If I’ve been a little silent lately it’s with good reason. On January 4th I commenced work on my next book. I can’t go into much detail about subject, or planned completion, or even publication. But nearly seven weeks in it’s been the most fun I’ve had writing anything in my twenty-plus year career. Instead, gaze upon the image above and some key-words from various points of research. Any ideas what this one is going to be about?
I got my first email address in 1995.
It was one assigned to every student at my college. We were told about these newfangled “emails” during orientation, and encouraged to use them because “the internet” was “the wayof the future”.
I don’t recall ever using my college email. I’m sure few of us college age kids nearing graduation gave email or the internet much thought. We were children of the 70s and 80s and in some cases the 60s. We’d grown up without an internet and that analog life was our life. We lined up at Ticketmaster for concert tickets, we drove, walked, or subwayed to the record store on new release day of our favorite band’s new album. We listened to the radio. We stood in line at the movies. TV was whatever was on the dial. TVs had dials, before graduating to huge bulky converter boxes, and from there to sleek handheld remotes.
We had VCRs to record the shows we didn’t want to miss, and loaned out tapes to friends. We had tapes dedicated to full series runs of The Simpsons, The Kids In The Hall, Saturday Night Live, Twin Peaks. Commercials and all.
Whenever a favorite band was dropping a new music video, we had to watch MTV or Much Music at the appointed time for the premiere.
We made mixtapes to compile our favorite songs, for road-trips, for cruising, for our walkmans. For friends.
We learned the value of being bored. Of not having the world at our fingertips. That boredom forced us to go out and seek adventure rather than expecting it to be delivered to us.
When we graduated from high school, from college, we truly lost touch with old friends, old enemies. Our lives intersected then moved quickly away from one another.
And all the while The Internet was lurking. Waiting to change our lives.
Much has been written about the negative effects of the internet as it has entwined its coils around our daily lives. And entwine it has. When was the last time you went completely internet-free? For how long? Every hotel, restaurant, museum has free public wi-fi. You’re never really internet-free or free of the internet.
Walk through any museum, gallery, aquarium and more often than not you’ll find people hyper-focused on their phones while Degas, the Mysteries of Egypt, and giant sea turtles linger in the background of our digital lives. I gave up my cell-phone when the pandemic began. I didn’t need to be in constant contact for one, but also because I wanted to be more available, more present in my life and my family’s life. I still feel like I’m the only parent at the playground not scrolling through their phone while their child plays.
The internet is here and it’s not going away. From QR codes to text messaging, it’s a part of our lives, good and bad.
But the internet hasn’t all been bad, and this is NOT a “boo internet bad Hulk smash” post.
No, this is:
FIVE THINGS THE INTERNET HAS BEEN GOOD FOR (PLUS ONE BONUS THING)
Spotify has been a good thing. No, a great thing. Possibly my favorite thing. Music journalist/friend of Mixtape Alan Cross had long pontificated on the concept of “The Celestial Jukebox”; a wondrous device that contains every song ever recorded, there at your fingertips. Basically, Spotify which, while falling short of every song ever recorded, has been a godsend to music fans such as myself. Especially duringthe writing of Mixtape, Spotify has allowed me to plunge down the rabbit hole of music, deep diving myself into the back catalogues of David Bowie, Alice Cooper, the Everly Brothers, The Rolling Stones, Disco, Punk, Pop, Rockabilly … on and on and on. Thanks to Spotify I’ve discovered newer artists and songs I never even knew existed.
Oh, and thanks to Spotify I actually have been spending more money on music, putting to bed the lie – to me anyway – that Spotify is killing music sales. I would never have delved into the extraordinary back catalogue of current favorite classic rock band The Kinks had Spotify not been there. I would have killed for something like Spotify when I was a teenager, back when it was easier to hear about a band or a song then to actually hear it.
Yes, YouTube. I know the horror stories; the out-of-control algorithms, the fascist reich-wing content pushed on unsuspecting child viewers, the horrible, horrible comment sections*.
