Category Archives: Life

The revelations I have about growing up.

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 7: Discussing “Hooked” by Les Edgerton)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 7

Imagine this: You’re meeting the love of your life for the very first time today, but you don’t yet realize s(he) is the love of your life. At best, you’re hopeful that something good will come of this first date, so you prepare for the best case scenario. You put on your best clothes. You dress yourself in whatever accessories, confections, or other aids will help you make your best first impression. You prepare yourself to the best of your ability. You want this person to like you, so you want to make sure you don’t waste the opportunity to keep her/him coming back for a second round.

The art of the first impression is not just good for dating, but it’s also good for storytelling.

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This episode will cover Les Edgerton’s educational opus on how to properly open your novel, Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go.

This book will talk everything openings, and this video will talk some things Hooked.

Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go

Les Edgerton

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 256 pages

·  ISBN-10: 1582974578

·  ISBN-13: 978-1582974576

·  Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books; 5/30/07 Edition (April 12, 2007)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 6: Discussing “Story Trumps Structure” by Steven James)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 6

There’s an age-old question in the writing community: Are you a plotter or a pantser? When a random stranger approaches you at Walmart, carrying a garden rake and a bag of dog food, and he or she asks you this question, what do you say?

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This episode will cover Steven James’s excellent guide on how to pants your way to victory, Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules.

If you love writing but hate plotting, then check out this book, and check out this video based on this book.

Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules

Steven James

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 304 pages

·  ISBN-10: 1599636514

·  ISBN-13: 978-1599636511

·  Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books (May 27, 2014)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 5: Discussing “Story Fix” by Larry Brooks)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 5

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This episode will cover Larry Brooks’s final installment in his Story Fix Trilogy, Story Fix: Transform Your Novel from Broken to Brilliant.

You’ve written a novel. It kinda sucks. You wish you knew what went wrong. This book will help you figure that out (and give you some tips on how to fix it).

And this video will tell you more about it.

Story Fix: Transform Your Novel from Broken to Brilliant

Larry Brooks

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 232 pages

·  ISBN-10: 1599639114

·  ISBN-13: 978-1599639116

·  Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books (October 19, 2015)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 4: Discussing “Story Physics” by Larry Brooks)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 4

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This episode will cover Larry Brooks’s second installment in his Story Fix Trilogy, Story Physics: Harnessing the Underlying Forces of Storytelling.

Have you written a novel that seems . . . underwhelming? Maybe you need to check for its pulse. This book will teach you how to do that and revive it.

And this video will discuss whether it’s right for you.

Story Physics: Harnessing the Underlying Forces of Storytelling

Larry Brooks

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 256 pages

·  ISBN-10: 9781599636894

·  ISBN-13: 978-1599636894

·  Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books (June 18, 2013)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 3: Discussing “Story Engineering” by Larry Brooks)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 3

When was the last time you sat down to write a novel and thought, Er, how do I do this again? Or, I guess the better question is, when was the last time you sat down to write a novel? But assuming that answer is something other than “never,” you may have discovered that writing a novel is hard, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. Today’s writing resource book, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, will tell you what you should be doing.

Specifically, it breaks down the structure of story, using the “six core competencies of successful writing.” In other words, it teaches you how to write a cohesive novel that publishers would buy and readers would read, assuming you understand and follow its guidelines.

It also emphasizes the differences between “plotting” and “pantsing.” If you’ve heard these terms and have no idea what they mean, then read the book, and watch the video I recorded about reading the book.

Story Engineering

Larry Brooks

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 288 pages

·  ISBN-10: 1582979987

·  ISBN-13: 978-1582979984 ·  Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books; 1st Edition (February 24, 2011)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 2: Discussing “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 2

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. Today we will be focusing on Anne Lamont’s ode to the writing life, in her masterpiece Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. If you have not read this book, be aware that you’re ignoring a classic of the genre. This book is almost as essential to the writer’s bookshelf as last week’s Stephen King’s On Writing, even though you may ask yourself why that’s true after you’ve finished reading it. Look, don’t question the classics! They’re important because important people say they are. I don’t know whom these important people are. They just are, okay? Things were different in the early ‘90s when it was originally released. Don’t second-guess it! Just watch the video here. Then check out your copy below. It’s a classic. You know that, right?

