Ask a Writer #6

Once again, welcome back to my latest “Ask a Writer” blog post, and thanks for reading! I know it’s taken a while, but I’m finally reaching the end of my backlog of questions to answer, and this last one is particularly challenging for me.

@Bibliophagist90: How do you deal with pressure from the writing community to do things a specific way?

It’s a very good question, and unfortunately not one that I really feel I have a great, ready-made answer for. That’s mostly because, frankly, I’ve never felt any kind of true pressure from my fellows writers to do anything specific. It’s true that I’m only a couple of months into my exploration of writing on Twitter and promoting myself on social media, but I can honestly say that without exception, all the fellow artists, writers, and people in general that I’ve met have been nothing but kind, interested, and supportive of me and all my ventures so far. You’ve all been really awesome!

That said, the one major difference I have noticed between myself and most of the other writers I’ve met and talked with is that while I’ve so far only pursued self-publishing options with my writing, mainly through Amazon, others seem to prefer the traditional route of finding a publishing company or an agent to shop their book around. It’s something that I wish I had the drive and courage to do, but with my schooling and general busyness in life right now, I haven’t wanted to wait who knows how long to see my book published in print. But that’s part of what I’m going back to graduate school for (studying creative writing and publishing)–to build up my repertoire and confidence to try for just that. I know Amazon tends to get a bad rap for a lot of reasons, too–it’s a giant, soulless corporation that doesn’t really give writers who publish through it a good cut of the profits. But I think that’s just the price you pay for the convenience and expedience that Amazon’s self-publishing service, CreateSpace, offers you, and I have to say, I have yet to have a bad experience with it. The only downside has been my need to aggressively promote my own work because an agent or publisher isn’t doing it for me, and obviously that puts me at a disadvantage. But for my busy life and where I’m at professionally with my writing right now, I’m happy with doing things this way and just trying to build up a body of work in an easy-to-do way.

I will say that publishing through Amazon has made my ability to independently market my book difficult. I’ve gone to many bookstores and asked about having promotional or book-signing events, only to be turned away when they hear how I got published. I get that there are business reasons for it, but it always kind of feels like a little slap in the face and maybe almost some form of writing prejudice? But I’m not going to read too much into it. My plan right now is to release the upcoming sequels to Camp Ferguson through Amazon as well because I think it would be silly to try to sell a publisher on the third book in an already-penned series alone–they probably wouldn’t do it just for the business reasons alone. But since my grad school program is focused on getting a manuscript written and ready for publishing, that story will be my first that I attempt to publish through traditional means. So I’m working on it!

I know that hasn’t really answered the question, and I know you’re looking for possibly some advice. But the truth is I haven’t felt much judgment or pressure from my fellow writers to do anything a certain way, other than the whole publishing debate–just a lot of lively discussions about the merits of different methods of writing or literary devices. One in particular that I recall is the use of flashbacks–personally, I find them a bit cliche and overused and therefore try not to use them. I think the same effect can be accomplished through some clever reworking of dialogue and seeding details throughout a story as opposed to one major, obvious exposition dump in a separate scene that distracts from the work at large. But other people swear by them as the best way to flesh out a character’s backstory, and I can’t really argue with their logic, either. I’ll admit, I’ve even used flashbacks myself, although very sparingly for the reasons I’ve listed above. An early draft of Camp Ferguson was littered with character flashbacks, and I scrapped that idea pretty quickly because things got way too in-depth, distracting, and out of control.

But if you’re really looking for advice on how to handle pressures, either perceived or more tangible, about the way your write, your choices, or your process, here’s what I’d say to you: don’t worry about it. Simple, but there it is. Do what’s best for you, and have confidence in yourself because you’ve chosen to do what is best for you and it makes you happy. If these things aren’t true, you might want to consider doing things another way. But looking back at my explanation of how I’ve been published so far, that’s what stands out to me. Do I want to aim higher at some point? Absolutely. But I have no shame for what I’ve done so far. I’m happy with my choices, and I’m willing to accept that there are some positives and negatives from them. That’s about all you can do as far as I’m concerned. I think that while many writers may have a difference of opinion on some subjects, you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere a single set of rules that everyone agrees on 100 percent for writing. And that’s the real beauty of it to me. Everyone comes at writing from different angles, different, backgrounds, and different styles, and what they create is completely, uniquely their own. If other writers really are pressuring you to adhere to some set of hard and fast rules, I think that’s kind of silly and they’d best take a good long look at their own pieces of work first.

That’s the secret, I think: just be confident and happy in the knowledge that you’re doing what’s right and best for you at the time, accept the consequences of those choices for what they are, and if you want to better yourself, continue to aim higher and work on improving the things you’re trying to work on.

Hope that helps!

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Review of the Week–The Alien Saga

This week’s Review of the Week is actually going to cover more than one movie–six, to be precise! One of my favorite movies of all time is the sci-fi/horror classic Alien, and as the story continues (or is prequeled) by several other movies–some of which are good, some of which are bad, and all of which I have strong opinions on–I figured, how can I possibly talk about one without doing all of the others? So, without further ado, I give you a complete look at the Alien saga.

Note that the “review” for each movie will be quite a bit more abridged than I normally would write. I know you’ve all got places to be.

Alien (1979)

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God, that’s such a crazy, crazy good tagline.

In the original installment of the saga, which takes place in the far future where humans have mastered space travel (but notably not faster-than-light speeds), the commercial towing vessel Nostromo is on its way home to Earth when its crew of blue-collar roughnecks is awakened as their computer detects a strange signal on a passing planet. Going down the surface and exploring a crashed ship, the crew unwittingly brings back aboard a nightmare that will span years to come: an alien life form that’s the perfect predator, savage, without conscience, and hungry for human flesh.

There are very, very few examples of what I would hold up as perfect movies, but Alien is one of them. Seriously, I dare you to find something wrong with this movie. You can’t do it. The depiction of space travel is suitably realistic, and its characters suitably relatable as just clueless working stiffs, that it really grounds the whole adventure to the point where you truly empathize with their plight. The dark, damp, claustrophobic settings of the Nostromo are perfect as atmosphere for the kind of chase that’s everyone’s worst nightmare. And the alien xenomorph itself is so completely alien (yes, a word I’m going to be using a lot), terrifying, and disturbing in its portrayal that it strikes to the heart of that monster under the bed fear that we all experience.

