End of an Era

Standard

Forgive me in advance if my thoughts are a little jumbled, but tonight was the end of an era.

My daughter and I watched the final Harry Potter film together. No longer is will she read any line in any of the seven books for the first time. She has now seen those words realized in a movie for the inaugural time. Every time now she thinks of Harry Potter, this will be one of the memories, and I am privileged to share it with her.

My daughter is just 10 years old, but started on the books a couple years ago. I tried to pace her along, trying to gauge when she was ready for the more mature subjects the latter books tread upon. Eventually, I gave in and let her read the final two books when she told me some of her classmates were giving her details about the final two novels. She was ready for them anyway, but I guess there was a bit of me where I felt as if I was rushing her.

Maybe the truth was that I was rushing myself.

I experienced the Harry Potter phenomenon first hand. I can still remember when I was a sophomore in college and was walking around a Best Buy store, looking for something cool to take back to my dorm room. Chances that I would find a compact disc were pretty high, but I stumbled on a book rack. I honestly have no idea if Best Buy made much money off of books, but one book jumped out at me.

It was a hardback of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I knew nothing about the book, the series, nothing. This was in early-Internet days, so remember Tumblr and Twitter didn’t exist yet. I bought it on sight, only to realize I had purchased the second book in the series. No matter – I loved it anyway.

I quickly found the first book (in paperback, unfortunately), and subsequently got each of the rest on the release dates.

I remember when the fourth book came out, I had it on preorder at my local store, but was going on vacation the day it was to be released. Just a couple days before my wife and I left for Williamsburg, Virginia, I was at the town library where the librarian had it just sitting out. A WEEK BEFORE THE MIDNGIHT RELEASE. I sneakily checked it out, but then was berated all y my wife during vacation for reading the book before it had even been released. I didn’t care. It was glorious.

When the final book came out, I read it straight through, beaming and agonizing the entire way. I didn’t know if I would feel like that about a book ever again.

Then my daughter learned to read.

It was a few years before she was able to read Harry Potter, and a little while longer before she wanted to, but when she finally dove in, she was just as enamored as I was. I heard from her along the way, asking questions about this character or that. Cursing (the way a 5th grader who isn’t allowed to cuss can) Professor Snape, only to see him for what he was in the end. I realized I was reliving it through her. I was able to pass it down, but just as Voldemort left a piece of himself in Harry (spoiler alert!), I found a piece of myself was there when I was reliving the memories with my daughter.

A couple months ago, she was reading the sixth book and told me about her favorite character. I kept my poker face, but I immediately despaired. I knew the fate of that character. I knew they were destined to die in the Battle of Hogwarts and there was nothing I could do about that. Was she really ready? There was no backing out at this point. She was too far in to give up now.

Ultimately, she handled it wonderfully, but I was sitting on the couch tearing up with the passing of each casualty in the halls of Hogwarts. I found myself feeling. I found…my younger self.

Harry Potter is a special book series and I was glad to share it with my daughter. But that time has passed. We will enjoy new and different books and movies together down the road, but we’ll always have Harry, Hermoine, Ron, Neville, and the rest of the many wonderful characters created by J.K. Rowling.

The whole experience made me think of our connections to books and how many of them we see feel connected to from our childhood. Obviously if we could all write like J.K. Rowling, then this would be a moot point, but the characters made the story. Get connected to the characters and the story will follow. Tell your characters’ stories and your audience will follow. I think my daughter would agree, after being so attached to the Harry Potter and his friends for the last few years.

So…I’ll be depressed for a while, but then I remembered…my son is learning to read. Check back in a few years after I do this all over again.

Advertisements

We should ALL read YA books (If you want)

Standard

I just finished reading this missive by Slate’s Ruth Graham, where she admits people can read whatever they want, but they should feel embarrassed when…if they decide to even pick up a Young Adult novel — what she calls “children’s books.”

Ms. Graham is wrong. I don’t know anything about her; the Slate biography page about her only says she is a writer from New Hampshire. But, I am not embarrassed to read Young Adult, nor should anyone else feel that way.

TFIOSWhile I haven’t read all the books she mentioned in the piece, I have read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, which movie’s release is why Ms. Graham feels compelled to attack Young Adult literature at this point in time. TFIOS is a monumental work, Young Adult or not. I’ll confess I was an very early fan. I pre-ordered the book months before its release and my book has both John Green’s signature, as well as a Hanklerfish as drawn by his brother, Hank. (Nerdfighters know what I’m talking about.)