[*ProTip: all comment sections, be they on Youtube, your local newspaper’s website, or social media are all terrible in their own ways. The concept of comment sections are terrible too, because who really wants to be subjected to the brain-farts of random blowhards on the world wide web? Internet comenting and social media have killed boredom; they’ve required our cups to constantly be filled. Comments are why I have comment blockers installed on my web browsers – I recommend the “Shut Up” browser extension.]
With YouTube the experience is what you make of it. Keep clicking on political content, on controversy and outrage, don’t be surprised when political content you disagree with gets shoved into your timeline (and certainly don’t complain about it either because you did this to yourself). My YouTube experience is dominated largely by film criticism; long-form videos analyzing a film a TV show, a movie trailer. there’s a lot of excellent film criticism on YouTube; much more so than in mainstream media, where the emphasis is on money and how much of it a movie is making or losing. But there’s a lot more on YouTube I gravitate towards. Old Rankin-Bass cartoons, old toy commercials, original broadcasts of Top of the Pops. All the weird pop-cultural ephemera from the 70s and 80s. The obscure TV and movies and more that seem to fallen through the mainstream cracks have found a safe home on YouTube. Even watching a video of 80s mall culture has been extremely beneficial for a book I’m working on. I’m sure I’m missing a lot of them but to go down my YouTube rabbit hole, give Lindsay Ellis, Patrick Willems, Layton Eversaul, Matt Draper, Like Stories of Old, Lady Knight The Brave and Oliver Harper a whirl.
One of the great challenges of 21st century publishing is the dominance of a company whose name begins with A and ends with N. Amazon has dominated shopping and retail for the last decade plus, more so since the pandemic started. Amazon has torn a swatch through the retail experience, and the publishing world. Your success or failure as an author depends on the first week’s numbers on Amazon. You’re encouraged to bludgeon readers to pre-order your book on Amazon, to leave reviews on Amazon, to create an Amazon Author Page, to surrender, Dorothy, to AZ the Great and Powerful. Short version: Amazon has become too big, too powerful, and the publishers have basically climbed into bed with an entity determined to destroy them. Amazon is the toxic boyfriend/girlfriend you know is bad for you but can’t quite escape. They own everything and are trying to own everything else. Publishers affixing themselves to the Amazon train will ride it for a while, but over time will discover the landscape they travel through has become more barren, more lifeless as Amazon consumes everything, even those same publishers I’m sure.
Why am I ranting against Amazon? Because for books, there’s a much better option if you must shop online but don’t want to contribute to the fall of culture and civilization by shopping at Amazon.
Bookshop.org is an online book-seller, competitive enough with Amazon, that you’re paying close to the same price for books, by a website that kicks up to 30% of its sales to a local bookstore of your choice. During the pandemic I ordered a lot of books through Bookshop.org because my local bookseller had been forced to shutter temporarily while still needing to pay rent and suppliers and electricity and so on. Even now, I still order my books through Bookshop because I know every dollar they send to my local bookshop is a dollar Amazon doesn’t get their mitts on. Choosing Bookshop over Amazon might not win the war, but it will show you’re not ready to capitulate to the big guys just yet. And maybe you’ll do some good for your local bookshop and local community. After all, if you’re an author you need to hold those events and signings somewhere, right?
Streaming Video (in general). Kind of connected to YouTube, but I feel like 2020-2021 became the year when streaming video finally became what it was meant to be. Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, Disney +, yes … but also Kanopy, Shudder, Mubi, Criterion. Like Alan Cross’s Celestial Jukebox, we have a Celestial Idiot Box. We have more TV and movies and documentaries and docuseries than we can shake a remote at. We also have PBS.org, PBS Kids (my son’s favorite) and a slew of other options. With a click of a button I can watch The Mandalorian, Wild Strawberries, The Haunting of Hill House, What We Do In The Shadows (movie and series), Seven Samurai, Piranha, the complete runs of The Kids In The Hall, Twin Peaks, Cheers, Battlestar Galactica, The Greatest American Hero … endless and onward.
