Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Charlie Kaufman to adapt The Knife of Never Letting Go

Charlie Kaufman to adapt The Knife of Never Letting Go

Lionsgate has selected Charlie Kaufman to adapt the first book in Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy for film. Whenever I hear that a favorite book is being made into a film, I am simultaneously excited for the film, and worried that it won't do the book justice, or worse, will ruin my vision of it.

I'm more worried than usual for this one, because according to the article, Kaufman is known for taking adaptations into "all kinds of imaginative directions not found in the pages of those books."

Now, I'm not a person that believes that movies need to adhere exactly to the book. Rather the opposite: sometimes when a film tries to stick too closely to the book, it ends up stilted. Books and movies are two different media, requiring different storytelling techniques. For example, I was pretty happy with the Hunger Games movie and felt that most of the changes made it a stronger film.

However, when I hear that a screenwriter may take a favorite book in imaginative directions, I have to ask "Why?" Patrick Ness' masterpiece is already imaginative enough. I can't imagine that Kaufman, or anyone else, could improve on it.

On the other hand, Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner are two excellent films that are hugely different from their literary sources. (I studied both of those in a "Books to Film" literature class I took in college). So even a drastically changed story can be good. But when the story is a favorite, as this one is for me, it can be hard to swallow.

Right now, it's hard to say what will happen. Perhaps Kaufman won't make imaginative changes. Or perhaps he will, and they will make a better film. For now, I'll wait and keep an open mind, although I can't help a feeling of dread as well.

In the mean time, if you haven't read this excellent series, I suggest you read it.

My review of The Knife of Never Letting Go

My review of The Ask and the Answer (with guest post from my son)

My review of Monsters of Men

"Charlie Kaufman To Adapt ‘Chaos Walking,’ Lionsgate’s Next Franchise Play"

Buy The Knife of Never Letting Go from your local independent bookstore

Buy The Knife of Never Letting Go from Amazon.com

Buy The Knife of Never Letting Go from Barnes & Noble:

Disclosure: The links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A plea to indie authors and publishers

I've long been an advocate for indie authors and indie publishers. As a former president and current member of the MidAtlantic Book Publishers Association, I have worked to help improve both the quality of indie publishing and the recognition for those involved. As an organizer of the Cybils awards, I argue vehemently each year to continue to allow self-published books to be eligible. There are excellent self-published books, I argue, and we need to continue to allow them to be eligible to find the hidden gems. And indeed books like Angelfall, an excellent self-published ebook which was one of the finalists this year, prove the point.

But for every Angelfall, there are a hundred, maybe a thousand, substandard books that opponents of self-publishing can hold up as examples. As a blogger/reviewer I receive submissions of many interesting-sounding indie books, only to be disappointed when I try to read them. I want to like your book. I really do. I'm starting from a perspective of hoping to find good indie books. But I'm disappointed more often than I'm satisfied.

This is a plea to all the indie authors and publishers, and those thinking of publishing. With ebooks and POD, it's so easy today to make a book available to the public, but that's not the same thing as publishing. Publishing is hard work and time consuming, and includes the myriad of details necessary to produce a quality book. Before you jump into publishing your book, please consider the following:

1. Read, read, read.

Have you read widely in the genre you are planning to write & publish in? Each genre has its own requirements and conventions, and you need to understand them. For example, YA books are usually tightly plotted, have strong voice, appeal to teens without talking down to them, and use tightly controlled point of view. In addition to reading widely, it helps to participate in discussion groups (Goodreads is one place to do that) or to start a blog and review books, and read reviews by other bloggers, because you can learn a lot from the comments of other people.

I can't tell you how many times I receive a publicity email saying, "So and so wrote this book because there were no good books for children about..." and I think, "What about this book, or that book? Have they read any books in the children's/YA genre at all?"

2. Learn the craft.

Writing is a craft, and like any craft, it requires training and practice. Most traditionally published writers I know spent years learning their craft before they ever had a book published. On the other hand, I have met many indie authors who decided to write a book and then published it, with little forethought or training. Just because you can string sentences together, doesn't mean you can write a book. At least not yet.

I believe that writing is a skill that can be learned, and that most people are capable of becoming good writers, but it takes time and it takes work. This is not an indictment of all indie authors, because I do know some who have put in the time and work. But for anyone who hasn't, please don't skip this important step.

Do you understand point of view, how it affects a story and how to control it? Do you know what voice is and how to use it? Do you know how to write believable dialog? Do you understand the "Show, don't tell" rule?

