Signed Copies of Wonders of the Invisible World

wonders coverIn just less than two weeks, my new novel, Wonders of the Invisible World, will be released. I’m incredibly excited for this book to find its way to readers. The local book launch event for the book will be held at Barnes and Nobles in Boardman, Ohio on September 11th, at 7 PM, where I’ll give a reading and then sign books for attendees. Please join if you can. If you want, you can RSVP on the Facebook invitation to the event, so B&N has a general idea of headcount for the event.

For those of you who aren’t local but would still like a signed copy of the novel, you can pre-order signed copies from the loveliest bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin, A Room of One’s Own, who will be sending books with signed bookplates to readers who order the book through them.

You can call or use a special pre-order page on their website. Info is here:

To pre-order via the bookstore’s website, click here. 

By phone:
608.257.7888

Thanks very much for your pre-orders, wherever you may be ordering from. Every copy helps!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 AKA Jamie Marks is Dead

I have good news at the end of 2012. My novel One for Sorrow‘s film rights have officially been sold, and filming will begin shortly in the new year, from what I understand. This has been a long-term project for the director/script writer and the production company he has assembled since he first optioned the rights several years ago. To be honest, most book-to-film options never come to fruition, and I knew that from the beginning, so I never got my hopes up that I’d see my book truly made into a movie, and remained grateful just that there was someone out there who had read the book and resonated with it so greatly that he went so far as to pay money to option the right to make it, and to continue renewing the option until he had a production company in place to make it happen. Now, I’m kind of dumbfounded that it’s really going forward.

Here’s what I can tell you so far:

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The director and script writer is the really well known fashion photographer Carter Smith. On top of fashion photography, he’s also a filmmaker who won a Sundance Film Festival Award for Best Short Film in 2007, for a film called Bug Crush. After that short film, he directed his first feature length film in 2008 called The Ruins, based on the novel by Scott Smith, for DreamWorks.

 

imgres-1Hunting Lane Films, from what I understand, will be producing the film version of One for Sorrow.  They’ve done movies like Half Nelson and Blue Valentine most recently.  The executive producer on the film is John Logan, who wrote the script for movies like Hugo, Any Given Sunday, and Gladiator (!!!), who also won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Play for Red, the Broadway play about painter Mark Rothko.

With a crew like this, I feel like the book is in good hands.

They are most likely going to change the title, however, to Jamie Marks is Dead .  There will also be some slight changes to the novel’s version of the story, but a film based on a novel is never the same thing as a novel–they’re adaptations–so I’m looking forward to seeing how the story of Adam McCormick and Jamie Marks and Gracie Highsmith plays out in this film version of the book.

I’m not sure who all they have cast yet, but I’ve been privy to hearing about possibles, and if I can ever confirm who will be in it for my readers, I’ll be certain to update here on my website as soon as I can.

However, I’ve been shown auditions by some of the hopefuls, which were incredible, and have also seen what seems like thousands of photos from location scouting. It seems they’ll be filming in several different upstate New York locations, small towns and rural villages around the Sleepy Hollow area, which somehow seems appropriate, this being a ghost story and all.

This has been something I’ve been sitting on for so long now, so I’m really excited to finally be able to announce it! I can’t wait to see what Carter makes of my story. It will be interesting and fun to be in the reader/viewer’s seat in these circumstances.

2013, here we come!

Turning Points

This post is short, but I wanted to point any of my readers over to the blog of writer Nova Ren Suma (author of the fantastic novel, Imaginary Girls), where I’ve guest blogged in Nova’s Turning Points series.

My turning point:  turning from writing the short story to the novel, and then from the novel to a novel-in-stories.

There’s also a giveaway for copies of both of my books, so do leave a comment to be entered!

Another recommendation

Over the winter break I had a chance to read more books of my own choosing than I’ve been able to do in a while.  One of them was Ali Shaw’s debut novel, The Girl With Glass Feet.  This novel is a modern fairy tale, set in a faraway land, St. Hauda’s, an icy island that is as remote and strange and wonderful as any fairy tale setting I’ve seen.  The characters are flawed and yet incredibly sympathetic, the plot: how to love in the face of impending death that comes in the form of glass that takes over one character’s body slowly but surely.  There are strange and improbable creatures inhabiting this book, tiny cows the size of butterflies, with wings to match.  It is a book that holds promise for future wonders to come from Mr. Shaw, and I look forward to them.