I still buy physical media – I’ve invested too much money in my DVD and Blu-Ray collection to stop – but I do rely on streaming more than I used to. Streaming isn’t perfect – selections vary, titles disappear without notice, picture and sound quality are terrible compared to a high-def video disc, but the sheer volume of content out there is legion. And perhaps the best thing about streaming video is you’re not fixed to a set day and time to watch. Any show at any time? The future has arrived.
This Website. Yes you read that right; www.bradabraham.com is a reason the internet isn’t all bad. For one, the fact you’re reading this proves that there’s something compelling enough about my website and me to keep you coming back. There are millions of web pages like mine out there. Whatever your interest, whatever your want, it’s waiting to be discovered and bookmarked and re-visited. For me, my website fulfils what social media never has; furnished me a small corner of the world wide interwebz that’s mine and mine alone.
It’s not ruled by an algorithm, it’s not dependent on Search Engine Optimization – though to be honest when you Google my name, this website is the first thing to pop up in the search results, take THAT Facebook! It’s not a top site, and it reaches a limited number of visitors, but it’s a consistent number, not the fluctuating one you get when using Twitter or Instagram or Facebook to get word out about yourself. In those cases you’re always going to be a Minnow in the Pacific unless you’re prepared to devote huge swaths of your day-to-day being Very Online and Feeding The Machine.
When I started this website eleven years ago I had no real idea what I was going to use it for. Back then I was just a semi-successful still-struggling screenwriter. Since then I’ve become an acclaimed comic book writer and novelist, I’ve had two movies and one webseries produced, and I’ve worked on multiple TV series. I’ve moved, grown, changed, aged. Looking back through the archive of posts here (a decade’s worth) I’m amazed not only by the volume of content but by the fact I kept at it, even at times when I really didn’t want to. I still have times when I feel like giving it up, or at least putting it on the backburner. I’m too bored, tired, distracted by real-life stuff that some months I just don’t feel like blogging anything anymore.
And yet, here I am, still doing it. While it does seem like the world and the people in it – friends current and former – are off in FB and Twitter land, I’m here and much happier for it.
For me writing and creating has never been about getting big views, big sales numbers. It’s never been about being a Bestseller, an Award-Winner. I’ve never wanted to be “a writer of note” – I just want to write. After 22 years “writing” remains the best part of being a writer and probably the only part of being a writer that I still enjoy. And this website is a part of it.
Back in the Long Ago and Far Away (i.e. “High School”), a 1500-2000 word essay was a major part of your History or English grade. It was a major achievement, all those words and thoughts organized and footnoted and sourced. This post, which I banged out over a couple hours one morning in early November is over 2000 words. What used to be a challenge and a major undertaking, I can now do before my coffee turns cold. And while a lot of that is on me, a lot of it is thanks to the internet and this web-page that, like a garden, requires fresh water, attention, and care.
So as I say goodbye to 2021, I leave you with this:
Thanks to the internet, everything is eternal. Even Emu’s Pink Windmill Kids.
(You thought I forgot the BONUS THING didn’t you? Well I didn’t.)
Bonus Thing: Online Banking
Specifically Online Check Deposits. Seems mundane, right? Well, as a writer your sporadic pay generally comes more likely than not through a good old-fashioned paper check. Royalties from books, royalties from movies and TV, checks from your agency with their 10-15% fee deducted. So when a check arrives I have two choices;
- Go to my bank to deposit direct through the ATM or front counter, which involves me hopping in my car and driving 15 minutes there, and 15 minutes back, or;
- Open the banking app on my tablet, take a photo of the front and back of the check, and deposit it digitally. Total time; less than it takes me to put on shoes, grab the keys, grab my coat.
Not terribly exciting, huh? Well, that depends on who the check is made out to 😉
- This post was going to run last month but I decided to do the Christmas story instead. Did you read it? If not you should; I really like this one. You’ll find it here.
Over the past few months I’ve been doing a lot of writing, a lot of reading, a lot of thinking. About life, about the state of the world, but mostly, about how we communicate with each other. Specifically, how I, a writer and an author, communicates with his audience.
