Life's hard.

It's even harder when you're stupid.

John Wayne

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

God bless computer repairmen the world over!  My data was saved and I will post Terrier this week.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Writer Series: The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You're Not by John Vorhaus

The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You're NotWhether it is the slapstick comedy of a Stephanie Plum novel, the clever witticism of any of the Jasper Fforde books or even the more middle school humor of Dave Barry, if done properly, humor can be a very useful and fun tool.  It highlights ideas, gives lifeblood to a story, and makes characters likeable and interesting.  The unfortunate thing is that with writing it is completely up to the reader’s imagination and ability to get the joke.  Without any visual clues, voice pitch or back and forth interaction something you thought was hilarious could fall flat, be misinterpreted or be viewed as trying too hard.  Those consequences can make us hesitate to interject that healthy dose of comedy into our writing, but thankfully, for those of us wavering there is hope.  Our redeeming grace is that comedy, like any other tool in a writer’s arsenal, is a skill that can be dissected and developed.  Because of The Comic Toolbox freedom is within our grasp.   We the writing masses can be liberated from bad jokes, throw off the shackles of lame humor and get out from under the yoke of hesitation.  

I first came across The Comic Toolbox when it was recommended in one of my writing classes.  Vorhaus’s story structure (found in chapter 7) was suggested as a worksheet to help construct a synopsis, and I have personally found it a really great device for developing storylines, especially since I favor fill-in-the-blank story creation.  So when I sat down to read this book, my highlighter poised and ready, and my pen and paper handy to write down brilliant insights bestowed on me by the comic alchemist, as John Vorhaus calls himself, I had every intention of being funnier by the end of my journey.  And as it turns out I had plenty of chances to use my highlighter, though whether or not I am funnier is a matter of opinion.  Personally, I thought I was pretty dang hilarious before I started the book, so I can only imagine how great I am now.  And my imagination is probably the safest place for my comic talent to remain (I wouldn’t want to overwhelm anybody with my greatness).

I felt pretty safe in John Vorhaus’s enthusiastic hands, not only because this book is so well known, but also for the rest of his resume.  He has worked in more than 30 countries for production companies, film schools, television networks and as a consultant on the development of scripts and television series.  Some of his own credits include Married… with Children, Head of the Class, The Sentinel, and The Flash.  He is a member of the Writers Guild of America with over a dozen books to his credit.  With teaching stints at Northwestern University, the American Film Institute and the Writers Program of the UCLA Extension he is no stranger to actually teaching real live people to use his methods, always helpful.

John Vorhaus expertly breaks down comedy into individual elements before showing how to combine and utilize them to hopefully create the desired effect.  The expressively-written chapters are of a reasonable length with exercises directly interjected into the body of the text.  Being published in 1994, does mean his examples are a bit dated and while I understood most of them some were a little too old for me to get.  The important part, though, is that I still understood the point he was trying to make (but really the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi were kind of old even in ’94 … I’m just saying).  There is a lot of information to take in during the course of this book and I did have to work at staying on topic as I made my way through it, but I think it is worth the effort.   

With Vorhaus’s help I learned not to find the idea of creating humor so overwhelming and to add extra levels to my creative process.  He does a thorough job explaining his techniques and uses formulas and step-by-step instructions to give the reader a chance to emulate them, which I love because the application part is generally the hard one for me.  My hope is that by employing these tools, my writing can be more engaging and multidimensional.  I mean, who doesn’t want to be funny?  Also a lot of his points are not just for comedy, but can be applied to universal storytelling and used to help produce impactful writing.

One of the biggest immediate rewards of this book was using the techniques to break down one of my favorite sitcoms, The Big Bang Theory.  I felt rather clever when I could identify the mechanics of the process, which means I could grasp more of the information than I expected.  Raising Hope will be my next effort; you know for “educational” reasons and not just because I like it (guess who gets to be Queen-of-the-Remote for a while).  But truthfully, a real life application of these new tools is something I am going to have to work at layering in, and I think it will be more helpful when I have a specific project in mind rather than just general information to absorb.  With a specific project I think the whole attention-wandering aspect of my first read would be cut down and being able to zero in on the particular bits of wisdom pertaining to my actual needs will make it all more alive for me.  

We all can have a chance to enrich our writing with humor.  And with a little - or more likely - a lot of practice using the techniques in The Comic Toolbox even you could someday legitimately claim the title of comic alchemist.  Because, really, in the in the end who couldn't stand to be a little funnier?

Fellow Readers

Fellow Readers,

So I have been able to retrieve some of my writing articles, but I'm still working on the regular posts.

Thanks again for your patience,


Friday, October 18, 2013

Yep another delay

Fellow readers,

So I have to imagine you are as tired of reading these posts as I am of writing, but here it goes, my computer just kicked it this week with all of my post info on it.  I'm using my iPad to write this one, but that isn't a very practical for an actual review.  So while I attempt to recover my data an d learn windows 8 there will be a, hopefully, short delay on the next review.  I know it sucks, trust me I am even more annoyed than you are.  Imagine being brilliant, witty, and eloquent as I am without a reliable way to gift other people with my words.

Anyway, fingers crossed and with some help from my other half we will be up and running soon!


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Writer Series: Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress

Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective ViewpointsLet’s be honest. We are all striving to improve our writing with varied results.  Unfortunately, our desire and efforts are not always the key that unlocks the door to progress.  The real trick of it is to sift the pearls from the muck, so you aren’t wasting your precious, limited time (and money) on something pretty useless, and this is where I am trying to come in.  I am willing to use my precious and limited time to try and help.  Not only to improve my own writing, because, frankly, I need it, but also to do a little something for my fellow writer and seeker of betterment in the process.  And my first offering is from the Write Great Fiction series by Writer’s Digest; Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint: Techniques and exercises for crafting dynamic characters and effective viewpoints by Nancy Kress.

