My Love/Hate relationship with Lego toys

Many children play with Lego bricks or the Mega Bloks version and Jase is no different. I am not totally a fan of these little plastic pieces. I find them hard to get apart, and they never stay together during normal play. And don’t even get me started on how much it hurts to step on one of these little pieces.

But Jase loves them and has A LOT of them. I think it is great that he sits down and builds them. It is good hand/eye coordination and  he has to be able to follow the directions. He willingly saves up his money to buy new sets and as anyone who knows those sets, they are not cheap. Most of his sets are Lego City or Star Wars, but lately he has been buying some Halo Mega Bloks too.

CIMG1354He likes Legos so much that when his first-grade class was given the assignment of creating a shoe box float, his of course had to have Legos on it. He went with Star Wars and created a battle scene. We used velcro to attach the large piece to our shoe box. And yes, I even glued a piece to a chopstick, so he can have a ship flying over the battle.  It won best Star Wars float.

Of course as any parent of a kid who collects Lego sets, the main concern is what to do with all of them. I know some kids build them and leave them built but here at our house they end up falling apart as they are played with or even worse stepped on. So while some of them are in some sort of built stage, we ended up with a drawer full of pieces, not to mention all the ones I find on the floor – preferably not with my bare feet.

Keeping them in a tub or drawer however left you with no way to find a piece when you need it. I researched many different ways to organize the pieces – from expensive Lego brand holders to simple bins. We decided to use two drawers under Jase’s bed to store them, but they needed to be organized within the drawers.

IMG_1145Jase and I went to Target and found these organizers by Stanley in the hardware section. At $10 a piece this seemed an economical means of storing them. We bought 2 of them and then sorted the pieces. They fit nicely in his drawer, and we still had room to store the built (or partially built) sets.

So now when I find a Lego brick when sweeping (or more likely stepping on with my bare feet), I can put it where it belongs.  Now if I could only find an easy way to pull the tiny bricks apart when he asks for help…

Today’s Featured Author: Evan Kilgore

Today I have on my blog author Evan Kilgore discussing his latest thriller Made in China.

INTERVIEW

About the Author

Do you write full-time? If so, what is your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?

In college, at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television, I began interning at a variety of film production companies in LA. During the second half of my senior year, I transitioned those experiences into becoming a script reader and eventually a full-time story consultant and story editor at a Hollywood talent agency and for several independent production companies and individuals.

In the seven years since, I have read, by a conservative estimate, probably around 12,000 screenplays – everything from works by what I consider to be masters like David Mamet, Neil Labute, and Aaron Sorkin to Oscar winners, blockbusters, and plenty of fairly terrible scripts as well. It has been, and continues to be, to me, kind of a dream job. It keeps me stimulated and engaged, while seeing a constant torrent of both stories done beautifully and also stories done terribly has become in many ways a master class in helping me to shape and develop my own style.

What is the best and worst advice you ever received? (regarding writing or publishing)

I think some of the worst impulses that I have sometimes been told to channel, at least from my perspective, focus on finding what is hot or what is selling and then trying to tap into that market before it dries up. I think writing specifically in order to sell almost always produces books that read like machines. I cannot tell you how many somewhat mediocre vampire, zombie, wizard, and Satan screenplays I have read for my Hollywood consulting jobs, and in most of those cases – the ones that were subpar – it felt to me like the author clearly set out to try to sell the next Harry Potter, rather than writing because of an actual passion for a specific subject, or a set of real emotions, feelings, and ideas they wanted to communicate. Writing solely to satisfy someone else is, to me, almost never a good idea.

Along these lines, I think some of the best advice I have been given is to put myself into the stories I write – to inhabit the world of the book, to be the characters themselves, and to be unafraid of whatever you as the writer might expose in yourself, accidentally or on purpose, by exploring these elements in your characters. Sincerity, to me, is one of the most intangible and undefinable yet also one of the most visceral and important elements in any story in any medium.

