A Monet Experience

Monet Experience (noun): The process or fact of personally observing, encountering, or undergoing something for the first time, or without any preconceived notion as to what might be entailed or encountered. To be a blank canvas.  I went into the movie without even seeing the trailer, it was a total Monet Experience.

“Water Lilies at the Bridge” by Claude Monet – 1890

This is the coining of the term; its first non-spoken use.  Monet, like me, often longed to see the world without any preconceived notions, prejudices, or expectation whatsoever.  To see the world for the first time, like a child, but with an adult mind with the capabilities to appreciate such a thing.

When you taste a new dish for the first time, when you read a book with no idea what it’s about, when you visit somewhere you’ve never even seen pictures of — you’re having a Monet Experience.  In the fashion of an Epicurean, I find no greater bliss than experiencing something new; no matter how small.  So when I read that Monet felt the same way, it finally gave a name to what I’d been feeling all along.

“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.”
– Claude Monet

And to be frank: I’m not narcissistic enough to call it a “Schannep Experience”.  I like the name “Monet Experience”.  Associating a man so full of passion, genius and talent adds an element of beauty to a concept near and dear to my heart.

As both a purveyor and rabid consumer of books and movies, a Monet Experience is essential to my enjoyment.  Friends call me a “Story Purist” because I don’t like to know anything about a book or movie going into it.  The writer intends information to be revealed in a specific way, and it tickles my senses for the process to unfold in such a manner.  Spoilers, an apt name if ever one was writ, ruin that experience.

Ever watch a movie trailer, then say “Thanks for showing me the entire movie”?  This is far too commonplace, in my opinion.  Teasers do much better, but if I know I’m interested in something, I’ll skirt any conversation or exposure to that work.

“It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly.” – Claude Monet

My love of the Monet Experience was cemented by a single event.  I’ve served in the military, and during basic training we were cut off from the outside world.  After we were able to leave the gates for the first time, I went to see a movie with a few friends.  We had no idea what any of the films playing were about.  “What should we see?” we asked one another aloud.  A patron leaving said, “The Ring is a really great movie.”  We all shrugged and bought tickets.  It remains to this day one of my favorite movie-going experiences.

“So how do you pick movies and books?” you might ask.  Simple: by recommendation.  Trusted friends and critics say something is amazing and worth my time, and I check it out.  Or by reputation.  There are writers and filmmakers whom I believe produce quality art.  Once I’m a fan, I’m hooked till they lose me.

Bottom line: Sometimes you can’t avoid the hype, but I find it more pleasurable not to seek it out.  Give it a try.  Only a Monet Experience can provide the joy of unadulterated perception.

© James Schannep and jamesschannep.com, 2011-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Book trailers

I have a friend who can’t seem to get behind the idea of a book trailer, so figured I’d put my thoughts out there and explain a bit about why I support them.

The easy answer — We live in an increasingly visual society, and a book trailer is a quick way to get people excited about books.  Take this trailer for Stephen King’s Under The Dome for example:

I don’t own the rights to this, it’s merely an illustration.

Thirty seconds, and you’ve been good and teased on the book’s premise.  What’s wrong with that?  Well, as my friend would say, we’re trying to make books more like movies, and in doing so, robbing the reader of their own imagination.  To put it bluntly: we’re catering to the illiteracy of our society.

Here’s why I disagree: I don’t see this clip as a “trailer” (as it’s billed), but as a commercial.  Why shouldn’t books get advertisements?  We can see “trailers” about housewives using laundry detergent without spoiling our own experience with the product.  Otherwise books are advertised without actually telling us anything about the book.  “Hey, a new thriller book is out.”  If you don’t know the author, how do you know you’ll be interested?

I think book reviews are an excellent tool, but only insofar as you’re relying on someone’s opinion.  With a commercial, you get a chance to see what the book is intended to be.  It’s sort of like saying, “Here’s what I want to make you feel when you read this book.  Does something like that interest you?”

So as I see it, book trailers are raising awareness.  It’s up to the filmmakers to properly raise this awareness–to tease us–without spoiling the experience.

