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.