Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Save the Cat!

I recently finished reading the Save the Cat! trilogy of books by Blake Snyder called: Save the Cat!, Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies, and Save the Cat! Strikes Back. These are advice books geared toward writing movie scripts but I have found them very informative in helping my novel and short story writing.

I don't even know where to begin to describe all the new epiphanies they gave me, but I'll start with this one simple thing: All stories are about transformation. Maybe this is old hat for some of you, but I have a tendency to think of interesting situations and then throw some characters in to see how they do without any thought of what it will do for the character. Yeah, sometimes I accidentally do get some kind of a character arc going, but it has mainly been hit or miss. I talked more about this in my last blog entry when I discussed character arcs.

The most useful thing I got out of it was what he calls the "Blake Snyder Beat Sheet". It's where he breaks movie plots down into 15 beats, or plot points, that virtually every successful movie follows in some form or another. What he does in Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies is apply his beat sheet to 50 popular Hollywood movies to show how this is true. That was very useful to me, since I learn best by example than with pure theory. You can download a copy of his beat sheet (among other things) at blakesnyder.com under the "tools" tab.

For fun, I tried it with a few movies I've seen recently: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (with Jim Carrey), The Santa Clause (with Tim Allen), and Avatar (with really tall blue dudes). Sure enough, it worked. It also opened my eyes to deeper meanings in the movies that I didn't see when I just sat and passively watched. It made me realize that I need to incorporate some of these elements into my own writing.

What are those elements, you may ask? First off, that the character needs to change from the beginning to the end of the story. Also, a story, in order to resonate with us more, needs to have some kind of theme that is stated near the beginning.

I could go on and on about several other little things I learned. Maybe I'll save some of those for future blogs. The bottom line, though, is that if you want to gain more insights into your writing and story telling, you must read at least the first Save the Cat! book. I wish I'd learned about it earlier in my writing career.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Character Arcs, I Get It! . . . I think

This week, I've had an epiphany (isn't that such a cool word?). For the last several years, and more recently from my writing group, I've kept hearing about the need for character arcs. Well, I think I finally get it! (okay, so I'm a little slow)

I think one stumbling block I've had before this new realization is the old saying: character + problem = story. It's a very simple formula, and I like things that are simple (I'm very simple-minded), but I've come to the conclusion that this formula is too simple. True, it works, but what is it that makes a story stand out and stick with us? What makes a story great? I think I know the answer now, though as I continue to learn of this concept, that might change.

It's taken a combination of things to help me learn this. Most recently, my writing group (with Bryan Beus and Steven Gashler, thanks guys) have been asking me what my characters' arcs are. I always had the brilliant answer of, "Idunno." Wasn't it just good enough that my character was stuck into some insurmountable situation and we get to see them figure a way out? Well, it does work to create a "fun" story, and there are plenty of books and movies that follow this formula. But is it even necessary to make some kind of philosophical statement, too? Probably not, but isn't it also nice to write a story that sticks with people and causes them to want to read more of what you have? Most definitely. And we do this with the arcs.

Lately, during my morning exercise bike routine, I've been rewatching my Babylon 5 DVDs. This series has always stood out to me and until now I didn't quite know why. Actually, a couple of episodes I've recently watched stood out as good and bad examples of what I mean. In season 4, there was an episode called "Intersections in Real Time." It's where Captain Sheridan is being held prisoner. To make a long story short, the end of the episode finished with him in the exact same position he had started. I let out an audible groan when it was over. I couldn't believe I had sat through (actually, I pedaled) that whole thing. What a waste of time!

Towards the beginning of Season 5, there was another episode called, "The Long Night of Londo Mollari." I groaned as it started. This episode did not have any fancy explosions or high excitement.We got to spend most of the episode inside the dying brain of Londo. How boring could that be? It actually ended up being a great episode. Why? Because Londo made a journey and came to the other end of it a changed person.

Another reason I think I've always gravitated toward simple "character with problem" stories is because most of our television series do this. Characters might make a small arc during one episode, but by the next week they were all reset back to square one. Very seldom do we see series characters learn and change. That is why a couple of my favorite shows have been Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space 9. I could go on about this, but I won't for now.

Now, the third thing that has helped me on my quest to understand this is the Save the Cat! series of books by Blake Snyder. I'll do another blog about this later, but in Blake's beat sheet (outlining) method, he builds in the concept of character change. He points out that what resonates with the audience is not only the A story (plot - the sequence of events) but also a B story that contains some form of spiritual lesson. I'll probably go into this more in my next blog.

Okay, so now the old formula is all messed up. Since I really like formulas, though, I've been trying to come up with a new one. How about this: Character (from beginning of story) divided by Situation That Forces Change equals Character (at end of story). Or, more succinctly: CharB / Change = CharE. Hmm, maybe it needs to be inserted into the quadratic formula somehow.

So, what I think I've learned is that stories are not about fancy worlds or great action sequences, though those are fun, but they are about exploring the human condition in order to see how people learn and grow. I'd appreciate any thoughts others have on this, and other "formulas" for fiction. I'm not sold on my formula being the right one, but it's a place to start. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What's Happenin'

Here I am. I'm back. First off, I know this is late notice, but I have a book signing Saturday, December 4th at Confetti Books and Antiques in Spanish Fork from 10 to 2. If you haven't been there and you're in the neighborhood, you should check it out some time. They have a lot of rare items that you won't find anywhere else.

I have finished the third draft of Time Gangsters. Now, I want to start submitting it this month and see where it goes. Also, I'm doing several short stories for fun and for anthologies. One is a sort of super hero story that is kind of gloom and doom. Another is a new Myrick adventure called "The Crypt of the Undead Sorcerer and Other Vacation Spots". I need to come up with a third and keep it under 5000 words, but I haven't come up with anything yet.

Oh, and December 11th, I'll be playing up in Salt Lake with Randy Mundy and the Mundy Mourning Blues Band. I don't know the details yet, but check back here or on my web page for more info later if you're interested.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book Signing: Dragons and Fairy Tales, Sat Nov 20 from 5 to 7

Come to the book signing at Dragons and Fairy Tales Bookstore in Eagle Mountain this Saturday. I'll be there with Dan Wells (I Am Not a Serial Killer, Mr. Monster), Howard Tayler (Schlock Mercenary), Larry Correia (Monster Hunter International and Vendetta), along with Daron Fraley, David West and others.

3535 E Ranches Parkway Suite A
Eagle Mountain, UT 84005
Phone number is: 801-

Monday, November 1, 2010

Agent Contest

For those of you who have a finished young adult novel that you're shopping around, check out Chuck Sambuchino's blog. They are having the "Lucky Agent Contest" where you submit 150-200 of the first words of your novel and an agent looks at it. 3 winners chosen.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Bent Sword - review

I recently finished reading The Bent Sword by Stephen Gashler and loved it. I know, it could be pointed out that I'm biased since Stephen is also in my writing group. However, I wanted to read his book before I met him when I saw one of the book trailers he created: thebentsword.com.

The Bent Sword was an enjoyable romp, following the adventures of Steffin who is on a quest to gather a party of adventurers to defeat the evil Lord Bore (and boredom - the most evil force on earth). One problem, Lord Bore only exists in his own mind; or does he? Steffin soon encounters others who were at one time only in his own mind. If they are real, does that mean Lord Bore is, too?

In Steffin's attempts to become a hero worthy of legend, he has several humorous events that make the book fun and entertaining. A few times I wanted to wring Steffin by the neck for being a little dense, but fortunately his friends keep him out of anything life ending. I especially loved the interaction between Steffin and his large 'side-kick' Sir Mammoth.

This book was not only fun, but gets the 'big-toe up' award for being a clean read. It is definitely worth reading and can be found here. Oh, and be sure to check out The Bent Sword: The Musical at the Provo Theater. More info here.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


A while ago I blogged about the 10,000 hour rule. That's where they found that, in order to be a world-class expert at something, you need to spend 10,000 hours doing it. If that doesn't seem like a lot, then think about it as taking 417 days straight (about 1 year and 2 months) of doing nothing but your chosen subject. That means no eating, sleeping or potty breaks. Now are you overwhelmed?

Well, there's another part to the formula, and that's passion. No, not the romantic kissy-face kind, but the kind that lights you on fire so that you hardly want to do anything else. I often tell my students that there are two secrets to success in music (Those of you who have not signed the non-disclosure agreement need to stop here). Secret #1 is practice (i.e. 10,000 hour rule) and Secret #2 is have fun (passion).

I began to ponder this more as I've struggled to balance my two careers: music and writing. I realized a few months ago that I no longer had the passion for music that I once had. Tragic? Maybe, since it's still the way I make my living. I found myself preferring writing over practicing my ax (yes, my ax is a sax, hence my other website: saxmyax.com). I still enjoyed playing my saxophone and clarinet, but I had to almost force myself to do it. I began to worry, because I used to love spending hours with my instrument. What was wrong with me?

So now I have a passion for writing. That has carried me through writing about 400,000 words so far this year. I sometimes can hardly wait for an opportunity to get back to my writing computer so that I can continue work on my next novel (currently: Time Gangsters). I realized that the writing passion supplanted my music passion after I got my first royalty check. I did the math and found I was making about 30 cents an hour writing. My logical brain said, "This is a stupid waste of time." My artistic, creative brain said, "Let's get back to work on the next novel."

Maybe another name for this could be 'fun'. If we are going to put the quantity time in (10,000 hours), we need to really enjoy it. It doesn't matter if we want to be a musician, writer, computer programmer, or horse manure shoveler, if we want to be an expert at it, we need to find the passion to help us get through all those hours.

