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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I Finished The Firm and We're Finishing The Year

I finished reading The Firm by John Grisham today. That makes 27 books read this year, and I'm a good way through The Wizard of Oz but I won't finish it tonight so it's twenty seven. If you look two posts back you can see a nice graphic showing all the other books I read this year thanks to Goodreads.

So resolutions and all that. My first resolution: read more than 27 books in 2014. My second resolution: publish a novel length work. This is also the first year I started narrating audiobooks. This year I narrated and produced 6 audiobooks. Most of them were very short, but one came in at over 8 hours long. Two of them even found me and offered a contract to me to narrate their books which blew me away. I auditioned for the others and many many more titles that I wasn't cast for. I feel incredibly honored for every book I was chosen to narrate. My third resolution: narrate more than six audiobooks in 2014.

Other than that I plan on writing more short stories and either podcasting them or seeing if Every Photo Tells will accept them and podcast them. That reminds me - I need to finish a story I started for them.

Image Source: Google.com
I also need to review The Firm. That will probably be the next post and the first of 2014. Anyways, I hope you all have had a great year. What are your resolutions? Reading, writing or otherwise? As always, thanks for stopping by.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 27, 2013

I'm Reading The Firm

One thing I've noticed that I like about Grisham's writing is that his words don't get in the way. His prose is fairly vanilla but it does its job well. I think this shows great craft in his writing. You're able to just sink right into the story and get taken along for the ride. I'm really enjoying the book so far. I'm about halfway through it.

There are a couple reasons I picked up this book. One is that I want to read at least one book from all of those big authors you always see on the shelves of your grocery store. I read Dean Koontz's novel The Door to December back in September of 2011 and now I'm giving John Grisham a try. I really enjoyed Koontz novel and it's the same with Grisham. I guess that's why those guys are on the shelves of the Grocery store. Aparently I like thrillers. It might have to do with the fact that they're fantastic page turners or something. :)

Photo credit: © Lisa Waddell Buser


Another reason I was interested in reading The Firm is that my wife and I love watching legal TV shows. We have enjoyed Law & Order SVU & Criminal IntentThe Good WifeDrop Dead Diva, Boston Legal, Damages, and my personal favorite: Suits. It's incredibly funny, has fantastic characters that interact brilliantly, and it the most beautifully shot show I've ever seen period. They know what they're doing with the camera. I linked to the show websites but many of these are on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video if you want to check them out. So yeah we love those shows and while The Firm is a bit different because it's all at the law office not in the court room I'm still really enjoying it. I'll have a review when I finish it.

Have you read John Grisham? Which of his other novels would you recommend once I'm done reading The Firm? Any other authors other than Dean Koontz who are one of those grocery store shelf guys you'd recommend I give a shot? I've never read Tom Clancy. I'm definitely going to read Michael Crichton. I'd love to hear your thoughts on these authors and any suggestions you have. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Books I Read This Year

*After writing this post I finished The Firm by John Grisham making 27 books for 2013.


I received an awesome email from Goodreads today showing me all the books I read this year. It comes to a grand total of 26. Actually 27 as I finished The Firm by John Grisham December 31st. Is that pretty good or not very many? I was expecting the number to be a bit bigger. I've heard a lot of people who say they read a book a week. There is one explanation however. I read a lot of very long books. Brandon Sanderson's The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages. The Passage by Justin Cronin was pretty massive. Dune was a decent length. So I think that's part of it. Hold on, now that I look back on my Goodreads history it appears that last year I only read 16 books. Many of those were also long epics but some were fairly short. Well, if anything I'm happy I read more this year. Weird, I also read 16 books in 2011. Well, I feel better now :)

