Thursday, October 23, 2014

SwitchPoint Grand Opening, St. George Book Festival Writing Workshop, and Literacy Charity Dinner.

This Friday (October 24th), a lot is happening in St. George, UT! It's the grand opening of SwitchPoint, a writing workshop, and a literacy charity dinner.

SwitchPoint Grand Opening

First, it is the grand opening of The SwitchPoint Community Resource Center, St. George's primary weapon for combating homelessness in the area. It isn't just a homeless shelter and a pantry, they also provide several resources on-site to help those less fortunate get on their feet, obtain employment, and get into a home.
SwitchPoint Community Resource Center (Artist's Rendering)
It's very innovative; I've heard there is only one other center like this in the country. If you are around, the grand opening and ribbon cutting is at noon. There will be prizes (they're giving away a new car), elected politicians (Mayor Pike and Senator Lee will be there), food, and great fun to be had. Information can be found by clicking here.

If you aren't around, you can still help them out, and it will only cost you a minute of your time. That minute can make a huge difference. All you have to do is sign up for Amazon Smiles. It doesn't cost anything to do this, and it doesn't raise your prices on Amazon or anything like that. Just sign up, and whenever you purchase something form Amazon, a small percentage of it will be donated directly to SwitchPoint.

Click here to learn more about he grand opening and Amazon Smiles.

St. George Book Festival Writing Workshop

The St. George Book Festival is going on right now, but (to me) the real highlights of the festival starts on Friday with its writing workshop. They'll have several classes from 9am to 5pm. The best part is that it is FREE! It is at Dixie State University and they do provide lunch for $15, where you can eat and mingle with the authors.

Most of you know my involvement with The Authors' Think Tank. Two other administrators of the ATT, Mikey Brooks and Jaclyn Weist, will be presenting. Glancing at the list, it looks like it is going to be a full day with some excellent instruction.

For more information, click here.

Literacy Charity Dinner

Dean Hughes
Friday night ends with a charity dinner to benefit literacy. The dinner is $40 with proceeds benefiting the Washington County School District Foundation and The St. George Children's Museum. In attendance will be all the special guests for the book festival; my boss, Mayor Jon Pike, and his family; and the Keynote Speaker, Best-Selling Author Dean Hughes, who will speak on the topic, "What do we need books for anyway?"

Oh, I'll be there too, so please say hello if you go.

It sounds like an excellent opportunity to fill our stomaches with grub, our minds with knowledge, and our hearts through charity.

For more information, click here.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Time Travel Series: Introduction and a Doctor Who Giveaway!!

So, I heard this hilarious time travel joke tomorrow...

Time travel is one of my favorite story premises and I’ve always wanted to write a series around it. Welcome to the start of that series! To celebrate, there’s also a Dr. Who Giveaway (a lot of people’s favorite time traveler) at the end of this article.

On Time Travel

Imagine the implications if time travel was possible! What would you do if you could travel through time? Find Hitler or other serial killers and kill them off? See the future? Stop the JFK assassination? Take the selfish route and use it for personal gain, or the altruistic route and use it to right wrongs, solve crimes, or explore truths?

Plus, how would you get there? How would you get back? What would you learn? What can you change?  How will you deal with paradoxes?

One thing I love about storytelling is exploring the “what if?” questions. Almost every story can be summed up by a “what-if?” question. What if a kid finds out he is a wizard and is accepted into a magical school? (Harry Potter) What if some maniac puts a bomb on a bus that will explode if the bus drops below a certain speed? (Speed) What if a couple of highly trained military troops didn’t catch the droids they were looking for? (Star Wars) What if certain people could gain powers by ingesting metal? (The Mistborn Series)

My favorite "what if"s deals with time travel. What if a teenager went back in time and met his parents in high school? (Back to the Future) What if somebody found a portal to 1958 and the knowledge to stop the JFK Assassination? (Stephen King's 11-22-63) What if a robot from the future is sent back in time to stop the human resistance? (Terminator 1 & 2) What if the peace-preaching-and-producing singers of the future might not form a band because they're about to fail an oral history exam? (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure)

I'm intrigued because there is no way to find the answers to these questions. Sure, we can probably guess what will happen if we stick a bomb on a bus, but what will happen if I travel back in time and kill my grandfather? Maybe nothing. Maybe the world explodes. Who knows? Without time travel, we could never find out! However, we can still ask... what if?

