Fiction – Bad Times


Thumb up Written by Chuck Dixon

Chuck Dixon

Chuck Dixon

Chuck Dixon, a master of adventure storytelling, launches a new series of time-travelling thrillers with Cannibal Gold. His heroes, a team of special forces veterans, are hired for an unusual job: to go far back in time to rescue a team of scientists who ventured into a pre-historic environment and missed their return appointment. The Rangers quickly learn that the scientists had been misinformed about whether or not there were humanoid residents in the pre-historic setting. They found themselves facing fierce cannibals in the challenging environment. Not only do they have to get themselves back to The Now, they have to avoid leaving evidence of their presence in the past. Unfortunately, not everything goes according to plan, especially for one of the team.

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Movies – Much Ado About Nothing

True bluedirected by Joss Whedon, starring Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion

Joss Whedon, one of the reigning kings of Pop Culture, has tackled Shakespeare. Or rather, he’s put on the music, charmed the Bard’s work ont the dance floor and proceeded to dazzle us all with his graceful footwork.

Filmed in secret at Whedon’s own home, the film had no prior announcement of production until principal photography was completed after only 12 days of shooting.

This film is delightful. In the end, that’s the long and the short of it.

Whether you are familiar with Shakespeare or not, Whedon makes the play accessible to the modern audience, and yet also lets the work speak for itself (and, being from Shakespeare, it speaks very well indeed).

The first thing that hits the viewer is that the film is in black and white. But what this does is bring the characters into sharper focus. Our eyes are not distracted by splashes of color and so we pay attention to faces and expressions.

Whedon-Ado

Then Whedon shows a sure hand in directing, in that his actors deliver the poetry of the play as direct conversation. The staging aids in conveying all that may be alien to the modern audience. Indeed, I have but one quibble in the directing, and that is that the cast do not react strongly enough (in either double-takes or suppressed laughter) at the mis-speaking of the pompous Constable Dogberry(given absolute certainty by a seamless performance from Nathan Fillion).

Beatrice and Benedick, legendary for the sparkle and sparks of their banter, are well portrayed by Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof. The plot of their friends to match them up is simply the manifestation of a relationship that ought to be. The pair really are well matched. And these actors wonderfully play the true depths of love when their joy in finding they do love each other is put to the challenge for the sake of the honor of Beatrice’s cousin Hero.

Whedon-Ado-2

Whedon’s production captures the evergreen nature of the drama and comedy of being human, for it is that quality which has kept Shakespeare’s works alive.

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Non-Fiction – Confessions of a Muckraker

Thumb up by Jack Anderson with James Boyd

scribblerworks-jack-andersonThis book is actually out of print as of this date, but it’s worth looking into if you can find a copy. I ordered it as part of background research for a script of mine, a project that has had its ups and downs through the years. It just hasn’t died. In any case, the point is that I was doing research on investigative reporters and Jack Anderson was a model I meant to draw from.

Anderson’s memoir covers the high points of his years working for his mentor, columnist Drew Pearson. So, the stories related in the book are as much about Pearson as they are about Anderson. The one thing that comes clearest throughout is that Pearson regarded his job as being engaged in the whole process of shaping public life, not merely reporting upon the actions of Congress and government.

I could not help but be struck by the scope of things Pearson weighed as he picked his battles. He was concerned about fighting corruption where he could, when he saw that government decisions where being shaped by persuaders from the business world, people who had little genuine intrest in how their projects and agendas would affect the ordinary citizen. Time and again, it occured to me that the things Drew Pearson fought in the 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s, have resurfaced in the 21st century, to our detriment.

As social history, this book is worth reading. As a challenge to our current methods of governance and reporting, it is worth reviewing. Drew Pearson was motivated by what he considered moral issues in government. Perhaps it is time to revive that outlook, for we have gotten trapped by questions of whether things are legal or not, when we should be asking whether they are right or not.

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Software – Writers Blocks

Thumb up from Ashley Software

I’ve used Writers Blocks since their first version, which I got in 2000. As of the time of this review, they are at version 4. It remains a very useful tool for me.

Writers Blocks

Writers Blocks

Basically, Writers Blocks is an “index card” program. It is designed to allow you to place discrete bodies of information in a “block,” which you can then move around as a unit. The program does not do any evaluation of the content of the block, so it can be used for whatever use you desire.

Because the program is not greared to a specific intention (such as turning the elements into a screenplay), it can be used for any purpose you want. I use it for many diferent things: a record of various internet accounts and passwords, outlining books and essays, planning comic book scripts, collecting story or blog ideas, lists of desired purchases, with model numbers and prices and vendors.

The layout of the program places a series of blocks in a column. You can select the number of blocks you put in the columns. A Control Panel shows you the content of the specific block you click on. You can even give each block its own title. The program also lets you color code each block, which I find useful for organizing materials. There is no practical limit to the amount of text you put into the block field, although the full contents of a specific block will not show in the display of all the block in a file.