Do you outline your books or just start writing?
I have, at times, come down on both sides of this particular debate. I think it really depends on the project in question, the nature of the story, and the intended overall tone, flavor, and delivery of it. My first published book, WHO IS SHAYLA HACKER, did not have a concrete outline. I knew the basics of the story, and I knew vaguely where I wanted it to go, but the experience of writing it was more of an edge-of-my-seat endeavor, following the intertwining plot threads and seeing how they slowly became more entangled with one another.

Conversely, MADE IN CHINA was heavily outlined from start to finish. I knew fairly clearly, when I sat down to write the manuscript, what every single scene was going to be, what it would accomplish for the story, what it would advance within the characters, and how it would slowly tap the back stories and the underlying groundwork that I had already put into place.

For screenplays, more or less across the board, I always outline, since as a format, I think you have so much less latitude for free exploration in that world. There is, compared to a novel, so little time in a script, and a studio or a producer will expect it to follow a much more rigid pattern and set of conventions. That is why, for some of my novel projects, I enjoy crafting a particularly interesting character and then simply letting him or her wander into the world to see what happens.

About the Book

Please tell us about your current release.

MADE IN CHINA is a fast-paced, character-driven thriller story that I would like to think is reminiscent of a blend of book/movies like Patriot Games (Tom Clancy) and The Andromeda Strain (Michael Crichton). The main character, John Grant, is a regular guy just trying to get by and raise his young son, Connor, while his marriage with his wife, Lynn, comes apart at the seams. Lynn is an executive at a major toy company, and John can hardly compete with all of the pre-release next-gen toys she is constantly giving to Connor.

After Connor brings one of them to a friend’s birthday party, all of the children fall ill. At first, everyone suspects some kind of viral outbreak, but with the doctors at a loss as to how to explain or treat Connor’s rapidly deteriorating health, John alone embarks on a search for answers. What he discovers propels him on a journey across the world to China, and right into the middle of what might become the deadliest terrorist attack against America’s children in history – unless he can stop it.

Did you base any of your characters on real people?

MADE IN CHINA is not based on one specific event or character, but the idea behind it did originate, through my collaborator and cowriter on this project, Sebastian Twardosz, from a string of news stories about situations similar to the one at the heart of our book. At the time, there were several breaking stories about tainted lead paint from China poisoning homeowners in middle-America, tainted rubber baby bottles leaving children sick, etc. We just took the idea one step further.

Although it features a terrorism element, though, the book is not by any means intended to be political. We were very careful to make sure that the story remains a character story. Each of the characters acts for their own reasons; there are heroes and villains on both sides. This is not and was never intended to be a paranoia piece about international relations (although, inevitably, some of these themes do crop up).

Which of your characters is your favorite? Do you dislike any of them?

I’m a fan of John Grant, the hero in MADE IN CHINA because he is a regular guy. He is no brilliant, bulletproof CIA agent or assassin. He is a dad trying to save his son and get his marriage back together – a blue-collar everyman with bills to pay, maxed-out credit cards, insecurities, flaws, and yet, at his heart, a dedication to his son and to his family that cannot be broken by anything in the world. John makes many mistakes in his life, but he would throw himself in front of a bus if it would save his son, and that is the sort of person that I like to spend time with.

His wife, Lynn, is a pretty strong person, too. Like John, she is far from perfect, probably the reason both of them have to work so hard to keep their family together, but, also like John, at her heart, Lynn makes her decisions for the right reasons. Connor, their son, is always her first and foremost concern, and she puts him above everything else. It is just that her methods and her outlook are different from John’s, driving them, often, to butt heads with one another.

I don’t know that I dislike any of the characters from an author’s perspective, although there are some particularly sleazy people in MADE IN CHINA that I think are fun to hate. I shy away from writing simple, outright “evil” characters. Even the so-called villains in this story do what they do for reasons that make sense to them – emotional reasons, logical reasons, desperation and problems of their own. I do not believe in archetypes, at least in my own writing; I want my “bad guys” to be as complex, understandable, and realistic as my heroes.

