It rarely ever turns out well. I could probably count on one hand the number of movies I have seen that have actually been better than the books they are based on. This means, quite obviously, that 97% of the time, the book is the better version of the story. Because the book IS the story. It was contemplated, written, re-written, and then finally approved as the best story it could be. And if a movie studio has deemed it worthy enough to make a movie out of, then obviously it’s a great story!
So, if the books are great, why do directors, producers, actors, etc. feel that they need to change the story? This drives me up the wall, especially if the writer is on set helping out. I can understand changing costumes or lighting and such so that it produces a better scene, but to blatantly change the plot line? What makes the movie industry qualified to re-write a best-selling story? If the author had wanted that to happen, they would have written it that way!
The most obvious example that comes to my own mind is the sixth Harry Potter movie. I remember being so extremely excited for this movie, because lots of really crazy stuff happened in that book, and I wanted to see it on screen. Now, I know that a lot of avid HP fans have lots of qualms with the movies (which is exactly why I am discussing this subject). I remember feeling actual anger as I left the theater 3 hours later. “Excuse me”, I wanted to yell at the screen, “when did (insert your favorite misconstrued plot point here) ever happen in the book?!”. A movie should not invoke those kinds of feelings.
The plot is all there, in black and white. There are no mysteries or questions. Yet why, WHY, does the story appear differently on the screen than on the pages? I am paying to see a live-action rendering of a book that I liked. If you are going to change it, you might as well call it something else. Obviously I’m talking about major plot differences here, because if the person’s hair color is different, well, that’s not going to make me want to throw my popcorn at the screen.
And please, if you are going to put ‘based on the novel by…’ in the credits, at least add the word ‘loosely’, so that your viewers aren’t completely shocked when you rearrange half the story and change the ending from a sad one to a happy one. I may be exaggerating here, but I just bet I am not alone in thinking this way.
This trend makes me skeptical to see movies of my favorite books. I usually wait until someone I know goes to see it and then rely on their opinion of it to make my final decision. I just don’t like to willingly view the butchering of a great story.
The bottom line is that if movies that are based on books want any more of my money, they will have to stick to the story that is given to them. They picked it for a reason, now show the audience why!
Rant over (for now).
Whenever I finish a really good book—one of those books that keeps you up at night, begging to be finished, that makes you think about something completely differently, that inspires you to create something that beautiful and thought-provoking, yourself—I immediately wish I could talk to the author. Sometimes I’m dying to ask the writer about their plot choices, but mostly I just want to know how. How’d they do it? How did they come up with the idea? How did they survive the grueling process of writing and editing? I want to know all about their process and experiences and habits, anything to give insight into the amazing feat of writing a book.
If you’ve ever felt the same way, then you’re in luck. We’ve invited some of Unsolicited Press’s fabulous poets and writers to join us for a little round table Question-and-Answer. Some questions are serious, some are silly, and all are interesting. Read on to meet some of our authors and find out about the behind the scenes process of writing.
To read what the authors had to say, click to read the article. This is a longer piece, but I hope it stimulates conversation!!!
When I was little—just at that age when you can read books all on your own, but you still beg for them to be read to you—I had a favorite book. My mom thought this book was weird and creepy and should find a forever home on the quiet barely-ever-read top shelf. I thought this book was great; I loved the mystery, the inexplicable, the way the story made me feel uneasy and uncertain.
The book was Dear Mili, the long lost Grimm story found hidden in a letter Wilhelm Grimm wrote to a young girl in 1816, this edition made all the better by Maurice Sendak’s vivid fairytale illustrations. To escape the destruction of war, a mother sends her young daughter into the woods. The girl meets an old man who promises to let her stay in his cottage if she helps him. She serves him for what appears to be three days, but those three days end up being thirty years. Back home, the war is over and the little girl’s mom is an old woman. The man sends her back into the woods to return home before her mother dies. Another little girl, who looks just like her, guides her home, through the dark and difficult woods.
As a child, this book made me feel something I couldn’t properly explain at the time; it wasn’t like any other story I had read. It had magic like other fairytales—the sudden slip in time, the woodland guardian angel—but this magic was different, it was strange and unfamiliar, it had a hint of darkness to it, as though it could just as easily be sinister instead of helpful. Just as the magic seemed unfamiliar, the rest of the story felt so realistic, almost bleakly so; war driving a mother to send her daughter away, alone, to the forest.
