How do I take a break from writing fiction?
I write TV pilots. With pitch docs. And synopses.
Not quite sure “take a break” means what I think it means.
How do I take a break from writing fiction?
I write TV pilots. With pitch docs. And synopses.
Not quite sure “take a break” means what I think it means.
The Guardian recently ran a piece about what it called the “post-horror” movement. Where the new films coming out were somehow different than what’d come before because, in the writer’s opinion – and I’m gonna simplify it for you – the filmmakers were relying less on blood and gore and more on a sense of dread and quiet scares.
Although it’s always great to see the horror genre being openly and actively discussed – which leads to open, active discussions in the community – I’ve noticed a trend, an annoying trend, that I need to discuss. And it’s basically this:
Horror is one big bloody tent. And to forget that simple, undeniable fact is a disservice to what we – writers, filmmakers, readers – do.
Horror is Saw. Horror is Get Out. Horror is Friday the 13th and The Others. Horror is The Fog and Hellraiser and Nosferatu and Phantasm. Horror is Alien as well as a documentary on the rise of Hitler and the chaos of World War II.
Horror is Anne Rice and Stephen King and dozens if not hundreds of writers – some known, many not – in-between.
Blood. Gore. Mysteries that lurk in the shadows. The creeping dread of something unseen but still felt. The terror of an unexpected, impossible sound coming from the dark. The fear of being surrounded by a group of strangers that could go from docile to deranged in a split second.
You see? Horror can be a great many things. That’s why it’s a genre I love and which speaks to me. You can do almost anything when it comes to horror.
So, instead of laying down a false marker by saying “Well, this was horror back then and this new stuff, now, is post-horror” doesn’t do justice to everything horror was, is and will be.
As disparate as these examples seem – and I’m well aware I’ve now become The Guy with All the Lists, but I’m proving a point – the earlier courage of one in some way gave birth to the other. Horror, as a genre, whether it be fiction, film, TV, short stories in magazines, whatever, it’s all tied together.
One drop of blood spilled years ago in some way, somehow, gives birth to a scream heard in the here and now.
That’s why, in my opinion, “post-horror,” as a label or, as I said earlier, some kind of marker, just doesn’t work. New-horror. Modern-horror. Those might work. Maybe. If we absolutely NEED to somehow play with Before/After and categorize things into a haphazard row of unnecessary boxes.
Or, heck, we could just KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid – and just continue calling it what it is:
I’m a relentless optimist. I’m also a no-bones-about-it realist. It’s a nice blend. Keeps me relatively stable and sane in what can be a career of dizzying highs (or so I’ve heard) and abysmal lows (first name basis frequent flier here).
And one of the things I’ve come to understand is you need both to effectively move through what can sometimes be the mystifying, frustrating process of being adapted from fiction to film (or TV).
And, believe me, I’m not slamming the process.
What most don’t realize is that moving a project forward in Hollywood, getting from A to B, is often dependent on a haphazard puzzle of myriad pieces somehow finding a way to snap together. It could take weeks. It could take months. It could take years. It could never happen. Some projects click quickly. Others less so. But the pieces need to come together, they need to fit and, as much as possible, they need to be perfect. And the one constant truth linking those two together, and everything in-between, is that you, as the writer, have zero say in how things inch forward. You just don’t.
Nor should you.
But this is the beauty of being a writer and one of the reasons I love what I do: when the no-bones-about-it realist starts to nag the relentless optimist, chipping away at his sunny disposition with perfectly reasonable doubts, the Writer gets to work.
Because not only am I a relentless optimist, a no-bones-about-it realist and a Writer (with that capital W), I’m also blessed with a creative mind that just…doesn’t…stop. The list of projects I have on my calendar currently stretch into 2020. And that’s not taking into account whatever projects land on my plate driven by other people, production companies, my publisher, anthologies, etc.
The Martuk Series. Eidolon Two. Eidolon Three. Eidolon Four. Eidolon Five. The third Martuk novel. A new project about magic and secret realms and dangerous monsters that lurk in plain sight, spanning different timeframes all at the same time. A potential three-book series centered around Mot from the Martuk books. Continued script adaptations for film, for TV.
So when I start to feel a bit grrrrrrrrrrrrr…I just flip it into work. And as I write, as words land on the page, hopefully stretching into paragraphs and then pages, chapter after chapter finally becoming a book or a short story or a screenplay or whatever, all those haphazard puzzles with their myriad pieces, something I can do nothing about, are putting themselves together. Bit by bit. Piece by piece. Phone call by phone call. Rescheduled meeting by rescheduled meeting. Email by email.
But, and this is important, when I get that email or that text or that phone call or whatever by whoever saying “Hey, let’s talk” it makes all the waiting – and furious writing – worth it. It really does.
