Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Heaven Is for Real–I Know This Firsthand

Heaven Is For RealAfter reading the book, Heaven Is for Real by Todd Burpo (with Lynn Vincent,) I was struck once again by the fact that this world is not our home. “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come” (Hebrews 13:14 NLT.) I’ve witnessed this first hand.

I’ve had three encounters with the unseen world in my lifetime.

“Who is with you?” the nurse asked. “Jesus,” she replied.

  • My husband’s grandmother lay in a hospital room dying. She’d always been afraid of death, afraid of the cold ground, afraid to be left alone. She was a believer, but this one promise eluded her. Her roommate suddenly died in the night. The nurses, aware of Grandma’s fear, asked if she’d like to be removed from the room. Grandma smiled sweetly and said, “No, I’m alright. He’s here with me.” She gazed at the corner of the room, the bare corner. “Who is with you?” the nurse asked. “Jesus,” she replied. Grandma saw Jesus, who had come to allay her fears, perhaps instruct her that she need not be afraid. Grandma died a few days later. Her face, that had been pinched in pain for many years now looked like that of a much younger woman. Pain and wrinkle free, the thing that struck us most was the absolute peace draped over her body like fine linen. Grandma had seen Jesus, and He had taken her home.

“It’s okay, …I know I’m going to heaven.”

  • My grandfather, also lay in a hospital room dying. Grandpa was a self-proclaimed atheist. As my mother visited in those final days, she would ask him if she could tell him about Jesus. He’d refuse every time. His last day, she came in and insisted she talk to him before he left her. He smiled and said, “It’s okay, Kathy was here. We talked and I know I’m going to heaven.” Thing is, I’m the Kathy to whom he referred, and I was over 5500 miles away in Germany. The day before, my mother had called to tell me Grandpa was dying. I knew he hadn’t accepted Christ as his Savior. More than wanting to keep him with me, I wanted his salvation because I know I will see my loved ones again—and this loved one was especially dear to me. I stood in my kitchen that evening, cleaning up after supper and praying, when I suddenly stopped and gasped. “Please don’t let Grandpa slip into eternity without knowing You!” Then, peace entered my being. The next day my mother called. Grandpa had died. I began grieving, knowing he was gone—forever. But then she told me the account that I mentioned above. He had seen me, Kathy. We talked. Mom and I compared when that conversation might have happened, and we determined it was at the same time I gasped that prayer. Now, I don’t know if it was really me, an angel that looked like me, or even perhaps the sister who had died five years before I was born and could have been my twin. I don’t know. But God knows. He sent someone in there who looked like me because, quite frankly, I had my Grandpa wrapped around my finger. How could he say no to me?

Whoever this was stood by his side, and he was filled with peace.

  • My father, a strong man of faith, lay in a hospital room dying . He was in Oregon, I was in Florida. I promised my mom that I would be there as soon as I could get a flight out. When I arrived, she met me at the airport. Before my bags even arrived she told me to brace myself. Immediately, I imagined the worst. My daddy had slipped away before I could say goodbye. But, no. She said that, the night before, she told him I was coming. He looked confused. He said, “But Kathy was already here.” She argued, repeating that I was on the way and that my flight would arrive the next day. He shook his head. Apparently I—or the angel, or my sister—visited him. Whoever this was stood by his side, and he was filled with peace. It would be several weeks before he walked into eternity. My mom and sister (the living one) took nighttime vigils with him the last few days so he wouldn’t be alone. One night, he stirred and I stood by his side. When he saw me, he startled. I stroked his hand and said, “It’s okay, Dad. It’s me, Kathy.” A look of relief flooded his face. It could be my writer’s imagination, but did he think I was that other Kathy who had come to usher him home? At that point, I don’t believe he was ready to leave Mom yet.

Little Colton Burpo has it right. Heaven is for real. It thrills me that his story is being made into a motion picture. I may, someday, put my experiences with the after-life into a book, but for now, I pray that everyone goes to see this movie.

How important is it to get our stories of faith out there? According to Entertainment Weekly, the director, Randal Wallace (Secretariat)  was quoted: “I’m amazed it got to me. I’ve been around churches all my life and I’ve been exposed to a lot of material that would be categorized as inspirational. Most of the stuff is anything but inspirational for me. But I found this story to have an incredible intrigue and emotional power,” he said. “It speaks to the cynic in most of us.”

Here is the trailer of Heaven Is for Real. Just watching it brought tears to my eyes. I have a feeling I will be a mess when I see this in the theater.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Original Story Ideas—A Sarcastic Woody?

Toy StoryI’ve been working on a story idea for eight years. It started out as an apple seed and has grown into a maple sapling. How did that happen? Apparently this is normal in the writing world.

The Pixar giant, Toy Story (1995), was originally pitched as a sequel to the Pixar short, Tin Toy (1988), where the title character, Tinny, gets lost on a family trip and ends up joining forces with a sarcastic ventriloquist dummy in search of a new home.

What? That is nothing like the Toy Story we all know and love.