It wasn’t until college, in a class on literary theory, that I found a word for those feelings, an interpretation for why I was so drawn to this story: the uncanny. We read Freud’s essay, The Uncanny, and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself intrigued by an interpretation under the heading of psychoanalysis. Freud begins with the word uncanny itself, unheimlich (unhomely) in German, and the way that it is defined by what it is not, not homely, not familiar, and yet it is not a perfect antonym because not all new, unfamiliar things are uncanny. Freud goes on to analyze instances that evoke the uncanny, making a distinction between the uncanny in real life and the uncanny in fiction. Sorry for the drop quote, but here is a taste of some of his ideas:
If psychoanalytic theory is right in asserting that every affect arising from an emotional impulse—of whatever kind—is converted into fear by being repressed, it follows that among those things that are felt to be frightening there must be one group in which it can be shown that the frightening element is something that has been repressed and now returns. This species of the frightening would then constitute the uncanny…if this really is the secret nature of the uncanny, we can understand why German usage allows the familiar (das Heimliche, the ‘homely’) to switch to its opposite, the uncanny (das Unheimliche, the ‘unhomely’), for this uncanny element is actually nothing new or strange, but something that was long familiar to the psyche and was estranged from it only through being repressed.
Now, as a writer, I know how difficult it can be to create the feeling of the uncanny in a story, how difficult it is to incite subtle, questionable feelings in your reader. As a writer, how do you build suspense, how do you make the reader feel uneasy and unsure? It’s especially difficult to do so when you already know the ending, already have the mystery unveiled. Somehow, it is our task to recreate the mystery for our readers and force them to do the work of figuring the story out, pinpointing what makes it so uncanny, deciphering the hidden meanings.
For Freud this difficulty lies in the relationship between the real and the fantastical: “…many things that would be uncanny if they occurred in real life are not uncanny in literature… in literature there are many opportunities to achieve the uncanny effects that are absent in real life. Among the many liberties that the creative writer can allow himself is that of choosing whether to present a world that conforms with the reader’s familiar reality or one that in some way deviates from it”.
What better time to consider the interplay between what is real and what is fantasy, than Halloween! For one day, the two are interchangeable in the most uncanny of ways. Traditionally, Halloween glorifies the obvious, the outright scary and gory and gruesome, it sets free all the things lurking in the shadow, but personally I’m a fan of the understated, the subtle things that scare you without explaining exactly how or why, the uncanny. If you need a break from the outright terrifying, check out my list of stories that are ambiguously unsettling, that straddle the lines of what is real and what is make-believe, that delve into the recesses of our collective unconscious and make familiar again, what was hidden for so long.
“Dear Mili” by Wilhelm Grimm, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
Dear Mili was my very first unsettling story. Five-year-old me says it should be read by all and right before bed.
“Haunting Olivia” from St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell
Karen Russell loves to set her reader’s expectations on end. Her language is as surprising and weird as her stories and Haunting Olivia is no exception. Two young boys discover a pair of magical goggles and set off into the grotto to search for their sister, Olivia.
“Incarnations of Burned Children” by David Foster Wallace
The subject matter of this story is gripping and horrifying, but it is the perspective and point of view—as if a child were watching from above as the events unfold—that makes the story truly unsettling.
“Happy Autumn Fields” by Elizabeth Bowen
In Happy Autumn Fields Bowen capitalizes on the way that doubling or twinning can make us uneasy (something that Freud discusses further in his essay). The lives of two girls, living very different lives in different times are in some way connected in this story, but the nature and reason of that connection remains a mystery.
“Night at the Fiestas” from Night at the Fiestas by Kristin Valdez Quade
This story is wrought with a prickling uncertainty. It seems so normal at first—Frances is riding her father’s bus into Santa Fe to attend the Fiestas—but Quade is the master at building subtle suspense, leaving the reader wondering what will go wrong.
“Two Houses” from Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
Kelly Link’s stories are so weird and strange. She creates unsettling and uncanny feelings with her specificity of detail.
The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan
Travel stories are the perfect medium for the uncanny. They provide so many opportunities for the new and the strange to overlap with the familiar—when we travel we seek out both in equal measure. Throughout this novella, I kept convincing myself that it was strange, that nothing was wrong until that act of convincing became unsettling in itself.
“The River” by Flannery O’Connor
Flannery O’Connor is the queen of unsettling. All of her stories beg to be read, but I chose The River because the image of the enticing yet secretly sinister river has stuck with me so long.
* Note: If you liked this post, then check out The Uncanny Reader: Stories from the Shadows, edited by Marjorie Sandor; it includes some of the stories listed above plus many, many more.
Books have always been my favorite accessories. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t buried in their pages. “She’s going to be a writer,” my mom would tell dinner guests as I shook breadcrumbs out of my book. I never really thought about doing anything else with my life. It seemed like it had been decided so many years ago. I would be a writer. I fought my instincts all the way through my second year of journalism in college before I finally ran out of gas and admitted my biggest fear: I didn’t want to be a writer.