I just love time travel in general. I love being on the lookout for paradoxes. I love watching the fish-out-of-water storylines of people experiencing culture shock between time periods. If there was any story line from Science Fiction that fascinated me the most, it is time travel.

So, let’s explore! We can explore the methods of time travel, the different time periods to travel from and to, paradox resolution, casual loops, and the different side effects (not just paradoxes) of time travel. I might even try to keep it real and explore why time travel can’t work or the ramifications if it did. There is so much to cover and a single blog post just won't accomplish it.

BUT FIRST!!!! Let’s have a contest themes around many people’s favorite time traveler: Doctor Who.

Doctor Who Giveaway

There are two prizes for two different winners. You can win these awesome Dr. Who soap bars, a Tardis and a Dalek (the color of soap may vary) or a Tardis ring* created specifically for your finger by renowned 3D printer-er Joseph Larson, so you can travel through time wherever and whenever you are (it's bigger on the inside).


I'm teaming up with the Kami McArthur the Magnificent for this one. Kami was awesome enough to let me tag along with this giveaway. If you don't follow her, do it now to get more entries. You might win a nifty prize, and even if you don't, you'll be following Kami's content which is even better!!! Follow us, like us, and whatever else the rafflecopter requires for more chances to win.

Also, Kami has an Attack on Titan giveaway as well. See, I told you she was magnificent! To enter, visit here before October 10th.

Enter the Dr. Who giveaway by using this rafflecopter. Enter now! Tell all your friends!! Climb in your time machine, go back five minutes, and enter again***!!

*The winner of the ring will need to send us your ring size before we can process this.

** No doctors or bowties included.

***Multiple submissions will require proof of ability to time travel, which you can email to us a year ago today… just so you know, we already know who is eligible.

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 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.


"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.


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.



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


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


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. 


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.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

After the Movie: The Fault in our Stars

Before seeing The Fault in our Stars on Friday, I blogged on my impressions of the book with the possible intention of writing my post-viewing impressions. Well, here it is!

I started that post spoiler-free and then when the spoilers came out, I gave a warning first and then went a lot more in-depth. In this post I'll keep things spoiler free except for one paragraph (I'll warn you first), so you are safe to read this whether or not you've read the book or seen the movie. I'm still assuming you know the premise of the book, right? If not, then yeah, there will be some small spoilers ahead.

I love a good book adaption to a movie. I understand that no book can be translated to the big screen perfectly. I am rather annoyed when a book and the movie are hardly anything alike, or they implement drastic changes to the point where the two are not even related anymore. So, while I recognize SOME changes are needed, I think some go a little too far.

Unlike most adaptions, I don't think this one strayed from the story line too far. The only change that really stood out was when I'd think, "Okay, here is one of my more favorite lines. Here it comes, here it comes," and then it doesn't come. It's replaced by something else. It wasn't so much that they cut a line in the interest of time, because the line was often replaced instead of removed entirely. Then it hit me, "Wait a minute, they've made the characters sound less sophisticated!"

I guess it makes sense. A criticism I've regularly seen of the book is that the main characters talk way too grown up. I didn't mind, because kids who go through as much as these two do often mature sooner. And, to be honest, if this is the biggest thing to crawl under my skin, I'm still happy with the outcome. After all, they didn't turn the kids into morons, they just made them sound more like teenagers.

Okay, skip this paragraph if you don't know much about the book. Slight spoiler alert ahead... If they would have changed one thing, I wish it was the sex scene. It didn't show anything that would be considered nudity, but I thought it could have been scaled back more than they had. I was growing uncomfortable with how far they let it progress.

Overall, I loved the movie; I thought it was one of the better book adaptions. I loved seeing it on the big screen, and I thought the chemistry between Shailene Woodley (Hazel Grace) and Ansel Elgort (Augustus) was real. On screen, the two seem to share a real connection. I can't imagine any other teenage couple doing anywhere near as well as these two did.

As for the themes, one continued to stand out. Some day, we are all going to die. Every single one of us, and when we do, we are going to leave somebody behind who cares about us. Conversely, some day somebody will die and leave us in tears and sorrow. The question is, should we love somebody if this is the fate that happens between you two? When you get married, more than likely one will leave before the other.

Recently, I lost both of my great-grandparents within a couple of months of each other. My grandmother went first, and the hardest thing I've ever seen in my life is watching the coffin close on her as my grandfather--her husband of 70 years--watched over. He cried. I cried. Everybody who witness this cried. There wasn't a dry eye in the room.

