My latest short story "The Night the Lights Came On"

Friday, December 21, 2012

Movie Memories 09 | Laith Preston

Download the .mp3

Movies, there are just so many stories I could come up with about movies that I'm not really sure where to begin.

When I think about movies, like most everyone I recall the smell of the popcorn and the quiet in the theater as the previews began, the excitement building as the hero wins through against seemingly impossible odds. However, one of my earliest memories of watching a movie is actually not seeing it on the big screen, but rather sitting on the love-seat in my parents room all nice and comfy with a blanket watching the movie unfold on television.

There are a number of movies that I first remember enjoying this way but foremost in my mind are Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Black Hole. I suppose given my love of all things Sci-Fi these two sticking out shouldn't be that much of a shock, the music, the characters... the robots... from VINCENT and poor beat up old BOB to the evil MAXIMILIAN...

I can fondly recall assembling a two barrel laser gun like they had in the movie out of Legos. Now there are a number of parts of the movie that people tend to think poorly of, but to me the film still stands well as a genre classic.

Speaking of classics, throughout my youth my parents made sure that I saw many of the classics, from The Longest Day and Lawrence of Arabia, to Evil Under the Sun and Murder on the Orient Express. They covered most everything.

One somewhat more recent one I recall enjoying watching with my folks was The Parent Trap. No not the recent one with Lindsay Lohan but the original 1961 version with Hayley Mills. When the remake was announced I was right along with my parents fearing that a treasured childhood movie would be ruined.

I was very pleased when it came out and not only had they not ruined it but they had done a reasonable job of moving the story into modern day rather than trying too hard to recapture the original.

Then they had to cast Lohan in a new Herbie movie... but that's a story for a different post.

Laith Preston is a voracious reader, aspiring writer and jack of many trades. When he is not at his day job as a web application developer, he can be found wasting way too much time on various pastimes in Des Moines, Iowa, with his wife, and three kids. You can find his aimless meanderings at his blog:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Hobbit : An Unexpected Journey | Movie Review

First off there are no movie spoilers in this review. If you've read the book or have seen the Lord of the Rings Trilogy then you're good. Also I didn't see the film in HFR or 3D, so I won't be speaking to that. With that out of the way let's get started.

I loved The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I liked it even more than The Lord of The Rings Trilogy, which are easily some of my favorite movies. I couldn't get enough of them and love the extended versions because I get to spend more time in that world. Also of the three films the first one, The Fellowship of the Ring, was my favorite. The reason? We get to see The Shire. Its beauty and goodness that is in a way what everyone is fighting for in the rest of the movie. I love spending time in the Shire. Knowing I would get a bit more time there in The Hobbit makes me super excited right off the bat. So that's where I'm coming from. Coming to The Hobbit I was also very excited because I liked the book way more than the Lord of The Rings trilogy of novels. I tend to read a lot more of fun adventure stories than long dark epic tales. I read and write a lot of Young Adult literature. While reading The Lord of the Rings was very rewarding, parts of it were a slog for me. Every time I have read The Hobbit I want to turn back to the beginning and read it again as soon as I get to the end of the story. I love it.

I finished my third reading of The Hobbit the night before seeing the film. It was cool to have the novel so fresh in my mind because I could spot the differences in the movie and understand what was happening on screen with a deeper level of understanding. I was happy to finish many of the dialog sentences in my mind because they were taken straight from the book. A lot of little things like characters speaking out the name of a chapter as they delve into that part of the story were fun easter eggs for readers of the book.

There are many small things they chose to change in the movie. None of them really bothered me, and in most cases I think the changes they came up with made for a more enjoyable movie to watch. Would I have changed it from the book? Probably not - but that's why I'm not a big time movie director. I was never mad about the changes. It was more of a "Hmm . . . interesting . . ." Also, even though as I have said I LOVE the book I did think a few times while reading it that certain scenes could have been much more exciting or dramatic. Some big events are glossed over with a quick paragraph in the novel and in making the movie it would render those scenes as flat and uneventful, especially to an audience of 2012, if they would have stayed totally faithful to the narrative of the novel.

In general I felt that they did an amazing job adapting one of my favorite books into a movie. One thing I was worried about going into this film was that it would borrow too heavily from The Lord of The Rings in tone. The Hobbit was written for children and is a much lighter tale. In my opinion they did a great job with this. I laughed a ton during this movie - way more than in a lot of comedies I've seen. At the same time while rereading the book I was surprised at how many scary and dangerous situations the characters find themselves in. While The Hobbit has a lighter tone, it is still a tale full of frightful scenes. Again they did a good job with this as I found myself just about holding my breath at times, cringing to see how the characters would get out of their dire situation. They struck a good balance of keeping it lighter but still having the darker scenes suspenseful. I wonder how many people who argue that they made the film too much like The Lord of The Rings would say so after reading The Hobbit again. They might be as surprised as I was at what they find in the book.

Okay so now that I've gushed over the film I will hit on the bits I didn't like. There were a few times they went too far with the action, breaking my suspension of disbelief. Some scenes that were not in the book were cool to see but didn't add much to the story. These should not have been added even though they were fun to watch. Sometimes the way the characters fought or escaped from bad guys was over the top enough for me to be pulled out of the story. It was very fun to watch and really entertaining, I'm sure even more so in 3D, but it was over the line for me. They could have made it exciting and kept us on the edge of our seats as they did so well in other places without pushing it so far as to be unbelievable. Okay, that's all you're getting out of me. If you want more on what was wrong with this movie, read other reviews. There's tons of haters out there.

