Book Review | The Maze Runner by James Dashner

9780385737951Some people might think that The Maze Runner is a Hunger Games wannabe, but since it was published only one month after Hunger Games, the people who think that obviously don’t know how long it takes to write a book. That said, it’s definitely going to appeal to the same audience.

If you are thinking about reading this book, here’s what you need to know:

The plot is compelling. The main character, Thomas, wakes up in an elevator without any memory of his life before now. He gets off the elevator to discover a society made up of teenage guys who also can’t remember their former lives. Hemmed in by a gargantuan maze, Thomas and the others must find their way through in order to figure out why they are there in the first place. However, no one’s ever made it through the maze alive. And then, just one day after Thomas shows up, something happens that has never happened before. A girl arrives on the elevator with a warning. Everything is going to change.

The characters are less compelling. In fact, at times, they are downright tiresome. If I had more time, I would go back and count how many times Thomas says something like, “I can’t understand why, but I know that I want to be a Maze Runner.” Anyway, if I had a nickel for every instance, I’d be a dollar or so richer. Also, none of the characters undergo any dynamic shifts, but since this is only the first book in a series, perhaps I need to keep reading in order to see some change.

This book will soon be a film. So if you are the type of person who likes reading a book before seeing the film, you’ll want to pick it up. Here’s the film’s trailer:

Basically, if you like young adult post-apocalyptic thrillers where teens have to battle monsters (without and within) and the elements in order to fight the oppressive regime that controls their lives, you’ll probably like The Maze Runner. I’d give it a 7/10. It was worth reading, but I don’t know if I’d read it twice. Who knows? Maybe when I finish the series, my tune will change (yeah, I plan on finishing the series).

I am a dinosaur decapitator.

We had a great Jot Conference last Friday night!

A full crowd showed up to hear some great speakers, and I was happy to be among them. The conference that my writers group, the Weaklings, put on is just as much for us as it is for other writers in our area. Perhaps more so.

In any event, I’d like to share a bit of what I learned from our first presenter and newest member of the Weaklings, Thomas McClurg.

Saying that Thomas is a film buff is like saying Rip Van Winkle took a catnap. But his passion for watching movies is exceeded by his passion for writing. And in many ways, his experience with films and screenwriting has helped him as a fiction writer.

The overlap between the disciplines of writing for the screen and writing books is obvious. Both invite people to lose themselves in the worlds created for them. Both involve good character development and solid plots. And both are made up of a series of scenes which must further the action or risk losing the watcher/reader.

Photo by ScottRobertAnselmo

Photo by ScottRobertAnselmo

To this last point, Thomas shared the example of picturing a scene as an Apatosaurus. The head is the beginning of the scene, the long neck gives more information while moving slowly toward the large body or meat of the scene. The tail is what happens after the main action occurs. After giving us this illustration, Thomas showed us two scenes from the Star Trek reboot, one of which was this one:

In the scene, we are shown a car speeding through the desert driven by a boy. The boy jumps from the car just before it plummets off a cliff. As the police officer who had been chasing the boy stands over him, he asks his name. The punch line for the scene is the boy’s revelation to be James Tiberius Kirk.

If this scene were an Apatosaurus, its head and tail had been removed, leaving only the body of the dinosaur. We didn’t see young Kirk steal the car, and we didn’t see the police officer take him into custody afterward.

Thomas said that this is a good way of keeping the reader’s attention, especially when the attention spans of readers are shortening by the minute. He asked us to write a full scene, then cut the head and tail off the dinosaur. Leave only the meat.

This is as true to screenwriting as it is to novel-writing (and even more true to flash fiction writing), but some writers forget this and leave readers floundering through pages of description without giving them a plot or a character onto which they may latch.

Thomas had a lot more great things to say. You may be able to watch the whole conference online here if the video works. And if it doesn’t, you probably should have come to the Jot event.

Suffering Through Little Miss Sunshine

Are you ready for a shock? My wife and I don’t have a working television. There. I said it. Judge us if you want to.

We used to have a Netflix subscription, but that was long enough ago now that we’re back on their “free trial” email list. Nope, if we have a hankering to veg out in front of a screen, we do so courtesy of our local library. In fact, I recently discovered the joys of reserving DVDs online through my library’s website.

It’s great! I can request 10 titles at a time and they call me when those titles are available to pick up. And since we visit the library regularly for our kids anyway, it takes no extra effort on our part to pick up movies for ourselves. Of course, the limiting factor is the same as the reason we don’t have cable or Netflix; we still need time to watch things.

little_miss_sunshineAnyway, one of the movies that I reserved a while back was Little Miss Sunshine. I swear I remember some friends of mine recommending this movie, and since it won some acclaim at Sundance and got a few awards from the Academy, I thought my wife and I might enjoy it.

I was only half right.

My wife stopped watching about half way through the movie, choosing sleep over frustration with a poor movie choice. I, however, am one of those people who will stick with a movie, even when the characters aren’t all that likeable or when things keep going wrong, in order to see how it ends. So I chose to finish the movie alone while my beautiful wife slept.

If you haven’t seen Little Miss Sunshine, here’s the one-sentence plot synopsis according to IMDB.com: A family determined to get their young daughter into the finals of a beauty pageant take a cross-country trip in their VW bus.

Or here’s the trailer.

