I never grew up reading the Captain Underpants book series by Dave Pilkey; they were as us old-folks say “before my time.” Still, something about the trailer spoke to me, and I found myself watching the film Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017).
In the film, best friends Harold and George, a storyteller-artist tandem obsessed with creating comic books, find themselves at odds with their fascist Principal Krupp. The Principal is obsessed with order, structure, and efficiency; all of which come at the expense of his student’s creativity, and innovation. With the use of a cereal-box hypno-ring, the two hypnotize Principal Krupp into believing he is the embodiment of their comic book magnum opus, Captain Underpants. With Captain Underpants as their principal, their harmless pranks become a welcomed addition to school, and art and music are returned to the school curriculum. They spend their day helping the Captain blend in as a convincing principal, and making sure he does not accidentally return to his natural Krupp state.
Two years ago, I joined Liberty Island Media, a start-up book publishing company focusing on genre fiction, as their West Coast Editor and began acquiring and editing novels. I also started writing my own novels and helping other writers develop their stories. Now, in this ongoing series at Smash Cut Culture I’m going to start highlighting the authors who I’ve returned to most often in working with writers. As I’ve studied and met both fiction and non-fiction writers over the years these are the ones with the most depth, originality, and humanity. Reading their books and understanding the ideas that matter to them has helped change my life for the better and I hope it can do the same for you.
Andrew Klavan has worn many writer’s hats over the years: hard-boiled thriller novelist, Hollywood screenwriter, essayist for The Wall Street Journal and contributing editor for City Journal, longtime new media innovator in blogging, hilarious YouTube videos, podcasting at the Daily Wire, and now celebrated memoirist with The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ.
In “The Lord of the Rings,” trilogy a young hobbit named Frodo, is picked to go on a journey to destroy an all powerful ring. These rings were created to give unearthly power to whoever possessed them. One was created to rule over all of them. Frodo was picked because his heart was pure and wouldn’t be so easily corrupted by its power.
James Duncan is the author of Blood Republic, arguably the first-ever “Libertarian” political-thriller. Published by Primal Light Press, the highly praised work of fiction has arrived just in time for the current-election cracks within the two-party system, leading many readers to the question, “did the author have a crystal ball?”
During the closing hours of the tightest presidential election in US history, firebrand Annie Daniels is a Democratic-socialist senator determined to win the White House. She dreams of eradicating injustice, and hopefully, saving her dying daughter’s life. Major Amos Daniels, her conservative Green Beret brother, might have something to say about that though, if her plans go against his faith. As an Electoral College tie nears, the country erupts into rioting, and Annie and Amos are thrust to opposite ends of a constitutional crisis with guns drawn. Will the Daniels family find common ground above ideology to prevent a second civil war? Or, will an unknown enemy-of-the-state escape justice while pushing the nation into chaos?
Before he was an award-winning Wharton professor, Richard Shell was a lost young man. He had defied his father, a U.S. Marine Corps General, by deciding that a life in the military wasn’t for him. It was the Vietnam era and Shell turned in his draft card to become a pacifist. But now he was lost. His life was no longer narrated for him. After a few years wandering from job-to-job, he set out to travel the world with his life savings of $3,000. Traveling from monastery to hostel, in country after country, reading philosophy, doing drugs, and trying to “find himself,” he succeeded only in finding rock bottom. Not everyone can clearly identify the exact moment they hit the bottom, but professor Shell can. It was the day he contracted hepatitis and passed out on the side of a road in Kabul. He says, “Something shifted in my life. I had pushed myself to my psychological and physical limits and had ended up alone, filthy, sick, and no closer to finding my direction than I was a year earlier” (p. 5).
It would take Shell many years to finally find his true productive purpose: teaching. As a senior faculty member at Wharton School of Business, he created the popular course “The Literature of Success: Ethical and Historical Perspectives.” His book, Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success, is a wonderful condensation of this course. It takes the reader through thousands of years of “success literature” (as he identifies the genre) from Plato and Aristotle down to Covey and Gladwell.