The ensuing identity crisis was turbulent. In freeing myself from the race to create the “next Great American novel,” I felt as though I might have lost my chance to create anything. It’s difficult to be part of a species obsessed with creation when you don’t feel a desire to add to its library, but I’ve learned a lot about my definition of creativity over the last few years. Here are five things every supporting player in the book industry should remember.
1.) Being an enthusiastic audience member is just as important as writing the play, scoring the film, or designing the set.
Addressing fans at the final Harry Potter film premiere, J.K. Rowling said, “No story lives unless someone wants to listen.” The audience's role is just as important as the role of the writer or the performer. The ability to absorb a new idea or concept is creativity in its rawest form. Just because you didn’t create the words on the page does not mean you’re a passive consumer without value or creative abilities.
2.) Love things with an unapologetic enthusiasm.
When you’re not at peace with your role in life, it can be difficult to enjoy others’ artistic efforts. The books, shows, and art you used to love might suddenly trigger an irritable response. Don’t let your perception of what you think you should do limit who you are. Inspiration is everywhere. Absorb new ideas. Explore new environments. Be who you are in this moment. Love things enthusiastically and unapologetically without forcing yourself to contribute an unnecessary admission fee.
3.) Don’t confuse creation with affirmation.
I get it. It’s difficult to be surrounded by successful writers, writers/editors, designers, and photographers if you’re struggling with your creative identity. But they will be the first people to tell you that a need for positive affirmation does nothing to drive their creative impulses. Their need to create is driven by curiosity and a love for the creative process, not by a positive reception. Just because you don’t thrive on that creative process doesn’t mean you don’t have something to offer. Embrace what makes you different.
4.) Cut yourself some slack.
Life isn’t about overcoming obstacles that block the path to who you think you should be. Life is about exploring different abilities and letting yourself be what feels right to you. Be the first person in line to cut yourself some slack.
5.) Don’t be afraid to be a human bookend.
There’s a reason we have marketing and publicity departments. There’s a reason we have booksellers and librarians. Not everyone wants to be the next John Green. I’ve learned to embrace my supporting role in this industry. I am a proud human bookend. Now it’s your turn.
Whether you want to want to work on that neglected manuscript or finish one of the six books on your nightstand, prepare to indulge your senses with this quick and easy recipe for creating the perfect autumn afternoon to soothe your bookwormed soul.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Yield: Hours of comfortable productivity
1. Choose your location based on your own sense of comfort. Recliners or loveseats are great choices for an afternoon with a book. If you’re planning on doing some writing, settle into the breakfast bar or on the living room floor.
2. Bookworms in cooler climates should open a window and let the breeze gust through the room. If your hometown doesn’t have much in the way of seasons, try cranking up the AC or a floor fan.
3. Place blanket, socks, and book (or laptop) near your chosen location.*
4. Light the candle somewhere out of reach of the curtains and out of interest of the cat(s).
5. Choose a mug, but don’t be fooled. Not all mugs are alike. Avoid the fancy-handled animal mugs and the delicate teacups and remember that a mug’s personality is in its grippability.
6. Coffee has no rules. Prepare according to preference.
7. Curl up with your book, pet, coffee, and blanket. Breathe deeply. Watch the leaves flutter. Read (or write) for hours.**
* It’s extremely important to avoid placing these items exactly in your chosen spot of comfort as the cat(s) or dog will claim them.
** The cat(s) should investigate the moment they detect their human’s comfort. If not, grab cat(s) at first opportunity and attempt to convince them to purr. (Dogs require no convincing.)
The swing to eBooks, online newspapers, and textbook PDFs is impossible to ignore. Across the country there has been a shift away from physical products that you can store on your shelf and towards texts that you can access from any mobile device. The ease of access and lowered price point is making eBooks not only convenient to the reader, but also a necessity for the modern author.
It is no surprise that eBook sales gained momentum after their introduction, but what may come as a shock is that eBook sales have been slowing since 2013 (Trachtenberg). In fact, in the first five months of 2015 eBook sales have been declining (Kozlowski). Instead paperback sales are seeing a boost. Could this be the end for eBooks?
Not likely. EBooks are convenient. Consumers can fit thousands of books into one device and access them anywhere. Authors too have taken to eBooks, signing contracts with big names like Amazon to get their name out or to continue a line of books that publishers are no longer interested in. EBooks have opened up a niche for authors to publish what they want to see in print with less oversight. So, there will be pressure from both authors and readers to continue eBooks.
The other side of the written word triad is the publisher, of course. And I think this is where we will begin to see the most change. Publishers have traditionally been the gatekeepers of quality, content and presentation. However, with more sources for authors to put out their product, publishers will have to race to keep up.
