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On Writing

Filtering by Tag: Memortality

"Memortality," the movie: Hypothetical casting call

Stephen H. Provost

No one has signed up to make a movie about Memortality (at least not yet!), but authors are often asked whom they’d choose to play various roles if someone requested film rights.

Daisy Ridley

Daisy Ridley

As a movie buff, I thought it would be fun to cast a hypothetical Memortality feature film. The result would be so far over budget it would likely never get made because I chose a lot of big-budget stars. Not to mention the fact that many of them probably wouldn’t be the right age anymore by the time such a hypothetical film got made.

But who cares? As I said, it’s hypothetical, so why not have fun with it? Here are my choices as of May 2017. Feel free to chime in with your own suggestions.

Minerva: Not only does she look like the Minerva I envisioned, but Daisy Ridley’s performance as Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens went a long way toward Minerva’s toughness and determination.

Raven: This one was perhaps the hardest for me. I envision someone who’s heroic but vulnerable who can play off Minerva’s character well. I don’t see a Hollywood “hunk” in the role. A couple of possibilities occurred to me: Logan Lerman, who played Percy Jackson, and Eddie Redmayne from Fantastic Beasts. I’m definitely open to suggestions on this one, though, as long as they don’t include Robert Pattison (who’s too old now, anyway) or Channing Tatum.

Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackman

Carson: The actor I really want for this, Liam Neeson, is probably a tad long in the tooth, but otherwise, I think he’d be great in the role. He’s got the whole intense-but-wounded-and-refusing-to-show-it thing down pat, which is what Carson’s all about. Given Neeson’s age, I’d probably go with Hugh Jackman, Gerard Butler or Russell Crowe. Jackman's Wolverine remains the definitive X-Men character, and since Minerva and Raven are similar to mutants, casting Jackman in the role just seems to make sense. But I think they’d all be great. I can just picture Butler shouting, "This is Los Angeles!" Well, maybe not. But Crowe's "What we do in life echoes in eternity," would fit nicely.

Jules: Scarlet Johansson, in her red-haired incarnation, came to mind here, largely based on her portrayal of Black Widow in the Avengers series. She’s knows how to play dangerous and volatile. I think she’d be perfect.

Josef: Christoph Waltz. If you’ve seen this guy’s performances in Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds, you won’t have to ask why he’s perfect for the role of a sociopathic mad scientist with aspirations to grandeur that may be more than delusions. Besides, apart from the gap-toothed smile, he really looks the part … and Hollywood makeup artists could make the tooth problem disappear (or appear?) without a problem.

Amber: Jennifer Lawrence. Amber is basically an uber-achiever, and Lawrence just fits that role for me.

Henry: Tom Hiddleston would bring the perfect British sensibility to the role of the physician who finds himself caught up in something he neither wanted nor imagined.

Jessica: I’m not sure why I think Cameron Diaz would do a great job playing a thoroughly unlikable, self-centered, chain-smoking woman on the make. But I do.

Mark Wahlberg, Christoph Waltz, Scarlett Johansson, TomHiddleston and Betty White

Mark Wahlberg, Christoph Waltz, Scarlett Johansson, TomHiddleston and Betty White

Jimmy Corbet: Mark Wahlberg’s Boston tough-guy would fit this role pretty well, I think. Or maybe it’s just because the character’s name (and believe it or not, I just realized this) is almost identical to that of turn-of-the-century heavyweight champ James J. Corbett … and Wahlberg once played Irish Mickey Ward in a film called The Fighter. It certainly is not because he was in a mediocre Planet of the Apes remake or because he started his career as a singer called Marky Mark.

Sharon Corbet: I think Jennifer Connelly, who won an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind, would do well in this role, even though the character wouldn’t get much screen time.

Mary Lou Corbet: Betty White. Because, Betty White.

