Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Decently and In Order

A comment left by Hamlette on my review of War and Peace last week got me thinking in a new way about the question of whether it's better to read the book before watching the movie or not. She said she often enjoys reading the book afterwards for the pleasure of discovering all the things that weren't in the movie, rather than watching the movie with the consciousness of all the things that are being left out. And that reminded me of my own experience reading several very good novels after having seen the film adaptations, which I'd liked simply as movies for their own sake. I started tallying up the numbers of book/film combinations I'd experienced in this order, and here's a few of the best examples:

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
National Velvet by Enid Bagnold
Random Harvest by James Hilton
All This, and Heaven Too by Rachel Field
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther
Shane by Jack Schafer
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Life With Father by Clarence Day
Mama's Bank Account [I Remember Mama] by Kathryn Forbes
Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
Green For Danger by Christianna Brand
No Highway [in the Sky] by Nevil Shute
[The] Friendly Persuasion by Jessamyn West
A Night to Remember by Walter Lord
They Were Expendable by William L. White
The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington
The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan

Those are all good movies as well as good books. Most of them are very good adaptations, too (National Velvet and, to a lesser degree, Green For Danger are examples of book and movie being very different, but each good in its own way). The question is, would I have ever liked the movies so much if I'd read the book first? 

For argument's sake I've left out those where I simply didn't like the book—that always happens now and again. (I also left out miniseries, which are another thing altogether, and Jane Austen adaptations, which are practically a genre unto themselves.) And once in a while a film adaptation actually has a slight edge—I think the stage/film version of Life With Father outsparkles its source material just a bit; and I still prefer the film version of Friendly Persuasion to the book. Alice Adams kind of breaks even because of the slight differences between book and film; I liked some things a little better in each.

Nonfiction adaptations are a bit of a different creature—there's dramatic license taken, of course, which for some reason seems easier to put up with than the mangling of a fictional creation. (I wonder why that is? Perhaps it's because with fiction, each reader forms a stronger individual conception of what the story should be like; while the facts of nonfiction already exist independent of the reader's and author's minds.) But if you don't know all the facts beforehand, you don't have to spend the movie growling over that dramatic license. And for me, reading a nonfiction book after seeing its adaptation fills in details that give the film even more of an impact. It's one thing to watch a scene of glider troops landing in The Longest Day; it's another to read how a shortage of pilots meant that some glider planes had to be landed by totally untrained troopers if a pilot was wounded. The incident of an MTB's engine clogging because of sabotaged gasoline in They Were Expendable takes on more significance if you read how the squadron's entire supply of gasoline had been sabotaged, the effect it had on their motors and how that affected their missions through the entire campaign.

Now, for comparison, here's some of the books I read before seeing a movie adaption:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Witness For the Prosecution by Agatha Christie

Interestingly, my reaction to a lot of these movies followed the same pattern: "Decent movie, but nothing compared to the book." Of course, the actual quality of these adaptations varies. Anna Karenina ('35) is pretty limp by any standard; My Friend Flicka and Johnny Tremain are colorless and trivial when compared to the books, and no version of Treasure Island that I've seen has ever quite got it right. On the other hand, Little Lord Fauntleroy ('36) and Goodbye, Mr. Chips ('39) were both very good and very accurate—Goodbye, Mr. Chips is probably the only one off this list where I can say I like book and film equally (worth noting, it's by far the shortest book here; much easier to adapt!). Several off this list are indeed pretty good movies, but there are few that I like as well as the titles on the first list. The interesting question is, would I have been quite so unimpressed if I hadn't read the books first?

So what do you think? Do you prefer to read the book or watch the movie first? Do you think you'd be inclined to like a movie better if you're not comparing it to the book as you watch?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Watch the Horizon: "Plenilune" by Jennifer Freitag is Coming



For a long time, Jennifer Freitag has dazzled us with bits and pieces of intriguing and mysterious works-in-progress over at her excellent blog, The Penslayer. This autumn, we will finally get to experience one of them in full:

~ * ~
The fate of Plenilune hangs on the election of the Overlord, for which Rupert de la Mare and his brother are the only contenders, but when Rupert’s unwilling bride-to-be uncovers his plot to murder his brother, the conflict explodes into civil war.

To assure the minds of the lord-electors of Plenilune that he has some capacity for humanity, Rupert de la Mare has been asked to woo and win a lady before he can become the Overlord, and he will do it—even if he has to kidnap her.

