I don't think that is bad. But what of the dyslexic? The elderly? I just hate the thought of legitimate traffic being turned away because of captcha. It is why turning it off was one of the first things I did when I started this blog (your welcome).

Anyway, sorry, didn't mean to vent or get this high on the soapbox. But, seriously, there has got to be a better way. The technology is starting to become obsolete and it is time for a newer way of handling these problems.

Stolen from Chad and Shelly:

Still not convinced?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Go, WriNo's, Go!!!

Today is the first day of NaNoWriNo. As I gloomily stated in my last post, I'm not doing it this year. This isn't my year, but if you are reading this it could be yours. It isn't too late to start. So what is NaNoWriMo? Here is a great explanation in three minutes (and, side note, one of the best v-logs I've seen in a long time, aided by gaming references):

Do you need an outline? It isn't too late. Dan Wells did an excellent class at LTUE on story structure and could inspire just what you need to write the next great American (or country of your choice) novel. Here is the first one of a series of five, but following through to the other four isn't difficult:

If you are doing NaNoWriMo, I salute you and I will be cheering you on to your avenue of success. Go, go, go! Write like the wind! Type so fast that your keyboard catches on fire! Then pick up another keyboard and do it again. So, you know, fire, rinse, and repeat.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Am I doing NaNoWriMo?

Short answer: no. Okay, you can stop reading now. (Note: if you don't know what NaNoWriMo is, click here to find out more)

For those interested in my motives, I'll give the longer answer. I've been tempted all of October to do NaNoWriMo and, I've got to admit, I've been back and forth on wanting to do it. There are a lot of reasons for wanting to do NaNoWriMo.

First, all the cool kids are doing it -- like almost all of my writing buddies, which is going to make me feel left out. It is a great way to get a lot of writing done and is an excellent exercise in writing and turning off the internal editor. Not to mention the fact that I was brainstorming an idea that I really think would work for NaNoWriMo.

However, I'm still going to have to say no. I'm currently editing my memoir and I would like to outline the idea mentioned in the previous paragraph a lot further before pursuing that storyline. Plus, I have a personal, non-writing goal that I would like to focus on over my next three months. I think these three things are going to suffer if I do NaNoWriMo, and I really can't afford to do it if I want to achieve some of the goals I've put on my calendar. Two of those dates are pretty set in stone, so it would be best if I didn't dance around them with NaNoWriMo and tempt myself out of missing those timelines.

It is with a heavy heart that I'm not going to do be doing this. I think the benefits are there, but this year is just not good for me. No promises, but I hope to win NaNoWriMo 2013! For everybody else, please be entertained by this song that does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of NaNoWriMo!

Good luck to those who are doing NaNoWriMo. I look forward to cheering you on and hearing of your successes!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Book Review: A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

A Casual Vacancy
by J.K. Rowling
Review Title: I Wanted To Love This
3/5 Stars

I picked up The Casual Vacancy because of my love for J.K. Rowling's previous books. This is not my normal genre of reading choice, but I thought good writing would make it enjoyable. I know this is not a MG or YA Fantasy, and I'm not going to knock it stars because it isn't.

The problem with this book is that it doesn't have the magic I came to expect from her. No, not the wizarding magic from a wand, but the magic of writing moving words to change hearts and inspire minds. It wasn't the language or adult subject matter, which I've heard was a turnoff to several potential readers, but it was the characters.

Actually, I quite enjoyed the characters from the first chapter of the book. They seemed real to me and the story started off gripping. But then the book introduced a ton of characters and it takes a while to see how they all interconnect with each other. In fact, she would spend so much time introducing characters that by the time you got back to ones she had already introduced I had trouble remembering much about that person. By the middle of the novel I started catching on, seeing how different each character was, what their goals were, and how they all related to each other in the story.

In the meantime, I didn't like how nobody was happy. Yes, I know that happy characters don't make for a compelling story, but these characters were all extremely gloomy and depressed. I noticed, while reading this book, that I started feeling depressed as well. There was very little that I found uplifting in this book.

