Monday, June 24, 2013

Guest Poster Eric Griffith: Casting Characters

Greetings, Gentle Readers! I would like to welcome this month's guest poster, Eric Griffith. I know Eric as my good friend, fellow graduate of Viable Paradise XI, and Hadley Rille author. His official bio is much fancier:

Eric narrowly averted a career in food service when he began working in tech publishing almost 20 years ago. By day he works as the features editor for By night he sneaks out of the house to write fictions. He lives in Ithaca, New York, with his girlfriend and dogs. A sequel to his book KALI: THE GHOSTING OF SEPULCHER BAY should be out before the end of the year.  

When my beloved friend Kim asked me to write a post for Heroines of Fantasy, she said I could write "about any topic related to writing, reading, or publishing." She has, of course, left me in "selection paralysis" where I can't pick anything!

It's a good problem to have. Too much choice is better than no choices at all. Writers have all the power when it comes to what gets typed in the word processor. And one of the choices I always make when I'm writing is knowing exactly who is playing each character.

Yes, characters can and do become "people" in and of themselves. Sometimes. Writers should probably know our protagonists or point-of-view character(s) (they ain't always the same) backwards and forwards. But when starting out, even the most meticulous author, even the one who's written an encyclopedia of backstory that rivals the Dungeons & Dragons source books, might not know exactly how a character is going to react to things. Or sound. Or even what they look like!

My solution, and one I recommend to all writers, is casting: in your mind, affix a real person to that character. Not necessarily a really-real-person from your life, such as family of friends. Though that does work: For my first novel, BETA TEST, I based the two main characters on friends of mine. I went so far as to make sure my friend Dan, the inspiration for the character Sam, was featured on the cover! Why hire a model when the guy who looks the part is already available? (Now, if only he'd stop hounding me for a "modeling fee.") As long as you change enough—especially the names—you won't get sued.* Be smart: don't make the wicket witch character look exactly like your mother-in-law. At least not enough for her to notice the resemblance.

Thankfully, you have all the choices in the world. The best choice is to pick Hollywood actors and actresses who you'd like to see in the movie version of your story. Don't stick to just living thespians. Imagine your high fantasy has a villain played by Humphrey Bogart, going up against a princess who looks just like Abigail Breslin—but when she was still young and Little Miss Sunshine. Don't limit yourself to actors alone: politicians are good. They make especially effective villains or jesters. There's also the world of sports, news, etc. As long as you can picture the person and hear their voice as you type, you'll have the perfect cast.

For example, at various points in BETA TEST, there are characters who—in my head—are clearly played by Jack Black, Morgan Freeman, Valerie Perrine in the 70s, and a young Steve Buscemi. If you can pick them out and tell me who's who, well, you don't win a prize, because that just means I did a good job. I should get a prize!

In my series KALI, about a girl with a ghost problem, I've always had one actress in my head who has the look I wanted for Kali – her name is Dilshad Vadsaria, I first saw her on a TV show called Greek, more recently on Revenge– but I have never seen her as a teenager. I was forced to extrapolate this 30-year-old woman who played a 20-year-old college student down to age 15 in my head. That sounds creepy, but for my totally innocent (I swear!) and creative purposes, that exercise worked. It might not have if I had not also written out a bio for Kali that covered as much of her fifteen years of a life living with the dead as possible. So I knew her personality before I even had her cast.

It's a delicate balance to get exactly right, but one I find my writing goes much easier if I'm able to cut-and-paste a picture into that bio. And don't be afraid to re-cast. You're the director here, you can decide if someone even more suited the part comes along.

*No guarantees. I'm not your damn lawyer.

~Posted (late) by Kim Vandervort

Monday, June 17, 2013

Movie-tizing Books

Adapting books to movies or television is tricksy business. Some turn out better than others...

...and some, not so much...

We all have our opinions; I've found that devoted readers tend to like books better. On the other hand, I have actually known people who had no idea Gone With The Wind was ever a book to begin with. It is nearly impossible to get the whole scope of a novel into a two hour movie, or even a ten week series on cable. But sometimes, despite stuff getting left out, glossed over, or changed, it just works...

Why? What did the producers and directors and actors do to get it right? What makes The ones that work, work?

