Welcome To My Blog

Ever wonder what it's like to be in that moment between struggling artist and published author? Read on and find out.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

With A Little Help From My Friends

            Thinking of topics to blog about can be a chore. It might be less problematic if I wrote about the daily events in my life or allowed my inner musing to freely flow with whatever whimsy takes me. Instead, I’ve focused (primarily) on subjects related to the life of an unpublished author. And I would like to continue to do so.

            When I paused to think about what I wanted to write this week several ideas came to mind, but as they did I realized that many of them would change the nature of this blog. I hold no illusions (or delusions) that I am a great font of knowledge about writing. So far, I have attempted to direct the wonderful people who my blog to where they can be properly instructed. And I don’t intend to stop doing that.

            What I would like to do is involve all of you on deciding the direction of this blog. After all, I write to be read. As my audience your opinions can settle the conflict of ideas that I am having.

            Please, take a few moments and comment on what you think should be included in this blog.


Movie Reviews – As much as I love writing movie reviews, it doesn’t have much to do with the writing craft. At least, not in the format I’ve used so far. It does reflect one aspect of my nature, but does it really belong in a blog for authors in training?

Writing Prompts – These undoubtedly fit in with the interviews and posts about writing. They flow freely from my ever-active creative center. Coming up with more is never a problem. At first glance this seems to be a natural to be part of the blog. Will devoting more time into creating writing prompts significantly change the tone and feel of the blog?

Random Silliness – On occasion, I have included some random bits of silliness. That’s pretty much me in a nutshell. (Get it? Nut – Shell.) But like the movie reviews, it doesn’t really seem to have a place with authentic authorial aspirations. Once again, this is another aspect of my nature, but does it belong here? And is any of it funny?

That covers the elements I’ve already incorporated into the blog. Here are a couple of ideas I have for something new.

Short Fiction – Some of my short fiction is posted on my web-page. (Which I don’t spend any time promoting.) I originally feared that including samples of my writing on a regular basis would detract from the aspiring author theme I want for this blog. What do you think: will posting some free fiction change the focus of the blog from “Us” to “Me”?

Artist Community Podcast – I had the opportunity to work across the table from a talented singer and song writer. A good friend of mine is a comic-book artist. My oldest friend writes screenplays. If I take the time to really look around me I’m sure I can dig up quite a few more people with artistic talent. How would a regularly scheduled podcast like that fit into my blog? Or do you think the sound of my voice will scare people away?

Absolute Bonkers Madness – As if one podcast concept wasn’t enough, I considered doing an actual comedy bit. It would be called Newz Crazy and I think the name says it all. It certainly doesn’t feel like it fits with the theme of this blog. Should I create a separate blog to subject the public to this lunacy?

Suggestions Anyone – The blog is eight months old. That should be enough time to get to know me enough to make some suggestions at what I might do here – and do well. Tell me folks, what else should I be doing?

As a final comment, I want to express my very sincere appreciation for all of you who take the time to visit my blog and especially to those of you who are so loyal about posting comments. I really treasure it. Thanks.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More Thanksgiving Please

            Thanksgiving is tomorrow and my wife has already launched into the Christmas movie season with the Hallmark channel. Now, I’m more of a one holiday at a time sort of person. I like waiting until I’ve consumed the guest of honor at our Thanksgiving festivity before feasting my eyes on the winter wonder event.

            My quickly maturing daughter asked where all the Thanksgiving movies were. Good question. I stumbled with an answer and admitted that beyond the Charlie Brown special, I couldn’t think of any off the top of my head. Of course, that is probably more a reflection of my failing memory than it is of an actual dearth of turkey themed entertainment.

            With my curiosity sufficiently peaked, I checked the greatest answer machine available. I Googled it.  In addition to the Peanuts gang I found the following films with a reasonable amount of Thanksgiving spirit to them:

1.      A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

2.      Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

3.      Winnie the Pooh – Season of Giving

4.      Mouse on the Mayflower

5.      Hannah and Her Sisters

6.      Home For the Holidays

7.      Alice’s Restaurant

8.      What’s Cooking


More movies exist that have some mention of Thanksgiving, but I felt they were

much leaner fare than this grand holiday deserves. It is shocking that an event as wondrous as this should have so little entertainment attached to it. We can remedy that situation. We authors that is.

