Monday, December 14, 2009

Busy time

I haven't been able to come up with any creative blogs lately. I've had book signings every weekend and have been doing lots of Internet promoting of my book. Also, I'm finishing up the semester with my UVU students. I'm hoping after this week things will open up more.

This Friday, I'll be doing a book signing at Confetti Antiques from 3 to 6. I'm working on getting another one set up somewhere else on Saturday, but I haven't heard back yet.

The Galactic Adventures
of Doug had to be put on hold but I plan to restart them this week. I've decided to take a different approach from the one I started with.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Galactic Adventures of Doug (in 3D)

Yesterday I started working on a new project. Of course, I'm also swamped with marketing book 1 and editing book 2, but I thought, what the heck. I decided to start working on a series of short stories with Doug (a character in my book) as the main character. I would post these on my website every so often. I wrote the first installment, but I need to write several more before I get an idea of where the story is going. I'm going back into my discovery writing mode, so I don't know what's going to happen until it pops out of my brain. I don't know when I'll start posting these, but I hope to get them going later this month.

Until then, do the Havoc Stomp.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Call for Reviews

I was wanting to put a plea out to all my friends to have you post reviews at the online book sites, like Amazon, B&N, Borders, or Goodreads. Of course, I want positive reviews, but do feel free to be honest. I know as a writer that I can't please everyone, so not everyone will like what I've done (it's the same in music).

Also, I'm looking for quotes I can put on my website. If you want to give me a quote containing what you liked about the book, your first name and last initial, your age (optional) and your "area of expertise", I'd greatly appreciate it. The best ones will go up on my website. By "area of expertise", it could be your real day job, or something like, "Lead singer in polka band" or "Underwater basket weaver" or "Elf Expert". You get the idea. Be creative and have fun with it. You can email me or leave a comment on The Blog of Berin.

There is now an official magazine review of my book. It's at: .

Lastly, there are less than two weeks left in the $20 Borders Gift Card Giveaway. The odds are pretty good that you will win. For more details, see my previous blog post.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Contest Time: $20 Borders gift card

It's contest time. I'm doing a drawing on December 14th for a $20 Borders gift card. To enter, send me an email to, or use the form on the contact page of my website. All I need is a return email address. If you're the winner, I'll contact you by email to get an address I can ship it to. Now for the bad news. This is for residents of the United States only, but it does include Alaska and Hawaii.

Also, I'm curious to see what the readers think the Dragon War Relic is. There are a lot of relics and artifacts in the book, but which is THE relic? Include your guesses with your entry.

Some of you may wonder what I'll do with your email addresses. I will not sell them or give them away to anyone. That's just plain rude. I might start a newsletter in the future, but only if I can come up with quality material to send out. And, if I do create a newsletter, it will be once a month, not every flippin' day.

Tell your friends, and may the best man/woman/elf/ogre/dwarf/dragon/angel/gourdo/squemish/etc. win.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Where are all the Gene Kellys?

I planned on going to bed early last night. After a morning book signing, an afternoon matinee, and an evening performance, I was exhausted when I finally dragged into my home at 10 pm. I made the mistake of turning on the TV to a local PBS station which was showing "An American in Paris". I stayed up until midnight to watch it.

I was immediately sucked in by the music. First of all, I've played a version of the Gershwin score when I was a member of the Anchorage Symphony. Secondly, several of the other songs have become some of my favorite jazz standards, like 'I've Got Rhythm', 'Our Love is Here to Stay', and 'S Wonderful'.

The other thing that stood out to me was Gene Kelly. As a kid, I loved "Singin' in the Rain". I still enjoy it as an adult. Watching "An American in Paris" reminded me of what an incredible talent Gene Kelly was. For one, he was an incredible athlete/dancer. Watching his tap dance moves and how he worked his environment reminded me of Jackie Chan (only much better looking). Also, the guy could have been a great wide receiver or DB in the NFL. The dude was buffed!

Of course, he was famous for his dancing, but he could also sing and act. He presented a charming and warm character who could break out into a song at the drop of a hat (literally).

It makes me wish we could see more movies and people with talents like that. Now, all we get are actors that are all fluff and no brains and movies that are all special effects and no story. It makes me wonder, where have all the Gene Kellys gone? Maybe Pete Seeger should add another verse to "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?".

Friday, November 13, 2009

2B an Author part 2

The biggest hurdle I faced when it came to writing was strategy. I had taken some writing classes and read several books and I tried to follow the advice they gave. It didn't work. I kept getting stuck.

My biggest problem is that I'm a perfectionist. I would write a chapter, then want to go back and write and rewrite until it was the finished product. Of course, by then, all forward momentum was lost. I started four or five novels this way that ended at chapter three or four.

The other problem was that I had been taught that you are supposed to outline your stories. I would come up with outlines, but they never seemed to work for me. I figured that I must be a failure at writing and gave up for a while.

My daughter discovered an event called NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Three years ago, we both decided to do this together, you know, so that we would have someone to commiserated with when we got frustrated. The main objective of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 novel in 30 days (November, usually).

When I got started, the perfectionist in me said, "Let's go back and fix what we just wrote." In which I would have to answer back, "Quiet, we don't have time for that!" (Yes, I do have conversations with myself).

It turned out, in order to stay on schedule, that I had to turn off the perfectionist voice (it whined a lot, but eventually settled down to a whimper). This led me to find out that I am what they call a 'discovery writer'. Most of the time, I have no idea what is going to happen in the next chapter until I write it. This makes it exciting for me and can lead into unpredictable situations. There are also plenty of pitfalls, too, which I will maybe go into another time.

My main point is, though, that you, the aspiring author, needs to find a method that works for you. You might be an 'outliner' or you may be a 'discoverer' or somewhere in between. What you need to do is to try different writing approaches and see what works best for you. Just because some famous writer uses a certain approach doesn't mean it will work for you. We're all different. So, do some research and find out how different writers approach their art and then try their method for a bit. If that doesn't work, try something else until you find something that works.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

2 B an Author

Now that I'm getting out and meeting people at book signings, I'm constantly hearing how they wish that they could write a book. I say, just do it, don't wish for it. Anyone can write a book. Now, getting it published and sold are something else, but the first step is to get the book written. It can never get to those other stages if it is a bunch of ideas floating in your head.

