The Business Rusch: The All-Important Fan Base

I spent the holidays seeing movies. I expected to relax. I did not expect to find a blog topic, but I did.

Two of the movies I saw, Jack Reacher, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, came from books. Both films had a different approach to the book’s fan base.  In one case, it might pay off. In another, it didn’t.

For months, I have made jokes about Tom Cruise’s upcoming portrayal of Jack Reacher, the hero of Lee Child’s mystery series. In the books, Reacher is 6’5” and solid muscle. If you see this guy walking into a bar and he glares at you, you look away. A plot point of the latest Reacher novel is that when Reacher hitchhikes, most people drive right on by because his physical presence is so intimidating.

Tom Cruise is 5’7”  He’s not physically imposing in any way. After I saw the first Reacher trailer, I thought of a line from John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) which goes something like this: “I don’t know what it is, but it’s little and it’s pissed off,” yelled a (now-forgotten) character as he runs away from the little, pissed-off thing.

After I saw that trailer, I took to calling Cruise Mini-Reacher, because Cruise had the attitude right, but it didn’t matter how many camera tricks the director pulled, Cruise still didn’t look big and mighty. He looked little and pissed-off.

Little and pissed-off works in this movie. Cruise is a no-nonsense, mean S.O.B. whom no one wants to screw with. Cruise manages everything except the built-like-an-oak-tree thing. The movie follows the book enough that I was actually a bit bored in the middle because I knew whodunit and whydunit, so the mystery didn’t hold me. (This happens to me a lot in films that are remakes or made from books. I have a good memory for plot. This is why I can’t watch Law & Order: UK because it recycles US plots.)

The movie itself has some issues that aren’t relevant here (and we don’t need to critique it in the comments either), but all in all, I enjoyed the 2+ hours I spent in the theater that day.

Then I saw The Hobbit. Nearly three hours, which the theater seats were not meant for, and slavishly faithful to the spirit of the book, if not the book itself. The additions—and the only changes are additions—mostly come from the indices and appendixes and documents that Tolkien himself wrote to help himself with the book.

The Hobbit is my favorite of Tolkien’s novels, but it irritates me in the same way that Lord of The Rings often irritated me. There are long descriptions of feasting and singing, with the rhyming poetry of the songs embedded in the book.

Director Peter Jackson took a lot of heat for cutting most of the songs out of Lord of The Rings. Maybe that’s why he decided to include them here. I found them to be the perfect spots for standing, bathroom breaks, and just plain getting out of the theater for a while.

Both movies came to the screen with an established fan base. The Hobbit’s fan base was bifurcated—it had the movie fan base from the three Lord of The Ring films, and it had the fan base from the book. Sometimes those fan bases overlapped, and sometimes they didn’t.

But the built-in audience—because of the fan base—for The Hobbit was in the tens of millions worldwide, and in some way, that fan base (those fan bases) had to be addressed. It seemed obvious to me as I watched that Jackson, a fan himself, was conscious of the viewers, and decided to cater to expectations on many levels. The songs were there for the readers, and the whole expanded Mordor plotline was there for the movie fans.

I clearly understand that a movie is a different entity than a book. I have a t-shirt that reads, Never Judge A Book By Its Movie. Yep. Books have 100,000 words or so to tell their story. They can meander a bit. They can lavish time on character development that a movie can’t.

But a movie can provide visuals in a way that the book can’t. A movie also rewards the fast-moving plot. A movie made from a book should be a good movie, not a slavish reproduction of the book. If you want the book, read the book. The movie is a separate entity altogether.

Which is one of the reasons I went to the Reacher film. If I subtracted what I already knew about Jack Reacher, if I got rid of my expectation of immovable oak tree and replaced it with little and pissed off, I knew I would enjoy the film. And I did. It wasn’t the best film I saw in 2012, but it certainly wasn’t the worst by any stretch.

So imagine my surprise when I got home, read the reviews of Jack Reacher, and saw comment after comment online talking about the way that Lee Child, Tom Cruise, and Christopher McQuarrie disrespected the fans of the book by miscasting Jack Reacher.

Those fans were mad.  No one commented on the attitude (which Cruise got right) or the fact that the movie follows the plot of the book in delightful ways. They were simply angry that their hero had become Mini-Reacher.

I honestly don’t think that would have mattered if it weren’t for life circumstances. The other thing the reviews showed was the way that attitudes toward a piece of art can change instantly.

Half a dozen big-name reviewers saw early screenings of Jack Reacher, and posted their reviews on December 10th. Those reviewers, almost to a person, liked the movie. They didn’t give it a stellar rating, but a respectable B+ or so.

Reviewers who saw the movie after the horrible, awful, unthinkable Newtown massacre hated the film. Hated, hated, hated it. Some even gave the film zero stars or a negative rating. I admit: I had to close my eyes a few times in the movie because of the reverberations of recent events. It was too soon to see some of the images in Jack Reacher. They made me uncomfortable.

I’m not telling you this to bring the long debate about the entertainment industry, violence, and guns to my comments section. I’m telling you this for an entirely different reason.

Fan Base.

