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

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Movie Review: Cars 2

Cars 2     $$$$
112 Minutes
Starring: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer
Director: John Lasseter, Brad Lewis

            When Pixar originally announced that they would be making a sequel to Cars I figured it was inevitable. The first movie was innovative, fun, and packed an emotional message. I enjoyed the characters and wanted to see more.
Then the film came out and some of the critics claimed that this was Pixar’s worst effort so far. My wife and I had seen a trailer for Cars 2 and thought it looked great. Was this a matter of critics being out of touch with us common folk on what constitutes a good movie? Or has Pixar taken their first step towards mediocrity?
Cars 2 starts with a very James Bond type opening. Finn McMissle (Michael Caine) has been given coordinates and instructions to rendezvous with an undercover agent who has information about a diabolical plot. The agent is killed and Finn is discovered and must flee the scene before he can get all of the details.
Switching gears, the film takes us to Radiator Springs as Mater prepares for Lightning McQueen’s return. McQueen has been lighting up the racing circuit with his unprecedented winning streak. Instead of getting a little rest and relaxation time with his girl, McQueen finds himself talked into joining the first ever World Grand Prix race.
Not wanting to disappoint his “best friend” McQueen takes Mater along. When they arrive in Japan, for the first race, Mater gets caught in the middle of all the spy action and is mistaken for an American secret agent. The Bondian plot intertwines with McQueen’s efforts to beat arrogant European racer Francesco Bernoulli and tests the strength of his friendship with Mater.

            I gave Cars 2 a rating of a 4. I don’t know what movie the critics are watching, but this was my favorite fun film of the year so far.  I love how Pixar has taken characters that are cars and developed a story about racing into a spy movie. It totally worked for me. I now believe that there is an alternate reality where we are all cars. (I’d like to think I’m a 74’ Dodge Charger, but I’m probably more like an old dented van.) See this movie right away, pay full price, it’s worth it.

            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, June 28, 2011

I Want In On the Fun

            Over the last two weeks I have discovered something absolutely amazing. The BLOGFEST.

            That’s when one blogger comes up with an idea and then gets the rest of us bloggers to join in. The first one that caught my attention was Shelly Brown’s poetry blogfest that she is calling “Poetry Schmoetry.” I liked it so much I put a nice pretty box about it on my blog. Go ahead, take a look. Right there in the upper-right corner. You can click on it if you want to check it. (After you finish reading my blog, of course.)
            The point I’m making with this particular blog entry is that I want to join in the fun. So, I have added a new category for my participation in these wonderful, cross-promoting, themed exercises in creative writing.
            For Shelly’s poetry blogfest I actually came up with a poem so that I could participate. The winner will be showcased on her blog and who can pass up that kind of publicity. However, you’ll have to wait until the second week of July to see my contribution.

            Then I ran across the blogfest Ali Cross is promoting on her site and I could not pass up the chance to share the villain from my first novel (as yet unpublished). How great is it that I get to write a resume for my bad guy? I’ll tell you - It’s AWESOME.

            While I was drooling at the prospect of filling out the villainous application, I noticed that Jolene Perry had a blogfest of her own going on. The “Lovin the Language” blogfest involves posting the five favorite lines from one of our books.
            This was another great idea and there were fifty-four authors who took advantage of being able to hook some readers on one of their works-in-progress. Here is a link to Jolene’s website so you can check it out for yourself.

            And even though I missed my chance to participate in the blogfest, here is my favorite set of lines that I have written. This happens to be the opening paragraph to my first novel: Hellathon.  

