MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Damn it, I did have genius Saxe. It just took me fifty-five years to find out. I suppose I was too busy working to notice it before.

—William Faulkner, to his editor Saxe Commins


Thursday, May 19, 2016

“Meg” Adds Cast

Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, who appeared in X-Men: Days of Future Past, has joined Jason Statham in Meg, the creature feature being made by Warner Bros. and Chinese company Gravity Pictures, The Hollywood Reporter reveals.

At the same time, Warner Bros. has set a March 2, 2018, release date for the pic, which will be directed Jon Turteltaub, best known as helmer of the National Treasure movies. Gravity will distribute the film in China, while Warners will release it throughout the rest of the world.

Dean Georgaris wrote the latest script for the project, which has been swimming upstream for 20 years in order to adapt the book by Steve Alten. It centers on a Carcharodon Megalodon, the 70-foot, 40-ton prehistoric kin to the great white shark.

The studio put forth the plot of Meg as such:

An international underwater observation program, led by Chinese scientists, is under attack by an unknown danger, and its deep-sea submersible lies disabled and trapped at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. With time running out, former Naval Captain and expert deep sea diver Jonas Taylor (Statham) is recruited by Dr. Zhang Suyin, lead oceanographer of the program, for what is likely a suicide mission.

Years before, Taylor had encountered this same terrifying threat, which forced him to abort his mission and abandon half his crew, resulting in disgrace and a dishonorable discharge. Now, Taylor must confront his fears and risk his own life to save everyone trapped below … bringing him face to face once more with the apex predator of all time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

‘Meg’ Gets 2018 Release Date

Jason Statham Meg
BabiradPicture/REX/Shutterstock


Warner Bros. has set a March 2, 2018, release date for its prehistoric giant shark thriller “Meg.”

Jon Turteltaub Meg“National Treasure” helmer Jon Turtletaub will direct the film and Jason Statham will star with Chinese actress Fan Bingbing.

The film will be co-financed by Flagship Entertainment; Gravity Pictures, a division of China Media Capital (CMC); and Warner Bros. Gravity Pictures will distribute the film in China, with Warner Bros. handling the film throughout the rest of the world.

The story is based on Steve Alten’s novel “MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror,” published in 1997 with the title derived from the ancient Megalodon species that has survived while being trapped in the Mariana Trench due to a barrier of cold water.

The “Meg” movie is centered on an international underwater observation program, led by Chinese scientists, being under attack by an unknown danger with its deep-sea submersible disabled and trapped at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Statham will portray a former Naval captain and expert deep-sea diver, who’s recruited for a likely suicide mission — even though he faced the predator years before and was forced him to abort his mission and abandon half his crew.

Statham came on to the project in April. Principal photography will begin later this year in China and New Zealand.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Kenneth Atchity's Tome Tender Guest Post: How Long Can I Wait? My Life in the Waiting Room



Writers ask me that all the time, becoming impatient and anxious that their story is taking so long to be a book or a movie. My answer surprises them:
                Don’t wait at all.

                Waiting is a massive waste of time, and lead to depression, existential despair and who knows what else. Do something while you wait. Plant another seed, cultivate it, train it to grow straight. And while it’s taking its sweet time to bud and then bloom, do something else. Start a new book!

                Back in the Waiting Room in the sixties, I reviewed a great book by Barry Stevens: Don’t Push the River, It Flows by Itself. Every project has its own clock and will happen when that clock reaches the appointed hour. Other than keeping that project on track the best you can, there’s nothing you can do—other than financing it yourself (a serious option, by the way), to speed up that clock. By the nature of things, that clock is secret, which means extra frustration for the creator—unless you refuse to wait.

                Recently I, and my dear producing partner Norman Stephens, produced a sweet little Christmas movie, Angels in the Snow. I had only been trying to get that movie produced for twenty years! Sold it to TNN once, came close to a deal at Hallmark another time. What was I doing for twenty years? Producing nearly thirty other films, managing hundreds of books, writing and publishing ten of my own, playing tennis, traveling, having a wonderful life. Not waiting.

                Waiting makes me neurotic. If I allowed myself to express my neurosis, as many writers have not yet learned not to do, I would drive those involved in making my story into a book or film crazy—and risk losing their support. The question I hate hearing the most, “What’s going on?” is one I keep myself from asking. My job, when I’m in charge of moving a story forward, is to “get the ball out of my court” as efficiently and as soon as possible. Then, on that project, I have to wait for it to be returned to my court. Very few actual events occur along the way, leaving a huge gap of dead time in between them, like super novae separated by vast time years of space. But it’s not dead time if you use it for something else creative.