When your book is accepted for publication, the marketing people forward you a questionnaire to fill out, to tell them a little bit about yourself. These are details like where you were born, where you went to university, where you presently reside. They like to know if you have a website, and if so, how much traffic it gets. They want to know your social media presence; which platforms you use, and crucially, how many followers you have.
Basically they want a sense of you; more specifically, what assets are at their disposal to promote your work. If you frequent your local bookshop enough that the owners know who you are, then that’s a potential in-store event. if you’ve been a longtime resident of your town, that’s a piece in the local paper. Heck, even in the town you were born in (in my case, a place I haven’t lived in for over forty years, and haven’t visited in a dozen) you’re a “native”, and as such the local media may be interested in running a piece on you and your book.
But what they really want to know is about the social media. Because that’s going to be the primary way they get word on your book out. That’s The Game; you want to win, you have to play. And I HATE social media. Hate. it.
I’ve gone off before on my dislike of social media before; here and here. Short version for those too lazy to click either; I think social media and its insidious reach into our daily lives is one of the worst things to happen us as a species. I believe in years to come we’ll look at social media as a thing designed to make us feel good but is as unhealthy as cigarettes are looked upon right now. If I had my way we’d bury social media face-down in the ground with a stake of holly through its heart and its mouth stuffed with garlic.
I’m not the only one who feels this way either.
“Anytime you are provided with a service, like Facebook, for free, you are in fact the product being sold. In exchange for likes and retweets and public photos of your kids, you are basically signing up to be a data serf for companies that can make money only by addicting and then manipulating you. That because of all this, and for the good of society, you should do everything in your power to quit.”
That, from Tech guru Jaron Lanier, pioneer of VR, who I first read about in Rolling Stone Magazine of all places, back in the early 1990s. He has an interview at GQ I’ve linked to here, and also on my Facebook author page (more on THAT in a sec). I’m going to share this update on that FB page, but I’m going to predict the FB algorithm will throttle this particular post‘s reach because it’s so critical of everything they do. It’s given me serious consideration as to whether or not to keep my FB page active.
Facebook gives you nothing without giving them something first. For a page like mine that means one thing: paying them to boost your posts to people already following your page.
For the record, I don’t have a personal page on Facebook. Lord knows I get asked for one all the time. People want to connect with you and feel a connection. Mostly they just want to stalk you, look at your photos, insert themselves into your lives by asking you to join their Multi-level Marketing scheme or to just boost their follower numbers to communicate to the world how wonderful and liked and popular they are.
[And don’t get me started on the parents who post every minute detail of their children’s lives on social media. But congratulations on feeding your kids into an algorithm that by now knows when they were born, where they attend school and what their interests are. You just handed that information over to the algorithm. Slow. Clap.]
When you tell people you’re not on Facebook the first response is confusion, then doubt, then followed more often than not by a confession that not being on FB is probably smart, that they spend far too much time on it, and they really only use it to keep in touch with friends and family.
Seriously though; does anybody really like Facebook? I mean, besides “social media experts” who stake their living on that platform?
Now, for an author or other creative type, social media is a double-edged sword, and a very sharp one especially if you don’t like social media. Because in the 21st century it’s not enough to write a book people will want to read. It’s not enough to get the book into their hands; something that traditional media and publicity efforts still do a much better job of than social media does. Trust me, I know; I married a publicist and I see her at her job every day.
To be an author in 2020 means you have to be connected to your readers, to your fans. it’s not enough to be you, a working writer; you have to be a friend, a confidant, you have to be engaged with your audience. Basically, you HAVE to be on social media.
Well, call me old fashioned (“Brad, you’re old-fashioned”), but I’ll always prefer the meaningful communications and contact over the superficial social media-curated ones. Whenever I receive a comment on this website, whenever I receive an email, it does a major improvement to my mood. It’s not a “Like” or a “Retweet” or a “Share”; it’s someone reaching out to me directly to say “hey, I really enjoyed your book or your TV show, or your movie, or your comic book.”
