Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Secret In Their Eyes Review

The Secret in Their Eyes is a film with a dual time line and some powerful acting, but it never quite becomes fully compelling. Why this happens speaks to the difficulty of telling a story with a dual time line.

The film starts with the murder of a teenage girl, who is the daughter of counter-terrorism officer in LA just after 9/11 working with a partner. Both are devastated by the murder. 13 years later, he feels he's tracked down the main suspect.

The story issue for having a dual time line is there needs to be dramatic tension and a clarity of purpose combining story and plot on both time lines. There needs to be an underlying, single story line.

The plot line and plot question is always clear, will the main character track down the murderer after 13 years. But the story is more complicated and that underlying story question that connects both plot line and both story lines felt diffuse. The film is about loss and obsession and not being able to let go of the 'what if' moments in life that define the characters. But the issue of 'what if' moment around a romantic attraction never quite connects to a story line.

A complicated plot like this creates what I call a traffic cop effect, with scenes organized around what needs to happen for the plots on both time lines to work and build to that big reveal. The director and actors pull off the plot and I admire how the characters are portrayed, but a deeper level of psychological depth never developed on the story line. Without that, scenes felt superficial, typical Hollywood-thriller scenes.

Interesting film, an attempt to get at something deeper. That requires a clear vision of the story and a sense of purpose from everyone involved.


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, November 12, 2015

Story Line/Plot Line

The basic idea of a story line is that it sets out a story's core issue of human need, speaks to that issues advancing toward fulfillment, and speaks of what that fulfillment creates. For example, a simple story line for Romeo and Juliet would be that...

Romeo and Juliet begins by introducing a young man and woman who are in love with the idea of love. When they fall in love, to be together these young characters must act in spite of the escalating mutual hatred of their families. By being willing to die to prove their love, they act out the power of great -- if tragic -- love.

Beginning, middle, end.

The plot line of Romeo and Juliet could be described as follows...

A young man falls in love with a girl who belongs to a clan his family has been feuding with for generations. They both must resort to increasing acts of defiance to be together in spite of the hatred of their families. In the end, each chooses death rather than to be apart from their beloved, acting out that great love cannot be denied.

Beginning, middle, end.

I came onto the idea of story line/plot line while teaching an on-line class. The structure of the class was that I would meet 3-4 people as a group in a chat-type environment, then the following week I would meet with people individually.

During a private session, I described to each writer a story line for his story. I then asked each writer to repeat back that simple story line. Each repeated back to me a plot line, even though the description of a story line was still on the screen.

I then asked each writer to send me the first page of their novels.

Not one of them wrote anything that suggested in the slightest the beginning of a story. It was all plot details and descriptions of things.

That was a great AHA! moment for me. This is the most common failure in weak writing, no clear sense of purpose or drama from the beginning of a story.

To understand the connection between story line/plot line is to see into the foundation of a story, to see whether every element is advancing the story in a purposeful way. If you understand story line/plot line, you can tell a story with multiple time lines or multiple narrators.

For more reviews, visit

To order a copy of A Story is a Promise & Spirit of Storytelling.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Soapstone Literary Announcements 10/17/2015

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Queen of the Night: An Evening in Shirley Jackson's World.

6:30 - 8:30, Wednesday, October 28

Glyph Cafe, 804 NW Couch St, PDX

Free, and open to the public

Join readers Rene Denfeld, Jemiah Jefferson and Lara Messersmith-Glavin for an evening of uncannily great stories by Shirley Jackson, master of the eerie and the mundane. Beverages for purchase.

Reading begins at 7:30 pm, "Lottery"-style raffle at the end of the evening with prizes including copies of Shirley, a new literary magazine.

This event is made possible by generous funding from Soapstone.



Reading at The Vault featuring Mountain Writers teachers

Tuesday, October 27, 7 pm

Cindy Stewart-Rinier, Annie Lighthart, Kathleen Halme, John Brehm and Judith Barrington

O’Connors Irish Pub (in The Vault), 7850 SW Capitol Hwy, Portland, OR 97219 (Multnomah Village). http://oconnorsportland,com

Free and open to the public.