***update***

BONUS THOUGHT: After sleeping on it, I wonder if book covers didn’t experience a similar skepticism during the transition from plain-leather-binding to printed works of art.  One could make a similar argument that cover art limits the reader’s imagination by introducing visual representations of characters and story world.  Even so, one could make the case that cover art allows a potential buyer to instantly glean an understanding of what lies within the pages, and that book trailers are merely the next technological leap in this vein.

Parallel Development

It’s when two or more people, somewhere in the world, get the same idea without any influence from the other.  And it happens.  It just happened to me.

I opened imdb (The Internet Movie DataBase) today, and saw this:

The Hunter (2011)

For those who’ve read my story The Thylacine, you may know where I’m going with this.

If not, allow me to explain: I wrote a story in early 2010 featuring a man (“The Seeker”) with the exact same goal as this film.  Mine is a story where “A wannabe tracker heads to the land down under in search of the believed-extinct Tasmanian Tiger, or Thylacine.”  This movie is where “Martin, a mercenary, is sent from Europe by a mysterious biotech company to the Tasmanian wilderness on a hunt for the last Tasmanian tiger.”

Not exactly the same thing, but close enough to make my heart stop.  No, I don’t think I was plagiarized.  No, I haven’t seen this movie or read the book it’s based on (which Amazon tells me was published a decade before I wrote my story, so it’s a moot point from my end).  But as an unproduced writer, it leaves me feeling eclipsed every time I experience parallel development.

What’s to learn from this?  Not much.  Other than, don’t go screaming through the streets that someone stole your idea.  Ever.  It almost never happens.  It may make finding a market for my story that much harder, but I can take some comfort in knowing that I had a very marketable idea.  And for you?  Enjoy the story, enjoy the film, enjoy the book.  I’m sure they’re all three very differently executed, so why not have three different forms of enjoyment?

Official website for the film: http://www.thehuntermovie.com

In defense of the werewolf

Another installment of “Underworld” is coming out, and I’m obligated to hope it does well.  Not as a fan of the series, but as a fan of werewolves.  Why?  Because Hollywood won’t see its success or failure as Here’s what people think about Underworld.  Instead, it will be viewed as Here’s what people think about werewolves.  So, if I want to see more lycanthropy up on screen, I must hope for the success of this film.

I’ve written a novel which will redefine the werewolf from its origins, that I’ve only begun to show to agents.  But a constant question I receive from friends, family and colleagues  is “Why werewolves?”


Werewolf Comments & Graphics
~Magickal Graphics~

Allow me to explain.

As a writer, the concept of the werewolf fascinates me.  It is man’s feral nature, bursting forth and coming to a clash with the civilized world.  In short, the werewolf is the id.  The concept is nearly limitless, and still has much room for exploration.

As a fan, the werewolf story is essentially a superhero tale.  It’s the same story as Spiderman.  Bitten by an otherworldly force, a nobody is suddenly thrust to find if they are either gifted or cursed.  It’s the story of someone who has something missing within them, suddenly being given more than they can handle.  Indeed, in one timeline of Spiderman, he even begins turning into a werespider, if you will.

Man Spider, source: cdn.obsidianport.com

The werewolf has yet to have its day.  Vampires are in vogue and idealized, but I think the comparison is an irrelevant invention of pop culture.  It’d be like if Frankenstein vs The Mummy had taken off, and now all mentions of Frankenstein’s Monster must be held up against King Tut.


Werewolf Comments & Graphics
~Magickal Graphics~

Having said that, I think I’ve written something that will do for werewolves what Anne Rice did for vampires.

I hope to share it with you soon.

Behind the scenes of a writing exercise

Since I write both movies and books, I find it only appropriate if my blog blurs the line between the two as well.  I wrote a short story entitled, “the deepest part of man is his skin“, which I posted under fiction yesterday (if you were following me on twitter, you’d have seen the notification).  This blog entry is a DVD commentary, if you will; a look into the writer’s process.

It began, like any good endeavor, out of both necessity and inspiration.  I was taking my niece and nephews camping, and figured scary stories might be the order of the day.  I started to think, “If only I had a book of campfire tales,” and it wasn’t long before my DIY attitude took over.  After all, if I were a carpenter, I wouldn’t buy a birdhouse, would I?  So I took to the challenge of writing my own scary story.

