Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Only time will tell

Have you heard the song, “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey? What I’ve found interesting is that song was one of many hits from Journey in the 80’s, yet it has had some serious staying power. It leads me to wonder, what other songs from groups from the 80’s have that *one* song that really defines them as a group?

But it doesn’t end there. The same can be said for actors, movie directors and yes, even authors.

As of this moment, I’ve written five full length novels. (Granted only two have been published and the other three are in various stages of being edited.) I’ve also written four short stories that have been / will be published by the end of 2013.

I have ideas for several more books and short stories. I wonder if there will be one certain book or story of mine that will stand the test of time.

I’ve been asked which of my works is my favorite. I can’t honestly answer that. I will say that I think there are certain stories I’ve written that will have a broader appeal. My short story, The Doughnut, is an award winning story and will be included in a pretty well distributed anthology called Parables for Today. Yet, I think my strongest short story is the one I wrote based on the Christmas song, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. It’s going to be included in an anthology called Sing We Now of Christmas released this holiday season.

My books are a bit trickier to pick. I won’t go into too many details, but I think my strongest book will be the least commercially successful book. It’s called Wall of Faith. After shopping it around some, I’ve been told the book won’t be picked up by an LDS publisher because it’s too controversial. At the same time, a non-LDS publisher won’t touch it because it’s not controversial enough.

One thing is for sure, I’ll continue to write. While it would be nice to become an international best seller, I’ll continue to write stories that I feel need to be told—popular or not.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Book review of "The Dragon War Relic" by Berin L. Stephens

My first introduction to Berin L. Stephens’s works was his book “Time Gangsters.” I thoroughly enjoyed that book and looked forward to reading more from him. I had several books I had committed to reading before I was able to read “The Dragon War Relic”—but it was worth the wait.

Despite the ominous title, this book is really lighthearted. Yes, there are interesting characters and engaging storylines, but the humor is the strength of this book. I laughed time and again at the many sci-fi and fantasy references through the book. Some are more obvious than others, but when I came across some of the more subtle ones, I loved it. Now that I think about it, I’m sure I missed a few because they are so prevalent in the book.

The premise may seem familiar: a boy is given a powerful item from a stranger, and thereby he is thrust into an adventure. I personally like these kind of stories, though they can get repetitive at times. However, that isn’t the case with “The Dragon War Relic.” Stephens takes the premise and turns it on its side.

The book has a great story, but it never takes itself too seriously. I thing I really enjoyed was how the book twisted near the end. I thought I had it pegged on what was going on, but there was a nice twist that I thought was brilliant. And no, I’m not going to spoil it for you.

Who would like this book? It’s a safe, clean read for middle school children and up. Although the book has a male lead character, I believe either gender would enjoy it.

Now excuse me while I go do the Havoc Stomp.

For more on Berin L. Stephens, click here.

To order the book, click here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

One trick pony books

With the release of my second book, I’m seeing a trend in the feedback. Overall, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It appears I’ve been given a gift for character development, plotting and pacing.

I tend not to dwell on the negatives, and to be fair, the “negative” feedback hasn’t really been negative as more a commentary on the preference of the reader.

Something I’m hearing from readers is more prevalent with The Waxing Moon, though I did hear it some with The Hidden Sun. What is it? “The book is very complex.”

In the past, I would have been very confused by this statement. Why? Because most of the books I choose to read are complex. However, I’ve read a bunch of novels recently and I see a general trend of popular books. First of all, they are told from one point of view. Secondly, there is only one storyline—and sometimes it’s pretty basic.

I’ll admit it. My books tend to have a lot of things going on that add up to a greater whole. In fact, one reader told me I could write three or four different books with the plots and subplots from just one of my books. They meant it as a compliment because they said they were tired of “one tricky ponies”—meaning books that have simple plots and simple characters.

My next book, The Mirror of the Soul, is only about 60,000 words. Yet, it is told from five separate points of view. Because of the nature of this story, it really couldn’t be told a different way and be effective.

The Zealous Star is also told from multiple points of view and over a long period of time. Part of me worries that those who prefer “one trick ponies” will reject it out of hand. Again, the story is epic so there isn’t a way to tell it from one point of view without a lot of “telling” instead of “showing”. (That means the author has to explain a lot of things that the reader couldn’t know because they are tied to a single point of view.)

Lastly, Wall of Faith is the exception. It’s told from a single point of view. It follows the classic “three act” format, though the book is anything but predictable. It will be interesting to see the response from readers when I present them with a different writing style.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Give me a 10!