This was pretty much the first movie of its genre to focus on horror almost over the sci-fi aspects, and ask the question: what would happen if we encountered alien life that wasn’t like us? What if it was just an animal? The perfect predator? Something that had no interest in us other than how we tasted? It blazes a lot of trails in that regard, to be followed by other classics such as The Thing. Sure, blood and guts can be found in this movie, but it’s the visceral, around the corner, in the rafters scares that really steal the show here, and the slow-boiling horror of watching the hapless crew get picked off one by one. Plus, this was the beginning of the legend of Ellen Ripley: an everyday, unimportant woman who rises to the occasion, overcomes her doubts and fears, and does what needs to be done when no one else will. Ripley is a model for feminine heroines everywhere as the precise image of what a truly empowered woman should look like, and who never gives up, no matter how high the stakes are. Yeah, she’s kind of awesome.

My Rating: 10/10

Aliens (1986)

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In the follow-up to Alien, Ellen Ripley is recovered after drifting through space in hibernation for decades as the last survivor of the Nostromo, having killed the alien xenomorph that killed her crew. As she struggles to overcome the trauma of what happened to her, greedy corporate interests have set in motion another catastrophe as, to get their hands on the aliens, they expose an entire colony of humans to them. To face her fear and save the colonists, Ripley joins up with a team of hotshot marines whose mission is to exterminate the creatures–but some on the force have their own agendas, and the threat may be even greater than Ripley had imagined.

Aliens is a completely different movie than Alien, in that instead of a psychological horror thriller, the film makes the abrupt and jarring shift into a guns-blazing, shoot-’em-up action movie. Normally I’d have a huge problem with a change like that as I hate big, dumb action movies, but director James Cameron somehow manages to put together a story that’s an incredibly worthy sequel and almost, but not quite, as good as the first film. It’s a completely different approach to the basic premise that Alien set forth, but it does so without sacrificing anything that made the first movie great: the slow-burn horror aspects are still here amid all the gunplay, there’s an underdog but plucky team of characters to root for, the aliens are as scary as ever (and there’s more of them!), and some of the plot threads left dangling by Alien–Ripley’s psychological state, her antipathy toward androids, and desire to be a mother again–are all brought into play and nicely resolved.

Truly, the only strike against Aliens is that its story is a bit more predictable than the first film, if only for the virtue of being a sequel, and some of the subtlety can tend to get lost amid all the explosions and gunfights. But on the other hand, it really delves into the psychology of the xenomorphs by introducing the queen and showing the creatures all working together–an opportunity not present in the first film. All in all, a superb sequel that absolutely lives up to the high bar set by Alien.

My Rating: 9/10

Alien 3 (1992)

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Ugh. Now we get to the bad one.

In the aftermath of Aliens, Ellen Ripley once again finds herself in trouble as the ship carrying her and her companionjos home to Earth malfunctions and crashes on Fury 161, a penal colony planet where the extremely violent and unstable prisoners held run a refinery plant. Once again the only survivor of her crew, Ripley finds she can’t escape her past as the xenomorphs resurface, one having stowed away abroad her escape pod and matured in the refinery, and begin killing off prisoners. Waiting on a rescue that may never come, Ripley and the prisoners have to take matters into their own hands if they want to survive, and she comes face to face with the horror that’s stalked her for years once more–in a new and deeply personal way.

Just like it’s hard to find anything that went wrong with Alien, in Alien 3 it’s hard to find anything that went right. Unlike the first two movies, where the obviously dark tone was offset with beats of humor, character moments, and a genuine, gritty optimism that humanity would persevere despite all the odds that kept you on the edge of your seat, Alien 3 is a joyless slog through familiar, well-trodden territory, but with none of the things that made the first two movies so enjoyable. Sigourney Weaver seems genuinely tired of her role as Ripley, which is understandable given how much the character has been through, but not something that makes for a particularly engaging performance. Not to mention that fact that the supporting cast doesn’t give her any help–unlike in Alien or Aliens where they were generally likable, if not helpful, the prisoners and staff Ripley’s surrounded by are incredibly unlikable and dull–with the notable exception of Charles Dance, who inexplicably gets killed before anything fun happens. Otherwise, it’s basically Aliens without all the guns–seriously, no weapons are allowed on Fury. Is it just me who thinks that’s an awful, awful idea, even for a prison? It just reads like a why-not tweak of the movie formula: “Ooh, what would happen if Ripley had to face the aliens without a gun?” Not exactly inspired storytelling there. The great characters from Aliens are also tossed to the wayside without so much as a goodbye–again, perhaps realistic in its tragedy, but it just comes off as a massive missed opportunity. Also, the big “plot twist” of the story, where Ripley learns there’s an alien queen growing inside her, is an interesting development to be sure, but not one that apparently has any real consequences. So she’s got the odd pain here and there. So what? Why’s this thing taking so long? Anyone want to explain that one to me?

Look, it’s no secret that I love grim and gritty movies–but only if they have a dose of fun and spirit in there somewhere. Alienis everything the first two movies would be if you just took all the fun out of them. There’s no fun being scared by it because you’ve seen it all before, you couldn’t care less about the people involved, and the biggest horror moment of the movie (Ripley’s alien baby) is completely undersold. So I’m giving a half-baked score to a half-baked movie that was clearly only made to further a franchise.

Also, Ripley with no hair isn’t trailblazing or edgy. It’s just weird. That is all.

My Rating: 4/10

Alien Resurrection (1997)

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You thought a little thing like death would stop Ellen Ripley? Well, you’d be wrong about that!

The fourth and allegedly final movie in the saga, Alien Resurrection, takes place years after Ripley’s death on Fury, as she fell into a fiery pit to kill the xenomorph queen sprouting from her chest. Government scientists have managed to use cells scavenged from the scene to clone Ripley and the alien inside her, allowing them to breed more xenomorphs and continue their research. The Ripley clone also lives, but with a strange twist: her genetic recombination with the alien has given her some of its abilities–acid blood, increased strength and agility, and an eerie ability to sense and commune with the aliens. When a mercenary crew arrives to deliver fresh bodies to feed the xenomorphs, one among them recognizes Ripley, but it’s too late: the aliens have once again broken free and wreak havoc on the ship. To make matters worse, it’s on a course back home, which means the aliens could have the chance to destroy the Earth if this crew of misfits–and a Ripley more troubled than she’s ever been–don’t end them once and for all.