In my experience, I’ve found social media to be a dead end for promoting your work. because social media is a closed ecosystem. You share something on Facebook, it stays on Facebook, and the “transaction” for what it is is usually a like. Rarely a click, hardly ever a share. That’s in part because unless you, the page manager, are unwilling to fork over money to Facebook to promote your work, it doesn’t reach its intended audience.
Engagement drives the algorithm. The more people who like the page, and like, and comment on the content, the more people see it. For me to get even a fraction of the reach this website does, I’d need to wrangle at least 2,000 FB fans. Before leaving Twitter for good back in 2019 I had about 1700 followers. If I were to jump back into that cesspool (sorry Twitter fans; you know it’s true) I could increase that number. I could Tweet and Re-tweet and share and comment and hash-tag and signal boost; I could make Twitter outreach The Job that supports my writing. I could go back to playing That Game.
But I’m not willing to play that game, because I value those fans too much. I value you too much. You’re not numbers; you’re people, like me, like the person next to you. You have your hopes and dreams, your wants and worries and fears. Being reduced to a digital thumbprint on a Silicon Valley hard-drive somewhere south of San Jose is dehumanizing, and as per the GQ article I’ve linked to, much more troubling, much more insidious than a lot of us realize.
I’m not sure what’s going to become of my Facebook page, or my social media presence. Truth be told I think I’m kind of done with both outside of “official” business. My next book is at least a couple years away so there’s no immediate need to return to the social media trenches. But it’s a challenge, I won’t lie. Because my publisher will look at my non-existent social media usage and go “hmm, is this really the author we want to support? The one who’s making it exceedingly difficult to reach his audience?” I will of course need to find another way to interact with my audience, which is why I this website is going to become the conduit for people who want to each me, and reach out to me.
I’m going to work on a redesign, with a more fan-friendly way of commenting and conversing than at present. I’ve always enjoyed long-form blogging and writing over little updates and posts and tweets anyway.
I’m also planning to launch a newsletter, which you will be able to subscribe to. This will contain non-website based content. Some peeks behind the curtain at some previously unseen Magicians Impossible and Mixtape materials from the archives. Sneak peeks at my next book. Fun stuff that won’t be too annoying; maybe every other month. We’ll see.
Of course, feel free to let me know what you think of all of this. I suspect I’ll need to maintain some sort of social media presence; you still do need to go to where your audience, your customers are. but maybe, just maybe, there’ll come a day when we don’t need to.
Calling out around the world
Are you ready for a brand new beat?
Summer’s here and the time is right
For maintaining safe distancing
Well, as my state slowly reopens and everyone rushes back out to get infected by (and spread) COVID this guy is going to spend much of the summer hanging by the local pond with his nose buried in a good book. I don’t need to go to a bar (because I don’t drink), a restaurant (because I know how to cook), brick-and-mortar retail (because online shopping exists), movies (because I have Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and hundreds of DVD and Blu-Rays) or attend any large social gatherings (because I hate crowds). Until there’s an effective – and proven – treatment or vaccine I’m staying put.
Also, because if you can’t trust people to look out for their best interests you sure as hell can bet they won’t look out for yours either. So I plan to do both, for myself and my family, and for the local idiots clustering in groups, sans masks, figuring “hey we beat the virus, time to party, because we’re a generation and a culture that prattles on about ‘sacrifice’ yet is ill-equipped by choice or by upbringing to do either.”
[For the record, I would love to go out and about unencumbered. I’d love to go to the beach, the local pool (closed for the season), the museums and art galleries and aquariums and zoos. And, depending on how the next month goes, I may actually do those things regardless. I mean, Christoper Nolan and Wes Anderson both have movies coming out this year I would LOVE to see on the big screen. But not at the risk of my health or my family’s health. I WILL visit my local comic book store in another week or so as he’s got some holds for me to pick up. But I won’t stay long. “Browsing” will remain a thing of the past for now.]
