Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Red Harvest Review Harvest is a prequel to Death Troopers, but you can read either book and enjoy the story. Red Harvest deals with the creation of a plague by a Sith master seeking, you guessed it, immortality.

The Good
This book is a great addition to the Star Wars horror line and explains the origins of the plague the Sith created. I still think Death Troopers was better, but Red Harvest is definitely a good read once the contagion begins.

As a zombie story, Joe Schreiber does a great job of making the zombies new and still deadly, while adding plenty of sci-fi creep factor. New elements keep popping up that differ from traditional zombie lore, but I felt these added to the nightmare scenario.

The Bad
Star Wars Death TroopersRed Harvest starts off a little slow, but when the epidemic actually does begin you're up to your elbows in zombie goodness. The locations for the book were awesome, but I felt Mr. Schreiber could have done a lot more to make it more immersive. The descriptions of the environment, while creepy, are too brief and should have been significantly beefed up to make it more of a character. I kept thinking, this book would be so much more scary if I was afraid to be on the planets they were on. The potential was there, but it wasn't fully exploited.

Additionally, I felt a little distracted by the 'librarian' storyline, but it wasn't enough to make it terribly detracting from the overall story.

The Spin
If you like horror or zombies, this book is for you. If you like both and Star Wars, then check out Red Harvest and Death Troopers. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Matrimonial Twenty-Five

The final day of the Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge! Some days felt pretty rushed, but I got in all 25 days. Next year, I think I'll do what some of the others did this year: write little stories of memories from each year. They'll be a whole lot more entertaining...

Matrimonial Twenty-Five
I'm still going to school, but I'm sick of dating. My friends despair and start setting me up with girls, but none of them pan out either. Frankly, I'm to tired of being all peppy on a date. I just want to relax and be myself.

At work, I'm the assistant produce manager at Macey's in Logan. I want to move up, but I'm not entirely sure what I want to move into. I'm still recovering from my bitter feeling over my last relationship, when one day at work I see someone that catches my eye.

Meeting the Missus
I stop to chat with a lady I know from our hometown, who introduces me to her daughter. She just came home from an LDS mission in Italy. And... she's cute... with big eyes and a great butt. (Hey... I'm dealing in the truth here.)

So I find out more about her and ask her out. I don't think she had a very good time, but I failed to appreciate that she was still acclimatizing to life back in the United States. Worse still, she does something that my gentleman's ego regards as a cardinal sin: she opens her own car door instead of waiting for me to open it. I know... I know... but my parents had strict rules of behavior and I was taught to open doors for ladies. Even my sisters.

So I decided that the date was a bust and I wouldn't be seeing her again.

Logan, Utah LDS Temple
But... a few months later she began working in the snack bar at Macey's and I forgot the original reason I didn't ask her out again. She was still cute... and all... so I asked her out.

What followed was a non-stop date and whirlwind romance that ended with us being married in the Logan LDS Temple.

At one point in the temple there were three of us grooms waiting in a hall for our brides (there were a lot of weddings that September). A temple matron brought out three women and one was Katrina. The matron smiled to the brides and said, "Well, pick which one you want." For half a second I thought, "OH, CRAP, pick me!"

She did pick me and although we've put each other through hell, we've also experienced a lot of heaven.

And did you notice? She's a brunette! 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Edgar Allan Poe Audio Collection Review

The Edgar Allan Poe Audio CollectionLooking for a great audiobook for Halloween? Look no further than this priceless collection of tales from the original master of horror, Edgar Allan Poe.
"TRUE! --nervous --very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?"
~ The Tell-Tale Heart
The Good
The Edgar Allan Poe Audio Collection is read by two legendary voices: Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone. Their rich baritones lull you into complacency before jumping off the cliff of insanity. Poe's works are notoriously chilling, but it's always better to hear master narrators at work.

Basil Rathbone
Don't believe me? Wait until you hear Basil Rathbone reading the Tell-Tale Heart and The Bells. Or Maybe you'd preferred a stab at Vincent Price reading The Gold Bug and Morella. Either way, both masters bring new delights to these chilling tales.
"The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me-
Yes!- that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee."
~ Annabel Lee
The Bad
If you're not a huge fan of poetry, this one might turn you off with it's wild literary abandon. Additionally, Vincent Price only reads five of the twenty stories in the collection. The time is balanced though, because Price reads Ligeia and The Gold Bug, both of which are almost hour long tales. But Basil Rathbone is no slouch and is one of the best narrators you'll hear, especially with these stories.
[Insert evil laugh here]
"Shall I then say that I longed with an earnest and consuming desire for the moment of Morella's decease? I did; but the fragile spirit clung to its tenement of clay for many days, for many weeks and irksome months, until my tortured nerves obtained the mastery over my mind, and I grew furious through delay, and, with the heart of a fiend, cursed the days and the hours and the bitter moments, which seemed to lengthen and lengthen as her gentle life declined, like shadows in the dying of the day."
~ Morella
Vincent Price
The Spin
Poe always considered himself a poet, not a writer. If you like horror or poetry with a hint of darkness, this is a necessary collection. And even if you don't like audiobooks, I still recommend this one. Price and Rathbone are just that good. They'll get you ready for a haunting good time.
"Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,"
The shade replied-
"If you seek for Eldorado!"
~ Eldorado

Tired Twenty-Four

The October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge continues...

Tired Twenty-Four
When I was twenty-four, I wandered through school, trying to manage the classes I had. I began taking classes that were more fun and even toyed with a theater arts degree. I took Script Analysis and Poetry Presentation, but still never found my niche. I even tried Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning.

I did take two classes that I loved, even though they were only 1 credit each. The were Ballroom Dance and Skiing.

The Ski class was awesome and a friend of mine and I scheduled our classes so that we could jump in his truck at 11:30a and head for Beaver Mountain. The ski class offered what essentially was a half-day ski pass. So we'd hit the slopes a couple hours before class and ski our hearts out. I got a lot better, but I think my knees would kill me if I tried it now.