You can certainly make arguments about the quality of some Young Adult books that have been overhyped (I stopped reading the Twilight series after the second book and my dislike for the third book of the Divergent series is well-known among my friends). However, what harms Young Adult books is also what makes them great.

Passion.

Here is what is missing about Graham’s argument. She claims once you reach the age of 18 (and apparently enlightenment), you must automatically crave adult books. Literary fiction. She says:

But I remember, when I was a young adult, being desperate to earn my way into the adult stacks; I wouldn’t have wanted to live in a world where all the adults were camped out in mine. 

How pretentious. That teenagers need to aspire to read something besides what they have. When I was a teenager, no one was telling me what I could and couldn’t read — I wasn’t desperate to “earn my way into the adult stacks,” because I could already go there and read books from there already. I wasn’t clamoring to read books by the Bronte sister. I did read “adult” books before I had my driver’s license and you know what?

I hated them.

I will never read a Gore Vidal book again after a failed attempt when I was in high school. His Lincoln may have been the worst reading experience of my life. I certainly read non-Young Adult books now, but most of the books I do read have the “passion” in common.

Adolescents think with their heart, not with their head. As a high school teacher, this is both the best and worst thing about them. If you know how to communicate with teenagers, you can earn their trust and loyalty, but when you betray that trust, it is almost impossible to gain back.

To think you’ve moved on and won’t ever read a Young Adult book again, does NOT mean everyone is like you. I certainly hope people have varied tastes. She specifically mentions the books The Westing Game and Tuck Everlasting and that she has no desire to go back and re-read them.

I have a confession to make. Last year, I went back and re-read The Westing Game. I remembered the feelings I had in junior high when I read it and wanted to re-experience those feelings, even in a small way. It doesn’t detract from my adult-ness. It doesn’t mean I regret growing up and want to escape my job and responsibilities. It simply meant I loved it and wanted to find out if it still held up, all these years later. I also re-read Tuck back about four or five years ago just to re-experience the same feelings.

I have another confession to make. I don’t think I’m strong enough to re-read The Bridge to Terebithia. That book wrecked me as a kid. I read it when I was in fourth or fifth grade and while I loved it, there are a lot of childhood feelings I’m afraid to encounter again. Just because of this article, I think I may have to challenge myself to read it again.

And that’s the thing. The passion that is inherent about so many of these books is what makes them so great. Naturally most people lose that passion and emotion when they reach a certain age. Do they then move on to James Joyce and Hemingway?

Nope.

Most people stop reading. Would I prefer people read, even it if has the label of “Young Adult?” Yes. Yes, I would.

We shouldn’t be shaming people for their reading choices, especially when the criticism centers around so many great books available today, like TFIOSHunger Games, Divergent, etc…

“But they don’t get people thinking!” a Ruth Graham apologist might say. Bull. I read the Neal Shusterman novel, Unwind, a couple years ago. You want to think? Read that book — if it doesn’t get your brain going, you’ve got some major issues. It may be couched in the emotion of a teenager, but the thoughts that swirl around in your head…

One book isn’t good enough? Try Feed by M.T. Anderson, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak, and I haven’t even mentioned Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen. There are deep thoughts in each of these books. There are aspects that push people to think differently about the world around them. They are excellent books and it doesn’t take an “adult” label to be classified as such.

Ultimately, I feel sorry for Ms. Graham. If she wasn’t allowed to read adult books as a teenager, perhaps that is why she feels the way she does today. Another thing about teenagers is they want what they can’t have. If that was the “forbidden fruit” of her childhood, maybe that is why she grasps so tightly to it today.

Read what you want. If it doesn’t fit in a specific genre, who cares? Read.

Another great view on this by Lauren Davis from io9.

Perfektion

Standard

So here I am, nearly ready to publish my next novel, DEAD SIGHT, just waiting until some beta readers finish up, I do a few more edits and then rush off to hit “publish” on my Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing page. 

And then it happens. 

I am told there are errors in my book. No — not the one that hasn’t been published yet. 

ImageDEAD SLEEP — the book on Kindle since July 1, 2013 and in print since October. With numerous proofreaders, a few beta-readers, dozens of ACTUAL readers, I was handed a list by two different people this week of a few errors in the book. 

Gut punch. 

Just kidding. Sorta. 

I mean, who doesn’t want a perfect book? I worked really hard to make sure everything was just write on that book. Even when I had it formatted for print in October, I found a dozen or so errors desperately in need of my attention, and they were fixed. Or so I thought. 

