Best advice ever!

In my second year of university I decided to write a full-length novel. Until then I had only managed a novella. I went out and purchased a 400-page booklet. I only had a rough idea of what the story would be but I began nonetheless.

I wrote in that booklet everywhere I could. I wrote in between classes, on the bus and on subway. I wrote in the library. I wrote in the morning and at night. I even refused to take a trip with my family in order to write.

By the start of my third year I had finished the manuscript. It was close to 250-pages, a decent size for a novel. I then spent the remainder of the year transposing the handwritten manuscript on to the computer. I did my best editing the manuscript and when my fourth and final year started I had, at least I believed at the time, a publishable novel.

I then began sending it out to publishers and agents (this experience will be left for another blog post). As expected I was rejected and rejected and rejected some more. Almost a year went by and after dozens of rejections I still had not found a publisher.

One day while reading book reviews in a magazine I spotted a book whose premise sounded somewhat similar to mine. I quickly went out and procured a copy. I proceeded to read the book in a matter of days.

To my dismay this book had many similar elements to mine. I wrote them down and found there were over 15 similar themes and concepts. I was shocked and disappointed! I had spent the last three years pouring my heart and soul into my book and here it was published by this other author.

I was angry!

In my query letters I had provided a synopsis of my book and during this time I may have provided it to some devious agent who in turn had provided the framework of my book to this said author.

He was a thief!

I sat down and wrote a nasty and scathing e-mail to him. But before I could send it my brother convinced me against it. So I wrote another e-mail outlining the 15 similarities and ended it by asking the author what I should do next.

I received a response not long after and it was only two words. While my e-mail was both long and emotional the author’s reply was short and felt somewhat cold. At the time I didn’t understand how important his advice would be. I only cared about the book I had labored over for years, which I felt, I could no longer publish.

In hindsight, I will say the book I had written and the one by this author were not all that similar (there were some general themes) but overall they were nothing alike. But try telling that to a 22-year-old at that time who thought he had written the next greatest novel.

To cut a long story short, I took the writer’s advice and have now written many more novels, and some are much better than my first novel.

I’ve purposely not mentioned the author’s name or the book’s title simply because I’m not interested in stirring up anything. But I assure you this event did happen and the author is well known and highly successful. But I do remember his two-word advice. It is the best advice ever for any writer. And they were:

Keep writing.

Whatever happens in life, no matter how many hurdles you have to go through, if you are passionate then you should keep writing.

Book-to-Film

Along with being a writer I’m also a huge movie fan.  Most of my blogs in one way or another have some connection to movies.  So I figured why not write about book-to-film adaptations.

Now, there are hundreds, heck, thousands of books that have been turned into films.  In most cases the books were better than the movies.  I have always wondered why that is.  Books have the capacity to evoke emotion, make us feel like we are right in the action, and even scare the daylights out of us.  So they would easily translate into movies, right? Wrong.

There are many factors at play.  When an author writes a book it is solely his/her vision.  They are, in essence, the actors, the directors, the scriptwriters; they are everything they need to be to tell a story.  What they are not are producers, this title will be placed on the publishers.  On the other hand, in a movie there are actual actors, a director, one or several scriptwriters, and producers.  What happens is that when a book is adapted an author’s story is then passed through several people: the scriptwriters, the actors, the director, and even the producers.  That one person’s vision gets filtered through that many people and becomes something else entirely.

There are also other reasons why a great novel turns into a terrible movie: the scriptwriters may not understand the novel, the actors may not be suited for the parts, the director may be inept, and the producers may only be concerned with the budget.  This process can be very frustrating for the authors.  For this reason authors rarely are hired to write the screenplay of their works.

Writing a book is like giving birth, it’s a long and painful process, but in the end the results are often beautiful.  So to go back and change your ‘baby’ is something that most cannot do.  It is better to write your book and then let someone else make their movie.