I expect a shift away from the big publishing houses, back to indie publishers that are willing to work with authors to see the book the author had in mind. These small publishers are already including eBooks as part of the deal. Authors want to write their content, not something diluted by what publishers think will sell, and indie publishers are giving them just that. Authors looking out for their fan bases can publish the next book in a series even if their original publisher isn’t sold on the idea. Smaller publishing houses will be the wave of the future, as authors find they no longer get caught up in the machine.
Publishing is one of the oldest industries in the world, but has staunchly refused to grow with each passing decade. The rise of eBooks was the first wave, but it was only a taste of what’s coming next. Authors have seen new outlets for publishing and they’re not willing to give them back. Gone are the days of the author waiting hungrily for their book to hit shelves. Publishing houses that can keep up with new ideas about where, when and what kind of content an author wants to produce will see dividends on the other side. These will be the houses that give us a new face to publishing, one that has been too long in coming.
Kozlowski, Michael. "E-Book Sales Plummet All Over the World in 2015." Good EReader EBook Audiobook and Digital Publishing News. Oakbranch Media Inc., 16 July 2015. Web. 07 Oct. 2015.
Trachtenberg, Jeffery. "E-Book Sales Fall After New Amazon Contracts." WSJ. Wall Street Journal, 03 Sept. 2015. Web. 09 Oct. 2015.
As you may know, last week was Banned Books Week. An entire week at the end of September dedicated to raising awareness of censorship and promoting the freedom to read. My social media feeds lit up with articles and campaigns, listicles of the best banned books, Instagram photos proclaiming to the world that I, indeed, “Read Banned Books”, even #bandbooks, a twitter challenge from the literary journal, The Scofield, to come up with our most clever band/book title mash-ups, my favorite of which remains, “Fleetwood MacBeth”.
It’s all in good fun and for an important cause, one that, as a former librarian, I know is in need of reminding. According to the American Library Association—who with the help of other organizations such as the Association of American Publishers, the National Coalition Against Censorship, PEN America, and the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress, started Banned Books week in 1987—there have been more than 11,300 books challenged for censorship. In 2014 alone, 311 challenges were made to the Office of Intellectual Freedom and those are just the ones that have been reported.
Censorship is still an issue that needs to be addressed, and yet now that Banned Books Week is over I’m feeling lost at how to do so. Ours is a world of hashtag maelstroms, media blitzes, and trending items. Activism has become the new fashion industry, full of fads and trends and fleeting moments of awareness. The new challenge is how to sustain ideas, to put in the daily work of fighting something as big as censorship. I am not berating Banned Books Week, itself. I think it’s a great tool, especially for libraries and bookstores to engage their customers in thinking about this issue. But I am wondering if Banned Books Week should be reminding us of something bigger than just the books that are banned, a larger responsibility that we, as readers and particularly as writers, must be ever careful to bear.
For me, I am reminded of my own favorite banned book: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Specifically, the pivotal moment on Boo Radley’s front porch. After all the action of the night has come to a close, Scout is tasked with walking Mr. Arthur, no longer the mysterious Boo Radley, back home. As she is leaving, she pauses for a second on the Radley’s front porch: “I turned to go home. Streetlights winked down the street all the way to town. I had never seen our neighborhood from this angle. There was Miss Maudie’s, Miss Stephanie’s—there was our house, I could see the porch swing…In daylight, I thought, you could see the post office corner.” Scout, then, gets lost in reverie, imagining the view from the Radley’s porch during daylight while the neighborhood is bustling.
That moment says it all. I had never seen our neighborhood from this angle. Perspective. That is the essence of empathy, the essence of writing, and the reason that books get challenged or censored at all—they dare to stand on the Radley front porch and show a different point of view in the glory of daylight. Later, Lee writes: “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.” 
Just standing on the Radley porch; that is our responsibility as readers and writers. In remembering the history of censorship, the privilege of our freedom to read, we must also remember why books are censored, and the power in adding a different perspective to the world. The root of censorship, of banning a book, is fear, fear of the unknown, fear of what is different from us.
And so when we talk about banned books and censorship we are really talking about diversity. To combat censorship we should be fighting for diversity, for reading outside our comfort zone, for writing to a diverse and global perspective. This is where the real work begins because it is hard.
There are so many right ways to embrace diversity in writing, but there also many wrong ways. The important thing is that we try, constantly, to embrace the power there is in writing and in reading, to step out on someone’s front porch and write new perspectives, give voices to those that are hidden and mysterious and othered behind their front doors.
 “About,” Banned Books Week, accessed October 6, 2015. http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/about
 Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (New York, NY: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1960), 293.
 Harper Lee, 294.
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