Once I muscled through the introduction of characters things started happening. Yeah, that's right; things don't really start rolling until about two-thirds of the way into the book. At that point the story does work its way to a pretty climatic and emotional ending. No, I didn't cry or anything, but I did feel the pain I would have felt if such events had happened in my own community.

Ultimately, the ending didn't justify the journey it took to get there. If this were anybody else I would have given up reading this book in frustration long before the halfway mark. But because of the magic she has worked in me before, I gave her the benefit of a doubt. I think I'm being generous giving this three stars. It isn't because this didn't measure up to Harry Potter, but this just didn't measure up to good writing.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

An Update and Some Writing Productivity Advice

Wow, October already. That means I went clear through August and September without a blog update. I'm so sorry!! It isn't you, it's me.

I've been very busy, and since a large part of that busyness is from writing, I think it is a good reason that I've neglected things here. So let's start with updates on my writing.

As I ramped up my marathon training a month ago I found myself running alone when my running partner hurt his hamstring. This left me running 17 miles with only my thoughts to keep me company. I know, scary.

I started thinking about my WIP, which I've tentatively titled "Zane Zedler" and my writing group refers to as "The Bear Story". As my brain tends to do, it started wandering from the topic at hand and I was thinking about some notes I had taken a few days after my first marathon.

The short version of these notes is that I shouldn't have ran that marathon due to a lack of practice, but with some tricks I pulled it off. I've mentioned these notes to a few people, especially people trying to do their first marathon, and some have requested to look at them. However, I wrote them for me and not for anybody else. During this long run, I decided to turn it into something for public consumption. By the end I had come up with a title and an idea to turn the notes into a novella length memoir and marathon training manual.

Excited, I got home and wrote out a forward, which I submitted to my writing/critique group. I then went on to write out half the memoir. I was nervous and looking forward to the reaction from my writing group on the idea later that week. It certainly is no "Angela's Ashes" (my favorite memoir) or Rudy (my favorite motivational movie).

The response from my group was positive and encouraging. To be honest, I think it is the most excited feedback I've received, which tells me I might be on to something. Emboldened, I had the entire memoir written in about a week. Well, the first draft. There were, and are, a bunch of places where I wrote, "Okay, talk more about this" or "find this picture and insert it here" or "expound on this". But I think this will fall somewhere between 20,000-25,000 words once completed.

I'm going through and adding more and more to the story while cleaning it up and submitting chapters to my critique group. I've got two editors lined up to put the finishing touches on it. I hope to self-publish it this spring.

This book on running has caused me to put "Zane Zedler" to the side for another month or so, but this has actually inspired a whole new approach to the story that I think will make it stronger and more interesting. I can't wait to get back to it!

So let me share with you some things that have really helped me make some progress:

1) Make time to write. I've blogged on this before but if you are trying to find time to write, you probably won't. Something more pressing is always going to come up. You've got to make time to write. Schedule it in. Let others know you plan on writing between certain times. First that will give you something you have to account for and it will let others know that you need some away-from-life time.

2) Get sprinting. I know, I just mentioned how running inspired a story, but I'm actually talking about sprint writing. Sprint writing is where you get online with other writers and do little gusts of writing. Often these are about thirty minutes, give or take. There is just something about saying to yourself, "Okay, I'm going to write all I can in the next half an hour," and focusing on nothing but that.

It is amazing how many words you can punch out in half an hour. Plus, you've got other writers there in times of need. Can't find the right word? Looking for a new way to describe something? Throw it out there, I've had them come back with some great ideas. Also, I've done some story outlining touchups on there and found people to read some of my work. Best of all, after the sprint you compare word counts. I thrive on competition so the challenge keeps me focused and energized.

I've also started doing this at work. While my online buddies are sprinting I'm finishing projects, adding some programming code, paying bills, or trying to accomplish something else within half an hour. It's helped ramp up my productivity.

There are several writing chat rooms you can join and lately I've been hanging out in the iWriteNetwork chatroom.