Springboard is broken into two parts, both designed to be a guide for the reader. The goal is to answer for oneself two big questions: What is success? How will I achieve it?
“Look.” Roark got up, reached out, tore a thick branch off a tree, held it in both hands, one fist closed at each end; then, his wrists and knuckles tensed against the resistance, he bent the branch slowly into an arc. “Now I can make what I want of it: a bow, a spear, a cane, a railing. That’s the meaning of life.”
“Your work.” He tossed the branch aside. “The material the earth offers you and what you make of it
All great writers are polarizing. Ayn Rand, author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, certainly fits this proposition. People tend to love her work or hate it. But as Winston Churchill once said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
What cannot be denied is the enormity of Rand’s success. After having everything taken from her in Soviet Russia, she fled to America with nothing. She proceeded to work year after year, taking odd jobs; sometimes working on movie sets in Hollywood, sometimes working as a waitress. But she never lost sight of her goal: To be a novelist. It would take decades — including enduring the great depression — before she finally achieved success in writing. Her books have sold well over 30 million copies. Atlas Shrugged has shaped America’s intellectual landscape. And decades after her death not a week goes by when she isn’t mentioned somewhere in the public.
Below are some quotes taken from various novels, interviews, and other writings, where she explains her views on career success. The advice is applicable not only to Rand’s success, but as you will see, to the careers of any great achiever.
The Amityville Horror is a classic in the world of horror, both on the page and on the screen. After the ordeal the Lutz family went through their story made national headlines. It drew the attention of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, now famous because of the Conjuring and Conjuring 2, also based on cases they investigated. Within a year a book had been written (Jay Anson, 1977) that was an instant national best seller, and two years later the film (dir. Stuart Rosenberg, 1979) was released which quickly became the biggest indie hit to date. James Brolin was reading the book when some clothes that were hung on his closet door and scared him witless for a moment; at that point he said he knew there was something to this story. Clearly, it is a story worth the time to both read and watch, assuming you enjoy both claustrophobia and dread.
The movie is a very faithful adaptation of the book. From the grand incidents, like Jody, to the little incidents or details, like the missing money or the mirrors in the bedroom, the movie knows and respects the source material.
If you’ve ever complained that some part of the world is unfair, that the economy is difficult, or that it’s just too hard to succeed in the field you have chosen, then the inspirational story about Amelia Earhart from the bestselling book The Obstacle is The Way by Ryan Holiday is for you.
Unlike those of us entering the job market today, Amelia Earhart pursued her career during a booming economy. It was the Roaring 20s and it seemed as though everyone was growing wealthy. But not Amelia, for she had the wild dream to be a pilot. There was one problem, though. She was a she. It was the 1920s and women had only recently won the right to vote. She could read about being a pilot; she could listen to the great pilots talk on the radio; she could even marry a pilot, but no one would ever put a woman in a plane.
For people like Amelia, all this was irrelevant. She had decided that she would become a pilot, and nothing would stop her. While she eked out a living as a social worker, she wrote to everyone and anyone who was putting people in the sky.
This post introduces a new theme in addition to page to screen adaptations. That is: things you may have missed. In case you don’t know, Bubba Ho-tep is a movie, and a short story, where neither Elvis nor JFK are dead. They are both in a Texas rest home and have been robbed of their identities by fate and the powers that be. To make matters worse, an Egyptian mummy has started to raid the home and steal the soles of residents. Elvis and Jack are the only ones who know and therefore the only ones who can do anything about it. You can watch the trailer here, though it doesn’t do the movie justice.
I think a lot of people view this movie as a silly B-movie send up, and I had a similar opinion before I watched it. Now, it might just be my lifelong affection for Bruce Campbell, but from my first viewing I was in love. Sure, it has a ridiculous premise and outlandish characters, but I have only ever seen a beautiful portrayal of aging and the struggle to maintain one’s identity and dignity. Why else would the cast feature such American icons as Elvis, JFK, and the Lone Ranger? When I found out the movie was based on an existing story I was the most excited to see more of the world.
