Placing a Red Bow on Downton Abbey

Why Some Stories Don’t Need a Reboot

“So,” I said, turning to my friend as the credits rolled up the movie screen. “Did you like it?”

Lady Mary cThe “it” I was referring to, was the movie adaptation of Downton Abbey, the British TV series broadcast as part of PBS Masterpiece Theatre. The series ran for six years, following the lives of an aristocratic family and their domestic servants. It was standard Masterpiece fare, character-driven and rich in visuals and dialogue along with being a guilty pleasure. Think, The Crown meets The Young & the Restless.

My friend’s reply was typical Lady Mary. “It wasn’t great, but good enough. It felt like a longer version of one more episode.” My friend and I were a good dichotomy for the typical target audience for Downton Abbey. While she was a loyal royal watcher from the beginning, I came along late in the game, with a hard-binge of six seasons on Amazon Prime. Knowing its audience, the movie trailer didn’t pretend to market itself as a vehicle for anyone who wasn’t already a fan of the TV series.

But should Good enough be an acceptable review? Why is it that movies seldom capture the essence of that unique story that catches fire with readers and viewers? Too often, the magic of a carefully drawn-out story just doesn’t lend itself to the 2-hour adaptation on the movie screen.

Let’s look at another story that caught fire several years ago, when journalist, Jeanette Walls wrote of her life, in the memoir, The Glass Castle. This book spent over 260 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and it’s hard to find a book club that didn’t devour this classic, or a reader who didn’t bond with the story on some level. Yet, when the movie version of The Glass Castle finally debuted, starring a strong cast consisting of Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts, the story fell flat, perhaps suffering from having to leave too much heart on the editing floor.

Sometimes, we should leave the best stories in their original packaging. It is a rare instance when the written word transfers so eloquently to the movie screen. To Kill a Mockingbird comes to mind. But more often, the result resembles my feelings when turning off the TV after viewing El Camino on Netflix, a movie picking up immediately after the last scene in the incredibly rewarding last episode of Breaking Bad. While it was nice to see Jessie, our anti-hero again, did we need to revisit what was already the best ending ever for any TV series?

And yet, it can certainly be argued that the best movies come from successful screenplays. Local author, Bonnie Jo Campbell has been touring the country as the film adaptation of her novel, Once Upon a River makes an appearance at many film festivals. We can only hope it pays a visit soon to our area.

Here’s a thought… maybe some endings are best left alone, even if it was nice catching up with the Crawleys and the downstairs staff in Downton Abbey. I wonder what the gang from Mad Men has been up to?

Heidi McCrary is a writer and a regular contributor to Women’s LifeStyle.
Look for her debut novel, Chasing North Star in September 2020. Follow Heidi at https://heidimccrary.net/ and https://www.facebook.com/HeidiMcCraryAuthor

The Woman at 72 Derry Lane… A 60-Second Book Review

The woman at 72 Derry LaneFrom Gone Girl to Orphan Train, the telling of stories through dual narrative provides readers with a strong sense of immersion from multiple viewpoints—allowing the author to delve deeper into the lives of the book’s protagonists. Written by Carmel Harrington, The Woman at 72 Derry Lane takes readers on a rollercoaster ride as multiple stories follow a path of destruction, heartache and the search for liberation from past tragedies and the resulting hardships.

Harrington, an author from Ireland, combines sharp writing with dialogue and character development that moves the story along at a rapid page-turning pace…

“I saw people running by the restaurant window. I heard staff screaming at each other. Then the manager of the hotel started shouting ‘Run!’ in all different languages. I recognised French and Italian, at least, as well as English, of course. The stupidest thing, though, I wanted to pay my bill.”

“How very English of you,” Maria remarked.

The Woman at 72 Derry Lane delivers on all counts—with characters that you wish were in your own circle of friends, and a story of love and family that can come from where you least expect.

60-Second Book Review

Heidi McCrary

My Disdain of the Em Dash

typingAs a writer I have an uncomfortable relationship with punctuation, and the fight comes from every direction. At work, my business partner is not amused by my cavalier attitude towards the comma and ellipses. And my editor threatened to divorce me more than once over my insistence on using the common hyphen over the unattractive em dash—a punctuation so unpopular that it doesn’t even warrant its own key on the keyboard. Yet I use it excessively. 

And don’t get me started on the semicolon. When do you use that?! And am I allowed to even use the ?! symbols together? I could go on but instead I’ll leave you with the beautiful ellipses… (Again, which I’m using incorrectly)

Heidi McCrary / Rogue Writer

Speed Dating in the Literary World

Pitching to Literary Agents – Round II

agent 1With one year under my belt, I felt a false superiority over the woman ahead of me in the registration line, juggling her phone and handbag in one hand while trying to unfold the day’s itinerary in the other.

“So, where are you from?” I asked, trying to calm her nerves.