I think there is a great reward just from writing the book, even if it is never published. If someone makes a quilt, are they disappointed if it doesn't make the front cover of a quilting magazine? No. They are proud of their accomplishment and feel they have something to show for the time and love that they put into it. Writing a book is the same thing.

I must confess that I used to spend a lot of my spare time playing computer games. I finally realized, though, that after I finished a game I had nothing to show for all that time spent. Once I got hooked on writing, I found it to be just as addicting and satisfying AND I had something to show when I was done.

It doesn't matter if the book can't be read or understood by anyone else. The first draft of The Dragon War Relic is pretty laughable (and not in a good way), but I learned so much from the process. In fact, I'm kind of curious to go back and read that first draft, but I'm afraid I might become nauseated.

Once I had hammered through my first book, then a lot of the writing advice and books that I had read started to make sense. When I read them before writing, they helped a little, but I couldn't understand a lot of what they were talking about. Afterwards, I would reread some of them and they would suddenly become clear.

So, don't wish to be an author, be one. Don't worry about it being perfect. What would happen if an Olympic gymnast decided they would never do the parallel bars until they knew they could do them perfectly? They would never learn.

Next time, I'll explore some ideas on writing strategies.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The fun begins

Okay, I'm getting nervous. Tomorrow morning I start the "Costco Tour" (should I make tour t-shirts?). I'm nervous because this is entering the realm outside of my comfort zone. As I've said before, I just want to write. This getting out and meeting people and trying to sell my book scares me. Now, I know I can do it, because I've worked sales before, but it runs against the grain of my shy, quiet nature. For those who know the color code, I'm a white. Very white. I don't want to rock the boat or upset people. I just want to live in my own little world in peace. I just keep telling myself to act naturally, to be friendly and make eye contact. I don't need to go act like a super salesman.

On another note, this week I'm also doing another show at the American Leadership Academy. It's called 'Stuck in the 70's' and is under the direction of Rick Lunt. The scary thing about it is that I know most of the music and remember when it came out. It's fun though, even if there are no Tower of Power tunes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Still sane

Okay, I thought this week would be the lull before the storm. Boy, was I wrong. Next week, of course, I start my big push to see if we can get my book to sell. I really don't know what I'm doing and it scares me to death.

I would rather be writing right now. I have that draft finished for another book but no time to do anything with it. It's going to have to wait while I do stage three of being a writer. Stage one is where you actually get to write. Stage two is where you have to become an editor. Now, stage three, I have to go out and sell the thing. It boils down to this: if you want to be a writer, you have to be able to do all three areas well. I have yet to see if I can pull all of them off.

So, this week I'm trying to get word out about next week, which is pretty much taking up all my spare time. I just hope I don't completely stress out and go bonkers. But for now, I'm still sane (I think).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Book 2 draft 1

I finished a draft for book 2 today. It's still pretty rough, but I think it has a workable story. I have two other attempts for book 2, but neither of them fully worked. The second attempt ended up being two books in one, so I took one of the ideas and used it for this third try. I'm thinking of pulling book 4 also out of that second attempt. I also have an outline done for a book 3.

Now that I have a functional draft, the real work begins. I think of it like having a clump of clay on the pottery wheel. First, you have to get the clay there before you can work with it and mold it into what you want. The first draft is just a lump of clay.

When I went to the UVU writing symposium last month, Brandon Sanderson talked about the importance of rewriting. He quoted James Michener, who said something to the effect that he was not a very good writer, but he was a good re-writer. That gave me hope. I don't have to have a perfect first draft, I just need to have a good story that can be molded and shaped into a good novel.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

I know, everyone and their dog and their dog's fleas has written a review of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. I'll start off with what I think is unique to my review, which is my rating system. I've been tweaking it through the last several books I've been reading,so here is my rating for this book:


Explanation: L is language, with more points being given to harsher language. S is for sex, V is for violence and gore, and A is for alcohol and drugs. The lower the number, the lower the incidents. My goal is to help people and parents to decide if the book is for them.

I liked the book, but it was also a bit of a let down. I feel Brown just plugged a new setting and factoids into the same formula he used for The DaVinci Code. Of course, his method of short chapters and trickling out of plot information makes it hard to put the book down. The chapters are so short, they are almost like Doritos, making you say, "Just one more. Just one more." It almost became laughable at times, because Robert Langdon (main character) is always going from one predicament to the next with hardly enough time to catch his (or your) breath in between. Sometimes the constant peril seemed a little too much.

One thing that bothered me was that sometimes Robert Langdon seemed a little too much of a skeptic and a little slow on the uptake. Some of the riddles I solved before he did, and he's supposed to be the symbology expert.

Bottom line: Will I let my kids read it? No. Even though the story was exciting and had interesting historical bits (with Dan Brown's twistings)it had way too much language for my taste. This is why I like young adult books better. You don't have to wade through all that garbage.

Origin story

Every super hero has an origin story. I am no exception. Of course, I still don't have any super powers, other than playing saxophone. And I'm still waiting to hear back from George Lucas about my application to the Jedi Academy. Anyway, I thought I would let people know about how I became a writer.

One day, I was busily engaged in a game of spider solitaire on my computer when I accidentally bumped the 'Start' button. I noticed a strange program. In a moment of curiosity/foolishness, I clicked on it. I strange program invaded my screen, filling it with a wide expanse of whiteness. At first, I was frightened. What could this new thing be? Was it malevolent, benign, or holy? I stretched forth a frail and trembling finger and touched the keyboard. A letter appeared! I tried it again, and another showed up. It was amazing! I could type words into it and they would magically appear on the screen. I was ecstatic. I typed several more words onto the screen in a rash of pure joy. Then, it happened: I misspelled a word. Flaming red streaks appeared across the screen, chastising me for my foolishness. What was I to do? Of course, years later, I learned that this program could magically fix those words with the click of a button. You don't even need whiteout! (I ruined several computer monitors before I figured that out.)

