Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Report on Progress For "The Chosen"

I have been writing quite a bit the last few weeks in my latest novel, tentatively called "The Chosen." I'm getting really excited about this project and have high hopes for it. I've decided to really focus in on writing this novel and set a goal for when I want to finish the first draft. I want to be done with it by the last day of February (February 28th). I have currently written about 25,000 words, and my goal is to reach 80,000 words for the first draft (of course, it may be a little less or a little more depending on how the story naturally develops, but I feel a word count goal helps provide a foundation for which to write the book).

So, that means that I have 55,000 words still to write. I have about 40 days left to reach my goal. So, this means I have to write an average of 1375 words a day in order to reach my goal. That seems very reasonable to me. So, that is my goal starting right now. I might even try to finish sooner than that just by writing a little more than my daily goal each day. But, I'm hoping if I make sure to write a minimum of 1375 words each day, that I'll easily be finished with the first draft in a timely manner.

I want to give more information about what the novel is about, but I think I'm going to wait a bit for that. I will say that I have recently added a couple new characters, and I think it has really given the book a creative boost that it has needed. One of my main goals when writing anything is to create some fascinating characters that the reader really feels sympathy for and really gets to know as if it were a real person. I always worry that if I have too many characters, it makes it so that each character is less complex since less time is spent on each character. But, if there are too few characters, then it could be boring. So, I think I've struck just the right balance for this story, and I'm excited. I hope to finish it soon so that I can show people what I have been working on.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Top Ten Experiences of 2010

Ok, this is my final year-end list for 2010. I decided that I would rank the top ten experiences I had in 2010. As I reflected on 2010, I came to the conclusion that it was a difficult year for me. But, several highlights came to mind that occurred throughout the year that made me realize the year wasn't as bad as I originally made it out to be. So, I thought I would highlight those good experiences in a list. So, these are my big ten experiences of the year listed in order of significance in my mind.

10. Christmas Morning

This was an unexpected, late addition to my list, but I think it is worthy of mentioning. My family had an excellent Christmas this year, one of the best in recent memory. After a difficult year, it was refreshing to see that what is truly important stayed intact--my family. We all gave each other gifts that we thought those people receiving them would love and I'd say that every gift was a success. One of the definite highlights was a video Christmas card my sister, Alex, made. It had everyone in tears and was a perfect example of why my family is so special. My mom cried several times that morning. My dad got probably his best present ever--an iPad. And, my dad even pulled out great "bonus" gifts for us kids after we thought all the Christmas gifts had been opened. It was a magical time and was a great moment for my family.

9. New Spock's Beard Album and Concert

This is sort of a two in one experience. First of all, I was really excited to receive the new Spock's Beard album since it had been several years since their last album and my friend had ordered the special deluxe edition of the album for me for Christmas, which included a song where the lead singer would sing my name. After so much buildup, I was worried the album would never meet my high expectations, but it actually exceeded them! The album is one of my favorites of all time. It showed me that my favorite band still has the talent to produce masterpieces, even without their main front man and song-writer, Neal Morse, who left the band a while ago. Later in the year, I had the privilege of seeing Spock's Beard live with my dad. They played the entire new album plus some old favorites. Spock's Beard was one of the main bands I always wanted to see live, so it was a dream come true and they did excellent.

8. My Sister's Graduation
I was very excited to be able to attend Alex's graduation this year. She went to Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena and did an excellent job in the program. She uses what she learned there on a daily basis as she has been making cakes for people for various events. It is really cool to see my sister pursue something she is passionate about and to succeed. She is an inspiration to me. It was an awesome experience to be in the audience along with my dad, mom, sister, grandparents and some of Alex's friends, and cheer her on. I know she will do great things with her degree in the future.