I don’t think the Tom Cruise/Jack Reacher film franchise will survive. I’ll be surprised if we see another Cruise-as-Reacher film. If we do, it’ll be because of overseas box office, and not U.S. box office.  Here in the U.S., the numbers are much lower than expected for this film, and while they’re rebounding a bit as people see the movie and give it good word of mouth, the numbers not at the usual blockbuster level expected for a major Christmas weekend release, particularly one starring Tom Cruise.

The fans could have saved this franchise, if the fans had felt respected. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Jack Reacher series had sold more than 40 million copies (over 17 novels) as of July of 2012. If every fan bought every novel, that’s about  2.5 million fans. That’s a lot of readers, readers who would have seen the film no matter what the events in the news.

Now, here’s the thing: 2.5 million fans is a large number for books, a small number for movies. Blockbuster films are expected to reach tens of millions of viewers.  Typically, 2.5 million readers—many of whom won’t see a movie made from a book (any movie)—is considered large enough to notice by Hollywood, but not large enough to matter.

Except when your film opens a distant second at the box office, with $15.6 million in ticket sales. If you figure all tickets are $10, then only 1.56 million people saw the movie, about one million less than the fan base for the books.

As it is, a lot of Reacher readers are deliberately boycotting the movie.  I know of a dozen myself, not counting all of those vocal folks on blogs. I’m sure a lot of fans, like me, will understand that the film is a different entity and go to the film just to see if it works, but that’s not enough to help a film through a tough opening weekend.

After Newtown, the Reacher film needed Reacher book fans to bolster the bottom line, and they’re not. They’re actively fighting this film. It has kept the film in the conversation, but some industry watchers believe that it also depressed turnout on the critical opening weekend.

Does the fact that fans are so dissatisfied with the casting, enough that they’re writing petitions and boycotting the movie, mean that they’ll boycott the next Jack Reacher novel? Probably not. On that basic level, we all know that movies are not the same as books.  And Child had in-jokes for his fans in the latest Reacher novel, A Wanted Man, always emphasizing Reacher’s size, and at one point comparing his hands to dinner plates. In other words, he tells his readers that he gets it and is keeping the book character the same.

All of this, though, begs the question. At what point should fans influence a work of art? Should the writer/director/artist take fans into consideration, and if so, when?

That is probably the toughest question to answer of all.

Because if you’re lucky enough to have a fan base—and you respect that fan base—then you need to at least acknowledge the base. Jackson did it in The Hobbit, giving both sides of fandom little gifts (and me time to stand up), but he still made the movie he wanted to make.

Last week, I wrote a blog on the moment when art meets commerce, and talked about the way that a writer must protect her own vision. No one asked what to do after the work is done, when the next work is underway.

Should the writer write another book to keep the fans happy? What would keep the fans happy? Sometimes it’s impossible to know. If you look at the interviews Cruise, McQuarrie and Child gave on the Reacher film back when it was called One Shot, you’ll realize they thought they were catering to the fans. They remained faithful to the book (as faithful as a film can be) and they got the Reacher attitude right; they were quite surprised at the backlash over Reacher’s appearance. After all, movie heroes often look different than their fictional counterparts. Usually, it doesn’t matter. (If it mattered all the time, then both Sean Connery and Daniel Craig couldn’t have played James Bond.)

In the case of Reacher, though, appearance mattered to the fans.

So what should a writer do? Make a list of all the things the fans expect from the next book and make sure to incorporate those things? Follow her own vision exactly, fans be damned? Or walk some kind of tightrope between the two?

This is a question not as easily answered as you think. Go too far astray and fans will boycott a writer’s work. Stick too close to the tried-and-true and fans will eventually leave because of boredom.

I think in this instance, it all depends on why a writer writes. If a writer writes strictly for money, then maybe a fan-based information strategy would be okay.

I write to put my own vision on the page. When my husband tells me what fans expect from my Diving series, I ignore him. (He’s a fan.) He tells me where they all think the story will go, and I think to myself, That’s not the direction I plan to take. I don’t alter my plans at all.

But, I’m cognizant of the fact that if these novels don’t have a sense of wonder, if they don’t have a lot of far-future scenes in space, if they lack the structure of the Diving universe that I already established, then I will disappoint the fans. I’ll also disappoint myself.

For years, I wrote tie-in novels in the Star Trek universe. I could only do that because I am a Star Trek fan. I have expectations of each episode; I have expectations of each book. I know how it feels to be disappointed. I also know that, short of blowing up the Federation and making James T. Kirk a scummy drug dealer for the rest of his natural life, the fans will accept a lot in the name of adventure.

In other words, keep the structure you’ve built as a writer, but play inside of that structure. Your fans will be surprised, they’ll be happy, and they’ll come back.

Will you upset a few fans? Of course. If you’re not upsetting a few people, you’re not doing a good job. Your job as an entertainer is to entertain, and if you fail that in any way, then you’ll hear about it.

The neat thing about fans, though, is that they’ll give you a second, third, or fourth chance. All fans have their limits, however. If you continually disappoint them, they will leave.

Communication is part of the key. Before indie publishing, I did a lot of my communicating via byline and branding. Kristine Kathryn Rusch is an eclectic writer whose work covers the gamut of genres and emotions, but tends toward mystery and science fiction or fantasy (sometimes in combination). Kristine Grayson is always light read, with little or  no violence and more often than not a happy ending.  (In the very least, the Grayson stuff will leave you with a smile.) Kris Nelscott is mystery writer veering toward noir. If there are things in life you don’t want to look at, then Kris Nelscott is probably not the writer for you.