I know on my way to the 10,000 hours of music, there were dark times; times I wanted to quit. There are times when all the learning and practice can begin to seem dull and uninspiring. That's when we need to look back to why we started this project in the first place and remember our passion. It can carry you through, and when you reach the other side, you will be better for it.

This is the challenge for all of us: to find our passion in life. There can be more than one thing we are passionate about and if that's the case, then we just need to find ways to balance them. My passions in life are faith, family, music, and writing. By pursuing my passions, though, I find myself living a fun and fulfilling life.

Oh, and for those of you worried about my waning passion for music, it's back. I had to force myself to put my sax down yesterday so that I could get back to writing. Of course, I'm in the dreaded 'editing' stage right now. I now have to use my sax as the reward for a good writing session.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I'm not dead . . . I think

So, what has Berin Stephens been up to, you ask? Okay, you probably didn't but I bet you were going to. I have been busy, so don't worry about things not moving forward. Here's where we stand:

The Dragon War Relic is still out there, but we need to get more sales before book 2, Scepter of the Ancients, can be published. So tell your friends, family, acquaintances, dogs, cats, and anyone else who will listen that they need to buy my book. What? Do you want to see me on my knees begging? Don't answer that.

I am currently working on the second draft of Time Gangsters. This is taking longer than planned. I had hoped to have it done by the end of October. That's still possible, but so far I've only been able to do about 2 chapters a week.

I've resumed work on a short story I wrote a while ago called The Privy and the Princess. I plan on this becoming a short story serial that I'll release in ebook formats. The first one or two stories will be free to see if people like them, and if there is enough interest I might continue with more adventures for a small fee. We'll see.

I'm also planning to revamp The Galactic Adventures of Doug into an ebook format (also for free). I might make a few adjustments first, though, like change the title.

And, of course, new ideas are hitting me all the time. I have a tendency to take two opposing genres and to try and mesh them together (hence: The Dragon War Relic). I was remembering when The Lord of the Rings movies were still in the casting stage. An Internet rumor began to float around that they were thinking about casting Sean Connery as Gandalf. Of course, I instantly became excited about the idea. Imagine Connery coming on scene and saying, "The name is Gray. Gandalf the Gray."

As the little wheels in my brain remembered this, they began spinning. What if Gandalf wore a tuxedo and carried a Walther PPK? What if we took the Lord of the Rings characters and placed them in the world of 1960's European espionage? Well, I had fun mixing those two realms together. Unfortunately, I have too many other projects to work on right now. But this does show you an example of how my twisted little brain works.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Review of the iPad

I know just about everybody has reviewed the iPad by now, but I thought I'd write about my impressions from a writer/musician perspective. I've had mine for about two weeks.

I mainly wanted something to read ebooks and pdf files with. Also, I thought it would be nice to have a device I could write with when I was on the go.

Ebooks: the other ebook readers (Kindle, Nook) are now a lot cheaper and for pure reading I think they are better. The "liquid paper" look they have can be read in sunlight and they are lighter in weight. The iPad is awful to try to read outside. I heard they were a problem in sunlight, but they are hard to read with any outside light. Maybe on overcast days, it might be okay. Outside reading was one of the things I had hoped to do with my iPad. I would say for this function, the other ebook readers are better.

If you just want to read pdfs, it does that fine with several different apps, including iBooks. This was the burning question for me when I was researching the iPad, but it took a long time before I found a review that mentioned that the iPad could do pdfs.

I bought one app (iAnnotate) that allows me to load pdfs into it and then place comments, make red marks, and other things for editing purposes. I can then email the edited pdf back to my computer or writing group members where the markings and comments can be read in the newer versions of Adobe Reader. For me, this is wonderful and makes the iPad a useful tool. Score one for iPad.

I do like the bigger screen (as compared to the other ebook readers), and have converted some of my music to pdf. I haven't used it for this yet, but I'm thinking this could be nice if I get all my jazz lead sheets in it, then I won't have to lug six volumes of books for alto and tenor whenever I have a jazz gig. Oh, and I found out it also plays music, too (who knew?).

As a portable writing tool, I hoped it could be used like an AlphaSmart, only smaller and with more uses. Kinda like an electronic Swiss Army knife (is there an app for that?). The good news: it does work. I used iWorks Pages to start a Kerk, Sprock, and Bob story. However, it probably took 2 to 3 times longer to write it. The touch sensitive keyboard works, but is too sensitive for my tastes. It takes some practice to get used to. After a while, you can type marginally well, but you have to keep a close eye on it to make frequent corrections. The auto-correct feature sometimes guesses correctly what word you just butchered, which helps. I figure I would only use this if I was away from a computer but had something burning inside of me that needed to be written, but don't plan on typing your entire next novel on it.

Now for web surfing, I didn't think I'd be that excited about it. Actually, it's pretty cool. When I have long lists of email to go through, it's nice to kick back and read it like reading a book. It's also great for reading newsletters and long web pages. The built in Safari browser does just about everything your regular computer can do: except Flash. That IS annoying, since so many websites are very flash-dependent. Visiting SyFy.com was pretty much useless.

I have some struggles with controlling it with the touch screen. When web surfing, I sometimes try to touch a link, but I either touch it too long, or not long enough, or I flat out miss the target.You have to be really precise to get it to do what you want. I have small fingers, too, which makes me wonder how someone with big fingers gets along with it. At least when surfing, you can expand the view so your target is bigger, but I also have problems controlling some of the apps. It makes me feel like a ham-fisted klutz. Of course, there are other times when I just barely bump something I don't want to, sending me to some page I didn't want.

My other fear is the apps. There are a lot of free ones out there, but some are scaled down versions of pay apps. They have buttons on them to upgrade, and I'm always afraid I'll accidentally push one and end up buying it. When you initialize our iPad, you have to give them a credit card number, so it seems it would be easy to do this. However, whenever you do download an app it asks for your password so hopefully I won't end up buying something I didn't want. So far, I haven't had any unpleasant surprises. I am a little concerned that it takes Apple about 3 days to inform me that I bought an app and that my credit card has been charged.

So, bottom line? I love it. Of course, I'm also a techno-geek and love anything electronic with buttons. The TV remote is like a security blanket to me. The iPad disappointed me in some ways, surprised me in others. My biggest frustration is not being able to read it outside. Second frustration is the difficulty controlling the touch screen. Other than that, the iPad is a fun device with a lot of bells and whistles. But if you want something to read ebooks, then go with a Nook. Why Nook? Even though it might not be as fancy as some of the others, it at least still can support your local Barnes and Noble bookstore, where a Kindle does not contribute to your local economy.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Review of The Hidden Sun

When I was asked to review The Hidden Sun by J. Lloyd Morgan, I wasn't sure what to expect. It sounded kind of like a fantasy since it was set in a medieval-style kingdom, but when the book arrived in the mail I found out it wasn't. Even worse, as I started to read it, it began to look like a romance. Ugh.

After reading the first few chapters, though, I was hooked. The Hidden Sun ended up being a pleasant surprise and a nice book to read while on vacation. The nice thing about being on vacation at the time was, when I found myself not wanting to put the book down, I didn't have to. I could keep reading and no one could stop me! I wish I always had that luxury when reading.

And the book wasn't a romance, though it had some romance in it (but not enough to make me nauseous). This was a political intrigue book with interesting and enjoyable characters. In fact, I enjoyed some of the characters so much that I got mad at what the author did to them. But then, that was what ended up sucking me in. It created a great emotional response, which is what every author wants to do. I also enjoyed the action and sports scenes which added another dimension to the novel.

I don't want to go into detail about what happens, because that would ruin the surprises, and there were many. A lot of the story revolved around the Book of Law and how the various characters, both good and bad, worked with it or tried to subvert it to their own purposes. It seemed to parallel what we see today going on with the U.S. Constitution, whether that was intentional or not.

There was a recurring theme throughout the book, having to do with “the sun playing hide and seek.” This, of course, does relate to the title. Also, there were a lot of symbolisms with the various character names. You can read about them on J. Lloyd Morgan's website: http://www.jlloydmorgan.com , but don't do that until after you finish the book.

As far as age group, this could be read by anybody, but the political stuff probably won't appeal to readers until in their teens. This book does get the official Berin Stephens Big-toe-up award for being a clean read.

An interesting moral dilemma comes up in the book and is worth noting: sometimes doing the right thing can be very difficult and at first seem to be the wrong thing. This is the dilemma the characters face and is one we often face in life. But don't worry, doing the right thing does work out in the end. Or sometime . . . anyway . . . maybe in the next life.

I highly recommend this book for not only being a clean read, but also a thoroughly engaging story. So go get it. Now. Are you still here? Why are you still reading? Go, git, you should be clicking on Amazon right now: http://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Sun-J-Lloyd-Morgan/dp/160911437X

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Time Gangsters done!

I just finished the first draft of Time Gangsters. I'm pretty pleased with how the story turned out on a first draft and I'm hoping that it won't require as much reconstructive surgery as my other novels have. There are still some time paradox issues to deal with/explain. Overall, though, I had fun with it.

So here's my plan. I'm going to have my writing group work it over and beat it up. Then I'll do the second draft and put that out to my alpha readers. That should give me enough info to have a solid third draft that I can submit to publishers. My goal is to get it out by November. We'll see.

I set a goal to write three books this summer. Well, I wrote two books, and there is one week left . . . I guess I better get writing.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Why I Read What I Read

One sad thing about becoming a writer is that I have less time to read and more things to read. I also read a lot slower now because I'm analyzing everything. So that means I need to be more choosy about what I pick up.

