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Sunday, February 28, 2010

And the winner is...

Our three entries for the Splatter Cinema challenge took distinctly different approaches to the challenge. None of them really quite nailed the concept of a treatment, though that's not surprising. We lean heavily toward traditional prose fiction around here, so it's likely none of this week's Challengers has written a treatment. Translation: no points off for not hitting the format of a treatment exactly right.

Let's take a look at the entries:

Patrick Henry - This story is more Flash Roasted Cinema than Splatter Cinema. This is a variation on the dream-turns-out-to-be-real approach, which isn't a strike against it. The bigger strike is the sparseness of the treatment. It seems less like a treatment and more like the notes a writer would write to make sure he didn't forget his idea. There are a couple of things you'd need to explain in a full screenplay. First, you'll need to have some kind of physical evidence of the dream come over before the note; a spot of ketchup on the reporter's tie or something like that. Otherwise having the note cross over from dream to reality will just look like you're pulling a rabbit out of your hat. Second, you'll need to show the president writing things down every now and then rather than simply talking to the reporter in the dream; again so you don't have a sudden change in how things are working in the dream world. I think this could work pretty well as a full length thriller with supernatural overtones, with the reporter racing against time to expose the president and stop the war.

Miko - You got the "splatter" part right as we got plenty of blood right at the end, but you gave us an entire short story rather than a treatment. Here we give you the chance to write less and you turn around and write more! Writers... Mock disappointment aside, you've got a really creepy story that could, I believe, easily be made into a short film. High school students. Check. They enter a place they shouldn't. Check. Ancient curse. Check. I don't like horror yet I felt compelled to continue reading your story just to find out what was going to happen. You do have a change of POV after Nathan turns Jamie into a vegetable that could be a bit jarring. You could avoid that by maintaining focus on Jamie even after Nathan finished "operating" on her; staying with Jamie as Nathan leaves then returns with a knife. Otherwise, an excellent, creepy tale.

Ben-El - Well, you warned us you had written a treatment for a big budget, full length movie... Honestly, I can see something like this being touted as "high concept" and receiving a major promotional campaign for Mall Cop 2. Or, with a few minor changes, you could probably make this work as Get Smart 2. With all of the dialogue, this reads more like a short story with all of the action "summed up" between the dialogue, but the whole thing does work. Not only does it work, you should probably give serious thought to writing a proper treatment and screenplay. Lord knows your ideas are much better than the ones I usually see in "comedy" movies.

You all essentially hit the "sci-fi/horror story." Miko's entry could definitely be made into a 20 minute without any real trouble. Patrick's entry might be able to be squeezed into 20 minutes, but only if you go with the "nuclear war" ending and if you move really fast. Ben-El's entry would take at least 90 minutes to bring to life on film. Each of you have added elements of horror, science fiction or something paranormal (I'm not sure how else to describe the idea of physical items coming out of the dream world into the real world than "paranormal"). To sum up, we've got the following: Patrick Henry's treatment that's short on details, Miko's horror entry that's a short story rather than a treatment and Ben-El's entry that seems part short story, part treatment and much too long for a 20 minute film.

Bruce says: I don't have anything to add.

Henry returns: In the end, we select Ben-El as this week's winner! Send us your address so we can send your prize, J. Michael ("Babylon 5") Straczynski's utterly authoritative phonebook, The Complete Book of Scriptwriting, to you. Of course, if you'd prefer something from behind Door #3, include your selection in the email with your address.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Fitz of Distraction

Kersley Fitzgerald is an accidental cartoonist who could use your help. She needs ideas for Fits of Distraction! Send your anecdotes to kersley.fitz at yahoo dot com.

Yup, calendars are still available!

Open Mic Saturday

Good morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Friday Challenge - 2/26/10

This week in The Friday Challenge

Vox pops in with a technical question about the button layout for a high-tech mouse. Join the discussion...

Henry Vogel discusses interjecting political rants into your writing and strongly cautions against it unless the rant serves the novel. Join the discussion...

Bruce Bethke takes us on a tour of the pinnacles and the pits of vampire movies. Join the discussion...

Kersley Fitzgerald introduces us to the concept of brain stem stimulation and how it affects memory, our interactions with others and, most importantly for us, our writing. Join the discussion... She is also justifiably proud that she and Guy Stewart made the first cut in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest! Offer congrats and encouragement...

Also, Kersley Fitzgerald shows us why writers prefer writing at Starbucks rather than home.

And now, let's look at the entries for this week's lesser Friday Challenge, Future Olympics:

[SFX: sound of crickets, chirping]

Bruce interjects: C'mon folks, was this challenge really that uninspiring? You couldn't think of anything? How about Xtreme Snow Angels? The Jumper Cables Relay? Team Carpushing? Nordic Combined Sitzmarking? Aerial Snowboard Faceplanting? I was watching the figure skating finals last night and watched this one young lady last execute a perfect triple salchow followed by a flawless double-cheek butt-plant, and she really stuck the landing! Surely one of you must have thought of Couples and Singles Pratfalling! Or how about Wisconsin Rules Biathlon, where if you miss a target, instead of skiing a penalty lap, you have to chug a beer?

And what about the opportunities for special recognition: say, an Agony of Defeat medal, for the most spectacular crash performed during a downhill skiing event, or the Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards Memorial Better Part of Valor medal, for distinguished cowardice in ski jumping?

Really, folks, the opportunities here were enormous. You just aren't trying.

Henry resumes: Well, it shouldn't take too long to judge this challenge! I guess that about puts the final nail in the coffin for sports themed Friday Challenges. I promise you won't see any more of them.

Fortunately, we also have a greater Friday Challenge running; Splatter Cinema. Here are the entries:

Patrick Henry - Splatter Cinema

Miko - Whispering Meadow

Ben-El - The Omega Team (drop.io, password "challenge")

As always, even if you haven't submitted an entry this week—even if you've never submitted an entry in any week—you're invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorite. Don't be shy about leaving feedback on the authors' sites, either. Writers thrive on knowing that someone out there is actually reading their words. The winner will be announced on Sunday, February 28, at 9:00 PM CST.

And now for this week's challenge, I'll turn the microphone over to Bruce and retreat to a safe distance.

That's Just Sick!

This week I'm playing host to what may merely be a bad cold, or quite possibly is an alien bioweapon dropped on Earth in advance of their invasion in an attempt to weaken us by critically depleting our supplies of orange juice, Kleenex, and Advil Cold & Sinus. (These as-yet-unknown aliens, for reasons also as yet unknown, are terribly afraid of these items in our hands. For this reason current speculation within AFSPC holds that they may be a faction of Apocalyptic Jatravartids.)

But never mind that now. This week's Friday Challenge, therefore, is to write a very short story or anecdote about being sick—and the catch is, it has to be funny. No grimness and misery allowed. Louis-Ferdinand CĂ©line set the all-time high-vomit mark for that, in a seasickness scene in either Journey to the End of the Night or Death on the Installment Plan that still has me queasy just remembering reading it twenty years ago.

So, got that? The criteria are: it has to be short, funny, and about being sick. As always, we're playing by the badly out-of-date Official Rules of the Friday Challenge and playing for whatever is behind equally badly out-of-date Door #3. The deadline for this challenge is midnight Central time, Thursday, March 4.

So get started writing! And remember, have fun!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Shameless Commerce Division

Sorry, I'm too pumped to wait for Saturday. Guy Stewart and I entered our YA novels in Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. After the initial list was culled from up to 5000 entries to 1000, we both made it! Next stage is gathering votes, but I haven't figured out how, yet.

Find us here. I'm on page 7 with Thunderbird. Guy's on page 21 with Victory of Fists.

Deadline Reminder

The deadline for the current lesser Friday Challenge, Future Olympics, is tonight at midnight, Central time. As I'll be asleep at midnight, Central time, those of you who have to snowdog their entry (i.e. post an entry past the deadline) have until early Friday morning to get your entry in. If you post much past 6:00 AM Central time, you'll be in danger of missing the deadline. Take advantage of that time if you need it!

The same deadline applies to the current greater Friday Challenge Splatter Cinema. If you're not sure how to write a treatment, look here for tips on writing a treatment. Look here for actual treatments, many of them for movies that have been produced, or here for a funny treatment ~brb wrote. Check out the rest of the site for scripts of all kinds; definitely a good place to look for those who learn by looking at examples!

Also, remember you can post to the Friday Challenge Drop if you want to enter but don't want your entry available to everyone in the world with internet access. The password is "challenge" to login as a guest.

Critical Thinking - Emotion and Memory

It’s become fairly accepted lately that emotion has a distinct effect on memory. Not the “valance” of the emotion (whether it’s pleasant or unpleasant) but the “arousal”—the extent to which the emotion induces a physiological response. Arousal involves the brain stem, the endocrine system, and the nervous system. It motivates certain behaviors, from the impulse to search for food to the instinct to run away. Baseline arousal levels can determine whether someone is introverted or extroverted. My husband has a low level, thus requiring more stimuli, such as watching sports and talking to live people, to interest him. Mine is pretty high. I think a nap is stimulating enough.

