NaNoWriMo 2017 – Are You Game?


Writing is Hard.

Inspiration doesn’t last forever, and like exercise, or maintaining a healthy diet, or praying, it will at times feel impossible.

That’s why changing things up is important to keep going. Introduce fun. Do it with people. Make it a game.

NaNoWriMo does all of this, which is why I’m participating this year. My writing output has been nil lately, and the creative constipation is making me queasy.

Like getting in a pool, it’s best if you go all in at once. No half-measures. I intend to experience NaNo in its fullness. Not just the 1,667 words-a-day minimum, but the community, the Twitter “word sprints,” the friendships and sharing of ideas.

My plans:

  • Write 3x a day for 25 min each session (morning, noon, and night). I’ve got the music playlist all set to the perfect timing!
  • Vlog each day on my word-count and also a specified topic.
  • Have two days of dedicated writing, shooting for 5,000+ words each day to make up for inevitable hiccups in the plan.

Sound impossible? With a full-time job and two small children added into the mix?

Don’t worry, I plan on cheating!

Here’s how:

  • Pre-planning the novel
    • Characters detailed in advance, complete with arcs
    • Plot-points and pinch-points nailed down
    • Scene summaries and goals prepared
  • Vlogs prepared
    • Video editing completed ahead of time (as far as can be done)
    • Topics and salient points preplanned
  • Writing habits set in place ahead of time
    • While I am not writing a novel, I am writing each day. To avoid the blank page problem, I write one memory a day, whether long or short, meaningful or frivolous. Some day it may even be a great treasure to have. Having this system will help ease into the rigors of NaNoWriMo.

Writing is hard. Especially when it’s not fun.

I plan on having a blast, painful parts and all. Join me – be my buddy on NaNo.

Happy writing.


Story in Games – The Witness [The Blank Slate Character]

blank slate

Video Games are unique…in a bad way!

Blank Slate Characters
Video games are the only storytelling art form that consistently makes use of the “blank slate” character. they rarely speak or show any personal character motivation or emotion. In theory the player is supposed to superimpose himself onto the character to increase the immersion. From a storytelling perspective, I think this is incredibly wrongheaded.

Chrono Cross, for example, while being a great game, spent a huge amount of time making each of its 40 or so minor characters have distinctive speech patterns, but gives us a main character who doesn’t have any lines at all. Leaving the main character in this state does nothing to enhance the game’s story or emotional impact. It fact, it’s the game’s weakest point.

The Witness’s Blank Slate Character
The main (and really only) character in The Witness is a blank slate character, but it may be the one game where actually enhances the story. It’s an unconventional point of view, but The Witness is an unconventional game and its storytelling is likewise.

So why does the blank slate work for The Witness:

  • You start the game in a state of absolute ignorance. There is no opening cut-scene that explains the world/struggle/war. You are dropped into a dark tunnel with no explanation and you must piece together what’s going on from there. The character’s blank slate mirrors this experience.
  • The game’s story isn’t about the game world. The “story” in The Witness is literally about your experience, not the characters!
  • There is no character motivation in the game, only your own desire to solve more puzzles and explore more areas.

So what’s it all about then, this game? It’s about life. It’s about how you see the world. It’s about patterns.

There are scattered around audio logs to listen to. But they don’t really fill you in on what’s going on, although in a very expanded sense they tell you everything.

I won’t go into any more detail because this is not a game to have spoiled in any way. It is a game only to be experienced, and truly witnessed from a purposefully blank slate.

Graphic Novel Reivew – Brody’s Ghost

Brody's Ghost Collected EditionBrody’s Ghost Collected Edition by Mark Crilley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought Brody’s Ghost after finding out about it on Mark Crilley’s youTube channel.

Mark Crilley’s youTube channel has literally hundreds of videos helping people increase their art knowledge and skills. I bought Brody’s Ghost to get a better idea of how to layout a graphic novel. But I wouldn’t have done that if the story didn’t seem interesting.

In fact the story was extremely well told. I finished the collected edition in under 24 hours. It had fun, sometimes funny, thoughtful characters that I really enjoyed reading about. I found myself wanting to read on even when I had more pressing things to be focused on – the sign of a good story.

The storytelling in terms of scene structure and overall story arc was also fairly great. The art style really lent itself to a fast-paced story.

