24 June 2012

The Secret

Okay, there is no secret, no Golden Ticket that will lead you as an aspiring author to fame, fortune and the most awesome books on the planet.  That you’ve written, I mean.

Other authors, agents and editors alike may spew a few tidbits of advice in this category, but when it comes down to it, they all say the same thing.

Write a great story.

Sounds trite.  Sounds rehearsed. Sometimes it even sounds like they make it up so they don’t have to tell you the real secret to getting published and be able to live off of your writing habit.

After hearing it from dozens of agents, as many editors and more authors than I could kill off in an end of the world story, I’m thinking it’s true.

Write a great story.  They may also say write the story only you can write.  These comments often get brushed aside in a mad frenzy to uncover that one golden nugget of publishing info that will propel you into book signing stardom. 

I’m not sure what we’re all expecting.  Maybe something like, “I need all of my main characters to be able to do origami, parasail and sew pillows,” or, “Every plot should have a three legged dog in it.” That’s what I secretly hope for, but after hearing the “write a great story” yet again this week at Writing and Illustrating for Your Readers (WIFYR), I’m going to have to acquiesce.

Writing a great story is a long, arduous, grueling process that can take years.  Which, by the way, is not the timeframe I want to see on any project.  Years?  I don’t have years!  Like a Blizzard from Dairy Queen, I want it five minutes ago!  Have it ready for me when I drive up and I might give you a  tip.

I will go into more detail of the awesomeness of WIFYR in subsequent blog posts.  For now, let me tell you that I am embarking on a new novel, and I plan to use everything I’ve ever learned about writing and storytelling and character development and pacing and outlining and the find and replace command to make it the best story it can possibly be.  That is my plan. Wish me luck.

14 June 2012

Too Much Thought

Today me, another black belt and a brown belt played Monkey in the Middle at Kempo class.

What is this Monkey in the Middle, do you ask?

Well, it goes like this.  Student 1 stands on one side, and student 2 stands on the other side, and one poor sucker gets to stand in the middle.  The Monkey in the  Middle faces student 1.  Student 1 attempts to punch the Monkey, who is supposed to pull off a technique.  If the Monkey manages that, then they turn around and get the same treatment from student 2.  If the Monkey pulls off a technique on student 2, then they get to go back to student 1.  When the Monkey finally messes up (which happens far to often) they’re out and another, er, victim takes their place.

Being black belts (or close to it) the time between turning around and someone punching at you is, well, no time at all.  If you’re lucky they’re still dragging themselves off the floor from when you tossed them on the last go around and you get a half a second to think.

Which is bad.  Thinking is bad.  Well, okay, thinking is good, but only if it’s forward thinking and not backward thinking.

Let me explain.  There is a particular technique called Easy Leopard (I personally think that the word easy should not be in the name) that I struggle with.  There are a few well-placed punches and then a sweep from behind.  Without actually hitting the person twice in the ribs, once to the temple and then once with your elbow on their back (which would certainly put them stumbling and in a bad situation), it’s rather difficult to do the sweep.

So I got all focused on the sweep, did it fantastically, turned around…and promptly forgot what I had planned to do.  In order not to get hit by the next person, I have to start thinking about what I’m going to do before I finish the technique I’m doing. If I dwell on what I just did, the next part falls all to pieces.  And it did.  And I got hit.


As I’m punching in for the next Monkey, it came to me that I have the same problem when I write.

Punch.  Whack, whack, sweep—ouch.  Get up off floor.

When I write, I tend to try to make the bit I’m working on the best it can be.  Which is good.  But I get all caught up in wondering if I’m using all of the writing tools that I could be, and if I’m leaving out something important or if I could say the whole thing in a better way.  And as I…

Punch, whack, whack, whack.

…get all caught up in what I’m doing then, I forget to look forward to what’s coming up.  Then I get sucker punched as I realize that my mind is stuck in the last chapter and I can’t figure out where the next chapter should go.

I don’t have an answer to this yet.  But I’m going to try not to get hit in the face every other chapter.  Blocking with your face is bad.