Neither is another idea that was scrapped. Shortly after the familiar characters were established, Pixar presented a draft to Disney in 1993 where Woody’s character was a sarcastic jerk who insulted the other toys. Again—what? Apparently, the film was deemed unwatchable. Imagine that?

If it takes highly paid professionals several stabs at coming up with a workable storyline, there is hope for the rest of us.

Go to “33 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Toy Story Trilogy” to find out thirty-two other things you probably didn’t know about Toy Story. If you’re really a Pixar geek, be sure to scroll down to the comments and see the corrections to this list that Craig Good, the supervising layout artist offers.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mandy Patinkin’s Favorite Line From The Princess Bride

The Princess BrideAnd it’s not what you think.

Kinda cool when a writer’s words impact the actors who say them years later. Strive to write words that make impact.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Gravity–Don’t Let Go

GravityLately, I’ve been obsessed with the inner and outer journeys of characters. The methods to learn these journeys are out there. There is GMC (Goal, Motivation, and Conflict), Identity and Essence, Hero’s Journey/Character Arc. We’ve plotted out their skeletons. We’ve drawn their lives on snowflakes. We’ve interviewed them asking increasingly hard questions. I can’t stress enough how important it is to not only see a character move across the page, but we must know why they are moving.

I usually tout DreamWorks or Pixar for creating story lines that are so pure in their simplicity that they’re easy to pick apart and learn how to do all of the above. Who knew a complex movie, such as Gravity—that took the powers-that-be four years just to come up with the technology to film it—would also illustrate the outer and inner journeys so beautifully.

Beware. Major spoilers ahead. To see my safe movie review go to Theater Popcorn in my Teeth.

With only two characters on camera, and one of them George Clooney doing his trademark shallow loveable annoying guy shtick, it stands to reason that the other character would have depth. Clooney’s character, Matt Kowalski, is a veteran shuttle commander on his last mission. Sandra Bullock’s character is Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first mission. Bullock’s story is the one we’re interested in because it has depth.

I found it interesting that the tag line for the movie, Gravity, is “Don’t let go,” and one of the quotes as said by Clooney to Bullock is, “You have to learn to let go.” Opposite thoughts, yet they encompass Bullock’s character, Ryan, completely. One represents the outer journey, the other the inner journey.

First, the outer journey, or the actions of the character (movement on the page.) Ryan is on her first shuttle mission, servicing the Hubble Space Telescope. She, along with Matt and a third astronaut named Shariff, are spacewalking. Ryan and Shariff are working on panels while Matt is trying to break the spacewalking record by circling the shuttle in his jetted suit. The unthinkable happens and a Russian missile strike on a defunct satellite creates a debris field and Houston aborts the mission. The debris hits, taking out Shariff first, and Ryan is flung into the darkness with nothing but Matt in her ear via the radio trying to calm her down. He manages to reach her and pull her back to the shuttle, but it has been destroyed. They decide to try to make it to the ISS (International Space Station,) using Matt’s thrusters, which run out of juice, but they are still able to drift toward their goal. The crew has evacuated in one of the modules, and the second module has apparently accidentally deployed its parachute and is useless for returning to earth. It can, however be used to reach the Chinese space station to retrieve another module. As the two astronauts pass by the ISS they must grab hold of it or they will miss it entirely. Ryan gets tangled in the tethers of the deployed parachute, but grabs Matt before he drifts away. Matt tells her she must let go to save herself as he is pulling her out with him. (Now, here is one of the goofs, one that my practical hubby jumped on right away. You can read about it at IMDb.) Matt unhooks from Ryan and quips about being assured of breaking the spacewalking record. The rest of the movie is about Ryan trying to stay alive and her physically demanding attempts to get back to earth. . .alone, because she is now the sole survivor.

Now for the internal journey, or the “why” of the character (why she does the things she does.) When Ryan and Matt are making their way slowly to the ISS, he gets her talking. All we know at this point is that she doesn’t like his country music and she seems hyper-serious. We also know that she’s a perfectionist because she had refused to abort the mission until her job was done. She tells Matt that she is named Ryan because her father wanted a boy. Could this be why she’s a perfectionist? Trying all her life to live up to Daddy’s expectations? Hmm… This drive is what helps her outer journey of not letting go. We also learn that she had a daughter who had died in a schoolyard accident. Now we know why she’s serious and why Matt’s charm falls flat. She’s still grieving, and she must learn to let go.

From the time Ryan begins her fight to stay alive, (her outer journey,) what is really happening on the inside is that she’d be just as fine dying to be with her daughter. Yes, she fights like crazy, making her way to the Chinese space station because her perfectionist nature is driving her. (The character has a reason—inner journey—for why she does the things she does—outer journey.) However, she is soon out of options. The module’s thrusters are out of fuel. She makes the decision to give up and turn off the oxygen so she can drift away into eternal sleep. Enter Matt knocking on the portal. He enters and gives her a pep talk using his witty charm. He also tells her of a trick to get the module going again. (This is what is referred to as “the help” where the character is helped by someone to make their final decision. This help can be an actual person, a voice from the past, or, as in this case, a near-death hallucination.) Ryan wakes up and realizes Matt isn’t really there, but his voice is still in her head. She rallies and manages to turn the oxygen back on. In doing so, she makes the decision to continue fighting for her own life (outer journey,) but to let her daughter go (inner journey.) She looks toward heaven and talks to Matt, asking him to find her daughter. She has now fully dedicated herself to healing, knowing that her trusted mentor will be with her daughter.

