Archive for January, 2011

Archetypes and Characters

Whenever I read books, I’m always drawn to characters I can connect with somehow. Sometimes I connect with a character because she is going through something I’ve been through. Sometimes, I connect with a character because I can relate to her thoughts or feelings. Other times, though, I connect with a character because his adventures are something I would like to experience.

Whatever the reason, I enjoy the characters I can understand in some way. When I understand why a character is the way he is, why he does what he does and why he feels a certain way, I am able to connect with the character and share in his journey.

Carol Pearson and Hugh Marr, in their book What Story Are You Living? Define an archetype as

“…a universal set of roles, situations and themes that are recognizable to everyone…”

They go on to explain the following importance of archetypes:

When we understand the stories and recognize their universality, we can connect with each other at deeper and more conscious levels, using the archetypal stories as the foundation.”

Archetypes are the driving force behind the universality of a character or theme. Everyone, on some level—whether consciously or subconsciously—recognizes an archetype when they see one.

This is why I use archetypes as a jumping off point for creating characters. If  I base my character on a universally understood archetype, anyone who reads my story (whether they live in Antartica or Africa) will somehow be able to understand what the character is about, and what role he/she is playing in the story.

That’s the theory anyway.

It seems to be working so far as my critique group members haven’t yet complained about any of my characters. J Maybe they’re just too nice, but I’d like to believe it’s because I’ve created unique, yet universal characters that people will remember for ages.  Yes, I try to be a positive thinker. It keeps the inner critic (the mean one) at bay.

There is an awesome tool which I discovered which deal precisely with archetypes.

This is Caroline Myss’s Archetype Cards.

archetype cards Archetypes and Characters

Each of the 80 Archetype Cards, have descriptions of basic Light and Shadow (i.e. good and bad) Attributes of a different archetype. There are also six blank cards which I can use to create my own archetypes.  The box also comes with a guidebook which explains each of the archetypes in better detail.

archetype cards set 1024x800 Archetypes and Characters

Whenever I have to create new characters, I go through the cards and read through each description. Once I’ve chosen a card, I keep it beside me as I write the character’s profile.  It helps me keep the character’s role, as well as his good and bad traits clearly in my mind.

Also, when I find myself running low on story/plot inspirations, I simply leaf through the cards and somehow, I find another story tell.

I’ll most likely to an archetype series where I feature one archetype I used in making my own characters. For now, I’ll leave you with this:

Hero Heroine 704x1024 Archetypes and Characters

This is the archetype I relate to the most whenever I read books, and the archetype I based my protagonist on.  This is probably because I see myself as the heroine of my own story. “Passion for a journey of personal empowerment” describes precisely what I feel as I live my life.

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Hunger Games Dream Cast – Katniss

I was looking through my comments folder and I discovered that my post with the most comments was the one where I had talked about my dream cast for the Hunger Games movie that Hollywood was planning to make.  While some people agreed with my choice of who should play the role of Katniss, others disagreed and left their own suggestions.

So I checked out the actresses my readers suggested for the role of Katniss, and was I ever glad I did. It made me realize that there are indeed a lot of actresses out there who could easily fit the role of Katniss in terms of physical qualities (which the book described).  I guess I wouldn’t really mind who they picked to play Katniss, as long as the actress was able to portray her personality accurately.

The great thing about books is that they can easily describe what the character is feeling or thinking.  Though movies can show us a great visual feast, it is always left to the actors to portray their roles well and to get the characters’ feelings and thoughts across to the audience. The trilogy gave me the impression that Katniss was a tough girl, who also had a vulnerable side.  I hope that whoever they pick could show this on screen somehow.

But, for fun and because I love reading comments about who should play the characters in one of my favorite books, I present the following nominations for the role of Katniss:

Chloe Moretz Hunger Games Dream Cast – Katniss

Chloe Moretz  (Kick-Ass, Let Me In)


emily browning Hunger Games Dream Cast – Katniss

Emily Browning  (Lemony Snicket)


Kaya Scodelario 005 Hunger Games Dream Cast – Katniss

Kaya Scodelario (Clash of the Titans)


Lucy Hale Closeup Hunger Games Dream Cast – Katniss

Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars)


Camilla Belle48830 787x1024 Hunger Games Dream Cast – Katniss

Camilla Belle (The Ballad of Jack and Rose)


Are any of these girls suited to play the role of softie but toughie chick Katniss?

Who would you pick to play the role of Katniss Everdeen in the upcoming silver screen version?

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Really, in the end, the only thing that can make you a writer is the person that you are, the intensity of your feeling, the honesty of your vision, the unsentimental acknowledgment of the endless interest of the life around and within you.

- Santha Rama Rau

In order to write fully, we must live fully.

The best story ideas, plot twists, and character personalities stem from our own experiences. The more new things we experience, the more our mind opens up to new possibilities. A hike through the woods might give us story ideas about fairies. Going to a concert might give us an idea about a scene we could write using the concert hall as a backdrop.