I only had two small issues:
1. Brody’s character arc wasn’t super strong and

2. Talia’s power to possess Brody to get him out of 2 really bad situations was introduced very late in the story and because it wasn’t referenced or foreshadowed earlier made it feel extremely “convenient.” To be fair, how it “worked” in the climax was a great idea though. I just wished it had been foreshadowed or mentioned earlier in the story so it didn’t come out of nowhere and give off that “how convenient” feeling.

Final thoughts: Highly recommended. Very interesting story and well told. Building tension was good and it led to a super exciting climax that I had to try hard to restrain myself from turning the pages too fast so that I could appreciate the artwork better.

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What I’ve Learned From My Hobbies


If you’re not learning from your hobbies, you’re doing it wrong!

I’m plagued with the kind of addictive/perfectionist personality that I latch onto hobbies seemingly sporadically but with a fierce ambition. “Jack of all Trades” has been used to describe me – but I’d prefer to leave the “master of none” part out.

The good news is that a variety of interests leads to a variety of perspective. The more camera angles you have, the better idea you can have of the subject.

So I present to you my top 10 Lessons learned from my favorite hobbies.

  1. Chess. You act as a free agent. No one can tell you the right move when you’re in the game. To master chess (and life) you must learn to develop and trust your own instincts. In a word, self-reliance.
  2. Painting. Amateurs often are frustrated because of a mistake. The truth is, “mistakes” can be made into unforeseen and beautiful vistas.
  3. Running. You see those 13.1 and 26.2 stickers and think “that’s just not for me.” The truth is you can achieve unfathomable feats (pun intended) with small intervals over time. All it takes is determination.
    running mtg
  4. Magic the Gathering. Sometimes you lose when you do everything “right.” Luck (both good and bad) is a part of the game (and life), but proper tactics can lead to the “creation” of good luck over time. By mastering what is controllable, you can place yourself in positions where good luck is most likely to find you.
  5. Writing. Writing isn’t just about telling neat stories. Creation is a endeavor proper to God. To create is to be in communion with God the creator of all things. The desire to create is a bubbling forth of love, excitement, and faith. It is the reason God creates at all – to share.
  6. Music. The only thing music does not enhance is silence. Creating music is an entrance into beauty and a window the soul often discovers its own infinite longing.
  7. Videogame Creation. Few things expressed to me the absolute necessity of a perfectly tuned program than creating a videogame. How bugs plagued me to frustration! Give those headaches in the fine-tuning of a mere program, how marvelous the universe is and how brilliant its designer must be.
  8. Teaching. Knowledge is shallow until you teach it. Everyone knows that you don’t realize how much you don’t know until you must teach. Now think, what have you taught lately?
  9. Reading. The mind is unbelievably powerful. Reading is so much more deeply satisfying than watching a movie or TV, despite using the absolute minimal form of communication available. Mind transcends the senses.
    reading-painting praying
  10. Praying. Odd choice for a hobby you might think, but it is a repetitive action designed to bring joy. We are little. We are limited. We need to be loved. We need to be meant. In a word, the most important lesson of all is humility.

What did you think of my list? Who cares, right? We all know the fun part is telling me about yours! So what awesome lessons have you learned from your favorite hobbies?

Kubo and the Two Strings – Movie Review

Unique. Gorgeous. Ambitious. Flawed.
Kubo and the Moon
I don’t see movies in the theatre often. My life is exceptionally busy. But Kubo was one of the handful of movies that I made it a point to get out and see (and support). Its rating on Rotten Tomatoes was quite high and I’d heard a lot of good about the film, so I was super stoked to see it.

Given the hype did I leave the theatre with as much enthusiasm? Yes…and No…but mainly Yes.


Full disclose. I loved Coraline and liked Paranorman, two films from the same studio (Laika). They made Boxtrolls as well, but I was never interested in that one. I had high hopes for Kubo. It’s probably too early to rate them, but I think I’d rate Coraline over Kubo…with Paranorman coming in 3rd and Boxtrolls not in the running because I haven’t seen it.

