‘The Book Thief’ Movie: Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson to Star – The Hollywood Reporter

Meep! My favorite book of all time will soon be a movie. Not sure how I feel about that. One of the things that slayed me about The Book Thief was the unique voice and Zusak’s use of Death as the narrator. When I close my eyes, I see every detail of the basement that shelters Max, the Jewish refugee. I see the lemon-haired Rudy begging Leisel. “How ’bout a kiss, Saumensch?” I worry that the film can’t possibly capture the magic of the novel, but that’s almost always the case with book to movie adaptations. The film can still be great in its own right. Right?

There are some hefty names leading the endeavor. Geoffrey Rush. Emily Watson. Downton Abbey director Brian Percival.  Here’s the link with more info. ‘The Book Thief’ Movie: Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson to Star – The Hollywood Reporter.

One thing’s for sure. I’ll be there when it opens, with eleventy boxes of Kleenex.

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What Writers Can Learn from Downton Abbey | Nathan Bransford, Author

Are you a fan of Downton Abbey? I find it simply swoonworthy. So when I read this post from the fabulous Nathan Bransford (link below), I had to add my dos centavos. When Bransford said, “What’s amazing about a drama as well-received as Downton Abbey is the sheer simplicity of its moral universe. The good characters are good and the bad characters are bad. That’s that. No one learns lessons, no one evolves (with the possible exception of Miss O’Brien), no one is especially complicated. Carson will always be dignified and Thomas the footman will always be a jerk. We don’t exactly spend a lot of time plumbing the depths of souls.”

So where does that leave Mr. Bates, I wonder? So far, everyone at Downton, especially his new wife Anna, believes Bates was unjustly imprisoned for the murder of his ex-wife Vera. Bates would easily fall in the “good” characters Nathan Bransford described above. Honestly, I find Bates storyline the least interesting of all in the Downton universe, and I think it’s because he is too unbelievably good. My fervent hope that the writers have something tricksy up their sleeves for Mr. Bates.  I’m holding out hope that it really was him who fed is witchy ex-wife a heaping slice of arsenic pie. That would starch sweet Anna’s crinolines, eh?

Anyway, if you’re a sucker for Downton, check out Bransford’s post. What Writers Can Learn from Downton Abbey | Nathan Bransford, Author.

20 Great Writers on the Art of Revision – Flavorwire

As I dive into revising Luna Park, the novel I horked out in the month of November during Nanowrimo, this post from Flavorwire inspires me. Especially this gem from Roald Dahl. “By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.” 

20 Great Writers on the Art of Revision – Flavorwire.

On Christmas Adventures and Getting Chicagoed

It’s a frigid New Year’s Day. I’m sitting in my in-law’s home in New York, watching the waves crash on Lake Ontario. Soon, we fly back home to Colorado. Going home is good. But if we have a layover in Chicago like the one we had getting here? I don’t know if this mama will make it.

On Christmas afternoon, my wild children and I headed to the airport to spend a week with my in-laws. Darrick was already in New York, having left a week early to be with his mom who had a nasty battle with pneumonia. (She’s doing much better – woot!)

We had a tight connection in Chicago – only forty minutes to change planes. When we touched down in Chi-town, our plane proceeded to lap the airport. We waited on the tarmac. And waited and waited, with me visualizing a herculean sprint through the airport to catch our next flight. Then the pilot said we were one of forty planes waiting for a gate, thanks for your patience, yadda yadda. More than an hour went by. In the words of our friends, we’d been “Chicagoed.

The good news was that I’d been in touch with Darrick via cell phone, and he got us on the next flight out. The bad news was that it was the next morning. The kids and I were going to spend Christmas night at the airport Hilton. I was determined to make it a Christmas adventure and not a Christmas catastrophe, so I said we’d have a room service pizza party and play games. Fun!

Our kids packed all their most important toys in their carry-ons, so while we had no pajamas, no toiletries or change of clothes, thank Heaven we had the new Lego Hobbit game and enough stuffed animals to last several lifetimes. Sam set up the game while I tried to order room service. After spending ten minutes on hold, I called the front desk. Maybe the restaurant was closed — it was Christmas after all. The attendant said that room service was slammed. We’d get better service if we just came down to the sports bar.