Note how simple Ryan’s journeys are. She’s a perfectionist because of her father, which helps her outer journey of “don’t let go.” She’s grieving, which dictates her inner journey of “learn to let go.” Director Alfonso CuarĂ³n has said that the thematic element of the film is “the possibility of rebirth after adversity.” What better way to show this than to heal the inner journey through outer conflict?

As we watch movies and read books, we need to be aware of the outer and inner journeys. A good story will have both, and we need to be sure our own characters not only move on the page, but have a reason to do so.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

S.H.I.E.L.D. Hits the Market!

Agents of SHIELDOkay, I’m turning out to be a huge Marvel movie geek. Yes, I’ve seen every Marvel movie in the franchise for the last 150 years. Yes, I’ve had the debate over who makes the best Hulk: Bill Bixby (of TV fame,) Edward Norton, or Mark Ruffalo. Sorry, Hulk Hogan wasn’t even in the running. (By the way, Ruffalo wins with Bixby a close second.) Yes, I DVR’d Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and couldn’t wait to view it.

I have another reason, however, for desiring to watch the most anticipated new fall premier, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I was so hoping it would erase every horrible memory of Heroes, the television series that freaked me out from 2006-2010. No, I didn’t watch all of the episodes. Even so, Zachary Quinto’s character, Sylar, often showed up in my nightmares with his X-Acto knife glare. Those nightmares stopped after he became Spock, much to my relief. I had great hopes that S.H.I.E.L.D would be the show I thought Heroes would be. With quippy lines and perfect puns, tongue-in-cheek references to super heroes and comic book action brought to life.

And it delivered.

Now, seven years after the Heroes debut, someone has listened to my whine. Thank you Joss Whedon, for creating a show for those of us who want to be entertained, not grossed out.

What does this have to do with the craft of writing? As popular as Heroes was, it missed a huge target market—the comic book fans. It created it’s own heroes and villains, and not one of them, in my opinion, were comic book worthy. Save the cheerleader? Seriously? (My apologies to the fans, but I’m sorry, I just didn’t get it.) S.H.I.E.L.D. opened to a 4.6 viewer rating, the highest debut show in nearly four years. True, Heroes opened in 2006 with the much higher rating of 6.09, but it steadily declined with each season, ending season four with a 2.27. I don’t think I was the only one disappointed.

When we write our stories, we must consider our target audience. I have written six sweet, safe romances for Barbour Publishing. I may have pushed against the cellophane wall a time or two, wanting to put a little more edge into my books, but I always knew that the Barbour audience wanted sweet, safe romances. So that’s what I gave them. However, my desire is to include more of life’s questions, hopefully with answers. I’m working on a fun mystery series with hopefully plenty of humor, but I plan to include some deep issues, as well. Hence my tag line, Spiritual Truth With A Giggle. This one will probably not be pitched to Barbour.

The take-away is this: Stay within your genre and know your target audience. Don’t put an abortion in a sweet prairie romance. Likewise, don’t make your edgy sci-fi something your grandmother would read, unless, of course, she’s into that sort of thing. Do your homework, and don’t fight your publisher when they say your story isn’t a good fit for them. They know who their market is.

I have high hopes that S.H.I.E.L.D. will stay tops in the ratings as long as it stays true to its genre. With a tagline of “Not all heroes are super,” I imagine it will highlight those in the support field of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) But if they’re smart, they’ll remember their target audience and give them plenty of Marvel-ous wit, charm, and super heroes.

Friday, August 9, 2013

How Sylvester Stallone Got His Spirituality Back

Rocky BalboaI’m often asked how I can weave the spiritual thread into my stories. For me, it’s easy because I write for a Christian publisher. I can get away with conversion scenes and church settings. But, how does one put a spiritual theme into a story not intended for a spiritual audience?

In the following interview with Pat Roberson of CBN, Sylvester Stallone explains why he wanted to make the final installment of the Rocky franchise, Rocky Balboa. CBN TV - Sylvester Stallone on Faith, Integrity, and Rocky. It goes down to Sly’s roots, his personal journey, his failures, his triumphs. In short, the best way to include a spiritual thread is to draw on your own worldview. (I define the Christian worldview as believing in Biblical moral truth. God is real. Satan is real. Redemption is needed.) This is true for stories targeting the Christian market as well as those that are not.