Willa Schneberg will be the final reader in the Steeped in Words Poetry Series, Lan Su Chinese Garden

239 NW Everett St, Portland, Saturday, Oct. 31 3PM, Free with Admission.


Mountain Writers presents:

Judith Barrington
Landscape & Memory
Four Saturdays in the Fall
9:00 AM - 1:00 PM, October 31, November 7, 14 & 21, 2015

Landscape & Memory. This workshop will address writing both poetry and prose with a particular emphasis on place. Whether exploring the natural world or a city neighborhood, we'll dig beneath the surface for the history, personalities and stories rooted there. We’ll consider place as a significant “character” in your writing, rather then a mere setting. Selected readings and craft discussions will help participants generate new material, or take an existing draft to a new level. Anyone who has taken a memoir or poetry workshop before is welcome. Please read Writing the Memoir (Barrington) and/or The Conversation (Barrington) ahead of time.

Date & Time: 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM, Oct. 31, Nov. 7, Nov. 14 & Nov. 21, 2015 (Four Saturdays)

Enrollment: Minimum 5; maximum 15
Place: Room 23, Multnomah Friends Meeting House, 4312 SE Stark, Portland OR

Cost: $300 [Four four-hour sessions.

Judith Barrington is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently The Conversation (2015), whose title poem was the winner of the Gregory O’Donoghue International poetry award. Her Lifesaving: A Memoir was the winner of the 2001 Lambda Book Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir. She is also the author of the best-selling Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art. She has been a faculty member of the University of Alaska, Anchorage’s MFA Program and has taught workshops around the U.S. as well as in Britain and Spain.


Soapstone: Celebrating Women Writers 

We are pleased to announce that we are now offering two new opportunities for readers and writers in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

Small Grants to an Individual Woman or an Ad Hoc Group of Women

These funds are to support events and study groups celebrating the work of women writers. The application process is simple and the time between applying and notification short. For the first year, Soapstone board members will serve as the grant review committee.

We’ve made some changes to the guidelines for study group grants. Go to our website for more details:

The next deadline for applications is December 15, 2016.


Sun., Oct. 25th, The Stumptown Lit Festival is a celebration of NW writers, writing, and publishing. Join us for a celebration where the winners of the OWC writing contest will read from their work. Online Sign-Ups.

9 to 11:30 a.m.; Steps to Success: Self-Publishing and Small Press Done Right, Mary Rosenblum, aka the Literary Midwife. Learn what it takes to be a successful author. $75

1 to 3 p.m.; Rock Your Readings for Writers, Cindy Brown and the Thrill of the Quill Toastmasters club help you make the most of your next presentation. $75

5:30 to 7 p.m.; A gala for mixing and mingling and readings by first-place winners of the OWC writing contest. Light fare and a no-host bar. $25

Crowne Plaza, Portland


Readings from Of Course, I’m A Feminist!
and Open Mic

On March 8, 2015 – International Women’s Day – eighteen sister poets gathered in Portland, OR to share their voices and celebrate their foremothers. Led by Ellen Goldberg, these voices ranged in age from 15 to 73. Shawn Aveningo lent her talents and her publishing company, The Poetry Box, to preserve these voices in print. On November 4, 2015, the Milwaukie Poetry Series is privileged to sponsor a sampling of these voices and offer Of Course, I’m A Feminist for purchase. An Open Mic extending the feminist theme will follow.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 7-8:30 PM

2215 SE Harrison
The Pond House in Milwaukie
Adjacent to the Ledding Library

Contact: Tom Hogan
Poetry Series Coordinator

Sign-up ahead with Tom Hogan or add you name to the sign-up sheet there. Plan on 5-7 minutes to share your own or other people’s poems. If time allows, we’ll welcome more. Refreshments provided.


Shawn Aveningo of The Poetry Box® are proud to announce the release of the “Poems about Food” issue of The Poeming Pigeon – A Literary Journal of Poetry, which is published twice per year.

We invite all of you to join us for our Portland book launch celebration featuring: Paulann Petersen, Carolyn Martin, Claudia F. Savage, Dan Raphael, Elizabeth Moscoso, Cathy Cain, Helen Kerner, Linda Ferguson, Nathan Tompkins, Tammy Robacker, Shawn Aveningo, Terri Niccum and Tricia Knoll.

