Friday, September 23, 2016

Original Film to Book Sequel?

By Art Taylor

After giving my fellow Criminal Minds grief on Facebook and Twitter for dodging the question at hand this week, I'm finally here to... dodge it myself.

Here was the question: "Have you ever seen an original film that made you wish you could write a book sequel?"

And like Meredith, RJ, Tracy, and Alan before me, I don't think I have a good answer—beyond "no"—because I've never really thought in that direction or those terms before.

This is not to say that my own writing hasn't been inspired by or influenced by films in some way, though even then I might be hard-pressed to point to specific moments of specific films and connect them to specific passages or plot twists in my own writing. Instead, it's more of the way that storytelling on film—the structure of scenes, the arrangement of scenes, the use of dialogue, the shifts in tone, etc.—has certainly informed my sense of storytelling, as much as if not potentially more than the books and stories I've read. All too often, in the fiction workshops I teach at George Mason University, I call up some film or television show as an example of some point I'm trying to make. Part of this is because of the wider cultural references and connections; I'm more likely to find that a group of students have all seen the same film rather than having all read the same book (Harry Potter is the exception there). But it's also because films and scenes have imprinted themselves in my own memory more strongly in many cases; it's easier for me to call those references up quickly.

All this is abstract, of course, without pointing to specific films—which then circles back to my comment at the start of the previous paragraph, about it being hard to point to this specific scene in a film and connect it to some move of mine in my own fiction.

And yet... one film did pop to mind immediately as I was pursuing this other line of thinking away from the question at hand: Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can (2002) with Leonardo DiCaprio as con man (and forger and bank robber) Frank Abagnale Jr. and Tom Hanks as the FBI agent determined to bring him in.

It's been a while since I've watched the film, but I remember the shifts in tone and mood throughout, sometimes leaping large chunks of time and not in chronological order: the opening on the set of To Tell the Truth, the quick shift to the French prison, the flashback (more than a flashback) to Abagnale's childhood, etc. The structure is complex but doesn't appear so; it's clear, it's confident.

And while the film is hardly a short one (141 minutes according to Wikipedia), I'm struck by the economy of the storytelling. One scene that stands out has Tom Hanks in a car with two other FBI agents—and we come into it in the middle of one of them telling a story. In less than two minutes—less than a minute and a half, in fact—we get a sharp introduction to each man, a sense of their respective characters, and a clear understanding of their dynamic. Here's the scene itself.

Again, I don't know that I could find anything like this specific clip in any story of my own, but I appreciate the shape and structure of the scene, the storytelling prowess here, and I'd hope to aspire to writing so sharply myself.


In other news: One week ago today, I was honored to accept the Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection for Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, which I edited last year. Just wanted to take another opportunity here to say thanks to everyone who read it (and voted for it!), to the folks at Bouchercon who supported the project, and to the publisher, Down & Out Books—and then a quick congratulations to all the contributors, who deserve all acclaim: J.L. Abramo, J.D. Allen, Lori Armstrong, Rob Brunet, P.A. De Voe, Sean Doolittle, Tom Franklin, Toni Goodyear, Kristin Kisska, Robert Lopresti, Robert Mangeot, Margaret Maron, Kathleen Mix, Britni Patterson, Karen Pullen, Ron Rash, Karen E. Salyer, Sarah Shaber, Zoë Sharp, B.K. Stevens, and Graham Wynd.

And finally, a quick preview of the week ahead, when I'll be taking part in the annual Fall for the Book festival at George Mason University and at locations throughout Northern Virginia, DC, and Maryland. I'm grateful for the opportunity to moderate two panels next week—one featuring members of three Virginia chapters of Sisters in Crime and another featuring members of the local Mid-Atlantic Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Information on the specific panels are below—and if anyone reading this is in the area, I hope to see you there!

Sisters in Crime: Mystery Writers Panel  
Sunday, Sept. 25, 4 p.m., Sherwood Center, 3740 Old Lee Highway, Fairfax, VA
Three regional chapters of Sisters in Crime join forces to discuss—and celebrate!—their recent anthologies of mystery fiction: Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning (from the Chesapeake Chapter) and Virginia is for Mysteries, Volume 2 (from the Central and Southeastern Virginia Chapters). Editors and contributors include Donna Andrews, Diane Davidson (half of the writing duo Maddi Davidson), Maria Hudgins, and Heather Weidner.

Mystery Writers of America, Mid-Atlantic Chapter Mystery Writers Panel
Thursday, Sept. 29, 6 p.m., Merten Hall, Room 1203, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Maya Corrigan’s Five-Ingredient Mystery series is a blend of rich flavor and suspense. She is a winner of the 2013 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Unpublished Mystery / Suspense. Her newest book is Final Fondue. Shawn Reilly Simmons is the author of the Red Carpet Catering mystery series, which “delivers a buffet of appealing characters, irresistible movie-industry details, and tantalizing plot twists.” The third book in the series is Murder on a Designer Diet. David Swinson’s recent novel The Second Girl is one of Booklist’s Best Crime Novels of the Year, called a “gritty knockout debut that screams for a series.” Dan Fesperman is the author of the new atmospheric literary thriller, The Letter Writer, set in Manhattan in 1942, just months after Pearl Harbor.


Paul D. Marks said...

Art, now you've got me wanting to see Catch Me If You Can again, which I don't think I've seen since it came out. And congratulations again on your Anthony!

Art Taylor said...

Thanks, Paul! I haven't seen the film in many years—saw in theatre and then again later on video. But it's a stunning film in many ways, confident, stylish, complex in many ways despite a brisk storyline... and the opening credits are maybe among the best ever, certainly memorable in their own way. I kind of want to see it again myself!

And thanks for the congrats on the Anthony. I'm thrilled!

Alan Orloff said...

Okay, now I want to see Catch Me if You Can again, too. (I'm not very good at remembering movies, which definitely has its advantages. I can re-watch one and it seems like I'm seeing it for the first time!)

RM Greenaway said...

Congratulations Art!! And thanks for the film clip. I love film clips sometimes more than the movie. This one made me laugh :D

Susan C Shea said...

Congratulations on your Anthony Award - so big! I started thinking about this question when I finished watching a film made from a book, a classic that other writers have tried to move forward with their own favorite plot. The film was actually the BBC series "Pride and Prejudice," which follows Austen's novel closely rather than riffing on it. But the very length of the telling made me feel I was more involved, and I really wanted to see how that marriage played out. Others have tried, but each writer followed his or her own personal hopes. I wanted to see if it were possible to follow the firm character traits of Elizabeth and Darcy Austen gave us, without cheating...Who knows, maybe I'll give it a try some day. My French village mysteries are contemporary and don't include Austen characters, but I have tried to incorporate something of the insular life they led.

Art Taylor said...

Hi, Alan, Rae, and Susan — Thanks for chiming in, and for for the congratulations too!
And Susan, your comments are interesting--and you're right about Austen being someone who's prompted other writers to pick up her characters and follow them, though intriguing that you were pushed forward in that idea not by the book itself but by the film, it sounds like. Hope you do give it a try someday—or else draw on those inspirations some with your own characters, yes!