So, back to memory. An experience with strong emotional arousal (Stop snickering! It’s a scientific term.) jumpstarts all that stuff in your brain that induces you to remember it better. The more exciting or agitating, the more action in your brain. Women are more affected than men; younger people are more affected than older (who have what I like to call “emotional inertia”). And the memory of the event is generally stronger when the person is experiencing the same emotion (fear, hatred, lust, relief) they were feeling during the initial incident.

What does that have to do with you? Let me ask you this: Do the stories you read have to be filled with action and suspense (physical or emotional)? Or are you content with more description?

Here’s another one. When you write, what do you write? Hard-hitting, mile-a-minute plots, or meandering stories?

One more. How far are you willing to go to make sure your book or story is remembered?

The first novel I wrote meandered. It has action, but it also has entire chapters dedicated to the explanation of jet engines. I had to be told to add more plot, more suspense. Now I know why. I have a naturally occurring high-functioning cortical (I'm an introvert). The book was memorable, but for the character-based tension, not anything in the plot. There’s a lot more plot in there, now.

How many action movies out there are exclusively about explosions and plot? Okay, how many good ones? In A Man Apart, Vin Diesel fights for revenge. In Red Dawn, they fight for each other. The new Star Trek movie does it right. It combines emotional journeys for the characters (Kirk’s revenge for his father, McCoy’s bitterness about his wife, Spock and Uhura?!), a suspenseful, exciting plot, and simultaneously fed the pre-established emotional connection of the audience. (Did anyone else notice the Australian who jumped to the platform with Kirk and Sulu was wearing a red suit?) In doing so, it elicits an emotional, physiological response from the viewer, thus ensuring it will be remembered.

The mention of Star Trek brings up another thought—most of the audience walked in bearing a sympathetic relationship with the characters. The emotional valance was already established. I imagine that made the emotional arousal much easier to pull off. And may shed some light on the publishing industry’s obsession with sequels.

Twilight. What can I say about Twilight? Plot-meandering, emotion-arousing. Which means that certain scenes are memorable. Very simple plot with a few emotion-grabbing spots. The rest is like Chinese food. The moment you put it down, you feel a little bit empty.

This is as opposed to the circuitous, ambitious (sometimes over-ambitious) multiple plots of Harry Potter. Not as much emotion in Harry Potter. (To be fair, Twilight is a YA romance. It’s supposed to be emotional.)

I don’t know that I have an all-encompassing thought, here, other than just to point out that this is something to think about while we all write. Henry talked about inappropriate insertion of political beliefs earlier. Authors don’t limit their indulgences to politics. (Anyone read Clan of the Cave Bear? One-third plot, one-third treatise on the domestic habits of Neanderthals, one-third smut. And which part do you remember best?) But politics and anthropology— (Okay, this reminds me of a friend’s book. She spent two chapters having her MC wander around his new castle, visiting each and every shop from the coopers to the midden heap. I said she was showing off how much she knew about the life and times of the Middle Ages. She said he had to take the tour to find the bad mojo in the chapel.) As I was saying, politics and anthropology are merely indulgent; an inappropriate expression of the author’s interests and personality. Emotional scenes, whether it be lust-inducing like Bella and Edward gazing across the lunch room at each other, or anxious like Frodo fighting Gollum for the ring, make you remember the book. Which means you think about the book more. And are more likely to recommend it to a friend or buy something else from the author.

So, where’s that line? Do you add a sex scene just to keep your readers’ attention? Plenty of movies and TV shows do. How to you elicit an emotional response (other than lust) from your readers without going off the deep end and writing four entire books dedicated to the shrine of teenage angst?

I’m not entirely sure. But I’m going to try to write about it, anyway.

Kersley Fitzgerald (who became officially old yesterday) did promise you an in-depth comparison between Twilight and Harry Potter. And then she heard the screams of horror emanating from teh interwebs. But the more she thought about the two series, the more she felt inclined to search deeper than POV faux pas and grammatical errors. Consider this, and the next, article “inspired by” the comparison between Twilight and HP.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ultimate Geek Fu

Undead Neck-Biting Bloodsuckers

Vampire movies. We've seen 'em all. From the original 1931 Dracula through last month's Daybreakers, we really have seen 'em all, in some cases again and again, and in other cases only up to the point where we gave up in disgust. The original Universal pictures were quite good, in a period sort of way, although by the time they got around to making Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein they'd pretty much run out of gas. Ditto for the Hammer Films of the 1960s, which made American stars of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I actually really liked Daybreakers, as it was an excellent parable about the truth of Lady Thatcher's thesis: "The problem with Socialism is that sooner or later, you run out of other people's money" — or in this case, blood.

But what I'm most interested in today are the bad ones. It's hard to tell which are worse: the ones that attempt to be serious and merely fail, like Billy the Kid Versus Dracula, or the ones that attempt to be funny and end up as witless excrescences like Transylvania 6-5000 or Mel Brooks' Dracula: Dead and Loving It.

Thus today's topic: vampire movies, the good, the bad, and the fugly. Which are you picks, and why?

Let the arguments begin.

ULTIMAGE GEEK FU runs every Wednesday. Have a question that's just bugging the heck out of you about Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Battlestar Gallactica, Farscape, Firefly, Fringe, Heroes, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Smallville, The X-Files, X-Men, The Man From Atlantis, or pretty much any other SF-flavored media property? Send it to slushpile@thefridaychallenge.com with the subject line, "Geek Fu," and we'll stuff it in the queue.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ruminations of an Old Goat

Many years ago, I was reading one of Joel Rosenberg's Guardians of the Flame novels. I don't remember the title, though it was after one of the main character's son had come of age. We discovered that the main character had named his son's horse "Libertarian" and were then treated to a paragraph or two of ranting against libertarianism. Oh, it was done "in character" but it was totally jarring, totally out of place and totally pulled me out of the story. I'm charitably willing to assume Joel has run into too many of the idiotic libertarians who, for instance, insist a true libertarian would support selling heroin to five year old kids. Even given my charitable assumption, I felt the screed was totally inappropriate. I put the book aside, never finished it and never bought another Guardians book again.

Less than two years ago, I was reading one of Stuart Woods' Stone Barrington novels. Once again, while staying in character, Woods inserted a "Republicans should all be taken out and shot" screed between the main character and the woman he was going to be working with (among other things) in the novel. Once again, I was yanked out of the story by this out-of-place rant by Woods. I put the novel aside and have no further interest in reading any further novels by Woods.

I've had the same reaction running across screeds again Democrats, though I can't recall the author or the name of the novel.

The jarring interjection of the author's political opinions always yanks me out of the story. And I can't understand why otherwise good authors would be willing to risk pulling readers out of the story or risk irritating fans whose politics are being trashed. Rosenberg, at least, picked a minor political party to slam. But what does Woods think he's going to gain by insulting what are likely about half of his readers?

Lest you think this is a politically motivated column, it's not. No, this column is about writing. Let's take a look back at the books I mentioned above, a fantasy novel and a mystery that did not involve politics. What did the authors gain by adding their short rants against political parties they don't like? In my case, they both lost a reader.

So, what's the lesson for today? Be careful what you include in your story. Every paragraph should work towards building your story, your world, your characters. Regardless of your personal beliefs, unless expressing those beliefs will serve the story, don't put them into the story. And that's the thing about both of the rants I described to start this column. Neither rant served the story. Had either of them actually served the story, I wouldn't have minded reading them. They wouldn't have yanked me out of the story because they would have belonged there.

As far as I'm concerned, an author has an implied contract with his or her readers. Under the contract, the author agrees the story comes before personal politics. If you want to inject politics, write a political story. Even then, the story comes first.

Henry is a former comic book writer, contributor to the Curse of the Wereweasel (currently on hiatus) and winner of multiple Friday Challenges before taking his place as one of the judges. Ruminations of an Old Goat appears every Monday morning.

A tech question

Please excuse a commercial moment, if you will, but since the writers here are obviously heavy users of writing-related technologies, any thoughts on the the default OpenOffice Writer/Microsoft Word button layout for use with a forthcoming high-tech mouse would be appreciated. The top two segments show the 16 buttons (with clicks and double-clicks) on the top of the device, the bottom row shows a) the joystick click and the side button, b) the scroll wheel (up, click/double-click, and down), and c) the four joystick positions (plus the four yellow positions when the joystick is pressed in).

Any thoughts and suggestions for potential improvement would be most helpful. This is for a broad-spectrum default mode, an extreme range of customization including macros is permitted but not desired for the defaults. Thank you.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

And the winner is...

Otogu was quite demanding up there in the Great White North, otherwise known of as Minnesota, keeping Bruce occupied all of last week and this weekend. It's a good thing there are two judges on this site, otherwise it might be Monday night or later before this week's winner was announced! And now, on to the entries:

The Bandit - Despite her wide travels, Sinead struck me as a homebody. Overstocking potatoes and covering her house in doilies match that impression quite well. I can't resist adding my own "little thing" about doilies to yours, I'll bet Sinead found some really nice doilies and made a point of showing them off to guests. The guests decided she was a doily fanatic and started giving her doilies as gifts. Sinead is too polite to say she has more than enough of the things now and even displays every last one she's been given (thus adding to the impression that she's a doily fanatic). Sinead's fascination with computer games helps explain why she's a good liaison with the big'uns. She's fascinated with their creations but has a will strong enough to resist the temptations they offer. Very good!

