MasterClass: James Patterson Teaches Writing

JamesPattersonMC1MasterClass contacted me about their James Patterson writing course in June 2015.

James Patterson is a best-selling author in the crime, children’s, and other genres, and many critics have said that his books are more plot than characterization in recent years, while others have decried his use of co-authors.  This is a review of the course, not Mr. Patterson’s writing (just so we’re clear).

The course has 22 videos ranging in topics from passion and habit, outlining, first lines, suspense, and his personal story, as well as collaborating with co-authors.  Along with the videos, there are accompanying lesson plan PDFs and a discussion section for the students taking the course.  This allows you to get feedback from other students on the lesson and to share ideas.

There are two versions of the class workbook — one has the full outline for his book Honeymoon, so you can see how he outlines. This was a very helpful document for me because I haven’t written an outline of anything since high school.  This is not your high school outline with Roman numerals, etc.  It is much more detailed, and when he discusses why he outlines, you’ll understand the level of detail and why it is needed.

Patterson also holds office hours in which questions are submitted by students on video, and they answered by the author in the same manner.  He also offers critiques on raw ideas, research assignments, character development, and other topics from students.  The videos and the coursebooks were helpful, and I think his advice about agents, editors, selling books to Hollywood, and other points about writing are well expressed and should provide enough direction for writing students.  He stresses the need for an economy of words, no wasted moments, and clipping out the excess.  He’s amusing and self-deprecating.

MasterClass courses are an affordable $90, but their true worth will be in how dedicated you are to the lessons and the actual work.  One thing to keep in mind as a writer, is that if you are writing about something in science fiction, for instance, Patterson might not be the best mentor/teacher for you.  So, as you look for affordable writing classes to take, think about what kind of feedback and how much help you’ll need.

MasterClass also has offerings in photography, the art of performance, acting, and singing, and these courses are taught by big names like Dustin Hoffman, Usher, Serena Williams, Kevin Spacey, and more. 

Close Quarters by Larry Heinemann

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 335 pgs.
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Close Quarters by Larry Heinemann provides a stark view of the life of draftees, like Philip Dosier (Flip), and he pulls no punches in his account of this young man’s life in war.  He’s too young at home to buy alcohol or to vote, but in Nam, he can kill, swear, smoke pot, drink, and die for his country all without explanation or understanding.  Troops are to follow orders, and not to question, but in Flip’s case, and those around him, ignoring, circumventing, or blatantly disregarding orders can be a sign of brotherhood or stupidity.  Close quarters is a fine-tuned look at soldiering, the interactions between grunts and officers, and the friendships fired in the kiln of war.

“I can never go home.  I just want to see it.  I won’t say a thing, cross my heart.  I just want to see it one more time.  I want to smell it, touch it ever so lightly, put my ear to it and hear it tap, tap, tap.” (pg. 279)

“When I first came into the platoon, that was what struck me about the tracks.  They were huge and lumbering, stunted animations of some slow and wild thing.  Noisy and fat, grunting cartoons, smelling of thirty-weight oil and gunpowder and beer piss, … And I am filthy all the time.  I feel that grit, that crawl of the skin, something itching all the time, and greasy.” (pg. 280)

As these men run on adrenaline and beer — one to get through the fear and the other to numb the horror — they are unaware that they have changed.  In the lulls between ambushes, missions, and unexpected firefights, these men are like friends who hang out drinking beers and becoming sounding boards.  To become a sounding board for someone else is far easier than dealing with the war’s affect on yourself in some cases, but there are some images that cannot be shaken.

Close Quarters by Larry Heinemann is claustrophobic in its graphic violence, its frank spoken dialogue between male soldiers, and the threat of war that surrounds them all — it’s that unexploded bomb in the next room.  It ranges from lull moments of camaraderie and R&R with a prostitute in Tokyo to the small round hole left in the head of the man next to you.  Heinemann expresses the complexities of war in one soldier’s account, and he examines post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) so that readers realize just how real the war still is even when veterans arrive home.