Mostly, that byline strategy worked, although there have been a lot of times when I’ve finished something and wondered which byline it belonged to. Would the Nelscott fans be upset when a book doesn’t quite fit into the late 1960s vibe of the Smokey Dalton books? Should an upbeat and strange short story be a Kristine Grayson or a Kristine Kathryn Rusch?

Now that indie publishing has come along, I have even more decisions to make. One of my writing methods is to explore a made-up world in short stories or novellas. Then part of those stories/novellas usually end up in the finished novel.

The last thing I want to do is have a reader buy the same book twice, which is why the Diving novellas haven’t yet seen print in indie form. Because they’re incorporated into the novels, I couldn’t figure out a way to keep the fans from getting angry at me.

Finally, Dean suggested that I be up front in the promo copy. Mention that part of the novella (or all of it) is in one of the novels; let the reader decide if she wants to read the same story in slightly different form.

Well, duh. I hadn’t thought of that because it hadn’t been an option before. No traditional publisher would want to publish a novel and a novella with the same name, and much of the same material, even if both have won awards and acclaim. Now I can put out both, and let the readers decide which they want to read—or if they want to read everything for one reason or another.

One of the problems with coming out of traditional publishing, like I have, is that a lot of publishing myths get stuck in your head. I’m having a hell of a time climbing over one of them: the writer should never publish more than one book per year under the same byline.

Traditional publishers have been relaxing that rule for the past ten years or so, going so far as to publish three books by the same author in three months (in romance) or a book every six (in mystery). But for the first fifteen years of my publishing life, publishing  more than one book per year was a no-no. Fans would hate it, traditional publishers said, and I never questioned that—

As I bought every book Nora Roberts wrote, sometimes six per year. Or caught up on an author I hadn’t read before, binging on ten books in the space of five weeks.

It took Allyson Longueira, the publisher of WMG Publishing, to wake me up on this one. She said, “If Jasper Fforde published a book a week, I’d buy them and complain if I couldn’t get to the book that week.” Yeah, okay. If Stephen King published a book a week, I’d do the same thing. And the same with a dozen other writers. As a fan, I get what she said. As a writer, I was terrified of “saturating the market.”

Now, it’s up to me to make sure the fans know what’s new material, or old reprints, what’s been incorporated into a novel and what hasn’t. I’m going to have to police cover copy and make sure that I keep an eye on branding—with an eye to me, the reader.

After all, the reason I picked the Kristine Grayson byline in the first place had nothing to do with marketing and everything to do with reading. The Grayson stories are fantasy first, romance second, but they’re light. They’re designed to be read at the end of a long, horrible day, something to take your mind off terrible events.

More than once, I’ve read something “light” only to be betrayed by it. The example I use when I’m teaching is this: On a particularly difficult trip to the Midwest, I was reading a Nora Roberts romance novel in a Perkin’s Restaurant when—in the very center of the book—Roberts killed a baby. It was a plot point, it was on-screen, and it was ugly. I burst into tears and would have flung the book across the restaurant if I had a little less self-control.

That was the last thing I needed on that trip.

Did it stop me from being a fan of hers? No, not at all. But I became a more cautious fan. And when I needed one of those light, escapist reads, I avoided her books.

I didn’t want my Grayson fans to pick up my Fey series, which is also fantasy, only to discover horrific violence, melting people and flaying skin. I knew, from personal experience, that it would piss fans off. I’d rather let them choose to read both Grayson and Rusch, rather than surprise them with a dead baby scene in the middle of a very sad real life day.

Does that mean I think that Roberts shouldn’t have written that book? Hell, no. In my opinion, it’s one of her most memorable—and in a good way. (And if you ask me in e-mail, I’ll tell you which novel it is to avoid spoilers in the blog.)

Something should have been different in the marketing, some warning, something to let me know this was not a book to read on a difficult trip.

I’m experimenting with my own stuff now, because we are in a different world, and trying to figure out the best way to communicate something new or different or difficult.

We writers need to respect our fans, believe that they’re smart enough to figure out what they like as opposed to what we think they might like. And we have to write what we want to write, and then make sure that reaches the fans somehow.

Then we have to communicate to the fans as best we can in the marketing. Yes, this is an upbeat book. Yes, part of this novel was also marketed as a novella. Yes, this book is a deliberately difficult read.

Some readers will read everything. Others will stick to their favorite genres or their favorite moods. Still others will stick to their favorite characters.

If fans dictated everything, though, then Tolkien would never have written Lord of the Rings. Because The Hobbit is a children’s book, written for his children as bedtime stories. I think that was the biggest shock of the movie for me. Jackson brought in the LoTR violence and warfare into the lighter Hobbit fare. Movie fans (only) won’t be surprised by this, but as a lover of the book, I was a bit startled.

But only for a minute. I loved the LoTR movies too, and easily got back into that world. Movies are different from books, after all. And the movie surprised me—in a good way.

I was anything but bored.