I had very mixed feelings about Resurrection. On one hand, the idea of giving Ripley alien powers was pretty cool, and seeing her after all of her heartbreak, terror, and pain finally come around to embracing the aliens in the way she did was a nice change of pace for this movie, making you at times uncertain if she’s a good guy or a bad guy at this point. I’m also a fan of Winona Ryder, who plays Call, the “new” Ripley of the film: she’s a great mirror image of how Ripley used to be at the start of the saga in that she’s naive but determined and always looking to do the right thing. The two share a tense, semi-antagonistic relationship that makes for great chemistry and dramatic tension. In addition, we learn the aliens have picked up some new tricks from Ripley, like the new queen giving live birth to a half-human, half-alien offspring that eventually sides with Ripley (its true mother) to overthrow the queen. It’s truly heartbreaking to see the look of betrayal clear on its monstrous face as Ripley double-crosses it, with obvious difficulty, and lets it die in space.

On the other hand, what new did this movie really do besides that? Not much, actually. It was basically a remake of Aliens with bits of Alien 3 mashed in–all the worst bits, I might add, right down to the completely forgettable supporting cast. In the end, it makes for a decent couple hours of entertainment and a nice rebound from the utter dumpster fire that was Alien 3, but not by a lot. It’s a half-hearted attempt at best to make the franchise great again, and the end result is a movie that while it has a lot of cool ideas, just can’t seem to break free from the shadows of its much better predecessors.

My Rating: 7/10

Prometheus (2012)

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Hey, did you ever wonder or care where those xenomorph things came from? Yeah, me neither. But we made a movie about it anyway!

Prometheus, named for the Greek titan of myth who brought fire and civilization to a savage humanity, is the first in a series of films that are set before the original Alien, chronicling the rise of the xenomorphs and the legacy of their “creators”, the Engineers. In the not-so-distant future, religious anthropologist Elizabeth Shaw leads an expedition on behalf of billionaire tycoon Peter Weyland to the stars and a far-off planet where they believe the creators of humanity can be found. But the members of the mission soon learn that these so-called Engineers have many secrets–among them, a mutagenic weapon that devastated their civilization and was intended for use on Earth. To stop the catastrophe, Shaw and her crew have to face down the beings that originated humanity, as well as their monstrous creations, while also facing division from within as secret agendas threaten to destroy everything.

Let’s get one thing straight–Prometheus is an Alien movie in name only. In reality there’s precious little to actually tie this alleged prequel into the series at large. The xenomorphs don’t even show up, unless you count a highly, highly questionable modified form and an origin story that doesn’t at all stand up to scrutiny. It doesn’t help that the follow-up movie, Covenant, basically renders everything that happened in this movie pointless, but we’ll get to that. Again, a large part of the failure lies with the cast of Prometheus. Despite some truly great talents in Charlize Theron and Noomi Rapace, nobody really manages to wow with their performances in what seems just like a pantomime version of an Alien movie without any actual aliens. The sole stand-out is Michael Fassbender’s sociopathic android David, who’s probably as close to the true villain of the film as there actually is one–again, a questionable proposition.

Honestly, if Prometheus was just marketed as its own kind of sci-fi/horror movie, with no ties to the Alien franchise, I probably would have liked it a lot more. Instead, fans everywhere were disappointed as all they left the film with were more questions and confusion than when they entered. The timeline of the whole thing is really sketchy and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. What’s more, the movie was supposed to be about man’s search for the divine–how about, I don’t know, actually spending some time talking about that instead of random alien squid baby? Yeah, that happened.

Prometheus‘s mortal flaw is that it tries to go in way too many different directions at once, and ends up doing none of them well. It’s a frustrating hodgepodge that comes off as a fumbled attempt to inject some fresh ideas and new blood into the Alien franchise.

My Rating: 6/10

Alien: Covenant (2017)

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Now THAT’S what I’m talking about.

On the heels of Prometheus comes Alien: Covenant, a tale of a wayward group of space colonists who stop off at an uncharted planet when they pick up a distress call from what appears to be another human castaway (I know, familiar, right?). Upon setting down, however, they quickly learn all is not as it seems, as the wildlife-scarce and yet paradise-like planet harbors hidden dangers, including spores that mature in the body and give birth to a new breed of alien called “neomorphs”. Beset on all sides, the crew of the starship Covenant is saved by none other than David, the android from the previous film, who claims to be the only survivor of the lost Prometheus expedition. What the Covenant crew learns quickly, however, is that David is lying about nearly everything: he’s the mastermind behind the creation of the neomorphs, the destruction of the planet and the genocide of its resident Engineers, and the birth of a new race of perfect predators, the ever-familiar xenomorphs. Having graduated from sociopathic lackey to full-on super-villain psycho, David plans to use his pets to exterminate humanity, which he views as a blight on the universe, and it’s up to the rag-tag group of settlers to stop his horrific plans.

I loved Covenant. Does it retread some familiar ground from the previous films? Sure, absolutely. But it’s everything Prometheus was not: a return to form from a franchise that’s capable of greatness, a boatload of answers to the questions posed by the first prequel, and the introduction of something new for the Alien universe by placing David front and center as the antagonist rather than focusing completely on the xenomorphs.

I could spend hours gushing about David, so I’ll just boil it down to say that I think Michael Fassbender has created the single greatest sci-fi bad guy ever. David is on display from the very first scene of the movie, where he gets a lesson in callousness and cruelty from none other than his own “father”, and the wheels of doubt are set in motion to lead to the disillusioned, delusional monster we meet on the planet. Yet everything David does makes sense: he’s a creation of humanity disappointed by the flaws of his creators and wants to prove he can do better. Again, I know that other movies have covered this whole “rise of the machines” trope before, but David does it in such a visceral and human way that I can’t help but be enthralled by it. He makes the movie worth watching just for his performance alone.

Covenant also ups the ante by placing the characters not on a tight, dimly-lit, claustrophobic ship (well, mostly), but in a much more open environment that lends itself to moments of epic action that even Aliens couldn’t aspire to. It blends horror with action in a near-perfect melding of its predecessors and creates something that’s undeniably new. Not to mention the cast is just so much more likable than any of Covenant‘s more immediate predecessors: you can really root for them and feel the fear their situations brings upon them as they descend into David’s nightmarish mind.

