Admit it. You’ve always wanted to be a super hero.

Admit it. You’ve always wanted to be a super hero.

Thrusts of justice coverMatt Youngmark’s Thrusts of Justice is out today, in paperback and on the Kindle! It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure book that allows you to take on one of three awesome superhero personas and fight crime, and admit it; you’ve always wanted to do that. Click on the text link above to check it out!

I’ve only just started the book, but it’s much like Matt’s other works, which is to say well written, funny, and full of action and awesome characters. Seriously. Click the pretty picture or the text link and buy your copy right now. If enough people buy the book today, the very day it’s released, the world will be a better, freer place; where independently published books can challenge the big publishing houses and all of us can choose which ending we like the best.

A Superhero is You!

How To Make a Stupid 80’s Movie

How To Make a Stupid 80’s Movie

Once the 80’s misfit teenager ranged far and free across the American landscape. from John Cusack to Molly Ringwald, if you could pretend you were a high school outcast who had big dreams and a desire to win you were on top of the world.
However, I’ve noticed that ever since 1989 people have stopped making stupid 80’s teenager movies. Oh sure, people tried to make a similar film in the 90’s, movies like Chasing Amy and Mallrats, but these movies didn’t have the same flair, the same élan, or the same bone-headedness of the classic 80’s film. To help remedy this situation and to inspire all the budding filmmakers with a desire to make something truly brain-dead I humbly offer this guide to making stupid 80’s movies.

Stick to the Recipe

To make a stupid 80’s movie you have to stick to the recipe. If your main character isn’t a high school student having a hard time fitting in your movie will fail. If the parents in the movie have brains, or even anything resembling a serious part in the film people will suspect your masterwork of being something introspective or even deep, and nobody wants that. No, like a great sonnet, you must work within the framework, and only use the plot elements that have been so well-tested over the years. Specifically:

High School Students

Even if your main actors are old enough to be PhD candidates, you need to portray them in high school. And not just any high school. Your 80’s movie high school is covered in graffiti, the halls perpetually packed with an assortment of punks (colorful hair), preppies(colorful sweaters draped over their shoulders) and jocks (wearing team colors, of course). If anyone is not wearing bright colors they will be your nerds. They must laugh at space jokes, wear brown pants above their navels, and be generally looked upon with either scorn or pity, depending on the character looking upon them.
Against this backdrop you will place your protagonist. If male, your protagonist will wear a tie that is less than 2 inches wide at its widest point and a sports jacket. If female, your protagonist’s hair must be no less than 3 inches taller than her actual skull. In terms of wardrobe you have more freedom with a female lead, but remember that she has to clean up nicely for the big dance, where she will wear something with shoulder pads that would frighten a linebacker.
Your antagonist may be one of the following: The school administration, the jock boyfriend of your male protagonist’s love interest, or the preppie ice queen that actively seeks to destroy your female protagonist’s dreams of finally being socially accepted.

The Dilemma

Again, your dilemma is tightly proscribed, and must fit within the high school milieu. Perhaps your main character needs a date to the prom, or maybe they will be denied some life goal if they don’t get their grades in line by the end of the semester. Either way, your protagonist must solve this problem within one week, two at the outside.
Once you have truly mastered the art of stupid 80’s movies you may consider the third-party dilemma. This is where the romantic interest has a problem and the protagonist must help them solve it, usually in a way that would make no sense at all. Saving an old house from being torn down by winning a boat race, for example. The third-party dilemma gives you more room to experiment, but also walks the line between stupid 80’s movie and standard romantic comedy, and should be used sparingly.

The Cast

While your main couple are fine and all, you can’t really have a stupid 80’s movie without a good supporting cast. Your main character’s best friend, for example, will often define the tone of the movie, and should get the lion’s share of the memorable lines. There should be a younger brother who is either silent and brilliant, or insanely talkative and vapid. In either case the younger brother will be obsessed with finding an attractive female companion. His success in this endeavor is immaterial, so long his antics are sufficiently comic.
It is not uncommon for the love interest to already be romantically involved with someone at the beginning of the movie, and that someone should be an intensely shallow, self-centered icon. Male or female, they should wear pink and have blond hair. You may worry that the audience won’t accept the fact that your love interest, whom you have written as a sensitive, intelligent, and caring person, has willingly paired off with such a dud. For the most part, as long as the romantic interest ends up with your protagonist all will be forgiven, but if you feel the need to have the romantic interest explain their choice, the standard “[He/She] used to be different, before [he/she] became head of the [basketball team/cheerleading squad]” formula is sufficient.

