Saturday, February 25, 2012


I recently saw a headline that said, “Seinfeld actor shoots himself in the head”. Right away, that grabbed my attention. We would air re-runs of Seinfeld after our 10 o’clock news when I worked in Idaho so I’d seen all the episodes several times. Who had shot themselves? Was it Jerry? Kramer? George? As it turns out, it was an actor named Daniel von Bargen who played a character named Mr. Kruger. This is a tragic story, but it wouldn’t have gotten nearly the interest if the headline read, “Daniel von Bargen shoots himself in the head”.

Daniel von Bargen has eighty four acting credits to his name (according to, so why include the “Seinfeld” reference in the headline? Because it was a very popular show and I’m sure it had many people (including me) click on the link to find out which actor had done it.

This is just an example of “spin”.—meaning to take the facts and present them in a way that can bias a person’s understanding of the situation. This is very rampant in politics, but it can really be found everywhere.

I believe we all “spin” things to some degree. It could be telling your parents, “Guess what! I all A’s in my classes except one!” Granted, that “except one” was an “F”, but alas, that isn’t where we put the focus. Or how about, “I did the wash today sweetheart! I’ve even folded them and put them away!” Granted, I also washed her favorite white shirt with the colors, so now it’s pink, but heck, I did the wash!

A few months ago I entered a couple of short stories into a contest called “Parables for Today”. Several weeks ago, they announced that one of my stories made the top twenty five finalists. Just last week, they announced the top five winners. I took fourth place, given the official title of “Honorable Mention”. However, the way it was announced was I was one of the “winners”. So, naturally, I can (and do) call myself an “award winning author”. Is it spin? Maybe.

My bio also states I’m an award winning TV director. That is also true. While at BYU in a highly competitive program, I was awarded the “Silver Microphone” (the highest honor) for directing. Is it a valid award? Yes, very much so. Can people interpret “award winning TV director” as something else? I’m sure they can. It doesn’t mean my bio is untrue.

There are even programs out there for authors on how to become a “bestselling author”. What’s the spin? Simple. It’s a massive blitz to sell enough copies of your book to break the top one hundred of some list. Even if the book is there for only a week, you’re still a bestselling author.

So, is “spinning” something the same as telling a lie? I guess it comes down to one thing: intention.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review of “Crater Lake—Battle For Wizard Island” by Steve Westover

Title: Crater Lake (Battle for Wizard Island)
Publisher: Cedar Fort, Inc. Publishing
Publication Date: March 2012
Paperback: 256 Pages
Genre: Teens & YA, Children’s, Literature & Fiction, Mystery

On the cover of the book, “Crater Lake—Battle For Wizard Island” it also has the words, “An ancient evil lurks in the depths.”

It sum up the book, I think the blurb on the back does a nice job. It says, “While visiting his crazy Uncle Bart at Crater Lake National Park, thirteen-year-old Ethan's world collapses when all the adults at Crater Lake disappear, including his parents. Now Ethan must rally his new friends and decipher the legends of Crater Lake to find the key to rescuing his parents from their earthen prison before he's captured too and their captivity becomes permanent.”

The book was written for younger readers, I’d say ages ten and up. The main characters in the book are in that age range, and I can imagine the readers of that same age group relating to what the characters are experiencing. How scary would it be to have your parents disappear when you’re thirteen and at an unfamiliar National Park? That, in and of itself, is a scary premise.

Included are mystical elements of smart cougars, bears, birds, bats as well as . . . ok, there are some even creepier things toward the end of the book, but I don’t want to ruin the surprises.

Reading about the author, and how he grew up in Oregon, I could tell how he used his experiences in camping and hiking to add a vivid picture of the setting. Aside from the ground eating people and the evil that is around, it sounds like a cool place to visit.

To fully appreciate this book, you need to read it from the point of view of the age group it was written for. When I was that age, the world was full of mystery, wonder and exciting possibilities. Adults may read this book and say, “Yeah, like that would ever happen.” Or “Why are the characters acting that way?” Remember: they’re kids.