And that ending? Oh, man. What a gut-punch. It came completely out of nowhere and I never expected it for a second, even though I probably should have. I won’t say much, but I will say it’s a cliffhanger worthy of the annals of sci-fi history. Again, something that up until this point the Alien movies haven’t really toyed with all that much. But boy, did they nail it this time.

The Alien franchise is back, baby. Alien: Covenant proves it. Let’s hope all the future movies are as good as this one.

My Rating: 8/10

MY TOTAL RATING: 7/10

Long story short: if you’re in any way into sci-fi, horror, or any combination thereof, you should watch the Alien movies. Some may be better than others, but all in all, they’re well worth your time.

Ask a Writer #5

Welcome back to my “Ask a Writer” blog segment! For this week, I’m once again addressing a pair of questions from a couple of my Twitter followers who want to know about something that’s actually quite an interesting concept that varies wildly from person to person: the writing process.

@_carmenadams_: What is your writing process and are you the type to plan out the story first or so you just sit down and write whatever comes to mind?

@J_L_PIPPEN: Did you ever find that, despite having a plan, the story would take control and change direction while you wrote?

First of all, thank you both for asking these questions! I hope you don’t mind that I tied them both together, but I think my explanation of how I go about my writing personally gets to the heart of both of them.

Generally, when I have an idea for a story, I come up very quickly with solid concepts for the beginning and the end. I know how I want to introduce the story to the audience, bring in the characters involved, and set up the plot for the overall journey that’s going to take place. In addition, I usually have a pretty good idea of where I want things to end up by the last page, what becomes of the characters I’ve introduced, any kind of climactic moments, and the resolution of the particular story’s narrative tension. So in that sense, yes, I do have very precisely mapped-out beginnings and endings for my books when I’m in the planning stages of writing them.

It’s the middle part–basically all the rest in between–that’s a little fuzzy. If what you mean by asking about my writing process is partly whether I take notes or make outlines, then yes, I do. All the time. Whenever I have a new idea of some kind I’ll make sure I jot it down, sometimes in a precise location if I know a chapter where it could fit or a point in the story it makes most sense to be in. Since I was quite a note-taker and outliner in school, those habits have somewhat carried over to my writing: I’ll usually group a few bullet points under each chapter heading summarizing what I want to have happen in that chapter (the major developments) and keep track that way. I also can pretty quickly figure out how long I want the story to be just because most of my grand, big ideas fill things up and then it’s just up to me to fit in the little details as I go along.

But, and this is where the second question comes into play, if you’re asking if my notes are any more detailed than very vague generalities, the answer is no. I don’t make plans for dialogue in any given chapter before I sit down to write it (unless there’s a particularly good line, or gag, or joke that I’ve thought of and made a note for beforehand), and I just kind of let things flow and see what happens. This often results in a lot of changes from what I originally thought things were going to look like, as I have a tendency to ramble on a bit in my writing and make chapters much longer than I thought they were going to be. What can I say? I have way, way too much fun creating, so I can’t stop sometimes. This can force me to push certain developments or other parts of the story that I was sure were going to be incorporated into one chapter into the next, or another entirely. Plus, I often switch around my chapter orders chronologically because I’ll discover that certain events don’t make sense as early or late in the story as I thought they did.

For example, I’ll use a chapter of Jack Ferguson Strikes Back (the sequel to Camp Ferguson I’m currently developing) to show you what I mean. In said chapter, bad-boy anti-hero Drake goes back in time to the Wild West to recover a very powerful magical artifact that greatly furthers his character development in the story (not too many spoilers!). He also ends up getting in a fight with an armed gang of desperadoes and uses the magic of the artifact, a flaming sword, to single-handedly defeat them in a display of his bad-assery and magical prowess. I also know I wanted to introduce the ancestors of several of my main characters into the western setting as a running gag and make fun of some of the genre’s tropes, along with a time-travel gag where Drake runs into his own ancestor–by all accounts a trusting, generous, and kindly man–and influence him to turn cynical, selfish, and more like the Drake we all know and love. Those are the bullet points I start with when I’m writing the chapter. But beyond that, I don’t really know what’s going to happen: I just try to put myself in the headspace of the character I’m focusing on (in this case, Drake), and let his adventure unfold naturally. Most of the time I get so into the dialogue and come up with enough ideas while I’m writing that these things generally write themselves. I also try to keep an eye on chapter length while I’m writing and if it looks like a certain part is dragging on for too long, I either go back and cut it in editing or simply see if I can shove some of the material I haven’t used yet further back into the story.

The inspiration to create this chapter came from my desire to have a solo-Drake adventure, as he’s one of my favorite characters to write and I felt he’d been sidelined a bit in the early chapters of the story. I also wanted to reassert for the audience the fact that he is indeed a very skilled and powerful wizard, and the recovery of the Dragon Sword (that’s what it’s called) constitutes a huge plot point for reasons I’m not ready to go into right now. Obviously who else would wield the sword but Drake, who loves fire magic? It made the most sense for him to be the one to find it. I was also dying to throw in a time-travel story (trust me, it makes sense if you read the book), and the Old West is so ripe for parody that it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Drake already sort of styles himself as a gunslinger, so he fit right into this narrative I was trying to create. Thus all the ideas came together, and a chapter was born.

A big part of my writing process, especially with Camp Ferguson, is that I’ll get inspiration from certain other works that I’ve consumed and want to use something related to or like them in my own story–usually in a sort of satirical or parody format. For instance, in Jack Ferguson Strikes Back, I knew I wanted there to be a chapter where the main characters attempt to escape from Camp Prospero in a parody of something like The Great Escape or Hogan’s Heroes. I had no idea of the specific details or how I was going to do that. But then the other day, I was randomly thinking about another one of my favorite movies, Ocean’s 11 (probably because of the remake coming out), and suddenly a lightbulb went off in my brain: how cool would it be to make the escape attempt like a crime job, where one of the characters goes through recruiting the others as helpers in a satire of the Ocean’s 11 style? I could combine the two ideas into one super-idea and it would still make sense. So how deep did I want to go with this? Did I want to have this character coming back as though out of prison–in this case, the camp stockade or confinement to quarters? If so, let’s work backward: how would it make sense for something like that to have happened in the first place, and can I drop the seeds of it in earlier chapters? And most importantly of all, which character would make the most sense to put into a role like that? I’m not going to answer all of these questions, by the way: you’ll have to read the book when it comes out to find out how I did it.