When my friend and writing partner, Paula Moldenhauer, and I decided to write Titanic: Legacy of Betrayal, we made a consciousTitanicCover_022812_FullSize decision to not write it solely for the Christian market. We wanted people of all faiths, including atheism, to be able to read it and not feel preached at. Inside the pages, we have included a character trying to find her way, a character who knows who he is but has lost his purpose, and a character who is full of pride to the point of destruction. Our worldview is all over these characters. Blatant? I hope not.

Look closely to any movie and you will no doubt see the author’s and/or director’s worldview. I’ve been confused about director, M. Night Shyamalan’s worldview. His movie, Signs, however bizarre, suggested there was a God in the universe and Mel Gibson’s character needed to get back to Him quickly. Upon researching Shyamalan, I discovered that he was born into a Hindu household, but “he attended the private Roman Catholic grammar school Waldron Mercy Academy, followed by the Episcopal Academy, a private Episcopal high school located at the time in Merion, Pennsylvania.” No wonder I was confused. He tends to put everything he believes into his stories.

I challenge you to find other books and movies that include the Christian worldview without claiming to be a full-on spiritual movie. Find those that probably won’t be viewed in the church basement. There are those out there, and they are perfectly fine. Movies like Courageous, Blind Side, and Les Miserable come to mind. But what about less obvious films? Captain America, Man of Steel, The Green Mile?

Another article on Sylvester Stallone’s faith can be read here. I encourage us all to pray for individuals in Hollywood. It’s a tough place to maintain their Christian worldview, but once they fully embrace it, what a difference they will be able to make!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Pixar Easter Eggs–An Interesting (and Geeky) Explanation

Pixar_WallpaperI love Easter eggs! And not just the boiled variety. Wikipedia defines an Easter egg as “an intentional inside joke, hidden message, or feature in a work such as a computer program, movie, book, or crossword.” The Pixar franchise is full of ‘em. I gotta hand it to the folks at Pixar. They have a lot of fun weaving these things into their stories. Case in point, my favorite of what I’ve seen so far:


The first image is a dilapidated abandoned trailer in a Bug’s Life. The second is from Monsters Inc. where Randall, the chameleon-like monster is sent through one of his doors. Note also the vehicle to the left of the trailer. It’s the Pizza Planet delivery truck from Toy Story.

Way cool, huh?

A quick Google search of Pixar Easter eggs brings up a few sites by people dedicated to all things…um…Pixar. Apparently they have nothing better to do. However, look at me reporting on them when I should be writing my next novel!

I have attempted to plant an Easter egg myself. (Which begs the question, does one plant an Easter egg or lay it?)  In my fifth novel, Fine, Feathered Friend, Glenys, my actress heroine, has a best friend, Trista Farentino. Trista was in the movie in which my actor hero in my first novel, Merely Players, starred. When I introduce the hero, Brick, in Merely Players, I do it through a scene of a movie. We find out later that he’s screening the movie in it’s premier. In this scene, Brick’s spy character (a la Bond) jumps into the ocean. Here’s that scene:

“No! No! No!” The woman’s scream came from inside a helicopter as it lifted from the roof of the building. Dan ran to it, grabbing the skid just in time. He dangled over the Pacific Ocean as his black tuxedo jacket flapped in the gust of wind caused by the chopper blades. In two fluid motions, he was inside. His nemesis, the pock-faced Shark Finlay, grinned at him with sharp, crooked teeth, then leered at the woman, tied up in the back of the bubble.

Dan kicked at his enemy in an effort to gain control of the aircraft. Shark snapped at his foot with broad jaws.

“You scuffed my shoe, Sharky. You’ll pay for that.”

“No worries, Mate.” With a gleam in his eye, Shark tipped the helicopter, causing the woman to tumble out the open door.

Dan’s head swiveled from Shark to where the woman had just disappeared. “You’ve left me in a quandary, Sharky. Should I stay and bring you to justice, or save a damsel in distress?” He made a quick decision, grabbed the sides of the door, and placed his feet on the skid. “See you in Sidney.”

After a graceful swan dive, he swam to the woman. With a single swish of the hidden titanium blade in his watch, he released her before she drowned.

She threw her arms around his neck. “Thank you, Agent Danger, you saved my life.”

“You know who I am. Who are you?” They bobbed in the water, a fishing boat already chugging up to them.

“I’m Agent Risk, the rookie.”

With a swarthy raise of his brow, he said, “I wish I knew the Risk before I jumped in.”

The scene faded with a long shot of Australia, and the words:




Wild applause thundered in the auditorium where the premiere of the third movie in the series, Danger on the High Seas, had just played. Brick Connor sulked in his seat and turned to the man who had played the villain, his best friend and mentor, Vince Galloway. He leaned in, speaking for Vince’s ears only, “And for this we get paid the big bucks?”

