Today’s post can be found at http://magicalwords.net, the group blog on the business and craft of writing fantasy that I maintain with fellow authors Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, Mindy Klasky, John Hartness, Kalayna Price, and James Tuck, among others. The post is called “On Writing: Book Identity, and Why I Didn’t Like THE HOBBIT Movie.” It is about my reaction to the movie adaptation of THE HOBBIT, and the lessons I draw from it for writing. I hope you enjoy the post.

Today’s post can be found at http://www.sfnovelists.com, the group blog on speculative fiction that I maintain along with a group of over one hundred published authors of fantasy and science fiction.  The post is called “Avoiding the Convenient Plot Point,” and it’s about the narrative choices we sometimes make that are more convenient than they are logical or appropriate.  I hope you enjoy it.

“It comes down to this:  Writing and publishing books is not a zero-sum game.”

The Summer 2012 THIEFTAKER Blog Tour rolls on today with another post at my “home blog” — Magical Words.  The post is another in my series of essays dealing with creative ideas and how to handle them.  The post is called “On Creativity and Writing: Making the Most of Ideas, part III — The Fear of Being Scooped” and it can be found here.  I hope you enjoy it!

Today, I am truly delighted to welcome the wonderful and talented Alethea Kontis to my blog. Alethea is the author of the AlphaOops children’s books (AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First and AlphaOops: H is for Halloween) and is now about to release her first young adult novel, Enchanted. Enchanted is a wonderful book that ties together several of your favorite fairy tales into something unique and utterly compelling. I read it in about two days, and it only took that long because I needed to pause for meals and sleep. Recently, Alethea and I were able to sit down for an e-conversation about her work.

DBC: Why don’t we begin by having you tell us a bit about Enchanted. What’s it about, and who do you imagine to be your core audience?

AK: Enchanted is a book I would have fallen in love with when I was a young girl reading my way through the juvenile section of the library. (This is when there was only a “juvenile” and “adult” section, before the internet, back when we all rode dinosaurs.) Enchanted would have been in my checkout pile along with Diana Wynne Jones, Robin McKinley, Tamora Pierce, Lloyd Alexander, Ellen Raskin, Edward Eager, and Orson Scott Card.

The premise of the world of Enchanted: All the fairy tales you’ve ever read (and many that you haven’t) all originated in the Woodcutter family. Enchanted is the story of the youngest daughter, Sunday Woodcutter. The main threads are “The Frog Prince,” “Cinderella,” and “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Ultimately, the more you know about the unexpurgated tales of Mother Goose, the Grimms, Lang, Perrault, and Andersen, the more fun you will have with Enchanted.

DBC: The book is a marvelous mash-up of fairy tales — where did the idea come from and how did you manage to tie so many stories together in such an effective and innovative way?

AK: The idea for Enchanted began as a contest challenge in my writers group (Codex Writers). Our stories had to be inspired by at least one of four “seeds”: “Fundevogel,” “The Princess and the Pea,” the Irish legend of Cú Chulainn, and the nursery rhyme “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.” I couldn’t choose between them, so I chose them all…as well as all every other fairy tale and nursery rhyme that was suggested.

I’ve been reading fairy tales, folk takes, fables and legends all my life. The more you read, the more you see common threads running through them (like the fate of youngest siblings or the cleverness of elves). I pieced them all together in my own schizophrenic John Nash puzzle. Oh, that fine line between genius and insanity…

DBC: It seems as though fairy tales are “hot” right now. Grimm and Once Upon a Time are on television; Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman are in theaters (or soon will be); and a number of books have come out in the past couple of years that also draw on fairy tales for inspiration. What do you think explains this trend? Is it just a market tide, or do you see something deeper at work? Put another way, I suppose I’m asking “Why now?” What is our culture or society getting out of this return to fairy tales?

AK: J. R. R. Tolkien once said (and fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes agrees) that fairy tales were 100% guaranteed moneymakers. In these times of extreme economic crisis, doesn’t it make sense to bet on a Sure Thing? Even Mama wouldn’t disagree with that. J

I believe this is a trend that started once upon a time in sixteenth-century Italy. We’re definitely on the crest of a fairy tale tidal wave right now. I hope that wave continues for a very, very long time…or until we all live happily ever after. Whichever comes first.

DBC: I’ve noticed — and really it’s no great surprise — that so many of these fairy tale treatments have had to reexamine gender roles, and especially revise and update the portrayals of what it means to be a young woman. Your story takes a nursery rhyme about Sunday and her sisters and twists the meanings and implications in ways that the people who first came up with the nursery rhyme could never have imagined. I’m guessing that you enjoyed that. Can you tell us about that aspect of working on the book?

AK: I did enjoy that, thank you! I still giggle to myself from time to time, randomly.

