Sunday, September 30, 2012

Book Review: GI Joe Graphic Novels

At the risk of dating myself, the only G.I. Joe action figures (not "dolls!") were the original 12-inch ones.  By the time the 3.75-inch figures came out, I was an adult--and well into my wargaming hobby (where I was playing with even smaller figures).  I was vaguely aware of the cartoon series, but never watched it, while I never bothered to delve into any of the comic books. 
Recently, I came across the Classic G.I. Joe, Volume 1 at Half Price Books, which is a compilation of the first ten issues.  Because I'm always interested in origin stories, I decided to buy it. 
For the most part, I enjoyed the book, although I'd definitely call this a "comic book" as opposed to a "graphic novel."  While these two terms are often used interchangeably, I notice that comic books use exposition-as-dialogue far more often than graphic novels.  I assume this is to cater to younger readers and the producers may feel they needed to explain the action within each illustration.
As an adult reader, who didn't grow up reading this comic series, I found the exposition-as-dialogue, not to mention the villainous monologues, to be rather annoying.  However, I do like stories of good guys thwarting the bad guys and I knew what I was buying.  So I'm giving this a solid, 3-star rating.  Most of the reviewers on are 5-star ratings.  The less-than 5-star reviewers were primarily miffed about several items being omitted, like a story called The Hot Potato from this volume, that were included in the original issues.
 Another origin story, I found in the grapic novel section of Half Price Books was:  GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra--The Official Movie Adaptation.  Like the cartoons and comics, I didn't see the latest movie, which despite the luke-warm reviews, studio execs decided to produce a sequel next year. 
Anyway, since the graphic novel was cheaper and more durable than a theater ticket or DVD, I bought this too.   Interestingly enough, no one bothered to write a review on I guess this means I'll be the first!
I'll give this a 3-star rating.  The authors took some liberties with the original characters, but I found it interesting how they portrayed the evolution of the recurring villains; Cobra Commander, Destro, Storm Shadow and of course--The Baroness--a favorite bad-girl among convention cosplayers...
 Because my knowledge of G.I. Joe lore is lacking, I couldn't pass up the G.I. Joe vs Cobra--The Essential Guide.
Since I'm not going to read all the G.I. Joe stories that have been printed, I found this to be an invaluable encyclopedia for the "GI Joeverse."  While some of the weapons systems seemed far-fetched, I'll give this a 5-star rating, because it saved me time wading through back stories of all the characters. 

Other Amazon raters weren't so charitable, with most of them giving this book a mere 3-stars.  Like the superhero comics, the publishers of G.I. Joe devoloped a plethora of alternate storylines for the same characters.  The Essential Guide attempted to tie all these together, much to the dissappointment of the critics.

So my high rating here, may be due to my lack of pre-conceived notions.

"Yo! Joe!"

