The Howards End Trifecta

I dove back into my comfort zone this past month: English literature. As you may see from my Goodreads feed in the corner of this blog, I listened to the 2009 Blackstone Audio recording of Howard’s End by E.M. Forster narrated by Nadia May and available on iBooks. I sifted though a few samples before landing on her as my narrator of choice (narrators can make or break an audiobook). This, of course, was after I’d watched the 2017 BBC series based on the novel starring Hayley Atwell and Matthew Macfayden. However, before I decided to compare it with the 1992 feature length film version starring Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins.

I love watching adaptations. I love getting more of something I already love or seeing how ~maybe~ the movie could make it better *cough cough* The Horse Whisperer *cough *cough* or present it exactly the way I’d imagined and more! Books and their movie counterparts can be equally enjoyable, change my mind. I will say, I was a tad surprised that I found the 1992 adaptation lacking. I was bored stiff, and by amazing actors and performances. But I don’t think it was the running length. Obviously the 2017 miniseries had more time to explore the details of the novel – it was the 1992 versions’ screenplay.

The script followed the outline of the novel well enough, but it was devoid of any of those cinematic moments that truly make you feel for the characters you’re watching. And this is coming from a person who has watched the 2005 Pride & Prejudice FAR more than I ever have the beloved 90s miniseries. The film hit all the right plot points, but I wasn’t torn when Margaret was forced to choose between her sister and her husband upon accepting Mr. Wilcox’s proposal nor was I very worried when Helen suddenly broke contact for mysterious reasons. Those small moments that get us close and intimate with a character I think were lost in the film’s attempt to be a faithful adaptation to the text beat by beat.

I guess I just can’t say enough good things about Macfayden’s nuanced performance as Mr. Wilcox either. He’s an amazing actor to watch. You hate him one moment and love him the next, Hopkins seems far too detached to be likable even in the end when the audience is meant to come around to his character. All the characters seem more fully realized in the 2017 miniseries. Except Leonard Bast… I’m still trying to figure out what Joseph Quinn was doing looking mildly constipated the entire time.

So, here’s the order in which I consumed my media:

2017 BBC miniseries
1910 Novel
1992 Film

I recommend all for comparison, but the novel doesn’t exactly need my endorsement. It’s a classic.

(featured image is Hayley Atwell as Margaret Schlegel in the 2017 adaptation available on STARZ)

Revision Is Your BFF

One of the hardest things for me to grasp is that writing, in my experience, is not seen as a viable talent or a gift which needs refining. You see it in the creative world and you see it in the professional/corporate world. Everywhere. And I’ve dabbled in just about all of it: technical writing, poetry, dialogue, most recently copywriting.

One of the saddest moments I had in my experience as a technical writer was spending many hours rewriting an online training manual. I took a lot of the language which was fairly conversational and translated it into more palatable verbiage for the reader and a person new to an unknown process. I left the job and came back a year later to find that my manual had been edited, by many, with no checks. Inconsistencies in phrasing and wording abounded and I just looked away. Anyone can do it, right?

For an example of good vs. bad technical writing, just think about every piece of furniture you’ve tried to assemble on your own. How difficult was it? Did the instructions help or hinder you? Technical writing is important. Not everyone can do it well or effectively. But if it’s not seen as a viable skill, anyone can do it, right? And that’s when the confusion begins.

The same goes for creative writing. Someone doesn’t just come out the gate a Hemingway or a Ishiguro. Not even Hemingway or Ishiguro. It takes years of honing and practicing and (almost always) relying on the advice of others to better your craft. Molly McCowan of Inkbot Editing has a great post where she talks about the importance of an editor in writing and relying on the advice of others. There seems to be a common misconception that great writing just is. It springs up out of nowhere, BAM. New York Times Bestseller and long-lasting masterpiece.

My favorite part of the process has always been revision. To me, the first draft is that lumpy pile of clay and I don’t even know where to start or what shape it really is by the time I’ve written it. In revision, however, I start to see the true form and I feel most inspired. That’s what editors are here for, to feed you that inspiration and cut out that shape you’re trying to find, Mold your treasured words before you put them out into the world.

(featured image by Aaron Burden)

Editor For Hire

If you look at the top righthand corner of the page you’ll see a new tab marked EDITORIAL SERVICES. If you’re a budding writer or someone who’s been writing for a while and needs some editing… I can help!