Call me a coward, call me “panicky”, whatever you want. I have nothing to prove. If COVID-19 as taught me anything over these past three months, it’s that I do not require social contact with other people to live a happy life. In fact, I think I’ve been much happier not having people around other than the barest, briefest transactions of grocery shopping. I’m in this for the long haul, because like COVID, this all isn’t going away anytime soon.
Plus, I have a book to write.
Have a good summer. See you in September. Maybe.
Novelizations. We’ve all seen them. We may have even read some of them. I myself have a bookshelf-full of them (pictured above); a combination of ones I’ve had since childhood and ones I picked up at visits to used bookstores over the last several years. These are part of my “comfort reads” – the books, magazines, and comics that I’ve read and re-read multiple times, whose familiarity is the entire point. Those stories where, unlike the current global crisis, we know how it all ends. That’s what a Novelization is; a story you likely already know, told in a different way.
First we need to clarify the difference between a “novelization” and a movie based on a novel. In the latter case, someone wrote a book; call it Jaws or the Silence of the Lambs or The Hunger Games. That novel, that source material, existed before the movie version did. Novelizations, by comparison, are the books based off a film or more specifically that film’s screenplay. The books that exist only because some screenwriter wrote a screenplay that was turned into a major motion picture, and the studio sold the rights to a publisher to assign an author to turn out a book based on the film to sell in stores as a nice little bit of promotion.
Novelizations are frequently rudimentary in prose; “workmanlike” is the best descriptor, as though there’s something wrong with that. Frankly, I’ll take “workmanlike” over “MFA trying to impress me with their three-page treatise on the texture of a raindrop” any day. They’re serviceable; the perfect beach or pool-side reading. The types of books you can read with one eye while keeping the other on your child, to ensure they don’t drown or get munched by a roving Great White Shark.
Novel, not Novelization (though the prose is about the same)
Novelizations aren’t concerned with great turns of phrase. The exist to tell a story; or re-tell it, if you will. And to be fair, some novelizations are actually well-written, but you aren’t going to impress the teacher with your book report on the novelization of Rambo: First Blood Part II or Starman. Novelizations are the bastard stepchild of the literary world. They are books, and they are readable, but wouldn’t you be better off reading something more substantial?
Yes. To all of the above. Every criticism thrown the way of the novelization is valid. However the first “adult” books I read were novelizations. They were my gateway, from books geared to my age group; “Middle Grade” or “Young Adult” before those terms even existed. While I rack my brain trying to remember which novelization was my first, I have to assume it was one of these:
I was a child of the 1970s, and if you are an adult of a certain age it’s likely the years 1977-1983 were dominated by a trilogy set in galaxy long ago and far, far away. I can’t exactly remember what year I read Star Wars by “George Lucas” (actually sci-fi author and novelization mainstay Alan Dean Foster), but I want to say it was the early 80s, probably 1982. We would have been visiting family and I think a cousin had the paperback novelization and gave it to me. I read it over a weekend, and was, of course, hooked. Even knowing the story, there were surprises to be found within its pages. What made reading Star Wars interesting was the context it provided. Here was the first inkling of a galactic history, opening with an excerpt of “The Journal of the Whills” laying down the backstory for the Republic, the Jedi, and the rise of a bureaucrat named Palpatine.
It also gave you a taste of scenes left on the cutting room floor. Casual Star Wars fans might not know that originally we were meant to spend a lot of time on Tatooine with Luke Skywalker before encountering R2-D2 and C-3PO. We met his friends Fixer and Cammie, and his good friend Biggs Darklighter.
If you wanted to see what an “earlier version” of a beloved movie may have been like, you picked up the novelization. Given these books were written to coincide with the release of the film, they were most often based on a version of the screenplay that became a much different movie. An example of this would be Orson Scott Card’s novelization of James Cameron’s 1989 sci-fi adventure The Abyss, which prominently featured a Tidal Wave sequence and various subplots that wouldn’t see light of day until three years later with the release of The Abyss Special Edition.
