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Best Of This Month's Reads

Writing Bloc’s Best of August: Contributors Share their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads August Edition. Welcome to the fourth post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of August, we hear from Robert, Becca, and Michael.

Robert’s Recommendation – Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Cover art for Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi AdeyemiMy audiobook this month has been Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi and narrated by Bahni Turpin. The novel is a fantasy that draws on African culture to give us a wonderful new world to explore, full of beautifully realized people and places. It tells us the story of Zélie Adebola, a young Diviner whose birthright was to become a powerful magi — until magic inexplicably left the world.

Read the official synopsis:

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for an enemy.

Everything about this novel is captivating. The characters are deep and complex, the world is detailed, and the plot sings. This is further enhanced in the audiobook by Bahni Turpin’s narration, which is flawless. Children of Blood and Bone has already earned a lot of hype, and been optioned for a motion picture, so you’ve likely heard the title before. If you haven’t read it, I recommend picking up a copy.

You can add it on Goodreads here or order it from Amazon here.

Becca’s Recommendation – Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

My pick this month is Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Midnight at the Electric. This book follows three protagonists, Adri, a young woman who has been selected to colonize Mars in the year 2065, Catherine, who dreams of escaping the Dust Bowl with her ailing sister in 1934, and Lenore, who plans to leave post World-War I England for America.

Anderson’s story navigates between these three women, revealing their connections through letters, stories, and a tortoise named Galapagos.
Midnight at the Electric is a page turner that had me invested in its characters from the first chapter. Anderson somehow manages to seamlessly weave themes of humans’ role in climate change, American and British history, family, and friendship into one epic tale. I found it pretty impressive that she created a story that effectively appeals to fans of sci fi and historical fiction, often blurring the lines between the two.
This book stands alone easily, but I am dreaming of ways Anderson could turn it into a sequel.

Michael’s Recommendation – Calypso by David Sedaris

David Sedaris is a national treasure. I realize that it’s odd to say this, as he usually lives in England. However, Calypso renewed my confidence in his national treasure status, as most of the book follows events surrounding an oceanside home he and his husband bought in Emerald Isle, North Carolina. And in true David Sedaris style, he christened said home the “Sea Section.”

If you’ve read Sedaris’s previous work, then you know what you’re in for. It’s embellished memoir pulled from bits and pieces of his life told in a style that is easy to fall in love with, soothing to read, and laugh out loud hilarious. If you haven’t read any of his work before, then what are you waiting for?

While the “Sea Section” is the thread pulling each story together, Sedaris fills the book with wonderful stories following such topics as adopting a fox, saving a tumor to feed to a sea turtle, how people cuss each other out in traffic in different countries, and oh so much more. Despite the seemingly disjointed and bizarre topics I just listed, Sedaris has a talent for pulling everything together to make you smile on every page. He’s a master of his art; one of those writers who can move from silly laughter to heartache in moments while allowing you to enjoy it all. If anything, this book, like all of David Sedaris’s books, is so amazing simply for its sweet, brutal honesty.

Now go read.

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Guest Post Writing Life

Adapting Books to the Screen (And Vice Versa) by Liz Kerin

“Adapting Books to the Screen (and vice versa)”

by Liz Kerin

“To be honest, I liked the book a lot better.”

Adapting books to the screen is always tricky business.  When we read, we’re given the freedom to imagine something that fits perfectly into our preferred worldview. Violence is as visceral as we want it to be. We might picture our romantic lead with a few personalized characteristics. The world just feels a certain way in our minds. A good author allows their audience imaginative space to do this. But a good screenwriter or director needs to make bold, specific visual choices. And sometimes, those choices come at the expense of something you might have really loved about that book. It’s always a balancing act.

A few months ago, I was asked to put together a pitch to adapt a series of YA novels in which the main character’s inner monologue really drove the narrative. Because of this, there was a distinct “voice” in the book, and a lot of the practical information about our world and how people felt about each other was conveyed this way. It was all very internal. My job would ultimately be to make that internal external—to make the story cinematic. And it turns out that can be really, really tough sometimes.

