Adapting Classic Works

It’s big these days. From Clueless to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, stealing adapting the works of classic authors is a surprisingly long-lasting Latest Thing. Especially Jane Austen. Ms Austen is cool. L. Frank Baum is also big, theftwise.

I personally enjoy doing this. The closest I’ve ever come to finishing a manuscript is my adaption of The Wizard Of Oz, entitled Mobile City: Overlander Z. (I posted the first draft of the first chapter a while back, if anyone’s interested. Any comments will be extremely gratefully received.) But as with anything, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. I understand P&P rewrites/sequels/adaptions are getting a chilly reception lately, which is why I’ve shelved mine for now. (Jane and Bingley’s POV! Let them tell their love story! It would be fun, must get back to it some time).

I’ve been rereading Jane Austen’s works lately, as I frequently do when I’m tired or depressed or don’t have anything new to read or it’s Tuesday, because I love them and will basically read them over and over forever. It struck me that while P&P adaptions are rampant, and Sense and Sensibility and Emma have had their turn in the spotlight, you don’t see a lot of Northanger Abbey or Mansfield Park or Persuasion gadding about in new covers or movie adaptions.

Which is a real shame, because while Mansfield Park is reasonably tightly anchored to its own time, the other two would adapt pretty well, especially as Clueless-style movie retellings. (I know a lot of Austenphiles don’t like Clueless. I don’t care, I think it’s just adorable) Take Northanger Abbey: idealistic, slightly silly young girl goes on holiday, meets cute guy and sweet or duplicitous girls, visits guy and his sister, frightens herself half to death with wild imagination, marries boy. It’s got Hit Romantic Comedy written all over it.

Persuasion would be even better. Girl is firmly discouraged from getting married at nineteen, boy leaves in a huff, woman never really gets over the loss, then is taken advantage of by her self-absorbed sisters and father, before meeting boy again, having a couple of adventures, rescuing father from marrying sister’s scheming friend and then living happily ever after. It would transition really well into a modern setting, I think, and I like Anne as a heroine. She’s a bit over the romance-heroine hill instead of being a Young Thing, philosophical about her disappointments, and always considerate of other people’s feelings – unlike charming but thoughtless Elizabeth Bennet, just for example.

The more I think about this, the better the idea sounds. So IT’S MINE AND I CALLED IT.

I’ve always meant to try scriptwriting…

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What’s In A Name?

As previously mentioned, I have a terrible memory. It’s particularly weak on the subject of names. This can be a real problem for a reader. Nobody with a good memory can understand the sheer embarrassment of walking into a book-shop, realizing that your memory has failed you utterly, and having to ask for help.

“Uhm… excuse me?”

“Yes?”

“I’m looking for a book, it’s a sequel to a book I have and I really liked, but I don’t remember the name.”

“Sure, what was the author’s name?”

“Uh, I don’t remember.”

“Okay, what was the name of the first book?”

“… I’m really sorry, but I don’t remember that either.”

“Oooookay. Do you remember anything about the book?”

“It was about a detective in a steampunk version of Victorian England and he had a lady assistant named Veronica and the cover had a dirigible and lots of shiny gold bits. I’d know it if I saw it.”

“(super bookseller tappity-taps for a minute at the computer) Oh! You’re looking for The Osiris Ritual by George Mann. I’ll show you where it is.”

She was very nice and didn’t laugh at me even once, but I was utterly mortified even as I hurried out of Dymocks clutching the precise book I’d been looking for. And in the spirit of honesty, to tell this story I had to google ‘steampunk victorian detective’ and look around for a familiar cover, because I still don’t remember the author’s name or the titles! But I found out there’s a new one out, so go me. (And they’re good books!)

I have even worse problems with comic-book creators, who change way more often. My husband and I frequently have variations on this conversation whenever we try to get back into buying comics.

“Ooh, that story sounds interesting, let’s buy that!”

“(husband picks up the book) No, you don’t want to buy this.”

“Why not?”

“Frank Quitely drew this.”

“Who?”

“The guy you say is like Hitler.”

“OH, right, the one who can’t draw people! Okay. Find me one of the guys I like.”

“Do you like Grant Morrison?”

“Who’s he? Is he the one who hates women?”

“Which one who hates women?”

“The one with the Evil Slut Flakes.”

“No, that’s Chuck Austen. Grant Morrison is the one you think can be a bit of a wanker but all right if he’s properly edited.”

“Think he’s properly edited in this one?”

“I’ll risk it. I want to read this.”

“Okay, so who’s the one who doesn’t think I want to buy comics?”

“Joe Quesada. Now go get your Batman so we can go.”

For the record, comparing Frank Quitely to Hitler can get you funny looks. But it’s true! Good at landscapes and architecture, rubbish at people! Although I hear Quitely’s gotten a little better in the last few years.

And it’s not just real people, or their fictional characters. (My spouse is getting used to getting television recaps with such descriptors as ‘you know, the floppy one’ and ‘the pretty one from Friday Night Lights. No, the other pretty one.’) I have trouble with my own characters too. I once showed up at a NaNoWriMo write-in to realize that I’d culled my on-the-go writing file too far and had cut all mention of one character’s name. She was SFP (secondary female protagonist) for nearly two hours before I yelped ‘SOFIA!’ and startled everyone on my side of the table. This, mind you, was a week in, and I’d been writing her name multiple times every day.

I have learned to keep cheat sheets of names on every computer when I’m writing. Especially if I’m inventing gods or suchlike, because they crop up rarely enough that the name won’t get hammered into my brain by repeated typing. But then I always forget to update the sheet and I’m left hunting through Chapters Four to Seven because I know I mentioned him somewhere in here. I once had to call my long-suffering husband and ask him if he remembered what I’d named my fictional kingdom. He did. He’s so awesome. (He also didn’t complain when I went and woke him up just now to ask him who the one who hates women is.)

