HELLFIRE is mine again!

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On July 6 rights to HELLFIRE, my first novel, are mine once more. I originally had a contract with a small publisher for hardcover, to be published by Sept 28, 2011. Didn’t happen. Still hasn’t happened. Time has passed for it to happen.

My publisher got hurt when Borders and a Canadian distributor went out of business, and they are struggling to work things out. I hope they get things back in order, but there’s no guarantee. I’m not going to let my book die, or spend its life in limbo – so it should be republished almost immediately in print and eBook.

Save The Cat! Guest Blog

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I was privaleged a few weeks ago to provide a guest blog for the Save The Cat! Website at www.blakesnyder.com. SAVE THE CAT!, along with it’s sequels and software, are among the very best tools available for writers. I am posting a copy of that blog here, so that anyone can read it. If you are a writer, or want to be one, I strongly suggest checking out the SAVE THE CAT! books and software.

Writing is like life in reverse, at least that’s how it seems at times. We will look at what this means in a moment, but we can discover how to get things moving forward with just three letters – STC!

“Save The Cat!” works like a “Universal Law of Nature.” STC! applies just as well as “Newton’s First Law,” which states: “A body at rest tends to be a teenager, and will stay at rest until acted upon by an external force, usually a parent.” Maybe old Isaac didn’t say it that way, but I’m sure that’s what he meant.

It can even be as important as the “Law of Gravity,” that still unexplained attraction which holds the solar system and its planets together. STC! works like the gravity of writing, so for our purposes we can call it “Blake’s First Law.” This law states: “If you want to make sure every part of your story stays in its proper orbit, BEAT IT OUT.”

I can verify the truth of this law because I use it in my writing. A little less than two years ago, I was “forced” to write a novel. Forced, because I initially wrote only the first chapter, which was sent with a one-page synopsis to the Debut Dagger Awards, an international contest sponsored by the Crime Writers Association in London.

I sent in my entry, and went back to working on a screenplay, “Dead on the Fourth of July.” I beat out the story “Dead on the Fourth,” which is a requirement before I actually start writing any project. A few weeks later, Beat Sheet and several scenes complete, I got an email from Liz Clarke at the Crime Writer’s Association. My story was on their short list, it was one of ten finalists.

My first thought was “Wow, this is fantastic.” My second thought was “What do I do now?” I had to decide whether to finish my screenplay, or try and turn one chapter of a novel into forty. The decision was made for me when I received a letter from an agent, saying he’d read a copy of my single chapter entry and now wanted to read my entire manuscript. Instead of writing him back, saying that he already had my entire manuscript, I began to feverishly apply “Blake’s First Law” to the novel.

Four months after that, I had a first draft. Six months and two rewrites later produced a contract with Cogito Medias. Last month “Hellfire” was published in eBook, with hardcover to follow.

I haven’t finished “Dead on the Fourth” yet, but I did enter the first 15 pages in the Writer’s Digest Script competition. And not only did I use the Beat Sheet to outline my story, I got help from the STC! software on something more basic.

The first thing you do when you start a new project is to give it a title. The help screen for the title says, “A title must nail the concept.”

My original title was “Common Good,” which fit very well with important scenes from the story. But, didn’t nail it. “Dead on the Fourth of July” nails it, because a young terrorist is going to detonate a massive bomb on the Fourth of July to avenge the death of his father, who was murdered years earlier on the Fourth of July. STC! to the rescue.

“Dead on the Fourth of July” was not only written in accordance with “Blake’s First Law,” it was actually named under the inspiration of STC! I finished my entry and sent it in, along with the required one-page synopsis. It placed 18th.

Clearly, STC! played a critical role in both projects, one a novel and the other a screenplay.

The logical next step then, when “Hellfire the Novel” entered the publication pipeline, was to start on a sequel. I began work on “Coyote Midnight,” book two of the Travis Deacon series, as I began my war with the copy editor at Cogito to complete the final draft of “Hellfire.”