Watkinson - Interesting timing for your entry, as the Boy asked to watch the original Star Wars Friday night. So I paid close attention to TK-421's brief scene and listened to his tragic end in the hold of Millennium Falcon. Each of your "little things" works well for a deployed Stormtrooper. Gambling, competition shooting and gathering mementos to send home to his daughters are all fine background ideas, but I doubt they are going to be unique to TK-421 nor do they give us much more insight into who he is. All are good ideas, I'd just have mixed in at least one thing that would seem truly unique to TK-421. Good entry and a really neat character selection!

Miko - I think you're simply incapable of writing an entry for the Friday Challenge that doesn't have some sort of story to it! Great background stuff on an old favorite cartoon character of mine (her cameo in Roger Rabbit was a high point of the movie for me). While the "used to be a dog" bit came totally out of left field, I think the Victrola, record selection and reflections on how people respond to her Boop-Oop-a-Doop are dead on target. Nice stuff!

Arisia - You provide an excellent justification for why Snape went into potions and for his nickname. Selling it to us muggles as Nyquil is just icing on the cake. (I do wish he'd managed to make the vile stuff taste better before released it to the market, though.) The enchanted photo at his bedside rings of authenticity, as well. Everyone has to have a favorite food -- almond butter and honey sounds pretty good, too -- and I can see his developing from some experiment that involved mixing those two ingredients. Great entry!

As of this writing, the vote is pretty evenly split, with everyone except Miko having received a vote so far. I liked all of the entries but, in the end, feel as Arisia really hit Snape dead-on. She's this week's winner.

Come on down and select your prize!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Open Mic Saturday

Good morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Fitz of Distraction

Kersley Fitzgerald is an accidental cartoonist who is attempting to give up coffee shops for Lent. Which is really rather odd, because she's Protestant. But, to make up for it, she didn't know when Lent actually started and spent the first morning at Starbucks. She doesn't drink Chai anymore, though--too much sugar. She's all about the half-caff-grande-skinny-vanilla with a sprinkle of cinnamon and eight sprinkles of nutmeg. And, since she's from the Pac NW, she's licensed to order a coffee beverage that takes up to four minutes to name. But she's not from Seattle, so she can't take ten minutes. She's from Portland. And her parents lived just up the hill from Widmer's. Which means she's allowed to drink girl beer, like honey-raspberry-wheat. Although she recently discovered Guinness, so that's alright. She can drink Guinness because her grandfather's family was Irish-Catholic. Which brings us back to Lent. See how everything in her life fits together so nicely?

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Friday Challenge 2/19/2010

This week in The Friday Challenge

Henry Vogel fills us in on the script-writing equivalent of National Novel Writing Month, Script Frenzy. Join the discussion...

Henry Vogel writes about the girl in the window, love at first site and the terror of requesting permission to marry a man's youngest daughter. Join the discussion...

Also, Kersley Fitzgerald shows us what truly important to writers, there is a week before the deadline for the current greater Friday Challenge, Splatter Cinema. Finally, Otogu (Other things of greater urgency) demanded a sacrifice this week. Alas, it was Ultimate Geek Fu. All this and more, this week in The Friday Challenge!

And now, let's look at the entries for this week's lesser Friday Challenge, Three Little Things.

Three Little Things

The Bandit - Fitzgerald's Sinead

Watkinson - Imperial Stormtrooper #TK-421

Miko - Boop-Oop-a-Doop

Arisia - Severus Snape

If I've missed anyone's entry, please let me know.

An interesting collection, ranging from a character created for our Christmas Story Friday Challenge (Sinead's story can be found here, password "challenge") to a character from the days of black-and-white cartoons. As always, even if you haven't submitted an entry this week—even if you've never submitted an entry in any week—you're invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorite. Don't be shy about leaving feedback on the authors' sites, either. Writers thrive on knowing that someone out there is actually reading their words. The winner will be announced on Sunday, February 21, at 9:00 PM CST.

And now for this week's challenge.

Future Olympics

Anyone with a television (i.e. most of us except Vidad) knows that the Winter Olympics are currently underway in Vancouver. This is the year the Boy has finally chosen to get really interested in the Olympics, recording all of the broadcasts, watching sports he'll never show any interest in for the next four year and pulling for the athletes from his country. In other words, acting just every other fan of the Olympics.

What I find most interesting about the Winter Olympics is the proliferation of relatively new sports included in the games. I cut my teeth on the 1968 Winter Olympics (and will never be able to explain to a child who watched the U.S. win six medals in one day just how much Peggy Flemming's lone gold medal meant to this country). For decades there was little change in the winter sports included in the games. Suddenly we're watching people pounding over moguls, making crazy twists and spins from the half pipe and, my personal favorite, racing four at a time in the snowboardcross. Many of these sports are so new they've only been around for twenty years or so.

And that brings us to our challenge for this week. Who could have imagined that a simple invention such as the snowboard would lead to the Olympic sports we watch today? Oh, probably anybody with any amount of imagination, that's all. Give people a new toy and within ten minutes someone is going to be creating some kind of competition for the toy. And that's our challenge for this week.

Create a new sport for the Olympics of the future. The sport can be simple or complex, something as straight forward as a race or as complex as a judged event. This is for the future, so feel free to "invent" things that don't exist, such as gravity-free arenas or floatboards or bio-sculpted creatures. The only restriction is the creation must be required for the competition. You do not need to create jargon for the sport nor work out all the details of the scoring system in a judged sport (though you might get scored for a higher level of difficulty by the judges if you do either or both of these). The idea is to provide enough description that we can envision the sport from a spectator's point of view.

As always, we're playing by the badly out-of-date Official Rules of the Friday Challenge and playing for whatever is behind equally badly out-of-date Door #3. The deadline for this challenge is midnight Central time, Thursday, February 25.

And also as always: remember, the objective here is to have fun!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Deadline Reminder

The deadline for the current lesser Friday Challenge, Three Little Things, is tonight at midnight, Central time. As I'll be asleep at midnight, Central time, those of you who have to snowdog their entry (i.e. post an entry past the deadline) have until early Friday morning to get your entry in. If you post much past 6:00 AM Central time, you'll be in danger of missing the deadline. Take advantage of that time if you need it!

You've still got one week before the current greater Friday Challenge Splatter Cinema is due. If you're not sure how to write a treatment, look here for tips on writing a treatment. Look here for actual treatments, many of them for movies that have been produced, or here for a funny treatment ~brb wrote. Check out the rest of the site for scripts of all kinds; definitely a good place to look for those who learn by looking at examples!

Also, remember you can post to the Friday Challenge Drop if you want to enter but don't want your entry available to everyone in the world with internet access. The password is "challenge" to login as a guest.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Script Frenzy - NaNoWriMo for Script Writers

Considering our current greater Friday Challenge involves writing a short treatment for a horror film, I thought I'd mention that Script Frenzy, a world-wide challenge to write a 100 page script in a month, starts on March April 1. As with NaNoWriMo, the script can be any genre and any kind of script -- movie, TV, multiple short films, stage play or even graphic novel -- as long as you write 100 pages worth in the month of March April. The Script Frenzy web site even has an Intro to Screenwriting for those of us who are new to the format.

I even think writing a 100 page script will require less time than writing a 60,000 word novel. That's not to say that writing a good 100 page script will be easy, but the final word count will be considerably lower than 60,000. And with the explosion of online outlets for budget movies, both short and long, I would imagine there is a demand for good screenplays. Who knows, you might even be able to get your screenplay produced!

If you write a treatment for our current great Friday Challenge, you'll be one step closer to writing at least some of those 100 pages, too. Don't you love it a plan comes together?

I didn't enter NaNoWriMo, but I'm seriously considering taking a crack at Script Frenzy. Who else is interested?

Henry is a former comic book writer and current Chief Feline Officer of the Friday Challenge. What he knows about writing screenplays and the market for them can be written on one side of a Post-It note. That doesn't stop him from speculating on the potential market for those things, anyway. Henry can be reached at tabby dot wrangler at gmail dot com.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ruminations of an Old Goat

I originally wrote this in May of 2008 as an entry for the first "What I did on my summer vacation" Friday Challenge. It seems appropriate to run it again on the day after Valentine's Day. For those who remember reading this two years ago, I have added some new stuff.

In the fall of 1978 I was working as a pizza delivery guy while taking a semester off from college. While taking a pizza to one of the women's dorms, always a favorite destination, I just happened to look up. I don't know why, but I did. Right into the eyes of a pretty, blonde coed who was sitting in the window of her dorm room studying. She smiled at me and waved. I smiled and waved back, all the while thinking, "She seems nice. It's a pity I'll never meet her." I don't know why this scene stuck with me. After all, I delivered pizza to at least a dozen different pretty coeds every day. I didn't remember them beyond the end of the day. But I remembered every second of my brief encounter with the woman in the window.

A few months later, on March 10, 1979, I met Audrey. I was in my fourth year in college (because I was a lazy, class dropping bum I can’t call it my senior year in college) and Audrey was a freshman. We met at a cast party for a one act play. I had been in the play, Audrey knew other people who had been in the play.

