Jamie Marks is Dead released!

Last night I had the pleasure of watching Jamie Marks is Dead, the movie based on my first novel, One for Sorrow, in Cleveland, Ohio, with a bunch of friends and family. It was so good to finally have others who I’m close to, people from my community, see it as well. Before it had felt a little bit like Big Bird’s relationship with Mr. Snuffleupagus. No, really, there is a movie out there adapted from my novel! It’s not just imaginary!

Here is me and the director/screenwriter, Carter Smith, who made a surprise guest appearance to do Q&A with me after the screening.

Me and Carter

The film debuted as one of sixteen competitors in the dramatic category at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. From there it went on to screen this past summer at Newfest in NYC and Outfest in LA. Now it’s in a limited theatrical release in major cities, as well as also available on video on demand platforms.

Here are the cities where it’s playing:


And here are the video on demand platforms where you can purchase it or rent it to watch in your own home:

I hope as many of you out there as possible can watch it too. It’s really a dream of a film. I mean that. It feels like a dream, or a nightmare, that you wake up from more than a conventional film. When the Washington Post reviewed my novel when it first came out, they said, “Traveling through this story with Adam is like a nightmare, but the kind that fascinates you so deeply that when you wake up, you grab the first person you see and tell him about it.” The film feels that way to me too. So I hope you enjoy the pleasures of dream logic. 

The New York Times recently reviewed the film incredibly favorably. I hope you find it as fascinating as others are finding it. 

Being on Set for Jamie Marks is Dead

At the end of this past week, I took a spontaneous trip to upstate New York to visit the film set for the movie “Jamie Marks is Dead” which is based on my first novel, One for Sorrow. The director and script writer, Carter Smith, had sent me an email earlier in the week inviting me to come see things in action if I had the chance, and since it was Spring Break week at my university, I hurried to finish up some other tasks I had on my desk, then got in the car to head across the great sea of hills and endless highway of Pennsylvania.


It’s an interesting thing, visiting a film set. They’re another world entirely, in a couple of different ways. For one, it was a foreign thing to me, a writer, who is used to spending the majority of his life behind the screen of a computer in a room with his door closed. But beyond that, film sets are a created world, where personal assistants pick you up at the hotel to drive you to that day’s location, a double wide trailer in a rural area that has seen better days, much like my own hometown, and when you get to that location, there is a dead deer’s carcass hanging from a basketball hoop. Which, honestly, wasn’t really surprising, and seemed the perfect detail. The novel I wrote was set in a rural town like the one I grew up in, and though my dad, an avid hunter, never hung his deer from a basketball hoop, they did hang to drain out in our garage.

But there were no personal assistants back then like I had taking me to the set, where we had to wait outside on the front porch because they were filming at that very moment inside. When they were finished, a chain of command that originated somewhere deep in the house circulated the word “cut” through a variety of channels, mostly through audio receivers attached to various crew members’ belt loops, and the door was opened for me to enter into the living room of the doublewide, which was were I was given a headset and placed in front of a monitor to watch as they began immediately to film again.


In front of me, I saw two teenage boys, one standing up from his unmade bed to go over and discover that the ghost of a former almost-friend who had recently been found dead was half-naked and hiding in his closet. I knew those boys immediately, and the lines they were saying in that moment. They were words I’d written nearly ten years ago, as I worked on the first draft of One for Sorrow as a 27 year old, and hearing those words performed in front of me on the monitor, all I could do was stand there and feel my jaw drop open in shock.

I’d known, obviously, that my book was being adapted into a film for several years now, but knowing something and realizing something are two different things. One is cerebral knowledge, the other is knowledge incorporated into one’s integral reality. I was just then, seeing all of this manifest in front of me, realizing that my book was really being made into a movie.

When the scene was done a second time, a break was taken, and the director came out to meet me. Carter and I had spoken on the phone five or six times in the past couple of years, and had exchanged emails at various times between phone calls, so we had a passing familiarity with each other’s voices, at least. But it felt good to finally stand in front of him, this other writer and director who had read my book when it first came out in 2007 and loved it so much he became determined to make it into a film. We talked briefly, I smiled a lot, feeling a bit like a kid getting a wish made into reality, and then the filming began again.


Carter Smith and Madisen Beaty, who plays the ghost of Frances Wilkinson.

I took a dinner break with the cast and crew (which was actually their lunch break). They work 10-12 hours days, and take breaks every six hours like clockwork. Meals are served in what seemed like a horse camp’s mess hall, and I ate with Carter and the two main leads, Cameron Monaghan and Noah Silver, who play Adam McCormick and Jamie Marks respectively. They were all really welcoming, and we talked about the movie, the book, their work as actors. Noah wanted to know what my high school life had been like, because the story they were playing out is a bit, well, I guess intense? I laughed. I’m used to that question. My growing up was not as intense as Adam McCormick’s and Jamie Marks’, but there’s an emotional truth from what being a teenager felt like in the book that I was able to talk about. The ghosts and talking shadows and dead space of the novel are all, for me, metaphorical extensions of my interior adolescent world.