I'm still reading some national releases but lately I've been focusing on local and LDS authors. Why, you may ask? (Actually, no one's asked but I'm saying it anyway) Mainly, because they're clean. Clean meaning no sex, minimal swearing, and no graphic violence. That's not to say I never read books that have some of that material, but as I get older (i.e. crotchety and set in my ways) I find that they make me more and more uncomfortable.

When I do read mass market books, I mainly focus on YA (young adult) and middle grade books (Rick Riordan, J.K. Rowling). I can enjoy the stories without having to deal with those other things. Is this real life? No, but I get enough of real life while dealing with real life. I read to escape.

Recently, there was an article in the NY Times (http://nyti.ms/9oXbwk) about how adults are starting to read more YA. It listed several reasons, which I agreed with, but feel like it missed the most important one. Maybe its because I live in a mostly religious community, but I've talked to a lot of adults during my book signings expressing that they like to read YA for the same reasons I do: because it's clean.

Okay, back to the local authors I've been focusing on lately (like James Dashner, Daron Fraley, David J West, Michael Young, Frank Cole). For one thing, it's nice to read something by someone I know or have met. It has a little more meaning. It's nice to read their book and be able to pop them an email and discuss it with them. And these people write back - it's awesome.

Now for my third reason: because it's where I want to place my vote. The marketplace takes votes by where people put their money. The money also supports the "community" that you want to support. I want to support the community of authors who write clean, entertaining material.

When I lived in Alaska, this was a little more obvious than here in the "lower 48". If you bought stuff online, you were supporting the economy of South Bend or Chicago, or wherever you ordered it from. If you bought it from 'Bob's Sushi and Fishing Gear' up the street, you were supporting your neighbor. Sure, it might be a couple dollars more than if you bought it online, but it kept money circulating where you wanted it: your community.

The clean book community is where I want to circulate my money. Sure, the books are a little more expensive because many of them are published by small presses, but it helps keep some of my fellow authors going. Many of them, in turn, have returned the favor by buying my book.

My hope is that we can get this market to grow. I believe, which is why I write the way I do, that there are a lot of people out there who just want good, clean, fun entertainment. Case in point: what's the highest grossing movie so far this year? Toy Story 3. It's made almost 400 million clams. It's rated G. It contains nothing offensive (unless you are offended by evil Care Bears).

Hopefully in the next week or two, I'll blog a little more. I want to do a series about the challenge of writing clean humor. I need to finish my current project first, so bear with me.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cannonball Fiore vs Buffet R13

I just had the opportunity to try out a prototype Cannonball Fiore. It is a soon-to-be released intermediate line clarinet that has incredible playability with a low price tag. I was able to put it up against a Buffet R13 and my good ol' Yamaha 72CS using my Combs LC3 mouthpiece with a Vandoren Traditional 4 reed.

First off, about the R13, I haven't been a huge fan. They are great clarinets, though, but usually don't appeal to me. The one I just tried was an exception. I even liked it better than my Yamaha. It had a crystal clear tone and nice ergonomics. The tone was on the bright side, but not too bright.

I first put them through the paces with Rose #9. As I switched between the three, I kept thinking, "This is the better one." Then I'd switch to the next one and think, "No, this is the best one." That's how close these instruments were. After several rounds, I settled on the R13 sounding the best, but just barely. The Cannonball had a nice, rich dark tone, which I usually prefer, but I loved the pristine sound of the R13.

For test two, I played "The Girl from Ipanema". Once again, all three sounded great. I ended up liking my Yamaha the best. It had a brightness between the Cannonball and Buffet. The Cannonball came in second due to its dark tone.

Specifics about the Cannonball: It doesn't have the interchangeable barrels and bells like the Piacere or Veloce, but didn't seem to be an issue. It did have the neck strap hook built in which is a nice feature for me, since I have to use one when I play clarinet. The pitch was even throughout the instrument and the tone remained consistent as well. The throat tone Bb was a little stuffy as usual, but it was on the R13 as well (and it's downright annoyingly stuffy on my Yamaha). As I mentioned earlier, it had a rich, dark tone. The finger ergonomics were nice, too, with some of the same features as on the Piacere and Veloce, like a flatter register key. I will give the edge to the R13, though, for ergonomics; it just seemed to fit my hand better. The Cannonball bell was hard to get to go on all the way, and once it was on, it was really hard to get off. This would be an issue that could cause bent keys, but it is also something easily fixed by a good repair tech. So if you get one one like this, make sure to get it adjusted.

Overall, I gave the edge to the Buffet. If money were no object and I were in the market, I would have gone with that one. Here's the kicker, though. The Cannonball is an intermediate model yet held its own against the Buffet and Yamaha pro models. What this means is, you can get something that plays almost as well as the industry standard Buffet R13 for half the price or less. That's something to think about.

All three clarinets played well, the only thing that really differentiated them was personal taste.

Monday, July 12, 2010

"Heroes of the Fallen" by David J West

I recently finished reading Heroes of the Fallen by David West. I'm not big on historical fiction, but after talking to David about it at the Storymakers Conference in May, I was intrigued.

First off, I'll talk about the setting. It takes place in the last days of the Nephite Kingdom in America. To Latter Day Saints (Mormons), this is toward the end of The Book of Mormon. David, though, weaves a lot more interesting stuff in with it to create a whole new and fascinating world. For instance, he expanded upon the Nephite world by bringing in Phoenician traders. At first glance that seems incongruous and impossible. However, I remember reading articles showing evidence that Phoenician traders did come to America. In this book, these traders brought other cultures with them from the old world, even a manuscript of Homer's Iliad.

Another thing that only was briefly in the book yet piqued my interest was the mention of a large man with six fingers on each hand. There have been rumors of hidden archeological digs in America with 7 foot tall skeletons with six fingers and toes.

Anyway, David did a remarkable job of bringing these disparate elements together and creating a colorful and rich world. Is it realistic? Probably not, but fun anyway. What would really be cool is if some Viking warriors showed up, too, but that would be about 500 years off.

Then there's the main character, Amaron. He is loyal, hard-working, spiritual, and can beat the holy crap out of the bad guys: what's not to love about him? I keep wanting to call him "Conan the Mormonian".

Even though there are some spiritual events depicted in the book, it didn't come across as preachy or religious. It felt more like a fantasy to me. In spite of this book expounding upon events from the Book of Mormon, I think fantasy lovers of all faiths would enjoy it.

I had a little problem keeping up with all the characters and story lines, but then I also have a lousy memory. I had to quit reading for a couple weeks when I was about half-way through, so when I came back I had problems remembering who was doing what.

I enjoyed this book, but will say that it has some violence and some mild swearing. It would be safe for teens that don't mind a little bloodshed. Overall, I found it exciting and fun. I hadn't read any good sword-wielding books in a while, so this one filled that need in me. After all, I cut my reading teeth on Conan the Barbarian and John Carter of Mars.

My biggest complaint about this book: it ended too soon. I guess I need to pull out some old Robert E. Howard stories until the sequel comes out.

100th post!

I can't believe this is the 100th posting here. I know I don't post often enough. Well, I think I have a good excuse for the last few months. I have been writing like crazy. I've finished a final draft of book 2, Scepter of the Ancients, and a draft of book 3 (currently titled Book 3 -- I know, creative). I even have part of book 4 done.

Meanwhile, I've started two other writing projects. I started a book where the main character is a shoulder angel. You know, those guys that sit on your shoulder and tell you not to give in to temptation. Only this one has a wonderful record of 0-21 so he has been delegated to a desk job. And his name is Larry. I ended up putting this book aside, though, because it was tending toward being for an older audience. I feel like I need to stick with middle grade/young adult right now. Plus, I need to do some research, like finish C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters.

So, I started another book and so far have 9 chapters of it. It's working title is Billy Versus the Time Gangsters. I know it's a super cheesy title and it will more than likely change. I am discovery writing it so I still don't know what's going to happen.

Okay, now for the good news/bad news. The good news is that Cedar Fort liked Scepter of the Ancients. The bad news, or at least the way I read between the lines, is that it's not yet financially feasible to publish a sequel. In other words, The Dragon War Relic needs more sales in order to warrant a sequel. This doesn't surprise me. The Dragon War Relic has been getting really good reviews, by the few people who have read it, but it still hasn't been widely read. It still seems to be plugging along at a slow pace, so we can always hope that word-of-mouth will get it to take off still.

The reason why I've temporarily left the Jared and Doug books is due to the advice Cedar Fort gave me. I need to get my name out there more. So, I'm working on the gangster book in hopes that it will get me some more name recognition. I hope that will help The Dragon War Relic get more sales. Then, with luck, Scepter of the Ancients will see the light of day. I also started a short story series that I want to get out into some of the e-publishing arenas.

So, in spite of my sporadic blogging, I have been busy. I sometimes wonder if I should hang up the writing towel, because it is not a very efficient way to make money. But once the writing bug gets in the blood, it's hard to stop. I'm learning so much and having a blast at the same time. I see it as a lot better than a lot of hobbies that only cost money. At least this one has a little bit of return for the effort, even if it is only about 30 cents an hour.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Precious Metal

Okay, typically when a concert review is done it's not by one of the members of the performing group. So what. Last night, June 30th, I performed with the Timpview Wind Ensemble at the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo, Utah. I had a blast. I think that had to be the most fun I've had performing in a wind symphony. I've had other great experiences with wind symphonies, like touring Europe and Australia, but this was great because the music was fun and the musicians were fantastic to work with. Plus, it was only a little over two weeks from beginning of rehearsals to ending concert.

