Movie Adaptations Can Be Better Than the Book

Yesterday, it was announced the Nickelodeon has started production on a new TV movie based on Chris Grabenstien’s best-selling MG book, Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.

I congratulated Chris (a prince of an author who deserves all the success he can get his grubby little hands on and more), and managed to do so even with flames of jealousy shooting out of my eyes and ears. If you haven’t read Escape.. or it’s sequel, Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, you must. Go now. Order them from Amazon or purchase them from your local bookstore. They are fun and clever and intelligent and cool. That Nickelodeon chose to adapt the first one into a TV movie is not a shocker as it is eminently filmable. It will quite probably be a great film and I will set my DVR to record it when it airs.

It won’t be as good as the book.

It is a tried and true cliche that the movie is never as good as the book. This is true even when the movies are great, such as most of the Harry Potter movies. They are genuinely fantastic movies. The books are better.

But once in a blue moon a movie comes around that’s better than the book. I know that sounds sacrilegious, but it’s true. In my experience, there’s generally one of two reasons for this:

  • The movie cut the fat out of the story.

Remember that old John Grisham movie, The Client? It starred Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones and was about a kid who witnessed something and then learned a secret that everybody wanted to know–FBI, Mafia, the neighborhood ice cream man, everybody. The entire book hinges on whether the kid will tell the secret to the good guys. You know he will, there’s no possible way he doesn’t. And you go through hundreds of pages of the kid waffling back and forth and getting in and out of jams on his way to finally do what he could have done in the first few chapters.

The movie told pretty much the same story, except that since it’s a two-hour movie, there isn’t time to have the kid agonize over his decision. So he pretty much makes the right choice right away and we race into the climax. It’s much tighter and doesn’t make the kid out to be the wishy-washy dork he is in the book. It’s better.

  • The movie was nothing like the book.

How to Train Your Dragon is a great movie. I’m a fan of the book, as well. But for my money, the movie’s better. It’s also wildly different. If you’ve only seen the movie, then you know Toothless as the sleek, black, powerful dragon who Hiccup finds and manages to tame and ride. In the books, Toothless is a tiny, whiny, dragon that rides around in Hiccup’s shirt and complains a lot. I saw the movie before reading the book, so when I met Toothless in the book, I was utterly stunned.

Of course, in these cases, the comparable quality of the two isn’t always a consensus. There are some people who will hold a dagger to your throat until you agree with them that the The Shining was a better movie than book, and others who would shove that dagger into their own throat before ever agreeing to such a travesty of a statement.

Now I will admit that in my book (so to speak), this is rare. The book usually IS better than the movie, if only because books allow you to go deeper into the characters and world than you ever can in the 90 minutes you generally get in a film. But usually is not never. It can happen.

I doubt it’ll happen with the Lemoncello film, because the book is awesome (no fat) and I doubt they’re going to suddenly decide Mr. Lemoncello should be a talking penguin or the library needs to eat the kids (Ooo! Love that idea!). I expect it will be a more or less faithful adaptation, will make for a pretty good film, and hopefully convince viewers to go and pick up the book–which is still better.

 

Teach the Children Well

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to announce that I’ve opened the doors on my school visits programs and am officially available for bookings.

Putting together the programs has been a lot of fun, and I’m excited to bring them to schools across the known world and present them to real live children, as opposed to the various stuffed animals I’ve been practicing my presentations on.

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Cthulhu was especially engrossed by my presentations.

You can get all the details over on my School Visits page, but the upshot is that I’ve crafted programs for both large, auditorium audiences as well as smaller, classroom-sized engagements. Each program is designed around my own areas of expertise and experience, and each has been proven to be highly educational and entertaining–at least none of the stuffed animals have complained so far.

I really am excited to get out to schools and meet with students. I’ve already done a lot of visits to schools as a storyteller, particularly with my American Revolution program, but this will be the first time I’ll be visiting as an author. Before I was just an oddly-dressed guy showing up at their school, but now the students may have read my book and know my work. That’s very exciting.

 

In a World…

(For best results, you should hear the title read in a deep, resonating, Don Lafontaine-ish voice in your head)

I’m big on worlds. Creating them, exploring them, trying to figure them out, discovering all the little nooks and crannies they contain. When a writer creates a good world, he or she gives us a place to plant our feet and get comfortable. When he or she fails at this task, the story is generally a lost cause.

