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When I started reading Gone Girl, I’ll admit I had high expectations. “It’s incredible,” one friend told me after recommending it and praising it profusely. “You just won’t even believe what happens …” She stopped short, looking guilty. “I can’t say any more,” she said, almost at a whisper. “I don’t want to give anything away.”
If you haven’t read the novel, I don’t want to give anything away either. But suffice it to say (and you’ve probably heard it already) that Gone Girl contains some killer plot twists. The narrative builds and builds, and then—boom—a major revelation is revealed. And then another. And another. It makes for a delicious, tense, uncomfortable, and incredibly thrilling ride.
And here’s the thing: As implausible as some of the occurrences in Gone Girl are, they’re also set up in such a way that I embraced each of them, one right after the other. They felt organic. They felt natural. They didn’t feel forced.
How do we do that when writing fiction? How do we write plot twists and turns into our stories without seeming overly obvious? How do we surprise readers without coming completely out of left field?
In this excerpt from Story Trumps Structure, Steven James presents four ways to craft plot twists that readers will never see coming.
PLOT TWISTS: PRACTICAL STEPS TO PULLING THE RUG OUT
1. Eliminate the obvious
When coming up with the climax to your story, discard every possible solution you can think of for your protagonist to succeed.
Then think of some more.
And discard those, too.
You’re trying to create an ending that’s so unforeseen that if a million people read your book, not one of them would guess how it ends (or how it will get to the end), but when they finally come to it, every one of those people would think, Yes! That makes perfect sense! Why didn’t I see that coming?
The more impossible the climax is for your protagonist to overcome, the more believable and inevitable the escape or solution needs to be. No reader should anticipate it, but everyone should nod and smile when it happens. No one guesses, everyone nods. That’s what you’re shooting for.
While writing, ask yourself:
What do I need to change to create a more believable world for each separate twist I’m including?
How can I drop the gimmicks and depend more on the strength of the narrative to build my twist?
Will readers have to “put up with” the story that’s being told in anticipation of a twist ending, or will they enjoy it even more because of the twist? How can I improve the pretwist story?
How can I make better use of the clues that prove the logic of the surface story to create the twist and bring more continuity to the story—but only after the twist is revealed?
2. Redirect suspicion
When you work on your narrative, constantly ask yourself what readers are expecting and hoping for at this moment in the story. Then keep twisting the story into new directions that both shock and delight them.
To keep readers from noticing clues, bury them in the emotion or action of another section. For example, in an adventure novel, offhandedly mention something during a chase scene, while readers’ attention is on the action, not the revelation. Use red herrings, dead ends, and foils. Bury clues in discussions of something else.
While writing, ask yourself:
How can I do a better job of burying the clues readers need to have in order to accept the ending? Where do I need to bring those clues to the surface?
How can I play expectations based on genre conventions against readers to get them to suspect the wrong person as the villain or antagonist?
3. Avoid gimmicks
Readers want their emotional investment to pay off. The twist should never occur in a way that makes them feel tricked, deceived, or insulted. Great twists always deepen, never cheapen, readers’ investment in the story.
This is why dream sequences typically don’t work—the protagonist thinks she’s in a terrible mess, then wakes up and realizes it was all just a dream. These aren’t twists because they almost never escalate the story but often do the very opposite, revealing to readers that things weren’t really that bad after all (de-escalation). Showing a character experiencing a harrowing or frightening experience and then having him wake up from a dream is not a twist; it’s a tired cliché.
How do you solve this? Simply tell the reader it’s a dream beforehand. It can be just as frightening without de-escalating the story’s tension, and it can also end in a way that’s not predictable.
While writing, ask yourself:
Will readers feel tricked, deceived, or insulted by this twist? If so, how can I better respect their ability to guess the ending of my story?
Have I inadvertently relied on clichés or on any plot turning points that have appeared in other books or movies? How can I recast the story so it’s fresh and original?
4. Write toward your readers’ reaction.
The way you want your readers to respond will determine the way you set up your twist. Three different types of twists all result in different reactions by readers: (1) “No way!” (2) “Huh. Nice!” and (3) “Oh, yeah!”
When aiming for the “No way!” response, you’ll want to lead readers into certainty. You want them to think that there’s only one possible solution to the story.
The more you can convince them that the story world you’ve portrayed is exactly as it appears to be—that only one outcome to the novel is possible—the more you’ll make their jaws drop when you show them that things were not as they appeared to be at all. If the twist is satisfying, credible, and inevitable based on what has preceded it, readers will gasp and exclaim, “No way! That’s awesome! I can’t believe he got that one past me.”
With the “Huh. Nice!” ending, you want to lead readers into uncertainty. Basically, they’ll be thinking, “Man, I have no idea where this is going.” When writing for this response, you’ll create an unbalanced, uncertain world. You don’t want readers to suspect only one person as the villain but many people. Only when the true villain is revealed will readers see that everything was pointing in that direction all along.
Finally, if you’re shooting for the “Oh, yeah!” reaction, you’ll want to emphasize the cleverness with which the main character gets out of the seemingly impossible-to-escape-from climax. Often we do that by allowing him to use a special gift, skill, or emblem that has been shown to readers earlier but that they aren’t thinking about when they reach the climax. Then, when the protagonist pulls it out, readers remember: “Yes! That’s right! He carries a can of shark repellent in his wetsuit! I forgot all about that!”
Relentlessly escalate your story while keeping it believable, surprising, and deeper than it appears.
While writing, ask yourself:
If I want to shock readers with the twist, have I led them into certainty as they try to predict the ending?
If I want readers to suspect a number of different endings, have I satisfactorily built up all the potential outcomes?
If I want readers to cheer at the ending, have I (1) created a seemingly impossible situation for the protagonist to escape from or conquer or (2) allowed the protagonist to persevere through wit or grit rather than with the help of someone else (that is, deus ex machina)?
One of the things I love to see in a picture book about Indigenous peoples is a visual that puts the story and its teller in the present day. Virginia A. Stroud's Doesn't Fall Off His Horse does that beautifully.
The first page from Stroud's book is to the right. See the little girl? See the wallpaper on the walls? See the glass windows in the house?
To a good many of you it might sound ridiculous to point out those things, but there are so many people who think Native peoples are long gone, or if we're still here, that we live exactly like we did several hundred years ago. Some even think that if we do NOT still live that way, that we can't be "real" anymore, as if being Native is about material culture and nothing else.
We're far more than that, of course. Every culture or nation or ethnicity is more than its material culture. Stories, for example, are an unseen part of a people's culture.
