Thursday, April 29, 2010

Word Limits

I have been really neglecting my blogging duties lately. Apologies to anyone out there who actually wanted to hear from me. The reason for this, besides deadlines to write yet more release notes and update the user guides again at work, is that I have been writing a set of serial stories which will begin running in July in Digital Dragon Magazine online, and I decided to release them as a book and include chapters from my two novels. The idea is to get my name out there by handing them out at conventions to writers, editors, agents, publishers and whomever else strikes my fancy. But because one of the two conventions I have blocked out for this year happens at the end of May, so I had to rush the project through to be ready in time.

So in the past two weeks, I have written 11 stories. Not all that impressive given my usually daily output, but nonetheless good for me given that I was not working from an outline or mental plan like I usually do with my novels. Additionally, I was working with a 1500-1600 word limit, something I am not used to.

When I first heard of Digital Dragon, it was from the loop of Lost Genre Guild, in which I participate. Several others had stories accepted there and I decided to check it out. Though it doesn't pay anything, I liked the family-friendly focus, so I checked out the guidelines. 1500 words?! Are they crazy? I couldn't imagine writing anything so short. None of my short stories had ever been less than 2900 words, and that one was a rarity. Most were at least 4000. Many came in at 6500. 1500 seemed impossible. But nonetheless, I sat down and decided to give it a try.

The idea which came to me was of a space opera about a Christian starship Captain and her crew fighting pirates/raiders from a neighboring empire. Since space opera is my favorite sub-genre of science fiction, and the sub-genre in which my completed scifi novel falls, it seemed a natural. As usual, I chose to make the characters more Christian-influenced than blatantly Christian because I want to write for a wider audience, not just Christians. What came out of me was a story about a female Captain on her first command leading an inexperienced crew into battle. And I thought it turned out pretty well. TW Ambrose, the editor at Digital Dragon, thought so too and suggested I might consider writing other stories in that world.

About the time the first story, "The Korelean Raiders," appeared in the April issue of Digital Dragon, I wrote a follow up story, and found myself stuck on the idea that I could indeed do a lot more with these characters. Not just that I had story ideas, but that I myself wanted to know more about them. An idea soon developed to write ten more stories, all earlier than the previous two and bring the characters from when they first met up to the current stories, setting up their relationships, the origination of the conflict, etc.

With all the stories, I stuck to the 1500-1600 word limit, knowing not only that Digital Dragon would like to publish them, but also that as a pulp-type story, it would work best. For a guy who dreaded word limits, I found it amazingly easy and as time went on, found myself having to trim less and less as I somehow found a natural rhythm matching the desired length. The advantage of doing a serial was to do character development and story development which just couldn't happen in one or two 1500-word stories. I also added a couple of new crew members and one more major enemy character and devised a plot line I believe could sustain not just these twelve stories but perhaps 30 or so.

In any case, I encourage any writers out there to test yourself by writing to a limit. With 1500-words, every word really has to count. It's tricky to balance dialogue and description, and thus, some of my stories are dialogue heavy, while others are better mixed. But I did learn a lot about precision writing and thinking through character arcs in small chunks of very few lines and words. I think it will make me a better writer, and I think it will make you better writers too. If nothing else, I now feel a lot better prepared to trim stories for specific market's demands. That is a valuable asset in and of itself. I even took the prologue of my scifi novel down to 1600 words from 2900 in an abridged version which will be featured in the May issue of Digital Dragon.

All the stories so far for the North Star-Korelean saga will be available soon via Amazon and my website, but other stories are also available at If you want, go check them out. Meanwhile, thanks for reading my thoughts on writing with word limits. For what it's worth...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Critiquing Protocols

Criticism is a part of life. It's even more so a part of the writer's life. From readers to editors to agents, opinions are everywhere, and sometimes it can be hard to process them and keep from having a part of yourself crushed under all that weight. Even worse, so many times you never get to hear those opinions. They just reject your work, that's all you know. That's one reason why critique groups are invaluable. First, they help you polish your work. Second, they help you test reader reactions. Third, you can learn by critiquing and reading as well and see what other writers are doing. Fourth, networking.