Cynicism toward yesteryear’s classics aside, it actually is a good book that you should read if you want to prepare yourself not only for the writing life but for the structured life.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Anne Lamott

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 256 pages

·  ISBN-10: 0385480016

·  ISBN-13: 978-0385480017

·  Publisher: Anchor; 1st Edition (September 1, 1995)

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Introduction and Episode 1: Discussing “On Writing” by Stephen King)

Years ago when I started this blog and took my YouTube channel more seriously, I dreamed of presenting a limited book review series about the books writers might want to invest in, to further their craft, including, and especially, the books that I’ve read and learned from that still sit on my bookshelf. However, I’ve put this idea off to the side because I wasn’t sure if I should write book reviews for each title or simply create a Goodreads style list for my top favorites. In either case, I couldn’t see much benefit in doing these things for myself, or the budding writer, because if I reviewed every book, then I wouldn’t be spending that precious time writing my own book, and isn’t putting their lessons into practice the point of reading these books? On the other hand, simply populating a list of top recommended books doesn’t do much justice into why I recommend them.

At some point, I’d settled on a median where I could talk about them in an informal style, but instead of writing about them, I could speak into a camera about them. Of course, when I had that idea, I had no way of recording my face, just my voice, because I had no good camera, just an old digital Fuji from 2004 that ran on four AA batteries. If people wanted to hear just my voice, then I’d be better off with a podcast, and that would require having a better microphone. No idea was a good idea.

But, of course, the no good idea became something of a half-hopeful idea.

In 2019, I was forced to replace my old flip phone with an Android, and by doing so, I was now able to get my hands on a digital recording device that I could actually upload to YouTube. It was pretty nice. But there was still a problem present: I still had to hold the camera when I spoke into it. Hardly useful if I want to show viewers my book collection while I talk about it. Closer than I’d been, but still not what I needed to do it well.

Fast-forward to the present work-at-home world we live in, and I’ve been forced to buy a webcam and a nice backdrop, too. And a better microphone. With those things in place, I can now stand far enough from an anchored camera to speak and display books while I talk, which means I’ve run out of excuses for delaying this series, which, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve dreamed about doing for years.

That series?

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources.

This series will contain 16 episodes a season, with each season focusing on a particular theme, and season one focusing on the writing life and story structure. The plan is to debut a new title every Friday at 10am EST on my YouTube channel until the end of the year, and then start up a new season sometime in the spring.

The way it’ll work is that I’ll tell viewers about “this week’s book,” why they should want it, and what to expect from it, or how it can help them if they read it. I’ll do so through loose, one-sided conversations with them. What I won’t do is talk about every detail or get into every point the book makes. The emphasis is that the book is one you should read if you care about improving your writing career, but if you want to get the most out of it, you’ll have to actually read it. I’ll also encourage viewers to post links to their blogs or Wattpad profiles if they want to share something they’ve written based on something they’ve learned. I’ll also post new articles simultaneously on this blog to announce which book we’ll be covering that day and embed a link to the video so anyone can check it out.

You can watch the seven-minute introduction to the series here.

And when you’re done with that, you can check out our first book of the series:

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Stephen King

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 320 pages

·  ISBN-10: 1982159375

·  ISBN-13: 978-1982159375

·  Publisher: Scribner; Reissue Edition (June 2, 2020)

Yep, did you really think we’d start with anything else? Watch the video here.

Oh, and if you care about high quality videos, then you’ll have to wait until I can afford a better camera and a better studio setup for that. One way you can help expedite that process is to encourage at least 10,000 of your friends to buy copies of my e-books (the ones that actually cost something), which you can check out via the side panel. You do have 10,000 friends, right?

Of Pirates and Whales: A Tale of Corporate Glut and Consumer Punishment

Today, Google’s “Recommended by Pocket” blog roll (shown whenever a new tab is open in Firefox, as well as in maybe other browsers that I never use) showed an image of a younger Nicolas Cage holding a baby up to the camera, taken from the classic film Raising Arizona, a movie that I used to catch in syndication on my local FOX station back in the early ‘90s. The headline, “Disney Is Quietly Placing Classic Fox Movies Into Its Vault, and That’s Worrying,” worried me, so I checked it out. The article by Matt Zoller Seitz, published in Vulture, goes on to tell the tale of big corporate Disney sucking out the lifeblood from theaters who rely on classic FOX films to cover 12% or more of their annual income and eating their bacon.