In Doesn't Fall Off His Horse, Stroud tells us a story about her grandfather. Specifically, it is a story about how he got his name.
The little girl is called Saygee. There's a glossary that tells us Saygee is a Kiowa word that means youngest one, or, little one. She wants him to tell her a story,
"but which one? He was like a living book; nearly a hundred years had passed under his footsteps during his walk upon the earth. He had followed the buffalo, he had roamed the open plains with tepee and lodge poles, he'd seen the non-Indian wagons come to Indian Territory and watched from a hilltop as the settlers staked out the land. He saw one of the first locomotives cut across the prairie, then an automobile, and an airplane; he had received the citizenship given to the Native American people."
Sensing she wants a story, he says "Doesn't Fall Off His Horse." Saygee asks him who doesn't fall off his horse, and he says "Me." and "That's my Indian name." From there, he begins this thrilling story. In its telling, we learn that he is Kiowa. I chose that excerpt (above) quite deliberately. Another thing I look for in a children's book is a way of telling that sounds like the people I know. I don't know any Native elder--or any Native person, in fact--who calls a train an "iron horse." I've seen non-Native writers put that phrase in the mouths of their characters, or, in their stories, but I don't think it originates with any particular Native people.
I highly recommend Doesn't Fall Off His Horse. First published in 1994 by Dial Books for Young Readers, it is also available in ebook format.
While food insecurity in America is by no means a new problem, it has been made worse by the Great Recession. And, despite the end of the Great Recession, food insecurity rates remain high. Currently, about 49 million people in the U.S. are living in food insecure households. In a recently-released article in Applied Economics Policy and Perspectives my co-authors, Elaine Waxman and Emily Engelhard, and I provide an overview of Map the Meal Gap, a tool that is used to establish food insecurity rates at the local level for Feeding America (the umbrella organization for food banks in the United States).
For 35 years, Feeding America has responded to the hunger crisis in America by providing food to people in need through a nationwide network of food banks. Today, Feeding America is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization—a powerful and efficient network of 200 food banks across the country. You can learn more about food insecurity rates in America by listening to the below podcast:
What are the state-level determinants of food insecurity? What is the distribution of food insecurity across counties in the United States? How do the county-level food insecurity estimates generated in Map the Meal Gap compare with other sources? Along with reviewing Map the Meal Gap and finding out the answers to these questions, we discuss ways that policies can and are being used to reduce food insecurity in the United States.
Headline image credit: Supermarket trolleys, by Rd. Vortex. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
Yes, I’m sure the seed was planted by my now 15-year-old son’s love of sharks and trains. But...
He loved reading books about sharks. He loved playing with wooden trains. Putting the two things together, however, just wasn’t his style of play. As a small child, he had a much more literal view of the world. Sharks were fascinating ocean creatures. Trains rolled on wooden tracks that he could build with all day long. There was no crossover.
My style of play as a kid, however, would have been to mash those two concepts together. And I guess that still is my style of play, because that’s how it worked with Shark Vs. Train.
The idea grew out of my paying attention to my kid, to what he loved, but the book that resulted was much closer to my imaginative comfort zone than to his literal one. I wrote it for me, not for him.
(See? It took me nearly 140 words to get close enough to the full truth to suit me.)
But in this case, my comfort zone would have resulted in no book at all. Though I had played video games some as a kid, I hadn’t played in many years, aside from the occasional encounter with an old arcade game.
And I was deeply skeptical of my kids’ respective abilities to balance time spent in front of a screen with time spent on their own creative pursuits, on outdoor play, on reading.
I also, however, wanted to understand what the heck they were talking about when they spoke of mods, sandboxes, attacks, bosses, and cheats. And I wanted to demonstrate to them that I took seriously the things that they loved -- or, rather, their love of those things.
I guess I could have done that simply through playing video games with my boys. Instead, I chose to demonstrate my appreciation for their passions through my own work. In other words, I wrote Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! for them, not for me.
Even though those two books resulted from my going down different paths, they both offered a similar choice: Is it for them, or is for me? But then, isn’t the same true for every book for children?
Isn’t there always a decision to be made regarding how much the experience of a book reflects the interests of the adult -- be it an author or illustrator doing the creating, a parent or grandparent doing the buying, a librarian doing the recommending, or a teacher doing the assigning -- and how much the experience of that book stems from consideration of what the child audience will bring to it or is likely to take away from it?
Every book is an opportunity to navigate that territory in the middle, between what we adults want and love and think we know and what those kids want and love and think they know.
Through my experiences with Shark Vs. Train and Attack! Boss! Cheat Code!, I’ve come to appreciate just how much room there is to maneuver through that middle ground.
Yes, I wrote Shark Vs. Train for me -- but that didn’t stop me from trying out scenarios on my boys and trying to crack them up and seeing what they responded to before deciding with illustrator Tom Lichtenheld and our editor which competitions to keep.
And yes, I wrote Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! for my boys -- but I couldn’t have done that without relying on my own research skills and my own judgment about what was important to include or exclude, even when that put me at odds with a 9-year-old who totally thought that “M” should be for Minecraft.
Each book we write, and each book we recommend, is partly about us and partly about them. If we keep that in mind before we put our fingers to the keyboard or pull a title off the shelf, and if we consider how best to strike a balance in that particular case, I think we’re all more likely to be happy with the outcome.
Not every book will fall squarely between our desires and those of our readers. But the more books we share -- truly share -- the more opportunities we’ll have to average out closer to the middle.
And the more we’ll learn to trust each other.
And the better the chances that we’ll each be able to think of a book -- one that we give and that they receive -- as ours.
Prepping to take the NaNoWriMo challenge this November? Blurb, an independent book and magazine publishing platform, has established a partnership with National Novel Writing Month.
NaNoWriMo writers are invited to join Blurb’s newly launched Coffee & Quill Society to receive support as they work on their projects. During the 30-day marathon, participants will receive tips through webinars and emails to help with outlining the story of the novel and meeting daily writing goals. Follow this link to watch a webinar featuring Blurb senior content manager Forrest Bryant, NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty, and NaNoWriMo executive director Grant Faulkner.
Here’s more from the press release: “Blurb is such a believer in new and emerging writers that all Coffee & Quill Society members who complete the NaNoWriMo challenge will receive one copy of their novel in print and ebook form for free. Blurb is the only platform supporting the challenge that enables writers to upload their manuscript and create an ebook and print book from one file. Once writers have uploaded their book, they can utilize the Blurb Global Retail Network that, through a partnership with Ingram Content Group, will enable them to distribute their work to online retailers and bookstores around the world, helping global sales.”