When I took Ballroom Dance, I saw a stunning woman. I realized she had the same last name as a friend of mine from my fraternity, so asked her if she was related to him. To my surprise, she was his sister.

It took me about a week to find out if she was dating anyone seriously and then I asked her out. I really liked her and was having a blast... but there was one problem.

I was still attached to my previous girlfriend and I'm not the kind of guy that can kiss two different women in the same day.

See... my girlfriend wanted to date other people. I didn't, but I knew I had little choice in the matter. Then I met my friends sister and asked her out. Now my girlfriend was upset because I was dating, but she wasn't. I was having more fun with girl #2 and my relationship with girl #1 deteriorated until we broke up.

It was a rough break up and after it was over, I decided I needed a little time. But I didn't want to stop seeing this new girl. She was funny and a kind of beautiful that I knew was WAY outta my league. I enjoyed her company so I let things settle into a steady... something. We didn't hold hands. We never kissed. What we were were best friends. I cared more for her then anyone else... but it never progressed beyond that.

When I finally did make my move, she was comfortable with our friendship and didn't want more. She still wanted to date me, but wanted to date others as well. It crushed me. I thought I could take it, but remembrances of my Dear John returned to me and I wanted to crawl into a hole and hide. Our ships had passed each other unaware.

I began avoiding her because it was just too painful to be with her... but not BE with her. What finally boiled out can best be seen in the movie, My Best Friends Wedding, which came out a few years later. I swear someone knew our story and made it into a movie. My wife bawled and said I should have married my friend. Me? I wondered why life had to take so many painfully educational twists.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Serious Twenty-Three

The October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge Continues...

Serious Twenty-Three
As I began my twenty-third year, I was longing for a serious relationship. I'd just gotten over the break-up from a girl I liked. We had both wanted other things. She wanted to be serious... just not with me. I wanted to be serious with her... but my feelings didn't matter. That's the way love is sometimes. It's nothing personal. It just feels like it sometimes.

After a trip with my parents and sister to Bryce Canyon, I met someone new. She was a friend of my sister and I was soon bowled over by her charm and humor. We dated for a long time, but I eventually lost interest. I can't even remember why now. I'm sure it was the usual story that the connection just waned.

I liked her... a lot. But coming to a crossroads, we decided to think about our relationship over spring break. She went with her family to California and I went with my friend on a ski trip to Canada. When we get back, she wants to get closer and I want to break up.

I tell her she'll always be a relationship that I'll regret walking away from. I hurt her, just as I've been hurt by others. It's not pretty and I hate myself afterwards.

College Life
I still working on my generals in school, but I try starting out in childhood speech therapy. The professor says upfront the the course is designed to weed out candidates, but I figure I can handle it. Three tests later with straight F's, I drop the course and have no clue what I want to do next.

The career exams say English, but I want to be able to have a more reliable income. It's another five year before my younger sister discovers Technical Writing and I follow her into the field. But the years preceding that... are full of uncertainty.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Keys to Great Research you want to be a writer, it's important to do your research. Research, after all, is a cornerstone of any great writing endeavor. Don't believe me? Okay... but I'm not responsible for any baldness that may occur.

Why Research
Its important to give yourself the time to do your research, because research is writing time too. Your word count may not be piling up, but you are making it easier to write once you do set pen to paper. Why? Because doing your research prevents the urge to stop writing and find that necessary detail.

Don't go there, my friend. That way lies madness.

Sure it might seem mundane at first, but toddle off to look up a name or random fact, and you're down the research hole for a couple hours. And how many words would you have been able to write during that lost time? Like the sucker commercial says, the world may never know.

So here are my recommendations for three of the most important things to research before you start that novel.

Maps are important for me because they get me into the environment. Even though I only do a rough outline before I begin a book, I scout out location for my scenes. When I find a city, I print off or buy a map of that area. Then I work the scenes there through my mind by putting myself into the map and walking the street. Nowadays this is actually even easier with Google Maps and Google Earth because you can usually get photos of your location.

Writing a story about somewhere not of this world? You can still find places on Earth for inspiration. But if you're making someplace specific, draw the map yourself. It doesn't have to be Rand McNally quality, just something to get you into the scene and understand the environment your characters will be experiencing.

Character details pop up on me all the time during my writing, but spending a little time researching each major character will prevent timely delays. For me, these include head shots I've grabbed from the internet. If you want to develop your characters I recommend a few books for suggestions:
And once you have notes on each character, it's always easy to add new elements to them when you discover new details.

Writing a story about nano particles? Archery? Fashion? Sumo wrestling? Better do your research first.

The old axiom, 'write what you know,' doesn't mean crap if you're writing about a generation ship flying to a distant galaxy. But that doesn't mean you can't find a host of research about what life on a generation ship would be like. I have three places that I love to go to for research:
  • The Internet
  • Local Library
  • iTunes Podcasts
You have to double check any information you find on the internet, but hey, we're writers so we make stuff up all the time. Just make sure you're little lie has a pound of truth in it or it won't ring anywhere near true.

Podcasts are invaluable for numerous reasons. Besides the obvious fact of listening in to your desired community, you can pick up accents and turn-of-phrases that your characters might be able to use.

Ultimately, there's a lot to see out there. You just need to decide how to use it.

Building Your Research Tracker
So you know what you need to research, now all you need is a way to track the research you do, as well as the topics you miss during your initial pass. Something will always slip through, and that's okay. The key is not to interrupt your writing for the research hole.

Making a research tracker is easy and you can tweak it to your own specific needs. I picked up mine from Victoria Schmidt's, Book in a Month. And whether you write it in a notepad or make sheet in your word processor, the end result is the same. Start by putting the working title of your current work in progress at the top, because someday, when you've written forty books, you're going to want to know which book these notes went to.

A good research tracker needs three elements:
  • The topic to research
  • What to look for
  • Your findings
Make three columns for each category and wait for the questions to pop into your head. And they will come. But just keeping this little form near your writing area will stop you from straying away from your words per minute... provided you have the discipline to use it.