The thesis is that Disney is applying its scarcity model to old FOX films that were previously available to any theater that requested them for special screenings, and it’s costing the theaters big time. For instance, before Disney acquired FOX last spring, if a theater wanted to screen, let’s say Die Hard, at Christmas time to provide some nostalgia to, let’s say, men in their mid-forties who may have seen it in theaters back when they were teenagers and were like, “Boom! Pow! Yippee-ki-yay, moth—” and, well, you know the rest, then FOX typically let them. The theaters, in return, could give these fortysomethings and their teenage sons an opportunity to relive the experience of seeing John McClane throw Hans Gruber off of the 30th floor of the Nakatomi Plaza—on the big screen!—while the rest of their family go Christmas shopping. It’s a model that boosted theater income whenever the current run of films outlived their welcome.

According to the article, Disney’s model prevents theaters from doing that anymore.

It reminds me in part of what Amazon has done to the book industry, but in a reverse kind of way. While Amazon has gobbled up the New York publishing market and spat it onto the shores of the River Styx, those stores that subscribe to the New York model, like Barnes and Noble, have taken to a standardization model that may actually perpetuate their demise.

I think the real worry here, as far as movies are concerned, is that Disney may fall somewhere in between these two models: Kill the competition, as Amazon does, but through a standardization practice like what New York and Barnes and Noble does. My question is, what happens if the whale gets super huge, and then somebody comes along and kills it? What if that somebody is consumer apathy?

In the end, I hope Disney knows what it’s doing.

Though, I guess I’m okay with the outcome either way because I don’t love movies today like I used to. I still have a few franchises that I look forward to, like Mission: Impossible, The Fast and the Furious, James Bond, and Batman. But even those aren’t enough to get me interested in movies like the ones that came out in the ‘90s did. Disney has its hand in too many of them, and it’s beginning to show, so I’m getting a bit bored. This isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate a good Marvel movie. I’ll stick with that series for as long as it doesn’t suck (which, hopefully, won’t be anytime soon). This isn’t even to say that I’m not interested in the Disney+ service because I sort of am. But I’m also skeptical. I don’t think I watch enough content to justify spending a monthly fee. And even if I did, I don’t own the content. If they decide I can’t watch something I want to watch, then I can’t watch it without help from a pirate, and I don’t deal with pirates. So, rather than get upset, I simply put the movie out of mind. By the time they decide I can watch it, I don’t want to. I choose when I want to watch something. Not Disney.

Anyway, here is the article about Disney.

And here is the article about Amazon.

And for kicks, here is an article about Barnes and Noble to really hit the point home.

All three are worth reading and comparing and using to draw your own conclusions about where the world of entertainment and commerce is heading. Do you care?

Comment below. Don’t forget to subscribe if you want to be notified of my next article.

Cover Image: Pixabay

Improving Your Lunch Life: OliveOnion

Last month, the college where I work lost its cafeteria staff. It was a planned loss, mind you, with the current vendor’s contract expiring and a new vendor due not to arrive until the fall semester, leaving a summer-long gap for the school to reconstruct its cafeteria, hopefully for the better. But, this move didn’t ignore the need for faculty, staff, and students to eat, especially when there’s so little time in a lunch break to go off-campus for lunch, so the school was nice enough to bring in food truck vendors from all over south Florida to service its lunching needs. One such food truck was from Chick-fil-A. The rest were from vendors I’d never heard of before, at least not until they came back for seconds.

This past week, one of these unknowns caught my attention. It had an attractive food menu that looked like it wouldn’t saturate me with grease and leave me feeling sluggish the rest of the day (unlike the all-fries food truck that was booked to provide food at the other location). It featured unique hits from gyros to salads (what, no burgers or hot dogs?), and listed three distinct sauces: yogurt (meh), tahini (eh?), and pepperoncini (yay!) as its choice of toppings.

This unknown French-Mediterranean restaurant on wheels is called OliveOnion, and I’d spent all week waiting for it.

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Thursday Lunch Surprise:

The day of the OliveOnion truck had finally arrived. It was on a Thursday. Due to conflicts with other items on my schedule that day, I had to move my lunch ahead 45 minutes and ensure that I got my food, returned to the office, and finished eating by 12:30. It would be tight. But, it was always tight. I was prepared to buy now and eat later if necessary. I wanted to enjoy this one.

