For My Eyes Only – For Now

Yesterday, I was writing at one point while listening to the “Gladiator: More Music From The Motion Picture” CD I’d gotten for Christmas (along with, uh, Sara Bareilles – now, there’s a musical contrast):

Photograph of More Music cover. [Photo by me, 2015.]
Photograph of More Music cover. [Photo by me, 2015.]

At the outset “More Music’s” inner sleeve notes make clear that what’s heard on the CD are often “first drafts” of music from the film, or music that didn’t make it. So technically it isn’t from the released, final “Motion Picture.” (By the way, if you’ve never seen Gladiator, it is really something else. Superb.) Composer Hans Zimmer writes:


Musicians can get away with that, whereas a novelist would probably look ridiculous doing something similar.

Every draft I do is dated that one day. The next day is another draft, dated that day, and so on. If I make a subsequent change, I can always go back to an older iteration and re-use something. I never “obliterate” an eclipsed version so it’s lost forever.

I’m continuing in that “approach” with the brand new, third volume’s (very early) manuscript. Doing it that way, I’ve kept hundreds of Word drafts from the two now finished novels. The completed books unsurprisingly often ended up rather different when compared to what was in early drafts.

One example: Names. In Passports, initially “James” and “Béatrice” were known by other names. “James’s” earlier name just didn’t click for me, nor fit within his family scheme I was developing. In fact I now recall “Béatrice” actually had two earlier names. I went for “Béatrice” in the end owing to it having been a common name given to many Frenchwomen born from the 1960s until the mid-1970s. Both new names, to me, worked better in the stories. Now, I can’t imagine them called anything else.

In Frontiers, “Rita” is first mentioned while James’s parents – Jim and Joanne – and grandmother are chatting about his upbringing (while he is safely well out of hearing a continent away):

“Hmm, not high school. They were in junior high. He was fourteen. Ninth grade,” Joanne corrected herself slightly.

“Rita was his first real girlfriend,” Jim turned to Lucy and recalled fondly. “In some class she passed him a note with her phone number. At first, he didn’t want his mother to know.”

“Hiding things from his mother began pretty young with him,” Joanne declared.

She had a different name too, which I changed only about a month before publication. Her previous name was, to me, just too similar to another character’s name. It was as simple as that: I didn’t want any reader confusion.

Understand, though, I won’t reveal here what their earlier names were because I don’t want anyone thinking about any of them, “Hey, Rob, I liked that other name better.” ;-)

Another example. I must have made at least two dozen major changes to the opening chapter of Frontiers. By that I don’t mean stuff here and there. I mean I shredded and re-shredded the entire thing – background, location, happenings, nearly all of it – repeatedly until I was satisfied with it.

I did that because several times after I’d re-read it, I still didn’t like it. “It doesn’t convey what I want,” my shoulders slumped again and again. “And it’s the first chapter!”

I can’t see myself as a writer ever releasing the whole “first draft” of a finished book to show readers “the process.” The “sneak peeks” I had shared into Frontiers over the year were just that – and largely finalized. The final version is THE STORY. Looking back on them now, the earlier drafts, frankly, often make me cringe.

Anne stepped up to him. “Oh, yes, of course.” She added, “You’re turning into a silly old Frenchman. Do me a favor, if you’re looking to make a fool of yourself with a girl fifty years younger than you, at least wait until after I’m dead.”

My books and “papers” will be left first to my wife. I suppose she’d leave them to my niece and nephews. Unless of course Oxford wants them. (Hey, my nephew goes there. ;-) )

What they do with them after I’m gone someday is entirely their call. In that, I suppose I see things a bit like Isabelle’s mother, ripping good-naturedly into Isabelle’s father in Frontiers. What happens after I’m dead, well, happens.

Have a good Tuesday. :-)

And You Ask Where Novelists Find Material?

Here’s a UK TV listing for a showing of The Longest Day. I screen grabbed it back on Saturday. Why? Because it made me chuckle:

Screen capture of The Longest Day listing on Sky, on Saturday afternoon.
Screen capture of The Longest Day listing on More 4 on Saturday afternoon.

You gotta love it. The British do “subtle” like almost no one else. Notice that the British cast – despite John Wayne’s photo – get first national mention. And also note which country gets last mention…. after even…. the Germans.

I love stumbling on stuff such as that. We all seem hard wired to have a bit of a dig at each other. A couple of decades of encountering the likes of that has helped provide me with material in two novels so far. ;-)

Happy Monday [grumble, grumble], wherever you are in the world. :-)

A Huge International Cast

Saturday morning poignant film trivia:

From the Humphrey Bogart estate's official Twitter.
From the Humphrey Bogart Estate’s official Twitter.

If you visit regularly, you well-know I’m a huge Bogart fan. Films don’t really get better than that one. Not that I’m “biased” or anything, of course.

