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Monthly Archives: June 2010

Of Movies and Things Movieish

As those of you who follow my doings on twitter (@ndwilsonmutters) already know, I have been busy with cinematic work recently. This week I was contracted to adapt C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce for the screen. Also this week, I optioned away the film rights to my own “100 Cupboards” trilogy. I expect to be fairly involved in that adaptation as well. I am extremely excited about both opportunities and hope to see them come to fruition before I’m an old man.

Hip, hip for movies. And just so you know, there’s already been a flood of expressed stress and concern for the safety of both stories. Know that I obviously don’t intend to ruin either of them, and that even if I were a malicious, self-destructive, Lewis hater (I’m not, FYI), there’s nothing a bad film adaptation can do to ruin a great book. The book will live on, unscathed, even more widely read than it was before. Exhibit A: LotR. Not that you should worry. I expect both productions (when the producting actually begins) to be fab, and the kind of film I myself would enjoy. And, as you all should know already, when it comes to stories, I’m damn picky.

So You Wanna Be a Writer, Pt. 7 (Confidence and Betrayal)

Yeah, I’m back (on my blog). And yes, once more I have waited a month or so between posts. So what? I’ve been busy. And having fun. Almost forgot that I had a blog. But then I heard it whispering to me in the night. And here I am.

Rather than fiddling around with a goofy little piece, I thought I’d jump right back in and tackle a new installment in one of the more requested serieses(es). Heregoes.

Assuming that you’ve labored long and hard and have produced a manuscript, assuming that you have licked some stamps and sent it out with a shiny query letter (or have acquired an agent to do it for you), assuming that you have landed an excited editor, and assuming that excited editor has sent you a letter that doesn’t say yes, but also doesn’t say no, and assuming that they have suggestions for a major reworking of your manuscript which — if completed — may (or may not) lead to a book deal, then . . . what do you, the aspiring author, do?

But let’s back things up a bit. Before I landed with Random House, a goodly number of publishers were given the first draft of Leepike Ridge. I was hungry (literally). I was eager. I was teaching part time and doing layout (part time) and wearing sweaters and two pairs of socks inside during the winter. At that time in my life (a mere six years ago), my personal American Dream was to land a full-time teaching gig and then write at night. (That dream completely eluded me. For years. Funny right? Shouldn’t it be easier to get a teaching job than a publishing deal?) But I ramble. You get the pic. I was ready to take whatever came my way. Or so I thought.

And then the (major) head of a (major) publishing house left a frantic voicemail about Leepike on my (college friend) agent’s phone. I heard it. It was exciting. So exciting that my wife and I headed out to Starbucks to celebrate with grandes. And then the follow-ups came. Rookie though I was, I’m grateful that I wasn’t a complete moron (my agent made sure of that). He asked them to drop all the praise and adulation and friendly talk and just hit us with the criticism. How would they want to proceed with editing? Did they think any major changes would be necessary? And, yes, it turns out they did.

If you have read Leepike Ridge, then you’ll remember a character by the name of Reg (Reginald Ulysses Fisher). If you haven’t read the book, well, go forth and sin no more. Read it and rejoin this blogpost later. Well, the feedback from this publisher was that they would like to see me cut Reg. Not polish him. Not expand or refine him. They wanted him all the way completely gone. Killt. Dead. Erased. Reg no mas. And they wanted the story to be more about the love of a mother for her son.

So . . . what do you do? First, no matter how crazy criticism may seem at the knee’s jerk, always consider it. And I did. I tried to throw away all my emotional commitments and objectively consider euthenizing Reg. Of course, emotional commitments go both ways. I had an emotional commitment to Reg, but I also had an emotional commitment to getting a book deal and keeping the lights turned on in my house. In the end, with the full and complete support of my wife, I waved goodbye to that publishing house. “After all,” she said, “if they don’t like Reg, then they don’t like you, because he’s just you stuck in a cave. You won’t get along with them.”

I’ve heard way too many authors give terrible advice (in my opinion) to crowds of the aspiring: “Do whatever it takes to get your first deal, even if you hate your first book.” “If they say cut it, cut it.” “Only write what is currently selling.” “This is business not art.”

Throw all those things away. At least if you wanna be a good writer, not merely a published one. And here’s where I finally spit out the advice: as an author, you should be absolutely bull-headed when you know you’re right, absolutely slow to decide that you’re right, absolutely easy-going when it really is six of one and half-dozen of the other, and absolutely eager to hear and weigh even the most outlandish suggestions. You must have confidence in what you hand readers, and part of that means never betraying those things that you know to be true. Do not become a liar. Ever. If the publisher offers you a deal if only you’ll tell him that the sky is green, you laugh and walk away (unless the sky is green). If he wants you to betray yourself and your eventual readers and chuck some dear imaginary friend into oblivion, chuckle. And go through another winter wearing thick sweaters inside. It’s worth it.

Never be a diva, occasionally be a donkey.