Overall I enjoyed the book. It’s always a pleasure to read an imaginative, clean story. While there are some scary moments, it’s still a safe read for children.

As a fellow author, I know how difficult it is to write a book, let alone get it published. I feel my writing has improved because I was given some excellent suggestions from other writers. If I may be so bold, let me share the two things that distracted me in the book.

First, there was a lot of head hopping going on. While switching from points of view during a scene doesn’t break any federal laws, I found I would just start to connect to a character when all of a sudden I was in someone else’s head. It was a bit disconcerting.

Second, at the end of the book, the “heroes” of the book must complete their mission by a certain time, yet the sense of urgency was barely there—and not until the very last moments. At one point, with time running out, one of the characters won’t do what he’s asked to do until he’s been told what is going on. It was distracting enough that it pulled me out of the story.

Again, these are personal things I struggled with, and I don’t think they are enough to ruin the book for its targeted audience.

The book ends with the possibility of another book or two to be written. In fact, I dare say there needs to be at least another book to tie up several things that were introduced toward the end.

Who would like this book? As stated above, I’d say ages ten and up, leaning toward the male side of things, though there is quite a strong female character that girls can relate to.

I wish Steve Westover a huge amount of success with this book. He’s got a wonderful imagination and a talent for setting a great scene.

For more on the author, click here.

For ordering information, click here.

For a chance to win a print version of the book, click here.

**Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book to review, but it didn't influence my review.**

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Book review of “Venom” by K. C. Grant

“Venom” by K. C. Grant is a different type of suspense / mystery—in a good way. I think the term “slow burn” is a good way to describe the feel of the book, but that doesn’t mean it was boring. For me, a “slow burn” takes time to build up the suspense, like a pot of boiling water. And just like said pot, once the water does get to a full boil, it is quite turbulent.

So, if it takes its time to develop, then what happens in the meantime? Grant uses this to develop her characters so when the spam hits the fan, you honestly care about what happens.

The story centers around Samantha Evans, a woman in her mid-twenties who is working at an entry level position at a big advertising firm. She seems to be going nowhere fast, until opportunity knocks. The company is sending a team to Mexico City to work on a campaign. Samantha speaks Spanish fluently thanks to an LDS mission she served to California. Because of her knowledge of the language, she gets the chance to go with the group as an assistant / translator.

Grant does a wonderful job creating the unique and definable characters that go on this trip. As a single woman, Samantha finds herself getting attention from a couple of the men on the trip—one she appreciates and one she doesn’t. But it’s not cut and dried. Just as Samantha starts to figure out these men, they do things that make her doubt their intentions.

During the two week trip, Samantha comes to realize the people aren’t who they pretend to be—each for their own reasons. She discovers she is involved in much more than an advertising campaign.

One aspect of the book I really enjoyed was the insight to Mexico and its culture. We learn it through Samantha’s eyes, so we discover things as she does. It adds a level of depth that many books lack.

Did I enjoy this book? Yes, yes I did. Very much so, in fact. It’s written very well with enough detail to be interesting, but not bogged down. I came to like, or despise, the characters over time—I made a real connection with them. For me, this is more of a character story set in a mystery / suspense setting.

Who would like this book? It’s a clean read with no bad language, sex scenes and very little violence. It’s geared more to an LDS (Mormon) audience as there are many references that non-members may not fully understand or appreciate.

For more about author K. C. Grant, click here.

To buy it on Amazon, click here.

To buy it from Deseret Book, click here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mixing it up with the Fuzz

Have you ever spoken to someone who acts like they don’t believe anything you say? If you have, then you understand how frustrating it can be, especially when you are telling the truth. If you haven’t, where do you live? I want to live there.

Sadly, it seems like the police officers I’ve had to deal with seem to assume I’m lying. I can understand that to a point. I’m sure they get lied to a lot of the time because people don’t want to get in trouble. If that’s the majority of what they deal with, I can see how they would tend to be skeptical of what they hear.