Of course, I acknowledge that this probably isn’t everyone’s writing style, and wouldn’t work for all people. I’m just trying to give you a little insight into how I do things. While I can certainly appreciate people who meticulously plan and outline their stories from beginning to end, that kind of thing just isn’t me. I like to let things roll, with a few general guidelines to follow, and just see what comes out. Sometimes this results in some rough edges that need to be smoothed over, or jarring transitions that need polishing up. But hey, that’s what the editing process is for.

Catch you all next time!

Review of the Week–The Incredibles

Yes, I know: I’m going straight back to another superhero movie. But can you blame me? It’s probably one of the better ones out there, if not THE best, even though it’s animated and not live-action. But this week, in honor of its upcoming sequel (FINALLY!), I’m talking about the one and only Pixar hero flick, The Incredibles.

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Can you believe it’s been almost 15 years since this first came out? Crazy, right? Well let me tell you, even after all that time, The Incredibles has still aged–umm–incredibly well, and can stand tall with the best that Marvel and DC have to offer.

The Incredibles takes place in a modern-day world where superheroes are real, but relegated to living in hiding. Flashbacks at the beginning of the film show the adventures of Bob Parr, also known as Mr. Incredible, as he saves a man who didn’t want to be saved and sets off a chain reaction of lawsuits against himself and other “supers” that results in government action to shut down out-of-control heroes once and for all. Under a witness protection-style agreement, heroes like Bob are now average, everyday citizens, forced to conceal their powers from the world–with mixed results. After slipping up and losing his job, Bob finds himself contacted by a mysterious benefactor who offers to let him resume the hero work he misses so much. But Mr. Incredible gets more than he bargained for when a figure from his past returns as a powerful adversary with plans to dominate the world, and he’ll have to enlist all the help he can get–his super wife Ellen, a.k.a. Elastagirl, kids Dash and Violet, longtime family friend Frozone, and hero fashion designer Edna Mode–to stop this madman’s master plan.

The only strike I can really give against The Incredibles as a film is that, if you really break it down and look hard, you can see that most of its component parts aren’t really that original, and are in fact salvaged from various other takes on the superhero genre. Certainly the characters themselves are styled after existing, established comic book heroes like the Flash, Superman, Mr. Fantastic, and the Invisible Woman, just to name a few. Also, the idea of outlawing superheroes was probably taken from Watchmen, the famous dystopian retelling of the usual hero story. But admittedly, there’s only so far you can go with creating original superhero stories these days because they’re so played out and familiar at this point. Where The Incredibles finds great success, however, is in poking fun (respectfully, of course) at the genre itself while at the same time delivering a compelling, family-focused story with a large ensemble cast that really hits home for the viewer.

From a plot standpoint, it’s hard to criticize the movie: it all makes pretty much perfect sense and you can’t argue with its logic. The idea of young Buddy using his anger at Mr. Incredible’s rejection of him to become a super villain, and such a compelling one at that, was a stroke of genius in terms of storytelling, and was quite a powerful way to drive the conflict. There’s definitely inner-family conflict as well, both with sibling rivalry between Violet and Dash and Ellen’s desire for Bob to stop seeking out opportunities to be a hero and live a quiet life–being the hero his kids need instead of one the world wants. It’s all somewhat family-focused and maybe a little cheesy, but I don’t have a problem with it. There’s a ton of heart in The Incredibles because of the realism it gives to the family unit–imperfect, certainly, but far from the dark, dysfunctional characters of Watchmen, for example. Even in the conflict, there’s a sense of joy, wonder, and fun in everything the movie does, along with a somewhat old-timey sensibility conveyed by the musical score that evokes the classic superhero stories of decades past. It’s all very nostalgic for anyone who’s really into comics.

Most of the humor in The Incredibles comes from its unique spin on superhero storytelling, and using the tried-and-true tropes of the genre to play with the audience’s perceptions a bit. Probably the most famous line of the movie, “No capes!”, is a great example of this. Everyone kind of imagines heroes in capes, like Batman and Superman, right? They all have them. But in a practical, real-world setting, how does a cape make sense? It potentially causes way more problems than it solves, as a simple fashion statement can mean the difference in a life-or-death situation. We see this kind of thing happen all the time all around us, and the idea of heroes being done in by their own costume vanity is brilliant–again, a point brought back around home when Syndrome gets his comeuppance in the finale. It’s an interesting point that if you compare the devastation and destruction that the film’s fight scenes wreak across various settings, you’d have to admit that there’s a lot more jeopardy and darker overtones in this movie than a lot of Pixar’s fare–compare this to something like Finding Nemo and there’s just no contest. Personally, I don’t mind the upped stakes and greater tension, but I guess there’s a chance some families might not want to show it to young kids. I don’t think that idea holds a lot of water, but still.

The movie also plays with so many different ideas that we all face in our everyday lives–midlife crisis, child neglect, celebration of achievement, idolizing heroes, balance of power, and so much more. This is what makes The Incredibles a truly great movie: it’s about a world that’s definitely a fantasy, true, but also so grounded and relatable that you can’t help but get drawn into the story. It’s certainly loads more fun to watch than anything DC has done recently, that’s for sure.

My Rating: 9/10

The Incredibles easily ranks as one of my favorite movies ever, and definitely as the best animated movie I’ve ever seen, and I’d highly recommend it to pretty much anyone. Its appeal to the kids in us who marvel at the daring deeds of superheroes, married to the realistic emotional center that is the family drama and other real-world issues, creates a perfect mix for storytelling in an entertaining but meaningful fashion. It’s really at its core a family movie, not such much a superhero movie, just that the characters happen to have powers. It’s super-quotable, with a star-studded voice cast and truly beautiful cinematography that echoes the days gone by of classic Christopher Reeve Superman or serials like The Green Hornet. All in all, totally worth every minute of the time you spend watching it. If you haven’t seen The Incredibles yet, definitely do it before the sequel comes out!

Ask a Writer #4

Hi everyone! And welcome back to my “Ask a Writer” column. My last request for questions on Twitter got a LOT of responses, and they were such good questions I didn’t want to try to lump them together in one long post. I’d like to take the time and give them each the focus they deserve, so for the next few entries I’ll be answering them in the order I got them. Thanks as always for your continued interest!

Speaking of which, the first question comes straight from a good friend of mine in the writing community (with a great book besides), Kelsey Connors.

@KelseyLConnors: What first inspired you to write your story?