I spent the rest of the evening behind the screen of a monitor, watching another scene acted out over and over, from different camera angles. And no matter how many times I watched them do the same scene over, it was overwhelming for me. A lot to process. The second scene I saw made that night was the first time Adam gives Jamie a word, which in the magical logic of the book can help Jamie live a little longer, find meaning in his afterlife on earth for a little longer.


But at some point in the evening, Carter’s assistant, Robin, took me over to a side room with a laptop to watch a roughly edited scene they had finished the day before. It was a scene that had the majority of the main cast in it–Adam and Jamie, Judy Greer playing the character Lucy, who has paralyzed Adam’s mother in a drunk driving accident, and Liv Tyler, playing Adam’s mother. It was a scene that was both desperately funny as Judy Greer’s shadow said all of the things Lucy herself wouldn’t say out loud (very cool special effect) and desperately sorrowful, as Liv Tyler’s Linda calls over her son, who seems to have gone off the rails completely, to make sure he knows that he’s the most important thing in her world.


As I watched, I couldn’t help laughing, and then couldn’t help but tear up a little as Liv Tyler gave a gut-wrenching emotional performance amid Judy Greer’s darkly humorous ranting. Seeing that rough-cut, I knew that this film was going to be stunning, that Carter was making something magical with it.

It’s an adaptation, so there are some differences in the script from the novel itself, but that’s the nature of adaptations. But what I like about this adaptation so much is that even when there’s a scene that isn’t in the book itself (there are a few), Carter has taken dialogue or details from scenes original to the book and transplanted that material into the new contexts. So there’s something old and something new mingling together, the original and the adapted versions tied together. It’s smart and remains faithful to the novel in that way, even as it occasionally diverges from the novel’s sequences. I couldn’t feel like I have a more faithful and thoughtful adaptor.

I spent the night, then had breakfast with Carter the next morning, then headed home, though I could have stayed for longer. I was still a bit stunned by everything I’d seen the day before, and processing all of it, a little starry-eyed. Also, I had convinced myself I could find the set on my own and when it came time to find it on my own, it was trickier than I’d thought. Since I had a long drive home, though, I decided to turn the gps on and head in that direction, with my head still full of images from the night before.

I never thought I’d have a chance to be on a film set, let alone on the set for a book of my own being made into a movie. This life is surprising, even when you think it can’t surprise you any longer.


I’m home again, and now it’s time to get back to writing. One thing the set visit gave me was a spark of inspiration. I’m working on one of the last revisions of my next novel. And who knows? I can’t say now that someday, I might have the chance to make another visit to a different set for a different book of mine being made into a movie. I’ll say it’s unlikely, but I’ve already had too many unlikely things happen to me in this brief life of mine to say with any certainty that something strange and wonderful won’t happen to me. I’ve learned that it’s really stupid to say the word “never.”

If you’re interested in seeing photos from the film set, go to google and search the term “#jmid”. You’ll find hundreds of photos from cast and crew and the director hash-tagged online, on Instagram mostly, but also attached to twitter etc.

One for Sorrow the film?

I’ve been sort of running around like crazy today, as my friend and former editor, Juliet Ulman, sent me a photograph she took of her copy of Elle magazine’s September issue.  It’s a photograph of the contributor’s page, where the photographer and film director Carter Smith is asked what he anticipates doing this fall, and he states that he hopes he’ll be directing the film adaptation of “Christopher Barzak’s book One for Sorrow“.

I about fell out of my chair.  Mr. Smith indeed purchased an option to make my novel into a film last year, but you know, these sorts of things sometimes happen and most of the time they don’t.  It still may not happen, but if he’s finished the screen adaptation of the novel, it probably means he’s still planning on it.  Here’s hoping that he can make it happen.  I would love to see how he translates the story to the screen.

Here’s the photo Juliet sent me.  I’m still always surprised by the interest people have taken in this book.  It’s very gratifying.  🙂

Oh, Meryl

I love Meryl Streep.  And so whenever she has a movie out, I go, even if the movie sounds totally ridiculous.  Okay, so I missed Mamma Mia.  I just couldn’t bring myself to see it.  It was too far out of my range.  But I did go tonight to see Julie and Julia, which sounded promising.  Unfortunately, the movie was trying way too hard to be cute and charming, and I’m not sure there was a complex character in the movie at all; it was very clear that there were good people who always said the most wonderful things and loved each other perfectly, and there were bad people who said nasty things or who gave other people trouble.  That sort of thing.  At a certain point, I felt the main character was so obsessively cute and nice that I found her in need of psychological counseling.  I also felt that the audience was supposed to feel very good about marriage, and that Julia Child is also a sexual being, not just a pop culture icon in relation to culinary subjects.  It was kind of…awkward in that aspect.  Also, the most drastic conflict that the movie managed to rustle up was a tiff between Julie and her husband, who gets upset because she has become a narcissistic blogger, in need of major amounts of comments on her posts (this in and of itself would have made a much better movie had it been the focus) and affirmation from her upper middle class striving for success friends, which is why she begins blogging in the first place.  Yuck.  What a source of inspiration and impetus.  These are likable characters?  Really???  And yet there it is, saying yes! these are unbearably likable characters!  You can’t not love them!