Despite the pain, I don't believe for a second that he would have changed their relationship at all. I don't think he ever thought, "This hurts too much, I wish we had never met." Of course not. He loved her.

Lord Tennyson wrote, "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." Yes, we can all spare others of the pain of our death. We can be spared of these feelings ourselves by not getting attached to people, so we do not feel the pain and sorrow of their departures.

Don't let the fact that all relationships end on this earth stop you from forming a loving relationship. The pain that accompanies death is because of the love you've been able to experience with that person. Everything has its opposites, and the opposite of sorrow and fear is love. You can't have one without the other. While the loss of a loved one is one of the greatest sorrows you will ever feel, the love felt from that person is the greatest feeling you will ever experience.

Don't fear love. Appreciate your loved ones. The way to live life to the fullest is to love with all your heart, not through anything else. True joy is only experienced through true love. While a life may be pain-free by sparing itself from love, it will ultimately be a very dull life that is not worth living.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Before the Movie: The Fault in our Stars

On New Years I posted my annual book rewards and one of my favorites for 2013 was The Fault in our Stars. Imagine my joy when I found out that it was being turned into a movie. Last week I gave it another read in preparation for the movie and I still loved it.

I wanted to give my "before" impressions of the story before the movie has a chance to change it. I'd like to write a followup on my thoughts after the movie as well, to see if the movie supported my thoughts, gives me new impressions, or dashes my perceptions (a nasty habit of Hollywood).

A Warning

I'll begin by trying to keep it spoiler free. I'm going to assume that if you haven't read it, you at least know what it is about and the trials the two main characters are forced to endure. If you don't and you aren't a fan of spoilers, STOP RIGHT NOW!!

Mostly Spoiler-Free Zone

I naturally assumed that everybody should read this and fall in love with it like I did. It's got a 4.5 on Goodreads and won countless rewards, who could be hating on this?

A handful of people, apparently.

To each their own, right? Everyone is entitled to their opinions, even when they are wrong. Haha, just kidding! Seriously, I don't think any less of you if you didn't like a book I enjoyed.

One problem people have noted is that the dialogue seems a little grown up for teenagers. Personally, I excuse this because the two main characters are young, but have worn and old souls. They are in a reflective stage of life because of the trials that had been thrust upon them. I actually enjoyed the dialogue and the banter.

Another criticism was the maturity level of the book since it's geared toward teenagers. Bad language? Check, but nothing that would prevent a movie from slipping into the R-rated category. Compared to children in high school, this is actually quite mild. Mature (sexual) content? Check, but it was far from graphic. I don't think it was needed, really, but that was for the author to decide. Again, nothing that would prevent a PG-13 rating. In fact, the movie is PG-13 and I'm assuming they kept the scene from getting to explicit.

If this were a middle-grade book, then this would be way too far, but as a YA book this--at most--pushes the envelop. Am I thrilled by the content? Nah, adult content doesn't excite me and I think he could have scaled back considerably without taking away from the story. However, if you are sensitive to adult content, I'd probably avoid this book.

And then there is the cancer. I've heard this referred to as a cancer book, but I've never thought this was a cancer book, I thought the book's theme had to do with something else entirely: identity, living life, and the difference our lives make to others.


Seriously, I'm not holding back anymore. Stop reading now if you haven't read the book or seen the movie to avoid any surprises.

Last chance....

Not a Cancer Book

Okay, so why isn't this a cancer book?

To me, a cancer book would be a book where cancer is a main character, however, this is more about kids who have cancer. Cancer is there, and because it is a major factor in their lives, it is brought up constantly, especially when it comes from the perceptions of other people. For the most part, when Gus and Hazel are together, they talk about other things. Movies. Friends. People. Their love for each other. Cancer is not the prevalent part of the conversation except in two conversations. I don't even think it would make it as a supporting character. Hazel spends a lot of time obsessing how she is going to dress, but I haven't heard anybody suggest that this is a book about clothes.

The cancer becomes more prevalent when it comes to other's perceptions of it. Hazel's parents seem to deal with it more often than Hazel does, to the point where it seems that is all Hazel's mom does with all her time. It's pointed out when a child approaches Hazel and asks about her oxygen machine. It seems like everybody else doesn't see Hazel as a person, they only see a kid with cancer. Sadly, it seems that Hazel internalizes a lot of this to the point that she thinks she is a grenade who will go off and ruin everybody's lives who are nearby, hence her hesitation in forming a relationship. What this book says is, "Hazel is not a cancer kid. Hazel is a person." In the literary sense.