The Music

The music in a stupid 80’s movie should be from the 80’s, of course, and no pains should be spared to emphasize the 80’s-ness of it. Any piece that doesn’t have a synthesizer should be rejected out of hand. Themes ranging from new love to lost love may be used. At some point, usually at the prom, there should be a live band, who should endeavor to look as Californian as possible. Brightly colored suits with white loafers are acceptable. There should be two keyboards on stage, a Roland and a Yamaha. If you have a female singer in your live band she should look as much like Cindi Lauper as your budget allows.

Product Placement

Speaking of your budget, a large portion of your production budget can be covered by a few well-placed pizza boxes or soda cans. There’s no reason to write the names of these products into your script–that would be too obvious–but any time a group of friends is gathered to celebrate some minor success be sure that they do so with Coca-Cola and Pizza Hut. Particularly savvy producers can even get either Roland or Yamaha to pay for the Cindi Lauper impersonator, but be aware that they will ask for a long keyboard solo in the middle of your dramatic-conflict-resolution-at-the-dance scene.


And there you have it. Follow these steps and you will be on your way to making quickly forgotten teen movies like a pro. Join us next time when we take a look at making nightmare-inducing children’s fantasy movies using rubber masks and puppets.

Lyin’ Lion

Lyin’ Lion

There’s a card that my sister-in-law gave to my son for Valentine’s Day. It’s one of those silly little Valentine cards that you’re supposed to buy for the entire class, so it’s not actually romantic, it’s just socially acceptable. But it’s making me crazy. Again, not because I have anything against Valentine’s Day; I don’t. Instead it’s because of the pun on the card.

The card features an image of a lion. In fact, other than the text (I’ll get to that in a moment) that’s all there is on the card. his be-maned features fill the card from edge to edge. The problem isn’t the lion. The problem is the text.

“Theres(sic) no lion,” it says above the lion’s face, in blatant contradiction of the facts at hand.  It finishes it’s sentiment underneath the lion’s face, stating “You’re great!” A nice, positive, affirming message. Sure, it’s one that is usually associated with a large cartoon tiger, but we can accept that. The problem is the whole “lion” pun.

I realize I’m over thinking this, but when something says “there’s no lion” I expect to be greeted by an entire absence of the king of the jungle. One cannot behave like this in polite society. If I were to say “there’s no giant gaping abyss” while standing at the edge of said abyss, I’d be seen as a lunatic at best and a public nuisance (and perhaps a danger to very gullible or distracted people) at worst. So when a card that is meant to be given to a student in a classroom lies like this it doesn’t sit well with me.

What bothers me even more is that the joke could have been done just as well if the top half had said, “I’m not lion”. While still unacceptable if we assume that the image on the card is the speaker, this rendering  could be construed as true. The person who created this card most likely did so in Photoshop, and lions as a species have thus far failed to master any part of that program, so we can accept the original author’s claim of non-leonine heritage. Likewise, we can accept that the sender of the card, most likely a student in the third grade, is not a lion, and has called attention to this fact. The card further emphasizes the point by including an image of a lion, perhaps for comparison to the features of the sender to further strengthen their argument. Seen in this light, the “I’m not lion” line works infinitely better than the disingenuous lie “There’s no lion.” But the makers of this card felt otherwise, and I’m left to deal with the wreckage.

Perhaps they included the top text as a way to put the recipient at ease. A way to say “I realize the lion in this picture is quite realistic, albeit minuscule, but rest assured that the envelope in which I delivered this card to your shoebox-cum-mailbox is devoid of any form of big cat. The bulge in the envelope was caused by the small, chalky candy that you have probably already eaten in your panic” as it were. In this light, considering that they have reduced a paragraph of Hawthorne-ian proportions down to three words, they have succeeded grandly, and pulled off their safari-related pun at the same time.

So, it is in this reading, and this reading only, that I am willing to accept the card maker’s statement. Any further attempt to justify their blatant regard for facts will result in a return to my pedantic and neurotic state, and nobody wants that.

Where Are The Planeswalkers Now: Predictions for Avacyn Restored

Where Are The Planeswalkers Now: Predictions for Avacyn Restored

(Note: this post will make zero sense if you don’t play Magic: the Gathering. But what’s the point of being a huge nerd if you don’t occasionally put some inside jokes out on the web?)

So, for some reason I’ve been thinking about what all the Planeswalkers will be doing during the Innistrad block. We know where Sorin, Liliana and Garruk are, but what about Jace? And Chandra?