Two characters really stand out to me in the movie. Bilbo is brilliant. I love him in the book, and I love him in the movie. He is a very likable character and it is fun to root for him. Martin Freeman could not have done a better job. Even in reviews I read that come down hard on the movie they feel that his performance was amazing. The scene where Bilbo gets the ring from Gollum is fantastic. As Frodo proves himself to the dwarves and wins their affections, he does so to the audience as well. He shouldn't be on this great adventure fraught with peril. He is a Baggins of bag end and belongs in his comfortable hobbit hole. But his Took side comes out and he proves to himself and everyone else that maybe he really should be on this journey and that it wouldn't be a success without him. Against all odds, this little hobbit proves to be a great addition to the company on their quest to slay Smaug the dragon.

The other character who stands out is Gandalf. I feel like I know him more from this one movie than all three of the Lord of The Rings films. He seems more well rounded as a character, more of a person than a mighty wizard protecting everyone with his great magic. One of my favorite parts of the film is when he explains to someone (I don't want to spoil anything) why he chose to bring Bilbo on the adventure. It was a very inspiring speech. It made me want to be a better man and try harder to live my life in a way that benefits others.

I could say so much more, but like I said I don't want to spoil anything. Obviously the story has been out since 1937, but I don't want to spoil the movie in the ways they chose to portray the book. So I will end by saying - yes I realize I'm a bit biased with the novel being one of my favorites and that I am a fan of Peter Jackson, but I absolutely loved the film and would easily give it five out of five stars. I can't wait to see it again and again and again.

Please feel free to leave comments on what you thought of the movie. I'm sure your opinions differ from mine. How so? Do you think the fact that I saw it in the traditional 24 frames per second helped me to enjoy my first viewing of this film? I hope to see this movie in the HFR of 48 frames per second and see if it changes the experience for me. I'm interested to see what people think of the movie who haven't read the books, so jump into the discussion in comments. As always, thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Hobbit Production Diaries

I am really excited to see the movie The Hobbit. I've been rereading the book, as you know if you saw my last post. This is my third read through. The first time was in 8th grade, and not for a school assignment, just for pleasure. Then I read it again after college, and now just before seeing the movie. I'm really enjoying it and I can't wait to see the scenes on the big screen. The last time I read it I remember after finishing it that I wanted to just start from the beginning and read it all over again. I loved it. It's always been one of my favorite novels. I'm going to see it in theaters this Saturday evening.

So in the last post I shared about the companion of posts you can check out while rereading it, and a great podcast that dives into the books and news and speculation on the upcoming movies. Now let me share some cool videos with you. You may already know about these, but Peter Jackson has been producing Production Diaries. These videos are a fun behind the scenes look at the making of the film. There are a ton of them to watch and most are at least 15 minutes long, so we're talking about quite a bit of content here. I have really been enjoying them and I appreciate seeing all the immense work that is done to make these films. Peter Jackson brings you right in like he's inviting a friend onto the set. It will make you want to see the film that much more and you too will appreciate what went into making it. I can't wait to see The Hobbit!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Are You Rereading The Hobbit Too?

If you're rereading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit as I am, I wanted to point you towards something really cool. Kate Nepveu rereads a book and then gives you an awesome post with her thoughts for each chapter of the book. Over at you can find some really cool posts about rereading different books. I first found out about them when I was looking for some good summaries of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series - because I've been in book 4 of that series for years and now I finally want to pick up that epic journey again an read to the end to see how Jordan and Brandon Sanderson finish it all off.

So you should definitely check out Tor's There and Back Again ... Again THE HOBBIT REREAD - especially if you don't want to reread the entire book but do want a fairly in depth look at it chapter by chapter to help you remember the book before you go to see the film in the theaters this month. I would say read the book and these awesome summaries.

Also check out the podcast Secrets of The Hobbit by the amazing podcaster Father Roderick. Yes, he is a Catholic Priest and apparently they make great podcasters!  He is so great and has a cool accent as he podcasts from the Netherlands. He also has a Secrets of Middle Earth podcast which is very good. Honestly this is one of the funnest podcasts I've listened to because he plays Lord of the Rings Online the game while recording the podcast, so he describes what he's looking at as he visits places like The Shire, and then goes into some of the history of the place and talks about characters and a lot of things from the books. It's incredible and I highly suggest you listen to that too. Here's the .mp3 of the first episode so you can hear what I'm talking about right now!

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Hugh Howey's Silo Books on Top

The world of Hugh Howey's silo books may take place under ground for the most part, but right now he is on top. I was just perusing Amazon this morning and look at what I saw:

Click To View at a Larger Size

That's right - his latest book in the Silo Series, Second Shift - Order is # 1 in High Tech Science Fiction, and # 3 in Science Fiction! If you read my review of the Wool Omnibus you'll know how amazing I thought the books were. Easily the best thing I've read in a long time, maybe ever. This just gives me more proof that I have good taste when it comes to my fiction :)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Need Some Holiday Cheer?

Are your long commutes or lines at the store turning you into a Scrooge? I have two solutions to get you into the Christmas mood.