Because another constant thread with this business is the courage to take a chance. Yes, get those pieces together and make ’em fit. Do what you can to guarantee as much as possible the largest audience possible. (Talk with me ’cause Lord knows I got ideas) But at the end of the day, you’re still rolling the dice and taking a risk.
It’s just what we do.
What’s my point with this? Maybe nothing. I’m not sure.
All I know is, as a writer, I’m lucky I drive the bus and can turn whatever impatience, curiosity or whatever I feel into work. Work that might, at some point, end up being part of yet another puzzle with pieces needing to be put together.
Which will lead me into writing more.
It really is a gloriously vicious cycle, ain’t it? 😊
I recently ran across an interesting – albeit brief – read about the current state of Hollywood. In it, the writers says
Part of Hollywood’s current decay was unavoidable. As a monoculture splintered permanently into niche groups, the idea of a film everybody sees and everybody can’t stop talking about fades further into the cultural past. The rise of cable networks willing to spend serious money on shows like “Game of Thrones” further dents Hollywood’s ability to be the main supplier of big stories.
The article then goes on to discuss how the business model they’ve created has painted them in a corner where heartfelt sincerity is out, out, out and big, big, big profits are in, in, in. Where audiences have, when it comes to summer movie-watching fare, either this superhero movie (where things explode, buildings crumble and people are saved -or not) or that superhero movie (where things explode, buildings crumble and people are saved – or not).
And if the superhero movies are all basically interchangeable and easily forgotten, where’s the magic in going to the movies? Short answer: there is none. Which is why people are staying home and watching Stranger Things or Game of Thrones or whatever.
Now, I understand the financial logistics of this. I know foreign markets (China, Russia, Israel, Germany) drive profit. That Hollywood, being a global business – as in the whole world and not just America, a fact we somehow forget here in the States – isn’t necessarily making movies just for the domestic audience which, in truth, feed less and less into their bottom lines.
Really, though, Hollywood knows films that are heavy on action, explosions, dudes in capes and light on dialogue are easily translatable for Chinese, Russian, German audiences. And if your business is making money – and Hollywood’s is – a film that translates easily regardless of borders is, or could be, the way to go.
But they’re forgetting one important fact. They’re ignoring the one thing that makes it harder and harder to get those butts in the seats:
Where are the big stories?
Really. Where’s the frickin’ magic? Why go to the movies anymore? Where’s that one film that slyly incorporates those special effects audiences love while giving us characters audiences care about, feel for and never forget? Because that’s the film this industry needs. Desperately.
Being the relentless optimist I am, I strongly believe you can have action and magic in a film without relinquishing heart and soul.
If you revisit franchises like Harry Potter or even The Hunger Games, those movies ticked a lot of boxes. Centered around strong narratives – remember those? – they both successfully blended the fantastic with emotion. They married action with heart. And they gave audiences necessary, important battles without abandoning reason or hope. Cities didn’t need to crumble, the universe didn’t need to quake and thousands of cars didn’t have to get trampled underfoot for those films to make their point and make an impact on audiences.
You see? If you have a true big story – not just a loud story – you can go simple. If you’re supported by a strong narrative peopled with unique, relatable characters, you can be quiet. And if those people are imbued with hope, heartache, anger, fear, helplessness, frustration, loneliness, doubt, strength, the story they tell, even without the predictable Armageddon, will be unforgettable.
Why? Because no matter how different that person on the screen is from those in the audience, they’ll be speaking the same language. A language which doesn’t rely on translation or destruction or annihilation. A language that can be felt in a place deeper than words.
If you really want to find the big stories in today’s Hollywood, the stories audiences are truly craving – reminder: everyone’s staying home watching cable — that’s where you begin. With what people feel. And if you can bring to life a solid story with a character who is blessed – or cursed – with the impossible and yet is still driven by their hopes and dreams, fears and frustrations, disappointments and dread, a person driven by their emotions, that’s where audiences will go. In fact, that’s where audiences will go again and again and again.
I believe if you can reach into someone’s heart, speak to that part of them that wants to feel – it’s why we go to the movies, right? – and reawaken that innate hope we all have being part of something bigger while still entertaining, still dazzling, still scaring and surprising them, they’ll come. They’ll leave their homes, come to the theater, make a night of it and see that film. They will. We’ve seen it happen before. And, god willing, we’ll see it happen again.
But that journey has to begin with the heart.
Because that’s where the big stories are.
And so it begins.
In a rare confluence of events — think a massive meteor shower pummeling the earth while a rare comet circles the heavens around a total Solar Eclipse as we discover a Kardashian with actual talent — I’m going to have five book releases over the next three months.
I know, right?
First up, Horror 201: The Silver Scream
The definitive guide to filmmaking and filmmakers by the best in the field.