                If the glacial pace of the creative business fills you with dread, you’re in the wrong business or you’re dealing with it the wrong way. Don’t wait. Do. As the great photographer Ansel Adams put it: “Start doing more. It’ll get rid of all those moods you’re having.”

Read more at Tome Tender


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

6 More Common Writing Errors Even Bestselling Authors Make



1. Misuse of punctuation

How to make a correct use of punctuation could certainly be the subject of a whole other blog post, so here we’ll just focus on the three punctuation misuses our editors note most often.
Using a comma to set off a dependent clause

Authors often place commas where they don’t belong, including before a dependent clause.

    By far, the most common writing mistake I’ve encountered when editing books by professional authors is the use of a comma to set off a dependent clause in the middle of a sentence. For example: “He stepped through the doorway, and took her in his arms.” In this case “and took her in his arms” is not an independent clause. It depends on the first half of the sentence in order to make sense. Therefore, a comma should not set it off. – Nikki Busch

Using the semicolon as a comma — and vice versa

Authors tend to fall into one of two categories: Those who overuse the semicolon, and those who eschew it entirely.

    Semicolons are a powerful mark of punctuation; they denote the continuation of a thought from one sentence to the next and suggest the clauses are so interconnected that the second can’t be understood outside the context of the first. (See what I did there? If you hadn’t read the first sentence in this paragraph, the second sentence — after the semicolon — would lack context.) Semicolons are also used to separate complex items in series, meaning a list of items that itself contains commas. The example I give most often involves the sandwich types you might bring on a picnic: Peanut butter, honey, and banana; turkey, brie, and red pepper jelly; and tuna salad. The three sandwich types are “complex items” because each contains commas. If we don’t use semicolons, we risk confusion — and a very disgusting lunch. – Rebecca Heyman

Confusing hyphens and en-dashes

Hyphens (-), en dashes (–), and em dashes (—) technically only differ by the length of the dash. In a sentence, however, they couldn’t be more different.

    Authors often tend to confuse en dashes and em dashes with hyphens. To understand the difference, think that hyphens allow you to create language — whereas en dashes allow you to create meaning. Here’s an example:

        Hyphen: “I have a blue-green sweater.” The hyphen here is used to amalgamate or mesh the two colours into one.

        En dash: “Would you say this sweater is blue – or green?” The en dash is used for pause or emphasis.

        Em dash: “The sweater could be called blue — the blue of the sea or the sky, or green — the green of the forest.” The em dash is also used for pause or emphasis, mainly by US writers, and for me it has literary overtones. Something about the length makes it look elegant and thoughtful in a sentence.

    As for the semicolon above, these are not strict rules; I’d rather call them narrative opportunities! – Philippa Donovan

2. Misplaced and “dangling” modifiers

Most people know to watch out for participles, but any modifying phrase “dangled” at the front of a sentence by a comma can become ungrammatical if not worded properly.

    Without a doubt, the most common grammar error I see is the misplaced dangling modifier. Here’s an example that was published in my community newspaper:

    “As a disillusioned high school drop out, the structure of martial arts helped turn Frank’s life around.”

    The dangler attaches itself to the first noun following the comma, which in this sentence is “the structure of martial arts.” But “the structure of martial arts” is not a high school drop-out. One potential revision would be “When Frank was a disillusioned high school drop-out, the structure of martial arts helped turn his life around.” – Kristen Stieffel

3. Disruptive or incorrect dialogue tags

A lot of authors get too creative with their dialogue tags. Though “said” and “asked” lack originality, they have the advantage of being “invisible” to the reader. It’s better to stick to basic dialogue tags to prevent drawing the reader’s attention away from the actual dialogue.

    Ideally, dialogue should be strong enough not to need to be supported by eye-catching tags like harrumphed, guffawed, or squealed. Equally, it’s technically incorrect to use anything but synonyms for said, so “he smiled,” “she raised an eyebrow,” or any other facial expressions are off the agenda unless the punctuation clearly separates dialogue from description. For example: “I’m so glad I discovered BookBub!” The author clapped her hands in glee. “What would I do without it?” – Bryony Sutherland

4. Inconsistencies in names and spelling

While it’s typically the copy editor’s job to pick these up, authors should watch out for inconsistencies when revising.