Take writing classes if you can, and read books about the craft, particularly as it relates to your chosen genre. Join a critique group and learn both from others critiquing your work, and from the opportunity to critique others. Write many things, and understand that the first book you write may not be publishable. As with anything, you will improve with practice.

3. Produce a quality product

Once you have a book that is good enough to be published, it will still need work and money before it is a product ready for the public. No matter how good a writer you are, the book should be professionally edited by someone familiar with the genre. Really, there are multiple levels of editing, and ideally they should be done by different people, because someone can get too close to a book to be able to see the errors anymore.

Cover design is crucial and should be done by a professional cover designer. Just because someone is a graphic designer doesn't mean that they can design a cover. Cover design is a specialty with unique needs and requirements that not all graphic designers necessarily know. For a book that will be printed (even print on demand), plan to spend $500-$2000 for a professional quality cover. Books which will only be ebooks may be a little less expensive. Yes, that's a lot of money, but after you put all the work and time into writing your book, do you really want to wrap your baby in a substandard cover?

I highly recommend 1106 Design who did the cover design (but not the illustrations) for the Ratha series books. Here's an interesting post on their blog about the choices made in designing Clan Ground.

For printed books, interior design is also important. Microsoft Word is not a typesetting tool. Although I know people who use it, in my opinion it's not capable of producing professional quality typesetting. If you don't understand typography, find someone who does (or take the time and put in the work to learn it, just as you did for writing). For ebooks, interior design is not as much of a consideration, because ebooks are designed to be adapted to the device and preferences of the reader. However, even for ebooks, you want to make sure to have a good conversion.

Final words

With friends like me, who needs enemies, right? I'm a friend of indie publishing, and if these are the things I see, just imagine what the opponents are saying. Please, let's all work to raise the bar on indie publishing and help change the perception by creating quality books that we can all be proud of.

I'm thinking of starting to ask anyone submitting a self-published or indie book for review to elaborate on the book's writing and editing process, in an attempt to weed out books that are poorly written and poorly edited. What do you think? I feel like I shouldn't have to ask, but I'm just tired of being disappointed.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review: Ship of Souls

Ship of Souls
by Zetta Elliott

Dmitri, or D for short, never knew his father, so when he loses his mother to cancer, he is put into foster care. His new foster mother, Mrs. Martin, is nice enough, but she has her hands full with a crack -addicted baby and doesn't have much time for D.

One day in the park, D finds a wounded bird, and discovers it can talk. The bird tells him she is there to gather the dead from the African Burial Ground, who have been waiting for years to find peace. The bird, whose name is Nuru, has been held prisoner and prevented from accomplishing her mission, and she needs D's help.

But forces are determined to stop them, and D is in grave danger. Along with his new friends Hakeem and Nyla, D must battle dangers, from a monster made from paving stones, to hostile Revolutionary War ghosts, before he can reach the spirits who need his help.

Ship of Souls is a lovely and touching story. At its heart, it's a story of friendship, and it works best when D, Nyla and Keem are together. The friendship between these unlikely friends works, and even the slight tension between the two guys, both of whom like Nyla, makes the relationship seem genuine. Over the course of the story, Nyla and Keem become D's new family.

One of the things I found refreshing about this book is that most of the people (with the exception of the very angry and racist Revolutionary War ghosts) are really nice people. Often part of the tension in YA novels comes from the unpleasant people surrounding the protagonist, and it ends up giving a very negative view of the world. That wasn't the case here. When Mrs. Martin took D in, I was tense, expecting that she would seem like a nice old lady but turn out to be a nasty child abuser. But no, she really was a nice old lady, who just had more problems than she could deal with. When D was asked to tutor basketball jock Keem in math, I though, "Uh, oh. Keem is going to turn out to be a bully who torments him." But no. In spite of being a basketball star, Keem was really lonely because people tease him about being a Muslim, and after a little bit of initial tension, he and D hit it off almost right away. It made the book an enjoyable read.

The supernatural elements were not as well developed as I felt they could have been, and I ended up with too many unanswered questions about the dead and about Nuru, her role, her realm, and her mission. I just didn't feel that I got a very good picture of how it all fit together.

As with Elliott's first YA novel, A Wish After Midnight, there is a strong sense of place, and Elliott's love for her adopted city of New York, and in particular the Brooklyn borough, shines through. New York history also plays a role.

This would be a great book to read in a classroom setting, with its historic tie-ins and explorations of prejudice and tolerance. Elliott included several pages of discussion and writing topics at the end of the book.

