Book to Screen is Becoming Easier

Image purchased from Adobe Stock.

There once was a day, not long ago, that the only way to get your book turned into a TV series/movie was to traditionally publish, sell a TON of copies, and pray your publisher’s rights department had really good connections. It was a rarity that anyone, even the bestsellers, got these deals.

But over the last several years this has been changing. I’m not exactly sure when it started–I first noticed it after the success of Twilight, but that doesn’t mean anything other than that’s when I was paying attention–but Hollywood began adapting more and more books. These were usually still traditionally published bestsellers. Enter Netflix, Amazon and Hulu with their constant desire for content to adapt, and TV/movie deals grew even more common.

Then came 50 Shades and The Martian, which showed that a rare few indie books might be worthy of adaptation, you know, if they sold like a million copies. Indie authors with sales numbers like that began to be able to contract with film/rights agents just as if they were traditionally published.

Now it seems everyone is in on the game. Hallmark has had a production arm for their TV channels for ages and now has a publishing arm to feed it. We’re all familiar with Reese Witherspoon’s production company Hello Sunshine. The Obamas and Hillary Clinton have formed their own production companies. Back in February, Wattpadd formed Wattpadd Studios. Just yesterday, Harlequin announced they are starting their own TV/Movie sector.

There is even hope for us indie authors. One of my friends just mentioned that more and more Hollywood people are attending major book conferences to hear pitches. (I think she specifically mentioned the Willamette Writers Conference.) If you write romance, Passionflix (I swear to you it’s not what it sounds like), will take a look at your book. (Although most of the books they’ve adapted to date seem to be traditional bestsellers.)

Then there is Taleflick, a relatively new company (first publicized last August), that aims to bring together Hollywood types (directors, producers, screenwriters, etc.) with books written by indie authors.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I got my movie/TV option for Madame Presidentess through TaleFlick. But I do not work for them, they have not paid me to endorse them or in any other way suggested that I should speak positively about them. I am just a VERY happy customer.

If you want a quick rundown on who they are, I was just quoted in a Publisher’s Weekly article about TaleFlick. I really like that they don’t care about your sales numbers. They are looking for a quality story and a professionally produced book. That’s it.

All of this means more opportunities for authors than ever before. Granted, they still say 99% of books that get optioned never make it to film. Alyson Noel, a YA author whom I consider a bit of a mentor, had her book, Saving Zoe, on option for 10 years before it was ever made into a movie. (Opening in select theatres and streaming online July 12.) She has several others on option that still haven’t been made. Deborah Harkness had A Discovery of Witches optioned several times (I know of at least four, including at least one major Hollywood studio) before finally landing with BadWolf Productions, a new company who made the TV series that aired in the U.S. earlier this year to much critical and fan acclaim. So options still aren’t guarantees, but they are opportunities that are getting more and more within our reach.

Even if my books, or your books, never make it to that point, being able to say they were optioned is worth it, at least in my opinion. It gives you credibility that is SO difficult to come by as an indie author. And you’ll make a little money (and I mean a little) on selling the option. What do you have to lose?

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GRRM and the Three Bears…

…or, the virtue of leaving clues that are visible to the average reader but not ham-handed, neon-bright arrows.

I’m going to start with a small qualifier: I have neither read A Game of Thrones/A Song of Fire & Ice, nor have I watched the HBO series. I am, however, a sentient human being with access to the internet, so I know the last episode – in which the Mother of Dragons went postal – created something of a stir. Or a shitstorm. Or therabouts.

I know this in part because Chuck Wendig made a tweet thread in which he argues that character should come before plot – accusing implying that GRRM &/or the series creators may have overlooked this small detail.

You can read his thread HERE, and you should. He knows his stuff. Also, he deconstructs the episode – and the series – HERE. (And if you’re really into it, fashion bloggers Tom & Lorenzo also have a detailed review you can find HERE.)

