Non-Fiction Textbook Review – Save the Cat!

  • Title: Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need
  • Author: Blake Snyder
  • Subject: Screen Writing
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/27/2020

I loved this book! It’s not that often that you can say about a textbook that you genuinely enjoyed reading it but yes, reading this book was an enjoyable experience. Blake Synder’s writing is amusing, engaging, and useful! Save the Cat is a book about the structure of screenwriting. And in particular, it’s about the structure of big-budget, popular, Hollywood films – the type that lots of people see and that make lots of money and the type that a new screenwriter, writing on spec, can actually sell. You need to know the rules before you even consider breaking them, and Save the Cat teaches you the rules.

Save the Cat cheerfully explains the structure of popular film: 3 Acts, 15 beats, 40 scenes. Snyder introduces tools like The Board – a way to quickly visualize your screenplay before you start writing. And he talks about ways to fix your screenplay after it’s written. How to improve it – from flat characters to scenes that don’t quite work. Each chapter ends with exercises to help the reader learn and emphasize the chapter (full disclosure, I didn’t do the exercises. Yes, I did not do my homework. But I intend to re-read Save the Cat and do the exercises the second time around.) This is a practical how-to manual. And it seems like it would be useful for any type of writer.

Save the Cat also introduces a novel classification system for popular films. Instead of genres like mystery, romance, SF, superhero, etc. Save the Cat uses plots and characters as genres, so we have: “Dude with a Problem”, and “Buddy Love”, and “Superhero” (but not just Marvel or DC films, or even the Greek Myths – but any story with a hero beyond the norm (Dracula, Frankenstein, A Beautiful Mind, Gladiator, etc.) It takes a bit of getting used to, but this plot/character basis to describe films is a great way to think about movies when you are hoping to write one. There are ten genres in all.

Again, I loved this book! How often does one really truly love reading a textbook? You can learn from a textbook. Occasionally one is well-written. Oh, and that title? Save the Cat refers to the absolute necessity of your audience actually liking your main character. So, if the character is a bit of a jerk, he or she must do something nice so the audience will like them. They must Save the Cat. But this book, Save the Cat, is just fun. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the craft of writing.

Shoestring The Complete Series Review

  • Series Title: Shoestring
  • Season: The Complete Series (Seasons 1 & 2)
  • Episodes: 21
  • Discs: 6
  • Network: BBC
  • Cast: Trevor Eve, Michael Medwin, Doran Godwin, Liz Crowther
  • Format: Standard, Color, DVD (R2, PAL)

Eddie Shoestring is down on his luck when he happens into a job for Radio West as a “Private Ear” – a detective who works for a radio station, based in the West Country of the UK, in and around Bristol. This series follows Eddie’s adventures as a detective. His cases not only come from Radio West listeners but from his friends and fellow employees at the station, including his boss, Don Satchley, and the station’s receptionist, Sonia. Because he is down on his luck, Eddie lives as a boarder in Erica’s house – and often has her help him on his cases, since she’s a solicitor/lawyer.

Eddie’s cases vary quite a lot, which keeps this light-hearted (for the most part) detective series interesting and enjoyable to watch. It also doesn’t fall into the formulaic trap of Sonia handing Eddie a tape of a caller, which starts his case. That does happen, but not every episode, or even the majority of episodes. Also, Eddie’s a bit of an old-fashioned detective. He solves his cases by talking to people. Following up on leads and simply talking to people. Eddie always solves his cases, but it isn’t always a happy ending.

I bought this series because I’m a fan of Trevor Eve (ever since Shadow Chasers) and this is his first series. It’s quirky, interesting, and enjoyable to watch. Series 1 starts a bit slow, but by three to four episodes in the pacing picks up and it is just a good detective series. The weather in Series 1 also looks absolutely horrible – it rains an awful lot, plus everyone looks cold all the time. And the series does a lot of location filming. Series 2 actually looks better in a sense, because there is some sun. However, all the overcast, rainy, and cold outdoor scenes add to the filming, giving everything a slight bluish-grey cast that adds to the feel of an almost film noir detective series (though not depressing). Eddie also gets better as a detective between series 1 and 2, but no more so than someone who has been doing a job for a while and just naturally improves by doing it.

I do recommend Shoestring! It’s just a good, enjoyable show, and Trevor Eve is fantastic in it.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Nightshade

  • Title: Doctor Who: Nightshade
  • Series: Doctor Who The New Adventures
  • Author: Mark Gatiss
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 5/23/2020

**Spoiler Alert** Doctor Who: Nightshade is a novel in the Doctor Who The New Adventures line from Virgin Books. The New Adventures feature the Seventh Doctor and Ace, and take place after the Classic Series episode, “Survival” (1989). In the novel, Nightshade, in the 1960s, strange things are happening in the small town of Crook Marsham: a retired actor who played Professor Nightshade on television is attacked by one of the creatures he fought on his television show in his retirement home; a woman is haunted by the spirit of her brother who died in World War I; and other strange occurrences happen. And even though people can enter the village – no one can leave.

The Doctor and Ace arrive, but the Doctor is ready to just settle down and retire instead of getting involved. While Ace explores the village and meets a young man named Robin, the Doctor heads to a nearby monastery for some well-deserved rest.