The first rule of writing (besides not talking about writing–because it bores people) is that there are no rules. You want to write a story about a lip-reading cat that chews gum and shoots lasers from its ears? Go right ahead. That sounds awesome. Just know that once you’ve set the rules of your world, you need to stick to them. If the cat shoots lasers from its ears for the entire book, and then once shoots lasers from the tip of its tail for no particular reason, you’re cheating. And the reader knows.

My favorite example of this in movies is with the original 1989 Batman movie with Micheal Keaton and Jack Nicholson. There’s a scene in the build-up to the end where Batman comes flying down the street in the heavily-armored Batplane shooting everything is sight. He is nigh-invulnerable. Then Joker steps into the middle of the street. Batman fires his high-tech, multi-pulse, computer-targeted cannons at the guy standing still in the middle of the street and misses. Then the Joker pulls a handgun out of his pants, fires once, and brings down the Batplane.

Lame!

The rules of the movie were pretty simple. Batman has a ton of high-tech gadgets that blow everything away. The Batplane should not have been brought down by anything less than an anti-aircraft missile. Joker was caught in the cross-hairs. He should be dead. End of story. We can all go home about 15 minutes early.

My rant against 1989’s Batman (which overall is a pretty fun movie) aside, my point is you build your world, you stick with it. So make it good.

I take a lot of time in my writing building my world. I want it to resonate, be interesting, yet also work for the story. If I need a cat to shoot lasers out of his tail at the end, then I mention up front that she has that ability, but chooses to use her ears because her tail is sensitive.

I am very excited about the world I’ve created in Beyond the Doors. I kinda think it’s something new (though really, nothing is new anymore, right? How many actors have played Batman now?). I did a lot of crossing the t’s and dotting the I’s. Really trying to make the world a singular experience that does all I need and allows for many more adventures should the need or desire arrive.

Book Three also has a cool world, and one that, quite honestly, I’m chomping at the bit to return to. There are so many wonderful stories to tell!

Right now I’m reading the fourth book in a series set in one of the best worlds I’ve seen created. Jonathan Stroud’s The Creeping Shadow, Book Four of the Lockwood & Co. series.

I have loved every one of these Lockwood & Co. novels, and find myself racing through the book, marveling at the intricate world Stroud created. Frankly, I’m jealous. It’s just so ridiculously cool. The basic concept is that it is modern day England, except that at some point about 50 years ago or so, ghosts started coming out of the woodwork. Their touch can kill. But only children can see them. So teams of children are hired to rid haunted places of their ghosts. What’s not to love?

Win Free Copies of Dr. Fell!

Did you know you had not one, but TWO chances to win a free copy of my book, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom? It’s true!

Fandom Monthly Magazine  and YA Books Central are each hosting giveaways on their sites–literally giving my book away!

My advice to you is to take advantage of their foolishness before they realize what they’re doing. Hurry! They’re bound to find out eventually.

In other news, I’m trying to decide what to write next. Do I write something new or go back into one of my preexisting worlds? I sway back and forth in my mind, with a number of different projects vying for attention. There are pros and cons to each approach.

Something New

Pro: I love new things. Exploring a new universe. Meeting new characters. Creating new adventures.

Con: I’ve put a lot of work into the worlds of Dr. Fell, Beyond the Doors, and Book Three. Now I’m gonna go and do it all over again?

Pro: My imagination gets to run wild. What interests me today? A forest of rotting trees? Schools filled with slime? THE Dr. Edward Virgil Ignatius Lance?

Con: Each new book is one more book between a current title and its sequel. What if people lose interest in Dr. Fell or one of my other titles before I get around to a sequel?

Return to One of My Preexisting Worlds

Pro: A return to an old friend. I love my characters, I’m excited to play with them again.

Con: What if I write a sequel, then learn the publisher isn’t interested in a sequel? Is that time and work wasted?

Pro: Dr. Fell has more adventures in him. Book Three is specifically set up for sequels. Strike while the iron is hot!

Con: The danger of unconsciously writing the same book over again. It worked once, what if I end up creating the same thing and fooling myself into thinking it’s different?

Not the world’s biggest dilemma, I know. But it’s where my mind’s at.

Thought you’d want to know.

New Title for Book Two!

