Saturday, December 24, 2016

Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond At Aladdin Theater


Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond are coming to the Aladdin Theater in Portland, Oregon, on January 15th, 2017, for a live recording of Dear Sugar Radio: The Writers Resist, Portland Edition. WRITERS RESIST is a multi-city event organized by writers and activists across the nation seeking to "re-inaugurate" a shared commitment to the spirit of compassion, equality, free speech and the fundamental ideals of democracy.

Cheryl and Steve will be joined by some of their favorite Portland-based writers, including Samiya Bashir, Wendy Chin-Tanner, Rene Denfeld, Zahir Janmohamed, Cooper Lee Bombardier, Cari Luna, Sam Roxas-Chua, Lidia Yuknavitch, and Colin Meloy of The Decemberists. They'll also be taking your questions about how to move forward as a nation during this time of tremendous division and uncertainty.

All proceeds from the event will be donated to six Oregon nonprofits that protect human rights, freedom of speech, the environment, and artistic expression. For more information and tickets: http://www.aladdin-theater.com/event/1396315-dear-sugar-radio-writers-portland/

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Nancy Hill's Twelve Days of Fruitcake Free on Amazon Kindle


A delightful Christmas story that begins when an old woman gives a special fruitcake to her friend. The friend, in turn, gives it to someone else. For twelve days the fruitcake exchanges hands, improving the life of everyone who receives it. Charming, heartwarming, and magical.

Available free on kindle until Saturday, December 3rd.

Nancy Hill is a Portland, Oregon, writer and photographer. Christmas has always been her favorite holiday, and she absolutely believes in the magic of the season.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Lizzy Shannon Hosts Book Launch for A Song of Bullets


Lizzy Shannon launches her new book, "A Song of Bullets," a period thriller inspired by real events in her life growing up in the worst era of the Northern Ireland conflict. The signing, with questions and answers and refreshments, is at Another Read Through, 3932 N Mississippi Ave, Portland, 7 pm.

Lizzy's career is as varied as the genres she writes. Starting out as a library assistant in a Northern Irish rural town, she moved on to study Theater Arts and Literature in London, and toured the United Kingdom as a professional actress. Roles ranged from the goddess Hecate in Shakespeare's Macbeth to Gustav, the Amazing Dancing Bear in a clown troupe. Now living in the Pacific Northwest, she is an active mentor within the writing community.

For more information about Lizzy, visit http://www.lizzyshannon.com

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

"Unlock your Creativity" with Eric Witchey 11/1


Are you unsatisfied with how long it takes you to edit a chapter? Do you have trouble meeting deadlines, or polishing your work to perfection? Join us at the Old Church this November 1st for a creativity discussion with award-winning author Eric Witchey.

Every writer has a production pace at which they are most comfortable, but few writers are satisfied with their pace. Some need to speed up in order to get more material out and hit deadlines. Others need to slow down in order to find deeper richness in their characters and prose. However, most end up defaulting to their natural pace.

That's where Eric Witchey comes in. The author of over 100 short stories, 4 novels, and many non-fiction and ghost titles, Witchey knows how to dive into creativity. He has been recognized by Writer's Digest, Writers of the Future, Short Story America, and many other organizations and his writing How-To articles have appeared in The Writer Magazine and Writer's Digest Magazine, among others. E

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.

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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

David Levine Fan Guest of Honor at Westercon69


David D. Levine attended his first SF convention in 1977. It was X-Con 1, the first con in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the next year, at X-Con 2, David found himself co-head of Gaming. Since then he's attended over 120 conventions and has worked at many of them in some capacity, most often Publications but also Tech, Programming, Fanzine Lounge, and even Chair. Many people know him for his fannish theatrics, including as a member of the Not Ready for Sidereal Time Players and Whose Line Is It Anyway.

He created the 1990 Portland Westercon's pioneering website, set up and ran the websites for OryCons 17 through 26 and Oregon Science Fiction Conventions Inc., and still maintains osfci.org (including the Sue Petrey Fund and Jo Clayton Fund pages) and the OryCon and OSFCI mailing lists. In recognition for all of this work he received an OSFCI Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.

