Monday, February 29, 2016

Review: Morning Star

Review: Morning Star

By Pierce Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon Blurb
Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.

Finally, the time has come.

But devotion to honor and hunger for vengeance run deep on both sides. Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy. Among them are some Darrow once considered friends. To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied—and too glorious to surrender.

The Good
The amazing characters of the Red Rising series finally arrive--bruised and bloody--to book three: Morning Star.

Pierce Brown doesn't sugar coat or coddle his characters. He kicks them in the teeth before stabbing them in the kidney. Heroes and villains alike act honestly to their true motivations, even admitting that they might be wrong, but making their choices anyway. Difficult choices in a dangerous world.

Pierce's villains also have this amazing ability to actually out-think the heroes, and when they do, its harsh.

The Bad
Book three of the Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay, had the same difficulties that Morning Star had: combat fatigue.

I DO NOT think that this was a problem, but it does give readers the same weariness the characters are experiencing. Morning Star and Mockingjay both present the final battles of a very intense series. Most people thought Mockingjay fell flat because of Katniss' mental unraveling at the end, but I felt it was honest. Similarly, Morning Star doesn't hold any punches and brutalizes the characters through the final resolution.

After finishing it, I felt like I needed combat decompression.

And that's a hell of an experience.

Audio Version
Tim Gerard Reynolds was the best choice for narrator they could have made. His performance of each character is flawless. Loved every minute of his presentation.

The Spin
Morning Star completes the Red Rising series in epic fashion. Pierce Brown is a master of complex characters, tight plotting, and no-holds-barred storytelling. If you're looking for a gritty fixation after the Hunger Games, pick up this series. It's a 'can't miss.'

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sunday Writer's Confessional - The Beginning

As a Christian, I try to keep the Sabbath day holy, this means separating my weekly activities from my Sabbath ones. Part of this is trying not to write on Sundays and spending that time with my family. I'm not always successful at it, but it's my ideal.

A couple weeks ago I got really fed up with my writing failures from the last year and decided things REALLY needed to change. So I came up with the idea for the Writer's Confessional. A place where I can evaluate my success--and failures--over the last week. A place not to work on my stories, but instead, evaluate how I'm doing as a writer.

I also thought this could be an important idea for the writing community as well.

I'm gonna quote a little scripture here, so you writers of a non-religious persuasion, bear with me and I promise to be short and tie it together.

In the New Testament (1 Corinthians chapter 11), Paul is explaining to the Christians in Corinth the importance of the sacrament--particularly taking it worthily.
28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.
30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.
31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
32 But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.
33 Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.
From this scripture, Paul is teaching the early church about the importance of evaluating their process--whether they were successful or not in following the teachings of Christ. But more than this, he encourages them to support each other when they come together.

The Writer's Sacrament
Whatever your writing schedule, whether its daily or weekly, when we sit down to write, we are dedicating time to our stories. When we fail to do so--for whatever reason--we are failing as writers. But just like Christians, we can overcome our personal failings, repent, and try again. We can "judge ourselves" so that we're no longer "weak and sickly" as writers. Best of all, we can support each other doing it.

My hope is that the Sunday Writer's Confessional will be a place where we can come together, share our failings from the last week, chat a bit over our skinned knees, and plan for a successful next week.

And So...
The confessional is open.

My sin from last week is not using my new Death Star timer when I get on Facebook. See I get into reading articles other people post and then I've competently blown three hours. So I planned on using my new Christmas present--bought specifically for my writing--and set the timer for 15-30 minutes. When it went off, I'd get off and start writing. I had two or three days that I didn't. INEXCUSABLE! So, as a penance this next week, I'm only going to allow myself to check Facebook ONCE a day. If I choose the 'one' time wisely, I won't have much time to spend on it. The worst time to check it is after work because I can write for a couple hours then. The best time is when I get up in the afternoon, right before I get ready for work.

So! What are your writing 'sins' from the last week?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Review: Golden Son

Review: Golden Son

By Pierce Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon Blurb
As a Red, Darrow grew up working the mines deep beneath the surface of Mars, enduring backbreaking labor while dreaming of the better future he was building for his descendants. But the Society he faithfully served was built on lies. Darrow’s kind have been betrayed and denied by their elitist masters, the Golds—and their only path to liberation is revolution. And so Darrow sacrifices himself in the name of the greater good for which Eo, his true love and inspiration, laid down her own life. He becomes a Gold, infiltrating their privileged realm so that he can destroy it from within.