    Authors hold about thirty versions of a story in their minds. One of the mistakes that can creep in is a name or background tweak that isn’t picked up consistently throughout the story. Readers can get baffled by a new name popping in that hadn’t been there before! True, find and replace can help with this, but it’s not always accurate, as we all know. Looking at all names — and spellings — before final publication is useful. Use the Edit > Find/Replace feature to search for old names and spellings and make sure none have slipped through the cracks. – Mary-Theresa Hussey

5. Misuse of tense

Even for the most experienced authors, it can be difficult to maintain tense consistency throughout a manuscript. Whether past or present is a novel’s main narrative tense, stick to it even in flashbacks.

    Inconsistencies in verb tense tend to appear more often in novels written in the present tense, with authors often accidentally slipping into the past tense. – Angela Brown

    The most common mistake I see from authors of all experience levels are issues related to tense. For example, many manuscripts I read may start in the past tense and, in a moment of flashback or action, flip abruptly to present tense. – Lauren Hughes

6. Homonym errors and commonly confused words

We all have a few words that we never seem to be able to write correctly. It’s good to be aware of them, since a simple find and replace will often do the trick. Oxford Dictionaries has compiled a list of likely candidates here.

    I come across homonym errors in nearly every novel I edit. The most common homonym mix-ups include: it’s/its, too/to, your/you’re, their/they’re/there, then/than, passed/past, waived/waved, whipping/wiping, scarred/scared, and here/hear.

    Conjugating the verb “lie” also proves problematic for nearly every author. Does Jim lay down? Does Jim lie down? Was Jim lying or laying on the ground? In this post, Grammar Girl gives some terrific tips for when to use “lie” versus “lay”. – Angela Brown

Read more at BookBub





Friday, May 6, 2016

Breaking News: Writing is Hard! by Dennis Palumbo Featured in the April/May Issue of Suspense Magazine

Work the problem---don't make yourself the problem.

 

AprilMay2016issue
As a psychotherapist who specializes in working with creative people, I'm often asked to speak at writing conferences. At one such recent event, an audience member stood up and asked a question.

"When I write," he said, "I feel like I don't always know what I'm doing. I go over stuff, then I cross stuff out, then I try something else...I feel like I'm losing it sometimes. What does that mean?"

I shrugged. "It means you're a writer."

"But I spend a lot of time worrying, never sure whether or not the damned thing is working..."

"Sounds like writing to me."

This did not erase the perplexed look on his face.

"I don't know about that." He glanced around the crowded room. "I mean, I heard the other day on the radio that we're all crazy."

"Who's crazy?"

"Us. Writers. Artists in general. This shrink was on some talk show on NPR, and he said it's been proven that we're all bipolar."

"I'm confused. Do you mean that because you're a writer you're bipolar, or does being bipolar cause you to be a writer?"

"He said it could be one or the other, but it could be both.What do you think?"

"I think I'm gonna skip the next NPR pledge drive."

Apparently, it's in fashion again: the notion that the creative impulse, with its occasional emotional difficulties, is merely the product of a psychological disorder. It must be, the argument goes, given how much emotional turmoil, stress and disordered mood is often associated with it.

The current favorite diagnosis for artists, particularly writers, is bipolar disorder---what used to be called manic-depression.

In fact, there's a movie currently in release---based on Kay Jamison's influential book, Touched With Fire---that reinforces this very concept. But the idea that writers are of a single and highly neurotic type goes all the way back to---who else?---Freud. Later, in the 1950's, a fellow named Edmund Bergler (credited, by the way, with inventing the term "writer's block") wrote a number of books on the subject. His explanation for the reason that writers write? "Psychic masochism."

Of course, the idea that the artistic impulse is inevitably the product of a psychological condition is not new. History is filled with examples of the tormented artist stricken with melancholy, going on drunken binges, cutting off an ear, and generally behaving---as we therapists like to say---inappropriately. But to infer that some kind of "craziness" underlies creative endeavor, or, even worse, that the impulse to create is itself an indicator of some clinical condition is just plain wrong.

Dennis Palumbo
First, to whatever extent a therapist believes in the validity of diagnostic
labels like "bipolar," one thing is clear: Labels exist for the convenience of the labeler. How helpful they are to the artistic person is debatable.