The method used in developing the sequel offers another example of how and why STC! is so essential to my writing process. And, it’s important to note that I use the whole “Save The Cat!” toolkit. I read “Save the Cat!” years ago, which forms the basis for the whole process. “Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies” achieves the same level of genius as the first book, and offers even more specific guidance. Later, after comparing different outlining programs, I bought the “Save The Cat!” software and use it for almost everything I write.

I have since purchased “Save The Cat! Strikes Back,” which is equally brilliant. They are all unique tools for writers, not just screenwriters. Every writer can benefit from any or all of the STC! texts and software.

Oh, yeah, I promised to tell you why writing is like life in reverse. In life and learning, we begin with a problem and work to gather facts, in an effort to find the solution. Writers, on the other hand, often begin with a solution and a handful of facts, then labor relentlessly to craft them into a compelling problem – in three acts. “Blake’s First Law of Writing” gives us a framework which makes it easier to discover where and how those the facts fit in the solar system of our story. 

STC! also came to the rescue as work on “Coyote Midnight” began. My first novel is a “Dude With A Problem” story, so it seemed logical that the sequel would be as well. As I started beating out the sequel, however, things didn’t fit. That forced me to refer back to the text books of writing physics. On page 169 of “STC! Goes to the Movies” the problem became clear.

As many of you know, one critically important page at the beginning of each chapter tells us how to recognize the genre of our story. Reviewing those pages revealed my error, “Coyote Midnight” is actually a “Whydunit,” not a DWAP. After this revelation, my writing followed its proper course. Using the STC! software and books as a guide, I successfully beat out the right story instead of trying to force the story into the wrong genre. It was a subtle difference, but an important one.

At this point, I’ve probably gone on a little too long. So, instead of explaining all the beats for “Coyote Midnight,” let’s end with something a little more important; something that played a huge part of my contest submissions.

There was a common factor in all my contest entries during this time. My novel was a finalist in the Debut Dagger Awards and later published. The screenplay “Dead on the Fourth” finished 18th in the Writer’s Digest competition. Both of those contests required a one-page synopsis.

Also, in order to test the story in “Coyote Midnight,” I adapted the first chapters into screenplay format and entered it into last years Writer’s Digest contest. “Coyote Midnight” finished 16th, even better than my entry the year before.

I am convinced that the synopses made a difference, and that the Beat Sheets are what made the synopses. The one-pager tells a judge, or any other reader, that there’s a story to go with the entry. It proves there’s a real story, a complete story, maybe even a compelling story to follow.

Each of my synopses were created by taking the beats and molding them together. Anyone that has a good Beat Sheet can make a good one-pager. A great Beat Sheet will be a great one-pager, so it’s VERY important that we make the best Beat Sheet possible.

The process for doing this is very simple. First, write a paragraph to introduce the back story and characters. Next write a second paragraph for Act 1 based on the Set-up, Catalyst, Debate and Break Into Two. Follow this with another paragraph for the first part of Act 2, including Fun and Games and the Midpoint, but ignoring the B Story. The next paragraph, Act 2 part 2 as you’ve probably figured out by now, includes the Bad Guys Close In, All Is Lost, Dark Night of the Soul, and Break Into Three.

The final paragraph is the Beat Sheet Finale. At this point you can step away from the keyboard, your one-page synopsis is done. It’s amazing how much easier the one-pager becomes by using the Beat Sheets as opposed to walking mentally through the story and creating a synopsis from scratch.

This is an outline of the process I now use for almost all of my writing. If you have other questions or comments, my Email address is demillewriter@yahoo.com. And if you’d like to see the end result, my book “Hellfire” is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and many other eBookstores. It should also be available in hardcover this year. The Hellfire Website, www.hellfirethenovel.com, has links and a list of other sources. If you want to read the first chapter of “Coyote Midnight,” I have a link to it on my author’s site at www.rickardbdemille.com.

In conclusion, this blog is an introduction to “Blake’s First Law of Writing,” and how it has helped me as a writer. So, the next time you see an apple; don’t think of Isaac Newton, think of Blake Snyder.