Also, I am greatly flattered that the Bogart Estate follows me – Me! – on Twitter. His son, Stephen Bogart, occasionally tweets there. Amazing, “social media” today, isn’t it? :-)

Quai d’Orsay

I watched this on the plane over to the U.S. last week. Thoroughly entertaining, it even made me laugh out loud several times (embarrassing on a plane), and took my Dad’s illness – which was why I was flying to the States – off of my mind for a little while. As such, it deserves a post:

How to characterize Quai d’Orsay? In simple terms, it struck me as sorta loosely a combination of, say, Yes, Minister and The West Wing. Like the former, it satirizes a shallowness in politicians. Similar to the latter, it’s fast-paced, with lots of rushed conversations while walking through hallways at a retreating camera.

You have to follow along [read the subtitles] closely, or you’ll miss lots. Forget it’s about France. (If you feel you don’t know much about French politics.) If you like well-written, political comedy on screen, you’ll probably like this.

The ensemble contains an actor now likely most famous outside of France for a closeness to the, uh, current real French president. Leaving that aside, she’s at times hilarious in this fictional role as an adviser on Africa policy. For instance, when, during a foreign policy crisis, she’s drafted into keeping the Maronite Patriarch busy for an hour, the expression on her face, and her reaction, is priceless.

Naturally it also has a decidedly French flair and cultural grounding. The fictional French Foreign Minister fancying himself standing up for France’s “grandeur,” sharing his pretensions to personal literary and intellectual prowess with a patrician pomposity (that is somehow not ultimately off-putting), and topping it off with an “I know best” glint in the eye – while it often also seems he is about to poke himself in the eye – would not readily fly written for a U.S. on-screen politician. I don’t think U.S. audiences would buy it.

Meaning I suspect it would be close to impossible to portray a U.S. Secretary of State in a manner similar to that French minister. Yet you have to believe someone in Hollywood has already optioned the rights to this (because *it’s French*) to try to concoct some U.S. version. And they’ll probably eventually produce some predictably weak, watered down film, over-straining to be funny.

The “Fifty Shades” Universal Trailer

Get ready. Uh, brace yourself. Variety:

On Thursday morning, Universal Studios debuted its first trailer for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the highly anticipated film based on the erotic novels by E.L. James.

The movie stars Jamie Dornan (who appears san [sic] shirt) as Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson as his inexperienced lover Anastasia Steele….


We don’t know yet if the film will be “decent.” (If that’s the right word?) But the quality of the book and its film adaptation are not really the concern here; those are for others to argue about. I’ve not read the book and have no plans to see the film.

I will say this, though. While you might dream a novel you write will one day find itself a film, if it were to do so that film’s actual quality is mostly out of your control. I suppose the bottom line is if you found yourself paid (especially if you were paid “big”) for film rights, I suspect as a writer you would be thrilled to take the money and run. ;-)

But, privately (between just us here…. and the internet), I’d hate to see my book(s) theatrically ruined.

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this….

A James Bond Moment

Sunday, after the World Cup final and the awarding of the trophy, my wife was channel surfing for something to watch next, and found a film on BBC America. (It’s one we have on DVD, so why bother with on TV, right? But don’t we often do that? Accidentally find something you like on TV and which you own already, and you end up watching it on TV anyway?)

I happened to be upstairs. So I was unable to see the television in the lounge. Hearing the movie’s distinctive score between scenes (but no dialogue), I still knew which one it was immediately and blurted out, “Casino Royale!”

She replied instantly, “I know you love this one!”

I may be in the minority on this, but I don’t care. I believe Casino is the “coolest” James Bond film since Sean Connery’s time. It’s my favorite.

From Chris Cornell’s crashing rock opening credits theme song, to the chase in Madagascar, to, uh, well, I don’t want to spoil anything if you’ve never seen it….

I will share this, though. The dining car scene between Bond and Vesper? That has to be one of the wittiest extended exchanges in any Bond film:

That post’s just a non-literary aside. I hate talking TOO MUCH about my writing on here. (Don’t we despise those who only yammer on about themselves?) We need a break sometimes – myself included!

Hope you have a good Tuesday. :-)

“Batman in Paris?”

We got back yesterday from a visit to my parents. While there, the other night we all watched The Dark Knight Rises, starring Christian Bale. And, to be honest, we’re all still trying to recover from that theatrical experience.

I know many think it is a terrific film, but I must admit we’re not four of them. In my humble opinion, even Marion Cotillard couldn’t save what was essentially three hours of (as my father wickedly described it) Rocky (struggling with his own motivation, and having to face Clubber Lang) crossed with Les Misérables. “Jean ValBatman,” as he put it. He joked that at one point he had been waiting for a crowd to break into “Do You Hear the People Sing?”

We couldn’t help but agree. Moments after he had said that, as the film was concluding, a character quoted from A Tale of Two Cities. Given my father’s just shared appraisal, we all looked at each other and none of us could suppress a chuckle.

