Friday, May 31, 2013

New Semester, New Reading Material

A new semester has started at Casa Connelly, which means I have a long list of new material to work through. This semester my focus is on Screenplays, which means I'll be reading a lot of screenplays, watching a lot of movies and reading a lot of books. My mentor for this semester is David-Matthew Barnes.  My list of reading material may change but at the moment this is what I'm looking at consuming:

Let The Right One In.  
Princess Bride
Your Cut to: is showing
Young Adult
Garden State
Perks of Being a Wallflower
Thelma and Louise
Jane Eyre
Northanger Abbey
Jane Emily by Patricia Clapp  
A book by Lois Duncan

Any suggestions on which Lois Duncan book I should read? I've never read that author before.  Like last semester, I'd like to post reviews, both critical and regular book reviews on each of these.  So do you have a preference as to when I'll read them?  They'll be consumed between now and October. We'll see what I can actually find, screenplay-wise as well.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Podcast and A Surprise!

When an unseen enemy threatens mankind by taking over their bodies and erasing their memories, Melanie will risk everything to protect the people she cares most about, proving that love can conquer all in a dangerous new world.

A new podcast has been released upon the world.  This time Ollie, Cyna, Kayla and I discuss The Host. We watched the movie, some of us have read the book. And, like usual, we don't hold back our opinions. However, instead of posting the podcast at this blog, I thought I'd direct you to:


Yes. We now have an official website for all our podcasts. We're quite proud of the site, though at the moment it is bare bones. You can see all our past podcasts, along with our plans for upcoming ones. We'd love to receive comments on the new site or even on our latest podcast. Don't be shy.  Check it out. Mark it as a favorite site.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Critical Review: Lives Start from scratch in Made from Scratch

 Note: I'm not currently sure this one will have a regular review available as I'm not familiar enough with screenplays to really have an opinion.  I was barely able to write this.

David Matthew Barnes used a tamale as a metaphor for the characters and their development in his screenplay Made From Scratch. The reference to tamales is also seen in the screenplays title: Made from Scratch, which is the same phrase that’s used in reference to the tamales.  The title is apt, especially when one looks at the various plotlines in the story.   Tameka, a 25-year-old mother with a nine-year-old son first appears in the screenplay as a poor single-parent barely making enough money to survive. She works two jobs and doesn’t have time to date Clyde.  By the end of the screenplay she has one higher-paying job, more confidence in herself and is seen on a date with Clyde.  Other plot lines are followed through the play of women finding their happiness, often by starting their lives over…from scratch.
In the screen play, the main character is Victoria, a successful business woman, struggling with her sexuality. She returns home for her step-father’s funeral. While at home she talks to her seventeen-year-old half-brother Martin:

VICTORIA. I’m sorry I didn’t call you at Christmas.
MARTIN. You missed Tamales. Made from Scratch.
VICTORIA.You made Tamales? With Mom?
MARTIN. No. She hates ‘em.  Me and Paulette made ‘em together on Christmas eve.
VICTORIA. How were they?
MARTIN. They could’ve been better, I guess. (32-3)

This conversation lets readers know Victoria and Martin like tamales, despite their mother’s dislike of the food. But it also shows that although Martin spent a lot of time making them, he was not entirely happy with the results.  This can be seen in his own life as well. Their mother, Constance, sees Martin as lazy and was more concerned of what the neighbors think than the fact her son downed a bottle of her tranquilizers on the same night the tamales were made. Paulette, Victoria’s life-long best friend, drove him to the hospital instead.
Like her brother, Victoria is also in the ‘it could have been better’ description provided about the tamales. Victoria is unhappy.  Some of this is because her mother made her miserable as a child, blaming her for the unhappy marriage and for anything that goes “wrong” in the family, like Martin being gay.  Victoria is also attracted to a co-worker, Danielle, but won’t admit her attraction to her.
            Later after hearing of Martin’s suicide attempt she stands up to her mother, and her issues. She then takes Martin and Paulette, who is unhappy with her life and marriage, home with her. The next day Victoria initiates a romantic relationship with When Victoria gets home she finds Danielle, Paulette, and Martin in her kitchen, the atmosphere blissful. She asks Danielle a question:

VICTORIA. What are you guys doing?
DANIELLE. They’re teaching me how to make tamales.
VICTORIA. From scratch?
MARTIN. Is there any other way?
VICTORIA. No.  There really isn’t.
DANIELLE. How do you know when the dough is ready?
PAULETTE. Vickie calls it the water test.
VICTORIA. The secret is in the masa. When you think the dough is ready, drop it in a glass of cold water.
DANIELLE. Sink or Swim?
PAULETTE. If it floats to the top, it’s ready to be made into something incredible. (105-6)

In this conversation the tamale is mentioned again. This time it’s to show what viewers/readers have already witnessed: When the tamale (person) is ready, it is made into something incredible.  Once Victoria faces her issues, she was ready, and she is working on making her life and the lives of other people incredible. She’s giving her brother a chance to thrive, her best friend a chance to experience freedom and giving herself a chance at happiness with Danielle.  She’s ready to take on the world.
The title, Made From Scratch, is a reference to an all-encompassing metaphor in David Mathew Barnes’ screenplay.  The metaphor uses a tamale to show the characters and their various development through various plots. A good metaphor can sometimes be what pulls multiple plot points of a story together and add a little more punch. David-Matthew Barnes is skilled at writing metaphors.