If readers—if fans—get what they expect all the time, the artist loses the respect of their fans. Something must surprise, or change, or in the very least, create discussion.

If a writer remains true to himself, then he will do such things automatically. If the writer tries to replicate what succeeded before, he will dumb down his own work.

The creative side of writing is all about risk. Taking chances, doing the best you can. The business side is also about risk, which is the topic of my Freelancer’s Survival Guide (which you can find free on the blog or in book form). Marketing is also about risk—you have to put the work out there, and let the readers decide what to think of the material.

But marketing is also about communication. If you lie and say that your downbeat novel in which the two protagonists kill themselves at the end is a romance, then romance readers will never, ever, ever read your work again. I know, I know. Your English professor told you that Romeo and Juliet is romantic. But there’s a difference between romantic and romance.

Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, not one of his romances (which is what the lighter fare was called). So in order to market your work properly, you need to label it properly.

You’ll probably need help with this step. We writers never know exactly what we’ve written, no matter how much experience we have in the business. We focus on things in the act of writing the book or the story that might have nothing to do with the experience of reading the story.

So if you’re writing a piece set in a science fiction universe, but focusing on getting the relationship right, you  might think you’ve written a romance, ignoring the downer ending. Or you might think that you’ve written a science fiction novel, when in fact the sf stuff is just window dressing that would irritate the sf fan.

If you can’t figure out, ask readers—not writers—for help. Have a romance reader read your novel and ask her if she’d be disappointed if she bought it cold off the bookstore shelf. If she says yes, you have a problem with the label, not with the novel itself.

You also need to read outside your genre. I’ll have a short lecture on that sometime next year as part of the online classes that we’re offering. But suffice to say if you’ve never read romance and you think you know what it is, you’re wrong. Same with mystery. You need to read more, not less.

Dean also offers a class in genre structure. He does it not so that you’ll be thinking about structure as you write, but so that you’ll be able to apply some tests to the finished work to figure out how to market it. Even then, the class is only a beginning. And sometimes—no matter how experienced you are—you’ll need help from other people. All writers do.

And we get surprised.

I’m pretty sure Lee Child is stunned at the backlash that Jack Reacher suffered because of the casting of Cruise. Yeah, Jack Reacher is a big guy, but we all know some big guys who aren’t tough at all. The keys to Reacher the character are his brains and fearlessness. He has nothing to lose. All of that was in the movie. Just at 5’7”—little and pissed off.

Not every fan will like everything you do. Some will. Others will only like parts. Accept that. Follow your own vision. Keep writing, keep publishing.

Remember that the only way to build a fan base is to have a lot of material out there for readers to find. You can’t manufacture a fan base. You create it, one story at a time.

Once you’ve created it, respect it, but don’t let it rule your creativity. When you’re done being creative and put on your business hat, figure out where whatever it is that you just finished fits into your body of work. Make it easy for the fans who like that part of what you do to find your work.

Fans don’t read in chronological order. One of your works will be someone’s gateway book. You don’t get to choose that gateway book. They’ll discover it on the free table at the coffee shop or on the New Releases shelf at the library. A friend will give them her favorite book, and they’ll start with that. Then they’ll search for everything else you’ve done.

Don’t worry about it. Write. Finish what you write, and do your best to get it into the right hands, whatever that means for you.

And most of all—have fun. The more you enjoy what you do, the more your fans will—no matter what part of your writing they like best.

I’ve learned a lot about my work and fan base through this website. Some of you only read the nonfiction blog. Others show up for the free fiction as well. And still others come to find out more about the novels I’ve written.

This blog is the only part of my writing life that has to remain self-sustaining. The fact that a lot of you show up every Thursday means I need to show up as well, but I’m also putting in a lot of time and words, time and words that could be spent on the more lucrative fiction side of my career.

So if you’ve gotten any value from the nonfiction blog at all, now or in the past, please leave a tip on the way out.

Thanks!

I wish you all the best in the New Year.

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“The Business Rusch: The All-Important Fan Base” copyright 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

 

 

35 responses to “The Business Rusch: The All-Important Fan Base”

  1. Loopy LinD says:

    Isn’t it interesting how differently readers will see the same character in a book? To me Jack Reacher is anything but pissed off unless he has a real reason to be. His size seems to me to make an angry attitude generally unnecessary. He doesn’t take shit from anyone but it’s because he doesn’t have to. Amused and aloof, watchful, aware, and very intelligent. Not Tom Cruise.

  2. Robin Brande says:

    I took your advice (and Dean’s) about this a few months ago when I started writing adult romance in addition to the young adult novels I’ve been writing over the past six years. Started a whole new Elizabeth Ruston line so none of my existing readers would be shocked to find sex in my books. I’m open about being the same writer under both names (more advice from you and Dean), but I feel much more comfortable having the two separate names. So thank you, Kris, for the excellent advice! Here and before.

    And while we’re at it, thanks again for the entire year of great advice you and Dean have offered all of us who check in regularly. I’ve sent so many new indie writers over to your blogs–you’re helping to educate a whole new generation of independent writers! Thank you for all that you do!!!

  3. Tony Barban says:

    The biggest example to me of movies that got it right and wrong was The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games. The first gave the same feel as the book, the second was not even in the right ballpark.