That's it! Pretty simple, huh? Now you're ready for doing your own stellar research. Do you have a research technique that's invaluable to you? Have you found something that stops you from dropping down the research hole when you should be writing?

Life Begins at Twenty-Two

The Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge continues...

Life Begins at Twenty-Two
When I got home from my LDS mission, the world opened up before me. The B-52s where really big for me now, especially their latest album: Cosmic Thing. I still don't know what I want to do with my life, but I figure I have a couple years of college before I have to figure that out.

Now was the time I was going to go to college and at some point, find my wife. I was still heartbroken from my Dear John, but now I could actually do something to fix that. Now I could find the brunette girl I'd seen in my dream.

That Burning Feeling
I have one funny encounter with my old flame. I was heading into the Old Main building at Utah State University and she was just coming out. My brain told me, "Hey! You know her." My face brightened and I said, "Hi!" Her face looked stunned and she squelched out a surprised, "Hi!" That's right about the time my brain fed me the information that this girl was the one who Dear Johned me and lied to our friends about it. "Bye!" I said as I breezed past her without looking back.

I'm sure it made me look tougher than I felt, but I did think it was pretty funny.

I began dating, but had crap for success. I went out with one girl a few times and thought things were going well... until she looked at me and said, "You're such a nice guy. You're going to make some girl very happy."

Uh... nice guy. Some girl... ah... not you.

I eventually did find a girl and settled into a relationship with her. She was raven haired and I really liked her sense of humor. Plus she wanted a serious relationship... just not with me. That was the point when things began to sour. She wanted me close, but she knew I wasn't the one. Eventually we walked away from each other, equally disgusted.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Timely Twenty One

The sisters being funny
NPS Photo by Peter Jones
Photo Source: Aggie Speleological Society
The Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge continues...

Timely Twenty One
The year I was building up to twenty-one, I was on the second year of my LDS mission. I was just overcoming the heartbreak from my Dear John letter and surviving a short hospital stay for food poisoning.

I also become really good friends with one of the sister missionaries, Sister Lane. She teaches me a little Navajo and I like the way she laughs. Maybe when I get home... but I can't think those thoughts right now.

The Wrath of God
I learned a valuable lesson on my twentieth birthday: don't tempt God.

See, I'd always wanted to see the Carlsbad Caverns and El Paso was a short, 3-hour drive from there. I expected to head North sometime during the next few transfers, so I got permission from the Mission President to go to the Caverns on my birthday. Nine of us set out that day and it was a blast! The caverns were more gorgeous than I remembered and we had all the fun of a road trip.

The tempting God part? Well... while I was in the gift shop I was getting some souvenirs for my family and the clerk, in fact ALL the clerks, were jerks. Geez, I thought, these people are jerks. I'm glad I'm not serving in this area.

So guess where I get transferred to? Yup. Carlsbad.

Areas of Service
I was transferred a couple months after my birthday, so I ended up only serving in two more areas during my last year: Carlsbad and Taylor Ranch.

Carlsbad is a small town in south eastern New Mexico. The nearest towns of note are at least an hour away, and Roswell is two hours. I meet some wonderful friends in Carlsbad and figure out that it must be the people in the National Park gift shops that are jerks. I also get to spend my last Christmas here, which is a plus because I have some lifelong friends here. I'm made a district leader, but the district is so small it's just our companionship and one other in a satellite town. I never get to go there. For all I know, it's bigger than Carlsbad.

My first companion in Carlsbad is named Casey and I felt like his older brother. Sometimes it felt like a love/hate relationship, but he was such a great guy the good times easily outweigh the bad. He's an outdoors man, and with my love of caves, we spend a lot of our time off out in the desert. Carlsbad has some really pretty country, especially if you like the desert. We hike a labyrinth cave and get lost. We drive out to Sitting Bull Falls and hike every trail there.

After New Year's, I get transferred to Taylor Ranch. It's a suburb of Albuquerque and lies on the west side of the Rio Grande. I'm five months late for the balloon festival in Albuquerque, but there's almost always a balloon in the air there. Sunday mornings I usually wake up to the roaring of a balloon passing over our apartment.

Photo Source: Kathy Teston
This was a hard area for me. While I love the people and the sights around Albuquerque, I get an extra dose of stress here. I'm promoted to zone leader and I'm now responsible for eleven other missionaries. Not to mention, my new companion is an arrogant jerk. Since this is the last six months before I go home, and even though I've loved my time as a missionary, I'm ready to go when my time is up.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Globetrotting Twenty

Loaded up for the M.T.C.
The October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge continues...

Globetrotting Twenty
Just after my nineteenth birthday I leave for the Missionary Training Center (MTC) for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Provo, Utah. I've been called to serve in the Albuquerque, New Mexico Mission. Part of me wonders what's in New Mexico.

I know my Uncle Blaine and Aunt Margaret live there... but that's about it. And isn't it a desert? One big litter box? Why didn't I go some place cool like London?

The MTC is awesome and inspirational. I'm put in a dorm room with three other guys that are heading to Albuquerque too. We learn how to teach and meet people. For someone shy like me, it's an important lesson. The food is non-stop and I gain eight pounds in three weeks. I better slow down or I'm not going to fit in my suits.

Arriving in Albuquerque
Leaving Salt Lake City
The flight from Salt Lake City to Albuquerque is my first time on a jet and I LOVE it. We're greeted at the airport by the Mission President and his wife, President and Sister Nielsen. They're super nice and take us to the mission office for interviews. For lunch the AP's (Assistants to the President) take us to a local burger stand, Blake's Lottaburger. I'm instantly hooked on their chili burgers.

While we're waiting for our food, a cute, well-toned girl comes in and gets in line. Darkly tanned skin, straight black hair, black leather mini-skirt that can't go any higher, and a black tank-top with no bra. Since missionaries can't date and we're taught to be modest... this girl makes me think it's going to be a long two years.
City of Rocks near Deming

Areas of Service
I serve in three areas my first year: Deming, Belen, and El Paso, Texas.