None of the errors were atrocious and some were ones that most people would miss, but regardless, they were still errors. Like “the South Dakota,” for example or “class country music,” instead of classic. Fairly minor, but still problems.

The book has been fixed in Kindle and will soon be updated for future print editions, but that brings me to the issue of perfection. Of course, I, as a writer, strive for perfection. I can’t tell you the actual number of people who have read through that book without seeing or mentioning those errors until now. As an author, it isn’t something you want to hear, but it’s necessary to learn and grow.

I read a book in September the first weekend it was out. I’m not going to say what book, but the author was also independent and is considerably more successful than I am. As I was reading, I found two or three errors. I was shocked. Surely someone with the writing ability such as he does not make errors and certainly someone who has sold as many books as him can get all the errors fixed before publishing? I was taken aback. I tried to forget his success (although he might call his success small, compared to mine, he is enormously successful) and his sales and thought of him as another person. A fallible person.  

I sent him an e-mail and addressed the errors, telling him, “if it was me, I would want to know.”

The author was grateful and agreed with me. 

Image

I am not referring to any particular book. I just wanted to use Grumpy Cat on my blog.

Next thing I know, I published my next short story a few weeks later, ANT APOCALYPSE. Three days later, this author contacts me with a few mistakes he found and suggestions for improving the story. Obviously, I wood have liked to have fixed all the issues before I published? Sure…but here’s the thing. Whether the book has been out three days or almost eight months, there is bound to be a few errors in it. Thankfully eye found them quickly, revised my manuscript and re-published that night before I’d even sold a dozen copies. 

Mistakes are bound to be in nearly anything, and it doesn’t matter if it is self-published, like me or my friend, or traditional published. In the fall, I read a book being pushed by some in the media as “the next Harry Potter” series. It was interesting and I did review it on Amazon. (I don’t know about the whole “next Harry Potter” thing, but okay…) Anyway, I was probably about 75% of the way through it (sidebar — I now judge many books on how far percentage-wise I am through it) when I found a glaring misspelling. Not just a mistake. No — an honest-to-God misspelling that any spell check program would have noticed and put a red squiggly line underneath. 

We’re all prone to mistakes. It happens. 

But it is how we react to and fix those problems that defines us. 

ImageDEAD SIGHT, my next novel — hopefully very mistake-free — will be out on Kindle next week and in print soon after that.

I’m no anticipating any, but if you dew find an error, hit me up on Twitter @wswardstrom or my e-mail. I’d love to hear from you even if you don’t find any errors, and I’d especially love a review on Amazon or your own blog. 

 

Books and Movies

Standard

We all love stories, to sit back and enjoy a good yarn.

But, where do we get those stories? More and more, those stories are coming from all sorts of different places. It could be plays, musicals, books, blogs, TV, movies, radio, podcasts, YouTube videos, and I could keep this list going forever and ever and ever…

But, what I want to address is books and movies. I gotta say – I love me a good book, but also love me a good movie. I’ll never be a filmmaker, but I can write a book, so I do have a somewhat vested interest in how books are re-translated to the big screen.

The issue came up for me today as I started showing a film in one of my classes after we read the novel together. The book is the 1964 Civil War novel, Across Five Aprils, that tells the story of one family’s experiences as they see sons leave for the war in rural Illinois. It received a Newbery Honor when it was first released, and has some great historical lessons. I wouldn’t say it’s a great book, but it isn’t bad.

But, then I found out there is a movie. “Great!” I thought. I can do the book and show the movie to cap the unit. One problem – the movie is terrible. I hate to criticize movies that are derived from books, but this is as much “based” on Across Five Aprils as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is based on Ol’ Abe’s life story.

There’s a point when you are no longer telling the story the author set out in the first place or when you are telling a whole new story. That latter camp is where Across Five Aprils finds itself. The characters are weak at best, the acting reminds me of a class project I might have shot on a weekend when I was in 8th grade and the plot is convoluted. The book, while is simple at times, at least has a clear and concise plot that is easy to follow.

In other words – it is terrible.

There are always going to be differences between the source material and the movie, but finding that balance is the trick. All of the Harry Potter films toe that fine line and, I think, come away for the better. Are they the same as the books? No. But, do they work as a movie and tell much of the same story? Oh yeah. As a companion to the books, they work amazingly. They get the key plot points dead-on and don’t mess with those who have longed to see their beloved characters on screen.

Not every book can be made into an effective movie. Well, at least that’s what I thought when I read World War Z. As a direct adaptation, it would have been unmakable as a film, but tweaking the plot and giving the story a main protagonist made for a very effective movie.