It's funny, I have read a lot of the classics of literature so now I'm trying to catch up on the classics and current works of sci-fi and fantasy because that's what I want to write. Yes, I want to write genre fiction and I haven't read much of it, well I hadn't but now I'm making my way through it. I read many classics in high school and after because I was going to be an English teacher before I decided on 3D art and multimedia instead. Also one of my best friends did end up being an English teacher so while we were in college we would read a lot of the classics. We'd start the same book on the same day, then write how many pages we read  on a white board in the kitchen to goad each other to read more. It was really fun. We would also go to a St. Vincent De Paul every Tuesday I believe because we could get books for as little as 30¢ but usually just under a dollar. We would scour the shelves for a good 20 minutes and then walk to the counter with a decent stack of books. Mostly we bought classics. They had a steady intake of books and sometimes you'd find a nice hardback or a returned almost new paperback. Sometimes even newish books. We would also always try and find a copy of Wuthering Heights and sneak it onto the other dude's stack. We both hated that novel when we had to read it over the summer for A.P. English our senior year. Back in 09' I actually reread it for who knows what reason, and ended up liking it. The characters were deplorable people, but I appreciated the book for what it was and some of the things it did. Here's the review I wrote up about it.

When I hear authors answer the question "what's the best advice you can give to aspiring authors" they usually say two things. Write a lot, and read a lot. Now I'm not reading a lot just so I can become a better writer, though I do try and learn from every book. I read because books are a passion of mine. One of my favorite things to do has always been reading books. I used to work sometimes for my grandparents. They ran a TV repair business and sold Zeniths out of their basement and when they went on vacations sometimes they needed someone to be at the house for drop offs and pick ups. There were usually only a handful of these in a day and maybe a couple phone calls. So most of the time I had an empty quiet house for hours. I would always bring a stack of books with me and I loved the fact that I was getting paid to do a massive amount of reading. In high school at lunch I could usually be found with the little acoustic guitar I kept in my locker, or a book. When I finished my work in class, I'd whip out a book and get to it.

What books have you read this year that you absolutely loved? How many books have you read this year? Are you on Goodreads? It is a fantastic way to track what you've read and review them. If you're on there and you're not already my friend, add me as a friend. Merry Christmas! Have you heard my Christmas story yet? It's right at the top of the page and it will bring you cheer! Just sayin' :) Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King | Book Review

This book was creepy and vibrant and touching and exciting and an excellent sequel to The Shining and many more things. A few years ago I never thought I would be reading books by this author. I grew up not watching PG 13 movies until I was actually 13, and I never watched any horror movies. I still don't. I'm a pretty cheerful upbeat guy who doesn't like to dwell on gruesome dark stuff. My favorite movies and books are more of the coming of age sci-fi and fantasy adventure types. I guess you could say I'm not a horror fan, that was until I read King. Many times when I would talk to friends about the love of reading and writing they would ask, "have you read any of Stephen King's books?" I would always respond by saying I wasn't into horror. Then I read his great book called On Writing where he gives a bio of his life and writes a lot about the craft of writing. So then, you guessed it, The Shining was the first King book I read. My friend let me borrow his beat up paperback copy, but I ended up grabbing the audiobook from my public library. It was really good. I went on to read many more King books after that finding that he was a great writer, even if some of his books bored me in the middle sometimes. His novella The Body is possibly my favorite book of all time. I've read it several times in the last few years. The audiobook is narrated by the legendary Frank Muller and it is amazing.

Image Source: http://www.healthytravelblog.com/
This story is about an old guy dealing with alcoholism, ghosts, evil old people who travel teh nation in RVs, and many other things. It's also about a little girl dealing with her special powers, I know nothing new to a King novel but he did a bang up job writing this one and it felt new and inventive and fresh and awesome. I'm not a drinker. I have a drink about once every two months or so. A glass of red wine, or a mixed drink at a family party. Maybe a hard lemonade. I've never had more than one drink. I've never been drunk. It would seem there isn't much to relate to in this novel for me, but there is. It's really about seeing a character hit rock bottom and deal with picking up the pieces to eventually get to a place where they can help others. It's about a lot of other things, but that's one of the main ones. I've hit rock bottom a few times. It is just about always when one of my kids are sick. I've stayed overnight in the hospital with a sick child many more times than I'd like to remember. It's different than being at rock bottom from personal bad choices, but all this to say that this book which would seem like a story I couldn't relate to was touching to me and I loved it.