I get to work with many authors and illustrators who have school-visit schedules that would make your head spin. John Coy, Nancy Carlson, and Greg Neri to name only three rack up more miles and passport stamps than I care to contemplate. I consider myself a good traveler and something of a road warrior where car trips are concerned, but I’ve seen school visit schedules that would make me cut up my driver’s license and let my passport expire. And as taxing as this work is, I think this travel is also one of the most important things authors and illustrators do today.
Don’t take my word for it though. John Coy has written with characteristic eloquence on the matter.
“Like any school visit, once I’ve agreed to come, teachers and librarians start preparing students. Because of those efforts, I never cancel and am reluctant to postpone. That’s true with winter driving in Minnesota, and it’s true with unforeseen situations at international schools.”
Saturday Night Live alum Amy Poehler has enlisted several celebrity friends to serve as narrators for the audiobook edition of her memoir, Yes Please.
The participating readers include Sir Patrick Stewart, Carol Burnett, Seth Meyers, Mike Schur, Kathleen Turner, and Poehler’s parents. It also includes a recording of Poehler’s one night only live performance at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater.
The Wall Street Journal has posted a SoundCloud clip with Stewart reading Poehler’s haiku about plastic surgery. Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, released the audiobook, the eBook, and the hardcover book yesterday.
LIEV SCHREIBER, DAVID HYDE PIERCE, JANE CURTIN, MICHAEL POTTS AND MORE
CELEBRATE THE BELOVED AUTHOR OF CHARLOTTE’S WEB WITH READINGS AND MUSIC
Symphony Space, First Book – Manhattan and HarperCollins Publishers announce
A star-studded evening honoring E.B. White on November 16, 2014
October 2, 2014 NEW YORK, N.Y.— After the success of last year’s sold-out event featuring Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan performing excerpts from Roald Dahl’s classics, Symphony Space and First Book – Manhattan team up once again. This time, the annual event will showcase readings by the New Yorker writer and treasured children’s novelist E.B. White.
At Terrific Tails: A Celebration of E.B. White, Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan), Tony Award-winner David Hyde Pierce (Frasier), Jane Curtin (Saturday Night Live, Unforgettable), and Michael Potts (True Detective, The Wire) will take the stage with other Broadway and Hollywood actors to perform the work of the cherished writer whose humorous and poignant stories and poetry include Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little and Trumpet of the Swan. The evening will also include special guest appearances from White’s granddaughter Martha White and his stepson Roger Angell (author and former editor of The New Yorker). Barbershop quartet Scollay Square will perform songs from the film version of Charlotte’s Web. In addition, bestselling author of The Lunch Lady series, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, will return to host the event. Proceeds will benefit First Book – Manhattan www.firstbook.org/manhattan
E. B. White (1899 – 1985), the author of such beloved classics as Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan, was born in Mount Vernon, New York. He graduated from Cornell University in 1921 and joined the staff of The New Yorker magazine, then in its infancy. He died on October 1, 1985.
Mr. White is also the author of One Man’s Meat, The Second Tree from the Corner, and This Is New York. In addition, he co-authored the English language style guide, The Elements of Style, which is commonly known as “Strunk & White.” He won countless awards, including the 1971 National Medal for Literature and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, which commended him for making a “substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.”
During his lifetime, many young readers asked Mr. White if his stories were true. In a letter to his fans, he answered, “No, they are imaginary tales . . . But real life is only one kind of life—there is also the life of the imagination.”
Serving the New York City metro area, First Book – Manhattan distributes thousands of brand new books to disadvantaged children and the programs that serve them. Founded in 2011, First Book’s local Manhattan Advisory Board has granted more than 7,000 books throughout the community and expects this December event to be their most successful fundraiser to date.
Each year, First Book – Manhattan distributes thousands of brand new books to disadvantaged children and the programs that serve them throughout the New York City metro area. Founded in 2011, First Book’s local Manhattan Chapter has granted more than 25,000 books to kids in need and looks forward to hosting its most successful fundraiser to date on November 16.
“The bar we set for our signature event last year was a high one to leap over, but the production we have planned this time around will surpass the expectations of anyone who enjoyed last year’s show,” said Sean Gallagher, chair of First Book – Manhattan. “Ultimately, our goal is to provide as many books as possible to the underserved children in our community. We want everyone who comes to our winter benefit to have a fantastic time, and to be inspired to support the kids in this community with action.”
“Terrific Tails: A Celebration of E.B. White”
When: Sunday, November 16 at 5pm
Where: Symphony Space Peter Jay Sharp Theatre
Tickets: $25 each; available on-line or at the box office by calling 212-864-5400
This will be our final Wednesday Poetry Prompt until December. Beginning on Saturday, the November PAD (Poem-A-Day) Chapbook Challenge will provide a prompt and poem each day of the month. Click here for the guidelines.
For today’s prompt, write an emerging poem. Some things emerge out of the shadows or the darkness. Some things emerge from the water. Others emerge in broad daylight, whether we’re talking monsters, athletes, politicians, or what have you. Poems themselves emerge from the blank page and/or screen.
Win $1,000 for Your Poetry!
Writer’s Digest is offering a contest strictly for poets with a top prize of $1,000, publication in Writer’s Digest magazine, and a copy of the 2015 Poet’s Market. There are cash prizes for Second ($250) and Third ($100) Prizes, as well as prizes for the Top 25 poems.
we stood together
with the rising sun
for the camera
when Simon saw it
and asked what is it
and without looking
we said it must be
a deer but he said
no that’s not a deer
it’s a coyote
we followed his eyes
and watched it emerge
from beneath a bush
and it was bigger
than I thought they got
and I worried for
the kids as it ran
one end of the yard
to the other like
lightning but under
that speed was a fear
of the chain link fence
and questioning eyes
as sun revealed all
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of the poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He edits Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market, and Guide to Self-Publishing, in addition to writing a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter and poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine.
This will be his seventh year of hosting and participating in the November PAD (Poem-A-Day) Chapbook Challenge. As much as he loves the hustle and bustle of the April PAD Challenges, November is nice for a few reasons, including the focus on creating a chapbook and just the laid back feel. Some of his favorite poems have come out of the November challenges, and he can’t wait to get started again.
