Debut Author Interview: Felicia Grossman

Meet Felicia Grossman, author of the historical romance Appetites & Vices, which releases today from Carina Press

Felicia Grossman wanted to write stories ever since her father read her Treasure Island when she was four years old. The Delaware native never lost her love of words, earning both an English degree and a law degree. Felicia now lives in the northern part of the country with her spouse, children, and dogs. When not writing, she can be found eating pastries or belting showtunes in her living room.

Welcome, Felicia!

Tell us about your book.

Appetites & Vices tells the story of Ursula Nunes, the least popular Jewish heiress in 1840s Delaware, and Jay Truitt, a recovering opium addict hiding behind his rich playboy persona. What starts as a faux engagement to help Ursula’s social standing turns into actual love. The novel follows Jay’s struggle build a new life and Ursula’s struggles to fit into both Jewish and Gentile society, while discovering that everything is a little easier with a partner. The book explores of the difficulties of American Jewish identity, addiction, and interfaith romance.

Where did you get the idea?
Appetites is a faux engagement story and I love that trope (romance is all about the tropes). And I really, really, really wanted to write a heroine in a historical romance that could’ve been my ancestor (there’s no British nobility in my blood, I promise), who got to have a really big character arc because why should the heroes have all the fun screwing things up?

Tell us about your favorite character. 
Let’s be real, I usually put a little bit of myself in all my characters, especially my heroines, but there’s a TON of younger me in Urs. A lot of embarrassing things that I look back on and cringe, and a lot of the good stuff as well. Urs is spoiled, indignant, high-tempered, impetuous, pushy, bossy, and socially-awkward, but she’s smart, loyal, brave, determined, and ultimately very kind. She values fairness and justice and may say the wrong thing, but would never “punch” (or throw) down.

How long did you take to write this book?
I started writing Appetites in August of 2017. My heroine was originally a grandmother in a book I was querying so I gave her a backstory for fun. I finished editing around November of 2017 and did some initial test queries/pitching in December #pitmad. I really queried in February of 2018 and got an agent through a #kisspitch like. Appetites sold in July of 2018 so it’s been really fast.

What kind of research did you do for this book?
It’s historical so a ton of research. It’s set in my area of the country (Delaware and Philadelphia)—where I grew-up—just a few centuries earlier—so I kind of knew where to go, i.e., Rebecca Gratz’s letters and writings as well as Winterthur Museum and Gardens, etc.

What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why? 
I love editing, especially big edits. It feels like spring cleaning and because you are finally molding your clay. Drafting is throwing the clay down on the wheel, editing is where the fun begins.

Can you share your writing routine? 
I’m a mom and I have a full-time day job so I write whenever I can. In hallways, when the kids go to bed, anywhere and everywhere.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You only grow and change if you learn and you can’t learn what you don’t know.

Which book influenced you the most?
One? I have to pick just one? I always I’m historical romance with a bit of a Jewish humorous women’s fiction voice. Like Joanna Shupe, Alyssa Cole, Beverly Jenkins, and Elizabeth Hoyt have been huge romance influences, while Nora Ephron, Susan Isaacs, and Jennifer Weiner have been huge voice inspirations. I read Heartburn when I was like ten and it was totally inappropriate but it also changed my life because I understood the tone, the humor, and the dynamics.

What are you working on right now?
Appetites & Vices has a sequel called Dalliances & Devotion coming out in August, so there are edits there. I’m also drafting something entirely new, but still American now, and there’s a Regency I’m editing.

Thanks for chatting, Felicia! We wish you success with your debut!

Debut Author Interview: Megan Collins

Meet Megan Collins
Megan Collins holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Boston University. She has taught creative writing at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts and Central Connecticut State University, and she is the managing editor of 3Elements Review. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, her work has appeared in many print and online journals, including Off the CoastSpillway, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Rattle. She lives in Connecticut.

Megan is the author of The Winter Sister, out today!

The Winter Sister opens sixteen years ago, when Sylvie’s sister Persephone didn’t come home. Out too late with the boyfriend she was forbidden from seeing, Persephone was missing for three days before her body was found—and all these years later, her murder remains unsolved. Now, in the present day, Sylvie reluctantly returns home to care for her estranged, alcoholic mother undergoing cancer treatment, and finally begins to uncover the truth behind what happened to Persephone.