    As a fan, the mystery writer that always matched my expectations without boring me was Dick Frances. I knew that each novel would somehow be connected to horse racing yet also give a glimpse into a new, different profession such as a wine merchant, architect, glass blower, or banker. And have a protagonist that did not normally deal with mysteries.

  4. Frank says:

    I’ve only seen the previews, but it looks like a good movie. It certainly looks like Cruise has captured the essence of the character.

    I remember Bob Kane at Comic-Con announcing the casting of Michael Keaton as Batman for the first Tim Burton movie and him being greeted by a chorus of gasps and boos. The comic fans may have watched the 60’s TV series, but it was explicitly insulting to the comic fan base, and they were worried about casting a small actor known then almost exclusively as a comedian and what it meant about the direction of the movie. Keaton actually did a great job of course, and the fans were won over.

    That might not have worked in today’s instant social media era where true fans can infect the general public perception instead of just that of their fellow true fans.

    My wife has noted that readers picture characters as someone who meets their own expectations of how someone like that character would look, and that is idiosyncratic and frequently very different for each reader depending on their life experience. If you describe your character too closely, you risk taking a reader out of the story.

  5. Annie Bellet says:

    I liked the Reacher movie more than I thought I would, though I had some issues with things they left out (but when adapting a book, generally you have to cut some things). There were two distinct moments though where Reacher’s size really mattered and they kept both those in (the street fight and when the lady in the hotel points the cops at Reacher) and those threw me out of the movie. Maybe if I hadn’t just read the book a couple months ago (and read all the Reacher books back to back recently), it wouldn’t have mattered as much.

    I’m specifically not re-reading the Hobbit before I see the movie. I read it so long ago that the events are clear in my mind but a lot of specifics are fuzzy, which is probably about the right way for me to see the movie.

    I find pen names freeing, too, because it means I don’t have to worry about what I’m writing until I’m done with it. I don’t have to stress about writing something too light or too dark or with no fantastic elements or whatever, I can just write whatever the story wants to be and then figure out which name/brand it would fit best with. It’s nice. 🙂

  6. Sally says:

    I like all the Sherlocks. ACD, the better stories of the “continuation” or “lost adventure” type, Basil Rathbone, old BBC, current BBC, RDJ (who is so fun in anything, and Jude Law is a good Watson), and even NYC with Dr. Joan. Holmes is sort of an archetype by now, so he works in many different eras. Although even as a kid I hated that cartoon of him in the future, so maybe not in ALL situations — or perhaps that was the bad writing and general stupidity.

    About eleventy billion actors would have been a more appropriate Jack Reacher. Presumably the books will carry on with the giant scary guy and the movie version will be an aberration that fades away. Cruise will get plenty of other roles, and he’s always got “Mission: Impossible” (which as a fan of the original TV show, I hate, but most people don’t).

    I’ve heard from people all across the spectrum of Middle-Earth book and movie fervor and they all liked The Hobbit, except for it being sooo looooong with another 6 hours yet to come. That seems to be the biggest objection.

    • Jacintha says:

      I agree about Sherlock. Let’s face it, there are so many adaptations of the charactter that sometimes we get the same fellow with a different name/occupation (House, MD, for example, or Korea’s “Vampire Detective” which is better than it sounds) that the story is archetypal. I actually like “Elementary” a great deal; although I don’t think of it as being precisely a Sherlock Holmes story, it fills the need for that sort of character and that sort of character-interplay. (The Cumberbach/Freeman version has the atmosphere but all too often — for me — winds up being more sexist than the 19th century original.)

      I also agree with the poster who said that the backlash against Cruise might be a backlash against Cruise himself (or at least, “tabloid perception” Cruise), and not entirely his size. I also wonder if there would have been as much backlash if fans had not percieved the author’s dissatisfaction in the first place? Not that I’m blaming anyone for having the feelings that they have.

      So many variables!

  7. Lassal says:

    Maybe it would be interesting to add another edge to this discussion.

    About a year ago I spent an afternoon looking for Lee Child’s interviews online and listening to all I could find. And I clearly remember an interview where he explained that he had an offer from the Tom Cruise corner and joked about it, admitting himself that Tom Cruise could not possibly play Reacher. He was, clearly, against it for all the obvious reasons.

    Then, in a later interview, Cruise had the role. And seriously, from how the interview went, I could not help thinking that it looked like Lee Child has not had much of a saying in it, that he was basically forced to accept the deal. And listening to him (Child) being all diplomatic about it and trying to find arguments in favor of Cruise. It just sounded so sad, so “if we cannot change it, then let’s try to make the best out of it”.

    I was trying to find the interview, but I will have to put some more effort into it. The blogosphere is full of this topic right now and totally drowned the old interviews.

    My point is: not always do authors have control over which actors will play their characters. Happened before. Will happen again. But I guess people are upset because Lee Child actually defended the casting (once it was finalized), probably (I assume) in an attempt to save whatever could be saved. Should he not have done it? Should he have sided with those who were trashing Cruise? I imagine that that might have gotten himself into trouble with the production company (Tom Cruise, by the way, was one of the producers ).