Deming was hot, but awesome. They have pure water and fast ducks (just ask). The people there are my kind of folks. We get to know a lot of the rural farmers and even get to help them out on the farms and ranches. There is so much history and scenery to New Mexico that I never knew about and I'm... in the Land of Enchantment. (New Mexico state slogan... who knew?)
Photo Credit: Augusta Wind Press
In Deming I get to see a roadrunner playing with a cat like he's Wile E. Coyote. The roadrunner would run to the far side of a Yucca plant and let the cat sneak up on it. Just when the cat would pounce, the roadrunner would run to the other side of the Yucca and the whole chase scene would start over again. I tried to catch one myself... it flew onto a roof and ran away. Not a long flight, but why didn't anyone tell me they can fly?

I get to Belen in time for fall and winter. I have some very spiritual experiences there and love the members. They make being away from home for Christmas as painless as possible, but I'm still homesick. The phone call home makes it better, but like Dino says, "There's no place like home for the holidays."

Making tortillas with mi familia, Leo & Vivian
We go up to Santa Fe for New Year's Eve and I'm amazed how gorgeous that city is! The art and architecture is simple astounding.

In February, I'm sent to serve in El Paso, Texas. At that time, it's part of the Albuquerque mission, but I hear now that it's part of the Tucson mission. El Paso quickly becomes one of my favorite areas, although I think I've said that about all of them. I get to see softball sized hail and some of the greatest people I'll ever know.

Dear John
In May, I get Dear Johned by my girlfriend back home. She tells me that it was just a physical relationship and that I'll get over her. She says she's met someone else. I toss her blond headed picture into my trunk.

Getting a Dear John Critique Form from another missionary who's recently been dumped, I take her letter around to people I know and read it to them. They critique the letter and I mail all the forms to her. I use extra postage because the envelope is STUFFED.

She calls me on Mother's Day.
I answered the phone, expecting to hear my mom. "Hello?"
Her voice is excited. "Hi!"
I realize who it is and my voice drops to a monotone. "Hi."
"How's it going?"
... Silence...
"In case you're wondering, I'm getting married in August."
"Do you think I really want to hear that?"
"Well what do you want to hear?"
"I just want you to turn around and walk away. And don't look back, because I won't."
"Okay... Goodbye, Tony Dutson."
"Goodbye." And I hung up the phone.

It hurt worse than anything I'd ever experience. Humiliation and betrayal. And it was the gift that kept on giving too. When I got home I had lots of friends concerned that I'd called her all these terrible names on the phone. I'd laugh and say, "Yeah... that didn't happen."

"I didn't think that sounded like you," a friend replied.

If you're going to break someones heart, why be cruel? Isn't it more decent to make it as painless as possible?

But after it happened, I was more than despondent. For weeks everything hurt and I didn't care about anything. I couldn't feel lower. One night I stayed up and prayed to God that he would show me something so I could know things would get better.

That night I had a dream. In it, I was walking through the hall of a hospital and I came to a room. As I stepped inside, I saw a brunette woman laying in the bed. I was so happy to see her and filled with a rush of love for her. Then a nurse stepped up to me and handed me a swaddled baby. I knew that it was my son and my heart nearly burst as the love doubled.

The next morning, while some of the heartache remained, I felt significantly improved. I knew I would get through this and someone better was on the horizon. I just needed to be patient.

I do get one great thing out of my Dear John. When my mission companion and I go bowling one week, he tells me to imagine my girlfriends face in the pins sweet-spot and suddenly I can't miss. For the first time in my life I bowl a turkey (3+ consecutive strikes).

Friday, October 19, 2012

Nineteen in Waiting

Donald is better than Mickey
The October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge continues...

Nineteen in Waiting
I spend my eighteenth birthday party at Disneyland and the buildup to my nineteenth is ominus. At nineteen I want to serve a mission for my church. After I graduate, I have almost a full year before I'll leave. My friends encourage me to get a year of college in, but I'm sick of school and want to play.

I work and wait.

Hyrum Drug
My mom didn't want me to get a job in high school. She wanted me to focus on my grades. I, on the other hand, wanted some spending cash. My starting wage isn't a ton, but it's something I can play with. A little over a year later, I ask for a ten cent raise and get it. Now I'm rolling and making $3.65 an hour.

The work is fun and I do it all. Unloading trucks, running the cash registers, stocking the milk, repairing the soda machines, wrapping presents, inflating balloons, and cleaning the VCR's that the store rents. I even get to repair the damaged VHS tapes.

The Social Scene
Hanging out with friends at the dam.
There's nothing much to do, but I get it done quickly. I do my chores at home and go to work. When I'm off, I hang out with my friends, most of which are still in their senior year at Mountain Crest.

After chasing her for two years, I finally connect with the girl I took to my Junior Prom. We seriously date and think we're headed for marriage when I return home from my mission. I keep her by my side for almost every major event that year and my parents even take her with us on our family's vacation to Yellowstone.

At my mission farewell, I gush about how important she is to me. I really care about her and think she feels the same way. The truth will be revealed the following year.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Flying Eighteen

Business up front, party in back.
The October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge continues...

Flying Eighteen
After the high of my junior year in high school, my senior year had the portent of being epic. My final hurrah before leaping into the great wide open of life.

Cinderella at the Sock-Hop
The first school activity that year was a dance to welcome everybody back to another exciting year of school.


During the course of the night, I danced with a beautiful blond girl. It was a slow dance and holding her in my arms felt amazing. Anyway, the dance ended and we went our separate ways. I didn't know who the stunning Cinderella was, but felt desperate to know. Unfortunately, I didn't see her the rest of the night.

Fast forward to the next day. My friend and I head up to the school to get our schedules and do all the school pre-lim stuff. As we're standing in line, Bill says, "Hey, my sister said she enjoyed dancing with you last night."

I'm about to tell him I don't even remember seeing her there... when the other shoe drops.