Here’s the first paragraph:
“When they found my sister’s body, the flyers we’d hung around town were still crisp against the telephone poles. The search party still had land to scour; the batteries in their flashlights still held a charge. Persephone had been missing for less than seventy-two hours when a jogger caught a glimpse of her red coat through the snow, but by then, my mother had already become a stranger to me.”

Let’s get to know Megan and her debut novel!

Where did you get the idea for The Winter Sister?
The Winter Sister is inspired by the Greek myth of Persephone and Demeter, which has always been my favorite myth because of the many ways in which it can be read—as a story of motherhood, a story of what happens when we refuse to let go of grief, or a story about the effects of trauma. The idea for this book came to me when I wondered what would have happened if Demeter had had another daughter, if Persephone had had a sister, who was left to navigate her childhood in the wake of her mother’s neglect and rage and unending grief over Persephone’s disappearance. Sylvie, the narrator of The Winter Sister, is my answer to that question.

No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.
Art plays a big role in this book. After her sister is murdered, Sylvie spends all of her free time painting, almost to the point of obsession, and by the time we meet her as an adult, she’s working as a tattoo artist. But art is not therapeutic to her; instead, it’s tied to a pivotal experience from her past, one that continues to cripple her with guilt and shame.

Tell us about your favorite character.
For me, Sylvie’s mother Annie is the most compelling. In a lot of ways, she’s a terrible mother, having basically abandoned that role altogether after Persephone was murdered. But deep in her core is a lot of love and guilt that have essentially left her paralyzed, unable to move on. And though I would never want to be like her, I sympathize with the trauma she’s endured. I understand how easy it can be to lose yourself to that pain.

If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?
I would take Sylvie out on a self-care day because she’s gone through so much and definitely needs it. We’d eat giant cinnamon buns for breakfast, go see a funny movie, get massages, order some delicious takeout, and then binge-watch a riveting TV series for the rest of the day, pausing only to cuddle with my golden retriever Maisy (who clearly has to come, too).

Are your character based on real people or do they come from your imagination?
While none of my characters are based directly on anyone real, I’m certain that each one has qualities borrowed from people I’ve known. It’s impossible to write in a vacuum, so real life always slips in, whether it’s through a character’s background, a gesture, or a particular way of speaking.

How long did you take to write this book?
It was about two years from the initial outlining of this book to the final revision I made with my agent before it was sent out on submission. But during that time, I took nearly a year-long break, as I got stuck for a while and chose to focus on revising another project instead.

What kind of research did you do for this book?
In a way, I feel like I’ve been researching this book for half my life, ever since I first heard the myth of Persephone, and in all the years since, whenever I’ve re-read it, taught it, or devoured any reimagining or adaptation of it I could find.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m definitely a plotter. In my non-writing life, I like to plan things out and know as much about what’s coming as possible, so it makes sense that when it comes time for me to draft a novel, I want detailed outlines to help me find my way.

What is your favorite part of your writing process?
My favorite part of the writing process is the physical feeling I get in my body when the lines and sentences are flowing particularly well. It’s something I feel in my arms, in my legs—a sensation in my veins, as if my blood is sparkling. It sounds a little crazy when I say it like that, but I’m willing to bet that there are a lot of other writers who know exactly what I mean.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process?
The most challenging part of the process is when you know there’s a problem in what you’ve written—a consistency issue, a lack of clarity, a need for a better transition, etc.—but the solution eludes you. It can be incredibly frustrating to keep staring at the section that’s giving you trouble, believing that you’ll never write your way out of it. On a positive note, though, once you do find the answer to the problem, it’s incredibly rewarding and you get to feel like a superhero for a second.

Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?
I have a rule for myself that I’m not always great at following: when you’re going through writer’s block, be kind to yourself. Writer’s block happens, and it’s not because you’re a bad writer; it’s because your brain needs to recharge. Take writer’s block as an opportunity to read voraciously, so that when you do come back to the blank page, your mind is stimulated and, hopefully, churning with fresh ideas.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
“You WILL write a novel. You WILL get published. Stop worrying so much about what might NOT happen for you before you even get the words on the page. Write that story. Write those poems. And just enjoy the process.”