Barnes, David Matthew. Made from Scratch.  N.d. Screenplay.

Monday, May 6, 2013


Thanks again Lynn Viehl for stopping by my blog and hosting this wonderful giveaway. I've had a lot of fun having you on my blog.  Hopefully we can do it again.  Now the moment everyone has been waiting for, the winner of the Giveaway is:


Send your information to Robin_bev at yahoo dot com. And we'll start working on getting your prize out to you.

Thanks everyone!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Love of Reading

Had to write a few essays and thought I'd share what I came up with.  I could have added a lot more details to this particular one, perhaps enough to fill a book, but decided to focus on words and trigger books, which fit the essay topic better.  Here's what I wrote:

I learned to read early. I was two when I started recognizing words.  However, several moves and some horrible school systems resulted in me hating to read for several years.  My grandmother sent me a lot of books for my tenth birthday and out of complete boredom I decided to try reading one.  That one book hooked me and my family has never been able to get my nose out of a book for any length of time.

Shortly after re-developing my love of reading, I started going to my brother’s first grade class during my recess.  I would pull students out of class, especially my brother Drew, for a few minutes and have him or her read books to me.  At the age of ten I found I enjoyed helping people learn how to read more than running around outside. So I took advantage of the opportunity, every chance I had.

We moved several more times and my interests went elsewhere for a while. However my enjoyment of helping people read never stopped. I gave several people books I absolutely loved, despite knowing some of them hated reading. If they gave the book a chance, they usually started reading regularly.  As I grew older, I seemed to become increasingly skilled at identifying ‘trigger’ books for people.

I remember going to the bookstore, one of my favorite pastimes. My youngest brother, Cory, was with me, despite the fact you could barely get him to read anything.  He kind of wandered around, waiting for me to be done.  But, following some instinct, I went to the middle-grade books instead of my usual YA or even Adult Romance section.  There I found a book that, though I wouldn’t normally read, I thought Cory might enjoy.

With that thought I made a deal with Cory.  We’d each pay half for the book, about two dollars each, and share the book.  I’m not sure if I’d made Cory curious about the book enough for him to agree or if he simply thought he was helping me feed my addiction.  I may never know, but he agreed.

I read the book quickly that night then gave it to Cory to read. I left for school.  Apparently I’d found his trigger book.  The next thing I heard he was reading other books, some were three or four hundred pages long.  He still reads regularly and our tastes have often crossed paths. My mother jokingly complains that she has to spend money on books for Cory now. It used to be just her and me.

Katelynn was born a few months before my eighteenth birthday.  Thanks to her mother’s recreational activities while she was pregnant, my half-sister was born with disabilities.  She’s now in second grade and in special-ed.  After living with me and her father for a year, I’ve been told I’ve corrupted her.

When she first arrived in Idaho, her reading level was at a level zero, not even a Kindergarten level. The first day she arrived, I took her to the library and got her her own library card.  I’ve never known anyone to be so excited over having a library card. She really didn’t use the card however, until school started up for her.
 The school, her father and I have worked with her over the last year. Within three months of school starting, she was reading at a level of someone who’d been learning to read for nine months. She checks out books from the library whenever she can, not just movies.

I often find that when Katelynn sees me reading, she’ll pull out her own books and read them aloud. The longest she’s done this for was an hour. She insisted on having her own journal after seeing me write with so much frequency.  She does spend some time writing, but she’s still challenged so doesn’t write as much as I think she will once she gets more comfortable with the concept.

With her I don’t imagine I’ll need to find a trigger book.  But I don’t think she’d have made as much progress in school if it weren’t for me spending time breaking words down into simple letters, or using tricks that helped me when I was learning to read.  Sometimes all she needed was to see the word upside down to figure out what a certain one was. Sometimes she needs a more complicated trick to help her figure it out. And I enjoy seeing her pride when she does recognize or figure out what a word is.

I still love helping people with words. However, outside of working with Katelynn, I don’t really have the opportunity any more.  The majority of my friends are avid readers now.  Drew, my oldest younger brother, does not have an interest in reading or getting into the habit and his daughter, as cute and sharp as she is, lives 2,000 miles away and is a little young to focus on teaching her how to read yet. But the moment she’s old enough and Daddy’s back is turned, I plan on corrupting my only niece with the love of words like I have so many others.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Guest Blogger Lynn Viehl: Same Playground, Different Games: How to Sustain a Novel Series

I would like to welcome Lynn Viehl to my blog. She is the author of 49 novels in 8 genres. She doesn't have a website, but she does offer plenty of entertainment on her blog,  Today she has written a fascinating article on Sustaining a Novel Series.