     Banan had killed six-hundred and sixty six men in order to enter the race. Some of them more than once. Most considered the “Blood Admission” too risky to try. Even if a man could best that many foes without being maimed, or killed, it still spawned a long list of grudges that would be paid back – eventually. But other methods for qualifying for the race didn’t interest Banan. Hell was filled with men who deserved to die. Some of them more than once.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Holiday Channel: Part IV

October: The problem with Halloween is that you have to wait for the 31st to enjoy it. Not on The Holiday Channel. Enjoy the spooktacular festivities all thirty-one days. You’ll have the best seat in the house for the front door. Whenever the doorbell rings, we’ll open it up to reveal trick-or-treaters. They’re going to shout, “Trick or treat” and you can shout along with them. The fun goes on and on as an endless parade of costumed visitors will stop by for goodies. Between visits feel free to sit at home and discuss what kind of costume you think will be next. Appropriately haunting music will play while you wait. Ding-dong. Here’s some more visitors.

We haven’t left out the adults either. After the kids have gone to bed we adjust the scare factor of our program. (Not too much though.) Periodically, the door will open to reveal an iconic movie madman who then attacks the person answering the door. Off-screen, that is, so as to keep things within a TV-14 rating.

November: The blazing Yule log was a great idea and some ideas deserve to be repeated. In this case it will be a turkey roasting on an open fire. Enjoy festive Thanksgiving songs as this delicious gobbler rotates as it cooks. You won’t be the only one eyeing this bird. Our family of actors will be peeking in on its progress and offering comments about how good it looks – and smells.

Keep your notepads handy. The recipes for an entire turkey extravaganza will be cleverly disguised as family discussions between the Holiday Channel chefs. That includes plenty of tips on how to turn those leftovers into “nothing left.”

December: Here we are at the end of the year and you may be cheering for another season of a blazing Yule log and accompanying Christmas music. We say – nonsense. Out with the old and in with the new. This year get ready for a winter wonderland as we look out The Holiday Channel front room window. Falling snow will make you happy you’re enjoying the winter from the comfort of your own couch. A snappy collection of seasonal songs will keep the mood festive. In addition to the snow there will be the occasional horse-drawn sled zooming by and bands of carolers stopping out front with a special performance just for you.

That wraps up the year of programming from The Holiday Channel, but we’re not sitting on our laurels. Next year watch for the unveiling of our sister cable channel: The Weekend Channel. No need to look forward to the weekend when we turn every day into Friday.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Holiday Channel: Part III

Here is the exciting third quarter lineup:

July:  What’s July without fireworks? Hot! Let the Holiday Channel take the heat out of your firework watching. We’re going to spread out a picnic blanket and point our camera skyward to catch the most amazing pyrotechnics display around. There will be plenty of eye-popping bursts with delayed sounds to make you feel like you’re really there. Between bursts the home audience can enjoy the time-honored tradition of chasing fireflies as our camera moves through fields filled with the nature’s own summer light show.

August: After looking at your calendars you may be thinking that The Holiday Channel will be off the air in August. Not so. Everyone has a birthday and we picked August to celebrate it. At the top of every hour we’re going to light the candles on the cake and sing a heart felt round of the birthday song. Better yet, each day of the week will showcase a different cake. Fridays will be chocolate. Yum. And what’s a birthday party without presents. Our gift table is piled high with colorfully wrapped presents of all sizes and shapes. Between the highly tasty cake sessions the audience will have a chance to view the packages. The gift table will rotate as cultural variations of the birthday song play in the background. Go ahead and guess what might be in the packages. At the end of the month a surprise guest will open the presents and you can see how close you were with your guesses. Don’t worry; we’ll clean up the mess.

September: Since Jerry Lewis has already cornered the market on the Labor Day celebration The Holiday Channel will instead treat viewers to the anxiously anticipated fall ritual known as Back to School. Every hour the bell will ring and via our camera you will be able to experience the rush of students as they move from class to class. Make sure you crank up the volume so you can hear all of the school-yard news that you missed over the summer. When the bells ring again, you’ll be in your seat for the lesson. English, Math, Reading, Science. We have them all lined up for you; a different lesson every day. And best of all, you’ll be at the front of the class.