Horror 201: The Silver Scream, the follow-up to the Bram Stoker Award nominated Horror 101: The Way Forward, delves into the minds of filmmakers to see what it takes to produce great horror films, from the writing and funding process, to directing, producing, and writing tie-ins.
It’s a tome of interviews and essays by some of our favorite artists.
That’s right, film legends and authors such as Wes Craven, George A. Romero, Ray Bradbury, Ed Naha, Patrick Lussier, Stephen Volk, Nancy Holder, Tom Holland, John Shirley, William Stout, and John Russo want to share their expertise with you through informative, practical, career-building advice.
These are the folks behind movies and novelizations such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, Dark Shadows, Sleepy Hollow, Supernatural, Buffy, Resident Evil, The Stand, Sleepwalkers, Masters of Horror, The Fly, Critters, Tales from the Crypt, Child’s Play, Fright Night, Thinner, The Langoliers, Ted Bundy, Re-animator Unbound, Halloween, Apollo 18, The Eye, Night of the Living Dead, The Crow, The Mist, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Horror 201 also entertains. You’ll see a side of your favorite authors, producers, and directors never seen before – combining fun and entertainment with informative career-building advice.
Horror 201 is aimed at arming generations of authors, screenwriters, producers, directors, and anyone else interested in the film industry, from big budget movies to the independent film circuit, as well as the stage.
The definitive guide to filmmaking and filmmakers by the best in the field.
Whether you’re an accomplished author or screenwriter, writing as a hobby, or have dreams of writing screenplays or making movies, Horror 201 will take you on a behind the scenes tour of the Horror movie industry from Hollywood to the UK and Australia.
Horror 201 covers:
- Horror as culture
- Scare tactics
- The evolution of the horror film
- Viewer desensitization
- Watching your story come to life
- Screenwriting advice
- Dissecting screenplays
- A production company case study
- Tricks of the trade
- Writing tips
- Advice on Producing
- Advice on Directing
- Information about funding and distributing a film
- Entertaining tidbits and anecdotes
But wait, there’s more!!!!!!!
Horror 201: The Silver Scream is perfect for people who:
- are looking to delve into screenplay writing
- want to write their first screenplay
- are fans of the horror movie industry
- like to follow the careers of their favorite directors
- are planning on infiltrating a different field in horror writing
- are looking to pay more bills with their art
- are trying to establish a name brand
- are looking to get published
- are looking for motivation and/or inspiration
- are seeking contacts in the film industry
How about a cover?
Honestly, I love how the red of the car echoes the red in the title and the red in that other car. And the silver of the screen? With the woman screaming? To me, it’s ever so slightly reminiscent of —
So, one release down, four to go. And what are those other four books?
An essay in the second volume of Horror 201: The Silver Scream; Forever Dark, an award-winning short story in Tales from the Lake, Vol. 2; an essay in Writers on Writing, Vol. 2; and Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast.
All between now and January.
It just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Okay, but, still, how cool is this!
Will update with links as the rest of these roll out.
I have a lot of irons in the fire.
Finishing up what promises to be an amazing book for an incredible publisher (Eidolon Avenue for Crystal Lake Publishing in 2016). Digging into the script adaptation of Eidolon for a production company that’s shown interest in discussing the possibility of adapting it into a TV series. Still working to find a home for one screenplay (indie) while polishing a solid first draft of another script, this one the film adaptation of my first novel Martuk … the Holy (probably Studio).
Add to that the various TV specs I have floating around, the introductions I still reach out to make, and the relationships I’m happily building, and, yeah, there’s a lot going on.
And it’s terrifying. Sometimes. Because I aim high. I aim high and I miss. And then I restring the bow and aim high again. Maybe I’ll miss, but maybe not, you know? Either way, I’m still standing. But I always aim high because, hell, if you’re going to aim, it might as well be high, right?
But you have to have the courage to miss. Because aiming high leads to a mountain of No. An endless ocean of No. A flat-out, can’t get around it, frustrating road strewn with No, Nope, I don’t think so, and — the worst one — Silence. But is that enough of a reason to not try? Of course not. So I aim high, miss, aim again, make contact, get a No, restring the bow, and lather, rinse, repeat until I get that Yes. Or Maybe. Or, my favorite, Let’s Talk. Because if I do nothing then nothing happens.
Why am I talking about this? Because I’m following my gut and reaching out to someone, someone I greatly admire, for Martuk. Someone I think would
More importantly, I believe they would understand how much of a game-changer Martuk could be for their career.
Am I scared doing this? Yep. Will that stop me? Nope. Will I actually get a response or be lucky enough to have a conversation? Hell if I know. But I’m not going to let fear run me, I’m not going to let a potential No stop me, and I’m certainly not going to stop myself from even trying just because I’m afraid.