Skip forward to Fine, Feathered Friend. It’s no secret that I kinda like movies, so it’s natural for me to put actors in my books. (Side note: My son, Joey Kovach, is a stage actor currently preparing for his first cabaret in New York, NY called I Changed the Rules . Chip off the old block!) Enter Glenys who introduces her friend to Tim (the hero in Fine, Feathered Friend.)  Incidentally, Fine, Feathered Friend is about an actress afraid of birds who enlists the help of a bird trainer afraid of actresses. Here is the Easter egg scene:

As he replaced the sheet over the cage, Glenys entered the clinic with a woman in tow. By her expensive-looking gold hoop earrings, leather jacket, and designer jeans, he wondered if she was an investor. “Tim, this is my friend, Trista Farentino. Mandy showed her around yesterday. She’s going to take over my duties.”

Wearing that?

“You look familiar.” He searched his memory.

She tittered and struck a paparazzi pose. “Did you see my latest movie, Love Stinks? It was a romantic comedy.”

Another actress. He shook his head. Lord, what are you doing to me?

She placed a manicured finger on her chin. “Hm. You don’t look like the romantic comedy type. I was also in several adventure movies, including Danger Down Under, the third in that franchise. I played Agent Risk. Did you see that one?”

“No. I don’t have time to go to the movies.” Two actresses. Two thorns in his side. Suddenly remembering where he saw her, he snapped his fingers. “You were on the news last night.”

These books were published four years apart. Did I get a bunch of fan mail telling me how clever I was? Um…no. But that’s not why I did it. It was simply fun to revisit my first story and give a little nod to the book that helped me realize the desire of my heart.

Back to Pixar. Follow this link to see an article on 50 Best Pixar Easter Eggs. But the title of my blog article, “Pixar Easter Eggs–An Interesting (and Geeky) Explanation,”  actually alludes to the blog article by Jon Negroni at this link. Talk about too much time on your hands! Negroni strings together an amazing conspiracy theory on how Pixar animals can talk, how time travel is possible, and how machines are taking over the world. It’s a fun tribute and not meant to be taken seriously, but really, I wish this guy was investigating our government. Wow! The article is longish, but well worth it if you love Pixar as much as I do.


You can find Fine, Feathered Friend on my Amazon page. It has also been bundled into Oregon Weddings, which includes two more fun stories. Or click on the image to be taken directly to the order page.

Fine Feathered Friend


Merely Players is now available on Kindle on Amazon.

Merely Players

Friday, July 12, 2013

Dustin Hoffman Rejects “Suspension of Disbelief” (Tootsie)


There’s a video going viral. It was first published on December 17, 2012 and is a clip from the American Film Institute (AFI) archives. You can see the three minute interview on YouTube. Dustin Hoffman accounts his discussion with the producers of Tootsie. Regarding his character, Dorothy Michaels, if he was going to make the movie he’d have to be the best woman he could be. He would not want to suspend the audience’s believability (in the writer’s vernacular, suspension of disbelief,) and he would have to know that if he walked down the street, no one would say, “Look at that guy in drag.”

I love that dedication. We, as authors, too often want to take the easy way and employ the plot trick “suspension of disbelief.” Sometimes it’s called for, such as when aliens attacked cowboys in the Harrison Ford Sci-Fi Cowboys & Aliens. Or anything having to do with zombies or other-worldly characters. I get that. But at times, we would rather manipulate our research to fit our story than to go the extra mile and make it as true as we possibly can. This, in a sense, is what Hoffman was wanting to avoid.

A well-known editor once told a group of us in her workshop that she had to reject a story because the author had put a “winding and treacherous highway” between Denver and Colorado Springs. Um…they were talking about Interstate 25, and it’s no more winding and treacherous than my driveway. However, they “needed” a winding and treacherous road to fit their story. Anyone living in Colorado or who has visited that area would have been completely thrown out of the story. I, for one, would have lost all respect for that author.smaller

Having said that, (yes, here comes my disclaimer,) when I wrote Fine, Feathered Friend, which is one of three books included in Oregon Weddings, I wanted to set my story in the Crater Lake area. The major setting was a Raptor Rescue Center. There is no such place in the Crater Lake area. I had to use the one in Eugene, Oregon as my template and move it to where I needed it. This, to me, is similar to watching Dustin Hoffman put on the character of Dorothy Michaels. I knew he was a man. The writers never wanted the audience to believe otherwise. But everyone in the story (aside from his friend and sidekick, Bill Murray,) believed he was a woman. I made sure I mentioned in my acknowledgements that it was the Cascades Raptor Center in Eugene that I used as research so my readers wouldn’t go flocking (sorry for the pun) to Crater Lake to visit the center. Since I never received hate mail, I believe thisCLEAREST pic worked.

So, basically, know when it’s okay to break the rules, but don’t cheat your reader. Or your editor, because if it doesn’t get past her, it won’t even make it to a reader.

But the above lesson isn’t why the video is going viral. If you haven’t seen it yet, please take the time. Hoffman becomes emotional as he explains how becoming a less desirable woman affected him, and females around the Webiverse are rejoicing. I hope they show it to the men in their lives, as well.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Despicable Me 2–A Review

Despicable Me 2I found Despicable Me 2 a fun nod to my favorite spy movies with a twist of single parenthood. Imagine, if you will, James Bond with kids. . .and minions. Well, it wasn’t quite as intense as a James Bond movie, but really, the fact that Gru is a reformed villain recruited to save the world is only a secondary plot.

