Monday, March 3, 2014

The Oscar Goes To Books

So many great movies are based on books.  Just look at the recent Academy Awards.  American Hustle was based on The Sting Man.  The Wolf of Wall Street was based on a book of the same name.  12 Years A Slave was based on The Life of William GrimesGravity was based on a book of the same name.  I think you get the picture – pun intended.

If you want to know what will be in movie theaters, except for sequels, spinoffs, and remakes of successful films, look at the world of books.  Publishing has made itself the minor leagues, a feeding ground for talent to be picked up by Hollywood once it’s been tried, tested, and proven a hit.

Writers pen their books with the story and characters in mind, seeking to create something powerful.  Books can be quite stirring.  And some of them go on to become movies.

It’s rare that someone says the movie was better than the book, but that’s because they read the book first and attach all kinds of psychological baggage to the story.  Maybe if you read a book after seeing the movie, you’ll say the movie was better.

I love books and some books really are best told as a book but in most cases I think a movie depiction of anything is the most powerful way to tell a story.  You have sound, visuals, and words – engaging multiple senses simultaneously.  Books only have our own voices to reflect upon.

Take a book like The Wolf of Wall Street.  Are you telling me you’d prefer to read it than to see it?  There’s a lot of eye candy, decadence, and style to the film.  Seeing gorgeous people on a larger-than-life screen exceeds anything I could imagine about them.  Or, am I just being lazy? 

If I imagine something, couldn’t I improve on perfection – and experience it the way I’d want to? Maybe books seem better than the movie because to read a book makes it a personal, individualized experience. 

We build on the words we read and fill in the missing parts with our prejudiced, exaggerated vantage points.  A movie depiction has far less wiggle room than a book’s interpretation of things.

Gladly, I don’t have to choose between movies and books.   Both are readily available to us. 

Each medium has its appeal and each helps us live our lives for the better.  But it’s nice to know that the backbone of Hollywood creativity is built on books.

Check today’s bestseller list for tomorrow’s matinee lineup.

Guest Post On Writing By David Grace

I recently asked a brilliant scientist friend to review a chapter involving the protagonist and a professor who was designing a new form of virus-based insect control technology. I just wanted to make sure that whatever the professor said about genetics wasn’t wildly and obviously inaccurate. For me, the entire bio aspect of the book is just window dressing, the underpinning of a plot point that I’m going to reveal later in the story. But that’s not how my friend saw it. He happily gave me all kinds of information about how complex government regulations are and how much they inhibit research and all the amazing things that genetic engineers could do if only terrified flat-earthers weren’t influencing public policy. I actually agreed with everything he said but that’s not the point. The point is that none of that was at all relevant to the book. But he thought it was.

At first I wondered, “Why is he telling me all this?” but then I realized that his idea and mine of what a novel is about were vastly different. He thought that a novel is about technology or a cultural phenomenon. Remember when the Internet was just getting traction and people were trying to write novels that were somehow “about the Internet”? When email became common they made a movie called You’ve Got Mail. When disco was big people were very interested in writing novels that were “about disco.”

I think many people who aren’t writers have this notion that books are about things. Every time Silicon Valley gets a lot of press people tell me that I should write a book about a software start-up or a chip company or a robotics inventor. No, no, no! Those aren’t novels. They’re articles for The Smithsonian or Vanity Fair or maybe Scientific American. Novels are about people – not inventions, not social fads, not religious movements, not technology — people.

Yes, the characters exist against a backdrop of some sort, a high-tech IPO or a new cult or a scientific breakthrough or a terrible crime or a natural disaster or a war or a terrorist threat, but at its heart the story has to be about the interactions between human beings and it needs to be told in a way that makes the reader care about what those people are doing and where they’re going to end up at the end.

If I were writing a novel about gun smuggling I might ask a munitions expert to read a chapter that described a particular weapon but as far as the story was concerned that gun would just be a prop. It would have no more importance to the story than the car that the hero drove or the suit he wore.

If your hero is a chef then someplace in the book you’re going to be talking about cooking and you’ll want to get the facts right, but the cooking stuff is only incidental, it’s only scenery. What really counts is what kind of person the chef is. Who does he love? Who loves, or hates, him? What is he trying to achieve? Will he succeed? Should he succeed? Will the events that are portrayed in your story change him/her and if so, how? Will the hero’s trials and travails end up making him/her a better person? Will he/she best the villain or achieve his/her goals? How your chef braises short ribs or makes a bearnaise is completely unimportant as far as the story is concerned. That suff is all just scenery.

So, when someone finds out I’m a writer and they say, “You know, X [Twitter, self-driving cars, Bitcoin, designer babies, etc.] are really hot. You should write a novel about X” I try to explain, very politely, that novels are about people, what they do, why they do it, how doing or not doing it changes them, about their struggles and their successes and failures; that the trick to writing a good novel is presenting all that human interaction in a way that excites the reader and makes them care about where the characters find themselves at the very end.

Sometimes they get it. Sometimes they pause for a moment, then they say, “Hey, how about this? How about writing a book about scientists who start adding animal DNA to cloned babies who grow up to become a potential master race?” Well now, wait a minute. I might have something there.

David Grace Bio
My first novel, The Chocolate Spy, was published in 1978. My fourteenth novel, The Concrete Kiss, earned a Kirkus Reviews "Critic's Pick" and was listed as a Shelf Unbound Notable Book of 2013. My favorite novels are The Concrete Kiss and Death Never Sleeps.

Two of my crime short stories were been published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and several of my science fiction short stories have been published in Analog Magazine.

Fourteen of my novels and seven collections of short stories are available through my website WWW.DavidGraceAuthor.Com and from all major ebook sellers. Trade paperback editions ($7.99 - $8.99) of my novels are available from both Wildside Press and My Amazon author page is


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014.

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