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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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!


Book Review – I am Mercy by Mandi Lynn

I am MercyI am Mercy by Mandi Lynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am Mercy is Mandi Lynn’s second book and is tied to her first book, Essence. It’s centered around a similar concept as Essence – that some persons, by a mystical process become “essences,” who inhabit but are not really part of the physical world. They are eternal and trapped and must find their value in that state.

What I liked:
Mandi is excellent at painting a scene. The places all felt vivid and real – especially her description of France during the black plague. There was an early dream sequence that captured the feeling of the dream state that was probably my favorite part of the book.
I also liked the themes present in the first 1/4 of the book. I had never really felt the despair (and hope) of people living in during the black plague, but Mandi captures it extremely well. It was both disturbing and philosophically interesting. My favorite scene in this category involves a young boy, but I’ll say no more.

What missed the mark for me:
The book felt like it was confused as to its tone. This could have been on purpose as the book is divided into four “books,” so this criticism could be moot, except its related to the next point.
My largest frustration with I am Mercy was that the main character never seemed to have a overarching goal that spanned the four “books.” I wanted to see her be more proactive. Here are my recommendations

Book 1: I wanted to see Aida try to find a way to prove to her family she was not a witch. This would have given her something to do.
Book 2: I would’ve liked to see Aida struggle to find a way to become human again. May seek out Mystral for help or revenge?
Book 3 and 4: I wasn’t sure why Aida didn’t try to find a way to get back to Garren. She resigned herself to the fact that she couldn’t, but I was unclear on why.


If you are a fan of Mandi’s first book, I think you’ll enjoy this one even more. If you’re looking for a protagonist who drives the story, you may have to look elsewhere.

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Writing 2015 – A Year in Review

The Writing Goal for 2015 was to finish the first draft of Upheaval. I finished the draft on Dec 23.

Time to break out the egg nog and have a good time.

Potential “Back of the Book” Blurb

Actually it’s time to edit that book ASAP since I’ve already got a book signing engagement for April 30th. The good news for me is that it’s a short book. Middle Grade as the target audience allows for that. I’ve got the interior dimensions and font figured out. It’s really just a game of getting each chapter to start and end with a bang and tie up all the loose story threads. As well as typo-hunt until each last mistake is left dead in a pool of bloody grammar.

As great as it is meeting my writing goal for 2015, I feel like I really didn’t grow enough as a writer. I was proud that I was able to write the entire story from one character’s POV. I imagined that limited scope would be a real hindrance, but it honestly wasn’t as bad as I thought. On the negative side, many months went by with no output. But 2016 is on the horizon and I’ve got some new goals to set.

I’m upping the stakes a bit for myself and I hope I can manage.

  1. Write an 80,000-word supernatural/mystery thriller
  2. Write two 8,000-10,000-word short story companions for The Stitcher and Upheaval as free download giveaways

For a lot of writers, I know that this goal could be accomplished in a month. But here at Writing on Empty, I’ve got 2 small children, a career, a masters degree to finish, and just plain life to live.

Funnily enough, a lot of writers struggle with word count in the opposite direction as me. Many authors find it hard to cut their novels down in number to meet their audience/genre target. When it comes to my stories, I don’t chew the scenery and get too flowery with the language. In that sense, I’m the anti-Tolkien.

So this 80,000 word count goal is going to stretch me quite a bit.

But it’s all for the love of creation.

Do you have any writing goals for 2016?

Upheaval Progress Report

It’s been 6 months since I’ve discussed my second book, Upheaval.

timmy and clare

This year has been busy. I now have 2 children in diapers, more MA courses to work on, and a larger workload in my real career. I also volunteer at my Church and try to have some semblance of a healthy lifestyle involving semi-consistent exercise.

Bottom line – I haven’t been writing. Upheaval was simmering on a burner in the back.

But sometimes when a story simmers back there, truths about it are crystalize over time. Even though I wasn’t writing, the story was ever present in my daydreaming, during runs, and of course the best place to ponder – in the shower.


Two months ago, I joined a group of writers at my work for a get-together and was immediately energized to get back on track and finish the draft by my original deadline – Christmas. And with a small word-count, I wasn’t too worried.

Today the current word count is 32,469 of a projected 35,000. A very short book to be sure, but perfectly respectable for the Middle Grade audience for which it’s intended.

The finish line is in sight and I’m very pleased with the overall story. We’ll see how I feel about the details during the editing process.

How are your goals coming? Do you have tips that keep you from derailing?


When Evil Isn’t a Thing in a Book

I love stories. I love that we create stories. I love that people inspire others by their stories. I love it when hard work, brilliance, and timing all come together to make something special. I spent the day watching the original Star Wars Trilogy and enjoying the heck out of it.

star wars

But later this day, people starting killing other people in France. I know killings and evil happen every day, but I’m generally disconnected from “The News.” I don’t like to ingest a lot of the negativity of the world. But sometimes the news is so bad, it bursts forth everywhere.

Evil is not a “thing in a book.” It’s a thing in our hearts.

And it’s polar opposite about what I love about humanity. We create. Our creations then inspire other people to create. And all that creative sharing leads to a better understanding and a true love.

God creates

Creating things is what God does.

We get to share in his own prerogative. We get to create our own fictional stories as well as our own personal story. I can think of no greater privilege than that.

When we destroy and kill, though, we undo the best of what it means to be human.

It makes me hate humanity. It makes me to sympathize with the Devil’s claim that humanity is not worth saving.

I love evil in a book. It’s known to be evil and is conquerable. When Evil is not a thing in a book, it’s scary, and cries out to God for a response. God, however, has made us the stewards of each other, which makes me realize how bad a job we’ve been doing.

A New Year, A New Project – Upheaval

Now that The Stitcher is finished and published, it’s time to get to work on the next book.


What if there were a creature living in the earth? What if all life on earth was born from its dreaming, and all world-wide destructive events were triggered by its waking up?

Gage is a fourteen year-old “delver,” recruited by the government to unearth relics of a past age which enjoyed greater technological capabilities than his own. With the help of his friends he finds the secret behind the Upheavals the world is experiencing: The creature is waking up! And to make it worse, his own government is doing everything they can to stop Gage from saving the world.

This novel is designed as for middle-grade readers, and its size is estimated to be 35,000 – 45,000 words.

Current Progress: 8,000 words. Lots of work to do!

What do you think of the concept for the story?