In order to keep you on your toes, we’re going to throw in some random obstacles. At random intervals throughout the month students will show up in an attempt to collect your lunch money. Then our camera goes into warp drive as it moves you out of harms way and safely to the next class. Whew. That was close. Grab your seat and enjoy another lesson.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Holiday Channel: Part II

We continue with our year-long review.

April: Spring has arrived and it’s time to celebrate. What better way to do that than in a humongous, luscious lawn? And not just any yard, but one that would be the envy of your neighborhood. Go ahead and enjoy a well-manicured landscape without lifting a finger.  To keep things exciting, The Holiday Channel will have its very own egg hunt. We put you in the driver’s seat as our camera moves about the immaculate estate of our station manager in the quest for eggs. You’ll feel like you’re part of the action as the camera zooms in when an egg is found. Running commentary will accompany the search with such gems as: “Hurry, over here. I found another one.” And: “I saw it first?” Feel free to keep a running tally of the colorful eggs that you find during the month.

May: Face it, we all have moms. Here’s your chance to have “The World’s Best Mom” at home with you this month. The Holiday Channel follows our ideal mom around the house as she makes it a home. Watch Mom cook. Watch Mom sew. Watch Mom do the laundry. Enjoy a pristine environment as Mom cleans our producer’s home all month long. Not only that, but every night at it’s story time. Watch and listen as Mom reads your children to sleep.

(Due to the popular nature of the full-time Mom, you can continue to bring this show into your home for a small monthly fee after the end of May.)

June: At the Holiday Channel, June is all about summer and fathers. Not necessarily in that order. We combine the two and give you the barbeque of a lifetime. You get all of the smoke and none of the burnt offerings (or visits by the fire department).  Watch our specially selected dad as he works the grill. Sage bits of grilling advice will be part of the running commentary he provides as he performs his backyard culinary magic. Peppered throughout the show will be fatherly rebukes like: “Back up – this grill is hot.” And: “Stop it.” As well as the classic: “Don’t make me come over there.”

As an added bonus, The Holiday Channel will be running a contest in June. Count the number of burgers that Dad burns beyond the point of being recognizable as food. Everyone who gets the number correct will win a prize; a custom cooking apron that states “I spent my summer with The Holiday Channel.”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Holiday Channel: Part I

            The summer crop of new shows was recently announced and among them included a competition for men growing beards. I wish I’d been a fly on the wall for that pitch session. Then I remembered having much the same reaction when I heard that cable would be offering a 24-hour blazing Yule log during Christmas. Not only did it turn out successful, but I ended up leaving my television tuned to it.
            Some ideas may sound wacky and first, but find an audience. Along a similar line here is my very own offering: The Holiday Channel. If people will tune in for continuous footage of a fire accompanied by Christmas music then why not expand the idea and make every day a holiday. This is the programming for my proposed cable channel.

January: Don’t limit yourself to feeling the heady excitement of a new year to just one day; let the wonderful possibilities for your future linger for an entire month. That’s thirty times as many resolutions you can make. During January, The Holiday Channel will present a non-stop party. Set to the festive sounds of Auld Lang Syne party-goers, dressed in tuxedoes and lavish evening gowns, mill around a ballroom smiling, dancing and snacking on canap├ęs. An occasional bit of noise-maker action mixed in keeps the party on a high notes. At the top of every hour, a disco ball descends and everyone throws glitter in the air and shouts greetings to the New Year.

February: We do an about face in February. After a month long party, you’ll appreciate a cozy little snuggle by the fire with your favorite someone. To ensure this moment is all about you and your loved one The Holiday Channel has screened off the action. (It also keeps this at a “family friendly” level.) All the action of our two lovebirds will take place behind a screen as they cuddle in front of a romantic fireplace. You’ll only be seeing their silhouettes, but that won’t keep you from feeling the moment. The sounds of smooching and snickering will help ignite the fires of passion in your home as you stay tuned to the passion-fest.

