5 Books I Couldn’t Put Down

It isn’t often that I’m struck by this phenomenon: I start reading, pass a point, and I can’t stop. I literally steal every single moment to read, craving each and every word of a book. What follows are five books I’ve been addicted to.

Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs

Although the selling point for this novel is the bizarre (and authentic) photos of freaks, the book doesn’t need them. That’s how captivating the prose is. I started reading it on my Nook and eventually sneaked away from my family to finish it. It has time travel, freaks, and monsters. Who could want more? Plus it has the most realistic young romance I’ve read in years. I actually want to buy another copy in print, just to appreciate the pictures.

Uglies
by Scott Westerfeld

This book constantly circles through my head. It’s not just the premise (getting surgery at 16 to make yourself pretty) but the characters and the world is addicting. The hoverboards, the Smoke, the Specials (hyper-enhanced soldiers). I’m amazed this hasn’t made it to film yet.

 

The Wave
by Todd Strasser

This is a book I chanced upon in the bookstore, picked up, and then never put down. It concerns a high school teacher wanted to instruct his class on why Germans were swept up by the Nazi movement, so he started a propaganda campaign in his class. Soon the whole school is involved and the experiment is out of control.

 

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
by Stephen King

I’ve read this book at least six times (in print and audio). The opening line is the best: “The world had teeth and it could bite you with them anytime it wanted.” It follows a girl who gets lost in the woods and has to face the God of the Lost. She struggles to survive, her only salvation is a radio which plays the Red Sox games with her favorite pitcher, you guessed it, Tom Gordon.

 

Cirque Du Freak: A Living Nightmare
by Darren Shan

There are too darned many vampire books. Yet this one has such a vivid voice it’s addictive. I showed it to a colleague of mine who can hardly spare the time to read a comic book, and he devoured it. It’s a book build for people who don’t like to read. Addictive.

Hope you fall in love with one of these.

Tim Kane

Hunger Games: Movie vs. Novel

Often people complain that a movie is nothing like the book. Well of course. A movie unspools images whereas a book delivers content through some 70-100 words. It takes me the better part of a week to finish a book, but only two hours to see the average movie. Given the condensed medium of film, there’s no way to include everything that appears in a book. And no need to really.

There are advantages to each media. A smart filmmaker will realize this and utilize the unique qualities of film to not only condense sections of the book, but also highlight others. If you haven’t read or seen the Hunger Games book or film, you may find sections spoiled.

The movie zoomed through the opening chapters of Hunger Games at light speed. I think they did this to allow them to spend more time on the actual arena combat. Many of the thoughts that Catniss used to express backstory or her attitudes could not transfer to film. For example, her whole story about saving the cat and Prim’s love for it was condensed to a single line: “I’ll still cook you.”

One element I felt they didn’t communicate well was the matter of names and the reaping. The film established that Galen had his name in 42 times, but didn’t go into putting your name in extra times to get food. My guess is that the filmmakers felt this wasn’t as crucial and viewers would get the concept as the film went on. It certainly didn’t bother me.

Rather than put the entire backstory of Peta and the bread and Mom’s zoning out at the start, the film smartly incorporated these into tiny flashbacks. The best was during the tracker jacker delirium scene where Catniss remembered how her dad died and Mom tuned out.

The film also solved a few problems I had with the book. I noticed that Suzanne Collins was one of the screenwriters, so perhaps she took a second look at her material. First, the fact that she never mentioned the position of cameras at any time in the novel really bugged me. It go so that I couldn’t focus on the story. The film handled this with one scene. Catniss climbs a tree and a knot twists to look at her. That one moment alone told us that everything could be a camera.

Also, the novel had a conspiracy plot at the end that felt tacked on. The film provided cut-away scenes with the gamemaker and President Snow that expertly delivered this same feeling without distracting from the plot. The best part of this was the final scene with the gamemaker. The key to films is what they can deliver with a single image. The gamemaker is led to a room and locked in. A bowl with berries (the same that Catniss nearly swallowed to poison herself) were presented on a table. The message was clear. He screwed up and was expected to pay the price. This also underscored the tyranny of the Capitol’s regime.

The film added many scenes showing the gamemaker designing and running the game. This really helped me understand how the arena functioned. I liked seeing them comment on the tracker jackers as well as seeing the dogs being designed. (I didn’t miss that the dogs were former contestants as this bothered me in the book.) One of the best added scenes was the riot in District 11. I know the book was explicit about cutting the scene where Catniss added flowers to Rue’s body so that viewers wouldn’t see it. However, I liked seeing the riots in District 11 and the subsequent put down.