The big concern with the Game of Thrones episode seemed to be that Daenerys Targaryen behaved in a way that was inconsistent with her character. Maybe or maybe not – I did see at least one tweet prior to the episode suggesting that the Mother of Dragons might end up being the Big Bad, which tells me there must have been at least a couple hints along the way.

Hints that the vast majority of the television-watching public apparently didn’t notice.

Sunday night, while the rest of humanity was glued to HBO, I started a mystery by a new-to-me author. It was a pretty standard trope: Big City Woman is dragged back to her small-town home for Reasons, where she Learns Things, Figures Out Whodunnit, possibly Falls In Love, and then decides to Stay Forevermore.

Sadly, I bailed on it by about 30 pages in, because:

  • I didn’t connect with the main character. At all.
  • Which turned on my editing brain, so that every time her eyes wandered around the room, I lost a little more patience. (Her gaze wandered. Her eyes stayed in her head. Thanks.)
  • As a result of my lack of connection and super-editor, the clues to the character’s arc were glaringly obvious.

The main character was the only one in the family who had the time to take care of the problem in the Small Town, even though it meant leaving her job in the middle of a project and pissing off her boss. Because apparently a woman’s work is never too important to interrupt.

Whoops. That’s another blog post.

Anywhoodle, her stated goal was to return to her uber-exciting life in the Big City, but from just about the moment she arrived, she had Feelings. Right there in her internal dialogue, she noticed a strange connection to the place, one she could not understand. “Why do I feel this way?” she’d ask herself.

Why?

Because it says in the blurb that you’re going to have a change of heart, sweetie, and you’ll want to stick around.

*ahem*

Leaving aside the (potentially sexist) set-up, to me these “what an odd emotion” moments were clunky, too-obvious road signs to her character’s development. I think it would have worked better if she’d had a chance to earn that sense of connection rather than just stumbling into it like a slap-happy princess in some insta-love romance.

And honestly, maybe she did. I mean, I did quit at only 30 pages. But hey, I’m over 50 and there are too many books left for me to read to waste time getting annoyed.

Although the stories are very different, I think the essential problem is the same. Daenerys’s behavior took a wild left turn from her established character, and the mystery character’s “odd feelings” didn’t relate to anything intrinsic to her personality. In the one case, the clues were too subtle, and the other, too blatant.

Seems like we should be able to split the difference somehow.

I wish I could say I knew how to avoid either mama bear or papa bear details. I’m researching Victorian London with an eye to writing a mystery, so I’ve done a lot of thinking about how to leave baby-bear style clues – hints that give readers just enough to keep going, but don’t beat them over the head.

The best advice I can come up with is that character trumps plot, and to be ready for a shitty first draft and lots of editing. To that end, I’m brainstorming characters’ goals and motivations and secrets and wounds and all the good stuff that will (hopefully) help me construct a story that’s character driven, and not the other way around.

With a plot Chuck Wendig would love.

Wish me luck!

2017: Stuff To Get Excited About!

It’s the beginning of a new year, friends! And with a new year comes a whole bunch of new media to get excited about! For this post, I’m going to keep the positivity train rolling and run down some of the movies, television and books I’m looking forward to in 2017.

Television

We’re in a golden age of television right now. There’s so much content being released every year, and because so much of it is good, it’s hard to keep up. There are two new series debuting this year that I’m really excited about more than anything else:

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Legion

A TV series about Charles Xavier’s schizophrenic telepath son sounds like it could be pretty wild, right?  

Fox’s treatment of the X-Men properties has been a mixed bag over the years. X-Men 2, Days of Future Past, and Deadpool were all great movies. X-Men 3, Apocalypse, and Wolverine Origins were all rancid turds smeared over film reels. Needless to say I’m a little apprehensive about the prospect of them bring the X-Universe to TV.

That said, FX has been producing some really smart and dynamic TV over the last couple years, including an adaption of Fargo by Noah Hawley, who is also the series creator on Legion. I think bringing the oddball charm and humor of Fargo to one of the stranger corners of the X-Men Universe could produce remarkable television.

