Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Real Book-to-Film Process + ComicCon Wonderland + Thoughtful Reflections = This Blog Post

Last week I had the great fortune of traveling to California, where the weather was far nicer than in Chicago, which had turned into an oven in my absence. While I was there I did many things, some of which were meeting the people currently involved in the process of turning Divergent into a movie.

First, I'm going to let you know how this process works, because I had no idea until I got involved in it, and I think there are many misconceptions-- understandable ones, but misconceptions nonetheless. So, here we go:

1. I don't choose the cast.
2. I don't choose the director.
3. I don't write the screenplay.
4. Actually, I don't control anything except who I sell the rights to, and that's already done.

I am in the fortunate position of being fairly well informed about what's going on with the movie. This is due partly to Pouya, "my film rep guy," as I call him, because he is involved on the production side. But unless you are an author who fights hard to get involved in the movie-making, your control over the process will be fairly limited.

And that's kind of how I wanted it. Why? Because I write books. I love writing books and I tend to get annoyed by things that interrupt me from writing books, like the need to sleep and shower and buy groceries. Don't get me wrong, I think movies are great. But unless some huge revelation happens wherein I consider a more varied career path, it's all books, all the time.

So while I do love to hear your casting thoughts, know that I participate in them in much the same way you do: musing and speculation.

And while I certainly understand the "please make sure the movie is like this or that" comments (because it's okay to get attached, and to want things to remain intact), know that I can't make sure the movie is like this or that. All I can do is, like you, place my trust in the people who are making it.

BUT if you read on, that might sound less scary to you. It certainly feels less scary to me.

Two days before my ComicCon adventure, I was fortunate enough to have breakfast with Doug Wick, who owns Red Wagon and has done many amazing, impressive things in the realm of film production, all of which made me a teensy bit afraid to meet him. However, Doug is the sort of person who makes you feel very much at ease. My fear was gone within three minutes of having breakfast, and then we just chatted for an hour or so, sometimes about the book and sometimes not. When we did talk about the book, Doug was very enthusiastic and specific about what he liked, which I always, always appreciate. Basically, I learned that Doug is like the Allstate Insurance of production company guys.

Basically, it was a fantastic experience.

Which leads me to part 2 of this little blog adventure: ComicCon.

ComicCon = Insanity.

My day began with a press conference and transitioned into several interviews, some of which were with some of the Divergent fansites! I haven't had much time to do interviews lately, so having them built into the time I had set aside for ComicCon was great. And I got to chat with some of the people who have been supporting Divergent! Sweet.

Then we got to wander the ComicCon floor. I saw so many things. I saw a man dressed in a very sophisticated Ghost Busters costume. I saw Harry Potter walking around with Bellatrix Lestrange (someone yelled, "Harry, watch out! Bellatrix is right behind you!" Oh, the nerdery. I love it). I found Waldo. I found him again. I saw too much of one girl's butt cheeks. I saw a bunch of Trekkies. And this was all in the half-hour that I was able to stand the huge, intense crowds inside that building. Then I had to leave, because I was feeling a little faint. I am just not built for being around that many people at once.

There was a signing (I met some of you there, I'm sure! Always great to sign books, especially at such a huge Nerdfest), and then, I met more people.

Such as: Gillian and Jeyun of Summit Entertainment. Gillian is the one actually handling all the Divergentness, so it was fun to talk to her about it, and hear her thoughts. And then, what I was most nervous about: meeting Evan Daugherty. Screenwriter.

(Ignore my red eye of doom.)

As his posture suggests, Evan is a chill dude. He also likes Divergent. Now, that may seem obvious to you (why would he want to write the screenplay if he didn't like Divergent?) but that's not necessarily obvious-- people do things for plenty of reasons, not all of them genuine affection. This very much reassured me.

Evan also told me that he has been to ComicCon a fan. Several times. And we both love Star Wars. Should I bring out the Allstate picture again?

