ThorinBooks vs. movies, the age old debate (well, not really age old, but old enough for our purposes). In my younger days I considered myself a book/comic book snob. If Peter Parker wasn’t exactly how he was in the comic books when compared to the movies, well, then, I was just plain pissed off. Like when Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man had organic webbing instead of how Stan Lee wrote the character – where Peter Parker had to construct web-slingers (and where Marc Webb’s, The Amazing Spider-Man is more faithful to the comic), I was upset. Or how in the movie, 300, about the Spartans and Thermopylae, where the Spartans did not wear any armor, I went ballistic. Who the fuck really thinks soldiers went into battle with no armor on? Even 2,500 years ago. Anyway, I digress. My point has been proven about what an obnoxious jackass I was.

How did I change my ways, you ask? Simple, I saw the movie, The Hobbit, an Unexpected Journey (part one, at least. Part two hasn’t been released yet at the time of this posting).

In so many many ways, the movie version of The Hobbit outshines the book (and I just re-read the book to make sure I was up to snuff before writing this). There will always be differences when translating stories into different mediums, whether it’s comic books to shows, theater to movies, movies to shows, plays, books, short stories, whatever. That really is just part of the business. Certain things can’t be done with shows/theater/movies because of budget constraints or time that can be done in books. But J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, The Hobbit, is really light on dramatic action, whereas Peter Jackson is a master at holding our attention. By way of example, I offer the following (warning, spoilers below, FYI):

Near the end of the film (and nearly a third into the novel), Gandalf, Bilbo, and the dwarves find themselves trapped at the top of tall trees while wargs (oversized, evil wolves) snap at their feet. To remedy the problem, Gandalf sets pinecones on fire and begins throwing the flaming cones at the wargs until they are lit on fire or run away. Inconveniently, the trees in which the dwarves are perched also catch fire, and Gandalf calls his friends the Eagles to rescue them. Yet in the film, the dwarves, hobbit and wizard all congregate to a single tree that remains untouched by the fire. The weight of the company tips the tree over the edge of the cliff, and leaves the creatures dangling for their lives. At the same time, the “Pale Orc” (Thorin’s archnemesis and leader of the goblins—a character very embellished for the film) shows up to join the party.  Riding a warg, the Pale Orc watches as the company awaits their free-fall into death. He recognizes Thorin as the dwarf who cut off his hand way-back-when, and tries to claim his life. But Bilbo will have none of it, and uses his tiny hobbit sword to fight off the Pale Orc and his gang until the eagles swoop down and carry them to safety.

The movie version of this scene: Fracking awesome.

The book version of this scene: Okay…(it was about 3 pages).

Another change that I loved was the depiction of Thorin, the dwarf. Peter Jackson may have altered the character of Thorin to provide for an appealing hero. He also has a deep, creamy voice and calm demeanor that completes his fallen-hero facade. But in the book, Tolkien paints a much less attractive Thorin. He is greedy, bumbling, an inexperienced leader who wants to kill Smaug not to avenge his forefathers and reclaim his homeland, but to get his hands on the gold Smaug guards. In the film, he is a king in exile, and his intentions are entirely honorable. Not only that, in the book, Thorin doesn’t really do anything. In the movies, he’s much more of a leader.

There are tons of differences that I could spend a long time outlining, for instance, Radagast the Brown (one of the five wizards) is literally mentioned once in the book and never shows up. In the movie, he is painted as a crazed, animal-loving and quirky character who interacts with Gandalf, the dwarves, and Bilbo throughout the film. He even aids the group by distracting a herd of goblins on their tail (a scene dreamed up by Jackson).

But the biggest difference between the book and the movie? Tone. And while I understand Tolkien wrote The Hobbit as a children’s book, the fact is many children watch The Lord of the Rings movies. Jackson’s version is darker and more mysterious, giving allusions to “dark forces” happening and specifically mentioning the Necromancer (and showing scenes and foreshadowing to a dark threat). Setting up the idea of the main trilogy wonderfully.

I know this is a long post, but I wanted to make a point. There are times, mostly limited circumstances, where movies can be more than the original source material ever hoped to be. In my opinion, the movie version of The Hobbit outshines the book by a mile.

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Summary:

Since their mother’s death, Carter and Sadie have become near strangers. While Sadie has lived with her grandparents in London, her brother has traveled the world with their father, the brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Julius Kane. 