A lamb among wolves in a cruel world, Darrow finds friendship, respect, and even love—but also the wrath of powerful rivals. To wage and win the war that will change humankind’s destiny, Darrow must confront the treachery arrayed against him, overcome his all-too-human desire for retribution—and strive not for violent revolt but a hopeful rebirth. Though the road ahead is fraught with danger and deceit, Darrow must choose to follow Eo’s principles of love and justice to free his people.

He must live for more.

The Good
To say that I was blown away by Golden Son would be an understatement. I thoroughly enjoyed Red Rising and its intricate plotting, so meeting that high bar was bound to be difficult.

The old characters are back, bursting into new complications that are every bit as thrilling. But guess what? They're even more awesome than you expect! Now Pierce Brown takes his intricate characters and throws them into the political meat-grinder of Luna/Mars politics. For such a dazzling debut, Golden Son delivers a sequel of epic proportions.

Oh, and you thought, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, was an intense sequel?
**No Spoilers!**
Finish, Golden Son, and we'll talk.

The Bad
Make sure you have book three: Morning Star handy when you finish this one. You've been warned.

Audio Version
Tim Gerard Reynolds was the best choice for narrator they could have made. His performance of each character is flawless. Loved every minute of his presentation.

The Spin
Golden Son delivers everything I loved from the first book while improving and expanding them in amazing ways. I'm a huge fan of the Hunger Games book 2: Catching Fire, and I can add the Red Rising book 2: Golden Son to that short list of perfect sequels.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Review: Red Rising

Red Rising
By Pierce Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon Blurb
“I live for the dream that my children will be born free,” she says. “That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them.”

“I live for you,” I say sadly.

Eo kisses my cheek. “Then you must live for more.”

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and lush wilds spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power.  He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies . . . even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

The Good
Red Rising is the love child of 1984 and The Hunger Games. Not literally, but in the sense of political intrigue in a gritty dystopia. With such a distinguished parentage, you know it has to be good. I stumbled across this series late, just as I did with The Hunger Games. My first impression was just how good the writing was. Abso-freaking-lutely brilliant. Pierce's style grabs you and doesn't let go.

You love the characters. Each one is fascinating in the own way with their own breath of life.

The plot is tight and I never felt the story drag or droop. Even during the calm parts, I was fully engaged. From a writer perspective, I really want to see the beat sheet for Red Rising. The plot was just that well done.

The Bad
The story was so amazingly intricate that when the ending came, it felt rushed. BUT... I'm not sure if it was or I was just to hyped up on it's amazing story. Regardless, the conclusion does build to a screaming finish. And that ain't bad. I'm looking forward to rereading it again to check my impressions on the second pass.

One possible reason for feeling unfulfilled by the ending could be something called 'Hiding The Ball.' This is when authors have something so cool coming up they don't want to spoil the surprise, so the don't clue the reader in. Pierce Brown does do this a LOT, but it's usually not a problem. I think maybe there were just too many balls being hidden during the ending that they fumbled. Some of the ones I noted on a second read weren't even that big of a reveal when the 'secret' did come out.

Audio Version
Tim Gerard Reynolds was the best choice for narrator they could have made. His performance of each character is flawless. Loved every minute of his presentation.

The Spin
Red Rising comes across as wonderfully as The Hunger Games did: a gritty dystopia with engaging characters and action filled story. To my greatest relief, I started the series two months before the release of book three: Morning Star. After finishing book two: Golden Son, I can't wait!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

My Life With Depression And Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

ImageFor years I'd struggled with depression, but not until I listened to a podcast interview with author Robison Wells did I understand what was really going on. As Robison talked about his own difficulties of living with Severe Anxiety Disorder, I recognized many triggers that were influencing my own life. By the time the interview was over, I was wound up in anxiety and eager to talk to my doctor.

Later that week, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), in addition to my already diagnosed depression. I had hoped to stop taking my depression medication (addicting) for my new anxiety medicine (believed non-addicting, but fairly new). Unfortunately my doctor still felt my depression was a separate issue from my GAD (depression and anxiety are usually linked issues), so he began the long process of testing and adjusting medication.