Just for Fun

Is there a specific place in the house (or out of the house) that you like to write?

I always write at my desk in my second-floor bedroom. I am surrounded by windows that overlook a large lawn, but apart from the occasional apocalyptic attack of gardeners, it is quite peaceful. I like absolute silence, as much as possible, when I write. Although I have a lot of respect for people who can get things done in coffee shops, I am certainly not one of them. I get far too distracted, listening in on other people’s conversations or getting caught up in the bustle, and if I try to listen to music, I wind up paying attention to it, rather than my writing. I always write at the same time every morning, and I more or less never take days off unless I am traveling. Habit and routine are huge parts of my writing style, and I cherish and fiercely protect them when other parts of life try to muscle in.

Do you have an all time favorite book?

That is an impossible question – I read so much, and I love a lot of what I read – but I will do a top five: The Road (Cormac McCarthy), Then We Came to the End (Josh Ferris), Music for Torching (AM Homes), The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami), Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton). But oh my gosh, Thomas Pynchon, Lionel Shriver, John Updike – there are too many, too many to list.

BOOK DESCRIPTION

MADE IN CHINA ebook CoverTreading water as a dead-end trainer at the YMCA in Santa Monica, California, John Grant can hardly compete with ex-wife Lynn when it comes to their son. Like any six-year-old, Connor loves toys, and Lynn works for the second largest toy company in the world. When Connor is invited to a friend’s birthday party, he brings along the latest pre-release model of an highly anticipated NextGen action figure, set to come out at Christmas. Two days later, all of the children from the party are in a coma with their parents in a panic. Is it some kind of outbreak?

With Connor’s health deteriorating fast, and his doctors at a loss to explain what is wrong with him, John alone plunges into a desperate search for answers. His journey takes him to China and what he uncovers may be the deadliest terrorist attack in history – unless he can stop it.

AUTHOR BIO

evan kilgoreEvan Kilgore graduated from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts with a fine arts degree in Writing for the Screen and Television. Who is Shayla Hacker, his debut novel, was first published by Bleak House Books in the following year. His second novel, The Children of Black Valley, was released one year later, followed by his third, Made in China, in 2013.

Evan has also written or co-written a variety of motion picture screenplays, including shorts such as MJMW and feature films including The Butterflies of Bill Baker. In 2011, he was honored as a Semifinalist in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Nicholl Fellowship. He lives and works in Los Angeles.

Learn more about Evan on his website or Amazon Author page. You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

You can purchase Made in China on Amazon in paperback or as an e-book.

Goodreads: An introductory guide of authors

If you want to sell books, go where readers congregate. And that place is Goodreads. Goodreads is the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations. Eighteen million readers and authors have registered with the site since it began in 2007. An estimated 570 million books with 24 million reviews are on the site. With numbers like those, no author should be neglecting to connect and be on Goodreads.

goodreads-logo

The people on Goodreads tend to be serious readers. These are not the people interested in collecting free ebook downloads. These are readers, book buyers, reviewers and bloggers. These are readers who want to buy, talk about and review your book.

Signing Up

If you aren’t already a member, your first order of business is to sign up for a free account. It is as simple as entering your name and email address and creating a password. Once you are a member of Goodreads, you will want to upgrade your account to an author account.  Click here for more information on creating an author account and adding your books to your page.

On your author page, you can list your author bio and photo, link to your blog and website, and add all your contact details.  In addition to your books, you can also have your book trailers on your page. Additionally, you can list the books that you are reading, have read or are on your to-be-read list. Goodreads also allows you to upload an excerpt of your book as a free preview for readers.

Groups

Goodreads groups are communities of readers who share similar interests, and they are purely meant for interacting, networking and connecting with readers. The best way to interact with these readers is to be one. Join several of the Goodreads groups and participate. Get your name out there as someone who reads the books and as someone who writes good reviews. As readers view your posts, some will be curious enough to check out your profile and discover you are an author.