One night, Dr. Kane brings the siblings together for a “research experiment” at the British Museum, where he hopes to set things right for his family. Instead, he unleashes the Egyptian god Set, who banishes him to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives. 

Soon, Sadie and Carter discover that the gods of Egypt are waking, and the worst of them —Set— has his sights on the Kanes. To stop him, the siblings embark on a dangerous journey across the globe – a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family and their links to a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs.

My review:

First, I have to say that I’m a huge fan of Egyptian mythology (hello, I write my own series based in Egyptian mythology). However, I think Riordan missed the mark with this one. It seemed like he was trying to do too much. For anyone who’s ever studied even a snippet of Egyptian mythology, you’d know it’s unlike a lot of other mythologies out there – even Greek (which copied a lot of Egyptian ideas). Egyptian mythology is extremely complex, with gods changing names, changing powers, combining themselves together and forming new gods – it could give anyone a headache. So when Riordan tries to lump as many “tales” in The Red Pyramid as possible, instead of coming off as a great series, it turns into a confusing lump of myths.

The story itself is simple (as outlined in the summary above). Sadie and Carter Kane are brother and sister- estranged, at best, and when their father tries to “set things right”, he accidently unleashes the Egyptian god of chaos and storms, Set. Set captures their father, forcing Sadie and Carter to go through a series of hurtles and adventures to save their dad.

Each chapter is written either from Sadie’s or Carter’s point of view. I don’t really mind this since a lot of high fantasy is written from different character’s point-of-view, however, I can understand that if you only read children’s or young adult fiction, this could be an issue. However, Sadie and Carter’s “voice” didn’t seem that different to me (other than Sadie spoke in a British accent and Carter in an American one). They were very much the same character.

The story goes from one thing to the next and it felt a little drawn out. Almost every fifty pages or so, Sadie and Carter got into trouble (evil magicians tracking them down to stop them) and they had to rely on a mysterious sorceress, Zia, or the Egyptian goddess, Bast, to save them from danger (usually by Zia or Bast “holding off” the evil forces while Sadie and Carter escaped). If this was done a few times, it’d be okay. But literally Riordan repeated this “hold them off” and escape thing every fifty pages – so it got a bit tired and overused.

On the plus side, however, Riordan was very clever in how he described Egyptian magic. Sadie could use spells which the hieroglyphics would hover in the air like a translucent orb of energy. Carter could summon the gods power with a giant holographic combat avatar (which was really neat). I loved the idea of the House of Life and the magicians dedicated to preserving mankind. Riordan does a great job breaking down complex themes of Egyptian mythology (such as Ma’at) for children to understand – order versus chaos.

All in all, it was entertaining and I will read the second book in the series. I just hope that Riordan decides to focus on one myth, instead of throwing every possible god he can into the story just to make it seem more “Egyptian”. 

7655516Summary:

Meghan Chase has a secret destiny–one she could never have imagined…
Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan’s life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school…or at home. 

When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she’s known is about to change. 

But she could never have guessed the truth–that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she’ll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face…and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart. 

My review:

Overall, I thought that Meghan Chase was just an okay character. She exhibited some good realisim and taking a long time to believe that faery’s existed and that the Nevernever was real, which I really liked. She also clearly cared for her brother, as that is the premise of the book, her attempt at rescuing Ethan, her kidnapped brother from the Nevernever. The world that the writer builds is beautifully rendered and described. Fairies in urban fantasy books are nothing new, but Kagawa brings her own special touch and puts her own spin on old myths and legends. I found the idea of the iron fey to be very original and fascinating. All in all, it was a good book. However, some things really kept me from giving it four stars.

I’ve been seeing the following being more and more common in young adult (YA) reads, particularly where there is a female lead involved. I’m not exactly sure why (well, that’s not entirely true, I know why I just hope it isn’t the case). Her secondary characters (Puck/Ash) really lacked any sort of depth at all. They were two dimensional sad beings. The are so very cliche it’s sickening. Robbie/puck (the best friend, guardian/knight, and is super powerful) and Ash (beautiful, perfect dark hero with mysterious/dark past, super powerful).  And all the while Ash wants to kill Meghan, she is falling in love with him (really lust – but a sixteen year old Meghan doesn’t know the difference). They had one dance where maybe they got to know each other a little bit, but after they engage on their quest there isn’t really any witty banter or heart-felt moments that led me to believe they were falling in love. There were a few almost-kisses, but attraction is not the same as love, and honestly the almost-kisses seemed really out of place to me. THEN all of a sudden, there is a make-out scene and now Meghan and Ash are in love. I’m talking about the I-would-die-without-you, stand-by-each other-through-everything kind of love. There was no chemistry between Ash and Meaghan. Yeah, I get that she thinks he’s pretty, but there doesn’t seem to be much going on between them besides physical attraction. It actually very much lowers my opinion of the Meghan Chase, that she falls in love with the man who’s sworn to kill her and her best friend. 