I went to the fountain plaza first and saw the food truck that sold only fries. Not what I wanted. So, I changed direction and headed for the other location at the other side of campus, passing by an old friend I hadn’t seen in months along the way. No time to talk! Must get food! We said hi, so I wasn’t a jerk. Anyway, minutes later, I reached the other truck. High-top tables were erected around it. A handful of people were loitering as they waited for their orders. The olive-colored truck stood against the clear noon sky. The backdrop was set. I was ready.

“May I sample the pepperoncini sauce?” I asked the man who was sitting at the front of the truck when I got his attention.

All business, the man agreed, then ducked into the truck’s production cavity and returned less than a minute later with a small plastic cup filled with pepperoncini sauce (a green sauce with “medium hot, fresh herbs”) and a pita chip dipped inside. I scraped the chip through the sauce, getting as much of it on there as I could, and took a bite.

By this point, the higher-than-desired lunch prices, which had been in the back of my mind until now, were no longer a factor. I’d come for the sauce, and the sauce delivered. I was convinced. Now it was time to order my food.

“I’ll have the chicken gyro,” I told the man.

He held up his hand.

“Hold on, just one second,” he said.

He ducked back into the production cavity. What just happened? Was someone else’s order ready for delivery? Would I now have to wait my turn?

No, the man came back with another cup, this time filled with a juicy beef brisket topped with my pepperoncini sauce that I couldn’t wait to consume more of. He also gave me a plastic fork.

“The chicken is okay. Try this instead.”

Not one to deny a free sample if it looks delicious, I took the bite. I immediately handed it back to him.

“Okay, you made your point,” I said. “I’ll take the brisket.”

It was an extra dollar, but let’s credit the man on the upsell. A good business man knows his customer’s heart, and my heart was in my stomach. Pretty soon the beef brisket gyro with the pepperoncini sauce would be in there, too.

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I ordered the gyro with everything but the tomato (I usually order food without tomato), swiped my card, added the 25% tip because the sample was just that worth it, and headed for the window where my food would be coming to me. The other man on the truck, the one who was preparing the food, apologized for the wait (I’d been waiting maybe a minute), and was going to have my gyro ready as soon as possible. I probably waited no more than three minutes between order and delivery. The weather was warm and the sky cloudless. The handful of people hanging about were mostly quiet. I still had plenty of time to get back to the office. All was well.

The second man stuffed a foil-wrapped brick into a paper bag and handed me the bag.

“There’s pepperoncini sauce on this, right?” I said.

Yes, there definitely was. Satisfied, I headed back to the office, entered the breakroom, rolled out a layer of paper towels across the table, then watched as extra virgin olive oil leaked out through the foil and the paper bag and onto the table. Guess I’ll need a plate, I thought.

The brisket gyro came on a pita (I chose white, or maybe it was wheat, but I had the option for grain), and was topped with lettuce, black olives, onions, cucumbers, feta cheese crumbles, extra virgin olive oil, and pepperoncini sauce. Every bite drizzled onto my tongue with juicy, meaty flavor. By the time I’d taken my last bite, the clock struck 12:30. Finished right on time. I smiled. Then I retrieved a breath mint and popped it in my mouth. I’d definitely need it.

All told, I’d spent about $15 (including tip) for restaurant quality food, even though I didn’t order any sides or drinks (the drinks in the vending machines are a bit cheaper). On my way back to the sign-in computer (where I get paid), I approached my coworker whom I had been talking to about the food truck schedule and simply nodded.

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Verdict:

Expensive, a little bit, but definitely worth it. If I’m ever down in the Hollywood region (Hollywood, Florida), I know where to go for lunch. Hopefully I won’t have to wait that long. Hopefully they’ll come back. I keep saying the same thing about that Chick-fil-A food truck that came to school that one time several weeks ago. But that’s a story for another day.

Photos Retrieved from Pixabay.

Review of Dunkin’ Donuts Hazelnut Coffee and Other Related Items

So, every once in a while I write a blog that’s actually about coffee. I know, that’s unusual, seeing as how I’ve named my blog after the act of drinking coffee, yet for some reason I never actually write about coffee or drinking coffee. So, I understand if it surprises you that today we are talking about coffee. But, you shouldn’t be surprised. Anything goes on this blog. If I were to write about ant food or beach sand, you should think, That’s about right. So, today we’re talking about coffee. Specifically Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.