First off, the purpose of the concert was to perform the Utah premier of D.J. Sparr's Precious Metal: A Concerto for Flute and Winds. It featured local flutist Marianne Cutchins who played absolutely beautifully. I wish my flute-playing daughter could have been there, but she was at girl's camp. The piece itself was in three movements and represented the materials that flutes are made out of: silver, platinum, and gold. This was not your typical toe-tappin' type of piece. It's purpose was to evoke the idea of the different metals. Parts of it were aleatoric (for you non-musicians, it means either random or determined by the performer).

I enjoyed the piece at an emotional level. The effects were interesting and intriguing. My only complaint is that we didn't have a lot to do in the saxophone section (other than count rests). It would have been fun to pipe in with some multiphonics during the aleatoric parts of the second movement. It was one of those pieces, though, that a recording could never do justice. It has to be seen and experienced live in order to get the full impact of the effects.

As far as the other music, we played: Sound the Bells by John Williams, Suite Francaise by Darius Milhaud, Folk Dances by Dmitri Shostakovich, and Windriders by UVU professor Marden Pond. Dr. Pond's piece was in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Pony Express. It was a great piece with nice effects and had some toe-tappin' parts. A small ensemble also played a relatively unknown version of a piece for winds and percussion by Felix Mendelssohn called Overture for Winds, Op. 24.

Something I had not experienced before was being able to play in small group on a piece by William Walton called Facade. It was written for alto sax (played by yours truly), clarinet, flute, trumpet, cello, percussion, and narrator (done by Diane Dabczynski). We did four little character pieces that accompanied Diane reading the poetry of Dame Edith Sitwell. These were fun, quirky, and I got to let loose with my "schmaltz" gene. I love playing in that old 1920's style.

Kudos to Dr. David Fullmer for putting this fantastic concert together in such a short time. He pulled in some of us who teach at UVU and others from BYU, as well as several great local musicians. It's a blast to perform with professionals of their caliber.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"The Thorn" by Daron Fraley

I recently finished The Thorn by Daron Fraley. This book was very thought provoking for me and made me realize a whole new angle to fantasy.

Now, I don't know if Daron would consider it fantasy or not. This book is a little tricky to classify. "Speculative fiction" may work the best. I view it as a fantasy with a "magic" system based on spirituality and faith. What made it so intriguing to me is that, as a spiritual person myself, I believe in that form of "magic" in the real world. For instance, instead of a character trying to get direction from a crystal ball or consulting with a mystical oracle, they would get down on their knees and pray. To me, that's a real world power that all of us can access. I thought it super cool to read about people with powers that we can use in our real daily lives.

In a lot of ways, The Thorn seemed like an Old Testament story expanded into a narrative. Even though the story takes place on a planet named Gan, the culture felt like it came right out of the time of Moses. This is also a nice break from a lot of fantasy that puts the setting in a medieval European feel.

There are a couple of cool "magic" items: a crystal sword (found from a vision) and a thorn encased in glass. The Thorn was reminiscent of some of the relic stories from after the New Testament times. It could also be analogous to the Arc of the Covenant from the Old Testament.

The story itself involves a young man from an enemy tribe who is befriended by two of his "enemies". They build a strong friendship of brotherhood and faith as they seek to find a way to stop a war between the tribes.

There are a few places where the tension lets up a bit. The tension does return, so don't give up on it. You'll be pleased. There were plenty of good action scenes and battle scenes for the combat junkie like me.

I guess, so that I can sleep at night, I'll make my own classification for this book: a spiritual fantasy. I enjoyed this book a lot and highly recommend it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Review: The A-Team

I caught the matinee of The A-Team with Howard Tayler (of Schlock Mercenary fame) and Dan Wells (author of I Am Not a Serial Killer) on Friday. It was nice to go to a movie with some people I know instead of just sitting in a corner by myself. My schedule finally coincided to be able to attend with them.

Anyway, here is my take on the movie: it was okay. There were some funny moments and good action scenes. My biggest complaint was the language. I really hate it when they take something that used to be clean and kid-friendly and make it more "gritty" for the modern audience. That's what brought my enjoyment level down from "good" to "okay" because I don't like cringing through the whole movie.

Some of it stretched reality, but so did the original TV series. Also, some plot elements were pretty predictable, which took my enjoyment down another notch.

For fans of the original series, you will want to hang out until after the credits; there are a couple of enjoyable cameos there.

My favorite scene was when Murdock was looking out the window of the Hummer and wearing 3D glasses. I probably will get the movie on DVD when it comes out so that I can put it through my Clearplay machine. That way, I might be able to enjoy it more without all the foul language.

Recent Links

Things have been busy, especially since I set a goal to write a book in a month. In two weeks, I have half a book, so I think I'll make it.

Meanwhile, some great things have been happening with The Dragon War Relic. I thought I'd put here some of the links that have recently mentioned my book:

For starters, the Alaska Star at http://www.alaskastar.com/People/. Of course, this is my hometown where I lived for over thirty years. Also, my grandfather homesteaded there in the 1940's, so that is where my roots run deep. I miss the area horribly: you can take the boy out of Chugiak but you can't take Chugiak out of the boy. So, a hearty hello to all my friends and relatives in Chugiak/Eagle River.

Michael Young, author of The Canticle Kingdom, did a review and an interview of me. You can find it here: http://www.writermike.com/. You should check out his book, too. I did a review of it earlier, but if you are looking for a fantasy that is out of the ordinary, it's a great book to check out.

A place called "The Jacket Flap" has reviewed my book and is giving it away in a contest (cool). You can find it here: http://www.jacketflap.com/megablog/index.asp?postid=556557

My book is in another contest on Sheralyn Pratt's website here: http://www.sheralynpratt.com/

SherMeree's Musings also did a review of it here: http://shermereem94.blogspot.com/2010/03/dragon-war-relic-2009-berin-l-stephens.html

I've been mentioned on a few other blogs, like M.R. Bunderson's and Frank Cole's. Frank's book Hashbrown Winters is a great read, by the way.

Of course, we can't forget the great review from Jennie Hansen, even though it's been a while. http://www.meridianmagazine.com/books/091202mystery.html

Lastly, there are a few nice reviews on the Amazon sales page.

Monday, May 24, 2010


I might as well join the party and blog about ABC's Lost.

There was a lot of pressure to land this big ship, and I think they did a reasonable job. There were expectations of having several questions answered. Like, what is the island? What is the strange light in the middle? What's this alternate universe thing that's happening?

I don't think any of those questions were given definitive answers, which might drive some people nuts. But Lost has always liked to throw things at us to make our brains explode, and this final episode managed to still do that.

At the same time, there was closure. All those tragic love affairs were resolved and people were able to get back together again. We find out who ends up with whom (that whole Jack-Sawyer-Kate-Juliett quadrangle was a little annoying). And the self-improvement that people went through was also satisfying. Sawyer/Ford ends up a decent person. Jack fulfills his mission in life. Locke is redeemed.

Then there is the element of faith and afterlife that comes up. I'm still trying to wrap my brain around that, but it made for some food for thought. Of course, I tweeted that the next LOST series will be called "Lost: the Afterlife". Where the gang gets stranded on a mysterious cloud.

The ending of the show did create for an emotional ending. By this point, though, I had already said goodbye to all my favorite characters. Locke had been dead for a while, Sayid was gone. Jin and Sun's demise was the saddest to me. And I still miss Mr. Eko. Whatever happened to him?

There were a lot of other dangling threads, like what happened to the plane the others escaped on? What happened to the island after Hurley took over? etc. I think they provided enough other closure that those things can remain mysteries. I, for one, don't have to have every question answered to enjoy the show.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Iron Man 2

I know, everyone and their dog is reviewing this movie. I'm just one of the dogs, or maybe one of the fleas on the dog.

Iron Man 2 gets the official Berin Stephens Big Toe Up (everyone else does thumbs). Very seldom, after a movie ends, do I want to turn back around and see it again. With this one I did, and I was almost willing skip a bathroom break. Of course, I had to get back out to the car and let the kids get some air. Actually, they went to see How to Train Your Dragon since I wasn't sure how safe IM2 would be for kidlings.

As far as content for kids, I was surprised at how little offensive stuff was there. It could have almost passed as a PG; almost. There was some language, Lord's name stuff and mild swear words. I heard an 's' word and there were a couple of bleeped f-bombs (which were actually pretty funny). There was some skin exposure, but most of what we saw was also in the trailer. And, of course, there was some innuendo weaved in throughout. There were no bed room scenes, thank goodness. It's just frustrating that with a few minor changes, this could have been a PG. For crying out loud, super hero movies are supposed to be for kids (and big kids like me).

Okay, to the movie itself. My biggest fear was that they would do a character reboot and we would totally lose the character arch that we saw Tony go through in IM1. Granted, Tony is back to his irreverent, fun-loving stuff, but he's still the man IM1 ends with. We get to experience a new character arch for him that expands and improves him even more. Many sequels have failed because they didn't do this right, but this time they nailed it.

And conflicts? Plenty, and not just the ones we were expecting. We start off being introduced to "Whiplash" and we find out why he has his grudge. To keep things interesting, though, they bring in more sources, like: the US government, Pepper, Colonel Rhodes, Hammer, and, most interestingly, Tony's body.

This movie had plenty of action, too. The car race was great. Also, in the trailer, we caught a glimpse of a great battle with Tony and War Machine fighting off a hoard of robot drones. The full scene didn't disappoint and has to be one of the greatest movie super hero fight scenes of all time.

So, that's my take. For parents who are wondering if they should take jr, check out kids-in-mind.com for more details. I look forward to being able to see this on DVD with Clearplay filters in place.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cannonball Clarinets

I've mostly been blogging about writing and book things, so I guess it's time to talk a little about music again. A few weeks ago, I got a chance to try out three new Cannonball Clarinets, 2 Piacere and 1 Zeloso, along with 11 barrels and 11 bells. You can visit their website here: http://www.cannonballmusic.com/arezzo.php. To summarize my experience: I was impressed.

