Newton’s Ark and Salvation

I’ve just started watching a new CBS TV series called Salvation (well it was new in the US summer, I’m streaming it now on Amazon). My wife is convinced they stole the story from my first novel, Newton’s Ark, but humanity’s salvation ≠ virtual reality, so no.

Nevertheless, I’m struck by the many parallels (MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS for both the book and the TV series):

  • A previously undetected, extinction level asteroid is discovered to be on a collision course with Earth when it’s too late to stop it
  • The US government decides to keep the asteroid secret, with the DoD at the heart of the conspiracy
  • A wealthy industrialist – James Newton in my novel, Darius Tanz, who is basically Elon Musk, in the TV series – realizes the government can’t save humanity and comes up with an escape plan, an “ark” (mine is virtual while in the TV series it’s physical)
  • The industrialist enlists the help of a young, tech savvy guy – Cyrus Jones, a programmer, in my novel, Liam Cole, an astrophysicist, in the TV series
  • A plucky female reporter – Jenny Ryan in my novel, Amanda Neel s in the TV series – realizes that the government is hiding something and sets out to expose the secret, and damn the consequences
  • The US president is overthrown and murdered…

What’s the lesson here? Perhaps that my ability to construct a story is good enough to write a major network TV series. Fortunately, with three more novels under my belt since then, my writing has improved!

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Churchill (the movie)

On a recent flight from Australia to the US I watched the movie Churchill which the logline describes thus:

96 hours before the World War II invasion of Normandy, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill struggles with his severe reservations with Operation Overlord and his increasingly marginalized role in the war effort.

An excellent performance from Brian Cox as Churchill but definitely not an action-packed blockbuster. Mostly I suspect it will appeal to history buffs like me as a worthwhile examination of a key period in history.

My recent novel Harry Seven deals (in more depth – a key advantage of novels over movies) with many of the same issues around disagreements between the American and British leaders on the best strategy for defeating Germany and British doubts about the prospects for success of an amphibious landing in northern France. On the latter note, because mine is a time travel story, I had the luxury of exploring multiple possible outcomes for D-Day and other elements of the Allied campaign.

But I made a deliberate decision not to have Churchill appear as a character in my story (other than by reference – the protagonist spends a considerable part of the story salivating at the prospect of meeting the British PM, but alas…). Churchill has been covered so extensively in film and print that I felt there was nothing original I could add. Nevertheless, several well-known historical figures are central to the story including  Eisenhower, Montgomery, and Brooke. I did a great deal of research on each of them and tried to always depict their actions, words, and personalities in a way that is consistent with the historical record.

Harry Seven Released

My latest novel, Harry Seven, is now available on Amazon (ebook only – the paperback will follow in a few weeks.) For this week only it is available at the special introductory price of 99 cents ($4.99 or equivalent after that).

As my fourth novel I’m confident it’s my best yet. I really feel like I know what I’m doing now, rather than feeling my way forward through a process of trial and error.

Buy now at:
Amazon.com Amazon.com.au Amazon.co.uk Amazon.com.ca

Harry Seven Kindle Scout Campaign

My latest novel, Harry Seven, is finally complete.

Rather than going directly to self-publishing this time, I’m trying a program called Kindle Scout which gives Amazon customers the chance to vote on books to be published under Amazon’s own imprints.

Here’s the link. Check it out and vote away. Should it be selected, I’ll get a small advance (and major encouragement to keep writing) and you’ll get a free advance copy once the publication date is set!

Movie Adaptations

I’ve read many wonderful, original stories over the years that I thought would make great movies, while Hollywood continues to churn out remakes and formulaic ‘me-too’ dross. I always wondered why.

Now I understand at least part of the reason – movie adaptations of novels are hard. There are other reasons relating to the economics of the movie industry that are important too, but let me repeat: movie adaptations of novels are hard. Really hard.

