Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Poison? Um . . . Yes, Please.

Bridget Zinn and Poison, her first and last novel.

It is my great pleasure to take part in a blog tour today for Bridget Zinn and her debut novel, Poison.

First off, just look at that cover! It does everything a cover is supposed to do. Even if fantasy is not you genre, I'd bet my lunch that this cover would at the very least catch your eye, and probably get you to pick it up.

Before we talk about the book, let's talk about the author: Bridget Zinn.

Bridget grew up in Wisconsin. She went to the county fair where she met the love of her life, Barrett Dowell. They got married right before she went in for exploratory surgery which revealed she had colon cancer. They christened that summer the "summer of love" and the two celebrated with several more weddings. Bridget continued to read and write until the day she died. Her last tweet was "Sunshine and a brand new book. Perfect."

Bridget wanted to make people laugh and hoped readers would enjoy spending time with the characters she created. As a librarian/writer she loved books with strong young women with aspirations. She also felt teens needed more humorous reads. She really wanted to write a book with pockets of warmth and happiness and hoped that her readers' copies would show the watermarks of many bath time reads.

That's right--her first and last novel. In the spirit of this blog tour, we were asked to share a first of our own. I'm 40-years-old and I just published my first book, By Blood Bequeathed. But the real first I want to highlight was my first book launch/reading. I've been to countless author readings and for me to finally be the author was thrilling. There were about twenty five people there for no other reason than to support me and my first book. It's an experience I will never forget.

Much like Bridget, I espouse the idea of doing what you were meant to do.

Now, about this fantastic book:


Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly-skilled potions master, is the only one who knows her kingdom is on the verge of destruction—which means she's the only one who can save it. Faced with no other choice, Kyra decides to do what she does best: poison the kingdom's future ruler, who also happens to be her former best friend. But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart…misses.

Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the king's army and her potioner ex-boyfriend, Hal. At least she's not alone. She's armed with her vital potions, a too-cute pig, and Fred, the charming adventurer she can't stop thinking about. Kyra is determined to get herself a second chance (at murder), but will she be able to find and defeat the princess before Hal and the army find her?

Kyra is not your typical murderer, and she's certainly no damsel-in-distress—she's the lovable and quick-witted hero of this romantic novel that has all the right ingredients to make teen girls swoon.

Check out some of the reviews:

Don't let the title or cover fool you! No grim dark teen fantasy or angst-y heroines here; just a frothy confection of a fairy tale featuring poisoners, princesses, perfumers and pigs, none of whom are exactly what they appear (except maybe the pigs)…. Good silly fun—a refreshing antidote to a genre overflowing with grit and gloom.
Kirkus Reviews

The late Zinn's debut novel unfolds as a romping, fairy-tale quest with more than one twist up its sleeve. The story is vivid, headlong, and occasionally tongue in cheek, and the narrative's dark moments never get too scary because everything else is so much fun. Ages 12–18. Agent: Michael Stearns, Upstart Crow Literary. Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly Article

A wonderful article written by Alexis Burling in Publishers Weekly, Promoting a Late Author's Debut Novel: 'Poison' by Bridget Zinn

Recommended for anyone who loves fairy tales, memorized The Princess Bride, or has always dreamed of saving the kingdom (with a piglet).

Do yourself and your young teens a favor and purchase your copy today: 

Barnes & Noble 
Indie Bound 
iTunes Bookstore
Powell's Books
Add Poison to your Goodreads Pile!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Inciting Incident and Story Worthy Problem as Conflict: Can You Tell the Difference?

The Inciting Incident
The Initial Surface Problem
The Story Worthy Problem. 

These are all examples of conflict, but they do different things. Use them in the wrong place and your story is dead in the water.

I've started reading Les Edgerton's Hooked.

I know what a hook is. I understand the concept. I also understand that hooks come in many shapes  . . .

 and sizes. 

(now that I think about it, the items in the last two images, along with having hooks, could also be considered lures--but that's a whole other topic) My point being that hooks don't always have to be in-your-face explosive to be effective.

Thus I was reluctant to buy and read a book devoted entirely to openings. Well, I'm about a fourth of the way into it and I already want to talk about it. In fact, I applied what I've learned so far and created an exercise we can share.

But first, some definitions, from Les Edgerton, (so we're all on the same page:)

  • The inciting incident is the event that creates the character’s initial surface problem and introduces the first inklings of the story-worthy problem.
  • This is the action part of the story, the part that is plot-based. This happens to the protagonist then she does this to resolve it then this and so on.
  • The inciting incident is NOT the protagonist’s current situation, no matter how deplorable or dramatic it may be. 
  • The Inciting Incident is what alters the day to day existence (or situation). This can be something large and obvious or small and subtle.
IMO, small and subtle is usually more powerful.