Towards the end of something

One of the things I’ve become conscious of after writing two books and being in the latter stages of a third one is when I’m nearing the latter stages of narrative.  I’m not a plot outliner; I write forward, sometimes at a charge, sometimes groping in the dark.  This makes for an organic, non-linear process, but I prefer it to planning everything out prior to writing a book.  I’ve tried that; books I’ve planned I’ve never been able to get off the ground, because by the time I’ve figured everything out in terms of the plot and the language for the telling, among other things, I feel like I haven’t really left myself any of the fun stuff to do, and what’s left is work.  I abhor work, and have no qualms about complaining about it.  Work is what anything is when there’s nothing fun in something.  But as long as I’ve got something fun to look forward to, I can manage to do a lot of what other people might traditionally call work.  It’s a state of mind, I suppose, that distinguishes activities that might look very similar from an objective perspective.  It’s the subjective feeling of play, and what conditions must exist for that feeling to exist, that colors work so that it does not feel like work, for me.

But because I am not a planner (in terms of knowing absolutely everything before I go into writing a novel), I sometimes find myself at stages in a book that I had not anticipated, because it’s very much like turning a corner and suddenly the hallway with the door at the end–the one you’ve been searching for–is right there in front of you.  You might surprise yourself with what you find behind that door, it may open up onto a vista you hadn’t expected, but you know that it’s most likely the last door you have to walk through.  I’m at the beginning of that hallway, and I’ve got a long hallway to walk to make it to the door, but it’s there.  What frustrations and annoyances I may encounter from taking a more spontaneous and intuitive journey through a book rather than a planned itinerary are made up for by my own encounter with surprise and an ability to receive new ideas about the story I’m writing as I go along, rather than trying to control it from the beginning, to beat it into submission, to fit it into a preconceived form.   Afterward, of course, I tend to do a lot of the controlling stuff; taking out what no longer needs to be there, putting in things that must be there, because of some strange growth the story took on that I had not anticipated initially.

One of the things that I realize now, as I approach a novel’s last corridor, is that it is probably coming when I begin to want to go back to the earliest chapters and start the pruning and shaping of the story, to tear out whole sections and replace with something new.  Lately I’ve had that impulse, and it wasn’t until I turned the corner the other day and realized where I was in this book–in the last leg of it–that I realized the feeling of wanting to go back and start revising is inherently linked with being near the end.  It’s obviously the next step in the process, and because I can see the end and know it, I know what I have to do in the revision stages already.  Now my biggest problem is curbing myself from jumping ahead to revision, so that I can finish that last leg.  And despite it being the last leg, it’s still a long run to make.  It’ll be very satisfying when I reach it.

And even better when I can start in on those revisions I already want to make.  Some people hate revising and rewriting, but I have learned that it’s the best part of writing, because it’s the stage when you know exactly what you’re doing, and you’ve got the general item itself there, right in front of you, so no complaints.  At least not from me.  Revising and rewriting means I’m more than halfway done with making a book.  It means you’ve reached a stage of the creative process that feels, to me, very close to seeing the thing you’ve been making as something more and more apart from you, about to take on its own existence.  And that is an event that feels mysterious and amazing.

Artscape Article

I did a phone interview with Columbus Alive this past Monday about me, my writing, and my upcoming reading at Thurber House next Wednesday (which you should come to if you can!).  Here’s a link to the article.  The writer/interviewer was very cool.  She’d actually read a bunch of my stories and books (which isn’t always the case in these matters) so we had a really great conversation more than an interview, really.  Looking forward to coming down to Cbus for the reading.

Click here.

Wherefore art thou, Juliet

Today we bring you an awesome interview with the editor of my first two books, Juliet Ulman.  Okay, so “we” don’t bring it to you, Jeff Vandermeer does, over at Amazon.com’s blog, Omnivoracious.  Here’s a connecting pass to it.  And if you like reading Juliet’s really smart and insightful perspective on editing, publishing, and the future of publishing, you can hop over to Jeff V’s personal blog, where there is some more Ulman love going on, including a little ditty from moi.

Q&A

I’ve been spending the past week doing Q&A at the Endicott Mythic Reader’s Group on Goodreads, and there have been some really thoughtful questions.  One came in today, to which I just responded.  And I’ve decided to post the question and my response here, too.

Q: Ghosts and eldritch kids in and of themselves aren’t that unusual in dark fantasy/horror. Working class backgrounds like that of Adam and his family aren’t often handled in books within the genre or outside it. Decaying cities are a commonplace but not the economic devestation of the city in your novel. In some ways the family and the city are more unsettling than death and the ghosts. Could you talk about how and why you came to make those as important elements in ONE FOR SORROW as you did? 

A: Thank you for your question. How and why did I come to choose the rural small town and dying steel city important aspects of One for Sorrow? There are a couple of reasons for this.