I’ll also watch Aubrey Plaza in pretty much anything. As an aside, if you haven’t watched Parks and Recreation yet, stop reading now and go watch it. This blog post will still be here when you get done.

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American Gods

I was late to the party on American Gods. I adore Neil Gaiman’s comics work, but hadn’t read any of his prose fiction until a few years ago. Shauna demanded I read American Gods and OMAG I couldn’t believe I had waited so long.

Now that story is coming to television and I’m thrilled.

There’s always pitfalls involved with adapting a book to film or television, especially one with the scope and style of American Gods. There’s a tone and tenor of this story that would be difficult to capture on film, a huge challenge to bring the vividness of the prose to life outside the reader’s mind.

Luckily, Bryan Fuller, one of TV’s most brilliant visual creators is helming this project. His work on Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies were all inspiring, but his recent run on Hannibal was one of the most visually arresting pieces of television I’ve ever seen. If there’s anyone who can do Gaiman’s vision for these characters and world justice, it’s Fuller.

Movies

Pretty much every year from now until the End of Time we’re guaranteed a handful of superhero movies and a new Star Wars movie. 2016 brought us a really good superhero movie in Captain America: Civil War, a decent one in Doctor Strange and two dreadful ones in the form of Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad.

2017 will bring us one of the most important superhero movies ever and the next mainline Star Wars film and I am super excited for both.  

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Wonder Woman

This actually happening.

Finally.

If you told me 20 years ago fricking Ant-Man would have a solo movie before Wonder Woman I wouldn’t have believed it, even if you were bound by the Lasso of Truth. Well it’s 2017 and Ant-Man had his movie two years ago, but now it’s Wondy’s turn.

I’m really excited for this movie, just because it’s Wonder Woman, but I do have some major reservations. On the positive side, Gal Gadot looks fierce as hell in the costume, and yeah she doesn’t have a huge acting range, but I think she’ll be fine. Look cool and kick ass. The trailers look great so far (happy to see my boy Chris Pine) and Wonder Woman was the best part of the otherwise abysmal Batman v. Superman.

That said, the trailers for the aforementioned Batman v Superman were also great. So were the ones for Suicide Squad. And Man of Steel. Those movies ranged from middling to absolutely dreadful. I fear this will be the case for Wonder Woman – awesome trailers that show what could be a good movie – by the final product ends up butchered by a bad script and executive meddling.

I’m going to be optimistic. This will finally be the good DCEU movie. One of them has to be.

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Star Wars Episode VIII

The Force Awakens was everything I wanted in a new Star Wars.

Yeah, it was derivative of A New Hope, but it had everything that made me fall in love with Star Wars as a kid – great characters, a compelling villain, breathtaking action sequences, and quiet heartfelt moments. The nostalgia moments and callbacks were handled perfectly in Episode VII, whereas I thought they were a bit hamfisted in Rogue One.

Speaking of Rogue One – I didn’t love it (and you can hear me and Kristin talk about it on the last episode of our podcast). I was wary about the off-year Star Wars side stories between the mainline series, and Rogue One did little to satiate those fears.

I am, however, incredibly excited for Episode VIII. With director Rian Johnson at the helm – probably best know for 2012’s grim time travel flick Looper – I have a feeling this next episode will go the way of Empire Strikes Back. I foresee a darker tone, increasing danger for our heroes, more tragedy – but I’m also the Rey finding her way as a Jedi. Those Luke and Rey training sequences will be a-maz-ing!

I’m trying to keep the Hype Train in the station, but I know as soon as the first trailer drops, nothing’s going to hold it back.

Books

There’s a whole bunch of new books coming out this year that I’m sure are amazing, but I’ve got a ridiculous backlog, so this is the year I’m going to finally tackle my TBR pile! Well, a good portion of it at least. Here’s six of the books I’ve already picked out to start:

Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Updraft by Fran Wilde

The Fifth Season by N.K Jemisin

Every Mountain Made Low by Alex White

Counterpart by Haley Stone

The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

It’s a pretty eclectic mix of Science Fiction and Fantasy. I’d also like to read some nonfiction this year, I used to read books on politics and economics pretty regularly, but stopped a few years ago to focus on fiction.