One is my Christmas short story:
All I Want for Christmas 
is a V.R. Supercube

Audio not your thing?
Here's the free eBook
In every format you might need.

The other is the famous story by one of my favs of the classic lit authors Charles Dickens:

A Christmas Carol read by Jim Dale for free! (The Harry Potter narrator)
A Christmas Carol single read by Jeffrey Palmer from Penguin
A Christmas Carol multiple cast reading by Ohio University
A Christmas Carol in Audio & eBook format on the web, Single Read
(Fun for kids to follow along with)

And for those text lovers, here's a free eBook version of A Christmas Carol with illustrations! How cool is that? Thanks Project Gutenberg! Get the kindle version, or epub if you're use iBooks, Nook, Sony, or most other eReaders.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Huge Word Count Days Remembered

So NaNoWriMo is over. I wanted to ask all the writers in the crowd - what was your biggest day? By that I mean, what is the highest amount of words you wrote in one day? I can remember mine very well, like it happened yesterday. It was during my very first NaNoWriMo while writing my second novel four years ago. I can't remember the exact number, but I do remember one day writing over six thousand words in one sitting minus a bathroom break or two. It wasn't a Lowell, 10K in one day named after my favorite author Nathan Lowell, but it was thrilling! I was excited about it into the next day. I wanted to do it again. Pumping out the story like that, getting so much of it down felt so good. I can't wait to have the opportunity to do it again someday. I wasn't in a log cabin in the woods, but a cold unfinished room in the basement of our first house. It's the same room I finished my first novel in - a month or two before doing that first NaNoWriMo. I was writing it on my old college PC machine with the super old grey keyboard. I wrote it all in notepad because I loved the simple user interface. No squiggly lines telling me about incorrect spelling or grammar, just getting those words on the screen with no distractions. It was fantastic. So use those well practiced post NaNo fingers and write your highest word count memories in the comments below and let's all share in the glow of huge word count days as we look forwards to the upcoming holidays and sit back and rest a bit after cranking out the words in November. While I didn't get many words down this year, I clearly remember the excitement of those high word count days in years past and I'd love to hear about yours. Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Gearing Up

I am gearing up to write my novel. A few posts ago I explained why I wasn't getting any words on the page for NaNoWriMo because I've been studying story structure like crazy. Here I'll get down a bit more into the nuts and bolts of what I'm doing to prepare and why I might have much more time to write in the near future. I also have a short story that's nearing completion and I'll tell you what it's about. It's a sad story.

So I'm still in the process of fully planing out my story, down to the chapter, before I continue writing the first draft. I wrote three chapters, which I'm now revising to fit my new outline. I'm almost done defining all of the beats from Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet and putting them into the correct chapters on my outline. Once I have each chapter filled with a sentence or two I'm going to flesh out each chapter a bit more with one paragraph onto index cards. That is where I will attempt to make each chapter a little story of its own with a goal for the characters, a beginning, a middle, and an end, all with the purpose of moving the story forward. No more meandering chapters full of stuff that will need to be cut later. Yes, I know I will still find lots of stuff to cut in my second draft, but this time it will not be one or more chapters in a row like my last book. I'm excited to finish all this prep work and get back to writing, but it works because I don't have much time for writing right now.

My wife may be taking a job that has her working evenings. If she does, I'll get home from work and be on Daddy duty. Once I lay the kids down I would have a good hour and a half or more to focus on writing. Currently I really just can't find the time to write because I'm getting up super early for work, I get home and enjoy hanging with my amazingly wonderful family, then I have time to hang out with my wife. We usually talk and catch up on whatever TV shows we're into. I have been trying for a few years now, but I simply cannot write while watching TV - even if it's a show I hate! Even if it's a show I hate and I'm only trying to transcribe audio I recorded from my commute home! If the TV is on, my attentions are stolen away from writing. I have found that I can read comics, draw, and do a little bit of outlining while watching TV. Drawing is the only thing I can really be productive with though. It uses more of the right side of my brain and is effortless. I seriously can only write a few sentences over the course of an hour if the TV is on. When I have the rare opportunity to write in silence it is easy for me to blast out over 1,000 words in that time. So I'm trying to work on my drawing skills and eventually get back to producing some web comics. I've only done one and a half pages of one, adapting one of my novellas, but it's something I've always wanted to do. My favorite artists on YouTube who posts videos on how they draw are: Mike KoizumiMark Crilley, Sycra Yasin, and Xia Taptara. I've been learning some great stuff watching them draw and listening to their commentary as they crank out amazing work. It's pretty dang inspiring.
So right now I'm plotting and planning, drawing and studying anatomy, and gearing up to write my next and best novel to date. That's the plan anyway :) I'm also almost done with a short story I was writing for a local newspaper's short story contest. I didn't finish it in time, so instead I will be publishing it soon in eBook and audio. So there's something to look forward to, maybe. I'm really proud of the writing but it is a story about a boy going with his parents to have his pet dog put down. I might try and have the ending scene being him getting a new puppy on Christmas day so it doesn't end on such a blue note. Yeah, I think that would be a good idea. The theme of the short story contest was "The End," and somehow that story just came out. It might be me finally grieving for the loss of my childhood dog. He died quite a while ago, but it was right after both of my awesome grandpas had passed away within two months of each other so at the time my parent's dog dying, while I loved him very much, just wasn't really that big of a deal in comparison with my amazing grandfathers. I don't think I've ever written a super sad story. I've got to say it kind of takes it out of you - every time I write a bit more of the story I'm really sad while writing it. Hopefully that will come across to the reader. Thanks for stopping by, and feel free to leave a comment if you have anything to add to the discussion.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Method To The Madness has an Awesome Cover!

