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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.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Movie Review - Epic

 Epic  $$$ 1/2    


102 Minutes
Starring: Colin Ferrell, Josh Hutcherson, Amanda Seyfried, and Beyonce Knowles.
Director: Chris Wedge.

The movie posters for this film have been hanging in our local theater for months and my family has anxiously waited for its release. Was it up to the expectation we gave it? Mostly.  

Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfried) has lost her mother and must now live with her eccentric father who lives in the middle of a forest and claims that there is an advanced society of little people. Although a kind man, he is distracted by his work and we can quickly see why the mother left him. MK, as she prefers to be called, decides she cannot stay with her father, but before she can get a taxi out of the forest she is magically shrunk.
Meanwhile, in the tiny world of the forest, the time has come for Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles) to appoint a new royal leader. Madrake, the evil leader of the Boggans, sees this as his chance to bring wonderful rot and corruption to the forest, by killing the Queen and preventing a new one from replacing her. And thus is the stage set for an Epic battle between the forces of good and evil.
The writing for the film is decent. There are plenty of laughs and the characters are enjoyable. The problem with this film is that it isn’t original. We have seen the eccentric dad that doesn’t pay enough attention to his family. We have seen children shrunk down to adventure in the tiny world around us. And we have seen both of those concepts together: Honey I Shrunk the Kids. There just isn’t much original material here.

If you asked my kids, and I did, how they rated this movie it would get a full four Movie Bucks. They loved it. However, if you ask me to rate the film I’d give it three. So for the official review rating I’ve decided to give it three-and-a-half Movie Bucks to reflect that rather split vote. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed it and I think you will too.

                        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, May 24, 2013

Movie Review - Star Trek Into Darkness

 Star Trek Into Darkness  $$$ 1/2    


132 Minutes
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Director: J. J. Abrams.

            This is the second movie in the Star Trek reboot. As much as I prefer the original over all other incarnations of the franchise I find the casting for this series to be excellent. Don’t get me wrong, I think the original cast is the best, but the creators have really captured the essence of those characters with the new set of actors playing them.
            Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) defies Star Fleet regulations and saves Spock (Zachary Quinto) from being roasted inside a live volcano. For his efforts Spock reports him to Star Fleet Command and he is removed as the Captain of the Enterprise.
            The situation changes when a meeting of the ship commanders is attacked by an unknown terrorist (Benedict Cumberbatch). Commodore Marcus (Peter Weller) reassigns Kirk as the Captain of the Enterprise and orders him to track down the terrorist and kill him.  However, there is more to the situation than initially meets the eye.
            This year has been a great year for movies and this film is no exception. The acting is strong and the characters so very reminiscent of the original cast. The story is even stronger; looking at the development of Kirk into a head strong adventurer into a man responsible for the lives of hundreds of ship crew members. It also explores the nature of friendship and the extraordinary connection that Kirk and Spock develop. Special effects were spectacular. And I especially enjoyed that the end of this movie puts us at the point where the original television series started.
            Other than a few minor flaws with the plot it hit the mark all the way around. I give it three-and-a-half Movie Bucks and would accept arguments that it deserves a full four MBs. You definitely want to see it on the big screen, with big sound, and all the fixings. I am strongly considering a purchase of the DVD when it is released. If you enjoyed the first film in the reboot then you should love this one.

                        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, May 17, 2013

StoryMakers 2013 - Part III

            Here is the final segment about StoryMakers 2013. These are the presentations that I attended on Saturday.

Fine Tuning Your Writing presented by Anne Perry

This was a great class because Anne is a great speaker. She discussed theme. The most important thing I took away from this conference is that we should not only have a theme for each of our stories, but a theme for our writing in general as well. For me that helped solidify what I need to be doing this year. I could be writing speculative fiction. I could be writing middle-grade. I could be writing historical novels. But what I need to do is determine my passion in life and then start writing books that reflect it.
Anne also spoke about something I hadn’t considered before and that is characters accrue debt. What she means by that is whether it is a debt of money owed, or one of gratitude, or even a debt of family bonds that characters can be forced to move in a direction they don’t want to go. Explore different kinds of debt and you can create deeper motivations for our characters.