From the very beginning I knew Characters, Emotions and Viewpoint was well worth my time.  It was the kind of book that made me want to get a highlighter and dust off my old college study habits.  It helped bring me back to the important basics of character creation and their part in fleshing out the plot to build a story, while also introducing some ideas I never gave enough consideration to and some that were completely new.  I am not a classically trained writer.  My highly decorative degree in History, while useful in many respects, did not fully prepare me for my heart’s pursuit and so I am working at filling in the gaps.  Thankfully, books like Nancy Kress’ are helping me out. 

Nancy Kress is obviously well acquainted with the material from a teacher’s point of view, but she also gives the impression of a writer who has been in the trenches and managed to soldier on. This book is broken down into easily digestible bits, but not dumbed down to the point of boredom.  I found it very engaging, which took a lot of pressure off me as a reader.  Because, let’s face it, no matter how much good information a book has, if it can’t keep your attention, you will never get through it or hate every moment you sacrifice to it until the blissful release of finishing the last page. 

Never did I feel adrift during my reading.  Kress was always thorough enough that I left each section feeling like I really understood what she was saying.  The writing is concise; good at not only telling you what is needed and why, but how to apply the principles as well.  Kress gives relatable real-life examples, using well-known books and authors to illustrate her points, adding legitimacy to what she is telling and showing.  The chapter recaps, exercises – which help with skill building and out of the box thinking – and, finally, the checklist bring home her message in different ways forcing even me, which is never a small feat, to really pay attention. 

This is material that deserves to be absorbed and digested, not just motored through.  I took a break after each chapter to think on things, which slowed down my reading considerably, but hopefully to good effect.  So understand before you start that while you could get through it in an afternoon, decide whether or not you should get through it quickly and how you can best receive the full benefit.  Personally, I put it on an easy-to-get-to shelf so I can reread it again in the near future and reinforce the good habits I’m trying to instill in my writing.

Good information from a well-written source is fantastic, but I personally find it even more reassuring when my “authority” has the credentials to back them up.  When reading any material like this, used as an educational tool and not merely opinions, my college training and delightfully vivid Professor Sarasohn taught me a little investigation into the author is a good way to legitimize the work.  A quick peek at Nancy Kess’ author’s page and at her website ( for even more updated information really helped fill in the pieces regarding her fitness to write this book.  Nancy Kress is an international author publishing 22 books, has won two Nebulas and a Hugo and is the WRITER’S DIGEST magazine, “Fiction” columnist.  She also regularly teaches a workshop in Maryland.  I would say she definitely qualifies as an authority.

Published in 2005, Characters, Emotions and Viewpoint is new enough  to be very relevant, but old enough to find at a reasonable price on, or even with a variety of new and used editions. I am positively in favor of buying this book and keeping it as part of your personal writing library, but, as always, borrowing it from the library before purchasing it to make sure you are getting what you need is never a bad idea.  

If you are tired of disappointing, lackluster and maybe just so-so characters Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint can help make them a potent force - characters that not only serve their purpose, but also help breathe life into your plot.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Hello Fellow Readers,

So I have managed to update somethings, but not everything I wanted to.  I'll keep you posted.  Also, on the off weeks of my book reviews I will be posting a limited series of review articles on writing books for those - like me - who are aspiring writers.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fellow Readers,

Sorry that the blog isn't fully up-to-date.  Blogsplot is having some technical difficulties, but as soon as I can I will update it.


Friday, October 4, 2013

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman ★★★☆☆

I always knew libraries were magical!
Fiction – Juvenile – Urban Fantasy/Mystery
Age Range: 10 and up  Grade Level: 5 and up
325 pages
Publication Date:  2010
The Grimm Legacy #1
Literary Awards:  Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Nominee for Children’s Literature (2011), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award Nominee (2012), Texas Lone Star List (2011), YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults (2011)
The Grimm Legacy (The Grimm Legacy, #1)

I was so ridiculously excited about this premise when I found it available at my local library (I now own it thanks to a book fair) that it place jumped to the front of my books to read.  I freely admit, I was completely captivated with the idea of the repository my mind kept wandering as I imagined the possibilities making it hard to pay attention my usual intensity.  It was like a dream come true.  Organizing and sorting interesting objects with amazing stories attached.  How great would this place be?

 I wished it would have been available when I was child, because it would have been an instant favorite and I wouldn’t have noticed the flaws as much.  But sadly as an adult some things did stand out to me.

The first couple of chapters felt rushed, more like someone was blurting out the backstory than setting the scene, but by chapter three the pacing became more comfortable. The cast of characters were just the right side of bland, but this is not really a character based story like I usually enjoy.  Elizabeth’s rushed backstory gave her a bit of dimension, but they were all far from fleshed out.  The mystery was somewhat subpar, with a few glaring story holes.  Also I kind of felt like was jumping in during the middle of the story instead of the beginning.  This isn’t a quality story like Harry Potter or   Maniac Magee, but taken for what it is, a fun little mystery story with a mild romantic element set in an amazing place, it’s nice.  Keeping your expectations minimal in regard to the characters will greatly help in reading with novel. 

The next book is about a whole new cast of main characters and the science fiction wind of the library, which I plan on reading.  It will be pretty awesome I just know it!