The Poeming Pigeon: Poems about Food Book Launch Celebration Monday, Nov 2th, 2015
Ford Food & Drink
2505 SE 11th Ave (at Division)
Portland, Oregon 97202


XY&Z is Write Around Portland’s fundraiser including our Spelling Bee or Not to Bee! with host Alex Falcone. Alex makes up words, definitions and sometimes even the correct spelling which you’d think would disqualify him from hosting a spelling bee, but makes him the best host ever! Expect great food and drinks as well as a silent auction, wine wall and fun raffle prizes. Best of all, XY&Z is a chance to enjoy a great night with great people while helping to transform lives through the power of writing. All of the funds raised go to support Write Around Portland's unique model of creative writing workshops held in hospitals, schools, shelters, prisons, treatment centers and more.

Thur, Oct 22 from 6:00 to 8:30pm

Holocene (1001 SE Morrison)

Tickets are $50 in advance, $60 at the door. Tickets are on sale now at or by calling 503-796-9224.


Broadway Books is pleased to welcome Scott Nadelson to launch his new novel Between the World and Me on Thursday, November 12th at 7 pm. Paul Haberman was happy living alone in the city until he met Cynthia, an enchanting suburban single mother. After he moves to New Jersey to marry her, Paul’s life reshapes itself dramatically around his new family and home, evolving over the years in ways he could never have imagined. In this funny, moving, episodic novel, Nadelson reveals the quiet beauty, doubt, and longing of a blended family’s life in the unglamorous American suburbs.

Scott Nadelson is the author of three story collections published by Hawthorne Books, including Aftermath and The Cantor’s Daughter. A winner of the Oregon Book Award for short fiction, the Reform Judaism Fiction Prize, and the Great Lakes Colleges New Writers Award, he teaches creative writing at Willamette University and in the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA Program at Pacific Lutheran University. He lives in Salem, Oregon.

This event is free and open to the public.


We are pleased to announce that Linda Lee Peterson will read from her new mystery The Spy on the Tennessee Walker at Broadway Books on Tuesday, November 10th at 7 pm.

Magazine editor, amateur sleuth, and know-it-all Maggie Fiori is back. A package arrives with a double-frame photograph revealing a mysterious 19th-century woman, a dead ringer for Maggie. The unnamed woman is seated confidently on a handsome Tennessee Walker horse, and as Maggie brings the photo closer she feels an immediate kinship with the woman whose fearless gaze seems to see right into her soul. In a tale that takes Maggie from the Civil War era to the present, we are reminded that love lies down with danger — and courage is the answer to every question.

Linda Lee Peterson is the author of two previous Maggie Fiori mysteries, Edited to Death and The Devil’s Interval, as well as several nonfiction books, including The Stanford Century, On Flowers (Chronicle), and Linens and Candles (Harper Collins). She is also one of the founding partners of Peterson Skolnick & Dodge, a marketing communications firm that serves education, arts and culture, environmental, and health care clients around the United States. Peterson lives in Portland.


Emily Hunt
Reading (Free and open to the public)
Thursday, October 29th, 2015
Eliot Chapel, Reed College

Emily Hunt is the author of the poetry collection Dark Green(The Song Cave, 2015), named a "standout debut" byPublishers Weekly. She holds an MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and her poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, the PEN Poetry Series, TYPO, The Volta, and Diagram, among others. In 2013, Brave Men Press publishedThis Always Happens, a book of her drawings, and she has provided cover art for several poetry collections. She lives in San Francisco, where she is currently working on a second book of poems.



Monday, October 26 7:00-9:00 PM No charge
Hillsboro Main Library, 2850 NE Brookwood Pkwy, Hillsboro

For October, the Conversations With Writers meeting will be led by Steve Theme.

Steve has made his living as a writer for the past 25 years. His work has appeared in several magazines and newspapers, including Personnel Journal, The Seattle Review and a number of metro papers, including The Seattle Times, The Spokesman Review, and WORK Literary Magazine. He won 1st place in the 2010 Oregon Writers Colony Short Story Contest. Steve recently completed Asphalt Asylum, Hitchhiking the Pathways of Change, published by Halyard Press. It’s a memoir of his life-changing journey as a youth.

Steve’s conversation will discuss “Marketing Books In The Modern Era". As George B. Wright, our August presenter put it, once you’ve completed the writing, your job is half done. Steve will explain his experiences completing the other half. In addition, he will read an excerpt from his book, and answer your questions about the creative process.

