Nancy: Who Did It Better? Books Turned Into TV Phenomena

Have you ever seen the columns in entertainment magazines where they show two celebrities caught at different events wearing (gasp!) the same outfit? The column writer typically opines about who wore it better and why. A quick google search showed that these columns do, in fact, exist in the digital world, opening up the floor for everyone with a keyboard and an opinion to weigh in on the matter.

We humans love our comparisons. Remember compare and contrast writing exercises in elementary school? Comparative Literature?  Ever been given the advice to pitch your book by comparing it others already out in the marketplace?

Recently, I recalled a high school lit project that required us to pick a topic from a list of maybe 10, develop a thesis around it, and use the books we’d read by that point in the course to support it. I chose to write about whether classic books or movies made from classic books were better. (Spoiler alert: It was a literature class. This one came with a built-in answer, especially if you liked getting A’s as much as I did.) So, yes, using two classics, A Tale of Two Cities and Wuthering Heights – both books I loved in high school, by the way – I came to the astonishing conclusion that the books did a better job of presenting themes, metaphors, and character studies. (Remember, this was back in the bad old days when kids were inculcated with the rather stale advice that these were ALL THAT MATTERED in stories). We had to do supporting research for our theses, and I was able to find multiple scholars who shared my ‘view’, most of them scholars of literature.

I even managed to watch two versions of ToTC and one of WH, although as this was early days of VHS and LONG before streaming on the internet, I don’t recall how or where I watched them. They were all in black and white and were abysmally slow, so I didn’t feel all that badly about drawing a rather foregone conclusion. Fast forward about 10 years, and I saw a movie that hadn’t existed when I was in high school: the movie version of Wuthering Heights with Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes. It was, in a word, phenomenal. To this day, it remains my favorite part that I’ve seen Fiennes play. Had this movie existed when I did my tenth-grade paper, I would have faced a moral dilemma. I thought this version of the story brought depth to the characters the book never achieved. And it was hauntingly beautiful to boot.

Hollywood has long looked for books, classics as well as bestsellers, and even the occasional small press gem, to make into movies. But in the past several years, an exciting new trend has emerged that takes this approach of translating a book into a visual medium to a whole new place. The advent of big-budget endeavors from the ever-growing list of TV networks making original content. And these days, books are likely to get the treatment of a season-long series, allowing these stories to be told the way nature and the authors intended: in long form, with chapters (episodes), building on one main throughline, surrounded by intriguing subplots, often ending a season the way the author ended the book. I have fallen in love with so many of these stories, first in book form, then in TV series form, and while in most cases the book still edges out the screen version for me, I’m still thrilled to see the screenwriters’/directors’/actors’ takes on these stories*.

I’d be hard-pressed to discuss books made into TV series on a romance-focused blog like 8LW without mentioning Outlander. What a book, what a series. To be honest, though, as much as I loved the first book, I never got into the rest of the series. I read the second book, then wandered away from it. When the series came out on Starz a few years ago, I added it to our binge-watch list. My husband, who hadn’t read the book, had no choice in the matter. I’ve only watched the first season thus far, but it managed to stay very true to the core stories while cutting some of the excesses (many of them descriptive, where film has the advantage of a picture being worth a thousand words). The changes the creators did make worked well for the series format. Over at Storywonk, Lani and Alistair provided an amazing episode by episode deconstruction of the series story, with references to similarities to and changes from the book. If you have watched or watch it in the future, and I highly recommend you do, the podcast is well worth your time as a companion piece. (For those familiar with the changes at Storywonk, Lani and her older daughter Sarah will be picking up the podcast over at Chipperish next fall for the next season.)

Another, more recent book I loved was Tom Perrotta’s Leftovers. I read it after hearing Perrotta talk about it on NPR, and was hooked by the central mystery (2% of the world’s population simply departed one day) and the fact that it is never solved. The story isn’t about what happened to those who disappeared, it’s about what happened to those left behind, those left over. I was leery when I heard HBO had picked up the rights to the story, but much cheered when I learned Perrotta would be one of the creative forces behind bringing the story to the small screen. As I’d hoped, the network did an amazing job of telling the book’s story in season 1, remaining not entirely true to the book, but ending with the same major events and dangling threads.