First off, I’m all in favor of treating people nicely. You know, the whole golden rule concept. There are certain establishments that are considered “service” businesses.

The first one that comes to my mind is restaurants. My wife and I classify restaurants in two different ways: fast food and sit down. The difference? With sit down, you are expected to give a tip at the end of your meal based on your service.

I’ll admit that I tend to tip on the generous side because I understand how hard the employees are working.

Once in a while, the service will be really good—to the point where I’ll seek out a manager to compliment the employee. On the other hand, if the service is poor, I’ll just give them a lower tip and leave it at that.

I heard of a story where I guy was so upset at the service that on the receipt under “tip” he wrote, “-$2.00! The service was terrible!”
However, I’m seeing a trend where the focus on customer service is getting out of hand. I understand businesses are doing whatever they can to find an edge. One of the ways is to provide excellent customer service to employees. Yet, I disagree how they are going about it.

Recently, I took my car into the dealership to have the oil changed. I had a coupon. I was treated very well, and they did a wonderful job. Not only did they give it an oil change, but they also washed it and vacuumed the inside.

When it came time to pay, the service rep was very nice and explained what he did. That took about one minute. For the next two minutes, he explained how I’d be getting a call about my service experience. He showed me their banner they had “won” for the best service in the region. He explained how if I scored them lower than a “10” on any rating, they would fail.

Over the next couple of days, I received a call from the dealership reminding me to give them all 10s on the survey. I got an email reminding me. When we got the call, we gave them all 10s—which I would have done anyway because they did a great job.

So what is my point? Here’s a crazy idea. Stop the completely unfair rating systems. Instead of spending time and money telling me and reminding me how great the service was, spend it on, oh I don’t know … service?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Book Review of "The Kindling" by Braden Bell

Author Braden Bell has crafted a wonderful middle-grade fantasy / adventure in The Kindling.

What is this book about? It’s summed up rather well in this description:

All thirteen-year-old Connor Dell wants to do is pass pre-algebra, play lacrosse, and possibly kiss Melanie Stephens. He didn’t mean to set anyone’s gym shorts on fire or make school lunches explode. But now that the strange powers inside him have been ignited, Connor’s normal teenage life is about to go up in flames!

Homework? Of course. Crushes? Sure. But who knew seventh grade included superpowers?

First of all, bravo! Bell has written an engaging, creative story. It’s geared toward middle-grade readers, though, as an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

There are three primary characters in the book: Conner Dell, his twin sister Lexa, and Lexa’s best friend Melanie Stephens. Each one of them has a distinct, unique voice. As the story unfolds, it is told from their separate viewpoints which gives a greater depth to the extraordinary events around them.

While the three young teenagers are the focus of the story, it is the supporting characters that make this book shine. Dr. Timberi is an altogether fascinating character. Braden Bell states that he is not Dr. Timberi, but I can’t help believe that Timberi wasn’t heavily influenced by Bell. I love the line where Bell writes, “While I’ll admit to some similarities in appearance, he is not me. Although, I would love to be him.” I dare say that if Dr. Timberi was real, he’d make the reverse claim after reading this book.

One thing Bell does in The Kindling is create a whole world of “magic”—though it isn’t quite that. He starts with basic concepts and builds on them. The end result is rather complex and, in turn, more believable than many stories I’ve read where things “just happen because it’s magic!”

My favorite part of the book happens on a trip to Disneyworld. I don’t want to spoil it. Let me just say, it was written in a way that I was laughing and holding on tightly to the edges of the book at the same time.

In fact, that is a great way to describe the whole book. It’s filled with creative humor while at the same time being suspenseful. That’s a fine line to walk, but Bell does it perfectly.

Who would like this book? I hope you notice that I left out any references to other middle grade books with magic and young characters. Why? Because this book is different enough that I didn’t want people go into it with the notion of, “Oh, it’s going to be just like…” It’s a clean read and safe for younger readers, and rich enough for adults to enjoy.

Bell has left the door open for more adventures with these characters. Again, bravo! I enjoyed my time with them and look forward to hanging out with them again.

To learn more and for information on how to get your copy, click here. *

*Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book to review. This did not influence my opinion of the book.*

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What if? (In pictures)

“What if?” was a question I would ask my mom a lot while growing up. Like “What if the sky was purple?” or “What if grass was made of bacon?”

I still ask a lot of “What if?” questions. It’s what has driven me to write books and stories.

But it doesn’t end there. I’ve never been much of an artist. Heck, I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag—whatever that means.

However, with the use of computer programs, I’ve been able to express my “What if?” in pictures.