I get a kick out of watching movies with my daughter after she’s read the book first. This summer we watched the two Percy Jackson movies. She polished off the PJ books back at the end of last school year and was eagerly anticipating the new movie all summer. We watched it and the entire time I got, “Well, he wasn’t supposed to look like that!” or “They didn’t do that in the book,” or “Wait…that’s not what they did in the book.”

At a certain point we all need to step back and separate books from their movie adaptations, but filmmakers also need to sometimes do a better job of recognizing if the source material is better than the stuff they are filming.

 

My TBR Pile (I’m working on it!)

Standard

I try to read a lot. I love to read, but here is a problem. When you also write a lot, it leaves you less time to read. I do have a healthy TBR pile built up (of which, these 8 are just the start). When I polish one off, I promise a review.

Books on by TBR (To Be Read) Pile:

*IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER

ImageWICK Omnibus by Michael Bunker – This man is quickly becoming a name to be reckoned with in writing, and I am glad to call him my friend. His short story, Pennsylvania, has an Asimov/Heinlein tone to it that is very relatable, in spite of its “Amish Sci-fi” moniker. WICK is the book Bunker sharpened his sci-fi teeth on and I can’t wait to plunge into the post-apocalyptic tale.

Monsters by Peter Cawdron – I was recommended to Peter by Hugh Howey back some months, but I never pulled the trigger. That is, until Little Green Men a few days ago. That book is outstanding and I will recommend that to anyone interested in hard scifi. This was 99 cents at the same time I bought LGM, so I pulled the trigger on this and hope for more of the same magic from Mr. Cawdron.

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon – I don’t remember where I read about this a while back, but they were saying it would be like the next Harry Potter. Well, we’ve had a few attempts (some more successful than others), but this one looked intriguing. For $4.99, I figured I’d give it a read when I got the chance.

ImageSilo 49 by Ann Christy – If you don’t know already, I am a WOOLite, or member of LOOW or whatever you want to call a devotee to Hugh Howey’s WOOLiverse (or is it WOOLverse). Anyway, I’ve read most of the stories released, but for some reason, I just haven’t gotten to Ann’s tale of Silo 49. My sister read it and loved it, so I will have to dive in at some point.

Earthman Jack and the Ghost Planet by Matthew Kadish – Once again, I deferred to the taste of Hugh Howey on this one. If my memory is correct, I think he posted a story about Kadish and this book and it was compared to Star Wars meets Harry Potter. I’m in for that, especially at 99 cents. Really a big reason why this is on the list, however, is that I am letting my daughter read it right now and I want to talk to her about it later.

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey – the Brilliance of Amazon’s marketing, that is. I saw this advertised for a couple weeks on Amazon’s Kindle page and it looked a lot like a book I would want to read. It wasn’t super-expensive, so I bought it.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – I am a sucker. I love Harry Potter. When I heard about this book conning people, I bought it. Still haven’t had a chance to read it, though.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – What can I say? It’s Neil Freaking Gaiman. 

The Joy of Discovery

Standard

So yesterday I was driving home after dinner out with my daughter. She’s in fourth grade and is reading Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban currently. She blazed through all the Percy Jackson books at the tail end of last school year and is a voracious reader. 

Anyway, as we’re pulling into the driveway, I hear a gasp from the backseat. I had to look around to make sure I hadn’t accidentally hit something and then she said it. 

“Daddy, Sirius Black was friends with Harry’s Dad! I can’t believe it!”

I read Azkaban probably back in 1999 or 2000. I starting reading the series when Chamber of Secrets was in hardback, so it was probably shortly after it was released. Suddenly, I was transported 14 years into the past. To a time when I first read the book or any other book where a plot detail startled me and derailed my train of thought. 

I was jealous of my daughter. She experienced a wonderful thing — discovery. That moment when you learn something for the first time and it just bowls you over. Like the end of The Sixth Sense, but in a book. I wish I could go back and re-read J.K. Rowling’s fantastic HP series with fresh eyes and discover all the twists and turns for myself once again. 

Ultimately, I think that’s what I look for in a book. What can the author do to surprise me? I’ve read so many things that it is a rare thing to discover something new and unexpected along the journey. 

I think that’s also what I do as a writer — how to incorporate my own twists and turns into my plots to keep the readers engaged and guessing along the way. 

As the night went on, my daughter talked to me about her suspicions as to who Sirius Black really is (She thinks he is disguised as the Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher). I just told her — you are going to have to keep reading — as I smirked, knowing the answer would shock and surprise her, just as it did me when I read years ago.