Authorguy's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘movies

One of the things agents and editors look for in a query letter is a comp title (I think I talked about this before, but if I haven’t, it isn’t too hard to find many blogs that have). This is supposed to be a title of a book of reasonably recent vintage, which is cited as an example to a) give the agent/editor in question a good idea of the type of book that they’ll soon be flogging on your behalf, and b) some idea of the marketability of your work. Claiming that ‘anyone who likes Twilight will love this’ may not work as well as it once did, but at least it gets the point across.

A third use is to show that you the author have kept current with the market yourself, that you know what books are or aren’t like yours, and most important, how they’re not.  This third point doesn’t work so well for me, since my immediate reflex would be to change anything I’d written that was like some other story I’d just read, and make it so it wasn’t like that book at all. Great for those originality points, not so great for corporate metrics.

Plus, if you come along with your query letter and say ‘there’s no book like mine anywhere, ever’, the odds are they won’t believe you. They may even whip off a few names right off the top of their heads, and you look like a jerk. Unless of course there is no book like yours, because, like me, you go out of your way to make your books unlike every book you’ve ever read. I don’t claim to have read every book, though, so some other genius may have done what I did. Good for him (or her, but my default pronoun is male).

My real question, though, after all this backstory, is why does the comp title have to be a book? We do sort of live in a multimedia world now, and sooner or later books will come with embedded music videos, or some such, to set the right tone when you reach that steamy love scene or exciting chase sequence. It also broadens the pool of prospective titles, to be able to say that anyone who loved Animal House will love your book. Third, it seems to have bypassed my filter against writing stories I’ve already read, since I didn’t actually read it.

After many months of not thinking about it, focusing on my fanfiction, wallowing in despair over my poor, utterly original story, I suddenly had an idea for a synopsis pop into my head this morning. I wrote it down, talked about it with the fam, and realized along the way that the perfect comp title was not a book but  a movie, Van Helsing, in point of fact. Which, while not a great movie, is to my mind a lot of fun, and has a number of points (on a high level, where it’s hard to avoid having commonalities) in common with my novel, which may be why I like it so much.

And if there are any books that read like Van Helsing feels, I hope you’ll mention it in the comments, so I can check it out for myself.


One of the things we are often told to include in a query letter is the comp title, which is the title of at least one book which is available for public consumption and which you the querier believe is relevantly similar to your own work. That’s just the basic concept as I understand it. If the age of the work in question is a concern, I wouldn’t know, but since we are told to also keep current in our genres, I suppose at least part of the reason for that is so that we can be aware of current books for comparison purposes.

I can think of two reasons for this, which are basically that the further back you go in time to find your comp title, the more likely the story you are trying to promote will seem trite and old hat. I can’t imagine any publisher wanting another LOTR-clone, or a vampire story. A friend of mine, Sean Hayden, created a vampire story that he promotes as urban supernatural. The main character is a girl with the outward appearance of a vampire, but very different origins and capacities. If he were to go on about the vampire part, the prospective customer would wonder why he needed another one.

The other reason is that a current title means that there is a preexisting brand, fresh in the readers’ minds, that the publisher can hook this story on to. “If you like The Hunger Games, then you’ll love Kieryn NicolasFlawless Ruins!” (Which you will, by the way.)

Publishing is a business, for good or ill, and the business perspective of publishing requires something that would justify someone in charge saying ‘Yes, let’s spend money on this.’ The comp title is your way of hitching your book to someone else’s wagon, giving those decision-makers the confidence to put company money behind you. It’s also the reason why so many books and movies made today look and sound like so many other books and movies made yesterday.

Real originality is not a desirable quality, to the “entertainment industry.” The more of it your work has, the less they’ll be willing to take a chance, because the chanciness will be greater too. So in that sense, the explosion of self-published titles is a good thing, since many of these titles could be works that are as different, original, unique, and possibly more like your own unique work that the latest Hunger Games clone on the shelves. Finding it is the hard part. I stopped reading new books, in large part because they were all starting to sound the same, and I just got tired of it. (There are of course other reasons, such as the expense, or more structural issues, but they are for another time.) I follow some authors, whose voices I can usually count on to have something new and unique, and I go to the library often to see what might jump out at me, but less seems to lately.

My own work is as completely unique as I can make it, so naturally I expect no great success in my writing career. Fortunately I don’t write to make money, but because the story is there and demands I write it. I only wanted to be published because that was at the time the only way to get my books into the world, but that is no longer the case. I have one completed unpublished novel (everything else I’ve written has been published), and I’m not sure what I’ll do with it. The only comp title I can think of for it is: It’s a lot like The Dresden Files, but without magic, fae, or multicolored vampires.

Let me know if that works for you.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

But in case you’re looking for something else to do, here I am. I did my classic Christmas film watching yesterday, with Die Hard, so today I saw some other things. In particular I watched the first Hulk movie, by Ang Lee, an underappreciated little gem in my opinion. I very much like the visual effects, the way they slid panels around to indicate collective viewpoints on a single scene, or motion from one point to another. Really good stuff there. I also liked the way they tied the Hulk issue to his psychological problems with his father. Certainly the way they had the Hulk come about was so unlikely that some sort of determinism had to be at work. I have some vague feeling that at some point it was stated that someone was in fact manipulating Bruce’s choice of career, specifically to get him into his father’s footsteps, but now I don’t know where I saw that.

One thing I wasn’t so appreciative of was an early scene, where Bruce and Betty meet in a hallway for the first time on screen. She starts out talking about a presentation they have to do, which almost instantly becomes a pointed barb about his inability to respond emotionally. She apologizes, and them almost immediately shoots a second arrow his way. This insanely OOC cluster of dialog, very much in the ‘tell, don’t show’ mode that we are cautioned to avoid, is then followed by the nefarious word, ‘anyway.’