Do you have any writing quirks?
I’m a huge over-user of em-dashes—and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. In addition to being elegant, they offer a sense of pause that’s far superior, in my mind, to the comma, semi-colon, and ellipsis.

Tell us about yourself.
I have the immense privilege of teaching creative writing to high school students at an arts magnet school in Hartford, Connecticut. I’m also the managing editor of the literary journal 3Elements Review. When I’m not writing, reading, or teaching, I’m hanging out with my husband, Marc, and our golden retriever, Maisy.

How did you get into writing?
I caught the writing bug when I was six years old and wrote my very first story, “The Bad Cats.” From that day on, I knew there was no other path my life could take; I was going to be an author.

Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?
Over the past ten years, I’ve divided my time between writing novels and writing poetry. In fact, my MFA is in poetry, and I’ve published a number of poems in literary journals since graduating from Boston University’s creative writing program in 2008. I love fiction and poetry equally, and I don’t think I would be the writer I am today without the training I received in each.

Share something about you most people probably don’t know.
I’m obsessed with tiny things. I have a collection of miniature items, including a mini typewriter, mini bookshelf, and mini books! Some other favorites from my collection are my tiny cash register, shopping cart, and banker’s lamp.

Which book influenced you the most?
The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath. Before I first read Sylvia Plath in my early teens, I was writing pretty terrible poems filled with a lot of abstracts and clichés, but as soon as I saw how Plath crafted images and made universal emotions or experiences feel completely new, I was changed forever. I didn’t have the opportunity to take any creative writing classes until I was in college, so as a teenager, Sylvia Plath was my teacher.

What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a new novel. Like The Winter Sister, it’s about a woman haunted by her past who has to navigate some dysfunctional familial dynamics in search of a long-buried truth—but the similarities end there.

Where can we find you?
Website: www.megancollins.com
Facebook: facebook.com/megancollinswriter
Twitter: @ImMeganCollins
Instagram: @megancollinswriter
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18280418.Megan_Collins

Debut Author Interview: Danielle Haas

Meet Danielle Haas, author of the romantic suspense novel Bound by Danger, which releases today from Entangled

Danielle Haas grew up with a love of reading, partly due to her namesake—Danielle Steele. It seemed as though she was born to write out the same love stories she devoured while growing up.

She attended Bowling Green State University with a dream of studying creative writing, but the thought of sharing her work in front of a group of strangers was enough to make her change her major to Political Science.

After college she moved across the state of Ohio with her soon-to-be husband. Once they married and had babies, she decided to stay home and raise her children. Some days her sanity slipped further across the line to crazy town so she decided to brush off her rusty writing chops and see what happened.

Danielle now spends her days running kids around, playing with her beloved dog, and typing as fast as she can to get the stories in her head written down. She loves to write contemporary romance with relatable characters that make her readers’ hearts happy, as well as fast-paced romantic suspense that leaves them on the edge of their seats. Her story ideas are as varied and unpredictable as her everyday life.

Welcome, Danielle!

Tell us about your book.

Special Agent Graham Grassi is on a quest to stop a sex-trafficking ring from infiltrating Chicago. His path keeps crossing with sexy redhead, Mickey O’Shay. The stakes raise higher when Mickey’s goddaughter is taken, and her connections to the case leave Graham wondering if she’s just another victim in a sick game, or if she knows more than she’s letting on. Together, they race against time to unravel a web of deception before it’s too late.

Where did you get the idea?
My initial idea sprang from wondering what would happen if a flight attendant had a blind date with a man she’d already met…a man she’d just told to stop trying to join the mile high club on a flight she worked. Then I realized this wasn’t very heroic behavior, and I had to figure out what situation could he possibly be in to take him from sleazy to dreamy. Of course NONE of this made the final version, but it led me to a great story I never expected to tell.

No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.
Although Mickey and Graham are in a high-stakes emotional situation, they still have a lot of witty banter between them. Graham even serenades Mickey—with a horrible singing voice—to one of my favorite songs by Journey.

What kind of research did you do for this book?
I did a lot of research into sex-trafficking. It was horrific! But it opened my eyes to this dark world that exists everywhere and I now have a passion for advocating against. I even ran my first 5k in support of raising money to help victims of sex-trafficking.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?
The most challenging part is just finding the time to sit down and write, and not feel guilty about doing so. I’m a stay-at-home mom and my son isn’t in school yet. It’s hard to balance.