That’s what I’m looking forward to in 2017, what about all of you?

Genre Conventions, I Defy You

One of my current favorite shows on TV is Jane the Virgin, a clever, satirical romance-drama-telenovela hybrid that is one of the smarter shows I’ve seen in the last few years. It breaks down romance and soap opera conventions while still playing within the rules of the category: even as it pokes fun at the rules of the telenovela, it abides by them. The result, while cheesy at first glance, is magnificently self-aware, snarky, and satisfying, because it trusts an audience aware of the conventions it explores.

Without getting spoilery, the first episode of the new season looks at the expectations of the romance reader/viewer, specifically that magic component, the HEA. (That’s Happily Ever After in romance lingo, for those of you who aren’t in the know.) When readers pick up a novel in the romance section of the bookstore, they expect, by and large, a happily ever after, whatever that may look like: a wedding, a baby, a kiss, a couple together forever. When writers break with that convention, it seems to create two primary results: extreme disappointment or flat-out awe at the creator of such a groundbreaking work.

As writers, most of us aren’t lucky enough to land in the second category. It takes a deft hand to write a tragic romance or a sci-fi with magical components, and it takes a truly visionary editor to find a way to sell those genre-bending pieces.

So what makes one of the successful convention-defying pieces work? Often, it’s the tricks that make all great pieces of media stand out, like great characters, compelling conflicts, and gorgeous writing. But I think there’s a secret ingredient that Jane the Virgin has unwittingly revealed: self-awareness.

While Jane the Virgin works within the rules of the telenovela, and would likely alienate its audience if it tried to tell a true tragedy, its self-awareness turns it from a typical soap opera into a deconstruction of a soap opera. By pointing out and exploring the rules of its genre, it tells a deeper story because it looks at why we have certain expectations of genre fiction. The audience becomes a part of the story.

Any time we engage with a work of fiction, we bring to it our own circumstances, our history, and our particular wants and needs. I might pick up a romance novel because I need to see that happily ever after; you might pick up a fantasy novel because you want an escape. If an author denies us the defining characteristic we are expecting from a work we’ve engaged with, they are often denying to meet our needs. But when they find a way to satisfy those needs while still surprising us, that’s when conventions become secondary to story and art is born.

What are your favorite genre-defying stories? How does genre expectation influence your reading of a particular work?

How a TV Show Called Roar Led to a Book About Guinevere

Roar_(TV_series)Happy New Year’s Eve!

As many of you know, my debut novel, Daughter of Destiny, publishes on January 1. As we count down the final hours until it’s available, I thought it would be fun to share with you how a TV show that pretty much no one watched inadvertently led to me writing the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy.

Back in 1997, a little TV show called Roar aired in the United States. The premise was that a 5th century Irish prince, Connor, (played by Heath Ledger in his American debut) was fighting for the freedom of his people from the oppressive Romans, while nursing a secret crush on Catlyn, a Christian former slave played by future celebrity Vera Farmiga (also in her debut role). Due to low ratings, it only aired eight of 13 filmed episodes (the remainder of which were apparently broadcast in 2000, but I didn’t see them). The whole season is available on DVD now.

Despite the inaccuracies (the most glaring of which is the Romans never invaded Ireland), I fell in love with the show and the Celts. I began researching them, which led to a 15-year obsession that took me to England twice and put me in touch with internationally acclaimed author and historian Geoffrey Ashe, as well as Arthurian/Glastonbury expert Jaime George, the man who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon. Somewhere in there, I found out that if King Arthur was real, he (and Guinevere) would have lived around the same period Roar took place. So the research prompted by the show was crucial to making my book historically accurate.