Blogs Are More Than Marketing presented by Sandra Tayler

Blogs can be anything: a collection of recipes, an online daily diary, bits of fiction, or updated directions to the best coupon clipping sites. The best way to get readers is to create something awesome. Create what you’re passionate about. (Sort of reflects what Anne Perry had said in the previous presentation.)
Expect to see some changes in this blog because of the excellent advice that Sandra passed on during her presentation. Thanks Sandra.

Writing Action Scenes presented by Sheralyn Pratt 

            Here are the twelve tips Sheralyn gave on writing action:

1) Do what you write. Take the time to attempt the actions to see if they can be done.
2) Use your verbs. Do they set the right tone?
3) Avoid passive voice.
4) Use dialogue strategically. Use it to break up the action.
5) Every sentence moves the action forward.
6) Read other writers.
7) Give it tension.
8) Foreshadow the protagonist’s success of failure.
9) Keep it tight in the scene.
10) Have stakes. What happens to the winner / loser?
11) Stay within real time. It shouldn’t take longer to read the scene than to perform it.
12) Keep it primal. Instinct not intellect.

Nancy Drew To You: Writing Mysteries For Teens & Tweens presented by Linda Gerber

            Since the novel I’m working on now is a mystery I decided to find out how much of the advice for the tween market would apply to me. The majority of it did.
     -         Teens want dynamic characters.
     -         Teens like to be empowered.
     -         Teens like to be scared.
     -         Teens like sophisticated plots.
     -         Times change and writers must change with them.

A mystery must have:
     1.  A puzzle.
     2. Someone to solve it.
     3. Clues.

            Plot Devices:
- Riddles                                  - Clues                                     - Red Herrings

- Checkov’s Gun                      - The least likely suspect           - Closed community

- Unreliable witness                  - The big reveal                        - Sexual tension

Story Turns presented by John Brown
            This is a presentation that I highly recommend. Understanding turns, as presented by John, is the key to writing exciting stories. Story turns grab our interest and they make you turn the page. Turns are changes that raise a question in the reader’s mind or give them an anticipation that something dramatic is going to occur.
            John used a small clip, a commercial I believe, to demonstrate this principal. A man and his family is at the beach and he shuts the hatch on the back of the vehicle and walks to his family. We see that the car starts rolling down the road. The man chases the car. But then he starts to run out of breath. The man spots a bike and takes it. The man catches up with the car and is able to grab a hold of the door. But then a sign indicates that there is a turn up ahead. The man dives into the car and grabs the steering wheel. But the wheel locks up, preventing the man from turning it. Then we see a shot of the back of the car where the keys are still in the lock.
            The Turn has a basic flowchart that goes like this: Event/Action – Reaction – Action – and either Resolution or return back to Event/Action. The first action in the video is the car rolling down the road. We get a reaction from the man—he wants to catch his car. The action is his running down the road after it. Then we loop back up to the Event/Action portion again and see that the man is getting tired and will not be able to catch the car. At the same time he sees the bikes alongside the road. His reaction is to take the bike and use it to catch the car. Etc. Etc. Etc. This looping continues until we reach the end of the story.

     -         Change the situation
     -         Affect progress
     -         Raise questions
     -         Make us anticipate
     -         Often surprise

John suggested that you look at them as a sort of good news / bad news announcement.  Such as: You are pushed out of a plane. The good news is that you were wearing a parachute. The bad news is that it doesn’t work.
           Turns drive pacing and the more frequently you go through them the faster the pace. And once in awhile through in a surprise turn that no one will expect.

