Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention Orycon November 18th - 20th in Portland


Have you registered for Orycon yet? It's only a month away. Get your membership now and save. It's only $60 for a full weekend of fun. Panels, Dances, Art Show, Dealers, Costume Contests and a Hospitality suite(free food!!). You won't get a deal like this anywhere else!

Oh, and did we mention we have childcare and children's programming. ... See More

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Literary Agent Fiona Kenshole Speaks to Willamette Writers


On Tuesday, October 4th, 2016, at the Historic Old Church in downtown Portland, Willamette Writers hosts literary agent Fiona Kenshole. She’ll speak about Understanding Children’s and YA Markets.

Fiona is a literary agent with the Transatlantic Agency, exclusively specializing in children’s books, from debuts to film deals. She is an accredited member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, representing picture books through young adult. Fiona enjoys the editorial midwifery and career management part of being an agent, especially nurturing the creativity of her clients. She maintains close relationships with editors and publishers in New York, London, and Toronto, and film producers and agents in LA.

Join us at the Old Church on October 4th on the corner of SW 11th and Clay to learn more about the dynamic world of YA and the children’s book market from a literary agent. Doors open at 6:30 pm and Fiona speaks at 7 pm. The meeting is free to members of Willamette Writers and $5 for guests.

Learn more at www.willamettewriters.org

Friday, September 2, 2016

Enlisting an Audience Into a Cause, notes on Florence Foster Jenkins


The set up for this film is that Florence Foster Jenkins (played by Meryl Streep) is a wealthy patron of the arts who also believes she has a talent for singing opera. Based on a true story, the film set in 1944 shows how Florence's husband, played by Hugh Grant, maneuvers to protect her from the reality of what the public would think about her singing, let alone music critics.

This process tends to work based on Florence funding a Verdi club of society matrons who are mostly partially deaf and partly along for the free lunches she provides (heavy on the potato salad). Her husband bribes the occasional small paper music critic, and some well-known opera people of the time are happy to accept her donations in return for keeping their opinions about her singing to themselves and instead praising her love of opera and her passion to sing.

All seems lost when she rents Carnegie Hall for a performance attended mostly by serviceman and one big New York paper music critic.

The underlying story point I want to make is that the film enlists the audience to feel invested in Hugh Grant protecting Florence's idea that she is an accomplished singer. Once the audience is drawn in to care about this, the drama of the story becomes (to the degree a viewer enjoys this kind of film) intensified.

Enlisting the audience (whether viewer or reader) in the cause of some story character is one of the prime functions of storytelling. Yes, in this era of anti-heroes, an audience can be lead to care about all kinds of outcomes for all kinds of characters, but in many stories the goal of the storyteller is to enlist the audience in the outcome for a main character.

Fail at that, or fail to enlist the audience as quickly as possible, and a story is unengaging, uncompelling.

In most cases, readers and viewers move on to become enlisted in a more compelling narrative.

Its a very basic question I have as a reader/viewer, do I care what happens next to this person?

Following, an early film by Christopher Nolan, is a fiendishly clever thriller that doesn't ask us to care about the main character. The film will probably never appeal to large audiences (or even many small ones) because the story never asks us to care what happens to the main character.

Every storyteller writing for a general audience should be able to answer the question, why should my audience care about what happens to my main character?

When I ask struggling storytellers this question, they often have no answer. Which is a big reason they are struggling.

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To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Writing Literary Fiction, Notes on The Small Backs of Children


I teach that genre fiction is a roller coaster ride, while literary fiction asks, 'why do people ride roller coasters?'

That said, the underlying mechanics of storytelling are the same for both types of fiction. The opening pages to Lidia Yuknavitch's The Small Backs of Children demonstrates this.

The first chapter is titled The Girl

First line...

   One winter night when she is no longer a child, the girl walks outside, her arms     cradling a self, her back to a house not her own but some other.

The Prime Directive of a first sentence of a novel is that a reader is pulled forward/drawn forward to read a second sentence.

Breaking down this opening sentence...