Other ways the show influenced my Guinevere books:

  • The Druid in the show, Galen, was my first mental model for Merlin. The character later evolved into someone quite unlike the one in Roar, but he remained the ArchDruid of Britain.
  • I eventually named another character Galen with the show in mind.
  • I was very interested in the friction between the Druids and early Christians. While it was only overtly part of the plot in one episode in the show, it became an underlying theme of my story.
  • One of the stars of Roar, Sebastian Roche (General Hospital, The Vampire Diaries, The Originials, Supernatural, Fringe), is my ideal actor for the character of Father Marius. His portrayal of Longinus in the show greatly influenced how I saw the nefarious priest Father Marius in my head.
  • The banshee in the episode of the same name had a profound influence on my understanding of just how real magic and magical creatures were to the Celts. She was a strong influence on my desire to portray the Celts’ magic as more elemental-based and subtle than the flashy fireballs from the hands or lightning from the eyes typical in high fantasy stories. (The actress who played the banshee, Brigid Brannagh, fascinated me and I’ve been following her career ever since.)

Years later, I named my cats after the two main characters in the show, Connor and Caitlyn (I misremembered the name, which was really Catlyn [pronounced “cat-lin”], but I’m not calling my cat that.) I also made lots of long-term friends on a listserve for Roar fans after the show’s cancellation, but that’s a story for another day.

daughter-of-destiny-ebook-cover-iEven though The Mists of Avalon was the true impetus for my desire to tell Guinevere’s story, it’s possible that without Roar, I wouldn’t have written Daughter of Destiny. At the very least it would be a very different book. To me, this proves that no matter how poorly received a work of art is, someone out there will like it and it can still have a profound influence on its audience, one that its creator may never be aware of. Speaking of, do you think Shaun Cassidy would want a Guinevere ARC? 😉

Have you ever heard of Roar? Dare I hope at least one of you watched it? Have there been TV shows, movies or books that ended up influencing your writing or your life? What’s your story?

Five Reasons to Watch Puella Magi Madoka Magica

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If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that I recently watched and was completely floored by an anime called Puella Magi Madoka Magica. It’s a well-known and highly, highly praised series in anime circles (to which I really don’t belong), but I came across it because Netflix thought I would like it.

Well, Netflix was right.

The plot centers around a young girl named Madoka and her friends—and what happens when a magical creature offers them one miraculous wish in exchange for signing up to become a witch-fighting magical girl. Sounds simple, but naturally it gets oh-so-complicated.

I’m not an anime expert by any means, but I gather that this show is a deconstruction of the magical girl genre. In that way, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, it succeeds because it’s both the culmination and a critique of the typical genre stories. The beauty of Madoka, though, is that it’s an artistic triumph, quite literally beautiful, and it stands on its own merits as an excellent piece of storytelling.

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So here’s why you should watch:

1. The show revolves around the power of female friendship. So many shows center on romantic relationships, whether gay, straight, or something in between, that it’s easy to forget the most important relationships in our lives aren’t all about sex. While some might argue that Madoka contains romantic relationships, on its face, it’s really about female friendship: the depths of our hearts to which friendship can reach and the heights to which it can drive us to achieve.

2. It’s a masterwork of feminism without being about feminism. There are almost no male characters in this show. The magical girls aren’t special because they’re girls who are powerful. Rather, they’re special because of the sacrifices they make to protect the human race. Neither sex nor gender is an issue. To see a show like this beloved by a geeky audience is a huge triumph, particularly when women’s right to enjoy any kind of geekery, whether written works or visual, is constantly under threat. Plus, the juxtaposition of “girly” visuals and genre-elements with true darkness and despair is gloriously true to realities of human nature, let alone womanhood.

3. It’s visually stunning. I have never seen an anime as gorgeously and triumphantly experimental in its animation style. As the characters shift between worlds, the world literally shifts and becomes Other. Each witch has her own style of magic, and it’s hair-raising to see the differences between them. While the human world is beautifully drawn, the supernatural elements are phenomenal. (Sidebar: the music is also incredible.)

4. The plot twists will gut you. Any time a magical bargain is struck, there’s bound to be a price. In this case, the price is so heart-breaking that you’ll feel devastated halfway through the series—and that’s before you even get to the meat of the central story. Despite what may seem like a played-out premise, the story told here is not a simple one. Prepare yourself for heartbreak.