Note that on Goodreads groups, direct marketing is not only looked down upon, it is often forbidden. In other words, don’t join a group to just post about how great your book is and why people should want to buy it.

Advertising

Goodreads does provide authors the opportunity to advertising. With more than 140 million page views and 19 million visitors a month, Goodreads ads can get your book information in front of a lot of readers.

goodreads-badge-medI have never paid for advertising on Goodreads. From other authors, I have heard that many of them do not see a real increase in sales from advertising on Goodreads. You can tailor your ad to reach a specific group so if you do advertise, be sure you know your target market.

One of the most effective ads is to have the “call to action” at the end of the ad something along the lines of “Add [your book] to your To-Read List” or “Enter the Goodreads Giveaway for a Free copy.” These ads tend to work better than just those that dump the reader on an Amazon sales page. Plus adding your book to a digital TBR pile or entering a contest is a lot less commitment that even a 99 cent purchase. Plus when people add books to their To Read list, it shows up in their friends’ news feeds and email digests meaning more publicity for you.

Giveaways

Goodreads makes it easy to give away a copy of your book to readers. It is as simple as setting your start and stop dates and how many copies you want to give away. Goodreads will randomly choose winners and will send you names and mailing addresses. It is your responsibility to send the books. The main drawback is this program is only for print books. If you are looking for tips on doing a Goodreads Giveaway, click here.  

Events

One way to promote book launches, tours and even giveaways of your e-book is to do a Goodreads Event. You simply create a page on your blog and organize a Goodreads Event with all the details and a link to your promotion page. In this fashion, you can actually do a giveaway of your ebook.

As an author, if you haven’t spent time building your presence on Goodreads, I strongly encourage you to do so. With millions of potential readers visiting daily, you would have to be crazy not to be a Goodreads member.

Letting my daughter believe in superheroes and other fictional characters

“Is Batman real, Mom?” my five-year-old daughter asks.

“No,” my son answers before I have a chance to say anything.

“He is, isn’t he?” Lexie asks again. “I want to go to Gothem.”

IMG_1103Lexie loves superheroes. She can name them all – Hawk Girl, The Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, Batman…

Last Halloween, she was Wonder Woman and the year before she was Bat Girl. We recently took her to the Texas Comicon. She loved seeing the people dressed up and asked if this was the real Wonder Woman (see photo to the right) but did realize that many of the characters there were not the real ones. I guess they didn’t look too much like the “real” thing.

Of course, it isn’t just superheroes she asks about. It is Scooby Doo. (“When I am Daphne’s age, I want to go to Crystal Cove too.”) Or Winx Club. (“I wish I had wings like Bloom does.”) To Lexie, all of these characters and worlds are real. She really wants to go to these places and meet her “friends.”

35984130031Looking at photos from our trip to Disney World, Lexie will ask if that is the real Aurora or if that is really Tink she is holding in her hands. (see photo to the left)

Frankly, I am at a loss sometimes on what to tell her. Of course, some of these are real people. She hugged Snow White, and that was a real person playing Daphne at Scooby Doo Live. And she does recognize that those are living people in the movies verses the cartoon drawings.

If we let her believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy, what is the harm in letting her believe these superheroes or characters are real? Are they not at least real to her?

Jase of course seems bent on ruining it for her. He takes every opportunity to tell her they are not real, that those are just actors portraying the characters. This is the boy who refuses to go near any of the characters – even if they aren’t wearing a mask.

I don’t have any problem with Lexie believing in these characters. All too soon that magical belief that anything is possible will be gone. But it also makes me wonder if all these heroes are real, what about the villains or the ghosts and other nasty creatures depicted in the shows or stories? It is hard to explain one away as fake while supporting that the others could be real.

I guess we will continue to let her believe that these superheroes are out there as all too soon she will grow up and her attention will move onto other things…such as boys. Oh, my. I am not ready for that!