I once went to a friend’s recital, and as I sat there listening to her and the orchestra play, I suddenly came up with a great idea for how to solve a particularly tricky story problem. I don’t know if it was the music or the experience that unlocked that part of my brain, but whatever it was, I’m glad that I took the time to support her and listen to her play.

So in order to fuel our imagination and feed our hungry muses, we must strive to experience as many new things as possible. We should make an occasion out of the simplest things, like celebrating a full moon, or the coming of spring. We must create random events from intriguing dates (such as 11/11/11) or join others as they celebrate their own significant days such as birthdays, religious holidays or even political days of interest.

At the most, we can get wonderful story ideas, or be inspired to write about what we have experienced. At the very least, we get to enjoy ourselves and appreciate life.

That’s why I never pass up an opportunity to experience something new.  So when I was given the chance to watch a Lakers game for the first time ever, I naturally leapt!

Last Sunday, January 16, 2011, Maiko, Lena and I went on a wonderful field trip. The main event was watching a Lakers vs. Clippers game, but we made an occasion of it.

We first had brunch at the Urth Caffe near downtown LA. I was so excited to be there because the coffe shop/restaurant actually has the same name as my book title “Urth”.

IMG 8944 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

I already began thinking of the possibilities. I told my friends, if my book ever gets published, wouldn’t it be great to have a book signing event here? I mean how perfect is it that the café had the same title as my book—and apparently, the same environmental thrust?

wall mural 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

Lena and Maiko ordered omelets,

sandwich 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

omelet 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

while I got all fancy and ordered this wonderful dish:

salmon brioche 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

It’s smoked salmon fillet on top of poached egg and sweet brioche, with a side of melon slices. Yummy!

Maiko ordered this awesome Japanese green tea latte (notice the leaf design) while Lena and I shared a pot of herbal tea.

green tea latte 300x225 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

pot of tea 300x225 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

After enjoying a hearty brunch, Lena drove us downtown to watch the game.  We found a cheap parking spot by Sunbury St. and walked to the Staples Center. We took some pictures outside and excitedly strode indoors to find our seats.

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outside staples center 225x300 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

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As soon as I  entered the arena,  I felt a rush of excitement. I was actually going to watch not one, but two LA teams play! And I was going to see my favorite players.  Yes, I am admittedly a Lakers fan. Don’t hate. icon smile One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

the arena 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryThe arena

There was so much to feast my eyes on. I could barely sit still.  Loud music blared all around the stadium, and the screen flashed scenes from the court constantly.

flashing screens1 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryFlashing screen

dj dense 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryDJ Dense making music

I spent most of the game gaping at my favorite basketball players, and taking tons of pictures with my  camera. I followed every event with thirsty eyes, and began cheering as soon as the players entered the court:

clippers entrance 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryClippers entering the arena

lakers entrance 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryLakers entering the court

players warming up 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryPlayers warming up

Melody, a member of the Pussycat Dolls, sang the national anthem while the players respectfully faced each other across the court.

pussycat doll melody 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryMelody, a Pussycat Doll member, singing the national anthem

national anthem 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryPlayers lined up for the national anthem

Then the buzzer rang, signalling the start of the game. Each team gathered together, possibly saying prayers, but most likely lending each other strength.

lakers gathering 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryLakers gathering

clippers gathering 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryClippers gathering

Then the game began.  The three of us sat transfixed, watching our favorite players do their jobs.

game 1 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

game 2 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

The Lakers were leading by 1 point by the time the buzzer signaled Half-Time.  The Clippers Spirit Team, who have been tumbling on and off the court during breaks, came on again.

I noticed that long hair seemed to be a requirement for these cheerleaders. I realized later on that it made sense, considering all the hair-whipping they needed to do for their performances.

clippers spirit team 1 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

spirit team 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

The Clippercussion also made their way onto the court. They beat their drums joyfully and tried to get the crowd even more riled up.

clippercussion 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

Also during the Half-Time break, Dominic Lacasse, who has performed on the Ellen Degeneres Show, made his big appearance.  He was introduced as “The Human Flag”.  At first, we thought he was some kind of dancer, but when he did this:

human flag 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

And this:

human flag 2 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

We realized just how extraordinary his talent was. I couldn’t even do 1 pull-up exercise on a bar, and this guy was defying gravity –holding himself horizontally using sheer arm and body strength!

The half-time break ended, and the players filed back into the court.  It was an exciting game so far, and I knew it would only get better.

Soon we were witnessing great passes and amazing shots from both teams.

2nd half 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

Crazy pass

kobe jumpshot 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryJumpshot by Kobe

It was an amazing feeling to see Coach Phil Jackson, Kobe, Pau and all the rest of the other players in person. I mean, I only ever watch them on TV (and only if they make the championships), and here they were in person, running up and down the court, so close I could almost smell the sweat dripping down their backs. Okay, so we weren’t sitting THAT close, but it sure seemed like it, looking through my  zoom lens.