7. The Finale of Lost
I know this may seem like a weird experience to include here, but I feel it is a significant one. Lost is my favorite TV show of all time. I am regularly astounded by what the writers come up with and how the actors portray their characters perfectly. I love every minute of the show and felt that they had an incredible final season. I was really excited to watch the finale, and I knew that it was going to be special. It really exceeded my absurdly high expectations. I'll admit that I cried several times throughout the finale, and especially at the very end. It was the perfect ending. I couldn't have imagined a better ending. It really touched me and allowed me to think about things in a new way. I will never forget Lost and how special it is to me and I'm sure I'll be re-watching it for the rest of my life.

6. My Best Friend, Kevin, Proposing To Amy
Yes, this is more an experience that my friend, Kevin and his fiancee, Amy, had. But, I feel that it was significant for me as well. Kevin came to California with Amy to see Phantom of the Opera and go to Disneyland with Amy. Since he was in California, he stayed at my house during the weekend he was here. I was privileged to know in advance that he was planning to propose to Amy and I was really excited for him to come and for it all to happen. Based on his description, it didn't go perfectly according to plan, but it all ended up working out even better and was a magical experience. I am really happy for Kevin and excited for his future. I'll never forget him driving us home in intense fog right after he had proposed. His excitement was really cool to see and I know that they are a perfect match for each other. I'm sure his wedding in 2011 will be in my top ten experiences of 2011.

5. My Parents Vow Renewal
As my mom's big Christmas gift in 2009, my dad announced that the whole family would be getting together on Valentine's weekend in 2010 in Las Vegas for my parents getting their wedding vows renewed. Now, I'll admit that I wasn't in a great mood this trip. I was nervous about driving in Las Vegas and was still sad about the break up with my girlfriend. But, it was a very significant moment for my family, and my parents in particular. I was a little scared about the idea of a vow renewal in Vegas because I thought it might be cheesy, but it ended up being really sweet. It was nice to see the love my parents have for each other. Any experience that strengthens my family is an important one and this is no exception.

4. Going To Disneyworld

Me and Kevin decided that it would be really cool to go on a vacation to celebrate our graduation from BYU. We decided that the best idea would be to go to Disneyworld, and it ended up being the perfect choice. We spent a week there and I feel that we were able to do everything we wanted to do there. We visited every park, most of them twice, and went on all the rides we wanted to (well, at least all the rides I'm comfortable going on). It would be impossible to list all the highlights of the trip because they were all highlights. We even got to see Erin while we were there since she worked there last year. I really love Disneyworld, and even though it doesn't have the same "Disney magic" as Disneyland, there is a lot to love about it and I feel it was a very successful trip.

3. The Transatlantic Concert
If you had told me a couple of years ago that I would be able to see Transatlantic live in two years, I would have laughed and thought it was a joke. But, this actually happened last year! After an 8 year hiatus, my favorite band, Transatlantic, reunited to make my new favorite album, The Whirlwind. And, if that wasn't enough already, in 2010 they toured the album and made a stop in Southern California. Of course me and Kevin jumped at the opportunity to see them. The concert was a magical experience. I can't even describe the feelings I had of pure joy as I listened to the incredible music that was played. They played their whole new album and then all the epics from their previous album. It was over 3 hours of the best prog music, and it was incredible. By far the best concert I have ever been to. I can't imagine it being beat any time soon.

2. Completing My First Novel
I have always had a dream of becoming a successful writer. This year, I finally made a goal for myself to finish the book I've been writing, and I was able to do it. It was a huge achievement for me and I am so proud of myself for doing it. The book (called Avaria Book 1: The Sacrifice) is something that is very close to my heart. I started writing it for a creative writing class I took at BYU. I didn't write in it for a while, but decided to pick it back up in 2010, and I was able to motivate myself throughout the year to finish it. What is significant about this is that it has shown me that I do indeed have a passion for writing. I am going to try really hard to keep up a rigorous schedule of writing and pursue a career in it. I'm excited for the novels I am working on right now and I soon hope to try to get some of my work published. I realize that there is a good chance I won't ever be published and I know it'll take quite some time to get there, but finishing my first novel has given me the desire to work really hard in order to get there, and that is a huge deal for me.