My family tree branches are Greek and French: two old world cultures that carry with them a few old world ideas that never really go away. One of these ideas is the power of words–especially for the Greeks. Every word you say is a double-edged sword. It’s why you see them spitting all the time. If you say a baby is beautiful, you have just cursed it to grow up ugly, so you “spit” on the baby to counteract your good wishes and maintain the balance of the universe.

“Alethea” in Greek means “truth.” It’s a wonderful and horrible curse all at the same time. Whether or not my parents meant it, I’ve always found it much easier to tell the truth, for better or worse (and many times the latter). It’s tough for me when a situation occurs in which I need to lie–I have a really difficult time with that. (Acting is a completely different story. As is writing.)

I was also born on a Sunday. When I was young I thought the Mother Goose poem would have some brilliant insight into what my life would be…but that whole “bonny and blithe and good and gay” bunk is a crock. Who has a life like that? Who would want to? But is this the Happily Ever After all those tales elude to?

There is always more to what’s written on the page, just as there is always more to people than what we see on the surface.

DBC: Looking just at the Woodcutter family, the focus of Enchanted, it seems as though you have a huge amount of material still at your disposal, should you choose to write sequels. Is there an Enchanted II in the works? [If so] Can you give us a bit of a teaser? What’s going to happen next?

AK: There is an Enchanted sequel in the works, but if I share any of my brilliance, it will probably be edited out. [spit spit] The next novel will be about Saturday, of course! The goal is to work my way backwards through the sisters, all the way to Monday. (Monday’s story is awesome.)

I’m also working on many other things: short stories, essays, and picture books, as always — I can’t stay away from them. I’m super excited about The Wonderland Alphabet, that will be out next month. It’s a collaboration with my exceptionally talented longtime friend Janet K. Lee, who won an Eisner Award with Jim McCann last year for their graphic novel Return of the Dapper Men. The Wonderland Alphabet is an ABC book with Janet’s art and my poetic verses, all based on Lewis Carroll’s fabulous classic. And it’s a board book. Squee!

DBC: Are you an eclectic reader or do you tend to stick with a genre? What are you reading right now, and what’s on your To-Read pile?

AK: I am an eclectic reader just like I’m an eclectic writer, but I have far less time to read now than I used to and it makes me sad. I mostly read SF and Fantasy for my review column for Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show–but I’ll drop everything the moment a new Jude Deveraux book is released. Right now on my TBR pile are Wuftoom by Mary G. Thompson, The Taker and The Reckoning by Alma Katsu, and Thieftaker by D. B. Jackson.

DBC: What advice would you offer to aspiring writers looking to break into the young adult market? Do you think that the YA field will continue to be a driving force in publishing the way it has for the past decade or so?

AK: I do think the teen section in the bookstores is here to stay, and YA is a force to be reckoned with if you’re up for the challenge. Kids are reluctant (and often not encouraged) to graduate themselves into the adult section, but adults have far fewer qualms about walking into the teen section and picking up an armload. So if a book is YA-OK, why not just list it at YA from the start? It’s a bit of marketing genius.

As for new authors, I would say: be true to your voice. If you write young, write young. If your writing is more mature, go with it. YA runs the spectrum, and is very all-encompassing. If you are trying to force your voice to fit a market, you’re already starting off on the wrong foot. Write that book in your heart from the voice in your head, and let the marketing department worry about where to shelve it. WRITING will always be an author’s most important goal.

DBC: Last question: If you could spend a single day as any character you’ve ever read, who would you choose and why?

AK: I think I’d like to spend a day with Calcifer the Fire Demon and have a jaunt around the countryside in Howl’s moving castle. The follow-up question is whether or not I’m willing to pay the price for Calcifer’s company…but you didn’t ask me that one. J

DBC: Thanks so much for joining us today. It’s been great having you here.

AK: It’s an honor!

Today, Nancy and I took our daughters and two of the younger daughter’s friends to see Mirror, Mirror, the new Snow White interpretation starring Julia Roberts and Lily Collins.  It was good; not great but good.  Certainly it was worth seeing, although if I could have seen it in our local theater (which charges $3 per person) instead of in one of the big theaters in Chattanooga for $7, it might have felt like a bit more of a bargain.  Julia Roberts is wonderful as the evil queen.  She is biting, coldly charming, and just desperate enough to be believable and somewhat sympathetic.  Lily Collins was very good as Snow White.  She is stunningly beautiful, and she brings strength and backbone to the role, which is very refreshing for those of us who still shudder at the sappy weakness of Disney’s old animated Snow White.  In the final scene she looks just like a young Audrey Hepburn, at least she does to me.