That’s it. Even though it took three posts to tell you about the conference I learned so much more than what I wrote. And I made some great friends too. If you get a chance I suggest you check out a writing conference near you.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

StoryMakers 2013 - Part II

             Today and Friday I am going to cover the actual presentations that I participated in at StoryMakers 2013. There were many more and covered both basic and advanced levels of the craft. The StoryMaker crew does a great job of covering a wide variety of topics too.
            The conference also offers: Bootcamp for beginning writers to share their work and get some helpful feedback, the Publication Primer which does basically the same thing but is intended for more experienced authors, a First Chapter contest where unpublished authors can submit the first chapter of their novels and possibly get the attention of the attending publishers, and a keynote speaker who addresses the group about the craft of writing.

            This year the keynote speaker was Anne Perry. Her presentation was easily the highlight of the entire event. With her classy British accent she presents her message in a remarkable way. Then, of course, the content of her speech was inspirational. As a writer I don’t think you could sit there and listen to her without wanting to jump up, run out the door, and start working on whatever it is that you are passionate about. And really, that was the heart of her message; decide what you really care about and then write about it.

Plot, Structure, and Pushing Your Characters presented by Hannah Bowman

            I couldn’t believe it. The presentation started and the next thing I knew we were done. I even asked the lady next to me if there was supposed to be a second half of the presentation and she correctly pointed out that we had gone through both sessions.
            Hanna did a phenomenal job with the material. The basics of which are: in a story things get worse for the hero until the climax and then they get better. But there needs to be moments where the dramatic tension is relieved momentarily to give the readers a chance to breathe before you plunge them back into danger.
            She uses a graph to help plot out the stories. It moves downward and has an occasional upward peak. She recommends that there are three primary peaks for whatever level of plot that the graph is being applied. In other words, if you are writing a story that follows the three-act play format you will have a break in the downward spiral of doom at the end of the first and second act and then again at the climax. This method can be used for scenes, chapters, acts, and the entire storyline. 

Revision and Grammar presented by Annette Lyon

            Annette was very thorough on her coverage of grammar problems and how to self-edit a manuscript to get rid of them. It’s hard to cover the material briefly, as the whole presentation is a matter of covering the rules of grammar. However, here are a few that capture the general nature of the class.  

1.  Combine scenes when you can.            

2. Specify with strong nouns, strong verbs, and strong adjectives.  

3. Trim your manuscript. Cut out all the excess. For example: “several of the students” becomes “several students.” 

Top Ten Secrets About Agents, Editors, and Publishers presented by Michael Bourrett

            Michael is the agent for James Dashner. The two of them made the presentation together. The session was a lot of fun, mainly due to the good natured ribbing that the two of them gave one another. Here are the Top Ten as given by Michael and James.  

10. Agents are human. They have feeling and lives too.  

9. Publishing is a small community. If you are nice, or nasty, that will get around.  

8. They read submissions in their free time. The rest of their work is done 9-5.  

7. Agents and editors don’t like saying no.  

6. There is not just one way to measure success. You don’t have to be on the best seller list to be a success.  

5. There is never a nadir to your writing career. The goals keep coming.  

4. Develop a network of contacts within the writing community. Your fellow writers may well be the link between you and your future agent.  

3. Being able to revise and accept criticism is more important than writing.  

2. You are your own best advocate. Don’t rely on others to promote YOU.  

1. There are no secrets. All of this is easily gleaned from the internet.

Beyond Microsoft Word: Cool Software For Your Writer’s Toolbox presented by Annette Lyon and Sarah Eden 

            Unfortunately, this is one of those presentations that you had to be there to really get anything out of it. Both of these ladies covered a variety of software that can help authors with their craft. The list included: Scriver, Cloud-On, Drop Box, Mozy, Evernote, Behind the name dot com, and Now Casting dot com.
            They did a great job presenting the information and I’m considering Scrivner at this point and plan to use both of the dot com suggestions they made.

More on Friday. See you then.