My exploration of this mysterious program continued for days. I kept typing words into it and it would remember them. Finally, after several weeks of this, I had a whole collection of assorted words. I printed them out and sent them out to other people. At first, these other people told me that I was a loser and that I should not quit my day job. I persevered. I battled on, I entered more letters into the magic program and I changed several more. I sent the manuscript again, and, miracle of miracles, someone liked it! Now you know how I became a writer.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blessed life

Yesterday I was complaining about how busy life had become for me. Getting one book ready for publication while trying to write another one is very time consuming. Now, I also have to factor in getting out and selling the first book at book signings. Then, on top of that, I have my "day" job of teaching music, which requires me to keep my music chops in shape and to teach lessons. There are also lots of recordings I need to make right now. Anyway, I was stressing out about all the things I need to do until I stopped and realized something. These are all things that I enjoy doing. I'm busy doing the stuff I love, how cool is that? Other people spend all do doing things they hate. I realized that on top of being blessed with a wonderful wife and great kids, I have occupations that I enjoy too. I am truly blessed.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Decision made

Okay, so my blogging has been pathetic lately. Even though my novel is out the door and being printed, I've been focusing my energies during this break to try and finish a draft of my second book. That seems to be taking up all my writing energy. I want to finish it before November because once that month hits, I'll be having to devote a lot of time to selling my book.

I made an executive decision (for those who know me and my inability to make decisions, please don't faint)last week that right now, the balance between writing and music needs to tip heavily towards writing. I have a window of opportunity to live a life-long dream of being a published author. My plan is to devote the next few months into getting my book rolling. I hope that after it does start moving on its own, I'll be able to relax a bit and put attention again back to my music. Down the road, I plan to spend mornings being a writer and afternoons being a musician. To me, that's the best of both worlds. We'll see what happens, though.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Writing update

I just finished my last read through and edit list yesterday afternoon on The Dragon War Relic. Now the book will go to print on October 1 and should hit stores in November. It's been a busy few weeks, where I've been putting in around 6 hours a day working on this (in addition to my teaching time). So, you'd think that I'd be burned out. Instead, I can't wait until tomorrow when I can start writing creatively again. The last couple months have been focused entirely on editing, which I have decided is not fun. The creative artist in me has been dying to get out. So, tomorrow, I'll let my muse loose and see what happens.

Of course, there have been some other things of import that have happened this last week. For one, my son got his mission call to the Texas Dallas Mission, Spanish speaking. I also went to a writing conference at Utah Valley University on the 24th which I'll write more about later. And, my daughter went to homecoming last night after she and my other daughter did a marching band competition in Payson. I'm hoping this next week will be a little more calm.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


I know a few weeks ago I said I would do a jazz article and a writing article each week. Well, I haven't kept up with that goal, but I think I have a good excuse. This last week, I was making the final edits to my book. That took a lot of time and I had a deadline. That's done now, but this next week I'll be trying to get my other stuff caught up that I let fall behind while I was making edits. I still hope to have two new articles next weekend, but no promises.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Writing Discoveries #3: Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

This weekend provided a shock. I was just curious to see if my book was listed on Amazon, so I checked. It was there. I felt a strange mixture of elation and dreadful fear. Sure, it's exciting to have something you've worked so hard and so long on finally see the light of day. But then, people will start reading it, and giving opinions. What if it flops?

I know. It's a sign of my insecurities. I still feel like a novice when it comes to writing. I've grown by leaps and bounds, but I know so little about how to truly craft a good book. What I do have, I believe, are interesting characters and an interesting setting. I hope the plot, which has seen several major overhauls, will also be interesting. When you put something like this out, it is a major investment of self, and it can leave you open for emotional injury. I think that's why I'm scared.

At the same time, I could have gone the safe route, just leave the manuscript, unsubmitted, on my hard drive where no one could read it. That way, I wouldn't open myself up to the emotional risk. And I'd always wonder what it would have been like to publish a book. Sure, the book could flop, but it could succeed, too, and if I had never taken this risk, I would never have had a chance to find out.

The one thing I know for sure, though, is that I could not have done this without the guiding hand of the Lord.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Press date

I found out yesterday that The Dragon War Relic goes to press on October 1. I'm excited about it, but also nervous. This process of getting a book ready for publication has been a tremendous learning experience. For one thing, writing a book is a lot more work than I thought. I don't even know if I'll pull in minimum wage. But at the same time, it is so rewarding to be able to express myself creatively. That's one of the reasons I enjoy doing jazz improv so much.

Also, I've started a Dragon War Relic fan page on Facebook. Anybody who wants to join is welcome to.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Writing Discoveries #2

Plot happens. Or at least, that's what they say. And I guess they're right. The question is, how good of a plot?

Now, I am by no means an expert at plot, but since I feel it is a major weakness for me, I've been studying it quite a bit. I've read a few books about it to help me understand it better. Now, whenever I read a book, watch a TV show, or a movie, I analyze the plot and look for what worked and what didn't work.

The thing I've been focusing on in my own writing is making sure things happen for a reason. For instance, when I was working on my sixth draft, I realized that an important chase scene didn't have a purpose. When I asked myself, "Why are the bad guys chasing the good guys?" The answer came back, "Because I want an action scene here." Wrong answer. I had to go back into the scene and give the baddies a reason to be chasing, and now there is more suspense because of it.

In Revision and Self Editing by James Scott Bell, he mentions finding the three O's in each chapter: Objective, Obstacle, and Outcome. By keeping track of these three elements, I've also been able to improve the quality of my plot by making it more exciting.

The biggest challenge is trying to think of a plot that people can't predict, but at the same time is set up well. That's a delicate balancing act which I will not claim to have solved.

Jazz Improv Masterclass #2

[Last week, I talked briefly about the five elements of a good jazz solo. This week, I'm discussing an important concept that underlies all five of them, especially tone and style. I'll get more into detail on each of the five elements starting next week.]

Listen, listen, listen. That's what we hear when we go to jazz clinics. Did you ever wonder why jazz instructors pound that point in every time? Do you think it might be important?