There are three things going on, and Pixar weaves them beautifully. First, the afore-mentioned spy plot. Second, Gru’s attempt to run a home-based business while raising. . .

To read full review:

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Monsters University–A Review

Monster University

Went to see Monsters University with the grandkiddos the other day. It held everyone’s attention except the three-year-old. However, that was mostly in the slower moments when she wanted to practice her gymnastics on the bar in front of us. We sat in the first row of the raised seats. Apologies to the family behind us. . .

To see the full review, please visit Theater Popcorn in my Teeth.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Boldly Go. . .

Star Trek tv. . .and check out the article written by Thomas Smith at the Writer’s Digest website. 4 THINGS STAR TREK CAN TEACH US ABOUT WRITING

This is one of those articles I wish I had written. Not only is the advice great, but the author’s writing style made me giggle. And we all know how much I love to giggle.

I may be a junior officer, but I’d like to add to Captain Thomas Smith’s advice.

Lesson 5: The Trouble with Tribbles
In my vernacular, Weasel Words. These are words that weasel their way into our writing. They are weak, passive words that lend nothing to the meaning of the sentence. The standards among many are: that, just, really, very, suddenly, actually, extremely, literally. You get the point. They can also be your favorite phrases. Mine could vary from book to book. My critique partners are always quick to point out when my characters have “forked” their dinner too many times. Or when they “laugh/smile/blink/nod” too much. Don’t get me wrong, the tribble episode was my favorite, but when those cuddly chirping fur balls created havoc as they showed up in the Enterprise’s mechanical system, even I could see why they had to go. 
Three excellent articles on Weasel Words:

Lesson 6: The Vulcan Mind-Meld
I could do an entire lesson on the Vulcan himself. From when and when not to show emotion to when it’s okay to break the rules. Those Vulcans! So disciplined! On to the Mind-Meld. Wikipedia defines it as, “a technique for sharing thoughts, experiences, memories, and knowledge with another individual, essentially a limited form of telepathy.” Okay. This is a personal problem for me. Mind-melds can only be done person to person/alien/whale. I am sometimes so intent on figuring out what my characters are thinking that I fail to share what I learn with the rest of the reading audience. Cue the critique partners. “But what is she thinking, Kathy?” My answer: “Isn’t it obvious?” The looks on their faces: Um, no. Fine. I rewrite to show a vein in my character’s jawline darken, or to show his shoulder blades turn to concrete blocks upon mention of his mother. Note, during the mind-meld process there is no explaining. Spock: “I’m going to do this weird thing to your face and then you’re going to tell me how you feel.” No, it’s all done without words. Telepathy, if you will, but I and my Christian community will ignore that idea. My point is, don’t expect your readers to know what your character is feeling. You must show us.

Lesson 7: Take Command of the Situation
Every commander in the Star Trek fleet over the years have had the unique ability to command under pressure. Even in the parody, Galaxy Quest, Commander Jason Nesmith was able to lead his rag-tag team of actors to defeat the evil grasshopper/locust/katydid alien Sarris. If any crew member refused to do their job and stomp off set…er, I mean command deck, the captain would simply order him to the brig and replace him, or do the job himself. Sometimes, our characters want to take over. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a new writer say, “I don’t know what to do with Emmie May. She wants all the attention. Now I don’t know who my main character is.” My advice? I wouldn’t order Emmie to the brig, but I would give her a stern talking to. In my first published book, Merely Players, my heroine’s best friend was so fun she kept stealing all of the scenes. I had to bring her down a notch. Yes, I had to cut some fun stuff, but none of that was lending to the development of my main character. And that is, ladies and gentlemen, the point of the story. Yes, we want to get know Emmie. She’s a great gal who lets us see how even greater our protagonist is. And who knows, if you plan it right, Emmie May could have her own story some day.

Lesson 8: He’s Dead, Jim
No, I’m not talking about killing off your characters, although some may deserve to die. I want to address those favorite scenes that have no place in your story. William Faulkner called it, “Killing off your darlings.” They may be funny, dramatic, or pithy. (I’ve been waiting throughout this entire article to say pithy.) But they don’t carry the story forward. Remember, your job as an author is to move the plot forward. If you find a scene in your political thriller that takes place in a trailer park in Hoboken, New Jersey, it had better be where the terrorist is hanging out. If it’s about the bum on the street who got shot in the crossfire and has now gone back to his family to tell them about the million dollar settlement he just received, well, it has to go.

I started out with this blog post to simply share a cool link on things Star Trek can teach us in writing, but it looked so fun I had to try it myself. Now, I have to come up out of the blogosphere to deal with the real world of writing, namely, preparing for a workshop and writing my own novel. So, in the iconic words of Captain Kirk:

“Beam me up, Scotty.”