Buy Ship of Souls from:
Your local independent bookseller through IndieBound
Barnes & Noble

FTC required disclosure: Reviewed from ARC. Review copy provided by the publisher to enable me to write this review. The bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Book People Unite: Take the Pledge and help RIF put books into the hands of kids in underserved communities

"...there’s only one book for every 300 kids living in underserved communities in the U.S." RIF has been putting books into the hands of kids for decades. Now, they've teamed up with some top recording artists and actors to create this music video to raise awareness and encourage people to join the cause. After you watch the video, please go to http://www.bookpeopleunite.org/ to learn more about the video and sign the pledge. It doesn't cost you anything.

RIF recently lost its federal funding, which represented 80% of its operating budget. But rather than give up, this loss seems to have infused RIF with new energy, new creativity, and new determination to accomplish their mission. But RIF needs our help. Visit http://www.rif.org/ for information on donating or volunteering in your community.

Books inspire, educate, inform, entertain, but most importantly they open minds to new ideas, new horizons. Imagine how much it benefits us as a society to put books in the hands of kids who don't have them. In the words of Grammy award-winning Hip-Hop band The Roots, who produced the video, ""Narrative is perhaps the most essential aspect of human culture." I would agree with that, and add that narrative is not "just" story; it helps us to make sense of the world around us. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Walking the Clouds: an Anthology of Indigenous Science Fictio

Walking the Clouds is an anthology of indigenous science fiction. The book sounds fascinating, and I'd love to read it, although I admit to being disappointed to discover that most of the stories are excerpts from longer works, and only a few are self-contained stories. This review contains a short but interesting interview with editor Grace Dillon: "Just as our science is not primitive, our storytelling has always contained the elements of science fiction that are considered forward-thinking, inventive and visionary today." Read the review & interview here.

Many thanks to +Biology in Science Fiction for sharing this gem.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Once Upon a Time

Snow White is so badass!
I don't often write about television, but I feel compelled to say something about what I feel is the best new show on television this season. Imagine what the creators of LOST could do if they took on fairy tales. Wait: you don't have to imagine! That's what really happened! Once Upon a Time is based on fairy tales, but it's so much more than just another fairy tale retelling.

The story takes place in two worlds. One is the fairy tale world, populated by the characters we know (or think we know) and love. The other is a town called Storybrooke, Maine, where those same characters are cursed by the evil queen to live ordinary lives in our world, with no memory of their fairy tale existence. The queen herself, played by Lana Parrilla, is the mayor of the town.

The first episode introduces the town and the characters, and shows the fairy tale backstory leading up to the curse. Then, in typical LOST fashion, the entire rest of the season proceeds to deconstruct the backstory, teasing out the "true story" in stunning reveals, episode by episode.

The acting is BRILLIANT, especially Ginnifer Goodwin as Mary Margaret Blanchard/Snow White, Lana Parrilla as Regina/Evil Queen, and Robert Carlyle as Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin. Most of the characters are very different in the two worlds, and the actors handle the double characterization beautifully. I can't say enough good things about the entire cast of this show.

I adore Red Riding Hood's cape!
The production values are very high; it's worth watching the show for the costumes alone! From the queen's elaborate costumes to Snow White's forest getup, from Emma Swan's boots to Ruby's cute modern costumes in Storybrooke, the attention to detail is amazing. I particularly love the costumes that give an ironic nod to some of the characters' Disney counterparts, such as Belle's dress in "Skin Deep."

If you haven't been watching this show, you should be. I recommend that you don't jump into the middle, though. As with LOST, you may be a bit confused if you haven't been watching along, and you'll definitely get a lot more enjoyment out of it if you watch from the beginning so that you can follow along with the development of the characters and the reveals. You can watch the episodes on the ABC website, or get them from Amazon Instant Video or iTunes. There is also a DVD of the first five episodes that ABC says is available exclusively from Target.

A heartbreaking performance by Lana Parrilla
For those who have been watching it: I thought last night's episode was the best yet! Lana Parrilla was absolutely brilliant, and the tragedy, and her transformation from an innocent teenager to the beginnings of the evil, manipulative character we know, were absolutely heartbreaking. Even though you pretty much knew what was going to happen after the initial setup was revealed, watching it unfold was horrifying. And the confrontation between Mary Margaret and Regina in the jail was incredibly moving, with terrific performances by both Lana Parrilla and Ginnifer Goodwin. (There must be something about that jail cell that inspires the best in the writers and actors! Some of the best scenes have been in that cell.) The talented girl (Bailee Madison) who played young Snow White not only looked a lot like Ginnifer Goodwin, but she nailed Snow White's mannerisms. And of course Barbara Hershey was perfect as the Queen's mother. What did you think?

Photos are from the ABC website.