Kubo and Moon King

What worked:

  1. There is much in Kubo to love. In a year of sequels, prequels, reboots, and superhero movies, I just love it when something comes out that is completely off track. Kubo has a creative story that takes its cues not from what is current, but from what is eternal.
  2. It’s themes are deep. When characters in a “kids movie” ask each other their views about what happens to a person when they die, we’ve reached the level of storytelling where the writers treat their audience with respect. I love it.
    Kubo and fam
  3. Character development was superb, with one small falter. From the get-go you are on Kubo’s side and really empathize with him. The connection was easy to feel.
  4. The world they created was immersive and a blast to be in.
  5. The technical artistry in this movie is staggering. The movie is so gorgeous. It was amazing to see in the end credits the work they had done on one of the creatures in the movie. Very cool inclusion at the end that is a nice sneak peak into how it was made.
  6. The comedy relief was executed very well and actually reminded me of how well humor had been pulled off in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It wasn’t just there to be there, it was casual, funny, and peppered in just when the story needed it.

So, I’ve been praising the movie a lot. So what is the flaw?

The villains and the theme.

Kubo aunt

The antagonist’s motivation is not well communicated and when he shows up for the final battle, he wasn’t interesting and I couldn’t connect with him at all.

I think that damaged the theme as well. In the final confrontation Kubo basically screams the moral of the story at him, but it didn’t resonate. The drama up to that point felt so real and earned, but when it came to a head with the antagonist, it didn’t connect.

My final thoughts are that I love this movie, but wish it didn’t hiccup in the end. The first two acts of the story were so great and immersive. I loved the characters and themes building, but like Kubo himself failing to give a great ending, the story seemed to rush its final battle in a fairly generic way.

One last thought about the ending – when it reveals how the story was named…perfection!

If you’re interested, check out the trailer:

Free Book Review – Abducted: Escape from Kraile

Abducted - Escape From Kraile (Abducted Series #1)Abducted – Escape From Kraile by J.R. Cleveland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

J. R. Cleveland’s Abducted Series features a teenage boy (Luke) taken on an adventure spanning the unknown alien infested galaxy. I immediately downloaded this free book when I read the first line of the product description about Luke discovering aliens trying to milk a cow in his barn. I knew I would be in for a quirky, fun and funny adventure. Did it deliver?

What I liked about the book:
1. The world-building was excellent. I loved the way the aliens talked as well as the gestures used to give the story an alien quality. The locations were also varied and interesting.
2. I liked that the Luke was in almost constant danger. It helped the plot move even when there were plot issues.
3. The main character’s voice was unique and good.
4. The editing and prose were without fault. There were no typos or weird syntax issues tripping up the reading experience.

What I think would’ve made it better.
1. The pacing was off. The end of Act 1 came very early in the story, which lead to the fact that…
2. Even though Luke was on a mission to save his parents at the beginning of Act 2, I felt zero empathy for his situation because it was never established that his parents being gone had brought distress to his life. Act 1 could have been bolstered to give us more background and help us care more.
3. [SPOILER] Luke as a main character didn’t seem to have a character arc. While he is the protagonist of the story, he does very little and even himself says at the end of the book that Leonidas and Simon are the real superheros. And they were…they did basically everything.
4. While Luke was in danger, there was one instance that, as far as I can tell, had no impact on the plot whatsoever. He gets lost and captured only to get rescued and then the plot resumes. Maybe it’s a plant for the next book in the series, but even if that’s true, it needed a better integration with the plot of this story.

Final Analysis:
I actually liked this book more than I have a right to. The writing was fluid and fun, as were many of the concepts. I think I read it more for the fun and interesting world-building rather than the plot. And unfortunately, the plot and character arc take a back seat. I still recommend it to people who enjoy the genre or are just interested in spending some time in an alien world.

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Up In Smoke – Book Review

Up In Smoke (Hart of the Smokies Book 1)Up In Smoke by Chanacee Ruth-Killgore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ruth-Killgore’s cozy whodunit takes aim in small-town America where everyone knows everyone’s secrets, until the death of the community-beloved owner of the camp-grounds is discovered to have been a murder.

Abigail Hart returns to bury her Uncle only to find that things are not as they seem. She’s aided by many friends, but not everyone has her best interests at heart.

What worked:
The small-town atmosphere was inhalably realized. The town had its quirky personalities, history, and a great deal of funny stories shared between the characters.

Abigail (Abby) as a protagonist was relatable and easy to get behind.

The prose was smooth and had a great balance between description and narrative. Never once did I get tripped up reading the book.

Important in any whodunit is the list of suspects. Early on in the book, I thought I had pegged the correct killer. I was both pleased and displeased to have gotten it wrong in the end.