Conversations With Writers invites authors to read and tell us about their work and their writing methods. Not just a reading, but an event for audience members to interact and ask questions about word choices, styles, or the writer's development of his / her art. It's an informal atmosphere to help us all better understand the craft of writing. For more information, visit:


An evening with Cari Luna & Dawn Diez Willis October 17, 2015 | 7 pm

Newport Visual Arts Center
$6 admission - Students Free

This month, we'll welcome Oregon Book Award honorees to the Nye Beach Writers' Series.

Cari Luna won the 2015 Oregon Book Award for fiction for her book Revolution of Every Day. Her writing has appeared in Salon, Jacobin, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, PANK, and elsewhere. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Dawn Diez Willis' first poetry collection, Still Life with Judas & Lighting (Airlie Press) was a 2015 finalist for the Oregon Book Award. She is the editor and designer of OSPOA's monthly Trooper News, as well teaching poetry and professional development courses through Salem Art Association and other arts organizations. She holds an MFA from the University of Oregon. Previously, Dawn served as a member and editor with the poetry collective Airlie Press.

The Writers' Series open mic will take place following intermission. Audience members are encouraged to read, sing, or recite original work for up to five minutes. Open mic slots are available to the first 10 writers who sign up. No pre-registration required.


Furever Pets, Broadway Books, and the Oregon Humane Society are pleased to be hosting an event with Elias Weiss Friedman, aka The Dogist, on Thursday, November 5th, at 6:30 pm. The event will take place at Furever Pets (1902 NE Broadway).

Elias Weiss Friedman walks the streets of America looking for dogs to photograph: dogs of all breeds, shapes, sizes, ages, and colors. His canine radar is always on, scanning for a dog that stands out in some way – maybe wearing an outfit, sporting a funny haircut, or taking a stroll with an owner dressed to match. Most often it’s that intangible something that comes from a pup with a lot of personality.

Elias photographs dozens of dogs a day and posts them on his wildly popular blog and Instagram feeds, The Dogist. And now those photographs are available in a beautiful four-color book ($24.95; Artisan) that will be for sale at this event.

A portion of the sales of the book and of items purchased during the event will be donated to the Oregon Humane Society. Representatives from OHS will be pouring beverages at the event and will also have a couple of adoptable dogs with them.

Well-behaved dogs are happily invited to attend this event. There is a good chance that if time allows The Dogist will take a group photo of “dogs of northeast Portland”!!

This event is free and open to the public.


Carolyn L. Wright, editor of the anthology Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace and Oregon contributors Barbara Drake, Barbara LaMorticella, Willa Schneberg and Penelope Scambly Schott will read their poems and those of other contributors at two venues:

Nov. 2 Broadway Books
1714 NE Broadway, Portland
Mon., 7PM

Nov. 5
Mother's Foucault's Bookshop
523 SE Morrison, Portland
Thurs. 7PM


Coming Home to the Body: A Poetic Medicine Series with Birch Dwyer

Autumn is a season for gathering up the harvest of the year and turning our attention towards home. It also offers us the opportunity to turn this loving attention towards our bodies, our closest homes.

In this five-week series we will listen to the stories our bodies need to tell, the significant moments and challenges we have shared over the years. We will lift up what they have allowed us to experience, and honor their connection and access to the earth.

Poetry will serve as our inspiration on this journey, offering us a doorway to the wide field of the imagination and the healing power of imagery. ABSOLUTELY no experience with poem-making is necessary, only a desire to connect to one’s heart and to the hearts of others. Our weekly explorations will include:

Opening to Door: A Letter to Your Body
Lightning the Hearth: Reconnecting with The Embodied Self
The Golden Tree: Shedding Stories that No Longer Serve Us
The Uninvited Guest of Illness
Inviting in the Wise Woman
The Wildness of Our Earth Body

Coming Home to the Body:

Tuesday mornings Nov 3 – Dec 8 (no Nov 24 mtg) 10-12:30 pm * NE Portland * $150 * for more information please contact Birch Dwyer at No question is too small.