The one thing I learned: mental illness never goes away. Medication can mask the symptoms, and sometimes my mental illnesses would completely blow past every safeguard.

So I began the long process to understand my illnesses. I learned anxiety is based in our 'fight or flight' response. For me, every situation is fight or flight. This means less blood flow to my brain because my body is getting ready to fight or run. Less blood to the brain means crappy memory because my brain is too busy trying to decide if I need to fight or run. I've even noticed my neck gets really cold when I'm freaking out, as do my hands and feet.

I realized there were periods in my life where I was clearly displaying GAD, but very little was understood about anxiety then. Even looking at my family's history I can see GAD coming from both my parents, though doctors then lumped everything into depression and 'nervous breakdowns.'

Sometimes the hardest part of living with depression and GAD is the well-meaning people who say, "Just think happy thoughts and you'll be okay." If only it were that easy.

When Robin Williams committed suicide in 2014, many people were quick to head off additional suicides by proclaiming how wrong suicide was and that people should never even consider it. I found myself explaining to my brother that Robin Williams was diagnosed with Severe Depression, meaning he was probably heavily medicated and always a suicide risk. The only thing his family could have done to avoid his death would have been to put him on a suicide watch, 24/7, for the rest of his natural life. But as we all know, all people have a way of getting done what they want to get done. Mentally ill people are no different.

I'm not suicidal. I had a cousin commit suicide when I was in high school. During the family viewing they opened the casket if we wanted to say goodbye. A brown suit with his head wrapped in a white towel cured me of ever wanting to go that route. But I do sometimes think about how the world would be better off without me.

As far as writing goes while I'm depressed or anxious, well, its hit or miss.

I know if I get out of bed, I'll be happier. I know if I just pickup my laptop from the side of the bed and write, I'll be happier. I know if I walk the fifteen or so steps to the kitchen, I can make hashbrowns and hot chocolate, both make me happy.

But I can't.

Sitting up is hard.
Answering the phone is hard.
Responding to email is hard.
Just leave me alone.
Sleeping dogs...
...all that.

Social media is a great way to pretend I'm living life ... even when I know I'm not.
But there are days when I do move. Some days I'm completely fine. I still take my meds on those days. I've learned thinking I'm cured is REALLY stupid. I watch my emotions and try to take things slow so that I don't get overwhelmed. But sometimes going places that will trigger me is just unavoidable: ComicCons, writing conventions, and church. Huge crowds. Personal space. Uhg.

I've had cool things happen at places like these, but my anxiety hits the button that turns me into Lurch from The Addams Family. Coincidentally, inside I'm not like Lurch. I'm a freaking cheetah in a two-foot cage that some fat kid keeps banging with a stick to watch my funny jumping.

One time, someone came up to me at a writing conference and complimented me on a blog post I wrote and wanted to talk about it. From the comfort of my bed, that's AWESOME! What did I do at the time? I 'think' I said thanks. Don't remember too much after that. I'm pretty sure the person was female. But that's all I can tell you. My anxiety went into panic mode, only using short term memory, so I can't remember the details of the event.

Another time I met authors Mikey Brooks and Wendy Knight at the Salt Lake ComicCon. I've chatted with both of them on social media a bit, so I was excited to finally meet them. Wendy even burst into a big smile of (what I thought was) recognition. What did I do? I turned into Lurch and felt like I was only talking to Mikey... who I mistakenly called Miley.

Gods. Kill me now. I'd insulted both of them, which did not help the panic already in full bloom. But I had my kids with me so... the Con must go on!

Does this post have an end?

I don't think so. Life continues. I'm still going to have experiences with depression and GAD. Maybe that's the important part. Accepting the good with the bad. If I pay attention, I might even be able to spin it all into a lesson about the weaknesses of heroes and villains.