Saturday, September 29, 2012

How You Do Anything Is How You Do Everything

For this year's conference finale, Christina Katz made her second appearance as the Sunday morning keynote speaker.  Her presentation, How You Do Anything Is How You Do Everything, was based on her years of experience at platform building.
My first encountered the concept of a writer's "platform" during the Building a Platform from Nothing workshop a few years back, hosted by Karen Burns
At some point during the seminar, Karen emphasized that the book Get Known Before the Book Deal, was a must-have guide to platform construction.  Shortly thereafter, I came across a book-review in an issue of either Writer's Digest, or The Writer.
I assumed the Universe was trying to tell me something, so I ordered a copy of Christina's book--along with one, or two additional items to take advantage of's free shipping for orders over $25.
But I digress.
Establishing a platform is essential to launching your career as a writer in today's publishing market.
But what is a platform?
It is a way of communicating your expertise to others, primarily on-line.
Platform building--and maintaining--is an integrated part of a writer's work.  Writers need to continue their professional development throughout their career.  Never stop learning--it's the only way to keep up with on-going trends.
Getting started though, may be the hardest part.  Writers often suffer from one of three, or all three of these maladies:
1. Nervous anxiety.
2. Scattered thinking.
3.  Procrastination.
To overcome these:  Manage anxiety, stay focused and work in a manner you enjoy so you feel confident, excited and alive about what you're doing. 
Writers are professional communicators.  So ask yourself:  What do you want to give to the world?  Once you answer this question, commit to creating an on-line presence and establish your platform.
Developing the following skills will assist you in not only building your platform, but will enhance your writing career:
1. Knowing how to harness your strengths.  (Or as Christina said:  "Just write your brains out").
2. Be willing to sell your work.  Selling is merely a means of offering, but some writers hate this more than platforming.
3. Develop a specialty by "writing your way" into one.
As I mentioned in Christina's Mailbox Full of $$$ workshop, writers need to develop a micropublishing skill set.  This will strengthen writing skills and establish your platform.
What makes a successful platform? 
It is:
1. Distinct.
2. Vibrant.  (Use colors and express your personality--but don't be obnoxious).
3. Creative.
4. Confident (without being arrogant).
5. Dynamic.  That is, it is on-going.
6. Professional.
7. And thriving.  That is, you continually gain fans and followers.
Platforms are most often associated with non-fiction writers, people with expertise beyond writing.  However, platforms are also important for fiction authors as well.  A platform-strong writer exerts influence, even off-line.  Authors can have an impact in their local community, regionally, nationally or internationally.
The steps of platform development are:
1. Have a homebase URL (Uniform Resource Locator) that is your name.  This is most important, because an author may publish multiple works--but your name won't change and will make it easy for fans to find you.
2. Develop contact lists and e-mail lists.
3. Join social media networks.  Keep in mind this is not just a place to broadcast (one-way communication), but to truly connect with others (two-way communication).
4. Trade resources with other writers, such as guest blogging on their sites.
Keep in mind, this is a dynamic process of potential and action, which involves many stages of growth.  The key point to remember is:  Consistently create content for your readers and followers.
This certainly isn't the magical means of getting published like the movies portray.  To become that "overnight success" (eventually):
1. Prioritize your time.
2. Be able to say "no."  (Some projects are too long, or pay too little, if at all, with a minimal amount of return).
3. Share who you are and what makes you unique.
4. No matter how many books you write, you are the owner of your platform--not a publishing company.
So to recap the basics, an on-line platform should have the following:
1. Your name as the URL.
2. A unique identity, or tag-line.
3. A short, snappy bio.
4. A mission statement.  That is, what you do and what you'll provide.
5. Testimonials from fans and followers. 
6. A professional quality headshot photo.
7. Photos of you in action.
On a personal note:  My much-highlighted--and now autographed--copy of Get Known Before the Book Deal has been invaluable to me.  I still have a ways to go in fully developing my platform, but I've been enjoying the journey so far.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Trigger Writing: The Art and Craft of Trusting Your Readers

Since I write short pieces, like blog posts, graphic novels and YouTube video scripts, I strive to use words with maximum impact.  So I was drawn to Bernadette Pajer's workshop on Trigger Writing:  The Art and Craft of Trusting Your Readers
A "trigger" in this case, is a carefully crafted description or nugget of information that will unleash the reader's imagination.  Therefore, the author is relieved of having to write EVERYTHING.  That putting words on the page is not the story, but its the reader's imagination that creates the story.
The nuggets-of-info I thought of for this post deal with handguns.  The term "pistol" can be too vague and generic.  But if I wrote:  "She drew a Broomhandle Mauser from her purse..."  the reader, especially a firearm aficionado may imagine a scene like this...
(Image from:  Lupin III)
Whereas, if I wrote:  "Han Solo yanked his heavy blaster pistol from his holster..." the reader, especially Star Wars fans, would imagine a scene like this...
In both examples, knowing who the primary readers would be, alleviates the need for detailed descriptions of the weapons involved.  Which, thanks to the Star Wars prop-masters, is a modified version of the C96 Mauser...
Movie special effects nuggets aside, Bernadette started the session by quoting Chris Humphreys:  "Words are energy compressed by the author and released by the reader."
Or in Bernadette's own words:  The writer only provides a portion of the story.  The reader unpacks the story and embarks on an emotional journey.
A successful journey requires a degree of trust.  You must trust yourself as a writer--and trust the reader.  If your writing sounds boring to you--it will certainly be boring for the reader.
This makes triggers, he ultimate in "Show don't tell."  They can be used in one of three ways:  Description, action and gestures.  Subtext, or "story questions," are another form of triggers and there can be setting subtexts, character subtexts and situational subtexts woven throughout the story.
Triggers allow the reader to participate in the unfolding of the story.  Writers need to think of the story as a journey and where they want the reader to be and what they want the readers to be thinking of along the way.
The challenge is to determine what the writer provides and what the reader brings to the story.  Think about what triggers your imagination as a reader--and then write about it.
Bernadette then finished her workshop with Elmore Leonard's Ten Tips to Writing:
1. Never open a story with the weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than "said" as a tag-line in dialogue.
4. Never modify "said" with an adverb.
5. Minimize the use of exclamation points.
6. Never use "suddenly," or "all Hell broke loose."
7. Use regional dialect sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed description of characters.
9. Avoid detailed description of setting.
10. Leave out the part that readers skip (most often setting descriptions).
As an FYI aside:  I came across G6CSY, which on this page, lists all the books/movies/TV shows that the C96 appears in.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fair Shopping