A Christmas adventure in a sports bar! This would be a Christmas Sam and Sophie would never forget. And the thought of a Christmas beer sounded more appealing by the minute. We walked the half-mile down the hall to the elevator and rode it five flights down to the lobby. But our Christmas sports bar adventure was not to be. There was no room in the inn for us weary travelers. The restaurant was closed and the sports bar was more packed than a Tokyo subway train at rush hour.

Plan C. The mini-bar. We went back to our room, and I, in my most Christmas-y voice possible, told the children of the treasures that awaited them in the mini-bar. They could have cereal or granola bars for dinner! They could even have their pick of candy for dessert. Yes, they’d have to forego a year of college tuition to pay for the sustenance, but at that moment on our late Christmas night, it was my last shot at providing dinner for my family. And by this point, Mama wanted to curl her lips around one of those cute little mini bottles of Baileys.

The mini-bar had a plastic chain twisted around the handle. I broke that sucker off, with my kids watching in anticipation. But the door was locked. The thought of dragging everyone another half-marathon to the front desk to get a key was just too daunting. I called the front desk, hoping they’d run one up, but all I heard was a continuous loop of Musak while holding.

I’d almost reached my breaking point. It was nine o’clock at night, and we had to catch an early flight that morning. I had one final shot at dinner. Santa had brought the kids a big box of gummy Angry Birds, and Sam had it in his carry-on. Pair that with the leftover Oreos from our in-flight snack box, and you’ve got yourself a white trash Christmas dinner, sir!

When I told the kids they were having Angry Birds gummies and Oreos for dinner, you’d think they’d won the lottery. Sam tried to open his package of gummy Angry Birds, but couldn’t. I tried to open his package of gummy Angry Birds and couldn’t. Seriously, it was made out of some kind of stupid rip proof material and no matter how I tried, even with my teeth, I couldn’t open the blasted thing. The whole universe was conspiring against me – preventing even this measly, pitiful excuse for dinner.

I finally snapped. Letting out a scream of frustration, I chucked that stupid bag of gummy Angry Birds across the hotel room. It smashed into the mirror and fell on the floor. Sam looked at me in shock, and then proceeded to howl with laughter. I started laughing too – the out of control hysterical kind that is half-laughing, half-crying. We rolled on the bed, cackling like lunatics. Sophie, the bastion of responsibility, picked up the battered package of gummy Angry Birds and stabbed it with a pen until it opened.

Then she said, “This is a weird Christmas.”

Requires machete to open

Requires machete to open

We laughed all the more, and I didn’t give a rip about how much candy my children ate. While enjoying our Christmas feast, Sophie used a bed for a stage, entertaining us with a her own rendition of “Gangnam Style.”

Psy's got nothing on Sophie

Psy’s got nothing on Sophie

One thing about not having any luggage is that it’s really easy to get out the door in the morning. I set my alarm for 6:30 and we were gone by 6:45. I didn’t even have so much as a comb in my purse, so we didn’t bother with our hair. No need to get dressed, since we’d gone to sleep in our clothes. We looked like a pack of crazies wandering the airport with our hair sticking up and Oreos in our teeth. I’m pretty sure my kids will never look at a package of gummy Angry Birds again without thinking of our Christmas adventure.

Let’s just hope we don’t get Chicagoed for New Year’s.

Wishing you a very happy 2013, full of wonder and joy and love. And new adventures.  And hysterical laughter.

Whoop ‘em Gangnam Style.

Favorite Books of 2012

Reading the news these days does nothing but make me weep. If you’re like me, and you just need to escape reality for a few hours, I offer you some of the best books I’ve read this year. (Not necessarily published this year.) These books, in their own way, have counteracted some of the worst 2012 has dished out. I treasure them for their ability to transport, entertain, enlighten, and inspire.

My Favoritest Book of the Year

swamplandia_book_coverSwamplandia! by Karen Russell

When I grow up, I want to write novels like this one. Quirky, original, spooky, poignant, and beautifully written, Swamplandia! is about the Bigtree family, the proprietors of failing alligator theme park in Florida. Ava, the thirteen-year old protagonist and aspiring world-champion alligator wrestler, aspires to save the park after the death of her mother. Meanwhile, her sister Osceola falls in love with the ghost of a dredgeman from the 1920s. Each sentence is a work of art. Swamplandia! was one of three finalists for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, though no prize was ultimately awarded because the judges couldn’t agree. How messed up is that?