There is a certain anthology coming out next year, and above is the amazing cover for it. I submitted a story, or more like a humorous essay, to this anthology - and it was accepted! I am so excited! If you've read some of my previous blog posts you may already know this. This will be my very first piece of fiction published by a real publisher! How cool is that?! Very cool. Five Rivers Publishing is putting out this awesome anthology of essays on how to be a super evil mad scientist. It is very tongue in cheek and very fun. Check out this great blog post on their site where the cover artist Jeff Minkevics describes putting this rad cover together. A huge thank you to him, Five Rivers Publishing, and the two guys behind this awesome book Michell Plested and Jeffrey Hite who had the idea and gave much of their time to edit this book and make it better. My hat is off to both of those gentlemen. Even though I plan on mostly self publishing my fiction, I will never forget the first time I get published. It is going to be pretty sweet. I can't wait to hold a copy of the book in my hands and read all of the awesome stories and essays written by the other authors in the anthology. Sometime next year, for the first time, I will get to hold a published book with my writing in it. It is a day I really look forward to.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A NaNoWriMo Update and Studying Story Structure

This is my fourth year doing NaNoWriMo, and it is the worst I have ever done, but that's okay. I've barely written two days worth of words. Even though I wish I have been using this time to put a whole bunch of words on the page, I've still been using my time well. I'm building a foundation that will improve all of my writing moving forward. I have been studying plot and story structure like crazy. I have written a couple thousand words, but mostly I've been studying. After finally putting one of my novels through more than one draft (three) and handing it off to beta readers, a process which took a huge amount of time, I saw how much was still wrong with my book. Even after all my revisions and rewriting my manuscript is a mess. The feedback helped me see a lot of the major things that were wrong with it. Talking about it with my friend and co-host of the Pen Fights Gamepad podcast  Donald Conrad helped a lot. He did me a solid and read through it three times! I still can't believe that. He said something to the effect of I have a good story, it's just hidden behind a hall of mirrors. It is buried between unneeded scenes and scenes that need way more. 

I think I'm a decent writer, but I did so many things wrong in my novel even after three drafts that I see I have a long way to go to become a good storyteller. It may be a case of changing what the book was so many times, but I'm thinking it's mostly that it was only the second novel I've written. Time and time again the advice for writers I hear the most is to write. Get words on the page, then do it again and keep doing it. I think this is great advice. I don't think I could wrap my head around all this structuring the story of my novel business until I proved to my self a couple times that I could actually write a whole novel. As they say you need to get all the bad words out, and write a million bad ones until you can start writing good ones. There is a lot to be said for just finishing a novel. Finishing is the hardest part in some ways. The problem is that now I know I can write a novel, once it's written though there is so much wrong with it that I cringe at the thought of revising, rewriting, and fixing it because it will be so much work. I don't mind doing the work and even enjoy revising to make the writing better - I just don't want to have to do such a massive overhaul evertime I hit the second draft of a novel. The more I study the more I learn that almost every successful story follows the same three act structure, so if I don't know this structure and put my story into it, I'm going to run into a lot of problems. Problems like boring the reader, or not having an engaging story. I don't want to write another novel until I feel that I fully understand plot structure and can apply it to my stories before I begin writing them.

It reminds me of art school. I was trying to get better at drawing and so I spent at least an hour drawing in my sketchbook everyday. The problem was I was just drawing whatever seemed to take shape out of my imagination when I should have been studying things like anatomy. If I wanted to draw characters I needed to know anatomy first. I could draw from my imagination in my sketchbook as much as I wanted, and yes I slowly got better but not by much, or I could study what I was trying to draw first, get the structure of how it it supposed to go down, then let fly with my imagination and draw characters. When I analyse the stories I have written with this structure it helps me see right away major things that are out of place or not there. I think I finally have a method now. 

I'm getting my current project "The Truth About Zombies" broken down into an outline with all of the story points in the right places down to each chapter. I decided I wanted this to be a shorter novel, 60K words, and so I broke that length up into 2,500 word chapters. Then I took tools like Dan Well's 7 Point Story Structure, and Blake Snyder's Save The Cat Beat Sheet and wrote out all of the major plot or story points of my novel. The Save The Cat Beat Sheet is for movie scripts, but the story structure is the same as what a great novel should have, and it has the page number each story point should be at on a 110 page script. You can use that number by turning it into a percentage, and get the word count and chapter those plot points should be at in your novel. I know I want my novel to be 60K words and have 2.5K word chapters so it will be 24 chapters long. I know that the turn from Act I into Act II should be about 25% of the way into the story so I will put it at the end of chapter 6. Obviously my midpoint, which Dan Wells tells us should have characters go from reacting to the problem to taking action in solving it, will start in chapter 13, or be set up by the end of chapter 12. I've already written the first 3 chapters of my novel, but already this has shown me that I had things in the wrong places. For example, the B story usually involves the romantic part of your story and should start around page 30 of your script. 30 divided by 110 is .27 so that is about 27% through the story. My B story started in chapter two which is much too early, and I was having trouble figuring out how to flesh out the chapters to get me to the next plot point. Now I know why. I also had the midpoint too early in my book. It looks like I rush things. I was using the 7 point system but not spreading them out to the right places so I would rush to the next point much too fast. So now I'm revising the first three chapters so that all the plot points will be in the right place.