Yesterday my girlfriend an I went to the Puyallup Fair.  Since it was a Monday, we thought it wouldn't be too crowded.  However, we didn't realize it was Military Appreciation Day, so active-duty and retired members got in free.  As a result, the place was as crowded as I've seen it on weekends.

However, the crowds didn't bother us because both of us get nauseated on amusement park rides, so we didn't have to stand in any lines.  Instead, we spent a pleasant afternoon shopping for unique items and foodstuffs.

I have several metal signs hanging in my garage, so when I caught sight of the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I couldn't pass it up!

We tried finding a Rosie the Riveter sign for my girlfriend, but all the vendors were out of them.  One of them told us, it was their most popular sign.

Our next quest was for particular foodstuffs.  My favorites are raw honey, garlic mustard and caramel corn, especially Cosmos.  There's not a single un-popped kernel in any bag!  I hate getting that stuff caught in my teeth or gums.  When I was a teen, I remember getting a kernel caught, deep under my tongue.  It took me over an hour to fish it out, hurting every second.

We found one of the honey vendors and my girlfriend bought me a 3 pound jar.  Honey provides several health benefits.  I've also heard it's a good sleep aid, so I take at least a tablespoon each evening.

Besides, it tastes great!

Speaking of which, I had a honeycomb for the second time in my life.  The first time was when I was little and my family stopped at a road-side fruit stand.  I vaguely remember liking it then, so I thought I'd give it a try now. 

My first bite gave me two surprises.  First, how much honey was loaded in the cells of the comb.  The thing is like a sponge!  The second was how waxy-tasting the comb was.  It wasn't bad at all, it merely tasted like flaky, wax-flavored bubblegum. 

Even though I was spitting out comb-bits in the parking lot as we were leaving the fair, I enjoyed rediscovering a childhood treat.  And besides, there's unhealthier foods I could have eaten.

While I was nibbling on honeycomb, my girlfriend was sipping on an iced mocha.  She's a coffee connoisseur and Starbucks aficionado.  But since there were no "green mermaid" stands, she settled for her 2nd favorite brand, the Pacific Northwest's own--BigFoot Java.

My girlfriend has never tried garlic mustard, so I was hoping to buy a small jar as a sample.  While we found the Garlic Gourmay stand, stocked with several small jars, when we returned to actually buy one they had sold out.  I know, I could buy some through their website--but it's not the same.

Traditionally, the Puyallup Fair starts the weekend after Labor Day and runs for a little over 2 weeks.  For you music and comedy act lovers, the fair also has a respectable concert series.

This year, the fair runs through September 23rd.  So you better hurry if you want to "do the Puyallup!"