If I’m being honest, I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me this very question, because I’ve been thinking of an answer forever. I apologize for slightly veering off the subject, but this also kind of becomes a story about how I got into writing in the first place.

I’ve always liked writing, really. I just always seemed to have the knack for it. In school, while other people dreaded essay assignments, I found them so much easier than doing anything else. Especially math problems. Ugh, I hate math. Numbers are evil. Anyway, this sometimes extended into my making up little stories for class assignments and trying to get more creative with things than was probably normal for the “cool” kids my age. This extended to me actually creating some fan fiction stories (my first, most early actual attempts at true writing) based on TV shows I love, like Stargate and Star Trek. But there were a few major events in my life that proved to me I had what it took to be a writer and create what I think are well-crafted and entertaining stories.

First of all, when I was in my middle-school/high school years (I don’t exactly remember which it was), an English teacher of mine assigned us to keep a writing journal for both personal reflections and as a place to plan out and develop our in-class writing work. I, of course, being the rebel that I am, instantly resented the idea of being made to show my work. I mean, it’s such a waste of time, right? Take the dreaded math, for example. Who cares how you got to an answer as long as it’s the right one? Why should I have to show my work? In any case, as an act of rebellion on my part I instead turned my writing journal into a wild, nonsensically rambling sci-fi/fantasy epic in about twenty chapters about Martians invading the world and several characters going on an interplanetary odyssey. There was really no point to it at all and it was very shoddily put together, but the ease with which I came up with the ridiculous goings-on in the story made me realize that perhaps I had some creative gifts. Plus, my friend thought it was funny and published it on her social media page. Oh, my. I feel really awkward about it now, but at the time I was pretty humbled and honored. Very much hope that’s not still floating around out there somewhere…and no, that’s not an invitation to go looking it up. Don’t do it. Just don’t.

Part two of my journey happened in 10th grade English (this I remember very clearly because my teacher, who was a super nice lady, was constantly embarrassed and discomfited by my sarcasm, wisecracks, and tomfoolery in class. Yep, I was that kind of student. If you’re reading this: sorry!). One of the books we read as a class that year was Homer’s Odyssey. You know, the story about an ancient Greek general who was just totally irresponsible and neglectful and boastful and a terrible human being taking his sweet time getting home to the wife he totally didn’t deserve. Yeah, I said it. We were split up into small groups, each with the assignment of taking a single chapter from The Odyssey and adapting it for the stage, putting on a little play for the class. I guess it was to show we actually read the book or something? In any case, it once again got my creative juices flowing (it may also have been the fact that I was heavily into Monty Python around that time), and it didn’t help that my group got assigned a kick-ass chapter: the one where Odysseus and his men journey to the island of the hypnotic, zombie-like Lotus Eaters, and then the island of the man-eating cyclops. You know, the highlights. It was agreed among our group that I would be solely responsible for writing the script, mostly because no one else wanted to do it. And the result was that instead of the relatively straightforward assignment we were given, my group and I put on a show that included the Lotus Eaters acting very much like stoners and dropping thinly veiled references to smoking pot, as well as a commercial for a fictional brand of eyedrops while Odysseus and his men are fighting the cyclops by stabbing him in the eye. What can I say? I saw the opportunities for satire, and I took them. Pretty sure my teacher was horrified, but I had fun at least. And by the way, that script you CAN look up. Don’t think you’d find it, but I was and still am very proud of that one.

The crowning glory of my early writing career was my junior year of high school, when that same friend I mentioned before (who published my weird rambling Martian story) asked me to help her write a film for our high school’s yearly film festival. She gave me a vague idea of a theme she wanted to convey–random people being brought together by a web of circumstance–and from that foundation, I wrote “The Note”. It’s a short film about several students, each with their own problems, who finds a note on the floor directing them to tell each other how they really feel. This same note and advice leads to the resolutions to all their problems, from healing friendships to starting relationships–and the twist is, it’s all just based on a note that one of the side characters (played by me!) wrote to himself before tossing away, as he continues to do so around the school. Is it Oscar-worthy? Probably not. But it was fun, and it fit what I was asked to do. I’m proud of it. And the best part is that the film won five out of seven awards our school film festival gave out, the most ever won by a single movie–including, of course, one for Best Writing. I still have the little wooden trophy on my desk.

So what was the original question? Oh, yeah: where I got the inspiration to write my story. But since I have two books published so far, that’s sort of a two-part explanation as well.

The idea for my first book, The Showstopper!, grew out of my time spent involved in high school and middle school theater. I was a big music and drama guy at one time: I loved the atmosphere of the theater, the camaraderie and teamwork, the singing, and the recognition that came with it all. I was just frustrated oftentimes by the feeling that I wasn’t getting as much attention as I deserved (although I’m now mature enough to recognize it’s because I am a lousy actor), and the fact that there was a lot of “drama” in theater. See what I did there? I mean lots of sniping, backbiting, and interpersonal problems that ended up getting in the way of things and complicating relationships really unnecessarily. It all lead to me expressing my anger to a friend of mine one day during rehearsal. Feeling much the same way as I was, he joked to me that it’s too bad there isn’t a hitman you can hire to wreck plays instead of people. I laughed it off at the time, but something about that idea stuck in my head. It kept nagging at me, and the more entertainment I consumed over the following year–which included “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway and the original Batman movie, as well as the more recent Christopher Nolan ones–I started to imagine a character in my mind: an unassuming person who dons a mask, a costume, and various devices to destroy Broadway shows for money. That’s how Tom Wilkins, a.k.a. the Showstopper, came to be. I was also influenced by my school reading at the time, which included period pieces like The Great Gatsby, to set the story in the 1920s–both because I loved the time period, and because the limited technology at the time provided a much greater challenge for my main character to overcome. I used what I knew about the period–the plight of immigrants, yellow journalism, and the problems actors faced then and now–to fill out the rest of the cast and their backstories, and that’s how my first novel was born.