Lucky for you, that happens to be my specialty. I can assist in making sure your grammar is top-notch, your story has flow, and even help you learn how to format a script properly. Please, visit my services page if you’re interested in learning more. Cost will vary depending on the project, but it’s well worth it if you’re looking to put out the best possible product in a competitive market.

Happy writing!

remember my best sellers challenge? et al.

Remember that thing I said? That I was going to pick up my best sellers reading challenge from 2016? I really did enjoy diving into The Horse Whisperer and getting transported back to the 90s while watching the visually beautiful film adaptation. It was one of those books that makes you almost *enjoy* your anger while you’re reading it. So yeah, maybe I’ll make an empty promise to go back to this list again.

I still have my copy of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and his prose is mainly what stopped me from reading the rest of it. His writing is so bad for so many reasons… but hey, I have no excuse not to finish it now. And, in case you can’t tell, I love books with film adaptations. I love seeing changes/differences and understanding why the writers made the changes they made.

I’ve been watching one of the Great Courses on screenwriting with all my downtime and I’m getting a lot from it, except one major point with which I disagreed mid-course. Prof. Angus Fletcher recommends writing an adaptation as a “warm-up” exercise to eventually writing an original story of your own. Having done both, I can say an original script felt FAR simpler than an adaptation. You’re not attempting to meld a story from one medium into another when you’re writing an original piece. Can’t say it wouldn’t be a great challenge though for someone interested.

We’re so quick to criticize books > film as an audience I don’t think we tend to appreciate the MASSIVE challenge screenwriters/directors face in the process. Having recently watched the 2020 Emma., and being about as unimpressed as I thought I would be (not with the visuals – those were super fun), I keep going back to my favorite 2009 BBC adaptation with Romola Garai in the title role.

Honestly, it’s probably THE only adaptation where they get Harriett’s character right…

It’s 4 hours compared to 2 which should be noted, but Sandy Welch does an excellent job with every series for which I have seen her adapt a story for the screen.

Bringing it back, I’ll probably go back to The Da Vinci code and watch the movie just to see what Tom Hanks was so excited about. Although reading the book… I think Dan Brown was imagining more of a Chris Hemsworth type than a Tom Hanks for his protagonist.

We all have dreams, don’t we, Dan Brown?

greta, thou hast surprised me

Color me wrong. The best kind of wrong.

There were many happy surprises throughout a film that I was prepped not to like, but found myself charmed instead. It reminded me a bit of the book > film adaptation Mansfield Park (1999) which fills out the heroine’s personality (Fanny Price) with characteristics of the story’s author (Jane Austen). A huge deviation from the book, but something that works for one of Austen’s most criticized heroines.

There’s flecks of Louisa May Alcott’s actual life peppered into Jo’s story in the film (her meetings with her publisher) which rely less on the source text of Little Women and more on the actual journey of Alcott as an author. Not a bad choice considering I think the book, overall, is a bit more saccharine than Alcott seemed to be herself.

A friend tipped me off that the story was told in a non-linear fashion, events unfold out of sequence and the movie does a great deal of timeline hopping. This actually reminded me of my initial reading of the novel when I was in high school. I was given the SECOND installment of Little Women, published under the title Good Wives in 1869, as a gift and read it without knowing it was the first half of Alcott’s now famous tale of the March sisters. Much as this reading experience didn’t affect my appreciation of the story – neither did the this choice for the film. A technique of which I am usually skeptical, but Gerwig uses it effectively. One example is with Professor Bhaer.

He’s the first man we meet in the film as it works it’s way back to him again. This gives the audience more familiarity with him than in the book where he can seem like a tacked-on love interest after Jo’s rejection of Laurie. That’s my take on it anyway. If you’re looking for a more in-depth reason as to why Prof. Bhaer is so dreamy in this version I think The Cut covers that pretty well here. And I agree with Gerwig’s choice.

I think the 90s version still has my, overall, favorite casting choices. I won’t harp too much on comparing one film version to another as this is a novel > film comparison, ultimately. I think each adaptation brings it’s own strengths/weaknesses to the table. HOWEVER, if you want a good laugh that will leave you wondering if some critics ever bother to read the source material you can always click here to see why one man thinks what I consider an OK adaptation is OMFG THE BEST EVER. He pretty much hates everything Greta did with a vehement passion and offers no justification tying it back to the actual novel. He says Gerwig “settles for sentimentality.” Classic. Um, have you even *read* Little Women, bro? It’s sentimental AF. Why is that a bad thing? ROTFL. #endrant

Other than that, the reviews I found online were mostly favorable. Mine being one of them. I could go on about casting choices (surprised how much I enjoyed Emma Watson as Meg in this, Gerwig really seemed to bring out her acting chops and not just rely on her Emma Watson-ing), but I think I was pleased with most of them. The actors played well off each other and the sister-dynamic that is so crucial to the telling of Little Women was present and accounted for. Amy was much more grounded in this, but I attribute that to a slight rewriting of her character and less on Florence Pugh’s performance. Another change I didn’t mind.