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Mailbox Full of $$$ from Micro-Publishing

Novels on average, weigh-in at 300 pages, or about 80,000+ words.  That's a lot of dead trees for an author to toil over and for a publishing company to invest time and money into.  It may be years, even a decade or more, for a writer's first published book to hit the shelves.
That's a lot of time without any positive cash flow.
Christina Katz discussed how one can earn an income in her Mailbox Full of $$$: Micro-Publishing Your Way from Beginner to Book Deal workshop.
In the Pre-Internet Days, the literary world was divided into two distinct camps:  Aspiring Writers and Published Authors.  Now, thanks to the internet, along with the shrinking attention span of readers, there's a sliding scale of grey between these two black and white groups. 
Somewhere in the middle, is the "Salability Point," where a writer begins to earn money for their work.  And this income doesn't necessarily have to be in the form of a printed book either.  Other publishing options exist, such as:
--Producing an e-book (50-100 pages)
By writing these short pieces you can develop your skills as a write and build your platform (area of expertise and web presence).  Anything you write, could lead to something bigger. 
Christina's a firm believer that writers should make money and not be starving artists.  However, you may have to start out writing shorter pieces for less money--and then write lots of things for less money--before moving on to write full-length books.
Even when you do decide to tackle writing a book, you have to decide whether to self publish or seek traditional publication.  Keep in mind though, traditionally published books are also produced on a spectrum.  Not every book will be as successful as anticipated, so budgets are tighter and publishers are pickier than ever on what books they decide to print. 
On a lighter note, no matter what we write, we should enjoy what we do.  When we get away from our playful/creative side, the less we'll enjoy our writing and our work will suffer.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

March of the Penguin

The Saturday lunch-time Spotlight session was about Penguin Books.  The presentation was hosted by four Penguin editors; Tracy Bernstein, Thomas Colgan, Colleen Lindsay and Meghan Stevenson. 
Prior to this event, I only associated Penguin with it's classic books line.  I had no idea this 75 year-old company spans nine countries and has over 35 imprints.
Talk about the power of the penguin.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Some Snippets on Publishing Alternatives

With my migraine gone, I woke up eager to attend today's workshops.  The first on my list was the Author Master Class, hosted by PNWA's very own William Kenower.

I climbed into my Jeep and turned the ignition key.


My paraphrased expression was something like this:  Oh, crap.  My day is fudged.

I managed to get the engine running (by stomping on the gas) and tried contacting, then searching for my girlfriend, who lived in a nearby town.  After swinging by her place I found her car at a nearby Fred Meyer.  I didn't go inside because I was afraid to shut the engine off.  As it was nearing 9 AM, I headed over to Les Schwab. 

My girlfriend finally got my frantic message and the Les Schwab mechanic told me all my Jeep needed was a new battery, which would be replaced within an hour.

The twist this ordeal was:  I planned to have the battery examined the following week during my oil-change appointment.

So I missed all of Bill's seminar and most of Alternatives to Traditional Publishing, hosted by Adrian Liang and Colleen Lindsay.

For several minutes a sat in my seat fuming and unable to pay attention.  But after scrawling a rant on an entire page of my notebook, I actually felt better. 


Here's what I managed to glean from this seminar:

--Despite the on-going technological revolution, traditional publishing companies are powerhouses in distribution. 

--There is no "right way" to publish your book.

--Before you self-publish, ask yourself:  How much control do you want in your product?

--Conduct research on Print On Demand (POD) companies, because they make most of their money by selling books back to the author!

--POD primarily caters to non-fiction, businesses and people writing family histories, or other "vanity books."

--Technical and editorial support is often spotty, so the presenters recommend paying for eidorial help and packaging.

--Once the books are printed, Adrian and Colleen suggested you get to know the local booksellers, because they may put your books on consignment.

