Hamilton: Three Lines That Grab Me as a Writer

Spellbound Scribes

I want this poster!

Earlier this month, my mom took me to see Hamilton in Chicago as an early 40th birthday present (my birthday is in August, but we were up there for a conference). I knew it was going to be good, but I was not prepared for how much it blew me away! I could go on and on about how great the choreography and lighting were, and how much of a genius Lin Manuel Miranda is, but this is about an aspect I never anticipated…how much Hamilton touched me as a writer.

I cry at musicals. A lot. It’s because I love theater and it makes me very emotional. But there were several moments that touched me deep down as a writer and made me sob all the more, but this time, they were happy tears because I knew someone else–and Lin Manuel nonetheless–felt the same way.

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Movie vs. Book: The Haunting of Hill House

Don’t fall over from shock. I’m actually blogging rather than announcing something. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a trend. 🙂

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you likely know I have a thing for haunted houses, both in fiction and in real life. Like real haunted houses, not the fake kind that pop up around Halloween and are only good for a jump scare. No, no, I mean the old ones that have actual spirits in them. I have an aunt who for many years counted ghost hunting among her hobbies, so maybe it runs in the family.

Oddly enough, I can’t handle horror movies. I saw one in 1999 (The House on Haunted Hill remake) that scared me so much I had to leave the theater before it ended (there are reasons for that even though it is a terrible movie) and I haven’t watched one since. (Crimson Peak being the exception, but it was so bad it hardly counts as horror.)

Harlaxton Manor

However, one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies has long been the 1999 remake of The Haunting, starring Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta Jones, Owen Wilson and Lili Taylor. I will be the first to admit this movie is cheese – or at least the last third of it is. But I love it. You see, I have a special connection to it. I was fortunate to go to England for the first time in the spring of 1999 as the capstone to a class I was taking in college. We were there for two weeks and the first week we stayed at Harlaxton Manor, an old Jacobean manor house in Lincolnshire that is now used in part as the overseas campus for the University of Evansville. (It really is haunted by at least two ghosts. Ask me how I know.) That just so happens to be where The Haunting was filmed just a month before. They still had set pieces we got to see and we were allowed to fish through a pile of what they considered trash for souvenirs from the set. I got a wardrobe tag for the photo double for Nell (I checked the credits and it is authentic) and my friend got the padlock that is prominently seen in an exterior night shot when they show how the front gates are chained at night. I’ve seen every “making of” related to that movie. Sadly, only two of the interior shots (minor ones you wouldn’t even notice) and the exterior actually made it into the movie. The rest was filmed on a sound stage.

Quick plot recap for those who have not seen/read The Haunting of Hill House: Psychologist Dr. David Montague (in the book) or Marrow (in the movie) contrives to bring together a group of unsuspecting subjects (who all have some kind of psychic abilities) in order to study, well, here’s the first place where the plots diverge: in the book, it is supernatural phenomenon, but in the movie it is more the power of suggestion in supernatural phenomenon. Anyway, you get the point. He is hoping for a large group, but ends up with only two: Nell, a timid woman who up until recently has acted as caregiver for her mother (who has now died) and Theo, an obnoxious, possibly lesbian (or clearly bisexual in the movie), socialite who can be downright mean. Then there is Luke. In the book, he’s the heir to the house who is only there at the insistence of the current owners who want family present and as a possible love interest for the girls. In the movie, he’s another study participant. So they gather and are told about the history of the house and not long after supernatural things start to occur. Eventually, we are lead to question if those things are really happening or are just in the minds of the participants, especially Nell. I’ll leave it at that to avoid spoilers.

The Haunting has been adapted for screen three times: first in 1963 by Robert Wise (I’ve seen parts of this version and can say it is much better and closer to the book than the later version) and again in 1999 by Jan de Bont, then for Netflix in 2018. (I have not seen this; my friends have warned me it would be too scary for me.) If you want to see laugh out loud parity, watch Scary Movie 2, written and directly by the Wayans Brothers, which was highly based off of this movie. (Fun fact: their version of Theo was the inspiration for the physical description of Mia in Been Searching for You.)

For purposes of this blog, I’m only going to discuss the 1999 movie and the book.