In addition to running conventions, David has co-edited a long-running paper fanzine, spent two weeks at a simulated Mars base in Utah, made and worn costumes, served as officer and board member of several fan organizations, gamed, filked, created fan art, and even sat behind a dealer's table a time or two. He's also a Hugo-winning SF author. Learn more at his author site and fannish activities site.

Learn more about Westercon69

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Capsule Movie Reviews by Bill Johnson for 2016


These capsule reviews of current movies offer a basic overview of what these stories did (or didn't do) to engage an audience. They are not meant to convey a full review of the movie, or a scene by scene breakdown. All reviews by Bill Johnson, copyright 2016.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

posted 2/6/16

The conceit in this movie is that it's the same characters from Jane Austen's novel, with the addition of a zombie plague. What makes for a great horror film, however, is that it says something about the human condition. Alien with its issue of male rape and the corporation being the real alien killing the crew. Zombies in this film are just a plot device, and could have been changed to a different plot device (alien invasion, demons rising, birds attacking humans) without changing anything. Which means half the movie carries no dramatic weight connected to what the story is about and what the characters are reacting to.

Early in the film, a character encounters a young mother and baby zombie. The moment seems about to suggest something deeper about life in that situation, but the moment is just another plot device conveying nothing more than a plot question, how will this play out?

The mixture of horror and literary fiction is amusing, but not really that amusing until Parson Collins shows up.

In the end, there are no universal truths in this movie, although for a moment it seemed someone had an idea about zombie servants rising up against their masters, and another scene tosses in the four horsemen of the apocalypse, but to what story purpose, who knows.

The Fifth Wave

posted 1/30/16

The Fifth Wave begins with waves of exposition that explain the first four waves. The underlying problem with the movie is that its impulses all seem to come from TV production, so it looks like a pilot for a tv series created about 2008. So it doesn't look as good as what's on tv now. It's not bad, so much as it's like watching an episode from an old tv series. This is movie studios pushing product through metro plexes to fill screen slots.

Joy

posted 1/3/16

This film demonstrates the problems with being realistic. Joy the main character is a single mother in a dysfunctional environment. It takes a good twenty five minutes to set out all those characters and their many issues and get to a significant turning point, Joy inventing a mop and then getting onto one of the early cable TV sales channels to promote it into a huge success. By the end of the film, still surrounded by dysfuctional family members trying to sabotage her, Joy has created and manages a business empire.

That's all plot, but what's the story about? That remains buried under the ruble composed of all those dysfuctional relationships and events. It's probably something to do with Joy overcoming all her disadvantages to make something of herself, encouraged by her grandmother. But I'm not sure. And, based on the reviews and audience reactions, I don't think others were sure, either.

There's not enough else going on to make up for that.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Writing Critiques Offered at Write on the River Conference

Bill Johnson will be offering manuscript critiques as part of the Write on the River conference. Bob Dugoni is the featured speaker and Rachel Letofsky is a featured Literary Agent.

Write On The River is North Central Washington’s only writing conference. Two days of content-packed workshops with professional editors, successful agents, bestselling authors and nationally-acclaimed speakers, Write On The River is the best way to hone your craft, build your dream and move your writing forward. Whether your goal is to be a published author, write articles for a local magazine, develop your poetry, or simply write for your own enjoyment, Write On The River has something for you. Held every May on the beautiful Wenatchee Valley College in Wenatchee, Washington, Write On The River is a writing conference not to be missed!

The conference gives you a unique opportunity to learn from the best in a casual, intimate atmosphere. There are plenty of opportunities to rub elbows with publishing professionals, get one-on-one writing advice from successful authors, bond with fellow writers, and pitch your project to a literary agent or publishing editor. Write On The River can really move your writing life forward in an inspiring way!

The 2016 Conference is May 13, 14 & 15. With a world-class faculty and renowned writing instructors from all over the world, it promises to be a highlight of your writing year. Attendees will also have the opportunity to pitch their projects to a literary agent and a book publisher. Click HERE to learn about 2016’s exciting line-up of workshops, and HERE to meet our esteemed 2016 Conference faculty.

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For reviews of popular novels that explore principles of storytelling, check out A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon's Kindle and available on Barnes and Noble's Nook and on Apple via Smashwords.