My opinion? The ones that work do so because the heart of the story is kept intact. The Lord of the Rings movies worked because the powers that be kept the essence of the books intact without falling too hard on the marketing plan. The Hobbit didn't because--again, IMO--it was done to market--a market that already knew the franchise and was anticipating the video game, and the Legos it would produce. There is also the viewing audience that went to see it and will go see the next one simply because Peter Jackson, JRRT and the franchise (and this includes me, I will admit!) are involved.

And Martin Freeman--nothing can be a total loss if he's in it.

Some argue that the Harry Potter movies succeeded in capturing the heart of the books and transferring it to the screen. Some vehemently disagree. I am of mixed feelings on that. I purposely did not read the books because I knew I would not like the movies any more. With four young children, I knew I'd be seeing the movies. So, I didn't want to hate them. Silly logic, perhaps, but I finally did read them all (up to book six; seven would release the following summer,) back to back, the summer The Order of the Phoenix released. Need I tell you how I hated the movie? I loved the movies up through The Goblet of Fire; yet after reading the books and learning all that was missing, I was heartbroken! How are they going to fix this mess!? The Order of the Phoenix didn't have much of the Order in it. The Half-Blood Prince, my second favorite of the books, was a disappointment. Then came the first part of Deathly Hallows. By then, I'd been about three years away from having read the books...and magically, the movies got better again. I was far enough removed to be spared looking for all the missing pieces.

And this is what I came to understand--There is no way the movies were ever going to be as good as the books. There's just too much! And, to be fair, it's like comparing those mealy-old apples to those dried-out oranges we learned about in elementary school. The movies are the movies. The books are the books. They need to be judged in their own forms, not against one another.

Since coming to this understanding, I've been able to enjoy more movie adaptations than I used to. I've chosen to showcase four of the most popular, and easily identifiable adaptations. There are so many! And not only scifi/fantasy. So what about you?

Do you always hate the movie?
Are there movies or TV shows you think worked it out?
What made it work?
What's your opinion?
This curious oyster, back to Heroines of Fantasy after three months on hiatus, wants to know!

~Terri-Lynne DeFino

Monday, June 10, 2013

Publishing Choice

Kim Vandervort started off the month of June with a wonderful post about how kickstarters and crowdfunding have opened up a new world of consumer choice within the arts. 

I wasn't quite sure what topic to tackle as a follow-up until YA author John Green made headlines (or at least, a headline) last week with his passionate declaration that self-publishing is the bane of American literature. 

Green's acceptance speech for a booksellers award somehow morphed into a rant about an industry that is growing so rapidly and in so many directions that very few of us really understand what it all means or where it's headed.  It brought to the forefront the ongoing, often vicious tensions between the self-publishing enterprise and the more traditional publishing houses. 

And it inspired me to write about this topic, which I've thought about a lot, though I've said very little, in recent years.

Me and my first ARC
I became a published author at a time when the self-publishing boom was just beginning to take off.  While I was well aware of self-publishing as an option, I decided early on that I preferred to take the traditional route, or no route at all. 

There were many reasons for this decision, though perhaps the most important one was a point made by Green himself:  Publishing is a tough road to travel on your own. 

As a newbee to the publishing industry, I wanted to work with people who understood the market, who could assist with cover design and copy, and who could tell me honestly what needed to be fixed in my work before it went public.  I wanted to be part of a network of professionals who believed in my novel enough to invest in it, and who wanted to see Eolyn succeed as much as I did.

What I didn't quite understand -- even when I started querying, and right up to the moment when I signed my first contract -- was that within the universe we call 'traditional publishing', there are a myriad of options, not just five big ones. 

There is also a qualitative (and quantitative) difference between the small press experience and the mega-press experience. 

Within small press, there are respectable businesses that operate as true presses (i.e., they pay the author and provide all the services you would expect of a traditional press), so-called vanity presses (these make the author pay them while letting the author do most of the work you'd expect traditional editors and so forth to be doing), and everything in between.  There are presses that become your family, and presses that will only ever be your cold-and-distant employer.

Aspiring authors have often asked me what route they should take when deciding to publish, and I rarely have had a straightforward answer. There are costs and benefits associated with every option, and how each individual weighs those costs and benefits can be very different.  In other words, the right choice for me might not be the right choice for you.