En route to Naples to catch a suitor, Margaret Coventry was not expecting a suitor to catch her.
~ * ~

Plenilune is the first in a planned series of fantasy novels, and it will be released on October 20th. I'm excited about this release, in part because I am going to be doing the ebook formatting for it—which makes me an advance reader by default. I haven't read a fantasy novel in years, but I am decidedly intrigued by this series, owing to those stunning snippets of Jenny's writing I mentioned above. So mark your calendars, and in the meantime you can add Plenilune to your to-read shelf on Goodreads right here.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

War and Peace (1956)

I waited quite a while to see this movie. I'd told my mom that it would best be seen after reading the book—which I'd already done several years ago—and she had plans to read it, so we put off watching the movie till then. Mom finally read the book this summer. For a long time she kept telling me it was slow going, but by the final quarter of the book she was completely invested in the story and characters—giving the rest of us periodic bulletins on what they were up to, while I was kind of grinning behind my hand because I already knew how things turned out and had a feeling she'd like it. And when she finished the book last week, we finally watched the movie.

The first thing one has to acknowledge, of course, are the film's limitations. So much of the meat of Tolstoy's novels lies in the thoughts of his characters; so many important events are viewed through their eyes. That's the kind of thing that is nearly impossible to transfer to the screen. And the sheer massive size of War and Peace means that a feature film, even a three-and-a-half-hour one, must choose which scenes to dramatize and move quickly through them. The beginning of the film feels a little piecemeal, with a little of these characters, a little of those, different scenes that don't connect right away, but it gradually picks up steam and draws together a little as it goes on. I told my mom that if you borrowed a bit of music terminology you could call it "Selections From War and Peace." But there are a lot of individual moments and crucial scenes that are beautifully done.

The thing that has to be the biggest head-scratcher for anyone who knows the book is how the character of Pierre Bezukhov, variously described as "stout," "enormous," "corpulent" and "fat," could possibly be portrayed by...Henry Fonda? Yet he manages to give a pretty good performance. In spite of the obvious wrongness of his age and appearance, one still somehow gets glimpses of the personality and mannerisms of Tolstoy's Pierre. I don't know if it's the spectacles or something in makeup or hairstyling, but Fonda doesn't even look quite like himself sometimes (though there's never any question of his being the least bit stout).

On the other hand, the casting of Audrey Hepburn as Natasha Rostov is absolute perfection. She brings to life the flighty, heedless but bewitching girl and her gradual, sometimes painful maturation through love, mistakes made and the suffering of war. And she looks and sounds just as I always pictured Natasha. Mel Ferrer's Prince Andrei is also excellent, in spite of the script's stinting a bit on the development of his character. I thought their real-life chemistry (they were newly married at the time) particularly showed through in the lovely proposal scene, one of those fine moments of the film. (I also loved the whole sequence of Natasha's first ball). John Mills has fairly little screen time in the role of Platon Karatev, but makes the most of it, although the film doesn't really capture the importance of the character. I was amazed how entirely different his voice, accent and entire personality were from other characters I've seen him play. Some supporting characters, such as Dolokhov (Helmut Dantine), Anatole Kuragin (Vittorio Gassman) and the rest of the Rostov family, come off well, but others such as Helene Kuragina (Anita Ekberg) and Lisa Bolkonskaya (Milly Vitale) don't really have enough screen time to be understood or make an impression.

The film spends a while on Peace before working its way into War, but once there, the historical scenes really crackle with the contrasting personalities of the two commanding generals, Napoleon (Herbert Lom) and Field Marshal Kutuzov (Oscar Homolka). The appearance, posturing and mannerisms of Lom's Napoleon are so remarkably like every picture I've ever seen of the real man, it's uncannily like seeing a historical figure come to life before your eyes. The initial battle scenes seemed a trifle flat, but as the film goes on they gradually built in complexity and intensity—the battle of Borodino is staggering in its sheer scale and detail; moments like the French cavalry charge just stunning. It all climaxes in the devastating retreat from Moscow, with the demoralized French army struggling through rain, mud and snow. The final shot of Napoleon's face as he leaves the scene of the disastrous Varya River crossing says it all.

The one thing that I found unforgiveable in this adaptation, however, was the slashing of the subplot concerning Nikolai Rostov (Jeremy Brett) and Princess Marya (Anna Maria Ferrero). In the novel, they are the most significant characters after the trio of Pierre, Natasha and Andrei, with large sections of plot told from their perspective; and incidentally some of my favorites. In the film they are reduced to peripheral characters, Marya practically a nonentity. The scene where Nikolai comes to her rescue during the French invasion becomes an off-screen incident, briefly mentioned in a couple of lines spoken by Pierre. I was also disappointed that the character of Denisov (Patrick Crean) was cut down to practically nothing; I enjoyed his scenes in the book.