It is. When I started, I was like most students. I liked to play jazz, but I didn't like to listen to it. I preferred the popular music of the time (and I'm going to date myself here) like The Cars, Duran Duran, and Oingo Boingo. When my teacher suggested I start transcribing, I did the tenor solo on Duran Duran's Rio. I missed the point.

Several years ago I went to a clinic with jazz trombone legend Carl Fontana. At the time, I was frustrated with how difficult it was to get my students to listen and transcribe. I asked him if he knew of a way to get them to do it. He answered in his cantankerous way, "You force them!"

I have had several students move on to become fantastic jazz players and improvisers; some even have gone professional. Part of the formula, of course, is hard work and practice. Another element, though, was that they all listened to jazz. A lot. And I didn't have to force them. I have NEVER seen someone who became good at jazz who was not a fantastic listener. No one.

So, the moral of the story: if you really want to be a good jazz player, you must listen. There is no other way. Now, I really can't force you to listen, though. YOU must decide to do it. YOU must take control of your education and development. Until you do, you will just be another one of the many mediocre players in the world.

Stand out. Listen. Learn. And besides, once you get into it, the music IS pretty darn good.

Assignment: Find some jazz to listen to. Ask your teacher for some suggestions, or contact me. There is plenty of jazz on the radio (like KUER 90.1 in the evening in Utah). Also, a lot of libraries have jazz CDs that can be checked out.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Jazz Improv Masterclass #1

What does it take to play a good sounding jazz solo? A master's degree? 20 years experience? Super human powers?

I have great news for you. A good sounding jazz solo is not rocket science and anyone can learn to play one. I like to break jazz solos down into 5 principles that I'll outline today. I'll go more in depth into each one in future articles.

Principle 1: Tone
How to do this correctly is different to each instrument. Some don't even have to worry about it. However, for wind players, this is the first thing people hear when we play and people evaluate how good we are with in a few seconds. Fortunately, with proper guidance, tone can easily be learned. If tone is not one of your strengths, all you need to do is to get help from your band director or a private teacher who can show you the fundamentals of good sound.

Principle 2: Time
One of the biggest errors beginning improvisors make is to try to cram too many notes into their solos. As they do this, they have little or no regard to time. This is an easy fix. Just keep track of the beat (tap your foot if necessary) and make sure your rhythms lock in.

Principle 3: Style
This one does take a little time to learn. The first step, though, is to be aware of it and not just rattle off lots of notes. This entails being aware of articulation and rhythmic patterns. The best way to learn this is by listening to the jazz greats. Listen closely to what they do and then imitate it.

Principle 4: Energy
Another fairly simple fix, but is more difficult for some people than others. A lot of it has to do with personality. Shy people, like me, have a harder time getting in front of people and blowing out. Trust me, though, it is a lot less embarrassing to get up and play a bold solo than a wimpy one. And if you don't feel bold, fake it.

Principle 5: Notes
What is the number one fear people have when improvising? Playing wrong notes. The thing is, though, I've heard plenty of good sounding solos with tons of wrong notes (they did have good tone, good time and energy). I've also heard solos with perfect notes that sounded awful (because they lacked the other principles). The problem with notes is that it takes a long time to learn all the theory. You mainly have to get started by learning your major scales well.

But for now, don't stress about the notes, just get started and have fun.

Assignment: Find a blues play-along and the corresponding blues scale. Then play around with the scale in time with the play-along. If you need a blues play-along, contact me, and I can get you one.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Writing Discoveries #1

One of my dad's favorite movies was Gumball Rally, a 1976 film about an illegal car race from New York to LA. One of the racers, the owner of a red Ferrari Daytona Spyder, hires an Italian driver (played by Raul Julia) to help him win the race. The first thing the Italian driver does when he gets into the car is grab the rear view mirror, yank it off the window, throw it out of the car and say, “The first-a rule in Italian driving: what's-a behind you, doesn't-a matta.”

For years, I wanted to write a novel. I would get started by writing two or three chapters, then go back and revise. You see, I am cursed with the perfectionist gene. I couldn't stand having an imperfect chapter sitting there. The problem was, after I spent all that time trying to tweak and fix it so that it was perfect, all of my forward momentum on the novel was lost. I don't know how many books I started this way.

Then the concept of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) came to my attention. The idea was to write 50,000 words in 30 days. When I tried it, in order to meet my daily quota, I had to not spend much time on what I had previously written. My perfectionist gene screamed at me. But a miracle happened: I finished a novel. It was awkward, confusing, and worst of all – imperfect. At the same time, it was wonderful. I had actually finished a novel! The secret? What's behind you, doesn't matter.

Now, I know that at some point you have to go back and fix things. That's called editing. When writing, especially the first draft, you are not an editor. You are a creator. You need to first get the lump of clay onto the potter's wheel so that you have something you can mold and work with. We can't take just a little lump of clay and work it and work it until it is the perfect part of a vase. We need to get the whole lump on the wheel first before we start shaping it into the form we want.

So, my first major discovery was applying the, “What's behind you, doesn't matter,” to writing. It freed me up. It taught me to turn off my perfectionist gene long enough so that I could get a manuscript out. And, yes, my perfectionist gene still whines at me when I ignore it, but I let it have it's way in the second draft. This keep it very happy.

Assignment: Just sit down and write whatever comes to mind. It doesn't have to make sense. Just push forward and don't look back.

Weekly Articles

I've set a goal to produce two articles a week that I will post here on my blog. One will be a jazz educational article on improvising, called Jazz Improv Masterclass. I originally envisioned this to be a podcast, but time has become too limited to produce it in that form. But I thought I could at least release the planned lessons as short articles. Later, I hope I can get back into recording the lessons.

The other article will be about my adventures while learning about writing. I am by no means an expert at the craft, but I feel I've learned several things that could benefit other people trying to get into the art. That article will be called Writing Discoveries.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Friends (not the lame tv show)

I thought I'd post to let people know that I can be followed in other ways. A couple of months ago I started doing Facebook (or is that Phazebook?) which can be addicting. If you want to follow that, my address there is

I also have a Twitter account, but no followers yet. I do have it set up so that what I Twitter goes to my Facebook. I plan to start putting more "tweets" in now that that is set up. You can find me at

I just started a Goodreads account as well. I'm still exploring that, but it looks fun. I'll need to transfer my reviews from elsewhere to that site. If anyone wants to befriend me there, they can.

