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Dirty Santa Rules: How To Play Dirty Santa At Your Next Holiday Gathering

My family plays Dirty Santa every year and we have the best time.  But ... someone always claims that we aren't doing it right and who knows -- we're probably not.

I've played for twenty- five years and with many different families and co-workers and others.  It seems every group has their own version ( and that's ok), as long as everyone knows the rules and agrees before the game begins.  It's never a big issue, we are always having too much fun, but I've noticed two main areas that different groups differ on. The first is whether player one draws first or last and the biggest area ( by far) of discrepancy seems to be on how a particular gift is finally retired. Thanks to the following post, I finally understand what " 3 times," means and am glad to know it is not what my family believed it to be.

Read on for a complete and detailed guide to playing Dirty Santa and if you haven't tried this game - I highly recommend it.

 Dirty Santa Rules: How To Play Dirty Santa At Your Next Holiday Gathering

How Writers Scrutinize Movies & Books

Do non writers read books & watch movies with the same scrutiny and intensity as writers?

I don't know about you, but the longer I write and the more I learn about the craft of writing, the more I pick apart every film I watch or every book I read. I find myself dissecting films and books. 
I'm always looking at the structure of a novel. How quickly does the writer hook me? Has the protagonist entered a point of of return? Is the First Plot Point where it should be? Does the midpoint fall at the 50% mark? Here comes the dark moment or crisis or all is lost scene (or scenes); is this really the absolute worst place the protagonist could be at this moment? What is the last piece of information injected in the second plot point or the 75% mark that arms the protagonist with everything she needs to become the catalyst for the climax? Is the climax believable?

 Did I see the ending coming? Was it too easy to figure out? Did the writer keep me guessing and on the edge of my seat? When I go back and reread the book will I now see the careful foreshadowing? Ah ha, the clues where there all along, if only I'd been paying closer attention.

Any of this sound familiar? Do you do it? Do you enjoy it or does it interrupt the flow of your reading or viewing experience? I love dissecting movies and books. I take my favorite authors from my favorite genres and deconstruct their novels in hopes of learning from the best.

Take the popular movie Juno, for example. I'm using Juno because I recently watched the movie with my husband, mother, a good friend, grown stepson and two teenage daughters. So, excluding me (the writer), our viewing audience consisted of a lawyer, a stay at home mom with tons of kids, an interior designer, a film buff, a seventeen year old a fifteen year old. At the beginning of the movie, I asked each viewer to analyze the movie as they watched. I didn't expect a full critique or anything. I told them that at the end of the movie I wanted them to tell me what they thought "the movie was about." That was it ~ the only instructions or requests.

Juno clearly reached and satisfied millions of viewers. It was well written and not just another teen pregnancy story. I thought it was the perfect movie to test my question. Do non writers view or scrutinize movies the same way that writers do?


My  mini- deconstruction on Juno.

I may be wrong, but here is how I analyzed Juno.

Protagonist or Main Character: Juno

Juno's Beginning Goal: Find out if she is pregnant

Juno's Middle Goal: What to do, now that she knows she is pregnant. Find a good home for the baby

Juno's Ending Goal: Tell Bleaker how she feels

Juno's Beginning Obstacle: Refusal to accept accuracy of pregnancy test

Juno's Middle Obstacle: Confusion over abortion, adoption and inability to find the perfect family

Juno's Ending Obstacle: Bleaker may not want to be a couple

Juno's Beginning Motivation: Her body is telling her she is pregnant and she must know for certain

Juno's Middle Motivation: She want her baby to have a perfect, two family home. Her own mom left her and she hasn't learn to deal with her abandonment issues.

Juno's Ending Motivation: She wants to be a couple with Bleaker

Okay, back to family & friend movie night:

Here are some of the answers I received to the question, "What's the movie really about?"

A young girl learns that there is life after making mistakes.

A story about mistakes and choices.

Mistakes and doing the best with what you've got.

Okay, not too terribly bad, but not exactly what I was looking for. I was a little surprised that none of my viewers even commented on Juno's struggle to find the perfect family for her baby because her own mom abandoned her.