There is a great quote from Ernest Hemingway about Hollywood: “Let me tell you about writing for films. You finish your book. Now, you know where the California state line is? Well, you drive right up to that line, take your manuscript and pitch it across. No, on second thought, don’t pitch it across. First. Let them toss the money over. Then you throw it over, pick up the money, and get the hell out of there.”

There are many books I’ve enjoyed reading but loathed the movie versions. My favourite author, Michael Crichton, his books never turned into good or great movies.  While the movies based on his books were successful (see Jurassic Park) they never came close to what the books were.  Whenever I read a Crichton book I always felt like I was watching a movie in my head, but unfortunately, what was written on the page never converted well onto the screen (see Congo, Timeline, Rising Sun).

Below are five titles (in no particular order) that I have enjoyed both the novels and their respective movies.

DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?/BLADE RUNNER

Deckard, a blade runner, has to track down an d terminate 4 replicants who hijacked a ship in space and have returned to earth seeking their maker. (courtesy of IMDB)




SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

A young FBI cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims. (courtesy of IMDB)




THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER

In 1984, the USSR’s best submarine captain in their newest sub violates orders and heads for the USA. Is he trying to defect, or to start a war? (courtesy of IMDB)




THE GODFATHER

The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son. (courtesy of IMDB)




FIGHT CLUB

An office employee and a soap salesman build a global organization to help vent male aggression. (courtesy of IMDB)


Why writers love serial killers

What is it about serial killers that we find so fascinating? Could it be that it is horrifying enough that someone would kill another human being, and then do it again, and again, and again? Could it also be that when they do commit these heinous crimes they get away with it—repeatedly?

This makes us question those who are bestowed with the responsibility to stop them: the police. Had they caught the killer the first time they wouldn’t become a serial…anything. The pressure is on them to solve the case quickly before there are any more innocent victims, which there almost always are.

The question that should be asked is why do writers of novels prefer serial killers? I can’t speak for every writer out there (that would be impossible) but I may have some answers.

In general, characters are difficult to create so if you have one character whom you can use to do those evil deeds over and over again then it makes your job that much easier. You can use his or her crimes to fill more pages (an entire novel, in fact).

Writing is an escape—an escape to become someone else. Now what would be more thrilling and utterly scary then to imagine yourself becoming a serial killer. To get into the mindset of someone who kills without remorse and does it so well, can be a challenge, but all writers (of fiction) know it is not real but something conjured up in the back of their minds. They know no real persons were harmed in the making of this book.

This knowledge allows them the freedom to transform into something vile, hideous and utterly despicable. They are able to tap into a dark part of their soul, one that should (and hopefully never does) become real.

There have been many serial killers: the Son of Sam, the Zodiac Killer, the Yorkshire Ripper, the Monster of Florence, and so on. Books have been written about them, and in some cases, with movies following after.

The most popular fictional serial killer would have to be Dr. Hannibal ‘the Cannibal’ Lecter by author Thomas Harris. Here is a meek doctor who not only kills but eats his victims as well. The character has been so popular that four books have been written (so far) with him in them, with subsequent movies made, of which The Silence of the Lambs went on to win several Academy Awards.

But not all serial killers are evil or just plain bad. Jeff Lindsay’s likeable serial killer Dexter Morgan is a blood splatter expert for the Miami Police Department, who happens to kill those who he deems have escaped justice. Yes, he is a psychopath but one with a moral code. The character has been in five books (and counting) and has been turned into a hugely popular television series.


Whoever said serial killers couldn’t be lucrative?

The Good, the Bad, and the Writer

If you type “How to write” in Google you will get almost 600 million results. If you narrow it to “How to write a book” the results go down to 194 million. Now if you narrow further to, say, “How to write a bestselling book” it goes down to 462,000 results. (These numbers are surely to increase in the future)

What’s so interesting is after narrowing it down there are still half a million sites that purport to teach you how to write that bestseller.

