Freshman Phenom – A Review

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So, I recently read a book entitled Freshman Phenom, by CE Butler.  When I sat down to write, I had no aspirations of being a writer.  All I wanted to do was produce a captivating, entertaining story that was wholesome enough I would let my own kids read it.  That’s exactly the kind of story that Mr. Butler has produced with Freshman Phenom.

The story focuses on a young man named Will Stover.  Will and his teammates have focused their time and energy throughout junior high on making sure their freshman year is an opportunity to showcase their combined talents and win a JV championship in football.  Unfortunately for the JV team, the varsity squad has lost their starting quarterback and the coach thinks the backup is less talented than incoming freshman Will Stover.  Will is thrust into the spotlight and must deal not only with challenges on the football field such as bigger, stronger, faster opponents than he is accustomed to, he must also deal with the resentment of the JV squad as well as his new varsity teammates.

While football is present and is covered accurately, this story is more about the interaction and development of the characters.  The book shows Will and his friends dealing with their worries, self-doubts, jealousies, sorrows, and budding teen romance.  Everything is handled in a family friendly way, and Will’s relationship with his father and the rest of his family is a refreshing break from your average portrayal of the family as a disjointed and broken organization.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anybody – and I rushed to post this on a weekend because I discovered the book is free on Kindle today through July 14.  Go grab a copy!

Throwback Thursdays – The Black Cauldron

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Why yes, I am a slacker.  Seriously, it has been three weeks since my last post, and that was an analysis of The Book of Three.  I have been busy (yes, that includes writing on Book Four in The Vergrinn War) and I do hope you will understand.  On to a look at The Black Cauldron.

The Black Cauldron is easily Lloyd Alexander’s most well known book, and I am sure that this is why when Disney did a movie they named it thus (even though it combined elements spanning multiple works in the Chronicles of Prydain).  If I had to sum up this work in one word, it would be self-sacrifice (is that cheating?  Did I really use two words?)

From the beginning of the book, we see that in order for good to triumph over evil, people must do what is best for others regardless of the personal cost.  Ellidyr and Taran are both obsessed with personal glory, and the quest they are on suffers as a result of their burgeoning competition.  Adaon lets someone else choose the path that is better, not trusting his own judgment because he has foreknowledge of the outcome of the potential choices.  Taran comes to understand this, and chooses to sacrifice much in order to gain The Black Cauldron.

I don’t want to provide too many spoilers, but in the end, it becomes clear that Taran is willing to sacrifice his ego, his possessions, and even his life to prevent the evil of the Cauldron from growing, and even Ellidyr has learned this important lesson.  All I will say is that unlike the Disney movie, Gurgi does not give his life to stop the Cauldron, and nobody brings the dead back to life.

If you read The Black Cauldron and don’t come away thinking about the value and necessity of self-sacrifice, you probably need to re-read it.

As I compare this to my own writing, I once again see the influences jumping out of the page.  In every book thus far, characters have sacrificed their own desires and well-being for the good of the whole.  Some have sacrificed their lives, others have sacrificed their comforts.  A decent story reminds us of the best parts of humanity and uplifts us, and part of that must include our propensity to do what’s best for others without regard to personal well-being and comfort.

Throwback Thursdays – The Book of Three

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I mentioned previously that The Chronicles of Prydain had a strong influence on me as a kid and likely have had a strong influence on The Vergrinn War.  I also mentioned that I intended to look at each of the books individually in the future.  Well, the future begins (as it usually does) with today.

The Book of Three is an interesting book.  It starts out with an awkward boy (whose age is not explicitly referenced).  It shows that boy’s desire to be great, and then it proceeds to challenge his understanding of what it means to be great.

Primarily, this book seems to be about understanding that appearances can be deceiving while true understanding grants power.  Gwydion, as rough as his appearance is, turns out to be a valiant warrior and Prince.  Gurgi, greedy, grasping creature who threatens at first to eat Taran, turns out to be a fiercely loyal companion.  Eilonwy, the seemingly airheaded young lady, is actually a practical and intelligent princess.  Fflewdur Fflam, who wants to appear bold and noble, is actually a somewhat timid free spirit.

I think it is no mistake that the image presented at first of almost every character in the book is revealed to be untrue.  The final revelation of The Book of Three, after all, is that the best and only way to truly defeat evil is by acquiring knowledge.

I loved this story as a kid, and I have re-read it many times as an adult, including with our daughter when she was six.  I hope that one day my stories will be read and cherished like this one.