For me, Juno's unresolved emotions stemming from the abandonment by her own mom interferes with her need to find the perfect family to adopt her baby. She thinks she has found the ideal, perfect family. Sure, the adoptive mom is a little up tight, but Juno is pleased with their home, the ambiance, the idea of the perfect mom who bakes cookies and stays home with the baby in the perfect little baby nursery. Juno knows that the mom is committed and desperate to become a mother. She will make a perfect mom. Dad is super cool, into rock and roll and Juno digs him. They share a love for music. She believes she has found the family...the family that is everything her own is not.

But...wait...all is not right.

Dad wants out. He wants out of the marriage and out of the adoption. This destroys Juno's perfect two parent family image. For Juno to choose the woman without the man to adopt her unborn child she must emotionally accept what she has grown up to believe is an un-perfect incomplete family. To Juno, a one parent family is less than perfect, it's the exact family she came from and the opposite of what she desires for her baby.

This happens for Juno. This is her character arc. You remember the moment in the movie when Juno leaves the note for the adoptive mom that says, "I'm still in if you are," or similar words? Juno has accepted and agreed to place her baby with a family that she once considered not perfect. She has grown enough throughout the story to either accept the non perfect family or to realize that a one parent family is just perfect enough. One parent can provide a child all of the love that a child needs.

When I talked about these issues with my mom and husband, et al, their faces scrunched up, and I heard, huh's, what's and come again.

I haven't tried this with other books or films, but it made me wonder...

We read and watch movies as writers, yes, but does the average reader or regular (by average and regular, I only mean, non writers) viewer get it? Do they actually get this internal struggle? They must, right? Maybe they can't explain it or put it into words, but surely they must. Is it just so subtle to them that the issue is visited upon without drawing attention to it?

You know, the point where the protagonist opens her eyes and sees for the first time that the external events are not responsible for keeping her from achieving her goals...that her own choices (her own flaws) have either created or majorly contributed to her problem?

To the untrained eye or the non writer eye:

When the protagonist shows the full range of emotional effects the crisis or dark moment has on her~

Is this reaching readers and viewers, but they just don't label it the way we do?

It must or the reader ~ film goer wouldn't love the book or movie.

I suppose it doesn't matter if non writers dissect or scrutinize the book or movie and label it the way we writers do...if they relate to the the protagonist, identify with her and root for her, then the writer's job is done. 

My little project proves the importance of a writer using proper story structure, developing a strong and identifiable protagonist and connecting the dots in such a subtle manner that the reader or viewer doesn't even realize it. They only realize that something in the movie or book captured and kept their attention.

Do you dissect movies and or books? Does this help you become a better writer?

Rafflecopter Alternatives & iPad Winner Announced

And The Winners Are...

The Winner of the iPad mini is...Al Diaz over at Father Dragon Writes.

The second place winner will receive a $100 Manuscript Coaching Session with Larry Brooks, which has increased to $150, so it's quite a prize. The winner of this awesome prize is, D.L. Hammons, over at Cruising Altitude. 

Emily Crider over at Newlywed Moments, is the winner of Larry Brooks' newest book, Story Physics.

Jessie Humphries over at The B-Word and Shell Flower over on Tangent Shell each win a copy of Jessica Bells'  awesome new book, Adverbs & Cliches in a nutshell.

There you have it...the winners.

I want to thank everyone who participated. I'm still not quite at 500 followers, but I'm delighted to be in the 490's.

I'm not, however, delighted with Rafflecopter. I'm pretty sure that I'm in the minority on this one because I run across at least one blog every day, hosting a contest with Rafflecopter. 

Here's my problem:

We are allowed to customize our contest/give a way. We all live and learn from every experience and I learned that it is far better to offer fewer entry choices. My mistake- offering too many. I figured that people would be more likely to enter a contest if they had more options to choose from. After reading up on the subject, I've learned, that not unlike every other area in our lives, too many options, often send us running

That's not my problem, though. See, with Rafflecopter, the contest creator is permitted to assign the number of contest entries for each category. You all know what I'm talking about- I'm pretty sure you've all seen a million Rafflecopter give a ways. You earn "X"amount of entries if you do "Y". It is usually something like 1 entry for a blog comment, 2 entries for following on Twitter and 3 or more entries for other things like a blog post or a shout out...