This adaptation was interesting because I have more experience with novels being adapted into films and this was a short story. As such it means the expansion of the world as opposed to the reduction. The film allowed for more time with the characters and the introduction of the funeral home workers who pick up the bodies of residents. They, in particular, brought the “youth” perspective of the plight of the rest home residents and the lack of empathy and interest the rest of the world have for them.
It wasn’t until fairly recently that I even knew Pinocchio was a children’s novel and not a fairy tale out of Grimm’s or the like. And, boy howdy, is it a doozy; thirty-six chapters of absolutely bizarre Italian children’s literature circa 1880s. Granted, the chapters fly by like in Moby Dick, with each only being about three or four pages long. The book actually reads like an epic fable with very simple moral that is omnipresent: go to school and mind your parents.
The main differences between the book and the Disney film (I’m sticking with that adaptation for brevity’s sake) consist of a larger role for Jiminy Cricket in the film, who is only referred to as the Talking Cricket in the book; a smaller role for the fairy in the film, who is the Blue Haired Fairy in the book; and the actual character of Pinocchio, who is sweet and naive in the film as opposed to an amoral ass in the book.
I have had an inkling for a while to make this a thing. There are two things I love in life: books and movies. Actually, there are a lot of things I love in life, but those two are really high up on the list. I’m especially fond of considering the translation of books into movies, and now that I have a public platform I can stop bothering my friends with this all the time.
So, to begin, we’ll throw in a third thing I love: dystopia. Thus we have our discussion of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?/Blade Runner. It recently occurred to me that I had never read Philip K. Dick’s book, which is reason enough for me to read most things. Coincidentally, just as I finished the volume the theater near my apartment started a classic sci-fi series with the opening film being Blade Runner and a discussion following the film. It was an electric dream come true!
I know that you can never get everything in the book into the movie, but I was surprised to find in the first paragraph that book Deckard has a wife. Unfortunately, she is inextricably linked to some other very big ideas that had to be omitted, like Mercerism, the religious treatment of empathy, and all the real animals. Though I understand their exclusion, it is a shame nonetheless. The religious aspects of the people left on Earth were fascinating. Empathy is the only thing that separates humans from androids and empathy, through Mercerism, is the only thing that most people have to get them through the day. The androids of the film seem to have genuine affection for each other and Roy shows Deckard mercy in his final living act, but the androids of the book are clearly lacking in this most human experience. Reading along as a book android methodically snipped the legs off a living spider to see if it could still walk with four was bad enough, I can’t imagine how John Isidore felt. Especially given the reverence of life and the importance of taking care of living animals that is present in the book.
ReasonTV’s Nick Gillespie sat down with writer/director Courtney Moorehead Balaker to discuss the adaptation of Jeff Benedict’s book Little Pink House into a major motion picture scheduled to begin filming this fall. It’s been 10 years since the SCOTUS decision decided in favor of the city of New London over homeowner Susette Kelo in an eminent domain abuse case that sent shockwaves throughout the country.
See the interview below and read more here.
We’ve been hearing for years–decades, really–that art must be transgressive, deliberately breaking rules and flaunting that defiance in the face of stuffy conventionalism. Of course, such transgressiveness must align with standard liberal notions of “tolerance”; one need look no further than the furore over Pamela Gellar’s Draw Mohammed art contest and the college student who dared to lecture Jerry Seinfeld* on the nature of humor to find out that even those who say there are no rules insist that everyone else follow the rules they impose (and keep changing… it’s rather like Calvinball). Conversely, as discussed here this spring, a number of conservative artists find such a view repulsive. So it might come as no surprise to encounter the following exchange between two poets:
“I tell you,” went on Syme with passion, “that every time a train comes in I feel that it has broken past batteries of besiegers, and that man has won a battle against chaos. You say contemptuously that when one has left Sloane Square one must come to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead, and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of hairbreadth escape. And when I hear the guard shout out the word ‘Victoria,’ it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed ‘Victoria’; it is the victory of Adam.”