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Kobe Bryant

fisher 1024x737 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryDerek Fisher

gasol 518x1024 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryPau Gasol

lamar 871x1024 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryLamar Odom

bynum1 746x1024 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryAndrew Bynum

ron 919x1024 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryRon Artest

coach 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryCoach Phil Jackson

The Lakers lost that day, but we were still happy. We are LA fans, and the Clippers are also an LA team. It was a win-win situation.

Since the game ended at around 3PM, we still had time to take another little trip. The three of us decided to have an excursion to the San Antonio Winery (where Lena bought the two boxes of wine which we enjoyed at the two Christmas parties we had at home).

winery sign 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

The San Antonio Winery had ample parking space, so we had no trouble finding a spot. Upon entering, we saw people buying bottles upon bottles of wine.  Our stomachs inevitably led us to the restaurant.

winery inside 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

The servings looked large so we decided to share a couple of entrees among the three of us. We ordered an eggplant sandwich, and the Chef’s Plate.

eggplant sandwich 300x225 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

The server led us to the table and we chatted while waiting for our orders. Minutes later, the server came out with the sandwich and three extra plates.  While we were eating, the server came back and informed us that they were unfortunately out of the Chef’s Plate.  For our troubles, they gave us a free plate of this awesome seafood pasta, as well as two choices of dessert. We picked a slice of Tiramisu and a plate of Canoli.

seafood pasta 300x225 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WinerySeafood Pasta

tiramisu 300x225 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryTiramisu

canoli 300x225 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio WineryCanoli

What amazing service! We got a feast—and we got way more than what Maiko paid for.

We devoured the entire thing. Full to the brim, we wandered  into the wine shop.  There were many people tasting wine.

wine shop 2 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

Wine shop

A variety of spirits and liquors paraded themselves on the shelves.

wine shop 1 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

A man with silver hair asked if we needed help. We told him we were interested in trying out some wine. He gave us three small wineglasses and poured us each a glass of white wine, red wine and two kinds of champagne.

I don’t remember any of their names now, but I do remember liking all  of them—well except for the champagne.

Maiko ended up buying half a box of mixed, sweet red and white wine bottles. I think she was a bit tipsy after several glasses:

helpful server 1024x768 One Awesome Sunday – Urth Caffe, Lakers vs Clippers, San Antonio Winery

We headed home and ended the day by watching “Easy A” and “Sex in the City2” on our big screen.

It was a most wonderful day indeed. It felt like Christmas all over again. I got a couple of good ideas for my book, but mostly I enjoyed spending time with my two best friends. Best of all though, I gained memories to last me a lifetime.

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Last Wednesday, January 12th at 7PM, SCBWI-LA had its first Westside Schmooze for the year.

Inspired by Anderson Cooper’s words “Hope is not a plan,” Lee and Rita led us in a wonderful discussion about planning our writing career.

As usual, they started with a few announcements about upcoming SCBWI-LA activities:

January 28-30, 2011

SCBWI Annual Winter Conference at the Grand Hyatt in New York

February 12, 2011

Writer’s Toolbox

Boys vs. Girls – Is There Really a Difference?
Michael Reisman & Cecil Castellucci
Calvary Christian School in Pacific Palisades

April 16, 2011

Writer’s Day

Claibourn School, San Gabriel CA

A fellow member had emailed them  information about a series of workshops about the law and business of writing, so they shared this with us as well.

http://www.calawyersforthearts.org/calendar/socal

Anatomy of a Screenwriter Deal (Literary Series 2)

26 Jan 2011 07:30 PM •

Moving Arts Theatre, 1822 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90027

From Inspiration to Publication (Literary Series 3)

9 Feb 2011 07:30 PM •

Moving Arts Theatre, 1822 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90027

Literary Publishing Contracts for Writers (Literary Series 4)

23 Feb 2011 07:30 PM •

Moving Arts Theatre, 1822 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90027

Tax Time for Artists and the Self-Employed

5 Mar 2011 10:00 AM •

24th Street Theatre, 1117 West 24th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90027

Once all the announcements were made, Lee and Rita dove right away into the discussion. Lee distributed copies of a great exercise Holly Black (author of Spiderwick Chronicles) had shared in the 2009 SCBWI Summer conference.

This exercise involved ranking different options of our writing career dreams from 1-10. 1, being the most desirable scenario and 10 being the least desirable. The options included “writing one single perfect book”, “being able to live off the earnings of my writing alone”, “writing a critically-acclaimed, award winning book”, and “getting a movie made of your book”.

I picked “being able to live off the earnings of my writing alone” as the most desirable option. I figured that if I had enough money to stay at home and write, then all the other options would follow. For instance, I could spend an enormous amount of time writing a critically-acclaimed, award winning novel.