Jason Momoa

Jason Momoa

Actors I’d love to cast but don’t really fit any of the characters include Robert Downey Jr., Bradley Cooper and the late Alan Rickman, who would have given Waltz a run for his money as Josef (even so, I think I still would have chosen Waltz for this particular role). I might have roles for Cooper and Downey in the sequel, though, and Jason Momoa would be perfect for another character introduced in the second installment. There’s also Idris Elba and Denzel Washington, either of whom would do well as a character in the third book, which I’m writing now.

Who would they play? I'm not giving that away. You'll have to wait until the sequel comes out early in 2018. Then have fun guessing!

How to write a mystery without even knowing it

Stephen H. Provost

Fleetwood Mac released an album in 1973 titled "Mystery to Me." The cover featured a cartoon baboon sampling a cake, having apparently already taken a bite out of a book.

Four months have passed since the release of "Memortality," and readers have taken their first bite (not literally, I hope) out of this, my debut novel on Pace Press. I'm happy to say the reactions have been positive: a series of 4- and 5-star Amazon reviews, along with praise from respected literary magazines such as Amazing Stories and Foreword Reviews.

Many readers don't know how to categorize it. Is it fantasy? Science fiction? Horror? A spy novel? That's because I wrote to the story, not to the genre. I've never liked labels, so when my publisher called the novel "genre-breaking," it made me smile. I'm all about breaking down artificial boundaries, even if it makes things harder for booksellers to find the proper shelf for my novel.

I wasn't even sure whether to call it YA, new adult or adult fiction. Truth is, I wanted it to be all of the above. Hey, if J.K. Rowling could impress my then-octogenarian dad with a series of books written for kids, I figured that was a pretty good role model.

The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.
— Oscar Wilde

But one thing did surprise me most about the readers' reaction: Some classified it as a mystery. I definitely didn't set out to write a mystery. I've even been known to remark that I didn't think I'd ever write a mystery. For one thing, it's been my impression that good mysteries are elaborate exercises, and I'm mostly a "pantser," which is to say I write by the seat of my pants.  I don't create elaborate outlines before sitting down to write a book. I start with a general concept and let the story take me wherever it wants to go.

When people say the word "mystery," I tend to thing of Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie and the like. But mystery, in the broader sense is about keeping the readers guessing; it's about sprinkling enough clues around in the plot to foreshadow a twist without giving it away. And I do love twists. If you haven't read "Memortality," it's got a great twist toward the end, if I do say so myself.

So maybe I did write a mystery, after all, even if, to quote that old album title, it wasn't a mystery to me.

 

My first video book trailer: Memortality

Stephen H. Provost

For the first time in my career as an author, I commissioned a video trailer for one of my books. (I figured if it was good enough for Twilight and The Hunger Games, it was good enough for me.)

Friend and fellow author Drew Wagar created this 54-second clip for Memortality to the soundtrack of Quinn's Song: The Dance Begins by Kevin MacLeod.

Drew, the author of The Shadeward Saga, the The Elite Dangerous Saga and The Midnight Chronicles, had created a series of video trailers for his own novels that caught my attention, so I asked him to come up with something for Memortality

I'm thrilled with the result.

The stark, unadorned visual, with words that appear, then vanish as the video progresses, provides a "calm before the storm" prelude to a book that's filled with action. The music Drew chose underscores the mood: a feeling of reluctant tranquility, of serenity laced with a hint of foreboding. The candle - prominent in the work itself - preserves a fragile light, flickering bravely against the dark backdrop that's first grim, then dangerous. This is the life of Minerva Rus.

Will her flame endure? You'll have to read the book to find out.

I hope this brief preview whets your appetite for what lies ahead in the pages of Memortality. As I write this, there's just a week left before the release date. Like Minerva, I'm both anxious and excited about what's about to happen next.

Active and reactive writing: A journey from journalism to fiction

Stephen H. Provost

With the year drawing to a close, I decided to look back on the blogs I’ve posted in the past 12 months and noticed a theme: A lot of them involve politics.