Birch Dwyer is a writer, artist and facilitator of Poetic Medicine circles. She has taught fiction and poetry workshops in a variety of contexts, most recently in healing environments. She holds an MFA from Saint Mary’s College in fiction, a BA in art from Stanford University, and is a candidate to be certified in poetry therapy. More information about Birch and the workshop series can be found at


Award-winning Portland poet, Endi Bogue Hartigan, who has roots in La Grande, will be reading for the Roundhouse Reading Series at 7 p.m. on Friday, October 23rd at Looking Glass Books (1118 Adams Ave.). Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Hartigan’s second book, Pool [5 Choruses] (Omnidawn, 2014), was selected by Cole Swenson for the 2012 Omnidawn Open Poetry Book Prize and was a finalist for the 2015 Oregon Book Award. Her first book, One Sun Storm (Center for Literary Publishing, 2008), was chosen by Martha Ronk for the Colorado Prize for Poetry and was a finalist for the 2009 Oregon Book Award. Her poems and selections have been published in New American Writing,Chicago Review, Verse, VOLT, Pleiades, Quarterly West, Northwest Review, Antioch Review and other magazines and anthologies. She has lived primarily on the west coast and Hawaii, and is a graduate of Reed College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote Fellow. She has worked for many years in communications for public higher education, as well as other roles in teaching and education.


Monday, October 26 7 p.m. Sound Ground Coffee Shop, 3701 SE Belmont, Portland. Free

Carla Perry, Leanne Grabel & Mary Slocum reading poetry


Mountain Writers Series at Floyd's Old Town

presents a reading featuring Tom Bremer, Dan Hannon, Karen Reyes, Cindy Stewart-Rinier & Michael Selker

Wednesday, October 21, 2015 at 7:30 PM

Floyd's Old Town 118 NW Couch Portland OR

Suggested donation $5

Tom Bremer was born in Cincinatti and grew up in California. He has a B.A. from St. Mary’s College and an M.A. in Creative Writing from Colorado State University. He lives in Portland, Oregon, where he was co-founder of the Portland Poetry Festival in 1973 and a charter member of the board of the Oregon Writers’ Workshop. Now retired from many years of teaching English, he is the author of three collections of poetry, Par Amour (1986); A Bird That Changes Trees, which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award in 1988; and Just Once (2001).

Dan Hannon holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Oregon. For 31 years, he taught writing and international studies at Mt. Hood Community College where he also coordinated their study abroad programs, as well as those of a consortium of five Oregon community colleges. From 2011–13, he wrote a blog for older athletes, “Older Athletes Rock.” He continues to teach writing part time at MHCC, coaches a youth Nordic ski team, sea kayaks, backpacks, and writes. He has participated in Peter Sears’ poetry workshops for several years and has published poems in Just Now: 20 New Portland Poets. He lives in Portland with his wife, Cathie, and enjoys following the lives of an eclectic tribe of offspring.

Karen Reyes has a Master’s Degree with a specialization in Architectural History and has worked as a real estate professional since 1981. She has also been involved for over 30 years with Portland’s literary community, working on the boards for the Portland Poetry Festival, Oregon Writer’s Workshop and Mountain Writers Series. She was instrumental in development of the first Oregon Book under the aegis of the Oregon Institute of Literary Arts. She was also one of the founding editors of Hubbub Magazine. She now participates in Peter Sears’ on-going poetry workshops and has published poems in Just Now: 20 New Portland Poets. Karen divides her time between her homes in Portland, Oregon and in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Michael Selker is a painter, poet and photographer, whose chapbook, Crazies’ Bus Stop, was published by Pudding House Press in 2007. Since moving to Oregon thirty years ago, his focus has been poetry and photography, both of which were combined in broadsides that were selected for a recent Multnomah Arts Center Gallery Juried Group Show of broadsides and mixed media (2012). His poems have appeared in Hubbub, Cloudbank, Windfall, and elsewhere. He has participated in Peter Sears’ poetry workshops for several years and has published poems in Just Now: 20 New Portland Poets. He makes his home in Portland.