I think if an audience member comes into this film with no expectations and fresh eyes it can be an amazing experience. I didn’t think a new version of this story was needed. Now, I’m glad we have this one in the canon. I think Gerwig made it just different enough to introduce a new generation to the March sisters and renew an interest in Alcott and her legacy. I just wish the previews didn’t make it seem like such a feminist manifesto, save for a few bolder scenes (Amy’s speech about marriage to Laurie), the film is much more nuanced than that (Jo’s speech to her mother about being independent, but also lonely <— REAL LIFE).

I recommend Little Women (2019) right up there with my other favorite version(s) of the film. Oh yeah, the book is pretty great too.

little women (the preamble)

Today I was asking a friend of mine whether or not she’d ever read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women or seen any of the film adaptations. She had not! A very exciting prospect to consider, coming to such a well-known text with no prior impressions. What a treat!

She then said she always prefers film adaptations which stick closest to the book.

Slightly disagree. I can’t say I entirely agree. There are too many differences in the way a story is told to justify the idea that “the book is always better than the film.” As previously explored in my post about The Art of Adaptation there’s many reasons why major changes to a source text can result in a successful film. So long as the heart and characters of the story remain intact, I’m happy.

Of the 3.5 versions of Little Women I have seen, the 1990s adaptation with Winona Ryder us my favorite. I didn’t even finish the most recent, gritty, BBC series… 30 min. in and it just didn’t feel like Little Women. As for the most recent theatrical release in the U.S., I have avoided it. From what I can tell, feminist anachronisms abound and I am not about that. The Alcott’s were mold breakers in their own time and I prefer to keep their attitudes in context. But hey, I’ll give it a go today and see if it surpasses my expectations.

the goal

It finally happened. You went back to school, got another degree, went back into the workforce for a while and put your nose to that grindstone and told yourself, “Dammit, this will be the time I get a job in my field! I WILL get paid for having a degree in English and all those people who asked, ‘So, are you going to be a teacher?’ can finally go suck an egg when I get there!”

That’s a really great goal, right? Accomplish something so you can say:

I told you so?

Joke’s on you, Smug Writer Who Thought She’d Be Writing Masterpieces Of The Stage By Now, a pandemic caused you to lose your job. Well, almost lose your job. Let’s hope there’s still a job by the time this is all over. I used to laugh at this blog because I’d give all this advice on reading and writing and yet I wasn’t getting paid to do it, then I was, and now I’m not (again). During that brief period when I was legitimate – I managed to post 0 updates. How’s that for irony?

So, here I am back at it. I actually finished another book since being unemployed which is rare for me these days considering I have so little time and mental focus to read these days. That could very well be why I’ve spent so little time on a blog about reading and writing. That and WordPress seems to update their system every time I log back onto this thing.

All this to say, I guess the hunt never stops. And the only consistent (or inconsistent) part of my writing life has been my scripts and this blog.

more horse talk

The second half of The Horse Whisperer certainly lost its momentum. It’s one of those books that’s easy to read (I got through it in just under a week), but I’ve been putting off this review because I didn’t like it. So, not sure if I was really aching to write this post. The prose of the book isn’t even bad! Aside from some awkward sex scenes, but then, I don’t even read romance novels so I may not be an authority on what makes a GOOD sex scene.

I will say this, I enjoyed the movie far more. This was one of those rare instances where the movie was definitely better than the book. Fight me, this film came out in 1998. Where the movie succeeded and the book didn’t, to me, was making the focus not Annie, but Annie and Grace’s relationship. There’s an equal weight to both of their arc’s. Come to think of it, I don’t even think Annie has an arc in the book. She starts out a selfish, controlling woman who continues to be selfish and controlling up until the end, cheats on her husband and gets pregnant by the man she “truly loves.”

Everything is all well and good in her world when all you want is for her to nose-dive off a cliff.

The only sad part is when Tom is trampled by a herd of wild mustang (actually super random and kinda funny) and dies. Really, he should be thankful, he would have had to spend the rest of his life with one helluva woman.