Sounds perfect, right? 

Unless you read the fine print...and I didn't. I know, not very lawyerly of me, huh? You see, the fine print tells you that the winner or winners are selected from Random. Unless, I am totally missing something, it appears to me that a random selection from, does not give anyone the extra entries that they are entitled to for doing the extra things like more shout outs or tweeting about the give a way.

The second problem that I encountered is that after, the winner or winners were randomly selected, then and only then was I able to verify whether or not they actually performed the task required for the entry. Thankfully, I didn't have any winners who didn't actually qualify for the contest.

The only way I was able to make sure that people were given the proper number of entries was to ask Rafflecopter to email a copy of the spreadsheet and then tally the entries myself and conduct a second drawing which would have defeated the purpose.

I'm not complaining about the turn out as I'm sure I could have done more to promote it. I do however, feel certain that some of you left blog comments or tweeted about the contest, yet I did not see your name anywhere on the spread sheet. Nothing I can do about it now. Like I said, live and learn.

While researching the contest options, after it ended  (yes, I know I should have done this before), I came across some Rafflecopter alternatives that I will try in the future, if I  host another give a way.

Here are some of the Rafflecopter alternatives that are worth looking into before you host your next give a way.

I haven't had an opportunity to look into the details of all the Rafflecopter alternatives, but I did spend a good amount of time reading about Punchtab and I like what I see. It seems to be the first loyalty incentive type program for contest and give away hosting. It works sort of like your local grocery store or pharmacy rewards program by rewarding users for performing simple actions on a blog or website. 

I know that Rafflecopter appears to be the main giveaway hosting platform for bloggers, but I'm curious to know if any of you have used any of the alternatives that I mentioned? If so, please share your experience. Are those of you who use Rafflecopter, pleased with the platform or do you have any complaints? Do you know of any other contest and or give a way platforms, that I didn't mention?

Thank you again for participating and for reading my blog. 

Beta Readers & Critique Partners: When Do Authors Show Writing to Others

Authors: At what point do you allow your critique partners and/or beta readers to see your work?

I've Got Questions: Do you Have Answers?

Please, please, say yes!

Before I get started, I want to remind everyone about my prize give a way. If you haven't entered for a chance to win an iPad mini, please do so here. There's still lot's of easy ways to earn extra entires. For example, I haven't seen anyone add me to their networked bloggers. My network blogger friends is located about halfway down on the left side bar of my blog. The link above should take you there as well. If you're encountering a problem doing this on rafflecopter, please let me know, here. There are only six days left to earn entries, so please help spread the word. My goal is to reach 500 followers. I'm so close.

I intended for this to be a post filled with a variety of questions, but now that I see how in-depth and detailed the first question is, I decided that it will be my only question & I will save the remainder for another post. 

Okay, no need to wipe your foreheads & sigh. I'm not that long winded. Am I? 

But, first I need to apologize to Elise Fallson & D.L. Hammons co-hosts of the vanguard WIP it Good, blogfest.
Which was held on Friday May 31st. I want to also apologize to all of the other participants. I fully intended to participate (I checked in each day, last week to make sure I had the correct date). Unfortunately, we had a family emergency. My dad is in his late 80's and we had a big scare and I was unable to publish my WIP it post. I did listen to Devo, later that night. I know- big what.

Sorry guys.

While  I was unable to participate in the WIP It (Work In Progress) blogfest, I did, however, work on my post for that day which stirred up some issues that I've been unsure about for quite sometime. So, today is a Question & Answer Post and I will include my WIP questions in this post.

I've completed my first novel and received favorable responses to my queries. I haven't heard anything (one way or the other) from any of the agents & in the interim, I am not so much revising my manuscript...again, as I am rejuvenating, revitalizing, refurbishing, replenishing & refreshing it with the aid of critically acclaimed- best selling author and manuscript coach, Larry Brooks. So, I'm not looking for a beta reader of a critique partner, at this time, for book one.