Yes, this is the sort of thing I think about. and while I was thinking about it the other day I made up stories for what all the1 planeswalkers are doing. Enjoy.

  • Ajani is in a hospital somewhere recovering. Anyone dumb enough to take on Bolas in a Duel Deck situation deserves what they get.
  • Bolas, of course, is back in his pre-planeswalker library, reading some Hardy Boys books. he always looked more comfy in the old days.
  • Chandra and Gideon were last spotted by the planar paparazzi sitting by the pool in a very nice Lorwyn resort.
  • Elspeth, rightly worried that everyone will forget about her if she isn’t in every single themed block, is trying to break into Innistrad. However, there’s a sign at the door that says “you must be this gothic to enter” and she just can’t put on that much mascara.
  • Liliana will be the next Avacyn. She needs power, needs it now, and there’s not really any other good reason for her to be in Innistrad. It’s entirely possible she’s the one who killed the old Avacyn, and this would be a good comeuppance for her.
  • Sorin, of course, has come back to Innistrad to kick butt and somehow create angels, and he’s all out of wings. Or something. I’d like to see how he talks Lilly into becoming an angel.
  • Garruk will leave Innistrad without Liliana’s head on a pole, and will be so distraught that he’ll go straight to New Phyrexia and kill a few hundred giant twisted monstrosities to make himself feel better.
  • Nissa will spend the entire block sitting in her tree house drawing hearts around her new “Sorin, Lord of Innistrad” poster.
  • Koth and Karn will be starring in a tasteless comedy version of their escape from New Phyrexia called “Weekend at Venser’s”.
  • Jace is working on a spell to break into our plane and do some serious mental rearranging on the people who banned his best card.
  • Poor Tezzeret. Whatever’s going on, his life sucks right now. Get better, big guy! Hoping you feel less possessed soon!
    • Same goes for Sarkhan.
  1. currently alive planeswalkers from the main game, not from Duels of the Planeswalkers []
Scouting: Time to Change My Mind

Scouting: Time to Change My Mind

Even sixteen years later, I still can’t think about the time I spent in Boy Scouts without my stomach knotting up.

For six years I was asked1 to spend one night a week with people I wasn’t terribly fond of, usually playing basketball, or pretending to plan a camping trip, while internally I was planning a way to get out of said camping trip. I’m sure to those involved I appeared sullen and angry, which was accurate, but pretty much only in that setting. People who knew me then know that I was really a pretty happy guy, overall.

So why this hatred for the ol’ BSA2 ? Anyone else who grew up not only knowing the word “bibliophile” but actively applying it to themselves already knows the answer to that question: bullies.

Yes, this was a church sponsored troop. Yes, we had leaders who were supposed to keep that sort of thing from happening. But more than once it was the leaders themselves who were the bullies.

I don’t think anyone involved actually thought of themselves as a bully. I’m sure they thought they were including me in their reindeer games, and it’s my fault that I didn’t understand how those games work. But on my end, the word “scouting” meant getting teased, hit, tormented and basically just having life suck a little more. More than one leader asked me if I wasn’t being “just a little over-sensitive” and assured me that it was “all in good fun”.

My parents probably didn’t know what was really going on, because naturally I didn’t tell them. Like any kid in that situation, I instinctively knew that getting parents involved would just make it worse. People would promise to be nice, and as soon as they thought they could get away with it, they would make my life worse than ever. Indeed, that’s exactly what happened the one time I did actively take a stand and flat-out refuse to go on a particular camping trip. After three or four people sat around and talked at me for a couple of hours I relented and drove up to the campground with a  leader who spent the entire drive complaining about how I had made him miss all the fun. Once we were the there and the leaders were all in their tent my life became a world of all the best in boy-on-boy attacks that could be carried out silently.

Out of desperation my parents informed me that I wouldn’t get a driver’s license until I was an Eagle Scout. This was a good lesson in ineffective threats. I had no particular desire to drive, so I simply let my mom drive me where ever I wanted to go until I went on my mission. Even when I turned seventeen and they relented I refused to go to driver’s education or apply for a license. They made the rule, and they would have to live with it. As I was leaving on my mission someone asked me if I felt that scouting had prepared me for missionary service. At the time I said “not really” but years later I realized that what I really wanted to say was that I was still active in my faith not because of scouting, but in spite of it.

Bleh. All this is long past now. I’m all growed up, with kids o’ my own and a good job and a house and a beautiful wife and I’m livin’ the American Dream like nobody’s business.