  • This is the problem that occurs as a direct result of the inciting incident. And while it may seem at  first glance that solving this problem is what the story is really all about, it’s not.
  • Every story is ultimately about solving the deeper, more complicated story-worthy problem.
  • The inciting incident sets the stage for the story-worthy problem, which functions just beneath the surface of the story on a more psychological level. Consider it the driving force behind the initial surface problem as it’s ultimately what the protagonist must reconcile at the end of the story. 
  • A true story-worthy problem is closely associated with the protagonist’s inner self, while a surface problem is merely symptomatic, a derivative of that larger problem. 
  • The inciting incident introduces this problem by either bringing to the forefront a buried problem or creating a new one, thus beginning the gradual revealing process that will encompass the rest of the story as the protagonist’s—and the reader’s—understanding of the true nature of story-worthy problem deepens.
Les also gives us a great example of subtle conflict and overt conflict, using the movie Thelma and Louise:

The Inciting Incident – Thelma is about to ask Darryl if she can go on a trip with Louise. He replies condescendingly, “What?” She decides not to ask and just go. She has never openly defied her husband. This decision leads to the subsequent decisions (road house, dancing, flirting) that leads to the Initial Surface Problem.
The Initial Surface Problem – Harlan tries to rape Thelma. Louise kills him.
The Story-Worthy Problem – Thelma allows all men to dominate and take advantage of her. This she must overcome.

Les gives us some great instruction and follows it up with perfect application. To further cement the concept in my head, I decided to replicate the example with some of my favorite movies. I tried to use older movies to avoid spoilers. If you haven't see any of these and think you may still, then scroll past that example.

Aliens (1986 Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn)

The Inciting Incident – Lost contact with the colonists on LV426
The Initial Surface Problem – Colonists are farmed as alien hosts and the marines get attacked by aliens and get their butts kicked.
The Story-Worthy Problem – Trapped in the base, horde of attacking aliens likely to attack at dusk, emergency venting means the base will explode in 14 hours killing everyone—survive.

Stranger than Fiction (2006 Will Ferrel, Emma Thompson)

The Inciting Incident – Harold’s watch stops working and he hears the narrator say that the act of resetting the watch will bring about his imminent death.
The Initial Surface Problem – Harold must find out the other parts of the story the narrator is telling him in hopes of finding a way to change the ending, thus preventing his death.
The Story-Worthy Problem – Harold must leave the calculations and all the rules and all the precision behind and instead learn to suck all the marrow out of life. If he can do that, then it doesn’t matter if he dies.

The Matrix (1999 Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne)

The Inciting Incident – Mr. Anderson’s computer tells him to follow the white rabbit—and he does.
The Initial Surface Problem – Mr. Anderson is taken into custody by Agents where they plant a bug in him, via his navel.
The Story-Worthy Problem – Mr. Anderson needs to become Neo—the One who can save Zion.

Ladyhawke (1985 Matthew Broderick, Michelle Pfeiffer)

The Inciting Incident – Philippe escapes the prisons of Aquila.
The Initial Surface Problem – He must help Navarre break into Aquila to kill the evil priest who cursed the knight and his lady.
The Story-Worthy Problem – Break the curse.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 Harrison Ford, Karen Allen)

The Inciting Incident – Army intelligence recruits Jones to find the Ark of the Covenant
The Initial Surface Problem – Finding/obtaining the headpiece for the staff of Ra (from his ex, Marion)
The Story-Worthy Problem – Find the Ark before the Nazis do. Prevent them from using it.

King Arthur (2004 Clive Owen, Keira Knightley)

The Inciting Incident – After 15 years of bondage, Bishop Germanius refuses to release the Knights from their service to Rome unless they do one more task.
The Initial Surface Problem – Save a prominent Roman family from the approaching Saxon army (located deep in the north of England and Woad territory).
The Story-Worthy Problem – Arthur’s journey to find his true self and become King of England (starting by defeating the Saxon army).

Star Trek (2009 Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana)

The Inciting Incident – Commander Pike appeals to Kirk’s ego and conflicting feelings about his father, prompting Kirk to join Star Fleet. “Your father was captain of a star ship for 12 minutes. He saved 800 lives including your mother and yours. I dare you to do better.”
The Initial Surface Problem – A distress call from Vulcan, all cadets called to duty.
The Story-Worthy Problem – Prevent Romulans from obliterating Earth.

The Hunger Games (2012 Jennifer Lawrence, Stanley Tucci)

The Inciting Incident – Katniss volunteers.
The Initial Surface Problem – Don’t die.
The Story-Worthy Problem – Win the Hunger Games and keep Peeta alive.

And as all good lessons go, here's a little homework for you.

Your Story: ________________________________________

The Inciting Incident --
The Initial Surface Problem --
The Story-Worthy Problem --

Do you agree with my conclusions? Let me know in the comments or share Your Story with us.

Again, this is what I've gleaned from only a quarter of the book, much more awaits us. Go forth and procure a copy for yourself.