We explored the power of visualization in the next activity.

The exercise involved naming our dreams, which was inspired by Julie Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way”. Sara Wilson Etienne shared with us a wonderful visualizing exercise mentioned in that book.

She called it the “collage” exercise. Using photoshop, she had created a scene depicting her writing dream—which was to get “the call” from an agent. Years later, she did get “the call”. Sara has since moved on to working on a collage depicting another writing dream.

Rita shared with us another exercise which an illustrator friend’s instructor had taught them. This exercise involved spending 15 minutes drawing in detail 3 dreams which they wanted to come true. The instructor had made them put the drawings in a sealed envelope, and had instructed them not to open it until after a year.  Naturally, when they opened the envelopes a year later, all their dreams had come true somehow.

I have yet to find the time to do this exercise, but I’m excited to try it out. The subconscious is an amazing thing, and there is great power in names. I wouldn’t be surprised if all my dreams came true once I made time for this exercise.

After we had spent a few minutes naming our dream and writing it down, we all took turns sharing our writing/illustrating dreams. Some of the things people shared really stuck out in my mind:

“I wish to write a book for my daughter”

“I dream of having a bookshelf just full of my books.”

“I want to see someone reading my book on the plane.”

“I dream of having someone come up to me and tell me that my book saved their life.”

“I want to be a literary sex symbol.”

One of the members also shared a tip with us, which I found useful.

She said that she finds 50 people who inspires her and lists down their qualities. Everyday, she lists down 5 qualities on a post-it that will help her with her writing. For example, if she is finding it hard to write a certain scene, she thinks of a person with courage and confidence and lists down these qualities to inspire her to write.

When my turn came around, I shared with them a little visualizing exercise which I do myself.

Whenever I’m at any bookstore, I go to the children’s book area and make a space for my future books. Since my last name begins with a “W”, the space is usually after author N.D. Wilson in the middle grade section.  My friends, who know about my little visualization practice also help me out. Whenever they are at a bookshop, they make a space for my books as well.

NonfictionAisle SCBWI LA Westside Schmooze: Hope is not a plan: Outlining Your Story and Your Career

Sharing our dreams took a long time, but it was a most inspiring hour.  I look forward to a time when everyone in that room who shared their dreams find their dreams have come true.

We all have to be realistic, however. In light of this, we all had to list down three internal oppositions and three external oppositions to achieving our dreams.  But being realistic doesn’t mean being negative. So we also listed down internal and external resources we have that will help us overcome those oppositions.

An example of an internal opposition would be feeling that writing is a lonely task. A resource to overcome that would be to join various writing groups and participate in other writing-related activities and events.

One external opposition which every writer can relate to is not having enough time to write. Lee suggested some helpful resources to overcome this opposition: forego watching your favorite TV show (that gives you at least an hour more to write), wake up earlier,  or work during your lunch breaks.

Rita also suggested using jot.com. This is an online account which allows you to call a number where you can leave yourself  voicemail messages of book notes, to do lists or any other great idea you might have while driving, walking or waiting in the dentist’s office.

Of course, you could always carry around a digital voice recorder if you find this whole voicemail message thing a bit too complicated.

Since we were running out of time, the rest of the exercise sheet was given as a homework. On our own, we would have to define our short-term (1-5 year) goals, and long-term (5-10 year) goals. Carol shared with us a table she made of quarterly goals, which I thought was a great example of planning out short term goals.

Lee warned us about recognizing that there are goals we can control and goals we can’t control.  For example, getting published is a goal we cannot control. Querying several agents and editors, and hoping for the best, is something we can do.

Lee and Rita reminded us that  “a goal without action, is like hope without a plan.”

So after defining our goals, we also have to write down Actions that we plan to take

This year, this week, this month, today and right now  in order to achieve these goals.

Lee ended the session by reading us an inspiring excerpt from Anne Lamott’s  book “Bird by Bird”:

“Even if only the people in your writing group read your memoirs or stories or novel, even if you only wrote your story so that one day your children would know what life was like when you were a child and you knew the name of every dog in town – still, to have written your version is an honorable thing to have done. Against all odds, you have put it down on paper, so that it won’t be lost. And who knows? Maybe what you’ve written will help others, will be a small part of the solution. You don’t even have to know how or in what way, but if you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse. Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”
–Anne Lamott

It was a truly inspiring session, and one that only ignited all our writing passions. It made me realize that with hard work, support from my peers and patience, all  my writing dreams could indeed come true.

Check out Lee and Rita’s summary of the schmooze: http://socalschmooze.blogspot.com/2011/01/hope-is-not-plan-planning-your-career.html

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I first encountered Allison Burnett at the West Hollywood Bookfair.  Teen blogger Ashley Thompson was interviewing him at the Teen Stage. I listened to the interview for a while and decided that though the storyline was interesting, it was a book I probably wouldn’t have the time to read. Since there are more things to do than there are hours in the day, I usually stick to reading writing books or books in my chosen genre.