One is that setting is a very important element of fictional narrative for me in general. I think it’s an especially overlooked element of narrative in the recent past. It seems we have a lot of narratives these days that could take place in Anywhere, America. Suburban communities without a lot of distinguishing characteristics, or else in the very large mega-cities, like NY and LA. Occasionally you come across books set in marginal communities, but in my experience, finding these settings in books has become an infrequent event for me as a reader over the past ten years or so. When I began writing One for Sorrow, which is my first novel, I decided I would set it in my own home region, where I grew up, because I had never encountered a novel or short story which took that place as its setting, and told a story that derived and was specific to that place. 

The dying steel city of Youngstown, Ohio and the small rural communities that surround it are in many ways forgotten places in the American landscape. There are many forgotten places that the rest of America has no context to understand them. If you asked someone who was an adult and paying attention to the news back in the late 70s and early 80s, you might encounter someone who knows these places and without very much need for prompting will be recall the devastating economic disaster that occurred in Youngstown, Ohio at that time. Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about it for his Ghost of Tom Joad album, which explored these forgotten and ignored aspects of American community. They are forgotten and ignored because communities such as Youngstown are working class, the underclass, and had no one of any articulate ability to speak for them, and to speak loud enough. In recent days, due to it being an electoral year, Youngstown pops up on cue in the political world, presidential candidates come here in those years to take pictures in front of decaying steel mills and factories that have been abandoned for the past thirty or forty years, and pretend as if they’re going to do something to help the people who live in these jobless, poverty-stricken communities. But if we count the years that have passed between the time Youngstown lost its steel economy to the attractive, exploitable third world, we know that they really don’t intend to do anything but use the place as a backdrop of the narrative they’re creating for themselves as politicians. 

Ghost stories are about people who have something left to say, so much so that they remain alive somehow, supernaturally, beyond the grave. So along with the death of Jamie Marks, who has several things left undone in his life–friendships left unforged and unexplored with Adam and Gracie, relationships unresolved with his mother and father–there is also the character of the small town the characters come from, and the dead/dying steel city to which their rural community is a satellite, the nearest thing to urbanity. Settings are characters, too, really. A community itself has character, based off of the people who live in them and the values and beliefs they’ve chosen to live by. Youngstown is a community that, despite having died an incredible death of its former self, after having lost its identity, has clung to life despite all of that. At one time it had a population of around 175,000 people. Today it’s about 75,000 people. That’s an enormous loss. There are whole sections of the city that have fallen into ruin, houses abandoned, workplaces abandoned, blight is a common view. In the 80s it was evaluated as the Murder Capital of America. It no longer has that place, thankfully, but crimes of this sort are a natural occurrence in communities that have lost their basic foundation for survival. People begin to fight for resources; they’ll steal and plot and sometimes kill when they are desperate. The community now is small enough that the crime that occurred after that initial blow in the 70s and 80s has waned and enough people have left, realizing there are not enough resources for living here and that they must leave if they intend to have a better life for their families. And yet the city still lives on, and has in the past four or five years attracted national and international attention with a new plan to shrink itself in order to provide a higher quality of life for its citizens, rather than following the typical American city idea that you must grow, get bigger, take on more and more. So the city has begun demolishing whole neighborhoods, to get rid of blight, and old workplaces which we have finally accepted no work will come back to inhabit. Or at least not the sort of work that once inhabited them. There is a large group of young thirty and twenty somethings, a new generation, that have taken on an amazingly energetic community activist approach, and have tried to create bonds between various communities within the larger community, something that did not occur in the past, to make the place stronger. Revitalization is occurring, step by step, and though it is slow progress, it is the first progress we have seen in four decades, and people are taking some comfort and allowing themselves to perhaps hope a little harder than they once did. 

It’s a place that is no longer the city it once was, but has decided to live somehow, anyway it can, the same way Jamie tries to live beyond his unjust and early death. And if there is a reason why I chose to feature working class characters in an economically devastated rural community and city, it’s because I come from this place and decided a long time ago, when I knew I would write, that I would attempt to become good enough at writing to say something about the lives we live here that a lot of fiction does not ask us to think about, or at least does not ask us to think about as often as I wish it would.

In the news

I was interviewed by one of the local newspapers the other day.  It was on the phone, though, so apparently when I was using the word “communal” and “communality” the reporter was hearing “commonality” which is fine, because there is that shared-ness in the word “commonality” that works just fine for the meaning I was trying to get at, too.

I like the picture of me and my books.  The photographer was an older fellow who’s been a photographer on staff for decades, he said, and hadn’t been on my street in years.  “I love these old North Side homes,” he told me, and promptly went to my dining room where he found the best lighting like a dog sniffing out a foxhole.

Less than a week to go.  Fingernail-biting begins.