*****SPOILER: If you plan to see The Dark Knight Rises, skip these next 2 paragraphs.*****
As British men make excellent heavies in Hollywood films, similarly French actors do often seem to portray baddies or badly damaged types. As with the British, maybe it’s the accent?

The moment you see Marion Cotillard on screen, and regardless of how sweet she appears initially, you just know she will turn out to be huge trouble and perhaps even evil incarnate. And, ultimately, she is. Anne Hathaway, on the other hand, you also know will end up being a “goodie.” (And, coincidentally, Anne Hathaway was also in the recent Les Misérables film too of course.)
*****SPOILER END*****

Marion Cotillard’s appearance caused me also to recall Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Then I remembered his two other “European travelogue” recent efforts: Vicky Cristina Barcelona and To Rome With Love. Which led me next to thinking on how Barcelona was probably (for me) the best of the three, and Rome the worst.

Thus how my mind, uh, “functions.” Midnight’s primary shortcoming (in my opinion) was its American leading man. However, if Wales-born Christian Bale had played the American it likely would have made it an even better film.


Here’s an idea: if the “Batman” franchise is starting to run short of new storylines, they could next try, say, The Dark Knight in Paris? :-)

Apologies: No Vampires

The Wrap tells us today (emphasis in bold is mine):

….A week after Cate Blanchett railed against the lack of quality roles for women in mainstream Hollywood films, new data proves the “Blue Jasmine” Oscar-winner’s point.

A comprehensive study by San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film determined that women represented only 15 percent of protagonists in the 100 top-grossing films of 2013, 29 percent of major characters, and 30 percent of all speaking characters. Further, only 13 percent of those films had either an equal number of major female and male characters, or more major female characters than male characters, the study called “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World” found….

As an author, it is worth pondering that issue. Of course I sought to write the best novel I could. I hoped also to write one appealing both to women and men as readers.

I did not set out aiming to achieve any particular “male-female ratio,” yet, overall, I believe I ended up with a pretty good – and realistic – balance. I open with a relatively evenly presented male/female relationship, and, along the way, as additional characters appear, many of them turn out to be women. Ultimately the number of prominent women probably outnumber prominent men.

I have just tried determining that “breakdown” for myself while sitting here writing this post. It’s not actually all that easy. Depending on how one counts, I would estimate Passports has rather more than half a dozen major women (of varied ages and several nationalities), and slightly fewer numbers of comparable men. I don’t think the novel perhaps having a few more women characters is exceptionally obvious story-wise either.


Ahem. So big budget, high-powered, film producers out there take note: there are plenty of women’s major speaking film roles here! ;-)

I do apologize about one clear omission, though. There are no vampires. Sorry.

And For The Movie Version….

In the late-1930s, American readers had clamored for Clark Gable to play “Rhett Butler.” Decidedly more recently, we are told Downton Abbey creator/ writer Julian Fellowes has said he had Hugh Bonneville in mind when creating “the Earl of Grantham.” There are numerous other examples out there, of course.

It’s a perpetual game, because it’s always fun to play it. While reading a book, so often we say to ourselves, “[ACTOR fill in the blank] would be absolutely perfect to play [CHARACTER fill in the blank] in the movie!

A couple of my proofreaders remarked to me, half-jokingly, that they couldn’t wait to see the eventual film adaptation of my novel(s). After the laughter died down between us, they also said they thought the tale does have actual screen appeal. Anything could happen someday, right?

So in preparation, I ask this: if you find yourself in that lucky position as a writer, and you are given input into casting choices, hypothetically which would you prefer? Would you want “lesser-knowns” who came the closest (in your opinion) to capturing the essence of your characters? Or would you desire to have “established stars” fill the roles, even if those “stars” were markedly different from the characters in your book?


Probably you would gratefully settle for whichever route paid you the most money! ;-) Yet, seriously, I might be amenable to “lesser-knowns.” We all have to start somewhere, don’t we? And imagine how good it must feel looking back from years later and realizing that that now “big star” had gotten his/her “break” thanks to having appeared in the screen version of your book?

What do I think about my situation? My use of a “stock” silhouette image as a stand-in for “Valerie” in the previous post is indicative of where I am right now. As I noted last month also, I did not even want models on the cover. The “model templates” I had seen were (in my opinion), frankly, awful; and I did not want my readers associating tacky “stock photography” images with the characters I had worked so hard to bring to life on these pages. That is why I opted in the end for the “person-less” double-flag photo.

Let me state here, for the internet record, that I honestly have no idea who might best (again, in my opinion) portray any of my characters on film. It is not that I had not thought about the issue during, say, those chats with my proofreaders. Nor is it that my mind is not thinking reflexively a bit about that question right now thanks to this post. Rather it is that I had not created any of my characters with specific actors in mind….

….not even, urr, Tom Cruise. :-)