Then, of course, there are the good ol' websites, and

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I'm reading through 2 to 3 chapters a day in my book and making a detailed outline as I go. It will probably be around 40 pages (single space) when I'm done. I think I also want to do the same thing to the Harry Potter books, just so I can do a deep analysis. I finally finished Da Vinci Code, but my deep analysis was abandoned when I got hooked into the story. I want to learn mystery-suspense from Dan Brown and world creation from Rowling. Now, if I can just find a way to make myself read Twilight. . .

I'm also getting time to practice sax again. It feels good. I spent last week brushing up on my bari chops since I had a rehearsal Saturday with the Salt Lake Jazz Orchestra (Jerry Floor's band) subbing for DB. This week, I'm focusing on tenor sax and R&B playing.

It's so nice to have all my students in the afternoon so that I can organize my mornings better. Of course, once my UVU students start up, that will completely change things.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This indecision's buggin' me

Now that school has started, my teaching is all shifting to afternoon. That gives me mornings to write or practice. I try to do both, but it seems after I do one, my creative brain needs a break and the other doesn't happen. I feel like I need to go back through my manuscript and write out a new, more detailed outline. I want to make a "bullet-point" outline so I can see each thing that happens and make sure important plot points line up.

But then I practiced sax for an hour and a half yesterday (no writing) and it was so much fun. I got the latest Smartmusic update which had several new Gordon Goodwin charts in it. Temptation.

Friday, August 14, 2009

It's done!

I finished draft 7.0 today. Now I need to fix a few things to make a 7.1 by Monday. Of course, I realize the work has only just begun, but it's still a significant milestone. I made several tweaks to the plot which I think will make more sense and streamline things more. I also came out about 10 pages less, though I'm sure there's more fat to trim.

I've been spending 4 to 6 hours a day on this, which I can do this time of year because I have fewer students. Next week, my teaching load should increase, which I need because the money is getting thin. It will be nice to be able to be a musician again.

On the music front, not much is happening, except I'll be performing "O Divine Redeemer" in church on Sunday.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Draft 7

I have been editing and writing like a madman the last couple of weeks. My editor wants me to finish this draft by the 15th of August so that we can start into the heavy duty editing that needs to be done for publication. So it's exciting . . . and scary. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to be published, but my training is in music, not writing. I keep reading these books on how to write, which helps to highlight all the things I don't do right. I realize my book is not going to be high art, but I hope that my writing won't get in the way of telling a good story.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Current Progress

I haven't posted here for a while. Facebook tends to get more attention right now since I can do a quick comment on it more easily. I know, I shouldn't be so lazy.

As far as writing goes, I finally finished making an outline of the sixth draft of book 1. I needed to do that so that I can quickly see the plot. Now I plan to write a new outline from scratch, using the main gist of the original but working the plot elements into the story better. Or, at least, that's the plan. As I've mentioned before, I have too many "band-aid" fixes and this is the only way I can think of to work them out. You could call it a "re-imagining" of book 1.

Musically, things are getting interesting. I've started playing with a blues band based out of Lehi. Also, the nine-piece swing band we've been trying to get off the ground for the last couple of years has a couple of dances coming up. We'll be playing the Apollo in American Fork on July 31. Yeah, I'm getting busy, but still not making any money.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Freedom Festival

Performed with the Wasatch Winds last night at the Marriott Center in Provo. It was for the Freedom Festival. I played alto sax. This year, the keynote speaker was Matt Holland, the new president of UVU. He gave an interesting speech about Abraham Lincoln. I looked over and saw Jeffrey Holland, his father, only a few feet from me. On the stand behind me sat Sen. Orrin Hatch and several other local political figures. Alan Osmond was there as well, since his sons were the other musical entertainment.

As far as writing goes, I'm going back to book 1. I'm in the middle of writing book 2 and have some good momentum, but I feel a need to get started on book 1 again to fix several plot issues. I don't know why, but I decided to follow my gut instinct.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Finally in step

It's taken me a while to get back into a rhythm after going to Alaska. I just finished chapter eleven today for book 2. I've been able to write a chapter every day this week. I just finished the book Conflict, Action and Suspense by William Noble. Now, I want to go through The Da Vinci Code and analyze how Dan Brown creates and maintains his suspense.

I'm still not hitting on all cylinders musically, but I'm doing better. I'll be playing on Sunday for the Freedom Festival fireside at the Marriott Center again. I did it last year when Glenn Beck was the speaker. It's symphonic/patriotic music with a seat close to the action. Of course, I have to go in a couple hours early for sound check.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Review of Up

When I first saw the trailers for Disney/Pixar's Up, I thought that it didn't look very interesting. Some cranky old guy riding in a house carried by a bazillion balloons? But then, I thought, Pixar has yet to make anything but a good movie. In my opinion, Bugs Life, Wall-E, and Ratatouille, were good, but not great. But then the Toy Story movies, Monsters Inc., and (my all-time favorite) The Incredibles were all phenomenal. So I decided to give Up a chance.

I wasn't disappointed. One thing I realized is that Pixar is masterful at developing character. From the previews, I did not care too much about the old man. I had no way of connecting with him. The first five minutes of the movie created that connection and got you to really care about him, and even want to cry for him. This is the essence of a good story. A movie could have the greatest plot in the world, but if you don't connect with the character, it's boring. Because of their character development, Up was not boring.

I can't name them all, but there were many little things that happened that made you think, "I can relate to that." The humor was based on real life, even if some of the plot seemed incredible. All in all, I highly recommend this movie and it is well worth watching at the theater.