However, there is a certain protocol involved and some people seem to have a hard time learning it.

1) In offering critiques, keep the sarcasm to yourself. Comments like "Oh come on, you've got to be kidding me! You expect me to buy that?" are not appropriate (actually heard that one once). They are not supportive or encouraging, and they add nothing of value to help the writer improve their work. Be honest, would you like it if you got a response like that?

2) Be careful to avoid applying your own assumptions and bias too heavily to another writer's work, especially when they are writing from a culture or perspective far different from your own. For example, I researched and wrote a short story about illegals crossing the US-Mexico border who deal with the Border Patrol and aliens. Because of my concern for accurate portrayals, I had the story read by a friend in the Border Patrol, Mexican friends, even an illegal. They helped me ensure I was fair and unbiased and got the facts right. But I had several critiquers (white) who suggested it was racist. And they also said the Border Patrol stuff was unrealistic. None live on the Border. None had any connection to Mexico or immigrants. They just read into it with their own assumptions and called me out. It was annoying, unhelpful and frustrating.

For example, I don't like stories with a lot of foul language or graphic sex of any kind. I have to read them in my secular critique group, and if I think it will limit salability, I mention that. But beyond that, I leave it be. I would never write that. In fact, I think it shows a lack of creative effort. Shock tactics have been so over done, people are numb. If you can't use your creativity to find more colorful words to tell your story than four letter ones, you're not trying hard enough. But I don't penalize writers for that opinion. I just apply it to my own work and my purchasing choices at the book store.

It's okay to say, this bothered me because... It's okay to suggest something was unclear... It's okay to say you're worried something might come off negatively which wasn't intended... But give the writer the benefit of the doubt and be helpful. Don't insult their intelligence by implying you know more when you don't know what experience or research they have to back it up.

3) Find as many good things to say as bad if at all possible. I always point out things I liked from creative descriptions or snippets of dialogue that stand out to characterizations, etc. And if I think the story has potential for development, I tell them so. If it doesn't I don't, but I want to at least leave them feeling I appreciate something about their work.

4) Critique others' work if you expect them to critique yours. Don't join the group, submit a bunch of work, then sit back and wait for people to edit it for you. Get your hands dirty and read theirs. Offer them feedback. And do it in a way you'd want someone to critique yours (per the protocols listed above).

There's probably more I could get into but I think these are the essentials, and, if followed, will enable you to have a good and productive critique group experience for all involved. After all, the purpose of critique groups is to help each other improve and grow. If it doesn't accomplish that, it's not worth investing the time.

For what it's worth...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Five Reasons Science Fiction and Fantasy Are Important To Me

I’ve had a love affair with science fiction and fantasy since grade school. I will never forget the time my cousins dragged us to this film with the weird name “Star Wars.” Even at age 8, I was sure the title sounded dumb, but my cousin and best buddy, David, had seen the film several times already, and “you just have to see it,” he said.

The film did not disappoint. From its opening minutes aboard the Rebel Ship, I was on the edge of my seat. That opening scene remains one of my favorites of all time for any speculative fiction film. There’s nothing quite like the intensity of the battle between Rebel troops in blue shirts and leather vests against heavily armored storm troopers in the tight quarters of their ship. The intensity only increased when the heavy breathing dark menace, Vader, enters through the hole in the hull.

“Star Wars” blew me a way and opened my mind to possibilities I had never considered before. Always creative, always a dreamer, suddenly my wildest fantasies, fueled by my fascination with NASA’s space program, became real possibilities for me – maybe not for today, maybe not for tomorrow, but some day. I wanted to walk on the moon, launch in a space ship, float among the stars, visit alien planets. Even in other activities, my dreams filled my mind. When I went gliding in the alps on the engine-less glider plane, floating silently on air as we descended back down to the pad where we’d launched into the air on a giant bungee, my thoughts were of space. Was that what it would feel like on a space ship with silence all around? Was the abruptness of the launch similar to what it would be like to ride a rocket?