It so happened that at the end of this past summer I was out of town and responded to the questions and comments that had accumulated in August and September in twoposts. We have the adjectives biennial and biannual but no such Latinized luxury for the word month. Although I realized that in this case bimonthly would be misleading, I hoped that the context would disambiguate it. Let me assure our correspondents that my gleanings will keep appearing every last Wednesday until some unpredictable circumstance (for example, a sudden lack of queries: I can’t think of anything else) do us part. My bimonthly meant “gleanings for two months.”
Gaul, Walloon, Wallachian
Wallachian, Walloon, and Welsh share the same Germanic root, which means “foreign” (one can also see it in walnut, as well as in the family names Wallace, Welsh, and Walshe). The Anglo-Saxons called the Celts and the Romans foreigners. The element -wall in Cornwall is related to them. Gaulish is a Romanized form of the same adjective (compare ward and guard, Wilhelm and Guillaume). But one should not argue from etymological affinity to tribal or national identity. Calling some people foreigners does not say anything about their origin.
Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) has an entry for the word, and descriptions of the game abound, but the origin of the name remains undiscovered. My browsing has not yielded anything worth reporting. What little has been said on the subject in books on games can be found on the Internet in five minutes. The idea that hull goes back to the Old Engl. verb for “hide” (hellan ~ helian, in Modern English, rare and dialectal hele; compare German hehlen, hüllen, and their cognate -ceal in Engl. conceal, from Latin, via French) is, in my opinion, fanciful. Hull gull is known among American Indians, but in the absence of its native name nothing follows from this fact. The hully gully dance seems to have been called after the game. Some people have looked for its source in Africa, yet no facts bear out its African origin. In my experience, the nucleus of such reduplications (hugger-mugger and the like) is more often the second element; the first is then added to rhyme with it. This is especially true of the words whose first element begins with an h. Should some brave word sleuth decide to search for the etymology of hull gull, it may pay off to begin with gull. Perhaps some of our correspondents have ideas on this subject. If so, kindly don’t hide them.
My gratitude is due those who informed me about the origin of brown shirts in Germany. I knew most of what was said in the comments but can now state with certainty that brown had no symbolic value in the choice of that uniform. As regards the name of the hazel grouse, it indeed has a root with wide Indo-European connections. The remark on braun und blau (see the quotation from DeutschesWörterbuch adduced by Roland Schumann) should be considered, but in such binomials a descending scale is also possible: compare Engl. black and blue.
I am sure Michael Lamb is right. It did not occur to me to consult dictionaries. The OED explains that livid withanger means “pale with anger.” However, I still wonder whether anger, rather than fear, causes pallor. In those few cases in which I heard the phrase, the speakers always meant “suffused with red.” Apparently, I err in (good) company.
One as a pronoun
One is responsible for one’s mistakes. Is this a silly sentence? In at least one opinion, it is as silly as Johnis responsible for John’s mistakes. I am afraid I disagree. One, our correspondent points out, is not only an indefinite pronoun but also a noun, a circumstance ignored by grammarians. However, grammarians have always been aware of the nature of one. In the United States, grammar is seldom taught today (where some watered down elements of it remain, grammar has been replaced by the less offensive term structure; I cannot vouch for the rest of the English-speaking world), but those of us who did study this allegedly-devoid-of-fun subject at school have heard about the parts of speech (nouns, adjectives, verbs, and the rest). The division of the vocabulary into parts of speech is a minor catastrophe. For instance, adverbs often resemble a trashcan (what is not a noun or an adjective finds refuge there, and, to add to the confusion, nouns and adjectives in oblique cases tend to be “adverbialized”). Numerals fare even worse: we provide a list of them (one, two, three, etc.) and say: “This is your part of speech.” Is twice a numeral or an adverb? Twelve is a numeral, while dozen is a noun. Is threescore a numeral or a noun? Sixty is certainly a numeral. In the Old Germanic languages, the words for one, two, three, and four could be declined (as they still are in Icelandic) and belonged to the same classes as nouns; yet we call them numerals. All this is common knowledge. One is the worst offender, because, despite its meaning, in Old Germanic it had a plural form and sometimes meant “only.” Modern Engl. ones shows how natural that plural sounds, while once is a petrified genitive.
My next point concerns usage. John is responsible for John’s mistakes is unnecessary and even silly, because his, instead of John’s, would refer to the subject quite clearly. But one has no correlate, hence the trouble. One is responsible for his (her) mistakes is embarrassing, because one is neither a man nor a woman. Their is safe and politically correct, but one is singular, while their is plural. To be sure, those who say when a studentcomes, I never make themwait will find the correlation one/their unobjectionable, and let them enjoy their usage (“every man in his humor”). In addition to those variants, we can say either one is responsible for one’s mistakes (logical but perhaps inelegant) or rephrase the sentence (all of us areresponsible for our mistakes). “John” is doing better: he pays the price for his folly, just as “Mary” rues her missteps. While speaking English, one occasionally hits the wall, and there is no help for it.
I wrote my response before Michael Lamb’s comment appeared. There was no need for me to change anything in my text, and “at this point of time,” as so deplorably many people say and write, I invite our correspondents to read our “polemic” and express their opinion: come one, come all.
Disagreements over strategy, or a maid of all work: over
Some prepositions succeed in ousting all their competitors. Henry W. Fowler, the author of the immortal book ModernEnglish Usage, wrote with contempt about those who say as to, because they are too lazy to think of for, about, and their synonyms. I have a dim recollection that in one of my old posts I discussed over as an example of an evil invasive species. Recently, Walter Turner has sent me a list of such overdone phrases from the most respectable British and American newspapers. Some of them are offered below for the wise to be aware. “Egypt jails nine men over sex assaults”; “Moscow faces bank curbs over new public-sector projects” (= because of?in connection with?); “Journalists face jail over spy leaks”; “Cameron ambushes Labour over tax plans”; “Cameron criticized over plans to knight Tory reshuffle victims”; “X warns Y over boozy night out,” and many more. This virus, like all viruses, knows no borders. Take note and think it over.
I have something to say about the Indo-European names of fruits, the phrase in brown study, the origin of Viking, and about the ever-green subject of English spelling but will do so next Wednesday.
Image credits: (1) Hazel grouse. Naumann, Naturgeschichte der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band VI, Tafel 8 – Gera, 1897 digitale Bearbeitung : Peter v. Sengbusch. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Marx Super Circus Tent Side 2 Inside Detail 1. Photo by Ed Berg. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
John Green has shared a behind-the-scenes video for the Paper Towns film adaptation on the vlogbrothers YouTube channel. The young adult novelist is serving as one of the executive producers for this project.