            Here is a list of writing prompts for Thanksgiving. I encourage all of you to put some thought into creating the definitive Thanksgiving classic. Many images flickered to life in my head when I went through the list. See what it does for you.

  • How will they celebrate Thanksgiving in the future?
  • What would Thanksgiving be like if children made all the preparations?
  • How would our pets celebrate Thanksgiving?
  • What would Thanksgiving be like if you had to dress to match your food?
  • How would Thanksgiving celebrations be different if it were held in summer?
  • What would it be like if retailers held Thanksgiving in their stores in order to boost Black Friday sales?
  • Imagine a non-traditional Thanksgiving.
  • Imagine a Thanksgiving where all the food had been stolen the night before.
  • What would happen if your family tried to re-enact the first Thanksgiving?
  • How would your Thanksgiving traditions differ if they were going to be televised to the hungry and poor nations of the Earth?
  • What if Thanksgiving had been started by hippies instead of Pilgrims?
  • Who would you invite to Thanksgiving dinner if you had an operation time machine? And what would you talk about?
  • What would happen if the situation was reversed and turkeys celebrated Thanksgiving with us?
  • What would Thanksgiving be like if we celebrated it on an alien world?
  • What fictional character would you like to invite to your Thanksgiving event? And how might that change the celebration?
  • What if you celebrated Thanksgiving with a theme based on your favorite song, or band? How would you accomplish that?
  • What if you combined Thanksgiving with some of the other holiday traditions?
  • Everyone knows the story of the first Thanksgiving. What about the LAST Thanksgiving?
  • What is your favorite Thanksgiving memory?

Ready! Set! Gobble . . . I mean,  Write!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Movie Review: Real Steel

Real Steel    $$$ ½

127 Minutes
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Kevin Durand

Director: Shawn Levy

            Set in the near-future, this film struck me as a cross between the movie “Rocky” and the Rockem Sockem Robots game I had when I was a child. In the film, they have replaced human opponents with robots. Audiences can enjoy even more destruction and mayhem without any concern over anybody getting hurt.

            Not a bad idea.

            Hugh Jackman plays a boxer, forced to be manager, named Charlie. Back when humans were still allowed to box, Charlie was a contender. In all of his matches he either won, or lost, by knockout. Charlie gave it his all.

            Unfortunately, while that worked for him as a boxer it has put him in a bind as a manager. Charlie’s boxing career has declined and he finds himself taking his robot boxer to county fairs and other similar low-budget venues. His go for broke view on life puts him in a bind when he pits his last robot against a bull and loses. Unable to pay off his bet with the fair promoter (Kevin Durand) he has to skip out and hope to stay ahead of his creditors while he tries to turn his luck around.

            The situation turns around, but not the way he expects it.  Charlie is given full custody of his son when Max’s (Dakota Goyo) mother dies. Father and son have long been separated – a situation that Charlie hopes to continue. An opportunity presents itself for Charlie to sign custody over to Max’s aunt and uncle at the end of the summer. Until then, the two of them are stuck with one another.

            I loved this movie. It shouldn’t have been a surprise when you consider how much I enjoy boxing and robots. But the thing about this movie is it really isn’t about boxing and robots. It’s about a father and a son getting to know each other, and about second chances to redeem yourself, and about realizing that all of us have something of value to offer our children. This was a touching story that felt genuine to me.

            No doubt about it, my children are going to be attracted to the scenes of robots battering one another to their component parts. I’m okay with that because along the way they’ll absorb the noble message it contains without realizing it.

            Real Steel earned a 3 ½ score from me, although I wonder if I shouldn’t give it a higher rating. The writing is good, the acting is great, and the overall message is excellent. I would like to point out that while the story takes place in the future the scene take place in locations that look as if they happened thirty years ago. Whoever is responsible for this, writer or director, knew what they were doing. This kept the story from being about the fights, or the special effects, or about robots. The settings gave the film a more down to earth feel which really helped the story they were trying to tell.