And let me just say this upfront:  No matter how you publish, you as an author will assume most of the responsibility for marketing your work

It used to be that the big publishing houses offered an edge in this arena; not anymore.  Even as we speak, changes are happening in the publishing industry that continue to narrow the marketing gap between big press, small press, and self-publishing.  Marketing has become an integral part of every author's career, and there is no sign of this changing anytime in the foreseeable future.

If you can land a big press, you will have a company that assumes the upfront costs of publication. They will have the leverage to not only to get your books onto the shelves at Barnes & Noble, but to determine on which shelves they are displayed. (Yes, publishers pay for the visible spots on those showy tables you see every time you walk into a B&N.)

The flip side?  If your title does not recoup their investment and make a profit within 4-6 months, you will be black listed. Your novel, and very likely your name as an author, will never be backed again by that publisher or even by the book stores that carried you.

In fact, you can be a reasonably successful author only to find yourself dumped because book three (or two or four) in your seven-book series happened to have a bad run. 

The days when the big publishing houses were faithful to their authors are fast coming to an end; contracted authors are being dropped right and left as a matter of course.  Even John Green, currently basking in the success of his first YA novels, may well find his fierce and highly touted loyalty to Penguin spurned by Penguin a few years down the line. 

Small presses and self-publishing allow you to indulge in a slower road to success, if that be your preference. 

In the case of a quality small press, you will bear some but not all of the upfront costs.  If you choose to self-publish, you will need a nice stash of cash to get things started -- and often to keep things going.  (Hence the blossoming of kickstarter campaigns; see last week's post by Kim Vandervort.) 

In both cases, you have a longer window of time with which to build your readership.  You can, to a greater extent, choose how much time and money to invest in your own marketing efforts; you have almost full control over where publishing fits in the greater spectrum of your life.  You will always be new -- that is, not yet a failure and therefore something still worth taking a chance on -- in the eyes of most readers and booksellers. 

For me, the small press option has been an excellent choice, in part because it's allowed me to balance my life as an author with everything else I do -- and it's allowed me to do this without the pressure of having to write 50,000 words next month, or sell 300,000 books next year.  I have watched my readership build slowly but surely in the company of a fantastic group of professionals who are just as excited as I am about my stories -- and about storytelling in general.

I have not made much money, but I have a wonderful circle of friends that didn't exist just three years ago.  No price can be put on that.

In mulling over all of this, I've realized that the most important answer to this question that so many aspiring authors ask is actually fairly straightforward: 

Whatever path you choose to publishing, make sure it allows you to build a community, to be part of something larger than your own work. 

If you read between the lines of Green's rant, you may realize (as I did) that this was, in fact, his core message: publishing is a community endeavor.

In this light, the term "self-published" is a misnomer, because no one can publish entirely on his or her own. All of us depend on editors, artists, publicists, fellow authors, readers, book sellers, and countless other people whose support and enthusiasm are integral to our success (however it is that we choose to define 'success').

Unfortunately, in celebrating the community he is a part of, Green ignored the fact that "the book business, the idea-sharing, consciousness-expanding, story-telling business" can and does exist outside of the big publishing houses. 

I, for one, have found just such a community of dedicated professionals in the more humble but equally admirable halls of Hadley Rille Books

And I know for a fact that my colleagues who have chosen self-publishing have built their own communities based on shared commitment to excellence (the Genre Underground comes to mind as a fine example). 

So while I have my own doubts about self-publishing (and I'm happy to go off on that rant on some other occasion), I beg to differ with Green's misconstrued belief that self-publishing is somehow a threat to the breadth and quality of American Literature.

On the contrary, readers have never had more to choose from, and more power in their choice, than today. Diversity means breadth. Moreover, there is more than one avenue to achieving quality in the stories we publish. 

Just make sure that whatever avenue you choose, you do not walk it alone. 

A small part of the Hadley Rille family, reunited for ConQuesT 44.
 Publishing should always be done with  good friends,
avid professionals, honest criticism, and plenty of wine. 