In the video embedded above, Green introduces executive producer Isaac Klausner, director Jake Schreier, and actorsHalston Sage, Jaz Sinclair, and Justice Smith. Thus far, it has drawn more than 2,000 “likes” on Facebook.
Green has also posted several photos from the movie set on his Tumblr page. Paper Towns will hit theaters on June 19, 2015.
This group hope to raise $100,000.00 that will be used towards several different projects. Future plans include bringing diverse books and authors into disadvantaged schools, initiating the Walter Dean Myers Award & Grant program, and launching the inaugural Kidlit Diversity Festival in Washington, D.C.
We’ve embedded a video about the campaign above; it features appearances from Matt de la Peña, John Green, Marie Lu, Cindy Pon, Grace Lin, Lamar Giles, Tim Federle, Jacqueline Woodson, and Arthur Levine. Follow this link to read a transcript. What do you think?
Halloween is this week. Isn’t that nuts? I’ve had kids in my department for weeks, asking for Halloween books, for ghost stories, for scary stories.
And then there are the kids that want something maybe creepy, maybe suspenseful but “not SCARY scary.” I love these kids. These kids are my kindred spirits because I hate being scared. I can’t watch a horror movie and I never read a Goosebumps book when i was younger. But I do enjoy suspense and a little gloom. Take a look at these books for your kids who want to have some Halloween reading but want to be able to sleep at night:
The Theodosia Throckmorton series by R.L. LaFevers: Theodosia can see curses and get rid of them. This comes in handy as her parents work in a museum and there are artifacts with curses everywhere. This is a fantasy adventure and though there are some creepy parts, it’s mainly pure fun as Theo tries to save Britain from ancient Egyptian curses. There are four of these.
Constable and Toop by Gareth P. Jones. This British import has some scary and violent parts, but for the most part it’s a…funny ghost story. A funny ghost story! I love it! Something weird is happening with London’s ghost and a paper-pusher from the Ghost Bureau is sent to investigate.
Ah, the original hilariously macabre story. This one is a bit gruesome (I mean, it’s Roald Dahl, right?), and features a whole lot of nasty witches, transforming into mice, and a conclusion that will make some grownups uncomfortable. But it’s not terrifying; it’s actually pretty satisfying. I reread this one recently and it holds up splendidly. No nightmares, just cringes of disgust and laughter.
Ok, maybe this one skews a little young, but even my older teens love these. There’s a nostalgia aspect, plus, the ridiculous nature of all the horrible happenings to the Baudelaires is hard to resist.
Happy Halloween to you and all of your patrons of varying reading interests!
Our cross-poster from YALSA today is Ally Watkins (@aswatki1). Ally is a youth services librarian in Mississippi, and has worked with ages birth-18 for the last 5 years.
Entering the “Oracles Den” at the fair with your significant other seemed novel at first. When the oracle had you gaze in her crystal ball though and you see yourself five years down the road with someone you’ve never met, well things just got interesting. The real problem: Your significant other knows who the person is. Write this scene.
Two New York City-based bookshops will cease operations
Barnes & Noble will close the branch located in the Fresh Meadows neighborhood on January 31, 2015. The Queens Courier reports that ”a lease agreement between the owner and the store was scrapped.” Many members of the community have expressed great sadness over this situation.
Posman Books will close the branch located inside Grand Central Terminal on December 31, 2014. According to The Gothamist, this decision was made because the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) refuses to renew the store’s lease. The owners have posted a “heartful thank you and farewell” letter on the Posman Books website; follow this link to read it.
Throughout history, some people have chosen to take huge risks. What can we learn from their experiences?
Extreme activities, such as polar exploration, deep-sea diving, mountaineering, space faring, and long-distance sailing, create extraordinary physical and psychological demands. The physical risks, such as freezing, drowning, suffocating or starving, are usually obvious. But the psychological pressures are what make extreme environments truly daunting.
The ability to deal with fear and anxiety is, of course, essential. But people in extremes may endure days or weeks of monotony between the moments of terror. Solo adventurers face loneliness and the risk of psychological breakdown, while those whose mission involves long-term confinement with a small group may experience stressful interpersonal conflict. All of that is on top of the physical hardships like sleep deprivation, pain, hunger, and squalor.
What can the rest of us learn from those hardy individuals who survive and thrive in extreme places? We believe there are many psychological lessons from hard places that can help us all in everyday life. They include the following.
Focus – the ability to pay attention to the right things and ignore all distractions, for as long as it takes – is a fundamental skill. Laser-like concentration is obviously essential during hazardous moves on a rock face or a spacewalk. Focus also helps when enduring prolonged hardship, such as on punishing polar treks. A good strategy for dealing with hardship is to focus tightly on the next bite-sized action rather than dwelling on the entire daunting mission.
The ability to focus attention is a much-underestimated skill in everyday life. It helps you get things done and tolerate discomfort. And it is rewarding: when someone is utterly absorbed in a demanding and stretching activity, they experience a satisfying psychological state called ‘flow’ (or being ‘in the zone’). A person in flow feels in control, forgets everyday anxieties, and tends to perform well at the task in hand. The good news is that we can all become better at focusing our attention. One scientifically-proven method is through the regular practice of meditation.
Focus helps when tackling difficult tasks, but you also need expertise – high levels of skills and knowledge – to perform those tasks well. Expertise underpins effective planning and preparation and enables informed and measured judgements about risks. In high-risk situations experts make more accurate decisions than novices, who may become paralysed with indecision or take rapid, panicky actions that make things worse.
Expertise also helps people in extreme environments to manage stress. Stress occurs when the demands on you exceed your actual or perceived capacity to cope. An effective way of reducing stress, in everyday life as well as extremes, is by increasing your ability to cope by developing high levels of skills and experience.
Developing expertise requires hard work and persistence. But it’s worth the investment – the dividends include better assessment of risk, better decision-making, and less vulnerability to stress.
Getting enough sleep is often difficult in extreme environments, where the physical demands can deprive people of sleep, disrupt their circadian rhythms, or both.
Bad sleep has a range of adverse effects on mental and physical wellbeing, including impairing alertness, judgment, memory, decision-making, and mood. Unsurprisingly, it makes people much more likely to have accidents.
Many of us are chronically sleep deprived in everyday life: we go to bed late, get up early, and experience low-quality sleep in between. Most of us would feel better if we slept more and slept better. So don’t feel guilty about spending more time in bed.
Experts in extreme environments often make use of tactical napping. Research has shown that napping is an effective way of alleviating the adverse consequences of bad sleep. It’s also enjoyable.