    Being in the media and press regularly and, obviously, continuously confronted with the question of why they have casted Cruise for it, Lee Child was caught in the net. And that is why, in my oppinion, he had to defend this casting over and over and over, regardless of his true feelings. And then, at that point, I assume he probably hoped that Cruise could really pull it off.

  8. Geoff Burling says:

    There are a few movies that are better than the books. One example, IMHO, is “L.A. Confidential”: the movie not only captures the noir mood & vision of a corrupt L.A. in the 1940s, but tells a much tighter story than James Ellroy’s novel. And I enjoyed the movie more because I don’t have to confront Ellroy’s writing style. I really want to like his novels — I’m attracted to the world he creates — but for me his style is like overdosing on licorice; after I finish one of his books, I find I can’t read another one for years.

    But I’m grateful to Ellroy for standing back & letting the director run with the movie. Sometimes a writer is her/his own worst enemy in making a successful movie adaptation.

    • Agree!

      As a child, I loved the book The Black Stallion. I still liked it the last time I read it as an adult, but the story had lost some of its enchantment.

      Then I saw the movie. Glorious! Sheer and utter magic! Some fans might hate its deviation from the book. Not me!

  9. Ferran says:

    Hum… question: to what point fanbase’s reaction to Cruise is due to his polarizing antics? I don’t expect Mr. Grant had any input in that, but… There’s a long distance between the cutie in Top Gun and the one on Today, NBC. There might be a subconscious red flag here and there.

    Happy New Year. Take care.

    Ferran, BCN

    • Claudia Dain says:

      This was foremost in my mind as well. I was under the impression that Cruise’s box office drawing power was on the wane given his messy (being purposefully vague here) personal life. Most people I know won’t see a movie if he’s in it. In any analysis of the book vs. movie, I’d factor that in.

  10. Cyn says:

    I realized from talking to fans that I needed to make sure that the descriptions said it was short story, short story collection, or novella because many of the fans just assumed novel– It was something new imho.

    As for the Reacher novels, I am a fan. Of movies made about books, not much of a fan except for some of the Terry Pratchett stories made into movies. I was surprised that they had cast Cruise as Reacher, too. I wouldn’t have boycotted– not intentionally though– . I can’t go because it is a medical issue for me. I am not allowed to be in enclosed spaces with a lot of people (theater, games, rock concerts– you name it). I will watch it when it comes out on DVD or netflix.

    😉 Thanks for the last year of interesting subjects.

    Yours, Cyn

    • Tara Li says:

      Part of the problem is that it’s not always obvious how big of a story you’re getting on the Amazon Store. They publish theoretical page counts for books not published in paper, but that’s based on average swipes to get through at the default settings – and is affected by font, paragraph spacing, etc. That does not, however, have the visceral input of seeing a slim copy of Ayn Rand’s Anthem on the shelf beside the whale-choking tome that is her Atlas Shrugged. Sometimes, Amazon seems to list filesize as well, or in addition – but again, we’re not really used to these measures to get a feel for how large a book really is, and illustrations included can balloon the filesize up enormously. I personally prefer to see word counts.

  11. Steve Perry says:

    My first reaction when I heard about the Jack Reacher movie and Tom Cruise was, “Are you fucking kidding me? No way!” Cruise is a good actor, he can do action hero, so I figured it would be an okay movie, but if Godzilla was only ten feet tall, he might be fierce, but he ain’t Godzilla no more.

    As you point out, Reacher’s size is integral to his character. If you are doing Andre the Giant’s story, you can’t have him played by a little guy. Attitude isn’t enough. Size matters.

    There’s a TV series, “Elementary,” which has Sherlock Holmes transplanted to NYC, with Watson as a woman. How they link them up is cleverly done, and it’s a fun show to watch, but it simply isn’t Sherlock Holmes. No more than the Robert Downey, Jr. version was, at least not to the readers.

    There is a British series (“Sherlock”) that updates the characters to contemporary times, and while it sometimes cheats on the clues, it does work as Sherlock Holmes. Because it is close enough that fans will buy it.

    There’s a line. This side, fans will go along. That side? No. Cruise’s Reacher is a good action movie. He’s just not Reacher.

    • Exactly, Steve. I honestly think Child didn’t understand that about the casting for his character, thinking it wouldn’t matter to fans. It does matter. I went into it the way I go into a local NW chain called Taco Time. If you think of that food as “tacos,” it’s awful. If you think of it as hamburger product with some kind of weird sauce, it’s worth stopping at when there’s nothing else around. But it isn’t my first choice for anything. Same with this movie.

      I think it’s hard for writers to figure out what they’re doing well, and what appeals to fans. I think it’s safer not to worry about it in our work and keep doing what we’re doing. But it’s a weird line when you have someone else coming in to make some other art form out of yours. There are lines we have to hold as writers (Smokey Dalton must be played by a black actor, in my universe, no doubt, but Miles Flint can be played by a redhead if need be), and lines we can cross. Figuring out which is hard.

      And yeah, I love the British Sherlock. The others not so much. But I also like Robert Downey Jr, so I’ll see him stand and do nothing for two hours. 🙂 But that’s where my fannishness collides with other parts of my fannishness. 🙂

  12. RD Meyer says:

    I think one of the keys is to remain true enough to the book so as not to piss off fans, but stretch enough to reach new ones. However, the studio here was relying solely on Cruise’s box office appeal and hoping that would draw in enough new fans to offset those that wouldn’t like the way Reacher was miscast. Unfortunately for them, they relied on box office perception rather than what really pulls in people, which is at least a degree of faithfulness to the story. Cruise may have the attitude, but his stature was never how fans perceived Reacher, and that was enough of the story that the change is driving folks away.