In high school, I had the opportunity to visit the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson and see actual NASA craft, experience astronaut training simulations, touch moon rocks and buy NASA souvenirs. The brief NASA Adopt-An-Astronaut Program allowed me to communicate with the first shuttle pilot, read about their mission, and feel personally involved. When astronaut Steve Hawley, formerly married to Sally Ride, visited my high school, his family ties to my church youth pastor allowed me closer contact and the thrill of shaking an astronaut’s hand and asking the silly questions he’d heard dozens of times that I wanted to hear answers for with my own ears.

So the first of my five reasons why science fiction and fantasy are important to me is that they opened my life to possibilities which had only seemed far fetched before I discovered them. They made me believe the hope of possibilities was a viable thing to dream about and affirmed my sense of wonder.

One of the few movies and televisions shows my father and I could enjoy together was the 1978 animated “The Hobbit,” based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel which had exploded in the 1970’s with its release to mass market paperback. Where as the “Star Wars” books were my first science fiction reads, “The Hobbit” became my first fantasy read. I devoured the book, even though I was so young I couldn’t grasp a lot of it. Soon I was reading fan magazines, checking out other books, and making up my own stories.

I became a fan of Alan Dean Foster because his “Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye” allowed me to revisit the Star Wars universe between films in a book almost like the movies. Since then I have read many more of his movie adaptations and original books, and he continues to be one of my favorite writers.

I discovered Robert Silverberg and Orson Scott Card, my two top favorites, when family members gifted me “Lord Valentine’s Castle” and “Ender’s Game” and insisted I read them. Having never heard of them, I was reluctant at first. I’d always been a picky consumer, wanting to feel confident of the likelihood I would enjoy a book or movie before investing time in it. Both books blew my mind, and since I’ve bought almost everything I can get a hold of from both authors and devoured each the same. I’ve reread both those books and experienced that thrill of first discovery all over again, then shared them with friends so they could experience it, too.

The second reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me then is the bonds they’ve allowed me to create with friends and family. They’ve helped bring our dreams and lives together in exciting, unexpected and enriching ways, allowing us to share our wildest dreams and celebrate our future hopes.

In working in television and film and as a writer in my adulthood, I’ve heard many stories about how science fiction and fantasy have influenced not only writers of other genres, but even the development of technology. NASA once sent experts to the set of the original “Star Trek” series to discover how the producers made the doors slide open and shut when actors entered and departed rooms. The producers actually had a crewman behind the doors manually sliding them over, but today there are many doors designed to do just that in everything from office buildings to vessels. Are they exactly like the “Star Trek” doors, no, but they are modeled after the possibility. Seeing the “Star Trek” creator’s view of future possibilities inspired others to dream of how they could bring those possibilities to life and changed our world, the third reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me.

I will always remember the first time I turned to the Sci-Fi Channel and discovered the new “Battlestar Galactic.” I had certainly heard of it, but like many fans of the original, had not liked what I’d heard about the “reinvention” and changes made by the new writers. To my great dismay, I loved it. It was darker and more serious than the original had ever strived to be, but it also provided an amazing commentary on our times, examining political and moral issues being faced at this moment in countries around the world. Like the original “Star Trek,” under the guise of “science fiction,” the new “Battlestar” was able to confront issues head on which most writers would never dare to.

The result was a compelling and inspiring television series, and one of the most respected and admired speculative fiction series ever created. So my fourth reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me is that they can speak to issues in our own world and cultures in ways that contemporary works cannot, forcing us to think about things in a new light and consider possibilities we would never accept if they weren’t presented as “other world” instead of our own.