I started off with the gold-keyed Piacere with my Combs LC3 mouthpiece and enjoyed the dark tone. It was also nice to have a built in neck strap hook, since my hand cannot play clarinet for long without using a strap. I also enjoyed the thumb key, which is flattened out more like a sax octave key and is more ergonomic. The main feature that stands out with these clarinets, though, is the interchangeable barrels and bells. When a clarinet is purchased, you get two barrels and two bells with it. You have an opportunity to choose between three designs of each, which gives you a lot of tonality options. The bold designs of the barrels and bells do stand out visually, but that just contributes to the uniqueness of these instruments.

Another feature that is usually found on more expensive clarinets, like the Buffet R13, is the auxiliary Ab/Eb key. Since I'm not used to having one, I didn't use it much, but it was nice to have. It was a little bit of a reach for my small hand, though.

The gold-key Piacere was nice, but I didn't like it better than my Yamaha 72CS. I think, though, that it was an individual thing, because when I tried out the silver-keyed Piacere, I liked it better than my Yamaha. As far as I can tell, though, the two Cannonballs were the same except for the key color. The gold-key had a few issues that bothered me, like a stuffy throat tone Bb (my Yamaha has same problem, though) and the low Eb, forked low B and low E had raspy tones. The silver-keyed didn't have these issues, so I think it was just that particular clarinet.

Do these models compare to the R13? It's hard for me to say, other than I usually like my Yamaha better than R13s. These Cannonballs are a heck of a lot cheaper than R13s, though.

The Zeloso was also impressive for a student level instrument. It was a lot clearer than most student instruments, though, obviously, wasn't as good as the Piaceres. I also tried out the hard rubber Cannonball mouthpieces, which seemed stuffy to me, but compared to most stock mouthpieces, they played okay.

If you are in the market for a clarinet, definitely give the Cannonball a try. I can't give any recommendations about barrel and bell combinations, other than they do give you a good tonal palette to choose from. Hopefully, I'll get another chance to study the barrels and bells more at a later date to get a better idea of what they do.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Storymakers Conference Part II: Dave Wolverton

The highlight for me at the Storymaker's conference was the two-hour workshop I attended with Dave Wolverton/Farland called "Writing for the Masses". I was going to put up a summary of my notes, but someone else beat me to it and did it better than I would have. You can find it here: http://tpmills.wordpress.com/2010/04/30/david-wolvertons-workshop-at-lds-storymaker/

I came out of that workshop thinking, "Crap, now I need to go back and re-write my latest book." I'm going to have to at least go back through it and see if I can improve its "mass appeal". Now, my initial thought was that I really didn't care if I wrote for the masses, I just wanted to tell my stories my way. Wolverton pointed out that that was fine, I just won't sell a lot that way. Things that sell follow the formulas that have been successful. People who strike out on their own paths rarely hit, if ever, the NY Times bestseller list.

It reminds me of the conflict between musicians: the artists versus the pop musicians. Many of us who are jazz saxophonists have a strong dislike for the music of Kenny G. Why? Well, its formulaic, repetitive, and sappy. It also makes lots of money. Those of us working in the trenches, practicing our butts off, can't even get paid for a lot of our gigs, so naturally, there's a little jealousy there. Does that make Kenny G wrong for making money doing what he enjoys? No. But it sure would be nice if more people appreciated some good ol' hard swingin' jazz.

Anyway, that's a decision we need to also face as writers. Do we want to adopt the predictable formulas? Many literary types consider popular styles of writing to be "trash". Do we want to write trash? Wolverton brought this up and said we can write "trash", but let's make it "beautiful trash".

He talked about the "try-fail" pattern that is important for safely increasing the stress the reader feels. I've always felt the try-fail pattern made things too predictable, so I've sought to disguise it. I wonder now if I've disguised it too much.

He didn't explain the try-fail pattern, but in a nutshell, it is where the protagonist makes at least three attempts to solve their problem. Each time, they fail and get thrown into a worse situation. Then, the last time, it looks inevitable that the villain will win and take over the universe, but our hero somehow pulls off the miraculous victory.

Throughout this process, Wolverton pointed out, the reader's stress levels keep increasing. To compensate for this, our body releases endorphins which are related to morphine. The higher the stress for the character, the higher the stress for the reader. Finally, when the hero conquers all, the reader gets this great rush that can drop them below their normal stress levels, thus causing a greater relaxation. It's cheaper than a plane ticket to the Bahamas.

The bottom line, no matter what form of art we pursue, it needs to create an emotional response in the audience. If it doesn't, it will be boring. I remember reading a negative review for the movie Charlie, where the reviewer said the movie "manipulated the audience's emotions". I wanted to say to them, "Excuse me, but all movies seek to do that. The ones that don't are major flops." I've also taught my music students this principle. A musical piece that doesn't grab the listener's attention will quickly put them to sleep.

Reminds me of a joke: What do you get when you play New Age music backwards?

A: New Age music.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Storymakers Conference Part I

Wow, what a weekend. I attended the 2010 LDS Storymakers Conference held at the Provo Marriott on Friday and Saturday and got my brain filled to overflowing. I took 18 pages of notes to try to hold it all in. Of the writing conferences I've been to so far, this one has been by far the best. There were nine class sessions with six classes for each one. I couldn't even begin to make it to all the classes I wanted to attend. I'll start off with some of my initial thoughts and I'll have to release other ideas as they come to me later.

NY Times bestselling author David Wolverton/Farland was the keynote speaker on Friday. He quoted Kevin Anderson, when someone said to him how lucky he was to be so well published, Anderson said, "The harder I work, the luckier I get." Wolverton then added his twist to it, "If you want to be struck by lighting, you have to go out and stand in the way." These statements were made about writing, but they apply to many areas, music included.

Something else that stood out to me was when he talked about the importance of staying healthy. He didn't elaborate, but it struck me because I think that is a big reason why I can write today when I couldn't ten years ago. When I took a class a few years ago from Orson Scott Card, he said the same thing. Jazz musicians Eric Marienthal and Gordon Goodwin mentioned it as well when they came here in February. There's a theme here (note to self: can-o-worms this idea for later blog post).

Something I heard several times was that comedy is one of the hardest things to write. I feel like that is the only thing I can write. It's easy. Of course, people who barely know me can't believe that I have a sense of humor. The young men in our church are all afraid of me and don't want to ask my daughters out because I look so cranky all the time. I can live with that.

One last thing for now, I feel like I have no idea how to really write. I'm a musician, not a writer. I barely know what verbs and nouns are, let alone other parts of speech. I'm sometimes a little embarrassed to say that I'm a published author, since I don't feel like I really know what I'm doing. As I got a chance to meet and talk with other published authors, though, I found a lot of them feel the same. We mainly just want tell stories. I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Next time, I'll try to break down some other things I learned from the various classes I attended.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

About my book reviews

I thought I should mention a little about my philosophy about book reviews. I am not into giving 3 or 5 star ratings, since that is only a meter to measure my enjoyment level. Someone else may read something I love and absolutely hate it. Which one of us is right?

For instance, I just wrote my review of Wings. I am not a romance reader, so it did not appeal to me. Someone who likes teen romance may love it.

I learned this back when I taught music appreciation at the University of Alaska Anchorage (Eagle River campus). One student would love Brooks and Dunn while another hated them, but loved P Daddy. They would argue that their musicians were better than the other person's. I would have to chime in and try to convince them that Michael Brecker is, like, the greatest musician EVER. I failed.

So, my goal is to help people decide if they or their children would enjoy the book. My opinions come out, but I try to give people an idea of what the content is so that they can make an informed decision. Anyway, I hope that my reviews will be of help to someone. I'd be interested in hearing feedback from anyone I've helped or hindered.

I also have my rating system, which I will some day explain in more detail. It is my attempt to give people an objective analysis of the contents of books. I don't create one for every book I read, though, since it slows down my reading quite a bit and sometimes I just want to enjoy a good read.

"Wings" by Aprilynne Pike

I recently read Wings by Aprilynne Pike. I must admit, I liked it better than I thought I would, but it still didn't appeal to me very much. But I'm not into romance literature, either, especially teen romance. Overall, it struck me as a kinder, gentler Twilight, though I still have yet to read Twilight to be able to say for sure (romantic vampires? doesn't pique my interest).

Should junior read it? As a protective parent, I say no. It was mostly clean, but there were a few things that bothered me. For one, there was some language and the 's' word was used once. There was no sex, per se, but there was one scene that I thought unrealistic. It had the two teens making out and getting, um, tempted to go further. Then the girl, Laurel, says she doesn't want to do that now and the boy, David, just turns the hormone machine to instant off. I certainly hope young girls don't believe guys can stop on a dime like that. As a parent, that scene bothered me because I would never want my daughters getting that close to temptation. That's when problems happen.

What I did like about the book was the mystery of who Laurel really is and the gradual discovery of the world she comes from. That's what kept me reading, not the romance fluff. I also liked the character. Since we homeschool our kids, I appreciated the positive and realistic light it showed homeschooling in. I've also flirted with being a vegetarian (I'm now a recovering vegetarian), so her being vegan appealed to me as well. There was some good action toward the end, too. I like action. Especially when there are explosions. Of course, there were no explosions here. Bummer.