Theme 1: Identity

I think Gus put it best when he asked Hazel what her story was. She started talking about when she was diagnosed with cancer and he interrupted her. He didn't want to hear cancer's story, he wanted to hear her story.

Throughout their relationship, Gus actually treated Hazel like a real person and not cancer or a grenade. Because Gus is cancer-free when they meet, Gus is already viewed as a normal person who just happens to be missing a leg. The cancer is a thing of the past, so he is planning on a future. He still goes to school.

Even still, he doesn't want to just be known as cancer. When Gus disappears before they board the airplane, he later explains he hates it when people stare at him. I can't remember why exactly (I don't have the book in front of me), but if I remember correctly it was because he was tired of being looked at as the sick kid. Sick or not, he's still a person, dang it!

Same thing with other characters in the book. Hazel's mom, what do we know about her? She has taken upon herself one job: Hazel's nanny. Everything she does is only to help Hazel. Or, is it? Sadly, it isn't until the end of the book that we learn that she is more than just Hazel's caretaker.

Aren't we all? After all, when people ask for our story we usually start with what we do.

Stranger 1: So, tell me about yourself.
Stranger 2: Well, I'm a candle-stick maker. My mom always told me I was born with a wick already lit in my hands. I started making candles before I could walk. In fact, I could make a candle before I could even say the word. You?
Stranger 1: Accountant. No, I won't do your taxes.

Okay, a candle-stick maker. That isn't who you are, it's what you do. In the book, Hazel refers to her fighting cancer as her full-time job, so when Hazel is asked about her story, she does like all of us does and launches into her getting-over-cancer job. How refreshing would it be to have a conversation like this:

Stranger 1: So, tell me about yourself.
Stranger 2: Well, I'm a hopeless romantic. When I met my wife, I sang to her publicly to ask her out. I didn't stop singing until she relented. Speaking of, I really love to sing, even though I'm not that great at it, but luckily my wife is deaf in one ear so it works out well as long as I'm standing to her left. Also, I like cheese. You?
Stranger 1: Oh, I absolutely love and adore cheese!

I'd like to try this the next time I'm asked who I am, and not tell them what I do until they explicitly ask what my occupation is. WE ARE ALL MORE THAN WHAT WE DO TO PAY THE BILLS.

Theme 2: Living Life

Hazel is a bit of a recluse. Partly because her parents are afraid to let her out of their sights, but she also tends to hold back a lot because she doesn't want to hurt other people. At one point, Gus touches Hazel's face and she kind of freaks out, in which she explains to him that she doesn't want to hurt anybody so she isn't going to gamble with falling in love, because it won't end well.

That sounds well meaning, but in the end you are only depriving other people when you decide to withhold yourself. I liked the grenade analogy and what happened with the rest of the book. First, she did go off like a grenade right after this part. She went to the hospital for a few days, and Gus stayed in there the entire time. Even after witnessing the metaphorical explosion, he stuck around.

Then the grenade actually turned out to be Gus, and I loved seeing the paradigm shift that Hazel experienced. Instead of fearing that she'll hurt people because of her upcoming death, she only loves Gus more when she ends up being on the receiving end of a grenade going off. Yes, Gus getting sick hurt her, but having Gus as a person in her life was seen as a blessing. Most likely the best thing that ever happened to her. Maybe the best thing that ever will happen to her.

He taught her to have a life and live it to its fullest.

Then there's the other side of the spectrum: Peter Van Houten. This is a guy who could freely live his life. He's got health (well, more than the main characters), he's got wealth, and the only thing holding him back is a pessimistic worldview and an addiction to alcohol. Sadly, it's the potential that Van Houten could have and is missing out on. Van Houten has everything he needs to have the most extraordinary life, but instead he has turned into a person who's only real skill is to turn people away with his bitterness.


Aren't we all grenades? One day we will die and we will leave people behind to mourn over us. Should we let this fact (oh, spoiler alert, you too will some day die) make us "live" a life of fear or should we make a life worth living? One thing this book teaches is to choose the latter decision. You only get one life, make the most of it and don't settle for less!

Theme 3: Difference Our Lives Make Toward Others

This was the most profound theme I noticed in the book, the influence people have with others.

Again, there is the grenade metaphor. Hazel's fear is that she will do no good for the world, only blowing it up in the wake of her illness. Sadly, this thought is shared by many people in the world. That horrible thought of, "What good am I? The world would be a better place without me."