What I would’ve liked more:
The pacing felt staggered to me at times. That said, at about the halfway mark, things moved at an energetic and enjoyable pace.

Abby as a protagonist was easy to relate to, but ended up being a little generic. I would’ve liked to see her conflicting with more of the characters in the story to draw out her defined edges a little more.

The list of suspects in whodunits usually stand out clearly since it is usually shown that many different people all had motive (and opportunity) for the crime. This book didn’t follow that genre cliché (whether intentionally or not on the author’s part, I’m not sure) and it left me guessing not only whodunit, but whydunit. Perhaps that was intentional, but it left me feeling a little too much in the dark. Perhaps re-reading the book will prove this point moot, but I can only go with what I’ve done so far.

Final Analysis:
A fun, cozy murder mystery. Well-written with a few pacing hiccups. A whodunit that does set up some good red-herrings (which actually got me), and an unconventional twist on the genre formula (I’ll let you decide how you like that).

4/5 Stars – Recommended for fans of the Genre and non-Genre readers to whom the setting/style appeals.

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Free Indie Book Review – The Forgotten Wizard

The Forgotten Wizard: Series 1 - The Wizard HuntThe Forgotten Wizard: Series 1 – The Wizard Hunt by C.J Thompson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I downloaded C J Thompson’s The Forgotten Wizard because it was free, the cover was cool, and the it sounded like it had a cool concept (a world where wizards used to exist but have gone extinct, except for rumors of one being found).

The Good:
The plot moves. Some self-published authors don’t have a plot with legs. This one, while not having many twists (and there’s a reason for that I’ll get into in the “What Didn’t Work for Me” section) did keep the action moving forward.

Aside from a few lacking details, the world was well enough described that I could imagine it in my mind just fine. The world was interesting enough and contained one detail that was really imaginative that I really enjoyed.

The prose and author voice were not distracting. And there were almost no annoying typos to trip me up.

What Didn’t Work for Me:
This is a very short book. That in itself is not a problem, but this story did not reach it’s full length. If I had read this without knowing it would end in the 12th chapter, I would have assumed that I had read about 1/4 of the story. The story ends with what would be in other books the end of Act 1. This leads to the next criticism.

The plot contained virtually no plot twists. This makes sense if you view this story as Act 1 of a larger whole, since usually Act 1 ends with a rather story-changing plot twist that leads the characters down a new road.

Character development was rather shallow as well. This could also be ascribed to its length, but I would also mention a few additional points:
1. The main character’s motivations and emotions are not shown to us so much as told to us. Instead of seeing him struggle in the plot with the illness of his father, we’re just told that he can’t go on without his father.
2. The relationship with his friend, Tristan, undergoes a radical change from the first scene to the second. In the first, they are nothing but buddies with seemingly no conflict, then in the next we see surfacing multiple quarrels under the surface. I think these should have been better hinted at in their first scene.
3. The main character’s voice wasn’t particularly unique or interesting.

The world-building felt somewhat generic. All of the fantasy elements seemed too derivative to be truly inspiring.

Final analysis:
The Forgotten Wizard as the start of a series failed to grab my attention on a deep-enough level to pull me in for the rest of the series. Kudos to the author for giving this story away for free, however. It’s short enough that anyone interested should not hesitate to download it and give a shot themselves.

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In Defense of Judging a Book by its Cover

“Mom, I’m hungry.”
“I’m sorry, honey. Just don’t think about it.”

You can tell people not to judge a book by its cover, but like telling a child not to think about being hungry, it just ain’t gonna work.

bad book cover 2  bad book cover


No offense to the authors, but what are we honestly supposed to make out of covers like these?



Maybe we should be judging a book by its cover after all. Especially when it comes to self-published authors – unprofessional book covers more than likely translates to unprofessional editing.

Of course there’s always the case of a diamond in the rough, but it’s kind of like playing the lottery – sure you could win, but why waste your time and money when the odds are not ever in your favor?

Here’s the issue: Independently published authors have a rough time in exchange for the freedoms they enjoy. They get to have complete creative control over almost every aspect of their work. In exchange for that freedom they have the curse of having complete control over almost every aspect of their work.

3D Book Cover


When I self-published my first book, The Stitcher, I knew I could make a very minimalist cover that could still look good and that I wouldn’t have to shell out $200-$500 to get it done for me.