Cindy Stewart-Rinier holds an MFA in Creative Writing from PLU's Rainier Writing Workshop, has served as guest poetry editor for three editions of VoiceCatcher, and is an active board member of Mountain Writers Series. Her work has appeared in Calyx, The Smoking Poet, Crab Creek Review, Ascent, Nagatuck River Review, Women's Voices for Change, New American Vocies, and VoiceCatcher, as well as the anthologies, Siblings: Our First Macrocos (Wising Up Press), and the forthcoming VoiceCatcher 10th Anniversary Anthology. Four poems have also been nominated for Pushcarts. She is part of the regular faculty teaching poetry workshops for Mountain Writers Series each year.

Community Announcements from Soapstone by soapstone 622 SE 29th Avenue Portland, OR 97214 USA

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Heroes & Friends Available on Amazon

Heroes & Friends Available on Amazon

Denali Reese is a young man who flees his comfortable home in the most advanced outpost on a newly colonized planet to seek adventure. A life of study has not prepared him for what it will take to become a hero in contests held in the outback. Denali quickly becomes enmeshed in deadly schemes and his only chance for survival is a little help from new friends. If they can get to him in time.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Writing From the Inside Out, by Bill Johnson

Well told stories are created with scenes that heighten a story’s impact. One method of writing potent scenes is to start with an understanding of the moment of greatest impact, that revelation, line of dialogue, or action at the heart of a scene that defines a character, that defines a story through some action. When I work with writers, I ask them to find that moment and write about it in the clearest, most direct way. Then write what supports that moment, sets it up, that allows time for an audience to fully take it in. I call this writing from the inside out.

When writers start with what is external -- what a character looks like, a description of action or environment -- they risk starting or ending a scene at a moment of no or low tension. When every scene starts with this type of introduction or ending, it creates a sense of the writer needing time to get to the point, then time to leave it behind. While that’s fine when writing a first draft, it creates a problem when those scenes aren’t revised. Even one extra exchange of dialogue in every scene, or two extra action lines, adds up to pages that dull the overall effect of a story.

To discover the heart of a scene, start with an understanding of the dramatic moment of change for the scene’s main character. That moment will often be rooted in what is dramatically true for a character being challenged or affirmed. Work back to what heightens the effect of that moment, what line of dialogue or action. Use that understanding to heighten a scene’s visual effect. This is writing from the inside out. In this way what is most true, most dramatic, most deeply felt, most visually unique in a scene will not be buried under the ordinary details of what I call stage building. Like a building scaffold, stage building has its place, but it often serves no dramatic purpose in a finished script.

Another way to find get inside the inner life of a character is to ask, what moral dilemma does a character face as a story starts? And how can the opening action of a story heighten the impact of that dilemma? Make it visible to a story’s audience? A character confronting a dilemma also faces making a choice, and by their action, they dramatically define themselves. A character with a comfortable inner world is difficult to convey (with the exception of characters who are comfortable in an uncomfortable world, a choice that still dramatically defines them). Such characters can come across as passive, simply reacting to events, instead of actively trying to shape the outcome of a scene.

When characters pass through a scene without some shift in feeling or of understanding, the risk is that the story’s audience will also pass through that scene without some shift in feeling or understanding of the scene’s dramatic purpose.

One way for a storyteller to fully experience the heart of a scene is a process I call dreaming. Let yourself relax and imagine a scene through the POV of a main character. Let yourself feel the emotions of the scene, internalize them, let the heart of the scene beat in your chest. Then use the words that most visually embody that feeling, that act it out. You can do the same for the other characters in a scene. Let yourself inside a character to feel the truth a character embodies. Consider what action would most confound a character, what moral dilemma would compel them to speak or act out.

I often dream scenes when I’m hired to do a rewrite. I use the process to build on the plot and characters already in place.

Another way to get to the heart of a character is to speak to them. Ask them what event would compel them to act, to speak out. Then use that information to strike at your characters.

Whatever method a writer uses to get inside a story’s characters to learn what drives them can help give scenes a quality of having different dimensions.


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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Teachable Moment

I was recently faced with mailing a 16 page newsletter first class in an envelope versus doing the same with a 12 page newsletter. I knew something needed to be done to meet the post office guideline that first class mail in an envelope be 1/4" deep or less.

So, I took the 25 stamped envelopes out to my car, put them under the front wheel, and drove over them.

If you can't stand the sight of spilled ink, stop reading now. Move to Canada. Save yourself.