Nonsense! Everybody is a blessing toward somebody. We all have value, more than I think we will ever realize. We all make a positive difference for other people, even if we don't realize it. When you have the above thoughts and pull yourself out of the world, you are only withholding your potential to be a beacon of light to the world.

Gus has the opposite fear, that he won't leave a large enough impression on the world. When Gus is asked what his biggest fear is, he answers, "Oblivion." He feared that when he left, nobody would remember him.

Hazel then responded that he shouldn't fear oblivion, because it is coming whether he liked it or not. Some day, our sun will explode or the galaxy will implode, and nothing we do now--no matter how amazing--will ever change that.

Gus wanted to do something big. He made grand gestures while playing a video game to save everybody, usually at the ultimate cost of his teammates and himself. He had a fear of dying just of cancer, which he didn't consider to be noble. He wanted to exchange his life for something. I think he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory.

To which Hazel took offense, because this line of thinking sounded dangerously close to, "If you don't go out nobly, you might as well not even live at all."

She's right. I think it is more important to live a noble life than to die a noble death. Even if oblivion is coming (as a religious person, I have a deep-rooted belief in an afterlife and a forever, but even still...), what will people remember about you a hundred years from now, a thousand years from now, a billion years from now? Sooner or later, we will all be forgotten. What matters are the people you can bless right now. Today. Who you've blessed in your yesterdays and days before that, and those you can bless in the future. In the end, people are rarely remembered for how they die, but only for how they live.

So, what can you do now to help others? I love looking at the characters in this book:

First, there is Hazel, the point of view character who was afraid of hurting others. Because she feared causing harm, she also feared doing good, not realizing that the two often go hand-in-hand. She even chose to become a vegetarian to lesson the number of lives hurt by her. However, she was still a friend to Kaitlyn and later to Isaac. She was still there to help Gus in his time of need and return the love he so freely offered. Gus' father said he thanked God every day for her being part of Gus' life.

Then there is Gus, that character that has reduced readers across the world to tears. Why did they cry? After all, if Gus had bit it in the first chapter, we probably wouldn't have cared. Heck, didn't one person from the support group end up dying? What was that person's name? That person's gender? Yeah, I don't remember either. However, the tears were shed because of the life he lived, not the death he had. Gus, without question, uplifted Hazel's life to a height I don't think she'd ever think it could. She had the adventure of a lifetime and the love of her life, but only because Gus had been there for her. Because of his love, hearts were touched and uplifted, and not just in the book.

Okay, now for Peter Van Houten. If anybody wept over him, it was only because of the lost potential. The book opens with Hazel telling us bout her three best friends, her two parents and Peter. He had written a book that inspired her and made her find meaning in life. When she finally gets the opportunity to meet him, he turns out to be a total jerk-face. No, no... that's too nice. I think compete jerk-faces read his scene and thought, "Wow, I'm glad I'm nothing like this guy." At one point, he did good. It wasn't just Hazel and Gus who he had touched, he apparently had piles of unread fan mail. This is why Lidewij wanted Hazel and Gus to come, so he could finally see for himself that there was good that came from the book. Instead, he got liquored up and claimed he loathed his book. He tried to make amends, but in the end Hazel just told him to stop drinking and write something. Who knows, maybe there is still hope for him. I'd like to think so. I wonder if John Green, the author, thought that too.

Mrs. Lancaster is no exception. I actually love how she turns out, because the story portrays her as just being a helicopter parent. Obviously, she means well, and without her (and her husband's) love for Hazel, Hazel would have had a horrible life and a much earlier death. Instead, she cares for Hazel, which appears to be all she did. Or was it? I love the fact that Mrs. Lancaster devoted so much more of her time preparing herself to help others. Even Hazel was excited to know that she was going to become a Patrick... and Hazel didn't even like Patrick. I'm with her, I'm excited that Mrs. Lancaster will be a Patrick too; the world needs more Patricks.

I guess there is also Patrick, who is actually mocked in the movie, but you know he wouldn't be there if he wasn't doing good for somebody. So, he didn't help Hazel or Gus... or did he? If not for his support group, these two people would have never met. We don't see much of his story outside of Hazel's disdain, but in my mind I imagine him being a help to a lot of other people.

One more person, a minor character. The most true character: Anne Frank, the teenage diary writer. The faith, hope, and love she shared through her words have touched MILLIONS!! Sadly, she died at the age of 15, and I'm sure had no idea what an influence she would become for the generations that have and will continue to follow. No doubt, she has blessed the lives of so many others, including myself.

