Tuesday, August 20, 2013

7 Questions For: Filmmaker Tom Whitus

Tom Whitus has been a film director since 1997, when he made the short film Parts in New York City. The film was picked up for worldwide distribution by NYC-based distributor The Cinema Guild. Since then, Tom has directed the feature films More Than Puppy Love (2000), Threat of Exposure (2002), The Only Witness (2003, showed on Lifetime Network in 2004),Matchmaker Mary (2008), Jr. Detective Agency (2010, showed on Showtime, 2011-12); Sam Steele and the Crystal Chalice(2012) and An Old Man’s Gold (2013). The last two features are in worldwide distribution this year. Also, in 2006, Tom directed Give & Take, an award winning short film.

Tom's next project is the film adaptation of former Book of the Week Greenhorn by Anna Olswanger, which is what most of our interview focused on. And now Tom Whitus faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your three favorite movies and television programs?

My favorite movies are Sullivan’s Travels, The Best Years of Our Lives and – a guilty pleasure – Animal House. My favorite TV shows are Law & Order, Entourage and Seinfeld. 

Question Six: What’s your favorite thing about being a film director? What’s your least favorite thing?

What I love about directing is taking the written word and making it a visual experience. I love shot composition and working with the cast and crew to make little bits of magic at 24 frames per second. My least favorite thing is telling an actor they don’t have the part. I hate that.

Question Five: What attracted you to adapt Greenhorn to a film?

The screenwriter, Ree Howell, introduced me to Anna and asked if I would be interested in directing a short film based on the book. While I rarely direct films I did not write, and I’ve been mainly focused on feature films in the past five years – the concept intrigued me. When I read the book and knew Ree was writing the screenplay, I was sold.

Question Four: How does tackling a story about something as serious as the holocaust impact your approach?

You have to approach the subject matter with respect, but realize that these are kids. They want to laugh, they want to have fun – and they want to live their lives. Ultimately, the story is about remembering what happened and having the strength to live above it.

Question Three: When auditioning child actors, what qualities convince you in your casting decisions?

This is best answered with a story. I remember meeting a young woman named Katherine McNamara, a 12-year-old girl, when looking for the lead in a film I made about five years ago. She was an unknown in Kansas City, but I knew she was right for the role. I didn’t even audition her, I knew by the way she spoke to me and how she carried herself. She’s gone on to do a Broadway musical and star as Becky Thatcher in the latest Tom Sawyer film, so my instincts were right.

Question Two: How faithful will you be able to be to the book in your adaptation? As you’re translating the story to a different medium, what departures do you foresee being necessary?

Well, the first step is Ree doing her job in writing the screenplay, then it’s my job to make sure the visual impact matches the story that Anna has created and Ree has adapted. The drama is there, it will be my responsibility to make sure it gets on the screen. I’m quite sure you will see many story elements in the book translated to the film.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any filmmaker, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Preston Sturges. Like me, he was a writer as well as a director. Many of his films have a light-hearted sensibility and he was loyal to the actors he worked with.

Director Tom Whitus (right) on the set with actor William Devane

Monday, August 19, 2013

NINJA STUFF: Indie Confession

Guess what, Esteemed Reader! They're adapting Greenhorn by Anna Olswanger into a movie. Tomorrow we're going to feature our first ever interview with a filmmaker as Greenhorn's director, Tom Whitus, will be here to face 7 Questions. I'm looking forward to seeing the movie version of a Book of the Week and we're going to be following the production over the coming months.

Also, if you haven't read it yet, our old friend Susan Kaye Quinn writes an amazing blog I'd recommend checking out anytime. But right now she's live blogging a whole book called The Indie Survival Guide, and I am greatly enjoying her posts. We've been talking about all things indie this summer and if you've been thinking about going indie yourself, you owe it to your readers to invest some time with Susan's hard-learned advice.