“And even then,” he said, “we poets always ask the question, ‘And what is Victoria now that you have got there?’ You think Victoria is like the New Jerusalem. We know that the New Jerusalem will only be like Victoria. Yes, the poet will be discontented even in the streets of heaven. The poet is always in revolt.”
“There again,” said Syme irritably, “what is there poetical about being in revolt? You might as well say that it is poetical to be sea‑sick. Being sick is a revolt. Both being sick and being rebellious may be the wholesome thing on certain desperate occasions; but I’m hanged if I can see why they are poetical. Revolt in the abstract is—revolting. It’s mere vomiting. [. . .] It is things going right,” he cried, “that is poetical! Our digestions, for instance, going sacredly and silently right, that is the foundation of all poetry. Yes, the most poetical thing, more poetical than the flowers, more poetical than the stars—the most poetical thing in the world is not being sick.”
“Really,” said Gregory superciliously, “the examples you choose—”
“I beg your pardon,” said Syme grimly, “I forgot we had abolished all conventions.”
What may surprise you is that this exchange was written by G. K. Chesterton… in 1908.
Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb
An entry in a long-running fantasy series, Fool’s Assassin brings us back to the story of FitzChivalry Farseer, a man who has seen enough trouble and tragedy to fill several lifetimes. His happily-ever-after is interrupted by the birth of a much-longed-for child with his aged wife. But a dark web closes in on the family and the peculiar, tiny little girl who seems trapped into the same courses of fate that have caught her heroic father.
What I learned, Part 1 – The power of exploring different facets of a character’s nature to keep a series fresh. Robin Hobb’s work is my favorite in the genre, and she has achieved something memorable, a world that keeps expanding and deepening with every book. FitzChivalry is thrust into the role of father at an advanced age (though his body seems far younger based on his use of magic), and seeing his happy home-life threatened while he struggles to connect with his strange daughter feels very different from the earlier books of the series.
We seem to be embarking on the Summer of Strange here in the good ol’ US of A, a time when people and things must be treated as their opposites Because I Said So, That’s Why, Shut Up, H8rz! The chattering classes, at least, seem to be living by Adam Savage’s immortal quip, “I reject your reality and substitute my own!” and mocking those of us who will not believe that up is down, especially the Unpeople of Jesusland™ (© AoSHQ). It’s also a time when the Tumblrinas have taken trigger warnings prime time, refusing to engage with anyone or anything that upsets their carefully constructed notions of reality–and thereby destroying the actual utility of trigger warnings that might be needed by people with genuine afflictions like PTSD.
And the Postal Service has just issued a new commemorative stamp… of Flannery O’Connor, who was once asked why her fiction is so full of freaks and replied that in the South, we still know a freak when we see one. She also explained her use of the grotesque by noting that “to the hard of hearing you shout, and to the almost-blind you draw large and startling pictures.” To smash cut a culture growing increasingly blind and deaf to reality, we do need shouts and startling pictures, which is why we need writers like O’Connor.
My dear friend and mentor Ralph C. Wood argues over at First Things that this commemoration of O’Connor is appropriate for such a time as this:
Her characters learn to “see” by discerning the invisible realities that are both the cause and the cure of the world’s misery. They discover that, as O’Connor herself declared, evil is not a problem to be fixed but a mystery to be endured. Our great temptation, in an age of “antireligious religion,” is to believe that, because we can repair much of human pain by human measures, we can also mend the human soul. Thus do we also blink. We benignly yield to feelings that, at whatever cost, must not be “hurt.” We cancel our very humanity in conforming ourselves to a happiness that denies both our moral perversions and bodily limitations.
