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Self-publishing. Respect.

Back when I graduated from university in 2008 with my BA in Creative Writing & Literature there was a bit of a stigma to self-publishing and it’s amazing to see how it’s changed over the years. I spent a brief period of time as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble when I came back from completing my MA in the UK and often customers had no idea they were requesting a POD (Print-on-Demand) self-published title. Those authors have major traction now. It’s become fairly popular for Instapoets to get their words on the page as well. I’m in the middle of self-publishing a book of poetry myself and I have more respect than ever for this entire process.

Not sure why I didn’t consider doing this sooner. I much prefer doing things my own way. Not going to lie, writing contests have never held a huge appeal for me. I’ve tried my luck at a handful but never kept pursuing it. I prefer to do my art my own way and let the audience make of it what they will. The one major downside is you have to get your art in front of people all on your own, but oh how nice it is to be doing it all for you and completely your own way.

I’m not going to go into the entire process since there are already some amazing resources out there, but I can share some of the ones that I am using. I work with graphic designers on a daily basis at my job so thankfully, a friend/coworker did my cover design (I paid her). I found a great typesetter/interior designer thorough Reedsy who I am working with now and in the final stages of proofing. The publishing platform I’m using is IngramSpark which, to be honest, I’m still learning how to use… but they have a lot of helpful articles for us newbs to this whole self-publishing process.

I can’t say I’m a guru just yet, but the next book should be SO much easier! Although maybe not cheaper… Oh, and I don’t update it as often as I should, but you can find me @dukeofverse on Instagram.

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.

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.

The Scourge of Similes

Much like my rant on adjectives, similes are another major “writerly” Pet Peeve of mine. Good writers can get away with using them. Books get published all the time with terrible, terrible uses of similes. I even read a Stephen King novel once that had similes for DAYS (granted, it was probably ghost written and maybe this was an intentional stylistic choice, who knows), BUT I would argue that great writers learn how to work without them and/or use them in moderation.

What is a simile? It is as simple as using one thing to describe another: Her bosom heaved heavily like a whale coming up for air after a long and lengthy dive into the depths of the ocean. Bosom = Whale. Done. There’s your comparison! Why do I hate this?

  1. It lacks creativity. Half the time you can take out the “like” AND the bald-faced comparison by rephrasing the sentence to make it sound as though you’re not spoon-feeding your reader an analogy. IE: Her bosom heaved, she was coming up for air after a deep dive.
  2. Similes assume the audience is kind of stupid. Believe me, they’re not. They’ll know by the context of the sentence that she wasn’t actually coming up from a literal dive, if you must needs use a simile.
  3. A simile is hardly ever necessary. You can describe the thing as the very thing it is and get away with conveying the message successfully: She took a deep breath and felt her chest rise and fall. < Why is that so terrible to so many writers? Must we always jump over the hurdles of not-so-fancy words to compose a simple sentence?

This came up as a post-worthy topic because I’m currently 1 of three 3 lovely ladies (emphasis on the “lovely”) editing a literary journal at my university and I finally sat myself down with a glass of wine to delve into reading some of the prose submissions. I’m not even going to touch the poetry right now. You can say I’ve made a bit of a career out of reading slush piles for free.

Slave labor, really.

Maybe someday I’ll actually get paid for it. Until then, there’s always cups upon cups of tea to keep me relaxed as I read the third simile in one paragraph because the author could not think of a better way to describe something than by, once again, comparing it to something else.

Have I used similes? Yes, I’m pretty sure I used the “whale” one in an essay in 6th grade. My parents were very impressed. But, I really feel this is something most writers should grow out of as you hone your writing and fine-tune it. Unless your pinnacle of success is dime-store novels. Again, people who write like this do get published, but I don’t think they’ll go down in the annals of history as the writers who changed the face of the writing world. Read the Great Writers. They do not do this and if they do, they’re an advanced version of this trope, a super-simile. Prove me wrong. Come at me, bro.

The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact And Fiction Into Film

For those who don’t know me, I hate research. Okay, I don’t HATE research, but I’m not a huge fan of it by rigid academic standards where they want you to show your work like in a math problem. I’m far too free of a sprit when it comes to what I read and consider research. “Reasearch-y” type books with stilted academic language drive me crazy. So, when I picked up The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact and Fiction Into Film by Linda Seger from the shelf of my university library I gave it a mad side eye.