I may have blogged about this in the past but I think Stephen King's main strength is that he writes great characters. I've read many of his books now and there were a few that got boring in the middle. They were bloated with info dumps, flashbacks, back story, and exposition but I always kept reading. I kept reading because in all of his books I had become very invested in his characters and I had to know what was going to happen to them. I cared about his characters. I think this strength Stephen has is why he is the king of fiction so to speak. There are many other reasons, the dude can write some brilliant prose, but I think it's the characters we all come to love that push his books to the top of the charts and keep his stories in the minds of readers. I heard Mr. King asked by an interviewer that while his books are scary there are also touching moments in them. King responded by saying that you can't be scared for a character unless you care about them. Stephen King writes characters you care about. He fleshes them out brilliantly.

So yes great characters I became invested in have carried me through some of his books with bloated middles but this book had no bloat. I loved every chapter. I never grew bored. There were some nice slower chapters where you get to explore the different places in the story, but it never got boring. This book was a fantastic read and if you like The Shinning you'll love this great sequel Doctor Sleep.

Have you read Doctor Sleep? Did you even know a sequel to The Shining was out? Are you a Stephen King fan or do you not understand what all the hype is about? Sound off in the comments, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by.

See for yourself how awesome this book is: Doctor Sleep at Amazon
And the one that comes before it: The Shining at Amazon

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Can Restrictions Help Storytelling?


In this Breaking Bad cast interview with Conan O'Brien show creator Vince Gilligan mentions how great it was at the end of season 4 of Breaking Bad to know that they had 16 more episodes to finish out the show in season 5.

He said, and I'm paraphrasing:
"...we went to their writer's room and divided up the cork board up into 16 equal sections and figured out how much story do we have left...because you want it to end with the very last loose ends tied up, leave everything on the field..."
I listened to that and thought to myself, that sounds a lot like me deciding I was going to write a 60K word novel with 2,500 word chapters which meant 24 chapters. I divided a piece of paper in to 24 sections and fleshed out each chapter much like they fleshed out each episode. I still stand by my last blog post, but this just strengthens my resolve to get the bare bones of my story down, enough to guess at a length in word count and number of chapters, and then map out the book on a piece of paper filling in each chapter and making sure the right events take place in the right parts of the story. I found it really interesting and inspiring to think of the writers of Breaking Bad going into a room to write the last season of one of the best TV shows of all time. They knew they had 16 episodes, so they planned out each one. 
"...you want to parcel it out so you end with...the very last thing tied up...you don't want to finish up your story too soon...finish the last bit of plot that you hope to achieve...you want to time it out just right..."


I never thought about how precise these episodes have to be. They have to be a certain length to the second so they can fit in commercials and air in its exact time slot. Now one of the beautiful things about novels is that you can take more time with stories and dive deeper, and tell your story without most of the restrictions of television or film. That said, it seems to me the more behind the scenes I hear from creators of films and movies, the more it seems like when they have restrictions they're forced to think out of the box of how to make it work and come up with brilliance. Look at Star Wars.

Did you know the first Star Wars movie A New Hope was extremely difficult for them to make and a lot of people said it wouldn't go anywhere? Then look at Episode I The Phantom Menace. All the money in the world, technology enabling you to show anything imaginable on the screen including a completely computer generated lead character, and it pales in comparison to A New Hope with it's plastic models and robotics - 57% vs a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes if you follow those links. I'm not quite sure where I'm going with all this just yet but I wanted to share what's stewing around in my head about story and structure and restrictions. What are your thoughts about these things? Have you seen Breaking Bad? If not, why not? Here's my spoiler free review of the show I wrote after finishing it last month. Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, December 16, 2013