Is it a good adaptation? Yes and no. The ending is obviously too quick; there isn't enough emphasis on how much time is supposed to have passed since the end of the war, and an important relationship is brought to a resolution almost instantly instead of undergoing the slow and natural growth it sees in the book. But this, as with most of the film's flaws, has to be put down to time limits. A viewer who doesn't know the book would probably find it an occasionally wandering but predominately well-acted and visually beautiful film. I still think it's best seen after reading the book; even though you know there are enormous gaps, it's worth the experience of seeing some parts attractively brought to life.

And now if you'll excuse me, I think I'm off to read War and Peace again...

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer Sales

“I’m not a bargain hunter,” she said, “but I like to go where bargains are.”

~ Saki, Beasts and Super-Beasts

I'm on vacation this week, but there's a good deal going on with my books. Whether you're a bargain-hunter, or just like going where the bargains are, do stop and cast an eye over these tempting opportunities to nab a good book for little or nothing:

~ Today through Wednesday only, Left-Hand Kelly is free on Kindle.

~ Meanwhile, don't forget you can also enter to win a paperback copy in the Western Roundup Giveaway Hop, which runs through July 31st.

~ As part of the Read to Win event hosted by the Homeschool Authors blog, the Kindle edition of The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories is on sale for 99¢ all this week.

~ Also as part of that event, I've been interviewed again at Homeschool Authors today, talking about The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories, encouraging reviews, summer reading and more.  I'll also have a guest post there later in the week, on the little details of historical research.

~ The Silver Shawl is also currently free on Kindle (and at Barnes & Noble and Smashwords, if your taste runs to .epub files).


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Western Roundup Giveaway Hop 2014


The time has come around again for the Western Roundup Giveaway Hop, hosted by author M.K. McClintock. Participating bloggers will be giving away a variety of Western-themed books, so be sure and explore the different entries in the linky below for more giveaways to enter.

As for me, this year I am giving away two copies of my new Western release, Left-Hand Kellyone signed paperback and one ebook. Read on to find out more about the book, and then scroll down further to enter the giveaway via Rafflecopter:

~ * ~

Sixteen-year-old Lew Kelly grew up idolizing his enigmatic ex-gunfighter father. Everyone thought Lew’s habit of practicing his quick draw was a harmless amusement—until the day when a boys’ hot-headed quarrel exploded into gunplay, with disastrous results.

Three years later, Lew is withdrawn and bitter—and he still carries a gun. When an unexpected twist of circumstances forces him to face again the memories and the aftermath of that ill-fated fight, will old wrongs be righted—or will the result be an even worse tragedy than before?


Novella, approximately 38,000 words.
~ * ~

"A very difficult to put down read...Foley’s characters are both complex and well developed...The tale is beautifully paced, building through tense and frantic scenes to its neat conclusion."
~ Western Fiction Review

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, July 14, 2014

Beasts and Poets

Look who's getting all grown up. Bär will be a year old this week—she's as strong as an ox and as curious as a kitten. Actually, if kittens can outdo Bär in curiosity I'd be very surprised. (I just caught her in my bedroom apparently inspecting the bottle of perfume on my dresser.) She continues to reduce chew-toys to mere shadows of their former selves, is ready to insist she's hungry at any hour of the day, and her bark practically rattles the windows.

I've spent a lot of mornings in Bär's company this month, it having been judged beneficial for her to spend as much time playing outdoors as possible. It's too hot to do all the running and racing she enjoys in the fall and winter—she loves the cold, but that thick fur coat of hers makes her much less tolerant of heat. And I'm not exactly keen on going running and leaping in hot, humid weather myself. So I sit on the swing in the backyard and keep an eye on her while she plays with a chew toy or two. Naturally, I use this time to do some reading; my Kindle is a welcome companion here. But I quickly discovered that it wasn't the time for getting absorbed in a new novel. I have to jump up every now and then to discourage the Bär from eating something that she shouldn't. And at any moment, an enormous wet and muddy rubber bone may be thrust into my lap (it's a good thing Kindle screens can be wiped off easier than book pages) as a demand to play tug-of-war.

The principle to be observed in that game, however, is that the dog is not supposed to win. Tug-of-war represents a challenge to authority, so either the human must win the game or the dog must release the toy on command (and then receives it as a reward for obedience). But a slippery rubber bone doesn't offer a grip good enough for the human—me, in this case—to win against the strength Bär can put into tugging, so I don't often agree to play that game now. Once I've removed the bone from my Kindle screen a few times, she usually...er, hopefully...eventually settles down to lay at my feet, or on my feet, and chew it while I read.