One of the primary features is the ability to view the contents of a file in either the Blocks mode or in an Outline mode. The Outline view uses the title of the block as a lead title and the contents as a sub-text for that title. They have added another function that converts your file into a basic manuscript with word processing functions, with the contents of the blocks being handled as paragraphs ordered in the sequence you have down each column. The resulting document can be exported to other programs.

For essays or works where you will be quoting from many sources, Writers Blocks aids at the outlining level. You can construct your outline with the blocks, giving each level of the outline its own block. Individual quotations can be placed in a block and then moved to wherever you need it in your work.

With a little imagination applied to your needs for organizing blocks of information, Writers Blocks can serve many needs. It’s one of my most used programs, used almost as much as a word processor program.

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Writing Books – The New Screenwriter’s Survival Guide

Thumb upby Max Adams

In 2001, Max Adams published the first edition of her Screenwriter’s Survival Guide. I’d been acquainted with her in an online message board community, and since I worked in the Entertainment Business, I was interested in what she had to say. That book was chocked full of real-life advice about working in the Hollywood entertainment business that for years afterward I would recommend it to new immigrants to Hollywood.

Max Adams

Max Adams

Max Adams has now updated the Survival Guide to cover the changes the advances in digital technology have made to how business is done in Hollywood. But those tech changes haven’t made significant difference to how the people of the Industry operate. Her descriptions and advice on these matters remain pungent and clear-headed.

I will still recommend the book to the seriously aspiring newbie to Hollywood. Max’s sense of humor in conveying Holywood realities stands as an example of one quality to survival in The Business (because for those in Hollywood there is only one business).

Even if you know most of these matters that she discusses, the book is a fun read. From quips about idiot questions you might hear in meetings to some of the odd ordinary life peculiarities you can encounter living in Los Angeles, she applies her sharp wit to making the information available to the reader.

Max Adams is the founder and instructor of the Academy of Film Writing, where she teaches online courses for screenwriters to improve their skills.

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Fiction – The Dawn of Amber

by John Gregory Betancourt

scribblerworks-roger-zelaznyBetancourt was authorized by the Zelazny estate to write a new trilogy of Amber novels; this one about the founding of Amber. This explains the title page, which actually reads Roger Zelazny’s The Dawn of Amber. Amber is not the first property where continuations have been authorized by estates of authors, nor is it likely to be the last.

The intent (according to the jacket) is to answer questions about the founding of Amber, about the origins of Oberon and Dworkin, and why Amber and the Courts of Chaos are in conflict. Betancourt tackles the assignment with energy.

The story plunges straight into action with the main character Oberon (called “Obere” initially) fighting hell-creatures. Dworkin, whom he regards as an uncle but who has been absent from Obere’s life for years, shows up to help him fight these monsters. Dworkin conveys him well away from that conflict, through strange lands, to their destination: Dworkin’s castle Juniper.

Obere learns that he is, in fact, one of Dworkin’s sons. It’s a large family of very diverse personalities, each with different ambitions. He is plunged into power games and war conflicts of which he knows very little. But he becomes committed to his new world.

scribblerworks-BetancourtInevitably, there is a contrast between Betancourt’s handling of the material and that of Zelazny. Betancourt lays out the plot and action in a way that can satisfy Zelazny’s readers. But the greatest distinction between the two authors (at least in this material) is stylistic. Betancourt does not have Zelazny’s hand for prose – that special quality that carries an author’s voice. Because for me as a reader Amber is very much Zelazny’s, I found myself conscious of the differences between the two authors at times.

I felt that Betancourt labored a bit too hard to echo Zelazny. He opens with Obere being as clueless about his real identity as Corwin is in Nine Princes in Amber (although the reasons for the cluelessness are adequately different). The introduction of the siblings is also similar, right down to the engaging but over-looked brother (Random in Zelazny’s work, Aber in Betancourt’s). I could wish for fresher plotting than that. But aside from that glitch, readers familiar with Amber should be satisfied with this first volume in this trilogy, if only for a fresh dose of Amber.

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Fiction – To Green Angel Tower


by Tad Williams

scribblerworks-Tad-WilliamsThe final volume of Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn unrolls the climactic confrontation with the hostile immortal Storm King, whose spirit rages against his exile from all living things. This pending confrontation has loomed over all three volumes and now the author brings it to the forefront. The vast canvas of Williams’ world and his many subplots are pulled together where the story began, within the walls of the fortress, the Hayholt.

Crucial to the wrap-up of this epic adventure is the final transformation of Simon into a leader and hero. Because Williams rightly knows that victories come with costs, Simon endures torture and the struggles of being lost in a subterranean maze. He gains wisdom into human nature by being pared down to his own essential nature.

