A Story is a Promise

Essays on the Craft of Writing
About the Author

Book Reviews

Reviews by Bill Johnson

A photo of Bill Johnson, author of A Story is a Promise and the Spirit of Storytelling.

A new feature of this page is reviews of published works by writers who have studied with me.

Capsule reviews of popular books on writing, and books by students who have studied the a story is a promise concept, and others who asked me to review their novel manuscripts, including Mark Ellis' Ladder Memory, M Thomas Cooper's 42, Shannon Capps' Salmon Run, Snip, by Doc Macomber, Betty Grant Henshaw's Children of the Dust, Steve Brody's The New Commandments and Dr. Philip Shapiro's Healing Power: Ten Steps to Pain Managment and Spiritual Evolution. My student Helen Chin's Jin-Ling's Two Left Feet is available from Amazon.

Years ago I helped Brendan Foley with a screenplay, Under the Wire, about WWII escape artist Bill Ash. It's now a popular, successful novel available on Amazon.

Snip, by Doc Macomber, takes Doc's main character, investigator Jack Vu, into the night life and low life of the Kentucky Derby when an Air Force cadet is murdered, and somehow the murder is connected to the death of a well-known female jockey.

Salmon Run, by Shannon Capps, published by Inkwater Press, is the story of Woodrow Salmon, a man with the law, a bloodthirsty ex-wife and a hired killer on his heels, who embarks on a strange and harrowing journey, one that will lead him through the minefields of his past and change his life forever.

Betty Grant Henshaw's Children of the Dust is a chronicle of her life growing up during the Dust Bowl and her family's eventual move to California along Highway 66.

P.S. Don't Tell Your Mother, by Margo Bates. The opening line of this memoir is, 'An irish temper and accuracy with a gun is what got my Nana Noonan in trouble.' So begins Margo Bates whimsical, beguiling memoir of growing up in a family with a grandmother with an itchy trigger finger when it comes to dealing wit the local Jehovah's witness who is determined to save her.

Dr. Philip Shapiro's Healing Power: Ten Steps to Pain Management and Spiritual Evolution, is a guide to dealing with the pain of life. Dr. Shapiro is a practicing psychiatrist and a devotee of yoga meditation. With a deep understanding of the Western path of understanding as a way to deal with painful situations in life and the Eastern path of transcendence, he offers those facing the brutal reality of pain in life step by step instruction on how to regain an inner peace. Dr. Shapiro's work also will help those labeled as mentally ill or emotionally unstable to a deeper awareness of themselves as spiritual souls on a journey.

This work is a great resource for people in pain, written by a great soul who understands what it means to feel trapped by and lost in problems that can appear to be unbearable and unsolvable.

Missing: The Oregon City Girls, A Shocking and True Story of Abduction and Murder, by Linda O'Neal (photo), Philip Tennyson, and Rick Watson

This book gives an inside view of what it took to bring to justice the killer of two young girls in Oregon City. Linda O'Neal, a P.I., was asked to help through her husband's connection to one of the girl's mother. Linda persisently brought to light information that helped force the F.B.I. and police to focus on Ward Weaver, since convicted in the girls' deaths.

The book offers an overview of the difficulity of getting sex crimes investigated and prosecuted.

I helped with the book proposal and offered some suggestions about how to structure the book.

Steve Brody's The New Commandments is a story about a psychologist, Dr. Peter Hart, who helps America deal with a terrorist nuclear explosion that destroys Washington D.C. As the world is on the brink of Armegeddon, Peter Hart delivers a new set of spiritual commandments to help lead the world onto a new, more peaceful path.

Lizzy Shannon's Time Twist is a gem of a story, with a cast of humans and aliens who sparkle with fiery, erotic emotions they can't control and a need for love and respect they can't deny. Lizzy Shannon takes us into the hearts of these characters as skillfully as she creates a lively universe for them to explore...and for her audience to share.

Mark Ellis' Dumbarton Ghosts is a collection of short stories about this Oakland bridge and the lives it impacted. Mark has a gift for creating powerful, subtle epiphanies. The characters in this fine collection include a middle-aged couple trying to create a child on the bridge as they struggle with infertility; a stoned goth who sees the face of Satan in storm clouds; and a young boy who discovers the secret of his grandmother's secret boarder.

At the Manger: The Stories of Those Who Were There
by Peter V. Orullian

This wonderful collection tells the interconnected stories of those present at the birth of Jesus. Each character's actions have subtle and powerful effects that change both their lives and the lives of others. This book would make a wonderful holiday gift. Peter has a storyteller's voice that shines through each character. Available through Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.


Books on Writing

Many books and tapes explore the craft of writing. One covers foundation issues of storytelling with a clarity and insight that makes it particularly valuable:

Lajos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing!

Egri's book covers the gamut of storytelling:

  • How to develop an idea into a story.
  • Understanding how a one sentence story premise can serve as the basis for a story's dramatic structure.
  • Understanding how to create dynamic characters.
  • How to choose and create a pivotal character.
  • Understanding the unity of opposites as a way of perceiving characters who will feel compelled to act in a dynamic way.
  • The role of crisis, conflict and resolution in a story.

A final section of the book addresses the questions, what is art? Melodrama? What are the boundaries on experimentation?

Egri explores these questions in a way that will benefit many writers.

Other Helpful Books And Sources of Information

Elizabeth Lyon's Compass Series offers new and working writers valuable insights into the craft of writing. The books in the series include Getting Your Bearings, Trouble Shooting and Problem Solving, Marketing, and Refining Your Vision. Elizabeth is also the author of Non-Fiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write. Elizabeth's new book is Manuscript Makeovers. Elizabeth speaks about writing query letters and writing fiction and non-fiction with voice on YouTube.

The Motion Picture Prescription
by Dr. Gary Solomon

The Motion Picture Prescription, by Dr. Gary Solomon, reviews over 200 movies that cover such topics as alcoholism, abuse, mental illness, recovery, obsession, etc. Dr. Solomon found in his practice as a therapist that people enmeshed in difficult issues could have trouble gaining perspective on their situations, but through watching a movie with characters in similar situations, people could be helped to gain fresh insights.

This book serves as a well written reference to movies and screenplays about life issues. I also found it a personal pleasure to read.

Screenplay, The Foundation of Screenwriting

Syd Field's book has been called the bible of screenwriting. It lays out the form and structure of modern screenplays in a clear, easy to understand manner. His ideas on story structure are very grounded in the fundamental principles of telling a story.

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