Overall, the book was well written and thought out. I suppose older, more mature teens would do fine. It is one, though, that I strongly suggest parents read, too. My daughters read it before I did, but I trust them to know what dating situations to avoid, so I don't feel the hormonal scenes effected them. Both of them didn't care that much for the book, but neither one of them liked Twilight, either. Probably the only way I'll read the sequel is if it is nominated for a Whitney Award. That's the only reason I read this one.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"I Am Not A Serial Killer" by Dan Wells

Okay, I'm way behind on book reviews. Here's another one from a few weeks ago:

I do not like horror: books or movies. However, I'd been hearing a lot about I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells, plus it was one of the speculative fiction nominees for a Whitney award. I decided to bite the bullet and give it a try. I usually don't do well with horror. When I was a kid, I couldn't even handle 'Leave it to Beaver' because I just knew Beav would do something stupid. I would scream at the TV, "Don't do it Beav!" But Beav would do it anyway. So, if that stresses me out, horror things do it even more.

I didn't think of counting up violence and gore incidents until I was halfway through, but Serial Killer did have some gory stuff in it. I'd guess that I would rate it around 150 for violence and gore. Maybe another 10 to 15 for language, since there was some minor swearing in it. Other than that, it was pretty clean (no sex or drugs). It does go into some detail on how to do an embalming, which made me a little squeamish. What bothered me the most were a couple of scenes where the main character, John Cleaver, wrestled with the temptation of doing violence to someone.

That said, I had a hard time putting this book down. It was very well written. There was an outer struggle of John versus what he first thinks is a serial killer but later finds out is a demon. In the process of his investigation, though, an inner struggle emerges between him and what he calls 'Mr. Monster'. John fears that he may be turning into a serial killer himself and struggles with temptations of violence. These conflicts kept the book moving forward and my interest piqued.

My recommendation? It's a great read, but if you don't like gory scenes and psychological struggles, it probably isn't for you. If you like action, mystery, or a good old fashioned 'David versus Goliath' story, then you'll like it. I wouldn't recommend it for younger teens, but for older teens and up, as long as they know what they are getting into, it will be fine. Unless they stress out while watching 'Leave it to Beaver', then they might want to reconsider.

Friday, April 16, 2010

My Own Funeral

I had a weird dream the other night. I was dressed in a black suit and setting up chairs in a church. After I finished that, I had to wrestle one of those huge Hollywood movie cameras, the heavy old fashioned ones, into the building in order to televise the event: my funeral.

I felt frustrated that no one would help me as I then had to roll an upright piano into the room, set up the coffin, and put out the guest book. At that point, people started to arrive.

I realized that I had a small problem: I was not dead. Things were not going as planned (don't you hate that?). What was I to do? I couldn't just send everybody home and say, "False alarm. Maybe next week." I had a crowd and TV cameras expecting a show.

My solution? I parked the coffin below the podium, got into it, and kept the lid open. Once the service started, I made wise-cracks during the speeches and eulogy. Problem solved.

Monday, April 12, 2010

James Dashner is Evil

I read The Maze Runner by James Dashner recently and came to the conclusion that he is evil. Each night, I planned on reading just a chapter or two before going to bed, but nooooooooo. Before I knew it, an hour and several chapters would go by and I still wanted to keep reading. Doesn't he know that I need my beauty sleep?!

Seriously (I'll try, anyway), The Maze Runner is one of the most incredible books I've read in quite a while. At first, I was baffled as to why. The subject matter is not normally something I would be interested in. I normally want light and funny. The Maze Runner isn't either of those; not even close. So I would say that this book is not for younger readers or those prone to nightmares. There are some very dark and scary images created. In fact, I had some really weird dreams after reading (i.e. don't read at night if you can help it). They had something to do with walls closing in on me while I was being chased by some cross between a cow and a slug (aha! There's another part to his diabolical machinations – to give me bizarre dreams).

So why do I like it so much? I've pondered that for a while and kept asking myself this as I kept turning pages into the late night hours. For one thing, he does something similar to what I do: write short chapters with some kind of 'cliff hanger' ending that propels you forward. I call these Frito Lay chapters, because you get to the end and say, “Just one more, just one more.”

The story begins with a boy named Thomas who finds himself with no memories of his past and in the middle of a community of teenagers with the same problem. They are surrounded by a maze that changes every day and closes at night while these monstrous things, called Grievers, patrol the maze. Dashner explained on his website that he wanted to mix The Lord of the Flies with Ender's Game. I think he did that pretty well. Of course, I hated Golding's premise in Flies that boys, when left without adult supervision, will turn evil. I appreciate that Dashner took the opposite philosophy; that people are inherently good and will seek to do the right thing.

As far as my rating system goes, I give it a: L-8/S-0/VG-110/AD-0. The L is language, which was technically pretty clean, though there was a lot of swearing. Dashner used made-up swear words to avoid the real ones. The other 8 instances, I believe, were all 'crap'. The book had some fairly violent and gory sections, hence the 110 rating. Broken down, it scored 83 for violence and 27 for gore. And, of course, there was no sex or alcohol usage.

I highly recommend this book for those who don't mind a little violence and want a good, suspenseful read. I would suggest it for older teens and up, though some younger readers may be okay with the scary imagery. I suggest that the parents read this book first if you have a question about whether or not your child can handle it. I can't wait for the sequel.

There, now that I'm done reading it, I can get caught up on my sleep.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why I Want an iPad

Everyone else is writing about this new device, so I thought I'd join in. I know I mentioned that I was next going to blog about James Dashner's The Maze Runner. Next time, okay?

So, why do I want an iPhad, er, I mean iPad? Well, when the Sony ebook reader came out, I was intrigued. Probably because I'm a gadget addict and anything electronic with buttons on it fascinates me (Ooh, shiny!). I looked at one and liked the idea of being able to easily read ebooks on something besides a computer screen. You can't take a computer, even a laptop, into bed at night and snuggle up to it. I know some people love their Macbooks enough to do that, but not me. Anyway, then I looked at the price. $500? You gotta be freakin' kidding! All it does is read books? So I passed.

Later, I got to thinking that if it were a little cheaper and played mp3 files, I might go for it. They did gradually come down in price, but I still didn't want to pay $200 for something that could only do ebooks.

Then I started checking out the iPod Touch. It was small and could do ebooks and music, but the screen was too small to see much. As it is, I do have a Blackberry that can do ebooks, but I quickly decided that I would rather have a much bigger screen.

Then Steve Jobs made his big announcement. The functionality of an iPod Touch on a larger screen. Perfect! I drooled with anticipation. Then the price came out; $500+. Drat! A little on the spendy side for me, but with all the apps available, it might be worth it.

So I made a shopping list of features I want: be able to read pdf graphic files so that I can put music pdfs on it, be able to load via USB or SD card, to have a word processor that would be good enough for when I get writing ideas while on the road.

A funny thing happened on the way home today. My car somehow swerved off the road and landed in the Best Buy parking lot. I don't know how it happened. Honest. Okay, my wife didn't believe that either. Anyway, since I was there, I figured I might as well go in and see what this new gadget was like.

As an ebook reader, I think it will be great. It was easy to read and operate. I didn't try out the music functionality, but I'm sure it's fine. The web surfing went well, though that is not a feature that I must have. I knew going in that it didn't have a USB port, and I forgot to ask about the adapter that you can get for importing digital pictures. I was wondering if it can be used to import other data. I did ask about the pdf graphic function and the guy didn't know. From the Safari browser, pull up a text pdf on the internet and it looked fine. I couldn't think of any sites that had graphic pdfs off the top of my head, so I left it at that. Besides, others were waiting for their chance to drool on the new machines.

The big disappointment was the touch keyboard. Maybe it can be adjusted, but it was too sensitive for me. I ended up typing a lot of characters I never intended. Perhaps it just takes practice, like picking up a new instrument, but I'm getting too old to learn new tricks. The ergonomics were a little compressed, too, but I expected that.

Will I buy an iPad? Not yet. For one thing, iBroke. If I had the money, would I still buy it? I don't know. The keyboard thing is a big issue for me, and it defeats the purpose if you have to lug around an external keyboard. Do I want one? Heck, yeah. After all, it has 'buttons' (so to speak) and it's cool. Plus, it's shiny.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Adventures of Hashbrown Winters

Okay, I know I'm not doing well at keeping up on this. I have so many things to blog about that I'm not doing any of them. For now, I'll do a quick review of The Adventures of Hashbrown Winters by Frank Cole.

This book is definitely kid-friendly. I didn't even bother counting swearing or violence incidents because it is very clean.

I found this book a fun ride, but if you are into serious books that have to make perfect sense, then it's not for you. It takes place in a fantasy land called Pordunce Elementary; fifth grade to be exact. It's a zany world where almost every child, in order to be somebody, must have a nickname. So, in addition to following the exploits of Hashbrown, we get to meet Snow Cone, Whiz, Four Hips and Hambone.

This is one of the funniest books I've read in a long time and is a quick read. It's mainly intended for a younger audience, but those of us who are still kids at heart will enjoy it.

Next up: The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Canticle Kingdom by Michael Young

This weekend I finished The Canticle Kingdom by Michael Young. It is a fantasy novel that combines magic with music. As a musician, I have often tried to think of story lines that did this, but I haven't come up with anything that works. Michael did.

First off, I would give this book a clean rating, meaning I would have no problem letting my kids read it. There is a little violence, but nothing very extreme or gory. There is nothing even close to resembling a swear word.

The Canticle Kingdom weaves post World War II Europe and America with that of a magical fantasy land. We first start off with some German craftsmen who make a music box. It goes through several hands and causes mysterious disappearances around it. Meanwhile, we also meet Johann and Brigitta, two youths who live in the Canticle Kingdom. They begin an adventure in their realm that seemingly has nothing to do with the one going on in Europe. I was intrigued and wanted to keep reading to see how these two worlds would come together.