More Organic Outlines

My Novel Outline on One Page
I've been studying story structure so much that I think I've been trying to use it too much when planning and writing a story. It may just be in one respect - word count. I've been deciding on a word count before really fleshing out the story. I think that's a mistake. It's one thing to decide your story may be a short story rather than a novel. It's another to choose a word count and then break the story down and put it all into place from there. That said, I do need to try and narrow down a word count so I can put the right parts of the story in the right places. It kind of helped me because then I knew that say the end of chapter 6 would be the end of Act I in my novel. That's really good to know, but I'm thinking I should start with getting the story down in a bare bones outline first, then decide on word count. Certain things should happen at certain parts of the story. If I don't know how long the story is going to be then I don't know when I'm halfway through and the characters should stop reacting and start actively fighting back towards the problems keeping them from achieving their goals. I won't know when I'm at 25% and the characters should be thrust into a different world or have their world flipped on its head. 

As you can see in the image above I decided I wanted my novel to be 60K words so with each chapter at 2,500 words that meant 24 chapters. It was really awesome and exciting to in a small way see my whole novel on one piece of paper before writing it. This is something I want to do every time from now on, but do the following first. Get the story down from start to finish just in a rough outline form. Like one sentence for each scene. Then break it up into what I think will be the chapters. From there I can guess at the word count of the book by guesstimating the word punt of each chapter and adding them up. That might help me have a better more organic way of fleshing out the story rather than deciding on a word count then breaking up the story and inserting all the right parts where they're supposed to go. A story needs to be however long it demands to be. I think story structure is THE thing that is going to take my stories from having great scenes but doesn't work as a book to novels worth publishing - but I still need to let the story roll out organically and be as long as it needs to be. My stories as I've written them in the past did not have certain things happen at certain parts of the story and it hurt the stories. Story structure has helped me see many times what was wrong with a story or why I was stuck and helped me figure out how to fix it.

Image Source: http://cliffordgarstang.com/?p=4363


What are your thoughts? What is your process for outlining? How much do you think about word count before you start your story? Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Third Audiobook I Narrated is Live!


I had the privilege to narrate the book Intriguing Science Fiction Short Stories and Tributes: Thrilling Adventures in Fantasy by James M. Lowrance. This book was really fun to narrate and it covered my two favorite genres as you can see in the header of my website. There is also some excellent non-fiction in this book about UFOs and a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock. The book is well written and full of humor, intense action, and a lot of mystery. I know you'll enjoy it if you're a fan of my work. I enjoyed narrating Mr. Lowrance's work so much that I hope to do more of it in the future. He's a great writer. I'm so excited to have three professional audiobooks under my belt! Go grab your copy and enjoy. It's a short work so the price is right. Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Frozen by Disney | Movie Review

My family and I went to see Disney's new animated film Frozen last night. It was really good! My 2, 3, and 5 year old liked it and sat still for most of the movie. My wife and I and my parents who were with us had a great time watching it too. My dad and I laughed at a lot of the same parts. There were a lot of hilarious moments in the movie.

I've always been a huge Pixar fan and it was easy to say they were producing the best 3D animated movies out there. Ever since I saw Disney's Tangled I can't say Pixar gets to stand alone on the top podium. As far as Disney films, I never saw Home on the Range (2004), I thought Chicken Little (2005) was a cute fun movie but it didn't blow me away like the Pixar films of the time say The Incredibles of 2004 and Finding Nemo the year before that. Next came Meet the Robinsons in 07' another film I never saw because the preview made it look kind of lame. Then came Bolt which I've heard good things about but have never seen. I made sure to see all the Pixar films.

Being a 3D animation major in college you would think I would have seen all the 3D films but most of these Disney flicks just didn't appeal to me. Next was The Princess and the Frog, but that was 2D and I didn't want to see a movie all about Voodoo magic no thank you. Then I saw the preview for Tangled. Right away I was extremely hopeful. I loved the preview. It made me want to drive to the theater then and there and pay to see the film. The sensibilities it conveys. The humor, the timing. I just hoped the movie would be as good as the preview, and it was. I loved Tangled. It made me stop and say, okay Disney is making amazing 3D films now. I guess I'll have to stop and pay attention the next time they put out another movie.