I respect Police officers. They don’t have an easy job. I feel comforted that I can call 911 and they’ll come rushing to my aid. At the same time, I don’t appreciate being assumed guilty until I can prove my innocence.

Yesterday I was driving down a side road and came to a “check point” set up by the police. They were seeing if drivers had their licenses and that their registrations were up to date. Why they were doing it, I don’t know. It’s not like I live in a crime ridden area. My town is a great place to raise a family and is generally quiet.

When it was my turn to be “inspected” by the police, I had my driver’s license ready. I rolled down my window and handed it to the officer. He looked over the license very carefully, double checking that I looked like me. (Which, in my opinion, I do.)

He gave me back my license and said, “I need to check the tags on your license plate.” The officer walked to the back of my car, looked for a moment and then came back to my window.

“You’re plates expire today,” he said.

“No they don’t,” I said. “I put the new sticker on just a few weeks ago.”

“You’re wrong! They expire today.” he said forcefully.

I was taken aback by how insistent he was. “Officer, go take a look again. I know my tags are up to date,” I said.

“I checked already,” he said, obviously agitated.

(Okay, even I’ll admit I was a bit out of line with this next part.) “Well, go check it again and you’ll see I’m right,” I said, matching his tone.

“Show me your registration,” he said gruffly.

“Fine!” I said, exasperated. While I reached for it, I said, “I don’t understand why you just won’t go double check. It’s not like I’m going to try to run away will all these other police around.”

By this time, another police officer came over to my car.

“Is there a problem?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “This officer is insisting my plates are about to expire, when I know they’re fine. He won’t go double check and is bordering on harassment.”

I handed my registration to the second officer. The first officer was about to say something, but was silenced by a look from the second officer. Reviewing my registration, the second officer saw it was indeed up to date.

“One moment,” he said.

He motioned for the first officer to follow him behind my car. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I saw the first officer point to what I assume was my license plate. He returned a moment later.

“Your tags are fine,” he said. “Have a nice day.”

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lose half your weight! (By using the Metric system)

I once took a trip to Ontario, Canada for business. While there, I watched a local newscast. It was February and when the weatherman came on, he said the high was going to be -2 degrees. Yikes! However, that was using the Metric system. As an American, I’ll admit I was a bit clueless on what that meant to me. I did some digging and found out that meant it was going to be 21 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s still cold, but not -2 degrees cold.

It was also trippy to see speed limit signs that said 100 km/h. At first I thought, “Wow! These people can really go fast up here.” It turns out 100 km/h is about 62 miles per hour.

I remember in Junior High learning about the Metric system. What struck me was how logical it was. Though it was different than what I was used to, it made sense.

For giggles, ask 10 people how many feet are in a mile. I’ll bet you a nickel most will say, “I don’t have any idea.” (The answer is 5,280 feet in a mile). If you go to Canada and ask 10 people how many meters are in a kilometer, I’m sure you’re going to the right answer. Heck, they may tease you and ask you, “What’s next? Are you going to ask me how many minutes are in an hour?”

How messed up is the system we use in America compared to the Metric system? Here is a fun chart that’s been floating around:

Now, this graphic states that “the rest of the world” uses the Metric system. That’s not quite true.
Here’s map to show which parts of the world use the Metric system, and which don’t:

Aside from the USA, Burma (Myanmar) and Liberia (and according to this map, Antarctica) are using different systems other than Metric.

I could go into all of the history of why the USA hasn’t switched, but there are better, more detailed articles on the subject you can read if you really want to know.

If I were to guess why we haven’t switched, it would be a combination of a few things. First, it would cost a boatload of money to switch all the signs.

Second, we’re used to it. In general, people don’t like change—especially to things that are so common place. (My whole adult life I’ve been 6’3”. What if I had to tell people I was now 191 cm? I’d sound like a giant! On the other hand, my weight number would be cut in more than half, so that could be a good thing . . .)