Recently, I found out Pixar is starting to work on their first live action movie, John Carter of Mars, based on the books by Edgar Rice Bourroughs. Since these were some of my favorite books when I was a kid, I hope they continue the same story excellence they've shown with their animation.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Alaska vacation

I had all sorts of grand plans for things I'd get read and written during my vacation. It's not happening. That's okay, I suppose it's allowed to enjoy a vacation, which I am. I've seen some old friends in the After 6 Orchestra (which I used to play in and direct) and friends in a group called Power of Ten, which is a Tower of Power cover band. Next weekend will be my 25th class reunion (go Chugiak!).

The problem I'm having is that I am sorely tempted to stay. It is so beautiful here; the weather is almost perfect (for now). It's hard to believe I ever left. This place feels so much like home. Utah is fine, but it's not home, yet.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Facebook, Alaska, two new book ratings

Okay, I tried facebook. It can be darn addicting. It's fun to connect with people that you have lost contact with, but it can end up taking a lot more of your time than you plan. I'll try to keep control of myself, though.

We're excited to be heading to Alaska tonight for a couple of weeks. It's been almost four years since I've been there; the longest streak in my life. I miss it a lot and there is a danger that I might not return to Utah.

I have ratings for two more books added to my website. The first one is, Fablehaven: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary. This is book four of the series, and I have enjoyed the series quite a bit. This book, though, didn't seem to keep me as excited as the 2nd and 3rd. I don't know why, it could have been something I ate. There are some cool character developments, though, that young adults should enjoy. I recommend it.

The other book is Time of the Twins by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis. I got to meet Tracy Hickman in February and realized that I hadn't read any of his Dragonlance books. I decided to give them a try. The original series was okay, but I had a hard time getting through this one. I couldn't relate to any of the characters very well. But it could be just me, I noticed it is well-loved on Amazon.

Monday, May 25, 2009


I went to the Conduit sci-fi/fantasy thing in Salt Lake on Friday and Saturday. These things are great resources for writers, where we get to rub shoulders with some of the best writers in the area. Some of the people there this year were Brandon Sanderson, L.E. Modesitt, Dave Wolverton, and Howard Tayler. I was on a panel on Friday about when to use and not use grammar rules. I, of course, am not an expert on grammar by any means. My main suggestion was to ignore grammar during the first draft, otherwise, it can make us lose our creative train of thought.

Tonight, I'll be playing a big band gig at the Apollo, a dance hall in American Fork. I'll be playing first tenor with the Moonlight Serenaders.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

David Copperfield

On Saturday, I took my wife and oldest daughter to see David Copperfield (the magician, not the book) at Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City. It was a birthday present for my daughter, since she loves magic. It was a lot more fun to see than I thought. I've seen some of those tricks on t.v., but seeing it live is a whole new experience. You know the illusions are not being created with the camera since it's all right there in front of you.

It got me thinking, why do we like magic shows? For me, I'm looking to see if the magician screws up and reveals the trick. And then, the other part is to see if I can figure out how he did it. It's the ultimate mystery.

As far as writing goes, I have started a third draft of my second book. So far I'm three chapters into it. I'll be on a panel on Friday at Conduit in Salt Lake talking about grammar; like I know anything about that. Personally, I think grammar is over-rated.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Angels and Demons movie

I saw Angels and Demons (or is that Angles and Deacons?) this morning and it will be the subject of my second movie review. I would have to classify this movie as 'okay'. It wasn't wonderful and it wasn't bad. The biggest problem is that it didn't really engage my emotions. That could be because I just read the book, so I had a good idea what was happening. I've been analyzing and trying to figure out why it didn't move me very much, and I think a big reason was because the antagonist didn't seem to have strong motives for their actions. In the book, it was clear, though, and I thought the ending pleasantly surprising. The movie, though, lost it somewhere. Probably because, for the sake of time, they cut too much out.

A lot of the cuts in the plot and characters made sense for time and simplicity, and for the most part, I think they did well at streamlining. It's just that they needed something to make the antagonist's actions make more sense, even if it was something not in the book. Towards the end of the movie, I got a little excited when I thought they might end it with a different surprise ending, but they didn't. The betrayal at the end just didn't have any teeth.

Of course, one of my main concerns about movies is content. Angels and Demons got a Kids in Mind rating of 1.7.3. I have no idea where they got the '1' rating for sex, since the worst thing that happened was that the protagonists held hands. The '3' language rating was probably deserved, though I don't remember much. Of course, we hear so many of the 'd' and 'h' words all the time, it's easy to block them out. The worst aspect were the gory scenes, so the '7' is well deserved. This was not a movie for the squeamish. One trick that worked for me was to almost close my eyes so that the screen was blurry. That way, I could see enough of what was going on without the vivid detail (call me a wimp). Overall, though, I think the movie was a kinder, gentler version of the book which had a lot of language issues and was more gruesome.

Bottom line: See it if you don't mind gory deaths and are mildly in need of entertainment. Otherwise, wait until it's on DVD where it can be watched with a Clearplay filter.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Improving writing

I thought I should go over what I'm doing to improve my writing chops. Even though I'm getting a book published, I still feel behind the curve as a writer. I recently finished reading 20 Master Plots by Ronald Tobias. I feel plotting is one of my major weaknesses, so I'm trying to learn how to be better at it. A few months ago, I also read a book called Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. Now, as I read through books, I take notes on the main scenes and plot elements so that I can study them.

Right now, I'm reading Revision and Self-Editing also by James Scott Bell. He has an entertaining way of discussing these rather boring topics. So much so, that I find myself wanting to read the editing book more than Fablehaven 4.

I also just finished a short story today. It's a sequel to my story "Sacked" that was published in the UVU speculative fiction journal Warp and Weave (Spring 2009 edition). I hadn't planned on writing a sequel, but an idea hit me so I ran with it. I don't know what I'll do with it yet, though. I mainly wanted to write something to get my muse working again. I've been so focused on music the last couple of weeks, that my writing had stopped. Tomorrow, I plan to get back to work on book 2.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

20 years

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of being a newly-wed. And they have been twenty great years with my best friend in the whole universe. So, tonight, we're going out to dinner.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Star Trek movie

Having a blog gives me an opportunity to live a dream: to be a movie critic. So, this morning, I checked out the matinee of the new Star Trek movie.