She looked up, apparently surprised that a stranger was talking to her. “Me? I’m from Omaha.”

“Omaha,” I repeated. “Beautiful city. That’s a long drive. You got me beat.” She smiled at me and went back to untangling the wadded up piece of paper. OK, I thought. She’s not here to make friends. I’m good with that.

I looked behind me to see that the line was now half-way down the long hotel corridor. Like last year, the 2017 Writers Workshop of Chicago was once again being held at the Congress Plaza Hotel. And like the year previous, I was here to recharge my creative juices and meet a few literary agents…speed-dating style.

Along with the seminars and workshops, many writers’ conferences also allow writers to pitch their completed manuscripts to attending literary agents for an additional fee per agent. It’s kind of like buying your way into an interview, which sounds a little suspect but I prefer to look at it as an opportunity for them to meet me.

Each purchased pitch is ten-minutes long, and as I peak into the hotel ballroom, I see the literary agents setting up their spaces for the day, each one seated at an intimate round table topped with a linen table cloth. Ready to face a day of… “My novel has a different ending if you turn the book around…”, “The narrator of my book is my cat who…”, and “I would compare my book to “To Kill a Mockingbird, but its better because…” There’s not enough caffeine in any of their cups to get them through this day.

9:30 – My first pitch is actually with an editor of a publishing house rather than a literary agent. “Nice glasses,” I say to her as I take a seat. She smiles, but it vanishes quickly. This woman is all business. Her first question: What’s the name of your novel?

Chasing Crazy,” I reply, which apparently is the wrong answer. After hearing my reasoning for the name, she shakes her head and explains that Chasing Crazy sounds too lighthearted, and more fitting for a romance novel. Damn. I can’t even get the title right?  As she dissects my story description, I write vigorously while trying to move beyond the fact that my novel has a title more befitting of a Nora Roberts book.

“Time’s up!” the room monitor announces. And for the second time, the editor smiles, pleased, I imagine, to be done with one more pretend-writer.

9:40 – Its tough going from one pitch immediately into another. There is no time to gather my thoughts and as I walk to the next table, I wonder if I should say that I haven’t come up with a title yet. Or maybe I can come up with a new name. Straight Jacket & Sun Glasses, or Running with Scissors? No, that’s already a book.

My next meeting is with a literary agent that actually owns and runs her own shop. I had hesitated meeting with her out of intimidation. With her list of clients, she can’t possibly be interested in meeting with a writer holding her first manuscript. But just as you should never judge a book by its cover, I was surprised to find this rock-star agent to be genuine, kind and interested—interested in Chasing Crazy. Not the romance, but the story of a German mother suffering from a cocktail of mental illnesses, and the affect it has on her children. A story of violence, hope and crazy times.

11:30 – I learned something about agent pitches last year, after I purposely requested one for the last time-period of the day, thinking that after hitting it off, we might wander over to the hotel bar for a beverage or two and become best friends. No. I learned that as the day progresses, the agents start to all get a familiar glaze over their eyes that can’t be erased with a gallon of coffee. So with this information in-hand, I head over to my last pitch of the day while the day is still young, confident that the next agent isn’t comatose yet from countless writers starting to blur into one another.

As I chatted with yet another wonderful agent, I was surprised at the friendliness of her tone, the many questions she asked, and her interest in Chasing Crazy. Or should I call it, In the Shadow of Children, or…

Stay tuned…

Heidi McCrary

 

Kill the Sister

When Your Editor Tells You There Are One Too Many Siblings

deadstickThe further I get into the writing process of my novel, CHASING CRAZY, the further away I am from being finished.

Let that resonate. Feel free to read it again—I’ll wait.

I wrote down the first words for CHASING CRAZY on August 25, 2013. As I began writing, I questioned whether I wanted to keep this venture to myself or share my quest with everyone within earshot. Wouldn’t be great to just present a finished novel to the world, and have them go, “Oh my god, you wrote a novel?” But I decided to announce my writing intentions as a check and balance, believing that if I told the world that I was writing a novel, I better damn well do it.

So I did.

The downside to that logic is I had never written a novel and knew absolutely nothing about what goes into the process, thinking sweetly that my editor would look over my first draft and fix a few typos. I envisioned her saying, “It’s incredible, darling! This book will be a best seller!”

But the reality is a long road of new characters, deleted chapters and new directions. What started out as a memoir turned into a novel, and the reality is, a tight storyline means less characters. Translation—my editor informing me that, “You need to lose a sibling.” Which, if you have a sibling or two (or four), is the equivalent of being told that you need to cut off your arm. I balked at this suggestion for over a year as I rewrote and reworked the storyline.

But today, I killed a sibling. I didn’t actually kill the kid. I simply (literally) erased the poor child from the pages of my novel—nothing personal. The editor made me do it. With eyes now wide open, I continue to rework, delete and rewrite. CHASING CRAZY is not a great novel yet, but it will be.

Stay tuned…