March: Don’t take life too seriously. Especially after last month’s tribute to relationships it’s time to cut loose and laugh a little. Flynn Fitzpatrick will see you through the month in rollicking style. The Holiday Channel’s leprechaun has perched himself atop a mushroom and will sing Irish ditties all month long. In between songs (and hopefully moderate swigs of green ale) he will tell jokes and relate “family friendly” limericks.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda 2     $$$$
90 Minutes
Starring: Jack Black, Gary Oldman, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie
Director: Jennifer Yuh

            Po returns as “The Dragon Warrior.” You may be wondering if this is the bumbling, star-struck, noodle boy Po or the awesome, kung-fu master Po. And the answer is: Yes.
            The two contradictory natures are combined in a way that’s fun and essential for this story. Instead of being unbelievable the action sequences where Po and the Furious Five battle together demonstrate how each of us must rely on others in order to obtain greatness. One moment Po is trashing bandits, and then he’s being saved from a fall by an ally, only to turn the mishap around into another brilliant attack against the enemy horde. Working together they’re unstoppable.
            The second lesson that comes out of Po’s dual nature is the understanding that nobody’s perfect. Even as flawed as each of us are we can still succeed in life’s marvelous quests.  When the Furious Five work around Po’s fumbled steps and brash decisions they are able to negate his weaknesses and then everyone benefits from his strengths; just as the rest of us can do with our families, friends, and neighbors.
            You don’t have to resort to this level of reflection to enjoy the movie. A good part of the appeal is that Po doesn’t know he’s great. Jack Black does a good job of giving us a character that is living his dream and hopes he doesn’t wake up.
            As to the plot; Po and the Furious Five must face Lord Shen (a peacock) who plots to control all of China and wants to put an end to kung fu. They must find a way to stop and unstoppable weapon. The key to all of this lies in Po’s past and his mastering the martial-art discipline of Inner Peace.

            I gave Kung Fu Panda 2 a rating of a 4. At 90 minutes it doesn’t have time to get bogged down. Jack Black is funny, the action is entertaining, and the story is interesting. DreamWorks can chalk up another victory with this offering.  

            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.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tristi Pinkston Interview - Part II

            Blogging is not the only skill Tristi demonstrated at the conference; she was an excellent workshop instructor as well. Tristi was cool and poised. If it was me, I would be terrified to get up in front of a class let alone offer to do it without advanced planning.
            That got me thinking about what it took to be a workshop instructor and how it felt to be up there in front of a group of published and unpublished authors giving them tips on the writing business. 

Randy: Tell us about the first time you presented a workshop, please. Where? When? What was it like? Do you have any amusing anecdotes about it?

Tristi: I've been a public speaker since I was in my early teens.  My parents were Amway distributors, and for a couple of years, I was in the presidency of the youth group for our particular branch of the business.  The main thing for me to get over was the fact that I would throw up repeatedly before presenting.  I always managed to look calm and composed while presenting, but those hours before ... awful.  After a few years, I actually got hypnotized to stop throwing up when I get nervous.  

I began presenting about writing shortly after my first novel was published.  This was in 2002.  Something funny about one of those presentations - they completely forgot to advertise that I was coming, or to tell the employees about it, and it was sort of a spur-of-the-moment "Oh!  Let's rearrange some tables and try to pull this together." 

Randy: How do you become a big enough expert on a topic to be asked to present a workshop at a writing conference?

Tristi: The same way you get to be an expert at anything - you study it, and then you do it.  If you mess up, you restudy it, and you do it again.  Once you've done it right, you study it to see if you can do it even better.  Becoming an expert happens after a lot of falling on your face, but the trick is getting back up again.

Randy: How do you prep for a workshop?

Tristi: I think through everything I want to say, and I'll sometimes do little mock presentations in my head.  I'll be driving down the road giving the presentation in my mind, thinking of all the points I want to make.  Then I'll jot them down and see which ones work and which ones should wait for another time.  I'll arrange them in an order that makes sense, and then I'll write up my notes.  I then run through it another time or two in my mind to make sure I've said everything I want to say.  A lot of my presentations come to me while I'm talking, though, so I'd say that I actually deliver about 50% of what I've prepared and the rest is off the top of my head, based on what I sense the audience needs or the questions they ask.