   One winter night when she is no longer a child...

A clever way to ask, why is the story starting now with this girl who is no longer a child? What happened to her when she was a child (this potentially relates to the title of the book).

   ...the girl walks outside, her arms cradling a self.

Wonderful, mysterious language. I'm intrigued. How/why does she cradle her self. This suggests a story about self.

   ...her back to a house not her own but some other.

But if she's outside this house, the question is, why? Does her self she carries not identify with this house?

   It is a year after the blast that atomized her entire family in front of her eyes.

Powerful image, intriquing question. Who killed her family in such a fashion? Why? How did she survive?

   She is six.

This is something concrete about the girl. Notice it came after the more intriguing language.

Struggling writers often begin a story with a collection of concrete details that have no context. They quickly become a burden a reader must carry forward until the details serve some story purpose.

First I'm led to want to know more about the girl, then I get a small piece of that information.

   It is a house she has lived in with a widow woman who took
   her in – orphan of war, girl of nothingness.

We're getting more concrete information here, but it also conveys questions: what war? Why is she a 'girl of nothingness?'

Yuknavitch's first paragraph has a lyrical expressiveness, a full command of language. Her writing conveys she is a storyteller in command of the story she is telling.

Continuing...

   But that night has never left her...it is an unrelenting bruise.

Can this unrelenting bruise heal? Note how the phrase frames the question clearly.

   It's blue-black image pearling in and out of memory forever. Nor
    will it ever leave her body, the blast forever injuring her spine, a sliver of metal
    piercing her and entering her, so that all her life she will carry that
    moment between her vertebrae.

If her wound was uncomplicated, something that would heal, something that could be left behind, it would risk not marking her as a character who could carry the dramatic weight and force to carry the story forward.

She is a deeply wounded character, the kind of character a novel needs.

Next lines and new paragraph...

   And then her mind moves to the moment of the blast,
   the singular fire lighting up the face of her father,
   her mother, first white, then orange and blue, then black,
   then nothing, her head swiveled by the force of the
   blow away from them. This does not frighten her.
   what used to be nightmares transformed into color and light,
   it is with her now. Lifelong companion. Still life of a
   dead family.

Again, wonderful, lyrical language that also offers more detail about what happened to the girl.

A wonderful opening to The Small Backs of Children.

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To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Monday, August 29, 2016

SFWA Pacific Northwest Reading Series


The Pacific Northwest is home to a Tardis-Full of Science Fiction and Fantasy writers, a fact celebrated every quarter with the Pacific Northwest Reading Series. These free quarterly events provide the Northwest Science Fiction and Fantasy community a chance to gather, network and enjoy readings from local and visiting authors in Portland and Seattle.

Each event features three authors who read from their latest work, interpreting and explaining their concepts and vision. In addition, space is provided for networking and conversation. The Q3 2016 event in the Seattle area (Kirkland, WA) will be held on Tuesday, August 30th. Set in the festive atmosphere of the Wilde Rover Irish Pub & Restaurant in Kirkland, WA, events begin at 7:00 pm, and end by 8:30 pm.

About SFWA

Founded in 1965 by the late Damon Knight, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America brings together the most successful and daring writers of speculative fiction throughout the world. Since its inception, SFWA® has grown in numbers and influence until it is now widely recognized as one of the most effective non-profit writers' organizations in existence, boasting a membership of approximately 1,800 science fiction and fantasy writers as well as artists, editors and allied professionals. Each year the organization presents the prestigious Nebula Awards® for the year’s best literary and dramatic works of speculative fiction.

More information and online registration: SFWA Pacific Northwest Reading Series -- Seattle (Kirkland)

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Notes on the Movie Don't Breathe


Notes on the Movie Don't Breathe

Occasionally a movie comes out that serves as a great example of a particular technique in storytelling. In the movie Don't Breath, the technique is developing and sustaining suspense.

The movie opens at a great height over a residential neighborhood in Detroit. Something is happening on a street below. As the camera slowly moves down, it becomes apparent that an older man is dragging a young woman along the middle of a street.