I am in the early (and I do mean early) stages of book number two. I have an idea, concept, and plot line in mind. I've written an outline- ugh, I hate that word. My outline is nothing like a real outline or what we're accustomed to viewing when we hear the dreaded- wretched word...outline. I have written my tentative beat sheet and I've mapped out the order of my story using my all time favorite, the flexible, organizing, content generating Scrivener Cork board

And, I've churned out the first quarter of my book (first draft-rememberr), and we all know what Hemingway calls a first draft.

"The first draft of anything is shit."

 So, fellow blogger friends and all of you smart kids & agented or published authors, my first question goes out to you...and anyone else who can help me with this issue that I've worried about for so long. I should have asked these questions much sooner, but I was sort of shows just how little I know.

Question #1. 

Do you show your first draft-rough draft to crit partners or beta readers?

 I gotta tell you, this has been bothering me for some time and I've heard two very different & distinct answers. On the one side, I've been warned to never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, allow anyone other than my dog to lay eyes on my shitty, unorganized chaotic first draft. Hey, I get it. I don't want someone (one of you) reading my sloppy work, fragmented sentences chock full of misspelled words and grammar faux pas.

On the other side of the issue, I've been told by some talented and successful authors & bloggers that the only way we know if our story is working is to have our crit partners critique it. But, does that mean, after the second or third draft has been fine tuned & polished? I'm assuming it does, but, if I have someone I trust critiquing my first draft and pointing out the areas that aren't working, the plot holes, lack of suspense, or pointing out that  I'm not hiding the clues in my mystery deep enough, this can only help me, right? -

If someone reads my early work and tells me that they not only guessed the killer by the end of chapter four, but, they'd also figured out the motivation and yada get the idea.

This is going to save me considerable rewrite time because I'm gonna scrap the crap (hey that rhymed) early on, take my constructive criticism and well needed advise and use my valuable time writing a story that has oomph! I will restructure scenes, work on the one dimensional, cardboard or Mary Sue characters that you've just told me, made you want to vomit as you read.

Do you see my point? 

Last year I was so excited when I was finally able to sign up for Deana Barnhart's GUTGAA- Gearing up to Get an Agent, but quickly felt out of place.

Any of you know that out of place feeling?

I felt like I'd been accepted to medical school (by accident), and not wanting to give up my chance to shine like those cool doctors on E.R.,  I kept my head down, played along and acted as if I knew what I was doing-all the while hoping no one noticed the village idiot charging the paddles to 200 and slamming them onto the patient's chest, only to learn he was actually admitted because his bowels were impacted- he was constipated and I nearly killed the poor bastard by jump starting his heart.

So in case you got lost in verbiage, duh...I'll repeat the question.

When seeking out a critique partner and/or beta readers, it is vital that we're ready to exchange final & polished drafts?  Or, is there an exception or perhaps a second tier of crits & betas ( I made that sound like some bad ass gangs didn't I ~crips & bloods~yea), for first, rough or unpolished drafts.

 I'd really appreciate your advice & input on this. I can't believe I finally asked it. I've been too embarrassed to mention my compete lack of understanding of this really cool & obviously, insanely helpful process.

Don't forget to enter to win an iPad mini among other great prizes. Only six more days to enter. Enter here on my Greatest Hits Page, or Here.

Memorial Day Weekend

How did you celebrate Memorial Day?

Did you enjoy the long weekend ? Grill out? Go for a swim ? We loaded all the kids, their friends and the dogs and headed to our camp. The camp is a cabin style lake house on Caddo Lake. We has big plans: swim, boat rides, skiing, tubing and cooking on the grill.

Imagine our shock when we arrived and found the destruction of the latest storm. A tree was in the pool; the boat was MIA, apparently tossed across the lake by the angry wind. The fishing poles were gone and the entire place looked like it had been hit by a tornado. I guess the storm was worse than we thought. But the kids were troopers and wanted to stay for the weekend anyway. I was worried that they would be bored, but they finally took my advice and got outside and made their own fun. I've been harassing them for years to turn off the iPads and pods and have fun the way we did when we were kids.

Tree in pool! 
With no pool and no boat, whats' a kids to do?