I get that part of YA is about young love – I was young once too (I think – at least that’s what my mom tells me). But, on the other hand, I hope that the future YA authors out there would treat our teenagers with some intelligence and actually try to build a relationship. 

 

Last year, I attended about five or six science-fiction, fantasy, horror, or pop culture conventions as an exhibitor. This year, I’ll probably double that number. Some of these are remarkably fun, some not so much. A lot of authors go to these shows, particularly if you write science-fiction or fantasy novels. But, how you prepare yourself and your booth makes a huge difference in sales.

At one show I was at, there was an author in the table next to me selling his fantasy book. On one Saturday (typically, the most popular day), I sold over ten times the books he did. He had a decent story too. There are many factors that lead to this dramatic difference in sales. First, his booth was empty. He stacked his books in a pile on the table and wrote $10 on a blank sheet of white paper. I told him that he needs what I call, “curb appeal.” The same basic concept as in real estate. People walking by want to stop by your booth because it’s interesting.

But I’m an author; all I have is my books. How can I make that interesting?

First, you need to think of yourself as more than an author, you’re in business. Conferences and conventions are typically not free and can cost up to $800 to attend (depending on distance and conference fees). If you’re spending that kind of money, you don’t want to go bankrupt supporting your art. You need to invest a bit more time, thought, and a bit of money into it (but not much).

Second, hire an artist/illustrator to do some drawings of your characters and get them printed on a pull up banner. This should cost no more than $200 and will attract attention to your table. Third, don’t just use the standard white cloth blanket that comes with the booth (or sometimes, shows don’t even provide any cloth). Get a few pieces of cloth of different colors. Get flyers printed to distribute, preferably ones with color and nice art that attracts attention. Do not make it boring. Lastly, do not just stack your books on your table. Prop them up and bring enough of them so that your table looks busy. I also vary the heights of the books by putting an old shoebox under the blanket to raise some and lower others. Anything you can do to make it more interesting and compete with more visual tables, you should be doing.

Finally, you have to actually talk to people. I know that’s a crazy concept because us authors just want to be left alone to write. But when you’re new, you’re a nobody and it’s rare that people will come to you. So uncross your arms, act like you want to be there, stand up and introduce yourself. 

This past week was the release of Thor 2, The Dark World. Personally, I loved it. I think Kenneth Branagh was uniquely qualified for this task. However, it made me think about something intimately familiar with a lot of fantasy stories – making something small into something magnificent.

The heart of Thor 2, The Dark World, is a story about two brothers competing for the love and affection of their parents (in particular their father). It’s dressed up with men who are more than the average, with powers of flight and magical hammers. But really, when you get right down to the core of the plot, it’s about family.

The Game of Thrones is remarkably similar. Tyrion’s squabbling with his sister Cersei at the same time that Jamie fights with his father, Tywin, and his sister (Cersei), is a driving force of both books three and four. And it makes for such great drama.

Where Thor 2 is set on another world, The Game of Thrones is set in the past. Yet again, we have the same themes and motifs in both stories. Family, love, greed, lust, honor, and loyalty.

This is what people are really interested in, the psychological drama. It’s because we live it in our real lives all the time. For the writers out there, it’s important to remember that. I was asked what my favorite scenes to write are. The interviewer was surprised when I said the scenes that show the most about the characters – as in, not the cool fight scenes. The relationship of your characters drives your story forward. And no matter how you dress it up – whether you’re including werewolves, vampires, demons, or gods, magicians, wizards, or just plain old fashioned superheroes, focus on the person not the powers and you’ll go further than you would otherwise.

This past month we did a pre-launch of The Soul of the World, book 2 in the Legends of Amun Ra series. Stacey Blake of The Winey Reader blog wrote the following about The Soul of the World.

“These characters are real; they have vices and flaws; they need love and acceptance. All this makes the book so much more realistic even though much of it takes place on another planet. Amazing how humanity is the same everywhere.”