It wasn’t my intention, when I started blogging, to spend so much time on political matters. An earlier blog I authored (no longer available online, sorry) was meant to do just that, but I wanted to move away from politics with this one.

I haven’t been entirely successful.

I could take the excuse that this election year has been so crazy it would have been hard not to write about it, and I suppose that’s true. In my defense, I’m not the only one who’s done it: A lot of very accomplished author friends have devoted considerable space to the news of the day in articles, blogs and social media posts.

Excuses aside, however, it raised the question of why.

Restating the obvious

First off, it occurred to me that outrage can be one of a writer’s greatest motivations. It’s also one of the easiest things to write about because it’s so obvious. If you’re irate about something, it’s often because the answer is so obvious (at least to you) that it might as well be screaming at you from a couple of inches in front of your nose … so you want to scream it at other people.

Obvious things are easy to write about, and we writers aren’t immune to the temptation of taking the easy way out. In some ways, we might be more susceptible to it than most: Writing – especially creative writing – can be laborious, so it can feel damned good to see the words just pouring out from your fingertips onto the screen in front of you.

Add to that the feel-good nature of a nice long rant – or a short, Twitter-pated one – and you’ve got a recipe for a lot of political posts, especially in a year such as this one.

There’s a second issue at play, however, that’s related to the first but is more fundamental. It involves the distinction between active (or creative) and reactive writing.

I’ve spent most of my career doing the latter, because it’s what a reporter or columnist does: He or she reacts to the news. This transitioned nicely for me into historical nonfiction (my books Fresno Growing Up, Highway 99), because writing about history is another sort of reactive writing.  This is fairly easy, because the ingredients for a story are right in front of you. All you have to do is put it on the page.

That’s not to diminish the importance of telling the story well. In some ways, nonfiction is a bigger challenge: You can easily fall into the trap of parading events before the reader in a predictable chronology (“and then, and then, and then”) that will put a reader to sleep. This is how you get dry textbooks and newspaper articles full of jargon, wherein police “respond to the scene” and victims “sustain multiple contusions, lacerations and blunt-force trauma to the head.” Are you still awake? Me, neither.

Next stop: Novel Land

That’s a challenge to a writer’s skill set, but not to his or her creativity, which is what comes into play with active writing.

A couple of years ago, I set about writing my first novel, Identity Break, and I remember being very excited about it. I had what I thought (and still think) was a great concept, and all I had to do was put it down on paper. I was still reacting to my own idea, but there was more work involved because I had to keep drawing on my own creativity to fill in the blanks. The novel, which I self-published, got some good reviews but didn’t create enough buzz to really take off, and what I had planned as a trilogy wound up truncated into a single book and a prequel novella called Artifice.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I decided to give novel-writing another go. Memortality started out as a “fun breather from non-fiction” after I’d finished Highway 99. Once again, I had a great concept – even better than Identity Break, and a lot more complex. It was that complexity, though, that exposed me to the real challenge of writing fiction: keeping the creative juices flowing while ensuring iy all made sense.

I told myself I never finished the sequel to Identity Break because I didn’t want to spend time on a project that wasn’t taking hold with readers, and that’s mostly true. But I also wasn’t as comfortable about active (fiction) writing as I was with (reactive) non-fiction, so it was easier to tap that well again for my next big project, which turned out to be Fresno Growing Up. Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad I did. It has turned out to be far and away my most successful book to date.

That led me to the idea for Highway 99, and after I’d finished writing that, I plowed ahead with a similar work on U.S. Highway 101, thinking I’d found my niche. That was before I asked my publisher: “How would you prefer me to spend my time, working on 101 or putting together a sequel to Memortality?” I expected him to say the former, because Linden had always focused heavily on California history books and Memortality was its first fiction release. When he suggested I focus on the sequel, it threw me right back out of my comfort zone.