Throwback Thursdays – The Chronicles of Prydain

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If somebody pinned me down and said “You have to tell us, which classic piece of literature does The Vergrinn War resemble most,” I think it would boil down to a choice between two.  The clear choice I can and will tell you about now is The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.  The other choice can’t be revealed until the series is complete, lest the reader spoil the surprise for themselves.  Know this, after the fifth book is complete, The Chronicles of Prydain should clearly be a distant second in any analysis.  For now, let’s examine the similarities.

The Chronicles of Prydain is somewhat romanticized (as opposed to bloody, dirty, gritty, disease infested) Welsh fiction that uses old Welsh origins for names with a fictional map and fictionalized characters.  The Vergrinn War is somewhat romanticized pseudo-Norse fiction that uses old Norse origins for names with a fictional map and fictionalized characters.

Both series focus on a single teenaged male character who is struggling with finding his identity in the world, and both include an ensemble supporting cast which has friends, rivals, and older male role models.  Both main characters go on complex journeys to accomplish specific tasks as well as to learn more about their place in the world.

While I plan on analyzing each book in The Chronicles of Prydain in greater depth and detail over the next few weeks, let’s do a book by book comparison.  Until I sat down to evaluate this, I did not realize how closely the series paralleled each other (in broad outlines, not in specifics):

Book One – In The Book of Three, Taran is catapulted unexpectedly on a dangerous journey.  He makes new friends and ultimately realizes that being a hero is not what he thought it was.  In The Risen Spear, Amundr is sent on a mission, and sees firsthand the importance of standing up for what is right along with the cost we often have to pay.

Book Two – In The Black Cauldron, Taran is tasked by Prince Gwydion with going to the borders of Annuvin on a mission of great importance.  In The Wolf Spear’s Task, Amundr accompanies the King’s advisor on a journey to discover more about their enemy.

Book Three – In The Castle of Llyr, Taran and company make a lengthy journey by boat to a faraway island.  There, they must stop Queen Achren from taking over everything, and not everyone will be coming home.  In The Destroyers, Amundr and his companions travel over the ocean on a mission to stop the Vergrinn advance.  Some of Amundr’s companions choose to make sacrifices to ensure the victory of good.

Book Four – In Taran Wanderer, Taran travels abroad without most of his usual comrades.  He is off looking for answers about his past and his future.  In The Rightful Heir (in progress), Amundr is traveling without most of his usual companions on a journey to learn about the past and the future.

Book Five – In The High King, Taran and companions fight the ultimate battle of good versus evil, and Taran must make a decision that will impact him and the kingdom for years to come.  In The Final Thrust (outlined), Amundr and companions fight the final advance of the vergrinn, and Amundr will make a decision that will impact him and the kingdom forever.

In all seriousness, The Chronicles of Prydain were the first fantasy series I consumed as a youngster.  Around that time I attempted The Lord of the Rings and put it down for a year or so because it scared me (specifically after Gandalf has fallen into the pit and Frodo and company have fled to Lothlorien and a dark shape (which we later learn was Gollum) comes to the base of their tree and debates climbing up after them).

Maybe the parallels in my current work are an outgrowth of my appreciation for Lloyd Alexander, and maybe they are a sub-conscious reflection of the fact that all young men struggle with similar thoughts about the future.  Ultimately, I appreciate the Chronicles of Prydain and I would (and do) love to hear my books compared to them by readers.

 

Modern Mondays – The Superbowl Shuffle

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Actually, this post will have very little to do with Sweetness, who liked to dance, or the Fridge, who’s a rookie and maybe big but he’s no dumb cookie.  It doesn’t really have to do with LA Mike or Samurai Mike or the punky QB known as McMahon.  It does indeed mention many (but not all) of the Bears’ shuffling crew, but only as an introductory paragraph.  You see, unlike that punky QB, when I hit the turf I HAVE a plan.

Seriously, in honor of the upcoming Superbowl (will the NFL sue this lowly blogger over my use of that phrase?  I kind of hope so – that kind of publicity would normally be really expensive), I thought I’d share with you the most humorous ads that you WON’T be seeing this weekend during the Superbowl.

How do I know you won’t be seeing them?  Because I just made them up the other day as I wandered around the house.  How do I know they’re funny?  Because I know funny.  Without further ado, for your reading/imagining pleasure, picture these ads (which both are inspired by Duck Dynasty):

Ad 1:

Camera pans in on the Duck Dynasty crew in their little room making Duck calls.  Jase calls to Godwin to toss him one of the calls.  Godwin tosses the call.  Jase drops it.  Godwin calls to Si to toss him one of the calls.  Si tosses the call.  Godwin drops it.  Willie walks in just in time to see Jep drop a call being tossed by Jase.  Willie says “Those calls are worth a hundred bucks each.  That’s it.”  He whips out his cell phone and one of the guys asks what he’s doing.  Willie says “I’m calling AT&T.”  A screen pops up saying “AT&T – switch to the network with the fewest dropped calls.”  In the background, you hear another call shatter as it hits the floor and Willie goes “SI!” and Si says “Look Jack, he threw it to hard!”