Be tolerant and tolerable.
Adventures in extreme environments often require small groups of people to be trapped together for months at a time. Even the best of friends can get on each other’s nerves under such circumstances. Social conflict can build rapidly over petty issues. Groups split apart, individuals are ostracised, and simmering tensions may even explode into violence.
When forming a team for an extreme mission, as much emphasis should be placed on team members’ interpersonal skills as on their specialist skills or physical capability. Research shows that team-building exercises – though often mocked – can be an effective way of enhancing teamwork.
Effective teams are alert to mounting tensions. Individuals keep the little annoyances in perspective and respect others’ need for privacy. To survive and thrive in demanding situations, people must learn to be tolerant and tolerable. The same is true in everyday life.
Extreme environments are dangerous places where people endure great hardship. They may suffer terrifying accidents or watch others die. Such experiences can be traumatic and, in some cases, cause long-term damage to mental health.
But this is by no means inevitable. Research has shown that many individuals emerge from extreme experiences with greater resilience and a better understanding of their own strengths. By coping with life-threatening situations, they become more self-confident and more appreciative of life.
Resilience is a common quality in everyday life. We tend to underestimate our own ability to cope with stress, and overestimate its adverse consequences. Some stress is good for us and we should not try to avoid it completely.
Featured image credit: Mount Everest, by tpsdave. Public Domain via Pixabay.
Somehow, though I've been reading along faithfully, I never got around to reviewing the second in the Gail Carriger Finishing School series. Curtsies & Conspiracies was just as much hare-brained fun as my well-loved Etiquette & Espionage. May I have... Read the rest of this post
COMPULSION is out in the world as of yesterday. Literally. It's in my nearest Barnes and Noble, and Target and Walmart and all kinds of lovely, lovely, lovely indie stores. Someone even tweeted a photo of it in the Philippines.
So how do I feel about becoming an "author"?
It's hard to be coherent, but in a word, I feel grateful.
These WOW Wednesday posts are supposed to be the one tip that published authors want to pass to other writers about what most helped us make the leap from aspiring author to published author. So here's my tip:
Hundreds of incredible people make it happen.
First, there are the authors who have written the books that inspired us to read and write. As authors, we have to be readers first. We have to love the genre we're writing within, and we need to know the current books that are being published within the genre. Going on tour with a bunch of fantastic authors, I'm spending so much time fangirling, I can't even tell you how embarrassing it it. Here's me fangirling over Melissa Marr at our event on Saturday.
Next, there are the amazing people you meet on your journey. The people who become YOUR people. I am so lucky to get to share my debut weekend with my besties Cici and Carol, two wonderful women I met at my first SCBWI conference when I was just starting to write YA.
There are critique partners who read your manuscript in the middle of the night -- all night -- and reassure you when you doubt and find all the things that you can't see for yourself. COMPULSION wouldn't exist without Jan Lewis and Susan Sipal. And they don't just let me thank THEM, they actually send *me* flowers. How crazy and lovely is that?
And then there are all the bloggers who wrote posts and created a community where I could actually learn how to write a novel. I've been learning from people like Lisa Gail Green, Julie Musil, Natalie Aguirre, Angela Ackerman, Becca Puglisi, Stina Lindenblatt, and sites like Writer Unboxed, Pub(lishing) Crawl, and so many others for years. I continue to read them, because they constantly teach me something new.
My agent, Kent D. Wolf, and Amanda Panitch, who first read the manuscript at Lippincott Massie McQuilkin, has been amazing. Annette Pollert, who acquired the manuscript and edited it for Simon Pulse, was beyond wonderful. And there are literally not enough words to describe how smart, lovely, enthusiastic, endlessly supportive, and dedicated the team at Pulse has been. From Mara Anastas, the publisher, to Mary Marotta, the VP and Director of Sales, who with her team worked miracles in getting COMPULSION to so many places, to Carolyn Swerdloff, the Assistant Marketing Director, who worked with the incredible marketing department to create an unbelievable campaign for this book, to Teresa Ronquillo who got so much blog coverage and handled our Compulsion for Reading campaign, to my lovely, lovely editor, Sara Sargent, who is basically an orchestra director pulling the best out of me and creating a gateway to everything that is this book. There is just not enough meaning in 'thank you' to express my gratitude.
The authors I've met along the way through blogging, who have been kind enough to share their experience and expertise. Words fail here too.
There are the fabulous authors who said kind things about COMPULSION. Jennifer L. Armentrout, Wendy Higgins, Claudia Gray, Kimberly Derting, Megan Shepherd, Kendare Blake, Kat Zhang, and Leah Cypess -- you have made ALL the difference in this book. SO much gratitude, I can't even . . .
My beyond fantastic blog partners, Alyssa, Lisa, Erin, Katharyn, Susan, Jocelyn, Becca, and Shelly. The bloggers and readers who have helped spread the word about COMPULSION are the engine behind this book. THANK you! And I can't even begin to tell you how much joy and how many tears you have given me with your kind comments.
The readers who have come to our events so far, you guys ROCK. Being part of the Compelling Reads Tour these past four days has been a joyous, eye-opening, and uplifting experience. I've loved every moment, and can't believe how lucky I am to get to do it for two more weeks.
Kimberley Griffiths Little, Wendy Higgins, Martina Boone (me :)), Melissa Marr, Leah Cypess at One More Page Books in Arlington, VA
Wendy Higgins, Kimberley Griffiths Little, Jessica Spotswood, and me at the Bethesda Library with Politics and Prose.
Most of all, there are the people who were kind enough to buy this book and help me spread the word yesterday, before yesterday, and hopefully today and tomorrow. Everything I've done so far on COMPULSION, every word that the characters speak and the actions they take, are now turned over to you. I love hearing from you, and I love sharing this story with you.
That's my second big tip for aspiring authors: understand that what you put on the page is only a fraction of what readers bing to it and take away from it.
Whether you're a reader, or an aspiring author, or both, I hope you love COMPULSION as much as I do.
Thank you so much for sharing this journey with me!
Have you ever written a scary story? In honor of the Halloween season, we are interviewing horror writers to learn about the craft of scaring readers.
Recently, we spoke with Delilah S. Dawson, an author and associate editor at the Cool Mom Picks and Cool Mom Tech websites. We discussed her new novel, Servants of the Storm. Check out the highlights from our interview below…
Q: How did you land your first book deal? A: The old-fashioned way: after a psychotic break.
We’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending October 19, 2014–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.