Then I make sure I have good hair.  For some reason, I can't teach if I don't have good hair.  

Randy: Does it make you nervous to get be in front of a group of people?

Tristi: It used to ... see above answer about the throwing up.  Now, I only get a few tiny butterflies right before I start.  The more you do it, the more comfortable you feel.  I imagine that in another year, those butterflies will be more like the size of gnats, or mosquitoes.  I don't imagine that they'll go away entirely, however.  It's a natural reaction to have and gets the adrenaline flowing to help you give a great presentation. 

Randy: Does having already published authors in your groups make the presentation experience any different or difficult for you?

Tristi: Sometimes it's a little intimidating if I know they could give my same presentation, only probably do it better.  Most of the time, though, it's fun because I can call on them and put them on the spot to share their own experiences.  The scariest/freakiest/coolest experience I ever had with this was at the first Storymakers conference - Dean Hughes was our keynote speaker, and he attended my class on historical fiction.  I was really wigged about that.  What could I possibly, in a million years, have to offer Dean Hughes?  He said he enjoyed the class, though, so I guess I did all right.  I was majorly star-struck. 

Randy: What do you like best about presenting workshops?

Tristi: I love sharing ideas and experiences, answering questions and helping to steer people when they've felt lost, and interacting with the people in the room.  It's so much fun. 

Randy: What do you like least about presenting workshops.

Tristi: I always lose my voice at some point.  At the Storymakers conference, I seem to lose it midway through the last day, so I croak into the microphone for my entire class.  Not the most professional impression to make.  I also don't like it when I feel I didn't fully make my point.  I'm learning how to time my presentations better so I don't fall into that trap anymore. 

Randy: What bit of advice do you have for those of us who may be presenting workshops in the future?

Tristi: Keep in mind your audience and your topic.  Your listeners will come into the class wanting to hear certain information, and you should do your very best to be prepared to give them that information.  Also be sure to leave time for question and answers.  If you didn't get to a certain point or there was something left unclear, your audience should have the chance to speak up and find out what they need to know. Oh, and don't throw up.

There you have it not one, but two topics from Tristi Pinkston. If you get the chance to sit in a workshop that she is presenting, take it. I tend to feel like a fish out of water at the conferences and Tristi put me at ease as soon as she started talking. She is very informative and very friendly. I hope you have a chance to find out for yourself.

As a parting comment, I’m greatly relieved to hear the selection process for workshop presenters follows a logical course. Unless they need an expert on how to be a goof-ball I should be safe from any attempts to have me stand in front of a group of authors and teach. Whew.  

Monday, June 6, 2011

Interview with Tristi Pinkston - Part I

            I attended a workshop at LDStorymaker11 that  Tristi Pinkston taught on blogging. She really knew the topic and gave a great overview of it. Her demonstration of how easy it is to setup a blog is the reason I’m here now.
            After the conference I had the chance to visit her blog page and was impressed with not only the layout, but the amount of content she has on it. Tristi is a valuable resource for novice writers wanting to do blogs of their own.

Randy: Your blog has a lot of information about blogging; how did you become such an expert on the topic?

Tristi: Lots and lots of trial and error, giving things a whirl and seeing what worked and what didn't.  I've now got things set up on my blog exactly how I want them - not that I'll never change them, because I believe that you have to keep things fresh, but the basic elements are now solidified and I'll add new things as I stumble upon them.  It's been a lot of fun.  

Randy: What is the thing you like best about blogging?

Tristi: I love having the opportunity to share what I'm thinking and feeling, to talk about things that matter most to me, to come up with fun things for my readers, and very best of all, to make friends.  I've met wonderful people through blogging, and they have blessed my life in a lot of different ways.

Randy: What is about blogging that you like the least?