Also, for those of you who are still concerned, I am in touch with everyone I met, in case they have questions about Divergent. (Actually, I think I'm supposed to be drawing a map of Dauntless headquarters to make it easier to visualize.) So even though I say I'm not in control, I will be involved when people ask me to be involved, and in the way I like to be involved-- when it's very much about the book.

I was also fortunate enough to meet Erik Feig, president of acquisitions and production at Summit, who was enthusiastic and friendly and not at all a "Hollywood Dude" (I have this Hollywood Dude caricature in my head-- he's very slick and tan and not all that genuine. Total opposite of Erik Feig. Except Erik might have been tan-- it was too dark for me to tell conclusively. But, whatever. People are allowed to be tan).

I met a lot of other people, too, and I will probably kick myself for not telling you about all of them as time goes on. But let me just say that my day at ComicCon confirmed a few things for me:

I have tried hard from the beginning to find good people. I believe that good people, who work hard because they love something and not out of selfish ambition, are the best people to surround yourself with. That way, even if everything goes wrong, you feel satisfied, because you know that everyone failed doing what they love, and working as hard as they could. Luckily I found Joanna, my agent, and she connected me with other good people, including Pouya and Molly, my editor. And Pouya went out and found me some really solid individuals on the film side, as I have now confirmed myself. So often I find that people are not authentic. I am fortunate enough to have good radar for that. And even though I try not to discard people who are not authentic-- because everyone has a lot to learn, and is in a different stage of that learning-- I also know where to put my trust.

Anyway, I'll get off my soapbox, but my adventures at ComicCon made me feel good about where I had put my trust. Making movies is complicated, and I am a defensive pessimist by nature, so I'm not letting myself get too excited. But I believe things have gotten off to a good start.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


ITEM 1: I will be at ComicCon this Thursday, signing, at the Summit Booth at 4P.M. (Looks to be Booth #4029. Across from Nickelodeon, if I remember right.) If you're going to be at ComicCon on Thursday, feel free to stop by and say hello! I'd love to meet you.

ITEM 2: There's a blog called The YA Sisterhood that is hosting the "YA Crush Tournament," in which boys from various YA books are pitted against each other in a kind of blog-post-off. And Four made it in! He's currently up against Hale from Ally Carter's The Heist Society series. Who sounds great too. But obviously I'm partial to Four. Anyway, I just think it's fun. Check it out!

ITEM 3: It is currently nicer in Los Angeles than in Chicago. THIS IS NOT ALLOWED.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Knowing When To Trunk

My first post for YA Highway is up today! I've been following that blog for quite some time, so when I got the opportunity to be a contributor, I said, "Um...YES." If you haven't checked it out, please do, it's great.

Anyway, my post is on how to know whether to revise or trunk your manuscript: Love Is Mandatory.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Grow Thinner Skin

"Grow a thick skin" is the most common piece of advice I have been given/seen given to others, as a writer. Moreso after my book sold. It makes sense. No matter who you are or what you wrote, you will get bad reviews, and you can't let those reviews get to you. Not just because they could hamper your creativity, but because you must understand that just like you can never be everyone's friend, your book can't be well-liked everywhere. So grow a thick skin.

Even before I became an author, I got this advice, and not just about writing. So what I want to talk about today is why I personally do not intend to take it. Not exactly, anyway.

I am a sensitive person, and I have been since I was a child. I worried constantly even then (mostly about getting cancer. Not sure why). I think I've mentioned before the time I mistakenly watched the episode of 90210 where someone gets raped, and I freaked out about it. I knew she was a fictional character, but I also knew that things like that happen to real people and it kept me up at night.

To better illustrate the severity of this situation, however: what I haven't mentioned before, because it's much more embarrassing (yes, more embarrassing than admitting to watching 90210) is that I spent several days deeply disturbed after watching The Man In the Iron Mask because the idea of locking someone in an iron mask really bothered me. And that movie was kind of ridiculous.*

Basically, I mourned for people I had never met, and for people who didn't exist. In case it's not obvious, it's really hard to go through life as a walking scrape. For one thing, everyone always wants to slap a bandage on you. Okay, this metaphor might be going too far. But for all the trouble my sensitivity gave me, it gave me something else, and that is empathy, something for which I am always grateful. (That is not to say that you can't have empathy if you're not a hypersensitive person, but this is just how it worked for me.)