The duckling, who never was ugly to begin with, had turned into a swan. No more kid sister here. She was a high school freshman now. The rest of the day I was in a state of shock. Heidi was still too young to date (we didn't date until we were sixteen in my church) and she was my friend's sister to boot. I still regret not getting to know her better, but she eventually married a German fellow I came to know and like.
The Intellect Behind Pooh

The Plays The Thing
My thespian skills are given a great workout this year, despite the fact I'm not trying hard enough. I'm cast as the Stage Manager in Our Town. My director, Ms. Pond, lets me know she picked that play specifically for me, knowing I could pull it off. I almost shame myself and quit 2/3 of the way through because I haven't spent enough time working on my lines. It's my beefiest role to date and I'm embarrassingly flippant about it.

I've got a heavy school load with AP History and AP English and my homework is suffering. I have to drop AP English and only pass regular English thanks to the help of a friend.

Our Town comes off well, but I still regret not performing better. Right after that, we gear up for Winnie The Pooh, where I'm cast as the know-it-all, Owl. We perform it for the local elementary schools and have a blast.

At the end of the year, I'm awarded the Departmental Award for Speech and Drama. I don't feel like I entirely deserve it because of my performance with Our Town... but I take it. Ms. Pond was great and I regret not having done better.

The Creative Type
One day, during my psychology class, the teacher brings in a palm reader. She explains to us what she does and how it tells certain things about us. She says she refuses to use her knowledge for predicting the future, only for telling us about ourselves. Most of us are skeptical, but her information ends up being surprisingly accurate.

Accepting the Departmental Drama Award
I'm one of the few chosen from the class for a closer reading and she looks at my hand. She says, "Huh. I can tell you're a really creative type, but you're really secretive about it. You probably go home after school and write short stories, but don't show them to anyone. Am I right?"

I'm pretty sure I crack my jaw when it bounces off the desk. "How the heck..."

She laughs and moves on to the next person. I don't know how she was that accurate, but she was.

This was also the year Mountain Crest High School has its first Creative Writing class. Mrs. Churchill is awesome and influences my writing to develop. Our final project is a fourteen page short story and unbeknownst to us, she has a college writing professor look at them. I'm one of two in the class that the professor recommends as 'suitable for publication.'

In addition to getting the Departmental Award in Drama, I also lettered in Debate by performing in Dramatic Interpretation and Improvisation at the competitions. I did 'alright,' sometimes placing but never taking any awards. Someday, I still want to win an Oscar...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wintergirls Review

Wintergirls is the first book you'll ever read that will put you in the head of an anorexic. If you suffer from anorexia, please get and accept help... and after reading this book I know just how hard that is.

The Good
The science behind Wintergirls was amazing. Laurie Anderson did her research and had plenty of beta readers that tightened this well told narrative. Every food item she thinks of comes with its calorie count. Even worse, you're given the driving emotions behind this sickness to the point were you feel her pain and desire to make her insane goals.

The Bad
Wintergirls is one of those books that makes you feel uncomfortable and that's not bad. This book, while harsh in it's reality, almost should be required reading in high school. It won't change the mentality of people suffering from eating disorders, but it makes the readers aware of what's happening behind the closed doors of others minds.

The Spin
Wintergirls is one of those great books that takes an uncomfortable topic and makes it understandable. You'll feel an even greater sense of compassion for those who suffer from this illness and those who love them. Adults might want to read this one before handing it off to their kids solely so they can discuss the life threatening topics found in it.

For me, Wintergirls is not a book I'll ever reread. But from the knowledge and emotions I've gained, it's one I'm infinitely glad to have read.

Seventeen Rules

Pajama Game cast trying to decide who farted.
The Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge continues...

Seventeen Rules
My junior year in high school was awesome. Since it was the 80's, you could even say it was totally awesome.

Crazy things did happen in the world that year. A nuclear reactor in Russia actually melts down and showers countries around the world with radiation. The wreck of the Titanic is found and the space shuttle 'Challenge' exploded after lift-off.

Mountain Crest Junior Prom
In my world, I get another part in the school play, Girl Crazy, and for the first time since 'You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown,'  I try-out for the school musical. It's one of the classic Doris Day musicals called, The Pajama Game. Despite my underwelming performance, I'm cast as the comedy lead--Vernon Hines. It's a lot of fun and makes me want to seriously be an actor.

During the first few months of my junior year I meet a girl that I develop a serious crush on and invite her to the Junior Prom. She isn't quite sixteen yet, but her parents make an exception since she'll turn sixteen a few months after the prom. I'm fixated on and off this girl for the next few years, but she breaks my heart and teaches me to be more guarded with my affections.

The following year I write the only poem I've ever written and kept:

By A.V. Dutson

Late at night
Best. Teenage. Movie. Ever.
it seeps
into my dreams.
Twisted thoughts,
Painful stabs,
Sour colors.
It laughs
at my weaknesses
and burns all hope.
Where is that silver lining?
That pot-o-gold?
Can such torture be real?
What wicked soul created this devouring creature?
But am I awake or asleep?
For the nightmare rides in the day light as well.
The black abyss.
Feeding ever outward.
Hooked talons grasping for more.
But alas,
mortal man seeks to name the ghost, and gives it the sorry name called,

Good grief... who knew I had such teenage angst.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Surprise Sixteen

Too cool for a picture at my surprise party.
The October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challange continues...

Surprise Sixteen
Sixteen had more changes in store for me. Up to that point, my parents hadn't allowed me to date. Sometimes that was a good thing and sometimes I wished I could have started dating sooner. I'm kinda glad I waited now. It prevented the obsession that girls would become for a while.

Surprise Drama
My parents set up a surprise party for me at my sister's house. I'm suckered out of the house by my mom who, 'wants me to ride over to Tene's' with her. For some reason she wanted me to change my clothes so I don't look like a complete slob...

The party is a complete surprise and all my friends are there. My mom even managed to get a girl there that I've been flirting over the phone with. It's a barbeque/movie/dance party and everyone is having a blast... except... the dream girl... who was flirting with me... but is now ignoring me and hitting on my friend.