On the up side, I’ve only called my child by my sister’s name – or my cat’s name – a few times, and I’ve had her for nearly three years, so maybe I’m improving.

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

If I’m going to have a blog about writing, I suppose I should at some point put some of my writing up on it. So. Here is the unedited first chapter of my NaNoWriMo novel from two years ago, a steampunkish reimagining of the Wizard of Oz. When I finish my rewrites, I’ll put up the first couple of chapters again, for comparison.

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Chapter 1

The farm hadn’t been successful for a long time. Uncle Henry was working himself into an early grave trying, but the earth was as tired as he was. There was never enough rain. Never enough of anything.

Dorothy couldn’t remember ever living anywhere else. She’d come to Uncle Henry and Aunt Em when she was three. Aunt Em had told her about her mother, a few times, but it had never seemed quite real to Dorothy. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em were what was real. Kansas and their farm were real. The great grey-green prairie stretching out all around them, dotted with farms, was real.

And the Overlanders were real, the great moving, mechanical cities that had long ago replaced the cities built on the ground. They usually passed through two or three times a year. There was a bigger one and a smaller one. Uncle Henry had told her that there were others – he’d seen them as a boy, before he came to Kansas. But Dorothy had only ever seen two. They came to collect food from the special barns. Usually in autumn, after harvest, but sometimes as late as midwinter. Other times, too, but they never knew when.

It had been a while since she’d seen one, but Aunt Em had said that morning that Mrs Wood had said yesterday that there was one nearby, so Dorothy kept an eye out as she followed Uncle Henry into the fields. The other eye was on the sky. There was a storm coming… a bad one, Uncle Henry said. They had to bring in the cows.

“Uncle Henry?” Dorothy called, hurrying to catch up with him. “What do the Overlanders do during storms?”

“I don’t know.” Uncle Henry was looking at the sky, his worn face creased into a frown. “Dorothy, this isn’t just any storm. I think there’s a tornado coming. We have to hurry.”

Dorothy felt a shiver down her spine. She’d never known a tornado to come really close to the farm, but she’d heard about them. She tried not to imagine all that destructive force brought down on their little grey house, the farm, everything she’d ever known. She walked faster, almost running now.

The cows were nervous, and it took longer than usual to convince them to start back to the barn. Dorothy counted as they went through the gate… and came up one short. “Uncle Henry!”

He was on the other side of the gate, pushing his hat back on his head and looking anxiously at the sky. “I know, Bluebell wandered off again. We only have a few minutes, Dorothy. She’ll be all right.”

“But she’s down at the river, Uncle Henry, she always is, we can – ”

“There’s no time, Dorothy! We have to get into the storm-cellar.” Uncle Henry caught her arm and tugged, pushing her toward the path back up to the house. “You run and help your aunt with the chickens.”

“But – ”

“Go!”

Dorothy went. She knew Uncle Henry needed her help with the nervous cows. If he was sending her ahead, that meant he wasn’t sure they’d get the cows to the barn in time. She wanted to stay with him, but she knew what Uncle Henry did, too – that Aunt Em wouldn’t go down into the cellar until Dorothy was there. So she ran, looking up at the heavy, greenish-coloured clouds. The wind was picking up, pushing back at her as she ran, slowing her down…

And then carrying a low moo to her ears. Dorothy looked, and then stared.

Bluebell wasn’t down at the river after all. She was backed into a thicket, mooing frantically as a flying thing made of metal and wood, with a big sort of claw sticking out of its underside, tried to grab at her. A Gatherer! The Overlanders sent them out to the special barns to collect food, but Dorothy had never seen one. Children weren’t allowed near the barn, and despite the fact that she was fifteen, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry still thought she was a child. Dorothy just stared in wonder for a long moment, and then the thing bobbed and wiggled, its claw flexing and reaching toward Bluebell.

It was trying to steal their cow!

Dorothy jumped over the fence, which was low here, and raced down toward the thing. “Stop it!” she shouted, though she had no idea if it could hear her, or understand her if it did. “Leave our cow alone!” Closer to the thicket she found a fallen branch and picked it up. “Go away! This isn’t one of your places to get food!” She whacked the claw with the branch, which hurt her hands and made the struck metal ring. “Go! Away!” She hit it again, ignoring the strengthening wind yanking at her hair and her skirts.

The thing bobbed, twirling around in place and then tilting, as if it were trying to look underneath itself but couldn’t quite manage. Dorothy whacked the claw again, then jabbed the end of the branch up at the thing’s underside. If it couldn’t see her then it couldn’t tell she was just one half-grown girl with a branch, and if she bothered it enough…

Then it froze, suddenly, and Dorothy paused. She’d heard it too – a strange roaring sound. Was the city coming for the Gatherer? She had no idea how these things worked, nobody really did. The roaring was getting louder and louder, and she looked around, but she couldn’t really see anything from underneath the Gatherer.

Then it swung around and darted to the side, away from Bluebell, and Dorothy shrieked as the claw – as long as she was, and wide enough around to pick up the biggest bull – slammed into her, lifting her feet off the ground. She grabbed onto it, to keep it from knocking her down, and in the second she held on the Gatherer shot upward, leaving Dorothy dangling far above the ground. She managed to get her foot onto the curved part of the claw, so she wasn’t just dangling from her hands, and looked around.

It wasn’t the city she’d heard roaring. It was a tornado, like a long black finger reaching down from the clouds. And it was coming straight toward them, or so it seemed to Dorothy. The Gatherer seemed to agree, because it turned and flew very fast, away from the farm and away from the tornado, taking Dorothy with it.