Tristi: I really haven't found too many downsides to it.  I don't like the spam, and I really don't like it when I get virulent anti-Mormon comments, and so I have comment moderation. In that way, I'm the only one who sees it, and those things don't make it out to my readers.  It's my blog, and I should get to create its atmosphere, not someone who has a serious beef with something I've said or who wants to sell something.  I don't mind, and actually enjoy, intelligent disagreement, but ranting gets deleted.  It's not considerate. 

Randy: If you could only give one tip to the author of a new blog what would it be?

Tristi: To always be yourself.  Your blog is a reflection of who you are, and you should choose content that speaks to your true self.  Use your own voice, and while always remaining professional, don't let yourself become stiff or too formal.

Randy: How long did it take you to become really proficient at blogging?

Tristi: I've written personal essays and things like that for years, so the writing part of blogging came really naturally to me.  The technology part ... well, I'd say I was proficient after a couple of months, but anytime Blogger throws something new at me, I stumble around for a minute before I figure it out. 

Randy: Who do you think has the best blog around? Or would that be you? 

Tristi: Well now, mine is pretty awesome, I won't lie to you there.  But there are several others I visit regularly.  First is LDSPublisher.  (http://www.ldspublisher.blogspot.com)  She offers fantastic information about the LDS market and tips for writers trying to break into that market. For the others, come check out the sidebar on my blog.  I've got a ton of links.  (And notice how I oh, so smoothly, invited you to come over to my blog? It's all about promotion, folks.)

            In addition to the basic templates that blogger has available you can try either of these sites.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides     $$$ ½
137 Minutes
Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffery Rush
Director: Rob Marshall

            Jack is back. (Shouldn’t there be a “Captain” in there somewhere?) The fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise opens with Jack Sparrow attempting a rescue of Mr. Gibbs and needing to escape from the King’s own palace in London. This sequence contains all of the witty dialogue and clever trickery that we expect from this lovable scalawag.
            As it turns out, someone is London recruiting a crew and pretending to be Captain Jack Sparrow. Justifiably miffed that someone would sully his good name Jack investigates the hiring gala and is press-ganged into service for the legendary pirate – Black Beard.
            Pirates IV stands on its own as a story. Knowing the previous connection Jack has with Mr. Gibbs and the Black Pearl helps but isn’t necessary to enjoying the movie. The same is true for the rivalry between him and Captain Barbossa. The basic story line is that pretty much everyone is looking for the Fountain of Youth and Jack is the key to finding it.
            While there is plenty of action involving the characters attempts to trick and out maneuver one another, the story is about redemption. Of course, if you want to ignore that and just laugh and applaud at the comedic pirate antics then you will be amply entertained.
            If I’ve caught your attention with my comment about redemption then pay attention to Philip, (Sam Claflin), a man of faith, as he looks for a soul to save. Black Beard, Angelica, Syrena the mermaid, and even our beloved Jack Sparrow all have parts in this minor study about redemption.
            As much as I love stories about saving people or the search for salvation I thought this part of the storyline fell short. This may be why I didn’t have a better reaction to it than I did. Johnny Depp’s performance is perhaps a little restrained from his earlier appearances in this franchise. However, I think the biggest problem the film faces is that this is really Barbossa’s story. Jack is more fun and easier to like, but no mistake about it the real winner in this movie is Geoffrey Rush’s evil Captain Barbossa. Rush puts in the most heart-felt performance of the bunch as he copes with a different form of redemption; one more appropriate for a pirate.
            I gave Pirates a 3 ½ rating. This is a good movie and you’ll want to see it on the big screen with a matching high-definition sound system. I gave it the extra half star since it’s a 3-D film you may even want to make sure to see it that way; I caught it as a normal film and didn’t think the extra dimension would make it any better. It is a fun, visually exciting, well-acted, and well-directed movie that I expect most people to really like.  It isn’t something I would put down as the movie of the year though.

            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.