 It’s probably the greatest compliment I could receive as an author.

Read the full book review below: http://thewineyreader.com/the-soul-of-the-world-by-joshua-silverman-bookreview-giveaway/

16282824Blurb:

In a province where magic is forbidden and its possessors are murdered by the cruel Praetor, young Ilan, born with the powerful gift of her ancestors, has only one hope for survival. Concealment. In the shadow of Dimmingwood, she finds temporary protection with a band of forest brigands led by the infamous outlaw Rideon the Red Hand.

But as Ilan matures, learns the skills of survival, and struggles to master the inherent magic of her dying race, danger is always close behind. When old enemies reappear and new friendships lead to betrayal, will her discovery of an enchanted bow prove to be Ilan’s final salvation or her ultimate downfall?

* * * * *
When I was small, my mother taught me about the magickless—evil men who hunted our kind to destroy us. They came from across the water to steal the lands of our ancestors. Pretending to want peace, they enslaved us and sought to extinguish what they couldn’t possess, the one thing their harsh laws could never control. Our ancient powers. One day, my mother warned me, violence would shatter the safety of our home, and when that day came, we must fight. And we must win.

Review

I’ll be honest. I picked this one up because it was free and the cover was cool. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. It had an interesting premise. Magical girl who knows she’s special but doesn’t exactly know how finds herself alone in the world and is forced to take refuge with a band of thieves (hence the title). The idea of magic-folk being hunted down was kind of a cool idea too – a little something different instead of magic-folk being revered in a lot of fantasy stories. So the whole thing started pretty strong.

However, as the story progressed and young Ilan matured, she really turned into quite the spoiled bitch. Greenwood is trying to make Ilan into an anti-hero, but that only works when there’s at least a few redeeming qualities about the character (humor, loyalty, quest for justice…something?). Wolverine is one of my favorite anti-heroes. He talks a lot about how much he doesn’t care, but all his actions speak otherwise. In Magic of Thieves, Ilan talks about how much she doesn’t care and her actions follow through with those words. She really doesn’t care. For the few people that are nice to her, she’s a complete bitch back to them, cursing them out, hitting them, ignoring them, and just generally being a cruel person. I was hoping that she would mature as the story progressed and maybe take responsibility for her actions, but she never did…instead she chose to cry and whine and bitch to everyone. 

Other than that, there was really very little “magic” in the book except for two quick scenes. At the end, Ilan finds a magical bow (as seen on the cover art) at the end of the very last chapter, and doesn’t use it once in the book to do anything. Blah.

Many people commend me on writing complex, three-dimensional, believable characters. It’s something I do work on, diligently. I think most writers want to place their characters into predetermined categories (i.e. this is the hero/heroine, this is the villain, this is the side-kick, and this is the extra girl/guy for a love triangle to give me some drama). I try my best to avoid all of these stereotypes.

When creating a character, the first thing I ask myself is: “What do they want?” or “What is their purpose?” For the most part, every character has a driving force, something pushing them towards something. Writing about someone who doesn’t know what they want and who constantly flip-flops back and forth on decisions (or the alternative, makes no decisions), really isn’t that interesting to read about.

 Once you have the purpose of the character then you can build around that. I keep this rule in my head: No one is any one thing. Which is why typecasting your characters as the “hero” or “villain” can get you into a lot of trouble. Look at your real life as an example. We all have people we don’t like but who can surprise us with very thoughtful and sentimental gestures. And we all know someone who we thought was the nicest person in the world yet they say something completely rude or insensitive and it makes us pause. I try to write characters as people are. That’s what makes them relatable. So when you’re crafting your characters, whether they’re heroes or villains, side-kicks or lovers, remember that in real life people make mistakes. They regret their actions. They have triumphs and failures. They are hypocritical (do what I say not what I do?). Sometimes they’re fiercely loyal to the relationship. Other times they stab you in the back.

 The old cliché is that art imitates life. So write characters as people are. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but never all one or the other. 

I fucking love going to conventions. Seriously, I do. It’s the one place that I can meet and greet fans, sign books, take pictures, and just have an all around amazing time. When I’m not at my booth, in all honesty, you’d probably find me geeking out at the merchandise all the other vendors are selling. I might be walking down one of the isles, spot a great cosplay, and run up to them like every other fan begging for a picture. This is me, deal with it.