The Religious Right – Will It Backfire

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Recently I heard the results of a meeting in Texas, organized by evangelical leaders, to pick a nominee from the field of Republican candidates. The group picked Rick Santorum as the official anti-Romney candidate of the Religious Right.

I was disappointed.

I’m a conservative Texas Democrat, a group now under consideration for the endangered species list. I find myself shocked at the absolutely insane rate the current administration in Washington has been accumulating debt. I will not vote with my party in the next presidential election.

And, in some ways, I like Rick Santorum. Not only would vote for him if he runs against the incumbent, until recently he would have been my first choice.

That said, I do not like the idea of a group of religious leaders attempting to pick our next president. I have no problem with them looking for specific values, supporting specific policy goals in accordance with those values, and encouraging their faithful to remember those values as they vote. In fact, they have a moral obligation to support their values. Everyone, every group, does this. It’s what republicanism is all about.

This is different. They are ignoring candidates who more closely represent their specific religious beliefs. Rick Perry is a better fit in terms of values, but he was barely considered. Why? Because even he can’t beat Romney. Their support is not about promoting their values, it’s about stopping Romney.

This may backfire. I think it could be the kiss of death if Santorum, and they, are successful. Rick Santorum has now become the official candidate of religious intolerance. He was not picked because of his values, he was picked because some evangelical leaders don’t want a Mormon president.

This didn’t work for Jefferson, it didn’t work for Kennedy, and it may not work now.

Mitt Romney won the first two delegate contests for the Republican party. He is ahead in all of the polls, nationally in almost all of the individual states. Romney, in all national polls, seems to be the Republican candidate most likely to win in November. Now, if Santorum defeats Romney for the nomination, his success will be as the religious – not Republican – candidate for president.

And, there’s a hint of hypocrisy here. Can you imagine the furor if the Mormon Church came out and told its members to vote for Romney? The fear of a church attempting to apply inappropriate influence over politics IS now real – and it’s them crossing the line.

As much as I like Santorum, this bothers me – a lot. I have no doubt that this could become a major issue in the national elections. Some voters will resist supporting a candidate whose success is based mainly on his religious orthodoxy, and the intervention of a specific religious group. I would still vote for Santorum, gladly. I still fear this may be enough to defeat him in November. 

That would be unfortunate. There’s no telling how many trillions the debt ceiling will have to be increased before November, four more years could be catastrophic.

Review of Shadow of the Giant by Orson Scott Card

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What was I thinking?

Have you ever asked yourself that question? I just finished reading SHADOW OF THE GIANT by Orson Scott Card, which forced me to perform this little bit of introspection.

What the heck was I thinking? (I sometimes repeat myself. For emphasis, it’s not a memory malfunction.)

Why have I denied myself?

Over the last few years, I’ve limited my reading mainly to thriller, action, and mystery stories. My early love of SciFi and horror was consigned to a mental cryogenic sleep capsule, right next to my expectations of the Dallas Cowboys winning another Super Bowl. I’m writing thrillers and mysteries, so that’s what I’ve been listening to and reading. Makes sense, right?

Maybe not.

I recently renewed my interest in Orson Scott Card’s work. I last read a Card novel a few years ago, deviating from my reading norms by devouring PASTWATCH. I loved it. When I noticed earlier this year he was going to release another Ender related novel, SHADOWS IN FLIGHT, I decided that I should give it a read.

As I waited for SHADOW IN FLIGHT, I got impatient. As my impatience grew, stepping back in time became my only recourse. SHADOW OF THE GIANT is the precursor to SHADOWS IN FLLIGHT, so I used another of my Audible credits and downloaded the MP3 version.

It didn’t take long before I realized I how much I missed by not reading this before. Thus, the “What was I thinking?” question. SHADOW OF THE GIANT is wonderful. Card is superb here, both in story development and style. Listening to it was a delight.