Planning out my book by chapters instead of just writing one massive chunk of text and organizing it into chapters after the fact is proving to be amazing. Now I want each chapter to be a little story of it's own and leave the reader in a place of wanting more at the end. Instead of having things just kind of move along I can plan out all the important things that need to happen in my story and then break them all into the places they need to be. I'm excited. I'm taking the Save The Cat Beat Sheet and placing all the beats into the chapters they need to be in my outline, which is helping me know what all the chapters need to be doing to move the story along. I'm excited and I think this will be my best book yet and one that will actually keep my beta readers wanting to turn the page instead of taking copious notes telling me why they're getting bored or asking why I put things in the story, or why the chapter breaks when it does, and so on and so forth. :)

I used to think writing was all about getting the most beautiful sentences down, but now I see the real challenge is in crafting a great story. One that moves your reader to turn the page and brings them through a journey taking the characters from one place to another. People don't take on huge projects without planning and knowing the structure of what they need to do. From now on I'm going to have everything planned out and know just how I'm going to get from Act I, to Act II, to the midpoint, and the grande finale. I can't wait to write a novel with these new tools in my tool belt. It is going to be another amazing learning experience on my long path of becoming a great novelist. As always, thanks for stopping by and I'd love any comments you have.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hugh Howey's Wool Series

There will be no Movie Memory guest post today. As I'm sure many of you are, I'm busy. NaNoWriMo is going on, and a lot of other transitions in my life have happened recently. I haven't been writing for NaNoWriMo because I'm sick of writing full novels and having so much wrong with them that I need to fix - so I've been studying plot structure like my life depends on it. I'm hoping to get my outline fully laid out and then try and sprint towards the end of the month to get my 50K. We'll see.

So I have something else to share with you, and though there's no fun Movie Memory guest blog post today I promise you this will be just as good if not better. I've been reading the Wool series by Hugh Howey, and it has been blowing me away. It is SO good! Here's the description from Amazon:

Thousands of them have lived underground. They've lived there so long, there are only legends about people living anywhere else. Such a life requires rules. Strict rules. There are things that must not be discussed. Like going outside. Never mention you might like going outside.
Or you'll get what you wish for.

It is very well written, and an amazing story that captures your imagination and intrigues you so that you have to keep reading to find out more about the world and what will happen to the characters. So you're busy right? Well that's okay - the first book in the Wool series is very short, and you can pick it up for free! As Levar Burton used to say on The Reading Rainbow, "You don't have to take my word for it." So with no cost you can now read the first book in the series that has captured me this month. Hugh wrote the first one and published it, just to get the story out of his head. Then the readers all loved it so much that they demanded more, so he wrote four more books in the series and you can now purchase them all in one place as the Wool Omnibus. I picked it up as an audio book on Audible, and I've really been enjoying it. The narrator Minnie Good does a great job with it. She's really good. The best part of all this is that there is a new book out, First Shift - Legacy, that gives you the back story of the world, explaining how it came to be - something I can't wait to read! You can also check out his website and see how far along he is in the next Silo book, so you know that even after you finish the latest installment there is still more to come. There you go guys, my early Christmas gift to you - actually it's Hugh Howey's gift to all of us. Great stories with fantastic writing. Go grab Wool Book 1 and get to reading so you can see what I'm talking about! What are you waiting for? It's free! You're welcome - and to Hugh Howey: thank you and keep writing.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Movie Memories 08 | Justin R. Macumber

Download the .mp3

A Long Time Ago, In A Drive-In Far, Far Away…

We human beings are such a mess of thoughts, histories, experiences, and emotions that it’s hard to know why we are the way we are. The smallest incident can have the biggest impact, yet we can be oblivious to the large changes that shape our psyche. As the bard said, “Man is a giddy, flighty thing.” I’m sure thousands of therapists and psychiatrists would agree. I’m just as prone to it as the next guy. But, there was one moment in my past that I clearly remember as a pivotal one in my development not just as a human being, but also as a life-long geek. It happened on a dark evening in the summer of 1977, in a dusty Kansas drive-in, with me on the roof of my parents’ car. If you’re a fellow geek, you know exactly what I’m talking about.


Yep, I can remember it as though it happened yesterday. I was four and a half years old, pie-eyed, and sweaty from having played with other little kids in the drive-in’s playground in the space just in front of the huge movie screen. The screen was really just some whitewashed boards, but to my young mind it was a portal to another world. Once the sun was down and the speakers hanging from metal poles crackled to life, I ran my tiny legs off to get back to the car so I could see what new delight was in store. When the 20th Century Fox logo blasted across the screen with John William’s music, a huge smile spread across my face. But, what was to come would take that smile and turn it into something truly special – a slack-jawed “O” of amazement.