There is also a large radio telescope on the moor. The small staff there is studying the constellation of Orion, specifically looking for novas to study. Yet their instruments keep getting overwhelmed by some sort of strange signal. Also, Holly and Vijay, two members of the staff are having an affair, much to the dismay of their racist co-worker, Hawthorne. Fortunately, the director of the work at the radio telescope, Dr. Cooper is much more reasonable.

As the situation becomes more desperate and people start dying, the Doctor and Ace get involved and the Doctor tries to help. But this creature that remains unseen, attacks people through their memories – feeding on regret, sadness, guilt, and anger. And the Doctor has plenty of regrets. When the mysterious creature uses Susan against the Doctor he barely escapes. The situation becomes desperate, a nursing home aid accompanies a busload of seniors out of the village but their driver becomes overcome by sickness and crashes the bus. The driver dies but the seniors and Jill are alright. A visiting BBC reporter entering the village sees the accident and helps get everyone to the monastery. The Doctor reads up on the history of the village in the monastery and tries to discover what might be plaguing the village. Ace helps but also becomes friends with Robin. But the arrival of several seniors ultimately leads to a horrific creature attack when someone makes the mistake of starting a sentimental singalong.

As more people die in the village itself, the Doctor has everyone gather in the church, which has the effect of putting all the food in one place. He also spends time at the radio telescope, examining the signals that Dr. Cooper and her team found. But it’s at the monastery that he encounters the creature, which has taken over one of the local young men the Doctor tries to talk to it. He discovers the creature is old, nearly as old as the Earth itself, which formed around it. And the history of haunted castles and such in the village is due to the creature.

Later, however, as the situation gets desperate, the Doctor, Holly, Vijay, and the actor, Trevithick, go to try to communicate with the creature. It’s a disaster as Holly dies, and Trevithick sacrifices himself so the Doctor and Vijay can escape back to the radio telescope. But the Doctor finds out how to get the creature to leave. He tells the creature he can get all the energy he wants from the exploding star, a nova. The creature uses the radio telescope and leaves, heading to outer space and back in time as it follows the explosion that occurred nearly 300 years ago. Ace and the Doctor head back in the TARDIS and see the creature arrive in the 1600s where it causes a fire at a castle. The creature then heads into space to the nova – and eats up all the energy of the star. It follows another energy trace to a supernova and eats that up too. But eventually it gets trapped by the gravity of a black hole.

I enjoyed Nightshade. The Doctor is in a bit of a mood, due to previous events in the series, but the events in the village and Ace help bring him out of it. He’s much more fallible in this story, which fits with the Seventh Doctor – for example, he never should have brought Holly, Vijay, and Trevithick with him when he tries to communicate with the creature. Having the village gather in the church is less of a disaster – because, although the creature attacks it, no one dies. But having a radio telescope as a major set piece also reminds the Doctor of how his Fourth incarnation died, so that hangs over the novel, effectively.

Nightshade has a spooky quality to it – Holly, though she’s fallen in love with Vijay, cannot forget her previous fiancé who died. Trevithick remembers the most successful time in his life, playing the lead on a spooky BBC television children’s SF show (sound familiar?). Various characters remember past friends, relatives, situations, that they regret or that make them sad – which makes them vulnerable to the creature. Even the Doctor isn’t immune. Ace actually uses her complicated feelings about her mother to her advantage to fight off the creature. And the story takes place in an isolated village, on a moor, which adds to the spooky factor. Nightshade is an atmospheric novel, well-written, with great guest stars, and I also liked seeing a more vulnerable Doctor who can make mistakes. But the story is also clear and understandable, something that can be hard to find in the Doctor Who New Adventures line from Virgin Books. I recommend Nightshade.

Southwest Ranch Chicken Recipe

Ingredients

  • Fire Roasted Tequila Lime Rub and Marinade Spice (or lime pepper)
  • Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts (2 to 3 breasts)

  • Fine cut Co-Jack Shredded cheese (or other Shredded Cheese)

  • Marzetti Southwest Ranch Veggie Dip (Any SW Ranch dressing will do, the thicker the better)

Coat chicken with spice rub. Push spices deeply into the chicken. Then place the chicken in a baking dish. Any lime pepper mix is good, if you can’t find the fire-roasted one. If your mix doesn’t include salt also add a small amount of salt to the chicken to keep it moist.

Frost chicken with Southwest Ranch dressing. Use a lot of ranch and completely coat the chicken. Any ranch will work (I’ve even made this recipe with Kraft) but the thicker the dressing the better it will work.

Cover chicken with shredded cheese. Co-jack works nicely because it melts evenly without becoming greasy or oily. The thinner or smaller the shards of the cheese the better because it aids even melting.

Bake until chicken is completely cooked, approximately 1 hour.

This recipe is my attempt at making Applebee’s Fiesta Lime Chicken at home. It’s also a way to use the Tequila Lime spice mix I bought… somewhere. The rest of the ingredients are staples and easy to pick up in supermarkets. And again, if you can’t find the brands I use, just use whatever you can find. The recipe should still work.