Because, at the end of the day, you gain nothing, absolutely nothing, by living afraid. So why do it?
Take aim, fire, and have the courage to miss.
Who knows? You just might land a bulls eye and get a Yes.
If Variety is to be believed — and it’s usually more right than not — “author” EL James has decided to write the script for the second Fifty Shades of Grey movie. Let me attempt (and I can’t promise my head won’t explode while doing this, but I’ll give it a go) to count the ways this is so very, very wrong.
A) Screenwriting, especially the adaptation of a book to film, is more than recording in script-form what happened in the book. If Miss James’ fiction writing is any indication, her work as a screenwriter will almost certainly lack the finesse, sophistication, pace and, oh I’ll just say it, SKILL that a screenplay for a major Hollywood movie needs. As I’m learning with my own spec adaption of Martuk … the Holy, you need to have a ruthless eye for what’s essential and what can be consolidated or completely chopped. It’s a very delicate balancing act, one that Miss James, according to first hand accounts from production, steadfastly refuses to do.
Listen, if Kelly Marcel, a gifted screenwriter with some very good films under her belt, can beat her head against the wall for months trying to turn Miss James’ first person present tense narrative-free drivel into something – ANYTHING – that might work onscreen and still come up woefully short (due, in part, to Miss James’ constant intrusion and obvious need for control), how in the hell does Miss James think she can pull it off?
B) The success of a book adapted for film is found in the creative team that works WITH the author to successfully help the story make the transition. In other words, the author needs to surround themselves with the best team possible and then let go and allow those who know what they’re doing get busy and do what they need to do. The goal should be having the film be a success for everyone, and that’s damn hard to do if a newbie keeps inserting his or her busy-body into every frickin’ decision.
Miss James’ unwillingness to take her hands off the wheel — and Universal’s head scratching (and, in hindsight, no doubt desperate) decision to give her unprecedented control — has taken what could have been a fairly good film based on an infamously bad book series and turned it into a hilariously bad movie (one that had a great opening weekend, but has seen a 60% drop since then).
Allowing a hack writer to pen what will most certainly be an amateurish script is asking for trouble. It’s putting a hopefully respectable and respected Director in a position of having to work with something that might be impossible to shoot, forcing a production team to work for many months on something that reeks to high heaven from the get-go, and cornering a Studio — A STUDIO — into putting a successful franchise in the hands of a first time (say it again with me, kids) FAMOUSLY PISS POOR WRITER. After the reviews of the first film, they NEED the second to be better. Period. Full Stop. End of story. And for a non-screenwriter to demand she write the screenplay …
My god, a gamble of that magnitude makes even MY head spin. And the clueless arrogance and hubris of Miss James … I don’t even know where to begin.
C) The audience.
So, yes, let’s talk about the audience. The first movie had a smashing opening weekend. Driven by curiosity and, for fans, an almost knee-jerk need to defend something they like, people hit the theaters in droves. And if the reviews and audience feedback are any indication, the adaptation was a disappointing dud. One that made money, yes. But will it get repeat business, the cornerstone of every blockbuster franchise? Probably not. Will people be lining up as eagerly to see the sequel? That’s a big question mark.
Because if the sequel is as bad as the first one, the curious, having been sated with the first installment, may decide it’s not worth the price of a movie ticket and just catch it on PPV or Streaming. And the Fans Who Seek to Defend? Well, if they’re feeling disrespected — ANOTHER bad film of a book I love? Are they even TRYING? — they may reconsider.
Listen, the sequel NEEDS to be stronger. Period. And it needs a better script and less author intrusion. The chances of that happening if Miss James is in charge? Slim to none. And with her contractual control? Good luck getting her to do rewrites or agree to cuts that everyone agrees are necessary, but that she believes are fine.
Again, my head, it’s spinning, spinning, spinning with how off the rails this can go.
In conclusion, what remains is this: for writers like me who are just beginning their Hollywood journey into AdaptationVille, the willingness of a Studio to allow even the slightest bit of control in the future is hanging by a thread. What if so-and-so ends up being another EL James with his or her hand in everything? And they have no idea what they’re doing? And they’re bullshit slows down production and costs us money? Ack! They’d run for the hills.
You know, it kinda sucks that, as writers, we’ve had to work doubly hard to help readers see they deserve better than the stupefying pile of stinking shit that called itself Fifty Shades of Grey. And, as readers, we’ve had to sift through the mountains of atrociously written Fifty Shades wannabes that have spread through the publishing world like an unfortunately timed yeast infection.
Are we now, as screenwriters and moviegoers, going to have to pay yet another price for The Increasingly Poor Decisions of EL James?
God, let’s hope not.
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