Armie Hammer, as Prince Alcott, and Nathan Lane, as Brighton, the queen’s lackey, are both good as well, and the dwarves, with their odd stilts and quirky personalities give a nice twist to the old story.  There are some pretty cool effects — the mirror in particular, and also the puppet attack (see the movie; then you’ll understand) — and the costuming is very, very good.  On the other hand, it is at root a somewhat silly story, and even the modern touches can’t disguise that completely.  As I say, it’s good, but it’s not brilliant by any stretch.  That seemed to be the consensus among our group, at least.  I don’t like to reduce movie descriptions to numbers on a scale or stars, or anything of that sort.  But on a scale of one to ten I’d give it a 7.5; or, put another way, about three and a half stars out of five.

Saw Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy tonight (at our local theater, which plays movies about six months after they’re current.  I read the book not too long ago and enjoyed it well enough.  I still found the movie confusing.  I would imagine that for those who hadn’t read the book, including my wife, the movie was utterly impenetrable.  Too bad, really.  Good story, good cast.  But the film itself was just too opaque.

Last night, my wife and I introduced our older daughter to a couple of classic movies.  It was a cold night, we a had a fire burning, had just finished a nice dinner, and we were looking for something to do.  (The younger kid was sleeping over at a friend’s house.)

The first movie we suggested was The Sting (1973, directed by George Roy Hill).  Our daughter was a little skeptical — she didn’t think it looked like something she would enjoy.  But my wife assured her that at worst she would get to spend a couple of hours looking at Robert Redford and Paul Newman, and that seemed to convince her.  She wound up loving it.  I mean LOVING it.  All the twists and turns, the rising tension, and, yes, the vintage eye-candy.  I was reminded of just how great a movie it is.  I happen to like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the first Redford/Newman collaboration, even more, but still, it was a pleasure to watch it again.

After watching The Sting, we could have suggested just about any movie, and our daughter would have gone along with it.  But we were on one of the American Film Institute sites — 100 greatest movie quotes, I think it was — and there were so many quotes from Casablanca, that we decided to watch that one.  She didn’t like Casablanca quite as much; it’s a bit more dated, a little slower.  Still, she did enjoy it, and was quoting it time and again today.

For me, one of the great pleasures of parenting, particularly as my kids get older, is introducing them to some of the things we enjoy:  our favorite foods, our favorite places, and our favorite movies.  Last night was loads of fun. I’m looking forward to having another movie night some time soon.

A Fun Post for Labor Day

September 6, 2010

Today’s post can be found at http://magicalwords.net, the group blog on the business and craft of writing fantasy that I maintain with fellow authors Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, A.J. Hartley, and Stuart Jaffe, among others. The post is called “Favorites: Some Labor Day Dun” and it’s about some of my favorite books, titles, villains, heroes, and more. I hope you enjoy it.

Last night marked the final chapter of my Robin Hood novelization experience:  Nancy and I finally saw the movie.  My reactions:

First, I liked it.  So did Nancy.  I honestly believe that many of the poor reviews were written by people who went to the theater expecting to see the conventional Robin Hood story.  This movie never claimed to be that.  It is a prequel of sorts to the legend, and is innovative and different — good things both.  It is a darker story than one expects from a Robin Hood movie, but that too worked for me.

I love Cate Blanchett,and I think she did a fine job; her acting was excellent, as always.  Still, I’m just not certain that she was ideal for this role.  On the other hand, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Russell Crowe’s performance.  Again, I always expect excellent acting from him, and I wasn’t disappointed this time.  I just hadn’t been sure that I would like him as Robin.  I did.

A lot of what I saw matched up well with what I envisioned as I wrote the book from the movie script.  Still, there were scenes that I saw differently — the opening siege sequences, for instance.  There were a few scenes and lines that must have been cut from the movie at the last minute, because they’re in the book, but not in the film.  And there were a few scenes and lines that we were asked to cut, but that then found their way back into the movie (and I have to tell you THAT was a little annoying….).

Movies and books are utterly different media, and hard to compare.  I know that some of what I wrote in the book can’t possibly have as much impact as the visuals one gets on the screen.  I also know, though, that there are elements of what I wrote in the book, especially some of the point of view work, that added to the narrative.  Eleanor of Aquitaine doesn’t get enough screen time in the movie to be a fully developed character; being able to write scenes from her POV allowed me to bring her out a bit more in the book.  Same with Richard the Lionheart.

Robin Hood was a unique writing experience; I’ve said as much before.  Turns out, seeing the movie was a unique experience as well.  I felt like I was seeing a movie I’d watched many times before, and yet every visual offered some small surprise.  As Nancy said, it will probably be even stranger to see a movie that is based on one of my own books.  I hope to find out some day.

Today’s post can be found at http://magicalwords.net, the group blog on the business and craft of writing fantasy that I maintain with fellow authors Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, A.J. Hartley, and Stuart Jaffe, among others. The post is called “Of Movies and Novels,” and it compares the storytelling techniques used in books with those used in creating films. I hope you enjoy it.

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