At sixteen, I get pretty angry and my friend, who didn't know the situation, is man enough to do some serious backpedaling when he finds out she is trashing me. I don't shed any tears for her, especially since I really hadn't got know her yet, but it was my party and I could cry if I wanted to.

Tired Survivors from the Pioneer Trek
After my sixteenth birthday debacle, I go with my church to the Pioneer Trek. Trek is a week long camp meant to give youth and their leaders a chance to experience the hardships and spirit of the early handcart settlers. Everyone is organized into families with a Ma & Pa leader looking out for us. It was an amazing experience. I learn a lot about myself and counting on others.

For instance, there is a point where they have this gentle hill that goes on for a long ways. The leaders come and kick all the men and boys off the handcarts and only let the women pull it up the hill. It's famously called the women's pull and is suppose to let the women understand the struggles pioneer women had when their spouse died or didn't immigrate immediately with them, leaving them to go on alone.

Watching those women fight the carts and the ruts in the road nearly killed me. I snuck to the side of the cart and began pushing the wheel spokes to help. The other boys jumped in with me, but pretty soon the leaders told us we had to back off.

Seeing I was... exceptionally... angry, my Pa stepped up to me and said, "I said you couldn't push the handcart." His eyebrows raised in hidden meaning.

Since I'm a little slow on the uptake, he adds, "I didn't say anything about what was IN the cart."

All us boys suddenly get the hint and have the girls stop the cart. We proceed to take anything heavy... Well that's not entirely true... We emptied the whole cart and carried it all up the hill. The girls, now with a lighter load, had a much easier time dragging the cart up the hill.

After seeing what we had done, every man and boy emptied all the other carts to help the girls. Was I wrong to take the challenge from them? I don't think so. And it wasn't just because they were girls either. Seeing anyone struggle the way they were would have kicked in my Galahad complex.

I was raised to have respect for all people, but this was the first time I'd seen women doing something really hard. Fighting to make a goal and I was powerless to help them. It gave me a greater respect and admiration for them.

Delicate flowers? Sure. But don't ever get in a woman's way when she's got something to do.

Older Women

While I'm still active in the drama club, I begin taking a bigger part in the debate club. A lot of my friends are in there and I can still do Dramatic/Humorous Interpretations and improv at the debate meets, so life is good.

I even begin drawing the attention of some of the older girls in debate that... uh... think I'm cute. One girl brings almost the entire senior debate team to my debate class to point me out.

She points at me from the doorway. "That's him."
Their eyebrows raise in acknowledgement. "Ohhhh."

What do you say to something like that? Despite my having been a little Casanova when I was young, now I'm actually quite shy. And cute girls? Forget about it. I get so tongue tied I'm embarrassed. One of the pretty older girls sat next to me on the bus from one of the debate meets. While the bus rolled through the dark night I feigned falling asleep. She put her face inches from mine, waiting for me to turn my head. Even coaxing me to turn my head. She was cute. She was older. She was so forward it intimidated me.

When I think of that memory today I want to slap the back of my head and quote a line from, It's A Wonderful Life.

"Oh... Youth is wasted on the wrong people."

Monday, October 15, 2012

Freshman Fifteen

The October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge continues...

Freshman Fifteen
I've finally make it to high school. Sure I'm a dreaded 'freshman,' but I don't care about that. I've had three brothers and a sister and high school was when they became adults. So I'm glad to have arrived.

The school is brand new, so even the seniors are new at the school. There's really no hazing because we're all trying to find our niche in the new place.

The Next Big Role
I try out for the school play and land the role of Count Mountjoy in, The Mouse That Roared. I'm really looking forward to doing this play and the roll feels like something I'm going to enjoy hamming up.

Count Mountjoy, adviser to the Queen
Unfortunately, the director is terrible at managing the production. He directs well enough, but two nights from curtain we only have a limited set. And the set we do have is a hodge-podge of items that look... bad. The seniors get the cast together and we have a vote and decide to go on strike. We sit down with the director and make our demands.

We'll handle our costumes and he'll get the set together. If we don't have a set in twenty-four hours, we walk. He agrees and set construction begins in earnest. By show time, the paint is dry and the show goes on.

Amazing World News

There was one bit of world news that stunned me that year. A Japanese soldier from World War II finally surrenders in the Philippians. The war has been over for nearly forty years, but he's been continuing the battle in the mountains, occasionally killing a local. He ignored leaflets telling him the war was over, thinking it was a trap.

Probably thanks to the movie Wargames, and our President Ronny Ray-Gun, my friends and I are really into war board games, especially Risk. Then again, we play a fair bit of D&D too. And Clue. Monopoly. 10-4 Good Buddy. Scotland Yard. Hmmm... Maybe it's better to just say we play a lot of games...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Growing Fourteen

The October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge continues...

The World at Fourteen
The eighties were well underway. CD players came out this year and record players start heading the way of eight-tracks. Michael Jackson releases his Thriller album and music video. The song is great, but I'm more impressed with Vincent Price and the zombie dancers.

M*A*S*H title screenThe last episode of M*A*S*H comes out and I set up a goodbye party. Only my family shows up, but we have a good time. It's gotten to be my after school habit of watching the reruns and have gotten pretty hooked. The writers do a great job summing up the entire series, the sorrow and tragedy of war mingled with the joy and happiness of friendship.

President Reagan announces the Star Wars Missile Initiative and I think it sounds like a good idea. I can't figure out why anyone gets upset about a defense system designed to shoot down missiles shot at us. Either way, it's named Star Wars... so I approve.

South Cache Junior High
With the construction of the new high school, this will be my last year at South Cache. We're asked to vote on the mascot and colors. We're going to be Mustangs and wear blue and orange. There are good and bad things about junior high, but I'm looking forward to getting into high school.

My locker partner keeps calling me chubby and I repeatedly want to punch him. I still haven't hit my growth spurt, but my body keeps holding onto a little padding like it's going to happen any day now. Someday I'll be six feet tall and pound him in the ground.