This book was refreshing because it was a magical fantasy without the cliche. As much as I like Tolkien, it seems too many books rely upon the type of world he created. The Canticle Kingdom gives us a new perspective on fantasy that is truly unique.

Oh yeah, beware the Ides of March.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Percy Jackson: Book vs Movie

I've been meaning to blog about the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan for a while. I just finished the series in January. I finally was motivated to read them because people kept telling me that my book reminded them of the Percy Jackson books.

First off, as I mentioned in my top ten books list, I loved the books. They were, for the most part, good clean fun. There was a consistent humor underlying the whole series that Harry Potter lost. The books managed to keep this lightness in spite of the heavy save-the-world-or-die aspects of it.

It was a fun romp through Greek mythology. I love mixed genres, so I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Greek myth world getting mixed up with our 21st century one. I also like the fact that Percy Jackson was a do-something hero, unlike HP. He made decisions and took action without waiting for Hermoine to tell him what to do. If Percy and Harry went one-on-one, I think Percy would kick Harry's butt (ooh, movie idea! Kinda like alien vs predator).

So, today, we splurged and took the family to the Percy Jackson movie. Waste of money. Should have waited for the DVD. Now, I knew the movie would be quite a bit different. I just didn't realize that the entire plot would be changed. And the new plot wasn't all that well thought out. They should have just called this a "Re-envisioning of Percy Jackson."

My first complaint is that they made some of the monsters a little too scary-looking and detailed. I'm okay with them upping the age of the characters, but a large part of the Percy Jackson fan base are middle-grade readers. For instance, the Medusa scene went on too long. It was like, "Ooh, look at this cool special effect we can do with the snakes. Look, look, and keep looking for a really long time." The scene could have been more effective and suspenseful if we only got a quick look at the Medusa. But as it was, I think the scene was too drawn out for younger viewers (there was a whole row of them sitting in front of me). I would guess this is a big reason why the movie is not faring as well at the box office as expected. Message to Hollywood: MAKE MOVIES MORE FAMILY-FRIENDLY.

Maid and butler. Too much of the backstory was just told to us, instead of showing it or weaving it into the plot. For instance, when Chiron was first showing Percy his "cabin".

The antagonist was completely changed. This may not be a problem if they are not planning on doing any more movies, but if they are, they are going to have to completely re-write the plots to match the fact that they changed the villain in the first movie. If this is the only film, I think they dropped the ball. This could have been a profitable franchise like Harry Potter.

The pearl search became a major plot point that took up most of the film.

Capture the Flag. Who made up those rules? While Percy was duking it out with Annabeth and the other reds, someone else could have grabbed the flag. And then to have everybody stop and let him pick it up like "hail the conquering hero"? The objective is to capture the flag and take it to your base, not watch Percy kick butt and then, because he's such a nice guy, let him win.

Where did that woman come from at Auntie Em's? She was a total Star Trek red shirt, with no other purpose than to show us how dangerous Medusa was.

Keys in the visor of a car on display? Very convenient.

There were many little things left out of the world that could have been left in and not taken up any more time. Thalia's tree, strawberry fields, etc. They didn't need an explanation, but they were a part of the ambiance of the books that would have been nice to have. Mr. D. strolling through Camp Half-blood could have been entertaining, too.

It seems like there were other things, but I don't remember them now. I'm going to have to start taking a notebook to movies with me so I can jot them down as they happen.

Now, there were some things I liked. Grover did manage to provide some good comic relief. I especially loved his comment about the music of Nashville. Grover kept the movie at least mildly entertaining.

Even though this was a major change from the book, I liked that the reason why the gods didn't communicate with their children was because of a law from Zeus. The thing that bothered me the most about the books was the whole concept of the gods just having children with mortals and not caring much about them afterward. We have too many mortals doing that in our world today.

The special effects were good and almost invisible. Of course, I think this and other movies many times rely on the effects too much to tell the story (anybody hear about Star Wars I, II, and III?). But still, I'm a sucker for a pretty picture.

Percy Jackson's character came through mostly the same. His telling his step-father off was out of character (and a little maid and butler again), but other than that, it was close.

I liked the location of the entrance to Hades. Sometimes we find truth in fiction.

For more information, I did post on my website under Book Ratings my score for language, sex, and violence for the books. As I said, they are relatively clean. The seemingly high language score is mainly due to the use of the H-E-Double-toothpick-hounds that kept getting mentioned. If someone wants to get technical about usage, there really wasn't any swearing in the books. But the word was there.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Peaks Jazz Part 2

I didn't take as many notes on Saturday, I just went to soak things in. There were a couple of themes that emerged, though.

I mentioned last time that Gordon Goodwin talked about the 10,000 hour rule. At another clinic done by Chase Baird (saxophone) and Steve Lyman (drums), I asked them how much time they practice. Steve mentioned the 10,000 hour rule again and said in his younger days he started out doing 2 hours a day, then later up to 6. I was glad they brought this out, since I don't think a lot of kids today really know what it means to practice. They think that a half hour a day will get them there. That's a start, but to get to the level that these guest artists play at, they need a lot more.

Gordon Goodwin did another clinic talking about his experience at writing and arranging music for animation (Warner Brothers, the Incredibles). I only heard the very end since I went to hear my daughters performance with the Orem High jazz band, but Gordon made a great statement. He said, "Video games are time bandits." In other words, they steal time from us that they don't give back. I have to confess that, for a while, I was addicted to computer games. I still play them here and there for a few minutes for stress release (spider solitaire anyone?), but not the hours on end like I used to. I find that I don't have time to do that anymore because I have more important things to do. I've got a music career to maintain and a writing career I'm starting. When you finish a computer games, what have you accomplished? So you make level 10,000, so what? Can you get a job or make money with that? The thing I've found with writing (or music practice) is that I get the same satisfaction as having conquered some game, AND I have something to show for it. I've also increased my skills in a marketable area.

Since the Olympics are on, we keep hearing stories about how these athletes have to dedicate a tremendous number of hours a day in order to get to their skill level. Is being a musician or writer any different? Okay, we don't get to earn expensive medals when we're done, but we don't have to retire at 30, either. But we need that same mindset, a willingness to put time and focus into our craft. Something else Gordon Goodwin said at the end of his clinic yesterday, "Perseverance and hard work are worth more than talent." From my experience watching students over the years, I whole-heartedly agree. I've had students with all kinds of talent levels, but the ones who have gone on to experience success are the ones who were willing to put the time in. Not a half hour a day, but two or more.

Eric Marienthal gave a great clinic in the morning. My frustration with is was that people kept asking him simple questions about saxophone equipment and fundamentals that their band teacher or I could have answered. Here we have one of the greatest jazz saxophonists on the planet and he is being asked about the difference between metal and plastic mouthpieces. He did have a few pedagogical approaches that were interesting and I need to experiment with.

Back to my theme of the day, though, Eric demonstrated, again, the importance of practicing. He really emphasized technique, and even has a two hour routine on his website that is very technical. So, again, time on task and smart practice were things he brought up.

Well, there are a few thoughts from yesterday. My dilemma now is, what do I do on Monday? I want to practice for three hours, but I also want to keep writing my novel. Decisions, decisions.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Peaks Jazz Day 1

Okay, I'm geekin' out. And for this episode, I'm going to go back to my musical roots instead of writing about writing. Today, I went up to Thanksgiving Point to hear clinics given by alto saxophonist Eric Marienthal and tenor saxophonist/super arranger Gordon Goodwin. Both men offered some great advice to young musicians and gave me some material that I can use for teaching. Here are some of the things they said:

Eric Marienthal: Most important thing about practicing is constantly using a metronome (see? told ya). We need to play with our instrument, not at it. When you sit down to practice, have a plan. He also talked about motif practicing, which is something I also teach. What you practice isn't as important as how you do it. Playing professionally is all about playing in time and in tune. If he doesn't have much time for practice, he at least does long tones. The more time you put in, the more automatic things become.

Gordon Goowin: If you want something, you have to go get it. Have a plan when you improvise (or what I tell my students is to have a strategy). We need to train our brain to think spontaneously. A big thing that really stood out, though, is that he talked about the 10,000 hour rule, something I just blogged about! He also mentioned that to be musicians (or writers, for that matter), we have to have understanding spouses (boy, have I been blessed in that department).

So, I guess there are principles here that can apply to writing. I feel that my musical training has been a great help to my development as a writer. You have to be disciplined to make yourself practice. Same thing with making yourself sit down to write. Dang, I still turned this into a writing thing; I guess it's what's on my brain.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Clueless in Hollywood

This is something that has been eating at me for a while, so I'll go ahead and rant about it. First off, a disclaimer. When I mention 'Hollywood' here, I'm using it as an abbreviation for the less than brilliant people there. Granted, there are some geniuses and good people there putting out good things.

Now that that's out of the way, here is something that confuses me. In the retail world, when you create a product, you want to make something as universally useful as possible so that it will appeal to more people. Or at least, the companies that care about quality do. It comes down to bottom line: the more sales, the more money you make. Why doesn't Hollywood get this principle?

I've been stewing about this since The Land of the Lost movie. When I heard about it, I got excited. I grew up watching the old Sid and Marty Kroft version and loved it. It had freakin' dinosaurs, for crying out loud! Every kid my age at the time loved anything about dinosaurs, even if they did look like sock puppets. So, here was my chance to share something from my childhood with my kids.

Not so fast. Then I saw the trailers. My excitement decreased. It was looking like it would be a raunchy, dirty movie. I still held out hope, though. Then, once it came out, I checked the Kids-In-Mind website, which told me that it was NOT a kid-friendly film, nor was it even adult friendly. Suffice it to say, I never saw it.