At the time, I was reading a collection of HP Lovecraft shorts.  Lovecraft, if you don’t know, is as much a founding father of horror as Poe.  Stephen King called Lovecraft, “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.”

Lovecraft is most renowned for his Cthulu mythos.

From the first sentence, I heard his voice in my own words.  I embraced it.  Writing as another author, one whom you admire, can be a great way to expand as a writer.  Or, as my friend Damon suggested, many of the greats would type out word-for-word copies of the works of the masters as a way to put another’s genius through their own mind.

I quickly spewed out the first draft, but found it was far too adult for the kiddos (in vernacular, mostly), and so it stayed as an incomplete work for the next few months.  This was August 8th.

Cut to four months later, I’m done editing my novel–which I can’t wait to share!  Queries to be sent soon (gulp)–and I find myself with some extra writing time as I transition to my next big project.  So I pick this one up.

Let me emphasize now the importance of peer review.  I showed an early draft of the story to my friend Chris, who’s not a writer; just someone smart and insightful.  His suggestion was to make it seem more “real”by having the letter come  to me rather than by me (as it was originally written).  This one simple suggestion gave it a new spin; like one of those “found footage” horror movies.  Lovecraft was fond of spelling the demise of his narrators, and I feel he would approve of such a creative choice.

Overall, I found the exercise to be a success.  It was fun to be overly macabre and descriptive, and I think the final product is something new and valuable.  I hope you enjoy it.

Hollywood Imperialism: Make the World Britain!

This is the first actual “weekend” I’ve had in a long time. I write every day, or at least edit/proofread. For those of you who may have missed it on Twitter, I finished editing my novel and sent it off for review yesterday.  So this weekend is completely off!  Except for this blog…enjoy.

The subject of the blog entry, is something I’ve noticed for a long time:

To Americans, all foreigners are British.

This is specifically true, if the movie is highlighting an ancient civilization.  Go watch any movie or TV show made in the last 15 years, and if the foreigners are speaking English, I guarantee it’s the King’s.

Now onto the “why”:

-Sometimes the actors actually are British.  Sometimes.  People cite the HBO show “Rome” as an example of this.  You point out that all the Romans have British accents, and they’ll inform you it’s simply because that’s how they speak.  Not exactly.  Many of the actors on that show were Irish, and needed voice coaches to become posh-sounding Imperialists.  Which leads us to the next point….

The English were Imperialist.  That’s why it makes sense to us as a modern audience.  The hoity-toighty English accent makes more sense to our American minds for the portrayal of members of a grand empire, than a cheese-ball Italian accent would (even if it’s more accurate).  You wouldn’t want Mario and Luigi giving epic speeches, would you?  Even Star Wars recognizes this effect, as almost all their Imperial officers have a British accent.

-It makes distinguishing class easier.  Perhaps the most subconscious-based reason.  As many people don’t know much about ancient political structure, giving the nobility an “educated” accent (mmmmmyes, quite right) and giving the footsoldiers a “common” accent (‘ello govna!) allows us to easily distinguish social hierarchy without having it explained to us.

These all make a certain amount of sense, to me at least.  But sometimes it goes a bit far.  I recently watched the movie “Hugo”, which takes place in 1930s France.  All the books, menus, signs, etc were in French.  They even went so far as to shoot it in Paris.  Yet the actors all had British accents!  Perhaps English-speaking actors with French accents are hard to find, while Britains are abundant.  Or perhaps…

-That’s just the way we do it.  Because of actor availability on foreign locations, classical films used English actors.  So the tradition continues.  That, and we don’t want to start confusing the audience this late in the game.

Can you imagine a Roman General with a Tennessee accent? But it’s just as realistic as British tones.

On Pigeonholing

I’m re-blogging this from Jessen D Chapman’s original Blog Post.  It’s being published on this site with permission of the blog’s author.  If you want to do the same, contact him.  He’s pretty cool about it.

While there are those who disagree with me, I think this article applies to film as well.  I love Jurassic Park, The Shawshank Redemption, The Good The Bad and the Ugly, and Stardust.  So why should I have to pick only one of their genres to write in?

Without further ado…

Pigeonholed?