Can you share your writing routine?
I normally write at my desk or at the island in my kitchen. I work better in the morning, so after I get my daughter on the school bus I give my son time to do his own thing (TV, Kindle, Puzzles, Play-doh) and I work on getting in my word count. My brain shuts off around 5:00 and it’s tough for me to get back into my writing at that point.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Be patient and find your writing tribe! The people in this community are amazing, and their support and advice have been life-changing. I wish I would have known they were out there sooner.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have three unpublished manuscripts that are all under contract. One will be out this year, the other two will follow shortly. I also have two unpublished/uncontracted manuscripts out on submission.

How did you get into writing?
I’ve always loved writing. When my son was 6 months old, I thought I was going to go stir crazy with only focusing on my children and husband. I decided to sit down and try to write a book based off my hometown and I fell in love with writing! That book, a small-town contemporary romance, will be published later this year!

Share something about you most people probably don’t know.
I changed my major in college seven times! I started in creative writing, but the idea of having to read my work in front of other people scared me so bad I just keep changing majors and looking for something else I’d love to do.

What are you working on right now?
I just finished another romantic suspense, which is book two of a three book series. Each book focuses on a crime where a dating app is used by the villain/and or suspects in the novels.

What’s your favorite writing advice?
Keep writing, keep learning, and have an open mind. After I finished my first manuscript, I thought it was the best thing ever…until my paths crossed with my now critique partner who pointed out everything I did wrong! Instead of being defensive and offended, I listened to her wonderful advice and used it to improve my writing. I still do this daily!

Where can we find your book?
Amazon
Apple
Kobo
Nook

Where can we find you?
Website
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Pinterest
Goodreads

Thanks for chatting, Danielle! We wish you success with your debut!

Polar Vortex Redux

It’s finally winter. Really and truly winter. We’ve gotten around 6 inches of snow today in Lansing, Michigan, give or take, and expect a little more tomorrow. Starting Tuesday night and running through Thursday morning we are set to have wind chills down to around 40 below zero, with some Midwest cities likely to be colder than Antarctica and frostbite possible on exposed skin in as little as 5-10 minutes.

So yeah. Winter finally made an appearance.

You know what else was late in coming? Last week’s episode of Your Face Is Crooked. I blame it on tech issues, followed by severe illness for a couple days, and then the need to recover and catch-up on work and home stuff. Oh, and throw in another book event as well!

At any rate, just like winter arrived today, so has the next episode, in which I am made to look the fool because I didn’t know anything about alcohol until I was in my late thirties.

Enjoy!

Erin-Rah: Viewer with a Thousand Criticisms

I’ve been trying to find the time during this busy book-release month to weigh in on the new Netflix/BBC 4-part miniseries adapting Richard Adams’ Watership Down. To put it mildly, it’s been a bit difficult to find the mental and temporal space to do so. But as a lifelong devotee of the book, a fan of the 1978 animated adaptation, and an ardent admirer of the considerable acting chops of James McAvoy, I felt compelled to try.

Let me preface my (many) comments about the production with this: I have been excited about a new adaptation of my favorite book coming out since I first heard about it, which must have been about three years ago now. So I went into it wanting to love it. But the actual experience of watching it left me…wanting.

It’s been hard for me to put my finger on exactly what about it disappointed me. It wasn’t so bad that I would decry it on social media and encourage people to pretend it never happened. In fact, certain aspects of it were good. But…well…let’s just break it down, shall we?

Strap in. This is a long one.

 

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The Performances

James McAvoy was a marvelous Hazel, which I think is a harder role to pull off than the more “character-y” roles, like the brash Bigwig, the clever Blackberry, the winsome Dandelion, the irrepressible Bluebell. Hazel is actually a fairly flat character in the book. He is steady and deliberate, but he’s not funny or ironic or dangerous or even rather memorable. He is the kind of leader you want and need, especially on a dangerous quest where others are apt to lose their heads, but he is certainly not the kind of leader that could get elected today. He is all substance and no flash.