Monday, March 11, 2013

National MS Awareness Week

Burgers and Books for MS

March 11th - 17th is National MS Awareness Week. If you live in Utah or southern Idaho, then there's a good chance that you know someone with MS--this region has an usually high concentration. MS affects one in 300 people in the Utah/Idaho area.

During MS Awareness Week, our Bike MS team Gates’ Gears will be @ Wendy’s on 500 S and 200 W in Bountiful on Wednesday, Mar 13 from 5PM – 8PM to raise funds to eradicate MS. A percentage of all proceeds will be directly donated to the MS Society.


My wife and I have been involved with the Multiple Sclerosis society for many years and in recent years started riding in Bike MS.  A quick plug for Bike MS, you can ride 40, 75, or 100 miles and the course is relatively flat with plenty of rest stops--if you think you can't do it, I think you can. Click here to see a bit more about our story.

Additionally, my most recent book, By Blood Bequeathed is currently available for the Kindle and in paperback. I'm donating all sales from my book during MS Awareness week. It's a great read (if I do say so myself--see the side bar for reviews) and an even greater cause.

Help us create a world free of MS.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Remembering Calvin Blossom

            I’m a young author (in terms of experience) and so much of what I do is geared around building a platform and creating an audience: Facebook, Twitter, this blog, at its core it’s about self-promotion. I hope that I do it in a manner that is rewarding for people and not annoying. But today, I wish to put all that aside and reflect for a moment on a man who was quite the opposite, whose every thought and behavior was geared toward promoting others: Calvin Blossom.

            Calvin worked as a security officer at my business, my day job. It’s with a heavy heart that we mourn his passing. Calvin excelled in his profession, even having won national recognition, but that’s not what he will be remembered most for. Calvin lived not so you would notice his presence (though he certainly noticed yours--more on that in a minute) but lived in a way that you noticed his absence.  He went around doing everything that needed doing, whether it was in his job description or not.

            He was much like the center on the offensive line of a football team. It’s not a glory position, there are no sponsors or sports drink promotions for centers, but without him the core of the football team falls apart. That was Calvin. He felt that his job was not just to preserve the work environment, but to preserve the people who worked there. He knew everyone by name and for many of us, knew about our spouses and children. I said he noticed our lives. It was common for him to hold not only the outer door open for someone but follow them up the stairs to open the inner door as well and you didn't even realize he was there. That's just one example of many. He cared for your well-being, not just as an employee, but as a person, and that’s not in a job description, but it is how I describe Calvin.

            I can’t think of one person who touched more people on my work campus than Calvin did. He was the most genuine and sincerely kind person I've ever known.  As I write this, I keep thinking I need to say more, I need to go on about him and list more and more affirming adjectives and accolades, but the truth is they would all fall short of the greatness of this man. He would be the first to downplay all that I've said, and not so we would look at him and marvel at his humility. He wasn't wired that way. What he did for all of us was not an act or to further an agenda, it was a way of life, an identity.

            Sir, you have more than earned your place in the heavens. Our world is a little darker and a little more grim without you in it, but your memory will burn brightly. I’m sure you won’t heed what I’m about to say. I’m sure you’ll go on watching over us as you always have, but I’ll say it anyway: rest in peace, my friend.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Ain't Nobody Don't No Its National Grammar Day!!!

You like that title? I do (especially the exclamation points) and I think it's perfect for a March 4th post.
In honor of National Grammar Day (March 4th) I'm wearing the shirt depicted below:

You can pick one up for yourself from Woot.com here.

Much is made of grammar, its uses and misuses and you can draw some very distinct lines between groups: Team Oxford Comma vs. Team Death to the Serial Comma. One of my most visited blog posts was the one I wrote called, Punctuation: Why It Matters and Why It Doesn't second to that is my post on Prescriptive Grammar vs. Descriptive Grammar.

I'm an author, so when it comes to language usage and punctuation, people tend to watch their Ps and Qs around me (and draw assumptions about my ability to play Words With Friends, which I'm not half bad at, but it has less to do with my love of language as it does with a lot of practice at the game).

People who know me like to think of me as an ardent supporter of proper grammar, but my grammar-loving self does these things for myself. I enjoy rolling around in letters and words and the rules to which they subscribe.  I think it's fun. I love word games, I love knowing that the word pulchritude exists and how to use it, and wearing shirts that relate to language, and I'm an ardent student of paronomasia but I do these things for me. There's some weird chemical concoction in my brain that releases endorphins when I engage in such activities; but, I wouldn't begin to hold anyone else to the standards I set for myself (except maybe my kids).

I know the difference between their, there, and they're but sometimes my fingers type out one version quicker than my brain can interject. It doesn't mean I'm in an idiot (there are other indicators for that) it just means I'm human. When I'm preparing a manuscript, I adhere to such prescriptions because there's a professional level of expectation I must meet, but I don't apply that expectation to everything I read or write.

Kory Stamper of harm·less drudg·ery · life inside the dictionary, wrote a great post called A Plea for Sanity this National (US) Grammar Day. I highly recommend it.

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