Anyway, about 21 of the envelopes did get some version of being flattened. Four were ripped apart and had tire tracks on them. I knew I couldn't pin this on the post office since I hadn't mailed them yet, so I had to admit semi-defeat.

Thinking about it, I realized what I could have done was broke into a zoo late at night and hired an elephant to stand on the letters. I'm still trying to figure out what zoo elephants charge for working after midnight. I've seen several figures. It's worse than trying to figure out non-profit bulk mail rates.

Anyway, I think that would be safer than asking a bear to do it, but I guess that depends on what the bear would charge, too.

Just to put this in context, when I was a little kid I decided to bake a cake. It said put two eggs in the bowl. It didn't say take two eggs out of their shells and put them in the bowl. Turned out to be a very crunchy cake. I didn't have a driver's license so I couldn't use a car to drive over the eggs. Anyway, my parents kept a close on me when I was in the car, after the day I decided to open the door and get out about a block from home. I hadn't learned to tuck and roll when exiting a moving vehicle, so I had some bumps and scrapes for my effort to speed up the process of getting home. In my defense, in those days they didn't have a warning label on the door about exiting the vehicle while it was moving.

In my defense of my creative genius, a friend with a Volkswagon bug broke down late at night; the throttle cable broke. I rigged a piece of string to the throttle on the carburetor and ran the string over the top of the bug to the driver's side window. He pulled on the string and managed to drive home.

There might have been a better way to do this, but the elephants at the zoo weren't taking my calls that night.

The string trick doesn't work with women and sex, but I could have been doing it wrong.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Use of a Double in Storytelling

I recently re-watched Fringe, a television series. In one episode, I noticed a very striking technique being used. In the episode, one character feels out of place. The plot of the episode is that he's helping hunt down a character doing evil in the cause of -- fitting in. When the main character questions the character and finds out more about his motives, everything the murderous character says about doing whatever it takes to fit in, the dialogue has a subtext and a level of deeper emotions because the viewer is aware of the main character's issues.

One aspect of powerful storytelling is making what a main character feels accessible to an audience. Struggling writers are often so immersed in introducing a character, getting across their background, their history, their surroundings, creating a picture of their relationships, everything really except what an audience often craves from a story, something that suggests an author can help readers/viewers go on a journey to a state of deeper, potent feeling.

When novels become hugely successful while being denigrated by literary stylists, they have often created that deeper journey people crave from stories.

On a side note, I helped an author with a memoir that had a vivid and compelling action line...but I could barely get her to convey her feelings toward those closest to her, and to her own deeper feelings about tragic events in her life. On a first read, her deeper feelings were an almost complete void.

A literary agent passed on her memoir (that someone had, when the main events of the memoir happened, offered her $50,000 for the movie rights, but that was long ago).

It happened that another story person read her memoir and helped her to write about those deeper feelings from the first paragraph of the memoir, and the literary agent who had passed on the book agreed to represent it.

If you're not writing a sequel to a well-written movie about dinosaurs, you need to get to that deeper place and take your readers with you.


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 Smashwords.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Literary Arts proudly announces the 31st season of Portland Arts & Lectures

Literary Arts proudly announces the 31st season of Portland Arts & Lectures, one of the country's largest lecture series. Since 1984, Portland Arts & Lectures has brought the world's most celebrated writers, artists, and thinkers to Oregon.

The series begins on October 5 with author Jane Smiley, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1992 for her novel A Thousand Acres. Random House will publish Early Warning, the second novel in Smiley's trilogy about an Iowa family, this April. Anthony Doerr, whose novel All the Light We Cannot See won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015 and was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award, will appear on November 19. Adam Gopnik, staff writer for The New Yorker and author of Paris to the Moon, will join us on January 21. Jamaican-born poet Claudia Rankine, best known for her collection of poetry Citizen: An American Lyric, which received the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, will speak on February 25. The season concludes on April 28 with Pakistani-born writer Mohsin Hamid, whose writing has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) and the PEN/Hemingway Award (Moth Smoke).

Subscriptions for the 2015/2016 Portland Arts & Lectures series start at just $75 and include five memorable nights with some of the world's most creative and dynamic authors. Click here to purchase subscriptions online, or call our box office at 503-227-2583.