(Debuted at #1 in Hardcover Fiction) Gray Mountain by John Grisham: “Her new job takes Samantha into the murky and dangerous world of coal mining, where laws are often broken, rules are ignored, regulations are flouted, communities are divided, and the land itself is under attack from Big Coal. Violence is always just around the corner, and within weeks Samantha finds herself engulfed in litigation that turns deadly.” (October 2014)
With Halloween nigh, it’s only fitting to serve up a treat . . . a Q & A with the terrifyingly spooktacular R. L. Stine, author of the Goosebumps series! Read to find out which Goosebumps character R. L. Stine is most like, his inspiration for Slappy, and more!
Q: How did you come up with Slappy’s character and the rhyme that brings him to life?
R.L Stine: I’ve always been fascinated by puppets and dummies. When I was really young, maybe about three, my mother read the original Pinocchio to me, and it scared me to death. I think that’s where the idea of Slappy came from. When I write him, I want him to be so rude, he’s funny.
Q: Why did you decide on Goosebumps as the title of your book series?
R.L Stine: I liked the title Goosebumps because it is funny and scary at the same time, exactly what I try to do in the books. I’ve never been able to think of another title as perfect as that one.
Q: What would you do if you found yourself inside one of your books? Would you try to change the story or would you let it unfold?
R.L Stine: I think I would scream my head off—and run—like most of my characters. I would hate to be trapped in one of my books!
Q: Does anyone still call you “Jovial Bob?”
R.L Stine: No. Now I’m just scary. I haven’t been Jovial in years.
Q: Are any of your stories based on things that gave you nightmares as a kid?
R.L Stine: I was scared of a lot of things when I was a kid. I think that’s why I stayed in my room typing stories all the time. When I write my books now, I don’t remember specific things I was afraid of then. But I remember those feelings of fear and panic and try to bring them to my books.
Q: Do you go on book tours to other countries like Europe or Asia so that fans outside of the U.S. can meet you?
R.L Stine: I’ve been lucky to have done several wonderful book tours in other countries. I’ve done appearances and signings in London, Paris, and cities in Italy. My most memorable book tours were the ones in Australia and, most recently, China. I hope to travel to more countries soon.
Q: If you had to choose any character in any Goosebumps book to get its comeuppance from any Goosebumps monster, which character and which monster would you choose?
R.L Stine: Believe me, I don’t want to be a character in any of my books, and I don’t want to be a monster. I think I would least like to be the monster at Camp Jellyjam who was so smelly he died from his own smell!
Q: Which character from your Goosebumps books would you say is most like you and why?
R.L Stine: I guess I’m like the kid in The Blob that Ate Everything. He likes to sit at an old typewriter and write stories. And then he’s horrified when everything he writes comes true. I’d be horrified, too!
Q: What inspired you to write horror books?
R.L Stine: I’ve always enjoyed horror. When I was a kid, I read wonderful horror comics, like Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror. My brother and I used to go to a horror movie every Saturday afternoon. I think I enjoy writing horror for kids because it’s a chance to give them a chill—and a laugh—at the same time.
Q: Have you ever considered taking a fan’s idea and writing a Goosebumps story about it?
R.L Stine: I’ve never used a reader’s ideas. I enjoy thinking them up too much myself!
Hi Everyone, The clock is ticking! If you haven't entered for a chance to win a copy of the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (CWIM) yet, see the link at the end of this post. The giveaway ends on Friday!
We're hosting the 2015 CWIM giveaway this month to celebrate the publication of my article in it: "Writing for Boys (and other 'Reluctant Readers')." The article contains advice and insights from four award-winning authors known for writing books that appeal to reluctant readers: Matt de la Peña, Lenore Look, David Lubar, and Steve Sheinkin. Today, I'm pleased to share a guest Wednesday Writing Workout from one of those authors: Lenore Look!
Here's Lenore's bio, as it appears in the 2015 CWIM: Lenore Look recently released the sixth book in her award-winning (and boy-friendly) Alvin Ho chapter book series: Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions (Schwartz & Wade). She is also the author of the Ruby Lu series (Atheneum) and several acclaimed picture books, including Henry’s First-Moon Birthday (Simon & Schuster), Uncle Peter’s Amazing Chinese Wedding (Atheneum), and, her newest, Brush of the Gods (Random House), a historical fiction account of the life of Wu Daozi, China’s most famous painter. Lenore taught creative writing at Drew University and St. Elizabeth College in New Jersey, and frequently speaks in schools in the United States and Asia. She has also co-presented the Highlights Foundation workshop "Writing for Boys" with Bruce Coville and Rich Wallace. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, and blogs frequently at lenorelook.wordpress.com.
Here’s the sixth book in the beloved and hilarious Alvin Ho chapter book series, which has been compared to Diary of a Wimpy Kid and is perfect for both beginning and reluctant readers. Alvin, an Asian American second grader who’s afraid of everything, is taking his fears to a whole new level—or should we say, continent. On a trip to introduce brand-new baby Ho to relatives in China, Alvin’s anxiety is at fever pitch. First there’s the harrowing 16-hour plane ride; then there’s a whole slew of cultural differences to contend with: eating lunch food for breakfast, kung fu lessons, and acupuncture treatment (yikes!). Not to mention the crowds that make it easy for a small boy to get lost. From Lenore Look and New York Times bestselling illustrator LeUyen Pham comes a drop-dead-funny and touching series with a truly unforgettable character.
Sounds like a fun read! J
For today's WWW, Lenore shares a great exercise in beginnings.
Wednesday Writing Workout: Finding the Best Beginning by Lenore Look
When I worked as a newspaper reporter, the first thing I learned was how important the “lede” or beginning of the story is. The first sentence is crucial. It’s called the “hook” because it snags your reader and reels them into your story. Without a strong hook, your reader will get away before you can tell them the five Ws and H – who, where, what, when, why and how.
When writing fiction, your hook is not just the best way to snag your reader, but it’s the place from which you will hang the rest of your story. It’s THAT important. For me, the beginning is the hardest part of the book to write. I’m faced with all my research, my characters, what I want to say, and a few ideas for scenes. It’s overwhelming. Where do I start? I pick something and have a go at it. It’s a mis-start, or a scrub, as they call it at NASA when a launch is aborted. I have many scrubs. When I find the spark that will finally launch my rocket, there’s more trouble. Often I will agonize over the first sentence for days, re-writing it, tweaking it, throwing it out, starting it over, again and again. But when I finally get it right, it’s blast-off! And the rest of the book seems to write itself.
Here’s my top-secret recipe for finding the strongest beginning, and I hope it helps you find yours.