 

Best Historical Fiction

Winter of the WorldWinter of the World by Ken Follett

Book two in the Century Trilogy, Winter of the World picks up where book one (Fall of Giants) left off. Five interrelated families—American, German, Russian, English, Welsh— experience the rise of Hitler through World War II, and the dawn of the atomic age. Follett is the macdaddy of research, and I’m in awe of his ability to both educate and thoroughly entertain with this impossible to put down novel.

 

 

 

Best Thriller

Gone girlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Holy page-turner, Batman! Both my husband and I read this book in three days flat. It’s the story of a marriage gone very, very wrong. A he-said versus she-said, with careening plot turns and twisted characters. This highly original novel dominated the NY Times bestseller list for most of the year, and it’s soon to be a movie produced by Reese Witherspoon. (Here’s my eensy six degrees of separation to the amazing Gillian Flynn — we share the same agent. Meep!)

 

 

Best Fantasy

Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This ethereal circus arrives unannounced in the night, and features a fierce competition between rival magicians, Celia and Marco, who were raised to ruin each other. Problem is, they fall in love. The Night Circus reads like a Cirque du Soleil production, full of mystery and beauty and magic.

 

 

 

 

Best Young Adult (A TIE!)

PerksThe Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I’m only about ten years late in jumping on the bandwagon of this gorgeous book about an awkward freshman’s unique perspective on high school, friends, and love. The book was so genius, I opted not to watch the movie, fearing it could do nothing but disappoint.

 

 

 

 

 

Will GraysonWill Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Leviathan

This is a wild book about two very different teens – both named Will Grayson – and how their lives careen together in a wildly hysterical and meaningful way. It’s a feel good read that culminates in an epic musical, and it’s also an amazing study in voice for writers.

 

 

 

 

 

Best Middle Grade

Kane ChroniclesThe Kane Chronicles series by Rick Riordan

For the younger readers on your list, my ten-year old son highly recommends this series. Sam can’t put these big, honking novels down, which makes his mama very happy. Based on Egyptian mythology, the Kane siblings discover they’re part of a magical line descended from Ramses the Great. Rick Riordan used to teach middle school, and said that the only thing more popular with his students than ancient Greece was ancient Egypt. He’s the best selling author of the Percy Jackson series, and he sure knows his audience.

What are some of the best books you’ve read this year? I’m always seeking to expand my list!

I Did NaNoWriMo and All I Got was this Lousy First Draft

“LET ME OUT, YOU $**@&!!”

*shoulder thuds repeatedly against door, which finally crashes open*

In case you were wondering, that was my highly offended inner editor, who was locked away during the entire month of November as I participated in the insanity known as NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to puke out a 50,000-word novel (roughly 175 pages) in a month. I finished today, and it feels darn good.

Here’s the lovely badge I earned.

Everyone who reaches the 50,000-word mark by November 30 is considered a winner. The use of the word winner in conjunction with a first draft barfed out in thirty days is quite a stretch, and my draft is no exception. There are plenty o’ drawbacks to writing like your pants are on fire. For one, I had to ice my wrists. My family already thinks I’m a little coo-coo, but the visual of me sitting at the computer with bags of frozen edamame on my wrists pretty much sealed the deal.

The hardest part? With the high daily word count goal, there was no time to revise. And let me tell you, that was painful. PAINFUL. My plot and character motivations changed a few chapters in. Halfway through the novel, I ditched my antagonist. I started using a second point of view. Left plot holes the size of Rhode Island. My inner editor was so outraged at being locked away, I could feel her red Sharpie gouging at my brain, desperate to break free and clean house on that mess of a manuscript.

But for as blucky as that splooged out draft is, I’m feeling rather smitten with its potential. Even though it needs a serious overhaul, I’m digging the story and characters enough to spend hours and weeks and months with them. My inner editor is going to have one heck of a field day.

Now the real work begins.

Congratulations to everyone who participated in NaNoWriMo this year! How was your experience?

Happy Turkey Day!

Today was a good day. I wrote a little, cooked a little, cleaned a little. I watched a coyote race across the field. A pair of blue jays have set up house in our trees for the winter. We enjoyed a gorgeous seventy-degree day outside with the kiddos, riding bikes and playing badminton. Our fridge is brimming with too much food. Loved ones all around. I have so much gratitude in my heart.

I could go on, but I need to figure out how to replicate this repulsive, yet strangely appealing turkey.

 Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving!

photo courtesy of Red Lodge Mountain 

Guess Who’s NOT Invited to Participate in NaNoWriMo?

This blog might be a little on the quiet side for the month of November, as I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month, or as it’s known in the writing community, NaNoWriMo.

The goal of NaNoWriMo (other than having an obnoxious acronym) is to write a 50,000 word (175 page) novel by November 30. It takes a certain level of insanity to accomplish this, but it is doable. Over 35,000 people accomplished this goal during the 2011 NaNoWriMo.

Let’s be honest. A novel created in thirty days is going to reek of dingleberries. But that’s sort of the point. Because of the ticking clock, you have to crank out an average of 1,700 words a day. There’s no time for that pesky inner editor to criticize your purple prose or your character’s motivation. Besides, true writing happens in the revisions, anyway.

For me, writing my very first draft was like opening a door to a world I never knew existed. The words flowed like magic. While most of those words weren’t any good, I didn’t care because I was having so much fun.

Now, after multiple revisions, immersing myself in writing workshops, critique groups, and finding out how bloody hard it is to get published, I’ve learned a few things. The inner editor who lurks inside me sits there with her red sharpie, dying to tell me that the sentence I’ve written doesn’t move the story forward. She points out all the things I’m doing wrong, reminding me that agents and editors are so inundated, if my first page doesn’t sparkle with brilliance and a unique voice, they won’t get to page two. My inner editor is well aware of the components of a successful novel – compelling characters, intriguing plot, inciting incident. Macro and micro tension. High stakes. Themes. Subplots. A crisis, climax and satisfying resolution. Character arcs. Limited backstory. Original metaphors. No cliché. Internal and external conflict. It’s crazy-making.

I’m not trying to bash my inner editor. I’m glad she knows stuff, and it comes in handy with my critique partners and during revisions. But if I listen to her when I’m drafting, she’ll sap the life right out of the creative process.

That’s the beauty of NaNoWriMo. Thanks to the looming deadline and the necessity of churning out so many words a day, there’s simply no room for that inner editor.

I’m excited to jump into a brandy-new manuscript. My current MS (WRECTIFY) is sitting on my agent’s desk, hoping for the chance to go out on submission in the near future. That whole process and the lack of control involved is also crazy-making, so immersing myself in NaNoWriMo is very appealing. The working title of my new project is LUNA PARK, and it’s about a haunted amusement park. For you Denver folks, think Lakeside on the dark side. Aren’t you curious about what’s inside this tower? I can’t wait to write about it. And guess what, inner editor? You’re not invited. Neener, neener, neener!

 Anyone else out there doing NaNo? 

 

 

Lessons from the Mac Daddy of the Macabre

Give me a twisty psychological thriller to read any day, but horror? I don’t have the liver for it. I am the world’s biggest chicken. Kind of goes without saying that I don’t write horror either. But, there are a couple of scenes in my WIP that should be unnerving and spooky, and they weren’t coming off the page like I wanted them to. So I decided to study from the master himself, Mr. Stephen King.

A few years ago, I read On Writing, Stephen King’s book about urban hedgehogs. Just kidding. His advice on writing was so inspiring, it made me want to give his novels a shot. I felt like I’d been missing out, but yet, I didn’t want to read anything that would cause me to soil my britches. So I read The Green Mile, about a man on death row who has a supernatural ability to heal. Not supposed to be scary, but that electric chair scene . . . are you kidding me?

Fast forward to now. Guess which Stephen King novel I chose to study the craft of writing horror? The Shining, of course.

I am not very smart.

The Shining is so bone-numbingly terrifying, it will take me a year to finish it. I’m serious. I can only manage a chapter a week. And I only read it in the morning, so I have at least eight hours of daylight to let the creeptastic images burn off. Even then, my warped imagination kicks in as I try to sleep, and I picture poor little Danny mumbling “Redrum,” or being attacked by giant hedge animals. Shoot. I’m FREAKING MYSELF OUT RIGHT NOW!

*Deep breath*

I’m a little over halfway through. Here’s my take on why Stephen King’s novels are so blasted scary. It’s not because he surprises you with things that go bump in the night. It’s the opposite. King tells you up front what to be afraid of. He sets it up in the very first chapters. Then you get creeped out waiting for the bad thing to happen. But for pages and pages and pages, it doesn’t. He’s a wolf who toys with you like the mouse you are. He milks your sense of dread. And when the scary thing finally happens, things go down differently than how you’ve built them up in your mind. THEN he capitalizes on the element of surprise.

