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>Book Reviews: A Ten-Step Process



How to Write a Book Review in 10 Easy Steps

Okay, so you have to write a book review. What do you need to do and in what order? Here’s a 10-step process you can use to review any book.

1) Don’t read the book. At least, not yet. Instead, start by looking at it. Look for clues to the nature of the book you’ll be reading. Is it a richly manufactured item aimed at collectors? What does the cover illustration indicate the book will be about? What sort of blurbs are included? How is it categorized by the publisher? All of these will tell you the book’s target audience.

2) Don’t read the book. At least, not quite yet. Instead, open the book and flip through it. Look at how the words are arranged on the pages. Start with the largest distinctions—the number of pages, the number of chapters, and so on. Then move to the size of paragraphs, how much of the book is dialogue, etc. This will tell you about the book’s readability and how the author structured the book.

3) Build a framework for taking notes. You always focus better if you have something specific to look for and markers to pay attention to along the way. Start with the simplest things—the number of chapters, for example—and then move on to more complex tasks, such as questions you’ll want to answer: “What makes this book a classic?” or “What made this book ‘speak for a generation’ like the introduction said it did?”

4) Read the book. And as you do so…

5) Pay attention. That isn’t a disciplinary command like, “Don’t let your mind wander!” Instead, pay attention to your reading experience. This is the first real challenge for most people. What caught your attention, and when were you bored? When was the book suspenseful? Which characters did you like, and why?

6) Review the book and take notes that let you explain its effects. This is the second tough step for most people. Remember that note-taking framework you built earlier? Now’s the time to fill it in. Flip back through the book and write brief, purposeful notes. What happens in the first chapter—and what was its effect on you as a reader? When you passed from one part of the book to the next—chapter, section, or setting—what kept your attention? This is the part most people neglect, but it lays the foundation for the rest of the book review, so keep at it until you can do the following:

Explain how the book as a whole affected you.

Explain how the author achieved the effects he or she did.

Explain the relationship between form and content.

If it is fiction, explain the function of each character in the novel.

Explain the characters’ relationships to one another.

7) Sum up the book. This is the easy part, and half of what most people think a book review is. Put the book in a nutshell. Keep summarizing it until you’ve got everything covered clearly. Use that to start your review.

8) Pass judgment. This is the other half of a book review for most people. Is this book good or bad? This is the time for you to say so. Put that second in your review—but use your notes from earlier to explain why and to make your judgment persuasive. Give specific examples, and move from passing judgment to explaining the book. That comes third.

9) Put the book in context. You might have been able to get this information from looking at the book’s cover and introduction, or you might need to do a little research. What categories does this book fall into? Is it science fiction or fantasy? Is it the first of its kind or an imitation? The author’s first book or fifteenth? Spend some time relating this book to others in its category to further explain the book and your judgment of it.

10) Check your aim. You’ve written your review. Now’s the time to step back and apply this sort of reasoning to your own review. Did you explain every major aspect of the book? What was your target audience? Did you write this for a class with specific criteria—or for a fan magazine whose audience already knows this type of book well? If so, you might have to edit your review to add or remove details. If you don’t…you’re done!


>My Review of Stephen King and Donald Maass


Can Learning How Novels Work Help You Write A Great Hub?

Photos of Tabitha and Stephen King above and Author Literary Agent Donald Maass
I’m going to review one book – Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass – and mention Stephen King and his marvelous book On Writing.
Much of the material I’ll review, while oriented toward fiction, also applies to writers of Hubs.
I took some writing courses in college. You don’t have to go to college to learn to write, just read and write a lot, that’s all.
Funny though, the only English professor I remember vividly was David Crabtree. Why did I remember his face and name when most others are lost in a deep memory sea that goes way back? Because he looked like a crab tree. His voice was old and grumpy but carried a sense of love for his students and his craft. His face looked worn, bumpy, and lined – like a crab tree – and his teaching skills were the best.
Neither King’s or Maass’ book is better than the other – they are merely different.
Both riveted my attention and made me a better writer. Without you being familiar with these two authors, it will be difficult for me to transfer their skills and passion to you, but I’ll try.
King drew me into him, as he wrote On Writing as a memoir with personal anecdotes and memories. Maass gave me what I needed, a structured course on how to write a breakout novel.
Maass is author of seventeen novels and has twenty years as a literary agent. He travels the country, speaking at writers conferences, and has served as president of his guild. He lives in New York.
Stephen King? What can I say? The man’s a legend, a literary genius, an icon. He authored more than thirty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. He lives in Bangor, Maine with his wife Tabitha King, also a writer