What was my young mind to think when the diamond-speckled black of space was eclipsed by that massive Star Destroyer as it hounded Princess Leia’s blockade runner? I’d never seen its like before, and my synapses shot sparks as cannon fire and explosions rocked the screen. Then there were men in stark corridors, some frightened and some resolute, but all holding a blaster and ready to defend their ship. Suddenly more explosions! Bad men in white armor! Red and blue energy bolts lancing this way and that! Death! Smoke! And then… Oh, and then that figure in black, with the helmet and the breathing as he strode onto his conquest. I’m telling you, it was enough to send me reeling. I was mesmerized, captivated, enthralled. It was just too much, yet in a strange way it was also only the beginning.

Little did I know at the time how much, and how deeply, George Lucas was affecting my brain. Over the course of that evening I was wholly turned into a sci-fi loving nerd of the highest order. Sports? Boring! Police shows on television? Meh. For me, if it didn't have lasers and starships, I wasn't interested. Over time I discovered the fantasy elements that were not-so-subtly ingrained in the Star Wars story, so I came to love the fantasy genre as well, and then in my teens I came to love horror too. But, my first love was Star Wars, so I will always be a sci-fi guy in my deepest core, and I couldn't be more proud.

Being a geek from such an early age brought a lot of great things into my life. It brought a love of reading, a love of gaming (both electronic and paper & dice), a love of technology, and most importantly a love of writing. When other kids were off playing baseball, I was at my desk writing stories, learning how to operate a computer, or reading Asimov. Now that I sit here as a pudgy older guy I think perhaps I should have given that sports thing another try, but I wouldn't trade a day of my past if it meant giving up who I am. I love who I am. I was a nerd before it was cool, and I’ll be a nerd long after it’s passed out of fashion. My wife, who’s a fellow nerd herself, loves me too, and we encourage each other to be all the geeks we can be.

Thank you, Mr Lucas. I wouldn't be who I am right now were it not for you. People can hate on you all they like, cast all the aspersions they want at the prequel trilogy (I have issues with them too), but I will always owe you a great debt of gratitude for helping me become the man, husband, son, friend, writer, and nerd that I am today. You started me on this journey, and I feel blessed that my introduction into this strange life was begun by your visionary tale of a farm boy on another planet whose destiny was greater than he ever imagined. You made me think I could be that boy, and my destiny will be the same. Thank you, and may the Force be with you.


Justin R. Macumber

Justin is the author of HAYWIRE, a science fiction novel published by Gryphonwood Press and available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, the iTunes Bookstore, and His second novel, a post-apocalyptic urban fantasy entitled A MINOR MAGIC, is forthcoming by Crescent Moon Press. His website is at He is also the creator and co-host of the Dead Robots’ Society podcast, a podcast made by writers for writers. It can be found at You can also follow Justin on twitter.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Movie Memories 07 | J.R. Murdock

Download the .mp3

I haven’t always been a cynic when it comes to movies. Honest. I know I’ve posted many critical movie reviews and I have a tendency to tear apart movies, but I really like watching them (even the bad ones). Honest.

The first movie I saw in a theater was in Tamarack, MN (some 20 miles away from where I lived) when I was…oh…6? My memory as a kid can be foggy. But I do remember sitting on basically concrete steps like it was some ancient theater (yes, others had seats) and the movie was projected on a mostly white brick wall over there (yes, some theaters had screens). Needless to say the theater wasn’t much of a theater, but there was popcorn, and a movie. We saw the Jungle Book.

NO! I’m not THAT old!

It was a reshowing of the original. Sure I’d seen it on the small screen many times. I’d seen a lot of movies. I loved watching movies. Once I saw something on the big screen, I was shocked! It was great.

The second movie I saw in Aitkin MN (some 40 miles away) a few years later. Yes, going to the movies was an event. We got all dressed up and headed over. It was quite a drive (nearly an hour) and we got there early to make sure we got good seats. I didn’t even know what movie we were there to see. I don’t recall the previews. What I do remember was the words crawling up the screen.

Oh My God! Oh My God! Oh My God! (Yes, this was in the days long before OMG was a thought)

It was the Empire Strikes Back! I had seen Star Wars many, many times on television and was so excited to see the sequel. I think I actually started bouncing in my seat as I ate my popcorn and drank my soda and chewed my red vines (not all at the same time mind you). I sat mesmerized by the visions on the screen. The massive explosions. The bright lights. The music!

Quick aside, nearly all of my viewing up to that point was poor due to my need for glasses that I didn’t have. Once I had glasses, watching things became completely different . Still everything I saw was on a tiny TV that got a lot of static due to our location just next door to the middle of nowhere.

To see Star Wars in such huge clarity with sound I didn’t have to strain to listen to and no commercials!


I had to excuse myself when I was certain it was a slow point in the movie. I ran as fast as I could trying not to trip as I walked backwards up the aisle. I did my business as quickly as I could and got back to the movie. NO! How did Luke escape? What happened? What did I miss?


Yes, I’ve seen the Empire Strikes Back many, many times since. I burned out my Video Tapes I had of them and had to buy new copies. I have them on DVD, but I doubt I’ll get the Blue Ray. To this day I still have not seen the Empire Strikes Back without interruption. Be it a phone call, a bathroom break, a knock at the door. It’s like life knows I’m watching this movie.

Even when I went to the theater to see the updated versions, The Empire Strikes Back had something wrong with the playback and the movie cut in the middle and we had to wait 10 minutes for it to restart. I even joked with my friend that something will happen. Sure enough, fate intervened.