10 June 2012


Possession by Elena Johnson

(From Amazon)
Vi knows the rule: Girls don’t walk with boys, and they never even think about kissing them. But no one makes Vi want to break the rules more than Zenn…and since the Thinkers have chosen him as Vi’s future match, how much trouble can one kiss cause? The Thinkers may have brainwashed the rest of the population, but Vi is determined to think for herself.

But the Thinkers are unusually persuasive, and they’re set on convincing Vi to become one of them…starting by brainwashing Zenn. Vi can’t leave Zenn in the Thinkers’ hands, but she’s wary of joining the rebellion, especially since that means teaming up with Jag. Jag is egotistical, charismatic, and dangerous—everything Zenn’s not. Vi can’t quite trust Jag and can’t quite resist him, but she also can’t give up on Zenn.
This is a game of control or be controlled. And Vi has no choice but to play.

I met Elena Johnson at a writing conference last year, and found her to be hilarious. So I bought her book. Her spunky and snarky personality come through loud and clear in Possession.

Why did I read this book again?
The premise sounds cool, and when I read the query letter at the writing conference last year, I was ready to buy the book right there. (It was better than the above blurb.)
3 out of 5

Vi (the heroin) straddles the line between being tough as nails and fragile as glass. The two boys (yes, love triangle...you all know how I feel about the love triangle...hate them) are okay. Zenn is the dependable one and Jag is the sexy, more alive one. The set up for the characters is good, but by the end I wasn't as impressed as I wanted to be by them.

3 out of 5

Did I care what happened?
I really wanted to cheer for these characters, but when it came down to it I found the leads annoying. Everyone is lying to everyone, and they flip fop about how they feel about each other and what's going on around them so much that I felt like I had emotional whiplash by the time I finished the book. And not in a good way. And since it took me a LONG time to actually finish the novel, I have to say I didn't care as much as I could have.

2 out of 5

Plot Holes
There are a lot of awesome things going on in the world: mass destruction followed by people who control everyone so everyone is good, Goodies, Baddies, lots of cool technology and a slew of ridiculous rules that are just begging to be broken.
However, there were way too many things that happened through or by “coincidence” for my taste. Also, I sill have no idea what is really going on. This concept works for some books, but not usually for me. It was like watching Anime—they never seem to explain anything.

2 out of 5

How many times did I yawn?
The novel was never un-exciting, but I had a hard time caring as much as I wanted to. And I rolled my eyes a lot at Vi and Jag. Really you two, just figure out what you want. Don't have an emotional fight every single 5-page chapter

2 out of 5

Cool Factor
With as much as she packed into this first novel, I'd say the cool factor was pretty high. Teenager girls will love it, I think.

4 out of 5

The End
This book does not have a happy ending. I was warned, and wasn't expecting one. The end itself was a great hook into book 2 (which comes out pretty quick if I remember right) and I thought it was okay. Not great, but okay.

3 out of 5

Overall Enjoyment
Liked the premise and the voice for the main character.
I've been trying to figure out why this book didn't grab me. And I came up with this...Did you see the Hunger Games? Remember how the whole dang thing was filmed? Kind of jerky and never really focusing on the point of the shot for more than a fraction of a second? That's how I felt this book was written. Everything felt short and jerky, and as I reader I never got to settle down into story enough to enjoy the journey.
That might not make sense to anyone else. I wouldn't be surprised.
Seriously, angsty, teenage girls will love this. I'm not the book's audience, so my judgment may be a bit harsh.
Because I really like Elena Johnson, I'm going to add an extra point to this one.

3 out of 5


That's a Purple Belt!

06 June 2012

Men in Black 3

Men In Black III

Agent J travels in time to MIB's early years in the 1960s, to stop an alien from assassinating his friend Agent K and changing history.

Before we start, I have to admit that I remember nothing of the second movie. Just that it wasn't great. So there won't be any comparing in here.