Posted: 28 November 2011 by jdchap in General bloggery
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I’ve heard the advice as a writer: Pigeonhole yourself.  It makes you easier to market, because you’re easier to categorize.

To which, I immediately reply: Go screw yourself.  Why should I want to be easily categorized?  As a writer, I get paid to be interesting.

And yet this way of thinking is pervasive.  When people pick up a James Patterson book, they have a certain expectation, the marketing gurus say.  You don’t want someone to read your book on the vacationing habits of wood elves, enjoy it, then seek out your second novel only to be completely shocked when it’s about a reformed pedophile, right?

Wrong.  I want people to read a book of mine, enjoy it, then seek out my next book because they enjoyed the writing.  I don’t give two shits whether or not they are fans of the genre.  If I ever write a book about vampires (and please kill me if I do), I do not feel obligated to continue writing about vampires until the end of time.  Although, now that I think about it, that could be a great twist on the tortured immortal trope.

You should know if you’ll like the writing based on if you like the writer.  You should know if you’ll like the subject matter based on the back cover, and by reviews from friends and critics.  That’s why those things exist.

Nevertheless, the feeling seems to be, by agents for sure, I need to be able to brand you.  Horror writer.  Thriller writer.  Romance writer.

So why is it, I can say my favorite books are 1984, Freakonomics, The Velveteen Rabbit and The Things They Carried, but I can’t have a book in the vein of each of these within my authorial cannon?

I figure you, as an emerging writer trying to establish yourself, can do one of two things and survive shunning from the pigeonholers:  One, come out swinging as a genre writer, and then use a pseudonym if you ever decide to break the mold later on.  Or two, write two very different books, both classified as “literature”, and gain a reputation as someone who breaks the mold.

Which do I choose?  I dunno, maybe both.  But the one thing I will NOT be doing, is writing with marketing in mind.

The Social Network

No, not the movie (although I am a fan, put me on team Sorkin).  I’m talking about the act of social networking and why I’ve joined in.

Social networking is becoming more and more important for a writer.  Whereas, at least my impression was, you used to get published, go to cocktail parties, attend a couple of book signings, and accept any awards that come your way–this is now a fantasy.  Now you’ve got to market the hell out of yourself.  The most accessible way to reach lots of people is with digital new media.  And it’s all the easier for you, if you have that stuff set-up before you’re a tid-bit famous.

I have a screenplay optioned, which will hopefully find a studio home right around the new year.  My producer has tantalized me with a possible “Christmas present”–fingers crossed!  I also have a novel I’m doing one final polish on, before I begin steps toward publishing.

So basically: this website, this twitter account, all the networking, is happening now because I feel (hope?) I’m on the cusp of my writing career really taking off.  I don’t want to create a website the same day its URL gets printed on a book cover, right?  Gotta have some meat on it first.

Rather than have this post be merely a public diary entry, I’ll share some of what I’ve learned as I’m setting all this up.  It’s been a tough journey, as my friends and family don’t really tweet or blog.  And self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to me.  At all.  There was (and still is) a learning curve.

TWITTER
People follow non-public figures, whom they don’t know, for pretty much one reason: they also want followers.  So when someone follows you, and you just sit back and think, “cool, I have a follower!”, guess what?  They’ll most likely unfollow you in a couple of days.  What can you do to keep your new followers happy?  1) Follow them back 2) Send them a message, thanking them for following!

BLOG
If you want people to read your blog, one of the biggest resources is other bloggers.  First step here, read their blog.  Then post an intelligent comment, pertaining to what you just read.  DO NOT post your website in your comments, this just comes off as spam.  If you’ve written something sufficiently intriguing, people will check your profile, which should have a link to your own blog.

For anything and everything, you should have something interesting to say.  I got a decent amount of hits with my Screenwriting vs Prose post, because it was something I can speak to that not many people know about.  It was, in short, worth reading.

The world is changing for writers, and to use a screenwriting term, “Stasis=Death”.  You have to go with the changes, or get left behind.  It’s been proven that people who embrace change live longer, and I think the same can be said about our careers.

I leave you with a positive note: writers are now in commercials.  Perhaps taking our careers in our own hands is a good thing?  A power-shift?  Publishing houses own books the way movie studios owned stars in the 1930s.  If this changes, it could be the writers who come out on top.