But I just didn’t buy it.  Sorry.  I feel bad for Meryl, who is always trying to spin straw into gold.  But the movie itself was a bit thin, a bit too flat, too blandly benign.  I didn’t feel anything as I left the theater.  Considering Meryl Streep was in this, that feeling is just wrong.  Now I need to go watch District 9 or else Ponyo, in order to cleanse my palette.

In other news, the movie did make me mildly interested in perhaps checking out Julia Child’s cookbook, and trying my hand at some French cuisine.


Recently, Elizabeth Hand reviewed my new novel-in-stories and ferreted out a lot of influential material I’d been looking at and reading while I lived in Japan and wrote the book.  One film that she didn’t mention but was influential on the book nonetheless, particularly in its dreaminess and it’s own film-in-stories type of structure, was Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams, which, when I was living overseas, the writer Midori Snyder recommended to me.  And it was a wonderful recommendation.  Like the film (and book by Lafcadio Hearn) Kwaidan, which retells Japanese ghost stories and strange tales from a Western perspective, Kurosawa’s film looks at Japanese folklore and strange surreal occurrences from the filmmaker’s own subconscious perspective (of course made conscious in the film itself).  At the beginning of each story segment in Dreams, a line of Japanese appears.  In the English subtitles the translation states, “Once I had a dream,” but in my own translation of the line, it says, “I saw this sort of dream.”  

Below are four segments of the first of the “dreams” in the film, about a young boy who witnesses a kitsune (fox spirits, pronounced key-tsu-nay) wedding procession, even though he’s been warned to not go looking for them, as they’re very private creatures and grow angry when disturbed.  It’s beautifully filmed, and was one of the first encounters I’d had with kitsune folklore.  It remains one of my favorites.

My daemon

I think WordPress won’t allow me to embed the visual results for my Golden Compass daemon quiz results for some reason, so instead, you can find my results here, if you like these sorts of things. Actually, the site will ask you to rate the results of my quiz, and if people perceive me differently than how I answered, my daemon can change into a different one, just like the daemons in the series can as a child grows up, before their final character is molded. So rate it. I’d love to see if my own ideas of myself are different from how I’m perceived. Call my kooky, but I’m going to head over to Gwenda’s place right now and see if my idea of her will change her daemon.  I guess it’s one of those wild and crazy nights in Youngstown. It’s a really beautifully designed quiz and website for the movie coming out this December. I’m excited to see it. Yay for fantasy movies!

Ytown on Stage

Last night at the Stage was just the most wonderful experience.  There were so many people there, so much talent and creativity and expression, and so much of it just really really good.  My friend Brooke does the most amazing things for this city and I sometimes wonder if enough people actually understand it.  I hope so.  She’s created a space where people can gather together and feel like a strong family, supporting each other in creative endeavors of every kind:  acting, music, visual art and design, literature, dancing, musicals and filmmaking.  Youngstown has so much talent it makes me not sick but deliriously appreciative of being here and being a part of making this city into something good.  My mom came to the Stage with me last night, and before and after the show we walked around in the downtown together.  She hadn’t been there in years, and commented on how there were actually people walking the streets again, and storefronts with actual stores open inside them, and how things just felt so much different, more like what she remembered from decades ago, before the steel mills pulled up and out of here, before government officials started using the town and the people for their own personal benefit and gain rather than being responsible community officials.  It’s true, too, because in my lifetime I’ve never seen Youngstown so alive and full of a hopeful wind blowing through it, I’ve never seen so many people coming together before to take the city back into their hands and make it into home again.  We’d been cut off from doing that for so long because of the corruption in the government.  I can’t wait to see what happens here in the coming years.  There was a great video montage of moments from the past year of Stage events at the Oakland Center for the Arts shown last night, too, and I want to get it up on Youtube so other people can see it too.  Youngstown’s a place with a lot of potential because it is so undefined, and I can see it as a place that people of the right spirit and inclination to create will come to because of that in the future.  Artists of all sorts, after all, want a blank canvas.  And this city has more than enough room to make room for new life.

I’ll be there.

Stop by and have some fun this Friday at The Stage at the Oakland Center for the Arts. I’ll be reading a short short story called “The Flood” (which is being published in Foundation’s 100th issue this August), and there’ll be comedians, dramatic monologues, crazy improvised hallucinogenic music-video imitations, tap dancing, independent film trailer releases, poetry, song and art. Watch or get up and strut your stuff. It’ll be a blast, as usual, in downtown Ytown.