I've always been a romantic who believed in love at first sight. When I saw Audrey – tall, slender, blonde with green, intelligent eyes – I had proof it existed. I knew I had to meet her. Had to. Unable to arrange an introduction (I didn’t know who she knew from the cast), I decided to take matters into my own hands.

“Do you mind if I try to pick you up?” I asked.

Yes, I really asked that. It did have the advantage that it was direct. Perhaps it also helped that Audrey thought I was at least halfway drunk at the time. Don’t knock it, though. It worked.

“You can try,” she said.

We spent the rest of the party together. Except for the day after the party, we saw each other every day for the next couple of weeks. Thirteen days after we met, I asked her to marry me. I would have asked earlier but I didn’t want to rush things. She said yes.

The next day, we told some of our closest friends. Their reactions were all strangely similar.

“Holy shit!” they all said. Sometimes following that up with, “You’re kidding, right?”

Given our friends’ reactions to our announcement, we decide to wait a while before telling our parents. Like until summer break. That’s when we’d tell my parents and I would ask Audrey’s father for permission to marry his youngest daughter. You see, in the euphoria after Audrey agreed to marry me, I offered to ask her father for her hand in marriage. It appealed to Audrey’s sense of the romantic. She agreed. I was stuck.

About a month later, Audrey and I were in her dorm room studying. Really, I swear! Audrey grabbed her notes, sat in the window and started studying. I just stared. Because she sat in the window. And was blonde. And her dorm room was in the location to be the pretty girl in the window I could never forget. Not only had I managed to meet the woman I never thought I would ever meet, I was engaged to marry her!

Summer break came and, along with it, the time to spring the news of our engagement to our parents. Telling my parents was a snap. They took the two of us out to dinner one night and, as we were sitting down, I just told them. It was amazingly easy and they thought it was wonderful news.

Audrey’s father, though, was a different matter all together. Now I know he’s an introvert. Then I thought he was silently sizing me up to see if I was good enough for his daughter. He seemed the type who might have a loaded shotgun stashed somewhere nearby, just in case a potential suitor needed to be taught some manners. He already turned the hose on one future son-in-law who would end up marrying his oldest daughter. What would he do to the guy who wanted to marry the baby of the family?

I’d say I was nervous when Audrey and I arrived at her house for dinner with her parents, but I’d be lying. I was flat out terrified. Her mother’s always effusive welcome did nothing to put my mind at ease. Audrey saw me seated in the living room with her father then abandoned me. To hear her tell it, she simply went to help her mother prepare dinner.

So, there I was. In the living room. With Audrey’s father. Who was generally not paying any attention to me. And I was supposed to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. I looked toward the kitchen, the bright, cheery, safe kitchen. Where the woman I loved was setting the table for dinner.

So, I sucked it up.

“Mr. Brandt?” I asked. I had just turned 22, well past puberty, but was pleased my voice didn’t break.

“Hm?” he responded.

“I’d… like your permission to marry Audrey,” I rushed it out.

He looked at me. Just looked at me. I’m pretty sure I had turned 23 by the time he finally spoke.

“I think you ought to finish college first,” he said.

I didn’t even stop to wonder whether his answer meant yes or no, just blurted out, “Oh, that’s our plan! We aren’t planning on getting married this summer or anything.”

He just nodded. Then Audrey’s mother called us into dinner.

Through out dinner, nothing was said of my short discussion with Audrey’s father. Audrey’s father was quiet. But then he always was. Audrey kept giving me sidelong glances as if asking, “Well, did you do it?” Audrey’s mother was the only one who was oblivious to the undertone.

After dinner, when we were backing out of the driveway, Audrey said, “I thought you were going to ask Dad tonight.”

“I did,” I said. “He didn’t say no, at least.”

At that very same instant, inside the house, Audrey’s father turned to her mother and said, “Well, I got a surprise just before dinner.”

It's been 31 years since I asked the father of the girl in the window for her hand in marriage. This October will mark the 29th year of that marriage.

I've never regretted a single minute of any of those years.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Open Mic Saturday

Good morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Fitz of Distraction

Nope, Kersley didn't lose her comics, either. For some reason, she was really anal and downloaded each batch to flickr as they were completed. And she had the PowerPoint file on her thumbdrive. (But wait, there's more.) Plus, although she doesn't have PowerPoint on the desktop, she does have it on the laptop. Yay!

And she still has calendars. They make perfect St. Patrick's Day gifts!

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Friday Challenge - 2/12/10

This week in The Friday Challenge

Kersley Fitzgerald provides a list of sites with useful information for writers. She also gives us a list of books on writing that she'd love to have. Join the discussion...

Henry Vogel writes about his earliest Super Bowl memories, speculates on the most important professional football game ever played and wonders how long it will take for his teenage son to decide his father isn't an idiot after all. Join the discussion...

Ultimate Geek Fu discusses Lost and speculates on the mysteries to be solved and not solved. There is also speculation about what will happen to longest running characters. Join the discussion...

Also, Kersley Fitzgerald shows the highs and lows of finishing that first novel, Miko is the winner of the 1/29/10 Friday Challenge, "Wii for Geezers," with Patrick Henry scoring an honorable mention. All this and more, this week in The Friday Challenge!

Everyone gets a weekend off from reading entries and voting because there isn't a lesser challenge running. I suspect this will always happen the week after a greater challenge is introduced. But now that we're a week into the Splatter Cinema greater challenge, it's time to introduce a new lesser challenge.

Three Little Things

A long, long time ago in a magazine whose title I'm not sure I remember -- I think it was Locus but it was over 30 years ago -- I read an article on writing by Roger Zelazny. Zelazny was discussing characters and what he would do to help him get a better feel for characters in his stories. In the article, he discussed the method that worked best for him.

While developing a character for his stories, Zelazny would come up with three characteristics that would never be used in the story. These characteristics could be just about anything; annoying habits, hobbies, compulsions, general interests, the kind of food the character enjoyed eating, how deeply in debt the character was and why. You get the idea.

The challenge for this week is to select a well known fictional character and develop Zelazny's three little things for that character. You could tell us what Luke Skywalker's hobbies were before C-3PO and R2D2 arrived in his life. Or tell us what Frodo Baggins' favorite food was before he became the Ring Bearer. What does Superman do on his weekends when he isn't busy saving the world? The characteristics don't have to be blatantly obvious, but they must not contradict what we already know about the character, either.

AS an example, let's consider a character who we know enjoys reading science fiction, watching science fiction movies, writing science fiction and comic books, telling stories, playing pencil and paper role playing games and working in the IT industry. Two easy unknown characteristics of this character could be that he covers his desk at work in science fiction toys, especially space ships, and enjoys playing video games, though first person shooters give him motion sickness. Both of those minor characteristics fit with what we already know about the character. Our third characteristic can be something that isn't so closely associated with those characteristics we already know. So let's say our character is also a hopeless romantic who believes in love at first sight, true love and living happily ever after. While he may not be willing to watch Beaches, he does enjoy light romantic comedies. He was even somewhat disappointed that the main character in Heinlein's Starman Jones didn't get the girl at the end of the novel.

And there we go, three characteristics for our completely unknown, make up off the top of my head, no idea who the guy could be character. Simple, right?

As always, we're playing by the badly out-of-date Official Rules of the Friday Challenge and playing for whatever is behind equally badly out-of-date Door #3. The deadline for this challenge is midnight Central time, Thursday, February 18.

And also as always: remember, the objective here is to have fun!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Deadline Reminder

There isn't a challenge due this week. You've still got two weeks before the Splatter Cinema challenge is due. If you're not sure how to write a treatment, look here for tips on writing a treatment. Look here for actual treatments, many of them for movies that have been produced. Check out the rest of the site for scripts of all kinds; definitely a good place to look for those who learn by looking at examples!

Critical Thinking: A Random List

No, I didn't get to that in-depth analysis comparing Twilight with Harry Potter yet. And, yes, I know some of you are cheering that fact. Truth is, the topic keeps getting bigger the longer I think about it.

In the meantime, I thought I'd shell out a list of websites I've discovered--many through comments on this blog--that I use for writing.

Patricia C. Wrede
Word Count
Query Letters
Self Publishing vs. Vanity Publishing
Turkey City Lexicon
Choosing an Agent
The Secret Diaries
Sherwood Smith
Big Fat Prize

A lot of these I look at so infrequently I didn't even remember them. However, there is one absolute stand-out that I can't plug enough. Jeff Gerke's Fiction Writing Tips has even been compiled into book form. It is plugged as tips for Christian books, but most of the advice is universal. The "Christian" bit comes into play when he describes what Christian publishers are least likely to accept--like swearing, drinking vampires with questionable sexual tendencies.

Speaking of books, here's a list of some I have and some I'd like to have:

Eats Shoots and Leaves (Warning, this book was written by a Brit, and subtle differences with American punctuation are not particularly illuminated.)
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy
The Writer's Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe
Bird by Bird
Them's Fightin' Words!
Spunk and Bite--so I can learn how to write like Bandit and miko

There are half a zillion emags and print mags out there that take stories, but only a select few that the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America recognize for membership qualification. Find them here.

Kersley Fitzgerald is an idiot who didn't back up her 8-yo hard drive. She lost PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, and 13 years worth of guitar music. But not her writing or most of her photos. How lucky is she that she wrote this post before her computer crashed and she now has all these bookmarks listed? Pretty dang lucky. But not so lucky that she still has the file with all her passwords in it.