About the Author:

Larry Heinemann (born 1944) is an American novelist born and raised in Chicago. His body of work is primarily concerned with the Vietnam War. Mr. Heinemann served a combat tour in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 with the 25th Infantry Division, and has described himself as the most ordinary of soldiers. Mr. Heinemann’s military experience is documented in his most recent work, Black Virgin Mountain (2005), his only nonfiction piece. Black Virgin Mountain also chronicles his return trips to Vietnam and his blunt personal and political views concerning the country and the war. He has often referred to his books about Vietnam as an accidental trilogy.

While serving in Vietnam, Mr. Heinemann fought in a battle near the Cambodian border in which filmmaker Oliver Stone also participated. Mr. Heinemann writes of the battle in his first novel, Close Quarters (1977), and in Black Virgin Mountain, and it also forms the basis for the climactic battle scene in Stone’s Platoon.

His fictional prose style is uncompromisingly harsh and honest, and reflects his working class background. His second and critically acclaimed novel is Paco’s Story (1986), which won the 1987 National Book Award for Fiction, topping Toni Morrison’s Beloved in a decision that some thought controversial.[1] At the time, Mr. Heinemann’s only response to the controversy was that the prize, a check for $10,000, was already cashed, and that the Louise Nevelson sculpture, a gift from the National Book Foundation, was not likely to be returned. Paco’s Story relates the quasi-picaresque postwar experiences of its titular protagonist, who is haunted by the ghosts of his dead comrades from the war. These ghosts provide the novel’s narrative voice. The story deals with the role of the American GI as both victim and victimizer. It is interesting to note that ghost stories are common in both American and Vietnamese literature about the war.

His third novel, Cooler by the Lake (1992), departed from the topic of Vietnam and was not very successful, either critically and commercially.

The 5-Minute Brain Workout for Kids by Kim Chamberlain

Source: Sky Pony Press
Paperback, 416 pgs.
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The 5 Minute Brain Workout for Kids by Kim Chamberlain, illustrated by Jon Chamberlain, is a great activity book for kids ages 7 and older, and includes games, puzzles, and teasers that will keep kids brains active and developing outside the classroom.  But what’s great is these activities don’t feel like school work, even though they will be learning new words and how to spell them, learning how to concentrate, and establish their own goals.  However, the book also can be used as a fun additional activity in the classroom and with family.  From alliteration to spelling and definitions, kids will learn new words and how to use them and when.   As kids, parents, and teachers move through the levels (1-10) in the book, the games and puzzles will get harder.

Puzzles in the book are those with specific answers, while games are those activities that may have more than one “right” answer, allowing users to be creative and to do games more than once.  The book contains 37 types of exercises and three bonus puzzles at the end, and the answers are in the back of the book to help parents and teachers.  Throughout the book, kids will notice a blue-tongued lizard named Ra, which is based on the authors’ pet lizard at home.

Although this book is aimed at kids older than my daughter, we had fund giving some of the games and puzzles in level 1 a try.  One of her favorites was the “Word Line” where she was given a saying from Kermit the Frog to follow in the word jumble using only 1 line.  It was fun to teach her how to look at the phrase and look for each letter in each word and follow it to the end.  She liked how it made a “snake line.”  The simple anagrams were tough for her, as she’s only learned how to recognize a few words.  We did the train words together, and she seemed to enjoy discovering new animal words in the jumbles.

The 5 Minute Brain Workout for Kids by Kim Chamberlain, illustrated by Jon Chamberlain, is a book I’ll be holding on to for her when she’s in Kindergarten this fall.  We’ll start again, and as she goes through school, I’m sure she’ll be doing more of these puzzles on her own.  It will be a good way to see how she’s developing.

About the Author:

Kim Chamberlain has been writing and creating activities, games, and puzzles since childhood. The author of Five-Minute Brain Workout as well as communication skills and activity books, she has a master’s in linguistics. She worked with teenagers for many years and is a volunteer reader/writer for college students. She is an award-winning international professional speaker and was founding president of a professional speaker’s association chapter. She lives in Wellington, New Zealand, with her husband, Jon, their two children, and their pet lizard.

About the Illustrator:

Jon Chamberlain has been drawing for a long time, collaborating with his wife on several book projects and for his own enjoyment. He worked exclusively in inks and watercolor until recently, when he acquired a drawing tablet and consequently relearned how to create digitally. He is a professional IT geek, comic book aficionado, and collector of old science fiction novels. He resides in Wellington, New Zealand.