The tone of The Showstopper! could be light and humorous in many places, but overall it was rather dark, tense, and sometimes depressing. By the time I was done with it, I was feeling the need, and had been for a while, to lighten up somewhat. Fortunately, I had another idea that had been brewing for some time, based on another series of stories that were quite popular while I was growing up: Harry Potter. You have to understand that I am in no way demeaning the Harry Potter books when I say any of this. I have great respect for what J.K. Rowling accomplished as a writer, the beloved story she created, and the new horizons of storytelling she opened up to aspiring writers like myself. But that said, I’ve never been a huge fan. Harry Potter is fine, but it’s just not my favorite thing ever. I can’t say the same for my family, however: they all are crazy about it. Harry Potter trivia is their favorite pastime, and the references are endless. The same is true for many of my friends. In true hipster fashion, I came to rather dislike Harry Potter for the simple fact that it was so overwhelmingly popular and I didn’t understand why. So I never lost an opportunity to poke fun at the story, point out the plot holes, and stew about things I would have done differently. One thing I noticed was that as a whole, Hufflepuff House is never really given a ton of recognition in the books: probably the least of any house. This was because, I theorized, that Hufflepuff was the place where all the “normal” and “average” young wizards got placed. Therefore, they probably had the best parties. This focus on the idea of such mediocre exceptional people was funny to me, and got me thinking about one of my favorite comedies of all time, Animal House. What if, I thought, I could blend the two? Bring some more mature, college-age humor to a Harry Potter-esque universe?

This concept seemed brilliant. Unfortunately, I ran into a brick wall trying to figure out the details. I knew that no matter how I set up the story, it would probably just be seen as a carbon copy or rip-off of Harry Potter. All my early ideas about creating my own school for wizards got scrapped and thrown out because it sounded too similar to what had already been done. That is, until I was a movie that changed my mind: Moonrise Kingdom. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the brilliance of Wes Anderson, go see this movie. The point is, one of the main focuses of the film is on a Boy Scout-style summer camp with a group of unusually perceptive and intelligent youngsters, lead by a bumbling, incompetent scoutmaster. This was the breakthrough for me: what if I didn’t set the story at a school at all? What if it happened at a camp? Imagine how differently that militaristic style of setting would play than a high-class institution like Hogwarts.

The rest of the story framework rose up very quickly after that. I had always intended the story to be at some points a social satire, making fun of political and societal topics that I’ve remarked on in the past through the eyes of the young wizard characters. The characters were also pretty easy, as many of them have echoes in the Harry Potter universe: Scoutmaster Hasselberry was created as pretty much the anti-Dumbledore, as boorish and closed-minded and cruel as Dumbledore was kind, understanding, and wise; Drake Masterson is similar to Draco Malfoy, but with a powerful talent to back up his tough talk and far more of a backbone; and Jack Ferguson, as the protagonist, is effortlessly gifted with magic, but far less driven than Harry ever was because I wanted to explore the concept of a born slacker with wizard powers. I borrowed some concepts from Harry Potter than remain in the story in its published form, but edited out many over time as the story became more and more its own unique world and less a parody of an existing work (fun fact, there was an actual Harry parody character in the early drafts who was tasked with protecting the camp from real, massive threats, but was always unknowingly put in mortal danger by Jack and his friends’ antics). I also added a lot of ideas of interest to me personally: mixing magic with technology; wizards who didn’t believe in magic; wizards who didn’t want to be wizards; a standard, bureaucratic government agency in charge of monitoring these extraordinary individuals; and setting it in the U.S. instead of the U.K., of course, with all the cultural baggage that entails.

In the end, Camp Ferguson is a great point of pride for me because, while it took three total rewrites and several years to finally edit to a point where I adequately balanced humor with plot, it didn’t end up being a copy of Harry Potter. Drawing on those books as inspiration, I managed to create what I think is a living, breathing world of its own that’s completely distinct and unique, and stands on its own, with characters that I feel I’m better friends with than many actual people I know. It’s truly a special feeling.

Thanks for reading, and until next time, keep on writing!

Review of the Week–Avengers: Infinity War

I mean, come on. Did any of you really not see this one coming? Not only is my love for superheroes and the Marvel Cinematic Universe well established at this point, but what else exactly is happening in entertainment right now? Or this year? Yep, that’s what I thought: nothing. So Avengers: Infinity War it is!

All joking aside, this was a pretty big deal, obviously. And I was a bit worried that this grand capstone of the Marvel universe wouldn’t live up to all the hype. I’m happy to say that, for the most part, it certainly did.

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In Infinity War, after making his presence felt more subtly throughout the Marvel universe for years, the mad titan Thanos finally makes his move and steps into the spotlight to carry out his master plan of wiping out half of all life in the universe–all in the name of order and balance. In order to stop him, everyone from the original Avengers (Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, and Captain America) to the latest additions to the MCU (Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy, etc.) must come together from all across the universe and work together to prevent Thanos from completing the Reality Gauntlet–a device that will give him the power of a god. But Thanos and his children are prepared to do whatever is necessary and make any sacrifice to finish their mission, and our favorite heroes will need to do the same if they want to win the day with the odds stacked against them like never before.

Okay, fair warning: if you don’t want to see any SPOILERS for Infinity War, you should STOP READING RIGHT NOW. I have things to discuss that involve me talking about what happened in the movie, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Still with me? Okay, good. Moving on…

Infinity War had a massive obstacle to being truly a great movie right off in that it had to bring together pretty much everyone in the Marvel universe in one limited-length film, and in a way that made all of them stand out and none feel like simply placeholders, set dressing, or throwaway characters. It’s definitely a challenging proposition, and actually the film really succeeded quite well in it. Sure, there were some characters like War Machine, Black Panther, Falcon, and Black Widow (not to mention Winter Soldier) that didn’t get as much attention and screen time as people like Thor and Iron Man and the Guardians, but that’s because most of those characters have very little to add to the overarching conflict other than just being additional hands on deck. Obviously the heroes with the greater powers have to be more front and center, and I honestly didn’t mind that at all. Everyone got their moment in the spotlight, regardless of how central they were to the plot or not, and all the actors involved reminded us of why we fell in love with their characters in the first place. I honestly can’t say a single one of them disappointed.

Although seriously, where the hell was Ant-Man or Hawkeye? How is the end of the universe not an all-hands-on-deck situation? I found it incredibly hard to believe that with everything else going on, the Avengers didn’t think it was appropriate or necessary to get those two heroes out of house arrest. So that was pretty lame. I’m willing to give Marvel the benefit of the doubt, though, due to the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp movie, which apparently is set before Infinity War. I’m holding out hope that movie will give us a compelling reason why Ant-Man wasn’t involved and maybe make him and/or Hawkeye relevant in the conflict again. I have a killer theory on that front, too, but I digress. If you want to talk with me about that one on one, I’d be happy to do so on your own time.