Oy vey

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ultimate Geek Fu

On September 22, 2004, televisions across the nation showed a close-up of a man's closed eyes. The only clear sound was that of the man breathing. All other sound was muted, as if he was having trouble hearing. Suddenly, the eyes flew open, darting about in alarm and confusion. The camera pulled back, revealing a man in his early 30s, dressed in a disheveled suit, lying in tall grass. The sound of something moving in the grass builds tension until a dog trots up and licks the man's face. Slowly the man stands and stumbles off toward a nearby beach. The beach is a scene of utter devastation, obviously the result of a plane crash. Shaking himself out of his daze, the man identifies himself as a doctor and takes charge of the situation. The scene cuts to black, discordant music plays and the show's title, slightly out of focus, rotates against the black background. Lost.

It had been my intention to watch the very first episode of Lost. I forgot. I also forgot to set the VCR to record it. After missing the next few episodes as well and believing, rightly as it turned out, that the show would be best viewed chronologically and in full, I gave up trying to watch the show on broadcast TV. Instead, I would catch up after the first season was released on DVD. That didn't quite work as planned, either, as I didn't manage to completely catch up for four years. I finished watching the final episode of season four the day before the fifth season began. This time, I programmed the DVR to record the series and haven't missed a episode since.

That first episode set the tone and style for each episode to come. The show almost always begins with a close up of a specific character, many times just of the character's eyes. As the character takes in his situation, the audience takes it in as well. This is almost always followed by a flurry of action, a revelation of some kind then the opening title. While each episode generally advances the overall story arc, different characters are also featured, including flashbacks to the character's back story and, in later episodes, flashes forward to future events. Most episodes end with a twist or a cliff hanger, after which the screen immediately goes black. On the mysterious island of Lost, it's an effective format.

And the island very definitely is mysterious. Characters who wander into the jungle hear whispering sounds coming from all around them. Unknown monsters chase characters. The truly mysterious smoke monster kills some who survived the crash. The island is already inhabited by the frightening Others, who attack under cover of darkness, taking children and pregnant women. A concrete hatch is discovered but cannot be opened. On the hatch is written a string of numbers one character used to win the lottery, starting a long run of bad luck for everyone around him. A character who was taking the body of his late father home not only sees his father on the island, he has conversations with him.

As the seasons pass, some of those initial mysteries are solved while other, more perplexing mysteries arise. Original characters die or even escape from the island. New characters appear to replace them. And some of them die, too. Entering the final season, I'm not even sure all of the primary seven characters who have been around since the beginning – Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, Sayid, Jin and Sun – will survive the end of the series. To my mind, this is a good thing, as perilous situations are filled with tension because the audience has learned that major characters may very well die.

Here we are with 17 episodes left in the series and a whole lot more questions than we started with. The producers say they'll answer the questions affecting the individual characters but not all of the overall questions. So, which questions do you think they'll answer?

Will Jack find out what happened to his father?

Will Kate be allowed to go free?

Will Kate pick Jack or Sawyer or neither of them?

What the heck is the smoke monster and why is it walking around looking like John Locke?

What was the Darma Initiative looking for on the island?

Who the heck is Richard and why doesn't he age?

Will everyone get off the island? Wait, they are off the island! Except they aren't. How can that be?

What's single biggest mystery you'd like to see resolved? What's the most stupid or the one you care nothing about? Or do you even care about Lost at all? And why does all of this sound like a soap opera with an exotic setting?

Let the arguments begin.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ruminations of an Old Goat

I'm writing this on Super Bowl Sunday, the closest thing the U.S. has to a national sports holiday. The game won't be played for several hours, so I'll have to add an update some time late tonight or early Monday morning if I want to mention the results. But right now I'm thinking about how this once-a-year football game worked its way into American culture so quickly.

The first Super Bowl was played during my lifetime. At the time, it was called it the World Championship Game, playing off of baseball's very popular World Series. I was nine and even watched the game. I don't really remember the game, but I know I watched it because the Green Bay Packers won the game. I was a die-hard Packers fan at the time, having a Packers poster on the wall in my room and an autographed photo of Green Bay's quarterback, Bart Starr. (Back in the '60s, you could get an autographed photo of a player by simply writing to the team and requesting one. You didn't even have to pay for shipping. Somehow, I doubt that would work these days.)

That first game proved successful enough that another game was scheduled for the following year. The Packers won that game, too, though I have only fleeting memories of that game as well. I have far better memories of Bart Starr sneaking across for the winning touchdown in the NFL Championship game against Dallas. But with the success of the first two games, the game seemed destined to be an annual event.

While the second Super Bowl was a success, the results were exactly as everyone in the sports world expected. The long-established NFL champion took the upstart AFL champion out to the wood shed and taught them to respect their betters. For you young'uns, when the Super Bowl began, it was played between teams from two totally different leagues; the National Football League, formed in 1920, and the American Football League, formed in 1960. In the minds of many observers, the AFL was a second-rate league whose teams had no business being on the same field with the venerable NFL teams.

Super Bowl III could arguably be called the most important single game in the history of professional football (American football, for any international readers). Sports historians generally say the 1958 NFL championship, the first nationally televised professional football game and the first to require overtime to determine the champion, was the most important. I was one year old at the time, so I can't say I watched it. But I watched Super Bowl III, featuring the power house Baltimore Colts against the upstart New York Jets. In its own way, this game mirrored the cultural backdrop of the times. Played in early 1969, the story of the game was the story in the news every night, with the aging Baltimore Colts taking the part of the establishment and the young, hip New York Jets taking the part of the brash youth.

The Packers' lopsided victories in the first two championship games, combined with a dominating season from the Colts, let to predictions that the Colts would score at will, including some suggesting they might score 70 points or more. Joe Namath, quarterback for the Jets, played the role of "brash youth" perfectly by guaranteeing a victory for the Jets. It's been forty-one years since this game was played, yet I still remember all of the hype and build-up, the claims and counter-claims, Namath's brash pronouncements and the mocking tones in which those pronouncements were reported. The game cut across generational lines, as well. Every father in the neighborhood was pulling for the Colts. All of us kids were pulling for the Jets.

With hype of that level, the game could easily have been a dud. It wasn't. At least not for my friends and me. When the clock ran out on the game, Joe Namath had delivered; Jets 16 - Colts 7. The upset of the century had taken place on the biggest stage professional football had to offer. After just three years, the Super Bowl was cemented as the game to watch.

Today's Super Bowl will be the forth-fourth played and the thirty-ninth I'll have watched. I'll pull for the Saints but I won't be upset if the Colts win. I'll hope for some really good commercials. And tomorrow I'll do the same thing fans every where will do. I'll hope that next year my team will make it to the Super Bowl.
Monday morning...

Watching the Super Bowl last night served as a solid reminder, had I been able to forget, that the Boy is now a teenager. For a kid who had never watched an entire Super Bowl before last night, he displayed extreme confidence in his "knowledge" of football strategy and history. I wonder how many years must pass before he is willing to admit I'm not a complete idiot? Fortunately, I do remember being a teenager and know I did the same thing to my father. It doesn't make it any easier taking the role of family idiot, but I'm comfortable knowing it's payback I earned long ago.

As far as the Super Bowl goes, the commercials were disappointing but the game was not. Football fans were treated to a hard fought, back-and-forth game that wasn't sealed until Colts failed to score on fourth and goal with less than a minute to play. For a team many people wrote off after they lost the last three games of the regular season, the Saints proved the first thirteen games were no fluke. So many of the Saints key players are young enough that I expect the team to be in the Super Bowl hunt for years to come.

The less said about the commercials, especially those of the "buy our product and restore your manhood" variety, the better.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

And the winner is...

The Saints?!?! I am mildly surprised, as I expected the Colts to walk all over them. There's going to be a lot of serious drinking going on in Nawlins tonight. Of course, as I recall, that's pretty much business as usual there, anyway.

As for The Two: that much went about as expected. Thirty seconds of "Pinball Wizard," the three-minute version of "Baba O'Riley," a chunk of the "Theme from C.S.I.," thirty seconds of "See Me, Feel Me, Bite Me," and then a chopped-down version of "Won't Get Fooled Again" that made the old AM radio edit version seem robust in comparison. Yes, there was a wardrobe malfunction; Townshend accidentally pulled out his shirttails, exposing his truss. (Pete, buddy, as a longtime admirer, I have to tell you; give the porkpie hat back to Elvis Costello. It just doesn't look right on you.) Yes, the light show was absolutely over the top. Legend has it that when Ridley Scott wanted outrageous lasers and fog in Alien, he borrowed the Who's stage effects.

Oh, that's right, we've got this Friday Challenge thing here, too, don't we? Turning now to Wii for Geezers, I'll start by dropping back and punting to Henry.
"Patrict Henry - If there was ever a way to get me to spend time gardening, Wii Vegetable Gardening is probably it. All the advantages of gardening without all that heat, dirt and bending over! The thing is, if it was designed right, I'll bet some people would actually play this. I don't know if that means you should be in game design or that people need to get out more, but I'm sure there are some people who would play it. Since everyone knows little old ladies love to work in the garden, this is perfect for the retirement home crowd. Interesting and well described.