Sometimes you just can’t capture the essence, the voice of a good book. Hollywood loves mining IP from literally anywhere, and if a book is popular for any reason, someone is likely to snatch up the rights. Producers and studios don’t always consider the challenges of the adaptation.

camera and coffee in front of a screenplay

It’s a strategic dollars-and-cents move: fans of the book will come out to see the movie. The property has a built-in audience. The writer (often writers plural) and director of the project often participate in a “bakeoff” of sorts. The person with the most cinematic, exciting take on the material gets the job. And, by the way, that’s not the “most exciting take on the material” as determined by fans of the book. It might not even be a decision the author has any say in. Tweet about your dream cast/director all you want. This decision is being made by whoever bought the rights to your favorite book.

Okay so, you’re an author. Cool, so am I! Nice to meet you. If you’re anything like me, you want your book to one day become a beloved movie that defies the odds and is received just as warmly as your book was. If that’s an end-goal for you, keep your future screenwriter and director in mind as you pen your manuscript. Make their job easier. Make sure your book feels cinematic.

“What does that even mean, though? How do you make something feel cinematic?” Well, simply put, it’s externalizing the internal. Novels, particularly literary fiction for adults, are often deeply introspective and character driven. They run the risk of meandering and feel more like a rhapsody on a theme than a hard-and-fast narrative. But take, for example, something like “Gone Girl,” a novel for adults whose suspenseful twists and turns translated perfectly to the screen. Gillian Flynn is a master at this, and she’s got a successful dual-career as both an author and a screenwriter.

Now, I’m not the authority on what goes on inside Gillian Flynn’s head when she writes, but I’d imagine it has to be similar to my own process. If I can’t write a book that also feels like a movie, I can’t write it at all. I consider setting—is this a world we’ll want to live in, onscreen? I think about my characters and how they move about this world—are they active and motivated at all times? Do they have a key objective, and is that objective something we can get invested in? Where’s the drama?

Three-act structure is king in screenwriting, and I also apply it to my book writing. The most successful book-to-screen adaptations I’ve seen are successful because the book and the screenplay had the same structure, the same DNA. It just makes sense.

“Well, what about when screenwriters go and change everything about a book that I liked! What gives?” This one is tough. We change things for all sorts of reasons, but you can usually trace it back to this whole question of what makes a story cinematic. Here’s an example: I was hired to adapt a book (and this project is still in progress, by the way, so you’ll forgive me for not naming it). The producers purchased the rights to this book not because the book itself was insanely popular, but because they saw potential in a very specific demographic.

When I first met to pitch, I was told I had free range to alter anything I wanted in the adaptation. The buyers weren’t satisfied with the story as it stood, and once I read it I agreed with a lot of their misgivings. It felt “soft,” which is a Hollywood way of saying the stakes were too low. I knew we had to up the ante and the tension. Our main character (who was super intriguing and cool!) had to face some really serious obstacles. It had to feel dramatic and dangerous. You know—cinematic.

I’m not sure how this project will be received once it’s produced, but I have faith that fans of the book will feel like we did right by our main character. We gave her an engaging world to inhabit with serious, emotionally complex challenges. Fingers crossed.

clockwork gears on screenplay

As for my book, I’m hoping I’ve managed to follow my own rules. My forthcoming novel “The Phantom Forest” was actually written as a screenplay first, when I was in my early 20s, new to LA, and knew nothing about anything. I saw it as a darkly whimsical animated film, like Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke.” Upon completing a first draft, however, I knew it needed to be a book before it could be a film. IP rules Hollywood, and I had the potential to create my own IP instead of waiting for a producer to dump somebody else’s into my lap.

I’m now writing my second book and planning for “Phantom Forest” sequels, as well as watering my screenwriting garden. For me, it’s been hugely beneficial to play both sides. If you’re an author, try adapting 10 pages of your book to screenplay form and see what sticks. If you’re a screenwriter with a script that just isn’t gaining traction, maybe that script is meant to exist as a book first. Try both! Try them at the same time! Wear all the hats! Worst case scenario, you’ll conduct a fun creative experiment and become a stronger writer.

Photo of Liz Kerin

Liz Kerin is an author and screenwriter. Her debut novel The Phantom Forest will be released by Inkshares in late 2018 and was shortlisted for the 2016 Launchpad Manuscript competition. To pre-order, visit: https://www.inkshares.com/books/the-phantom-forest

She’s also the co-founder of Script Prescriptions, a story consulting service. More info at www.ScriptPrescriptions.com

Twitter: @Liz_Kerin

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