Flannery O’Connor’s characters do not blink. Like many biblical figures, her central characters are not good country people or just plain folks. They believe and they behave strangely. They often find what they are not looking for. They are put on the path toward something infinitely more important than social acceptance and cultural conformity. They are being burned clean and made whole—not by a soft-centered tenderness but by the purifying fire of divine mercy.
Read the whole thing–and then read some O’Connor. Even if her works are not your cup of tea, there’s a great deal to be learned from them.
(Warning: Minor spoilers ahead.)
It looks like Warner Brothers has outbid everyone else to bring Joe Haldeman’s classic The Forever War to movie theaters hopefully within a reasonable time-frame.
Making the package go supernova was the involvement of Prometheus and Passengers screenwriter Jon Spaihts and producer Roy Lee. Producing with Lee are Tatum and his Free Association execs as well as Film 360.
The package started to heat up last week but went fiery Thursday when Warners, Sony and another studio were all ready to write hefty checks. Warners won the project late afternoon paying low six figures against seven for the movie rights. Spaihts’ deal to write the script topped seven figures.
Haldeman’s 1974 novel offers a perspective on his experience as a Vietnam veteran. In it, humans have discovered how to use collapsars (mini-black holes) to travel instantaneously to other parts of the galaxy and beyond. However, the time spent traveling to various destinations (excluding collapsar-to-collapsar), most especially that at, and around. the black holes, makes our protagonist, William Mandella, a “man out of time” as a member of Earth’s fighting forces via the Elite Conscription Act.
Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) was especially known for his collections of short fictions such as The Aleph and Ficciones, where he generally dealt with metaphysical ideas about time and identity. Furthermore, to a certain extent, his work evidences the series of political and ideological transformations he went throughout the course of his life.
In his late teens, circa 1918, while he was living in Europe, he identified with the communist ideals of the Bolshevik Revolution, an experience that encouraged him to pen the poem called Red Rythms, a poem that in his old age he was only too happy to have lost and forgotten. In the early twenties, when he finally returned to Buenos Aires, he went through a period of nationalistic fervor to the extent of supporting the populist caudillo, Hipólito Yrigoyen, whom many consider as a forerunner of the famed authoritarian demagogue, Juan Domino Perón. Many of his poems and essays celebrate everything Argentine, from the mythological stature of the gauchos to the slang of the suburbs of Buenos Aires.
The Pawn by Steven James
Having read 50+ books on writing I feel this book is the third most useful I have read, after only Scriptshadow Secrets by Carson Reeves and Story by Robert McKee. It examines even basic material in a memorable way which makes you more likely to use the ideas in your work. I highly recommend it. The following ideas are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the insights the book contains.
What I learned, Part 1 – An example of Mr. James’s memorable phrasing is: “the ceiling fan principle.” Obviously any story needs to have tension, but the author posits that “things going wrong” is the prime mover of narrative. He uses as an example the common children’s assignment of “what did you do last summer?” Most children’s lists are mind-numbingly boring, because they are just that, lists. But one student in the author’s class said that “me and by cousins were having a contest jumping off my bunk bed to see who could get farthest. And there was this ceiling fan…” So if any scene you are writing feels flat, find the ceiling fan and you’ll be well on your way to improving it.
It’s the #1 best-seller of all time, translated in whole or in part into over two thousand languages. It’s been banned and burned but never totally destroyed; in fact, despite Diocletian’s best efforts, it’s the best-attested book that survives from antiquity, with Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars a distant second. It contains practically every genre you can think of—comedy, tragedy, archetypal narrative, lyric poetry, wisdom literature, dream-vision and allegory, family drama, courtroom drama, political thriller, history, genealogy, epistle, biography and autobiography. An anthology of sixty-six books written over thousands of years in three different languages by kings, priests, prophets, shepherds, and fishermen, it nonetheless tells a single metanarrative story of redemption: the history of the people of Israel, the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, and the way a simple Jewish carpenter changed the world. And nearly two thousand years after the last words were penned, authors and filmmakers continue to grapple with its content, with mixed success. Exodus: Gods and Kings is just the latest example proving that the Book is always better than the movie.