So, by all means, get your book out there into the hands of your readers--but know what you're getting into.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Book Review: War Stories, Volume 1

War Stories, Volume 1 caught my eye at Half Price Books.  Derived from actual events, this compilation of tales vividly depicts the grim--and quirky--realities of combat during the Second World War.  All four narratives have a melocholy, or tragic ending.  Nearly all the characters in these stories are suffering from shell-shock, now called Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), to some degree or another. 
So this graphic novel isn't for the faint of heart.
But then again, this may be precisely the point of the book:  To show the readers warfare's psychological casualties as well as the physical ones. 
War Stories lives up to the 5-star rating, 8 out of 11 reviewers give this work.  But you have to be in the mood to read it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Book Review: Trouble Maker and Trouble Maker 2

I've heard a lot of great things about Janet Evanovich but never read any of her works, until I picked up Trouble Maker and Trouble Maker 2 at Half Price Books.  Released a couple of years ago by Dark Horse Comics, this was Miss Evanovich's first foray into the realm of graphic novels. 
And from the reviews posted on, it may be her last. 
This is the first book I've read, since on-line ratings came into vogue, where the number of 1-star rants outweighed all the other ratings--combined.  Longtime fans of Miss Evanovich's work vented their spleens, not only against the graphic novels, but of her later print books.
 I give this story a solid 3-star rating.  Normally, I'm not into crime novels and I thought this was a cute caper and a fun diversion from my normal fare. It's about a race car driver, his spotter girlfriend and the hijinks they get into, thanks to a couple of their friends.  I may be viewing the book favorably, since I like graphic novels and I'm totally unfamiliar with Miss Evanovich's earlier (and apparently better) work.
While everyone seemed to like the artwork, 77 out of 109 rater brought Trouble Maker to a screeching halt. 
Only 15 people bothered to review Trouble Maker 2 and most of those were in the 1 to 2-star category.  This picks up where the troubled Trouble Maker leaves off and the story is brought to a conclusion.
Overall, I was entertained and didn't feel I wasted my time, or money, especially since I didn't pay top-dollar for either book.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Book Review: Conan the Ultimate Guide...

Printed in 2006, in time for the Robert E. Howard (REH) centennial, Conan: The Ultimate Guide to the World's Most Savage Barbarian, attempts to chronicle the Cimmerian's adventures throughout the Hyborian Age.  This was a challenging endeavour since, Conan's fame exploded far beyond REH's original short stories.  The book's chapters provide short synopses of the various stages of the Cimmerian's colorful life, from childhood and possible slavery, to an advanced age with a crown upon his head.  The stories that fall outside the Nemedian Chronicles (REH's stories), are considered "legends."
Since I haven't read every Conan story written by REH and subsequent authors, I found this overview to be extremely helpful.
The book is also a sumptuous, visual feast of art, found in the plethora of books, comics and graphic novels.  REH's Hyboria is much more sensual than other high fantasy realms, such as Tolkien's Middle Earth--which is why Conan appealed to me at a pre-adolescent age.
There are 23 reviews of this book on, but not everyone's happy with Roy Thomas's work.  While the feelings are overwhelmingly positive, 20 x 3-star reviews, a few felt this book was more about the post-REH Conan, than the original works.  While they have a point, I think they're missing the big Hyborian panorama:  That Conan fans want to know more about "...the world's most savage barbarian" than it's creator could provide.
In this respect, I think Roy Thomas succeeded and deserves a 5-star rating. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

2012 PNWA Conference's Featured Speaker: Debbie Macomber

(Image from:  Debbie Macomber's Press Room)
The Friday evening Featured Speaker was Port Orchard resident, Debbie Macomber.  The audience was held in rapt attention as this author of inspirational stories, children's books and cookbooks, described her struggle to get her first novel published, while her family was in dire financial straights. 
The moral of her tale, was twofold:  There are no "overnight" successes and authors need a support network of friends and family to achieve said "overnight" success.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Settings and Atmosphere