What I know of King

King has a nasty habit of exercising – walking outdoors in his neighborhood – while reading. One day he became so absorbed that he stepped in front of a car and that cripled him for life. He spent months recuperating and still can’t walk without help. Even so, he feeds his passion, traveling down to Fenway Park to enjoy one of his joys, the Boston Red Sox.
One advantage I probably have over many of you is my love for baseball. I watch MLB on TV and am not the same if I miss important games. I live in Florida and also watch spring training games. Many celebs sit in box seats behind the dugouts and I’m constantly seeing King.
TV jockeys always scan those seats and point out who’s there. Since I’m mostly a Yankee fan, I see people like Spike Lee and Rudy Giuliani a lot. But there are more. Movie stars, politicians, foreign diplomats, racecar drivers, boxers, and stars of opera and Broadway when in New York will attend a Yankee game. Now, you may think I’m too old to enjoy seeing these star studs and phillies, but I’m not.

What Else Drives Me

Additionally, I like live events, like going out to the parks here in Florida. On Friday the thirteenth (lucky day), my son Marcus and I are going to a PGA event at Disney, Children’s Miracle Network Classic where there is a $4.7 million purse. We’ll see such golf luminaries as reigning champion Davis Love III and Phil Mickelson, (and, I hope, Tiger Woods, who used to live in Windermere a few miles from our house).
I enjoy the excitement. I’ve seen some of the greatest players in history – people like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Billy Casper, Johnny Miller, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, Carl Malone, John Stockton and many others. These kinds of events build wonderful memories and create passion for life, keeping us young. And as you know, we Hubbers must write with passion or forget it.
My son Marcus was a member of a Minnesota high school tennis team, Wayzata. That year he and I drove to New York and took in the USTA tournament for four days. Wow! What a great time we had. He’s so good in tennis that at age 12 he wiped me. Patrick and Michael were better baseball and basketball players than me. Our daughter, Jennifer is a college professor. She’s the greatest dancer I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of her choreography and dancing from the West to the East of America.

Why is the above important to you?

It isn’t. Except it teaches one great lesson of life. If you want to be a successful writer – or happy in any field – you must be passionate about it. Baseball fans are nothing if they’re not passionate, especially Yankee and Phillie fans the past while. Life is great, be grateful, happy, and passionate. Give thanks to God constantly. He owns it all.
As I review Maass, see if many of the points he makes fit your needs as a Hub Page writer.
If your writing isn’t inspired, or doesn’t show that you really care about the subject matter, forget it! All you’re doing is mass-producing someone else’s content.