Monday, June 10, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness–New Review

Star Trek Into the Darkness

Wow! That was a fun ride! Lots of action, plenty of emotion, and a poignant tribute to the original series. I’m always skeptical with the second installment in a franchise, although lately, I may have to rethink that. Hollywood has stepped up, at least with some of the series I have seen recently, and seem to regard story first and money second. Okay, a close second, but still.

Read more at Theater Popcorn in my Teeth

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

An Unconventional Love Triangle

Iron Man 3

Yes, Iron Man 3 is an action movie. Yes, there are a lot of things that blow up, melt down, and generally create havoc. But I want to concentrate on the love triangle.

What love triangle, you ask? Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, played by Robert Downey, Jr. and Gwenyth Paltrow are two of the components, but who, or maybe what, is the third?

Here’s a hint. What is the opening scene? It’s the suits. (This scene, by the way, is also a foreshadowing of events. But that’s a subject for another day.)

Pepper is jealous of Tony’s iron suits and the amount of time he spends with them. In one scene, she walks in where one of the suits is sitting on the couch. It flirts with her, and we think Tony is in the suit, but he is controlling it from his lab. She confronts him. In another scene, one of the suits picks up on Tony’s nightmare and it goes to attack Pepper thinking her a threat. However, to be fair, when the house is under a real attack, Tony commands the Mark 42 suit to attach to Pepper so she is protected from falling debris, and in return, she hovers above him to protect him.

The suits are the bane of Pepper’s existence. But Tony can’t dispose of them because of the Mandarin, his newest threat. It’s discovered that the Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley, is really a front for the sinister DNA altering Aldrich Killian, played by Guy Pearce. Tony defeats Killian at an oil drilling platform, where Pepper is being held against her will. When the war there gets hot, he thinks he’s lost her to a fireball. When she walks out of it, seemingly unscathed except for the fact that she is now made of fire herself, Tony orders Jarvis to employ operation Clean Slate. Jarvis then destroys the suits one by one. This is Tony’s promise to Pepper that he will devote all of his time to her. He then goes through surgery to remove the shrapnel embedded near his heart and pitches his chest arc reactor into the sea.

Iron Man 3 isn’t the first story to use a non-human as the third component of a love triangle. Often it’s the man’s job getting in the way, or a pet demanding the woman’s attention. Perhaps a sailor who is pulled by the sea and can’t commit to the woman who loves him. In this story, it is Tony’s hobby that comes between him and Pepper, but it’s tangible through the suits. We can see the suits. We can even empathize with them. This is what makes this triangle unconventional. As we applaud the suits for helping Tony out of yet another jam, he knows they are pulling him and Pepper apart. It’s that final act of sacrifice where the suits are destroyed that will keep Pepper in his life. I had a surreal moment during the celebratory firework destruction in the sky. Pepper is smiling, Tony has a self-satisfied smirk. I’m crying in my heart, “No! Not Mark 42! I don’t care if the bad guy is trapped inside!”

Writer Application

This love story is Tony Stark’s inner journey, his outer journey being to kill the bad guy. Our characters need those two journeys to give them depth. Always ask three questions of your characters:

  1. What do they want?
  2. Why do they want it?
  3. What gets in their way?

For Tony, he wants a meaningful relationship with Pepper because she grounds him, but his obsession with the suits gets in the way.

All this to say, we should think outside of the box. Kevin Feige, President of Production at Marvel Studios, describes the film's core theme as a love story: "The love triangle in this movie is between Tony, Pepper and his obsession with those suits, and the obsession with technology. Yes, there's a bad guy. Yes, the stakes are very, very high. But the real stakes are, is Tony going to be able to set aside spending every day in that workshop tinkering with the suits in order to focus on Pepper, the one thing that matters most?"

Tony said it best. “I hope I can protect the one thing I can't live without.” He was talking about Pepper, and I don’t think he was only talking in the physical sense.

Monday, April 22, 2013

“What is Your Center?”

Rise of the Guardians

This question was asked by North (Santa) of the mischievous Jack Frost in Rise of the Guardians. (Not to be confused with Legend of the Guardians, a movie about owls. I’m hoping I, myself, can get it straight after writing this article!) According to North, a person’s center is what makes them eligible as a guardian of children. He demonstrates to Jack what his own center is. He grabs a nesting doll and Jack opens it to reveal all the different facets that make up the man, North. With each doll, Santa is:

  • Intimidating
  • Jolly
  • Mysterious
  • Fearless
  • Caring

In the last tiny doll, we see a baby with huge blue eyes. This, according to North, is Wonder. He dances around the room explaining that he has big eyes full of wonder. Eyes that only see the wonder in everything. Wonder is what he puts in children—what makes him a guardian.

You can see this scene by clicking here

The other guardians' centers are:

  • Easter bunny – Hope
  • Tooth fairy – Memories
  • Sandman – Dreams 

Throughout the movie we watch as Jack discovers himself. He starts out as a mischievous ice imp who thinks a Snow Day is the best thing ever, and is jealous that children believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny, Sandman, and the Tooth Fairy—even the evil Boogie Man—but not in him. They look right through him; he is invisible to them because they do not believe.