The top picture is an actual interior of Harlaxton that appears in the movie. (I have the exact same picture from when I was there.) The bottom is one of the many interiors shot on a sound stage.

My thoughts on the book vs. the movie:

  • Characters – Nell is much better fleshed out character in the book. (Granted that is usually the case with film adaptations.) She has a charming, captivating imagination in the book that you can easily see devolving into madness, something totally lacking in the movie where she is just child-like. Theo is meaner in the book (sometimes unnecessarily so) and still lacks the depth of a fully-formed character, but she’s better than the vapid version in the movie. It’s like she only exists in the movie so Catherine Zeta Jones can be sexy. And Luke. *sigh* He’s a filler in both versions, but at least in the book he has a bit of a purpose as someone for Nell and Theo to fight over. In the movie, he’s just – there. Its like they felt they had to include him. One character I’m glad they axed in the movie is the doctor’s wife, who in the book is cartoonishly obnoxious, overbearing and wholly unnecessary. And why, why does each version have a different last name for the doctor? (Even different between the two movies.) Of all things to change, that is NOT important!
  • Plot – This actually follows much more closely than I expected. Most of the supernatural phenomenon are similar, at least until you get to the end of the book/movie, which I think is good. Jackson does a pretty darn good job of scaring the crap out of you, to the point where it doesn’t need to be embellished. However, the back story of the house is TOTALLY different, another completely unnecessary change from book to movie. In the book, the story is of the tragic family of Hugh Crane and his two daughters who possibly haunt the house. In the movie Hugh Crane is a coal magnate who employs slave labor and the ghosts are the children he worked to death. WHY? Why, why, why, why, why? Ugh! Throughout the book, I found bits and pieces that the movie gave a brief nod to (such as one of Crane’s wives hanging herself), but if you hadn’t read the book, they didn’t make any sense. They do now that I have read it, but it is a sign of poor film-making when you don’t weave your homages into the plot.
  • The scene from the 1999 movie where Nell’s bed attacks her.

    Setting – I’m biased here. I think Harlaxton was perfect for the movie, especially in it’s isolation and architecture, though I wish they would have used more of the actual interior in the movie. What they did design was beautiful in an odd way, but also way over the top. I would have preferred more of an old Victorian house interior, the kind of place that could give you the creeps in real life. (For what I’ve seen of the 1963 movie, they did right in that version.) There is a scene in the book where Nell fears the canopy of her bed is going to lower and suffocate her. Now the scene in the movie where Nell’s bed attacks her and cages her in makes more sense. But there is one change in scenery doesn’t make sense to me. In the book, next to the huge main doors there is a little door that goes into the library that Nell refuses to enter. For some reason, it scares the hell out of her. (I don’t think you ever find out why…or least I don’t remember it.) In the movie, when Nell finally gets up the courage to enter, it goes into a replica of her mother’s sick room. I think there is supposed to be some psychological symbolism there, but to me it is totally baffling why they didn’t keep it as a library and a totally pointless change.

  • Script – If you’ve seen the 1999 movie, even without having read the book, you will find yourself repeating “in the night, in the dark.” I was thrilled to find that phrase came from the book. Seriously, anytime anyone says “in the night,” I have to say, “in the dark,” which makes me giggle. Read it or watch the movie and you’ll see why. And the movie tagline “some houses are born bad” also comes from the book.
  • Ending – I won’t give anything away here, but I will say that the ending to both the book and movie are highly unsatisfying. The book feels like Jackson got bored with it and took the easy way out. I mean, there is sort of a motivation there, but there are other ways the same point could have been accomplished that would have been more in keeping with the plot and more satisfying for the reader. The movie, oh the movie. Let’s just say that someone was impressed with their own CGI skills. The movie actually scared the bejezzus out of me until they showed you the ghost of Hugh Crane. I am a firm believer that your imagination is way scarier than anything Hollywood dreams up to make a ghost visible. At this point, the movie devolves into a sort of morality tale that pits the evil child-killer (Crane) against the savior of their spirits (Nell) for the redemption of the house. It has a kind of similar theme to the book’s ending, but is utterly ridiculous.

(The cherubs are from the 1999 movie.)