Ed note: Okay... I only make it to 5'6" and was glad to get there. My growth spurt came between my sophomore / junior year and I shot up four inches. I gained another two after high school.

For the first time in my life, I get straight 'A's in English, thanks to the teacher allowing extra credit for reading and new vocabulary words. I like unique words and as my books stack up, my grades soar.

There's no school play that year, but I pick up some minor roles in our church musical, State Fair.

Schools Out!
The beach at Hyrum Dam (Reservoir)
When the last day of school comes, I jump into my swim trunks. Being June 2nd, my friends and I have planned to head to the beach at Hyrum Dam after we sign yearbooks. Maybe we'll even go jump off of Big Toe (view the film--it's cool). When I look out the window though, I'm stunned. There is at least two inches of snow on the ground.

Heh. Well, I think, it'll all be melted by noon and then we can hit the beach. Most of the snow does melt by noon, but it's still too cold for beach babes.

It's the last day of Junior High, but I'm already moving on with life and dreaming of high school.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Linus at Thirteen

Tales of the Gold Monkey tv show photo
This year's show to watch!
The Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge continues...

Linus at Thirteen
My thirteenth year saw me leaving elementary school and entering 7th grade at South Cache Junior High. It was a big world and kinda scary. I wondered where the playground was and was shocked... shocked... to learn they didn't even have recess there. What kind of savages was I dealing with?

I soon found some of my friends from Lincoln elementary and they introduced me to some new friends. These new friends signed me up to play a game during our lunch breaks that I'd only played a little before that. The game was Dungeons & Dragons and like so many others, I was captivated by its tales of monsters and heroes. What's more, I could BE the hero. How cool is that?

My Blanket and Me
'You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown' at South Cache
Auditions started for that years school play, 'You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown.' My mom helped me work on my lines the night before and I stayed after school for the auditions. Talk about awkward. I was a 7th grader going up against 8th and 9th graders. They looked at me like moldy gym shorts.

We were asked to read lines and then the assistant director had all the boys line up along the stage. Most of the guys sat on the stage, waiting for the next step, but uncomfortable as I was, I couldn't sit down.

"Okay, guys. Everybody stand up," the assistant director said.

The guys slid off the stage and stood.

As the directors looked at us there was some heated words and pointing in my direction

"Tony," he shouted, "Stand up!"

Flustered I blurted out, "I am standing."

The auditorium burst into laughter and the assistant director realized I wasn't being obstinate, just short. I laughed along with everyone else even though I was pretty embarrassed. It was worth it though. I got the part of Linus and for the first time, tread the boards with my very first serious role. What's more, I made friends that I never would have discovered if I hadn't thrown myself out there.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Write or Die Review

Want more prod in your productivity? Looking for a good way to nail down those 1,667 words a day for NaNoWriMo? Write or Die is here to help!

Write or Die
Write or Die is a free online writing motivator that allows you to focus on your writing. It's not a word processor and has very limited settings. For instance, it will show you misspelled words, but won't let you change the font. This is the programs greatest feature since, once you get your but in the chair, all you need to do is write. And believe me, Write or Die will keep your fingers moving.

To give it a try, do the following:
  • Go to the website:
  • Select the Web App from the menu on the left
  • Choose your word goal
  • Choose your time goal
  • Select your consequence level
  • Click 'Write!' and start writing

Consequence Level
What the consequence level does is change the 'prods' you get from Write or Die. In each mode, the screen will gradually turn red before a prod begins.
  • Gentle Mode: A pop up box appears reminding you to get typing
  • Normal Mode: A annoying sound plays until you resume typing
  • Kamikaze Mode: If you don't resume typing, your words begin to delete
  • Electric Shock Mode: Not enabled yet, but someday...
As a word of caution, remember to copy and paste your text from Write or Die into your word processor! Write or Die free version does not save your text. Periodic saves come with purchasing the desktop edition.

Desktop Edition
The desktop edition of Write or Die costs $10 but comes with a few features you won't find in the free online version.

First, the Desktop Edition randomly saves your document into a text file just in case you forget to save your work. Second, and probably the best, is the Word War feature.

Word War allows you to connect with other Desktop Edition users on the Write or Die server for head to head writing. Simply meet up with a friend and log in. Once your goal and time limit are set, it's a race to the finish line. Both participants writing bars are displayed so you can see exactly how far you are behind.

Get Your Widget!
In addition to prodding your writing forward, once you complete a session on either version you can post your progress on your blog or website. After all, what use is cranking out 5,000 words if you can't brag about it?

Simply copy and paste the text from your preferred widget (after your writing session) and put it on your site. The progress meter works great for NaNoWriMo.

Another new gadget that Dr. Wicked is working on is EditMinion. I really haven't had a chance to play with this one yet, but as you can see from the check boxes, it promises a lot of editing suggestions.

EditMinion is free to use like Write or Die and it's link can be found on the Write or Die website. I just want to know, where's the sentence fragment check box?

Developing Twelve

This year's show to watch!
 The Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge continues...

Developing Twelve
Turning twelve, saw some interesting development in my life. After catching the theater bug the previous year, this year I signed up for our church's musical and played all the small rolls that required a random kid. It was called, Within These Walls and showed the lives of the pioneers and immigrants who came to Utah.

As I began sixth grade that year I had a great teacher named Mr. Holt. He was the first male teacher I'd ever had, but my success in his class was from more than gender. Yes, he was sensitive to everyone's needs, but his teaching style drew out our minds and let us develop towards our own interests. Well, I found art and reading in his class.

The thing I liked most from his class was the reading time right before lunch. Mr. Holt would read from a book and we would draw art about it. Well... we could just listen, but I preferred to draw. Thanks to Mr. Holt's reading time, I became deeply hooked on the Choose Your Own Adventure books and began collecting them. I only got 13 from the series, but I did pick up another nine from copycat series, particularly the Dungeons & Dragons ones. My favorites were The Cave of Time and Return to Brookmere.