The final reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me is that without the possibility of dreams and imagination, my life would have been unhappy and incomplete.

My dreams and imagination have taken me from a small Kansas town to the tribal villages of Africa, from the slums of Rio De Janeiro to the cobblestone streets of Europe and everywhere in between. Without being a dreamer, I would have never lived the life of risks I have lived in the thirty-two years since I discovered “Star Wars.” I would never have worked in film and television, written stories and scripts, released three CDs and a national single, or toured the world to speak, teach and sing. Some of those dreams had never occurred to me in Kansas, while others were the same ones my colleagues and classmates laughed at and mocked when I first mentioned them.

Ironically, at our 10th High School reunion, they all seemed to know where I’d been and what I’d been doing and instead of laughter, offered their admiration. I’d lived the life I said I’d wanted to. I chased my dreams and even caught some of them. None of that would have happened, if science fiction and fantasy hadn’t taught me to dream. And there are many others just like me.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Favorite Speculative Fiction

For those curious or just looking for good reads, here are some of my speculative fiction favorites in no particular order:

Robert Silverberg, Majipoor Books (Lord Valentine's Castle is one of my all time favorites but there are 6 more and numerous short stories from this master)

Stephen R. Donaldson, Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (the first three thrilled me in high school. I have yet to read the latest but I have them in my queue)

David Eddings, The Elenium and Tamuli books (3 of each and great storytelling)

Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time (Just getting started on this one but a great read so far, 12 total)

Terry Goodkind, Sword of Truth series (12 total, just getting started as well, but the basis of one of my favorite TV Shows "Legend Of The Seeker")

Orson Scott Card, Ender series (still catching up on the latest ones, but great reads and highly influential)

Timothy Zahn, Thrawn series (5 books, great Star Wars reads; almost like watching a movie, a better movie than Lucas' last three)

Timothy Zahn, Quadrail series (4 books from a master of space action, suspense)

Ken Scholes, Psalms of Isak (5 total, 2 are out. I can't wait for the others)

Jay Lake, Clockwork Earth series (3 books so far, good steampunk adventures)

George RR Martin, Song of Ice and Fire (4 so far, but more coming. Great read)

If you are a fan of specfic, I'd be surprised if you didn't enjoy any of those on this list.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Review: Spellwright by Blake Charlton

If you haven't met Nicodemus Weal, you should. He's the kind of character that will touch your heart and change your perspective.

A brilliant debut by a talented writer, Spellwright's story is all the more intriguing because it parallels the author's own struggles with dyslexia. The story of Nicodemus Weal, a dyslexic apprentice wizard who becomes hunted by several factions when it's thought he could be the long awaited Halcyon, who will bring unity and power to defeat the dark forces threatening their world. Others fear he could instead be the storm Petrel who will bring destruction. So Nicodemus finds himself on the run, wondering who he is and who to trust.

Spellwright takes place in a well crafted and interesting world where words are not just communication but a force to be reckoned with. They can be harvested as weapons or shields by those with the gift of magic who learn to control them. The journey of Nico and his mentor, Magister Shannon, grabs hold of you and never lets go, taking you on a fascinating and compelling ride.

The background of author Blake Charlton ( is as unique and interesting as that of his main character. On his own website he writes:

As a child, severe dyslexia placed me in special education for most of elementary school. Only with the support of my saintly parents did I improve enough to be mainstreamed into a normal fourth-grade classroom. I was still pulled out for remediation in half of the classes. Each year, I just barely advanced to the next grade. At twelve years old, I still couldn’t read a book by myself.