For example. In The Shining, young Danny Torrance (who is psychic) and his parents move into an isolated hotel to serve as caretakers for the winter. In the beginning of the novel, the hotel’s cook (also psychic) pulls Danny aside and warns him about spirits in the hotel. He tells Danny specifically to stay out of room 217. That’s the set-up.

As the novel progresses, Danny wanders past room 217 several times, but heeds the cook’s advice. Nearly halfway into the book, Danny goes into room 217 and sees a bloated nasty corpse of a woman in the bathtub. A disturbing visual of this scene is forever seared in my psyche from watching the movie on TV when I was a kid. Thankfully, the censors blocked out the corpse’s withered girlie bits, or my psychological problems would be much worse than they already are.

Now Danny is terrified, and the normal reader is mildly disturbed. I’m not the normal reader, as by this point, I’m prying my fingernails out of the ceiling. It gets downright unbearable when the corpse opens her eyes and comes out of the bathtub to attack Danny. Thank you, Stephen King, for a solid week of nightmares.

King switches scenes just as Danny struggles with the locked door and the corpse is stumbling toward him. We’re spared the gory details of that attack, but leaving it to the imagination is much worse. What happens next is where King really turns the screw. Danny’s parents haven’t wanted to believe that he’s psychic, but when the boy shows up with strangulation marks on his neck, they’re forced to listen. He spills it about the corpse in room 217. Jack, his father, who hasn’t gone all “Heere’s Johnny” yet, goes to check it out. You’re all kinds of scared when Jack enters room 217 and shuts the door behind him. When he walks into the bathroom, you’re totally bracing yourself to wet your pants. But it’s a normal hotel bathroom. The towels are neatly folded, no wet footprints on the rug, and wait for it . . . the shower curtain is closed. He stares at the white see-through shower curtain, fear building up in his spine, and then rips it open.

Nothing but an empty bathtub. Relief washes over him as he closes the curtain, realizing his son has a very overactive imagination. He even chuckles to himself. You breathe again, too. Jack leaves the bathroom, walks into the bedroom, and inspects the room to be sure no one is hiding there. And then it happens, just when you and Jack have let your guards down. The sound of metal scraping against metal . . . the shower curtain slowly opens. Wet, thudding footsteps coming toward you, I mean Jack, from the bathroom. Every hair on your arm is standing at attention as you scan the page to see how Jack will get away, his worst fears about his son and the hotel coming true.

THIS is why I have to read The Shining in broad daylight, served up with a chaser of cute baby animals to numb the nerves. Look at the wittle puppies. Don’t you feel better?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For fans of the book, guess what? 35 years after The Shining was published, Stephen King has written the sequel, called Doctor Sleep. It follows the story of Danny Torrance as a young man, and comes out next September. Now I know what I’m reading next Halloween. Surrounded by lots of pictures like this.

 

 

Do you dig scary books? What’s your favorite?

Happy Release Day!

Back in February, I had the pleasure of interviewing author Gennifer Albin about her path to publication. You can read the interview here.  And now, Genn’s debut novel is officially on the shelves! If you’re a fan of THE HUNGER GAMES, or Veronica Roth’s DIVERGENT series, you won’t want to miss CREWEL, which was chosen as BEA’s YA Editor’s Buzz Pick for 2012. Which is a ginormous honor.

Here’s more about CREWEL.

Incapable. Awkward. Artless.

That’s what the other girls whisper behind her back. But sixteen year-old Adelice Lewys has a secret: she wants to fail.

Gifted with the ability to weave time with matter, she’s exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in the world of Arras, being chosen as a Spinster is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, eternal beauty, and being something other than a secretary. It also means the power to embroider the very fabric of life. But if controlling what people eat, where they live and how many children they have is the price of having it all, Adelice isn’t interested.

Not that her feelings matter, because she slipped and wove a moment at testing, and they’re coming for her—tonight.

Now she has one hour to eat her mom’s overcooked pot roast. One hour to listen to her sister’s academy gossip and laugh at her Dad’s stupid jokes. One hour to pretend everything’s okay. And one hour to escape.

Because once you become a Spinster, there’s no turning back.

Congratulations, Gennifer. So blasted excited for you!