Ad 2:

The camera zooms in on a group of guys that look something like the Duck Dynasty cast, but clearly are not.  The men are standing in a line, watching something.  They each have a can or bottle of some brand of iced tea (the product being sold).  In the background you hear a scream and a small explosion.  The camera zooms in on one of the men.  He says “Yeah, it can get kind of boring being the stuntman for a redneck.” (another distant explosion and more screaming as the guy looks off screen and rolls his eyes) he continues: “Network rules require them to hire stuntmen, but rednecks love doing the dangerous stuff themselves.  All we have to do is stand around and sip (the product being sold).”  Jase runs by screaming with his backside on fire and offscreen Willie yells “Si, I TOLD you to put that blowtorch down!”  The camera focuses back on the stuntman, who shakes his head and mutters, “Amateurs…”

So, whaddya think?  Wouldn’t those be hilarious commercials?  Wouldn’t they be timely with that crew at the height of their popularity?

What kind of oddball creative exercises do you go through as you write?

Throwback Thursday – Collaborative Chaos

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Yes, I know, today is Friday, hardly the day for a Throwback Thursday.  I had this idea, though, and didn’t want to wait a week.  I have talked about the benefits of creative collaboration in multiple posts, and I have talked about watching the old TV show The Pretender.  Their team of writers did a great job of advancing single episode and season/series long story lines, but there are a couple of times that they went too far.

On two occasions, they partnered with a show that was on the same network in an adjacent time slot to write a “crossover” episode (or pair of episodes).  They had Jarod join up with one of the Profilers from “The Profiler” in his quest for good and justice.  On the surface, this sounds like a good idea.  What happens, however, is that you get a two part episode that spans two series.  This means that in syndication (or when you own it on DVD), you only get part of the story each time. This isn’t as simple as a one-off where Laverne and Shirley or Mork shows up on Happy Days (remember those episodes?), this is a true crossover where the storyline continues from one series to the next.  You do a disservice to future fans when you leave them hanging until and unless they dig up the episode of an entirely different series.

One other thing where the creators overthought things was when they made an episode titled Donoterase.  I bet half of my readers just read that as Do Not Erase.  That was the origin of this episode – the creators wrote Do Not Erase on a whiteboard and somebody didn’t see the spacing.  Ultimately, the creators took this episode (all about how the Centre had stolen and stored Jarod’s genetic material for future use and eventual cloning) and decided that they would create a place called Donoterase (pronounced Donna-tuh-rah-see).  I kept waiting for the exceptionally clever “twist” moment when some main character would realize that a file named donoterase.txt was actually named that way because it was an ultra-important file about Jarod, his DNA, and the secrets of the Centre universe and the name was telling the users to keep it around, but that moment never came.

Collaboration is good, but occasionally keeping things simple is the best approach.  Speaking f collaboration, here’s a comic that my buddy James Climer put together as a result of a “fill in the dialogue” contest.  Enjoy.

Modern Mondays – My Main Motivation

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I have said it before and I will say it again, my main motivation for writing is so that kids like mine will have more quality reading material.  Our seven year old has been reading for several years now, and I would conservatively estimate that she has read hundreds of books.  Her 10-20 books per week for three years more likely works out to a couple thousand books, but some of those are re-reads and there are occasions when we don’t get to the library as often as we would like.

I bring this up today because she has finally caught up on The Vergrinn War.  I read the first book with her when I finished it (she was five at the time) and she liked it, even not knowing that I had read it.  She put it aside and focused more on Nancy Drew, Barbie, Magic Treehouse, Disney character, and other series of books for a while.  Last month, she asked me to read my second book to her.  We read a chapter at a time before bed, and occasionally she would read the next chapter or two the next day because she was anxious to see what would happen next.

We finished the second book, and she immediately wanted to start Book Three.  I read the prologue, and the next night I went in and she was seven or eight chapters in.  The night after that the bookmark sat in the middle of chapter twenty when I opened it to read and within two more nights we were done.