1. Graduating From BYU

By far, my biggest accomplishment this year was graduating from BYU. I received a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology. It was a long road to get to that point with a lot of uncertainty and hardships, but I endured and managed to graduate. The last semester of my college education seemed particularly challenging, mainly because I needed a capstone course in order to graduate and I had a lot of difficulty finding a class that would work for my major. But, through sheer determination, I found the perfect class for me and even ended the last semester with a 4.0 GPA, which is something I always wanted in college. I struggled partway through college in declaring a major, but decided to stick with Psychology. I am grateful for the classes I took in Psychology and believe that they will help me in my future career and life in general. I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet career-wise, but I know that having a degree and having the experiences I had in order to get that degree will help me in achieving my future goals.

And, there you have it, my top ten experiences of the year. When I look at these experiences, I realize that the year actually wasn't as bad as I make it out to be in my head. Hopefully I can have as many (or more) great experiences in 2011!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Top Five Movies of 2010

I almost decided not to do a list of movies, because I couldn't really think of 10 great movies from 2010 (not because there weren't that many great movies, but because I didn't see that many new movies). But, I decided to compromise and instead do a list of 5 films that I saw in 2010 that I thought were really excellent. So, here is my list of the top 5 films of 2010:

5. Tangled

I am surprised that this movie made my top five, but I really loved it. I felt the romance between Flynn and Rapunzel was very well done. I loved the scene where they see the lanterns. It is Rapunzel's dream come true, and also the moment Flynn realizes that he wants Rapunzel more than the tiara. It is a beautiful moment full of movie magic. I am impressed with Disney, there was a long period where Disney movies were not very good, but I feel they are slowly restoring that Disney magic they once had. I felt the magic at moments of this movie, and it helped that there were really funny moments throughout the film as well.

4. Toy Story 3

I absolutely adore Pixar. Some of their films (Wall-e, Up) are some of my favorites of all time. I was a little concerned when I saw that their next film was going to be a Toy Story sequel. Toy Story 2 was really good, but could they really keep up that same quality for a third film? The answer is a giant yes. This movie has all the trademarks that I've come to love from the Toy Story films. There are laugh out loud funny moments, but also really emotional moments that surprisingly brought a tear to my eye. I was more than happy to follow the toys on this third journey, but I kind of hope that it ends here, because this was the perfect ending for the trilogy.

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

This is perhaps my favorite Harry Potter movie so far. I loved the first two movies, felt that the third and fourth movies were a little weak, but starting with the fifth movie, they have been steadily improving. I thought this movie would be a challenge since a lot of the book takes place in the wilderness where Harry, Ron and Hermione are alone in a tent. But, I felt it was done really well and allowed for the film to really delve into the main three characters and how they are dealing with this extremely difficult situation. There are still moments of humor, but also moments of sadness and uncertainty. It is a great buildup to what I hope is a great final film to the series.

2. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

This movie was the most fun I've had in a movie theater this year, and perhaps ranks up there with my best all-time movie going experiences. This movie is pure eye candy, there are so many things that are just fun to watch. I had a smile on my face the entire time. The concept is very original, where the characters are in some kind of video game/comic book type world. The main character often breaks out into fights with his girlfriend's evil exes. There is a lot of great humor and action, and I just really enjoy this movie immensely.

1. Inception

Inception is by far my favorite movie of the year, and one of my all-time favorite movies. I love movies that are really creative and make you think. The concept of being able to enter dreams (and even dreams within dreams) is a really cool concept and I feel it was explored really well. The ending leaves some room for interpretation as well, and I like thinking about what the ending could mean. This movie expanded my mind and gave me some creative fuel in regards to my own writing projects. I loved it and can't wait to see it again.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Top Ten Albums Of 2010

This is my list of top ten albums of 2010. Just so you know, my favorite kind of music is progressive rock, thus all of the following albums are from that genre. They are not very well known albums, but each one is really brilliant and I highly recommend them. I feel that 2010 was a great year for music and introduced me to some fantastic albums. Music is a big passion of mine and discovering new albums is one of my favorite past-times. So, here is the big list!