3) Turn off the editor. This is hard for me as I am often my largest critic. But there is something to be said about making progress on a book and not being bogged down on, "This chapter doesn't sound right, I'm going to rewrite it until I love it." Save that for the second draft. Or the third. Or even the twentieth. Get the words down on paper (or word processor of choice) and get that book written.

4) Check out this post by Tristi Pinkston. I think this is a brilliant idea when you have several projects going on in your life, like Tristi does. I'm thinking of doing this at home, while incorporating my writing goals, and doing it again at my office.

Okay, I'm off to write some more. I'll try to update my blog again sooner than later.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Great Beginnings

The beginning of a story is also called the hook. Why? It is akin to fishing. You hook a fish and then reel them in. Same thing with the beginning of a story. If you hook a reader, they'll want to keep turning pages and hopefully you gain a loyal fan. If you can't hook a reader from the git-go, then you'll lose them as a potential reader. They aren't going to stick around for the "good part." Your goal as a writer is to grab that reader's attention so you've got them hook, line, and sinker.

Why do I bring this up? A week ago I found James Dashner's The Journal of Curious Letters (Book 1 of the 13th Reality Series) on audio CD. Best of all, it was only five bucks!!! It is a book I've wanted to pick up for a while since I like Dashner, both as a writer and a person. I also figured I'd have something to listen to in the car for a while.

After finishing the first disk I pondered how the beginning really grabbed me. He enthralled me with a great, whimsical voice that I instantly identified with. The characters where eccentric and interesting. There was a great mystery afoot from the beginning, making me desire to continue listening and find out about the letters being mailed from Alaska. And I instantly liked the protagonist right from the start.

Dashner hooked me! I can't wait to continue on to disk 2.

I was trying to remember the last time I was so thrilled by the beginning of a story. Then I remembered The Maze Runner and how it hooked me just as well, if not more. From page one it had this great mystery and I refused to put the book down until I had some answers. I'm sure most of you know where I'm going with this, but it seriously took me a little bit to make the obvious connection. The Maze Runner was written by James Dashner!!

So I tip my hat and monocle in his general direction. Well done, James. I hope some day I can start off a story as well as you.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Differences Between Your and You're

I haven't done a writing lesson in a while, and I actually got a request for this one, so here is how to remember whether to use "your" or "you're" in your writing.

It makes sense when you understand what an apostrophe is for. It is used in contractions (e.g., shouldn't, can't, and you'll) and for showing possession for a noun (e.g., Tom's diner, Bob's hardware, and Simba's tail). The key word there is noun. This does not apply to pronouns. Possessive pronouns NEVER, EVER use an apostrophe.


Your is a possessive pronouns, meaning that it is the pronoun "you" that owns something.

Your cats. Your homework. Your problems.

Notice the lack of the apostrophe. If you use the apostrophe you get another word and meaning. You get...


You're is a contraction for "you are."

You're here. You're beautiful; you're not fat. You're late!

The Test

If you are confused, the trick is to say "you are" to test if you got it right or not. If it works, then you use "you're", if it doesn't, then you use the word "your".

You are cats. You are homework. You are problems.
You are here. You are beautiful; you are not fat. You are late!

The first group does not make sense, so you use the word "your". The second group does make sense, so you use the word "you're".

Thanks everybody for visiting, you're awesome!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

LDS Storymakers

I'm back from LDS Storymakes and already have next year's event marked on the calendar. Best of all they moved it up a week (2nd weekend of May) which frees me to do something I've been forced to skip the first week of May the last two years.

More on that later.

Anyways, I felt like I was neglecting this blog since the A to Z Challenge. I didn't post anything on the conference because I was tweeting like crazy throughout the weekend. You do follow me on Twitter, right?

But I did want to pop in and let you know I'm still alive. I did blog briefly on the experience on LDS Writers Blogck. But since then I have been editing and writing. That's right, you heard me right, I've been doing what I should have been doing the last year.

I complained during the A to Z Challenge that the daily blog posts were interfering with my writing. Since May 1st rolled around I've been so much more productive and it hurts how often I blog. But, truth be told, I would rather be writing than blogging. Not that I don't still love you guys, but wouldn't you rather be reading my book?