And yet, McAvoy voices him in a dynamic way, showing emotions I don’t think the 1978 adaption managed to do. This comes as no surprise to me. I was an admirer of McAvoy’s talents before I saw Split, which seems to be why everyone suddenly knows who he is. I’d first seen him in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as Mr. Tumnus and loved his performance (more on that later). Viewings of Becoming Jane and Atonement made me seek out everything he’d ever done. He is superb in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her (I haven’t seen the combined version, Them) and The Last King of Scotland. He is utterly unnerving and disturbing in Filth and Split. He is charming and winsome in Arthur Christmas and Gnomeo and Juliet. And here he does a nice job with Hazel.

Other actors turned in their own good performances, including John Boyega as Bigwig and Sir Ben Kingsley as Woundwort, even if it was hard to keep from comparing them to the voices of character actors Michael Graham Cox and Harry Andrews from the 1978 version, which I have probably watched thirty or forty times, or even the voices in the abridged audio book I had when I was young and somehow lost along the way. And absolutely no one could voice Kehaar quite like Zero Mostel did, so Peter Capaldi, charming as he was with his Scottish brogue, had no chance of pleasing me, especially since the miniseries script failed to include most of Kehaar’s best lines (like “Piss off!” and other more…colorful language).

Aside: Diminishing Kehaar’s lines and screen time meant that one of the best relationships in the book (and the 1978 film), that of Bigwig and Kehaar, is lost to the viewer of the 2018 miniseries. And that is such a shame.

The tricky thing with playing characters that have already been played by others, of course, is making them your own at the same time you are attempting to please devotees of an older version. It’s a terrible tightrope to walk. It’s Barbara Streisand’s Dolly versus Carol Channing’s Dolly. It’s Matthew Macfadyen’s Darcy versus Colin Firth’s Darcy. It’s Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby versus Robert Redford’s Gatsby (well, really there’s no contest there because the new Gatsby movie wins on any count of comparison).

Every new adaptation of a novel, every revival of a musical, every adaption of a movie to a stage play or vice versa must navigate that tricky territory. And it’s impossible to please everyone.

But here is the real test of these performances: what voice will I hear the next time I read the book? In every case, with the possible exception of Hazel, it will be those original 1978 performers.

So then, if it wasn’t the performances that bothered me, what did?

 

WHAT WENT WRONG

CGI That Often Looked Like It Was 5-10 Years Out-of-Date…or More

Consider this: The newest adaptation of C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was made in 2005. Fourteen years ago! And yet, go back and watch it and the special effects—including James McAvoy’s hairy goat legs—look real. Aslan looks real. He moves like a real lion.

Compare that to the CGI of Watership Down 2018. Yes, some scenes look pretty good. Close-ups look good. Immediate surroundings—dirt or grass or buildings, even bird poop—look good. But take a closer look at the movement of these rabbits and you see that the animators didn’t quite capture the realism they were reaching for. Take a look at the dog from the farm…

and you may be forgiven for thinking more of this…

 

Image result for dog from over the hedge

than this…

Related image

 

General Artistry: Animation

One of the most marvelous things about the 1978 animated adaptation of Watership Down was the art.

The English countryside Adams loved and fought to preserve from development came to life in this watercolor world.

It’s simply gorgeous.

Even when it is disturbing.

In contrast, the mediocre CGI of the new miniseries seems so concerned with making individual strands of fur distinct or plants look photo-real that it often forgets to make them feel alive, as if they are part of a vast tapestry of beautiful country. There is too much in focus at once and definitely not enough shadow:

 

General Artistry: Score

The soundscape of a film is probably one of the most important tools employed to convey how we as an audience should feel—pensive, fearful, agitated, frantic, triumphant, terrified—and one of the most overlooked by us as casual moviegoers. If it’s doing its job, you may not even notice it. If it’s not, you may feel that something is not quite right but at the same time find it hard to put your finger on why.

Setting aside the 1978 movie’s featured song, “Bright Eyes,” written by Mike Batt and performed evocatively by Art Garfunkel, consider the movie’s score, most of which was composed by Angela Morley (though Malcolm Williamson composed the score for the prologue and the main title). Set similar scenes side by side—the crows in the churchyard, Bigwig caught in the snare, the escape from Woundwort, the deliverance of the Watership rabbits by the dog—and you will see a marked difference.

The 1978 score is like a symphony in itself, something you would gladly listen to apart from the movie. It is memorable. It gets in your head and inside your guts and alternately ties you all up or releases you. The score for the 2018 version? Even though surely the same theme was played at the beginning and end of each episode, I don’t remember it at all. Nothing to get stuck in your head.