Here is a collection of various ones I’ve created over the last few years.

Inspired from a video game character named "Pendr".

Lastly, when I was waiting for my publisher to send me a copy of the cover for my book The Waxing Moon, I created this fake cover and showed it to my wife and kids to freak them out:

As you can see, it’s a bit different than the actual, rockin’ cover:

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Black and White (and angry all over)

I once worked at a bank that prided itself on service. One day, a man came in to have his PIN reset on his debit card. I asked to see some ID to make sure I was changing the PIN for the owner of the card, and not someone who found it. He told me he didn’t have any ID and that he was in a hurry. Both of those statements were warning signs. I explained my reason for asking for ID. His response was to smack my arm and say, “You’re a jerk!”

As he was leaving the bank, I said to him, “Sir, you just hit me, and that’s not okay.” He didn’t say anything, but instead just left the bank. I remembered his name from seeing it on the debit card. I searched through the database and found a match. After that, I called my district manager (I was the manager at this branch) and told him I a customer hit me. Naturally, his response was, “What did you do to upset him?”

Fast forward a little bit. The incident was reported the proper way and the customer was contacted by my district manager. The man said he was mad because if he had been a white man, I would have never asked for ID. He said I was a racist. When I heard this, I was stunned. It took me a moment to think back and realize the man was an African American.

Understand, I hold no ill will toward anyone based on their skin color or nationality. In the end, based on the eyewitness accounts of my fellow employees, the man’s accounts were closed by the bank.

There were several things about the situation that were disturbing, but for me, the most disturbing was being accused of being a racist.

I hadn’t thought about this event until recently when a story came out of a church in Alabama who were holding a “Whites-Only Christian Conference.” I read the article and then a number of the comments. The general tone was outrage. The pastor was called all sorts of names, racist being one of them. And then there was a comment from someone that gave me reason to pause. The conference was held just a few days after the BET (Black Entertainment Television) awards. I read an article on that and there were comments from readers that it was racist.

I guess what I can’t wrap my head around is why so many people are quick to point to something that excludes them and then they make a big stink about it. I can’t imagine someone who attended the BET awards wanting to attend the Whites-Only Christian Conference and vice-versa.

Granted, some of the messages in these types of events are derogatory toward another group of people. That’s a shame and it shouldn’t happen.

This is where I’d write something profound to but it all in perspective—however, I just have to shake my head and hope that one day people will stop seeing things in black in white. There’s a whole range of colors out there to enjoy.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


There was a recent story about how some 150 people left the Mormon church en mass. It gave me a lot to think about. I decided to express my feelings in a short story.

Take from it what you will.

After Jim entered the restaurant, he noticed everyone was looking at him. Their expressions showed different emotions: curiosity, indifference, and distain. Everyone was in either a fancy dress or a tuxedo. He looked down at his T-shirt and blue jeans. They were clean and free of holes or rips, yet still he felt uncomfortable.

He had heard good things about this restaurant. The food was supposed to be excellent. He didn’t realize how they patrons would be dressed.

“Welcome,” the hostess said. She smiled at him. “How many?”

He’d come by himself, which only added to his feeling of awkwardness. The food smelled delicious and his mouth started to water. Still, his growing feeling of uneasiness overrode his desire to eat.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. “I came to the wrong place.”

He spun and left the restaurant and walked out to the busy street. Everywhere he looked, he saw different restaurants. People were walking up and down the sidewalks, looking at the different places to eat.

Jim saw several people wearing T-shirts and blue jeans going into a restaurant a bit further down the street. He followed after them.

He stepped into the restaurant. No one looked up at him when he came in. There wasn’t a hostess at the door to greet him. He saw that he would have to go up to the counter and place his order and then find a place to sit.

The menu was on the wall lit up with neon lights. Most of the meals listed were offered at the restaurants he’d visited before. Jim walked up to the counter, placed his order and soon was sitting down to eat.

“I’m so glad I left that fancy restaurant across the street,” someone said at a table next to him. “I didn’t like all the way they ran it.”

“Yeah,” another person said. “While most of the people were nice, I felt like some of them judged me because I didn’t wear a tuxedo.”

“And they didn’t have my favorite drink!” yet another person said. “I tried to get them to offer it, but they wouldn’t. They are so close minded.”

Jim looked around the restaurant. In general, people were eating and looked comfortable. His meal was okay, but he thought back to how the food smelled at the nicer restaurant. He wondered how that would have tasted. He considered that as he looked around the restaurant full of people largely ignoring each other and focusing on their own meals.