Or, am I talking about Dunkin’ coffee?

First of all, before you start reading this blog, or at least read more of it, you need to find yourself a good sandwich because, after all, drinking café latte at 1pm often means you should have a sandwich, too. What’s today’s sandwich? I recommend a croissant, toasted, with some kind of cheese, cheese at which you can pick for yourself, and we’ll say, er, ham. Actually no, bacon. Yes, you should be eating a breakfast sandwich today. Maybe one from Dunkin’.

creamer small

On Tuesday morning, I went to my usual Dunkin’ café on the college campus where I work and ordered my usual drink, a coffee with cream and caramel. No sugar. The workers there know who I am, and sometimes they’ll even have the coffee waiting for me when I get there. I don’t know if I like the idea of people knowing me so well that they know what I’ll order before I know. But, in the Alexa generation, I suppose I should get used to things like that. It never hurts to prepare for the robot apocalypse a bit early.

So, on Tuesday, when I got into line and approached the register, the girl taking my order, before I could even give her my order, said, “We are out of caramel today.” I looked at her for a moment and said, “Okay, that’s fine.” Then, of course, she asked me what I would like instead. I thought about it for a second and told her I don’t know. I started thinking maybe I’ll take pumpkin, but then I remembered that we’re in April right now, and April is not the month for pumpkin. So I had to give it more thought. Thinking about what I want in my coffee when I don’t have what I want for my coffee can be difficult.

I knew I didn’t want vanilla, which was one of the flavors she offered me. I didn’t want the other things she offered, either, which I no longer remember, but hazelnut sounded pretty good, so I ordered that. Now, to be clear, I’ve had hazelnut many times before, usually at home, but I rarely get it at Dunkin’. There’s no reason for that rarity, except that I prefer caramel or pumpkin, and if I’m feeling ambitious, caramel and pumpkin. But, today I had to get hazelnut because it was the best option I had and, in an industry that has sketchy flavor consistency, I didn’t want to take a chance on ordering something too bitter. After all, I had two dollars at stake! A couple of minutes later, I got my coffee and my food, two bacon, egg & cheese wraps, and it was good.

I got back to the office, ate my wraps, and started drinking my coffee. And let me tell you, it was actually pretty tasty. I admit that sometimes Dunkin’ is hit-or-miss, which is why I get the flavors I know. Hazelnut is not a flavor I drink enough to form a consistent opinion about, so I can’t say if Dunkin’s treatment is generally bland or flavorful, but I can tell you that for that one order I rarely get, I got a good one.dunkin small

The hazelnut was sweet, with a little bit of woodiness, and it definitely complemented the coffee flavor that Dunkin’ is best known for, which is, of course, tasting like coffee. I know this sounds obvious, but this is a review, and coffee, from a place that everyone has ordered from many, many times before, needs a fair hearing as much as the next beverage. But, if you’re still reading this, then I think you’re here more for the entertainment than the actual review.

This means that my actual review is not on hazelnut coffee at all, because it’s not new and I’m sure you’ve had it before if you have any coffee knowledge whatsoever, but on the new brand name Dunkin’, as opposed to the original, and far superior, Dunkin’ Donuts, which the company has been called for many, many years, well beyond my childhood, well past my, well, I don’t know how far back it goes, but it’s been Dunkin’ Donuts for decades, if not generations, and now it’s this new thing called Dunkin’, which is some short, sweet, brand name that maybe is hip, maybe is unifying, but it just seems not quite the same as what I remember as a kid or as an adult, and really where is the coffee and where are the donuts?

So my review of Dunkin’, the name, is that I can say it faster, and honestly that’s how I’ve been referring to it for a while anyway, as Dunkin’ Donuts really does take too long to say. So, at the end of the day, I approve of the name change, but I wish they’d kept all of the original branding on their bags, because I’m a creature of habit, and what I’m familiar with it is not Dunkin’ but Dunkin’ Donuts. I’m only familiar with Dunkin’ when I’m calling it by name, in a hurry, because I need to go, get coffee, and come back, and I don’t have the time to waste talking to you about where I’m going; I just want to get it over with and get to where I’m going, which is Dunkin’. Dunkin’ Donuts.

Okay you should probably check on your sandwich now. I’m sure it’s well toasted. Enjoy your lunch. Go to Dunkin’, get some coffee. I’d recommend the hazelnut.