To learn more, click below:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Mikey Brooks
Robison Wells
Wendy Knight

Monday, February 8, 2016

Review: Save The Cat! Strikes Back: More Trouble For Screenwriters To Get Into And Out Of

Save The Cat! Strikes Back: More Trouble For Screenwriters To Get Into And Out Of
By Blake Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon Blurb
Blake Snyder, author of Save the Cat!® and Save the Cat!® Goes to the Movies, is back with the book countless readers and students have clamored for. Inspired by questions from his workshops, lectures, and emails, Blake listened and provides new tips, tactics, and techniques to solve your writing problems and create stories that resonate:
The 7 warning signs you might have a great idea or not
2 sure-fire templates for can t-miss loglines
The difference between structure and formula
The Transformation Machine that allows you to track your hero s growth step-by-step
The 5 questions to keep your story s spine straight
The 5-Point Finale to finish any story
The Save the Cat!® Greenlight Checklist that gets to the heart of every development issue
The right way to hear notes, deal with problematic producers, and dive into the rewrite with the right attitude
Why and when an agent will appear
How to discover the potential for greatness in any story
How to avoid panic, doubt, and self-recrimination... and what it takes to succeed and dare to achieve your dreams
Get ready to face trouble like a pro... and strike back!

The Good
Save The Cat! revolutionized the way writers looked at story. Now with STC! Strikes Back, authors and screenwriters alike have the opportunity to look deeper into story structure and the industry. This installment is my second favorite of the series and is a worthy heir to the STC! throne.

The writing advice is neither long-winded nor optional. Blake jumps right in with enthusiasm and skillful guidance making this one writing book you'll reread over and over. Not to mention keeping handy at your writing station.

The Bad
With Save The Cat! lessons, there never is anything bad. If you can't find anything to learn from this book, you're not trying hard enough.

Audio Version
The audio narration is performed by MacLeod Andrews, the same narrator who does Brandon Sanderson's, Steelheart series. His conversational tone is a perfect pairing with Blake Snyder's conversational writing, making this book pop. If you enjoy audiobooks AND writing instruction books, you're gonna love this one.

The Spin
Boiling down Save The Cat! Strikes Back is a no-brainer. If you're interested in doing your homework on writing, this is one of the essentials you're gonna need. But more than learning important skills, Blake's enthusiasm for writing is so contagious that this book is well workth your time and money.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


When 2015 began, I just knew it was going to be my year. I'd placed (2nd and 3rd) in first chapter contests in 2012 and 2013, and in 2014 I merited an honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. I'd kept busy--not Kevin J. Anderson busy--but I'd managed to finish two rough drafts for two novels. So, with the expectation of completing my two novels and writing another submission for Writers of the Future, 2015 was going to be my year.

Then nothing.

Well, not nothing really. I did write another submission for Writers of the Future, but it was soundly rejected. And truthfully, I knew it would because it had a downer ending. Those never play well. As far as my novel rewrites were concerned, I piddled around with them, but never really got any traction.

So 2015 came and went. No awards. Nothing really to show for it. Hell, my last blog post was even almost a year ago.

Excuse my language, but that REALLY chaps my ass.

I've spent the year watching my friends succeed. Releasing book after book. Cover reveals, book signings, writing retreats. ARG! I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore! 

Did I have 'reasons' for failing? Sure, but since I'm exceptionally hard on myself, I classify them more as 'excuses.'

When the year began, a change in my work schedule opened a full four hours every morning for writing. This was incredible and for several weeks I lived in writerly bliss. But my wife and I have been poor with our money. With several debts long overdue, I signed up for the 'Overtime Desired' list at work. Unfortunately, the same change in my work schedule installed a boss at my work who saw overtime as a daily occurrence--whether there was work to do or not. My writing time dwindled based on how many hours extra I'd worked the night before, sometimes two, sometimes four. With complications from my depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), I burned out very quickly. The writing fuel that kept me going was no longer sustaining me.

But as I've said, these are all excuses for me. Sometimes I managed to sneak some writing in, sometimes I didn't. And if I'm being honest, I was lazy with managing the time I did have.


New changes are coming. I plan on using my blog to keep me honest. I'm going to try to write smaller posts so that the blog doesn't absorb too much precious writing time, but my posts will be more aimed at my writing journey. For instance, I've decided to make Wednesdays (maybe Sunday would be more appropriate) my 'Writer's Confessional' day. Those days I'll discuss my failings from the last week and my plans to succeed in the next week. It'll even help me keep up on my IWSG posts. So come back on Wednesdays and confess your writerly sins.

Public shaming will hopefully keep us going.

I still want to write a weekly book review, and I have a few other ideas in the works for adding to the writing community, but for now, I've gotta get moving.

The fear of death--of failure--is driving me insane.

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