Monthly Archives: June 2012

Notes of A Storyteller: What Suzanne Collins Taught Me Not To Do

I should have known I was going to read The Hunger Games eventually. Back when Harry Potter got his first movie, I scoffed at the series and then blazed through the book like a wildfire. The pop culture sucked me in. Well, when Katniss Everdeen got her film debut a few months ago, I started scoffing again. So, naturally, when my little sister came home from Chicago with the book in her hand, I borrowed it from her and was done with it in a good 4-5 hours.

Like many things which I didn’t plan to do, I learned something from this. For those of you who haven’t heard, I’m writing the second novel of my own trilogy. Reading the first part of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy reminded me something about pacing: sometimes it can be too fast.

Katniss Everdeen is put into the Hunger Games at the end of the first chapter, and immediately she’s whisked away to the Capitol. She’s so busy getting dressed up, listening to Haymitch snarl about strategy, and preparing for the Games that I never get a chance to catch my breath. She has a moment with another tribute the night before the Games, but it’s not nearly long enough. There’s not enough detail. The scene comes and goes as quickly as the others.

Once we get into the Games, Katniss goes into survival mode, and events move even more quickly. It’s harrowing stuff, and marvelously entertaining, but I get the sense that it would have been even more harrowing and much more marvelously entertaining if I had had more time to get to know Katniss. Her story is too much of a blur for me to truly connect with her.

Perhaps I’m asking too much from a YA novel, but it has reminded me of something as I write some key scenes for my own novel, The Stand (Part Two of The Kingdom Trilogy). I must be careful with pacing. This is my second novel with my old friends Arman, Larsor, and Oarath, but I cannot stop delving into their characters. I need those little moments, the slow ones where nothing seems to be happening. Moments as trivial as drinking beer and watching a sunset.

Those are the moments where the reader spends time with a character and finds that he/she is just as interesting during ordinary times as he/she is during extraordinary times. With that discovery, the reader becomes truly invested with a character. What happens during the extraordinary times will have much more urgency.

The Hunger Games could not deliver that for me, and it is my fervent goal to achieve that with The Stand.

A Glass of Water Taught Me Something

A personal reflection from my Tumblr

“This morning, I discovered my little sister lying on the couch. Apparently, she had thrown up the night before, and wasn’t feeling that spiffy.

“You want a glass of water?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said.

I found one of the tallest glasses in the cupboard and turned on the faucet. It ran my finger through it, to make sure it was nice and cold. Then I filled the glass to the brim and added a straw. My sister thanked me and I walked away.

It took a while before I realized something. That glass of water is more important than anything I might write this week. I’m working on my second novel, but even if I win a Nobel Prize for it, it will never have the same impact as that act of kindness. It is not with the pen that I make meaning out of life, ultimately, but my heart.”

This is a message worth sharing with writers and readers alike. There are only so many words we can use before making ultimate sense of life. Books cannot be the whole of our discovery of existence. It must be acted out, each and every day. Take some time every day to withdraw from words, and find something nice to do for someone. We writers find that difficult sometimes, but I promise that it’s worth it.

Monday Meditations: The Fever

Did you ever think that you could relate 70’s rock music and ancient epic poetry? I dare you to think it. I was listening to one of my father’s favorite New Jersey bands this morning when I heard a love song that they played. It was brooding; it was obsessive; it was passionate. It reminded me, ever so slightly, of the restless passion Dido felt for Aeneas in Virgil’s The Aeneid. 

Nothing in the lyrics matches up, obviously. But the mood in that song and the mood in Dido’s story match up a little bit. There’s a driving flame of desire running through both. See for yourself.


“The Fever” by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes

Written by the great Bruce Springsteen, this song is impeccably smooth and stylish- and at the same time restless and unforgettable. It might one of the best songs about attraction I’ve ever heard. When you hear Johnny Lyons croon, “All I hear is you whisper in my ear / The words that you used to say,” you believe it.


“But anxious cares already seiz’d the queen: 
She fed within her veins a flame unseen; 
The hero’s valor, acts, and birth inspire 
Her soul with love, and fan the secret fire. 
His words, his looks, imprinted in her heart, 
Improve the passion, and increase the smart. 
Now, when the purple morn had chas’d away 
The dewy shadows, and restor’d the day, 
Her sister first with early care she sought, 
And thus in mournful accents eas’d her thought: 
“My dearest Anna, what new dreams affright 
My lab’ring soul! what visions of the night 
Disturb my quiet, and distract my breast 
With strange ideas of our Trojan guest! 
His worth, his actions, and majestic air, 
A man descended from the gods declare. 
Fear ever argues a degenerate kind; 
His birth is well asserted by his mind. 
Then, what he suffer’d, when by Fate betray’d! 
What brave attempts for falling Troy he made! 
Such were his looks, so gracefully he spoke, 
That, were I not resolv’d against the yoke 
Of hapless marriage, never to be curst 
With second love, so fatal was my first, 
To this one error I might yield again”

Virgil, Book IV of The Aeneid.