Little did I know that three months later, I would end up buying the book—and reading it from cover to cover.

It all began with an interview I did with Tracy Trivas. She was so happy with my blog review about her book “The Wish Stealers”, and the author interview that followed, that she did me such a HUGE favor. She contacted some of her YA author peers and told them about my blog, and how I would be delighted to review their books and interview them.

I didn’t expect anyone to respond, since I’m a relatively unknown blogger (unless you’re part of my writing group, then you’d know me very well). But two days later, Allison Burnett emailed me and told me he would be happy to be one of my interviewees. I was so ecstatic! I immediately emailed him back to thank him. I promised to send my questions as soon as I had finished them.

So who is this Allison Burnett I keep on raving about?

Allison Burnett is a very punctual man. I emailed him my interview questions about a week after he had contacted me. A few hours after I had sent him my questions, he emailed his answers back, and succeeding emails after that never go unanswered for too long.

But more than that, Allison Burnett is the ultimate writer. He has written many essays, and short stories. But he is first and foremost a novelist and screenwriter. He is the author of three novels: Christopher: A Tale of Seduction, The House Beautiful, and Undiscovered Gyrl which I just recently reviewed.

undiscovered gyrl.large 1 Author Interview: Allison Burnett, Undiscovered Gyrl

He is also the man behind hit movies such as: Bloodfist III, Bleeding Hearts, Red Meat, Autumn in New York, Perfect Romance, The Feast of Love, Resurrecting the Champ, Untraceable and most recently Fame.

Here’s my interview with Allison Burnett, author of novels that make you think, and screenwriter of movies that make you feel.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

IMG 9862 Author Interview: Allison Burnett, Undiscovered Gyrl

The awesome Allison Burnett, author of “Undiscovered Gyrl”

Q. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A.  A stuntman.

Q. What were your favorite books growing up?

A. When I was thirteen, I read my first long book – The Complete Sherlock Holmes.  Then I read all of James Bond.  Like most kids of my generation, however, TV and film were far more important to me than books.  My passion for great literature did not emerge until I was in college.

Q. When did you know you were going to be a writer?  What prompted you to take your writing seriously?

A. If someone had asked me at my high school graduation what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would have said the following with a straight face:  “Act in films, write films, and direct films. Act in plays, write plays, and direct plays.  And write novels.”  Clearly, I had no shortage of ambition and confidence.  At Northwestern, where I majored in the Oral Interpretation of Literature, I acted in, directed, and wrote plays.  The big turning point came for me right before my 21st birthday.  I was living in New York City and starring in a George Bernard Shaw play.  I was absolutely miserable.  I decided right then and there to quit acting and commit myself entirely to being a writer.  I never looked back.

Q. What would you say was the work that allowed you to take on writing as a full-time job?  In short, what was your big break?

A. In 1994, I sold a romantic comedy for a ton of money.  I knew right then that I would probably never have to do anything other than write for the rest of my life.

Q. You write short stories, essays, poems, novels, and, of course, screenplays. Which would you say is your favorite form of writing and why?

A. If I could only write in one form for the rest of my life, and it would pay the same as the others, there is no question that I would write only novels.  I love that there is nothing between me and the reader — no studio, director, or actors to distort the story.

Q. You have written a lot of wonderful screenplays such as Autumn in New York, Resurrecting the Champ, and Feast of Love.  What would you say is the biggest difference between writing a novel and writing a screenplay?

A. Well, the most obvious answer is that writing screenplays is obscenely lucrative and writing novels would starve a church mouse.  (I hate to get the discussion back to money, but money buys freedom, and freedom is the medium in which an artist thrives.  All throughout my twenties I was broke, and it was not romantic in the least.)  Creatively, the biggest difference is that a motion picture has to move at all times.  The engine of the story cannot falter.  A novel has more room for digression.   But in both cases the central imperative is the same:  each page should be more interesting and meaningful than the page that preceded it.

Q. What inspired you to write “Undiscovered Gyrl”?

A. A girl I knew.

Q. How long did you work on this book?  How many rewrites did you do before you finally felt it was ready?

A. I worked on it for about six months, continually writing and rewriting.

Q. Tell us about your path to book publication.

A. I was a screenwriting client at the Endeavor agency, so when the novel was finished, my agent sent it to their New York office, to a powerful agent there named Richard Abate.  He read it, told me that it reminded him of A Catcher in the Rye, and that he would be happy to represent it.  He sent it out, and there was immediate interest from three different hardcover publishers, but all three were at a loss as to how to market it.  How do you sell a novel, written for adults, when the protagonist is a teenage girl?  In the end, all three places backed out.  A few weeks later, a great paperback house, Vintage, bought it.  They solved the marketing problem by simply pretending that it was a novel written for teenagers, even though that was never my intention.