For the past several days, we have been reading Book Four together which is currently in progress.  She likes it so far, but in a day or two we are going to be out of chapters to read.  This more than anything is motivating me to buckle down and keep writing.  My daughter is proud that she gets to be a beta reader, and she is asking good and relevant questions as we go.  As we read a section last night, she asked “Why are they going to New Eyjolf instead of Gudmund?”  I read the next several paragraphs, where one character asks that same question and another answers it (so in my mind I am clearly understanding where the reader’s mind might be going).

I think Book Four is still on schedule to be finished this summer, and I will keep everybody updated between now and then.  I recently shared a scene from the prologue with a long-time serious fan (who is not a beta reader), and I will go ahead and share it with you to whet your appetites.  Enjoy this little excerpt from near the very beginning of The Vergrinn War Book Four: The Rightful Heir.

Today, nine months after the second battle of Eyjolf…

Sharptooth raised his snout into the air and sniffed.  There was moisture in the air, but not enough for his purposes.  The fog would have to be thicker for him to order the assault.

“Sire?”  Sharptooth glanced at the young warrior before him.  The whelp clearly wanted to know if the attack would go forward.

Sharptooth slowly shook his shaggy head.  “Not tonight.  Not yet.”  The youngster turned his head to the side questioningly.  Sharptooth growled softly.  “We will only get one chance at this.  If we strike too soon, we lose that chance.  If, however, we wait for the right moment, we will strike a blow from which the humans can never recover.”

The young warrior slunk away into the night.  Sharptooth watched him go, and then turned his gaze to the moon rising over the trees behind him.  “We will be patient,” he muttered to no one.  “We will be patient.”

More Creative Collaboration

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So, the guy that does my artwork is a friend of mine that I have known for several years.  We have reached the point now that he will run an idea by me for feedback and I will suggest something to him.  He’s also one of my beta readers, so he knows what’s going on in the story and can come up with some ideas for covers (or I will suggest something to him, but his graphical ideas are far better than mine).

I have commented on our collaboration on several occasions, but I wanted to share with you the latest endeavor.  It’s pretty funny (and I don’t just say that because the original kernel of an idea was mine).  Suffice it to say that it’s not often that a glimpse of a single Hallmark Christmas ornament can inspire you to help create something that is humor related to a wildly popular comic book, a rather famous song, and an insanely well known and popular movie, but as I walked past one of our four Christmas trees this year, I saw an ornament and immediately thought of the scene here with a “wouldn’t that be funny?”

My first instinct upon thinking of something that could be done as a humorous parody was to send a quick note to James, because he has a similar sense of humor and the artistic skills to pull it off.  He immediately saw the humor and said he would sit right down and do this as soon as he finished what he was working on.  He finished what he was working on and forgot about this, but when he remembered and finished it, I think it was worth the wait. (and yes, I thought it was good enough to justify a bonus Saturday night post – maybe I just feel guilty about not posting Thursday)

Modern Mondays – There and back again

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So, the holidays are over.  We had a good break, and I got to see family and friends from far off.  The biggest single chunk of time went to a trip to Murfreesboro, TN (where I would recommend never staying at the Country Inn & Suites).  That trip allowed me to have a good visit with my family, and we returned home safely.

In fact, I got to see my beta reader who lives in San Diego just yesterday and I got to ring in the New Year with my beta reader who lives in Kentucky.  They were a friend and a relative respectively long before they were beta readers, but I like to think my writing is good enough they’d have wanted to be beta readers and they’d have sought to meet with me even if they weren’t, right?

I got some books for Christmas, as did our little bibliophile.  She has already knocked out ten new books since Christmas (six in the Magic Treehouse series and the first four Boxcar Children books).

Anyway, it is back to the grind.  I didn’t do as much writing as I would have liked on the fourth book in The Vergrinn War, but I got a couple of chapters done.  I also did an interview with a site about Arkansas Authors, and they posted the first part of that today.  You can go there and see what I look like when I have been sledding down a hill for an hour and my face gets covered in snow and ice, because I thought that would be a funny picture to submit when they required a head shot.

As a bonus to my followers here (and folks who read the piece on Arkansas Authors), I have set up a free promo for the Kindle version of Vergrinn War Book Two.  The free promo will run from tomorrow (January 7th) through Saturday, January 11th.  If you want a free eBook to check out, feel free to grab it then.

Modern Mondays – Merry Christmas

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Well, the holidays are here.  I will likely not be blogging on my regular schedule for the next two weeks or so.  Before I go off on this brief hiatus, I just wanted to say “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” to all of you who read this blog.  I hope that you have enjoyed my ramblings and I look forward to rambling more in the near future.

Scott

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