Arisia - To heck with old people, I want to play Wii VAX! As with Bruce, you sent me back in time to my days as a computer operator when I was in college, keeping watch over three VAX systems in the basement of an engineering building. But let's talk about your game. I don't know how it would be implemented, particularly using the processors that come with the Wii, but being able to step into a novel and play it would be about the coolest thing ever. I also think this could be a good short story or, dare I say it, script treatment for the latest challenge (if you chose the right book) if you took the time to flesh it out. Neat idea.

Waterboy - Wii Depression had me thinking about a game for psychiatrists at first. You picked a very topical idea and one that many Geezers will be able to relate to. I like the stages you provided, especially the bit about jumping from skyscrapers. Each level presents topical challenges and gives the players yet another chance to "live" through the depression. Nicely done.

Miko - Man, you picked just about every one of the stereotypical things Geezers used to talk about. "Back when I was young..." All of them were funny, including the bits about using up the last bits of cartilage, but I laughed out loud at the "walk to school" game. You write really good ad copy!

Watkinson - I'm afraid I'm one of those heathens who has never read The Wind in the Willows, although I have a fair bit of knowledge about the story. I liked using a double 'I' in "Wiind" but wonder why you didn't do the same for "Willows." Toad's driving game is great, especially the aside that most players will probably find this an easy challenge. I liked what I read but am going to have to defer to Bruce's judgment on this entry. (Note to self: read The Wind in the Willows real soon.)
Between Henry's comments and the posted commentary from the rest of the Challengers (Henry's suggestion for what we should call ourselves!), I have little to add. Watkinson, I really love The Wind in the Willows, but have trouble envisioning any actual gameplay derived from this concept, aside from things like punting on the river with Ratty and chasing weasels with Badger. You entry did move me to do a little research on who currently owns the adaptation rights to the book, though, which turned up this moment of pure horror:
"In 2003 Guillermo del Toro was working on an adaptation for Disney. It was to mix live action with CG animation, and the director explained why he had to leave the helm. "It was a beautiful book, and then I went to meet with the executives and they said, 'Could you give Toad a skateboard and make him say, 'radical dude' things,' and that's when I said, 'It's been a pleasure...'""
WaterBoy—evil, pure evil. Especially the part about beating the game only unlocking the key to 2008, when you have to do it all over again. I think if you'd included the words "shovel-ready" and "WPA," you'd have a winner.

Arisia—points for sneaking in Jim Caviezel, but the idea is just too vague. I'm sure we're all heading towards something like this—unless we're heading towards Third World squalor and the end of electricity instead, that's always a possibility. But your idea needs a lot more fleshing out.

Patrick Henry—knowing how much time my kids spent playing Sim Farm, I can really see this one working out. FFA and 4H chapters all over the country would want volume discounts, and so would the nursing homes, as it's something the residents could understand. Make sure you include submodules on plucking chickens, catching piglets, and shoveling manure.

Miko, Miko, Miko—I'm beginning to suspect that you're a slumming pro, because you write such great ad copy. You forgot to include "Starting the Outboard Motor," and just as a point of reference, Triumph kept the ability to crank-start the thing as a feature right up through the TR3A. (And believe me, hand-cranking a high-compression 2-litre engine was no joy.)

Therefore, after re-reading all the entries, re-reading all the reader comments, totting up the votes, and taking into account Henry's commentaries, we declare—

Miko to be the winner, with Honorable Mention going to Patrick Henry. So Mike and Patrick, come on down and claim your prizes!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Open Mic Saturday

Good morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Fitz of Distraction

Kersley Fitzgerald is an accidental cartoonist and a grammar amateur. And, yes, calendars are still available. But they're not stored in her garage.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Friday Challenge - 2/5/10

This week in The Friday Challenge...
Kersley Fitzgerald continues her story-by-story roundup of the latest major magazines, tackling Asimov's this week, and also reviews Diving Into The Wreck, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Is Kris truly a Big Fat Author? Not the last time I saw her, but that is always an occupational hazard for writers. Join the discussion...

Henry Vogel discusses football, surprise plays, and how to plant and care for the seeds of your surprise ending so that your readers won't accuse you of suffering from M. Night Shyamalan's Disease. Join the discussion...

Ultimate Geek Fu started out to be a discussion of the best and worst Superbowl halftime shows but turned into an extended paean to The Who, and then devolved into an old Slappy Squirrel sketch. Go figure. Join the discussion...

Avatargate breaks and becomes a headline-dominating international scandal! Well, no, not really, but the circumstantial evidence doesn't look good for James "Oops, I forgot I plagiarized The Terminator from an old Harlan Ellison Outer Limits script" Cameron. Join the discussion...

The Recently Received list receives a long-overdue update. Looking for free books and really new reading? Here's a list of the newest of the new books, available free for the taking—but there's just one catch. Read more...

Also, Kersley Fitzgerald explains the importance of character arc (2010 calendars are still available!), the inmates discuss the views from their respective places in the asylum, Door #3 receives a hasty and still-incomplete update, and Miko is the winner of the 1/22/10 Friday Challenge, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place". All this and more, this week in The Friday Challenge!

And with that said, we move on to new business.

Wii for Geezers
As you might remember, the 1/29/10 challenge was to envision a Wii game that could be played pleasurably by senior citizens in a nursing home, and then name the game and sell the idea to the rest of us. As of the deadline, we have received the following entries:

Patrick Henry, "Wii Vegetable Gardening"

Arisia, "Wii VAX"

WaterBoy, "Wii Depression"

Miko, "Geezer Wii-Zer"

Watkinson, "The Wiind in the Willows!"

If I've missed anyone's entry, please let me know.

As always, even if you haven't submitted an entry this week—even if you've never submitted an entry in any week—you're invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorite. Don't be shy about leaving feedback on the authors' sites, either. Writers thrive on knowing that someone out there is actually reading their words. The winner will be announced on Sunday, February 7, at a time to be determined by the quality of the New Orleans Saints.

And now for this week's challenge.

Splatter Cinema
This challenge comes to us courtesy of Arisia, who writes (paraphrasing extensively now to omit chatty and identifying personal details):
My son and his business partner are trying to establish themselves as indie filmmakers and are looking for scripts for short (20 minutes or less) horror films that can be made on very low budgets with amateur talent. Everybody is working on spec, for a share of the profits if there ever are any, and their films end up entered in independent film festivals and screened at fan cons. Their work so far has been real blood-and-guts stuff, but they're also interested in sci-fi...
The more we discussed this, the more we felt that this has the makings of a Greater Challenge. Not to write a full 20-minute script—no, that's a heck of a lot of work for a Friday Challenge—but to come up with a treatment for a sci-fi/horror story that could be filmed as a 20-minute short, on next to no budget.

Can't be done? Think back to The Twilight Zone or Night Gallery and subtract out the intro, outtro, and commercial-break times. Those shows ran about twenty minutes, tops, and no one's ever argued that they weren't complete stories. Rod Serling and Richard Matheson built entire careers on making sometimes unforgettable 20-minute sci-fi and horror movies that were filmed on rudimentary sets and really low budgets.

So that's your assignment for this week: we want you to start thinking of ideas that could conceivably be developed into short scripts. Don't do more than jot notes to yourself; we've decided to make this a Greater Challenge, so the deadline for finished entries is Thursday, February 25, and in the days to come we'll be discussing the mechanics of writing script treatments. (Which are not to be confused with scripts.) We haven't quite decided yet what we'll spot as a prize: we were thinking of putting up J. Michael ("Babylon 5") Straczynski's utterly authoritative phonebook, The Complete Book of Scriptwriting, but that's still open to discussion.

Ergo, for now: put on your thinking caps, and get your idea mill churning. No deadline this week. Put your slack time to good use.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Deadline Reminder

The deadline for the current Friday Challenge, Wii for Geezers, is tonight at midnight, Central time. As I'll be asleep at midnight, Central time, those of you who have to snowdog their entry (i.e. post an entry past the deadline) have until early Friday morning to get your entry in. If you post much past 6:00 AM Central time, you'll be in danger of missing the deadline. Take advantage of that time if you need it!

Also, remember you can post to the Friday Challenge Drop if you want to enter but don't want your entry available to everyone in the world with internet access. The password is "challenge" to login as a guest.

Critical Thinking--More Reviews

Please forgive a second week of reviews. I had a lot of time to read.

Asimov’s, Feb. 2010

Christianity and sci-fi don't—

Just kidding.

“Stone Wall Truth,” by Caroline M. Yoachim…there’s something deliciously other about fantasy or sci fi stories that originate out of a paradigm other than our small, Ameri/Euro culture. This one is out of Africa, which I think deepens the mystery and fantasy of it. And yet, yeah, it has a very Christian message about it. Very cool story. Uh…not for the terribly squeamish.

Then the poem “Reincarnation” about what would happen to the suicide rate if the titular concept were true.

“Dead Air” is one of those stories wherein the protagonist isn’t sympathetic. Maybe I’m just being a girl, but I don’t prefer those kinds of stories. Anyway, this one reminded me of that Doctor Who episode where the Doctor and Rose went to see QEII’s coronation and wound up saving people from being sucked into TVs—"The Idiot's Lantern." It also beautifully illustrates the maxim, “Just because everyone’s paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not in danger.”