His journey is to find out who he is. Through a memory of his tooth, (okay, even I thought this was a stretch, but if you’ve seen the movie, this makes sense,) he realizes he was a human boy once. He loved his family, particularly his little sister. One day when they were skating on the ice, they hit a thin patch that starts to crack under her feet. She was petrified with fear. Jack encouraged his sister by telling her that getting off the ice would be just like playing hop scotch. This helped her to move and he was able to reach out with the stick he’d been playing with and fling her to safety. However, his selfless act put him in danger and he fell through the ice.

Fast-forward through the rest of the movie where Pitch, the Boogie Man, is turning all the children’s dreams into nightmares and snuffing out their belief in the guardians. We come to the scene where it finally dawns on Jack what his center is. Pitch has him, the guardians, and Jamie, the last boy on earth to believe in the guardians, boxed into an alley. As Pitch advances to finish off his mission, Jack assures Jamie that everything will be okay. Then he remembers how he had used a game for his sister to save her from falling through the ice. He creates a snowball in his hand and throws it in Pitch’s face mid-threat. This shocks Pitch and makes everyone start to laugh. Jack knows now that he is the guardian of Fun. He rallies the other children and they defeat Pitch with a good, old-fashioned snowball fight. Even the Boogey Man is no match for a child intent on having fun.

Writer Application

How can we find the “center” of our characters? If you search out the center, you will find who they are at the core of their being, and this in turn will help them discover what their own strengths are. You might argue that Jack’s center is heroism, but all of the guardians have that—yet each one has their own unique center.

The center of a character’s being can help you determine who they are. Michael Hague, story and script consultant, calls this their essence. To determine their essence, you must also determine their identity. On his Story Mastery website, (which I highly recommend,)  Hague has a list of questions to ask of your characters. Number twelve and thirteen on that list are:

What is the hero’s identity – what protective persona keeps the hero from facing and overcoming their emotional fear?

What is the hero’s essence or truth? Who would he be if his identity was stripped away? In other words, who does he have the potential to become, if he’s courageous enough?

Jack’s identity is his mischievousness. He’s been having “fun” for three hundred years, often at other’s expense. This is what he uses to protect his true essence.

In the end, we see Jack’s essence is his ability to protect the children by removing their fears through fun and games. This is who Jack Frost is. The guardian of Fun.

Once he embraces his true center, the children can see him now, and he is no longer alone.

Following Jack’s Lead…

Something Fun!

If you want to know what your center is, there’s a fun quiz at Quizilla. My center, according to the above quiz is…drumroll…


You are something else altogether! Your center is Imagination! This is a result that is very rare and difficult to have because it is a balance of all the other centers: Fun, Memories, Wonder, Hope, and Dreams. You cannot have Imagination without these combined! You are strange and mysterious, and very wise. Others don't always understand you or your motives, but in the end, you are usually right. You prefer to fight for the right cause, rather than the easiest and you defend the imaginations of children.

Pretty cool for a writer! Don’t you agree? To see what I look like as a guardian click here. I am beautiful!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful–A Review

OzWent to see Oz the Great and Powerful today. The story is how Oscar Diggs, (who bills himself as Oz the Great and Powerful, a carnival magician in 1905 Kansas,) finds himself in a balloon and ultimately in a strange and beautiful land.

Since this is a review, I’ll be careful not to mention spoilers, but I would like to say that Oz’s character arc is believable. (The character arc is defined: Characters begin the story with a certain viewpoint and, through events in the story, that viewpoint changes. - I like it when characters evolve in a natural way, without intrusive contriving from the author. Just as an example—The Avengers. LOVE the movie, but how did the Hulk go from an out-of-control bashing machine who needed a containment room on board that very cool flying laboratory, to a very in-control team player? Hmm?

But back to Oz. Can’t say I’m much of a fan of James Franco, but he did a passable job as a conman. IMDb mentions in their trivia section that both Robert Downey, Jr. and Johnny Depp had been asked to do that role. Upon reflection, I think either of them would have been too good. Both actors are very comfortable playing it over the top.

Oz, however, starts out as a carnival performer who, as his character, tries to play it over the top. Think cartoon magician versus David Blaine. The small-in-stature Franco isn’t very convincing as he waves his arms, tries to bellow in a deep voice, and dramatizes his prestidigitation, at which he is fairly good considering the era. This inadequacy, as it turns out, is a good thing when he hits his peak in the character arc.

There were other parts of the movie that I thought went a tad slow, some were overacted by someone other than Franco, (I’ll leave that up to you to figure out who I’m talking about. It might be just me. Oh, and my husband who mentioned it during dinner at Qdoba’s after the movie.)

Overall, I highly recommend Oz the Great and Powerful , and if you can, see it in 3D. If you have little ones who frighten easily, you might want to see it yourself first. There are some moments when you have a fierce, ugly beings suddenly thrust in your face. I loved the prequel aspect and the way Oscar Diggs becomes the Wizard.



I give Oz the Great and Powerful 4 out of 5 stars.