If there is one minor flaw to this volume, it is that many of the key moments that explain or reveal the signifincance of events are told after the fact rather than experienced as they happen. However, considering that Williams tracks a large number of characters and several threads of action, using the “telling, not showing” method to wrap up some details is not a deal-killer. He builds the actions and emotions of the chaacters to an exciting climax.

The trilogy is no small endeavor for the reader, but it is worth the time spent. Vivid characters, distinct cultures, unique creatures, all are well crafted for a satisfying reading experience.

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Fiction – Stone of Farewell


by Tad Williams

scribblerworks-Tad-WilliamsThe second volume of Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn has to deal with all the problems of being “the middle.” Everyone knows it is the middle and will not have a full resolution to it. The object then is to finish the volume with at least some sense of resolution. Williams does a good job of setting a primary goal to be reached for this section of the story – the title location, the Stone of Farewell. But he also makes use of his vast canvas and large cast of characters to expand the reader’s experience of his world.

Simon, the epic’s main character, had ended the last volume defeating an ice dragon and “winning” the Great Sword, Thorn. But he quickly discovers in this second book that the sword seems to have intentions of its own and they don’t include being one of Simon’s possessions. Since Simon is well aware that the sword is needed for the greater conflict, he accepts this easily. Instead, his focus shifts to the new goal of getting to the Stone of Farewell.

Williams takes the reader into new territories, showing a wide variety of cultural pockets, both intriguing and horrifying. His vivid characters are always distinctive and unmistakable. The unfolding complexity of his story is never lost in a cloud of confusion. He stays clear about each plotline’s goal and continues weaving them well.

This book is dependant on its being part of a larger story, the middle part. However, rich characterizations and well-realized locations give it a strength that many middle volumes lack. It is well worth the time spent reading it, to be sure.

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Fiction – The Dragonbone Chair


by Tad Williams

scribblerworks-Tad-WilliamsI had had the volumes of Tad Williams’ epic tale, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn sitting on my bookcase for some time. It seemed about time to catch up on some fiction reading.

Williams has quite the knack for fleshing out the details of his world. I did feel that he spent an awful lot of time showing us the mundane existence that his main character, Simon, lives in the vast corridors of the High King’s castle, the Hayholt. I felt it might have taken a bittoolong to set the main plot into motion, but I also realize he has used the space to introduce many of the players who will populate his vast canvas. Additionally, since the scope of the three volumes shows the transformation of Simon from a dreaming, restless scullion boy into something quite different, the long opening does serve important story purposes.

Simon has barely begun his education under the wizardly Doctor Morgenes when the ominous king’s advisor Pyrates causes the death of Simon’s mentor, forcing the youth to flee the Hayholt and head out into the wide world.Simon sets himself to seek the company of Prince Josua, who is reluctantly accepting the necessity of opposing his brother, High King Elias. Magic is let loose on the land, as it suffers first a harsh drought and then an unbreakable winter, which holds on throughout the year.

Simon’s quest gains him unusual allies – not merely companions of nations and tribes that usually battle each other, but also friends from other peoples such as trolls and Sithi. He is given charge of one specific quest – to find the legendary sword, Thorn. The volume follows him to the fulfillment of that quest, which works out rather differently than Simon imagined.

In spite of the hefty size of this volume, it is well worth working one’s way through it. Williams has taken the effort to fully realize his world. He puts more substance into the nature of his story beyond that of mere action-adventure. It may require a little bit of patience to get through the beginning, but Williams rewards the reader with a well-shaped world of unexpected sights. And as part one of three, this volume does end with a sense of accomplishment of the first part of the over-all task. The major dire threat does still looms in the background, to compell the reader on to the next volume. But The Dragonbone Chair ends with one mission complete and a sense of growth in Simon.

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Writing Books – Story Engineering

by Larry Brooks

I really wanted to like this book.

scribblerworks-larry-brooksIt seemed to me that Brooks has a pretty useful theory/method for approaching the writing process. My problem is that his presentation of that method is difficult to wade through. I’m not sure why: it’s almost as if Brooks doesn’t really want to tell you how to follow in his footsteps. But he’s certainly ready to tell you everything that is wrong with other writing instructors (though not naming names).

The problem may be in the editing. The book is published by Writers Digest Books and has all the fingerprints of their “house style,” most notably lots of boldface section headings. The difficulty for me is that some of these “section headings” seemed to be no more than the first sentence of a paragraph, separated out and bolded at random because the page needed a subheading on it.

There was another element that became tiring for me. At points, Brooks would refer to an element or concept he would be covering in a later chapter. Understandable, as it does happen. But he would not elaborate on how that element affected the immediate point. And tracking the explanation to the later section felt unhelpful to the current passage.

I suspect that if you have a chance to attend a live seminar with Brooks, it would be quite good. It’s even possible that this book would be very good after such an experience. But to read it cold? It’s not as useful regarding structuring as either Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! or Brian McDonald’s Invisible Ink.

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