  13. Randall Wood says:

    Kris,

    I had great expectations for the Reacher movie when I first heard about it, but in the end I chose not to see it.

    I have nothing against Tom Cruise the actor, but as an avid reader of the Reacher novels I already have a fairly developed picture of the title character in my mind’s eye, and seeing the movie would have muddled that beyond repair. I look forward to reading more Jack Reacher novels in the future. I don’t want the image of Tom Cruise (all 5’7 of him), pissed off or not, in my head when I read them.

    The movie would no doubt have provided me with a couple of hours of entertainment, but it also would have ruined the several hours of reading I hope to do in the future. In the end it was an easy decision.

    I’ve already decided to never assign an image to my characters, be it on the covers or in a trailer, to any of my thrillers. If a novel ever gets picked up by the Hollywood crowd I would hope they would pick an appropriate actor and stick with them.

    How many Jack Ryan’s were there? Three? Four? I can’t even remember. In the medical community it’s called Continuity of Care and I believe it applies to books/characters as well. I would think that Mr. Child would have known better, but it may have been out of his hands. Isn’t it important to keep the consistencies of a series more set in stone and just play with the rest? It just seemed like the opposite was happening here.

    FWIW; My pick would have been Hugh Jackman.

    • Yeah, at lunch one Sunday, we cast the Reacher movie and came up with many possible actors. Jackman is a great one, with box office draw. I wonder if anyone talked with him… 🙂

      On the rest, though, you prove my point. You’ll keep reading the books. Now, if Child shrinks Reacher in the novels and makes him a smaller character, you’ll stop. So no books were harmed in the making of this movie, but a possible franchise did not happen.

  14. Suzan Harden says:

    History repeats itself. The same controversy erupted in 1993 when Cruise was filming Interview with the Vampire. [shakes head] I haven’t seen Jack Reacher yet, so I can’t make any judgments as to the movie. I probably won’t go to the theater either for personal reasons, but I’ll pick up the Blue-ray because, well, it IS Jack Reacher. *grin*

    As a fangirl, my question has always been when it comes to adaptations or series–“Did they capture the spirit of the original?” Hugh Jackman is a foot taller than Wolverine, but he projected the attitude perfectly. Daniel Craig may be blond, but he’s come the closest to capturing Fleming’s book version of Bond IMHO.

    OTOH, one of my favorite book series went from very light to, well, an odd, murky gray. I don’t blame the writer (nor will I mention the person’s name) because it’s well-known that the orders for the changes came from the publisher. I stopped reading when a popular character was killed for no reason. No hints, no foreshadowing. Just shot as if she’d been sitting in a movie theater, mall or school. We get enough of that insane crap in our every day lives. I read to escape reality, not to have it shoved in my face.

    All I ask as a reader is that the story makes sense within the framework of the universe the writer created.

  15. Annie Reed says:

    I was surprised that I had no problem with Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher in the movie, kinda the same way I have no problem with Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone in the TV movies. I really enjoyed Jack Reacher, the movie. “Little and pissed off” is exactly right. 🙂 The friend I went with to see the movie had never heard of Lee Child’s books before, and he enjoyed the movie a lot.

  16. John Walters says:

    I think what it boils down to for a writer is to be true to whatever vision he has. To paraphrase the movie “Field of Dreams”: “If you build it, they will come.” As writers we need to be true to ourselves, whatever that means. This works for me, anyway. I can’t write with the expectations of others in mind; if I try I freeze into a huge solid impotent chunk of writer’s block. That’s what happened to me for years, in fact, when I was young. I was trying to imitate the work of others, or write what I thought people would want to read. I had to strip away the expectations of others and all the other voices in my head to be able to find my own. Once you find your own voice you never let it go, no matter what. That’s like a gold miner striking it rich, finding that glowing vein. Then, hopefully, your fans will find you. Right now I can count the number of my genuine fans (not counting well-wishing family) on the fingers of one hand, but that’s not the point. I could no longer forsake my own voice at this stage of the game than I could start dismembering myself. That’s the trouble with some would-be writers: instead of finding their own voice they try to write like Tolkien, or Rowling, or Heinlein. Instead, the writer should build a unique fan base because his or her work is unique and unable to be found anywhere else. The only thing I really have to market is myself and the amalgamation of study and experience that I have become, and the work that I create as a result of who I am.

  17. Craig Reed says:

    There was the same thing with the Dresden Files Novels/TV series. There were a few changes made from the Novels to the TV series. Top the credit of the TV people, they actually explained to the fans why things were changed.

    For example, in the novels, Harry drove a VW Beetle, but in the TV series, he drove a jeep. Reason? It was easier for the actor to get in and out of the jeep then a Beetle.
    Another was Bob the spirit, because the CGI tests they tried for a talking skull looked like crap. So they used the actor

    Now, some fans were still upset with the changes, but sometimes things have to be changed between novel and movie. In a novel, you as the writer have an unlimited budget for locations, for props, special effects,and a cast of your choice.