            Robot smashing mayhem is best seen on a large theater screen. So I do recommend seeing this in a first run theater. That being said, catching it as a matinee didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the movie. The fact that I plan to add this movie to my collection bumped it up a half a rating, and considering how fondly I think back about the experience maybe I should give it a full $$$$.

            Randy’s Rating System

$$$$   = Full Price    See this movie right away and pay full price, it’s worth it.
$$$     = Matinee      Catch this as a matinee or other discounted showing.
$$        = Discount     Wait until this movie reaches a discount theater near you.
$          = Rental         Wait until this movie reaches your local video rental outlet.
0          = No Sale       Don’t see this movie at any price.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dinner and a Movie

            With such an outstanding collection of interviews to share with all of you the last six weeks, I sort of skipped over an event that happened in October. Better late than never I present to you “Dinner and a Movie.”

            My oldest son and I love to go to the movies. It ranks as my most favorite entertainment activity for as long as I can remember. When I think back to the days when I managed a movie theater I don’t think of it as a job – I think of it as a six years of paid vacation. The only opportunity that ranks higher is Movie Critic. I drool, in day-dream induced catatonia, at the prospect of being paid to watch movies and tell people about it.

            Then I wake up to reality and am still pretty happy about having a blog where I can do pretty much the same thing. (Without the financial incentive.)

            I firmly believe that nothing goes better with a movie than sharing a fine dining moment with someone you care about. If you’re lucky enough to live in a gastronomically endowed community you can experience the entire world via your taste buds. Dinner and a movie isn’t just the fall back plan for a date, it’s the perfect combination of recreational possibilities; you pamper your body and then you indulge your mind.

            All of this leads up to my discovery of the latest evolution in entertainment Mecca: One-stop food and film. And I’m not talking about brining home boxed pizza and a rental so you can all picnic in front of the television. (Okay, that’s still a good option.)

            For my birthday, my son took me to AMC so that we could try their new “Dine-In Theater” attraction. Today I’m covering the dining portion of the evening and on Friday I will give my normal movie review for the film we watched.

            This was actually our second attempt to try it. The week previous we were turned away because the only showing of Real Steel was for their premium, adults only version of this experience and one of my minor children were with us.

            The following week the three of us bought tickets for a “Fork and Screen” session of the same movie and had the same experience, sans alcohol. This is where I received my first surprise. I expected to pay a premium price for tickets. We didn’t. These were the standard ticket prices for a movie at AMC.

            Score 1 – AMC.

            We were escorted into the auditorium. There were significantly less seats in the theater than I’m used to. The seats were put in small rows which meant that you were more than likely only going to be sitting next to the people that you arrived with. My oldest son and I were split on how comfortable the seats were. I was impressed with the amount of room they gave you to move around, but he felt they were too stiff and didn’t have enough leg room.

            Score 1/2 – AMC.

            Before the movie started our waiter took our order and explained how we could push the button on our chair for service and to please not holler during the movie for refills or more fries. All of the employees were friendly and courteous throughout our dine-in movie experience. But the real test of something like this is the food and the movie.

            The menu offered appetizers, salads, sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, a few dinner items, and desserts all with a reasonable amount of variety. I ordered a Blue Max burger, my oldest son had a chicken sandwich and my youngest son had chicken tenders. The chicken tenders were pretty standard children’s fare; meaning they were decent, but not exceptional. My burger was comparable to ones I’ve had at some of the better burger restaurants. According to my oldest son his chicken sandwich was good – not great.

            Overall, I was happy with the quality of the food they served. And on to my second surprise; the prices were competitive with restaurants where we might order similar quality items.

            That should score a point right there. However, I love free refills. When you stop and consider that the price of a meal is only slightly more than what you would spend on popcorn, soda and candy I think it gives this section of the score card a one plus. 

            Score 1 – AMC.

            The final aspect of the experience that I considered was view-ability. How much did the food service disturb my movie watching? Frankly, I expected it to be more distracting. Then again, that comes from someone who is used to three children constantly jockeying for the spot next to dad. Because the seats were so spread out, the impact on me when other patrons were eating or having food served was minimal. However, this is the wrong environment for deeply immersing yourself into a story. Comedy and action are good genres for this combination treat, but I would seek a traditional theater for any film with an engrossing storyline.