Lockwood and Co. by Jonathan Stroud
In a Great Britain beset by a plague of deadly ghosts only fully visible to psychically-attuned children, Lucy and her two other teenaged co-workers at Lockwood and Co. struggle to keep their exorcism business, and themselves, alive after they inadvertently burn down a client’s house.
What I learned, Part 1 – Resonance. I found this concept in the writing tips of David Farland (who has an excellent newsletter). The idea boils down to this: don’t be afraid of actively placing your influences into your writing, chances are that someone who likes the same things you do will enjoy your story all the more. Additionally, it can be an effective shortcut to making the reader experience your exact tone. Lockwood and Co. is an outstanding book, and from the first paragraph I felt it resonating with Sherlock Holmes. Lockwood and Sherlock, obviously have a connection, but beyond that, the list of failed “cases” from that opening text sound like they easily could be taken from Doyle’s writing. This dovetails perfectly with the fact that though the protagonists usually would be simply fighting the dead with silver, iron and salt, they end up embroiled in a 50 year old mystery.
The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater
In the late 1940’s, a boy and his quirk-tacular family take the train from Chicago to Hollywood. Along the way the boy, Ned, is entrusted with a sacred turtle and the fate of the world. Only “the guy with the turtle” can stop the machinations of a demon, present location the La Brea Tar Pits, who seeks to reverse time and bring back the age of the dinosaurs.
What I learned Part 1: It is possible to write a successful book with a passive protagonist and without tension; but brevity, wit and charm become paramount. From the get-go every line of the book lets you know that it will end well (as does the subtitle), still each moment feels so alive with fresh, weird details that it keeps you reading. An example, the family’s entire move from Chicago to Los Angeles is predicated on Ned and his father’s desire to eat regularly in “a restaurant shaped like a hat.” I would highly recommend this book as a case study of an author breaking core storytelling rules and getting away with it.
The Sacrifice by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
A fantasy novel about the invasion of a peaceful island kingdom by a magical race, the Fey, well on their way to conquering the world. But a bloody stalemate ensues when the islanders discover that their holy water can disintegrate the Fey on contact.
What I learned, Part 1 – If you think you may want to publish traditionally please examine the cover of this book. This is a cover that the author fought against tooth and nail to no avail (this original cover makes the story appear to be about crudely drawn elves in love). I am the target audience for the novel (magic, battles, political intrigue), but I never in a million years would have picked this off the shelf. The only reason I bought it was because I am a fan of the author’s blog, she writes especially insightful things about the business of publishing.
Thor Halvorssen, founder of Moving Picture Institute (MPI), has just been named as a producer for Twentieth Century Fox production of Robert A. Heilein’s novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Bryan Singer (Usual Suspects, X-Men) is attached to direct as well. Halvorssen’s work on human rights by airdropping films and educational materials into heavily censored North Korea, through his Human Rights Foundation have made headlines in world wide news outlets.
Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) was the recipient of the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel in 1967 and is often cited as one the best novels to promote individual liberty and a free society. An early democrat activist who worked for Upton Sinclair’s Democratic bid for California Governor in 1934, Heinlein later considered himself a libertarian with a strong belief in the importance of self-reliance and human freedom.
The Iron Ring: by Lloyd Alexander
This mythic tale is set in India, following a young king who loses a bet to a tyrant from a far off land and is forced to become his slave. When the tyrant mysteriously disappears the next morning the hero feels obligated by his word to journey to the tyrant’s homeland to meet his fate (which may be death).
What I learned Part 1: The power of the open question to drive you through a story. Lee Chi, the hero, isn’t certain whether the tyrant was real or a dream, and the dread of what he will face at the end of his journey keeps you reading.
What I learned Part 2: The power of myth. This book introduces a great number of allies for the main character and side-tracks in the plot. It also follows the Hero’s Journey story beats very closely. But it feels very much like true Indian folklore (which it may or may not be), and this mood combined with the open question carries the book through.