10. Drama Rama- Agents of Mercy

This is a very pleasant album from one of my prog rock idols, Roine Stolt. The music is never very heavy, and they stay on the pastoral side of prog, but it makes for a very pleasant listen. The music is very much in the style of early Genesis and late Beatles, both of which I love. I was a little disappointed that Roine Stolt doesn't sing lead on any of the tracks, but Nad Sylvan has a great voice that really fits this style of music. There are some great moments throughout the album and certain tracks are really brilliant. I am very happy that I own this album and that Roine Stolt keeps putting out such high quality music.

9. Victims of the Modern Age- Star One

I always love Arjen Lucassen's work, and this album is no exception. This project focuses on the more metal aspect of Arjen's sound, so there are lots of heavy parts with crunchy guitars. Each song on the album is based on a different sci-fi movie or TV show. There is a cast of vocalists that trade off singing throughout the album and they are each world-class vocalists. The music is solid and there really isn't anything here to complain about. It is a joy to listen to and everything I've come to expect and love from Arjen.

8. Hybrid Child- District 97

This is an incredible debut album from a really talented group. They are unique due to their inclusion of a female lead singer who was an American Idol contestant, and a world class cellist. The band is quite eclectic and often sounds almost like King Crimson. There are some mainstream sensibilities on this album, but they definitely are not afraid to prog out. I especially love the multi track suite at the end of the album where all elements of the band are showcased. There are even some goosebump moments. I can't wait to see what this band does in the future.

7. In The Wake of Evolution- Kaipa

This is a fun and happy band on the same level as the Flower Kings. In fact, Roine Stolt of the Flower Kings was a founding member of this band. This album showcases the band at their best. It is pure symphonic prog. I love the opening track that showcases all the great elements of this band: a fantastic, unique keyboard player, both a male and female vocalist, pounding drums, and soaring guitar. I love their sound, and discovering this album led me to further explore the rest of their catalogue. Now this band sits comfortably among my favorites in my music collection.

6. The Great Escape- Seventh Wonder

This is my favorite progressive metal release of the year. I feel that they have topped themselves after an excellent concept album called "Mercy Falls." The new album has everything I love about the band. There is some incredible instrumentation from all the musicians. They have one of the best singers in Rock, in my opinion. They have an incredible catchy and fun song called "Alley Cat" that I just can't get out of my head. And there is a 30 minute epic to close out the album that is incredible. I love how they can go from a beautiful section of just vocal and piano, right into a hard rocking section with everybody playing at the top of their game. I can't wait to keep my eye out for this band and see what they will do next.

5. Mars Hollow- Mars Hollow

This is the number 1 debut album of the year. This band came out of nowhere and really blew me away. I gained a whole new level of appreciation of them after seeing them live in a club in L.A. They have a great progressive sound that brings to mind the old favorites (Yes, Genesis, ELP) and new bands that I cherish (Transatlantic, Spock's Beard). Their songs are catchy yet intricate. I really love the opening track on their record, titled "Wait For Me." It is everything great about this band in one track. Also, it helps that the band is extremely nice and friendly to their fans. I can't wait to hear what they come up with next in 2011. Based on this debut, it should be awesome!

4. Artificial- Unitopia

I really loved this album at the beginning of the year. I listened to it over and over again several times and never got tired of it. It is a concept album about the way that we as a society are becoming too artificial. It is really compact and well done. I love how the band does not sound too retro, but infuses some modern influences into their sound. It sets them apart from the other bands that I listen to. Their singer is especially incredible, he sounds a lot like Peter Gabriel and is able to put a lot of emotion into his voice. Another element I love about this band is their use of saxophone. There is a tendency to even stray into Jazz, which is used to great effect. This is a really great album.