But, gearing up for a show is the next closest thing to an anxiety attack that I can think of. And I know if I’m freaking out, I can’t imagine what the people running the show must be doing.

Me (about thirty days before a show doing some inventory):

Holy fuck, I don’t have enough books. Frantically, I’ll call my publisher. She will calm me down in her gentle way, telling me not to worry, she’ll get the books to me on time (and she always does). Then I take stock of my flyers and postcards, which I’m always running low on (seriously, they’re like that extra sock you have left over after doing the wash). I’ll freak out that I only have 500 left and that’s not anywhere near enough to hand out at a show that has 40,000 or more attendees. And the dates on the brochure need updating! Sonofabitch. My second call is to my graphic artist, where I’ll ramble for ten minutes about how important these are and I need A.S.A.P. turn around time. She’ll calm me down, tell me not to worry, that she’ll update the postcard and send me the revisions. Whew. Once I get those revisions, I’ll send them off to the printers.

I’ll stand there in front of a massive suitcase spread open on my floor going through all the shit I have. Do I need mugs? No. Well….no. How about my awesome customized iPhone cases? People like those. Should I take them? Gee, I don’t know, I have all these books. But they look so cool, my inner voice says to me. Okay, fine, I consent. We’ll take a few iPhone cases. Pens? Oh, I didn’t order those. Stupid me. How about my giant balls? No, get your mind out of the gutter, I really have orbs that glow to signify the power source of the Amun Priests. Of course I’m taking those! Just gotta check the batteries…and of course they’re dead. Note to self: Pick up a gazillion AA batteries. Then I’ll look at the giant pile of T-Shirts I have sitting in boxes in my bedroom. Do I bring the shirts or not? This is the question. There’s a lot of them and I have a small car which will be packed so full I won’t be able to see my mirrors because of the books. But people love shirts! I’ll shrug, tabling that decision until later. What else? Oh shit, I forgot bags. People like to put books in bags when they’re at a show. I’ll spend the next four hours researching different bags, blue bags, white bags, black bags, red bags, big bags, small bags, medium sized bags, bio-degradable bags or environment killing bags, customized bags with my awesome logo on it, or not customized bags without my awesome logo on it. Insert sad face here. I can’t fucking take all these decisions!

Somewhere along the line it’ll hit me that I still need to book a hotel room and a flight to whatever city I’m going to. I’ll be really pissed I waited so long because now the fares and rates will be higher.

Then, the reality is, my wife will come into the bedroom because I’m curled up on the floor in a ball mumbling incoherently. My laptop will be open on a page with a thousand different bags on it and coffee mugs, iPhone cases, mints, chocolates, shirts, banners, and flyers are strewn about the room as if a giant tornado struck our house. She’ll say: “You totally suck at this. Let me do it. It’ll be better and cheaper.” She’ll give me some scotch, put a book in my hand, and do something that I am too inept to accomplish on my own: organizing this crazy train called being an author.

Then for the next two to three weeks, after all the orders have been placed, I’ll probably check the status of the printing and shipping of every item once per day, because that’s how much of a freak I am.

I was at Author 101 University in Las Vegas this weekend and had the privilege of catching Scott Hoffman, an agent at Folio Literary Management, speak. Out of all the things that he said, one thing struck me as particularly interesting: how to get a six figure advance from a traditional publisher.

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Two interesting things happened to me in the past two days to inspire this post. First, I was invited to speak on a panel at Denver Comic-Con this coming weekend. The panel is entitled: What’s with all the remakes anyways? (Hollywood, Comics, and T.V. have been digging into the past for a lot of recent releases. What does this mean to the modern writer? How does it impact the modern creative professional and how do we break the trend?). Second, I was recently asked in a blog interview (to be posted): In my experience, some of the best fiction is based on facts and history. How do you build your research into your fictional works?

At first glance, these two subjects don’t appear to be closely related. However, as my series, Legends of Amun Ra, is inspired by Egyptian mythology and history, I can see a relationship here. That relationship is best illustrated by the way I answer this common question: “What are you currently reading?” Most people would be surprised to learn that I read almost twice as many nonfiction books as I do fiction books. Don’t get me wrong, reading fiction books as a writer is helpful for the craft of writing, but it won’t inspire you or give you that million dollar idea for your own series. For that, you need to explore nonfiction. A few examples of authors who have successfully leveraged ideas inspired by nonfiction are below:

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