But his parents were persistent and began reading fantasy to him: Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Tad Williams... As his interest grew, they began to read to Blake less and less, faking sore throats or other ailments, but always leaving the books behind. Blake writes:

I became obsessed with fantasy. I snuck Robert Jordan and Robin Hobb paperbacks into special ed study hall and read them under my desk when I was supposed to be completing spelling drills. My grades improved only marginally, but my height increased exponentially. The football coach at a local high-powered private academy noticed this and helped me get into his school. About that time I started reading science fiction (Frank Herbert, Orson Scott Card, etc.) and discovered more classical fantasy: Grandpa Tolkien, John Gardner, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Mary Stewart. Suddenly school wasn’t so bad: I discovered that Shakespeare and Spenser weren’t so different from Tolkien, chemistry not far off from alchemy, physics the closest thing to magic. Though I still loved football, I began to live to put my nose in books.

But this dyslexic child went on to graduate from Yale Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, with distinction in the major and Trumbull College awarded him the John Spangler Nicholas Scholarship. His fascination with reading fantasy and science fiction, soon fed his creativity and he began writing. A college dean encouraged him to take time out upon seeing an early draft of Spellwright. And in 2006 Tor, seeing promise in Spellwright, offered Blake a three-book deal. Stanford Medical School, seeing the value of a career in writing and medicine, offered him admission.

Since then, Blake's completed the preclinical years of medical school and taken the US Medical Licensing Examination. During that time, he twice rewrote Spellwright, while Stanford provided financial support in the form of a Medical Scholars Research Fellowship to write fiction.

But overcoming his own disability still wasn't enough. In addition to his desire to help people through medicine, Blake has been an English teacher, a learning disability tutor and a football coach. His passion for learning disabled kids is part of his inspiration for Nicodemus Weal and Spellwright's story of the power to overcome any struggle and succeed.

Blake is preparing his draft of the followup Spellbound to turn into the publisher shortly and it should be out by the end of year. Maybe he'll give me an early review copy, if not, I know I'll be waiting outside the story.

A great read, a unique world, a fun adventure. Spellwright is highly recommended.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Sharks in Publishing

I just got an exciting email this past week: an anthology wanted to publish one of my own favorite short stories. Having not yet made a professional sale in fiction (so far I have had fiction work only appear in ezines) and given that he was paying the professional rate, I was naturally excited. Until he broke the terms out. He wants me to hand over the copyright to DE (his company) and that's for life. He wants to have his editor rework my story to meet his needs with no input from me (I did negotiate and finally got him to agree to give me approval), and he wants to restrict my sale of the story in the future unless he gets paid.

I have submitted to a lot of professional fiction and nonfiction markets. This is the first time I was ever asked to give up a copyright. I sent out the question to three groups I am involved with, including American Christian Fiction Writers. The combined membership of the groups is easily several hundred. Of the fifty responses I got within an hour, only one person had ever been asked to give up copyright and she had refused. Another friend told me it is unethical to even ask.

DE's reasons were to protect his investment in the anthology he was creating. He wanted total control so he could market it. When I offered him First Serial Rights and Electronic Rights, he told me that was archaic and the way of the past. He was working in the way of the future. If he's able to foretell the future, that is indeed impressive, but every fiction market I research online still asks for the rights I offered, never copyright. Not even book publishers ask for that. So I guess he's the only one who's really hip and ahead of his time then.

I pulled the story and refused to agree unless he changed terms, so I lost a nice pay check and a chance to be published. It made for a depressing day, but imagine what would happen if one of my favorite stories was suddenly in demand by Hollywood for a film or TV production and I didn't own it. If I wanted to someday do a collection of my short stories (if I ever do sell any and become respected enough) and couldn't use this one. Imagine if someone wanted to give me an award and include it in their award anthology and I couldn't allow that?

DE justified this additionally by saying he was buying stories from Indian writers for $10 each and was offering me thirty times that, so he was treating me more fairly and helping me get exposure. Well he's exploiting the Indians and he wanted to exploit me, because this is his first publication venture. He has no track record, no distribution and isn't even sure which stories he'll end up using and whether it will be print or ebook. The more we emailed, the more I realized he doesn't know what he's doing, and that made me even more convinced I'd be a fool to turn over my intellectual property rights to him.

