Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Bittersweet End -- Jen Doktorski

I’m a big fan of the bittersweet ending. Here is one of my all-time favorites.

But after a year marked by more “bitter” than “sweet” – Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, really 2016, really?! – I’ve decided that in real life, I much prefer the happy ending. The only problem is, while 2016 is most definitely ending, in my opinion, there's no “happy” on the horizon. No cowboys riding off into the sunset. No kiss in the rain.
What’s even more disturbing is that 2016 doesn’t feel like a standalone novel or film. It feels like it’s part of a series. A very long series. As I sat in the darkened movie theater two nights ago watching Rogue One, I couldn’t help but wonder, Where are we in the Star Wars timeline?

Are we at the end of Episode III when Anakin becomes Darth Vader?

Are we in between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back?

Or maybe we’re in Tolkien territory. The Two Towers perhaps.
When the sun rises on 2017 tomorrow, I’ll be sipping my coffee and contemplating how many pages will need to be written before we find that happy ending. I’ll also be considering what my role is going to be in writing it.

Here’s to the power of hope, words, and new beginnings.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Worst Sequel Ever (Brian Katcher)

Image result for comic book guy

Occasionally, when I'm recovering from a trip to Europe or waiting for the driver to bring the Bentley around, I'll ask Jeeves to bring in a sampling of the day's fan mail. And while most of it is sadly repetitive (I'm afraid I cannot sign body parts; I'm sorry, Mr. Trump, but I have no desire to serve on your cabinet; Yes, I have been told I look like Zach Galifianakis), I'll frequently be asked if I plan to write a sequel to one of my novels, usually ALMOST PERFECT. 

Sadly, my books are usually standalone works, and neither I, nor my publisher, plan on extending the story. I'm sorry, Ms. Johansson. Loved you in THE AVENGERS.

Other creative types gladly take on the task of turning a single work into a series. I have nothing but admiration for the desire to make more money, but the results are generally underwhelming.

Here we go, the best and the worst:


Best: Aliens

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Best space marine movie ever and we get to see Paul Reiser die a gruesome death. If you've never watched the extended version, then you've wasted your life.

Best: Terminator 2

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Arnold's best work ever. It was a slow decline from here, with flops like Last Action Hero, Jingle All the Way, and the governorship of California.

Worst: National Treasure 2

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Let's turn a great heist movie into a sitcom with bickering parents and a wacky sidekick.
Worst: Ocean's 12

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Any of that meta 'I just look like the actress who plays my character' crap and you've lost me.


Best: Garfield Gains Weight
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The orange feline really hits his stride here, with the introduction of Nermal, his hatred for Mondays, and his love for lasagna. Truly a sequel of Homeric proportions. Not unlike the size of Garfield's meals!


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The original book, Catch-22, was such a seminal anti-war novel that it spawned a new phrase. The sequel came out when I was a college freshman and I spent some of my few dollars, just so I could find out what happened to Yossarian. Did he get out of the army? Did he escape from Europe?

We never find out. What we do get is 300 pages about aging, bizarre science fiction, and a bunch of jokes about former vice president Dan Quayle.


Best: Laverne and Shirley (Spin off of Happy Days)
Image result for laverne and shirley 

 We're gonna do it!

Worst: The Brady Bunch Hour (Spin off of Meet the Press)


 The Bradys sing and dance. With Rip Taylor. 

Also, I'd totally write a sequel to anything if got paid for it.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Surprise twist endings (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

I’ve never tried to write a book with a surprise twist at the end, but I enjoy them as a reader. The problem is to make the twist unpredictable enough that the reader doesn’t see ahead and make the surprise fall flat—yet to plant enough necessary clues that, in retrospect, readers see the big picture they’ve been overlooking all along. The pieces fall into place; it all makes sense now! If you hide too much necessary information, the reader feels just as cheated as if you telegraph the ending.

Here are a few books that did surprise twists well. In none of these cases did I figure out the surprise beforehand, but in all cases I appreciated the elegance with which the writer planted clues and employed misdirection. (I won’t spoil any of the twists here.)

The Hole, by Guy Burt

Five teens hide out in a locked cellar for what it supposed to be a three-day escapade. But their friend on the outside who is the only person who knows where they are, the only person with the ability to get them out of the hole, fails to show up to let them out, and their plight grows increasingly desperate. This is an extreme example of a twist book, because what is revealed at the ending changed my entire view of everything that had come before. The pacing of this book was such that it needed a big payoff, and it had one. Because it is told in flashbacks, we think we know basically what happened, and we think we are reading only to find out how and why. But the surprise ends up being bigger than expected.

 Grand & Humble, by Brent Hartinger

This story follows the parallel lives of two boys who are both haunted by an accident long in their past. The truth of the accident—and the truth of how their lives are inextricably interwoven—revealed at the end, gives a new dimension to the twin stories we’ve been following.