Well we can use the tube as a raft and float in the lake, ( duh mom).

and ride the dirt bike.

 Blake is such a girly girl, she shocks me every time I see her doing something like riding a motorcycle.

Look at my tan, mom.

So the kids decided to swim in the lake. They're young and nothing scares them. Me, no way am I swimming with snakes and gators 


 We ran to Walmart and picked up a few fishing poles and some bait and Bennett and his friends caught Bass and Catfish

And we found anothe use for the tube. Rolling down the hill almost hitting trees but landing in the water.

 Even the dogs had fun.
And they found new doggy friends.

 Swam  in the lake and got really dirty, but they were worn out each night.

A good time was has by all and without computers or technology, we played games and had the best family weekend, ever. 

We didn't want to leave.

 Did I mention the grill disappeared?


Jodi Arias Verdict: What is a Death Qualified Jury?

Verdict in Jodi Arias Trial: Well Sort of

Does the Judicial System Work?

I've practiced law for over twenty years & I was blown away by Arizona's trial procedure.

Was the Jodi Arias penalty phase verdict a miscarriage of justice?
No, absolutely not! Was it the verdict we wanted or Travis's family hoped for? No, but that does not mean it was a miscarriage of justice.

Let me begin by warning you that is will be an opinionated post. I am going to discuss the Jodi Arias Verdict (or whatever the hell it is that they call a verdict) and the death penalty. I'm not including any stats on the death penalty.  I should also say, up front, that many of you will probably disagree with what I have to say and I don't expect my opinion to be a popular one. Okay...we got that out of the way.

After months of hearing testimony in the "trifurcated" trial, the jury in the Jodie Arias trial rendered their verdict. I don't know if you watched it, but listening to the clerk of court announce:

 "We the jury...after considering...unanimously agree that the defendant Jodi Arias should be sentenced to..." Okay, we're holding our breath here...the courtroom is silent, except for each person's own heart thudding against their ribcage

 "Should be sentenced unanimous verdict" 

Okay, maybe I didn't get my quote exactly word for word, but the last line, the most important line, is word for word. WTF?

This post is not about how off the wall I think Arizona criminal procedure is. I want to attempt to explain the purpose of the death penalty, when it is permitted and how a jury can reach the decision to sentence a person to death.

In most states, a capital murder trial is a bifurcated trial. If the jury returns with a unanimous verdict of guilty of first degree murder, it is normally presumed that they have already found that at least one aggravating factor exist because without that aggravating factor, they would not have returned a verdict of first degree murder. The verdict would be second degree murder or another of the lesser included responsive verdicts. However in Arizona, after the jury makes a finding of first degree murder, they have a second mini trial to determine if one of the aggravating factors is present. If they find an aggravating factor they have a third mini trial- the penalty phase.
In most states, if the jury cannot come to a unanimous sentence of death, the sentence is then, automatically, life without parole. In Arizona the state gets a second bite at the apple. Skating dangerously close to unconstitutional, if you ask me. But, you didn't ask me, so...moving on.

The sole purpose of the penalty phase (the second portion of a capital trial in most states) is to determine the sentence. There are only two choices: life imprisonment without parole or death.

Here is where I'm having a big problem with the media and the general ~ public misunderstanding of a capital murder trial and what we call a "death qualified jury."

Yes, each juror sitting on a capital murder trial has been death qualified. What does this mean? It means that they have answered questions posed by the lawyers and the judge and that their answers indicate that if they find the accused guilty of first degree murder that they are willing and able to listen to the evidence presented in the penalty phase, consider the evidence and if they determine that it is warranted, yes they can impose the death penalty.

A death qualified jury does not mean that the jury will automatically impose death as the penalty, if they  return a verdict of guilty of first degree murder. In fact, a person who answers that they would automatically impose death would be disqualified as a juror, just as a person who answers that they would automatically impose life. Either one- a person who would automatically impose death or a person who would automatically impose life, would not be death qualified. That person would not be eligible, by law to sit as a juror in a capital murder trial

Do you see the difference? To be death qualified, you must be willing to impose the death penalty if you deem it to be the appropriate sentence & you must also be willing to impose life if you deem life imprisonment to be the most appropriate sentence.