The film keeps Tom alive at the end and has Annie “doing the right thing” and going back to her family. Sure, the story doesn’t have to end on a moral high note, but I think it felt like a more natural ending to this saga, otherwise, what was that all for? Going back to my Gone With the Wind analogy, it’s not like at the conclusion of that story where Rhett’s walking away, and you get it, but there’s a small part of you thinking: “But they should be together! I don’t know why because she’s terrible, but they should! ”

Nicholas Evans, I am way late to this gravy train, but this book was not the business.

horse update

For a book I bought on a whim and have had sitting around my apartment/in boxes for the better part of two years. I’m actually surprised at how much I am enjoying The Horse Whisperer. I’m not always too keen on titles that make the bestseller list (either because I’m too hipster, out of the loop, or buried in old books). This does go down pretty easily – as popular fiction tends to do.

For anyone who doesn’t know what this book is about – After her daughter (Grace) is left disabled and traumatized in a riding accident, a workaholic mother (Annie) whisks her daughter and her hopelessly shaken horse to Montana, enlisting the help of a quiet rancher who’s known to work miracles with horses.

I will say, this book does seem pretty of its time. Annie’s one of those career women of the 90’s that I see emulated in my own mother. Grace is of the headphones and MTV generation. I have no love loss with Annie – I don’t like her – which makes me wonder if she’s supposed to be one of those Scarlet O’Hara type figures that you love to hate. The thing is, I like Scarlet as a character, I can’t stand Annie. I probably identify all to well with Grace. Maybe that’s the rub. And the fact that Annie’s behavior will somehow be rewarded with Hot Cowboy Guy (Tom Booker) somehow being all into her and her strong lady routine while her Good Man husband (Robert) sits forlorn in their New York apartment… MAN, is this book ever British!

The author, Nicholas Evans, was a screenwriter/producer up until he published this book. Although today. I was thinking about Nice Work by David Lodge, which I had to read in my undergrad, and then it hit me, “Ah yes, the typical representation of unhappy marriages where there is 0 communication as to what is causing the actual unhappiness.” The foothold the British Literature/Drama. I’ll probably have this finished within the week and have watched the 3 HOUR film adaptation starring and directed by Robert Redford. Hopefully then, I’ll also be able to tell you why in God’s blue Montana sky they felt the need to make a film that long with a such a bare bones premise.

Bestsellers

Years ago, a friend of mine and I had the idea to start a list of New York Times Bestsellers Through the Decades and read down the list. The list was meant to start from a decade back and move up to the present… 2016. Needless to say, we didn’t get very far, at all. The only one we did manage to read was The Martian by Andy Weir which, if I remember correctly, I did review on this blog when it was published. Not a huge fan, but it was popular enough to be made into a film so that made me think about bestsellers and how reflective they are of the time in which they are published. We’ve had Mars fever for a while, but only in recent years does it seem as though we’re getting close and closer to actually touching its surface with human beings. Mars is in the public conscious.

Also, think about it, Gone With the Wind was a hugely successful bestseller in 1936 followed by the equal success of its 1939 film, but would that get made today? Maybe, but the direction would certainly be different.

Here was our list:

2015 THE MARTIAN – Any Weir (READ)

2005 THE DA VINCI CODE – Dan Brown

1995 THE HORSE WHISPERER – Nicholas Evans

1985 LAKE WOBEGON DAYS – Garrison Keillor

1975 RAGTIME – E. L. Doctorow

1965 THE SOURCE – James Michener

1955 BONJOUR TRISTESSE – Francoise Sagan

1945 THE BLACK ROSE – Thomas B. Costain

1935 VEIN OF IRON – Ellen Glasgow

2016 (Let’s Bring it Home) THE BURIED GIANT – Kazuo Ishiguro

^ This list is the only reason I own a copy of The Da Vinci Code and The Horse Whisperer. Do people even talk about these books anymore? Remember what an absolute stir Dan Brown caused? Meanwhile, Gone With the Wind is still talked about in all its controversy. So, why do some of these books have staying power and some don’t? Surely, they were culturally relevant at some point. If you look at the list, some still ring a bell, others are almost completely forgotten to the modern reader.

I think I’d like to get back to the list and ask myself the same questions as I read. Honestly, though, I hate holding myself to a strict regiment – so I might just hop around. I’ll start with the books I already own, at least! Maybe I’ll add the decades missing. I think I’ll start with The Horse Whisperer. I’m dying to know what all the whispering is about, 1995 here I come!