So, naturally, I’ve been called3 to serve as a scout leader. Which means its time to try to let go of a lot of things.

I knew this day was coming. I knew it was coming because my wife bought a Suburban, and if you’re LDS and own a Suburban it’s only a matter of time before you’re given a scouting calling. They’re lowering me in gently; I’m starting as a Webelos leader, working with cub scouts (i.e. ten-year-old boys) instead of teenagers. And the world of scouting has improved significantly. The BSA has made a number of changes to ensure that the boys who are going through scouting today won’t be put through the misery I went through. The “Youth Protection Program” that all scout leaders must complete before they can work with the boys focuses on recognizing the signs of bullying and stopping it quickly. The hard part, in other words, won’t be the actual participation, it’ll be letting go of the anger and stress that have nothing to do with the people I’ll be working with now.

So, here’s to letting go. It’s not about me any more, it’s about making sure that the experience these kids have is a safe and happy one, and I can assure you that they’ll have at least one leader that has both eyes open, and will put a swift end to any bullying.

  1. see: “forced” []
  2. Boy Scouts of America []
  3. All Mormons who serve in any position are volunteers, but we don’t volunteer for specific jobs. We believe that local leadership is inspired to ask (or “call”) people to certain positions and we volunteer to serve in those positions []
The Danger of Writing While Sleepy

The Danger of Writing While Sleepy

I’m somewhat behind in my NaNoWriMo writing this year, so last night I was up late writing. After a while I was starting to nod off and didn’t really know what I was doing any more, so I closed Scrivener and went to bed. This morning I looked at what I wrote last night, and it’s clear that I should have stopped a little earlier. I present to you, without editing, whatever it was I wrote last night.

"ANYWAY the point is that we’ve seen two ways your little plan with those two surface dwellers can pan out. The first is the easy way: you reprogram the communication network and you’re out of there. The problem is getting in there in the first place. The second method is more difficult: you have to capture and hold at least a third of the Centarch and the rest will turn ugly in a hurry. But you still ave to capture some transmission equipment and make sure you broadcast the Centarch turning ugly and why. The problem with this method is that there’s no second chance, if you do it the right kind of wrong.

"But I’ll never understand women, so let’s see here…"

As usual the one that did the military female no favors showed up the next day.

I really don’t know why there’s no second chance "if you do it the right kind of wrong", nor who “the military female” is, and I have NO clue how or what the “one” that does her no favors is. Apparently my characters turned incredibly sexist when I started falling asleep. But whatever. I’m keeping it. No reducing the word count during November!

Ten Years

Ten Years

On this day ten years ago I was trying to get to class when the sky started falling. Class was let out early, and I called my fiancé, who was staying with her parents until our wedding day on September 21st. School was let out and I went up from Provo to Salt Lake City to be with the person I wanted to spend my entire life with, in case that life were somehow to be cut short, even in our remote area. The sky in SLC was clear and warm, and it was easy to forget that we were being attacked on our own soil by people desiring nothing but destruction. It would have been easy to forget, but you were there. You know there was nothing else on your mind that day either.

My story doesn’t end with loved ones getting killed in those planes or buildings, I don’t know that hurt, and there’s no way I could understand it, nor can I understand how those who carry that burden deal with it. Nor do I understand the kind of feelings or thoughts that would drive someone to that kind of action. But here’s something else:

May 1st, 2001: I was flying west from Louisville Kentucky to Salt Lake City Utah, getting ready to attend BYU. Catching my connecting flight from Cleveland I was seated next to a girl about my age (Twenty-three at the time) or perhaps a bit younger. She was wearing blue jeans, a shirt of some kind (I’m terrible at colors and fabrics and all that) and a hijab (I think, I had to look that up on Wikipedia just now). We exchanged greetings before take off and readied all our personal stuff…the usual boring stuff.

After the plane was in the air I asked where she was headed, a question that always seems really stupid when your sitting next to each other in an airplane. But she was continuing on to California. She asked me the same question and I said I was staying in Utah. The inevitable follow up was “Are you a Mormon?” I said yes, I was and she said “Oh. I guess we’re like, cousins, or something then.”

This next paragraph took about half a second to go through my head. I considered what I knew of Islam. I knew that the Prophet Muhammad lived in the 1400’s or thereabouts, that they were monotheists, believed the teachings of the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Quran, which according to their faith is the pure word of God revealed to His Prophet, whereas I had just spent two years teaching similar things about the Book of Mormon. They practiced fasting, alms-giving, and daily prayer, all things that my own faith taught as well.  While I wouldn’t have ever stated that Mormonism and Islam were “cousins” the way she did, I couldn’t deny the parallels.