Monday, May 13, 2013

StoryMakers 2013

            The StoryMakers2013 writing conference just wrapped up Saturday. This was my fourth year in a row attending this joyful gathering of writers. It’s hard to believe that I briefly considered skipping it this year. Man, what was I thinking?
            This is a great place to be for anyone who is working on their writing craft. It offers so much to us writers that I hardly know where to start.
            The most noticeable benefit may well be the presentations that are offered. Established writers, agents, and editors conduct classes on the author’s craft. These range from presentations aimed at beginning authors to more advanced classes that are likely to benefit the more experienced writers. I know that I saw plenty of established authors sitting in some of the presentations with me. 
            It illustrates the point that all of us have room for growth when it comes to our writing. If the author who has twenty books on the market takes the time to sit in on a class and take notes, then I would be wise to follow suit.
            There were presentations on how to write mysteries, how to land an agent, how to create compelling characters, how to keep your story moving along at a brisk pace, how to write for children, how to keep motivated, and a whole lot more. Out of eleven “Break Out” sessions I learned important tips that will improve my writing in all eleven of them. I just wish that I had the time pendant out of Harry Potter so I could have attended more of the sessions.
            On Wednesday and Friday I will be posting notes on the classes I attended.

            Another advantage of attending a conference like this is the chance for opportunities and contacts. At the very least, there’s a host of fellow writers who might be developed into a full-blown network of contacts. I don’t want to discount the benefit of gaining their friendship and sharing a good conversation with them. Those are valuable items of themselves, but making contacts can lead to gaining an agent or meeting an editor. They may have information on the markets that will help you navigate a successful pitch of your work.
            In the regular business world, contacts are often the difference between success and failure. Don’t expect that the writing world to be any different.
            I made three new friends at the conference this year. One of them has her first novel coming out in July. If I can convince her to become one of my beta readers imagine how helpful that would be in getting my own novel ready for publication. And it will be a lot easier to get an endorsement blurb from her than it will be from a published author that I barely know. Not to mention that she turned out to be a really neat person. All of them did.

            Finally, the writing conferences are probably the best place to go to be inspired. The energy that is generated from so many writers gathered together to talk about the process of creating great stories is impossible to resist. As soon as the conference finished I wanted to rush home and write a dozen novels.
            This year the keynote speaker was Anne Perry. Wow! Or maybe that’s WOW!!! Her keynote speech was fabulous. Not only did she throw out gem after writing gem to the audience, she did it with style and inspiration. She let us know that we are not merely word smiths that assemble bits of language together, but are noble creators of ideas that have the possibility of staying with society for ages to come. And that we should find our own individual passions and write about it. If we are not sharing what’s in our hearts as well as our heads then we have done a great injustice to ourselves.

            Maybe StoryMakers isn’t the conference that best meets your individual needs. Start looking around. Find one that is within your price range; close enough for you to be comfortable to travel and attend; and with a focus that matches your writing goals. Then go and be inspired.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Movie Review - Iron Man 3

 Iron Man 3  $$$ 1/2    


130 Minutes
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, and Guy Pearce.
Director: Shane Black.

            A good story, whether it’s a book or a movie, relies on character for its center. And Iron Man 3 does that. The character of Tony Stark and the personal conflicts he faces are what makes this film work so well.
            Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is a changed man. Sure he’s still arrogant and mostly self-centered, but both of those traits have taken a step back. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is now the most important thing in his life and ever since New York the Tony Stark arrogance has cracked a bit.
            Unfortunately, that doesn’t prevent the repercussions of his past actions from biting him in the rear. In typical fashion, Tony previously blew off a research scientist with an exciting discovery so that he can flirt with a much sexier member of academia. The tilted scientist, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), took his talents and his discoveries elsewhere.
            Returning to the present we find that Killian has used his research to create a batch of super soldiers for the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). The Mandarin is keen on showing the United States the error of their capitalistic ways and has targeted Iron Man as part of that campaign. If you’ve seen the ads for the movie then I won’t be giving anything away by stating that The Mandarin’s opening salvo against Iron Man results in the destruction of Tony Stark’s home and research lab.  