And lest you protest that I’ve only watch the 2018 version once through and I have already admitted to watching the 1978 version thirty or forty times, think of every time you left a movie theater humming or whistling a musical theme from the movie you just saw for the first time.

 

Pacing

Watership Down 1978 is 91 minutes long, which includes the rather long introductory sequence of the rabbits’ creation myth, a number of rather leisurely connecting shots of the rabbits getting from place to place, and the end credits, of course.

Watership Down 2018 is more than twice as long, with four episodes of about 50 minutes each. Despite this, the filmmakers did not manage to restore any scenes from the book that didn’t make it into the 1978 movie (more frequently they lost scenes from that much shorter movie). Some scenes they made longer, such as the attack of the crows or the raid at the farm. In all cases that I can recall, the extra length added nothing but perhaps some more footage of rabbits running around. Some scenes they invented, including a number that happened in Efrafa, though they could have simply put in more from the book.

What this all added up to was a discernable feeling of hesitation, of tripping over one’s own feet. Think of the numbers alone. The 2018 filmmakers didn’t manage to tell you anything more in 200 minutes than the 1978 filmmakers told you in 90. And quite possibly they told you less. As an editor, this bothered me.

But not nearly so much as…

 

Needless Deviations from the Source Material

I realize and celebrate that we are in an age of female empowerment and more a robust female presence in the arts, which has been manifesting itself lately in lots of tough female heroes and female-led reboots. I got teary watching all those powerful women training and battling in Themyscira in Wonder Woman as it dawned on me that I had never, ever seen that many self-sufficient, self-reliant, and strong women on a screen at once—and without any men on screen for long periods of time. When I realized that I was watching a woman being positioned as the Universal Character rather than the sidekick, the love interest, or the antagonist, I felt the release of a tension I didn’t know was living deep inside of me. It felt like an enormous step forward, and I joyfully imagine the young girls growing up today with all of these strong role models in their lives.

However…

Watership Down is a story about rabbits. Rabbits are animals, and it is clear that Richard Adams patterned his story around rabbits’ actual habits and roles in rabbit society. The book opens in spring—”The primroses were over…”—when the female rabbits, the does, have litters they are tending to.  Therefore, the hlessil, the adventurers who strike out on their own, are naturally mostly bucks. In the book, one very young doe without a litter, Violet, accompanies them, but gets caught and killed by a hawk when she ventures out of the cover of the bean field to eat. (You can see that moment at about minute 2:30 of this delightful video someone made of some of the most violent moments of that original film, rated U in the UK and PG in the US—WARNING: GRAPHIC). At that point, there are no does until the raid on Nuthanger farm, during which two does escape—Clover and Haystack—along with one buck—Laurel.

Strawberry from Cowslip’s warren is not a doe. But in the Netflix miniseries, he is. This allows the filmmakers to invent an amusing back-and-forth rivalry for her affections between Hawkbit and Dandelion, which is not in the book, at the same time it shoehorns another female speaking role in there. (Note that Strawberry does not appear in the 1978 film, one of those roles cut for sake of length and complexity.)

Image result for watership down black rabbit

The Black Rabbit of Inle is not a female, but the sex of this character doesn’t make much of a difference in the long run, so making her female in the 2018 version doesn’t really bother me much. (Note: there is some beautiful and nightmarish fan art of the Black Rabbit out there in case you are interested.)

Image result for hazel and clover watership

 

Clover, the hutch rabbit, is given a far bigger role than in the book (including, inexplicably, ending up in Efrafa, along with other Watership rabbits who were never captured).

She even usurps Fiver’s position as the one who finds Hazel in the culvert after he’s been shot by the farmer.

This hey-let’s-give-the-female-a-bigger-better-role move really bothered me. Because it wasn’t just sticking a female in where it wouldn’t have mattered one way or the other, simply changing out a male for a female, like in Strawberry’s case. This changed the meaning of important scenes significantly.

The very meaningful connection we see built between the brothers Hazel and Fiver is replaced with a romantic connection that is not only a needless deviation from the book which wastes a fair amount of screen time in the 2018 version, it also imposes human emotion (romance) where Richard Adams had allowed only for the very basic animal drive to continue the species. The rabbits in the book are never falling in love. They are concerned with survival. They are driven by instinct and limited by their small understanding of the world in which they live.