Novelizations told a story you already knew the outcome of. But they did it in a way that put you in the head-space of the characters you only previously witnessed onscreen. Here you were in the cockpit of Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing as it raced down the Death Star trench. You were with the Goonies as they hunted for One-Eyed Willie’s treasure. You were Short Round as he occupied himself throughout Shanghai in the day leading up to the opening scenes of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Novelizations gave you backstory and character histories, it filled in the blanks on little mysteries lurking in the corners. It gave you more, at a time when you wanted more. You didn’t read novelizations for something new; you read them to re-experience the story you’d already fallen in love with. This was especially crucial in an era where home video was still in its infancy. Where you had to wait years to see a movie again. This was the age of the re-release. Star Wars, released in theaters in 1977 didn’t arrive on video until 1982. Return of the Jedi, released in 1983, didn’t show up until 1986.
The heyday of the novelization, for me, spanned roughly 1977 to 1989. Star Wars to Batman; famously one of the first films released on home video for purchase within six months of its theatrical debut. Once that six months threshold was broken, it became more common. By 1995 I was clerking at a video store, and it was pretty much a given that that summer’s theatrical releases would be available to rent by Christmas. As a result, novelizations became a lot less essential than they used to be. I look at my collection of novelizations and they really do begin in 1977 and end around 1989. Some are okay, none are truly terrible, and if you want ones that are a cut above the norm, look for names like Wayland Drew (Dragonslayer, Willow), George Gipe (Back to the Future, Gremlins, Explorers), and the Big Kahuna, Alan Dean Foster (Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Krull, The Thing, The Black Hole, The Force Awakens, and a host of others).
Novelizations still exist, though in some notable cases, they’re released after the theatrical release, to keep spoilers at a minimum. All of the Disney Star Wars movies had novelizations released several months after the theatrical release; quite a contrast to Terry Brooks’ novelization of Star Wars: Episode One back in 1999, which arrived in stores nearly a month before the movie hit the silver screen. Overall these newer books are quite well-written, employing acclaimed, well-known sci-fi-fantasy authors to draft prose based on screenplay format. Yet with the theatrical-to-video window now averaging three months if that, you don’t really need the novelization to keep you engaged in that world and its characters; all you have to do is watch clips on YouTube, and wait for the digital version or Blu-Ray to become available.
Yet I believe what has in some way made movies a little less essential than they used to be has been in part because of the shrinking of that theatrical-to-video window and death of the novelization. They used to be part of the package, alongside the comic book adaptation and the Making Of book and TV specials. They made those movies feel a piece of a much bigger whole. They made them events, rather than mere entertainment.
The novelization was also very important to me as a developing reader. They were the bridge from books geared to people my age, to ones that skewed older. I might have been immersed in novelizations in 1984-1985, but by 1986 I was moving deeper into the adult world. In fact it would have been this book (no a novelization) and this movie that had the biggest impact:
Stand By Me, the movie, led me to Different Seasons, the collection of four Novellas by Stephen King (the other three being the little known The Breathing Method, as well as Apt Pupil, released in 1998 and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, released as The Shawshank Redemption in 1994). Different Seasons led me to The Stand, Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Cujo, It … the list goes on. By 1987 I was reading Stephen King, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Dean Koontz, and a host of other horror and suspense authors and I never really looked back. And while I was aware of Stephen King, it wasn’t until seeing Stand By Me that I wanted to know more, and more importantly read more.
Admittedly, my novelization shelf is more of a show-piece than a practicality. They’re a conversation starter for house guests. Yet occasionally, usually when between projects, I’ll pull out one of my old novelizations and take a trek down memory lane.
When talking about novelizations it helps to remind one’s self that yesterday’s trash is tomorrow’s treasure. It wasn’t so long ago that comic books were considered Low Art; now they’re winning Pulitzers and Hugos. There have been many scholarly looks at the Pulp Magazines of the 1930s, cheap, simple, and exploitative, which are now regarded as the cornerstone of modern genre fiction. The internet has changed the world, and even those ephemeral things that didn’t even exist ten years ago like Podcasts and YouTube are regarded as essential, even ground-breaking media.