Q. How has your life changed since you got published?

A. It hasn’t.  The biggest change in my life came when I began selling screenplays, because it meant that I would never have to work ever again at anything other than writing.  But the happiest day of my professional life was definitely when I sold my first novel.  Whenever working in Hollywood becomes absurd, painful, or degrading, I take great comfort in my separate career as a novelist.

Q. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

Every day is the same.  I wake before dawn, drink a ton of coffee, and work hard from dawn till lunch.  I do this six or seven days a week and have for the past twenty years.

Q. Do you write outlines for your stories, or do you just follow wherever the story leads?

A. When I am writing a novel, I never work from an outline.  When I am writing a film script, I usually work from a general outline, specific enough to give me a sense of direction but not so specific that I feel controlled by it.

Q. Do you encounter challenges in your writing life?  What are these challenges and how do you overcome them?

A. When I encounter a challenge, I impersonate a tight-rope walker.  I keep my eyes fixed straight head and proceed toward my goal one step at a time without looking down or back.  I ignore the voice in my head that tells me that at any minute I am going to fall and die.

Q. Are you currently working on any other projects?

A. I have a couple of finished novels that I am having a difficult time getting published.  One has been under contract twice, but both times the publisher folded, and the other is considered too dark by commercial publishers.   This recession has made publishing as juvenile and unintelligent as Hollywood.  As a screenwriter, I am rewriting Underworld 4.  I spend my days killing vampires and werewolves.

Q. What advice would you like to give to aspiring writers?

A. Read great books, look at great art, listen to great music, and watch great films.  Don’t waste time with junk.  And write, write, write every day if you can.  All the most important lessons you need to learn about writing, you will teach yourself as you work.  Writing is as addictive as not writing, so set up a life that supports your writing habit and don’t vary it.  Routine is your friend.  One last thing:  if you can quit writing, then you might as well do it now and save yourself a lot of bother, because real writers have no alternative but to write.  Quitting is not an option.

Q. What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?

A. Find something you love to do and do it.  If you drift through life without a purpose, then you might as well be drunk, crazy, and nasty, because you have nothing to lose.  But when you have a purpose in life, every choice you make arranges itself around your purpose.  You have powerful incentive to be happy, productive, and good.

———————-

You can learn more about Allison Burnett at his website: http://allisonburnett.com/

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Book Review: Undiscovered Gyrl

**It is 1/11/2011, and I’m writing my 101st post.  Just an interesting factoid, before I proceed to the actual blog post, which is a book review.**

I don’t review a book unless I’ve personally read it. I read all sorts of books, but mostly I read fantasy/sci fi or adventure stories.

So when I was given the chance to review a book that was no way near fantasy or sci fi, I immediately went out and bought a copy. (Okay, so maybe I went online and ordered it from Amazon, but you get the idea).

When I’m given the opportunity to read any book (unless it’s some kind of Math book), especially when it’s fiction—I jump at it. Fiction is fiction and a good story will hold my interest no matter what genre it is.

And that’s exactly what happened when I read Allison Burnett’s “Undiscovered Gyrl”.

undiscovered gyrl.large  Book Review: Undiscovered Gyrl

But before I get into an actual book review, let me tell you what that story is about first.

Here’s the book trailer for “Undiscovered Gyrl”

And this book summary is from the publisher:

Beautiful, wild, funny, and lost, Katie Kampenfelt is taking a year off before college to find her passion. Ambitious in her own way, Katie intends to do more than just smoke weed with her boyfriend, Rory, and work at the bookstore. She plans to seduce Dan, a thirty-two-year-old film professor.

Katie chronicles her adventures in an anonymous blog, telling strangers her innermost desires, shames, and thrills. But when Dan stops taking her calls, when her alcoholic father suffers a terrible fall, and when she finds herself drawn into a dangerous new relationship, Katie’s fearless narrative begins to crack, and dark pieces of her past emerge.

Sexually frank, often heartbreaking, and bursting with devilish humor, Undiscovered Gyrl is an extraordinarily accomplished novel of identity, voyeurism, and deceit.

The publisher’s blurb doesn’t sum up the entirety of the story.  And though this movie trailer gives us a hint of what the story is about, it still doesn’t quite capture the story’s essence.

In order to understand what  “Undiscovered Gyrl” is about, you have to actually sit down and read it.  But what kind of book reviewer would I be, if I didn’t at least try to give you an inside look at the story?

The book is an easy read. It is in blog format, which means that dates, and even spelling errors made by Katie while she was blogging drunk, are all accounted for.  It sets a more realistic atmosphere for the story, and immediately pulled me into the story. I felt like I was one of Katie’s many blog readers.

What is really amazing is that I felt like I was really reading something an eighteen year-old girl would write.  This is an astonishing feat, considering that the person who wrote this book is a middle-aged man. Allison Burnett has channeled Katie Kampenfelt so accurately – from her language, to her thoughts, actions, words, and  feelings.