And more.

In the end, it is our choice. We choose what kind of influence we will have on others. I hope I make the right choices in this regard.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Top Ten List on Chad and Shelly

In Letterman style. Here we go... the top 10 reasons why Chad and Shelly are the coolest people you'll ever meet.

10. Craziness. Conversations on Twitter somehow lead to pictures of this:

James, Chad, Jeigh, Tyler x 2, and Shelly
9. Sarcasm! They'll be sure to rib you when you've got your blog up for two seconds and they happen to stop by during the design process:

Shelly was my first follower on this blog, and I've always appreciated her support. It helps when we are both so fluent in Sarcasm.

8. Hero! The first time I met Shelly, she looked like this:

She shaved off all her hair to benefit her cousin, Tyson, who has leukemia. Seriously, I could just stop here at number 8 and you'd understand why I hero-worship these two, but there is more!

7. Honesty! When I need honest feedback, I know I can always go to Shelly. She doesn't sugar-coat it.

6. Family! I met Chad about a year after meeting Shelly, as he started writing and releasing his books. Have you ever met that one couple that seemed like they were meant for each other? Like, Westley and Buttercup would look at it and say, "Wow, maybe we aren't so awesome together after all." Well, this is how I feel when I see Chad and Shelly. Not just their marriage, but their family.

While visiting their home, I got to meet their kids. Talk about an amazing family! True story: some cards came out and we started trying to out-wit each other with card tricks and the like. I can't remember the final score, but it resembled the score from the last Superbowl (43 - 8). No matter what I tried, I could not figure out a way to outsmart them. Not just that, all five of their kids are just awesome, smart, and super-creative geniuses that were a pleasure to be around.

There is also this special spirit whenever I'm around their family. One time they were singing while I was in the other room, and I thought I was going to walk in and see the Van Trapp family singing.

Such an amazing family!

5. Chad! Meeting Chad made me feel like I found a brother my parents had secretly put up for adoption or something. It's impossible to get within a 50-foot radius of Chad without feeling better about life. He just has that... aura. Seriously, meet the guy, you'll instantly know what I mean.

4. Humor! If you can last five minutes around this family without laughing, I'd be convinced you're a robot. These guys are hilarious! If you've seen them do  scripted stand-up, you'll see the hilarity right away, but even unscripted, it is one hilarious line after another. Chad and Shelly SLAY me.

Check out this video for Chad's latest book, The Avatar Battle. Yes, he is this funny all of the time!

3. Writers! We met through the writing community (side note: I doubt any writing community outside of Salt Lake has any kind of bonding like our local writers), and both of them are awesome writers. I've read one of Shelly's books, and I can't wait until she releases something so the world can enjoy it. Chad has released two books, both in the Cragbridge Hall series.

For now, I haven't had a chance to read The Avatar Battle, but I was BLOWN AWAY by The Inventor's Secret. I didn't know what to expect, but I must admit that I haven't been excited for middle grade lately and I wasn't ubber excited to pick it up. However, Gragbridge Hall? It's got me excited again. Seriously, everybody should own 9 or 10 copies of it.

And you've got to check out this book video! Why hasn't this book been turned into a movie yet?

The literary world is blessed that these two authors contributing books. I bet future releases are only going to get better.

2. Mustaches for Maddie! When The Inventor's Secret came out, Chad and Shelly's daughter, Maddie, was rushed to the hospital for an emergency operation. This prevented Chad from going on tour for his newly released book. Knowing Chad, I'm sure he didn't even have to weigh whether or not he should go or not, he stayed with Maddie until she made her recovery.

Once wind got out of this operation, people started sending in tons (hundreds? I'm guessing thousands?) of pictures of people in mustaches. Maddie always got cheered up looking at mustaches, and everybody who knew the Morris' delivered. Google it, I really hope somebody compiled all of them together, it would make a great keepsake for Maddie and an entertaining lookthrough for everybody else!

Here's their friend, Tyler Whitesides, getting in on the action:

1. Caring! The reason Chad and Shelly are so easy to love is because they exemplify charity in all that they do. They are truly one of the most caring people you will ever meet, who would give the shirt off their backs to help somebody in need. If the world were filled with Chads and Shellys, life would be a hundred times better to live.

To learn more about these two amazing folks, check out their blog at Chad is going on tour because of The Avatar Battles, so check out his schedule and see if he'll be in your neighborhood. You won't want to miss him!