Second, claiming that the creative impulse comes from any one source---whether mania, psychosis or the moon---is both ludicrous and potentially harmful. Ludicrous because it's oversimplified and inconsistent with the lived experience of countless artists. Potentially harmful because it undervalues the mysterious, indefinable aspects of the creative act.

I'm reminded of a quote by H.L. Mencken, who said, "There is always an easy solution to every human problem---neat, plausible and wrong." The tendency to see a writer's creative struggles solely in terms of evidencing a psychological problem betrays a profound narrowness in scope, imagination, and appreciation for the hidden ways of the artistic heart.

The point is, yes, perhaps Van Gogh did suffer from symptoms that we might label bipolar. But what is also true---and certainly more important---is that he was supremely talented. Both facts can co-exist, without one necessarily causing the other.

Which brings me back to that worried audience member. Because the truth is, he's not alone in his concern about what his creative struggles mean. Many writer patients in my therapy practice wonder about the same thing, given the level of anxiety, self-doubt and fear of shameful self-exposure that accompanies the writing of most scripts, plays, essays or novels.

"If I'm plagued with anxiety," he or she says, "doesn't that say something about the quality of what I'm writing? Let's face it: if I was any good, I wouldn't be going through this agony. If this story really worked, I wouldn't be bumping up against so many technical problems, narrative glitches, inconsistencies in some of the characters. Right?"

Wrong. You're bumping up against technical problems, narrative glitches and issues with some of your characters for a very simple reason. WRITING IS HARD.

This isn't to say that writing isn't often accompanied by anxiety, manifesting in a dozen different ways, from sleepless nights to procrastination to substance abuse. And these psychological aspects ought to be addressed. But these symptoms---and the self-recriminating meanings we give them---are not the reason that writing is difficult. Because whether or not a writer suffers from these symptoms, in small measure or to a crippling extent, the reality is that telling a good story with intelligence, emotional truth and narrative complexity is hard. Really, really hard.

Let me put it another way: what I sometimes tell my writer patients, and what I'm trying to stress here, is that an artist's job is to create. When you create anything---whether a script or a novel, whether painting a landscape or writing a song---you're bound to run into problems. Problems inherent in the doing of the task. So your real, pragmatic, fundamental job is to work on these problems. Solve the difficulties. Answer the nagging questions.

In other words, I believe you should, as a creative person, work the problem, instead of making yourself the problem. You and your psychological issues aside, problems with your work are inherent in doing that work.

Case in point: one of my friends is a Buddhist monk, whose composure and equilibrium is, in my experience of him, a model of psychological well-being. He's also a poet. The last time I spoke with him, he complained about this long poem he was laboring over. "Man," he said, "writing poetry's a bitch."

Note that he didn't say anything self-recriminating about his talent, his character, his work ethic, or his puny place in the pantheon of poets. He didn't see his struggles and artistic frustration as evidence of a failure in himself. Or a reflection of his neurotic insecurity. He merely stated that writing poetry is hard.

So, once again: when you come up against some difficulty in your writing, work the problem---don't make yourself the problem. You may have issues to be addressed, but the difficulties of writing are inherent in the task, not a reflection of your failings as either a person or a writer.

Remember, writing is hard. Writing anything is hard. Especially if you're trying your best.

Which reminds me of an old Hollywood story. Years ago, back in the days of the studio system, a roomful of contract writers were going crazy trying to solve an Act Two problem in a script they were doing. After a week of teeth-gnashing and garment-rending, a new young writer was brought into the room. In a matter of minutes, he hit upon the solution. To which one of the exhausted old veterans mumbled, "Sure he solved it. He didn't know how hard it was."

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Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (MY FAVORITE YEAR; WELCOME BACK, KOTTER, etc.), Dennis Palumbo is now a licensed psychotherapist and author of the Daniel Rinaldi mystery series. More info at www.dennispalumbo.com (link is external)

6 Common Writing Errors Even Bestselling Authors Make



1. Show, don’t tell

This might be the most commonly cited mistake among editors. Authors are naturally prone to telling rather than showing. This means that rather than letting the reader experience a story through action, dialogue, thoughts, and senses, the author summarizes or describes what has happened. They often do this by info-dumping prose or by stating a character’s emotions rather than showing how those emotions are conveyed.