Image result for hazel and clover watership

Interestingly, the 2018 filmmakers strip from Efrafan doe Hyzenthlay (who is a smart, poised, courageous female dissident in the book and 1978 film, reduced to a mere ineffectual rabble-rouser in 2018) her vision of the rabbit in the hrududu (car) and give that vision to Fiver. I suppose they were thinking that viewers might be confused if two rabbits possessed a kind of second sight? And then—then!—who is it that rides in the hrududu in the end? Not Hazel, as it should have been, as it could only be as their smart, fearless, self-sacrificial leader who will take on mythical status in the future, but Fiver.

Why? Because for some unfathomable reason, the 2018 filmmakers thought it ought to be Fiver chewing through the dog’s rope (and even gave him new vision involving ropes) and getting caught by the cat rather than Hazel.

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It is Hazel who had the idea of chewing through the rope in the book (and the 1978 movie) because in a trancelike state Fiver repeated something Bigwig had said way, way back at the beginning of their adventure about a dog being loose in the woods, which is their impetus to cross the River Enborne, a scene that sets up a vital scene later in the story (which the 2018 version cuts).

The original line about the dog is also lost because the 2018 version cut that scene out, turning their flight across the River Enborne from a necessity to get away from a dog to getting away from Holly and the Sandleford Owsla, who were hot on their heels (despite never being that close to them in the book after the one confrontation with Bigwig).

So then we have Hazel, who can barely hop out to attempt to negotiate with Woundwort because he’d been shot just a couple days earlier, cast as one of the rabbits tasked with leading the dog away from the farm and up the downs to surprise the attacking Efrafans. Excuse me? What? Who thought that made any sense?

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This should have been the fastest rabbits—Dandelion, Blackberry, and Hyzenthlay (there’s your actual big, important female role!)—but in this new version, not only is one of the rabbits lame because of a gunshot wound, one of them—Blackavar—is barely alive because of his harsh treatment at the hands of the Efrafan Owsla. Using Blackavar to draw the dog is not only the most implausible choice possible, it strips him of the triumphant and symbolic moment of sacrificing his life by standing up to Woundwort during the siege of the warren. (BTW, listen to the score in that clip I just linked to. Fantastic.)

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Dandelion, who is the fastest rabbit of all and the storyteller (storyteller role given to Bluebell for some bizarre reason in this version) is busy “guarding” an open run with Hawkbit from the Efrafans and therefore can’t take part in Hazel’s plan.

But even before the climactic scenes at the end, there are strange choices being made:

Why is there a town on the other side of the River Test?

There was no reason for it except to show a car and prompt Fiver’s stolen vision of the rabbit in the hrududu. But Fiver’s visions are never dependent on seeing something in real life first. They are just visions. (And while we’re on that subject, no, Fiver can’t just try to have visions at will like Hazel asks him to in this miniseries.)

Why did they remove the scene of how the Watership rabbits actually escaped with the Efrafan does by getting onto a boat and floating down the fast-moving River Test?

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This plan was devised after Blackberry connected it in his mind to another thing that floated at the very beginning of the story in order to get them across the smaller River Enborne when the dog is loose in the woods.

There is no explanation at all of how simply having Kehaar fly at them could possibly have stopped the hardened Efrafan Owsla under the remorseless direction of General Woundwort.

Losing this scene also means you lose additional mystique these Watership rabbits developed that spooked the Efrafans when they are trying to dig into the warren on the downs.

Even the raid on the farm is needlessly complicated, with the hutch rabbits being taken inside so that extra hijinks ensue when the Watership rabbits return to get them out.

Aren’t a dog, a cat, and a man with a shotgun enough?

I get that choices need to be made when making a film adaptation of a book. Some things will change. The 1978 movie leaves out the character of Bluebell entirely, and he brings well-placed comic relief to the 2018 version, just as he did in the book.

But if the changes being made do not enhance the story and make it work better for a modern audience, I fail to see why they should be made at all.

To my mind, the changes made in 2018 are a net loss, not a net gain. The Netflix miniseries makes this story feel less like a mythical legend passed down through generations (as it should feel, as Richard Adams clearly wrote it to feel as he gives us Hazel, the embodiment of the mythical El-Ahrairah saving his people) and more like a series of scenes of rabbits running or fighting.