Rest assured, I will blog about the conference in more depth in the coming days.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zero

Zero, that is how many letters I have left in the A to Z Challenge. WHOOPEE!!! I've done it, I've done it. YAY!!!

So to the guy who invented the number zero, thanks! Thanks for nothing!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Y is for YOU!

Yes, you. This post is for you, my dear followers.

I wanted to take a minute to thank all of you for following this blog. I love the interactions I've received and the friendships I've made. I treasure every comment that has been given. I appreciate each and every one of you.

Thank YOU!

X is for Professor X

For those who don't know, Professor X (real name: Charles Xavier) is the leader of the comic book gang of heroes called the X-Men. He may not be the most exciting member of the X-Men since he is confined to a wheelchair, unable to perform physical feats, and is the oldest member of the team, he makes up a lot for it with his mental capabilities.

I love Professor X because he goes where the action is, even though he may not be the root of that action. He seeks out people who are willing to do the right thing. He trains them to perform well. And then he sets them loose to save the world from the bad guys.

Professor X is the catalyst that holds everything together. His embodiment of goodness is expressed through his pupils. He can't physically do much, but he still means to leave the world a better place than when he found it. He inspires others to do good. He is like the Martin Luther King of the Marvel universe. And like MLK, I respect anybody who leads the good fight to bring goodness, love, and acceptance into the world.

W is for Write Through Writer's Block

Most writers end up with a case of writer's block at some point in their lives. I've got to admit, I've been hitting it more this month than I thought I would. I thought the A to Z challenge might help it but I think it is actually just making it worst.

One solution? Just write through it. Look, when you are done writing your story you are going to need to go back and make changes. But I find the most difficult process of writing is getting the words on the page in the first place.

So write even if you don't feel you are writing as well as you should. It might make for some extra cleaning up in the long run, but it is better than going weeks or months on end with nothing to show for it.

This is just one solution, and there are many others. Do you have any suggestions for getting over writer's block?

V is for Victory

Do stories need to have a happy ending? Do they need to end in a victory for your hero?

Growing up, I always thought so. Probably because as kids we read stories that always end in an ideal ending. "And they lived happily ever after." That was what we, as kids, wanted to read. It was just as important as reading "The End."

But as we matured readers eventually found out that life doesn't not always end up happily ever after. In fact, no lives are perfect. Everybody has their problems in life and that is where the concept of theme comes in.

Themes deal with these problems. And sometimes these themes do not lead to a happy ending. For instance, George Orwell's vision of his future in 1984 is terrifying. There are powerful themes of censorship, surveillance, and limitless government control that makes this a fascinating story. Does it end in a happy ending? Does Winston emerge victorious? Not at all. But it is still one of the best and powerful writings. Ever.

Don't get me wrong, a good theme does not have to end up without a victory. Look at Harry Potter. That has very strong themes but ultimately it does have a happy ending despite the fact that a lot of sad sacrifices are made in order to get there.

I seem to differ from the common consensus of the Inheritance Cycle (aka Eragon). A lot of people were upset that it did not end with a happy ending. My brother being one of them and we have had much discussion and debate regarding this subject. He hated the ending while I loved it. Could Paolini done anything to make us both happy? To have a happy ending while sticking true to the themes and characters of the book?

Well, that is my opinion. What is yours? How important is it to have a happy ending? Does a good story  need to end with a perfect victory and a "happily ever after"?

U is for Unexpected

The best stories are the ones that are not predictable. The stories I love are the ones that have events or endings that are unexpected. I recently read a series that had me at the edge of my seat with anticipation of what would happen next. I couldn't see a thing coming. If you are interested, it was the Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness.

I wish more books were written like this; it keeps things exciting. It makes it so you don't want to put the book down in fear of missing something. It shocks the mind to attention. It makes the reader want to read in great detail in hopes of catching what happens next.

Keep your stories unpredictable and you will find a more loyal readership and a more fascinating story.