Anyway, even though the stakes have never been higher in the Marvel universe, Infinity War never devolved into a simple bombastic action movie. Even though there were Lord of the Rings-level battle scenes and a lot of things exploding all over the place, the intrinsic joy and sense of fun Marvel has created in its universe was never absent. Sure, this movie tugged at the heartstrings a lot more than previous films due to the deaths involved, but I still couldn’t stop smiling the whole time. A large part of that was just letting the characters be themselves without going overly dark and serious, and seeing the pairing up of previously separated characters in new combinations. The Stark/Strange rivalry, Thor teaming up with the Guardians in outer space, and the reunion of the Avengers despite government protest were all moments that I loved and that spoke a lot to how well all these characters work together in spite of their diverse backgrounds. Although as I accurately predicted, the reunification of the renegade and sanctioned Avengers basically swept all of Captain America: Civil War under the rug and pretended like it didn’t happen. Someone explain to me why that movie was at all important now, other than introducing Spider-Man? Seriously, I don’t get it.

Even the villains of Infinity War, which are usually where Marvel movies encounter the most problems, came off very well, all things considered. I’m not talking about Thanos’s four children–they were pretty much irrelevant aside from being very powerful and additional bad guy bodies to fight. The true triumph was Thanos himself, who I was really worried would come off as just a generic, evil bad guy who wants to destroy the universe because he’s a bad guy and that’s what bad guys do. I should know better than to doubt Josh Brolin at this point because the guy basically nails everything he does, and his portrayal of Thanos was no exception. I mean, sure, is Thanos crazy? Probably. But everything he’s done in the Marvel universe was actually rather well explained as a quest to bring his version of peace and balance to the cosmos. I can’t really argue with the idea that overpopulation destroys civilizations, and Thanos’s obsession with death and the overall life cycle, seeing himself as the only one willing to make the hard choices, puts him in a beautiful contrast with the Avengers. He’s definitely not a good guy, but Thanos comes off as the complex, multi-layered bad guy that Marvel desperately needs and sometimes falls short of creating. I definitely could see the emotion and inner turmoil he felt when he had to sacrifice Gamora to get the Soul Stone, and that said a lot more than words ever could.

Speaking of characters dying–wow. I mean, I was expecting a handful of deaths, probably from the older-guard characters, but nothing on the massive scale that Infinity War delivers. Never mind that the good guys lose and half the population of Earth and the entire universe gets wiped out, but more than half the Avengers are now gone too–all the Guardians except Rocket, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Bucky, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Black Panther–the list goes on and on. Ironically enough, the only ones left are pretty much the core group that started off the universe, something I didn’t see coming. Which if I’m being honest kind of undermines the impact of their deaths (although Peter Parker’s “I don’t want to go” moment made me tear up for sure just based on Tom Holland’s acting prowess)–let’s get real, Marvel is not going to kill off the Guardians, their most popular property, or Spider-Man or Doctor Strange, who are brand-new and haven’t yet gotten to strut their stuff properly. In fact, I believe hints were dropped throughout the film that these “deaths” due to the Reality Gauntlet are not permanent, and that they can be reversed.

We’ve got another upcoming Spider-Man movie, another Avengers movie that will finish the arc this movie started, and Ant-Man and Captain Marvel movies to prove that at least some of these characters are not staying dead for long. There’s only a few of the heroes I could see staying dead after Infinity War 2 next year–Gamora because Nebula is waiting in the wings as a replacement, Vision because what’s really the point of him anyway, and Scarlet Witch for the same reasons. Oh, and Loki sadly–he’s had his run. There could be a few more unforeseen deaths down the line, too (I could see Rogers and/or Stark kicking it in the next movie for sure), but just purely based on money-making logic, not many of these heroes, especially the newer ones, are staying dead. That kind of took away from the power of the moment a bit, which was a shame. If you really think this movie’s consequences aren’t going to be reversed, you’re probably very naive.

My Rating: 8/10

Sure, Avengers: Infinity War won’t be taking a place in my top five Marvel films anytime soon, and it did exacerbate some overarching problems I have with the MCU up to this point. But that aside, it was a really, really fun movie. It was epic, engrossing, awe-inspiring, and yet still maintains that indelible sense of humor that Marvel has gotten so good at using. The chemistry between characters who had previously never met, the powerful portrayal of the story’s villain, and just the grand cosmic scale of the adventure make Infinity War absolutely worthy of the hype it’s accumulated. Even though the sort of “shocker”, “cliff-hanger” ending they were going for didn’t really make me as a Marvel fan raise my eyebrows much, I’m still going to be on the edge of my seat waiting for the sequel.

My 1,000-Follower Giveaway Announcement!

Hello dear readers and fans! This weekend I’m feeling very special indeed, because after only about five months as part of the Twitter community, I’ve reached over 1,000 followers. This was a big, big landmark for me personally when I started out, and now that I’ve achieved it, my desire to make it on social media is stronger than ever.

Thanks to each and every one of your for all your support along the way. Seriously, I’ve made so many friends among the writers I’ve gotten to know on Twitter, even though we’ve never met in real life, it’s crazy. You all are amazing, and I hope you know that. Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently.

To that effect, as a thank-you to everyone involved with getting me this far, I’m having a book giveaway! Here’s how it’ll work: I’ll be posting this announcement on my social media pages, and following this formula…

Twitter (@krobertson1392): Like or retweet!

Facebook (Kyle Robertson, Novelist): Like or share!

…those who take part will be entered into a random drawing. The winner will receive, for free, a signed and autographed copy of both my books currently published: The Showstopper! and Camp Ferguson.

Of course you’ll have to tell me where to send them, but just think about it: TWO books, signed by the author of course, FOR FREE! Definitely something worth filling up your reading time for. (By the way, if you want to just go ahead and buy any of these books and support our writers, they’re available on Amazon!)

Here’s the best part though: you could potentially be entered into the drawing up to FOUR TIMES! If you both Like and Retweet, or Like and Share, I’ll enter you twice. If you do three or even all four of these things, I’ll enter you as many times as you did them, up to four maximum. And all you have to do is click a few buttons! Pretty sweet, right?

Anyway, that about wraps it up for my announcement, but I really do hope you’ll participate and get yourself a chance to win some really awesome stories for free! And again, thanks to all my precious writer friends on Twitter and elsewhere. I plan on keeping up the hard work I’ve put in until now, and I hope you do, too. You’re all awesome!