Writing about Reading: The Player of Games

August 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

I’m sure you’re probably tired of me raving about Iain M. Banks’ Culture series, so I’ll keep this brief. The Player of Games is not a book I expected to like, mainly because the plot revolves around a professional game player playing a game.

Of course, since this is Iain M. Banks, the story doesn’t quite fit into that too-tiny nutshell.

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Inspiration from Neil Gaiman

August 23, 2013 § 1 Comment

Fantastic advice for we struggling writers from one of the contemporary masters of the craft:

To sum up:

  1. Write
  2. Finish things
  3. Read outside your chosen genre
  4. Tell your story

(I can attest to third thing on the list; the idea for the novel I’m currently writing came from watching an opera and an old movie.)

Goodbye, Dutch. And thank you.

August 20, 2013 § Leave a comment


I got the news via Twitter, because that’s how bad news finds us these days. That’s how the worst news always seems to find us; a gut punch sandwiched between trivialities.

Elmore Leonard has died.

There isn’t much I can say about “Dutch” that hasn’t already been said around the world. I mean, it’s not like I’d ever met the man in person. But I loved him like an uncle—the good kind of uncle who tells you dirty jokes when your parents are out of earshot and gives you sips of his beer before you’re old enough. The uncle who always tells the best stories.

Elmore Leonard could really tell stories, that’s for sure. Even if you’ve never read one of his books, I’d bet good money you’ve heard some of his stories. Maybe you watch Justified, the show featuring Leonard’s character Raylan Givens and a host of others; most episodes come straight from Dutch’s books and short stories (Pronto, Riding the Rap, and his latest, Raylan.) Maybe you saw Get Shorty, with John Travolta, based on Dutch’s book of the same name. Perhaps it was Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, based on the novel Rum Punch. Or Out of Sight, with George Clooney, based on the book of the same name. About 30 of Dutch’s books and short stories have been adapted to film or television.

Maybe you know of him because of his 10 Rules of Writing.

This is getting long. I didn’t mean for it to get long.

All I really want to say is that Elmore Leonard was an exceptional writer. He influenced me more than any other, and I always eagerly looked forward to his next novel, his next great story, his next unforgettable character speaking his inimitable “lowlife dialogue.” And knowing there won’t be any more makes me incredibly sad.

Thanks for everything, Mr. Leonard. There is simply no other writer who is your equal.

Your Female Characters Need to be More than Strong

August 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Rosie-the-RiveterI like fiction with strong female characters. The novel I’m writing has a few strong women in it. The novels I like to read and the TV shows I like to watch have strong female characters in them. And, thankfully, there are more and more stories featuring strong female characters lately.

This is a good thing, a necessary thing.

But when your Strong Female Character’s only notable trait is her strength, you’ve committed the rookie mistake of writing a one-dimensional character.

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What to tell yourself when someone says, “You will never be a writer.”

August 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

dont stopKelly Braffet, author of the acclaimed new YA novel Save Yourself, published a fantastic blog piece about how she reacted when a high-school English teacher tried to crush her dream of being a writer. You can read the full story here. It’s a good one.

When most writers talk about their origins, they usually cite the high-school English teacher who inspired them and taught them to love reading and books. They talk about those first awkward stories they wrote, and how those same teachers read them and wrote encouraging comments and fanned the embers of their dreams into a blazing passion.

Braffet’s teacher was not that sort:
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Writing about Reading: Crisis of Faith & Great White Death: Two Screenplays

August 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

615YeBGUU0L._SX260_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_Full disclosure: As I said in my review of Sherry Spurlock’s Dandelions & Dragons, Sherry is a good friend of mine. But when it comes to reviewing things by people I know, I try to put my personal feelings aside and judge the work strictly on its literary merits.

To that end, here’s how I really, truly, honestly feel about the two screenplays contained within Crisis of Faith & Great White Death: Two Screenplays: I loved them.

“Crisis of Faith” is the story of two angels and the mortal denizens of a coffee shop whom the angels befriend. Alexander is the new arrival on Earth, sent as a “mercy agent” — providing consolation for those who need it at key moments in their lives. Douglas is the veteran, and his time in the mortal realm has made him a bit … well, a bit of a dick. With Douglas as a mentor, Alexander finds himself growing increasingly frustrated with his new job, until he begins to wonder if he was cut out for the work at all.

The thing that impressed me about “Crisis of Faith” was the beautiful moments. There’s humor and great dialogue and tension, but there are these moments when Alexander is seeing the other side of his job that are just amazing. Particularly as it relates to another character, Dori. The screenplay is funny and sad and beautiful and true, and that is the hallmark of a great story. 

“Great White Death” is a good ol’ zombie movie, with a twist. The stars are a wisecracking band of club employees, trying to get ready to open the bar in the middle of a Level 2 Snow Emergency. But when a helicopter carrying samples of a deadly virus crashes nearby, people start turning into flesh-eating monsters that only a bullet to the brainpan can stop. And they all seem to be heading for the club.

There’s romance and a lot of great witty dialogue, and just a lot of fun in “Great White Death.” It may be funnier for me, because I know what a few things are based on (characters, settings), but even without that context, it’s a good romp in a winter zombieland. If you’re a Shaun of the Dead fan, you’ll like “Great White Death.”


What’s the most memorable first line you, er, remember?

August 2, 2013 § 1 Comment

600622_515218381866357_703050485_n“He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.”

I read Rafael Sabatini’s Scaramouche over 30 years ago, and to this day, I remember that opening line word for word. I can honestly say, it’s the best opening line I’ve ever read.

A lot hangs on the opening line of a novel. If you’ve got a great first line, it immediately sucks the reader into your story. If it’s just “OK,” a browsing reader might keep reading … and if so, you’d better hope the rest of that first page captures them. But if it’s terrible? Your book is going back on the shelf, my friend.

That’s why Stephen King agonizes over the first lines of his books, a fact he just wrote about in an article for the Atlantic. He lists a few good (and one terrible) opening line, and talks about why they work (or don’t). What it boils down to, King says, is this:

An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.

Does the first line of Scaramouche fit King’s criteria? I think so, with a one-word addition: “Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this guy.”

Check out King’s article. The man knows his stuff (obviously) and, as usual, he makes the sharing of said stuff interesting and lively.

Got a great first line to share — either yours or someone else’s? Leave it in the comments! Let me know where it’s from, though — I might want to grab that book.

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