Even for all it’s faults, the book is iconic and has spawned countless ripoffs and retellings. (For a fairly good YA version, read Lois Duncan’s Down a Dark Hall.) Jackson’s writing is likely the reason why. That woman can turn a phrase and build atmosphere like no one’s business. The movie, is…well…likely only admired by me and the director.

Have you read the book or seen any of the movie/TV adaptations? Let me know your thoughts. I’d love to discuss them in the comments.

“It is Unknown:” The Joys and Frustrations of Biography Writing

My monthly Spellbound Scribes post, this time on what I’ve learned by writing a biography.

Spellbound Scribes

Purchased from Adobe Stock.

As many of likely know by now, I’m up to my eyeballs in research for my first biography, which is on suffragist Virginia Minor and her husband, Francis. (This is actually the second biography I’ve started researching, but the other one is on the back burner at the moment for various reasons.)

I never thought I would write a biography. (Just like I never thought I’d write fiction, write non-fiction, or blog, but that is another story.) I didn’t think I was qualified. Hint: As long as you are willing to put in the work, there are no qualifications; while many professional biographers are historians or journalists, those are not the only paths. All you really need is the ability to write and a passion for research. Beyond that, there seems to be no one right way to go about it.

If I have learned…

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Two Books Advance to the Semifinals in the Cinematic Book Contest

So I thought Madame Presidentess was disqualified (because I sold the TV/movie rights), but both it and Daughter of Destiny have moved into the semifinal round of the Cinematic Book contest. *shrugs* Maybe it is just disqualified from winning; they are aware of rights situation.

Either way, I’m thrilled both books have advanced. Out of 1,200 original entries, we are down to 128 semi-finalists. Next up are the 10 finalists and the winner, which they say will be announced “within the next few weeks.” Keep crossing your fingers, toes, and eyes and sending good vibes this way!

Adventures in Research

Spellbound Scribes

Yes, that title is a takeoff of the 1987 movie Adventures in Babysitting. I have totally just dated myself, but high five to anyone who has seen it.

Ahem. I’m currently working on several non-fiction book proposals (two books on women’s suffrage in the U.S. and a biography) and so I’ve been doing a lot of research. Today I thought I’d share some of the cooler experiences this has brought about.

One thing you need to know first is that one of my all-time favorite books is A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. It takes place in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and the main character, Diana, is an academic researcher.

From the TV version of A Discovery of Witches, which premieres today in the U.S. This is Diana in the Bodleian (yes, it really looks like that). Note the clear plastic book cradle and the white cord-like…

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Looking Back on 2018/Word of the Year and Goals for 2019

It’s that time again. The one day a year I look back on my goals and laugh. Here’s what I planned to do this year, with commentary on how it turned out:

  1. Get Mistress of Legend done and published. I accomplished this goal. It came out in September. I’m very happy with the way it turned out and it needed the extra time.
  2. Continue on the Rose Ferron biography, which I’m hoping to have done by late summer. I did get a fair amount of work done on this, but it got put on the back burner after that conference got canceled in June, which also canceled my archival trip. I’ll pick this back up again eventually, but I don’t know when.
  3. Research and start writing two WWII books that I’d like to get traditionally published. I tried to start on this after Mistress of Legend came out but my brain wasn’t having it. It wanted me to work on another project, which I’ve since made great strides on.
  4. Research the feminism book I’d love to have out by August 2019 (I doubt it will be ready by then). This project changed scope. It was originally the history of feminism in the U.S. book (which I do still want to do), but it morphed into a book on the suffrage movement that I’m still hoping to have out by August 2020 (the centennial of women getting the right to vote in the U.S.)

2019 Word of the Year and Goals
I was originally going to keep my word from last year (Leap), but I realized it doesn’t really fit anymore. It didn’t end up working out the way I thought it would, but it was still an appropriate word for 2018.

For 2019, I’ve chosen Prosper. I’ve had a heck of a 2018, especially toward the end, so I’m hoping this word will keep the good things coming and build on what 2018 started. I also think it is fitting because I’ve put in years of hard work (since 2008 with writing and since August 2015 with publishing) and it’s time to see them pay off.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I will take it easy in 2019. No-siree-bob. I don’t know how to take it easy. Writing-wise, this seems like it will be a non-fiction year for me, but you never know what may crop up.