I feel like that literature professor in Stranger Than Fiction, who says he taught whole classes on ‘little did he know’. In my case it would be the word ‘anyway’. This word, to me, usually signifies that the author wrote himself into a dead end and had to  jump-start his dialog, which is bad enough. But worse, I find in many cases the reason he painted himself into that corner was something stupid. He wanted, e.g., to hit us with dialog that serves little purpose to the story, but instead is some ideological nut-point, badly told bit of uncomfortable humor, or a patch-job meant to cover up something missing, such as a deleted scene that would have presented the same information in a much more organic sort of way.

This train wreck, once the smoke clears, is then followed by the word ‘anyway’, to draw the curtain on the whole thing and move the story along to the next actual plot-point. This movie is neither the first instance of it that I’ve seen, or the most egregious. Off the top of my head, the one that most immediately comes to mind is a scene from a Jack Chalker novel. One character says, “I must remember to spend more time among thieves and politicians”, to which another character responds with the conversation-killing bit of wit, “There’s a difference?”, followed by, “Anyway, let’s go over our plans to…” which brings the story back to the thread it should have been following all along. (There are quite a few problems with this series, but the others will wait.)

I’m not saying that such words are useless, but the use of them should be monitored carefully, since they indicate a radical discontinuity in the flow of the dialog that cannot help but jerk the reader out of it. Are there any words that you find a s a reader that have that effect on you, or that you consciously avoid as an author?

Well, a bit of a revision is in order. For reasons I have no desire to get into the release date of St. Martin’s Moon is being pushed back to May 2011. This is a good thing; it gives me time to work myself up to consider not panicking at the thought of a blog tour, for example.  It also gives me time to do more posts about my favorite stories, which would be most helpful if I ever actually started writing posts about my favorite stories. So here I am.

There is a problem though, in that I have so many favorites that I don’t really know where to start. So I decided to ask my daughter to bring me any movie at all from our DVD rack. So the topic of the day is Grosse Pointe Blank.  Be warned, there will be spoilers in here.

First of all the movie stars John Cusack. That’s a draw right there, since I’ve loved almost everything he’s been in since I first saw him in Say Anything. He  creates such quirky characters, usually with a tendency to run on at the mouth, and the dialog he utters is clever and interesting.

Second, he’s playing an assassin who wants to stop being one.  This by itself makes for a good movie, but the reason why he wants to stop is what makes this movie great. All his life he’s been the Outsider, never really belonging to or with any person or group with the exception of the woman he ‘loves’, who he leaves since he wants to kill something and he’d rather it not involve her in any way. The backstory to all this is brilliantly brought into the present in a number of scenes: pouring a bottle of something alcoholic on his father’s grave, a scene with his addled mother, who forgets his name when he walks around a column, and his home, turned into a convenience store while he wasn’t looking by his best friend. (This is very similar to a scene in Burn Notice, where Michael’s mother says, “You have to trust us”, and he replies “Where would I have learned that?”, or words to that effect.) So instead of taking the girl to the prom he joins the Army, learns to be a killer, and spends the next decade plying his trade.

Then something happens, a satori experience that only gets a line, during the final climactic battle sequence. A feeling of connectedness between all living things. The Outsider is becoming an Insider, but he doesn’t know how.

What he does know is that his work is suffering, little mistakes that mar what should have been perfection, leaving his clients unhappy. The most crucial of these is the death of a dog that takes place before the movie begins, but for which he is held responsible. It was his operation, and he even feels guilty that an animal came to harm during it. In addition a second mistake forces him to take on a job he doesn’t want, forcing him to go home and earning the wrath of another assassin who planned to do the job himself.

His ambivalence is displayed in two ways: he insists on ‘therapy’ sessions with a psychiatrist who’s afraid of him, yet he says nothing of what he does to the friends he meets again, even though they all want to know. He does tell them he’s a professional killer but they all take it as a joke, and he makes no attempt to convince them. I’ve seen the therapy idea since, both in the Sopranos and in Analyze This, but I saw it first here.  The bulk of the movie is spent with him reconnecting with his past, all while being shadowed by other professional killers who have no idea what’s going on.

Another great effect is the soundtrack, which essentially narrates his journey of self-discovery (although I had to wait until I saw it on DVD before I realized this).  At the reunion he receives a second satori experience, called a shakabuku in the film (“a swift spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever”), when he holds a friend’s baby while the bridge of ‘Under Pressure’ is playing, singing of love and second chances.  The climactic battle occurs almost immediately after, in stages, the one assassin after him for the dog, whom he fights in the school with ‘Mirror in the Bathroom’ as the backdrop.

The girl, with whom he’d been reconnecting under slightly false pretenses, runs away from the real him. This matches his self-loathing, and at his lowest ebb he fires his therapist and goes to find his target, expecting to get killed in the process. The only real contrivance of the film is here, that the target is the girl’s father, thus giving him a second second chance. Faced with the reality of violence, she comes to accept that sometimes violence is a necessary response, perhaps the only one. The movie ends on this note, ambivalent to the end.

Unbinding the Stone

A Warrior Made

A Warrior Made

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St. Martin’s Moon

St. Martin's Moon

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Chasing His Own Tale

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Struck By Inspiration

Struck By Inspiration

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Steampunk Santa

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Bite Deep

Christmas among the vampires!

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Cyber-pirates. Sort of.

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Off the Map

Reality TV...without the Reality!

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