I find this both fascinating and depressing. Fascinating because there are so many individuals and companies out there who are in the business of teaching other writers how to write that book that’ll make the writer rich and famous. Depressing because there are so many writers who believe that if they read these ‘secrets’ they’ll achieve that fame and fortune. Now what these writers don’t understand is if these people did know how to write that bestseller they would be writing them instead of talking about how to write them.

There may be a book with the title “How to write a book that sells a million copies” and that writer of this book may have actually sold a million copies, but you wanna guess to who? Those would-be writers who want to write a book that sells a million copies.

Yes, there are those that have gotten lucky. They wrote that one book that caught fire and sold a gazillion copies, but this is rare. You have a better chance of winning the lottery.

My high school economics teacher always used to say: there is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone is paying for what you got for free, and they want something back in return. The advice you think you are getting for a small price (perhaps the cover price of the book) so that you can achieve that literary stardom, well, let me tell you, if they really knew they wouldn’t tell you and not for that price.

Now, I’m not a bestselling author, far from it, but if you look at the New York Times Bestseller list or any other list you won’t find those writers with books on how to write bestselling books. Instead, they are plugging away—day in and day out, in sickness and in health, in good times and bad—on their craft. Their only objective is to tell a good story.

Hopefully the really good ones achieve mass success but really bad ones have achieved it too. There is no one way of achieving it. I have read great books by unknown writers and really bad books by famous writers. You can call it luck or you can call it something else.

I am not going to give any advice—I wouldn’t know where to begin. I do know, though, that writing is hard—it is almost always a labour of love. But there is nothing more satisfying than finally finishing something that you have spent countless days, months, even years working on. If there is one thing I can leave with it would be this: writers write, plain and simple.

This reminds me of a scene from the movie, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Tuco Ramirez (The Ugly) is taking a bubble bath when a One Armed Man enters the room and aims his gun at him.

The One Armed Man says, “I’ve been looking for you for 8 months. Whenever I should have had a gun in my right hand, I thought of you. Now I find you in exactly the position that suits me. I had lots of time to learn to shoot with my left.”

Tuco kills him with the gun he has hidden in the foam.

Tuco then gets up and says, “When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.”

I say, “If you’re going to write, write, don’t read about it.”

Why Write?

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I have always wondered about this…why do I write? And I think this question relates to who reads today anyways?

Times are changing. There’s the vast internet, the good old television, the hot video games, the expansive DVDs with hours of extras, there is so much out there to occupy our time, so who would spend the time to sit alone and be immersed in the written word?

As a writer you always battle with this last question, because it has a great impact in what you do. If no one read than what is the point of writing. No one will appreciate all the hard work you, as the writer, has done. Then the second question is even if someone did read would they enjoy reading your work?

Writers spend countless hours sitting behind a blank computer screen or a blank piece of paper, hoping, fearing, that what comes out of their mind is nothing short of readable. They know they have a story, even if it’s only vague, and they want to share this story with the rest of the world.

I have battled this too. There were oh-so-many times where I had quit, sworn to whatever is holy that I would never write again, only to find myself back in front of the blank screen. Why do I torture myself?

I think the answer is simple: as writers, we know, that the story lurking in the back of our subconscious is good and must be told, even if it isn’t, by the time we put it on paper it will be. We think, through our sheer determination we will transform that thought into something tangible. It is then that we will be praised as geniuses, deemed society’s moral compass, or even heroes to have written something that no one had to courage to write.

When I started out I struggled with this, what if something I write is not good. What if it is not worth the piece of paper it is written on, meaning who would want to publish it?

These kinds of thoughts can cripple a young or new writer. There is just too much doubt that lingers when one is working on his/her craft.

Then one day I read something that kind of gave me solace. I think of this whenever the doubt creeps back into my subconscious. I read it years ago and I can’t seem to find out who said it, but with all due respect to the author, I’ll paraphrase:

“No one is going to miss a book that’s not written.”

So there, if you have a story that’s worth telling and you don’t tell it then we’ll never have the opportunity to appreciate it.