SHADOW OF THE GIANT tells the story of Julian Delphiki (Bean), his wife Petra, and other “Battle School” students and rejects.  Battle School was created by the International Fleet (IF) to counter an alien (Bugger / Formic) invasion. Battle School acquired the brightest young minds on earth, developed their tactical and strategic genius, then taught them to play the “game” of war.

Ender Wiggins became the child commander of the IF forces, and with the aid of eleven other child prodigies from Battle School, know as Ender’s “Jeesh,” finally defeated the Buggers and destroyed them as a species. With the war over, the world had to decide what to do with this cadre of child strategists. The Jeesh members all came from different countries around the world. As they returned home, their governments decided to exploit their intellect and experience for nationalistic or expansionistic endeavors.

SHADOW OF THE GIANT begins as Jeesh member Han Tzu gains control of a weakened China in an attempt to save his homeland from ultimate destruction. The Chinese government ignored Han Tzu’s advice and suffered defeat. Alai, another Jeesh member had become Caliph, the figurehead leader of the Muslim world. Alai’s genius had enabled Islamic forces to conquer India and most of China, and then to assume control of the Arab world. Now, occupied India’s only hope for freedom from Muslim occupation rests with Virlomi, a Battle School graduate but not a Jeesh member, who fashions herself into a goddess in order to consolidate and inspire India resistance.

At the same time, battle school reject Peter Wiggins (Ender Wiggin’s unlikable older brother), decides the only way to stop the world from tearing itself apart is to become the ultimate ruler of planet earth. Peter is Hegemon, leader of the Free People of Earth movement, established to unify the world under a single democratic government. Peter’s main tools in this campaign are Bean and his wife Petra, in addition to his own keen mind and need to excel.

Time is a problem, since the genetic mutation which makes Bean the greatest military mind in the history of military minds, will also kill him in a matter of years, if not months. The IF has developed an advanced interstellar scout ship, and will use it’s faster than light capabilities to send Bean into space at speeds that will extend his live in relative time, enabling scientists on earth centuries to find a cure. (The story in SHADOW IN FLIGHT) However, Bean must wait until the last possible moment to leave, so that he can help Peter unify the world.

SHADOW OF THE GIANT is a wonderfully intricate story. Card weaves a myriad of tantalizing details and story threads into a rich and fulfilling chronicle. The writing itself is excellent. It perfectly tells the tale, while never once detracting from the telling itself.

Card is unique, special. I’ve read many of the Ender books, and most of the Alvin series. I’ve read PASTWATCH (as already mentioned), along with Empire, Homecoming, and even Space Boy.  I am now compelled to go back and fill in the gaps with the Shadow series, at least. Orson Scott Card is a master of both the story and the presentation. I can’t wait for SHADOWS IN FLIGHT.

What was I thinking? (Did I already say that?) Why didn’t I read this before?

On a technical note, I found the audio production distracting. There were multiple readers, who at times alternated selections, and at other times seemed to narrate a specific character. There were male readers reading female parts, and a female reader reading male parts. This didn’t work for me.

Rescue Dogs Are Special

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     I read an article about a group of Beagles rescued from a testing lab in Spain, and found this video on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLZMxRP_F5w

     My wife and I belong to a rescue group for Miniature Pinschers called IMPS. Our first foster was a beautiful little female from a puppy mill, her name is Maya.

    Being a breeder dog usually means that at about six months she began birthing litters as fast as possible. She was certainly kept isolated in a small pen with decent food – they had to keep her healthy enough to have puppies – but with almost no socialization.

     Twice a year she would bear a litter, her only close contact with other dogs or people since the litter she was born in. As soon as her puppies were old enough, they were taken away and sent to market. She would go several more months with no contact until she was bred, and the cycle was repeated. We don’t know how many years Maya lived like this.

     I mention Maya now because she was a “foster failure,” we ended up adopting her and been with us for six years now.

     The beagle rescue video above mentions one of the rescued dogs named Libby, and the update on her status mentions that she “is already learning how to be a real dog!” The need for some rescued animals to learn how to be a dog is absolutely true, and it took Maya a lot longer than it took Libby.