Found this while looking around this evening. Short, snappy, and memorable. I like it.


A wise old owl sat in an oak,
The more he heard, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard.
Why can’t we be like that old bird?Image

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Notes Of A Storyteller: Jumping Ahead

In winter 2006, my first attempt at the rough draft of The Quest (Part One of The Kingdom Trilogy) was met swiftly with writer’s block. Eventually, this forced to realize that I didn’t have to write The Quest all the way through. Whatever point in the story I felt like writing, I could write. If I was struggling with one chapter, I could start a new one with an entirely different focus, and still make progress. Delighted by the notion, I exercised it in the spring of 2007 and found myself clipping along very well.

Once I got Arman out of his hometown, it got easier to move forward. Establishing a canonical (pre-conflict existence) is fiendishly difficult. I wrote nine chapters, discarded five of them, and re-wrote significant portions of the rest before I was satisfied. I’m glad I took care of the big chapters before going back into that rock pile. Besides, the chapter I wrote after jumping ahead turned out great. In fact, it remains one of my favorite chapters from The Quest to this day.

Now that I look back on writing The Quest, I wish that I had jumped around even more. As a first-time novelist- worse yet, a teenage novelist who had jumped in head-first without doing his homework- I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. When I got Arman on the move, I spent weeks striving for interesting things for him to do in the cities he visited. If I had jumped around even more, writing about different scenes instead of stubbornly hitting my head against one scene, I might have gotten a better perspective on my story sooner.

It sure would have saved me a lot of re-writing.

That’s why I’m reprising this method for The Stand. I have a much clearer idea of what I’m trying to achieve with this story, but I think the jumping will still help. Yesterday I finished a chapter where Menemaeus reveals something to Arman that makes his life even more miserable than it already is. It’s several chapters ahead of the other ones that I’ve written thus far, but that’s exactly what I want.

Writing that chapter now will give me more confidence when I go back to the earlier chapters. I’ll have an even clearer idea of what mood I need to put on those scenes, to make them lead up to the big denouement that I’ve already written. It’s one thing to have the vision of the denouement in my head; it’s something else entirely to have it on paper already and set in stone.

I’m going to keep this up for the rest of the summer. I might even write all of the biggest chapters first. That denouement chapter came out well. I was so enthusiastic that I posted something yesterday to revel in my pride. That encourages me to keep jumping around. 

Another Chapter

I was so happy to finish my chapter that I posted this on the Tumblr

“There is a special feeling you get when you finish a chapter that you’re halfway happy with. I’m writing my second novel, and I can tell you that it never gets old.

When it hits, a sense of completeness washes over me. I haven’t just written 5-8 pages on Microsoft Word; I’ve expressed a complete thought, which is better than 500-800 Microsoft Word pages of rambling. Energy floods back into my bones. Pride surges through my chest. I have sat in my chair for hours, lapsing in and out of distractions, frustrations, and setbacks- and now it’s all been turned to gold, because I got the task done.

Of course, when I go back a day or so later, I’m going to hate it. That’s life for a writer. For right now, though, there are few things on earth that make me more happy.”

Monday Meditations: Mumford and Sons and Telemachus

Like many college students, a friend and I got into Mumford and Sons last year. We also got into Greek poetry, thanks to the head of Benedictine College’s English Department. It was only a matter of time before the two collided. My friend realized that a Mumford and Sons song tells a story with a strong connection to Telemachus from The Odyssey. After listening to the song again, my face lit up and I agreed.


“Dust Bowl Dance” by Mumford and Sons.

This is my personal favorite from Sigh No More, the debut album from Mumford and Sons. Now that I see the Telemachus connection, the deal is sealed. “The days were short and the father was gone” makes me think of fatherless Telemachus from the get-go. The connection only grows more Ithacan as we pass the chorus…

“Well, you are my accuser, now look in my face
Your opression reeks of your greed and disgrace
So one man has and another has not
How can you love what it is you have got
When you took it all from the weak hands of the poor?
Liars and thieves you know not what is in store”

If that doesn’t describe Antinous and Eurymachus, I don’t know what does. Check out a select quote from Pope’s translation, if you’re not yet sold.


“There young Telemachus, his bloomy face

Glowing celestial sweet, with godlike grace

Amid the circle shines: but hope and fear

(Painful vicissitude!) his bosom tear.