I must admit, I feared season 2, as this would be entirely new territory. And heaven forbid they ever reveal the answer to the mystery. That would forever ruin both the series and the book for me. But season 2 broke new ground and moved forward a few years in the story world, no doubt because it returned to the creative spring of Perrotta’s mind and asked ‘so then what happened?’ about these characters. The third and final season is now airing, moving the story forward again in time and space, and *fingers crossed*, shows no signs of breaking the story promise of leaving ‘the departure’ unsolved.

My daughter was the one to tell me a Liane Moriarty book, Big Little Lies, was being made into an HBO series. I rushed to read it before the series launch so my daughter and I could watch it and discuss. We both loved the actors they chose for the women’s part, were ‘meh’ about those chosen for the men, wanted to throw things at the TV when they added a story element that did not exist IN ANY FORM in the book and seemed totally unnecessary, and cheered when the end, while slightly different, stayed true to the intent of Moriarty’s ending. This series was widely touted as a 7-episode, limited run series. Until, of course, its wild success meant HBO had to consider making another season. With the story from the book completed in season 1, they now enter Leftovers territory, where the story will have to break new ground. Moriarty has been tasked with coming up with story ideas for a new season, so I’m nervously biting my nails and hoping for the best.

Why all the sudden ruminations on books made into TV series? Well, here in the States, this week will see the launch of two new book-based series that I am chomping at the bit to watch. A series based on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale will premiere on Hulu this Wednesday (26), with Atwood on board as a consulting producer, and a Starz series based on Neil Gaiman’s American Gods will premiere on Sunday (4/30) (with Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday – yay!). Gaiman has reportedly been ‘very involved’ in the production, and could even write an episode!

If I had to write that 10th-grade lit paper today, I might have a problem on my hands. While watching a TV series based on a book will never take the place of actually reading the book for me, recent series have proven what a great fit episode-driven series can be for translating books to screen. Opening up the author’s sandbox to other creative types in many cases allows deep dives into subtle elements of the book, or expands the story world to bring new and exciting perspectives to it. The books-to-series that have worked best for me are the ones that kept the authors involved in the creation and direction of the small-screen story. I’ve found that if they’ve proven I can trust them with the stories in the books, I can trust them to remain true to the most important elements of those stories in the series.

What’s your take on books made into TV series? Have you watched any of the series mentioned here, or others that you recommend? And is anyone else chomping at the bit to see the treatments of Atwood’s and Gaiman’s stories on screen?

*I have not included what is possibly the biggest cultural phenomenon in book-to-TV history, Game of Thrones. The reason is simply that I haven’t read the books or watched the series. Not my cuppa. But for those who are ferocious fans, may you win and not die :-)!

Nancy: Writing Around the Web

Sometimes when writers are neck-deep in our own ideas and stories, we turn to other fiction for a mental reboot. Other times, it’s non-fiction, perhaps craft books. For the past week, I’ve been thumbing through Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story and Story Genius as I continue developing a novel with her brain science technique. For fun, I’ve been reading Stephon Alexander’s The Jazz of Physics. (Yes, that really is what passes for fun in my world.)

When I need a quicker fix, a quick shot of creative inspiration, or just a boost in the will to go on (because some writing days are just So. Damn. Hard.), I like to visit some familiar haunts on the web. A few posts have really struck a chord with me these past few weeks. If you feel yourself needing a boost, check out these articles for yourself, and poke around these sites – there’s so much good stuff to discover!