It's going to be an interesting year, Esteemed Reader. If you read this blog regular (and you don't, because I'm very bad about regular posting) you know that Mrs. Ninja and I are expecting our first Little Ninja in December. I expect a baby will change my life in a million ways I can't begin to foresee now and already it's changing my life in small ways.

Adam Smith, my best friend since the third grade and one of the best men at my wedding, had a baby boy last week. I've been spending a great deal of time with him just recently working on a project I'll tell you more about soon--when it's ready to share, you won't be able to get me to shut up about it.

Adam's an artist. The drawing above is an illustration of his from a children's book we published in college. He'll kill me when he sees I'm sharing it as that's an old one, but his new work isn't ready to share yet. It amused me over the weekend to see him dividing his time between inking a horrific poster of zombie carnage and feeding his infant son. It was a preview of things to come in my own life as I'm sure I'll be dashing from the nursery to my writing office and back again.

As for the book, please don't bother looking for it. There's a reason I've been running this blog for years and this is the first time I'm ever mentioning I self-published a novel. If you never did anything stupid in college, I suppose you're right to judge me, but I'll wager most of your college shenanigans are far more interesting than indie publishing a below average book for children.

I loved the book and I still do. I'm not sorry I published it, but I'm not mentioning the title because I don't want you finding it and being disappointed when you discover it reads like a book written by a too-young writer uncertain of his voice and craft. But don't let me convince you not to read it. Let me share with you a one-star review it received titled "Not For My Kids:"

After reading favorable reviews comparing this book's interest level to Harry Potter, I purchased it, expecting a charming, exciting nighttime read with my three children, ages 11, 8, and 6. Within just the first few chapters, I could tell that I had made a mistake. First of all, I did not see the imaginative writing and illustrating I was promised. Instead I found amateur artwork, design, and story development. I abruptly read about a young boy left at home at night while his father worked because his mother had left them (unsettling for young listeners). And once Jim starts hearing and seeing "monsters," that was it. My youngest two children (who have listened to many pages of Harry Potter) were too scared to continue and didn't even want the book in their rooms. This was not what I expected from the reviews.

To be honest, I've always loved this review. For me, the worst possible reader reaction would be no reaction and a part of me is still thrilled to have so terrified an innocent woman and her children. The more rational, mature me, however, realizes publishing before I had enough experience to know what I was doing was a mistake.  I'm embarrassed that poor woman spent money and came away with an inferior product that did not accomplish it's intended purpose.

My indie publishing experience was an epic fail. The illustrations were a nice touch and I think the format holds up, but fortunately, this all happened many years ago before the advent of ereaders. Adam and I had to take our book door-to-door and found not one bookstore willing to support us, probably because we looked like punk college kids without any money. We did, however, convince a local chain of Papa John's to hand out coloring sheets for a time. We sold some pizza, but no books:(

It's easy to forget how fast the world changes and preferable to forget how rapidly I'm aging, but when I went indie more than a decade ago now (big sigh), the world was a different place. Paper books and big publishing reigned and indie authors lacking their own pre-existing distribution network were dead in the water, especially if their only means of promotion were delivering pizzas with coloring sheets attached:)

For my birthday I received a high definition Kindle Fire (it's so awesome) and if you don't own such a device, you need to get one. I used to stop by the bookstore at least twice a week to get a read on the market, but they closed all the bookstores near me and now I have to drive across town--and I live in Indianapolis. In the surrounding towns, readers have their libraries and online retailers, though there's still one or two used bookstores in operation.

Now, instead of driving across town and committing time I don't have to browsing, I can lay in bed at night and browse the Kindle store. I read samples of books and check out the reviews and if I'm convinced to take a chance, the author receives my money a click later, not if I remember next time I'm in the bookstore. I know indie booksellers are cursing me at this moment so I should add I do still drive across town and support Kids Inc as should you.