Founded in 1984, Literary Arts is a community-based nonprofit literary organization located in downtown Portland. This year we're celebrating 30 years of serving Oregon's readers and writers. Our programs include Portland Arts & Lectures, one of the country's largest lecture series; Oregon Book Awards & Fellowships, which celebrates Oregon's writers and independent publishers; Writers in the Schools, which hires professional writers to teach semester-long creative writing workshops in Portland's public high schools; and Wordstock: Portland's Book Festival, which builds community around literature through author events, workshops, a book fair, and more. We also host guided discussion groups around great works of literature through a program called Delve.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Authors Road Interview Daniel Handler (and Lemony Snicket)

Daniel Handler

(and Lemony Snicket)

Novelist and story writer for both children and adults

When Salli says this is the interview that kept her laughing most, you can count on the fact that you’re in for a good time watching this clever chat with our 47th writer.

And, not only that, this is a 2-fer: one interview with two remarkable writers (although it should be said that Lemony Snicket only shows up for brief, whimsical moments during this film).

Handler is a writer. A prolific writer. And in this interview he explains why: he never learned how to do anything else besides write books, stories, movies, poems and musicals. Writing and telling stories is the thing he loves to do most, and in this animated and spirited interview you’ll see him share some of his insights, as well as tell a few zappers that Lemony Snicket would likely share if Lemony Snicket had been there.

Handler was first published after our daughters were in high school, so we didn’t get to read his stories to them at bedtime. But that’s not true for our granddaughter, and we’ve loved sharing his wonderfully twisted tales with her. The Dark is one of her favorite books, and she never seems to get enough hearing us read it to her.

This was a rare interview, and one that was difficult to arrange given Handler’s kinetic schedule and many demands. His latest novel, We Are Pirates, had been released only a few days before we caught up with him at his home in San Francisco. So, as you watch this interview keep in mind, he’s a busy and very creative mind. He’s active in politics, the arts, and the community. He sings, plays accordion, hosts literary events and so much more. Daniel Handler is an example of the Renaissance artist with interests as wide and rich as the human mind can stretch.

We’re honored he took the time to meet and talk with us, and pleased we can share his story with you.

George & Salli
The Authors Road

Thanks for . . .

. . . joining us . . .

. . . on the road!

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Timberline Review is a new literary journal, a collage of voices speaking through the written word. Short fiction. Creative nonfiction. Essays. Poetry. Work that has the power to inspire a conversation with the times we live in.

Based in Oregon, The Timberline Review is searching for bold new work from writers everywhere. Our mission is to find these voices, to listen, and to let them resound from the treetops.

We believe in writers.

We support literary freedom.

Please see Submissions for details on how you can contribute your work to the debut issue, Summer 2015.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Nancy Pearl Interviewed on Authors Road

A bit of whimsey from . . .

Nancy Pearl: Librarian, Author, Book Activist

“So many lives I wish I could have led, . . . that’s why I read, so I can lead those lives. ”

The Authors Road has now completed nearly 50 interviews with writers and experts, and what they all share is a love of reading and the magic of the written word. But this, our 44th interview, is with someone who adds one more passion to the list of reading and writing, and that is her gift for putting people together with the right books at the right time. Perhaps that’s why she is best known as The Librarian, having been chosen as "Fiction Reviewer of the Year" in 1998 and “Librarian of the Year” in 2011 by the Library Journal.

Pearl’s life has orbited around the book in too many ways to count here. She’s worked in bookstores, served as the executive director for the Washington Center for the Book, pioneered the idea of an international program for citywide reading (One City, One Book), taught library sciences, written best-sellers on recommended reading, and appears regularly on public radio discussing books.

Pearl also gave a TEDxTalk called 'Reading with Purpose' during which she introduces readers to her "rule of 50" where she gives permission not to finish a book they aren't enjoying (except in a few cases), and her "pie chart book review." As she says, "Reading should be a pleasure, it should be joy." And she has spent her life connecting readers and writers to find that end.

And if all these achievements aren't enough, in 2003 a company made an action figure based on her, The Librarian. And yes, when you push the button on the back of the five- inch tall figure, her arm raises and a finger crosses her lips reminding us to keep quiet. At the end of this interview, Nancy demonstrates this skill with all the aplomb a true librarian must have.

Read more about Nancy or watch her interview at AuthorsRoad