183949I’m not going to act like I know everything there is to know about writing. I don’t. I have a blog I barely update, 1 degree (and coming up on another in “creative writing” – whatever that means) and most of what I write remains either in the slush pile somewhere or between the pages of my journal. What does that mean? I read more and write more and read more and write more. Gotta get better in the meantime. By the “meantime” I mean the space in which I avoid writing my dissertation.

Seger’s book was written in the 1990s so it’s a tad outdated – and almost hilarious with how much Seger talks about a potential The Phantom of the Opera (based on the Lloyd-Webber musical) film adaptation. Oddly enough, most of her suggestions were addressed in the subsequent 2004 adaptation. She talks about Field of Dreams a LOT as an example of an adaptation that made some significant changes, but still was a successful translation to the silver screen. And I’m a firm believer in films still being true to the book and decent translations of the original text even if they veer here and there. Hey, I even have/had a podcast about it! But that’s MIA right now…

What I like most about Seger’s approach though is, she’s been in the trenches, she’s been consulting on scripts herself since 1981 so she’s not just theorizing what does and what does not work. You can kind of tell the authors of these “how-to” books who have never actually done the job themselves. They use “perhaps” and “quite possibly” a lot…

Nah, in my mind, something either does or does not work, and that’s the approach Seger takes. The first 4 chapters alone detail why specific genres defy the transition to the screen: Why Literature Resist Film, Why Theatre [sic] Resists Film, Why the True-life Story Resists Film etc. Brilliant. Start with what doesn’t work. ANNNND the whole book runs just over 200 pages. No need to wax on.

I think my other major take aways are her discussions on style and tone and the need to clearly establish these in the beginning of a film/screenplay. Film is a different medium than a novel, you don’t have as much time to rest on your laurels in exposition (I’m looking at you Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). And a change in style or tone mid-film can alienate an audience and throw them off. She didn’t use this as an example, but Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, for one. The book is set firmly in the realm of fantasy until midway through the main character, The Wizard Howl, steps into the real world. In Hayao Miyazaki’s film of the same name the entire story remains firmly rooted in fantasy and it’s wonderful. A shift in the middle would have made it feel like a different film entirely.

What I’m trying to say is, if you want a good, no-nonsense approach to adapting something into a screenplay, this is a good read OR if you’ve ever watched an adaptation of one of your favorite things and thought, “This… doesn’t work…” and can’t figure out why, Seger probably has the answer.


Adjectives Are Not Your Friend

Actually, they are. Sparingly. Want to know why I am not a fan of most romance novels (aside from the usually poor technical writing)? Adjectives! Adjectives to describe the blue-white clothing on the heavily-muscled man’s broadening back (…). Description for the sake of description. As a reader there are two responses: “Wow! This must be a good writer because he uses so many fancy words.” OR “This is driving me insane. I’m not impressed and I just want to get to the next sentence without wading through a jungle of words.”

Sadly, I thank most authors, especially fledgling writers, fall under the assumption that the best writer’s in the world pad their prose with useless descriptors. In reality, less is more. Read the authors that have withstood the test of time and you will not find the surplus of flowery language found in most fiction today. Mark Twain even made fun of this practice in his short story, “A Double-Barreled Detective Story.” He writes:

“It was a crisp and spicy morning in early October. The lilacs and laburnums, lit with the glory-fire of autumn, hung burning and flashing in the upper air, a fairy bridge provided by kind Nature for the wingless wild things that have their homes in the tree-tops and would visit together; the larch and he pomegranate flung their purple an yellow flames in brilliant broad splashes along the slanting sweep of the woodland; the sensuous fragrance of innumerable deciduous flowers rose upon the swooning atmosphere; far in the empty sky a solitary esophagus slept upon motionless wing; everywhere brooded stillness, serenity, and the peace of God.”

An entire paragraph of nonsense. Yet, he goes on to show published responses to the passage from readers who admired his description, but didn’t quite understand the words. Especially, the reference to an “esophagus” in the sky. Likely, Response #1 readers who didn’t get the joke.

In good writing, if there is a lengthy bit of description it has a purpose. Writers have a romance with words, that is what makes them writers, but even the most happy couples will support the old adage of having too much of a good thing. So, please, for the sake of your readership, less PDAs. Thank you.