But thanks to ereaders, I can peruse the titles of indie books I never would've had access to otherwise. It's an exciting time to consider indie publishing as a distribution network at last exists so that you can write something in your pajamas and I can buy it in my pajamas. If you want your book to reach me, you don't have to drive across the state to a printer, get a big box of books, and then take them door to door with pizzas. You can put your book up online and anyone in the world could potentially read it.

But should you? For my part, I'm glad the online distribution network did not exist when I tried my experiment in self publishing. Lack of distribution saved me from myself. Think long and hard before you indie publish. I'm all in favor of writers doing it, but unless you want some reader of your blog more than a decade later discovering your book and then emailing you, necessitating your writing a confession post about it, make sure the book you're publishing is ready to be a part of your permanent record:)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

NINJA STUFF: Cannibals on the Move

Hi there, Esteemed Reader. I've been missing you during my summer break and I'm looking forward to returning to you next week. To the left of this text is a picture of Michael Keaton as Birdman, coming soon. The movie is a comedy, but I don't care. I'd recognize that cowled face and blue eye surrounded by black make-up anywhere! That picture made me squee.

I know I'm never going to get to see a movie version of The Dark Knight Returns staring Keaton, Nicholson, and a resurrected Christopher Reeve, but that picture lets me dream of what could've been. And if there is Heaven, surely that movie is playing on screens across the kingdom.

We really are going to get a Batman Vs. Superman movie though, and my heart burst with happiness when I heard. Oh, Esteemed Reader, do you know what's that's worth? Oh, Heaven is a place on earth:)

Know I am not staying away from you just to play Duck Tales Remastered, my favorite NES game recently re-released that made my misspent youth flash before my eyes. Well, that's not the only reason I've been away:) And not only am I busy preparing for the arrival of Little Ninja later this year (my first child will be a masculine child), although I think it speaks volumes about me that I updated you with Batman and video game news before I mentioned the pending birth of my son. I'm sure some of you are calling social services already:)

The reason I've been away is I'm planning something major for you, Esteemed Reader, that's sucking up all my time. Becoming a father will no doubt detract from my video game and superhero time, but my writing will remain a top priority and I'll prove it to you later this year when I launch something other than a new life. I'll have no end of updates on that later, I promise, and we've also got some great writer and agent interviews lined up for the coming weeks.

Today, however, I just wanted to give you some updates on my writer's group, the YA Cannibals. It's a privilege to belong to such a fine group of writers and I couldn't be prouder to call them my friends. Jody Sparks Mugele signed with a literary agent earlier this year. Actually, she signed with my literary agent, and I'm so happy she's being represented by the best there is (all the agents who appear here are great, of course, but the one who picked me is clearly the smartest).

More recently, Shannon Alexander signed with literary agent Jessica Sinsheimer. Here's an inspiring post she wrote about it. But I have some questions. 7 of them:)

Mike Mullin was accosted and stabbed yesterday, but he's fine, he's fine! And no doubt the experience will lead to a thrilling chapter in a future book. Knowing Mike, I'm sure he's been hoping to be stabbed for a while as he's the method writer among us who recently ate cat food among a host of other wacky things in preparing Sunrise, the third Ashfall novel (I've totally already read it and know how the series ends). I once had a conversation with Mike during which he was on his way to some small Illinois town to check which way blood would run on a particular street as though anyone, anywhere would ever call him on it.

I also got to participate in a brief brainstorming session for Mike's first non-Ashfall novel and I'm sworn to absolute secrecy, but I'm stoked and I think his new idea is even better than a super-volcano apocalypse.

If a man is judged by the company he keeps, that's okay by me as I'm surrounded by winners. The Cannibals are great at what they do and they make me better at what I do. If you haven't joined a writer's group, Esteemed Reader, find one. All the reading and market research in the world can't replace having personal relationships with like-minded writers who offer phenomenal advice:

Update. Where have you gone 1989!?! Shortly after I posted this, Mrs. Ninja found this picture and broke my heart:

Monday, August 12, 2013

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Logan Garrison

Logan joined the Gernert Company in 2010 after three years as an English and Musical Theatre teacher at Northern High School in Durham, North Carolina. A native of the South and a graduate of both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University, she currently lives in Brooklyn and has a particular interest in fiction for young adults.