- posted by Karin Rita Gastreich

Monday, June 3, 2013

Kickstarting Choice

Recently, while flipping through back issues of Entertainment Weekly, I came across a letter to the editor in which an individual, after reading of the astounding overnight success of the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter campaign, bemoaned the fact that people raised 2 million dollars in less than 24 hours to fund a movie when there are so many worthy causes that are “more deserving” of funding. The implication was that people have a clear choice about how to spend their money, and they, according to the commenter, chose poorly.

The comment fails to take into account the fact that many of the Veronica Mars supporters may, in fact, also donate their time and money to a variety of charitable causes. One may simply look to the most recent national tragedy—whether it be Hurricane Sandy or the fatal tornadoes in Oklahoma—for support of the assertion that people do step up and donate en masse when the occasion arises. The comment also devalues the importance of entertainment to a society and its popular culture, and may be viewed as hypocritical given the fact that the comment appeared in an entertainment magazine and was submitted by a reader of that magazine.

I could write, and will spare you all, a dissertation on the topic of entertainment’s function in and importance to society. What intrigues me more, at the moment, is the concept of Kickstarter and the way in which it liberates and empowers modern consumers of entertainment. The way in which crowdfunding offers us the power of choice as we have never experienced it before.

Until Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and other grassroots crowdfunding sites popped into being, consumers had very little voting power when it comes to what we would like to see, hear and read. As a child of the 80’s, I vividly remember watching The Wizard of Oz  and a multitude of Charlie Brown specials on TV because there was nothing else on, and every night the “Star Spangled Banner” would play and the TV would switch to snow because the networks went off air. Too bad if you worked nights; no TV for you! As for choice, the Nielsen ratings gave some idea of what people watched or heard, but at any time, TV shows could be cancelled if the ratings just weren’t meeting a network’s expectation.

In the world of books, bestseller lists indicated which books were trending. Publishers decided what went into print and what stayed in print, while bookstores decided which books would make it onto the shelves. Radio stations played the same songs, over and over; until the Internet, most of us never heard of a band unless they were signed by a prominent record label and given perpetual airtime on the radio.

Enter the Internet. Musicians were the first to realize that they could put their music out there to a wider audience without a big label’s permission. Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog proved to citizens and studios alike that quality content could be broadcast on the internet for free. Thanks to Amazon and self-publishing, new writers have been “discovered,” and more and more authors are finding that agents and traditional print publishers are no longer necessary steps toward finding an audience. The recent successes of Amanda Hocking and Fifty Shades of Grey all attest to the fact that the traditional gatekeepers are losing control of their keys.

Enter Kickstarter and Indiegogo. For the first time since the days when authors and artists required patrons to survive, the consumer can take an active role in bringing a project to fruition. Rather than voting to keep an author’s books on the shelf by spending money on the end product, consumers can now purchase a product, directly from the creator, in advance. The creator has the potential to make a larger profit, the buyer has the satisfaction of knowing he or she played an integral part in bringing that product to fruition. Everybody wins.

Or… maybe not. While advantageous for creators and consumers unhappy about cancellations of favorites like Veronica Mars, sites like Kickstarter pose a huge threat to the creative status quo. While I don’t think Hollywood studios are running in fear of the crowdfunding model—because really, can we all afford to fund Iron Man 4?—I do believe that publishers, agents, and brick-and-mortar bookstores ought to start paying attention to which projects are funding and who is backing them. More and more, the average citizen is voting with his or her dollar, and they are not voting for overpriced e-books or mediocre “big name” fiction at full retail price. They are voting for the quirky sci-fi and fantasy projects, the likeable author super-excited by his own supporters, the fantastic singer who never got a big break, but can, on his worst day, out-sing both Josh Groban and Justin Bieber. Ultimately, they are voting to back real people, not corporations; people who express genuine gratitude for those hard-earned dollars in personalized products and heartfelt emails.

Ultimately, should charities fear Kickstarter? Absolutely not. People who donate their time and money to charities will continue to do so. But studios, record companies, publishers, and the theaters and stores that retail their products need to take a good, hard look at how crowdfunding came to be, how it works, and where it will take us in the future. This Pandora’s box is well and truly open. Now that we have tasted choice, people will be far less accepting of the typical bland fare the media provides.

~Kim Vandervort