T is for Twitter

Today, for the A to Z Challenge, I'm going to talk about Twitter.

I was talking to somebody about social media when I pointed out that I am more active on Twitter than I am on Facebook. They were quite surprised to hear that.

Now, don't get me wrong, I enjoy Facebook. I like being able to keep up with family and friends on there.  But there are a few things I enjoy about Twitter over Facebook.

I do like the 140 character limit. The brevity makes visiting my friends on Twitter a lot faster. I find I can go through several posts in the time I often spend on one in Facebook. But I find it also makes me a better writer. I have a terrible habit of writing too much. Most of my writings (stories, emails, blogs, tweets, and more) usually need to be whittled down immensely before being sent or shared. In the spirit of "less is more", I find the less I write the better my writing turns out to be.

I also love Twitter because of its timeliness as well. Today visiting Twitter is often like checking the newspaper a few decades ago. But the news is so much more instant. I often get find out about new around the world on Twitter long before it makes the news sites.

As a writer, I think you are really missing out if you are not active on Twitter. Even if you don't read what is happening on Twitter, it is a great way to get news of what you are doing to your readers and potential readers. In fact, when it comes to writing, I rarely share anything on Facebook. I send it all out on Twitter, thus the reason I said I am more active on Twitter.

If you don't follow me on Twitter, I invite you to join me at @jimduckett.

Monday, April 23, 2012

S is for Self-Publishing and Short Stories

This post I wish to talk about self-publishing, or going indie (independent). I honestly don't have much to say on this topic as I'm not an expert since I have not self-published. But in today's market, self-publishing has become a more viable option.

So let me tell you something I've been recently planning. Not long ago I read a blog post on why we should all be writing short fiction by Anne R. Allen. And it actually got me thinking about my old love for writing short stories.  I would like to get back into that. I've got a goal to write a short story of publishable quality by the end of the year. No idea what will happen to it, whether it goes into a short story collection like The Intergalactic Medicine Show, self-publish it on Amazon, submitted to a contest, or possibly nothing at all.

As for novels, I've promised myself that I'm not going to rush out and self-publish the first book I write. I've heard a lot of times that ones writing, with few exceptions, does not get good until you get a few "practice novels" out of the way. I'm okay with that. After all, Brandon Sanderson wrote a dozen books before publishing Elantris. I don't expect my first few novels to get published, though if they do I won't complain. However, if it is not publishable I don't want to put it out there for others to waste their time on it.

So while going indie is viable, I'm going to explore the traditional route for as long as I can before I succumb to the temptation. Well, it's what I think now anyways, the market could change even more by that point.

R is for Research

Sorry it took a little bit to post past the letter Q. I may have (unintentionally) made you think that I had just up and quit anyways, despite me saying that I didn't plan to. Not so. Fridays and Saturdays get really busy for me and I've been using Sundays to catch up, instead of taking it off like I'm supposed to for the A to Z Challenge.


Letter R is for research!

Research is very important when writing. Doing your research can really make a difference in how people accept your work. If you fail to do research, most people will see that you are "faking it" and it can pull them right out of the story. This is bad! You want people into the story, forgetting they are even reading. If you remind them they are reading by making them think, "Woa, the author really messed up here," then you are not going to have as successful a story. You risk not getting those coveted reviews that curse you for keeping them up all night because they could not put the book down.

Some things need to be researched more than others. If you have a character getting excited because he or she got a new computer, it might not be a bad idea to hit some tech sites and see what kind of things excite people about new computers. It doesn't need to take a lot of research if it is just a part of a small scene in your story.

However, if the computer is central to the story and you don't know much about computers, make sure you start to become an expert. If you have a kid who uses his computer to hack into the CIA, you had better become a bit of an expert on hacking, tracing, getting around passwords, encryption, proxy servers, and more.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for Quitting

I've got to be honest, turning out a blog every day has turned out to be more time consuming than I had imagined. If I could go back I would probably have not done the A to Z Challenge. I have appreciated the comments that have come in and the new people I have interfaced with. I really have. You have no idea what each comment I receive means to me.