I love movie novelizations. They were a gateway to more adult fiction; they were what spurred my interest in movies and the making of them. They’re what made me want to tell stories of my own. But mostly, they’re a simple, analog comfort to help us get through an uncertain world.
On that note: remember to wash your hands.
Brad’s Top Ten Novelizations
The Abyss – Orson Scott Card’s adaptation of James Cameron’s sci-fi thriller was granted unprecedented access to the film and unsurprisingly the novelization reads as top-level sci-fi. The book begins with three POV chapters each about its three leads – Bud, Lindsay, Coffey – in their younger days, and impressed James Cameron so much he gave the chapters to his actors and told them “this is canon”. One of the few novelizations that works as a stand-alone book.
Back to the Future – George Gipe’s adaptation of the beloved blockbuster puts particular emphasis on Marty’s friendship with Doc, and him getting to know the his own father before life crushed those same dreams now threatening to crush Marty’s. Gipe sadly passed away in 1986, but if you see his name on the cover it’s well worth your read.
Dragonslayer – acclaimed Canadian fantasy author Weyland Drew takes a middling Disney fantasy movie into a fine little piece of almost Tolkien-esque prose, focusing more on the threat the rise Christianity represents to an untamed world than the dragon hunting its people. The first of Drew’s two novelizations on this list.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. There was no way the novelization was ever going to recapture the wonder, the emotion, the soaring spectacle of Spielberg’s masterpiece. But what the E.T. novelization does do is expand the roles of Elliot’s mom Mary, and government investigator Keys, and gives Elliott and his siblings a foil in a nosy neighborhood kid who suspects something is up at their house. This kid never appears in the movie, which makes me wonder if he was an invention of author William Kotzwinkle, or a character and subplot excised from the screenplay before the filming commenced.
Explorers – George Gipe corrects the biggest problems with this Spielberg-Dante misfire by relegating the stuff that doesn’t work (i.e. the moment the aliens show up) to the last 30 pages, choosing to focus his retelling of the story on exploring the bonds of friendship between the titular Explorers.
The Goonies – I’m not a particular fan of 1985’s the Goonies, but the novelization is an interesting read, as it’s told almost exclusively through Mikey’s eyes, relating what happened to the Goonies gang after the events of the movie have passed. It also gives us a post-script to the story, telling readers and Goonies fans what happened to their gang of misfits after the end credits rolled.
The Last Starfighter – This mostly forgotten cult film about a young man stuck in his trailer park community only to be enlisted in an interplanetary war (don’t ask) is almost meta-textual in its portrayal of life as an 80s teen; a world of video games, dead-end jobs, and, yes, novelizations. It’s another Alan Dean Foster joint. He pops up a lot when you talk about novelizations.
Poltergeist – On paper, the story of Poltergeist is a little thin. But here author James Kahn expands on the trials of the Freeling clan, by giving almost equal footing to the paranormal investigators stories, particularly psychic Tangina Barron, whose detailed visits to the spectral plane actually precede the kidnapping of Carol-Anne, and sends her and her team on the hunt for the Freelings before the Freelings even know their daughter is in danger.
Star Wars – the George Lucas/Alan Dean Foster adaptation that kicked off the Golden Age of Movie Novelizations. Released in December 1976 (the original release date for Star Wars), it sat on shelves nearly six months before the film eventually was released to stun the world. A pretty engrossing read, but for a couple of anachronistic references to dogs and ducks (which I suppose now makes them canon in the Star Wars universe).
Willow – Wayland Drew returns with his adaptation of George Lucas’s and Ron Howard’s mushy fantasy would-be epic, applying his own high fantasy skills to the boilerplate plot, spinning off tales within tales, backstories, and histories into something that comes very close to being a classic High Fantasy.
ADDENDUM: there’s an excellent podcast called “I Read Movies” from Paxton Holley, in which he reads and compares movie novelizations to the filmed versions. Paxton really knows his stuff, is an engaging host, and an always entertaining listen. Here’s a link to his show page:
And, for more information on Novelizations, including a massive, comprehensive index of pretty much every one ever written, https://www.movienovelizations.com/ has your back covered.