The week before, the SyFy channel had a marathon of the old TV shows. It was interesting to see that a lot of the episodes were written by the same people who wrote the original Star Trek shows. I think the first episode was even written by Walter Koenig (aka Chekov). Anyway, my younger kids loved the shows (the teenagers just rolled their eyes). This made me realize that Hollywood really blew it. They could have written a really dumb script for the movie and could have been reasonably successful if THEY HAD ONLY MADE IT FAMILY FRIENDLY. As it was, by making it a raunch-fest, the movie didn't pull in enough box office to cover the cost of making it. It cost 100 million, and it pulled in 64 million. Ouch.

Okay, so Hollywood made one mistake. Well, a couple of other movies pop to mind: The Brady Bunch Movie and The Beverly Hillbillies. I never saw them, but they were both rated PG-13, which in my mind translates as family-UNfriendly. They also both flopped. However, my kids love the old TV versions of those shows, and if the movies were cleaner, perhaps Hollywood would have received a good return on investment.

And then there's TV. Last season, they rolled out the new and improved version of Knight Rider. When my youngest son caught wind of that, he got very excited. A talking car? How cool is that to a young mind? Well, I watched the first episode and saw that it was NOT a kid show. Surprise of all surprises, the show did not survive long.

I think that is also what brought about the demise of Star Trek: Enterprise. At least with the other four series, I could watch them with my kids and not have to worry too much. Enterprise was not like that. Some of the episodes were okay, but I didn't know if they would be child-safe until after I watched them. I think this is one of the reasons why the show didn't get the ratings they wanted. At the same time, some of the episodes were very thought-provoking and well-written. They were just a little too violent and risque for a broader audience.

I don't even want to launch into the new Battlestar Galactica. I could rant about that for a long time.

Now, if Hollywood wants to make a gritty movie about warfare in the trenches with all it's inherent grit, fine. I don't have a problem with that, even though I don't want to see it. What really gripes me is when they take what was originally a good, clean idea and decide that it needs to be dirtier. To my knowledge, this formula has never worked. So why do they keep trying it? It seems to me, either they are really stupid or else they have an agenda, but that might be a topic for another time.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Drained from LTUE

I spent all day today at "Life, the Universe, and Everything" symposium (LTUE) at BYU. It's a great place to rub shoulders with some of the hot names in sci-fi and fantasy. This year, we had Brandon Sanderson, James Dashner and Brandon Mull. Plus, there are several other writers (like me) who happen to live in the area and participate on the panels. It's a great place to learn some of the inside tricks and information about being a writer. There are also discussions about the sci-fi and fantasy genres.

I made it to panels about style in sci-fi, fantasy without magic, becoming an idea factory, why Mormons and fantasy, soft science SF, Brandon Sanderson's address, and the Writing Excuses podcast. I participated on panels about influences on writers and NaNoWriMo. I did a book signing today and even a "reading", even though the only person who showed up for it was my daughter.

So, it has been a full day and full weekend. I now need to relax and process all the information I took in. LTUE is basically like a second Christmas for writers.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things . . . Books

I can't believe Rodgers and Hammerstein didn't have a verse about books. At least they got the schnitzel in there. Anyway, today I'm going to attempt to list my top ten favorite fiction books. This is partially in preparation for a panel I'll be on tomorrow at BYU's "Life, the Universe, and Everything" symposium. It's called LTUE for short, so my daughter pronounces it 'Lute' and I pronounced it 'LaTooee'. The panel I'll be on is titled, "What influenced me as a writer." I'll maybe write more on that after the panel, but for now, you will be privileged to read my current top ten list (subject to change without notice, some items may not be available for purchase, contents may settle during shipping, residents of CA and NY add sales tax).

I'm cheating a little and lumping series together as one book, but here we go:

#10. The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazney. Fantasy. I have not read this series in over 20 years, but I remember I really liked it at the time. It's been put back on my "to read" list, which is a mile long. I don't remember enough about it to say why I liked it, all I remember is that it intrigued me and left an impression.

#9 The Belgariad/The Malloreon by David Eddings. Fantasy. I've read this series twice, but it's been 20 years since the last time as well. Eddings probably has had the most impact on me as a writer. I love the lightness of his stories and the interaction of the characters. And even though these are big, thick books, they still have a YA feel to them and are mostly clean.

#8 The Warlock in Spite of Himself and subsequent books by Christopher Stasheff. Sci-fi, in spite of the title. About a man who lands on a medieval style planet and is thought to be a warlock because of his advanced knowledge. I mainly loved the lightness and humor between him and his epileptic robotic horse.

#7 Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Sci-fi/comedy. So this book is a similar genre to my own. The tongue-and-cheek wit of Douglas Adams is a great form of escape.

#6 Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson. Epic fantasy. I mainly picked this series up because he is a local author. Well, it turns out that he is also an extremely talented writer. I also love his Alcatraz books, but I still haven't read books 2 and 3, so they didn't make the list, yet. In Mistborn, Brandon creates an interesting and complex magic system that is believable and characters that are intriguing and lovable. There's also a little tragedy in there, which for some reason also appeals to me. It would be higher on my list, though, if it were a comedy. Like maybe if the allomancers used colored M&Ms instead of metals.

#5 Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan. YA fantasy. I've recently started reading more YA, partially because that is the genre that I write in. It may also be because I'm trying to recapture my youth, I'm not sure. Of course, another nice thing about YA is that it doesn't have all the sex, violence, and language that authors of adult books seem to think everybody wants. Anyway, the Percy Jackson books appealed to me because they were fun but not heavy. I didn't feel down and depressed, like after reading about a character with the initials of 'HP'.

#4 The Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Sci-fi/Fantasy. Again, I haven't read these for a while, so their rank may change when I do. These were some of the first books I read as a youth (in addition to his Tarzan, Pelucidar, and Venus series). I guess the swashbuckling adventure is why they are still near and dear to my heart.

#3 The Stainless Steel Rat series by Harry Harrison. Sci-fi/comedy. Again, my favorite genre. These are all told in a wacky first-person, tongue-in-cheek style. The humor is what mainly appeals to me, though it's also fun to see how "Slippery Jim" DiGriz pulls off his various heists.

#2 The Lord of the Rings by you-know-who. Epic fantasy. I know, I know, this book is probably on just about every fantasy geek's list. I am no exception. The Hobbit was the first fantasy book I read of any kind, and it pulled me away from the Hardy Boys forever. As far as Tolkien's influence on me as a writer, I think it was actually negative. I loved the world he created and wanted to create my own like it. I got so caught up in "world-building" that I neglected little things like character development and plot. I've since then realized that I am no freakin' Tolkien, so I don't let myself spend too much time on world-building any more. But as far as the man who started it all and fired up my imagination, I still tip my hat to him. Except I don't wear hats, even when it's below zero.

And now (imagine drum roll here) for my favorite book/series of all time: The Elenium/The Tamuli series by David Eddings. I liked it for the same reason as the Belgariad, except I enjoyed having a witty adult main character. As much as I like YA lit, it's nice to be able to read a character that I can relate with age-wise. That's probably one of the reasons why The Incredibles is also my favorite movie.

So, there you have it. I'm probably leaving out something important, but, oh well.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The 10,000 Hour Rule

Several times after playing a gig, someone has come up to me and said, "Oh, you're so talented." My response to them us usually, "No, I'm not talented. I just found something I enjoyed and stuck with it until I accidentally got good at it." The more I think about it, though, the more I find my statement to be true for all success.

I recently read the first half of a book (because the Orem Library wanted it back. I hate due dates) called The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. One of the things that piqued my interest was when he discussed the 10,000 rule. In a nutshell, what they've found for people to become an expert at something is that it takes 10,000 hours. At first I thought, "That's all?" Then I started doing some math, which is pretty challenging for a music major who can only count to four.

In the book, Gladwell mentions a study of musicians (that got my attention)where they wanted to see how much time it took studying the instrument to become 'world class'. Now, we've always been told that to be good at music, you have to practice a lot. Well, what they found is that, surprise, it takes about 10,000 hours of practice. This is nice in that now we have a quantity and not just some vague 'practice lots' advice, but it is also daunting when you figure out what it takes to get to the magic 10,000.

Okay, here's my math, as faulty as it may be. I figured that by the time I graduated from high school, I had about 2000 hours. Some of these kids in the music study were reaching 10,000 by the time they were 20. Not me. To do that, they had to get to the point where they were practicing 6 to 8 hours a day as teenagers. I then figured that while I was in college as a music major, I was putting in about 1000 hours a year (probably more, but I was doing a conservative estimate). It took me all of my high school and college years to finally hit 10,000 by my late 20's.

Of course, this does not only apply to music. Gladwell also brings up a few examples of other experts who had put 10,000 hours into their study by the time they were in their early 20's. Anyone ever heard of some dude named Bill Gates?

Okay, time for more math (if my brain doesn't explode). In the last four years, I estimated that I've put in 2000 hours into writing. I'm not sure how much from before between high school and college, but I probably have a few thousand hours there. But I don't think I've hit 10,000 yet, and I definitely don't feel like an expert at writing. To break down these last four years, I figured I was doing about 10 hours a week for 50 weeks (my year only has 50 weeks because I like nice, round numbers without those extra fiddly-bits attached). So that means 500 hours a year. To hit 10,000 hours at that rate would take 20 years. (depressed yet?)

Actually, I think this is good news. Talent has nothing to do with it. What trumps talent is perseverance. Additionally, though, whatever field we want to become an expert at, we need to enjoy it. It would be more like a prison sentence to spend 10,000 hours doing something we didn't like. I feel blessed that I've found things I enjoy and don't mind putting in the time. I guess that's part of our life's mission is to find what we love and can put the time into. We can all become experts.