My post on priorities yesterday got me thinking about the time I have put towards this blog and how it has pulled me away from the writing I want to do. This little blogging adventure is going to teach me to think a little more before I start taking on new things.

I'm not quitting, though I'd be lying if I said it hadn't crossed my mind. I'm going to see this challenge through. I do see the opportunity for growth and I hope to be able to connect with more people. And I've made it this far, I'd only be kicking myself if I threw in the towel this late in the game. And it isn't that it has been an unpleasant experience, only a time-consuming one.

Sorry that this post is a bit of a downer, but I just wanted to blog what I'm feeling today. I'm going to keep this brief as I've promised a friend I would help out with something. Nice thing is that it is writing related, so I think it is for a good cause.

And, really, the letter Q? Somebody needs to call up that letter and tell it to get a real job!!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for Prioritizing

Everybody has a lot on their plate. There is paying the bills, supporting your family, fulfilling civic duties, and everything else that crops up. It's life. It is a problem for almost everybody. Time is a rare and precious commodity.

Last May, when I began this blog, I had wrote about some of the things I decided to sacrifice in order to concentrate on writing. They included online gaming (still resisting), several television programs (still doing well), and even some athletic training (I don't completely neglect this, thank goodness).
Amazingly, this has not freed up a ton of time. In the end, I have found that it isn't about finding time, it is about making time. For instance, I find I am spending a lot of time critiquing, something I wasn't doing a year ago.

If you don't make time, you will find your schedule filling up faster than you can imagine. Other priorities will appear if you don't make the time. Schedule it into your day. Let your family know that a certain time is for your writing, just like it is your job. The nice thing about dropping some of the commitments like I listed above is that it gives you more options to make that time you need. So foregoing some of those items has still been a benefit.

This goes for any goals you may have. Time is often the largest obstacle in most goals. For instance, I have a friend who got into cycling after his knees wouldn't let him run anymore. He puts in a LOT of hours burning rubber all over Southern Utah, and often entering races beyond that. He is in his 50's but he has the fitness of a 30 year old. One of his secrets is that he makes time. When he puts something on his calendar he follows through with it, whether it be a meeting, a dentist appointment, or riding his bike. He, as he says, "gets it done." He rarely -- if ever -- misses a bike ride, and the results speak for themselves.

If you have a goal, prioritize your time. Until you do, your goal will only remain an unfulfilled wish.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Overcoming Obstacles

We all have them: obstacles!

As for our personal obstacles, I find it inspiring to look at what others had to overcome to reach their goals in life. When we find success in others, it can often motivate us to find success in ourself. Here are a couple of favorite videos in that regard.

Meet Nick Vujicic. He was born with no arms or legs and, while he has struggled to find a place in life, has come to find the happiness that he seeks. Best of all, he shares it with others:

And have you seen the Susan Boyle video? If not, check it out. Here is a similar -- and in my opinion better -- video from Koreas Got Talent. Try not to concentrate too much on the exemplary performance but on his story.

And finally, here are some people who have failed. You might have heard of some of them. ;)

We all have obstacles to our goals in life, just make sure you don't let excuses get in your way. The ones who succeed are those who face their obstacles and never give up. Like Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or can't, you're right!"

If you are looking for another example, check out one of my favorite movies, Rudy, which is based on the true story of a young man with a dream but no way to get there. He decides he is going to find a way despite all obstacles. And there are a lot of obstacles in the way.

From a writing point of view, there is a quote out there that I wish I could attribute to somebody. But it goes: There is a word for a writer who doesn't give up... published.

Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for Nightingale by David Farland

A book review on Nightingale by David Farland

I can already tell this is the start of something great. Based on what he has written on the last page it appears he has three more books in mind for this series. I can't wait for more!
In this book we get to meet the hero, Bron Smith. David Farland fulfills this beautifully as I think this is one of the best introductions I've read to a character in a long time. Bron Smith is a troubled child due to his unfortunate luck in foster care, which makes him a hard and sometimes unloving character. Yet, we see many scenes of Bron acting unselfishly towards others and caring for those around him; you just can't help but care and root for him.