     The night we brought Maya home, we had to keep her separated from our dogs (we only had three at the time, Maya made four) until we were sure she hadn’t picked up anything at the shelter. I carried Maya outside to potty and she freaked out. She went rigid in my arms, something had startled her. As I turned to see what it was, I noticed that Maya’s head turned, always facing into the wind. The wind! She had never felt the wind in her face and didn’t know what it was or how to react.

     Maya was very sweet, but totally unsocialized. She wasn’t potty trained, didn’t play, didn’t know how to love or be loved, was easily startled and would bark incessantly. Maya was unadoptable, so we kept her – which was fine. After a very brief time with her, I doubt we could have given her up anyway. It has been a six year adventure, and worth every second.

     Maya still doesn’t behave like our other dogs, but there have been special moments. After about three years with us, and about twenty permanent or temporary playmates, Maya made a leap forward in her doghood. I was throwing balls in the back yard, letting the other beasts chase the balls and each other, when one of the balls went by Maya and she grabbed it. I was startled, but Maya was shocked. She had no idea what to do with it and just looked around for help. It was the first time she had ever tried to play with a toy. A major step in learning how to be a dog.

     Maya still doesn’t play like the other dogs, she tries but just never learned how. She barks at bogeymen, bad guys that only she can see, and still doesn’t know how to show affection like her housemates – but she’s loved and happy, and makes us happy.

     I know exactly what it means for Libby the beagle to learn how to be a dog, and I’m so happy for her.

     If you ever want a pet, rescue animals have more to offer than you can possibly know, even though part of that may be a little more need for love and patience. But, it’s worth it.

Review of HELL’S CORNER by David Baldacci

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     David Baldacci’s HELL’S CORNER (Paperback by Vision, Audio by Hachette) was first released on Nov 9, 2010 in hardcover. I purchased the audio version from Audible a few of months ago, and finally got a chance to listen (I first had to finish two other  books, one of them another entertaining Baldacci tale, SPLIT SECOND).

     As with all of Baldacci’s novels, it was a great read. HELL’S CORNER is the fifth book in the Camel Club series. I hadn’t considered doing a review until I decided to buy a used copy to have in my library, and in the process read some reviews at the book seller’s site.

     Before giving my review of the book, I want to give my review of reviews. To everyone who gave the book one star – I give ALL OF YOU one star. The book was very, very good, and I’m amazed you couldn’t see that. I almost said great, but there were a couple of things that didn’t work for me.

     Now, to Mr. Baldacci’s book. Oliver Stone – formerly a Triple Six, an elite CIA assassin known as John Carr – is asked to return to duty and stop the Russian mafia from taking over the Latin American drug trade. Before he can begin his mission, however, he is almost killed in an explosion at Hell’s Corner (Lafayette Park) across the street from the White House and the Prime Minister of Great Britain’s motorcade.

     Because of he was an eyewitness to the attack, plus his amazing skills of observation and analysis, he is asked to stay and assist in the investigation. Mary Chapman, the Bond – Jane Bond of MI6, becomes his new partner. Together they track down false leads, repeated attacks by the good guys and the bad guys, and unravel a wonderfully complicated trail back to . . . sorry, you have to read the book.

     Yes, there may be a different feel and pace to HELL’S CORNER than what we read in THE CAMEL CLUB. But that’s not a problem, it’s good writing. After the years and “miles” Oliver Stone has traveled from his first introduction as a character, I expect him to change. I want the hours I’ve spent reading and listening to his adventures to have an effect on him, it did on me. For me, HELL’S CORNER is revealed in a way that fits perfectly with a weary warrior who’s wondering how much more he has to give – or will be asked to give.

     It’s what I want, it’s what I expect. John Corey, created by Nelson DeMille, experiences the same growth and transformation. The impetuous, hotheaded John Corey from PLUM ISLAND got older, and married, and has grown into a more mature but still indomitable force in THE LION, where he finally brings down one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists.