Writing The Breakout Novel

  • Premise
  • Stakes
  • Time and Place
  • Characters
  • Plot
  • Contemporary Plot Techniques
  • Multiple Viewpoints, Subplots, Pace, Voice, Endings
  • Theme
“Book publishing is full of surprises, not the least of which is an unexpected leap in an author’s sales. When novelists whose previous work merely has been admired suddenly have books vault onto the best-seller lists or even achieve a large jump in sales, publishing people say they have ‘broken out.’ The book in question is a ‘breakout novel.” Donald Maass
Maass’ Review of Writing
  • Premise: Whatever it is it must grip the imagination of readers. For example, “I wanted to win the race. Problem: I was in a wheel chair.” That’s premise with an imagination and a problem, necessary elements to keep readers turning pages.
Favorite books sweep us away, have unforgettable characters and involve dramatic and meaningful events. The premise must be plausible, with inherent conflict, originality and gut appeal.
Plausibility means the story could happen to any of us. Originality can be new angles on old stories, the opposite of what we expect, or story elements in unexpected combinations.
Gut emotional appeal involves emotional situations that grab us in our life. Even an unlikely starting point can be built into a breakout premise.
  • Stakes: Stakes say what could be lost. High stakes yield high success. To test stakes, ask “So what?” High stakes start with high human worth and with fiction you must start with at lest a grain of truth. Combining public stakes with private stakes makes for interesting writing.
  • Time and Place: Every story has context, whether it is emphasized or not. Creating breakout time and place involves more than just describing setting.
Using psychology of place means capturing how a place makes a point-of-view-character feel. For example, if you start the story by having the protagonist looking up into the sky on a dark winter night at the Milky Way, your readers see millions of stars and other heavenly bodies, allowing them to feel that our place here on earth is small compared to the infinite numbers of stars and planets seen so far away.
Here is how one writer conveyed a sense of time in describing New York and portrayed historical forces and social trends through characters:
“Hester was fascinated. It was unlike any city she had previously seen: new, teeming with life, a multitude of tongues spoken, laughter, shouting, and already the hand of war shadowing over it, a brittleness in the air. There were recruitment posters on the walls and soldiers in a wide array of uniforms in the streets.
“Business seemed poor and the snatches of talk she overheard were of prize fights, food prices, local gossip and scandal, politics, and secession. She was startled to hear that even New York might secede from the Union, or New Jersey.”
Detail is the secret ingredient of breakout settings, and unexpected tragedy or grace adds a sense of destiny at work.
  • Characters: All stories are character driven. Readers’ sympathy for characters comes from character strengths. Engrossing characters are out of the ordinary. Larger-than-life characters say what we cannot say, do what we cannot do, and change in ways that we cannot change. They have conflicting sides and are conscious of self.
Dark protagonists appeal only when they have sympathetic sides, e.g., they struggle to change or have hidden sensitivity. Build a cast for contrast, realizing the highest character qualities are self-sacrifice and forgiveness.
Build complex character relationships by combining roles. For example, the life-long friend who is also your doctor; the ex-spouse who is also your tennis partner. Combining roles will bring a measure of richness and complexity of real relationships, and at the same time strengthen and deepen its hold on the reader.

Allow Characters To Measure Each Other

Let them voice to themselves or to others their opinions of the other characters in

The story. Not every character will see the protagonist in the same way. But this allows readers to view characters from a different angle and builds richness.

Building Conflict

Allow characters to step into problems and situations you would never go near in real life. Think, “What is the worst thing that can happen?” And allow that to happen to your characters. As authors we like our protagonists. We tend to protect them from trouble. The temptation must be resisted. It is better to drive full speed into danger, laughing as you do it.
Maass says “The breakout novelist is somewhat maniacal, possibly even sadistic (where her characters are concerned, I mean). She will discover what is the worst that can happen, then make matters worse still.”
From chapter one to the book’s end, the author should be bridging the conflict, making it as deep and as bad as it possibly can be. She will employ high moments, plot turns, and death to change characters or to set them free. Breakout novels need high stakes, complex characters and layered conflicts.
Simple plot structures produce tight stories; expansive stories come more easily from open-ended or complex plot structures, such as a hero’s journey.
I invite you to get the book and discover what you can about contemporary plot structures, multiple viewpoints, subplots, pace, voice, and the endings.


Maass asks if anyone has ever been disappointed by the end? Then he admits that he, too, has. Endings that disappoint are sometimes written in haste, fail to tie up all the sub plots, don’t make sense, don’t answer the main questions and are not very satisfying.
Climaxes are both inner and outer – both plot-specific and emotionally charged. “The payoff needs to plumb the depths in both ways if it is to satisfy,” says Maass.
“Milking the ending with an endless series of confrontations, plot turnabouts, emotional peaks and so on is not a good idea, either.”
When narrative momentum is at its height,
that is not the time to slam on the brakes. Do you remember the James Bond movies taken from Ian Flemming’s great novels? He prevails in the end, but the show is not over. He must win over the girl and be seen sailing away on a boat somewhere with her in the Ocean on an extended love-filled trip, punctuated with plenty of witty and humorous comments which make the audience, as well as the pretty girl, say: “Oh, James…”
Maass actually finds fault with such genre novels, category stories and romances, where the outcome is not seriously in doubt. “A great story teller leaves us in suspense right up to the final moments,” he says. Success should never be sure. In fact, failure seems the more likely outcome. You must allow your protagonist the possibility of failure. “Why should fiction be any safer than reality ?” he asks.
The resolution needs to tie up loose ends, then allow the reader to relax and come to the end in as little space as possible.