The family is made up of an unattractive little girl who dreams of being a beauty queen, a unsuccesful self-help guru, a divorcee, a heroin-addicted grandfather, a hate-filled teen who has taken a vow of silence and a suicidal, homosexual Proust scholar. Along the trip to the beauty pageant, bad things happen… and continue to happen.

That’s one of the reasons why my wife rolled over and stopped watching. What is the point of watching bad things happen to people she didn’t like?

But there was a bit of dialogue that happened after she gave up on the film that made the movie for me. Here’s the exchange:

Dwayne: I wish I could just sleep until I was eighteen and skip all this crap-high school and everything-just skip it.

Frank: Do you know who Marcel Proust is?

Dwayne: He’s the guy you teach.

Frank: Yeah. French writer. Total loser. Never had a real job. Unrequited love affairs. Gay. Spent 20 years writing a book almost no one reads. But he’s also probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Anyway, he uh… he gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, Those were the best years of his life, ’cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn’t learn a thing. So, if you sleep until you’re 18… Ah, think of the suffering you’re gonna miss. I mean high school? High school-those are your prime suffering years. You don’t get better suffering than that.

Yesterday, I was doing some research for the next Bible study that my small group is going to do together, and I was encouraged to look into a new study by Max Lucado called You’ll Get Through This. It’s a study that goes through the unfortunate life of the Bible’s Joseph and offers encouragement for people facing hardships.

The reason I bring up the Bible study on the heels of Little Miss Sunshine is because of the incredible timing of being introduced to both of them.

Suffering happens. All the time and in every way imaginable. According to Little Miss Sunshine, suffering will make us who we are. According to Max Lucado, there is a loving God who is there for us while we suffer.

I think both are true.

And though I learned something from the movie, I think I’ll let my wife pick out the next one so she doesn’t have to suffer from my choices again.

Remember to Breathe

I had two exciting messages via email and Facebook the other day.

Breathe Christian Writer's ConferenceIn the first, I was invited to be a speaker at the Breathe Writers Conference in October. My topic will be Flash Fiction. The organizers reached out to me because of my presentation on that topic at Jot, the mini-conference that my writer’s group put together. I’ve been a speaker at Breathe before, but my topic then was on how bookstores can help writers (checkout my Bookstore Symbiosis series here on my blog for the gist of my talk).

I’m pretty excited about getting my talk together and differentiating it from what I used at Jot. Also, I’m hoping to have some flash fiction publishing credits to my name by then so I can feel qualified to speak on the topic.

The other message I got the other day was from the film maker I mentioned a while back who was looking for some material to turn into short movies. He had a friend write an adaptation of one of my 100 word stories and asked me to look it over. The adaptation is amazing! I can’t wait for you all to see it!

He mentioned that they are hoping to film it sometime this summer, so there’s a chance that I’ll be able to show it at my talk in October at Breathe.

In any case, be sure to check out the Breathe website for more details. Having been there as both a speaker and an attendee, I can honestly tell you that it is a writer’s conference like no other. The speakers they choose always have time to talk to the attendees, the other attendees are always kind, and the general feel of the conference is always supportive.

The keynote speaker this year is Latayne C. Scott. Here’s her bio from the Breathe site:

Latayne C. Scott is the award-winning author of over a dozen books, published by major Christian publishers such as Zondervan, Moody, Baker, Word and others. In addition, she has published poems, radio plays, and hundreds of articles in magazines such as Today’s Christian Woman, Guideposts, Writer’s Digest, The Upper Room, Christian Research Journal, Christian Retailing, and Military Officer. A full-time writer, she also speaks at seminars, retreats, and on television and radio programs. She is the recipient of Pepperdine University’s Distinguished Christian Service Award for Creative Christian Writing, and makes her home in her native New Mexico.

If you have any inkling of becoming a writer, be sure to check it out.

The Hobbit in 5 Installments

As you may know, the creators of the film, “The Hobbit” have decided to split the single, slim volume into multiple cinematic events. What you may not know is that it takes my family multiple sittings to finish even the first installment. Five sittings, to be exact.

The movie is about three hours long. And once you set aside the fact that the creators of the film stretched and added to the original story of the book, you’ll probably agree that it is a great film. But being as long as it is, people with small children/limited amounts of discretionary time/small bladders/etcetera find that the film is just too long to enjoy in one sitting. Fortunately, there are some great scene breaks, perfect for pausing for short periods to stopping to enjoy the next day.

This is one of the things that you need to consider when you are planning on having kids. I spoke the other day about the difficulty in planning/executing a get-together with another family, but you also need to consider how adding children will affect your consumption of media. In most cases, this means less feature-length films (at least, watching them in one sitting) and more books or short television episodes (Netflix is great while babies are nursing, as long as your baby doesn’t want to watch too). Another skill to hone when you become a parent is the ability to create mental bookmarks, so you’ll know where you left off in any kind of book/movie/episode and can pick it up again quickly.

Does is bother me to have to watch movies like this? Not really. With the Hobbit, the story is developed enough that I can pause it for hours and days without losing the thread, which cannot be said about movies that are wholly special-effects driven. Is it worth it to watch movies like this? Sure thing. Not only because it is a good movie, but because it gives me an excuse to sit still and snuggle my wife. And I’ll take all the excuses that I can to do that.