I have seen a lot of movies over the years in a lot of different theaters. Yes, I’m cynical and critical of the movies I see. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the experience of buying my popcorn, my soda, my red vines, and taking my seat with the hopeful anticipation that I’ll be entertained for the next 1.5-3+ hours. I doubt I’ll ever stop seeing movies.

I think I’ll go throw in the Empire Strikes Back and see what interrupts me this time.

J.R. Murdock is an avid reader of almost anything he can get his hands on. That being said, he also writes with near reckless abandon in any and every genre. His style is intended for pure entertainment. Over the years he’s written nine novels and over one hundred short stories. Only a few short stories have seen print (in actual print and on the web) so he’s decided to throw his hat into the podcasting arena with his novel V & A Shipping. Since then he has also podcast his novel Billy Barbarian and released his YA novel Astel: Chosen, not to mention the great short stories he's podcast in his Murdockian Tales series. Find out more at Also from J.R. Murdock look for the Action Pack Podcast at There he'll be spinning a serial western steampunk tale called Golden West. The podcast and eBook formats drop once a month starting this February. When not writing like a mad-man, J.R. Murdock does have a day job as a computer programmer and loves to spend time with his lovely wife and beautiful daughter.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

"Danthology" Available Now

My anthology "Danthology" is now available at Smashwords, Amazon Kindle, and Apple's iBook store. It will be in Barnes and Noble online, and many other online retailers soon. It is a collection of all my short stories in one place. In the order they appear you will find Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Thriller genres. These stories are a mix of children's stories, middle grade, young adult, and genre fiction for adults - though all of it would be rated no more than PG. You can listen to all of the stories for free, or get them all as individual eBooks for free on Smashwords, but I thought it would be nice to have them all in one place for a cheap price in case anyone just wanted to snag them all in one download. I also wanted to have a way to put these stories in Amazon's Kindle store. As a self published author I cannot make my books free on Amazon, so I put them all together for a buck. You'll find that the stories have been through another editing pass from the podcast edition, but nothing more than grammar or a different turn of phrase has ever been changed. As I write more short stories I will be adding them to this anthology, so check back for updates. If you've purchased the book you can always go back and download it again to get the new stories. Thanks for stopping by and enjoy! I hope you had a very happy Halloween and if you're doing NaNoWriMo this year be sure to become my writing buddy. I made it easy with a button on the upper right of my website. Now go get that 1,667 words for the day!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

eBook Anthology Cover

Do you like A, B, or C?

You can click on an image to bring it front and center, then easy switch between the two. Thanks for your comments!

UPDATE - Thanks to some great feedback I've simplified the cover. Check out C at the bottom of this post.




Friday, October 26, 2012

Movie Memories 06 | Dave Robison

Download the .mp3

“The Man Who Would Be King” or How John Huston Saved My Life

By Dave Robison

John Huston saved my life.

It was 1982 and I was flailing my way through my freshman year of college at the University of Michigan, wondering what the hell I was doing.

I was studying theater because I was good at it (like the Latino kids taking Spanish as their foreign language in high school back in Cheyenne), but I didn’t have a plan. I figured I didn’t need one. Someone would see just how charming and talented I was and I wouldn’t have to actually work again.

That was my goal... to not do anything I didn’t want to do. To achieve that goal, I’d emotionally sabotage any project or goal that involved more work than my feeble commitment could endure or investing the bare minimum effort that would allow me to move forward. Life beyond next week was uninteresting and irrelevant so I never really looked beyond the next few days.

My check book was overdrawn (again) and the bank fees for all the bounced checks I’d been writing totaled in the hundreds of dollars. That old joke, “I can’t be overdrawn, I still have checks” was the gospel truth for my freshman self. When money came from home, I’d settle my accounts and be broke again, thus rebooting the whole vicious cycle.

I’d just donated plasma and had ten bucks in my pocket and a fresh pack of Marlboro Lights (I couldn’t even commit to smoking full cigarettes). I was feeling flush but, as I walked down State Street, the grey chill of the day made me huddle in on myself. My mind followed my body’s lead. Thoughts turning inward are never a good idea for someone as messed up as I was. I knew what I was doing, recognized the patterns of shallow destruction I was wrecking on my life. College was an opportunity, an expensive opportunity, and my parents had sacrificed a lot to make it possible.

I remember physically wincing at the thought, and guilt hollowing out my insides. I flinched away, shaking it off, and looked up. It was early afternoon, but the clouds had dimmed the light enough to trip the sensor on the sign over the State Street Theater. Bulbs glowed warm and the marque shown in white neon relief.

Michael Caine Sean Connery The Man Who Would Be King 2 6

It was just before two o’clock, I had money, lungs full of nicotine, it was cold and I was feeling sorry for myself. I flicked the cigarette into the gutter, hoping I looked like James Dean, knowing I didn’t, and went inside.

The State Street Theater was an old theater with thick carpeting, lots of columns and dark wood panels and brass accents. Everything was worn and a little threadbare, tarnished and sagging under the burden of its long tenure as a movie theater, but I liked that. The discolored edges of the brass meant a thousand hands had worn away the factory gilt over the years to expose the metal underneath. The shoes scuffing the carpet, shoulders brushing the textured wallpaper, spilled drinks, faded colors... it gave the place substance and validated its existence. Look at all I’ve endured and I’m still here.