At the beginning Bron is sent to a new foster home in a new town, St. George, UT. Olivia, his new foster mom, seems to know more about who Bron really is more than he can imagine. Throughout the book is a discovery to find out who exactly Bron is and what he is capable of, as he appears to be far from ordinary and possessed of a rare power of possible good or destruction. Will he be able to control himself? Can he come to grips with who he really is?

The majority of this book takes place in the City I live in (something I didn't know when I picked this book up). This really fascinated me because David Farland nails the geography perfect, such as the driving directions from nearby cities to the Tuacahn High School and Amphitheater and how our Best Buy lies in proportion to the freeway. It was exciting to see everything be spot on. The only thing that drove me nuts was his description of the St. George Police Department primarily because I work there. I'll have to give him a pass for not knowing the layout of the inside or some of the procedures that occur there. I'm sure I'll be one of the few bothered by this.
This book is filled with action, conflict, and tension. If it isn't one thing, it is another. There were several times where I thought, "How on earth is Bron going to get out of this mess?" Yet David Farland does a masterful job of resolving the problems in a believable way. Not only that, but he gives us even more insight on the character of Bron Smith, making us cheer for him even more. The action is well-paced as Farland does allow a little bit of a breather now and then. And just as you start to get comfortable, BAM, he throws in another scene of action.

There are even romantic elements throughout the book and I think he does a convincing job of writing how teenagers interact with each other and members of the opposite sex. Bron is not the only point of view character as you will see him through the eyes of three women, two of them being teenage girls. If you like romance in books, this has it but doesn't take things so far that I'd feel uncomfortable having my teenager read it. Except for the violence, this book keeps things in a solid PG rating.

I've heard this described as "Twilight for boys." I think that is a pretty apt description. If contemporary fantasy is your thing, I would highly suggest giving this a shot. However, this is not just for boys. Girls will also enjoy it and might even like it more than Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Series.

That said, two others popular books came to mind as I read Nightingale: the Lorien Legacies/I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore and the Michael Vey Series by Richard Paul Evans. I've read them both and the plot elements share a lot of similarity. I think this is much better than I Am Number Four and I'd put it right on par with Michael Vey. So if you enjoyed either of these books, I can guarantee you'll enjoy this one just as well, if not more.
So, if you haven't figured it out yet, I really enjoyed this book and I can't wait for the sequel. Again, if you like contemporary fantasy then this should be right up your ally. This isn't the epic fantasy that David Farland is usually known for (see his Runelord Series) but I completely enjoyed this just as much.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

M is for Movies

Movies are one of my joys in life. My theater room is the room I've put the most time, effort, and money into so I can get the most out of it. I have neighbors who come over on a weekly basis to enjoy it as well. I should start charging admission...
I love movies as much as I enjoy reading books. I love the ability to get an entire story in roughly two hours, complete with special effects and loud noises. Notes: books have their advantages as well, I'm not saying movies are better.

Something interesting has happened lately. As I've studied the intricacies of story structure I'm noticing them a lot more in movies. It has given me a new thing to enjoy about movies as I try to find certain story structure elements. I wish I could watch movies with other writers so they'd understand what I mean when I turn to them and say, "Oh, look, the first plot turn."

This also makes it so I can watch nearly anything. The other day I went out of my comfort zone and watched "The Vow." I loved picking up on the plot turns, the midpoint, and other writerly things.
But there is a downside, too. I can also be critical in ways that other people can't. Again to The Vow. No spoilers here (I don't think) but the story starts with the inciting event and then goes into a series of flashbacks. And I'm sitting there thinking, "Ummm... that isn't how you start a story. Why didn't they show us what happened in the flashbacks first and THEN bring on the inciting event. That way we care for the characters more and we don't have to deal with flashbacks, which are usually a bad idea anyways. The author is getting into the story too late if the first fifteen minutes are all flashbacks!"

Overall, I love it! I refer to movies in a way my non-writing friends don't understand: research.