While I’m waiting for the editors to be done with their work on Harry Seven, I decided to read up on the fundamentals of writing screenplays for feature films and then apply and test what I’d learned by adapting my own novel.

I’d always thought it would be fun to try writing a screenplay, and it was (though I ought to have known better – listening to the little voice in my head saying “it might be fun to write a novel” has changed my life over the past five years.)

I expected to do some work in translating all the internal monologue into visuals and dialogue, and that didn’t prove too hard. In some ways, the ability to rely on the actors to convey emotion, and visual settings to create atmosphere was quite freeing. There’s only so many ways to describe facial expressions without feeling like you’re repeating yourself.

What I soon discovered though is that an average length novel (Harry Seven is 91,000 words or about 350 pages) will be about two to two and a half times as long as it needs to be when translated directly into a script.

(As an aside, an average screenplay is 100 to 110 pages when formatted correctly giving a rule of thumb of one page = one minute of running time. BTW – violate the screenplay formatting rules and no one in the industry will even pick up your script, let alone read it.)

What I had to do was cut the story down dramatically by eliminating many secondary characters and most of the sub-plots, so that the focus was almost exclusively on the main characters (in this case Harrison and Alicia) and their core desires.

Movies also follow a much more predictable structure (especially if you’re targeting the mass market), so even the main plot had to be simplified and reorganized. For example, some of the twists that take time to build in the novel have to be revealed much earlier in the piece to fit the standard pattern. I found that challenging at first, but I think it’s actually given me a better handle on structuring a story for any format, so much so that I’m actually considering for my next novel writing the screenplay first.

What I’ve been working on

I just realized that next month it will be two years since I released my most recent (and prize winning) novel, Cerelia’s Choice.

My diabolical plan for overnight success is to write ten novels in ten years (one a year for those bad a maths!), so where has the time gone?

For those who’ve read the first two parts of The Emulation Trilogy (Newton’s Ark and Fuller’s Mine) the good news is that some of the time has gone into making a start on Book 3 (untitled as yet). I’m about 20% done, and determined to get it finished this year.

Another big chunk of time went into helping my mother-in-law produce her memoirs / family history, No Stone Unturned. That’s the price you pay once you become a self-publishing guru. It’s definitely worth a read.

The really good news is that the other thing I’ve been doing is completing another novel, a time travel adventure romance called Harry Seven. It’s in the proof reading phase, so I hope to have it out within the next couple of months, although I’m considering some alternative paths for publishing that may delay it a little. Stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s the cover and prologue to whet your appetite:

harry-seven-cover

2015
Thursday, August 27
Princeton, New Jersey

My oversized blue door hangs open. Outside, the now familiar sight of wartime London calls. July 1945. The past, but my inescapable future.

I must go. Despite the best of intentions, all I’ve done is change the course of history for the worse. The Russian got the better of me. I’ll warn Harrison about him, and the other lessons I’ve learned. Prepare him better than my Grandpa Harry prepared me. I can’t let him fail again. I can’t fail again.

How many times have I had this same thought before?

I take one last look at my house. My grandfather’s house. It’s strange knowing I’ll see this place again, even though I won’t be coming back. I’ve done what I can to wrap up my affairs. The strangers who consider themselves my parents can take care of the rest, the things that can only be done once I’m officially declared missing.

I tense my muscles then spring into action, running as fast as I can, committed now to this course of action. Seventh time lucky I tell myself as I charge through the open door…

 

Google Ngram Viewer and Word Usage

I’m currently writing a time travel adventure story that has an American character from 2015 visiting England in 1943.

To make the voice of the characters distinctive and authentic, I not only have to capture the differences between American and English usage, but between modern American usage and 1940’s British usage.

I have found Google NGram viewer an invaluable tool in tackling this challenge. Take this graph for example, which shows that my 2015 American character will probably say “pants”, but my 1940s British character will more likely say “trousers” (but a 1940s American might use either).

Ngram