Her character voice obliterates any other thought you might have as a reader. You are drawn into her world, into her life instantly. You find yourself loving her, hating her, worrying for her, wishing you could help her. I had to look at the book cover every now and then to remind myself that I was reading a book and not a blog. I would find myself looking for the keyboard so I could send her a message.

The thing is, Katie’s life is a complete wreck. She constantly gets herself into situations I couldn’t even imagine anyone getting themselves into.  Katie would write about her life using the kind of language any teenager would use. Words like LOL, Grrr and Ha! make their way onto the page, but these do not distract you from the images burned into your mind as Katie describes encounters with her alcoholic father, oblivious mother, needy boyfriend, and the older men whom she just can’t seem to stay away from.

Reading “Undiscovered Gyrl” was like watching one of those reality shows. You know, the ones that make you say “This show is ridiculous. These are crazy people! Complete trainwrecks! Why am I sitting here watching their silly little lives unravel? I could be doing so much more with this time.” Yes, those kinds of reality shows. The ones you can’t take your eyes off, the ones that keep you glued to the TV because the characters are so outrageous, you just have to know what kind of trouble they get themselves into next.

That was what I felt while reading “Undiscovered Gyrl”. Only it was way better than that. I was reading a book, after all, and not watching some silly TV show.

Though she has changed all the names in her blog, to avoid the possibility of discovery, you get the sense that she is painfully honest about everything else.  Her raw, uncensored thoughts can unnerve you or even outrage you. But mostly her words make you think, and they make you feel.

Katie’s exploits are a commentary on the times we now live in. She talks about people who exist in real life – Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are often mentioned, but mostly she talks about events that happen everyday, to people we may or may not meet.Her shocking experiences may remind me that I am reading fiction, and yet, at the back of my mind, I knew that there was a big possibility that someone out there was living Katie’s life—only she wasn’t blogging about it.

I am almost certain, that some ( if not most) teenage girls would be able to relate to Katie in some way. It is for this reason that I recommend this book to teenagers and parents alike.  Katie’s life is one big, scandalous mess, but it gives us a glimpse into the soul of a young, deeply troubled woman, who is lost, lonely and utterly alone in her struggles to find her place in the scheme of things.

A book always gives me something that no TV show can give me. It allows me a glimpse into the character’s heart and mind. I get to see through the character’s eyes. I get to hear her thoughts, and feel her emotions as her life unfolds before her.

This is the achievement of literature—especially great literature. I get to learn about a life, so completely different from mine.  I get to live that life without consequences. Most of all, I get to understand the person who is living that life.

Why is this important? Because even if the character I’m reading about is fictional,  I know that somewhere, someone real is living the same kind of life.

And if I end up meeting that person one day—a real life Katie- I will somehow know the troubles she has lived through. I will understand her. And with understanding, comes tolerance, perhaps even compassion.  At any rate, I will be one less person in the world who will judge her.

———–

**Stay tuned this week for an interview with the amazing Allison Burnett.

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I look at all the chapters I’ve edited—all five of them. Five chapters in two or three weeks. That cannot be good. I still have a long way to go and if I hope to start querying, I have to finish editing soon.

I feel a bit of despair rising up in me. What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I focus on my rewrites? I’m at the 7th and final draft of my manuscript for goodness’ sakes! I’m almost there! But it all feels so far away. I should just crawl into a cave and die.

Okay, maybe not crawl into a cave and die.  I don’t like dark and enclosed spaces and I still have quite a lot to live for. But I do feel desperate. I just want to finish editing SOON, but I don’t seem to have the strength to push through.

Sometimes when I don’t know how to proceed, or when I feel my inspiration to write or edit running low, I look back at old journal entries I’ve written about writing and my writing process.

I re-read entries about low points in my writing life— times when I doubted my writing abilities, or when I almost quit. Then I look at all the good that has happened to me since I started writing—all the things I’ve learned, the story improvements I’ve made, all the friends I’ve met—and I feel grateful that I didn’t give up. After all, this is my 100th blog post. I’ve made it this far, right?

I also re-read entries about my love for writing.  I find that it helps me remember why I started writing in the first place, and what I hope to achieve with it.

I found one of those entries and I’m ever so glad I re-read it.

Feb.7, 2008

10:21am

I just read my friend’s blog. It always amazes me how her words just flow so freely and naturally. I guess it helps that she doesn’t write for anything else except for the joy of expressing her thoughts.

I used to be able to write like that. This probably explains why I felt that I wrote better before. I wrote for the sheer ecstasy of making words appear on paper. I didn’t think about my writing form or style, or about punctuation marks or verb tenses. I wrote naturally and freely, without regard for anything English teachers consider important in writing.

And then I became an English teacher.