My initial response is: it made me mad. I can't go into too much detail without giving away the plot, so I'll wait until later to do that. Now, it didn't make me mad because of the different actors and changed set or anything like that. Just suffice it to say, now none of the old t.v. series exist. There's now no original series, Next Generation, Voyager or Deep Space Nine. They will now not happen. Okay, we could say that they are all existing fine in some alternate universe, but I'm tired of that line. It's been over-used. It just looks like the producers want a new sand box to play in because they didn't like the restrictions placed on the old one.

As for the movie itself, I was pleasantly surprised. It was a fun action romp. After watching the trailers, I was afraid it would turn into Star Trek: 90210. It had some great one-liners that payed homage to the original series and their characters. And, of course, the effects were great. My one complaint about them is the 'documentary style' camera work for the combat scenes. I prefer a good, solid camera angle. It doesn't make it more realistic to me to have a shaky camera look.

As far as the actors, I felt they nailed McCoy and Spock. I'm not sold on Kirk. I enjoyed the Chekov character, though he seemed a little too Wesley Crusher-like. The other characters were portrayed okay, though I'm not wild about the new Uhura personality. I liked the more spiritual type character that Nichelle Nichols portrayed.

One of my big concerns about movies is all the extra garbage they put into them. Overall, the language and violence didn't bother me, and there wasn't that much sex, other than that one stupid scene that had no importance to the plot, but was only put there to so that they could have a spicey blurb that they could insert into the trailers. That irked me about Iron Man, too.

This is something that I don't understand about Hollywood. In any other market, you want to create a product that can be as universal to as many people as possible. When they keep putting all this offensive material into movies, it just turns me off. I almost didn't go to this movie because of the Kids-in-mind rating of 5-6-4. I'm not going to let my kids go (so they are missing out on those sales) mainly because of that one stupid bedroom scene. I believe if movies would just cut out the '13' stuff and make it PG, their sales would be a lot better. Don't they want to make more money?

So, my final recommendation: wait for the DVD and watch it with a Clearplay filter, then it could be a fun film. And then try not to get annoyed when the Star Trek you know and love no longer exists.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Book ratings

As a parent, I have often wanted to find some kind of rating system for books to find out if I should let my kids read it. All I can find are websites that give reviews and rankings. Just about every book has someone that gives it a one star and someone else that gives it five. But that doesn't help me. I want to know how much language, sex, drugs and violence a book has. I finally gave up looking and decided to start my own. I've already put my rating for Dan Brown's Angels and Demons on my writing website ( I'm still working on developing a list of rules so that I can get some consistency, but there are still a lot of things that are subject to interpretation. If this takes off, I hope to get help from others who are like-minded, since there is no way I can read enough books by myself.

I don't plan on giving reviews. All I want to do is give people an idea of what it has in it so that they can make informed decisions. Like me, for instance, I don't mind a little violence and gore, but I am sensitive to too much swearing and sexual scenes. Someone else may be exactly the opposite. I decided to not put a top end to the scale, like from 1 to 10, since there is no way I would ever read anything anywhere close to what would be considered a ten.

Anyway, we'll see what happens with this idea. I am currently working on The Candy Shop Wars by Brandon Mull, so that I can get an idea of how a young adult book compares to an adult. Then, I plan to read Fablehaven 4, also by Mull, and Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. It's not that I really want to read a book about vampires and romance, but I keep hearing so much positive and negative about the book that I feel I need to find out for myself. I guess then I need to reread the Harry Potter books, both to give ratings and to do an analysis from a writer's perspective.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


I spent last weekend visiting Kansas City and Branson Missouri. I went with the American Leadership Academy show choir under the direction of Rick Lunt. On Friday night, we did our show before the Duttons, and then on Saturday we played it for the competition. Unfortunately, our group didn't make it to the finals, which I think they should have, but they learned a lot and had fun.

For me, it was just great to get out and see a couple of states I've never been to (Kansas and Missouri). My grandfather grew up just 30 miles from Branson, so it was neat to see the area he used to live in, though I'm sure it's vastly different. I was going to see if I could get a job there, but I couldn't find any openings for bluegrass saxophonists.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Two minds

When I went to BYU's Life the Universe and Everything in February, they had a panel on podcasting for writers. At first I thought that I didn't want to hear that, because, even though I'm about to be published, I'm not an experienced enough writer to do a podcast about it. But, as I sat there and listened to them, I realized that I am an expert in something that I can podcast about: Jazz improv and saxophone.

Anyway, today I started working on my first jazz improv podcast. I wrote down what I want to cover in the first one, now I just need to record some samples, make a pdf of the exercises, and record the lesson.

Yesterday, since I now have more time to think about my novels, I decided to start a new outline for book 2. It went pretty well until today. My problem still is that I can't think about two things at once. After I finished what I wanted to do for the jazz podcast, I started working on my outline again. As I tried to focus on it (trying to come up with a Dragon system of government), my mind kept drifting back to jazz education. Finally, I just gave up and practiced my sax. If anyone's wondering, I played harmonics, did throat flexibility exercises, I worked out on 60 scales, then played All of Me in 12 keys from memory, then improvised it in all 12 keys. It felt good to practice again.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April fools

I have done absolutely nothing for April fools day. I haven't even thought of anything to do to my kids. There's still time, though.

The main thing I found out today is that my book's release date is being moved back from July to November (April fools?). It's a little disappointing, but as I thought about it, I realized this can be a blessing. I've been getting nervous about how fast July was coming and how much work there was still to do. Now, I have time to look things over more and make the novel better. It also gives me time to work on some other projects that I want to do for my music teaching. And I'll be able to practice my sax more.

Friday, March 27, 2009

New draft

I've been working hard on a new draft of my novel. My editor sent me a list of things to work on, so I'm taking care of those things. She found some obvious things that need to be fixed that I was totally blind to. Of course, yesterday, I realized another major logic flaw so I had to backtrack to fix it (something about bad guys chasing good guys for no apparent reason other than that I wanted an action scene). Sometimes I feel like I take one step forward and then three steps back. Anyway, I hope to have this draft finished in a week, so that then we can tear it all apart again.