Frozen did not disappoint. It was visually stunning and had a great story that moved the whole time. My kids never became bored and neither did I. I was going to try really hard to break down the plot structure as I try to do whenever I watch something to learn from it, but I found myself to taken aback by the movie to do more than just sit back and enjoy it. I didn't spend the whole time in the theater telling my kids to be quiet or sit back down in their chairs either so it captured them as well.

As I said before it was hilarious. It was funny on many levels. In more subtle ways with well written dialog for the adults, and also in your face ways like with the little snowman Olaf for viewers of all ages. That little guy cracked my kids up. He was a great character. 

After reading some reviews it seems I may be alone in this but I still like Tangled more than this film. I think the main reason is that I like the characters of Tangled more. That said as you've read I really enjoyed Frozen and if you read the reviews everyone is saying it's possibly the best Disney film yet or as good as The Lion King.

It is worth going to see in the theaters. The visuals in this film were breathtaking. It was really funny, and it takes the characters to places that make you sit on the edge of your seat. A hearty recommendation from me.

Have you seen it yet? What did you think? Best Disney film yet? Just okay? Best film you've ever seen? Sound off in the comments and thanks for stopping by!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Dune by Frank Herbert | Book Review

In early November I wrote a blog post titled I'm Reading Dune in which I described being incredibly bored by the book and putting it down 3 seperate times, but then picking it up to give it one last shot and really enjoying it from that point on. I have to say that for the rest of the novel I really enjoyed it. The story kept moving at a brisker pace, tons of really awesome action and fight scenes took place. The characters grew in amazing ways. It was a spectacle to behold and an epic story to enjoy as it all unfolded. A rich deep world filled with very different kinds of characters all with their own conflicting traditions. Much of this effects the main character Paul as he grows from boy to man. I really enjoyed seeing him grow into a full on mans man. A great leader, an awesome warrior, and his role as son grew very interesting as well.

Image Source: http://omnireboot.jerrickventures.com/archives/dune/

So let me just say that I had given up on this book and was bored out of my mind reading it at first, but I kept going and I'm so glad I did. If you've ever tried reading this book and couldn't get past the huge info dumping and people sitting in rooms talking of the mythology, religions, politics, worlds and prophesies - pick it up again and keep reading. I promise it gets better. I'm interested to see now that I know what the heck is going on - what I will pick up on with a second read. I'm taking a break to finish and start a heap of other books, but someday I'd like to reread this epic beast and see what I can glean anew from that dense block of a beginning Frank Herbert penned as act one of his first installment in his Dune universe. I also want to go on and read the other books in the series at some point.

Have you read Dune? Did you love it? Hate it? favorite book ever? Most boring book ever? Sound off and give your opinion in the comments and as always thanks for stopping by.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Christmas Carol | Free in Audio & eBook

Almost every year I read or listen to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens in December and wanted to share this great story with you.

This novel is in the public domain so you can get it as an eBook for free! The version I link to below at Project Gutenberg is especially cool because you can get it with illustrations. The epub file will work on your Nook or other eReaders, and there’s also a Kindle format or even just HTML if you want to read it in your browser.

eBook:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/46

I also found an incredible version of this beloved novel for free online. While you can find it read by amateur narrators in a few places, I found it narrated by none other than Jim Dale! Who is Jim Dale you ask? Why he's only the fantastic narrator that brought Harry Potter to life in our ears. Yes that's Jim Dale, the Harry Potter audiobook narrator. A real pro and I know a favorite among many listeners.

audiobook:
http://www.audiobooks.org/bookDesc.php?id=a-christmas-carol

So give this story a read or a listen. It's a quick read and every year it brightens my spirits. I LOVE the ending. It brings cheer every time I get to it. Thanks for stopping by!