The last element that the film added is a technique I saw before in Green Mile: The Song. Catniss sings a song to Prim at the beginning. I knew right away this would be the same song she’d sing to Rue. It served to create an emotional connection between Catniss’s little sister, and her adopted ward, Rue, in the game.

The next time someone whines about how badly films adapt books, explain to them that a film is not a book. Stories you read and the action unfolds in your mind. The film shows you the action, so it will never match the images in you head.

Tim Kane

Steampunk Shakespeare

What if William Shakespeare had lived in Victorian times? What would he make of mechanical engines and steam-power? That’s the premise behind The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter.

I discovered this contest by happenstance, trolling through the Twitterverse. The concept so intrigued me, I had to give it a go. Truth be told, this was the hardest story I’ve ever written. I had to balance good storytelling with accuracy to the Bard’s intent (and sometimes actual lines) while incorporating stempunk elements. It’s also the work I’m most proud of to date.

My contribution to the Omnibus was The Malefaction of Tybalt’s Mechanical Armature. I set a scene of Romeo and Juliet in post Civil War America. Why hadn’t anyone else ever thought to do that? Civil War is tailor made to the sort of family rivalry integral to the Shakespeare story. There were many possibilities, yet I opted to center my tale on Tybalt. He was an escaped slave whose sister was Juliet (still on the plantation). Romeo and the Montegues were the plantation owners.

Rather than take on the whole war, I set the story in Kansas (as state with leanings toward both side in the conflict). The town is run by the Capulets, who own a mining company. He’s also adept with mechanics and has built Tybalt a mechanical arm to replace the one that was sheared off in a cotton gin accident. (Romeo was running the gin, thus fueling Tybalt’s hatred).

I was incredibly nervous when submitting this story. What if the folks a Doctor Fantastique’s Show of Wonders didn’t pick it up? Where else was I going to sell a story about a steampunk Tybalt? I couldn’t really even reslant it. It was them or nothing. Luckily, it sold and many revisions later, the tale will appear in the omnibus May 11th.

Writing this tale also helped me reimagine a manuscript I’d written (and rewritten) over five years. One agent read though it and finally passed. It had potential, yet I couldn’t stomach rewriting it another time. It was going to go into the drawer forever. That is, until I realized I could tweak the tale and set it as a steampunk tale. This not only worked, but revitalized my interest in the manuscript.

The power of the Bard shines through, even when he’s dealing with cogs and top hats. Be sure to check out The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter, for sale May 11th.

Tim Kane

 

Hiccup in the Day

I knew the final day of school was going to be hectic. I just didn’t know it would start its assault before I even got out of the house. I sat in the car, ready to head out, and the darned thing wouldn’t start. Totally dead. And this is a new car. (Relatively. Four years old.) So I’m crossing my fingers that it’s just the battery and not something worse.

Be a Word Horder and Squirrel Away Words Like Nuts

I have a box filled with words. Nearly all come from a decade-long obsession with page-a-day calendars. Each January, I purchase a new one—always a dictionary calendar with word origins. As I flip through, I squirrel away words that interest me. My recent post on Greek myth words came from said box.

The correct word in the right situation can give you power. I recall one time, years ago, when my boss was pontificating to all of us on a subject. I could tell he was making a big deal of a small thing. He had some sort of agenda about picture books and the best way to teach vocabulary. At the time, none of us would ever speak up to him. No one dared. We were all terrified.

I had finally had enough.There were things to do. More important than listen to a contrived lesson. I believe he asked us to define figurative language. So I spouted off: “It’s when the connotative meaning is different from the denotative meaning.” He didn’t know what those two words meant. (Denotative is the literal dictionary meaning and connotative is the implied or suggested meaning.) The lesson came to an abrupt halt.

I realized then how much power words can hold. Especially when people won’t challenge them.

One another time, at my writer’s meeting, one of our wordsmiths used “lubricious” in his writing. I had previously squirreled this word away, but had completely forgotten it. So I asked what it meant. There weren’t exactly giggles, but I could feel the awkwardness in the air. It was assumed that I should know. Still, I got my answer. (In this case, it carried the meaning of: intending to arouse desire.)

Sure it’s embarrassing to ask what a word means. It shows that you don’t know. But what’s worse, wallowing in ignorance, or simply asking? I advise this to my students every day. Ask the “dumb” questions. It’s a guarantee that many other people wanted to ask the question, but didn’t have the guts to come out and say it.

Tim Kane