Third, I believe it might be a pride thing. I’m proud to be an American. I’m not always proud of what the government does, but that’s a blog for another time. In my opinion, I can see a lot of Americans not seeing the need to change because we’re America—people should change to us.

I realized I was posting this blog close to Valentine’s day, so to keep in that spirit, I’ll end with this:

Friday, February 10, 2012

Predetermination and inspiration

I’ve been told there are two types of writers: people who create outlines for their books (known as “plotters”) and then people who write by the seat of their pants (known as “pantsers”). I’m sure there are all sorts of people in between.

For me, I had a basic idea for The Hidden Sun. However, I tend to be more of a “pantser” because as I write, ideas will come to me that I’d not thought of before, or even really considered. Looking back, those are some of my favorite things I’ve written. (Example: the first part of Chapter 10 and the Epilogue.)

I remember thinking at one point in time while writing my first book, “How in the world is this going to end?” Fortunately, I figured something out.

For the follow up, The Waxing Moon, I decided to do more of an outline. I spent a good deal of time figuring out the characters and sequence of events. I still had those moments of inspiration as I wrote, but overall, I stayed true to my outline. When I finished, I discovered something unsettling: Whereas The Hidden Sun was just shy of 100,000 words, The Waxing Moon was barely over 60,000. I didn’t want there to be such a difference, so I created a second outline to continue the story.

A possible idea of what the cover may look like.

Great idea, right?

Well, really not so much.

My beta readers picked up right away what I’d done. My good friend Randy even said, “It was like you wrote a book, then wrote another one.”

So, I went back to the drawing board—sort of.

During this time, I was getting a lot of feedback from readers about The Hidden Sun. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive. While reading through them, I got an idea for a subplot I could interweave into The Waxing Moon. In the end, I chopped off the last part I’d written and I went back and wrote the subplot. I was very pleased at the end how it added to the book.

So what about the part that I chopped off? Let’s just say I have a good head start on writing the next book in the series, The Zealous Star.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A x E = R (Huh?)

The end. The bottom line. The conclusion. The outcome. The result. No matter how it is stated, when it comes to judging if something is successful, we tend to look at the result. What was the final scored of the game? How much money was made last month? What grades did you get on your report card? How much weight did you lose? Everywhere you look, people are focusing on the result.

In one of my previous jobs, we were taught the principle of “A x E = R”. At first glance, it may look like it a reference to someone who cuts down trees. What it means is “Actions (times) Effectiveness (equals) Results”—something I fully believe in.

After all, how do we get results? By doing something and doing it at some level of effectiveness. For example, let’s look at weight loss. I think if you talk to anyone who has lost a significant amount of weight, they will tell you what they did to lose it. Maybe they started exercising thirty minutes a day. Maybe they cut out all sugars from their diet. Maybe they did a combo of both. The point is they did something.

But just doing something isn’t enough. It has to be effective. I could say, “From now on, I’m going only drink water with my meals—and I expect to lose twenty five pounds in a month’s time.” Clearly I’m doing something, but I doubt it will be effective enough to get the results I want.

All of this may seem like common sense, and frankly, that’s because it is. So why do I bring it up? Because I think that too often people look at the formula backwards.

Let me demonstrate with the weight loss example. If I were to say, “I’m going to lose five pounds this week”, and then every three hours I weighed myself, I’m spending too much time on the results and not on the actions that will bring those results.

The main focus should be on the action and their effectiveness. The results should be used as a measuring guide for how you are doing with your effective actions.

I honestly believe looking at it this way is rather encouraging. Why? Because you can control your actions. You have the power to eat that extra doughnut or not. You have the power to study that extra hour for that test. You have the power to speak to every potential customer about your product.

Too often, I would get calls from by boss asking me, “What are your commitments for the day?” These “commitments” he wanted were in the form of results. Let me state this loud and clear: I do not believe you can commit to results. You can commit to actions—on things you can control.

If you do that, the results will come.