(Image from:  Gizmodo)
In Donald Maas's workshop, two blogposts back, he mentioned descriptions were the most skipped portions of any novel. 
However, characters don't act in a vacuum. 
How then, does a writer incorporated the background into the story without boring the reader, or having her skip over those eloquent descriptions you toiled over?
Book doctor, Jason Black, had several bits of advice to offer in his Settings and Atmosphere workshop. 
His key warning was not to use labels.  Two examples he used were bathtubs and bathrooms.  Both come in a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on the location, setting and timeframe of the story.  Instead, he suggested, use concrete details.  This helps the reader understand the action and governs what is possible for the characters to do.  Details establish the parameters in determining how hard it may be for the characters to achieve their objectives and shapes how the readers will judge their actions.  It also helps readers anticipate future actions.
"Sell" the location by ginving enough surrounding detail to mask any clues and to make it real in the readers' minds.  Specifiy what matters, then you can use a label once the setting has been described. 
However, don't overdo it, otherwise readers will start skimming.
Not every location is easy to describe.  Unfamiliar places, like space stations, or other sci-fi and fantasy places are difficult because no one has any tangible experience with them in the real world. 
Speaking of the real world, "non-physical" setting like dreams and cyberspace are totally conjectural, so are even harder to describe. 
As mentioned in previous workshop posts:  Use scenes, not descriptions to show cause and effect at work. 
"Atmosphere" is the emotional part of the setting and helps readers empathize with the characters.  A general description of atmosphere will help readers understand the space emotionally, while specific details will make the reader feel what it is like to be in the scene.  So select the details, not for what they are, but what they evoke.  You can't tell readers how to feel, but must work at weaving the desired effect into the narrative.
One technique to evoke the mood of the story is to layer the descriptions.  Don't do a front-load, data-dump.  Instead, mix in descriptions with action and dialogue.  In all-out action scenes though, descriptions will slow the pace, so place the descriptions before the eruption and then after the dust settles.
The point of view (POV) a writer chooses also plays a role in evoking the story's atmosphere.  In first person narration, the reader should be limited to what the POV character sees/hears/feels.  Everything beyond should be shadowed, making the reader wonder what's around the corner...

Monday, September 3, 2012

Historicals Are Making a Comeback

(Image from the:  Historical Fiction Newsletter)

A couple years ago, Chris Humphreys and Deborah Schneider teamed up to present Writing Sex Scenes.  This year, the dynamic duo of double entendre reunited to present the Historicals are Making a Comeback workshop. 

With today's dire news, why all the interest in the past?

One reason is, TV and film are leading this trend with shows like Deadwood and Hell on Wheels. 

The first bit of advice they gave was not to second guess the market.  Everyone seems to think the vampire sub-genre finally has a steak driven through it's heart, only to have another coven of blood suckers rise from the supposed grave.

When writing an historical novel, the key point to remember is the characters, real and imaginary, don't think of themselves as historical, or antiquated figures.  They are contemporaries of their time.  Just like we feel we're better off than folks living in the 19th--and even early-to-mid 20th Century--most characters in historical novels will feel they're better off than their predecessors.

Historical fiction also has its subgenres, like:

--Epics (big events), or what Chris called "intimate epics," that is, big events seen throught the eyes of a handful of people.
--Biographies, which are about 1 person.
--Young Adult (YA) Historical Fiction
--Historical Romance, which is further subdivided into:
----Regency Era
----Civil War
----Victorian Era

The cut-off point between Historical Romance and Contemporary Romance is the end of World War I, or what contemporaries called "The Great War."

So, why write historical fiction?

What you love to read is what you love to write.  It's also a way of looking at a world that shaped our world.  While writing, keep in mind what influences shaped the characters.

Past societies don't have the same standards of behavior as ours does.  A writer shouldn't worry about "what people think," because the reader will judge the characters not the author.  The reader is a partner in the book.

Most successful novels are about known historical figures, because novelists go further into character study and motivation than historians.  However, the writer must make plausible choices on the facts he chooses to use.

Other tips for writing historicals are:

--Determine the best point of view to tell the story in.
--Avoid jarring anachronisms and slang.
--But you can spice up the narrative with a colloquial word, or two.
--While a writer needs to know the history in order to understand the characters, they should avoid overdoing the research.
--Any scene should be judged by the effect of moving the story forward and keep the reader turning the page. 
--So don't do an info dump.  Instead, stage a scene where a character needs to know a fact.  One method is to create an arguement through dialogue or involve secondary characters.
--Actual facts give a writer structure, but not every factoid needs to be included to move the story forward.