     There were some little things that bugged me, and I though that the original mission against the Russian Mob, that brought him back into government service, was unnecessary. I partially understand why the author wanted the Russians in our minds, but I think it could have been done more efficiently. There are other little things, but they would be spoilers so I’m going to let them pass.

     The story was great, the ending was very good with some wonderful twists. I recommend it.

 

I’m Number 16 in the Writer’s Digest Competition

I received an Email from Writer’s Digest a few days ago, informing me I placed sixteenth in their Annual Competition, Screenplay catagory – even better than last year.

Now if I only had time to work on screenplays again.

Writers Digest Email:

 Dear Rick DeMille,
   One of my most enjoyable tasks as editor of Writer’s Digest is passing along good news to writers. This is one of those fun occasions. It is my pleasure to tell you that your entry Coyote Midnight, has been awarded 16 place in Television/Movie Script category of the 80th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition! We will mail your Certificate of Achievement which honors your accomplishment in mid-November. Finishing among the top 100 entries is an accomplishment you can be proud of.  Your success in the face of such formidable competition speaks highly of your writing talent, and should be a source of great pride as you continue in your writing career.
   All 1,001 winners will be listed at www.writersdigest.com after the December issue is published. The Grand Prize manuscript, the First Place manuscript in each category, and the names of the top 100 winners in each category will be printed in a special competition collection. If you would like to order copies of the Competition Collection, please visit  https://www.wizehive.com/apps/products/writersdigest2011
   The Competition Collections are scheduled to begin mailing in December.
   I congratulate you again on your accomplishment, and wish you the best of luck in your future writing.

   Respectfully,
   Jessica Strawser, Editor
   Writer’s Digest

The Ward – A Review

I missed The Ward during its theatrical release. I was busy, what can I say. I finally rented it over the weekend, and after watching it, I decided it was time to do my first movie review.

Before I start, and in the interest of full disclosure, let me state the following. I like old horror. I have a collection of classic, black and white horror movies on DVD and VHS. I had seen the original House on Haunted Hill several times before the Geoffrey Rush version came out. I think John Carpenter and Roger Corman are both genius, and that true horror is defined by Vincent Price and not Freddie Krueger.

I liked Sharktopus and thought Big Trouble in Little China was one of the best movies ever.

Yes, I may be a little weird, and an old fart – my first pet was a Tyrannosaurus Rex – deal with it.

Disclaimers out of the way, on to The Ward. I liked it. It opens with Kristen (played very well by Amber Heard) running through the woods. She arrives at a traditional white, wood frame house and promptly burns it down by lighting the curtains on fire.

Kristen is then grabbed by the police and taken to a nut house, where she is placed in a ward with four other girls. Each of these girls seemed to represent a different, but generic character type, which at the time made me a little nervous. Nurse Lundt, the ward matron, seemed stereotypical and may actually have been done in claymation. Either that or her eyes were prosthetic.

Even though I had questions, the story moved along well. It wasn’t long before I was into the film completely. I felt that the Dr. Stringer character (Jared Harris) really kept everything together and was excellent. He was so completely believable that I became totally on board with the story, no matter where it went.

The interaction of the girls in the ward was very well done. Any concerns I had about things becoming mechanical soon disappeared. My biggest worry in the beginning was the Emily character (Mamie Gummer), but everything fit together well as the story developed.

The movie then added all of the required elements. Vulnerable young women sneaking through the creepy sanatorium, being chased and killed by the mysterious and deformed monster.

I’m not going to go into details about the story itself, no spoilers. Understand, this is Haunted Hill and not Elm Street. Bottom line then: I had questions at the beginning, in the middle I wondered why some elements were introduced, as the story went along I asked myself how it would come together, and at the end smiled and said “Oh, yeah!”

As I said earlier, I liked it.

The Ward was written by the Rasmussen brothers, who I recently discovered once lived within a couple of miles me in Texas. I really liked the story, especially the way everything fit together at the end. There were a lot of little, subtle pieces that really made The Ward work for me.

The movie exceeded my expectations. It even left me with a little present at the end, when something that I hoped was about to happen actually did. If you want to find out what that is, watch the move.