Why did I come to this movie again?
Aliens, the Men in Black, a young (possibly happy agent K) and a good laugh.
4 out of 5

Love these guys. Emma Thompson was a great addition!
5 out of 5

Did I care what happened?
Yes! I thought there was a good balance between inner and outer conflict going on. I felt bad for Agent K when Agent J was trying to make him talk about his feelings.
4 out of 5

Plot Holes
Nothing glaring that I remember at the moment. I'm sure if you dove into the whole time travel thing someone who cared more would have strong feelings on the matter. I liked the guys jumping off the buildings during the stock market crash.
4 out of 5

How many times did I yawn?
None. I didn't get bored at all.
4 out of 5

Cool Factor
A decent balance of effects as well as fun gadgets. The old timer MIB equipment cracked me up.
4 out of 5

The End
Didn't see it coming, which is great!
5 out of 5

Overall Enjoyment
4 out of 5, just because I didn't feel the need to chatter about the movie endlessly when I got home. I liked it, but apparently didn't LOVE it.

That's a Brown Belt

Good Job MIB3!

05 June 2012

Jo's Belt System for Movie and Book Reviews

Since I'm pretty much horrible at writing reviews about books and movies and such, I decided to give myself a system to follow. It's good for everyone, because it should keep me from rambling.

I'll introduce the movie, probably with the blurb from IMDB or the back cover of the book (because I suck at them) and maybe some opening comments.

Each movie or book will receive a score 1-40.
White Belt is 1-10
Yellow Belt is 11-20
Purple Belt is 21-30
Brown Belt is 31-35
Black Belt is 36-40

(Please, do not rage about the belt system. There are like a thousand, and I did consider making them plaid, polka doted, see-through, paisley and shiny, but refrained. Mostly because I couldn't find pictures...)

To get their scores, each movie or book will be judged (by me) in the following categories, worth 5 points each.

Why did I come to this movie/read this book again?
The hook and why I was excited to partake of this particular title. Unless I'm forced against my will, the hook will usually score high.

Are they awesome? Did I want to kill them? Did I cheer when the good guy got injured, or did I cry when the love of her life drove off into the distance with the bimbo next door? Where would I take them to dinner if I had the chance? My thoughts and harsh judgments of the characters.

Did I care what happened?
Or was I, once again, kind of hoping the bad guy would actually win? Oops, did that sparkly vampire just get staked in the heart? (Sorry, had to be done.)

Plot Holes
Now that I've written half a dozen novels and a few seasons of Babes in Spyland, I'm more forgiving of little plot holes, but if they rub me the wrong way, you bet you're going to hear about them here.

How many times did I yawn?
Or did I come out of it with finger nail marks in the palms of my hands?

Cool Factor
Impress me. Please.

The End
If the character I liked the most died, you will hear about it (no spoilers, just rage). If the end made no sense, I will let you know. Or if the end left me teary eyed and/or wishing for more, I'll express that as well.

Overall Enjoyment
I know I liked a movie if I cheer in the theater, have to keep from clapping or wish I had another package of tissues in my purse. The same goes for books. I enjoy books and movies, and usually find some part of the experience to love. You'll hear about that here.

Each category will be scored, and then I will add them up. You can trust me, I am qualified to use a calculator. The amount of points the movie/book scores will determine the belt ranking it gets.

Pretty easy, right? And it might even make sense. :) 
I'll try one out tomorrow.

03 June 2012

Is there Always a Right Answer? Part 3

One  more entry on this, and someday I’m sure I’ll come back to the concept.

Another question to consider is this, “What do I want to do to this person who has so foolishly attacked me with a knife?”

Does he have friends around?   How many of them vs. how many of you?  How are you going to get away? Or do you plan to hold him in an arm bar with your pinkie finger while you call the cops?

All of these things will help you decide what to do.  If he’s got friends, you should probably take him out quick and hard.  If you don’t want to hurt him (drunk friend of whatever) then disarming would be the way go to with a follow up hold so you can “chat.” 

The same thing applies as you write.  What are you trying to do to your reader and why?  Is this whole scene a set up for something bigger?  Is the deep dark secret of your series revealed here?  Or is this the introduction of the love interest?

You see, you would use totally different tools depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.  What kind of tension are you looking at here, and what is the character conflicted about?  Are you going to hit them below the belt, or fake them out?

I guess I need to go into writing tools after all of this talk about them.  There are about a million, so I won’t get too excited.  And I need to review them as much as ever.  Each new story brings a new set of issues to first mess up and then resolve.  Combinations are important, because one-hit-wonders only work once.

But we’ll go into that some other time.