For more information, check out my friends Natalie Aguirre and Casey McCormick's wonderful blog, Literary Rambles.

And now Logan Garrison faces the 7 Questions:


Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books? 

Ask me tomorrow and you’ll probably get a totally different answer out of me, but right now at this exact moment I would say Rebecca Stead’s WHEN YOU REACH ME, John Irving’s A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY, and SWAMPLANDIA! by Karen Russell. And BELOVED by Toni Morrison. And CLOUD ATL…ok, ok, I’ll stop cheating now.  

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

Almost Famous is far and away my favorite movie. I’m stealing the other two movie spots to do a top five tv shows (which is still really difficult for me because television over the last decade or so has just been almost unbelievably amazing. Thanks, Sopranos!): Justified, The WireMisfitsFreaks and Geeks, and Battlestar Galactica.

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

Someone who understands that putting words on a page is just the first step in a lengthy process, and who loves (or at least tolerates with a lovely sense of humor) each of those steps along the way.

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

I’m always on the lookout to find any of the following written for young adults: a realistic thriller, a fantasy series, true science fiction, or anything with an interesting and engaging male narrator.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

I love doing editorial work on manuscripts with enthusiastic and wildly talented authors. It’s so much fun, at times it’s hard to believe it counts as work. As for my least favorite thing, I imagine it’s every agent’s least favorite thing—the moment when you have to deliver bad news to a client.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Write what you know and what you love, and don’t try to force your words into a style just because it’s trendy or popular because that never ends well. Just trust yourself and have some patience!

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Madeleine L’Engle. It would be incredible to just sit down with her and listen. She wrote many of the books that defined my childhood, but she also had a wisdom that extended far beyond her talents as an author.

Monday, August 5, 2013

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Pam van Hylckama Vlieg

Pam van Hylckama Vlieg (now Pamela Howell as of 2016) started her literary career as assistant to Laurie McLean in early 2012. By April Pam was promoted to Associate Agent at Larsen Pomada. In January of 2013 after selling twenty-one books in her first year of agenting Pam was promoted to agent. When Laurie McLean mentioned creating Foreword, Pam jumped at the chance to follow her mentor and create a new agency together.

Pam blogs at Bookalicio.usBookalicious.org, and Brazen Reads. She partners her blogs with her local bookseller Hicklebee’s where magic happens daily.

Pam grew up on a sleepy little Podunk town in Virginia. She’s lived in the UK, several US states, and now resides in the Bay Area of California. She has two kids, two dogs, two guinea pigs, but only one husband. You can find her mostly on Twitter where she wastes copious amounts of time.

For more information, check out my friends Natalie Aguirre and Casey McCormick's wonderful blog, Literary Rambles.

And now Pam van Hylckama Vlieg faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

This is a trick question surely. It is so hard to pick three favorite books. It is like asking me my three favorite senses when I love all five!

Wuthering Heights - because I read it when I was twelve and found it terribly romantic. Now, I understand it is more of a horror ;).

Neverwhere - Probably the first ever genre book I read. I read a lot of classics at home and through school. Gaiman opened my eyes to this whole other world of literature. 

Inkheart - My first children's title that I read. Inkheart is the reason I started my blog and rekindled my love of books.

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

Game of Thrones
Lord of the Rings

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client? 

Someone who wants to build a longstanding career and is willing to put the work into it. 

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

I would love to see some more contemporary adult romance!

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing is the call(s). Calling to offer rep and calling to say we have a good deal. My least favorite thing is the time intensive stuff like writing millions of emails.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Write for love. Do not write on trend. And make sure you're really ready with that MS before you query.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

I'd love to have lunch with Maurice Sendak. I love his illustration style and the fact that he didn't hold anything back from children.