Like I said, I went through all that in about half a second. “sure,” I said, and we talked about our respective religions a little bit. Not a whole lot, and I definitely don’t remember every word we said now, but it was all friendly and respectful.

The flight was booked full, and we were flying economy class. We had picked up or food from a cooler on the way onto the plane, and the two of us ate ours at the same time. Inspecting the contents, she looked a meat snack, and said, “Yeah, pork. I can’t eat this. Do  you want it?” I said sure, then pulled the soda out of my bag. “Hmm. Caffeine. I can’t drink this. Do you want it?” she took my cola, I took her snack and we both laughed a little bit. We weren’t the same, but it was nice for both of us to be able to just be who we were without worrying that the other one would mock us for it.

Anyway, a few months later, as we watched in terror and fear, I thought back to that girl on the plane, who, I was sure, had nothing to do with the insanity in the sky and was, I was certain, as horrified and disgusted as I was. I hoped that she had people to turn to during the coming months, as she would, through no fault of her own, be under suspicion. I hoped the people around her would be kind and treat her well during a time that was probably more hurt-filled and confusing for her as it was for me.

I hope the last ten years have been a time of healing for all of us. I hope that those who lost someone in the attacks have found some answers and hope and a way to go on. I hope that those who had to watch while their faith was held up as a reason to commit atrocities have found understanding and support in the people around them. I hope all of us have found a desire to move forward together.

I Hate Zombies. But I Like Zombocalypse Now.

I Hate Zombies. But I Like Zombocalypse Now.

I’ve never had any love for the whole Zombie genre of fiction. I understand that it’s based in mankind’s innate fear of…well, mankind; the horror of those faceless mobs around us eventually turning on those of us that are human and destroying the thin veil of civilization that covers the primal urges we all feel, the need to destroy so that we ourselves may grow stronger…

But I digress. I’m not a fan of all that. I like people! And it’s because I like people that I finally bought a book about zombies.

It all started with Favorite Thing EVER. (have I mentioned that site before?) Matt Youngmark is my contact on the inside of the FTE Empire, and over the time I’ve been writing (sporadically) for FTE I’ve had more than one opportunity to chat a little with Matt (via email mostly) and discover that we have quite a bit in common, and should we ever meet in real life we’d almost certainly get on well with one another.


A few days ago Matt casually mentioned that buying his Choose Your Own Adventure/comedy/horror/zombie book Zombocalypse Now! wouldn’t be a terrible idea and I casually spent $3 for it. At the time I thought I would just buy it to do a favor for someone I think of as a friend. But now I’d gladly buy it even if I didn’t know the money was going to someone awesome.

Look, I’m still not a fan of the rotting undead eating people. But Matt’s sense of humor and dry take on the whole situation makes it manageable. This is the Plants vs. Zombies level of horror: sure the bad guys are out there and are basically unstoppable, but the whole thing is just kinda fun. The point of view character (in true CYOA style ZN is written in 2nd person) is a stuffed bunny. Why? Not explored, not important. But it sets the tone for the rest of the book: slightly off-kilter, silly, fun, and interesting.

Depending on your choices you’ll meet up with a loose cannon ex-cop on the edge who’s  bent on cleaning up this town, or maybe a conspiracy theorist who’s pretty sure he’s figured out what’s going on…and most likely die.  The book’s cover loudly proclaims 112 different endings; I’m willing to bet that something like 109 of them feature your demise and acceptance as one of the mindless hordes. But you’ll go back, try again, and again, and again. The choices are intelligently designed; it’s not like you’re given one choice that’s obviously right and in character and one that’s thrown in just to give you a choice; they’re all things that make sense in the situation, and you’ll learn a few things about yourself as you make them.

Slowly, gently, the book builds up the real zombie-horror feeling: the sense that there is no way out, that every victory is really just a slight delay of defeat, and that despite your best efforts you’re going to trip up somewhere and be eaten. Then suddenly you stumble across a page that has you laughing out loud. The claustrophobia isn’t entirely dispelled, but it’s lightened somewhat. One of these times I’ll probably find an ending where I survive as well, and that’ll be awesome.

So, if you’re looking for some roughly Rated-PG Choose Your Own Adventure fun, head on over to and pick up Zombocalypse Now! now! At the very least it’ll give you something to do until you get bitten by an infected raccoon and lose your grip on your stuffed pink bunny-hood.