Now, imaged in his mind, he sees restored

In peace and joy the people’s rightful lord;

The proud oppressors fly the vengeful sword.”

Homer’s The Odyssey, translated by Alexander Pope.

5 Reasons Why Hollywood Is Harmful

Recently, I kicked off Chapter 4 on The Stand (Part Two of The Kingdom Trilogy). This resulted in much excitement and adrenaline…

… until one of my writing breaks took me to Rotten Tomatoes, and from thence to the news that Adam Sandler is helping produce a movie about Tonka toy trucks. Usually, I sneer derisively at this news and carry on with my day. However, today does not feel like a “usually” kind of day. I’m a writer and a storyteller. Hollywood has long perverted things that I find important. Here’s 5 reasons why bad movies are a serious problem.

1) They encourage shallow thinking. Nobody goes to Transformers  or Cars 2 looking for anything but visual spectacle- and brand name. Even films like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings owe a lot to brand name and spectacle. It seems like it does not matter if a story is well-told, as long as it is accompanied by pretty lights and a connection to something already popular in the culture. That is an insult against our ability to take a chance on new things and enjoy them. With every sequel and threequel to come along, we are getting ever more accustomed to familiarity and not quality.

2) They wastte screenwriters’ time. If we are willing to settle for effects-driven films, why bother having a plot in the first place? Just stage huge demolition derbies and put them to screen. My ideals of screenwriters and their sacred duty to write compelling scripts may be too lofty, but I don’t care. That’s what they would truly be happy doing. Seriously. If you wrote the dialogue for Ice Age 2, would you feel satisfied with your life?

3) Such films aren’t as rewarding as an authentically good film. In the spring, I sat down at a local cinema to see The Artist; two hours later, I walked out of that theater in awe. New life ran through me. There is something about a poignant story, well-told, that leaves an impact on the person who hears it. Watch the marriage montage from Up if you don’t believe me. Then watch G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra. How can you give films like that the time of day when there is something else out there that is so much better?

4) They make Hollywood more expensive. Spectacle is one of cinema’s most unique strengths, but it costs money. Ever since the success of Jaws and Star Wars, the concept of the “blockbuster” has promoted an arms race that has cost millions of dollars. Would studios truly have to spend as much if they put their emphasis on plot and not spectacle? Audiences would appreciate that, and they’d pay for it. Over time, studios wouldn’t have as many pictures which required mountains of CGI and fireworks. That’s a wild generalization, but isn’t worth investigating?

5) They anger writers like me. I try not to brag, but The Quest is better than Project X. For the simple fact that I tried to write something to comment on the human condition, my story is better than a dozen films I could mention. There are thousands of people like me across the globe. Odds are their ideas are even better than mine. Imagine what ideas like those could if they only had a chance. How can they ever have a chance with remakes, sequels like Jackass 4, and an adaptation of the non-fiction Guinness World Book of Records coming up?

Something Which I Have Never Done Before

A few days ago, J.C. Martin presented me with an odd gift. She calls it a blog award. I’ve seen others use it, but I have never taken part myself. Martin’s award to me is the “Inspiring Blog Award”. The idea is that I post a JPG telling you guys that someone finds me inspiring.


In due 21st-century fashion, I also tell you 7 personal, “inter-related” facts about myself, and proceed to find seven other people to pass this thing on to. Seeing as Mrs. Martin is releasing a novel pretty soon, I’ll withhold the snarky remarks and go along with it. 

1. I am determined not to drink alcohol until I turn 21, when I may legally do so.

2. In the meantime, I love cream soda and need good people around me to stop me from drinking too much.

3. While I drink this cream soda, I like to talk with friends about movies and argue with them about why Batman Begins is better than The Dark Knight.

4. I like watching movies in general, because they can convey some things in stories much more memorably than I can with words.

5. I like listening to music, especially when it comes for free on Spotify. Alternative rock is a woefully under-used source of inspiration for fantasy novels, from where I stand.

6. Heavy metal isn’t half-bad either when you’re writing battle sequences.

7. Recently, I’ve relished “Cry Thunder” by Dragonforce and “Devastator” by For Today.

Now, for seven people to dump this on… let’s see… this is all in good sport, of course…

Jason McKinney, Lyn Midnight, Sting In The Tail, Corinne Driscoll, Kimberly Kinrade, Dmytry Karpov, and Emlyn Chand.

That was entertaining. Now, back to writing The Stand. Stay tuned for Notes Of A Storyteller tomorrow!

Monday Meditations: Samuel Barber

Get melancholy, people.


“Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber


“Where now are the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the harp on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the deadwood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Two Towers