To all you writers out there, it sucks to lose a sale. I get that, believe me. But don't get so desperate you lose your self-respect and sell out. It's not worth it, and it will come back to haunt you. Take my advice and those of lawyers and others and stand up for yourself. I hope someone else buys this story, because I really like it. But at least if they buy it, it will be from me and not someone else.

Wouldn't you prefer it that way with your stories?

For what it's worth...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

My Health Care Plan

Since I wear my heart and my opinions on my sleeve, most people probably already know that I am not a fan of Obama or Obama Care. There are many reasons for this, most related to the fact that I believe the Judeo Christian values this country was founded on, and which even the non-religious Founding Fathers respected and endorsed, are being lost. Obama seems to be proponent of things which move us further from that, so I don't like him and I don't like other Liberals with those leanings. It has absolutely nothing to do with race. I rejoice with our country that we finally have a long overdue black President. I just wish it was a different one.

That being said, my issues with Obama Care are more complicated. I believe we need to lower the cost of health care, and I believe the chief culprits for it being out of control are drug companies and insurance companies. Having recently had to deal with both closely as my wife was hospitalized and has required long term medication, and having seen my dad deal with them for over 40 years as a physician, I have had a front row seat to their antics. The people who are executives at these firms are some of the richest in the world, let there be no doubt. They sit up there raking in profits while enjoying making us squirm by making it as expensive to buy their products (drug cos) and difficult to get insurance to pay for as they can.

At the same time, they put out drugs with serious side effects when they know how to make them without them. The samples drug reps give doctors which they sometimes give to you to try out, for example. Ever wonder why those don't give you side effects? Because they are pure, and the ones they sell you are filtered down with additives. This way they can claim to sell you the same product while manufacturing it more cheaply. And this is perfectly ethical and approved by the FDA. So gee, the government should take over health care, huh? Yeah, the government will do it better than they did before, sure.

Insurance companies love red tape. They love to come up with all kinds of small print rules which make it difficult to get your meds on time, etc. My wife was running out of a very serious medication and they said we had to wait seven more days for a refill. I had to pay $16 per pill to get the pills we needed to tide her over. All of this because the doctor had changed her perscription dosage mid-month. The insurance company gave me the run around over several phone calls. I wasted probably four hours of my time with them and more with the pharmacy before someone finally explained the truth. And these are people I pay a lot of money to annually for services. If I ran my business like they do, I'd be bankrupt, yet here we are, allowing them to offer bad service to the public while raising premiums every year.

So, I do think we need to regulate insurance and drug companies. That's where Health Care Reform starts for me. As far as the indigent and uninsured, I think we should have a public health care plan anyone without insurance is required to use. I think they should also be assessed copays based on income requirements, since some uninsured people just don't have it because they choose not to, rather than because they're poor. Rich people, for example, don't see the need because they are rich. Fine, let them go to public hospitals and wait in line with the rest of the uninsured. We need to have a plan for the uninsured, no doubt, because that also contributes to rising costs, but not at the expense of giving the government control of private medical decisions for those of us who pay thousands a year for insurance.

A friend in England tweeted me recently to say how sad he was to see the US moving toward government health care. He's dealt with it all his life in England and said now that he needs more serious treatment, he's not allowed because the government doesn't want to pay. So he is stuck getting sub-par treatment from government health care. Does that really sound better to you? I think a lot of these pro-Obama Care people will find themselves facing such frustrations. And I have no doubt they'll be calling the system biased or racist or discriminatory when they do. Even though, if they just did research, they'd realize this kind of thing is what they asked for.

As for the socialism claim, socialism is defined as follows by "a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole." Isn't that what we are doing when we give control of health care to the government? So why are the Dems crying out at the unfairness of calling it "socialism," when it fits the definition?

And if we allow the government to control one thing, soon they will want to control another. It's amusing to me that a party which loves to complain about "intolerance" are so intolerant of those who disagree with them. What I've found over they years is that most people who call others "intolerant" don't want tolerance, they want agreement. If you don't agree with them, you're intolerant.