>Holy Wars Begin Right Here In America


Suspects in NY jihad plot due in court

Thu May 21, 2009

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* Suspects wanted to commit holy war, police say

* NY Jews shocked to be target of purported attack

* Mayor, police commissioner greet worshipers

By Edith Honan

NEW YORK, May 21 (Reuters) – New York’s mayor and police chief sought to calm Jewish worshipers on Thursday, the morning after authorities said they foiled a plot to blow up two synagogues and simultaneously shoot down military planes.

Four men arrested in the suspected plot were due to appear in court later in the day in White Plains, New York. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said all four had criminal records and did not appear to be part of al Qaeda.

As they greeted worshipers at one of the targeted synagogues Thursday morning, Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg conveyed calm following the latest threat to New York City, which has been on high alert for another attack since the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks of 2001.

The FBI and New York police arrested the four Muslim men on Wednesday night after they planted what they believed to be explosives in two cars — one parked outside each synagogue — and planned to head to an air base with what they thought was an activated stinger surface-to-air missile.

But the explosives were inert and the stinger deactivated as the four suspects had been infiltrated by an FBI informant who provided the fake weapons.

“They stated that they wanted to commit jihad,” Kelly told reporters, using a term that can mean holy war. “They were disturbed about what was happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that Muslims were being killed. They made the statement that if Jews were killed in this attack that would be all right.”

Worshipers at the Riverdale Jewish Center, an orthodox synagogue that had an early morning service, were shocked.

“It’s just unbelievable, unbelievable, that it’s here in this community,” said Rose Spindler, who said she was a Holocaust survivor. “They should let us live. How can they come here and do that to innocent people? We were very lucky.”

David Winter, the executive director of the Riverdale Jewish Center, said the possibility of an attack was “always in the back of your mind.”

“We were shocked. The shock and being floored is followed by relief,” Winter said.

The other target, the Riverdale Temple, is a reform synagogue.

The suspects were due in court on the day U.S. President Barack Obama was to speak on national security and outline his strategy for closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay where terrorism suspects are being held. [ID:nN20544607]


None of the four suspects had any known connection to al Qaeda, Kelly said. One of them was of Haitian descent and the other three American-born.

“It speaks to our concern about home-grown terrorism … that in many ways is the most difficult to address,” Kelly said.

The two synagogues are in a wealthy area of the Bronx, just north of Manhattan and near a highway that leads upstate toward New York’s Air National Guard base at Stewart airport in Newburgh, where authorities said the men planned to shoot down planes with surface-to-air guided missiles.

The suspects were identified as James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen. Kelly called Cromitie, 53, the leader of the group. Two of the others were aged 29 and 33. Kelly said they may have converted to an extreme vision of Islam in jail, he said.

Each man is charged with one count of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction within the United States, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, and one count of conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles, which also carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

All the men lived in Newburgh, about 60 miles (100 km) north of New York City, authorities said.

According to investigators, Cromitie said if he died a martyr, he would go to “paradise” and that he was interested in doing “something to America,” the complaint said.

In October, Cromitie and the other men began a series of meetings at a house in Newburgh to plot their attacks and just last month they selected the synagogue and Jewish community center and conducted surveillance, it said.

The complaint said they bought an arsenal in May that included improvised explosive devices containing inert C-4 plastic explosives and a surface-to-air guided missile provided by the FBI that was not capable of being fired.

In November, according to the complaint, Cromitie said, “The best target (the World Trade Center) was hit already” and “I would like to get (destroy) a synagogue.” (Additional reporting by Mark Egan; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bill Trott)