Remember, readers are drawn to characters in action, or better yet, characters in peril.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Writing in the 21st Century

(The Bookreader of the Future from:  Retronaut)
In the past, the PNWA Summer Conference held a "Lunch with (Insert Name of Author Here)" around noon.  Lunch usually consisted of a cellophane wrapped sandwich, bag of chips and a drink, purchased at the temporary sandwich stands.  Attendees would scarf down these midday meals while trying to listen to the afternoon's guest over the sound of crunching nachos and slurping sodas.

This year, the conference organizers did something different and held "Spotlight" seminars, which were open to all sorts of writing-related topics. 

The nacho-crunching and soda slurping remained the same.

The first Spotlight session was led by Donald Maas, author of several "how to" books on writing.  Donald's seminar, Writing in the 21st Century, wasn't about the whiz-bang technology that continues to change the nature of reading and publishing.  Technology which is evolving so fast, today's toys may be as outdated as the "Bookreader of the Future." 

Instead, Donald discussed the continued appeal of literary fiction.  Stories that have an emotional inner journey as well as a physical journey, because it is emotions that connect us to the characters in a story.  So a writer must create an "emotional landscape" for the protagonist and other characters to travel through.

To set out on this journey, a writer must know how well, or ill-prepared, the protagonist is, to make this journey, by asking these questions:

What shames the protagonist the most?
What will force the protagonist to face this shame?
When will the protagonist have to own their past mistake(s)?
At what length will the protagonist go to conceal a shameful secret?
How has the protagonist attempted to compensate for his past actions/offenses?
Who else in the story can keep a similar secret?
Who guesses the truth before the protagonist?
Who must the protagonist forgive?
Who is withholding the healing, the protagonist is looking for?
What will it cost someone else, if/when the protagonist is healed?
What will bring about reconciliation between the protagonist and another?
When healing is possible and forgiveness arrives, how will home look to him now?
What change occurs outwardly?  What will change symbolically?
What is the most challenging thing the protagonist must do?
Is the course of action against the protagonist's principles?
(Clue to highly-charged story:  Everything the protagonist hates and fears is what he must do to change).
The protagonist should have one rock-solid belief about people in the world he lives in--then find a place in the story where the protagonist proves to be dead-wrong about this belief.
What is the protagonist's greatest hope?
Why does this journey matter?
What does your protagonist dream about, or dream of?
In what way is the protagonist's dream naive?  How will he find out?
How is this dream unattainable/impossible?
What will cause the protagonist to let his dream go?
And, what will replace it?

But literary fiction isn't merely about inner turmoil.  There's a physical journey characters must embark upon.  The writer then, must set the scene, by asking these questions:

What does the protagonist hope to achieve upon arrival at the destination?
What is dissappointing?  What exceeds expectations?
What do at least three people say about the destination?
How do these predictions come true?

Keep in mind the destination is only a place.  The true journey is the innermost, emotional one.

To maintain a reader's interest, the characters in the story must have universal appeal.  They must be unlike anyone else.  However, a writer should include at least two traits the protagonist has in common with everyone else.

Also, play on the character's beliefs and superstitions.  Donald used a great example of a man leaving one sip of coffee left in his cup as an offering to his gods.  Then he suggested, at 2/3rds of the way into the story, the hero slurps down a whole cup of coffee without giving thanks.


The readers will now be bracing themselves for the mayhem they KNOW is about to ensue.

Finally, Donald discussed the use of descriptions in fiction.  Classic literary fiction is chock-full of scene-setting descriptions.  Donald suggested tossing them aside, since today's readers skip the scenery in order to get back into the action.  Use characters as a subjective "filter" to the world around them.  Ask:

What is "true" to the characters?
What intangible things make up the reality of the characters' world?
What is the one "truth" and one "ugly truth" your protagonist "knows" about people in his world?

Strong opinions on a page are much better than descriptions.

What does your protagonist feel about some of the sundry of things in his world, such as:  Soda (or pop)? SUVs? Luxury vehicles? Abstract art? Longform narrative poetry? Pop music? Credit? Fourth down passes?

Magnify such opinions.  As an example, Donald went into a staged rant (or was it real?) over ice cream should never be served in the bland-tasting wafer cones, but nestled in the sweet-tasting waffle cones.

Remember:  The more particular and unique a character is, the more universal they become.