A lot of people used to worry, and probably still do, about kids becoming desensitized to violence because our culture is so saturated by it. This, they fear, will cause kids to be more violent in their behavior. I seriously doubt that Power Rangers and Grand Theft Auto will make your kid more likely to beat other kids up (perhaps this is what they call "correlation, not causation"), but that's not the point. I worry about anyone becoming desensitized to violence, not because I believe it will make them more violent, but because I worry it will compromise their ability to ache for other people.

Obviously being insensitive to criticism and insensitive to violence are two completely different things, and do not necessarily go together, but they are similar in that they require numbness. And perhaps it is unwise of me, and someday I will eat my words, but I don't want to be numb about anything. I don't think that not caring should ever be something to which we ascribe value, no matter how helpful it is.

I am a sensitive person. I have thin skin. And while that makes me have to stop watching perfectly good television shows (Sons of Anarchy, Season 2, I'm looking at you), and makes me worry about things I can't control, and makes other people think I'm a little ridiculous, it also allows me to cry with other people when they tell me about the bad things that happen to them, and to understand, at least a little, what it feels like to be in situations I've never actually been in, and to have my emotions swayed by fiction, just like they were when I was a child. My thin skin is integral to who I am, and I think it makes me a better writer than I would be without it.

So yes, bad reviews hurt. And yes, it's a good idea to get over that. But not necessarily by growing a thicker skin. Instead, I go with this:

Do not chastise yourself for feeling too much.

Don't become harder. The world has too many hard people in it already.

Instead, try to actually believe that you are not your work, that your value does not reside there.

And keep your skin the way it is.

*For the record, I can watch The Man in the Iron Mask without getting upset now. I just don't, because,'s not a very good movie.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Just a quick note--

I've been asked frequently over the last few months about the release date for INSURGENT, and my response has always been that there is no official release date yet, but it will probably come out around May, 2012. I thought I had been pretty open about it, but I think perhaps I was mistaken, so I figured it was time to put it on the blog so the information is easier to find.

So, again:

INSURGENT = Sometime in the vicinity of May, 2012. Probably.

When I do get an official release date, I will definitely announce it here. Thanks for being so eager to know. It is very encouraging, particularly as I continue to work on finishing the manuscript.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Things I Do Wrong (But You Don't Have To): Redundant Sentences

Once upon a time, when I was in the writing program at school, my very wise professor pointed out a tendency I had in my writing. What I did was to write a summary of a sentence or a paragraph and then flesh out that summary in what followed. I know what you're thinking: wait, isn't that what you're supposed to do in essays? And the answer is: this was fiction.

I'm not sure my explanation is entirely clear, so let me just give you an example:

I understand why people find it so easy to trust him. He makes you feel that all will be well; that if you just placed everything in his hands, he would take care of it while you rest.

Okay, let's not pretend that's a stroke of brilliance, or anything. But do you see what I mean? "He makes you feel that all will be well" is essentially a more general summary of "that if you just placed everything in his hands, he would take care of it while you rest." I don't need both of those sentences to exist. I should go with the more specific one, which is the second one, because it's more interesting.

And actually, come to think of it, I don't need the preceding sentence-- "I understand why people find it so easy to trust him"-- either, because it's basically introducing the sentiment that I expressed in the third part, only in a less subtle way.

After eliminating those extraneous sentences/clauses, you get this:

He makes you feel that if you just placed everything in his hands, he would take care of it while you rest.

Now, I'm still not sure if that's the best way to say what I'm trying to say, but at least it isn't redundant.

This can also be done with paragraphs and even scenes. If you start off a scene by saying something like "The next day I learned exactly what he meant by that," or "By the end of the next day I wasn't so sure," and so on, you take the joy of discovering what comes next away from the reader. Part of the joy of reading is doing mental work as you read. I don't mean "work" as in the reader has to fight to understand what's going on or what you're saying. I mean that they have to discover each thing as it comes to them. So we, as writers, have to make them do the work of discovery, or else reading is boring.