A person who is opposed to the death penalty, for whatever reason, cannot be death qualified. A person who believes that every person convicted of first degree murder should receive the death penalty, likewise cannot be death qualified.

During the penalty phase, the prosecutor introduces evidence of the aggravating circumstances surrounding the trial. In addition, the victim's family offer testimony (called victim impact) telling the jury how the loss of their family member or loved one has affected them, physically, emotionally, financially, and psychologically.

Then,  the defense introduces what they consider mitigating factors. The law provides a list of certain factors that the jury must consider (notice I only said consider). This list includes, but is not limited to factors such as:

1. Remorse
2. Was the defendant acting under extreme duress or substantial domination of another
3. Age of the defendant
4. Mental health status (defense usually calls a psychologist or psychiatrist to testify during penalty phase

5. Lack of any significant prior criminal history
6. Prior good acts or honorable service in military or other groups/past contributions to the community & society as a whole
7. Was the defendant abused as a child
8. Likelihood that this was a one time occurrence & the defendant does not pose a threat of danger or violence to others
8. Any other circumstance which extenuates the gravity of the crime, even though it is not a legal excuse for the crime- court allows great leeway here for the defense, to offer just about anything

In other words, the evidence of mitigating factors does not justify the crime but will explain to the jury certain factors they must consider before deciding whether to give the death penalty or a life sentence

The jury must consider all the aggravating and all of the mitigating factors. The amount of weight that the jury gives each individual factor is up the the jury. It's not a contest of numbers. If one side has five aggravating factors and the other side only one mitigating factor, the jury can choose to give more weight to the one factor than a whole list of factors. The law only requires that the jury consider all the factors.

The next crucial issue to understand is that the death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst crimes, worst of the worst offenders. It is not appropriate in every case. Who decides whether the particular case is the worst of the worst? The jury

Believe me, I know that for the victim's family, having lost someone they love deeply, the case that involves them, the case that took their loved one from this earth, is the worst of the worst for them. But, the jury has to consider the crime in relation to all crimes.

The death penalty is appropriate in my opinion for psychopaths and individuals who we know or believe will kill again, if ever given the chance.

Is brutally, butchering Travis Alexander, cutting his throat and shooting him in the face- the worst of the worst of all crimes ever committed? I don't know. It wasn't up to me. What do you think?

Personally, when I think of the very worst cases I think of child killers, people who torture others, kill the elderly, kill multiple victims, serial killers. Please do not misunderstand me. I'm not in any way deprecating the seriousness of what Jodi Aries did. It was a cruel and heinous act. I believe that was the aggravating factor that the jury found, cruel & heinous.

What the general public appears to be confused about: 

As soon as the verdict was announced HLN was outside the courtroom interviewing spectators and one woman's response worried me. This is what she said:

"I can't believe the jurors were picked knowing this was a death penalty case and they can't come up with the right verdict. It's just not right."

Think about that statement.  I mean, I want you to really ponder it, mull it over, connect it to something concrete. Do you see anything wrong with the statement?

Her statement implies that the only, right verdict- is death. That's not right and I am afraid that far too many people feel the same way and have the same misunderstanding about what a death qualified jury is.

I hope I don't get nuts here, but I'm about to talk about Nancy Grace. I watched her do the same thing with the Casey Anthony trial coverage.  I was shocked and proud with Dr. Drew actually called Nancy Grace on her sensationalized bias. 

Nancy Grace asked Dr. Drew, what went wrong with the the jury, or the legal system in the Jodi Arias case. Dr. Drew responded by saying something like, "Well, a better question is what went right?" 

Nancy Grace jumped his ass, just like she does every guest who does not agree with her and give her the answer she wants to hear. Dr. Drew finally called her on it by saying, "Well Nancy, it sounds to me like what you're saying is that the system only works if they jury returns a verdict of death." She got belligerent and told him to get his hearing checked. She never answered his question and you know what's so disturbing? Nancy Grace and so many others, media and also average citizens truly believe that the system failed because the jury failed to give Arias the death penalty.

That is wrong on so many levels. You want to know why? 