            Score ½ - AMC

            Overall, the dinner and a movie experiment was a success. This isn’t going to replace my normal theater habits, but it does provide a nice alternative for those occasions where I feel like I need a bit of a change. It is definitely a nice variant of the normal dinner and movie date routine.

          Randy’s Rating             $$$

Friday, November 11, 2011

In Time    $$ ½

109 Minutes

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Galecki
Director: Andrew Niccol


            In the near future, the good news is that scientists have identified the aging gene and switched it off. (Yeah, we can all live forever.)

            The bad news is that, in order to avoid over-population, time has become the currency of the world. (Boo, the average life span has dropped.)

            Everyone has a clock imbedded in their arm. It is dormant until you turn twenty-five and at that point you are given one year’s worth of time. A cup of coffee might cost you 2 minutes. A bus ride might cost you an hour. And the amount of time each person has can be exchanged so robbers are now actually stealing the amount of time a person has to live.

            This is a very cool concept.

            Justin Timberlake plays the protagonist, Will Salas, who always seems to be down to his last minutes, has a talent for fighting, and a sense of honor. Everything changes for him when he rescues a rich stranger that gives him a fortune in time.           

            Cillian Murhpy does an excellent job of playing a Time Keeper, which is what passes for a police officer in this setting. And Amanda Seyfried plays the rich, protected socialite that Will Salas eventually encounters.

            The writers really ran with the idea of time as medium of exchange. It felt as if they planned to take every phrase involving time and developed it into the environment of the story. However, I don’t recall them using “daylight savings time”, “turning back the clock”, or even “over time”.  Maybe I just missed them.

            Overall, I enjoyed the movie and would watch it again.

            I rated In Time as a 2 ½. The concept was great, the overall message was good, the acting ranged from reasonable to pretty good. Then we come to plot and the movie falters. I think better direction could have turned this into a great movie.

            There are no special effects that need to be seen on an ultra-large screen to be appreciated. Nothing in the soundtrack needs to be heard with state-of-the-art sound systems. And nothing about the movie really demands that you rush out and see it. I have no qualm recommending the film. I just don’t recommend spending a lot of money doing so.

            Randy’s Rating System

$$$$   = Full Price    See this movie right away and pay full price, it’s worth it.
$$$     = Matinee      Catch this as a matinee or other discounted showing.
$$        = Discount     Wait until this movie reaches a discount theater near you.
$          = Rental         Wait until this movie reaches your local video rental outlet.
0          = No Sale       Don’t see this movie at any price.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Interview with Shannon Messenger

            Shannon Messenger is the author of Keeper of the Lost Cities, an artist, a Bookanista, and a founding member of WriteOnCon. All of that in just one person – amazing. Most importantly, for the purpose of this blog that is, she was willing to share her experience in the industry to help the unpublished authors with pitch sessions.

            She has a great blog as well, that you can see for yourself.

(Check out the awesomely colorful costume she wore to Comic Con.)

            Without further ado – heeeeeerrrreeeeessss Shannon.

Randy: Do published authors still have to pitch their stories?

Shannon: Unfortunately, yes. Authors are CONSTANTLY asked: what is your book about? (which is a good thing—you want people to be interested in your book). And the answer to that question is nothing more than a glorified pitch for the book.  So yeah, pitching never stops. The bright side is though, once you’re published, your agent/editor can help make sure the pitch you use is as awesome as possible. Teamwork is an amazing thing. :)

Randy: How do these pitches differ from those of unpublished authors?

Shannon: Honestly, I don’t think there should be a difference. The point of ANY pitch is to make the book sound interesting, and to make the person you’re pitching it to care enough to want to read it. Whether the book is published or not shouldn’t matter. The end goal is the same.

Randy: How long do you spend on writing, perfecting, and practicing a pitch?

Shannon: Totally depends on the project—but I don’t think it’s something you should rush. Remember, you spent weeks, months—maybe even years pouring your heart onto the page to write your book and get it perfect. Why wouldn’t you put the same care and effort into your pitch?