The way this moment is created suggests a metaphor for the story. As we move in on an event, our perception of what we are seeing and our understanding can change.

This may seem like a simple point, but consider the opening scene in the movie The Lovely Bones, loosely based on the novel. The movie opens with a father explaining the life of a penguin trapped in a snow globe to his daughter. But the explanation doesn't speak to what the book is about, and the problem is, the movie uses narration directly taken from the book in the opening scenes.

What the movie The Lovely Bones is about is slightly out of focus (to be generous). What Don't Breathe is about is clearly suggested by the first shot of the film.

With inexperienced writers, often the first lines of action in a screenplay are used to introduce characters or locations.

In a weakly written novel, the opening lines aren't used to convey a story, but to introduce characters, locations, and plot. But without a context, the details don't convey a storyt. They convey a writer isn't sure how to tell a particular story.

The movie The Lovely Bones could have used that opening image to suggest a story different from the book, but that would have meant re-imagining the story being told as a movie that is not the same as the book.

Returning to Don't Breathe, we meet three young people robbing a house in Detroit. For two of the teens, the robberies are about getting out of Detroit and having street cred. For one teen, it's helping his father financially, and he's also smitten with the girl in the group.

Yes, we could use the word 'introduction' to convey the purpose of these scenes. But they also introduce character whose lives are in flux.

That sets up the major thrust of the plot, that they will break into the house of a blind man who has won a court settlement and rob him.

They get inside, the girl even finds the money, but getting out of the house, and why the basement door has a huge lock, will involve a steadily escalating tension.

What explains the actions of all the characters, including the blind man, are those quick, brief details in the opening scenes.

These is violence in the movie, so it's not for everyone. And when people get hurt in this film, we're allowed to share their pain and desperation. And up until the final shot of the movie, we can't be sure how this movie will end.

Recommended for folks who like both a clever plot and strong characterization.

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To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

FREE RANGE POETRY presents Leanne Gabrel, Barbara LaMorticella, MF McAuliffe


Monday, September 12, 2016
Northwest Branch Library
2300 NW Thurman Street
Portland

An open mic will precede featured poets.
Sign up at 6:15 pm. Reading 6:30 pm – 7:45 pm.

Leanne Grabel is a poet, memoirist, illustrator and semi-retired special ed teacher and language arts teacher. In love with mixing genres and media, Grabel has written and produced numerous spokenword shows, including “The Lighter Side of Chronic Depression”; “Anger: The Musical”; “Badgirls”; and “The Little Poet.” Grabel's books include Brontosaurus; Lonesome & Very Quarrelsome Heroes; Flirtations; Short Poems by a Short Person; and most recently, Assisted Living, a collection of rectangular illustrated prose poems. Grabel has just completed an anthology of 35 years of graphic prose poems, The Circus of Anguish & Mirth that will be published in 2017. The summer project is turning Brontosaurus into a graphic novel.

Barbara LaMorticella watches the clouds from a cabin outside Portland. Her poetry has appeared in many anthologies, including the Pacific Northwestern Spiritual Poetry Anthology; Intimate Kisses; Not a Muse; and most recently (2015) Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace, and She Holds the Face of the World, the 10th anniversary anthology of the journal VoiceCatchers. She won the Holbrook Award for Outstanding Contributions to Oregon Liberary Arts and the first Oregon Literary Arts fellowship for Women Writers. Her second collection of poems, Rain on Waterless Mountain, was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award.

MF McAuliffe has worked formally and informally as a house-cleaner, political pollster, teacher and librarian in schools and colleges in South Australia, Melbourne, Los Angeles, and Portland, Oregon. She also co-authored the poetry collection Fighting Monsters, the limited-edition artist's book Golems Waiting Redux, and the novella, Seattle. The Crucifixes and Other Friday Poems will be published this fall. In 2002 she and R. V. Branham co-founded the Portland-based, multilingual magazine Gobshite Quarterly. In 2008 they co-founded Reprobate / GobQ Books, where she continues as commissioning editor.