“The Woman Who Waited Forever” was simple, but nice. I think I got the hidden message, but I’m not sure.

“The Bold Explorer in the Place Beyond.” Oh, my. Imagine, if you will, vidad is an alcoholic Civil War veteran who lost against the war against the North’s clockwork soldiers. A boy is hiding out behind a bush, trying to sneak a peek into a burlesque when vidad, seemingly unaware of his audience, begins telling the story about a small squid who wishes to see the world. Yeah, it’s that good.

“The Wind-Blown Man” is another fantasy/sci fi story with foreign roots—this time Chinese. It combines the idea of reaching Buddhist enlightenment with singularity. But where the first story in the magazine was about redemption, this one is about…Can’t tell ya. Gotta read it.

I’m afraid I didn’t read the final story, a novella called “The Ice Line.” Forgive me? According to the cover illustration, it has something to do with submarines and a giant, armored kraken-thing.

Diving into the Wreck

Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a Big Fat Author in several genres and this is the first time I’ve read her work. (I told you I’m a newbie at this!) Diving into the Wreck boasts one of those double-entendre titles I tend to indulge in for my books. “Boss” is a forty-something loner who leads civilians on diving expeditions to old spaceships to pay for her addiction to diving into historical spaceships she’d rather keep to herself. She discovers an ancient ship in a place where it shouldn’t be holding technology that no one thought existed anymore. As she fights with powers that would use it for ill gain, she dives into the wreck of her own life and discovers (a few) things about her past she didn’t know.

Concept: very cool. Two thumbs up. Anyone who’s dived before will dig it.

Characters: eh. Boss is pretty cold and abrasive—not terribly sympathetic, but I like how realistic her leadership style is. She’s not a super hero. She knows her limitations and works around them, even when that means relying on other people.

I had a problem with some of the characters’ motivations. (Why infiltrate this ship and not that one?) And one character, I just don’t get at all. But it’s her POV, and I think this is meant to be a series. So maybe that will come out later.

Writing: no complaints. (Yeah, I know—me!) It’s in present tense with short, choppy sentences and phrasing. Makes for a quick read, even when the action slows.

What have you been reading? What would you recommend? What magazines do you make sure to catch monthly—print or internet?

Kersley Fitzgerald is a wanna-be author who promises no reviews next week. It’ll either be an in-depth analysis comparing the Harry Potter series to Twilight, et al, or a list of favorite writing tips links. BTW, JK kicks Stephanie’s literary tush every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Recently Received

Sorry, I've been remiss and slightly swamped lately. The following review copies have drifted into the shop in the past month or three; all of these are advance uncorrected page-proof copies, of the sort publishers send out in order to seed and fertilize the astroturf. If you see something here that appeals to you, let us know, and we'll send it to you. All of these are one-of-a-kind items and available on a strictly first-come, first-served basis.

Here's the catch: if you take one of these books, you are implicitly agreeing to at least attempt to read the thing, and then to write either a review or a guest column on some topic tangentially related to the book. Fair enough?

Good. Then in no particular order, here's what we have.

Mamba Point, by Kurtis Scaletta
Publisher: Random House, Alfred A. Knopf imprint
Market: YA ages 9-13
Release Date: July 2010
Ad Copy: "When his dad gets a job at the U.S. embassy in Liberia, twelve-yeaer-old Linus Tuttle knows it's his chance for a fresh start. Instead of being his typical anxious self, from now on he'll be cooler and bolder: the new Linus.
     "But as soon as his family gets off the plane, they see a black mamba—one of the deadliest snakes in Africa. Linus's parents insist mambas are rare, but he can barely go outside without tripping over one—he's sure the venomous serpents are drawn to him. Then he hears about kasengs—and the belief that some people have a deep, mysterious connection to certain animals.
     "Unless Linus wants to hide in his apartment forever (while his older brother meets girls and hangs out at the pool), he has to get over his fear of his kaseng animal. Soon he's not only keeping a black mamba in his laundry hamper; he's also feeling braver than ever before. Is it his resolution to become the new Linus, or does his sudden confidence have something to do with his new scaly friend? From Kurtis Scaletta comes a humorous and compelling story of a boy learning about himself through unexpected friends, a fascinating place, and an extraordinary animal."

Vampire High: Sophomore Year, by Douglas Rees
Publisher: Random House, Delacorte imprint
Market: YA 12 and up
Release Date: July 2010
Ad Copy: "It's back to school for Cody Elliot at Vlad Dracul, the only school in Massachusetts with an (almost) all-vampire student body. But Cody's hopes fo a great sophomore year are blighted when his train wreck of a cousin, Turk Stone, moves in and messes with his life big-time.
     "Turk is a brilliant teen artist and goth with a sky-high ego. She infuriates the vampire students with her attitude, especially the dark, brooding Gregor, Cody's old rival. But something changes in Turk when she stumbles across an abandoned nineteenth-century mill in the eerie forgotten district of Crossfield and immediately claims it as her new arts center project. At first Cody resents his pushy oddball cousin; still, he has his own reasons for helping to make her dreams come true.
     "But the town of New Sodom may not be willing to give up its dark past so readily. Crossfield hides many secrets, and a mysterious vampire army called the Mercians will do anything to keep them. Everything Cody learned about courage and determination during his freshman year at Vampire High will be tested this year in Crossfield.
     "In this stirring companion to his award-winning Vampire High, Douglas Rees reveals a group of vampires who may be supersmart and superstrong, but who still have to deal with making it in the real world."

dream life, by Lauren Mechling
Publisher: Random House, Delacorte imprint
Market: YA 12 and up
Release Date: January 2010 (Oops!)
Ad Copy: "Claire Voyante's first semester at Henry Hudson High School was eventful, to say the least. But things are finally calming down: she has a better handle on her psychic abilities, a best friend in the obscenely privileged Becca Shuttleworth, and a love interest in Becca's brother; Andy (not that Becca has a clue).
     "Luckily, Claire is a girl with certain talents. And keeping secrets is one of them. Her biggest secret? The onyx and ivory cameo necklace her grandmother gave her for her fifteenth birthday is much more than just a beautiful family heirloom—ever since Claire started wearing it, her dreams have been turning out to be oddly prophetic. She knows she can't tell Becca about her necklace or her dreams, but her night visions are heating up again, and it feels like something major is going on.
     "Becca's been hanging out with her old prep-school friend and never seems to have time for Claire anymore. And soon, Claire discovers why: there's a secret group of society girls with a mysterious identity. And, it turns out, a mysterious enemy who's out to get them. The second she smells trouble, Claire jumps on the case. But is it someone close to Claire who's in danger again—or is it Claire herself whose life is at stake this time?"

Dead Man's Share, by Yasmina Khadra
Publisher: The Toby Press
Market: Adult contemporary crime/mystery
Release Date: October 2009 (Double Oops!)
Ad Copy: "Superintendent Brahim Llob is bored. Nothing seems to need his attention in an unusually peaceful Algiers—for an energetic cop, that's like being in dry dock. Luckily or unluckily for him, the peace is soon shattered, in ways he would never have expected. His subordinate, Lieutenant Lino, is besotted with an entirely unsuitable woman, and is behaving atrociously as a result—spending money he doesn't have, behaving belligerently in public, and not turning up to work. He won't listen to reason. And then, predictably, when the love of his life returns to her previous lover, Lino is devastated. Things get a lot more complicated when this prior claimant to his love's affections, the influential and wealthy Haj Thobane, survives an attempted murder that kills his chauffeur, and Lino's gun is found at the scene.
     "With Lino languishing in jail, it is up to Superintendent Llob to face down the corrupt echelons of the Algerian government and try [to] find out the truth as to what happened that night. But trying to find that truth will take him down avenues even the world-weary Llob never expected to encounter, and force him to delve deep into his beloved country's brutal past..."
     (Translated from the French by Aubrey Botsford)

Holy Roller: A White Reporter Enters the World of Black Pentecostal Spirituality, by Julie Lyons
Publisher: WaterBrook Press
Market: non-fiction/Religion/Spirituality
Release Date: July 2009 (......!)
Ad Copy: "Julie Lyons was working as a crime reporter when she followed a hunch into the South Dallas ghetto. She wasn't hunting drug dealers, but drug addicts who had been supernaturally healed of their additions. Was there a church in the most violent part of the city that prayed for addicts and got results?
     "At The Body of Christ Assembly, a rundown church on an out-of-the-way street, Lyons found the story she was looking for. The minister welcomed criminals, prostitutes, and street people—anyone who needed God. He prayed for the sick, the addicted, and the demon-possessed, and people were supernaturally healed.
     "Lyon's story landed on the front page of the Dallas Times Herald. But she got much more than a great story, she found an unlikely spiritual home. Though the parishioners at The Body of Christ Assembly are black and Pentecostal, and Lyons is white and from a traditional church background, she embraced their spirituality—that of "the Holy Ghost and fire."
     "It's all here in Holy Rollers—the stories of people desperate for God's help. And the actions of a God who doesn't forget the people who need His power."