I Know What You Did Last Summer, by Lois Duncan
Four teenagers made a pact never to tell anyone about a deadly hit-and-run accident they were involved in. But they start receiving threatening messages from someone who claims to know their secret. For me, the ways in which the characters do—or don’t—face their guilt are just as compelling as the revelation at the ending of who has been threatening them and why.

The List, by Siobhan Vivian

Every year, the students at Vivian’s fictional school receive an anonymous list of the allegedly prettiest and ugliest girls in each grade. Despite its large cast, this book doesn’t stint on character development. It has a lot to say about the ways in which we judge appearances—especially girls’ appearances—and the damaging effects of those judgments (even when those judgments are supposedly favorable. It’s the very act of judging and being judged that proves toxic). On top of that, the surprise revelation at the ending adds another layer to the story.

As a bonus read, I’ll also mention Alissa Grosso’s Popular. The twist comes well before the end, but still in the latter half of the book, and is a big enough surprise that it’s another one to study for writers who seek to turn the tables on their readers—in a satisfying way.

Monday, December 26, 2016

"Sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy?" (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

I think most of us will be glad to see the back of 2016.

I am going to let Sam speak for me, as I think he says everything I want to say better than I could. Despite working with history every day, I'm not a cynic. I still love and believe in the old stories Sam speaks of. That which brings out the worst in humanity also brings out the best, and the best is worth fighting for.

And I'm going to copy it, because I think it's worth reading as well as listening to.

Frodo : I can't do this, Sam.

Sam : I know.
It's all wrong
By rights we shouldn't even be here.
But we are.
It's like in the great stories Mr. Frodo.
The ones that really mattered.
Full of darkness and danger they were,
and sometimes you didn't want to know the end.
Because how could the end be happy.
How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened.
But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow.
Even darkness must pass.
A new day will come.
And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.
Those were the stories that stayed with you.
That meant something.
Even if you were too small to understand why.
But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand.
I know now.
Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t.
Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo : What are we holding on to, Sam?

Sam : That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

"But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now."

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Endings Are Just Another Word for Begininngs by Patty Blount

This month, we're talking 'bout endings.

The calendar's down to its last page (thank God!) so it's appropriate, right?

I'd like to tell you about the end of my writing career. (Hold on.... stay with me. It gets better, I promise.)

This post was inspired by Joy Preble's brilliant musings on endings (Thank you, Joy!). I read that post and thought about a dear friend of mine who just this year finished the worst divorce ever. Her sense of relief was eclipsed only by her excitement at getting to start over. Fresh. Clean slate. It may have been the end of a marriage, but for her, it's the beginning of a new life where she gets to steer the car.

And then, I read Kimberly Sabatini's post about knowing your story's ending from your beginning and thought, "Whoa!" This is just so spot on...and so incredibly timely.

Because as I was reading these posts, I wasn't writing. In fact, I haven't written in months. I have no stories left to tell. Or, rather, I have no stories left to sell. (The ones I want to tell aren't marketable, so they sit, alone, on my hard drive.)

I'd just finished up a two-book contract with my publisher, delivering the second completed manuscript back in November. This story is about Callie and Jensen, two teen race car drivers whose feuding families have kept them apart for too many years. Think "Romeo and Juliet" on asphalt.

They hated it.

Every word.

They didn't like the voice. They didn't like the main characters eloping. They didn't like the short track racing backdrop. They didn't even like the title.

Cue Patty Panic.

You see, I'm not your typical writer, who has a hundred ideas in a file somewhere and not enough time to write them all. I have no ideas. None. I write the idea that's in my head and when that book is over, I am convinced I'll never write again -- at least not until the next idea comes along.

But this time was different. This time, I DID have ideas. Several of them. I have an idea for a romantic suspense in which a city mayor falls for a reporter covering a serial killer's spree, only to discover the mayor himself knows a lot more about this killer than anyone suspected.  I call it FOR HIS HONOR.

I really want to write a Some Boys sequel because the main characters, Grace and Ian, still have conflicts to resolve -- top of the list? Grace has not truly healed from her ordeal.  I call this one One Girl.

I am a huge fan of the TV show, Supernatural. I wrote a pretty cool ghost story about a teen who inherits his dad's muscle car, a '69 GTO, only to start suffering visions of his dead dad. That was a series pitch. I called this one The Sky Was Scarlet.

But, again -- no interest.

This is the un-glamorous part of publishing.  The business part. You've got a few novels under your belt... even an award or two. A brand gets built... and then you discover that's all people want to see from you. Meanwhile, you're sitting in front of your keyboard, wondering how many rape culture or internet issues books can you write?

So...I panicked. I had NOTHING left. I'd reached the end.

That's when my agent and my editor arranged a conference call. They told me what's working and what's not. They told me what I'm good at -- and it's surprising to hear, because of course, I think I suck at those very same things. They spend hours on the phone, brainstorming character ideas, plot elements, even a title.

And I hung up the phone and suddenly, I'm sitting in front of the keyboard again at page one.