            Robert Downey Jr. does a marvelous job with the angst-ridded super hero. He allows us to feel the chinks that have formed in Iron Man’s armor through his performance. Don Cheadle also turns in a great effort as Col. Rhodes.
            As good as Downey is in this film, I think the real star is the script. The difficulty in writing a successful series is that there needs to be a progression of the overall story line. Each additional movie needs to be the same – but different. Iron Man 3 does just that. The destruction of Stark manor forces Tony to find a solution without the vast resources he normally has available to him. In addition, the recent events in New York and the relationship with Pepper Potts have left him vulnerable to attacks which his armor cannot protect against. Great stuff.
My only complaint about the movie involves The Mandarin and I can’t really say too much about that without giving away some important elements about the story that you should discover on your own. Let’s just say that I would have liked to seen more of Ben Kingsley in the movie.
            As much as I loved the movie, I hesitated giving it a perfect score. Instead I am giving it three-and-a-half Movie Bucks and recommend that you see it right away. Don’t take this rating as an indication that you should wait for a matinee. It is my favorite of the Iron Man movies and I think you will like 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.



Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Second Chance Reviews - Premium Rush

            The bad news this week is that I wasn’t able to make it out to the movies to give you a new review. However, the good news is I do have a Second Chance Review for you.  

            My guest reviewer this week is Sherlock Jones. If you’ve been following the column you met his partner, Dave Watson, a couple of weeks ago. Sherlock is definitely has a different style than Dave and I felt he was a better match for reviewing this movie.  

Randy: Good morning, Sherlock.  

Sherlock: Why do you have me doing this? 

Randy: Doing what? Talking to me? 

Sherlock: That too. But I’m talking about doing movie reviews. I already deal with Hollywood more than I want. Give me a break; let me do restaurant reviews or even women’s shoe store reviews.  

Randy: No can do. You might as well accept the inevitable.  

Sherlock: In that case . . . the interview is over.


Premium Rush   $$ 1/2 



91 Minutes
Director: David Koepp
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dania Ramirez, and Michael Shannon.

            Typical of Hollywood, we are asked to believe that a bright young man with excellent prospects in the business world chooses to risk his life everyday as a bike courier in New York. In fact, that he actually embraces the thrill of racing through the city streets on a bike without any breaks. If that sounds reasonable to you then you’ll probably like this movie.
            Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a bike courier who lives for the thrill of navigating the dangerous streets of New York in order to deliver packages on time for people he doesn’t know or care about. Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) is tired of the needless risk and wants a more committed relationship between the two of them.
            Then he is asked to deliver a package that Detective Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) is determined to take for his own. Through a series of rewind/flashbacks we find out why one of NYC finest wants the package along with rest of the major plot points in the film. In-between these flashes of story are scenes of Wilee recklessly peddling through the streets of New York.
            The initial flashback sequence is effective at grabbing the viewer’s attention. Seeing Wilee hit by a car and then tumble through the air certainly leaves the audience curious about what led up to that moment. We rewind to earlier that day and find out. But towards the end of the movie the technique gets a bit tedious.
            Det. Monday is fun to watch in a crazy (and unbelievable) totally out of control sort of way. I enjoyed his performance best out of the flat, two-dimensional characters that make up the front end of the story. You have to delve into the secondary cast to reach characters with motives we care about. Nima (Jamie Chung) and her story with the Asian underground is a far more engaging story and the characters are far more believable.
            However, if you enjoy watching bike stunts and high-adrenaline chases then this will be a movie you’ll want to see. Those are definitely the selling points of the film.              

            Using Randy’s rating system I gave Premium Rush two-and-a-half movie bucks for the nearly non-stop action and some great bike stunts.

                        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.