3. If- Glass Hammer

I was pleasantly surprised by this album. Glass Hammer is a band that I have struggled to like in the past. I have always tried to like them because people who like the bands I like also really like them. I have been disappointed in the past but this album way exceeded my expectations. I feel they have finally found a singer that fits their sound. He sounds a lot like Jon Anderson from Yes, and I feel he lifts their music to a new level. Oftentimes they sound like what Yes wishes they sounded like today. Majestic, symphonic prog done extremely well. I especially love the epic closing track "If The Sun."

2. X- Spock's Beard

This was the album I was most excited to get throughout the year. I had been waiting quite some time for a new Spock's Beard album. Plus, my best friend bought me the super deluxe version, and my name was going to be sung in one of the songs! It was really exciting. I was very pleased to find out that this album is one of Spock's Beard's very best. I typically prefer their material with their previous front man, Neal Morse, but I think this album is up to the same quality as those earlier albums. Everything I love about this band is on full display here. Great melodies, expert musicianship, and tons of fun. I absolutely adore this album.

1. Lover's End- Moon Safari

This is by far my favorite album of the year. It is clearly a masterpiece to me. I absolutely adore the incredible vocal harmonies that are throughout this album. The instrumentation is great as well, with a focus on vintage progressive keyboard sounds, piano, and acoustic guitar. Every song is a highlight for me. There are no weak moments. I just can't describe the beauty of this album, I am just in awe each time I hear it. I never get tired of it. The first time I listened through this album I had tears in my eyes and thought that this music is what I was meant to listen to. This will be one of the most cherished albums in my entire CD collection.

Additional Music Experiences of 2010:

Best Album Not Included on The Top Ten: Aquarius- Haken
It was really hard to not be able to include this album in my top ten, so I thought I would mention it here. This is a fantastic album by a new prog band. There are brilliant instrumental passages that are amongst my favorite in progressive rock. The closing track of their album "Celestial Elixir" is particularly incredible, and is indeed one of the best tracks of the year. I can't wait to see where this young band goes next.

Best Song of the Year: The Dividing Line- Frost*
Although Frost* didn't release a new studio album this year, they released an incredible live album (The Philadelphia Experiment) with a brand new studio track. That track is The Dividing Line and it is a monster of a song. It is 17 minutes long and has everything I love about progressive rock. It is mind-blowingly awesome, moving seamlessly from some of the craziest stuff I've ever heard to sections of pure beauty. The track leaves me breathless, and certain sections are still hard for me to wrap my head around.

Best Live Experience Of The Year: Transatlantic
I had the privilege of seeing Transatlantic live in 2010 and it was a dream come true. It was the best concert I've ever attended by far. Transatlantic album released a live DVD/CD set called Whirld Tour 2010. Watching that DVD concert was like relieving the whole experience. I just couldn't help but tear up and just watch the screen in pure amazement. This DVD/CD live set is one of my favorite progressive rock items I have in my collection. Just awesome.

Best You-Tube Music Discovery: Project RNL
I am absolutely addicted to the videos Project RNL puts out. They do unique takes on old songs, and also have some originals. They have a very jazzy, eclectic sound and have an incredible vocalist that sings multiple parts in each video. In fact, there is an amazing purely a capella video where he sings every part. They are amazing musicians and are incredibly unique. Their music is pure ear candy. I will be first in line to buy an album of their music when it is released.

Best Non-Prog Album of the Year: New Morning- Alpha Rev
Yes, I like more music than just prog, even though prog is my favorite. This album is featured as Mike Portnoy's favorite album of 2010 so I thought I would give it a try. I really fell in love with it! It sounds a lot like Coldplay. There is a fantastic frontman and some really catchy melodies. I really love the album. And, the lead singer is joining Neal Morse, Steve Morse, Mike Portnoy and Dave LaRue for a project hopefully coming out by the end of 2011 that I am super excited for.

Honorable Mentions (albums that I liked but didn't quite make my year-end list):
Excavations of the Mind- Sky Architect
Pennies In The Karma Jar- Salem Hill
Rise- Resistor
Far Skies, Deep Time EP- Big Big Train
Nightmare- Avenged Sevenfold

It was an incredible year for music and I anticipate that 2011 will be even better. I can't wait!