Arghink. This is the blog of Jennifer Crusie, mentor of the 8LW crew. Jenny’s blog is always chock full of great information, fun, and community, but recently, she’s also been sharing early drafts and revisions of her WIP. And it is as amazing as it sounds. Ever the teacher, Jenny is also sharing the way she approaches revisions. Continue reading

Nancy: 5 Things I Learned from Krav Maga (That Might or Might Not Apply to Writing)

I might have mentioned a few (hundred) times here on the blog that I love a good physical challenge. A few years ago, I had an idea for one that would not only get me in better shape, but would also train me in self defense. So I started searching for Krav Maga classes. Before I could sign up and start kicking ass, I broke my finger.

Fast forward a year and a half. Did I mention it was a serious break? So yeah, a year and half later, I finally signed up for a 6-week introductory class to the fighting style developed by the Israeli Army. And hey, they developed it so anyone of any age and fitness level could learn defensive fighting quickly and easily! So said one of my instructors while he had us doing brutal sprints and one-arm planks at the end of hour-long, full-out hitting and kicking sessions, when I was pretty sure I was going to die of exhaustion.

After expending so much energy, sweat, and – not gonna lie – a few tears, though thankfully no blood, I feel stronger and maybe a little better prepared to take up a fighting stance and protect myself if it ever becomes necessary. But I like to get a big return on my investment, and I can find writing lessons in almost anything, so behold my Lessons from Krav Maga: Writing Edition.

1) Don’t be surprised; be prepared.  If I had to boil my Krav Maga experience down to one line, this would be it. While the techniques do teach you how to fight (and flee!) effectively, there’s more to surviving a street fight than that. You have to be prepared for the unexpected and ready to fight the unknown.  Continue reading

Nancy: The Days That Make Writing Worthwhile

Why do writers write? It’s a question non-writers often ask us, a topic we sometimes approach with fellow scribes over a drinks at the bar during conferences, and one we sometimes ask ourselves – accompanied by gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair – when we’re having a dark night of the soul. (Writers suspect we have more dark nights of the soul than non-writers; non-writers suspect writers are just being dramatic when having what normal people call bad days.)

Bad things sometimes happen during those dark nights of the soul. Creativity runs dry. The writing stalls. Imposter syndrome sets in. Or maybe it’s always there, and this is just its chance to step out of the shadows and taunt us. The story dies on the vine. We question ‘why write’, as well as ‘why not quit’. Yeah, drama.

But it’s always darkest before the dawn, the sun also rises, there’s got to be a morning after, etc., etc., insert favorite cliche here. (That’s another writerly thing. Don’t worry, it’s just a placeholder we’ll fix in the rewrite.) When the words start flowing and the story gains new life after a few days or weeks or months of tough slogging, it’s nothing less than euphoric. There’s nothing like a day of story breakthroughs to make a writer say ‘I can’t quit you’ to writing all over again.

I had one of these wonderful days recently, but it only came after weeks and weeks of false starts and what felt like hour after hour of wasted time. Continue reading

Nancy: Murder Clues Part 2

Last week, I shared a snippet of a scene from the world of Nicky O, that Nordic Noir that I swear I’m going to write in 2018 (she says while safely ensconced in the first quarter of 2017). If you missed it, you can check it out here.

As promised, I spent some time this past week finishing the scene not only so I could share it with you, but so I could continue the discovery process with this character. One thing that emerged was that Nick might not completely trust his married lover. Quelle suprise, right? So, without further ado, I give you the conclusion of the Murder Clues vignette.

***

Pernilla reached into her pocket and pulled out a packet, which she tossed to me. I pulled out a Tyvek cap and booties.

“I don’t need the techs finding your DNA when they come out here.”

I finished adjusting the cap over my hair, then touched her arm. “If you’re going to treat this like a crime scene, what are you waiting for? Why bring me here first?”

I tried to keep my tone light, but something didn’t compute. Maybe Pernilla wanted to see my reaction to the place, to assess whether I’d been here before. Maybe she was still suspicious of me. Maybe the only person in all of Denmark who seemed to have any faith left in me didn’t believe me after all.