  1. Finish the proposal for, successfully pitch and sell a book I’m co-writing with another author. This is the non-fiction on the suffrage movement I mentioned above.
  2. Finish the proposal for, successfully pitch and sell another book on the suffrage movement (different angle from above) I’m working on.
  3. Write both of these books by their deadlines (I’m hoping both will be traditionally published by August 2020).
  4. Finish the biography I’m working on (not Rose, someone else) and sell it.
  5. Attend three conferences and have successful speaking engagements at the ones I’m booked at.
  6. Possibly work on either Isolde or the gothic fiction book I’m planning.
  7. Keep up to date on the progress of Madame Presidentess as it makes its way toward becoming a TV show or movie.

I’ll release details on all the books mentioned above when I can. The two suffrage books and the biography will also help shape a book on St. Louis’ role in the suffrage movement that I have planned for the future. I may be suffraged and non-fictioned out by the end of 2019, but I LOVE research so this will be a fun year.

Tangled Lights and Silent Nights: A Holiday Anthology

Tangled Lights and Silent Nights: A Holiday Anthology

Wonder
This holiday season, twenty talented, award-winning, and bestselling authors have crafted never before released Yuletide-themed tales about their most beloved characters.

Magic
From murder to magic, love to loss, the past and the future, this multi-genre collection of poems and stories has something for everyone.

Charity
In the spirit of giving, the authors have generously opted to donate all profits to The LifeAfter—Visions of Hope Project, whose passion is to shatter the stigma and spread awareness to three taboo topics that underscore society today: Suicide, Substance Abuse, and Domestic Violence.

Nicole Evelina’s story:

A Vanderbilt Christmas 
A companion story to the award-winning novel Madame Presidentess.

In 1872, Victoria Woodhull made history by becoming the first woman to run for president of the United States. But four years earlier she was still struggling to overcome her shameful past and establish herself in New York’s high society. She has finally secured an entre into that glittering world by way of an invitation to Christmas Eve dinner at the home of railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. But when her uncouth family crashes the party and threatens to send her social status spiraling, it will take a Christmas miracle to recover her reputation and keep her dreams on track.

Buy now:

amazon-logo-icon (ebook)  amazon-logo-icon (paperback) nook-icon-150x150 KoboIconWeb ibooks_icon

https://books2read.com/TangledLights  (includes international links)

Add it to your TBR shelf on Goodreads:

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Want a sneak peek into my brain for this story? Check out the Pinterest board I created while writing it.

Interview with Nicole Evelina About Her New Book “Mistress of Legend: Guinevere’s Tale, Book Three”

CHILDREN OF ARTHUR

I’m pleased to welcome back Nicole Evelina, author of the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy. Nicole has been a guest here in the past when I interviewed her about her previous books in the series, Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen. Reviews of those books and my previous interviews with Nicole can all be found here at ChildrenofArthur.com. Before we get into today’s interview, here’s a little background information about Nicole.

Nicole Evelina, author of the Guinevere trilogy

Nicole Evelina has spent the last nineteen years researching the Arthurian legend, Celtic Britain, and the various peoples, cultures, and religious practices that shaped the country after the withdrawal of Rome.

Nicole holds a BA in English and an MA in media communications. Her previous novels have won multiple awards, including two Book of the Year designations and the North Street Book Prize. Her non-Arthurian works include Madame Presidentess, a historical novel…

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Nicole Evelina’s Guinevere Trilogy Comes to Gripping and Gorgeous End

CHILDREN OF ARTHUR

If you only read one new Arthurian novel this year, make it Mistress of Legend by Nicole Evelina. Of course, since it’s the third in a trilogy, you may first want to read Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen. But what makes this novel stand out, besides Evelina’s wonderful writing abilities, is that it tells Guinevere’s story after the Battle of Camlann.

Mistress of Legend tells a new story of what happened to Guinevere after Arthur’s passing.

The novel opens right after Lancelot has rescued Guinevere from being burnt at the stake. Warning, there will be some spoiler alerts here, but I won’t give away the big stuff. Guinevere and Lancelot are pursued, and Guinevere is told she is pardoned and can return to Camelot. When she returns, she learns that Arthur had been poisoned so that he would not be in his right mind and aware of the…

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