But as I was saying, this set-up isn't really conducive to in-depth reading. So I've been dabbling in poetry and short stories. I made use of the time to finally finish Wordsworth and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads, which I'd been picking away at for a long time. The funny thing is, my Kindle edition didn't say which of the poems were Wordsworth's and which were Coleridge's, so I had to guess, and look them up afterwards. I tend to like Coleridge's style a hint better, I think; "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and "The Nightingale" were my favorites.

After that, it occurred to me that I could get the short stories of Saki, which I'd sampled some years back (around the time I made my first unsuccessful attempt at reading Katherine Mansfield), for free on my Kindle; and I promptly did so. It seems appropriate that I started with Beasts and Super-Beasts. I have more mixed feelings about Saki. Some of his stories I love, others I just like, and still others I don't like at all. He's sometimes compared to O. Henry, which I understand and yet don't understand. Saki employs the twist ending, yes, but not always and without as great a punch. Furthermore, one is distinctly British and one distinctly American. I'm not sure I could put my finger on what makes the difference, but there it is: their characters, settings, vernacular, and atmosphere all have an intangible flavor of one or the other. The difference most obvious to me, though, is that Saki's wit has a much sharper, sarcastic edge, which occasionally runs into the downright macabre. I can read O. Henry indefinitely, but I prefer Saki in smaller doses. Of course, with Bär around, that's the way it often happens.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Western Movie Quote Quiz: Answers

Here's the answers to the Western movie quote quiz of a couple weeks ago. The winner of the game is Sandra Stiles, who identified all the movies and named 15 out of 17 actors correctly, for a total of 30 points!

1) “They must have rode all over the territory to get that many brand-new hats.” ~ John Wayne in The Cowboys (1973)

2) “He also said he was the teacher’s pet of a chowder-headed mick sergeant. What’s that mean, doc?” ~ Harry Carey, Jr. in Rio Grande (1950)

3) “Well, if’n you don’t come back, me ’n’ Joe’ll have us a good cry.” ~ Walter Brennan in Rio Bravo (1959)

4) “A long time ago I made me a rule—I let people do what they want to do.” ~ John Wayne in Hondo (1953)

5) “Be down at the old oak tree near Boot Hill at twelve o’clock sharp for your hanging. And bring your own rope.” ~ Harry Morgan in The Apple Dumpling Gang (1974)

6) “Well, I guess you can’t break out of prison and into society in the same week.” ~ John Wayne in Stagecoach (1939)

7) “My mother didn’t raise any sons to be making guesses in front of Yankee captains.” ~ Ben Johnson in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

8) “I have been offered a lot for my work, but never everything.” ~ Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven (1960)

9) “I’m only temporary.”
       “You’re more temporary than you think.” ~ Anthony Perkins and Henry Fonda in The Tin Star (1957)

10) “Just one thing, ma’am. If you’re dead set on making this trip to Texas, you’re going the wrong way.” ~ Jimmy Stewart in The Rare Breed (1966)

11) “What does ‘unprepossessing’ mean?”
         “I was called that once, Lem. Looked it up in the dictionary. It’s best you don't know what it means.” ~ Uncredited actor and John Wayne in McClintock! (1963)

12) “And if you don’t hear my first holler, you better read my mind, because I don’t aim to raise no two hollers on any subject at hand.” ~ Ward Bond in The Searchers (1956)

13) “I was just askin’ about sody pop...pigs and taters and one thing and another.” ~ Ben Johnson in Shane (1953)

14) “I saw you! I saw you strike that poor man!”
         “Yes, ma’am. Just as hard as I could.” ~ Elisabeth Risdon and John Wayne in Tall in the Saddle (1944)

15) “I don’t like to see things go good or bad. I like ’em in between.” ~ Hank Worden in Red River (1948)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Meanwhile, back at the writing-desk...

I'm busily at work revising Corral Nocturne right now, so such prosaic things as blog posts are falling by the wayside a bit. When once I get back into the swing of a project, especially after a long drought, it is hard to pry me away from my notebooks for anything whatsoever. I will be posting the answers to the Western movie quote quiz on Saturday—but I must say (in my best Captain Renault voice) I am shocked, shocked, that there haven't been more entries! Clearly I have a lot of work to do in making Western fans of you all.

If you're really anxious to read something written by me in the meantime, you can click over to The Western Online, where I have a new interview up about Left-Hand Kelly, favorite Western movies and novels, and more.