 The fact that this death qualified jury who spent four or five months listening to the witnesses and viewing the evidence and even questioned Arias on the stand, (she was on the stand eighteen days, I believe), the fact that they could not come to a unanimous decision is proof that the system can work and in this case, did work.

As attorney's we always ask this question during jury selection. I'm going to pose it as if from a defense attorney:

"Mr. or madame juror, if during the penalty phase, the vote is eleven to one for the death penalty, but after considering and deliberating you are still convinced that life is the appropriate penalty, will you stand by your abiding conviction or will you yield to the pressure of your fellow jurors?"
 In other words, will you remain strong & true to what you believe is justice or will you become a sheep and just follow the herd for the sake of making things easier & less confrontational in the jury room?

They usually say they will stand strong, but skilled attorneys watch their demeanor and body language. 

If your life was on the line, I am asking you, my fellow bloggers: would you want a juror who maintains her resolve and conviction and refuses to switch her vote just to give in to the pressure or just so the whole thing could finally be over? That's the type of juror we call a sheep?

My problem with the media: Better said, my issue with Nancy Grace

She's upset with the jury because they could not agree on a unanimous verdict. What would be better, Nancy? Should the four who were against sentencing her to death, give in to pressure & betray their promise to the lawyers, judge and court, their promise that they would remain strong in their resolve, if not convinced to vote another way?

Yes, I agree this is horrible for Travis Alexander's family. It's sickening that they have to keep going through this, but the jury cannot vote against their conscious because of this.

How can this be remedied? I think it is utterly ridiculous for the prosecutor to select a second jury who, without the benefit of the previous four month's of evidence and witness testimony, will be asked to make a decision the first jury was unable to make. How does this help The Alexander family?

Even if the second jury gives her the death penalty, there is a strong likelihood that the sentence will be overturned on appeal as unconstitutional, kicked back to the trial court and then the family must begin again. I believe the best option is for the state to offer Jodi Arias a deal, plead guilty to life without parole. This should satisfy the Alexander family and eliminate the grief of enduring decades of appeals.

This is a long post & I want to share with you the reason I'm no longer the strong advocate for the death penalty as I once was, but I will have to write a separate post on the topic.  It has much to do with how unfair the process is. It all depends on the twelve men and women selected and that's often a crap shoot. One group of twelve could easily send someone to death while a different one could not. It's the luck (or misfortune of the draw) & to me that makes the penalty decision much too subjective and arbitrary.

If we cannot guarantee across the board standards and criteria for each person convicted of first degree murder (and how could we- when no two people are alike and no two panels of twelve will every think, act, react, respond the same way.)

I say lets put this case to rest and allow the Alexander family some closure and the opportunity to return home and begin to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and try to move forward.

Don't give Jodi Arias one more more opportunity for her to hold court, stand up like she is important with her power point.

 She loves playing this role...all eyes are upon her. Let's strip that last ounce of power from her . Why allow her to try and con and sway a second jury? She loves the media attention as she's a natural in front of a crowd.

 Take this away from her. Tell her the show is over...her performance is over...the only role left for her is a jail house art teacher or better yet, an acting coach.

What's your opinion? Was justice served? Did the system fail because the jurors were hopelessly deadlocked? Any of you find the Arizona trial procedure, just a little off? Any of you from Arizona and feel like sharing what you know about the law? I'd love to hear your opinions.

Please continue praying for the Alexander family. As one family friend announced after the verdict, "the family needs your prayers more now than ever."

Larry Brooks' Manuscript Coaching

Larry Brooks' Manuscript Coaching: Your Story on Steroids

One hundred dollar coaching session with author Larry Brooks, just one of many amazing prizes in my Fab 500 Followers, prize give~a~way. 

Larry Brooks is the author of several critically-acclaimed thrillers and a manuscript coach. In addition, Brooks has authored several fiction craft books, including his bestseller, Story Engineering: Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing. His next writing craft book, Story Physics: Harnessing the Underlying Forces of Storytelling, is scheduled for release next month.
This post is not a review of either book. So why am I writing it? Well, if you've entered my blog prize give a way, you've undoubtedly noticed that the prizes include a $100 coaching session with Larry Brooks, "your story of steroids," and a copy of his newest book, Story Physics.