The end is now another beginning. It's more rape culture and internet issues and all the stuff I write best.

I'm calling this one Boys Will Be Boys.

I can't promise there won't be another Patty Panic Party. (There always is.) But the writing career ain't over yet.

From my family to yours, I wish you all a safe, happy, and healthy 2017 and joy-filled holiday season.  

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Wow Them in the End (Alissa Grosso)

The first thing I thought of when I learned that this month's topic was "endings" was this scene from one of my favorite movies, Adaptation:

It's probably the most important scene in the movie, as it kind of explains the whole movie. I don't have anything profound to say about endings or writing in general that hasn't already been said before, no doubt by writers who can do a far better job than I can when it comes to giving writing advice, but I do consider myself something of a connoisseur of movies about writers and writing, so I figured I would take this opportunity to share some of my favorites with you. They're in no particular order, but for the record, I think Adaptation is at the top of the list.

I'm also a huge fan of the movie Stranger Than Fiction. I could attempt to explain it, but it's probably easier to just watch the trailer:

I don't think everyone considers Hamlet II a writing movie, but I do in large part because of this scene, which is a pretty perfect cinematic depiction of the writing process:

And while we're on the subject of goofy comedies, let's not forget about an oldie but goodie, Throw Momma From the Train:

Why do so many movies about writers have them suffering from writer's block? And although Danny DeVito wasn't in that clip from from Throw Momma from the Train he's one of the film's stars and also features in another movie about a writer, which also happens to be my boyfriend's favorite movie (and he's not even a writer!) I'm talking, of course, about Romancing the Stone. Here, at last, is a writer that's not suffering from writer's block:

And while I might not be weeping with joy as I type "The End" on this blog post, rest assured that the disorganization in this writer's apartment certainly resembles Joan Wilder's messy NYC digs.

Do you have a favorite movie (or 5) about writing?

When she isn't watching movies about writers, Alissa Grosso writes books. She's the author of the YA novels Shallow Pond, Ferocity Summer and Popular. You can find out more about them and her at

Friday, December 16, 2016

The End-ish... of the fish (by Jody Casella)

I'm not a huge fan of fish (as pets. I enjoy eating fish, but I digress). So I wasn't thrilled when my daughter asked for a fish for her birthday. Bluh, I told her. Fish are boring. You have to remember to feed them and clean out their bowl. Also, they die, in my experience, fairly quickly.

Exhibit A: the fish I had when I was a kid that swam around its bowl for a few weeks, boringly, until one night it jumped over the rim toward freedom. I found it the next morning curled stiffly on the shag carpet. So long, Fish, I hardly knew you.

Exhibit B: the two goldfish that my husband and I bought for our son when he was five years old that he promptly named Goldie and Fishie and that promptly died within hours of each other. Apparently you're not supposed to put two goldfish in a small bowl together. Lesson learned.

These exhibits did not dissuade our daughter.

Flash forward to our gift of a fish, a pretty blue betta that my daughter named Michael Buble (no idea why), and another gift of a fish, a goldfish from a friend, that she christened Michael Buble the Second (again, no clue on the names here.)

Then she went to camp for a week.

Flash forward several days when my husband and I suddenly remembered there were two Michael Bubles swimming around in their respective bowls in our daughter's bedroom.

Make that one Michael Buble. (Side note: goldfish are really not a very hardy brand.)

The original Michael Buble was doing okay though, all things considered. He went on to live several more months and our daughter grew very attached to him, even shedding a few tears when we flushed his dead body down the toilet.

Which inevitably led to the purchase of fish number three, Michael Buble the Third, who swam around his bowl boringly in our daughter's bedroom for a good year and a half until she went off to college.

And then we moved Michael Buble into the kitchen --so we wouldn't forget to feed him-- where he lived another year and a half, and okay, I'll admit it, I grew kinda attached to him too.

All those mornings I'd shuffle blearily downstairs, flip on the light and make my coffee, and there was Michael Buble flitting around in his bowl, puckering his mouth at me and waving his fluttery tail. Some days we'd share a moment when I'd drop a food pellet into his bowl, a flick of my finger on the water's surface and a little return flick of his blue fin.

Last week Michael seemed to be slowing down. Resting behind his plastic plant. Ignoring his food pellets.

At dinner one night my husband and I watched him do a wild thrashy dance then settle himself sideways across the stony bottom of his bowl.

Well, he's dead, my husband said. He jiggled the bowl, and Michael rallied, flicking his fins defiantly.

When we went to bed, his small blue body was more belly-up-ish than sideways-ish. Jiggling the bowl didn't seem to change the situation.

In the morning I shuffled into the kitchen yawning, forgetting for a minute what had happened the night before. I switched on the light, and the fish flickered to life. As I made my coffee he swam around his bowl, fluttering his tail and puckering his mouth at me like the old days.

Then he settled himself back down against the stones.

I know it's just a little thing, one small fish leaving this world, but for whatever it is worth, Michael Buble the Third, I am glad I knew you.