Getting Ordained a Deacon at Twelve
At twelve, life changes for the kids who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The boys and girls leave their Primary classes (children's Sunday school) and move into the Young Men and Young Women program. For me this also meant being ordained a Deacon in our church. It felt like a big responsibility and I hoped to live up to it.

The Striped Cat
In the fall of that year I also had an unfortunate encounter while out feeding our dogs. My dog Zip, chased a cat under my dad's old Rambler station wagon. He began barking like crazy, so I got down and started pulling him out. Suddenly Zip yelped and began backing out. It was then I noticed that he hadn't corned a cat... he'd corned a skunk.

We both turned tail, but the damage had been done. Zip had been sprayed enough he was doomed to spend the day outside. Thinking I'd been missed, I went to school. But before class could begin, my friends noticed the faint whiff of skunk and in five minutes, I was given permission to head home.

Along the way I was stopped by a deputy sheriff who, no doubt, thought I was being truant.
His cruiser slowed to a stop and he rolled down his window. "Where ya headin'?"
I ducked my head and began walking towards him. "Home. I got sprayed by a skunk."
Eyes wide, he began rolling up his window. "Well, stay over there."
He drove away without saying anything else.

Star Wars on NPR
File:SW-RadioPoster.jpgSince I was a big Star Wars geek (and in those days, geeks were synonymous with nerd), when I heard NPR was presenting a radio drama based on Star Wars, I nearly flipped out.

My brother was serving an LDS mission so I would sneak into his room (his room was still off-limits) and turn on his stereo (post eight-track--turntable and cassette). The soft glow of the green console was cool and I would sit on the floor and listen in rapt attention to the weekly episodes. After a few weeks, I can remember going in one day to listen and being quite angry that Star Wars wasn't going to be on that day. Ronald Reagan, the current President of the United States, had been shot and the only thing NPR was doing that day was discussing the assassination attempt.

I knew I should feel bad for President Reagan, but couldn't NPR have waited one more day, even one more hour, to talk about it?! It's not like anyone knew anything at that point anyway.    *Grumble*

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Influencial Eleven

The October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge continues...

Influential Eleven
My eleventh year proved to be very important in my life. Before I would turn twelve, Mount St. Helen's would lose it's cool and the world would continue to try to unravel the Iran Hostage Crisis. Today I wonder if we're reliving 1979.

But in my corner of the world, I entered fifth grade with Mrs. Funk, a young, pretty woman who changed the course of my life. I doubt she even knows how.

Writing's Emergence
In October of that year, Mrs. Funk had a Halloween writing contest. The winner got a gingerbread house (made out of graham crackers) that was all decorated for Halloween. Not only that, but the winner got to read their story in front of the parents and school at the play our class was putting on for Halloween.

The prize was amazing, but this was the first chance I'd ever had to enter a writing contest. I wanted to win. I wanted to win so much that I stayed after school, in my desk, writing. Now, you have to understand, I never stayed after school unless it was compulsory. And I think Mrs. Funk was a little surprised to see me, a less than stellar student, working so hard.

So I finished my story and turned it in.

First Taste of Theater
Then the second biggest influence of my life slammed into me. Mrs. Funk began having try-outs for the play we were going to do in front of the school. I was nervous, but I really wanted to do it too. Imagine my surprise when I was cast as the Green Goblin... or was it Mean Goblin... Well, I was cast as the cool bad guy. Okay... as bad as any character at that age.

When the day came to announce who won the writing contest, Mrs. Funk had a tough time telling us. She didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. It was killing us and we all urged her on. I knew I wouldn't win, so when she called the name, I looked around like everyone else to watch the winning kid go up and claim his/her prize.

It took a moment for me to realize she had called my name.

Totally embarrassed, I walked to the front of the room where I read my story for the entire class. It was the first 'serious' work I'd done and I'd actually won. But more than that, my story was being enjoyed by more than just me. It was very heady stuff.

Random Memories
There were other things from that year that I can still recall. I remember reading Call of the Wild while everyone else was reading chapter books. Mrs. Funk repeatedly checked on me, concerned that I'd bitten off more than I could chew. But I assured her I was enjoying it. Who doesn't like a good dog story?

I remember a lot from that year. I remember telling a girl in my class that she had fleas (a version of cooties) and feeling terrible about it later. I remember taking my action figures (not dolls) to show-n-tell, especially Twinkie and Buck.

At the end of that year, Mrs. Funk transferred to another school and was gone. When I think of those days, I still sigh. Grateful for what I learned and amazed what life still had in store.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Feed Review

Buy it at Barnes & Noble
Feed is an awesome book that reminds me of Ray Bradbury... but with a valley girl twist. It starts with a group of high school kids taking their spring break to the moon... which they discover totally sucks.

The world of Feed takes place in the not so distant future where humans, or Americans at least, have the internet hardwired into their bodies. Making it easier to search and find the things you need. These items pop up into your Feed View.

But ease of access has it's price: corporations can now send advertising for items you may be interested in directly into your same feed, creating endless pop-ups.

The Good
Feed shows the darker side of unrestrained capitalism and the tech binge. Those who have, reap the whirlwind of their own lack of control, while the have-not's dream of being included in a system that ostracizes them for their lack of savey.

Initially I thought Feed was a comedy and was laughing at the high school stupidity. But the story keeps throwing in casual tidbits that hint at the stories dark underbelly.

For the audiobook, listeners get the joy of hearing several cool ads direct from the Feed. 

The Bad
If you can't handle dialog written from the perspective of a valley girl... uh... guy... then this book might not be for you. You're going to see a spike in words like 'whoa' and the ever popular 'like.' You'll even get them in a string: "I was like, whoa." But dialog like this does actually serve its intended purpose: to show how vapid the culture has become.

The Spin
Feed is well written and a great story. But more then that, it will get you thinking about your consumerism. Maybe that's not something your particularly interested in, but once you read Feed, you'll be very aware of how advertisers are trying to affect you. And more than that, it'll make you take notice of how the corporations view you and our world.

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