 

And Watership Down is so, so much more than that.

 

Why Remake Watership Down at All?

All of this is not to say that Watership Down shouldn’t have been remade or that I’m against remakes in general or that I am blindly devoted to a childhood version of a story that was told far better in my adulthood.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is proof of that. (And proof that James McAvoy makes any film better.)

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When I saw that Watership Down was to be remade it gave me the same giddy joy that watching the first teaser trailer for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe did, which was simply a young girl walking into a room and pulling a sheet off an armoire. I was so ready for a slick, realistic, exciting CGI version to add to my Watership Down collection.  

And certainly a new generation deserves a film version of their own? After all, a forty-year-old animated film would not be the first choice for the children of today (though I will say that my son liked it).

But when you remake something that is already held in such high regard by its fans, you have to make it as magical and impactful, if not more so, than the original.

In 2005, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe did this in spades. In 2018, Watership Down did not.

A New Short Story, an Interview, and Other Podcasty Things

You may know that I have a podcast, Your Face Is Crooked, that comes out each Monday morning. Those little episodes are concise looks at some of my formative experiences and the resulting neuroses that make me me.

What you may not know is that I have recently appeared in a couple long-form podcasts this month.

The first is as a part of season 2 of Clinch: A Podcast of Fiction and Not-Fiction. Last year, Clinch started as a way for my husband, Zach, who is also a writer, to deliver a brand new YA suspense novel in serial fashion (that’s the fiction part) and to explore what went right and what went wrong in his own publishing career thus far (the not-fiction part). If you’re a writer or an aspiring writer, I highly recommend starting the Clinch podcast from the beginning. It covers indie publishing, traditional publishing, dealing with tricky relationships and ego and expectations of yourself and so much more.

Near the end of the first season, Zach brought in other writers as guests for the not-fiction portion of the podcast, and they shared their own experiences and struggles in the form of interviews. For season 2, guest writers are doing both the fiction and not-fiction portions. And that’s where my episode comes in. For the fiction part, I share a brand new short story that takes place in the same world as my second book (out in September) which you can’t get anywhere else. In the not-fiction part, I talk about where I have found validation as a writer (and where I should find it). I hope you enjoy listening to it!

 

The second podcast you can find me on is Hear Us Roar, a podcast produced by the Women’s Fiction Writers Association to highlight debut authors. In that interview, host Maggie Smith (no, not that one) and I talk about We Hope for Better Things, history, photography, research, my writing process, why I chose to tell this story at this time, and more. Click on the graphic to check it out!

First Booksigning Is in the Books

Last night was my first live event to support the launch of We Hope for Better Things.

Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was a perfect venue. Not only is it the retail arm of my publishing house, it is a fantastic space with lots of room for events like these.

I didn’t count, but I would estimate that there were around 50 people who came to listen to me jaw on about the importance of knowing our history in order to improve our future.

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There was family — my mom and dad, my aunt, my husband and son, my mother-in-law and father-in-law.

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There were dear friends — girls who were on my Little League softball team and stood in my wedding, and fellow writer-friends I met through WFWA who actually made the trip from Chicago (with two more of their friends) to surprise me (and boy I was surprised!).

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There was a sweet old lady from the church I attended in my early twenties when I lived in Grand Rapids. There were members of my publishing team and people I’d worked with for well over a decade. There were fellow writers I met through my involvement with the Breathe Writers Conference and the Capital City Writers Association.

And there were lots of people I’d never met before. Several of them grew up in Detroit during the 1960s, which is where the book is partially set. One of them actually went to the same high school as my mom did in Detroit at the same time she was there. Those who had already read it said they really enjoyed seeing their childhood come alive in the book. That was really gratifying to me because it means I not only did my research but I got it onto the page in a compelling way.

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All in all, it went well and I know I’ll be less nervous for my next event coming up on January 24th at 7:00pm at Schuler Books & Music in Okemos, MI.

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Also, I want to take a moment to point you to a new page on this website. This events page is where I will be putting information about where I will be in the future, just in case you want to connect in person. You can also find it through the media page in the header of the website, along with pages that link to reviews, interviews and articles, and resources for book clubs.

Thanks for reading!!