    Though this admonition may seem like Writing 101, I still find myself scribbling in the margins of even professional authors’ manuscripts, “Show, don’t tell!” It’s amazing how easy it is for authors to fall into the trap of intruding on the story through narrative, instead of letting the characters demonstrate by their own words and actions the point they’re trying to get across. Let the characters tell the story, and don’t underestimate the reader’s ability to draw what they need from compelling dialogue. – Marsha Zinberg

2. Weak opening narrative

Ever dropped a book after reading the first few pages? That’s usually what happens when the author starts the story in the wrong place. It’s an easy mistake to make. While the author knows something exciting will happen soon enough, it’s not obvious to the reader. If they’re not immediately hooked, chances are they won’t stick around long enough to find out what “something exciting” is.

    A significant issue I see with many authors is inserting too much backstory [at the beginning]. A reader’s interest has to be developed from the start, which suggests having vivid characterization and action (not meaning explosions, but tension, movement, ideas in opposition) from the get-go. Long, explanatory passages, even if beautifully written, can stop a narrative before it even begins to stretch its legs. – Tom Bentley

3. Over-describing the action

Over-describing is when the author provides unneeded details about the characters’ actions. This slows the pace, lessens tension, and interrupts the flow of the scene.

    I find that many writers have a hard time letting readers intuit action — especially physical action — in a scene. It’s very common to find characters who, for instance, “walk across a room, open a door, walk through the door, and then close the door.” Such detail can become laborious for readers and slow down pacing. All that’s really needed is for the character to “walk through the door.” Readers will naturally intuit the rest. – Laura Chasen

4. Unbelievable conflicts

In many fiction genres, conflicts shape the story. Whether they’re external or internal conflicts, it’s important to give those conflicts substance and believability.

    Basing conflicts on a misunderstanding, something that could be solved if only the characters were to have a simple conversation, is unsatisfying for the reader and something we see time and again from newer authors.

    All stories will have conflicts set out by the plot for the characters to overcome, the peaks and troughs of the journey the characters go on. These external conflicts may be necessary to move a story along, but it’s not what keeps a reader itching to turn the pages. The most satisfying stories also have the main characters dealing with their own internal emotional conflicts — something that is specific to them, that keeps them from the love interest, that makes the case they’re working on personal, that stops the quest they’re on from being easy. This internal conflict is what emotionally involves the reader in the story, in rooting for the character, and seeing the character conquer this in the end is what makes for the most exciting and enticing stories.

    The best way to create internal conflict is to really dig deep into the character. Think about what’s driving them, what their motivations are, what their background is, what has happened in the past to make them who they are. From this, think about the emotions they would experience when placed in situations that tap into their conflict and bring these out on the page.  – Laurie Johnson

5. Viewpoint

Determining the correct point of view for the narrative is a huge part of a story’s success. We know, for example, that most YA is written in the first-person point of view because younger readers identify with the immediacy of the first-person emotional experience. Romance is usually told through deep third-person omniscient, since an author needs the ability to move seamlessly from the hero to heroine’s perspective. POV determines who tells a story and how — which is why getting it right is critical to a book’s success. For more in-depth information, here is an excellent post on how to choose the right narrative viewpoint and narrator.

    Because both omniscient viewpoint and deep character viewpoint can both be written in the third person, inexperienced writers frequently confuse them and allow artifacts of omniscient viewpoint to clutter stories that are otherwise written in deep point of view. Such errors could include describing a ship at sea and then noting that “the captain had no way of knowing a storm was forming over the horizon.” If the captain is the viewpoint character, then the author cannot reveal what the captain does not know. Revealing multiple characters’ thoughts in a single scene is a feature in omniscient viewpoint, but in deep POV, it’s an error. Even the tag “she thought” following a line of internal monologue is out of place in a deep POV story, since if we are in the character’s viewpoint we can’t possibly be reading anyone’s thoughts but hers. – Kristen Stieffel

6. Assumption of knowledge

Authors often write many drafts of their novels. After several revisions, it can be easy to forget that the readers only know what information they’re provided on the page.

    This is, to me, the greatest pitfall in authoring any novel. We have a wealth of knowledge about our book, from personal experience and observations to careful research. We have saturated our minds with endless details, as well as visions of our story, characters, and environments. We then write from that empowered position; often, assumption of knowledge skewers our story.

    If you wish to expose the spots in your story where you have galloped past pertinent info, do a “character report.” Follow each character in the book and jot down the information you gather from that character — not what you already know, but what you’ve “given” to the reader. Do the same with any world, language, etc. The holes created by assumed knowledge will be laid bare, and you can cleverly fill them up! – Maria D’Marco

Read more at BookBub