(Or I suppose you could just buy one of my books.)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Soundtrack for a Story: Corral Nocturne

After a hectic spring, I decided I didn't feel like taking on a summer writing challenge, like Camp NaNoWriMo or Actually Finishing Something [in] July, as much fun as they would have been in other circumstances. I'm just not up to pressure, especially self-pressure (which is one of my weaknesses anyway). Anyway, I spent a little while waffling between three different projects, and I've finally decided to re-edit Corral Nocturne, my last year's project from Actually Finishing Something. I'd had vague ideas about editing it for a while. But reading Five Glass Slippers (which was excellent, by the way; my review here) gave me some much clearer ideas about what it was lacking and how I might improve it.

There's definitely a distinct musical mood to this story, so once again I have a small playlist that I listen to when I need to get in the mood for working on it. I thought it'd be fun to share it the way I did for The Summer Country. You'll notice there's much more of a thematic connection between music and story this time. One piece, obviously, provided both mood and a title. The first and last tunes are featured in the story itself; "Cathy's Theme" is the only one that really has no connection beyond being gorgeously romantic:

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Guest Post: Ideas Are Adventures

Today I'm participating an exciting blog event. "Imagine This!" is a month-long event, hosted by fellow-author Katie Lynn Daniels to inaugurate her new collaborative blog Vaguely Circular. The theme is creativity—ideas, inspiration, originality, et cetera; and the application of those subjects in different genres. Sounds good, doesn't it? I'm looking forward to reading the posts.

Anyway, I have the honor of being one of the keynote speakers, so to speak, helping to kick off this opening week. O. Henry and I—he's always a helpful fellow to have around—are discussing the element of adventure inherent in creativity, particularly in writing. The post is titled "Ideas Are Adventures," and you can click over and read it right here.

(And by the way, the paperback edition of Left-Hand Kelly is now available, and the Western movie quote quiz is still looking for more contestants!)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"I don't aim to raise no two hollers on any subject at hand."

Time for a little Western fun! To celebrate the release of Left-Hand Kelly, I thought it would be fun to host a game of guess-the-quote, Western movie style. So I've put together a list of some good ones. Scores will be one point for every movie correctly identified, and a bonus point for each time you can name the actor(s) who spoke the line(s). (And don't peek at earlier comments for answers!) I'll leave entries open for two weeks—ready, set, go!

Hints: The films represented cover both drama and comedy, and span from the 1930s to the 1970s. Two actors appear in multiple quotes.

1) “They must have rode all over the territory to get that many brand-new hats.”

2) “He also said he was the teacher’s pet of a chowder-headed mick sergeant. What’s that mean, doc?”

3) “Well, if’n you don’t come back, me ’n’ Joe’ll have us a good cry.”

4) “A long time ago I made me a rule—I let people do what they want to do.”

5) “Be down at the old oak tree near Boot Hill at twelve o’clock sharp for your hanging. And bring your own rope.”

6) “Well, I guess you can’t break out of prison and into society in the same week.”

7) “My mother didn’t raise any sons to be making guesses in front of Yankee captains.”

8) “I have been offered a lot for my work, but never everything.”

9) “I’m only temporary.”
       “You’re more temporary than you think.”

10) “Just one thing, ma’am. If you’re dead set on making this trip to Texas, you’re going the wrong way.”

11) “What does ‘unprepossessing’ mean?”
         “I was called that once, Lem. Looked it up in the dictionary. It’s best you don't know what it means.”

12) “And if you don’t hear my first holler, you better read my mind, because I don’t aim to raise no two hollers on any subject at hand.”

13) “I was just askin’ about sody pop...pigs and taters and one thing and another.”

14) “I saw you! I saw you strike that poor man!”
         “Yes, ma’am. Just as hard as I could.”

15) “I don’t like to see things go good or bad. I like ’em in between.”

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Now Available: Left-Hand Kelly


I told you it would be soon, didn't I?

Book Description: Sixteen-year-old Lew Kelly grew up idolizing his enigmatic ex-gunfighter father. Everyone thought Lew’s habit of practicing his quick draw was a harmless amusement—until the day when a boys’ hot-headed quarrel exploded into gunplay, with disastrous results.

Three years later, Lew is withdrawn and bitter—and he still carries a gun. When an unexpected twist of circumstances forces him to face again the memories and the aftermath of that ill-fated fight, will old wrongs be righted—or will the result be an even worse tragedy than before?

Novella, approximately 38,000 words.

Left-Hand Kelly is now available in the Kindle Store for just $2.99. If you're a Prime member, it's also available  to borrow in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library. A paperback edition is in the works and should be available within a week or two!