Randy: As a published author, are you nervous during a pitch?

Shannon: I’m fairly comfortable with things like public speaking and talking to strangers, but of course there’s always that tiny bit of anxiety that comes with worrying: OMG WHAT IF THEY THINK MY BOOK SOUNDS STUPID??? But I’ve learned to shove that little voice to the back of my mind when I’m pitching, because it’s SO important to BELIEVE your pitch. You have to be convinced that your project is as awesome as you’re saying it is, otherwise the person listening won’t be convinced either.

Randy: What’s the most important thing for an unpublished author to keep in mind when they pitch a story?

Shannon: To smile. Seriously, I know that seems obvious, but it’s amazing how hard it is to smile when you’re nervous. And who wants to listen to someone who looks grumpy or terrified or miserable? So take a breath, think about how it’s actually SUPER exciting to get to talk about YOUR BOOK and tell them how AWESOME it is. And once you’re smiling, THEN start your pitch.

Randy: Should an author attempt to customize a pitch to the specific agent or editor?

Shannon: Yes and no. See, to me, I think a pitch really has two parts. The first part, where you give them a few quick sentences to really spotlight the amazingness of your book. And the second part, where you pause so they can ask you questions based on what they’re interested in. I don’t think you need to tailor the first part of your pitch to any individual specifically, because it applies to everyone. And you won’t have to worry about customizing the second half because they’ll do that for you when they ask you questions.

Randy: Do you have any interesting pitch stories that you can share with us?

Shannon: I don’t know about “interesting.” But I did meet my agent at a conference and pitch to her. She requested a partial from me at the end of the pitch, and requested the full manuscript the day after I sent her some pages. Two weeks later she was my agent. So I can definitely testify that pitching at conferences can have wonderful results.

Randy: What is the biggest “must do” for pitching a story?

Shannon: To relax!!! And you do that by remembering two important things:

1)      You know your book well enough to talk about it. Sure, you want to practice and really prepare what to say. But don’t stress too much about: what if they ask me something I don’t know. Uh… it’s YOUR book. You know this stuff! (and if you don’t …um … you might have bigger things to worry about than pitching)

2)      The agent/editor knows you’re nervous. That’s not a secret. Even better? They don’t hold it against you. So it’s okay if your hands shake or you mess up a word here or there. They know you’re human. In fact, they’re rooting for you to recover.

Randy: What is the biggest “don’t do” for pitching a story?

Shannon: Don’t do all the talking. Most pitch sessions at conferences have a set amount of minutes, and no matter how brief the pitch time may be, you still don’t want to write a pitch that fills the entire time period. Like I said earlier, you want the person to be able to ask questions, show you what they’re interested in, and become actively engaged in the conversation. Bonus to that? You have less to memorize as far as the pitch goes. Win and WIN!

Randy: Do you have any handy tricks that make pitch writing easier? Or that will greatly improve the quality of the pitch?

Shannon: My agent—the incredible Laura Rennert, with Andrea Brown Literary—has a saying that I’m totally going to borrow (okay, I’m stealing it. Whatever). She says a pitch should cover: Who, What, Where, and Why should I care? And personally, I think the most important part of that is the why should I care?  WAY too often I see writers get so caught up in trying to cover the plot of their book in chronological order that they forget that what’s MUCH more important to communicate is: what makes your book special? What sets it apart from the thousands of other books out there? Why should someone care about it, instead of all the others? Frame your pitch around THAT and you’re golden.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Interview with Kimberley Griffiths Little - Part II

Here is the rest of my interview with Kimberley Griffiths Little.

Randy: Have you received any other awards that were just as meaningful to you at the time you won them?

Kimberley: When I first started publishing years ago, my second book won the Southwest Book Award. We traveled to El Paso, Texas with my family for the dinner and acceptance speech and that was my first award every so it was pretty exciting.

Randy: What award, or achievement, would you like to strive for next?

Kimberley: Of course, every children’s writer I know dreams of winning the Newbery, but the field is so huge and there are so many extremely talented writers that it’s more of a dream . . . and for that kind of dream I think I’d need a sack of fairy dust, too!