We seem to have lost respect for free speech, a value which has made this country one of the most successful and most admired in the world. Or used to. When people see abortion clinics bombed, government officials threatened, people wanting to declare themselves independent of the government--among other ridiculous responses I've seen to health care--why would they admire us? We don't even respect free speech in practice when we do things like that. Who would want to live in a country with citizens who can't handle the government doing things they don't like? Citizens of most other countries deal with that all the time. They don't need to come here where people get so riled up by it, they act like spoiled children.

We also seem to have forgotten that we have a lot more in common than different. We all want health, happiness, security, stability. If we really want what we say we want, we should do a better job of working together to find solutions which can really provide that for all of us. Would it take compromise? Of course. How do you think the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were written? Ou Founding Fathers' writings reveal they didn't always agree, but they acted together to hash out a compromise to serve the betterment of the nation, and, in the process, founded one of the most successful nations on earth, one most other countries admire in one way or another or have.

We have forgotten the principles on which this country was founded and what they require of us. Our quest for "me first" individualism has led us to become so self-centered, we only want what we want and forget about everyone else. Our current political and social climate are evidence of this, and if we don't honestly admit it and start making changes, America won't be America any more.

For what it's worth...

Harry Potter

Okay, I am well aware I am behind the game, and I've never read the books, but I have seen all six Harry Potter movies. As a guy who's started writing speculative fiction and has a Young Adult book planned, I felt a responsibility to be familiar with the most popular fantasy series released in the past decade. One disclaimer though: because I have yet to read any of the books, I cannot speak to the author's work but I will talk about the filmmakers.

It should be noted that Chris Columbus is one of my favorite directors and writers. His films like "Home Alone" and "Mrs. Doubtfire" have entertained me over and over again. And although I have no idea what was cut from the book, the first two films really worked for me. They were tightly written and engaging, getting you into the story quickly and moving things along.

Alfonso Cuarón's "Prisoner of Azkaban" was weaker but still engaging and entertaining. It was at the next film, "Goblet Of Fire," where things started to go downhill. I don't know if Mike Newell has issues with editing or if he just tried to do it himself, but "Goblet" was too long and took way too long to get going. It was at least 45 minutes into the movie before I got interested in what was going on, and that is way too long. The only reason I didn't just skip it was a feeling I needed to watch each film to get the others after that. But I shut off the DVD this time with none of the satisfaction the earlier films had provided.

"Order Of The Phoenix" and "Half Blood Prince" also left me wishing they'd been done by Columbus instead of someone else. They just needed a steadier touch by a filmmaker like Columbus or even Cuarón who knows how to make mainstream blockbusters. The lack of such direction was obvious and, ultimately, unsatisfying. Which is too bad, because people are so passionate about the books and even the movies. They deserved better.

I will also say that length was an issue, particularly for later films. My friends who read the books tell me they cut a lot, but I don't think they cut enough. Some of the beginning stuff was so long and dragged out that the real hook of the story takes forever to occur, and while that may work in novels, it is not good filmmaking. Surely even JK Rawlings must understand that they are different mediums, and, as a result, many things must be handled differently. Unfortunately, these films suffered from the same syndrome as many Hollywood releases these days, filmmakers unable to separate from their own babies and vision and make a film for audiences and not themselves. It is a wonder so many kids could sit through these. I truly wonder at what point their attention spans gave out. I know mine gave out a number of times, and I broke up most of the later films into sectional viewings as a result.

Those who love the films and books will likely disagree with me, and perhaps some filmmakers will as well, but as a person who went to film school and made television and films for a while, I can tell you my perspective is much more subjective than it was during that period. Audiences want hooky, entertaining films that move along, make them laugh, make them feel, and then end with a good satisfaction. For me, the Harry Potter films could have done this better.

I hope the books do when I read them. For what it's worth...