My ticket purchase broke the ten dollar bill into a smaller stack of ones. It had more substance but I felt significantly less flush so I strolled past the concessions counter and went straight to the theater. One theater, not a partitioned multiplex of cinematic indulgence, single tall wide screen rising against a sea of velvety maroon seats. There were maybe twenty people in the entire theater. I sat in the precise middle seat and waited. The theater dimmed to dark, the screen flickered with light, and the movie began.

To sum up without spoilers: A couple of rogues (Peachy Carnehan and Daniel Dravits) feel the British Empire had gotten too small for the likes of them and strike into the heart of unexplored India to become kings. They’re tested in many ways, achieve their goal, discover an even more mind-boggling opportunity, seize it, and then fall from grace. It’s a tragedy, a cautionary tale of the dangers of hubris.

Connery and Caine were their usual selves. I don’t consider either of them brilliant actors, but they are honest actors and that honesty and authenticity is, I suppose, a kind of brilliance. It was while watching this movie that they were added to the (very short) list of my favorite actors.

I related to their characters as only an arrogant college freshman can. “That’s me,” I remember thinking as the plot of the movie was revealed, “The world is too small for me, too,” even though I had yet to accomplish anything more significant than debt and a few roles in some academic stage productions.

But Huston’s gift as a film maker was the authenticity with which he told his larger-than-life stories. As the saga unfolded across stark sweeping vistas, scenes barely framed by the enormous screen threatening to burst the edges with their grandeur, my post-adolescent hubris was silenced by a beautifully told story.

To become truly lost in something – to the extent that your entire sense of self is extinguished for a time – can be a powerful and liberating experience. I think we all acquire emotional “gunk” as we go through our lives. Comfortable repetitions, even more comfortable lies and delusions, little tiny compromises and concessions we make all build up gradually, coating the framework of who and what we are... or are trying to be. Some of it might grease the machine, but most of it hides the shiny foundational gridwork that lies at our core.

In those moments immediately after losing yourself utterly, you are given a fleeting moment of clarity. The coat of gunk has been lifted off you and now, as you return to yourself, you can see and feel it settling back, filling the crevasses of your spirit, coating once more the gleam of your best parts.

I’d love to say that I was like Scrooge after his visitations, that I cast of my Gunk Coat, leapt from my seat, called my parents begging their forgiveness, took two jobs to pay my debt, and still finished college with a 3.8 GPA. I didn’t. I let that coat of emotional self-gratifying indulgence settle back over me like an addict welcomes the drug.

But I saw it. I saw the gunk, I saw what it was and what it was doing to me. And I briefly saw the gleam that it had hidden.

John Huston showed me two criminals who – through sheer determination and belief in their personal mythology of glorious destiny – stumble upon a profound truth only to lose it and be damned for it. In telling that story, Huston gave me a chance to look at mine.

Seeing this movie was my first realization that we all have might and glory inside us, that the key to our destiny lies squarely in the choices we make and our reactions to the hardships we face. With that conviction, I found a small bit of solid ground to stand upon. With that fragile foothold, my life started to move towards what it has become.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dave Robison has indulged in creative pursuits his entire life.  His CV includes writing Curious George fan-fiction at the age of eight, improv theater at age ten, playing trumpet at age twelve, as well as a theater degree, creating magazine cover art, writing audio scripts, designing websites, creating board games, hosting mythological roundtables and generally savoring the sweet draught of expression in all its forms.  His years of exploration give him a unique, informed, and eloquent perspective on the art of storytelling. He is also a co-host of the Roundtable Podcast where he, his co-host Brion Humphrey, and a guest author listen to a guest writer spin their tale and then work shop it until they've achieved literary gold. Dave is also involved with the super fun Protecting Project Pulp, and you can follow him on Twitter @WritersPodcast.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Movie Memories 05 | Sally Preston

Download the .mp3

My earliest memory of a movie is epic, towering, massive. It includes innocence, a sense of peace, tragedy, horror and yes even a high-speed chase!

Picture it, June, 1981. I was four, those who know me best won’t have any trouble picturing what I looked like and my general demeanor. For those of you who don’t, think Shirley Temple if she were very precocious.

My parents, very involved in their church had volunteered to chaperon a Luther League trip to see Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. My parents, who must have figured I would sleep through most of it anyway, brought me along.

And they were right.... mostly.

I was thrilled! I got to go to a movie! There was popcorn, Mom, Dad and a theme song that would make anybody want to go out and buy a Fedora!

Shortly into the start of the movie, as predicted I fell asleep. Comfy, napping, content ... and then it happened ... I woke up.

Exactly as the faces were melting!

Not only did the entire theater get what I’m sure was an earful of a scream, but I took off running! Through the theater, out the theater and down the mall! I didn’t get very far, naturally my folks were right on my heels, I was instantly comforted and calmed down.

But as I look back, I picture a four year old me, a head full of Shirley Temple Curls, wearing the infamous brown fedora, running through the mall in slow motion, villagers chasing after me, lead by my parents; all the while the wonderful orchestrations of John Williams play the theme song that says it all.

“C’mon, short round!”

Sally Preston is a wife, music teacher and mother of three. She currently resides in Des Moines, Iowa where she enjoys soaking up the rich cultural events Des Moines has to offer. She also is an avid scrapbooker and most of all enjoys spending time with her family.