Randy: Now that you’ve won a Whitney, do you have different expectations for yourself? Do others?

Kimberley: The one hope I have for myself is just to be able to keep writing books—and if those stories touch people’s hearts and minds, then I feel an enormous sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. When readers (young people and adults) email to tell me that my book changed their life, it is an honor and very humbling.

Randy: Have there been any unexpected benefits that derived from winning a Whitney?

Kimberley: The greatest blessing has been to make a hundred or more new friends in the LDS writing community – that has been beyond comparison!

Randy: Is there a greater sense of camaraderie between you and your fellow Whitney winners?

Kimberley: Oh, yes, after the conference and awards banquet last May, we all friended each other on Facebook and follow each other’s blogs. There were lots of hugs and excitement and picture-taking at the banquet, let me tell you! The writing community has always been very important to me, to give and receive support invaluable.

Randy: How has winning an award affected how you view the industry and your fellow writers?

Kimberley: I’m impressed by the incredibly talented writers –who live generous, honorable and faithful lives. They are wonderful examples of our LDS faith, personally and professionally.

Randy: What is your favorite moment related to winning a Whitney?

Kimberley: Purchasing my purple velvet evening dress and dangly earrings with my mom and sister! As well as all the hugs and congratulations afterward!

Randy: Are there any negative aspects to winning an award, like a Whitney?

Kimberley: Absolutely none that I know of!

Randy: What bit of advice would you give this year’s Whitney Finalists?

Kimberley: Have fun shopping! Relax, make lots of new friends, and ENJOY every moment! Remember that being a Finalist is an honor as well – there are so many truly wonderful books out there and ALL the books that become a Finalist are featured and honored by the Whitney Academy and LDStorymakers group.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Interview with Kimberley Griffiths Little - Part I

            As an unpublished author I have often wondered what it would be like to win a prestigious award for one of my novels. That’s the topic for this week’s interview and to help me with it is Kimberley Little who won a Whitney for her novel The Healing Spell.

            She has also written The Circle of Secrets, The Last Snake Runner, and several more books that you can find information about on her website.

Randy: What went through your mind when you were nominated for your Whitney?

Kimberley: I learned about the Whitney award at the first LDStorymakers conference I attended two years ago and thought, “What a wonderful idea to have an award especially for LDS writers!”

There are awards for just about every type of book and/or group of people, and with LDS writers dominating bestseller lists and getting major book deals in unprecedented numbers, it’s about time!

1. Anybody can *nominate* a book, (as long as it’s not the writer or publisher!) Here is the form: http://whitneyawards.com/wordpress/nominate/

2. A panel of judges reads ALL the books nominated in each of the 7 categories and they choose the top 5 books as the Finalists. The Finalists are announced on February 1 and I was over the moon when I learned that The Healing Spell was named as a Finalist! I was in excellent company, too, with some writers I have long admired as well as some fabulous debut authors. (It was actually my local Deseret Bookstore manager who contacted me to tell me the great news!)

Randy: And what about when you actually won the Whitney?

Kimberley: The Awards Banquet was absolutely lovely, but I could hardly eat my filet mignon because my heart was pounding so hard! It was just like the Academy Awards giving away the Oscars with presenters for each category and “opening the envelope” with the Winner’s name. I was THRILLED but then quite nervous because each of the winners gives an acceptance speech, too, just like the Oscars!

Randy: Is there any specific significance for you to win a Whitney?

Kimberley: The field of writing is packed with truly fantastic LDS authors and publishers and I’m so happy that a group of dedicated people to literature and the LDS community created this award back in 2007 to honor great books. I think it’s so fabulous.

Randy: How would you compare winning an award, like the Whitney, to any other achievements in your writing career? Would this be the top of your list, or is the next step to an even bigger goal?

Kimberley: It’s pretty close to the top, and I still get tingles every time I look at the gorgeous award! Receiving the Whitney has absolutely been the sweetest moment of my career so far. And because the Finalists are voted on by your peers, other writers, bookstore owners, editors and agents in the LDS world, it is truly an honor.