“I’m sure this will break your heart, but I want you for your mind. Your weird, hyper-logical, beautiful mind.” She shot me one of those half-grins that made her look like the fifteen-year-old girl who had, in fact, broken my heart into a million thirteen-year-old pieces. “You see things differently. I’m hoping you’ll pick up on something my techs won’t. But don’t touch anything. Not one thing, understand?”

I held my hands up in front of me. “Touch nothing. Got it.”

“And put on your gloves, just in case.”

“Not that you don’t trust me, right?” Continue reading

Nancy: Spring Cleaning and a Vignette

Danish Christmas Hearts

A few days ago, Michaeline told us about her ambitious plans for spring equinox cleaning and decluttering, both physically and mentally. There does tend to be something about the changing season that makes us crave restored order (or maybe it’s just a Virgo thing).

I tend to keep my physical spaces neat and orderly, but even the most stereotypical Virgo can have a mess somewhere that could benefit from some springtime TLC. Mine happens to be virtual. So while Michaeline focuses on her office and brain spaces, I’m focusing on my computer. One of the virtual folders pinned to my desktop I’ve neglected for quite a while is labeled Vignettes. Turns out, that’s where I’ve saved flash fiction pieces inspired by, among other things, Elizabeth’s Friday writing sprints. I haven’t had the time and writing bandwidth to participate in those lately, so it was fun to see what I’d written in the past.

Some of you might recall I have a plan for a mystery series set in Copenhagen, with protagonist Nicholai Olesen, or Nicky O as I often call him. One of the stories in my neglected Vignettes folder is about Nicky O, and while I’m pretty sure this showed up in the comments section at some point in time, I thought I’d post it here just to remind any Nick fans that he still exists somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain and he really will get his own book(s) one of these days. In this partial scene, Nick and his married lover/police detective Pernilla (who is often angry at him for so many reasons) are looking for clues to help track the killer who tried to frame Nick and…well, you can get caught up on how Nick got himself into this mess in the first place by first reading Parapluie (previously titled Copenhagen Blues) and Lost Hearts in Copenhagen. Then come back here to read Murder Clues (yeah, that title needs work, but hey, free fiction!). I’ll finish the scene and let you in on what Nick and Pernilla find in a second installment next week.

And to kick off our writing week in style, how about sharing a scene/vignette/opening paragraph of something of your own in the comments?

Murder Clues

When I slid into the passenger’s seat of Pernilla’s tiny black Puegot a little after nine that night, she didn’t spare me a glance or a word. Just floored the gas pedal and sent us zooming down the side streets of Vesterbro before I could even click my seatbelt into place. I took her dark mood to mean she’d neither forgiven nor forgotten the sins I’d committed against her over the past 72 hours. Continue reading

Nancy: Lost in Translations

Did you ever answer the question: What would your favorite reading day look like? I occasionally think about this, especially when I’m having a decidedly unfavorite writing day and all I want to do is escape into someone else’s really wonderful story.

My answer to that question varies, but this is one of my favorites: I’m on a comfy sofa, wrapped in a warm blanket, in an old library with soaring ceilings and thousands upon thousands of books stacked to the rafters. You know the kind of place, where you breathe in the smell of yellowing pages and well-worn book bindings. And seated on an upholstered wing chair across from me is a handsome man, a native Spanish speaker, with a well-trained voice (think Placido Domingo in the heyday of his opera singing career). We’re sipping Cognac. And this lovely man is reading Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s book Shadow of the Wind to me. In the original Spanish.

Yes, it’s a very weird and specific fantasy. But it gets even weirder because, it turns out, I don’t read, speak, or even understand more than a handful of Spanish words.

That’s the beauty of books in translation. We don’t have to be fluent in another language to luxuriate in amazing storytelling by authors like Zafón or the author who started me down the path of love of modern Spanish literature, Gabriel García Márquez. And because I love so many of these books in English, I can only imagine how beautiful they must sound in their original Spanish. If you’re not already a fan of Spanish books in translation, come hither and let me try to convert you by recommending a few of my favorites. Continue reading