    Movies don’t have that unlimited budget. I’m sure there are other actors who could have played Jack Reacher — My dad (Who reads that series thought Jason Statham would have been a good choice [but he’s only three inches taller than Cruse])– But Cruse got the role because of his box office draw. People will pay money to see Tom Cruse, but they may not pay to see another actor who is more Reacher’s size.

    Peter Jackson managed to get away with doing what he’s done with the LOTR and Hobbit movies because he used New Zealand as Middle Earth, listen to people like Chistopher Lee (Who knew Tolkien and knows the novels inside and out), used artists who are know for their Tolkien drawings, and didn’t meddle with the novel’s storyline. Some of the events in the Hobbit movies that weren’t in the novel come from other sources Tolkien wrote. Some things came from happy accidents (The demostration of the Ur-kai in from of Helms Deep right before the battle was because the extras were board and cold waiting for the scene to start doing a M?ori kapa haka to stay warm. Jackson saw it and said, “We’ll use that!”

    But that’s the fun of writing instead of filming — you can create anything on the page, without worry about the budget….

    Craig

  18. Oh, wow! Now you’ve got me thinking about genre and realizing that I don’t know what I write! And I’m not sure how to find out!

    I think it’s fantasy. The world wonder is a huge part of it. But now I’m suspecting that maybe the world building is just a huge focus for me as a writer. I want to make sure I get it right!

    The stories themselves are almost always about the intersection between the character’s outer experience and his or her inner experience, transcendence of challenging circumstances via that intersection, and the exaltation that comes with transcendence. But there is adventurous action present as well. Mostly.

    Am I writing women’s fiction? Am I writing inspirational literature (but not of a specific religion)? Or what? Eek! (Surely the readers of those genres would be annoyed by all the fantasy stuff. Or, is it that a lot of my potential fantasy readers might be annoyed by all the . . . transcendence, etcetera?)

    I’ve been labeling it fantasy. And so far my readers seem enthusiastic, but I don’t have a lot of them.

    Oh. Oh. Oh!

    Thanks for the great post! Food for thought.

  19. Mercy Loomis says:

    I used to be a terrible purist. If I’d read a book and then saw the movie, I’d spend the whole movie thinking, “That’s wrong. That’s wrong. That’s wrong.” For some reason, I could see a movie and then read the book and enjoy both, but not the other way around.

    I’ve gotten better over years of practice. Now I tend to pay attention to what was changed and figure out why it was changed. I love the fact they are fleshing out the Necromancer subplot in The Hobbit movie. (I always thought it was a bit vague why Gandalf kept running off and leaving them to fend for themselves. Oh, a necromancer did it. Whatever.) What really interested me about The Hobbit movie, though, was the fact they continually increase the characters’ agency, particularly Bilbo. In the book, Bilbo did not excitedly run out the door to catch up with the dwarves–at least, not because he wanted to go on an adventure. He certainly did not come charging down out of that pine tree. The eagles just came and plucked them from the trees IIRC. (Talk about a deus ex machina! I think they actually handled that better in the movie than it was in the book, because if you’ve seen The Lord of the Rings movies you’re already primed for it.)

    Not to get off on a movie critique (sorry, it’s hard not to), but I learn a lot about what the modern entertainment industry looks for by doing these kinds of comparisons. Especially with older books, because it’s so interesting to see what was obviously okay back when the book was written now apparently needing to be changed to suit the modern audience. And is the entertainment industry right in each case, or are they falling for their own set of myths?

    As to setting audience expectation, I think it’s important. I had a similar experience to your Nora Roberts one when I read Deerskin by Robin McKinley. Took me a little while to start reading her again, and she’s my favorite author. (And it’s not like she was ever afraid to go dark, just not that.) In fact, I’ve had several friends who swore off her completely after Deerskin, and I had a devil of a time getting them to read Sunshine. Though now that I know what’s coming, Deerskin is a favorite of mine.

    I just have the one pen name so far, but I try to set expectations by series. So the Just for Kinks short stories are always light reads. (I want to expand one into a novel at some point, and the novel will not be a Just for Kinks story once it’s longer.) I describe the Aether Vitalis stories as “often, though not always, dark.” Even the lighter Aether Vitalis stories usually have a twisted side. For Scent and Shadow, I knew that wouldn’t be enough to cover one scene in the middle, so the jacket copy has “explicit violence” at the end. For my stuff that isn’t JFK or AV, it’s a bit of a grab bag. I try to put subtitles that help. If you don’t realize that “a Lovecraftian Short Story” is going to be dark, that’s on you. 😉 But I do expect to pick up another pen name when I start writing YA Aether Vitalis stories, just to set expectations of which ones have explicit sex/violence and which don’t. (Because I have a bunch of short stories, I think it will be easier for people to search by pen name than to have to read all the jacket copy to see if there is an explicit tag at the end.) But it’ll be pretty clear on my website that it’s me writing as whomever. I think readers have become much more savvy about multiple pen names. The nice thing is, since the stories are under the same Aether Vitalis IP I’m not losing much branding-wise to use a different pen name.

    Thanks for all the articles, and have an awesome New Year!

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