5. Every character is well-drawn, but Madoka and Homura could walk out of the screen. The two main characters have layers of depth that put both onions and parfaits to shame. The timid, girly-girl who initially wants power for its own sake, just so she can feel special, shows herself to have more true compassion than a Catholic saint. And the journey she takes to finally own her power traverses roads through fear and doubt most stories never touch.

And Homura? Well. You’ll just have to see.

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Is Kit Harrington Right?

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In the article Kit Harington Has A Point About Women Objectifying Men, writer Eliana Dockterman describes how the actor is “sick of being called a hunk”, and when members of the media asks him how he feels about being described that way, he generally says, “That’s not what I got into it for.”

The guy’s an actor, and he’d prefer to be asked about, well, his acting.

Ms. Dockterman cites other examples of actors who are constantly being asked how they feel about their “heartthrob” status. Actors like Benedict Cumberbatch whose legion of fans refer to themselves as Cumberbitches.  And John Hamm, for whom there are whole Tumblr blogs dedicated to the bulge in his pants.

I’ll take M. Dockterman’s word for that one. I haven’t looked. No, seriously. Mr. Hamm can get pretty harsh when he’s asked about those blogs, and I can’t really blame him.

While Ms. Dockterman makes it very clear that women are subject to the same kind of “you’re famous because people want to have sex with you” crap, part of me wants to greet Mr. Harington’s complaint with a big ol’ BOOHOO.

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Is touching a standard part of the interview process?

 

In protesting treatment that focuses on his looks, it seems to me Mr. Harrington is complaining all the way to the bank.

Objectification is part of the Hollywood game, and women have been played since the beginning. The news that 37-year-old actress Maggie Guyllenhal was told she’s “too old” to play the love interest for a 55-year-old actor demonstrates how endemic the cult of youth and beauty is. Women are held to a different standard than men, and most of the time it seems that the sum total of their contribution is tied up in their appearance.

BCumberbatch might get asked how he feels to be a sex symbol, but only after reporters ask him  about his work. And pretty much only fashion bloggers care who made his suit.

Name an actress who is accorded the same level of respect. There aren’t many.

“And though it’s tempting to even the scales by caring as little about men’s feelings as misogynists care about women’s feelings, that attitude doesn’t help to stop misogyny or advance feminism.” E. Dockterman

The thing is, this level of objectification isn’t limited to actors and actresses. When I look at my on-line presence objectively – true confession here – most of my social media sights would fall under the category ‘NSFW’. (I blogged about it HERE a couple weeks ago.)  Maybe it’s an occupational hazard of being a romance writer, but my Facebook and Pinterest streams, in particular, are pretty much full of lovely masculine images.

Lovely, mostly naked, masculine images.

And some of them forget the mostly.

Which begs the question: After years of feminist bitching about the way men ogle young women, why is it right or fair to objectify young men?

And that’s where the guilt comes in. (Eldest child of an Irish-Catholic family, right? I can find guilt just about anywhere.) I do like to look, although it does bother me, and I try hard not to forget there’s a person attached to those abs. I don’t see following photographer Michael Stokes as some kind of feminist victory. He makes pretty pictures, and I like to look at them.

What’s wrong with that?

Does the power differential between men and women make a difference? Does the ubiquitous standard of youth and beauty applied to women matter? Is it somehow more wrong to objectify women, because so much of who they are is limited to how they look?

Yeah, I don’t know, either, but I expect M. Dockterman is right when she says we shouldn’t be dragging each other down to the same level, but rather lifting each other up.

So I’ll concede Mr. Harrington his point. He’s a serious actor practicing his craft, and we do him a disservice by focusing primarily on his appearance, regardless of how distractingly handsome he may be.

What do you think? Are beefcake photos as popular as cat pix in your Facebook stream? Can we really separate any performer’s appearance from their craft?

Cheers,
Liv

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Honestly, if I met this guy in RL, basic functions – like speech – would desert me.