So a couple of months ago I announced the title of my second MG book (due out next August). It was… Doors!

Except now it’s not. The new-and-improved, pretty-much-official, title of the book is now:

Beyond the Doors

The adventure of the Rothbaum children begins August 1, 2017!

I’ve seen some of the preliminary art for the book and it is fantastic.When I’m given the OK, I’ll share some of it with everyone.

In other news, Awesome Agent just gave his thumbs-up to my next book, which is now moving on to the next step of the creative process–sending it to Excellent Editor and crossing our fingers. I’m very excited about Book Three–which, unlike Beyond the Doors, has a ready-made title attached to it that shall be revealed in due time. As it is early in the process, there is very little I can say about it.

But I will say it involves a young girl, horrific mayhem, random, localized wind events, and a giant eyeball.

That out of the way, I want to mention a few really great books I’ve been reading. First up is The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands.

Set in 1665 London, this fantastic mystery follows a young apothecary’s apprentice into a world of mystery, clues, codes, and danger. I highly, highly recommend it. I was actually very excited because I finished it and thought to myself,  “I wonder if there’s a sequel? I hope there’s a sequel. There must be a sequel!” So I looked. There’s a sequel. It was published three days ago, on September 6th.

Kismet!

Next up is a really fun story set in 1892 New England. Jackaby, by William Ritter.

A young woman, scandalously on her own, begins working for R.F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained. Ritter builds a great cast of characters and a fun world in which to settle in and enjoy. There are two others in the series, so I’ll be getting those soon.

The third book I finished recently is R.L. Lafevers’ Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos.

This one is set in 1906 London and follows young Theodosia, who has basically grown up in the museum where both of her parents work, specifically in the Ancient Egyptian wing. She can ‘see’ curses on all the artifacts her mother brings back from various digs and does what she can to dis-spell them along with her cat, Isis. Then, of course, she falls into a massive plot that could destroy the world and she, and she alone, can save us all. This was published in 2008, so there are a number of addition adventures of Theodosia which I shall need to explore.

Looking back at these three, all of which I enjoyed, I am struck by the fact that they are all historical fiction. I never would have thought that I was attracted to historical fiction, and I did not set out to find such, but I have really enjoyed entering these past worlds. Perhaps I’ll find a time period in which to write a book of my own someday. A few come to mind. I mean nasty things have happened all through history, right? Which should I confine the horror to our own modern day?

Dr. Fell Blog Tour Blog Post Round-up

According to WordPress, I didn’t blog all of August.

WordPress is wrong.

Last month was the Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom Blog Tour, and I wrote a number of posts which you will want to read. So I’ve decided to make things easy for you and list them below. Think of this as the ‘Greatest Hits’ blog post of the tour.

August 1- Site: My Brain on Books

In this first post, entitled “One Writer’s Journey or How a Comic Actor Got a Book Deal Writing Children’s Horror,” I chronicle the wacky turn of events that led to my book deal.

August 6 – Site: Books 4 Your Kids

This post, “A Picture is Worth 46,000 Words,” tells the story of how I came up with the idea for Dr. Fell based on a single illustration from children’s illustrator Trina Schart Hyman.

August 8 – Site: Middle Grade Ninja

The title of this post is “The Horrors of Writing Middle Grade Horror or Why Books Aimed at Children Can’t Be Awash in Blood.” It basically deals with the difficulty of writing scary stuff without sending a generation of children screaming into the hills.

August 11 – Site: Seraphina Reads

For this post, I discuss “The Creepy House at the End of the Street” and how it shaped my childhood. Meaning how it left me emotionally scarred for the majority of my life.

August 21 – Site: Word Spelunking

I do not think I have ever been asked to write something as truly off-the-wall as I was for this site. The result, “Dr. Fell and the Cupcakes of Doom,” re-imagines most of the major characters in the book as cupcakes. You read that right. Cupcakes.

August 23 – Site: The Book Wars

“My Inspirations” discusses a few of the literary inspirations for Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, specifically Roald Dahl and H.P. Lovecraft.

August 28 – Site: Carina’s Books

In “A Little Bit of Scary” I document how I, a writer of both adult and children’s horror, am really a big scaredy-cat. My terror of terror began at a young age, followed me through life, and haunts me to this day.

So there you go. Seven blog posts to whet your appetite for many more. Enjoy!