The thing is, if I hadn't written the first two sentences above, I never would have arrived at the third sentence, the one I ended up going with. That's why this is a revision concern, not an initial draft writing concern. I actually need the first two sentences, but the reader does not, and that's something I only think about while revising.

My writing professor changed my writing when she pointed that out, so I thought I would mention it to you as something to watch for when you revise.

Friday, July 1, 2011

New Piece of Advice: Stop Listening to Advice

The writer blogosphere is full of writing advice. My blog is no exception. I'm bursting with advice. Mostly because I want to say something useful. But the more I interact with other writers, the more I realize that there's plenty of writing advice that has been repeated to me over and over again that just. Doesn't. Work for me.

Advice I Haven't Taken:

1. Keep a writer's notebook

This isn't a bad idea. I know it works for what seems like 75% of the writing population, if not more. But I can't for the life of me make it work. I have tried on fifty separate occasions, at least, and that's why I have far too many notebooks with only a few pages filled in. It's like keeping a journal. I can't do that either.

And recently I said to myself, screw it. Don't try to keep a writer's notebook. Use your brain like a sifter-- if the ideas are good, they'll stay in. If they're not, it's better they slipped through the cracks anyway. That is my official philosophy. And you know what? It works for me. Good ideas keep coming up again and again; I don't lose them. I remember the things that are important to me. Everything else I forget.

2. Write at the same time every day.

Oh, heavens. I try this every day. People ask me, what's your best writing time? And I used to say: nighttime. Or: first thing in the morning. Or: just after lunch. But all of those answers are lies, lies I tell you! My best writing time is when I decide to sit down and write. And in the mornings I have a doctor's appointment or a haircut or my apartment is too messy to deal with, I don't write. And in the afternoons when I'm going to hang out with a friend or take a much-needed nap, I don't write. Why? Because in order to get the writing done, I have to feel free. I can't resent the work I'm doing. So I choose to look forward to it instead of dreading a particular time of day.

I have found that, rather than making myself write at the same time every day, I make myself write at least once a day. It doesn't matter when that is or how much I get done. I just have to do it. Sometimes you do have to force yourself to do something, but it doesn't have to be in the same way as other people force themselves to do something. (Does that make any sense?)

3. Never go back and edit while you're still writing

I am usually a HUGE proponent of this piece of advice, so take what I am about to say with a grain of salt. Sometimes I write something and it feels so wrong and out of place that I can't continue. So I get stuck there, snacking and staring at the page, for days. And the only way to get myself out of the stuck place is to go back and fix what I know is clearly wrong. Usually I go back and bandage it temporarily (that is, not in a detailed way) and then go back and make it all better when I'm done with the draft, so that I don't spend too much time on it. But yes, sometimes I go back, but only when my forward motion has been compromised.

There are probably more, but let's move on.

One thing I learned while on tour is what I'm telling you now: that every writer works differently. Aprilynne Pike, for example, outlines everything. The whole series. She says she has to know how things end before she can start. Josephine Angelini has outlines so detailed they cover about two pages at a time, plus character bios. Ellen Schreiber, however, figures things out as she goes along. I do the same thing-- until I hit page 120 or so, and the story seems too large for me to carry in my mind, and then I make a list of scenes.

We are completely different writers. But we all wrote books. (Some of us multiple books!) We all got published. Clearly there is no formula. You aren't missing the magical secret to book-writing, I promise.

The real point I'm making here is: you don't have to do what doesn't work for you. There are no rules telling you that you have to write a certain way, and if people imposing rules on you has kept you from writing, please throw those rules away. The pieces of advice are there to make writing easier for you, but if they don't work, they are useless to you, and that is okay.

So yes: read the writing advice posts! They are wonderful. And try what they tell you to do! Try it more than once, actually. But if you find that a particular piece of advice, while good and valuable for others, is not good and valuable for you, don't fret about it. Figure out something else.

Figure out what works. Writing is hard enough without putting obstacles in your own path.


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