Yes, this is work

I finished writing that sequel last week, and I’m very pleased with the result (sorry, no title yet – I have one, but I’m keeping it under wraps for now). But it may be the most difficult book I’ve ever written. The more I wrote, the more I had to delve into my own creative space; the longer I had to rely on active, rather than reactive writing. In the end, I think the struggle paid off with a story that’s pretty damned inventive, if I do say so myself, and one I hope readers will find engaging.

But it was work. I’m used to having everything just flow, the way it has since I started writing in high school. Most of that writing, I now realize, was reactive. As a journalist, that’s what I’ve done for 30-plus years, so I’ve all but tamed that beast. Active writing is a different animal – one you don’t want to tame. You want to let it run loose and see where it takes you. I’ll need every one of the skills I learned as a journalist to keep up with it, but I’ll also need that little extra something known as inspiration.

It’s easy to react to the events of the day, especially if you’ve worked yourself up into a lather about them, so I don’t blame myself or my fellow writers for focusing so much on politics. I will admit, though, that seeing the same posts on the same subjects from the same people on social media day after day can get tedious, especially when I know the people making those posts are gifted, creative writers.

None of this is to say they should never write about politics again – or that I never will myself. My father was a political science professor, and I’m supposedly a distant relative of Alexander Hamilton, so it’s a family tradition. Nor am I going to stop writing about history: It’s just too damned much fun (go ahead, call me weird). What I will say is I have a lot of respect for writers to delve into their creative reservoirs and have the guts to engage in active writing, and I can understand why George R.R. Martin might take a while to produce the next “Song of Ice and Fire” novel.

This stuff ain’t easy, but that’s part of what makes it so rewarding.

Note: I'll be speaking periodically about a related topic, "Making History With Your Writing: The Past as Every Author's Inspiration," at various presentations. Check the Events page for details.

"Memortality": Coming in February 2017

Stephen H. Provost

The phone rang. It was my publisher. One of the reasons he was calling was to ask me whether I’d be upset if he delayed the release of my forthcoming book on Highway 99 a few months.

You probably think I was disappointed. The book’s written, the illustrations are ready to go, the contract’s signed, and I’m very proud of the work I’ve done on the project. But as eager as I am to see it in print, the rest of what my publisher had to say made any mild disappointment I might have felt evaporate in the proverbial New York minute.

“We’d like to publish ‘Memortality.’”

“Memortality” is a novel I’d written after I finished work on the Highway 99 project, based on an idea that occurred to me when I was working on my 2015 release, “Fresno Growing Up.” As an author of historical nonfiction, it’s my goal to bring memories to life again. But that got me wondering: What if someone could do that for real, not just through words on a printed page? What if our memories of lost loved ones could literally bring them back to life?

That’s the concept behind “Memortality” (a word I coined by combining “memory” and “immortality”). It’s about a very special woman named Minerva Rus who can use her eidetic memory to put things back the way they were … and even bring people back from the dead.

I’ll be sharing more about the “Memortality” and how I came to write it in the months ahead, but suffice to say I consider this the most original, exciting story that’s ever popped into (and now out of) my head.

I submitted it to Linden Publishing, which released “Fresno Growing Up” on its Craven Street imprint and did an excellent job with the design and marketing. I didn’t know what to expect. But not only did the folks at Linden accept the manuscript, they’re making it their debut release on a brand new imprint. To an author, that’s like being chosen to carry the flag at the Olympic opening ceremonies. It’s quite an honor.

The target release date for “Memortality” is Feb. 1, 2017, and it’s already available for pre-order on Amazon. The Highway 99 book is due to be out just a few months later, so I’ll have not one but two books hitting the shelves in the first half of next year.

In the meantime, I’ll be continuing work on two new projects – both of which are moving right along. But “Memortality” is front and center. I’m thrilled to announce it as my debut novel for Linden/Pace and I’ll be sure to keep you in the loop during the months ahead. Watch this space and my Facebook page for updates on “Memortality,” including the cover reveal, plot teasers, etc.

This is going to one heck of a memorable ride.