Same Playground, Different Games: How to Sustain a Novel Series

by Lynn Viehl

The difference between standalone books and novel series can be expressed in playground terms. When you were a kid and met a bunch of other kids at a vacant lot who just want to play one impromptu game, you stayed for a couple hours.  You may or may not have met them again for another game there or somewhere else;  generally there was no expectation or commitment required.   That's a standalone playground.

When you put in the time to find the perfect place where you and a group of friends you organize can meet and play games together on a regular schedule,  you don't meet once and then never come back.  Even if you play different games, you keep returning -- and that's a series playground. 

This is not to say that the standalone novel is in any sense inferior; both types of books offer different challenges and appeal, and in their own respects both are very tough to write.  I'm a career series writer so that's where lies the bulk of my author experience, but I've written a few standalones and believe me, they're no stroll through the playground.    

In order to write and sustain a novel series you need to devote a lot of time, effort and creativity in building a universe and a cast of characters who can generate multiple book-length stories and inspire readers to keep coming back for more.  No matter what genre you write in, there are some elements that are common to all series books.  Naturally everyone has their own opinion, but here's what I think they are:

Multiple conflicts:  your series should have at least one very large, difficult-to-resolve conflict, and many other smaller, easier-to-resolve conflicts.  Usually this big conflict is what drives the series, connects the books and provides continuity.  The smaller conflicts drive the individual novels within the series, often by spinning off or being related to the series conflict.  While they don't have to be resolved in one book, they shouldn't eclipse the series conflict.  They should also contribute something to moving along the big conflict before they're resolved.

Multi-story Cast of Characters:  Your series cast doesn't have to number in the hundreds, but you do need enough characters to carry the story through several books.  Generally I start with a pair of protagonists who are central to the series and the series conflict, and build other characters out from them.  In my books, everyone has some kind of connection to the series protagonists.  Other writers use casts of characters who are all related to each other (the family tree approach), or who work through chronological timelines (generational stories in the same setting) or who deal with episodic conflicts (as in mysteries where you have the same PI solving different puzzles in each book.) 

Expansive World-Building:  You don't tell the same story over and over in a series, but you generally do have to stay in the same universe.  This is why it's important to build your worlds not only well, but craft them with the potential for expansion.  This is not strictly about setting, either; you can invent one haunted house and use it as the setting for a dozen books -- but to keep your reader interested it had better be a complex haunted house, with lots of mysterious rooms and multiple ghosts and different conflicts that have to be resolved or you'll just end up telling the same story multiple times (i.e. a nice couple moves into haunted house, are scared witless, uncovers tragic secret, battles bad ghost, makes terrible sacrifice, barely escapes with their lives, etc., aka the cliché haunted house story.)     

Another vital aspect of series writing is to build a universe that you as a writer want to creatively explore for years.  This because unless you can knock out ten series novels in twelve months you may be spending years writing in this universe.  If you lose interest, how do you think the reader is going to feel when you start phoning it in?  One of my series continued for eight years, another took me twelve years with a four-year hiatus in the middle.  Altogether between the two series I published twenty-seven novels and novellas, but thanks to putting in the time to creating universes I wanted to write in with conflicts that challenged me and characters who fascinated me, I never once got bored.

Series length is also something you need to think about in advance.  I've written long, mid-size and short series novels, and the one thing I've learned is to always have a series exit strategy prepared.  You may generate so many sales with your series that your publisher will let you write as many books as you want.  For most of us pros, that doesn't happen -- eventually sales and new readers decline and a series plateaus or drops off the radar.  Some writers are fine with not finishing series, especially when a publisher decides to end it before the author is ready to pack it up.  I think series readers deserve closure, though, and I've always tried to give mine that when I know I'm writing what will be the last book in a series.

Nightbound, the third and final novel in my Lords of the Darkyn trilogy, is one of those stories.  While I can't say I'll never write another Darkyn novel -- in Publishing, anything is possible -- I am putting the universe on hiatus for now to see if reader interest will sustain another trilogy.  If not, I have my new Disenchanted & Co. urban fantasy series kicking off this fall, and yet another series currently in development.  Which brings me to my final piece of advice -- don't grow too dependent on any series you write, but try to give yourself the creative space and permission to build new universes and tell their stories.  You might find the games you play in your next series playground attract even more of a crowd than the last.

Lynn Viehl has been generous enough to offer a prize pack to one lucky winner.  The backpack is from Target, and includes the three books which she'll sign for the winner, the green handmade journal and matching memo book (both crafted by The Book Whisperer on Etsy), and a fun sword-pen she found at BAM. 

To enter, leave a comment.  

Edited: Giveaway is now closed. The winner will be announced at Midnight May 5, 2013 MST.