Of course, this week is also filled with music arranging (or deranging?), getting cars fixed, teaching music, and for the big one: pinewood derby is next week. I wish I had more time to help my son with his car, especially since this is our last year in the racing circuit. My sons are getting too old!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Busy week

This week, I've been involved in the American Leadership Academy Broadway Blast in Spanish Fork. It's a musical show put together by Rick Lunt where he has a professional band (which I'm a part of) backing up his students. It's a really good show and fun to do. This is the third time I've worked with him and I'm always impressed by the quality shows he puts together. It's a lot of work, though, crammed into a short period of time (one week).

Of course, this is the week when my editor contacted me about changes to my book. It's exciting to get to the next stage, but a little daunting, too. I'm starting to feel a little rookie nervousness. I know that I'm not a great writer (yet). I have a long ways to go and a lot to learn. I just hope that I am good enough to help my first book be successful. Of course, this is where the editor comes in, to help me past the many rookie mistakes that I'm making.

If anyone tells you that being a writer is easy, shoot them.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Official author

It's official. I am an author. I now have a Library of Congress CIP number. I don't know what it is, but I have it!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Constant improvement

I'm always reading new things to improve my knowledge of writing and music. It's amazing that after studying music for over 30 years and getting a masters degree, there is still so much for me to learn. With writing, it's even a bigger prospect. I know a little, but every time I read a book about writing, go to a lecture/panel on writing, or listen to a podcast, there's always something new for me to learn. It's exciting and scary.

For instance, I'm doing yet another draft of The Dragon War Relic. Every time I read it, I find more things that need to be fixed. Part of that is because each time I do a new draft, I have new knowledge that I can apply.

Why did I have to pick two arts that require a lifetime of study?

Sunday, February 22, 2009


I just finished attending LTUE (Life, the Universe, and Everything) symposium on science fiction and fantasy at BYU this weekend ( It was a blast. I spoke on a panel on Friday about suspense in writing. Some of the other writers there were Brandon Sanderson, Brandon Mull, Dave Wolverton/Farland, L.E. Modesitt, James Dashner with special guests Tracy and Laura Hickman. This was the best one I've ever been to. Most of the panels and lectures I attended were excellent.

One thing the symposium did for me was to get me to rethink my second book. Even after the second draft, I'm still not happy with it. There are a lot of good ideas in it, but I think the problem is that I'm trying to do too much. I need to simplify. I might be able to split it and turn it into two books. Anyway, I'm excited to now have an idea on what to do, but frustrated that I need to almost start from scratch. Of course, I could take the outline I made for book 3 and make that book 2, but I think I still want a book between them. What I plan to do is try the discovery outlining method I started developing for the book 3 outline. I just need to try and not let what I've already written distract me, but use the good ideas that were already there.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

performing and writing

I've actually had a few performances lately. I played a couple of times in January. And last Saturday, I played at some kind of party in a multi-million dollar home above Park City. On Tuesday, I played a Valentines dance at a church in Springville, and on Friday, I'll do one at the UVU institute building. Back in November and December, I had no pay gigs at all, which was discouraging.

I've actually had time to get some good practicing in, too. The last couple of days I've been able to put in an hour and a half each. Of course, it seems when I get a lot of practicing in, I don't get as much writing. It's hard to find a balance. A lot of writers want to get published so that they can quit their day job, but I love my "day" job. What other occupations can you "play" for a living?

I'm in limbo as far as writing goes. I hate to start a new project and then have to stop when I need to focus on editing book 1 again. This week, I'm mainly just trying to improve my chops. I'm studying a little on grammar, and I'm also working on disecting Harry Potter. By that, I mean I read each sentence carefully, analyze it's function and analyze its construction. It's very informative, though it takes a long time. I compare it to transcribing jazz solos and analyzing the notes the soloist played.

Also, I've resolved to write in this blog more. One thing I learned from a recent writing podcast is the importance of maintaining websites and blogs. For those who don't know about it, a great source of writing inspiration comes from They have a lot of useful insights, check them out.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Answer to the ultimate question

A depressing thought hit me this morning. This is the last day that I am the answer to the ultimate question about the life, the universe and everything. Yes, tomorrow I turn forty-three. What a boring age. At least forty-two was an exciting number. I even celebrated my 42nd birthday by watching Disney's version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. What can I do for the 43rd?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Outline for book 3 done!

I am not an outliner. I used to try to create outlines, but couldn't. I didn't realize that I was a discovery writer until three years ago. So, what I did this time was 'discover' an outline. I took a week and a half and put myself in the improvisatory writing mode that I get into when I discovery write. I think I came up with a pretty good story doing this. Plus, it will be easier to make changes before I start writing the full draft. Thus far, with my first two books, I didn't know the outline until after I went all the way through the draft. Then I had to try to fix things in the story, and it could get messy sometimes. Hopefully, with this newly discovered ability, I can streamline the draft process.

Now, as far as my project schedule, the first thing up is doing another draft of book 1 before publication. I'm still waiting for my editor to get back with me before I can start that that project. That's why I did the outline for book 3; to kill time until then. Anyway, I also recently finished draft 2 of book 2, so after book 1 is tucked into bed, I'll do the third draft of book 2. Then, I'll do draft one of book 3. Of course, since I just finished the outline for it, I want to start it now, but I have to tell myself to be patient and do things in their proper course. This will give me time to ponder the outline and make adjustments before I start writing. Again, I hope this will speed up the drafting process.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

2nd draft of book 2 done

Yesterday marked a milestone, the completion of the second draft to the sequel of Dragon War Relic. It needs some major reconstructive surgery, along with a title. I'll probably wait to do the third draft after I get the final touches finished on the first book. It's tentatively scheduled to hit book stores in July, so that's going to take priority.

Also, I'll be on a panel at the 'Life, the Universe, and Everything' writing convention at BYU next month. I'll be on the Friday at 1:00pm panel about writing suspense. I don't know if I'm much of an expert at suspense, but I'll contribute my two bits.