How to Find the Strongest Beginning to Any Piece of Writing. 1.Sit down. 2.Open your writer’s notebook. 3.Ask the following questions: a.Who’s your character? b.What’s your setting? c.What does your character want? d.What are the obstacles in her way? 4.Summarize the story you’re telling in one sentence. 5.Write your summary sentence in the center of a blank page. 6.Now surround your summary sentence with your answers to the questions from #3. Some people call this “clustering,” – if you draw circles around each of your sentences/ideas, it begins to look like a cluster of grapes. I don’t bother with the circles, instead I make lists, and surround my summary sentence with lists that answer the questions. 7.Add your research as they fit under the different questions in #3. 8.Step away. 9.Eat some ice cream. 10.Stare at the sunset. 11.Call a friend. 12.It’s important to start the next part with fresh eyes.
How to Find the Strongest Beginning, Part II 1.Look at your messy page(s). 2.Find the smallest, most simple detail that captures your entire story. 3.What you’re looking for is the KEY to your house. Keys are small. A small detail will open the door to the rest of the house, which is your story. All the rooms in your house are the different scenes that make up the story. 4.Study carefully the beginnings to books you like. 5.Using the detail you found in #2, and the inspiration you found from #4, write the most compelling beginning you can. 6.Let it lead you into the first room of your story. 7.Finish off the ice cream. 8.Stare at the sunset. 9.It may be the last sunset you see for a while. 10.Writing a book takes a long time. 11.Cry. 12.Cry your eyes out. It’s only the beginning. You still have the middle and the end to tackle!
Thanks, Lenore, for this terrific exercise! Readers, if any of you try today's WWW, do let us know how it works for you.
And don't forget to enter for a chance to win your own copy of the 2015 CWIM, where you'll be able to read additional helpful tips from Lenore. See my last blog post for details. The giveaway ends October 31.
From eighteenth century Gothic novels to contemporary popular culture, the tropes and sacred culture of Catholicism endure as themes in entertainment. OUP author Diana Walsh Pasulka sat down with The Conjuring (2013) screenwriters Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes to discuss their cinematic focus on “the Catholic Supernatural” and the enduring appeal of Catholic culture to moviegoers.
Diana Walsh Pasulka: Your recent movie The Conjuring was financially very successful and is the third highest grossing horror film about the supernatural, behind only The Exorcist (1973) and The Sixth Sense (1999). Each of these films engage Catholic themes, and more specifically, the supernatural. The Conjuring, of course, is based on the lives of Catholics Ed and Lorraine Warren. What is it about Catholic culture that you think resonates with audiences?
Carey Hayes: Catholic culture is global. It also has a long history that almost everyone in the West identifies with on some level. Medieval cathedrals, priests in black robes and white collars and nuns in habits, in many ways these visuals are like short hand or code, and audiences understand them. For example, take the movie, The Exorcist. When it is apparent in the movie that the little girl is possessed by evil, they call in the priest. The priest, with his identifiable clothing, his crucifix and holy water, is the representation, visually, of the antidote to evil. Of course it doesn’t hurt that authors and filmmakers have used these themes over and over again, and this adds to the recognizable effects. The more we see elements of Catholic culture used in visual culture this way, the more we understand what they mean.
Diana Walsh Pasulka: That’s interesting. The meaning of these tropes, then, can take on a second life, of sorts, in popular culture. Non-Catholic audiences might equate what they see about Catholicism in the movies, with Catholic-lived practice.
Chad Hayes: That could be the case, of course, but in our experience we’ve had only positive reinforcement from Catholics. When we promoted The Conjuring in San Francisco a Catholic priest approached me and said “Thank you for getting it right.” That one comment was one of the best compliments I’ve received about the movie. We were also interviewed for U.S. Catholic, and they were very positive.
Diana Walsh Pasulka: A few years ago, Carey, you coined the term “The Religious Supernatural” to differentiate what you were doing from other screenwriters who wrote movies about the supernatural. Why designate it “religious?”
Carey Hayes: I coined the term to identify a certain framework, and, I suppose, to suggest a history. Today there is a lot of focus in popular culture on the supernatural or the paranormal. It is almost all secular. In the past, the supernatural and paranormal occurred within a worldview that allowed for the supernatural but within a religious framework. People had tools like prayers to deal with the supernatural, which, you have to admit, is scary. We wanted, in our movies, to return to that. We thought that, in many ways, religion deals with the big questions, and the supernatural is usually a scary thing that interrupts daily life and causes people to think about the big questions. So, we wanted to pair the two, religion and the supernatural, and remind audiences that this is, ultimately, what scary movies are about: ultimate questions about life.
Diana Walsh Pasulka: Are you ever frightened by what you write about?
Chad Hayes: We’re not afraid when we write and produce movies about the supernatural. But our research frightens us!
Carey Hayes: Right! It is frightening because some of this is supposed to be true, or based on events that are true.
Diana Walsh Pasulka: I wondered about that. Part of the appeal of your movies, and other movies like it such as The Exorcist, is that they play on the ambiguity of fiction and non-fiction, or the realism of your subject. The Blair Witch Project (1999) is a great example of the play on realism. The movie was presented as recovered footage of an actual university student project. I was in Berkeley, California for the pre-release of that movie, and I couldn’t get tickets for three days because the lines outside of the theaters were so long. When I finally got to see the movie members of the audience were wondering, is this real? Of course, we knew that it wasn’t, but we were also intrigued that it was presented as real. That definitely contributed to its popularity. The marketing campaign for that movie was unique at the time, too, in that they emphasized the question of the potential realism of the movie.
Chad Hayes: We purposely look for stories that are based on true events. We do that for this very reason: because people can relate. They can Google the story and see that maybe its folklore, or its real, but it is out there and is an experience for other people. So that contributes, no doubt, to the scare factor.
Diana Walsh Pasulka: Do you think this also has something to do with the appeal of the Catholic aesthetic, like the use of real Catholic sacred objects — the sacramentals, the crucifix, and the robes of the priests?
Chad Hayes: Absolutely. Ed and Lorraine Warren are practicing Catholics. Ed has passed away, but Lorrain still attends a Catholic Mass almost every day. That part of The Conjuring is based on her real Catholic practice. We were in contact with Lorraine throughout the writing of the movie and we included the objects that she and Ed actually used, like the sacramentals, the blessed objects, and holy water. My Catholic friends tell me that most Catholics don’t use these objects in their daily lives, but then they aren’t exorcizing demons, are they?