But when I finished my manuscript for Upheaval, a Middle-grade Sci-fi adventure, I knew that I couldn’t go the minimalist road. Middle-grade books tend to be bright, colorful, and action-y.



I looked at a lot of MG books to get an idea for the look and feel.



I had no plans on doing my own cover for Upheaval. I resigned myself to the idea that I would just have to suck it up and pay a professional.

But fortune smiled on me, as I have a brother who is a professional graphic designer. That, of course, doesn’t translate to being excellent at book covers, but when he offered his services, there was no way I would refuse.

After two months, about three months until the release date, he contacted me with disappointing news: The quality and style I was looking for was “beyond his skill set.”

I definitely wasn’t pleased with the news, but I did understand. I turned my attention to an amazing artist on DeviantArt and requested if she was available for commission for a fantasy/sci-fi book cover. Luckily she said yes.

Unluckily, her price was $2,000 for the front cover.

So, just a couple months before release, I had the unenviable task of creating a book cover that my much-more-talented-brother said he didn’t have the skills to do. After a few days of doodles, I finally came up with the sketch of the image I would finally use:



MG Covers are usually character-focused, so I decided to put my characters front and center.




The good news was that my brother was still willing to help with the cover, so I sent him a scan of the sketch for him to color.

worked on by josh

After some time he sent this back. He’d gotten a nice start on it, but due to time constraints, couldn’t do much more.


With the baselines all covered, I took his image and went to town, doing my best to make it as colorful and exciting as possible.

worked on by me image


Hours and hours of work later, this is what I ultimately came up with.




So, in the final analysis, the cover for Upheaval was not professionally made, but it still looks like it is stylistically competent – especially if looked at in a line-up.

13595022Cover for Smashwordsbad book cover

What I really don’t want is for one of my book covers to be used as an example of what no-to-do. Only time will tell if I succeeded.

What is your all-time favorite book cover (whether good or bad)? Let me know in the comments below!


Hosting a Book Signing Event – An Introvert’s Survival Guide


For those who don’t know:
in·tro·vert  ˈintrəˌvərt/noun
1. a shy, reticent person.

2. Someone lacking the requisite constitution to be holding a public event for which he/she is the focal point (i.e. you!).

My advice? Get over it, ya wuss! End of blogpost.
Okay, so maybe that advice isn’t the most useful, so let me give you some actual pointers.

But before we do, I just want you to know that I do qualify as someone who is experienced at being scared to death of humiliating themselves by doing something stupid in public (or even just standing around in public).

Like most writers, it’s my nature to be alone. I guess you could call it my natural habitat. It’s where I feel rejuvenated, happy, and creative. I don’t have to worry that my hair looks stupid, or that I’ve been caught picking my nose or something.

But enough about me being a twat, let’s get onto the list of helpful tips:

  1. Find a fellow writer or group to join you.
    This can be beneficial for many reasons. First, unless your the next J.K. Rowling, you’re going to have a lot of “down-time.” Having a friend to talk with will make it a million times less awkward as you just sit there and stare at people, hoping they’ll come over to talk to you. It can also be a benefit to cross-pollinate your readers groups.
  2. Get up and talk to people.
    Okay, I know this one sounds backwards. How exactly is that a tip for an introvert, anyway? But tell me this, what’s more awkward, politely asking a person to come over and take a look at your book or making eye-contact as they just walk by? Take a play from the girl scout’s playbook and reach out to people as they pass by. I’d be more weirded out by a girl scout who didn’t try to sell me cookies.
  3. Have ready-made answers to frequently asked questions.
    “What’s your book about?”
    “Why’d you write this book?”
    Etc. The last thing you want to do is mumble about during the moment you should be making your best pitch to sell your book. Keep your stock answers short and interesting.
  4. Ask people questions.
    Don’t let the onus of the conversation rest on the other person. Talk to them and ask them what their favorite books/authors are. Be ready to share a little. It will make the conversation much less awkward.

In the end, it’s something you get better with in time. I am much less afraid of the spotlight now than I used to be. It’s certainly not where I feel most comfortable, but after years of performing, teaching, and giving lectures in and out of classrooms, I’ve found that my first statement, although a little blunt, is actually true.

“Just get over it.” Practice, practice, practice.

I’ll be taking my own advice May 7th. See ya there!