That’s when I started to write less and less. First of all, I never seemed to have the time to write. I was always checking papers or creating lesson plans or teaching my students how to write properly.  Secondly, I had to edit hundreds and hundreds of essays and journal entries and academic papers. The more I found things to edit, the more I felt like I myself had to be wary of these same mistakes I was capable of making.

Every time I tried to write for pleasure, I was hampered by thought that I had to be perfect. After all, I would edit each of my student’s work meticulously. If they chance upon something I write and realize that I, too, was capable of making mistakes however small they may be;  I would lose their trust in my ability to teach them how to write correctly.

So it happened that every time I wrote, I found myself editing words as I was writing them. I rearranged and reconfigured my sentences even before I wrote them. Instead of allowing my fingers to type out my thoughts as they came, I edited the thoughts in my head. It took the fun out of writing. But I figured it was better to not write at all, than to write a meaningless article, or a piece full of juvenile mistakes.

Out of frustration at my inability to write naturally, I just quit writing.

I really have no one to blame but myself for my own intellectual constipation. I had eaten up so much of the forms and functions, the rules and laws of writing to let my thoughts flow freely. At this point, I would rather have intellectual diarrhea, and have all my thoughts scattered all over the place, than to have all these toxic ideas just swimming in my head, poisoning my system again and again.

I’ve become a perfectionist in writing and that is my downfall. I realize now that the writers who have made their mark in the world, wrote either because they loved writing, or because they completely believed in what were writing.

No matter their reason for writing, it was their passion for the written word that made them write their masterpieces. The rules and laws, the acceptable forms and even styles were only secondary to their desire for their words to be heard, or read.

I am slowly relearning the real joys of writing. I try to read books more often, in the hopes of finding my own voice again, of picking up on other writers desire to write. Perhaps I, too, could be swept away by their passion until I find my own way to ride the waves of my own desire to write.

I have always dreamed of writing the next great novel, of writing a book that could change the world; or maybe even touch a few lives here and there. I dreamed of writing a masterpiece, a literary epic, a magnum opus that everyone would refer to time and again, a contemporary work that would soon become a classic from which every great persona in the world would quote from. But much like Budgeron in Richard Bach’s “Writer Ferrets: Chasing the Muse”,  I have realized that the great literary novel is not something I should aim for.

My true aim is to write my thoughts out loud in the hope that my thoughts would affect someone for the better. And if the book that I write changes but one life in the course of its run, then I know for sure that I have achieved my goal of writing a masterpiece.

After all, a masterpiece is defined as an outstanding work of art or craft. And if my art can change a single being’s life in a positive way,  I could call it outstanding.

I will finish editing this novel soon. I know I can. I will.

I am ready.

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Hello, 2011! or Goals, Goals, Goals

I ended the year 2010 by looking back on all I’ve accomplished. Since it’s my first post for the year 2011, it’s only fitting that I look ahead to the goals I wish to achieve for this year.

set goals Hello, 2011! or Goals, Goals, Goals

As usual, I have several goals for this year, all of which include some form of organizing, fixing or arranging things.

I found a great article on how to achieve your new year’s resolutions. You can check it out here. One of the tips I read on this article, is to go public with your resolutions. This way, people around you can offer you their support and encouragement.

So, in the hopes of getting support and encouragement from anyone who happens to read this blog, I’m listing down some of my more important goals for 2011.

Financial/Educational Goals

1. Become more financial savvy.

2. Study for the GRE exams I hope to take sometime within the year or next year.

goals poster Hello, 2011! or Goals, Goals, Goals

Physical Goals

1. Shed a few pounds and gain more stamina so I can join an Eskrima (Filipino Martial Art) tournament. In other words, exercise more and eat less.

2. Survive and finish the Los Alamitos Race on the Base 5K Run (which a certain someone *cough* Maiko *cough*  registered me for behind my back icon smile Hello, 2011! or Goals, Goals, Goals )

3. Get an Orange Belt and maybe even a Green Belt. No, I’m not talking about my wardrobe. I’m talking about leveling up in my martial arts class.

goals ski Hello, 2011! or Goals, Goals, Goals

Writing Goals

1. Finish reading most of the books in my collection. Yes, I admit to being a book hoarder. I see a book on sale, and end up reading it a year or two later.

2. Attend more book signings and writing events.

3. Comment more on blogs I like to read. I read a lot of blogs, but rarely had the time to leave comments. This year, I hope to be a more active participant in my favorite blogs.

4. Work on getting a non-profit status for the writing group I started last year.

5. Most important of all, finish the 7th and final edit of my manuscript and start submitting my first ever batch of query letters.

6. This year, I aim to get published—or at the very least, get an agent. It’s a scary goal to put out there, but I like to set high (i.e. nearly impossible) goals so I can push myself harder into achieving them.

Goals2 Hello, 2011! or Goals, Goals, Goals

Hello 2011! and hello to more goals, goals and goals!

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