Just in case any of you are unfamiliar with Larry Brooks, I want you to check out his writing-skills website.  He does an amazing job of explaining the six core competencies on his Story fix website and he also deconstructs popular novels & films, to give his readers a step by step guide to effectively utilizing his six core competencies and story engineering.  

Before reading Brooks, I had a story, a damn good story, I had it on paper and I had my well developed characters. My protagonist had a clear and defined goal motivated by an inner goal and she was moving along -working toward that goal, all the while being thwarted by the antagonists and antagonistic forces. That's right baby, I had conflict...lots of it. I had tension, raised stakes, suspense, I had it all (or so I thought), but something was clearly wrong with my story. What the hell was it?

My story structure was off.

 I was what we often call a "pantster", or better said, I wrote by the seat of my pants. Why? Because, ever since high school, I've have loathed outlines. In my mind, writing a story according to a "formula", was a formula for creative disaster. Brooks opened my eyes and changed my mind.

 I now realize that every author (every successful author) follows proper story structure, whether they realize it or not. A writer may not outline, or plot plan before they begin their first draft, but that just means that their draft becomes their planning or plotting tool. I've come to realize (the long & hard way) that every successful author, eventually follows story structure. There is no getting around it. If you write a book where the first plot point does not occur until midway through your will not sell. 

Eventually all successful writers align their story with the principles of the six core competencies. 

I said this was not a review and it's not. I'm not going into that much detail. I will tell you that if you read Larry Brooks or if you follow his blog or retain his manuscript coaching services, you will be ahead of the pack because you will understand the six core competencies.

1. Concept
2. Character
3. Theme
4. Structure
5. Scene Execution
6. Writing Voice

Of course, each of the above core competencies breaks down into other sub-categories. 

You'd be amazed at how many writers have a difficult time relaying to another the "concept" of their story. Notice I said, "concept", I did not say premise or idea. You get the idea. Well, you will get the idea and more than that, if you follow Larry Brooks.

The area I benefited most from is the simple way that Brooks breaks down the plot points & pinch points in a four part story. With his help, you will not only know what to write, but you will know when to write it, and exactly where, in your novel, it goes. You will no longer wonder where a certain scene fits into your novel. You will grasp where it goes, what comes before it and what to write next. This helped me immensely. 

I love his beat sheets. They allowed me to break my story into four parts, aligned with the six core competencies. By knowing where my first and second plot points, mid point, and pinch points needed to be, I was better able to foreshadow suspenseful scenes, plan my set ups and pay offs and it saved me from the countless number of drafts I was accustomed to writing during my revision stage.

Paranormal Author, Jamie Gold, has an excellent blog post, "How to Revise for Structure Part Two," where she explains Story Structure, according to Larry Brooks in a short, easy to read article. 

As a bonus she includes a link for you to download her story structure spreadsheet, adapted from Larry Brooks' Story Engineering. Jami admits, that like me, math is not her favorite subject. She borrowed her spreadsheet from Liz Brooks.

Listen to Larry Brooks explain his beat sheet. Here is his guest post on Stephanie Shackelford's Routines for Writers. Want more? Who didn't love The Hunger Games? 

That's what I thought. So head over and read Larry's Hunger Games Beat Sheet. I promise, you will be impressed.

If you have some time, watch Joanna Penn's you tube interview with Larry Brooks.

So, while I know that an iPad mini is an awesome prize...thank you very much. The other prizes are pretty damn good. 
Don't forget to comment on this post or any post here or on my second, just launched blog, Karma Carbs for an additional contest entry. You can also earn multiple-daily entries for giving this contest a social media shout-out.

Just tweet or shout- out,  anywhere a link to this contest,  I love my Followers,  for extra entries to win a "Your story on steroids," $100 Larry Brooks Coaching Session, or a copy of Larry Brook's newest writing craft book Story Physics

It will be released in June and I can't wait to get my hands on it.  

Don't forget you can also win a copy of Jessica Bell's Adverbs and Cliches in a nutshell.
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