Monster Slayers, by Lukas Ritter
Publisher: Mirrorstone
Market: ages 8-12
Release Date: May 2010 (that's better)
Ad Copy: "For as long as Evin can remember, he has dreamed of being a real hero. And when his entire village is kidnapped by evil monsters called gnolls, he finally gets his wish. With the held of his friend Jorick, a young elf wizard named Betilivatis, and an ancient guidebook of magical beasts called A Practical Guide to Monsters, Evin treks through ancient ruins and faces all kinds of strange and terrible monsters on his quest to find his family.
     "But soon, Evin realizes that not everything is as it seems. Why is Betilivatis sneaking off to report their every move to someone only she can see? Why can't Evin remember anything before the day of the kidnapping? Why does it seem as if someone—or something—is controlling the gnolls and drawing the three friends deeper into a battle they might never win?
     "The pace never falters in this page-turning adventure, and it ends with a shocking twist that will make readers want to start the story all over again."

The Dead-Tossed Waves, by Carrie Ryan
Publisher: Random House, Delacorte imprint
Market: YA 14 and up
Release Date: March 2010
Ad Copy: "Gabry lives a quiet life, secure in her town next to the sea and behind the Barrier. She's content to let her friends dream of the Dark City up the coast while she watches from the top of her lighthouse. Home is all she's ever known, and all she needs for happiness.
     "But life after the Return is never safe, and there are threats even the Barrier can't hold back.
     "Gabry's mother thought she left her secrets behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, but like the dead in their world, secrets don't stay buried. And now, Gabry's world is crumbling.
     "One night beyond the Barrier...
     "One boy Gabry's known forever and one veiled in mystery...
     "One reckless moment, and half of Gabry's generation is dead, the other half imprisoned.
     "Gabry knows only one thing: if she is to have any hope of a future, she must face the forest of her mother's past."

The Ring of Five, by Eoin McNamee
Publisher: Random House, Wendy Lamb imprint
Market: YA ages 10 and up
Release Date: May 2010
Ad Copy: "Something went wrong. Danny Caulfield doesn't know how he ended up at a mysterious academy called Wilsons. A few of the students are pretty scary. Someone is trying to murder him. Even the ravens that haunt the school seem to be against him.
     "Yet he also finds friends: Les, an exceptional thief; Dixie, who has an unsettling talent; and Vandra, a physick with special powers.
     "It turns out that Danny is destined for a terrifying mission. As he embarks on his training, he is shocked and secretly thrilled to discover that he seems to have all the natural gifts of the perfect spy—most importantly, the ability to betray.
     "The Ring of Fire is the first book in a brilliant new trilogy by the author of The Navigator. Eoin McNamee's background as an author of adult thrillers informs this exhilarating, atmospheric adventure, which is full of surprises as well as fascinating questions about loyalty, destiny, and what it means to be a spy."

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, by Francisco X. Stork
Publisher: Scholastic, Arthur Levine imprint
Market: YA ages 14 and up
Release Date: March 2010
Ad Copy: "Death. It surrounds Pancho. His father, in an accident. His sister, murderd. His own plans to trace her killer. And D.Q. - a guy Pancho's age who's dying of cancer. That is, if he'll ever shut up.
     "Love. D.Q. is writing the Death Warriors Manifesto, a guide to living out his last days fully. He needs just one more thing: the love of the beautiful Marisol. But as Pancho tracks down his sister's murderer, he finds himself falling for Marisol as well...
     "Faith. And choices that seemed right and straight-forward become tender, tentative, real. While D.Q. faces his own crisis of doubt, Pancho is inexorably drawn to a decision: to revenge his sister and her death, or to embrace the way of the Death Warrior and choose life.
     "The author of the acclaimed Marcelo in the Real World returns with a novel about the big things we live and die for, and the people who make those things matter."

Fire Will Fall, by Carol Plum-Ucci
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt imprint
Market: YA ages 14 and up
Release Date: May 2010
Ad Copy: "An action-packed story of bioterrorism that strikes far too close to home.
     "ShadowStrike poisoned the waters of Trinity Falls two months ago. Now the Trinity Four, the teens most affected by the poison, have been isolated in a remote mansion and are under twenty-four-hour medical care while scientists on four continents rush to discover a cure.
     "Meanwhile, U.S. operatives scour the world for the bioterrorists responsible for this heinous crime. But the two teen virtual spies who chased the extremists across the Internet prior to the attack are convinced that ShadowStrike is closer than USIC agents thing. The danger remains real—for ShadowStrike has every reason to pursue the Trinity Four, and their evil plan will unleash a new designer virus even deadlier than the first."

Captivate, by Carrie Jones
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Market: YA ages 12 and up
Release Date: January 2010
Ad Copy: "Zara and her friends knew they hadn't solved the pixie problem for good. Far from it. The king's needs grow deeper every day he's stuck in captivity, while his control over his pixies gets weaker. So when a new, younger pixie king shows up, war is imminent. The new King, Astley, claims he's not evil, that his pixies can coexist peacefully with humans and weres. Zara's boyfriend, Nick, isn't buying it; no pixie could possibly be a good guy. But Zara is half pixie herself, and she is just starting to think Astley could be right when Astley lets her in on another secret: he believes Zara's relationship with Nick is about to come to an end—and that she is fated to be his queen..."

Hearts at Stake, by Alyxandra Harvey
Publisher: Walker & Co.
Market: YA ages 12 and up
Release Date: January 2010
Ad Copy: "With feisty heroines, snarky humor, and satisfying romances, Hearts at Stake will stand out in a red-hot genre.
     "Solange Drake's sixteenth birthday is finally here, but in her family, this day triggers the transformation from human to vampire. Her seven older brothers each made it through the potentially deadly passage, but since she's the first female-born vampire in almost 800 years, and since her birth was foretold in a prophecy that predicts she will unite all the vampire clans as their queen, this birthday isn't looking quite so sweet. Solange could be killed by the transformation itself, or by one of the existing queen's followers who are after the bounty on her head.
     "Luckily her protective older brothers and her very kick-butt best friend, Lucy, have her well being at heart. And it will take all of them—plus the help of their nemesis, Kieran Black—to make sure Solange survives. By the stroke of midnight, her fate will be sealed, one way or another."

How I, Nicky Flynn, Finally Get a Life (And a Dog), by Art Corriveau
Publisher: Abrams, Amulet Books imprint
Market: ages 8 - 12
Release Date: May 2010
Ad Copy: "'Mom was supposed to be bringing stuff home from the Supa-Sava to make tacos with. But she wasn't holding a bag of groceries—just a leash, with Reggie hooked to the other end.'"
     "Nicky Flynn's life just got a whole lot harder. Not only have Nicky's parents gone through a messy divorce—forcing him to start a new life, in a new city, in a new school—but now his mom has gone behind his back and brought home Reggie, an eighty-pound German Shepherd from the animal shelter. Turns out Reggie is far from an ordinary pound mutt; he's a former seeing-eye dog. Trouble is, nobody's ever told Reggie he's retired...
     "Nicky isn't so sure about being dragged around the neighborhood as if he were Reggie's new blind master. But then things start to get complicated, and Nicky soon discovers that Reggie may be the only one he can rely on. Especially when Nicky tried to reconnect with his dad. He puts everything on the line—including the life of his new best friend.
     "A heartfelt and honest look at the effects of divorce and the value and gift of true friendship, from debut middle-grade author Art Corriveau."

Folly, by marthe jocelyn
Publisher: Random House, Wendy Lamb imprint
Market: YA ages 14 and up
Release Date: May 2010
Ad Copy: "Mary Finn: country girl, maid to a lord in London.
"Caden Tucker: liar, scoundrel, and heart's delight
"James Nelligan: age six, tossed into a herd of boys
"When Mary Finn falls into the arms of handsome Caden Tucker, their frolic changes the course of her life. What possesses her? She's been a girl of common sense until now. Mary's tale alternates with that of young James Nelligan, a new boy in an enormous foundling home. Three fates intertwine in this moving and fascinating story about life-changing moments.
     "In Folly, Marthe Jocelyn's breathtaking command of language, detail, and character brings Victorian London to life on every page, while the deep emotions that illuminate this novel are as current as today's news."

Blimpo: The Third Circle of Heck, by Dale E. Basye
Publisher: Random House, Random House imprint
Market: YA ages 9 to 13
Release Date: May 2010
Ad Copy: "Welcome to Blimpo, where the, um, plump kids go.
     "After his escape from Bea "Elsa" Bubb, the Principal of Darkness, Milton Fauster makes his way to Blimpo—the circle of the otherworldly reform school, Heck, where he's sure his friend Virgil is sentenced. What Milton finds in Blimpo horrifies him. The overweight dead kids spend most of their time running on giant human hamster wheels called DREADmills that detect and exploit their deepest fears. The rest they spend eating Hambone Hank's barbecue—mystery meat that is delicious, but suspiciously (to Milton, anyway) haunting. Every classroom has a huge TV screen showing happy thin people who taunt Blimpo residents with a perfection they will never attain.
     "Meanwhile, at her new job in the devil's Infernship program, Milton's sister, Marlo, knows all about trying to achieve perfection. And failing miserably. Can Milton get himself and Virgil out of Blimpo in time to rescue Marlo, too. Or is Fauster the next delicacy on Bea "Elsa" Bubb's menu?"


More listings coming soon! Or if you're impatient, there are more older review copies heaped on The Assignment Desk.
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